Funnybook Babylon

April 21, 2013

A Long Drive: Betty & Veronica, Remixed

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: , , — Jamaal Thomas @ 2:24 pm

This is my favorite comics-related thing of the week. Brandon Graham recently posted two great mini comics on his website (which you should follow) based on a Betty and Veronica short by Gladir and DeCarlo. One is by Graham, and the second is from the talented Emily Carroll. As you might imagine, the stories are gorgeous and visually inventive, but they also transform a plot-driven story into one that’s focused on character.

The original is a wonderful classic short set in the Archie universe – its a pretty conventional ‘seeing reflections of home everywhere’ story.

Vu1

We follow Betty and Veronica as they seek adventure outside of the familiar climes of Riverdale and flirt with Don and Benny, two guys they meet at the mall. Once Betty and Veronica realize that Benny and Don are gender-flipped versions of themselves, they get weirded out and decide to leave.

Boo Hoo Deja Vu is a reminder of of the appeal and the limits of Archie Comics stories. There’s something beautiful about the simple purity of the Archie characters – Betty’s a virtuous working class blonde and Veronica’s a popular wealthy brunette. The two compete for the affections of a redhead with freckles. There have been minor changes and embellishments over the years, but the basic idea remains unchanged. At their best, Archie comics deliver the pleasure of soap opera without the distractions of continuity. It’s tremendously entertaining, especially if you read them in the way that they are intended to be read – as confections. You could pay a little more attention and notice that the dialogue is a bit flat and inauthentic, or that there’s not much interaction between the girls, or that the story comes to an abrupt end just as it starts to get interesting, but why would you?

Brandon Graham and Emily Carroll transform a story about deja vu into one about escape from the familiar, from the roles that we create for ourselves (and which are created for us) in high school.

Graham pushes the narrative to the background and narrows the focus to Betty and Veronica. The boys are reduced to mere reflections in a story about friendship between two teenage women.

Background noise

There’s something wonderful about the fact that the boys are completely besides the point in Graham’s version of the tale. It’s all about two girls who’ve decided to put the masks aside and enjoy each other’s company on an impromptu road trip.

Buddies

Graham gently pushes back against the reactionary strains in the original – the lesson that every place reminds you of home is replaced with the notion that the world is filled with strange adventure. He evokes the moment when one first steps outside of the cramped hierarchy of high school and realizes that the world is delightfully strange and unfamiliar.

Carroll goes in the opposite direction and embraces the darker implications of the narrative.

Carroll horror

There’s something vaguely predatory about how Betty and Veronica’s male dopplegangers approach them in this version of the tale, about how they’re in silhouette for the majority of the story and their facial features are never fully identified. Even Don and Benny’s word balloons are sinister. I love how Carroll completely changes the tone without changing a single line of dialogue in the story.

Scary Words

I found myself breathing a sigh of relief when the subtext finally became the text and the boys merged into an amorphous blob.

I’m not incredibly familiar with Carroll’s work, but this was pretty fantastic. I’m going to have to follow her work more closely in the future.

I’d love an anthology where creators reimagine random Archie tales. I’d really love to see Archie give the creators working on their books the space to occasionally shift the tone of the stories or do more unorthodox, character-driven work.

April 4, 2013

Reading on the Job: I Have a Lot of Problems with Chuck Klosterman

Filed under: Articles — Tags: — Chris Eckert @ 12:55 am

If you follow my “personal” blog (and let’s be honest, you don’t) you may have noticed that my current work situation involves a grotesque amount of time to Read. This has been a pleasure, as the past few years have shown a marked decrease in actual, sit-down-and-read-something-cover-to-cover Reading. I still read a ton of comics, feature articles, interviews, lengthy blog posts, and other things that count as “reading”, or at least more than skimming USA Today and Buzzfeed does. But ever since I got a smartphone and a tablet, I find a lot of my time formerly dedicated to Reading is now spent listening to podcasts, messaging, chatting, chasing the latest story/controversy on Twitter/Tumblr/Reader.

Even when I sit down to Read something, I find myself drifting away every few pages to look something up: What’s a quincunx? Why does the name Frederick Exley sound familiar? This lady’s birthname cannot seriously be Fuschia Dunlop, can it? Is there a picture of her on the Internet? Is she pretty? And then an hour later I am five pages into the book and two hundred pages into the Internet. With my job’s hermetically sealed cubicle, revelation is deferred, little Reading momentum is lost, and I am forced to write long, demented shopping lists to research in the evening.

I’ve spent most of my days catching up on things I have been meaning to Read over the past few years, and much of my bookshelf is full of “important” (read: sad) subjects: fiction and non-fiction on the decline of the American Empire and the systematic dismantling of our nation by cartoonishly greedy corporations, interviews with an author that are shattering in the hindsight context of his suicide, novels where the world ends in slow prosaic literary ways, memoirs about how that band you liked a lot in high school were mostly miserable, sociopathic junkies. This can get to be distressing when you are sitting at a desk for eight hours a day and ninety percent of that time is given to reading in solitude. Don’t even get me started about the time I was reading an essay about how sitting will kill us all and we received a memo about how we need to limit the amount of time we spend standing because it might distract our co-workers. I quickly realized I should start bringing some Light Entertainment to read as well. Which led me to a book about death from an author I had almost forgotten to dislike.

Coincidentally, this is the same outfit I bought in several color combinations to wear to the aforementioned job.

Coincidentally, this is the same outfit I bought in several color combinations to wear to the aforementioned job.

(more…)

April 2, 2013

Conflicted

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: — Jamaal Thomas @ 6:11 pm

Top Cow Productions recently completed its first international Talent Hunt competition, and today CBR News announces its winners with an exclusive look at their art and story pitches.
……..

Top Cow eventually selected writers Eugene Ward, Hannibal Tabu and Kenneth Porter, and artists -Rom- and Martin Gimenez as the winners of the 2012 Talent Hunt.

Comic Book Resources (CBR) News Team. Top Cow Publishing’s Talent Hunt is a way to find “amateur writers and artists who’ve never been published by one of the big publishing houses and giving them a chance to be published and showcase their work to a larger audience”.

Pretty awesome, right?

As indicated above, the three writers are Eugene Ward, Kenneth Porter and Hannibal Tabu. If you follow the big sites, you’re familiar with the third guy. He’s a journalist and writer who writes a weekly column (“The Buy Pile“) for CBR and does some con coverage on their behalf. In the Buy Pile, Tabu reviews and rates a selection of comics released in a given week. It’s not always my cup of tea, but it’s respectable service journalism for fans overwhelmed by the flood of material available at their local comics shop every week.

So, what’s the problem?

As David Brothers helpfully pointed out on twitter, CBR failed to note that Mr. Tabu is also a writer that reviews comics and occasionally covers conventions for CBR in their announcement of the Talent Hunt winners (which was accompanied by an exclusive interview with Top Cow President/COO Matt Hawkins.

What they did was add a hyperlink to Mr. Tabu’s name that would lead an interested reader to his author page.

Was that enough? Did CBR discharge it’s duty to notify readers of the various conflicts of interest? Did it seriously consider the implications of Mr. Tabu entering and winning this competition?

On first blush, I thought disclosure was sufficient. CBR was clearly not trying to conceal their link with Mr. Tabu (by adding a link to his work), and assumed that interested readers would click through and realize that one of the competition winners was a CBR writer.

But then I wondered: what about the people who didn’t read this press release/interview and only read the Buy Pile or Mr. Tabu’s coverage of Wondercon? Why didn’t CBR follow the example of most other modern news outlets and give a standard disclosure of Mr. Tabu’s potential conflicts of interest within the text of the article? There’s something about a major website giving favorable coverage to a publisher that just hired one of its long time writers who reviews books from that publisher on a regular basis that’s a little unsettling.

I don’t know if Mr. Tabu’s selection would have any impact on which books he selects for review or how he reviews them (or how he covers publishers at conventions), but I think CBR should’ve done more to equip readers with the information to decide for themselves.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Mr. Tabu writing for both Top Cow and CBR. Plenty of comics creators and other professionals in the industry cross (and straddle) the line between creator and critic with some regularity. The perspective of an ‘insider’ is valuable. At the same time, we should be clear about the limits of that viewpoint. Even though I think it’s fair to assume that Mr. Tabu is a professional and will try his best to avoid bias or impropriety, I’m not sure if he would feel free to be critical of a book penned by Marc Silvestri (ceo of Top Cow). Maybe he wouldn’t review it at all, which would create a different kind of problem. Or maybe he’ll be entirely fair. I think the decisions should ultimately be left to the individual reader, which is why transparency is important.

We don’t (and shouldn’t) expect objectivity from our critics, but I think it’s reasonable to expect fairness, transparency and a lack of bias. I hope Mr. Tabu discloses his potential conflict to regular readers of his column and that CBR does better in the future.

This is part of a bigger problem with comics journalism – it’s completely captured by the industry that it covers, so it never really developed some of the basic norms around conflicts of interest and transparency that you’ll find in other sectors of journalism. It’s easy to find out about how to advertise with Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance, the Comics Beat, Bleeding Cool, the Comics Journal or iFanboy, but it’s awfully hard for the average reader to find their policies on ethics and potential conflicts of interest.

But that’s a story for another day.

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