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


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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Future Nobels

Now that the Nobel Prize for Literature is open to popular songwriters, who might be next up after Bob Dylan?

Paul McCartney, maybe, but I think "Ebony and Ivory" might get him an automatic disqualification. Combined with "Live and Let Die"...

I don't think John Lennon has a similarly disqualifying moment (maybe some of the Yoko songs), but being dead is a high barrier to the Nobel.

Leonard Cohen, certainly on the short list. I don't think we can hold SHREK, or the general overuse of covers of "Hallelujah" as a "this is a poignant moment" signifier in movies and tv shows, against him...

Whoever it was in Van Halen (Van Hager?) who wrote "Only time will tell if we stand the test of time", he might get my vote.

Joni Mitchell, maybe? But "Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels"? That's got to lose her some points...

Bruce Springsteen? Some good stuff, but not sure about someone Chris Christie likes that much. Guilt by association, it's a terrible thing...

Paul Simon? Sure, but only for the work with Art Garfunkel. None of that Ladysmith Black Mambazo jazz.

Mick and Keith? Do we really want to see a Nobel go to the writers of "You make a dead man come"?
Yes, actually, I think, yes we do...

Pete Townshend? I could see a case for that, if all his songs weren't eventually going to be CSI theme music (for CSI TORONTO, I want "Pinball Wizard")

"Bono Vox"? Do we really need something to give him an even more elevated opinion of himself? And he'd hold out for a joint Peace/Literature Prize, I'm sure. Maybe even Economics...

Well, how about Neil Peart of Rush?  Hmmm, I've got no joke for this one. I think he might be the one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bob Dylan funnies

Well, the comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus.

In the world of music, congratulations to Bob Dylan for winning $900,000. And also, apparently, some sort of metal object. But if I know Dylan (and about 15% of the music on my hard drive, over 800 tracks, is Dylan, so I think I do), the money is what he cares about most. I like to picture him diving into it like a porpoise, burrowing through it like a gopher, tossing it up and letting it hit him on the head.

In keeping with the general comics theme of this weblog, probably my favourite Doonesbury strip of all time:

(original strip, first strip of sequence)

I know those are Garry Trudeau's words, but I like to imagine that's close to his reaction to the prize.

Not quite my favourite Peanuts strip, but certainly right up there:

(original strip)

With all due apologies to Charles Schulz, this is how I imagined a lot of people reacted to the news:

And among my favourite of Evan Dorkin's many hundreds of "House of Fun" comic strips:

(From DORK #5, but wait until next year when Dark Horse releases a big book of all the non-Eltingville DORK / HOUSE OF FUN material).

The most famous Dylan references in comics, of course, are the quotes at the end of two chapters (plus the matching chapter titles) of WATCHMEN by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore:

So now DC can call WATCHMEN a "Nobel Prize winning book". Or "The Nobel Prize winning sequel to BEFORE WATCHMEN".

A more subtle reference was one that originally bugged me:

When I first read WATCHMEN, I thought the most unrealistic thing was that Bob Dylan licensed one of his most iconic protest songs to a perfume company. But then, decades later, Dylan licensed that very song for a bank commercial. And then he appeared in a lingerie ad with another of his songs. And I think the song even appears in the movie which shares a name with the book.

Alan Moore does, indeed, know the score.

So now I think the most unrealistic thing in the book is the (spoiler alert) squid. But if Moore was right about Dylan...

That's going to keep me up at nights.

I'm currently reading Jeff Smith's RASL (I began it before, but Smith didn't continue publishing it in the format I was buying it in). So just before I heard the news about Dylan's prize, I re-read this early scene which really sold me on the book:

And I have to say, RASL works so much better in colour than it did in black and white. More on that later, maybe.

I haven't verified it, but I think Bob Dylan is the first Nobel Laureate in Literature to have a three part unauthorized comic book biography of him:

I have to specify "in Literature" there because of Ho Che Anderson's KING, about Martin Luther King, Jr. And I wouldn't be surprised if there are some of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and a few others (hey, checking the list, I'd forgotten that Barack Obama got a Peace Prize for "not being George Bush". And Henry Kissinger got it, I guess sarcastically?).

And I close with this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The first great comic of 2017...

Just announced from Dark Horse for March of 2017, the long awaited fourth volume of LARRY MARDER'S BEANWORLD, with the intriguing subtitle "Hoka Hoka Burb'l Burb'l". A 152-page comic, here's what we know so far:

The most peculiar comic book experience returns in an all-new volume--Beanworld Volume 4: Hoka Hoka Burb'l Burb'l! The Boom'r Band coaxes a new healing power out of Chow, leading to a visit from Dreamishness's relatives--the Windy Songsterinos--who bring their gift of rain. The storm causes great changes to Mr. Spook, Beanish and the Pod'l'pool Cuties. Marder's deceptively simple artwork illustrates a self-contained ecological fantasy realm with its own unique rules and lingo. Beanworld has delighted readers from grade school to grad school for more than a generation, earning a spot on the New York Times Graphic Books Best Sellers List.

ISBN-10: 150670218X
ISBN-13: 978-1506702186

That's a lot to take in. It'll be over seven years since the third book, "Remember Here When You Are There", came out, finishing up the "Spring" cycle of stories, and only a thin colour one-shot of mostly reprints since, so I'm very eager to finally get some more.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Recently Read 2016.10.06

A few more recent readings, namely:


(collecting MONSTRESS #1 - #6)
by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

This is the first collection of an on-going fantasy/horror series, one of the more successful recent launches from Image comics. I thought it was an excellent read, much more dense in plot and character and background than is usual for most new series, from Image or otherwise, with an impressively consistently designed alternate world full of unique creatures, buildings and landscapes. I'm not familiar with the prior work of the creators, but they definitely hit the ground running with this one. And unlike some other impressive debuts, they continued on a steady pace, with six issues coming out roughly on time in seven months, and a second story arc set to begin soon. I'm very tempted to pick up the serialization instead of waiting for the collection.

Short form synopsis is that this is a fantasy world of advanced technology and magic, populated by Humans, intelligent multi-tailed Cats, magical Ancients (immortals with animal features) and Human/Ancient hybrids called Arcanics. Plus mysterious giant Old Gods whose ghosts haunt the skyline. Our lead is one young Arcanic girl named Maiki Halfwolf, who is on a quest of both discovery and revenge. Liu demonstrates some detailed work on the background of the world, some complex plotting where small details pay off issues later and a good ear for dialogue, where she's able to put in some genuinely funny bits. For the visuals, Takeda shows a wide variety of influences, combined seamlessly into something completely her own. There are traces of some European comics in the METAL HURLANT vein, especially in the colours, some very Japanese influences (comics and animation) in the faces and creature designs.

Overall just a delightful read. Generally I'm pretty much no more than mildly impressed (and often very disappointed) in new comics, so it's good to occasionally come across one I like so much.

by Sara Kenney & John Watkiss

The first issue of a new medical science fiction series written by first time comic writer Kenney and drawn by Watkiss, who has credits going back decades, mostly for DC's Vertigo imprint. Relevant to that is the editor, which I don't usually note, but who earns a rare editorial cover credit this time. Karen Berger, long-time head of that Vertigo imprint that she founded, with her first work in comics since leaving DC. It's a well earned credit, since I kind of doubt that Image would have greenlit a medical SF series by a first time comics writer and relatively little-known artist without the endorsement of Berger. It definitely got more attention on release than its pedigree would suggest, just the fact that there was a pile of them available for me to buy is surprising.

This was a decent enough debut. It's a near-future Britain, which is in a bit of a medical crisis that involves rationing treatment, and a young surgeon who fights back against that, with some help from friends and family. Kenney does the usual required introductions for the characters and the world, setting up some future plots, pretty smoothly, and Watkiss is solid on the artwork.

I'll probably be around to check out the eventual collection.

(collecting REVENGER #1 - #5)
by Charles Forsman

This is a bit of a change of pace for Forsman from his earlier major books, TEOTFW and CELEBRATED SUMMER. This is a bit of a throwback to 1980s independent comics, even going so far as to be set in 1987. That was the year that The Punisher got an on-going series at Marvel, after years as a supporting character, and I could probably pull out a handful of b&w independent comics inspired by that from that era that REVENGER could sit comfortably beside (DELTA TENN and JACK OF NINES are the first two that come to mind). It's noteworthy that the other book from the publisher of the collection, Bergen Street Press, is the SUICIDE SQUAD (1987 series) inspired COPRA.

The Revenger is a black female vigilante, with a violent origin alluded to in a few flashbacks, who takes on missions for those who call her answering machine. The main mission in this story is the missing girlfriend of a guy in the small town of Neptune. It all gets very violent, as well as increasingly absurd, as matters escalate through the story. It was a pretty fun read, overall. There are three issues of a second series out right now, I'll probably check that out when it's done and collected.

(collecting THE BEAUTY #1 - #6)
by Jeremy Haun & Jason A. Hurley

This is the first collection of an on-going series from Image. The high-concept is that there's a sexually transmitted disease called "The Beauty" which makes the infected physically attractive and has quickly spread to half the population before its side effects become known. It follows two police officers as they get entwined in various schemes and conspiracies regarding the disease.

I thought the first half of the book was really solid, setting up the premise, exploring some of the implications and presenting more pieces to the mystery. It really starts to lose me in the second half, as it becomes more convoluted, with action scenes that don't read as smoothly as they should and some generally unclear writing. I don't think I'll be back for more.

(collecting WYTCHES #1 - #6)
by "Jock" & "Scott" Snyder

This is the first collection of a horror-fantasy series from Image. Theoretically it's continuing beyond this, although no further issues have been scheduled as of this writing. I thought it was pretty good at juggling around the usual tropes of hidden societies, monsters in the woods and all that. I kind of liked the art, but found the colouring on it to be very distracting at times. The backmatter shows that it was done with actual spatter paintings being scanned in and put in the background of the coloured pages. I'm not sure why anyone thought that was a good idea, the plain coloured pages shown in the back look much clearer.

Anyway, I mostly liked the book,, although I found the last chapter to be a bit frantic and unclear, and the ending not too satisfying. What I liked was enough that I'll take a look if they ever decide to continue it.

by Gerard Way & Nick Derington
[Doom Patrol created by Arnold Drake (acknowledged) and Bruno Premiani (unacknowledged)]

Well, this is a bit of a mess of a comic. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt that it makes much more sense to people who have read prior iterations of the characters beyond the Drake/Premiani years, especially the Case/Morrison/etc. run. I've only read a handful of those Case/Morrison issues, so it was all noise to me. I liked some of the previous Way comics I'd read, so I know that he's capable of telling a coherent story, introducing characters and all that stuff. Guess it was a conscious decision not to do any of that here.

Pretty enough cover by Brian Bolland there, and Derington's art is nicely clean and clear, I'd come back for more of him, but not for more of this book.

(collecting THE MIDAS FLESH #1 - #8)
by Shelli Paroline, Ryan North & Braden Lamb

This collects the complete series in two volumes. Not sure why they thought splitting it in half was a good idea. The concept here is that if you take the fable of King Midas seriously, his powers to turn objects he touches into gold would quickly turn the whole world gold, because everything touches everything else, eventually. So thousands of years later, a trio come to Earth and look for the "weapon" that somehow turned an entire planet to gold to use in their own battle against a conquering Federation.

I like some of the concepts in here but did not like the book overall. North has a lot of annoying dialogue ticks, some of which might sound better if this was spoken out loud instead of read on paper, but a lot of them are pretty inexcusable in any circumstances. A character actually says "Can I get a what what?" That might be acceptable on a Disney Channel or Nickelodeon tween comedy. Ten years ago. It goes beyond stretching it to put in in a science fiction story, set in a universe where the Earth was turned to gold thousands of years ago, so there is no bloody Jay-Z to reference. The book is full of stuff like that, and all of North's writing felt a little half-baked, desperately in need of a second draft. Especially the ending, where he tries to get scientific about his teenage stoner idea ("Hey, man, if everything Midas touched turns to gold, and everything touches everything else, than wouldn't the whole world turn gold?").

The art was a bit better, for the most part. Nothing too special, but serviceable, easy to read and sometimes cleverly designed. Sometimes the action bits were a little unclear, but that was a minor problem.

by Yanick Paquette & Grant Morrison
[Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston (acknowledged) and Harry G. Peter (unacknowledged)]

I'm not sure I completely understand DC's "Earth One" line of original hardcover comics. They seem to throw considerable marketing and production money into them, and appear to have gotten somewhat decent sales despite the (arguable) lack of quality of some of the books. But they don't seem to be at all interested in capitalizing on that by speeding up the production of the books, which have averaged one a year since they started, with two-plus years being common for volumes of the same series. Despite that, they also don't seem too interested in making sure that each book tells a complete story, despite knowing it's at least two years for a follow-up. They've also seemed to imply that all the books take place in the same fictional world, but there's really no evidence of that in the books.

Anyway, I found this pretty disappointing for such a well hyped book, but disappointing is pretty much my default reaction to Grant Morrison, so at some point I have decide he's just not for me. This seemed to be especially pretentious, even for Morrison, starting with the dedication and going downhill from there. I thought Paquette's art was also weaker than I expected, based on some limited exposure to his work before this. I didn't recall it being so stiff, with poses and faces clearly based on glamour photography that don't suit the actual story situations at all.

(collecting CHRONONAUTS #1 - #4)
by Mark Millar & Sean Murphy
(collecting HUCK #1 - #6)
by Rafael Albuquerque & Mark Millar

Not sure why I keep reading Mark Millar's movie-pitch comics. I guess I find them entertaining enough, in a low calorie way. He works with good artists, certainly, who seem to enjoy the opportunity to work on an "original" concept with fewer editorial restraints, while still getting well paid in the short term (and opening themselves up to getting very well paid in the long term). Certainly in these two books Murphy and Albuquerque are doing most of what's worth reading.

For his part, Millar seems to have to formula down. Don't get too bogged down in characterization or subtext (especially regarding supporting characters), since the eventual screenwriters and directors will have their own ideas of what direction to take. Make it a quick read, throw in a few big visual ideas that give some idea of the potential for the concept on the screen. Make sure every issue has a big cliffhanger, even if you don't have anywhere near as big a resolution to that cliffhanger. Don't worry too much about plot holes (like one big one in HUCK), just wrap up everything with a bow so you have a package that can be digested in 30 minutes. I guess sometimes it's good to just have a non-challenging good-looking quick read that won't stick with you an hour after you finish it.

by "One" & Yusuke Marata

This is a fairly successful recent Japanese comic, up to seven volumes in English now. It's about an odd bald expressionless hero names Saitama who can somehow defeat any foe he goes up against with, as the title says, one punch. Which he finds extremely frustrating.

Very strange comic. I got a few laughs out of it, which might be enough for me to check out another volume. But I didn't like the artwork that much, with a lot of the cliche things I don't like about a lot of Japanese comics very much in evidence, and very hard to follow storytelling on top of that.
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