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

Hey kids! Comics!

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!

Jellyfish Sunrise

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.

"He's got a girl and I got a cat"

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).

"You're. Making. Me. Beat! Up! GRASS!"

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.

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.

"You have a lot of horns..."

It's been quite a week. Extraordinarily busy, but in a good way. It's Saturday night as I'm typing this, wrapping up four full nights of awesome things, and I am just beaten, but it's a good feeling.

Wednesday night was the second meeting of the Secrets Society in Johnson City, a modern day Vaudeville show put together by my buddy Big Daddy Voodoo. I was the first act. A volunteer was picked from the audience and escorted onstage, and I drew his mutant portrait while rambling nonsense. I repurposed a couple jokes from my brief stint as a comedian and talked about how I acquired such a silly talent. This song was playing while I did it:
I was so freaking nervous about it, but people seemed to enjoy the act and I think I got a few good laughs out of folks. I also got to spend time with some good friends that I hardly ever get to see. So much fun. I don't think I'll perform again, but I'm definitely going to see about getting a table at the next meeting to sit and do sketches and sell books. It's a strange and wonderful show that BDV and the others are putting on and you definitely shouldn't miss it!

Thursday evening was the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a blast. My only real complaint about it is that the villains aren't nearly as awesome as they could have been. Marvel's kind of lousy with how their villains are handled in films, yeah? It's a shame. Loki's pretty much the only one. Someone argued that the villains don't HAVE to be memorable in these movies, and that they can't spend much time on them since it's more about the heroes. Which, yeah, makes sense, but a character doesn't have to have a whole lot of screentime and/or dialogue in order to be memorable. The Assassin in the Raid 2 doesn't have a single line of dialogue and his screentime isn't much, but that dude has PRESENCE. Same goes for Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl. Ah well. Guardians is still a great film and that post-credits scene is just...well, whatever you're expecting it to be? That isn't it. At all.

Friday was our good friend, comedian, Pizza Flag founder, punk promoter, and Nerve Endings front man Sterlin's birthday bash at Machiavelli's. Misawa, Slow Animal, and Cousin Brian played. I admit to having left shortly after Misawa's set, so I missed the other band. I was pretty exhausted from working all week and staying out late the previous two nights, plus I had to get up early the next morning for Rob-Con!
This year's was the best, it just gets bigger and better every year. Once again, I got to see a bunch of friends, a few of whom I hadn't seen in forever. I tossed a stuffed puppy back and forth with a friend who had a table right across from me. Another friend I went to high school with had her own table set up where she was promoting her upcoming poetry book. Oh, the cover to that book? It's illustrated by David Mack. You know, the guy who created Kabuki? How cool is that? It was awesome to see her there. That's her in the picture up there at my table.

I got to do cute mutant portraits too! Look at this one!
And I drew one of my favorite people, Jessie AM, as the 13th Doctor:
Good times, good times.

Minor rant: Why are Godzilla and other kaiju toys so expensive at cons? This is the third or fourth one I've attended this year alone with things I wanted but were so expensive. The anime convention I went to last week in Asheville, which I didn't do well at, had a booth selling the MonsterArts figures of Destoroyah and Burning Godzilla. Prices were...$80 and $100 bucks, respectively. Ugh. One vendor today had a LOT of Japanese kaiju figures. Godzilla, Gamera, AND Ultraman stuff. But they were all so expensive. Other vendors had older Bandai Godzilla figures from a few years back, but at awful, jacked up prices. It just breaks my heart that I may never find a reasonably priced Heisei Gamera action figure when you can go just about anywhere and pick up the movie trilogy on Blu-Ray for under 10 bucks.

I did get a cool Rocket Raccoon sketch from a friend's 8 year-old son, though. That was awesome.

So what's next? Not much really. Just more Cannonball Fist work and a camping trip to the beach with the girlfriend, I guess. Oh, and the Asheville Comic Expo on September 20th, which is most likely my final con of the year. Then I'll have to start figuring out what I'm doing NEXT year, I suppose.

But for now? Sleep. Sleep is what I need.

Trust the Fungus!

So, did you guys know that there's a webcomic that's an unofficial sequel to the 1993 Super Mario Bros movie? Because there totally is. And it's pretty good too! You should go read it! Why am I bringing this up? Well, because...

...Because I've been hired this week as the comic's new colorist, that's why!

After HeroesCon last month, James Lyle (who I did some test colors for on his and Shane Berryhill's comic Game of Horror a couple months back, you may recall) put me in touch with the webcomic's illustrator Eryk Donovan. He had been handling the coloring as well, but has taken on some new jobs (including a miniseries with Boom Studios called Memetic coming in October) and can't do it anymore. So we chatted a bit and he sent me a couple test pages to try out on. After making some tweaks and showing them to the comic's writers Steven Applebaum and Ryan Hoss, here's what landed me the gig:

None of my work is on the site yet. The new chapter starts in September, and during the interim I'm coloring the first chapter since it was originally posted in black and white. Not sure when those will go up, but I'll let you know because I'M COLORING A COMIC SEQUEL TO THE SUPER MARIO BROS MOVIE.

I hadn't actually seen the movie since I was 8 or so, so I ordered it on DVD and watched it Sunday, just hours before getting the email telling me I got the gig, heh. Lot of fun, that movie is. I'm excited to be involved in this, and Eryk's art is a treat to color. Dude's extremely talented.

In other news, Cannonball Fist reached the second chapter last week! You're reading it, right? Here's today's page, introducing a character I'm rather pleased with. Say hello to LITTLE BOOMER:
 Oh yeah. This Saturday I'll be at the Asheville Anime Regional Convention. So if you're in the area, check it out! I have a small print run of Shouting at the Void which I'll be debuting there! Have I mentioned that before? They didn't come in quite in time for Heroes, but boy am I happy with how they look.
Wednesday, July 30th, I'll be at the Willow Tree Cafe in Johnson City for the July Meeting of the Secrets Society, which is a variety show thing my buddy Big Daddy Voodoo put together. A sort of modern day Vaudeville kind of thing, y'know? I'm going onstage and drawing a large mutant portrait of a stranger picked from the audience as my act, and if people enjoy it, they pay me when tip jars are passed around! A strange, neat thing. I think I'm the first one going on.

Saturday, August 2nd is ROB-CON here in Bristol! Always a favorite of mine, you'll recall. This is promising to be the biggest one yet, and I THINK I may be on a panel too? I'm pretty stoked.

So yeah. Things are going to be quite busy over the course of this next week! It's a good feeling, isn't it?

As always, back to work. See ya next time.


Reboots are coming so quickly and frequently lately, and they largely feel unnecessary. The Amazing Spider-man didn’t really bring anything new to the table and its sequel sounds like a massive train wreck, while this year’s Robocop remake sounded like it didn’t have anything terribly interesting to offer. It’s rather incredible then that the reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise works so well. Both Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes aren’t much at all like all of the other major summer movie releases we’ve been getting hammered with recently.

I remember the large amounts of praise that Rise received when it first came out, and being a little confused by it. A movie about a super intelligent chimpanzee…was good? You may recall I mentioned having a prejudice against primates when I reviewed the original Planet of the Apes movies last week, so that was very much at play. But I finally decided to give Rise a shot and I was surprised by just how engaged I was with the movie. It was extraordinarily emotional in a way I didn’t see coming, and the way it steadily pushed James Franco’s character aside to put the spotlight on Caesar himself feels like a pretty bold move. I couldn’t believe a movie like that was even made with the kind of budget it had.

After watching the original movies, I was even more taken back by how well done Rise is. It borrows plot elements from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, yes, but it is NOTHING like that movie. It makes several small, sly references to the original film, sure, but it is largely its own thing. It isn’t a remake like Tim Burton’s lousy attempt from 2001. It isn’t a retread of any of the films that came before it. It’s a fresh new start and a well done update of a lot of the themes and ideas expressed in those original movies without feeling like it’s trying too hard to pander to fans in the way the Marvel films do.

So having watched it, and having watched the original series and developing a much better idea of what this series is all about, I was even more excited for Dawn. I went with a friend on Friday night, and while the theater wasn’t fully packed, there were still quite a lot of people in there and I was a bit in awe at the fact that everyone was quiet, there wasn’t any inappropriate chuckling, and I didn’t notice anyone pulling out their cellphone or anything annoying like that. We were all engaged by the movie.

This movie once again belongs to Caesar and the community he leads. The first 15 minutes or so are without humans or dialogue, focusing entirely on the apes. While capable of limited speech, they communicate largely in sign language. I kind of wish it’d gone on just a bit longer, really. When a human finally turns up, we are just as shocked as they are, and from there the tension refuses to let up. It never becomes about whether apes are superior to humans or not. Rather, it’s about their similarities, but moreso it feels more about the nature of conflict. Nothing is clear cut black or white, there’s good and bad on both sides, and that’s refreshing. As far as big budget special effects movies go, this is by far the most thoughtful one you’re probably going to see this year.

I’ve noticed a few people jeering at the movie for being so dark and taking itself so seriously. Even the moment where one ape rides a horse while firing two rifles at once isn’t quite as ludicrously emphasized as you’d expect it to be. It’s kind of relentless in the way that there’s no levity at all aside from some softer moments. Maybe it is a bit too grim, but I’m okay with that. I cringed at every single dumb joke in Captain America 2 and as entertaining as it was, even some of the well-executed humor in Edge of Tomorrow fell flat for me, so I’m just pleased that Dawn didn’t even attempt any humor at all.

One big highlight for me was Michael Giacchino’s score. I’ve always enjoyed his work, and he does an incredible job here. It may be one of his best, with little nods here and there to the music heard in the original films. Another was the look of the movie: always dark and moody, rainy and foggy. The overgrown ruins of San Francisco, slowly being reclaimed by nature, looks and feels a lot like the Last of Us, a comparison I couldn’t shake off for the whole movie. And while the humans don’t have a whole lot to do in this movie, that’s not to say there aren’t some great moments. Gary Oldman in particular, while delivering his speech that you’ve already heard parts of from the trailers, is phenomenal. He’s shaking the entire time, like he’s about to jump out of his skin, a man trying to hold his community together while he himself is on the brink of falling to pieces. Desperation is unshakeable. The apes only have a rudimentary grasp of English, making their dialogue staggeringly direct and powerful during the few times they actually speak.

There is one thing that bugs me, though: the original movies are based on the premise that super intelligent apes rule over primitive humans in the far future. I’m wondering how the next movie will take us to that point, or if it’s even going to try. Caesar still has compassion towards humanity, he doesn’t want to wipe them out, but this IS Planet of the APES, eventually it should reach that conclusion, right? Then again, these two movies have already gone in a largely different direction from the originals. Anything is possible. That’s one thing that’s remained consistent with this franchise, you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next.

"I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man."

I’d never really given much consideration to the Planet of the Apes films before. I think I have this inherent prejudice against primates for some reason, maybe? Like, King Kong is an incredible movie, a classic, far better than most other giant monster movies, but I’m not that into him. Even as a kid, I thought monkeys were weird. Donkey Kong, his games are great but I wouldn’t even consider him on a list of favorite Nintendo characters. Even at zoos the chimpanzees just don’t impress me. So for whatever reason, I never tried watching those movies, even though the first one’s a classic and it’s a beloved franchise. I think I saw Tim Burton’s remake in theaters when I was young, but I remember almost nothing about it.

That’s changed though. I saw the teaser for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in front of some other movie a month or two ago and was surprised by how good it looked. It stuck with me more than the movie itself. Then I saw the main trailer and decided it was something worth watching. I found Rise of the Planet of the Apes for 3 bucks at a Best Buy in Charlotte and it was a slippery slope from there. A week later I got the original, then just the other day I bought the Legacy Collection on bluray.

In the past week I’ve watched all five movies from the original series, none of which I’d ever seen before . Overdosed on apes. I decided to try to collect and write down my thoughts on the series, since it’s kind of rare for me to get into something so quickly like this. Spoilers abound, of course.

Planet of the Apes (1968): I would have watched this way sooner if someone had just told me that Rod Serling co-wrote this movie and that it’s essentially one big long Twilight Zone episode where Charlton Heston, a man I’ve never been terribly fond of, gets shot in the neck, repeatedly beaten up, thrown around, and hosed down. The movie plays out like a feverish nightmare (amplified by the fact that Heston had the flu for most of the shoot), Jerry Goldsmith’s bizarre score making sure you’re always a bit dizzy and uncomfortable as you watch the madness unfold. All of the social commentary, the jabs at racism and everything else, it still feels relevant. It’s actually welcoming that things slow down a bit for the final act, with Taylor’s trial having echoes of the McCarthy era witch hunts. You can finally rest and think about everything. As many times as I’ve seen it parodied, as long as I’ve known about it, that ending is still pretty great, isn’t it? A real kick in the teeth when it first came out, I’d like to think. It was also really neat to see all the parallels to Rise, comparing and contrasting the two.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): Everyone in this looks awful, especially Charlton Heston. This is just an ugly movie all around. The bulk of the film has a been there, done that feeling to it, hitting a lot of the same notes as the first movie but without any of the bite since we know where we are this time. It doesn’t help that the new astronaut lead in this one was picked specifically for his resemblance to Heston. Things get good in the second half thankfully, once our hero finds the underground ruins of New York City and a freakish race of telepathic mutants who worship an unexploded nuclear bomb. That’s kind of awesome. I didn’t know the other movies in the series had sucker punch endings similar to the first one, so this one took me by complete surprise when it just straight up murdered everyone. Originally, I’d planned on stopping with this one and saving the other three movies for after I watched Dawn, but after that? I knew I had to keep going, I wanted to see what else they’d throw at me.

Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971): Absolute tonal shift here. The first half of this movie seems to have no plot at all outside of watching Zira and Cornelius from the first two movies touring New York, getting new outfits, and attending parties, a fish out of water comedy scenario. It’s way more entertaining than I’d like to admit, refreshing after watching everybody die violently in the last movie. But then all the laughing and smiling is thrown out the window when a drunken Zira explains the dark turn which humanity’s future will take and an enterprising agent decides that now is the time to change the course of history by killing the two apes. Not unlike the moral debate about going back in time to kill Hitler as a child in order to prevent the Third Reich and WW2 from happening. Things keep getting uglier until we get another shock of an ending with Zira and Cornelius gunned down, their child left crying for its mother in a cage in the circus.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972): By this point I just really didn’t know what to expect at all. They were cranking these things out once a year at this rate, with the budget sliced down each time. Setting Escape in the present with only three apes seemed like the ultimate attempt at cost-cutting, so I figured Conquest would be a letdown. I was wrong. While it DID in fact have a smaller budget, it somehow feels like the biggest movie yet, taking place in the “future” of 1991 and going back to packing the screen with apes. This is also the only PG-rated movie, though I watched the unedited version that’s more violent and has the nastier, darker ending. Another gut punch. Whereas the other films kept the social issues mostly to the side, not exactly hiding them but not really making them the focus either, this one puts it all right up front. Parallels to slavery are frequent, especially given that there are far more black actors in this movie than in any of the others. The movie is shot in a dark, uncomfortable fashion and when violence breaks out (which is all the time) the camera doesn’t even try to look away. The final act riots and stand-off with the police is where Rise lifted its own finale from, as well as the basic story of Caesar as the most intelligent ape leading the others. This may very well be my favorite in the series. The original theatrical cut has a softer ending, with Caesar changing his mind about having the movie’s villain murdered and making a hasty speech about equality, but I much prefer the darker turn.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973): Sadly, this one is without a doubt the weakest of the series, though I feel like this is the one that they’ll have mined the most from for Dawn. We’re taken further into the future. Caesar rules the apes, has a son named after his father Cornelius (which led me to some weird time travel paradox ideas for a brief moment), and there’s an uneasy peace between them and the surviving humans. It’s a bit boring to watch, even if the movie is trying to make a point here. Humans can no longer say “No” to apes while apes can say it to humans, but it’s a weak metaphor. It wasn’t really holding my attention until they decide to journey to the bombed out ruins of New York to find the old Ape Control Center from Conquest. I feel like the developers of the Fallout series of games were heavily influenced by this movie, because that whole portion of the movie reminded me a lot of Fallout 3. The humans still living in the irradiated ruins are slowly mutating into the freaks we see in Beneath, cracking jokes about radiation and sitting around waiting to die before Caesar shows up. It turns into an all-out war between these guys and the ape settlement, with the gorillas rounding up all the humans living with them into pens. (Oh hey, didn’t we Americans kind of pull this same nonsense in WWII by putting Asians in internment camps?) This one does have the most action, and while it still has something to say, it really just feels underwhelming through and through. Plus, the ending is pretty basic, especially compared to the twists of the previous four movies. Yeah, I was let down by the fact that this one DIDN’T end on a dark note. I’m a creep.

I was going to write about Rise of the Planet of the Apes too since I watched it first, but this thing is long enough already, so I’ll save it for after I’ve seen Dawn and can compare the two. But there you have it, in no time at all I went from being completely indifferent to very much in love with movies about talking apes with machine guns. While it’s hard to say how or why, watching through all of these felt like watching a bunch of Godzilla films. I wish they’d just kept on cranking these out into the 80’s, you know? They’re so much more bizarre and clever than I’d ever expected, I was largely impressed with them. I’m absolutely a fan now, and I can’t wait to see Dawn tonight.

I could do without the CG Lawgiver intros for all the Blu-rays, though...


We could be Heroes

This year’s HeroesCon was the absolute best.

There are too many things I want to write about. The incredible food we ate (if you like Vietnamese, you NEED to go to Lang Van, seriously), the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find shop itself which I’d never been to before, getting a great big awkward hug from Chip Zdarsky after the phenomenal and emotional Sex Criminals panel and getting a sketch of E.T. from him, all of the other awesome sketches I got in my vintage sci-fi themed sketchbook, hanging out with the incredibly talented and awesome Alejandro Bruzzese and Chris Pyrate, meeting my friend and collaborator Xylon Otterburn in person for the first time, who just straight up kindly gave me my first piece of original artwork (and did a badass Videodrome sketch too), getting really into Jordan T. Neves’ work, doing my first sketch cover of Dracula and Frankenstein dressed as Superman and Batman, drawing Pikachu in lederhosen with a beer…I could go on and on.
I’ve never had an experience like this one before. I hope it isn’t the last.

And seriously, you guys, Alejandro is the best. I really feel like his work is going to blow up some time soon, his design sensibilities and colors are just too fantastic to be ignored. He’s the nicest, friendliest dude and I’m grateful that he and Chris let a dope like me hang out with them Friday and Saturday evening. I can’t wait to get to see them again, but until then, I’m going to show this incredible Zardoz sketch that Alejandro did for me to everybody I know whether they want to see it or not:

I did way better this year than I did last year,  even counting all that time spent away from my table on Sunday. I had people I met at last year’s con come by and say hey, that they were glad to see me again. That was incredible. I met so many more people, made new friends, I’d still be happy even if I hadn’t sold a single thing, you know?
There was only one thing that kind of marred this year’s experience, and…I’ve been wondering whether or not I should even mention it, but I feel like I should, if only to get it out there. The guy at the table next to me was…pretty annoying.

He was a salesman. He had a pitch for his comic series that he was selling. He called out to people as they walked by, asking them to come take a look, even if they’d already walked past his table and were almost past mine. Then he delivered his pitch. It was the same pitch every time, with no deviation. I had it memorized myself by Friday afternoon, down to his inflection and tone. Even when people would say something that you’d think would make him alter the pitch or something, he would keep going. He was there to promote and sell his comic, no more, no less. And it worked pretty well for him Friday, it seemed! But it was annoying, and it felt…dishonest, maybe. And people caught on. Sales seemed to dwindle over the course of Saturday and by Sunday I’m not sure he sold more than one or two books. And I could tell that was upsetting him. He continued to give the pitch, but it was like the life was sucked out of him.

Friday morning he asked me what my “endgame” was and tried telling me how to talk to people and pitch my books, even coming behind me at one point and talking to the people at my table because he didn’t like how I was doing it, which infuriated me. I told him that this wasn’t business for me, it was a labor of love, and he backed off. And that’s true. I just couldn’t agree with how he was doing things. Sure, he easily made more money and sold more than I did, probably on Friday alone, but…

…I had a guy come by who bought both issues of Burst Reach AND a copy of Other Sleep. He straight up GAVE me a copy of his own comic and we chatted quite a bit while I signed and sketched in all three books. Saturday, he came by again briefly to tell me how much he loved Other Sleep and how he‘s showing it to everyone he knows and telling them about it. Sunday, he stopped by once more and we chatted a little longer about how awesome HeroesCon is. A girl I met last year was just wandering by with her friends when she looked over and shouted “holy crap, you’re back, that’s awesome!” We caught up a little bit and she went on her way. I gushed about Welcome to Night Vale with the woman I drew German Pikachu for. I had so many fun conversations with people, I didn’t care if they were going to buy anything from me or not.

…I rambled too much there, but the point is: I feel like I was connecting with people. I wanted them to enjoy and buy my stuff, yes, but more importantly I wanted to make a good impression and if nothing else be remembered as that weird cool guy who really likes Godzilla movies a lot and draws monsters. I don’t think I ever saw anyone go by that guy’s table to tell him how much they enjoyed his comic after buying it off of him. I don’t think anyone really asked him how his weekend was going or what he thought of the con, or anything like that. No casual conversation at all. He was so committed to selling his book that he hardly left the table, so I know he didn’t go around meeting other creators or anything like that. And I just…I can’t imagine being like that, you know? He only really talked about this comic he’d written, hardly deviating from his pitch, more concerned about making sales than anything else at all. I can’t do that. I can’t understand that, just as, I suppose, he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t trying to pitch my work and make money the same way he was. But he started driving people away Saturday, which wasn’t good for me or for the guy on the other side of his table, and he didn’t really make the best impression. I feel like, if he comes back next year, he’ll do even worse because people will remember him and know that he’s kind of pushy about getting you to buy his comic.

I’ve wasted too many words on this, haven’t I? Long story short, dude was kind of a pushy salesman, and though he was nice, it was annoying and just didn’t seem right at all, poor con etiquette. Guy on the other side of his table agreed with me, and we both took over his table when he left early on Sunday, which kind of boosted sales for both of us.
On the other side of my table, however, was Ronnie Filyaw, who does a webcomic called WHOMP, and he was delightful. He had a loyal fan base, and I enjoyed watching and hearing him interacting with them and taking selfies. Yeah, that was a thing he did, he took selfies with his fans! How cool is that? I got three sketches from him, Ashley and I both bought books from him, and I got a selfie with him too.

I hope that one day I can accumulate the same kind of wonderful fans that he has.

…Huh. So yeah. I guess that’s my con report. I’m already excited about next year and plotting what to do next. I almost certainly need a banner, yes. Anyways, back to work on Cannonball Fist, but before I go? Here, watch the video of my incredibly awkward, sweaty, beautiful hug with Chip Zdarsky, as Matt Fraction stands and watches like a creeper. This video pretty much sums up what HeroesCon means to me:

Heroic Facepunch

Haha, of course I forgot to write about this last week: CANNONBALL FIST IS NOW ONLINE.

I launched the comic last Thursday with the first ten pages of the comic, with new pages coming in every Tuesday and Thursday. And hey, today is Thursday so that means a new page has gone up! Go check it out!
I need to start hustling on this, promoting it and spreading the word, but…I’m not really sure how to do that just yet. Other Sleep was more of a serious graphic novel thing, but I never really figured out a good way of promoting it either. Basically I'm terrible about promotion, as evidenced by the fact that I'm a week late announcing that the comic is even online!

I'm looking forward to see how people respond to it. This is so different from my other work in so many ways.

In other news, HeroesCon is next weekend! Holy crap! I’m tabling by myself this year, a terrifying prospect, and I will be at table AA526. Here’s a guide to finding me:
I put together and ordered a limited print run of Shouting at the Void which will hopefully arrive before I leave next week, otherwise I’ll just have the same things I’ve had at other cons this year: Other Sleep trade plus the first chapter by itself, Burst Reach 3 and 4, posters, postcards, and of course as always I will be doing my glorious mutant portraits and other sketches!
Girlfriend (pictured above) and I are also going down Thursday morning so we can hit up the aquarium, which will be pretty awesome and a nice way to loosen up before the con takes over.

So that’s it for now. Lots of work to be done. Get off my lawn.