Best of 2007

Although it's already over a week into '08, it's not too late to go over some of the best indie books that saw light in '07. Of course, this is all strictly my humble opinion so take it for what its worth. But seeing that this is my first "best of" list, I decided to add an extra layer and pick a favorite in six different categories: anthology, horror/thriller, artbook, humor, drama, and best overall.

In the best anthology category, Postcards: Stories That Never Happened gets my vote. Edited by Jason Rodriquez, Postcards is a collection of stories inspired by actual vintage postcards gathered from flea markets, antique shops, and second-hand stores. The postcards may be limited a single paragraph of text, but the creators that have contributed to this anthology have allowed their imaginations to fill in the blanks and tell the “true stories that never happened”.

In his first graphic novel, Joshua Simmons made one hell of an impression in the horror/thriller genre with House. The book centers on a trio of teenagers (one guy and two girls) who stumble upon an abandoned, dilapidated mansion in the middle of a forest. After walking through a labyrinth of corridors, the trio eventually find themselves in a shocking journey through the house. Simmons forgoes words entirely, communicating the story through the visuals by way of scratchy linework and remarkable composition.

When it comes to artbooks/bar room brawl weapons, Scott Morse's Scrap Mettle had no equal in 2007. Scrap Mettle is best described as a stocky, monster coffee table book filled with scraps of “fast art” Morse has produced in his everyday creative process. Beautiful, varied artwork from the artist’s personal Holy Trinity of mediums: inks, watercolors, and cell vinyl.

Writer Rick Spears (Teenagers From Mars, Pirates of Coney Island) and artist Chuck B.B created the perfect Adult Swim show in print with their 160-page masterpiece, Black Metal. Metal-loving twins Sam and Shawn discover their dark legacy in the bowels of hell in a tale that is one part humor, one part adventure, and all rock.

The Damned: Three Days Dead easily won best dramatic work due to the amazing job by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt. The story follows Eddie, a hothead gangland enforcer that happens to be caught in the middle of a mob war. However, instead of featuring Corleone versus Sollozzo, Bunn and Hurtt’s version of mafia hostilities involves demons, ghosts, and devilish half-breeds. And while Eddie is most definitely a tough guy, he also happens to be a dead man. That’s dead, as in, not alive. That doesn’t prevent demon boss Big Al from bringing Eddie back from the grave to finish a very important job. If it wasn’t enough that he can’t die, Eddie has to uncover a conspiracy of deceit and murder that runs through all the families and straight to hell. The first issue of the sequel, The Damned: Prodigal Sons, is being released by Oni Press this March so make sure to check out the first book ASAP.

And finally, the winner of my best overall book of 2007 award goes to Matt Kindt's Super Spy. Composed of World War II espionage short stories, Super Spy is the perfect book to leave on your coffee table when your non-comic reading friends come over. The stories may be brief but they draw you in with superb characterization and expressive artwork. Oen of the few, fine examples of picture perfect graphic storytelling.

Hope you enjoyed these picks 'cause I sure did. Whether you agree or disagree, the important thing to remember is to spread the indie/alternative comics love. If it spoke to you or you know the book would appeal to your friend/co-worker/family member/cell mate, don't be afraid to recommend one of those crazy funny books with pictures and words. Sure, sophistication has led us to calling them graphic novels but in the end, whether they're comics or OGNs, all that matters is: Did you enjoy it? So if you did, let others know. They'll thank you for it...and so will the talented creators that shed blood and tears to tell their tales.



Out of Picture

As noted in the book's introduction, the phrase "'out of picture' is a film term used when anything is cut from a movie." However, in this case the term relates to the inspiration behind the book. Published by Villard, Out of Picture is an anthology from a group of seasoned artists well-versed in their crafts and brought together through their common day job as the talented minds behind Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age, Ice Age 2, Robots). The book was meant as a side project originally proposed to keep their creative juices flowing between the long journey that is feature-film animtation. But when you get that many artists together and anything goes, it's impossible to keep a simple side project from evolving into a full-blown production.

Part hand-drawn, part computer-generated, part concept designs/sketchbook, but mainly a short sequential showcase, this 160-page softcover has it all...and it's all good. Contributors to the book include Daisuke Tsutsumi, Greg Couch, Andrea Blasich, Vincent Nguyen, Daniel Lopez Munoz, Nash Dunnigan, Michael Knapp, Benoit le Pennec, Robert Mackenzie, David Gorden, and Peter de Sève. As far as highlights go...

In Robert Mackenzie's "Around the Corner, the narrator implores a little boy to mind his surroundings as he enters into the world of imagination.

Featuring rich, pastel-toned spot illustrations, "Yes, I Can" by Andrea Blasich follows a young inventor and his dragon friend as they work together to overcome their respective issues with flight.

Greg Couche delivers what I consider to be the book's standout with a 5-page story that combines Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and film noir. Titled "Four and Twenty Blackbirds", the tale follows private dick "Little" Jack Horner on the trail of his partner's (Jack Nimble) killer. The linework is pencil-sketchy perfect, effectively creating the mood of a teaser trailer for a movie like The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon. And honestly, any story that includes a Peter Lorre-inspired Humpty Dumpty is pretty much amazing.

The oversized 8.5 x 12.5 format showcases the anthology's artwork nicely when compared to the standard comic-book size, giving the pages a tad more room to breathe. The $19.95 price tag is a great bargain considering that you're not getting any duds in this collection. I will throw in the disclaimer that Out of Picture may appeal to art lovers slightly more than story lovers. But at a minimum it's worth perusing for the pretty pictures.

If you're interested in finding out more about the book, visit the Out of Picture website where you can preview pages, read the artists' bios, and even pre-order volume two which is already in the works for an '08 release.



Popgun Volume One

After the success of the Flight anthology, Image Comics took a deep step into the collected short stories format with Afterworks, Afterworks 2, Four Letter Worlds, 24Seven volume 1, and 24Seven volume 2. And this past week, they’ve added another anthology to their expanding library in the form of Popgun Volume One. A self-described “graphic mixtape", Popgun showcases quite a number of talent folks, including Erik Larsen, Rick Remender, Mike Allred, Mike Bullock, Jonathan Hickman, Joe Keatinge, Jim Mahfood, Michael Linsner, Khary Randolph, Jamie Rich, and James Stokoe among others. Highlights include…

Chuck BB and Nick Stakal each contribute two pages to “Blood Inside”; a short story that draws parallels between a Viking’s dying breath and the smoker’s last puff.

Mark Andrew and Paul Maybury turn in a 7-page preview to their upcoming Aqualung OGN. Titled “Aqualung: Ambush”, Maybury’s cartoony brush work and pastel palette is great to look at but the story is a tad too confusing. I got the sense that this is just a primer for something much more epic. Regardless, the pretty pictures make this one standout.

“Manhunt in the Obsidian Hills of Mars: A Futari Tale” by Nick Derrington follows a wanted astronaut who is willing to go down fighting to keep his precious treasure safe from a group of pursuing law enforcers. Economic but effective dialogue and great artwork make for a great installment by Derrington.

The 6-page wordless “Tag” by Dave Crosland chronicles a Darwinian game of tag from prehistoric times to the far flung future. Crosland goes for a punchy, pastel tone that keeps his short lighthearted and playful.

Tony Cypress’ “Island of 100 Corpses” features Colonel Kursk: “a cursed man born through science bred to destroy.” Kursk is on a mission to find a lady when an egg-shaped robot with multiple legs and a human head (with an over-sized brain, of course) gets in the way. Luckily, Kursk has a really big knife. Fun stuff.

Brian Churilla and Jeremy Shepard present a 10-page teaser for their upcoming Engineer mini-series from ASP. Titled “Egg-Centric”, the short story features the Engineer as he attempts to cheat nature by creating a giant chicken. It goes without saying that things don’t go as planned. The story has just the right amount of goofy and Churilla’s Mignola-inspired artwork is dead on.

The Amazing Joy Buzzards make an appearance in a 4-page story titled “The Fearless Vampire Hunters, or…Excuse Me, But You’re Stake is in My Heart.” If you have yet to read The Amazing Joy Buzzards, this is a nice intro to this touring band of misfit mystery solvers created by Mark Andrew Smith and artist Dan Hipp.

“La Llorona” by Marcus White and Ed Tadem is a beautifully illustrated, haunting tale of a ghost crying out for her lost son. Unfortunately, an innocent passerby runs into the maternal spirit and is drawn towards her supernatural weeping.

Finally, writer/artist Moritat produced a gorgeous 10-page jazz tragedy of a talented trumpet player whose skills with the horn are worn away by the grim face of corporate greed and his own Chet baker-like demons. Amazing artwork, perfect coloring, and subdued dialogue make this short story a perfect example of how graphic story-telling can succeed on a number of levels.

Overall, Popgun is a pretty impressive achievement. Lots of talent contained in a single spine. Sure, there’s bound to be a few hits and misses, but there’s enough genre blending to keep it entertaining and diverse. Personally, I would’ve settled for a 300-page hardcover rather than a 450-page softcover, considering that Image already has volume two in the works. At 300-pages each, they could easily get three to four quality volumes together in no time. But, again, that’s just my preference and it doesn’t diminish the sweetness of Popgun Volume One.

If you want to preview a few of the stories online and find out more about this anthology, make sure to visit the Popgun website. Popgun Volume One is available now at your local comic shop and Amazon.



Limited Edition: Art and Design of Gama-Go

"What happens when an art school dropout, traveling curmudgeon, and an amateur taxidermist take on the massive apparel industry juggernaut. If on the way to work they're kidnapped by a Yeti, you end up with a company like Gama-Go."

Since 2000, Gama-Go founders Tim Biskup, Chris Edmundson, and Greg Long have been taking boutiques by storm with their pop culture friendly, cartoony designs. It started with t-shirts and has since evolved to all types of male and female clothing and accessories along with toys, stationary, pillows, buttons and other "bric-a-brac". With the advent of designer toys and custom collectibles, at times it almost seems like there's a hipster mom-and-pop design shop in every factory renovated studio apartment in sight. But if you really want to understand what Gama-Go is all about and why they've succeeded, all you have to do is look at their designs.

For six years, the company has made a name for itself by retiring their artwork after short runs and keeping everything in limited editions. One-of-a-kind makes for hard-to-find and that drives the trendy urban masses away from thrift shops long enough to purchase a Deathbot jacket or Ninja Kitty coin purse. Now, I'm all for coin purses but in my daily life, I rarely find them useful. However, ever since I laid my eyes on a Gama-Go postcard set some time ago, I fell in love with their colorful, cute graphics.

I hunted down everything by artist Tim Biskup, including 100 Paintings and the first three volumes of his The Jackson 500 business card-sized paintings artbooks. But outside of ordering my own jacket or coin purse, Biskup's Gama-Go work was out of my reach. So lucky for me and all their fans, the company has recently released a 400-page monster collecting six years worth of designs appropriately titled Limited Edition: Art and Design of Gama-Go.Now, this isn't the type of book that can be reviewed. Sure, technically you can review an artbook. But in my humble opinion, you either like it or you don't. Gama-Go's modern, vector-loving designs share a love for bold, bright colors and charming, goofy characters that will appeal to some and drive others away. So if you're into Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Ugly Dolls, and Scott Morse, this book is right up your wheelwell.You can buy Limited Edition: Art and Design of Gama-Go from the Gama-Go website or at a discounted price from Amazon.



Guy Davis

Make sure to head on over to Indie Pulp to check out my latest "Sketchbook Session" with amazing artist Guy Davis.

Guy has worked on a number of books including Baker Street, Sandman Mystery Theatre, The Nevermen, The Marquis, The Zombies That Ate The World, and Batman: Nevermore. He is currently drawing BPRD: Killing Ground for Dark Horse...

To find out more about Guy Davis and to see more of his artwork, make sure to visit his website.



Muscles and Fights Volume 2

It started with an honest fanboy at a mid-sized comic convention sharing his unwavering love for comics: "I like muscles...and fights". Next thing you know, indy misfits Amado Rodriguez and Bud Burgy put together a 184-page anthology featuring comic book artists creating, you guessed it, short stories showcasing muscles and fights (appropriately the book's title). Volume one was well received and left folks hungry for even more, you guessed it again, muscles and fights. So Bud and Amado recently put together another serving of kick-ass, Muscles and Fights 2: Musclier & Fightier.

Indie creators on the encore fight card include: Jon Sloan, Daniel J. Olson, Danno Klonoski, Ryan Dow, Leith St. John, Matthew Kriske, RanDiggity, Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon, Kevin McCarthy, Tim Sievert, Steven St. Walley, Scott Tauser, Bob Lipski, Todd Coss, Alberto Rios, Marcus Muller, Michael Roanhaus, and Earl Luckes Jr.

I had the opportunity of participating in the Muscles and Fights sequel and put together a little ditty called "The Rage of Andy Warhol”. Ain't It Cool recently reviewed the book and was very kind in describing my 14-page installment...

"The book ends on a highly positive note from Bernie Gonzalez. His “The Rage of Andy Warhol” is one of those spoofs that will immediately appeal to both art aficionados and comic book fans by smelting the Incredible Hulk with Andy Warhol to birth the artsy mayhem of Warhulk! Fun stuff of dynamic proportions. Although the story starts off slow, its one of those gems that you don’t want to see end."

You can read the entire Ain't It Cool review here. And for more info on Muscles and Fights volumes one and two, head over to the official bloody and steroid-infused website.




Copic brush pen and Photoshop.




Over the last few years, my comic-buying habits have steered away from capes, mutants, and gravity-defying busts. Luckily for me, there are a few publishers that have made a name for themselves by servicing the indie/alternative comics crowd. Among that small group of publishers, DC Comics imprint Vertigo has made some particularly loud noise with acclaimed non-superhero titles such as Sandman, Preacher, 100 Bullets, A History of Violence, V for Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, and Fables. I’ve enjoyed some of their books (Losers, DMZ, Mnevore) while others seem interesting enough but just aren’t my cup of tea (Y: The Last Man, The Other Side, We3). But overall, if it’s under the Vertigo banner, I’m willing to give it a shot. So when I saw a new, original Vertigo graphic novel called Cairo featuring a seasoned journalist/writer and an award-winning illustrator, I was on board.

Cairo starts with a street savvy thief named Ashraf who gets his hands on an extra special hookah that just so happens to be the home to a genuine genie. In an effort to make a quick buck, Ashraf ends up selling the hookah to a kid named Shaheed. Turns out the kid is the “chosen one” so the genie helps Shaheed on his burgeoning path with destiny.

Of course, there’s a ruthless mob boss/magician who wants the hookah back. Said mob boss/magician kidnaps Ashraf’s journalist brother along with an innocent American tourist as a little added motivation for the thief to recover the hookah. So Ashraf teams up with an Israeli soldier named Tova and the drama kicks into high gear.

Cairo’s pacing is very cinematic and runs similar to action/adventure movies like The Mummy, Sahara, or National Treasure. Problem is: Cairo isn’t like any of those movies. It’s closer to a direct for cable, TBS/TNT/Sci Fi Channel movie. Think The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines, Mansquito, or Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave from the Grave; movies where the story falls short fall short and the lack of a legitimate production budget shows on the screen.

The story is written by G. Willow Wilson; a journalist who has written for the New York Magazine. Maybe it’s just me but I expected more. Not because of her rather respectable resume but because Cairo reads like a comic book rather than being a good story in comic book form. Good stories transcend their medium and Vertigo has a catalog full of great examples. However, Cairo’s plot plods along with moments of forced characterization and unimaginative dialogue. Additionally, the use of mythology tries to be inventive but it comes off as superfluous. It doesn’t help that Perker’s artwork is rather uninspired. The linework reminds me of Greg Capullo or Mark Pacella when they worked on X-Force in the early 90’s. Way too superhero-y for a self-described “magical-realism thriller”.

I won’t harp much more about Cairo since it’s obvious by now that I didn’t like the book. Let me point out one more thing. Coming in at 160-pages, $24.99 is rather expensive for black-and-white/grayscaled artwork. Even if it is a hardcover and the creative team has a few “real” publication credits in the parentheses behind their names, Cairo is a hard sell at that price. I can pick up Scott Chantler’s Northwest Passage: The Annotated Collection (hardcover, b&w, 272-pages) for $20. Or I can pick up Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon’s Pride of Baghdad for $20 (hardcover, full color, 136-pages). Both better deals. Both way better books.

Last word: Cairo has received enough respectable pub that my not-so-glowing review won’t make a dent on the book’s standing. And based on a promotional push at your local chain bookstore, sales of Cairo should give Vertigo another market success to add to their already stacked catalog of titles. As for me, I’ll mirror Boston’s opinion of current Yankee/former Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon: Cairo is dead to me. I’m more interested in what writer G. Willow Wilson does for her comic encore. She’s qualified and talented enough to bring a unique perspective to another story in our beloved medium. When it comes to the artwork, I can’t say I’ll seek out M.K. Perker’s work in the future. But then again, Cairo may be the product of a blues musician being asked to play black metal. All you have to do is look at her online gallery of work to know she’s a fine artist. That being said, if I see her name on a future solicitation, I’ll seek out a few preview pages to see what she’s up to.

If you’re at your local Barnes and Noble or Borders, give Cairo a skim and see what you think. As for me, I’m gonna go reread the first arc of The Invisibles or the latest issue of Jason Aaron’s Scalped and remind myself how good Vertigo can be.



Town Boy

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article in Wired magazine all about the advent of manga and its impact on the American culture. I can’t remember all the figures off the top of my head but the shear number of folks reading manga in Japan is astounding; so much so that it’s almost incomprehensible when you try to compare it with the popularity of Western comics. That got me thinking about the creators behind all those books we’ve never heard of.

Stateside comic names such as Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Stan Sakai, Mike Mignola, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and Alex Ross are all familiar to the pullbox set. Even if you don’t buy their titles, you’ve seen their work or heard their names in passing. But when it comes to the comics scene outside of the states, at least on my end, it starts getting a little hazy. Don’t get me wrong, I can throw out Clamp, Nihei Tsutomu, Moebius, and Sergio Aragones if pressed. But aside from that small group of creators, I’m drawing a serious blank.

Inspired by fellow Indie Pulp contributor Matthew Brady who recently attended a signing for Israeli graphic novelist Ruth Modan’s book, Exit Wounds, I decided to rectify my sad, sad situation by checking out a graphic novel from an international comic’s creator I’ve never heard of.

Lat, or Mohammed Nor Khalid, is the Malaysian creator behind Kampung Boy and Town Boy. Aside from the notoriety he’s gained in his home country, Lat’s work is well-regarded throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. His first book, Kampung Boy, was published in 1979 and was recently reprinted and released in America through First Second Books last August. Although I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of Kampung Boy, I was able to read the recently released Town Boy, also published by First Second Books.

After moving out of a village and into the first low-cost housing complex in Malaysia, 10-year-old Mat and his family begin to settle into their new metropolitan world. Mat attends school in the city of Ipoh; an urban center filled with crowds, swarms of bicyclists, frantic buses, and corner markets. Although he takes a relatively low key approach at his new school, Mat can’t hide his love for music and participates in a small school show. Mat survives the affair without drawing too much attention to himself but his singing is enough to catch the ear of fellow classmate Frankie. Frankie’s father owns a coffee shop and a pretty sweet record collection that includes Elvis, Bobby Darin, the Platters, and a new up and coming group from England calling themselves the Beatles. In one of the neatest moments in the book, the two kids take a moment after school to thoroughly enjoy Bill Haley & His Comets’ cover of "Rock Around the Clock"...

Unfortunately, when Mat returns to his family and implores his parents to get their own jukebox, his appeal falls on deaf ears.

The story features slices of daily adolescent life that translate beyond countries, languages, or time periods. It may be an autobiographical account of the author’s life in 1960’s Malaysia, but the moments could easily be episodes from The Wonder Years. Getting caught for cheating in school. Mustering the courage to talk to that really pretty girl in your math class…

And talking about the future…

Artwise, Lat’s linework reminds me of Cartoon Network’s Ed, Edd and Eddy. Town Boy’s black-and-white pages are filled with the same nervous, thin brush stroke sketchiness seen in the cartoon combined with the “comix” quality visible and made popular in Robert Crumb’s work. The widescreen layout allows for single illustrations to take over an entire two pages or the more traditional single-page, panel breakdown. As for the characters, Lat’s rendition of Mat, Frankie, and assorted classmates has a Peanuts quality that’s both simple and exaggerated. Even as the characters age from 10-year-olds to young adults, the basic visual qualities Lat assigns to the kids remains the same and makes them easily distinguishable.

Although they’ve only been around for a little over a year, First Second Books has made a nice name for themselves with the release of American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, The Black Diamond Detective Agency by Eddie Campbell, Laika by Nick Abadzis, and Robot Dreams by Sara Varon among other quality titles. Now that I’m aware of Lat’s work and his reputation in the international comics community, adding Kampung Boy and Town Boy to their catalog gives First Second even more credibility in my eyes. As a publisher, they've made a great decision in reprinting both titles for the American market. While Lat’s books are being positioned for the Barnes and Noble faithful rather than the cape-loving fanboy, I hope daring and open-minded pullboxers are willing to give Town Boy a try.



Lobster Johnson

Copic brush pen and Photoshop magic.




Here's one of the better results of my new, fancy schmancy Copic brush pen...

Color in Photoshop with a few nicks from the geniuses that are Darwyn Cooke and Sam Hiti.



The Artists Within

Just a few years ago, I was bouncing around from dorm room to undersized apartment, toiling away at my college education. During those years, as I also developed my creative aptitude, my “studio” consisted of living room rugs, strategically positioned milk crates, and hand-me-down computer desks. Today, as I type this little ditty up, I sit comfortably in my official, honest to goodness office/studio. I even have a sweet ass office chair to boot (thanks mom!).

I can’t stress enough how the luxury of having a separate room devoted to one’s craft can not be undervalued. An office/studio is a very personal space filled with inspiration, references, resource library, tools of the trade, music, and just about anything that gets the creative juices flowing. My little piece of the house happens to be inhabited by Hellboy posters, Samurai Jack statutes, a book shelf crammed with DVDs, and partially organized to do piles. It’s my little piece of heaven, separate from my family and the rest of my “regular” life. So when I saw that Dark Horse was publishing a 216-page book devoted to artists and their own pieces of heaven, I was excited to check it out.

The Artists Within: Portraits of Cartoonists, Comic Book Artists, Animators, and Others is a coffee table-sized book featuring black and white photographs of ninety-nine industry names such as Jack Kirby, Sergio Aragones, Will Eisner, Jack Davis, John Romita Sr., Alex Toth, Craig Thompson, Bruce Timm, Robert Crumb, Kyle Baker, Frank Miller, Joe Barbera, and Petter Bagge. The pictures were taken over the course of fifteen years by photographer Greg Preston and feature the artists posing in their respective studios. Aside from the quality photos, the inclusion of comic book artists, comic strip, artists, editorial cartoon artists, caricatures artists, and animators makes for a diverse group of illustrators.

My biggest complaint about Artists Within is that we get the artist but the within is absent. The black and white photography is all well and good; I’m particularly glad that they avoided color whether the artist is a deceased icon, old school trailblazer, or new school hero. But aside from a nice picture and a few sentences worth of text about the artist and what they’ve done, we’re left with nothing else that digs into the artist’s life. If the artists were willing to open their homes and their studios to Preston’s camera, I presume it wouldn’t be that much more work to ask a few process questions.

What tools do you use?
Do you keep a regimented schedule with regards to your art?
How do you balance your family life and your artistic life?

Questions like that. I’ll admit that being a writer/artist, my curiosity into such things may be higher than the average fanboy. But considering that most comic shop goers may not even know who Jack Davis is, taking some time to dig into his process and his studio, aside from a solitary photo, would've appease the audience Artist Within was meant for.

Don't get me wrong; it's evident that Artists Within was produced with a love, passion, and understanding of the artist. I just wish they could’ve taken the next, natural step to make this book a must-have instead of a must-browse.



Proof #1

I’ve always had an affinity for all things monsters, mysterious, and supernatural. The Universal movie monsters, ghosts, Bigfoot, Kolchak, etc. And as I’ve gotten older, my appetite for the weird continues to grow. Now I’m looking into the Dresden Files, Hellboy, and just about anything by Loren Coleman. So when I discovered that Image Comics was going to publish a new series titled Proof that dealt with cryptozoology, I made sure to throw it on the pull list.

For those in the audience unfamiliar with the term, according to the good folks at Dictionary.com, cryptozoology is “the study of evidence tending to substantiate the existence of, or the search for, creatures whose reported existence is unproved, as the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster.”

Proof #1 introduces us to FBI Agent Ginger Brown. During a hold-up at a jewelry store, Agent Brown does her best to settle down the situation when all of a sudden, she quite literally comes face to face with someone, or something, quite unnatural. Next thing she knows, Brown is sitting in front of her supervisor and being told she has just been transferred to Washington. State, not DC. Upon her arrival at her new post, Brown is met by her new boos, Agent Leander Wight, and brought into The Lodge.

What’s the Lodge you ask? Think the B.P.R.D. headquarters from the Hellboy movie but much more…country. Just when things couldn’t get more bizarre, Agent Brown is introduced to her new partner: John “Proof” Prufrock.

Thing is, John “Proof” Prufrock just so happens to be Bigfoot.

Writer Alex Grecian does a nice job of setting up the series and works in some chronological scene shifts to give the first issue’s ending some television pilot-styled closure. You can’t expect too much characterization in twenty-four pages but Grecian is able to set up all of the main characters nicely and leave enough blanks to fill in future issues. As for the pretty pictures, artist Rile Rossmo handles the lines and the inks, providing a sketchy visual atmosphere. There are times in the first issue where I would’ve preferred less-sketchy representations of the main characters, if only to get a better sense of their reactions. But Rossmo’s style does nothing to hinder the storytelling and, if anything, gives the book a slightly skewed and exaggerated look which seems appropriate considering the subject matter.

At the end of the issue, Grecian leaves the reader with a few pages of extra material, including an origin behind the idea for the series and a few recommendations/references from the world of cryptozoology. More importantly, Grecian makes a case for our support of Proof by asserting that he and Rossmo have already completed five-issues of the new series and laid out five years worth of storylines, all before evening signing on with Image Comics. At a time when comics timeliness suffers due to creative lethargy and artistic divas, it’s good to hear that the team behind Proof care enough about their own book to give it the TLC it needs to gain some momentum.

Overall, I’m anxious to see where the series goes. If monsters and cryptids are in the mix, I’ve got all the Proof I need.

Link: Image Comics 5-page preview of Proof #1

Link: Newsarama interview with Proof writer Alex Grecian and artist Riley Rossmo including concept sketches and preview pages



Drive-By DVD Reviews

And now for some quick reviews for movies I've seen in the last few weeks...

Alright, So I’ll admit that Nosferatu is old. 1922 silent film old. But it’s been over ten years since I saw the movie and honestly, my film aptitude has grown exponentially. I’m not sure what led me to recently search out this vampire classic but I’m glad I did. And rather than settle for an online, streaming version of the movie or a cheap, poor quality DVD release, I hunted down the Kino edition that features a newly restored, hi definition transfer of Nosferatu with accurate color tinting and two musical scores in digital stereo. That may sound kinda film school snobbish but all you have to do is see some of the crappy DVD transfers of Nosferatu compared to the Kino edition to see that it makes a difference, especially when watching a movie that is 85-years-old. That being said…

Aside from the story (which is essentially a plagiarized adaptation of Dracula), I was amazed by how amazing Nosferatu is cinematically. I mean…wow. I got the same reaction the first time I saw Citizen Kane. Both movies and both directors (Orson Welles and F.W. Murnau, respectively) are working on another level entirely. Their use of composition, contrast, and shadows is stunning, creating two perfect examples of film as veritable fine art. Watching Nosferatu got me so excited that I immediately went out and bought Shadow of the Vampire; a fictionalized account behind the making of Nosferatu where the title character is not an actor, but rather, an actual vampire.

If you’ve never watched Nosferatu and you’re a fan of film or horror, you owe it to yourself to see this incredible piece of art.

After penning the first two Blade movies and directing the third in the trilogy, David Goyer has settled nicely into the director’s chair with his latest movie, The Invisible. Overall, the flick was entertaining, primarily due to the amount of time the film devotes to introducing the characters before going into Twilight Zone land. In the role of the main character, actor Justin Chatwin comes off as an intelligent albeit repressed teen in a seemingly standard genre outing that could’ve taken the easy CW/OC/I Know What You Did Last Summer way out. If I have a complaint, it’s in the ending. Things get WAY too melodramatic in the last few scenes to the point where I found myself laughing out load at how ridiculous things were playing out. But aside from that, it’d say it’s a 2 ½ star rental.

So after the Miramax-Weinstein split, The Weinstein Company brings along directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez to direct the two-biller Grindhouse. What could’ve been the first of a series of genre double feature flicks unfortunately turned into box office disappointment. What’s a Weinstein Company to do? Well, if you want to make up some of the money you lost you break up Grindhouse into two DVD releases with next to no special features and hope that film fanatics will snatch them up twice when the eventual unrated/unedited/extended edition hits DVD shelves. Until then, I was happy to part ways with a few bucks and rent, not buy, both Grindhouse movies and watch them back to back.

First up: Rodriguez’s Planet Terror...

If anyone can hang their hat on guerilla film-making, it’s Robert Rodriguez. So after seeing Planet Terror, I was rather disappointed. The man behind El Mariachi who used a ladder in the bed of a pickup truck to get a moving crane shot and a wheelchair to get a dolly shot resorts to a faux grindhouse look in order to pull off his end of the double bill. Don’t get me wrong; the script, the B-list actors, and the gore are all in tact. Those elements of the movie feel genuine enough to pass the grindhouse smell test. But the phony film dirt, scratches, and CGI trickery distract. It’s like Rodriguez was trying so hard to make a true grindhouse film that he forgot to hold himself back from using the digital tools at his disposal. After the Spy Kids movies and Sin City, it’s obvious that the director can do CGI on the cheap and do it right. But it comes off as too much for a movie that is attempting to emulate the grindhouse filmmakers that had so little to work with.

Aside from that knock, Planet Terror was a lot of fun to watch. A part of me wants to pick it up on DVD but I’d rather hold off for the full Grindhouse DVD experience with special features galore and all the other fake trailers that were not included in this release.

And now for Tarantino’s Death Proof...

When I saw Death Proof in the theatre, I was getting impatient about ten minutes into the movie. I’m all for patented Tarantino dialogue but for my part, he was pushing it, especially since Tarantino was bringing up the rear of the double feature. Now on DVD, in the comfort of my living room, Death Proof doesn’t play nearly as slow as it did at my local Cineplex. The conversations between the two sets of girls are entertaining enough to keep things moving considering that nothing is really happening. But when the shit goes down, Tarantino drops the hammer and goes into full grindhouse gear. The last twenty minutes are particularly sweet.

As a side note, I remember reading that Mickey Rourke was originally going to play the movie’s baddie. However, Rourke bowed out and Kurt Russell swooped in. That’s the best thing that could’ve happened to the film because there is no way in heaven I could ever see Mickey Rourke as a charming AND crazy psycho. Crazy? Sure. Charming? Not so much. Nine 1/2 Weeks was a long time ago.

So what’s the final verdict? Definite rental.

Zombies. On a plane. Pretty simple…and pretty decent. I was expecting this to be half insulting, half abysmal but the movie is solid. Here’s yet another situation where Denny Green’s logic comes into play: Flight of the Living Dead is what you would think it is. Again, Zombies…on a plane. So crown the director for a sound direct-to-DVD zombie flick and let’s get on with the apparent sequel - Flight of the Living Dead 2: Grounded.

There are times when you have to ask the big question: Why? I know the George Romero helmed original is in public domain which makes the movie’s title and the premise fair game but, seriously…3D? It didn’t work for Jaws. It didn’t work for Jason. And it doesn’t work for the undead.

All you have to do is watch the making-of featurette on the DVD to realize that this movie is going to blow serious chunks. The producer/financier, in his infinite wisdom, was only willing to produce and distribute a horror film if it was a recognizable brand. Thus, Night of the Living Dead. But then to add that extra layer, the film would be in 3D. And not to be completely unoriginal, this remake would replace the solitary house from the original with a marijuana farm. Cheech and Chong meet the undead. Wow. I’d give the director credit for working under these outlandish conditions but in his infinite wisdom, he felt it was crucial to the film’s success to cast actor Sid Haig because, you know, he’s so amazing. Don’t get me wrong; I dig Sid Haig. He was awesome in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. But any production that feels it necessary to cast Sid Haig in order to be an achievement has problems.

Don’t rent this movie and certainly don’t buy it. Stay far, far away.



The Beyond

And last but not least, here is the last of the “best of the worst zombie-related horror flicks” I’ve had the privilege of sitting through. Having mentioned the Italian horror cinema scene made famous by such directors as Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, and Dario Argento in my last review for Messiah of Evil, I wanted to highlight what in my opinion is one of the best spaghetti-zombie flicks…

In 1964, Sergio Leone would direct A Fistful of Dollars; a gritty western based on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and starring American television Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. The following year, the Man with No Name would return in Leone’s For A Few Dollars More. Finally, in 1965, the Italian director produced the western to end all westerns in the epic The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Although the movies feature some of the same actors and some of the same characters (and even that’s debatable), the three films have become known as Leone's "Dollars Trilogy”.

Similarly, following the release of his 1980 zombie gore fest City of the Living Dead (and upon the insistence of the European money men backing his productions), Lucio Fulci went on to direct two more films that have very little in common with each other aside from their emphasize on the reanimated dead: 1981’s The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death) and The House by the Cemetery. Unofficially, the three movies are known as the Gates of Hell trilogy. Of the three, The Beyond is by far the most successful and is considered to be one of Fulci’s best films.

The Beyond revolves around a young New York woman named Liza Merril (Catriona MacColl) who inherits an eerie Louisiana hotel. Unbeknownst to her, the hotel also happens to be one of the seven gates to hell. After moving to the bayou and working to renovate the premises, Liza is assaulted by the unexpected: an admonishing apparition in the form of a blind girl, ferocious flesh-eating spiders, an undead artist who opened the evil portal, and (of course), his zombie legion.

Not to be outdone by the famous “drill to the skull” scene he pulled off in City of the Dead, Fulci filled The Beyond with even more graphic imagery. A dog rips out a person’s throat. A lynch mob pours acidic lime on a persecuted artist. A horde of tarantulas dig into a man’s face. And last but certainly not least is the infamous “nail to the eye” scene (which Fulci would revisit in his Haitian undead horror film, Zombi, proving you can never have too much ocular carnage).

After years of bootlegs and edited versions of the movie, Quentin Tarantino was responsible for releasing an uncut, uncensored print of The Beyond in theatres back in 1998 after acquiring the US distribution rights through his Rolling Thunder Production company banner. That’s when I first saw the movie, at a small Chicago theatre with an affinity for midnight movies (The Music Box, for those in the audience keeping score). And in October of 2000, the fine people at Anchor Bay released The Beyond on DVD with all the picture, audio, and special feature frills it deserves. You can even get the limited edition DVD that comes in a collectible tin limited to 20,000 copies along with a 48-page booklet and six 5"x7" international poster replicas.

With over ten years of hindsight since I initially sat through the movie, aside from the almost nauseating I-could-do-without-it-but-I-get-it gore, The Beyond stills makes quite an impression and is one of the most suspenseful, surreal, and polished Euro-horror flicks I’ve ever seen.