Archive for The Books of Magic

When the story doesn’t end

Posted in Books, Comics, TV with tags , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by Cara Marie

The article Better Bite-sized appeared on Stuff today, inspired by the author David Haglund’s recent viewing of the TV mini-series The Top of the Lake. Noting that the series was imported, he asks ‘Why aren’t there more great American mini-series?’ (This confused me momentarily, until I remembered reading a New Zealand news site is no assurance of reading local content.)

I can understand his frustration with series that go on to long, or end up padded so that they can reach the requisite 22 episodes. I am all for series being allowed to reach their natural conclusions. I don’t agree that ‘the mini-series is probably the ideal form for creating great television art.’

It’s the ‘ideal form’ part that I take issue with. Just because longer series often outstay their welcome doesn’t mean that they have less potential for greatness. Haglund compares TV series to novels:

[Cable shows like The Sopranos] are often called novelistic, but even the serial novels of the Victorian era generally traced one central story from beginning to end in a way that The Sopranos and Mad Men don’t quite do.

He forgets that not all novels stand alone – he’d get a better equivalency with series than with serialised novels. Consider JD Robb’s In Death series, which is basically a procedural in novel form. Each book is its own arc and, with only a few exceptions, you could happily read them all as stand-alones. If you’re going to read them all though, it’s more satisfying to do it in order, just like it’s more satisfying to watch a TV show like Castle in order. The relationships and characters develop over the course of the series (Robb lets her characters get together more quickly though), but the basic structure is episodic.

This is not an uncommon structure for a novel series, especially in genres like crime and urban fantasy. But then, maybe Haglund would argue that genre series are never ‘great art’ …

Novels wouldn’t be my go-to comparison for TV narrative structures though. I’d go for another medium which is primarily delivered serially, and which is happy to embrace that. I’d go for comics.

You can have a fantastic, single-volume-narrative comic book. You can bundle that up as a ‘graphic novel’ and then the literati may even accept that a comic can be ‘great art’, because the structure is more like something they recognise, a novel or a mini-series.

You can just as easily have a fantastic comic book that runs past twenty volumes. Those twenty volumes may tell a complete, self-contained story. Or they may not!

Haglund seems to think this is a problem.

Characters interesting enough to serve as engaging companions week after week for years are wonderful creations, but their stories lack the meaningful shape found in the best novels and movies and plays. We may get glorious moments, and terrific episodes, and occasionally excellent multi-episode arcs. But the need to leave the door open, to keep the story going a little bit longer, and then a little bit longer, is an artistic impediment.

Sure, it’s frustrating when something that has a natural ending gets stretched out and padded and maybe never gets to end at all. But that’s when people are forcing their story into a different shape. It’s not because the shape of a long-form serial is less ‘meaningful’. It’s different, sure; it’s not less valuable.

Incidentally, this relates to why I don’t like ‘graphic novel’ as a synonym for ‘comic’ (asides from the cultural cringe). I don’t like the implication that a comic should be structured like a novel. It can be, but it’s not the only option, just like the novel isn’t the only option for telling a story in prose.

Call Blankets a graphic novel, fine. But something like Sandman doesn’t resemble a graphic novel just because it has an overall arc and an ending. It’s not trying to; it uses all the opportunities for side-stories, for multiple self-contained arcs that initially seem unconnected, that being a serial gives you (and that something like Blankets doesn’t.

(Which isn’t to say novels can’t use those things too. They just generally don’t. Or if you want to read the side-stories, you have to hunt down a bunch of random anthologies – you don’t get them as part of the core experience.)

And am I forbidden from calling Hellblazer a great comic, just because it doesn’t have an overriding arc? (I say, assuming Milligan didn’t pull one out his hat at the last minute.) Even though I’ve been attached to it for the last ten years? Even though it has great ‘mini-series’ arcs, and great single issue-length arcs, and great runs where several self-contained arcs build upon each other to a conclusion that is thrilling and inevitable? And then keeps on going?

Am I allowed to even though parts of it aren’t great, because hey, it’s a series, Azzarello’s arc doesn’t negate the brilliance of Delano’s? Am I allowed to even though it doesn’t stick with a single genre, and some parts are horror while others are only dark fantasy?

Is the serial aspect an ‘artistic impediment’? Or is it an opportunity for hundreds of issues of storytelling, by a variety of storytellers, that never would have happened if John Constantine had never been let out the pages of Swamp Thing?

Up till very recently, the Hellblazer door had been left open. That’s not an impediment, that’s opportunity.

John Ney Rieber ended his run on The Books of Magic after 50 issues. Because he’d reached the end of the stories he could tell there. And that’s valid. And maybe more TV series would be better if their show-runners could say, right, that’s it, we’ve reached the end of this story and that’s it.

But they don’t have to. Maybe one story isn’t all the stories they want to tell. Or maybe they can pass the batton on to someone else, like Rieber did – someone who does still have stories to tell.

A sequel isn’t always a cash-grab. Nor is an open-ended serial. And great art doesn’t have to be short and self-contained.

My eternal favourites

Posted in Comics, Fantasy with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by Cara Marie

So, I just found out that Tim Hunter had made an appearance in Jeff Lemire’s Justice League Dark. Not the same Tim Hunter I followed for some hundred issues as a teenager; still, Tim Hunter. And the following felt very him:

A young Tim Hunter narrates that he'd had enough of magic. 'So I performed my last and greatest spell,' he says. 'I culled every bit of magic I'd acquired, and I gave it a form, a shape. I made it tangible. And then I exorcised it from me.'

Justice League Dark, issue 12. Writing by Jeff Lemire, art by Mikal Janin.


By which I mean, really incredibly stupid. There’s no way it could ever turn out badly :D

I’d always intended to check out Justice League Dark once it came out in trade, but it looks like I might have to follow it more closely than that. It’s funny, because Tim was often the least interesting thing in The Books of Magic, but I really am very attached to him.

So that happened. AND THEN I decided I couldn’t wait  for my copy of Journey into Mystery to arrive this Wednesday and I’d have to read it online first. (It was a pragmatic decision. I might not be able to resist looking at spoilers another three days.)


God, my heart. I am so overwhelmed right now.

Show me your teeth

Posted in Comics, Fantasy with tags , , on February 8, 2011 by Cara Marie

Two rows of shiny-whites.I swear, there must be something in the manual for creators of Tim Hunter comics that requires teeth be used as creepily as possible, as often as possible. There are so many close-ups on people’s toothy smiles, smiles that are threats, that it must be deliberate.

The most memorable is the manticore, but there are examples spread right through, even from the first book. It’s a wonder I don’t get nightmares every time someone smiles at me; it’s quite unnerving.

Comics and communal storytelling

Posted in Comics, Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by Cara Marie

When I brought home the first volume of House of Mystery, I was asked if I thought the world really needed another Sandman spin-off. I say, why not? It’s just like folklore.

How many Arthur stories are there? I don’t just mean the ones about Arthur himself, I mean the ones about the other knights, the one where King Arthur has a daughter who crossdresses so she can run off and save the man she loves. I adore communal storytelling, another person running off with one of the characters, with a building, to tell a new story. Where no one person’s vision is the authoritative one. Maybe they contradict each other and maybe they don’t, but they’re all written out of love.

And that’s something I love about comics. Okay, so House of Mystery was underwhelming. There are other spin-offs that I love, maybe more than I love the ‘original’. Or maybe I don’t like one writer’s work with a character, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the character anymore.

I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons. The first has been reading Hellblazer again. I began that series as a teenager, but somewhere during Brian Azzarello’s arc I lost interest. But I have been on a bit of a Mike Carey kick later, and having gone to read his work on Hellblazer, I discover that hey, it’s not that I didn’t want more Constantine stories. It’s just I didn’t like the ones Azzarello was telling.

The other reason was that I decided I wanted copies of The Books of Magic, which I haven’t read since I was in my early teens. Now, the only trade they’ve kept in print of this ‘series’ is the original four-issue miniseries written by Neil Gaiman. Which isn’t what I was after, and indeed I do not own. I was after John Ney Reiber’s work, which is The Books of Magic I fell in love with. Also I was after the rest of that series, which was written by other authors and never released in trade at all. Also I was after the ten issues of Books of Magick that were never released in trade, even though the first five were. And once I’ve finished getting those, there’s twenty-five issues of Hunter: The Age of Magic … and it’s only after that that I think, hey, maybe I should get the Gaiman miniseries. You know, for completeness’ sake.

I reread most of Books of Magick last night, which is written by Si Spencer and illustrated for the most part by the brilliantly disturbing Dean Ormston. It’s set when Tim Hunter is in his twenties, and only very briefly in our world: you could read most of it and think it was an AU version of Tim. And there is an AU version of Tim in it, but it’s not who you think. I always had the impression it wasn’t that popular (otherwise why wouldn’t they have released the rest as trades?) but I loved it. And part of that is the way it twists the original ‘verse in totally unexpected, awesome ways. Ways that other authors might never have gone for.

This next part is spoilery. But the awesome kind of spoilers.

So Tim Hunter has this owl called Yo-Yo, right? Because it used to be a yo-yo. Si Spencer looks at this and thinks, hey, you know what would be cool? To transform Yo-Yo into a person for a while. Oh, and while they’ve both lost their memories, we should give him a massive crush on Tim.

I say, Si Spencer, I like the way you think.

The series is mostly set in two worlds, one of which is a creation of Tim’s, and he’s about to go uncreate it. Which a few people, Yo-Yo included, think is a bad idea. Now, who does every world need in order to spit in the eye of the gods? Why, Constantine, of course.

Only in this world, Constantine is a sixteen-year-old girl. Not only that, Chaz is a fifteen-year-old girl and they totally fall in love. (I think I first read this series before Hellblazer, so I don’t think I knew exactly what he was doing there.)

And here’s what I love about comics: it’s canon. There is a world in which John Constantine is a teenage lesbian.

And if comics insisted ‘no spin-offs’, we never would have got it. Hell, we would never even have had the original miniseries, predicated as it was on bringing together a bunch of different DC characters. That seems to me like a sadder world. Because people want to tell new stories about characters they love. People want to read them. And there’s not just one person who can tell those stories right. And maybe I won’t like them all, but what does that matter? It doesn’t mean the stories I loved aren’t there any more, it doesn’t mean other people can’t tell them in the future.

I don’t think there can be too many spin-offs.