Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Merciful Minerva! New work

Max Manic,  the on-the-spot innovator,
at your service.
Ain't nothing bad about superheroes.

I love their mythos and meta, from their Greek and Roman and Norse and native primogenitors, to the creation stories of Superman as an avenging angel against totalitarian genocide, an idea Michael Chabon extended as elegy in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Through cobble and creation, I used superheroes as a way to teach writing and reading and art at the end of my short career as an elementary school teacher, after all the official No Child Left Behind assessments had been administered.

It was the first time I felt I was truly doing my job as a teacher, and engaging students for long hours in the invention of their superhero alter egos and the bad guy avatars who mess with their real lives.

Early amorphous superhero—
his archnemesis, of course,
is whoever flattened and
stretched his left foot.
So when Paul Vega, graphic designer, business strategist, fit dude and friend, offered me the opportunity to flesh out some superheroes for a client, faster than a speeding deadline I said, "When do we start?"

Paul and partner Doralynn Co of Greenhouse Marketing & Design, Inc. were helping a Sacramento company called Pacific Field Service brand its expertise in the commercial and residential inspection business. Field service is a discipline in the mortgage, real estate and insurance industries, which gives those businesses current information about the condition of their holdings and prospects.

Pacific Field Service seeks a market edge by being nimble and leveraging the latest technology, delivering up-to-the-minute data to its clients.

Paul and Doralynn's job has been to expand Pacific Field Service's profile in those industries, in time for a big trade show. Whole-picture-think-different kinds of folks, they decided to deploy a novel way to create the space of the company's trade booth, play up the high tech quickness as heroic — even superheroic!

Like this or that? Definitely that. (What's with the ears?
and what is the guy on the right doing with his right arm?)
Early idea: Huh?

Greenhouse and Pacific Field Service literally embodied the company's market strengths and vision into four entities: Max Manic, the innovator; Q and her dog A (quality assurance), the ensurers of professionalism; Virtue, who needs no further introduction; and Inspector, representing the corps of Pacific Field Service's core, the gatherers of data from far and wide.

Early alter ego idea …
Inspector looked
like this guy for
a brief moment.
Greenhouse and their client quickly decided the superheroes should come out of the DC/Marvel mold, not a whimsical facsimile (like one I did for another client).

Next came the most fun of the fun part, building the superheroes. Except for Virtue (aka Integra), these are gadget junkies. Objects hang off Max and Q's belts. Max wears what appears to be a solar-powered helmet, with fighter-pilot goggles, and Inspector rocks a kind of motorcycle helmet with an airfoil (or vent?) and modified street biker's jacket, not to mention arm and leg rockets. Q and the Inspector have cameras attached to their heads, which correspond to Pacific Field Service's use of documentation tools. All but Virtue have microphones. Virtue wields a torch of integrity (she also goes by Integra).
What's in the containers Max wears on his contoured belt? Why does Q wield a lariat and matching boomerang? Who knows? That's one of the two great things about superheroes: Readers and fans give them their powers, invest them with their ability to fight crime, right wrongs and save the day.

Sketches for the Fabulous Four in action for promotional cards.
Scott McCloud, a comics artist and meta-comics analyst, said in "Understanding Comics" that the appeal of comics (and the reason the best comics creators are so good at it) is that readers are allowed to provide their own drama and sequence in the gutters between the drawn panels.

In our imaginations, via the printed page, the superhero world works. We project our hopes and wishes on them, and we impel them to solve thorny problems.

In real life, different story: The Inspector's retro rockets, with their fuel lines snaking around his body, would pose a few problems, not the least of which would be steering through space.

That's the other great thing about superhero comics: They only truly work in printed form. Despite the success of Batman and Spider-Man's move to movies (and why is the Spider-Man franchise starting all over again?), and despite the power of computer graphics, cinema takes away our power to empower the superheroes. We get one vision for Spidey riding through the skyscraper canyons, and it's not necessarily my vision or yours, exciting as it is to see  the first time. (Insert your vehement protest here; besides, I make an exception with V for Vendetta.)

Q and Virtue went through
several iterations, often involving
breast reduction …
We readers buy into a comics world with superheroes. We accept that Batman's cape swirls and flows like a Christo piece gone amok, never minding that such accoutrements in real life would be full of stupid.

Heck, we allow that superheroes in bright, tight-fitting suits and animalistic cowls and capes wander about in that world, the one between the pages. They're not silly at all. Maligned and despised sometimes by the inhabitants of their printed world, but not silly. In context, they face real problems and evil bad guys.

Inspector also delivers
the rocket fuel as barista …
The bright, tight costumes are integral to printed superheroes, designed more to attract our eyes and show off four-color printing capabilities than any sense of logic or exposition.

But in the real world (think of the fans at Comic-Con or the supposed rise in real-life superheroes in Seattle, New York and elsewhere — a sociologist's dream: Why? Economic woes? Social malaise?), those costumes are just … costumes. Gaudy, out of place, seeming to rob these ersatz superheroes of their power and esteem. Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore explore that sub-theme in Watchmen (again, distorted in movie form because it delivers one level of hyper-violence, one look, and must disregard the story within the story).

Happily, Pacific Field Service's fab four steer clear of that dilemma. Writ large and bold in two dimensions, they tap into our imaginations and sense of play, their ideals intact.
Pacific Field Service superheroes bust out before shipping off to the trade show.

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