The Joyners in 3D
Created by: R.J. Ryan, David Marquez, Tara Rhymes
Published by: Archaia
ISBN: 1936393700 (Amazon)
In seventh grade I fell in love with anaglyph 3D. Not because the stories that were produced to make use of the kind of red/blue-lensed glasses were particularly invigourating. They weren’t. And not because the stories were made better by their use of fancy illusion. Usually the opposite was true. Really, I just fell in love with 3D because I could do it myself.
But really, I had always been in love with the idea of 3D. Like most kids, gimmicks were the way to my heart. Take something boring and adult like a soap opera but throw in a handful of Veritech fighters (a la Robotech) and I was glued to every melodramatic episode. Have the Harlem Globetrotters or Batman appear on Scooby Doo and I was yours. When I first saw a commercial for a network airing of Vincent Price’s House of Wax in 3D, my world caught fire. At about seven years old, I was of course too young to harbour any real volition over my television watching schedule—and so I never was able to watch the program. Still, the concept lit up the imagination, and when I later saw Captain Eo at Disneyland I was cheered despite the fact the story, acting, and all else was dullard’s work.
My contact with 3D works was pretty limited until junior high (circa 1987). Then suddenly (perhaps only seemingly so), the world of comics was being infiltrated with a lot of 3D experimentation. I picked up several issues from different series, but what I still remember was Blackthorn’s Gumby in 3D. It was cool enough, and Gumby was going through a bit of a revival (at least at my school).
What’s probably more important is that it was with my Gumby issue that I really took a look at how the 3D illusion came about. The basic idea didn’t seem too tough to achieve, so I tried making a 3D drawing with just two levels of z-index (or dimensionality). It worked. It wasn’t amazing, but I definitely had two levels of dimensionality going on. So I did another. And then another. Pretty soon I was competently drawing up cartoons with three levels of dimensionality. I was also experimenting with different colour pens. I found that lighter blues more properly disappeared when viewed with the blue-coloured lens (essential for the illusion), but that darker ones seemed to make the illusion pop more for whatever reason. I also discovered what would happen if you accidentally reversed the colour order, making a couple head-spinning and impossibly dimensioned pieces (you’d have to put the glasses on backwards to see them correctly). I spent a little over a year making these drawings, wowing friends with the gimmick and getting good enough so I could employ more than nine distinct layers of dimensionality. Still, it was a lot of work (I was doing these all by hand11This was a full decade before I’d get my hands on a copy of Photoshop (version 5, fresh in 1998). I can’t even imagine the stuff I’d have gotten up to if I had Photoshop in junior high and high school.), and the only people who could appreciate my work were the dwindling number who actually had their own 3D glasses (or who borrowed mine). So, in eighth grade, I stopped.
One of my junior high experiments—Inspired by what else but Akira…
Over the years, my fondness for the delivery method waned. Beyond the fact that all visual gimmicks become mundane through exposure, there was the biological matter with which to contend. In 1996 and on the cusp of age twenty-three, while leaning over the counter and squinting to read the menu at a fast-food establishment, I came to realize I’d need my eyes examined. One afternoon and a diagnosis of astigmatism later, and I was now and for the rest of my life the owner and wearer of glasses. Contacts would never have suited my idiom, so glasses it was. And the one thing you should know about glasses22A thing you already know if you’re a glasses wearer yourself.: wearing glasses on top of glasses is an awkward, non-enjoyable enterprise. Give it a shot some time. Throw on some sunglasses or reading glasses, then throw on some sunglasses or reading glasses on top of those. Now imagine doing that for the kind of duration you’d be required to sustain in order to watch a movie or read a book. More than just a touch annoying.
For that reason, I still haven’t bothered attempting to see one of these newfangled 3D movies that plague the local cinemas. It’s not that I’m sure they aren’t perfectly enjoyable and a magnificent assault on the visual cortex. I’ll bet the experience is perfectly lovely for those physically and constitutionally disposed to enjoy them. Still, a year ago when I heard RJ Ryan discussing his upcoming book, The Joyners in 3D, I was properly intrigued. Archaia always does a lovely job putting together their books, so I was sure this wasn’t going to be any low-budget affair. And it’s not. The Joyners has some top-notch quality production going on (even down to the handy rear-cover pocket for the anaglyph glasses33I still haven’t opened the glasses for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier because they come in a sealed plastic pouch that once unsealed cannot be resealed.). I was interested enough in the project that I pre-ordered it without really knowing much more about it.
The answer was actually “Kick”
Down another alleyway of my personal history we find that in the late ‘90s, when I fancied that I might actually take a path toward becoming a film critic,44I wrote film crit and reviews for a number of long-since defunct portals back before the advent of Blogger and blogging around late ‘99. I was particularly enamoured with film noir. The noir mode was a spectacular combination of both the stylistic and storytelling excesses that I adored in my mid-twenties. I watched all the noir I could get my hands on. I read books on the subject. I took particular joy in reading the critical essays and examinations in Alain Silver’s Noir Reader series. By 2000, I had largely stopped seeking out new instances of the mode (having watched all the principal examples and fistfuls of the off-brand stuff) and began moving in new directions. Still, I never truly forsook noir, but merely put it on a shelf that I could visit at my leisure over the coming decades.55Honestly, pretty much all film occupies that kind of space for me nowadays. I just have a hard time finding the time or mind-space to devote two straight hours to watching a movie. And nevermind the three plus hours required for many of the better films produced.
All this is to say that when I come across other media that take part in the noirish tropes and tradition, it can be a comfortable place for me. Straight up neo-noir like David Lapham’s Stray Bullets is just lovely—for sure—but other books that pick and choose their elements can be fun callbacks as well. Mignola’s Hellboy has often functioned as a kind of faery-noir. Alex Proyas almost flawlessly lifts noir elements to blend with German expressionism for his sci-fi Dark City.
The reason I bring up noir at all is that The Joyners in 3D, while ostensibly a future-driven family drama, draws plenty of the common elements of noir storytelling into its playful future-fi. The crimes, the dramatic angularities, the uncomplicated morality play, the flawed protagonist, the betrayals, and of course the femme fatale. The book opens with the protagonist imprisoned and ends by drawing closed the noose of that fate that brought him there. It’s kind of formulaic and typical, but I see a reason for that—even if what I see is only built of my own construction.
The moment the nanny is introduced, you know what she’s there for
Ryan and Marquez do double duty pushing the reader to take the Joyners’ story as being a legitimate read of Our Glorious Future. First, they firmly establish their narrative four decades from today. This is the future, but it isn’t distant. Further, it’s recognizable. Even if Ryan hadn’t dropped hint by titling chapter one as “Meet George Joyner,” the mere fact of the protagonist’s name should be enough to invoke the man of the future from The Jetsons (for most readers). George Joyner is what we were promised through a children’s cartoon that aired exactly a century earlier than events depicted in this book. A shining though mundane future of cogs, sprockets, corporate espionage, and plastic families.
Next, by pushing the reader to engage their story through anaglyph glasses, they’re invoking again a sense of Future. There was a time when we felt that three-dimensional entertainment was exactly where we were ideally headed. At least the children always believe that. Whether it be 3D matinees or the holographic games that sporadically graced arcades in the ‘80s or Disney’s newfangled polarized lens 3D or James Cameron’s Avatar or Nintendo’s 3DS or the Oculus Rift—new ways to push the visual experience of story capitalize easily on our child-sense of What Might Be. By returning to (and improving on) the 3D technology common at the dawn of Hanna-Barbera’s prognosticated world way back in 1962, Ryan and Marquez steep their story not just in a particular time but also in a mode of seeing.
A very Jetsonian way of life.
The Jetsons was a short-lived series forged right on the cusp of a new age. The sense of wondrous progress that governed post-war America was waning in the face of new national cynicisms. It’s common to speak of Kennedy’s assassination or Nixon’s impeachment as the end of American idealism, but the truth is that cosmic sense of national place had been rotting already and the eggs laid even before the War were beginning to hatch. Vietnam, Cold War terror, the civil rights movement, hawks and doves, women’s liberation. Rock and roll. It was all on the march, and Kennedy and Nixon were merely symptoms of the paradigm tilt. And the Jetsons, for all their goofy June-Cleaver/Donna-Reed sensibilities, were a normal family whose struggles and trials were exactly the struggles of the modern American salaryman transplanted to a future that didn’t care what it could be because it was too concerned with what it always would be.
The Jetsons was an argument that no matter how much progress we made, human nature would remain unaltered—and so we would be foolish to lodge our hopes too deeply in a world of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and push-button meals. There was no promise to be found in these things because they would only highlight our inadequacies in new ways. Ryan’s message in The Joyners is exactly this, only in 3D. For all his evident enthusiasm in the mode, the decision to opt for anaglyph sturdily emphasizes that despite progress, despite the future, despite flying cars and robots and cybernetics and jetpacks—despite any and all gimmicks we might use to enhance the experience of our lives, we cannot escape our humanness. And therefore, whether in two or three or four dimensions, we cannot escape the flaws and darkness that turn the amazing into the mundane and broken.
All that said, the mundane aspect of the story will be hit-and-miss with readers. Some of the clichés fits seamlessly into the neo-Jetsonsonian theme, but it will be left up to the individual whether or not the storytelling is compelling on its own or whether it relies too much upon the weight of the book’s moral.66Of course there’s the possibility that this might even be a fair chunk of Ryan’s point. The Joyners is neither a rollicking adventure nor particularly adventurous in terms of plot development. As mentioned briefly above, the story relies on a lot of the common noir tropes and so is rather predictable to those familiar with the mode. And while this serves to make that aspect of the book comfortable enough so the reader can be eased into its parable about the ultimate impotence of progress, some may lose steam along the way and miss the point.
C’mon, George. Get it together, man.
Marquez’ art is cartoony and slick and plays well with the anaglyph technique here honed by Marquez and Tara Rhymes. The 3D is largely crisp, and in that sense is often better than what we’ve seen from anaglyph in previous decades. The team uses several levels of opacity on their blues (which are really kind of a shade of lightly greened cyan) and reds as well as a fair amount of gradients to flesh out the appearance of depth. There are a couple moments where the red and blue lines don’t match up well enough to complete the seamlessness of the dimensional illusion, but that may have been intentional (these are typically bits of text, which made their fuzziness stand out a bit more77Honestly, if it were my ball and bat, I’d probably have opted for black text rather than to make the words 3D as well. I’m sure they tried that out and chose 3D for the text after testing and testing. I really do like the weirdo effect of black elements intruding on the 3D, and I think the stark absolute in the midst of the gimmick could have played well with the neo-Jetsonian theme.). Also, and this is a personal kind of tragedy: the fact that I wear glasses made reading the book a bit of a hassle. I eventually rigged a way to keep the red/blue lenses in place but, until then, wrangling the glasses over my glasses was a pretty rough business. I probably didn’t look that cool in Starbucks with my anaglyphs half hanging off my face. And me looking cool is important. So important.
I think it’s neat that people are still experimenting with different ways of seeing, even if I’m less interested in those explorations myself (due to the aforementioned physical impairment88I kind of feel a bit like Willem Dafoe’s character in Auto Focus when he’s trying to show off the new colour projection television set and everyone realizes he’s colourblind.). All I have to do is remember my excitement as a kid encountering at-home-achievable-3D in comics and it absolutely justifies these projects. So kudos to Team Joyners and Archaia for taking the risk to not only pursue a 3D project, but taking the time to expand on the techniques available and enlarge somewhat the toolbox for future works.
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