And yet another Friday rolls around. The week has been fairly quiet here in the family’s treetop fortress: lots of home cooking. I tried my hand at making pasta (gnocchi) with good results; at least everybody had good things to say, and nobody’s dropped from food poisoning yet. Early days on that, though. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I made an exception this week. A friend correctly argued that comics and comic book derivations are as much a part of the classic pulp phenomenon as Science Fiction or hard boiled detectives. He also argued that, were it not for pulps and comic books, the superhero subgenre would have died with Beowulf. I’m not sure I agree with him on that one, but he did have a point.
So the practical upshot of all this is that I started watching TV. Specifically, I started checking out some of the superhero shows currently running; this time I focused on The Flash, and Arrow. I’m ambivalent. I’ve been a fan of the Green Arrow comic since I was a kid, but the television show was hella dark, much darker and more soapy than I remember. But then again, John Barrowman as a villain? Yes, please. The Flash was lighter in tone, which was cool; it only took me half the episodes for me to stop looking at the lead and saying, “Hey, weren’t you on that annoying Glee thing?”
Meh. One of these days I’m going to have to take a closer look blog at superheroes and the genre in general. MAYBE I should take a run at writing something in the superhero range for Fiction Monday. Then again, maybe not; have to see if inspiration attacks.
Ooh ooh ooh, slightly off-topic. Y’all know I am not one for romances, but every once in a while one slips past the barbed wire and since we were already discussing superheroes…. Heels and Heroes by Tiffany Allee is a novella about romance among the superhero community. It’s short (novella length), superhero oriented, and fun. Allee strikes a nice balance on her descriptions of an unusual world for novels. I really like her characters; I don’t know how realistic you can be with superheroes, but I found it surprisingly easy to identify with the lead. It’s a little smutty, but, being Missy McPrudeyknickers, I just close my eyes for that bit. I have begged the author to write more about this world, but so far, no luck. 😦 (I’m telling you, Tifferz, ya gotta! How often do I endorse a romance, huh? I mean, seriously!) This is not Allee’s first rodeo; she has other romance/fantasy offerings. I’ve read several of them and was pleasantly surprised; she even got me to not hate a romantic vampire. Shocking, right? Anyway, check out her oeuvre on Amazon.
Okay, enough fooling around in the world of Spandex and capes. On to today’s Fun Friday offerings. So I was goofing around on YouTube the other day, as I am wont to do when I’m between books. Y’all know what a fool I am for serials. So, on a whim, I typed “steampunk web series” into the search bar. Wow! There is a lot more out there than I thought. Taking a chance, I did the same thing for dieselpunk and pulp; not nearly so much joy there. But there was plenty of Steampunk. So I bookmarked a bunch of them, and took a look.
The first I looked at was simply called “Felix Blithedale.” The brainchild of Erik MacRay (who also plays the eponymous main character), it’s supposed to be the video journal of a fledgling inventor in a steampunk San Francisco in 1903. Felix is the assistant of an established inventor, and has claimed that inventor’s basement as his own personal lab. Here he builds various gadgets and conducts various experiments. He’s a game young fellow, ambitious and excited, but rather hapless; his life is kind of a mess, his love life is a nerd-flavored disaster, but he keeps right on trying, bless his little heart. As each new blow comes, he shakes it off and keeps right on stumbling forward. The episodes are shot in sepia tone, just the one set, minimal props, only one or two characters on the screen at a time; very much done on a shoestring. Each episode is entitled “Felix vs X,” with “X” being whatever is going wrong at the moment: “Felix vs The Foreclosure” involves the loan to save the family home.
Let me say this unequivocally: THIS IS WONDERFUL!!!!!! Remember me saying that I will sit through a lot of dreck in the indie art mines before coming across a diamond? THIS is one of the diamonds. The set design and costumes are spot on. The little scenelets are fun, and the interactions of the characters is funny and absolutely convincing. I laughed out loud multiple times. The writing, so important, is solid; Mr. MacRay writes like somebody who has listened to how people really talk. Fledgling writers forget, it’s not enough that dialogue or monologue convey information. It has to sound natural; you have to listen to how real people really talk, and be able to duplicate the rhythms and feeling without duplicating the boring bits. Think of it as enhanced speech; as natural as possible, but cleaner and more streamlined than the real thing.
And the acting; Oh, the acting, God bless them! The writing and the acting is where most indie offerings fall down; the young people who are attempting these videos are just not experienced enough in these two arts to deliver solid products. But Felix Blithedale is a true gem: the acting is superb! I had to go looking to confirm this wasn’t a professional production. Felix, the lead, triggered an immediate Mommy response in me: I wanted to cook him something homey and comfortable, ask him if he’s getting enough sleep and see that his laundry is being washed and mended (what? I’m a grandmother, I can’t help myself! Don’t judge me!). He is played by Erik MacRay as delightfully diffident, inept, naive, eager, optimistic; it was adorable! Edward Rockridge (cute name, somebody knows their Mel Brooks trivia!) is the lodger renting rooms from Felix and his sister, and is an adorable scoundrel, making his living as a low-rent crook and card cheat. Again, played with delicious aplomb by Adam Mayfield, Eddie is depicted perfectly as the sort of high spirited overgrown 12-year -old who women can’t help wanting to mother and the girls want to flirt with.
Okay, you can tell I liked this one, because I’ve pissed away about half my word limit just gushing. You wanna watch the show, here’s where they can be found on Youtube. They also have a webpage and a Facebook page. They wrapped last June, so I’m betting the chances of a second season are essentially nonexistent. But still, they have a donate page on their webpage to fund a second season, so maybe we’ll get lucky. In the meantime, here’s a little taste of the show (I picked one of the middle of the run eps; the first ep doesn’t really give a feel for what a treat this show is)….
Before I forget: I noticed something the last few months. Don’t you think it’s interesting that Steampunk seems to generate a ton of art across many media: video, comics, etc., bunches more than dieselpunk. But Dieselpunk kicks steampunk’s butt when it comes to indie music offerings. You just don’t hear that much in the way of overtly steampunk music. The biggie in Steampunk is Abney Park and frankly, I’m not seeing it. They dress the part, and their videos play the steam card a lot, but the music itself is 90% industrial, and only a little bit steam. There’s a lot more dieselpunk music available. I think it’s because of WWII era swing being so popular and emulate-able. Hey, it’s a theory. Thoughts?
Okay, now we’ve gotten that bizarre little sidebar out of the way, time to move on to the next web series. Dirigible Days has good cred, I have to say. Anthony Daniels — yes, that Anthony Daniels, the one who played C3P0 in the Star Wars movies — does all voice-over narration. The Steampunk band Vernian Process wrote the theme music exclusively for this series. It has a tie-in comic book with surprisingly good graphics.
But with that said, I don’t like Dirigible Days as much as I liked Felix Blithedale. I’ll explain in a moment.
Dirigible Days is the story of the S.S. Beatrix, an airship plying its way through the aether, doing whatever job, legal or otherwise, comes its way. At the beginning of the story, the ship is stranded with engine failure, and Captain Santiago Dunbar is at the nearest pub, getting polluted while trying to interview for a new engineer. He finds one, but more importantly, he finds a job. Or rather a job finds him: a Pinkerton operative has a prisoner that needs to be transported to the nearest facility. Problem: the prisoner is a big dog in a very nasty, very determined Cthulhu Cult. And they want their big dog back.
The production values worlds ahead of other web series: the costumes are perfect, the sets are lavish (a lot of that is coming from green screen work, but that’s okay), props and set design are spot on. The actors look and move well; their sounding the part is less perfect, but that’s nothing unusual in the indie video world, and they do better than the average. The writing is pretty solid; with a few hiccups here and there, it does well on dialogue, and is kicking ass in the plot department. Somebody really thought it through, which puts them ahead of the game.
But with that said, I just didn’t enjoy this as much as the Felix Blithedale piece. The descriptions I’ve seen online (and this has gotten written up in several articles here on the web, thanks to the cred I mentioned at the first) describe it as “Whedonesque” and “akin to Firefly.” Well, I’m not seeing it. This story lacks the charm of Firefly. Their is no chemistry between the players, no real emotional connection, whether it be love or hate. Remember how I said watching Felix made me go into serious Mommy mode? It was an emotional connection, an identification with the character that made me feel protective and indulgent at the same time (the same way I do when I see my own children when they fumble). With Dirigible Days, I never felt that; I couldn’t make an emotional connection.
BUT! That’s just me. It may be that I’m not the right audience for this show. And you should definitely check it out anyway. Even if you don’t connect with the characters, you’ll adore the steampunk-i-ness of it all, with such terrific production values. Definitely take a peek. The show’s presence on YouTube is here. Their webpage is here. At the first ep’s page there are links to their twitter and facebook pages.
Here’s one of their promotional trailers. Take a peek:
And that’s it for me. Wow, that took a while. That’s what I get for lurking on YouTube watching episodes of web series, right? So you know the drill: write, tweet, comment, share. You have a suggestion for a Fun Friday, contact me on the email addy on my About Me page. If you have questions, suggestions, just want to tell me I’m a idiot and I’m totally wrong bout Abney Park, same address. I’d be very glad to know of any Dieselpunk web series that I may have overlooked! But in the meantime, be good this weekend. And if you can’t be good, well, you know what comes next, don’t you: DON’T GET CAUGHT! Enjoy your weekend!