Now That's Rich 3 - Stupid Camera II

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G’day all and welcome to NOW THAT’S RICH, the column where everything and anything goes (as long as it’s not harmful to the eyes). Glad you could join me for this edition. It’s gonna be great and as always your support is welcomed. If you’d like to comment and provide feedback on the loads of interesting things that I tend to cover on a bi-weekly basis, then please feel free. You can reach me in two ways: The first is the SBC message board, which I frequently visit, and so is the best place to go for discussion for anything I cover. The second way to contact me is by e-mail and you can do that by clicking on my name above. Your comments will be posted in the column if it relates to what I’ve covered from the last few installments. All good stuff and let’s get on with the show. Drum roll please…

Stupid camera. What is it and where did it originate? I’m sure you’ve been wondering (to tell you the truth, so have I) and you’re just dying to know. If you recall last week’s column, I was telling you about the weird dreams that I’d been having due to my upcoming exams. Well, it turns out it was all for nothing, as the exam was easy and I ended up with an oh-so-pretty mark. Take THAT, school system! HA HA HA! Yeah, so anyways, the stupid camera idea came about as I was unfortunately stuck watching one of those Reality TV shows. It was a sub genre of the craze, a sub genre I like to call ‘find love in 44 minutes’ - the romance related kind. Yeah, you know, the bad kind. To tell you the truth, I find them all disgusting, but that rant is for another day.

So, I was forced to watch it with my mom and my sister during dinner (the show had taken their souls rather early and as I was soon to find out, there was no way I could save them from the torment) and the idea of the stupid camera came to me. It was a strange idea to say the least - I imagined that everyone would have a tattoo stamped onto their foreheads with the letters S T U P I D in big bold letters. In between the letters ‘U’ and ‘P’ there would be a tiny camera, broadcasting all day long, first activated at birth, automatically deactivated when a person ceased to physically exist, whereupon the camera would be removed and put in big computer database for storage purposes. Weird to say the least. Now there, I thought, was a great idea for a reality television show. I may hate them, but if they can give me neat ideas, then why not watch the good ones (which ever those are, if you find something truly worth watching, please tell me).

So in the middle of the show, I started laughing out loud as I thought of all the stupid things that people do, think, say and hear. People from anywhere in the world could access this ‘show’ of your consciousness at any time, hence the name stupid camera. So that’s it. My ingenious idea would be a feast for any psychologist, with my own personal shrink saying something to the effect of: “Richard, please lie down and tell me why you’re so screwed up, because honestly, I can’t figure it out…” This idea of a stupid camera got me thinking about people’s value of privacy and secrecy and how the meaning of life would be viewed if we lived in a world of stupid cameras. Questions like, would our values and perceptions as human beings be altered? Would we be happier, more secure, and better off if we had access to the consciousness of each other? Would we trust each other more? Would there be no war or famine because everything and everyone would be predictable and therefore equal in the thoughts of each other? Could people function in such a world peacefully?

Before you bash me from stealing this idea from the ‘Big Brother’ concept introduced in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, I will say this. Yes, when I do think about it, it borrows some of the conventions of that concept of always being watched and who has the right to do so. Alan Moore’s concept in Watchmen can be interpreted similarly with the phrase ‘Who Watches The Watchmen’ repeated throughout the series. All I’m saying is I inadvertently expanded on this concept and gave it a new angle to look at it from. I stand by my belief that there is no originality in literature, as all avenues have been explored. The challenge then of any writer is in the interpretation of any given concept. The best example I can provide is to take a look at a religious text. Take the Bible for instance. If you get a chance, pick up a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible, go to a major event in Judeo Christian history and compare the interpretation in the two texts. What do you notice? Is the message the same and how is the message presented? Go and look and tell me what you find. It should serve as an interesting experience from both a religious and historical perspective, regardless if you happen to believe the message or not.

Last column I took a comprehensive look at the history of the acclaimed (and oftentimes controversial) DC mature imprint Vertigo and how its history was indirectly shaped by the surge of British writers and artists making an impact in their native country. They did this by telling unique and interesting stories through comics and therefore had found an equally unique and interesting market. The secret to most of these creator’s successes wasn’t gimmicks like variant covers or what have you, it was in the realistic approach to the stories they told. The best example of this (as I have read at least) to this approach could be found in the monthly comics strip V For Vendetta that was published throughout the 1980s in Warrior, a monthly comics anthology magazine in Britain. The strip basically centered on the idea of the effect of fascism in a near-future Britain and one person’s struggle for change.

Thoughtful and different to say the least, especially at the time where the comics market in both Britain and North America was flooded with super hero comics. Come to think of it, even today super heroes comprise the majority of the market, with the difference being there are more mature themed and independent publishers to even things out. I don’t find anything particularly wrong with the super hero genre, but looking at it from a realistic perspective it greatly limits a publisher’s reader base. Super heroes have certain stereotypical associations attached that have hurt the industry more than it has helped when it comes to finding more readers and selling more comics. Case in point: I recently tried to give my Dad one of my favorite issues of 100 Bullets. I had my hand outstretched, ready for him to take it from me (I had explained previously why it was such a great book) and when the moment of truth arrived, he told me that he didn’t want to read it because comics were and I quote, “kids stuff”. It really pissed me off! But I started to think why he’d think that way and I realized the truth behind his statement. In truth, it had been “kids stuff” especially when my Dad was growing up during the 1960s and 1970s. Super heroes were the limit of the industry’s potential and it wasn’t until the 1980s that the medium really crossed that initial potential and reached a whole new market. To make a long story short, DC was the first North American company to realize the potential that mature themed comics could have and brought a whole new market exposure to North America, which is still going strong today in the wake of Vertigo’s ten year anniversary.

So what about the major competition, Marvel? Why didn’t they react with their own imprint when they saw how successful Vertigo had suddenly become at DC? Well they did, after a fashion. With the surge of mature themed comics in the 1980s from their major competitor, Marvel formed its own little imprint aptly named Epic. Epic acted an independently owned publisher, which joined the ranks of Marvel’s bullpen in the 1980s. It was swiftly abandoned when the ideas that emerged from this new Epic imprint didn’t measure up in sales and was therefore shut down. However, they shifted their attention from the mature readers market and focused all their resources on the market that had made them famous, that being super heroes. It wasn’t until the current management of the company was put into place in 2000 that Marvel once again started plans for a mature imprint. This new imprint, launched with Alias #1 on September 6, 2001 would be called MAX and would try to open Marvel’s doors to a whole new readership.

Putting out the new imprint turned out to be a challenging process in itself and led to a high degree of industry controversy. When launching its first planned ongoing series, Alias, Marvel had problems putting out the title as a southern U.S. publishing house refused to print the comic due to content related issues. In addition there was a wide scale surprise and disappointment by Marvel fans that all the initial MAX offerings were work for hire projects that were firmly rooted in the super hero genre. People had been expecting something more in tune to the tastes that Vertigo had been satisfying since the early 1990s, whereby a wide assortment of creator inspired projects that held no ties to the respective publisher’s universe would see the light of day. This was not so with the MAX imprint. Ask yourself this, can Marvel reach a new audience by making their mainstream characters curse, beat the shit out of each other and have sex? If you ask me, it’s limiting everything about the imprint, as it doesn’t show us a quote unquote mature concept. What’s mature about excessive swearing, violence and sex? Mature should mean ideas that make the reader think such as Vertigo has been doing. What benefit is there that Nick Fury can now miraculously be able to say; “Fuck this!” whenever he feels like it?

It’s kind of weird if you think about it. Marvel, in recent years, have been overflowing with new and creative ideas, and have subsequently published a lot of mature stories without the aforementioned sex, drugs and rock and roll. So why even have a mature imprint? It doesn’t make much sense now, if they’ve been publishing mature stories anyways?

The MAX imprint started out with all the wrong intentions and I can see it too going bye bye in the near future. There’s nothing really keeping the imprint alive, as their intent wasn’t to bring in a new audience but to tell adult oriented stories in their universe. How very creative of them. Apparently they didn’t realize that people can’t afford to pick up a whole new set of books, especially if it won’t catch their interest and give them something new. Not something old dressed up as something new. Something actually new! Marvel’s concept of a mature imprint was a different approach to a niche market, but I can’t see it introducing new readers to their books. Sure, it’ll get a glance from people who go to the shops regularly, but a glance won’t mean a sale, which won’t mean any money. Give me something original for fuck’s sake!

AHH! I am so pissed off I can scream!

And there it is ladies and gentlemen - the truth as I see it. I’m glad I could get that off my chest. Now for a new little segment I call “The bi-weekly comic book review (I need a better title for this as that title sucks. Your suggestions welcome)”

Fables: Legends In Exile - Collects Fables #1-5 -
Writer: Bill Willingham, Artist: Lan Medina
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics

For some reason when I first heard of this book my brain made the connection to the recent League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen mini-series as it both deals with characters written by other authors (usually literature, nursery rhymes and children’s books) while giving them a unique twist. Likewise Fables is a twisted and original work that restored my faith in Vertigo as they continue to publish and promote alternative comics suitable for people looking for something different.

The concept behind the series is quite basic. In a section of New York City dubbed Fabletown by its inhabitants, fairy tale creatures live alongside regular New Yorkers, (unbeknownst to the regular New Yorkers of course). It may seem silly but it’s not as the first story arc revolves around a violent murder and two characters that live in Fabletown try desperately to solve the murder. The storyline of course is much deeper than that but this collection is so superbly well done, that I don’t want to reveal any of the plot details. Suffice it to say that all the characters are very realistic and each sport a unique, quirky personality. It is definitely a book that you should check out. It’s become one of the few books that I have in my collection that I can reread and never get bored by. I am anxiously awaiting the next trade, as there are hints of a much bigger back-story revolving around the title of this collection. If you’ve read it and liked it, drop me a line and if not please tell me why too. Read and enjoy.

Next column I’ll be taking a look at what’s really behind the Ultimate Marvel universe, how I’ll go insane if I edit another one of my own comic’s scripts (again!) and as always I’ve got another wacky story. This one’s about a recent bus ride…so look forward to that and I’ll see you in two weeks.


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