8/26/2015

Cartoon: You Say Latino

I’m Latino. I’m Hispanic. And they’re different, so I drew a comic to explain. by Terry Blas

Go to: Vox, by Terry Blas

8/22/2015

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015) Written and Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Written and Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

My initial reaction to first hearing about the premise for Pixar Studio's latest animated feature Inside Out was one of disappointment. Anthropomorphising the different facets of the human psyche is a hoary trope, one of the oldest cliches found in fantasy and myth. Shouldn't advances in modern psychology have gotten us past the form of lazy essentialism which inspired ideas as stupid as the "emotional color spectrum" from Green Lantern? Pixar is the master of anthropomorphising just about any object, of course. But even they've produced something as banal as Cars. The studio’s last few efforts were pretty underwhelming, which had me concerned about how they would go about tackling something as abstract as the mindscape? So my expectations were set relatively low. But the first teaser trailer got me intrigued about the film. I loved the voice talent involved. 2 months after its woldwide release, the film finally came out in local theaters this week, and I quite enjoyed it.

Inside Out is a quintessential Pixar fairy tale. While all of the studio's feature films are ostensibly aimed at kids, their themes are calculated to appeal to adults, or more specifically the adults who've felt the pain of loss. Kids experience those emotions too, obviously, but there's a peculiar sense of thwarted ambition that cuts deeply with adults. Think of Woody's sudden drop in social status in Toy Story, Bob Parr being shackled to a desk when he just wants to be a superhero in The Incredibles, or Carl and Ellie's inability to take that trip of a lifetime in Up. Inside Out focuses on the most devastating loss of all, at least from the POV of a young adult - the end of childhood. The child in question is an 11 year old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose idyllic existence in nowhere Minnesota is brought to a close when her family uproots and moves to the big city of San Francisco.

The Toy Story series dealt with the topic of growth, sort of. The films mostly kept their distance from the kids and concentrated on the inner lives of their toys, whose very subsistence was dependent on a child's playful imagination. Their owner's inevitable aging was a force of nature they had to weather, as best as they could. Inside Out marks a milestone for Pixar by putting a child front and center, and a female one to boot. But it plays a trick by actually focusing on the anthropomorphised emotions within the child, all voiced by adults. The ringleader of the 5 emotions, Joy, is perfectly cast as Amy Poehler. She channels the same manic personality that made plucky Midwesterner Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation infamous. Phyllis Smith informs her counterpart Sadness with the same low key presence she used with her character Phyllis Lapin in The Office. Bill Hader (Fear), Lewis Black (Anger), and Mindy Kaling (Disgust) riff off their already established comic personas. This sleight of hand imbues Riley with an acerbic quality that wouldn't be possible had the emotions been voiced by kids or adult actors pretending to be kids. When she throws a tantrum at her parents, there's Black righteously fuming inside her head to lend those frustrations extra force.

Inside Out (2015) Written and Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

So much time is spent with Riley's emotions that little attention is given to external events. Had this been a more conventional coming of age tale, the plot would have followed her struggle to fit into her new school, experiencing persecution at the hands of the popular kids, finding lasting friendships among the freaks and geeks, discover an activity she can excel at, then finally triumphing at some big school event. If any of that happens to Riley in the film, it's only faintly implied. There are no mean girls to confront. The story's primary conflict is between Joy, the dominant emotion, and Sadness. Their struggle for control of Riley's fragile psyche has them both literally ejected from consciousness and into the vast labyrinth of her long term memories. Without these two emotions driving her actions, Riley gradually loses the ability to feel anything.This twist might be the most brilliant illustration of childhood depression ever found in an animated feature to come out of Disney.

But it's Pixar's blend of sleek design, wry humor, and beautifully rendered animation that sells this fantastic world. The studio's retro-futuristic aesthetic portrays Riley's mind as an endless wonderland that looks like a cross between a Star Trek utopia, a major film studio lot, and a Disney theme park, with some of Apple's chic interface thrown in. Steve Jobs fanboys will get a chuckle out of the "reality distortion field" being an important mental process. It's a place where old structures are torn down in response to Riley's changing emotional state, unused memories fade and are ultimately discarded, and forgotten imaginary friends wander about without purpose. And yet, memories of commercial jingles have an annoying habit of unwantedly popping up for no reason. Daily memories are the building blocks used to create dreams - massive productions filmed on Hollywood-style sound stages, while experiences deemed too traumatic are banished to the cave of the subconscious. This complex setting makes Joy and Sadness' quest to return to "headquarters" suitably epic and even fraught with danger.

The emotions themselves are visualized as simple candy-colored caricatures streamlined to represent their respective psychological state. But they all have this granular surface quality to them that gives the appearance of restless clumps of vibrating particles rather than solid physical entities. What's most fascinating about them however is what's left unsaid. The audience gets a glimpse of the minds of Riley's mom and dad, and the contrast is enlightening. While they're also compromised of the same 5 basic emotions, they've evolved very differently. The adult emotions are more disciplined and in-synch. But they're also more regimented. Unlike Riley's emotions, they're uniformly gendered, and it's apparent that their equivalent of Joy isn't the dominant character. The film spends little time with the parents, but what's seen reveals that the move to the West Coast has put the two under considerable financial strain, a fact they try to shield from Riley. It slowly dawns on them that their need to project onto their own daughter a happy can-do attitude might not be the best thing for her.

Inside Out (2015) Written and Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

This ability to channel adult anxieties into the bodies of preteen children vaguely reminds me of the precocious youngsters of the classic comic strip Peanuts. At its most poignant, Charles Shulz's creation could be brooding and angry, assisted by a rich helping of guilt and shame. Inside Out falls short of the strip's emotional intensity. It doesn't explore the cruelty children often inflict on one another. But its melancholic resolution will reassure kids that it's okay to be occasionally unhappy, and remind the adults in the audience of the naive pleasures they’ve lost and may never experience again, except through the eyes of their kids.

Journal Comic: Rina Ayuyang

Rina Ayuyang

Go to: The Comics Journal Pt 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, by Rina Ayuyang

8/15/2015

Girl in Dior

Girl in Dior By Anne Goetzinger. Letters: Ortho Design: Philippe Ravon Translated by Joe Johnson.
By Annie Goetzinger.
Letters: Ortho
Design: Philippe Ravon
Translated by Joe Johnson.


As with many established figures, Christian Dior has become such an institution today that it's often very difficult to relive the freshness of his initial impact on the wider world. Paris during 1947 was still reeling from the climate of wartime austerity when the soon to be notorious designer held his first fashion show. The assembled crowd of media, wealthy socialites, and celebrity guests were so taken with Dior's daring use of fabric that he was quickly hailed as a significant new creative voice, even as the proletariat were less than impressed by what looked to them as nothing more than wasteful opulence. The event would anticipate the pageantry of modern fashion shows, not to mention the high-low divide in people's reaction to haute couture. But the avant garde nature of Dior's show and his decade-long body of work is what veteran French cartoonist Annie Goetzinger impresses on the reader. It's a world she so meticulously illustrates that her graphic novel Girl in Dior could just as well be characterized as a beautiful art book about women's clothes.

The designer himself remains inscrutable, though he cuts a dashing figure as portrayed by Goetzinger. His refined aquiline profile and serene manner forms the nexus point of a highly-involved process which begins with the sketches he creates at his country house just outside the city, translated into a series of linen prototypes until the designs are finalized, and the models are bought in to become accustomed to wearing them for the eventual fashion show. For Goetzinger, the creative process of making a dress involving the efforts of many passionate individuals, is just as fascinating as the dress itself. More importantly, they work happily under Dior's steadfast leadership. No one feels they're being exploited.

By Annie Goetzinger. Letters: Ortho Design: Philippe Ravon Translated by Joe Johnson.

The POV character that allows the reader to peer into the House of Dior is the fictional Clara Nohant, who starts out as a cub reporter hired to write about the 1947 show. She quickly becomes an enthusiastic Dior proponent and organizes a photo op. But after it's ruined by an impromptu protest, Clara is fired from her job. Fortunately, this misadventure gains the attention of Dior, who meets with her, then hires her. The dowdy Clara is transformed into a glamorous Audrey Hepburn lookalike, becomes one of Dior's top models and also a close confidant.

On paper the plot reads as a most generic kind of wish fulfillment. Clara herself remains fairly two dimensional throughout. But the hero of the story isn't really her or the great man himself. Visually, the stars of the show are Dior's magnificent dresses. Goetzinger's figures have a sensual Art Nouveau quality to them, which is perfect for capturing the ambiance of high fashion. Her models all assume that expression of studied insouciance in order to not distract from the clothes. They take the stage in a series of lushly painted page spreads. Goetzinger's delicate linework and brush strokes absolutely shines in capturing the flow, weight, texture and form of every item of clothing. Whatever one thinks of the fashion industry as a whole, these painstakingly designed, crafted, and beautifully worn dresses are the embodiment of Dior's sentiment "dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable."

Girl in Dior By Annie Goetzinger. Letters: Ortho Design: Philippe Ravon Translated by Joe Johnson.

Journal Comic: Aron Nels Steinke

A Cartoonist's Diary by Aron Nels Steinke.

Go to: The Comics Journal Pt 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, by Aron Nels Steinke

8/12/2015

Cartoon: Not a Crime

Not a Crime by Kazimir Lee Iskander

Go to: Slate, by Kazimir Lee Iskander (via Tom Spurgeon)

Video: Riding Light

Go to: Vimeo, by Aaron Swinehart

8/08/2015

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Well, that was godawful. The reviews have been uniformly negative, and director Josh Trank has gone on Twitter to wash his hands of the final product. I'm not privy to any of the behind the scenes shenanigans, obviously. But it did feel as if the film was fighting the source material the whole time - struggling mightily to be anything but a superhero movie, only to fall flat on its face. With superhero origin tales, even the angst-ridden ones, there comes a point when the protagonists realize that it's actually kinda cool to use their superpowers to kick some ass. That moment never arrives here. The titular characters spend the first half of the film exhibiting varying degrees of misery or barely repressed rage, and that's before they acquire their abilities. When they do finally get their powers, there's more moping to be had about being horribly disfigured by science gone wrong before they finally team up to fight the film's big bad Doctor Doom within the last ten minutes. And even there the cast looks more embarrassed than thrilled to be cutting loose.

So yeah, it's got an excruciatingly slow buildup without a satisfying payoff. Without any cool set pieces to break up the monotony before the final throwdown takes place (They're found in the trailer, oddly enough). And some rather murky special effects used during said throwdown. I have no idea how the battle ended at all. Most of the film's dreary visual aesthetic looks like it was shot on a dimly lit soundstage. And the otherwise talented young cast is no more convincing. The teenage drama is passable when viewed on its own. It's just unsuccessfully grafted into the wider story. There's a lot of deep-seated interpersonal conflict dredged up in the first half which is simply tossed aside during the film's rushed finale. But there's no sense of the four coming together to fight under a common cause. Miles Teller is perfectly fine when he's playing Reed Richards as the self-doubting prodigy, but he's lost at sea as the brave leader trying to rally his troops to take down Doom. The team has no chemistry at all, which makes watching them interact as one a chore rather than a thrill.

Doom is emblematic of the film's dissonant quality. Toby Kebbell plays him as a maladjusted introvert who may or may not have a legitimate grievance against the film's various authority figures when he's just plain Victor von Doom. The topic is never explored in depth. Then he's granted ultimate power and goes completely psycho. Doom's appetite for universal destruction is no more complicated than that of Malekith from Thor: The Dark World or Ultron from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Most of the Marvel movie villains have had poorly defined personalities and motivations. But the lack of any kind of machiavellian scheming from Doom further detracts from the character's sinister appeal. And when the villain is opposed by an even less colorful group of heroes who are going through the motions because that's what heroes are supposed to do, there's really no one for the audience to latch onto or to root for.

Fantastic Four isn't just a clunky film on its own merits, it's the most downbeat adaptation of a Marvel superhero comic book. Or at least since The Amazing Spider-Man from 2012. It arrived soon after the comically inspired Ant-Man (which also experienced its own public fallout between the studio and director), making its dour tone only more tedious in comparison. When Ben Grimm's (Jamie Bell) famous battle cry "It's Clobbering Time!" is a reference to an older brother beating him up when he was a kid, it's hard for any fan to feel fondness for this film. The wayward Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) seems mainly interested in pissing-off his saintly dad, and sister Sue Storm (Kate Mara) isn't given much to do outside of voicing disapproval towards the ill-considered actions of the boys. To add further insult, the almost incidental way she receives her powers is going to annoy a lot of the fanbase. And yes, this is the type of superhero movie that's too embarrassed to employ superhero code names in-story.

In Trank's directorial debut Chronicle, the film's dark tone is offset by an actual sense of wonder arising from its teenage protagonists exploring their superhuman abilities which were mysteriously conferred on them by an alien object. But in Fantastic Four, there's no effective counter argument to the film's encroaching nihilism. Ultimately, the alienation manages to overpower the weird science adventure. The Fantastic Four comic book of the sixties may have been responsible for showcasing some of the most bizarre and enduring ideas found in the Marvel Universe, but the lackluster results of all of Fox's film adaptations do not bode well for future efforts to translate them to the screen.

8/01/2015

Archie vs. Predator #3 and #4

Archie vs. Predator: Writer: Alex de Campi Penciller: Fernando Ruiz Inker: Rich Koslowski Colorist: Jason Millet Letters: John Workman.  Archie et al. created by Bob Montana Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston.Archie vs. Predator: Writer: Alex de Campi Penciller: Fernando Ruiz Inker: Rich Koslowski Colorist: Jason Millet Letters: John Workman.  Archie et al. created by Bob Montana Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston.

Writer: Alex de Campi
Penciller: Fernando Ruiz
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet
Letters: John Workman

Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston

The Predator kicked off his killing spree of Riverdale's populace by disposing off its most peripheral members, then made short work of the entire cast until only a quintet composed of Archie Comics' core characters remained. In the final two issues, the pace slows down as the remaining survivors hide, take stock, make plans, or start freaking out. It's as introspective as a traditional Archie Comics publication gets. Plot logic goes out the window as the zaniness ramps up. Take Riverdale's resident science nerd/inventor Dilton Doiley. How does he deal with the prospect of being murdered by an unstoppable alien big game hunter? Turns out he's been building a high-tech Archie-themed suit of armor on school grounds all this time. So now is probably as perfect an occasion to reveal his newest creation, save what's left of the town and hopefully impress the girls.

Archie vs. Predator: Writer: Alex de Campi Penciller: Fernando Ruiz Inker: Rich Koslowski Colorist: Jason Millet Letters: John Workman.  Archie et al. created by Bob Montana Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston.

This is all sorts of crazy, yet it's probably what would happen to anyone else if they were the only nebbish trapped in a world which revolved around a freckle-faced teenage boy and offered no other role models as viable alternatives. Just like those dystopian stories Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, etc. which are all the rage at present, all drama is reduced to the petty rivalries of adolescence, only carried out to its bloody extreme.

The difference here is that the students of Riverdale High are decidedly more wholesome even when they have no reason to be. No one becomes too mean-spirited. No one turns on each other. Not even the vain and self-centered Veronica Lodge, who would be the first to sell out her companions to the Predator if this story took place in any other universe. She gets to have her own heroic turn when the chips are down, and eventually gives mad props to her perpetual rival Betty Cooper. As for Jughead Jones, he's a true best friend who's just way too distracted by the constant need to fill his own stomach. And main man Archie Andrews is a genuinely nice, but largely ineffectual, protagonist. Heck, even the Predator of the series is basically another insecure teenager who wants to be like Archie, through his own sociopathic means off course.

Which is pretty much what happens in its most messed up version. The Predator is the wholly exotic bad boy who rides into an insular community and proceeds to upset the status quo in the worst way possible. He tries so hard to catch the attention of the prettiest girl in school while facing down the cliquish student body. He succeeds, after a fashion, but at a personal cost so high it wrecks himself and the object of his affections. That’s just the mundane horror of life in high school school.

7/28/2015

Photo Gallery: Aerials

LA 12 by Jeffrey Milstein.
NYC 55 by Jeffrey Milstein.
LA 23 by Jeffrey Milstein.
NYC 33 Statue of Liberty by Jeffrey Milstein.

Go to: LA Aerials and NYC Aerials by Jeffrey Milstein (via Alissa Walker)

7/26/2015

Godzilla in Hell #1

Godzilla in Hell #1 Story and art by James Stokoe, Jeff Zornow, Sara Richard.  Godzilla/Gojira created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Eiji Tsubaraya.
Story and art by James Stokoe, Jeff Zornow, Sara Richard.

Godzilla/Gojira created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirō Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Eiji Tsubaraya.

Whether acting as an agent of destruction or as a defender of humanity from other kaiju, Godzilla is more a force of nature than an individual creature whose behavior can be characterized as exhibiting clearly recognizable motives. So does the concept of eternal damnation even apply to such an entity? How'd you go about punishing him? Wouldn't the mercurial monster be perfectly at home settling into such a horrific place? The 5-part miniseries Godzilla in Hell takes a stab at answering these questions with the creative teams changing for each issue. For the opening chapter, the writer/artist is James Stokoe, whose excellent Godzilla: The Half-Century War was a clever commentary on Godzilla's ever-changing film career. So he's a pretty good choice to start the series.

Like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole, Godzilla enters Hell by falling down his own very large, very dark, deep pit. I like how Stokoe's large vertical panels seem to suggest that he was cast out from a higher realm like another fallen angel. After finally crashing and pulling out of the resulting impact crater, Godzilla encounters the famous epitaph "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here" carved out as a gigantic stone relief many times his size. Hell is built on a suitably massive scale to say the least. But an unimpressed Godzilla simply burns the sign down with his radioactive breath. Does our angry protagonist even feel "hope" or "despair"?

This Hell is fantastically surreal. A desolate landscape as far as the sky can see that glows faint red, dotted by deformed structures. Stokoe's art is very lush with textures rendered by delicate cross hatching. The overall effect is that the setting isn't just grandiose, but vaguely threatening and extremely claustrophobic. This looks like a separate Hell designed for kaiju, as it's largely bereft of human or demonic presence with one notable example I'll discuss shortly. A smoke plume created by the destruction of the epitaph implies that Godzilla has skipped Limbo and entered the Circle of Lust. Indeed, the comic's most impressive visual, which is a reference to Dante Alighieri, is a violent superstorm composed not of clouds but of countless human forms that engulfs and even manages to push the mighty Godzilla around.

Otherwise, this part of Hell just feeds into his appetite for stomping on other kaiju. And my final impression is that Godzilla hasn't so much been punished as been tested and came out on top. But there are still 4 issues left before his journey through the underworld is over. So it's a little hard to predict if events will always play in Godzilla's favor. But I'm hoping he gets to bump into his many kaiju rivals before the story's over.

7/17/2015

7/13/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 28

 Raye Hollitt, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Raye Hollitt, Comic-Con autograph area.

One last detour to the autograph area before I boarded the train leaving San Diego.

This marks the end point for this segment of the series. I hope you enjoyed my nostalgic excursion to Comic-Cons past. And if you were at this year's convention, I hope you had a great time. I'm sorry I wasn't there. Peace out!

Pt 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27

7/12/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 27

Portfolio review, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Portfolio review session, Comic-Con exhibit hall

Comic-Con portfolio reviews: where countless dreams about making it in the industry go to get crushed under the boot of weary editors. This cattle-call style process is nerve-wracking enough without having  to deal with all the surrounding commotion. Unlike other publishers, DC held their sessions at their massive booth. All the better to intimidate hapless victims, I mean inspire the fans.

Pt 151617181920212223242526

Webcomic: Manfeels Park

Manfeels Park by Erin and Morag
Great Expectations

Go to: Manfeels Park by Erin and Morag

7/11/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 26

Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con Masquerade
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Mighty Mouse cosplay, Comic-Con Masquerade

The Mouse is back! Last year's hit contestant was invited to appear on stage one more time. For an encore, he danced to the song "My Sharona."

This was the first time I attended the Masquerade from beginning to end. I recommend that Comic-Con attendees do this at least once. It's an amazing and inclusive celebration of fandom. But it does tend to sap one's energy, which will be sorely needed for Sunday bargain shopping.

Pt 1516171819202122232425

Cartoon: Goliath

Goliath by Kate Beaton

Go to: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Video: Kate Beaton Teaches You How to Draw the Fat Pony

Kate Beaton Teaches You How to Draw the Fat Pony

Go to: Time (via Kate Beaton)

7/10/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 25

Cindy (Furgatch) Freeling, aka Princess Anne Droid, Harware Wars, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford Delta 3200 Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Cindy Freeling, Comic-Con autograph area.

Located across from the Portfolio Review Area, Comic-Con's Autograph Area is the pop culture equivalent of Artist's Alley - A motley gathering of celebrities, starlets, has-beens, and ne'er-do-wells detached from the madness of the main exhibit hall. Some of them can be very charming, such as the lovely lady pictured above. Most of the time, the atmosphere of the hall is relatively sedate.

Speaking of has-beens - I don't remember at which Comic-Con this took place at, but I once spotted Wil Wheaton when I was rushing between review sessions. These were still the lean years before Wil's tireless blogging and courting of the Web 1.0 crowd would catapult him to nerdlebrity status. This was before Nemesis. Before w00tstock. Before The Guild. Before geeks conquered the media landscape. Those days were filled with high anxiety, self-doubt, narcissistic brooding, fannish nostalgia, and a pathological disconnect as narrated with a heavy dose of self-depreciating humour in his autobiography several years later. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. To me he was just the actor formerly known as Wesley Crusher.

Wil's table was located so that he was split off from the majority of the autograph group, his table facing so that his back was turned towards them. Wil didn't have any immediate neighbours to either side of him. Well, at least I didn't see anyone when I was there. He was alone. And he looked utterly miserable just sitting there. A part of me wanted to walk up to him, say "hi", and tell him that not everyone hated him when he was on ST:TNG. But a bigger part of me felt awkward about approaching someone in such a state, felt unsure about how to reach out. I was too wrapped up in my own personal shit at the time. And I've gradually realised that I'm not the most empathic individual. Or maybe I was just paralysed by a sense of impotence to help. So I moved on to whatever it was I was currently occupied with.

An that's why I don't have a picture of Uncle Willy.

Pt 15161718192021222324

Video: How to Make It as a Cartoonist

Kate Beaton: How to Make It as a Cartoonist.

Go to: Time (via Kate Beaton)

7/09/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 24

Saya, Blood: The Last Vampire PVC Figures, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Saya PVC, Comic-Con exhibit hall.

So many anime-based toys in one place. And not nearly enough cash to buy them. I'm not a very avid toy collector, but Comic-Con sorely tests my resistance to unbridled consumerism with it's sheer variety of merch being sold. I suppose a lot of attendees can relate to that scene in Paul were Clive Gollings lovingly eyes a katana, only to put it back down when the vendor informs him about its retail price. But it's the little things you can afford that begins to add up once you try to get them all.

Pt 151617181920212223

Doctor Fate #1 and Superman #41

Doctor Fate #1 Writer: Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew Artist: Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa Colors: Lee Loughridge Letters: Nick J. Napolitano.  Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.
Doctor Fate #1
Writer: Paul Levitz, Sonny Liew
Artist: Sonny Liew, Ibrahim Moustafa
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano

Doctor Fate created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman.

I like the idea of Doctor Fate more than I like the character itself. In reality he doesn't distinguish himself enough from all the other sorcerer supreme types. The DC Universe is awash with magicians from decades of continuity - lone wolf John Constantine (until he joined Justice League Dark) currently being the most popular character to come from their ranks. On the other hand, Fate is traditionally associated with the Justice Society of America. But I haven't been keeping up with that group, post Flashpoint, or know if they even still exist. So can veteran writer Paul Levitz infuse a more unique perspective onto such a staid figure? Not yet, judging from this issue.

The new Fate is a NYC resident and pre-med student Khalid Nassour, called on by ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet to fulfill his destiny by donning the magical helmet and fight against her evil counterpart Anubis. The latter seems intent on initiating a new worldwide deluge. Yeah, it's not a very original good vs. evil set-up for a superhero comic. And its use of mythology already feels old fashioned in our post-Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore era. Levitz is clearly attempting to make his characters sound more relevant and hip (and look, they're texting each other with their smartphones). But the for now, Khalid comes across as little more than a cipher for the reluctant hero.

If the dialogue can be a tad generic, the title's promise comes from new artist Sonny Liew. I'm pleased to see the current DC regime moving away from the baroque New 52 house style. Liew's emaciated forms combined with Lee Loughridge's strong colors produce an unsettling psychedelic effect, which compliments the story's fantastic milieu. But here's hoping Khalid does something more interesting with his costume, which for now is just him wearing the helmet over his normal street clothes.

SUPERMAN #41 Writer: Gene Luen Yang Artist: John Romita Jr., Karl Kerschl Inker: Klaus Janson Colors: Dean White Letters: Rob Leigh.  Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Superman #41
Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: John Romita Jr., Karl Kerschl
Inker: Klaus Janson
Colors: Dean White
Letters: Rob Leigh

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

A source of potential confusion over DC's handling of Superman is that the character is spread over several interconnected monthly titles. A story arc which began in one title is picked up by another. Several weeks ago, Superman's status quo was drastically altered in the pages of Action Comics #41. This involved among other things, a reduction of his powers and a change in costume. The new status quo was explored in Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman. But it's only with the recent release of Superman #41 has the cause of the change being revealed, though only partially.

The task of explicating this part of Superman's collectively molded saga is given to newcomer Gene Luen Yang. He joins the already established art team led by John Romita Jr., which lends a sense of continuity because the Superman title hasn't been able to hold on to its writers for very long since George Pérez took over in 2011. Romita and inker Klaus Janson imbue the character with a certain gritty dynamism and down-to-earth presence - qualities not usually associated with past portrayals from the character's more well-known artists.

But it's Yang who's the revelation here. Having established himself in the industry with critically lauded creator-owned passion projects, a high profile corporate property like Superman is uncharted territory for him and his fans. But Yang acquits himself very well, easily updating the well-established relationships between Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane with relaxed, informal, and youthful banter (though Jimmy's use of a smartphone over a DSLR/ILC was ridiculous). I like how Lois rather quickly insinuates herself into an investigation the former two are secretly conducting. The story pays homage to Superman's early crusades against corrupt politicians and arms dealers, as well as the character's propensity to fight giant killer robots. There might be hope that the Superman title will finally have some stability if DC can retain Yang.

7/08/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 23

Jill Thompson, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag.
Jill Thompson,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

If I recall correctly, she won an Eisner that year.

Pt 1516171819202122

7/07/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 22

Julius Schwartz, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag,.
Julius Schwartz (1915-2004),  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I never realised the comics legend had his shirts embroidered with his name. Adorable.

Pt 15161718192021

7/06/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 21

Escalators/stairs, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. © Michael Buntag.
Staircase, San Diego Convention Center

Comic-Con has become a lot more crowded in the intervening years. But I'd like to think fans can still find a quiet place to read their purchases.

Pt 151617181920

7/04/2015

Black Canary #1 and Justice League of America #1

Black Canary #1 by Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, Lee Loughridge, Steve Wands.  Black Canary/Dinah Drake Lance created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Black Canary #1
Story: Brenden Fletcher
Art: Annie Wu, Tula Lotay
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Steve Wands

Black Canary/Dinah Drake Lance created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Black Canary is one of those ensemble characters DC keeps pushing from time to time as a star in her own right. Most of those efforts tend to focus on her skills as one of the world's foremost martial artists/covert operatives. Nothing wrong with that since the premise provides an excuse to show lots of kick-butt action. It's just that it's well trod territory. This latest relaunch still references those chop-sockey roots, but adds a twist which so effectively sets the character apart from the DC stable it has me wondering why no one's ever tried it before. Actually, I've probably answered my own question.

Basically, Dinah Drake or "D.D." is now the frontwoman for a rock band called "Black Canary." The new series can be considered a spinoff of Batgirl, where she was a supporting character for a bit. Brenden Fletcher nonetheless avoids making any explicit connection or even mention to her New 52 history. So it's a little unclear how much of it still applies to her. Just as well. Dinah is portrayed as an enigmatic figure hinting at a mysterious but troubled past. She still beats up a lot of bad guys, oftentimes while still on stage.

As with Batgirl, Fletcher eschews the company's house style for something a bit more alternative in flavour. And as with that series, the art team is largely responsible for making its premise work. Annie Wu's roughly hewn linework combined with Lee Loughridge's bold splashes of bright colors perfectly captures the youthful energy and gritty atmosphere of an indie rock concert. Under Wu's deft hand, Dinah's traditional black costume is subtly altered to look less like a circus outfit  worn by a pulp heroine from the 40s and more like something a punk musician would put on for a live performance. And Steve Wand's typography completes the effect by helpfully repurposing some of the page layouts to look  more like music posters.

This is an enjoyable reimagining of an already familiar character. It's such a departure from previous incarnations that more knowledgeable fans might feel at a loss trying to relate Dinah the rocker to past decades or even the last few years of continuity. So the comic is best read by anyone who can come to it with the fewest preconceptions about the character.

Justice League of America #1 by Bryan Hitch, Howard Porter, Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie, Alex Sinclair, Jeromy, Chris Eliopoulos.  Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox.
Justice League of America #1
Story: Bryan Hitch
Art: Bryan Hitch, Howard Porter
Inks: Daniel Henriques, Wade von Grawbadger, Andrew Currie
Colors: Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

Justice League of America created by Gardner Fox.

This double sized issue seems to ignore whatever changes to the status quo were brought about by the DC You relaunch and goes to heart of what makes the Justice League of America appealing to fans: Some of DC's most famous characters tackling a menace none of them could handle alone. This a classic superhero throwdown with just enough intrigue injected into the proceedings to help break up the monotony of the action and suggest even more ominous forces behind the immediate threat actively working to undermine the team.

The issue's extended length allows for Bryan Hitch to employ his panoramic approach to storytelling. He's assisted by three inkers and two colorists to embellish his detailed, photorealistic art. This results in the faces being a little less consistent and refined. Could the story have been told with a smaller page count? Sure. The pacing is somewhat disjointed, and the plot becomes convoluted towards the end. But much of Hitch's appeal comes from his expansive layouts and grandiose set pieces. The additional space is utilized to showcase each Justice League member's contrasting personalities, abilities and weaknesses. The climactic battle sequence emits a real sense of danger as each of them is taken down by an unexpectedly amped-up villain.

Whatever problems this issue has in terms of plotting, characterization, continuity or pricing ($5.99 is pretty hefty for a pamphlet), there’s something satisfying in reading an iconic approach to such well-established characters. And it's kind of entertaining to see DC indulging one of its marquee creators as he goes for broke, especially after a long absence from the title.

7/03/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 20

Faye Valentine, Cowboy Bebop PVC Figures, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
Faye Valentine,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

Is Cowboy Bebop still a thing? Or do fans prefer Honey now? I'm not as plugged into anime culture these days.

Pt 1516171819

7/02/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 19

Christopher Moeller, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag.
The Christopher Moeller table at Artist's Alley,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I hope he sold enough to at least break even.

Pt 15161718

7/01/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 18

pider-Man, Elektra cosplay, Marvel booth, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag.
Spider-Man and Elektra cosplayers at the Marvel booth,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I did read Ultimate Elektra once, but have no memory of the comic.

Pt 151617

Webcomic: Ice Cream

Ice Cream by Alex Fellows.

6/30/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 17

A Friend in Knead, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film. © Michael Buntag
A Friend in Knead,  Comic-Con exhibit hall.

I doubt many younger fans will recognise ADV Films a.k.a. A.D. Vision anymore. But I still own a few of their DVDs. Should probably replace them with higher resolution versions. That's how they make their money.

Pt 1516

Webcomic: Fun with Flags

Good Man Presents: Fun with Flags by Ty Templeton.

6/29/2015

Comic-Con Album Pt 16

Mat Groening, Comic-Con International, San Diego Convention Center, Marina District, San Diego, California. Ilford HP5+ Black and White 35mm negative film.  © Michael Buntag
Matt Groening signing at the Comic-Con exhibit hall.

He hasn't aged a bit, has he?

Pt 15