I'm feeling quite pleased with myself this afternoon. Why? Because today's article required outside research that involved me posing as a proper journo in order to gain entry to the press area of Virgin's website. Admittedly, it wasn't hard; I sent them an email asking if I could have a press password and they said yes. The Watergate affair it is not, but the effort should count for something. See how far I go to keep you informed?
Last week Virgin announced their intention to move into the world of comic book publishing. Apparently airlines, record companies, trains, mobile phones, record labels, music festivals and every other thing you can think of aren't enough and so comics are the next commodity that will be helping to line Branson's buffalo-sized wallet. They've partnered up with Gotham Comics, the Indian company that put out the Indianised version of Spider-Man last summer.
I haven't read Spider-Man India but it seems like a pretty solid concept; feckless subcontinent youth Pavitr Prabhakar gets bitten by a radioactive blah blah blah and bounces around Mumbai righting wrongs in loose-fitting spider-pants. The Green Goblin crops up, re-imagined as a mythical Indian demon. Despite the cries of "Sacrilege!" from some of the webhead's prissier fans I'm all for this sort of thing. Cross-cultural pollination has helped our creative industries more than a little (see Seven Samurai / Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo / A Fistful of Dollars, others too numerous for me to remember) so it seems only fair that we give something back, at least until Madonna has the good grace to stop wittering on about Kabbalah and everyone else gets rid of their dreamcatchers. And, as anyone who has seen the Turkish remake of ET will tell you, a western product in eastern hands can produce magical results.
The plan seems to be to turn into India into the new Japan. Westerners have spent the last twenty-five years or so hoovering up every bit of J-pop tat they can lay their hands on and the money men reckon that India is the next cultural moo-cow to have its teats tugged by the likes of us. The fact that India has something in the region of 600 million teenagers, all desperate to spend their cash on the same shit that we do, might have helped the process a little. That, coupled with the dramatic rise in graphic novel sales in Britain and America (up 44% within the last year in the US; doubled since 2003 in the UK), means that by summer we'll be able to buy Virgin comics in our local Virgin Megastore while talking on our Virgin mobile about our Virgin-engineered sexually transmitted diseases. Possibly.
My original take on this was: bad. Very bad. I love comics more than I love my mum (not really) and I'm damned if I'm going to let some beardy hot air balloon enthusiast put his greasy money-cock in my paper lady! Somebody find me a barricade so I can storm the mother fucker! Or words to that effect. But then I had a bit of a re-think. You see, the industry needs two things; money and creativity. Much as we might hate to admit it, comics are a business so a huge cash injection like this, especially to a part of the world where comics are at a very nascent stage of development, is what is needed to keep the whole show going. Plus, we'll be getting loads of interesting new material from the Indians, which can only benefit the art-form in general. There are a bunch of sketches and bits of preview artwork on the website and it all looks very lovely; sultry, dusky Indian-style inking and colours and lots of iconic Hindu imagery give it a fresh look that's very different from the usual Jim Lee / Rob Liefield stuff we get over here. Not that there's anything wrong with Jim Lee; he's one of my favourite artists but when everyone is doing the same stuff it can get a tad boring. Obviously, the website offers no clue as to the quality of the writing, but that's just as likely to depend on the translation as anything else. We shall see.
On a fairly related note, while I was browsing the main Virgin site I came across something called... Virgin Galactic! It's true! Within the next ten years sub-orbital space tourism will be a glorious reality. They're sorting it out; it'll be flying cars and silver jumpsuits next, just you wait. Even better, the actual Virgin Galactic bit of the site is, frankly, piss funny. You see, because all of this is at the concept stage they've got no solid facts to give us so they've had to speculate more than a little. Apparently the ship will be called — and I swear on mother's life this is what it says — the VSS Enterprise. The piece starts off with a cheery "now let's just imagine..." before launching into the opening sentence:
"You may well fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class into the nearest major city."
And it continues in similar vein for a good 750 words. It's all "you might..." and "you could..." My personal favourites are "possibly you may even ride in the mothership" and "possibly, later that evening, at a magnificent gala dinner, you will be awarded your astronaut wings and maybe even a part of the rocket motor used on your trip for you to keep as a memento." This is a copywriter's wet dream. You can come up with any crazy bullcrap you want and because you've covered yourself with the "now let's just imagine..." nobody can say shit. I just think it's a shame they didn't stretch their legs a little over the actual content. Whole universes of pork pies were available to them but they bottled it. Now, let's just imagine...
You may well wake on the morning of the trip to find we've sent Cameron Diaz round to do you a bacon sandwich and morning blowjob. She could possibly lead you outside to where a swarm of tiny flying horses will carry you to the launch pad, ready for your first trip into space! After that, it's likely that you'll be fitted with a superfly spacesuit, making you the coolest homeboy on the Virgin Galactic block, negro! If you're lucky we may have arranged for a small country (possibly Belgium) to have changed their national anthem to one of our devising, an anthem that will sing the praises of both Virgin plc and you, our sexiest and most valued customer. Then it might well be time for you to enter our giant penis-shaped space rocket (modelled after your own gargantuan member, naturally) and then... blast off! On the way to your destination you might be given control of the ship's ion cannons, which you may well use to atomise pretty much anything you take a fancy to. Shortly afterwards the VSS Enterprise may have docked at it's destination — Mars — where you could be introduced to that woman with three titties from Total Recall who you were too embarrassed to admit gave you a woody when you first saw the movie. But don't worry; what happens on Mars stays on Mars! So you could kill her by stuffing handfuls of fivers down her throat before violating her corpse with a chair leg and we wouldn't blab. Potentially!
Later that day it is possible that you'll be paraded around Mars in a sedan chair while a cheering throng proclaim you as their new God. You might even want to show your appreciation by randomly firing a complimentary Virgin crossbow into the crowd, or maybe an AK47. It's your space holiday, after all! Then it couldmightpossibly be time to head home, where you might discover that due to unforeseen time anomalies (like in Star Trek and that) you've arrived back on Earth just in time to become your own grandfather, which might be fine because you possibly always secretly fancied your Nan anyway.
To infinity and beyond!