Slaughterhouse-Five seems to resist adaptation. Originally released in 1969, Kurt Vonnegut’s semi-autobiographical, time-hopping, anti-war book about the life of fictional WWII soldier Billy Pilgrim is constantly popping up on lists of the greatest novels of the 20th Century – look, here it is on Time’s all-time top 100.
Over the years, it’s been adapted into a movie (the first time in 1972, not long after it hit shelves, and Guillermo del Toro and Charlie Kaufman were set to take a second crack at it a few years back, though the project sadly never came to fruition). There have been multiple theatrical productions, a radio drama… and now it’s a comic. A graphic novel, if you want to get fancy about it, from Ryan North and Albert Monteys, released by Boom Studios.
And what I’m here to tell you, friend, is that it might just be the best version of this story in existence.
Who is making Slaughterhouse-Five?
Ryan North you’ll likely know for one of two things. As the man who made Doreen Green one of Marvel’s finest characters, with the hilarious and humane The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Or for getting stuck down a hole that one time.
But take a look at North’s broader catalogue of work, from Dinosaur Comics — a webcomic which has been repeating the same six MS Paint-ass panels with new jokes every few days for over 15 years — to his Shakespearean choose-your-own-adventure books, like Romeo and/or Juliet, and he makes complete sense as the person you’d pick to adapt Vonnegut’s work into comics.
Albert Monteys might be a new name to you, but he’s no less of a shoe-in for this particular project. He spent five years as editor of the long-running Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves, but he first came to my attention as writer and artist of Panel Syndicate’s Universe! It’s a sci-fi anthology comic that reads like Philip K. Dick with more gags — and the digital version is pay-what-you-want, which means you can pick up all six instalments for absolutely free. You shouldn’t — the comic is more than worth your money — but you can.
Kurt Vonnegut was the acclaimed author of novels including Cat’s Cradle and The Sirens of Titan. I cried when he passed away in 2007. So it goes.
What is Slaughterhouse-Five about?
Slaughterhouse-Five, both the novel and the comic, is an anti-war book telling the story of Billy Pilgrim, who was on the ground in the German city of Dresden as a prisoner of war, when the Allied Forces fire-bombed it during WWII. 25,000 people were killed. Vonnegut was there too — he appears in the book multiple times, as both author and character — but, like Billy, survived by taking refuge in a meat locker in the basement of the titular slaughterhouse.
That is a compelling enough reason to read Slaughterhouse-Five. But it is also a remarkably weird and influential sci-fi story, featuring time travel and aliens. The key thing to know is that, as the first line of the story proper tells us, “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” If we experience life like a playlist, Billy’s life is on shuffle, basically, and we follow his story the same way. One moment you might be on the Western Front, the next in a childhood swimming pool, or at a drunken party decades after the war.
Is there any required reading?
Well, there’s an obvious answer here: Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. But in truth, while knowledge of the original book might enrich your experience — the adaptation does some really smart stuff, which we’ll get to in a minute — everything you need is contained within.
North and Monteys’ Slaughterhouse-Five is very faithful. It edits down the (already slim) novel, but all the important scenes are present and correct — and in most cases, with very few changes. You’ll get the full story, but also a good sense of what it’s about on a deeper level: a war story that rejects not only the ‘war’ half of that equation but the ‘story’ part too.
It’s certainly against people killing one another, even for reasons as good as those that motivated the Second World War. (To recap, for the benefit of the internet: Nazis are bad.) But, for me, it’s even more against the narratives that allow those killings to be perpetuated.
As Vonnegut promises in the opening, “there won’t be a part for John Wayne in my book”. Billy Pilgrim is a lead who makes very few active choices, and the character in the novel who fancies himself a war hero is an asshole kid who fantasises about ridiculous torture methods. Don’t expect any tales of heroism, or pretty lies about ‘good deaths’ or ‘honour’ or ‘duty’. As you’d hope.
But with its time-unstuck storytelling, Slaughterhouse-Five goes further still, eating away at all the narrative struts and scaffolds that support those notions. The story jumps between moments seemingly at random, sidesteps anything that might constitute traditional ‘action’ and even tells you how it will end, right in the opening pages. It’s an intentionally disorientating experience.
And this is where a comics adaptation starts to make perfect sense – and where it might actually improve on the original.
Is Slaughterhouse-Five good?
Oh boy is it.
The book’s non-linear structure, with short vignettes taken from along the entire timeline of Billy’s life, are brilliantly suited to the pages of a comic. Scenes can last a single page, or a couple of spreads, and then you turn over and you’re in another time and place. That’s kind of how comics always work anyway, and the transitions are smoothed by a smart use of colour.
These short scenes are often structured like jokes, building to a punchline — a weird incident or a sharp one-liner. And with North and Monteys at the helm, the humour really pops. Where reading a Vonnegut book I’ll normally crack a wry smile, or nod in recognition, this comic squeezed a few belly laughs out of me. If I’ve made the book sound at all highfalutin up to this point, please know that it features the best format-bending dick joke since Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye.
So that’s one good reason to read Slaughterhouse-Five. The main one, though, is what North and Monteys do with the comics form. They constantly find new ways to adapt the source material, taking Vonnegut’s own experimental approach as an excuse to fiddle with what a comic can be, and what it can do.
This is obvious right from the start. It’s a good ten pages of story before you reach anything that looks like a traditional comic book page. Flick through this book and you’ll find timelines, three-panel gag strips, pages from in-universe comics on faded newsprint. I can’t remember the last time I read a book this restlessly inventive.
Honestly, I could have just spent this whole review sharing snippets of the comic, pointing at them and going ‘cor, look how clever that is.’ Picking a panel for the final section of this review has been giving me headaches for days.
But the appeal of the graphic novel is not just cleverness, which brings me to the reason I think this comic might be the best version of Slaughterhouse-Five, at least for me.
I’ve always found the original a fascinating intellectual exercise, but it’s never got me in the gut. Vonnegut was an incredibly humane writer, but that rarely extended to the way he wrote his characters. Your standard Vonnegut protagonist is, to be blunt, kind of an asshole. And so it is here.
But Monteys’ cartooning is so expressive that it’s hard not to feel for every single character you meet, even the awful ones. (It helps that North does some judicious editing, especially around the character of Valencia Merble, Billy’s wife — to whom the original book is consistently cruel, calling her “ugly” and Billy marrying her “one of the symptoms of his disease”. None of that is present here, and the book’s better for it.)
In this telling, no one looks like the person who’d play them in a film, but they’re all incredibly human. Which might be the reason I found myself getting a little choked up, for the first time, at parts of the story I’ve read three or four times in the past.
One panel that popped
This is a great example of what I mean — one of the single-page vignettes the comic does so well.
It’s one of the few scenes with Billy’s mother, in either version, showing her at her most vulnerable, but in the original version it’s more of a short sharp shock.
Maybe it’s the elderly relatives I’ve lost in the (meagre) time since I last read the novel, but here this scene is a stab right to the heart. It’s the look of genuine concern in Billy’s eyes, the tear streaking down his mother’s cheek, the way Monteys captures the way that age pulls your face right back to the bones. This is far from the flashiest bit of storytelling in the book, but it’s absolutely remarkable in its emotional clarity. The kind of thing you gain from an adaptation that can put wide-eyed faces to names.
And then you turn the page, with the purple lava-lamp effect and change in colour palette that indicate a time jump, and it’s right on to the next thing. Onto the next scene, the next wonderfully-framed Vonnegut aphorism, the next brilliant visual idea fighting for its rightful place in this section. I wish I could pick them all. So it goes.
Can flight simulators solve the pilot shortage?
Flight sims are a powerful experience, offering us close looks at natural wonders, the chance to experience dire weather firsthand, and impossible, cursed versions of the world. But can they help solve the pilot shortage?
As travel demands have increased over the past decade, so has the need for commercial pilots — and the release of games like Microsoft Flight Simulator might just help bridge that gap.
Since the first flight simulator was created in 1929, these games have been used mainly to train pilots for commercial flights, only becoming associated with games when Sega released the arcade machine Jet Rocket in 1970. Nowadays, most people know the genre because of Microsoft Flight Simulator. The first entry in the franchise arrived back when the Microsoft suite was mostly productivity software, so if you wanted to sneak in some fun on company hardware, the flight sim was your best bet.
For a lot of modern fans, this franchise was their entry into the world of aviation, and it sparked a lifelong love of flight sims — and, for some, of piloting itself. We spoke to two hardcore simmers, as well as some of the minds behind Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane, about how immersive flight sims can inspire fans to undertake the long, expensive effort of getting their pilot’s license.
Watch the video above to learn more about how the immersive experience of playing flight sims might just solve the pilot shortage. For more on Microsoft Flight Simulator, check out our guide.
NBA 2K21’s latest patch shores up shooting, other community requests
NBA 2K21’s latest patch is mainly a collection of fixes and optimizations, but many relate to the game’s new controls — and player feedback about them — making version 1.03 an important update. It’s available as of now on all platforms.
For starters, the size of the shot meter is increased, “based on feedback from the community,” says the patch notes. This should be helpful to those who have found perfect release timing to be a lot more difficult in NBA 2K21, and perhaps for those who are trying to adapt to the new Shot Stick Aiming option.
Shooting at the three lower difficulty levels was addressed in a hotfix for NBA 2K21 two days after its Sept. 4, 2020 launch, though players in the game’s forums, subreddit, and elsewhere have still griped about it.
Shot Stick Aiming, which director Mike Wang last month called a refinement of a control introduced in NBA 2K17, introduces left/right accuracy to the timing game. We didn’t find it to be helpful in our review, but more experienced players may disagree. Timing and aiming may both be toggled on or off in the controls (with both off meaning shots depend entirely on the shooting player’s ratings).
With that in mind, pull-up jump shots have been nerfed. Evidently this is one area where shooting was easier, but that also draws community feedback. Players also won’t have as quick a step “out of certain dribble moves,” but they will find that more of their removes “yield ankle breakers and defensive reactions.” Wang, answering fans on social media, said ankle-breakers were worked on in version 1.02, and should be completely fixed with this patch.
Shooting out of post moves will also be more responsive. Speaking from experience, I had quickly abandoned what little post game my small forward had, finding a shot on my right thumbstick nigh impossible with low to average ratings.
Finally, Park Dribble Moves (specific to games in that multiplayer venue) have not been taken out of the game — an option Wang considered (on Twitter) two weeks ago. But they’re now activated with a left stick click/toggle “for more consistent dribbling controls.” Previously, they had been activated with a right stick click-and-hold, which led to input mistakes or the inability to get them to activate.
Though Patch No. 2 doesn’t implement all new features or content, it is a hefty enough one to merit NBA 2K21 players’ full attention. All of the changes, fixes, balancing and re-balancing is recapped in Visual Concepts’ latest Courtside Report blog.
Biden and Trump are courting YouTubers ahead of first presidential debate
On Tuesday night, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will face off in the first presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, and cable channels will be lit up with analyses of which candidate beat expectations and which lines landed best with audiences at home.
But 60 years after the first televised presidential debate, the post-event spin isn’t limited to television anymore. The moment the event finishes, a new class of pundits on YouTube and Instagram will be digging through the footage for memorable moments to clip, remix, or outright manipulate. And just as candidates in previous cycles played to cable pundits, the 2020 campaigns are increasingly planning their message with an eye to how it will play on YouTube.
On YouTube at least, the early advantage is to Trump. Over the last four years of Trump’s presidency, the campaign and Republican Party have built a vast network of conservative online influencers, including personalities like Ben Shapiro from The Daily Wire and Dave Rubin, host of The Rubin Report on YouTube. Shapiro and Rubin speak with Trump surrogates often, reaching over 1 million subscribers per channel.
But behind the scenes, Biden’s campaign is pushing to make YouTube a more friendly place for Democrats. The Biden campaign has been working directly with YouTube channels and Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats and creators like Brian Tyler Cohen to create content that reaches millions of people, the campaign said, as part of a broader effort to counterbalance influencers like Shapiro and Rubin. A conscious counterpoint to the Trump campaign’s “Death Star,” the effort has been nicknamed “the Rebel Alliance.”
The effort isn’t limited to YouTube. In June, the Biden campaign hired the influencer marketing firm Village Marketing for creator outreach, focusing primarily on Instagram. Internet stars like Keke Palmer, Jerry Harris, and Khadeen have all held Instagram live streams with the former vice president. Biden’s team struck a deal with the celebrity video platform Cameo for fundraising and even released virtual yard signs for the popular Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But the campaign has also started building relationships with political YouTubers, like connecting surrogates for interviews with popular creators.
“The Biden campaign has been really proactive in terms of getting surrogates to speak on my channel,” Brian Tyler Cohen, a podcaster and creator with over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube, told The Sports Grind Entertainment in an interview last week. “I’ve been able to speak to Governor Whitmer, Andrew Yang, and Vice President Biden’s chief of staff.”
Still, the Biden campaign has focused more on getting the former vice president and his staff in front of non-political voices online. Biden has made inroads outside traditional political channels on YouTube, chatting with family YouTube vloggers in April, offering advice for families during the pandemic, and even striking up conversations with beauty vloggers like Dulce Candy.
If campaigns are paying particular attention to YouTube, it’s because the polling tells them they need to. As of 2020, more than a quarter of all US adults say that watching YouTube is an important way in which they get their news, a recent Pew Research Center report says. Users from 18 to 29 — what campaign strategists call the youth vote — received a majority of their YouTube news from independent channels.
“When YouTube news consumers were asked to describe in their own words why YouTube is a unique place to get news, the most common responses relate to the content itself – including access to news sources outside the mainstream and the plethora of different opinions and views that are available on the platform,” Pew said in its report.
Over the last few years, Trump and the GOP have scorned mainstream media outlets from CNN to The New York Times for being “fake news” or acting unfairly toward Republicans. “The people on the right started migrating to other places where they would be treated more fairly,” Rubin told The Sports Grind Entertainment in an interview last Thursday. Regardless of the truth in this narrative, these ideas helped the political right build a substantial presence on YouTube and other platforms long before Democrats understood their necessity.
“It was Dan Crenshaw who reached out to me. It was the Ted Cruz people who reached out to me. It was Rand Paul people who reached out to me,” Rubin told The Sports Grind Entertainment. “They clearly see the seas changing in terms of where people are getting their news, and that they need an opportunity to have their ideas heard.”
In that same Pew report, the research center also said that independent channels cover conspiracy theories far more frequently than established news organizations. This heightens the risk of misinformation when campaigns choose to interview through independent channels. In order to combat this, YouTube has rolled out several new changes ahead of the election, like including official candidate information in search and linking out to reliable sources on voting information.
For Democrats, the heated primary season drove home the importance of YouTube specifically. Throughout the Democratic primary season, candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang frequented popular YouTube-first shows and podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience and the H3 Podcast, but Biden’s campaign is just beginning to build these relationships with creators and influencers. Often, these shows span longer than any television interview and give candidates and their surrogates more time to discuss issues than at any debate.
The Sanders campaign saw this opportunity early on during the Democratic primary, often finding significant success and support from ostensibly non-political outlets like The Joe Rogan Experience. “Too often politicians try to reach people through political channels,” Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said in a press call last year after the candidate’s appearance on Rogan’s podcast. “It is always good practice to try to reach folks outside of the normal political conversation, particularly in formats that allow a more free flow and longform answers.”
Not only do these YouTube shows carve out room for longer, more in-depth discussions, but the simple ability to link out to calls for action takes these conversations a step further than traditional media. A link in a channel’s YouTube bio could lead hundreds of viewers to take steps to phone-bank or register to vote, something unmatched on cable television. It’s a huge change from television, which tends to be directed toward casual viewers and casual voters. On YouTube, candidates can reach an audience of potential activists.
For channels like the left-leaning Crooked Media, it’s a huge opportunity. “In 2020, [we’ve] taken on the role of focusing the scope from just information down into action,” Tanya Somanader, Crooked Media’s chief content officer, told The Sports Grind Entertainment, “and telling everybody who listens to our shows, here’s exactly what’s going on and here’s exactly how you can get involved to change the outcome on November 3rd.”
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