Tag Archives: Pop Culture

The Kirby Centennial

Monday, August 28th (yesterday) marked Jack “King” Kirby’s 100th birthday.

He isn’t still around to celebrate it, but we certainly have a tremendous body of work with which to celebrate his storytelling.

I had made a comment on social media, but he seems to have cast a large enough shadow across pop culture that people may well be celebrating his centennial all week.

One of his assistants, Mark Evanier, who also wrote the biography Kirby: King of Comics, has a nice remembrance of the man and the impact he had.

Comic-con also has an impressive 60-page PDF of artwork and anecdotes about Kirby.

There’s also pieces you can read in Forbes, the Washington Post, CBR, and Techcrunch among others. Bleeding Cool has its picks for his top five creations.

( I personally have a soft spot for Kamandi).

Finally, Jeet Heer has a great article in the New Republic about Kirby and his impact, which dwarfs his outsize artwork.

 

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!

A Modest, Logical Proposal: “Vulcan Up.”

I’m working on a longer piece regarding Star Trek in advance of its 51st anniversary on the air and the upcoming premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.

And while I was writing, I came up with a phrase that I think is too good not to share. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest it should be spread to hither and yon among all your geek colleagues.

That phase is “Vulcan up” as in, “You’re going to have to Vulcan up and realize the only one responsible for that warp core breach is you.”

Or, you know, the real life equivalent of a warp core breach. Or even just the warp field collapsing. Or things not involving warp fields.

“Vulcan up” easily sidesteps the worst implications of “man up” and fully supports the best implications.

“Man up” has been used for all sorts of things one should do. Moving past the emotion of the moment? Stepping back to take a look at the big picture while stepping up to your responsibilities? Cool.

“Man up” has also been misused for some less than sensible situations. Accepting bullshit projected onto you? Ignoring pain that is in no way gain? Illogical and not cool.

Tuvok is cool, T’Pol is cool, and Spock is surely the coolest of them all. And they are all at their best when they Vulcan up and employ logic to help themselves or others.

So for those of you so inclined to speak geek in your dealings with others, I encourage you to replace “man up” in those dealings with “Vulcan up.” It may get an arched eyebrow here or there, but I think they’ll find it’s reasonable.

Note: based on my experiences studying anthropology, it’s entirely possible that the principle of independent invention is in play. Someone else may have coined this same phrase. For that reason, it would be illogical for me to claim the sole invention… and, in fact, that is not the goal. The goal is that this phrase enter the pop culture sphere for the benefit of all. The needs of the many and all that.

God Still Loves, Man Still Kills

Alex Abad-Santos has a couple of interviews in Vox with the creators of God Loves, Man Kills, the seminal X-Men graphic novel that debuted 35 years ago. For many avid comic readers at the time –including myself– this was an eye-opening paradigm shift in what stories “comics” could tell.

(For ardent comic/graphic novel historians raising their hands to point out the work of Will Eisner, I was too young to read A Contract with God when it came out in ’78 and only learned about it and its follow-ups in the 90s).

While I dislike the conceit of mixing the two interviews so they could be misconstrued as one joint interview –and I hope this doesn’t become a norm– both writer Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson have several great insights into the work and their approach to storytelling in general.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Comics produced through avoidance of the real world are hardly satisfactory on any meaningful artistic level.” ~Brent Anderson

The whole piece is well worth a read.

Letting Go of the Canon

This is the 11th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks. Yes, we have gone to 11.

Asher Elbein’s excellent piece in The Atlantic is worth reading just to consider the nature of pop culture –our modern mythology– and our ownership thereto.

I’ve included it in the Crisis of Infinite Star Treks series because reading it helped distill two issues:

If a ‘Star Trek Canon’ Exists, Legal Ownership Belongs to CBS/Paramount
Not only that, they can change it, ignore it, or otherwise do with the ‘canon’ what they will. They own it in a very real and legally binding way.

This is what I love about Elbein’s article: it elegantly points out the fiction that  fealty to the creators’ canon is really fealty to the ideas holding favor within a given IP’s fan community. In fact, as the concept goes, the canon awkwardly resides with the fans no matter how many authors are successively granted the creative keys to the kingdom by the corporate owners.

No corporation is beholden to this vague and inconsistent concept.

This cold, hard fact is well known by fans — and perhaps because their lack of power is so evident upon inspection, it can touch a nerve. Fans may well cry foul and further inveigh such deviations from their interpretation of canon will bring financial ruin. This prediction depends on the assumption that the fan base is the profit base. But what many fans fear more than anything is that the corporate owners may change ‘canon’ and build their profit base away from the parts of the IP the fans . It might be bigger and might leave some of the fans behind.

This is the fear touched on within my second article from last December. And to be clear, I think fans have cause to point out violations to canon. They might be pointing to elements of the narrative that created fans in the first place. It’s also not a wise idea to ignore long-term fans in pursuit of immediate profits as that can erode one’s profit base. But as I also point out in that article, Paramount is hell-bent to extract more profit from its Star Trek IP. It seems to be developing a formula for doing so and if we long-time fans aren’t on board for their take on space opera, than we can go watch re-runs for all they care: as far as their bean counters are concerned, they’re growing the fan base.

Again, I think this could be short-sighted because there should be ways to meet the fans’ wants economically. Not only that, fans are no longer content to simply be passive consumers of IP — at least the fans which brands like Star Trek should want, which brings us to…

There has to be a way for fans to participate in Pop Culture Storytelling
Sorry, corporate guys and gals. You’ve already let go of some mythical absolute that your IP exists solely as a profit center where you can control its every iteration in the public sphere. You enjoy the benefits of memes, remixing, and re-interpretation of your ideas to spread the IP and increase its value. In fact, you can and will reap those benefits. You can and certainly will make sure people other than you can’t reap the financial benefits of the IP improperly, but when it comes to restricting eyeballs and remixes and musings, much of that toothpaste is out of the tube by your own design.

That’s what sticks in the craw of many fans when it comes to the Axanar lawsuit. To go full Warner/Chappell Music after letting fan productions exist and flourish is something fans rightly cry foul over. These are our folktales. These are the myths of our time — and the tools of our time allow us to discuss and re-tell these folktales in a multitude of ways. Our society says you can make a living from this manner of knowledge work and corporations clearly make a tidy sum doing so. Is it really so surprising that the most ardent fans are inspired to create themselves?

A counterargument –a very compelling and quite legal one– goes back to point number one: these stories aren’t in the public domain. Use Star Trek and similar fan-fueled IP to create your own space opera. Heck, Indiana Jones exists in part because Spielberg and Lucas wanted to do a Bond film and started brainstorming about what kind of derring-do would get them globetrotting. But I do think that the urge to honor the object of your fannish affection and the urge to create something anew inspired by fannish affection are different impulses — and perhaps the object of another blog post. Suffice to say now, I imagine the most popular tales 10,000 years ago were passed around campfires far more readily than entirely new tales were concocted. A tale enthralls us, and we retell it, gradually with more flourishes. That a corporate entity owns tales and the rights to retell said tales is a relatively recent invention.

The storytelling urge is deeply human and very powerful. It will not be legislated or sued out of existence. The aforementioned tools are Promethean in their disruptive potential. I’m not saying it’s an easy path, but the corporate titans need to make peace with the fact that we mere mortals have fire. Better to work with us about how and where we’ll use it or too many people will get burned.

At the same time, I agree with Asher Elbein: canon is personal. For those keepers of fandom flames, I feel your pain. Just ask me about my ups and downs watching the new Doctor Who. But in the end, it’s not my restaurant. I can be the best regular diner at that restaurant. I might even influence them as to what they include and don’t include on the menu. Maybe I even re-create some of their dishes at home. But even though I can ‘vote with my feet,’ I don’t own the restaurant.