Archive for ‘fiction’

April 24, 2014

Twenty-five(ish) ways we killed Archie Andrews

This happened, and so I wrote a silly thing.

 

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We killed Archie Andrews in April 2014, when we announced that he was going to die, in an issue a couple of months hence, sacrificing his life to save a friend.

We killed Archie Andrews in July 2014 when that issue was published.

We killed Archie Andrews long before that, when we wrote futures in which he grew up and got married (in parallel storylines, to make you think there were alternatives. There were no alternatives) and so made him mortal and subject to time.

We had been planning this for a long time.

We killed Archie Andrews twice, when you think about it, because those two parallel stories converged and two Archies died that day.

There were still many Archies to kill. One for each Christmas, birthday, summer holiday that the character didn’t age; hundreds of new worlds branching off each double digest, thousands of dates with women out of his league, more than could possibly fit into one lifetime.

We wrote the death of Archie a hundred times over.

Cheryl Blossom killed him in the Chocklit Shoppe with the meat grinder. Jughead could never eat the burgers there again.

His car exploded. Look, it was a really old car, it’s totally plausible.

Betty and Veronica finally realised they’d only been seeing him to get one another’s attention all along. Most people were very happy for them. Archie died of (we think) shock.

Archie was abducted by aliens. He’s probably dead by now. We don’t know.

One of the Archies from the caveman storylines was eaten by a dinosaur. Perhaps they shouldn’t have relied on the Flintstones to research that series.

One of the Archies from the future was killed in some sort of spaceship war. It was unoriginal and not very interesting.

There was a temporal paradox. It was messy.

Cheryl Blossom killed him in the Chocklit Shoppe again with the meat grinder. Jughead continued to eat the burgers this time. That storyline was considerably darker than the earlier one.

A crossover story with the Sabrina the Teenage Witch series went horribly wrong.

The plane on which the Archies were travelling to another big show crashed. Most of the band survived.

During a show, Betty accidentally brained him with a tambourine.

We wrote a choose your own adventure style novel. Every option you could choose ended in his death.

We invited Reggie Mantle to write a few issues.

We reintroduced Little Ambrose and it turned out he was really angry at having been forgotten.

Like, really angry.

Dilton Doiley caused a zombie apocalypse. He was very apologetic about it.

Big Ethel went on the rampage and had her revenge on every character who had ever belittled her or suggested that being attractive to men was the sole measure of her worth. We lost a few of our writers as well, but most of us were on her side.

Someone asked what it was about Archie that qualified him to be the protagonist of all of these comics. Decades of comics vanished in, per Douglas Adams, a puff of logic.

One day Mr Weatherbee woke up at his desk and there was no Archie and it had all been a horrible dream.

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All pictures stolen shamelessly from the Archie Out of Context tumblr.

April 1, 2014

A.L. Krishnan and Supriya Mitra, Psuperhero

Regular column may have been affected by the first of April, a bit.

 

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When it was announced that Sebastian Faulks would be writing a Wodehouse-estate-sanctioned Jeeves and Wooster book, I don’t think anyone (including Faulks himself, possibly) thought it would go well. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was published last year, and if the reviews weren’t uniformly terrible, neither were they good. Wodehouse is easy to parody; it seems to be impossible to imitate him well and in a sustained narrative.

Perhaps a Wodehouse tribute needs to be done slantwise if it is to be done at all; unexpected and outrageous, and containing the implicit admission that paying tribute to Wodehouse by recreating Wodehouse isn’t possible. In that case the most successful tributes are the unlikeliest (presuming they are done well); consider the ridiculous and wonderful “What Ho, Gods of the Abyss” section from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, in which our heroes face a creature from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. Or, closer to home, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola, which feels suspiciously like a Blandings novel set in Haryana.

And then there’s A.L. Krishnan and Supriya Mitra’s graphic novel Psuperhero, which feels at once both completely unexpected and completely obvious, and which pays tribute to Wodehouse in part by going back to his sources.

Wodehouse famously based his greatest character Psmith on Rupert D’Oyly Carte, the owner of the Savoy Hotel and proprietor of the D’Oyly Carte Opera company with whom one of Wodehouse’s cousins had been to school. Psmith first appears in Wodehouse’s school story Mike and Psmith as a wealthy, monocle-wearing, too magnificent to be pretentious schoolboy. Unlike D’Oyly Carte, however, he falls upon hard times in the later books, having to (horror of horrors) work for his living in a bank, as a journalist, and eventually as secretary to Lord Emsworth.

None of these events befall Rupert Pirbright (his name a reference to another minor Wodehouse character), the hero of Psuperhero. A suave and superbly dressed man about town, he uses his considerable wealth in charitable causes; a more outgoing Bruce Wayne. By day. By night, he rids the town of the scourge of a sinister cabal of fish suppliers (the original character, it will be remembered, worked for a brief and unhappy period in that industry).

Naturally, this is a superhero story. Pirbright would never wear his underwear over his trousers and reserves capes for visits to the opera; his disguise, in a nod to the superhero canon that made me laugh out loud, is simply to remove his monocle. But the superhero tradition isn’t the only one Psuperhero draws on; comic opera of the sort D’Oyly Carte’s company popularised is frequently referred to. Krishnan and Mitra are clearly part of India’s massive Wodehouse fandom and there are references to this as well, including a minor character who is clearly intended for a version of Shashi Tharoor. And then there are Wodehouse’s own books.

And it’s in this last area that Psuperhero reveals its weakness. Wodehouse wrote over a hundred books, many of them containing great moments that have come to be loved by fans. Krishnan and Mitra make great use of some of these; there’s a little interlude involving a fascist group and ladies’ underwear, and a glorious moment when Pirbright finds an umbrella for a beautiful young archivist. They even almost manage to capture Psmith’s voice. But it is simply impossible within a mere 150 pages to allude to every incident that one loves, and in trying to do so the authors lose control of plot, structure and character. By the end of the book it’s all rather a mess, loosely-connected Wodehouse gags overwhelming the clever central conceit.

It’s a frustrating conclusion, because there’s so much promise in Mitra’s clean lines and Krishnan’s absurd dialogue, as well as in the sheer scope of their joint project. Perhaps if the duo had been more irreverent, or someone had had the discipline to cut out the dross. It’s a pshame, though.

 

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April 8, 2012

Amit Gopalakrishnan, She Was My Dream Girl…..But She Was a Guy!!

Some years ago I wrote a few rather mean reviews of some of the new Indian campus novels. They were all posted on my blog (tagged “(sic)“) and people seemed to enjoy them, particularly some of the quotes. I took them down when I started working for a publisher, but today have put them back up again. This is mainly to provide context for the thing I am about to post.

As you know, I write a column and occasionally review for this paper. A few months ago we discovered that there would be an edition of the paper out on the first of April. The result: Jai Arjun Singh on the forgotten film Shaitani Anand; Deepanjana Pal on an exciting new app, Bhanuj Kappal on the Scammie awards, and this gorgeous extract from Siddharth Singh’s debut novel, Symphony of Meretricious Wounds. And my own contribution below.

 

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One of the difficulties with (and therefore one of the most interesting things about) reading first person narratives is working out just how much the text itself endorses the opinions voiced by the characters. India has in recent years seen an explosion of such novels. These are romances or coming-of-age stories told in the first person by young male characters who are frequently college students. To the lay reader it can be difficult to sure of the relationship between the protagonist and the text – is the raging misogyny and homophobia ubiquitous in this genre endorsed by its authors, or is their presence merely part of a successful attempt to create authentic-sounding characters? Is the characters’ seeming lack of awareness regarding their own horrific behaviour something at which the text is attempting to poke fun, or is the reader expected to take it seriously? The distinction between author and character is further elided by the fact that in many of these books the two share the same name. The narrator of Pankaj Pandey’s The Saga of Love Via Telephone …tring tring…is named Pankaj, for example. And though the protagonist of Arpit Dugar’s Nothing For You My Dear Still I Love You….! is named Avinash, at one point a character addresses him as “Arpit”.

At a first glance, Amit Gopalakrishnan’s She Was My Dream Girl…..But She was a Guy!! appears no different from other books in the genre. Gopalakrishnan’s hero is also named “Amit”; he belongs to an engineering college and is unsuccessful with women; he falls in love. In the early chapters of the book he shows contempt for those around him, believing that his lack of social success is a result of the shallow people around him, rather than of his own failings. His retreat into the internet is a direct consequence of this. Here, he believes, he is finally able to vent his frustrations and truly express himself. It’s clear that Gopalakrishnan has done his homework – Amit’s internet postings, on various messageboards and then on Twitter, will feel utterly authentic to anyone who has ever ventured to read the comments on a major news site. The format of the book is innovative as well, with Amit’s internet activity depicted graphically so as to look like a snapshot taken of the website.

But it is with Amit’s forays into internet romance that the reader gradually becomes aware that Gopalakrishnan is trying something genuinely new. I mentioned above the apparent lack of awareness that many characters in the genre have with regard to their own actions and how they might appear to others. This is particularly true of their behaviour towards the women around them. Internet romances have been depicted in earlier books. In some, it is a comic subplot in which the objects of the romance turn out to be other than expected – unattractive, of the wrong age, or the wrong gender. In others, such as the abovementioned Saga of Love Via Telephone …tring tring…, it is entirely successful – in that book the main character merely keeps messaging the woman in question until she is forced to notice. Gopalakrishnan’s Amit, on the other hand, actually thinks about the ways in which he may be perceived online, and eventually rethinks a number of his attitudes. He begins to have feelings for Roshni, another commentor on a major website, but worries that she will find his pursuit ‘creepy’. Instead he creates a ‘female’ identity for himself, Aditi, and uses this to befriend her.

Of course, the twist in the tale has already been given away by the title of the book. It’s hard to decide whether this is a good choice or an unfortunate one – if we’re deprived of the moment of revelation, we’re also in a better position to appreciate the subtlety of the conversations that lead up to it. “Roshni” is really “Roshan”. To have one character enact such a charade would merely reiterate the tired old cliché about people on the internet not being what they seem; to have both do so allows for levels of gender play that Shakespeare could scarcely have bettered between “Roshni” and Amit, “Roshni” and “Aditi” and eventually Roshan and Amit. As a metaphor there’s something lovely about this serialised stripping away of fake identities, and the romance between the two boys has the happy ending we’re all rooting for.

She Was My Dream Girl…..But She Was a Guy!! is not perfect. Taking on his female identity forces Amit to reconsider many of his opinions, but his reformation is a little too pat. As is his immediate acceptance of his sexual attraction to a man, which feels rather rushed. But it feels churlish to complain when faced with a book this genre-aware and a love story this sweet.

 

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This may be the only time I ever use the “fiction” tag on this blog.