Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spotlight on "Ghosts"

Entertainment
 I came across three new books that sparked my nosy-ness recently.  I found these on the shelves at a local supermarket (presumably this indicates the targeted audience for these types of books).  So, I snapped some quick pics of the covers...just to demonstrate once again the utter absence of anyone else's name listed as "author".  The first book is FED UP! ostensibly "written" by Rick Perry.  The second book is titled IS IT JUST ME OR IS IT NUTS OUT THERE? and is purportedly "written" by Whoopi Goldberg.  The third book is George W. Bush's memoir of his time as President.  Do I believe DECISION POINTS was actually "written" by W?  No, I do not and digging into the acknowledgments will surely identify the true author.

FED UP! is subtitled "Our Fight to Save America from Washington" and it says that the author is Rick Perry.  And to make sure everyone outside of Texas knows who Rick is, they make sure to place "Governor of Texas" right there on the cover.  First thing to note is that this book was primed to come out right around the time of Perry's ordination as lifetime emperor of Texas AND the beginning of his never admit-to run for the Republican nomination for President in 2012.  Otherwise, there's no other reason for him to have hired someone to write a book under his name and start waving his fist at Washington...except to establish himself as a Washington "outsider" and a good-ol-boy Texan who ain't gu'n take no guff from Oily Obama.

So who actually wrote this book?  Page 190 buries this special acknowledgment:

"I want to single out for special recognition Chip Roy, an outstanding legal scholar who previously served as senior adviser to U.S. Senator John Cornyn in his Senate leadership office and on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and who resigned his position as Special Assistant United States Attorney to devote himself full-time to the completion of the original manuscript.  Writing a book of this nature in the midst of a campaign for reelection was a herculean task and wouldn't have been possible without Chip's dedication aver the course of several months."  

I'll bet.  Hello Chip Roy.  I bet you wrote your very own special acknowledgement.  I've heard Rick Perry talk.  He couldn't spit that sentence out if it was on a teleprompter.  How does it feel to see Rick Perry's name on the cover of a book you wrote?  I know, I know.  You were well-compensated.  I guess that's some level of satisfaction.



For some reason, I think Whoopi actually tried to write this book on her own and discovered...guess what?...writing books is harrrrdddd.  So, Whoopi writes in her acknowledgments:

"First, I want to acknowledge Tom Straw because without him I would have been able to have this done on time."

Since this kicks off a short acknowledgment section where everyone else thanked are people at the publisher...and her cat!...and since Tom's contribution here is non-specific yet spotlighted?  Hello Tom Straw.  You wrote a book and Whoopi Goldberg gets all the credit.  Well, except for here where I like to spotlight the Ghosts.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Austin Comicon (WizardWorld) SHOW! 2010 Report

Entertainment
 


AUSTIN COMICON 2010

DAY 1

Ah. A beautiful morning. Get to sleep in a little bit. Drive the boy to school for play-off pep-rally. Back home to shower and leisurely pack a large duffle bag. Slip all my credentials and info into a nifty Batman folder bought from Wal-Mart. Slip on my Legion Flight Ring and all is a-go. Ran to Duke's BBQ with the wife and daughter for a yummy breakfast taco and a short-stack of pancakes. Said my goodbyes and I was off....well, I had to swing by Kohl's on the way out of town to pick up an awesome tee with the cover of SUPERMAN #300 on it cuz all their character tees were half-price! Came in a cool collectible tin also emblazoned with that classic cover. I remember buying that comic when it first came out in 1976. It was a personal favorite imagining what it would be like if baby Kal-El had landed on Earth in 1976 and become Superman in the future of 2001. I made the mistake of "loaning" that one to the kid across the street, cause I was a nice kid and he was sick. He moved away without ever returning it. But I don't hold grudges. Except about that. Still one of my favorite covers.


Easy drive in. Sunny. Found a parking lot close by for $5 and headed in just as the gates opened wide. Walked right up to the press booth to get my wristband for the weekend and headed inside. Man on a mission. Snapped some general pics of the entrance as I walked in, no crowd at all yet so I strolled right up to the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) and Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson). Wagner is still gorgeous and seemed terribly shy. Difficult to get a conversation going at first. Lots of awkward, nervous smiling. So, I introduced myself. Told her I was here on behalf of Aintitcool but I was buying the picture and an autograph for myself. She asked what I did and I told her I write reviews and do interviews and that I'm an artist. That was a point of interest. She wanted to know what type of art and she seemed to like the fact that I still do it old-school and then scan the art in to digitally manipulate and/or add color. Gave her a business card with my website address on it and in a Columbo-moment asked one other thing...could I snap a picture? She gets nervous. The lady with her gets stone-faced and clipped. I think, did I say something wrong? So I mutter out..."for the website?" Wagner looks at the other lady like she's hiding Jews in the basement and I just showed up wearing a swastika (I make the Nazi-reference for reasons that will become clear later). Awkward silence hung in the air and then I just shrugged and said "Really, its no prob..." Then the other lady interrupted in a mollifying tone that "Well, there's the paid photo-ops and we're not supposed to..." And I said, "That's fine...I wasn't thinking in personal terms but for the website..." and smiled. Then the two of them looked at each other and said "Okay..." So, I snapped a nice picture. The fact that I was probably only the second person to talk to her made that possible. I promise that any later in the weekend, I would've been shut down immediately and likely had a cattle-prod shock to the groin.

Next up was Richard Anderson right next to Wagner. So incredibly nice and friendly and soft-spoken. Big genuine smile. Friendly handshake. I may have been his first customer. I bought an Oscar Goldman photo from him. I told him that he and everyone else from the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN show were a little bit of a lifeline for me during my formative years of '72 - '76 while my family was stationed in Puerto Rico. Everything on TV was in Spanish except for a handful of primetime shows that had the English audio simulcast over military radio, and their show was one of those. He wanted to talk about Puerto Rico. Nice visit and I moved along once others started lining up behind me.


The next few hours were spent scoping out where everyone was situated; getting a feel for the place. I promptly hit up Greg Horn to buy a gorgeous "Star Sapphire" print (and wound up buying a Vampirella print too...I'm a sucker for Vampi...have I mentioned that I have one of those life-size posters of Vampi from the '70s signed by Vampi herself?). I checked out Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) and Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Erin Gray has aged quite well and were I single and she willing...well, I'd canoodle a bit.



On to Mike Grell to buy a WARLORD print and get him to sign a copy of an issue of GL/GA that I am pretty sure was the first Mike Grell comic I ever bought. It's well-worn. Grell was drawing headshots for $50 and full figure shots for $100. If I was into that, I think it would be worth it. He also signs your first comic for free and additional comics are $1 for each. It's an easy way to keep away the ebay-ers because they hate anything that erodes their profit. Grell is an energetic guy with a nice tough-guy persona and an entertaining story to tell for each and every hand he shakes. A great guest. I'd love to see him on a panel with Howard Chaykin, another great storyteller from the same generation of creators.

Visited bunches of dealers just looking for a "good deal." One guy had a bunch of longboxes with random comics thrown in for 50¢ each. I found mint copies of all 3 issues of GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS...a series I regret having gotten rid of years ago during a comics purge. Knowing Mike Grell was at the con, I was thrilled to find them. So, I presented them to the dealer who looked at me with a constipated look and groaned "Are you sure you can't find one more?" I said "Well these are all I wanted." He groaned again "....I don't have.... 50¢" Really? He didn't offer to just let me take all 3 for $1.00, so I said "I'm sure I can find something." I remembered flipping past an old '70s BATMAN comic I had as a kid, so I grabbed that one. Dealer was happy and gave me my change...in bills. Mentally tucked away the fact that I needed to get back to Grell for another sig.

About 30 minutes before Lee Majors was scheduled to show up for signings, I made my way into line to wait. I was the third person there. He eventually showed up, not too late. The 2 ladies in front of me were drooling over the footage of the $6,000,000 man playing on the TV while we waited. Obviously, Majors' appearance here is coordinated with the release (finally) of the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN series on DVD in the U.S. for the very first time (legally). The only downside to this great news is that it's a $250 package from TimeLife and unavailable for rent or in individual seasons. You gotta buy them all or nothing. And no stores are allowed to carry them. So, a good news/bad news situation for fans.

Majors himself is in real good shape and seemed completely overwhelmed by this whole experience. The TV show predates the modern convention mania, so he was obviously quite outside of his comfort zone here. However, he was very friendly and nice. I shook his hand...TWICE! So sue me...he's the frackin' SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and I wanted to hold his hand a little bit!

I told him that I was an actual member of his "Fan Club." To which he laughed and said "I didn't know I still had one!" So, I smiled and told him about how when I was 9 years-old I clipped out the form from a comic and slipped10 thin dimes into an envelope and sent it in to join the official "Six Million Dollar Man Fan Club." But, a few weeks later, I received an envelope back with 9 dimes inside, my form, and a note that said I had only sent 9 dimes instead of 10. A very sad me was shocked and surprised and gloriously happy about a week or so later when the full Fan Club package arrived anyway! So, I walked away the first day with all my birthday money spent on autographed photos of Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson and autographed prints from Mike Grell and Greg Horn. Like a friend of mine said...I was "like a kid in a candy store." All I know is that those 3 photos join my Johnathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) sign photo and my birthday sketch from George Perez as most prized possessions. Now I really need to finally get that Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) autographed photo.

After that, it was time to check in at my hotel room. Originally, I planned on heading back for the Bionic panel, but I realized I needed a little lay-down time. So, I relaxed at the hotel until about 5:30 and then started getting ready for dinner with some friends up from Louisiana. Chatting by text a few times during the day, I knew they were in town and we planned on meeting up for dinner. They wanted to know where and when, so I made a reservation real quick at MariaMaria Restaurant right off 6th Street. A great place for high-end Mexican food and drinks, plus it's co-owned by Carlos Santana. :) I figured more than enough time to meet up with my wife and daughter on the south end of Round Rock and skedaddle back to the downtown by 7.

I was wrong.

What I did not know or take into account was that this wasn't only the Comicon weekend. It was also "Play-offs" night at various high school football arenas, and it was the U.T. vs. O.S.U. game on Saturday, and it was a state teacher's conference meeting in the same location, and a friggin' movie was filming in downtown this weekend. Add all that to the normal afterwork traffic and our travel time tripled. :/ I kept sending my friends my apologies by text, and thankfully they went ahead and got the table and relaxed while they waited for us. Increasingly frustrated, we finally made it to where we normally would turn onto Colorado Street and damn if the road wasn't blocked off! So, takes forever to get around in Austin because of all the blasted one-way streets downtown. Finally make our way down to MariaMaria and the fracking $5 garage we always park in on the left is shut down. So, with no way to cross traffic back over to the right side....and to avoid Valet (because my OCD has a problem with valet parking), I drop my wife and daughter off and tell them to go in and find Jim and I'll be there as fast as I can. ..which, because of Austin's bassackwards road and traffic, took me way longer than it should, but I finally got parked in well-lit garage on the right and dashed inside and started scoping around for our table.

Great food. Great visit. A couple of hours later, around the time that the live music started kicking it up, we parted ways and I took my wife and daughter back to their car....which this time took all of 15 minutes rather than 1 1/2 hours. I headed back to my room close by the Con and made an early night of it so I could be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning for the mongo Saturday.


COMICON DAY 2
Woke and showered in plenty of time to catch the "Continental" breakfast at the hotel. First time ever that his included Mexican fried burritos and boiled eggs....but I'm not complaining. Booked it over to the Convention Center, no prob. Staying literally 3 minutes south (away from all the football madness) was genius. Met up with my sister and my son just as the doors were opening. Friday had been a steady but not overly large crowd. The Saturday crowd was monster sized already. In terms of space, this was not a particularly large space...easily about 1/4 of the size of the C2E2 for comparison. So, when this crowd descended on Saturday...well there were times during the day where I literally could not move because there was simply no space, just bodies. Of all the comics guys there, the top 3 in terms of continuous long lines were Greg Horn, Joe Madeiura, and Arthur Suydam. Suydam was the most popular (again, in terms of lines) with his massive Marvel Zombies banners and hundreds of zombie prints. Horn and Suydam were selling prints and books and were willing to sign with a purchase. Without a purchase, Horn was requesting a donation go into the Hero Initiative donation jar in exchange for sigs.

There was a huge emphasis on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE at this Con. Which is bizarre to me. I don't get that appeal at all. But the guy and the two hot girls who star in that low-budget torture flick were there and the most disturbing thing I overheard as I walked by was a guy holding his signed picture from one of the girls and telling her he loved the movie. *shudder* How anyone loves a movie where that girl gets her mouth surgically attached to a guy's butt is beyond my comprehension. Had no interest in Xander from BUFFY. But he was there.

One thing I noticed immediately upon entering the Con was a deep fixation on the camera I wore around my neck. It was kind of crazy. Every time I moseyed anywhere within sight line of a celebrity...if I even glanced their way I would be staring eye-to-eye by someone with badge either shaking their head at me or actually putting their hand up and saying "No pictures." Except for poor Ernie Hudson of GHOSTBUSTERS fame. He was there wearing his full Ghostbusters costume and set up right next to a replica of their Ghostbusters-mobile. Nobody seemed to mind when I stood back and took a string of pictures of Ernie. But whatever you do, don't try to snap a pic of Peter Mayhew or Gil Gerard. Try to take a picture of Billy Dee Williams or Lee Majors and I got the distinct impression that my children might become orphans. This kind of thing eventually started pissing me off...because I really don't like people treating me like that and I get kind of immature. So, yeh. After awhile, I turned off my flash and started just nonchalantly snapping pics without aiming as I walked through the aisles. Wound up accidentally catching folks like Claudia Christian, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Nash, Joan Severance in some of them. Oh well, let's all remember the WizardWorld sign outside at the entrance says:

"By entering these premises you consent to be photographed, filmed and/or otherwise recorded for any use and waive all rights you may have to any claims for payment or royalties in connection with any exhibition, televising, or other publication of these materials." [emphasis mine]

Roaming around in the crushing crowd, I periodically popped by the Artist's Alley to see if a few of the guys I was interested in talking to (like Matt Sturges) were available, but crowds everywhere. Eventually I gave up and decided to hit them all up on Sunday when I was sure that the crowd would be much smaller. I overheard a lot throughout the day as I went in and out of the pathways of celebs, comics pros, and dealers. The most obvious constant was that they were without exception very very happy with the response in Austin.

My son spent a lot of time at a dealer in knives, swords, and stun guns. I will say that the telescoping light-sabre-style massive stun gun was definitely impressive. You could hear those things going off all day as the dealer was demonstrating her wares. She always had a full contingent of men checking out the weaponry.

Claudia Christian bumped into me on what I believe was a quick dash to the restroom and when I turned back around, there were some friends I was supposed to meet up with for lunch. So, the three of us grabbed my son and headed outside to look for a place to eat. I wasn't exactly sure what all was in the area, so we just started walking. Sidewalk was a little busy, so we slipped into the mostly empty bike lane for a block or so. That was a mistake. I forgot that the Austin bike community is a militant wing having delcared a fatwa upon all pedestrians and drivers. We weren't there 5 seconds and an obnoxious biker...with more than enough room...yells "BIKE LANE!" at us. We ignored her. But we got a good amount of daggers flung our way from bikers' eyes during that short walk across the street. *sheesh*

After a good lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse, we headed back to the Con. Walked around some more with my boy and then he headed back to the stunguns, so I left him alone and felt the need to visit the restroom myself. What I found in there is difficult to describe, but besides the enormous line of geeks waiting to use the various holes, the place looked like a bunch of angry chimpanzees had had a poo party or something. So, I tried the other restroom. It too was a disaster, and now it was becoming urgent. Then I remembered the Teacher's Conference upstairs..."teachers are less likely to conduct themselves like angry chimps" and hopped on the escalator and snuck into the restroom up there. Clean, quiet, victory.

Rushed back downstairs to meet up with my son to sit in on the Walter Koenig panel. Took note of the sign at the entrance to the Exhibit Hall with two stages set up. The sign said "Photos allowed in Exhibit Hall while celebrities are on-stage as long as photos are for personal use only." Woohoo! So, I happily snapped away with my phone as ol' Walter talked. I'm not kidding when I say that he was asked TWICE to say "Nuclear Wessel" in 30 minutes. If he was Del Shannon, he would've killed himself on the spot.

After Walter's talk, it was time for my son to decide how he wanted to spend his $20. Out of everything he walked around to look at, it came down to a decision between 2 items: A butterfly knife from the stungun lady or a signed soup ladle from the "Soup Nazi" from SEINFELD. The "Soup Nazi" won the prize...and my son is incredibly happy and thrilled. "Soup Nazi" was so nice, visited with us, and let us take pictures with him. At one point as he was signing the ladle, I told him "that must've taken some practice." To which he smiled up at me and said "You'd think so. But the weird thing is that the very first time I tried it, it came out perfect. I guess I was born to sign soup ladles!" And he laughed. That was the end of the day for my boy. Once I got him dropped off with his mom, I was back inside for Bill Sienkiewicz's panel. Snapped a couple of shots of him just with my phone. Good sized crowd. Immediately after that was the Adam West & Burt Ward panel on the other stage.

Crowd was pretty huge, so I went off to roam again for awhile. When I checked the time and realized the West & Ward thing was 15 minutes into it, I strolled back in and stood way in the back to listen in and snap a couple of grainy zoomed-in photos. By the time I snapped the second picture I was being manhandled by this long-haired dude (too old to keep his hair that long unless he's a member of an '80s hair band). He was in my face about how he told me "4 times from the stage that there were no photos allowed!" To which I informed him that I just walked in and didn't hear that announcement and... he interrupted that we needed to let security deal with me. And I, again politely but firmly, pointed out to him that I obviously understood there was a policy against photos out on the floor because of the paid photo ops (I'm not a moron) but that the sign at the entrance to the panels says that photos ARE allowed while the guests are onstage...for personal use. He smirked and mockingly said "really...show me the sign." I said.."Okay. Unless someone has taken it down or something." Which got me a superior snort from him. So, I walked him to the entrance and pointed out the sign triumphantly. His puffed up chest deflated as he read the sign and he didn't outright apologize, but he told me that I could keep the picture I took. I accepted that as an apology. Then he hustled off to get that sign taken down because, according to him, it was "not supposed to be there." Pissed me off, but there was a sense of satisfaction in that I was right this time. But thank you long-haired Whitesnake reject for ruining the West & Ward panel for me. I had no interest in walking back in there after that. Basically, the Con organizers and their bullies need to lighten the hell up on the quick-snap photos or they need to just outright ban cameras entirely from the event.

In fact, I kind of needed to just get out for awhile at that point and went and grabbed some dinner. Headed back for the Costume Contest after some food, which was a lot of fun. Lasted over 2 hours and a guy dressed as Mario actually won. He was funny and good...but Power Girl, Blue Falcon, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl were all much better and all deserved Best In Show...in this humble reviewer's opinion. Honorable Mention should go to "Pimp" Vader.

     
Headed in to the last hour of the GHOSTBUSTERS screening and afterwards visited outside for about another hour with the drop-dead gorgeous cos-play model "Taffeta Darling" and Scott from busygamer.com. I then headed to Sixth Street where I thought I might pop in to the costume after party at the Gypsy Lounge until I realized it was waaaayyyy down on the east end of Sixth Street. I no go there. Sorry. Soaked up the Sixth Street scene for a bit. Grabbed something to eat while reading a HOUSE OF MYSTERY trade and it was about 1 a.m. and time for bed. Relaxed and streamed the pilot of THE WALKING DEAD before heading to sleep.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview with Peter Straub and Michael Easton about THE GREEN WOMAN

Entertainment

I had a chance to talk with Michael Easton & Peter Straub for Aintitcool.com about their collaboration for DC Vertigo’s THE GREEN WOMAN. Check out my review of the book here, then scroll down and see what the writing team of this awesome new book had to say about THE GREEN WOMAN.

KEITH HOWELL (KH): How many years have you two known each other?

PETER STRAUB (PS): I can't exactly figure it out, but I'd say probably five or six years.

KH: How did the two of you meet and come to collaborate with each other?

MICHAEL EASTON (ME): One of my Mom's favorite books was "Koko". I remember reading it to her during her chemotherapy treatments. Fourteen years later and a world away I recieved a copy of "Koko" in my mailbox at the ABC studio inscribed to me by Peter Straub. It took about two months for me to get the courage up to contact him and tell him this story.

PS: On a tour of the studio, I dropped off a book for Michael. Not long after, he wrote to thank me and asked if I were willing to look at what he had so far of his graphic novel, SOUL STEALER, done with Christopher Shy. Come on over, I said, or thereabouts, and in a couple of days he was in my house and we were paging through SOUL STEALER. It didn't take long for the two of us to begin contemplating the notion of collaborating on something of our own.

KH: What is the actual working relationship in your writing collaboration?

PS: We drink bourbon at a little joint (now, alas, closed) called O'Neals; we talk about plot and character, with me emitting clouds of vapor and impassioned ranting; exhausted and drunk, I fall asleep sitting up; Michael writes a couple of pages. That was pretty much the way it went.

ME:
There was no real design to the collaboration. No "you do this and I'll do that". Or none that I recall. I remember the bourbon. Cheap stuff while we were writing. Good stuff -- Pappy Van Winkle -- when we were done for the night.


KH: Describe a little of the manner in which the project was pitched and developed at VERTIGO.

PS: There hardly was a pitch. Vertigo was eager to work with me, at least Karen Berger and Jonathan Vankin were. As Michael and I progressed, we now and then showed them what we were doing. Berger and Vankin patted our heads and told us to go on playing. In the end, both of them contributed very solid editorial suggestions.

ME:
The nice people at Vertigo told us not to hold anything back and we never did. Karen Berger and Jon Vankin were both very nurturing. Nothing would be as it is without their kindness and insight.

KH: Peter has demonstrated in the past an openness to the collaborative process, yet not with a visual artist. Michael has collaborated with visual artists but not with another writer. I've heard, for example, that in THE CATERPILLAR'S QUESTION, Philip Jose Farmer and Piers Anthony actually alternated chapters and effectively challenged the reader to try and figure out who wrote which. In writing THE GREEN WOMAN, what was the actual process that the two of you entered into to tell this story together?

ME: Peter got us into this fine mess with the notion that one of his characters, Franklin Bachelor, who dies in "The Throat", is still alive and it's the conceit of some asshole writer trying to wrap up his book that he's dead. Peter said something that I still have jotted down on a cocktail napkin somewhere; "There isn't a writer born who doesn't turn into a lying piece of shit the second he picks up a pen". That became I think the third line of the book and the genesis of what was to follow.

PS:
Michael had most of the good ideas.

KH: Haha. Were there ever points of plot or thematic disagreement or was this one of those stories you were both of one mind about?

PS: I don't remember a single moment of disagreement.

ME:
No disagreements. It was just there from the beginning. The character of Franklin Bachelor had been with Peter for years, ready to leap off the pages once again. The only thematic roadblock was creating a proper foil for this powerful life force. We needed Bob Steele. That took some time but was also part of the synchronicity as I know a lot of cops. Some of the best people in my life wear the blue. Great jugglers of demons. That's who Bob Steele became.


KH: Compare solitary writing to writing with a partner. What do you gain from both and what are the difficulties inherent in both processes?

ME: On a personal level It was like being let into the master class at school. Working with Peter Straub you learn to put the right words in the right order. As far as the writing process, every word on the page felt like the culmination of our collaborative effort, that none of it, for better or worse, would have existed without the two of us sitting in the same room during these long sessions of inspired madness.

PS:
With a partner, you have to do only half of the work. Alone, you get to be the Absolute Monarch and Ruler of your realm. Both of these are good deals.

KH: Now that you (Straub) have finished your first graphic novel, is this something you might be interested in pursuing again in the future?

PS: If I could work with Michael, sure. With anyone else, not a chance.

KH: THE GREEN WOMAN is dedicated to Michael's OLTL co-star Robert S. Woods. I know he has a reputation in the industry as one of the true "nice" guys, but this is a pretty harsh and graphic foray into the darkest of evils. Which leads me to ask you what about Woods and his relationship to either or both of you led you to honor him this way?

PS: Michael has known Bob Woods much longer than I, but it's safe to say that both of us love him. Robert S. Woods is an extraordinary man, and he runs very deep. You can trust him absolutely; he is true-blue all the way down. Also, Woods is a lot more complex that he seems at first. He never does anything meaningless, something always lies behind his actions. As an actor, he is astonishingly subtle, refined, and elegant. As far as I can see, almost no one has noticed this, because he makes it all look so easy, so natural. Well, Ted Williams made swinging a bat look easy, too.

ME:
Woods is "Gary Cooper". Larger than life but that's only half the story. He's a deep man. There's a lot there to begin with and so much more beneath the surface. I think that's what you want in a friend. That's what we wanted for our characters.

PS:
Also, and this is pretty amazing, Bob Woods was a Green Beret officer in Vietnam, and he worked with the mountain tribes to fight our common enemy, the ARVN and the guys in the black pajamas. In fact, he and Franklin Bachelor lived with and led the same tribe, the Bru.


KH: John Bolton's artwork creates an emotional atmosphere for every page and tells the story visually in an amazing way. How was the working relationship with Bolton? Did you write the book script style and deliver to him that way or was there a more writer/artist collaborative effort her that allowed John freedom to deliver artistic input that affected elements of how you tell the story?

ME: John's a visionary. We never met him in person but it's as if he had been occupying the barstool next to us the whole time we wrote. Our ghost partner.

We wrote a lengthy script and turned Bolton loose. We wisely got off the stage and let John Bonham have his drum solo.

For the next three years art came rolling in. We wanted something twisted and epic and that's what we got from the very first page. You never have to ask John to push the boundaries with his work because he's already doing it.

PS:
We were happy to turn our final product over to masterly John Bolton and wait to see what amazements would return our way. The only problem we ever had with him, and it was very minor, was that he kept making the "Green Woman" figurehead a total babe, with lipstick and pink nipples. Eventually he stopped panting and toned her down, but she's still a babe.

KH: The indulgently evil "Fee" Bandolier is the focus of THE GREEN WOMAN. Yet, his story appeared to end originally at the end of Peter's novel THE THROAT. Was it always a plan to resurrect Fee or did the idea for THE GREEN WOMAN develop later, and if so, what led to the decision?

PS: No, I knew Fee was dead at the end of THE THROAT. Yet...when Michael and I first began to talk about doing a story together, he came back to me, saying that I had maybe been mistaken, that he could probably do a lot of good for me by doing an insane amount of bad out in the world.


KH: The "hero", if one can use that term here, of THE GREEN WOMAN is Bob Steele -- a great name. Can you share some background on your thoughts behind the development of this character, your reference to an old cowboy actor of the same name, and especially...your harsh direction for the character.

PS: When I was a kid, WTMJ in Milwaukee used to run Bob Steele movies in the afternoons, as part of a larger context involving a host, a few clowns, I forget what else. Steele seemed to be completely heroic. In our book, of course, his heroism is largely ironic, as our Steele lives la vida loca, with a vengeance. On the other hand, he really is a good cop, an inspired detective, and so in that way he does possess a real heroism.

ME:
Within "The Green Woman", the hard lines between good and evil, hero and villain, are easily breached. The characters of Fielding and Bob are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin.

PS:
Both Michael and I agreed that our story could not turn out well for anyone. What it accepts is so absolutely bleak and grim that a happy ending for even our deeply compromised hero would have rung false, would have felt like a betrayal of the book.

KH: Talk a little about "The Green Woman" herself and the role she plays in this story.

PS: The Green Woman was a figurehead on an ill-fated ship called The Black Galleon, on which the officers and crew wound up killing each other. When the ship drifted unto port, its timbers were stripped and used to construct a Belfast pub called The Black Galleon. The figurehead is shipped to America and is installed in a bar (an evil bar) where for more than a century she warps men's minds and schemes to be reunited with the rest of her. Whatever wickedness transpires in our story comes from her teeming mind.

KH: What is "evil"?

ME: Evil comes in many forms and all of them want you. We each have a choice to make.

PS:
Evil is what you get when you mistreat a child. Evil is what happens when love turns baffled and angry. Evil is a kind of suffocation. Evil wishes to devour everything that is not itself.

KH: Can evil ever truly die?

PS: Oh, I think evil hangs in there, like roaches and bedbugs. It seems to me that some parts of evil die off to get folded up with the flags and insignia, while other parts move into small towns and start hanging out in the coffee shops, talking to the local teenagers in this really interesting and unexpected way.

KH: What is "good"?

PS: Let me give you a shorthand answer to this question. Tune into ONE LIFE TO LIVE one day and watch Robert S. Woods being "Bo Buchanan." There is simple goodness and complex goodness, and both are moving, but the complex variety lets you learn a hell of a lot more about other people.

ME:
Making the right choice.

KH: And I have to say that the "right" choice in this instance was Peter Straub and Michael Easton collaborating on THE GREEN WOMAN. Thank you for your work and your time...and your thoughts.

THE GREEN WOMAN is available right now from DC Vertigo.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE...a disappointing almost-classic

Entertainment
SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Shane Davis (pencils) & Sandra Hope (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics

"So what do you think about this super-guy?"
-- unnamed Arctic researcher

This is going to be a long review, so I apologize up front for that. But I think the degree of press attention for the first in DC's new line of EARTH ONE books justifies a lengthy examination.

I appreciate what DC is attempting here, but I wound up ultimately feeling dissatisfied by the end. The mythically iconic nature of Superman's origin story is such that I never tire of reading different versions of it. I do tire of retellings of Batman's origin, Spidey's origin, etc. As a general rule, just note the origin and get on with a more interesting story. The INCREDIBLE HULK movie did the origin perfectly... quick flashes of images that give the viewer all he needs to be up to speed and then jump into the story. Superman, however, touches that messianic aspect within that makes it eternally ripe for reinterpretation. So with hesitancy, but also anticipation, I dove into SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE and there are parts I liked a lot but rather than build enthusiasm as I read it, I eventually reached a point where I felt I was simply plodding through to a thunderous clunk at the end.

Don't get me wrong. It's a beautifully produced book. I love the printed hardback cover (rather than a slipcover). It looks and feels substantial in your hands. For $20, you want to at least feel like you're getting your money's worth.

And like I said, I appreciate the attempt here to reinterpret the Superman concept for the modern, and presumably, more current youthful market. The news coverage of the event has been stupidly fixating on the "hoodie" that the brooding 20 year-old Clark Kent wears on the cover, much like the news media missing the point of the WONDER WOMAN reboot by hyper-fixating on her costume change. As such, the media misses the bigger picture. First though, let me first lay out those elements that did work for me.

The degree of thought that went into this work is impressive. Straczynski removed nearly every shackle of DC continuity from Superman and approached much like a new concept within the "real", or rather a more "realistic," world. This is not the "Earth Prime" of DC continuity. The concept of "Earth Prime" was that it was "our" world...that is...a world without "Metropolis", "Gotham City", "Star City", etc. "Earth Prime" was our world in that the DC characters existed there, but in comics only. This new line of EARTH ONE comics is not the same concept. This is "our" world only in the sense that it is mundane and recognizable. On "Earth One," the fictional cities of DC exist and the characters do not already preexist in the comic books of that world. So, it's not "our" world. In "our" world, people would have instantly recognized Clark as a "super-hero." But in the EARTH ONE series, not only is he the last son of Krypton...at this point...he is the only one of his kind. He is something truly new.

I liked Straczynski's characterization of Clark throughout the entire book. He's a young man striving to determine his purpose in life. I liked how Straczynski extrapolated the impact of these types of powers upon a young man of good character in this modern day. In a sense, the first part of the book plays out a lot of details quite similar to the classic novel GLADIATOR, by Philip Wylie, which was an inspiration for the Superman character originally. Clark, in this well-thought out concept, basically has his pick of anything he wants to do. He can sign with any major sports organization because of his physical abilities or he can write his own ticket in the science field because of his heightened mind and information processing. So, why does he choose a daily newspaper in 2010 when the newspaper industry is struggling for relevancy in the digital age? And why does a major metropolitan newspaper decide to hire a 20 year-old with barely a 2-year degree from community college? Straczynski sets it up fairly well. Not totally believable, but it kinda works for the apparent necessity of inserting the iconic elements into Superman's origin.

I appreciated the utter absence of any sense of a Lex Luthor or a Brainiac or a Zod. My geek side may love these characters, and truthfully, Lex Luthor particularly is one of the great villains of literature...who has rarely had a great story utilizing him. But for this EARTH ONE type of project to work, it has to establish Superman in this "realistic" world first...and there's no need to tie his feet to the continuity cement blocks before he's even gotten out of the gate.

I appreciated Straczynski's decision to focus on the conflict that gives rise to Earth's first super-powered champion and to make the outside conflict an extra-terrestrial assault. One thing Straczynski does well is set-up under layers of conflict that give a sense of a larger story at work. In this case, the main focus is clearly on the inner workings of a young man struggling to embrace his destiny against the temptation to just make a lot of money and make sure his widowed mother never has to worry about anything. At the same time, the larger conflict brewing out there is that Clark is also the target of an intergalactic hunt to track down and destroy the last Kryptonian by Krypton's bitter enemies.

The details of these conflicts were all very fascinating and well-thought out...but yet...by the end I felt dissatisfied. It was actually around the point where Clark finally put on the suit and took on the alien assault that the book started to lose steam. At the point where it should be at its most exciting, I was losing interest. I couldn't tell whether it was the pacing, the dialogue, the art, or what...but I went from thinking this was surprisingly good to the point where I cringed almost when Clark put on his sloppy, low-waisted pants, suit with a tie and popped on the glasses.

I realized, ultimately, that it was the forced introduction of the familiar that intruded upon my enjoyment. So much of the first half of the book felt new and "real" that as each of the more familiar aspects of the concept appeared, the flow was interrupted with the recognition of what was happening. What I realized was that, like the frustration of reading a book that violates its own internal logic with a deus ex machina resolution, this story worked within its own logic up until it started adding back in those elements outside its own "realistic" logic. Would that Straczynski had been afforded an opportunity to fully extrapolate the basic Superman/Clark Kent dynamic into something completely new, I think this would be more substantial than just a best-selling piece of eye candy.

Which brings me to the art. How do I put this? Buried somewhere beneath the stiff bodies, stone faces, gnarled hands, and light-boxed Google photos of "Debra Morgan" from DEXTER is a good artist trying to pull himself up and out like a zombie clawing itself out of the grave. The tracing and swiping is hamstringing Davis's ability to tell this story in a truly effective way. Compare his lack of drama (because his panel compositions are limited to fit the photos he Googled) to John Bolton's uses of photo referencing in THE GREEN WOMAN (which I reviewed last week). It's an astounding gap between the two and it's more than just years of experience.

All artists, myself included, are guilty of some degree of tracing and swiping. In fact, the first "cartooning" I did back in elementary school was using carbon paper to trace RICHIE RICH and SPIDER-MAN covers. And a lot of what I produced in my teen years was built from tracing or copying my favorite artists, which actually taught me quite a bit about basic drawing techniques. Hell, as a 17 year-old, I all but redrew a bunch of Bernie Wrightson panels for a school project. I'm not proud of it, but that's the idiocy of youth there. Transitioning into a commercial illustrator, however, a person has to move beyond that and into your own. In a professional job like this one, Davis is flat-out guilty of artistic plagiarism, at least in his use of the "Debra Morgan" photos, but I suspect now throughout the book. Immediately noticing the tracing made me start fixating on every other character in the book and wondering about the photo references. As a result, I started seeing faces that might be Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr., and maybe even Christian Bale as Clark? I'm not sure. But the Lois reference isn't even disputable because it's an outright trace much of the time. In contrast, Gary Frank's version of Superman is a fine example of how to take a real person and use them as the basis for your character without tracing photos of that person.

I've noticed a tendency in younger artists in the Google age to rely on tracing rather than develop their own style. And in an artist like Davis, this does a disservice not only to the project but also to his own development as an artist. He obviously has raw talent because the details that he adds and his landscapes, alien designs, and his ability to copy as well as he does all demonstrate that he has the skill if he stops leaning on the photo crutch. He is clearly weak when handling the human form, the human hand, or how the body moves in any real sense and this creates that stiffness throughout the book. Working slavishly off of posed photographs will diminish any sense of movement that an artist is trying to evoke. It's the difference between photo as reference and photo as crutch. The experienced artist takes the photo and uses it to give himself an "action" line for his character, then he builds up from the action line with the basic skeletal framework for the form. Then he draws his character from his own action line and framework...NOT FROM THE PHOTOGRAPH. It's the same type of thing I deal with when I am teaching basic research and writing. To avoid a charge of plagiarism, when researching facts, take bullet point notes (not complete sentences) on a separate sheet of paper and then write your paragraph or paper from your notes and not from the original source. This way you are creating your own work and not stealing someone else's work.

Davis's blatant tracing here is akin to a writing student I once had, one of only two I've ever had to fail. She was actually one of the strongest natural writers I've taught, but the final research project counted for 50% of her grade and I never allow make-ups for the Finals. She had 3 solid weeks to work on it. When I sat down to grade it, I noted that the project was formatted beautifully, structured correctly, and was reading quite well...and then I caught a glitch. In the middle of a well-written paragraph there was a "page number"...the type of "page number" that Westlaw inserts in their digitized Case law so that a researcher can properly cite the page number for the physically printed version of the case. She had missed it or forgotten to delete it before she turned it in. So, I pulled up the case on Westlaw and found the page number and yes, she literally cut-and-pasted paragraph after paragraph. Without spending the rest of my night trying to distinguish between which parts of the project she wrote on her own and which parts were plagiarized, I had to give a zero on content.

Unfortunately, turning a critical eye towards this project, Davis's artwork in SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE winds up getting a zero from me as well because I honestly can't tell what all he traced and what all is his own work. Had he sketched from the photos first and then worked from the sketches, there would be similarities to the photos but they would not be blatant tracing.

Sandra Hope, on the other hand, lays down gorgeous inks and texturing to Davis's art. For my money, the gorgeous look of the art overall is grounded more in Hope's inks and Barbara Ciardo's beautifully rich but slightly desaturated colors. Hope particularly brings confidence to the line-work and demonstrates once again why she is one of the finest of the current crop of inkers. Digital rendering is leading to a reduction of opportunities for professional inkers, but I am very happy that DC chose to bring her in on this book rather than work directly from Davis's pencils.

I really admire what was attempted here. And it is not a failure. In fact, I suspect most people will enjoy it and never dig any deeper critically...and that's fine. We all approach our art and literature with differing needs and expectations. I, however, found SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE at times excellent, at others stilted and dull, and overall a disappointing almost classic.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's Haalllllloweeeen

Entertainment
Halloween themed reviews for AICN.  Both very different but very good.  THE GREEN WOMAN is for adults only and gruesome.  SCARY GODMOTHER is for all ages, especially kids, and beautiful. :)



THE GREEN WOMAN HC OGN

Writers: Peter Straub & Michael Easton
Artist: John Bolton
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics


“You could call this the last act. Hell, you could call it the encore, it's pretty much the same to me.”
-- Fielding “Fee” Bandolier

Vertigo has released THE GREEN WOMAN just in time for Halloween and it's a treat for fans of mature horror stories. Full of graphic gore and violence throughout, this book is not for the faint of heart. This is a serial killer story, so any reader needs to know that up front. For whatever reason, we seem as a culture to be fascinated by the insidiously macabre nature of the serial killer. Neil Gaiman made use of it in SANDMAN, Hannibal Lector has practically become the adult "boogey man" go to for evil, and DEXTER thrives as the ultimate anti-hero juggling life as a father and also as a man who fetishistically needs to kill people. So, yes, we are fascinated by serial killers. In THE GREEN WOMAN, Straub and Easton resurrect a serial-killer character Straub created in his "Blue Rose" trilogy of books (KOKO, MYSTERY, and THE THROAT). Fielding "Fee" Bandolier was believed dead at the end of THE THROAT, but as THE GREEN WOMAN makes explicitly clear a number of times...writers are never to be trusted with telling the truth. And in Straub's case, the implication is that the apparent death of Fee was just that -- apparent.

Anyone who wants to read of the final fate of Fee needs to read THE GREEN WOMAN. Which begs the immediate question for fans of graphic novels: do you need to read the "Blue Rose" trilogy first to enjoy THE GREEN WOMAN? The answer is a resounding "No." In fact, prior to reading THE GREEN WOMAN, I had only read Straub's GHOST STORY and his 2 collaborations with Stephen King. But I have now picked up the "Blue Rose" books to read as a result of THE GREEN WOMAN. Similar to Easton's manner of storytelling that I recognize from his SOUL STEALER graphic novel, THE GREEN WOMAN is non-linear storytelling. So, the reader needs to commit to the book as Straub and Easton let all the puzzle pieces that are shuffled around come together by the end to finish with a complete picture of each character's place and purpose in the universe.

At a glance, the plot is your standard hackneyed plot of the tortured cop on the trail of a serial killer who then gets drawn into the twisted mind of the killer. There's so much more, however, to this book than mere plot. In fact, most plots, when culled to their base concept, are rarely original. What matters in fiction is how that plot unfolds. Bob Steele is the cop. Fee Bandolier is the killer. The "Green Woman" is a pub that provides the location that bookends this story. "She" is also personalized by the image of the "Green Woman" carved into the wall and her stunning beauty and dark eyes pierce the soul (if he has one) of Fee. Her image haunts him as much as his lost love. But the "Green Woman" does more than just haunt...she tempts...she entices...she embodies the perfect representation of the darkest thoughts of man. By jumping back and forth through Fee's life, we gain insight into his repulsive, yet charismatically appealing nature. There was a time when he basically experienced joy in his "calling," but now he's getting old, he's getting tired, and like a once great hunter wolf....he is lashing out and he's losing satisfaction in his actions because within him he feels the pull to accept that his time is nearly at an end.

There is a malevolent force at work here that transcends just a mere "man's inhumanity to man" type of story. Fee survives because evil thrives within him. Steele is pushed into a heroic role he does not desire nor is he capable of fulfilling. Both are pulled down into the depths of hell within themselves and they leave a trail of horror behind them always trekking toward...the "Green Woman." In the end, both Steele and Fee confront whatever "reward" their lives have earned them. And the "Green Woman"? I swear there is just a hint of self-satisfied smile as Fee's story comes to an end...but the spirit that drove him has taken root once again.

Gruesomely beautiful art by John Bolton tells the story visually with his unmatched ability to deliver images that are hauntingly sensual and brutally horrific without any sense of choppiness to the storytelling. Bolton's panels are at times starkly sexual and other times darkly introverted and emotional. I am sure this story could be told as prose, but for me the visuals accompanying this story allow it to unfold emotionally rather than intellectually. It is one of the benefits of graphic novels by their very nature. Reading prose requires an intellectual process first before it can connect with the heart. Art, however, evokes a visceral reaction first and then the intellectualizing can begin. In a book like THE GREEN WOMAN, the art is what hits first, therefore the first reaction is emotional and the text is taken in after that. Bolton, like all great painter-storytellers, understands this need to draw in the reader/viewer emotionally. There is a lot of blood and gruesome imagery, but it all serves the feeling of the moment and the story overall. Bolton's all-important choice of the face of the "Green Woman" is a beauty with a timeless sense of perfection but a burning wickedness behind her eyes. Bolton's art here is a masterpiece and along with the writing, THE GREEN WOMAN should satisfy any fan of intelligent and grisly psychological horror.

--------------------------------------------


SCARY GODMOTHER HC OGN

Writer/Artist: Jill Thompson
Publisher: Dark Horse Books

“Anybody who's all about monsters an' spiders an' candy is the perfect girl for me. Besides...you're never too old to be a new friend.”
– Jimmy



For ghouls and goblins of all ages, Jill Thompson's gorgeous new SCARY GODMOTHER book collection has hit the stands to usher in the Halloween season. Dark Horse has beautifully packaged Thompson's first four SCARY GODMOTHER children's books into a large hardback evocative of the classic MOTHER GOOSE book...complete with a “This Book Belongs to ____” plate on the checkerboard endpapers. SCARY GODMOTHER collects in one volume: “Scary Godmother”, “The Revenge of Jimmy”, “Mystery Date”, “The Boo Flu”, and adds in the short story “Tea for Orson.” Also included in this package are lots of treats including Thompson's initial sketch work for the characters, some of the original covers, and her character expression sheets for the animated specials developed for Cartoon Network based on her first two SCARY GODMOTHER books.

Fans of Thompson's comic book work may only be familiar with her Scary Godmother character through the series of comic books with the character. So, this book is an opportunity to encounter her in a different type of format that really gives Thompson's lush watercolor art the focus. And each story is a joy to read. Thompson really understands how to tap into that wonderfully open spirit of childhood and craft stories that will connect with anyone. The bottom line as to why I recommend this book so much is simply how much FUN they are. They bring a smile to your face and a chuckle to your throat as you read it. You can't help it. My own daughter is 13 years old and was instantly drawn to the cover when she got in the car after her gymnastics class. “What's that?” she asked with a crinkle of her nose. I replied “Check it out. I bet you will love it.” And needless to say, she didn't put it down until she had read the entire book and declared she “loooooooovvvvvvves SCARY GODMOTHER....especially Bug-A-Boo!” She just about jumped out of her skin with excitement when we came across a DVD copy of the “Scary Godmother: Jimmy's Revenge” animated special. Guess what daddy bought and we are waiting to watch together on Halloween night?

Scary Godmother is basically the patron saint of Halloween. She is the guardian of the spirit of Halloween and she comes onto the scene in these books to protect sweet innocent little Hannah Marie from the “monsters.” As each story progresses, Hannah Marie, her cousin Jimmy, and her friends become increasingly more familiar with Scary Godmother and all her friends who live with her on the “Fright Side”. The sweet-natured characters that populate the “Fright Side” include the closet skeleton, Mr. Pettibone, the ghostly cat Boozle, and the monster under your bed, Bug-A-Boo. Harry is a scene-stealing werewolf and Hannah Marie quickly becomes best friends with Orson, the bespectacled boy vampire.

Thompson's character designs are appealing with that slight creep factor that makes them all feel right for Halloween. I love the consistency in design elements that run through all her illustrations...including the cute curly-cue element that shows up everywhere including the logo design. In the age of digital art, I am particularly drawn to Thompson's colorful washes and brushed textures in the color work. I especially enjoy how she is willing to let the watercolors flow and absorb into the paper softening and stylizing many elements such as the moon in the night sky. Never a perfect circle, she lays down the deep purples and blues of the night sky around the moon but never makes the effort to tighten it up. I love that choice and she makes many confident artistic choices like that in her storytelling. She has the experience and the eye to always know the most effective (whether dramatic or comedic) way to communicate the scene to the reader.

Even though these stories were designed for book form rather than comic form, she is essentially working with a large-form panel design. So, the fan of comics and graphic novels should have no problem with her approach here. In fact, they may see this as a chance to expand their thinking as to what can be accomplished within the panel-to-panel style of story.

Halloween is the time for tricks and treats, and Jill Thompson's SCARY GODMOTHER is a treat that even beats finding a full-sized Snickers in your trick-or-treat bag.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CASPER & THE SPECTRALS Reviewed

Entertainment
Latest review at Aintitcool.

CASPER & THE SPECTRALS #3

Writer: Todd Dezago
Artist: Leanne Hannah
Publisher: Ardden Entertainment

"A-HA HA HA HA HA!! Friends?!? FRIENDS?!?! You are either a very foolish or a very brave little ghost -- but you amuse me so I'll let you speak and save the destroying you instantly for later!!"
-- Volbragg

I've thrown positive reviews CASPER'S way for the first 2 parts of this 3-part series, so I feel a sense of duty here to tackle the conclusion. For all the complaints over the years about the lack of substantive comic books out there geared for the younger reader, it really is not the case anymore. There are excellent comics being published every week that are not only appropriate for kids, they are actually good and can be enjoyed by adults as well...if they can check their cynicism and sarcasm at the door.

Ardden's CASPER & THE SPECTRALS has consistently been one comic I have faithfully promoted ever since I picked up the first issue just on a lark. I occasionally just grab a comic off the stands that I didn't know existed and give it a go. Usually, the result is disappointing and I never think about it again. Occasionally I get a pleasant surprise and CASPER was one like that -- a very pleasant surprise. The characters of Casper, Wendy, and Hot Stuff (along with their supporting casts) are updated for the modern era but faithfully retain their personalities and their childlike nice-ness and naivete. The beautiful character designs by Pedro Delgado are also faithful to the original Harvey Comics but with a more modern and angular animation-style design.

The "Spectrals" are the three major races of supernatural beings (Ghosts, Witches, and Devils) who live in segregated dimensions. Casper, Wendy, and Hot Stuff are all lonely among their own kind and find themselves drawn together despite their differences. Just as their friendship is growing, circumstances unfold that unleash a horrible monster called Volbragg who threatens to destroy their worlds and the world of the humans. In this final chapter, we see a bit of political conflict between Casper, Wendy, and Hot Stuff on how to tackle the menace. Casper wants to try and make friends withe Volbragg and Wendy just wants to take him down. Hot Stuff ultimately decides to be Casper's backup and inadvertently learns some key information that helps.

What we have here is another good comic book with a fine conclusion that demonstrates that even people with different ideologies and opinions can find ways to work together to confront common threats. In the end, it is the similarities and not the differences that draw us together. But the differences are what give life that spark of excitement and unpredictability.

I like the fact that the universally positive messages in this comic book come through the story and the characters and not page after page of preachy word balloons. The art in this issue is handled not by Pedro Delgado, who drew the first 2 issues, but someone new to my radar named Leanne Hannah. Her style is very similar to Delgado already, so she is able to pick up where he left off without a jarring shift in tone to the art. Her art has a charm all its own though, and I would like to see more of her work.

Hats off to Ardden for this series, and I look forward to more with these characters. I'm still waiting for that STUMBO THE GIANT comic though....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

ATLAS COMICS...UNBOUND!

Entertainment
An AICN chat with Atlas Comics' Jason Goodman and Brendan Deneen

In 1974, Marvel and DC found themselves challenged directly in the newsstand market by upstart Atlas Comics founded by Martin Goodman (founder of Marvel Comics). Atlas Comics were marked by a trade-dress and style that was intentionally similar to the Marvel Comics of the time – a bold and direct assault on the House of Ideas.

The success of Atlas Comics was short-lived, less than 2 years, but during that brief period of time they churned out some surprisingly strong comics written and drawn by some of the best in the business (Archie Goodwin, Michael Fleischer, Larry Hama, Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky, Steve Ditko, and more). However, when Atlas ceased publication, their rather large stable of characters disappeared...seemingly forever.

To most comic fans, Atlas has survived in memory as little more than an interesting footnote lost to history. For the industry though, Atlas was a pioneer as the first comics publisher to increase pay rates and provide co-ownership/profit-sharing opportunities for their creative artists. And most historically, Atlas was the first to return all artwork to the artists who produced the works. And that's where Atlas began and ended in comics history over three decades ago.

Last week, the comics industry was uniformly surprised to see an announcement that, in partnership with Ardden Entertainment, Jason Goodman (grandson of Martin Goodman) is planning to re-launch Atlas Comics at the New York Comic-Con on October 8, 2010. Ardden’s Editor-in-Chief and legendary comic writer, J.M. DeMatteis, was quoted in the announcement on Ardden's website saying “"The Atlas universe is filled with characters of tremendous potential. I look forward to being a part of this re-launch as we re-imagine these wonderful characters and send them off on new adventures for the first time in thirty-five years."

I immediately contacted Brendan Deneen, Co-President of Ardden Entertainment to talk about this new project. The following column is the result of a virtual chat between Deneen, Goodman, and myself conducted over the course of about 4 or 5 days.

ME: I would like to begin this conversation with Brendan Deneen. Tell me a little about how you got from the position of Production Executive at Dimension/Miramax Films to Co-President of Ardden Entertainment?

BRENDAN DENEEN (BD): Okay. I befriended Rich Emms when I was working as a book- and comic-to-film scout for Dimension/Miramax Films. In that role, I had come across a series called DARKHAM VALE that Rich was publishing through his small UK company, AP Comics. He would later go on to become Editor-in-Chief of Markosia.
During a visit to the States, he invited me to join him on a trip to the Wizard Magazine offices in Congers New York. We had a really good time during the bus ride, bonding over comics we loved, such as the Byrne/Claremont run on X-MEN. At one point, I pitched him a comic idea I created when I was 19 years old (in 1991!) called SCATTERBRAIN.

He seemed interested but I thought he was just being polite.

ME: Ha!

BD: About a month later, he brought it up and said he wanted to publish it. During that time, I believe, is when he was hired by Markosia as their EiC, and he brought SCATTERBRAIN with him and published it in 2006. We got great quotes from Michael Avon Oeming, Brian K. Vaughan, Geoff Johns, Jim Krueger, and Robert Kirkman; and some great reviews, including you guys, who called it one of the best indie books of the year.

I had been trying for years before that to get noticed by Marvel or DC but no luck, despite knowing editors at both companies. I figured SCATTERBRAIN would be the beginning and end of my comic writing career.

ME: It’s not an easy business to break into professionally these days outside of self-publishing. There was a time when even a person with marginal talent could find himself writing or drawing comics simply because he just happened to be around at the moment that an editor needed to fill a slot.

BD: Totally true! Anyway...one day, out of the blue, Rich emailed me and said "Hey, do you want to put together a Flash Gordon pitch?"

And I was like.... "Uh... HELLS YES!"

So, I put together a 4 or 5 page pitch, which would eventually become THE MERCY WARS arc. I also had the bare bones for the second and third arcs at that point as well. After they had read my treatment (and liked it), they then said, "Actually, there's this new Flash Gordon show coming up, would you be willing to do a new treatment set in the world of the show?"

ME: Ugh.

BD: I read a few of the episode scripts and came up with what I thought was a really bad ass WRATH OF KHAN-esque arc that took place between, I think, episodes 2 and 3.

ME: What did they think of it?

BD: They loved it...but then the show came out and...well, everyone knows that happened there.

So, I re-approached them with my original concept and they approved it. However, when I shopped the project around to a number of big publishers...NO ONE WAS INTERESTED! Image wouldn't even return my emails. It was almost laughable.

ME: That seems odd for a property as much a part of the popular lexicon as FLASH GORDON. I mean...it's friggin' FLASH GORDON!

BD: Exactly. So, Rich said we should start our own company...and that's just what we did!

ME: So, you and Rich went into business initially to publish the FLASH GORDON comic. How did J.M. DeMatteis come into it?

BD: Well, by that point, I was a literary and film agent and I had just started representing him. He said, "Hey, if you ever want something more than a writer, let me know." And I said something like "How about Editor-in-Chief?" and he said, "Sure."

That's a bit truncated...but not much!

ME: You make it sound so simple...

BD: It was very smooth. He and I already had a great working relationship and I knew him from my time at Dimension/Miramax.

ME: And the comic was well-received?

BD: We released FLASH GORDON #0 at the 2008 NY Comic-Con and sold out of a couple thousand issues over the weekend. We were blown away by the reception.

The first six issues sold very well and the critical response was, I'd say, 75/25 positive. Some people had problems with my writing or Paul's art, but most people loved the fact that I hewed so closely to Alex Raymond's concepts and that I was having FUN with it!!
And JM's notes were HUGELY helpful.

ME: So, this is about 2 years ago. In those 2 years, you've published FLASH GORDON successfully and grabbed a license from Harvey Comics to modernize Casper, Wendy, and Hot Stuff. But now...you're relaunching an entire line of comics that are mostly known as a historic footnote from the mid-70s. How does this happen?

BD: For CASPER, J.M. and I just put together a KILLER concept, and I think Classic Media recognized that immediately. The book was (obviously) plagued with delays but we're VERY proud of it.

We're in talks right now with Classic to do a sequel.

ME: Seriously, one of my favorite comics of the last year. There's actually a very solid bunch of comics being published right now for the younger market that are very good for all ages and CASPER & THE SPECTRALS is one of them.

BD: Thank you! We appreciate it so much. Anyway, my mind started thinking about other licenses to pursue and for some reason, i thought of Atlas.

I had bought all those comics from the back issue bin when i was younger.

ME: A perfect transition point to bring Jason Goodman into this conversation. Jason, I'm curious about you and the process that got you to this point where you are about to perform the rather daunting task of relaunching your grandfather's line of comics.

JASON GOODMAN (JG): For me, fortunately, this journey began at birth. The bounty of comics that arrived daily at home was more than any kid could ask for - Marvel & Atlas - all hot off the presses! In what could most generously be described as the folly of youth (and most harshly as an act of pure idiocy/lunacy, albeit by a 10 year old), I sold my childhood comic collection in the late 70’s at my lemonade stand on the corner 90th St. and West End Ave. (pre-Antiques Roadshow). Fast forward through college and a Wall Street career to the mid-90’s when I finally went into the family business after my dad (Chip Goodman) passed. For 15 years now, I have published consumer magazines in every field from Log Homes to Pilates. However, I have always treasured the Atlas titles and characters and was waiting for the right moment to re-introduce them to the world – a moment when I had enough time to seriously devote to the project, and the right people to work with.

BD: I reached out to Jason and it turned out he was talking to a number of places already. We started meeting in New York City and just really hit it off. He had a cool vision for what he wanted the books to be, and had this great core of advisors and the four us just started brainstorming ways to bring the brand back.

It took awhile, because there were a lot of pieces to put together, but apparently it was worth it!!

JG: Brendan and the Ardden Entertainment gang, and my own creative team – they all have great passion, talent and intensity – I’m having a blast!

ME: Can you share a little of the vision? I ask because you're talking about reintroducing these characters into a market that feels almost overrun by super-heroes. How do you take these characters, clearly modeled on the late silver age Marvel style, and make them relevant and stand out from the crowd? I carry deeply-rooted nostalgia for many of the characters, but we have 2 or 3 generations of readers with no foreknowledge of Atlas at all. What's the pitch?

JG: The goal, put most simply, is to tell great stories! In that regard, we have a world-class creative legacy to build on. I won’t presume to bore you with the multimedia, cross-platform, multi-channel licensing, etc...suffice it to say, it’s all true and this is a money-making (should I say "profit seeking"?) enterprise - just a ridiculously fun and cool one.

BD: The key is that these are MORE than just superheroes. We're going to approach each title with that attitude....a great story first and more than just a couple of guys in spandex beating the crap out of each other. PHOENIX is a science fiction story more than it is a superhero story. It's about a dude who is abducted by aliens, imbued with crazy powers, and then escapes!! And THE GRIM GHOST is this horror/thriller about a man trapped between life and death.

ME: I bought the original PHOENIX #1 in Puerto Rico....I guess I was 3rd or 4th grade!

BD: Nice!!!

ME: In fact, I bought a number of Atlas comics when they were first published -- PHOENIX, GRIM GHOST, SCORPION, LOMAX, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES...

BD: Over the last week or so, I've been blown away by how many people have fond memories of them...including me!

ME: One of my personal favorites was FRIGHT starring THE SON OF DRACULA by Gary Friedrich & Frank Thorne. I kept looking and looking for that second issue....that never arrived! Any chance of reprint collections?

BD: We're talking about reprints! But that's another story.

ME: Of the concepts you are working on right now, do you expect to pick up any of the series from the point where they originally stopped or reimagine each one for the modern audience?

JG: Modernization is a natural – comics have always changed with the times. But you’re correct, the opportunity exists for us to take some truly nascent original Atlas story lines and start straight from there. Stay tuned.

ME: Okay. The characters are more than just super-heroes. That jumps the hurdle of Dynamite's PROJECT SUPERPOWERS. Are you looking at creating a whole "shared universe" concept or are you dealing with them as stand-alone concepts or some sort of combination?

BD: Stand-alone concepts for now. I love shared universes but I think that can become very dense, very quickly. I would love to do a big shared universe some day but i don't think it makes sense for Atlas.

ME: Are you planning ongoing series or...rather...a series of mini-series for the different concepts. Similar to your successful approach to FLASH GORDON?

BD: Yes, exactly. The first arc of each will be the origin story.

ME: You realize, of course, that PLANET OF VAMPIRES needs to seriously be front-loaded.

BD: Ha, yes.

ME: Seriously. Before the big vampire glut implodes.

JG: I stand proudly on my sunlit altar, wreathed in garlic, and say, “I fear no glut.” Seriously, though, we are going to roll these books out slowly, taking our time to pick the perfect creative teams and modern storylines for each one. We have no plans to dump a bunch of mediocre titles into the marketplace and hope for the best. We're here for the long term and we want each book to be as good as it possibly can. We think people are going to love what we have up our collective sleeves!

BD: It's funny because everyone has their favorite! We have an AWESOME concept for WULF, a very cool BRUTE idea that moves him totally away from "Hulk" and a great way to do IRON JAW. I'm not sure which titles will be next but we are talking about ALL of them. We're very, very excited.

ME: Any chance you're talking to some of the original writers and artists about contributing to the new line? In particular, I will sleep much better after this interview if I know you have at least APPROACHED Howard Chaykin about creating new stories for THE SCORPION.

BD: We're already talking to some A-list writers about a number of the titles.

ME: That's not a "no".

JG: I wouldn’t want to diminish your journalistic vigilance by giving you answers that would help you sleep at night.

ME: *sigh* I got to talking last week with a grumpy old fan and he expressed a cynical reaction to your announcement because he said Atlas was just an old Marvel rip-off. That type is going to be your toughest sell I think. So, from a marketing standpoint give me your approach to drawing in the jaded fan who might love the new Atlas if he would just give it a chance.

BD: I don't necessarily agree with that assessment of those original titles. But even if I did, we're approaching these with a 21st century mentality. And honestly, I've been developing intellectual property professionally for over a decade. I know comic books, novels and movies inside and out. I'm an editor at a major publishing company. I know good stories and how to develop them. And Jason has a great perspective on these things, too, and has this amazing Goodman legacy. We are updating the original stories while staying true to the core concepts of what made them so cool in the first place.

ME: Hell...all characters are derivative of some other character in some way. Even Superman was derivative of Doc Savage who was derivative of Gladiator who was derivative of Hercules...

BD: ...and Flash Gordon was King Features' answer to Buck Rogers.

ME: It is what you do with the character and the concept that makes it or breaks it.

In recent years, Marvel/Disney bought out Malibu and CrossGen and is in the process of relaunching some CrossGen titles. DC has licensed the Red Circle characters and the THUNDER Agents, plus bought the Milestone line and appears to be rolling the WildStorm characters into the DC Universe. Dynamite and ABC both brought back a number of public domain characters. With such a crowded market, how does Atlas make themselves relevant to the market and translate that into sales?

JG: In today’s business world, it is very difficult to find a market that isn’t extremely competitive – sometimes you just need a reason, the right reason. In my case, a great family history; a solid foundation of titles; a loyal, pre-existing fan base; and some great people to work with. One of the many great blessings of Atlas is that we have a deep bench of titles and characters to draw from. The nature of each story we tell will influence frequency and format....

ME: Do you see yourself making inroads with Atlas Comics in other retail venues than just local comic book stores? If so, what type of approach?

JG: Local comic book stores are the industry’s life blood and will continue to be the centerpiece of our retail distribution strategy. We certainly hope to supplement that with expansion into other classes of trade, and my consumer magazine experience (tens of millions of copies sold) should help that effort.

ME: Any insight into what's officially on the schedule (and when) and what is planned in the long term including writers and artists lined up?

BD: We'll be releasing the #0's for PHOENIX and GRIM GHOST via Diamond in the coming months, and then the monthly issues will start early 2011. Oh, the #0's will first be available at New York Comic-Con, then via Diamond/comic stores.

ME: I'm digging that GRIM GHOST cover. Who's the cover artist?

BD: Qing Ping Mui.

ME: Gesundheit!

BD: Ha! Someone on our team found him. The art on PHOENIX is by Ian and Guy Dorian. That's really all I can reveal right now.

JG: Forgive us if we keep some secrets...for just a while longer.

ME: Who gets the credit for the fantastic design work on the logos, masthead and covers?

BD: Rich Emms has done all the design work, and he's incredible at it.

ME: Final question goes to Jason and refers to the Atlas "brand". When someone says "Atlas", what do you want them to think?

JG: What’s a nice boy like you doing in a business like this? or preferably AWESOME! Seriously though, I would like Atlas to stand for great stories that have been told and great stories still to come.

ME: Thank you, both of you, Brendan and Jason, for your time and cooperation. I hope your efforts are rewarded and that you'll keep AICN and our readers in the loop on future Atlas and Ardden projects. Check out Ardden’s website and the Atlas Archives for more info!