Geoffrey Long
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If I were in Ohio...

I'd totally be attending P. Craig Russell's appearance tonight at OSU's Wexner Center. Here's the description of the event from the site:

Wayne Alan Harold and P. Craig Russell introduce Night Music: The Art of P. Craig Russell

Night Music provides an illuminating behind-the-scenes look at one of the most acclaimed and interesting comic book artists working today, P. Craig Russell. Director Wayne Alan Harold and artist Russell both offer comments about their experiences in making the film.

Before the screening, come by the Wexner Center Store where Russell will be signing copies of his work, including his graphic novel adaptation of Coraline, at 6 PM.

Born in Wellsville, Ohio, and now living in Kent, Russell quickly established himself as one of the most distinctive artists in the fantasy genre with early work on Doctor Strange for Marvel Comics in the mid 1970s. He has since created mesmerizing interpretations of characters ranging from Conan to Neil Gaiman's Sandman, along with a string of astonishing adaptations of operas (The Magic Flute and Salome among them) and of Gaiman's children's classic Coraline. (80 mins., video)

While I'm not wholly certain I'd call Coraline a classic just yet, this is definitely something I'm sorry to be missing. Hey you Ohio friends, go in my stead, would you? Here's a clip from the movie to whet your appetite:


And just as suddenly...

Well, that was... Something. The trip to New York was a remarkable success in some regards, an all-out failure in others, and also bizarrely insightful in still others. A quick run-down:

The Successes

  • Getting to stay with Sam and Amanda one more time before their baby arrives

  • Onigiri, cupcakes and other delicacies with Emily

  • Texas BBQ NYC-style with Sam and Amanda

  • Getting to show Laura Rockefeller Square

  • Checking out the Gap / PANTONE pop-up store (mimosa yellow t-shirt GET)

  • Scoring a couple of choice finds at the NYCC

The Letdowns

  • Having the Saturday NYCC tickets cease being on sale online on Friday morning, and then be completely sold out on Friday night

  • As a result, not getting to meet up with David, Ellen, Elizabeth and Stephen

  • Not getting to meet up with Elizabeth on Sunday because I missed her call (Sorry!!!)

  • Not attending a single panel at the Con due to a combination of bad timing, exhaustion and disinterest (the Fringe panel would have been interesting, but getting home before midnight proved more compelling)

  • New York traffic

  • Taking the wrong instance of route 5 off I-91 in Connecticut, thus sending us strolling through Hartford instead of rocketing up the interstate as planned (seriously, 5 crosses I-91 three times and Google maps didn't include exit numbers in its directions – Google Maps FAIL)

The Insightful

  • I went to the Con planning to scour the half-price graphic novel vendors for my missing Cerebus volumes, but when I arrived at their booths I didn't have the dedication to thumb through their massively disorganized longboxes.

  • Instead, I found half-price editions of the second, third and fourth Collected Peanuts editions from Fantagraphics and the Art of My Neighbor Totoro from Viz Media, and was greatly overjoyed by this discovery – proving that my trajectory into comics history and visual artistry continues

  • I had way too much fun tagging along with Sam and Amanda as they went shopping for baby stuff. Not yet, hormones! Back! Back!

  • I'm very glad we went and I had a wonderful time, but it's slightly disturbing that every time I go to one of these things I find myself swearing I'll never go to another one due to the horrifying crowds. As is usual with cons and the like, the best times were had outside of the scheduled programming and off the convention floor.

So, yes. Another NYCC come and gone, and once again I find myself realizing that, at least at this time of my life, Readercon is much, much more my speed.

And now I'm off to begin chugging through the backlog of emails and work requests that flooded my inbox over the weekend. Once more unto the breach, dear friends...


Suddenly, a Comic-Con appeared!

For the last couple of weeks, Laura's been threatening to strangle me because I've been doing more waffling than Belgium. The cause? Oh, just a little thing called the New York Comic-Con.

See, we went last year and had a wonderful time, and up until recently I'd been planning (and really looking forward to) our return trip. Then January rolled around and I was doing our budget for the year (what with Teh Hitching™ going down in October and all). Suddenly a Comic-Con looked a lot less feasible.

Then, in the last couple of weeks, the number of people going to Comic-Con started to pop out of the woodwork, including David, Ellen, Elizabeth and Stephen. It was becoming increasingly clear that from a professional standpoint, it was only making sense to go. Clearly. Or, at the very least, that I could write off the trip on my taxes.

So, suddenly a Comic-Con has appeared on my calendar! Laura and I are jumping in the car here in about an hour and doing the four-hour drive to NYC (barring traffic time), where we will be staying in New Jersey with Sam and Amanda, then heading into the Con on Saturday, seeing as many people as humanly possible and then meeting up with our friend Emily from Columbia in the evening. Sunday morning will be up to interpretation.

So, yes! I'm coming to New York! Anyone else in town who might want to get together (*cough*IvanChrisVanessaKaren*cough*) should shoot me a text and let me know when you'll be available. Big Apple, here we come!


On Literature and Comparative Media Studies.

(Note: I should preface this bit of writing with a warning: what follows is a first attempt to set down some things I've been struggling to articulate for the past couple of years. As such, it may be slightly less than ideally coherent, but hopefully out of it some clarity will emerge.)

What is literature?

It's remarkable how explosive three words can be. "I love you" and "this is war" win out in the big picture, to be sure, but among academic circles (particularly in the humanities) "what is literature" can be almost as provocative. When you start mucking about with anything so heated, it's a good idea to start out with definition, or in this case, seven:

  1. writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
  2. the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
  3. the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
  4. the profession of a writer or author.
  5. literary work or production.
  6. any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.
  7. Archaic. polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.

Note that the first four definitions all use variants of the word 'writing', definition six specifies printed materials, and definition seven explicitly uses the word books. (I find definition five to be absurdly insufficient: defining "literature" as "literary work or production" is like attempting to define "milk" as "milky work or production".)

And yet, and yet – imagine the outrageous clamor that would ensue if a professor were to suggest that Shakespeare should be banned from the study of literature, despite the fact that Shakespeare's works were not written to be read, but performed. In other words, Shakespeare's creations were primarily performative, not textual.

Such an argument might go as follows:

Shakespeare shouldn't be taught in literature classes, as his work was performative, not textual.

But clearly the strength of Shakespeare's work is to be found in the poetry of his words. "To be or not to be", "I will break my staff and drown my book" – these phrases have lasted for centuries due to the artfulness of their construction.

Have they? Reinterpretations of Shakespeare's works have been around almost as long as the originals; such a reimagining as West Side Story is still recognizable as Romeo and Juliet, even though it deploys none of the same language.

Perhaps this is due to a second strength of Shakespeare, which is also considered a component of literary studies: the structures of storytelling, such as character creation and plot development. It stands to reason that if Shakespeare's work were primarily performative, what should reach down through the ages are not the words and the structures but the actions, such as the dances Bob Fosse created for West Side Story, or the music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. While both of these are considered exemplary, they do not fall under the definition of literary.

But why don't they? Music and dance moves can be recorded as written marks such as musical notes or dance charts – why is literature constrained to works of the alphabet? If the definition is, as suggested earlier, "writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features", and music and dance moves can both be written down, then clearly music and dance should be included in literary studies just the same as poetry, novels, history, biography or essays.

But they're not narrative.

Nowhere in the above definitions does the word 'narrative' appear.

Perhaps it should?

Poetry is studied as literature, and it's frequently not narrative. Besides, even if the word 'narrative' was included in such a definition, music, dance, film, comics and video games, robots, mobile devices or holographic television all can be used to tell stories.

But that's not their primary purpose.

It could be argued that telling stories is not the primary purpose of language, either.

Yet still, when we use the word 'literature' it remains associated with text in our mind, with language.

Of the elements I listed, only dance feels like it doesn't use language, and even then it's possible to imagine a dance performance that incorporates text or language through music, spoken words, projected text or a libretto.

Perhaps the answer is to be found elsewhere, then. In his Literary Theory, Terry Eagleton suggests that the study of English literature only came about as a way to inject formative philosophies and ideals into the minds of each new generation. Mythologies, legends, folklore, and religions serve as the literature of a culture insofar as they transmit traditions. This partly justifies the creation of a canon that is to be studied, as opposed to arguing that any text is worthy of study.

While that may be true, it fails to explain why works such as Casablanca exist in both the cultural memory and the tradition of film studies, if not literature: it's incredibly difficult to assign a particular moral value to Casablanca, but it does stand as an important work because of how it exemplifies a particular structure of creation. In the same way that The Searchers is worth experiencing as an example of the Western, or All Quiet on the Western Front stands as an exemplar of the war story.

Yet those do display "ideas of permanent and universal interest", as they both deal with the human experience. Even John Wayne's bastard of character in The Searchers can be instructive to audiences as to the dangers of the damaged.

But these are all films – should they be considered literature?

Perhaps, but a huge portion of their value is also to be found in how they demonstrate what can be done in a particular media form. Casablanca, The Searchers and All Quiet on the Western Front are all memorable for their performances and cinematography as much as they are for their dialogue, their characters or their narrative structures.

Which suggests that they should perhaps be studied in both Drama and Literature departments?

Oh, definitely.

But isn't this too narrow, too exclusive? Shouldn't even Literature students be made aware of the import of the performances and cinematography, if only to draw their attention to how important both factors might be?

Perhaps. But this suggests a need to examine what each media form brings to the table, so that anyone opting to write for a given form knows not only how to create great dialogue, characters and narrative structures, but also how to play to the strengths of a given form.

A comparative literature for media, then?


But isn't that just media studies?

It seems to me that just studying what each media form does well, or just studying the effects of media forms, might fall under the rubric of media studies. The notion of comparative media studies might also incorporate this, but under the understanding that the study of multiple media is to be pressed into the service of examining how stories are told, traditions are conveyed, and culture is created in the same fashion as our traditional notion of literature in each of the myriad forms of media being created, consumed and explored in the 21st century is simply an updating of the definition of studying literature.

So this reading of Comparative Media Studies might simply be considered modern Literature?


That's the conversation happening in my brain lately, which knits together my interests in English Literature, Film, Drama, Art, Literary Theory, Comparative Media Studies and the Media Lab's upcoming Center for Future Storytelling. It also describes the lay of my mental landscape concerning my Ph.D. plans, my plans for future books and how I might someday structure interdisciplinary courses taught inside of a Literature department (or whatever exists in 2015 or whenever I actually become The Good Doctor Long). Thoughts?


Tatar, Maguire and other luminaries.
Maria Tatar and Gregory Maguire

This has been an amazing month for attending lectures. First there was Kelly Link at the Harvard Book Store, reading to promote her new book Pretty Monsters; then there was Jonathan Carroll at the Harvard Book Store, reading to promote his new book The Ghost in Love; then this week there was Maria Tatar and Gregory Maguire at the Brattle Theater (organized by the Harvard Book Store) to promote his new book A Lion Among Men; last night there was Art Spiegelman at the Brattle (organized by the Harvard Book Store) to promote his new/old book Breakdowns, and then today there was Jeet Heer, Ho Che Anderson and Diana Tamblyn at MIT courtesy of Sarah Brouillette, CMS, FL&L, Literature and the Kelly-Douglas Fund.

The upshot of all this? Living in Boston is awesome. MIT is awesome. And the Harvard Book Store is amazing.


Morpheus with Insomnia?

Many of you Gaiman fans in the audience will know Marc Hempel as the artist on the next-to-last book in the Sandman series, The Kindly Ones. Hempel apparently wasn't quite finished with the character once the series was over – behold the lampoon episode "Insomniac" at Tales of Munden's Bar...


Hello goodbye.

I haven't written much about this here, but lately I've been mourning the loss of several of my favorite little lights: the largely introspective comic strips m@b by Matthew Blackett, and Bruno by Christopher Baldwin. Also, the largely irreverent Mac Hall has changed into Three Panel Soul, which seems to be struggling to regain its cheerfulness, even before all the crap went down.

Some other strips have been taking their place, kind of – most notably the beautiful All Over Coffee and the deeply surreal A Softer World, but it's not quite the same. I don't know how I'll cope if Achewood or Scary-Go-Round ever fold, or, for that matter, Questionable Content. And no, Shannon, I still haven't quite gotten into Sluggy Freelance.


LOL Scott Kurtz.

It's been a while since I've literally laughed out loud at a webcomic, but this PVP strip did it. In related news, my Kenyon friends and I are debating the quality of the newly-announced PVP animated project they're trying to get off the ground over at Shannon's LJ – stop by and weigh in.


A Softer World.

Much coolness: thanks to Fleen, I just discovered the webphotocomic a softer world. This is a media type that I've been kicking around the back of my head for a while now, actually, as something I might want to try at some point. We've seen different degrees of photography-in-comics in the past, including the hyperstylized work of Dave McKean, In the Shadow of Edgar Allen Poe from Vertigo and Brian Michael Bendis' early stuff like Torso, but as The Comics Reporter commented in their review of In the Shadow:

Comics that choose photographs over cartoon art as the primary visual component tend to have all sorts of interesting problems, not the least of which is a readership that may slip into flashbacks featuring the publication that scarred forever a generation of children and lonely teens, the Marvel Fumetti Book. With improvements in comic book printing and the rise of digital art through the proliferation of programs like Photoshop, problems for photo-driven comics have begun to move out of the unfortunate comparison neighborhood to more common, and more considerable, artistic problems. Complicating matters there are still so few comics that feature this kind of art that the repository of standard solutions that exist for drawn art are still being cobbled together. Photo driven works are as a result almost always wildly uneven, a few exciting panels squeezed between outright jarring and even ugly sequences.
I tend to agree. Some of the photocomics I've read suffer from unreadability, something that McKean managed to avoid in Mr. Punch but slipped a little on in the earlier Arkham Asylum (of course, Arkham Asylum was designed to send its readers staggering into madness, so its blend of hyperdark photo-realistic materials and paintings and lettering and catscratch fonts, while difficult, certainly accomplishes the mood it sets out to achieve). A Softer World, however, couples photos with very simple text that is by turns poetic and psychotic, kind of like Paul Madonna's All Over Coffee on crack. One way or the other, A Softer World just made my daily clicks list.


THESIS: Buffy season 8 in comics!

A quick note for my THESIS: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is doing the Transmedia Shuffle with its upcoming comics-only Season 8. Written by Joss, art by Georges Jeanty.