No, Michael Bay Has Not Destroyed Your Childhood

With the release of trailers for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, and the latest Transformers 4 trailer that reveals Optimus Prime riding the T-Rex dinobot "Grimlock," I'm hearing anew the wailing of folks who feel like Michael Bay has destroyed their childhoods.

Well, no. He hasn't. Your childhood and mine are just as intact as they were before these movies came out.

What Bay and numerous others have done during the last sesquidecade of reboots, re-makes, and small-to-large-screen adaptations is capitalize on the nostalgia we feel for certain properties. From The Dukes of Hazzard and Starsky and Hutch to the Transformers franchise, from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies to the Star Wars prequels and the Star Trek Retcon Reboot, we're seeing production companies lower the risk of their investments by putting money into properties that have a built-in fanbase of folks who still hold some nostalgia for the original. 

What they're doing is strip-mining our nostalgia, and then not replanting when they're done.

With rare exception, I'm not going to feel any nostalgia for these newer properties in coming years. I won't fondly remember Transformers 2, or Attack of the Clones, and it's not because I'm not the child I was when I saw the Transformers cartoons or The Empire Strikes Back. It's because these latest installments didn't really have anything new to offer.

I admit that I do actually feel some nostalgia for Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. I loved it more back in 2003 than I do now, and I kind of long for the ability to stand in line again for those movies. I think that's what nostalgia is, right? Time passes, and we sort of wish we could go back and experience those things again? And that's exactly why the strip-mining works. The filmmakers tell us that we CAN go experience those things again.

But is that what we really want? When I was interviewed back in 2009 for The People vs George Lucas, I said that what I really wanted Lucas to do was take all that money and social capital and infrastructure and build a new universe with new characters and tell us a new story. Not because I'm sure it would be awesome, but because I want something new.

That said, yes, I'm going to see Godzilla this week, and I'll see Transformers 4, and the new TMNT, and a bunch of other strip-mining operations because unlike REAL strip-mining, this nostalgia isn't home to a bunch of spotted owls and rare conifers. It's just a place in my brain, and now that I know how to word what's being done to that place, I'm actually a little more comfortable with it.

These films may try to say "Ha! You actually CANNOT go back and re-experience Transformers or TMNT or Godzilla for the first time!" but since I already know that I'm less likely to be disappointed. These may still prove to be joyless time-sinks, but with time-travel off the table I stand a better chance of getting my money's worth.

The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse is Coming

Pre-orders for Schlock Mercenary book 10, The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, open on May 19th.

That's one week from Monday. I don't have the hand or the hours to do as many sketch editions as I've done in the past, so we're limiting those to 500. You have been warned.

Meanwhile, we have other original art available for you over on eBay. They are:

LOTA was my 2nd Hugo-nominated work. The print collection features a bonus story by Jim Zub, drawn by Ben McSweeney, colored by Travis Walton, and approved as canon by me. This is the first time such a thing has happened, and I'm pretty excited by it. If you're wondering what's been going on with the in-universe Schlock TV show, you should be pretty excited too. 

This book is kicked off by a very powerful introduction by my friend Myke Cole. I can't talk that part up enough, so I shan't even try.

Anyway, May 19th. I plan to start sketching a week later when pallets of LOTA arrive, and we plan to start shipping sketched and unsketched books almost immediately, with the last of the pre-orders going out in dribs and drabs by mid-June. 

The Humor Code, by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

This is going to run a bit long. Short version? If you're a humorist of any stripe, buy this book.
 
Long version...
 
I present lectures on how to write humor from time to time at conventions, and I've guest lectured on the subject several times now in Brandon Sanderson's writing class at Brigham Young University.
 
This is not because I'm an expert. I'm just a student of humor. I've studied lots of theories about why we laugh at things, and attempted to apply them. I've drilled down a bit into what happens to us when we laugh at things, and how weird that involuntary metabolic response really is. Oh, and I've spent about fifteen years trying to make other people laugh at things I've thought up. 
 
The Humor Code, by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner seemed at first like a good addition to my repertoire. As it happens, it is now a container for the entire repertoire, and solid evidence that you should be listening to Peter McGraw speak instead of listening to me (you can still read my comic, though.)
 
Humorists look at theories of humor with skepticism, because they suspect that the theorist is looking for a joke formula that will always work, an "easy" button for a career in stand-up or in the funny papers webs. A practicing humorist knows that if there were such a thing, some humorist would have already stumbled across it, but they haven't, and making jokes work is difficult. 
 
The Humor Code doesn't make it much easier, but it does explain why it's difficult. 
 
I used the term "formula" up there. That suggests chemistry. Here, then is a pretty good metaphor: The Humor Code is to humor as the classical model of the atom is to chemistry. That classical model explained why all of the different chemical formulae worked the way they did, and it also explained why there would never be a formula that would turn lead into gold. 
 
The book itself is fun to read. It's anecdotal, but each anecdote is used as a framework to discuss hard, empirical research, and to posit possible challenges to the results. The reference section in the back comprises roughly 20% of the book, but the preceding 80% of the book tells a great story. In short, it is entertaining, educational, and yes, there is real science in there. 
 
Up until I read The Humor Code, the best model I'd seen was a line from Larry Niven's Ringworld, in which one of the characters says "humor is associated with an interrupted defense mechanism." I've long thought that this could explain anything from slapstick to puns, from ribald humor to the revelatory, cognitive stuff. Anything that puts our hackles up is a candidate for "funny."
 
The actual model is far more elegant.
 
Image courtesy www.petermcgraw.org
Image courtesy www.petermcgraw.org
 
 
 
If a thing is simultaneously benign (it's not going to hurt the listener) while violating something (rules, personal space, good taste) then it's funny to the listener. But different people have different areas of overlap, so the professional humorist must map the "Benign" and "Violation" domains shared by the audience in order to come up with jokes that will work. Complicating matters, those domains can move during the course of a routine. This is why delivery is so critical, and why I will often spend far more time refining the panels that lead up to the punchline than I spend refining the punchline itself.
 
My interpretation of that diagram is no substitute for reading the book, and I suspect that reading the book is no substitute for reviewing Peter McGraw's research and visiting with the team at the Humor Research Laboratory (HuRL) in Boulder, Colorado. I'm too busy for a road trip, but the first part? Well worth the time and the money.
 
If you are interested in making funny things, or in making non-funny things into funny things, The Humor Code is worth your time and money too.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I really did not expect The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to take my top slot for the year, but that's what it did. Oh, the movie is not without its problems, but I had a blast watching it with my oldest daughter.

The thing that put it over the top was not its length (too long!) nor its dramatic pacing (too slow!) It was the action scenes. They were delightfully comprehensible, they advanced the story, and they were comic-book cool and comic-book fun.. 

Some folks complain that "bullet time" or "time slice" scenes take them out of the movie because the POV is physically impossible. For some films I'd agree, but in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the technique shows us what Spidey's spider-sense is telling him. Yes, it's a physically impossible POV, but only if you disallow comic-book physics. Which, I should point out, is not a ruling that is going to play favorably for the sorts of costumed folks flying across our screens of late.

I did not like the first Amazing Spider-Man film very much, mostly because I've grown a little tired of superhero origin stories, and wallowing in Spidey's origins yet again felt like a waste of my time. Sure, the film was really well done, but I was bored most of the time. Not a good sign. This second one, however? Loved it. The story was much fresher, and even though there was some wallowing, it was wallowing in new places. I had a few "get on with it already" moments, but when the film did get on with it, it got all the way on, and then some. 

On a related note, the soundtrack for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been great for listening-while-working. The Electro tracks were a little distracting at first because of the thematically distorted, crazy-repetitive vocals, but only at first. If you work to music, this might be worth checking out (though if I had it to do over, I get the regular version instead of the deluxe. The deluxe version had extra pop tracks on it that didn't do anything at all for me, and definitely was not worth the extra $5.) 

The Crimson Campaign, by Brian McClellan

I gushed over Brian McClellan's Promise of Blood back in January. His debut novel read like the work of a seasoned master: engaging characters drew me into a fresh and fascinating setting, and despite multiple plots and points of view I never got lost, bored, or whiplashed

The sequel, The Crimson Campaign, releases on Tuesday May 6th. If I have a complaint, it's that it is the second book in a trilogy and not the second AND third book in one bundle. It's just as compelling as the first, and though I'd love to talk about why I love it in specific sorts of terms, I'd rather not spoil the first book for you by talking about how the characters deal with the consequences of some legendarily heroic actions. 

Lots of you have already picked up Promise of Blood on my recommendation. None of you have yet emailed me to call me a liar or a shill, which I suspect you would have done if my bold claims hadn't been validated by your own reading. At any rate, if you liked Promise of Blood, you're probably already hungering for The Crimson Campaign.

(I know I was, but Brian's publicist was kind enough to send me an advance copy so I'm not actually hungry anymore. Unless you count my hunger for The Autumn Republic...)

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