Saturday, October 5, 2013

I Just Do Eyes

Here's something I lose sleep over:

Why is it that--in movies and in comics--genre fiction* completely and comprehensively kicks not-genre-fiction's ass?

Books can and do handle not-genre very well. Infinite Jest, The Information, and Pale Fire all get along fine without anyone having to assume they'll end in a gunfight or a showdown (though Pale Fire kinda does, if I remember).

But in movies? Even the snobbiest visual-blind Time Out London film snob is going to admit that Blade Runner and Chinatown and The Godfather and Star Wars and Ran and Alphaville are up there. And that precious few not-genre films are up there. Whadda ya got? Citizen Kane? Really? Everybody knows the Big Sleep is better than Citizen Kane. Faces is pretty good.

Great non-genre films exist. Visually great non-genre films exist. But genre films do surprisingly well in movies, even with the snob class.

And there are no good not-genre comics. I mean, if we pretend art doesn't matter in comics then maybe a few black and white indie comics about crying are earnest and weird enough to get remotely close to like Elektra Lives Again-level-good but it does and so they're not. On the big scale of real new mind-boggling creativity, in the ring where Moebiuses and Kirbies contend, the comic book wholly devoid of murder in any form has, thus far, been a dismal failure--despite all the effort the AV Club has poured into making it seem hip. I mean, there's some funny ones like Land of Nod, but even that has a worm in a cape, and there's Signal To Noise--but it sneaks in a medieval village and the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse so how not-genre is it, really?

Yeah yeah I see you raising your hand with an answer: genre films deal with exotic people, exotic situations, exotic technology and that's all inherently very visual.

But I think it goes deeper than that, because novelists and poets and people who write songs and painters and photographers and everybody else who is not working both with visuals and in four dimensions manages to gorgeously defamiliarize familiar everyday life all the time. Or at least they can impress you as often without guns and death and fantastic inventions as with. In fact, the entire snob echelon of these media completely avoid genre with surprising success. Daido Moriyama can photograph a dog and be awesome and one visit to a museum bookstore will tell you he's not alone.

For me personally particularly: I can draw a person I know sitting there in a typical early 21st century room and it isn't going to be boring. However if I imagine stringing a series of these pictures together into a comic and adding a plot, I suddenly desperately feel the need to add mutilation or cyborg monkeys. And I don't think this is just because of our preconceptions about what goes in comics. I think it's something to do with how what we see now interacts in unfolding stories with what we expect to see later.


Here's what I think it is: when the medium is not just visual, but about visual storytelling in time, genre films and comics can make some promises that fully grown-up movies and comics can't.

Star Wars starts and you've never seen it before. You think a lot of things, sure, especially after reading all that scrolly yellow text up front, but here's one of the things you think:

That spaceship is beautiful.
I'm going to get to see more of those.
And, holy fuck, there's robots--I bet I'm going to get to see more of those, too, and I bet I'll get to see one blow up.

Now, another beautiful movie opens, this is Woody Allen's Manhattan:
And along with whatever baggage you're carrying around from Woody's narration, you're also thinking:

That shot is beautiful.
Even though I've seen New York a million times on screens, it's never looked like that.
I wonder if he'll be able to keep it up for 2 hours...


The beauty of Star Wars is based on nouns--robots, space ships, and lasers that are only ever present when they can be made beautiful whereas the beauty of Manhattan is based on adjectives--dark, contrasty, mysterious, bold--applied to something (real life) we know is capable, at any moment, of boring us.

The genre film, by it's very structure, can promise more nouns and verbs where the opening nouns and verbs came from. They have a Chekhovish visual logic:

If you see a space ship you will see a spaceship crash, if you see a gun, you will see a gunfight, if you see a robot and an alien, you will see a robot fight an alien, if you see Spider-Man and you see Dr Octopus, you will get to see Spider-Man fight Dr Octopus, bats imply vampires and the chainsaw always implies the coming massacre. And this is not just about the climax--once you meet Chewbacca, he is here to stay the whole time. It never has to rise to the level of conscious thought: your bones know these things. Every single scene that introduces a new noun puts that noun in play as something you might see again later in an even more elaborate visual relationship to all the other nouns announced in all the other scenes. Your unconscious starts brainstorming the potential fan fiction before the next scene even starts. It's that effervescent intimation of potential that's part of the excitement in all beginnings in all fictions.

Whereas what do fantastic visuals in Manhattan promise for later, in terms of tension and expectation? Nothing. You just hope Woody can keep doing things like that in different interiors and exteriors for 96 minutes. He does, incidentally, but nothing in a beautifully shot scene of a bunch of normal life people and stuff 30 minutes in can promise you'll see more of it 65 minutes in. (See Kalatazov's I Am Cuba for a graphic example of the later visuals totally not living up to the promise of the early sequences.)

(Other than a sorta meta-story trust that the author is good at their job, which seems like pretty decent thing to rely on, but anybody who tells stories for a living will tell you that's not enough. Stories which rely on only that alone are never anybody's favorite--those are the ones you watch out of a sense of responsibility and indulgence and then maybe, if you're lucky, realize there are good parts in halfway through. Without an internal tension all its own, a story is just an anthology of moments that are good or aren't, like the Bible.)

It's like some backroom deal with the Visual Union--even though Woody has visuals on his side, they do not work as efficiently for him as they do for Lucas. He, like some miserable playwright or writer, has to rely solely on dramatic foreshadowing: we have some people, they have some problems, you want to see them resolved, right? He can ensure that it will look really good when Woody breaks up with whatsherface and decides he'd rather be with whatsherface, but he can't promise it in any way we'll viscerally believe.

Which is all to say: genre stuff in movies and comics not only give us great visuals, but the visuals do more in the story than they do in stories about everyday life.

And I think that's why things are the way they are.


I mean the violent genres here--not comedy and romance--because I'm talking mostly about "genre" the way they do in bookstores, where "comedy" is barely its own genre and "romance", though it exists, hardly ever results in books that get to the screen except in costume- (and therefore visual-) heavy form or which (check your Netflix) often get hybridized with action genres when translated. And you'll notice how much critical and popular hay HBO has made by hybridizing the plots of the lowly TV soap opera with settings and subjects that make more visual promises than Knot's Landing.
As for mysteries, this is probably one more reason the violent, snappy post-Chandler crime story took over for the post-Conan Doyle Sherlock-type mystery: more guns, more broads, more cars, more to see.


  1. I believe you are over thinking this. While American comics are deeply entrenched in fabulist, I think this largely an accident of fads. In the gap between the Gold and Silver Age of American Comics, comics were much more diverse, with more genres represented, including "nongenre" slice of life, romances, and teen angst dramas (most Silver Age greats cut their teeth on these -- King Kirby worked a wide range of them both before and after the Fantastic Four). "Slice of Life" manga and anime remain popular in Japan.

    As for movies... This is a lot of subjectivity. Many critics would argue the exact opposite of what you have with respect to the merits of say Manhattan vs. Star Wars or Citizen Kane vs. Big Sleep.

    1. I think you are underthinking it and making the typical academic mistake of attributing to tradition and historical accident what is actually the product of natural selection.

      If you look at manga and anime's _most popular_ stuff you;ll see what I mean.
      And if you don't understand how the prevalence of _color_ (and crappy, hyperbold color) in american comics lead to the failure of the "brown genres" (western, crime, etc) and the ascendance of superhero comics, you gotta go back to Square One.

      As for the arguing the "exact opposite" about Manhattan--how?

      I'm willing to hear that argument, but on the face of it, it doesnt' make much sense.

      A space ship implies you'll see more space ships coming up.. A really cool shot of a real life scene does not imply the coming shots will be as good. You seem to have skimmed rather than read .

    2. Also, there's a pretty solid split in Japan between comics that are trying to be visual ("HBO" comics) and the ones where the visuals are incidental ("daytime TV" comics).
      The lack of color, the widespread prevalence of the medium (like US newspaper strips) and the use of assistants all contribute to making a very different what-counts-as-success profile for them than in america.

    3. Good thoughts. Here's a thing though:

      "A space ship implies you'll see more space ships coming up.. A really cool shot of a real life scene does not imply the coming shots will be as good. "

      This is how I usually think of it when I start watching a movie: if the opening shots are visually pleasing in any way, I figure that the rest of the movie will probably be pretty good. It's really hard to shoot a good scene, with or without robots. When I see robots in an opening scene, especially these days, I figure that the rest of the movie won't be that great, since it's hard to do robots and fantasy and most film-makers don't have the chops. And I'd rather watch a good movie without 'genre elements' than a bad movie with them.

      (Incidentally this is part of why I play dungeons and dragons - it's a way to participate in a genre that's rarely done well)

      Whereas if there are a few really beautiful scenes early on, regardless of the subject, I figure that the filmmakers know what they're doing, and I get excited to see the rest. Sometimes my hopes are dashed, but not very often.

    4. @ Nate:
      What I'm talking about _only applies_ to movies where the visuals (of whatever kind) are actually good.
      A crappy robot implies more crappy robots.

    5. Oh, duh. Okay.

      Then I'm not sure I understand your opening premise. Of the great movies I've seen, it seems split about half and half between genre and not-genre. The great genre movies are really great in ways that not-genre movies can't be, and vice versa. Like, Solyaris is really great, because of the constraints of genre and how Tarkovsky plays with it. Onibaba is really great, for the same reasons that you detail above. But then, Sweet Movie and like L'Avventura and Ordet and The Sacrifice are really great, because they avoid genre, and move with freedom outside of those constraints.

      Both of those movements (inside genre, and outside genre) are impressive and difficult to do, and I'm not sure one beats the other . . . if that's what you mean.

    6. There are MANY fine non-genre films.
      I am saying a specific thing:
      the reason genre does so well in visual 4d media is because visuals _perform a special function_ in the genre film that they cannot perform in films without these conventions.

    7. Okay. I understand that and I'm glad you've made that point. I'm interested to see what you do with it.

      But when you said that 'precious few not-genre films are up there," and that genre films kick the ass of not-genre films, I thought you meant that, on the whole, genre films are more successful than not-genre films. Which I don't agree with. And I thought that was the reason for your post in the first place - you were trying to provide a justification for things being the 'way they are.'

    8. No you misread.
      What I'm saying is that genre FILMS (and comics) are much more popularly and critically received than genre BOOKS, PAINTINGS etc.

      And, in the world of film, specifically, they seem to do surprisingly well, especially considering the cultures usual reaction to genre stuff.

    9. Ah! Okay. Thanks for the clarification. Yeah, that is something worth losing sleep over.

  2. Where in the Comics section would you put Maus?

    1. Maus seems like a pretty good example of trying to genrify an otherwise fairly literary tale by adding visual novelty. Look: Mice! Pigs! Rats!
      A lot of the RAW era stuff did that.

  3. One thing that came directly to my mid on reading this is Herzog's 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'

    It's about a real place but it has some of the same visual promise as a science fiction film. First you see neolithic paintings in 3d, and they are amazing. You think 'will I see more of these and will they be as amazing?' Then you do see more, and they are.

    It's about a real place so it can only ever 'live up to' the promise of its acutal existance, but its nature is strange and unknown enough and presented in such a novel way that it feels like it has some of the relvelatory qualities of science fiction or fantasy.

    Other documentary-type films about real, but rare things, could act in a similar way. The BBC's 'Blue Planet' series is a lot like that, real but unseen things shown in a revelatory and visually intense way.

  4. Good point.
    Many documentaries are all _about_ cataloguing visually fantastic phenomena (Microcosmos) so they don't follow the rules I kinda hinted at for regular old fiction films.
    They're somewhere in the middle: we have no plot expectation, but we sense that without the visuals there's almost nothing else to go on or hold the thing togehter, so they'll probably keep getting provided.

  5. Your post prompted me to go through my DVD library and filter it for visually interesting non-genre movies.

    Which got me indeed a surprisingly small subset, even though I wasn't very picky about the "non-genre" part:

    - Lola Runs
    - American Beauty
    - Faust (this is cheating: It's a screening of 60ies live-theatre)

    Movies I want to include, but that are somehow genre-ish:
    - Being John Malkovich (is this some kind of Fantasy?)
    - My Name is Nobody (Western)
    - Moulin Rouge (Musical)

    All other movies are either very genre-heavy, or visually simple, even if in itself a good movie. For example, I was tempted to list The Third Man in the first list, but apart from the sewer scenes, it's quite simple visuals all-over.

    So while I am convinced that a movie does not necessarily need to be visually exciting to be good, I see the point that it is easier to do a stimulating movie based on exciting visuals, hence the plethora of genre movies.

    Regarding Comics: Hm. When I think of it, those non-genre comics I have are basically just visually inoffensive instead of visually inspiring. They weren't bought for their visuals but for their story or humour.

  6. I would agree that in the English world genre gives us more of those tools that work on the psyche than non-genre. In such a case, it is films like Paris, Texas which are the exceptions that prove the rule - it can be done, it just takes amazing control of the medium to do so. Wenders gives us atmosphere, but also a succession of objects, from cowboy boots to freeways to peepshow booths, to keep us interested.

    I am wracking my brain but cannot for the life of me think of a good non-genre comic in English. Japanese comics like 'Lawyer Kuzu', 'Gaku', and 'Shooting Stars in Twilight', which are non-genre and great, never get translated because there's not enough interest in the West. Maybe the whole comic's code scare and superhero reaction has blunted the sensibilities and made non-genre English comics impossible?

  7. Generic fiction is hobbled by the fact that by and large it's restricted to the well-known and familiar. Genre fiction has the whole realm of the imagination to work with. It takes a lot to make a story about normal life interesting to people who, you know, live it every single day. That's why so much of the prize-winning generic fiction stuff seems to deal with places that are foreign to the judges who rave over it.

    I think when it brings us things we have not experienced, generic fiction can capitalize on the additional emotional punch produced by knowing that it's real in some sense of the word. Which is perhaps why we tend to read/watch/enjoy it the least when we're younger. Othello doesn't speak to you until you've seen a bit of life and how much pain and stupidity racism and jealousy can create, and tales of concentration camps are meaningless to a teenager who thinks that going to school part-time is a form of human-rights abuse.

    One of the things I think LotR does well is that it hides those real-world concerns under - or within - the much more overt genre trappings; Gandalf occasionally pulls back the curtain with his comments about pity and loss and so on. REH manages the same trick in his best stuff, like Tower of the Elephant where we find ourselves sympathising with an abused alien.

    Genre fiction's strength is the freedom from everyday life and its weakness is that so many of its writers forget about everyday life completely. Generic fiction's weakness is that it simply has one string to its bow and consequently the best genre fiction will always be better than the best generic fiction.

    1. Well, I was trying to widen it out into a more general context, not just visual arts. I think what you said is a subset of that more general idea that some fiction is rooted in the familiar - that which we know can bore us - and other in something which is is almost literally made of the possibility of liberation from that boredom.

      I don't think that's an inherently visual difference.

    2. I am talking about how that difference is _more important_ in media that's visual and time based than in stuff that isn't

    3. Well, I'm thinking that the difference is more obvious but no more important. But I'm saying that as someone who is very visually-oriented so maybe I can't see the difference. Stephen Donaldson, for example, says that he has no visual imagery in his head when he writes which I find almost totally alien. For me, writing and reading evoke very strong visuals.

    4. Well then you're basically disagreeing with what I say from paragraph 7 on but without explaining why or having any argument against the specific examples or information given.

  8. What are your thoughts on Wes Andersen? (Man, I just got deja vu typing that, I hope I didn't ask that before.)

    It seems to me that he does actual character design, like you do in genre work. And it gives the whole thing a certain unreal quality (especially coupled with his distinctive shots), even though there's really nothing unusual about the actual stories or premises.

    1. the movies I have seen of his have been wonderfully visual. He is a fine (and rare) example of a director who manages to make really visually striking non-genre films.

    2. Though, I think Wes Anderson films have become a genre. After a director's body of work demonstrates certain mainstays, more of the same becomes expected. David Lynch is another example. This may have to do with safety, in the sense that a promise of more spaceships might be promise of something great is coming up. And many people find safety in genre. There's less safety in Manhattan, it can go anywhere. But, if Woody Allen's direction is a promise of good things, that may be enough to kind of latch on to.

      I feel like this is kind of like what you said about games: say 'goblin' and we're all on the same page. Say 'murder', and we all know why that's important. Say 'dating a girl that's too young for him,' and that may need time for definition. Maybe genre works best in visual because you can say 'robot,' the audience gets it, 'sex,' they're in, 'fast car,' ditto, now that we're in this deep 'robot can have sex with fast cars, but may not be emotionally fulfilled because they are too young for it.' The audience's mind is now blown. We just went from cinematic comfort food to a real idea unexpectedly, and without the robot no one would take the ride.

    3. "Though, I think Wes Anderson films have become a genre"
      Not on a bookstore shelf. Which is the only sense of the word "genre" I am using here.
      David Lynch films make genre promises: guns, surrealism, monsters (of a kind). Confrontations, mystery.
      I think you are right about safety though.

  9. The Godfather is a genre film? So any movie with a gun in it is genre? I think as soon as you let Crime and Mystery fiction into the mix, you are hijacking a lot of film.

    As for non-genre comics, you are being reductive. Yes, there are too many biographical comics. What genre is Jim Woodring or The Hernandez Bros? They play with genre but they go far and away from a simple tag.

    All this being said, I can see your point.

    1. The Godfather is absolutely a genre film: the book is on the crappy paperback shelf (and belongs there).
      And I am absolutely not at all being reductive:
      I did not say comics had to have ONE genre, but all the good ones have genre stuff. I don't know where you got that stupid idea.
      Woodring is FULL of fantastical elements--whether or not JIM is _a_ genre it certainly is full of fantasy genre stuff.
      And the Hernandez bros will actually totally do rockets and aliens these days.

    2. I'm sorry I must have misread your thing. I'll go back and reread. I was confused because genre is very broad. As far as the market is concerned, everything has a genre. All I meant was stuff like Woodring and Hernandez are not simply one thing. Part of what I dislike about genre is it always has to turn in the same direction. A book like Infinite Jest is considered lit because it turns away from the expected. It's set in the future so why isn't Science Fiction? Because a bunch of ivory tower types say it isn't.

      Okay before I go off any further wrong directions, I am going to reread your post,

    3. I am using the term "genre" in a very conventional, bookstore sense: the work advertises itself partially _on the appeal_ of its genre elements.
      You are totally right in saying Infinite Jest is technically science fiction, but there are reasons its not in the sci fi section and my argument here assumes those reasons are good.
      The wheelchair assassins appear at the end of Jest, but nothing in the book makes the reader assume they must, whereas at the climax of Blade Runner, there must be a showdown between man and android, even if Scott manages to somewhat subvert our expectation about how it goes down.
      Woodring's fantastic imagery _does_ promise more of it. The pigman implies more pigmen later.

  10. American Splendor springs to mind as a sharp example of a non-genre comic, although I admit it was never that popular with the comic reading crowd, as much as it was with bookish types, who happened to be reading a comic. It sold more in small book stores which feature poetry readings, than it ever did in comic shops.

    I think it comes down to what we define as genre fiction. A dispassionate review of genre is that most genre fiction is a collection of "tricks" which are easy attention grabbers. They get called genre because they're so over-used, so popular, that they become a delineative set of rules. Their own popularity reduces them to genre. This is romance, this is a western, this is science fiction, this is dystopian, this is epic fantasy, this is a reality show involving large numbers of babies, or even the genre of "true stories," a genre in which Burroughs' Junkie was once classified and which is still the stock in trade of Lifetime.

    It's like the roll of naked ladies in fine arts. Lots of people like naked ladies, so for hundred of years sticking in a few of them was always a great way to sell your work. The artistic skill of producing such work requires the same artistry as any other, but is often looked down upon, because, well, it is easier to be popular when you have beautiful naked ladies. It's an easy mental button to push. It's the same button used by Gauguin, as it is in Eyes Wide Shut.

    I start with this because pornography is frequently the least respected genre. It gets relegated below landscapes, action, and even the internet meme of "cute kittens." It seems many people grade their respect for art based upon which buttons it pushes, often with ease and accessibility being sneered at, as when people dismiss impressionism in favor of abstraction, because it's easier for more people to grasp the beauty of hazy ballerinas and flowers. Most genre fiction relies on similar, well worn buttons in the human brain. An action movie presses the adrenaline button, over and over. Visual mediums play these buttons easily. A well written action sequence is rarely as exciting in print. Graphic violence is somewhat subdued by the filter of the written word. A romance novel rarely can rely on the movie "plot twist" of look how large her breasts are, of course her hotness means she is beautiful. Well, or the "it's Sandra Bullock," how could you not love her?" The grosser manipulation of emotions is always easier in some arts.

    So those arts tend to draw the people who favor such things, while alienating people who don't favor such things, who are left to the mediums which favor other sort of manipulations, other more subtle buttons. Millions of romance novels are sold each year, largely because it's difficult to show love, but easy to show sex visually. Personally, I still enjoy science fiction, largely because the particular feature which I enjoy the most, the ideas, are rarely done well in movies. I'm not just looking for rocketships and aliens, a shoot 'em up western with blasters. I draw the same pleasure from a well explored scifi idea, as I do from say Milan Kundera or Philip Roth. This isn't to say all movies fail at such things, it's just a bit more difficult.

    Sadly this has been reflected in gaming. A lot of former table top gamers have quit in favor of video games, because for straight out hack and slash, these games are easier to access. Just as movies and television came to replace the action pulps, I think that video games have replaced RPGs for many people. The exceptions seems to be those who favor the creative process (the majority of blogs are written by DMs) and those who favor what has yet to be simulated in even the best game play the human interaction, the outside the box thinking that no AI, as of yet, can equal.

    1. American Splendor sucks. Or at least half of it (the drawn half) does, which is an embarassingly high percentage.

    2. And, yes, your description of what makes something "genre" is largely accurate: the more or less honest and up-front promise of sex, death, action or weirdness presented in a given way.

  11. Maybe it's a POV thing? In literature, for instance, it's very easy to know not only what the character sees and hears, but also what they are thinking at any given moment. The world can be mundane, but it is new and fresh because it is filtered through someone else's point of view.

    Movies tend more towards an external point of view, and so without the characters to filter the word for us, the world itself has to be interesting in its own right. Hence spaceships and dinosaurs and ninjas.

  12. How much do you like 'Bladerunner?' I want to know quantitatively. How many hedons do you get from watching it?

    I thought I had a counterexample, but I don't. Instead, I'll quibble with choices of opening shots.

    Lucas' shot is opening 'in the middle of things' with people shooting at each other. Not only do spaceships imply a density of information, but so do people shooting at each other. Why are they doing that?

    I admit I haven't seen 'Manhattan'. The still and your description imply that things are going 'as per usual' in Manhattan, and 'as per usual' is meant to imply 'gloomy, mysterious, etc,' and not a situation of 'Why is this happening??' There are cars. People drive cars for lots of reasons, 'per usual.' I don't know what the narration is. To reiterate from your argument, the beauty is in adjectives, not nouns; also, no questions are raised.

    So what about 'Bladerunner?' Ignoring the opening text (I always forget that, "... This was not called execution. It was called retirement," thing), it opens on a dark city scape with weird towers issuing fire. The city is reflected in a blinking eye; there are some flying cars; also there's a ziggurat. It's a genre film, but the opening seems to rely on adjectives in the way that 'Manhattan' does. Only the flying cars are necessarily genre. The only promise of nouns we get, sans the text, is of flying cars (and other than visually demonstrating the vastness of the ziggurat and ultimately suggesting symbolically the difference between 'heaven' and 'earth', the flying cars do not deliver on the 'promise' of a 'badass' flying car chase like in 'Attack of the Clones'). So 'Bladerunner' doesn't at the outset really promise anything more than a non-genre film. Right?

    Shouldn't you compare 'Star Wars' with a non-genre film that opens 'in the middle of things'? / Or 'Manhattan' with a genre film that opens 'merely' with atmosphere?

    I dig your argument, but I'm not convinced that you're not just obfuscating the value of 'density of information' by differentiating between genre and non-genre. Film is a short art form, so it pays to be pithy and punchy in film. Isn't that why short stories tend to make better films than novels? And in that vein, the more packed with information each visual is, the better it will be, regardless of whether the information is (spaceships exist; there is as a star war; man, that looks great) or (from 'Harold and Maude', that guy just hanged himself!; why would he do that?; why is his mother on the phone acting nonchalant about this?; and that's an awesome pun about being more 'vivacious' at dinner!?). Or you could say that 'genre' is a way to generate density of information without doing as much work, hence genre films are easier, hence there are more of them, hence there are proportionally more genre films that are critically acceptable.

  13. "How much do you like 'Bladerunner?' I want to know quantitatively. How many hedons do you get from watching it?"
    Dunno and don't know why you're asking.

    Even though Blade runner has adjectives, it has A FLYING CAR. Which is an invented noun, not a description of an existing thing. Then several more brand new invented nouns show up.

    I am, of course, not obfuscating anything. I am not stupid.

  14. Great information in your post Zak. I find your essays inform my musings on the creative process.

  15. Just thinking about potential counterexamples. And movies, because I am not very well read in terms of comics. So, how would you categorize the following movies:

    - The Lives of Others
    - The English Patient
    - A Single Man
    - Anything by Wong Kar-Wai

    None** of them are genre films. It does not seem to me that the visuals in a genre film are more important, or do more, than the visuals in the above listed films.

    * Kubrick, of course. But then he seemingly did one of every "low" genre almost as a handicap to prove how good he was. Ridley Scott is another example of a great director that has embraced genre pieces. Nolan's Dark Knight, Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, the first Pirates of the Caribbean, and the first two Star Wars movies would also be on my own list, but I like this last collection of movies for reasons of taste that I don't assume would be shared by the bulk of humanity and/or critics.

    ** Okay, there's a bit of sci-fi in Wong, but it's definitely not a dominant sensibility.

    1. Screwed up my footnotes. The * should be by the "none" in "none of them" and the list entry of Wong Kar-Wai should be ** (obviously).

    2. I think what the difference is here is render time (or definition time, but I think render is a more accurate term). An audience feels satisfaction at the grasping of concepts. The faster a concept is rendered, the more quickly satisfaction is achieved.

      So in Zak's example, Manhattan takes like two hours to render... 'Manhattan.' The first characters you meet aren't archetypes, so it takes a while to grasp who they are. Star Wars renders 'spaceship' in five seconds, then goes on to render other nouns with speed and satisfaction. 'robots' 'princess' 'space cowboy' ...

      Maybe providing a few fast render concepts into non genre works of visual media is a way too hook an audience more fully.

    3. Of those, only Wong Kar Wai is familiar and his best movies (Fallen Angels, Ashes of Time) are TOTALLY genre films.
      " It does not seem to me that the visuals in a genre film are more important, or do more, than the visuals in the above listed films."
      Then you missed my point utterly.
      No matter HOW BIG the role of visuals is in a film, size doesn't matter, its _literally what role the visual promises_ .
      The cool mug in "In the Mood For Love" does not narratively demand you will see more cool mugs later in the film.
      The samurai swords in "Ashes of Time" TOTALLY narratively promise more samurai swords will appear later in the film.
      So:yes, the visuals perform an extra function in the genre film.

  16. I wanted to respond to this with a laundry list of good non-genre comics - David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, or Craig Thompson's Blankets, or BLURG's BLURG, or BLORT's BLORT

    ... but it all seems sort of irrelevant to the point you were trying to make, because the ascendancy of the fantastic in comics is pretty damn clear.

    1. Also: liking "Blankets" makes you immediately wrong about everything.

  17. I have long suspected that Smith was more productive, more clever and more brain-smart than I was. But now, more thoughtful? That I cannot stand.

    Guess I better go look for a day job.

  18. Manhattan, I am Cuba, Blade Runner, Fallen Angles, were all made by great directors but they wouldn't be even half as good if they didn't have the likes of Gordon Willis,Sergey Urusevsky, Jordan Cronenweth and Chris Doyle behind the camera.

  19. In movies and in comics and... in video games as well, genre kicks non-genre's ass. I have been asking why - as a not entirely rhetorical question - for some time now. What you have offered here is the most compelling answer I have... seen.

    As a corollary, and by the same logic, why is it that snobs are so impressed by "literary" storytelling? The conventional answer is the supposedly more grown-up preference of character to plot; as if plot weren't good enough for, say, Aristotle. I think your logic could lead us to a more convincing explanation.

  20. I don't understand your second paragraph. Character and plot seem to both be appreciated by pretty much everybody and you left what you mean by "literary" storytelling undefined there. (Unless you mean "storytelling mostly about describing a character" which is a strange way to define it)

  21. Smith, I hope you have time for another question. I did not understand when, in an earlier post, you described GoT as 'dense'. If possible could you please give some words as to how density relates to this current topic. thanks.

    1. i don't remember that, can you say where it is?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Please allow me to frame the question better: Can something that is dense also be genre-fiction? or is it the point if the manga/film is dense that it makes no 'genre promises' ?

    4. Density refers to how often something you need to pay attention to in order to appreciate happens. So genre fiction can, yes, be dense.
      They are unconnected factors.

    5. I think I understand. thank you.