Saturday, January 15, 2011

Video Game Awards 2010: A Small Review

Like Azrael, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to watch the Video Game Awards 2010 a week before its premier on Animax (Azrael's blog entry here). For those who want to read spoilers, it's all in the Wikipedia entry. What follows is a small review, and several observations randomly strewn about.

Video Game Awards property of Viacom, Animax property of Sony Entertainment

The Video Game Awards is not actually produced by Animax, but by Spike, an American media entity that has a viral website and an American cable channel. They cater to a predominantly young male audience, so don't expect this show to resemble other Animax programming. The VGAs have also often been criticized for their bias, but as this Destructoid blog entry explains, they actually did get help from the online video game community in choosing their winners and nominees.

This year, the host was Neil Patrick Harris, and fellow presenters included Olivia Munn, Dominic Monaghan, Benicio Del Toro, Dane Cook, etc. I think the highlight of this year's show, however, was not the star power, but their use of augmented reality to change the way the show looked to the TV audience.

The show went by briskly for an hour and a half. We basically saw nominations, awardings, exclusive previews and announcements in quick succession. Some of the awards were not shown on TV, but presumably given offscreen.

Out of all the previews, I was most impressed by Batman: Arkham City. Even if it wasn't a Batman property, the quality of the animated cutscenes, with convincing motion capture and a well executed short narrative were enough to wow me. On a personal level, I also liked the trailers for Thor: God of Asgard and Mortal Kombat.

Check out that trailer here! Watch it lag-free on Animax next week XD

Video from GameTrailers. Batman: Arkham City Warner Bros. Entertainment & Rocksteady Studios. Batman & Hugo Strange property of DC Comics

I think gamers and non-gamers alike will be happy with the trailers and previews alone, but there's some entertaining segments in between as well. NPH himself was inconsistent, but was very funny at times. (Watch out for his short swipe at NBA Elite 11.) I'm afraid some of the presenters didn't feel like a good fit for the show, and some segments felt awkward, but don't let these dissuade you from watching what is otherwise an entertaining show. They even have a funny self-aware skit between Olivia & Neil Patrick Love-Hewitt.

These, I feel, were the honest VGA highlights:

Director Guillermo Del Toro swiping the film industry again for treating video games as an ancillary product.
Limbo creator thanking fans for receiving the Independent Video Game Award.
The trailers for Batman: Arkham City and Thor: God Of Asgard, and to a lesser degree, X-Men Destiny. These will wow film & comic book fans alike.
Bethesda's announcement & trailer for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I've never played this series, but appreciate its role and legacy in video game history.
Jose Gonzales' performance of Red Dead Redemption title track Far Away. There are few opportunities to use indie folk in video games, so just seeing this song performed was a treat. I thought MCR's performance was OK, btw.
Comedy from TMZ, the cast of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (they had Danny Devito!) and Rachel Bilson. 
The trailer for Portal 2. Compared to the other featured game trailers, still a breath of fresh air. 
And that's how I saw the VGAs. I wouldn't call it a must watch, but it's certainly entertaining enough for a Sunday evening. You can catch it January 23, Sunday, starting 7:10 PM, to be simulcast on Animax, AXN, AXN Beyond and Sony Entertainment Television.  NOTE: Contains mature language, video game depictions of sexuality and violence.

As a bonus, here's a live performance of Jose Gonzales' Far Away in Rockstar Australia

Video from YouTube. Far Away property of Rockstar Games

KOMIKS PLUGS: A lot of upcoming komiks events soon as well! Check if you can catch any of these:

Sulyap book signings at Powerbooks, Greenbelt 3 1/22/11, 4-9 PM
and Powerbooks MOA 1/29/11, 4-9 PM
Hey Baby! Gerry Alanguilan book signing at Sputnik, Cubao X 1/29/11 9 PM to 2 AM
Leinil Yu book signing for Death of Spider-Man/Ultimate Avengers vs New Ultimates at Comic Odyssey, Robinson's Galleria 2/12/11 1-4 PM
Komikstrip 2011 CAS Annex 2 UP Los BaƱos 02/19/11 10 AM-7 PM

Friday, January 14, 2011

Komiks industry vs. community: a question of semantics

I think semantics is important. You might have only heard of semantics when having arguments with overly intellectual friends, ie; they'll use that worn out phrase; "we're only arguing semantics." Unfortunately, using this word exclusively in this context really devalues what it is.

Under linguistics, semantics refers to the way language conveys meaning. Irregardless if you subscribe to Barthes', Chomsky's or ideas on semantics, the important thing is to understand the importance of using particular words when describing a certain person or thing.

So I want to urge everyone in komiks, whether retired, active or merely aspiring, to stop referring to the existing collective of active komiks makers as an industry and to use different words instead. The alternative I use is komiks community.

The word industry comes loaded with certain expectations that komiks makers may not necessarily meet, and may not necessarily be beneficial to them. You take a simple definition, like production of a commercial or economic good, and realize that it assumes the makers of the given good produce a steady output of said product for commercial consumption.

So I ask you, how many of you guys have been making, publishing and distributing your komiks on a monthly basis? Are you making enough money, not just to sustain production of future issues, not just to sustain a livelihood, but to safely say that you are making a substantial profit, enough to make a substantial dent in your local economy? And I don't just mean in a span of a few months, but consistently publishing and profiting from since you started until right now?

And of course, this can hurt the active komiks makers when outsiders come in and say; 'But you guys don't publish consistently!' or 'You don't make as much money here as you do for Marvel' or 'You guys are just amateurs.' Some of these unfair comments and perceptions come from unrealistic expectations, which stem from that one word.

Now, I like using the word community because it is associated with two ideas; one, that of people sharing a common interest, but also the idea that these people live in a particular area. The first idea describes the active komiks makers perfectly. However, I've been hypothesizing that the second idea has been starting to become true as well; that komiks are becoming local and komiks makers probably live near their target audience. Whether this hypothesis will be proven true remains to be seen, but in any case, this is certainly a more accurate description of the komiks makers now.

So, as of this moment, komiks is not being made by an economically driven industry. It's being made by a dedicated and closely knit community.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My experience with comics diversity

I didn't grew up the big Marvel or DC fan like other kids my generation did. Of course, we all had the huge cartoons, like TMNT and Ghostbusters, and then there was Voltes V and Bioman, but me, I got into a whole lot more. I wanted to see as many different kinds of cartoons as I could, so I scoured TV channels to see what they had on offer. I was fortunate to have appreciated and enjoyed the Ub Iwerks and Merrie Melodies and Betty Boops.

When I was older, this line of thinking extended to the comics I read. I believe the first of these that I read were definitely Archies, and by extension I saw the Tintins and Asterixes in bookstores. It was at school that I got to see my first Batmans and X-Mens among classmates, but then my batchmates were pretty discreet about showing & sharing them back then, so it would be much later before I even got to read them.

But then, in the back of my mind I would remember even more comics I wanted to experience. There were the Hong Kong comics hiding under the huge pile of Mandarin language magazines, back when Robinson's Galleria was first new. There were the gorgeous Heavy Metal covers, hiding under the Playboys and Hustlers. There were the Mad and Cracked magazines, which may as well have been comics format. And then there were the komiks.

I think our neighborhood had a pretty good deal when it came to komiks compared to others. No, we didn't get Kick Fighter or Bata Batuta circulated here, but we had Pilipino Funny Komiks For Kids, and our distributor was also the local newspaper man. He made the deal to bring Funny Komiks to our houses every Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, and it would be paid for along with out newspaper subscription.

Needless to say, it was a pretty sweet deal.

Around my high school years, the comics scene went through an explosion. Everyone was talking X-Men and Image, but at around the same time, Evangelion was poised to make anime a worldwide phenomenon.

So here I am, surrounded by classmates talking all Wolverine this and Gundam that, and frankly I was getting bored. In our tiny classroom conversations, they would make grudging acknowledgements that, yes, an Archie is good for a rainy afternoon, and Tintin is really old and artsy, and somebody's parents wouldn't let him but a Heavy Metal, but mostly encountered closed minds who could not fathom why I had as much enthusiasm for these comics as I did for the latest Samurai X. I was the special, outsider kid, who was just really into comics.

Such bollocks.

So, unsatisfied with following the pack, I set out to look for comics on my own. Any kind of comics, comics that wouldn't neatly fit any categories. I did it with a wistful naivete and lack of money too, so it wasn't like I was reading Maus early on. I never even heard about Watchmen until college, that was how out of the loop I really was.

But even with the limitations afforded me, among bargain bins and shady characters, I found different comics. The Valiants and AD 2000s, who no one else I knew cared about. Elfquest. Manga Vizion. Ms. Tree. newsstrip reprints of Dick Tracy and Garth.

A lot of them were segments of longer stories too, but even just reading parts of them were fruitful. I liked anthologies like Negative Burn and Critters. I found pieces of Xenozoic Tales and A Distant Soil. And of course, there was an even bigger list of books I wanted but couldn't even get my hands on.

Through the years, I accumulated and lost comics. I constantly had a problem with not having enough space for them. Some were lost, some were never returned, and some were disposed of by either me or my family. I often lamented, but grew to accept that my parents didn't have the culture of taking care of books that I wanted to nurture.

But of course, as I got older, I got more of my way, and like to think I currently have an interesting, if unimpressive collection. Like many people, though, I stopped collecting when the internet became a viable resource to find comics. As of today, I still don't have the shelf space I'd want for serious collecting.

So, how did you guys discover comics?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Comics and Komiks diversity

Comics diversity is a great thing. The differentiation in terms of art style, format, target markets, etc. is an indication of the health of the medium. A market where only superhero comics existed, or only shonen manga existed, no matter how brilliant those works could become, would be dead creatively. Much like biodiversity, comics diversity is an indication of how much creativity is fostered in a particular comics making community.

Here's a short list that should give you an idea how diverse comics actually are:

mah jongg manga - entire comics stories revolving around people competing to be the best at manga, often using fictitious moves and abilities that are simply impossible in mah jongg in real life. One recent manga, The Legend of Koizumi, became infamous for portraying world leaders like George W. Bush, Kim Jong-Il and Vladimir Putin play mah jongg against each other. This genre was unknown outside Japan until Akagi, which was turned into an anime in 2005.
source: Akagi still from Madhouse
photo comics/look books - a comic genre that crossed boundaries from Europe, to South America and Africa. Instead of drawings, photographs were laid in sequence with text and word balloons filled in. Many photo comics were adaptations of films and TV shows using captured stills, while others actually featured original characters. On a side note, I remember getting reprinted photocomics of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots and National Velvet, which probably date back to the 50s, as a kid.
source: Matias-TV magazine
war journal comics - Don Lomax and Joe Sacco blur the lines between journalist, autobiographer and war comics creators with their work. They distinguish themselves from other war comics biographers like Harvey Pekar, Gary Trudeau and Art Spiegelman by documenting their own actual war experience in comics form. For Lomax, it was as a Vietnam veteran, for Sacco, it was as a journalist in the Gulf War and Bosnian War.
source: High Shining Brass, Don Lomax, Apple Comics
 source: Complacency Kills, Joe Sacco, The Guardian
constrained comics - previously nothing more than an experiment, constrained comics gained prominence when qwantz/dinosaur comics and garfield minus garfield went viral. In a nutshell, these comics are produced under specific constraints or rules that cannot be broken. These comics often reuse older material as the constraint, & often the impetus for new insight. Other examples of constrained comics are Married To The Sea and Scott Meets Family Circus.
Globalization has both facilitated and threatened this comics diversity. On one end, it's easier to discover new comics of different kinds, as well as find more comics related resources and information. On the other hand, local comics have been dying out as people worldwide start reading more of the same thing.

Komiks makers are affected by this in two ways:

1) komiks are part of that diversity. Pinoy comics have a different flavor from comics in Belgium or Hong Kong.

2) komiks makers themselves are affected by globalization, to either join in what other people have been doing or to stand apart from the pack.

Locally, I think you can make connections between Trese and horror komiks stories of old, as well as superheroes then and now, and also with Mwahaha and the old satirical komiks. But I am concerned about other genres, like the old style adventure komiks serials, romance and love stories, magical stories, and the recurring soap opera style serials.

Now, some of these stories are of course being retold in film and movies. And some core concepts are being reexplored in different ways, such as love stories in manga style komiks, or adventure themes in superhero komiks. However, you couldn't really say these genres survive if they aren't being reexplored the way they used to be.

But, this may not necessarily be a good or bad thing. Perhaps some of these genres aren't worth reexploring, or no one active is interested or capable of doing so. In any case, I want to urge you to take a look at komiks you bought today and consider how much it contributes to komiks diversity.

This Wednesday I'll tell the story of how I discovered the beauty of comics diversity.