Monday, October 31, 2005

The doctor of high concept; or, how I learned to stop worrying and love AiT-Planet Lar

I don't know where everyone else is, either. I'll just do my part, I suppose.

I'm not going to review Full Moon Fever and Sunset City in the traditional sense, because the first one has been out for a while and the other one, while it just came out, has already gotten reviewed elsewhere. Suffice it to say that for $12.95 (for the first one) and $9.95 (for the second), they're well worth your doubloons.

No, I want to talk more about the glorious little corner of the comics universe that is Larry and Mimi's Wacky World. I have talked about it before, but it's been a while, so there's no reason not to talk about it again, especially because these two books are newly out and worth a look.

Larry has mastered the idea of "high concept," as anyone who has read Full Moon Fever or read a review of it can understand. Anyone who reads this can sum it up in four words: "werewolves on the moon." For those of you who don't know, "high concept" comes to us from television (I think - it was probably there before it hit the movies) and means: sum it up in one sentence. Usually this means that the work being produced is "lowbrow" - the mouth-breathing troglodytes in Paducah or Poughkeepsie or Corvallis or Bakersfield or Kingman won't have to think too much while they're watching, because it's all very simplistic - a guy pretends to be gay so he can live with two girls! or rich teens in Beverly Hills whine about their lives! Of course, this is a broad generalization, and is false more often than not, but Larry has taken this concept and applied to the world of comics in a way unlike how most publishers do it. That's not to say he's the only one doing it, but he might be the most successful at it.

What do I mean? Well, let's return to Full Moon Fever. "Werewolves on the moon." The sheer lunacy (pun intended) of the idea hits you right between the eyeballs. Whatever the merits of the work, it hooks you. You want to read that story. Joe Casey and Caleb Gerard boiled it down to a simple, yet beautifully complex concept. That's the best thing about ideas - they seem so simple, yet until someone thinks of them, they're maddeningly difficult to pin down. I read somewhere that after Steve Niles came up with another brilliantly simple idea in 30 Days of Night, it was only a matter of time before someone came up with this idea. I doubt it, but that's neither here nor there. What we get in Full Moon Fever is a pitch that Larry can use to hook his audience. Try hooking anyone, even a devoted comics reader, to the mess going on in DC right now. "Well, there are these killer robots, and Wonder Woman is now a killer - she killed Maxwell Lord, who used to be a good guy, but it turned out he really wasn't, oh, and did I mention that Superman from another dimension is back - what dimension? - well, you see, it's the original Superman ..." Gaaaaaahhhhh. You lost me. Or House of M: "See, Wanda Maximoff - she's Magneto's daughter - she went nuts in the pages of Avengers and killed a bunch of 'em. Then she changed reality. Now everyone is trying change reality back, except the ones who like it that way. And Wolverine is important." I'm a pretty devoted comic book reader and my head hurts thinking about it. You'd need Cronin-esque knowledge to make sense of it!

Larry doesn't need that. Larry sells books that can be boiled down into a few simple sentences. Sunset City: An old man lives in an Arizona retirement community and realizes that just because he's old, it doesn't mean he has to stop living. Sure, it's more complicated than that, but that description is all you need to hook you. If it doesn't, well that's fair, but at least you don't have to slog through half a page of description to decide if you want it.

As I said, I'm not talking about the quality of the book - that's for each individual reader to decide. Even though I recommend them both, they both have flaws. Full Moon Fever unfolds far too much like a standard horror movie - we pretty much know who is going to die, and we're just waiting to see how it happens. Sunset City, on the other hand, goes somewhat horribly wrong with the "twist" at the end - I won't give it away, but it turns what was a thoughtful, moving examination of aging and how we can overcome our natural feelings into, well, a simple revenge fantasy. That's not to say it's not a good book - Rob Osborne is a very good artist and he's getting better as a writer, but it just seems like the ending was too silly for the rest of the book. Opinions to the contrary are welcome, of course, but that's not the point - Larry got me to buy the book, and while that's not all he cares about, it's a big part of it. He got me to buy the book because of his track record (and for me, at least, it's spotty, but at least it's interesting) and because of how he gets the word out.

Beginning with the "high concept," Larry also knows how to market the books. He reads blogs (hi, Larry!), sends out advance copies, responds to criticism, and gets involved with the reading public. Ultimately, he cares about his product and cares that the word gets out. DC and Marvel, I'm sorry to say, don't really care what you think about their product. They're too big and have too many titles, and they also know that if you don't like this iteration of, say, Teen Titans, they can shut it down and relaunch it in a year, and we'll all suck it up, because it doesn't matter who is writing or drawing it. We like the characters. Larry doesn't have that luxury. When he puts a book out, it's often the only one he puts out that month or so, and so he works the advertising and makes sure that the product he puts out at least has interest to the reading public. Like I said, there are flaws in both of these works and in other books Larry puts out, but again, that's not the point. The point is that Larry gets these books into the hands of enough people to keep the company afloat, and he publishes interesting books that spark more thought than your average DC or Marvel offering. When you read Sunset City, you think about what Osborne is saying about growing old, becoming an adult, holding onto the past too long, and not allowing someone else to define who you are and what you can do. It's not perfect, but it pushes you more than the first issue of Infinite Crisis. And that's a good thing.

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Blogger Brian Cronin said...

You put this up NOW, just after I get back?

That's pretty funny.

10/31/2005 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

When should I have put it up? I started it before I knew you were back, so there! And where the hell were you, anyway?

10/31/2005 07:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering where everybody was, too. I decided to take Erik Larsen's advice (see most recent One Fan's Opinion) and actually read some comics this weekend so, hopefully, that excuses my absence.

10/31/2005 09:19:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I was in Chicago...without internet access!

11/01/2005 03:31:00 AM  
Blogger Mo Soar said...

What I really like about the AiT/PlanetLar books is that I get something of known quality. Even when I don't care for the story (Black Diamond On-ramp, Couriers), it's STILL a good story, it's been both edited for content AND copy-edited and the production values are very high.

I read a fair number of "indie" titles and often that is just NOT the case.

But I've read a number of titles from Ait/PlanetLar that I have been very pleased with - Full Moon Fever, White Death, Codeflesh, Demo, the AiT series, Doll and Creature, True Story, Swear to God, Tales from Fish Camp, Switchblade Honey (I have Hench, 1000 Steps and Sunset City on order).

11/01/2005 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Mo - buy Scurvy Dogs. Now. It will make you snort milk out of your nose.

11/01/2005 06:00:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Scurvy Dogs am good.

11/01/2005 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Infinite Crisis would have to be "The DCU is in disarray and everyone's sad or mad about it." And House of M would be "Wanda's vagina is out of control." It doesn't get more high concept than that. :)

11/01/2005 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

If only Bendis had pitched it that way, Spencer. If only.

11/01/2005 08:11:00 PM  
Blogger Mo Soar said...

Mo - buy Scurvy Dogs. Now. It will make you snort milk out of your nose.

Greg - sonce I can't drink milk, that would be a surprising thing indeed. But I note the rec, and next time I get around to sending Khepri gobs of money, it'll be on the list.

11/01/2005 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Mo, send Larry an email with your mailing address, and he'll put one in the mail for you in honor of all your kind words at Millarworld.

11/01/2005 09:17:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

See, Mo, how cool Larry and Mimi are? And that's the point - Scurvy Dogs is SO FUNNY milk will shoot out of your nose even if you're not drinking it!

11/01/2005 10:42:00 PM  
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