Confusion of the Innocent: Metacomics in Public Librari

Category: Education

Presentation Description

An online presentation I delivered to my University of Alberta class in 2009 about self-referential "metacomics" being collected in public libraries. The basis for an essay that was published in "Comics and Graphic Novels in Public Libraries" from Texas Tech University (Stephen Weiner, ed.)


Presentation Transcript

Slide 1: 

Confusion of the Innocent: “Metacomics” vs. Public Libraries Adam Noble

Slide 2: 

Our hero’s dilemma.

Slide 3: 

“Superhero metacomics [are comics] whose point is commentary on the conventions of superhero stories or on familiar characters who are represented in a thinly disguised roman a clef way. Metacomics may pay lip service to being universally comprehensible, but they’re really aimed at what I call ‘superreaders’: readers [... who will] understand what’s really being discussed in the story.” -- Douglas Wolk, from his book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work, and What They Mean.

Slide 4: 

In other words: “Comics that are thematically about comics themselves.” - Douglas Wolk

Slide 5: 

A Quick Word about Continuity: The DC and Marvel Universes (aka “The Big Two”)

Slide 7: 

Alan Moore: Father of the Post-Modern Superhero

Slide 8: 

Preliminary notes from Alan Moore to artist Dave Gibbons for the creation of Watchmen: “I’d like the world the … characters exist in to be at once far more realistic in conception than any super-heroes’ world has been before, and at the same time far different to our own world than the worlds presented [in regular DC Comics’ continuity]. To see what I’m trying to get at, you have to try and imagine what the presence of super-heroes would actually do to the world, both politically and psychologically. You can’t do that in conventional super-hero comics partly because it would be too difficult to coordinate over more than a couple of books.” Moore, from the afterword to Watchmen’s collected edition: “In its simplest form, the notion [of Watchmen] was simply to take over a whole comic book continuity and all the characters in it, so that one writer could document the entire world without worrying about how his plans could be fitted in with the creators of the other titles his characters were currently appearing in. Regular comics, with their insistence upon rigid, cross-title continuity, present a lot of annoying limitations to the creator.” Alan Moore discusses Watchmen’s take on superheroes.

Slide 9: 

The Question begat Rorschach who begat The Question. (An example of how comics eats itself.)

Slide 10: 

Kurt Busiek: Metacomics with Heart and Soul

Slide 11: 

“The greatest strength of the superhero genre [is] the ease with which superheroes can be used as metaphor, as symbol. If a superhero [such as Superman or Spider-Man] can be such a powerful and effective metaphor for male adolescence, then what else can you do with them? Could you build a superhero story around a metaphor for female adolescence? Around mid-life crisis? Around the changes adults go through when they become parents? “We’ve been taking apart the superhero for ten years or more; it’s time to put it back together and ... see what it’ll do.” – Kurt Busiek, from the introduction to Astro City vol. 1: Life in the Big City.

Slide 12: 

Watchmen’s Children: Ex Machina, Powers, The Boys

Slide 13: 

“There are enough postmodern, self-reflexive, deconstructionist comics out there already. I’d rather use superheroes as a parable to explore our world, especially contemporary local politics.” – Brian K. Vaughan, on his series Ex Machina. “The book that I think has the most influence on The Boys would be Watchmen, obviously, but that book is much more nostalgic. I don’t hate superheroes, I just think they’re kind of silly. But I find the sillier aspects of them kind of fascinating. And that combined with my own skepticism about what people like that would be like in the real world, that was my starting point for how they’re portrayed in The Boys.” – Garth Ennis, writer of The Boys, on his influences. The Boys interview with Ennis

Slide 14: 

Street-level glimpses at superhero universes: Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias (Marvel) & Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central (DC).

Slide 15: 

Warren Ellis: “The Old Mad Bastard” “Nextwave (left) is about the mad things underpinning Marvel Comics. Absurd levels of destruction, a skewed sense of humour and things blowing up and people getting kicked.” “The Authority (below) has always been about that thing that superhero comics never seem to get around to. Making the world a finer place.”

Slide 16: 

Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Statix. A meditation on death, sex, celebrity, race, love, gender and power disguised as an X-Men spin-off.

Slide 17: 

More alternate vantage points from within the “Big Two.”

Slide 18: 

Alan Moore’s 1990s return to superhero metacomics: Supreme Promethea Top 10

Slide 19: 

Breaking the fourth wall... with an agenda. In the 2000s, some writers began using characters to voice criticisms about editorial policies (right, in Infinite Crisis written by Geoff Johns) and fan’s attitudes toward storytelling and continuity (below, in She-Hulk, written by Dan Slott).

Slide 20: 

Doctor 13, written by Brian Azzarello (left) : the non plus ultra of “editorializing metacomics”? Pictured right, hit series 52, whose four writers are the villains of Doctor 13.

Slide 21: 

A new synthesis: Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory project.

Slide 22: 

“The Seven Soldiers concept grew out of a desire to ... take the super-hero concept in some unexpected directions, by spotlighting [characters] with very different desires and motivations from those of the traditional comic book super-hero. “I knew also that, while I wanted my stories to be emotionally ‘realistic,’ a real-world setting, a la books like Watchmen just couldn’t provide the backdrop I needed whereas the DC Universe was fertile with narrative possibility, bizarre life and unexpected corners.” – Grant Morrison from his introduction to the Seven Soldiers of Victory collected edition. “Seven Soldiers [is] a narrative of enlightenment. What Morrison’s implying isn’t just that superhero stories are exaggerated metaphors for aspects of human existence, but that human experience is in fact the same thing as their titanic conflicts, described in different terms but just as grand. “If superhero comics don’t speak to the realities of their readers, that’s not a problem with the genre but a demand to improve its execution. Seven Soldiers is an attempt to simultaneously outline and exemplify that formal leap.” – Douglas Wolk

Slide 23: 

Metacomics: From the fourth wall to the silver screen?

Slide 24: 

Will anyone watch Watchmen? And if so... what comes next?

Slide 25: 

Wolk on the merits of metacomics: “Alias [for example] has lots of Easter eggs for the continuity-obsessed, but it probably works even better as a stand-alone story. “Someone could potentially come into Astro City cold and read it as an adventure story, but thematically it’s concerned with the conventions of its genre-in-medium, and that’s the juicy part. “The question is how well particular comics function as entertainment when the intertextual stuff gets stripped away or isn’t visible or comprehensible to the reader.”

Slide 26: 

Questions! Which of these stories sound as though they would function best as stories without relying on people understanding the underlying riffs and references to older comic stories? Do any of the books sounds especially compelling to you? Based on their plots I’ve described, which of these books/films do you think would make the best TV/film adaptations? Do these post-modern, self-aware metacomics have any place in public libraries? More or less than standard superhero comics? Do “inside jokes/references” (either in fiction or in real life) annoy you? Some of you in the class have read Watchmen… does it sound as though the metacomics that followed it have broken any significant new ground? Do you think that the Watchmen film will alienate a mainstream movie-going audience, or will they be able to understand many of the riffs/references in the story?