Sunday, March 27, 2011

ABCs, Xerxes, and a concenctration-camp survivor in graphic novels

Second page in the scene "My name is scam," which seamlessly segues into the next scene. When I was drafting the first act of the story, following closely to Syd Field's suggestions. I worked on sticking to 14 scenes in the first and third acts, while the second act is about 28 scenes - BUT of course, there are a few instances where plot points were a little too close together and wound up in the same scene, which isn't terrible, it makes things a little tighter.

It might lead to a little extra dialogue in some scenes, and it might mean that a new scene isn't clearly a new scene, but the plot point is still there illustrating conflict and exposing character.

Graphic novel news

Frank Miller talks Extensively About 300 Follow-Up XERXES
Adam Chitwood

Ever since Zack Snyder’s 300 hit theaters three years ago, fans have been chomping at the bit for a sequel/follow-up. Snyder always said that it depended on whether comic book artist/writer Frank Miller wanted to write another graphic novel. Well, it appears that Miller has a good chunk of Xerxes written and drawn, and he recently spoke extensively about the project. Regarding the story, Miller had this to say:

The time frame begins 10 years before ’300′ and the story starts with the Battle of Marathon, which was killer to draw, by the way, even if it was a lot of work. The lead character is Themistocles, who became warlord of Greece and built their navy. The story is very different than ’300′ in that it involves Xerxes’ search for godhood. The existence of gods are presupposed in this story and the idea is that he [is] well on his way to godhood by the end of the story.

For much, much more from Miller regarding Xerxes, hit the jump.

If you know anything about the Battle of Marathon, then you’re aware that cinematically this would be one of the most epic battles ever put to film. The inclusion of Themistocles as the main character is very exciting as well, as he’s generally considered one of the greatest leaders in history (though the end of his life was marred a bit by scandal). Regarding Themistocles, Miller said:

With Themistocles I have a character who is almost the dead opposite of Leonidas in that Themistocles was a lying, conniving, brilliant, heroic figure. He was nicknamed ‘The Subtle Serpent’ and he always manages to do the exact right things that will result in him benefiting greatly.

Expanding on the plot of the book a bit, Miller talked to Hero Complex about how the story of Xerxes is much more complex than 300:

The story will be the same heft as ’300′ but it covers a much, much greater span of time — it’s 10 years, not three days. This is a more complex story. The story is so much larger. The Spartans in ’300′ were being enclosed by the page as the world got smaller. This story has truly vast subjects. The Athenian naval fleet, for instance, is a massive artistic undertaking and it dwarfed by the Persian fleet, which is also shown in this story. The story has elements of espionage, too, and it’s a sweeping tale with gods and warriors.
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Weill's 'Lost' is Found
Wall Street

In one particularly chilling scene in Art Spiegelman's graphic novel "Maus," a concentration-camp survivor talks about how, 50 years after the Holocaust, humanity seems to be bent on making the same mistakes all over again; maybe, he muses, it will take another, bigger tragedy to make us learn our lesson. In 1949, decades before "Maus" was published, Kurt Weill, a German Jewish composer who had managed to escape from Hitler, collaborated with playwight Maxwell Anderson to write "Lost in the Stars," which used the vehicle of musical theater to alert the world of the possibility of a potential new holocaust—officially known as Apartheid—that was taking root in South Africa.

"Lost in the Stars" is being produced at City Center Encores! this weekend—one of three current large-scale presentations of Weill's works in the city where he lived during the second half of his career. On Feb. 25, the Harlem Opera Theater will present a sort of encore to Encores! with an hour of highlights from "Lost in the Stars" on the same bill as George Gershwin's one-act opera "Blue Monday." Then, from March 3-5, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will offer a series of jazz treatments of Weill songs starring the celebrated Weill interpreter Ute Lemper.

The first of the Weill events this season was a concert production, last week, of the first musical by Weill and Anderson, 1938's "Knickerbocker Holiday," presented by the Collegiate Chorale. Because it's about Peter Stuyvesant and the original settlers of what later became New York, and because its two most famous numbers are "September Song" and "It Never Was You," it seemed that the show itself would be sentimental and patriotic. Quite the contrary: "Knickerbocker" is a raucous politcal cartoon, with the Dutch colonists depicted as wise-cracking Katzenjammer kids in what is essentially an extended vaudeville sketch. Leads Victor Garber and Kelli O'Hara were excellent, but it's hard to imagine "Knickerbocker" ever being revived in a traditional sense.

Not so for "Lost in the Stars." "I hope our production shows that this work is a viable vehicle," said Rob Berman, Encores! musical director.

Although its inherent theme is certainly epic—an illustration of man's inhumanity to man—the show itself is actually surprisingly intimate. Based on Alan Paton's novel "Cry, The Beloved Country," the show depicts the journey of a preacher from a small village who travels to Johannesburg in search of his son, who has become ensnared in crime. "The story unfolds in a very straight line," Mr. Berman pointed out. "There's no subplot or secondary characters." He added that the orchestrations are comparably translucent. "Weill wrote for an orchestra of only 12 pieces, which was very small at the time. It's more like chamber music, and the musicians are very exposed."
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That Time Gene Yang Came To My Grad School And Blew Everyone's Mind
The Cool Kidz

BUT, one crazy twist to my first residency at Hamline that made me feel right at home was that one of our required readings coming into the workshop week was Gene Yang's American Born Chinese. And – if you couldn't guess by the post title – Yang played guest lecturer to talk about the creation of the book and generally blow the minds of everyone in attendance.

Think of it this way: the crew that works for and attends my Masters program write kids books for a living (or are trying to). That includes classic picture books, chapter books, and novels that range from zany middle grade and tween tales on through some provocative and smart Young Adult stuff. But the majority of these people had ZERO experience with comics before reading Yang's book. So much so that "comics" didn't even break into the vocabulary for a lot of the folks. The writers at the school were introduced to our medium (if they'd been introduced to it at all) through the term and category of "graphic novel" which might not sound like too big a distinction but really stood out as the week went on.

I mean, there were a few comic woks that were familiar to members of the residency – all of them produced and promoted through the lens of the book industry. I heard more than a few people mention David Small's Stitches. Everyone was passingly familiar with what Bone is. Neil Gaiman is a rock star and a half in this world for reasons other than comics, but I think most people knows he wrote them before blowing up as a novelist. But most importantly like I said, anyone at least partially interested in kids book publishing these days understands that graphic novels have spent the past few years as the super hot category. They think of what we do as the "cool new thing" in general and want to know more about it even when they're a bit confused by it.

Being the resident "comics guy" in the group (a position I happily played up perhaps too much by weeks end), I fielded a lot of questions and comments through out the week because of that. Common things I heard:

"I was trying to read this, but some times I was confused on what I was supposed to be looking at. Am I following the pictures? Do I read the text first?"

"So the difference between a comic and a graphic novel, what is that? A comic is silly, but a graphic novel is like a real book, right?"

"I'm really interested in writing a graphic novel myself. How would I go about doing that?"

I don't mention these as a put down to any of the supremely intelligent and creative people who I learned a whole hell of a lot from about writing in those ten days. I just wanted to express how strange it was to be in a position where I'm talking about the thing I spend my entire working day talking about but where I can't assume any of the basic knowledge or terminology I rely on. So it was pretty tough at times for me to try and speak on comics without sounding super jargony or super nerdy or both.

Luckily, Gene Yang is the straight up Jedi Master of talking comics in front of book people. I can't imagine how many times he's had to talk about ABC in front of librarians or school groups or teachers or traditional YA writers, but his behind the scenes breakdown of what cultural and visual influences shaped the book was as engaging and accessible and well rehearsed as any talk on comics I've ever seen (and I've seen art spiegelman speak on comics like four times so I feel pretty confident saying that Yang was on his #%@&!ing GAME).

The real defining moment of the whole experience was Yang's breakdown of Cousin Chin-Kee, the highly over-the-top caricature of Chinese stereotypes who plays a central role in ABC's story. He took a lot of time to explain the cultural references that influenced Chin-Kee's creation from early racist political cartoons about Chinese immigrants and railroad workers to Long Duck Dong on through to the recent response to/debate over the sudden popularity of "American Idol" reject William Hung. Over the days following his speech, I heard several classmates confess that they'd initially been put off by American Born Chinese because they felt uncomfortable with Chin-Kee's role in the story until they heard Yang place the satirical elements of the caricature in context. The act of cartooning as satire and commentary rather than just being broad stereotyped comedy hadn't even occurred to them.
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