Thursday, October 30, 2014

Give it up for the Giants - World Series win

And this is the play that led to the Giants win.  Golf clap for the rookie.  Amazing.








Wednesday, October 29, 2014

W27 replay: OCTOBER COMICS 3 (Universal Monsters, Frankenstein, and Starchild)

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Like the over-arching title states, these were comics I felt epitomized this time of year - with the leaves turning color and falling, the temperature becoming colder, the nights longer.  It's a great time of year to curl up with a good book (or comic, as the case may be) and let that autumnal mood take you away on dark flights of fantasy and horror.  Here are a few books that can take you there.

UNIVERSAL MONSTERS by Art Adams, Denis Beauvais, and others

The Universal Monster films hold a dear place in many people’s hearts. They’re fun and, as a boy, were great for a scare when I watched them on television late at night. So, when Dark Horse published comic adaptations of some of these classic films back in the early 90s, I was onboard.
It’s been a number of years since I read them, but I remember enjoying these books immensely. The adaptations were very true to the movies from which they derived, and, as it is when we see Iron Man or Batman on the silver screen, it was a thrill to have these stories in a new medium for which I have such passion.

Dark Horse did a stellar job of pulling together creators for these books. Art Adams and Tony Harris are the obvious “name” stars to have contributed to this short series. Adams’s meticulous linework in the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and his notable detail offer a fully-realized and icky swamp for this creature to reside in. Conversely, Harris’s more flowing ink style fit well with the fraying wraps of the mummy, bringing this encumbered figure to vivid, haunting life.

However, despite the involvement of Harris and Adams on this project, I was more anxious for the Frankenstein adaptation from Denis Beauvais. I was familiar with Beauvais’s painting from Dark Horse’s Aliens books. And he did not disappoint. His use of color and ability to evoke atmosphere through his painting fit this book perfectly. Easily, this is my favorite of the bunch.
And finally, Dracula was brought to life by Dan Vado, “supreme commander” of Slave Labor Graphics, and J.D. Smith, who works primarily as a colorist in the comics field today. Like Frankenstein, these two were able to imbue their adaptation with the atmosphere evoked in the film.The soft linework of Smith worked well in this respect.

Are these books scary? No. Are the original films considered scary by today’s standards? No. But these books are fun, and, if you enjoyed the Universal Monster films when you were younger, reading one of these will touch that nostalgic part of you that is also what keeps us reading comics.And that, to me, seems fitting.

LITTLE BOOK OF HORROR - FRANKENSTEIN by Steve Niles & Scott Morse

A few years back, Steve Niles started a series of “Little Books of Horror” through IDW. They were slim, 48-page adaptations of classic horror stories. Niles wrote the adaptations with a number of distinct artists providing illustrations. Ted McKeever provided art for “The War of the Worlds,” Richard Sala did so for “Dracula,” and Scott Morse drew the single volume I own, “Frankenstein.”
I re-read this book just the other night, and, although it was a quick read, I enjoyed it thoroughly.Niles manages to encapsulate the entirety of Shelley’s novel with an economical use of prose. True to the source material, he includes bits that are often overlooked in other adaptations, and I applaud him for this.

It is a great challenge to boil down a novel to a few hundred words, and yet, Niles manages to do just that. Obviously, readers do not get the nuance and more fully-realized narrative that can be found in Shelley’s novel through this 48-page graphic novel. But, if one is already familiar with the book, a faithful adaptation such as this ignites the memory of the original’s reading. And, if one has not read Frankenstein before, this is a great introduction to a classic of literature that could, very easily, spur one on to go and read the original.
The big draw for this book, though, is the lush painting of Scott Morse. He provides richly imagined pieces, full of color and design and symbolism, and adds so much to Niles’s adaptation. Between readings of this book, I have often pulled it from my shelf and slowly leafed through it, studying the artistry of Morse. Somehow, his animation style fused with his sense of color manages to evoke the very genuine emotions that are to be found in the source material.

And it is a very distinct book that feels and reads like little else in comics – or prose, for that matter.This is mainly why I appreciate Scott Morse’s work so much. He – like Paul Pope or Kate Beaton or James Owen – prefer to carve out their own niche in this medium doing challenging work that stands out among the soulless “house styles” found in many of the “mainstream” comics on stands today (not that this is unique to current comics). If you love great art and can appreciate the skill necessary to create such a faithful adaptation in so few words, then this is a book you should seek out.

And if you do choose to read this book in a dimly lit room as the moon falls behind the swaying trees outside your window, you just might hear the monster crying off in the distance, and you may need to pull another blanket up close to your chin, just to keep the cold away.

STARCHILD by James A. Owen

James Owen’s Starchild series was one of those books that would rise to the top of my “to-read” pile when it was being published regularly back in the early 90s. I love that book and have read it a number of times through the years.
Not a horror book – as most of my other “October comics” offerings have been – it is a book perfectly suited to reading during this time of year when the days get shorter and the air becomes cooler. This was pointed out to me by my friend from the CGS forums, Adam Murdough, and when he shared this insight, I knew instantly he was correct.

The tale of the Higgins family, the bulk of Starchild is set in the timeless village of Fool’s Hollow near a magical forest. Hearkening back to our romanticized versions of ancient English villages, this is a tale wherein mythical characters like Titania live alongside caricatures of some of my favorite fantasists such as Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. It’s a masterful blending of myriad times and settings that Owen manages to pull off with intelligence while never forgetting to tell an entertaining story.
Owen both writes and draws these tales, and his art meshes wonderfully with the writing. Owen’s delicate lines and slightly rough style are reminiscent of old woodcuts, evoking through his artwork the atmosphere of such a tale. One can almost hear the wind whistling across the glens as the pages turn. Drawn in a different style, or by a different artist, I don’t think Starchild would evoke such wonder as it does.

Within the pages of Starchild, one encounters mystery, high drama, and familial secrets tempered by the whimsy and lyrical comedy of characters such as Old Tom and Martin Humble, and simmering beneath it all is the magic of stories, the kind that ignited our imaginations as children.

If you love fantasy and appreciate the mood found in that hour right before midnight in the early autumn, then this is a book for you. Definitely worth seeking out, Starchild is best read on the porch at dusk, with a steaming mug of cider close by.


Go ahead, listen to the crisp leaves beneath your feet, the cool breeze rising to a soft shriek at your back, and watch for those long shadows growing deeper, with the coming of winter just over the horizon, and try to tamp down that shiver rushing up your spine as you spy something in the corner of your eye ... and turn to find nothing there. 

Then sit down to read these comics and try to tell me you don't get that same feeling of anxiety and anticipation as the words and images wash over you.  You can't.  

-chris

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What It Is - week ending 26 October [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.



WRITING:
Every day.  1000 words.  That's the goal.

The train kept rolling this week as I added to the novel in progress.  Passed 160 manuscript pages and 44,000 words, which is good.  But I hit a snag in the middle of this week.  I sat down to write my thousand, and it was a chore.  I would type something, sit back and stare at it, work it over in my mind, delete and retype it in a slightly different manner, sit back, stare, delete, skim the internet, skim the internet some more, come back to the writing, type something, finally move on, then sit, stare, and try to get my mind focused.
But it was not working.  So, after an hour, I closed the laptop with only 450 words down.

Now, all this focus on word counts may seem, to some, as if I am focused on the wrong thing.  Why should I worry about the number of words I got down?  Shouldn't I be thinking more carefully about the words I'm choosing?  Isn't that the more important thing rather than just looking at the total (quantity vs. quality, and all that).  And the answer is yes and no - with an emphasis toward "no."

Every writer whom I admire has stated numerous times that if one wants to be a writer, one must write.  Not think about it.  Not read up on the subject.  Not philosophize and market test ideas.  Write.  It's the only way to learn, because if you haven't actually written anything, well, you haven't written anything.  Now, is the word count the final goal?  No.  But, I can assure you, when I was only writing intermittently, there was little growth in what I was producing.  Since I've been writing regularly (and keeping track with my spreadsheet has been the best thing for me - a quick, visual check on whether I am keeping up my end of the bargain that keeps me honest), though, I know I've grown quite a bit.  Actually doing the writing comes more easily, connections within the narrative (whether to points earlier in the story or through metaphors) reveal themselves to me, and I approach my writing differently now, working to make them more effective dramatically rather than crafting a dot-to-dot series of events.



And, when I have trouble "getting the words out," I realize that something is not working.  It's a gut feeling, but one I recognize now, and it makes step back and re-assess the point I'm working on.  Which is what happened the night I slogged through getting down those 450 words.  Something was off in what I was trying to do.  So I went to bed, pouring over what I'd read and what I wanted from this scene, and by morning I had it figured out and was able to write 1400 words that pushed the narrative forward a bit more (rather than stagnating it with "spinning wheels," as I think was happening the night before).  It would be nice if my gut would pinpoint what's going wrong in the writing, but at least I'm learning to understand what that feeling means and work to adjust what's going on the page.

That - learning how I need to write - is the best thing that has come from writing consistently, with a daily goal in mind.  And, no, the goal doesn't need to be a word count, it can be a set amount of time, or some other goal.  As long as it's a regular thing and you approach it honestly, then it will be something that will help you improve your writing.

WHAT I'M READING:
In comics, horror may be the most difficult genre to do.  There's no music, no dripping blood (i.e. being able to watch the blood fall to the floor), no movement (as in film) allowing us to watch the monster slink out of the shadows behind our protagonist, none of those tools are available to the comic artist.  So achieving that gut-twisting punch of horror is an almost impossible task.  Which means many horror comics turn to gore and grossness, in order to shock their readers with how far over the line they are willing to go with their grotesqueries.  And, I suppose, that's one approach.

Thankfully, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, choose the higher road.  I finished volume 5 this week, but am thinking specifically of a scene from volume 1 that just froze me, when I turned the page.

*** SPOILERS ***  SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS ***



Bode, the youngest Locke child, has been talking to the woman in the wellhouse, at the point I'm discussing.  And we know that the woman in the well is evil, wants to hurt the Locke family, but is trapped in the well (may even be an immaterial ghost or spirit).  And, to this point, Bode has gone down to the well to speak with the woman a few times.  It's become relatively common, and the readers have come to expect how these discussions go.  Add to this the fact that Hill & Rodriguez have crafted believable and very sympathetic characters in the Locke family, and the scene is ripe for a big shock.  Which we get with a page-turn late in that first volume when Bode turns away from the well to answer his sister (iirc) that he'll be right up to the house - as it is late - and behind Bode, in this large panel, we see the woman from the well creeping out of the well, arm outstretched, reaching for the young boy.  It gave me chills.  This was brilliantly executed, from the set up, to the characters we care about, and the large panel on a page-turn that changes the entire status quo - so good.  If you haven't read Locke & Key yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Also finished the screenplay for Harlan Ellison's Cutter's World (I read his teleplay of the same idea last week).  Through the first 100 pages, it stayed very close to the teleplay, which was disappointing.  But then, once Cutter and his son arrive on the alien world, things changed.  Ellison didn't excise anything, instead, he chose to enhance these scenes, and it worked wonderfully.  He managed to share more of the alien civilization while also ratcheting up the drama and the emotional connections with the characters, by dropping in scenes here and there, expanding others, and rearranging still others, with additional antagonists that also made the final part of the narrative feel more natural and not as familiar as it did in the teleplay.

As an example:  In the teleplay, when Cutter and his son sit down to eat, after making their way to Deke's on this new world, Cutter and a Kyban (Ellison's go-to aliens) coincidentally reach for the final piece of meat on the platter between them, a fight ensues, but in the end they become uneasy allies because of a connection Cutter had made previously.
In the screenplay, the Kyban across from Cutter deliberately reaches for the meat at the same time as Cutter to goad him into fighting, and the "friendly" Kyban is alerted by Deke (the connection Cutter made) to intercede, without others realizing, and he pushes aside the antagonistic Kyban, feigning cultural offense at Cutter's insolence, and the same fight ensues but with a far different, and more interesting, reason behind it.  Things like this really made reading these two screenplays not only interesting but also a good lesson for approaching my own writing.



MISCELLANY:
World Series time!  I don't have cable, so this is about the only time I get to watch baseball on TV, since Major League Baseball doesn't seem like they want to try and encourage a new, younger generation of fans.  Ah, well.  Just means I can focus more on my writing at night.

The first two games weren't what I expected.  Even though the Giants won 7-1 in game 1, it felt like the Royals were just on the cusp of breaking through against Madison Bumgarner.  I'm hoping they are able to do that when they meet Bumgarner again.
I'm an American League guy, plus I love the way the Royals play the game - running, good defense, productive hitting even when they make outs - so I was happy they won game 2.  Admittedly, I didn't see the blowout coming.  with 5 innings in the books, it felt like Peavy was just getting stronger, making pitches he wanted to make and forcing the Royals to chase those out of the strike zone for outs.  I wasn't feeling good about an AL win, but they came through against the bullpen and meant I'd get at least one extra game out of my baseball viewing this year.
Game 3 - this is what I was looking for.  Pitchers' duel.  Great defense on both sides.  And scoring a run with two productive outs, as the Royals did in that first inning.  Sure, the general audience loves the home runs and the scoring, but give me a low-scoring, well played game any day. It's far more exciting than a home run derby blowout.
But damn...game 4 just turned the momentum back to the West Coast.  Let's see if the Royals can pull this out.



OCTOBER COMICS REWIND:
Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Nine posts about comics that would be perfect to read this time of year - they either had a horror element to them, or a dark fantasy element, or were specifically Halloween themed.  It was fun, and I figured I should dust them off and share them with anyone checking the blog this year.  The first two repeats (with three books each) are below this post - the final one goes live Wednesday.  But here are links to all nine individual posts, if you like.

A Glimpse of Crime & Terror by Steve Niles and Scott Morse
Hellboy by Mike Mignola, et al.
Taboo from Spiderbaby Grafix (Stephen Bissette)
Batman: LOTDK Halloween Specials by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
The Broadcast by Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon
Coraline adapted by P. Craig Russell from the novel by Neil Gaiman
the Universal Monsters adaptations by Art Adams and others
Little Book of Horror: Frankenstein by Steven Niles and Scott Morse
Starchild by James A. Owen

SIGN OFF:
All right.  Two for two, which leads to the fact that I pushed out my 42nd and 43rd submissions of the year this past week.  I believe that puts me one ahead for my goal of 52 submissions this year.  Each year I've increased the number of submissions, which means next year, I'm going to need to really up my game - and get some more stories ready for submission - so that I can continue that trend.

'Til next week.

chris

Friday, October 24, 2014

W27 replay: OCTOBER COMICS 2 (Batman LOTDK, The Broadcast, & Coraline)

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Like the over-arching title states, these were comics I felt epitomized this time of year - with the leaves turning color and falling, the temperature becoming colder, the nights longer.  It's a great time of year to curl up with a good book (or comic, as the case may be) and let that autumnal mood take you away on dark flights of fantasy and horror.  Here are a few books that can take you there.

BATMAN: LOTDK HALLOWEEN SPECIALS by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

I’m not sure why I picked up the very first LOTDK Halloween special. I know it had nothing to do with the creative team – neither Jeph Loeb nor Tim Sale was familiar to me at the time. It could have been the nice shiny cover, with that gold foil “enhancement,” but I like to think that wasn’t the case.More likely, it had to do with the fact that it was prestige format. When a publisher – most often DC comics – published a book in that squarebound format (see: Dark Knight, Longbow Hunters, Hawkworld, Killing Joke, etc.), it piqued my interest. So I bought that first special right off the shelf.And I loved it. The story moved along at a brisk pace, the artwork was stylish but appealing, and it was done in one.



With the success of that first Halloween special, it became an annual tradition for the next two years, with Loeb and Sale reuniting to tell other ethereal tales from Batman’s history. They too were immensely enjoyable and just plain fun reads. And, with each successive volume, I came to appreciate more and more the artistic talent of Tim Sale.
Sale’s linework is smooth and organic, with fluid inking that helps to suggest movement on the page in a similar manner to the inking style of Will Eisner. It’s a tough thing to accomplish in a static medium such as comics, and is a major reason why I have such trouble with many of today’s photorealistic artists – their work is just too precise, taking all of the energy out of their drawing.

Loeb’s writing has received a lot of criticism in recent years – not all of it undeserved – but in these specials, he really shines. The stories move along at a brisk pace and don’t collapse under the weight of a longer narrative. With the limited page count, Loeb was forced to pare things down and get right to the heart of the matter, and, similar to Chuck Dixon, Loeb can drive a plot forward pretty well. It doesn’t hurt that he was paired with a stellar talent like Sale.
I regularly return to these books, pulling them out of the longboxes to re-read every couple of years, usually during this season. These books help remind me why I love comics. If you’ve never given them a try, you should seek them out. You won’t be disappointed.

And, if you have the chance, read them late in the evening while the wind sweeps across your lawn – the creaking branches and rustling leaves will add to the atmosphere already present in Sale’s moody linework, and you might understand better why I cherish these stories.

THE BROADCAST by Eric Hobbs & Noel Tuazon

Since “discovering” Noel Tuazon’s work on Elk’s Run, with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, I have become a huge fan of Tuazon’s work. His loose lines and cartoonist’s approach to drawing is far more appealing to me than the current flavor of the month at the “Big Two.” He, like many of the comic artists whose work I admire, is able to infuse his pages with more emotion and atmosphere than most artists working in the field.
Link
So, when I passed the NBM table at last year’s Small Press Expo and saw they had only one copy left of Tuazon’s most recent book, The Broadcast (written by Eric Hobbs), I had to pick it up. And was I ever glad I did. This book, along with Tuazon’s return collaboration with Fialkov, Tumor, has solidly put him on my “guaranteed winner” list.
The Broadcast, Eric Hobbs’s first major graphic novel, comes from a brilliantly simple concept – how might a small group of rural Americans in early 20th century America react if they believed Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast was real – a reality that earned Welles much criticism after that initial radio broadcast. I haven’t read The Broadcast since that first time last year, but the emotion of the book has lingered with me since then, rearing its head at unexpected times, so it is only appropriate that I write about it now, as best I can.

The Broadcast is more than just how people might react to a perceived Martian attack. It is really a story of how people under stress react to, and treat, one another and the hierarchy that quickly evolves in such an anxious time. This book is about these characters, about the injustices, perceived or otherwise, they manage to suppress until such a time as this, and the consequences of allowing one’s anxiety to dictate one’s actions.
None of the characters make it through this book in one piece, whether emotionally or physically, and Hobbs deftly handles the issues of that period – including most prominently the racism that was rampant, and is still a problem now, in our country. The Broadcast is, at times, a harrowing reading experience, but it is also touching in many instances. It’s a delicate balance of emotions that Hobbs and Tuazon manage to achieve wonderfully, and it elevates this book beyond what could easily have been a one-note story.

And the artwork from Tuazon is beautiful. His inkwash technique, coupled with Tuazon’s facility with facial expressions, perfectly evokes the atmosphere of the dreary, rain-soaked setting and the weight of finality under which these characters rest. Tuazon’s storytelling is on full display here, and any artist looking to break into comics would be hard pressed to do better than study The Broadcast, or any of Tuazon’s other work.

Although told in a quiet manner, this is a brutal book about the dark places of the human soul. It is a compelling read that shines a hard light onto the horrors of fear, very real horrors that feel more authentic than most of those found in graphic fiction, or fiction of any kind. Hobbs and Tuazon come together to showcase the best of what this medium has to offer, and I heartily recommend you seeking this book out. You won’t be disappointed.

CORALINE adapted by P. Craig Russell, from the novel by Neil Gaiman

I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and have read all of his published books. Coraline was an enjoyable read, but I would probably put it toward the lower end of my favorites by Gaiman. It was inventive and well-written, as I have come to expect from Gaiman, and he took me to another fantastic world that feels just beyond my reach, but there was a “weight” missing from it that probably has a lot to do with its intended audience. Ultimately, for me, Coraline wasn’t creepy enough.
As an aside, Gaiman’s “Graveyard Book” does carry that weight I so look forward to from his best fiction, and that was also intended for young adults, for what it is worth. (And it is only my opinion)

When I heard P. Craig Russell was going to be adapting Coraline into graphic form, I was intrigued but not overly excited. Boy, was I wrong to have that reaction!

Russell’s adaptation of Coraline was amazing. When I read it, I was thoroughly on edge. Something about actually seeing Coraline’s “other family” with those button eyes just creeped me the hell out more than Gaiman’s actual prose description, which is odd since Joe Hill’s similar description of the main ghost in his novel Heart-Shaped Box made me horribly uncomfortable when I read that.

Russell is known for his delicate linework, and he does not disappoint here. But I have to admit at how surprised I was with the manner in which he evoked the atmosphere of this eerie little novel. It is a testament to his artistry that he elevates Gaiman’s prose narrative to another level for me. This is one of the very few times I have thought that an adaptation of a work of prose was better – or worked better – than the source material.

I wish I could more precisely put my finger on what it is about Russell’s Coraline adaptation that makes it so much creepier for me. But, I admit, I can’t. I just know how I reacted to it when I read it – on an entirely emotional level that left me with that gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach. Check it out.


Go ahead, listen to the crisp leaves beneath your feet, the cool breeze rising to a soft shriek at your back, and watch for those long shadows growing deeper, with the coming of winter just over the horizon, and try to tamp down that shiver rushing up your spine as you spy something in the corner of your eye ... and turn to find nothing there. 

Then sit down to read these comics and try to tell me you don't get that same feeling of anxiety and anticipation as the words and images wash over you.  You can't.  

-chris

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

W27 replay: OCTOBER COMICS 1 (Crime & Terror, Hellboy, Taboo)

Three years ago, I did a short series here called "October Comics."  Like the over-arching title states, these were comics I felt epitomized this time of year - with the leaves turning color and falling, the temperature becoming colder, the nights longer.  It's a great time of year to curl up with a good book (or comic, as the case may be) and let that autumnal mood take you away on dark flights of fantasy and horror.  Here are a few books that can take you there.

A GLIMPSE OF CRIME & TERROR by Steve Niles & Scott Morse

It’s October, which means I have an obligation (self-made though it may be) to recommend some cool “autumnal” comic fare (i.e. horror comics in honor of Halloween)
Anything Scott Morse is involved with gets my attention. He is one of those cartoonists – like Los Bros Hernandez or Frank Santoro – whose work I will buy without hesitation. Since he landed at Pixar, his comics work has been rather limited. So, when I read online about him and Steve Nilesdoing something together, I was interested.
The series – co-created and co-owned by Niles and Morse – is called Crime & Terror. Morse described the book on his blog as a book where he and Steve can create the stories they want. In his initial post, Morse wrote that Crime & Terror would have an over-arching narrative following detective Mike Fallon, along with a number of short stories – both prose and comic – in whatever genre they chose – sci-fi, horror, noir, whatever. I’m a sucker for great anthologies, and when you have creators of this caliber writing and drawing whatever they want – I’m in!

As a teaser, Niles and Morse have created a limited edition oversized board book of A Glimpse of Crime & Terror that includes two short stories. I read this a couple of weeks back and thoroughly enjoyed it. Morse’s artwork and storytelling are spot-on here, and the stories were novel for the fact that they weren’t what I was expecting.

I expected a crime story and a horror story, but instead, Morse and Niles offer a mash-up of these two genres, and it works amazingly well. The plots hearken back to noir films of the 50s – with the requisite sprinkling of the fantastic and zombified accents. They aren’t necessarily world-shattering.But the beauty of this book is in the way the stories are told. Despite the “dark” nature of these two genres, there’s a fun aspect to this book that is never missing in anything Scott Morse does. I imagine it has a lot to do with the animation style Morse incorporates. His work is distinct, and, despite the “cute” aspects of his art, Morse continues to exhibit a range in genre and tone that is remarkable.
And, if you order this limited preview, each copy will be signed by Morse. So get on it.

The regular book will be a series of 80-page hardcovers, and I cannot wait for the first one to drop.Be on the lookout, because these are going to be some fun, entertaining, and well done comics.

HELLBOY by Mike Mignola, et al.

This time of year I always dig into my longboxes or go to my shelf for something appropriate to the season. Recently, I’ve been re-reading some of the early Hellboy collections by Mike Mignola – Wake the Devil and Chained Coffin & Others, to be precise.
It’s been a while since I’ve read any Hellboy, and I had forgotten how great this series is. Mignola really seems to be having fun with these stories. He packs so much action, fantasy, folklore, and fun into these tales that it really is a wonder to behold. Even through pages of talking heads and exposition, Mignola makes it interesting – whether it’s the cadence of a character’s speech or just the fanciful nature of the dialogue – and I find it completely engaging.

Even with the emphasis on plot and the fantastical elements of these narratives, Mignola doesn’t forget about the characters. He knows Hellboy and Abe and Liz and all the others, and he plays them off each other well. It would be easy for the story to trump the characterization, but Mignola manages to balance things and has me wondering where he went with all of these great characters.

And has an artist ever been more suited for the stories being told? The way Mignola paints his blacks (with apologies to the Rolling Stones) and the manner in which he delineates the ancient architecture all adds to the atmosphere of these tales. The imagery has a gothic feel to it that is perfectly suited to the narratives, along with being pitch-perfect for this world Mignola has created.

If you want something haunting and exciting for this autumnal season, you would have trouble doing any better than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. After re-reading these older books, I am now going to seek out the later volumes to see where he has taken “the big red guy” and the rest of the BPRD, and I cannot wait.

TABOO from Steve Bissette and  host of creators

It is appropriate that October be the month of Halloween, especially here in New England with darkness creeping in at the frayed edges of these shorter days, the naked branches scratching against window panes as brittle leaves blow past, propelled by a chill wind heralding the coming winter. The brisk air is tinged with a scent of horror – something almost tangible – that insinuates itself into our minds as we try to reconcile the change in the seasons.
Stephen Bissette’s horror anthology, Taboo (published from 1988-1995), masterfully captures the atmosphere of this time of year. With contributions from such notable writers and artists as Dave Sim, Charles Burns, Tom Sniegoski, Charles Vess, Bernie Mireault, Keith Giffen, Chester Brown, Eddie Campbell, Moebius, Melinda Gebbie, Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli, Alan Moore, and Bissette himself, every issue of this series reaches for – and often achieves – an incredibly high standard of graphic storytelling.

From Hell and Lost Girls both had their starts in this anthology. Readers also experienced the fleeting glimpse of Gaiman & Zulli’s Sweeney Todd (with the prologue found in issue 7), which never found another publisher once Taboo ceased publication. Spain Rodriguez’s succinct retelling of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film classic El Topo can be found within the pages of this book. (issue 4, to be exact). And there is any other number of horror masterpieces to be found within various issues of this landmark series.

The offerings in Taboo are not what one would describe as typical horror comics. These stories are disturbing, uncomfortable, demanding pieces of art. They are the horrors that keep one up at night, staring into the blackness to identify the sound that startled you awake. These stories are creepy, and the slimy film of the narratives is hard to wash off, staying with you long after the book is closed.

If you’re a fan of “shock” horror and want to be scared – Taboo might not be the book for you. But if you like your fiction challenging, if you want to read stories that make you think, and if you appreciate that anxious flutter in the pit of your stomach when the clock strikes midnight, then you should be seeking these books out because they are becoming harder and harder to find.
The stories found in this seminal anthology are a fitting capstone to a crisp, cool October day.


Go ahead, listen to the crisp leaves beneath your feet, the cool breeze rising to a soft shriek at your back, and watch for those long shadows growing deeper, with the coming of winter just over the horizon, and try to tamp down that shiver rushing up your spine as you spy something in the corner of your eye ... and turn to find nothing there. 

Then sit down to read these comics and try to tell me you don't get that same feeling of anxiety and anticipation as the words and images wash over you.  You can't.  

-chris

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What It Is - the week ending 19 October [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.

So...I don't update here as often as I should be (that's an understatement).  But seeing friends like Brad & Matt, as well as Don McMillan, offering regular posts at their respective sites, it's obvious I need to do something to keep up - and, really, who's going to check Warrrior27 out when the top post never changes?   Time to face reality.

Why haven't I been posting here more often?  Easy answer - time.  There's never enough time to get everything done you want.  I have a day job.  I'm a father and husband - and I do not want to take away my family time for writing, as a general rule.  And there's always working out and sleep, along with all the books & comics to read and the films & television shows to watch (I'm still two seasons away from finishing LOST and have yet to watch Battlestar Galactica, while Locke & Key is still unfinished [should remedy that soon] and the latest David Mitchell novel hasn't even made it to the to-read pile).

So, time.  It's not going to materialize out of nothing.  I'll need to carve that time out somewhere to make this a regular - read: weekly - thing.  But I can do that.  And here's that first baby step.



WRITING PROGRESS:
Preamble:  My daily writing goal is 1000 words.  This takes roughly an hour (though I think about what I'm going to write throughout the day; it never stops).  For a long time, I was aiming for this but having trouble achieving it.  Again, it was that constriction of time.  I needed to make the time.  So I decided to schedule an hour, after my son was in bed and my wife was heading to bed to read, within which to get this writing done.  And it worked.  So well, that I began carving out an hour at sunrise on weekends, to get my writing done before everyone got out of bed.  Not surprisingly, my output increased and my writing has certainly improved.

Writing regularly - at a similar time each day - has certainly made it easier to sit down and get the words out.  The muse shows up more regularly when you train your mind to expect that you will be writing at the same point each day.  Also, I approach my writing in a wholly different manner now.  I am thinking more about craft, about the plot, about how to "upset the apple cart" and add tension to the scenes I am putting down.  Scheduling your daily writing is, perhaps, the most important thing any aspiring writer can do.

So, this week.  I've written roughly 5500 "new" words, while dropping 2400 words onto critiques at the Comics Experience creators' online workshop, which comes to about 8000 words for the week.  For the year, I just passed 248,000 total words (broken down into New Words, First Revisions, & Critiques).  My goal is to hit 300,000 for the year, and I think I'll make it.

The project on the front-burner right now is a novel called "On the Ledge," which is an expansion of a short story I wrote a number of years back.  Thus far, it seems to have legs, and I feel this could be a breakthrough piece of fiction for me.  Currently, I'm at 141 manuscript page, totaling 37,900 words (an average novel runs about 100,000), and I just passed one of the major plot points in the outline.  So, I'm feeling good about that.

And I had a short comic story, drawn by the incomparable Angela Allen, accepted for a quarterly independent comic anthology.  I'm really excited for this to see print.  If you want to check out a sample of Allen's art check this post out - which is just below this one, as it is.



THOUGHTS ON WHAT I READ THIS WEEK:
I'm currently reading volume 3 of Harlan Ellison's Brain Movies - collections of his screenplays and television scripts (both filmed and unfilmed).  Volume 3 includes two versions of an unfilmed story, Cutter's World, from the late 1980s.  I finished the first script, written for television.  It was classic Ellison, with fantastic ideas and cool characters.  Next, I'm going to read the film script and am curious to see the changes between the two versions.

I also finished volume 4 of Joe Hill's & Gabriel Rodriguez's amazing comic series, Locke & Key.  That volume ended with a plot twist that was brilliant, for a number of reasons.  One of the tropes (or maybe accepted realities) in horror fiction is the fact that the people being terrorized are never very smart.  They always make the dumb move, the foolish decision, that the audience yells for them not to make, that inevitably ends up with someone bloodied and butchered.  With volume 4 of Locke & Key, Hill & Rodriguez show up characters, in the Locke children, who are not dumb, who are able to see connections and begin to figure out who it is, in their midst, that is causing all of the harm and horror.  And they take action to stop him/her/it.  But, with a brilliant and elegant twist - playing off something first seen in volume 1 - Hill & Rodriguez bring the terror even closer to the Locke family, while making them believe that maybe, finally, there can be a respite to the craziness.  It was fantastic.



A MISCELLANY:
Started watching season 1 of the Newsroom with my wife (I did mention I was way behind in my TV viewing above).  It's Aaron Sorkin.  On HBO.  I loved it.  Sure, the hectic pace of the dialogue can, at times, become irritating and problematic.  But that is easily overlooked for the brilliant lines that come out of the mouths of many of these characters.  Loved it.  We watched the first two episodes, and are all in on this one.  One of the things I greatly appreciated came, in the second episode, when the newscast lost their major interviewee and did not come through, in the end, with someone to equal the person they'd been advertising for that night.  It was refreshing to have the "heroes," for want of a better word, lose.  Well played.

Also, with the return of Twin Peaks in 2016, I bumped the original series to the top of the Netflix queue.  What a great show.  Damn.  David Lynch is a genius.  Looking forward to rummaging through this seminal series, which helped spawn so much of today's "new golden age of TV."  3 episodes in, already, and, I have to say, the series holds up and would not feel out of place next to Mad Men or Breaking Bad or the Sopranos.  Great, great, stuff.



SIGN OFF:
So, we'll see if I can keep this up.  One week down, an infinity to go.  And, hey, if you made it this far head on over to In the Mouth of Dorkness and Donist World, and check out what Brad & Matt and Don have to say on all things, geek, nerdy, and cool.  You won't be disappointed.

Thanks,
chris

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Final Art tease - American Voudou

Angela Allen has done an incredible job with the 10-page story I wrote.  An insane amount of work went into her pages, and I am humbled by this.  Seriously.

Right now, I'm finishing up the lettering and will then send it off for an open submission call to Indie Comics Quarterly.  Fingers crossed on that one.  If it doesn't land there, then we'll have to come up with a Plan B, because Angela's art needs to be showcased.

Here's page 3:



chris

Friday, August 29, 2014

Firewords has arrived!



The newest issue of Firewords Quarterly, with my short story "I Gotta Get Outta Here," arrived earlier this week, and it looks amazing.  There's some great imagery and art direction in this issue, and the fiction is pretty great too.  Here's an image of the two-page spread for my contribution:



If you'd like to get a copy, go to Firewords' online store - HERE - and purchase your own copy.  Or wait for the digital edition, which should be hitting soon.  And thanks.

chris

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Birthday to the KING!



Jack Kirby would have turned 97 today, and all across the internet, fans and creators alike are celebrating the man who stands head and shoulders above all other western comic creators.



A young Jewish kid from the rough streets of Depression-era New York and a veteran of the second World War, Kirby was a force of nature whose imagination seems to have been limitless.  There are many creators today riding on his coattails, working on the myriad characters he created or co-created:

- Captain America
- The Avengers
- X-Men
- Darkseid
- Captain Victory
- the Fantastic Four
- Fin Fang Foom
- Thor (for Marvel comics)
- Nick Fury
- the Forever People
- OMAC
- Kamandi
- Challengers of the Unknown
- Galactus
- Silver Surfer
- the Incredible Hulk
- etc. etc. etc.




These creators love to play in Kirby's "sandbox," paying homage to the artist who invigorated the comics medium with an energy and a boldness that launched it on the path of popularity that has now seen its influence blast into the film making business in a manner not thought possible fifteen years ago.  And yet, their fealty falls short because they are not adhering to Kirby's first rule of comic creation - go make something new.  That, as much as anything is Kirby's lasting legacy.



I was first introduced to Kirby with the Super Powers mini-series and toy lines of the mid-1980s.  This was unfortunate.  I remember being unimpressed with his art.  I thought it was ugly and didn't adhere to the idealized "realistic" imagery of a John Byrne or a George Perez (still my favorite comic artist, whose work tugs at my nostalgic insides any time I see a new book from him).



Years later - and I wish I knew what prompted this, because it was a full-on re-evaluation of multiple silver and golden age artists, on my part - I finally "got" Kirby.  It may have been a result of hearing Jon Bogdanove speak affectionately about Kirby and his influence and his versatility, along with an analysis of what it was about his Marvel, and subsequent DC, work that spoke to me.  The energy in the pages, the characters bursting from the panel borders, elongated in extreme kineticism, large than life characters that refused to be penned in by these artificial boundaries.  I saw it.  I understood it.  And I appreciated it.  Very much.




Since then, I've done my best to educate myself on Kirby (i.e. I've read a lot of his comics that I missed out on before, and big props to Marvel & DC and their relatively recent repackaging of Kirby's early works into lovely hardbound collections).  His art - and the adventure and imagination present in his stories, particularly his 1970s work for DC - is a wonder to behold.  There's nothing as satisfying, for me, as reading a Kirby comics, whether it's something new (to me) or something I've read before.  The layouts, the expressionistic figure work, the energy - it's all pure bliss.



There's a part of me that regrets not grokking to Kirby earlier, but that is mitigated by the fact that I now have more opportunities to enjoy his work while also realizing there's still a wealth of great stuff I can look forward to.




Happy Kingday!     BOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!

chris

Friday, August 22, 2014

SIN TITULO by Cameron Stewart



Cameron Stewart is a fantastic artist.  He came out of nowhere, for me, when he worked with Grant Morrison on Sea Guy.  I loved his clean style and ability to convey emotions through a limited amount of lines.  Seriously, great work.

So, when I discovered he was doing a webcomic, titled SIN TITULO, I checked it out.  Spurred by the discovery by the main character, Alex MacKay, of his grandfather's death a month earlier, Sin Titulo is a maze of realities that weave in and out of one another, dragging readers down myriad rabbit holes with little explanation.  With the updates consisting of single, eight-panel pages, each time, Stewart had to reintroduced and then punctuate each page with a cliffhanger or a revelation or a new mystery.  And he managed that with great facility.

Dark Horse collected the web series into a nice hardcover, which is how I finished reading the story, as I am a poor one to keep up with online comics.  The biggest question I had, with this story that had dream sequences that fed into the memories of another, seemingly random, character, which wove into the story of MacKay's grandfather and an orderly from the retirement home where his grandfather lived out the rest of his life, was whether Stewart could stick the ending.

Rest assured, he did.

And as impressive as Stewart's art is, I was more impressed with his writing in this book.  The pace of the book, teasing out the various narrative threads that appear to have tenuous connections, at best, with one another, was masterful.  He offered the audience just enough to entice them without giving away too much.  And the way he manipulated not just the ideas and the scenes, but the words with which he explained things, was wonderful - a real joy to read and experience.

Sin Titulo is a great book, and if you are a fan of comics, you should definitely check it out.  I don't know how you could be disappointed.

chris

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

CELEBRATED SUMMER by Charles Forsman



For one so young, and so early in his comic making career, Charles Forsman is a highly confident and assured cartoonist.  He allows the images to tell the story, lingering on small points in the narrative, infusing his stories with a pace that adds to their emotional depth and tone.  He did this with The End of the Fucking World (TEOTFW), and he does it again with Celebrated Summer, from Fantagraphics Books.

A graphic "novella," Celebrated Summer is a reminiscence on that final summer of childhood between two close friends.  We follow them as they drive the highway, heading for the boardwalk and the ocean, in a last attempt to retain that innocence of their youth.

Their interactions feel genuine - unsentimental in a way that feels true to that state of being after you've finished high school and must consider what comes next.  The friends argue, share memories, and get lost, all rites of passage that anyone reading this book have experienced, and in this way, Forsman grounds his characters while allowing his audience to easily identify with them.  It's a fine line, and he walks it deftly.

With deceptively simple lines, Forsman also manages to create characters who, again, feel real.  I am certain there are some who look at his work and think of it as too simplistic (I've heard that criticism directly), but they are looking at it through a "wrong" lens, in my opinion.  He manages to evoke subtlety and pathos with a minimal amount of lines, and does it in a way that belies his youth.

If you've not checked out Forsman's work before, this would be a great place to start.  Then, if you appreciate this, as I think many fans of smart comics would, then you should check out TEOTFW, also from Fantagraphics.  You won't be disappointed.

chris

Monday, August 18, 2014

DUST by John Bergin



A collection of short comic stories created by Bergin from the mid-90s up to the present, DUST is a must-have for fans of serious, dark, and sometimes disturbing comics.

Friends with James O'Barr, creator of The Crow, Bergin is a multi-talented artist - writer, artist, musician, animator - who (and this may sound cliche) forges his own path.  The stories found within this new collection are singular, engaging, distinct works that will worry your emotions raw.  Bergin's visions are scratchy and dark, with a sense of whimsy subtly dropped in to add to the pathos.

I would purposely set the book aside for days at a time, savoring the most recent story while anticipating the next one, wishing to extend my experience of DUST, knowing that I could always come back to something riveting and emotional each time.  And the book never disappointed.  It was, like my collection of Borges short fiction, a book I did not want to end.

Having read a couple of issues of ASHES, Bergin's 90s comic from Caliber Press, I was prepared for the imagery I would find inside.  If you are familiar with O'Barr's "Crow" then you have a good idea already, since these two friends' work is similar in tone, if not identical in execution (which would not be half as satisfying).  What I was not ready for was the high level of the writing.  And, in that, I don't necessarily mean the ideas or the manner in which the stories were told - I mean the actual words utilized by Bergin.  He was able to paint pictures and incite emotions with his words alone, images and feelings that were heightened by the imagery accompanying them.  It really was a master course in how to create moving, haunting short comics.

I can't recommend this book enough.  And I must thank Mr. Phil (from the late, lamented Indie Spinner Rack podcast) for introducing me to Bergin's work with the inclusion of the artist in the second ISR anthology - Awesome 2: Awesomer.

chris

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Short Story Coming Soon

Almost seven full months into 2014 and I've amassed over 170,000 words thus far.  roughly 130,000 of those are newly written, while just under 40,000 of those are heavily revised words that bloomed into new stories and scripts that have been making there way into the ether.  As a result, I have a new story that will be available shortly.

Though, to be honest, this story isn't one that came from those 170K.  It's a story I actually sold two years back, but before it saw publication or I saw payment, the publisher fell afoul of economic woes that I do not envy.  And the project has sat on the back burner since.  But that acceptance proved to me that this bit of flash fiction was worthwhile, if I could just find the correct venue.

Which I did.

I landed in L.A. with my oldest son and his friend a bit over a week ago.  And we filled three days with sightseeing and picture-taking and exploring.  It was amazing.  But that first night, once we arrived at our hotel (post-Venice Beach), I opened my email to find that my story, "I Gotta Get Outta Here," had been accepted for the second issue of a new literary anthology from the UK, Firewords Quarterly.  This is very exciting.  It will be my second prose story to see print (third overall, as the first story I sold was for an online anthology), and the issue should be available - in print and digital formats - in roughly two weeks.  I'll drop a line here, when it becomes available for purchase.

-chris

Thursday, July 10, 2014

HOUSE OF CARDS - some thoughts

So, I’ve been catching up on some television shows recently, and it got me thinking about one of the series my wife and I watch together – House of Cards.  Both of us agreed that the recent second season was not as good as the first (in our opinion).  While there were some great moments, for the most part, it felt tired and lackluster.  Compared with my recent viewing – the second seasons of Treme and Justified (yes, I am eternally behind, and I still have two seasons of Lost to watch, as well; judge me as you will, it’s all good) – House of Cards isn’t even in the same ballpark as many of the other shows I watch.  And it seems to me that one of the main problems I have with the show is that it feels as if the writers took away the wrong lessons from some of the more revered television shows, just as the grim ‘n gritty comics spawned by Watchmen, Dark Knight, et al. also did.  They seem to have transferred the surface “flash” of these critically acclaimed series and forgotten to build a strong foundation from which to propel the drama.


The first thing they seemed to want, in the character of Francis Underwood, was to have a protagonist who was evil.  Kind of like Walter White on Breaking Bad.  Probably the best TV series I’ve watched (no surprise there, though David Simon’s The Wire is certainly in contention), Breaking Bad certainly isn’t a bad template from which to appropriate.  But, if they were using Walter White as a sort of jumping off point, the writers missed the boat. 

An aside – SPOILERS AHEAD:  I’m not saying the writers wanted to make Francis Underwood a direct clone of Walter White, nor do I even feel they wanted a passing similarity to him.  Walter is a man whose life turns upside down with the diagnosis of his cancer in the first episode, and we then watch as his ego and the fracturing of his psyche due to this terrible tragedy pushes him to change into the villain we see at the end of the series.  Conversely, Francis Underwood is a determined politician willing to go to any lengths in order for his dreams to be consummated – characteristics that, though taken to a far more extreme portrayal, are familiar to us and work within the context of the show, to a certain extent.

The biggest problem with Underwood’s characterization, for me, is that I do not find him sympathetic at all.  He is a power hungry politician who goes to ridiculous extremes to insinuate himself into the White House, where he works to push himself into the Oval Office.  You can’t just have an anti-hero as the primary character in your drama, you need to have something more for your audience, something that will allow them to relate to him or her and keep them engaged.  Otherwise, you’re just showing us the narcissistic underbelly of humanity, which can be fine in small doses but has trouble holding up under lengthier scrutiny.


Another lesson House of Cards seems to have taken from another popular show – Game of Thrones, for all three of you playing along at home – is the idea that killing off major characters within the series can add drama and tension to the overall narrative.  Well, that may be the case with the HBO adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s life’s work, but it doesn’t work so well with the Netflix original.  Certainly, the first murder by Francis was surprising (well, that’s not completely true, as it was telegraphed from a mile away; so, maybe unexpected, if one was attempting to parse out who would live and who would die after only the first episode), but the second one felt almost comical, to me.  Though I admit it was more of a surprise than that initial homicide, it still didn’t feel like it had any weight to it.  I think the main problem I had with it was that it felt all too easy (Star Wars shout-out), not just in terms of effecting the murder, but also in the manner with which Francis went through with it.  There was surprise, maybe a little shock, but I felt no connection to the experience, which is what the writer must do in order for great drama to work.  With Game of Thrones (I’ve only watched the first season, to date), I was invested in Sean Bean’s character of Ned Stark.  Even as his beheading was playing out on-screen, there was a part of me hoping, and believing, that maybe he would be reprieved.  I had a visceral response to that scene, and that character, a response and engagement that is wholly lacking now, with regard to Francis Underwood.



Ultimately, the biggest issue with House of Cards is the fact that the writers are not building up any tension within the overall narrative of Francis and Claire Underwood.  The strength of the actors, and their presence, propelled me through that initial season and kept me intrigued and engaged with the show.  But with the culmination of the second season, it is patently obvious that there is nobody who can stand up to Francis, and that fact saps the series of any tension for me.  Even Don Draper has a nemesis, in the form of Pete Campbell, who feels as if he could topple the house of cards (see what I did there) that Don has built up beneath himself.  The writers there have done a good job of building up the characters around Don, in order to give him worthwhile foils that can enhance the tension and propel the narrative to new and interesting places.  There are some issues I have with that show, as well, but I’ve never felt like leaving Mad Men behind as I plan on doing when the third season of House of Cards becomes available. 

-chris


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness - the Ultimate Problem

The thematic core of Star Trek Into Darkness is the friendship of Kirk and Spock.  Star Trek is an ensemble, but Kirk and Spock have been the focal point since very early in the original series – the wild, irreverent emotional spectrum of Kirk vying against the logic and calm demeanor of Spock and the way they grow to understand one another to become the closest of friends.  It’s a wonderful dynamic that evokes many heartfelt, and human, moments within the crazy – and sometimes not so crazy – ideas of its science fiction milieu.    

So, it seems to make sense to focus on this important relationship with the second “new” Star Trek film … if one does not consider the fact that these are different characters.

The primary emotional beat of the original Wrath of Khan (the original second Trek film to which this second new film calls back, often with too heavy a hand) is an intensely touching moment between Kirk and Spock, after Spock has sacrificed his life to save the Enterprise.  It works, incredibly well.  Why?  Because the weight of this friendship has been built up over the course of dozens of episodes from the original series.  Fans got to watch the relationship

between Kirk and Spock evolve and grow and became invested in it through all those hours of television.  There is a history for these two characters, as imagined by William Shatner (that’s for you, Brad) and Leonard Nimoy, which allows for just such a cathartic scene.  We, the viewers, have grown to love these characters just as they have grown to love one another, and to see that all rent asunder by Khan – who, it should be noted, also has a history with these characters from the original series – hits us in the gut.  It’s tragic. 


J.J. Abrams and co. thought it would be good to rehash this with Into Darkness.  They understood there were new fans to the franchise, but they also knew that many of the diehard fans who’ve been along for the Trek ride all these decades would also be in attendance when the movie opened.  I think they counted on that.  And I think they counted on those fans imbuing the same emotional intensity with the new Spock and Kirk as they had with the classic characters, though there is a part of me inclined to believe they didn’t think anything through at all, other than:  KHAN!!!!!!  That, ultimately, is where they failed. 


***SPOILERS FOR Into Darkness AHEAD***




As I stated above, these are new characters.  They have only been on one mission, as far as the audience is concerned.  We have not grown with these characters, as we did with the classic Kirk and Spock, and so, there is no emotional release when Kirk sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise, eliciting a raw emotional rage from Spock that lands flat.  Flat.  Flat.  Flat.   



***SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE DC EVENT Forever Evil***



Again, I must compare this new iteration of Trek to the reboot of DC Comics – the new 52.  Like the new 52, this new Trek reshuffled everything, created a divergent timeline that kept all of the history of the Enterprise and its crew intact (which, if you believe Dan DiDio, is actually not a possibility within the new 52), and could have moved off in a brand new direction.  Each company responsible for these initiatives proclaimed how different the new status quo would be.  (And though I find the new 52 to be an abject failure, aesthetically speaking, I must commend DC Comics for continuing to try and publish books in myriad genres other than superheroes). 

And yet, they have crafted stories reliant upon the decades of backstory already built up, which is supposed to have nothing to do with these new versions of familiar characters. 

By way of example:  Forever Evil.  We are not quite three years into the new 52 initiative – certainly not enough time to build up the relationships necessary for many emotional beats that might have more weight given a fifty or seventy year history of a particular character, especially when stories are stretched across multiple issues rather than the single issue stories (or multiple stories within a single issue) prevalent in the golden and silver age of comics.  But, with the culmination of this series, the big bad turns out to be the Anti-Monitor. 

o_O  What??????

This “reveal” has no impact unless one has read Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985, and even then, that story is no longer canon within DC continuity because of the new 52 reboot.  Star Trek does this same thing with Into Darkness, declaiming about these new characters who can surprise us, while relying heavily upon the continuity set up by the classic characters.  Infusing an emotional tether onto new characters because they have a tenuous connection to well-known classics … that doesn’t work. 


The other piece of this equation pertaining to the relationship of the new Spock and Kirk can be viewed through the lens of the Star Wars prequels.  In those films, particularly the second and third ones, viewers are told that Anakin and Obi-Wan are good friends and as close as brothers.  Yet, we never actually see them interact in a way that might suggest this (remember:  show, don’t tell).  There was that opening film, then we got an older Ani and Obi-Wan but were given none of the experiences that formed this supposed friendship.  It didn’t work. 

Compare this with the real Star Wars films.  (yeah, I went there)  In that first film, Han and Luke must blast out of Mos Eisley, make their way through the Death Star without being caught, save Princess Leia from the detention block, make their way back to the Falcon (after escaping from the trash compactor and evading Storm Troopers), launch their way off the Death Star, and are then forced to battle with the Death Star at the rebel base on the fourth moon of Yavin, wherein Han appears to leave with his reward but returns to shoot out of the glare of a star and take out Vader’s Tie Fighter, allowing Luke to blast the Death Star and win the battle of Yavin IV.  Star Wars is two hours of action, and through all of those obstacles the bond between Luke and Han strengthens, even as we move to Hoth in Empire.  It was a neat trick that George Lucas and his fellow creators pulled off, making us believe in the strong friendship of Han, Luke, and Leia, with merely two hours to do it. 

Abrams and co. failed in that respect, and the entirety of Into Darkness fell apart for me.   

-chris



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness - what didn't work

I really wanted to love Star Trek Into Darkness.  And there were many things I enjoyed in this film, as noted in the first part of this short series.  But, overall, it completely fell flat for me. 

1.      First:  where the hell were Bones, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov?  Yeah, they were in the film, but their roles were so diminished that it felt as if they were totally absent and, for the most part, superfluous with regard to the overall narrative.

Into Darkness and the 2009 reboot, Star Trek, had similar run times, but that first one felt like all the characters had their parts to play – integral parts to play – and we also got to know them as characters, with many older fans filling in what we knew of the original crew to accentuate them just a bit.  Certainly, that was essential to that first film, but it’s important to note that it was something the filmmakers achieved, admirably so.  But with this second one, they focused on the friendship of Spock and Kirk, which is the thematic core of Into Darkness, while leaving the rest of the crew to flounder about while the writers attempted to shoehorn them in somewhere.  As a result, the rest of the crew felt tacked on, unnecessary, and though Kirk and Spock are the centerpoint of the franchise, focusing in on them, at the expense of the other characters, missed the point of what makes this fictional universe special.
2.      Khan’s introduction:
For anyone who didn’t see the ads for Into Darkness, thankfully we got an overblown, ominous musical cue when Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was introduced.  Nothing like hitting the audience over the head with an orchestral hammer.  This was irritating.  And it seemed a missed opportunity.  We learned that Cumberbatch was given an identity that incorporated him into Starfleet, and wouldn’t it have been great to believe him to be one of the “good guys” and then have him turn?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  And probably not a fair argument, but the heavy-handedness of his introduction was the first, big indication that I was in for a ride I probably would not enjoy.

3.      Kirk is demoted for, what, two minutes:
This quote-unquote plot point … this one really irked me.  If you’re going to shake things up, so to speak, in a fairly significant manner, then just go for it.  Don’t pussyfoot around and ostensibly change it, only to have it revert back to the status quo minutes later.  You’re cheating your audience, and you offer them nothing within the overall narrative when you do this.  Revealing character comes through how they handle adversity, through action and consequence.  With this quick scene from Into Darkness, there was no real consequence for Kirk, not if it wasn’t a lasting consequence.  One might argue this demotion is the reason Kirk took responsibility later in the film (which yields no result, since Admiral Marcus doesn’t care to offer mercy to Kirk’s crew), but it did not ring true because of the limited time span of the demotion.  It wasn’t earned, and even if many in the audience were unable to articulate that point, there were many who realized, in an intuitive sense, that something was wrong.

4.      Khan was hyper-intelligent …
and he put his crewmembers into photon torpedoes to hide them, and eventually save them.  Chew on that one for a bit.
5.      Carol Marcus:
Did she have a purpose in this film?  Other than showing off her futuristic underwear?

So, what point did that scene (the underwear scene) serve?  None.  We already knew Kirk was a cad, a womanizer.  Ummmmmm.   Nope.  I got no other reason for it.  Moving on.

Marcus was able to get onto a major starship merely by lying to the captain that she had orders to be there?  (It’s possible I missed something here; so correct me, if that’s the case).  This was a major naval vessel (or at least a major starship within a large corporate-type entity).  There have to be protocols for accepting new crewmembers.  And, yes, Kirk isn’t one to stand on protocol, but it completely undermined his character.  If he was deemed responsible enough, even with his inability to follow regulations to the letter, for the captaincy of the Enterprise, Kirk must have shown some semblance of this responsibility before.

This just irritated me.  It circumvented any kind of rules already set up in this fictional universe.  Like Highlander III, where Wesley Snipes’s character fought on holy ground, just because he was super-evil, you can’t break the rules of your fictional reality without breaking the narrative.  It’s like a first grader’s superhero story, where whatever needs to happen just happens, because it has to happen.  Rules are set up to keep writers honest, but also to infuse their narratives with obstacles that require thought and ingenuity, rather than the laziness evinced in this scene, and many others.


6.      The Two Spocks:
Continuing on from setting up rules, only to break them.  When new-Spock contacted classic-Spock, he (new-Spock) asked about Khan.  Classic-Spock began his response with the disclaimer, which I’ve paraphrased:  “I said I would never share information from our timeline…”  This is supposed to make it suspenseful, I guess.  But then, immediately, he followed the disclaimer with a big BUT, and then went on to share information about Khan.  Just.  That.  Easy.

This wasn’t suspense, or drama.  This was, again, just ignoring the rules because it was too difficult to figure out how to inventively get around this obstacle.  Poor writing.

7.      Don’t allow accidents to get your characters out of a jam:
This happened at least twice, that I remember.  First, we had Bones and Carol Marcus go down to a planetoid to disarm one of the torpedoes.  When Bones inadvertently armed it, Marcus had thirty seconds to stop it from detonating.  She opened an access port, began acting as if she knew what she was doing, and, ultimately, just ripped the thing – whatever it was – out of the access port … amazingly shutting it down just in time.  There was no ingenuity, no expertise exhibited by Marcus, just stupid, dumb luck.  *sigh*

And then we had Scotty on Admiral Marcus’s ship.  Lucky for us.  (wipes brow)  Now, I’m sure there are some who would argue this is a result of actions and decisions made by characters beforehand.  But the path for Scotty to get here was so intricate and relied on so many little “chance” occurrences, along with the fact that so much else, up to this point, happened that I found wrong-headed, that it felt too neatly tied up.  Sure, this is something we expect from our fiction, but it also needs to feel natural.  This did not. 


Call this sour grapes, or whatever platitude you want to insert here, but my reason for getting this down is to examine why Into Darkness didn’t work for me, from a writer’s point of view.  What lessons can I take from the movie?  And are these the correct lesson?  [Feel free to interject and offer counterpoints to my own above.  I’m not closed against being persuaded I’m wrong] 

That said, I have one more piece in this short series to share, which will tackle the biggest problem I found in this film.  That will be next. 

-chris