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Updated: 2018-03-05T21:26:05.332-06:00


A Frank Review of "Zombie Dearest" (2009)


The Short Version? Zombie day laborer endures routine
What Is It? Dramazomedy
Who Is In It? Additional Voice Talent, Saw III & IV
Should I See It? No.

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Gus Lawton (David Kemker) is a failed comic supported the past half-dozen years by his wife, Deborah (Shauna Black.) Gus proves as unsuccessful at adultery as everything else in his life, and winds up forced into servitude at Deborah's rural childhood home in hopes of making amends. Gus inadvertently awakens a buried zombie dubbed Quinto (David Sparrow,) who he uses to do his many chores while he works on a terrible caveman themed stand-up act Gus intends to try out in a barn on the local yokels. Quinto unsurprisingly gets up to flesh eating shenanigans while unsupervised, which complicates the Lawtons plans.

Zombie Dearest is clearly a vanity project for writer-director-star David Kemker, who apparently had enough industry ties to call in favors to match '80s Canadian television production values, pull a strong bluegrass cut for the trailer ("Ain't No Grave" by Crooked Still) and cast a credible co-star. Due to the minimal competence on display, it's difficult to tell whether Kemker intended for his characters to be unlikeable, arrogant left-coasters, or if Gus' act is so wretched because Kemker was afraid rednecks might actually laugh at it if he put even an ounce of effort into the writing. It's probably not a good idea to do bad work on purpose when you're an unknown quantity, since it's so easily mistaken for being of poor quality in itself. It doesn't help that a pseudo-love triangle is resolved off-screen, a major plot point about the town's history with the supernatural is never addressed, and the picture is tone deaf as a whole.

At its core, this is an indie flick about displaced liberals in the sticks and their hubris, but it's played too broadly to offer insight. There appears to be overtures toward this being a comedy, but the film doesn't come within spitting distance of funny at any point. Then there's the zombie element, which is so tacked-on that it's safe to assume its involvement was motivated by mercenary inclinations. The film owes more to W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" than George Romero, so when the shit hits the fan in the final minutes of the last act, it flies briefly and with a remarkable lack of feces. Just to rub it in, there's a twist ending that's more depressing than most zombie flicks for the exact wrong reason. This could have been a decent enough half-hour entry in an anthology, but as a full length feature it is completely charmless.


A Frank Review of "Hide and Creep" (2004)


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The Short Version? Plan 9 from I-59
What Is It? Zomedy
Who Is In It? Rednecks
Should I See It? Maybe

Hide and Creep is a mildly amusing entry in the zombie comedy subgenre. It earns good will in the early going through slacker comedy, much of it delivered through a "one of us" sarcastic pop culture geek from out of a Kevin Smith movie. There's also a lot of southerners making fun of southerners (filmed in Alabama by Alabamans,) which is much more fun and legit than when goddamned Yankees try to pull it off. On the other hand, a Dawn of the Dead/King of the Hill mash-up isn't for all tastes, and you will not be surprise to learn these guys were working from a $20,000 budget. The make-up and effects are amateurish, the acting isn't much better, and the direction is so bad at times that even a layperson will question the framing. The first half hour is the sweet spot, as characters and quirky situations are introduced. For instance, the "R" rating isn't just for the full frontal male nudity in the opening scene, but who expected that to be a question in the first place? Both figuratively and literally ballsy. Once the foundation is laid and the initial questions answered though, the lack of variety and depth in the characters wear on the nerves, and there's a strong sense of the screenwriter spitballing for scenarios to keep the crew busy until the arbitrary ending. Enjoyment will to depend on getting your drink on from the top, so your standards can drop off as sharply as the material in the second half.


2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Artist Jam featuring Facehugger by Cody Schibi


Click To Enlarge Of the Aliens cast, I feel the greatest kinship with Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser, unlikely popcult avatars, and have followed their careers the most closely. So many movies have tried to have their own Carter Burke, but it never works as well because they forget that he was more than a corporate slimeball with a homicidal eye toward the bottom line. Despite being manipulative and having an agenda, Carter Burke seemed like an alright guy that supported Ripley emotionally and in the xenomorph business for better than half of Aliens (especially if you factor in the revelations of the director's cut) before his true nature was revealed. You liked the guy, so the betrayal stung all the more. Those positive qualities led me to Reiser's other contemporaneous movie roles, his stand-up, but most especially one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Mad About You. I relate strongly to Paul Buchman, and appreciate his family and environment. That was one of the only long running shows to end on a high note, and I made a point of telling Reiser so. Carter Burke was the second commission in the series that I initiated, when I still thought it would be dominated by jams instead of one-off character spotlights. Given my affection for Reiser, I began to fret that he might take offense at having to share space with other characters when so many of the active fighters in the movie got their own solo works. I nixed adding another character like Spunkmeyer or an alien egg to fill out the page, but the intersect between that character and Burke was close lab encounters with a facehugger, which inspired the idea to use one of those to complete this jam. Facehuggers are one of the most memorable and unnerving aspects of the Alien franchise, with a live specimen that tried to "kiss" Burke with its prehensile sphincter stalk from inside a fluid filled tank anticipating his fate (in an unfilmed or undiscovered scene, Ripley found Burke cocooned and impregnated during her search for Newt, and left him with a grenade he could use to kill himself, which was meant to tie into one of those random explosions in the final act.) I loved this piece offering a chance to (literally) showcase the creature, especially as rendered by Cody Schibi, who is excellent at depicting the weird and grotesque (as well as being another of my very favorite regular artists to commission!) I was asking an awful lot of him though, between the complicated organic spider-crab-beastie, the textures of the metal and glass case, and to stroke Reiser's ego just a tad more, his mirror reflection (as reinterpreted by Schibi in direct contrast to an entirely different artist on the same page.) It was a ridiculous demand that I figured Schibi would overlook to preserve his sanity, but instead he gave me every single thing I wanted with panache like the boss he is! Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton were the top priority signatures, since they were only appearing for one day across less than four total hours between them over roughly simultaneous sittings broken in two between the cast panel. I was lucky enough (and had unwittingly spent enough money beforehand on an extra priority express ticket) to score Weaver's signature during her first hour long signing session, while the girlfriend I was forced to abandon secured me a nice place in line for Paxton. I don't remember if I had Schibi's addition to the jam piece in hand yet, but with all the anxiety and hullabaloo from those first two signings, I wanted to take a break and check on pieces floating around Artists Alley. Also, with Reiser scheduled to be signing for the rest of the weekend, I hoped to eventually catch him during a dry spell and maybe try to milk some extra anecdotes out of him in a b.s. session. However, my girlfriend had kept her eye on Reiser, and didn't think he was enjoying his time stuck at a comic convention in Houston in the summer. To my knowledge, besides Comicpalooza and SDCC, I don't think Reiser really does nerdy conventions. At her urging,[...]

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Ricco Ross as Private Ricco Frost commission by Adrian Nelson


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One of the ways I regulate my spending and exposure on art commissions is to only get pieces at local shows for cash money, which I tried to do with this Frost piece. I considered having Joe Jusko do the job at Space City, but here was another Colonial Marine I was wishy-washy about whether or not they would take part in a jam, and the clock ran out. Also, I had my heart set on getting a piece by Adrian Nelson, who I could usually rely on to appear somewhere at Space City each year. I reached out to him on Twitter, only to learn that he was skipping all the local shows this year to focus on finishing a graphic novel for Kickstarter and another work-for-hire job besides. I couldn't fault him for that, especially because I feel he's one of the strongest local talents to transition into sequential art publications, and I'm still surprised he hasn't done work for a top publisher. I still really wanted him to be a part of the project though, and broke most of my rules by paying him over the internet for a commission I'd receive by meeting him in a McDonald's parking lot partway across town. It was worth it though, as we had a long chat about his potential in comics and his clear influences from greats like Michael Golden, Jason Pearson and Greg Capullo in no way interfering with his having developed his own distinctive and dynamic style. Nelson wasn't comfortable with doing likenesses, and initially struggled with getting the piece started over concerns about that aspect. Once I let him know that wasn't a big deal to me, Nelson cut loose, focusing on Frost's attitude instead of my reference materials. Despite never having drawn a xenomorph before, Nelson went whole hog, incorporating them into his complex design for the piece. The results were splendid, and while Ricco Ross is too suave a dude to make a scene over it, he sure enough got a good cell phone snap of the piece all the same!

Adrian Nelson

2016 Daniel Kash as Private Daniel Spunkmeyer Comicpalooza Commission by Toni Shelton


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Spunkmeyer was a character I didn't know quite what to do with. I thought about adding him to one of the more open Colonial Marine art jams, but he never saw that kind of direct action in the movie. I couldn't put him in a cockpit scene with Corporal Ferro without knowing if I'd ever get to meet Colette Hiller for her autograph. Spunkmeyer was the other person besides Ripley seen using a power loader, but replacing her seemed sacrilegious, and the few artists I spoke with didn't seem keen on drawing that piece of equipment. I considered putting him in with Burke and Gorman as one of the sort of non-combatants, but I felt like it would be too crowded, and I didn't have great reference for his lower half. I then started thinking about obscuring it with something like a xenomorph egg, maybe even having Spunkmeyer squatting to lift a stream of alien ooze off it to reflect his climactic appearance in the bay of the Dropship. I couldn't make up my mind, Space City Comic Con passed into Comicpalooza, and I was swiftly running out of time.

The girlfriend and I walked Artist's Alley, going booth to booth, trying to figure out who to choose for this piece. Eventually, we reached Toni Shelton toward the end of our trek, and we were both impressed with her, so she received the nod. It turned out to be a bit nerve wracking, because she was the only artist on the project chosen that late in the game that I'd never had any experience with. It didn't help that she was so young that she'd never even seen an Alien film, or that she was driven to do good work on this at-home project that lasted until Sunday morning. That said, Shelton's sample pieces were tight, I was confident that the Colonial Marines would stick around for the entire weekend as scheduled, and I wanted her to have the time she needed.

As it turned out, that was the correct course of action. I thought Spunkmeyer was a rather pretty young man with very distinctive features and piercing eyes that Shelton could best capture, and her aim was true. Spunkmeyer was a fairly minor player in the film, and actor Daniel Kash seems to embrace that status, not even taking a proper chair or his own microphone at the furthest end of the table during the cast's panel at the con. When I approached him with the commission explaining that this was the last finished piece and the concluding signature of the project, Kash jumped at the comment as an opportunity for self-deprecation along the lines of "everybody always picks me last." The shame of it is, Toni Shelton drew a leading man, the image of a hero in this narrative that reflected Kash's anecdotes about his self-image while auditioning for the role before Jim Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. I complemented Kash on his straight from the hip, no B.S. interviews and entertainingly surly attitude, but at the same time I felt bad that he didn't seem able to see himself at his best thirty years past, as captured in Shelton's appealing work.

Toni Shelton

2016 Cynthia Scott as Corporal Cynthia Dietrich Comicpalooza Commission by Chris Beaver


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Forgive me if this later set of Aliens 30th Anniversary posts are shorter and sloppier, but I piddly-farted around too long and the actual date of release caught up with me. I'm posting these pretty much in real time after working a 14 hour overnight shift and having stayed up 21 hours so far trying to get this done. I got as many of these Colonial Marines commissions finished at Space City Comic Con as I could manage, because I really didn't want to juggle turning around pieces at the same show where I was also trying to get cast signatures. Dietrich was a candidates to join one of the multi-character/artist jam pieces, but that notion didn't pan out, so I needed a solo piece at Comicpalooza. Not wanting to take any chances, I approached Chris Beaver, who has always done good work for me. Here, he thinks outside the box, going for a landscape waist-up action heavy image. I'm fond of the hallway recalling the ruined Hadley's Hope, and how the flamethrower's light bleaches out much of the surrounding area and the xenomorph warrior's midsection (a choice rendering, and) a turnabout on the infamous Mars Attacks trading card "Burning Flesh". Dietrich was the very first marine taken out by the xenomorphs, from behind in an ambush. When I showed it to her actress, Cynthia Scott, I think we were both happy to see Dietrich finally get the chance for some payback!

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Xenomorph Queen Comicpalooza Commission by Mark A. Nelson


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As Comicpalooza approached, I began to realize that the convention had booked a number of non-actors associated with Aliens for the show. It occurred to me that I ought to get some sort of catch-all "technical achievement" commission that would create a space for all of these creators to be acknowledged and leave their John Hancocks. For instance, the entire team responsible for the first Dark Horse Comics Aliens mini-series were present, including illustrator Mark A. Nelson. I was familiar with him through his extensive work at Dark Horse, as well as the cool but forgotten Vertigo mini-series Blood & Shadows with Joe R. Lansdale. I approached him about doing an Alien Queen, which he confessed he hadn't drawn in a long time, but we had a shared reference point through Starlog's 1986 The Official ALIENS movie book. He'd used it for years but I'd only recently bought one after being taunted by ads for it going back to my impoverished childhood. Nelson was totally game about the commission, and also a great sport in general and a good conversationalist besides.

I ended up buying a copy of Aliens 30th Anniversary: The Original Comics Series from him, which is a very nifty oversized hardcover collection of the first mini, covers, plates, anthology stories and other rarities with black metallic ink ringing around the edges of the pages. Nelson drew an Alien Warrior head for me on the inside, while letter Willie Schubert (who I still need to contact about a project we discussed) and writer Mark Verheiden (who I also got to interview) also signed the book & the commission. Pretty sweet, no? They were joined on the art piece by Spat Oktan of SpatCave Studios (who had designed costumes for the Aliens: Colonial Marines video game and outfitted a number of cosplayers at the show) and Alec Gillis. The latter had done design and effects work on several Aliens films, and is featured on the commentary track for Alien3. We had quite a nice chat about the virtues of practical FX and his current project, Annabelle 2, which never would have happened without this commission. Pretty sweet, no?

Mark A. Nelson

2016 Bill Paxton as Private William Hudson Space City Comic Con Commission by Geoff Shaw


Click To Enlarge Bill Paxton is one of my favorite Aliens cast members, both because of his willingness to put himself out there with difficult characters, and because he's such a Texan. I know the characters he plays in real life, and sometimes I see myself in them. My cousin is basically Hudson + Vince Vaughn's character from Made. It's also why I love Billy Bob Thornton's screenplays, especially One False Move, which starred Paxton as an over-eager small town sheriff in way over his head as vicious murderers bring neo-noir to town on their way to Houston. I can't imagine how hard it is to play a cowardly blowhard like Hudson, over a human hurricane like Dale Dixon, or the dichotomy of a god-fearing serial killer like the father in Frailty. It has to be emotionally draining and often thankless, because Paxton so inhabits these compromised characters that he doesn't get the credit for his acting effort. I feel that Hudson is one of the iconic roles in cinema, like Ripley, Vasquez, and Burke, that created an archetype seen in scores of flicks since. I also believe Bill Paxton remains one of the great under recognized character actors, so I wanted to get a really awesome commission to show my appreciation for both the character and performer. I wanted someone who could capture Hudson's more comedic side, but wouldn't drift too far outside the action/horror/sci-fi of the films as reflected by the other commissions. Ahead of the show, I was seriously considering Joseph Michael Linsner, but he cancelled soon after he was announced. For two days, I traveled up and down Artist's Alley, trying to find a replacement that could manage the precarious balance required to nail Hudson. After much deliberation, I finally chose Geoff Shaw, an up and coming artist I'd been impressed by through his online galleries (and I'd just gotten a copy of his new Dark Horse Comics trade paperback The Paybacks, but haven't had a chance to read it yet.) We set up the commission late on Saturday, and he wasn't able to get it done Sunday, so we made arrangements for me to pick it up from his hotel lobby the next day shortly before he was to leave for his flight (which is getting to be a habit with me after picking up jobs from Rob Liefeld and Norm Rapmund the same way.) I seriously had no idea what to expect when I showed up, which was great, because I got to be that much more blown away by the reveal of the finished work. I'd asked Geoff Shaw to take the character seriously, treating with respect a braggart in an unbelievably terrifying situation who cracks under the strain but still soldiers on (not remotely in those words, but in a scatterbrained approximation with a bunch of other babbling nonsense to muddle through.) As Shaw put it, "he's not a strong man," but he sincerely looked into the soul of Hudson and found at least a semblance of strength in a man who watches everything he had faith in collapse swiftly and brutally under the weight of xenomorph infestation. It's an exceptional likeness, but more than that, Shaw captured the very being of Paxton as Hudson. I was overwhelmed with admiration for the obvious effort, and when I showed the piece to other artists, they were very impressed with the technique (which presumable included cutting out a stencil around the main figure to allow him to be dirtied up with greasy ink splotches in the midst of shuttle wreckage while the surrounding background remained prestine, surely a time intensive but highly satisfying effect.) This gorgeous commission immediately rocketed up to my top favorites. A few weeks later, I hopped into Bill Paxton's signature line at Comicpalooza. He met me with a big smile and a boisterous voice, jubilantly scrutinizing the piece and pointing out his wife's name on Hudson's armor. I explained about how this was an original piece of art, the overall project, and also how much I'd enjoyed [...]

2016 Jenette Goldstein as Private Jenette Vasquez Space City Comic Con Commission by Liam Sharp


Click To Enlarge As a minor Marvel U.K. fan, I was on board to preorder Death's Head II for both its solicitations based on my past experience with the cheesier original version of the character and the tiny but rad looking sketch of the new Chromium Age version used in the copy. I was blown away when the mini-series finally came out drawn by an exciting new find, Liam Sharp, who combined the flash of Jim Lee with the sinewy punk rock Frazetta feel of Simon Bisley. I kept up with Sharpe from then on, to Frontier, Verotik, and wherever. When I heard he was coming to town, I knew I had to get a piece, and it seemed obvious he should do the toughest of all the Colonial Marines! I liked Vasquez straight away when I saw Aliens thirty years ago, and she's since become a cultural icon. Despite the actress being Jewish, my Mexican girlfriend bought her as one of her own, and dismissed the recent P.C. police murmurings about whitewashing. It would be an issue today, but in 1985 England? Not so much. I had some ideas about how Sharp's take might turn out, maybe emphasizing action and employing her smartgun. I was very happily surprised to see him offer a more pensive Vasquez, staring out from some sort of fence or barrier. The approach emphasized her humanity over being the smack-talking Valkyrie that usually comes to mind, recalling her deep affection for her comrades and her penchant for self-sacrifice in their defense (not to mention her her defiant resignation during the final assault on the marines' stronghold. I have major reservations about the current sword-slinging incarnation of Wonder Woman, whose book Sharp just took over as part of the DC Rebirth initiative. Sharp's thoughtful approach here (and his writing partner Greg Rucka) gives me heart that the Amazing Amazon I love is still being published, and what I've seen of Sharp's work on the book looks to be a career best for both the artist and Princess Diana. I took the page up to the actress who played Vasquez, Jenette Goldstein, who expressed the most enjoyment and interest of any of the cast toward these commissions. She asked questions about who the artist was and what the image represented, as well as both admiring his technique. I kept the Sharp in hand for more of both Space City Con & Comicpalooza than most any other piece, and it generated the most comments from the other artists. Also, I brought my girlfriend to meet Goldstein, and she was wearing a souvenir t-shirt from our European vacation a few years ago. Goldstein noted, "You don't look like a Poland," to which the girlfriend swiftly replied "You don't look like a Vasquez," which we all got a chuckle out of (with assurances that no offense was intended, and that the actress' portrayal of a Latino had both of our seals of approval.) Goldstein tried to take a cell phone pick of the art, but I happened to have a xerox of it handy, so it was nice to offer her a souvenir of Houston in reciprocity for signing my stuff. I have to say, my best experience with the Aliens cast was with Jenette Goldstein, and she's still a favorite! Liam SharpFacebookTwitterdeviantART[...]

2016 Michael Biehn as Corporal Dwayne Hicks Space City Comic Con Commission by Tommy Nguyen


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Hicks was a tricky character because I'd planned to have him be in a jam with Ripley and Newt (which ceased to be an option) and drawn by either Eddy Barrows (canceled out of show at the last minute) or Aaron Lopresti (whose commission list filled up so he turned me down.) Now I needed a new artist who could deliver a more expansive single character image for Hicks. I hadn't worked with Tommy Nguyen before, but I liked his art samples and his style seemed to suit Hicks, so I took a chance. Nguyen did a great job on the character, his armor, his on-model pulse rifle, and placing him on a smoldering battlefield atop a mound of Alien corpses. Badass!

I brought the piece to Kyle Reece himself, who was pleasant. He had an oddly mechanical but metal signature of large intersecting straight lines, and made an interesting showing at the Aliens cast panel, congratulating the director and the lead. You can check out it out for yourself below...

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Tommy Nguyen

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Mark Rolston as Private Mark Drake Jam Art by Vo Nguyen & Lance Schibi


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As previously mentioned, I asked Vo Nguyen to draw Drake at Space City Comic Con with the intention of his being the center figure in a multi-character, multi-artist jam. However, the project slowly morphed into being mostly single character, single artist pieces with more background elements and greater latitude for individual interpretation. This piece suffered during that shift, since the black squiggly lines radiating from Drake prevented any other characters from being organically integrated into the piece, but all the negative space left over made the piece look terribly plain compared to others' work. I felt bad about presenting it to the actor who played Drake, Mark Rolston, and got it into my head to return to the jam concept for a background.

Lance Schibi has started a couple of these jams in the past, and was a really trouper in fleshing out this piece. Because of time constraints, I'd gone ahead and gotten Rolston's signature, and he was very gracious and warm during the process. I'd also handed out all my reference materials, even the 1986 Starlog magazine I'd picked up that spotlighted Aliens and included some pull-out posters. I'd gone to the trouble of putting indexing tabs all over it, but the photos weren't great and I mostly stuck with higher resolution internet printouts. Even still, neither were on hand for the artist. Between whatever he could dig up on his phone and pure imagination, Schibi crafted an appropriately grotesque Giger-organic Alien hive shell around Drake, with squirming maggots and draping tendons for good measure. He took the piece all the way home without leaving Houston's Comicpalooza, and I'm grateful to him for jazzing it up!

Lance Schibi

2016 William Hope as Lieutenant Scott Gorman Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Josef Rubinstein


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Joe Rubinstein was one of the few marquee inkers in comics when I was growing up, thanks to his work on The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and the original Wolverine mini-series. He's been to town once or twice before in recent years, but I always had it in mind to get him to embellish one of my pencil-only commissions, and I never got my stuff together to give that a go. Rubinstein's faces have a quiet nobility to them, and when I was considering artists to render Lt. Gorman, he seemed like a perfect fit. On the surface, Gorman was a handsome, stable commanding officer for the Colonial Marines. It was only after his inexperience came to light and the fit hit the shan that Gorman was revealed to be a less that ideal candidate. After getting Dietrich Smith's Carter Burke back, I thought Gorman could contrast the softness of the murderously ambitious villain with a firmer line and appearance of strength, even though we would still know that neither of these dudes were safe bets in the foxhole. It was great to finally meet Rubinstein, and even though he seemed a bit wary of the potentially negative association ("Why did you think of me" to draw Gorman?) I assured him that it was solely because the quality of his work seemed capable of making this cowardly dude come across as admirable. I think he nailed the likeness (more so in facial shading that was lost in the scanning process,) and when I presented the piece to the actor who played Gorman, he seemed to dig it. William Hope was also gracious and acquitted himself well in the cast panel later in the weekend, so don't assume the fellow has anything in common with Gorman beyond an IMDb credit.

Josef Rubinstein

2016 Paul Reiser as Carter Burke Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Dietrich Smith


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As I've mentioned in previous posts, my original plan was to do a series of 11" x 17" multi-artist, multi-character jams across several landscape oriented Bristol boards. I already knew Matt Haley was going to do two characters on his own board, but I still thought I might squeeze Hicks into that piece by another artist (not yet realizing Haley would produce a complete image with backgrounds and everything.) My second stop was to Dietrich Smith, who had already contributed to two of my jam projects, including K'hym J'onzz. I knew he could handle that kind of collaboration, plus he was good at likenesses, and I wanted someone with a more delicate touch to handle weaselly corporate man Carter Burke amidst all those rugged Colonial Marines. We decided to flip the orientation to vertical to allow for fewer but larger figures, since the project was going to go across multiple boards anyway, and that would allow for a better modular organization for the project. Smith put a lot of subtle variations in shading and pinstripe detail into the piece that unfortunately doesn't come through in the scan, plus it looks more gray here because upping the contrast would obliterate a lot more of his work. Further, I got the second drawing in the jam done before I could scan this piece, so I crudely took that figure out in Paint for this isolated presentation, further compromising its integrity. It doesn't look bad here, but I guarantee it looks a lot better in my hands than on your screen.

Dietrich Smith

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Ripley & Newt Space City Comic Con Commission by Matt Haley


Click To Enlarge As I usually do with commissions, I spent a fair amount of time researching the prospective artists to decide which characters best suited their individual styles. Matt Haley is one of my favorite comics artists, and one of the very few for whom I'll buy a comic for their art alone. This would be my first chance to get a Haley, and he's especially good at drawing women, so it wasn't a hard decision to select him for the main subject, Ripley. When I approached Haley, he confessed to having a soft spot for Sigourney Weaver, and was enthusiastic about the piece. In fact, he was hired to draw her for "comic book" interstitial scenes in the upcoming Walter Hill film Tomboy, a Revenger's Tale, but had not gotten to meet her or find out whether she liked his portrayal of her. Star Michelle Rodriguez was more obviously approving, having gotten Haley to paint a portrait of her to keep. Haley really wanted to paint Weaver as well, and I suspect for however much he might have aimed to do good work for me, his efforts were at least partly driven to audition for Weaver, if I could get the piece into her hands. I'd originally planned to do another multi-character artist jam along the lines of the J'Onn J'Onzz Family Portrait I had done last year, but Haley effortlessly talked me into allowing him to do a fully inked rendering of both Ripley and Newt that would extend to a "take home" project and a FedEx shipment ahead of Comicpalooza and the arrival of the Aliens cast to Houston. Obviously, Haley was a man of his word, producing an excellent cover quality piece that puts most of Dark Horse's published efforts to shame, complete with a background and a cameo appearance from an Alien warrior. The likenesses are solid and the personalities are dead on. I especially loved the touch of adding Casey, the plastic doll head that was Newt's only toy and "companion" after the massacre of her family at Hadley's Hope. For once, the Kinko's Xerox of the original 11" x 17" shrunk down to letters size to fit on my scanner was reasonably faithful, probably because the ink work is pitch black. In fact, my scan grayed it out some, so I had to contrast it back. The scan loses some of the pencil gray shading, but otherwise what you see is what I got. Usually there's at least one naysayer when I get a commission, but this one has met with only universal praise. Virtually every square inch of the image space was utilized, so when I brought it to Carrie Henn, the actress who played Rebecca "Newt" Jorden, I asked her to sign the back. She was I think the first autograph I collected, and helped start the pattern of the actors adding the character name below their signature in quotation marks. She was nice and seemed to like the piece, plus I got a certificate of authenticity with her picture and a little hologram sticker on it. The next day was Saturday, and the only chance to get Sigourney Weaver to sign for her character, Ellen Ripley. The girlfriend and I arrived at least a half hour early, but there was still a long line of people like us with various speed passes that allowed access to the hall before those with regular badges. We made a beeline to Weaver's section, despite it being a bit of a crap shoot, since she was only scheduled to sign for one hour before the Aliens panel and then two more afterward (plus some photo ops somewhere in there.) I didn't realize that as part of my specific admission package, I got to leap frog over a lot of angry people who thought they were already in the maximum speed lane. I felt more than a little bit guilty bypassing them (plus I had to abandon my girlfriend with little warning,) but I also wanted to get this key autograph out of the way. On the plu[...]

2016 Mark Rolston as Private Mark Drake Space City Comic Con Jam Sketch Detail by Vo Nguyen


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Aliens was one of my first favorite films, taking the title when I saw it at the movies in the summer of 1986 and holding it for about four years before its first serious challenger. Even still, it shifted in and out of the top spot throughout the '90s, watched tirelessly several times per year until I was given a VHS copy of the director's edition. As much as I appreciated the extra scenes, repeat viewings with the extended running time finally wore out the film's welcome. I took a break from it for a long while, typically watching it only a couple times per decade.

The realization that this year marked the 30th anniversary of the film and that Houston's Comicpalooza would be hosting a celebratory reunion (announced and even conducted long before San Diego, thank you very much,) reignited my dormant affection for the entire franchise. I finally bought the Alien Anthology Blu-Ray and watched the tetralogy (still working my way through the commentary tracks, though.) I also decided that since I was going to spend many hundreds of dollars to meet most of the cast, I ought to make a project of it. I usually get art commissions done at the local shows, and I decided to have drawings of each cast member done so that I'd have something unique and personally gratifying to get signed, as well as to perhaps serve as a conversation piece.

Vo Nguyen had done a number of pieces for me a few years ago, and I thought he would be a good fit for Vasquez's hard man partner in crime Drake. I was still thinking we'd be doing multiple artist jam pieces at this point, but that didn't pan out, which explains the negative space I ultimately decided needed to be filled. I've got about half a day's worth of hourly posts lined up to celebrate the exact day of Aliens30th, July 18, so check back later for those renovations...

Vo Nguyen

A Frank Review of "The Girl's Guide to Depravity" Season 2 (2013)


Prison Pit of the Earth-Pig The Under Guides Graphic Novel Podcast - Prison Pit of the Earth-Pig The Coming Together Rule: That last dangling plot point is used to wrap up the season, and it involves the camera lingering on Chasty Ballesteros' bare ass while making Sam deeply uncomfortable. Go on... I'm with you on this. Speaking of uncomfortable, Dean proving a better relationship guru than Sienna doesn't feel like the right way to go on a "Girl's Guide" show, but I like Dean so much better than "the rules" that I'll stay aboard. He might even redeem Megan, who gets another good lay, quietly serving as the show's MVP in that department. Pill Pusher Penni on the other hand gets trampled over as the season winds down. It would be best to get Patty back for season 3 after this. There's a lot of attempted humor in the back half of the episode that doesn't come across, and even with some important reunions in the finale, the closing feels cheap and tacked-on. It doesn't help that Sam and Ryan and some sort of coupling mandate dominates. Two seasons in, and I'd have to say this is a show where I'd cherry-pick maybe three episodes a year to tepidly recommend to anyone. Things wrap here much the same way they did with season one-- the promise of a show that had good moments and hopefully has its shit together to fully deliver next time. However, season two was a hot mess, and who knows when or if season 3 will happen with what component parts. My recommendations would be that if you're going to have gay characters as more than comic relief, don't be afraid to let them do some gay shit. Get a stronger, more appealing mentor figure if you're going to keep the "rules" aspect, but it would be okay to toss that crap. If Lizzie isn't a season regular again in S3, she'd be perfect as a recurring guest star in this capacity, showing up to set the "Girls" straight in times of trouble. Much better than making them seem like bimbos spouting slut scripture that doesn't legitimately play. Rachel could also serve in that role, though preferably in the regular cast. Jenna needs to develop past a featureless victim who gets revenge. Maintain Megan's progress. Seriously consider downgrading Sam's screen time, as that character was a weak link that dragged the whole show down. Work on your skin-fu for better depravity in a show that never lives up to the title. Finally, for goodness sake, please write the leading female characters with the diversity and verve of the male supporting cast, who routinely outshine the presumed subjects of the damned program. That last one is a rule the show may well live or die by. src="//" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen> "The Girl's Guide to Depravity" Season 2 Extended Promo from Rive Gauche Television on Vimeo. [...]

The Seventh Circuit Court of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Appeals For All Anyone Cares #18


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (1966)Dynamo #1T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (2011)T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (2014) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)Hey look, another classic Tower issue in my possession! However, I didn't read any of these stories prior to picking up the second volume of DC's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Archives, so no rosy glow of nostalgia here. This issue had a lot to live up to after the exceptional prior edition, and at least at the start, it seemed like it would meet the standard set there. The opening Woody Dynamo story had a swell hook, our downtrodden hero reflecting on his being wanted for treason. That would have been a good engine to run a longer story, or even to launch the Dynamo solo series that came out the same month. Too bad they kept things short and simple, a cute ten page yarn that wraps up easily. The story is interrupted by an ad for the "Commander Abdominal Supporter Belt," but that girdle isn't fooling anyone. There's a lot of good to be said about the Lightning strip. The returning Warp Wizard has a power that believably checks a super-speedster, unlike making rain or champion boomerang throwing. Mike Sekowsky depicts the villainy well, with a particularly suffocating countdown to doom. Steve Skeates' dialogue pops, but if I had to finger a problem, it would be with the writing. This is the second time Skeates has used the same villain in two consecutive installments of the strip, and for every inventive turn taken, there's something dumb that has to happen because the script said so. All in all though, Lightning is one of the book's most consistent entertainers. "Subterranean Showdown" was weird. The art was credited to George Tuska, but he's barely recognizable. There's a bunch of continuity references in the story, but characterization is way off. Dynamo is an over-eager sexist nitwit, Kitten Kane is a useless coward, and NoMan is cavalier with the life of a fellow agent. The return of Dynavac has potential that is squandered, and a whole new one-time power is invented for an agent to wrap things up. A Dynamo pin-up is repurposed into an ad for his spin-off book, and then Iron Maiden gets her own lovely dossier page by Wood and Dan Adkins. Next up are full page ads for Fight The Enemy and Undersea Agent, then a letters column. An editorial reply noted "Lightning has become tremendously popular." I guess I spoke too soon about John Giunta taking over Menthor, as he was moved to NoMan after only two months, though it's understandable once you get to the last story of the issue. Before that though, Bill Pearson offers a histrionic Invisible Agent under circumstances that are understandable but uncomfortable with regard to characterization. NoMan basically flips out over the human opportunities he's lost in becoming a supposedly tireless agent. The good is that this is an unusual story for its time which sets NoMan apart from other companies cookie cutter crimefighters, but on the other hand, it kind of invents NoDickery. Giunta appears more comfortable with this character than Menthor, though perhaps the inks of Sal Trapani helped. Finally, the big one, likely the most highly regarded and oft-noted T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents story ever: Menthor in "A Matter of Life and Death!" by Dan Adkins with additional layouts/inks by Wally Wood that render the Steve Ditko pencils barely recognizable as such. It's funny that nobody ever mentions the Ditko part, but you can see it in the body language and the more exaggerated Subterraneans. The story does a good job of pointing out the mishandling of the property to date, including the need for added security measures after J[...]

Zero Vol. 1: “An Emergency” (2014)


(image) Back in 1993, when Brian Michael Bendis was a nobody who styled his name with an "Æ" because he was insufferable, he produced a two issue mini-series through Caliber called Fire. It was an Americanized version of La Femme Nikita, like Point of No Return, but if the boyfriend were the spy. It was all about secret training facilities that churned out amoral cutthroat agents who were kept in the dark and fed shit by their ruthless superiors who would pit them against one another or leave them to rot somewhere as it suited their agenda. Twenty years later, Zero is just like that, except with more Bond-influenced Steranko sci-spy elements, like a less sexy version of Fraction, Ba & Moon's Casanova from a few years ago. I bring all this up because the cover of the Zero trade paperback has all these hyperbolic blurbs about how it is "changing comics" and "takes the spy genre to a new level" and yeah, shut up, no it doesn't. Let's just enjoy this for what it is.

What I like about Zero is that after I've done so much bitching about the lost art of single issue storytelling, this collection of the first five issues of the ongoing series tells five complete if interdependent tales. They span from the beginning of this century through 2038 and numerous locales around the globe. Each chapter is drawn by a different artist, usually one with very few credits in the field, creating an appropriate disorientation and unfamiliarity as our protagonist is dropped into one extremely dangerous situation after another. It's a showcase not only for a variety of imagery, but also for Ales Kot's ability to write to each. That diversity also means individual readers are going to enjoy some stories more than others, and there is a consistent, oppressive tone of brutal conflict and general doom that is perhaps less appealing. At the end of the book, Zero is still basically a cypher intended to function within each story's demands, so there isn't exactly anyone to root for or become invested in. Still, it's a worthwhile experiment within the industry, and enjoyable single serving fictions that I might continue with, so long as the next volume doesn't fall on a month with too many other treats to try.


Revolutionary War (2014)


In 1988, my half-brother visited his grandparents in Ireland, they made a trip to London, and he brought me back a souvenir copy of Dragon's Claws #2. It seemed like a rare and exotic artifact, but as it turned out, the Marvel UK series was being distributed concurrently in the U.S. direct market. We both had access to comic shops in 1989, and between us collected the entire ten issue series. I doubt it would read exceptionally well today, but at the time its gritty, violent dystopian future of death sport and government malfeasance was exciting to a teenager gravitating toward more aggressive fantasies. Death's Head had a few single page comic strips and a guest appearance in the book, and I liked him, so I picked up The Life and Times of Death's Head trade paperback when it turned up at a B. Dalton Booksellers a year or so later. It was an interesting read, given that the character had debuted in Transformers and Doctor Who comics that weren't licensed for republication, but there were a lot of nudge-nudge/wink-wink asides packed in to reference them. My brother also bought a few issues of Knights of Pendragon, but I don't think it clicked with either of us. A revamp mini-series, Death's Head II, was solicited in 1991 but delayed until 1992. Very influenced by Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the story was action-packed time travel liquid metal nonsense drawn in a more commercial take on the Biz style, perfect for the times. I was hooked, and when Marvel UK rolled out a new wave of titles to exploit the speculator boom, I sampled the majority of them. Hell's Angel had art by Dragon's Claws Geoff Senior which I enjoyed very much, but none of the bleak humor of the prior series and tedious seemingly monthly X-Men tie-ins, so I jumped after a few issues. The Death's Head II ongoing series initially retained the flashy art of Liam Sharpe, but lost all its momentum from the mini-series due to tedious seemingly monthly X-Men tie-ins, so I jumped after a few issues. Warheads was closer to the vibe of Dragon's Claws with its dimension hopping mercenaries and sci-fi/action/horror vibe, though the main draw was the junkie fever dream art of Gary Erskine. He's still likely the only artist to ever sneak a silhouetted scrotum into a Marvel comic, but he left the book very early on. Then there were the tedious X-Men/Marvel US tie-ins, so I jumped after a few issues. You might notice a pattern emerging, and I did too. Despite some very pleasing early art by Gary Frank, I only gave Motormouth and the obligatory Marvel US guest stars a one issue trial, and skipped Digitek and the Knights of Pendragon revamp entirely. It didn't help that they were pumping out ever increasing amounts of obvious low rent garbage to fill the stands with polybagged #1s, including about half a dozen variations on Death's Head II. My last dance with the line was MyS-TECH Wars #1, which despite the talents of Dan Abnett and Bryan Hitch couldn't overcome the toxicity of the line or the unnecessary inclusions of Marvel US characters. Elements of the Marvel UK books have popped up again in recent years, mostly under nostalgic British creators. Andy Lanning, recently "divorced" from his decades long writing partnership with Abnett, pitched a revival mini-event to editor Stephen Wacker for 2013. Joined by new co-writer Alan Cowsill, Lanning scripted four of seven one-shots that made up "Revolutionary War," a play on Dez Skinn's "Marvel Revolution" of the UK branch in the 1970s. I'm not sure how they would work for the uninitiated, but as a reader who has brushed up against these concept[...]

God is Dead: Volume One (2014)


God is not dead. It's actually a second coming, not of Jesus, but of oodles of ancient deities of world myth clashing like Mortal Kombat with global consequences. I read God is Dead yesterday, and had planned on mounting a lengthy takedown of the book based on Jonathan Hickman's elevated reputation and the high profile of the book by Avatar standards. I was going to compare conflicting views of last Sunday's "The Watchers on the Wall" episode of Game of Thrones and use them to consider objective versus subjective critical evaluation. It was going to be involved. Then I read some reviews online, spanning from tepid to condemnatory, and figured there's no sense in killing myself trying to shine amidst a choir. God is Dead is a poor piece of craft. Hickman is given a full credit for the writing of the six issues collected in this arc, and even though I haven't liked much of his work that I've tried, he's previously been competent. Mike Costa shares writing credit, and assumes it solely from the seventh issue forward. Given that his primary writing experience has been on adaptations of Hasbro toy licenses, I'm inclined to think Hickman gave Costa a basic outline with the expectation that it would be fleshed out, and Costa did no such thing. Where the premise brings to mind Gaiman's "Season of Mists," the execution is less nuanced than the remake of a Devlin/Emmerich film directed by Uwe Boll. It reads like a maladjusted teenager smashing a younger sibling's action figures together while cursing. The title reeks of cultural imperialism. The most powerful god is a very Caucasian Zeus. The only non-white characters are the gods of the Hindus (gray/blue-skinned,) Ancient Egypt and Latin America (anthropomorphic.) The primary aggressors are Nordic, most recently acknowledged in real life by Nazis and White Supremacists. There could have been subtext drawn there, but rest assured, the material is too shallow for anything but a surface reading. The collective of super-scientists trying to figure out how to stop the gods are uniformly honky, including an extremely distracting Albert Einstein and a merely distasteful Stephen Hawking analog. The only prominent female is a gun-toting new wave/goth sex kitten perhaps modeled after early '80s Jamie Lee Curtis who never changes out of her impractical bosomy costume and exists based on how she relates to the male characters. Almost impossibly, those characters are even more threadbare and disposable, giving ammunition to Men's Rights Advocates looking for offense. Everybody who reads this suffers. The art by Di Amorim reinforces the feeling that this was an ultraviolent mid-90s Thor annual that fell out of a parallel universe. It functionally represents the plot with a smidge of faux-Image flash while being stiff, flat, and altogether failing to convey any legitimate trace of humanity. There are no actual characters in the book, merely dramatic events and gory fatalities divorced from emotional context. It's a Chromium Age crossover from a small publisher you're unfamiliar with whose characters are all washed out recreations of better known properties, full of blood and thunder divorced of relevance to the reader. [...]

Prison Pit, Book One (2009)


(image) I've had limited exposure to Johnny Ryan, mostly through Angry Youth Comix, which wasn't my bag. However, Tucker Stone has talked up his graphic novel series Prison Pit, so I opted to give it a try. Johnny Ryan still isn't my bag. A badass alien criminal who dresses like a luchador gets sentenced to a truncated life on an extremely hostile penitentiary planet. I don't recall if he's ever given a name, and it's unimportant. This guy commits and has committed upon him acts of heinous violence that usually bring in some element of wild alien biology as a complication in the action. Animated tentacle intestines, exo-suits made from mounds of ejaculated sperm... that sort of thing. There isn't much plot or dialogue, so you can burn through the initial 120 page volume inside a few minutes. If you're into unpretentious, boyish avenues to ultraviolence or are curious how Jack Kirby might have handled a symbiote that fellates its master while he's covered in the blood and gore of their opponents, this might be for you. To the rest of us, it's juvenile, amateurish, uninvolved, unevolved and all around ridiculous.


Six Degrees of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. For All Anyone Cares #186


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #6 (1966)JCP Features The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #6 (2011)T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #6 (2014) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #6 (Tower, 1966, 25¢)In the interest of full disclosure, I have to point out that this issue was probably the first of the original Silver Age series I ever owned, purchased at SDCC in 2000 during my only wonderful trip there. There's a lot of positive association for me, but at the same time, I feel I can objectively say that it's a great issue. I don't know that I ever made the connection between the Red Dragon's appearance as I read it (a reprint story in #20 from issue #3) versus "Dynamo and the Sinister Agents of the Red Star," but this titular disciple put the original villain to shame. Red Star has a better costume, contrasting against Dynamo's blues, and his martial arts finesse allows him to work over the powerhouse using his own misguided muscles. For me, this is a quintessential Dynamo yarn, with troubled romance, job problems, very cheeky humor, charming Cold War super-spy tropes, and heroic difficulties that embarrass and stymie without making Len Brown look like a meathead. The women are strong, sexy and respectable, the villains cunning, and the art by Wally Wood and Dan Adkins stunning. I also have to point out the silent semi-splash where Dynamo is fired like a torpedo toward the enemy submarine. It's only two-thirds of the page, but by using the surrounding panels for set-up and the simple restraint of not using the same trick anywhere else in the story, it has vastly more impact than one of Ivan Reis' lovely but limp mini-portfolios DC has the nerve to call comic book these days. Since I have the actual Tower comic for once, I'll point out the presence of a house ad here for Dynamo #1, which you could get free with a ten issue subscription commitment to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for just $2.50. It was strategically placed after the Dynamo story, opposite an ad for Balentine Books' Edgar Rice Burroughs collection. Later in the issue, they plug Dynamo #1 again as a twenty-five cent single issue direct mail offer to "Avoid the disappointment of your newsstand being 'sold out,'" along with Find the Enemy... Fix the Enemy... Fight the Enemy #1. Given what a blatant rip-off of the Flash he is, and how I've never liked speedster characters, I have to admit that the Lightning strip was one of the most consistent in quality of the early going. Steve Skeates, Mike Sekowsky & Frank Giacoia clearly had a solid Flash run in them, and they were all moonlighting from DC Comics anyway, but absent that opportunity they deliver the goods here. Guy Gilbert is frankly not as bright as Barry Allen by half, but his military background offers a different path toward problem solving that entertains. Sekowsky brings his wily, rocky vibe to the premise, making up for the lack of Flash Facts with shaggy dog charm and a greater propensity for violent overtures. "The Origin of the Warp Wizard" could have easily been a dog, especially with the villain looking like Doc Brown on crack in a bland all purple get-up, but he sells himself with his wry grin and mad twinkle of the eye. It's still odd though how for a dude being slowly killed by his powers, Guy never once takes the Lightning costume off and seems completely disconnected from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad. I miss them. "T.H.U.N.D.E.R. vs. Demo" once again answers questions I'm not sure anyone was asking, but Woody seemed bound to ride herd over the shoddy continui[...]