Death of the Imagination: Not.

Posted: April 26, 2009 in Comic Books
Tags: , ,

       I’m a big fan of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Alan Moore comic featuring adventures of characters from Victorian era fiction and beyond. This past year I read the latest addition called Black Dossier. Before which I read an interview with Alan Moore about future additions of the League, including the soon to be released trilogy entitled Century. One of the themes of which will be the death of popular imagination. Moore states;
 
“one of the subtexts in Volume Three is not the government control of the imagination, but more the decline, whether intentional or otherwise, of the imagination, the popular imagination. We start out in the first episode in 1910, which has still got the kind of grandeur of the Victorian and Edwardian imagination on display. We go through 1968, which although a different period, very electrified and psychedelic, that we still have examples of the culture from that period which is very exciting. When we get to the third volume, which is set in 2008, it will become plain that the current landscape of fiction in comparison with what has gone before is a very sparse and relatively dull place. Orwell was almost exactly wrong in a strange way. He thought the world would end with Big Brother watching us, but it ended with us watching Big Brother. And it’s that kind of culture and the popular imagination that is a very strong subtext in Book Three. However, I think that although we’re talking about an increasing dullness in the fictional landscape, we do that very entertainingly and very excitingly”

(from http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=11958)

             Being slightly mis-anthropic I’d carried similar sentiments in my heart for years, and reading this interview inspired a long essay on the pop culture franchises of my lifetime. It will never be published however, as I realized it’s bunk.

             Still, let me sum up. From a pop culture standpoint it was quite a time to be a boy during the 70s and 80s, and to some degree the 90s. The seventies had some of the best movies in any genre. Horror; TCM, Exorcist, Halloween. Drama; Godfather, Network, Taxi Driver, Rocky. Sci-fi; 2010, Alien, not to mention the all time franchise juggernaut that is Star Wars.

             Many of the above mentioned films had sequels in the 80s, while on TV a slew of new animated series aired. Most if not all had accompanying toy lines. The biggest were He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Thundercats. Meanwhile tons of other not as successful franchises also made it to TV, like Inhumanoids, Sectaurs, M.A.S.K. Dino Riders, Bravestar, Centurions, Robotix, Wheeled Warriors, COPS, Ring Raiders, Silverhawks, Sky Commanders, and Spiral Zone.

             This was also the video game age, and in 2009 many of the big video game franchises are 15-20+ years old. Mario, Zelda, Castlevania, Metal Gear, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, Sonic, Resident Evil, Doom, etc.

             Going into the early 90s there was also an explosion of new comic book universes, Valiant, Ultraverse, Comics Greatest World, Warriors of Plasm, none of which survived. Image comics is still around with Spawn and Savage Dragon, DC comics bought Wildstorm from them which is still in business, and the Dakota universe is now incorporated in the DC universe.

             Anyway the point is these were all totally new characters. Transformers were imported from different Japanese toylines, and G.I. Joe technically wasn’t new, but all the G.I. Joe characters I grew up with were. Everything else was a totally new creation.

             The 90s had better quality cartoons like Batman and X-men, but they were characters that were 30-50= years old at the time. There seemed to be few, if any, new media franchises in TV animation, or movies for that matter.

             We’ve heard for years about Hollywood running out of ideas, as every blockbuster seems to be a sequel, remake, or an adaptation of a video game, novel, or comic. Iron Man may be considered a new media franchise, but the character is almost 50 years old. Even so, does it not take imagination to update Iron Man for today? Is bringing back a loved franchise truly being devoid of imagination?

             Still when researching for my now trashed essay I realized that it’s not like absolutely nothing new is out. I have no idea if these are any good, but in the last decade there have been new cartoons out like Alienators, Alien Racers, Avatar, and Dinosqaud. Let’s not forget Samauri Jack. There’s all kinds of new comics out from the indy press and DC’s Veritgo line. Video games still give us something new like Dead Space, and with movies the Matrix weren’t that long ago. Cloverfield is new. It’s just that now they all compete in a crowded market place with big names we know already like Star Wars, Marvel, DC, etc.

        Then there’s webcomics. The past 10-15 years has seen a gargantuan amount of webcomics being published online of every genre imaginable, from popular cartoonists to high school kids. Anyone with a PC can put an infinite of content online for no cost.

             So here is my new conclusion, the more money it takes to make something in a specific medium, (film, comics, etc) the less chance for original content to be developed, let alone succeed. Movies cost tens of millions of dollars to make and market. So for that much energy to go into a project, it’s safer to go with something that already has a built in audience and a recognizable brand name. Print comics and web comics can afford more new ideas on account of lower (or no) start up costs.

             Also as technology progresses, more kinds of media can be developed. The more kinds of media developed, the more outlets there are for the imagination. In the old days it was oral tradition and music. Then there was the written word. Then we had silent movies, then radio dramas, then talkies, then TV. Now we have video games, animation, board games, Role Playing, Card Games, Webcomics, Alternate Reality Games, and who knows what will come next. 
             On top of that, the means of production, even for video games and movies, have reached a more accessible level. Bemoan the state of popular music, until you hear amazing artists on Myspace. It’s gotten to the point where there’s so many indy films, games, comics, music, and whatever else that it’s impossible to keep track of them all.

             In the meantime it’s not like anyone stopped writing novels. Fight club author Chuck Palahniuk says novels are where the new freedom is at, as you can get away with more in a medium most people don’t pay attention too.

        While pondering all of this I thought back to old Alan Moore, who lives in the dead center of England and doesn’t leave the country much anymore. Alan is pretty much an expert on Victorian Era England, and of course has that nack of writing superhereos. However, he struck me as someone who I bet wasn’t online much. Does Alan surf? Does Alan know about said explosion of webcomics? My guess was no. Then I read his interview at http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=20812, where he said; “I know absolutely nothing about contemporary culture. I am cut off from most inputs. I’m not connected to the internet in any way, I watch very little television”. There you have it. Alan is the best comic writer ever, but when it comes to this, he admits he just doesn’t know.

             So I will no longer join the ranks of Alan Moore and other career cynics, bemoaning the death of the popular imagination. It’s real easy to sneer at reality TV and endless remakes, but in a world of 6 billion plus, there’s tons of vibrant creativity happening. As long as there is one human breath on this planet, there will be imagination.

Good creating….

 

(Originally Published on Myspace on 11/27/08)

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Comments
  1. […] Another notion I would like to address, something I saw coming, was the view Alan seems to have of modern culture. Part of this is covered in a previous blog here https://jemurr.wordpress.com/2009/04/26/death-of-the-imagination-not/ […]

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