December 2010

Mel Gibson puts his hand up a Beaver

“This is the story of Walter Black, a hopelessly depressed individual. The successful and loving family man he used to be has gone missing. And no matter what he’s tried, Walter can’t seem to bring him back. So you can see, Walter is a man who’s lost all hope.”

A massive departure (for BTB not Mel obviously), on only the second film post because Mel’s gone proper nuts and shoved his hand up a Beaver. This is Mel Gibson’s comeback film, The Beaver, and I can confirm that he makes it from one end of the trailer to the other without calling anyone ‘Sugartits’ or spouting anti-semitic slurs – and if he did it’d be greatly reduced by the hand puppet beaver he’s talking through. A cunning ploy to sidestep arrest by unimpressed traffic cops or a fairly repentant admittance that he’s as flawed as the rest of us – neatly packaged in a way that suggests we all get blind drunk and smack our wives about shouting Hitler-esque espousals about the new Australian Reich?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOSOWNS3jts&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Mel’s clearly willing to take a public kick in the nuts to get things back on track and no doubt Mad Max with his hand up a Beaver’s backside will draw the punters (particularly in Canada – they love a good Beaver) but I’m not sure its going to draw me. Its a brave choice (for the star and the director) and it’ll likely have the effect but Mel has a fair old way to go (and possibly some War trials) before he’s going to be considered for the new Muppet Movie.

In seriousness, based on what is observable in the trailer it looks like an intentionally quirky insight into mental health and the effects on a family. Its a typically simple premise for an independent film – Summit pictures being a medium budget alternative to the larger, more mainstream film companies. The Beaver and the casting of Gibson is the hook but I suspect operator like Gibson and a issues orientated actress like Jodi Foster wouldn’t have considered the project unless it dealt with the issues it brings up in the trailer. Gibson most likely has waived his usual fee in order to protect the production as a film of this scale would usually be taken on by a philanthropic actor with a penchant for funding low budget films like Clooney. Whether it’ll pay off following Gibson’s various misdeanours under the watchful eye of the earnest American Media – who thought making a biopic about Christ’s last day’d create any lasting controversy – is yet to be seen but it has the potential to be a pleasing enough film with a simple premise and a relevant subject matter (at least to Gibson).

This has been posted more for the Beaver reference as any real pertinent cinematic interest as its a little out of our remit. Still, Mel’s got his hand up a Beaver…

The Practitioners 7: Carlos Ezquerra

In the modern day of high detail precision artwork Carlos Ezquerra might seem like an odd choice but he is the visual grandaddy of heavy weaponry, science fiction city scapes and the most famous Judge ever to walk the streets of Megacity One, spawning a major movie featuring Sly Stallone and a generation of Judges under the awe inspiring steely gaze of the foremost tough guy in British Comics. It is easy to underestimate the effect that the design work that went into Judge Dredd had as like all genre defining moments it becomes a feature of everything that comes behind it. The weird part is that Carlos Ezquerra wasn’t the first to see his artwork on the title in print.


Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra was born in November 1947, in Zaragoza and has worked under the alias at times of L. John Silver. A Spanish artist who find a home in the British Comics Industry and inspired a generation of young budding artists to pick up a pen and never be scared to draw a weapon at whatever scale we felt like. He loosened the rules and maintained plausibility simultaneously. An emotive and beligerent artist who pummelled the page with aggressive and broad visuals in a very clear and distinctive style,

Be in no doubt that the most easily recognisable British Comic Book character – aside from Desperate Dan and Dennis the Menace (now there’s a crossover we all wanna see) was brought to life visually by Carlos Ezquerra. British Comic book writing legend John Wagner sent Ezquerra a poster of Death Race 2000 with the central character, Frankenstein in black leather on a motorbike as the source of inspiration for the character. Ezquerra sent back Dredd – armoured, leather covered with zips and buckles and the world reknowned badge pinned to his chest. His conceots for Megacity One and the equipment and clothing was deemed too advanced for the title as it was intended and so Pat Mills – who had taken over as writer after Wagner left disillusioned over financial arrangements behind 2000AD – pushed Dredd further into a post apocalyptic future. Now that’s a sign of a great concept designer – advancing the designs so much it alters the original pitch for the better.

Unfortunately for Ezquerra, newcomer Mike McMahon was to introduce Dredd to the world in Prog 2 of 2000AD – Dredd a scrawny shade of his original self. Ezquerra, enraged at being removed from the strip he designed left and returned to ‘Battle’ comics. Until Prog 9 – in which Wagner’s ‘Robot Wars’ story line began with a rotating art team – including Ezquerra. The strength of the storyline saw Dredd become the most popular character in the magazine. Ezquerra’s work became synonomous with the stone faced law man.

While it can’t be argued as faultless – his grasp of anatomy stops at long chins and gollum faces its his lasting legacy that secures him a position in the annuls of comics history. The Dredd and the Strontium Dog he created visually perfectly embodied the strength and hard bitten nature that was needed in the environment that had been developed for him to stride through. Ezquerra, like many other exceptional artists, has a sparing and economical style that carries as much information as his more precise or detailed peers. But its in the simplicity that he communicates better what many others have struggled to in page after page of meticulously rendered panels. When two tough guys walk out onto the Cursed Earth just how many lines do you need? – thankfully Ezquerra’s chosen for you.

A determined and clear minded individual who stuck to his guns as well as any lawman he ever drew – Ezquerra was removed from his post and could have been left to the annuls of comic book history. But he returned and stood out alongside his creation and perservered to receive the credit he deserved. He represents the optimism and determination needed to be a comic book artist, subject to the whims and turmoil of an ever shifting industry.

Lady in the Fridge

Morning chaps,

Got a bit of a find for you this week. One of our readers put me on to a couple of recent episodes of the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast in which the hosts were discussing the role of Women in comic books they’re both pretty interesting so I’d suggest having a listen before we carry on:

Female Superheroes part 1 – Girls in Refrigerators

Female Superheroes part 2 – Wonder Woman

(they’re also available on itunes if you, like me, are a slave to your ipod)

If you’re somebody who has a passing interest in comic book history then there probably won’t be a tonne of stuff in the second episode that surprises you, though I will admit that in my innocence I had, until now, remained unaware of the true extent of Wonder Woman’s BDSM roots. The first one however is a veritable treasure trove of interesting ideas.

Green Lantern #54 by Ron Marz - the genesis of WIR

Women in Refrigerators forms the central theme of the episode and is a website that I was previously unaware of and now am totally in love with. Essentially it is a site that was created by Gail Simone (Wonder Woman, Secret Six) back in 1999 and refers (in name at least) to a particular Green Lantern story. It’s goal is to catalogue the various women in comics who have suffered horrible ends, usually for the sake of progressing the plot of a male character.

 

I must admit that as a longtime fan of the Kyle Rayner character, the idea of WIR appeals to me. Over the years Kyle has had so many female acquaintances butchered in so many unusual ways that it’s difficult to keep up. It feels like every time people run out of ideas of what to do with ol Torchbearer, they just off a lady in his life and have him get mad about it for a few issues. It’s lazy storytelling and I hate it.   But that’s missing the point of the site. There are literally scores of women that have been, cut up, raped, depowered etc over the years and the point of this site is to question whether this was necessary or not.

Now, there’s a point which should be raised here which is best summed up by Mark Millar:
“As regards the female characters thing, I’m afraid I think it’s giving male creators a bum deal. The list does read pretty shocking at first until you think of everything the male heroes have gone through, too, in terms of deaths/mutilations/etc.” – (source)

It’s a fair argument but the point is that the deaths of these male characters tend to occur as part of that character’s story, in the case of many of these dead women, they have been killed off in order to further the story of a male character. Finding enough examples of men who have died in order to further a female character to fill such a list would be quite a challenge.

Blue Beetle suffers something of an ignoble death at the hands of Maxwell Lord. Lord was later killed by Wonder Woman.

So what is the reason for this imbalance? Well to my mind it’s all down to marketing. The majority of super hero comic readers are male and as such the majority of superhero comics feature male protagonists. Because these heroes tend to be hetrosexual they will invariably at some point acquire a female love interest and when the story ideas run dry, guess who is the first on the dramatic chopping block? You guessed it. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon isn’t strictly limited to female acquaintances, you could just as easily draw up a list of side kicks, brothers, fathers, co-workers and anyone else. The law of superhero comics dictate that if you are buddies with a hero, you’re only one case of writers block away from a messy swan song.

Stephanie Brown sparked controversy over her violent death and Dan Didio's comments that she "was never a real Robin" but she has finally returned to the DCU as Batgirl. How long she lasts remains to be seen.

Now it should be said that in the ten years since WIR was launched, the scales have balanced out a little. We’ve seen a number of men suffer a number of unheroic deaths and a number of women assume mainstream roles. Even Stephanie Brown, the much debated “Robin that wasn’t”, has recently recovered from her grizzly, drill based death to star in her own series as the new Batgirl (and honestly, in a world where fucking Jason Todd has been brought back, it’s about time).  But the fact that such a list has emerged in such a time should be a cause for concern for comic book writers everywhere. In the cartoon world in which we operate, life is cheap and death buys you fans, but while we have every right to produce books that have commercial appeal we should always remain aware of the way our work may be perceived outside of the narrow demographic to which we are pitching. If we only ever write for teenage boys then how do we expect to appeal to anyone else? There’s plenty of women out there who want to read comics and it’s really hard to do that from inside of a fridge.

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And the latest hero to get a TV show is…Raven!?

Nope. I’m not yanking your chain here. American TV network, The CW, has been on the lookout for a new superhero based teen drama series ever since they made the decision to put Smallville out to pasture once and for all. For a long time it seemed that the replacement show would be Batman based. They even went so far as to provisionally green light a show about a young Dick Grayson. But this week the news finally broke that the star of the new show will not be part of the Bat family. It seems that Christopher Nolan’s dark take of the Bat mythos has rendered the material somewhat inappropriate for a light teen drama.

Nope the star will instead be the Teen Titans resident goth, Raven. I’m pretty sure that we here at the bunker weren’t the only ones who were more than a little surprised by the announcement, Raven is hardly what you’d call an A list character. But when you think about it, it does kinda make sense. Superhero TV shows sell, TV shows about teenagers who are into magic sell, so why not put the two together? She may not be on my list of characters I want to see get their own show (but that’s more because I’m mad at another missed opportunity to commission “Leave it to Booster”) but when I told my fiancée, who has almost no interest in comics but is a fan of the Cartoon Network Teen Titans series, about the announcement and she practically jumped for joy. Raven, it seems, has her fans and they should be rather chuffed right now.

But it still won’t be as good as this:

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Moonday: Moon Preview (Shades Rodriguez)

As we move towards the final date before print we will post up previews of what the series will offer a few previews. I’d like to be able to tell you more than that. To begin with some sketches of some of the central characters;

Introducing Shades Rodriguez. Rogue Cop. What are his intentions for Moon? Will his personal conflict between personal sense of duty and overriding hatred for the man with the Moon for the head be the death of them both? Will his application to the NRA and Happy Monday’s Fan Club ever come back? Find out in the pages of Moon.

BTB Classic: The Budgie 1

The Budgie. Fairly self explanatory. The Budgie was sort of a sideways parody of the Godfather. The basic principle being that he would be an evil little bastard, sadistic and vicious and working his way up the food chain of Chicago and slugging it out with the numerous animal gangs that populate it. Only he looks like a Budgie. There.

Might appear here one day because I still like the sound of the idea but frankly this baby slipped right under the pile of other things to do, perhaps unsurprisingly. Made me laugh though.

Under The Influence 1 – Due South

If you watched the Friday Film this week (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t dammit!) then you might have noticed a couple of gags about Canadian television. As a little background to the story, I was doing some Stand Up gigs over in Alberta some years ago and so I had found myself regularly searching my brain for Anglo-Canadian topics to talk about. There was plenty of mileage to be gained from “aren’t American’s dumb” gags but what I really wanted to find was something positive that our nations shared rather than just taking cheap pops at the US. I was during one of these gigs that I, on a whim, decided to have a rant about the absurdities of the Canadian made, Due South. The second I made reference to the unforgettable Benton Fraser and his mythical ability to track serial killers by licking crap he found on the road, the room lit up with a kind of childlike amazement. It was like I’d taken the lid off an old box and revealed to the audience some long lost treasure that they’d forgotten they ever owned and for a moment we all just sat and giggled at the memory of this rather silly TV show.

So what is Due South? Well if you’ve not seen it before I’ll give you the basics, however I can pretty much guarantee that your eyebrow will go up at least three times during the next paragraph.
Due South was a Canadian made police comedy-drama that ran for 67 glorious episodes between 1994 and 1999. It told the story of a Canadian Mountie by the name of Benton Fraser, who is forced to move to Chicago after uncovering an environmental corruption scandal in his homeland. Once there he teams up with a straight talking CPD detective named  Ray Vecchio and proceeds to solve crimes aided by a deaf wolf called Diefenbaker (who adopted Fraser after saving his life) and the slightly mad ghost of his murdered father…who’s also a Mountie. Still with me? Good. Fraser has no idea of how American culture works, but he does have the aforementioned ability to obtain stupid amounts of information about a case by licking dung he finds at crime scenes – he doesn’t have any powers, apparently all Mounties can do that. The parts of Fraser and Ray were played by Paul Gross and David Maraciano respectively, except for the latter two seasons in which Maraciano is replaced by an actor named Callum Keith Rennie, the backstory being that Ray has gone undercover and so a new person has joined the force in order to impersonate him so that the mob don’t get suspicious, thus everyone has to refer to him as Ray even though he’s clearly not Ray. Still with me now? I’m not sure even I am to be honest!

The late Leslie Nielsen appeared in several episodes as legendary Mountie, Buck Frobisher.

Yeah, it was utterly bonkers, but that was the point. It was packaged as a police drama and played totally straight, but make no mistake, Due South was a comedy at heart. A deadpan love letter to the way Americans and Canadians see one another. As well as an exercise in cross border relations, the show was also a masterclass in the theatre of the absurd. Writer/Creator Paul Higgis (who went on to write Million Dollar Baby, Crash and Casino Royale) would take the most unimaginably outrageous storylines and then blast them off into the ether to see if the audience would go along for the ride – in one episode Fraser tracks down a suspect by sniffing the breath of a passing rat in order to determine the brand of barbecued ribs it had been eating! It’s an exercise in silliness which, in my opinion, is only equalled by Batman (that’s the Adam West version in case you’re in any doubt…unless Chris Nolan is even more crafty a writer than I thought).

The crazy thing is that among all this, the show still works as a police drama. The cases are interesting, the characters compelling and the relationships believable. It’s just great TV writing and something that I, even now, occasionally throw on if I’m looking for some inspiration (I have in the past described Moon as a love letter to Due South, it’s not strictly true but it’s not entirely untrue either).

Sadly the American audience never really agreed and despite the show being a hit in the UK and Canada, it was cancelled after 4 series. The DVDs can be a bit of a pain to get hold of, but if you can track them down then I highly recommend it. If nothing else it’ll give you an insight into our work.

Now get on your horse and RIDE!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4lWGIlGZCY&fs=1&hl=en_GB&color1=0x3a3a3a&color2=0x999999]

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CS5 Mess about

Hm. It seems an artists life is never easy. You have to keep your pencil’s sharpened and your rubber easily accessible. It seems the less you spend on something ultimately the more reliable it becomes. I need to sharpen my pencil – 85p from Stationery Box in Romford and its job done. I want to rub out a thousand pencil lines – I’d definitely recommend Daler Rowney soft Putty Erasers which’ll wipe that stuff out quick smart.

However, in order to get the work completed and increasingly out to the world wide web you need a scanner and to finish it all off a decent editing software. My weapon of choice, and most people’s frankly is Photoshop for very good reasons. It has the standard Adobe hallmark of intuitive design and interface and makes life easy by not limiting your options but keeping the controls and options wide. I’ve worked on Creative Suite Photoshop versions 2 and 3 and opted lately to take a jump up to Creative Suite 5.

With this I offer a warning – CS5 has one or two holes. Having received my scanner I expected Photoshop to format itself to the plug-in needed so that the scanner’d appear in the File>import section and I could scan directly into Photoshop – a detail that had proved helpful in CS2, 3 and I’d assumed on 4. However CS5 doesn’t have it. The related drive needed is a TWAIN drive that wasn’t included in the package. You can load it up easily enough at Adobe Live at the link below.

http://kb2.adobe.com/cps/405/kb405072.html

However, I’m running into a few other glitches. If you pull over an image file from 1 window into another and resize or edit it in that new window don’t touch the window you took it from. As soon as you do the file bounces back into the state it was in when you dragged it over. This, I don’t know how to type into Yahoo so haven’t been able to find a patch to cover it. Leaves me wondering what else is in there.

I know this an obscure one but any advice’d be great. Technology. Just gotta do what it tells us.

BTB Film – Dan Thompson Live in Calgary

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muvnmgNdZzo&fs=1&hl=en_GB&color1=0x3a3a3a&color2=0x999999]

Our journey through the vaults of the Bunker continues this week as we take a look at an old recording of some of my stand up. This was recorded back in 2005 at the world famous Yuk Yuk’s comedy club in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (which is as close as I’ll ever get to being Brett Hart) and remains one of my favourite gigs. I’ll post up some more recent recordings somewhere down the line, but for now I hope you enjoy this as much as the Canadians did.

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Under The Influence

Heya chaps

We’ve got a new feature coming up here at the Bunker over the next few months. A number of people have shown some interest in our influences over the last couple of weeks so I decided to collect together some of the things that inspire the work we do here and present them for your enjoyment. Television, Film, Games, it’s all fair game here on Under The Influence and with any luck you shall be pleasantly surprised by some of the things that crop up. We’ll be kicking off on Saturday with the show that is arguably the inspiration behind the creation of Moon so be sure to check in and join the fun.

This is also a good time to point you towards The Practitioners – our collection of articles on some of the great masters of comics and film.  there are some VERY exciting articles on the horizon in that department so stop reading this rubbish and go there NOW!

Two capitalised words in one sentence? I am getting the hang of this self promotion thing! 😉

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