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

amechanicaldisaster@gmail.com

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.

What you see in the mirror

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

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

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

Processing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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