If We Could Go Back In Time…

Text by A.A. BENJAMIN, Game Demo by JO KIM, Characters by SPARLING

Our fictional Once Upon A Time Machine video game proposal (<–see our powerpoint presentation here) had one obvious blunder. We had a cool game demo but treated our presentation as separate from the demo.

As we talk about hyper-meditation in this English New Media course, finding ways to merge the two would have been an opportune way to express what we’ve learned in the course. However, timing issues and mishaps aside, the highlight of this project was collaboration. Our bouncing ideas transformed into a proposal that mimicked gameplay and a fun intertextual commentary that made gaming attractive to a target audience.

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The Narrator

We built a video game model off of the arcade style and well-known Mario Kart race track design. The premise of the game is that you can choose one from ten playable characters designed from H.G. Well’s novel, The Time Machine. You then race against your friends in your choice of eight vehicles derived from methods of time travel across literature and film to date, all with their pros and cons. Along the courses which follow the novel’s plot, you use items and special weapons to work your way to first place, surviving the clingy Eloi and destructive Morlocks. Our game provided some intertextual game play for intellectuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as sci-fi and steampunk fans. We also took liberties with H.G. Well’s more obscurely described characters to create gender and race-inclusive characters.

The most enjoyable part about this project, to me, was the generation of ideas together and then watching them develop through art and imagery. One thing we would have needed to do if this were a real proposal would have been to fully design our own concepts and/or cite our sources (drawing them would have been super fun). Though we wouldn’t have to consider copyright issues with the aged H.G. Wells novel, we concluded that we could keep the vehicles as direct references under the Fair Use doctrine. Also, as indicated by our classmates, we could have described the functions of more of our characters, vehicles, and levels rather than focusing on one or two, so here some drafts that didn’t make the cut:


Man With A Beard
Man With A Beard–Spontaneous combustion whenever using matches


Time Machine Sled–Can hold endless items. The more you have slower you are. Items attract Eloi, sled itself attracts Morlocks. Enables use of mace
Tardis–Unaffected by villains. Overheats when lighting matches. Your matches don’t work on villains (because you’re in a box. Basically, just avoid matches). Disappears momentarily. Works best with Medical Man
Final Stage Kill Screen: In the old arcade games, the machines had limited space and therefore when players got far enough the graphics began to devolve. The Time Machine ends with the Time Traveller disappearing without a clue of where he went, so the last stage could be a “kill screen,” racing at length until the game graphics begin to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, we are mere undergrad students incapable of rendering the game in such the intricate way that we imagine, so if we were to get a chance to build it, it’d probably be less compelling. But it was fun to dream, anyway. Isn’t that where all great games begin? Progress!

–A.A. Benjamin

Not Your Average Comic Book

When I was first assigned the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentleman for class I immediately assumed that it would be a quick and easy read.  I read Archie Comics for the majority of my childhood, I even had my own pretty extensive collection of them.  I assumed that Alan Moore’s work would be similar, and after flipping through the first few pages I saw many of the same elements I had seen when I was 10 years old.  However, after reading the first chapter I quickly realized that this was no book for children.  The level of imagery, symbolism, and allusion I encountered was equal to most other novels I have read for english classes, and if read too fast it was easy to miss out on the finer points of each panel.

Below is one panel from the second chapter of the first volume, entitled “Ghosts & Miracles.”  Upon first glance it seems that Miss Murray and Mr. Bond are casually discussing fictional events involving fictional characters, with no real significance outside of the novel.  They also are walking through a small alley in Britain, with a church on one side and some people hanging out around it.  After digesting this information on my first read I decided to turn the page.  Little did I know that upon closer inspection there were not only many allusions I missed but also a lot of imagery and symbolism.

What I thought were fictional characters that Moore created were actually allusions to works by other authors from different time periods.  Mr. Bond speaks of the astronomer Lavell and his discovery of incandescent gas on Mars, and after a quick Google search I discovered that he is actually an allusion to H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”  Wells named an island in his novel Lavelle of Java, which is actually in reference to an M. Javelle of Nice who claimed to have seen a strange light coming from Mars in 1894.  The Reverend Septimus Harding is actually a character from Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novel series.  Miss Rosa Coote on the other hand is actually a fictional dominatrix from many Victorian era erotic novels.  Her last name comes from General Sir Eyre Coote who was involved in a flogging scandal in 1815.

In the background of this conversation is a church with a sign that reads “God Help Us” which signifies the desperation felt by many English citizens during this time period, and civil unrest is further emphasized by the man being thrown out of or pulled into the church window.  The poor environmental conditions brought about by the Industrial Revolution is signified by the dirty watery sludge that is pooled up in the street, which a man is actually diving into while his companion looks on.  The overall darkness of the panel helps to convey the somber mood of both the conversation and the city.

It would be hard to consider Alan Moore’s work as a simple comic book when all of these allusions are present along with deep symbolism and imagery.  The complex nature of each panel makes graphic novels much more like actual novels than many people give them credit for.

-George de Roziere

Illustrating Nothing

In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphics must tell what dialogue cannot. Excessive narration would kill the flow of the story, and overly mouthy characters would feel out of place. It thus falls to the illustrator to create images that add to the reader’s understanding of the story and characters in a way that is also amusing.

A most fascinating character is the Invisible Man. He should by all rights be the most difficult character to properly illustrate: he’s not even visible. However, the illustrator does a fantastic job of giving the Invisible Man character and of supplementing his humorous dialogue with complementary images. That is, at least, in general: sometimes it seems as though the illustrator lets the Invisible Man just be invisible, passing up an opportunity to add to his character/the scene in favor of a simplistic ’empty air’ approach. Here is an example.

You can tell he cares deeply

Having just killed a man in cold blood, the Invisible Man turns to his companions (presumably) and casually makes idle conversation. There is only one indication of this: the sword, and this is an example of where I feel the illustration slightly fails. The words here do all the work: they are what is funny about this scene. In later scenes the Invisible Man is better represented: he leaves fingerprints or interacts with his environment in a way that reveals his appearance, contextually. Here, however, there is nothing. This happens a couple of other times in the graphic novel, and I feel the illustrator could have done more in this scenario: show something leaning under his weight, or have him wipe the sword with a piece of cloth, anything besides making a sword float. It is to both the narrator and illustrator’s credit that the Invisible Man is one of the best and funniest characters in the whole book despite being an invisible man, but where in every panel other characters appear something about them is being expressed facially/via body language, some panels of the Invisible Man seem sadly wasted.



           After some amount of time flipping through the pages of this graphic novel, I arrived at this deeply interesting panel. This panel is the first panel in which the Limehouse district is visually introduced to the reader.  To begin, the scenery in the panel is dark and dreary, thereby giving the reader the impression that this area isn’t a particularly good area to live in. Furthermore, the sky is filled with a face that is presumed to be the face of “The Doctor”. The face is not meant to be taken literally as being in the sky, but rather it helps to emphasize the fact that “The Doctor” oversees the district, acting as its crime warlord.

The next items that stood out to me in the panel were the smokestacks coming from the houses and pollution in the sky.  Following the norm in most steam punk fiction, the pollution indicates a critique of the over-industrialization of the city by showing one of its negative effects on the environment. Also, in the top left corner, two workers are working on repairing a phone line in a very precarious manner. Herein lies another critique of the over-industrialization displayed in most steam punk fiction, as the safety of the workers is not put into consideration, and they are viewed simply as a means to the completion of industrial projects.

The panel also contains some racism, specifically against the Chinese. First, in the bottom left corner, three Chinese men are displayed with slanted eyes and stereotypically Chinese headwear. Moreover, these men are robbing an unconscious man lying on the ground. In addition, in the middle-bottom right corner of the panel, a Chinese man is karate-kicking two other men while raising his sword menacingly at them. Although the racism throughout the graphic novel is not meant to be taken literally, the panel does demonstrate the stereotypes about the Chinese, and it portrays them in a very negative manner.

Next, the housing of the district is extremely broken down and ragged, and beggars can be seen in various parts of the panel, such as in the bottom right corner, thereby displaying the district as a very poor area.  In addition, a brothel exists right next to this beggar, and naked men and women are shown on the decks of this building. There is even a depiction of a woman beating on a man in the center of the panel. These examples portray the district as a fundamentally immoral and flawed neighborhood that thrives on vice and crime in order to survive.

All of these examples come together to show that the Limelight district is a seedy, dark, and corrupt location filled with evildoers, prostitutes, and violent individuals. By showing  “The Doctor” in the background overseeing all of this activity, he is thus also characterized as an evil and corrupt individual. However, the panel also critiques industrialization by displaying many of its negative consequences.  These characteristics help to influence readers’ opinions later in the novel, thereby increasing the panel’s importance.


The Language of Posture

In a graphic novel, I think that body posture has to make up for a lot, considering less words are you to describe how a character feels. In the pane below, taken from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I believe the author tells the reader quite a bit about the character based on how their bodies are positioned.

For instance, in this strip, Quatermain and the invisible man both look quite relaxed. The author put them in comfortable chairs, possibly signifying that the two characters  take life less seriously than others in the picture. Although we can’t see the invisible man (obviously) we can tell he is holding a cigarette and dressed in very comfortable clothing, including slippers. Perhaps this is coupled with his extremely nonchalant attitude toward morals to further his image of not-giving-a-crap.

Dr. Jekyll, on the other hand, looks extremely nervous, which lines up perfectly with what his dialogue reveals about his character. The way he is sitting all scrunched up makes it look like he doesn’t even want to be seen. He’s is also sitting in a very unforgiving looking wooden chair, in stark contrast with the pompous chair Quatermain is sitting in.

Wilhelmina looks like she is in charge, just like always. Her straight posture and focused glare give the impression of someone who wants to get something done, NOW.  She is looking at maps, which may signify that she is the only one who actually is planning on working out what the group will do. The drawing of her also suggests she is comfortable sitting at Nemo’s head desk, where others might feel intimidated with the captain right behind them.

Speaking of the captain, His demeanor shows one main emotion: annoyance. From his use of the word fancy, to the fact he is standing right over Wilhelmina’s shoulder shows that he doesn’t like what is going on. He is holding a weapon in his left hand, possibly signifying that he doesn’t trust these people on his ship.

Just in this short analysis, I think it is clear how effective pictures can be at displaying emotions.


The graphic novel, in all its splendor

As children, I would hazard a guess that most of us read a comic book at some point or another. Why? Comic books are meant to be entertaining. They don’t need a terribly deep story line or minute references to real people and events or social commentary to achieve that point. But can they?

If you’re name is Alan Moore, you clearly thought that they could. And thus we have the graphic novel (as one would call a long comic book with substance such as this) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now, graphic novels usually get bad press in the academic world because of their similarity to comics. But a look at just one panel of Moore’s novel shows that it has much more meaning colored and shaded into the frame than a comic and provides as much, if not more, detail as a normal book would.

The Baddies of of the League

In the league of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the graphic novel) there are a great many of well know characters from other stories and comics. In this frame, we are introduced to Mr. M. who we find out is James Moriarty. The first thing I notice is obviously Mr. Moriarty himself. A deeper look at his character reveals the darkened deep-set eyes which seem to peer very deeply at you. I slight wrinkled brow makes him seem very old and maybe slightly angry. His right arm is suspiciously curled behind his back, seeming rather shady and rather unnaturally curved. His fingers on his left hand show wrinkled skin laid loosely over scrawny bones. He is delicately pointing towards himself which, coupled with the appearance of his character, suggests that he is a hard person, but a crafty and careful plotter. His attire is that a powerful but necessary businessman. No extravagant displays of wealth through shiny cigar cases or flashy clothing. His bald head and simple suit suggest that he is a to-the-point kind of person who takes no bull. The pointed teeth give the appearance of anger and evil. His dark suit also points towards evil characteristics. If we look off in the background, we see the typical steam punk elements of, well, steam and gear-run machines.


The The Extraordinary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

“Wait, that’s the book you were talking about?” Said a friend when she saw The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore sitting on my desk. “That’s not a book; that’s a comic.”

“It’s a graphic nov” I managed to say, before she cut me off—“Tell me when you have some real reading for class.”

Graphic novels aren’t widely accepted as scholarly work. They are usually seen as picture books for kids, or as comics for “nerds” without value. I’m here to tell you that great graphic novels are as substantive and worthwhile as great novels, the same way a a movie can be. Below is a single panel from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The attention to minute details, and the plethora of fantastic allusions made in this graphic novel truly set it apart from a mere comic book.

This is one of four small panels, next to a large, page and a half panel. In this almost inconsequential panel, Moore gives the reader so much.

In the foreground there is a ragged, obviously poor gentlemen and a few boys dressed similarly. The details incorporated immerse the reader—the fingerless gloves, the cigarettes, the wart on his nose, and so much more. His low class and that of his young companions is affirmed from the way they talk. In the mid-ground there is a burning building and smoke. And In the background a flying ship can be seen bombing the buildings of London (the cause of the building fire.) This is what is understood at face value.

Now, onto the good stuff. In this panel on of the young boys refer to the older, ragged gentleman as Mr. Dodger. In the panel above this, the same boy tells Mr. Dodger that he has stole Mr. Quartermain’s purse (or “is tart’s purse.”) This automatically reminds any of us who have read Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. This Mr. Dodger, is none other then the skillful and cunning Artful Dodger grown up. It seems he has started a gang of pickpocket children as well.

Moore also included another quick allusion. Mr. Dodger refers to one the boys as “Mitchell,” and the other as “Watts.” A quick google search of “Mitchell and Watts London” brought up the EastEnders Wikipedia page. Having never seen the show, I do not fully understand the reference, but the show, taking place in the East End of London, is about the Mitchell and Watts family. Although a bit anachronistic, it makes sense that these two would be in the east end, the sight of the bombings. Maybe these two are the ancestors the two families.

Finally, the flying ship in the background is the quintessential representation of steampunk technology. This great advancement which has the power for so much good, is also the source of so much destruction. This theme of the duality of technology is prominent throughout many steampunk novels.

The above was one panel. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is full of allusions and symbolism that makes it worthy of being called a a true graphic novel.