Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Well, Golly!

Man, I get a kick out of Larry Young. I reviewed his new book, Proof of Concept yesterday, and while I said a number of good things about Larry and his writing ability, I also said that I thought that Proof of Concept was not the best example of said writing ability, and that I hoped he would devote his energies towards something besides what seemed to me to be rather bloodless, if amusing, exercises in conceptual acrobatics. If only everyone took criticism with such splendid aplomb!

One of the best and worst things about AiT/Planet Lar is their willingness to transparently represent the inner workings of their creative processes. On the one hand, you have wonderful books like True Facts and Come in Alone, engrossing pieces of comics history and commentary that you just can’t imagine anyone else having the patience or resources to publish. This tendency can also be seen as an indulgence: I have yet to encounter a scriptbook that I felt any desire to read or purchase. I don’t even see the point in reading Alan Moore’s scripts, and those are more interesting than many of the comics themselves. Someone’s buying them, so there’s obviously no harm in publishing them, but I can’t help but feel that scriptbooks are the comics equivalent of that bonus disc of demos and rarities that only the hardcore fans will ever listen to twice.

Something like Proof of Concept seems to me to be comfortably situated somewhere between fascinating discourse and self-indulgence, and I have a funny feeling that this is just how Young likes it. Even moreso than making a few good comics, he seems obsessed with destroying the mystery which surrounds comics publishing: he’s hardly a Sim-like Messiah, he’s much more down-to-earth, and absolutely dedicated to putting the “means of production” squarely in the hands of his readers. Seen in that light, Proof of Concept has an almost loosey-goosey, “Look Ma! No hands!” feel to it. The idea – and it’s a good one – is that thinking up good ideas really isn’t that hard, at least not as hard as some awful pretentious folks have made it out to be.

Coming up with ideas isn’t hard, and really, most people can do it, even if they don’t know it. Taking ideas and turning them into compelling narratives is the hard part: it’s the equivalent of taking a half-ton block of iron ore and turning it into a GTO. Anyone can work in a mine, but how many people can design and manufacture an automobile? Kudos to Larry Young for doing such a good job of illuminating the creative process, but this will probably be of more interest as an exegesis of the critical process than as a distinctly defined work of its own.

Proof of Concept is a great piece of work for anyone interested in the inner workings of the mine, but there’s a world of difference between a snappy concept and a fully-fleshed story. Of course, as any writer will be happy to corroborate, “therein lies the rub” . . .

Does anyone out there in the great wide world have a used laptop that they want to sell me? I regret not being able to post as often as I would like lately, but I have a very simple reason why I haven’t been able to do so: I don’t have any time when I’m at home. But my new job requires me to basically sit in a chair for eight hours at a stretch. I’ve been catching up on my reading, but you know, I need to get a laptop one of these days so I can get my work done while I’m at work (yeah, I know that sounds odd).

I know there are certain of you out there who could be qualified as “geeks”, and I know that “geeks” usually have to have the best machine available. I am not a geek in this matter. All I need is something that can do simple word processing. I am certain that there is someone out there with an old laptop that has been put out to pasture because of technology’s mad rush towards futurity – hook a brother up, why doncha?

Oni Love Can Break Your Heart

No Dead Time

The gradual success of Office Space has been one of the more gratifying underdog stories of the past few years. When Mike Judge’s satire of life in the trenches of corporate America was first released in 1999, practically no-one paid any attention. And yet here we are, six years later, and the film has succeeded in becoming one of the defining cult objects of the generation. Why? Because it had something interesting to say in an intelligent and witty manner, and because it had the chutzpah to avoid a demeaning or condescending attitude toward its intended audience (which is a skill most Hollywood comedies, mired either in crudeness or maliciousness, seem to have forgotten). So now, if you walk into Best Buy, chances are Office Space will be one of those perennial best-sellers placed next to the check-out lines. Chances are you know someone who has half the movie memorized, and if you don’t it might be because that person is you.

I think I can go out on a limb and say that Brian McLachlan and Tom Williams have seen Office Space, because their take on corporate America seems well-informed by that movie’s genially biting tone. The difference is that the deadenders in No Dead Time seem to have just a little bit more motivation than the hapless drones in Office Space: there is a clear sense that these people are overqualified and underpaid for the jobs they perform, and that they would be much happier if their places in the capitalistic superstructure could allow more room for them to follow their artistic or creative impulses. Of course, the authors are smart enough to avoid the cliché of anyone being a misunderstood genius brutally repressed by his environment. More to the point, the characters in No Dead Time are just looking for some way to express their apathy towards the aimless direction of their lives and antipathy towards the mega-capitalistic society in which they have unwittingly been born.

The art presents a rather interesting view into the characters’ heads. Certain characters are represented as metaphorical visualizations of their nature: the two-faced boss is drawn with two parallel mouths, the oafish frat boys are represented as looming gorillas, the callow jokester is a bandy-legged scarecrow. Its an effective device, even if it is used rather indiscriminately: certain characters are represented metaphorically, while some are depicted in a realistic fashion.

This is a book that would probably benefit from a larger page size as well: Williams’ layouts are almost maddeningly crowded, and his fondness for exotic angles and extreme close-ups sometimes make the visual flow extremely cluttered. This is a very dense book. There’s a lot of information on every page and in every panel, but sometimes Williams’ loose style overcomes the page’s communicative flow. There’s a slight Farel Dalrymple influence here, but Williams need to examine the sparseness of Dalrymple’s page designs in order to let his own pages breath a bit more easily.

No Dead Time is a fun book. The characters are recognizable and sympathetic: as with Office Space, you probably know people like this, who talk like this and do these things. I especially appreciate the fact that the book refused to give us the requisite happy ending: it ends on a positive note, but there’s ambiguity as well. I think this is a strong work that will appeal to anyone looking for further insight on the admittedly well-trod ground of aimless twenty-somethings. It reads true, and the characters’ authenticity is ample restitutions for a few lapses in narrative clarity.

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