Salvatore Pane

Month: August, 2010

An Excuse to Talk About Fantasy Football or It’s Prime Submission Season!

For a few days, I’ve been trying to think of a good excuse for talking about fantasy football on a blog that’s supposedly about writing and books and shit. I’ve done this before, coming up with justifications to discuss Scott Pilgrim and Earthbound and and all kinds of esoteric subjects. I thought maybe I could pass the draft day experience as an unfolding narrative, how once choice affects another (for example, if you use your first pick on Chris Johnson, you don’t then use your second on another running back with the same bye week).

But, in the end, I couldn’t think of a single, solitary reason for why I’d talk about fantasy football on this blog which (normally) has absolutely nothing to do with fantasy football. But you know what? Fuck it. This is salvatore-pane.com, so if I want to talk about fantasy football I should be able to talk about fantasy football, right? Here’s the outcome of my draft:

Excuse me? Is you saying something? Nu-uh. Can't tell me nothin'.

How’d I do? I feel good about it with the exception of Winslow (I wanted Visanthe Shiancoe, but I’m in a league with Minnesota fans). Do you guys play fantasy? Or do you think, like Marvel Editor Nathan Crosby, that it “combines the excitement of the NFL with the sadness of role-playing games”? Can you come up with any parallels between the world of fantasy football and writing? Ok. Wait a sec. How about this shit? Assembling a fantasy football team is a lot like assembling the contents of a literary journal. You’ve got to balance things while playing towards your aesthetic. I’m a running back guy. I took one in the first round (then a WR then QB) and then a bunch of RBs in a row. Is this like editing a journal that primarily runs metafiction while still trying to balance things in terms of gender and race and sexuality? Are you also worried about Maurice Jones-Drew (language thugs like me call him The Hyphen) blowing out his knee and ruining your season? Are you too obsessed with the Talented Mr. Roto?

One last thing. And this has nothing to do with fantasy football but everything to do with lit journals. IT’S SUBMISSION SEASON AGAIN! I remember very vividly when I started my MFA program going for drinks with two recently graduated poets. They clinked glasses and made a toast to the new submission season. One thing I miss in an era when so much of what we do is digital is the idea that September 1st is the universal starting day for new submissions. So many online outlets read year round (which is obviously so much better for everyone–writer and reader both) that the anticipation of 9/1 just isn’t what it used to be.

However, I am preparing to send out a shit ton of new work. How do you guys go about this? Recently I told a current MFA student that I like to have no fewer than 30 submissions out at any given time, and she looked terrified. Is 30 high? Do you send to more places than that? Are you like me and get panicky whenever your submissions queue on Duotrope drops below 20? Do you not use Duotrope? How many times will you try a journal before you give up (DON’T GIVE UP; I’ve gotten into a bunch of journals that initially rejected my work)? How do you find new journals? Through the work of your peers? Through lit blogs like HTMLGIANT? If you don’t know Chris Johnson from LaDainian Tomlinson, but know the difference between Ploughshares and Diagram, hit me up in the comments.

What? Deal with it.

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Temple of Doom and Shit

Howdy, folks. Put up a new post at PANK in response to a reading at AWP way back in March. It’s all about what you want your writing to be like. And Temple of Doom. Beacuase, you know, Temple of Doom and shit.

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Culture Death Match #1: The Golden Girls vs. Batman: The Animated Series

Earlier this week, The Rumpus ran the first in a series of articles co-written by myself and Amy WhippleCulture Death Match is a point, counter-point feature where Amy and I argue over the merits of various trinkets from the culture at large. For our first feature, we take a look at the gay marriage episode of The Golden Girls and the first Mr. Freeze adventure on Batman: The Animated Series.

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Flashback Monday: How I Single-handedly Fixed the Comics Industry in 2005

The worst paper I ever wrote in college was for a graphic novel course I took in 2005. I was at the height of my literary snobbishness, and the sheer idea of reading a comic book made me rip off my monocle, slam it on my mahogany desk, and announce that “This is preposterous!” I read a boatload of comics growing up–the entire 200 issue run of the Spider-Man Clone Saga–and those were all pretty awful. So imagine my surprise when I ended up genuinely loving almost everything we read in the course. My position totally changed, and there were some weeks during my second comic reading heyday where I’d spend fifty dollars on new releases alone.

Unfortunately, this newfound enthusiasm didn’t translate into a decent paper. I started writing one that compared and contrasted Cather in the Rye and Ghost World, but about two pages in, I realized I had nothing else to say on the subject and wrote the rest of the paper about the comic industry’s notoriously low sales and how that newfangled iPod and iTunes store might be the key to salvation (five years before the release of the iPad and digital distribution). I’ve attached a portion of the second half of the paper below. What was so odd to me while rereading this is how close it is to what actually happened once the iPad was released. However, it wasn’t the indies taking advantage of the new medium, it was the major companies, the Marvels, DCs and IDWs of the world.

Below is the second half of my 2005 paper. Don't worry, I won't bore you with the Ghost World/Salinger stuff.

….how can the graphic novel capture a wider audience? Scott McCloud spends much of Reinventing Comics discussing the complete and utter failure of the current comics distribution method: the direct market. “The readers are just as abandoned by the corporate system as the creators, despite the importance supposedly given their hard earned dollars. The average comic shop can offer only a tiny fraction of an industry wide selection that is itself extremely limited in scope,” (McCloud 77). The graphic novel has not reached its mass market potential because it is using a more flawed version of the corporate distribution system that prose books have being using for years. As a newer medium, graphic novels require a newer method of distribution. Later in Reinventing Comics, McCloud discusses the possibilities of the internet and how that can one day be the future of distribution for comics. Originally published in 2000, McCloud simply was writing from a point of time which could not possibly suggest the method I am about to propose.

In November, the Apple Corporation announced that it will have sold a total of 37,000,000 iPods, their biggest handheld entertainment device, by the end of 2005.  The latest version of the device, the fifth generation iPod, has the ability to display video and pictures. Realizing that an installed base of 37,000,000 users is an astonishing opportunity, ABC quickly cut a deal to allow television shows, including recent hits Lost and Desperate Housewives, to be bought through Apple’s online store, iTunes, for $1.99 each and then be allowed to be viewed on the user’s iPod. Within two months ABC and Apple had sold 3,000,000 videos, as a result, NBC, CBS, and FOX are currently scrambling to pursue deals of their own with Apple.

This device is targeted at the 15-24 age group predominately, and is quickly changing the way we consume media. No longer are we shackled to our televisions to catch the latest episode of whatever primetime show is our current favorite. Even radio is changing and moving into two distinct camps, the satellite radio stations and Podcasts, which are free radio programs you can download from iTunes and listen to on any portable media player. The reason I bring this up is not only because of the cross section between iPod users and the readers necessary to bring the serious literary graphic novel out of obscurity, but because I believe the iPod itself is a possible solution to McCloud’s distribution problem that caused “a huge number of America comic book retailers [to] shut down,” (McCloud 10).

The current iPod and its cheaper variation, the iPod Nano, have the ability to display pictures. If the comics industry, specifically the independent comics industry, applied a similar method of distribution on iTunes as ABC has, a whole new golden age of comics would occur. Comic shops, delivery, stocking, and paper consumption would be completely eliminated. Also, the problem of knowing what to buy but not where to find it, a problem McCloud also brings up, would be abolished to as the iTunes database is literally limitless and could hold everything from Jimmy Corrigan to Wacthmen and back again. Prices could be fixed by the individual creators, and amateurs could upload their work automatically, just in the way that iTunes handles free Podcasts. With this system in place, creativity would flourish, as readers would have the choice to buy from the big two comic companies, Marvel and DC, the independents like Image and Fantagraphics Books, and weekend cartoonists. Also, the stigma associated with comics being a geeky medium would be shattered by combining it with an item, the iPod, so closely connected to what is hip and cool. If Ghost World was released today as a $9.99 download direct from iTunes to your iPod, I would highly bet that its readership would increase tenfold from its current measly 90,000.

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Review of Jay Varner’s Nothing Left to Burn

Hey all. Check out my review on PANK for Jay Varner’s Nothing Left to Burn.

Earthbound: The Best Meta-Satire of 1994?

(Note: this is the first in a series of posts examining formally interesting video games. Check the second–about 1998’s Metal Gear Solid–here.)

Last month, Oscar Villalon wrote a piece on The Rumpus echoing Tom Bissell’s sentiments that many members of this generation do not catalog their lives by albums or movies, but through video games. Of course, I made a few remarks in the comments section. One responder said that while interested like Bissell in thinking about the new narrative opportunities afforded by video games, she doesn’t actually want to play them. In fact, she wouldn’t even know where to start, and instead, she offhandedly hoped that somebody would make a gaming mix tape for those whose only introduction to the form is Tetris.

BEHOLD THY MIXTAPE.

I thought that I might cover a couple video games over the next few months with the same literary lens I’ve been using to look at comic books. And the first one I’ve decided to go with is Earthbound, a 1994 release for the Super Nintendo. That should come as little to surprise to Earthbound veterans, but I’m imagining that most people who read this blog, even some gamers, aren’t aware of this relatively obscure game. The first thing we have to talk about right out of the gate is the box.

The box is bigger than my head.

That shit don’t mess around. And when you’re a ten-year-old boy wandering around the local Electronics Boutique, that giant face-sized behemoth is going to stick out. The box is so big because the game comes with its own strategy guide and a John Waters-esque pack of odorama gross out cards. Imagine me in 1994 utterly captivated by this box, so foreign, so alien, the sleek golden curvature of that figure on its front practically demanding a purchase.

So what’s the premise? Earthbound is about a group of kids who band together to fight hippies, eat cheeseburgers, break up Heaven’s Gate style cults, beat people up with frying pans, put their souls into robots, and ride the Loch Ness Monster. It’s a Japanese Role Playing Game, and for anyone not unspeakably nerdy enough to know what that is, JRPGs are text based narratives where your only method of interaction is steering the avatar (the figure the player controls onscreen) and selecting actions from a text box. Think Myst fused with Dungeons and Dragons. And up until 1994, these games for the most part followed the same formula. Dragons and magic and swords and castles. Plucky young hero watches his village destroyed by an evil empire, then has to fight them to save the world.

What’s so noteworthy about Earthbound is that it takes place in the present (199X to be exact), and the avatars are average kids with yo-yos and baseball bats for weapons. They drink soda, not potions, to repelnish their health. They get money by using their fathers’ credit cards in ATM machines, not collecting golden coins from fallen enemies. They fight crazed neighborhood dogs, not dragons.  They pal around with the Blues Brothers.

 

In 1994, this blew my fucking mind.

The aforementioned would be enough to make Earthbound noteworthy, just one in a line of excellent JRPGs released during the Super Nintendo era. But what pushes Earthbound over the edge from obscure gem into groundbreaking classic is the fact that it’s a satire, and it’s actually funny. Most people who play games acknowledge the fact that they’re funny. But games are rarely intentionally so. Games get chuckles when they have awful translations, not because of in-game jokes. Earthbound breaks that rule repeatedly. Sometimes you discover a trinket called “Insignificant Item” that does absolutely nothing. Other times you knock at someone’s door only to hear the hushed quotations of Beatles’ lyrics. If you approach a character called The Annoying Old Party Man you get one of these two messages: “The Annoying Old Party Man/Reveler grumbled about today’s youth” or “The Annoying Old Party Man/Reveler lectured you”. Mr. T makes a cameo. Sometimes, when fighting hippies, the game literally gives you this message: “The New Age Retro Hippie used a ruler! Now he can measure things more easily!” I’m not doing the game’s humor justice, because text can’t do the game justice. Its combination of offbeat soundtrack, Norman Rockwell-cum-Nintendo visuals, and insane story and dialogue in tandem are what make this game so truly bizarre and set apart from all the other deadly serious RPGs.

And did I mention the meta aspects of the game? Earthbound begins when an alien named Buzz Buzz (yes, Buzz Buzz) crash lands in the protagonist’s sleepy American town and explains to the young boy that he’s the inheritor of an important prophecy. This is typical JRPG crap, but Earthbound plays it off with style. Buzz Buzz alerts the player that he is critically injured and about to die, but after hearing his speech about what the game is about, he tells you he can explain it again if necessary, and in fact, can explain it an infinite amount of times despite being only seconds away from death. Multiple times throughout the game, the action will stop and a character onscreen will call to you (the real life sitting at home player, not the avatar) and ask you to take a picture of the avatars. At one point, they even ask you for your real life name and hint that they’re curious to know about the person who’s controlling them (again you) like a god-like figure in their 16-bit “lives”. And in the finale, the game asks you to send all your good karma to the protagonist so that he can defeat the final boss.

 

So meta. SO META!

And the ending? The ending. There’s no cut scene that finishes the game. The player has complete control and you’re free to roam around the massive game world where people thank you for playing or offer investment opportunities or chide you for missing school. There’s no true end other than turning off the power. And in 1994 this was truly memorable shit. Earthbound was the first game that made fun of itself for being a video game. Earthbound was the first game whose characters understood that they existed in a video game world, and they frequently commented on that fact.

I can’t imagine many people are going to rush out and play Earthbound after reading this (unless, like me, they’ve already played through it countless times). But like Bissell argues in Extra Lives, I think it’s important for the literary set to look at games and think about their narrative potential. They require a level of active participation that a book can never have (and that’s not a judgment on either medium). Bissell focuses much of his work on newer games, but my only true access point to gamer culture is fueled by nostalgia. Earthbound is the first game that truly made me aware of the storytelling capabilities within the video game, the first that made it clear that not everything had to follow the tired and culturally outdated “save the princess” plot line. And when I open up my Earthbound strategy guide and smell my Master Belch odorama card? Yeah. That’s a straight snort back to what it feels like to be ten-years-old again.

This reference is not lost on ten-year-olds.

Do I lose my writer card if I call Earthbound the Infinite Jest of 1994 Super Nintendo Japanese Role Playing Games?

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Why Did Scott Pilgrim Fail at the Box Office and What Does That Mean for Stories About Aught-Era Twenty-Somethings?

In 1998, I went to see The Truman Show in theaters. For those unaware, the turn of the century dramedy starred Jim Carrey as an unwitting participant in a reality show that encompassed his entire life. His hometown is merely a Synecdoche New York-esque sound stage and his wife and best friend are actors paid for by the corporation who adopted baby Carrey. I walked out of the theater adjacent to the Viewmont Mall utterly stupefied. Never before had I experienced a story that so perfectly encapsulated the modern day loss of privacy in the digital age. Never before had I seen a movie that so obviously shoved in our faces the idea that in America, stardom no longer had to do with talent, but had become attainable by even our most average of citizens, a harbinger of the rise of social media and reality television. I assumed that The Truman Show would be remembered along with other popular films of that era, The Matrix, American Beauty, Fight Club. And although Jim Carrey’s first real dramatic turn did surprisingly well at the box office, I rarely hear the film mentioned these days, and instead, see the DVD in the five dollar bins at department stores, occasionally connected via plastic to Ace Ventura 2 or Black Sheep. In most ways that matter, The Truman Show has been forgotten.

I know that pain once again.

Longtime readers of this blog know my fanatical devotion to all things Bryan Lee O’ Malley and Scott Pilgrim. A generational anthem in the vein of Bright Lights, Big City, the Scott Pilgrim series is for my money the defining text of what it means to be in your mid-twenties during the aughts. Like most comic nerds, I became protective when the movie was announced, positive that Hollywood would screw up what is arguably the best comic series of the past decade. There were pluses and minuses along the way. I was shocked and delighted when Edgar Wright was hired to direct and utterly confused when producers cast deadpan Michael Cera as the hyperactive titular character. The first trailer looked pretty awful but the global one seemed to paint a more representative picture of what the film would actually be like.

I went to see Scott Pilgrim on opening night here in Pittsburgh. The movie opened way in the back of the megaplex, in one of those tiny theaters where the speakers fuzz whenever the soundtrack gets too loud. There were maybe twenty people there tops–and this was a Friday 7:20 showing–and a couple in their fifties walked out after twenty minutes. They mumbled. They grumbled. They reminded me of my reaction to Juno, in which I sat angry and confused, blinking wildly whenever the audience broke into laughter.

Ok. But how about the actual movie. Like many reviewers online, I sat nervously through the first awkward five minutes, but the moment Sex Bob-Omb bursts into their opening song I was completely relieved. Here was the comic I’d spent so much time reading and thinking about brought perfectly to life. This wasn’t the Dark Knight, a distillation of the very best of an 80 year old franchise into a 2.5 hour movie. This was a straight up adaptation–with the emotional development sadly cut for time. This was Bryan Lee O’ Malley’s frenetic vision brought gleefully to life by a totally self-aware cast and director. I loved just about every minute of the damn flick–I saw it a second time two days later–and thought for sure, FOR SURE, that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World would signal a sea change in not only the way movies are made but also who movies are made for–SP targets the holy 18-34 demographic but never panders to its audience; it feels genuine and completely formed by the twenty-something hive mind. Here was the first time where I felt my generation was honestly represented onscreen.

I woke up on Saturday morning, happy with life, happy with the world, only to discover that Scott Pilgrim had flopped. We’re not even talking Kick-Ass flop. We’re talking full on Heaven’s Gate fucking implosion. The movie didn’t come in second behind Expendables. It didn’t come in third behind the greatest travesty in human existence, Eat Pray Love. It didn’t even come in fourth behind The Other Guys. Scott Pilgrim came in fifth in box office totals behind Inception, a movie released an entire month ago!

How could this have happened!? Was it the marketing campaign? Most of my friends who didn’t previously know about Scott Pilgrim were confused by the trailers and marketing, thinking the film was a dopey romance in the vein of Nick and Norah or the scum of aught-teen pandering, Juno. iFanboy lamented the fact that SP ads ran during Baseball Tonight on ESPN, a far cry from their target fanbase. And none of the ads for the film played up the indie rock, 8-bit gamer, hipster comic vibe.

But maybe that’s too narrow a reason. Maybe the film’s box office failure had to do with competing against Eat Pray Love and The Expendables, movies that had the potential to divide popcorn audiences by gender lines. Maybe the failure was because SP had no bankable stars and few recognizable faces other than the still fringe Michael Cera. Or maybe, like many reviewers have said, the video game/comic book/indie rock language of a movie like Scott Pilgrim is a generational dog whistle, a totally incomprehensible mess–there’s literally a cut every five seconds–to anyone beyond the age of 35. Or maybe, as has been suggested, nobody cares about the relationship drama of slacker hipster douchebags (say it isn’t so!).

I imagine that SP will make back its 60 million budget via overseas ticket gross and the home market, but its initial box office failure means Hollywood won’t be attempting a bombastic experiment ala Scott Pilgrim anytime in the near future. And that’s probably the most depressing thought about the entire debacle. I hoped that the Scott Pilgrim film would open doors for other thematically similar properties in comics and television, film and literature. But the Edgar Wright picture is doomed to cult status like my beloved Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey or the great Norm MacDonald picture Dirty Work. And until the powers that be figure out a way to make the graphic-laden, gamer-inspired visuals of Scott Pilgrim for less than 60 million, I wouldn’t expect to see another film like this for a long while.

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Underrated Writers on PANK

There’s been quite a shit show in the literary blogging world after a Huffington Post post about the 15 most overrated writers in America. FUCK THAT NOISE. Check out a post about three underrated writers I wrote for PANK.

DIG IT.

Robert Yune Has Shit To Say

Guys. I did a guest post for my buddy Robert about the “DEATH OF LITERARY FICTION!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111lolz”. Check it out along with his bodacious site.

This Modern Writer Essay on PANK

Hi all. Recently I’ve been asked to blog for PANK, and although that means I’ll post less original content here, it also means I’ll probably be blogging more overall. Here’s the first thing I wrote for them, an essay for their awesome This Modern Writer series about growing up in good ol’ Scranton, Pennsylvania.