Thursday, April 28, 2011

Words worth a thousand pictures

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere recently - fulfilling my duties as both a Sandman devotee and a literary Chicagoan, since the book is April’s selection in our Public Library’s “One Book, One Chicago” program. As any Gaiman reader would expect, the story is propulsive and chock-full of rich world-building and encyclopedic literary allusions. But at times, I feel like the strictures of prose lead to pitfalls that a comic book would skip over: some of the characterizations are a bit too on-the-nose, and descriptive passages occasionally lean on triteness.

And then I come across a passage like this one (which I quote here without context in order to prevent spoilage):

“The marquis felt, then, that much of what he had gone through in the previous week was made up for by the expression on Hunter’s face.”
Only pure prose can render that moment so perfectly. In a comic book, the expression on Hunter’s face would have to be drawn by an artist, who interprets the meaning of the sentence and the scene a certain way. The reader’s interpretation of that drawing may, in turn, diverge from the artist’s intent, but will nevertheless be restricted to the range of emotions conveyed by a particular physical image.

As it stands, that passage encapsulates the competitive advantage of a verbal medium. By relying on the limitless malleability of language, Gaiman allows every reader to process the meaning in her own way. In that sentence, Hunter’s expression might be one of anger, shock, bemusement, respect, relief, astonishment, joy, disbelief. It might contain any combination of those emotions. So it contains all of them, while stating none of them. It’s a Schrรถdinger paradox of a sentence. It forces the reader to do a bit of work, to invest himself in a way that a visual medium cannot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ATTENTION STARZ: I have your next historical-but-not-really drama right here

Followers of my Twitter feed will not be surprised to learn that I've been brushing up on my mythology - specifically, Edith Hamilton's Mythology, a sort of greatest-hits compilation of the gods and heroes of Greek, Roman, and Norse legend. What remains striking about virtually every one isn't what they reveal about the values and mentalities of antiquity so much as what they reveal about timeless human nature. This isn't a terribly original observation, but it's true: the roots of all storytelling are here.

Anyway, the one I'm really loving, one of the preeminent stories of its time but lesser known today, is the saga of Theseus. He was Athens's greatest hero, and dude was a straight-up knight of the realm: brave, just, and wise. And his story would make for a pretty kick-ass graphic novel or 13-episode TV series.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Round-up

My brief thoughts on Thursday's NBC comedies, including

A very funny but slightly disjointed Community, "Competitive Wine Tasting;"
A ho-hum The Office, "Training Day," that coasts on the wattage of guest star Will Ferrell;
And a superlative Parks and Recreation, "Fancy Party," which solidifies its place as my favorite show on the air.

I also beseech America to watch Cougar Town, an under-appreciated comic gem which returns from hiatus this week (reviews to follow Monday's and Wednesday's episodes).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dispatches from my TV criticism

Over at The Vast Wasteland, I have reviews up of some of this week's new programs:

Celebrity Apprentice, "Australian Gold," in which Gary Busey is on everyone's last nerve, except for the NBC ad sales department.
How I Met Your Mother, "The Exploding Meatball Sub," in which the frustrating outweighed the funny.
The Chicago Code, "Wild Onions," in which a series of vignette-style stories shed some light on partnerships old and new.
Modern Family, "The Musical Man," in which the show coasts on a contrived plot and some overly-familiar gags.
Justified, "Debts and Accounts," in which one of the most grippingly written and acted seasons of TV continues apace.

And from last week, my Q&A with fantasy author/former Buffy star Amber Benson.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 12-13: In which a love triangle becomes a love rhombus

Season 1, Episodes 12-13: "Smoky," "Small Town"

A good story works its way into your system. But every fiction fan has a few immunities, aesthetic antibodies that will always reject a certain storytelling strain - a particular genre, character type, plot device, whatever - notwithstanding the quality of its execution. You might be congenitally incapable of enjoying a conspiracy plot, or a brooding bad boy character, or anything remotely science fiction-y, no matter how skillfully or originally it's handled. That's a normal aspect of fandom.