Sunday, November 21, 2010

9/11 Heartbreaker

Review 9/11 Heartbreaker Craig Staufenberg September 11 Comic Book Cover self-published original graphic novel ognWriter/Artist: Craig Staufenberg
Published: 2010; $4.99 (print), or $2.99 (digital)

I think September 11 meant something different to my generation than it did to others. That isn’t to say that how some people feel about it is more valid, or more consequential, than what anyone else feels – just that, among the different ways it affected people, many of those differences seem to play themselves out along generational boundaries. Looking back, I often feel like I’m in the peculiar position of being one of the youngest people to remember – to really remember, I mean, with some burgeoning sense of maturity and of how the world really works – the difference between what it was like before and after that day.

Everyone has their own story, their own memories, about September 11. For me, it was the year before I started high school. My history class watched in horror as the second plane hit on live television. We were afraid – not for our own safety, as some of the younger students were, but because I think a part of us knew there was no going back. We were getting older, and had all but left our childhoods behind. The past had been slipping away from us for years, but we didn’t realize it until a huge piece of it was literally destroyed before our eyes on TV.

It may sound self-centered to frame national tragedy in terms of the everyday, adolescent struggle of coming to grips with the world. But in the end, I think that’s exactly how it affected a lot of people; after all, we were young, and we were self-centered, and that’s how young, self-centered people tend to think. Perhaps ours was a special case, too – we grew up believing that our world was one kind of place, and in an instant it forever became an entirely different one. It was the ultimate bait-and-switch. For many people my age, September 11 was an “end-of-the-innocence,” “coming-of-age” experience.

What I’ve just discussed is my own truth, and it’s different from my father’s and my grandfather’s truths, even though it lies rooted in the same factual events. Our sense of understanding is subjective like that, and so is memory. So perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Craig Staufenberg, author of the original graphic novel 9/11 Heartbreaker, titles his personal website “Memory is Fiction.” And perhaps it’s also fitting that Staufenberg, who began the book as a means of exploring our generation’s memories and feelings about September 11, has created one of the most poignant and thought-provoking reactions to the events of that day that I’ve had the pleasure of encountering in any form of media.

At just 28 pages, 9/11 Heartbreaker is a fairly short book. But it’s packed with meaning, and with an entire generation’s own subjective truth. For people like me who were around high-school age at the time of September 11, it will ring perfectly true; for those who weren’t, I imagine it will offer a fascinating alternative perspective on that day.

The story follows a young woman who in the first few pages meets Peter, a man who records young people’s memories of September 11. The stories our unnamed main character encounters through Peter’s website (which were culled from real-life stories collected by Staufenberg) are so gripping that they incite her to action. Realizing how important it is to remember our history – the various subjective truths of everyday people, if you will – she set out to record them in her own way, just as Peter has.

There’s no plot twist, no loopy postmodern narrative techniques; it’s all about the mental journey the main character goes through as a result of hearing these stories about an event which, until now, she hadn’t thought of so intensely. The artwork is fairly uncomplicated, and it brings to mind the simple beauty of artists like graphic novelist Danica Novgorodoff (Slow Storm and Refresh, Refresh). The story is more heavily driven by its prose – as it should be, since much of the book is made up of personal testimonies about September 11.

What I like most about 9/11 Heartbreaker is that it works not just as a means of preserving one specific perspective on one isolated event; it also shows us how we might learn from it, and more generally how we might strive to record and remember the things that are important to us. We can do that in any number of ways, from taking pictures to writing down our thoughts about the world to simply learning about our cultural heritage. After all, if something happened that no one remembers, then in a way isn’t it almost like that thing never happened at all?

In many ways, I feel as though the effects spiraling out from the main character’s meeting with Peter run parallel to the effect this book had on me. Much like her, I hadn’t given much thought prior to reading the book to the unique effect September 11 had on people of my own age group. Maybe five or ten years from now, I’ll look back on some of the conclusions I’ve drawn here and scoff at my own ignorance for thinking that I’ve sort of figured things out. But if I’ve taken anything away from this book, it’s that the very act of recording your thoughts is an important process, and perhaps looking back on these ones again will lead me to reach even more definitive conclusions one day when the time comes.

I think that’s what this book is about, in the end: the importance of being able to accept our own subjective truths as well as those of others, and of doing our best to preserve them. Those truths can be about September 11, a first love, even our own reflections on a book that makes us think about our world in a new way. If memory is indeed fiction, then it’s important for us to try to remember as much as we can, as best we can, in order for us to learn and move forward from those memories. As long as we keep doing that, I don’t think we can ever truly forget about the things that are most important to us.

[9/11 Heartbreaker is available for purchase in either print or digital form. For the time being, people who order the print version can receive a digital version for free by contacting Craig Staufenberg personally. For more information on the book, including other reviews and interviews, feel free to visit his website, Memory is Fiction.]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Don’t Worry, I’m Still Here!

As you may have noticed, I didn’t post a review last week. The reason for that is that I’ve been impossibly busy for the last few weeks, and I haven’t had the time to read any comics, much less write about them. I’m hoping to have a review up this weekend, though, and hopefully there won’t be any more hiccups between now and the New Year, which is when I foresee myself having a decent amount of free time again. And if for some reason I do miss posting any more reviews, I’ll make up for it with extra reviews in either January or February. Sound good? Thanks for sticking things out with me, and as always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Huge Marvel TPB Timeline Update!

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars Omnibus Alex Ross Mike Zeck Jim Shooter Spider-Man Human Torch Thing Colossus She-Hulk Hawkeye Wolverine Captain America Wasp Cyclops Rogue Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau Nightcrawler Iron Man Hulk Marvel Cover hardcover hc comic bookI have some good news and some bad news today. First, the bad news – I won’t be posting a new review this week. But the reason why is actually the good news! This week I used the time I normally would have spent on a new review working on the Marvel Trade Paperback Timeline, which has now been updated to cover everything – and I do mean everything (so far as I can tell, at least) – that Marvel published from 1984 to 2004. In terms of Marvel continuity, that’s everything from the original Secret Wars to Avengers Disassembled! I also added a Table of Contents to the top of the page for easier navigation.

As always, any and all feedback is welcome. If you think I’ve made a mistake somewhere (which is more than likely, given the number of books now on the timeline), please let me know! Feel free either to leave a comment on this post or to send me an email at marveltimeline@gmail.com. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Movie Review: Creepshow

Review Creepshow George A. Romero Stephen King Creepshow Creep Warner Bros. Movie Poster Film DVD Blu-rayDirector: George A. Romero
Screenplay: Stephen King
Released: Warner Bros., 1982
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix Instant Watch

I thought I would do something a little different this week and talk about a film that doesn’t typically come up on lists of great comic book movies, but which deserves the attention of comic fans nonetheless. I imagine the reason that Creepshow is so often overlooked is that it isn’t an adaptation of a specific comic book, but rather an homage to EC’s line of horror comics from the 1950s. As a huge fan of EC Comics myself, I found a lot to love in this movie.

The movie begins with a father scolding his son for reading a horror comic book called Creepshow, and then throwing it in the trash. A thunderstorm is approaching, and as the wind and rain pick up, blowing the comic open, we get our first look into its pages. Much like Tales From the Crypt, it’s a horror anthology hosted by a strange, supernatural character – the Creepshow Creep in this case, rather than the Crypt-Keeper – with all the trappings of a classic EC comic (even the letters pages look the same!). From this point onward, the movie itself follows the same format, presenting the viewer with five distinct, unrelated horror tales.

The stories are vintage EC for the most part, featuring off-kilter characters and shocking, yet satisfying, endings. The violence and language are considerably rougher than anything EC ever published, of course, but the overall tone is the same in its subtle mix of horror and comedy. The screenplay is by Stephen King, who had already made a name for himself despite having published only seven novels at this point (he had written several others as well, but under pseudonyms). He based several of the stories on short fiction of his own, while others were written specifically for the movie. King even appears in a starring role in one segment, playing a farmer who is transformed into a plant-like creature by a radioactive meteor.

It’s hard to describe the stories without giving too much away, but I’ll give it my best shot. The first segment, “Father’s Day,” follows a group of rich, snobbish people as they gather for their annual celebration of the murder that resulted in their inheritance; it also features an early performance by Ed Harris. The second story (mentioned above) stars Stephen King, who plays the part of an over-the-top southern hick surprisingly well. The next segment, “Something to Tide You Over,” stars Leslie Nielsen as a psychotic husband who sets out to revenge himself upon his wife and her lover by burying them up to their necks on the beach just before the tide comes in. By far the best story, in my opinion, is “The Crate,” in which a college professor (played by Hal Holbrook) uses the appearance of a mysterious monster as a means of getting rid of his emotionally abusive, alcoholic wife. This is followed by the weakest (and also definitely the most disgusting) story of the group, “They’re Creeping Up On You,” in which an evil man receives his just desserts when swarms of insects invade his apartment.

Between each story, we’re treated to bits of the comic book’s artwork as well as brief glimpses of the Creep himself, who is rendered in smooth-looking, traditional animation. The comic book pages are really quite beautiful, and I often found myself pausing the movie to take a closer look or to read some of the text and word balloons that I would have missed otherwise. In a nice touch, the art is by Jack Kamen, one of EC’s top illustrators.

The special effects in Creepshow, created by Tom Savini, are quite good for the time the movie was made. The way the undead are depicted here shows a remarkable technical improvement over Savini’s efforts in the 1975 horror classic Dawn of the Dead – not that there’s anything wrong with the zombies in that movie, but they simply weren’t as impressive in their individual goriness as the dead are in this movie. (In fact, it seems to me that it was only in the decade after Dawn of the Dead that the cinematic portrayal of zombies began to shift from pale, vacant-eyed, but otherwise fairly normal-looking people, to the sort of brain-munching, maggot-filled corpses we’re used to seeing today.) Even the less believable aspects of Creepshow, like the monster in “The Crate,” simply lend to the movie’s horror-comedy tone with how hokey they look.

Of course, the true responsibility for Creepshow’s success lies with director George A. Romero. In fact, the reason I was enticed to watch this movie recently is that I’ve been catching up on some of the director’s movies that I hadn’t already seen (others I’ve watched in the past few weeks include The Crazies, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead). I’ve found it interesting to watch Romero refine his directorial skills over the course of these films, and I would certainly place Creepshow among his best work.

If you’re interested in EC Comics but don’t have the disposable income to spend on the original issues or on Gemstone’s EC Archive collections, Creepshow is a pretty good way to sample just what it was like to read an EC horror comic book. The Tales From the Crypt television series is excellent as well, since most of the stories on that show were taken directly from the comics, although obviously the anthology format is lost. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that a 64-page graphic novella version of Creepshow was published around the time the movie came out. I haven’t been able to procure a copy yet, but I’ll certainly be on the lookout for one, and I’ll let you know what I think of it when I get the chance.

So until next time... Happy Halloween!