April 2001 Archives

Three-part Trek comic too slow

Don't bother picking up the 3-part Star Trek: Voyager comic, "Planet Killer." In general I've liked the WildStorm series of licensed Star Trek books, but the plot for this 3-parter didn't lend itself well to visual storytelling. The panels were mainly of two types--large starships in space and individual profiles of Voyager personnel, with little in the way of either action or interaction, while the dialogue was mostly discursive and lacked dramatic momentum. I love Voyager's characters and was thus all too ready to plunk down cash on 3 issues, but this was a sad disappointment.

Holonovels

This past week's Star Trek: Voyager contained an interesting bit of business relating to the possible future of hypertext and electronic literature. The episode featured the Doctor as the author of a holonovel--a narrative work that allows the "reader" to participate as a stand-in for the narrator as the contents of the holonovel are played back in the simulated 3-dimensional world of the holodeck.
What caught my ear in the episode was hearing a reference to bookmarks being placed in the holonovel. It was jarring to me because I think of the holodeck as a place of fantasy more than a place of literature, and it reminds me more of a multi-player role-playing game than a novel, so the anachronistic reference to bookmarking immediately sparked my attention.
I found it very refreshing, actually, to see a straightforward representation of an electronic or paperless literature--since there seems to be so much hysteria in the press about the rise of e-books. And I know these same people who complain about e-books probably have cell phones and high-end laptops, but to read all their whining about "this is the end of paper" you'd think they spend all their time in the library drinking sherry and dusting off leather-bound copies of Homer.
Just this past week I was reading an essay entitled "The Coming Technological Singualrity" by Vernor Vinge, available for free from Peanut Press, and was reminded how convenient it is to be able to make annotations electronically within a text. Electronic markers--whether they take the form of bookmarks or annotations--offer the reader an easily accessible record of her readings or observations, which then allow her to return to the text according to a personalized sequence. In general, I don't think enough has been made of the unique ways in which electronic texts can actually enhance reading.

Jimenz' Wonder Woman

I've never been a big Wonder Woman fan, but I bought copies of nos. 164 and 165 (the first 2 issues in a 4-part series) after reading a promising interview with writer/artist Phil Jimenez. I was attracted to the book mainly because I knew Jimenez was gay and the interview stated that there was supposed to be a lesbian love story in the series. I was delighted to see lots of touching among the female characters and there is a strong, voluptuous line to his women that is very appealing.

However, I didn't really see any evidence of a gay girl love story--maybe it develops more in the next two issues. I liked the almost baroque quality of Jimenez' drawing--his panels swirl with detail. Unfortunately, I found the storyline exceedingly difficult to follow. There were too many old characters passing the baton to new characters, and new characters taking over the bodies of old characters, and side notes concerning the convoluted history of this or that person--and at the end it was hard to recall exactly what had happened.

Getty Outdoors

Last weekend I went to the Getty Museum in order to see an exhibit on
landscape drawing. It was, however, the landscape itself that captured my attention on this trip, especially the central garden designed by Robert Irwin. Walking through the main garden, one finds an incredible density of imagery in a relatively small space. Irwin has arranged the landscape into a compact sequence of views, with each view providing a separate and distinct angle on the central garden. The walk begins at the top of a hill with a spectacular view overlooking the wide expanse of Los Angeles, before then descending along an abruptly angular zigzag path offering a newly framed section of the garden with each turn. At the bottom of the hill, the view again broadens into a panoramic view of the city, along with a backward view onto the multi-tiered garden, which appears to be held back by a broad purplish stone wall over which a waterfall breaks. Then the walk continues with more partial views of the garden, this time by way of a circular maze-like path that ends with an actual formal maze arrangement of azaleas sunken in a large shallow pool. This back and forth movement between large-scale views and smaller, partial ones is emphasized by Irwin's unusual emphasis on plant foliage as opposed to plant flower. Irwin creates broad tapestries of silver and purple foliage and at the same time spotlights unusually textured and patterned foliage, bringing what are usually thought of as background elements to prominence. I have visited many beautiful gardens but I don't think I have ever seen one that made me think as much as this one did.

Claymation Jesus

I tried, gentle readers, to watch The Miracle Maker last night on television. I was hoping to bring you a scintillating report on this claymation Passion drama, however, my aesthetic sensibilities forced me to abandon the project midway through, long before the Gumby-like Jesus was crucified. I watched the program long enough to marvel at what looked like real human hair stuck to the clay scalps of His followers, but the incoherent storyline (perhaps due to the original source material) proved an attention killer. If you would like to see serious material presented through claymation, I will direct you instead to The Periwig Maker on AtomFilms.

Superflat Japanese art

Yesterday, I unexpectedly received a half day off from my employer--whom I shall hereafter refer to only as "TheMan.com." I decided to take advantage of the time off by going to see the "Superflat" exhibit at the newly opened MOCA Gallery at the Pacific Design Center. The exhibit documented the influence of Japanese manga comics on Japanese art and design, focusing particularly on its two-dimensional qualities.
The Gallery was rather small, only two rooms split between two stories, with the larger not quite big enough to hold a mid-size airplane (more on that later). The exhibit showed a wide variety of art and design objects, including fashion, photography, models, animation cels, video, drawings, commercial objects, and a number of installations. Unfortunately, there were only a smattering of examples in each medium, which made it difficult to draw conclusions regarding the show's theme. This was especially true due to the lack of curatorial context for most of the items--aside from a brief statement, there was little to help the viewer make sense of the collection.
Nonetheless, the exhibit was worth attending as a kind of teaser for further exploration into Japanese art and culture. There were several striking installations, including an airplane composed of 15,000 sequential photographs and cellophane tape and a startling wall-sized digital print of Karen Carpenter, hung sideways. My top find was the animator Koji Morimoto, represented by a series of concept sketches and animated cells. The pornographic influence of manga was also well represented in a number of rather haunting illustrations.

Dark Horse Xena art

I just finished reading a back issue (#3) of the Xena: Warrior Princess comic book series issued by Dark Horse. I like the series very much and was sad to hear it was recently discontinued with issue #14. This particular issue was set in hell--always a crowd pleaser. One thing I've been wondering about the series in general is whether or not the pencil artists traced photo stills from the TV series in order to produce some of their artwork. The practice of tracing human figures from film is widespread in animation, but I haven't heard of it being done with comic books. What made me wonder about this was seeing the precision with which the various Xena comic artists were able to capture the facial expressions of the televisual Xena and Gabrielle--yet in the artwork overall, there was an absence of photorealistic drawing technique.

Online Tarot Exhibit

Even if you're not into the Tarot, you're bound to appreciate these decks as wonderful mini art exhibits. After persusing this site, I went out and bought The Wheel of Change Tarot, one of many sets that interested me. The cool thing about tarot cards from a narrative standpoint is how they produce a sort of manual hypertext when they are displayed through the ritualistic process of shuffling, cutting, and dealing. Because the content of each card is symbolic, it is flexible enough to be placed in any number of sequences with other cards and maintain a meaningful syntax that can then be interpreted and personalized through story.

Chris Ware covered

The New York Times carried a nice feature article on comic artist Chris Ware today. It's good to see graphic novels getting critical attention again.

Swamp Thing Junior

Just read "Swamp Thing" nos. 9-11, a DC comic series I'm new to. I picked up the first issue of the new "Swamp Thing" series mainly because I noticed the central character was female and attractively strung-out looking, but I've stayed with it because of the excellent writing done by Brian K. Vaughan. It's made me want to look up the earlier incarnations of "Swamp Thing," but I've hesitated because I'm not sure whether to buy the newly reissued graphic novels representing the previous series, or to seek out the original books. Any opinions?

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