The Fraggle Rock v. 1 HC reviews start rolling in…

Fraggle Rock HC
Written by Various
Art by Various
Published by Archaia
Review by Jeff Marsick

There will always be certain scents and sights that harken one back to their childhood. Cracking this book open was a “Whoa” moment for me, instantly transporting me back to a family room in Cleveland, circa 1984, my butt firmly planted on shag carpet in front of a late-70s model Zenith that was only slightly smaller than a Chevy Vega. Fraggle Rock of my formative years is now Fraggle Rock of a new partnership between Archaia and the Jim Henson Company. I never read the individual issues of the three-issue run that came out earlier this year, since I’m jaded on comic adaptations of cartoons (and TV shows and movies, for that matter). Sure, back in the day I did read some of the Marvel’s Fraggle series, but was disappointed that the magic of the show couldn’t be reproduced on the page. So Archaia made a deal that would tug on the heartstrings of our fondness, I thought. Bully for them. But they won’t get it right, not as I remember it.

Well, I’ve been wrong once before (it was some time during the Reagan administration), and now the tally is two. First off, it’s a beautiful hardcover, the same size as the company’s Mouse Guard. In my opinion, Archaia and Radical set the bar for hardcover presentation and this is a fine addition to my shelf. When you open the book, the colors just leap off the page, bold and bright yet subdued so that you don’t get a first-degree burn off the reds and oranges. Just on perusal, it feels like you’re fast-forwarding through an episode which is a nice comforting feeling, indeed.

The hardcover encompasses all three of the original issues (eleven stories), plus the variant covers, some activity pages, character bios, and a cute backup feature, The Skrumps, by John Chandler. What’s unique about this book is that you have eleven stories by ten different writers and nine different artists (writer Adrienne Ambrose and artist Joanna Estep collaborated on two of the stories), yet not one of them is glaringly weaker than the others. Usually you’re expecting at least a sixty-forty ratio of good stories to “who in Crom’s name thought including THAT was a good idea?”. This time out you’re getting one hundred percent of goodness for your money.

Even better, while the tales are whimsical and cute with just an occasional smidge of saccharine (which is just the right amount) they never come across as cartoony or too kiddie, and the stories are never forced. In other words, the writers and artists didn’t get in the way of the characters. There’s a respect there, an appreciation of the Fraggle community, and it comes through in every story. “Time Flies” by Katie Cook is probably my favorite, where Junior Gorg drops a pocketwatch down a well and Fraggles, unable to comprehend its true purpose, are set off by Red to perform a series of tasks against the backdrop of ticks. It’s supposed to be a game, but racing against time quickly becomes work, and therein a valuable lesson is learned.

When my kids are older, I’m going to pull this out and read it to them, then pass it on, knowing they’ll read it until the covers come off. That’s probably the highest praise I can bestow on such a beautiful and well-done book. And this is only volume one. I can’t wait to see what the next twenty will bring. Highly recommended, especially for those of you out there nostalgic for your Fraggle memories.

Archaia said this book would be on shelves this past week, but I didn’t see it at my usual haunts, so either it was sold out or delayed. However, like Underdog says, never fear: it’s due in bookstores on September 7th, and you can pre-order it right now on Amazon.

(Check out the original review on Newsarama.)

Archaia delivers the goods down at Fraggle Rock.
AUG 31, 2010

If you’re a child of the 1980s and the terms “Jim Henson” or Fraggle Rock don’t bring a smile to your face and spawn fond memories, chances are you also hate fun and kill kittens.

For the rest of you, be prepared to relive your glory days. Archaia has sprung to life as of late by associating themselves with Jim Henson Productions. Though the television show ended in 1987, the Fraggle Rock characters have lived on, much like its theme song. Archaia’s three issue debut of Fraggle Rock has been collected into a gorgeous little hardcover collection that, as cliche as it sounds, is a great read for kids and adults alike.

What Archaia has done is essentially create a Fraggle Rock anthology. There’s 12 short stories within the collection, along with fun kids activity pages and an 8-page Skrumps story by John Chandler. For an anthology book priced at $19.95, Archaia does what they do best and jam packs this collection with everything they can, making it a worthwhile value for any that should purchase it. It’s also a great book for helping kids to get into reading. The stories are simple, funny, and often have some sort of lesson about the world we live in, co-existing in society, and even the meaning of art.

In that sense, Archaia’s Fraggle Rock is incredibly true to the Henson name. On the surface, it’s goofy fun and Muppets, but look deeper and there’s a high amount of educational value, both ethically and comedically. You’ll get to see all your favorite Fraggles, Gorgs, and Doozers; even the Trash Heap, Doc, and Sprocket make appearances. For the youngins that may not be familiar with Gobo and the gang, there’s even a nifty little introductory section that presents the main players, their personalities, and relationship with other characters.

What’s a joy about this collection — and something that every anthology should strive for — is that all of the tales are equal in quality and enjoyment. All of the artwork differs, but none of it dips in appeal. The stories are varied enough to keep the book from getting stale, and the page count is just enough to keep younger readers engaged.

No matter how much we love our superhero drama, over-the-top gore and hard boiled noir, there isn’t a soul on the planet without a soft spot for Jim Henson’s creations. Though Fraggle Rock and its inhabitants aren’t the most famous of the various Henson productions, Archaia has chosen the perfect avenue to blend children’s fantasy, relevant storytelling, the anthology mindset and pure sentimental value.

(Check out the original review at Crave Online.)

Forgotten Friday: Dreamchild

It’s been a while since my last edition of Forgotten Friday, so let’s take another trip down the rabbit hole…

It surprises me how many Jim Henson fans have never heard of Dreamchild. While technically not a Jim Henson film, Dreamchild arrived in 1985, right in between Jim Henson’s two seminal works of fantasy, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and it represents an important step between the two.

As everyone familiar with his work knows, Jim Henson really began pushing the limits of puppet technology in the 1980s, which resulted in a Renaissance of creativity from Jim Henson and his team that continued even after his death. Much of this is due to the formation of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the workshop that Jim Henson created in the wake of The Dark Crystal to design and fabricate puppet-based characters that were far more elaborate than the Muppet and Fraggle-like hand puppets which most people were familiar with at that time.

Dreamchild was the first movie the Creature Shop worked on that was not a Jim Henson film (they would later move on to contribute puppets and animatronics to movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Where the Wild Things Are, among many others). And is notable in that it’s actually the first time any of Jim Henson’s fantasy characters interacted believably with human actors, a process he would go on to perfect with Labyrinth.

Dreamchild is inspired by the work and life of Lewis Carroll, but it’s not a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Rather, it’s a fictionalized account of the life of Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired Lewis’ Alice. Set primarily in New York in the 1930s, the now elderly Alice has arrived to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia University on behalf of Charles Dodgson (the real-life Reverend who wrote under the pen name, Carroll). It proves to be a challenging trip for Alice, who is overwhelmed by the pace and size of the city and frequently finds herself escaping into memories of her life with Rev. Dodgson.

But that’s not all. Alice also occasionally slips into moments of fantasy where she’s confronted by many of Carroll’s creations, and as the film goes on, you must wonder if the distinction between reality and fantasy is starting to slip in Alice’s mind. I don’t want to give anything else away, but suffice to say that Dreamchild is a complex, occasionally uncomfortable film that deals with a very complicated relationship and the equally complicated task of maturing and accepting faults in yourself and others.

Of course, it’s the Wonderland creatures for which Jim Henson’s team is responsible, and they’re every bit as engaging, bizarre and fun as anything in The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth – but with a bite that’s uniquely their own. The creatures in Dreamchild lack the humor and warmth of the ones in Labyrinth, or the intricate societies of the ones in The Dark Crystal. They’re actually pretty malevolent – Carroll’s creations turned even more nightmarish – and serve as an interesting set of demons for Alice to overcome.

I worry about taking the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth comparisons too far, however. Dreamchild is a very different film from either of them. I’d compare it more to a movie like Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. It uses fantasy to illustrate one character’s disassociation from reality (and if you haven’t heard of The Fisher King…well, maybe that should be a topic of a future Forgotten Friday). However, differences aside, it’s a film that fans of The Jim Henson Company, Lewis Carroll, or good character-based drama shouldn’t miss.

Check out the trailer below…

Scott Pilgrim vs. Uninterested Moviegoers

So Scott Pilgrim bombed…?

You know, I can’t really say I’m surprised. After the perceived failure of Kick-Ass earlier this year, I figured the equally quirky and unique Scott Pilgrim would also be doomed to cult status. I have friends at Oni Press and great respect for Bryan Lee O’Malley, so I kept those thoughts largely to myself lest I be seen as a faith-lacking naysayer, but I gotta be honest…I saw this coming.

And I have a pretty good idea what’s coming next. After the underperformance of so many comic book movies based on lesser known titles this year (in addition to Scott Pilgrim and Kick-Ass, we also had The Losers and Jonah Hex…we’re yet to see how Red performs, which releases next month), Hollywood’s going to start losing interest in any graphic novel title that isn’t Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. At least until one of studios down the line takes a risk and manages to turn a profit adapting one of them, and then the cycle will gradually start all over again.

I have no doubt the comic book blogs and discussion boards are going to have a field day with this over the course of the week, pointing out that moviegoers prefer their comic book flicks old fashioned and comfortable rather than challenging, stylish, deconstructive or satirical. I’ll let them handle that discussion. To me, what’s more interesting is that they feel a need for the discussion in the first place. When it comes to popcorn flicks, dumb and formulaic always wins out. And I say that as someone who often enjoys the hell out of dumb and formulaic movies. When I want to see stuff blow up on screen accompanied by predictable twists and familiar dialogue, it really doesn’t matter if the source material is a comic book, an animated series, an old TV show or movie, or an original story.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter if it’s based on a bestselling novel. The Road was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Oprah Winfrey-endorsed Cormac McCarthy book, and it grossed less domestically in its entire run than Scott Pilgrim grossed this weekend. The Kite Runner made just a little more than $15 million despite an awards push from its distributor, while Everything is Illuminated grossed less than $2 million. When you look at the numbers, you see that moviegoers don’t strictly ignore movies based on acclaimed graphic novels, they’re just as keen to ignore ones based on highly praised novels as well. (And I do find it amusing that no one questions the validity of prose novels as cinematic source material when a movie based on a book bombs. I’m not sure why that spotlight is currently directed at comics.)

The problem isn’t with the source material and it’s not with the medium it was derived from. The problem is the audience, and Hollywood’s continual inability to understand what they respond to. Readers react to different things than filmgoers. They’re drawn to different material. And it’s really not that difficult to figure out when a novel has film potential—it reads like a movie. Harry Potter is remarkably visual and cinematic, The Da Vinci Code all but includes slug lines, Michael Crichton used to work as a screenwriter and director, and his books read like they were written by someone envisioning them on the big screen. And of course, comic books like Iron Man and The Avengers are all really visual.

Maybe that’s where the problem lies. Maybe studio execs, who have been so blinded by dollar signs I think their vision may have degraded to the point where actual reading is impossible, hear the words “comic book” and assume that what they’re optioning is ready made for the big screen. After all, comic book pages are kinda like storyboards, right?

Well, Scott Pilgrim doesn’t read like a movie. It reads like a comic book. And judging by the comic’s current placement on Amazon and the New York Times Graphic Novel list, that’s the way most people out there would prefer to experience it.

That said, did any of you see the movie? What did you think? I’m particularly curious about anyone who hasn’t read the comic book, or possibly went to see it unaware that it was based on one.

In Defense of Lady Luck

An artist I know recently commented on Twitter about how she’s never sure how to respond when people remark that she’s lucky to be doing what she loves because the reality is that she’s worked really hard to get there. I’m paraphrasing her considerably, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my blog, but all the same, I understand where she’s coming from. The notion that those of us who have succeeded in comics, film, fiction, music, professional sports or any other career that many others aspire to have found success through luck alone is false. No one scratches off a lotto ticket to reveal three matching “acting career” stamps. That’s not how it works.

However, to deny that luck plays a part in it is equally false. At the risk of minimalizing the importance of hard work in any career, particularly one in entertainment, I’d suggest that to look only at work and determination as the keys to a successful career may be to miss the point. Frankly, there are a lot of hard workers out there in every line of work. My very first job was stocking pharmacy shelves at my local Walmart, and in my life, I have never seen harder workers than some of the people who helped maintain that store. And as someone who’s also worked full time writing copy for a dental marketing company, I can attest that I worked just as hard at scripting the ads, e-blasts, trade articles and other marketing material that I was responsible for as I do at editing, writing, developing or pitching comics. Success in any career is rarely achieved without a lot of hard work, whether we’re talking retail, foodservice, sales, teaching…or drawing or writing comics. Hard work is not what sets those people working so-called desirable jobs apart from those people toiling away in retail or punching a clock in a warehouse.

So what is?

Well, it’s not one single thing. Freedom plays a big part of it. I worked with a very talented artist when I was editing at Tokyopop who was forced to take on a full-time retail job right at the time I managed to get him approved to draw an original graphic novel series scripted by two of the most well-known names in comic books today. You couldn’t choose a better first project if you’re a fledgling comic book artist, but unfortunately, his living situation dictated that he bring home a certain amount of money per month, and our advance didn’t cover it. And while we tried working around his day job, it simply took up too much time for him to produce pages at a decent pace. I had no choice but to replace him with someone else.

Freedom to work toward your desired career is a luxury that not everyone has. Neither is talent. I love what I do for a living, but if I’m to be completely honest with you (and am I ever anything but?), as a child and teenager, I wanted a career in music. However, my sense of rhythm is pathetic and my ability to write and think lyrically is atrocious. I’m not saying these aren’t skills I could have developed over time, but they didn’t come naturally to me and it likely would’ve taken me years of study and practice to develop them. Yes, this is where that hard work comes in, and I’m a firm believer that no career is unobtainable for anyone—but there are certainly some people out there who are going to have a much easier time obtaining it. Realizing this and realizing that I had true talents in other areas, I decided it would be better for me to pursue another career. I could’ve easily made the other choice, but I’ll tell yah, if I’d had any musical talent whatsoever, there wouldn’t have been any decision to make at all. Talent certainly isn’t everything…but it helps.

It also helps if you’re not hurting for money. While not every actor, musician, artist, writer or athlete is formally trained, many of them are and colleges—particularly art schools—aren’t cheap. Yes, many qualify for scholarships, but for those who don’t, you either need deep pockets, parents with deep pockets, or a steel stomach when it comes to racking up debt. Combine that with the cost of starting a career. Musicians have instruments to invest in. Artists have art supplies. Actors have head shots and agents. Not to mention the cost of going to auditions, attending conventions to meet with editors, renting a van to go on tour… Any business has startup costs, and those of us fortunate enough to be working in entertainment are essentially running our own businesses.

There’s more we could go into. When you really think of it, there are probably thousands of contributing factors. But getting even these three to line up in your favor is a challenge. Not everyone has the freedom to pursue a more challenging career path, the talent to help you stand out and move forward in your career and the opportunity and capital necessary to get you off to a great start. We have a word for those people out there who do—lucky.