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 Xonanon, 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

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


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?