Friday, 30 August 2013

Review: Chin Music #1 & 2 - Monsters, Mobsters, and Mystics

I have been following Tony Harris' Twitter feed with an incessant eagerness for weeks.

There was only one kind of post I cared about: Instagram links with the barebones Tweet "Tony Harris just posted a photo". That's it. Click the link, and voila! I'd get pages and panels and fragments of work that I didn't understand. I didn't actually know what I was looking at, I just knew that it was beautiful. And then I read something, somewhere, and it clicked. I tweeted at Harris on a hunch, "Really damn curious to know what these pages that keeps posting as he draws them. That's a comic I want to read. Chin music?". "Yes", was the response. Man of few words.

I shot an email off to the manager of my neighbourhood shop, who had the first two issues already in stock because he's amazing like that. I needed to read this comic. I'd fallen a little bit in love with Harris' pencils when I started Ex Machina, the series he did with Brian K. Vaughan. Superb work, with panel composition done through staged photographs that Harris used as reference material (as I write this blog he's posting photos of his studio, with shelves full of props and costumes...go figure). The result was an incredibly lifelike cast of characters. Chin Music (Image comics), Harris ongoing project with writer Steve Niles, is a distinctly different stylistic road.

Chin Music lies somewhere on a stretch of broken asphalt between Brubaker's Fatale and the 1987 gangster flick The Untouchables. Our protagonists are: Eliot Ness (Costner's character for those of you familiar with the aforementioned movie), a federal agent tasked with bringing down Al Capone; and Daniel Shaw, not officially introduced until most of the way through issue #2, a mystical being of sorts who first appears as anachronistic roadkill. By the end of that second issue Niles has promised us a wild ride through prohibition-era gangland fueled by a heavy dose of the occult, on the rocks, with a splash of noir, and Harris' artwork has risen to the task. It's bold and dark, sultry even. It's bizarre at times, sensually so, twisted and terrifying and fascinating. Everything pops. Figures are outlined in thick ink, silhouetted, backlit, outined twice sometimes. And compositionally...I've never seen anything like it. Every page's layout becomes part of the scene's setting. Panel borders become set pieces. We see Capone standing in the Lexington Hotel, and the Art Deco panel borders are more a part of his environment than the background furniture of Harris' illustrations. We witness a scene in the Far East framed by borders that might have been found on a tablet dug from beneath the sands of ancient Egypt. It's brilliant set dressing by Harris.

Niles has done something brilliant with this bit of crime drama. He hands us an alternate history, and then makes us wonder just how alternate it is. Which sounds confusing as hell, until you read it. Which you should do, because you'll get no spoilers from me. Suffice it to say that Niles has set up the narrative thus far in such a way as to keep me increasingly intrigued. I look forward to seeing what direction this comic takes in the coming months; dark, macabre, and sexy, without a doubt. Sounds like a good bit of reading to me. Cheers.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Wake Up and DRAW!! A Celebration of The King

I spent most of today in the studio inking, connected to an internet signal that forbade me access to Twitter. Which is probably for the best. Had I known earlier that it was Jack Kirby's birthday, and that there was a Twitter-wide celebration of the event happening with fan-made comic art connected to the hashtag #WakeUpandDraw, I doubt I would have got anything done today. Except drawing for The King, of course. With work done (for now) and a little window of freedom, I'm tossing this up online as my Happy Birthday to that old giant of comics, Jack Kirby. I drew this about a month back, for no other reason than the urge to discover what the face of the quintessential Storyteller might look like, the ultimate mythic bard of an age long lost. What I got was an unnerving blend of John Lennon and Gandalf, which I guess is about right. It needs a little more Jack in it, though...

Long live The King!!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Review: Collider #1 - What Goes Up...

Oh man, you have got to read this comic!

This review has been a long time coming. A long time. I was supposed to pick this issue up weeks ago at my local shop and, well, life and stuff got in the way. So it just sat there waiting for me while I ran around doing other things. Eventually I went and paid for it, sat down this morning with a cup of fresh coffee and opened it for the first time. And it blew me away.

The first thing you see, obviously, is the cover. Nathan Fox's cover, to be precise. A punchy, tricolour image that screams "screenprint" at me every time I look at it. It has the same unnerving vibrancy as a CMYK print in it's beginning stages, when you know that something more manageable to the human eye is going to come out of this but right now all you've got to work is pure magenta and yellow bursting off the paper. It is, in other words, the perfect cover for a comic about the disintegrating fabric of the universe.

I'd read another review of this issue (and I'd link to it, but I cannot for the life of me recall where it was) that said one of the beautiful things about Fox's cover was the way it dovetailed with the style of Robbi Rodriguez's interior art. I agree. I can't even count the times I've pulled something off the shelf because it has a Alex Ross cover on it, and then discarded it disgustedly because the interior art is nowhere near as pretty. All of this book is pretty. Rodriguez sketchy, sometimes ragged ink work lends an energy to each and every panel. His characters are characters. His colourist is a genius; Rico Renzi's colour scheme is understated in all the right places, and obnoxiously neon in all the places where you need to believe the universe is tearing itself to pieces. Swirling pinks and purples, yellow lettering, a stark and stable blue sky. I can't say it enough. This is a gorgeous comic.

Now, something I've always appreciated about the stuff that Vertigo publishes: no punches are pulled. Those who know the history of the Vertigo imprint know that it was created to handle the mature content being written by the writers of the 1980s "British Invasion". They published comics where you could leave the swearing in and not flinch at a sex scene. In my experience as a reader, most of what I've encountered from Vertigo has benefited from that freedom. It's been more honest. In the case of Collider it lends a humanity to Simon Oliver's writing. It never really occurred to me as I read that these characters, the blue-collar "welders" and the socially inept academic types, the high-school principal and the truck driver stuck in rush-hour, weren't just people. They talk like people I know, dropping the occasional F-bomb and panicking when appropriate. That might be the best thing about this comic: this beautiful synthesis of Oliver's down-to-earth writing and Rodriguez's energy-filled line quality has successfully created a world full of real people.

I could write more. But I just jumped over to Facebook where it appears that Nathan Fox just won Cover of the Week on this other comics blog, and really that says the rest of what I might have to say. This comic is getting attention. It's catching eyes on the shelf, and imaginations when it gets pulled off the shelf and opened. It's like a gravitational vortex of creativity that sucks you in and makes you live in it, in a world where you can call 911 and get the response "...and the nature of your, ambulance, police...physics?". And was that comment on privatized fire departments a sly nod to HBO's The Newsroom? Could we actually be this lucky, and have such a smart, cynical, human comic in our hands? I sincerely hope so. So while my bank account may vehemently disagree with me, I cannot wait to pick up Collider #2 and keep living in Simon Oliver's world.

Friday, 16 August 2013

The Gamers 3:Hands of Fate - A Kickstarter to Remember

I watched an incredible new movie the other day. It made me laugh, and brought to the edge of tears. It made me grit my teeth in anger. It had me jump off the couch and cheer aloud in the middle of my empty living room, pumping my fist in the air. It had me completely enthralled. I can't really blame myself; I, and many others, have been waiting for this film for some five years. And now we have it: The Gamers 3: Hands of Fate.

I don't really know how to write this without sounding like a bit of a suck. Maybe it's not possible, since this film and those that preceded it are among some of my favourite movies of all time. See?? I already sound like a suck. They're just that good. And it's not that they're overly artsy, or filmed in a truly dynamic manner, or edited with masterful precision unseen anywhere else. That's not the draw. It's the community that pulls me to these movies. Four-thousand-three-hundred-and-eleven of us backed this movie on Kickstarter. Us. I love being able to say that, love being part of this international community that all pitched in. It's the beauty of crowd-sourcing. It's the beauty of geekdom. It's something those bums at BlizzCon will never understand, because they don't get what it means to sit around a dimly lit kitchen table with the best of your friends and game. No servers. No chat windows. Just dice, maps, pizza, and good old-fashioned fun.

On a slightly more serious note, well, this was a slightly more serious movie. The other two were funny, satirical, packed with cultural references and glib game lingo. This one is too, but it's got more. It's no longer just about the game. This time it felt like the movie was living up to its title; this one was about the gamers. It's about rivalry, romance, cheating, cancelled TV shows, story trumping rules, misogyny in gaming, insanity, respect, real life, and revenge. They have a knack for lightening up the serious stuff and making you take the silly stuff seriously. By the time you're done watching it you know that world is real because, if you're anything like me, it's part of your world too. It's recognizable, and's like the movie understands you. Which is weird, and a glorious feeling, all at once.

There is truly nothing else I would rather have sunk my money into. I only wish I could've given more, but hey, we made it happen. More than that, they made it happen, this inspired group of writers and actors and directors and creative craftsmen and grunts. This thanks goes out to every one of them, for every ounce of hard work put in to this beautiful movie. No one else could've done it. No one else could've understood exactly what we needed to see. I'm going to throw out a special thanks to Brian Lewis, Trin Miller, and Scott C. Brown, three of the leads in this story and three of my favourite actors. Cheers to you guys, for playing characters we can all fall in love with, get annoyed with, and admire.

This is how we roll.

Watch the movie here or visit, where the film is streaming for FREE until the end of August.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Man of Steel was an Inherently Antisemitic Film...Yeah, You Heard Me

Have I got your attention? Excellent :)

Alright. I just finished the first chapter of Harry Brod's book Superman Is Jewish?, and it hit me like a punch. Most people who know anything about the history of comics know that the founders of superherodom, The Greats, were Jews. Lieber (Lee). Kurtzberg (Kirby). Schuster. Siegel. Liebowitz. Eisner...and the list goes on. For a long ways. These guys were geniuses of narrative, every one, and they were all pulling from the stories they'd grown up with. Brod focuses on that influence, particularly in the case of Superman (created by Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel). He wants to come to an understanding of which elements of Jewish culture made their way onto the pages of comics in the late '30s and onward.

The answer is, "Quite a lot of them".

The biggest blow in the first chapter, though, is the recognition of antisemitism in the comics industry. Let's get this straight: when I wrote "antisemitism", you thought "Nazi". Yup. The antisemitism we're addressing here is significantly milder, though no less a cultural crime. It's more akin to an iconoclasm than a holocaust. It's a whitewashing of Judaism and its influences to make this particular brand of media more palatable to North America at large, and it has changed our beloved characters over the decades to a point where are are almost unrecognizable as the heroes they once were coughnewfiftytwocough...sorry, where was I? Ah, right. I'm not complaining, I swear. I like these heroes. After all, their altered selves are the only ones I've ever known. I'm okay with the changes, but we need to recognize that those changes happened. These aren't my thoughts; I'm getting pretty much all of this from Brod, and passing it on to you, paraphrased. However, Zach Snyder hadn't just made a Superman blockbuster when Brod was writing, so...

Why was he created? Well, he was written by two slightly-built nerdy Jewish guys in New York in the 1930s. That should tell you everything right there. Two young men who are cultural outcasts by birth, who parents set out to escape persecution and find a promised land of sorts, who wound up working the runt-end of the New York publication industry. Awesome. These guys create a story about the man that every boy wishes he was: a moral straight-edge, powerful, handsome...and then they write a flipside for him. They stick themselves in there as an "alter ego", Clark Kent, the little guy. There's a lot to unpack there...but that's not what were here for.

The basics of the Superman story are this: the planet Krypton is about to be destroyed. An alien couple sends their only child off in a small vessel to save his life, and he grows up among a people not his own. He eventually becomes a champion of those people, but disguises himself as one of them so as to live in secret. That's it, in a nutshell. So...antisemitic? Yup. Let's take a quick look at the Bible, or Bibles: the Jewish and the Christian scriptures. Christian students are used to reading Bible stories about heroic figures, like David facing down Goliath, but Jewish students know better. Take the Book of Genesis, where it all starts. It's the multi-generational saga of a dysfunctional family struggling with rape, murder, incest, lies, and theft. And then there's the stuff they do to others. The Jews have no illusions about the flawed nature of their biblical forefathers. But centuries of Christian tradition have sanctified and sanitized those stories, and the characters are looked upon as saints and moral exemplars. Superman didn't start off as a goody two-shoes. He had a little bit of bad boy in him in the '30, threatening to drop people off buildings if they didn't answer his questions, flaunting his powers and operating entirely on his own authority. Nowadays he comes gift-wrapped in an American flag. When Siegel and Schuster were in charge it was clear that the real man in the story was Superman, and Clark Kent was a puny personification of the way he saw us. But now, well, watch the movies. Where does Superman get his moral code from? Martha and Jonathan Kent, his earth-parents. DC even created a heroic past for the family, an ancestry that had the Kents sheltering Harriet Tubman once upon a time. Clark was in good hands,good, all-American hands. I'll quote Brod on this next bit:
"With each wrapping of the flag, the Superman/Clark Kent character moved up a level in what medieval Christian thinkers called the Great Chain of Being, the hierarchical order of the cosmos. Over the years, as Superman's powers increased so that he came to achieve near divinity, Clark became more humanized, even allowed to be heroic in his own right, gaining greater humanity. Over the long term a Pinocchio-like transformation turned Clark from a wooden figure of ridicule into a "real boy"."(pg.15)
And so we ended up with shows like Smallville, made possible because Clark was now a real person. Crazy. But it doesn't end there. I'm going back to Brod for this next bit; I don't trust my paraphrasing.
"By the time we reached the 2006 Superman Returns film that brought Superman back to the big screen after a long hiatus, Superman's de-Jewification had proceeded so far that he was not only the ultimate all-American, he was even being claimed as a Christ figure. Another nice Jewish boy was being resurrected as a Christian god. The Warner Brothers/DC Comics publicity machine launched a two-pronged campaign before the film's release, one aimed at the usual action-adventure crowd, the other aimed at conservative Evangelical Christians and flying under the general cultural radar, specifically positioning Superman Returns as the next Christian blockbuster, hoping to cash in on the trend following The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia." (Pg.17)
So, that got crazy. I didn't know about that ad campaign until I read this two days ago, and I can't help but think that Schuster and Siegel must have rolled in their graves. You've probably all seen that 2006 Superman film. It has this "father becomes the son and son becomes father" motif running through it, and then Supes gets stabbed in a very iconic location...not coincidence. Also note, Superman's trip from Krytpon to Earth was originally a story about an infant being saved fro his dying world. It has become, in both the 2006 movie and now in 2013's Man of Steel, a tale of a father sending his son to save us. We have a messiah, the writers tell us, and his name is Superman. And now, in conclusion, let's return to that opening statement.

I say again: Man of Steel was an inherently antisemitic film. You've read the history, brief and drastically abridged but accurate, of the character's development. Snyder made a movie tailored to a modern audience, building on the character as we now know it and therefore the character as it has been Americanized. Half the movie was conversation between Jonathan and Clark about how to live a moral life with great power under your belt, with Kevin Costner playing a flawless all-American dad. I loved that movie. It felt like someone had finally got Superman right, and I watched it twice in theatres. But let us face the truth here. Man of Steel was the single thickest coat of whitewash yet applied to the Jewish immigrant's fantasy that was Superman. We have all but lost sight of the original character under layers of antisemitic sanitization that we didn't even know were there. So, there. That's my spiel. Superman was never meant to be Jesus.

He was meant to be Moses.