Friday, October 30, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's official! I've given up on animated features!


I just saw the commercial for this little gem. Lordy. A better title for this one would have been "One Computer Animated Film Too Many."

We've officially reached the over-saturation level, folks. If you need to find me, I'll be in the theater watching the latest zombie comedy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

WALKER VS. PARKER: WALKER WINS.



I just finished reading Darwyn Cooke’s THE HUNTER, based on the same book (and storyline)––the first in a series––which inspired the masterful 1967 film POINT BLANK (or “Point of No-Return,” as the French call it…). That was John Boorman’s first film, starring Lee Marvin as Walker (called Parker in the Richard Stark/Donald Westlake novel), and it seemed to get it right, in terms of casting, cool, a stylized look, an attitude. It’s probably the best neo-noir film out there. Lee Marvin is badass, Angie Dickenson voluptuous, Archie Bunker a hit man. What’s not to like?

Darwyn Cooke’s comics (what little I’ve read of them) have always been kind of a love/hate for me. On the one hand, his art and character design is such nice, clean eye candy and so much fun to look at. But I always feel like his work – either the art or writing or both – is kind of miscast in his projects. For instance, while his art was great in that run in the recent DC series THE SPIRIT, his writing on that run seemed cluttered and convoluted and kind of cheesy and it ultimately slowed down the fun art for me.



With THE HUNTER, I want to love this book. I like it but I can’t quite feel too impassioned about it or emotionally invested in it. The art style, a combination of Will Eisner and ‘60s ad art, is a little too sweet and cutesy for this kind of gritty, pulpy noir. It’s too BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (although that somehow works for those Bruce Timm cartoons, which I believe Cooke worked on years ago).

The writing here, as with Cooke’s work on THE SPIRIT, seems faithful yet glib and bland. He seems to be cycling through a fistful of noir platitudes, which I guess is part of the point of THE HUNTER, but there’s nothing very fresh going on. I think the best elements of the story do not come from the dialogue or exhaustive narration, but from the simple vendetta plotline borrowed from the book and POINT BLANK film….one of the best storylines in crime movies (POINT BLANK was remade several times over in such films as CITY OF INDUSTRY and PAYBACK).

The art here is kind of glib, too. Parker may be meant to resemble a PANIC IN THE STREETS-era Jack Palance, but the fierceness and rough edges are lacking, so he looks like the cuddly version. Maybe it’s bad casting and Cooke needs an unpretty Marvin type as the protagonist? I kept thinking that this book could have used the gritty underworld detail and machinations that I found in a lot of Ditko’s side work, such as in THE MOCKER and STATIC and maybe even THE SHROUD and his Atlas books such as THE DESTRUCTOR and TIGER-MAN. Books in which Ditko draws you into that petty underworld, filled with creepy, bug-eyed men, grabbing you by the neck tie, and tugging on you until you turn purple before releasing you. Just savage stuff. There’s also some animation-style emoting going on (which is over-emoting in my book----arched eyebrows, silly expressions, etc.) As nice as the art is here, I’m not sure if Cooke is actually challenging himself all that much outside of what he would normally do.

I’m not familiar with the original book (s) by Stark/Westlake, but I gather that Cooke’s HUNTER does little but simplify and illustrate the first book. That’s my impression anyway. Maybe it’s simply an acquired taste that I need to get used to? I hate to knock such a project, as it’s nice to see a guy like Cooke stretch beyond (these days dull and routine) superhero genre. And I support the idea of him illustrating every Parker novel. In fact, I still plan to get the next one, as THE HUNTER is an enjoyable, if not intense, ride. To be honest, I don’t know how it could have been executed any better or if I have a specific criticism that, if taken, could make this book work better for me. And yet something seems to be an element missing from this book. I really want to love it but I can’t more than like it. Hmmph!



Oh, and another thing: I grew up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and judging from the last part of the book in "Canarsie," it's obvious that Cooke has never visited the place.

APARO-rently, tastes change.....



How can you not dig a cover like the one above by Jim Aparo? Priceless!

I have to admit that while collecting Marvel and DC Comics as a kid, I didn't get Jim Aparo's art at all. I did not like his take on Batman and the Joker (and still have a bit of a hard time with his super-exaggerated caricature-looking versions of those characters....as if they were drawn by a mall artist ["So...what's your favorite sport?"]).

But tastes can change, develop, mature and simplify. I know that I'm not the only comic book reader who rejected the art of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko during pubescence. Which, in hindsight, makes a lot of sense. When you're that tender age, and you're impressed by guys who can draw "realistically" (like Neal Adams and Bill Sienkiewicz). And, on top of it, you're an aspiring artist, your goal is to improve your drawing chops. So you really look up to the photorealistic types and dismiss the stylists.

But it's when you're an adult that you realize that the stylists are the artists with true individuality, invention...you know, soul, brother! Then guess what? Photo-realistic artists in the vein of Alex Ross and Adam Hughes...their art looks cheesy, static, and even worse...dead and soulless (although I still dig Adams when he's at the top of his game). Then it's welcome back, Jack! Hello, Ditko! And guess what, folks? They're back to stay!

So, during my childhood, Aparo was not at the top of my list. I never read his AQUAMAN and SPECTRE stuff and his BRAVE & THE BOLD work left me cold. I thought he was the biggest hack in a house full of hacks (DC Comics).

Lo and behold, this character dragged me into the Jim Aparo fan cult about three years ago.



I really dug Aparo's incredible compositions, Dutch angles, and storytelling. The way he broke up the panels. The mood he set in that "Twilight Zone"-ish, supernatural book. Just great moody stuff.


Not to mention the fun, pulpy and gloriously repetitive and redundant stories. Stuff pitting the debunker Dr. Thirteen (whom I wrote about in the current BACK ISSUE! # 36) against the Stranger. The Neal Adams covers didn't hurt. PHANTOM STRANGER is probably my favorite Bronze Age DC Comic these days, along with THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER.



I have to admit that Jim Aparo is still not my favorite artist. Probably not even in my top 10. But I really appreciate his work much, much more. Like my main man Tony DeZuniga, I think he has the most fun when he's riffing on the supernatural....non-superhero stuff.

Hey, Jim!....You're alright, brudda.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Top 5 Funnybook Cartoonists of All Time!

There's nothing more shallow and self-indulgent than compiling lists, which all but squeeze the oxygen out of the subject you're paying homage to. But I'm not about to let that stop me now!

Here are my Top 5 all-time favorite humor cartoonists....although the last three entries, I stumbled onto in recent years.

# 1) E.C. Segar, creator of POPEYE THE SAILOR/THIMBLE THEATER



This is the iconic strip for me, although I was more influenced by and a greater fan of the POPEYE Fleischer Bros. cartoons, which refined and defined Popeye the Sailor as I know it. Above is the first appearance of Popeye in 1929.

#2) Kamagurka & Seele, creators of COWBOY HENK



I've learned that these Belgians were paying tribute to Bill Griffith's ZIPPY THE PINHEAD when they created Cowboy Henk. Ironically, I can not stand ZIPPY THE PINHEAD, which I always found too wordy, political and topical to enjoy its inherent absurdism. By keeping things simple and not wasting time with the topical and political themes, COWBOY HENK knows how to get silly! It's too bad that the Fantagraphics collection of HENK strips is not the strip at its best.

#3) Basil Wolverton, creator of POWERHOUSE PEPPER



Obviously a riff on Popeye, Wolverton had just about the best character designs on the planet. His work is just beautiful to behold, not to mention very witty and entertaining. Fantagraphics put out a complete collection of the Powerhouse Pepper strips, which are a lot of fun. As is the catalogue book released to coincide with that amazing exhibit I caught in Orange County back in 2007.

#4) John Stanley, creator of MELVIN MONSTER



I'm just beginning to learn about this guy, who also drew NANCY and WOODY WOODPECKER comic books. His drawing style appears so effortless and fluid, as if they were just conceived, not created. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work, which I'm behind on. Still haven't got those D/Q collections yet.

#5) Richard Hughes and Ogden Whitney, creators of HERBIE



This is just the archetypal demented comic book series. Very offbeat and the art is great. I'm delighted that Dark Horse archived this series, these books are not to be missed.

As long as we're talking humor comics, I also dig David Boswell, who gave us REID FLEMING, WORLD'S TOUGHEST MILKMAN, Charles Burns, creator of EL BORBAH and THE BLACK HOLE, and, most recently, books by JASON, such as I KILLED ADOLPH HITLER and THE LAST MUSKETEER. Not sure if this fits the "humor" theme altogether, but Tezuka's BLACK JACK is brilliant. Fun stuff!

I Gotta Feeling...It's an Instant Classic!



Last night, I attended a banquet at the Beverly Wilshire where a celebrity was being honored for his philanthropic work (translation: he made a big fat donation to the organization) and the live band with singer opened up the evening performing the Black Eyed Peas' "I Got a Feeling..." to a room of white-hairs!

This is not a judgment on the quality of that song, but it struck me as funny how "I Got a Feeling" is one of those "instant classic" kind of songs. One minute it's burning up the charts with the kids, a minute later, it's old-hat banquet fodder, wedding and bar mitzvah-ready ("Fill up my cup/Mazel Tov!"), going the way of "The Macarena."

More ambitious, I went to a food festival last month in Universal City and the live band of 40-somethings there performed the Beyonce/Jay-Z duet "Crazy in Love" with all the parts!! Some poor white guy had to jump in there and rap the Jigga part! That was insane!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

APE about "APE ABOUT APE"



When does going ape over going ape about APE (Alternative Press Expo) become super-mega-redundant? While I grapple with the answer to that one, enjoy these snippets from our APE 2009 trip, filmed by our animator compadre Jim Lujan. If you squint, you can see Javier Hernandez and myself at our respective tables in the top flick.



The footage was shot on Saturday, October 17.

http://www.jimlujan.com/2009/10/ape-about-ape.html

A Bunch of Thanks to Those I Met at APE!



One of the terrific byproducts of doing a convention such as the great-and-getting-even-better ALTERNATIVE PRESS EXPO (APE) in San Francisco is making new cartoonist friends and new fans, and seeing the return of old friends. It was good to see my neighbor Seth Weber of Alarming Press again. He came down from Portland, although it's too bad our mutual, L.A.-based buddy Jon Clark couldn't go last minute (but his excellent, hilarious zines, available through Alarming Press, were well represented). Last we tabeled together, it was about three Comic-Cons back. I briefly got to schmooze it up with Kevin Cross (the Mod Monkey guy) and while I didn't get to talk to Mark Rudolph, that whole Portland crew seems rock solid and I look forward to meeting up with them again.

Patty Chung's "Diabetic Dog" is a terrific debut and a highlight of my APE swag. This is one kid who should keep cartooning. She's got stories to tell and knows how to tell them. Jeff F., Amy Z., Miki, Celina. And the return of convention regulars Jerry Marquez, soundtrack scholar Jimmy Aquino (the REAL Jimmy Aquino, please stand up, please stand up, please stand up!), Ricardo Padilla and Butch Adams was awesome! You peeps made my weekend! Thanks for the big welcome back to APE!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jimmy and the Ape!


Apologies to JAVIER HERNANDEZ for ripping this photo off his blog but this image sums up this year's APE for me. In other words, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Here's a glorious shot at the Cartoon Art Museum on Saturday night in which JIM LUJAN is lacing up the back of the APE Ape's gorilla suit while Jav's cousine MONICA apparently tries to "milk" the joke for all it's worth! Meanwhile, I'm apparently nonplussed in the background. OH, MY GOODNESS!!!!!!

COMEDY GOLD TOP 5 -MY SHORTLIST TO GET US THROUGH THIS LOUSY RECESSION!



1. THE OFFICE (NBC)

This sitcom is my favorite, probably going back to the first season of GET A LIFE! and then back to NEWHART and TAXI. Everything comes together on this show: the storylines, the writing, the acting, the well-drawn characters. It occasionally delves into a little mush (but then again so did TAXI and that worked). This show has so many great characters, I can't even choose a favorite, although the numskull Andy Bernard always has some great lines, as does (the used-sparingly) Creed (above). And put-upon Oscar is always great. Then again, I can't take Dwight for granted....See! It's hard to choose! The best part is...syndication! Now I can catch up on the older episodes I missed twice a night! Thanks! And not a moment too soon!



2. CRYING MACHO MAN

There aren't a lot of humorous humor comics out there, but Jose Cabrera's strip is the funniest and often quite edgy....and the art style continues to evolve stylistically. By signing up at CryingMachoMan.com, I get a weekly fix emailed to me about every week or two. The book collections, PRIME CUT and YOU SO LOCO, are a lot of fun. As a humor cartoonist myself, I appreciate what Jose is doing because damn-funny humor comics. Now if only the cartoonist wasn't such a dick in real life! (J/K!).



3. PARKS & RECREATION (NBC)

This show is a slow burn which continues to build and build in hilarity. Stylistically, it's the official knock-off of THE OFFICE, from the creators of THE OFFICE. Aziz Asnari is hilarious as Tom (perhaps if he and Jonah Hill had bigger roles, FUNNY PEOPLE would've actually been funny). One of the stars, Paul Schneider, pops up on every movie I rent (STONE FAMILY, AWAY WE GO, ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES). Unfortunately, the ratings are half that of THE OFFICE, so pull a gingerbread man and catch this one while you can before the Wizards of NBC cancel it! I'm also enjoying to some degree the rip-off of THE OFFICE on ABC, MODERN FAMILY, but it still has a way to go to become as fluid as PARKS because half the cast can't act, they're too unsubtle (the highlight of MODERN FAMILY being Manny, a 10-year-old Colombian kid).

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS



No one was more surprised that I liked this flick than I did, because I've made a big deal about how much I can't stand Tarantino films, but this one was the first one I enjoyed, and part of the reason might be because it's a fun WWII yarn in which he doesn't have his characters mouth off annoying pop culture observations. Brad Pitt was hilarious and the whole enterprise had a pulpy, colorful, cartoony sheen that evoked Frank Robbins' art in Marvel Comics' THE INVADERS. Nein-nein-nein-nein-NEIN!



5. EXECUTIVE DECISIONS (NBC)

First they purge their schedule of good shows. Then they fire the only talk show host who can whip Letterman in the ratings to let a guy with no ratings take over THE TONIGHT SHOW. Then they panic about how to keep that host from going to a rival network and compete against them, so they pay him a shitload of money to keep him, and they stick him 5 nights a week from 10 to 11 p.m., pissing off showrunners of scripted dramas in the process, and now they hemorrhage ratings in every direction, losing ratings for the 10 p.m. show, the local 11 p.m. affiliates' local news broadcasts, and THE TONIGHT SHOW. In between, they wildly overpay Ben Silverman to step in, party on their dime and create a few lousy instantly canceled shows (including cheesy remakes KNIGHT RIDER and AMERICAN GLADIATORS), then wildly overpay him to leave, blaming him for NBC's failure, which preceded Silverman, the guy who, as a producer years earlier, came up with their one great show (THE OFFICE). Meanwhile, Letterman is riding higher than ever in the ratings. You can't script stuff this funny, perhaps they should film the whole thing, call it EXECUTIVE DECISIONS, and air it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Use Your Il-LUJAN II: The Luge Goes APE



One of the best elements about hitting the road to APE this year was introducing our buddy JIM LUJAN into the gorilla...I mean guerilla comics cult. Jim's a fun animator with a great sense of humor so the laughs were all around us. Like a flowerbed of laughs. Jav and I missed our brudda Ted and our brudda Jose this year at the convention, but we made up for it with some Luge madness. Thanks, Jim, for coming along for the ride!

Hit the link above to check out Jim's own take on the same APE trip described in the post below (with the same photos). Hey, it's a parallax view, folks! (Perhaps Javier will post the third side to the story?)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fiiine like cherry wiiine and APE 2009.....



Contrary to the ALTERNATIVE PRESS EXPO of 2008---across a weekend hit by the pagan, Satanic and biblical plagues of a weekend that included Halloween, Day of the Dead, and a bad rainstorm---this weekend's APE 2009 was a resounding success. Bullion and gold doubloons for all, mateys!

Last year's trip, in which myself, JAVIER HERNANDEZ ("El Muerto, Aztec Zombie") and TED SEKO ("Attack of the Superonsters") traveled up to San Francisco for the best independent comic book convention west of the Mississippi, this year's trip included Jav and me and a talented man new to the experience: animator JIM LUJAN. In fact, I have "The Luge" to thank for the photos on this blog (Thanks, Luge!). Having Jim join us was a great thing because, in a way, we were seeing the convention through the fresh eyes of his enthusiasm and discovery of all things APE! Not that I was jaded or anything....are you kidding? Any excuse to run around the Bay Area and hit some of those restaurant spots....and the convention itself is amazing. To see all of that talent under one room at the Concourse was breath-taking...especially when I was staring at my own booth!



Speaking of which, here's me and my table partner, SETH WEBER, founder of ALARMING PRESS, who had some sweet success with his JON CLARK fanzines and ZOMBIE CHRIST DVDs (don't ask, just buy). Unfortunately, the now-LA-based/former Oregonian Clark could not make it to the show this year so we represented!

Note the EL GATO, CRIME MANGLER banner behind me? Well, now that my work has veered deeper into the funny zone, a new banner will appear for 2010. Not that I'm completely abandoning the El Gato series...a new book is currently in the works for next summer.

The road to APE in all earnestness began in, of all places, Burbank, where Jav, Jim and I caught up with last year's APEr, Ted Seko, for lunch on our way out to the Grapevine. Yes, we 5'd it all the way up California!

At this high-end restaurant which shall remain McNameless, we caught up with Ted and it was there where we were all introduced to Javier's latest El Muerto book, the Japanese candy-coated MANGA MUERTO.







We all took turns giving the new book our official endorsement. And why not?



Really, there's nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon in Burbank....

Ted had to get back to work, where he creates some of the funniest animated cartoons on cable. We wished he could have joined us like last year, but what? You want us to make millions of American children cry when they turn on their television sets and SOMEBODY has fallen behind on their animation? So we waved goodbye to Ted and, after a few tears, promptly forgot about him for the rest of the weekend.

After a conversation-filled Friday drive up (in which I lost an impromptu movie trivia contest) and a Friday night at the Mission and a rift that caused much dissension and nearly ripped our friendships apart (whether or not to eat at El Farlito vs. another tacqueria on that same block...Jim and I sided with the former and, looking at the size and judging the tastiness of the burritos we ordered, we think we won this one...), we got to the hotel in a quiet town just outside San Francisco and caught our Z's to get up early on Saturday morning.



The next day, we arrived at the Concourse and set up at APE, where there was no lack of people to inspire the name of this convention!





Big Jim Lujan caught up with his buddies, Portland-based cartoonists KEVIN CROSS and MARK RUDOLPH, my table neighbors to my right (it was too convenient that my table mate, Seth, also lived in Portland). On my left was Javier to keep the laughs coming a-plenty in-between the comic book sales.



In-between brisk sales, the Luge and I took every opportunity to thwart many a papparazzi with our bad-ass vintage B-Boy poses. They went over very well, as you can see, by the amount of women clamoring to get to us.



The real romance was going on all the way down the row at BERNYCE TALLEY's booth, where Bernie was sketching like a madwoman while her boyfriend RICARDO kept her company. That went over very well, as you can see, by the amount of people from OUR tables clamoring to get to THEM!




Here's a nice shot of The Luge, with me lounging in the background. Note I'm wearing the very three-striped sweater I wear in my new high-octane autobiographical spy thriller, "The Secret Double Life of Michael Aushenker" (as seen in my new book, CARTOON FLOPHOUSE # 2).



Listen, I might as well. That Concourse place is like one mammoth ski chalet, and here, I appear ready to lounge around and nurse a hot mug of cocoa with little marshmallows over by the fire.



More downtime at the ski lodge. The guys play a game of poker as we sit out the latest snowfall. It's like a scene from THE DOUBLE MAN with YUL BRYNNER! Somebody page Max Gruener!







I love to Dr. Strange my way out of awkward situations. If you gesture in such a way as to summon the Eye of Agamotto and conjure up the hellhounds of Dorammu, you can get out of any goddam fix!



After the show on Saturday night, we all went to Henry Hunan's in downtown, a couple blocks from the CARTOON ART MUSEUM. There, Javier invited his two cousins and proved that the good looks run in the family (not run FROM the family as we previously thought....). Monica and Juan were a fun addition to our meal that night....to be exact, about $35 worth of "addition."



Rob, Johnny and Melissa from the Corona-based HIGH TOWER COMICS joined us at our table. With the amount of plates heaped onto our Lazy Susan, let me tell ya....bitch done got lazier!

What would Henry do without APE, though? There were only three large parties in the entire restaurant and they were all APErs....what the hell happens on a typical Saturday night?





By this point of the evening, Big Jim began to sound like Seinfeld's mother: "Alright! Oy, vey! Enough with the Dr. Strange already! If you keep doing that, you're going to go blind!"

He had a good point. Too bad it was on his head.



After that big heavy meal, we took a digestive walk (about half a block....and in my case, I was rolled over like a wine barrel) over to the Cartoon Art Museum, where the APE party was going on. I was still frozen in my hot cocoa mug-drinking mode. Perhaps someone had opened a window up back at the chalet?

I have to admit, the CAM party fell short of the Wonder Con 2009 party there, which was hard to top when you had the great permanent exhibit, plus a Gene Colan show, Dave Gibbons' Watchmen art, and 25 years of Usagi Yojimbo up on the walls (and Mr. Gibbons, Mr. Sakai and Steve Leialoha in the house).

But the Spain Rodriguez originals and the Disney's Nine Old Men sketches, along with some truly funny webcomics, was still nothing to shake a praying mantis at!




Somewhere along Sunday, we caught up with RAFAEL NAVARRO of SONAMBULO comics (or as we like to call him since SGV, "Raffles" Navarro). Let's put this delicately...if his face were a billboard, it'd be advertising the party at Isotope that went on the night before!



By the time we posed for this mighty group shot at the end of the weekend, we were ready to pack it up and call it an APE. But there was one minute left until closing. So we kept up the posturing for 60 tense seconds.....



Then the convention was over and we could finally let down our guard....Phew! OK, that's it, nuthin' to see here anymore. Back to your fox holes, you gold-brickers! We scattered, like raccoons caught picking fishbones out of garbage cans, back to L.A. by early morning.