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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gigi Have A Pretty Vacant Christmas* (2016)


Gigi have a Pretty Vacant Christmas
Drugs have sapped your will
Just one stasis field
keeps you oh so still

Gigi have a Pretty Vacant Christmas
Be it ever true
It’s much better when your
body’s frozen blue

Mannequins sold based upon your mold
Profit margins up this year
Soon the auction they dearly prize
We will publicize right here

Still Life vows keep you deep in cryo
Long as times allow
They just know you’ll break free to fight back somehow
But Gigi have a Pretty Vacant Christmas now!

*Sung to the melody of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Art by Daniel and me. Apologies all around!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On Point: "Arrow" at 100


It’s hard to remain excited over a television show that’s been around for five years, but I’m really pumped about Season Five of the CW’s “Arrow”!

Based on DC Comics' Green Arrow, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (played by the surprisingly good Stephen Amell) was stranded on a deserted island and for the next five years learned to survive by his wits and his developing skill as an expert bowman. Upon returning to civilization, he now fights to "save his city" from criminals, crooked politicians and even aliens as Star City’s mayor by day and its unofficial super-hero by night!

“Arrow” jump-started the super-hero genre on television in 2012. The CW asked for a then-unheard ad rate of $63,000 per 30-second slot, but “Arrow” not only met its advertising goals, it launched two spin-offs (“The Flash” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”) while incorporating cancelled (NBC’s “Constantine”) and failing (CBS’ “Supergirl”) super-hero shows into the CW’s ever-expanding Arrowverse.

Now it has reached the gold standard of television shows: the 100th episode. There have been some truly great episodes (the wonderful Season 2 for starters), and like all great shows some clunkers (especially in Season 4), but the important take is that “Arrow” is still going strong because it maximizes its strengths (team ensemble, interesting villains, fight sequences) while learning from its mistakes (romantic entanglements, killing off popular characters, too much magic/super powers).

Team Arrow Season 5 (l to r):  Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, Green Arrow, Spartan, Artemis and Ragman

It’s especially fun to see the new Team Arrow ensemble for Season Five, with four new recruits (Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, Ragman and Artemis) to fight along with the core group (Green Arrow, Spartan and IT-extraordinaire Felicity). They may not have the camaraderie or the precision of previous Arrow teams, but this learning-on-the-fly, multi-cultural group is incredibly fun to watch as they face off with this season’s super-villain Prometheus!



Unlike many shows that trumpet their diversity, "Arrow" doesn't make much noise about minority characters.  Instead of talking about race, they simply do something about it.  That sentiment also works with my Pretty Vacant comics.  They feature capable characters who are minorities rather than minorities that are capable.  (There is a difference.)

Pretty Vacant's highly capable, mostly minorities Team Gigi

For all the emphasis on tapping the past this season, "Arrow", has been forward-thinking with how to watch the show.  There's the traditional sense of watching on television, and there is now the option of online streaming on computers or mobile devices.  And if one is worried about the show ending in the near future, rest assured that between the length of Amell's contract and Netflix money, "Arrow" will be on target for years to come!

(Note: The CW and "Arrow's" producers call it the Arrowverse.  It's a pet peeve when bloggers will write Flarrowverse or some combination that allows them to work in their favorite show.  Just wish they would show some respect for the show that started it all...)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Three Minutes Later -- A "Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die" Appreciation

From 1966 Movie Trailer

Despite its slightly morbid title, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die is a fun action/comedy. Released 50 years ago today, this 1966 Eurospy film boasts some noteworthy set pieces and studio interiors due to a substantial budget granted by producer Dino De Laurentiis.

Mike Conners (Kelly) and Dorothy Provine (Susan) play an appealing pair of special agents (Kelly is CIA, Susan is MI6) who team up in Rio de Janeiro to thwart the Brazilian Ardonian (played with style by the wonderful Raf Vallone), a wacky, wealthy mad scientist/industrialist who has invented a way to render the Earth sterile so he could repopulate it in his image. Ardonian prepares for this worldwide catastrophe by kidnapping beautiful women and keeping them frozen in a hibernation harem for safe-keeping and breeding stock. Just in the nick of time our agents stop this nefarious scheme with the help of Susan’s chauffer, gadgets galore and lots (and lots) of bananas!

The plot is fantastical, but the exceptional acting keeps the movie grounded, not just with the three leads, but with supporting actors as well. Terry Thomas is well cast as Susan’s high capable butler James, and the sultry Seyna Seyn plays the alluring, capable Chinese spy Wilma Soong!

The sparkling comedy combined with fluid action makes Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die a movie that is highly watchable with key highlights being a (still) spectacular chase sequence at Rio’s Christ of the Redeemer Statue, a tricked-out Rolls Royce and a women preservation factory developed by main villain Ardonian.


With the wealth of promotional materials and production stills, it is surprising that Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die has never been officially released on DVD or download. Thankfully, this movie has stayed in cinema consciousness due to event screenings at art movie houses/channels, a striking similarity to the James Bond’s 1979 spy caper Moonraker and the dedication of fans to keep it from becoming a lost film.

It was this very dedication that enabled many more to rediscover this movie after many decades. And when a high-tech, damsel-in-distress idea with the working title "Pretty Vacant" was optioned to go to script, there were scenes that paid homage to Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.

Blogger Note: Too often, people on the internet take pictures, words or video and repost them without context to fit in a subject catalogue or worst, stroke his ego (you know who you are) by claiming the work. It’s much harder to give tribute to something while staying true to your original voice, but I am more than happy to do it for this hidden spy-fi gem!

When Pretty Vacant needed a victim who would be subjected to a fate prettier than death, Wilma Soong’s role in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die was the obvious inspiration. Right before the film’s climatic scene, Ardonian betrays his Chinese benefactors, cold-heartedly killing all of them except the stunning Soong, as he deems her worthy to be in his new world order. She is then sedated, frozen and moved to cold storage:

The freeze sequence is three minutes long. That’s a huge number of individual movie frames. Comic books don’t have the luxury of unlimited frames, only having 28 pages to tell this year’s Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound. Furthermore, the main character Gigi Gutierrez was to be subjected to the same process as her frozen friend Mindy Soong (a tribute character to her movie counterpart Wilma Soong). Between the tight plotting of the author (me!) and a highly detailed contribution by the artist, Daniel Vega, the sequence was compressed on page five into four panels...

... neatly summed up by the caption: Three minutes later.

It is disconcerting that exposure to many great films has decreased over the years.  Between current movie distribution tactics by studios and lack of interest with younger generations, one must make a deliberate attempt to seek out these obscure cult movies.  The effort is certainty worth it with Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die.  This small Eurospy film not only provides five decades old lessons to Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound, but it is still an entertaining movie today!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Alena In Action (and Inaction)

Alena in Panels 1 & 2, Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound Page 11

I introduced the Alena character at the end of Pretty Vacant: Final Repose Part 2.  Yes, I wanted another good-looking character to place in danger, but I also wanted a character that looks different from Gigi, the series' main character.

Gigi is the fast and explosive former beach volleyball player.  On the other hand, Alena, the track specialist, is steady and methodical.  Alena was based on a track and field athlete who was banned yet reinstated for this year's Olympics in Rio.  This will be the athlete's first Olympic competition, and thankfully she now has the chance to showcase her skill to the world!   

I instructed artist Daniel that Alena's look should be lean and sleek, in contrast to Gigi, who is curvy and powerful.  Taste in beauty changes with time, and I wanted Alena to reflect that change.  Nobody knows when it will happen, but there will come a day when Alena will supplant Gigi as most visual person suitable for display who struggles against a fate prettier than death!

   

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bombshell

Seventy years ago this planet was rocked by two seismic events over a one week span. First was the atomic testing in the Bikini Atoll by the United States Military.  The test unleashed massive power and wreaked havoc over a sizeable portion of the Pacific Ocean.
Atomic Testing at Bikini Atoll in 1946

The second event in pop culture terms was far more powerful using far less material:
Micheline Bernardini and the Bikini's Debut, 1946


Legend has it 70 years ago on July 5th, 1946 a former automotive engineer Louis Réand was looking for a lady to model his new bathing suit. No regular model was willing to wear such an outfit, but fortunately a stripper, Micheline Bernadini, promoted the four small triangles of fabric (two on top, two on bottom) for photographers in Paris. This tiny number was named after the atoll used for atomic testing, and the bikini gave birth to a global phenomenon.

Over the next seven decades, the bikini has evolved from being banned to its general acceptance in fashion. It has been complimented in song, print and sport.  Despite ongoing controversy of female objectification, the bikini is celebrated by women for its’ liberating freedom and a simpler joy of life.

The bikini has become so prevalent in culture that when given to choice to wear another outfit for the 2012 London Olympics, female Olympians voted overwhelmingly to play in bikinis. To them it is not objectification, but the ease of use, making their bikinis highly functional.

Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound Working Page 2

The bikini has also assisted with the Pretty Vacant stories. Not only do they keep the comic from a mature audiences only rating, they also serve an in-story purpose of housing bio-sensors which provide information to monitor a person's vital signs, even when they are subject to plastination or cryogenic freezing.

Réand’s invention has expanded the audience as well. The bikini has allowed people to admire the Gigi character’s form while not distracting them from following her adventures, which cater to the sizeable female readership. Thanks ladies and gentlemen for reading Pretty Vacant, and thanks to the bikini for helping out!

Outside of Jesus feeding the 5,000 or the music of The Beatles, who knew that so little could give so much?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Soft Powers That Be


Sharing a Comic-Con Laugh with Liz!

I am having a friendly competition with the super-nice, super-talented Liz Mogollón regarding the Copa América Centenario football (soccer) tournament this month. I am rooting for Team USA, but Liz (who lives in Bogotá, Colombia) is supporting her country's side. Thankfully we both came away smiling after the first round: Colombia won the head-to-head match with the United States, but the Americans topped Group A as both teams advanced to the quarterfinals.


Team Colombia is currently ranked third in the world, blessed with many quality players (led by world-class midfielder James Rodríguez) and a free-flowing attacking style of play.  Team USA is ranked much lower (31st as of this writing), yet it enjoys ‘Soft Power’, much of this goodwill due to the US Department of Justice’s massive investigation into corruption at FIFA, football’s governing body.

The geopolitical view of soft power asserts that countries can influence others not with force or money, but through culture and values.   However, soft power can only succeed where there is a basis of legitimacy. US athletics are respected for their concept of 'fair play’, and other nations realize that America will hold its own sport programs and athletes accountable if they are suspected of corruption as well.

Soft power principals can also be used on a individual level. Neither Liz nor I have the organizational, financial or political resources to compete with big entertainment companies directly. We use a different, softer method that works both domestically and internationally (Liz in Tokyo and me in Paris later this year) to sell our artwork. 

Liz expresses her work as a print artist, her finished images ready for purchase.  I present my work as a storyteller, my images connecting to a larger purpose.  Even though our approach to art is different, we both utilize soft power techniques of vision, discipline and communication to sell our products.  I prefer the face-to-face sale, but we also have an online presence if needed.  One can watch Liz' instructional videos of her paintings while crowd-funding my latest submitted project! 

Working Cover for my Upcomig Comic

Obviously, I have a high opinion of Art. Good art does not discriminate; it uplifts. It is an inclusive club for anyone with the right passion and drive.   I never would have gained professional status at Comic-Con without the ability to produce quality art, and I never would have met Liz outside of Comic-Con.  In this manner I can relate to the US Men's Soccer team.  They may not be the best team in world, or even in Copa América, but at least they are part of the tournament.  Likewise, I may not be the best artist around, but I am grateful to be part of the fun!

Previous Soft Power Entry

Friday, May 20, 2016

Your Stretch Goal Dollars at Work

I have been taught over the course of my career to "Show, don't tell". It has proven to be sage advice with the few scripts I have written. The more precise the script, the better the artist has in interpreting what I want to see on the finished comic page:

Script Excerpt and Notes from Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound

Because my scripts need such precision, not everything can be included in a regular 24-page comic book.  Scenes have to be cut because the story is more important.  It would be indulgent to keep a scene that doesn't add anything to the story just because it made me laugh at loud when I wrote it.

Yet every once in a blue moon I can be self-indulgent.

Thanks to my Kickstarter backers, there are four extra pages for Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound!  Most of the stretch goal pages enhance the story, but the page you see below does not add much at all.  Daniel even changed the last panel from what was written to add a lighter touch to the previously gratuitous headbutt!  I am very happy that I now get to include it!

Page 14 of My Upcoming PV: HKB Comic
 
Gigi is well-versed in the Zinedine Zidane school of headbutting.  Have a happy headbutt day!  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Must Do Something About It Part Three

And... funded!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Must Do Something About It Part 2

One day in and we are already at 41% of the funding goal!

Didn't think I would do another book so quickly, but here we are!  Pretty Vacant: Hong Kong Bound is currently available on Kickstarter for crowd-funding.  If you wish to know more or even back this upcoming project, please access the link below:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1331352592/pretty-vacant-hong-kong-bound 

Crowd-funding ends April 3rd, 2016!