June 2011

Star Wars IV: A New Hope : How it all Started

Hard to know what was going into George Lucas’ head when the Star Wars trailer went out in Cinema Screens throughout the US. In the time it had taken him to create Star Wars Pinewood studios employees had been openly laughing at the the weird menagerie of creatures parading between the sound stages. A young director with a decent success under his belt, Lucas was dealing with dissent and boredom from his actors, most prominently the seasoned actor Alec Guinness. If you credit Lucas with nothing else it has to be vision and tenacity as he stuck resolutely to his lasers. Luck is in there somewhere but in 1977 something kicked off in cinemas throughout the world that literally changed the shape of popular culture for the remaining final fifth of the Twentieth Century.

Introducing in the first three minutes, characters that would become cultural icons, Darth Vader (voted No.1 Villain of all time in an Empire poll), C-3PO, R2-D2 (later to get their own series) and Princess Leia. The assured nature of what new audiences saw on that screen was due to Lucas’ faultless vision and willingness to experiment.

On a reportedly shoe string budget of (equivilent) $1 Million (a pittance for a sprawling space saga) for special effects some of the effects footage was filmed using a truck, firecrackers and a moving truck.

Produced with a budget of $11 million and released on May 25, 1977, the film went on to earn $460 million in the United States and $337 million overseas, surpassing Jaws as the highest-grossing film of all time at the time. Among the many awards the film received, it gained ten Academy Award nominations, winning six; the nominations included Best Supporting Actor for Alec Guinness and Best Picture. Lucas has re-released the film on several occasions, sometimes with significant changes; the most notable versions are the 1997 Special Edition and the 2004 DVD release, which have modified computer-generated effects, altered dialogue, and added scenes. As if you didn’t know that already.

But more than that – it has become part of a tiny canon of cultural flagships – markers of culture throughout history – culturally equivalent (at least thus far though history’ll tell) as the Odyssey, Macbeth and (incredibly) with the effect of a religious text. If you are in doubt attend the same conventions I do and keep your eyes open for Stormtroopers.


What was presented to an excited public was this and still to this day, those who attended the premier screenings across the US, UK and ultimately the globe still talk about the awe inspiring moment the star destroyer flew overhead. From that moment on, with hindsight, it seems obvious now that Star Wars was a revolution that would spawn a million more stories and an entire universe of possibilities for a multitude of fans.

George Lucas; we salute you.

Practitioners 32: Marc Silvestri

Marc Silvestri (born March 29, 1959) is an American Comic Book artist and more recently, creator and publisher and one of the lead names in the formation of Image comics in the 1990s. He currently acts as CEO of Top Cow Productions.

A small number of creators in the comics industry can honestly be described as masters of their art and Silvestri is certainly one of them. Simultaneously a draftsman, visual storyteller, artist and stylist he is responsible for rendering some of the most indelible images into some of the greatest titles ever told in comic books. His anatomy is perfect, stylised only in as much as offering graphically engaging characteristics, his panels loaded with Hollywood visuals. He takes the finer details of characters and simplifies them to make almost all of his characters simultaneously interesting, intelligent and emotionally charged. All of this combines into extensively sexy visualisations of even the most familiar and well worn characters in comics.

Silvestri began his career with DC comics and First Comics (an American comic-book publisher, around from 1983-1991), but made clear to the world just how damn cool his work was at Marvel Comics as penciller on their second coolest title, Uncanny X-Men between 1987-1990. Having made his name there he began a two year run taking the ol’ Canuckle head, Wolverine on a spin around the world in his own book. This secured him as a world class talent and frankly the ambassador of the cool pencil art in modern comic books. A mix of naturalism, sketch and scratch art techniques reliant on light cross hatching, tempered with technical skill leaves Silvestri compositions illustrative and incredibly affecting. Want to sell a million books? Get Marc Silvestri.

From X-Men : Here Comes Tomorrow (with Grant Morrison, 2004)

In 1992, Silvestri became one of the original artist – along with Jim Lee (with whom Silvestri shares a stylistic similarity), Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino – to form an independent ‘Daniel’ to DC and Marvel’s ‘Goliath’ that had the potential to topple both. At the time the artist was king and disillusioned artists saw a gap in the market they could fill. Effectively the superstars of the time – Silvestri can now claim to be a true Practitioner among them as only he and Jim Lee truly survived the nineties as popular artists. Silvestri’s table of titles was published under the imprint Top Cow with the first title released being Cyberforce (in a neat nod to the creative freedom of an indy comic it was written by his brother Eric Silvestri. while plotted and pencilled by Marc). Cyberforce was a darker nineties remodelling of X-Men effectively, following a team of Mutants who had all at one point been captured by Cyberdata, an enormous corporation with ambitions for World takeover. The series was limited to begin with but enjoyed a monthly run of 35 issues which introduced a young David Finch to the industry. The criticisms of the series came thick and fast and were the same that were being levelled at all Image titles, that the characters were all modelled on existing Marvel characters, Cyblade is very similar to Psylocke, Ripclaw; Wolverine; Impact; Colossus and Stryker; Cable etc etc – effectively making Cyberforce little more than a reimagining of the coolest characters from X-Men. Other complaints were the level of violence and highly sexualised female characters, making the project appear (much like all Image titles of the time) as little more than the wish fulfillment of artists at the top of their game. Under this heavy criticism, Cyberforce faded away, Ripclaw occassionally reappearing elsewhere in other Silvestri projects such as the Darkness. In a clear indication of how these creative choices were more lightly viewed by the industry itself than the fans, Ripclaw and Cyblade appeared in a crossover with Wolverine and Psylocke recently.

Disputes among the Image partners led to Silvestri breifly leaving the publisher in 1996, but he soon returned after Leifeld severed his own ties with Image.

Top Cow’s successes include the titles Witchblade, The Darkness, Inferno Hellbound (publication of which was interrupted for unknown reasons) and Fathom.

In a dream team up in 2004, Silvestri returned to Marvel briefly to pencil several issues of X-Men, collaborating with Grant Morrison to bring his run on the title to an incredible close. Surplanting the action of modern day to 200 years into the future on a desolate earth, plagued by an outbreak of new and monstrous species, it was an incredible return to form for a master of the art. Working with arguably the foremost mainstream writer of the time, the feline countenance of Beast (now named ‘Sublime’) and the ensuing battle on a battered warship in the middle of weather strewn Atlantic was brought to solemn, beautiful and rude life by this illustrative pass master. Every emotional blow, every battered viewpoint, every severed cityscape, every battle sequence and exploding birth of mutant life was brought screaming out of the page in one of the finest team ups in comics history. A shame it arrived at the end of a commercially middling run (the kids didn’t like it so much) – the Morrison / Silvestri run on X-Men should be collected as an example of how beautifully the form can be used to tell grand fairy tales. Only that team could have plausibly created a cowardly Humpback with a strong Scottish accent and maintained such undeniable cool.

Later that year, he launched a new Top Cow title, Hunter Killer with writer Mark Waid. He provided covers for Marvel Comics mini series; Deadly Genesis by Ed Brubaker and Trevor Hairsine, which were woefully misleading as Hairsine’s interiors just couldn’t keep up and the plotline was critically and publicly panned.

Cyberforce 0 was released in 2006. The pulling power of Silvestri being enough to reinstate, however briefly, an only averagely well received title.

In late 2007 he launched X-Men: Messiah Complex with an incredible turn on pencils on the new X-Men, so far removed from his original team back in the 90s. He returned once more, pencilling the one-shot Uncannny X-Men/ Dark Avengers ccrossover Utopia in 2009.

He also contributed to Image United, pencilling all the characters he created during his run at Image that feature in the story.

Whether working for Image, Top Cow, Marvel, First Comics or DC, Silvestri has demonstrated a talent that only enhances with age. The intelligence and foresight he applies to his compositions add to the innate freshness and clarity of the light line work. A deft touch on any comics page, with a natural grasp of pathos, myth, legend, technology and cool, his charged panels batter and cajole the reader, offering up a sexier, more glorious and interesting world without ever losing the touch of reality and gravity that carries any tale from beginning to end. Every rendering of an existing character gives it a fresh spark of life; reinstating it instantly to Alpha status among its surrounding company; something Silvestri has brought to the companies he’s worked for. A successful creator that remains a core artist in mainstream books; he offers fantasy we can all get involved with and books anyone can be in awe of. An illustrator of monumental proportions his abilities crystallised for me in a simple double page spread during Morrison’s run on X-Men. The first double page spread of his run, Morrison clearly understood what he was dealing with and allowed Silvestri to speak through the story. The double page spread is nothing but 5 characters, Wolverine, Cassandra Nova, No-Girl (complete with floating brain bowl), Tom Skylark, Birdy’s eagle headed nephew (baseball bat over the shoulder, bandana around his cranium) and the enormous feet of a reassigned Sentinel in the background walking towards the reader in the rain. These are the most difficult compositions to get right. These are only about feeling. In such a simple composition every muscle, detail, foot placement and expression has to be perfect. Every ripple and placement of character carefully applied in order to maximise the emotional punch intended. Morrison was right to give over this space to Silvestri, offering proper respect to a senior Practitioner. Silvestri made clear why Morrison’s faith was well placed. All you can think when looking at the image is ‘I hope they come back’ and ‘I know they won’t’ mixed with ‘they know that’ and ‘they just don’t mind’. The collection of sensations from such a simple image falls at the feet of Morrison for building to a subtle crescendo but mostly it makes clear that if you give Silvestri the space, anything can happen, even when nothing really is….

Moon’s back!! Page 1, Issue 2 Pencils!!

All those looking bereft at your copy of Issue 1 and all those afraid for the future of our hero following the cliffhanger of Issue 1, fear not – for Issue 2 is on its way. Page 1, Issue 2 is here to take a look at. As you can see – no much has changed in the life of Moon but it’s going to. Watch this space for more previews of Issue 2 (not too many though – as there’s some major spoilers on pretty much every page).

It’s just so damn good to be drawing him again.

Dropping Science: That Lunar Eclipse Again…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVrQBrJTFAU&w=560&h=349]

Let’s be honest, there was only ever going to be one science/space video going up this week. This Wednesday we were fortunate enough to witness the longest lunar eclipse for 100 years. For those of you who, like me, couldn’t get a good look at the night sky, here’s a lovely timelapse video of the event.

I’m down at Comics Launchpad in Birmingham today follow @danthompson2099 for updates on how it’s going.


It Ain’t Easy Being Green…Lantern

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUUcOmgYEhY&w=560&h=349]

Muppets are wonderful, Muppet parody trailers are even better, Muppet parody trailers that are based on the Green Lantern movie, well you work it out. Gotta give thanks to Lee Ravitz for flagging this one. It’s very silly and may indeed contain one of the finest ‘hit in the face with a door’ gags of all time.

Can’t wait for this movie.


The Extraordinary Tales of Monsieur Poppaleux #17 – Boeuf!

In 1993, famous Belgian author and spring onion connoisseur, Dr Jean-François Bacharach created a series of books for children. The aim of the project was to use state of the art digital technology to educate and inform on a wide range of topics from maths and theology to poetry and tennis. Using pioneering clip-art techniques, he produced a staggering portfolio of work that continues to be widely distributed in schools across the world and Belgium. Sadly DrBacharach himself was eventually imprisoned due to his being ahead of his time and because he killed a quite staggering number of cats. However his work lives on here at the Bunker! We have secured the entirety of Dr Bacharach’s monumental work and now present it to you. C’est formidable!

The Troll Hunter – Trailer

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLEo7H9tqSM&w=560&h=349]

The Troll Hunter movie has flown under the radar a little bit here in the UK (as Norwegian monster movies about hunting mythical beasts tend to do) but it came to my attention last night and I’ve been all over it ever since. Not only does it look utterly badass but it features trolls, massive trolls. As somebody who used to make a living telling Northern European folk stories, I kinda dig trolls. Oh and it stars Norwegian stand-up comedian Otto Jespersen as a troll hunter. Sweet.

No idea how much of a UK release this will get but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye open for it.


Beyond Fan Film: Modern Warfare: Frozen Crossing (Part 2)

Part Two of last week’s mentally good Modern Warfare fan film. This is nothing short of truncated Hollywood and just shows what you can pull off with little or no money but a lot of contacts. The original cost $209.43. This was marginally more at $600 but is visibly in another location and looks like a million dollar blockbuster.

Sounds trite, but this is what I’ve been trying to communicate with films I’ve been directly involved in. It’s not always about pumping money and time in – it’s about identifying those with the skills and the equipment and present them with something interesting enough to make it worth their time. At our level there’s pretty much no other choice.

X-Men: First Class: Meet the Class 2

Hank McCoy is the Beast. Probably the most prominent character from the books to appear in the film – after Prof X and Magneto) and present in X-Men: Last Stand (played by Kelsey Grammar (Frasier) and introduced as an old friend of Professor X). He presents difficulties in that his CGI / Make up is intensive stuff but is a welcome addition to what is a unnecesarily attractive cast for mutated misfits. However will always be the most difficult character of the X-Men to bring fully to life on the big screen. This trailer suggests that Matthew Vaughn might’ve puled it off but without a full reveal who can say.

Emma Frost is / was one of the most challenging characters in the X-Men canon (unprecedented student death toll under her tutelage, unofficial psychic sex therapist to the team, former enemy and the only girl who could take Scott Summers way from Jean Grey – before she died – again) but looks like she’s been reduced to that of a bit player in this trailer. Emma Frost is in alliance with Shinobi Shaw as White Queen to his Black King of the Hellfire Club in the books. Simplified here, Frost looks like she’s a minion. Though to waste a character like Frost seems unlikely – particularly given her introduction in Origins: Wolverine.

This still leaves the familiar Professor X, Magneto, Shinobi Shaw, Angel and (below) Azazel. Plenty more to take a look at then if you haven’t managed to see the film yet.

The Lost Jedi: Part One

On May 4th 2007, the Star Wars Exhibition in London opened at the County Hall in Westminster, overlooking the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. With marble staircases and pillars, wood panelled hallways and shiny floors you could be mistaken for thinking you were walking the halls of Naboo (if you were a fan boy). Assembled at the opening were a group of actors who had associated themselves with Star Wars at Chessington. They were Tom Jordan, Seb Morgan, Alan Mandel Butler, Sydnee Howard and Jack Gavin. Also present was Marcus Sinclair, a man who had overcome considerable resistance from Lucasarts to become the Emperor in the Exhibition. 2 weeks later they took on myself and a number of actors to represent Jedi. Nicknamed on my first day the ‘Landlord Jedi’ by Alistair Reith (another actor), I managed to find a niche as Taaka Dahl (a Red Dwarf gag), Rebel Trooper.

It was made clear by Lucasarts that we couldn’t use existing character names and had to develop our own. While mine never developed beyond Sergeant in the rebel army (occassionally busted up to Jedi Master and in a particularly cool moment, a Tie Fighter Commander called Count Nefar the audiences never really got on board with). In the main hall, a high domed chamber like a grand circular court room the hourly (half hourly) show took place to the excitement of pretty much every kid (and adult). The Jedi School followed a rushed teaching of the way of the force to chosen Padawan (kids) in order to defend them from the newly apparent Sith. The Emperor would appear and threaten the Jedi Master and his Padawan as well as the assembled kids before the great set piece.

The Main Chamber - County Hall, Westminster

The lights would go out leaving only the flickering lightsabres at the centre of the room visible and three mechanical breaths would steadily sound. With the beginning of the Imperial March, the assembled characters, Padawans and visitors were presented with a familiar silhouette in the high vaulted doorway. Darth Vader would descend doiwn the steps with the music, the Jedi Master calling out orders to everyone assembled pointlessly over the noise and chaos. Some kid must have wet themselves with excitement at the sight of the seven foot giant striding slowly down the steps towards the Padawans. It was clear to me whenever I saw it that this was the stuff straight out of the movies. The divide between the two was seamless. We saw US versions with chubby American accented Obi Wan look a likes playing at Star Wars but the combination of the chamber and the lighting rig, the music, the english accents, the quality of the costumes (by Stephen Du Toit – mate to the Bunker), the master cast versions of the lightsabres that swooshed and lit up accurately, the real 7 foot Vader (played by official giant Daniel Vivien) and the atmosphere combined into something more real and engaging than I saw anywhere else. It gave me ideas….


In the Star Wars movies the one point in which there are Padawans and Sith is at the end of Part III: Revenge of the Sith. This is always the most interesting part of the story and at the time the one that Lucasarts had missed. That of the decimation of the Jedi and the New Empires pursuit of those that were left. Perfect conditions for a great story, Jedis as rebels and the early formed Empire doing all it can to hunt them down. In the same period all the actors had developed their own characters, each with characteristics very different to all others. The proud and confident Padawan Man El Perio (played by Alan Mandel Butler) stood beside the stern and irrascible Rial Shif (played by Alistiar Reith). As the Exhibition came to its end it seemed to me that the best way to celebrate my time there was to bring the characters to life in the only way available to me. Over the next few months, artworks were produced of every member of the cast with the addition of side characters and enemies. Each carried its own name and steadily built into a story that may never be told anywhere else.

Its a tale of Jedi on the run and a desperate attempt to circumvent the terrible fate of an entire galaxy by brave souls in difficult stuff. I’m convinced if it ever saw the light of day it’d be enormous but short of a phone call to/from George Lucas this is the only place you’ll be able to see it. The entire story exists and much of it will be realised with the introduction of the characters but the spoilers have been kept to an absolute minimum. All you’ll find here is the character art and their starting points in the tale. If you want to see more, call George Lucas and give him my number.


Page 2 of 41234