Indie Cover Spotlight: Badger Goes Berserk #1

It’s February, and in honor of Black History Month, I’ll be featuring cover art by black artists. Kicking it off is one of my all-time favorite artists, Denys Cowan:

BadgerBerserk1

Published by First Comics, September 1989. Denys has, of course, done a ton of work for Marvel and DC (and Milestone), but he has a few indie books here and there as well.

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    Indie Cover Spotlight: Airboy #13 and #22

    Here’s another fun 80s series that I’ve featured multiple times on ICS, and this week I’m doing a two-fer:

    Airboy13

    Issue #13 was published by Eclipse Comics in January, 1987, under a cover by the stellar Tim Truman.

    Airboy22

    Most of the Airboy issues had fantastic, action-packed covers, and #22 is no exception. Published May, 1987, this issue features a cover by Ron Wagner.

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      Splash Wednesday: Craig, Pelletier, and Jones

      Welcome back to Splash Wednesday, where I feature some splash pages…on a Wednesday.

      Matt Kish provided this first page of sword-and-sorcery mayhem, from Wulf the Barbarian #4, with art by Jim Craig:

      wulfthebarbarian004_page02_jimcraigandatlasbullpen

      Next up, a more modern page, a double-splash from Aquaman #16. Penciled by Paul Pelletier:

      aquaman16a justice league reserves

      And as always, we finish with a classic post from my old Ferret Press blog, this one from Nov. 10, 2010:

      Another Wednesday, another splash page:

      Actually, this one is a double splash page! I think I like it not so much for the action or depth (there really isn’t much of either) but for the wild design and even wilder coloring.

      This is from The Micronauts #14 (vol. 2), published by Marvel Comics, November 1985. Kelley Jones on pencils, Danny Bulanadi on inks, and Bob Sharen on colors.

      Reminds me a bit of this piece, if Stokoe had colored it…

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        Indie Cover Spotlight: Gregory III & IV

        I’ve featured Marc Hempel’s bittersweet book Gregory before, and today you get a two-fer of one of the most underrated dark humor series ever:

        Gregory3

        Volume 3 was published in 1993 by DC’s Piranha Press imprint.

        Gregory4

        And volume 4, the last in the series, came out later that same year.

        I suspect Hempel owns the rights to this book (at least, I hope it’s free and clear of any legal entanglements) so maybe some day some publisher will put together an omnibus collection of this fantastic series.

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          Review: Vengeance and 22 Bullets

          (Warning: minor spoilers)

          Every once in a while I’m in the mood for a good revenge movie.

          It’s a a tried-and-true genre, popular across all media, from films to books to comics (The Punisher, anyone?) Unfortunately, it can also be a fairly limiting concept which dictates certain storytelling tropes and cliches, leaving little wriggle room for creativity. That’s why for a revenge story to really capture my attention, it either needs a special element that transcends the basic plot, or has just the right blend of acting, characterization, and visuals that the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts.

          Here are a couple of movies that fulfill those requirements, one in each category:

          Vengeance

          Vengeance_(2009_film)

          This 2009 Hong Kong/French co-production is directed by Johnnie To, and stars Johnny Hallyday as a Francis, a retired hitman. When his daughter is severely wounded and her family murdered by 3 hit men, he decides to track down the killers and seek revenge. He enlists the help of 3 triad assassins and together they set out to track down the other 3 hitmen. However, as the story progresses, we learn that Francis has a an injury that affects his memory. He sometimes is unable to recognize his own partners in crime, let alone the killers they are tracking down. Another plot revelation about his partners further adds to the complexity of the narrative.

          ven

          The film features a lot of the stylistic touches you’d expect from a Hong Kong crime flick, although here they are a bit more subdued, to match the film’s somber tone. This isn’t an all-out action shoot up, but rather a slow simmer. Themes of violence, loyalty, and memory are explored, and it’s the latter that sets this film apart from the many others in its genre.

          vengeance_02

          After all, what does it even mean for a man to avenge a wrong if he doesn’t remember why he is doing it?

          22 Bullets

          22 Bullets

          Titled L’immortel (The Immortal) in its original 2010 French release, this film is another “hitman goes on a campaign of vengeance” story. It’s directed by Richard Berry and stars the ubiquitous and likeable Jean Reno, who has made a career of playing tortured hitmen.

          22

          Reno plays Charlie Mattei, a former mob boss and hitman who has retired from the life, having sold his share of the various illegal businesses and rackets to his two childhood friends and partners. But his idyllic life of retirement with his wife and kids is torn apart when he’s ambushed by 8 gunmen and left for dead with 22 bullets riddling his body.

          Gangster's House: Left standing (Luc Palun as Pascal Vasetto)  Back sitting (Dominique Thomas as Ange Palardo) Right/white shirt (Daniel Lundh as Male Telaa) Far Right (Martial Bezot as Franck Rabou)

          Yes, you guessed it. Miraculously, Charlie survives his horrendous injuries, and goes about the bloody business of retribution. All the familiar themes are present once more: family, loyalty, violence, revenge. Unlike the movie Vengeance, there’s no special plot twist that sets this movie apart from its peers. Rather, it tells its conventional story with a confident mix of great acting, interesting characters, interconnected subplots, and strong visuals.

          Where Vengeance is fairly spare in its cast of characters, 22 Bullets is brimming with mob bosses, flamboyant henchmen, a stoic cop torn between her ethics and her own desire for revenge, and more. It unveils its hand with a slow, steady pace that carries your interest forward with the same momentum that carries the characters towards their inevitable clashes. Reno delivers a strong, nuanced performance, as you’d expect. The setting of Marseille provides some fantastic scenery, from tranquil beaches to grimy slums.

          Simply put, it’s just a good story told boldly.

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            Writer’s Talk

            Back in the November of 2011, I was a guest on Writer’s Talk, a local show hosted by Doug Dangler and produced by The Ohio State University’s Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing. For the show, Doug interviewed writers in various fields and disciplines, “focusing on how they produce text and communicate in a variety of genres. Its purpose is to demystify and promote writing, especially for academic writers.”

            (Note that Writer’s Talk is no longer in production. However, Doug is currently hosting a similar new show, Craft.)

            The episode I was on also featured 2 other prolific Columbus comic creators: Ken Eppstein, editor, writer, and publisher of the Nix Comics Quarterly, and Max Ink, creator, writer, and artist of Blink.

            You can watch the entire episode right here:

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              Splash Wednesday: Kirby, Brown, Chadwick

              Sorry for the skip week last week. But SW is back with a triple dose of comic book splash pages for your greedy little eyeballs, kicking it off with Jack “The King” Kirby, inked by Michael Thibodeaux, from Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #10:

              captainvictoryandthegalacticrangers010_page20_jackkirbyandmichaelthibodeaux

              Next up, a fantastically bizarre crotch shot of Adam Warlock, as drawn by Bob Hall and inked by Tom Sutton, from The Power of Warlock #8. I dedicate this page to the inimitable Mr. Matt Kish.

              The Power of Warlock 08 - 15

              And lastly, another classic page from the old Ferret Press blog, this time from a post made by me on November, 2010:

              This week’s splash page is from the closing page Concrete #22, published by Dark Horse Comics, November 1998:

              concrete_splash

              This is one of my favorite indie series of all time, and writer/artist Paul Chadwick is a true original. I love this image of all the main characters, as well as the flourishes (such as the fine arts painting on the wall).

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                Indie Cover Spotlight: The Massive #30

                Brian Woods’ The Massive recently ended its 30 issue run, so in honor of a pretty good little series, I’m featuring the cover for its final issue:

                991020

                This issue was published in December, 2014. The cover art is by the super talented John Paul Leon, who provided all the covers for the series. Although the last story arc seemed a bit rushed, I still enjoyed the series as a whole and thought the ending was appropriate to the tone of the book.

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                  Persia Blues: “Here and Now” flash fiction

                  When I did the Kickstarter campaign for volume 1 of Persia Blues, one of the reward levels was an original piece of flash fiction by me, handwritten inside the published book. When all was said and done, 11 people earned the reward.

                  Interesting factoid: in today’s world of technology, where we’re used to typing the vast majority of our correspondences, it’s a bit of a shock when you hand write a 300 word story 11 times and realize there are muscles in your hand you haven’t exercised in that capacity in a long, long time.

                  Anyway, I wanted to share the story with the rest of you out there. It’s about our lead protagonist, Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian woman living in Shiraz.

                  Art by Brent Bowman

                  Art by Brent Bowman

                  “Here and Now”

                  by Dara Naraghi

                  Minoo placed a sugar cube between her lips and sipped her tea through it, savoring the aroma wafting off the hot beverage. The coffee house was packed, mostly with her fellow university students. The venue advertised its free wifi and homemade fresh pastries, but the younger crowd mainly came to socialize with the opposite sex, in the relatively private atmosphere of the shop, away from the prying eyes of the morality police.

                  Her laptop screen was lit up with multiple windows – news sites from outside Iran, her favorite gaming cheat site, an online political forum – but Minoo’s attention was focused elsewhere. A group of four young men sat a few tables away, drinking tea, smoking a hookah, and discussing the latest trends in structural design. She knew the oldest one, Reza. He was an architectural student, like her.

                  And she had quite the crush on him.

                  Not that she could do anything about it. Not under the strict Islamic laws governing public behavior. And not with an overprotective father at home.

                  But today, none of that mattered. True, her life was what it was, with all its unfairness and limitations. But she had decided that morning, rather uncharacteristically, to try and focus on the positive. On the here-and-now.

                  And so, Reza, with his jet-black hair and hazel eyes, with his perfect amount of facial stubble, and his crooked, yet handsome smile…Reza was her here-and-now. She would sit in the back of the coffee shop and steal furtive glances at him, and listen to his passionate advocacy for sustainable architecture. And she would let her mind wander, and fantasize about him, and her, and what if…what if…

                  For today, at least, no law or tradition or morality police could take that away from her.

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                    Review: Crawl or Die

                    Another movie I watched on a whim, this time on Hulu Plus. Crawl or Die is a horror/sci-fi movie about…well, here’s the brief plot summary from Hulu:

                    A deadly virus has rendered all women infertile, all but one. Forced underground, the elite soldiers tasked with bringing this woman to safety find themselves crawling for survival from a bloodthirsty creature in a maze of ever shrinking tunnels.

                    USprPICS2

                    What piqued my interest was the “maze of ever shrinking tunnels” part. It sounded like an intriguing premise, and a chance for some very cool, and different, visuals. And on that point, the movie delivered. Did it ever. Several pull quotes describe it as “the most claustrophobic movie ever made,” and that is no exaggeration. In fact, if you’re even mildly claustrophobic, you probably won’t be able to make it through this film. The first metal tube the characters have to crawl through at the beginning of the movie is oppressive enough that I was thinking to myself just how far will they be able to push this “ever shrinking tunnels” conceit?

                    As it turns out, a lot.

                    COD3

                    By the end of the movie, our tough-as-nails, punk-haired, elite soldier Tank (played by Nicole Alonso) is practically buried in a dirt shaft smaller than her torso, forced to push and shove her way through sheer will power. I actually felt bad for the actors, because you can’t help but think how physically and psychologically grueling of a shoot this must have been. You will feel your chest tighten, your breathing become labored, while watching this thing.

                    Unfortunately, that’s all the movie has going for it. It’s literally an hour and a half of people crawling through tunnels.

                    6plain

                    It’s a one-trick pony.

                    All the stuff about “last fertile woman in the world” and colonizing “Earth 2″ in the couple minute flashback scene setting up the movie’s narrative is just a cheap setup. A MacGuffin. There’s no payoff on any of the sci-fi elements hinted at, no character development, no world building, no explanations whatsoever for the existence of the tunnels, the alien creature hunting them, etc.

                    2plain

                    Which brings up the second area of disappointment in the filmmakers: the complete and utter lack of originality in the creature design. Here was a chance for a cool, creepy alien evolved specifically for crawling through narrow spaces. They could have taken design queues from various burrowing insects or animals. Instead, we get a direct H.R. Giger Alien rip-off, complete with an eyeless, elongated head, segmented tail, black in color, dripping ooze, etc.

                    4plain

                    There’s not much to say about the acting, since there’s not much of it. I did like the casting choice for the lead character, Tank. Nicole Alonso isn’t your typical Hollywood waif. She actually has some muscle definition and a (somewhat) more realistic body type, making her more believable as a bad-ass soldier. She also carries the attitude well, and even manages to show some vulnerability in a few scenes.

                    alonso

                    Writer/Director/Editor Oklahoma Ward has definitely crafted a unique film, unlike 99% of the indie horror flicks out there. Too bad it’s so incredibly light on plot and character, relying solely on a single visual motif to carry the entire film.

                    Which, you know, could entirely be your cup of tea, but personally I found it boring as hell once the novelty wore off.

                    Anyway, here’s the movie’s official website.

                    And here’s the trailer:

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                      Dial B For Brimstone

                      This piece of flash fiction is actually my very first professionally published story. It was selected as one of three winning entries (from 407 submissions) in a “short, short story” contest held by my hometown newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch. They called them “Noveleenies,” and I think they had to be under 400 words. My story was published in the Sunday edition on May 13, 2001.

                      Art students from the Columbus College of Art and Design were selected to produce mock book covers for the stories. Here’s the one for my story, by artist Genevieve L Wood (I think this is her website, but I’m basing that solely on the mention of CCAD in her bio):

                      0513nva01ar

                      The final layout in the paper:

                      newspaper-scan

                      Aside from publication in the paper, I think we were also supposed to receive a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2001 anthology, but I never got mine. Yep, stiffed by a newspaper on my very first published work ;-)

                      Anyway, here’s my story:

                      Dial B for Brimstone

                      “Thank you for calling the Hades Hotline,” the lifeless recording announced. “This automated service is brought to you by Corruption, the new fragrance by Calvin Klein. Corruption. Entice mortals into premarital sex. If you know the extension of your party, please enter it now.”

                      The old woman’s bony, wrinkled finger impatiently punched in a three-digit number.

                      “We’re sorry, that extension is no longer valid. Please select from the following options: To check on the status of your soul, press (1). For real-time quotes on pestilence, famine, war and death, press (2). To listen to the latest ‘N Sync single, press (3). If you are a Fox executive looking to develop a new show, press (4). To search our patented Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife database, please have your ZIP code handy and press (5). If you are a telemarketer looking for a listing of families currently sitting down to dinner, press (6). If you live in California…”

                      After two dozen menu options, 18 minutes on hold, and several threats of disembowelment directed at an obtuse customer service representative, the old woman’s call was finally transferred to its destination. In a cluttered, unassuming office, buried under piles of legal forms, a phone emitted discordant rings. Without looking away from his computer screen, a rotund middle-aged man with a graying goatee picked up the receiver.

                      “Hello? Mom? Ah jeez, I thought I asked you not to call me at work.”

                      “Don’t you take that tone with me, young man! What, is The Prince of Darkness so busy with his career that he can’t even take the time to talk to his own mother? And why doesn’t your old number work anymore?

                      “They just installed a new voice mail system and I…”

                      “Couldn’t be bothered to tell your poor mother the new extension, is that it? And another thing…”

                      With a resigned sigh, The Dark One switched his call to the speakerphone and turned the volume down. Adjusting his reading glasses, he focused his weary eyes once again on the flickering computer monitor before him and continued with his e-mail.

                      To: Legal

                      Re: the Jordan contract

                      Please advise if Michael is covered for a second comeback under the terms of his original contract.

                      In the background a shrill voice droned on over the speakerphone. “…and when are you going to find someone nice to settle down with?…”

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