Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's been longer than i planned since my last post. I'll blame it on the holidays. I'm planning a long weekend coming up, so hopefully i'll get some sort of reviews up here soon. Until then, here's a few things i've read, watched, or listened to lately.

Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar - This is about the romantic misadventures of a rather nice vampire. He bites with one fang so as not to leave too ugly a mark (and doesn't kill). His ex-girlfriend (a mandrake) blames him for finding out that she was cheating on him. His friend (a tree man) falls for his ex-girlfriend. A crazy vampire girl gloms onto him, but he develops a crush on a mortal girl. Sfar's art really drew me in. It looks like it's all done in pen (before colors), which was how Charles Schultz did it. All the characters are likable, even the ones who do stuff you don't approve of. The colors, while all rather dark (it is about a vampire, after all) are rich. They match and enhance the line art. I'd like to read more of this, and more of Sfar's work in general. You can read an excerpt at the publisher's site.

Escapo, by Paul Pope - This was reviewed on newsarama recently, and that reminded me that i'd had this on my shelf for a long time but hadn't read it. So i read it (but not the review, yet). I love Paul Pope's work. Ever since i found THB at that cool little shop in Springdale (they had CDs, too, and that's where i bought A Love Supreme...which i think i'll listen to now) i've sought it out. This story is set on the same future Mars as the THB comic, although the characters are all different. It's subtitled "a reverse tragedy", and it's refreshing how that aspect plays out in the end. It's in that large "album" format, which compliments Pope's open, expressive style.

An interesting technical thing i noticed, because i read Escapo and Vampire Loves on the same day, is difference in their use of panels. Vampire Loves is 99% six-panel grids throughout. That made it less attractive when i flipped through it in the shop, but when reading it, it worked to convey the downbeat humor and the mundane-yet-strange aspects of the story. Escapo, on the other hand, rarely has more than two panels per page, and the pages are a lot bigger, too. Despite most of Escapo's panels being the same size, you still get the feeling of time passing at different rates. You "get" it automatically (or subconsciously, i suppose), but i had to stop and think about how it worked. I think it happens because of the amount of detail and "movement" in a panel. A panel showing a solitary object, with no indication of movement indicates a slow, contemplative moment. Another panel the same size with lots of characters, and movement, equals a faster scene.

The Call of Cthulhu film also got me thinking of technical storytelling stuff. It's an adaptation of the short story by H.P. Lovecraft. It's done in the style of a 1920s silent movie. Why? Well, a metafictional reason is that Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s. A practical reason is that limiting the production to those tropes removes some of the problems in adapting the story to the screen. Were a modern, big budget film to be made of this story, there'd be questions of how realistic the CGI monster was, or did the actors overplay their growing madness, etc. Placing it in this context, however, you accept that the monster is stop-animated, that the sets of the mysterious island are abstract, and that the actors' madness can be portrayed in a purposefully "stagey" manner.

Not only does it dodge some of those "how *right* is it" problems, i think it also opens the door for some just plain cool creative decisions. When we see the cyclopean ruins of Ryleh, it looks as if the actors are walking through some enormous, three-dimensional cubist panting. It's all strange angles and odd blocky shapes. It throws you off kilter, which is just the effect you want for this story. There's a neat bit of trick photography at one point, too. Some of the props, especially the statues, are very cool looking, and again, because the whole silent film approach is more abstract in itself, it seems the designer(s) had more freedom to be creative with them. Kudos for making the ones that were supposed to be from different eras and cultures actually look different, too. Ah, and the stop-motion animated Cthulhu is really creepy. I suspect that a full-blown CGI version wouldn't be as bizarre or frightening.

Here's the trailer on YouTube:

I finished Gregory Benford's The Sunborn, which was a big concept rollercoaster. It is in the sci-fi school of Idea over Characters, but the ideas were exciting and big, so i was happy. It's not that the characters are poorly drawn, but the story could have happened to other people, and would have played out pretty much the same. It's all about finding life on other planets in our solar system, and how they get stranger and wilder and bigger as you go further out. I dug it.

We went to see American Aquarium at the Garage again, and they put on a great show. They were lit like mad, but still highly entertaining. I hope the fiddle player is with them next time, though. It really adds to some of the songs. After they played i bought the CD, which is the first one i've bought in a long time, and have been listening to it in the car for several days. The crowd was larger than last time, but cool. That's definitely my favorite music venue around here. They book good bands, the atmosphere is great, and it's just loud enough.

New comics have been slow lately, and i spent a bit too much when the local shop had a good sale before Christmas. So i haven't been to pick up new books, and probably won't for another week yet.