CGI Animated Marvel Superheroes video from 2008

The significance of plot without conflict – still eating oranges

The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.

Kishōtenketsu contains four acts: introduction, development, twist and reconciliation. The basics of the story—characters, setting, etc.—are established in the first act and developed in the second. No major changes occur until the third act, in which a new, often surprising element is introduced. The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole. Kishōtenketsu is probably best known to Westerners as the structure of Japanese yonkoma (four-panel) manga; and, with this in mind, our artist has kindly provided a simple comic to illustrate the concept.

Fascinating idea. Although I wonder if what works for a Kishotenketsu in short comic form works as well for a longer work?

Also, I wonder about the claim that Kishotenketsu are really without conflict. The chaotic element is an element of conflict that is still resolved. Kishotenketsu seem to run like a formula:

A is true. (Panel 1+2)

B is also true.(Panel 3)

This is how A + B (which are in conflict) resolve. (Panel 4)

Is there not still a plot of conflict and resolution there? The only difference is that the result tends to be co-operative rather than a single side achieving victory. It’s not the 3 act structure, but it is still a plot centered around conflict. Therefore, claims of the Kishotenketsu form being without conflict are untrue. At least this is how I see it.

via The significance of plot without conflict – still eating oranges.

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Season 2 Thoughts

Thanks to Australia airing Season 2 of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes at a rate of 4/week instead of 1/week like North American TV, I’ve just finished watching the second (and sadly last) season of Avengers a bit early. (Like 3 months, earth.)

I really enjoyed this series overall, and taken as a whole considered it a solidly good little show. I’ve been a longtime casual Avengers fan, so it was neat to finally see the characters animated and some of the Avengers storylines brought to life. I was especially impressed how they weaved forty years of superheroing into a single coherent form, and actually managed to improve upon it.

There are characters like Kang and Baron Zemo who I neither really liked or understood as villains, but this show really made me finally appreciate them and actually come to like them. (At least, in this version.) I also liked what they did with Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, the Black Panther, and loved how they handled The Vision overall. (I say overall, because it depends on who’s writing the episode on how effective he is.) The show did a great job with the characters, and stayed true to the comic versions of them nicely.

This is not to say the show didn’t have issues, as the animation quality could vary widely, and so could the writing. There were more than a few episodes where things happened because the plot called for it, and a number of stories were rushed, especially during second season.

I would say that First Season of the show was the better of the two, as it was well paced and planned. It did have a bit of a sharp learning curve at the start, since it plunged us right into a story about a whole prison worth of supervillains escaping and didn’t give us much of an explanation of who these villains were. Of course, they went back and introduced most of them later (which they also did with the heroes) and in the end it all worked out pretty nicely. The season all led up to a big showdown in Asgard that took several episodes and was a great epic ending to the show.

Season Two, on the other hand, was a real rollercoaster. It started out well enough, but then as it went on it become more and more uneven. The steady pacing of the first season seemed gone, replaced by a frantic rush to introduce new characters and hit us with as much adventure as possible. The episode introducing Beta Ray Bill is a perfect example, where they took 6 issues worth of comic story, and told it all in 22 minutes at lightning speed. It wasn’t bad, just…rushed.

I blame much of Season 2’s uneveness on outside interference. Between Season One and Season Two a new head of Marvel Animation came in named Jeph Leob, who publically stated right from the start his opinions about how these animated series should be done. At the heart of his opinions was the idea that it was wrong to do multi-part episodes (something season one relied on heavily) and that all episodes of the shows should be self contained. (Holy 80’s Flashback, Batman!)

This is really evident in the second half of Season Two (the portion Leob had control over, because the first part was largely done before he came in) which is packed with stories that should have been 2-3 episodes long being crammed into single episodes. The feel of the show really changes at that point, and while there’s still some good episodes I feel it lost some of the grandeur that it built up in first season.

That isn’t to say it’s a total loss. I especially loved the episode Emperor Stark, which is The Vision’s first episode as a member of the Avengers, and which worked well in the condensed form. Also the last three episodes of the show (written by showrunner Chris Yost) were fairly well done, with the finale truly being a finale worthy of the series.

I know some people are angry that there won’t be a season three of the show, and I admit that I’m also a bit disappointed. That said, we got 52 episodes of pretty good Avengers stories and I’m pretty cool with that.

Who knows, the new Avengers Assemble show replacing it in the fall might be alright, especially since it has a lot of the same production people working on it. But somehow, I still think I won’t enjoy it as much as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Viva Spider-Man 1989 fan film – YouTube

While we’re on the topic, I just stumbled across this little gem. Viva Spider-Man is a loving live-action re-creation of the old 1960’s Spider-Man cartoon down to the camera angles and the way the people walk and talk. It also makes an interesting case for Spider-Man as a period piece. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the trilogy after the current one with Andrew Garfield (and there has to be one, or Sony loses the Spider-Man movie rights- they only have them as long as they keep making movies) will be set in the 1960’s like X-Men:First Class.

Spiderman: The Green Goblin’s Last Stand

For my money, probably my favorite version of Spidey put to film isn’t the recent big blockbuster films, it isn’t even an official film at all! It’s the fanfilm: The Green Goblin’s Last Stand. Which is a shot-for-shot adaption of the classic Spiderman story done by a group of amateur actors with almost no budget, yet which still manages to capture the spirit of Spiderman perfectly.

Here’s Part 1, and I believe the other parts are up as well. (For now, it keeps being taken down off Youtube for copyright violations I think.) Watch it while you can!

‘Spider-Man’ flashback: Nicholas Hammond, reeling in the years

I never got to watch the live action American Spider-Man TV series when I was a kid because I didn’t know it was on when it aired, but I did watch the “movies” (2 part episodes) that aired endlessly on Channel 43 Cleveland on Saturday afternoons during my childhood. When I was ten I used to tie a string to a pen, stick both up my sleve, and then pretend it was a web shooter by swinging my arm around and letting the pen and string fly!

WOOSH! Take that bad guys!

I always found Nicholas Hammond to be a little bland as Peter Parker, and I regretted there not being more actual Spider-Man bad guys (read: any supervillians at all!), but if I remember he did get to fight ninjas, so that almost counted. Still, this interview with Nicholas looking back on his time as TV’s Spider-Man was a fun nostalgic read, and somewhat informative. I had no idea that Spider-Man was so popular among African Americans, or that the suit actor/stuntman thought that Spidy should move like an actual spider.

To see what he’s talking about, watch the clip below. One other interesting thing I noticed is that the bad guys are using Asian-style martial arts. While this might not seem odd to people now (everyone in TV seems to know Kung Fu nowadays) this was before Hollywood as a collective decided that martial arts were cooler than street/fist fighting. It wasn’t until Buffy in the 90’s that I noticed martial arts creeping into TV fights in a big way, because before then the fights were all two-fisted boxing matches and tackles. Watch movies and TV series pre-1990 to see what I mean.

Spidey was ahead of his day in many ways!

And for those with time to kill, here’s the whole pilot movie up on Youtube:

The Avengers ’78 movie promo – YouTube

Brilliant! Althought you might have to be a child of the 70’s or 80’s to really get it. 🙂

Bakuman

I buy very few manga these days, in fact, I can count the number I do buy on one hand without using all the fingers.

But if I had to pick just one manga from that very short list, that manga would be Bakuman.

How do I describe Bakuman to someone who hasn’t read it? Well, I guess the simplest description would be it’s about two Japanese teenagers who want to draw manga (comics).

But, like most things, that simple definition doesn’t even begin to cover what it really is. You see, Bakuman is funny, witty, and charming, but it’s also an in-depth exploration of the creative process, the Japanese manga industry, and even the philosophical underpinnings of what it means to be a manga artist. It manages to critique the industry and the art form itself while at the same time making us fall in love with a sometimes kooky, lovable and weird cast of misfits who inhabit that industry and live in the pressure-cooker environment that it produces.

And, it’s those characters that keep me coming back each time a new volume comes out (I refuse to read it online), because it’s like getting together with old friends with each new release. You become a part of their world, invested in their successes and failures and in them as people.

You also learn from them. Volume 10 just came out this week, and it reminded me of one of the most important things to remember as an artist- failure is good.

Not blind failure, but learning from everything you do even if you fail or if your work doesn’t measure up. The audience will never see the pile of failures that each successful story is built on, but they’re what make an artist’s craft what it is.

It’s so easy to forget that as a writer, and only want to do projects that you think you can do 100% or not do anything at all. But, those risky projects, those experimental projects, and those failures are what will make you that successful artist you want to be.

Bakuman reminded me of this, this week, and helped get me back on the right writing path. So I want to give it thanks.

If you’re curious, some fans did what they call a “visual comic” (a comic with voiceovers, music and sound effects) of the first couple of stories of Bakuman, here’s the first one-

There is also a Bakuman anime, which I’m told is quite good and popular, but I’m enjoying the manga too much to switch over.

Rob

How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way

Here’s a blast from the past! I’d forgotten that Marvel did a companion video to their classic How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way book. It looks like it was done sometime in the late ’80s or perhaps early ’90s. The book itself is a must-read for anyone intending to do comics, if for no other reason than it teaches many of the fundamentals of the American comics style.

Nerd Rage Scale

My friend Don C. recently posted this, and I thought I’d share it for consideration:

Given how often I’ve seen debate and discussion of redos in established comics and how little cohesion said debates often have, I think it’s time for some sort of standardized scale. This one refers SPECIFICALLY to the indignation that arises from changes to a book and seeks to rate them in terms of overall impact.

To that end, there’s gonna be some debate as to where a specific event registers on the scale. That’s fine and normal; the classifications are meant to facilitate exchange by providing a common measurement and language for the debate.

With that in mind, here we go:

1: Meh.: Any small change that doesn’t affect the character or story in any real way. Hardly noticeable unless pointed out. Only bothers the most stalwart purists.

EX: Spidey with gold eyes. Most characters after an artist change.

2: Why?!?: Noticeable change that doesn’t affect the character, story or themes in any real way. Will probably irk long term fans.

EX: Superman with no red panties. SpiderMan is a black dude.

3: Oh, Please No….!: Noticeable changes that affect the character and/or story, but not necessarily the underlying themes of the comic. Will bother long term fans, but will likely be accepted by newer ones.

EX: The Vision is really the original Human Torch. Wolverine is a ninja. Green Arrow is a ninja.

4: What Are They Thinking?!?!?: A severe retcon of a character that changes the character, story and/or underlying themes of the book in a way that’s almost irreconcilable to the older story. Will likely offend long term fans, and may also confuse new ones: especially those with a passing knowledge of the character.

EX: Identity Crisis. One More Day. Supergirl isn’t Superman’s cousin/isn’t Kryptonian/is a clone. Son of Satan isn’t. Patsy Walker is a spy. Patsy Walker is a superhero. Was Patsy Walker ever a ninja….?

5: YOU’RE RAPING MY CHILDHOOD!!!: Major change that directly contradicts the established underlying themes and ideas of a character, story or book. Offends most fans, confuses or puts off casual fans, makes haters giggle.

EX: Batman wets himself. Superman: porn star. The Watchmen, if Moore had been allowed to use the Charlton characters.

Please note: It’s tempting for a lot of folks to make EVERY change a #5, but I’d say despite the indignation fans might feel a lot of the most egregious events are still a #4.

Don C.