Comic-Con Album Pt 8

Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screening, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
Fans line up for the Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screening

Moon Prism Power meets the Time Warp. Cosplayers from different subcultures rub shoulders during Masquerade night.

 Pt 123456, 7


Comic-Con Album Pt 7

Mighty Mouse cosplay, Masquerade, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
The Comic-Con Masquerade

You know how for years you keep hearing Comic-Con described (not without a hint of derision or perhaps self-loathing) as "nerd prom"or "geek vegas", so you finally move from the other side of the world just to see what it's really like? No? Anyway, I come into my first Masquerade late. The hall is packed, and the audience is cheering wildly. I look up at the huge stage and see a lone cosplayer, dwarfed by the two massive television monitors that flank him. He's lip-synching to the cheerful Mighty Mouse theme song booming from speakers scattered throughout the room. The cosplayer looks hilarious dressed in mock Mickey Mouse ears, nose, and whiskers, bright red and yellow spandex, with a puffed-up chest. And he exudes a clumsy, geeky charm, as he acts as if he barely remembers the lyrics. The crowd can't get enough of him. Some are even singing along. The energy is truly amazing. Far more intense than any costly event I've ever attended. As the performance ends, they spontaneously erupt into "MOUSE! MOUSE! MOUSE! MOUSE!" That's probably when it really hit me that I had finally made it to Comic-Con.

 Pt 12345, 6


Comic-Con Album Pt 6

Selina Desire, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
Cosplayer Selina Desire

The self-proclaimed Kat Goddess of Love was in the house. Looking at my old 35 mm rolls, I realize I didn't photograph that many cosplayers during the entire trip. This might have been personal reticence. Comic-Con was my first big convention. But I suspect the transition to digital has helped free-up my shooting habits. I may have been initially overwhelmed by the variety of things that were going on around me. And this made me conservative. But being able to fit two to four hundred images within a single memory card, as opposed to carrying a couple of rolls of film fitting only thirty-six frames each, is a huge step up in image capacity. The instant feedback is also quite useful when assessing what to photograph.

 Pt 1234, 5ss


Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2: Writer: Gene Luen Yang Art: Gurihiru  Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Art: Gurihiru

Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

When part one of The Promise was published, Legend of Korra had yet to premiere on Nickelodeon. But by now, it's pretty clear where the comic's narrative is heading, in so far as the bigger picture is concerned. Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko's friendship will survive. And the burgeoning conflict between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation colonies will be resolved by those two, leading to the founding of the United Republic of Nations. This isn't really a spoiler. It's the principal setting for Korra. With the TV series about to conclude its first season, the comic is starting to feel a little bit extraneous. Not that it would have made a dent on the legions of avatards who lined up to buy the book. But ideally, its release could have been better timed.

And The Promise: Part Two doesn't contain a whole lot in the way of major revelations. Nor does it significantly move the plot forward. Aang and Katara take their sweet time informing Earth King Kuei about the troubling events from the first volume. There's even an interlude where they hang out with the local chapter of Aang's official fan club. As its members all happen to be girls, Katara gets to squirm in discomfort as they fawn all over her beau. And then there's Zuko soliciting advice from his father, former Fire Lord Ozai, as was suggested at the end of the last book. He knows, or should know, what Ozai will say on the matter. So Zuko seeking his council seems to indicate a continued pathological need to earn his father's love and approval. The only person who undergoes a sudden change is Kuei. An ineffectual ruler and comic-relief from the TV series, he uncharacteristically decides it's time to go preemptive in order to be taken more seriously by his subjects and his enemies. Now that sounds vaguely familiar.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2: Writer: Gene Luen Yang Art: Gurihiru  Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
It's official. Kataang wins!

However, the volume's most prominent section is an extended detour from geopolitics in the form of Sokka's visit to Toph's metalbending academy. It's actually a rather charming side story that focuses on her maturation into the role of wise mentor figure, although it does manage to touch on the concerns of main plot. It's the comic's best character-based exploration of the ATLA universe. The backstory it references will unfortunately be opaque to non-fans. If this were still the TV series, it would be fitting material for one of the filler episodes. But given the relative brevity of this comic, it takes up a disproportionate amount of the narrative. And given the number of plot threads weaving in and out of each other without much actually happening, the comic feels like it's mostly biding its time until it can deliver on the big payoff in the third act.

But unless they belong to the faction wishing that Zuko would just get past his daddy issues, most fans will be pleased with The Promise. Gene Luen Yang pretty much gets what made the cast so popular, and his portrayals of them are pitch-perfect. He even manages to tease the shipper contingent by throwing in a few underutilized romantic pairings. And even the original character he introduces to give voice to the issues of racial identity and post colonialism dovetails nicely into the multiculturalism of Korra. Yang genuinely loves these characters, and his story is in many ways the highest form of fan fiction - one were he ends up actually getting paid to write it by the Powers That Be.

Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise Part 2: Writer: Gene Luen Yang Art: Gurihiru  Avatar: The Last Airbender created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Toph defines her new responsibilities

Comic-Con Album Pt 5

Scott McCloud, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
Scott McCloud conversing with a fan

Scott's table was located at the far end of the exhibitor hall that year, where he was promoting the sequel to his landmark Understanding Comics. This famous work was used as a textbook for one of the college courses I had enrolled in. But after coming face to face with him, one of my classmates noted, with some disappointment, that he didn't look like his cartoon avatar. He considered it to be a lot thinner and younger than the actual person. So I guess it's true. People under the age of twenty-one do think they're immortal.

On a personal note, I do consider Scott to be an important influence on my outlook as a comics fan. If not for creators like him pleading for a broader understanding of the medium, I probably would have "outgrown" comics a long time ago, like other people often claim. So meeting him a was kind of a big deal to me at the time.

 Pt 123, 4



Comic-Con Album Pt 3

Mark Waid, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
Mark Waid makes his entrance

Mark came into the room late, and chose to sit out that year's Pro/Fan Challenge. He then spent the rest of the session heckling his teammates from the sidelines.

Pt 1, 2


Comic-Con Album Pt 2

Will Eisner, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
The late Will Eisner signing his work

I didn't know it then. But this was the only time I'd get the chance to meet him.

Pt 1


Sculpture: Guy Laramée's Book Carvings

El amor por las montañas by Guy Laramée
El amor por las montañas
The Great Wall by Guy Laramée
The Great Wall
Biblios by Guy Laramée

This is every bibliophile's nightmare. But those are some pretty landscapes.

Comic-Con Album Pt 1

Superman family cosplayer, San Diego Comic-Con International 2000
Young cosplayer at the DC Comics Booth

Who watches the watchmen?
Who watched Watchmen?
Who will read Before Watchmen?

In the lead up to this year's Comic-Con International, I'll be posting photos from the very first Comic-Con I ever attended. Scanning old film negatives and cleaning up the images of dust and scratches is a pain. So enjoy my trip down memory lane!


Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 1

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 1 by Naoko Takeuchi
My first exposure to the Sailor Moon anime in the nineties triggered a bit of a nostalgic reaction. This is because I grew up watching Super Sentai shows like Gorenger, well before the genre was exported Stateside and significantly altered to become the Power Rangers franchise. Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can recall some of those long-forgotten forgotten episodes. This also means that I can't get that damn theme song sung by seiyu Isao Sasaki and Mitsuko Horie out of my head. But I digress. I don't know how many of the ideas behind the Sailor V and Sailor Moon manga came from the mind of creator Naoko Takeuchi, or of her editors. But both are a clever mashup of Super Sentai and the Magical Girl genre, revitalizing and updating them for a younger Japanese audience while serving as a kind of touchstone for older readers. But outside of Japan, Sailor Moon is seen in many quarters as kickstarting the international craze for anime and manga. Most Americans would not have been fully aware of Sailor Moon's pop culture lineage. Only that it was something weird, wonderful, and very different. Heroine Usagi Tsukino and the Sailor Senshi were not Disney princesses. They may have been sweet and feminine. But they still kicked butt! They opened-up the manga market to a whole new demographic. And after a long absence, the manga is back.

For the people who have been living under a rock for the last twenty years, Sailor Moon is the story of a fourteen year old girl named Usagi and her Sailor Senshi allies protecting the Earth from evil with their mystical powers. Unlike their Sentai counterparts who wore form-fitting, full body uniforms which were color-coded for each member, they wear clothes inspired by sailor fuku. That's the visual element that informs the series, meant to appeal to both Japanese girls and boys. Admittedly, some of the boys probably like it for more skeevy reasons. But there's no doubt that the look has become an enduring iconic image. So how did the Sailor Senshi get started? In a manner similar to most magical girl stories. A mysterious talking cat named Luna runs into Usagi, tells her that she's a magical guardian who has to find and protect the princess from a long lost kingdom, gather her fellow warriors, and search for a mysterious crystal that's the key to ruling the universe. Or something like that. Usagi will be the first to admit that she's not exactly hero material. And she blunders her way through her first mission. She's actually rather grating at the beginning. But not to worry. It isn't long before the other Senshi appear to lend her a hand.

Those only familiar with the anime will be surprised at how quickly the manga moves to assemble its principal cast. At times the pace feels hectic. There's plenty of room yet to flesh out the characters. But for now, each of the Senshi are portrayed in a recognizable shorthand. There's the braniac, the psychic, the tall one, and the crybaby. Other shojo tropes are used to further delineate them. While the Senshi are represented by astrological signs, their evil counterparts are long-haired bishonen named after precious stones. As for the bad guys themselves, their methods mostly involve sneakily draining the population of their life force. But their ultimate motivations remain a big mystery. The matter isn't helped by Luna's strangely obtuse statements. Then there's Usagi's would-be love interest Tuxedo Mask, whose reasons for aiding her remain unclear even to himself. By the end of this volume, a lot of things are still very much up in the air.

Compounding the breezy pace of the story are the fight scenes, which are short and mostly devoid of graphic violence. They typically commence with some posing, a hearty battle cry, followed by the discharging of exotic forms of energy. When someone looses, they usually get vaporized. In contrast to the conventional Sentai or shonen battle sequence, there isn't any elaborate exchange of increasingly ludicrous weapons/techniques/tactics, or a dramatic turning point when someone's defenses are finally penetrated. This is a shojo title. A person's belief in themselves, or in the power of love is what determines their ability to crush their enemies. Takeuchi's style may not be as intricate or "pretty" as that of later shojo artists. Her page layouts can often be crowded. And at this early stage of the series, she's still working out her character designs. But she already succeeds in illustrating the qualities of inner strength and beauty found in her protagonists.

Even after all this time, the series particular mix of princess-based fantasy and feminist sensibilities still continues to distinguish it from the content found in many other highly successful commercial manga. So it's great to see it's return to the English-speaking market.


Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012) directed by Ridley Scott
Michael Fassbender as David the android

So I got to see Ridley Scott's pseudo-prequel Prometheus today. Yes, it's a visually impressive spectacle as everyone else is saying. It even manages to deliver some genuine thrills and chills. And the cast is generally strong, especially Michael Fassbender playing a scheming android channeling his inner Peter O'Toole. But the movie betrays its horror story roots, which means that some characters have to act like nincompoops for the sake of moving the plot forward. What this means is an entire crew of supposedly qualified scientists forgetting their years of training and making incompetent decisions. Some individual motivations remain maddeningly inconsistent. And then there's the weak philosophical pretense embodied by a pair of archaeologists who quickly abandon measured skepticism for New Age gobbledygook and a specious quest for the meaning of life. Boy, Scott sure did set them up for the ultimate letdown (and a possible sequel). So how'd the meeting with your Maker go, suckas?

But this is ultimately a work of great visual beauty. And for sheer poetry, no other scene in Prometheus equals its prologue...