Saturdays with Jane: Emma (1997)

I’m going to have to keep this short today. The Countdown to Haiti is starting to take on a whole new meaning because I’ve got preparations to make and about a week to make them in. Yikes.

The Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma was the first time I saw a Jane Austen movie and wasn’t able to get into it. I thought it might have something to do with Gwyneth because I’m pretty lukewarm about her to begin with, but now that I’ve had a chance to see the version starring Kate Beckinsale, someone I really, really like a lot, I think it wasn’t all Gwyneth’s fault.

Over at the Masterpiece site, Andrew Davies reveals that Austen predicted my reaction a couple of hundred years ago. In the intro to the Masterpiece presentation, Gillian Anderson claims that the character of Emma Woodhouse is ironic because the more obnoxious she is, the more we like her. That’s not my reaction at all. Davies quotes Austen as saying, “She is a heroine who no one but myself will much like.” I think I’m going to have to side with Jane on this one.

Davies goes on to sum up my problem with the story:

…Emma is so arrogant and snobbish. She treats other people like toys, or pieces on a chessboard. She moves them around saying, “You’ve got to go with that one, and you’ve got to go with that one,” as if they’ve got no will or taste or imagination of their own.

I feel like I need to see Gwyneth’s version again, because I think I owe her an apology. I remember liking the end of her version, or at least feeling some satisfaction that she’s really truly learned her lesson. As I was watching Kate’s version, I only remembered two scenes from Gwyneth’s. One was the picnic scene and Mr. Knightley’s (the only character from the story I really like) laying into Emma for being so mean. The other memorable scene was towards the end when Emma realizes that she loves Knightley and we witness her extreme, repentant gratitude that she may not have lost him forever.

Like I said, I need to see that version again to be sure, but that’s the impression I remember. I didn’t get any of that from Kate’s version though. With Kate, we see that Emma has learned her lesson, but I guess I wanted more penance. She still looks a bit haughty and pleased with herself at the end, even though she’s sworn off meddling with the love lives of others.

Two of five Mr. Knightleys.

Writing is Hard: Putting the audience last, part 342

I’ve got some reviews coming (Doomsday and The Bank Job, at least), but I haven’t been able to get to them yet. I’ve got a set of interviews coming for Newsarama that’s been taking all the time I usually spend for reviewing.

So instead, I’m gonna talk about writing some more. I’ve added a Writing is Hard link to the sidebar under Writing Craft and Life. It’s basically a collection of my posts on the craft of writing, but I don’t mind recommending them because hardly any of them contain original ideas by me. Most of them are other people’s ideas and me just sort of learning aloud as I share them. Anyway, good stuff in there.

One of the recurring themes in Writing is Hard has to do with the obligation (or more accurately, the lack thereof) that writers owe to their audiences. This seems like a hard idea for readers and fans to swallow, but the more I listen to writers talk about it, the more I believe that you have to write (or draw or paint or whatever) first for yourself and then hope that people dig what you’re doing.

This comes up again because of a recent(ish) post by Cheryl Lynn on the whitewashing of non-white characters. I mention this with some fear and trembing partly because I absolutely love Cheryl Lynn and I think she’s right pretty much all of the time. And as far as her main point goes, she’s absolutely right this time too.

But I’m mostly nervous about saying what I’m going to say because I’m not going to address her main point other than to agree with it. Instead, I’m going to nitpick her suggested solution to the problem:

[There] are those artists who have wonderful artistic skills but simply think that white women are the most beautiful women on earth. Scratch that. The only beautiful women on earth. And because they believe that all heroines should be beautiful, the result is that they depict non-white heroines with stereotypically white features. They give a character like Storm the features they think a beautiful woman should have instead of the features a beautiful woman from Kenya would likely have.

And that’s a problem. How do you resolve it? Well I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to change what he or she finds to be beautiful. Hell, that’s impossible to do anyway. But those artists will have to work against their brains a bit. Those artists may think that giving a character a wider nose or eyes without lid creases will make that character unattractive. What needs to be realized is that the audience has a much broader definition of what is attractive. Have you ever given someone a gift that you didn’t like but you knew the other person would love? You put the other person first. Those artists need to put the audience first.

The bold text is my emphasis, because that’s where I disagree with her. I would much rather see Vixen (and Jubilee and any number of other whitewashed characters) drawn accurately, but I don’t think my wishes on the matter should affect how any particular artist chooses to draw. There’s a lot I don’t like about Ed Benes’ art, but I don’t think he needs to change it to suit me. Not if that’s the way he really, truly wants to express himself artistically. He should absolutely be able to draw however the hell he wants. I don’t have to like it though and I don’t have to buy his stuff.

Now please don’t get me wrong and think I’m saying that Cheryl Lynn or anyone else doesn’t have the right to complain about this. They so do. But the complaint needs to be married with a strong, economic message that those who are concerned about this aren’t going to keep spending money on it. The solution isn’t for Benes to suddenly change his art style because someone wants him to. The solution is for DC to hire another artist because no one’s buying Ed Benes anymore. Then, if Benes isn’t getting work and decides to rethink how he’s expressing himself, that’s something he’s going to have to wrestle with. But it’s not going to happen – nor should it happen – just because we’re crying out, “Think of the fans!” while continuing to buy whatever he’s putting out.

Thinking of the fans, after all, is what got us Venom in Spider-Man 3. It’s what got us Nikki and Paulo in Lost. It’s why most fantasy novels suck and why there are three billion new vampire-romance novels published every week. Thinking of the fans makes creators less creative. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Benes draws the way he does precisely because he is thinking of the fans. Just not ones like me.

Adventureblog Gallery: Vampires, cowboys, the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Perils on Planet X

Vampire girl

By Robert McGinnis. (There’s naked people in that link.)

Stagecoach shootout

Also by Robert McGinnis. (Everybody’s got clothes on in this one. And this one. And this one.)

The Princess Bride

By Doug Sirois.

Perils on Planet X

By Eduardo Barreto.

Adventureblog Theater: Metal Thor, Wonder Woman ad, Horror Noir, and Toddler Star Wars

Star Wars. By a toddler.

You’ve all seen this already, right? Well, just in case…

Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson’s Dead, She Said

Wonder Woman doll

I love how the announcer’s voice in this sounds like he’s a serial killer giving clues to the police.

Thor: God of Metal

As long as we’re doing weird things to superheroes. (Via.)

Writing is Hard: Mediocre doesn’t cut it anymore

This article by Steven Grant is a couple of weeks old, but it makes a point that I want to reinforce. Grant says:

It’s not uncommon to hear some, even among top talents in the industry, talking about how comics are just comics, will always just be comics, should always just be comics, and anyone in comics thinking otherwise is a pompous self-loather trying to rise above their station. And they’re wrong.

The American comics industry has lived for a long time on its own relatively isolated little island, where things have developed under fairly unique circumstances. But the medium’s no longer an island; only the business is. And now only if we choose to be. Because comics are mainstream now, as mainstream as anything. They’re acceptable. They’re accepted.

Comics have been in the literary ghetto for a long time. I remember a quote that I think was by Warren Ellis maybe? I can’t find it now, but whoever it was who said it was actually quoting a Japanese director and talking about how when no one’s paying attention to your stuff, you have a lot of room to be bold and take big risks.

Unfortunately, for a lot of creators, having no one around to read your books just meant that you could be lazy and put out crap. I know because as a comics reviewer, I’ve read a lot of it. I’ve even bought some of it because I was wanting something new to read and there just weren’t a lot of choices available. But there are choices now and that means that everyone’s got to bring their best to the marketplace.

As Grant says:

Just “making comics” isn’t good enough anymore. Used to be – and a lot of creators and would-be creators still operate like this – that to “make comics” all you’d need is some rough idea and somebody to draw pictures about it, and because it was in comics format and the market was predisposed to be sympathetic, it was easy to pass that off as a story. The comics industry was considered to be working under special circumstances, and special dispensation was handed out like Halloween candy.

If you haven’t noticed, even on our little island sympathy is a scarce commodity these days. There are still plenty of books flooded out there that are incoherently written, or have art that doesn’t mesh with the subject matter, or are seemingly plotted via dart board, or lack noticeable structure or hooks, or are predicated on ideas that are utterly unoriginal or uninteresting. There are also a lot of comics that don’t sell to save their souls, though the two things never quite hit a one-to-one correlation. It’s pretty obvious that at a lot of companies the title “editor” is sort of an honorific handed out and a lot of people claiming the title have no editorial training and an infirm grasp of what exactly an editor is supposed to do.

There was a time when all of that was good enough, when the industry and the market may not have considered any of that good, exactly, but it was considered good enough.

Now it’s just not good enough. It’s time to reimagine what constitutes a “good” comics story, and how this applies to the growing graphic novel market.

I’m finding that’s true in my own comics buying. I’m less and less willing to shell out three bucks for a crap – or even mediocre – comic. I want Awesome. And I finally have enough choices that I think I can get Awesome.

But the real message for me here is that if I’m going to write comics, I’ve also got to deliver Awesome.