Wednesday, April 30, 2008

As Seen on the Daily Show

Not to go all Warren Ellis or anything but seriously: What year is this?

Thirteen "suspected sorcerers" have been arrested in the Congo for "stealing or shrinking penises".

Strangely enough, the arrests are the most rational part of the story, since arresting these "suspected sorcerers" is the best way of protecting innocent people, usually foreigners, from being beaten and burned by angry mobs spurred on by panicked men screaming that their penises have vanished.

It's straight out of Monty Python's Holy Grail, including the part where the police try to explain to the "victim" that he still has a penis, and is not believed.

Maybe the worst part of the story, this strange brew of superstition, sexual anxiety, paranoia, xenophobia, and just out and out ignorance, is that it's not an isolated incident: it's common. In 2001 in Benin, in 1997 in Ghana, in China and the Sudan, wherever understanding of human anatomy is low, this pattern repeats and repeats.

It's sickening and depressing. People are dying because no one took these men aside during puberty and said "Penises shrink. It happens. Sometime it's anxiety, sometimes it's just cold. Here, watch this episode of Seinfeld."

People, we need to talk frankly about sex. People have to learn how their bodies work. Sex is how we as a species survive, it's built into our notions of romantic love and gender dynamics. If people grow up not understanding one of the most vital parts of living, they are going to just be fucked up, and more people are going to die because some idiot stayed in a cold shower too long.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Apples and Much Much Bigger Apples

Kevin has a moment of clarity about the comics industry when he reads that CBS canceled a show after it's first episode got only 4.6 million viewers.

But that's a highly unfair comparison.

There is no medium that can compare to television (particularly broadcast television) in terms of popularity.

Yes, the comics industry is a small niche market. The best selling comics sell a hundred thousand, maybe, and the average is sales are closer to the ten thousand range (maybe higher if you're Marvel or DC, but not by much). So if 4.6 million people bought a comic, it would be the best selling comic in the last thirty years.

But if a (non-Harry Potter) book sold 4.6 million, it would ALSO be record shattering and pay for all of the other books that publisher would put out that year.

A movie that sold 4.6 million tickets would make 40 million dollars, which is a healthy opening weekend (it's how much "There Will Be Blood" made, total).

Heck, even Battlestar Galactica, a HIGHLY successful show--on cable--had only 2 million tune in for the season 4 premier.

Network television is a low cost medium. Low financial cost (once you've bought the set, broadcast shows are free). Low cost to acquire (the program is piped directly into the home). Low cost to "read" (the pictures and sound happen for you). It's incredibly easy get and understand and enjoy.

Comics, ALL comics, not just the superhero stuff, are high cost mediums. Each issue costs money, they must be acquired at book stores if not specialty shops, and they must be read with a skill for navigating image and word that must be learned. That requires a lot more investment from the reader, and thus a lot less people feel like its worth it.

When you compare comics to a more similarly costed medium, like genre paperbacks (which also must be purchased, which need to be bought in stores or specialty stores, which require specialized knowledge of the genre or series), then the sales numbers become a lot more similar, averaging around ten thousand of so.

And of course I'm talking about comic books. Comic strips, like Dilbert, which are syndicated in almost every paper in America, have GIGANTIC audiences in the high high millions. That's because they are low cost financially (they don't cost extra once you've bought the paper) and they don't require a lot of effort to get (most papers are still delivered to the front door). Web comics have similar advantages of ease of acquiring.

But they'll still be comics, with a sequence of words and pictures telling a story, which means it will still take more effort to read than to watch television, and that's going to reduce potential audience. (not that TV shows can't be complex. Many are. They just don't have to be). So comparing comics to network shows is always going to be comparing apples to apple orchards. Comics just cannot compete.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


From Blog@Newsarama in regards to Angel Season 6, the comics continuation of the television series:

Any time you’re thinking “wow, we could never have done this on TV!” that’s a sign that you shouldn’t be doing it.
I have trouble disagreeing with that statement more.

I think it defeats the whole purpose of adapting a story from one medium to another if the adaptation is limited strictly to doing what the earlier version has already done, and better.

It seems to me that the only reason to adapt a show to comics (or a comic to movies, or whatever) is specifically to do what could not be done (or done well) in the previous medium.

The law office drama (with occasional fights) that was Angel season 5 worked with live actors, television length episodes and pacing, and, honestly, better dialog writers. It would have been deathly boring to repeat that on the page, where snappy banter is harder to communicate and actors' charisma doesn't come through the pencil and inks.

On the other hand, "Angel fights a dragon", exciting as that is and hinted at in the series finale, would have looked terrible with television quality special effects, but makes terrific comics.

Arguably, too many changes lose the intangible essence of the original, and that's terrible too. But an adaptation that does nothing but repeat what has come before, what was designed for the strengths and weaknesses of its previous form, is an adaptation that should not be done.