The Nature of Adaptation: Form v. Content

Hulu added the second season of Fargo to instant streaming recently, and my wife and I devoured it this past weekend. One episode in, and we were hooked. Fargo is an even blend of style, mystery, action, and dark Midwestern humor. It’s a show that uses style, editing, and composition to fully submerge its audience into the emotions of the sequence, rather than hanging its hat on a melodramatic narrative structure.

When we finished, I felt the need to immediately blurt out, “This is one of the best comic book adaptations I’ve ever seen.” This sounded silly and confusing in that Fargo isn’t adapted from a comic book. It carries the name of a popular Coen Brothers movie and crafts crime stories in the style and tone of the film. There were no comic books to be found on the set of the film, and none of the iconic characters from the world of comics even graced the background.

But that’s what makes this adaptation interesting. While Marvel and DC continue to make films using their popular licensed characters, the second season of Fargo is more of a comic book adaptation than either of the “cinematic universes” that the aforementioned companies are dumping into movie theaters.

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The Parasite Lurking Under the Skin

 

Facebook hasn’t been fun for me for about a year or more now. Though I try to bring some humor and carry a smile to my interactions with wonderful groups of friends, writers, and family members, what I see gets to me. The anger. The hatred. The rage. It’s all consuming, and I can feel it writhing around inside of me, worming its way through my organs like some sort of parasite battling for control of who I am.

I feel the urge to lash out, to get physical, to beat down these people posting the poorly written or heavily editorialized articles that are making me angry.

But I know this is wrong. My heart tells me that these people aren’t my enemies. They’re friends. Family. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and so on. And if I give in, I’m allowing myself to contract the same parasite that’s enslaving them, the same techno-terror that has them spewing bile on social media.

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Photos and the Gift of Memories

After every holiday meal, my grandmother used to round up everyone for the annual family photo. She’d open a new disposal camera that she had picked up from Walgreens the week before, stand everybody together, and use that grandmother voice to delegate orders until we all gave satisfactory smiles. Since we only finished eating only a few moments before, this always proved to be an arduous task. Our bellies were stuffed, and our bodies were sending signals that we needed to beach ourselves on a couch and fall asleep to the melodic malaise of a Lawrence Welk rerun.

I never understood this ritual, and the only meaning I ever took from it was how much I loathed taking photos. I’d see those holiday photos on display every time we visited my grandparents, and I’d think about how many spoonfuls of mashed potatoes were packed into that belly of mine. The gluttonous guilt was enough to make an absolute decree to never capture a memory on celluloid ever again.

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Failure is a Good Thing

In 2009, I graduated Western Illinois University with a Bachelor’s in English and a minor in Film and Print & Broadcast Media. I was a media junkie and a media jack-of-all-trades. That summer, I knew it was only a matter of time before I wrote a novel that blew everyone away.

Fast forward to 2011, and I self-published my first book. It was supposed to be an edgy, gritty, and existential coming-of-age story about some backwoods kid who spent most of his time consuming advertising. Some people told me that they genuinely enjoyed it, and others changed the topic when I asked them about it at social gatherings.

I was 23 at the time. After it released, I sat back and waited. For what? Ultimately, nothing. With my university degree in my belt, I spent a few years in a plateau. I was carrying around a piece of paper that said I had learned something, and in hindsight, I used it as an excuse to stop learning.

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Face It: You Look Good

One of the things no one ever tells you about being the editor of a literary magazine is that before every issue, you’ll spend a great deal of time staring at the faces of strangers. More often than not, the only interaction you’ve had with these people is a few emails regarding the acceptance of their stories. It’s very much a business transaction in that sense. They’ve wowed you with a stellar piece of writing, and in return, you’re eager to host and share this piece with the world.

Yet, the act of sending a photo to someone, even a bio photo, feels more personal, doesn’t it? It’s being asked to share something intimate of ours with a complete stranger, something that we judge and pick at and cover with makeup and cream because we’re constantly worried about how we look.

Many of us balk when we stare at ourselves in the mirror. We notice the little imperfections. The encroaching zit underneath the chin. The single nose hair peeking out of our left nostril. The barely visible unibrow connecting left eyebrow to right. It’s maddening, but it’s our daily burden to carry. We know we’ll never look as amazing as those people in the magazines, but we face the public regardless, weighed down by a sense of humility at our own physical imperfections.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes cringe at that face in the mirror. Not every day, but it happens. I don’t like the skin underneath my jaw that threatens to dip below my chin. My face isn’t chiseled enough. It makes me feel ugly sometimes, as my body doesn’t feel like an accurate representation of my mental persona.

We’re harsh judges, and I would argue that we’re too harsh on ourselves.

Derek Zoolander Magnum

In every single one of those photos of strangers that comes into my inbox every other month, I can honestly say that we’re all looking good. We’re shining human specimens from all over the world, and I don’t see the imperfections some of us may be worried about.

I many not know you. I may not know when, where, or how you took that photo. I don’t even know if you doctored it a little bit (it’s okay if you did), but I do know that you look good. Seriously. You’re fine. Before every issue of Literary Orphans comes out, I upload some 30-odd pictures of strangers, and there’s not a bad looking person in the mix, including you.

Including me.

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Laying Down a Rubber Road Right to Freedom

Over the past month, I’ve been consumed by this game called Pac-Man 256. Essentially, it’s one never-ending Pac-Man level with enhanced, upgradeable power-ups for battling ghosts and making your way further and further along this level. Patterns repeat, enemies multiply, and the further you go, the more time you lose wading through arcade limbo. There’s no ending. There’s no way out (except for death). All you can really do in Pac-Man 256 is accumulate a higher and higher score.

It helps to have friends for this game, friends you can compete with on the leaderboards. In my case, I’ve spent over 18 hours battling one friend for the top spot.

That's me right at the top there. Doc Nonsensical. Feel free to add me on Xbox Live.

That’s me right at the top. Doc Nonsensical. Feel free to add me on Xbox Live.

It’s a hollow victory, especially when you realize you’ve spent 18+ hours playing the same Pac-Man level over and over again, but it reminds me of my day job. I’ve spent four years writing and editing for an entertainment company that confuses “family entertainment” with schlock.

I used to justify my job by telling myself that it was making kids happy. But the company made it abundantly clear I wasn’t.

They decided to move the office to Florida and give me an end date. What contributions I made were filed away in a folder for anybody else to pull from when writing about company property, often copied and pasted by people who didn’t craft sentences for a living but tried anyway. Seeing their hackneyed blurbs sometimes left me ill. It must have been how the mother of Frankenstein’s monster felt when she heard her son was a piece-meal monolith terrorizing the countryside.

The office culture was great, though. I’ve never been in an environment as united as the ragtag group of marketeers I was apart of. Caught in an unending battle between the sales and brand departments, we were an assembly of artists, coordinators, and editors that remained productive in a corporate structure that bred only chaos. Upper-level executives exerted control by making bizarre changes to company protocol, and in a classic chess counter-maneuver, other upper-level executives exerted control by undoing as many of those changes as they could.

And there we were, in the thick of it, filtering all these demands from competing departments into one harmonious composition. We got good at it, too, learning from our victories and our losses.

And then life intervened.

I thought I was hot shit. I thought I was the best editor the company had ever had, playing my part and slowly building a copy empire by assimilating as many editorial tasks as possible. I thought this because somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that this was my destiny.

I was like that guy at the beginning of the first Mad Max. The Night Rider. Barreling down the highway screaming about destiny and my place of dominance in the world. And like the Night Rider, Max was waiting just down the road, revving his engine. Sooner or later he’d catch up and remind me of my place.

When I signed my end-date paperwork, the crash hit. I felt betrayed. Four years of music, four years of rhythm was at an end, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. All I knew was the anger bubbling within, the hatred, the rage. I wanted to make this about them, the upper-level executives, when it was really about me.

Keeping a live entertainment company afloat wasn’t my destiny. The writing I accomplished wasn’t my own ideas or my own words. They were fluff pieces, marketing materials, PR spin. They were junk.

As that rage surfaced in my everyday interactions with people, so did my realization that all of this was out of my control. It always had been, but as I tricked myself into believing I had control, I grew soft, focused solely on work, and let my own personal writing slide. My homegrown ideas festered and rotted. Flash pieces went unfinished. Novels remained half-started.

I was being a fool.

Work was bread and butter. Entertaining people with my own, original work is my destiny. Like the Night Rider, I wanted to lay down a rubber road right to freedom, but in my comfort zone, I fell asleep at the wheel and hadn’t realized I was heading the wrong way. I became angry when life tried to turn me around, struggling against a direction that had always been inevitable.

I breathed easier today than I have in a month or so now. A new Literary Orphans issue is out, celebrating a woman whose work I’ve used as motivation for years. A new job opportunity is on the horizon. Two new flash pieces of mine are awaiting judgment, and I’m hard at work writing a novel about robots.

Life is meant to be pulse-pounding, and it’s exciting to just… go with it.

nightrider


Read my latest 100-word movie review for A Man Called Ove at Drunk Monkeys!

 

We Need to Unplug the Babysitter

The Babysitter: the personified amalgamation of various mediums we interact with on a daily basis. The Babysitter tells us what to think, what to watch, what to feel, and what’s an appropriate way to go about our lives. It keeps us in check, defining norms and filters through which we dare not stray from. More simply stated, The Babysitter defines our perception of the world for us, all through our TVs, computers, phones, and devices.

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When I was a teen, one of the movies I was fascinated with was the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy. The film’s about a guy (Matthew Broderick) who bribes a cable installer (Jim Carrey) to juice him up with free cable. This act is something of a death sentence, as from that point on, “the cable guy” won’t leave Matthew Broderick alone, constantly pestering Broderick to hang out and be friends. Even worse, this cable guy is awkward, irritating, and emotionally unhinged.

What drew me to The Cable Guy, more than anything else, was the film’s ending, in which Jim Carrey has a final showdown with Matthew Broderick atop a satellite dish. In the movie’s last few moments, Carrey confesses why he’s an emotional wreck. He spent his entire childhood in front of the television, learning about the world from sitcom families, broadcast news, commercials, and anything else that glossed across the tube. Real human interaction wasn’t a part of his youth, but carefully cultivated programming was a constant. In essence, The Cable Guy played with the nightmarish fear of what “too much TV” could do to the human mind and brought this fear to dramatic heights.

And I identified with it. I saw so much of Jim Carrey’s anguish in myself — the awkwardness, the obsessiveness with movies and video games. I wasn’t very social as a child, so in turn, I had turned toward cinema as a connection to the outside world. It was warm, charming, and comforting. Nourishing, even.

The problem with relying on media as a source of information, behavior, and culture, however, is that it’s inherently distorted and one-sided. We are at the mercy of the screen, basking in the glow of The Babysitter. And when we start to believe in it, that’s when we find trouble.

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Let’s Talk Robots

Back on April 13, 2016, I saw a comic book on the shelves that bewildered me. It was a special one-shot for Marvel’s Star Wars line called C-3PO: The Phantom Limband it explained how everyone’s favorite protocol droid acquired his mismatched red arm in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The $4.99 cover price killed any passing interest I may have had, and I imagine, judging by how big that stack of copies was week after week, I wasn’t alone. I mean, it’s C-3PO — who honestly wanted to read a threepio-centric comic book? Let alone pay five bucks for it?

c3po-comic1It made me think though. Some editorial decision was made to tell this tale. Someone convinced a group of executives that people cared about C-3PO, that this one-shot would muster sales. If The Phantom Limb‘s number four slot for April 2016 sales is any indication, that someone wasn’t entirely wrong, either. Sure, it sat on the shelf at the comic shop I frequent, but that doesn’t mean my shop is indicative of the national comic book market. It just means my local comic patrons and I weren’t interested. Why?

Because C-3PO is a 60-year-old protocol droid that was built by a child on a backwater planet.

Think about it. By the time the events of The Force Awakens roll around, Threepio is pushing 60 years of active service, if not more, and he’s still considered useful. That idea doesn’t make sense. As an effective droid, Threepio was outmoded the day he was built by a child. As we see in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, little Anakin Skywalker doesn’t have much to work with. The kid’s pretty handy when it comes to building machines, but he’s living as a slave on a backwater planet where everyone trades in hand-me-downs and used tech. There are no factories, no R&D laboratories, and no science facilities on Tatooine. The parts of the planet that aren’t unending stretches of desert populated by moisture farmers, jawas, and sandpeople are nothing more than cutthroat spaceports. Tatooine is so hostile and backwards, the Separatists would rather put a droid factory on Mustafar, a planet that’s really just one gargantuan active volcano.

The point is, C-3PO was never an elite model to begin with, and after 60 years of existence in a galaxy where technology is most likely in a constant state of flux and progression, Threepio never really stood a chance. There are thousands, millions, billions of stores across the expanse of the Star Wars universe packed with newer models that have way better specs than what C-3PO’s packing. They’re also developed by companies and professionals who specialize in robotics. Not kids. So why keep him around? Why not toss that old hunk of junk in the trash?


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THE BIG FLAW

The big flaw in our thinking when it comes to robots in science fiction epics is that we place too much emphasis on them. Since we don’t have robots as cool as the ones seen in the movies, we think they’re important. But they’re not. Robots are nothing more than glorified smartphones, and in a universe as rich and vibrant as Star Wars, for example, they’re wholly disposable. We see this with the way the Separatists’ droid armies are wantonly slaughtered. The attitude among the Separatist leaders is to keep pushing forward, no matter how many dumb droids it takes. They can always build another one.

When you crack your phone, what happens? You buy another one. When a more powerful laptop comes out, what do you do with the old one? You sell it, toss it, or donate it. These machines hold no sentimental value for us, and as soon as they stop performing at peak efficiency, we get rid of them.  Part of this is due to how our society works. When a new piece of technology comes out, it starts off super expensive, but as more companies try to duplicate it and as our ability to cheaply and affordably build it improves, the market price drops. It becomes second-nature to just go out and purchase a new one. We don’t stop to think about all of the good adventures, fun nights, or memorable moments we shared with those devices. The outdated nature of the technology overrides any connection we may feel. Why would robots be any different?

One movie that takes this idea to heart is I, Robot. In the film, there are robots everywhere, many of which are performing the menial labors we can no longer be bothered with (like walking the dog or taking out the trash). When a new model rolls out, the older ones are dumped into a shipping crate somewhere and forgotten about. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a cruel sentiment, especially since the machines in I, Robot sport human-looking faces, but it’s one we collectively share every single day.

Let me ask you something. What happened to your first iPod?

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A Breakup Letter to DCEU

SuicideSkwad

© 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Dear DC Extended Universe,

I saw Suicide Squad this past weekend, and I just want to say, I can’t do it anymore. The movie, like the sum of all of your parts, is lacking. You’re a Frankenstein’s monster stuffed with malformed chunks of ideas (some good, some bad) hastily stapled, sewn and taped together, and though your arms are open and eager to hug moviegoers, the stench of hollow storytelling is too pungent to embrace. It leaves me heartbroken. As a comic book geek, as a fan of DC and as a lover of cinema, I — we — can’t be seen together any longer.

We’re just too different. I’m a living, breathing person, and you’re, well, dead. I hadn’t realized it until now, but I think you were deceased before we had even been properly introduced. Your friend, Zack, must have diluted the smell with body spray while he distracted me with flashy movements. I thought it was erratic and bizarre at first. Even the second time around, I gave Zack the benefit of the doubt when he said your body was sagging and coming undone because you needed an extra 30 minutes to recuperate after a long day at the office. But this?

I drew the line when your buddy Jared came over and used my favorite Batman comic books for toilet paper. His friends, Will, Margot, Viola, Cara and even Jai, were okay, but that Trailer Park outfit you were dressed in when you all walked in was too unbecoming. Too much jewelry and not enough substance. It didn’t hide the lacerations in your flesh. When your innards slid through the stitching and crumpled to the floor within the first ten minutes, that’s when it dawned on me. I glanced at Jared, who had drawn a mouth over his mouth for some reason, and I knew we didn’t belong together. You weren’t simply in need of “more time” to recuperate. You needed something only an undertaker could provide — everlasting peace.

I’m not saying this is good-bye forever. As any self-respecting comic book fan knows, death isn’t a permanent state. I’ll also still be over for family gatherings, and I still plan on visiting your brother, DC Comics, every Wednesday for our usual hangout. But us? This weird relationship we’ve gotten ourselves into?

It’s too painful. I didn’t mind you rummaging into my wallet every couple of months for a few bucks, but each time we’ve hung out, the cuts have been slicing deeper and deeper. It’s only a matter of time before you kill me. Suicide Squad was too close to the heart, and I have to call it quits. I’m sorry. I really wish it could have worked out. For a while, I was even willing to let the whole “Martha” thing go. Not anymore.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

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© Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Green Lanterns and the Disease of Rage

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“Shall sins go unpunished? Crimes justified into toleration? Victims, forgotten? This mad universe would say… yes. I disrespectfully disagree. Rage brings balance to the cosmos. Without the Red Lanterns, creation would crumble under our feet. The universe needs us.” — Atrocitus, Lord of the Red Lanterns

1,076 humans infected with rage. 2,338 humans infected with rage. 4,143 humans infected with rage. A contagion spreads across Earth in the newest incarnation of Green Lanterns, emanating from a tower designed to disperse a beacon of anger. It’s all part of an elaborate plot to transform Earth into a new homeworld for the Red Lanterns, and there’s seemingly no way to stop it. Rage begets rage, and the only people standing in this contagion’s way are two inexperienced Green Lanterns. Overwhelmed, all they can seem to do is watch in horror as their friends, family and loved ones succumb to the malevolent disease of hatred.

The arc, “Rage Planet,” is an exciting introduction to these new Lanterns, but what’s more interesting is the timing of this story. It’s 2016. An election year. We’re in a period of great unrest, as members of both the Republican and Democratic parties find themselves in a bind. Two less-than-desirable candidates have a presidential nomination, and more so than in years past, many voters are weighing the prospect of third-party candidates. This has led to a rift in the parties, with whole groups of people willing to sacrifice their traditional allegiances to make a stand. Understandably, social media has been fiery, with idealists and traditionalists writing sharp-tongued posts defending their positions or attacking those who won’t follow in step.

Certain candidates, to that end, have tapped into different nerve centers among voters. Donald Trump has amassed an army of faithful who feel disenfranchised by the system and alienated by a world different from the one they grew up with. At the other end of the spectrum, Bernie Sanders  has inspired a devoted following fed up with what they perceive as “business as usual” tactics by weak-willed representatives in Washington. The two are an interesting parallel, and in their own ways, have effectively empowered themselves through rage.

As we’ve seen amongst the “Bernie or Bust” crowd at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the rage isn’t so easily silenced. The same can be said of Donald Trump’s ilk. Though the two have diametrically opposed goals, it’s the emotion they inspire that’s important here. As the election looms, it’s only grown stronger.

My Facebook feed is ever a breeding ground for rage. Those in step with the party line rage against the disenfranchised. The disenfranchised rage against those in step with the party line. News blogs and media outlets fuel the anger with polarizing headlines, soundbites and live feeds. After a while, it all blends together, and all one can do is balk at the scope of it all.

Credit where credit is due, there are those who engage in calm, respectful discussions, and they deserve praise. They’re playing the role of the healer, looking at their peers infected with rage and realizing that these, too, are still human. Whatever side of the fence they lie on politically, they’re still our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers.

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