In honor of that convention that is in the process of strangling itself with its own success, I want to say a few words about the comics and their influence on modern art and literature. I am not a snob who looks down on graphic novels and says "pictures? Ewww..." I read The Watchmen in the early nineties, and it completely blew my mind. I have, in my youth, picked up the occasional episode of Daredevil or the Green Lantern. And I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman and his graphic novels. But I can't help but look slightly askance at the recent rush in our society to embrace the "comics," most of which have very little comedy in them.
In the nineties, music videos became the proving ground for young film students looking to break into Hollywod. Studio executives mined the depths of MTV for fresh talent that came cheap. The result was a distinct slant in the style of films - hyperkinetic, frenzied, image-oriented, disjointed. Old-fashioned concepts such as "plot" and "dialogue" became suborned to image and style. In short, films became feature-length music videos, and not in the Andew Lloyd Weber sense of the word.
Now, Hollywood has "discovered" the rich troves of material in comics, and is taking to it with shovels and pick-axes. I watch the Watchmen trailer with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, not unlike how I watched the first "Lord of the Rings" trailer. The gentlemen in the high offices at Paramount and Universal have a right to make money, of course. And I thoroughly enjoy the recent slew of comic-derived films; they are good, solid entertainment. But I wonder if this is the best we can aspire to. People herald the new arrangement between Holywood and the comics as the interface between literature and film, a perfect balance. But I see little literature in the comics, with the occasional significant exception. In the "Hero with a Thousand Faces" sense, comics by their very nature have to continuously retell the same story over and over. While I enjoy the comic-derived films, I look forward to a time when we re-broaden our horizons.
Once upon a time, comics were edgy. I remember spending time in the "Comics and Comix" store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, just south of campus, back when I was a student there in the early nineties. This is where the nerdy kids went for their dose of counterculturalism. I remember flipping through Maus and thinking "What the hell is this?" This was not the three-color superhero adventures of my youth. These were menaingful, provocative, thought-stimulating. The store was dirty, disorganized, crowded, full of individuals of questinable origin and unquestonable politics. It was a place to rebel while not throwing away your sense of self-determination. Now I go to the Barnes and Noble at the mall and survey the row upon row of Manga they have taken to. Bright, shiny covers, full of subdued sexual implications while still remaining wholesome enough for soccer moms to drop their kids off and let them flip through Strawberry Panic while they check out the latest Jackie Collins blockbuster. Something has been lost. But of course it has, I remind myself. That is always the way. Whether its punk or ska or dada or impressionism, any edgy art form loses its avant-garde qualities once it is embraced by the mainstream. Rather than rant about The Man and The Mouse, better to start looking for your next piece of cheese.