I've been stupidly busy, spending the last several days working hard on pieces for Embrace Infection. I gave it its own gallery on the site here, but only five pieces are uploaded now. Ten are done, but...I'm gonna wait and think on them. I know one of them STILL needs some more work. Still though, I showed all ten to one of my professors today and he loved them, so I'm excited. I've got three more to finish up, making thirteen in all.
I won't get to exhibit that many, though. It's up in the air, sort of, but the week that I'll be showing, November 14th-18th, I'm sharing the space with two other students, and none of us really have any idea of how many pieces we each have and how much space we'll need.
I wrote my artist's statement for it, and well, for once in my life wrote way too much. It'll have to be cut down on quite a bit. I had a hard time thinking of what to say, then I just went nuts and starting typing words. Heh.
I want to finish the other pieces this week. That's somewhat unlikely, seeing as how today more than ever I feel like I just pushed myself too hard these past several days and have finally hit that brick wall. Now I just need to lay a while and get my strength back, then attack again. There's still the printing to be done, and mounting, and other stuff too. Gah.
Honestly? While I think this is the best work I've ever done, it's exhausting and once the show is up and all, I will be able to sigh with relief, take a power nap, and start exploring the 600 or so ideas that have been burning in my mind that I just haven't had the time to put on paper yet.
Oh, and here's Monday's East Tennessean strip, the second Distinguished Gentlemen. They accidentally reprinted an older comic last Thursday, hence the delay:
Also, added some more links to the sidebar. Amalgae Comics is the newly-named home where just about every comic published for the ETSU comic book illustration course is up, including Cyberpunk Blues and works by some good friends of mine. Check it out.
That's about it for now. Exhaustion has hit me hard today and I need to just rest some. Tomorrow? I'll be back to the grind, yes...
So DC Comics is now a couple of weeks into their huge new deal, the DC New 52. Fifty two new first issues essentially relaunching the DC Universe proper and releasing them simultaneously in comic stores and digitally. It’s a huge move, one that feels just a little bit desperate, but it’s nevertheless a bold and interesting thing to do. However, my knowledge of and interest in the DCU has always been extremely limited largely to just following specific creators. Still though, their overall excitement and the heaps of exposure they've been getting still got me interested in a few of their titles…
…Only the fringe stuff, of course. DC’s pantheon of superheroes never really appealed to me as much as Marvel, and I’ve never tried to puzzle out why, nor will I.
It all started, for me, with OMAC. Everyone involved are clearly trying their hardest to be like Jack Kirby was when he created the character. Keith Giffen is doing his best to draw like Kirby, and while the colorist is also trying their best to make everything into a shiny plastic mess, it still works. The writing is juvenile. The first issue is 20 pages of OMAC busting things up and smacking strange villains around. Like the Build-A-Friend chick! Her face PEELS BACK to reveal twin laser cannons, where a skull (mechanical or not) should be! And those crazy Gobbler things. They just line up to get smacked down by OMAC in these horribly bright colors, spouting off silly dialogue, AND I LOVE IT. There’s a genuine sense of child-like glee in the book that’s infectious. It’s crazy, not in a Grant Morrison talking about time centipedes way, but in an odd, sincere, childish way, like some of the superhero stuff I would make up when I was in elementary school. And I mean that as a compliment. I hope it stays weird, and I hope it stays silly. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and admittedly I’d rather have actual Kirby art than someone aping Kirby, but still, it’s a lot of fun.
I wanted to buy Animal Man, but it sold out and I can’t find a copy. Arg. Well, I guess I could get it on ComiXology, but I don’t want to read it one panel at a time.
Which leaves me with the only other comic I bought, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. The title alone hooked me. I had to know if DC were really trying to reference Marvel’s Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD stuff and, well, the truth is that no, they’re actually trying to be more like the DCU equivalent of Hellboy and the BPRD. I’m not complaining. Frankenstein and his Creature Commandos (get it? GET IT?!) are like if the Universal movie monsters got together as a special ops team. There’s a winged vampire dude, an amphibious scientist chick, a mummy whose identity is unknown, and a werewolf. In the first issue, they’re dropped into a town that’s been taken over by monsters that have mysteriously appeared. Their commander is Frankenstein’s father, Father Time, who for some reason is a little asian girl with a domino mask. Their base of operations is a tiny sphere that they have to be shrunk down and teleported into, created by Ray Palmer, the Atom. And here I was thinking OMAC was nutty. Read this paragraph again. If a team of horror movie icons fighting monsters doesn’t appeal to you in any way, I don’t want to know you.
Apparently further down the line, OMAC and Frankenstein are going to cross over. It’s meant to be.
Looking at the checklist of all of the other titles, there’s nothing else that grabs me in the same way these do. I don’t know how the merging of the Wildstorm universe with DC is going to play out (awkwardly?), but I don’t think there’s much reinventing the wheel going on. Yes, they’re starting from scratch (for the most part, there may be some continuity snags here and there I’m sure, but I am indifferent), but it’s not like they’re radically re-envisioning these characters and stories, which is kind of a shame. I keep wondering if we’ll ever see something new and monumental out of the superhero genre like the Dark Knight Returns, Elektra: Assassin, or Watchmen, something that breaks the rules and changes the way the game is played. Chances are? Not very likely.
Ah well. At least there’s a comic about a bulky blue guy with a shimmering mohawk beating people up, I really think the world needs more of that.
Today's Exciting Tales! in the East Tennessean:
All of these things are true, though of course, people who know me and know my work really well will realize that I am personally responsible for the first two.
Thursday sees the second Distinguished Gentlemen strip, of course.
Met with my advisor today about Embrace Infection, showed him the seven finished pieces. He seemed to talk to me longer than any of the other students, and it was mostly about the concept of a loose narrative, which is what I'm calling this stuff. He suggested some minor changes to make to a few of the pieces, then told me to keep cranking them out and not to be afraid to be even more outrageous. Excellent.
I got a Droid X2 smartphone and have been learning my way around it. Obviously, one of the first things I downloaded was the ComiXology app and a nice big slate of free comics. It's a bit exhausting at times, but reading the comics one or two panels at a time is a very interesting thing. It's got me thinking about how page layouts are affected by it. For instance, a big, beautiful two-page spread by JH Williams III would not translate all too well. However, something simple, on a 6-or-9 panel grid would be pretty much perfect unless the artist is playing around with symmetry between panels and such, the way Dave Gibbons did for the Fearful Symmetry issue of Watchmen. There's a lot of push and pull, and I wonder just much professional artists think about the differences between the physical book and the screen on someone's iPhone, yeah?
It's fascinating stuff, but still: nothing beats having the thing itself in your hands, being able to flip between pages, smell the ink on paper...Er, right. I'll shut up now.
Since it was published Thursday afternoon, here I will share with you the first Distinguished Gentlemen strip:
This is the first Distinguished Gentlemen strip I've done since...late high school, early college, I think? I had made a stab at doing a webcomic, and you can still find all those strips online, but please don't. They're appalling. I created these guys out of the blue my senior year of high school in a painting which now hangs (appropriately, I think) over my brother's toilet in his house. They are very endearing to me for some reason I can't quite put my finger on.
These strips are a different beast from the Exciting Tales! stuff, because there's an arc, with each story being (I think) four strips. This one and the second one were also absolutely tough to draw. Then I spent a long time hitting my head on a wall trying to figure out how to do the third one when I had a breakthrough. I gave it an interesting layout, but it'll be a couple more weeks before you get to see it.
I'm still ahead on the strips, yes, but gosh, it's turning into a grind. I know I could move faster, but I have to work to motivate myself sometimes, especially since I'm just going back and forth between them and Embrace Infection, having difficulty sometimes in determining which is the higher priority.
But they're still getting done, and I refuse to resort to Jim Davis-levels of awful laziness. Though I do kind of want to do a Garfield or Family Circus parody at some point. I just finished penciling a tribute strip to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland earlier this afternoon, but maybe only three people total will get that. Still, though, I'm learning with each strip I draw and I feel like I'll soon find a happy method of working where I can provide good quality comics without breaking my back over it.
(I also want to do a tribute to George Herriman's Krazy Kat)
“People like us, we’re sharks attracted to blood. You smelled blood too, didn’t you? Isn’t that why you’re here?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about No More Heroes lately as compared to Suda51‘s other, more recent works. Shadows of the Damned was great, but left a bit to be desired, and while Lollipop Chainsaw looks fantastic, it’s just…I don’t know if it could top No More Heroes.
No More Heroes, for the uninitiated, is…well, I’m having a hard time putting it into words. It’s an action game, but with a lot of mundane side jobs like picking up litter and mowing lawns. It’s crude, violent, the graphics aren’t pretty, you save your game by going to the toilet, the open world is largely empty with very little to interact with, the simple barely-there plot turns grossly convoluted and confusing in the final act, and the whole thing has this gleeful punk rock attitude in just how manic and sloppy it is. And for being a game where you recharge your weapon by shaking the Wii remote like you’re jerking off, there’s a weird degree of subtlety to it. It’s my favorite videogame ever, and its protagonist, Travis Touchdown, may be my favorite videogame character as well.
"You got it old man! And for some reason I feel this sense of euphoria..."
So we’ll start there. Travis Touchdown is a nerd and a loser, despite having a sweet motorcycle and wicked jacket. He lives in a motel alone with his cat and collects action figures, watches anime about pubescent girls with magic powers, and that’s about it. But he’s also the ultimate badass killer too. Travis is like a stereotypical gamer nerd, and No More Heroes is his videogame fantasy. Make no mistake, this game is the ultimate adolescent wish-fulfillment scenario: the sad nerdy guy who picks up an awesome weapon and sets out on an epic journey to save the day and get the girl. Quick, name a science fiction weapon that anyone, geek or not, would recognize and would totally love to have, if they don’t already own a fake one. If you guessed a lightsaber, you’re correct! Except George Lucas has a copyright on that and so what Travis purchases in an online auction to become a badass money-making assassin is a beam katana, but make no mistake, that’s what Suda51 was thinking about when he decided on what weapon to give this nerdy character. By day, Travis watches wrestling tapes (tapes, not DVDs, yes), plays with his cat, and takes small jobs like pumping gas and cleaning graffiti off buildings in the city of Santa Destroy. Then he uses the money he makes from those jobs to take on assassination gigs, climbing the ranks of the UAA to become the top assassin and hopefully get laid. The dichotomy there is a clear statement on what being a gamer (or an artist, or, I don’t know, porcelain doll enthusiast) is like, taking up crappy part-time jobs in order to pay for your real passion. It’s really quite genius. The side jobs are not much fun, but they’re not MEANT to be, and doing them just means that when you do get to the killing, it makes slicing folks in half and hearing them scream “MY SPLEEN!!” that much sweeter.
"Don't die on me too quickly. I want to gorge myself on this sense of fulfillment till I vomit."
That split in gameplay content aside, the game would still otherwise be a simple, shallow affair were it not for the game’s boss battles, the icing on the cake. Watch that cutscene again up there. Every boss battle starts and ends with a scene like that. The boss assassins are all colorful characters to be sure, but those scenes really develop them as flesh and blood people, and that in dealing with these guys, Travis is most definitely in his element. Here the anime-loving dweeb waxes philosophical as each boss details his or her motivations for killing, and what their life is like. The first boss, Heavy Metal, lives a pampered life in a gorgeous mansion, Dr. Peace is a grim, Dirty Harry-style killer, Shinobu is out to avenge her father’s death, et cetera. All of them have a greater motivation than the scrappy punk Travis, who just wants to be number 1 and get some tail, not caring about much of anything else, but as he goes on to face each one, you can detect a change taking place in him. This is illustrated in other ways too, like how the open world of Santa Destroy is just…empty, with only a few shops to go into and no real interaction, because none of it is important to Travis. It’s like how I could tell you where all the local comic shops are in the tri cities, but when it comes to the places they’re around, I’m not sure because I don’t really pay much attention to them. I identify with that.
So yes, this a game that’s very socially aware in a strange way, but the mere fact that it’s socially aware separates it from nearly every other single game out there. Like many of my favorite works of pure genius, all the intelligence is hiding under the dick jokes and gore.
And then there are all sorts of little touches that make me smile: Enemies spewing fountains of blood and coins as they die. The cartoony scream Travis lets out if you accidentally drive his motorcycle off a ledge. The top-down shmup stage that’s a dream. Collecting luchador trading cards. The awesome t shirts you can get. Having new techniques literally beaten into Travis. The music for the gym being a slight reference to Eye of the Tiger. Having to hold the Wii remote like a phone to listen to Sylvia before each boss fight. The distorted voice announcing the boss’s name, followed by a quip from the boss, followed by a wailing guitar. The posterization effect and the guitar chord on the loading screens. And so much more.
The game is a huge influence on me. It’s probably the most popular of Suda51’s, especially since it’s the only one to spawn a sequel. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is quite different from it’s predecessor while delivering more of the same action and wackiness that made the first so great. I don’t think I enjoy it QUITE as much, but…well, it warrants its own write-up in the future, yes…
"See you on the other side."
I seem to be on a roll. Posting a lot, possibly because it's a three day weekend with not much to do at all. I'm actually writing a big thing on No More Heroes, and plotting other things I wish to write about, like the Videodrome post I did a week or two ago. The one thing most of them will have in common is how trashy they are, yes.
This post isn't much, though. I realized I still had all the music on my computer from when I made Black Hole Ghost, and a few of the tracks aren't half bad, so I decided to throw them onto Youtube for no real reason other than to give myself something to do. Here you go:
I think I talked about it before, but all the music for BHG was done with GarageBand and a USB keyboard that I really didn't know how to play. My understanding and knowledge of writing music starts and ends with the bass guitar, so I was just learning as I went, but hey, I think I did okay. Over a year after making it, though, I kind of find the thing itself unwatchable. There are just so many things I could've done better, especially in the editing and the compositions of a lot of shots.
I find myself occasionally thinking about expanding upon the story. Or re-telling it as a comic. Trying a new approach. Not necessarily pulling a George Lucas, no, but...I don't know. I just feel like the concept, the character, the story...it demands something bigger and better than my amateur attempt at a live action stop-motion silent film, yes?
That said, the fact I even accomplished what I did, writing, storyboarding, shooting, editing, composing, all of it that I barely had even a basic grasp of, is still something I'm quite proud of, even though I'll probably never watch it again any time soon.
It always happens. I wind up reading something interesting, like a huge discussion on Elektra: Assassin, one of my favorite graphic novels ever, or I find some wicked cover to a manga, or a gallery of Little Nemo in Slumberland, the best newspaper strip ever. Or a friend tells me about a game called NetHack. I just come across things online that seem to crack my skull open and make me reassess my work. Not always in huge ways, of course, but you know, after getting the scope and insanity of Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz's Elektra: Assassin put into perspective, I get inspired to do something just as big and grotesque. Then I turn around and want to do something as beautiful and whimsical as Winsor McCay's art. I want to do a henshin comic. I want to go back to the weird simplicity I was experimenting with earlier this year when I was doing those vector pieces.
I start putting things together in my mind, the pieces start connecting, I have ideas, and then when I get out of the shower it's all gone and I can't remember any of it and out of frustration I just go on Amazon and order the third volume of Akira, Frank Miller's Ronin, and that Little Nemo porn parody strip thing that was occasionally published in Heavy Metal. None of my work can measure up to any of this yet, and that's a major source of creative frustration.
But eventually, I get over it and go back to drawing and giggle at the fact that I use "FISH'D!!" as a sound effect in a comic strip.
Still, though. I need to find a way to focus my thoughts and really meditate on what it is I REALLY want to do with my art and comics. The simple answer is to entertain and inspire. Even if it's someone saying, "I could TOTALLY do better than this!" and then, you know, going out and DOING IT, that's awesome, that's exciting.
It's also weird and unsettling when you look at the industry you're wanting to break into and seeing just how bizarre it is at present, with DC doing a complete relaunch that feels almost like an act of desperation and people scrambling to figure out how to make digital comics work. And then, on the other side of creativity, learning in horror about how George Lucas is making MORE changes to the original Star Wars trilogy in a stupefying attempt to close the gap between it and his glossy, vapid prequel trilogy.
Ah yes, to be an artist and to worry about things like this as opposed to, I don't know, more real world problems. You're brooding again Brett, stop it.
Anyways. I went ahead and put up the first two East Tennessean strips in a gallery on this here fine site. And for the hell of it, here they are on ths blog so you don't have to click that:
Mantises and a giant screaming hellbeast. These are things that I am all about. I have this problem where I start drawing something and think to myself, "how do I make this WEIRDER?" And when you're doing a strip about a professor who's a bear, that's a stupid question to ask, but I draw a waterbear too, just for kicks...
...People probably won't get that one when it's published.
Anyways, that's where my head is today. I'm trying not to play Demon's Souls today because criminy, that game is a crippling addiction. I should find something else to do...
...That line, repeated throughout the Receiving End of Sirens first album, could almost be a slogan or something for Embrace Infection. I've been working quite hard on it lately, with seven pieces roughly done, four in progress, I just penciled a new piece today, and I've got two, maybe three more planned.
I've only shown them to a small handful of people though, so I thought I'd throw together another one of those inane images that's just a montage of small bits of each piece that's on the computer so far. So here you go:
Aw yeah! Though, my only class, the portfolio review/exhibition class, met for the first time Wednesday morning, and while a minimum of ten pieces is needed for the portfolio, we're probably only going to get roughly five pieces in the show. We're not doing solo exhibitions anymore, sadly, and trying to pick five out of these is going to be tough.
Progress goes along smoothly for the comic strips, too. The second strip, about financial aid, was just printed yesterday, the third strip will be printed next week, and from there the paper will go twice a week and you can be damn sure I'm going to have a comic in every one of them, even if it kills me. Unless it does kill me, or they fire me, in which case, um, crap.
I've posted three of the four completed strips to deviantART already. I was told they might put the strips up on the East Tennessean website, but I've not seen that happen. After a few more get printed, I'm going to set up a gallery here on the site to look at them. Like I said, four strips are done so far, one is nearly done, and I penciled a new one today, working at a decent clip.
I haven't been reading a lot of comics lately, which feels weird, but aside from next week's Casanova, there's just nothing I'm really excited about right now. The same can be said for movies and other things, too. And since I can't find anything terribly exciting, I suppose I will just keep making things which excite me and spit them out into the world in the hopes that they'll excite others too.
...Hm. I can't think of anything else to talk about. I've been wanting to write something again, but I can't remember at all what else I wanted to talk about at all. Oh well. Maybe something will come to me later, yeah?
I’ve been dealing this week with what feels like an excess of energy, possibly brought on by Mountain Dew, the thought of classes starting next week, and excitement over my comic strips being published in a newspaper (I think the first issue came out today!), among other things. It’s this restless energy where I feel like I need to fight or have sex with something, and I cannot do either of these things. Instead, I am going to talk about Videodrome.
Why? Because this abundance of energy reminds me of a line, somewhat early in the film, spoken by Debbie Harry’s character Nicky Brand: “I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.” That elegantly describes our life and times these days, eh?
Where should I begin? The little things like James Wood’s sleazy, confident swagger as Max Renn, the awesome character names like Professor Brian O’Blivion and Gary Convex, Rick Baker’s visceral special effects, the pulsing red glow of the Videodrome set, “long live the new flesh,” the pacing…heck, all of it is great. Videodrome is unquestionably David Cronenberg’s masterpiece, which says a lot considering the man has made plenty of great films.
Videodrome is easily one of my top three favorite films, and could possibly overtake Pi as my favorite, considering the absurd number of times I’ve watched it since getting it as a gift from a friend. It’s a lean film with no fat on it, especially as things start happening super-fast in the final act, it’s intelligent as well as visceral, it’s quotable, it’s fun to make people watch for the first time, and it’s just really entertaining.
It’s also clearly a big influence on my own work, more so than I think any other films, except maybe giant monster movies. A nice dose of sci fi body horror with a dash of sex and a bit of violence, right up my alley.
There’s so much more to it than these things of course, and it’s all been written about by better people than myself (the essays which come with the Criterion edition are FANTASTIC), like the way the Cathode Ray Mission building reminds me of a hobo-standard internet café, the above quote from Nicky Brand before we learn of her masochistic tendencies, the way the hallucinations become reality…well, just a lot of it seems to predict in a strange sideways fashion the way the internet is developing.
Now I want to watch it again. But I can’t, because I loaned my copy to a friend. Crap. No wait, isn’t it on Netflix now? YES.
Go. Watch it. This movie will immerse you in its strange world, and it will change you.
Long live the new flesh!
Oh, that's right, I have a website, don't I? With a blog, which should be regularly updated with my thoughts and things! I had completely forgotten about that. Forgive me, all three of you who read this site.
I've been kind of busy with this and that. I've made large strides in EMBRACE INFECTION, thinks are gelling together in a way where the pieces I'm working on now look quite different from the stuff I was doing last month, and now I'm wondering if I should go back and re-tweak the three or four pieces I had finished then, and some other pieces that I started on some time ago are looking dull in comparison to the new work too. Also I have drawn a piece with which I actually creeped myself out when I looked at it. I'm quite proud of that. I'm working on 6 pieces at once, all drawn and with the flat colors done, and still have two or three more to actually draw...
On top of that, I have been hired by ETSU's student-run newspaper, the East Tennessean, to draw comics for them. This is huge for me. I'm doing two separate strips since the paper is done twice a week. One of the strips will be weird college-related gags and the other strip is the return of my two old characters, the Distinguished Gentlemen. Reginald had already made his reappearance in INTERMISSION, and Archibald is in an illustration for my friend's chapbook, Museum For Dead Clowns. Which, I would like to add, he finished up and has printed. Yay!
(I still need to get a copy from him. And to get him a copy of Burst Reach)
But yes, I'm getting paid to do comics which will be seen by all kinds of people, in an actual publication, and on their website too. And I'll upload them on here as well. I'm super excited. I am not doing little 3-or-4-panel "strips" like you see in newspapers or like Penny Arcade because that is not me. Truth be told, I HATE newspaper comic strips, with the exception of the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, but neither of those show up in papers anymore, alas. The rest to me is just cheap, formulaic dreck that is not funny or interesting. There's no risk-taking, no playing with the form, nothing, just a handful of panels following the same beats, drawn the same way, these dull, lifeless things. And while yes, I understand that most of the people doing newspaper comics now have been doing it for decades and have to churn these things out on a daily basis, I just can't stand it. It's stagnant.
What I'm drawing will look more like actual comic pages, and even then I'm going to try to play with the space, draw the things in whatever style I think will work, and generally just come up with ways of challenging and changing the way people look at comics. I mean, I'm thinking most of the people who pick up and read the East Tennessean don't read comics unless they're general webcomics or newspaper strips, so this is an opportunity to just show them something new.
Also, it will be surrealistic and absurd, with a nice dash of awkward horror and maybe not as funny as I like to think it'll be, but my editor, gods bless her, has put her trust in me to do whatever I want.
As a bit of practice, especially because I'll be lettering these on the computer as opposed to by hand like my other comics, I did this silly, stupid little comic about balls:My word bubbles need work there, but yeah. Just something fun I drew at work one morning. I want to draw the three-faced dude in the middle more. Maybe I'll put him in the newspaper comics...
I have a thing for brains in jars.
Further random things: This weekend I have watched a few episodes of Top Gear (possibly my favorite TV show ever), Jean Luc Godard's Alphaville, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre, something called Nude for Satan that was terrible, Mario Bava's Black Sabbath, a documentary on Harlan Ellison, and Repo Man. And I keep watching this:
I am one of two, MAYBE three people who is excited for this film. Neveldine and Taylor are filmmaking heroes of mine, with Crank 2 being one of my favorite movies ever. And he pisses fire and vomits bullet! How badass is that?!
On top of these things I finished reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, bought and read Patton Oswalt's brilliant book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, read 5 of 6 Moebius collections from the late 80's that I bought last weekend (that's a lot of freaking Moebius...), and started reading Phillip K. Dick's Now Wait For Last Year, which is off to a promising start. I love that the main character's name is Dr. Sweetscent, and he works for a company called Tijuana Fur & Dye, but they make guidance systems for spaceships or something.
Classes start back in two weeks, and it's going to feel weird staying in Bristol and only going down there once or twice a week, but I look forward to only having the senior show, the newspaper comics, and graduation to worry about, especially after this last year and a half, maybe two years just murdered me. It feels good only having to concentrate mostly on my personal work. It makes it stronger, I think.
Also means more time for Demon's Souls, currently violently killing me left and right and making me quite angry.