By The Special Bunch
This is a monthly column bringing you news of arts happenings around the world.
Hardcore Soft Toys
by Llewellyn Marsh
Bursting with political incorrectness, Avenue Q, which won the Tony Award 2004 for Best Musical comes at you with an inventiveness that leaps miles ahead of overrated ‘jukebox musicals’ such as Saturday Night Fever, Mamma Mia!, and Footloose, where hits from 20 years ago are strung together by an unimaginative plot.
In this Sesame Street Meets South Park story, you encounter Princeton, “a bright-eyed college grad who comes to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account.” Here, he meets puppets who say and do things you wouldn’t have actors normally do on stage – like actually having sex in front of you. Perverted puppets! Is this the end of innocence as we know it?
Their website says, “AVENUE Q is great for teenagers because it’s about real life. It may not be appropriate for young children because AVENUE Q addresses issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn. It’s hard to say what exact age is right to see AVENUE Q – parents should use their discretion based on the maturity level of their children. But we promise you this – if you DO bring your teenagers to AVENUE Q, they’ll think you’re really cool.”
Some of their more original songs have titles like ‘If You Were Gay’, ‘It Sucks To Be Me’, ‘The Internet Is For Porn’, ‘You Can Be As Loud As You Want When You’re Making Love’, and ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’. They are sung by the truly unique characters, like the Barry Manilow-loving gay republican, the Internet Porn addict Trekkie Monster and Lucy T. Slut whose motto is “Once you’ve had a puppet, you never go back!”
The Gospel of Webcomics
by Zedeck Siew
Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur is a comic syndicated by United Press Syndicate to almost 700 newspapers (including, until recently, our own The Star, it was the comic with the talking pony and the cynical goth girl). In December 2004, a Non Sequitur strip was published with the following features: The entrance to a ‘Le Club De FooFoo’, a red carpet, two bouncers, a short geeky fellow with thick glasses and a pocket protector, hands on hips, saying: “Whoa… since when do celebrities need to be on a list to get in?” The caption reads: “Scotty continues his quest to spread the gospel on the importance of how many page views his website gets … ”
Although denied, it is general consensus the Scotty in this strip refers to Scott Kurtz, creator of the webcomic PVP, a strip about the staff of a magazine covering video-games. On July 30, 2004, Scott announced he would let newspapers run PVP for free. “That’s right, free. They don’t have to pay me a cent for it. I will provide for the papers, a comic strip with a larger established audience then any new syndicated feature, a years worth of strips in advance, and I won’t charge them a cent for it.”
Pvponline.com has four advertisement fields and receives 70,000 hits every day; with the publicity for being in the papers, it stands to get more. The print version of the comic is into its 14th issue now, published by Image Comics, the third largest comics publisher in the United States (I’ve spotted an issue of PVP at Kinokuniya KLCC). Michael Krahulik and Jerry Holkins’ Penny Arcade hasn’t tried to take on the syndicated comics machine because it doesn’t need to: it serves as one of the most watched barometers of gamer culture in the video-game industry, and organises an annual charity called Child’s Play that managed to raise over USD200,000 last year – the comic has made papers (New York Times, Dec 16, 2004). Note how an artform that began in the papers, finds its cool factor elsewhere and now makes its way back.
Korean-American web-graphic-novelist Derek Kirk Kim won a Harvey (named after Harvey Kurtzman, a magazine editor who helped Robert Crumb and Terry Gilliam off the ground) and an Eisner (Named after Will Eisner, who famously coined the term ‘sequential art’) for the print anthology Same Difference and Other Stories, originally serialised online. ModernTales.com runs Barry Deutsch’s Hereville, which examines traditional gender roles through a young girl living in an orthodox Jewish commune; Dylan Meconis’s Bite Me, a vampire romp set in 1792 France; and Anne Moloney’s Camera Obscura – well, not really a webcomic, but an online collection of old photographs found at flea markets and given stories of their own.
Kazu Kibuishi paints the monthly Copper, beautiful meditations about a boy and his talking dog, and manages the assemblage of Flight, a print anthology of (mostly) webcomic artists. Scott McCloud, best known as the scholar and theorist responsible for the seminal Understanding Comics, has called the Flight artists “the future of comics.”
Arts Festival Otaku
by Deng Fuquan
The arts festival otaku can be anyone: a student or adult geek, an expat hausfrau, or a perfectly earnest individual who happens to engage more in culture than the average Joe.
But while there are arts pundits who simply study program pages and hit the jackpot by ordering multiple tickets, the senior otaku is a more evolved species who receives industry tip-offs and/or has honed an eye for trendspotting, and hence picks risk-taking auteurs and performances that are not typically run-of-the-mill.
The otaku’s cultivated seriousness is, however, oft-mistaken for the arrogance of an aesthete. S/he may not detect self-parody or irony in these statements:
- I’m not a mere dilettante/hobbyist/generalist. I aim to be critically challenged and informed in my response and evaluation: to become an expert. To be truly contemporary, I’m au courant with global discourses. Enough of vicarious knowledge and armchair sloth. Books, google.com and films don’t show the real thing. Performance demands live spectatorship.
- I’m more than a local otaku by virtue of the sheer passion and distance to which I mobilise myself to chase art events. I regularly stopover within Asia to art-snoop before hitting Europe where I target eminent festivals and arts centres. How else can a kampong boy embrace new artistic horizons? People misconstrue my jet-setting as indulgence. They forget that pleasure requires labour.
- Closet otakus may start training their stamina by sampling state-organised multi-arts festivals in these Asia-Pacific cities: Hong Kong www.hk.artsfestival.org. Singapore www.singaporeartsfest.com, Taiwan www.cyberstage.com.tw, Thailand www.bangkokfestivals.com, Adelaide www.adelaidefestival.com.au, Melbourne www.melbournefestival.com.au, Perth www.perthfestival.com.au, Sydney www.sydneyfestival.org.au, Brisbane www.brisbanefestival.com.au, New Zealand www.nzfestival.telecom.co.nz. Otakus out there (you know who you are) should add to the list more offbeat, experimental, independent, and niched festivals. Spread the religion! And hail budget airlines.
First Published: 04.02.2005 on Kakiseni