Other Lives

Other Lives  by Peter Bagge.
Today I'm going to follow my review of The Guild by looking into another book that ostensibly examines the World Wide Web from a different perspective.

Peter Bagge isn't a creator I've had a lot of exposure to in the past, as his landmark series Hate was already winding down when I became aware of it. Finding copies of back issues was impossible. And to be honest, at the time I wasn't very interested in following a series set in Buddy Bradley's particular milieu. Bagge's latest effort published by DC was thus an opportunity to read more long-form work from him.

What's always been fascinating to me about Bagge is a visual style that sets him apart from other comics creators. His characters grotesque faces and elastic bodies suggest a world populated by buffoons behaving in ways that can only lead to an inevitable reckoning. It's Pieter Bruegel meets Bob Clampett via Robert Crumb. In a world of print that perpetuates slick, interchangeable, art styles, a Bagge cartoon or illustration bears a strong individual mark and moral world view.

Other Lives is the kind of comic story that compliments Bagge's art. It's about a quartet of people who lead double lives. There's Javy, a successful computer programmer bought low by his obsession with conspiracies. He makes dubious claims about being a government secret agent. His onetime college acquaintance Vlad, preferring to go by the name Vader, is a journalist paralyzed by self-recrimination while in denial about his family/ethnic background. Their mutual friend Woodrow is constantly lying about his marital state and addiction to gambling. Then there's Vader's otherwise devoted fiancee Ivy who indulges in virtual sex within the comic's stand-in for - the obviously named Second World (The story takes place in 2003 - the year of the launch of Second Life).

None of the characters are very likable. But they are oddly compelling. Their less than honest behavior and private obsessions push them on a downward spiral that's bound to end not so well. But all the same, they are imbued with a lot of personality and portrayed with just enough self-awareness to earn some sympathy. The dialogue sparkles when they inevitably clash: Vader's skepticism leans against Javy's paranoia; Ivy's frustrated loyalty responds to Vader's dithering. And then there's the way in which Ivy and Woodrow communicate when online while still failing to understand each other.

Other Lives  by Peter Bagge.

Where the book stumbles is in the treatment of its theme. The denouement suggests that the web facilitates the creation of fluid multiple identities that confuse the boundaries between the physical and the virtual. It's an idea that's been stated before in science fiction. But Bagge doesn't nurture it sufficiently within the confines of Other Lives. It doesn't help that the story's violent climax falls flat and is incongruent with the satirical content of the rest of the book.

It also doesn't help that the book's version of the internet is already outdated. On one hand it views the internet as just a more convenient way to indulge in human vices such as fear, hate, lust and greed (To quote the lines from the Broadway musical: "The internet is for porn"). And on the other hand it simply rehashes old ideas about the internet as a metaverse populated by avatars representing actual individuals - hence the emphasis on Second World as the ultimate expression of inappropriate online behavior. Otherwise, it's a facsimile devoid of any significant social component. As such, Other Lives feels a decade out of step and written by a visible outsider looking in.

Other Lives  by Peter Bagge.

For all these quibbles, Other Lives demonstrates that Bagge is a formidable talent that can't be ignored by the comics enthusiast. Maybe I should look into his back catalog.


The Guild #1

The Guild by Felicia Day, Jim Rugg, Dan Jackson, Nate Piekos, Georges Jeanty, Dexter Vines, Tariq Hassan, Cary Nord, Dave Stewart.
By Felicia Day, Jim Rugg, Dan Jackson, Nate Piekos, Georges Jeanty, Dexter Vines, Tariq Hassan, Cary Nord, Dave Stewart.

Media tie-ins generally seem like pretty extraneous efforts when compared to the source material. But for fans of The Guild web series, the selling point of its comic book tie-in is that its being penned by series creator and star Felicia Day. For those unfamiliar with the series, The Guild is a web-based sitcom about a group of gamers who play an unidentified massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The comic book functions as a series prequel. While this makes it an easy jumping off point for new viewers, there's a clear sense that Day is assembling her cast of characters again, for the first time. Several of them make cameos in this issue, although for now it centers around the main protagonist Cyd Sherman.

No doubt, the show's subject matter puts it deep into nerd territory. This is offset a bit by using the online game as a McGuffin for the cast's real world shenanigans. Despite their attempts to escape into the game's environment, their interactions inevitably lead offline. Within the context of the web series, Cyd is a single, unemployed, shy and retiring woman whose life revolves around her relationships with her gamer friends. Much of the show's self-deprecatingly humor is built on the dialogue written by Day. While that is carried over to a certain extent in the comic, the overall tone of this first issue is slightly more dour. This is because the pre-gamer Cyd is a very lost adult. Despite her cozy job as an orchestra violinist, she's suffering from depression bought about by a midlife crisis. She's also unable to assert herself in a relationship with a boyfriend who takes her for granted. She has no close friends. And her therapist isn't able to connect with her. On a whim she purchases the MMORPG because she's immediately drawn to the idea of recreating her own identity.

The Guild by Felicia Day, Jim Rugg, Dan Jackson, Nate Piekos, Georges Jeanty, Dexter Vines, Tariq Hassan, Cary Nord, Dave Stewart.

The idea is a familiar one to the average adolescent misfit; and it's implied that Cyd is emotionally regressing by choosing to dive into a virtual world. Nothing new is being said about its overarching themes. But overall this is a gentle and sympathetic portrayal of a nerd subculture that's bound to play well to the comic book crowd. The art supplied by Jim Rugg isn't anything unusual. Aside from pacing Day's dialogue, Rugg ably reproduces her likeness and the pared down, mundane look of the series. And he illustrates more of the game than is shown on the show - which is painted to look like a idealized version of Cyd's self-image. But for the most part, it's Day's authorial voice that predominates.

For people with less geeky tendencies, the comic book, like the original web series, presents a high barrier of entry. The cover alone should drive away a good portion of them. And the comic itself lacks the charisma found in Day's actual performance. While amongst the fanboy contingent it should attract new viewers who have been unaware or previously uninterested in the series, this is most likely to appeal to the completist tendencies of preexisting fans. Not that this will be much of a problem. From what I've heard, the show is about to produce its fourth season.


More NonSense: Bad Philosophy vs. Good Porn

Ken Smith Comics: The Cave of False Consciousness by Shaenon Garrity.

Shaenon Garrity reads Ken Smith so you don't have to. Elsewhere she asks: Where have all the good porn comics gone?

All Things Considered covers the Reki-jo subculture.

J. Michael Straczynski continues the proud DC tradition of periodically destroying Wonder Woman's life. Good for you DC.

Marc-Oliver Frisch decodes the secret to Mark Millar's success:
Millar's brilliant shtick involves grabbing the reactionary self-loathing you find among many of the predominantly white, male, middle-class superhero (and, possibly, action-movie) audience by the balls and using it to his own advantage. His work speaks to the fears of being an emasculated loser and the resulting resentment against those to whose level you don't want to sink, those who are perceived to be even weaker and lower on the totem pole of society: women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals.

Feminists are putting the hate on Tina Fey.

Yamasaki Osamu (via Welcome Datacomp) tackles the wage discrepancies within Japan's anime industry.

If Tom Spurgeon's survey question could be expanded to list six superpowers, I would add healing factor/immunity to all disease, to my five choices.

Matt Maxwell and others say the future of comics is digital (and possibly on a tablet).

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended. Finally. Read about it.

Thom Hogan argues passionately for a more modular, flexible, efficient, and web-oriented camera design.


More NonSense Followup: Racebending

Eye of Katara.
Eye of Katara

Roland Kelts has posted about the racebending controversy at TCJ. He argues much more succinctly the same points I made about the ethnic and creative fault-lines of much (anime-inspired) modern cartooning and animation vs. the racial politics of live action, but he seems to confuse Japanese anime adaptations with Avatar when he starts talking about casting Japanese actors:
But there’s another problem: Few Japanese actors can speak English fluently, and those few who can are often too old for the roles they might play (Ken Watanabe being the perfect example).  Do Asian source stories like anime need Asian actors to deliver the aura properly?  And if so: Where to find them?

I'm not sure why he thinks they have to be Japanese or Asian nationals sporting exotic accents, since the issue is more about balanced casting for Asian Americans, or anyone from a minority background, who already can speak English fluently enough to play the roles being cast.

Martha Nichols, MANAA, Michael Le, and Angry Asian Man slam director M Night Shyamalan's defense of the casting choices. It must be nice for Paramount to know that it can depend on him to be a team player.

Of course the organized protests no longer have any chance of changing those decisions. The protesters have to content themselves with making a statement and stirring up enough displeasure to affect the film's summer launch.

For all the publicity, the cast's ethnicity is only the most outward part of the film. There are still the core concerns that arise whenever adapting works from different mediums which could sink the movie even if the casting was pitch perfect. Take the writing for example: Here's Shyamalan's response to a question about altering Avatar's brand of humor for the big screen:
Hopefully there is enough that you will still see characters that you love. But there is so much latitude with an animation that you don’t get with live action.

Obviously, changes have to be made when translating an animated television show into a motion picture trilogy. But given his track record as a director and his interview answers, I don't foresee him succeeding in this area.

More on Avatar Racebending


More NonSense: Post Holy Week Edition

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco
Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. One of the best comics of 2009.

Tom Spurgeon finally posts his "best of 2009" list. This time he splits his choices into subdivisions like best archive reprint, or best first print collected edition. I'm not one to put too much stock in "best of" lists. But if I did, Tom's is a good a place to start.

CNN's belated report on the controversial video game RapeLay is predictably broad and sensationalistic, and prompted mangaka Nogami Takeshi to write an open letter protesting the stereotyping of Japanese culture. The highlight of the letter is when he quotes the Gospel of John 8:1–11. Score one for Takeshi!

David Welsh writes in appreciation of the geek-oriented series Glee. The television show premiered over here on cable less than three months ago. It's populated by the usual collection of high school stereotypes and bufoons - some highly irritating and some pretty amusing. The writing is hit or miss, but the singing is both infectious and bolsters the generally optimistic outlook of the show.

Speaking of cable TV, I'm not too crazy about Animax Asia. The channel usually broadcasts english dubbed versions of various anime serials, which wouldn't be half as annoying except that the quality of the voice acting is mostly indifferent. But they also air subtitled versions of more current anime, which usually prompts me to complain about the poor subtitling. One example which is nearing completion is the delayed telecast of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The anime is as far as I can tell, a faithful adaptation of the manga, which is pretty grim for a shonen series. The channel's subtitles tend to err on the side of literal but clunky translations. Another which recently began airing is the anime version of the yonkoma The series is as pandering as any moe-inspired seinen comedy. Think of it as Glee with J-pop in place of Broadway show tunes, and without the sex or the bitchy popular kids. It's available in subtitled and dubbed versions so viewers can choose which is less grating to them.


I am afraid I am Buddhist, not Christian, but I respect your Lord nonetheless. His word that you, me and all mankind are hentai is pregnant with meaning. Yet, there is a difference between “His” views (that you share) and mine. I do not think that people being hentai is a sin. There is nothing wrong with rational people being hentai.

I, at any rate, do not see anything wrong with that. Do you?

- Takeshi Nogami