Monday, January 11, 2010

It'll show you your dreams...

In storytelling, presentation is everything. Regardless of how cool an idea for a character/book/movie/graphic novel/speech/blog entry (*cough*) is, it will not work if it is not presented well.

The plague of many an aspiring writer seeking publication is an awful or lackluster cover letter. Many a movie has been butchered by bad acting or failed special effects. There are plenty of novels in the world with blindingly original ideas that are hampered by blindingly horrible writing.

Even a mediocre or unoriginal story can benefit from good presentation. How many "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" movies have been made, yet with the right actors and setting, they feel new and fresh, despite having been nearly the same story since the beginning of time.

However, poor presentation can cause a brilliant idea to be discredited, a mediocre idea to become just plain bad and an already bad idea to become laughable.

An example of  presentation making or breaking an idea is the graphic novel series Return to Labyrinth, an illustrated sequel to the cult classic Jim Henson film Labyrinth. If you haven't seen Labyrinth, I highly recommend it "(It's one of my favorite films of all time, for all of it's quirks, telling a rather deep story of growing up in more ways than one), but the premise is fairly simple: A daydreaming girl named Sarah (Jennifer Connely) wishes her baby brother Toby away in a fit of teenage angst. However, Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) takes the wish quite seriously and takes Toby to the Goblin City. Sarah has thirteen hours to solve the Labyrinth, but the Goblin King is going to do anything he can to stop her.

Spoilers ensue a bit from here on in.

The movies ends in a fairly happy way conventionally, with Sarah defeating the Labyrinth and reclaiming her little brother. For the hordes of Sarah/Jareth shippers out there, however, the ending is disappointingly ambiguous.

Cue the fanfiction. Many writers have put fingers to keyboard in desperate attempts to rectify the film's lack of any sort of overt romantic conclusion.

Then along came Return to Labyrinth. Playing on some hints in the movie and its accompanying novelization, "Return" focused more on Toby, now a teenager himself, getting dragged into the Labyrinth to be the new Goblin King due to some finagling on Jareth's part. Meanwhile, Jareth is trying to come to grips with his relationship with Sarah and a horrible decision he made about her.

It's no Watchmen as graphic novels go, but some of the ideas presented are kind of neat within the Labyrinth universe. The writing isn't stellar, but it's enough to keep me reading out of curiosity. I'd class it as at least a mediocre story. Nothing special about it, it's not puke your guts out horrible, and it's touted as the "official" sequel to the movie. (For the record, I no more consider this an "official sequel" than the slews of other "unofficial" sequels, many of which are better written. I have my own personal canon, thank you.)

What would make or break this piece and ultimately breaks it is the presentation. The art for the books is usually awful. It has its moments of legibility and even fairly good-looking-ness, but overall, it's just plain bad. Set this in contrast to the cover of the first volume.(And the artist doesn't seem to understand the whole concept of Jareth's gloves... *facepalm*) The covers are dropdead gorgeous, making the poor quality of the art within all the more inferior by comparison.

The presentation kills it. The idea could have limped by, maybe even been a big more well-recieved, had it only been drawn better. As is, the art just draws attention to itself and to the writing's weaknesses.

So all of these issues with the poor art and lackluster writing... and then comes the time it is taking to make the frickin' thing! I discovered this piece just a few months ago and waited rather impatiently for the third and fourth volumes at my library (since I didn't care to purchase them). Well, I read the third volume and in the author's note, I discovered that this thing has taken four years to get out. This is just three books out of a four book series and it takes them four years. The writing certainly couldn't have take that long and I have no experience with drawing regular sequential art, but seriously, a year and four months (if that time was divided up evenly) per book is a bit ridiculous.

Even as a casual reader with no vested interest beyond curiosity about a well-loved movie, this is incredibly frustrating. Maybe there are perfectly good reasons for the delay. But as a casual reader, it is very off-putting. Why be interested if it's going to take so long to get the last one out, the art is bad, and there are better fan works that update regularly otu there? Personally, I was effectively repulsed just by the time (and I'm willing to wait quite a bit for things).

Presentation: the "make it or break it" factor.

No comments:

Post a Comment