So begins the time of year when folks (hopefully) take a break, sit back, and think about the year–what they’ve accomplished, consider their challenges, revisit failures. It’s this odd time of year that we are told is one of the happiest times — Christmas is next week, my inner 6 year old screams — but I always find it kind of sad, somehow, wondering, “Already?”
When it comes to comics, this has been a decidedly rough year for me. I went and saw The Hobbit on Sunday and part of me realizes that that film is almost an analog for my experience of 2012 — there were certain themes and expectations that I had of both, in a strange way.
For those of you refusing to leave the comfy rock you’ve been living beneath, there is a big to-do about The Hobbit‘s use of HFR — High Frame Rate. The ability to play movies back at 48 frames per second is an expression of director Peter Jackson’s belief that modern movies can be improved by pushing technologies to exhibit films in ways that were previously impossible. The higher frame rate was supposed to bring us closer to the movie, the smoother images providing our brain with deeper experiences, add clarity and depth to the images and bringing us into the story.
In the comic book world, we saw digital comics really take hold. With DC and other publishers having already taken the plunge, we saw Marvel embrace digital comics more aggressively. We’ve seen companies like Madefire go further, moving away from the page construct and adding sound and animation. Marvel upped the ante by offering an application that users, er, readers could use while reading the printed comic to animate panels, with the hopes of providing deeper experiences, adding clarity and depth to the images, bringing us into the story.
In 2012, attempts were made to go beyond the hitherto unrealized limitations of media, using technology to add different layers — and more complexity — to our content, which allowed the creators of said media to take charge more for their presentation, citing words like “experience” and “portability” and “availability”.
Now, for my part, I found the HFR-ness in The Hobbit to be akin to my experiences with digital comics in some regards. There were some parts of the movie, admittedly when I forgot about the HFR itself, that I found incredibly effective. Some scenes were just magical. In other scenes the technology fell short (lateral movements of the camera, for example), and I will admit that more than once I found myself looking at the film rather than enjoying it — memories of my interactions with Marvel’s AR technology come to mind here.
We have talked before about the concept that each time we make a piece of art or content or experience more technology-based, we lose a bit of its soul. I am not sure that this is a fair statement to say about HFR in movies. If anything, it’s making the movie-going experience more faithful to real life experience — which makes me wonder, is that really what people want? Interestingly, I saw The Hobbit with Dolby Atmos — 64 speakers, each with its own channel, including 20 or so on the ceiling of the theater, which is only available in about 25 screens nationwide — and the sound designers actually seemed to use a fair amount of restraint with the new format. I was surprised but found it kind of cool that they resisted going overboard with the effects, though, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have minded them using a bit more — it sounded freaking amazing. And I quite like digital comics and have been an advocate for this more modern format for awhile, explaining to skeptical friends that the experience is more honest, in a way, given that most modern comics are drawn, colored and inked on a screen, so why not view it on a screen.
So, technology was, at least for me, a theme this year. And while HFR and Marvel’s AR may never take off, I am pleased to have been given the chance to see these attempts at making movies and comics more compelling for newer audiences who may not see the inherent value in going to the movies or checking out a comic book.
I first read The Hobbit when I was quite young — I want to say 8 or 9 — and I think I’ve read it at least a few times since my first outing with Bilbo Baggins. I was quite surprised (and, I admit it, dismayed) to read that that little book was going to be expanded into three movies, because I assumed there would be a lot of superfluous scenes and extended sequences that would make the movies rather cumbersome. My suspicions were correct; there are lots and lots of scenes that really didn’t need to be in the movie. The Tolkien super fans I have talked to and read have been pretty happy with the additional content (and, to be honest, I did not really mind but neither would I have minded that they were cut, so what good am I?), but the critics have really eviscerated the movie for its length.
I was overwhelmed by comic book stories this year. Usually…usually, I can deal with it. I can joke about towering stacks and plow through the books, pleased with my dedication to the art form.
This year was very different. This year, there were stories that I just found myself getting irritated with. Stories that seemed, well, bloated and overblown, with superfluous scenes and content designed only with the destruction of my bank account in mind. Mega-events that annoyed rather than thrilled. Panel after panel of fighting with no real stakes. Characterizations that were so off that one just had to put the book (iPad) down and wonder, what the hell is going with _____?
In previous years, I often found myself defending movies, even movies that I didn’t really love, when everyone else was ragging on them. For whatever reason, I was always defending the underdog, even when the underdog kind of pissed me off. I have been doing this a bit with The Hobbit, but not too strenuously. Same with comics. I just don’t care as much, to be honest. People like what they like, fine — I want people to like stuff, but I don’t need them to anymore, you know?
Ever since I have gotten my comics digitally, my life has gotten easier, but I have missed out on the vital debates about comics at my comic book shop. (I think I even wrote about that awhile ago.) I have also been really bad about reading my comics “on time” — it’s like watching TV now. Other than one or two shows (Homeland and The Walking Dead), I really don’t know when anything on TV actually airs, the episodes just go into the DVR folder and I watch them when I get to them. The same thing has been happening with comics — even with having my collections on my iPad, I have no idea what’s “now” in comics. And now sadly, the same thing has been happening with movies — I just find myself not going more than going and I am missing out on the fun conversations and debates. Even with The Hobbit, I was going for the technology as much as I was for the story, which seems kind of sad and ridiculous as I write this. (Once a nerd…) But that’s kind of how I am used to getting my stories these days — it’s very much a solitary kind of thing. I hope that changes.
Finally, I had to fight the feeling of “been there, done that” a lot this year with comics, which is the same feeling I had while watching The Hobbit. Now, to be clear, it was great to return to the Shire — still quite comfortable and cute — and it was fun to see so many characters I had not seen since 2003 (yes, 2003). At the same time, I found myself thinking, “wow, ___ looks kind of old” and “oh, here’s that place again.” This feeling, this theme…this the one that scares me the most, dear reader. While there have been some changes in mainstream comics, especially with marquee characters, I would argue that many of these changes have felt forced, or just…not right. And some of the characters who haven’t changed, like Batman, a character I love, I read some of the stories and as good as they are, I find myself thinking just…it’s like, I’ve been there…I get it.
Now, to be clear, there have been some truly amazing books that have come out this year and in the weeks to come the iFanboy staff will be discussing them, highlighting issues, covers, writers and artists that have made a mark in 2012.
Sadly, I will not be one of them. I took a deep breath and thought about it and realized that I really had no right to do so. I was not a reliable comic book fan this year and you have no idea how much it pains me to admit that to you.
And while I am sad, I am taking it as an opportunity to pour over all of the stellar articles that are coming your way, to find out what I missed so I can go back over the year and re-engage. It’s kind of a cool opportunity and I am excited about it. It will also help give me the inspiration to plow into 2013, bracing myself for the good and the bad in comics — which I bet the next installment of The Hobbit will have as well.
So, it’s that time of year, this week before Christmas, giving us the time to take a break and relax. You won’t hear from me for a little bit, so I want to wish you and yours a happy holiday and a fantastic New Year!
See ya on the flip-side!