Saturday, May 30, 2009
Actually, this is a Flashback 2006 when I wrote this meditation on my favorite film for the Australian 'zine BETTIE PAGINATED.
I know I wrote recently about this epic SAM PECKINPAH film, starring the underrated, Humphrey Bogart-non-handsome leading man WARREN OATES and the alluring ISELA VEGA, but I've got Oates on the brain because I just interviewed Susan Compo for an article coming out in the Post on Thursday. Compo is the author of the new Warren Oates biography, WARREN OATES: A WILD LIFE, which she's signing at Brentwood's Diesel on Sunday, June 7 at 3 PM.
Next week I'll post my list of essential Oates performances. Meanwhile, here's the article that I believe ran in BP # 30:
Why BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is the Greatest Movie Ever Made in the History of Cinema and Will Remain So for Several Millennia To Come
By Michael Aushenker, special to BP
“Boy! How many guys have given up a woman for some head?” It’s a funny line by a funny guy -- a friend since childhood, animated TV writer Benny Coma (“POOCHINI”). That quip really cuts to the heart of the film that I had brought over for us to watch…a film I’ve seen dozens of times…only the greatest film ever made.
Sam Peckinpah’s BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA bombed upon its 1974 theatrical release. Most of the movie-literate cognoscenti dismissed this venture as “Bloody” Sam’s folly – a self-indulgent orgy of violence. Only occasionally did a critic hail ALFREDO as a disturbing masterpiece. Oddly enough, pussyfoot film critic Roger Ebert was one of ALFREDO’s most ardent supporters (guess I side with the fat one for once).
Quick recap: Set in dusty ‘70’s Mexico, ALFREDO revolves around Warren Oates as down-on-his-luck Tijuana-stuck gringo Bennie - a man with no way out who drags his (wiser) reformed-whore girlfriend, Elita (Isela Vega), on a cross-Mexico road trip to go for a one-time big score: collect on a $10,000 bounty put on the head of a stranger named Alfredo Garcia. Thanks to Elita, who happens to be Garcia’s ex-paramour, Bennie holds two aces up his sleeve in the form of data that his rival mercenaries do not possess: 1) Garcia is already dead. 2) Elita knows where Garcia is buried. Of course, Elita wants no part of this doomed venture. She just wants to put the ugliness of her bordello youth behind her and settle down with Bennie for a simple kind of life. “Bullshit, baby,” Bennie snarls. Bennie has convinced himself that only redeeming Alfredo’s head for a quick payday will lead to his salvation and create the right circumstances to allow him and Elita to live happily ever after. Then the unforeseen happens: thanks to Bennie’s misguided resoluteness, the story takes a cruel, heartbreaking twist mid-film, and Bennie, left toting Alfredo’s head in a sack, is reborn as a dead man walking – a zombie, if you will - on a picaresque mission to deliver Alfredo’s head as the entree…with a gratuitous side order of bullets.
Now for more info on the plot, you can go to IMDB.com or, better yet, rent the damn thing, brother. But – ha, ha! - if you’ve already seen ALFREDO, you didn’t need the preceding paragraph, did you? That’s because ALFREDO has no doubt seared a permanent stain into your cerebrum. For those of you in the know, my critique is encripted in code to you, because you will understand what I’m talking about.
Cinematically, Peckinpah struck gold more than once: RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, MAJOR DUNDEE, THE WILD BUNCH, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID and STRAW DOGS are all well-directed, well-acted gems of varying degrees of brilliance. But it was truly ALFREDO GARCIA, a genre-defying beast, that shines the brightest, showcasing the charismatic Oates in a tour de force performance that rubbished all skeptics as to whether the beloved character actor was leading man material. From the moment Bennie appears onscreen, singing “Guantanamera” in that tequila-soaked TJ bar (“Sing it, brothers!”), Oates’s mix of machismo and vulnerability is riveting, revealing an actor with a DNA that leads back to Bogart – the unglamorous, unremarkable-looking bloke as relatable as the next door neighbor secretly banging your two-timing wife. Oates delivers an Oscar-worthy performance that quickens and deepens as his journey wears on. There’s nothing glamorous or physically transcendent about Vega, either. Yet, as the curvy Elita, an almost-plain woman who wears little makeup, she may be the sexiest woman ever projected on a big screen. Elita’s worldy charms and unselfconscious personality elevates her modest, senorita-next-puerta appearance into a curvy, sexy bombshell. As Bennie falls in love with Elita, so do we, and so when the turning point of the movie comes where she dies and the film flips into revenge fantasy mode, we feel her loss profoundly. Bennie spends the second half of the film haunted by her memory. He stares at her picture, hears her singing in his head, shakes his head: “Yep…yep…yep…” He laughs until he cries. I nearly go through the same range of emotions watching anguished Bennie writhe. Let me tell you, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather, brother. Heartbreaking stuff. Heartbreaking in a way that makes official weepies such as “TITANIC” or “LOVE STORY” seem about as emotionally-investing as a Verizon Wireless advert.
And so now I get to the controversial part of my essay where I explain why I think ALFREDO’S HEAD (as my pal, EL MUERTO creator Javier Hernandez, shorthanded it) is the best film ever made. Now I love KING KONG, CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, SUNSET BOULEVARD, ON THE WATERFRONT, VERTIGO, CHINATOWN, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and many other films that are so often touted as “the best movie ever made.” And yet…and yet I find myself disqualifying these masterworks in the derby for the ultimate motion picture crown because they lack one key ingredient: repeat viewing. A favorite film should hold up in multiple viewings. Watchability is key. After all, it is very unlikely that the film that you will embrace the most should get old by a second or third viewing. On the contrary, it should darken and deepen and more details should be discovered in additional screenings. How many of the above films can you really sit through again and again within a short period of time?
For my money, ALFREDO is supremely watchable. Freeze frame any shot of this wonderfully-composed, Mexico-colored, twin-triumph of direction and cinematography and you’ll stare at compositions and colors that pop like the finest art. Beautiful vistas, garish hotel interiors, big Chevy cars in Technicolor primary colors…it all adds up for some sweet optic candy. And ALFREDO, like the best of Hitchcock and Welles, is laden with enough layers and symbolism to fuel an entire semester at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Viewers are rewarded by repeated viewings, for there is no wasted film stock or meaningless detours (in terms of storytelling, anyway).
Take the hotel room scene close to the film’s turning point where Elita informs Bennie that there’s a church nearby. She urges for them to go. He grunts: “Yeah…later…” As Bennie turns his head, tears stream down Elita’s cheeks. Peckinpah cuts to the next scene – the graveyard scene – where Bennie, about to behead Garcia’s corpse, gets knocked over his head. Bennie and Elita’s relationship is now irreparably strained. They only share a few uncomfortable glances as Bennie hovers like a buzzard over Garcia’s grave. Elita walks away, turning her back on Bennie (forever, as it turns out). She can not live with Bennie’s decision. She knows that he has chosen the wrong road. Bennie is promptly ambushed before he can lay the machete across Garcia’s cold throat. When left-for-dead Bennie comes to, Elita turns up right next to him…dead. Only upon another viewing will you realize that the church exchange in the scene before turns out to be the last dialogue that these doomed lovers share. In shunning Elita’s plea, Bennie does not witness the effect of his words on Elita… but we do. She closes her eyes like a mourning angel. She knows that there will be no later. Elita, his moral conscience, his angel, his soul, has been fatally wounded by Bennie’s choice: he chooses greed over love. The dark side over light. Death over life. He just sells his own soul, brother. By the next scene, Bennie pays the piper when Elita’s killed, and it dawns on us that Bennie not only no longer has a reason to live, but he might as well be the undead. His bright, white suit grows increasingly sullied as he wears along; as if his very soul is decaying. But the most epic metaphor in the film is, of course, the head itself: an ugly, repulsive, fly-infested, decaying understudy for greed…and it’s no accident that every character, guileful or innocent, who comes into direct or indirect contact with this cursed trophy winds up dead by film’s end.
There’s another telling passage, toward the movie’s end, after Bennie learns that the motive behind the bounty of Alfredo’s head has been an empty folly. He receives the million dollars but it’s a hollow victory without Elita by his side. He dispatches El Jefe and his guards, then matter-of-factly tells the head-in-a-sack: “Come on, Al. We’re going home.” Indeed, Bennie’s hyper aware that he is not going to leave this property alive. He will be joining Mr. Garcia in death. Only re-watching ALFREDO does it become painstakingly clear that Elita’s death has not only rendered his mission futile, but Benny’s raison d’etre itself. Benny has gone through the motions of this mission, not to collect the bounty but to avenge the death of his heart, his soul, his dreams, his future, his reason and his will to exist – Elita incarnate.
In all my hours in a darkened room digesting cinema, I have never seen a movie that so deftly, organically, and seamlessly juggles so many genres. ALFREDO operates on multiple levels. It’s a contemporary Western that doubles as modern-day noir, moonlights as an action thriller works as a road trip movie, and, by its second half, morphs into a revenge fantasy (and zombie movie?) that simultaneously offers the most bizarre buddy comedy ever lensed. In film noir, tragedy and irony creates ersatz comedy, and there is enough black humor in this film to inform a marathon’s worth of Coen Bros. films. But above all, ALFREDO is a very effective romance. Any of you fellas out there ever fall in love with a woman who was ripped away from you while your relationship was still on a high note? Perhaps she moved away when the romance never had a chance to curdle? Well, brother, here’s one film that perpetually gnaws on that nerve without anesthesia. I’m not kidding you when I confess that my eyes well up and my skin turns to goose flesh when I watch this film..even after myriad viewings.
Okay, now here comes the paragraph in which I alienate half of you by suggesting that Quentin Tarantino is a mere cartoon compared to a heavy-weight such as Peckinpah. Why bring up Q.T. now and convolute what seemed like a pithy little thesis I had going here? Because Tarantino, like Peckinpah, has been criticized for exploiting graphic violence. Because a generation of fans and critics have bestowed onto Tarantino the adoration, admiration, even deification that roundly escaped Peckinpah during his lifetime. But only one of these cinematic titans – Tarantino – can be truly guilty of shallowly glamorizing violence. Whereas Tarantino exploits, Peckinpah exaggerates, but not for cheap thrills. His kind of shock value does not pander to the lowest common denominator of bloodlust, as Tarantino does, but illuminates the folly of man. Whereas Tarantino, by comparison, is content to cannibalize scenes from much better movies (and the only lesson anyone who can make it through his unoriginal pastiches comes away with is a good idea of the DVD’s sitting on his shelf), Peckinpah does not attempt to pay homage to his influences (ie. TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) by simply lifting and repackaging scenes and motifs from them. Rather, he creates his own mythology, down to the tailor-made scores (meanwhile, a complacent Tarantino is not above stealing Ennio Morricone’s Spagehtti Western hand-me-downs from off the rack for KILL BILL). Peckinpah does not amuse himself by plastering his films with violence just to show us some pretty rad action sequences. He shows us violence as ugly by-product; using (often-Old West-set) savagery to comment on contemporary human condition. He fortifies his gory stories with a restless intellect and a steam engine compulsion to hold a mirror to the tragically-destructive nature of men who live by the sword and betray their brothers – and themselves – in the process. Peckinpah is not so much interested in the act of violence but its aftermath. When you look at ALFREDO in this light, the movie accelerates from exhilarating to profound.
It didn’t surprise me to learn that ALFREDO GARCIA, an independent production, was Peckinpah’s purest work – the one film in his oeuvre in which he did not experience studio interference. Instinctively, one feels watching this movie that it represents Peckinpah’s unbridled imagination. Sadly, ALFREDO was also the last of Peckinpah’s mature masterworks, as the white suit that became his late filmography, sullied by increasingly-impersonal studio assignments, seemed to mirror the master filmmaker’s deteriorating health.
We may never see another director in our lifetime as viscerally blunt and effective as Peckinpah again. But perhaps we do not need another. After all, Peckinpah said it all…in ALFREDO alone. In a single film, Peckinpah distilled all of his recurring motifs and obsessions and demons - obsolete cowboys; the corruptive consequences of greed, the evil of man, alcohol, seductive Mexico, comely Latinas, wayward banditos – into the purest, most emotionally-potent form of celluloid tequila that cinema audiences may ever consume. It’s a fine 1974 bottle labeled BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, and every cinemaphile should help themselves to this goose-pimply, chest-warming shot of Peckinpah juice with a worm at the bottom that will surely make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up. Yes, in a single blunt statement, Peckinpah said it all – a pulverizing, punishing odyssey told in his unique rough-and-raw vision. To paraphrase Bennie playing “Guantanamera”: “Sing it, brother!”
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Back when I wrote for another paper, I out-scooped America by getting in this early interview with a favorite director of mine, SAM RAIMI, whose DARKMAN and ARMY OF DARKNESS were two of my favorites. He was still more or less a cult favorite, readying a little film called SPIDER-MAN I! Only back then, it was called SPIDER-MAN because there were no sequels yet!
As you can imagine, Sony was a little nervous, entrusting the keys to Marvel's flagship character to a director who had never had huge mainstream success (even if Raimi fans had already known for years that there was no director working in Hollywood who was better at understanding how to mix sincerity with camp and translate that comic-book aesthetic onto the silver screen). Even though this cover story feature ran in April, we did the interview in February 2002, while Mr. Raimi was in post- with the first SPIDER-MAN. And the interview went well... We spoke for an hour, and Sam Raimi lives up to his legend as just about the nicest--and wittiest--guy in Hollywood. What a delight, this was just about the highlight of my journalism career, circa 1997-2003. Our conversation went so swimmingly, Sony's PR people put a moratorium on talking to all press until he delivered the final movie.
Needless to say, my interview ultimately didn't do much damage to his film, one of the best superhero flicks ever made, as the final product went on to open with a ground-breaking 9-digit debut at the box office. Notice, by the way, that even this early on, Mr. Raimi had designs on Doc Ock for the sequel.
Anyway, the paper I wrote for was a local ethnic community paper, hence the Jewish angle. On the eve of the release of his return to comedy-horror, DRAG ME TO HELL, I thought I'd exhume this baby. And here it is....my pre-SPIDER-MAN interview with SAM RAIMI!
Dateline: April 25, 2002
The Jewish roots of director Sam Raimi and "Spider-Man."
By Michael Aushenker
"Did you know that Peter Parker is Jewish?" director Sam Raimi asked The Journal, referring to Spider-Man's teenage alter ego.
Raimi was joking, of course, but the 42-year-old director behind Columbia's "Spider-Man" motion picture (out May 3, starring Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe) may be onto something. After all, it can be argued that the New York-based Marvel Comics superhero represents facets of your Jewish male stereotype. As Parker, he is angst-ridden, perpetually struggling with moral dilemmas. As the Amazing Spider-Man, Parker veils his personal pain behind a wisecracking demeanor -- even as he battles deadly supervillains.
"Spider-Man is a character that spends his life trying to pay down his guilt," Raimi said. "The only difference is that it's caused by his uncle, not his mother. That's a real classically Jewish quality -- to be very aware of your sins in this life and try and make amends for them in this life."
Raimi's journey from cult favorite to the man helming a $100 million-plus endeavor hasn't changed his priorities -- a fidelity to family and friends instilled in him during his Jewish upbringing.
Much is riding on the movie debut of Marvel's flagship character. For Columbia and parent company Sony Pictures, the would-be blockbuster -- one of the studio's costliest -- is designed to lock horns with the next Star Wars installment. For comic book publisher Marvel Entertainment -- which unlike the Time-Warner-owned DC Comics has struggled to bring its plethora of superhero riches to the multiplex -- "Spider-Man" can further the promise of Marvel-inspired franchises "Blade" and "X-Men."
For Raimi, the stakes are high, too. The Journal caught up with the filmmaker in February during an editing session. Throughout the interview, Raimi was hard at work tweaking footage. He must not only carry the corporate concerns but deliver a movie that will satisfy comic book fans -- prickly purists who have already criticized everything from Raimi's liberal interpretation of supervillain Green Goblin to Spider-Man's "organic web shooters" (in the comic, Parker invents mechanical web-spinning devices).
"Spider-Man" will also give Raimi the chance to re-connect with his core following -- smitten with the kinetic, high-velocity style of his early work -- and to score his first blockbuster.
While Raimi co-created the wildly successful "Hercules" and "Xena: Princess Warrior" syndicated TV programs, even his best feature work -- pulpy freakfests "Darkman" (1990) and "Army of Darkness" (1993) -- found their audience on video after inauspicious theatrical runs. Subsequent fare, such as "A Simple Plan" (1998), brought critical acclaim but did not exactly burn up the box office.
If such pressures concern Raimi, they do not penetrate his affable demeanor. Even in the eye of the hurricane called "Spider-Man," Raimi appears relaxed.
Raimi grew up a world away from Tinseltown's tribulations in Detroit, where he was raised by parents of Russian and Hungarian Jewish descent in a Conservative Jewish home that included older brother Ivan, now a screenwriter and physician; younger brother Ted, an actor, and older sister, Andrea. Raimi's paternal grandfather was a merchant who traveled to Holland and sold spice.
"He acted as a sponsor for many Jews that came from Poland before the war closed those borders," Raimi said. "My father is very proud of that and so am I."
Raimi nearly went into his father's retail furniture and appliance business. However, he and his high school buddies (including actor Bruce Campbell and director Scott Spiegel) developed an interest in filmmaking.
"We used to pool money together to buy eight millimeter film at K-Mart," Raimi said. "Then we'd shoot James Bond starring Bruce Campbell."
Despite his avid interest, Raimi refused to major in film at Michigan State University.
"My father told me, 'If you want to be a filmmaker, don't study film. Study literature, so that when you finally make pictures, you have something to bring to it.' That advice really paid off for me," Raimi said.
What attracted Raimi to Spider-Man as a teen in the 1970s was "a lot of the character and the soap opera. That's the great strength of the comic book and that's what I tried to put into this picture. You'd read 'Batman' and 'Superman,' and, although they were a lot of fun, only Spider-Man was aware of girls and was afraid to approach them and was the underdog.
"He was picked on and didn't always have the money to do the things he wanted. He was an identifiable kid with problems and conflicts. As a teenager, he was often misunderstood. He wasn't always hailed as the hero," the director said.
"Spider-Man" was Raimi's favorite title, but he also loved "The Shadow." In the 1980s, Raimi lobbied to direct the movie version...to no avail.
"When Universal didn't want me for the job, I said, 'Well, damn it, I'm going to write my own 'Shadow,'" recalled Raimi, who conceived his Gothic antihero Darkman in the spirit of the venerable pulp character.
Raimi's loyalty to family and friends is a big part of his fabric and his success. He repeatedly uses the same crew members, has cast Ted in roles and, with Ivan, co-wrote "Darkman" and "Army of Darkness," the second sequel to 1982's "Evil Dead," which put Raimi and Campbell on the Hollywood map. Raimi has also collaborated with old pals Joel and Ethan Coen ("Crime Wave," "The Hudsucker Proxy") and Frances McDormand ("Darkman"). With Spiegel and Holly Hunter, they all once shared a Silverlake house.
"He's always surrounded himself with really menschy people," said Robin Felton, 45, Raimi's first cousin, who met husband Jim Felton, a Jewish Federation Valley Alliance gifts chair, while working in production on "Darkman." She said, "He's really a pleasure to be around. I've never heard him raise his voice [on the set]."
Felton remains close with Raimi, a family man who resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Gillian, and three children, belongs to a prominent Reform temple, and sends his boys -- ages 7 and 5 -- to Hebrew school.
But get Raimi together with his brothers and hilarity ensues.
"There's nothing better than working with your family," Raimi said. "Because as nice as it is for everybody else to spend time with their family, it's a whole other level of closeness when you can write together and share jokes and ideas, and they're not afraid to say, that doesn't work. There's an honesty and you know it's not going to break the relationship."
"They were always very funny," Felton said of the Raimi brothers, "but in an intelligent, wry way. Not like The Three Stooges."
Not that Raimi is above Stooges humor. Witness the "Evil Dead" trilogy, which boasts Stooges-style slapstick and characters named Shemp.
The tone of Raimi's oeuvre matured considerably after 1995's "Quick & the Dead," during which time Raimi met his wife.
"Things are one way when you're a single man and you don't have children and you look at life in one particular way," Raimi said of his cinematic evolution. "As you get older, we all take on different points of view and perspectives."
Yet as with family, Raimi, who has already signed on to direct a "Spider-Man" sequel in 2003, has not forgotten his roots.
"I'd love to get back to doing to the fantasy and fun pictures," Raimi said. "Maybe 'Spider-Man' is a step in that direction. It would be interesting to make 'Evil Dead 4' at this point of my life. It'd be a blast."
With these kind of comic-book nostalgia magazines, they often ride or die by the theme they're covering....well, some themes are meant to be roundly ignored, but the just-released BACK ISSUE! # 34 is a very fun ride.
The theme is BRAVE NEW WORLD...it's all about the futureshock series released during the Bronze Age. And as the great, complex and somewhat groundbreaking DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER has been already covered way back in BACK ISSUE! # 25 (by me, as it turns out...), the "Men of Steel" issue, what informs this issue is a bunch of fun articles on Marvel's short-lived LOGAN'S RUN series (a good article which features insightful commentary from LOGAN'S RUN co-novelist William Nolan on the behind-the-scenes on the translation of his work from book to screen and to comics), Jim Shooter's THE NEW UNIVERSE (interesting not so much for the content but for how this new direction at Marvel imploded), and, my personal favorite from the issue, an interview with Shooter on his early days coming aboard Marvel (not exactly futureshock sci-fi, but I guess he was shocked about his future there!). There's also a good piece on the inker on Marvel's STAR WARS series, but noticeably absent (it's being saved for a future issue, I believe) is Marvel's BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series (the show is currently on my mind because I've just begun enjoying the Sci-Fi channel's clever remake of the futureschlocky TV series on DVD).
Well, these are my personal highlights and I haven't even read through the cover attraction yet on Jim Starlin's WARLOCK. Highly-recommended....by Michael Aushenker the BACK ISSUE! reader this time (no article in this one...my next BACK ISSUE! piece does not appear until # 35 in July--a brisk chat with artist MIKE VOSBURG).
For more information on BACK ISSUE! magazine, visit TwoMorrows.com.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Surf’s up, moondogs, it’s Matt Lorentz!
I first met Matt when my buddy Dean LeCrone was president of the Southern California Cartoonist Society (SCCS), http://www.sccs-online.org/, kind of San Diego equivalent of CAPS up here in the L.A. area. Mean Dean invited me to speak to the SCCS group at the Broken Yolk in Pacific Beach in the early 2000s. Right after my appearance, I joined the group. Lorentz followed LeCrone as SCCS prez. The SCCS are a fun bunch, and until his death in 2007, Paul Norris was a member. And get this, the Aquaman creator lived in, of all places, Oceanside. That’s like Steve Ditko living in Spider City, New York or something…
Matt’s a terrific guy who’s always ready to share a laugh or two. And he’s crazy-talented. Matt recently moved to Orange County from his native San Diego, and if I don’t see him at Comic-Con, we meet up in L.A. in December for the annual NCS luncheon.
Matt nutshell’s his career in his own words:
“Since 2001, I have worked as an illustrator for the action sports industry having created over 65 character driven graphics for Tony Hawk's Quiksilver line, Hawk Clothing. Other clients include Reef, Local Motion, Quiksilver Edition/Quiksilver Premium, G&S, Crazy Shirts, Ron Jon Surf Shop, SoCal, and No Fear. I also create skate graphics for Steve Steadham Industries and Mike McGill's signature Airspeed models. My art has been featured in Concrete Wave and Exaggerated Features magazines, The Light Gallery, The Huntington Beach Art Center, X-Games XXII, and the Quiksilver Foundation Artists' Showcase. I am a member of the National Cartoonists Society and the National Caricaturists Network.”
****Can you please share with us your anecdote of how you first ran into Tony Hawk?
When I started skating as a kid, like all skaters at the time, I was well aware of Tony and the rest of the Bones Brigade. I also create skate deck graphics for Mike McGill and Steve Steadham. It's always fun and an honor to create art for all three of them.
Back when I first submitted my portfolio and concept sketches to Hawk Clothing, they called and asked for t-shirt designs of five animal characters skating. I spent the whole next day gathering skate photo reference and designed the whole set. I was stoked on this project, as this was the highest profile gig I’d had up until this point and the tees were to be sold worldwide.
Later that night, while at a restaurant in Pacific Beach, my friends told me Tony Hawk was there. I thought they were kidding. I talked to him about skate art and what type of designs he liked best. It was surreal that out of everyone at Hawk, the first one who I met in person was the legend himself.
••••Who are the cartoonists/illustrators, living or dead, whom you admire the most and why?
For me, Bill Watterson is hands down the greatest cartoonist of all time. The wit, expressions, and range of art styles he gave those characters made them really come to life. That comic is timeless, too.
Working in the surf/skate realm, I look to the legendary Rick Griffin, Rick Rietveld, Jim Phillips (Santa Cruz Skateboards), and VCJ (Powell Peralta). All four are prolific and pioneering.
Early on, I was influenced by animation and always liked the art of Glen Keane and old school Disney artist Fred Moore for the action and personality of their drawings. Gene Hazelton, the great Disney/Warner Bros./Hanna Barbera character designer (and former SCCS member), was my mentor and a genius as well.
Frank Frazetta, Sebastian Krugger, Peter De Seve, and J. Scott Campbell are inspirations, too. Of all the artists though, Chuck Jones has probably been the biggest influence on my designs throughout my time at the drawing table. My Hawk art might be described as Warner Bros. by way of ‘80s skate deck art.
****What's the most fun to draw and design: demented monsters, demented robots, or demented animal characters?
Demented monsters. No, wait...demented animal monsters! Viva La Rat Fink!! I gotta add Big Daddy Roth to my art influence list!
****Do you actually surf or skate?
I surf, skate, and snowboard too. I wear a wrist guard on my drawing hand though when I skate and snowboard!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
First off, a sad note over the weekend regarding the death of Wilco ex-singer/songwriter Jay Bennett. Whatever the differences between Bennett and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy (as uncomfortably caught on the great making-of-YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT documentary I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART), their collaboration produced some fine albums, including YHF, the best Wilco album ever in my opinion) and the energetic BEING THERE, which is also loaded with a few Wilco classics. Not to mention SUMMERTEETH, which is considered a favorite of many fans (although not by me, but it's still an OK album in my book). Anyway, sad note, particularly in light of the news from last week that Bennett was suing Tweedy over royalties (hope Bennett's death wasn't suicide).
Speaking of sad news, I hope this summer's new BEASTIE BOYS album isn't as uninspired as its horrible title: HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE. It's definitely a step up from the working title, which was something like TAD'S GLASSES. But it's still weak. Their last official album, TO THE FIVE BOROUGHS, was a grand return to rap after spending the '90s mixing it up genre-wise a little too much for my taste. It was definitely hit (SABOTAGE) and miss (lots of lounge music filler and forgettable punk tunes). Anyway, they'll probably never top LICENSED TO ILL and PAUL'S BOUTIQUE no matter what, so if the new one is as good as TO THE FIVE BOROUGHS, I'll be satisfied. To be cont'd.....
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Redman/Method Man's BLACKOUT 2 should've been titled "Knockout 2." They've done it again. It came out this week and it's out of control, just like it's predecessor. It's a stag party on CD, I'm digging this album already.
It may not measure up 100 percent to the original classic, 1999's BLACKOUT, but it doesn't need to because this is where they're at right now and it's sounding pretty good to me. Especially tracks like # 14 with Ghostface Killah and the robot voices. The fourth track sampling Li'l Jon's fun, too.
Somewhere along the line, many a critic has shorthanded Red and Mef as the Cheech and Chong of rap, and if this album has one shortcoming, it might be that these days, the pair's rhapsodies to toking up seem a bit forced and obligatory, as if expected (the same kind of thing plagued Cypress Hill by their second album). But if you can get past the obsession with marijuana (I'm not a pothead and I can), a Redman/Method Man album, musically and lyrically, is the most fun you'll find in the world of hip hop in the last decade or so. These two are so witty and clever, and there's a logic in their wordplay even when they get surreal. On past albums, they've even paid tribute to Marvel and DC comics....Tical has assumed the alias of Johnny Blaze the Ghost Rider, while Redman has cut quite a few tracks parodying Superman, so between the two, they've got the Big Two covered.
On BLACKOUT 2, Method Man, as if to prove that this album came out in the 21st century, makes some funny references to Hurricane Katrina and Google, while Redman gets a good metaphor in utilizing Ferraris. References to Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay sweeten the pot, and the production is overall pretty suh-weeeeet!
I'm happy to hear Red and Mef together again for the first time really since the awesome HOW HIGH soundtrack. I saw Redman in March 2007 at the HOB on Sunset (same venue I saw Run-DMC in the early 2000s shortly before Jam Master Jason Mizell's unfortunate assassination) touring under RED GONE WILD. That was a fun concert. But this album's overall way better than RED GONE WILD, which, aside from the standout title track (produced by Timbaland) and a couple other songs, doesn't have the consistency of the BLACKOUT albums. Redman and Method Man are definitely at their best when making albums together --they raise each other's game---and I'm looking forward to seeing the two of them tour behind this one. Should be fun. BLACKOUT 2 is deeper than Atlantis!
Friday, May 22, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Reacting to my FRANK ROBBINS post from last month, CF Blog reader Mike Valerio submitted this SHADOW cover from 1974 as proof that Robbins was the man, even while drawing for DC Comics, and perhaps can take down Kaluta and Wrightson in a SHADOW draw. Thanks, Mike, for the sweet reminder!
P.S. -- And fans of Frank Robbins who love this kind of quasi-cartoony style of Bronze Age art should really hunt down work from the artist GERRY TALAOC. A good place to begin are the issues covered in SHOWCASE: THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, wherein DAVID MICHELINE and Gerry serve up some gripping UNKNOWN SOLDIER yarns that outgun creator JOE KUBERT's earlier stories. Talaoc, who had a long run either penciling or inking SOLDIER, also drew lots of DC's early 70s horror titles, as well as THE PHANTOM STRANGER, and later went on to do some work for Marvel.
Robbins and Talaoc....fun stuff!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The just-released "Brave New World" issue, BI # 34, featuring a cover by Jim Starlin.
Meet MIKE EURY....
Back in 2003, when editor Jon B. Cooke jumped ship from TwoMorrows and took his thorough and illuminating fanzine COMIC BOOK ARTIST with him to Top Shelf, TwoMorrows publisher John Morrow needed to fill the void with a new magazine that would cover American comics in the 1970s and 1980s.
Enter BACK ISSUE! Magazine, edited by MIKE EURY.
Whereas an issue of CBA used to tackle a specific company, each issue of BACK ISSUE! goes by a playful theme, which allows Mike to mix things up and please a good breadth of fans (of Marvel, DC, the independents, the art comics, even animation and television) with its diversity. Mike pulls this off with a skeleton crew that includes his art designer, RICH FOWKLES. The formula has worked: according to the Internet, the bi-monthly BACK ISSUE!, in its six years, has become TwoMorrows’ top-selling magazine.
I myself began contributing articles to BACK ISSUE! fairly regularly in January 2007. Beginning with BI #20, I’ve written pieces that fell into such themes as secret/multiple origins (THE HUMAN FLY), devil characters (SON OF SATAN), dynamic duos (CAPTAIN AMERICA & FALCON), men of steel (DEATHLOK THE DEMOLISHER), spies and tough guys (MR. T comics), and the data/tech issue (ROM: SPACEKNIGHT). (My next piece, an interview with artist MIKE VOSBURG, will appear in the “villains” issue, # 35, in July).
BACK ISSUE! is truly a magazine which I enjoy as both reader and writer, and that’s largely because of Mike’s laid-back, grinning style. He strikes a great balance between academic and levity, never taking the topics too seriously, but definitely treating his subjects with an air of respect. As Mike once summed up in an email to me, every comic out there, whether it ran for 19 issues or 190 issues, is someone’s favorite. So there’s no comic-book series too short or slight to be omitted from its moment under the BI microscope.
In addition to BACK ISSUE!, Mike has written and edited for lots of comics companies. He has written or co-written nine comics-related books including this spring’s THE BATCAVE COMPANION and this summer’s second edition of CAPTAIN ACTION: THE ORIGINAL SUPER-HERO ACTION FIGURE. You can find Michael’s books and BACK ISSUE! Magazine at www.TwoMorrows.com.
Issue # 34 of BACK ISSUE! Magazine (the futureshock extravaganza “Brave New World,” with the Jim Starlin WARLOCK cover) drops today at your finer comic-book shops.
---- Which single issue of BACK ISSUE! magazine do you feel has been your most successful (in other words, based on content, which has been your favorite read)?
MICHAEL EURY (ME): That’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child! (I’m not a parent, but if I had to choose my favorite child in the Brady Bunch, it’d be Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.)
Seriously, though, I can’t single out one issue as the most successful. Since the subject matter varies issue to issue, “success” in some readers’ minds relates to content appreciation. I will say that we’ve honed the format and departments since our earliest issues, which were good but still a work-in-progress.
----- In the classic BRAVE AND THE BOLD run, which pair up did you enjoy the most and which superhero did you want to see team up with Batman but never did?
ME: I enjoyed Batman/Deadman team-ups. The first two (B&B #79 and 86) nicely complement the original Deadman series, along with their Neal Adams art, and #104’s was brilliantly drawn by Jim Aparo.
I’m surprised there was never a Batman/Martian Manhunter team-up back in the day. J’onn J’onzz teamed with Green Arrow (the FIRST B&B team-up) and later, Flash, but never with Batman.
And a Batman/Dial H for Hero team-up would’ve been fun.
---- Why is The Phantom Stranger so damn cool and is there any superhero out there who is a snappier dresser?
ME: What’s cool about the Phantom Stranger is the element of mystery. No known origin, a clouded backstory. And that Aparo art back in the 1970s remains some of the industry’s finest.
And for those of us who had boyhood crushes on Mrs. Emma Peel, I’d say that Diana Prince as the “new” Wonder Woman could out run(way) the funky Phantom.
---- Hawk or Dove?
ME: Dove. I’m a pacifist.
An unsolicited aside: HAWK & DOVE (the late 1980s version) was the first comic I was assigned to edit at DC in 1989. Greg Guler, the artist, told me that he was approached by a fan at a convention who asked for a Hawk and Dove (pronounced as the past tense of “dive”) drawing. That cracked us up. Okay, I can understand someone not understanding the political connotation of the original “Hawk and Dove” concept’s names, but c’mon, they’re birds! D’oh(ve)!
BI # 35, the "Villains" issue, out in mid-July.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Found this quote below online today:
“Now that newspapers are failing, circulation is dropping, editors are cutting expenses anywhere they can, and prices for editorial cartoons couldn’t fall any lower, the future looks even bleaker for political cartoonists. A few years ago it looked like the Internet would be our salvation. There are some Web sites that are good customers, but sales to the Web have turned out to be a disappointment. There is no culture of paying for content on the Web. Advertising with content on the Internet pays a pittance. The Web is a dud.”
- Daryl Cagle
Coincidentally, this cartoonist summed up my feelings on a conversation I was just having yesterday....and seem to be having a lot in few years, as it becomes apparent that few people have figured out how to monetize the Web.
Meanwhile, the immediacy of the Internet, and the sense of entitlement among most users that they can get anything for free on it, continues to cheapen many professions, who will not get compensated at all or nearly as much as they would in traditional media. Outside of editorial cartoonists, you can say ditto for many other professions, including reporters, editors, illustrators, photographers, film/TV makers, musicians and many more. All of the product they do can be posted for little compensation and/or swiped once online. It's kind of part of what was at the heart of the debate that led to the recent WGA strike (and I'm still unclear if the writers got anything substantial out of that settlement).
In related matters, as newspapers die off, what exactly will replace them online as a respectable institution where the news reported can be generally trusted (not talking blogs here...)?
Monday, May 18, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
You may have seen these already. The one I'm posting is the best of the parody covers....and what's scary about this splash-page interpretation of Genesis is that it could actually pass for a real Golden Age Bat-Man comic. That's how wacky some of them were. Anyway, until the one pops up with Green Arrow and Speedy nailed to the cross, dying for our sins, enjoy this one!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I don’t know Tom Spurgeon personally, but you almost feel like you do if you read his award-winning comics-industry media blog THE COMICS REPORTER on a daily basis.
Trust me, it’s habit forming, like a can of Pringles: once you start, you can’t stop. Because aside from the breaking news and posting interesting industry data and trivia, Tom has constructed some fun daily and weekly departments that hook you in, from his extensive Sunday interviews to his morning birthday shout-outs, to links to other comics sites and his “Five For Friday” reader-participation shortlist feature.
But the reason I really enjoy following THE COMICS REPORTER is because Tom does not talk down his readers or pretend to know all of the answers about some of the thornier issues he’s posting about. In fact, he often freely admits that he doesn’t know a damn thing about what he’s talking about. Ironically, that lets me trust his reporting all the more because when he’s trying to make sense of it all, I get the sense he’s thinking things through and asking the thorough questions and not just posting hearsay as fact.
Spurgeon is also very frank about his comic-book tastes and biases and he makes no apologies about it (but luckily, he has a wide breadth of taste that spans from classic Kirby and schlocky Marvel/DC stuff to the manga to art/indie realms).
Anyway, Tom comes from a reporting background that includes a stint on THE COMICS JOURNAL. I’m glad his site is around. It’s a refreshing antidote from the know-it-all, Big Two suck-up sites and the likeminded magazines which shall remain nameless even though we all know which ones they are.
****What is the most annoying, irritating aspect or details regarding
running a comics news blog that the average reader of it wouldn’t even
I don’t find much of anything about blogging specifically annoying or irritating, Michael, and I’m always a bit confused by the people who look at this tremendous opportunity to publish on one’s own terms and build an audience as some sort of chore that must constantly be negotiated. Using blogging tools to write about comics is easy, and it’s fun, and getting some sort of return on doing so is a dream come true.
Although it’s not specific to blogging, I’d say that the most irritating thing about the last couple of years in comics coverage generally is working with some of the studio, start-up and established book publisher publicity teams that are really contemptuous of on-line sources and non-mainstream media and make all sorts of weird, imperious demands just because they think they deserve to.
****What do you miss about working in a print publication?
I love the day after you send a print magazine off to press and you’re still sort of jazzed by getting another one out the door and you clean up your desk and you pay attention to some old chores and you get to live in this moment of satisfaction for a few hours.
I worked for a newspaper for years that had a pneumatic tube system to send page proofs back and forth from the newsroom to the paste-up room. I don’t think there’s a building in the world that couldn’t be improved by the addition of a pneumatic tube system.
****Can you name three comics-industry persons, living or dead, would
you love to have dinner with, but whom you've never had a chance to
meet in person?
The first person I’d invite would be Rowland Emett (1906-1990), the PUNCH cartoonist turned kinetic sculpture artist. Before he started doing these crazy, lyrical machines he did a number of lovely cartoons about trains. I’d love to ask him about them.
The second person I’d invite would be Oliver Harrington (1912-1995), the great editorial cartoonist. He had the most interesting life of just about any 20th-century comics person, and one of the hardest. His life was shaped by two of the great operating forces of the 20th Century, American racism and the Cold War, and I‘m sure he‘d have something interesting to say about both.
The third person would be Crockett Johnson (1906-1975), whose BARNABY I loved so very much when I was a kid and still love now.
(Drinking would be a different three, of course.)
****Barbecue beef ribs or sushi?
I’m not sure exactly what the question is, but I know that the answer is sushi.
Bookmark and visit www.comicsreporter.com often.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Thanks to these two great hardcover Dark Horse editions I've found, I'm at the moment catching up on the HERBIE comics I never read before, with great art courtesy of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS artist OGDEN WHITNEY. Someone hand this fat fury a red sucker!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
I saw this online last week, someone posted a rare photo of Jack "King" Kirby presenting Paul McCartney (who wrote a song based on Kirby's characters called "Magneto vs. Titanium Man") with a drawing, backstage at an LA Forum Wings show. The sight of these two geniuses of their fields crossing paths is a novelty. And somewhere in here is the germ of an idea for a CRYING MACHO MAN comic strip!
(McCartney, by the way, is the guy on the left).
Friday, May 8, 2009
ASK THE DUST (1939) is one of my top three all-time favorite novels, if not my absolute favorite. It's masterfully written and very, very funny and touching all at once. Beautifully bittersweet.
So I was delighted to have had the opportunity to interview JOHN FANTE's daughter and youngest son, and do this lead feature for the PALISADIAN-POST, the 81 year-old community newspaper of Pacific Palisades, California.
The print version, which has all kinds of never-before-seen images from the Fante family photo album, came out yesterday, and on this date in 1983, Mr. Fante passed away after a long struggle with diabetes.
There are several other John Fante books to savor: WAIT UNTIL SPRING, BANDINI, THE ROAD TO LOS ANGLES, DREAMS OF BUNKER HILL. I just finished reading 1977's BROTHERHOOD OF THE GRAPE, with writing so colorful and tasty, it goes down like ice cream. But ASK THE DUST, his second novel, holds special meaning for me.
One day soon, Mr. Fante will take his place up there with only the very greatest of writers. In fame only, for anyone who has read his books already knows that John Fante wrote poetry disguised as prose.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Here's the pinup DON PERLIN did for my last EL, GATO, CRIME MANGLER comic book, THE NINE LOVES OF EL GATO, CRIME MANGLER..........
I love how Don threw in ZABU (the sabertooth tiger who raised KA-ZAR) and instantly turned El Gato into some kind of PHANTOM-esque jungle superhero. Take THAT, Tarzan!
I love how Don threw in ZABU (the sabertooth tiger who raised KA-ZAR) and instantly turned El Gato into some kind of PHANTOM-esque jungle superhero. Take THAT, Tarzan!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I’ve always dug DON PERLIN’s art. Perlin is not a flashy artist but he’s no flash in the pan either. He’s a true journeyman artist, like Sal Buscema and George Tuska, and in the ‘70s and ‘’80s, these guys defined the Marvel house style.
Perlin was never a hot name in the Frank Miller/John Byrne vein, but overall I’ve enjoyed his work more because he worked in so many series that I loved to read as a kid: WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, GHOST RIDER, THE DEFENDERS (a great run with writer J.M. DeMatteis) and even THE HUMAN FLY. These were the second-stringer series (as SPIDER-MAN and FANTASTIC FOUR were the flagship books), and in some ways, they were more fun because they didn’t carry the importance or baggage of the bigger books.
Perlin also worked on the series finale double-issue of TEAM AMERICA, written by then-Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, which most people slept on but I found guilty-pleasure fun. And he drew the suddenly-hot-again TRANSFORMERS.
Most of all, Don Perlin is as solid a storyteller as ever stepped foot in the House of Ideas. He employs great compositions, he can really move a story, and, worth noting, he is as adept with the quiet, talky scenes (DEFENDERS galore!) as he is with action. (And anyone looking for action should check out WEREWOLF BY NIGHT # 21, in which you get not one, not two, but three freaking werewolves going at it). Many people prefer the earlier Ploog or Sutton WBN, but to me, the definitive Werewolf face is Don Perlin’s design.
And if all that isn’t enough, Don created Moon Knight with writer Doug Moench, one of the coolest superheroes ever.
A funny thing about Don Perlin. Like me, he hails from Canarsie, Brooklyn (I moved from there to California in 1978, Don lived there since childhood until well into the mid-1990s). As a Brooklyn kid buying my Marvel Comics at the corner stores on Flatlands Avenue (The Nosher, Marliss Chemists), I was led to believe (by Stan’s Soapbox, courtesy of Stan Lee himself) that all was merry in far-away Manhattan, where the Marvel Bullpen’s writers and artists congregated to create these magical, mythic comic books. Cut to 2002, when I interviewed Mr. Perlin for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, and he reveals to me that, all those years, when I was a Canarsie kid, he had been drawing such books as WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and GHOST RIDER in his home literally around the block from where I lived. So much for magic and mystery!
I like to think he was drawing characters such as Werewolf By Night and Moon Knight in one of those red-brick houses I used to speed by circling the block on my bike. Speeding by because I couldn’t wait to get home and draw some Marvel superheroes.
For further interest on Don Perlin, visit TwoMorrows.com (I interviewed Perlin for articles on HUMAN FLY and SON OF SATAN in BACK ISSUE! # 20 and 21, respectively. And note: for a limited time only Free Comic Book Day promotion that may end any day now, BACK ISSUE! # 21 is being offered at TwoMorrows.com as a free download).
You can also read my July 2002 interview with the man behind Moon Knight, monsters and robots right here:
A couple weeks ago, Don spoke to me from his suburban Jacksonville, FLA home. Here’s how the conversation went down:
****As one of the premier GHOST RIDER artists, what were your impressions of the GHOST RIDER movie starring Nic Cage and Eva Mendes?
I thought it was really good. They stuck close enough to the comic book. I like Nicolas Cage. They should’ve dyed his hair blonde.
What’s funny is that I went with my children and grandchildren to see the GHOST RIDER movie in Jacksonville. When I stepped into the theater, they had arranged a surprise party. About a dozen members of the local NCS chapter [National Cartoonists Society, of which Don has served as president of its Florida branch) were there in the theater. My son Leslie had talked to the theater manager. He reserved two rows in front, and we all saw the movie together. The members stayed in town at hotels, and so we all had dinner together after the movie and breakfast the next morning.
****Which was worse: drawing the motorcycles in GHOST RIDER comics or drawing the motorcycles in TEAM AMERICA?
I didn’t like drawing motorcycles, but after a couple of issues, it became second nature. But with GHOST RIDER, you could cover the cycle with flames, the others ones, you had to stick to details, show where the engine was…
****Did drawing THE TRANSFORMERS ever drive you mad?
With THE TRANSFORMERS, they had an animation company doing a TV show for it. They sent me the character sheets but none of the sheets ever had the back view of the robots. So I complained and Hasbro sent me three cartons of the toys. So me and my son sat down and we put the whole damn thing together.
****What do you miss most about Canarsie, Brooklyn, our shared hometown?
All I miss about Canarsie was that I was younger.
Don Perlin’s Art Gallery: