Archive for May 19th, 2012

By Bob Clark

Among the chief architects of my early imagination as far as pop-cultural influences go, there are artists of many disciplines, as befitting a childhood spent in the burgeoning multi-media landscape of the late 80’s and early 90’s. There are predictable entries like Lucas and Spielberg, each of them inventing cinematic experiences out of special-effects assisted whole cloth. There are figures like Jim Henson and the various puppeteers who went into creating the various Muppet productions on film and television. There are Stan Lee and the armies of artists and writers under his Marvel banner helping to weave the pen and ink tapestries of all manner of superheroes. There are Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Toriyama, Peter Chung and the creators of all manner of other anime I watched during the wee hours, for the sheer pleasure of watching something obviously mature and forbidden. There are newspaper cartoonists like Charles Shultz, Bill Waterson, and even Bill Breathed and Gary Trudeau, even if most of their jokes went over my head until I was almost out of elementary school.

Perhaps most tellingly from the specific time and place I come from, however, there is Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the storied Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda franchises over at Nintendo. What sets his work apart from all the various other creators of film and print media is the interactive quality of his medium– as a game designer, Miyamoto and others like him have crafted not only characters and narratives for audiences to vicariously attach themselves to over the years, but whole experiences to devour first-hand, even if on a limited basis. The adventures that players have shared in the decades’ worth of Mario and Zelda titles allow for a particular kind of generational bond that’s hard to explain fully to anyone who grew up without them, just as I’m sure it’ll be next to impossible for children growing up in the vast labyrinth of cross-media chatter to fully relate to anyone who came of age at the same pace as the technology they use to communicate on a daily, hourly or even minute-by-minute basis.  We don’t just remember these stories, these characters, these places– we were there and lived them together and apart in ways that are analogous only to sharing in a great, communal dream.

It helps that Miyamoto was one of the first artists whose identity I was able to latch onto, at an early age, and invest myself with as a man whose creative process was worthy of paying close attention to, if only to better appreciate his work and get that much closer to actually finishing one of his games. Just as I grew up discovering filmmakers like Kurosawa or Godard through reading interviews with Lucas, I learned more about the personal experiences of the artist and how they can affect their work by soaking up everything I could read about Miyamoto in magazine articles. There were the stories he shared about how his childhood spent exploring the mountainous countryside of his family home  led to the maze-like dungeons and overworlds of the Zelda games, or the discovery of obscure artifacts of Japanese folklore and mythology through power-ups in Super Mario Bros. 3. Maybe most curiously, there was the way that he spoke with curiosity and energy about the way other creative forms worked, and how he wished he could approximate some of their habits. In particular, I recall reading about his fondness for comics, and how he wished that a video-game screen could change shape or size at times, in the way that a manga-panel could. This wasn’t just a talking point on games, or even something that dealt only with comics– this was an introduction to thinking about art in the scale and scope of its production, of thinking about aspect-ratios, and it’s something that I could relate to immediately by thinking of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.


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