Tag Archives: comics

Scott Pilgrim Vs. Youth

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a film that chronicled my 20s perfectly. It was such tough luck that it had to go up against BOTH the Expendables and Eat Pray Love on opening weekend. Now I have to buy up everything Scott Pilgrim from the video game, to the soundtrack, to five minutes on the Scott Pilgrim Suicide Prevention hotline to properly show my appreciation. Thanks a lot, movie-going public.

The story of Scott having to defeat seven evil exes to date his crush should feel familiar for anyone who has had to deal with relationship baggage. As I watched, all these memories came flooding back to me. Playing the Rifts RPG with my friends in rathole apartments, losing at Dance Dance Revolution in Lotteria Cafe, and my hilarious attempts at finding relationships at parties and nightclubs. You have all this energy that in another time would have been used for something real, like fighting a war and raising a family. Instead, you’re stuck burning it all off on sports, video games, or some other cheap distraction. The surreal video game tropes of Scott Pilgrim mirror that fact. Most nostalgic of all was the high pitched whine of self-deception. Trust me, with no job and a useless degree, you’ll tell yourself anything to get through the day.

So here I am at 30, looking back at the last of my adolescence, and I think, what’s different? What have I learned? I met my beautiful wife (thank god) so I don’t have to bother with nightclubs anymore. I can’t stay up until 4 am like I used to anyway. That’ll come around to haunt me once kids are in the picture. I learned that you could love your job, but there was no way it was going to love you back. People might toss you aside to maintain their self-image, but don’t take it personally. If you meet someone that doesn’t do that, hang on to them dearly. Action is a greater virtue than patience.

I’ve probably got dozens of these fortune-cookie aphorisms buried away in gut feelings and subtle hunches. That’s the funny thing about experience. We say we’re free and individual beings, but we still funnel ourselves down the same old paths of life bordered in by our fears and unanswered questions. If we can face down those situations with no easy answers, keep trying to face down the limits of our experience, we just might eventually get to the truth.

Axe Cop vs. Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood

I wonder if Axe Cop is what Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood had in mind when they talk about creative play for children. If you haven’t read Axe Cop yet, go there now to right this injustice. I’ll wait. See, he’s a cop and he’s got an Axe, and he partners up with all these superheroes to fight the likes of Dr. Stinkyhead, King Evilfatsozon, and Vampire Man Baby Kid. The kicker is that it all comes from the head of a 5-year-old Malachai Nicolle and drawn by his 29-year old-brother Ethan.

This comic is just pure fun. Axe Cop runs into wish-granting unicorn-babies, robot zombie worlds, and rides a rocket-powered dinosaur dragon named Wexter (who has guns for arms). Best of all, he defeats bad guys with his axe. Although this is all springing from the mind of a small child, parents groups would be outraged if something like this ever made it to television. The main character is literally an axe-wielding maniac. He uses violence to solve his problems, not words.  His all-birthday cake diet sets a terrible example of healthy eating habits. Worst of all, he only has one girl on his team. Talk about gender stereotyping!

As long as I could remember, adults were always trying to impose their insecurities on kids’ playtime. I can distinctly remember as an eight year old finding out what the words “violence” and “influence” meant from a TV Guide column. GI Joe, Transformers and Robotech were supposed to influence me to commit violent acts. Even as a kid I could tell this was pure garbage. It’s a children’s cartoon, not mind control! In fact, I remember many episodes warning against the dangers of mind control.

The problem is we don’t recognize childhood for what it is. We’ve got this idea that childhood is an idyllic paradise free of problems where everyone plays nice and no one calls anyone names. Malachai is a nice, normal 5-year-old boy who did what any 5-year-old boy would do when presented with the opportunity of infinite possibility. He took the most extreme elements he could find in his world and mashed them up into a story that’s entertaining for him and everyone else on the internet. If we really want children grow up to be more creative and think for themselves, we need less social engineering and more Axe Cop!

The Harrowing Hi-jinks of Hackerteen

hackerteen
I was in the library the other day, checking out the comics section, when I noticed a book with an O’Reilly logo on the cover. This would be nothing new if it was “Linux in a Nutshell” or “PHP Cookbook”, but this was a rather Manga-looking book with “Hackerteen Volume 1: Internet Blackout” emblazoned on the cover. It appeared that O’Reilly was looking to raise the next generation of IT Security Professionals. Intrigued, I checked it out and brought it home.

The comic follows the story of an 11 year-old shut-in named Yago. His parents become suspicious about all the time he spends on the computer, so they enroll him in Hackerteen, a school where kids of all ages can use their interest in computers constructively to become “El33t Hacker3z”. 6 years later, Yago is now a real hacker…teen, and he has the orange goggles, racing gloves and spikey mullet to prove it. Unfortunately, word of his prowess has reached the criminal element, and they constantly hound him for his services. He manages to rebuff them until he finds out his father’s bakery is in financial need. He takes a job to install a program to trace some rich fellow’s wife’s computer. However, the real purpose of the program is to hijack the rich fellow’s daughter’s webcam (which was placed conveniently in her bedroom) and use pictures of her undressing to blackmail her for thousands of dollars. Yago has to use his technical expertise to help the poor girl out before she becomes an unintentional internet camwhore.

I must say that the writers of Hackerteen certainly know their stuff. They know that hacking is not just the province of breaking into the pentagon and other sexy stuff. It’s mainly about abusing the trust of humans and their machines to get what you want out of them. The book has more than a few web addresses leading to web pages that go into detail about the issues that the characters face.

Unfortunately, that’s where this book’s good qualities end for me. First of all, it’s very hard to get past the art style in reading this book. The characters look like crude copies out of a Christopher Hart “How to Draw Manga” book. Facial features float all over the place, and rules of perspective are often treated more like guidelines. The story also hard to follow. Subplot after subplot is just being sandwiched in there, involving so many characters that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Yago has about 5 people on his team, and I don’t even think their names are mention. The characters themselves are pretty one dimensional, borrowing from anime stereotypes conjured up in Yu-gi-oh! or Pokemon.

Now it may seem unfair that I’m picking on an educational comic like this. The good people who wrote Hackerteen are simply trying to shed light on the complex issues that drive our world. But if computer security is so important, should we have to put up with sub-par art and lazy story-telling to learn about it?

Annlee and the Vancouver Art Gallery

Sara and I got a membership to the Vancouver Art Gallery as a wedding present so last Friday we opted to go see an exhibition called “KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art”. The isn’t the first anime/comic themed exhibit at the art gallery. In 2002 there was “The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture” which took a lot of Astroboy, Iron Man, and Ghost in the Shell comics and called it cyborg culture. The link between all of the works was a little tenuous. I found this exhibit to be much more interesting.

On display were the last three Krazy Kat drawings ever made, lots of (very good) independent comic artists like Seth and Daniel Clowes, as well as some Manga Artists that aren’t as well known in the west, like Junko Mizuno and Mamoru Nagano. The animation exhibit displayed clips from Macross, Patlabor, and Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. There was also a display on the history of animation, from Gertie the Dinosaur to Toy Story. The video game exhibit was compiled by Will Wright, creator of The Sims and Spore. It traced the progress of video games throughout the years, starting with Pac-man, going through Super Mario and leading up to Grand Theft Auto and Quake. This was followed by a pop art exhibit containing modern art about comics, animation and video games.

Now, I’ve blogged about the art gallery before, and I wasn’t too happy about how free expression had completely overthrown the idea that you need the talent and craft necessary to communicate the ideas. It’s kind of impossible to do anything in animation or video games without some level of craft but I still had this nagging thought that the exhibitors at the art gallery viewed the abandonment of rules as progress. Works that made less and less sense were being touted as the future of their respective media. Even in the video games, the procedural generation of random worlds was held up as being superior to scripted stories and artistic control. As I walked through the pop art exhibit, I came across a series of works called “No Ghost Just A Shell”, and I had realized that I stepped into the dimension of arrogant intellectuals who had completely missed the point.

“No Ghost, Just a Shell” is the work of two “artists” named Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe. They bought the rights to a character they called “Annlee” from a Japanese character development studio. She was kind of a sad girl with elf ears who probably wouldn’t be able to carry on her own series. They decided to create an exhibit around her. Now, this would have been a good thing if she was in the care of people who could communicate like human beings. Instead she was at the mercy of cold, logical modern artists whose penchant for ambiguity is only outpaced by their arrogance. In kinder life Annlee would’ve been given a backstory, a few doujinshi, maybe someone would even cosplay as her. She would be, you know, loved. Here, in a perversion of the Velveteen Rabbit story, she gets dissected and deconstructed by bunch of euro-trash hipsters who put her in looping video installations speaking gibberish and repetitive pop art posters. The so-called triumph of the work was that the artists got a legally binding agreement that all rights to make works based on Annlee revert back to Annlee herself. However, since no one else can draw her now, she is effectively dead because some self-aggrandizing academic wanted to explore the “idea” of copyright.

The whole thing reminded me of Gulliver’s journey to Balnibarbi, where he found scientists who were so obsessed with analyzing the natural order of things that the land had turned barren from all their absurd experiments. These artists are doing the same thing with the realm of ideas. Slavish devotion to the new and the unique has created a culture where art is irrelevant. The modern art movement was started because the world of art was so detached from people’s lives, but the resulting trend ended up making art today more detached than ever. Soon they will have even lost the ability to shock.

Sara and I left the Annlee installation feeling confused and a little sad for the elf-girl that had gotten mixed up in all this. We passed another video installation called “Cosplayers” by someone named Cao Fei. It was a video of young chinese men and women exploring, fighting, and running through the streets of Guangzhou, China in anime costumes. The plaque near the installation said that the youths in the video were fighting against a society that had disdain for the imaginary, and threatened them with stifling homogeneity. It was a little obtuse, but unlike the Annlee it was actually trying to express something. The costumes were well done, and the contrast to the oppressive buildings in the background was quite neat. It reminded me of how seeing cosplayers at conventions kind of took you out of the mindset of the real world. The work was relatable and I could experience it, instead of just staring at it and trying to fashion Emperor’s clothes for it in my head. If there are more artists out there like Cao Fei, perhaps all is not lost.