Podcast #71: How "Chuck" "Lost" the "Assassin's Creed" While Emerging from Church

Podcast #71: How "Chuck" "Lost" the "Assassin's Creed" While Emerging from Church January 29, 2010

This week, Ben and Rich address subjects that were suggested by listeners like you! We asked for some subjects via Twitter, Facebook and the website, and tried to address as many as possible. Some subjects discussed: Assassin’s Creed 2, Chuck, Lost, Haiti charity, the emergent church and more!

Every week, Richard Clark and Ben Bartlett acknowledge and respond to the big issues in popular culture. We love feedback! If you’d like to respond you can comment on the website, send an email to christandpopculture@gmail.com, or go to our contact page. We would love to respond to feedback on the show, so do it now! Subscribe to us in iTunes by clicking here. While you’re at it, review us in iTunes! We’ll love you forever!

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  • peter bartlett

    Rich, don’t be embarrassed about your video game passion. I know you weren’t really but just wanted to throw out my support because I think video games are becoming a more legitimate form of thoughtful, engaging entertainment.

    I think that the trend in video games is towards depth of story. Many of the most successful games are really built upon not just great gameplay, but a great story behind it. World of Warcraft, Halo, Assassin’s Creed 2, etc. all have as much writing and backstory done for them as movies.
    So at the very minimum I think video games have the potential to at least be movies of sorts, where there is a great and thoughtful story.

    Where video games have to potential to branch off of and building on movies as a medium is in the area of choices and experiencing the story in your own way. A really old game but my favorite one for a long time was called Deus Ex. It was an action RPG type game, but there were three separate endings, and your decisions determined the ending. What was awesome was that there wasn’t just a “good” ending and “bad” ending. There really was a lot of discussion to be had about the morality of each choice.

    If more people had played this game there could have been some fantastic discussion about what is right and wrong, and maybe even choiced you had made earlier in the game could make one ending seem more right at the time than another one.

    Anyways, good stuff.

  • Peter, Thanks so much for the comments. I think Mass Effect 2 would blow your mind.

  • So since this is the first day since the podcast that I’ve been able to write anything resembling a sentence (pro tip for the kids: teh sick sucks), I thought I’d talk a little bit about Ben and comics.


    As far as the connection between readers of comics and readers of literature, I will absolutely grant that these are two different mediums. That said, most of the interpretive skills used in reading great literature are cross-disciplinary with other narrative works. That’s why great book-readers have an easy access point into watching film—because many of the same techniques are used. And also why you have less migration between book-reading and the appreciation of dance or sculpture.

    Of course, there are extra disciplines that require mastery for a lit-reader to fully appreciate a great film (e.g. understanding of visual design, sound design, mise-en-scene, etc.). And some of these film-related themes are cross-disciplinary with comics as well. Each medium has its own stable of disciplines required to most fully appreciate its offerings, some of which are shared with other mediums and some of which are particular to the individual medium.

    I think though that once a comics reader has a firm grasp on the disciplines the medium requires, its product has the potential to be as rewarding as the best literature or the best film. And it’s important to realize that some stories function best in a particular medium. Citizen Kane would lose everything if it had been a book instead of a film. The Lord of the Rings (as good as the movies were) suffers terribly in comparison to what Tolkien wrote. And just the same, certain stories can only be best told in comics.

    I would argue that Footnotes on Gaza is one such example. Sacco’s use of camera angle, abstraction, caricature, visual pacing, etc. make what would have been dry reading (under anything less than the most incredible pen) come alive in a way only comics (or possibly animation) could. It’s the kind of work in which having images go along with the text does not diminish the experience but instead heightens it.

    And the best of comics will do this.

    I’m kinda sorry that Watchmen was your touchstone here. I tend to think of it as the worst of the best. It’s important for historical reasons, but not the kind of thing that I would ever point someone to to demonstrate the promise of the medium. It served as little more as a formalistic subversion of the superhero genre (which served its purpose at the time), but it had little influence on much of the wonderful stuff being produced in the last decade.

    It would be like if I decided to give books a chance and said, “You know what? I’m going to read The Shack. That’s going to be my book by which I decide whether I’m going to become a book-reader. I love comics and television and film and theatre and opera, so maybe I should give books a shot. It was a bestseller last year and a lot of people said it was the best thing they’d read in a while.”

    I mean, how much would you hate The Shack then?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to love comics. Or even go out of your way to give the good ones a try. They’re not for everyone. But I will say this: being an adept reader of books has made me an adept reader of comics and vice versa. Crossing disciplines has tended, more than not, to inform my reading experiences (in both literature and comics)—and inform my film-viewing experience as well.

    If you’re ever interested in reading comics that might shift your understanding of the medium, I’d be happy to recommend some that you could pick up from your local library system (thereby eliminating the unfortunately high cost of entry).

  • Oh, I did want to add that I mostly agree with you about not wanting images to infect my reading of a novel, my own imagination usually being more than sufficient to propel a written world into existence.

    That said, when I was reading The Devil in the White City I was absolutely hungry for pictures of the Chicago exhibition. It was one thing to read the marvelous descriptions of the grounds but quite another to have images of the real thing to play with in my reading of the work.

    I mention this only as a prooftext to support the idea that the addition of imagery can better one’s experience of a work.

  • That’s all fair.

    I have read some other comics as well, and recognize that my primary issue is not feeling comfort with the medium. I also think the “price of entry” is high not so much in cost, but in the time and discipline of learning the right way to appreciate comics as well as the time needed to learn, for instance, which comics are quality and which are not.

    I’ve spent so many thousands of hours with literature over the years that I have a lot of shorthand to help me target my reading well: my own interests, types of authors and philosophies and writing styles, genres, etc. I just don’t much care to relearn all of that stuff for the particular niche that comics fulfill. But if comics develop to the point that they consistently are churning out stuff with the cultural impact, of, say, Maus, then I might have reason to take a closer look.

  • You’re right. It would be difficult to approach the wide open field of comics and really have any idea down which path to direct oneself. It would be like never having read a book before and walking into a Borders. Too many choices and too many bad choices.

    We need voices we trust to point us in the right direction. I have a hard time choose new authors to start. When I find one I like, I’ll generally read a handful of the author’s work before looking for another. I read a lot of Murakami based on a friend who liked one of his books and that shot me over to Ishiguro when I saw an online reading group point to one of his works as a secondary reference. I’ve picked up a few books based on CAPC articles (A Game of Thrones and Octavian Nothing). But still, literature is such a vast ocean that it’s hard to find a good choice. Especially on one’s own.

    So, I completely understand that. And the overhead of having to learn the ins and outs of the visual language unique to comics (and then unique to comics from other parts of the world, which use different visual metaphors). My wife had never read anything beyond, say, Tintin or Asterix and Obelix until we started dating. As I persuaded her to give some particularly good comics a try, she would often need assistance in picking up what was going on in a panel. Or between panels. I hadn’t realized how much interpretive framework was learned.

    So I taught her.

    And now she reads them (the good ones) whenever she can get her hands on them. And only ever really has trouble with interpreting some of the foreign books’ unique visual cues. But she had a teacher and you, I suspect, would not.

    So while I’m sad for all the awesome, interesting, and important stories you’ll miss out on because you (at least currently) feel the overhead is too high to be worth the cost (kind of referencing your article from last week), I understand. I’ve actually started a graphics novel book club in order to help people find, read, and understand some of the more important and wonderful comics out there. This way, at least the people in my immediate circles have the opportunity to not get stranded and left behind in one of the most exciting innovations in human narrative in ages.

    To the issue of quality, I’d say that once one discounts cheap genre-fiction (as one generally does with literature too, discounting romance novels, etc.), comics generally produce a better rate worthwhile product than literature. Of course, this is largely something that’s happened in the last ten years. And it’s largely because much less is published that isn’t genre-fiction.

    With comics, once one departs from Marvel and DC and their superheroic adolescent fantasies, you have a very interesting pool of comics to choose from. There’s still some weeding to be done to find the real gems, but I’d say that every year since 2000 there has been at least one release (if not ten) that are better comics than Maus (even if they don’t have the same cultural cachet—only one can be the first Pulitzer-winning comic after all).

    Maybe I’ll put together an Essential Comics list and that way, if you ever do decide to dip your toe again, you’ll at least have some verifiably good swimmin’.

  • Hm… I smell a challenge coming on.

    I’ll tell you what. How about you recommend to me two comics that you especially appreciate and think will be “within range” for me, as it were. Here are the parameters:

    I’d prefer if it was all in one volume.

    I’m on a limited budget, so it can’t be too rare.

    Any basic hints and suggestions on how to read comics would be appreciated.

    It would probably be best if there were two different authors with different styles, in case I dislike one or the other!

    I’ll try to read through them and write an article about it at the end.

    Let me know what you think!

  • That would be sweet.

  • Nice. Such a hard challenge for me, only tacitly having any conception of your tastes and what might best suit you. There are so many directions to go, but here are two that may interest you. I’ve provided links to the Louisville library holdings for each to facilitate your enjoyment.

    Blankets by Craig Thompson
    Blankets is important for several reasons, but should be of special interest to those with inclinations toward ministry. It’s fictionalized autobiography and follows the author’s trek through faith and love, and how the two meet, cross, and muddle each other up. Thompson’s art is beautiful if his storytelling can get a little precious at times. Where he really succeeds beyond any bound, paper work I’ve encountered is to convey a sense of sacredness—a sense of The Holy.

    While reading Blankets pay special attention to some of the recurring motifs. Thompson’s use of what I guess I’d call paisleys and other patterns from a patchwork blanket are used as visual metaphor to indicate The Sacred. There are others, but I’ll let you discover it on your own.

    [note: it’s a mature work and there is some sensuality, so if seeing a drawing of a boob and cuddling will threaten you, have your wife put post-it notes over them or something…]

    Palestine by Joe Sacco
    I know you have an interest in politics, but I don’t know if that translates to the stage of recent international history. Palestine is a non-fictional (though highly editorial) account of the First Intifada. In the early 1990s, journalist Sacco traveled around Jerusalem as well as through several of the Palestinian areas and refugee camps, where he interviewed a variety of people. Palestine is his 290-page reflection on what he saw and how he felt while there.

    I chose this book not only because the subject-matter is still relevant despite the fact that the situation in the region has twisted and turned several times since his recorded visit, but because it demonstrates one of the powers of the comics form. Interspersing his mix of personal narrative and verbatim interview with often broadly exaggerated art, Sacco conveys both a sense of how alien he finds the situation and how frenetic and combustible the region is. It’s a work in which the chopped up story (almost a travelogue) stews together to give what feels like an accurate impression of life in a foreign world.

    When reading Sacco, pay attention to how he uses his art (the angles, the flow of panel, light and darkness) to illustrate his own confusion in a situation he barely has a grasp on. His narrative is worthwhile as well for how self-deprecating he can be as well as how it reveals how difficult it is for him to balance sympathy with his drive to get The Story. Palestine is interesting because he is much more forthright about his personal stake than he is in later works.

    If one of these doesn’t sound like something that would interest you, I’d be happy to find another recommendation. Maybe something mopey and modern that Alan might appreciate ^_^ or some high adventure that your kids might one day relish and want to use as a colouring book.

    As an additional help, here’s a little tutorial on understanding the different types of comics-panel transitions (along with some flash-enabled examples) http://spoonfulofhahne.com/panel-transition/

  • I have Blankets, I love it. You can borrow it, Ben.

  • I should warn you, though. I haven’t placed any post-it notes over anything.