My article on Jackie Chan, the Chinese antiques market, and the looting of the Yuanming Yuan went up on the Manga Uk blog last week, but I’m linking to it now just because. Chan’s film Chinese Zodiac is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray in June.
When I was a kid, novelisations were the way you could experience an AA- or X-rated film without breaking the law. They were a way of re-entering and re-watching movie texts that meant a lot to you, and they were often a means of finding out all the bits of the film that had been left on the cutting room floor. I even knew a boy at school who once bragged that he only read movie novelisations, as if this were some sort of badge of sophistication. As an occasional tie-in writer myself, I now know his boast for what it was – the literary equivalent of crowing that you only ever ate fast food. It’s not unusual for a movie novelisation to get cranked out in two weeks flat, by an author fuelled on various medications and, erm… enhancers.
I once finished writing a film novelisation bang on time, only to re-read my contract and realise that I was three thousand words short. So I went back in and wrote a whole new chapter, implied but never seen in the script itself, a massive funeral sequence that tied up a bunch of loose ends from the script, and fleshed out some character motivations that were otherwise vague. I’ve seen other authors do this. Arthur Byron Cover, in his novelisation of Flash Gordon, threw dozens of curve-balls into his book, with bonus asides and little scenes that had all sorts of implications. My favourite was when Flash silences Dale Arden with a kiss and says: “Let’s save it for our kids.” That’s in the script.
But in Cover’s novel, Dale thinks to herself: “Kids? Should I tell him about my operation…?” Very confusing for the eight-year-old me.
Licensors can be arseholes. According to Tied In: The Business History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing, edited by Lee Goldberg, Max Allan Collins was obliged to cut 60,000 words from his novelisation of Road to Perdition (itself based on comic by one Max Allan Collins), because the stuff he added “wasn’t in the script”. He confesses that this situation is “fairly rare” (certainly, nobody has ever stopped me adding extras, and indeed my editors have normally welcomed them). But Collins clearly wasn’t dealing with one of the nice licensors who see a novelisation as a bonus exercise in metatextuality; he was dealing with a literal-minded bean counter who saw a novelisation as an advert for the film, that cannot cross any bland boundaries of expectation.
Licensors can also offer wildly varying degrees of support and interference. The most unwatchably bad franchise I have ever written for happened to have the best-written, most helpful style guide I have ever seen, in any medium. The franchise I’ve most enjoyed writing for was also the least supportive, offering a single line of advice before packing me off to write 80,000 words – presumably, hopefully confident that I knew what I was doing. They then spent a month cordially attacking my work with scissors. Seriously, they could have saved everybody a lot more time by just telling us beforehand a couple of ground rules that they’d kept to themselves.
Tie-in writers can also be arseholes. Some of my best friends are tie-in writers, but our world is orbited by an Oort cloud of dicks, without an original thought in their heads, fighting tooth and claw over the scraps that drop from producers’ tables, bragging desperately of their fannish connection to this TV show or that franchise, and often pissing away their creative lives in serial, flat-fee write-a-thons, with limited artistic heritage and no long tail. I couldn’t care less what those people have to say about their profession, but I am deeply interested in the thoughts and experiences of their smarter colleagues – people who thrive on the discipline and energy of diving briefly into someone else’s world, and turning around a story using the characters and the mood they have been dealt. This is, after all, how Hollywood itself seems to work most of the time, and it’s a skill that any jobbing writer would do well to cultivate.
I bought Tied In because I was curious if they could pull it off – and, largely, they do. The multiple authors deal to some extent with the peculiar condition of the tie-in world, such as the possibility that a book with your name on it will get kited into the bestseller lists, but only because it has someone else’s name on it as well.
It helps that Max Allan Collins is on board – an author with enough clout in his own right to get away with naming names when it comes to some of the disasters of his tie-in career. There are some real shockers, beginning with his first job on Dick Tracy, when he was made to rewrite his novelisation from the ground-up, and drop the ending from the film itself, by editors who were petrified that the OMG OMG shock twist ending would be revealed by readers before people had seen the film.
There’s a great discussion section, involving over 20 authors, that doesn’t shy away from the nitty-gritty of advances and royalties, demonstrating just what kind of numbers are involved in putting that copy of the Pacific Rim novelisation on the shelf in Asda. Much of the craft of writing a tie-in is no different to the craft of writing any book, except possibly with a first-draft written by someone else in a script format. The forum members discuss the issues of “head-hopping” when a film changes point-of-view, or the particular problems of rendering a cross-cut movie scene into more traditional prose form. Collins in particular shines with some great ideas for original approaches, although his horror stories are so horrific you wonder how he still has the balls to try them. His solution for novelising the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Daylight, framing the whole thing as a documentary, is just great, but one unlucky dice roll with the licensors, and they would have made him throw it in the bin.
Several authors note the unique opportunity to fix plot holes and crappy bits in the script with the greater space afforded to prose. They note the opportunity afforded in a prose (or audio) tie-in for super-duper special effects or locations that are beyond the means of a TV show stuck in Vancouver (or Wales) all the time, or the chance for “Easter Eggs” that will only be noticed by hard-core fandom.
Kevin J. Anderson reveals that he gets a minion to type the whole script into a word processor with the tenses changed, so that when he sits down, he has, in his words, a “badly written” story that already hits 30% of his wordcount. It all sounds dreadfully hacky, but then again, as he points out, his main duty is to deliver a workmanlike 60,000 words to the licensor’s specifications, and what better way to reach that target than by recycling the pre-approved script.
It’s all too easy to sound defensive about a profession that I myself have previously described as the prison shower bitch of the literary world, but there are some interesting arguments to be had about the extra creativity needed to function within another creator’s limits. They’re all here, along with some top tips and some truly terrifying tales of licensing hell. True, some of the contributors seem to think they are promoting their work in a particular franchise rather than the craft that went into it, but Tied In still offers an intriguing glimpse of a part of the literary world that is ever on the bestseller lists, but rarely discussed by critics.
And with apocalyptic inevitability, Evangelion 3.33 is delayed in the UK. Fans must now wait several more months to see the world end on their TVs, although the hiatus is liable to allow for more cinema screenings, of what is, after all, a cinema film.
Identifying as a fan brings a sense of active entitlement. You love your favourite shows so much that you wear them on your chest and your pencil case. Their logos decorate your desktop. But that’s not enough, you want to get up inside the gubbins and see how they’re made. You want Making Ofs and interviews, and advance news of what will happen. Modern media encourages this; it practically demands it, and we can all agree that this is what fans sign up for.
But does it really have to be so quick? Any artistic achievement in localisation is becoming almost impossible. Simulcasts and lightning-fast schedules have turned translation and dubbing into desperate triage. This whiplash turnaround, supposedly, is designed to thwart pirates. But the pirates are serving a market of viewers who want everything yesterday.
I guarantee you, if you made watching anime your lifelong career, you would never have the time to see it all. So take it easy. Smell the flowers. Delve in the backlists for shows you might have missed. I’m shocked at the number of self-proclaimed otaku, clutching the latest 13-episode flash-in-the-pan fanbait, who have never seen Akira, or Cowboy Bebop, or as a bunch of big-name podcast pundits recently confessed, Voices of a Distant Star.
I wonder what these people think they are fans of. Presumably it’s That Thing That’s On Right Now, and they get angry because someone in a London office has to change an entirely notional date on a spreadsheet. But if you do really need it that much, that soon, maybe you need help. Let’s make this five-month gap an Anime Spring, when everyone can try something that’s new to them even if it’s old to Amazon. The delay has bought you five months to do something else. So pick something you’ve never seen and give it a whirl. And write in to NEO to say what you’ve found.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #121, 2014.
Some very nice new reviews recently for my Anime: A History, out now from the British Film Institute. I don’t think I’m able to point you directly at the very positive reviews in print mags such as Neo, MyM and Sight & Sound, although the online ones are just as complimentary.
Over at Cartoon Brew, Neil Emmett notes that: “Anime: A History is heartily recommended for anybody who wants an insight into the industrial politics that lie behind the on-screen images.”
PD Smith at The Guardian says: “This study is authoritative and detailed, and will be essential reading for anime fans and scholars alike.”
At the London School of Economics blog, Casey Brienza says it’s: “a magisterial effort and will undoubtedly prove invaluable for scholars, particularly in the social sciences, who are interested in the political economy of anime production. Indeed, while Clements may profess to be skeptical of history as a narrative project, his book may well shape the discourse on the subject for years, if not decades, to come.”
Meanwhile, the BASFA Hugo recommendations longlist includes Anime: A History for your consideration for Best Related Book — a nomination for a nomination, if you like.
More than one way to skin a catbus, in our 24th podcast
Jeremy Graves is joined by Jerome Mazandarani, Andrew Hewson and Jonathan Clements, for a series of rants and ill-informed commentary about anime, manga, the storm over the Hugo Awards, and your most awkward convention moment. Download it HERE.
01:00 Delays, to Fairy Tail The Movie and Jormungand. Jonathan Clements is accused of being a complete Cnut. Stuff that will be happening at the Birmingham Comic Con and Kitacon.
04:00 Breaking out the world’s smallest violins for Torrent sites. and BBC3. The exciting world of “back catalogue”.
10:00 What counts as “good sales” in Japan? 500 Nutters? How can a film make a loss in cinemas but still profit its production committee? The mysterious case of Heartbeat and Emmerdale Farm (not anime, but just imagine…).
16:00 The Ghost in the Shell live-action movie, and the chances of everyone being crushingly disappointed again. Who would you pick to direct a notional GITS movie? As promised, a link to our interview with the director of The Raid.
19:00 Speaking of people called Gareth, we’re back to Godzilla. The chances of Martin Scorsese directing GITS (unlikely). The prospects for Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow, “based on the book that looks like a manga.” The chances of Kurt Sutter beating up Jerome, and a bizarre tangent about the script-writers for The Shield.
25:00 The politics of handing out a Lifetime Achievement Award to Katsuhiro Otomo, and other issues to do with enticing Japanese guests to foreign events.
29:40 The ridiculous scandal over the Hugo Awards, in which Jonathan Ross is appointed to host, SF fandom kicks off, Jonathan Ross withdraws, SF fandom kicks off again, and Jerome Mazandarani goes through the fall-out arising, beginning with the press coverage and working backwards.
36:00 The ridiculous scandal over the Hugo Awards, this time from the perspective of Jonathan Clements, who has brought up the Worldcon twice before on this podcast and got nowhere. A very different version of events, beginning with the fight on the committee and working outwards (and ending with a plug for Anime: A History for Best Related Book).
44:00 The quest for panel parity, the gender division within fandom and whether or not that is reflected in film festival juries and, er… podcasts like this one. The hidden influence of Jonathan Ross on Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and its UK sales.
48:30 Will you be releasing season two of xxxHolic? And an answer that transforms into a plug for Blood C.
50:25 Pros and cons of releasing something on Blu-ray before DVD. Why do we have to keep releasing stuff on PAL when modern TVs can handle NTSC conversion…? Why not make everything a Combi-pack?
59:00 Netflix makes it to the Consumer Price Index, thereby suggesting that our secret masters believe “the next format is no format.” The problems of marketing collectibles to people who cannot afford to collect very much.
63:00 Releasing classic films on Blu-ray. The origins of the Blu in Blu-ray: can the Japanese just not spell?
64:00 Prospects for Star Blazers 2199, a.k.a. Space Cruiser Yamato 2199. Tweet us if you want it. #2199uk
69:00 Top of the Pod! This month: what’s your most awkward convention moment? Here’s a picture of Jeremy’s. Tell us yours by tweeting #mangatotp
From A Brief History of the Vikings, by Jonathan Clements.
The Icelanders’ own records mention around 400 original settlers, over fifty of whom had names that implied mixed Irish ancestry, or Celtic nicknames denoting considerable time spent outside Scandinavia. Their slaves and concubines (the mothers of many later generations) were also predominantly Irish, some of impressively noble birth. The Saga of the People of Laxardal mentions a haughty slave-girl with no appreciation of her duties, brought to Iceland already pregnant with the child of her Viking captor. She is eventually revealed as Melkorka (Mael-Curchaich?), the daughter of the Irish king Myrkjartan (Muircertach?), kidnapped at fifteen years of age. Faced with feuding women and clearly unable to control his Irish mistress, her owner eventually installed her in a homestead of her own across the river, recorded as the now-deserted site of Melkorkustadir.
Not all of the Irish who accompanied the first settlers were ill treated. The Norse matriarch Aud the Deep-Minded, who figures large in the Icelanders’ tales of the first settlers, brought many Irish slaves with her from Dublin where her late husband Olaf the White had been king. After unsuccessfully relocating to Caithness, where her son Thorsteinn the Red was killed, Aud and her entourage gave up on the harsh life on the Celtic fringe and set out for pastures new.
Aud would eventually free several of her slaves and set them up on their own – freedmen including Vifil, whose great-grandson would become the first European to be born in America, and Erp, a thrall whose mother was supposedly Myrgiol, an Irish princess sold into slavery in Britain. Although such tales often have the ring of truth, it is important to remember who was telling them – later generations of Icelanders hoping to put a polish on concubine ancestors by inventing noble backgrounds for them. Irish names certainly persisted among the Icelanders for many generations, including Njall, Kormakr, Brjan and Patrek.
There were a number of ungodlike enemies with which the Viking deities found themselves in conflict. A major group of rivals, for example, are the Jotnar, or Giants, a race whose names often contain elements of shifty duplicity, cunning, and braggadocio. If the Jotnar were a race supplanted by proto-Scandinavians, then we might even guess at their original home, Jotunheim, in south central Norway. The Jotnar are despicable to Norse eyes, violent and uncontrollable, creatures of the mountains, formidable foes, yet whose females are often regarded as desirable brides – a conqueror’s view of the conquered. A leading adversary of the Jotnar is Thor himself, whose legends contain many hints that associate him as an unwelcome guest in the Jotunheim region. His mother, for a start, is a giantess herself, Fjörgynn, a mistress of Odin. In an area where goat herding is a paramount local industry, we find that Thor quarrels with his neighbours over deaths of his flock. He rides in a chariot pulled by goats, and is sometimes referred to as Oku-thorr, the Charioteer – in both Old Norse and Sámi, the words for thunder and a wheeled vehicle are punningly similar.
In Lapland, some shamanic drums show a male figure bearing a hammer in one hand and a swastika (thunderbolt) in the other, said to be Horagalles, the Norse Thor-Karl, or ‘old man Thor’.One of the most famous stories of Thor tells of his fight with a giant who leaves a piece of stone permanently embedded in his head. This may be a reference to a ritual at sacred sites of Thor, involving the striking of flint. In other words, with his red hair and beard, and his mastery of lightning, Thor may have been a fire god, whose trials in myth are allegories of the kindling of sacred fires, and the smiting of foes.
Other races in the Viking mythos can be seen as similarly conquered peoples, associated in the Viking mind with a native mastery of the local woodlands and hills. Such peoples are the huldufólk, the ‘hidden folk’ identified in different parts of Scandinavia by different names, and ultimately combined by later writers to form a menagerie of supernatural creatures.The álfar or elves, for example, and their dark cousins the dvergar, or dwarves. Both are occasional allies of the gods, the dwarves renowned for their skills in metalwork, the elves as occasional bedmates and tormentors. At no point during the Viking age was there any implication of diminutive size in either of these races – their role as the ‘little people’ of later centuries is thought to have been a function of the suppression of old religions with the onset of Christianity.