Thursday, July 22, 2010

Entertainment

Today's blog is made up of my Q & A for AICN as "Prof. Challenger" with writer James Robinson about his new tenure as writer on DC Comics' JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA comic book. The thing to know about Robinson is that he is a very good writer--at times he is brilliant. If the internet fan chatter is any indication, his JLA run is rubbing some older fans the wrong way. For whatever reason, I am finding myself really enjoying it...and I even lobbed up a couple of questions to let him address these things that I've noticed recurring in criticisms. I did make a point of meeting him in Chicago and shaking his hand. In our short conversation, I found him to be, first of all, an extremely polite and friendly person, and secondly, I found him to be genuinely enthusiastic about his job and giving it his best effort. So, I was more than happy to grab the opportunity to shoot some questions his way when offered the chance to do it.

Q’s by Professor Challenger! @’s by JLA writer James Robinson!

PROFESSOR CHALLENGER (PROF): First of all, as someone who jumped onto the current JLA book when you came on it, how long do you plan on staying?

JAMES ROBINSON (JR): I have a lot of ideas for arcs and stories. How long exactly? Not sure, but I counted out my ideas and realized I have about three to four years worth of stories. Whether I tell them all depends on how the readers respond to what I'm doing of course.

PROF: Your style of writing is one of various dialogue narratives throughout the book. In fact, many times you have 2 or 3 or more commenting on the action in their heads. It's an interesting approach (and in a handful of active sequences potentially confusing as to who's "voice" I'm hearing) and from a technical standpoint I am curious about your thought process in deciding to approach this series in this way, say, rather than just the standard omniscient narrator and dialogue balloons for the reader.

JR: I wanted to try something different. I wanted something that would help to identify these JLA adventures as mine. I don't agree they're confusing, in that we take a lot of care making sure the captions are sufficiently different. I hope they're clear enough, anyway. I like the way the captions afford me the opportunity to show ironic contrast between what one character is thinking and another. I know some readers don't like them, but others do. I'll continue with this approach for the time being at least.

PROF: Can you share a little about the creation process between you and artist Mark Bagley? Do you just send off the script and a few weeks later are pleasantly surprised by what you see or is there more communication and collaboration here between the two of you?

JR: It's some of the former and some of the latter. Yes, it's a full script, but Mark and I talk often about this idea, or that visual. It definitely feels collaborative.

PROF: Speaking of Bagley, in that first arc where you featured, I guess I would describe them as, a twisted villainous version of the core New Gods characters, did he design the look for the new characters on his own or did you already have in mind the look?

JR: I gave him some thoughts on their look, but Mark then went off and came up with his own take on them. I'm particularly partial to the design of Hunter the villainous version of Orion.

PROF: It seemed to me that after the first story arc that your planned line-up for the book somehow got intruded upon...most notably the removal of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Starfire and Mon-El. Was that always part of your plan for the book or did events in the other DCU titles dictate their removal from the team?

JR: The JLA is a book that must always allow for the events of the DCU proper that are going on around it. Yes, I did have the rug pulled out from under me, by having this mass exodus of characters happen due to events in other books. I confess I hated losing Mon-El. But in the end I think the book is better for it now, with the team having a better core group and I get to use Supergirl who I'm having a lot of fun with. You can bitch and moan about these kind of things, or you can get on with it and try to work with what you have.

And some characters you haven't seen the last of. You'll definitely see more of Cyborg and Dr. Light in the future. Incidentally Dr. Light has become a favorite of mine, even though I haven't written her much.


PROF: To me, one of the aspects of the DCU that connects with me is the legacy aspect of the heroes. JSA was the first series to fully embrace that concept, but your approach to the JLA seems to be a legacy-based approach, which I fully endorse at this point. This develops a JLA that truly is the first adult next-generation membership for a Silver Age team (Batman/Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Jade, Jesse Quick, Supergirl). Is this an intentional plan on your part to establish a new legacy team or is this just a nice synchronistic result?

JR: Absolutely. It was something that Geoff and I came up with as we planned what the future of my JLA would be. I like that these characters have graduated to the big time. I like the legacy aspect, that while definitely that, somehow feels different to me from the legacy feel of the JSA. I think you'll see more of that playing out too in the arcs to come as we witness the heroes interacting.

PROF: Congorilla has become a favorite character for me. His old-school attitude and "seen it all" steady hand is surprisingly effective. But this is not a character who's really ever been one known for actual "super-heroics." What drew you to such an obscure character and this desire to put him face front like this (not to mention adding in a few powers we've never seen before with his character)?

JR: He was a holdover from CRY FOR JUSTICE. He's definitely a concept you either love or hate. I love the fact that there's a giant magical golden gorilla in the JLA. I'm also happy I've given him the ability to grow in size too, it allows me to have him be King Kong when he has to be. As the series progresses he'll be dropping references to things he's done in the past. Never in a chronological order though. However by the time I'm finished, any reader who cares to will be able to go through all these references and put them in order and get the life story of Congo Bill. I'll say now that he was born in Scotland in 1895, the son of a gamekeeper.

PROF: Similarly, of all the "Starmen" to add to the team, why this version? What about Mikaal made him seem right for the JLA but not any of the other potential "Starmen"....or even a new version?

JR: Why Mikaal? After Jack, he's the one I've had the most dealing with. Mikaal had appeared in one issue of FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL before I came along, so all his character development is mine from my run on STARMAN. I like the fact that he's gay, and without making it into a huge event, I'm going to enjoy giving him a new relationship when the time is right.

PROF: Do you have any thoughts on the appeal of the "Starman" name and why it has been utilized so much?

JR: It's a golden age character that I was lucky enough to get my hands on at a time when no one had thought to create a legacy out the name. Yes, there were a lot of Starmen before Jack Knight, but for some reason the idea of linking them up hadn't been done up to that point. I got to do that. As you say, legacy characters are a part of the DCU.

PROF: The current JLA/JSA team-up deals with Jade's return. What is it about the interaction between these 2 teams that you find particularly interesting as a writer?

JR: It was challenging, I will say that. From having my team reduced to a more manageable amount, I'm suddenly swimming in characters again. It's been fun though, mixing this old team with so much history and the new JLA whose history is just beginning. I've definitely enjoyed the challenge of giving every character his moment to shine.


PROF: Are there going to (once again) be changes made to Alan Scott/GL that may lead to a new role for him? I ask because it seems that every few years someone decides that Alan is redundant and mess around with him and then a few years after that someone decides he's not redundant and returns him to his rightful position as Green Lantern. :)

JR: I don't want to say too much here. Suffice to say he will have a new role within the DCU, while at the same time he'll be returning to his roots more as well. I think fans who might feel he's lost a sense of direction apart from being one of the dwindling "old guard" will like this direction for Alan Scott while fans of classic Alan Scott/Green Lantern will also like his place in the DCU after the “Dark Things” arc. I will add that Alan Scott is my favorite "golden ager", so I only want the best for him.

PROF: Is Dick going to allow Damian to assume a role in this new JLA, as opposed to Bruce's obvious reticence at including Robin in the JLA?

JR: One of the things I like about Damian is that no matter what Batman wants there's a degree where Damian's going to do what he wants instead. Frankly, I don't know what Grant Morrison's plans are for Damian after Bruce Wayne's return, but if he's around I'd love to have him interact with the JLA at least a little bit.

PROF: Ultimately, when the pendulum swings again and the basic Big 7 reestablish as the JLA (hopefully not for awhile), do you see your current version continuing on as a team in some other capacity? Or is that too far ahead to even speculate?

JR: That's a little far off to say. This team will be around for a while.

PROF: Finally, is working on the JLA tickling your creative bone to do a THE SILVER AGE mini-series sequel to THE GOLDEN AGE? :)

JR: I was developing the SILVER AGE with a big name artist and for one reason and another it didn't happen when it should have. Since then between Mark Waid's JLA YEAR ONE and especially Darwyn's Cooke's NEW FRONTIER, the story I wanted to tell has been told and by better and more talented guys then me.

PROF: Thanks for your time and your work! And thanks again for signing my well-worn copy of THE GOLDEN AGE #1 at C2E2.

JR: You’re welcome.

PROF: Look for Mr. Robinson every month in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Entertainment
This week's AICN review is a tag-team love-fest with fellow reviewer "Humphrey Lee" for the new ABSOLUTE PLANETARY published by DC Comics. Tomorrow will be my interview with James Robinson about his current stint as writer on the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA comic book.

ABSOLUTE PLANETARY Vol.1 - 2
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: John Cassaday
Publisher: DC WildStorm
Reviewers: Professor Challenger and Humphrey Lee

Prof. Challenger (PROF): ABSOLUTE PLANETARY is proof of God. It is his divine gift to the comic book fans. It is like the holy fire that Prometheus gave to the first humans.

Or is that too hyperbolic?

Humphrey Lee (HUMPH): Heh, possibly.

It's important because it is that good. PLANETARY came at a time when I was getting back into comics after having left them for dead for a few years. I was growing up and the typical "capes and tights" books weren't doing it for me, and I didn't know something like Vertigo existed. So when I got back into comics, at the ripe age of nineteen, and found out not only could you have a super-people book that was mature, with high brow scientific concepts and the occasional low brow humor, but that didn't have to answer to anyone or anything. It didn't have to have a franchise character in it, and it didn't have to be hard R, it just had to be, and it was awesome when it came out. PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY both, taking a bit of a lead in from Morrison's JLA run, were the kick in the nuts the superhero genre needed at the end of millennia.

PROF: That's interesting. I also picked up my first PLANETARY issue during a down period in comic buying for me. I was buying very few series at all, but was still popping into the shop and browsing every few weeks. One day I went in and saw this cover for a comic called PLANETARY but the cover featured what looked like Doc Savage on the cover and the logo design was the "Savage" style logo. I had to pick it up and see what was what with it. That would've been issue #5.

After reading it, I was hooked and went back the next day to dig through the long boxes and was able to come up with the first 4 issues and I committed to every issue after that up to the end. Of course, I had no idea at the time that it was going to take so long to finish the series.

HUMPH: That's about the only thing PLANETARY didn't have over all the bad 90's comics I was reading. They may have been terrible, but at least they showed up on time. But, I was lured back into funny books by some pretty big offenders when it came to timeliness; the ABC line of books, JMS' RISING STARS and MIDNIGHT NATION, etc. Thing was, they were worth it. They really opened my eyes up to what comics should be and what I could have/should have been reading once I became disgusted with stuff like "The Clone Saga" and year after year of X-events. I assume we'll get back to tardiness eventually - hard not to when talking about this book - but it was always worth it. The sense grandeur I felt whenever I did and still do open up the pages of a PLANETARY always put(s) me in a better place.

So, what was it that really sold you on this book? That made you harbor such a fondness for it that you find yourself in a frenzy over giant-sized hardcovers of it a decade later?

PROF: For me, initially though, it tickled my fancy because of the alternate versions of Doc Savage, the Shadow, Green Hornet, etc. that were featured. I'm kind of a sucker for the pulp adventurers and I kind of collect pastiches of them. So, PLANETARY was already in my "happy place" from the start.

HUMPH: Yeah, you said it and I'll run with it. The ABSOLUTES are indeed a gift to the comic enthusiast. Sometimes I can't just help but sit down in front of my extensive collection of these things (I've got something like thirteen Absolutes) and these are always the ones I pull out to flip through. Cassaday's art is absolutely sublime, and a huge complement to everything I was just talking about when it comes to reverence for the medium. His takes on all these characters - the Doc Savages, Nick Furys, Fantastic Fours of the medium - are the perfect mix of homage and fresh take. And obviously no one does giant action sequences and splashes like the man, only enhanced by these gloriously oversized pages.

PROF: It's a weird thing to try and review the ABSOLUTE PLANETARY volumes simply because in previous reviews of the series I've pretty much dealt with the series itself. For my money, PLANETARY is the seminal comic book series of the last decade (even though it technically started before 2000). While it owes conceptual debt to other sources, whether it be LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN or Philip Jose' Farmer's "World Newton" Universe stories, PLANETARY was immediately its own unique vision. The writing is so intelligent and peppered with cultural and literary references, without being a "Where's Waldo" type of game like LOEG sometimes devolves into. The sense of the entire project being a self-indulgent ironic paean to obsessive-compulsives is also thankfully absent.

The mystery of the Fourth Man, the life of Elijah Snow, the death of Ambrose Chase; these are the framework that Ellis uses to build his massive monument and shrine to not only the mythology of comic books, but also all great modern adventure stories. "Fictional realities" is not an ironic term in Ellis's PLANETARY. As such, the work in concept and text speaks to the reader in a deeper sense than your average "super-hero" comic for sure. But for the work to really resonate it requires of the reader a working knowledge of genre fiction in graphic novels, comics, and film. That challenge makes PLANETARY a nearly unique reading experience.

HUMPH: I wasn't really into those when I left comics, but as time moves on and I'm becoming a little more jaded than the typical fanfare that is coming out from mainstream comics these days, I'm actually getting more into those kinds of comics. Not those exact comics - I pay respect to what they did but older comic writing drives me up the damn wall I'm such a modern boy - but stuff like PLANETARY here that pays them respect, hits on all the right notes, but is firmly modern writing. That's why I love my ABSOLUTE shelf ; PLANETARY is sandwiched right between THE NEW FRONTIER and PROMETHEA, two other books that took iconic figures and weren't afraid to put new spins on them, whether it just be updated storytelling or, in the case of PROMETHEA, re-imagining them.

PROF: The price-point on this book is pretty high, though, and I fully understand that cost is a deterrent on the Absolutes to many people. I'm one of them, actually, who finds it tough to justify spending the money on a series I already own. PLANETARY is worth it. I'm tempted by the LOEG and JLA/AVENGERS, but have not bought them. Until reading PLANETARY, the only Absolute I deemed worthy of my hard-earned cash was NEW FRONTIER and it is worth it. After handling and reading back through the ABSOLUTE PLANETARY, I can honestly say it is worth every penny for the quality of the series itself and the product. This is designed and produced with integrity and respect for the creators and the reader. I honestly can't rave enough on a pure production and technical level, to be perfectly honest.

HUMPH: Production level is key and this book does indeed have it. The sewn binding is of the highest importance. Even the SANDMAN volumes, massive as they are, still lay flat and lose nothing in the fold. I will level one complaint against these volumes though...they're incomplete. I assume this is going to be it since all 27 issues are represented, but what about the three PLANETARY specials? PLANETARY/BATMAN is arguably my favorite issue of the series and it's not here to bask in the over-sized glory that is this format and that highly saddens me.

PROF: I agree. I agree. I guess in the midst of this love-fest, we really had to find a criticism and that is it. If nothing else, they could have added those 3 specials as a separate and thinner appendix volume or something. Since only one of them was technically outside continuity, it would make sense to have worked them in. I know that in my own individual issues, I've picked where I think they fit and inserted them.

As to the Elseworlds special being outside of continuity...I have to wonder if, given the driving theme of multiple realities, can anything truly be outside continuity?

HUMPH: Yeah, lets be honest here, if someone is a fan of this series, there's really no reason to not get this other than price tag. We are basically reduced to nitpicking the actual physical content of the book, not the content of the material within the book. I mean, these are what, a whole $100 for both volumes on Amazon, now that the first volume is in print again. That's chump change for this book, given what it is, how good it is, how good it looks, and how the Absolute format presents it all.

Still though, at least that BATMAN/PLANETARY one is a shame, but I don't know if they could justify 144 pages in just one Absolute, unless it came packed with bonus material out the wazoo and was $50 max.

PROF: That's why I was thinking something more along the lines of the addendum in JLA\AVENGERS that showcased Perez's unused artwork from the original team-up plus tons of articles and interviews from that time that shed light on why the original team-up never happened.

But I would not be surprised to find out that Ellis himself just looks at those specials as if they are entertaining footnotes but have no direct bearing on the primary story he was telling and that's why he cut them.

Bottom line is that ABSOLUTE PLANETARY is "absolute"-ly outstanding and worth gracing the library of every serious fan of super-heroes and/or adventure stories. Any final words, Humphrey?

HUMPH: Ummmm...Wonder Twin powers activate!!!???

PROF: Yeah. That'll work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Entertainment
Quick Review of STEVE ROGERS: SUPER-SOLDIER for Aintitcool


In a natural evolution from STEVE ROGERS: CAPTAIN AMERICA (which is what the CAP series by Bru was called up until Bucky-Cap took over), we now begin STEVE ROGERS: SUPER-SOLDIER. Bru has established Bucky as Cap and whattayouknow? Everybody kinda likes him. So...the logical next step in the saga of Steve Rogers is figure out a way to utilize him as “former” Capt. America. And Marvel has thrown their weight of support behind the idea and Steve is now a presence all over the Marvel U. And now he is featured in his own solo book – a series that should be read and enjoyed by anyone who considers themselves of fan of Capt. America. Steve is the ultimate American espionage agent for the modern age and this first issue featuring him in his new role is tied directly into his origin story from the Golden Age. This is a smart and taut action comic book with a character that is in the midst of his own definitive storytelling period. Brubaker has taken an icon and made him a character to care about and to be interested in. Solid art by Eaglesham, an attractive cover, and a reprint of Cap's very first appearance (thankfully with no obvious p.c. tinkering; i.e., Steve is even shown smoking a pipe in one panel) make this a solid jumping on point for anyone looking for a good monthly fix of espionage, thrills, and character.

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First "real" pic from THOR film

Classic shot with Thor and Loki flanking Odin. I am so pleased to be seeing the Kirby-esque flourishes in the costuming design. I can't wait to see Asgard and all the rest of the Kirby imagery translated to the big screen. This kind of stuff makes me feel like a kid again.




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Upcoming blog? I think I'm going to ramble on about how I even got into this comic-reviewing gig in the first place. It's an odd pathway, I think, that includes my first forays into the iNterWebz, getting banned for life, trying to create my own forum, and ticking off and being cussed at by a famous artist and notorious web bully. :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Interview with SOUL STEALER's Michael Easton

Entertainment
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Michael Easton is an accomplished artist. He is an actor, a screenwriter, a poet, a director, a photographer, and more recently he has become a writer of some of the most impressive graphic novels I've ever read. Between 2008 and 2010, he and artist Christopher Shy, of Studio Ronin fame, have collaborated on a 3-volume graphic novel he calls SOUL STEALER, published by DMF Comics.

The media kit for SOUL STEALER summarizes the series: “In a universe divided by good and evil, one man has been able to sustain life for over 3000 years, driven solely by the power of undying love. Armed with the ability to bring back souls from the underworld, Kalan must now fight the most dangerous and potent forces the world has ever known, as he wanders the Earth—through the past and into the present—on his near-impossible search for Oxania.

A shocking and breathtaking journey through darkness, madness, and ultimately hope, Soul Stealer explores a vivid, remarkably unique world drawn from the deepest recesses of human imagination.”

In my review last year of the first two volumes, I described the series in this way: “There are elements of Frankenstein and Faust but also Icarus and Orpheus. Couple these elements with the grand barbaric fantasy of Robert E. Howard and bring it all into a modern apocalyptic fictional fantasy world replete with preternaturally empowered assassins and automatic firearms and you have just a superficial glimpse at what writer Michael Easton has created here. The emptiness and self-loathing that drives Kalan, is so profoundly human and relatable that the extremes of sadness, love, hate, and confusion that bombard him are felt by the reader.”

I stand by every word I wrote last year in that review of the first two volumes, SOUL STEALER and SOUL STEALER: BLOOD AND RAIN. The conclusion, SOUL STEALER: LAST TO DIE, was finally published in June and is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to this grand myth of epic poetry. Easton and Shy once again somehow reach right down into my emotional core and tap right into those archetypal elements that make this story resonate. The eternal love between Kalan and Oxania is just one part of it. The sadistic Apis Bull and the horrors of eternal life, love, and death drive the horror. Visually beautiful, this is graphic storytelling at its best. SOUL STEALER is a horror story and a love story and a mythological fairy tale and an action-packed thriller. But for me, the poetry of words and the beauty of the art are what make this story more than just another comic book.

So, today, I wanted to enter into a conversation with creator/writer Michael Easton and talk a little deeper about SOUL STEALER and pick his brain a little about this wonderful book.


Keith: I need to begin with a little bit about SOUL STEALER, from my own personal perspective....
You know how much I love this thing...

Michael: I look forward to your thoughts. I like when people have a personal reaction to it.

Keith: ...but like I said when I reviewed the first 2 volumes, it is an emotional reaction for me. I rarely feel true emotion in graphic novels. I mean sometimes I may get grossed out, or think something is really cool, or it might tickle my intellect. SOUL STEALER reaches down into my Jungian subconscious and pulls out a totally emotional response in me.

"Oxania. You are my Eden. My Eros. My Elysium. Whether I live or die. I am you. I decay in you. I grow in you. I cover the earth."

Pure poetry.

It encapsulates an eternal love in those brief words.

Michael: First off, thank you.

Someone described it as "heartbreaking" and I like that. There's a time and a place for everything and sometimes we need a little heart ache.

Keith: I agree. This work is particularly dark, gothic, and brutal....but there's a beauty of spirit that permeates. It's love, in its myriad forms, not just romantic love, that is brought to the fore in the third volume. I sense an almost Rouseauian romantic in your writing but it walks side by side with Sade's brutal carnality.

Michael: Man, you are too kind. To be mentioned in the same breath...

Keith: However, I can't help doing that because of the mythical aspect of the universal story you are telling here. It can just be a cool, superficial, apocalyptic barbarian tale...or if you let it sing to you, you will find it reaches into the archetypal realm of literature in ways that I've rarely, if ever, seen with the graphic novel as a medium (although William Blake practically created Graphic Novel-esque epic poetry with his illuminations).

Michael: I had read Jungs RED BOOK, or tried to, before writing SOUL STEALER 3. His thoughts on “synchronicity” played a subconscious part in crafting the first two books.

Keith: That's synchronicity in and of itself. This is my quote on my Facebook page: "I subscribe to what Jung calls synchronicity. Things happen in complex patterns of apparent coincidence, noticed by the keen eyes of the artist." — Camille Paglia

Michael: Damn. I wished I'd said that.

But that's what it is. Getting raw and laying it out there. That's what I love about Blake or Baudelaire.
Love truly is, in all forms for better; for worse — a form of madness.

Keith: I'm finding more and more that I see the world around me through the same prism. And I think SOUL STEALER speaks to me because of that. Which is part of why I said I wanted to talk to you a little more about the book, but also I am curious about the pathway that brought you to this project particularly?

Michael: The original idea for Kalan came out of one quote, "How far would you go to back someone you love?"

So you've got to be a little f***ed up; a little wounded to begin with, to be thinking that way.

Keith: Did you come across that quote somewhere or did it just pop into your head and germinate?

Michael: Came to me in the night. Either in a nightmare or possibly in another one of those drunken stupors.

Keith: Drunken stupors and nightmares...Mary Shelley conceived the Frankenstein Monster in a nightmare... is there a more archetypal character in literature?

Michael: My favorite movie as a kid. I love what Johhny Cash said about Frankenstein's Monster, that here was this monster made up from all these bad parts, but he's still trying to do good.

Keith: My second favorite quote (also on my FB page) is from Shelley's novel: "My main trouble was that I had no sense of humor." — Frankenstein's Monster

Michael: That one I saw. That's why we can be friends...

Keith: Speaking of friends...

Your artist on this project is Chris Shy and Peter Straub's name keeps popping up connected with you (including your upcoming Vertigo project THE GREEN WOMAN). How did you connect with these two men as a creative partner with each one...in very different contexts?

Michael: Around the time my publisher was sending me samples of artists for SOUL STEALER I found a book in a bargain bin at the old Virgin Record store in Los Angles called RONIN: THE ART OF CHRIS SHY. And I said I wanted this guy. They said, "He doesn't do comic books" and sent over more samples. Good guys. Talented. But it's like we were talking about earlier; I like all kinds of comic books but sometime they're just goofy and irreverant. I wanted this to be void of irony (tough in cynical times), and at no time could it be irreverent. So, it was my wife who said I should send him an email and I began the processes of talking him into it.

With all due respect to all the others, there isn't another artist in the world who could have captured SOUL STEALER better than Chris.

I needed to create a world in which anything is possible, and Chris creates without boundaries or limitation.

Keith: Oh I agree. This is a marriage of words and images that is poetry to look at. His use of different tonal qualities..especially the recurrence of deep purple in this third volume evokes majesty and divinity as the story comes to a conclusion. It's a fantastic book just to look at. There's action, romance, beauty, horror, and it all has real emotional impact even without the words. His depictions of hellish afterlife or pseudo-afterlife are at times gruesome yet again, his technique is so good, I can't help but be moved by them.

Michael: Every color we talked about — the texture, the tone. We talked about Bosch paintings, movies like "Ran”, plays like “Faust” and artists like Frazetta. Chris has got a motherf***er for a library in his head. And then the two big ones we bonded on: Tarkovsky (which I just submerged myself in his journals on art and film as a young writer) and Ridley Scott's "The Duellists," which was the basis for the Kalan/Apis Bull rivalry.

Keith: All those influences are there on the page, yet the work is still unique. As a general rule, I find it difficult to really "feel" an artist who paints digitally...but I find Chris to be the exception that proves that rule. I swear I can feel blood and sweat on every page...as I do with you in the writing side.

Michael: Chris has no fear. He's willing to bleed on the page with you. What more could you ask for in a creative partner?

Keith: Nothing more. It's why this works.

Michael: The biggest thing with Chris' art was to make sure to not get in the way of it. Sometimes you can make people feel the suggestion of something in just a few words, then let them sit back and absorb the images on their own...let it seep in. Allow them to be overcome...poetic but vague is the place for me.

Keith: I believe that is what makes the work, as a whole, effective. In SOUL STEALER, there are many pages with little to no actual words, but much is said in the imagery. Much that is left to the reader to interpret. This is why SOUL STEALER rises above the fray into the arena of true literature...in my mind at least...and I'll keep pushing that conclusion on anyone who's willing to listen to me.

Michael: As for Straub. Here's what it's like writing with Straub. Coleridge said the difference between a writer and a poet is the writer puts words in the right order a poet puts the right words in the right order...

Straub is a poet.

I'm trying to be the writer.

Keith: What does it mean to you...to be...a “writer”?

Michael: Kerouac wrote something that is forever etched on my soul, and I may be paraphrasing a bit: “To know nothing matters after all, to know there's no difference between rich and poor. To know eternity is neither drunk nor sober to know it young and to be a poet.”

I think my characters then are forever poisoned by this; forever under the influence of it.

Keith: The poison of Kerouac and the “Beat” generation is not necessarily a bad thing insofar as attaching more depth and personal expression to writing rather than, say, a Grisham-esque formulaic approach to having a best-seller. The works that endure are writ because the artist will burst if he or she doesn't express what is gnawing at their soul.

Michael: Irreverant right? It has it's place but in too large a dose makes everything trivial. It's all becoming disposable.

Keith: That sense of irreverancy, of the absurd, is part of the balance that makes a work of myth able to relate to the modern reader. It's not a wink but more a recognition of the absurdities of life and the situations we sometimes find ourselves in because of love...taken to the extreme in this story, of course.

Without delving too much into the waters of artistic intention and interpretive meaning, could you briefly share your thoughts on the three main characters of Kalan, Oxania, and Apis Bull and their relationships to each other? One thing I am particularly curious about is the genesis of the characters and their relationships to each other.

Michael: The origin of characters and story exist mostly in the notebooks I kept, dating back to 2000, in which I sketched out most of SOUL STEALER. Looking through these notebooks themselves is probably the best way to understand the, mostly random, thoughts I had on character, structure and the world I wanted to create.

Stylistically I was looking to create a true fusion of word and art. Thematically, meditations on death are equally about life.

Eternal love. I decay in you. I grow in you. I cover the earth.

I wrote that this is a story about love and loss. The bond of lovers, love of family, love of nature, of gods and heaven. Pain and Triumph. This is a world in which fantasy and horror coexist...gothic and brutal but grounded by wonder..."Enchanted evil." The hard line between good and evil is easily breached.

In this story, nothing is as it appears. Use Masks, armor, deformities to hide characters true self then reveal them later to be the least of what the reader expected.

The storyteller as manipulator.

The characters of Kalan and Apis Bull are two-sides of the same: Apis Bull is a monster outside. Kalan is the monster within.

Kalan begins as a hero, arrogant and brave. A leader of men. He is reduced to an outcast, a loner, living in his own head. Existing in shadows, paranoid and mad; he is haunted by demons he can never defeat.

He is made up of many pieces. He represents the good in us trying to control the desires within.

Apis Bull is deformed, orphaned, and fed upon by animals. He is born into pain. He will rise to become leader of his people. the nomads and Freaks.

He represents Kalan's opposite. The reader does not have to sympathize with Apis Bull, just understand him. Ask yourself, if given the circumstance would you be any different?

Oxania is the woman that haunts your dreams – the wild and the unattainable. She is sometimes beautiful, sometimes corrupted beauty. She knows you; you never know her.

She will become the assassin.

Altimus is the accomplice, the sidekick, who becomes the leader of the band. He is a Rock Star. Joe Strummer.

Not sure if that helps but perhaps it gives some insight into SOUL STEALER origins...

Keith: And finally, what's Michael Easton got coming up in the way of comics and graphic novels?

Michael: With regard to the future, THE GREEN WOMAN is to be released in October by DC/Vertigo and is available right now for pre-order on Amazon. We are humbled by early reviews (Robert Rodriguez on THE GREEN WOMAN: "John Boltion is a god and Straub and Easton write about evil like it was their own invention").

I'm currently working on a freelance project called CREDENCE. (Detective Danny Credence has a gold shield and some dubious morals. An insolent man in a profane society, the madness doesn’t stop when he walks out the precinct doors.) It's a bit of inspired, politically incorrect madness. Completely twisted but raw and strangely beautiful. Sam Peckinpah would like it.

Keith: I've read an advance copy of THE GREEN WOMAN and I agree with Rodriguez's assessment. Again, thank you Michael for being so open and willing to share your thoughts on not just SOUL STEALER, but art and writing in general. This work is something to be proud of and I'm glad I can be a voice out there to encourage more people to give it a shot and read it...and experience it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Blog: MS. BIGFOOT & THE CRYPTIDS

Entertainment
I make no pretense to being important enough to "blog" on any topic that might interest anyone else, but I'm feeling the need to write even if it is just for myself.

So, to get this blog up and running, I'm going to start what I hope will be a frequent topic and that is to post a graphic novel concept I've had percolating in my head for awhile.

MS. BIGFOOT & THE CRYPTIDS is, in my mind, an action-oriented, fun adventure story for juveniles to adults to enjoy that also teaches a little basic science and critical thinking.

This is the basic concept:

A team of freelance adventurers/monster hunters. funded and housed by a mysterious Dr. Mothman, whom they've never met of face-to-face before and, of course, has a hidden agenda/real reason for gathering this group together. Stated purpose is to go out and either disprove or attempt to recruit from new reports of Cryptid sightings.

MS. BIGFOOT
-- a female apelike creature from the upper northwest. Educated, feminine, and tough. The natural leader of the group.

SKUNK APE
-- a male, apelike creature from the deep South around the Carolinas. Uneducated, not too bright but very strong and agile, speaks with a drawl and an unfortunately pungent body odor.

OGOPOGO
-- a male bipedal creature from the Northeast with a reptilian/amphibious look to him. Can transform, though, into a full-on huge sea serpent/dragon form.

EL CHUPACABRA
-- a male bipedal creature from the lower southwest/mexican border with a canine look to him. Think of him as a Were-Coyote.

THUNDERBIRD
-- a female bipedal creature from the Midwest. Appears like a normal Native-American woman except for the colorful and huge feathered wings she sports.

An added visual possibility of the JERSEY DEVIL which is a winged horse creature. I could see that as a useful addition as well.

I haven't fleshed it out much beyond this basic info, but I could see this as a stand-alone story or an ongoing series of stories.