Monday, July 5, 2010

KaraokeFanboy 202

One hundred posts ago, I offered a "KaraokeFanboy 101," an autobiographical, introductory course to the tenants that motivate me -- and oftentimes, my blogging. Since this is my 202nd post here, I feel compelled to offer the next lesson. While "KaraokeFanboy 101" referenced my internal motivations, let's examine my external influences, specifically the two halves of my on-line moniker: karaoke + fanboy, which really entail my love of music + comic books. I discuss these media often enough, but what draws me to them, and to liking specific genres and works within them? Since I often don't think about my beloved hobbies in the big picture, enjoy this, yet another exercise in self-indulgence, disguised as introspective tutorial.

Fortunately, music and comics share a few mutual characteristics that are worthy of analysis. First, both music and comics couple language with a worthy partner -- for the former, lyrics and melody, the latter, story and illustration. While both melody and illustration can obviously exist without the benefit of linear language, these linguistics still add a backbone to otherwise free-floating art, which in turn adds connection between potentially misconstrued or disconnected ideas. I like free association as much as a the next scatter-brained Joe, but even the illusion of language helps keep these genres on the ground, from the shrieking in Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky" (an ironic title in this context) to the sound effects in a dialogue-free comic book slugfest. Simple as it seems, words always help say something.

Further, the economy of words has always impressed me -- a work's ability to say a lot, or at least just enough, with a little. Consider one of my favorite Face to Face songs, "Lost," a four minute, fifteen second tune: "And all I thought I want I lost it all tonight./ Do you know there's only so much you control?/ You can try to save my soul if you like but I'm sure this time it's no different." This song can be about breaking up, spiritual depression, even losing a job -- in three simple sentences, it sums up a feeling of aimlessness perfectly. On a lighter note, my favorite Incubus song is "Are You In?" Its lyrics: "It's so much better when everyone is in. Are you in?/ It's so much easier when sea foam green is in fashion." What a flippant but effective way to inspire an apathetic friend, for -- what? The beauty of this simple song is the listener supplies what everyone is in for! See, in this case, it's my convincing you how less is more!

Comics function a little differently. Some stories can last for all of a few panels, other times they could take a year or more to finish between dozens of titles and issues. I don't like those stories. An effective single issue tale is my favorite, or, if a series is complete, a concise graphic novel collection, like Preacher or Transmetropolitan. Consider Batman, who was dramatically changed in Frank Miller's 1986 classic The Dark Knight Returns. In four prestige format issues, Miller unraveled decades of convoluted character development, pressing reset for future writers and artists. Unfortunately, these writers and artists, including Frank Miller himself, need years to make a mark even remotely similar now, with story's involving breaking Batman's back, to rocking Gotham City in an earthquake, to accusing Bruce Wayne of murder. Grant Morrison is coming close with his long-winded run, from "Batman and Son" to "The Return of Bruce Wayne," but I long for the days when Alan Grant could tell a multifaceted tale in two issues of Detective Comics. My wallet does, too.

Finally, if I haven't completely excluded you from the discussion with my fanboy-centric comics talk, that's just my final point -- I prefer works that allow an outsider to jump in without fear of context or history, and good music and comics do that. I'll start with comics in this case, as those multi-issue arcs are the worst example of introductory issues for new readers -- in fact, once those stories are finally over, publishers often emblazon the next issue with "New Story Arc" or "Great Jumping On Point" blurbs to encourage a new wave of readership. If I can't hand a young person your comic book, with the assumption that any issue could be someone's first, something is a little lacking. Marvel has recently included title pages with synopses and character descriptions in every issue, which certainly helps, and to be fair not every mainstream comic book suffers from this trend. Alas, when characters like Iron Man and Hellboy are now as common household names as Batman and Spider-man, one would hope their native medium would be as approachable as the big screen projects that made their appeal possible.

Interestingly, I approach music the same way, from a linear perspective, with a daunting need to understand what came before. If I'm interested in a musical artist, I feel I should know their work chronologically, versus just jumping aboard from the song or album that peaked my interest. This inclination is cumbersome but fully integrated, I'm afraid, which has consequently bred a closed-mindedness to new music unless I muster the willpower to pick up an artist's complete discography. Granted, I'm slowly coming out of this funk, thanks to singles I've heard from The Weakerthans, Bedouin Soundclash, and The Holloways, but my lifelong favorites like The Monkees or David Gray are only so because I'm intimately familiar with their entire careers. I suppose it only took one song to make that possible at some point, right?

So, to summarize, I like music and comics that use language, use language economically, and in a way that allows easy approachability. Considering these traits, it's safe to say that "KaraokeFanboy" was born because of how easily one can participate in and contribute to these media once wholly immersed in them. Karaoke is a given -- since my brother inherited all of the music prowess the chemistry of our parents has to offer, simply singing along to my favorite songs in public is enough for me, and easy, too! Comics require a bit more dedication, but combining story with illustration is a great way to process one's intake of pop culture as a whole (for example, my latest Amazing Arizona Comics). See, without participation, music and comics are just media. As I've tried to contribute to them in my small way, they've now become art. I've found self-esteem in graduating from audience to artist. Like in any on-line moniker, it's become an identity -- one that, despite any centennially intermittent blogpost, I'm always eager to understand more.

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