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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
LA Times Blog on American Vampire, w/ preview, and tales of modern Hollywood calling
Day of the Locust
Author and artist talk "Yummy"
The Short Life of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer
The Original "War of the Worlds" broadcast (Pt. 1)
NBM's "Broadcast" Blog
Are You Awake? (plus -- read the comics!)
Recent Books of Interest

American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Stephen King (writers) and Rafael Albuquerque (art) (Vertigo)
American Vampire I hadn't caught up with this Vertigo title until its recent five-issue collection from Vertigo. Those a bit weary of "lovelorn Southern gentlemen, anorexic teenage girls (and) boy-toys with big dewy eyes" in their vampire books (and shows) might enjoy this parallel tale set in both the Old West and silent-movie era Los Angeles, as Snyder (with a scripting assist from King in the "western" parts) seek to create a uniquely "American" take on the vampire. Which they do in the form of gunslinger Skinner Sweet, who -- in finest American fashion -- is both bloodthirsty and psychotic, in both living an undead incarnations. Though there's also a certain method to his madness as he takes on a cartel of "ruling class" vampires, themselves from "Old Europe," who see perfect bloodsucking opportunities (literal and otherwise) in America's nascent corporate plutocracy. And hey, the Hollywood parts -- with its tales of "B-girls gone bad" -- almost get you thinking that Nathanael West must've written a vampire tale right before he tackled Day of the Locust. The traffic in the denouement(s) gets a tad cluttered, but it's a compelling ride all the way through, leaving you with a nice set-up for the next arc (and the next American decade in the cycle!)

YUMMY The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri (writer) and Randy DuBurke (art) (Lee & Low Books)
YUMMY The Last Days of a Southside Shorty Multicultural kid-lit publisher Lee & Low jump in to the graphic novel arena with a haunting tale about death and desertion on Chicago's South Side -- haunting, because it's all true. 11 year-old Robert "Yummy" Sandifer -- so nicknamed because of his sweet tooth -- is a wanna-be gangbanger, looking for street cred in the eyes of his older brother's gang. So he starts shooting at people and winds up killing an innocent teenage girl. And, in being a "baby" killing another one, becomes a media sensation and a liability to the gang that appeared to "befriend" him. Neri constructs a fictional investigator -- à la Citizen Kane! -- to look in to Yummy's story (and provide a narrative for us), and in reading it, you want to somehow head off the inevitable outcome. But you can't. Neri and DuBurke have complementary, documentary-like styles, and if the language is unrealistically "toned down," that's because Lee & Low want the book to be available to any future "Yummies" through their local libraries (or maybe even school book fairs) -- anyone of an age where they still secretly take a teddy bear when going to a sleepover, yet still naïvely imagine guns, and violence, to be "cool."

The Broadcast by Eric Hobbs (writer) and Noel Tauzon (art) (NBM)
The Broadcast Just in time for Halloween comes this tale set against the famed Oct. 30th "broadcast" of War of the Worlds, by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater players. Here, in rural Indiana, in the midst of 1938's still-tenacious depression, a clash of class and race unfolds in a night of panic, as a handful of people -- convinced the end is near (or using everyone else's conviction to their own ends) -- fall out over who gets into a particular shelter, who has a gun, who doesn't, and who might know something about those charred bodies outside. The first half is pretty gripping stuff, and uses the counterpoint with Welles' broadcast (and troubles at CBS) well. Orson & co. kind of disappear in the second half, and Hobbs is fond enough of his characters that the grimmest outcomes are averted. Tauzon deploys a sketchy style, reminiscent of the lines in a William Hamilton cartoon, so we're never quite "in" 1938, but rather viewing people as if we'd just stepped out of a rainstorm, and still had water in our eyes. It's a curious choice for a visual medium, but perhaps suggests the storminess that comes with dark nights of the soul. Or while listening to iconic radio broadcasts.

The Mixed-Reality Comic Comes To Town

Are You Awake?

Or at least it does, if that town is New York, and its recent Comic-Con. I haven't been in NY in awhile, so the con went on without any Nexus Graphica presence, but I received a press release on the eve of its opening, touting the debut of a "mixed reality" comic.

Mixed reality? That kind of describes my day-to-day life. What does it mean in a comic? According to the press release, it means, in part "the comic book will initiate a multi-layered, interactive fan experience. Scanning the book with any smartphone will generate virtual images on fans' mobile displays, as well as play music and dialogue."

It's all part of a launch for a "glamor-noir" detective thriller/series from creator Keith Turner, called Are You Awake? (another question which I ask myself -- in the Buddhistic sense! -- all the time!) It's described as a "transmedia entertainment property with webseries, graphic novel, fashion line, digital music and more," and it was the graphic novel part -- with art by DC/Marvel vet Richard Pace -- that brought them to Comic-Con.

Are You Awake?
Are You Awake?
Intrigued by the reception the project may have gotten, I fired off a few questions from NG central, which were answered by Matt Toner, the "prexy" of Zeros 2 Heroes Media, the company behind the project.

So how was the reception at the NY Comic-Con?
MT: Very positive. We had a few factors working in our favor: long lines, long wait times and a pretty cool product being handed out by a very sinister actor. People really dove into the mixed reality comic and we're starting to see some take-up across the ARG (alternate reality game) websites.

If it's a webseries, novel, etc., what aspects of the project call for emphasizing the comic? Is it primarily a "comics" narrative? And if so, how?
MT: The flagship is going to be the live action webseries and that is going to be something of a "reveal" when the ARG comes to an end. We wanted a quick way to get the story and characters rolling, so that pointed to a comic. It fits well with the expected audience and subject matter, plus we had an angle on how to make it memorable through augmented reality.

So if comics work one way, books another, filmed entertainment yet another, what's the main narrative "style" of the project?
MT: I guess the main narrative style is transmedia... and I don't mean that in a buzzwordy way. We've really consciously designed the Are You Awake? experience to exist in different media pockets: we hope that the audience will enjoy the comic in one way, then find something new when they see the webseries, something newer when they discover the music, etc.

Can a reader enlarge, shrink, or move around panels at will on a Smartphone (as with some other comics readers) and if so, how do creators get their audience to "read" a "page" in a particular way, with a specific tension between panels, etc.?
MT: Well, the smartphone app doesn't allow panel manipulation: what it does is cause certain panels to spawn certain additional interactions for the reader. I think of it as that moment in the original Star Wars movie where Luke saw the Princess Leia hologram -- it wasn't just a cool technical effect, it actually advanced the story in an interesting way. That's what we're going for here: when people find these clues hidden in the panels, they won't immediately make sense, but as they drill deeper into the ARG the pieces will begin to come together for them.

If the readers are encouraged to solve the mystery, what's left for the characters to do in the story?
MT: It's really going to be an interplay between fictional characters and audience members -- we have, for example, a bogus 1-800 number where people will hear a voicemail and can leave messages. The sum of those interactions will start to twist certain characters into a new direction.

And now that it's launched, what's next?
MT: Well, the ARG is going to run for the next six weeks or so, and that will lead to a climax that introduces the webseries. From there we start building more interest through a sort of "making of" experience.

So there you have it, readers, another take on the coming/current "multi-platform," or "transmedia" mode of storytelling. It will be curious to see which of these becomes the first widely popular "hit," cross-platform, and whether the main "in" will be through film, TV, or comics (dare I even add "books" to the list?)

If you take the plunge into Are You Awake?, let us know how it goes, and how you enjoy it!

Copyright © 2010 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series, and is working on a holiday story for an anthology right now. He wonders if he is fully awake. He also gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.

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