Archive for September, 2011

Rereading Comics: Moore and Simpson’s In Pictopia!

27 September 2011

Cover of Anything Goes! No. 2, artwork by Frank Miller and Jaime Hernandez

I kind of chanced upon a very cool story by Alan Moore, one of my favorite comic book writers. I’d half-forgotten about In Pictopia! which appears in Anything Goes No. 2, published by Fantagraphics in December 1986. Anything Goes was a short-lived benefit book that Fantagraphics published to raise money for legal expenses.

wrote a bit about my Alan Moore fan status earlier here. Alan Moore wrote and Donald Simpson did the artwork. The coloring, done by Eric Vincent, is actually very innovative – at various points he shifts from black and white to faded newsprint tones to full high-key comic book color.

In Pictopia! is a very self-conscious story about the evolution and de-evolution of comics – from newspaper funnies to various comic book genres. Like Moore’s later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, there are gobs of references – from obvious to obscure. I found allusions to Winsor McCay, Blondie, Plastic Man, the Phantom, Alley Oop, Dick Tracy, and the Yellow Kid… and those are just the most obvious references. There’s quite a bit of Alan Moore annotations available on the web, but I didn’t see any for this story. Anyone out there want to host some sort of Alan Moore annotation wiki? I would contribute.

Nocturno in a panel from In Pictopia! written by Alan Moore, drawn by Donald Simpson

The other thing that the story is filled with are grids – mainly in the form of chain-link fences and skyscraper windows. These grids are composed of individual squares and rectangles that allude to the panel as the fundamental unit of comics.

The lead character is Nocturno the Necromancer – a black and white funnies magician, who appears to be based on Mandrake the Magician. Nocturno lives in the bleak Prince Feautures tenement and envies the superheros who “can afford to live in color.”

Nocturno’s neighbor Red (based on Blondie) has turned to prostitution while her husband, Deadwood, is away “drying out.”  (more…)

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The Language of China Miéville’s Embassytown

24 September 2011

Embassytown by China Miéville, published 2011

I just finished the novel Embassytown by China Miéville. It was recommended and loaned to me by my friend Federico. It’s a good read; I recommend it.

Embassytown is science fiction. I found its strength to be the description of a faraway world, though there’s plenty of alien description, nothing is quite as fleshed out and compelling as the alien language, which is ultimately central to whole book.

The setting is a human outpost on a world call Arieka inhabited by the Ariekei or the “Hosts”. When humans initially make contact with Ariekei, communication is difficult.

Here’s an excerpt:

When the ACLers [Accelerated Contact Linguistics] and the crews came to Arieka, there started more than 250 kilohours of bewilderment. It wasn’t that the Host language is particularly difficult to understand, or changeable, or excessively various. There were startlingly few Hosts on Arieka, scattered around the one city, and all spoke the same language. With the linguists’ earware and drives it wasn’t hard to amass a database of sound-words (the newcomers thought of them as words, though where they divided one from the next the Ariekei might not recognize fissures.) The scholars made pretty quick sense of syntax. Like all exot languages it had its share of astonishments. But there was nothing so alien that it trumped the ACLers or their machines.  (more…)