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

These sour times

So last week was Beat About's one year anniversary show. I got asked to do a poster for it by Sir Jesse Mutter of Ungodly Hour Aftermath. I'd been itching to revisit the Metal Zombies of Mars, so I busted this out for them:
In case you haven't seen it or had forgotten, here's the original appearance of the Metal Zombies, for an illustration assignment where we had to do a fake pulp magazine cover:
Ahhhhh, memories.

Next Saturday is the final punk show at the Bristol Grind House, and I did a poster for it as well, using an old photobooth pic I found on the side of the road at work:
I've been listening to the Shirks A LOT this week. I'm so excited. I hate that the Grind House is closing, but the good news is that Sterlin is still bringing punk bands to our sleepy little town of Bristol, with Colleen Green coming to Machiavelli's on the 17th.

I plan on writing a longer, more thoughtful thing about these shows, the Grind House, and Sterlin's efforts. Probably next week or something?

In other local news, Burst Reach, Burst Reach 2, and the Distinguished Gentlemen comics are all available now at the Purple Loon downtown! Once I get the first chapter of Other Sleep reprinted, I believe it will be sold there as well! Exciting, yes? If you haven't gotten a copy of either of the Burst Reaches or the Distinguished Gents, better hurry and head over there or talk to me, because I don't have too many left, and I have no plans on reprinting them again. I MIGHT do a pay-what-you-want pdf kind of thing, if only so that I can read them myself on my new Kindle Fire. We'll see.

Other stuff I've been into:
I've been sketching pictures of some friends of mine as Embrace Infection style mutants. Zombie portraits are kind of popular at conventions and things these days, so this my alternative take on that. I'm hoping it's neat enough that people will want to give me money to turn them into something out of a David Cronenberg movie.

If all goes well, I'm doing THREE conventions this year: ETSUcon (which is a new anime convention), Heroes Con, and of course, Bristol's own Rob-Con. On top of that, Rob is putting together something big for Free Comic Book Day. The street that his shop is on is going to be closed off to traffic, with dealers and artists outside selling our wares. 

I HAVE BUTTONS!! And they're awesome! All the credit goes to Haley and Steve at Self Destruct Buttons, they did an amazing job. I look forward to selling these babies...
Finally, I just finished up a 4-page silent comic for an upcoming Pizza Flag zine. No clue when it's coming out, but I'll of course let you know when it drops. I also did a...poem/narrative/comic/photodistortion thing for a Pizza Flag/William Birdcock zine that I think is dropping some time in April. Can't wait to post that. The owl comic will also be in Burst Reach 3, which I'll be this summer. I'm still working on it, but trust me, it's gonna be great. I feel like Burst Reach 2 was a little bit of a misfire, not quite as frantic and entertaining as the first one, so I'm trying to make up for that.

That's all for now. Lots of stuff going on, considering we're only now just a quarter of the way through the year. It's just going to get better, hopefully. Stick around!


Things keep happening

The new chapter of Other Sleep is online! GO READ IT. Here's one of my favorite pages in a chapter full of favorite pages:
 Angry Ninel is angry.

Now that the comic is over 100 pages in length, I'm trying to think of ways to promote the comic and get more readers. One idea I'm contemplating is a contest/drawing for the Facebook page if I can get so many likes. Acquiring new readers is difficult. I've emailed some blogs and some creators that I'm fond of, but that doesn't really do much, it seems? I have Twitter, Tumblr, deviantART, other stuff, but I don't have very many followers on any of those networks. Word of mouth is a difficult thing when most people aren't too keen about sharing other people's work or whatever. If only I knew a way to go viral or something. Arg.

Err, anyways, that little bit of frustration aside, I've done a couple other things here on the site. First off, my untitled silent sci-fi western snowstorm comic now has its own page on here. Secondly, I put one of the short comics printed in Burst Reach 2, Devil Stomper Grice, on here too, and removed Ezra Neuro and Drzaem, because they're old. I'm keeping both Cyberpunk Blues comics up for now, but I'm contemplating dropping the ETSU strips...

I have a couple of wonderful friends who make buttons under the name Self Destruct Buttons, and I plan on getting some designs made to give out and sell! I'm doing at least two Other Sleep designs and maybe one or two other designs. I'm excited about that.

I'm doing possibly three conventions this year, and our local shop is having a huge outdoor event for Free Comic Book Day, so along with the buttons I'm trying to figure out what else to do. I won't be reprinting either of the Burst Reach books, and I think I'm going to just give away my leftover copies of the Distinguished Gentlemen collection since it didn't sell too well in the first place. A new Burst Reach is being plotted out, I'm gonna definitely reprint the first chapter of Other Sleep, and I may do another minicomic too...And prints! I want to do prints, but that's going to require more research first.

I'll keep you updating as these things happen, of course. As big as last year was, 2013 is going to be even bigger, and that excites and terrifies me all at once. It's an amazing feeling.


Emerge from the cold

If January is any indication of how the rest of the year is going to go for me, then 2013 is going to be a crazy busy year.

First off, here are the four watercolor paintings, a series called the Same Mistake, that I did for the art show that is currently on display at the Bristol Grind House:

Secondly, I drew a 10-page, silent sci-fi western snowstorm comic over the course of a few days, completely on a whim after a massive snowstorm hit us. You can "read" the first five pages of that HERE and the rest of it HERE. You can also check it out on deviantART HERE and HERE. Maybe I'll post it all on here. I guess I should do that.

Also? I’m kind of an amateur stand-up comedian now. After watching my friends do it for quite a few months now, I decided to give it a try myself. I’ve done it three times now. I'm not so sure how good or funny I am, it's really impossible to tell when you're up on stage, but it's a new and fun and terrifying and beautiful creative outlet for me to play around in.

Oh, and I drew this for my friend Sterlin:
FURTHERMORE, I’m doing freelance design work for the local newspaper now, which brings in a little extra cash and lets me use a different part of my brain. I just wrapped up a logo for a thing recently. Not as steady work as I'd like, but still, hopefully this will open up to more opportunities, right?

And finally, I am in this art show at Floating World Comics in Portland. Zines are available to order and stuff too, so check it out! There are a LOT of talented folks in there, all of us paying tribute to the Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius. Really, I feel like I don’t deserve to be in there next to artists like Dave Taylor and Sloane Leong. It's like I pulled off some sort of heist. Here's the panel I did, which I somehow failed to post when I did it back in November:
Yeah, it’s February and I’m in two art shows at roughly the same time? I don’t know how that happened. I’m savoring it, because it will probably never happen again.

Um, obviously, chapter 6 of Other Sleep isn’t done yet, but it will be soon, I swear. Look, here’s the cover for it!
And I think that covers everything, right? Now I must get back to work! THERE'S MORE TO COME.


The glamorous life of an artist

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I kind of had a slight nervous breakdown earlier today, maybe. Over my art. Heh.

I've been working on some paintings for this art show that starts next week at the Bristol Grind House. Here's the flyer I put together for it:
Watercolors and Microns on canvas is what I'm doing, because I'm a masochist. I've been working on them for two weeks now maybe. Well, two of them anyways, the other two I started on just last week. It's a narrative, but uh, I didn't really know what the narrative was until the other day? Yep. It was supposed to be just three canvases, then it ballooned into four. When I do things, I have to go about doing them in the most punishing way possible.

Anyways...I had them all in what seemed to be a finished state this morning, and I sat them all side by side, and...and I hated them. And I started to think, "fuck, this was a terrible idea, why did I do this, I should've done something else, fuck fuck fuck." And I contemplated painting over at least two of them, abandoning the narrative and just doing something more thematically tied together? Or throwing all but one out and maybe trying to do something different over the next few days.

I spent three and a half years in the graphic design program at ETSU, and in that time I sat through way too many critiques that would go on for literally two or three days sometimes. I failed my portfolio review three times and shouldn't have gotten another chance. Why they gave me four tries, who knows, but I passed that fourth. What I'm getting at here is that school was really rough on me, my pieces were never really terribly notable during critiques, and a small group of professors I was unfamiliar with mostly thought my work was lousy and I just really had to fight in order to graduate.

So all of these memories were going through my head as I was staring at these paintings, thinking about how they'll be up for a good two or three weeks, seen by dozens of people, people I've never met, never will meet. And they'll be judging them, judging ME based on them, even if they never do meet me or see any of my other work ever again. These four paintings are all I have to make a good impression, to convince these people I've never met that I don't suck. And I'm absolutely blowing it, only ONE of the paintings was really strong, the rest were flat and vague and ugly.

I gave myself a bad head rush and a case of the hiccups as I paced around, panicking, trying to think of what to do. I didn't want to throw them all out and try to do something new when everything has to be done by Sunday for Sterlin to hang. And I didn't REALLY want to paint over the canvases, but I was getting desperate and thinking that was the only way out, I was tired of looking at these crappy paintings.

I told a friend on Facebook that I wish I could just erase three and a half years of art school critiques, to which she responded "Keep this in mind: You're an artist, not an art student...and a really good artist at that."

And that...kind of snapped me out of it. I kept thinking about all the lousy critiques I sat through, being told by professors that my portfolio wasn't good enough for the BFA program, all that negative stuff. And her comment reminded me that people DO enjoy my art, and then I remembered this guy who wrote me on deviantART last week, telling me my gallery was his favorite that he'd seen in years.

So I stopped, took some deep breaths, collected myself, once again looked at the paintings, this time more objectively, and set about working on them once again, all afternoon, until once more they looked like they were pretty much finished.

And I was satisfied this time. I was able to figure out how to strengthen each painting and make them stand on their own while still telling a complete story. All it took was a kind word from a friend to help me step back and clear the black clouds out of my brain.

I guess the moral here is, if you like someone's art? TELL THEM. Let them know you appreciate what they're making. Because artists, we're neurotic as fuck. I often find myself in this hole, hating my work, hating myself for hating my work and not being any good, and it's discouraging. But a comment or two is all it takes to get me back on my feet. 

Anyways. Show goes up on Sunday. I'm gonna take pictures of the individual paintings tomorrow once I've deemed them complete, and post them some time next week. Stay tuned.

(originally posted on my Tumblr)

The end of the world was so banal

I haven’t done one these in at least a year or two, but 2012 was kind of a big year for me, and I wanted to write something, anything, about all of my favorite things. So, you know, I guess this is another one of those BEST OF lists, only you should know that my opinion of such things really shouldn’t matter that much at all in the grand scheme of pop culture. I mean, really, I never even watched the music video for Gangnam Style, so to think that I’m someone who understands this stuff is kind of ridiculous.

Plus, I liked Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance more than the Avengers. My tastes are questionable at best. Anyways, without further ado…

I graduated from ETSU in December, so this was the first year of my life where I wasn’t tied down to education, taking classes or anything. That’s kind of terrifying to think of considering that I’ve spent my entire life up to that point in school. Not wanting to go soft or get lazy, I immediately started up multiple projects that I’m proud to have accomplished. Other Sleep is the biggest one, and while I’m not as far along with it as I thought I would be earlier in the year when I started, the fact that I’m still even working on it and haven’t cast it aside is a big deal. I also self-published Burst Reach 2, went to Heroes Con, had a table at a local con where I did pretty well, have been producing some kickass posters for local punk shows, contributing to local zines, and last month got my first freelance gig designing an animated banner ad in Flash. After taking a week to learn the ins and outs of Flash. That was a pretty masochistic thing to do, but I pulled it off and made money in the process, so I absolutely succeeded at not falling out of practice like I was afraid of doing. By the way, here's the flyer I did for a show earlier this month:
Also, I met a girl, and we’ve been dating like, 4 months now, my social life has improved a bit, and I may or may not be trying my hand at stand-up comedy sometime soon. Not bad, not bad at all, 2012. You were much better than last year, despite killing my dog and two of my favorite artists of all time.

I spent the first half of the year completely in the dark when it came to new music, the bulk of my purchases being 90’s punk albums and some old Wu-Tang Clan stuff, but then things happened and I ended up listening to quite a few new albums. Here are my top three:

AESOP ROCK - SKELETHON: I’m usually picky about rap, but Aesop is one of my favorites. His last album, None Shall Pass, came out 5 years ago and still sounds just as good today as it did when I first heard it, but Skelethon is something else entirely. His lyrics have always had an imaginative, meandering quality to them, but here things are a bit more focused and in several cases uncomfortably introspective while still remaining pretty dense. No one rhymes like Aes does, in my opinion. When the first single, Zero Dark Thirty dropped, I listened to it repeatedly because in some strange way, it managed to capture precisely how I was feeling at the time I first heard it. This is absolutely one of his best albums, period.

HEAVY CREAM - SUPER TREATMENT: These girls came to play in Bristol back in June, the first of several great bands that my friend Sterlin has brought here, the first show I made a flyer for, so maybe my love for this album exists with just a bit of nostalgia thrown in, but they played a fierce show and this album has so much energy. Fuzzy guitars, screeching vocals, catchy hooks, I’ve listened to it so many times and I’m still not tired of it yet.

PURITY RING - SHRINES: The two friends who sort of introduced me to Purity Ring weren’t expecting me to like it, but they were wrong. This is an album I listen to a lot when I’m not feeling too well. Weirdly and morbidly sweet, yet violent, lyrics, plus electronic beats that stick in my brain and put me at ease. A lot of witch house fans enjoy this album, and I agree.

Runner up: GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR - ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND!: The only album aside from Skelethon this year that made me FEEL something, this is the band’s first album in a decade. Delirious, emotional, aggressive, dark, and extremely sublime.

Oh, yeah, the new Crystal Castles album ain’t half bad either.


Uh, actually, I only played two new videogames this year, I think: LOLLIPOP CHAINSAW (reviewed here) and TOKYO JUNGLE. Both are stupid, insane, and so much damn fun and I love them both to death. I would like to play JOURNEY, but haven’t had the chance to. As for everything else that came out this year, like Borderlands 2, Assassin’s Creed 3, Dishonored, Black Ops 2, whatever else? I couldn’t care less. I realized and accepted this year that I’m not the “hardcore” gamer I used to be, and that’s okay. I got Dead Space 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution for Christmas and am in love with both, but they’re older games. I’m comfortably behind the curve.

DREDD 3D: Screw Avengers, forget the Dark Knight Rises, THIS is the comic book movie of the year. It’s not a special effects extravaganza like Avengers, and it has no intentions of trying to express “big ideas” like DKR, it’s just an hour and a half of Judge Dredd doing what he does best. The movie keeps things simple and brutal, with great design work and a nice, growling soundtrack. Seriously, you have no idea how much it kills me to have to wait another two weeks or so in order to get my hands on the Blu-ray when it comes out.

DJANGO UNCHAINED: Definitely the best movie I’ve seen this year, one of Quentin Tarantino’s strongest. Unflinchingly brutal, hard to watch in places. A bit too long, but that doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t even have to explain why you need to see this movie.

THE RAID: REDEMPTION: Between this and Dredd, I just think all decent action movies should have a similar, John Carpenter-esque plot of “our heroes are stuck in a building where everyone is trying to kill them.” This movie has the best knife fights, gun fights, and martial arts fights I’ve ever seen in a movie, just straight up, no-nonsense brutality. I want someone to count the number of times people get punched, kicked, shot, and/or stabbed in the neck in this movie.

Runners up: 007: SKYFALL and LOOPER were both incredibly good, but they didn’t hit me nearly as hard as the above movies. Oh, and GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, which I reviewed here.. God bless Neveldine/Taylor, I hope they never stop making insane over-the-top action movies with bone-shattering camera work and editing.

The Dark Knight Rises is the most disappointing movie I watched this year. It was just dull and messy and it felt like everyone involved, with the exception of Tom Hardy, was phoning it in. Bane was cool, the coolest Bond villain ever, it’s just too bad he was in a mediocre Batman movie instead. Prometheus was pretty stupid too, but it’s also so goddamn pretty and has such a wonderful score that I HAD to see it in theaters twice and by the collector’s edition. The moral here is that if your movie looks like a comic out of an issue of Heavy Metal from the 80’s, I will enjoy it no matter how bad it is.

I made a decision earlier this year to quit buying new Marvel and DC comics. I was only reading a few cape comics at the time anyways, so it’s a decision which had little impact on my life. I broke that decision with Hawkeye, I must admit, but aside from it? I don’t miss superhero comics at all. That said, I read a LOT of good books this year, most of them published by Image, so here’s the massive list, in no particular order:

Prophet (Brandon Graham, Giannis Milonogiannis, Simon Roy, and Farel Dalrymple)
Copra (Michel Fiffe)
Change (Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske)
Fatale (Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips)
Manhattan Projects (Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra)
Multiple Warheads (Brandon Graham)
Orc Stain #7 (James Stokoe)
Godzilla: The Half Century War (James Stokoe)
Saga (Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples)
BPRD: The Long Death (Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and James Harren)
Hellboy in Hell (Mike Mignola)
Casanova: Avaritia (Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba)
Zegas (Michel Fiffe)
The Mire (Becky Cloonan)
The Zaucer of Zilk (Al Ewing and Brendan McCarthy)
Prince of Cats (Ronald Wimberly)
Sharknife ZZ (Corey S. Lewis)
Wild Children (Ales Kot and Riley Rossmo)
Nowhere Men (Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellegarde)
Ragemoor (Jan Strnad and Richard Corben)
Hawkeye (Matt Fraction and David Aja)

And probably some more I’m just failing to remember.

The quality of indie comics just keeps going up while Marvel and DC continue to make terrible decisions and put out mediocre books that just don’t appeal to me at all. I’m hoping/expecting this to become more apparent in 2013...

That about wraps it up I think. I'm looking forward to 2013, yes. It'll be a weird year, I'm sure.


Beat Beat Beat

A couple of things I've failed to write about because I suck. I've done a couple more flyers for local punk shows at the Bristol Grind House, one for Slug Guts last month and one for the Eeries, who are playing tomorrow.

Sterlin, the guy who talks these awesome bands into coming to our small town, as well as printing zines under the name of Pizza Flag (he has a Big Cartel page set up now, go order some cool stuff!) is also a part of a local group of stand-up comedians known as Beat About. I've been going out and watching them do their thing quite a bit, and with their Tumblr, they're trying to not only promote themselves, but promote other weird local stuff that many people here in Bristol wouldn't really be aware of.

One of the members actually interviewed me! You can read it here. I rambled about inspiration, Altered States, giant monsters, and some other stuff.

I wanted to write a bit about these guys because what they're doing is kind of a big deal to me, and I'm proud to be involved in my own little way. Bristol is a small town known primarily for two things: NASCAR and the Rhythm & Roots festival. I mean, it's also the birthplace of country music, but it's not really known for that and aside from Rhythm & Roots, the only other thing we have to offer is a tiny museum in the Bristol Mall, woo. There's not much to offer downtown: a good comic shop, a few places to drink, and more antique stores than probably necessary. It's seen a boost in activity lately, especially this year, but it's still kind of small and sleepy and won't be shaking off its reputation any time soon.

But what the Beat About guys are doing is hopefully making a difference. Between the open mic nights, Bring Your Own Vinyl nights at the Acoustic Alehouse (which I haven't been to yet), and the punk shows at the Grind House, things are picking up. I'd like to say Bristol is starting to show a little of its weird side. I'm thrilled to be able to watch it happen, moving back here after three grueling years in Johnson City, I was worried there'd be nothing here for me, and I'm so glad that's not the case. I also enjoy being able to make little contributions, doing art and stuff for Sterlin's zines and posters for the shows. 

I think this kind of thing is what just about every small town needs, a little...I don't want to say counter-culture, but people teaming up to bring something DIFFERENT to the public. To stand out. Sterlin and Beat About are proving that there's more to Bristol than just bluegrass music, and I really hope these guys get noticed by more and more people. I'm doing what I can to help and support them.

Oh, also! I finished drawing chapter 5 of Other Sleep today. FINALLY. My drawing arm is screaming in glorious agony. I'll have it finished and online this month, so look forward to that!


November has come

Which means that the October Game is over and done with! I survived! I managed to create a new piece of art every day of the month! Thirty one new pieces! And I threw them in a gallery over here! Go check them out!
Here are some fun facts about my month of torment:

23 of the pieces were hand-drawn. Only one was a full-fledged watercolor painting. I tried my hand at digital painting for the first time with one of the pieces, with maybe some success? All but one of the hand-drawn pieces were inked. The one that wasn't is just raw pencil, with a couple stains from sweet and sour sauce. There are at least three pieces that I had almost completed drawing before deciding to abandon them and do something else. I got pretty desperate towards the end in coming up with ideas and trying new things. 

In the long run, there are more than a few that aren't as successful as I would have liked, but I'm pretty proud of how things turned out all around. Even when I got lazy, I was still at least trying to do something different, and with the exception of the stupid number of pieces that involved astronauts or space technology or some such, I don't think I really repeated myself any more than once or twice on occasion. Most of the digital pieces came about because I just couldn't draw to save my life that day. Except for this one, which I'm REALLY happy with:
You can view the artwork of the other artists over here on the Facebook page. In all, it looks like there were 32 people participating, and out of those it looks like 16 of us managed to finish. The quality is all over the place, there's a lot of stuff that caused me to say curse words and hit my head on the wall, but there were a few really talented people who were in on it too. There least two...that really irked me a lot, because I was putting everything I had into it and going nuts and I know for sure those two were hacks and on multiple occasions were just posting old work. Alas, the rules as they were initially given were not adhered to at all, so a number of people were late and never got removed from the game or anything...

...Maybe I took it too seriously. Maybe I shouldn't have been as competitive as I was, but I didn't want to half-ass any of my work (even though I did on some of the days where I just wasn't feeling it), and I guess I felt like I had something to prove. This was a challenge for myself, an attempt at further artistic growth. I guess not everyone saw it that way, but that's how I approached it.
 I figured that, with it finally over, I'd take a break for a few days and let myself recharge a bit before going back to work on the highly neglected Other Sleep. However, that's not happening and today I'm back to work on a flyer for an upcoming punk show, and also sowing the seeds for something potentially big...which I'm afraid I can't talk about just yet.

Anyways, check out all 31 pieces in the gallery, let me know what you think, which ones you love, which ones you hate, you know, fun stuff like that. Any and all feedback is very much appreciated.

Hopefully I'll be able to blog a bit more regularly on here in the future, but I've said that before, haven't I?

The October Game

So I'm participating in this little thing that the Nelson Fine Art Gallery in Johnson City is throwing, called the Bill Counts October Game. The rules are simple: create a new piece of art every day for the month of October and send it in before midnight. The pieces will be posted on the Facebook page I just linked to. If you miss a day, though, ALL of your work is removed. So, you know, NO PRESSURE. I'm one of up to 25 artists participating, and I think there's 18 so far who have signed up. I've been working on sketching out a bunch of ideas for stuff I want to do.

There’s a conflict in my brain when I’m thinking of ideas and making art, that of my desire to be a super detailed illustrator like Geof Darrow/James Stokoe/Moebius/Brandon Graham/etc. VS super clean design work like the Designers Republic/Brian Wood/Ashley Wood/etc. Some of these sketches are me attempting to find some kind of happy medium between the two. I mean, I guess that's always been a struggle of mine for some time now, but this is the opportunity to REALLY focus on it.

The only other preparation I’ve done is saving a SHITLOAD of images from Tumblr, deviantART, and other places as inspiration.

My initial plan was to just do a drawing every day, on 11x17 paper or some such, and leave it at that. But that’d get boring, so I’m going to do a lot of digital stuff too, I think. I know after the first week I’ll probably hit a wall of exhaustion and will turn lazy and sloppy, but hopefully I’ll be able to push past that into some new, more interesting territory in order to keep from being bored and giving up. Desperation may force me to get more creative, yeah? That's my hope, anyway.
It’s going to be difficult, because I still want to get work done on Other Sleep as I do this, working my job, and maintaining a healthy social life with the girlfriend. It’s a daunting thing to think about yes, but I think it can be done.

I don't know whether I'll be uploading everything here onto this site or not, maybe they'll get their own gallery once it's all over with, provided I don't die or go mad in the process. Everything's gonna be posted on that Facebook page for sure, and I may throw everything onto my Tumblr as well, so if you're interested in keeping up with it, those are the two places to watch.



Bioweapons, Bullets, Broads, and Badasses

Since last weekend, I've been on this kick of watching nothing but Japanese movies. I'm not sure what brought it about. It's been quite some time since I've indulged in some crazy foreign flicks, so I was certainly long overdue. I think part of it was picking up one or two of these on DVD somewhere and leaving them sitting for a month before coming to the conclusion that I needed to watch them? I'm not sure. Anyways, here are some quick, scattered thoughts on the 12 movies that I watched and/or attempted to watch, in the order that I watched them:

The X From Outer Space (1967)
: I’d been wanting to see this for years, had no idea it was a Criterion release, and…I’m not sure why. It’s kind of dull. I mean, when Guilala finally shows up at literally the halfway point and starts wrecking shit, it’s pretty cool, but the first half was mind-numbingly dull. The ending was pretty lousy too. Nothing really sets it apart from other kaiju movies of the time aside from Guilala’s bizarre design, and that's kind of a shame.

School of the Holy Beast (1974): I only actually watched half of this. There’s a scene where two topless lesbian nuns are forced to strike each other with whips, and I feel like that sums up the entire movie. It was way more compelling than the X From Outer Space at first, but I stopped watching after two men sneaked into the abbey dressed as, you guessed it, nuns, to have sex with one of the older women for some reason? I dunno. I guess Japanese exploitation movies aren’t quite as awesome as I thought, I never would have imagined I’d get tired of a movie that is 75% boobs.

Rubber’s Lover (1993): I had this weird realization that some bits of chapter 4 of Other Sleep were subconsciously pulled from this movie, as well as parts from a later chapter that I haven’t started drawing yet. The last 20 minutes dissolve into mindless obtuse shit, like most of these films do, but everything up to that point is pretty entertaining, and I LOVED how it was shot, like a dirty, dizzy Stanley Kubrick. I found myself pausing frequently to sketch certain shots.

Electric Dragon 80000V (2001): I fucking love this movie. Too bad I only got to watch the first half of it this time around, I couldn’t get the second half to work on the site I was watching it. I ordered the DVD and it SHOULD arrive soon. I also spent a long time hunting for music from the excellent noisepunk/industrial soundtrack. It’s all just delirious, energetic, noisy fun that makes me smile.

Meatball Machine (2005): Keita Amamiya (creator of Zeiram!) designed the “Necroborg” creatures in this movie, and the special makeup effects and gore were by my splatter hero Yoshihiro Nishimura (creator of Tokyo Gore Police!), but whoever wrote and directed this thing SUCKED. I got maybe 15-20 minutes in before being overcome with boredom.

Akira (1988): Only watched the first half or so of this, planning on finishing it later. This is the first time I’ve watched it since finishing off all six volumes of the original manga earlier this year, and I was just a bit too overwhelmed by how DIFFERENT the movie is. It’s so much more gruesome and nihilistic, lacking a lot of the more charming aspects from the manga, which is weird considering that Otomo wrote and directed this himself before the manga was even finished. Still absolutely gorgeous to look at, though.

Mutant Girls Squad (2010): Another one that Yoshihiro Nishimura was involved in, as well as, um, the dude who directed the Machine Girl and RoboGeisha? Another one where the budget was too small, it wasn’t shot well, and I just wasn’t following it. Got about 30 minutes in before quitting. I should know by now to ONLY watch splattergore films written/directed by Nishimura himself, those seem to be the only ones I really enjoy.

Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis (2001): Bought this weeks ago, had been wanting to see it since high school. Katsuhiro Otomo wrote the screenplay! Apparently it’s nothing like Tezuka’s manga, borrowing more heavily instead from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the themes/ideas from Astro Boy, and there’s nothing wrong with those two things at all. Great jazzy soundtrack, LOTS of wide, distant shots where the architecture is just overwhelming and the characters are just dwarfed by their surroundings. I really enjoyed it.

Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories (1995): You can tell that Akira set me on a theme, eh? Three short animations, each based on an early manga work of Otomo’s. The first one, Magnetic Rose, is by far the strongest and most beautiful piece, with the screenplay written by Satoshi Kon shortly before becoming a director himself with Perfect Blue. The second one, Stink Bomb, is hilarious, and the final piece, Cannon Fodder, directed by Otomo himself, is pretty experimental. It looked more like something out the 1980’s Heavy Metal movie or a Ralph Bakshi film than anime, like, it was kind of weird and unsettling. Maybe comparing it to some of the stuff from Liquid Television would be better, I’m not sure. Still, excellent stuff all around, and I think I like it more than Akira.

Paprika (2006): One of my favorite movies. I got a bit emotional when I read about Satoshi Kon’s death in 2010, and watching this again made me get a bit teary eyed, that someone who could create such an amazing movie is gone. I see something new every time I watch it, this time around realizing just how many classic Disney references there are, along with the fact that it really demonstrates a love for cinema in general.

Zeiram (1991): I love this movie so much. Early 90’s sci fi, cool monster and costume designs, and I realized this time around that there’s a real John Carpenter-esque sensibility to how it's shot and paced. You know, if he had directed a movie about a deadly immortal transforming bioweapon, a hot bounty hunter from space, and the two bumbling electricians that get in the middle of their battle. It’s not too far off from a kaiju movie or episode of Power Rangers, but that’s right up my alley.

Bullet Ballet (1998)
: I used to call Shinya Tsukamoto one of my favorite directors, and I still love the fact that, with most of his films, he acts, edits, writes, directs, and more, but I’ve grown weary of the frantic editing, shaky camera work, and flights into silliness that consumes most of his stuff. That said, this is definitely one of his best movies, right up there with A Snake of June. I just wish he’d learn to hold the freaking camera still, especially during the brawl scenes…

I'm probably going to watch more, I can think of at least three or four I'd like to dig into once more, and I have a copy of Wild Zero which should be coming in next week too, so consider this part 1.


Set this arcade on fire

I’ve stumbled upon something that absolutely breaks my heart in a way that’s hard to put into words.

I love arcades. Love them. I’ve spent so much time in them. Whenever I’d go on vacation as a kid, I was always more interested in the arcades than in, say, Dollywood or waterparks or whatever. It was always about the arcades for me. When I was in middle school, my best friend and I would go to this local pool run by the YMCA, and during the weird breaks where they’d make everyone get out for 10-15 minutes or whatever, we’d hit the NeoGeo cabinet and play the hell out of Metal Slug. And as lousy as our local mall here in Bristol has been, that was always one advantage that it had, the Tilt arcade, where I could go play House of the Dead, Time Crisis, and Metal Slug to my heart’s content.

It’s been…quite a few years since I’d been in Tilt, and once that little pool had gotten rid of the NeoGeo cabinet, replacing it with the ultra-crappy Tekken Tag Tournament, my friend and I just stopped going altogether. But if a bar or restaurant has Galaga or Ms. Pac Man or something like that, then you bet I’ll give it a go if I’ve got some quarters on me.

Anyways, after years of not bothering going into the arcades in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and never having time for Tilt any time I found myself in the mall, I decided I really wanted to blow a load of quarters on some House of the Dead, or some other old game I would play as a kid. That’s how I came to notice this disturbing trend.

Last week, I went into Tilt for the first time in years, mostly on a whim and out of a strong desire to play some Metal Slug. Things had changed, though, and not in a pleasant way. For one, all the games were in their own sections it seemed. All the crane games stuffed with Annoying Oranges and Angry Birds were grouped together in the front, all the racing games down one wall, with the shooters and the fighters down the other wall. This organization bugged me to no end, shouldn’t arcades be mazes that are nigh impossible to navigate? Isn’t half the fun of an old arcade finding some game you’ve never heard of, tucked away in a corner between a basketball hoop and DDR? Gone was House of the Dead, gone was my beloved NeoGeo cabinet with Metal Slug and Samurai Showdown. What good is an arcade without Daytona USA? Time Crisis 2 was still there, but it just didn’t feel right. They had House of the Dead 4, but the guns are the uzi-looking things, fully automatic, and difficult to aim with. The thrill of scoring precise headshots was replaced with the dull task of just mowing down crowds of zombies, spraying bullets blindly. It just wasn’t fun.

The oldest game there was, I think, Marvel Vs Capcom. That doesn’t feel right either. No pinball, no Pac Man, only one or two Skeeballs? What the heck? All of the emphasis was now on those crane games, and those other weird games where you could win an iPod or PS3 or something, and those are no fun to me.

Over the weekend, I went on a trip to Pigeon Forge with my girlfriend. We wandered down to Gatlinburg in the morning to kill time and wait for the weather to clear up. There, we went into three or four different arcades, and it was all the same crap I saw in Tilt. That horrible House of the Dead 4 cropped up a lot, and I noticed a couple other new shooters: Project GHOST and Terminator Salvation, both of which are also played with big automatic rifles against hordes of enemies. Again, precision no longer seems to matter much anymore, and those guns are just too awkward to handle, especially for a lefty like me.

The arcades in Dollywood weren’t much better.

But, I kept telling myself, there is hope. The Arcade in Asheville is a two story arcade with a bar. On the bottom floor is where you find all the old 80’s classics like Donkey Kong, Burger Time, and motherfucking Tron. Joust and Centipede too! Upstairs is even sweeter, with a line of pinball games and skeeball, the Simpsons game (which my friends and I beat one night, spending WAY too many quarters), the Star Wars Arcade game, and my personal all-time favorite: Virtual On. I haven’t been there since January, though, and I just recently heard that they removed the pinball games and are in the process of converting the upstairs area into a club. Which probably means the removal of more games, including Virtual On. And that breaks my heart in so many ways.

I mean, I get it. People have been saying that arcades are dead now for years, so I was honestly shocked that House of the Dead 4 and a Terminator Salvation game even existed. Times are changing. Consoles, Steam, and smartphone games have flooded and conquered the market. The only way for an arcade to survive anymore is to offer ludicrous prizes for people to throw their money at. I think I saw a crane game in Dollywood where you could win a 32” TV. If you want to play shooting games, there’s Call of Duty, who gives a damn about Time Crisis? DDR is now a thing of the past too, a fad no one wants to bother with anymore.

I guess I’m just an old man now. I hate being nostalgic, but man, I miss being able to jump from Virtual On to House of the Dead 2 to Daytona USA to Ms. Pac Man in the space of 20 minutes before seeing a movie at the local theater. There’s no real way to replicate that kind of experience anymore, switching games on the PS3 just isn’t the same as navigating a dimly lit cavern full of cacophonous noises and flashing lights, digging in your pockets for more quarters.

Ah well, at least the theater has Crazy Taxi, at least. And a machine with both Ms. Pac Man AND Galaga. Now if only they would show some movies that would give me a good reason to go to the movies...