Thursday, December 7, 2017

Justice League: My Counterpoint

Note: this may be fairly obvious, but there are spoilers for the recent Justice League movie.

Despite all the articles and posts to the contrary, I would like to make a case that Justice League can be seen as a success.  If critics of the film want to make a serious case for why it is a bad film or how it will cost the studio money, then maybe I could make a serious case for why this film may be better than first impressions, look at other financial considerations past ticket sales and take a more critical look now that the movie has been released for some time past its premiere.

I loved Justice League!  As badly as I feel about director Zack Snyder leaving the project before its finish due to a family tragedy, I was relieved that Joss Whedon was able to complete the film for its November 2017 release.  For some, the two competing visions was a major criticism.  For me, this movie needed all the talented personnel it could find.

The Justice League movie needed to do three things: 1) show the team saving the world, 2) bring Superman back from the dead and 3) set the DC cinematic universe off in a new direction.  And I think it succeeded as a wrap-up of prior DC movies, a celebration of superheroes and as a jam session of two creative forces!

The movie's main villain, Steppenwolf, was a hopelessly bland antagonist with mommy issues, but the six heroes sure had fun defeating him!  Justice League's strongest attribute was how engaging and charismatic its members were.  All six had surprising character moments and overcame their own issues to feed into the greater story.  Wonder Woman became the inspiring leader, Aquaman found acceptance, Flash rose above his fear, Cyborg found his humanity, Batman learned to function within a team and Superman regained his status as an optimistic beacon of hope!

Halfway through the movie, Batman convinces his reluctant teammates to use one of Steppenwolf's "Mother Boxes" as a Kryptonian defribrillator to resurrect Superman.  In true comic book fashion this goes terribly wrong as an angry Superman begin to pummel the others (Justice League's funniest moment is when The Flash realizes to his horror that Superman can track his super-speed)!  Thankfully, Batman anticipates this and dispatches his butler/armorer Alfred to retrieve Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane, who helps him become a mature hero who once again appreciates life.  Superman's story arc is complete once Lois reminds him to help Batman and Wonder Woman save the world once again!

During the film's climatic fight, Batman's plan is to sacrifice himself so the others can take a clear shot at Steppenwolf.  However, Wonder Woman has none of that and leads the team to save a distraught Batman from Steppenwolf's parademons.  Alfred admonishes Batman, telling him "this is the team"!  For all of Justice League's failures (and there a few, starting with the poorly synced CGI), DC Comics and Warner Brothers Studios listened to their fans and the fans have responded positively.

Many detractors have pointed out Rotten Tomatoes Justice League score of 40% approval rating from critics, but they don't often disclose is the 81% approval rating from the regular viewing audience because it doesn't help their narrative.  They also believe that Justice League will fail to make money for the studios, even with the $500+ million box office take so far.  However, I will let you in on a little secret that was well-known 30 years ago but perhaps got lost to memory: no film makes money.  Studios call it "Hollywood accounting".   What matters most is whether there is interest to continue.  The positive audience scores for Man of Steel (2013), Wonder Woman (2017) and Justice League convince me that the interest is there.

The post-credit scenes show Superman and The Flash in a friendly race to see who is truly faster while Superman's arch-enemy Lex Luthor plots to put together a super-villain team of his own.  This scene combined with Henry Cavill's (Superman) and Gal Gadot's (Wonder Woman) contracts make me conclude that Warner Brothers is not yet finished with DC Comics super-hero lineup.   Superman said at the beginning of Justice League, "Hope is like car keys.  Easy to lose but if you dig around they're easy to find."  Like Superman, I have hope for the future of DC Comics cinematic universe.

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Pretty Vacant Christmas (2017)

Concept: Me, Art: Daniel

Amid all the recent talk about harassment in politics and entertainment, a plasticized Gigi would like to remind everyone that one needs consent before you freeze, wax, stone or mannequin-ize your partner (or target).  We respect that Gigi has the right to say no.   Don't ever transform Gigi's body without her permission.  She will make you pay for it eventually!

Happy holidays everyone!

2016 Christmas Entry

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Business and the Beauty of Black and White

Liz Mogollón in living color. Black and white too! 

 Note: This post will end with me writing about the super-talented, super-nice Liz Mogollón, but I will mention her now because she gave me permission to use the above photo on this blog!

Last year my art partner Daniel asked me if he could work on a Pretty Vacant story based around a secondary character, Mindy Soong.  I was reluctant because Gigi Gutierrez is the main character in my Pretty Vacant comics.   Mindy may be Daniel's favorite character, but Gigi has the lead role.

However, I gave it some thought and decided to do it on three conditions: 1) that the story be only eight pages, 2) the story would have to be good enough to showcase at Comic-Con and 3) the cost of this story would be kept low.  That meant eliminating color, the most expensive printing cost of any comic.

Pretty Vacant comic books mostly have a black and white story with a color cover.  Mindy's story, Pretty Vacant: Good-to-Go, would be an entirely black and white comic.  Without color to catch the eye of the reader, we would need to innovate, so I opted for the cover to be a splash page that begins this adventure.  A worm's eye, full body shot of Mindy lowering herself into an unknown tunnel with the necessary dialogue around her pushes the story forward right away!
Pretty Vacant: Good-to-Go Cover/Page One

To increase the tension and the danger level for the reader, a laser beam barrier blocks Mindy's advance down the mysterious tunnel on the second page.  Mindy overcomes this obstacle in true Jackie Chan-like fashion!   
Pretty Vacant: Good-to-Go Page Two Panel Three

I created a scene like the above panel with my New G.A.R.D.E. comic for Blockbuster Video over a decade ago and told Daniel that we might have to use action lines to help the reader follow Mindy's movements. Daniel assured me that they would not be necessary, and he was right!  Using forced perspective, we see Mindy starting from the near the vanishing point to finish at the near right, with Mindy in various poses to mimic movement without the need for action lines.  It is a clever display of art in a comic panel!

Despite the one dollar US cover price, I make a larger percentage of revenue with the black and white Pretty Vacant: Good-to-Go than I do with my colored $3 Pretty Vacant issues because of a low printing expense.  Yet Good-to-Go is not a lesser story because of its reduced cost.  Mindy's adventure concludes with an elegant solution all her own to save Los Angeles from a chemical attack!

*                    *                    *

All that finally brings us to my friend from Bogotá, ColombiaSelling paintings, Liz does not need to consider black and white in any of her work, but by looking at the photo on top of this post, she does anyway.  For Liz, using black and white is an artistic choice!  She is not bound by business decisions as much as I am with my art.

Art is often considered the product of purposely arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses and/or emotions.  Thinking as a storyteller, I use black and white art to hook the reader into finishing my story with full body splash pages and intricate visual effects.  Thinking as a painter, Liz pleasantly surprises her viewers by contrasting her normal vivid colors with the occasional black and white flourish.  Liz and I have different approaches to black and white, but we both have the same goal of wanting people to notice our art!  To do that, we have to be creative with what is available.
           
And in times of troubling earthquakes, hurricanes and political discourse, creativity can feed the soul, unleash the imagination and lead us on the path to a better tomorrow!

Previous Liz entry

Previous New G.A.R.D.E. entry

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Come Together (With a Little Help from My Friends)

Four people from three continents come together to cross Abbey Road.  I got to mimic Ringo!

September is a good month to be out and about in London's middle class areas.  Even the notoriously fickle English weather can still give the city a sunny day.  It was a sunny day when The Beatles walked out of their iconic Abbey Road Studios and posed for an iconic photo which became their equally iconic Abbey Road album that was released back on September, 1969.  

Now let's flash forward nearly 50 years later. Earlier this September I attended the Paris Manga and Sci-Fi Show and coordinated that with a stay at my mom's timeshare near Disneyland Paris and a visit to see relatives in England. Traveling from Paris to London is relatively easy for me as there is a Eurostar TGV (French bullet train) direct from Disneyland.

When I met up with my sister at London's St. Pancras station, she made plans for my stay: Greenwich, the City of Bath, Stonehenge and a family reunion at a restaurant inside a building dating back to the 13th Century in a town called Chelmsford.  She then asked what I wanted to do.  Take a photo of myself crossing Abbey Road was my reply.

My sister was not amused.

However, Alan (my brother-in-law) with Ron and Patti (guests my mom invited from California) were intrigued by the idea (and how it cost nothing to do).  I was pleased.  The more people involved, the better it would be, because Abbey Road is a major thoroughfare for Middle Class Londoners.  The crossing has a signal light, but is very short.  Anyone other than The Beatles or the cast of BBC One's "Doctor Who" trying to get a photo of him-or-herself crossing the street risks a very real chance of being chased off (or run over).  You really do need as much help as possible to pull this off!



Using the BBC Weather Service to choose the sunniest day for the week, we set off on a Tuesday morning.  Even after the morning commute, the crossing was filled with tourists.  Some people only wanted shots of themselves crossing Abbey Road.  For me, it's more fun taking pictures when crossing in a group of four!  Asking a Japanese tourist to stand in on our photo, Alan, myself, Ron and our mystery lady started walking across the street once the light turned green with Patti and my sister taking pictures.  While the picture at the top of this post didn't exactly imitate The Beatles' album cover, I very much like how Abbey Road Studios appears in the background!  

As much fun as it was for me, I believe it was fun for the others as well.  Ron and my sister walked across the street to take photos of Abbey Road Studios and my mom got to sit on a nearby bench and enjoy the sunshine while the rest of us were running around!

Afterwards we walked to the St John's Wood Underground station and parted ways: Ron and Patti took an overland bus tour of London as the rest of us entered the subway trains to Greenwich.  The whole enterprise took less than the time it takes to listen to Abbey Road  in its entirety, but the pictures and memories will last lifetimes!

And on a personal note, I wonder if the lady in the blue dress walking past the camera ever realize that she was on the back cover of The Beatles Abbey Road album?
    

Previous Abbey Road entry 1

Previous Abbey Road entry 2

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Pretty Vacant: Tijuana Special - Daniel's Turn

Former All-American Model/Athlete Gigi Gutierrez just wants to have fun and enjoy herself at a comic convention, but fate has other plans for her! Fellow cosplayers have been kidnapped, and with her best friend and a slightly bigoted mad scientist appealing to her conscience, she joins them in a perilous mission south of the border to rescue the young women from an evil cartel. Can Gigi use her unique skill set, secret-weapon boyfriend and sarcastic wit to save them all from a fate prettier than death?

With that tagline, Pretty Vacant: Tijuana Special debuted during Comic-Con.  Once again at booth E-7, this year artist Daniel came with me.  It was part of the deal: Daniel would draw three Pretty Vacant issues at reduced rates and I would help him obtain Professional Status at the show.  He held up his end of the bargain, so now he is considered a pro!

I only took 25 copies with me for sale at San Diego this year.  I wanted to give Daniel as much face time as possible in hopes he could make some of his travel money back.  He was able to sell some of his sketches, but he also wanted to take in some of the show.  I did too.  With Daniel in the booth, I was able to go out myself, watching most of the CW DC Arrowverse presentations, a surprise Kansas concert, Peter Capaldi's Comic-Con farewell as Doctor Who and getting out to have lunch with friends! 

I didn't make a lot of cash at this year's Comic-Con.  I'm grateful for all the Kickstarter backers who funded this issue, and I hope to make more sales at the Paris show later this year.  This show was about accommodating Daniel, and in a weird way it paid off.  On the train out of San Diego, Daniel started talking about doing more Pretty Vacant stories.   The optimist in me wants to believe that he truly likes what I'm trying to do and enjoys drawing Gigi and company, but the cynic in me realizes that Daniel knows it takes three projects every three years to keep his pro status at Comic-Con!

Whatever the truth is, expect more Pretty Vacant comics in the near future!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Funded! (2017)

You would think that it's just business as usual after my fourth comic gets funding by Kickstarter, but it never gets old!


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Angry Gods and Sexy Bods -- A Look Back at Doctor Who's 1977 "The Face of Evil"

A hidden gem in the wonderful 14th Series of BBC1’s “Doctor Who”, The Face of Evil first aired over a four week period during January 1977.  The story holds up remarkably well forty years later, with relevant commentary on violence, religion and politics.  Played by fan-favorite Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor lines from these episodes are still highly quotable even with a present day meme countering the Trump Administration’s use of alternative facts:

What makes the Doctor different from most other heroic characters is that he can be wrong, and his error in The Face of Evil is a doozy: Repairing a space-bound colony’s super computer causes it to go mad, becoming the god-like oppressor Xoanon and sorting out analytical technicians and physical survey teams over time into the competing tribes “Tesh” and “Sevateem” while declaring the Doctor the “Evil One”!  When the Doctor revisits the unnamed colony centuries later he spends the rest of the serial fixing his mistake stopping Xoanon’s malevolent eugenics experiment.

Strangely enough, The Face of Evil is known less for its thought-provoking story than for the introduction of the character Leela.  Cast out of the Sevateem for daring to challenge the will of Xoanon, she stumbles across the Doctor in the planet’s badlands at the beginning to the serial.  Slowing learning to trust each other, they overcome various obstacles to defeat Xoanon, the Doctor thinking through solutions while Leela uses brute force with ruthless efficiency.

Leela is such a great character because she serves multiple purposes.  She is the Doctor’s soundboard, a regular character who allows the Doctor to explain information to the viewer (much like Robin to Batman and Watson to Sherlock Holmes).  She is also a strong woman character, capable in her own right.  Lastly, Leela could be objectified by a male audience. 

The actresses who portrayed the Doctor’s companion pre-1977 were just as beautiful as Louise Jameson, the actress in the Leela role, but Jameson as Leela appealed to various fetishes. Jameson herself said that the BBC wanted a feisty, intelligent, interesting woman, but without clothes for an outfit!   Leela's appearance (scantily clad in leather) appealed visually to leather, jungle and sexy sci-fi fans.  What happens to Leela story-wise appealed to techno-fetishists.  In The Face of Evil Leela was:

1) Hypnotized,

2) Frozen,

and 3) Transformed (into a robot assassin).

The “Doctor Who” showrunners used this formula later with the Clara Oswald character, subjecting her to these three techno-fetishes as well (albeit in different episodes from 2012 -2015).  And when this Pretty Vacant comic creator fleshed out his Gigi Gutierrez character to appeal to women as a strong character yet be objectified by male techno-fetish readers he could look back at a 40-year legacy.

Gigi Gutierrez Tranquilized, Mannequinized (Transformed), Hypnotized and Cryonized (Frozen)

Shows still utilize this formula successfully today (HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld, Starz’ Black Sails).  It’s good that various media can still make it work, because so many different, well-made stories can be told with just a little sex appeal to start things off!       

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bad Hair Day

Gigi Template Complete With Hairstyles

My artist Daniel approached me a month ago asking if he could re-style my Gigi character's hair.  Horror instantly reeled through my mind!  Not because Daniel was trying to assert some control over my character (which was okay with me), but my own negative views of changing generic hairstyles just to be trendy.  Bad hairstyles always seem to stand out, like the "artistic" challenges to Sue Richards' hair over the decades reading Marvel Comic's Fantastic Four:

Sue Richards Dubious Hairstyles: 1960s/1990s

Or that strange mullet Paul McCartney decided to coif in the late 1980s:


Thankfully the ex-Beatle is still around seemingly entertaining the whole world.  However, Fantastic Four, the nexus of Marvel Comic's ongoing creative boom, is no longer being published.

I'm not saying that my Pretty Vacant comics will go the way of Fantastic Four just because of bad hair.  I'm hoping that I get a 50-year run like Sir Paul!  His hair didn't get in the way of making great music over the years, as his albums/cds Band on the Run (1973), Flowers in The Dirt (1989), Flaming Pie (1997) or Memory Almost Full (2007) would attest.  Besides, I use Pretty Vacant as a springboard to obtain other work.  Daniel genuinely enjoys drawing the comic.

So I asked him to create a Gigi template with various hairstyles where I would choose which hairstyle to have for the next Pretty Vacant comic (it's at the top of this post).  I chose the style immediately to the right of Gigi's head.  However, Daniel really liked the style on the lower left. I thought this process would be democratic, but Daniel out-Trumped me and went with his preferred hairstyle for Gigi and the upcoming Pretty Vacant: Tijuana Special!

At least I can now say it will be Daniel's fault if Pretty Vacant: Tijuana Special is not as successful as my previous comics!  Yes, I'm kidding.  I know that any success or failure will be due to how well my plot is received, how much backing I can obtain through a crowd-funding campaign and the how receptive buyers are when my comic becomes available for sale online or at conventions.

(But, seriously, it will be his fault!) 



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rolling (3X) on the River

It seemed almost too good to be true: pitch a "Doctor Who" story for the comic company that obtained the American licensing rights.  It became simultaneously thrilling and frightening.  Thrilling for the opportunity to write the story and frightening because I open myself up to be called out by fans.

The thing I wanted most to avoid is to write the ultimate Daleks, Cybermen or Weeping Angels story.  "Doctor Who" fan fiction is awash with futuristic stories with these monster races.  My favorite "Doctor Who" stories were set in the past, especially when the Time Lord got to meet famous British authors like Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare or Agatha Christie.  Out of the many great authors still available, I chose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

What about the plot?  I couldn't have Doyle and The Doctor running around 1890's London solving a mystery. Too obvious, especially with the worldwide popularity of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.  Better to have the plot revolve around Doyle's hiatus from writing Holmes' adventures during 1893 - 1901.  Maybe it wasn't Doyle hating on his creation, but writer's block that needed to be overcome by a journey to inspire Doyle's Lost World books.

With 13 incarnations of The Doctor (Yes, The War Doctor counts), which incarnation should I use?  The publisher limited my choices to the show's post-2005 revival.  While I couldn't use my preferred Doctor/companion duo (1977 - 1978's Fourth Doctor and Leela), The Eleventh Doctor and Clara proved to be a potent combination!

Practicing what I have preached in the past, I pitched my story idea in one sentence ("The Doctor helps Arthur Conan Doyle overcome writer's block by taking him on an Amazonian journey to a lost valley filled with dinosaurs").  From that the publisher commissioned a full script and some art (Thanks, Daniel!).  Finally they accepted my submission!
  
I don't know if they plan on asking Daniel and I to finish the story or if they just plan to keep the story on file, but it was fun and I was happy to do it!  Now that this distracting (but very cool) sideshow is over, on to the next Pretty Vacant comic!      

Monday, January 16, 2017

It Is What It Is – An Overview of “Sherlock” Series 4


The end of “Sherlock” Series 3 (2014) gave us one of the coolest cliffhangers in the history of television: How was arch-enemy Jim Moriarty alive when he blew his brains out to win an argument with Sherlock Holmes at the end of Series 2 (2012)? This question is so perplexing that government troubleshooter Mycroft Holmes brings back his brother to the UK to answer it.

The game returns (with spoiler alerts) for this joint BBC-PBS show!

With three more episodes, The Six Thatchers, The Lying Detective and The Final Problem, this clever series affectionately adheres to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories while giving them a 21st century twist. Doctor John Watson faithfully records Sherlock’s exploits on his blog with a running joke that the blog is not as good as it was when Sherlock wrote it (Watson wrote those early cases as well). Showrunners/Writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss gives us sheer moments of brilliance (Sherlock outwitting cereal/serial killer Culverton Smith), humor (Mycroft’s fear of clowns) and heartbreak (when John’s wife Mary dies saving Sherlock).

This is the one series where the writing is matched by the acting. Benedict Cumberbatch is strangely wonderful as the “Internet ‘tect” while Martin Freeman is believable as John: the best friend a genius detective could have. It was great to have Amanda Abbington (Mary) helping the detecting duo (dead or alive), and it was fun to see Gatiss (double duty as Mycroft), Rupert Graves (Lestrade) and Louise Brealey (Molly) back in their respective roles. Yet it was Una Stubbs as Mrs. Hudson who was the standout supporting character for Series 4 as we got to see her as more than just the landlady who serves tea.

As for the original question of how Moriarty came back? Let’s just say that Sherlock has a sister, Eurus (Sian Brooke). As great as Sherlock’s confrontation with Eurus was in The Final Problem, it gave the viewer a deeper insight: Sherlock isn’t great because he’s the smartest person around (Eurus and Mycroft are smarter), Sherlock is great (despite his many, many flaws) because he’s the smartest person around who can relate to people. This “relating” also helped John deal with the grief of losing his wife.

There have been some unwarranted criticisms about this series floating on the web recently, but IMHO Molly was underutilized in Series 4 and this series was way too short (only three episodes). Cumberbatch is signed for another series, but timing has always been an issue with this show. As a passion project for all who contribute to “Sherlock”, if this is the last series, it ended on a high note. However, I hope Series 4 is not the last.

Previous Sherlock entry