“Personality is everything in art and poetry.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1. This is first and foremost a look at what ALL creative people can learn from the world of comics and the videogames.
2. I recently got invited to go to the first installment of Comic Con in Sweden! Yaaay! =D
3. This is going to get geeky. *Snort*
I grew up on comics & videogames, i’m sure i’m romanticising my era but it felt like the most awesome time to be a kid! Late 80’s and early 90’s. Come on. For me there was nothing better than playing Sonic and reading the latest issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Oh god, the cartoons on TV too! Anyways, sidetrack.
Some years prior, starting around 1986, comic books had started to deliver stories directed towards a more mature audience. In that year two seminal works came out, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and Alan Moore’s “Watchmen”. Sure, there’d been works like “V For Vendetta” (Alan Moore & David Lloyd) some years earlier but these two came to shape the industry as a whole for years to come.
This wave of comics was raw, edgy and dark. It ushered in what we now called “The Modern Age of Comic Books” (a.k.a The Dark Age of Comic Books). This was the time comics came of age and transformed into a “more legitimate” form of art. It wasn’t just for kids anymore. But it would take another 20 years for these stories to get picked up and made into movies. We’ll get back to this, oh yes, we WILL get back to this!
Like I said, I read a lot of comics. But there’s one stand out moment. I remember picking up an old issue of G.I Joe. The cover featured my favorite comic book character, bar none, Snake. I can almost see myself, wide eyed, staring at the cover. I was probably like 6 years old at the time. I opened it and… Wow… The artwork was beautiful. I was sucked into the world, the emotions and tensions. I couldn’t really capture all the nuances of the story, hell, I was 6 man! But I knew this was something really special to me.
I remember thumbing through it a few more times but then came a new exciting issue of another comic I was into or a friend got a new videogame that I had to check out. The issue got lost somehow. But I never lost the memory of that particular comic.
Then one day twenty-something years later that comic just popped into my mind again. I had to see it again. So I started scanning the covers of G.I Joe’s and found it. I got it and was blown away. I reverted back to that kid but now I had some life experience and could appreciate it in another way.
The issue was called “Silent Interlude”. It had no dialogue. No thought bubbles. There was just some text on a computer screen and the rest of the story was all in the facial expressions and bodies of the characters. I got it. I finally got it. That 6 year old kid had to figure it out for himself. There was nothing there to fill in the blanks except for reading off the human emotions. It was like “here, take look at this, what do YOU think?”.
This comic didn’t patronize me. It challenged me. It was put out there with a trust in their audience: “Hey, we believe in you. We think you can figure it out!”. Back then this wasn’t common. Who ever heard of a comic without any words?
It just goes to show that you can do a lot more by challenging your audience every once in a while. It’s about those magic moments when we go exploring beyond the boundaries of art and reveal to the audience something about themselves they hadn’t noticed before.
Videogames at the time were still for kids, some challenging stuff was happening but it was still marketed towards teens. It was more of a battle for who was the “coolest” of the bunch. But at the same time it was a great time of exploration and innovation.
New genres appeared, mechanics were invented and reinvented, 3D came along… Man, a LOT happened. Even the stories got better and in the late 90’s came Final Fantasy VII. Most of the games post ’97 basically feels like polishing (with some exceptions of course!).
I’ve got three short stories about videogames that shaped me.
I was 5 years old and outside with friends one cloudy day. There wasn’t much to do so we just walked back to the front of our highrise. From the corner of my eye I saw something. On the bottom floor lived a family and the kids were laughing and screaming in front of the TV. We stopped and looked in to see what was going on. That’s the first time we ever saw Super Mario. It was beautiful. World 1-2 was just starting.
After a while they noticed us standing outside, probably with our mouths wide open. So they pulled down the shades. We had to know more so we went and knocked on the door. Their father opened, smiling and we asked if we could come in. The oldest kid came out to see who was at the door and was a bit sceptical, but the dad insisted.
The worlds were amazing. And the fact that you could make that little guy do anything you wanted (atleast it felt that way). It didn’t feel force fed to you. You could either go down a pipe or you could choose not to. You could jump on an enemy and kill the bastard or you could spare it and run along on your merry way. Mind = Blown.
We must’ve spent hours just sitting there watching, because next thing you know they’re about to have dinner and we realize that we probably should be going home for dinner too.
It was the mid 90’s and I wanted something epic. I’d gotten a taste of Zelda: A Link To The Past at my friends house but never finished it. Since I didn’t own any console there were slim pickings. However, my dad had bought us a PC so that became my saviour.
Around this time comics started becoming less and less prominent in my life and most of my reading revolved around games. I used to choose the ones which had a floppy disc or, god willingly, a CD. They had shareware, freeware and demos of games.
I remember getting one which contained the demo of a game called “Albion”. You start off in a spaceship. Something odd is going on, you investigate an “accident” on board and are sent to what you think is a barren alien planet only to discover it full of life. While most demos were over and done in about 30-45 minutes this demo provided hours upon hours of gameplay and you barely scratched the surface. If you had the time and energy you probably could’ve even level capped the characters. To be honest, almost 20 years later I still haven’t finished the game. I don’t think I ever want that adventure to end and I feel that’s a good thing to feel!
Alright, it’s become a world-wide phenomenon. Grand Theft Auto. The first one was released in 1997. Why was it a seminal game for me? You play as the bad guy. You could do some crazy ass anti-social stuff. In fact, it was encouraged! It was groundbreaking.
I’m however glad the game evolved into something that makes a social commentary and can make us question our own values. What makes a person successful? What are we willing to do to get wealthy? Warning, if you want to avoid a spoiler of GTAV skip the next section and scroll past the picture.
There’s a moment in the latest installment where you’re playing as the character of Trevor (completely out of his mind, completely fascinating). What you’re doing is, well, you’re “extracting information” from a man known as “Mr. K”. The FIB wants to know the location of a certain Azerbaijan terrorist. This can be done in one of four ways: beating him with a wrench, extracting a tooth with pliers, waterboarding or electrical shocks.
It’s not a cut scene. You’re the one who’s torturing this man. What they’re telling you is that it has to be done. During the interrogation it becomes clear that Mr. K has no ties to terrorism at all. All he did was to install the suspected terrorists stereo.
When I finished this mission I had to take a break. I felt really uncomfortable and disgusted. It got me thinking about Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience. Are we just going to accept it while some guy with a suit or labcoat dictates that “you have no other choice, you must go on”? Or do we hold ourselves accountable to a higher authority? Ourselves? We have choices!
After finishing the mission Trevor has something to say.
The media and the government would have us believe that torture is some necessary thing. We need it to get information, to assert ourselves. Did we get any information out of you? Exactly. Torture’s for the torturer… or for the guy giving orders to the torturer. You torture for the good times – we should all admit that. It’s useless as a means of getting information.
See this? This is what games can do. We might sit here believing certain things about how the world works (or doesn’t) and we’re never confronted with having to make these decisions or seeing their consequences. Games don’t have to be “just games”. They can be so much more!
What i’ve done here is to give just a tiny slice of the pie of what’s been a long evolution of both of these industries. The reason is to show that we’re all more or less a product of our times. There is another benefit! These areas are fairly new industries with a well documented history. This lets us zoom in and out of specific periods and easily extract and absorb the lessons.
And so we’re going to rewind the tape. I promised earlier that i’d be talking about the fact that it took something like 20 years for Hollywood to embrace the modern side of comic books. Maybe that’s not entirely true, one could argue that “Batman” (1989) was dark. But around the mid 00’s was when the “darker” stories got their major breakthrough.
The reason I bring this up is the debate that dates back to sometime in 2003. Back in 2009 we saw a character show up in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. Who you ask? Deadpool!
For those not familiar, just check out the leaked test footage here!
This is one of the most morally ambiguous characters i’ve ever comes across in comics. I find the combination of Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell, Jim Carrey in his prime and something out of Quentin Tarantino’s chamber of horrors both appaling and oddly appealing.
Why is this such a pet project of mine? Because of all the reasons given why this should NOT be made. “It’s too violent and immoral”, “People aren’t ready for this kind of character”, “We don’t know, we’ve got all these other safe bets we can focus on instead”.
I can understand that when you put your money into something you want a return on investment. They’ve got the super hero movie-format down. But grinding out the same formula is going to die a painful death unless you take a chance on something different (Guardians of the Galaxy? Awesome move!).
A lot of us would’ve liked the Deadpool movie to have come out years ago. But let’s be happy that it’s going to happen and that those making the decisions chose to trust the audience to be ready by early 2016! All they have to do now is to deliver a great story that honors the character, faults and all.
I’d like to draw some parallels with Disney’s Frozen. Even though they didn’t stay true to the original story they did something novel with its components. They changed the format of fairytales.
No cookie cutter, trust us to get it anyway.
“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.” – Oscar Wilde
“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” – Winston Churchill
“The very essence of the creative is its novelty, and hence we have no standard by which to judge it.” – Carl Rogers
“Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.” – Albert Camus
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh