Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Tale of Two Akiras

I first encountered Akira in the early 90s when it was being published in English by Epic Comics. For those of you who don't remember, Epic was an imprint of Marvel Comics, whose purpose was to reprint foreign material and new graphic material from existing literary works. It was an attempt to present comics to a more mature audience in response to the direct market trend, which had begun in the 80's. Most of the comics were printed without the Comics Code Authority seal, making it even more attractive to a young man looking for something new.
  I was blown away by the comic, The continuing story, the scope of the artwork, the characters, the willingness of the authors to kill off characters, all of it was what I was looking for in a story. At that time I had never read a manga, didn't even know the word. I had seen some Japanese animation (sanitized for American viewers), but never had I witnessed such a raw Japanese story unfiltered. As I flipped through my first issue, I realized just how much I had been missing, and I was pissed off. Of course even in this format I wasn't getting the original feel, for when first published it was completely in black and white, but the American edition was digitally colored (the first one to be regularly colored in this manner), but this was done with blessing of  Katsuhrio Otomo- the creator of the series.

      Then one day I was wandering my lonely Blockbuster video store (God that was long ago) and I ran across, to my eternal joy and beyond all of my hopes, Akira the movie. I snatched it up without hesitation. It was my pick of the night. Rewatching Die Hard again could wait another week.

       Now, as anyone who has seen the film will tell you, this wasn't just any anime film. Akira is the anime film. The film is made up of 2,212 different shots and 160,000 single pictures, which is enough to make at least 3 normal animated films. Additionally there were 327 different colors used in the animation, 50 of which were created just for the film.

But Which is Better?
I often feel that it is folly to compare a book to a film (Perhaps this is easier done with moving comics to animated films- I won't debate that). They are, after all, two different mediums and moving from one to another will necessitate
some differences. One thing may not look as good in the real world as it reads on the page. One example I can give here is that I always thought people in real life looked ridiculous when dressed in superhero costumes, but like them on the printed page.
Both the comic and the film are great. My picking one does not mean that I hate the other, but if I had to make a choice between them, I believe that the film is the better of the two. A shock, perhaps, to those who bleat the maxim,  "The book is always better."
My reasons are thus:

1. The Depiction of Neo Tokyo is Better:      The background movement and innumerable shots of minor characters really make the city come alive. It looked and sounded like a populated city. I could almost smell the grime on the walls, something that I felt the comic lacked. Often in the comic, they would discuss riots and anti-government groups, but they were rarely ever shown. The film corrected this.
 The comic often felt empty, as if the entire city was populated only by the main characters and a series of identical soldiers.
   Now granted in the comic there are two versions of Neo Tokyo - one before Akira awakens and another after it is devastated- while the film only has one. But in the depiction of a whole city, the film won out.

   2. The Character Development was Better:
     Each of the characters is essentially the same in both comic and film (with the exception of Miyako). But the need to compress the action in the film, gave us a greater understanding of the characters in a much more fluid way. This characterization does come across in the comics, but it is often spaced between many panels of running, shooting, and characters going, "Huh?" The film cut the action down to the essential Akira scenes and it made for a much tighter package.

 Choosing the film over the book is extremely rare I know. I've often felt that a wider tapestry makes for a greater picture, but somehow Akira the film makes it work.

   Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When Will Eisner Accidently Insulted Me

            This incident happened at a minor independent comics convention up in Toronto. My pal Don, who owned a comics store, drove a bunch of us over the border to Canada. Don, who had comic iconography tattooed up and down both arms some of it leaking onto his chest, was a fanatic on the subject. He was rabid about getting signatures and original art.
            Myself, I enjoyed the art and the stories and that’s all. I could never get into collecting autographs of writers or pencilers. It's foolish to pay an extra ten (or more!) dollars for a few more words.  Additionally the difference between a first and second printing can alter the price of a book, in the eyes of “real collectors”, by ten to twenty dolars. In most cases the first and second printings have the same story and art. So what makes one more valuable than the other? Human stupidity, that’s what. And I learned long ago that if a comic is labeled a  “collector’s item”, then it’s a guarantee that in a year it won't be worth a dime. Once the publishers slap that label on the front cover, a frothing horde of fan boys run about bagging-and-boarding the comic and squirreling it away in a basement for all time.
            To listen to these collectors talk, you’d think they were investing in the stock market. “This’ll be worth like…a lot of money someday.” Unfortunately no one’s buying for top dollar. Think, all you collectors, have you ever heard of anyone out there actually cashing in on their stash?  No. On the rare occasion when it does happen, it’s their family who does it, after the person’s dead.
            My favorite part of a convention has always been the independent dealers. Little guys who’ve published their own work as a labor of love and are just trying to make a buck or two. They might not be the greatest written or drawn books in the world, but they have heart. I almost always find something worthwhile, which I might not otherwise ever see again.
            What had attracted Don to the event was the appearance of Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit, (a big deal), and Dave Sims, creator of Cerebus (a lesser deal). I could’ve cared less. I wanted the product, not the creator, so I paid little attention to what was happening outside of my narrow view of the independants.
            I was looking through some Korean drawn comics, when Don came running up to me.
            “I need your help with something, dude.”
            “What is it?”
            Apparently there was a sign up in front of Eisner’s empty table stating that he would only sign three items per person. It was a smart move or else people would be backing up U-hauls of stuff for him to scribble on- Don being one of them. He had arraigned (for a fee I assume) to bring some stuff up to the convention for several of his customers. Now he wanted me to stand in line to get it signed.
            “Nah, I don’t want to.”
            “Oh come on man.”
            “I hate that stuff.”
            “Hey fuck you dude! I drove you up here!”
           How could I argue with that?
            So into line I went. He gave me  two slim books and a hardcover collection of The Spirit Sunday comics from the 1940’s volume 19, published by Dark Horse, costing about $50. Way overpriced for my limited income. I was third in line, but Eisner was late coming out and I could feel valuable minutes of scrounging slipping away. Don was a few feet behind me, in the other line, nudging with this toe a box of phone books for Dave Sims to scribble on. He caught my gaze and gave me two enthusiastic thumbs up. The cheeriness was not infectious.
            Eventually Eisner emerged from behind a curtain and sat down. He was an old Jewish man, neatly dressed. After I saw him, I must admit, my enthusiasm increased. How could it not? Here was a living legend before me, a man who had helped to pioneer the entire industry. Hell the highest award in comics is named after him. What was he like? An angel or a monster? I just hoped he wasn’t a prick. If he was, I would never be able to enjoy his work again.
            I stepped up to the old man, who grinned benevolent at me and reached for the books.
            “What’s your name?”
            And he wrote To Rex, thanks for the support, Will Eisner, in the first book. This apparently is a big no-no in collector’s circles. Apart from the fact that the people who owned the books probably weren’t named Rex, having someone else’s name in the inscription, rather than the naked autograph, lowered the value of the books.  It was now worth only a little more, rather than kinda more, of the standard resale value. Don bitched at me about this later, but what was I supposed to do? Tell Eisner not to personalize it because that would screw up my plans to make quick buck off of him later?What’s your name? Ebay!
             Then he reached Volume 19 of the collected Spirit and his eyebrows raised in interest. He picked up the hardback and examined it carefully.
            “I haven’t seen one of these yet,” He looked at me and winked, “I bet you’ve got them all don’t you.”
            “Absolutely.” I lied.  
            He looked at the price. “Fifty dollars? You know when they were putting these together and they told me how much they were charging, I couldn’t believe it. I said to them, ‘What kind of idiot would pay that much for this?’”
            Then he stopped and looked a little sheepish, remembering that I had just claimed to own all of them, which if I had would’ve totaled close to $1000. I reflected that if I had actually bought this stuff I would probably be pretty insulted right then. Should I fake outrage? No, it was just one of those things. It really was a pleasure to meet him. It was an even greater pleasure to see that he wasn't a complete egotisitcal prick, like several other of my writing "heroes" had turned out to be.
              I shook his hand and left.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Problem with Serial Killers in the Media

            Not so long ago a friend of mine, Jeff Death (a nickname, but better than his original), passed away. He was an avid true crime reader and in his will I was bequeathed his vast collection of serial killer biographies. As a tribute to him I began writing a novel about a serial killer, called The Foot Doctor Letters: A Serial Killer Speaks Out, in which the protagonist is the killer. It focuses on his development from childhood and eventual evolving into a full-fledged murderer. After reading all of the books, and some further research, I noticed that nearly all of the portrayals of serial killers in films and TV are wrong. Or at best a half truth.
            Serial Killers are shown as vaguely defined weirdos who run amok, wearing masks and slashing people with knives, luring people into intricately made traps and ripped them apart for… for what reason? Oh, I guess they like killing. They really like it. Really really really like it. And they’re crazy. They got the crazy bug that makes them kill. That’s it.
            We see it in Dexter. We see it in Joe Carrol from The Following. We see it in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. We see it in Hannibal Lecter. Boy do they like killing. But why? What does it do for them? That is never explained. Why not? Because, for the most part, a serial killer’s crime are sexual ones. Serial Killers usually don’t just murder, they rape and murder. We are okay with the killing, but not the rest. The primary focus for most serial killers is to reach a sexual climax and the media isn’t comfortable showing that, or usually even hinting at it.
            Now you get a few oddballs where the motivation isn’t sex. They commit crimes due to mental illness, thrill killing, or attention seeking. Such as Herbert Mullin (voted most likely to succeed in High School) who, in 1973, killed 13 people as a sacrifice to prevent a re-occurrence of the 1906 earthquake which nearly destroyed San Francisco. The voices in his head told him to do this. The Zodiac Killer loved shooting and stabbing his victims, the women got always got the worst of it, but never sexually assaulted them. David Berkowitz, the notorious Son of Sam, shot his way across New York City during the summer of 77. He targeted mostly couples and did so at the behest of his neighbor’s black terrier.
            But for the majority of serial murderers, and by far the most gruesome and famous of them, have had sexual motivations. 74% of them according to FBI reports. Ted Bundy raped and murdered across the Western Seaboard. Often only lightly burying his victims, so he could easily dig them up and rape their corpses over and over again. Jeffrey Dahmer left his victims lying around the house and stuffed up in his freezer, so he could have sex with his young male prey long after they were dead. Edward Kemper loved to strangle, decapitate, and rape hitchhikers, and had sex with his own mother’s severed head.
            With these creatures the sexual instinct has been twisted to an extent that the person is sexually excited by torture, rape, and necrophilia. That is to have total power over a person, alive and dead. Too often in films the killing is shown as the only goal. In reality, the killing is simply a means to achieve the ultimate goal of sexual power and release. So in a more realistic setting every time Dexter plunges his knife into one of his victims, he should be vigorously masturbating right afterwards. , perhaps using one or two of the pieces of the chopped up cadaver as sex toys. I wonder how many seasons the show would’ve lasted if they had done that?
            Imagine this. What if you were unable to rise to the occasion or climax without thoughts of torture and murder dancing through your brain. What would you do?  How would you react? Then what if the fantasy grew stale and couldn’t satisfy you anymore. What would you do? How important is the sexual release to your life?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Brave New Word

            We, as a species, detest a vacuum of words and will fill in any gaps that we detect in our language. I am proposing we add a new word to the English language to describe a vile type of individual plaguing our streets. The Finnish already have this word, and I am suggesting we co-opt it or its translation. We call them Grammar Nazis, but the Finns use Pilkunnussija- or “comma fuckers”- which adds a much needed new level of contempt to this breed.
            We all know the type. They are constantly running behind us, telling us that everything we say or write is wrong, often in smug tone. They use their knowledge like a club, demonstrating that they probably didn’t lose their virginity until their late twenties- if then. And we see that while content to shit on everyone else’s work, they are incapable of creating any of their own, the seat of the armchair quarterback being much more comfortable.
            The problem with these grammarists, or grammarions, or grammarionettes is that they did not create the language. They merely catalogue what everyone else was already doing, then tried to freeze dry it for all time. Good luck with that!
            Language is a living breathing force. It expands and evolves to the needs of people. The Comma Fuckers want to bully us, to control our thoughts, to hammer us into accepting them as superior. But we will not be bullied! We will not be taken in!
            Sure the Grammar Fascists will have their brief little victories (which is all they want since they are small minded people), but all one needs to do after being corrected, is ignore the fool and talk however we want. Thus robbing him of whatever miniscule power he was craving.
            If they need to fondle the desiccated husk of a language, then let them learn some extinct tongue like Latin or Gafat or Sanskrit or Norse. Then they’d have a legitimate reason to get pissy, since the damn things aren't going anywhere. But I guess that’s not the point of why they do it.
            The language needs to grow. That’s what these Grammar Idiots don’t understand. Because no language is perfect, far from it. Let’s take an example from the English language here, American dialect. I can’t speak for other languages, but I’m sure they’re all terrible and full of holes as well. The most grievous deficiency in American English is the lack of a universal word for 2nd person plural. We have the singular version “you.” Any Grammar Taxidermist will tell you that the plural does not exist.
            Why not? French has it, vous. Spanish has it, ustedes or vostros.  German has it, ihr. What’s so special about us? Chinese has it. Tibetan has it. The Bushmen of the Kalahari have it, click-click. But not English, why do we not have it?
            Answer: We do! There has always been a word for second person plural in American English. In the North it is youse or yous depending on your spelling preference. Towards the South people say y’all. Second person plural in common use among the masses. Yet still these words are considered bad English. The Comma Fuckers refuse to acknowledge them. Why? Because these people aren’t good at actual critical thinking, they are just adept at regurgitating the work of others. No one else told them it was okay to use these terms, so they must be wrong.
            But these words are facts. They exist! Bury your head in the sand all you want, it won’t alter a single syllable. It’s the ain’t debacle all over again. Throughout my youth I had been proselytized to on the evils of ain’t. One of my elementary teachers had exclaimed. “Ain’t isn’t a word, and you ain’t gonna use it.” There were lectures and condemnations and cold eyed glances riddled with disappointment whenever we uttered the dreadful word.
          Then one starry night, like a bolt out of the blue, the Lords of Grammar caved and bent the knee to the will of the people. Ain’t, so long despised as a bastard child, was legitimized. Its name officially placed in the holy books, the Dictionary.
          So rejoice youse and y’all. Rejoice and scream your words loudly. For in time, you will be validated. Remember that the true English language reflects you, not them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Marker 23

            In the late summer of 1718 the new road between Antwerp and Ghent was completed. Within a year a number of strange fatalities occurred. Over one hundred people died as a result of falling off of their horses or wagons and falling under the wheels. People on foot were unaffected. All of these occurred within the area of road marker 23.

          Troops were ordered to guard that particular part of the road, but no evidence of unlawful activity could be found. In fact, several troops died in full view of their comrades. The men simply fell off their horses and hit the ground with tremendous force. Autopsies revealed that the men died of fractured skulls, broken necks and the like.

          While local authorities were confused, John Weives, a water dowser, approached them. He maintained that the mysterious murdering force was a powerful magnetic current generated by an underground stream. As to why this affected only people riding on raised areas, such as a horse or wagon, he had no clear reason. He instead listed off, what the officer in charge wrote was “a barrage of nonsensical babble that only a savant or a lunatic could follow or find of interest.” Nevertheless they allowed Weives to apply his “solution”, which was to bury a copper box full of star shaped pieces of copper at the base of the stone marker. Since that point, there have been no strange fatalities in the area. 

          Although Weives made his living as a water dowser, and presumable knew something about underground streams, the local farmers believed that a devil was responsible for the deaths. They claim that they had it exorcized from the area, whereupon it entered the body of a black dog that barked backwards. The devil was finally purged from the land, when the dog was burnt to death on a traveling shrine containing the purported severed arm of St. Alena: a popular saint murdered by her parents for her faith in the later 7th century and invoked by the Belgium peasants for protection against toothaches.