Saturday, February 28, 2009

Watchmen movie No Spoilers!

Last night here at the San Francisco Wondercon I was lucky to be able to attend the Watchmen Imax sneak screening (one week early) with the only real minus being that it started after twelve midnight so I didn't get back to the room until after 3am. While the movie didn't have the "Citizen Kane quality / scope" that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen has, it still was very ambitious and had several scenes / sequences that will give chills (the good kind) to readers of this seminal graphic novel.I thought the songs selected for the movie were great and used to great effect, especially a long sequence / chapter using a Phillip Glass composition.

Watchmen, the movie, doesn't feel rushed and although it's not as multi-layered as the Moore / Gibbons production, it does have a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink visual and character moments throughout. Artist Dave Gibbons introduced the movie so that was a special treat for the audience, but although on some level I enjoyed seeing it on the IMAX screen, I don't think viewing it in IMAX is essential.I think Watchmen, the movie, will do well, but I'm still curious as to how it will play to people who haven't read the graphic novel because while there are several really violent scenes that will push the buttons of those looking for Watchmen to be that, this is also a movie that wants the audience to chew on some of the ideas behind what being in a world with costumed characters (both super powered and not) means. I want to see it again so while it's not as artful as the comic production, it definitely succeeds on that level and is a movie people will be talking about and not soon forget.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Devil Dinosaur: Jack Kirby

30 years ago (actually 31 years ago as this was done in 1978!!), Jack Kirby wrote and drew what was to be his last creation for Marvel, Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy. One of Marvel's best editors, Tom Brevoort, does the introduction and therein he puts this Kirby creation in an historical context. As Brevoort recounts, Kirby was asked to do a series similar to his DC series Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth, as they had heard that the latter mentioned series was being looked at for television cartoon development so they wanted a series that would capitalize on that. Brevoort continues by stating that Kirby didn't like to repeat himself so instead of doing another series set in the future he set Devil Dinosaur in the far past. Kamandi sadly never happened as a cartoon, which is sad because it could have easily translated to that medium. Devil Dinosaur would make a great cartoon also and someday I'd bet that that will happen and as long as whoever is doing it does it in the Kirby visual style, it'll be huge.

Devil Dinosaur was a short lived series, of which there was only nine issues (which are collected in a $30 hardcover). This series was created, written and drawn by Jack Kirby during his third stint with Marvel and like Kirby's creations at DC (the Fourth World titles, Demon, and Kamandi), they are not part of the "regular" Marvel or DC universes of that time period. They all have an odd quirky charm, fantastic dynamic art, with wild concepts that comic book creators are still using, proving that Kirby was always ahead of his time. The last issue / end of Devil Dinosaur felt a little rushed story wise (probably because Kirby knew it was the last issue and wanted to give it some kind of actual ending), but it's still a satisfying conclusion in which for part of the issue Devil Dinosaur ends up in the then present time of 1978 out of which we get this great little caption box of text: "1978 is just a place on the vast scale of time. In a rugged area of Nevada, this fact is about to be proved..." Sadly we won't see the likes of Kirby's genius and power again in our lifetimes, but fortunately his creations will forever exist in the timeless realms they inhabit for us and many future generations to derive enjoyment from.

Watchmen viral marketing

The marketing for the upcoming Watchmen movie is at a crazy high fever pitch. Amongst the more amusing marketing being done are the short viral videos that are popping up online. Here's the link for the latest one (and my favorite):

The photo here is from the London premiere, which I can't believe I wasn't invited to!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I'm not making this up...

Last night I was hanging out with some friends at Paddy's, a fine bar / pub, here in fabulous Las Vegas and I asked a couple of them if they were getting jazzed for the upcoming Watchmen movie. Just about everyone is, even people who haven't read the comic / graphic novel. Here's the sad, but true part of our conversation, that I repeat "I am not making up":

One of my lawyer friends told me that he's been representing a client who, after ingesting a lot of cocaine, gets in a car, and ends up hitting a guy on a motorcycle, which resulted in his death (the guy on the cycle). Anyway, the cocaine guy realized that he was totally guilty and was prepared to take whatever sentencing the judge was going to throw at him, but he was trying to get them to delay when he'd actually have to start serving his sentence so that he could see Watchmen on March 6th (this guy had waited almost all of his life to see Watchmen get to the big screen).

This story is sad on so many levels. I hope no one thinks I'm making light of a person who died just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed by a guy who obviously shouldn't have been behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. The cocaine guy didn't mean to kill anyone, but obviously that doesn't mean he shouldn't have to pay the piper and now his life is going to be very hard. But seriously, to be facing the reality of a long prison sentence, and to have as one of your main concerns being whether (when) you'll be able to see the Watchmen movie, well as Rorschach would say: "Hurm."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Delirium, Pluto, & 20th Century Boys

Today's blog entry will be the first time I've written an entry while drinking a beer at the same time. I'm also writing this from my store and it's not even noon yet, so.... I rarely drink beer while I'm working, but every once in a great while I like to interact with my customers with a slight buzz going on (usually my work buzz of choice is caffeine via energy drinks).

The beer I'm drinking is one a friend (Rob Perez) brought over to our house on Christmas day and I'm just now drinking the last one. Said beer is called Delirium Tremens and is from Belgium. Delirium Tremens won the World Beer Championship in Chicago in 1998, I prefer the light Delirium to the dark Delirium even though I've found over the last year and a half that I generally like dark beers. The alcohol content is 8.5% so keep that in mind as you read this entry.
Pluto and 20th Century Boys are both by Naoki Urasawa, who also was the cartoonist that did the excellent manga, Monster, which just had its concluding volume translated here in the U.S. a couple of months ago. Urasawa is highly regarded in Japan and these two new releases have been highly anticipated by those that have read Monster.

Pluto is basically a modern "realistic" version of Astro Boy (the legendary manga and anime by Osama Tezuka, often rightly called "the God of Manga"). Pluto was the villain in what is considered one of the best Astro Boy stories, "The Greatest Robot On Earth". Urasawa's Pluto is set in the future in which people live alongside robots (it may be more accurate to call them androids as many of them look just like people) and the first volume is a great set up (especially the last couple of pages) that makes me want to read the next one right now (lots of intrigue, just like Monster). A favorite, poignant sequence in this volume is when robot, North No. 2, who was previously used as a major weapon by the military, wants to learn how to play the piano. This manga revision of Astro Boy was doen with thr full cooperation of Osama Tezuka's son and Tezuka Productions.
The first volume of 20th Century Boys also starts this new (well new to U.S. audiences) manga by introducing the main characters (and there are a few) with flashes back to them as children to hint at what's to come (especially in regard to a symbol they used in the past that is popping up in their present lives and people they haven't seen in years entering their lives again). As to what 20th Century Boys is ultimately about isn't clear to me yet, other then these boys, who are now adults, are somehow responsible for whatever happened at the end of their 20th century not ending in total disaster, but as Urasawa showed in Monster, the journey will be an experience that will reward readers looking for mature, complex escapism.

As I finish my last gulp of Delirium, I want to mention again (or for those of you new to my blog) that I largely do this blog not as an outlet for insights into great works of sequential art (because that's not even my strength), but rather to give a shout out to comic books / graphic novels that might have gotten lost in the sea of super hero titles (of which, yes, there still are some good ones, like Umbrella Academy). And as always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ghost World comic vs. movie

If you read the Ghost World graphic novel you've won and if you watch the Ghost World movie you've won, but if you experience Ghost World in both mediums then you've won the lottery.

Ghost World was first serialized by Daniel Clowes in his Eightball comic in the late 1990's before being collected. I actually remembered Ghost World, the comic, being longer, but it's "only" eighty pages in length. Ghost World on one level is a coming of age story about two young teenage girls, Enid and Rebecca, who've just graduated from high school. But I think Ghost World is really about the "odd" people who populate this world. Enid and Rebecca revel in observing people and through their running commentaries on those people they encounter, make Ghost World ultimately a great ode to voyeurism. Ghost World is also beautifully drawn by Daniel Clowes (who employs a nice soft aqua duo tone color that greatly enhances the story he is telling).

The Ghost World movie was released in 2001, directed by Terry Zwigoff (who directed the brilliant Robert Crumb documentary, called Crumb), and written by Daniel Clowes and Zwigoff. The running time of the Ghost World movie is almost two hours so obviously there's more story than what Clowes presented in his Ghost world comic. Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca are terrific as is Steve Bussemi (who plays a collector of old vintage records that Enid meets - he's an added character in the movie) and Illeana Douglas (who plays a high school art teacher - also an added character in the movie). In the movie, Enid has to take an art class to make up a credit and this story addition is a welcome one as is the addition of a character who hangs out at a convenience store (very funny).

The Ghost World graphic novel and the Ghost World graphic novel both have different strengths, but I'd recommend reading it first as the movie then becomes a great way to revisit the story. Terry Zwigoff (the director) later adapted Clowes' four page story Art School Confidential into a movie, but although the cast was also great in that movie, the story goes off on a dumb "someone is killing college students" side story that just feels totally out of place. I've heard that Clowes and Zwigoff are working on another movie project so hopefully it'll be what their Ghost World collaboration was (and it would be nice if Clowes actually did some more comic book projects as it has been a while and he sadly never was vry prolific).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Who Reads The Watchmen?


No Spoilers following (for the two people out there that hasn't read this magnum opus by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons yet):

It's been a few years since I've re-read Watchmen, but I wanted to do so before the movie lands (twenty days away!). Of course it's still excellent, I think I like it better every time I read it (maybe that's because I understand it more each time). Watchmen is one of those graphic novels / comics / books that rewards the reader upon every visit as it is so multi-layered, with characters and ideas of many facets that populate a complex story which manages to unite all of the individual elements into what many have called the greatest achievement in this medium (Time magazine called it one of the top 100 novels - not "just" graphic novels - of all time). As I've said before, I still prefer V For Vendetta, but the writing and the scope of what Alan Moore is going for is more amazing in Watchmen.

While re-reading Watchmen I was thinking about why people gravitate so powerfully to Rorschach's character. The conclusion I've come to is that Rorschach appeals to the primal, dark part of ourselves. I was also further reminded about the thinking-out-of-the-box writing ability that Alan Moore has, specifically in regards to Dr. Manhattan, a character with enormous superpowers in which Moore actually takes what having such powers would mean to that person and the world he lives in.

Chapter nine, titled, The Darkness Of Mere Being, became my new favorite chapter. Two lines of dialogue that I especially liked by Dr. Manhattan: "We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings." Chapter nine will make your eyes water every time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prometha revisited pt. 32

Sunday I completed my re-reading of the epic five volume (32 issues) Promethea series by Alan Moore and J.H. (Jim) Williams and it was the total immersive art and idea experience that I remembered it being. Promethea is not as heralded as other creations by Moore such as Watchmen, V For Vendetta, or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (except by people who've read the entirety of Promethea) and that's sad because it really is at least their equal in my estimation. I think one of the reasons Promethea hasn't to date found the audience that Moore's other great comic masterworks has is because even though Promethea starts as a somewhat conventional "science hero" creation, in short order everything about Promethea veers as far from conventional story-telling as has ever been done in this medium. A readers complete attention must be given to Promethea while reading said book as Moore and Williams, through this character and book, created a tour guide of how the imagination (yours, mine, theirs) has shaped the world - Promethea is the embodiment of the imagination. There is very much a progression that happens throughout Promethea and re-reading these graphic novels is another great example of the mastery that is Moore's ability to inter-connect every story, character, and idea element, which adds up to not a wasted (or filler) page or panel (also done to perfection in Watchmen and V For Vendetta) - the amount of foresight required for doing something like this always amazes me.

The above photo is of an original two page spread by art god J.H. Williams from Promethea #31 and while it was beautiful in color within the comic, here you can see through the ink wash effect Jim did these pages in that he is an artist with a capital "A", just as Moore is a writer with a capital "W" (please click on the image to see this in all its large splendor). Promethea would not have worked with any artist other than J.H. Williams because he totally ran with the experimental story-telling that Moore directed, by employing several different art styles and always finding new ways to design a page. The best example of J.H. Williams' ability to go where no comic artist has gone before is in the last issue of Promethea (#32) in which each page is a beautiful image (images) unto itself, but also form two poster sized images that takes the whole epilogue to another level.

Promethea #32, the epilogue and last issue is not just amazing on the visual art level as it is the singular issue of Promethea that a person could read, even if they haven't read any other issue, and totally understand and appreciate the grandeur that is Promethea because the issue works as both a self contained issue and as a summation of the whole series.

Following are some of my favorite passages from Promethea #31 (they contain no spoilers for those of you who haven't read the series, I just want to share them for the great ideas and writing they are):

"Our lives are all a story we've been telling to ourselves, whiling away the long afraid night of our human ignorance." "The clothes you're wearing. The room, the house, the city that you're in. Everything in it started out in the human imagination. Your lives, your personalities, your whole world. All invented. All made up. All the wars, the romances. The masterpieces and machines. And there's nothing here but a funny little twist of amino acids, playing a marvelous game of pretend."

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Big Skinny

The Big Skinny How I Changed My Fattitude is a new autobiographical graphic novel memoir by Carol Lay (195 pages full color, published by Villard Books). Cartoonist Carol Lay, at age 50, had an epiphany that after spending most of her life struggling with a weight problem (most of her life she was 30 pounds overweight), she needed to make lifestyle changes so she carefully monitored her calorie intake and started exercising regularly which of course is essential to maintaining your ideal weight, not going on and off diets.

In The Big Skinny, Carol Lay shows how she changed her eating habits, how she counts calories almost obsessively, and how she incorporates working out into her day. She makes allowances for when she goes on trips, for special occasions, for holidays, and for days when you just feel out of whack, but she stresses the importance of getting back into a routine of carefully watching your calorie intake and the importance of regular exercise. The Big Skinny is filled with examples of how anyone can adopt smart eating into their lives, there's a section at the end of the book with some easy to make meal ideas / recipes and a good different foods calorie breakdown chart, and this is all done in the entertaining visual narrative cartooning style that Carol Lay has.

Carol Lay thoroughly chronicles the impact our eating choices have and gets into how difficult it is to make the lifestyle changes that are required for smart eating to work (such as watching portions when going to restaurants and doing some kind of varied regular workouts every week) which makes The Big Skinny a great springboard for all of us who aren't eating smart (and that does include most of us).

While I know that a lot of people have bigger problems adopting better eating practices and sticking with exercise routines than I do, over the last few months I've fallen off the wagon and am not eating as smart as I could be or working out as I should. I'm a vegan (no dairy or eggs, in addition to not eating meat and fish), but just being a vegan doesn't automatically make one healthy. I have a big sweet tooth and it has become easier to find junk food that doesn't have dairy or eggs in them and for whatever reason lately I've been not listening to my inner voice that says to resist temptation. I'm a lazy cook and don't think much about what I'm going to eat, instead just making something out of a box or can (as long as the ingredients aren't animal in origin) that'll fill me up, not thinking much about whether I'm getting the nutrients I should have that'll properly fuel me. I like starchy foods, carbohydrates, and other sugary foods so those are the foods I'll consume mostly and eating too much of those kinds of foods in addition to my increased fondness for beer, has contributed to my waist / abs being what I want them to be. I still workout five times a week, which now consists of an hour on our indoor exercise bike and doing push-ups and one hundred crunches a day, but I know I need to vary my workout more than I do because even though cardiovascular work outs are good, I know that I should also be doing some weight and resistance workouts.

I've shared the above to illustrate that even people who look like they're in shape or healthy, such as myself, aren't totally and could use some fine-tuning with regards to eating and working out. So for me The Big Skinny was a wake-up book and I'm going to re-commit myself and start actually planning what I eat (and how much, because I do like to eat!), resist temptation for sweets better than I am currently, and try to vary my workouts and not just do them on auto pilot (which is better than not doing a workout at all, but your body needs to be challenged). I've found that the best way to make this work is to make these changes into routines so that you find yourself doing them on a regular basis instead of thinking of other things you could be doing (or eating) instead.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Promethea Absolute forthcoming

This is uber artist J.H. Williams III cover (uncolored presently as is probably obvious) for the Absolute Promethea Volume One that's coming out in September. J.H. (also known as Jim) told me that there looked to be a good chance that this was going to happen, so I was happy to see confirmation of this two weeks ago. There'll be three Absolute volumes collecting all thirty-two issues of Promethea.

As many people who know me or read my blog, Alan Moore is my favorite writer and I think Promethea is one of his very best creations (I wouldn't get a tattoo of just any character!). Promethea, besides being a great vehicle for Alan Moore's word, idea, and character wizardry, is as great as it is because Moore had the superlative artistry accompaniment of J.H. Williams III. Jim (J.H.) is one of those artists who always challenges himself to find new ways to interpret a page which made him the perfect artist for Promethea, because the very nature of Promethea is about changing perceptions of "what is reality?".

This past week I've been re-reading Promethea and presently I'm on issue 18 (end of the third collection), which is just over the half way point in the series. Re-reading Promethea is highly enjoyable because it just gets better and better and if you've already read the whole series, you know that everything comes together beautifully. Promethea is about as far from being the conventional comic that you could read (not much in the way of good guys slugging bad guys), but don't let that scare you away from reading this book as it is a rich, immersive experience mostly about how stories shape us and the world (Proemthea is the living embodiment of the imagination, like Sandman is the embodiment of dreams).

A favorite passage from Promethea #15: "Mathematics is a language. A human invention, a fiction... and yet it creates such elegant form. It creates splendor. It creates truth." "How could humans perceive gods...abstract essences...without clothing them in imagery, stories, pictures...or picture-stories, for that matter."

I'd go so far as saying that the Absolute editions were creating just for Promethea, to showcase its multi-layered splendor. The Absolute editions that DC does are like the Criterion deluxe editions movie studios do for some of their top shelf movies, designed to showcase the best of the best and certainly Promethea is amongst the best creations in the comic book medium.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Magneto Testament

This week the concluding issue (#5) of X-Men: Magneto Testament arrived and it was the powerful ending I had expected of this powerful mini-series. Magneto Testament was written by Greg Pak and drawn by Carmine Di Giandomenico and really isn't an X-Men or Magneto story at all, rather it's a Holocaust story that takes place in the Auschwitz concentration camp. I thought it was established that Magneto had been in a concentration camp during WWII in the first X-Men movie, but Pak, in his afterward in this issue, gives credit to writer Chris Claremont, who had made Magneto a Holocaust survivor almost thirty years ago.

Magneto Testament doesn't trivialize the Holocaust at all by having any super powered activity going on which usually accompanies an X-Men story. A couple of aspects of the Holocaust that Pak touches upon in Magneto Testament are the Gypsy Jews and the Jewish people who reluctantly "helped" the Nazis at the camps, who were called Sonderkommando. I'd say that getting the individual issues of Magneto Testament is worth getting, but there will be a really nice collection forthcoming that will have endnotes providing more context for things that happened within the series and during that horrible time in history.

There's an especially fascinating six page story (illustrated by comic giants Neal Adams and Joe Kubert) called "The Last Outrage" which details the story of Dina Babbitt, who as a young artist at Theresenstadt (a camp which the Nazis imprisoned Jews within that wasn't what the other concentration camps to show the rest of the world that they weren't treating thei prisoners inhumanly), painted portraits and did art to lift the spirits of the other kids there. Years ago it was discovered that some of her portrait originals are in a Polish museum and she has been trying to get them back. This story is worth the price of Magneto Testament #5 alone. Please visit for more info about Dina's plight (and a photo of her and one of her portraits) as written by her daughters and grandchildren.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy (post) Groundhog Day!

I hope everyone had a great Groundhogs Day yesterday - I did! These Groundhogs Day flowers were from my very good friend, Cristina, who biked all the way to my store (with her brother, Frankie) and caught me just as I was locking up for the night.
After having some great Thai food with Kate at the King And I, we found this nice home for the Groundhog Days flowers on top of our statue display case.

Kate got me this yummy soy chocolate cheesecake from the Cheesecake and Crime book store (which is sadly closing soon). It hit all of my sweet tooth buttons - seriously you don't need dairy to have great desserts. The person who lettered this Groundhogs Day cake, spelled all the words wrong though (grin)!