Transmedia, content that includes more than traditional text and illustrations, is still so new. Basically, it is storytelling on multiple platforms: there’s not only a book but there is video, music, games, social media, and so on. I feel it’s going to take a number of years before the novelty wears off and things integrate more naturally, if they ever do. Take this latest hybrid of book, music, and social media: “H8 Society – How An Atomic Fart Saved the World.” It does not take on the whole transmedia spectrum but it is in the same ballpark. The intent is to bring in young readers and it is designed to be ideally read on a smartphone.
This is a young adult book which has an overall upbeat and dynamic vibe to it so there’s some real potential there to attract new readers. This is a sci-fi adventure of sorts that is meant to appeal to teens. That is absolutely the demographic that is being targeted. It is clearly stated in the title, and not just the idea of farts. The idea of haters is pretty obvious. A lot of buttons are pushed, including all the usual suspects of sex, drugs, and race. The story begins with a satire on a jihadist which is odd at best. There are also scenes you can call sexist at best.
The press release describes this book as “a first-of-its-kind ‘extreme reading experience’ that marries music, graphics, and literature to tell an unforgettable story about an apocalyptic American dream.” Much more to the point, this is light entertainment or contemporary pulp fiction. It is not literature. It’s just light stuff featuring popular music. This book is sort of a contemporary version of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon singing in “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
An illustration by Bill Sienkiewicz in “H8 Society”
Something that is strongly in its favor is that the book is punctuated with vivid artwork by master illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz of DC and Marvel Comics fame. And the music peppered throughout this story is an impressive collection of twenty-six indie songs (curated from over 4,000 ReverbNation submissions). You’ll be reading along for a while and then have the option to play a song that sort of goes with the narrative. For instance, Boomer and the gang are right in the middle of an exciting scene. To add to that reading, you may want to listen to Valora’s “Extreme.”
While you read “H8 Society” on your smartphone, you can listen to songs like Valora’s “Extreme.”
The story is a caper involving two rival teen gangs who must confront a global network bent on taking over the world through mind control. It’s not the most cutting-edge scenario but it gets the job done and proves to be as entertaining as any light sitcom you might stumble upon. The choice of music is fun and that’s probably the most intriguing thing about this project. From time to time, a reader, immersed in his or her own reader’s world, is open to supplemental material. If you get that right choice of song, it can have a very moving and lasting effect upon a reader and actually enhance the reading experience.
First, you need a worthwhile reading experience before you can enhance it. In the case of this book, it is what it is: a simple caper story. And maybe that’s just what some readers will want during a commute. One caveat, the creators of this book go by the name of 2Dans. They are two former MTV executives which adds to the sense of this being more of a packaged deal and less of something to take too seriously. But then, atomic farts were never meant to be taken seriously, right? Find out how you can access this book for free by visiting the official book site here.
I am inspired to share with you my thoughts on recently viewing a DVD of “While We’re Young,” a 2014 comedy-drama written, produced, and directed by Noah Baumbach starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, and Amanda Seyfried. See the trailer, if you haven’t already. Okay, it looks like it’s about a middle-aged couple who wonder if life has passed them by. It’s about that but, at it’s also very much about the breakdown in honesty and integrity in a world where such things don’t seem to matter as much as they used to.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard about the ridiculous story of our times, the misadventure of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o who was supposedly “catfished” in a bizarre girlfriend hoax. So, hold up a bit, “catfished,” you say? If you’re not familiar, this is shorthand for being duped into believing you’re in a relationship with someone who does not really exist. The idea is that a person enters into an internet romance without ever actually meeting the person in person. You know, for reals? And then they eventually find out it was all a hoax. Crazy stuff, huh? The truly crazy thing is that, even to this day, this concept is taken for granted as being legitimate– or at least by the producers of the Catfish franchise. You see, it all began with the 2010 movie, so-called, “documentary,” “Catfish,” which went on to become, and currently still is, a show on MTV by the same goofball name. Now, I say all this to make a point: “catfished,” far from genuinely representing a duped lover is the perfect example of how far we’ve fallen from authenticity in the media. As ludicrous as both the movie and show are, as false as the premise is for both the movie and the show, the official word is that it’s all bona fide true! And this sort of hogwash is what our main character Josh (played by Ben Stiller) will not stand for!
You see, Josh is just like you and me. He’s human. He is vulnerable. He is prone to doubting himself. Then along comes what seems to be a younger and smarter version of himself, Jamie (played by Adam Driver). Both men are immersed in the world of documentaries. Well, Josh is for sure, perhaps too immersed as he’s been working on the same rather tiresome film for many years. In fact, it’s taking Josh way too long to speak the truth he so desperately seeks. Or is he lazy and complacent? Out of the fog, emerges Jamie who pops up at one of Josh’s lectures. Josh feels rejuvenated in the presence of the fresh and alive Jamie. Before Josh knows what’s hit him, he and his wife, Cornelia (played by Naomi Watts) are swept up by the youthful charisma of Jamie and his wife, Darby (played by Amanda Seyfried). If only Josh could so effortlessly create and relate to the world in the same way as Jamie, the Young Turk. Ah, but things are not always as they may seem, right?
You could say that, in a way, Josh ends up being “catfished.” I really hate using that term as it brings up that bogus movie and TV show. And I happen to love catfish as a culinary delight. That’s as far as I ever had to go with the word. However, I do dig the new definition I have come up with: catfish: “to denigrate tradition; to ignore honesty and integrity; to forget about ethics.” I think that covers it. So, Josh is not duped into an internet romance. No, but he is duped. I’m not sure that I’m getting out of this film exactly what it has to offer but it’s pretty close. Overall, the idea that it’s not only okay, but expected, that you cut corners, is well expressed here. It could have been better, and more clearly, expressed but, what can you do? We live in times where it’s okay to cut some corners. And, hey, it’s a major Hollywood motion picture. Some corners will get cut! In these cases, you need to imagine the perfect film within the big budget movie. Anyway, I had been meaning to speak on the issue of infotainment and the slippery slope we’ve been heading with faux documentaries. This review was inspired by all the attention to a recent post on Discovery Channel’s TREASURE QUEST: SNAKE ISLAND. That post struck a chord. This response, in the form of a review, will do for now.
When Daniel Jackson Lim first encounters Hilo, the little outer space alien, he sees a boy his own age flat on his back after falling from the sky and making a cataclysmic impact. He reaches out to him and – Snap! – there’s a mighty electrical charge that compels D.J. to scream, “Aaaah!” The die is cast. This becomes Hilo’s favorite word! Aaaah! Perfect as a greeting, a sign of approval, or just whenever. And so begins Judd Winick’s magical and hilarious all-ages graphic novel. And, yes, this is truly all-ages as adults and kids alike will groove to Winkick’s humor which evokes Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes.”
Here at Comics Grinder, I do my utmost best to bring to you an appealing mix of content geared to adults as well as content geared to children. And, as I’ve often said, it’s really great when you find a shining example of a bona fide all-ages comic. If you’re familiar with Judd Winick, you know that he has a healthy sense of humor as well as a thoughtful and caring side. Check out this interview that Whitney Matheson did with Winick right here. It goes back to Winick’s time on MTV’s “The Real World” in the ’90s. During the show, Winick became close friends with his housemate, Pedro, the first “Real World” housemate living with HIV. Winick would go on to create a graphic novel about Pedro entitled, “Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned.”
It’s a combination of irreverent and energetic storytelling, bold artwork, and a great heart that makes this boy-out-of-world adventure so worthwhile. Readers will be won over long before Hilo has a clue as to what his destiny is to be.
The next adventure will be entitled, “HILO: Saving the Whole Wide World.” Yes, there will be more after this initial adventure, “HILO: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth.” And it only makes sense. It takes a while for Hilo to figure out what’s going on.
“HILO: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth” is a 208-page full-color hardcover published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House. It is available as of September 1, 2015. For more details, visit Penguin Random House right here. You can also visit Random House Kids right here.
There used to be two “Catfish” groups: those who had never heard of the 2010 movie, or the MTV show it inspired; and those hip to the whole thing. And now, there’s people getting up to speed since the Manti Te’o catfish caper. This review will assume little to no prior knowledge of the movie or even the term, “catfish,” although we’ve already reached the tipping point on this one. All you need to know is that a “catfish” is someone trolling the net pretending to be someone else and that this movie has the distinction of coining the term. With the success of the MTV show, more has been added to the core definition that sort of confuses the issue. Such is the life of a word.
The movie, and it’s TV version, seem to offer a new vantage point on the ills of virtual reality and, who knows, may spark some soul-searching. To catfish or not to catfish? That is the question many people have dealt with and some have chosen to partake in the twisted game of deception and self-delusion. That’s the serious theme to consider and not lose sight of in comparison to the controversy over whether “Catfish” is a documentary or a hoax itself. Nev Schulman is the star of this movie and plays the role of a naive guy (or plays himself) and gets caught up in an online romance until we get to the big twist. Just like our celebrated sports hero, Notre Dame’s star linebacker, Manti Te’o, this is supposed to be the story of a young man falling prey to an elaborate hoax. It’s interesting how Notre Dame’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, referenced this movie in trying to explain the current Manti Te’o story. Is Swarbrick some sort of mumblecore film buff? Not so much.
The movie, for what it is, is well done. It now feels like something that couldn’t possibly happen today. However, the MTV show would beg to differ. Here is where we start to enter spoiler territory so beware. The pitch during the original run of “Catfish” was that you were better off knowing as little as possible about it before viewing. At this point, the opposite may hold true. Should you bother to see it after the premise has now become common knowledge and we’ve moved on to a TV show? Yes, it is worth the ride. After viewing it, you may likely come away wondering if this was all set up. The good thing about that, is that it adds something if you go on to watch the MTV show, also featuring Nev Schulman, because on that show, it really does feel like we’re nabbing internet trolls.
Nev Schulman goes from catfish victim to host of his own show helping potential catfish victims. Same idea as the movie, we go on a journey to confront the alleged online lover. It does feel authentic even if it could just as easily be a new and improved version of “The Jerry Springer Show,” which dosen’t even try to hide being staged. In the case of MTV’s offering, Nev really appears to be into getting to the truth. And the victims appear to lack enough common sense to be the real deal. In one case, the red flag is that the girl in question does not own a cell phone. “How is that even possible?” asks Nev, “That’s like saying you don’t own a pair of pants!” When the troll is revealed, it is a nervous young man who looks so ashamed as to be cringeworthy. He admits to pretending to be as many as a hundred other persons. And he admits that he feels better hiding behind his sexy avatar. It rings true and it seems to elevate the show to serving a public service. Maybe it is.
In 2008, when the movie was made, Nev, his brother Rel, and a friend, Henry Joost, decided to document a year in the life of Nev Schulman. (Both Rel and Henry have directed for the “Paranormal Activity” franchise.) That is what we keep hearing, at first, that this is a movie about Nev, which already seems a little suspicious. Unless this is a dramatization, which it does not claim to be, the three of them were all at the right place at the right time when a very strange thing started to happen to Nev. It is stated in the film that Nev was getting his photographs published in “The New York Sun” and that it caught the eye of a little girl prodigy, in Michigan, who started mailing him paintings inspired by his work. Look here and you’ll get a sense that “The New York Sun” was a rather obscure newspaper. So, how does it come to the attention of an 8-year-old in Michigan let alone much of anyone else outside of a select New York demographic? This is something that Nev does not question. In fact, when interviewed recently by New York Magazine, Nev reveals that, at that time in his life, he had dropped out of Sarah Lawrence and was shooting videos of bar mitzvahs to make a living. This is a pretty important aspect of his life not even mentioned in what is supposed to be a detailed account of Nev’s activities.
Nev’s friendship with the little girl, Abby, leads him to talk to her mom, Angela, on the phone. And that ultimately leads to his getting to know Abby’s older, and sexy, half-sister, Megan. Finally, one fateful night, Nev gets to talk to Megan on the phone, all neatly documented for our viewing pleasure, and he finds himself smitten. An online romance, and cautionary tale, has begun, complete with endless texting. Nev, to his credit, is a very likable sort but his range of emotional expression leaves much to be desired. There is little variance between love-struck Nev, stressed-out Nev, angry Nev, or concerned Nev. It all seems to settle down to one prevailing version: stressed-out Nev. Either the guy prefers to be left alone or he’s not a very compelling actor. That aside, and that’s a lot to set aside, if you let yourself, this movie can hook you in. There is absolutely no level of suspense to match, or even compare, to Hitchcock but you still want to know what the devil is going on.
You get to the point that you know that it is very unlikely that Nev is speaking with the woman he thinks he’s speaking with. It’s not as scary a moment as it should be and where you will want to shift gears to speculation over whether the documentary is real or not. That’s what will make this more entertaining, especially when you reach the part where Nev confronts the person who is supposed to be Megan. Again, this is the ulimtate spoiler alert if you’re totally new. We discover, to no one’s surprise, that sexy Megan has actually been Angela, Abby’s mom, all along. And the real life Angela is not the exotic creature Nev was led to believe. The real Angela is not glamorous. And to make matters more complicated, she appears stuck in a loveless marriage caretaking two developmentally disabled stepsons. This is the trickiest part of all. You feel you must conclude that this documentary is legit or how could Nev stoop so low as to exploit two developmentally disabled men? Perhaps, Nev and Angela are legitimate up to a point. They found a way to make art out of their respective lives and don’t see it as having crossed a line.
Finally, here is the take away. Where the heck did the term “catfish” come from anyway? This is the grace note that also appears to tip the hand of the filmmakers. In one of the final scenes, Vince, Angela’s unsavory husband, demonstrates some near poetic eloquence. As if lost in lofty thought, Vince offers up to Nev a brief history of the fishing industry in order to put Angela’s actions into perspective. He describes how carp were a potentially profitable import to China except for the damage they suffered on the long trip. The solution was to pack a few catfish with the carp and this kept the carp moving, agile and fresh. “Sometimes,” Vince concluded, “that is what society needs, a catfish to keep it guessing.” Was this something that Nev and his crew just happend upon or was it staged? Perhaps the filmmakers were attempting to have Vince explain how the film’s means justified its end.