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Saturday, September 05, 2009

CONCEPT MINING #1

Okay, this kinda follows on in a semi-stream from below - some thoughts that drifted in unbidden when I was trying to get to sleep last night, probably prompted by questions my 8 y.o. daughter's been asking me about comic characters and also by the Disney take-over of Marvel. So, some vague stream-of-consciousness free-to-air quasi-concept stuff, mostly Marvel-orientated:

1) The Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction/Unknown Worlds.

Marvel ought to reclaim one or both of these titles - as they do for other book-titles/characters in order to keep copyright of names or whatever. The original 70's conceit was to 'do' mainstream comic-book adaptations of classic SF stories or concepts - like Bob Shaw's 'Slow-Glass' idea, wh/ they once used as a framing device. Occasionally, they'd cover something by Harlan Ellison, or - even better! - Roy Thomas would actually get the old fucker to write a one-off issue of a Marvel mag.

"What If" The Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction was rebirthed to showcase/anthologise new Visionary SF by writers from the Cyberpunk Era onwards. Cutting-edge, 'edgy' stuff. So you'd get 6-10 pagers by the likes of Ellis and Morrison next to, oh, I dunno, Rudy Rucker, Richard Kadrey, China MiƩville, etc, etc and, well, wouldn't it be amazing if you could drag Sterling and Gibson down off Ol' Visionary Mountain to play too - either with new stuff or a one-off licensed old short.story (tho prob too expensive!) illustrated by the likes of Paul Pope, yeah? Cutting-edge, but accessible. (Fill in your own favourites here. My own tastes are erring on the conservative/old school a bit, I know, but I'd like to see, hmmm: Kyle Baker (who I think has got an absolutely superb plastic pallette; the guy always amazes me with his flexibility o'style), Walt Simonson (the logical inheritor of Wide-Concept-Mass Kirby/Druillet-ism), um, Giraud/Ladronn...). I'd like to see something written by Jodorowsky too. You'd have to invite Ellison, of course - it would be rude not to - and he'd almost certainly tell you to bugger off; but he'd have to be on the invite list. Samuel Delaney too.

Yeah, so cutting-edge-ish, but accessible. That's the mantra here. It would certainly be Marvel Editorial's answer to all them fan-boy critics fretting that Marvel are gonna get speyed by The Big D.

Magazine-sized, good page-count, adverts for SF films/games/phone apps . I think with modern digital printing there's not much in the way of savings if you go to Black n White.

All I've done is probably invented a pretty good, fairly contemporary version of Interzone - a paper Science Fiction mag in an era when the sales of paper Science Fiction mags are plummeting faster than a Victorian prossie's drawers. But this is an illustrated strip mag, an antho deliberately market-spun for these PoMo post-ironic times - it's got pictures fer gawdsake. I'm hampered here by my ignorance of marketing/sales/distribution, but: imagine something that could be sold in comic-shops (and my wide choice of creators from 80s thru 'til now was semi-deliberate to maximise the buyers-age demographic, from edgy-slightly-Retro thru to Post-Now), but also fit confortably on the shelves of Borders, W H Smiths, etc. In fact, imagine something ineffably cool that would become a compulsive must-purchase for browsers picking up their copy of Wired or Wired UK. Three/four issues becomes a collected trade-type thing that fits snugly in Waterstones in both the SF section and in amongst the Manga/Trade collections. Coffee-Table A-Go-Go!

Maybe some articles/interviews, like the old 70's Marvel mags.

If Disney/Marvel do get too uncomfortable with, er, edginess, then why not resurrect the old Curtis magazine imprint that Marvel used back in the 70s, just to distance yrself from any awkward, unpleasant stuff? If you wanna soften it slightly then re-mine Star-Hawk, Star-Lord type material and respin for the 2010s. Another go-round for Howard Chaykin on American Flagg or Monark Starstalker. I'm blunting the concept somewhat now, but you get my drift. Maybe Unknown Worlds is the regular-sized, slightly softer full-colour SF sister comics-antho book.

Science Fiction comics don't sell, you say. What about DC's Helix imprint, or their Moorcock stuff - they didn't exactly fly, did they? Good point. But this is Now. This is where a great editor, an awesome art-designer/layout guy and a supersmart marketing guy really get to earn their steak sandwhiches. There's a niche for a paper product like this, I'm sure, if you got the balance right. Oh, and maybe a super-neat back-up website with tasters, Flash animation, etc for you Hypermodernists who don' like The Physical World no more.

The full title's v. clunky-sounding in an era of shorthand one-word blipvert mag titles, but - guess what? - it's exactly what it says on the label. Science Fiction. Duhr.

2) Chamber of Darkness/Vault of Evil/Vampire Tales/etc

Well, you can see where I'm going with this. Of course there's a market for a bleeding-edge quality Horror/Dark Fantasy antho magazine or comic with quality contributors. How can there not be? You only have to look at the bulging shelves in Waterstones and W H Smiths. Shouldn't there be more illustrated stuff in amongst them? Comics don't sell? Well, perhaps you're not doing them properly.

Contributors: well, some of the above, of course...Neil Gaiman, Josh Whedon, Steve Niles, blahblahblah.

A respin of Vampire Tales for the burgeoning Goth/YA market. Oh, come on, Marvel, make it happen. Give those kids in black boots and overcoats an antho to read during those awful hot brightly-lit summer days. Endless crossover/marketing potential with various gloom.bands. An illustrated magazine w/ a free CD of miserabilistic Metal/Goth/Emo/Industrial. Monstrously big market for those brave enuff to poke around til they find the right entry-points. Probably needs to be called something like Black or Red or Death, but that's not the point. Please give my stroppy, insanely intelligent 5 y.o. youngest daughter something to read when she's older and even more stroppy. "What happens when you die, Dad?"

Teenage Angst and acknowledgement of mortality - The Inescapable Inevitability of Death - will never go out of fashion.

Next!


3) Weird Wonder Tales.

Heh. Exactly what it says. But a hypermodernist take on the original 70's run wh/ was itself reprints of even older stuff.

'Nuff said, you freakos. Come on, you know you wanna fucking read it. Especially if, um, certain people were to write and draw it. Leave a list in me comments box.

The word 'wonder' is full of potentially-dated old school connotations. But take it out and you've got...well, you know. It's a gift and you know it. Reclaim the word "wonder". Reclaim it now.


4) Gerberisation.

Rather than mining characters, why don't we also mine process?

Gerber.

For me, Gerber sums up a certain kind blend of insider-outsiderism - a snippy, snipe-y type of satirical potshot at the norm combined with surreal-absurdism and some genuine o_school literary prowess. Steve was a Hipster Moralist. At his worst - back in the day - too wordy, along w/ Don McGregor a proto-Alan Moore...but at his best; ah, well... and his more recent-ish stuff - Nevada, the final run on Howard - was a fucking master-class in something-or-other. A tragic loss.

I liked the way SG's brain worked; how he pulled things out of the ol' Brain Smoke. Pulled archetypes out of the mist and looked at them from different angles n then wrote about it until it looked like it was something new. Which it was. This was Pre-Smart Thinking. Pre-Morrison. He wrote during the first wave of Post-Modernism, but it never read or felt like Post-Modernism. I call his Process (cue spooky fanfare): Gerberisation.

My favourite Gerberisation is his creation of The Headmen - Defender's villains whose origins were (randomly?) sourced from stories/characters in Weird Wonder Tales #7, a 70's reprint mag of older Atlas (?) mystery type tales. This is a predecessor to Concept Mining - taking non-characters and amplifying their non-attributes until you create 'new' characters, or a sense of character - quite different, I think, to the now-common, usually Wikipedia/Marvel Archives-fuelled activities carried out by folks deliberately employed to, uh, do such things.

In an ideal world we should create New things from New Cloth; but unfortunately the world (ie commerce) don't necessarily swing to that particular beat...new stuff is often, uh, difficult; it creates problems. Best stay with the Old Stuff; change it a bit, adapt it to new markets, see how it plays out and if it works replay to revenue-exhaustion, then change it a bit more. Things change slowly by evolution - even comics are subject to Darwinism - they respond to the times they live in, to the Natural Selection of market forces.

So, rather than remine characters, why don't we remine process? Apply the same sort of brain-memes as, say, Gerber and apply those thought-processes or approaches to Darwinian Comic Drift? I don't mean write like the guy; copy his style (ugh! you bad person!) - do the writerly equivalent of artistic 'swipes' - but apply concept-mining methodologies that x or y might have used. After all, they're just palettes - tools - another layer of brain-muscles that can be brought to bear on a problem. And NPL tells us that any tool-kit used by someone else can be adopted/utilised by another person if they take the time to grok what the common elements are and how to apply them. Think like Steve Gerber might have done for two hours, but then write like yourself. One or two people are already doing this and I think you can guess who they might be.

The downside of all this is what I call Gerber Abuse. Writers who 'do' whacky/zany. Gah.

You are not The Children of Gerber. Go away. Grrr.

I do, however, like what I've seen of Dan Slott's Great Lake Avengers and She-Hulk. He gets it.


5) Rocket Raccoon.

Speaking of which: Rocket Raccoon.

Gerbilisation lol. Rocket Raccoon: come on then, Disney, what are you waiting for?


6) AR

Marvel should pay someone - a couple of programmers and a whatsit-guy - to build an AR iPhone app that points you towards comics-shops, retailers, etc in major cities who sell Marvel n Disneyware. It would cost 'em peanuts. If they were magnanimous about it and included other comics companies, SF n Fantasy stuff, theme-parks, blahblahblah they would frigging own the phoneworld comic-universe - a still-small portal that will soon open up into something ridiculously big and scary. It would cost them chump-change.

Also: AR apps that overlay onto physical world via iPhone camera lens with direction/compass-responsive data so that Wolverine or Deadpool or Hulk or Disney.munter.avatars react to yr phone-movements and/or smart-mouth you: "No, this way, bub! Directions ain't what you do best."

AR character downloads fo' your phone. In a few years, the characters would/will interact with the camera visuals, moving around inside the 'real'-world visuals streaming in thru the lens, etc. Big potential market here if you're not scared of change.

7) Man-Thing Fail.

Gerber rewind: why was it that only he could write Man-Thing - that most frustrating/passive/illusive of characters, one who's undergone zillions of completely unsuccessful reboots? Writing Man-Thing is like writing The Watcher, yet SG did it extremely well and with a variety of artists, not just Ploog. I've always thought that cracking Man-Thing is a gateway to something quite incredible; the character is a portal to entire universes of otherness - horror, humour, strangeness, grotesqueness, comedy, parody, fun - but no one else has ever even come close. A great run on Man-Thing is The Holy Grail. The Anti-Alan Moore Swamp Thing Run.

Why Man-Thing Fail? Think about it.




I want to go and listen to some music now.

More on all this later.

5 Comments:

At 4:46 am, Blogger Chris T said...

I recently re-read that Mantlo/Mignola Rocket Racoon mini-series - great stuff.

Speaking of Gerber have you seen this post on how Disney nixed Howard the Duck?

I'd love to see a new SF anthology comic if any comic company had the balls to do one. Heavy Metal kinda lets me down these days - the last two issues of that that I bought were with the Jodorowsky penned "Borgia" episodes each spaced a year apart.

 
At 4:16 pm, Blogger Jason Gusmann said...

too many great ideas in one blog post...breaking open my head...rrrrghhhh....

yes to all, but especially new unknown worlds of SF with some JG Ballard adaptations (esp. from Atrocity Exhibition) and Gerber! forgotten genius whose masterclass was sullied by that terrible, terrible movie - will have to go re-read the nevada arc now!!

 
At 8:08 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

Chris! Yeah, that post you linked to is beyond parody lol. You couldn't make that shit up.

Interesting that Gerber's response to Disney narrowing his Howard parameters in fact became a classic piece of Gerberisation (or Gerbilisation) in itself - let's do a Howard the Duck comic in which Howard isn't a duck lol!! Classic.

It also kinda connects back conceptually to his own Stewart the Rat graphic novel from the early 80s.

Nevada is also an analogue of Howard - you can almost track his thinking here: I can't do Howard, so suppose I do another kind of bird - an ostrich lol! - and team him up with a Vegas showgirl (wasn't Bev a stripper or something?) - so Nevada is a kind of Earth 2 version of Howard, if that makes sense.

Didn't he also do a Canonicity Switch in which he claimed back the 'canonical' Howard from Marvel - where was that? - Destroyer Duck...he explained in some interview I read ages ago that at the end of whatever-it-was, he wrote something so that a duck crossed over (between universes? Sorry, I really should Google this to remind myself...) but he claimed that it was one duck leaving but a different duck coming out the other end, so that he got the 'real' Howard in his comic myth.space and Marvel were saddled with the fake one in their continuity. It was genius stuff.

Heavy Metal - I haven't read one of those for ages...the last time I saw one was, umm...dunno 3 or 4 years ago maybe? It had gone down to digest-sized - it looked really nice, but nothing much really jumped out at me. I think they weren't offering contributors much - maybe just a small percent on sales, but I don't think sales were very good.

I think you may have torpedoed my naive idea there, Chris - lol -since if even Heavy Metal is/was sinking/not selling - and that was a known established brand! - then what chance would something like Unknown have?

A comic with quality Ballard adaptions...whooo, now that would be interesting. We'd buy it, wouldn't we, kids?

 
At 10:32 am, Blogger Chris T said...

Well, if as you say Heavy Metal's sales are low well I don't think that that means that you idea has been torpedoed. It may mean that there actually is place in the market for a good SF comic mag.

I mean Heavy Metal has kinda had it's day. If teenagers want titillation they can get it for free from the internet anytime. And there's plenty of quasi-porn T&A in the new Marvel & DC comics (eg. Batwoman and Uncanny X-Men, both of which are quite good btw).

And does it really still license the best European comics?

So maybe there is room for a "proper" SF mag. I'd love to see one.

 
At 11:22 pm, Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

Some good points here, Chris, especially about the erosion of HM's original T&A Fantasy demographic.

I've been trying to find out their sales figures, but failing, so I'm either looking in the wrong place or they're so low they've fallen out the charts!

Is Kevin Eastman still the editor/publisher? I really need to research this a bit more lol.

I started buying Metal Hurlant not long after it first came out - and I've still got most of the early issues - so never really got into the US 'edition' much back in the day. I completely missed out on the fact that Harlan Ellison and John Shirley did some stuff back in the 80s, so that might be worth me hunting down some day.

Ah, just Googling: it was Metal Hurlant that went to digest-sized a few years back - sorry! my mistake - the covers of Heavy Metal still look pretty similar to 20 years ago lol....it looks like they've had a few games and film tie-ins, so there must still be a bit of money floating around, but the formula looks pretty tired to me...

 

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