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February 14 2006

John Calimee interview. Comic artist's complaint about moral standards in fictional heroes today using Serenity as an example.

"Today, Superman as a goody, goody equates to being boring. The division between hero and villain have blurred in American culture. One has to be a bad-ass in order to be cool. The tough guy with a heart of gold. As I sat in the theatre watching the movie Serenity , I wanted Josh Whedon to lose his licence to write when he had the 'hero' kick a man off the rail of his craft and then shot the guy dead. With 'friends' like this, thank god for enemies.

It plays well to the popular crowd but it's hardly inspiring. There's nothing appealing there. Do you know if Josh Whedon had served in War? Watched the friend next to him get his brains blown away? If he's seen the life of a man slip away due to his own hands? If he had, I doubt he wouldn't write his heroes this way."

There's also a bit further down where he explains this perspective a bit more. There's a bit of hyperbole but it doesn't seem like an all out attack on Whedon or anything. That said, he does get pretty intense and at some point says Whedon "goes against a long history of good writing," basically because he wanted to turn Serenity into a big-budget blockbuster with explosions and podracing.

-Josh Whedon
-If he had, I doubt he wouldn't write his heroes this way

Isn't it Joss Whedon? Isn't that second thing a double negative? Isn't this guy a bit of an idiot?
He's not an idiot, he's just stating an opinion. You don't have to agree with him, I sure don't. I specifically dislike the part of wanting Joss to lose his "writing license." But it's his opinion, and he has good points in other parts of the interview.
God forbid characters be drawn in shades of gray, rather than having clear and simplistic delineations between "good" and "evil."

And of course, the guy completely misses the point of the scene he mentions, and the movie as a whole; it's part of Mal's character arc -- first, he puts himself and his crew first (hence not taking the guy aboard the mule), later, he realizes there's something greater to fight for, and risks not only his own life but his crew's, for what could be considered a greater good. It's called growth.

The guy seems to think Joss had Mal push the Reaver victim off the mule and shoot him because it would cool, and writes it off as a contrivance. If it didn't work for him, fine, but he mistakenly ascribes a cynicism to Joss's writing that simply isn't there. Joss's characters are complex and wonderful in a way fairly uncommon in most movies and tv.

[ edited by skeezycheese on 2006-02-15 05:08 ]
He also failed to mention that Zoe called Mal on those very points immediately afterwards, with the implication that Mal would not have done that before.

As it is, I agree with this artist that the drive towards gritty comics resulted in a few excellent ones (Batman Returns) and a lot of crappy ones. That is, in fact, what DC's Kingdom Come miniseries is about, really, the resurgence of old school hero morality in a grittier world.
What John Calimee doesn't seem to get is that heroes like Superman isn't boring because they're goody-goody, but because they're unrelatable. Inhuman. Spider-man on the other hand, was miles more relatable with his problems. He was one of us.

It's not that we want our heroes to be bad-ass so much as we want them to be believable. Human. Not somebody who's pure and always does the right thing, because that's not like anyone I know in real life.
Amen to that, NickSeng. I was never as gripped by a comic book hero till I came by Spidey.
AuburnTiger, I wasn't calling him an idiot for stating his opinion, I was calling him an idiot for calling him "Josh Whedon" and for using a double negative that just simply contradicts his own point.
Yes, NickSeng! Exactly the reason why I cannot relate, in any way, to most of the DC heroes. The only real exception here is the ever-awesome Batman, who does not seem to fit the standard DC mold at all. Hopefully, Joss'll also make Wonder Woman as intriguing.

Marvel's heroes seem to be so much more flawed and imperfect...chiefly Spider-Man, who is the greatest, most realistic superhero of all time. Buffy does actually draw a lot from Spider-Man's overall premise of a person with ungodly might who still can't pay the bills.

And about Calimee...he really doesn't seem to get what he's arguing against. And, no, I don't think he has very good reasons to back up his statements.
Shades of grey are much more interesting. Which is what I've always loved Angel.
Yeah it's a little tough to take seriously the writing criticisms of someone who apparently doesn't actually understand the point.

Whedon (sorry about that last spelling...) attempts to defend his character's action by having him point out the craft couldn't bear any extra weight and being shot is more forgiving than being cannibalised. I would argue the 'craft not bearing weight' is a contrivance for the sole purpose of having the hero demonstrate his toughness. Whedon as writer can write the craft to bear no weight or carry 500 extra people if he wants. He CHOSE no weight for the sake of stimulus. Make the audience care by creating a need to drive fast. Totally vapid. It corrupts the hero for the sake of a stimulus.

If this guy really thought the point of the scene was "toughness" and "stimulous" then I challenge his reading comprehension skills.

Perhaps this reveals more about the person who said it than anyone else. My first reaction to this sequence was not "Mal's a bad-ass tough guy" it was something more akin to "this is not good." If Calimee's reaction was that it was about Mal being tough, perhaps he needs to spend more time letting movies work upon him rather than going into movies wearing his petpeeve-colored glasses.

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2006-02-15 09:35 ]
Whoo Joss read something that I linked to! I rock so hard!

Anyway though, I read a bit else of what the guy was saying and it just seemed like he was trying to be candid and not necessarily too polished or refined to play along with others. I hardly agree with that tone though since he's randomly throwing jabs at Whedon or Alan Moore (who he-- jokingly?-- loathes for having raised the bar and possibly even set off this darker trend in comics.)
Shades of grey are much more interesting. Which is what I've always loved Angel.

Angel is not in shades of grey, Simon! Angel is all in black!!

Did you pay any attention to the show??

[ edited by Le Comité on 2006-02-15 10:44 ]
'The human under the costume can be frail but the hero wearing the suit cannot. It is along the lines of this conflict that most good stories are born. The hero has to believe that he's doing the right thing. If he's wrong, he is wrong because he's lacking all the necessary information to come to a better conclusion. '

I think the problem with this guys train of thought is right there. The hero can only be wrong if he doesn't have all the info? Great conflict doesn't come from having all the facts and acting on what you have, it comes from having to make a decision where there is no right choice. It comes from going to a dark place within yourself and trying to balance that with doing the hero job. Or not wanting to do the hero job.

Just thinking about Angel going dark in season 2, the wonderfully drawn conflict there is based on that all-too-human mistake - pushing people away when you need them the most. Trying to protect people but messing it up. Emotionally stunted attempts to save yourself by shutting down. The resolution at the end of this becomes about anger, forgiveness, and overcoming, and so on. Not 'goshdarn, I didn't have all the facts!'. 'oh well, never mind, we still love you'.

If your heroes are so thinly characterised then everything can return to its safe and cosy status quo by the end of the comic/ episode. That might make for easy storylines but it doesn't make for truly great character development. Which is why we love that Josh Whedon. What a guy.
He didn't just lose me at the Joss criticism, but did you read what he wrote about Alan Moore? That he loves his writing but hates his influence on the medium and therefore can't read his stuff anymore? What does that even mean? Moore's the greatest writer to write in the medium, and his writing *defines* exploration into the human condition, especially in the darker shades of morality and madness.

Yeah, count me in on loving heroes with shades of gray. Like Buffy said, "I walk. I talk. I shop, I sneeze, I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back." Real-life heroes are rarely perfect saints, like say, firemen, politicians, leaders of social change. Real people do great things every day, to better society, to help people, to make great art, and they rarely are perfect saints with blameless souls. Which is a central contradiction of humanity and one of the best subjects of art. Moore makes comics into art; the flat characterization and black/white morality of the superhero comics that preceded him are easy entertainment.
Oh my, the last time I read someone talking about story telling and appearing sadly clueless were the mails between Boll and the original AitD writers, where he tried to lecture them that good story telling means that towards the end more people have to die and/or the monsters must become bigger (and of course there must be an island involved).

And now I read this and just want to scream at this guy that not everything happening in any medium is just for the sake of being frigging cool or "inspiring". At least he admits that he can't write, now he just needs to realize that he obviously doesn't understand it either. What's with his ridiculous insistance that things must be black and white, the hero must be perfect and ALWAYS find the perfect solution to every problem? Ok, at least now I know who he voted for, but if he can't understand, that flawless heroes that always save the day no matter what will become boring real fast to some people, he should at least not pretend to know what makes a good story.

I bet he must have hated Spiderman and whined for days that a good hero would have saved the people AND the girl and that the writer surely just did it to create a sad moment. How could he dare besmirch the perfection of comic book heroes for such a lame stunt?

Uhm, did I just become sarcastic?
This may be a good time to remind posters of our golden rule at Whedonesque to criticise what was said and not the person who says it.
Mal isn't Superman?!? Oh man, I can never watch Serenity again...*sniff*
He's entitled to his opinion but (in my opinion ;) he seems to have misunderstood some fundamental points about the industry he works in. 'Gritty' heroes don't need to be morally ambiguous but they do need to be morally complex. Heroes are not perfect people working with imperfect information, they're imperfect people who have one eye on a perfect world, people who refuse to simply accept things as they are and feel the need to act for change (some of the most interesting conflicts come about because that description also applies to the best villians, they just have a different idea of perfection). Basically, without meaning to be offensive about the guy, his take on a hero is pretty much what you'd expect from a 10 year old boy, not a grown man who should understand the shades and complexities of the real world.

Now, admittedly after 'Dark Knight Returns' and 'Watchmen' there were a slew of imitators trying to darken their heroes but I think many of them made the same mistake (the Batman movies before 'Begins' are a case in point - here dark and gritty = murder of bad guys) and ended up with 'heroes' that were barely recognisable as such (in the comics, even DKR, murder is the line Batman will never cross and there have been some excellent stories illustrating that).

As others have said, he also seems to have totally missed the point of Mal's abandoning of the kid at the bank. It's precisely because he would normally never do such a thing that we are made aware of how desperate he has become and how close he is to 'going dark' forever, in much the same way as Angel of Season 2 (in fairness tho' this probably wouldn't be as apparent to a non-fan watching the film cold).

His comments about Moore are surely tongue in cheek tho' (also when he mentions Moore's effect on the industry he's mainly complaining about Moore's famously verbose scripting style which could well be annoying from an artist's perspective, especially if a lot of writers started imitating it but with less skill). He's probably right to skip 'V for Vendetta' tho' since I don't think the morally ambiguous (and complex) central character (hero doesn't seem appropriate) and questioning of the division between terrorist and freedom fighter would appeal to him.
Shades of grey are much more interesting. Which is what I've always loved Angel.

I've always though so too. I mean I don't know what world some people live in but there is no such thing as a person that is entirely wholesome and always does the right thing, so a hero with flaws seems significantly more real to me than one without them.

For that matter there's no such thing as someone entirely evil either. Which is partly why the operative was such a great vilian, he might have been a pretty decent guy in day to day life, had he not been trying to murder the crew. Not to mention what is regarded as evil can vary considerably dependent on culture... but let's not even get into that for frear of ever increasing post size.
As much as I disagree with his Whedon-related comments, sometimes people like the fantasy of white hats and black hats in fiction. Realistic or not, it's a valid option for those who want true escapism. That Superman and his mythos are still thriving in three, different mediums is proof that many people obviously still want that, and sometimes they need it ("Hero of Canton," anyone?).

Which is fine by me. Just don't tear down my flawed heroes like this guy did.
I wasn't calling him an idiot for stating his opinion, I was calling him an idiot for calling him "Josh Whedon" and for using a double negative that just simply contradicts his own point.

jfhlbuffy - I believe those mistakes are simply typos by the person who transcribed the interview and not of the the interviewee.
I really find it hard to respect the opinion of someone who still can't spell Joss' name right, but I digress.

I think what he fails to understand is that Joss' characters being conflicted and multi-faceted is simply good writing, and realistic writing, not grittiness for the sake of grittiness. Let's face it, many early comics were pretty simplistic.

Let's take Smallville the series as a current example on TV, where the writers take every opportunity to turn Clark bad whenever they can with kryptonite, however conveniently he isn't actually bad and the effects can be blamed on the substance, not the person. To me that is cheap drama.

Contrast this with practically every character in Joss' shows, from Angel, Mal, Willow, Spike, The Operative, Darla, Giles, Jayne... not one of them can easily be classified. The "good" characters have done bad things, and the "bad" characters have done good things. That is simply real life and much more intriguing than characters from Lord of the Rings and such, even though they are good stories, the lack of ambiguity and complexity in many of the characters makes them look rather naive in some respects.
I really find it hard to respect the opinion of someone who still can't spell Joss' name right, but I digress.

See my post above.
Regarding the spelling mistakes. I got a very nice email from the guy who conducted the interview.

I'm the person who conducted the John Calimee interview. On the WHEDONesque forum and I quote
"jfhlbuffy - I believe those mistakes are simply typos by the person who transcribed the interview and not of the the interviewee."
This is exactly right. I transcribed the interview from a number of e-mails and I should have paid more attention to grammatical errors etc. I would hate for John Calimee to be perceived as stupid, because of my lackadaisical attitude. I felt I should write to clear any misunderstanding.

Let's remember that it's incredibly easy to make grammatical errors. God knows I have to tidy up my links often enough because of punctuation or spelling mistakes.

In somewhat related news, I gather that this interview came to notice in the comic book community via Mr Johnston's popular Lying in the Gutter column.
John Calimee sounds like another old school guy who would prefer it if everything in the world were simply black and white. Unfortunately that world no longer exists (if, indeed, it ever did). Double unfortunately... the U.S. has a president that thinks and acts the exact same way.

You can't have peace without understanding and you won't understand squat about any issue without exploring its inherent shades of gray.

That said, I still felt bad for the unlucky guy that Mal kicked off the mule and then shot as an act of mercy.
There is a character in Serenity who matches his demand for simple one-dimensional black and white idealism. Unfortunately it's The Operative.

[ edited by josscats on 2006-02-16 09:01 ]
Oops, sorry about that killinj, I just dived right into posting without reading anyone else's replies. However I'mn sure we all know that constant misspellings of Joss's name are grating, although understandable in this instance.

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