Monday, April 26, 2010

C2E2 Panel: Pulp Fiction

Last weekend on Friday night and Saturday all day, I attended the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Saturday, I spent most of it attending panels, three of them to be exact. I took fairly copious notes. Instead of writing in an expository form and expanding on ideas and topics, I’m just going to provide bullet points that I took during the panels. If I expand on the bullet points, I’ll probably make it brief.

The “Pulp Fiction” panel is when I came up with the idea of taking notes on my Smartphone, and I came up with the idea halfway through the panel. I really didn’t get that many notes as I figured out my system.

That being said, here are the bullet points:

  • Panel made up of five or six modern-day pulp authors. Looking back with more than a week of retrospect, realizing that they were all male.

  • Pulp magazines get their name from being made of cheap paper pulp and they’re a magazine.

  • Mixing race difficult in pulp. Only one pulp property in contemporary day allows non-white main characters. I believe that I noted the wrong property for it, though, so I’m going to redact the title. The publisher only allows it, though, because the property originated with a mixed race cast.

  • Some interesting stories of getting into pulp. Some of the authors introduced to pulp characters and stories through parents, grandparents. Others through the library. A lot of them found pulp through some magazines that continued the tradition or publications that have tried to revive the tradition.

  • The story and art viewed as disposable, not something to reverence or value beyond quick entertainment. A lot of it thrown away without a second thought. Maybe even today, but at some point in the past, easy to walk into a library alleyway or somewhere near a bookstore to find a bunch of pulp publications and art pieces thrown in the trash.

  • Pulp fiction mythologized characters. I’ve heard and myth and mythology as terms used in a lot in regard to comic books. I guess they could be used in the same way with pulp fiction. Comic and pulp fictions can often act as archetypal icons for representations of some force or sense of meaning.

  • Ownership of characters and properties means the ability to dictate how they can be written and not written.

  • Some time spent comparing pulp writing based in past compared to modern times. The consensus seemed to fall on basing their stories in the past. The most vocal panelist, however, said that pulp fiction could be set in the modern day. As with any kind of writing, if done well, it can be done.

  • Aspects of characters and characteristics of pulp heroes and pulp worlds get pushed to edge of believability but be careful. It could become fantasy or too science fictiony. [Sin City, the movie – not really the comics since I haven’t read them – seemed to skirt the edges of pulp and fantasy quite a bit.]

  • Pulps influencing TV - only so many plots but details allow for many many stories. Some examples of TV shows and movies: Fringe, LOST, Indiana Jones

  • Keeping pulp alive - Marketing important to keeping it alive.

  • High Adventure - magazine reprinting older pulps – except I can’t find any trace of the modern day version of this magazine on the Internet.

Links of Interest: Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), “Pulp Fiction, myth and mythology in comic books, Sin City, the movie, Fringe, LOST, Indiana Jones

Sunday, April 18, 2010

C2E2 Panel: The Middle East and the City Streets: Superheroes in the Modern World

Friday night and yesterday, I attended the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Saturday, I spent most of it attending panels, three of them to be exact. I took fairly copious notes. Instead of writing in an expository form and expanding on ideas and topics, I’m just going to provide bullet points that I took during the panels. If I expand on the bullet points, I’ll probably make it brief.

For the “Middle East and the City Streets: Superheroes in the Modern World” panel, I made my bullet points from memory. They will likely include a few inaccuracies and some unconscious commentary. That being said, here are the bullet points:

  • Kinda disappointing
  • Mostly discussed mainstream media being "behind" comics when addressing topics in the world rather than the comics themselves
  • Theory of the (two) panelists: Escapist movies a way for society to address themes (trauma) that modern society has trouble dealing with, like 9/11 and Iraq/Afghanistan wars
  • Mainly focused on mainstream adaptations of comics to movies since 9/11 or tried to do so
  • A lot of focus on Batman Begins as post-9/11 quintessential example of movie addressing themes that we're only now starting to come to grips with: the shadow organization that taught Bruce Wayne how to fight looking to destroy evil civilization
  • Some interesting discussion of Tim Burton’s Batman, the evolution of that ‘90s movie Batman to the franchise/character destruction by Warner Brothers and Joel Schumacher (even though the panelists and most geeks will pin the blame on just Schumacher)
  • Even the Dark Knight follows the theory with the Joker being something of a "suicide bomber" when coercing gangsters - a bit about the Joker being without ideology
  • The difference of Gotham digitally over layed onto Chicago and London in Batman Begins compared The Dark Knight just using Chicago unaltered by digital technology making for a grittier, darker experience
  • Panel edges toward hermeneutics when watching the mainstream but focused more on their "theories" and demonstration of theory rather than talking about mechanics and "psychological" and "sociological" implications
  • Touched upon Watchmen, the movie, failing on a literary standpoint because it continued addressing concerns of the Regan years rather than addressing concerns of the day and because the director was more interested in spectacle than communicating themes or literary impact
  • Felt like a lot of treading on old ground of literary criticism, with so much focus on mainstream culture being behind actual comic culture without actually approaching the implications of their theory or the "cutting edge" as represented by the comics
  • Will admit some interest in discussion of the first Spider Man movie being made pre-9/11 but marketed and shown post-9/11, especially the part about erasing the twin towers from the commercials – actually made me think of Fringe when the main character glimpsed and travelled to an alternate reality where the twin towers still stood

Personally, I think the approach taken in this panel became unproductive and struck the audience the wrong way. Attendees wanted to hear more about comics being on the cutting edge (not as in a self-flagellating way but more as a point of fact), not about mainstream entertainment following far behind and dealing with trauma that comics and the geek culture were probably generally more prepared for (not in terms of knowing 9/11 would happen but because comics has probably addressed many permutations of socially traumatic events over the many years that comics have existed).

It’s not like geeks already have a superiority complex that they developed in their younger years as a defense mechanism. Nothing like frustrating an audience while feeding their pride against what they may feel as a dumb normalizing oppressive mainstream culture that has only recently accepted geeks as a norm.

If the description in the program or even the title of the panel mentioned that discussion would be about mainstream adaptations of superheroes, I believe that the audience would’ve had a more positive reception to the panel.

Links of interest: Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne, Tim Burton, Warner Brothers and Joel Schumacher wreck Batman franchise in the ‘90s, Dark Knight, The Joker, hermeneutics, literary criticism, Spider Man movie, Fringe, Watchmen, the movie

C2E2: First Two Doctor Who Episodes of Series 5

Friday night and yesterday, I attended the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Friday, I only saw the first two unaired in America episodes of the new Doctor Who season on two "big screens" (full screens similar to what public schools used to show old films for educational films before VCRs came around, except these big screens were digital flat screens) and not so good sound.

The "big screens" didn't disappoint me as much as the bad sound. The wife and I actually want to see the second episode again. The sound mastering of the episodes and the sound system being used were obviously not compatible. We missed a fair amount of the dialogue. Just from seeing the "re-cap" show that BBC America did for the show as an introduction to the Doctor, we caught a lot of dialogue we missed in the new episodes.

Love the two episodes on their own merits, even though I had a bitter sweet feeling that the second one went by way too fast.

The new Doctor (played by Matt Smith) and his new companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gilan) both act satisfactory on their own, but when they come together, their chemistry collides to create a hyperactive spastic joyride that hits an occasional bump of appropriate seriousness (that we expect from the show).

On an odd note, though, I would’ve loved to see Karen Gilan as the first female Doctor. Amy (and when I’ve seen Gilan and Smith in interviews) seems to have the natural energy and intelligence of our personable Doctor without him coaxing it out of her. Maybe he has met his human match. . .Donna Noble doesn’t count, since she became Doctor Donna in the end.

I almost regret seeing the second episode, which won’t be shown in the United States until next week. Now I have to wait two weeks for the next one! And of all things, it includes Daleks making an alliance with Winston Churchill? Seriously? That’s an unexpected twist, completely opposite of what I would have expected!

Links of note: Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), Doctor Who, Doctor, Matt Smith, Amy Pond (Karen Gilan),Donna Noble, BBC America

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Researching in Boston: Day 1

Serious research day one in Boston completed. Unfortunately, I don't have much to show for it. Ended up learning more about the organization of records, navigating through the records and issues that can arise with records, both while in a collection and once an author uses them.

Not much gained for useful content.

I want to brush aside a couple things that people following on Google Buzz and Facebook over the last couple days have read about my thoughts. I went to the Boston Public Library (BPL) for day one. Based on their Website, compared to the Massachusetts Historical Society, it sounded the most intimidating and least likely to let me look at and view the records.

First thing the BPL Website says about the special collections room is that they will allow generally mature and careful people into the reading room to use the materials. Then they will address people wanting to get in on a case-by-case basis and allow you access based on the merits of what you want to use the materials for. Sounds good so far.

An example of someone they wouldn't allow in to use the materials is a student learning research techniques. I feared that might be me since I'm working on a bachelors project. I hope to get it published some day. The basic idea of an education at my college is, along with having a satisfactory piece of work, to teach me how to think, how to plan out a project and how to research. To intimidate me even more, the Website mentions that the BPL may require a letter of introduction from someone at a University.

Possibly the most intimidating part about the reality of visiting the special collection reading room was the paper work that had to be filled out, forms submitted when entering and leaving the room and having to be buzzed in and out of the room, kind of prisoner-like. It was annoying rather than really intimidating, though, and on some level, necessary for the preservation of historical documents that represent our cultural and intellectual heritage.

All that intimidation was for nothing. I have the feeling that all the stuff on the Website might be to discourage non-researchers or non-serious researchers, possibly an attempt to cut down on frivolous weekend or busy time traffic or something.

The archivist in the reading room couldn't have been nicer or more friendly. She exuded exuberance about the organization of the card catalog, all the guests she has in the reading room and all the topics that people research. The orientation was short, useful and easy to understand.

We even got into an interesting discussion about the book where I got all the citations for the letters I wanted to look at. It's possible that the author of the book could've cited their sources incorrectly (I won't be naming the book or author at this point, in case it's more of an accusation than a fact). Apparently the documents cited by the author could be at the Massachusetts Historical Society or some other archive. It's also possible that a mold issue they had at the BPL at some point in the past could've destroyed the documents.

I got to take a look at a couple letters written by the wife of a main figure of my research. Nothing useful content-wise. Her letters mostly contained gossip and a relation of the events of a day or two, probably during a trip or a vacation.

Despite the frivolity of the letters, though, I still felt a little awe about handling this original document. The documents I requested from the archivist mostly came from the Brook Farm John S Dwight boxes. They consisted of two boxes with a bunch of folders.

The archivist allowed me to take two of the folders at a time to a table (another archivist a couple days later disclosed that if they handed out more than the two, the chance of causing disorganization increases by a lot). Opening the first folder, I saw that the letter was written something like 170 years ago.

I had a hard time believing that I had such an old document in front of me. For one thing, the paper was still white! At work, papers from work put in file for something 10 or 20 years are brittle and majorly discolored.

I probably had less articulate and more instinctual thoughts than what I’ve already mentioned. I simply dwelt on the fact of having something personal written by someone dead, and they wrote it a LONG time ago, right in front of me. I read about actual events that occurred. It was almost like a ghost had appeared in front of me to tell me the story.

My earlier experiences with historical documents didn't prepare me for getting my hands on this document. My grandmother has given me letters and other documents that her mother and father had written to each other. Those documents are probably only something like 80-90 years old or something, from around the first World War or so. They look about the same as this one letter from about 170 years ago.

Neither did my visit to the Wisconsin Historical Society prepare me for this haunting but cool experience. In Wisconsin, I handled specialized copies from original documents that were pasted in a book that reminded me of a scrapbook. It felt historical and technical, but not necessarily haunting.

Reading this letter worn with age, though, felt more real and authentic. The wear and tear had a lot to with it. I had the feeling of sacredness by all the security measures. Burying the reading room in the corner of the library had something to do with it. Coupling the worn original records and paperwork and the out-of-the-way reading room creates an essence. The grandness of the library certainly added to the feeling of sacred. For whatever reason, I felt special and privileged to look at this old, tattered letter.

Unfortunately, I only got two things from my journey to the BPL reading room that day. A lot of the letters I wanted to look at have already been collected in a book about 120 years ago. The card catalog in the reading room notified me of the author and title of the book, easy as that.

I found the book easily enough on Google Books that night. Maybe I didn't even need to drop into the library for documents. Maybe all the documents I need are in a book easy enough to get off the Internet that doesn't require payment expressly for the book, a long plane ride or a long wait for the package with a book in it.

I also got to make direct historic connection to a person from 170 years ago and felt a sense of awe. Maybe it had fairly pithy content on it that I don’t think has much, if any significance in the overall scheme of things. Nonetheless, after having familiarized myself with the path of the letter writer’s life and the lives of those written about during my research over the last couple years, I felt history and respect for the process of preserving our heritage, whether meaningful or not.

So, yeah, day one didn’t do much for me. At best, it reiterated the point that I’m doing a lot more work on this bachelor project than I need to do. Translating badly handwritten letters originally crafted with a quill pin takes A LOT OF WORK, a lot more than a bachelor should be doing. I resolved, that day, that no matter what information I gather or don’t gather during this trip, I will work hard when I get home to finish my project with whatever information I’ve got.

Maybe the reference to that book of letters will help, but even if I didn’t find it, I resolved to come home, finish my project and not bother to look for more information. I’ve pretty much got all I need. Additional handwritten primary resources will help make the project stronger, but I’ve got enough. This project will get finished, and it will get done soon. Take my word for it.

But, of course, I still had two days left in Boston. I wasn’t going to waste my time.