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Saturday, October 29, 2016

MASCOTS (2016)

MASCOTS (2016)
Director: Christopher Guest
Writers: Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock

MASCOTS is the latest film from Christopher Guest. In the style of his previous films WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (1997), BEST IN SHOW (2000), A MIGHTY WIND (2003) and FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (2006), it's a semi-improvised comedy look at a variety of odd individuals brought together for a niche activity, this time a competition for the World Mascot Association. Unlike those previous films, this one was released direct to streaming video site Netflix, rather than widely released theatrically.

I really liked Guest's previous efforts in this field (as well as of course THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984), which was directed by Rob Reiner but co-written and starring Guest and defining a lot of this mocking documentary, mockumentary if you will, style). This new one has a lot of what I liked in those movies, but based on the first viewing it seems to be missing something. I'm not sure of the details of Guest's working style, if he has an overall through-line and emotional heart of the story going into filming, or if he finds it in the editing of the largely improvised dialogue, but this movie doesn't seem to have that. As a collection of wacky antics of some oddballs who are totally oblivious to their own insanity, which is also a major aspect of the earlier films, it's very successful (and the cast, with most of Guest's regulars and some talented new faces, was top notch). It was the funniest new movie I'd seen in a long while, maybe even since FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION. But I'm not sure it holds together as a movie, as opposed to a very good collection of inter-related sketches.

I'd also have to go back and check, but there were a handful of scenes in here that I didn't really buy as "documentary footage". There's always some leeway on that in these kinds of movies (you sometimes have to accept that there are apparently several dozen camera crews following each cast member for a supposedly low-budget shoot), but this one seemed to violate the format in ways that the others didn't.

I'll probably watch it again in a year or two, to see if it had something I just missed. Guest's more than earned that benefit of the doubt. And I have no hesitation in recommending anyone else watch it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

CREEPY PRESENTS ALEX TOTH by Alex Toth & Co.

CREEPY PRESENTS ALEX TOTH
by Alex Toth & Co.

This is Dark Horse's fourth creator-themed collection of short stories from the horror anthology magazines CREEPY and EERIE published by Warren from 1964 to 1983, following similar collections for Bernie Wrightson, Richard Corben and Steve Ditko.

It features 21 stories that Toth was involved in creating between 1965 and 1981. In most cases he's the artist, most memorably with writer Archie Goodwin (8 stories), sometimes with other writers (5 stories). A handful of times he's in the unusual role for him of being the inker/finisher over other artists (4 stories), and for an odd run of issues in 1976 he's the sole creator (4 stories).

The comics themselves are of mixed quality, but always interesting in some way. As you'd expect, the Goodwin stories are top notch, with a few all-time classics (like "The Monument"), and never less than good. A pleasant surprise to see their 1980 collaboration, "The Reaper", which I'd never seen before, and I guess the last time they worked together. It's also interesting to see "Survival", co-written by Toth and Goodwin (miscredited to just Goodwin here), which is technically a BLAZING COMBAT story (another short-lived Warren magazine whose publishing rights went elsewhere, but one of Goodwin/Toth's three stories for it appears here in slightly modified form by virtue of a reprinting late in CREEPY's run).

None of the other writers working with Toth are quite in Goodwin's league, whether Toth was drawing solo or finishing other artists, but they produce some decent work, and give Toth a chance to show off his skills. I thought Bill DuBay's offbeat "Daddy And The Pie" was especially nice. As a finisher over four artists (Leo Duranona, Leo Summers (or Sommers), Romeo Tanghal and Carmine Infantino) Toth has a really heavy hand, I'd probably have been convinced they were Toth solo if that had been the credit.  The Infantino story is especially odd, since parts of it are a dead ringer for some of Gilbert Hernandez's work over a decade later.

Toth's four solo stories from 1976 are somewhat stylistically very at odds with the rest of the book, but he gives himself some fascinating things to draw, with some aerial action, an odd tribute to silent movies, an archaeological adventure in the South Pacific and, best of all, a morality story about early photography set in 1873 New York.

So in terms of actual comics, this is a great book. In terms of presentation, it ranks a lot lower, unfortunately.

One problem I always have with these books is the odd insistence Dark Horse has in reprinting all of the stories from CREEPY chronologically, and then all of the stories from EERIE.  That ends up splitting the 1960s Goodwin/Toth stories into two distant sections of the book, and closing the book with three 1975 stories, long after stories he drew as late as 1981 had already appeared. I'm not sure why that seems like a good idea, as opposed to either a strict chronological reprinting, or having sections like Goodwin/Toth, Toth solo, Toth as finisher, etc.

There's also the quality of the reproduction. As far as I can tell, with rare exceptions Dark Horse uses published copies of the original magazines for their Warren reprints. That works okay when its strict black&white high contrast artwork, but Toth uses a lot of shading and greywash effects in some stories, and those aren't well served by the third generation (with intermediary aging of paper not meant to last 30-50 years) reproduction. The original art for at least some of this stuff does exist, and was seen in some of IDW's Toth books in recent years, and is really superior. For my taste I think they sometimes print the greys a bit too dark, but I'd have to check the original printings to see if that's something that can even be avoided.

And I don't know if it was even pursued, but it would have been nice to see this book be closer to a grand re-unified "Toth at Warren" book, making a deal with the parties who acquired the rights to the rest of Toth's BLAZING COMBAT work, and the one Pantha story he inked over Leo Duranona in VAMPIRELLA, neither enough for a Toth solo book. That would still leave his creator owned "Bravo For Adventure" and the Euro import "Torpedo" stories, but those are otherwise available in superior recent editions.

So some exceptionally good material, makes for a book well worth picking up, despite some reservations.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Steve Dillon, R.I.P.

Sorry to hear about the passing of Steve Dillon. A very enjoyable comic book artist, a lot of his major work wasn't really to my taste (his most frequent collaborator, Garth Ennis, is pretty uneven to me), but his artwork on those books was always top notch and worth reading.

Here's a hodgepodge of Dillon artwork over his decades in the business.



Let's see what we have there.

First up is a recent DOCTOR WHO cover. The ABC WARRIORS page is an Alan Moore scripted short from 2000 AD in the 1980s. The PUNISHER WAR ZONE cover is a character he frequently worked on over at Marvel. The next trio are images from his DC/Vertigo work, with John Constantine's sometimes girlfriend Kit, a major part of Dillon's run on HELLBLAZER, a pin-up from his best known series, PREACHER, and a nicely designed HELLBLAZER page with Constantine himself. The Queen Bee pin-up is from DC's first WHO'S WHO, and maybe one of Dillon's earliest works for American comics. Of course he was long established in British comics by that point, as you can see from the Laser Eraser & Pressbutton splash from WARRIOR #1 and his cover to WARRIOR #4. The opening page from a great history of the electric chair is from THE BIG BOOK OF DEATH. Two more Alan Moore stories from 2000 AD to close, one from the first Abelard Snazz story, and another a Ro-Busters tale ("'Bax the Burner', on which I was lucky enough to have the services of sickeningly talented boy-genius Steve Dillon, remains another firm favourite", to quote Moore).

For some bizarre reason, Dillon rarely did covers for his own comics (so watch out for obituaries of him containing art by Glenn Fabry or Tim Bradstreet). Here are some actual Dillon covers:



And in his own words, from WARRIOR #1, 1982, Steve Dillon age 20


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