Artist. Designer. Awkward wad of nerd. Fights off existential terror and self-loathing with Godzilla films.

amechanicaldisaster@gmail.com

"You want bloody? We can do bloody."

Aaaannnndddd now we’re back to the testosterone overdrive of the Fast and the Furious movies, going through the three most recent sequels (all from Tokyo Drift director Justin Lin) before Furious 7 drops. Here are my thoughts on the first three movies.
Fast & Furious (2009): Wait, I’m confused. I thought Tokyo Drift was the worst in the series and this bafflingly titled sequel was meant to be a return to form? You get the original cast back and this is what you give me? The movie distances itself from the first three by trying to be darker, grittier. The colors have been sucked out of the imagery. There aren’t really any jokes, aside from maybe the way Diesel says “pussy.” It opens with a sequence of Dom and his crew, including a bit of fanservice in the form of Tokyo Drift’s Han rolling with them, in a heist going bad. But we’ve seen this sort of thing already in the first movie, and it was far more entertaining then. It’s supposed to give us a closer example of Dom’s relationship with Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, so that we’ll feel bad when we later find out she’s been killed, but it doesn’t work. They didn’t have any chemistry in the first film, and there isn’t any here either. There’s no emotional connection with Dom as he goes out for revenge. The movie is also supposed to be about Dom and Brian rebuilding their friendship, and the chemistry between the two is there, but all the bromance, all the homoerotic subtext is thrown out, and the movie seriously suffers for it.
This movie is so boring that it makes me look back on Tokyo Drift more favorably, even though this one’s more competently made. There’s nothing interesting to the car stuff at all. That opening heist was a lesser version of something the movies had already done, as was the street race that comes later. They make a big deal about the streets not being cleared, but it isn’t anywhere near as thrilling as the Tokyo chase in the previous film, and it’s way too dark to be able to follow what’s happening for the most part. The finale has Dom and Brian being chased across the Mexican desert by more than a dozen cars, and I got my hopes up that we’d get some vehicular carnage not too different from Mad Max, but it never happens, it’s just a brief, cool visual before they head back into these lousy CGI tunnels. Vin Diesel as a machine for revenge, despite the lousy motivation, has his moments early on, but those too are frustratingly fleeting, tiny glimpses of what could’ve been a much better movie.
Fast Five, extended cut (2011): This is more like it! This is where it all comes together and becomes the kind of movie I’ve been wanting to see from the beginning, where the franchise really morphs from cheap car culture wannabe crime movies to full on blockbusters. They finally realized that playing Paul Walker as the world’s worst cop or federal agent wasn’t working, so now he’s on the criminal side, with Dwayne Johnson filling the role of the government guy trying to hunt down and stop this crazy crew of thieves. Everything is better in this movie, even the acting. I finally found myself actually invested in Brian, Dom, and their relationships as they really started showing more charisma here. I was stupidly excited when Ludacris, Sung Kang, and Tyrese Gibson returned, commencing the movie’s transformation into the kind of heist film they’ve been leaning towards since the first movie. The dumb humor and bromance sucked out of the last movie are back in full form. Thank god.
All of the action is great, and isn’t just limited to car chases. The train heist at the beginning pushes that Mad Max aesthetic hinted at in the previous movie just a tad further and in a much more satisfying manner. The foot chase in Rio is fantastic, especially when Hobbs catches on to Dom hopping rooftops and follows through the buildings, obliterating any goons coming between the two of them. Things are more extraordinarily violent, with one later sequence looking more like it belongs in a gritty war movie than here, and I’m not really sure it works. The finale, Dom and Brian with a colossal vault strapped to the back of their cars being slung around like a weapon, chased by an entire police squad, completely disregards the laws of physics and I love it. Not that those laws have ever been firmly in place in this series, of course.
Fast & Furious 6, extended cut (2013): By this point, going through the series is like watching someone grow up. The first three are the teenage years, obsessed with a particular car subculture and sneaking in some classic crime genre elements in the back. By the fourth movie, early adulthood has been reached, with directionless floundering caused by an apparent shame of the past. Fast Five was when the identity of the series was rediscovered and molded into a bigger, more mature form. Now we reach Furious 6, with that identity firmly and confidently in place, settled into adulthood but confidently still taking risks. This may just be the adrenaline high I’m on from having just finished watching it, but it very well may be a perfect popcorn-munching action movie.
This is also where the series’ evolution into a comic book really takes shape, pulling an old trick out of X-Men or Captain America by reviving a dead character and making them a villain. Michelle Rodriguez never got to do much in the other movies, but they’ve finally figured out how to handle her here, putting her up in hand to hand fights with Gina Carano. You can tell Justin Lin was watching a lot of good fight movies by bringing Carano in, as well as Joe Taslim, who played Jaka in the Raid, and he’s gotten better at shooting those fights too. This movie just delivers on just about every level, and the action is so much more satisfying than anything the Marvel movies have really given us, each setpiece crazier than the last. Taking the comic vibe even further, the team is essentially fighting their alter egos, as Tyrese happily points out in one scene, and you get a great mid-credits stinger setting up the next movie as well.
 

I feel like I'm coming close to achieving true enlightenment, having watched these movies and quickly witnessed their incredible evolution. When Furious 7 drops this weekend, I may very well reach Nirvana upon seeing it. I am really, truly, stupidly excited for it.

What you see in the mirror

Last week I launched my newest, latest, most unusual project yet: Reflected Gaze.
This week I remembered that I haven’t mentioned it here yet, and should probably do that. So here I am.
Remember Embrace Infection, my senior show at ETSU? I’ve been wanting to revisit that sort of thing for a while now, but never had a decent idea of figuring out how. But it always comes back to me, especially when new interviews with David Cronenberg start popping up online. His new movie, Maps to the Stars, isn’t really all that good, but I love reading anything the man has to say, and reviews of his movies are always pretty thoughtful. Then Leonard Nimoy died, and I remembered my favorite thing about his career wasn’t his acting but his photography, most specifically (nsfw) the Full Body Project.
So I conceived a short autobio comic, or diary comic, whatever, about my own body and the issues I face, poking at myself in the mirror. But there isn’t much to that. I mean, for me it’s important to sort of put this out there, kind of exorcizing some personal stuff, but there’s not much meat to it. So I started thinking on how I could make it bigger and reach more people without making it just about myself, because that‘s boring. I mean, we all have these issues, right? All of us, regardless of shape, size, color, gender, whatever, we examine ourselves in the mirror every day. It differs from person to person, but it’s universal.
I talked to a select few people about it to make sure I wasn’t crazy. The idea I came up with was to make comics about all kinds of people and their own personal issues. To interview them, take pictures, and draw them. To get as many voices as I can and show readers that they aren’t alone in dealing with these things. Even better, I wanted to get people who can write or make their own art to contribute: essays, interviews, comics, whatever.
Thus, Reflected Gaze was born. I recruited a few friends, set up the main site on Wordpress, as well as a Facebook page and a Tumblr, none of which I was really planning on announcing right away, but some savvy individuals caught sight of the Facebook before I even had any content and spread it like wildfire. The immediate buzz of interest was a little more than I could handle that night, I just wasn’t quite ready for it. I was overwhelmed.
I hit the ground running and haven’t slowed down yet. The first comic, my personal one, is halfway complete. I’m laying the groundwork for the next one, focusing on a good friend of mine. The first article should be on its way to me later next week, and I’m working on another article myself, with a friend who’s a fellow Cronenberg fan. Altogether I’ve got just under 20 people interested in participating or contributing to the project, many of whom are much smarter than I am about discussing this stuff. The Facebook page is nearing 200 likes. I’m excited and terrified.
This could very well be the biggest undertaking I’ve ever done. The first comic isn’t even finished and I’ve already got a much larger audience than I’d expected. This is incredible. I really hope I don’t blow it.
If you’re interested in being a part of Reflected Gaze, please let me know. In the meantime, go like the Facebook page, follow the Tumblr, and look at the entries I’ve posted on the main site so far. And then go spread the word! Tell your friends, send these links far and wide! I can’t do this all by myself!
Anyways. Back to work. The first comic should be finished and up next week, then you’ll get to learn all about my own insecurities. Gulp.

"What are they going to race with, hopes and dreams?"

I don’t remember what movie we were seeing, maybe Interstellar, but the trailer for Avengers 2 was in front of it, followed almost immediately by the trailer for Furious 7. And, maybe it’s my brain, maybe I’m weird, but Furious 7 looked way more appealing to me, not that Age of Ultron looked bad. Nobody around me agreed. Not unexpected, these movies have a reputation of being made more for jock types than your sci-fi/superhero crowd, yeah?
While I’ve gained a better appreciation for superhero blockbusters, it still exhausts me to consider that Marvel has been hammering us with two a year, with the other studios scrambling to keep up. They’re all catering for the same crowd, or at least trying to, and, well, I shouldn’t have to say anything, the internet is already littered with thinkpieces about superhero fatigue. So, in the face of all that, this trailer for Furious 7 looks like a breath of fresh air as an action movie that’s not aimed largely at nerds. And the cast! There’s Jason Statham! Tony Jaa! KURT RUSSELL! My god! I HAVE to see this!
But, well, I haven’t seen any of the other movies. I asked on Twitter if I could skip most of them or even all of them, but was told no, I should watch every single one of them. And well, I’m a firm believer in broadening your horizons and leaving your comfort zone, even if you know you’re heading in a potentially stupid direction. Why do anything halfway? So my journey began.
The Fast and the Furious, dir. Rob Cohen (2001): Here’s where it all began. I felt it was appropriate to be eating a giant greasy cheeseburger and fries while drinking as I watched this for the first time. Look at how young and baby-faced Paul Walker is! And look how even more baby-faced Vin Diesel looks! I realize I’ve never really seen any other movies with these two, as Diesel’s voice acting in the Iron Giant and Guardians of the Galaxy don’t necessarily count. Not that I appear to have been missing too much. This movie was largely what I was kind of expecting, except for the relationship building that takes place. That cookout scene, man, I just wasn’t expecting this huge emphasis on Dominic’s team being this tight knit family that they were slowly letting Brian into, even if it was in the dumbest way. So much homoerotic tension, I was legitimately disappointed at the end of the movie that those two didn’t kiss goodbye before parting ways. What a loss.
The very first race is supposed to a 10 second, quarter mile shot, but it goes for over 2 minutes and the vehicles reach impossible speeds, so you know just moments into the movie how things are going to work. Dumb as it is, this movie is nicely shot. Editing gets weird in places, especially during the house party, though. What shocked me was when it briefly took on the language of a horror movie, when Vince catches Brian sneaking around, and then Dom emerges from the shadows like Jason Vorhees or something. Even better was their final heist, when the truck driver they’re trying to rob pulls a shotgun and things quickly go sideways. It’s like the movie suddenly became some alternate universe sequel to Steven Spielberg’s Duel. That was riveting. I wish there had been more of that and less of the macho posturing and racing silliness.
2 Fast 2 Furious, dir. John Singleton (2003): Still remains one of the silliest titles for a movie, but then this is from the director of the classic Boyz N the Hood, so he’s no stranger to unusual spelling. This movie jettisons Vin Diesel in favor of the much more charismatic Tyrese Gibson and cranks the volume up. Eva Mendez subs in as Brian’s new love interest, but just like Jordana Brewster in the first film, their relationship means nothing next to bromance. I guess these movies stick hard to the saying “bros before hos.”
Everything got cranked up here, and reminded me of all the racing games I played on my Playstation as a kid. I had Destruction Derby and rented the Need For Speeds all the time, and there are elements of both in this one. With the colors and everything, I get this feeling that maybe the Wachowskis lifted some of the visual language going on here when they made Speed Racer. What really surprised me were the little nods to Michael Mann and Brian De Palma scattered throughout. Makes sense given the Miami setting, actually. It was just jarring for a movie that’s basically a loud cartoon to suddenly, unexpectedly veer into some dark territory from time to time. In the end, it’s still a cartoon, but a fun one all the same.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, dir. Justin Lin (2006): Ah, the nadir of the series. I wasn’t looking forward to this given its reputation. Lucas Black, who even is this guy? I haven’t seen anything this kid’s in. He doesn’t have Vin Diesel’s physical presence, he’s not as pretty as Paul Walker, and his Alabama accent makes me want to drive sharp objects into my ears. There is nothing likeable about this guy. At all. Not a single thing. And then there’s Bow Wow, a name I hadn’t thought about since middle school, before he ditched the Li’l in his name. Why is his character named Twinkie? His Hulk obsession is neat, I guess, but there’s nothing in this movie for him to do. Same for Nathalie Kelley, the romantic lead in this. The women’s roles just keep getting more and more paper thin.
The one saving grace the cast has is the bewildering appearances by Sonny Chiba. When he shows up on screen, his presence is immediate, and the movie undergoes a tonal shift towards the gritty older movies he made his name with. The movie flirts around with characters who may or may not be Yakuza, and if they’d dialed back the lousy Karate Kid ripoff tone and pushed more on the crime elements, that could have maybe saved this movie. Maybe. I guess you’d have to kill half the cast in the first act to really pull things out of the mire.
The action’s good though. You know how with some Godzilla movies, you just have to put up with the human drama and dumb plot to get to the giant monster carnage? This movie is like that, you just grit your teeth and shake your head at the awful dialogue and terrible performances to get to the vehicle on vehicle carnage. I mean, all of them so far have been like that, but this is where I really noticed. It’s interesting to see the way the car stuff in the movies progresses, too. The races in the first film are all straight shots, just making it from one end of the line to the next, the heists take place on highways. 2 Fast introduces the incredible concept of turns and ramps, the first and final car scenes ending with Brian throwing his car into the air. This one introduces us westerners to drift racing, and there’s a chase towards the end through the streets of a heavily populated Tokyo, bystanders all around, that’s really thrilling and has a nasty ending.  I see why Justin Lin was brought back to direct the next three, let’s just hope he has better material to work with.
So yeah, I’ve yet to watch the next three, but I’ll write about them too. I’m committed at this point, and honestly a little surprised by how engaged I’ve been with them. I can feel my teenage self sneering at me from the past as I type this. I’m having fun. I guess there’s a reason there are seven of these things. 

Processing

I’ve begun working on my Slimepunk minicomic this past week, and thought I’d share some process nonsense, largely because it feels like I’m charting new personal territory as I work on it.

I’ve been making attempts every now and again for a few years now to try and draw digitally. My kaiju poster is the only decent thing to come out of those attempts outside of a few October Game pieces from 2012, though. I was convinced that the problem was my cheapo hundred dollar Vistablet, because it’s never your own fault, right? It’s always the tools, not the user, no!

Which is one reason why it took me so long to finally make a convention banner. I was sure that drawing something at the usual size and blowing it up would look awful, I wasn’t sure what resolution I’d have to scan it at, blah blah blah. I knew my safest bet would be to do it digitally, but again, see above. Well, I finally bit the bullet and did the Slimepunk banner I showed off in my last post, entirely digitally, and it doesn’t look half bad, does it?
It turns out the problem was never necessarily the tablet, it was my way of using it. Since I moved, I’ve set up at a different computer desk, one that’s a perfect height for drawing while sitting and with enough space for the keyboard and tablet to sit, unlike my setup for the past few years. It’s like an epiphany or something, realizing that my lines weren’t super shaky and wobbly from the tablet but from how I was holding it while drawing! DUH. Stupid Brett. You’re an idiot.

I mean, my lines are still a little shaky. I think in Manga Studio there’s a way to cut down that jitter, but I only have an earlier version that I‘ve never been able to figure out, so I’m sticking to Photoshop since it’s what I know.
ANYWAYS. Here’s some process stuff! Starting with the cover, here are my digital “pencils,” throwing down lines to get an idea for composition and things. I think I’m starting to like this more than real penciling, it’s quicker, erasing is easier and not so messy, and I’m using the same brush tool as when I do the later inks, so I’m getting a better idea of line thickness from the start.
Then we have the inks, done on a separate Photoshop layer. I’m a little shakier here, especially with the longer lines. Sometimes it’s better to zoom out so the canvas is smaller and just throw a line down, but it’s harder to be precise in my direction like that. It’s a learning process, for sure. I was talking to my friend and comics badass Alejandro Bruzzese as I was working on the banner, and I mentioned the shakiness bugging me. He suggested owning that line, handling it in a way that it becomes part of the work. That sticks with me as I do this, trying to make that work.
And here’s the final cover after, well, all kinds of edits and stuff, though I’m really thinking about changing the logo. Something about it isn’t sitting right with me.

Oh, by the way, I didn’t just open up Photoshop and start drawing. I thumbnailed everything first. Typically, my thumbnails are stupidly tiny, only a couple inches in height, usually layouts for 9 or 10 pages crammed onto one sketchbook page requiring me to squint at little scribbles and try to interpret them. However, last month I ordered a couple of super awesome Field Notes notebooks. One is lined for writing, as you expect from a standard notebook, but the other one is grid paper, specifically for doing science and stuff. I spent a few days staring at it, figuring out what to use it for, when it hit me that it’s perfect for page layouts. And so:
This is so much better, those page layouts are the perfect size. Thanks Field Notes, I’m a fan now.

So yeah, the cover wasn’t too shabby, but I was really terrified over how drawing the comic itself would go. Drawing a comic page is not the same as drawing a single image, and even with the layouts already done I was still uncertain, at least until I started to pencil the first page:
The panels aren’t completely even, I admit. This is because I didn’t know what I was doing and threw down WAY TOO MANY guidelines and made each box individually. Then I realized it would have been so much easier to just do one big box and cut the gutters out, tier by tier. The rest of the book’s panels will be a bit more even, ha.

Aside from that, though, I was kind of flabbergasted with myself. Penciling this page took less than an hour, and with the layout drawn at a decent size for once I was never all that confused. Plus, being able to letter as I go, knowing from the very beginning where dialogue is going to be? So helpful. And, as I realized working on the second page, if I think the pencils themselves look good, I can just copy and paste them into the inks layer in black, no need to redraw. That’s GREAT.
The actual act of inking took longer, of course. Especially panel 4, with those ruins on the right. You can really easily do straight, even lines in Photoshop with no problem, but it wasn’t working with the occasional jitter of the rest of my linework, it looked too fake and mechanical. Alejandro’s words remained in the back of my head, so I took a nearby book to use as a straight edge and drew the lines that way, so the line thickness changes with pen pressure and there‘s the occasional wobble. It’s weird, but it works, I think. Curved lines are still a pain, especially the bisection of Slimepunk’s Spitwad.

The page isn’t finished yet, but I managed to get all the flat colors down last night, changed some of the line art, and fixed the lettering. I’m nearly there:
And…geez, that looks GOOD, doesn’t it? It’s not just me, right? Something about how quickly and effortlessly I can throw down and erase lines with the tablet and zoom in or out kind of…it opens things up for me, I think. I can’t articulate it, but it’s like seeing things from a completely new perspective this way. Penciling on paper never felt this good.

Of course, I’m still doing Cannonball Fist the traditional way, inking digitally just isn‘t the same for me. The horror comic will also be done more traditionally, I think. Maybe if I get a better printer, I could pencil digitally, print that, then ink traditionally? Ooh yeah, that’d be good, I think.

So yeah. This minicomic is a fun exercise. I’m moving fast on it, hoping to have it finished and printed in time for ShikaCon in April. Probably before that. I wish I’d come up with it sooner so that I’d have it done and in print in time for ETSUcon this weekend, but yeah, that’s not going to happen at all. Alas.
Speaking of cons, I made a new sign for doing mutant portraits and sketches! Yes, I’m pushing to do more mutant pet portraits. Yes, I know that’s kind of weird. No, I don’t care at all.

I want to continue posting process stuff. It keeps things moving, I think. Hope you enjoyed reading this!

New year, new moves

Oh crap, it’s a new year! We’re just over a month into it! And I haven’t written anything here since I started and abandoned those review posts in December! Oops!

Not that I’ve been a total lazy bum or anything of that sort, I’ve been busy. On January 1st I moved into an apartment. Things have been kind of a whirlwind since, but I haven’t slouched too much on the art front. I’ve got two new posters that I’m selling at cons now. First, I repurposed my Beat About poster from November into a Spanish fight poster:
I also binged on some episodes of the live action Toei Spider-man TV show from the 70’s and this was the result:
Plus I made new business cards with Slimepunk on them:
And I’ve got my own convention banner on the way:
On Saturday I was a guest at the winter sale Mountain Empire Comics was having, which was a load of fun and resulted in me taking home a Bruce Lee magazine, the Batman manga (BATMANGA), and a handful of issues of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi. I got to draw my first mutant portrait of the new year, and my first ever mutant portrait of a dog!
I now have another dog and a cat to draw mutant portraits of, as well. I smell a lucrative new career on the horizon…

Originally, I was really on the fence about printing any new comics this year. I printed the Other Sleep collection, Burst Reach 4, AND Shouting at the Void last year, which was ludicrously expensive and…well, they aren’t selling as well as I’d hoped. I’ve had people ask me about printing Cannonball Fist, but I don’t think I’m up for that yet, and I’m done with Burst Reach as a series for now.

However, I have decided to do a new little full-color mini-comic starring Slimepunk, seeing as how he’s sort of my alter ego and his ugly mug is now plastered onto both my business cards and my convention banner. It’ll be a smaller thing, only 12 pages probably. Currently working on the script and some character designs for it, as well as giving Slimepunk his own spaceship!

I mentioned…I don’t know, some time ago, that I’m working on a new horror webcomic, black and white, set here in the south, featuring Gemini from Black Hole Ghost. I did bring that up, right? That’s still coming along, slowly, but surely. I can’t rush anything with it. I have characters and settings and plot elements here and there pieced together, but the overall story isn’t coalescing quite yet. I wanted to launch it in April or so, but that’s looking unlikely. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a Spotify playlist I put together for it that...was in order, but isn't really anymore.

Finally, I’ve already got most of this year’s cons lined up. In a few weeks, the 21st and 22nd, I’ll be at the third annual ETSUCon. I always have a good time at that, so I’m pretty excited. Hopefully my banner will arrive in time and won’t look like garbage. In April, I’ll be a special guest at Bristol’s first annual ShikaCon (oh hey there I am on the front page, whaaaaaat), an anime convention. In May I’m going to Myrtle Beach for XCon, then in June I’ll be at HeroesCon once more! This year’s Rob-Con is going to be TWO days, August 1st and 2nd, and I’m pretty thrilled about that. Finally, while I haven’t applied to get a table yet, I’m pretty excited for the next Asheville Comic Expo in October.

So this will be another full year for me. Nothing as momentous as finishing a graphic novel and getting my own art show for it like last year, true, but I’m still enthusiastic. Let’s make 2015 awesome, yeah?

"Your lure is the one thing he wants despite everything he knows."

I’m bad at TV. I never actually watch anything unless it’s on DVD or Netflix. When I start watching something, it’s typically after the excitement’s died down and everyone on the internet has stopped talking about it. I never watch anything as it airs, and yet, somehow this year, I caught two shows whose episodes aired in 2014. That has to be a fluke. Never again.

I’ve written about Hannibal before, though not in a particularly good way. I liked the first season quite a bit, and watched the second season on Hulu a night or two after each episode aired, and I’m really impressed by how much Bryan Fuller and his team cranked everything up and pretty much threw out the typical procedural structure that the first season followed. Jack Thompson’s FBI team still goes after the occasional serial killer, yes, but that’s pushed to the background as Hannibal starts to become more and more of a terrible, manipulative villain. And with Will, oblivious through most of the first season, now onto him, the show starts becoming a bizarre game of chess between the two, coming down to the downright comic book idea of them sending other killers after each other.

That’s something I don’t think I dug too deeply into last year, but this show is operating on such a unique, theatrical level. It’s gothic opera, theatre grotesque, it’s turned more into a dark fantasy show rather than a realistic crime drama. Those elements were all there in the first season, especially the crime scenes which more resembled art installations, but season two just turned up the volume and threw restraint out the window in a way that’s really impressive. The violence gets even more grotesque too, with lots of awful things I won’t be forgetting any time soon and one crazy, incredible fight that wouldn‘t be out of place in the Raid 2.


Another element they turned up was the more romantic aspect of Will and Hannibal’s relationship. Fans throughout the first season ran off with any suggestion of the two being romantically involved, something I didn’t see at all and thought was just kind of ridiculous and, well, wrong due to Hannibal‘s abusive manipulations. But the second season threw subtext out the window and gave those fans the eroticism they wanted to see between those two, which, to me, is a pretty ballsy move and an example of the show knowing its audience.

And then there’s Michael Pitt’s unhinged performance as Mason Verger, the one person who truly gets under Hannibal’s skin. Oh man. In a show full of great actors, he outperforms everyone else. It’s a shame he’s not returning for season 3, it really is. His replacement has big shoes to fill.

The other show I watched, and which I dedicated the bulk of my TV binging to, was Person of Interest. I’d never heard of it before Tucker Stone and Sean Witzke started bringing it up on their podcast Travis Bickle on the Riviera, and I think it started popping up a little more in my feeds after that. The only people I personally know who actually watch it are one good friend of mine in Indiana and my parents. Which is weird.

I watched all three seasons this year, and the entire time I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it to people. The best I can come up with is that it feels like a really good action comic written by Warren Ellis. There are shades of Global Frequency in there for sure, and it pulls heavily from other great sci fi works like the Terminator movies and Neuromancer. The show was created by Jonathan Nolan, you know, younger brother of Christopher Nolan and writer/co-writer for most of his films? Which is why I don’t get how the show isn’t more popular among people I know. I guess because it isn’t as obviously nerdy as shows with rabid fanbases are.

I mean, at first glance it doesn’t look like much. It follows a largely episodic structure with a weird yet prescient premise involving an NSA-developed Machine that spies on us all the time (and the show started airing BEFORE we learned about PRISM). It doesn’t really have the pedigree of a Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, it‘s definitely much more like a standard network show. And yet, working within that structure of being another CSI or 24-esque “dad show,” it’s so weirdly subversive and is the best work of modern cyberpunk I’ve ever come across.

The show also manages to avoid getting on my nerves the way a lot of inherently geeky sci-fi shows do, especially those that Joss Whedon’s name gets attached to. One of the leads, Michael Emmerson as Harold Finch, is an expert computer programmer and hacker, the man who built the Machine itself. But he isn’t depicted as some fast-talking nerd with lots of dumb quips and poor social skills, he isn’t depicted the way every hacker in every Hollywood movie is portrayed. He’s very smart, but he doesn’t shove it in people’s faces, he’s compassionate, he’s kind of the heart and soul of the show. And then there’s Jim Caviezel as John Reece, the man in the suit with the gun, ex-special forces killer. Gravely voice, not too talkative or emotional, a pro who gets the job done, whatever that may entail. I was hooked from the first episode when he walked out into traffic wearing a ski mask (which had me thinking of Diabolik), firing a grenade launcher at an oncoming vehicle. As much as I love these two, it’s their female counterparts Root and Shaw who steal the show and make them look like they aren’t even trying. Especially Root, the sociopathic hacker who spends much of the second season referring to the Machine as God before becoming the one person who can communicate directly with it by making herself a cyborg. Oh, and Detective Fusco is basically a character who wandered off the set of the Wire, and even though he‘s often the comedic relief, he gets some great emotional beats and dirty work too.

Like I said, it’s episodic, yeah, but there’s always another plot weaving its way through single episodes, and that’s where the storytelling and the sci-fi conspiracy theory elements really get to shine and set the show apart from others. A lot of the single episodes are also fun genre riffs, like a Rear Window episode in season one and an episode in the third season where they help an expert art thief pull off one final heist, stuff that I get a kick out of. Throw in some great action scenes, appearances by cool character actors, and some excellent music choices (Radiohead, Unkle, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone) and it’s everything I want from this kind of show.

I still don’t think I did a good job here explaining it, but really, if you like good shootouts, stone-faced killers, government cover-ups, and cyberpunk craziness, you’ll enjoy Person of Interest, trust me.

"I'll tell you what God's given you."

Or, BRETT'S FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2014 THAT WEREN’T GODZILLA

My list that I put together last year sucked. I just didn’t see very many movies, and so I went all-in this year, watching everything I could. I caught most of the big summer releases and a few smaller movies in between. There have been quite a lot of really good movies, which is awesome, but these are my favorites. Godzilla is on the list too, obviously, but having written about it twice already, I didn’t see the point in putting you guys through that again.

The Rover - Movie of the year, probably? I’ve always found myself more drawn to this kind of movie: small, stripped down, with a simple threadbare plot and only a few characters to work with. The whole movie is just watching a very quiet, very angry Guy Pearce on a single-minded journey to get his car back from a handful of thieves who stole it somewhere in the Australian outback. What’s the “Collapse” which the beginning of the movie refers to? Who knows. There’s no attempt at exposition, no answers to why things are so terrible, why life is so cheap. Pearce is incredible in this movie, and so is Robert Pattinson as a filthy halfwit redneck forced to tag along on this bloody trip.

The Raid 2: Berandal - The theater my friend and I saw this in was empty save for another six or seven people, but we were all there for the same purpose: to watch the sequel to one of the best fight movies ever made. It was like going to church. I didn’t think it was really possible to top the fights in the Raid, but Gareth Evans and his team really scaled things up and managed to pull it off. The first half is a little slow, but around the halfway mark the movie turns into fights on top of fights, with one incredible car chase thrown in just to mix things up and keep you on your toes. One of the movie’s three assassins, Hammer Girl, is probably my favorite movie character of the year.

Under the Skin - I haphazardly tried to write about this once before and was unsuccessful. This is a movie about an alien disguised as a human who seduces and kidnaps men, then takes them to be, uh, farmed, yes, but it’s also very much a movie about gender, identity, and self image/body issues. There’s a lot going on here that parallels a lot of my current interests, and there are scenes that look like the kind of things I’ve tried to draw and express in my own work. It’s inhuman, it’s haunting, it’s beautiful, it‘s heartbreaking. I hope Scarlett Johansson does more weird stuff like this and steps back a bit more from doing ridiculous action movies, because her performance is incredible.
John Wick - Next to the Raid 2, this is the best action I’ve seen in a movie this year. There’s some great, interesting world building going on, a lot of emphasis is put on the criminal underworld that Keanu Reeves’s titular assassin finds himself strolling back into, a world filled with great character actors and smooth gunfight choreography with a big headshot count. While there isn’t really anything groundbreaking going on here, it’s stylish, expertly crafted, and a lot of fun.

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears - The Belgian couple who directed this movie are clearly really into giallo, but not so much into things like storytelling or comprehensible narratives. A man returns home from a business trip to find his wife has gone missing. In searching for her and trying to hire a detective to help him out, he unearths a lot of weird, grisly things in the apartment building where he lives. The strange people he encounters couldn’t care less about his plight and are more concerned with talking about their own weird shit, nightmares and hallucinations come fast and hard, and people start dying from vaginal knife wounds in their skulls. Don’t even try making sense of it or following the events as they take place, just enjoy the repurposed music from old Italian films (lots of Morricone in there!) and take in the insane, gorgeous visuals. There’s a nightmare sequence that really got under my skin that I’m never going to be able to forget, one full of false awakenings and gore. It can get exhausting after a while, but I haven’t seen anything quite like this in a long time.

Honorable mentions: Interstellar, Noah, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Enemy, Blue Ruin

Movies I didn't get to see: Nightcrawler, Birdman, Lucy, The Guest, Tokyo Tribe, Inherent Vice, Big Hero 6, Why Don't You Play in Hell?, Gone Girl, Fury

"All we are is indestructible"

The year is ending! Time to make lists of my favorite things! Let's start with music!

I was going to list my favorite albums, then I decided I’d rather just name my favorite songs, but that ignores albums entirely. Which sucks, but, for me, there weren’t really any complete albums that stuck with me this year, that I listen to all the way through multiple times. Which sucks, really. Anyways, these are in no particular order:

Daikaiju - Spiral Serpent Strike (from Monsters of Surf)
 
A previously unreleased Daikaiju song that dominates an already killer surf rock compilation. Tokusatsu fight music. I saw them play twice this year and was thrilled that it was their opener. Maybe the most visceral song they've done, too. 

Kid Cudi - Too Bad I Have to Destroy You Now (from Kid Cudi Presents Satellite Flight: The Journey To Mother Moon)
 
This whole album impressed me, but this is by far the best track. Best song title of the year too. "All hail king wizard in the motherfucking house" is such a great line. 

Against Me! - Unconditional Love (from Transgender Dysphoria Blues)
 
I dare you to try NOT to sing along to this song. It's pretty much impossible. A perfect punk anthem. 

La Roux - Let Me Down Gently (from Trouble in Paradise) 
 
Probably the best pop song I've heard in a long time, though it feels like they weren't really sure how to end it. Shame the rest of the album doesn't live up to this. 

Run the Jewels featuring Zack de la Rocha - Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) (from Run the Jewels 2)
 
Killer Mike and El-P prove that last year's Run the Jewels, a favorite of mine, wasn't just a one-off fluke with their second album, but I think this track burns the hottest. Then Zach de la Rocha shows up and things EXPLODE.  

Perturbator - Humans Are Such Easy Prey (from Dangerous Days)
 
That dialogue sample from the Terminator at the beginning sets the track up perfectly. This is what you want to hear if you're taking on an unstoppable machine that's obsessed with your destruction. The whole album is like the unearthed soundtrack to a lost 80's cyberpunk horror film, highly recommended.

Creep Highway - What (from Creep Highway)

One of the freakiest talents in comics right now, Michael DeForge, formed a two-piece noisepunk band with fellow illustrator Patrick Kyle and the result is a glorious mess. It sounds like they just kicked their instruments down a staircase and recorded the result. I love it.

Taylor Swift - Blank Space (from 1989)
 
Yeah, no, I didn't really see this coming either. After being let down by La Roux's Trouble in Paradise, I really wanted a good pop album to sink my teeth into, and then, a week after finally hearing Shake it Off and getting into it, this music video dropped, directed by the brilliant madman Joseph Kahn, and I was hooked. Also, thanks to this video, I want to see Swift play an axe murderer in a revenge film sometime. 1989 may also be one of my favorite albums of the year, don't hate.

Empires – Honeyblood (from Orphan)
 
Empires is my girlfriend's favorite band, and it took some time for me to get into them, even after taking her to see them play and enjoying the show they put on. I'm a little bummed that nothing on their new album hits as hard as some of my favorite tracks on Garage Hymns, but, like the band itself, it's all grown on me over time. I really love the guitars on this one.

John Carpenter - Vortex (from Lost Themes)
 
JOHN CARPENTER HAS AN ALBUM OF NEW MUSIC COMING OUT NEXT YEAR, HOLY CRAP. This is the first and only track they've released off of it so far, and man. Man oh man. I've been listening to stuff like Perturbator up above, Carpenter Brut, lots of synth artists who are heavily influenced by Carpenter's soundtrack work, and for him to just come out of nowhere with this? It's the return of a master. It gives me chills. I can't wait for February when the album drops.

Oh, here, have some honorable mentions:

Tycho – Awake (from Awake)

Useless Eaters - Dungeon (from Bleeding Moon)

Death From Above 1979 - Right On, Frankenstein! (from the Physical World)

Locked in a vortex

October ended last week, and November Has Come. Here we are, approaching the end of the year, with no signs of slowing down.

I successfully finished Inktober like a boss. The gallery is here, but these are a few of my favorite pieces:
 

I did a couple posts on the videogame character sketches I did over on Gamervescent here and here. I also wrote about Akira Yamaoka and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s musical collaborations for the Silent Hill series over there. And then Jennifer and I nerded out about Resident Evil 4 and posted our conversation for your enjoyment, so check that out too.

The Halloween sale at Mountain Empire Comics was fun, even if I didn‘t really do much business. I mostly just enjoyed watching kids in costume run around grabbing free comics and candy. Halloween night at the Secrets Society was super weird and a total blast. My performance onstage was okay, even when my rambling spiraled into nonsense, and I was pleased with the drawing I did. The other performers were crazy and awesome, and I got to spend most of the evening with some old friends. Can’t complain about that, can I?
Cannonball Fist marches on, despite my constantly verging on falling behind. I think once the third chapter wraps up soon I’m going to be cutting the schedule down to just a page a week. It’ll be a load off my mind and I’ll be able to build up another nice lead without getting too stressed, and it’ll allow me to focus on other things too. Still though, have you been reading it? Chapter 3 is so much fun, even if it is making me want to pull my hair out sometimes while I’m working on it.

In the next month or two I’ll be moving. Cutting down on pages prior to that will be so helpful to me.

Next week, my friend Jessie will be interviewing me in front of a live audience for the next Beat About Late Night event, which I also did the poster for. I think there will be a recorded interview that’ll go up as a podcast sometime, too. That’ll be great, won’t it? Two audio interviews in a year? Crazy.

The story for the new black and white horror comic I’m plotting is creeping along slowly but surely. You probably won’t see anything for it until next year.

I got an account on the new social media thing Ello, but it’s a ghost town now. Shame, as I like its stark aesthetics. I also started an account on Letterboxd, which is like a better version of  that one site I used to frequent some years ago, Flixster? Check that out. I’m pretty fond of my weird review for Transformers: Age of Extinction and a little write-up I did on Aliens over there.

What I’ve been watching: Alien and Aliens, the Rover, John Wick, Detention, season 3 of Bob’s Burgers.
What I’ve been reading: Terminator comics from the 90’s, David Cronenberg’s novel Consumed, Leigh Alexander’s ebooks Clipping Through and Breathing Machine, the third VizBig volume of Dragonball.
Videogames I’ve been playing: The Evil Within, Resident Evil 4, Alien: Isolation.
What I’ve been listening to: Sefiros - Dither, Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World, Run the Jewels 2, and this new John Carpenter track, Vortex:
 

As always, back to work.

swear at the walls

Some updates on things I’m doing, plus some self-indulgent process rambling, if you’re into that sort of thing:

I’ve started contributing articles to Gamervescent occasionally, run by Bethany Bryan and my friend Jennifer Culp. Not that I wrote much about videogames here on this blog outside of any time a new game from Suda51 came out, but it was always something I wanted to do more of and Gamervescent is, to me at least, the place to do it. The gaming industry, community, fandom, whatever, can be a pretty ugly place, full of horrific people, a fact that has been made even more glaringly apparent thanks to this recent Gamergate nonsense. Gamervescent is, in their own words, “totes feminist,” free of misogynist idiots, the kind of place I want to associate with.

I’ve written three articles for them so far, with more to come:

Mushroom Demons - In which I figure out why Super Mario and Dark Souls are so similar.
Girls, Girls, (I like to play as) Girls! - In which I attempt to clarify why I prefer to create female characters and complain about how all male protagonists are the same these days. I'm especially proud of this one.
The Music Just Turns Me On - A love letter to Jet Set Radio and dancing.

Eryk Donovan is no longer drawing the Super Mario Bros webcomic, sadly. He’s working on a bunch of things at once, including the horror comic Memetic which comes out this month from Boom, and something had to give. I think he’s on the verge of blowing up and becoming super popular soon, and that’ll be cool to watch when it happens. The new replacement artist is Luisa Russo, and I’m looking forward to coloring her work soon!

…Or well, soon-ISH. My worst nightmare came true and I lost the stylus to my VisTablet earlier this week, thus crippling my abilities to color comics. I can do some basic stuff with a mouse, but it takes longer and coloring with a mouse makes you start to seriously consider giving up on everything in life. So I ordered a new stylus on Tuesday, it’s shipped, and now I’m just waiting for it to arrive so we can get back to work.

And I was getting back in control of things with Cannonball Fist, too. I was building up a decent lead. I HOPE I don’t fall so far behind that I have to miss some updates, and that probably won’t be the case, but you know, I’m worried about that anyways. Arg. The third chapter just started, and I’m so happy with how it’s coming out that to stop or stall would just be terrible.

With all the work I’ve been doing on these bright, colorful, fun comics, I’ve been getting the itch to do a new black and white comic that’s grimy and bleak, especially since I started playing Silent Hill recently. Vague ideas have been gestating in my head for a while, but this week, for lack of any color work to do, I’ve been able to really sit down and work out a story and some characters. It’ll be quite a while before you get to see this,  but I’ve got an idea of how it’ll look and where and how I’ll release it. It’s probably going to move at a glacial pace and no one will want to read it, but that’s okay.

One weird, neat aspect of it: I’m planning on including one of the characters from my weird short student film Black Hole Ghost in it. Doing so means going back and figuring out stuff that I left blank when I first worked on that thing back in 2010. There’s so much that I just didn’t explain, or left vague, partially to keep it all mysterious and partially because I didn’t really know what I was doing. It’s just full of holes. To include this character, and set the comic some years after the events of the short film, means to have to fill in a lot of those holes in order to bridge the two things together. I’d like to think I’m a better writer now than I was then, so it’s an interesting and fun challenge to do this. And I like having this impression of a shared universe between different works I’ve done.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to watch it to understand the character. Heck, I can’t bring myself to watch it anymore. It’s just something that makes the character more interesting, gives them more depth, and just a chance to explore what happens after the events of the film in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I’m doing it more for myself than for any audience.
I’m also taking part in Inktober this year. The Bill Counts October Game is still happening, but I’m not a part of it. It’s just too demanding for me to try and juggle so many projects at once AND do a finished work of art every day of the month. Inktober is a bit more reasonable: just a finished ink drawing everyday. No color or anything. And since I never really get to do it most of the time, I decided I’d draw mainly fanart. So far I’ve done Judge Dredd and Jet Set Radio protagonist Beat, and I’ve got a decent list of other characters I want to draw. It’s more of a fun warm-up exercise than anything else, really, and I don’t feel like it’ll be as big a deal if I miss a day or screw up, unlike the October Game where I put maybe way too much pressure on myself. 

October 25th is the milestone 30th anniversary sale at Mountain Empire Comics here in Bristol, and if all goes well, I’ll be there selling my work and doing sketches. I think there’s a zombie walk afterwards? Maybe? Not sure. And then Halloween night will be this year’s final meeting of the Secrets Society at the Willow Tree Café in Johnson City. I’ll be performing again, drawing some poor volunteer’s mutant portrait live onstage while telling jokes, and I’ll have a table set up selling my stuff too.

And I think that does it. Back to waiting on my stylus!