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

Finding things to do

Here’s an incomplete list of what I’ve been doing since I decided to step away from making comics on a serious basis back in July:

-Painted Slimepunk and Faerie Ishee on an underwater adventure for my girlfriend.
-Tried to raise sea monkeys and triops that my girlfriend got me for our anniversary. The triops never hatched and the sea monkeys died within a week of hatching. :(

-Started exercising again, bought a jump rope.

-Been watching a lot more movies. Movies are cool, I like them.

-Bought an N64 and over a dozen games, most of which I’ve barely even played.

-Started playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time since…middle school or high school, probably? Got out of Midgar, stopped.

-Drew a great big mutant family reunion as a commission.
-Appeared at Kil’n Time Contemporary Ceramic Studio as a guest artist for a local monthly thing called Art D’Vine, where people visit the galleries downtown to look at art and sample wine and cheese.

-Cleaned a LOT of old videogame cartridges.

-Designed a couple flyers for friends.

-Figured out what Slimepunk’s insides look like, drew them.
-Got better at cutting my own hair with clippers

-Read all 14 volumes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga.

-Finally got Other Sleep added to ComiXology, available now for only $4.99!!

-Went hiking, stood nude atop a waterfall.
-Figured out how to switch my Roomba’s language from shouting at me in Russian to shouting in English.

-Got excited about the Asheville Comic Expo, which is next month!

-Started playing more with traditional art materials again.* Did 4 mixed media portraits of characters from Mad Mad: Fury Road.
-Cursed the transition from summer to fall and the drop in temperature that accompanies it.

-Started a new comic in my moleskine, did about 5 or 6 pages in a week, haven’t really touched it since.

-Wrote for Gamervescent about mediocre SNES and Sega Genesis games, and how the new PS4 Godzilla game compares.

-Started to make more serious attempts at digital painting by copying photographs found on Tumblr.


*I’m participating in the Bill Counts October Game again this year. The idea I have this time around is…a little different, maybe. I went back through a stack of old sketchbooks and notebooks, writing down things I found interesting, mostly quotes and lyrics that I’ve since lost any context for. I also went through tweets I’d added to my favorites on Twitter (I had over 600!), things on Tumblr, et cetera. Altogether I now have close to 60 little things written down to serve as ideas, prompts, or titles for illustrations to be made in whatever way I find fitting. I only need 31 of those, so at least I have no shortage of words to work from, right? I’ve also combed through a lot of art and photography I really enjoy as a go-to inspiration guide for the month. All the mixed media stuff I’ve been doing, attempts at copying photos and paintings in different styles, are kind of a crash course for when October hits next Thursday, so I can work in whatever way I want and at least pretend I know what I’m doing. Like grinding before a particularly challenging dungeon in an RPG.

So, you know, I’m probably going to go insane again. It’ll get pretty weird pretty fast. Should be fun.

Out of the doldrums and into Rob-Con

One night a few weeks back, unable to sleep, a realization came to me: I was depressed. Maybe. I'm not 100% sure. If nothing else, I was unhappy, that may be a better way to put it. X-Con was a flop, HeroesCon not much better. I had other things going really well, but I was exhausted. I kept putting other things off to prepare for everything that I scheduled so close together, and working on Cannonball Fist was becoming more of a chore than anything else, stressing out over getting the next page finished and uploaded in time. I was just doing the pages out of some sense of obligation and I wasn't happy with the work.

So after briefly talking about it with a couple friends, I decided I'm taking a break from doing serious comic work. The newest page of Cannonball Fist went up a couple weeks ago, and the comic is currently on hiatus. Reflected Gaze is momentarily stalled, though I have other people who should be working on contributions to the site. Future stories I was starting to develop are now just set aside.

And it feels good. Just realizing I was unhappy was like hitting a light switch in a dark room, and reading this article by Dave Zissou about Sam Hiti's "death" was something I connected with, particularly this part:

It’s okay to quit. 

If comics has taken so much from you and given so little and you feel that you need to escape, you should. Trust your intuition. Even if you end up coming back to it a week later, months, years, or never. You are more important than comics.

Respect the people who choose to quit or take a long time to finish a project. Comics are demanding.

I'll come back to it, of course. I just need to recharge, play around, try some new things, find some new directions and return better than ever.

Especially given how great Rob-Con was this year. The best yet! Like, I don't even really know what to say, it was just a lot of fun as always.

I sat between Ivan Castillo and his wife Joyce, who make up Conquest Art Designs, and Alex Ogle, whose work is incredibly striking. There were several other immensely talented artists there too, including Joseph Culp, younger brother of friend and Gamervescent co-owner Jennifer Culp. He's an awesome digital painter who I've been following for a while, and I finally got to actually meet him this weekend. It was his first time ever tabling at a convention, and I got to hang out with him and his wife Hannah (who won runner up at the costume contest) at their home Saturday night, where I talked him into being part of an artist's panel that was on Sunday.
That panel, by the way, was awesome. Aside from the two of us, Alex Ogle took part, as well as James Lyle and Chris Gibbs. Our moderator was the awesome Diana, who helps run the local comic shop and who I drew the last Reflected Gaze comic about, and you'd have no idea it was her first time considering just how well the whole thing went. 

Aside from being around a bunch of really cool people, I did well all weekend, selling out of all the copies of Slimepunk that I'd brought with me, as well as a bunch of pre-done sketches. I did a pretty sweet advanced commission for someone, which she came and got on Sunday after requesting it on Instagram. I ran out and made prints of the image from my Slimepunk banner for a friend who really wanted one for his wife. And I got a pretty decent haul, too. I exchanged stuff with Joseph, found a really early issue of Heavy Metal in excellent condition, bought an old Aliens action figure that I used to own as a kid, dug up a copy of Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories one-shot and a bunch of issues of the Big O, and got a bunch of Kaiju prints from the Hero Squares table.
I'm the most exhausted I've ever been after a con, but it was worth the lack of rest and assorted aches. I plan on cutting down the number of cons I'll do next year, but I will always, ALWAYS go to Rob-Con as long as I'm able to.

Really, this weekend warmed my heart and insured that I'll never leave comics for good.

The Next Mutation

I was a little bummed after HeroesCon, yeah, but the Johnson City Public Library Comic Con was rejuvenating. Well, a little bit.
My talk on Cannonball Fist was at 10:30 in the morning, a mere half hour after doors opened. Not ideal. There were maybe a dozen people who came in. I feel like I did terribly, but…who knows? It was an awkward note to start on. I had three slides about inspiration for the comic, design stuff, getting ideas, and after the whole presentation was done and I took questions, the first one was an older man asking where my ideas come from. Arg.
But the rest of the day went great and the library staff treated the guests super well. We got bottled water and pizza, I got to help judge a children’s art contest, and to make up for the lack of drawings done at HeroesCon I did enough sketches to make my arm hurt and convince me to take my sign down for a while. I drew so many mutant portraits!

So many, in fact, that I decided that I should maybe take a break from them altogether. I ran out of ideas pretty fast and just felt like I was repeating myself too much. I’ve felt that way a lot this year doing them. So I think I’ll retire the Beautiful Portraits sign with my girlfriend and her dog on it and put more emphasis on standard commissions of whatever folks want me to draw.
Part of me wants to retire them altogether, but I can’t do that just yet.
On Wednesday I went to the William King Museum of Art to teach a class on mutant self-portraits for their summer camp program. Only one kid showed up this week, which, honestly, took a bit of stress off. I was freaking out the night before, having never taught anything before, but having just one enthusiastic and talented girl made things go pretty smoothly. Here are the ones I did of myself, the bottom left being a quick, sloppy demo I did to show her how I work.
The top one is my first attempt at drawing myself as an android after another teacher came in to join us and decided to do a steampunk cyborg version of himself. Then he brought us Sharpies.
Anyways, here are the two portraits the kid drew of herself. Not too shabby:
Then we drew one of the workers at the museum, my friend Callie, after she made this incredible face.
So yeah, not a bad way to spend the afternoon.
I also received a couple of neat emails during the day. One confirmed that my Gamera Vs Zigra piece was chosen to be included in Hamish Steele’s Gamera Vs Zine-Ra! A Kickstarter for that should go up soon, and I’ll link to it when it happens, but I’m pretty excited to be a part of it!
The other email was from ComiXology. FINALLY. It’s been nearly 4 months since I submitted Other Sleep to them! The comic has been tentatively accepted. The PDF I sent them wasn’t a very good one, so I submitted a higher quality version. FINGERS CROSSED. It shouldn’t take another 4 months for them to respond again, right?
Speaking of Other Sleep! On July 25th from 1-3pm I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Johnson City as a guest for part of their pop culture extravaganza. The original plan was to have Other Sleep put into their system to sell, but, um, well, after reviewing it they determined it was too graphic, at least for the event. So now I can jokingly go around telling people that my graphic novel was rejected by Barnes & Noble, ha. I’m still a guest, I just won’t be selling it. Or Burst Reach. I’ll just have Cannonball Fist, Slimepunk, and Shouting at the Void there.
But you know what’s after that? ROB-CON! August 1st and 2nd! It’s going to be awesome!
Eventually I’ll be able to get back to work on Reflected Gaze. Hopefully sooner than later. I’ve got contributions from other folks coming in this month, at least.
Right. Back at it. Too much to do. AWAY.

HeroesCon 2015 Report

I’m not quite sure what to make of this past weekend.
On the one hand, I always have fun at HeroesCon. I got to see some friends I don’t get to see too often. Michel Fiffe was back and I enjoyed the few minutes I got to talk with him again. I got to meet Eryk Donovan, whose work on the Super Mario Bros webcomic I colored last year. I had another incredibly sensual, awkward hug with Chip Zdarsky at the Brimper’s Meetup on Saturday night.
On the other hand, I went four days without playing Splatoon.
That was a joke. A really dumb one. Forget I said that.
But no, something felt…off all weekend. I’m not the only one who felt that way. Apparently a pretty large number of people in the artists alley did pretty poorly for most of the con. In the past, I’ve always done better each consecutive day of a multi-day con, so when things were slow on Friday I didn’t think too much of it. But Saturday I did even worse, which killed that streak. Sunday, things didn’t pick up too much for me either. All in all I just didn’t do as well as last year. 
I talked about it with a few people, and the general idea was that maybe it was the crowd. I hear attendance records were broken on Saturday, Stan Lee was there, but it seems people just weren’t buying anything. Ashley told me most of the big names that day had big lines for signing, even if they didn’t really have lines Friday or Sunday. It was when Neil Bramlette of Out of Step Arts mentioned to me that he and his artists were all selling more books than prints or anything else that I looked at what I was selling compared to last year, and realized something.
I didn’t keep the best records for last year’s show, but I recall doing more sketches and selling more posters than anything else, which seems par for the course at other shows. I often get discouraged that so few people buy my comics, given that I put so much more work into them and sell them for a pretty low price. At the same time, I do make more off of the posters and doing sketches, no question.
This past weekend I only did three sketches for people, all mutant portraits, all for people I know, one a day. I set up a little binder of sketches though, usually warm-ups and leftovers from last year’s Inktober, and I sold quite a few of those, more than at any other show I’ve done this year. Posters? I sold two in all.
I sold a pretty big number of comics, though. More than I sold at the three other shows I’ve done this year combined. I was also taking the handful of copies I had left of chapter 1 of Other Sleep and giving those out with any purchase, managing to get rid of them entirely. I don’t think I even have a copy to call my own anymore! Oops.
So yeah, it sucks that I didn’t do very good this year as far as making money goes. But it’s kind of cool to know that I sold a pretty good number of comics for once. I had a guy from last year return to tell me how much he loved Other Sleep, then bought a couple books and came back the next day to tell me he loved them, too. My comedian pal Hunter Roberts interviewed me for GonzoGeek. One of the better, stranger moments was when a guy came up and said “I’ve seen your work online before…do you know a guy named Chris Ready?” I’ve gushed about Chris and his blog Disaster Year 20XX quite a bit here before. He’s a good dude. Meeting someone who encountered my work because they saw him repost it on Twitter or Tumblr is amazing. 
Plus, I got to go to the Sea Life Aquarium again for free and we ate at Lang Van TWICE. Seriously. Lang Van. Their pho is the single greatest dish I have ever had. You will find no better food. Go to Charlotte, go to Lang Van, eat their pho. DO IT.
…Okay, yeah, I was having second thoughts about going back next year since I did so poorly this time, but it’ll be worth it for the pho alone, right?
And hey, don’t forget: I’ll be at the Johnson City Public Library Comic Con this Saturday, 10-4. I’m giving a talk at 10:30. I promise I’ll be ready by then. Hope to see you there!

A few more steps forward

HEY HEY GUESS WHAT'S THIS WEEKEND. HEROESCON IS THIS WEEKEND, BABY.Here's where I'll be, Table AA-627. On the site I'm listed at 626, but I'm swapping tables. Crazy, I know.

Here's what I'll have:
Copies of the first chapter of Other Sleep will be given away with any and all purchases. I'm also selling original pages and small sketches like this one of Mewtwo that I did this morning:
Following that, I'll be at the Johnson City Public Library's own free little comic convention next weekend. Here's the flyer they made for it. Look! My name is up top!
I'm giving a talk at 10:30 that morning. I'm still putting the talk together, but it will probably be about my process for working on Cannonball Fist.

The original plan was that after this, July would be a slow, easy month where I wouldn't have anything to do, but nope, nope, not happening. On July 8th I think I'll be teaching a class on making mutant self portraits at the summer camp program that the William King Museum is putting on. You can find my teacher profile here.

Speaking of that museum, I'm taking a chance and submitting a portfolio to their From These Hills exhibition for later this year. I'm going to try to come up with some new work to submit, maybe connected to Reflected Gaze or that horror comic project I'd kind of sort of abandoned.

Oh, and speaking of Reflected Gaze, a new comic went up last week about my friend Diana. Go read it. And my friend Andy Ross contributed an article! Read it too!

I also found time to put together this Gamera Vs Zigra piece which I'm submitting to this fanzine called Gamera Vs Zine-Ra, celebrating the big turtle's 50th anniversary.
There may or may not be another thing I'll be doing in July. Not 100% sure yet. Fingers crossed.

And, um, that's it for now. I've got like, a dozen things to do before we leave for Charlotte on Thursday and I'm just kind of wasting my time typing this. OKAY BYE


"If you can't fix what's broken, you'll go insane."

So it turns out scheduling so many things so close together can really wear you down. Who knew?
The weekend after Shikacon was Free Comic Book Day (after going out to see the Avengers: Age of Ultron the night before), an incredibly good time where I sketched so many people's children as mutants. A few days later was a quick trip to Dollywood with my closest friends and girlfriend. My grandmother's 90th birthday was Saturday the 9th. This past weekend was X-Con in Myrtle Beach.

I know I've only been going to conventions as an artist for a few years now so I'm not terribly experienced, but I've noticed this tendency. When it comes to multiple day cons, I usually do better each consecutive day. Sundays are my best days at Heroes Con, and at any two day con I always do better the second day. That tendency holds true for X-Con, but only just barely. Just by inches.
Attendance was rather low on Friday, picked up considerably on Saturday, then dropped again on Sunday. The big special guest, Ric Flair (WOOOOOOOO), was only there Saturday. Another one, Nicholas Brendan, was arrested for public intoxication Friday night and canceled his panel Saturday afternoon from being too hungover (apparently this happens to him a LOT). There were a handful of other guests, lots of vendors, and a bunch of us artists too, but nobody seemed to really be buying anything. I wasn't the only one who did poorly, everyone was talking about having a lousy weekend, even those who've attended previous years with good success. Who knows what the deal was, but I was kind of let down.

That said, I still met some cool people, including Tim Showers, who did a great Ultraman drawing in my con sketchbook. One of the guys from Studio De Sade talked to me a lot about my table setup and pricing my originals, gave me some great advice and assured me that I was doing better than some of the folks around his table. My friend Matthew D. Smith was there, too, and the guy next to me, George Farmer, was super nice and drew Han and Chewie in my sketchbook.

There were some great cosplayers, too:

And, well, we were at the BEACH.

We woke up at 4am Thursday morning, headed out at 5, got to Myrtle around noon, and stayed relatively active (aside from both of us accidentally falling asleep on the beach itself for an hour or so) until a 9:50pm showing of Mad Max: Fury Road, the movie I'd been most anticipating this year. We saw it at Broadway at the Beach in what was called the "BigD" theater. Shorter and wider than IMAX, apparently, it was overwhelming, like staring into the face of god for 2 hours. It was a religious experience, and I can't stop thinking about it. That movie is amazing. I need to see it again and again. It's all I can really think about lately. Nothing else this year will compare.

We also ate at a cool German restaurant we found, neither of us having had anything like it before, and Saturday night walked all the way down to South Myrtle's boardwalk. It was also biker week, so the streets were crowded while wild looking, lit up motorcycles and absurdly designed cars slowly made their way down the road or parked for everyone to gawk at and take pictures of. That was pretty wonderful.
Due to some business laws of some sort, I won't be returning to South Carolina to do another convention for another 24 months unless I pay for a business license first, which crosses off my consideration of doing the SC Comic Con in Greenville next year, but well, I'm doing too many events this year anyway and should probably ease back a little in 2016. Not a huge loss there, I guess.

In roughly a month I'll be in Charlotte for HeroesCon, and the weekend after I'll be at the Johnson City Public Library to give a talk at their own little comic show. I'm teaching an art class on drawing mutant self portraits at the William King Museum one day in July, and I've been invited to another local thing that month which I'll hopefully be able to do.

I took a 2 week break from Cannonball Fist, but the cover to chapter 5 is online today. Back on track! I gave out the last of my postcards at X-Con and ordered more last night for Heroes.

I wrote a new article about Earthbound for Gamervescent that I'm pleased with. Was working on a thing about Bloodborne, but it may be too late to post that now, I dunno.

New stuff on Reflected Gaze: the third comic, All or Nothing, is about a girl who balances bodybuilding with being a foodie. My friend Christina contributed an article about how comics and cosplay helped her learn to love her body, and I wrote about drawing mutant portraits. The new comic is in progress and will be up in the next couple of weeks! Also, the Facebook page now has over 350 likes. How weird is that?

Right, yeah, stuff. Farewell!

Shikachan was pretty adorable too

Shikacon was this weekend, and here’s how things began for me:
Well, actually, things began with my friend Big Daddy Voodoo at the con’s opening ceremony. He got each guest up onstage and talked to them a little. We talked more about Pacific Rim than my own work, but I managed to get a few nervous words out about Reflected Gaze. So, a bit of an awkward start, actually, especially considering how confident and charismatic the other guests were.
I’ve never truly been a guest at a con before. I’m used to putting some money down to be in the artist’s alley, overlooked by 75% of the people passing by, but at Shikacon I was in a separate room with the other guests, including my friend Bubba’s One Time Hero Photography. He’s the one who brought the ball pit. I was one of the first to leap in, fulfilling a promise I’d made to my girlfriend. Bubba’s wife Aria was there showing off her costume making skills, and I was next to vocaloid producer EmpathP (I traded comics for a couple of her CDs) and her friend Charles Dunbar, who knows way more about Japanese folklore and history than anyone I’ve ever met and did a TON of panels. They were a lot of fun to hang out with, and I got to draw a cool dark ages vampire lady for Charles that I was pretty pleased with.
I stayed fairly busy, doing better than I had at ETSUcon in February. I did a large number of sketches on Saturday:
After making a decent amount of cash, I went to the vendor’s room towards the end of the day and found someone selling NECA’s 24” Godzilla action figure, the only decent figure done of the 2014 design. I decided I had to have it. I tried to get BDV to talk me out of it. He tried, he really did, but then I showed it to him and he understood my need. Hey, my birthday is Wednesday, give me a break. NO REGRETS.
It’s okay, too, because I made back twice what I spent on him on Sunday! It was kind of strange: I mostly did sketches on Saturday and sold a few Slimepunk minicomics. Didn’t sell any posters at all. Sunday, I only did a couple sketches and sold a LOT of posters and a few more comics! A girl dressed as Ramona Flowers insisted on overpaying for an Other Sleep poster, so I gave her a copy of Burst Reach 3 as thanks. I gave out the rest of my leftover October Game postcards to customers too. My friend Gregory Dickens kept track of the demographics of his customers at a recent con he attended, with interesting results. I meant to do that this time, but completely failed. I feel like it was a pretty even split of men and women, honestly. A nice balance of young and old, too. I was really pleased to sell a copy of Shouting at the Void to a little kid after his mom flipped through and approved. Hopefully it isn’t too obtuse for him.
So yeah, Shikacon’s first year was a success for yours truly. It went really well for everyone else too, I think. Attendance was high, and there were there were a ton of panels, gaming tournaments, raves, and probably some other stuff that I completely missed because I spent so much time at my table drawing and chatting with people. Everyone else in the guest room had fun too, I was in really good company.
I’m excited to do it all over again next year, especially if Bubba brings the ball pit back.
Reminder: this upcoming Saturday is Free Comic Book Day! Go out to your local comic shop and take part in the celebration! I’ll be at Mountain Empire Comics doing it all once again! Things are in high gear now, let’s hope I can keep this energy up!

2015 Schedule

Things are about to get crazy busy. I made a list of all of the comic related events I’ll be a part of for the rest of the year, and it’s a little overwhelming. 
This weekend, April 25th and 26th, I’m a guest at Shikacon, Bristol’s first anime convention! It’s here that I’ll be debuting FREE Reflected Gaze postcards plus the Slimepunk minicomic! 
By the way, the first two comics for Reflected Gaze are up, Trying to be Human and Undefined Being, Alien Body. Go read them. Third one is in progress. There’s also a two-part discussion on David Cronenberg’s body horror films which you can read here and here. The Facebook page has surpassed 260 likes, things are rolling along. Response has been good. Just gotta keep going, right? 
Anyways. May 2nd is Free Comic Book Day, and once more I’ll be a guest at Mountain Empire Comics! Always a good time. Here's the Facebook event page for that.
May 15th-17th, I’ll be in the artist’s alley at Xcon World in Myrtle Beach, SC. This is my first time going, so I’m pretty excited. I’m getting the first chapter of Cannonball Fist printed in time for this one!
June 19th-21th is the best con of all time, HeroesCon in Charlotte! Nothing but a good time.
The Saturday after that, June 27th, the Johnson City Public Library will be holding their own comic con, which I’ve been invited to come speak at. I’ll also have a table set up for sketches and selling things there. I’ll have more info on that as we get closer to the date.
In early July, I’ve been invited to teach a class or two as part of the William King Museum’s summer art camp program. Hopefully I’ll get to do it, as I think it’d be fun teaching kids how to draw their own mutant portraits. I’ll have more info on that pretty soon.
August 1st and 2nd is Bristol’s own Rob-Con once more! Yep, this year it’s going to be a two-day event, the biggest one yet!
Last but not least, I’m going back to the Asheville Comic Expo on October 24th!
I’m going to be extremely exhausted when this is all over, but it’s also going to be such a blast. I’ll be taking a few fun trips out of town here and there too in between events. So much to look forward to.
Now, back to work. Hope to see some of you this weekend at Shikacon or next weekend for Free Comic Book Day!

"You thought this was gonna be a street fight?"

I finally got to see Furious 7! For a recap, I watched all six of the previous Fast and Furious movies last month. You can read my thoughts on those here and here.
One crazy thing about this series is how things tend to get better and better with each movie, the characters become more like superheroes (Vin Diesel apparently just always has giant wrenches and/or a sledgehammer in his car,) and the action just gets more and more absurd. Furious 7 follows through on that end, but I’m not fully sure yet whether or not it’s better than 5 or 6.

A big part of that is that Justin Lin, who directed 3-6, is now gone, replaced by horror film director James Wan, who directed the first Saw film and then moved in on current horror trends with Insidious and the Conjuring. He brings his sensibilities with him, as the movie is thick with shadows and a kind of stylization not really seen in the previous movies. There isn’t as much blood as I remember there being in 5 and 6, but it still carries more weight, there’s a tangible moment of terror any time a gun is drawn and fired, a greater sense of danger. A visit to the cemetery at night is shot as though someone’s going to jump Dom and Letty at any moment. We get a villain not unlike a beast from a slasher film in the form of Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw. The man is so focused on murdering Dom and his crew, and he’s a wildcard, showing up when you’re not expecting it, right in the middle of a job they’re trying to pull off. Playing him up as a T-800, relentless in his pursuit, was one of my favorite things about the movie. Not that he's the only one, the Rock gets to be a Terminator too:
Other aspects really throw me off. The action is hectic and great, Wan definitely puts his own stamp on things, but I just kept finding myself missing the clarity of Justin Lin’s direction. There’s a bit too much cutting going on during fights and set pieces here, with things getting too playful in the editing and camerawork. I was okay with the camera flipping to follow Jason Statham as Dwayne Johnson Rock Bottoms him through a glass table, but then they do it at least two or three more times as the movie progresses and it gets tiring. Tony Jaa is brought in as a villain, going toe to toe with Paul Walker, and they do a decent job of showing off just what a monster that dude still is. The movie also gives us MMA badass Ronda Rousey, but she kind of gets the shaft for her fight with Michelle Rodriguez. After the previous movie finally figured out how cool Rodriguez is, she’s back to having almost nothing to do here.

Speaking of women, all of these movies have had a certain element of objectification going on, with a “hey let’s follow this woman’s ass” shot in pretty much every one of them. Wan didn’t think just one of those shots was enough for this movie, so we get at least three of the damn things. If there’s a woman, chances are you’ll get to see her ass, except for returning characters. There seemed to be a bit of extra CG wobble to Nathalie Emmanuel’s breasts as she steps out of the water in a bikini, with Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson babbling about who has dibs on her. Ugh.

Complaints like those aside, this was certainly the most emotional of the movies. Here we get to see the crew’s response to Han’s death, we get Brian’s personality shift as a father, Letty’s struggle with her amnesia, and we’re introduced to the adorable daughter of Hobbs. The family dynamic that Dom has been harping on from the first movie is in full form, making Han’s death hit harder than you’d expect since we technically saw it happen four movies ago. When Deckard goes for Hobbs, I was sincerely worried for him, as I’d already heard the Rock wasn’t in this movie as much.
And then, well, there’s of course the death of Paul Walker, which hung over so much of this movie as I watched it. I held it together until the ending, then found myself in tears. Everyone in this movie is virtually invincible, shrugging off injuries like they’re nothing, but they couldn’t ignore that Paul’s gone for good now, and they do a great job paying tribute to him. It doesn’t hurt that he holds his own against Tony Jaa and gets one of the best fights in the movie.

I was talking to a friend working at the theater when I got out, and a guy who was at the same showing with his two daughters must have overheard it, because he came up to me as I was heading to my car and assured me that I wasn’t the only one who cried at the end. He and his wife bawled when they saw it (this was his second time,) he said so many people in the theater were in tears, and he told me about how that family element was so important to him in the series because his family was never close.

I dunno. I had this realization as I watched the movies: Paul reminded me so much of one of my brothers, who’s also a new father himself. My family’s not the closest, nothing like these guys, but I would be devastated if something were to happen to him, and seeing this family develop over so many years and lose one of their own in that way…it hits hard.

Oh, and Kurt Russell is in this movie. He’s amazing, as always. He kind of steals the show in every scene he’s in.

I hope they keep making them. I really do. It’ll be weird without Paul, but no other franchise delivers like this one.

"You want bloody? We can do bloody."

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

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