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.
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
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:
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.
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!
For whatever reason, I wasn't actually looking all that forward to the Asheville Comic Expo. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it was because the Asheville Anime Regional Convention back in July was kind of a bust (you'll notice I didn't bother writing about it at all), and I was fearful that this would be the same. I had also been in this mood for the past week or so where I didn't want to talk to anybody or do anything really, which I worked to kick myself out of before the weekend. Even after we'd gotten there and set up and the doors opened, I still had this black cloud hanging over me and a weird feeling in my gut.
It was brief, though, and it turns out I had no reason to worry at all: ACE is freaking great. I did really well, selling a little bit of everything, doing some super fun sketches, and even coming close to selling out of a couple of my posters! Never had that feeling before of running out of something, you know? I also had a few people look at the backup I colored in Pretty Deadly, getting excited that my first published work was in such an incredible book.
And you know what? Even if I hadn't sold anything? It still would have been worth going for a few reasons. I hadn't been to downtown Asheville in two or three years (we skipped it when we went down for AARC), and so had forgotten what a beautiful place it is, just teeming with neat places and staggeringly attractive men and women walking adorable dogs. My hipster Dalek girlfriend and her Sithlord bestie got us lunch at a place called Burgerworx, and it is the single best hamburger I have ever eaten. Oh, and those fries are just so addicting, geez.
I also got to see artist, Transylvanian, and Gary Oldman lookalike Gregory Dickens again, who I'd met at HeroesCon in June. He did an incredible sketch of Clara from Cannonball Fist, the first piece of fanart I've ever gotten, and gave it to me yesterday. We also exchanged con sketchbooks. He did a great sketch of Gort from the Day the Earth Stood Still for mine:
His sketchbook, however, is the best theme I've encountered: Doctor Doom cooking. And he has a blog, Cooking With Villainy, where he posts the sketches he gets done for it, as well as recipes. Go look, it's wonderful. Here's my contribution:
It's thrilling to be a part of that, seriously.
Also, it was kind of funny and interesting just how many people came up to my table, looked at a copy of Other Sleep, and told me that it looked very metaphysical. No one has ever said that about it before, but it happened so many times at this con that I can't help but laugh. It's an Asheville thing, you know? And it's true, I've never said it myself, but I guess Other Sleep and other comics of mine are kind of metaphysical, aren't they? I'm dealing with some weird stuff and it was neat to see all these people lock into that.
Plus, I got to walk up to a vendor and say "I'd like to buy a narwhal." How many times do you get to say that? I mean, I'm sure plenty of people throughout history have put those words in that order, but I actually bought my girlfriend a narwhal. Did you buy your girlfriend a narwhal? No? Then shut up.
My own con haul was rather meager, but notable because I bought a cookie from a baked goods vendor in the con who also made red velvet brains coated in white chocolate. Also, after the con we stopped in the incredible Malaprop's Bookstore where I picked up that massive brick of a graphic novel, Osamu Tezuka's Ayako. I love their graphic novel selection there, so many gorgeous comics that I never even knew existed can be found there.
So yeah. ACE is awesome, and I'm already excited about going back next year. Asheville, you're awesome. Don't ever change.
I took part in a couple of those chain things on Facebook where you list your top whatevers. I named off my 15 favorite (or most influential) movies and 10 favorite comics. While I considered it, I really don’t feel like writing about all of those movies, but I thought I’d expand on my comic choices here a little bit.
The Beast Trilogy: Chapters 1 & 2 (Enki Bilal)- This comic comes closer than any other comics to hitting me the way Philip K. Dick’s novels do. It’s a bizarre comic, a thing that I can’t quite grasp or wrap my mind around, demanding to be read multiple times but still eluding me in so many ways. It feels so huge, even if it really isn’t. Bilal’s art is dirty and grimy, drawn with what looks like charcoal or a china pencil and painted in ugly colors, but packed with grungy detail. I hope to make a comic very much like it some day.
Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (Bryan Lee O’Malley)- I have to admit that Scott Pilgrim doesn’t mean as much to me today as it did when I was still in college as the books were coming out, but this volume still holds a special place in my heart as the one where, well, did you read the title? Our plucky, dumb protagonist manages to stop being such a dummy and pulls himself together here, and I guess it came out in the right place at the right time for me, exactly what I needed to read when I first got it. Of course, it all went south in the next book, but still. The next volume is almost too depressing for me to go back to, and the final volume gets even darker in places, but I’ll always love this one for being a brief, shining moment before it all goes wrong. Scott’s entire arc over the course of all six books means a lot to me, with moments that feel a little too real and hit a little too close to home. I need to re-read them all sometime.
The Airtight Garage (Moebius)- This book is Moebius at his most unrestrained, writing himself into a corner every two to four pages, making it all up as it goes along, drawing whatever he wants to draw, never too worried about where the story is going, just enjoying himself. It’s an obtuse masterpiece, filled with so many incredible drawings. This is another one that will make you excited about comics just by flipping through it.
Hellboy (Mike Mignola)- Hellboy is this perfect balance of action, humor, horror, and poetry. No one handles pacing like Mignola, and his page layouts are wonderful. Hellboy himself is a favorite kind of character for me, the hero with a calm, blue collar demeanor. This dude fights off massive demons all the time and brushes it off like it’s nothing. No matter what the odds are, he shoulders it and gets the job done. Nothing overwhelms him. I love that. Amidst this beast of the apocalypse roaming the world, seemingly oblivious to just how horrible the things he deals with happen to be, are moments of absolute beauty and poetry (which, like a lot of us, he‘s also sometimes oblivious to.) It’s just so much fun to read.
DragonBall (Akira Toriyama)- I only just started reading it this year, but I know it deserves a spot on this list already. DragonBall is the comic that Cannonball Fist secretly aspires to be. Or maybe not so secretly. This book is so wonderfully drawn, and one of the funniest comics I’ve come across. It’s the epitome of what a good, all-ages adventure comic should be. Goku is the perfect protagonist, and everyone else is just as colorful and ridiculous. No wonder it’s so popular, right? Why’d it take me so long to actually READ it?
Desolation Jones (Warren Ellis/JH Williams III)- As I was just getting back into seriously reading comics in high school, I nabbed a poster for this out of a pile of freebies at my local shop. It hung on my wall for months before I finally got my hands on an issue. Ellis was one of the first writers I latched onto, recognizing his name from a Hellblazer volume (Haunted, I believe?) I’d bought on a whim and enjoyed. This is my favorite comic Ellis has written, and my favorite thing that Williams has illustrated. It’s another book that kind of blew my mind when it comes to what a comic can be, as well as being an incredibly surreal and brutal riff on the Big Sleep.
Casanova (Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá, and Fabio Moon)- Fraction’s backmatter in those early Image issues was crucial to me when it came to working on my own comics, the way he broke down his process and how each issue was constructed, all of the little references and things that he filled each page with. I don’t think I’ve re-read any other comic as much I’ve gone through Luxuria, the first volume. Nobody else writes like Fraction, and the way this comic is packed with everything but the kitchen sink is incredible. It’s so dense, filled with lots of multi-dimensional twists, and yet not TOO challenging to read. Also staggering is the way it seamlessly transitions from being a fun sci-fi spy comic into some pretty dark shit, as the most recent volume was emotionally exhausting.
Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo)- Nothing else on this list compares to Akira, nothing comes close to approaching this thing’s magnitude. Every time I mention the manga to people, I have to bring up the nearly 40 pages of catastrophic destruction at the end of volume 3. That sequence, from Nezu taking aim at Akira and missing, to the very end where Tetsuo finds him after Neo Tokyo is in ruins, is maybe one of the greatest things you will ever see in a comic. The movie never really worked for me, and trying to watch it again after reading all six massive volumes of the manga, it still doesn’t. It doesn’t compare. And the pacing, my god, it doesn‘t leap forward in time at all except after the city is destroyed. The book hits the ground running and doesn’t stop, it’s such a relentless page turner.
Elektra: Assassin (Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz)- I feel like this book should be an essential read the way others treat Watchmen and the Sandman. This is some of Miller’s strongest writing, and Sienkiewicz’s art is full-on schizophrenic, featuring my favorite depiction of Nick Fury. I never knew superhero comics could look like this before I picked it up in high school. It’s so good that any time I see another Elektra book, I grab it in the hopes that it’s even half as compelling, but no one else comes close. It’s a fractured, mean, filthy book, and you can feel the tug-of-war going on between Miller and Sienkiewicz, working together but fighting all the way, trying to keep up with and outdo one another, just spitting crazy ideas out. The perfect collaboration.
King City (Brandon Graham)- This is the book that got me REALLY seriously into making comics, not just teasing the idea and saying I’d make them without putting any of the work in. I bought the first issue when the first volume was being re-released by Image and I think I started working on the first issue Burst Reach the next day, with this website coming soon after. Brandon is one of the most inspiring guys working in the industry right now, and any time I feel a little down, or don’t feel like working, all I have to do is open this book (or his Walrus sketchbook) and just flip through a few pages to get excited again. I love everything about King City. I love how the plot involves a wicked cult of men in suits trying to raise an ancient god and destroy the city, but it’s all on the side. Joe’s personal story, getting over his ex-girlfriend and helping his friends is what’s important, you’re more invested in these characters just getting their lives together rather than the fate of the world or whatever. It’s a funny, weird book with a lot of ridiculous jokes and sci-fi elements, but it never loses that human core. Nothing else feels as real to me as this.
There you have it. COMICS COMICS COMICS. If you haven't read any of these before? Well, get to it!
Last week, my girlfriend and I went on a trip to Huntington Beach in South Carolina, just a little ways south of Myrtle Beach. We camped there for three nights, and a couple of her friends joined us for two of those nights. It was pretty great. I decided to do a hasty diary comic about the trip after I got home, just penciled into my sketchbook and scanned. ENJOY!
In other news, the first batch of pages I’ve colored for the first chapter of the Super Mario Bros 2 webcomic are now online starting here. Also, I believe the next chapter starts soon, so go and get caught up now!
Cannonball Fist keeps chugging along. I’m falling a little behind, admittedly. I’m thinking about taking a month off from updating it somewhere down the line to work up a nice big lead and also work on some other things. Here's a recent page that I can't help but be stupidly proud of:
The Bill Counts October Game is returning for its third year next month. I will NOT be participating this year, though. Too many things on my plate.
In two weeks I’ll be at the Asheville Comic Expo. This is my final con of the year. I mean, there WAS a big anime con in December that I had tried to get in on MONTHS ago, but their artist alley filled up and I think I’m done with most anime cons now anyways. Except for ETSUcon, of course. Plus, that December one had an after-hours cosplay striptease contest being advertised, and that makes me feel slimy and weird.
Uh, anyways. Back to work. LOVE YOUR FACE.
Hi. I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and so decided to write about a few of them, since I haven’t done anything like this since, well, January, I guess?
MANHUNTER (1986) – Confession: I’m don’t care much for the Anthony Hopkins Hannibal movies. They’re not bad, they’re just not my thing? I’ve never read the books, so how accurate the movies are doesn’t mean too much to me, and I guess that’s why I enjoy the TV show so much more than other people do. I LOVED Manhunter, oh so much more than Red Dragon. The movie feels like a dream, and that soundtrack is incredible. Ralph Fiennes is a better actor, sure, but he isn’t nearly as creepy as Tom Noonan in this movie. And I’ve never cared for Edward Norton either. This movie just aligns more with my interests, I guess. Cinematography is gorgeous and sparse too.
MERANTAU (2010)- The first film by Gareth Edwards, who brought us the bone-crunching greatness that is the Raid and its even more remarkable sequel (one of my favorite movies of this year), it was interesting to see him figuring things out here. Also interesting was seeing Iko Uwais looking so young and Yayan Ruhian clean shaven with short hair. This one doesn’t deliver the way the Raid films do. It seems like it’s trying to be a more traditional martial arts movie, a picturesque, brightly colored coming of age film, and it’s dreadfully dull for at least the first half. If Iko isn’t trading blows with someone, the movie just stops cold and drags. Once nonsense like story and character development get thrown out the window and we’re treated to Iko’s character plowing through goons, we start to see the roots of what would eventually lead to the Raid. Having those two white guys as the final boss fight though? That was weird and out of nowhere, especially since they didn’t show any signs of being skilled fighters prior to the end of the movie.
UNDER THE SKIN (2014)- I’m hesitant to write about this. I know there’s no way to do it justice. This is the best movie I’ve seen this year, and I want to save my thoughts on it for when I do my end of the year round-up thing. This movie is body horror in a way I’ve never seen before, and in so many ways it feels a lot like some of my own comics work, dealing with similar ideas. It’s gorgeous and unsettling and just…utterly alien. Seek it out. Read what Sarah Horrocks wrote about it too.
FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (2013)- The trailers for this movie, silent, black and white footage like old newsreels, of Nazis digging up bodies and things, are incredible. The movie itself? Not so much, sadly. It never captures the same sense of horror as those trailers. And something I realized about found footage movies: they always feel like you’re just going through a haunted house or something. Especially this movie, lots of moving through open rooms and tight corridors with the monsters popping out and waving their arms at the camera. It was also way too obviously influenced by BioShock. The monster designs are fantastic and imaginative though. More like a tokusatsu thing than horrific, really. One of my favorites was the bulky one with a propeller for a head. Wish it had more of a budget, and more dramatic lighting would have helped.
THE MASTER (2012)- Never seen any Paul Thomas Anderson films before. Are they all this majestic? Everything about this movie is so engrossing, especially the rich cinematography and the powerhouse performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I keep thinking about all these moments in the movie, these long takes where you’re just watching uncut performances, Freddie Quell’s unpredictable behavior, and did I mention how gorgeous this movie looks? The repeated images of the ocean especially. And the music. Wow.
THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)- Robert Altman adapts a hard-boiled detective novel written by the king of hard-boiled detective novels, but makes it look and feel NOTHING like what you expect from noir, not really hard-boiled at all. It’s kind of exceptional because of that. Elliott Gould is so enjoyable as Philip Marlowe, a guy who’s kind of fed up with the world around him, but hangs on and keeps a laid back disposition anyway, just rolling with shit as it happens. His frequent interactions with animals, especially his cat, are the best, as is his constant talking to himself, which is a great way of taking the first person narration of the novel and tackling it without resorting to cliché voiceover narration. Just a great screen presence in that guy. There are plenty of other great, unusual characters for him to interact with and bounce around, the story itself hardly even matters. Again, I really love just how laid back and anti-noir this movie is. Not to say there isn’t any tension or anything, there most certainly is, but Marlowe’s attitude through the whole thing keeps things from spiraling out of control like they do in other detective movies.
Other movies watched that I decided not to write about: Judex (French pulp serial tribute), Mad Max (MAD MAX), At the Earth’s Core (Peter Cushing is really weird in this as a comedic protagonist), Special ID (DONNIE YEN FUCKS GUYS UP, plus the BEST car fight I’ve seen), Journey to the West (the opening is a pretty good Jaws parody), Side Effects (beautifully shot lesbian corporate espionage), 48 Hours (Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy!), and Mad Detective (not at all related to Mad Max).
I’ve been feeling bummed out lately, so I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy again the other night with my girlfriend to try and lift my spirits. It worked! And I liked it even better the second time around! I wanted to try and pick out some thoughts swimming in my head about it, the way I have in the past, so let’s get to it.
SPOILERS AHEAD OF COURSE
Favorite character? Yondu. Why? Dude’s an outlaw straight out of an old Sergio Leone western and I like that. He and his Ravagers are the only secondary characters with any real personality. More western elements would’ve been nice, actually. You see it in the way Quill uses his guns too, wish they’d taken that a little further.
Second favorite is Drax, because I identify with how dense he is. There are expressions and figures of speech that go way over my head too, man. Not to mention his weird manner of speaking and his mad cackling as they ram Quill’s ship into Ronan’s is hilarious. Any time somebody laughs in a movie makes me grin because you hardly see it. Plus, I really liked Dave Bautista in the Man With the Iron Fists, so seeing him in something huge like this was just great.
Everyone comparing this movie to Star Wars gets on my nerves, and I don’t fully see it beyond Rocket and Groot basically being meaner, dumber versions of Han and Chewbacca. I guess they go with Star Wars because it’s the easiest thing, low hanging fruit. If anything this movie is closer in style and tone to the Fifth Element, with bits of JJ Abrams’s Star Trek movies thrown in. Hey look, Quill sleeps with colored alien women and forgets about them too, just like Captain Kirk! I hope that doesn’t become a thing, because it’s kind of gross. Actually, the way women are portrayed throughout the whole movie is a problem. We need to do better.
(also, Star Wars is still a way better movie, you’re trying to tell me this will hold up as well as it has? I’m not so sure about that…)
I keep referring to him as Quill because I think Star-Lord is a dumb name. The movie and John C. Reilly seem to be in agreement, seeing as how it’s barely used, mostly as a joke.
Oh, this cast. The cast is just bizarre, isn’t it? I mean, the whole thing is crazy. You have the former Troma dude who made Slither directing a big budget sci-fi movie based on a team of B-list Marvel characters that no one really knows or cares about, with so many recognizable people in it. Look at the Nova Corp: Glenn Close, Peter Serafinowicz, and John C. Reilly! How did they wind up in here? And Benicio del Toro creeping around as the Collector. I like how they picked a lot of gnarly looking people as extras, too. Nobody in this movie is terribly attractive past Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, and that’s a good thing.
This is definitely the most visually interesting and unique of the Marvel movies. Not that such a thing would require much effort, especially given the setting, but I appreciated it a lot that this looked like a proper movie and not a TV show. Wish the locales were more distinctive, though.
The opening credits where Quill is on that ruined planet with the scanner reminded me a lot of the Metroid Prime games, and his ship somewhat recalls Samus’s from Prime 3. A big moment during the final action sequence is Rocket and the other Ravagers basically playing a big game of Missile Command. There are some action shots that look like first person shooters, which is a popular thing now. James Gunn also co-wrote Lollipop Chainsaw (which I wrote about when it came out), and oh hey, that Cherry Bomb song is in that game too! Huh.
I liked the way they handled the emotional moments. These hard-ass misfits letting it slip and then immediately shoving it aside, especially Rocket. Nobody really knows how to express their feelings properly, something I think anyone can identify with. Lots of other little human touches to make the characters more endearing: Quill dropping the orb, John C. Reilly fidgeting with the belt on his uniform, Rocket adjusting his crotch. Little things like that always work to help ground these characters and make them easier to relate to. Those moments are more memorable than any of the big spectacle stuff.
Oh, seeing a Celestial? That was great, especially since they kept it looking close to Kirby’s designs.
I still think the villains are lousy. Ronan’s introduction was fantastic, but beyond that there’s nothing there. Everyone talks about what a monster he is, but there’s nothing to it. He hates Xandarian culture and is a radical who’s cut ties with his own people. Okay, why? There’s mention of a peace treaty, but no signs of a war having even taken place, no reason given for why they were fighting in the first place. Unless the Kree are just crazy warmongers? I don’t know anything about them. What is it about Xandar that Ronan hates so much? The movie doesn’t show us much of what goes on there, so that’s another failing, or maybe he hates it BECAUSE there’s a total lack of any real distinctive culture going on. Place has nothing on Tattooine, y’know? Back to Ronan: he has no presence. He should have been more imposing, more menacing, I just didn‘t feel threatened by him at all. Nebula could’ve been swapped out with a cardboard cutout and no one would have noticed. The Broker was more memorable than either of them. The Dark Elves in Thor 2 are probably the lousiest villains to appear in these movies, but at least Chris Eccleston had presence when he was onscreen.
I just wish the villains were as awesome as the heroes, okay? Or at least present a real threat. I’m hoping Thanos will be big whenever they finally put the spotlight on him. Josh Brolin’s a perfect voice for him.
Final note, I guess: this movie was just a big laugh at DC and Warner Bros because their Green Lantern movie failed, wasn’t it? Because it feels like it is, and that’s kind of hilarious.