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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
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Ray Davis
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Guest Authors

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Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Multiple Media Extravaganzas; or, Losing Buffy? I Don’t Think So.

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/19/05 at 09:46 PM

When I composed this on Friday I didn’t even consider cross-posting it here, but given the recent discussion below, I’ve realized there may be an audience for it.  I warn you: It is silly, and not a party to the tone I typically employ here, but since changes are in the air . . .

Via PixiePalace—one of the numerous new blogs I’ve discovered through the discussion about Valvular Masculinity (not, as I initially typed, "Vulvalar Mescalinity," as that would be another thing entirely)—I found this link to a post by Our Lord Joss about the future of His imagined universe.  Read that post in conjuntion with this recent LA Times article, as I did, and the contours of future generic synergies will form before your eyes.  I realize this cross-promotional business technically breaks no new ground.  I vaguely remember Twin Peaks followed up its first season with The Secret Diaries of Laura Palmer and its second with Diane: Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper, but both of those objects had an important function on the show itself.  According to the LA Times article, the producers of Lost will have the characters stumble across a manuscript for a mystery novel entitled Bad Twin written by dead passenger named Gary Troup . . . and on the same day that novel will hit bookshelves across America.  (That the published novel appears the same day the cast finds the completed manuscript shocks my sense of publishing realities.  Then I remember: "These survivors are celebrities.  If Scarlett Johanson wrote a novel it’d be published the same day too.") 

An Amazon search for "bad twin" already pulls up novelizations of Lost, which means that the novel has likely already been mentioned in the show’s ancillary world . . . which brings us back to Our Lord Joss.  The Lost promotion follows the logic of sideshow fandom: it rounds out the viewers/readers’ experience of the main event.  Joss, however, plans on moving the main event into the side tent by starting a comic book version of Season 8 which would pick up where Buffy Season 7 left off.  While that may not seem like an original idea—the recently cancelled Enterprise lives on in the compulsive novelization characteristic of the franchise—what distinguishes Joss’ proposal from others is who helms it: Joss and other former Buffy writers.  Instead of pawning their legacy on anyone who can afford the rights, Joss and his former staff writers will treat the comic as their venue for continuing their show.  Think about it for a minute . . .

. . . now do you see how unprecedented this is?  I think we’ll see more such medium-hopping as time flies and formerly fringe media will take on increased importance because of their increased availability.  Comics have the potential to access the mainstream DVD-purchasing crowd because they’re available at the very same venues they do their DVD-purchasing at . . . and because the comics will carry the imprimatur of those who produced the original show, even the uncomically inclined may be convinced to purchase them.  Especially if the creator of the series has a rabid fan base with whom he regularly communicates.  That said, as futurists go, I’m not to be trusted.  (I’m still waiting for my hoverboard.)


Comments

Not actually unprecedented. A similar thing happened to Gargoyles, a mid-90s Disney cartoon which developed a fairly rabid fanbase. The creator was sacked at the end of the second season (and followed it up with a short third season so bad that most fans pretend it never happened), but now he’s back and writing a comic continuation.

And honestly, I really hope that it doesn’t take off. Thing is, Joss isn’t very good at writing comics. His previous efforts have been uniformly mediocre. It’s a little sad that someone so in touch with his fanbase—and who let a fan write whichever godawful season of Buffy it was—won’t let go. He could give it over to someone who could do the franchise justice.

There’s more of interest in the Star Wars expanded universe than there is in Lucas’s movies; Batman is far better now than when Bob Kane was writing it; and, hell, there’s Harry Potter fanfiction around that’s much, much better than Rowling’s books. If you love it, set it free?

By on 11/20/05 at 02:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Fan pander is a dangerous thing. I don’t think anything can corrode an artist’s judgment faster.

As for the dangers of fanfic, see Hitchcock’s Rope.

Finally, as I understand it, the Star Trek novelization franchise went through a massive downsizing in the past few years.

By Carlos on 11/20/05 at 09:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Wow, that Joss Whedon is certainly an enthusiastic writer.

I love Buffy and Angel as much as the next person and I imagine I will buy these comic books graphic novels. But it won’t be the same and I think it’s a little sad. Now another show, that would be wonderful.

Though you know, even as I write that, I wonder if I am too old, and mired in outmoded modes of cultural production. Your last paragraph, Scott, rivals Whedon for enthusiasm.

By Miriam Jones on 11/20/05 at 10:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s encouraging that fans will love a story regardless of the medium and aren’t consuming the story just because That One Dude/Chick Is So Hott. But of course, many SF fans have always been this devoted and have enthusiastically medium-hopped for decades.

Do you think the confluence of 1.) the emergence of the web as an easy publishing platform for fanfic (which has been written at least as far back as the 1960s, right?) and fan community building, 2.) low-cost production of DVD releases and fans’ ability to demand such DVDs via petitions, placeholders, etc., and 3.) long-tail vendors like Amazon are contributing to fan groups’ increase beyond just nerds?

By Clancy on 11/20/05 at 02:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Clancy, yes, ST:TOS generated scads of mimeographed (look it up, young’uns) and, later, photocopied booklets, full of stories, art, and even some poetry. (If I were at work and near the appropriate file drawer I would regale you with some of the latter, but lucky for everyone, I’m not.) Whether or not ST was the original impetus, I don’t know — check Henry Jenkins and Constance Penley — but it was in at the ground floor. Erotic stories about Kirk and Spock gave their name to such stories about media characters in general ("K/S," shortened to “Slash"). I’ve seen Cagney and Lacy slash, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Starsky and Hutch (I kid you not), and, my favourite in light of subsequent events, Lethal Weapon. Thelma and Louise slash is particularly poignant.

LOTS of Buffy slash, btw, and mainly online, as Clancy indicates.

An interesting question, Clancy. Has the category of “nerds” expanded so much as to include almost anyone with a computer and a television? Or, as you suggest, have “nerdish” practises become mainstream?

More and more people seem to embrace the category of “nerd,” to include interests beyond the technological. Practically all of my students are Buffy fans to one extent or another, or so they claim. Which leads us back to Scott’s post, you may all be relieved.

By Miriam Jones on 11/20/05 at 02:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Norman,

I didn’t know that about Gargoyles.  I’d always admired its Mike Mignola-like visuals, but I hadn’t realized how rabid its fan base was until I googled it this morning. 

Thing is, Joss isn’t very good at writing comics.

I’ve read Fray and his work on X-Men and, while it didn’t break new ground, it wasn’t uniformly terrible...or even any worse than many of the comics I’d read of late.  Of course, this is debatable.  I’d be interested in knowing what irked you about his comic work.

It’s a little sad that someone so in touch with his fanbase—and who let a fan write whichever godawful season of Buffy it was—won’t let go.

Rabid Buffy fan though I may be, I’m not sure what you mean here.  I don’t remember him letting a fan write a season a Buffy...I know he let Marti Noxon write Season Six, and since I watched it, I know that was a mistake, but she had a successful track record with the show.  Also, the seventh season was strong and bore his fingerprints.  As for not being able to let go, well, I think our standards are skewed by the medium here.  As Octavia Butler moves through her series, I feel she’s invested in fleshing out this world she’s created; I found the evolution of society (reading backwards, obviously) from Patternmaster through Clay’s Ark fascinating.  I never got the sense she couldn’t “let go,” despite her spanning the series well over a decade.  I think if we alter our expectations--if we grant some television writers the same benefit of the doubt we regularly grant fiction writers--many of these complaints disappear.  Maybe.

If you love it, set it free?

This may be true, but as a precedent (disregarding what I didn’t know about Gargoyles), I thought Whedon’s project interesting...and, to be honest, I’m the sort of person who will follow Whedon hither, thither and everywhere else.  To link back to my post on Butler last week, I trust him.  [More replies momentarily.  This comment box has become unwieldy.]

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/20/05 at 03:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Carlos,

Fan pander is a dangerous thing. I don’t think anything can corrode an artist’s judgment faster.

I demand empirical evidence!  Nevermind, no I don’t.  (Though I won’t bring up Rope, which isn’t really fair.) While I think this is true in some cases, I don’t think Whedon’s fallen victim to his own hype.  From what I’ve heard, Serenity--which, because of grading, writing, and two weeks wrestling with a severe chest cold, I still haven’t seen, so no spoilers (sorry Laura, but this is important)--didn’t falter, despite the constant pandering of the fans who showed up to talk to Joss and the cast at the “secret” screenings.  In other words, I think lesser minds do fall prey to this particular solipsism, but a writer with a concrete vision tends to be immune from it.  Or, I could be wrong.  Examples?  (I suppose I am asking for empirical evidence after all.)

Miriam,

I love Buffy and Angel as much as the next person and I imagine I will buy these comic books graphic novels. But it won’t be the same and I think it’s a little sad. Now another show, that would be wonderful.

The transition from one medium to another shouldn’t be cause for sorrow.  What follows may address some of Norman’s complaints about Whedon’s work in comics, but I want to think about a best case scenario...and that would be one in which Whedon exploits the strengths of this medium the way he exploited the strength of television when Buffy was still on the air.  A tall order, I know, but so was making a single death important on a show predicated on re-killing the un-dead, and yet we have “The Body.” If he can continue to innovate and exploit, I think this “season” could be as interesting as any of the others.  Different, yes, but there’s no reason it can’t be as compelling...of course, it’ll be hard to recreate the camaraderie of “Buffy nights,” having all the grad. students pile into our apartment once a week and put our studies aside.  (I posted the sign which adorned our door on such nights when I found it a few months back.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/20/05 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The sixth season seemed to me to be the best. The fourth was plainly the worst, followed by the first then the fifth. The third was second and the second third.

By Jonathan on 11/20/05 at 03:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And Whaldon’s show Firefox was better than either Angel or Buffy. Clancy and I both enjoyed the film sequel Serendipity as well.

By Jonathan on 11/20/05 at 03:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

[Apologies for cutting this up, but this box isn’t happy with the length of my response.]

Clancy,

It’s encouraging that fans will love a story regardless of the medium and aren’t consuming the story just because That One Dude/Chick Is So Hott. But of course, many SF fans have always been this devoted and have enthusiastically medium-hopped for decades.

I’ll be honest here and say that I don’t know a single person who watched Buffy the way someone might watch, say, The OC or (shudders) Laguna Beach.  (I mention those shows because, well, I live in “the OC,” about two minutes away from Laguna Beach, and my students, well, they enjoy both shows.  Funny story: when I taught Berube’s essay “Life as We Know It” in my Intro. to Literary Journalism class this quarter, a student said his essay so compelling she “actually stopped watching the OC to finish it.” And yes, I did relay that highest of compliments to Michael.  But I digress.) I think people may have been initially drawn to the show for such reasons, but I think they stuck around because of the writing (now, however, I’m thinking like an executive). 

Do you think the confluence of 1.) the emergence of the web as an easy publishing platform for fanfic (which has been written at least as far back as the 1960s, right?) and fan community building, 2.) low-cost production of DVD releases and fans’ ability to demand such DVDs via petitions, placeholders, etc., and 3.) long-tail vendors like Amazon are contributing to fan groups’ increase beyond just nerds?

I’m glad Miriam brought up slash fiction, since I didn’t want to be the one who had to admit to knowing what it is.  (Yes, I think there’s still a nerd hierarchy, and I think I’m still, albeit barely, hovering above the level of slash.) That said, slash is an incredibly interesting phenomenona from the “investment in characters” perspective; that people spend their precious few free moments elaborating on a fictional world signals...something significant.  Or, possibly, obsessive, since the people I’ve known who wrote/read slash were not, to put it mildly, big on the social skills.  I don’t want to denigrate the work or the commitment, I just haven’t personally run across people who like slash who could be considered (as I consider myself) a rationally devoted fan.  I don’t know where the line is, but I suspect it’s somewhere around tattoos of Willow looking vulnerable.

As for the potential, as I said, I do think the idea of “long-tail” vendors like Amazon opens up new, socially acceptable avenues of engagement.  People who have been scared out of darkening the doors of a comic book store by The Simpsons won’t have the same reservations about buying comics from Amazon.  I think the stigma may remain, but if the product can be secreted and hoarded, the stigma may not matter.  I do think that recent quasi-empowerment of fans--I mean, fans got Profit, I say, Profit released on DVD--may be a way to signal corporate suits into realizing new revenue streams; to put it another way, Serenity was a low-risk, potentially high-reward “gamble,” netting $35M domestic, over $30M foreign, and guaranteed to sell at least as well in DVD.  I think companies will realize that such “risks” can stabalize their bottom lines, and that we’ll see more “safe” fare in the future...at least, I hope we will, since most of the shows I watch fall into this category.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/20/05 at 03:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan,

You do realize it’s possible to troll your own site. 

I’m just saying.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/20/05 at 03:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Also, I do believe all involved are being sufficiently meta here.  Fans, obviously, but not simply gushing.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/20/05 at 03:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Are you suggesting you disagree about the sixth season? I thought that was orthodoxy. There was the revelation. And the music-thing.

By Jonathan on 11/20/05 at 03:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The music-thing was magic.

Scott, are you so sure Whedon’s talents are transferable? He is obviously king of television, and Serenity sounds good (I, like you, have not seen it yet, and for similar irritating reasons), but graphic novels, to state the obvious, are a whole other form. And part of what makes the shows so good is the actors themselves — their tones of voice, their expressions — and graphic novels are not nuanced enough, with regards to character, to do that sort of thing well. They are wonderful in other ways and will bring a shift in sensibility to the franchise that could prove interesting. But it won’t be the same, and I wonder if it will fly with most fans?

We will all be projecting the actors on to the page: their expressions, their voices. Will that be enough, or will it be like a date with one of those rubber sex dolls?

By Miriam Jones on 11/20/05 at 04:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought “Once More With Feeling” was most fans’ favorite episode?  (In fact, it’s almost the only episode I know the name of, because I heard so many people talk about it.)

The sixth season seems to produce strong reactions.  Whatever was wrong with it, I don’t think you can particularly blame Marti Noxon—the seventh season was worse.

Miriam: Comic books are such a marginal genre that I don’t think it really matters whether they’re horrible.  For most people, they won’t count.  If there was a Buffy movie, and it was terrible, it would permanently damage the whole notion of Buffy, but comic books don’t have the same kind of influence.

By on 11/20/05 at 05:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

(Written with immense relief that I didn’t shut down the thread:)

Walt, I think you’re going to get some disagreement. How do you define “marginal”? Doesn’t show up on syllabi? Or, isn’t read by too many people? Because by the latter standard, comics are by no means marginal. One could even argue that their influence is growing: look at the way they have bled into the film industry.

Though perhaps for the most part, readers of graphic novels are not the same people as readers of um ... typographic novels, so comics may be marginal to the mainstream book reading public and the academy.

On the other hand, even the New York Times Magazine has taken to publishing a graphic serial. Can Armageddon be far behind?

By Miriam Jones on 11/20/05 at 05:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My comment had nothing to do with academics.  For all I know, all major universities now offer degree programs in comics.  But from everything I’ve heard, sales of comics (other than manga) have steadily fallen for years.  While they do provide raw material for movies, comics do not have much direct influence on perceptions.  For example, consider the current Batman comics.  Suppose they’re unbelievably horrible.  Does this have any impact on whether or not they make another Batman movie?

By on 11/20/05 at 07:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

There are some movies for which graphic novels do indeed influence perceptions. Kill Bill and Sin City would not exist without their particular sources, but neither would they without the graphic sensibility itself.

Of course, that could just be Tarantino.

And while the Batman comics could go to hell in a hand basket tomorrow and not affect the continence of the movie franchise, they had to have been evocative at some point, surely?

By Miriam Jones on 11/20/05 at 08:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, I’m thinking of the general case of fan pander. I don’t know Whedon’s work at all, except by hearsay (although some of it comes via a former Buffy writer).

By Carlos on 11/20/05 at 10:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree that graphic novels can have an indirect effect.  Batman: Dark Knight Returns was clearly influential for all subsequent Batman movies.  But the effect is indirect.

I was actually more thinking along the lines of canon formation, and the way a sequel can affect one’s opinion of the original.  For example, even though the Star Trek animated series had the voices of the original actors, it had (with the possible exception of one episode) very little influence on how fans perceive the Star Trek universe—it never became a clear part of the canon.  The same is true of a Buffy graphic novel.  If in the graphic novel Willow repudiates lesbianism and dons a burka, this won’t have much effect on how the average Buffy fan views Willow.

Perhaps more importantly, even if it’s terrible, the comic can’t really ruin Buffy.  If there had been a really awful comic book set the universe of The Matrix (and for all I know, there was), this wouldn’t retrospectively taint the pleasure people derived from the original movie.  The film sequels did.

By on 11/21/05 at 01:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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