Sunday, April 3, 2011

Celebrating stories.

Today Mr. Richards and I went to WonderCon in San Francisco. It's a big media convention - mostly comics - held at Moscone Center. It was a three day event but we just went up today specifically to see the Doctor Who panel, more specifically because Neil Gaiman was on the panel. I don't think it's any secret that I'm kind of a Neil Gaiman fan. I'm also a Doctor Who fan. So when Neil Gaiman writes an episode of Doctor Who, well that's just a perfect storm of fandom. This is a picture of me waiting in line for the panel this morning; I brought a sock to work on in case we had to wait for anything. There was a very large crowd for this panel. And it was very cool - we got a free t-shirt - and interesting but it's not the main thing I wanted to talk about here. I went to two other panels which were more academic in nature; the first was about female spies and private eyes in comics and their evolution, and the second was about comics for kids. Now the interesting thing about this topic is that I think most people would say, "aren't all comics for kids?" And the answer is no, in fact, most comics now days are for grown ups. The people who used to be kids and loved their comics so much that they wanted grown up comics to read when they grew up are now writing, drawing, and painting them. They spent a decade or so convincing the public that comics were not just for kids and not all comics were about costumed superheroes. So the comic book industry grew up and kind of left the kids behind. And now the publishers think that the only people buying comics are adults and teens, according to the panelists, one of whom was Jennifer Holm of Babymouse fame. Babymouse is very popular now but it took several years to get the first one published, she said. This challenge is added to the "not real reading" attitude that many parents still hold about comics. Yet time and time again, when I listen to authors and illustrators speak, many of them talk about how they were inspired by the comic books they read as kids. At the Doctor Who panel I mentioned earlier Toby Haynes, director of the first two episodes of season 6, spoke of his dyslexia and said that the first book he every finished reading without help was a Doctor Who comic book. The stories spoke to him and inspired him and kept him reading.
Something else the panel discussed was writing for children in general. They came to the conclusion that while it is more difficult to write for children, stories that are written with a specific audience in mind tend to feel inauthentic. So again, it comes down to story. Is it a good story? Do I care about the characters? Do I want to know what happens next? A good story will appeal to all kinds of people - male, female, young, old, whatever.
And speaking of good stories, I happened to read the graphic novel Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel yesterday. I know that this book has been getting lots of good reviews and is landing on a lot of top ten lists so I thought I'd give it a looksee. It is a fantastic book. Frank Gallows is a sort of hard boiled ghost hunter whose work is a bit sloppy. Garth Hale is a kid who's been diagnosed with an unnamed terminal disease. Their paths cross when Gallows accidentally sends Garth to the afterlife with a captured ghost. While Frank must find a way to get Garth back to the living world, Garth discovers he has powers in the after life and uses them to battle the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, and free the city of the dead from his reign of terror. Although this book is at a second grade reading level, the subject matter puts it at no less than a fifth grade interest level, in my opinion. The story is very well written and it only feels a little bit like a book written for kids, it certainly doesn't read like a second grade book! The pictures are dark and edgy and would definitely appeal to the older kids. I was raving about it to Mr. Richards and now he's reading it himself!
So, to wrap up this whole thing, as Mr. Richards and I talked about the day, we came away with the feeling that the thing that everyone at that convention center had in common was the love of a good story, whether it was the people writing episodes for a popular british science fiction TV show, people drawing pictures for comic books, or the people who dressed up as their favorite characters, everyone was celebrating stories and storytelling. We felt pretty lucky to have been a small part of that today.

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