Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Art by Moebius
Taking in pretty much everything from art house flick Hard to be a God to the comedy stylings of Nathan for You we go deep with Moebius and Alejandro “Jodz” Jodorowsky’s seminal classic The Incal. Tricky questions to keep us up include: what is a story? Who put The Smiths on a loop? And why anyone would want to watch a movie where the main character spends three minutes playing a musical instrument? The answers lie within…
Ok. Simple question – what is a story?
I would get all best man’s speech on you and go “Webster’s dictionary defines a story as”: only well – it’s not that helpful. I mean – “an account of incidents or events”? Or “the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work”: yeah sure ok – but it doesn’t really get you very far does it?
I mean: yeah:
Jane woke up. She had some breakfast (eggs and toast). She took a walk to the shops. She brought a newspaper. She saw her friend Mary. They had a talk about the weather. Then Jane went home. It was a good day.
– you could say that’s a story. And technically it counts. But well you know: I don’t think you’d be wrong if you said – I mean: it’s not really a story. Right?
The other day I was doing some random internetting just looking for something to read and I came across this article with a picture from Citizen Kane and the headline: “How the Brain Reacts to Scrambled Stories” and I was all like: ooooooh!
Actually reading it – it was a bit meh (and I didn’t even get to the end): but there was one bit that stuck in my head:
some theorists consider three elements to be the “tripod” of any compelling story: suspense, curiosity, and surprise.
Which yeah – is interesting – no? (Even if – ha! – I mean it’s probably not true. Because erm yeah – which “theorists” when and where?).
But still: it got me thinking – like: a few weeks ago on the recommendation of a friend (hey Adam!) I watched this much-acclaimed film called Hard to be a God. I mean: black and white Russian sci-fi: sounds like an enticing combination right? Especially when there’s quotes kicking around like “One of the greatest movies to be released this year and perhaps any other.” I mean: sitting down to watch it with a bucket of popcorn and a cold coke: I was very much game to was totally into having it do it’s thing on me (whatever that thing might be).
30 minutes into it – I’d had enough and turned it off.
Of course this probably makes me somesort of uncultured uncouth philistine: but man – trying to explain why I gave up on it: the simplest explanation I can think of is that – yeah: it didn’t really seem like it had much of a story you know? Oh – did I mention that it’s like 3 hours long? Because yeah I think that’s important. Because man yeah – the difference between a story and a story (or maybe just the difference between something like the Jane story above – which yeah – is an account of incidents and events: but not much more and – I dunno – Jaws or Scott Pilgrim or whatever: that’s like a good story: or a story I want to hear / listen to / read / experience).
It’s like with art you know? The interesting question isn’t “what is art” the interesting question (at least for me) is: what is good art? (You know?).
If you think that I’ve been reading and watching too many Alan Moore interviews: I mean yeah – you’re probably right. But more and more I’ve kinda starting to believe that a story (and other stuf like songs) is basically like a spell. You need the right conditions to have it work (so please no distractions and put your mobile phones away) and then it puts your mind into a different state. So that these words and pictures become real to you and you share in with their adventures. It’s the difference between watching a film all the way through – or having it be interrupted by the 10 o’clock news (wait – is that still a thing that happens?): it’s not the same if you don’t let it take you over properly…
(Where am I going with this / am I ever going to start talking about the Incal? Yes. Probably. In a bit. Stay with me).
Hard to be a God. I mean – yeah: it did not seem the least bit interested in having me fall under it’s spell. I mean – there’s this like 3 minute bit of this guy playing some strange kinda flute thing right at the start which um didn’t bode well at all. Because really all I could think of was – why is this film showing me this? You know: at the start of a thing (in order for the spell to work properly) I need my curiosity stirred up a little right? What is this world? Who are these people? What’s going on? I need drips of information and the sense that we’re going somewhere: and come on: some sort of structure – or at least the pretense that there is some structure there…. I mean: if it’s just Jane walking to the shops for 10 minutes. I mean: yawn. That – to me – is boring. Why should I care you know? I want a reason to care (in fact I almost put that in caps: because yeah: that’s the important bit – I WANT A REASON TO CARE).
And yeah – The Incal. Well yeah – The Incal.
I mean Moebius. Yeah. He draws good. And Jodorowsky is always good value? (I remember sitting in a Hoxton bar where they had 10 minutes of Holy Mountain on a loop which was pretty good lols). But I guess the point I’m trying to get to is that – I mean: am much as I know I’m supposed to like it. As much as I know it’s high comics royalty. Ever time I try to read it – I just can’t fall under it’s spell: and my best guess is that it’s approach to storytelling is less: structure and building up a world that hangs together (I mean – I know that there’s lots of robots and mutants and bergs and whatever in The Incal: but it’s not into world-building in the same way as Halo Jones or whatever you know?): and yeah – I mean: in a phrase: it’s less like reading a story and more like reading a dream.
In fact – oh man: if I had to sum up in the Incal in a word then yeah: dream-like. In the way that it’s attention just wanders from one place to the other: and everything just connects kinda loosely. Which man – kinda makes it tough to really get into – right?
Oh maybe I’m just talking crazy.
What do you think?
Hi Joel, all,
When I teach creative writing, I devote the first couple of classes to defining things like “story,” “fiction,” “narrative,” and so on. So this is a matter I’ve spent some time thinking about and I guess I’ll share some of those thoughts here. Feel free to tune me out.
“Story” is a pretty vague concept and people use it in a lot of different ways. You could look at the most recent issue of Harper’s and read my friend Jeremy M. Davies’s wonderful short story “My Diagnosis,” or we could talk about whether Hard to Be a God tells a story (spoiler: it does), or I could tell you a story about what happened to me on the train yesterday. And so on.
One thing all stories have in common is that they’re narrative, although that just raises the question “What does ‘narrative’ mean?” Here’s how I understand it: “Narration is the recounting of a sequence of causal events by a narrator.” I say “sequence of causal events” because people don’t usually consider unrelated events to comprise a story:
“Jane feared the canned tuna was spoiled. Somewhere a bear is suffering from a broken tooth. The flower you bought me yesterday is already wilting. James Polk secretly never wanted to be president.”
We might think there’s a poetic relationship between these sentences—they share a pessimistic mood, they all deal with nature in some way—but they don’t seem to be causally related, so this paragraph isn’t narrative, and it isn’t a story. (But we can easily make it narrative by linking a detail that links these events: “The evil scientist built a machine that caused bears’ teeth to break, and flowers to wilt. It was an improvement on her earlier machine, which had made James Polk doubt his leadership ability, and women suspect that tuna wasn’t safe to eat.”)
So, narrative = a series of causal events. One way you often hear this put is that “The King died and then the Queen died” isn’t narrative, but “The King died and then the Queen died of grief” is. And Joel, your example touches on this in its own way: you’re describing the events of the character’s day, but they just follow one another, the way events in life so often do: “one damned thing after another.” Narrative tends to cut to the quick: direct causality.
As for the other half, “recounted by a narrator” means that stories are always told to us by some agent or group of agents. Novels, for instance, have narrators, which can be omniscient or limited in their knowledge, and which can be participants in the events, or standing outside them. The narrator can be speaking as the events unfold, or speaking from some later point. And there can be more than one narrator. And narrators can call attention to themselves and their narration (diegesis), or they can conceal themselves, and make it look as though we’re experiencing the recounted events directly (mimesis).
But however it’s done, someone or something is mediating our access to the events: putting them in some order, governing how much access we have to them, and possibly also commenting on them. And that gets into the issue that stories tend to have beginnings, middles, and ends: narrators control when the narration starts, and when it stops. (As the great narrative theorist of cinema David Bordwell has put it, stories tend to begin and end, not start and stop. He and Kristin Thompson say much more about this in Film Art. And one of the issues that interests me when it comes to narration is how beginnings and endings work, and how stories are structured around them, or between them. Part of my interest in the literary critic Viktor Shklovsky relates to this, as he wrote frequently on this topic. I wrote a bunch of stuff about this at HTMLGIANT, though maybe I bungled it—it’s been a while since I reviewed it, and I think I know a lot more about these issues now than I did then.)
Beyond this, different media permit different types of stories. Put another way, how a story is told depends on the material of the medium (what people sometimes call “medium specificity”). When writing a short story, you have language at your disposal. (Here Shklovsky is really useful.) When making a comic, you have language and pictures, and the pictures tend to be in panels, or on separate pages. (Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics provides a great analysis of this.) When making a movie, you have the shot and the ability to relate shots to one another via editing. (Bordwell and Thompson are great on this.) And so on. Painting can be narrative, but then you usually have only a single image, bound by a frame. Music can also be narrative, and music with lyrics can also be narrative. Poetry can also be narrative. But in each case, one has to work with the materials of the given medium, and those materials limit what you can do. If you make a narrative painting, you have a single image to work with. If you make a narrative comic, you have multiple panels to work with. Etc.
This is just a theoretical account of narrative, and you’re right, Joel, that it doesn’t begin to address the question of what makes for a good story, which is a separate issue. I’ve recently been reading the aesthetic philosopher Stanley Cavell—in particular, his 1960s essays “Music Discomposed” and “A Matter of Meaning It”—and he makes roughly that point in his response to Monroe Beardsley (and this is a very loose paraphrase): that while to be sure music is a sequence of sounds, what we really care about is the manner in which those sounds are organized. But before we ask what makes a good story, I do think we need to have some concept of what a story is. And I should add that the above is one stab at defining all of this, and pressure can be applied to all of the things I’ve said. This is just how I’d go about defining things in a 200-level class, to help undergrads begin getting a picture of the subject. Many theorists and scholars have taken issue with all of these issues, and written very many articles and books that complicate them. But we have to start somewhere, and what I’ve written here tends to be a pretty standard account in English studies.
Now on to Hard to Be a God, and I apologize that I’m talking about that film, rather than the comic under discussion. But I haven’t read the comic, and Joel did bring up the movie, which I originally recommended that he watch. For anyone who isn’t interested in Hard to Be a God, please feel free to stop reading here, because it’s all I’m going to talk about for the remainder of this email.
Joel, you’ve said quite a few things about the film, but I gather that your basic complaint boils down to two points:
1. You didn’t think the movie interested in telling a story. (This is a question of whether it’s narrative or not.)
2. You couldn’t get interested in it, so you turned it off after 30 minutes. (This is maybe a question of whether it’s a good film or not.)
Regarding the first point, I can assure you that Hard to Be a God is a narrative film. It dedicates its three hours to recounting a series of causal events. Indeed, Hard to Be a God is an extremely narrative film that recounts a great many events. It even has a voice-over narrator, who gives you exposition in voice over. (I won’t spend any time here getting into how the camera is also a narrator, presenting a diegesis, but I will say that I’m really interested in how HtBaG uses the camera. Jeremy and I are planning to record a podcast on the film, and maybe we can say more about this there.)
What is going on in this story that I swear is in the film? The basic gist is that it’s taking place in the future. Earth has become a communist paradise, and the Soviet Union is now sending people into space to observe other planets, and see whether or not their cultures are evolving toward communism. In this way it’s not unlike Star Trek, whose Federation bops about from planet to planet, observing developing worlds, and asking whether they’re ready to join the Federation. And just like in Star Trek, the cosmonauts in HtBaG have a kind of Prime Directive: they can observe, but they can’t interfere. So they go live on these alien worlds, and do research and report home to their organization, but they can’t do anything that would severely impact the world.
So, HtBaG is essentially communist Star Trek (and the novel is from the 1960s, and belongs to the trend of SF writing from that time period that produced shows like Star Trek, not that Trek today remembers anything of its origin). (Oh, and Ursula K. Le Guin thought highly of the novel— “A thoroughly good book…robust, imaginative, satisfying”—which is another reason why I thought it might interest you.)
The narrative conflict in HtBaG arises when our heroes notice that one world isn’t developing the way it should. It’s stuck in the Middle Ages, and its feudalism isn’t giving way to capitalism, meaning it won’t also give way to communism. (And you might think this silly, but it’s a standard conceit in SF to take a nation’s economic development and extend it into the future—those of us raised under capitalism take that economic system so much for granted that we don’t bat an eye when an SF film depicts a future caught in a later stage of capitalism.) So they begin to wonder what’s preventing history from developing as it should. And without getting into spoilers, it comes down to someone else on the planet interfering, which raises the question of whether our heroes should violate their Prime Directive and interfere themselves, to set history back on track.
Beyond this, I guess I should note that the novel and film are both somewhat allegorical, and about the relationship between the USSR and the US. Because they planet that isn’t developing properly is a stand-in for the US, which is mockingly portrayed as a barbaric place that’s stuck in history. And the question is whether the USSR should intervene in US history, and set it on course toward communism. Which is another wayHtBaG is like Star Trek, in that it’s portraying the US/Soviet relationship not unlike how Trek used, say, Klingons to stand in as (barbarous) Russians—but it’s turned things around and is presenting it from the Soviet side.
So that’s the gist of the story, and I assure you that I’m not making any of this up, and that it’s all in there, though you might have to watch the whole film to actually see that. I’m sorry such a complex work didn’t make itself immediately obvious in its first ten minutes.
Your second issue is that you were bored, and there I can’t help as much, because I think that to some extent that’s a personal problem. Lord knows there are many times I’ve started watching something, not gotten into it, turned it off, then gone back to it at some later date and found it fascinating. So many external factors are at play here that it’s hard to say whether the fault is in the artwork or in ourselves. But you seem determined to locate the fault in the artwork: you say the film did nothing to interest you in its story.
Well, a few problems here. One, since you say the film wasn’t interested in story, I suspect you were just missing the ways in which the film was, in fact, deeply interested in story. You seem to have decided for some reason that films have to tell stories or they’re, I dunno, evil or something, and I think that idea deeply problematic. There’s no good reason as far as I can see why films have to be narrative, and a lot of great films aren’t in fact narrative. But that’s not exactly relevant because HtBaG is in fact deeply narrative. The relevant question is therefore, “How are films narrative?” or “What does it mean for a film to be narrative?” Or even, “How do films tell stories?” And I don’t think there’s any one way, really. When you look at films, especially films made in different cultures and times, it turns out there are a lot of different ways—a lot of different conventions in play.
On the one hand, all narrative films have to operate within the material conditions of cinema: they have to use the medium at hand. Which as I said earlier consists, at its most basic level, of the shot and the relation of shots to one another. And that can be broken down into other elements: shots have compositions and duration. (Those two can be broken down. Composition includes things like actors and props and background scenery. And the camera can move, or remain static. And so on.) As for the relation between shots, it turns out they can be related in many different kinds of ways. 120+ years of cinema have seen many different filmmakers explore many different ways in which shots and editing can be used to tell stories. Recently one of the things that’s interested me is the debate, way back in the 1920s, between the German Expressionists (who were more concerned with composition) and the French Impressionists (who were more concerned with editing, although this is already an oversimplification). I am so interested in this debate that I want to write a book about it, looking at the theoretical issues involved, and the relevance they have for contemporary US cinema. I’ve written one essay about this topic, using Tim Burton’s Batman films to stand in for the German Expressionist-influenced side, and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films to stand in for the French Impressionist-influenced side. Maybe I will be able to publish this essay; if so, I will let you know where it appears. But my point here is that narration in cinema isn’t some simple matter. It is deeply complex, and there is a long history to how people have gone about using film to tell stories.
In regard to HtBaG, I suspect that a lot of its narrative was lost on you, Joel, because you aren’t familiar with the narrative conventions it’s employing. So before we could even begin to address whether the film is good, I think you’d need to revisit it and learn how to see the narrative. You say the story isn’t there, I say it is. If you can’t see something in an artwork that’s in fact there, then it doesn’t make any sense to me to proceed to the issue of whether the film handles that thing well. It would be like arguing whether a painting uses red well when one person is swearing there’s no red in the picture.
I will say that I know I wouldn’t have been able to understand HtBaG had I seen it at some point in my life. I would have been confused by what was going on, and why it looked different than a Hollywood film (because it is not a Hollywood film). But would I have then become bored? I don’t know. I guess I’ve always been the kind of person who, upon encountering something I don’t understand, next becomes curious about why it’s different, and why I don’t understand it. If you instead get bored, and would rather watch something else, something more familiar, what can I say other than we’re different people with different interests? But I will say that if you get bored when you encounter movies that employ different storytelling conventions than the ones you’re already used to, then I find it hard to believe that you’re deeply interested in how films tell stories. Mind you, I don’t think anyone has to be interested in such a broad topic. But if you don’t want to explore how different people have used different narrative conventions in making films, why pretend that you are? There’s nothing wrong with being interested in only what’s familiar, the stuff one is already used to. I think the problem comes more when one claims to be more interested in a subject than one really is, or pretends to be able to judge things one doesn’t know (which is what I would call pretentious). As I said over Twitter, I like beer, but I really only like imperial stouts, plus some porters and some Belgians. I know I have a limited palate, and not much interest in drinking, say, IPAs or sours. So I don’t go around telling people I’m deeply interested in beer, because I’m not. I just want to drink imperial stouts. I couldn’t tell a good IPA from a bad one, and I don’t want to have to drink them to learn to appreciate that difference. I know it’s hard for white guys on the internet to hear this sometimes, but they really don’t have to be experts on everything 🙂
It might help to know that the movie’s director, Aleksei German, belongs to a generation of Soviet filmmakers who were deeply interested in long takes, and using slowly shifting compositions to tell stories. Here I am already at the limit of my knowledge, but I know this was “a thing” in the 1950s through 1970s. Andrei Tarkovsky, who was German’s colleague. In Hungary, Miklos Jancso was interested in similar issues, and there was also interest in French cinema. This is something I plan to research further. And this isn’t to say that German wasn’t interested in editing. But he tried doing storytelling through long takes, much like Alfonso Cuaron (whom I know was influenced by Jancso). This is still something I’m learning about myself. Perhaps what I’ve written here sounds ridiculous to someone who genuinely knows something about this topic?
You ask why anyone would want to watch a movie where the main character spends three minutes playing a musical instrument. (And yet you liked Whiplash?) You make this argument in a way that implies the answer is self-evident, and that the film was wasting time instead of giving you the delicious story that you crave. I think what you’re really missing is direct exposition delivered via dialogue, which is how most Hollywood movies and TV shows tend to deliver narrative information—it’s how Doctor Who, for instance, delivers all its information. (You could watch it with your eyes closed and still follow the story.) And if that’s all you think narrative is, then HtBaG isn’t going to satisfy you. But while you’re getting annoyed at the lack of informative speech, you’re missing all the other ways in which the scene is delivering story info.
The character in question, Don Rumata, picks up the instrument at 7:22. He doesn’t begin playing right away, but spends some time cleaning it, and poking around his home. He plays the first note at 8:22, then plays on and off until 10:45. So I guess that’s three minutes total, though the scene is much longer, and a lot of other things are happening during that time, all of which further the story and raise interesting questions.
First of all, Rumata wanders around as he plays, and this allows the camera, which is following him, to show us his living space, which is a mixture of opulence and squalor: Don Rumata is obviously well off, but he’s also living like a pig (and the scene opens when he wakes up, very groggy and perhaps suffering from a hangover). This is defining his character to some extent. He also has servants, many of whom are in shackles. Why is that? Is he cruel? Is he kind? Is he forced to have slaves because of the planet he’s on, where he must observe but not interfere? And there’s another issue here, which is related to Don Rumata’s slovenly appearance: he’s feeling restless, and is becoming annoyed with his mission. This is why he plays so fitfully, and keeps getting distracted by his environment. This is character building, and since he’s the protagonist of the film, it’s obviously important stuff.
His servants, meanwhile, can’t stand the music he plays—and why not? They think it sounds like noise, though it’s clearly music to us, the viewers. This begins to get at the film’s central concern about cultural progress. The servants, being stuck in the Middle Age, can’t even hear the music (the jazz) as music: it just sounds like noise to them. This is communicating the film’s central problem, about how their culture is stuck in time. (As it turns out later, someone is kidnapping and executing all artists on the planet, which is one of the reasons why no one there appreciates the arts, and why the culture is stuck. So you see, I tried recommending to you a science-fiction film in which the plot revolves around a villain executing artists and thereby preventing communism from coming about, and you turned it off because you were bored. I guess life has a sense of humor, after all.)
Another relevant question is, how is Don Rumata able to play that music, especially on that instrument? (My friend Tom brought this up on Twitter.) The answer is that Don Rumata and his instrument aren’t what they seem: he’s an alien visitor, not an actual nobleman on the planet. (He’s impersonating a nobleman.) And a lot of his technology is disguised so he can fit in. His instrument, his cloak—being an observer requires the Earthlings to make their advanced technology look primitive. And this gets at a deeper question in the film, which turns out to be very much about appearances. The opening voice-over narration, for instace, tells us that what we’re seeing isn’t Earth, even though it looks like Earth. And there’s a lot more in the film about all of this, and maybe you’ll experience it someday if you decide to return to it and watch it. (I suppose it’s also worth pointing out here that the movie is in Russian, which I don’t speak, which is unfortunate, because I have to rely on the subtitles to understand what’s going on. And no doubt that limits my understanding to some extent, because there’s only so much that subtitles can do. I’ve learned it helps to be a bit patient with foreign films.)
So that’s some of what’s going on in those three minutes that you found so boring and pointless and nonnarrative.
… I suppose I should also say something here about the difference between American/British and European cinema, which I’ve already touched on to some extent. David Bordwell has written a great deal on this and he’s a better source for it than I am, and I’ve already recommended his writing to you. For instance, in Narration in the Fiction Film (which is sadly out of print), Bordwell analyzes how Hollywood films tend to be front-loaded with exposition, devoting their first fifteen minutes of so to establishing who the protagonist is, what the crisis is, what has to be done to solve the crisis (the goal), and what the deadline for solving that crisis is. But European film tends to work differently, delaying exposition for much longer. Indeed, part of the pleasure of watching a European film comes from seeing how long the exposition can be delayed. I don’t think either way is necessarily better or worse (and there are other traditions besides this). It all depends on how something is done, and how it relates to other artworks.
Well, there are a lot of different ways of telling stories in films! It turns out that humans are endlessly creative and clever, which I think a good thing. Although at the same time, people get used to certain conventions because of the accident of birth: one grows up thinking those conventions natural and correct—this is part of what it means to be indoctrinated in a particular ideology. But if you or I had been born in the USSR in the 1950s, we would have grown up watching different movies, and getting used to different conventions, and then who knows? Maybe Hollywood movies like The Thing and Die Hard would look strange and confusing to us. Luckily, though, we global consumers of the 21st Century don’t have to choose; thanks to things like the internet, we can experience a lot of different kinds of movies, and if we’re patient and curious and open-minded, then we can try getting used to the differences. Like, for instance, my friend Justin recently made me look at an Ugandan action film, which struck me as very strange.
But I’m curious about why it looks the way it does. So instead of giving it thirty minutes and then turning it off and calling it crap, I’ve decided to try taking the film seriously, as well as watching some others like it, and try to figure out what’s going on, because I want to learn about this odd cinema. (I’m embarrassed by the fact that I know next-to-nothing about African cinema in general.) This is how I learned about a lot of other cinemas that once seemed strange to me, like Japanese cinema, and Hong Kong cinema, and silent French cinema, and German Expressionist cinema, and experimental / avant-garde cinema made in the US in the 1950s and ’60s. (And despite all the movies I’ve seen, there are still periods and places I know very little about.)
Along those lines, I remember very well that European movies looked strange and confusing to me when I first started watching them. But after a while I got used to their conventions (which really aren’t all that strange or different, in the end), and personally I’m very glad I did, because I like a lot of those movies. Some of them are great, and some of them are so-so, and some of them are bad, just like with any other type of cinema. But to reject them out of hand because they’re unfamiliar seems to me a loss. But … to each his own cinema! Everyone is entitled to his and her opinion. Me, I think HtBaG is a great film, though I understand it isn’t for all tastes. I don’t think anyone is obliged to enjoy it as much as I do. Though I do think people should give it a chance. I love Hollywood—I’m right now trying to finish writing a book about contemporary Hollywood fantasy cinema, which I love very much in its own dialogue-heavy and exposition-heavy way—but there’s a lot more to the movies and to storytelling besides that!
“its feudalism isn’t giving way to capitalism, meaning it won’t also give way to communism. (And you might think this silly, but it’s a standard conceit in SF to take a nation’s economic development and extend it into the future—those of us raised under capitalism take that economic system so much for granted that we don’t bat an eye when an SF film depicts a future caught in a later stage of capitalism.)”
Not seen Hard to be a God, but it’s not surprising, coming from a Soviet country to hear that being put forward – Historicism (correct word?) is a key tenet of Marxism.
“It might help to know that the movie’s director, Aleksei German, belongs to a generation of Soviet filmmakers who were deeply interested in long takes, and using slowly shifting compositions to tell stories. Here I am already at the limit of my knowledge, but I know this was “a thing” in the 1950s through 1970s. Andrei Tarkovsky, who was German’s colleague. In Hungary, Miklos Jancso was interested in similar issues, and there was also interest in French cinema. This is something I plan to research further.”
Be interested to read your research if you do write this. You can also see this in Kubrick and Scorcese. Scorcese once said that something happens on screen when you linger on a shot – first you are interested, then you become bored, but after a while something strange happens that makes you once again pay attention to what’s going on screen and invest it with meaning.
As I’ve got older I’ve definitely learned to appreciate long takes, and slower editing. One thing that annoyed me so much about the new Star Wars was that, towards the end the cuts between scenes can’t have been longer than a minute, minute and a half long. There was no time to invest in the characters or really give a sh*t that they killed a whole planet.
“Jane feared the canned tuna was spoiled. Somewhere a bear is suffering from a broken tooth. The flower you bought me yesterday is already wilting. James Polk secretly never wanted to be president.”This sounds like linguistic equivalent of one of the differences between Japanese and Western sequentials. Japanese manga will often have sequentials that go aspect to aspect, rather than action to action – so you could quite literally have those last few sentences as comic panels (Not sure how it works for Japanese, but the Chinese language doesn’t have a true linguistic concept of tense, but linguistic particles that show aspect). Does this mean that these scenes in Japanese comics do not have a narrative?
also – what about compendia films, like the Simpsons episode which meanders through non causal events in the characters lives?
One of the things I think is interesting about modern “360 media” is what I see as the potential breaking down of that strictly causal structure. JJ Abrams is most definitely ahead of the field with the kinds of Viral stuff they used to promote Cloverfield. But this is most encapsulated in VR, whereby modern directors are having real troubles transferring film into the VR medium – the free range of movement and the strictly linear narrative structure of film means they have to use clunky “event” or “attention” based cues to get viewers to pay attention to something the director wants. This is a major problem for VR – that it lends itself to non linear strictly causal narratives.
Just want to come back to Joel’s original frustration with The Incal. Curious thing for me is that (like a lot of Jodo stuff) there is a superabundance of narrative in the book – John DiFool constantly stumbling thru quest after quest. And yet it’s strangely unsatisfying because (as Joel says) there’s no overall structure to these narratives. They are little more than excuses to give Möebius cool things to draw. In fact ircc because things get so convoluted towards the end, Jodo settles for invoking a fourth wall breaking deus ex machina as a way to wrap things up. (I hope I’m not getting this muddled up with Battlestar Galactica…)
That superfluity of narrative at the expense of any ~deeper~ meaning reminds me of Carey / Gross’s the Unwritten (which Joel does like I think?), or smth like Grant Morrison’s the Invisibles. I’ll grant that other ppl hve gotten something profound out of those comics, but I’ve found it easiest to engage with them on q a superficial level – the narrative zooming past in exciting patterns without taking the time to pause, reflect, add significance (that Scorsese thing above about how holding on an image inevitably imbues it with meaning). Actually, that description isn’t always fair – there are individual issues of The Unwritten espesh that lend themselves to close reading and excavation. But a lot of it is just narrative gymnastics for me, and the Incal is no different in that respect.
Which leads me on to think that this sort of hyper-compressed velocity wrt storytelling is smth comics as a form can do quite well. It’s partly the strictures of the production process, which doesn’t give you the time to write pages of dialogue or the space for embellishments. So your forced to start slicing away at the inessentials and cramming beats into your allotted pages. And why worry, when with an artist like Möebius, yr gonna wanna push him headlong into as many places as possible.
My take on the Incal is that it is Jodo at play. The thing took years and years to make, and throughout he was just firing off ideas w/o overly worrying about the shape the story will end up having once it’s packaged into one volume. This is in marked contrast to The Holy Mountain and particularly The Mole, which are less riotously expansive and more linear – particularly the latter, which I did manage to start digging into for significance. Perhaps the single-minded focus required to direct, design and act in those films was an incentive to add layers under a single plot, rather than just keep adding more and more plot.
The above is a long way of saying that the Incal is fun stuff, but Jodo’s masterpieces are found elsewhere.
Wow. Thanks for the words! 🙂 I’ll admit that I feel a little intimidated attempting to respond to everything you said: but I’ll put a brave face on and try my best (will also maybe try and feed this into The Incal at some point – you know – for the sake of keeping up appearances).
When I was younger I used to say that I was into films and tv and comics and stuff: but yeah – more and more I realise that actually the thing I’m really into is story and how it works and what it does and the effects that it has on people (namely: myself): comics are an interesting way to approach stories because yeah – mostly: comics and all their potential are still pretty much virgin territory – waiting to be explored…
But for now – let’s talk Hard To Be a God instead.
So. Picking through all the things you said – and trying not to smart too much from your low blows: like reading everything you wrote I was like: man – this Joel totally sounds like an ignoramus! Why can’t he be as smart and as beautiful and as open-minded as Adam? 😀
Turning this stuff over in my head: I feel like going back to one of my favourite metaphors which is that stories are kinda like food. And that when you eat them you feel kinda good: you know – there’s a response from your body. If you’re just eating junk food or whatever – I mean: yeah sure: you get that original hit of like wow! this is amazing! but that’s just the salt and sugar rush (or to put it in other terms: it’s like when I watch a big budget Hollywood whatever and man – so many times – for the first 30 minutes I’m all like: this is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen – BEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME: and then then – by the end I’m all like – meh).
Point being: you need to eat healthy, eat your greens. Consume stories that are good for you. And you know yeah – maybe our tastes differ – but there are (I would be as bold to say) certain stories and whatever that we kinda need. Or satisfy deep parts of ourselves.
And from my perspective of healthy eating – I dunno Adam (and please know that I say this in the nicest possible way: you are a very cool guy and it’s a totally pleasure to read the stuff you write and interact with you – blah blah – kiss kiss kiss): but from where I am – it’s like you’re eating metal and trying to get me to join in: you know? “Hey Joel! I found this nice lump of lead! Get stuck in!”
I mean – I think that I’m going to blame this all on Infinite Jest and David Foster Wallace (and Mazin and Craig who both said that it’s like omg the best book eva): but man – in terms of artistic experiences – I found reading it was a slog and a chore and – uh oh – this word again – kinda boring: and yeah – basically – that was the final push that I needed to set me on the tracks of: “hey! you know what! stories should be fun and (my favourite word) entertaining!” And the whole: “yeah – you need to sit through something even if you don’t enjoy it and let it’s higher qualities do their thing or whatever” – I mean: I think that’s a lie concocted by capitalism and an industry that makes people want to feel smart (recent good example of this: oh man – have you seen The Big Short? I mean – I’m not saying it’s an actual “good movie” but it is very interesting in that it almost offers a capitalism critique (“hey guys? maybe it’s not so great that millions of people had their lives destroyed by global finance? and maybe the rich shouldn’t be allowed to get rich from that? and maybe our system doesn’t work?”) but then kinda swerves away from getting too brutal because hey you know – let’s not bum people out too much right? (Makes sense).
But yeah – apart from all that: what I found really interesting was the way it was shot. I don’t know if any of you have seen it (or seen the trailers?): but it’s all close-ups and things being a little out of focus and slightly wobbly cameras and stuff (I don’t know all the technical terms sorry). And hey – I could be totally wrong about this (and hey Adam McKay – if you want to get in touch and explain then that would be cool) but as far as I could see all of these techniques he was using were totally without any point. It didn’t help give a better sense of things. It didn’t give you any insight into any of the psychology of the characters. It didn’t even look that beautiful. So watching it I was all like: wait – why have they shot it like this?The best answer I could think of was that – hey – wait. All of this stuff creates the impression and signifies in all caps that hey miss and mr viewer: you’re watching a serious film about serious stuff. Because that’s what grown up films do right? Close-ups and out of focus and slightly wobbly cameras. And hey – it doesn’t matter if these tools and effects aren’t being used in a way that’s to any real cinematic or story-telling purpose: the purpose instead is to make you feel like you’re watching something smart.Because yeah more and more (and no offense to any humans reading this) but I feel like the things that humans pick up on are the signifiers. You know – what kind of film do you like? Oh yeah – well: I like things with long takes (sorry Jeremy it looks like I’m subtweeting you here: but I wrote this before I read what you wrote – sorry!).
Adam: I hope you don’t mind if I quote from a thing that you wrote (I told you I like reading you!):
Put another way, the fascination with the long take risks becoming entirely symptomatic, and uncritical. What makes a movie good? Long takes! How do you know which movies are the best? Why, just check which ones feature the longest takes! This is a totally dumbed-down type of film criticism, where all we need do is calculate ASL’s in order to rank all the movies ever made.
Only well – like: I don’t think this is dumbed-down criticism (well ok yeah it is): but it’s also an insight into how and why humans like the things they do. You know – it’s just a step away from “oooh – it’s got Kevin Spacey in it! I like him!” or – hey – you know: Star Wars (ooh! Lightsabers! And storm-trooper! And a thing like the Death Star! Cool!”)
I’m gonna call this my “oooh! It’s so shiny! Theory” – you know: it doesn’t really matter what the thing is and how it works. All that matters are the signifiers aka – how shiny the thing looks.
Re: How to be a God – I mean communist Star Trek sounds like one of the greatest things of all times. In fact – now that he’s finished The Force Awakens – I’m hoping that’ll be JJ’s next project (starring Leonardo DiCarpio as Captain Lenin!).
Brief aside: I can’t remember what made me think of this – but is it consistent with the rest of the Star Trek world to infer or whatever – that there’s actually a Star Trek / Federation under-class? I mean: I know that in the TV show we see it’s all starships and captains and a moneyless economy and whatever: but maybe it’s like if Google made a show about life at Google. I mean: yeah it all looks super-sweet – but on the rest of the planet there’s like billions of people living lives of poverty and quiet misery: throwing their support behind people who say that if we could just get the Vulcans to go home – maybe we could reclaim our planet for all the hard-working earth people. Etc etc.
(oh wait – it was this from Frankie Boyle: “Look at Star Trek. To us, the Federation seems benign, travelling the galaxy in a quest for knowledge. Wait a minute, though. Some planets are just holiday worlds. Umm, did they choose that, or did the Federation tell them that suddenly their whole planet was going to be washing beach towels and handing out cocktails? Is that what the USS Enterprise is flying about the galaxy looking for – new sex worlds?” read it all ! It’s really good!)
But yeah sorry – Hard to be a God.
The flute scene. (It’s three minutes huh? I mean – actually – it felt much longer): I mean yeah sure Adam: I get the things that you say. But this whole it raises interesting questions stuff. I mean: come on – I reckon you could shoot 3 minutes of anything and it would “raise interesting questions.” You could make a film of Jane walking to the shops and it could be: “Who is this Jane?” “Why is she walking to the shops?” What will she buy there?” “Will she have enough money to buy the things she wants?” “What if the shop is closed?” “Who will be working in the shop?” “Will she get on with the person who is working in the shops – or will she hate them?” “Will it rain before she gets there?” “What if she bumps into someone she knows?” “Will she have enough time to stop and talk to them?” “What kind of world is it that she lives in?” “Is it a world like our world?” “Maybe it’s a world where the Nazis won the Second World War?” “Maybe it’s a world where the Nazis won the Tenth World War?” “Maybe it’s a world that never had a World War?” “Maybe it’s a world where all that exists is Jane and the walk to the shops?” “Maybe it’s not a world at all – maybe it’s all a stage?” “Maybe it’s all a film?” “Maybe blah blah blah.”
Point being: you can show anyone anything and they will view it as an interesting story. I mean – you ever watch Nathan for You? There’s a great episode I saw recently: where in order to get around smoking laws (you can only smoke inside if it’s part of a theatrical performance): they reclassified a bar as a theatre and set up two chairs for people to come and watch the “real life theatrics.” So these two people came and sat down and watched people drinking and smoking in a bar for two hours. When they questioned them after it was done they weren’t mad or disappointed – they were like: that was great! It raised lots of interesting questions. Etc. Which yeah – is one of the best take-downs I’ve ever seen of how we’re all pretty much hard-wired to see stories wherever we look.
Because – like I said – it’s about good stories. That’s where the action is: and also – like I said before – a good story (at least at the set up) will give you a reason to care. And Hard to be a God – I mean sure: there’s a guy and he’s walking around playing his flute thingie – but oh my god – why should I care about him? Who is he? What does he want?
Also: why is the scene so long? Why does he clean the flute? Why is this information being presented to us in this way?
Adam: you made a comment that I got annoyed at the lack of “informative speech” but man – it’s not even that at all. (Altho – I do think that’s pretty rich seeing how (am I remembering this right?) the film opens with a whole bunch of text on the screen explaining the set-up which erm yeah – is pretty weak sauce: how much more interesting and fun it would be if it had dramatized things. You know – show the spaceship landing. Or show them coming out of the spaceship). It’s not about informative speech (you know – to be obvious – Wall-e is one of my favourite films of all time ever: and I didn’t get angry or start shaking my fist at the start of that “where’s the talking so I know what’s going on?” BUT Wall-e does give you lots of reasons to care – right from the start – you know who the character is, what he’s about, and what he wants: you become invested in what’s going on: because erm Wall-e knows how to tell a story (and if you can make a story about a cleaning robot on a planet of no people – you can make a story about anything): but How to be a God – I mean: it just doesn’t care about telling a story in that way. It would rather be – I dunno. Boring. Like it’s too high-minded or whatever. Too much art. Not enough entertainment. And yeah – the best is when something does both (is Wall-e art? I dunno – maybe: although it’s not a question that I care about. It’s more I just like the feeling I get when I watch it.).
Is this making sense?
And – strange as this all may seem – I think that this all relates to The Incal. Because it’s kinda the same thing. I mean: it has all the shiny stuff (in this case: the artwork which is – omg – lush like a lushness): plus you know – the cultural cache of being this big thing you know? (Like just you way before talk about it – like it’s this great new exclusive restaurant or whatever: “Oh yeah – have you read The Incal? It’s like really important and etc.”). But I think I’ll just leave it there for now.
More to come.
Where were we? Oh yeah – talking about The Incal right?
Well – ok – I tried. But I’ve given up re-reading it. My brain just couldn’t hack it anymore. Which kinda reminds me of the first time I tried to read it – because it was too much for me that time too.
What does “too much” mean?
Part of it comes down to this article I read a few years back (I can’t remember where I read it, who it was who wrote it or what it is was called – but hey: if you know what it is then get in touch!) which said that – the reason that it’s so tricky to adapt novels into films is that while novels are free to be discursive and jump around from point to point and take their own sweet time doing whatever the hell they want – with films – your main character always has to want something. Not right away. I mean – it’s cool to do a little bit of scene-setting and getting to know you and etc: but after like half a hour / 45 minutes if your main character is trying to get something (whatever that might be) then it’s going to start to feel like a drag for the audience.
And oh my god – ever since that thought was dropped into my head it’s been a part of me.
I mean: yeah – ok – there are a few exceptions here and there of course (The Thin Red Line is pretty cool) but yeah pretty much (for my tastes anyway) if I don’t get that sorta reason to care then I tend to slowly switch off. Which well yeah – The Incal.
Because damn it man: I mean – it’s just one random crazy town banana pants thing after another right? And the characters don’t really seem to have anything that they’re really after – I mean does John Difool have any sort of agency in the whole damn book? Like: it’s super telling that we’re introduced to him being foisted up and dropped off the side of the pedway because that’s basically the position he’s in for the right of the book: at complete mercy to outside forces, no self-control, constantly being saved by one deus ex machina after another. I mean: yeah – the pictures are super pretty. But I dunno – page after page after page of this just leaves me feeling – well yeah – too much, exhausted, worn out.
You know – like I said before kinda: I guess it’s a story – but it’s not a very good one – no?
Fair warning alert:
Another last minute rant (I swear I wrote stuff on the first day but everyone kept making awesome comments and I made attempts to respond and well….basically this is the comment equivalent of the Deutsche Bank boardroom)
Okay. Guys. Hold up. We’re talking about The Incal and we’re baaarely going on about Moebius. So I’m going to rant about that and then make horrible superficial responses to everyones points that gets me exiled to Brett Ratner’s script slush pile. (If he still gets scripts, I think agents at this point probably just paint log lines on torsos they think he’ll be aroused by)
(Actually pretty glad I’m writing this after SMAAAAAASH since the panels really smacked some new and old ideas around in my head)
Jodz (it’s better this way, trust me) is half the story here and a lot of people forget that, probably because he is a fancy art house auteur known to people who list “Curzon” as a hobby (I like being bitter, it’s fun, even if I still go to Curzons) . The Incal isn’t just a story told through it’s delightfully circular structure (will make word noises about this shortly) or solely the Tintin aged in a barrel cask of your brothers softcore dirt dialogue. That art is the world in which The Incal lives – the sense of scale, the variety, the depth. God damn it doesn’t exist without Moebius.
Okay so look at the dirt alone. When Jodz hammered up his script or whatever it was, does anyone think that he specified all of that? The people, the architecture the design, the litter the little ornamental stripes here and there on the buildings?
That’s Moebius. The Incal is a world built by two. All those random insane little creatures, all that impossible architecture, all the things we skim past so often but stop here, yeah thats Moebius. I know Jodz went on to make a sequel and a prequel but come on, those came decades later and were entirely informed by Moebius.
The big thing I love about the way he world builds with his art, is that the lines and colours are all done in such a simple manner.
There is no Frank Miller scratchy cinema, no Sienkiewicz watercoloured horror expressionism, just some lines, some colour and an absurd level of detail in between. It’s something shows like The Simpsons, Rick & Morty (which uses a lot of the peak era Simpson directors) and Archer do as well – simple designs as a way to make space for massive quantities of detail in the background – which they’ve regularly proved as a phenomenally effective way to build in extra jokes and detail.
(There are better examples from R&M but Mr Meeseeks told me to look at him and here we all are).
So that’s my Moebius rant – he’s awesome. Simple lines and colours but insane quantities of detail to create unheard of scale and complexity – he invented worlds, worlds that no other artist (maaaybe Giminez) would dare to dream. And when you chat about The Incal, that bastard has a place on equal stead with Jodz.
Now can someone PLEASE go to his grave with an ill advised jar of racist voodoo mix and some drawing paper?
Now to Jodz.
Man this is a fun fucking book. I mean. Holy hell. It’s just fun. It’s basically “here are a bunch of awesome characters, here’s a fun tone of dialogue and here are 12 thousand and 12 ridiculous situations to push them through”. (I entirely agree with Ilia that “They are little more than excuses to give Möebius cool things to draw”)
But is it a narrative?
….Yup. And it’s a brilliant fucking one at that.
So yes, it’s basically a set of excuses to get Moebius to draw insane bad ass stuff. Yes, it’s completely circular. Yes it restarts itself constantly for little reason. Yes, this is a cliched fucking way to poorly reiterate other peoples points but i’ve written and you’ve read and I already ate the receipt. So there.
There’s this d-list gumshoe called John Difool, who likely isn’t an Oxford classics professor. And his arc is basically – generic jackass gets sucked into massive world ending adventures whilst beautiful goddess styled woman/entity tells him they are soul mates and they can only hook up once he’s saved the world.
So he does it. He fights things, runs, guns, fucks, fights, fails, stumbles, verbs verbs verbs. All of these. And after every quest. After every one. “Oh you did it Difool! Now, finally, we can hook up right this seco—-OH LOOK DAVID CAMERON JUST CLEARED UP THE RED TAPE FOR A STAR KILLER BASE”
So Difool will run into the Starkiller base, accompanied by the Metabaron (we should soooo put Metabarons on the list of discussions) and the wolf man who got angry that Difool cock blocked him and his apparent soul mate and the Mcguffin kid and whoever else will run in and they’ll meet a emo with a fancy knife and stormtroopers voiced by celebrity cameo and all that. Then they’ll stop Starkiller and John Difool will go:
“So now can we—“
“RUPERT MURDOCH JUST FIGURED OUT WHAT NETFLIX IS”
Again and again and again until, the book sends us back to the first panel. And he’s falling all over again. And the book ends and that’s that.
The narrative, for all the beautiful complexity of Moebius art, for all the impossible situations Jodz cooks up, is literally: horny idiot who is destined to save everything does so at behest of beautiful lady, again and again and again and—end.
And we follow him, because empathy or feelings or whatever, we follow Difool through every impossible quest and trial, every time being goaded along by a narrative that says “hey maybe the protagonist will get what he wants”. It’s that Smiths song on loop. Forever.
We spent however long reading a book about the fool who keeps getting told, “we’ll do it after you do this”.
The Incal is about 12 dozen quests wrapped around a circular structure gag, we’re fools, he’s a fool and we all we got was a lot of really fun characters, insane quests, beautiful art (tragic). That’s the story – an idiot keeps thinking he’s going to get laid and we go along with him on his humdrum adventures. It’s a lot of fun wrapped around a fun comment on how we’re all a bunch of dogs chasing cars when it comes to blatantly false prospects of positive resolution.
Which should be terrible, that is, in most terms, grounds for one of those pretentious things about are at the top of the “have you not read?” list of comics/graphic novels, they’re almost always serious, brooding things. (And Jodz film work is hardly something that Kevin Marvel Feige would go “This guy could do Iron Man/Black Widow: Sexual harrasment seminar ∞ (wars)). It’s not that someone trying to prove themselves as a literary heavyweight, sitting around going: “guyzzz stop goofing around we have to be serious because I’m wearing my good tweed and I’ve just got one of those Economist free trials”. *jiggles pipe*.
It’s fun and goofy and free spirited and pulpy and wrapped up with a fun comment on our relationship with quest stories – how we’ll go along with them expecting happiness out of the hero getting what he wants, without much thought as to whether or not that’s a good idea or sane or reasonable. We’re the fool and we forget that during the story because we’re too busy partying through the wonderful barrage of quests Moebius and Jodz throw our way. We forget it during the dialogue and the kicks and the art. There are events, they follow each other, we have fun and it ends.
A narrative is only really a narrative if it’s interesting enough for people to keep reading – if a tree falls but people hit up Tinder halfway through, who gives a shit?
It reminds me of Joel’s pitch for a non-story – the female member of the bourgeouis who partakes in abusive capitalist transactions before consuming nutritional nourishment with female associate. We can boil The Incal down to a repetitive rhythm of quests and a non ending just as we can boil down Joels story to the point of “Person does things”.
But it’s all in the execution to my mind and whilst the idea of a direct, linking causality is an important part of it – a narrative is a set of things, bundled together that maintain interest for as long as the bundle goes.
So “The Odyssey of Jane” as Joel puts it….
“Jane woke up. She had some breakfast (eggs and toast). She took a walk to the shops. She brought a newspaper. She saw her friend Mary. They had a talk about the weather. Then Jane went home. It was a good day. “
Is a boring story, who the hell is Jane, why do I care and why on earth am I reading this instead of ingesting substances? No reason? Great, substances it is. Because apart from the events, there’s nothing there. Jane isn’t a character, she’s walks, talks, breathes and ideally, dies.
Buuut. If you add details – which as long as they’re relevant to the character will let the reader identify conflict and depth and wit and whatever the hell else you need.
Jane woke up (her depression made this a struggle). She had some breakfast (eggs and toast – there was nothing else in the kitchen and for once she was actually hungry this morning, the one morning there wasn’t any bloody milk for her cereal). She took a walk to the shops (What she sees, how she feels about it, the memories that kick in as she makes the walk, the clothes she wears and why she chooses to wear them, the order in which she incinerates the shops as a sacrifice to the dark lord Beelzeboss). She saw her friend Mary (this was an old friendship, wilted. They rarely caught up anymore and when they did, those old hour upon hour conversations they’d had in their old Union were memories. It was awkward and stilted. They struggled to hit 60 minutes. They talked about the weather and Jane gave up and went home.) Jane went home (she felt terrible, the shops were awful, Mary couldn’t stand her anymore but she told herself it was a good day – she’d made it outside and she didn’t manage that all that often anymore.)
(Okay so I’m presuming this is a semi-interesting story, if you did hit up Tinder then my argument is sunk and you should go be free.)
So to my mind, it isn’t about the log line or the sequence of events, their causality, suprise, suspense or anything else.
I mean The Incal could just be described as “bunch of quests leads to nothing”, but then you’d be thinking like the people who approve Transformers movies. You’d forget character and dialogue and detail – and those are the things, that turn a sequence of events into a narrative. You forget the joy to behold that is Moebius at the peak of his powers. They don’t have to conflict, they just have to engage and there are multi hour podcasts of people agreeing on sponges that enthrall thousands.
Most narratives become narratives through the execution not the log line; character details and dialogue create interest, engagement and involvement – the hallmarks of a story worth anything. Not necessarily through surprise or suspense either. I mean, take Carol, you knew where that movie was going to go, you knew all the beats but it was so well done that you loved it anyway.
And the idea of narrative having to be a set of casually linked events is something I realllllly don’t ascribe to – there should links of some sort, but they can be thematic, geographic, tonal but causal? Take Bolanos 2666, which is 5 stories linked together into an entire narrative solely by taking part in the same city (barring the last and longest story which does no such thing) – they come together and have little need for a causal link.
Did you like John DiFool and the Metabaron and Kid McGuffin and whoever else? Did you like the situations they found themselves in? Great. You enjoyed a narrative called The Incal. You didn’t? Well you didn’t really have a narrative and that’s cool too, lets go get fucked and watch The Simpsons.
(I haven’t seen Hard to Be A God, so I can’t comment much on it, but on similar kind of long shot, art house fare that is happy to demand it’s audience keeps up with it’s contravention of easy narrative fun – yeah they’re stories, and often, they’re great but many of them forget to bother giving audiences a reason to try keeping up with them and in doing so, become less of a narrative and more of an exercise in the directors artistic wank. That’s my distinction, is it enjoyable? Is it the Dekalog or is it some prick who got some money and wrote off their own refusal to remember that expression has to be expressed to someone as “challenging the blockbuster malaise”)
Okay rant over. Your free now.
Oh god I have no idea what I wrote. Screw it. SEND.
(Quick intro as I’m new here – I’m Dave Crane, part-time/indy comics writer and artist, generally hang about up the arthouse end of things, but take my sense of humour with me.)
Sorry I haven’t made time to join in on the Incal conversation, it’s been fun following it. As I didn’t get around to writing up my thoughts, here’s a couple of hopefully-informative factoids:
Amir – the “script or whatever it was” – I seem to remember reading somewhere (print, when it first came out, before the web) that Jodorowsky pretty much acted the story out at Moebius’ house, while Moebius drew rough sketches, often using Jodorowsky as life model, and then tightened them up later into the finished line art. I’d heard elsewhere that Moebius could draw accurately, very quickly.
So there was a big element of improvisation. Whether Jodorowsky had the full story planned, or was making it up as he went along, nobody knows for sure. He was very much into the idea of storytelling as an experience – I think he cast his son in the film Santa Sangre about the same time because he thought the experience of acting that part would be good for him (as opposed to the more conventional director’s concern of whether it’d be good for the finished film)
Moebius liked his improvisation too – “The Airtight Garage” was created page by page with no overall shape in mind.
The Incal feels like that – what we have on paper is a record of some weird experience that Jodorowsky and Moebius underwent, and to them, the experience itself was as much the purpose of doing it as making the book.
It must be twenty years since I read it – I remember at the time feeling that it felt like a somewhat diluted version of Moebius’ other work, but had a lot of good moments.
PS: Disclaimer – I use improvisation in my work too, but not in the way they did. I hadn’t made the connection before just now. Bonus 🙂
it’s kinda a shame that my copy of incal is at the bottom of a fat pile of unpacked boxes cos otherwise i coulda given it a once over and maybe checked myself before i wrecked myself…
isn’t it supposed to be funny? like joel’s talking about difool having no agency. and yeah sure he has little agency – right up until the point where he does – but isn’t that cos a hero without agency is a standard comic trope, right? like, who watches the big lebowski and is all like ‘oh this protagonist lacks agency and is at the mercy of external forces boooo this film is bad?” apart from morons? like fuck yeah the dude is totally passive but that’s cos that’s what makes the lols. all he wants is his rug back. the coward as hero is a so obvs comedic – rincewind is my favourite discworld character for a reason – that lambasting incal for this kinda seems like saying well yeah you didn’t get it.
for e.g. yeah we start with difool being dropped off an almost literal cliff. but this is obvs a joke – and a pretty dark one at that – witness all the people rushing to watch, giving it the “look a suicide”. like, that’s funny. that’s supposed to be funny. from the start we’re in jokes territory.
if you don’t find it funny then cool watevs, it failed as a comedy for you. that’s grounds for criticism and criticise it on those grounds. but i think claiming that people who like it are only looking for signifiers of high culture is way missing the point. i liked incal cos I found it funny, having figured it was a comedy. i couldn’t give a care about moebius’ status as an artist or jodorowsky’s status as a writer (tho the art is immense let’s be honest).