Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing group meeting and discovery through anthology

This previous Sunday, March 25, my wife, a couple friends, and I gathered at a local coffee joint to read around-the-circle pieces of our own composition. It was a delightful time in which peer editing took place, deep and not so deep conversations were had, and some were moved to express genuine surprise at the work of others.

I hope to maintain this group and grow it into a local publishing opportunity for those who might never be able to move beyond just filling notebooks that will only be stored away or who have Gigabytes of writing they'll never show to anyone. It's a great chance for people to develop their work and get serious about sharing their craft. Maybe one day you'll be reading these words on an official publishing website. Only the future and the Shadow know.

In other news I've come upon a fantastic anthology of Zombie tales. Assembled by editor Otto Penzler Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! is a fascinating collection of tales of undeath both old and new, fiction and supposedly non-fiction. There are stories from authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howards, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Chet Williamson, August Derleth, and many more. Even though the suspense in most of the stories relies on knowledge you already posses, they are zombies of a sort, the stories keep the reader wondering just what kind of undead they are going to encounter.

One story from the collection is "The Cairnwell Horror" by Chet Williamson, and it is one that truly stood out for me. It is the tale of a young, arrogant heir to an old Scottish title who must travel to his ancestral castle to take up the previously mentioned title and learn of a family secret only known to the male heirs and only told to them on their twenty-first birthdays. In this well-written piece of fiction the reader will find shock, horror, and incredible tragedy. Find it and read it!

So far I'm about a quarter of the way through the 800+ page collection. Based on what I've read so far I'd highly recommend it, but I can not accurately rate it as of now. Locate a copy and join me in reading tales of those dead who still walk!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Peter Jackson's King Kong

It took me a while but I finally committed to sitting down and watching Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of the classic monster film King Kong. It wasn't that I was purposely avoiding the flick, it just happened to hit theaters during a lull in my film-going. After finally seeing it, though, I can honestly say that it's too bad I missed the chance to catch this epic while it was on the big screen.

King Kong is a legend. That goes without saying. The icon that is this majestic, gigantic gorilla caught the public's attention way back in 1933 and entered my life during my early childhood (the late 80s, early 90s). It was the 1970s remake where I first met him, though, while I was sitting in front of the television along with my family one holiday afternoon. It was another in an unofficial tradition of monsters movies during the holidays. Back then we watched everything from the Creature of the Black Lagoon to Godzilla while a turkey roasted or gift wrapping crinkled.

Kong, unlike the other movie creatures, went straight for my heart. He was an innocent animal doing what instinct demanded. It wasn't his fault that he was massive or that human beings were (and still are) flawed, selfish creatures. He lived his life free amongst the other wonders of his jungle island home. Men, as they are wont to do, trespassed in his domain and denied him the simple things he, an animal, wanted.

Peter Jackson's version of the story is especially fantastic for creating a Kong with the most pure and bestial of wants and desires. We see a creature (brought to life through the skilful motion-captured performance of Andy Serkis) that is just that. From his stance to his physicality to his behavior, Jackson's Kong is a pure animal. The performance and rendering of Kong is so magical and so convincing that my wife and I were brought to tears as we watched the poor beast's life get torn apart by greedy, destructive men. This component of the film above all others made me a fan of this version.

Other wonderful things exist within the movie which are obviously the products of the brilliant imagination of Jackson, the contributions of his fellow writers, the astounding Weta Workshop, and the dedicated acting of the cast. The film feels like the original Kong if modern film-making technology was made available to the old-time producers. It has action, excitement, adventure, mystery, and so much heart. I was constantly reminded of pulp adventure tales for their period feel and all-out wonder, Indiana Jones because of the rough and tough fellows who journeyed across the wilds of Skull Island, Lovecraft because of the nature of the mysterious, fog-shrouded Skull Island and the base and savage people who worshipped an unnatural, bestial god, and everything I felt about that big old gorilla way back when but only more so. I can't imagine a better remake of a classic than this film.

Out of five I'm giving it four. Check it out, especially if you're like me and are behind on the good stuff.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Post-vacation reflections

Waking every day knowing that the time you have till your head once again hits the pillow is yours to command is a beautiful thing. It's unfortunate then that most of us live in an ugly reality which consists of a lack of almost all control, overwhelming depression, and utter despair. The only beauty, if we can find the time or heart to seek it out, lies in the aesthetics of objects and ideas which satellite around our internal realities.

My wife and I spent the last week away from our jobs celebrating the blessed anniversary of her birth. We experienced the beauty I mentioned in the above first line every morning. The beauty we realized inside ourselves seemed to harmonize with the beauty of those things which surrounded us. Breathing felt easier. Happiness seemed to approach us without being sought out or imagined. If we let ourselves spend time forgetting what awaited us after the break we could almost taste true freedom.

Thinking about this as I dropped my wife off at work this morning sent a javelin of sorrow through my heart, whose guard was still down from the joy of off-time. It was like I released my wife into the hands of slavers who would later come to take me. This got me thinking, though. What really separates the feeling of airy freedom from the shackled misery of a nine-to-five work schedule? Is it just the sale of time from our lives to a cold, inhuman company, or is it that we poorly manage the free time which surrounds our sold time, blinding ourselves to a freedom that could potentially be present every day?

Even as I write this I realize how much more time is required to truly give these questions proper thought. Back to reflecting and reasoning. The human brain chugs on. May freedom find us again soon regardless of what my reflections reveal.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hell Yeah...superheroes and the world of super-tomorrow

I've been fooling around on the Mike Allred message board for a few years now. Through it I've had the fortunate of meeting some incredible comic folks, taken part in some shameful internet debates, and helped deliver the virtual baby of an Australian author of one hundred one-page stories. (the baby thing isn't true but the rest is, unfortunately) It was one of those incredible comic folks who contributed to a certain eye-catching comic released this last week.

Teaming up with wonder-scribe Joe Keatinge, Andre Szymanowicz provided the nifty artwork for a new kind of superhero series, Hell Yeah. The title has the same attention-grabbing quality as the hit book Kick Ass (a hit in sales but certainly not in quality content, says only me apparently), but unlike Millar and Romita's bloody work it isn't a book about mega-violence and intense adult content. Hell Yeah features superheroes, yes, but these aren't your average vigilantes who adventure night after night to save mankind or to fuck shit up. Taking over the world in a manner similar to the Canamits from the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man," the heroes, who first came on the scene to save a seemingly ordinary soldier during the Gulf War, have made it possible for everyone to prosper and have neat powers. The whole world over has apparently become super in only twenty years time. Of course by the book's end the reader realizes that as nice as this might seem there is of course something very wrong.

This book would appeal to fans of stories which deal with hero-worlds where everyone has some incredible ability but something is horribly wrong in the higher echelons of society. It's not a new idea, but the story has potential to go off in one of a number of surprising directions. At this time, with only one issue available, it is of course too soon to tell. I'll definitely be picking up issue two.

The artwork is highly stylized, which is something I love to see in any comic. The medium needs more artists like Andre who embrace the story and deliver it to the reader through THEIR pencil, pen, and/or brush. There's no phoning it in or attempting to borrow the look of some other comic book artist. Mr. Szymanowicz holds up his end wonderfully from the first page to the last. The only issue I have is with whoever set the artwork for print. There are pages where you can see pixels on the edges of Andre's line work. Sloppy job, Image editors!

I'll admit that the story is not my cup of tea, but I believe that there is a huge audience for this kind of book. They need to know about it, and they need to support it. Hell, there's even a page featuring Jonathan Ross! Out of five I'm giving this book a four. Good job, Mssrs. Keatinge and Szymanowicz.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The man with his hand in the dream bag...

Bob Burden. An unassuming name, but perhaps a title for a king. Maybe even a mayor. Certainly, he's someone with an ear to the old trail and a mind's eye on the LSD-painted fancies of the blurred generational consciousnesses of the Twentieth Century.

I don't recall when I first met Mr. Burden's work, but I know when I met Mr. Burden himself. It was out in Chicagoland where I found myself attending a major-sized comic book convention. An old acquaintance, now lost to seemingly endless aftershocks of emotional tempestuousness and the perpetual clashing of bruised egos, and I found ourselves out that way with the youngest member of a certain well-to-do local family. There was music and bad food on the way down and West from the scabrous streets of Gun Ru. When we arrived we were whisked into the convention hall, past stormtroopers and bikini babes, by friends dealing their own works of independent comic bronze. My how my eyes grew when I beheld the floor of that media-crazed, costumed wonderland.

I knew heading in that Bob Burden was scheduled to attend the event so I quickly wandered off in various directions given by sources dressed in all manner of sci-fi and superhero costumes in hopes of stumbling upon the legend himself. Not too long in I found a large Gumby Comics display ripe with Burden-vibes. Standing before it was a moustachioed huckster claiming to be the publisher, offering apologies for Bob's tardiness. Not too long after he bellowed claims of Bob's eventual arrival did Bob Burden himself mosey over, seemingly jet-lagged from what must have been an early AM flight out of Atlanta, GA (his base of operations, I believe). A tall fellow, he stood slouching slightly, in a grey sport coat, his eyes drooping from apparent fatigue.

The moment came, as it always seems to, when all my planning, all the valid, well-worded questions I had composed vanished into the ether, surely to inconveniently revisit me later in the day on the drive home. Unfortunately for me this came just as I approached the man who had not even had time to round his table to take his seat. His publisher, constantly making promises with Bob's time, thrust us together, shouting that Bob would be glad to sign everything and anything. I winced for Bob in that moment.

Staring at him as he eyed what I was holding I thanked him for his work in shaky speech and asked if he would please sign my copy of his Mysterymen graphic novel. He produced a green marker and proceeded to sign not only the item I brought but also a copy of his Gumby collaboration with the amazing Rick Geary. Hell, the man even picked up an Art Clokey postcard (one of many at the table) and sketched out a sheepishly smiling Flaming Carrot for me on its back. As he worked the green, felt-tipped marker he wore a slight smirk, though his eyes remained exhausted. My geek mind was blown, to put it crudely and to incredibly understate the joy I felt from witnessing that moment. As if signing and sketching wasn't enough, the dear fellow, tired as he seemed, stood beside me, after putting the finishing touches on Flaming Carrot, to pose for a photo.

Looking back I must say that I truly cherish that moment. Of all the convention experiences I've had since I can't think of one that really tops it. Meeting one of my heroes was for me a time in my life when I realized that reality and fancy can merge for a moment to make me a believer in life's miraculous potential. There was a concern that I was asking too much of the man, but I was too engrossed in a struggle to process what had just occurred at the time to make an effort to be conscientious. Besides, nothing I asked could compare to the outrageous fan-fellow who stood next in line. As I walked away from Mr. Burden I heard his publisher repeat what the next admirer asked but with an answer to their query. "Could Bob sign all of your individual Flaming Carrot collector's cards? Sure he can!"

Flaming Carrot, the Mysterymen, Invincible Man, and many other titles and side projects were all spun from a mind that thrived though surrealism like a devout catholic would through the catechism. Bob Burden has a tendency to delve into the odd corners of the shadowy realm of the dreams of humanity and pull out the most random items for his, and maybe our, amusement. They talk of a woman breast-feeding a dictionary. There's rumour of a diaper-wearing spider. Hey, who's that man wearing flippers and a fire-topped carrot mask?! Burden's mind houses many interesting, perhaps insane things. I won't touch the dictionary to find out until it's had its fill, though.

If I think back, beware the wavy lines of yet another flashback, I can remember my uncle taking me to see Mysterymen in theaters. There was a time prior to that when I found ads proclaiming the happenings surrounding the exploits of the "Dreadnought of chicanery!" Mr. Burden's iconic character, Flaming Carrot, has been woven throughout my developmental years like so many strands of quality wool in the sweater of my being. The Carrot and other products of the Burden-mind have attracted my attention for what feels like ages now. I've gone on at length to any and all who will listen, and some who won't, about the many curious characters, references, odd-looking panels, and in-jokes scattered throughout the man's books. Will you take my advice if I say you should read some, dear reader?

To really describe what you'd find in the Carrot's adventures or the Mysterymen or Robot Comics or whatever else Mr. Burden has produced would take a lot of time and some effort on your part to think six directions at once and still possess the ability to hold your place in the moment. Then again I could just be vomiting so many words out until I feel that maybe you'll have found your way to a local comic book shop and done your own digging through the bagged and boarded jungles. I have faith that in time, if you've read this far and still find the energy to continue on, you will find your way into the black and white, newsprint pages which issued forth from the genesis grounds which house themselves in the sketchbooks of one of the greatest fellows to work in the medium of comics.

Till next time, amigos!