Sunday, March 27, 2016

Everything Wrong With Superheroes

So this post was going to happen eventually. Better get it all out before Civil War comes out.

1) They cause a surreal aura to permeate our culture.

Take this conversation between to superheroes, based on a role-play I did with Paul Gabel.

"Harry and Dig disagreed about whether or not we should stay in our world. Harry was convinced that the presence of superheroes was changing, for the worse, the way people viewed what science could and should do, while Digory argued that it was a necessary advancement towards super vigilantism that would help thousands of people. Harry won in the end and here we are."

Joshua took it in and thought for several seconds. "I suppose I wouldn't know what it's like to live in a world without superheroes. But it makes sense that if the only way for superheroes to be created is through "science," I suppose I would be concerned too."

2) They're unrealistic.

This one is like a "DUR! That's what makes them fun!"

But I'm not talking about their powers. These perfect pillars of justice come close to having no faults in the films and comic books they are immediately appearing in. They are only concerned with fighting evil. Now don’t try to argue about Black Widow’s past and all that stuff. It’s in the right now of the movie. In every human mind, not just the villains, is a selfish side that is concerned with its own interests. Why don't these appear in the movies? Showing that even the heroic are just as bad as the villains, the only difference being that they are concerned with also keeping the world the same, and not letting it be taken over by whatever villain the writers conjure up.

3) They are role models, but not very good ones.

This kind of ties in with 1). Superheroes have desirable qualities that many people would go to great pains, even do some very unheroic things to acquire. But the problem with all role models is that if what is good that they do is to be imitated, then the bad that they also do is allowable. People do this all the time, and they don't even realize it until it's too late.

4) The comic books they appear in have almost no plot.

I recently read five issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and enjoyed them to a very limited extent. The primary reason, I realized, was because they had very little plot. But what can you expect from a 24 page comic book issue? It takes a lot longer than 24 pages just to develop a decent plot. I thought that maybe there would be references to other issues in every issue, but instead it was a a simple, bad guy appears, and the good guy has to stop him routine, maybe spiced up with some personal dilemma of some kind, or a new development in the the protagonists character.

Which leads me to number

5) You can't find them in original works outside of comic books.

This is probably the most annoying thing about super heroes. No, I'm not interested in the ten pages of the hero and the villain battling it with witty taunts and comebacks. I'm interested in the difficulties that the hero faces in real life. The underlying thought process of him; what makes him tick. This is something that both comic books and movies are notoriously bad at doing, for some pretty obvious reasons. We can't have a narrator describing the inner feelings of the characters on the screen, and the yellow boxes in the comics just aren't really meant for the descriptions complex emotions. This is why I would much rather read a novel about a super hero than a comic book. The movies are okay to an extent, because they do sort of show the emotions better, but not like novel does. Oh well. 
I might get avid comic book reader saying, “well, the heroes think to themselves sometimes in thought clouds, what about that?” True, there were several scenes in the comic books where I saw that Peter beat himself up mentally for not being good enough, but the problem there is that it simply doesn’t capture the full emotions of the character. There just isn’t enough space to allow the reader to fully appreciate what the character is going through.

6) They're (almost) a waste of time.

They are practically the epitome of idle thought, while at the same time being the center of the  obsession of millions of teenagers (and adults) around the world. It is unfair, I admit, to say they're a waste of time. Perhaps it would better be put as a fruitless pastime. I guess that’s the same thing. They really don't teach any lessons that we don't already know. I'm working on a novel that teaches math and computer programming, but it will really take some creative juices to flow in order to insert a superhero into that. It would be like "And then Pineapples!"

And finally, saving the most important one for last. Perfect #7.

7) Superheroes are grooming us for the new age Transhumanism.

Transhumanism? Yes, transhumanism. The belief that humans can evolve themselves further through science and technology. Is that not the origin story of 90% of all superheroes and villains? I mean, take The Flash. He gains his powers through a bath of chemicals and a lightning bolt, but it also apparently had changed his genes enough so that he could have a superfamily. That’s mildly creepy to me. 

You know that if you change your DNA you’ve lost a part of your humanness, yet in almost every superhero, there are mentions of their DNA being changed, Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and, well, the Flash, along with hundreds of others. Like I said above in #3, there isn’t a normal person alive that wouldn’t mind having some cool superpower of some kind to maybe help people or show off with, whether it’s shooting bees out of your wrists, or being invisible, or maybe having X-Ray vision. The list goes on.

Superheroes are a fun thing to speculate about, and if we like to draw, they’re fun to draw in action, and if we like writing, we like writing about them, but in that speculation is something that people are attracted to, a fascination with the idea of coping with superpowers. I don’t want to completely be a Johnny Raincloud on your parade, I do, however want you to be aware of what organizations are trying to make people think is socially acceptable. Like I said in #1, they are changing the dynamic of our society, making transhumanism seem just beyond our grasp, and something that is needed and desirable. 

I enjoy watching superhero films, and I also enjoy writing about them, but I do look out for symbolism, and the hidden messages. None of these are exactly hidden, but it’s good to know, if you’ve noticed them yourself, that you're not the only one who thinks this way.

My conclusion here is that you must always be careful about what is entertainment and what is just over the threshold. There are subliminal messages, and there are stupid things about them, and there are reasons why every superhero film ends up with well over a hundred sins on CinemaSins. 

The world needs more wares. So be aware.

I hope you enjoyed this post and I hope you  remember it every time you see a superhero film, and be watchful, and careful to remember that it is for entertainment only, even though the creators might possibly think otherwise.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Writers Only: Cover Me

FRONT COVERS, or dust covers are something that make us want to read a book. They have to be good in order to catch the possible buyer at the book store, or in a strangely connected way, get someone to check it out at the library, which might make the library buy more titles, or maybe even make the person want to buy it at the book store, then request that their library buy it. Our world is funny like that. Everything depends everything.

Front covers are a strange thing, because you are told never to judge a book by it, but those who are distributing the book have already assumed you will.

Front Cover>Back Cover>$$$>Reading>Next in the series>$$$>etc.

As a writer, I should hate the necessity of book covers. They might possibly misrepresent my story. But I don’t, because I use them myself when deciding whether or not to read a book.

There are, however, some rules that should be followed. 

A book that has a character’s face on the cover is a no no. I think of the Leviathan Trilogy, and the edition I read. It did have characters on the covers. But the character also didn’t even look like how she was described in the book, and to make things worse, someone had illustrated the book, and his illustrations didn’t at all look like the person on the cover. Yes, this cover Goliath is in another language, but my sister has the exact same cover on her English edition.

Another example I have is the Wars of the Realm Trilogy, in which the three comprising books had characters on the cover. They really didn’t look like the way the characters were described in the books. I'm not the only one that thought this, by the way.

Moral? Don’t put characters on the front cover, especially real people. It is maybe okay to put a character on the cover if he or she is hand drawn by a real artist, or if he or she’s face is obscured somehow, especially if the book has illustrations, but other than that, it probably isn’t a good idea.

Another thing to watch out for is dark themes in the color grading. This maybe doesn’t seem like a problem, but trust me, this is simply a cliché that needs to end. I suppose the darkness is supposed to inspire mystery, making the book more intriguing in the hands of someone who hasn’t read it yet, but I think we shouldn’t appeal to people’s desire to be in the dark, but rather lead them to the light. Now when I say dark, I don’t necessarily mean overall dark covers. Sometimes colors are dark. What I mean is heavy incorporation of black and dark gray with muted colors in the mix. 

But I do not mean that all dark covers are bad. A bad dark cover is simply a lot of black and dark gray. If these are absent and replaced with muted color, that actually makes a cool looking front cover. Think every hardcover classic with the gold trim ever.

Here are some very tasteful front covers that I’ve come across.

What makes these covers great?

A) No characters close up.
B) No black or dark gray.
C) They use muted colors instead to give the same effect to the cover.
D) They use symbols or an interesting landscape instead of characters to sell the book.

It’s important to pay attention to these four points. The last one is the one that I think is most important. There has to be a subject in the book cover, unless it’s one of those old hardcover gold lettered books. The subject should be something that carries means something and is mentioned in the book, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge thing. This is what messes up the minds of people who make book covers. They think that the cover has to have a hugely important something on the cover, when that simply isn’t true. They believe this so much that they make that hugely important something a character from the story, and if that’s not enough they add in black inkblots to make things look messy, and dark gray and black.

Remember, cleanliness is good for the soul, and so is happiness. Unless you’re emo, darkness probably isn’t going to make you happy. Another thing, does the story have a happy ending? Most of them do. Make the cover reflect the ending. I would have to say that each of these covers do reflect the ending in a way.

I would like to conclude with the rule that you judge a book based on its story, not by the mistakes they made in the cover. I will say, however, that usually if a book has a cover that breaks the above guidelines, I won’t read it by my own prompting if I pull it off the shelf at the library. It’ll have to be recommended. Why? Not because I made up some guidelines, but because the book will make me feel weird every time I pick it up if it has a bad cover.

I hope you find this useful if you have gotten to the point where you want to self publish and need a good cover.