Sunday, July 16, 2017

Archie’s Weirdest Mystery: “Riverdale”

Last fall, I moved and started a new job that requires a lot of travel. I intended to establish new cable service once I got settled. But I got busy, the election happened, and after a few months I realized that I don’t miss having a TV at all.

I attended the pilot screening for The CW’s Archie Comics adaptation “Riverdale” at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2016, and while I puzzled over the odd pacing and some of the characterizations, the final scene, in which openly gay Kevin Keller and closeted Moose Mason sneak off into the woods to do the nasty, only to have their coitus interrupted by the body of Jason Blossom washing up right in front of them, had me all in.

Then I had to wait until January to start watching the 13-episode first season. Having now done so via the CW website, I can report that, while the series kept me interested, if not riveted, it was rife with lazy plotting, suspect choices, and painful dialog delivered by a mostly inexperienced cast.

Let’s address the show’s worst sin first. The murder of Jason Blossom was concocted as a device to introduce the cast and establish the core relationships to a wider audience. It was promised that the killer would be revealed by the end of the first season, and he was. Show creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa admitted during his 2016 Comic-Con panel that the murder was Warner Bros.’ idea, and that once the pilot sold and the writer’s room was filled, they were going to sit down and figure out who did it. [Full disclosure: I pitched myself to Roberto at New York Comic Con (2015) to join the writer’s room and he demurred.] At the panel, there was also fair amount of grumbling from concerned fans about Archie’s affair with Miss Grundy, now a nubile music teacher rather than the septuagenarian depicted in the comics. Roberto promised that Archie’s choices would have consequences.

The big reveal [SPOILER ALERT] was that Jason’s father Clifford Blossom killed his own son for reasons that remain murky but may have had something to do with Jason’s unwillingness to run the Blossoms’ maple syrup business as a front for its drug cartel. The reveal was surprising, but only because it came out of nowhere and made no sense. A good reveal would make you reconsider the information you’ve received up to that point, and see it in a new light. This did none of that, and tied up the murder only because it was time to tie up the murder and move on. Who made the videotape of Clifford shooting Jason? Why did they send the tape to Betty instead of the police? Since Jason just wanted out and had no intention of exposing his family, why would Clifford kill him and then kill himself? The writers don’t care.

Miss Grundy was an early suspect in Jason’s murder, but the gun in her possession was justified as protection she needed from her vengeful ex-husband, and when her true identity was exposed, she explained that she assumed the real, deceased Miss Grundy’s identity as part of her do-it-yourself witness protection program. When her affair with Archie was revealed, she was run out of town and never heard from again. So much for consequences.

Here’s what should have happened: Fake Miss Grundy’s jealous ex tracks her to Riverdale, and exacts his revenge by killing the boy-toy she took up with after she left him. Except he mistakes Jason for Archie – they’re both redheads, they both wear the same letterman jacket – and shoots Jason while Archie and Fake MG are making out within earshot. When the killer is revealed, Archie is crushed to learn that Jason’s murder was an unintended consequence of their affair. This would have tied the whole season together and restored our faith in Archie as a good kid who made a bad choice and learned an indelible lesson.

The show’s second-worst sin is in its depiction of the parents. While the kids at least look like their comic-book counterparts, and possess some of their superficial character traits, the intact, salt-of-the-earth families of the comics have been mostly replaced by younger, single parents who are free to have affairs with each other while also acting batshit crazy most of the time. It makes you wonder how the kids turned out as well as they did, and also what kind of twisted relationship Roberto must have had with his parents. Betty’s mother Alice Cooper, in particular, seems to have wandered in from Twin Peaks, the way she controls her daughters, emasculates her husband, and has no qualms about throwing bricks through windows. When Betty invites Jughead over for dinner, Alice keeps mocking his name, as if she forgot that he’s been Betty’s friend since childhood and his name should be nothing new or special by now. Like her namesake from the rock world, this Alice Cooper would be completely at home biting the heads off snakes. And in this version of Riverdale, she’d have plenty of snakes to choose from.

The show sets up and squanders so many opportunities that it appears to be written on the fly, with complete disregard for consistency, continuity, and structural basics. As one example, it was established in the pilot that a rift recently developed between childhood friends Archie and Jughead, but it had yet to be explained. As far as I can tell, it never got explained; it simply got dropped as the season progressed and Jughead moved in with Archie. As a more egregious example, at the end of Season 1, Archie spends the night at Veronica’s house to consummate their relationship. At this point we also know that Veronica’s father Hiram Lodge is about to be released from prison as Veronica’s mother Hermione is preparing for his arrival. Since one of the core relationships in the comics is Mr. Lodge’s loathing of Archie, I was anticipating that as Archie tries to sneak out of the house in the morning, he would run smack into Mr. Lodge, establishing an instant and compelling justification for Hiram’s loathing. (In fact, this would be stronger than in the comics, where Hiram simply believes Archie to be unworthy of his daughter’s affections.) But no, Archie just sneaks out undetected, and neither Hiram nor Hermione is any the wiser.

What works about this show is a much shorter list: it begins and ends with Cole Sprouse. A consummate actor, a stickler for canon, and the glue that holds the show together through his wry, noirish narration, Sprouse enlivens every scene he’s in. He has expressed disappointment that “Riverdale’s” Jughead has not been established as asexual, leading to his current pairing with Betty. In fact, “Bughead” seems to be the most buzzed-about couple on the show. Chalk this up to the chemistry Sprouse enjoys with simply everyone, elevating the performance of whoever his scene partner happens to be. In fact, considering that Archie has already plowed through every girl and woman on the show except Ethel Muggs (that we know of), and that Jughead has spent most of the season sleeping in Archie’s bedroom, my vote for the show’s cutest couple goes to “Jarhead.”

Archie, as played by KJ Apa, is certainly easy on the eyes, although his come-and-go American accent can be a bit distracting and his performance runs about as deep as a bottle cap. In interviews, Apa appears much more charming and jocular when speaking in his native Kiwi accent. The requirements of the role appear to be straitjacketing him into giving a mannered, self-conscious, frequently shirtless performance. I understand that this role was the hardest to cast, but I think it would have benefited the show to have an American actor play such an American icon.

Speaking of Americana, when a property such as Archie Comics has been around for more than 75 years, a present-day adaptation presents unique challenges. One of the biggest challenges is that, in the comics, all the main characters are white. “Riverdale” overcomes this challenge in various ways. Dark, alluring Veronica has been reconceived as Hispanic. Reggie has been cast, and now recast, as Eurasian. Peripheral characters such as Pop Tate and Mr. Weatherbee are now black. The biggest change from the comics is that all three Pussycats, not just Valerie, are now black. (This is a bit jarring considering that Archie also launched a new Josie & the Pussycats comic book last year, with Josie and Melody looking like their traditional white selves. But that book is about to be cancelled, so I guess it doesn’t much matter.) For me, the larger question is why Josie & the Pussycats are in “Riverdale” at all, considering that in the comics they lived in a different town and only crossed over for “very special episodes.” Riverdale has so many iconic characters – Reggie, Dilton, Ethel, Moose, Midge – whose surfaces were barely scratched in Season 1.

Here’s hoping that with more runway to plot out a 22-episode second season, and with the murder of Jason Blossom firmly in the rear-view mirror, we might see a stronger show that builds more faithfully on the Archie canon while also planting “Riverdale” squarely in the 21st century. The history of television abounds with shows that went on to critical and ratings acclaim after rocky first seasons. As a lifelong fan of Archie Comics, I hope this turns out to be the case for “Riverdale.”



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Moonlight in the Garden of La La Land

I haven’t seen many first-run movies this year, but two I checked out because of the buzz they generated on the festival circuit were Moonlight and La La Land. I wanted to like each one a lot more than I did.

Moonlight is two-thirds of a good movie. It tells the story of a gay black man named Chiron (pronounced shi-RON) at three different ages. The chapters devoted to Chiron’s childhood and teen years are gritty and compelling and transported me to a world I have never experienced nor seen on film. Unfortunately, the third chapter, depicting Chiron as an adult, plays as if someone took a Merchant Ivory film full of repressed Brits and remade it with a black cast. Nothing happens for at least 30 minutes until, I guess, Chiron decides to finally have sex. Fade to credits. Very early in the film, there’s an ambitious, unnecessary 360-degree camera shot surrounding a drug deal. Either this was the sizzle reel the filmmakers used to raise money for the film, or they blew their budget on this shot and settled for static camerawork thereafter. Either way, the third chapter, which represents nothing but inner turmoil, would have benefited from a few such camera tricks; alas, none were employed.

Similarly, La La Land opens with a dizzying, how’d-they-do-that musical number staged on a real Los Angeles freeway. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the rest of the story. The simple boy-meets-girl premise is told through unmemorable songs, vast dull patches, and an unsatisfying ending.  And if you’re casting a musical, you might want to consider hiring leads who can actually sing. The weak pipes of Emma Stone (otherwise beguiling) and especially Ryan Gosling pale in comparison to co-star John Legend, a real singer who blows the roof off the dump during his brief turn in the spotlight. Gosling is supposed to be a jazz purist who has written exactly one song to prove it – a yawning piano number that’s not remotely jazzy and that he plays several times in the film to diminishing effect, reaching its nadir in the cringe-worthy final scene. Stone plays a struggling actress who beats long odds to become a bona fide movie star – yet she walks down the street unbothered by fans, slips into jazz clubs unnoticed, and Gosling doesn’t even seem to know what she’s been up to for the last five years. Moreover, as if to underscore the disconnect between the exciting opening number and the two hours that follow, when Stone finds herself in a traffic jam near the end of the film (in her own car, very unstarlike), no attempt is made to tie this scene back to the earlier one or to musicalize it in any way. I won’t spoil the ending – writer/director Damien Chazelle did that for you – but suffice it to say that, in real life, Stone would have had far better odds of ending up with Gosling than of becoming a major star.

That said, as awards season approaches and these two films have emerged as frontrunners, which one of them has the better chance of taking home the gold? Moonlight will get a slew of Oscar nominations because it’s highly original, a critics’ darling, and boasts a predominantly black cast that will allow Hollywood to avoid another #OscarsSoWhite controversy. But because no one in Hollywood can relate to the impoverished, crack-addled world of the film, it will go home empty-handed except for maybe a screenplay nod. La La Land will also get a slew of Oscar nominations because it’s somewhat original, a critics’ darling, and a love letter to Los Angeles. And because everyone in Hollywood can relate to it, it will likely win Best Picture, not unlike The Artist, another mediocre film about Hollywood.


Personally, I would like to see a more accessible and uplifting film like Hidden Figures go the distance, but I fear they launched their campaign too late. For my twelve bucks, the best film of 2016 was Deadpool, and the struggle to get it made will resonate with the Academy; but come Oscar night, it will be an honor just to be nominated.

Monday, July 11, 2016

“Jayson” Strips At Last

If you’re a gay comics fan, you probably already know that Jeff Krell’s pioneering humor strip “Jayson” debuted in the Philadelphia Gay News in 1983 and graduated to acclaimed runs in Gay Comix and Meatmen.

What you may not know is that, for a number of years, Krell also produced a weekly syndicated version of the “Jayson” strip. Krell often serialized adventures over a span of weeks, which he later submitted to publishers as complete stories. However, he also produced a number of standalone gag strips that have never been reprinted.

In fact, in 2003, all of Krell’s original art went missing, never to be recovered. He kept copies of all his stories, but many of his gag strips were lost forever. Until now.

Issue 5 of Jayson Comics, titled “Jayson’s Joke Book,” represents a years-long effort to track down copies of those missing gag strips. In a few cases, the printed versions were in such poor condition that it was easier to trace and redraw them than to clean them up. In the end, Krell believes he has recovered all but three strips.

Debuting in July 2016 at San Diego Comic-Con, “Jayson’s Joke Book” is a treasure trove of rarely seen “Jayson” strips from 1984 to 1997, including some unpublished strips and brand-new material.

As a bonus, the center spread of this issue contains the “Jayson” board game Krell has always wanted to manufacture. Get together with your friends, pour some smart cocktails, and “Help Jayson out of the closet!”


“Jayson’s Joke Book” (24 pp., $4.00) is available for digital download and print-on-demand through IndyPlanet, as well as through Prism Comics, which represents Krell’s work at comic-book conventions. For more information, visit http://ignite-ent.com.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

San Diego Comic-Con 2013



I had the pleasure of appearing on the SDCC panel "A Look at Kevin Keller" panel alongside Archie Comics' President Mike Pellerito, Kevin Keller's creator Dan Parent, and out former Archie publicist Nina Kester. The panel was moderated by Prism Comics' President Ted Abenheim. For those of you who don't know, Kevin Keller is Archie Comics' out teen character who moved to Riverdale with much fanfare in 2010. As the creator of "Jayson," which has often been called the "gay Archie" and more recently the "spiritual godfather to Kevin Keller," I was asked to lend my perspective to how much things have changed since I created "Jayson" 30 years ago.


Here are the links to some of the coverage I received as a result of the panel:


The Advocate
"Your Queer Guide to Comic-Con"
by Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Comic Book Resources
"SDCC: Archie’s Kevin Keller Panel"
by Brett White

GeeksOUT
"Jeff Krell’s Jayson: 'The Gay Archie'”
by Patrick Yacco
http://geeksout.org/blogs/patrick/jeff-krells-jayson-gay-archie

The Advocate
"Comic-Con Highlights"
Interview regarding the possibility of a Jayson-meets-Kevin crossover!
by Jacob Anderson-Minshall
http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/comics-and-graphic-novels/2013/08/15/comic-con-highlights?page=0%2C5


Sunday, September 23, 2012

San Diego Comic-Con 2012


Meant to file this report right after Comic-Con in July and life got in the way. Better late than never.

I spent most of the past two months getting ready for San Diego Comic-Con. Jayson Comics #2 has just been published and is available as a print-on-demand comic at IndyPlanet, along with a variant-cover edition of Jayson Comics #1. Both contain key chapters from my upcoming graphic novel "Jayson Gets a Job!", which I intend to have out in time for New York Comic-Con in October.

Northwest Press is now offering digital editions of all my print titles ("Jayson" books as well as my Ralf König translations) on iTunes, along with an exclusive "History of Jayson" which we just finished working on. It's about 50 pages long, lavishly illustrated, and based on a series of blog posts I wrote a few years ago.

I also completed the script for my issue-length "Kevin Keller Meets Sabrina" story and submitted it to Archie Comics in time for them to read it before seeing them at the Con.

Wednesday night at Comic-Con is Preview Night, open only to professionals and a lucky few early purchasers of 4-day passes. As such, it is a bit quieter and a better opportunity for networking. After setting up my table at the Prism Comics booth, I made a beeline for the Archie Comics booth. I've had a good relationship with Archie President Mike Pellerito for a few years now, but I have never been able to break through with Editor-in-Chief Victor Gorelick. Turns out it was a smart move to send both of them my "Kevin Keller Meets Sabrina" story in advance; Victor read it and liked it so much that it finally put me on his radar. While he says the "Kevin" book is plotted out two years in advance and he doesn't see an opportunity to use the script, he said that Archie needs to find an opportunity for me to write something for them!

I was able to capitalize on this turn of events during my speech at the 25th annual all-star Gays In Comics panel on Saturday night. I talked about creating "Jayson" because I loved Archie Comics but never saw myself represented in them, and how Kevin Keller has changed all that. I was able to conclude by stating that on the eve of Jayson's 30th anniversary, I find myself in talks to write for Archie. It brought down the house.

During the Con I was also interviewed for a documentary about LGBT comics creators called "Secret Identities"; I'll let you know if the film ever comes out. I did an interview about Jayson with Jeff4Justice that landed on YouTube. And I attended the launch party for an anthology from Fantagraphics called "No Straight Lines: 40 Years of Queer Cartooning," to which I contributed one of my early Jayson stories.

Since Comic-Con I have been working feverishly to finish my new graphic novel "Jayson Gets a Job!" in time for New York Comic-Con in October. The book finally went to press this week and will debut at New York Comic-Con (Oct. 11-14) and San Francisco's Alternative Press Expo (Oct. 13-14) at the Prism Comics booth. If you can't get to either of these events, the book is also now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Screwed By Comikaze

Back in February, the CEO of Comikaze, a Los Angeles-based comic book convention I had never heard of, offered me a free table and publicity on their website in exchange for appearing at their show in September. I accepted the offer and dutifully submitted the requested photo, bio, and completed  form.

A month later, I met the CEO, Regina Carpinelli, at WonderCon. At my age, pretty much everyone I meet reminds me of someone I've already met, and Regina reminded me of any number of smooth talkers who turn out to be full of baloney.

Months pass, Comikaze is rebranded as "Stan Lee's Comikaze," and I hear nothing back from Regina or anyone associated with the convention. My photo and bio do not appear on their website and I am not listed a guest, special or otherwise. My emails and phone calls to Regina and to "Teddy," the director of sales, go unreturned.

My friend Dylan Edwards ("Transposes"), who managed to secure a table in Artists' Alley but only received the promised show package a few days before the show and only after making repeated requests, suggested I contact "Corey," the director of operations. After several days Corey Silverstein responded as follows:

"At this point Artists' Alley is completely full and we cannot offer you a table... However we would happy to offer you a complimentary pass so that you can enjoy the show."

So instead of the promised free table and publicity, I have the opportunity to... attend the show! Fuck you very much, Comikaze. I think I'll pass.

See you all in New York, where they know how to run a convention.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wither Facebook

Facebook was fun while it lasted. It enabled people to easily do two things they love to do: connect with others and talk about themselves. Then Facebook got greedy. (Or "ambitious" if you prefer.) No longer content to be a digital diversion, Facebook decided to take on Twitter and LinkedIn and all its competitors at once. Now, while attempting to post and share amusing bits of our lives, Facebook assaults us with invitations to join BranchOut and Klout that demand an ever-growing share of our personal bandwidth. And then there's that insidious Timeline, which Facebook unilaterally decided is a better way for us to present our personal information. I've stopped visiting the pages of my Friends who use Timeline because it gives me a migraine. Soon everyone will be forced to switch to Timeline, and whatever minor pleasure I once derived from using Facebook will be gone forever. Remember the days when seemingly everyone was on AOL? Those chat rooms sure were addictive. AOL grew powerful enough to swallow Time Warner! Then, overnight, AOL was uncool. A late-night punch line. Soon it receded from view. All in under a decade. A similar fate awaits Facebook. Soon the next disruptive technology will come along and render Facebook passé. In ten years, Facebook will be a distant memory and a handy touchstone for period films set in 2009. What will replace Facebook's share of hearts, minds, and wallets? Of late, interest seems to be growing in Pinterest, but if you've never been into scrapbooking, I doubt this will change your mind. Tumblr? Foursquare? Who knows? Maybe Twitter will grow restless and grow up. In all likelihood, a service you've never heard of will catch fire and capture the zeitgeist. Just like Facebook did. And MySpace before it. And AOL before that. It's inevitable. It's the way of the digital world.  The only question is: How many people will be sorry they bought Facebook stock?