Indie Cover Spotlight: Age of Heroes #1

Another long hiatus for ICS has ended. Let’s just jump into it with our look at covers for various independently published comics. Leading off this return is Age of Heroes #1:

AgeofHeroes1

This fantasy series was written by James Hudnall and featured the artwork of John Ridgway. Hudnall self-published it through his Halloween Comics imprint in 1996. I think the venture folded by issue #3. There was a one-shot special later through Image, and I think at some point Hudnall finished the initial story arc in a TPB, but I lost track of the details.

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    Review: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (movie)

    So brooding. So angsty.

    Guardians of the…oops, wrong movie.

    So I watched this 2013 Japanese CG animated movie on Netflix, totally on a whim. While I was aware of the existence of the Captain Harlock manga and anime, I had no exposure (or vested interest) in it. I’m pretty sure this slick remake/reboot differs quite a bit from the source material, but I’m going to review it based solely on my experience with the movie.

    We used to be a lot cuter.

    We used to be a lot cuter.

    To put it succinctly: the animation was beautiful, the story was a hot mess.

    So in the future, billions of humans have colonized space, but dwindling resources forces them all to return to earth. But since our world can’t possibly support all of them a huge war (known as the “Homecoming War”) breaks out for the privilege of return. Blah blah blah, a governmental body called the Gaia Sanction forms and declares Earth off-limits to everyone. Blah blah blah, alien race called the Nibelung, dark matter technology, Captain Harock and his dark matter ship the Arcadia, Gaia Sanction espionage, treachery, loyalty, angst, pseudo science, lots of futuristic jargon with the words “protocol” and “Jovian” and “oscillator” thrown about, ships blow up, people yell at each other, and then….

    Well, I’m not sure. See, while there’s a beginning to the story, and what could pass for a middle, there’s no ending. It’s a complete and utter failure, where the motivations of both the protagonist and the antagonist (and the antihero) are completely forgotten or dropped, and there’s no clear resolution to anything The origin or purpose of the Nibelung? Harlock’s mission to reset the “Genesis Clock”? All forgotten. The narrative focus jumps around more than a faulty projector, random facts and events are thrown at the audience for no apparent reason, and…well, you get the point.

    This is a script that could have used some serious, serious editing.

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    The visuals, on the other hand, are very strong. I found the costumes, sets, and world building to be top notch. There’s a bit of steampunk sprinkled in with the slick future tech, and the weapons and armor and spaceships all look really well-designed and impressive.

    18zoct5saophljpg

    There’s lots of epic space battles that look good (but make zero sense if you stop to think about the logic of what’s happening). And I’ll admit, each time the Arcadia burst out of a cloud of dark matter “smoke,” it looked pretty bad-ass.

    So in conclusion: great eye candy and entertaining in some ways, if you’re willing to turn off your brain, and not try to make sense of things.

    Update 8/26: On Facebook, my friend Tony Goins asked the question “How does this fit with your essay from a while back, that not every story needs a beginning, middle and end?” Here was my answer:

    Good question. I guess my feeling on that is the work as a whole needs to embrace that aesthetic for it to work. So for instance, it’s ok if it’s a Jim Woodring comic, or a Jim Jarmusch movie, or a Jack Kerouac book. But when you give me a very traditionally structured story, then in the 3rd act be all like “eff it, man, I don’t need an ending because ART!” that doesn’t work for me.

    Maybe you can get away with that in some rare cases, like Christopher Nolan’s Inception. That movie was tightly plotted and hewed closely to the Hollywood 3-act paradigm, but it still left the audience with a very ambiguous ending. But it worked, because that ending tied in directly to the very theme of the movie, it’s whole DNA, about what exactly is “reality”?

    But in the case of this movie, not only did it start out with a very traditional story structure, but it’s very look screams sci-fi action video game, a medium firmly rooted in beginning-middle-end storytelling.

    Of related interest to this discussion: this article about the Chinese & Japanese 4-act (introduction, development, twist and reconciliation) plot structure called kishōtenketsu, which doesn’t rely on conflict to advance the narrative.

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      Review: Paris, Je T’aime (movie)

      paris_movie-754580I really enjoyed Paris, Je T’Aime, a 2006 anthology movie featuring 18 vignettes set in (and inspired by) Paris. It features an ensemble cast of American, British and French actors (Bob Hoskins, Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, the ubiquitous Gérard Depardieu, and many more) and directors (Alfonso Cuarón, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, Bruno Podalydès, The Coen Brothers, etc.)

      As with any anthology, there are hits and misses, but the vast majority of the shorts were well done. A few of my favorites:

      Parc Monceau – A conversation between Nick Nolte and a young woman, filmed in a single continuous shot, with a very clever, funny, and unexpected ending.

      Loin du 16e – a heartbreaking piece about an immigrant nanny.

      Quartier des Enfants Rouges – notable not so much for the story itself, but actress Maggie Gyllenhaal delivering her entire dialogue in French, with a great accent to boot.

      14e arrondissement – a bittersweet story as told in broken French by a middle-aged American tourist (actress Margo Martindale, who went on to win an Emmy for her role as Mags Bennett on Justified, one of my favorite shows). She’s making a “book report” of sorts for her French class about her first trip abroad, and it’s simply emotive and quietly heartbreaking.

      Watching the movie, it suddenly occurred to me that this is what a Lifelike movie would look like, were such a thing ever to come about. The individual films are all very short, 5-10 minutes each. And they’re filmed in a variety of styles and techniques.

      The producers of this film followed it up with New York, I Love You in 2008, but I didn’t enjoy that one quite as much. It just didn’t have the same charm and ambiance, probably because I romanticize Paris way more than NYC.

      Anyway, I highly recommend this movie.

      (A version of this review originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, January 2008.)

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        Review: The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE and the Changing Face of Comics

        The_CartoonistAnother library rental, and a very enjoyable one at that, The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE and the Changing Face of Comics is a 2009 documentary about local boy made good, Bone creator and fellow Columbusite, Jeff Smith.

        As you would expect with any documentary, this one charts Smith’s career, from his childhood doodles to his college days, animation career, and self-publishing Bone. Along the way, we’re treated to interviews with Smith himself, as well as a friends and fellow cartoonists like Paul Pope, Coleen Doran, Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, and Terry Moore. Oh, and of course Lucy Caswell, of the Ohio State University Cartoon Library & Museum, who was one of Smith’s early supporters and mentors.

        There was a fair amount of time spent on Smith’s seven years with Character Builders, the animation house he co-founded with two friends after graduating college. It was fun seeing snippets of commercial animation from the trio, including an opening sequence for a planned Jack Hanna animal show called Super Safari, as well as ads for Warner Cable (featuring the superhero Warner Man) and White Castle (in claymation, no less!). Smith credits the discipline learned from years of doing animation, both in terms of craft (learning to draw every character consistently and with varying emotions) and business (heeding deadlines, interacting with customers and vendors professionally) as one of the reasons for his success as self-publishing.

        Jeff-inking

        Smith himself talks about his early influences (Carl Bark’s Uncle scrooge, Walk Kelly’s Pogo), as well as the seminal comics from 1986 that opened his eyes to the potential of the medium: Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns. (Quick digression: I was lucky enough to catch a talk by Smith at CCAD about 10 years ago, where he spoke passionately about his love of comics, and incorporated dozens of images from the aforementioned books in his presentation to explain the intricacies of the craft.) Parts of the interview are also set in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio, specifically Old Man’s Cave, wherein Smith talks about the influence of that specific geographic region on his art and the settings of Bone.

        JandV-at-puter

        Smith’s wife, and business partner Vijaya Iyer is also featured. In a humorous clip, he explains how he talked her into quitting her promising Silicon Valley job to help him make comics. In another interesting anecdote, talking about the genesis of his new series RASL, Smith mentions coming up with the basic premise back in 2001, and running it by his friends Paul Pope and Frank Miller. At one point, they were going to work together on a science fiction anthology called Big Big, with RASL being Smith’s contribution. Alas, scheduling conflicts kept the project from ever materializing, but that would have been a trip, no?

        PPope-interview-pic

        Oh, and on a personal note, it was cool to see my local comic shop of choice, The Laughing Ogre, featured in several of the shots in the documentary. Ogre employee Lloyd even makes an appearance in a segment set at the Smith/McCloud talk at OSU’s Mershon Auditorium. Speaking of which, most of that talk (which I had the pleasure of attending) is included on the DVD as a bonus feature. There’s also a mini-feature where Smith discusses his new series, RASL, talking about his research into both the real science and fringe science that makes up the backbone of the story.

        For fans of comics, Bone and/or Jeff Smith, I’d definitely recommend this documentary. It’s professionally produced, well written, and contains good interviews, with some clever bits as well (like incorporating black & white film footage as humorous interstitials).

        (A version of this review originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, February 2011.)

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          Claire’s Day Children’s Book Festival

          I’m thrilled to be a guest at the 13th annual Claire’s Day, Northwest Ohio’s largest children’s book festival. The event will take place this Saturday, May 17, at the Maumee-Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in Maumee, Ohio. And best of all, it’s free!

          clairesday

          The festival features children’s book authors and illustrators from throughout the Midwest, plus a crafts area, teen tent, live music, and more. A highlight of the day is the C.A.R.E. Awards (Claire’s Awards for Reading Excellence) given to children nominated by their principals as being the most improved readers in their schools.

          As part of the event, I’ll be doing presentations on Friday at 2 Toledo-area schools. I’m looking forward to talking with all the students, and will post some pictures and a write-up after the events.

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            Indie Cover Spotlight: Owly

            Since I’ll be appearing at the Claire’s Day children’s book festival this Saturday, I’ve decided to make this week’s theme for ICS all-ages comics. let’s kick it off with Andy Runton’s wonderful series of graphic novels, Owly:

            Owly

            These silent tales of Owly and his friends are charming, clever, and just plain fun. Highly recommended!

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              Review: Shutterbug Follies

              shutterbug_follies_coverShutterbug Follies, written and drawn by Jason Little, Doubleday Press, 2002.

              This was a fun little caper, with a mystery that grabs your attention, and a female protagonist who is interesting in her eccentricities and single-mindedness. Bee is just out of high school, a self-proclaimed artist, and somewhat of a snoop. She becomes intrigued by a photo artist whose oeuvre is realistic portraits of crime scenes…except that she thinks there’s more to his story than meets the eye. Despite some outlandish plot twists, I found myself caught up in the mystery. The ending was a little too “TV movie of the week” for my tastes, though. Also, the plot hinges heavily on a couple of newly-archaic technologies (1-hour photo development shops and pagers!) but for me, that actually added to the charm of the book.

              little_shutterbug2

              Jason Little’s artwork elevated this graphic novel above the uneven plot, with beautiful, clean lines and expressive flat colors. It’s really a pretty package, and his accessible, cartoony style juxtaposes oddly against some of the story’s more gruesome images, but again, I think that works in its favor. Overall, a fun, light read.

              Little’s latest graphic novel is Motel Art Improvement Service, featuring the same protagonist, Bee. While not bowled over by Follies, I liked it enough (and the premise of the new book is quirky enough) that I’ll probably give it try if I can grab a discounted copy.

              (A version of this review originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, February 2011.)

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                Indie Cover Spotlight: Elementals #9 (vol. 1)

                Welcome back to our spotlight on independent comic book covers. This week’s theme will be Bill Willingham’s seminal work, the Elementals:

                Elementals9

                Most of the issues in volume 1 of the series had wrap-around covers, as seen here. Given the team’s status as celebrities, this particular homage to the famous Beatles album cover fit in quite well with the book’s theme.

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