Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’


My Favorite Scrooge

December 25, 2011

Alfred Pennyworth himself, Michael Caine, is the Best Ebenezer Scrooge ever

My favorite Scrooge is Alfred Pennyworth himself, Michael Caine.  The reason is uniquely Deevian: you spend enough time in theatre, certain shows become as familiar as Sunday mass to a strict catholic.  Every year, just like the ballet does The Nutcracker and the art museum does a Festival of Trees, every theatre company in town does some form of A Christmas Carol. 

Those lines that are pure Dickensian beauty lose their meaning through so much repetition:

“Keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine.”

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes around with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips would be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”

“I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I cannot afford to make idle people merry.”

On Michael Caine’s lips, each one of those oh so familiar lines were fresh, completely new.  The scene and therefore the man and his story became entirely new.  I can’t imagine how he did it, how he found such insight, such an angle or inspiration to bring these words to life as never before–without changing a comma.

Because that’s the other thing about the annual theatre Christmas Carols.  Just like comics, there are those who have the daft idea that nobody wants to see it the way it’s always been done, who have to wreck it with the idea that they’re putting their individual stamp on it: they give us the Homeless Christmas Carol, the hip hop Christmas Carol, and the horror fest Scrooge:Scared Straight that makes Tim Burton seem like a perfectly normal, well-adjusted guy without any creepy fixations on Christmas, snow, clowns, stitches or raising the dead.  It never works, the audience flocks to the theatres who understand that the public wants the familiar on these things, that we want the traditional, the ritual.  Every year The Nutcracker is done exactly the same way.  Every year it’s a pine tree covered with lights and ornaments and not a pile of coat hangers strung with silly string.  Every year it’s a turkey, ham or goose and not fish n’ chips.  Things have been done this way forever because it’s right.

Michael Caine’s Scrooge made Ebenezer Scrooge new and fresh the right way – which is the hard way.  I still have no idea how he did it, but there is one more thing that makes the feat insanely brilliant: He was playing to plush.

Michael Caine Christmas Carol stayed true to the essence of the material

He was delivering those lines to a goddamn muppet.

I cannot wrap my brain around it, but there it is.

No wonder Nolan cast him to play an Alfred who was unique to his storyverse but absolutely true to the essence of the character.


You’re a fine one, Mr. Grinch

December 9, 2010

I never watched Glee, but I was in the room recently when a friend was watching the latest episode on Hulu. On headphones, I didn’t hear a thing apart from the occasional laugh, muted. Then there was a loud one. I looked up and saw this…

I didn’t have to watch the show, I knew EXACTLY what they were doing. That’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas, fondly remembered Dr. Seuss Xmas tale from all our childhoods. Later my friend talked about “how well they did it” and how they “did the whole thing” – from a character wearing the reindeer antlers and dog ears pulling the sleigh to plucking the ornaments off the tree.

Friend: And just when you’re thinking “There should be a Cindy Lou Whoo”…

I mention this because there is a misconception out there among some big names in comics that people are “bored” with the very elements that MAKE THE STORYVERSE WHAT IT IS. That’s why there is a wail of protest every time they announce the next big stunt that will fuck up the comics for another year and postpone the return to what it is SUPPOSED TO BE. Because these core things they are changing are not repetitive and boring, they are ritual and reassuring.

Bruce Wayne is Batman. Joker is his nemesis. Catwoman is his adversary/love interest. Jason Todd is dead.
Last year, next year and always.

If you don’t want to do that, don’t write Batman.

“Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it?” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
Last year, next year and always.

If you don’t want to do that, don’t perform A Christmas Carol.

“Face it, Tiger… you just hit the jackpot!”

Last year, next year and always.

If you don’t want to do that, don’t write Spiderman.

“It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Nobody is looking for reinvention here. They got it right the first time, and that’s why these stories last.

When it’s right, don’t reinvent, recapitulate:

Here endeth the lesson.

Chris Dee

Thank you for reading. If you are viewing this post anywhere other than The Catitat you are reading a mirror. Please visit the original posting in The Catitat to leave a comment.


Fat is Flavor

November 10, 2010

Chef Josh Grinker recently blogged a list of “Things Chefs Don’t Want You To Know.” The explanation for #1 (There is butter in everything) began like this:

In every culinary school in America, they hammer home the same three-word mantra to students day after day, year after year, until it’s like a little voice in your brain that guides virtually every culinary decision you will make for the rest of your career: ‘Fat is Flavor.’

Batman-Catwoman kiss, blog entry: Fat is Flavor

Now, this isn’t a cooking blog, and if there are any nutrition proselytizers out there who want to make the case for their fat-free, salt-free, gluten free, lentil and tofu roulade being just as tasty as a deep dish with pepperoni and sausage from Giordano’s, they can lump it. Because there are two key elements in Grinker’s statement which are the gateway to serial success or—in DC Comics’s case—serial failure.

First of all, the three little words are true. I could spend a day perusing the Good Eats clips on youtube for Mr. Science-style demonstrations explaining that reality molecule-by-molecule, but again, this is not a cooking blog. The point is, regardless of what you say on the convention floor, no matter what you put in the press release or tell the columnist from IGN, and no matter what would be convenient for you personally or professionally, no matter what creates a political pain in the ass for you personally or professionally, the bedrock principle on which you base your decisions has to be TRUE. One example off the top of my head: readers like the theme rogues. You can accept that and build your one year arc around Croc, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Joker, Harley Quinn, Riddler, and Two-Face and be on your way to the hit of the decade, or you can reject it, stage a parade of faceless mobsters and serial killers, and then grouse that grumble that you’re never as popular as that other guy.

Assembling the list of wrong ideas DC has about life, the universe, and everything would be a daunting task, and not necessarily a productive one. Because the second key in Grinker’s statement is that repetition of the founding principle(s) until it becomes an instinct. There are some major figures out there who are so consistently wrong in everything they say and do, they’ve definitely got the instinct mechanism working, it’s just based on faulty base principles.
From “Bruce Wayne is the mask” to the fallacy of Millerism, they have core ideas, those ideas just happen to be wrong. But there are others who have no little voice leading them in any direction. They go from mediocre to pretty good to clinically insane, from really bad to slightly above average to “oh hell, the syphilis got to their brain.” That is the mark of a writer, editor, or manager who is stumbling blind. They have no root principles, so every choice brings them back to square one. They’re a ping pong ball in a wind tunnel, and whatever gusts hit them last will determine where they go next.

Look, things do change in this world. One of the major reasons the Titanic went down is because everything Captain Smith knew was wrong. It was based on based on 30 years of experience, but on that ship on that voyage in those waters: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. But here’s the catch: other things do NOT change. There is a reason the term is bedrock principles. Some things simply are, they are constants, they do not alter. “You know how you cook a great steak? You slather it in butter, throw it on the grill, paint it with more butter.” Because fat is flavor. The principles of storytelling do not change. Going home. Coming of age. Sin and redemption. The hero. The power of love. They are hardwired into us, just like our taste buds process sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. Can a new voice come up with something startling and creative and unprecedented? Absolutely. Can they invent a fifth taste? No. No, they can’t. Can they make it so we don’t like sweet anymore? No, no they can’t.

Find the true bedrock principles, repeat them until they become a little voice in the back of your mind shaping every decision you make, and you might just rock the world. Insist that fat isn’t flavor… well, enjoy your empty restaurant.

Meanwhile, the Cat-Tales kitchens are bustling these days. Electron 29: Chapter 4 is out. Compilations of Books 1 through 4 are out in ebook formats for Kindle, Sony, Nook, iPhone/iPad/iPod, and pretty much everything as well as new print-ready pdf editions. Individual Tales 1 through 50 are also available, and several have new covers showcased here, here, and here. The last ten tales (through #60) will be out – both individually and as the Book 5 Compilation – in time for Christmas. New installments of both spinoffs: Capes & Bats by Wanders Nowhere and Don’t Fear the Z by Random Equinox are in the pipeline and may actually be out by the time you read this, and an amazing new artist is soon to debut in the Fan Art Gallery. And oh yes, Batcatfever will kill me if I don’t mention that the forums have been quietly devouring the latest snippets from Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

Chris Dee


Harvey Pekar Dead at 70

July 12, 2010

One of the real annoyances with the fustercluck that is DC Comics of the last decade-plus is the scope of their wrong ideas.  It wasn’t just a particular writer here or a specific storyline there.  It was an all-encompassing atmosphere of WRONG, a virtual monsoon where ALL decisions and attitudes were doomed to fail because they were built on core principles that were faulty.

A perfect example was Will Pfeifer’s passive-aggressive attempt to paint any alternative to the East End goggle-whore excrement as boring.  It went something like “Panel 1: Selina pours coffee.  Panel 2: close up on the handle.”

Telling example, as that cup of coffee is certainly an emblem of real life, an aspect of storytelling which eludes the year long crossover crowd.  “Realism” is not making everyone a psycho, a pedophile, a prostitute, or a serial killer. Realism is drawing those links between the fictional creation on the page and the living people reading it.  Bruce Wayne shaves in the morning.  It doesn’t negate the fantastic larger-than-life stuff, it grounds it in something we can all relate to.

Harvey Pekar is dead at 70.  He wrote the autobiographical comic American Splendor, but more than that, he saw potential in the comic medium to tell stories beyond pulp horror and fantasy.

Pekar felt that the medium could be put to wider use, and he played with panels as a storytelling vehicle for more than a quarter of a century.

Without men like him, we’d be nowhere.  Without those who stretch and explore, who fiddle with the dials and see what something can actually DO beyond whatever we’ve been doing, without those guys, we’d be absolutely nowhere.  We’d still be in the trees.

Chris Dee

Thank you for reading. If you are viewing this post anywhere other than The Catitat you are reading a mirror. Please visit the original posting in The Catitat to leave a comment.

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