January 14th, 2003

smokin'

Another Blog for the fire

First off, this week's HOF Fun strip is a brand new one, being the final chapter in the story of Seiji Nakamushi, World's Worst Kamikaze Pilot (see Dork #8 for the first two "chapters" if you need a refresher as to his predicament). Click on the link Sarah provided on the "places to go" listing and you're there. Next week's Fun strip might be a new one as well, either a Myron the Living Voodoo Doll or another Cover Bands bit.

How about that Pete Townsend situation, huh? The Who biographers have to put out new editions every year. Where's the Roger Daltrey scandel? Oh, that's right, that already happened, when he played Scrooge on stage in NYC. Yeesh.

Comics Plug-o-rama: I would be remiss in not mentioning that, in my opinion, the Hernandez Brothers are still doing kick-ass comics, the latest examples of which are Lover and Rockets #6 and Gilbert's solo, Ofelia and the Little Ones. I'm nothing short of dismayed at the short shrift they're given these days, press and sales-wise, while lesser "rising" talents are given reams of printed and typed text, I understand that new talent pushes out the old, sometimes for good reason (I'll be shoved outta here soon, folks, don't you worry), but Los Bros seem to have an old-school, "old-hat" albatross hung around their necks in some circles and I just don't understand it. I'll take their work over the small army of enthusiatic but empty small pressers that some folks are all excited about, tentative cartoonists with wispy inklines, wispier plotlines and paper thin observations, navel gazers with uninteresting navels but a thick address book of like-minded ink hipsters. I don't think it's a generational gap kind of thing here necessarily, I enjoy the works of all sorts of cartoonists with all sorts of styles, some of them young enough to be my kids (snif), and plenty of the team comics starting line-up fall all over themselves in praise of older greats like Clowes, Ware, Sacco, et al. But to me it seems like Love and Rockets, et al is treated like an old newspaper strip that people just think was once great, but now carries on with a polite, nostalgic following or older readers. Fuck that. L&R is still essential cartooning in my big little book. Jaime is still one of the best draftsman (if not THE best) in the biz, with a keen eye for how people interact and how life unfolds. Gilbert is perhaps even more dead on in his depiction of social groups and families, and he's also one of our best "pure" cartoonists. The multi-paneled strip in L&R#6 has more youthful energy and crazed momentum and imagination than a longbox full of mini-comics and SPX table offerings. And the latest slice of Luba and co's life story rings truer and cuts deeper than another longbox of ponderous small press offerings purporting to be meaningful takes on life as we know it (For god's sakes, folks, not everyone can be John Porcellino, and you weren't born in Europe, so deal with it). Los Bros may seem old school to some, but for me it's a breath of fresh air to see two guys still doing it, and still going strong with terrific work, not confusing packaging with content, not making grand statements that seem silly or naive a year after print, just doing excellent comics . It kills me that sales aren't stronger on L&R, but maybe I'm just a grumpy, nostalgic old fart. If yopu're someone who's curious about L&R because you heard some old greyheaded nut in a Descendents shirt talking about it, go pick up one of the early collections. L&R is swell. End of surprisingly swooning plug.

Here's another comic I like, kids -- the underrated and underappreciated Roger Langridge's Fred the Clown. Langridge has always been a magnificently imaginative cartoonist with a beautiful, rich style, and Fred the Clown is a project that really showcases his various talents. It's funny, too. If you like good cartooning, old b&w cartoons and movies, mean-spirited jokes about poor, helpless souls, absurdi comedy and wonderful layout and design work, pick up a copy of FTC. Check out http://www.hotelfred.com for new strips and information, as well as the Fred archive at http://moderntales.com (which is a paid monthly site, I believe, featuring lots of comics by many os todays' swell cartoonists and their friends). I've been enamored of Langridge's chops and sense of humor for a while now, gosh, I guess since the Fanatgraphics days of Art D'ecco and whatnot.

Gosh, I am getting old, aren't I? I better plug some young folks work lest I be thought of as a crummy loser curmudegon, just like when I couldn't stand reading gripes by CC Beck or Robert Kanigfher or Alex Toth about how all the young kids stink and create garbage. Actually, I still hate seeing older creators bitch about comics, how they used to sell millions and it was all swell and all. Forget that. I'd rather make marginal comics that I have authorship over than be chained to the board making comics by the square foot for peanuts with no ownership or recognition. Sure, I wish comics sold better, but all these older folks who bemoan the fall of comics are just uptight that no one's drawing Tarzan for Dell anymore, if I see Toth write one more crazy postcard screed about how comics need to go back to pure adventure and flying ace stories in order to recapture the glory days of sales and quality I'll puke. Christ, I'm not just old, I'm old, cranky, and mad at everyone, including myself! Wow!

Speaking of people who are uptight over comics -- why are there so many downy clownys over the fact that manga's selling so well? I hear a lot of grumbling from non-manga fans and retailers and pundits -- I mean, don't we want kids reading comics? Don't we want to sell comics? Do we love the medium or do we only love "our" comics, or the comics we love? I'm not the biggest manga enthusiast, there's plenty of crap out there just like our own stuff, but whoop-de-doo. I welcome manga sales, and I welcome anything that means people are reading comic books, be it from here or japan or mars (and I wonder if some snobs would be so pissy if there was a boom in the sales of European comics). Retailers who don't :get it" and want to bitch about the annoying kids who come into their little clubhouse of a shop to bug them for Pokemon, or Sailor Moon, or Shonen Jump or Yuh-Gi-Oh or whatever its called deserve to go under. If you're happy to jump on a bad girl bandwagon because you dig them hot Chaos comics bithces, but you're slow to respond to an honest to Kirby reading trend, you're a ding dong. if you don't like manga, don't read it. I'm happy to see comics publishers finding something kids and teens want, something that's got solid marketing behind it, something that could, hopefully, cause a reader to pick up US comics if they can find them and they are attracted to their content. It's comics, baby, let's sell the fucking things.
smokin'

Movie time

Our schedule's a mess again between house cleaning and work, which has meant that we've found ourselves sitting on the couch wathcing movies for the first time in a while. We caught a few films in the past few days, Sam Raimi's The Gift, From Hell, Unbreakable and Memento. The Gift was a pretty lousy, predictable and meandering "she has visions" murder "mystery", I'm usually fairly lousy at guessing who the killer is but nailed this one immediately based on clumsy and obvious art direction, staging and scripting. The screenplay is so concerned with red herrings, researched exposition and local "flavor" that it reads like a college student final project. Raimi's directing is flat and uninspired, in the nowhere middle of Evil Dead's giddy pyrotechnics and A Simple Plan's "hey look at me making a real, serious film" solidity. Keanu Reeves is pretty funny trying to act as a colorful tough guy, though.

I haven't read From Hell yet (dunno why, I bought the collection ages ago) so I didn't have any pre-conceived notions of what to expect, other than aspects from several Ripper books that Moore apparently cobbled together in his script. The movie was okay, nothing special. I liked the mood and the period and art direction pretty well, the performances were pretty okay, and the direction wasn't too awful in regards to modern filmmaking, flat and ponderous and competent enough (although a few artsy sequences and showy transitions fall flat, especially a time-lapse sequence showing people assembling after a murder that just comes out of nowehere and serves no real purpose). I didn't like most of the ending at all (again, psychic vision stuff that somehow still manages to be predictable), and I didn't like the way the actual ending scene played out, an unhappy ending that seemed as tacked on as the average forced happy endings in films. What I truly hated about the film is that, unless I'm insane, there's a major cheat to throw you off the identity of the murderer. My intial guess (which was correct), was thrown off because of a visual bit that meant the killer couldn't have been that person. Kind of like the old B-movie saw where it turns out the killer is a woman, but the killer was obviously portrayed by a male stuntman throughout the film. The film's unidentified killer simply does not resemble the actor who plays the Ripper, and unless I'm crazy-wrong, we see the Ripper's bare hand in one sequence -- so we can ogle his mason's ring -- and it cannot be the hand of the actual killer. They cheated, and I hate that in a mystery.

Unbreakable was interesting but for me, flawed and badly paced. It would have made a nice half hour twilight Zone or soemthing, so much time is spent on long, quiet scenes that don't build for me, even the "thrilling" scenes are morosely, studiously paced, and the big shock ending payoff is underplayed to the point of, "huh? That's it? What did they, run out of film?". When the movie ends, it feels like many big questions and difficult questions are unanswered or unexplored. What happens next being one of them. There are scenes that go nowhere, everyone's sad and somber, the film takes no joy whatsoever in the comic book/heroism theme it revolves around. Personal nitpicks: I would have liked to have seen Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson's characters bond more so that the payoff has more impact and emotion and consequence. I think Willis should have found his "calling" earlier in the "origin" story, too many revelations are pounded out late in the thrid act after two slow acts, I would have liked to have seen a little more of his "career" explored before the 'surprise" ending (I didn't guess the mechanics of the ending, but who didn't know where things were headed given the framework from early on?). I didn't believe the comic art showroom for a minute, and I doubt even non-comics fans would buy into it. Similarly, the use of made-up comic characters blunted the impact and resonance of the superheroes as metaphors and totems for the Jackson character. I didn't hate it, it just didn't really work for me.

Memento worked for me like gangbusters, I really loved this film and recommend it if you haven't seen it. It's just a nifty, compelling piece, wonderfully structured and played out, a fascinatingly wonky noir about a man who cannot build new memories and has to take photos and tattoo notes on himself to keep him on track of his wife's killer. He can only rememeber what happened before his wife was killed and he was injured, and the film follows his efforts to maintain a system that will enable him to gte rveenge. The heavy-duty special collector's whatever DVD features a second version of the film, with events structured sequentially, as well as bizarre phonypsychalogical tests that unloock extras, scripts, interviews and the like. The packaging is amazing, it's designed to resemble a case file on the film's protagonist, including post-it notes, clues to unlocking the special features, paper clipped papers, etc.

A final thought -- the first three of these feature characters who have psychic visions of some sort. Can someone tell me just what the hell is up with the seeming flood of recent and semi-recent films where people have obnoxious flash-frame filled visions, hallucinations or premonitions? Crap like Thirteen Ghosts, all the films with psychic links to serial kilelrs, etc. Is it the only way some directors can feel like they're truly "directing", when they're endlessly manipulating the frames and chopping and zooming and throwing blood on walls and using loud, blaring sound to some sort of "effect". Doesn't anyone consider telling a good story in a credible manner directing anymore? I hate these sequences, for all the effort and pretention they all come off alike, carbon copy blue-light, blood-soaked, nonsense, MtV-style noodling and cheap scares and shocks designed to cheat the audience by witholding or manipulating information. My eyes go mikly-white when I see this stuff, it's so uncreative and easy, real cheap heat.

Speaking of cheap heat, the Raw anniversary is on. At least that's straightforward, unpretentious garbage!