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!
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.
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.
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!
Oh crap, it’s a new year! We’re just over a month into it! And I haven’t written anything here since I started and abandoned those review posts in December! Oops!
Not that I’ve been a total lazy bum or anything of that sort, I’ve been busy. On January 1st I moved into an apartment. Things have been kind of a whirlwind since, but I haven’t slouched too much on the art front. I’ve got two new posters that I’m selling at cons now. First, I repurposed my Beat About poster from November into a Spanish fight poster:
I also binged on some episodes of the live action Toei Spider-man TV show from the 70’s and this was the result:
Plus I made new business cards with Slimepunk on them:
And I’ve got my own convention banner on the way:
On Saturday I was a guest at the winter sale Mountain Empire Comics was having, which was a load of fun and resulted in me taking home a Bruce Lee magazine, the Batman manga (BATMANGA), and a handful of issues of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi. I got to draw my first mutant portrait of the new year, and my first ever mutant portrait of a dog!
I now have another dog and a cat to draw mutant portraits of, as well. I smell a lucrative new career on the horizon…
Originally, I was really on the fence about printing any new comics this year. I printed the Other Sleep collection, Burst Reach 4, AND Shouting at the Void last year, which was ludicrously expensive and…well, they aren’t selling as well as I’d hoped. I’ve had people ask me about printing Cannonball Fist, but I don’t think I’m up for that yet, and I’m done with Burst Reach as a series for now.
However, I have decided to do a new little full-color mini-comic starring Slimepunk, seeing as how he’s sort of my alter ego and his ugly mug is now plastered onto both my business cards and my convention banner. It’ll be a smaller thing, only 12 pages probably. Currently working on the script and some character designs for it, as well as giving Slimepunk his own spaceship!
I mentioned…I don’t know, some time ago, that I’m working on a new horror webcomic, black and white, set here in the south, featuring Gemini from Black Hole Ghost. I did bring that up, right? That’s still coming along, slowly, but surely. I can’t rush anything with it. I have characters and settings and plot elements here and there pieced together, but the overall story isn’t coalescing quite yet. I wanted to launch it in April or so, but that’s looking unlikely. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a Spotify playlist I put together for it that...was in order, but isn't really anymore.
Finally, I’ve already got most of this year’s cons lined up. In a few weeks, the 21st and 22nd, I’ll be at the third annual ETSUCon. I always have a good time at that, so I’m pretty excited. Hopefully my banner will arrive in time and won’t look like garbage. In April, I’ll be a special guest at Bristol’s first annual ShikaCon (oh hey there I am on the front page, whaaaaaat), an anime convention. In May I’m going to Myrtle Beach for XCon, then in June I’ll be at HeroesCon once more! This year’s Rob-Con is going to be TWO days, August 1st and 2nd, and I’m pretty thrilled about that. Finally, while I haven’t applied to get a table yet, I’m pretty excited for the next Asheville Comic Expo in October.
So this will be another full year for me. Nothing as momentous as finishing a graphic novel and getting my own art show for it like last year, true, but I’m still enthusiastic. Let’s make 2015 awesome, yeah?
I’m bad at TV. I never actually watch anything unless it’s on DVD or Netflix. When I start watching something, it’s typically after the excitement’s died down and everyone on the internet has stopped talking about it. I never watch anything as it airs, and yet, somehow this year, I caught two shows whose episodes aired in 2014. That has to be a fluke. Never again.
I’ve written about Hannibal before, though not in a particularly good way. I liked the first season quite a bit, and watched the second season on Hulu a night or two after each episode aired, and I’m really impressed by how much Bryan Fuller and his team cranked everything up and pretty much threw out the typical procedural structure that the first season followed. Jack Thompson’s FBI team still goes after the occasional serial killer, yes, but that’s pushed to the background as Hannibal starts to become more and more of a terrible, manipulative villain. And with Will, oblivious through most of the first season, now onto him, the show starts becoming a bizarre game of chess between the two, coming down to the downright comic book idea of them sending other killers after each other.
That’s something I don’t think I dug too deeply into last year, but this show is operating on such a unique, theatrical level. It’s gothic opera, theatre grotesque, it’s turned more into a dark fantasy show rather than a realistic crime drama. Those elements were all there in the first season, especially the crime scenes which more resembled art installations, but season two just turned up the volume and threw restraint out the window in a way that’s really impressive. The violence gets even more grotesque too, with lots of awful things I won’t be forgetting any time soon and one crazy, incredible fight that wouldn‘t be out of place in the Raid 2.
Another element they turned up was the more romantic aspect of Will and Hannibal’s relationship. Fans throughout the first season ran off with any suggestion of the two being romantically involved, something I didn’t see at all and thought was just kind of ridiculous and, well, wrong due to Hannibal‘s abusive manipulations. But the second season threw subtext out the window and gave those fans the eroticism they wanted to see between those two, which, to me, is a pretty ballsy move and an example of the show knowing its audience.
And then there’s Michael Pitt’s unhinged performance as Mason Verger, the one person who truly gets under Hannibal’s skin. Oh man. In a show full of great actors, he outperforms everyone else. It’s a shame he’s not returning for season 3, it really is. His replacement has big shoes to fill.
The other show I watched, and which I dedicated the bulk of my TV binging to, was Person of Interest. I’d never heard of it before Tucker Stone and Sean Witzke started bringing it up on their podcast Travis Bickle on the Riviera, and I think it started popping up a little more in my feeds after that. The only people I personally know who actually watch it are one good friend of mine in Indiana and my parents. Which is weird.
I watched all three seasons this year, and the entire time I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it to people. The best I can come up with is that it feels like a really good action comic written by Warren Ellis. There are shades of Global Frequency in there for sure, and it pulls heavily from other great sci fi works like the Terminator movies and Neuromancer. The show was created by Jonathan Nolan, you know, younger brother of Christopher Nolan and writer/co-writer for most of his films? Which is why I don’t get how the show isn’t more popular among people I know. I guess because it isn’t as obviously nerdy as shows with rabid fanbases are.
I mean, at first glance it doesn’t look like much. It follows a largely episodic structure with a weird yet prescient premise involving an NSA-developed Machine that spies on us all the time (and the show started airing BEFORE we learned about PRISM). It doesn’t really have the pedigree of a Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, it‘s definitely much more like a standard network show. And yet, working within that structure of being another CSI or 24-esque “dad show,” it’s so weirdly subversive and is the best work of modern cyberpunk I’ve ever come across.
The show also manages to avoid getting on my nerves the way a lot of inherently geeky sci-fi shows do, especially those that Joss Whedon’s name gets attached to. One of the leads, Michael Emmerson as Harold Finch, is an expert computer programmer and hacker, the man who built the Machine itself. But he isn’t depicted as some fast-talking nerd with lots of dumb quips and poor social skills, he isn’t depicted the way every hacker in every Hollywood movie is portrayed. He’s very smart, but he doesn’t shove it in people’s faces, he’s compassionate, he’s kind of the heart and soul of the show. And then there’s Jim Caviezel as John Reece, the man in the suit with the gun, ex-special forces killer. Gravely voice, not too talkative or emotional, a pro who gets the job done, whatever that may entail. I was hooked from the first episode when he walked out into traffic wearing a ski mask (which had me thinking of Diabolik), firing a grenade launcher at an oncoming vehicle. As much as I love these two, it’s their female counterparts Root and Shaw who steal the show and make them look like they aren’t even trying. Especially Root, the sociopathic hacker who spends much of the second season referring to the Machine as God before becoming the one person who can communicate directly with it by making herself a cyborg. Oh, and Detective Fusco is basically a character who wandered off the set of the Wire, and even though he‘s often the comedic relief, he gets some great emotional beats and dirty work too.
Like I said, it’s episodic, yeah, but there’s always another plot weaving its way through single episodes, and that’s where the storytelling and the sci-fi conspiracy theory elements really get to shine and set the show apart from others. A lot of the single episodes are also fun genre riffs, like a Rear Window episode in season one and an episode in the third season where they help an expert art thief pull off one final heist, stuff that I get a kick out of. Throw in some great action scenes, appearances by cool character actors, and some excellent music choices (Radiohead, Unkle, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone) and it’s everything I want from this kind of show.
I still don’t think I did a good job here explaining it, but really, if you like good shootouts, stone-faced killers, government cover-ups, and cyberpunk craziness, you’ll enjoy Person of Interest, trust me.