Monday, November 19, 2012

Artworm (also known as Here Comes....Power Girl)

Entertainment
This piece is a moment in which you get a peek inside my mind.  For as long as I can remember, I would occasionally read a book and get a need to draw a character or scene from the book stuck in my head like getting "Funkytown" stuck in my head as an earworm.  Even if the piece stunk and got tossed in the trash, I still would have to put it down on paper before I could get it out of my head.  This still happens to me, but I can't always nail it down to the reading of a book.  Now, I tend to get these ideas that appear in my brain and gnaw at me until I get a chance to translate it from thought to physical existence.  This is why I have a ton of random drawings and character designs taking up space in drawers and folders in my home.

Well, this is one of these things.  I came across a cosplayer photo online one day.  It was a nice looking lady dressed as Supergirl.  Yet, when I looked at her I thought her expression and body reminded me more of Power Girl way back in the 70s.  For those who don't know (or remember), back in the early '70s, in the DC Comics line, there existed a comic book called ALL-STAR COMICS that focused on a parallel Earth called "Earth 2." On this Earth 2, this was where the original Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman from the '40s existed and by the 1970s had aged towards retirement.  In that continuity, Batman was about to retire and Bruce Wayne was going to become Commissioner of Gotham City. Robin was an adult (with an updated costume) and Bruce Wayne's adult daughter had taken up the mantle of defender of Gotham as, The Huntress.  In this continuity, there had never been a Supergirl, but one day the middle-aged Superman (with gray temples indicating his age) introduced to the world, his super-powered younger cousin who would be known as Power Girl.

So, the next thing my brain did was began fixating on a "What If?" kind of scenario in which the television actors who had embodied Superman, Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman in the '60s and '70s would be the personifications of those Earth 2 versions of the characters.  So, I did some Googling for official posed photos of those actors. I tweaked the costumes as necessary to match the Earth 2 versions.  Then I took the Supergirl cosplayer and gave her a haircut and a new costume and...voila.

I have a group shot imagining the Earth 2 Superman (George Reeves) introducing his cousing, Power Girl to Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), Batman (Adam West), Robin (Burt Ward), and Huntress (Yvonne Craig).

Now that I've drawn it, it's out of my head and I can relax now.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Interview with Artist Chris Shy about THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD

Entertainment
As Prof. Challenger for AICN COMICS, I recently interviewed artist Chris Shy about his new graphic novel, THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD.  I am cross-blogging it here for those who follow my blog and don't follow AICN.  Enjoy!

THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD is a collaboration of ShadowCatcher Entertainment and Black Watch Comics written by screenwriter Dave Hunsaker and illustrated by Christopher Shy. They debuted the book at the 2012 New York City Comic-Con where it was a complete sell-out of available copies that weekend.

It is described by the publishers as “a bold, alternative journey into the mind and life of legendary later 19th and early 20th century photographer/filmmaker Edward Curtis and his lifelong fascination — some would say obsession — with the Indians of North America and, especially, the hidden aspects of their spirituality.”

Thus, it is both biography of a controversial historical figure but also a fictional exploration of those aspects of his journey that are not known in great detail.

The key players are Curtis, his adolescent daughter Beth, his best friend George Hunt, and most importantly the Kwakiutl Indians. The graphic novel follows them deep into the foreboding woods of Vancouver Island where they become immersed in the culture of the Kwakiutl and attempt to capture on film the dark ceremonies and cannibalistic rituals that are continuing to be practiced in defiance of the law.

Chris Shy is a painter of comics/graphic novels. He founded Studio Ronin and has completed a number of works for the both the comics field and for Hollywood. He has painted graphic novels such as SILENT LEAVES and SOUL STEALER on the independent side and produced striking covers for Marvel Comics and others. For Hollywood he has created production designs and artwork for films such as FRIDAY THE 13TH, CONAN, and PATHFINDER. When not producing graphic novels or engaged in a film production, he also finds time to maintain a following as a fine artist as well with gallery shows.

Now, on to the questions.

ME: Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and the AICN readers about THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD. Talk to me a little about the genesis of this project. Did writer, Dave Hunsaker, come to you with the idea ready to go or was this something you two developed mutually?

CHRIS SHY: I met Dave Hunsaker through a mutual friend, Sean Davis. Dave needed concept art for a screenplay he had written to visualize a pitch on that project. The Curtis project came up later, as a general discussion. I think our shared passion for Curtis bore out the concept of me adapting the screenplay. I met the producer on the project, David Skinner, of ShadowCatcher Entertainment, whom Dave had written the screenplay for. As in anything, once you really like the people, you find a way to work together.

ME: Can you tell me a little about the relationship between your Blackwatch Comics and the film company, Shadowcatcher Entertainment? Did this project begin as a failed film project or, rather, is the graphic novel a likely basis for a future film production?

CHRIS: Well, it all starts with Studio Ronin. BlackWatch Comics was an outgrowth of Studio Ronin becoming too big for one studio to handle. I founded Studio Ronin in 1996, to publish art books, and do design. Ronin now handles mostly the film and concept side of things. They build special effects models, concept design, the bread and butter of pre-prep on any project I do.

Michael Easton and I founded BlackWatch Comics seven years ago as a way to concentrate very carefully on the publishing side of the graphic novels, during SOUL STEALER. Michael and I had a very specific idea on how we wanted to do those books, and we knew the only way was to simply do these ourselves. We hired a team, recruited some of the best folks out there, and started publishing our own books. When we decided to go forward with THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD, for ShadowCatcher, a big discussion was would we shop the book for distribution.

In the end, we decided full creative control was what we all wanted, and to do that, BlackWatch Comics would publish and ShadowCatcher Entertainment would be our partner in that endeavor. The screenplay was never a failed film project. I think a story of this scope was something of a passion project for David Skinner and Dave Hunsaker, and knowing that this was a bit off the beaten path, adapting this as a graphic, evolving it to another stage first, was going to allow it to take on a fuller life, and breath, rather than just sending it out into the wild.

As far as I know, THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD was kept pretty close to the vest, before I was approached to adapt it. I think we would all love to see it evolve as a feature, but at this stage, we are all very proud of this book, and what we were able to achieve with it.

ME: I'm curious about your familiarity going into it regarding Edward Curtis and the history of the Native American cultures he was instrumental in recording for history. Was he or his work something that already fascinated you or did you have to dig into something new for you?



Edward Curtis
Self-Portrait circa 1889
CHRIS: I would say I have been fairly obsessed with Curtis since I was a kid. I had a few books with his photos, given to me by my Grandfather. Growing up in Kentucky, exploring the forests there, camping, I felt a kinship with Curtis and the time he spent in the unknown. I carried my cameras and water colors into the forest, up the side of cliffs, and imagined carrying this giant camera with boxes of glass plates, trying to record a way of life that was rapidly disappearing. My great Grandmother was Native American, and we as a family knew very little of her, or her heritage, so I understood and felt Curtis frustrations, or not knowing, of seeing a generation watch as things changed, and disappeared, and no one bothered to try and document any of it.. I think in the end, the body of work he left behind is a treasure. It both illuminates and haunts us, it informs and yet each photo leaves behind so many questions about the people he photographed.

ME: What type of research did you need to do for the visual side of this project? Are you going more with your imagination or are you trying to ground your fantastic imagery with a grounding in reality?

CHRIS: If we look at this story at the beginning, Dave Hunsaker and David Skinner had been hip deep in this for quite a while. Their attention to detail was amazing. I would describe my involvement as the last member of an expedition to show up on the dock before the boat left. I had a general knowledge of Curtis, but knew very little of the Kwakiutl, or their existence in British Columbia. To that end, one of first things we did, as a group, was travel, and see the actual locations that Curtis did his work on. We shot location photos in Seattle, at pioneer square, visited the Flurry Gallery, to examine original volumes of Curtis’ photographs, and all of the wonderful large size reproductions and prints of his work, in detail. David Skinner owns a set of Curtis’s 20-volume book set “The North American Indian,” so I was able to look and study some of the volumes in great detail. A true experience.

We traveled to Vancouver Island, and I shot reference, and took extensive notes. We visited the remains of Fort Rupert, the site of a former Hudson's Bay Company fort which was built in 1849, near present-day Port Hard. Vancouver Island was where Curtis spent most of his time, and shot most of his film In “The Land Of The HeadHunters.” So, to stand on those spots, visit the remains, it was very profound. To hold a camera in my hand and take those photos, in the same spots Curtis had taken his, I understood a small amount of what he must have went through, and endured. Some of these places are not easy to get to, standing on banks, and beaches, looking at ancient Pictographs curved in to the stones, this was truly the end of the known world for some of them, and I began to understand why Curtis traveled there. It truly is a beautiful place.

From there we traveled further north, to Cormorant Island, to the village of Alert Bay, and visited several Kwakwaka'wakw sacred spots, including a First Nation burial ground. The Kwakwaka'wakw play such an important role in the Curtis story. His best friend George Hunt was Kwakwaka'wakw, and Hunts struggled within the Kwakwaka'wakw community. The role of the British government, taking Kwakwaka'wakw artifacts the at the time, and the Kwakwaka'wakw’s struggle to get those artifacts back, and retain their identity. In all of this we have Curtis’ obsession with The-Cannibal-At-The-End-Of-The-World myth. I wanted to get as many photos relating to those events as I could. I want stress we never used anything exactly as we saw it, out of respect for the Kwakwaka'wakw. They lost so much, and fought very hard to get their heritage back, I didn’t want to present anything as it was found, to take advantage of that history, or try and present it as exact, which would have been impossible. So I went about immersing myself in their artist style, to try and understand how they would have drawn certain sections of this. The artifacts housed in the cultural center helped immensely fill in any gaps.

Illustrating this was one of hardest things I have ever undertaken; I was completely exhausted at the end of this book.

ME: That’s intense. So, given all that research for authenticity and understanding, to what extent is the story itself based on real events or is it essentially wholly sprung from the imagination but featuring characters from real-life?

CHRIS: It is certainly based in some small part on his life, and where he went, and the relationships we know he had. As to conversations he may have had, we can only speculate. There is precious little we know about the time he shot his film at Fort Rupert. We have the film, we have some documentation, and we know the outcome of his life, his career in ruins. The fiction comes in when we try and speculate on what may have happened in those gaps at Fort Rupert, and certainly I would call this historically based fiction. I would not call it something in the vain of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. The events Dave Hunsaker wrote about, no way claim this was what happened to Edward Curtis during that specific time, but the story is woven very tightly around what we do know, and we immersed ourselves in Curtis’ life to try and have those conversations in our own heads that Curtis, and his daughter Beth, and Hunt may have had, based on that.

As for The-Cannibal-At-The-End-Of-The-World myth, that’s all based on the myth, and our speculation, and thus fiction. What would a man do when faced with a giant Raven God? Again, fiction, but based on what we know of Curtis, and his obsessive nature, it’s safe to say he would take that journey I am sure.

ME: Curtis came under criticism during his life and afterward. Is this going to deal directly with any of those more controversial aspects or leave that to the historians?

CHRIS: I have my own opinions, but leave that debate to the historians. Our book touches on that only lightly.

ME: The sample images are darkly foreboding with a true sense of horror. Is that the tone you set out for on purpose, or did it evolve organically as you started visually putting it together?

CHRIS: I knew from the beginning how I wanted to approach the book, and then that promptly vanished after our research trip. I took it one page at a time. I did plan the overall tonal shift as Curtis went from Arizona to British Columbia, but after that, I found myself very much in uncharted territory. I worked very long hours, and at times I had it, at other times, I felt I was chasing what I wanted, and it was always just out of reach.

ME: What philosophical and emotional themes are you examining?

CHRIS: Man against nature?

Man against man?

Certainly, it was man against himself.

There were scenes where Curtis seemed almost doomed to me, his quest not unlike a search for the mythical Holy Grail. Madness, the quest of a truth, and the obsession of understanding what came before the modern, what shaped us into the species we are now. When Curtis descends under the waterfall, to the bottom of the lake in the Hamatsa initiation, is this Dante? Is this penitence? In the Greek Mysteries, initiation connoted not a "beginning" (initia), but the opposite: "finishing." In this part of the story, Curtis was facing darkness, a final truth, The-Cannibal-At-The-End-Of-The-World. That for me, was our ancestral truth, the horror we overcame to become what we are now. Under that water Curtis would face The Ancestors.

ME: How long have you actually been working on it?

CHRIS: I think, from beginning to end, almost two years. If you count the publishing side,the principle art took a year. I think my original estimate was 6 to 8 months.

ME: Just because I’m always curious about how each artist approaches putting pen or paint to paper, can you describe your medium and technique a little bit -- give the readers insight into how Chris Shy works when he takes a blank canvas and builds a world?

CHRIS: Every book is different. I use tempura, watercolor, and photography. I print some things out, then over paint, then scan them, and over paint again. For some of the scenes in this, I used a certain shot that Curtis took, but used it for the middle, and painted everything outside of it, the unseen background. I wanted to bring him to life. Beth, his daughter, I loved painting. I only had one good photo of her. I kept one of Beth, and a Curtis photo of an Apache girl from 1903 on my desk during the project. I often blended the two together for my work on Beth.

ME: Do you block and pace the story before you start ruminating on what designs, colors, and textures will best serve the story?

CHRIS: I read and thumbnail pages as I go. I read it several times, sketching each page out very small. Pacing is very important. I don’t concern myself with page count. It takes what it will take to do it right. If a project is 96 written pages, I let the story unwind according to how long I feel it must be. Certain things need to be uncompressed. It’s one of few precious things we can still do in this medium. Let it be. Just let it become what it must.

ME: Your painting and storytelling style are evocative of a strong synthesis of fine art with graphic storytelling. That's such a truly rare fusion. Graphic storytelling, as a commercial art, has tended to be driven more by pragmatic art techniques mainly to increase speed and reproduction. The advent of the modern notion of graphic novels as literature and a business that has come to embrace more time-consuming and expensive mediums and techniques has laid the groundwork for someone like you to create beautiful and haunting works of art that also tell stories. Is it more your heart to touch emotions through painted imagery or through the flow of your unique way of storytelling? Or do you see this as an impossible separation?

CHRIS: It’s impossible to separate it. I have always been a Comic Book artist. I was doing comics when I was 8. It has been, and always will be my true love. The story pushes you into creation of a world, and the art brings it into focus, and it is the force of creating every scene, based off that story, has always made me a better artist, and storyteller I do fine art, gallery work, but all that comes from doing graphic novels. I have never done monthlies, I search out complete stories, and paint them from beginning to end.

For me, it’s the only way. I think they call us “Graphic Novelist” now, but I was always proud of just being a comic book artist. It’s a unique job, a tough job, and not a job easily explained to anyone outside of those who do it. I have completed 14 books, and I have immersed myself in each one of them. Approached each with no rules based on previous work, or experience. I may have a style, but I always try and shake it on each one. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I fail, I have a marvelous team I work with, who bust me if my panel structure gets too confusing, or my art gets a bit abstract.

My production manager, Emmelee Pearson, Editor Kevin Stein, I depend on them. If something gets too esoteric, if it isn’t smooth they gut me like a fish. I need that. Two hundred and fifty pages into a book, is like Alice slipping down the rabbit whole. Each book is a war, a struggle, and a unique level of abstract thinking. My team keeps me sane.

ME: When do you know you are done?

CHRIS: It’s never done, in my opinion, but I am very good at knowing how long it’s going to take, to get those pages completed. I try and build in a month or so for polish, and as I have said I thumbnail, essential for coming in on deadline.

ME: Do you find yourself going back to the work and tweaking it or are you easily able to step away and move on to the next thing?

CHRIS: Yes, I do spend about a month going page to page, doing my own art changes. Then I invite my team to read through and tell me where I went off the rails. I always do a certain amount of concept art. I can always tell when a book has been a tough ride, based on how many pieces I have had to do to work out a sequence. THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD took hundreds.

Once a book is done, I try and move on to something completely different. I usually can switch gears pretty fast. I like to take a month or so off between each book, if possible.

ME: What is your involvement on the actual design and production of the printed version of the book itself? I know some artists, just hand it off and wait. Are you involved in the technical side of production as well?

CHRIS: Yes, from the very beginning, back in the 1990’s Studio Ronin began handling the layout and production of all of our books, and this was no exception. I have a very precise idea of how I want a book laid out. I like to ease into a story a certain way, and ease out. I open, and close a story with as many pages as I feel necessary for this to stand on its own. I don’t like house ads, I like the credits to be presented a certain way, I like everyone working on a book to get their credit. I have fought some very bloody battles for Studio Ronin and BlackWatch to get the credit they deserve. It’s a team that has been working together for a long time. We think the same, argue the same, and are very truthful and caring about what we do. For us, this is making the best novel we can, a film on paper, when adapting a script. This is our life’s work.

ME: The aspects of your art that resonate with me is that it always moves me emotionally but also there are marks of intelligence in all of it -- something almost archetypal or mythological -- whether it is based in familiar reality or drawn from the suppressed imaginations of our nightmares. Not every artist is able to combine the intangibles of intelligence and emotion in each image. Is this planned on your part or just something that happens without your conscious knowledge?

CHRIS: I am always aware of it. I have always been fascinated by myths, the beginnings of man, the rites of passage, and rituals, the countless stories of The Dying God, Indian Culture. These are the great heritage of everything that came before us, and the basis for all of our ability to Story Tell. Isis, Osiris, Demeter and Persephone, Moses, Christ.. Every character is abandoned, a reluctant king, a Dying God, a Sacrificial Hero. In my mind, Curtis was yet another, who sacrificed something for those he loved. Elements of Christ, elements of Ananke, obsession, all stories are told and retold. The Devil is in the details. Dave Hunsaker wrote an amazing story. David Skinner gave me the freedom to approach it the way I wanted. They worked long before me, on this, and I worked very hard to find things in this they had not found.

ME: What’s next for Chris Shy?

CHRIS: I just finished another novel set in the DEADSPACE Universe, loved doing that, and just returned from a place called Madeline Island for a new trilogy I am working on called I SLEEP IN STONE.

ME: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me, my friend. I look forward to talking to you again, soon. Readers can find out more about THE NORTH END OF THE WORLD at  www.thenorthendoftheworld.com, at www.blackwatchcomics.com, and or order a copy directly at www.artemisperfecteditions.com/thenorthendoftheworld.html.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Laura Siegel's Open Letter Re: DC's Strong Arm Legal Tactics

Entertainment
The Siegel vs. DC Comics legal battle is one I've followed since the beginning.  I've written about it more than once on this blog. I wrote about it back in law school around the time that the Siegels first filed their VALID Termination of Transfer of Copyright.  I have been on their side in this affair, even while recognizing that they were likely fighting a losing battle.  However, as with any ongoing litigation with back-and-forth suits and counter-suits and cross-claims and more, there were facts which the public has not been aware.  Worse, there have apparently been potentially libelous, outright lies, thefts, breaches of confidences, and more also being spread throughout the various media outlets.

This is not uncommon in a case like this that is worth untold billions of dollars in the long run.  There is a reason why corporate hack attorneys like those working for Warner Brothers on this case get the salaries they get -- they win.  And they will screw anyone over to be the one who wins it.  So, I stand guilty of allowing myself to get caught up in their lies and buy into the info they have quietly spread around for years and now recently quite blatantly (after poisoning the well out there) concerning the Siegel's attorney Marc Toberoff.

I admit, I should never have believed the Corporate snakes who characterized him as a hustler out there trying to wrest a controlling interest over the Superman copyright from the Siegels and advising them against accepting reasonable settlement offers.

Now that Jerry and Joanne Siegel's daughter, Laura, is speaking out publicly, we have a voice out there that is real and not buried under corporate double-speak obfuscation.  We now know what has really been going on, and we know that it is flat-out untrue that (1) the settlement offer was reasonable, and (2) that Toberoff was the reason for the rejection.  In fact, the settlement offer was rejected before Toberoff was involved in the case.

The only thing apparently true in terms of the Warner Bros characterization of Toberoff over the years is that he is working this case on a contingency.  The reality is that nobody other than an equally Brobdingnagian corporation would be able to financially mount a challenge like this unless it was on a contingency.  WB has already spent tens of millions of dollars and I am sure they are prepared to spend tens of millions more because the fear of losing billions (and a stream of pink notices for their staff lawyers) is more terrifying to them than burning in Hell for eternity.

I know one thing for sure, I trust the words of the "real" people involved in a case anytime over the measured and controlled automatons in suits and ties that scurry out of the Corporate antpile.  I trust them less than politicians.

Below is Laura's letter in full and without edit.





Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In Memory of Joe Kubert (1926-2012)

Entertainment



Comic book artist Joe Kubert, aged 85, passed away on August 12, 2012 from multiple myeloma (a cancer that starts in the plasma cells in bone marrow). His influence upon comic books and comic book artists is incalculable. This man, the immigrant son of Polish butcher, worked on his first comic book at age 12 when he was assigned a rush job to ink some pages for cartoonist Bob Montana (who 4 years later would introduce the world to Archie Andrews and the whole Riverdale gang).

At 16, and still in high school at Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, Kubert was working professionally on comics such as Blue Beetle and Will Eisner's The Spirit. He never stopped drawing; even working on the NITE OWL mini-series recently while in the hospital. The list of comic book characters he has laid down pencil, brush strokes, or color would be easier done by listing those characters he has not worked on. If I were to list the Top 5 characters most personally associated with Kubert, I would list them as SGT. ROCK, HAWKMAN, TARZAN, TOR, and RAGMAN.

While many of the great artists of the comic book world have indeed influenced other artists, probably none moreso than Kubert in terms of practical and actual influence. Kirby, Ditko, Wood, and the like surely inspired many young kids to become cartoonists themselves but Kubert took that to a whole different level in the 1960s when he started an eponymous school of cartooning in Dover, New Jersey. While Kubert was inspiring readers through his comics, he was also training generations of cartoonists and illustrators and providing actual opportunities for them to make those all-important industry connections and learn the techniques that separate the amateurs from the professionals. The school has grown in size and influence and truly became widely respected within not just the comic book industry for the quality of its attendees and graduates.

It is one of my greatest personal regrets that I was never able to work it out to to get there. I actually did pursue it back around 1990 or so. However, being married and working here in Texas, it just was not something I could work out financially to pull off. Kubert's work is unique. If you've ever seen a Joe Kubert comic book, you know it. He is an artist like Jack Kirby in that way. There is no mistaking a Kirby comic and there is no mistaking a Kubert comic. Kubert is a master at forming figures and scenes with his feathery brush strokes. No thick outlining. No perfectly straight lines. His work is always in motion -- a fluid motion. This is why his work on Tarzan is so seminal. Tarzan is a primal character and Kubert's art is primal. His war books (not just Sgt. Rock stories) were solid pieces, once again primal in their approach, and yet he could zero right in on just an expression or a look in a character's eye and flood the reader with an emotional reaction. The man always knew the best and most dramatic approach to telling a story through those 4, 6, or 8 panels per page.

My first conscious exposure to Kubert's work (although I had seen it before but was too young to take note of it) was during the infamous DC Explosion of the 1970s in an odd comic called RAGMAN. I remember nothing of the writing. All I remember is the moody and creepy atmosphere of the art. I remember that wild and weird costume made up of rags and tatters. And I remember taking note of that name "Joe Kubert" and seeking him out from then on. For a long time, the only work I could get from him was either old reprints or the incredible cover art he provided for series such as ALL-STAR SQUADRON. There was a multi-issue crossover between the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and the ALL-STAR SQUADRON one time and the JLA covers were by George Perez and the ALL-STAR covers were by Joe Kubert. Making me choose which I "like" better would be a Sophie's Choice even though there are probably not two drawing styles more dissimilar than Perez and Kubert.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Kubert. I always wanted to. I don't think I've ever seen a picture of him not smiling. By all accounts, I have never heard a "bad" Joe Kubert story. Kubert's legacy appears to me to be a life well-lived, a career well-earned, children well-raised, and an influence that will perpetuate both through the lives of his children and their children and their children's children but also through each and every cartoonist and illustrator who has ever been touched by his life and his work.

Kubert was married for 57 years and his wife, Muriel, died in 2008. He is survived by his five children, sons Adam, Andy, David, Danny, and daughter Lisa; 12 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Most comic fans are aware of Adam and Andy Kubert who are successful and popular comic book artists in their own right.

While I and many others are sad to have lost this man and any future work he might have still had in him, this is a moment to celebrate what he gave to me and to the world and what is still to come that is inspired by him.

Peace and rest in the bosom of Abraham.

*Originally published for AICN @  http://www.aintitcool.com/node/57625 

Friday, August 10, 2012

I'm hosting a screening of IRON SKY in Austin on Aug. 28! Come Join Me!

Entertainment
Don't miss this @Tugginc screening of Iron Sky

Iron Sky

Tuesday, August 28, 7:30pm - 9:23pm
in Austin, TX 
@

Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek 

Tickets $10.00

I need 44 people in the Austin Metro area to  agree to go and reserve their tickets at this link for this screening to happen.  I'll be your host for this evening of total Geekauchery as we sit back and watch Nazis from the Moon attack Earth in all their modern B-Movie Glory!

Rated R for language and bloody violence!

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Monday, July 16, 2012

New Book Announcement: WORLDS OF PJF 3: PORTRAITS OF A TRICKSTER

Entertainment
Just completed work on designing the cover for THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER VOL. 3: PORTRAITS OF A TRICKSTER.  The book is a grand collection of works exploring and expanding upon Phil's many playful pseudonymous identities as author.  



Look below to see the recent web announcement by the guys at Meteor House Press (publishers of the book). The next FARMERCON is in Columbus, Ohio in August and is the perfect place for fans of Phil to get their copies of this (and earlier) volumes signed by many of the contributors.  

Get The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 3 Signed!
Great news Farmer fans and book collectors!Since there will be at least four contributors toThe Worlds of Philip José Farmer 3 in Columbus OH, on August 9 -12 for FarmerCon VII, we are having a mass book signing. We did this with volume 1 back in 2010. While it was a bit of a logistical nightmare hauling the books cross country to get four people to sign about one hundred copies, so many people have asked if we are doing this for volume 3, we have decided it is worth the effort. Looking back now, we’re certainly glad we did it with volume 1.
As of today editor Michael Croteau, along with writers Win Scott Eckert, Rick Lai, and Heidi Ruby Miller will be on hand to sign as many copies as needed. Other contributors have been contacted to see if they can make the trip to FarmerCon and join the fun, so there could be more than four signatures.
There is no charge to get your book signed. If you want your copy signed, simply place a note saying “please have my book signed” when you order through paypal. However, you must order no later than August 6th.
If you have already ordered, simply email sales @ meteorhousepress.com and ask for your copy to be signed.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Should Christians Vote for a Mormon President?

Entertainment
I don't want to bog down my fun little blog here with a dissertation on politics, but some of my readers might be interested in what I have to say on this issue.  If so, then click below to take you to my other blog where I tackle the complicated issue of Whether Christians Should Vote for a Mormon President by responding to a recent article by Christian apologetics expert Dr. Norman Geisler.

When the World Screamed
SATURDAY, JULY 14, 2012

Should A "Christian" Vote for a "Mormon" President? (A Response to Dr. Norman Geisler)
Recently, Christian author and apologetics expert Norman Geisler published an opinion piece entitled "Should An Evangelical Vote For a Mormon President?".  You can read the full text here.
As a Christian, I feel the need to respond to Geisler's article in depth and this is as good a place as any to do so.
Before I get to Geisler's writing and my responses, let me set forth a few principles that guide me in my analysis and opinion regarding the upcoming presidential elections.  First and foremost, religious beliefs of the candidate are just one of many considerations that I use in determining who to vote for.  The most important thing to me is a demonstrated commitment to principles of limited government, free enterprise, individual free will, freedom of speech, press, and religion.  After that, I want to see whether the candidate demonstrates a proven ability to lead and a commitment to a morality base that I can generally agree with.  Finally, do I trust and respect the candidate -- an entirely subjective and intuitive rationale...TO READ MORE CLICK HERE


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: LoEG CENTURY: 2009

Entertainment



LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN

CENTURY: 2009 #1

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O'Neill
Publishers: Top Shelf Productions & Knockabout

“I rocked the fretful baby gods to sleep before time started...and I am companion to the women who paste up the stars. The quarters of the world are bound unto my compass. I have taken tea with earthquakes. I know what the bee knows...and you really are a dreadful little boy.” -- Mary Poppins/Prospero/God to Harry Potter/Anti-Christ

For those of you who thought the previous CENTURY volumes were confusing or meandering, well...there was purpose to the madness. CENTURY is brilliantly wrapped up with the 2009 volume which brings the literary world of fiction into the Apocalypse -- the final battle between the Anti-Christ and God (as embodied by Harry Potter and Mary Poppins).

The genius of Alan Moore's insanity is how such a complicated story can gestate within his mind and be perfectly executed when visualized by Kevin O'Neill, whose art simply sings on this project. The game of spotting the literary and entertainment cameos and references is still there and can make rereading the series more fun as you dig in and try to track down the various things you didn't spot before. However, now that the series has concluded, I went back and reread the whole thing (including THE BLACK DOSSIER) and realized just how well-planned and executed this project has been. There are so many foreshadowed thematic and plot elements in 1910 that it took reading the conclusion to realize -- and not the least of these is the blistering satirical criticism of the advent of literature as franchising. James Bond and Harry Potter come under the most wicked commentaries here; most especially by Moore's indulgent incarnation of the Anti-Christ as that wretched, unlikeable, little boy from the Harry Potter series.
 
Moore's patented use of symbolism is strongly in place here as he takes the strong phallic elements that permeate J.K. Rowling's popular series – most notably in terms of the “wand” as phallic symbol – and he actually literalizes it. His use of the Blazing World and the whole 3D glasses visual established in THE BLACK DOSSIER sets such an interesting visual for me in reading it. How do you identify “God” as a character when he/she can take any form? Look for the tell-tale green/red 3D glasses. It's so simple. I wonder if Moore is even aware of all the various ways this can be used as a symbol like that. I'm thinking about the “magic sunglasses” that Joseph Smith claimed to use to be able to read the golden plates containing the Book of Mormon for an example.  



As recognized by writer Tom Jordan on the 2009 Annotations website, this story is about Orlando's symbolic redemption. And, by the way, Orlando wields Excalibur – yet another great phallic symbol of literature and representation of both the life and death of Camelot, itself a Heaven analog like The Blazing World.

 I've tried to figure out why so many have been increasingly critical of Moore's LoEG series basically starting with THE BLACK DOSSIER and I don't want to kneejerk it as claiming people aren't smart enough to “get” it. That's not the case. There are plenty of genius works out there that find an audience and near universal acclaim. I am going to go out on a limb and say that LoEG is a perfect reflection of Moore's emotional state at the point that he is writing them. As such, the first two LoEG series are grand adventures that are an intellectual and literary playground. Beginning with THE BLACK DOSSIER and now fully realized in CENTURY, is Moore the jaded and grumpy critic. 


Moore is still playing in the playground of fictionality but now he is filtering his storytelling through an increasingly dark and angry prism. He is angry at the business of literature in all its forms. He is angry about the business of mass media – the business of franchising – the business of literature merely as licensing and lowest common denominator appeal. CENTURY is Moore's lament on what has been lost because of the business of literature. We have lost that sense of joy and freedom, that sense of individual vision, that unified knowledge of our past, present, and future through literature that glorifies the human spirit and presents mankind as good and not depraved. The destruction of civilization in the world of the LoEG has followed the same path as literature itself as modernism and post-modernism and deconstructionism and dystopian post-apocalyptian themes have supplanted what came before. This is the world ripe for the Apocalypse of The Book of Revelation and personified by Harry Potter as Anti-Christ.

I think this negative spiral  and its accompanying angry tone and spirit have weighted down his approach in this series and caused Moore's audience to disconnect from him. Comic book readers by-and-large are looking for escapism, and Moore's CENTURY series requires one to see through the darkeness and anger to recognize both the sharp-witted humorous criticism in the satire but also that spark of hope. Moore is taking his readers to the precipice in 2009 just so he can offer redemption to all.

Moore is saying to his readers with 2009 that the future does not have to be bleak. It can be bright. It's okay to be angry but just grousing about it does no good. 2009 is a challenge to all creators of fiction to recapture literature back from the arms of the lawyers and the corporations.

CENTURY 2009 is a triumph of individualism in creation and in literature and I found it brilliant.



Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

Entertainment
In Memoriam of Ray Bradbury who passed away this morning, I'm reblogging my own blog from last year that posted a 1963 video profile of a young Bradbury.

It is so good and is a great reminder of his impact as a writer in our lifetimes. Intelligent Designs: Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer: RAY BRADBURY: STORY OF A WRITER This 1/2 hour film is from 1963 and was originally aired on television.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

So What's All THIS About Green Lantern Being Gay? Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...

Entertainment
Alan scott-ross.jpg

Well, this whole thing was a big hullabaloo about nuthin'.  I made a prediction in my last blog entry, based on the words coming from the DC Comics publicity machine that a "male" character who is a "major icon" was going to be reinvented as "gay" for the New 52-verse wherein DC rebooted their entire comics universe of comic books in September 2011.  Where my guess was "The Atom" as the closest thing to a "male" who's a "major icon" who had not been already established in the New 52-verse as straight.  Even then I felt I was stretching the "major" aspect of those clues with the Atom, but he has been a member of the Justice League since issue #14 of the series way back to the '60s.  He also appeared in the SUPER FRIENDS  a few times in the 70s and on the more recent JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon series.  As the premiere size-changing super-hero of the Justice League, he's pretty iconic.  Major?  Well....I was giving DC grace on that.  As a secondary guess, if DC had a different concept of "major icon" than I, then I found myself gravitating towards Capt. Atom -- although, a much bigger stretch, I kind of thought DC might see the archetypal inspiration for WATCHMEN'S Dr. Manhattan as "iconic."

I was wrong on all counts.  DC comics editorial and publicity machine have an entirely different concept of what constitutes a "major icon."  I'm tempted to just laugh because it's really kind of ridiculous.  Get ready....in case you haven't seen the network news coverage from CNN (owned by the same company that owns DC Comics, natch) -- it is......GREEN LANTERN!
Oh my god! Green Lantern? Really?

No.


Not really.


Well....not who you think they mean.

What only serious comic books geeks already knew (until last summer probably), the Green Lantern isn't just one character, he is a bunch of characters.  The recent Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds introduced to the masses the concept of the Green Lantern Corps, plus a couple of fully-animated DVD features, and currently airing cartoon series.  These all feature the character of test pilot, Hal Jordan, as the iconic Green Lantern and the various other Green Lanterns as supporting characters.

Ryan Reynolds In Green Lantern Wallpaper Wallpaper

Within the comics world, since 1958 when the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern appeared, there have been quite a few human beings who have joined the Green Lantern Corps.  There is John Stewart, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner.  For racial diversity, the African-American John Stewart version of Green Lantern was the only version featured in the JUSTICE LEAGUE/UNLIMITED cartoon series, and the Kyle Rayner version appeared as the only Green Lantern in a single episode of SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES.  Other than that, Hal Jordan has been the only version of the character really marketed to the masses and is easily the face that most people associate with the Green Lantern persona.

Lesser known in this history of the character is the character of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, as created by cartoonist Mart Nodell, was the wielder of a magic green ring and who first appeared on newsstands in ALL-AMERICAN COMICS #16 (1940).  His last "golden age" appearance was in ALL-STAR COMICS #52 (1951).  This character disappeared out of the collective consciousness of the public and 7 years later, the Hal Jordan version of Green Lantern (reimagined completely) appeared with his science-fiction based ring and has been the iconic version of the Green Lantern ever since.  Alan Scott reappeared in comics again in the 60s and off-and-on throughout the last 4 decades, but always as either the Green Lantern of a parallel Earth (called Earth 2) or later, after a major continuity jumble, as a redundant and past-retirement-age elderly Green Lantern who has no direct ties to the Green Lantern Corps.

So, does this mean that DC Comics was progressive enough to have a "gay" super-hero all the way back to 1940.  No, it does not.

As most readers of this blog will know, DC Comics did another massive continuity jumble back in September 2011 resulting in a rebooted universe of characters they now market as "The New 52."  And within the New 52, there is a new ongoing comic book called EARTH 2 in which writer James Robinson has reimagined the entire concept of the Earth 2 parallel world for the New 52.  In the New 52, the world called Earth 2 is not a world in which the comics of the 1940s actually happened, it is a modern parallel to our own Earth but where a battle 5 years ago ended with the deaths of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  That power vacuum leads to the rise of a whole new and different generation of young heroes and this new 20-something Alan Scott, who will become the Green Lantern of Earth 2 this month, is gay.   I really never even considered any characters on "Earth 2" (DC's alternate universe of same-named heroes) to be iconic.  They are redundancies.  You can tell good stories about them, but they really only exist as redundancies.

Most importantly, this is not the Alan Scott who first appeared in 1940.

I am not quite sure by what leaps of logic the DC editorial and publicity machine can, with a straight face, identify a brand-new version of a character with absolutely none of the previous version's history beyond a name and a hair color as a "major icon."  At best, the original character from the '40s is the inspiration for the iconic version of the character (Hal Jordan), but even in the '40s he was in the realm of the lesser-knowns.  In the '40s, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman,  and Capt. Marvel would be the major icons.

So, the new Alan Scott, Green Lantern turns out to be gay in the reimagined Earth 2 of the New 52.  That's fine.  They want to diversify the line.  That's fine.  Don't bullshit me with the major icon thing and don't try to drum up media coverage under the misleading header of "Green Lantern is Gay" and that sort of thing.  It's all just silly and DC never surprises me by actions like this that have no real impact.  Making a major character gay would be somewhat dramatic.  Making an alternate version of a character in a parallel world gay is essentially meaningless.



Writer, James Robinson, gave some insight on his thinking process in a recent interview where he pointed out that in the old continuity, the elderly (and straight) Alan Scott had previously fathered a daughter (Jade) and a son (Obsidian).  In that old continuity, Obsidian was gay.  Since Robinson was going to make these new versions of the characters much younger and at the start of their super-hero careers; there was no place for Jade and Obsidian, so he decided to let Scott himself fill that role.  Robinson has a pattern in his comic book writing of nearly always including an "out" gay character, so it makes sense that he would look for who might fit that bill in this new EARTH 2 series.  And, in truth, since he of any of the writers at DC seems to understand the latitude available when reimagining a world from the ground up, he is probably the best suited for handling this type of characterization with respect and without exploitation.  However, he is doing it under the guiding hand of the editorial direction of Dan Didio who approaches the world of comic book marketing like a carnival barker, so it is no real surprise that Robinson's characterization choice became a media circus.

All that being said (and this is what will likely piss off friends and enemies both)....I have a conceptual problem purely from an intellectual standpoint.  From my own research and reading and observation of the human condition, I take the position that human sexuality is a continuum and not a bright line.  I don't believe anyone is actually born straight or gay outright....although I admit there is likely a genetic propensity that makes it more likely one or the other.  Sexuality is a convoluted mix of genetics, environment, and sexual imprinting.  And even more than that, sexuality involves choice and not just attraction.  We aren't just animals with a determinative direction that we can't control.  It's why there is such a thing as situational homosexuality -- most notably within prisons by otherwise heterosexual men and women who become exlusively homosexual until out of prison and then revert back.  There are experimenters who toy with one side or the other, but eventually settle exclusively on  one.  There are people who simply don't have a sex life of any kind and choose to dive into the gay experience because they want the intimacy of sex and that lifestyle is more open to accept them.  There are people who find themselves with no real interest in sex at all -- hetero or homo.  There are some who are simply addicted to sex and don't care who or what gender so long as they are gratified.  It's not always easy to mark the dividing line.  The whole debate over what is "normal" and "abnormal" is obfuscatory.  No form of sexuality is objectively "normal", however heterosexuality is objectively  "normative".  They are different words and connote different things.  "Normal" carries with it a judgment based on one's moral values.  "Normative" is just an objective recognition of the way the vast majority function. If homosexuality had been "normative" then the human race would have died out millennia ago.  Homosexuality, by necessity, will always be nonnormative.  But that itself is not a moral declaration and shouldn't be taken as one.


Sexuality is complicated and it's a lot more than just simply "I was born this way", regardless of the efforts by various political and activist groups who vociferously demand validation for their nonnormative lifestyle choices (which is nobody else's business so why demand it?).  My point of view is very simply that I am not going to impose my own morality on anyone else when it comes to something as personal and intimate as their sexuality.  That is between themselves, their own consciences, and their philosophical/religious values.

Now that I've said that, my only problem with the choice to make the new version of Alan Scott into a homosexual is simply that I think it smacks of tokenism at this point -- "Let's see....who can I make gay????" -- that sort of thing.  By using the name "Alan Scott" there is an intention to evoke some sense of history to the character that ties him back to the version from the previous continuity.  For some reason, that to me, almost belittles his sexuality choice a bit to think it can be changed so matter-of-factly.  I guess that more than anything bothers me from an intellectual standpoint.  I can separate the 2 characters well enough in my own mind to have no problem at all enjoying EARTH 2 and Robinson's excellent storytelling abilities.  But I also know that this whole thing is going to get muddled and confused in the public's mind and give off a wrong-headed message that something as intensely personal as our own sexual identity can be switched around as easily as a couple of keystrokes.

Worst of all, whenever James Robinson leaves the EARTH 2 series and stops writing the character, I have absolutely zero confidence in whoever succeeds him that they won't turn the new Alan Scott character into an embarrassing gay caricature.  The best we comic readers can do is hope Robinson stays in the writing seat for a good long time.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Out of the Closet and into the Phonebooth: DC gay-ifies a "major icon" in June

Entertainment

As reported all over the comics and mainstream media the last few days, DC Comics is planning in June to reveal one of their "major iconic" characters as gay.  You can read the ABC News report here.


It's nothing new for comics to feature gay characters, but DC wants everyone to believe this is something groundbreaking.  We are still within the first year of their linewide relaunch, known as the "New 52", which asserted as one of the reasons for relaunching an express intention to "diversify" their stable of characters.  However, other than shoehorning the African-American character, Cyborg, into the Justice League rather than the Teen Titans (where he had been introduced and was a longtime member), the major iconic characters have all stayed pretty much like they always have:  white and straight.  However, DC did make efforts to prop up some of the second and third tier characters and give them a different racial or sexual spin more reflective of the modern world.  The top tier are all still mired in their 1940s roots regardless of their updated costumes or attitudes.

Last summer, I pointed out on this blog that DC had quite an opportunity here of giving themselves a clean slate so that they could reintroduce a more diverse group of primary players.  My suggestion was to take the Billy Batson/Captain Marvel character and just make him black. I also thought Barry Allen/Flash was a great opportunity to reimagine with an ethnic bent of some sort.  We all kind of knew Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern were going to stay the way they were because of the various film and tv licenses wrapped up with them.  But as far as I'm concerned, everyone else was fair game for a major makeover.


In my opinion, DC wussed out.  But that's their call.  At least they seem to be more fully realizing the potential of a clean slate with the new EARTH 2 comic (which I love).

I am curious who they are going to "out" next month in their comics.  If not for those pesky new "Non Disclosure Agreements" that DC gets everyone to sign now, we would probably already have the news fully leaked out.  Instead, we all get to speculate.  So, what do we know?  Assuming veracity from those who've spoken on record, we know this much:

(1) It's a male.
(2) It's a "major iconic" character (which means no more second banana types like The Question, Voodoo, or Batwoman)
(3) It's either someone who has not had a lot of focus as a character yet or not been reintroduced yet for the New 52.


When I think "major iconic" DC male characters, that puts a specific image in my head that is limited to these guys:
SUPERMAN, BATMAN, GREEN LANTERN, FLASH, GREEN ARROW, HAWKMAN, ATOM, CAPTAIN MARVEL/SHAZAM, PLASTIC MAN, AQUAMAN, MARTIAN MANHUNTER

However, it is possible that DC might have a different definition of "major iconic".  I could see them also include these guys:

BOOSTER GOLD, BLUE BEETLE, MR. TERRIFIC, CAPT. ATOM, FIRESTORM, ANY OF THE VARIOUS ROBINS, ANY OF THE VARIOUS OTHER GREEN LANTERNS, ANY OF THE LEGION OF THE SUPER-HEROES OR TITANS.


We can rule out Superman, Batman, Flash, and Aquaman.  Each of them have a love, temptation, or wife that is female. Green Arrow has been shown in the New 52 in a major hetero sex scene with multiple women, so we can probably remove him from consideration. Shazam too.  I don't think they want to deal with underage teens turning into adult gay super-heroes. That might make the mainstream a bit uncomfortable, so we'll take him out of consideration. Hal Jordan has been shown to be pretty straight too, so Green Lantern is out of consideration.

This leaves us with Hawkman, Atom, Plastic Man or Martian Manhunter if we are talking actual "major icons".  Since Hawkman has already been headlining his own title in the New 52, I don't think he qualifies under the limited info we have been given.  Martian Manhunter has been featured in the STORMWATCH title, but that series features the gay Superman and Batman analogues, Apollo and Midnighter, already so I just don't see DC opening the door for a gay trifecta so J'onn gets a sexual reprieve I think (plus the fact that he's a shape-changing alien technically means he is probably asexual but we won't get into that right now).

This leaves us with a toss-up between Plastic Man and Atom.  Plastic Man is just too silly. I don't think DC wants to take this marketing opportunity to make their new gay character the quite insane and slapsticky Plas.

So...my money right now is on THE ATOM.  I don't even know who they have under the mask in the New 52, but regardless of who it is, it makes the most sense (and thus, the least likely to be overly controversial) to make the Atom gay.  He's a positive role model. He's smart, clever, and iconic with tons of potential for a TV series or film with modern f/x.  The worst the gay community and DC might have to deal with would be lame jokes about him only being "six inches."

COME JUNE, I PREDICT
THE "GAY" CHARACTER WILL BE THE ATOM.  
I'll be curious to see if I'm correct or if they surprise me.

Now, to hedge my bets and lower my opinion of DC's commitment to truly being bold, what if they wuss out once again and go to the secondary characters instead?  I don't think it will be Blue Beetle or Mr. Terrific.  Both of them are already representative of different ethnicities. Why would DC waste their diversification by doubling up again? They've already done it with The Question, Voodoo, and Batwoman. I don't think they will.  It could be Firestorm, but since the character combines 2 characters into one, I just don't think it counts and Firestorm is far from a major icon.  It could be one of the Robins.  However, I don't think they would do it simply because of the bad press over the years about Batman and Robin as a gay fantasy.  I think DC doesn't want to step in that pile of manure. So, none of them are likely.

What about John Stewart, Guy Gardner, or Kyle Rayner (3 other male Earth-based Green Lanterns)?  I've read some online speculation that Gardner is the one.  If DC does that, I think it will be insulting to the gay community rather than a positive move.  Gardner is an asshole.  That's his character.  While it is true that oftentimes a repressed homosexual is aggressively homophobic as a reaction to his desires.  However, that's really not been who Gardner was in the past (and I would expect him to be the same in the New 52) where he may act like a jerk, but when it comes to doing the right thing he would step up to the plate.  I could see DC do this, but I think it could backfire on them because I don't think the gay community would want Gardner on their team.

Honestly.

John Stewart? Highly unlikely and has a history of deep love for women. Kyle Rayner? A definite possibility as far as I'm concerned.  He's young and artistic. Prior to the New 52, he did have a love of his life, but in the New 52? I could see DC going this route to distinguish him even more from the other GLs.

If it's any of the Legion of Super-Heroes or Teen Titans, then it's a total fake-out on DC's part.  None of those characters rise to the level of "major iconic" status unless you are a completely disingenuous corporate mouthpiece.

Which leaves me with CAPT. ATOM as my number one pick
from the secondary characters that DC might try to convince me are "major icons."


Just a few days to weeks to find out.  But it is definitely another interesting bit of widespread Internet speculation.