Continuing on with Columbus’ comix love affair, the Wexner Center is having a month long film series mixing medicine, film and comics.
Narrative Medicine: A Film & Comix Series
Find out why medical students and practitioners are turning to the humanities (especially narrative studies of literature, film, and comix), and see how the arts and humanities have often honed in on stories of patients, doctors, and other health care practitioners. This series of screenings and events illuminates an exciting new “narrative medicine” movement based on the premise that narrative competence enhances medical competence even as medical experiences reshape narrative forms. The series complements a two-day multidisciplinary conference.
I found out about this as one of the guys (Ezra) involved contacted me about this. He’ll be at the Wexner on March 28th presenting a live interactive presentation (of his digital comic Upgrade Soul) accompanied by music. David Small will be giving a talk on his graphic novel Stiches: A Memoir on April 4th. They’ll also be screening Safe and The Diving Bell & the Butterfly. Two films I’ve seen but never on the big screen.
Last time I spoke about plot and structure, and if you want the respectable version of that, I will again refer you to Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 basics of writing 101. But if you want the down-and-dirty, sell-your-soul version, let me point you toward Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need.
Written by screenwriter Blake Snyder (who died in 2009), Save the Cat! purports to tell you exactly how to write a screenplay that will sell. It steps beyond structure: Save the Cat! prescribes your screenplay should be almost exactly 110 pages, and it tells you exactly which page each beat should appear on.
You heard me. You should state your theme by page 5, break into Act 2 on p25, the bad guys close in pp55-75, and your hero should hit rock bottom on p75. The hero should get his/her shit together and start Act 3 by p85, just in time to win in the end on p110. Check out the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet here.
The last part is a rundown of Blake’s Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics and common problems in screenplays. They include: too much exposition, too much mumbo jumbo, a passive hero and characters with no “arc.” Blake’s signature maxim, “save the cat,” says that the hero should do something good at the beginning to get you on his side.
I heard about this book a lot when I was doing A Voice From The Dead, which breaks most of these rules. I finally read it a few weeks ago.
As an artiste, I’d like to believe that none of this is true, and nobody should take advice from the writer of this or, for fuck’s sake, this. As a struggling artist, I sometimes suspect he’s right about everything.
My feeling is, this Save the Cat! stuff is a good diagnostic tool, rather than a blueprint. If you’re following it as a guide, you’re probably a hack. But if your precious little idea isn’t working, it’s probably for one of the reasons Blake mentions.
And I think Save the Cat! applies more to movies than to comics. Comics are a niche business, and relatively cheap to produce. They don’t need to generate millions of dollars each time out, so they’re a lot more conducive to rule-breaking.
But yeah, it’s scary. I’m typically the most “pulpy” writer here, and I found it pretty chilling.
The Wexner Center will be showing a double feature Thursday night. Important note is the short documentary preceeding the feature film (Wild Bill’s Run) is on our pal Matt Kish. The short film ‘Inside the Whale‘ is all about his Moby Dick inspired art book. Matt will be on hand signing copies of said book (beginning at 6pm). The film starts at 7pm. General public $8. Students and seniors $6. See you there.
I only saw two of the Best Picture nominees, and one of them was by accident. Skyfall was sold out, so I saw Argo.
I thought Argo was a good movie. It’s “ripped from the headlines,” and it manages to do a lot of business in 120 minutes. You only get glimpses of the hostages, but you still get a sense of who they are. The Iranians are definitely the villains, but there’s no sense that they’re all terrible people. Ben Affleck is a bit of a cipher at the center of it, but you do get some hints of his character. I really was at the edge of my seat at the end.
But I had no idea I was watching the year’s best picture. I figured it would go to Lincoln of Zero Dark 30, which seem like “bigger” pictures. I thought maybe their voters canceled each other out? But of course, I haven’t seen either film, so I can’t say. I hate it when people judge a piece based strictly on “buzz.”
I dunno, I feel like I don’t know what’s good anymore.
An update from our very own Matt Kish:
A great review of “The Graphic Canon: Volume 2” from Paste Magazine. 12 of my “Moby-Dick” illustrations are included in the anthology, and Paste had this to say: “The other revelation comes from Matt Kish, who has created a unique image for every page of Moby Dick (all of which can be seen on his blog). Intense and surreal, these visions are a triumph, keeping a strong tether to the original prose while launching into electrifying worlds of their own.”
This essay will meander a bit and ultimately has no conflict. But that’s kind of the point.
A few weeks ago, Dara posted an article on facebook “The significance of plot without conflict.” Shortly thereafter, I saw “Tiny Furniture,” the debut film by Lena Dunham. Then, I read the extremely formulaic screenwriting book “Save the Cat.”
The article talks about the standard advice in Western writing class that every story must have 1) a beginning, middle & end and 2) conflict. In fact, screenwriting/acting classes will tell you that each individual scene should have conflict. Here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 writing tips, which makes the point in a less hacky way.
According to the article, there is a Chinese/Japanese plot structure called kishōtenketsu that does not rely on conflict. The first and second acts set up the situation, the third act introduces a “new surprising element,” and the fourth act draws some kind of conclusion. Just read the article and come back when you’re done.
Dara tagged both me and Matt, and Matt can make his own response. But my response is: Fine by me.
I do not have a lot of formal training in creative writing. I’m basically self-taught by studying genre pieces, mystery novels, and whatever Great Literature manages to pierce my genre bubble.
So I’m not terribly beholden to the 3 Act/Conflict model. I see it as a tool in the toolbox, and I’m happy to see that there are other tools out there. It’s possible that my first movie, A Voice From The Dead, uses a similar structure.
I will say that the 3 Act/Conflict model is a very effective tool, and one that’s been hashed out over 4,000 years of Western Civilization. And I think a conflict-free story would be a bit boring unless it’s done really well (I’ll refer you back to A Voice From The Dead).
For a conflict-free story that’s done really well, I’ll refer you to “Tiny Furniture.” If that story has conflict, it’s on such a small scale that I can hardly see it. In it, a young woman returns home after graduating from a liberal arts college, falls back into her old patterns, and halfheartedly attempts to get laid.
Describing the plot of “Tiny Furniture” doesn’t really do it justice. There’s not much “arc” to it. Some scenes have conflict, but not much changes. The film succeeds on the quality of its images and its tone-setting.
So this brings me back around to the 3 Act/Conflict model. Any rule can be broken, if you have the talent and skill to pull it off.
Our Monday Morning Guess the Artist feature is still on hiatus, but I found a likely candidate the other day:
You know that old comic book trope (I associate it mostly with Marvel Comics) where two heroes meet, fight, then team up?
It turns out that is literally the oldest trope in the book. That’s how The Epic of Gilgamesh starts.
As part of my Babylonian kick, I sat down and read Gilgamesh. It’s not long (you can’t do too much decompression when you’re forming the words one-by-one out of clay with a reed, and the trade had not been invented yet). When it opens, Gilgamesh is a mighty king, but kind of immature. The gods make a wild, shaggy man to oppose him: Enkidu. They fight, and then become bosom pals.
Actually, Gilgamesh’s opening gambit is to send a harlot out to seduce Enkidu. After that, Enkidu is too civilized and his animal friends refuse to help him. I never saw Spider-Man use that tactic on Ghost Rider, but I’m sure one Craig or Matt will correct me.
After that, Gilgamesh and Enkidu go kill a monster because the sun god Shamash tells them to. I didn’t quite catch the rationale there. The monster guards a pine forest, so I think Shamash wanted a big pine tree for the door to his temple … I didn’t follow that part very well.
There are more adventures. They piss off the goddess Ishtar and kill the Bull of Heaven, so the gods send Enkidu an illness and he dies. Then, Gilgamesh goes to the land of the gods to visit Ut-napishtim (the Babylonian Noah) and find the secret to immortality. Unfortunately, a snake carries it off.
I’m continually surprised at how human Gilgamesh is. At several points, he’s essentially ready to wus out, but Enkidu urges him to keep fighting. And he gets totally emo when he realizes that he, too, will die someday.
My Babylonian gaydar is not finely tuned enough to tell if Gilgamesh and Enkidu are lovers. Both of them have wives, although you never meet them. The only named women are Shamhat (the harlot) and the goddess Ishtar, who is explicitly described as a psycho hosebeast. I wasn’t expecting a 4,000-year-old folk tale to pass the Bechdel Test, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so completely G’s-Up-Hoes-Down.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories in Western Civilization, is basically a buddy cop movie.
The hardest-working man in Columbus comix, Ken Eppstein, is curating an exhibit about the process of creating comic books from script to print from Feb. 7-23 at the Ohio Art League. The show also functions as a pop-up shop for local creators, including yours truly.
But you don’t just want to see art or buy comix. You want an experience, man. Ken’s got you covered for that, too.
Thursday, Feb. 7. 5-8 p.m.: Reception. It’s also your first chance to cop Nix Quarterly No. 5!
Saturday, Feb. 10, 4 p.m.: The History of Ohio Art with Caitlin McGurk, Engagement Coordinator at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library
Rumor this will be people bitching that Daryll Banks doesn’t get more work, and Bob Corby drunkenly demanding royalties from everyone.
Saturday, Feb. 16. 4 p.m. Diversity Among Comic Creators in Columbus Panel Discussion led by Victor Dandridge, Vantage Inhouse Productions
Friday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.: Using Journalism to Create Comics presented by Derf Backderf
This features Derf, whose “My Friend Dahmer” landed on Time Magazine’s list of best nonfiction books. Not best nonfiction comic books. Best nonfiction books.
I’ve been watching Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix lately, and man, is it uneven. Every time I get sick of the show, they throw me a great episode or a great concept. And every time I’m about to quit it, they throw me a real stinkeroo.
Man, this show has so much potential, but everything needs to be about 20 percent better to succeed. If the writing’s just 20 percent better, or the acting is 20 percent better …
I dunno if they thought they were recreating the legendary original cast, but it’s really no sin to drop characters that suck. I said this in my “Once Upon A Time” post, but it’s plenty true: you don’t have to be a better actor to be in a genre piece, but it’s definitely a specialized skill. And I know if I keep watching, I’ll get to the season finale where the human race is at stake but we’re dealing with Hoshi’s feelings of inadequacy.
Dang, I spend a lot of time writing about TV and movies that I only sort of like. I gotta stop that.
Anyway, I was looking through ST:ENT’s page on imdb.com, and I notice John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox) gets second billing, behind Scott Bakula. Phlox is (IMHO) the best character and the best actor on the show, but he also seems to have had the best career post-ENT.
Keep on trucking, you long-tongued polyamorous alien swinger, you.
I feel bad for Connor Trineer, who definitely worked hardest, but at least he seems to pop up on Suits and NCIS and stuff like that.
Here’s a “living in the future” stat from a Red Cross survey: 69 percent of people said they expect that they’ll get help if they send out an SOS on social media.
Within an hour.
I heard that amazing stat in a training session for Social Media in a Crisis. This is not so crazy as it sounds: In an emergency, voice and data traffic often locks up tight. Twitter can work on text messages, and I guess you can sometimes get wi-fi in a hurricane.
So to that end, lots of emergency management agencies have begun monitoring Twitter and Facebook. You can sign up as a Red Cross Digital Volunteer if you’d like to help out with this work. They train people to look for distress calls and collate intel from the ground. They ask you get some training and sign up for 4-hour shifts.
I mean, we’ve all heard of the mighty works of Anonymous, especially in Steubenville. But if you want to get involved online, but you don’t have 733t hacking skills (or don’t want to risk jail), here’s another option for you.
OK, this time I went way over 350 words, to a shocking 765 words. Sorry about that. We’re also considering putting a portion of these into a Kindle book, so watch the Internets for that, huh?
The Palomino Station Murder
When the computer told me there was more oxygen in the air, I just had a feeling something was wrong. Same thing with the sump flow – there wasn’t as much as usual. Someone was missing.
Palomino Station isn’t big enough to have a sheriff. There’s hardly any crime to speak of. There’s nowhere to run, nothing to steal, and few items are so precious that the owner won’t lend them to you if you ask nicely. We’re all station-born, so everyone here knows you and your fathers from birth.
As the system administrator, I’m the closest thing we have to law around here. I set out to find the Conner twins.
We don’t have cameras or sensors all over the place (‘cept in the high-rad areas), because we like our privacy. But it wasn’t long before I found Cody Conner on the promenade deck, pitching woo with Becky Clevinger. He was pitching pretty hard, too.
“Let’s get out of this little town,” he said. You could tell he was desperate, but he was trying not to show it. Becky just thought it was love. “Just hijack an escape pod, a few years in stasis, and we can get to a real planet.”
“A real planet,” Becky demurred. “With all that gravity.”
“I have a little money -,” Cody caught himself short when he saw me, and turned white as a sheet.
“Cody,” I said. “Where is your brother?”
He didn’t try to run. There was nowhere to go on Palomino. He just hung his head and cried.
The Conner twins had been feuding over Becky Clevinger for about three years, ever since the old animal urges started. She was 18, and they were 16.
Usually, we try to synchronize births, but Becky and the Conner twins were a kind of half-generation all to themselves. There was no other youth within 5 years of them. Even if there had been, I think the Conner twins would have still been head over heels for Becky.
For her part, Becky liked the attention some, and she liked them OK as people, but I don’t know that she relished the choice. But her next option was Harry Thompson, age 12, who liked to shoot rubber bands; or to be a junior wife to an older couple. She took a skeptical eye to her two suitors and she set herself in for a long siege.
The airlocks all kept records, so it wasn’t hard to tell what happened to poor Bill Conner. Mr. Vikas unlimbered the telescope and found him floating out in space some 700,000 kilometers in our wake, body heat moving to the low parts of Kelvin. We thought about going to pick up the body, but we were short on rocket fuel, and floating in space was no less dignified than going into the recycler. So out in space he floats.
We held a service, though. Mr. Vikas said a few words, and we sang a few of the old songs. We let the Conner boy come, and he wept and swore it was an accident and his mother hung on him the whole time. His father stood stone-faced, but he held his arm tight around Mrs. Conner, and she held onto young Cody, so I suppose he held his son in his own way. He was losing two sons that day.
It was I who administered the punishment. I loaded young Cody into the autodoc while his mother held his hand and shhhhed that it’d be alright. Doc Wilson put in the sedative. I fitted the helmet on his head, and the autodoc did its work, cutting out all the spark and leaving what was sweet and compliant. On the frontier, we’re too few to allow murderers to get away, but we’re also short of strong backs.
So now he does what we ask, and works hard, and everyone more-or-less likes him. Those that don’t like him avoid him, but he’s not sharp enough to notice. He dotes after young Becky for reasons he can’t quite remember, and she seems sort of fond of him.
We saved a little of Cody’s material, not that Becky’d want to have a murderer’s child, but the Conners have always been good breeding stock and I reckon it’s the same as Bill’s. Mr. and Mrs. Conner would never ask, but I don’t doubt that Becky considers it. Sometimes she seems a bit wistful as she considers Harry Thompson, or a few of the older couples.
And that’s that. That’s the record of the Palomino Station murder.
Man, it seems like this zombie craze has been going on forever, huh? That may literally be true.
I came across what may be the world’s oldest zombie story in a book of Babylonian mythology. In one version of the story, the goddess Ishtar (Queen of Heaven, also known as Inanna) attempts to enter the Underworld, which is ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal.
The reasons for her trip are unclear, but the threat she makes is quite familiar to our post-Romero world:
O gatekeeper, open thy gate,
Open thy gate that I may enter!
If thou openest not the gate so that I cannot enter,
I will smash the door, I will shatter the bolt,
I will smash the doorpost, I will move the doors,
I will raise up the dead, eating the living
So that the dead will outnumber the living.
That’s right – the zombie trope is literally one of the oldest ones in the book.
I always describe my feelings for Downton Abbey as being similar to my wife’s feelings about Dr. Who: I can get into the show for a little bit, but then I remember how ridiculous the milieu is. My wife says it’s different because Downton Abbey’s milieu really existed, but I’m not sure that makes it better.
If you haven’t seen it, Downton Abbey details the drama of a grand estate in Britain from 1912-1920. The lords & ladies of the house deal with their upper-class dramas, while meanwhile the domestic staff have their own set of dramas. The inciting event is that Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter can’t inherit the estate unless she marries a distant cousin. One major storyline in season 1 involves a footman framing Lord Grantham’s valet for the loss of a snuff-box.
Essentially, the whole society needs a kick in the ass. I found myself rooting for World War I.
Season 2 did deal with WWI, with several of the cast going off to war and the estate serving as a military hospital. Last night’s Season 3 debut moves it back to drawing-room intrigue. Lord Grantham has lost most of his money investing in Canadian railroads, the eldest daughter *finally* marries that cousin, and the evil footman conspires to keep his position as a valet.
Downton Abbey faltered in Season 2, and I think it made a mistake trying to deal with such a large world-historical event. Frankly, the series works better when it focuses on bullshit.
I really can’t help but enjoy the show. Last night also featured Shirley Maclaine as the world’s most on-the-nose American, and also attempted to explain the logic behind the old estates. Lord Grantham really believes he has a duty to stay filthy rich, so he can employ the 15-20 people who work in his estate. I’m kind of fascinated by how if you’re born rich, you can come up with reasons why you deserve it.
And as a “small-r” republican, I believe the whole society is better-served by educating everyone and letting them create middle-class jobs. I mean, I’m not judging you if you want to be a valet, but there really should be some more options. You have to weep when you consider the waste of human talent.
But the sociological stuff takes a backseat to the human drama. It’s ridiculous to worry that you only have a tux to wear to a dinner, when you should be wearing white tie and tails, but it’s deadly serious to the characters. And the characters are human enough that you identify with their concerns, even though they’re completely bullshit.
Plus, look at Lady Mary in this dress! Isn’t this worth centuries of oppression?