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

amechanicaldisaster@gmail.com

The Void doesn't shout back

In roughly 10 days, the Bill Counts October Game will begin, and I’ll begin drawing Shouting at the Void, my existential android hitman comic. The story is plotted out, I have half of the pages thumbnailed with dialogue scribbled out, most of the design work is done, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of how I want it to look. Here’s another test page I did this week:
 

I had oral surgery Friday. It was supposed to just be a biopsy on the cyst that had developed in my jaw, but once they’d gone in, they saw how big and infected it was and just went ahead and yanked it out rather than wait. Since then, my days have been spent largely in a painkiller haze, being unable to do much of anything outside of holding an ice pack on my face and watching dumb movies in bed. So I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately to just sit and think, and I kept thinking about this comic, and one nagging little anxiety, a thing I’ve always dealt with before, managed to become more amplified alongside the spikes of pain in my jaw:

Who is the audience for this thing?
 

The October Game is kind of a local thing, and the majority of the people participating are painters and photographers, work that‘s kind of what one comes to expect in southern Appalachia. While my own work last year was all over the place, I was still kind of the only one doing weird sci-fi stuff most of the time. It didn’t really raise awareness of my work in the way I had kind of hoped it would. And this year I’m just taking it even further into obscurity, not just by doing a comic, but a comic about a city populated by androids, all colored in blues, with the plot revolving around a mysterious portal and a man with no face? Who the hell wants to read that, especially when it’s surrounded by landscape photos and charcoal portraits? I doubt I’ll be getting any new fans out of that Facebook space.

I’m feeling like I’ve already failed on some level before I’ve even begun drawing the comic, basically. This is a weird thing I’m doing, even by my own standards. My two big reference points for the book are Philip K. Dick and Seijun Suzuki, with maybe a dash of Welcome to Night Vale. As for visuals, hell, I don’t even know. Power Rangers and Kamen Rider, sure, Blade Runner, maybe some Kirby, and I’ve been looking a lot at Moritat’s art on Elephantmen and All Star Western, because he draws his pages just a little bit smaller than what I’m using for this. This is not an easy sell at all, and I’m not good at that sort of thing to begin with. Other Sleep has been online for over a year now and only really registers with maybe about a few dozen people tops? Most of whom are my friends. Shouting at the Void just doesn’t strike me as something anyone will really be all that into.

That’s kind of where the title of the comic comes from, actually. Any time I post my thoughts on the internet, write or draw something, and I get no response, I feel like I’m just shouting into this empty expanse. Fitting, isn’t it?
 

I don’t get much negative feedback on my art and comics. I mean, I don’t really get much of any kind of feedback at all, really. It’s kind of a good thing that I don’t have throngs of haters gnashing their teeth at me, because that shit isn’t cool. But, you know, our brains are wired to seek out and focus on anything remotely negative, so I mostly just feel like I’m being ignored, and Shouting at the Void isn’t really going to do anything to change that, is it?

One thing I do hear from time to time, that’s not necessarily negative criticism or whatever, but really does irk me…people tell me my art is weird all the time. And that’s cool, I like that, I’m into weird things and I like making weird things, good to know I’m succeeding at SOMETHING that I’m striving for. But occasionally I get someone who uses the word in a kind of derogatory manner. “Your weird-ass comics.” “Why are you so weird?” That kind of thing that I was so used to hearing in high school, “why do you like this weird shit?” Like, the fact that what I’m doing is different, not like other work, is offensive to these people. Taking one of the things about my art and about myself that I really enjoy and trying to use it against me? I hate that, that’s just…I don’t know.

I guess I’m just struggling here to come to terms with the fact that when I start putting everything I’ve got into drawing Shouting at the Void, into telling this bizarre little story that I’m proud of, that just like nearly everything else I do, it’s largely going to go unnoticed by the people that I’m trying to put it in front of.

But, you know, if you turn out to be one of those people who DOES read it, who even enjoys it, do me a little favor and spread the word, okay? I’m going to be posting it online EVERYWHERE, there will be no shortage of ways to find it. Just speak up, post a link on Facebook, Tweet it, let people know that you’re reading and enjoying this comic by this guy. Every little bit helps and it means a lot to me, too.

Okay, that’s enough bitching for now. Back to work.

"Mondo, am I a tortured soul?"

There’s something to be said about how Grasshopper Manufacture has been able to put out a new console game every year for the past three years, something that feels a little unusual for a developer with their track record. There’s also something to be said that every time they do release a new console game, that’s my personal game of the year. And while I’m still struggling to collect all of my thoughts on the game, I think it’s safe to say that Killer is Dead has done it again for me this year. I mean, a friend of mine gave me his copy of the Last of Us which I haven’t touched yet, but I don’t think you have a mechanical arm with a drill attachment in that game, nor do you get to fight a giant alien kaiju. How could it top that?
 

What is it about Suda51 and his company’s games that keep me coming back for more? I think David Brothers nailed it pretty well in his own write-up on KID just a couple of weeks ago. It’s style as substance. I can’t think of a single triple-A title from the past few years that has the same punk rock swagger as No More Heroes, you know? Yet I was getting a little worried for a bit there. Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw aren’t QUITE as far out as NMH and Killer7 were, and that’s possibly due to the collaborative process involved, with Shinji Mikami on Damned and James Gunn on Lollipop. Still, I was concerned that my favorite screwball developer was being seduced by more mainstream sensibilities, however ridiculous that sounds. I realize it makes me sound like a dumb hipster, but the fear was there nevertheless.

Killer is Dead more or less puts those doubts to rest. It’s definitely their most stylish game to date, with the visual sensibilities of Killer7 and No More Heroes realizing their full potential. The graphics still aren’t necessarily the best, but a little bit of art direction can go a long way. Everything is bathed in shadow here, very much like Killer7, only not quite. The shadows aren’t deep black as you’d expect, but more of a blue/purple gradient. Occasionally irritating, but I’ve never seen anything like it before and am very tempted to give it a try in my own art soon.

The story is where most of my frustrations lie, but at the same time, it’s where I had a big sigh of relief. Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw barely had stories, and were pretty straightforward, whereas Killer is Dead recalls the obscurity and disjointed confusion of Killer7. Dark matter from the moon which is possibly malice given physical manifestation infects people (and on one occasion, a machine), turning them into cybernetic demons called Wires. A very body horror kind of thing, come to think of it, flirting with some of the ideas Shinya Tsukamoto tackled in his breakout movie Tetsuo the Iron Man.

(speaking of body horror: the first “boss,” Tokio? He’s definitely based off of James Woods as Max Renn in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. The brown leather jacket and button up shirt are practically the same, and the gun arm he has is fused to him in a similarly creepy fashion, especially in the concept illustration that’s in the art book which comes with the game)

Our hero, Mondo Zappa (Mondo=World, and I’ll bet Zappa is a reference to rock legend Frank Zappa, though I‘m hardly familiar with his work and how it could tie into the game) is an assassin who is hired to kill targets, typically people who have been changed by the dark matter. He’s an amnesiac, but in an interesting twist he’s also the kind of guy who doesn’t care that he can‘t recall his past. You don’t even know he has amnesia until Dolly shows up, screwing with his dreams. Also unlike previous Suda51 protagonists, while he’s great at killing, it’s not something he has any passion for. All he cares about is seducing women. He has no real charisma, which is frustrating, and yet that also makes him interesting in how it permeates through every aspect of the character. I’m still figuring him out, especially because, as things are revealed through the story, they only bring up more questions.

And that’s good, because, even if it doesn’t give you any satisfying explanations for anything, it still makes you think, unlike nearly every other videogame coming out these days. I feel the same way now that I kind of did when playing Killer7 (to which this game is frequently referred as a “spiritual successor”), where nothing really makes sense and you’re just along for the ride. Not a single character is particularly fleshed out, but that feels intentional. Again, Mondo doesn’t give a shit about anything except looking at girls in their underwear, so it makes sense that that’s how he’d see people, right? He doesn’t bother getting to know anyone, even those who live with him.

Oh, yeah. The Gigolo Missions, which the internet has kind of gone nuts over. Awful. They’re a kind of weird inversion of No More Heroes. Travis Touchdown loves killing, but needs money for the execution missions with the awesome boss fights, and in order to get that money you have to do dumb job minigames like mowing lawns and picking up litter. Which makes sense, slog through the shitty stuff to get to the good stuff, and it served as a nice commentary on gaming in general, working your dumb job to make money to buy an awesome game that lets you kill people. But here, it’s different: Mondo takes on awesome assassination jobs in order to make money to spend on stupid gifts to give to girls in order to seduce them, but you have to work up the “guts” to give them these presents by…ogling them in their underwear? Suda has said these missions are supposed to be like when James Bond seduces ladies for information, but, but…it just isn’t the same thing. I don’t feel like some swank lady‘s man, I feel like some dumb nerd who doesn’t know how to talk to women, and makes up for lack of communication skills by buying them things and staring at their chest when they’re not looking. And then the game rewards you for that?

(Scarlett is the only exception: first you have to find her in each stage, then you have to do a certain number of her somewhat difficult combat challenges, THEN she decides to sleep with you. Presents don’t work, she wants you to tear shit up first, only violence turns her on, and I can actually get behind that…)

It’s degrading towards women, yes. It’s sexist and stupid. But…it’s just so goddamn dumb that it feels intentional? It’s lowest common denominator bullshit, appealing to creepy basement dwelling nerds who can only get off on anime girls or whatever, but it’s just so obvious that I feel like he’s trying to simultaneously point the finger at those people, trying to insult them, but it isn’t quite working?

I don’t know. No matter how you try to look at it, those missions are a total failure. Hopefully Suda and Grasshopper are aware of this and will do better next time.

Aside from Suda51 himself, Grasshopper also has another big personality among their ranks: Akira Yamaoka, who left Konami and the lucrative Silent Hill franchise (made popular largely due to his music and sound design) to join them. I always liked that he basically abandoned the series that made him a huge name in the gaming industry in order to be a part of a scrappy little team that cranks out weird games that will never sell as well as even the worst Silent Hill games. Like leaving a multi-platinum world famous rock band to join some punk band that nobody’s heard of. Since defecting to Grasshopper, he’s done some amazing soundtrack work, with Shadows of the Damned probably being his best to date.

The soundtrack to Killer is Dead, however, doesn’t quite feel like his stuff as much as that game does. I feel like it has way more in common with Masafumi Takada’s soundtrack to Killer7 more than anything else, which makes sense. The collector’s edition came with a CD that has 25 tracks from the game on it, and while it’s all good, none of it really stands out or does much for me outside of the game itself. When I’m playing, it’s perfect, it suits the game beautifully, but removed from the gameplay and visuals it loses a lot of its power. Still, it does what it needs to, and I love the softer, jazzier tracks, which I’ve never heard from him before.

This write-up is already way too stupidly long, so let’s just touch on some other things that I like about the game really quickly: while the bulk of combat is you mashing one button to hack things up with a katana, there is quite a lot more going on, with dodging and blocking being super important, and it feels a bit like God Hand in some ways. The way things go slow motion when you dodge at the last second is lifted straight from No More Heroes, but at least here they actually tell you about it and explain it. Moon River looks EXACTLY like Anne Hathaway, I think. Bryan was my favorite character. Nobody writes dialogue like Suda, and it felt good to have those talks between Mondo and each boss, even if they weren’t quite as engaging as the conversations in NMH. The one thing that amused me about the Gigolo missions was the whispered “MAGNIFICO!” you’d hear if you gave the girl a really good present, a callback to Shadows of the Damned. I liked Scarlett’s challenges, even though I couldn’t beat half of them until after I finished the game. They reminded me a lot of the side challenges in God Hand. Oh, and the “Please Stand By” cut in the Russia level on the train. Not the Zaka TV reference that’s in Killer7 and NMH, but I laughed so hard at that. Also breaking the fourth wall a good three or four times in the most casual way, I love Grasshopper for that.

I feel like if I replay Killer7 soon, I’ll be able to make even more connections between the two, because Suda emphasized that they’re close, but no one else has really brought that up in other reviews, so who knows whether there are more connections or not?

Someone on Tumblr did a nice batch of articles about this game too, one involving a couple of Freud’s psychological theories and how they apply to Mondo and David, and two about how the game’s characters relate to chess pieces. Way smarter than anything I’ve written, check them out if you’re interested.

Also if you're interested, I've written on this website about No More Heroes, first impressions for Shadows of the Damned, and Lollipop Chainsaw.

"All these people's vitality irritates me"

Part 3 of Brett Watches Too Many Criterion Films! Let's get started, shall we?

World on a Wire, part 1 (1973): The first half of a two-part sci-fi miniseries for German television, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This was his only foray into sci-fi, and much like Godard’s Alphaville, it’s one with no special effects or built sets. Fassbinder shoots modern Germany in an eerie, foreign way to MAKE it look futuristic, all flat surfaces, glass and mirrors. His obsession with shooting through reflections and glass surfaces got on my nerves, as did the stiff acting and weird unexplained things happening, but it kept me locked in the entire time. It feels heavily influenced by the work of Philip K. Dick, with the plot revolving around a virtual reality simulator filled with unique personalities and the protagonist’s own reality being called into question. Part 2 is sadly not on Hulu (yet), so I haven’t gotten to finish it. As frustrated as I was the whole time I was watching it, I was still really into it and hope to get to finish it soon, one way or another.

Kuroneko (1968): An incredibly good old-fashioned Japanese ghost story. The opening is pretty brutal, with no dialogue at all until ten minutes in. Beautifully shot, surprisingly erotic, with a story that’s actually pretty moving and a dizzying conclusion.

Godzilla (1954): Not on Hulu Plus, I finally got my hands on the Criterion bluray, but it still counts, right? I don’t even know what to say, this is another classic, the start of a franchise that I’ve been a fan of all my life. The first half or so of the movie does a great job of building tension, with Akira Ifukube’s score being used very sparingly. We’re hit with a lot of reports of ships sinking in the ocean, shots of footprints where Godzilla stomped through a tiny village, but the first two sightings of the monster himself are nothing more than that. No attacks, just brief, frightening appearances before he slinks back into the ocean. When he finally faces off against the military and proceeds to smash his way through Tokyo, it’s pure, bleak carnage. I realized that the ending of Pacific Rim actually lifted quite a bit from this, which is interesting. If you’re even remotely interested in kaiju films, you need to see it.

Jubilee (1978): You know, I have a lot of friends who are more deeply into punk culture than I am, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them talk about this movie before? John Dee summons the angel Ariel to show Queen Elizabeth I what the future of her kingdom will be: a burnt-out England ruled by punks. Lots of people from the early punk scene are in this, including Adam Ant before he blew up, which of course means the soundtrack is also great. Fantastic visuals, too. No real plot, the movie mostly just follows a gang of women with names like Amyl Nitrate, Chaos, and Mad, as they roam around London killing and fucking whoever they like. The movie just meanders from one scene to the next before deciding to abruptly end.

L’Avventura (1960): This is where an attempt to expand my horizons and push my limits basically faltered. Italian cinema in general is a little beyond me, I didn’t like 8½ and have been unable to get into any of Fellini’s other work. Even giallo movies don’t work for me most of the time, I don’t know. But I nevertheless watched L’Avventura, considered a classic, and…yeah, it didn’t work for me either. I can see how it was so significant when it came out, the way it follows no set structure, has no particular message or argument to make. A woman mysteriously vanishes during a pleasure cruise, and her fiancé and best friend wind up falling in love with one another as they search for her. It’s beautifully shot, and Monica Vitti is intoxicating as Claudia. Her face is unlike any I’ve seen before, unearthly gorgeous, and seeing her, hair swept by the wind, crossing the volcanic island in search of Anna, with its sharp rocks and steep cliffs is a compelling image. But once they left the island, I started losing interest, and just never quite got it back. I’m surprised I even managed to finish it. I guess between this and my distaste for French New Wave, I’ll never be a True Film Snob.

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968): Probably deserves an award for best film title ever. After practically falling asleep during L’Avventura the night before, I knew that the next movie I would watch had to be something with teeth, something short and mean. Goke does not disappoint. The movie’s runtime is 83 minutes, it hits the ground running and doesn’t slow down until it reaches its grim ending. Tarantino ripped the opening shot from this movie (an airplane flying through blood red skies) for Kill Bill, though it’s a shame he didn’t also throw any faces splitting open with silver goo pouring out into the movie. After being pelted by birds and almost hitting a UFO, the plane crashes in a rocky, mountainous area. Tensions are high enough as it is with the survivors not being terribly fond of each other before the crash, and things get worse when one of them, an assassin, gets his body taken over by a mercurial alien slug thing that turns him into a vampire. It’s wild, low budget madness, imaginatively shot, and the dramatic score even includes a theremin. I love it, and I HAVE to own it. It’s part of a 4-film Eclipse set, and while I wasn’t too into the X From Outer Space, the other two movies (the Living Skeleton and Genocide) look like a lot of fun, so I’ll probably watch them next.

Next time: those other two horror movies I just mentioned, possibly more Kurosawa, and another misguided attempt to expand my horizons probably.

Coming Soon: Shouting at the Void

Hey kids! I have a special announcement to make!

Remember when I participated in the Bill Counts October Game last year, in which I did a new finished piece of art every day of the month? In case you've forgotten, you can check out the gallery here as a refresher.

I'm planning on participating in it again, because I really got a kick out of doing it last year despite how torturous it got to be from time to time. Also I'm a horrible masochist. I'm something different this time around, though...

This year I'll be drawing a complete 30-page comic called Shouting at the Void.
I've been slowly plotting this thing out since the idea hit me early last month. Shouting at the Void is about an android hitman named Mint who lives in the desert city of Los Azules, where the appearance of a mysterious portal starts to shake things up in his life.

Every day of October I will draw a new page and post it online, over on the Facebook page for the game, on deviantART, on my art Tumblr (where you can see a couple of other early mock-ups), and on this site as well. To hopefully make things easier, each page will be drawn on smaller paper, 6x9 inches, which is the size of my medium sketches that I do at conventions, and the size that I drew the above concept piece. This is also the size that comics genius Moritat draws at these days, and is slightly larger than the size I print my zines at, so maybe when it's all over I can do a printed copy to sell.

In addition, I already have the story written out, and am in the process of breaking it down page by page as a script and still working on design stuff. If I have time, I'll be thumbnailing the pages out too. The idea is that if I get all of this done in advance, all I'll really have to worry about is drawing the pages themselves when next month hits, and I'll theoretically also be able to work on the final chapter of Other Sleep at the same time, yeah?

My only REAL concern is, well, um, see the new banner at the top of the page? That's an x-ray of my mouth. The "suspicious area" in the corner there is apparently a cyst or benign tumor that's been developing INSIDE of my jawbone. They're gonna have to cut that out, obviously, which means surgery. HOPEFULLY the surgery can be done this month. If not, well, we'll see what it's like to draw while doped up on painkillers, right?

So there you have it. A 30 page comic about an existential android hitman, to be drawn and serialized every day for the month of October. It's going to be pretty exciting, I think. I hope you'll all follow along when it happens!

Oh, also? Chapter 8 of Other Sleep will be up soon, some time next week I imagine. So I'll be definitely getting a head start on the final chapter before all of this begins. Still working on that art show for February too!

That's all for now. See you again soon!

[Brett]

"I'll smash through this hell or there's no future for me"

Alright kids, part 2 of Brett Watches Way Too Many Criterion Movies and Slowly Becomes a Stuck-up Film Snob. In this installment, a triple threat of Seijun Suzuki films, a double dose of satirical farce, and a bonafide classic.

Branded to Kill (1967): Seijun Suzuki’s masterpiece. The narrative of a Yakuza killer who’s betrayed and hunted after botching a job is dizzying and fractured, beautifully shot and drenched in shadow, with a lot of lonely harmonica music to set the mood. Suzuki was fired after making this, unable to do another movie for a whole decade, but man was it worth it. I can’t help but feel like a couple of my favorite videogames, Killer7 and No More Heroes, were heavily influenced by this. It's the king of existential hitman films, I think.

Tokyo Drifter (1966): I watched this for the first time earlier this year, back when Hulu had the Criterion movies available to watch for free for a brief period, and watched it again immediately after finishing Branded to Kill. It doesn’t hit as hard, it’s a bit more polished and not as fractured, but you can see how Suzuki got to Branded from this. It’s also my favorite of his. The colors are fantastic, the soundtrack is wonderful, and I really want the white suit that our hero Tetsu wears at the end of the movie. This movie also contains what may be my favorite barroom brawl in cinema, dozens of dudes slugging it out and drunkenly tearing the set to shreds. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

Youth of the Beast (1963): As you can see, I kind of watched Suzuki’s films in reverse chronological order. So with Tokyo Drifter, I was like “ah, that’s where (blank) from Branded to Kill came from!” With this, it was kind of the same thing. The movie opens in black and white, we see an object in color, then boom, the movie switches to full color and not long after starts to go off the rails, just like Tokyo Drifter. I wish I knew more about your standard Yakuza films of the time so I can better understand how subversive this was at the time of release, to know what’s being subverted, but I’m afraid I can’t. Narratively speaking, everything makes a bit more sense here as a thug is playing two gangs against each other in his search for the one who killed a cop. It’s not nearly as fractured as the other two. I thought it was going to end up being like Yojimbo or Fistful of Dollars all over again, but things take a few good twists into a dark conclusion, punctuated once more by that sad harmonica I love hearing in these movies.

Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966): From William Klein, the same gentleman who unleashed Mr. Freedom upon an unsuspecting world. This is another satire, this time tearing down the fashion industry, as Klein was once a photographer for Vogue. It’s not as mean and nasty as Mr. Freedom, it’s much more whimsical and silly. Prince Igor (a man whose bedroom leads me to believe he has aspirations of becoming a Bond villain), who loves the titular model, wishes to marry her and sends two men to find her. The subplot of them walking around Paris like a couple of drunken buffoons searching for her in the most inept ways possible is great. The bulk of the movie follows a TV show filming an episode all about Polly, while they simultaneously critique the fashion industry as a whole. I liked it quite a bit, it was a fun watch.

Daisies (1966): Like Tokyo Drifter, I’d already watched this once earlier this year and loved it. Polly Maggoo actually reminded me a lot of this, which is what led me to watching it again. Two girls (sisters?) named Marie decide the world is a spoiled mess, and so go about taking advantage of older men, destroying things, and eating everything in sight. Full disclosure? There are two reasons why I love this nonsensical farce of a movie so much. One is that it reminds me a lot of the Dada movement and videos I watched on it when I was in college, I'm in love with their whimsical chaos. The second is that one of the girls, the blonde, reminds me quite a bit of my own girlfriend, who also very much loves breaking men down, eating lots of food, and getting into drunken shenanigans. Plus I love how disjointed and visually interesting it is. Colors change at the drop of a hat, there are some great cut-up tricks and montages, clever editing, and more. Like a film student who learned all these visual tricks and crammed them all into one movie. I want to do a comic similar to this one day.

The Hidden Fortress (1958): After the immense international success of the Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa brings it on once more with this movie, known primarily as a huge influence on George Lucas and the first Star Wars movie. I worked my way through the original Star Wars trilogy early last month, and yeah, the similarities are quite obvious upon seeing this for the first time. Toshiro Mifune steals the show once again as a samurai general, hooking up with a couple of bumbling, bickering peasants to get a tomboyish 16-year-old princess and 200 pieces of gold across a border. Best scene? Mifune on horseback, sword in hand, chasing down and killing two enemy soldiers, charging into their camp, and starting a duel with their own general, an old friend of his. It’s hard for me to say a whole lot about this movie, but it’s an absolute classic for very good reasons and you should watch it.

NEXT TIME: German sci-fi, and probably more samurai movies, not sure yet.

"Life is a messy weapon."

A couple of weeks ago, I acquired a free 2-month subscription to Hulu Plus through a friend of mine. I am only using it for one thing: consuming movies from the Criterion Collection. I am binging on the stuff, and thought I'd write a little about each one I've watched. So, without further ado, here are assorted thoughts on six of what I've watched so far.

Sisters (1973): Aside from watching bits of Carrie on TV as a little kid, this is my first real experience with Brian De Palma’s work, and the one movie that was at the top of my list to watch. The movie is essentially a Hitchcock thriller turned up as loud and nasty as possible. The score is outrageous and unsettling, the cinematography quite voyeuristic. De Palma uses splitscreen for the first time in this movie for a gruesome murder and the cleanup afterwards, and from there the movie just keeps firing on all cylinders until the bitter conclusion. There’s a hypnosis/dream sequence towards the end that had my jaw on the floor. I need to get myself a copy of this on DVD soon, I absolutely loved it.

Fiend Without A Face (1958): All 1950s sci fi/horror movies are kind of the same, or so they feel sometimes. This one isn’t bad, but it isn’t anything new or different until maybe the last 20 minutes or so when the atomic monsters are finally revealed to be stop-motion brains that bleed quite a lot when shot or stabbed. I think that’s what made it notable in its time, taking things just a bit further than what audiences of the time were used to. I did find it interesting that a woman, Amelia Reynolds Long, had written the original story on which the movie is based.

Mr. Freedom (1969): I was uncomfortable the entire time I watched this movie, right from the first few minutes. It’s the most scathing satire I have ever experienced, vicious to the very end. Mr. Freedom is an American superhero in a riotous future, who gets called to France in order to introduce democracy, and things just keep getting weirder and weirder until the very end. There’s a real pop art/comicbook sensibility to the visuals, which makes the darker themes and dialogue stand out even more. At one point he develops stigmata, which then goes away after he eats a huge bowl of cornflakes. One of the movie’s “villains” is a giant inflatable dragon. I can’t do it justice with words, you just have to watch it.

The Sword of Doom (1966): Recommended by Chris Ready, this is a dark and brutal samurai film. The protagonist, though I hesitate to call him that, is a remorseless killer with sociopathic tendencies, uncomfortable to watch but so intense you can‘t take your eyes off of him. The movie opens with him mercilessly killing an old man on a mountain path before heading back to his village to take part in a duel. The action is quick and bloody, most confrontations over in the blink of an eye, which is something I always enjoy about samurai movies. Each strike counts. The end of the movie is a descent into madness and chaos, ending abruptly, as it was meant to be the first part of a series based on an unfinished novel with had been serialized in newspapers for over three decades. This is another one I need my own copy of, a movie that really sticks with you once it’s over.

Harakiri (1962): A classic. I had some issues paying attention to the first half of it (due in part to my stomach being lame), but the drama builds and builds, leading to a final act which feels like a hand around your throat the entire time. I’m curious about Takashi Miike’s recent remake of it, I feel like it just couldn’t be nearly as good as this is.

Shock Corridor (1963): A reporter gets himself checked into a mental institution to investigate a murder, only to go mad himself in the process. I like how the murder itself wasn’t really a part of the movie, it was all about Johnny’s descent into madness. Pretty well written, some neat color segments, and lots of fun psychological issues being thrown around. It feels like it was lifted right out of an old pulp magazine or EC crime comic.

Next time: A three punch combo of Seijun Suzuki films, plus um, whatever I watch after that. My queue still has 15 or so movies in it!

"Activate Kruger"

So I watched Elysium on Tuesday, and really enjoyed it. But the more I've been thinking about it, the more disappointed I become. Which is annoying when that happens, isn't it?

Let's get the good out of the way: THOSE ROBOT DESIGNS. Or, well, they actually called them droids in the movie, didn't they? Which was unexpected because doesn't Lucasfilm have that word copyrighted? Or well, I guess the copyright now extends to Disney, doesn't it? Anyways, I liked them a lot. And the titular colony itself, which was designed by Syd Mead. That's killer. The CG in this movie just looked so effortless. It was also nice to see a movie with a predominately Hispanic cast, though that makes Matt Damon stick out way more than he should.

I liked his "probation officer" being a shitty bot that looks like it was built by whoever came up with the Johnny Cab from Total Recall (a movie this bears a few passing similarities too), and it offering him pills to calm him down was the one moment where this movie leaned REALLY hard into Philip K. Dick territory. I wish it'd borrowed more from his (massive) body of work, honestly. I also appreciate the fact that Blomkamp is more than willing to really fuck up his characters in a way that most blockbuster movies shy away from.

And man, Sharlto Copley as Kruger. What a fuckin' piece of work that dude is. Just a grizzly psychopath who makes everybody else look like they aren't even trying. Seeing him all buffed up and foul after playing the scrawny, nerdy Wickus in D9 blew my mind. There's no doubt that he steals the show here.

But the story, the action...none of it was terribly great. For a movie about a giant floating colony occupied by rich people and their droid servants, taking place more than 50 years in the future, there's not a lot of world-building is there? Maybe it's because I saw it not long after my fourth(!!) time watching Pacific Rim, but everything is just kind of surface level, isn't it?
The main thing driving the plot, the main reason people on Earth want to find a way to Elysium, are the Medpods, which scan and magically fix anything that ails you. But who made those? Why aren't they available on Earth? Who came up with the idea of building a whole new colony for rich people and abandoning everyone else? How does the rest of the world, or even just our own government, respond to something like that? What was the original purpose for the exosuit thing they brutally strap Max into? Why do so many people on Elysium speak French? That was French, right?

Things don't feel as fully realized in the movie as I'd like them to be. There's a lot of cool tech going on, but it's just kind of there, and it's all disconnected from the rest of the movie. Max's exosuit looks cool, sure, but beyond the neural download and the two or three fights he gets in, it doesn't serve much purpose at all. It sure as hell isn't keeping him alive to do the job like I thought it would.

Reviewers have been talking about the social commentary, but there doesn't seem to be as much going on here as there is in District 9. To me, anyways. There's the immense divide between the rich and the poor, sure, but that's just setup, not much else. ThinkProgress has a good article about how it fails as a commentary on how terrible our healthcare system is, something that I barely even thought about while watching the movie. Something that occured to me today is the scene where Jodie Foster's character (why is she trying to impersonate Shatner in this?) orders Kruger to shoot down the shuttles heading to Elysium...

...Shuttles filled with sick and injured people. Sick and injured people who are largely Hispanic. Trying to get to a colony populated pretty much exclusively with white people. That is totally referring to the immigration issues we've been having in the US lately, in a not very subtle manner, and yet I don't think I've seen anyone mention it yet.

So I think that's the big problem I have, is that the movie doesn't really try to comment on any one issue in a strong manner, just these passing references to a number of things while not really managing to say much about any of them. None of it is important to this movie in the way that the apartheid in South Africa was to District 9. It just feels like all of the care and attention just went into designing shit (without explaining much of it) and getting Max and Kruger into some nasty fights. It's too shallow, there's just not as much to chew on as District 9 had.

And that last fight between them...that was a mess in the way it was shot and edited, wasn't it?

All of that aside, I do want to watch it again. I feel like I missed some bits. There may be more going on in other parts of the movie that I just overlooked. Possibly my expectations were way too high, I was wanting more of a movie that had nothing in common with Iron Man 3 or Star Trek 2, something with a lot more meat on it. And it's still much better than those two I just mentioned.

It also probably doesn't help that I've been mainlining Criterion Collection movies on this free 2 month Hulu Plus subscription that I got. I'll be writing about those soon, because very little compares to the greatness that is the Sword of Doom.

Looming on the horizon

So I have a pretty big, awesome announcement to make.

Two weeks ago was Rob-Con, as you probably already know. I didn’t do as well this year as I did last year, but it was still a blast and I still managed some decent sales and got some nice stuff for myself too. I met a woman there who had been walking around talking to all of the other artists. She was from the William King Museum in Abingdon, where I’d taken a few art classes when I was at Highlands. She told me about how they were setting up an exhibition of comic art in one of their galleries early next year from the private collection of Shelton Drum. Shelton, for those who don’t know, owns the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find shop in Charlotte and is the one who puts together Heroes Con every year, so I’m willing to bet he has some great stuff to display. Anyways, she told me that she wanted to do a show in the upstairs gallery that she curates to coincide with this one, showcasing local artists, and gave me her card.

Last week I emailed her. We set up a meeting for Tuesday morning, after I had a dentist’s appointment. I took my portfolio with me that had mostly poster illustrations, pages from the last few chapters of Other Sleep, and pages from Burst Reach 3.

She told me I was the only artist who’d gotten in touch with her about doing a show, and that I can basically do whatever I want. After some chatting, we decided that I’ll be doing a solo show exhibiting work from Other Sleep. Original pages, prints of the fully colored pages, stuff like that. And the show will be in February, coinciding with the comic show mentioned above.

Me. A solo show at the William King Museum. Based on Other Sleep. Be still my beating heart.

My plan always was to try and have the book finished by the end of this year. Now, I have an insanely good reason for doing just that. It’s more than just finishing the book, that’s just the first step, there’s going to be so much more to do, but this is a huge deal to me. I am buzzing with excitement.

So now I’m working like crazy, more motivated than ever before.  You understand, right?

Oh, and one other thing. Next Saturday, August 17th, is Koku Manga, an anime convention being put on by the same folks responsible for ETSUcon back in April. It’s being held at the Holiday Inn in Johnson City, and I of course will be there, purveying my usual wares and doing sketches. So come check it out, say hi, buy some stuff! Get a mutant portrait drawn! Because seriously, I didn’t do a single one at Heroes OR Rob-Con, and that’s distressing. Why wouldn’t you want your portrait drawn as something out of a body horror film?!

Finally, here are a couple recent pieces I haven’t really shown yet. Both are of characters from the new graphic novel I’m slowly formulating. I’m aiming for a look that’s a bit different from Other Sleep, as you can see:
Alright, that’s enough chatter. There’s work to be done. See you next weekend.

[Brett]

"my own dreams"

Hey everyone! Chapter 7 of Other Sleep is finally completed and online! 20 pages of Ninel swearing and punching things and getting bloody! It was a lot of fun to draw and color, so go check it out!


My goal is still to get the two final chapters online by the end of the year, which means I have 50 pages to draw, color, and letter in the next 5 months. No pressure.

On top of that, I've added some stuff to my Gumroad profile. Burst Reach 1 and 2 are now available together as a bundle, along with collections of chapters 1-3 and 4-6 of Other Sleep. And they're only a dollar a pop! How can you pass up a deal like that? Go get'em!

Finally, in case you've forgotten, Rob-Con is this Saturday! I found a hidden batch of my Distinguished Gentlemen/Exciting Tales! collection, so I folded and stapled those and will be giving them out for free. As always, I'll have my posters and buttons, the first chapter of Other Sleep, I'll be doing sketches, and I'll have copies of Burst Reach 3 as well! It's going to be a blast, and you're an idiot if you pass it up!

Aaaaannnnnndddd that's about it for now.

[Brett]

"I'll drop you like a sack of kaiju shit"

Minutes into Pacific Rim, I felt my eyes watering. About halfway through, after Gipsy Danger triumphantly brings down a kaiju on the edge of Hong Kong (midway through one hell of a setpiece), they came back. The movie made me cry tears of joy. I don’t think any movie has done that to me in some time. After being let down by Iron Man 3 and Star Trek 2 Much Crying, this is exactly what I needed.

 I don’t want to write a full-fledged review, or go into a plot synopsis or anything, you can go literally anywhere else to read something like that. I just want to talk about how this movie worked on a personal level for me and throw out a bunch of random thoughts that I’ve had in my head all weekend.
I grew up on Godzilla movies and Power Rangers. Giant monsters were just the coolest thing ever to me at 8 years old, so this stuff is just in my blood. When I hit my teenage years, that passion moved into giant robot anime, specifically shows like Gundam Wing, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Big O. Recently I’ve been getting heavily back into the old Godzilla movies I liked as a kid, along with the 90’s Gamera trilogy, tokusatsu shows like Super Robot Red Baron (which I wrote at length about here), basically anything I can get my hands on, and you can tell it's been influencing my art a lot too. So it goes without saying that I was excited for Pacific Rim. I feel like this movie was made JUST for me. I started grinning the moment that kaiju started tearing into the Golden Gate bridge and I don’t think the grin ever left my face until well after it was all over.

Yeah, yeah, the movie is cheesy. That’s exactly how I wanted it to be, though. I wasn’t sure how Guillermo del Toro was gonna handle the movie at first, but from the moment I saw Raleigh and his brother strutting down that corridor in leather jackets like rockstar fighter pilots, I knew the movie was in good hands. There are certain clichés in the movie, yeah. Idris Elba plays your stereotypical hard-headed military commander that’s in every Gundam anime I’ve seen, and he plays it perfectly. I would’ve been disappointed if there wasn’t macho posturing, bickering, and fighting between any of the pilots, and I believe that every kaiju movie NEEDS a ship trapped in the middle of a raging storm, mistaking the giant monster coming at them for an island. Okay, it was all a bit predictable, but really, tell me, what kind of human drama were you expecting? I didn’t want darkness and cynicism and crying, and thankfully neither did del Toro.
The WWII influence is all over the place. The leather jackets, the kaiju kill stamps on the Jaegers along with painted logos, the design of the computers that the characters interact with are all heavy, colored buttons, switches and microphones in metal casing as opposed to fancy touch-screen tech that we’re used to seeing EVERYWHERE now. I approve of that aesthetic, it’s much more physical. It IS a little weird that in a movie taking place more than a decade into the future, everyone dresses like they’re from the mid-to-late 20th century, but the costumes suit the rest of the production design and makes it all feel a bit timeless and more, well, heroic feeling in a way I can’t quite articulate. I love del Toro’s films for their visual aesthetics and this movie did not let me down at all.
That first Jaeger in the prologue, the blue one with the fin on its chest? That design just SCREAMS Go Nagai. Seriously looks like it almost belongs in Mazinger Z or an episode of Super Robot Red Baron, fitting for a first generation Jaeger. I wish we’d gotten to see more of it in action. Cherno Alpha, another Mark I that we see, is yes, SUPER RUSSIAN, but also brings to mind some old-school Japanese mech designs that have the kind of dome heads with no neck. Like this dude from Red Baron:
Also, the Jaeger designs in general feel more to me like Armored Core and Virtual On than Gundam or Evangelion. Yes, the computer voice is absolutely GLaDOS from Portal, no mistaking that, but that voice is also VERY similar to the announcer in Virtual On. “ROUND ONE, GET READY” is a thing that’s embedded in my brain from putting so many quarters into that game.

THE MUSIC. The main theme is great for getting you pumped up and rooting for the Jaeger pilots, and the darker stuff, when the kaiju were attacking, was remarkably similar to the music I’m used to hearing in kaiju films, especially Koh Otani’s scores for the Gamera trilogy and Giant Monsters All Out Attack. Bravo, Ramin Djawadi.

All of the kaiju, while pure CG, looked like you could conceivably cram a guy in a suit and make it work. The way they moved, too, while more natural and animalistic, still had little touches that made them feel like guys strapped into heavy rubber suits from time to time. My ONLY complaint about the movie is that I wish the kaiju had been more colorful, or had more markings on them. I can only handle so many greyish tones and blue bioluminescence. Individual roars, while not necessary, would have been great. Each kaiju in a Toho movie has its own unique cry, easily distinguishable from one another, and a nod towards that would’ve been great.

The names! Mako Mori, Newton Geizler, Hercules Hansen, Stacker Fucking Pentecost! Those names alone are enough to inform you of what kind of movie you’re going into. You just don’t let people with average names like mine pilot a 250 foot tall robot designed specifically for punching the crap out of giant monsters from another dimension.
The only characters who really curse in the movie are Chuck Hansen and Hannibal Chau, which is very fitting for both characters. And most of the swearing is of course from Hannibal. I just thought that was a nice touch. While I'm at it, let's take a moment to appreciate how ballin' Ron Perlman is in this movie, brief as his appearance is.

Clifton Collins, Jr. I’ve only seen him in two other movies, Scott Pilgrim and Crank 2, but I dig that guy. Not sure why he was dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, but I have no complaints. And the balding, long-haired dude running Hannibal’s shop, is that the same actor who played that vampire in the beginning and end of Blade 2? And why was that old guy with the metal detector so familiar to me?

…So yeah, it’s safe to say I loved it. I’ve seen it twice now, the second time in 3D, and plan on seeing it at least once more. The last movie I saw more than twice in theaters? Hellboy 2. Funny how things like that work out.