Mar 23, 2008

On Spin-offs

I was scouring the internet, and I found this roundtable discussion from 1988 with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons about Watchmen, my favorite work of fiction, ever. That having been said, this part jumped right out at me:

Steve Whitaker: The Comedian’s is probably the one story begging to be told.

Alan Moore: The only possible spin-off we’re thinking of is—maybe in four or five years time, ownership position permitting—we might do a Minutemen book. There would be no sequel.

Dave Gibbons: It should be very clear in your mind who’s in charge of any artistic endeavour. Obviously, Alan and I could make ourselves a fortune on Watchmen 2 next year. I just can’t think of any reason to do it other than the obvious monetary ones. Minutemen appeals because it’s a different era and a different story.

SW: Lesbian and Homosexual relationships and costumed kinks in a 40s environment…

I've always been incredibly resistant to the idea of a Watchmen sequel even if it were done by Moore and Gibbons. With the exception of Tales of the Black Freighter, which is so far removed from the very core of the original story, there seemed to be no aspect of Watchmen that I could read without thinking that it was ruining the original story. I think I'd love The Minutemen by Moore, Gibbons, and Higgins now, though, and that comes with an appreciation of various spin-offs of great stories.

I think the key to spinoffs is twofold: first of all, it should be of a different tone to the original work. Second of all, unless it is a logical continuation of the original work, it should not try to BE a continuation of the original work. In most cases, the second rule can be defied only if the creators of the spinoff are the same creators of the original work. Third of all, and this is probably the most unpopular tenet I'll set forth, the spinoff should NOT have an adverse effect on the original story. For example, no Pirates of the Caribbean spinoff should say something like "EVERYTHING THAT WAS IN CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL WAS A LIE!!" but they can, for example, bring a flavor to it that was already there, but perhaps not noticeable.

Let's look at Top Ten as an example. The original story, by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon was a serious story with funny accents, but mostly retained the grim and gritty nature of cop life. The two spin-offs also penned by Alan Moore changed the tone of the story. Smax, focusing on the grimmest member, surprisingly turned into a funny comedic series with serious undertones, while 49ers took a more serious tone, losing the humor of the original story. Any humor came out of the irony of the situations instead of intentional. Both stories preserve the fun and spirit of the original story, but change the tone enough that they are distinctly their own stories, and can be read without having read the original story. The non-Moore-penned spinoff, Beyond the Farthest Precinct itself did not work because it was intended purely as a sequel, but with the same tone and the same jokes, and the same intent, but the writer did not have Moore's knowledge of the characters, nor the ability to organically build a world, hitting us with sledgehammers where Moore hit us with subtlety. It tried too much to be the original rather than stay true to the spirit of the original that it ends up as a massive failure.

Mar 7, 2008

Western vs. Japanese Comics

People sometimes ask me why I'm not a fan of manga. Let me say why.

Compare this scene from Sandman:

To this manga adaptation of the same scene:

Note the subtlety in both Death and Dream's reactions to each other in the first version, and the pathos in Dream's face when he realizes he's done wrong. Also note Death's face when she says, "Desire was right." It is the perfect expression, given that Death is trying to console Dream and at the same time show him that he is, indeed, in the wrong. It's the expression you make when you try to tell your brother that you love him, but he was wrong. Also observe Dream's reaction: he's taken aback, then conveys it with a very confused "What?" Death then follows it up with a very cool, collected telling-to, followed by Dream's very pensive and repentant reaction.

In the second version, I can forgive Dream's angry expression when he says "None of you stood up for me." Where it fails is when Death says "Desire was right." The expression is not one of the very subtle "I love you, but you're wrong," variety, it's just one of basic anger. Dream's reaction to that, instead of confusion, comes off as fear, and then Death just yells at him. And he flinches.

That's the primary reason I can't get into manga. It's not that it's a completely different set of symbols, which it practically is, akin to learning another language, but it's that there's practically no subtlety in the medium whatsoever. Everything has to be BOMBASTIC, and it, to me, misses the nuances of human expression. I have never complained about manga's ability to draw good backgrounds, or its ability to statically demonstrate movement. These are two things that I think western comics could really benefit from. But the lack of subtlety and nuance in the way they draw faces is what REALLY turns me off.

I don't think manga is innately incapable of subtle expressions - I have, for example, no problem with the Street Fighter 2 animated movie, which doesn't go into too much bombast - it's just that the products seem so set on not showing subtlety. And until such time that the medium embraces diversity in that aspect, I'll be staying away from it for the most part.

I didn't like the mid-90s movement in Western Comics where every hot artist was practically aping manga style, because of this particular reason, and I wouldn't like it now if it happened again.