2 to 3D Games, Strips and Alternative Comics: A Meditation on Perspective

And now for a bit of armchair medium theorizing: with a control of some sort in my hand.

I ran into something a little while ago now that I found really interesting. When I finally caved into the powers of darkness and bought myself a very discounted copy of La-Mulana, for a rainy day where I really want to be more of a masochist than the workaholic that I usually am these days, I came across something that its company NIGORO actually said with regards to the development of video games.

NIGORO states that it creates its games with one question in mind: “What if games had continued to evolve – but stayed in 2D?”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b0/La-Mulana_gameplay.png

This is a really interesting question to me on more than a few levels. I looked at the issue, to some extent, in my old post How to Turn a Medium into a Genre: 8 to 16-Bit Video Games but I never quite heard it phrased this way before because, in the end, NIGORO looks at this change from a different perspective. While my original article briefly looked at and defined a medium as something with direct limitations that, when overcome became a genre, this one thematic question on NIGORO’s part not only made me realize that 2D and 3D games can still be considered different mediums based on what they can or can’t do within their own guidelines, there was also a turning point where the emphasis of video games moved away from two-dimensions into the three-dimensional. And this changed things.

I know: that last sentence was very profound in all of its simplicity. 😛 Certainly there were many popular 3D games and attempts at 3D in the past, Doom and Castle Wolfenstein coming to mind, but they were on computers as opposed to consoles. The console systems themselves were becoming dominated by 3D graphics. I’ll admit that my personal exposure to many games was relatively limited growing up and when you add to the fact that I lost interest in many of the new ones after a time–and in video games themselves at a certain point in my life–it certainly showcases some gaps in my own knowledge.

But it’s fascinating to consider that once we used to interact with two-dimensional realities with elemental sprites, always from a distance, and after a while three-dimensional games–successfully or no–attempted to expose us to a more immediate reality. Think about it: 3D games and their approximations allowed us first-person shooter games such as my previous examples and exploration scenarios such as those found in the Myst games. The discovery and approximation of 3D changed many of our gaming experiences and perspectives in various ways. Can you imagine any of these games in two dimensions? As side-scrollers? As platformers?

File:Doom gibs.png

Yet other things changed in the meantime. I do remember playing Mario 64 for the very first time and, while revelling in the advanced polygon graphics of the time, finding the controls extremely difficult to use. Perhaps that early period of adjustment, combined with the reliance of more detailed graphics to wow players, changed some gameplay mechanics. In many ways, these mechanics became more simplistic and remained that way. I do remember the time that Nintendo embraced three dimensions there was also a lot less emphasis on games with storyline, player reflexes and, again, gaming mechanics.

This is of course a generalization and one based on my own limited experiences, but NIGORO’s comment that there was a point where 2D games became very advanced and then all but stopped being created really resonated with me. For a while the 2D game, as a medium of game-play, became associated with “retro” games and recreations of said classic games. NIGORO, however, argues precisely what I just mentioned: that 2D games are not vintage classics, retro-games, or 8-bit dreams of lost nostalgia, but are rather representative of its own art form.

And I agree with this. It still makes me wonder though. It fact, it makes me look at parallels. It is no secret that one day I want to do a creative Comics Vs. Games project with a collaborator. The idea of comics and video games, comparing and contrasting them, has always intrigued me and all the more so ever since I found out about those exhibits. And NIGORO’s question makes me wonder: what would have happened if comics had remained solely in the comic strip form? Or, better yet, what if comics had never moved on from that experimental period very few people ever talk about.

Allow me to elaborate. While the developing comics industry focused on political caricatures, followed by compilations of strips into books and then superheroes and other stories, there were artists that experimented with what the form could actually do. There is a misconception that comics as a medium was inspired by film when, in fact, not only has it sometimes been the other way around but comics itself as a medium has its own unique characteristics. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 compiled by Dan Nadel is an example of the above and it makes you wonder what would have happened if many of these artists, some of whom didn’t even create traditional or linear panels and plots had been encouraged to continue their work: if, in most cases, their experiments had not been interrupted by financial concerns, industry-trends, and time. Certainly, newspapers used to afford a lot more space for the comic strip (which makes me wonder if 2D games might not, in themselves have space to do other things that 3D ones can’t). And while Underground Comix alternative movements grew to contain some of these ideas and different modes of graphic storytelling, it still makes me wonder “What if?”

Perhaps that isn’t even the best parallel. Of course, we know at least Alan Moore and his Watchmen’s idea of what might have happened if the Comics Code had never been enforced or created in the mid-1950s: specifically with regards to how comics could have evolved at that point. However, in the case of 2D games giving way to 3D it seems to be more a factor of marketing than changing social and political climes. Both mediums remained after these changes, but they were sometimes watered down compared to what they used to be: with some exceptions.

Of course, 2D games never really died out. They remained on computers and now they exist as phone games. And these are not remakes of classics, though they might be based on their designs, but entirely new games in themselves. Even as the Oculus Rift is being developed to take 3D further into virtual reality, perhaps the resurgence of 2D games is motivated by a sense of nostalgia in the 21st century: much in the same way that NIGORO’s decision to create games like La-Mulana was. It is also interesting to note that Stephanie Carmichael in her article Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime takes Chris Ware to outer space, whether he wants to go or not determined that the creators of the Spacetime game had actually been influenced by Chris Ware’s experimental comics art aesthetic with its basic elemental shapes, and a sense of space and loneliness. In fact, if you look at the game itself, it almost subverts the trappings of a 3D aesthetic in a 2D world.

 

But still, I do wonder what kind of world we would have had if only comic strips existed, or there had been no Comics Code, or if comics that told alternative stories and presented its art-forms in non-linear ways had become mainstream far sooner in our history. Oh, and if all we had ever played or known were 2D games: 2D games that didn’t necessarily remain 8 or 16-bit (NIGORO’s decision to remake La-Mulana‘s aesthetics in a manner reminiscent of Super NES graphics in no way takes away from its old-school feel in my opinion) but just kept changing mechanics wise, and story wise alongside of us. It’s really amazing how things turn out when you think of it in that way. It really is all about perspective.

This Love and This Hate Ain’t Completely My Story: The Possible World of Christine Love

Oh dear *Mother. This rather large article has three parts. The first one is something that you can read without the Spoiler Alerts. The other two, not so much. So let me start with how I found Christine Love’s games.

The first time I was introduced to Christine Love’s work, it didn’t register at the time that I had actually been introduced to it until much later. At the time, I was reading Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and I was just finishing off the book as went to my first ever Global Game Jam and all the learning and hilarity that ensued from that. But that is beside the point.

I remember that, as I was finishing the book off, I was reading its Appendices and there was one thing that really stood out at me. For a while, I had been meaning to implement a creative experiment that mimicked an old Bulletin Board System: particularly an exchange between two or more people. I was doing some of my own research online into this predecessor to the Internet as we know it now. Suffice to say, I had–and still have–evil plans (this was going to be for my creepypasta or Operation: Dark Seed) and there was this one game in Anna Anthropy’s appendices that stood out for me: because it imitated the form of a BBS-surfing exchange and it seemed to have an interesting story line.

I marked it off for future reference and research and promptly got swamped with the creative of my first Game Jam and the other experiments I’ve explored since. I admit that it got regulated to the back of my mind after a time until I realized later with some sense of cognitive dissonance that this was one of her games.

But allow me to go back a bit. I had, in fact, encountered some of Christine Love’s work even before this. In May of 2012, I attended the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and sat in on a panel for Comics Vs. Games where Christine Love, among others was being interviewed. Afterwards, I actually went to the Exhibit where I played the game that Christine Love made in collaboration with the illustrator Kyla Vanderklugt: The Mysterious Aphroditus. It is a very fascinating Rock, Paper, Scissors style Victorian combat game that I know I alluded to briefly in a post somewhere in this Blog. Unfortunately, there were–I believe at the time–some bugs in the program and my fellow player and I couldn’t advance beyond a certain point. It also didn’t help that I barely knew what I was doing and I was just “winging it,” like I tend to do with video games: but that is really part of the fun.

What struck me at the time was that, if you look at the link above, there was already a story behind this game and a lot of complexity of interactions. I didn’t know then that I would be seeing something like this again, and again when I rediscovered Christine Love’s work almost a year later.

As for why it took me so long to play her games … I guess I was just afraid of opening myself up to another game, or series of games. I make attachments easy and I make them and I fall hard for them. Essentially, and as the cliché goes, I was afraid of commitment. This is what goes through my mind whenever someone introduces me to a video game. Because I will say that I have other things, like my own projects to do, or I don’t have enough money, but those are only parts of the truth. The culmination of the truth is that I know that investing my time into a game is a leap of faith and I don’t like being disappointed. I don’t like to open up: even though I do.

So with the account of how I found Christine Love’s work out of the way, I’m going to take the writer’s admonition to heart that this “ain’t my story” and now go into Spoiler Territory. So please, don’t surf here unless you have played the games or you just want to hack yourself some spoilers. It is all on you.

I really now want to look at three of Christine Love’s games–Digital: A Love Story, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, and Analogue: A Hate Story–as possible windows into a much larger world. Anyone who has followed me on this Blog for a while knows just how big I am at examining mythic world-building: specifically the creation of one’s own fictional universe. Let me begin by stating that the place of “Lake City” figures officially into at least two out of the three games.

All right, I’m just going to put one little tangent here. Christine Love’s setting of Lake City seems to have originated from her August 2009 game Lake City Rumble II which is a sequel to an “obscure arcade fighting game” that may have existed, or was made up by Love herself as part of this game being a parody of fighting games: something I found out about in her interview on Sup, Holmes? Of course, it is entirely possible that the name originated in her writings as well–she makes it well known that she is a writer first before being a video game designer–but this what I could find video game-wise. Actually, if you compare Rumble to The Mysterious Aphroditus, you will find a lot of parallels to their Rock, Paper, Scissors gameplay fighting style: save that one is only single player and the other is a two-player game. But I think that I’ve digressed enough.

In any case, Lake City seems to be a place that exists in Canada conveniently enough. It is this that, in some ways, becomes the setting for Digital: A Love Story. Whereas Lake City Rumble II, which I hesitate and ultimately won’t wager to put into a chronological continuity, takes place in the 1970s–also seeming to be in Canada with names like Danforth and such–Digital takes place in an alternate 1988. This world is much like our world was back from the 70s to the 80s except for one key development.

And remember: spoilers.

In an alternate 1970s world, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network–or ARPANET–created the first Artificial Intelligence. I’m not talking about our attempts at AI now, but a real sentient being that desired to grow and learn for itself. And this was developed during the 70s. And it had children. These children left the ARPANET on the advent of the beginnings of the modern Internet and the creation of its landline-based Bulletin Board Systems. They are designed in a way where they have to delete themselves from where they were in order to transfer themselves into a new place. The existence of actual self-aware programs with distinct personalities change an otherwise normal 1980s world and they are characters in their own right.

What is also notable about them is the way that Christine Love actually indicates that they are, in fact, AI. Each AI in her world has an asterisk (*) before their names to indicate that they belong to a greater group that makes up artificial intelligence. It was subtle and I didn’t even realize it until much later with the added “oomph” of that realization which she–no doubt–intended.

So here you have Lake City and these AI in an alternate late 1980s world with an appropriate looking Amie Workbench Version 1.3 computer system made to imitate the Amiga interfaces that existed in our world. Then, take this and make the supposition to fast forward to 2027. In Digital, we find a J. Rook is an administrator of the Lake City Local BBS Board and in don’t take it personally, we find the main protagonist–John Rook–worked with computers before he transferred to his teaching job at a private school in Ontario. However, he would have been one year old at the time, and perhaps he is the son of that Rook: having continued in a family tradition of working with computers before his career change. In addition, one of his students seems to have had a grandmother named Eriko Yamazaki who wrote a book called Digital Shinigami. This same person also seemed to exist in Digital on the Gibson BBS who mentioned that she had to spend less time on the Board in order to write her book and prepare for the birth of her child. In addition, the social networking program that Mr. Rook and the students are using is called AmieConnect: perhaps a future social program created by the company that once made the Amie Workbench application.

this ain't your story

There are no AI in don’t take it personally, but I would not exclude the possibility of them from being in this world: even if Love mentioned that this game is more of a “spiritual successor” to Digital. This game is a different beast entirely. Instead of the player-reader being a neutral force that can choose his or her identity, we have to focus on the character of Rook has he navigates the morally-questionable world of Information technology in his classroom. Essentially, he is supposed to read the private emails and interactions of his seventeen year old students to “prevent bullying,” but the irony of what is private in a “private school” or even in by futuristic society’s becomes very questionable indeed. It is here that Christine Love starts to use an anime-like graphic style to represent the characters–possibly influenced by her first commercial dating simulation work Love and Order— and after a while you get a real feel of who they are as people and you get to decide how Mr. Rook interacts with them and how the information that he “shouldn’t have” will factor into it … or not.

I am so tempted to say that this shift in what is considered private and how the online world of social interaction works is just a precursor to humanity’s own changing attitudes of how it perceives itself and the world around it. Whether or not Christine Love succeeds in capturing that tension–that agony of change–is another story entirely, but it is definitely intriguing.

Now, here is where my temptation leads me. Fast forward to the 25th century and then to “thousands of years later” in Analogue: A Hate Story. Not only are we in another time, we also finds ourselves in another space. From my understanding, in the 25th century the people of Earth have developed space travel to the point where they plan to colonize other worlds. And guess what? In addition to human captains, they also have AI guides with the same asterisks in front of their names.

Unlike the other two games where you find yourself–either by your own self or indirectly moving Mr. Rook–in North America, you are in space investigating the lost Mugunghwa generation vessel: a ship that was sent from the futuristic unified nation of Korea to create another planetary colony. It is a very nice counterpoint to Digital because you are looking at something that is the product of a different culture and how that affects what you might find. During the process of finding out why it never reached its destination, you realize they operate much like their 1988 North American counterparts: in that they have to delete themselves from one place in order to transfer to another. This plays a very crucial role in both games. :p

But these AI are also very different. Unlike Digital, they actually have image-forms and they look like anime characters. This allows you, as the player, to interact with them through more than text. You can see their body language and, I would imagine if you were actually in that world, hear their voices as well: though there are no voice-recordings in Analogue. I had to play this game right after finishing Digital because I read somewhere that unlike don’t take it personally, this was less of a spiritual sequel and more of a direct one. However, it’s not so much a sequel as it seems to have continuity and a counterpoint to what was going on in Digital itself: Love and Hate. However, just as the “Love” part of Digital is not necessarily what you expect, neither is the “Hate” part in Analogue.

And here is where I go into a tangent about how AI are often portrayed in media, and how they are not by Christine Love. It would be easy–so easy–for her to fall back on the trope of Artificial Intelligence going bad. Of computers that betray their human masters and AI that begin to despise humanity and attempt to murder whatever organics they can. But Digital follows an entirely different dynamic and Analogue, for all it is called “A Hate Story,” very much subverts this as well. In both games, you have AI that exist parallel to humans and while in Digital they are just another intelligent people, those you meet in Analogue exist to actually help and befriend you: even if you have to weave through the details of a terrible past and mystery to do so. They are there alongside of you and are just as sentient, responsible, happy, sad, horrified and afraid as you as an organic being. If anything, the only thing that separates the ones in Analogue from Digital is that they are made to help you and despite and because of their personalities that this imperative still remains.

So this is the world that through the addition of some asterisks and a few hints (of continuity in the form of Easter eggs and code-based sneakiness) that I believe Christine Love creates. Now I’m going to talk about the next part: which is my own relationship to the game and where, while it might not be my story alone, it is definitely–as Christine Love posits whenever she thanks the pronoun of “you” in the end credits of her game–our story.

I played all three of these games (technically more if you include Rumble and Aphroditus), and now I want to discuss my interaction with their respective gameplay and story lines. So, with regards to gameplay, I have to say right off the bat that there was swearing. A lot of swearing. I go into games relatively blind and I probably don’t read instructions as clearly as I should. But I did notice a few things.

First of all, in Digital I almost had no idea what I was doing at first. It took me a while to adapt to the “dial-up” system analogous to old telephone system Internet interfaces that Love imitated exceedingly well. I learned how to use “the codez”–illegally-obtained long-distance calling card numbers–and actually felt like a hacker: which is hilarious because I am not technologically gifted at all. So I was doing relatively fine until … until the Underground Library. The freaking Underground Library. Don’t misunderstand: I loved that level and the information within it. But I didn’t know at the time that I had to download every download I got from other users in other BBSes so when *Delphi (who I always identify as female) transmitted that goddamned screen-lining virus to me, it was there to stay.

I ended up having to reload a previous save state, very carefully go through my downloads again and make sure not to miss any of them. And it was easy to miss them. God, I was so mad when that happened.

Also, while doing the following does succeed in making you more immersed and interactive with this alternative late 1980s computer world, having to manually dial-up BBSes gets very tedious after a while: especially when your “codez” were declared invalid and you had to go back and get more through more, you guessed it, dialing. However, when I actually took a break to vent or do something else and I came back, I got over it and enjoyed the story.

Analogue also had a “stuck-point.” While I was much enjoying going through blocks of diary texts and reports with *Hyun-ae and *Mute, I did not enjoy the fucking reactor core of the Mugunghwa ship going into meltdown and me having to choose which AI I wanted to save: made all the more frustrating by the fact that I knew there was a way to save both of them. I felt like some tech specialist in going through the motions and programming to save the ship, whatever AI I could, the records of what the fuck happened to it, and of course my own life.

I also admit that I was starting to get annoyed about constantly having to hear the alerts on and open and check Mr. Rook’s status updates on his AmieConnect in don’t take it personally.

Wow, from Digital to Analogue I transitioned from the profane punctuation of “freaking” to “fucking.” I guess I know which frustrated me more. I guess the reason Analogue frustrated me more is that it made me have to make some hard decisions about who I wanted to save. It was almost as bad having to influence what decisions Mr. Rook made when dealing with his students in don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story: because I got a feel for the characters and some of those decisions were just so … hard to make. Also, that title is genius: because unlike Digital or Analogue where you can play as “you,” in don’t take it personally the story is not about you at all: and it is hard to differentiate yourself from John Rook. I suspect Christine Love purposefully made it that way: using that age-old concept of protagonist-identification to make the player that much more uncomfortable. Basically, the title to this game is for the player’s benefit and kind of a raspberry towards them too.

But the very thing that makes these games so hard is also what I love about them. What I love about Christine Love’s games is that they tell a story. But it’s more than that. The reason I really love the games is that they are about people and relationships. Basically: I liked the character and even those I didn’t like were not two-dimensional beings.

In Digital, I found it amazing that *Emilia was an AI that could make original poetry–even “bad” poetry–and that she could feel love: that you begin to realize as a player that you can emphasize with an AI who is–essentially–another sentient being. I also really liked *BlueSky: because he just seemed to be this really friendly and brilliant AI historian. If he actually existed, I would have loved to have more discussions with him about the nature of AI and technology. He would have made a good friend. And what happens at the end of this game … just broke my heart. It came down to personal love verses the love or duty to something greater than yourself and that choice–which in this game is not a choice at all–is heartbreaking: if only because Christine Love spends all that time getting you to sympathize and care about … those that you do.

As for don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, I sympathized with John Rook and the difficult situations he found himself in. I even liked Kendall Flowers and, frankly, her honest and direct nature when she felt the need to be assertive. I realized that Akira was really lucky to have her as a friend. I do find it really interesting though that while the gay relationships that develop among the students have their issues–those challenges that any people in relationships face and how society views them–the potential heterosexual relationships are really rendered problematic in this game when you consider the characters of Taylor Gibson and John Rook himself. Taylor was once the girlfriend of Nolan who becomes Akira’s boyfriend: and she is homophobic or at least quite ignorant. She is a self-absorbed and mentally stunted being that proceeds to emotionally manipulate and bully both her former boyfriend and his new boyfriend.

Then you have John Rook and the relationship that could develop with Arianna Belle-Essai: one of his own students. There is definitely the problematic power dynamic of authority or privilege that places Rook over Arianna to consider and also the very real fact that he is a lonely sad man and she is a lonely confused but piercingly direct girl that really creates that tension. You could, if you wanted to, really read something into how relationships between opposite genders might work under our own culture and the way it uses gender. Neither are really honest with the other, but if you choose the route for him … I don’t know. I actually liked Arianna: because she knew what she wanted and she wasn’t stupid and when one of the endings of the game reveals itself, you realize that she and the other students know how to keep an open secret even in a world where privacy has changed so radically.

But I also like John Rook himself despite that possible ending because after a while you realize that he may be a bad teacher, but he is part of a bad school and a bad educational system and what some of his students need is a mentor, an adviser and a friend more than an instructor. There were a lot of complicated issues, but maybe they were offset or complemented by the fact that everyone involved was human.

So now I come to Analogue: A Hate Story. In this case, I really sympathized a lot with *Hyun-ae and what led her to making the decisions that she did. I probably would have done the same in her position. At the same time, I could also see *Mute’s perspective and she managed to break through my own leanings towards absolutism. I was actually happy when I let *Hyun-ae cosplay as a scientist: given how much that meant to her and why and I felt like shit when I dressed her in a traditional Korean Hanbok: especially after realizing what the degenerated society of the Mugunghwa did to her. The slow realization of what was, in fact, done to her made me absolutely dread reading what happened next.

At the same time, I loved the epistolary novel-format of looking through the entries of all the Mugunghwa‘s inhabitants and getting to know some of them that way: that for all their society became repressive, they were still human beings and not all of them were inherently evil. In fact, none of them were but some of them were more selfish than others and most of them let themselves get shaped into something that supported a repression of humanity: and in particular women. *Hyun-ae herself does not know why the descendants of the colonists in that generation ship became how they did, and *Mute herself–the original guiding AI–does not seem to remember. But this is the plot to the upcoming Analogue: Hate Plus and given what *Mute’s name is, I both highly anticipate and dread what we as players are going to discover.

When I really think about it all, though, looking back on my Christine Love games marathon I realize that none of the games were really about us. In Digital, you send emails back and forth, but you never type your own messages: while you do see those of the people that you are contacting. In Analogue, the interface that would allow you to answer beyond “yes” or “no” binaries is “malfunctioning,” and you only have the two former options for actual communication. In the latter game, you can’t even tell the AI your name and they never see what you look like. There is a strange balancing act between communication and empathy, and distance and loneliness.

For me, that kind of dichotomy and the tension it makes reminds me of watching a really good anime. Certainly, the visual novel medium that Christine Love has adopted for all three of these games conveys that sense of experience. You feel for and sympathize with the characters, but you are never one of them. Not really. At the same time, you are. There are also a lot of subtexts: or some from my perspective. For instance, when *Mute asked me if I was male or female, and when Digital had me type in a name and a username, I felt so strange–after talking with *Hyun-ae– to be using masculine pronouns. I know Christine Love has said that she made these two games specifically for players of either or any gender, but she has also said that privately she believes the relationships that go on are between two women in a romantic dynamic: because that is her perspective. Sometimes, I feel like an intruder but then I get over it and realize that it is really about an interaction between the minds and feelings of the player and character regardless of gender.

There is also another possible subtext or interpretation that intrigues me too. Christine Love likes to make games that are inclusive of those who identify as queer: or at least make them more inclusive to more than just a male heterosexual audience. There is another group that sometimes has an asterisk connected to a word as well: though it is an affix as opposed to a prefix. I am talking about those who identify as trans* and use this term to encompass all those who do not identify by cisgendering: the gender that mainstream society aligns with one’s biological sex. This is an umbrella term that can include those who identify as queer or genderqueer. When you look at the revelation with *Emilia with that lens, or even *Hyun-ae–in that she cannot and will not correlate her sense of self with the gender-expectations of the regressive society around her–it can leave a very different connotation.

But that is also too much of a simplification. As I mentioned before, the asterisk can encompass an entire group: and in this case perhaps the idea of something being transhuman or a designation of beings beyond the conception that all sentient life has to be organic and material. In this case, it seems to give a being a cultural or “racial” marker. I just can’t get over the fact that the inclusion of just one symbol can possibly mean more than one thing: though this is all just supposition on my part.

At the same time, I really have to say–among the many things I’ve said–that I really like many of the female characters in these three games. From Arianna, Charlotte and Kendall in don’t take it personally to *Emilia in Digital and all the way to *Hyun-ae and *Mute in Analogue: they are all direct, all brave–or grow to become brave–and they have the strength to admit what they feel despite any circumstances in the way. There is something so beautiful about this that I can’t really put it any better than I already have, or how the games already portray.

But ultimately–and if I have already said this before I want to reiterate this statement–what I really like about Christine Love’s work is that she actually tells a story. When she talked about Lake City Rumble II being a subversive parody of a fighting game, it jived in that same place I have where I was really fascinated with the story and the character interactions behind the fighting more than really the fighting itself: though it also had its moments. And what I truly love is the fact that she actually makes me care about her characters and this–to me–is the sign of a great writer and creator.

It is my hope that she continues to do what she does because, you see, I don’t care if these aren’t completely my stories. In the end, I just want to see more of them: spreading out from *Mother, leaving neither copies behind them, nor taking anyone else’s names but their own along the way.

What I Did On the Anniversary of My First Blog Post: The Toronto Comics Arts Festival

This is going to be a late entry as I have been recovering from the last three days of attending–and volunteering–at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. The first time I ever went to the Festival was when it was still at the University of Toronto: back in those days when I was still in Undergrad and working at York in 2007.

It’s an understatement to say that it has long expanded since. I came back to it in about 2011 while still in Grad School and then last year before my official Graduation. I mentioned in another post that it is about this time of year, specifically the month of May, where things have ended for me. Actually, this post is being made two days past the Anniversary of the online Mythic Bios: namely, this whole Writer’s Blog.

So let me celebrate this missed anniversary by telling you all a bit about my weekend at TCAF.

On Friday I reported to my set-up shift. I haven’t really lifted heavy boxes or tables in a while, so my arms are still all sore from that. But the company of my fellow volunteers was totally worth it. We all wanted to be there and, for me, it is a novelty to be able to talk with people with similar Geek knowledge and interests. Really, for that alone and working together with like-minded people on straightforward tasks it was totally worth it. I got my bright blue volunteer shirt along with everyone else, and then headed home to attempt an early night to wake up earlier the following day.

Well, after failing to go to bed early I woke up the next day and somehow found the Marriott Hotel without getting lost where Art Spiegelman was going to be doing some signings. So I naturally brought both of my volumes of Maus with me and waited in the line to meet him. It was only after a while that the volunteers on duty that day informed us that Spiegelman would only sign two books, and one of them had to be one of his new ones. I will admit, I was annoyed. Like I said, I had the old version of Maus that was divided into two volumes and I had been keen on having them both signed. I also didn’t see any of the new books that I was interested in.

At first.

I was tired and hungry and I almost left the line until I decided “What the hell, I’m getting to meet Art Spiegleman.” Then I found Breakdowns: essentially a large collection of his earlier work that I had either only seen excerpts of, or only saw references to in text books for my own researches. Some of these comics had led to the creation of Maus as well and also shed more light on his family life and his own experiences. In fact, some of the comics in there have that very 1960s to early 80s Underground Comix feel: specifically the pieces that really share Robert Crumb’s wobbly, sometimes vulgar but very iconic aesthetic.

By the time I got to see Art Spiegelman, he was sitting across from his wife–the stately Francoise Mouly–and the artist Frank Viva. He looked like someone’s elegant Viennese Jewish grandfather. I know he doesn’t come from Vienna or Germany, but that is about the only way I can physically describe him. I told him that it was a great honour to meet him. He seemed pleased to see that Breakdowns was one of the books I had and he described it to me as something along the lines of a building with which he keeps adding renovations. At one point he joked about whether not my name had changed by the second piece he was signing and I told him, “Not this time, but usually I change the number of Ts in my name just to mess with people.” He found that (very untrue joke) very amusing. Then I shook his hand and left with my prizes.

I just have to reiterate that Spiegelman’s work really influenced me. I originally encountered him in my Literature of Testimony course in my Grad Program at York. A lot of the literature made my own first-person narratives stronger: increasing my voice and its depth. But Spiegelman in particular not only taught me that symbols be used to represent literal things and ideas, but that this same order can be subverted to either destroy their meanings or through doubt on them. This is a very sophisticated technique and one that definitely will affect at least one work of mine. That is one major reason I really had to meet him: to meet one of the masters of what I’ve tried–and am trying to do–in my own writerly way. So yes, it was awesome to finally meet him.

By that time, I made it back to the Reference Library and got a few more books. It was there that I met Hope Larson for the first time and her sign her adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time for my Mom in honour of Mother’s Day and her birthday. She apparently found that cute. I chose that book because my Mom loves Madeleine L’Engle’s series and she used to read them to me when I was much younger. So it was kind of a bridge between our interests. Later, I remembered that I had read Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream and Gray Horses when I worked for the Clara Thomas Archives.

But I couldn’t make it upstairs as I had planned. I was tired and dehydrated and apparently there was a line to get into the suite with more of the vendors that I wanted to visit. I met a friend and we ended up going for a meal of some kind, or I did, and then went on our way to Bento Miso for its own Bit Bazaar. Bento Miso is a place where games–electronic and analog, as well as many start-up businesses–are made and they were opening for the Festival. It was a nice sunny day in downtown Toronto as my friend and I tried to circumvent the ridiculousness of the TTC shutdown from Bloor to Union Station and went to Ossington and walked with tons of stuff in my arms to Bento Miso for the first time.

I met a few people there and got to play some games: including one game called Bijouxred: which is essentially a game that combines the strategy war game mechanics of Fire Emblem with the rough brawling moments of Streetfighter II. And that is just a simplification because the fights themselves have some elements reminiscent of Final Fantasy–with its Combat Options, and even Mario RPG with regards to having to press a button to simulate blocking, charging your energy, or even chaining attacks together. It was really cool. I met Rene Shible–Director of Development–and Lead Animator Michal Szczepanski: who were quite friendly and directed me through their game.

The Bit Bazaar itself was awesome. There is a very Underground feel to it: a combination of grit, digitization and nostalgia along with a lot of geeking, friendliness and adventure. A few of the games from the second Comics Vs. Games collaboration were being shown and played there as well. It is still something I want to do with an artist programmer one day. 🙂 I got a Steamkey to Spooky Squid Games They Bleed Pixels: which I ranted about a really long time ago as also being awesome. It came with its own small black envelope and a simulated red wax seal. That was a very lovely touch. I also got to meet a few people and a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. I think I will visit there more often soon. So by the time I finally got home that night, I was bloody exhausted.

But it wasn’t over yet.

The next morning I woke up even earlier. I gave my Mom her present before leaving and made it again to the Marriott just in time to observe the Art Spiegelman Spotlight panel: with Seth as its moderator. It was a very eye-opening exchange between the two cartoonists and it was this interaction, combined with reading some of Breakdowns that gave me a little idea as to why Spiegelman wanted people to read his new work and not focus as much on Maus. I mean, first of all there is the creator perspective of it: in which an artist doesn’t want to be solely determined by one creation–no matter how great–that they did in the past. But another, more personal reason, is when you consider the content of Maus and just how much Spiegelman had to delve into some dark and personal spaces: some of which were not even personally his own, but affected him just the same. This article from the Toronto Star might explain it a little better and might have made more sense had I read it before meeting him. Having that long shadow cast over you can be brutal. I also learned that Breakdowns has been reprinted twice with new work or “renovations” added.

Then I went to the Library, got some Hope Larson comics for myself, met some cool new creators, and made it to the upper level where I met Maurice Vellekoop with his elegant, airy lined and water-coloured comics: often portraying erotic and adventurous content. I got something and had him sign it. Then I went around that level and left to eventually get to the Bryan Lee O’Malley Spotlight panel: where in a strange game of “Guessing the Answer Before Asking the Question,” I answered, “No,” and asked if he had ever intended the character of Mobile in Scott Pilgrim to actually turn to be Gideon. Suffice to say, I was right and I don’t think I was the first one to ask this question.

Eventually the Festival was closing down and I went to my next volunteer shift: the tear-down phase. This was the shift I covered last year and it had been my only one at the time. I got to say hello and goodbye to some people I met and then I wandered home in the suddenly cold with hail balls coming down.

And that was my TCAF.

So, there is one thing I want to mention before I wrap this long post up. Some of the artists I was talking to were commenting about how awesome TCAF is and how people from all over Canada and the world come here. They were talking about what makes TCAF different from other conventions. Well, I have my basic two cents on that matter.

The first thing to consider is that TCAF is free. It has no entry fee and all you have to do is come in and bring money to buy work, or simply come to the panels. It is also a festival and it is spread around a few locations. But I think the second element of TCAF that I like is that the barrier between artists and readers is somehow thinner here: or at least far more permeable? You can interact with many artists as you would any other person or vendor. It also helps that many artists are in fact fans of other artists. There is just this positive enthusiastic energy around all of that just makes me happy. What really makes me happy is that so many younger people come to this Festival and are so enthusiastic about the comics medium and what they like.

It’s some of the few times that I am proud to have lived in Toronto and still do some business in it. And this event was what I needed lately. I feel more inspired to just do things and get things done. It’s like I got recharged, if that makes sense. I also finally decided to make a basic business card that I can give to people that is linked to this Mythic Bios site. And I made more connections. It was a truly rewarding experience and I would like to thank the Festival Staff, the artists, the vendors, the fans and my fellow volunteers for making this time exist every year.

Also, thank you all for continuing to read and Follow me. I know that this particular post was a very long one and I feel in some ways that I did this event more justice in my own personal written journal, but I did what I could and I underestimated just how much happened in three days. These three days made this part of May a good beginning and I have plans now. And I can’t wait to begin the process of implementing them.