Friday, August 31, 2007

2006 Directed by David Lynch

"Sometimes as we watched them, she'd clutch my arm or my hand, forgetting she was my employer, just becoming a fan, excited about that actress up there on the screen. I guess I don't have to tell you who the star was. They were always her pictures . . ."
-Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard

There's a very useful quote in the INLAND EMPIRE Wikipedia entry from David Lynch about his movie; "We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."

This movie is about the nature of dreams and stories, how they're an integral force in the mind's framework, and how they can free us and ensnare us.

Yesterday I read "SCENE IN THE MUSEUM (1896)", a new vignette by Caitlin R. Kiernan featured in the latest Sirenia Digest. It's a story very obviously based on Caitlin's experiences in Second Life, an online role-playing alternate universe simulator that Caitlin does not like to refer to as a game. She takes her alter ego seriously enough that she keeps a blog for the character. The vignette prominently features a character named Mary, a prostitute, and based on, I suspect, a real person--someone I've myself cast as a prostitute in Boschen and Nesuko (why do we keep portraying our friends as whores, Caitlin?).

The prostitute wears a red taffeta dress, and I was intrigued to find a prostitute with a red taffeta dress at the beginning of INLAND EMPIRE.

She's watching a television show called Rabbits, a sort of deconstructionist sitcom originally featured as a stand alone film on David Lynch's web site. But now the rabbits have become the barest versions of the dream characters that haunt INLAND EMPIRE in various incarnations.

From the unfinished Polish film 47 to its remake, On High in Blue To-morrows starring Laura Dern's character, Nikki Grace, there is a story haunted by itself, and in turn haunts those involved. It resulted in the murder of the two leads in 47.

Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Nikki Grace is an aging actress living in an enormous house decorated in a decadent, Victorian style. And also like Norma Desmond, Nikki's trying to break back into the business, and she seems to have succeeded when prominent director Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) casts her in On High in Blue To-morrows.

The story is of jealousy, murder, lust and desperation. There is a woman who works as a prostitute, unbeknownst to her jealous husband. She becomes pregnant and she tells the husband about it without knowing that her husband is sterile.

Sue is having an affair with Billy. A talk show host, played by Dern's mother, Diane Ladd (seen playing Dern's mother in Lynch's Wild at Heart--a movie that plays an integral role in Caitlin's The Five of Cups), attempts to cause a stir by suggesting a possible affair between Nikki and the actor playing Billy, Devon Berk (Justin Theroux).

Sue's friends are the prostitutes she works alongside in the streets. These girls act as a fey Greek chorus, existing in 1920s Poland and on the streets of Hollywood, exhibiting lust, vanity, and occasionally a tantalisingly odd concern for their ill-fated friend. They perform a dance routine at one point in the film to "The Loco-Motion" after one of the prostitutes proudly displays her breasts to the others. Like many of David Lynch's exercises in comedy, the humour on the surface is funny, but one senses it's a thin veneer for a deeply disturbing truth.

The actress who originally played the character Nikki's inhabiting was noticeably younger than Nikki, and when Sue has a moment of foreboding at the sight of her husband's white shirt covered with ketchup, she has a vision directly out of Sunset Boulevard;

Julia Ormond plays Billy's jealous wife, destined to murder Sue with a screwdriver because she's been cursed by the Phantom, the assassin from the original Polish film.

The bloody journey of Nikki through these dreams is seen eventually to gain freedom for certain dreamers. It's a good movie.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

To-day I received a big black box from David Lynch. Gee, I love saying that. Inside was a copy of Inland Empire and sixteen ounces of pure, true, David Lynch coffee. It really is great coffee--I'd buy it even if it didn't bear the David Lynch name. That it does makes it all the sweeter.

For this Thursday, I took the trolley downtown to go to a sushi place my sister had recommended. On the way, I sat across from a guy maybe five years older than me who was talking to himself in English and Spanish. I couldn't hear most of what he said, but the first thing I caught was, "Ricardo thinks he has the world brain. He does, but something's gotta hit him." After a while, I discerned that he was developing in his narrative two characters, one named George and one named Billy. It was a little while before I understood he was referring to George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Apparently the two of them were trying to move the population of the U.S. to Africa.

Anyway, the sushi place was nice. I had the vegetarian dish, which primarily consisted of tofu cubes wrapped in rice and avocado. I also had a small bottle of nihonshu (sake), the first I've ever had, and I loved it. Hot and sweet, it was like the best mug of hot cocoa I've ever had, with an appreciable alcohol quotient. It's a shame it was such a hot day out to-day.

Yesterday, I noticed Boschen and Nesuko received about two hundred extra hits, thanks, apparently, to Rincewind plugging it on the Something Awful forum. I love coming across comments about my comic by people who don't think I'll be reading them. And as is often the case with such unvarnished comments about Boschen and Nesuko, my writing gets props while the artwork gets a failing grade. And, you know, I honestly find that to be a little vindicating. All my life, teachers and friends and adults in my family have told me I was a good artist and were rather unenthusiastic when I decided at some point in high school that I was more of a writer than an artist. Well, take that. It's almost enough to make me want to try writing prose fiction again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I was reading again recently about a possible third Ghostbusters movie and about the idea that the new one would probably feature a new cast of younger actors. I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea. It certainly fits in with Dan Aykroyd's original concept of the ghostbusters being a national institution, like the fire department. So I started thinking about who I would cast.

My Ghostbusters: The Next Generation movie would take place in L.A. I figure a typical ghostbuster department would consist of scientists at the bottom rungs of their fields of study while also being people who have a tolerance for stressful and life threatening situations. There would be a couple specialised ghostbuster departments housing more established experts, but my Ghostbusters movie would concentrate on some of the more average shlubs.

My team would consist of Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Wanda Sykes, Thora Birch, and Daryl Hannah.

Carell would play a former high school science teacher who was fired after having an affair with one of students--the case was nationally infamous and he spent a few years in prison for statutory rape. Now he's a ghostbuster and an alcoholic, spending a lot of his time at a nearby bar drinking martinis.

Carrey would be a guy who was a completely anti-social physics buff in high school, but only just barely got through college. He's one of those guys with almost no capacity for human emotion until he becomes ecstatic over a complicated equation or something. But he has almost no control over his own attention, which is why he did so poorly in college.

Wanda Sykes would play a marine biologist who spent a decade studying wildlife in the Pacific Ocean. All of her friends were also marine biologists, but unlike every single one of them, Sykes never made any groundbreaking discoveries or published anything noteworthy. This, combined with extremely bad luck with men, has caused her to become extremely bitter and she sees becoming a ghostbuster as accepting the fact that she's a McDonald's cashier after having tried to be a chef all her life.

Thora Birch would be the tech girl. She has no particular aspirations or ambitions and would easily be the most laid back of the five. She's supposed to take care of the crew's equipment, but she tends to slack off and play MMORPGs all day. She enjoys teasing Steve Carell's character.

Daryl Hannah would be the most accomplished scientist of the group, a former botanist but now a paranormal botanist. She was part of an academic movement that began studying "ghost plants", though she was not a key figure. She's also a Wiccan priestess.

I'm not sure what the movie would be about, but I think I'd prefer a plot that's not about saving the whole world, but just saving people from ghosts.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Farewell My Concubine (Bàwáng Bié Jī)
1993 Directed by Chen Kaige

A film with gorgeous visuals, spanning the central years of the twentieth century from the early 1920s to the 1970s, it follows the life of a Beijing Opera star named Cheng Dieyi like a big Victorian novel. Like most fifth generation Chinese films, the social and political landscape of China figures prominently in the tale, but the meat of the story is undeniably Dieyi. His story is one of a person caught always between fantasy and reality, male and female, and love and isolation.

This is an old favourite of mine, though I haven't watched it in more than four years. Four years ago was when I bought the DVD after I'd owned a VHS copy for several years. There was a period in the late nineties and early oughts when I was strongly interested in Chinese films, partly because I stayed up late several nights watching a lot of fifth generation films like Ju Dou and Huozhe on Bravo, back when that channel still showed movies unedited and commercial free. I've long been a lover of long movies and books, especially those that follow a character's entire life, as these movies often did. Also, the fact that my living situation at the time was in a near constant state of flux probably contributed to my enjoyment of them, as they often feature characters constantly flung from one attempt to settle into life to another.

I started seeking these movies out at video stores, and Farewell My Concubine emerged as my favourite. I hadn't watched it in a while when I picked up the DVD in 2003, and I found to my surprise I wasn't able to watch much of the movie which suddenly seemed to me overly melodramatic. It wasn't until a few days ago, when I saw it on a list of great non-English language films, that I decided to give it another shot. I'm happy to say I was able to enjoy it again, though I find it to be a movie with several significant flaws.

Cheng Dieyi and his partner in opera, Duan Xiaolou, are introduced at the beginning of the movie as old men, though it's difficult to guess their age, not only because of the overwhelming makeup and costumes of the Bejieng opera they wear, but also because this is a movie that makes no attempt to age their actors, something that usually bothers me, though substantially less so here than in a movie like Walk the Line, perhaps because Farewell My Concubine has virtues.

The scene promptly flashes back to Dieyi's and Xiaolou's childhood, before they'd taken their stage names and they were known as Douzi and Shitou. This movie sets out to employ one of those movie conventions I find deeply annoying, which is to show early twentieth century scenes in black and white or sepia (in this case sepia). Since the entire movie is told from this flashback onwards, Kaige is forced to fade colours into existence in the very next scene. So much for that old-timey feel, huh?

Douzi's a kid with six fingers on one hand, but his prostitute mother hacks off the extra finger so that she might give him to an opera troupe, who otherwise would not take him in. Douzi's mother is the first of two prostitutes in the movie to figure prominently and catastrophically in Douzi's life, the second being Juxian, played by Gong Li, who's introduced much later to become Xiaolou's wife. I like Gong Li a lot, and she turned up frequently in fifth generation Chinese films, but I feel she may have been the cause of many of this film's problems as I suspect the role was padded significantly in consideration of the actress's stature.

These prostitutes influence and are at odds with Dieyi's signature role of Concubine Yu in the opera Farewell My Concubine opposite Xiaolou's Xiang Yu, a powerful warlord who faces insurmountable odds. In a display of loyalty, the concubine commits suicide with the lord's own sword before she can be taken by the enemy.

The film is quite good at portraying the brutality of training for Beijing Opera, as from a very early age the actors are moulded for their roles through rigorous recitations and physical beatings. In one of the movie's more curious scenes, Dieyi and Xiaolou return to their old troupe master after they've become famous stars. The two of them, particularly Xiaolou, seem to quickly dissolve psychologically back into terrified children as they kneel again before the master, who whips Xiaolou with a wooden scimitar as punishment for the personal strife between the two. Juxian coolly attempts to stay the master's hand at one point by smiling and saying she's in charge of Xiaolou these days, and permission from her is required for any beating the man receives. The master simply bids Juxian to sit down and enjoy the show, though, and continues the beating. When Juxian suggests Dieyi be beaten instead of Xiaolou, Xiaolou becomes fiercely defensive, refers to this as a man's business, and strikes Juxian across the face, something he'd not done to her before.

The subtext here is that the physical punishment is an intensely integral aspect of the two actors' personalities, and it also relates to the bond between them forged from childhood. Xiaolou regards it as a brotherhood of actors, but Dieyi's lifelong problem is that he sees it as a relationship between lovers.

Dieyi's obviously attracted to men, though I'm not sure if it's because he's gay or if it's because he's a woman in a man's body. Dieyi seems himself not to know the tangled secrets of his own mind.

He's trained from early age not only to perform female roles, but also to behave as a girl at all times, onstage and off. Early on, he had trouble with a line from a play called The Record of an Evil Sea; "I am by nature a girl, not a boy." Despite several beatings, Douzi invariably says, "I am by nature a boy, not a girl." He doesn't deliver the line correctly until a eunuch visits the troupe on the behalf of a prospective patron, and even then Douzi's not able to deliver the line until Shitou physically punishes him.

But even before this, Douzi's feminine behaviour seems entirely natural and he certainly seems inclined to female roles in life offstage forever afterwards.

One thing that's undeniably certain is that Dieyi's in love with Xiaolou, and Dieyi's love persists for his entire life, despite the fact that Xiaolou remains utterly incapable of reciprocating it, having for Dieyi only the love of a brother. The mismatch of their affections manifests in varying but always damaging ways as they live through Japanese occupation, the Communist revolution, and the Cultural Revolution, where the opera troupe is forced by armed forces to parade in the streets in full makeup and wardrobe until they're brought to their knees around a bonfire. Officers force them to make confessions, but signifying the political confusion of that notorious national upheaval, Dieyi and Xiaolou have no idea what they're supposed to confess, and instead begin screaming the ills of their personal relationship.

I could have done without a lot of the political aspects of the movie, as it's more often a distraction from the far more interesting personal drama than a vehicle for it. But I love Dieyi, so I call it a good movie.

Here's a track from the soundtrack.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Behold! I give unto ye all a brand new eight page comic; Zai'Pi Mystery Epic!!!

Time to read it!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Okay, obviously I'm not getting any sleep to-night. And I'm tired of staring at the blue wall, so I'm going to seriously start looking for distractions now . . .

Tim managed to download all fifty-two episodes of Super Gals, the very funny shojo anime series I discovered at Comic-Con. I've since watched the first six episodes and have found the quality to be consistent and good, though by no means perfect.

The show's about a high school girl named Kotobuki Ran and her friends Miyu and Aya, all three of whom are "gals", which is to say their manner of dress and behaviour reflects an actual subculture in Japan referred to as "Gal" or "Kogal". As the Wikipedia entry puts it, "They are characterized by conspicuously displaying their disposable income through distinctive tastes in fashion, music, and social activity. In general, the kogal 'look' roughly approximates a sun-tanned California Valley girl, and indeed, there are even some linguistic similarities between these Western groups and Kogal."

But Kotobuki Ran is also the daughter of two police officers and seems to have inherited a perpetual desire to fight for justice which is manifested in actual street brawls between herself and rival gals. This is a great source of comedy as there is something funny about watching Ran face down a trio of "unseasonably tan" gals among other regular foes.

But Ran's sense of justice is also used as a vehicle for socially conscious messages in the series, about which I have mixed feelings. Ran talks her friend Aya out of having sex with a guy for money, which is a real problem in the kogal culture as the lifestyle is expensive. Ran convinces Aya that a gal can have fun while being poor, which may be an admirable message, but it's slightly sabotaged by the fact that Ran doesn't truly seem to lack for money. It's nice to see an anime series confronting these uniquely Japanese social problems as anime series so rarely do this. I only wish it wasn't as superficial as it is.

An episode where Aya is forced to shun her gal friends due to her falling grades at school focuses on the girl's attendance of cram schools in order to please her parents, apparently depriving herself of the happy innocence of youthful days. Problems most people are generally aware of as existing in Japan but are so often glossed over in anime. And yet, the same morning as I watched that particular episode, I also watched an episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion that dealt with the young protagonist's desire to gain a kind word from his taciturn father by doing work that makes him unhappy. That the work in question is piloting a large biomechanical monster doesn't stop the character story from being effective. More effective, in fact, than the Super Gals plot, which may have taken a page from Evangelion by actually detailing the relationship between Aya and her parents. Instead, Aya comes off in the episode as a vague illustration of a statistic. The odd paradox in art is that the more peculiarities there are in a relationship between characters, the more they tend to resonate with viewers.

Well, it's almost 8:30am. Maybe I can choke down a couple hours of sleep . . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I caught a bit of Lou Dobbs at lunch to-day. The guest host was talking about the contaminated toys from China--she kept referring to the country as "Communist China", as did all the correspondents. Isn't that great? By the gods, what a pathetic attempt to draw attention from the purely capitalist cause of the problem. I feel like the Lou Dobbs crew really misses the 80s.

I was surprised last night by how many good movies are public domain and available for download at I got a really nice copy of the brilliant film noir Detour, the terrific His Girl Friday, and a bunch of Charlie Chaplin films. And they all work on my iPod.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

While colouring comic pages yesterday, I watched the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode featuring a movie called The Final Sacrifice on YouTube. For something besides music to listen to while drawing, I'm finding MST3k to be ideal, as one often does not need to be looking at the screen at all to appreciate what's happening, and it's not as though I need to respect any artist's specifications for format and atmosphere when it comes to MST3k--I just have the video playing in a small window while I work with Paint Shop Pro in another.

The Final Sacrifice, a Canadian film from 1990, is a little unusual for MST3k fare. It appears to be an attempt at moulding a Spelbergian adventure on a budget that may not have exceeded a thousand dollars. What struck me is that there appears to have been a great deal of pride in its spectacularly mundane characters and setting. It almost seems as though its writer/director, Tjardus Greidanus, wanted to show how one of the Steven Spielberg/George Lucas style movies that proliferated in the 80s could be done right in your own back yard--all you need is attitude.

The film's hero is a prepubescent fifteen year-old named Troy.

His father was an archaeologist or something who was researching an ancient Canadian empire that predated the Mayans when he was killed by a mysterious cult of pale, beefy men in black tank tops and ski masks (the movie's stand-in for stormtroopers).

It isn't long before Troy's researches--captured in early scenes of long, unbroken shots of Troy reading and grimacing slightly--provoke the attentions of the mysterious cult. Here's the cult's resident Darth Vader leading troops into Troy's home in a shot feebly imitating Vader's appearance at the Rebel Base in Empire Strikes Back;

Soon Troy is pursued across the Canadian wilderness, a land rendered dull and nebulous by the film's casual cinematography. Troy joins forces with the film's Han Solo, one Zap Rowsdower, when Troy hitches a ride on Rowsdower's Millennium Falcon, a truck.

Rowsdower's my favourite part of the movie. Clearly meant to be the rough and dashing hero with a dark past for the adoring boy, Rowsdower's a discreetly podgy gentleman dressed in denim over sensible layers. He sports a fluffy mullet and manly moustache.

It's hard to find decent screenshots as the movie's filled with dialogue scenes with ill-considered blocking, actors' faces turned from the camera, and action scenes devoid of energy, comprised of derivative compositions and overlong static shots of nothing (when the camera inexplicably settled on a bush during a chase scene at one point, Servo adopted the voice of the bush and said, "Hi, I'm just a bush. You'll probably want to pan away from me.").

And yet the movie has a kind of enthusiasm, as though Greidanus wanted to weave magic for us, as though he wanted to fill us with wonder that such an extraordinary adventure could take place on such a banal stage with such plain players. After The Final Sacrifice, I see Greidanus became a career "making of" director for other people's movies. Somehow I don't think that's quite what he wanted for himself. I'm reminded of all the cute girls at Comic-Con dressed as their favourite anime characters, and the thousands of comic book artists and writers who probably won't go anywhere. The odds are against us, and yet we dream. I guess there's always Mystery Science Theatre 3000 . . .

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I have terrible posture, myself. Maybe they ought to've hit me with this video when I was a kid. Or maybe I did see it; I don't know how old this episode is. I'm honestly amazed at how many people have good posture at the mall--I just can't imagine putting serious effort into it as a kid.

Friday, August 17, 2007

This post is directed at the animals; yes, I hear you, I just don't know what you're trying to say.

I won't count the enormous orange spiders who make webs across the front porch which I inevitably walk through, finding the creatures later dangling frantic from my arm, clothes, or hat. Those show up every summer. Instead, I'll begin with the moth;

Two nights ago, I put the coffee pot under the water dispenser on the refrigerator and reached up to press its button. Instead, my finger jabbed at something that I thought was the rubber nozzle falling off, but in fact it was a large grey moth that fell directly into the centre of the coffee pot. I went out the front door, flicked the pot, and the moth flew away, somehow avoiding the spider webs.

Yesterday morning, I had to leave the house for the usual Thursday reasons, so I decided to drive to the mall. Only a few blocks away from the house, I came to the top of a small hill and suddenly saw a snake slithering across the road directly in front of me. I swerved to avoid it--wouldn't it be funny if it caused an accident? "Snake, why did you cause a car accident?" "Because I'm a snake, it is my nature."

In the evening, I was walking to my parents' house for dinner when I noticed a lone female duck walking next to me. I smiled at her and continued walking. Looking back, I saw her waddling after me.

Friday's barely begun and already a large black spider has crawled across the desk. I'm not too worried; I have a good rep with the spiders around here. Well, except for the orange ones outside, but they have to know I can't help it.

I'm not sure what all this portends.

Groovy, Baby.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I was drawing a few moments ago when I felt this weird tightening sensation on the upper region of my left cheekbone, just below my eye socket. It went away after a moment and I didn't think much about it. Then it came again and went away again. I still didn't think much of it until I glanced at the mirror and actually saw a small depression form in that area in my cheek as I felt the sensation, and then disappear along with the sensation.

It's still doing this even as I type. It looks like my cheekbone has started breathing. I've never had this happen to me before--anyone know anything about this sort of thing? I haven't eaten anything weird this morning--I had a butter croissant and a grande Americano from Starbucks. I'll go eat a banana and see if that helps.

Nope. It's still breathing. I hope this isn't something that's going to make me rue my lack of health insurance. Rue it more, anyway. I hope it doesn't get in the way of me drawing--I seem to have gotten into a good rhythm, and for the past five days I've spent nearly all day of each day working on my comic. I see Dark Horse has the "New Recruits" contest on their site again, and I think I'm going to try for that. But the deadline is December 31 and my project wouldn't be reviewed until next year. Which is actually kind of similar to the other thing I'm considering, applying for a Xeric grant. So in any case, there's no rush, but I guess it'd be nice to have the full mini-series ready for submission.

Damn, my cheek's still breathing. And it's getting more rapid. This is really weird . . .

Monday, August 13, 2007

So Karl Rove's leaving the White House. I guess even he realised there wasn't anything left for him to do. And maybe the subpoenas and Bush's gratuitous invocations of executive privilege to protect him and others started to heat the water too much even for Rove. I still don't think he's in any immediate danger of indictment, but I wouldn't be surprised if the pasty goose-brain flees the country. Probably for the United Arab Emirates.

I don't think Rove's the political genius most people claim he is. I think he was just part of the team who saw the complacency of the American people and decided to take advantage of it. And the peculiar cocktail of pain and intellectual complacency after 9/11 is at least as responsible for Iraq as anything Karl Rove did. I saw a pundit on CNN this morning say this is effectively the end of the Bush administration. I hope that's true, I guess. But it's come far too late.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

For my sister's birthday on Monday, our parents took us to see the Dead Sea Scrolls which are currently on display here in Balboa Park. In this picture I simulate the dedicated calligrapher who obviously handwrote all the signage (it couldn't possibly be a Matura font), thus giving one and all the impression of an ancient people, avoiding the stuffy classiness of a simpler font.

Yes, every time you think you've seen the limits of my snobbery, I go one step further.

The exhibit was ridiculously crowded, and it was hard to really look at anything as at the same time everyone was concentrating on not bumping into anyone else. And this was a Monday. And people brought kids--little kids, most of which were running about, some of whom were literally banging their heads against the wall. It never fails to amaze me how far parents overestimate the children whose creativity and curiosity they've ignored or dismissed.

I have a feeling most of the people were there on account of a certain popular novel that inspired a certain studiously lacklustre Ron Howard movie staring Tom Hanks with a skeevy haircut. I fully believe every be-flip-flopped sir or madam was there with some vague idea of cracking the code at last, of finding the secret crossword puzzle hidden by the Catholic Church.

It was interesting stuff to look at, though. Looking at items thousands of years old always gives me a pleasant feeling of vertigo, and actually my favourite item was a two thousand year old shoe, a women's size 5 according to the recorded guide. You could see the imprint of toes and heel in the leather sole.

Anyway, my mother and sister took pictures of me, and I must say I really hate the way I look these days. In fact, I do believe this is my best side;

Don't believe me? Behold!

If you have information regarding the whereabouts of my chin, please contact me.

Finally, here my sister and I leave the exhibit. Yes, she wears flip-flops, but I try not to hold it against her;

Obviously, I need to be doing more than fifty sit-ups a day . . . Or avoid standing next to my sister for photos, at the very least.
A journey inspired by a recent post of Robyn's;

Teach us, Ronald Entity . . .

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Some booth in the event hall was giving out big, round cardboard shields to promote the 300 DVD release, and I saw these shields all over the place at and around the Comic-Con. Some companies have learned that a smart way to promote their products is to give lots of people enormous freebies they have to carry around town--I saw a lot of huge, cloth Smallville bags, and big yellow Dark Horse bags.

Whenever someone with a 300 shield got up to ask Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, and Mike Nelson a question, Corbett insisted they yell "Sparta" as loud as they could before they were allowed to ask their question (there were only two such yells, both of which were a little weak). The three guys were asked what their favourite television shows were. Kevin Murphy said Arrested Development, Corbett concurred, and Mike Nelson said the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes (I was the only one in the room who applauded for that one).

The Film Crew panel ended at seven o'clock, and it was the latest I'd ever stayed at the Comic-Con. I received a call from my cousin Courtney and I learned she and Susan were in line for the masquerade ball. I told them I was tired and was going home . . . so that covers Saturday.

Sunday, the last day of the Con, is always a little sad, not only because it's the last day, but also because it's shorter and there's a whole lot less going on. My sister, Chelsea, went with me that day because the previous day she'd acquired for herself a "Professional" badge. Which is a funny story;

Chelsea had been hired, along with a hundred fifty-nine other girls, to dress like Alice from the Resident Evil movies, wearing red dresses, fishnet tights, Doc Martens boots, and what my sister described as "really bad brown wigs." The girls walked the Con together and were instructed not to smile at anyone or talk to anyone--which made my sister feel bad when one guy approached her and tried to flirt with her.

As Chelsea told me this, I remembered a guy on the trolley Saturday night complaining to his friend about how "the hundred girls dressed the same--in fishnets--all went up the escalator at the same time and created even more of a bottleneck when people had to stop and take pictures of them."

Apparently, no-one knew what they were supposed to be and Chelsea told me she'd heard a few people speculating that they were simply all part of the same class on a field trip.

"Yeah, maybe the streetwalker's school of etiquette," I said.

So my sister and the hundred fifty-nine other girls found themselves backstage Saturday in Hall H, where Chelsea found herself very close to Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Robert Downey Junior, and Josh Hartnett even stopped to speak to her, saying, "I wish I'd worn my red dress."

Chelsea was also close to Ali Larter, who must wear some heavy foundation because Chelsea said her face looked like "a baseball mitt." But she said Liv Tyler was absolutely beautiful.

The idea was that the hundred sixty Alices were supposed to go onstage followed by Milla Jovovich to give the audience some kind of "Who's the Real Alice?" puzzle. Only Milla Jovovich accidentally ran out onstage first and Chelsea said all the Sony people standing nearby smacked their foreheads in frustration. So Chelsea never got to go onstage.

But just before she was supposed to, one of the girls' minders helpfully offered to "take those badges now." Chelsea and her friend Flora hid theirs in their boots because, as my sister observed, "that's what big Doc Martens are for."

So I showed up to the event hall with my sister on Sunday morning and wandered a bit (we got there a little early and the guards weren't letting anyone in without professional badges until ten, but Chelsea opted to wait for me). I actually bought something on Thursday, which I just about never do at Comic-Con; Slave Labour was selling these one dollar packages of three comics selected completely at random. The package was brown and covered the comics completely, so there was no way of knowing what you were getting until after you'd purchased the package, which I thought was a really good idea. I still haven't gotten around to reading those comics, though . . . Why doesn't Slave Labour publish more colour comics? Aren't they a big enough company yet? It's the only reason I haven't submitted my comic to them. They work with Disney, for gods' sakes, you'd think they'd be in the money now.

My sister bought herself a Jack Sparrow action figure and we visited Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean display, which was actually pretty cool--a big, fake cave people queued up to enter, and inside was a dark, lantern lit tunnel with original costumes from the movie in display cases. Mostly they were Singaporean pirate costumes, but they were all very intricate and beautiful. One of Keira Knightley's Singaporean costumes was particularly nice looking.

After this, we went upstairs and watched an episode of Azumanga Daioh, which drew a pretty big crowd. Before that, there were significantly fewer people in the room as we watched an episode of a series called Super Gals, which I'd never heard of but enjoyed quite a bit. It's genuine shojo, which I so rarely get from Tim, my regular anime supplier, and very funny. Though looking at the Wikipedia entry, I see the series references a rather disturbing practice in Japan called enjo kosai, wherein older Japanese businessmen legally purchase sex from high school girls. It's apparently not technically considered prostitution but, as Roger Ebert noted in his review of Memoirs of a Geisha, "Here is a useful rule: Anyone who is 'not technically a prostitute' is a prostitute."

Chelsea and I thought about seeing Nicolas Cage and his brother trying to sell their new comic book, but decided to just go home instead.

And so I say farewell to another Comic-Con . . .

Saturday, August 04, 2007

After the small press booths, Susan, my cousin's friend, called me and it turned out she was all right except that she'd decided the line was too long for the Heroes panel and so far hadn't done much but wander. I still don't know if Susan ever actually saw anything.

I wandered northwards from the small press booths and, at the Slave Labour booth, I met a really nice British comic book writer who talked to me about how he met his artist, an Italian woman, on the internet. Damned if I can remember his name or the title of his comic, or even what it was about. As I said to Sonya this morning, sometimes I think my head was made for nothing more complicated than breaking ostrich eggs.

I went to the Oni Press booth next and spoke to James Vining, creator of First in Space. It's a comic about a chimpanzee test pilot for NASA named Ham.

"It's good if you like chimpanzees," he said.

"Oh, everyone does," I said. "Except people who lie to themselves."

"Really?" he responded, apparently slightly taken aback.

It was around noon by this point and I was hungry so I decided to get lunch. For the first time this Comic-Con, I ate at the place I ate every day of last year's Con, Pokez. It's more than ten blocks away from the convention centre, but boy, is it ever worth the walk. A great variety of vegetarian options and, most importantly, an enormous bean and cheese burrito with lettuce and stuff for only $3.25. The Con cafeteria is pinned on its face crying, there's no battle.

I thought then about seeing the Joss Whedon panel, but I saw that his panel ended at exactly the time the panel consisting of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett began. I chose instead to sit through the two panels preceding the MST3K guys in the same room, a decision which secured me a third row seat for that panel. Plus, I got to see J. Michael Straczynski and tell Sonya about it.

The first panel was for The Amazing Spider-Man and was moderated by Joe Quesada himself. The purpose of the panel was to introduce the new writers and artists for the series, which is now going to put out three issues a month. All four of the new writers were there, including Bob Gale, screenwriter for the Back to the Future movies. Looking at his imdb profile, I see he's done little else, but I'm astonished to see that he and Robert Zemekis are credited as writers for all twenty-six episodes of the Back to the Future cartoon series.

Anyway, apparently the plan is to scale back on Spider-Man's presence in other comics in order to consolidate his storyline for comics buyers. The Amazing Spider-Man is to concentrate on Peter Parker's personal life.

Next was J. Michael Straczynski, a writer I've heard many good things about, though I'd not read or seen any of his work since I'd watched He-Man, She-Ra, and The Real Ghostbusters as a kid. He's made Babylon 5 since then and has had a well-received run on The Amazing Spider-Man.

He seemed like an intelligent guy and he was funny and charming. But there's something odd about being the only guy in the room who's not a rabid fan of the person speaking. Straczynski talked like he was only surrounded by those who love him, and I felt slightly like I was watching a couple having tender sex who'd been married for twenty years. I've since picked up a copy of Skin Deep, a collection of a small story-arch from Straczynski's run on The Amazing Spider-Man, and it is indeed good writing.

After him was the panel for The Film Crew, a comedy team comprised of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 writers Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. I must say, of all the people I've seen at any Comic-Con, those three were by far the most intimidating.

The panel was moderated by a nervous young guy from Shout! Factory who nevertheless tried to maintain a cocky façade. "How many of you are fans of a little show called Mystery Science Theatre 3000?" he asked before the stars were on stage.

The crowd cheered.

"Well you've come to the wrong place." Although the upcoming Film Crew DVDs are essentially new episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, featuring the main three writers doing the same thing--providing joke commentaries for bad old movies--they're for some mysterious legal reasons unable to carry on under the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 name or premise. I, for one, shall greatly miss the puppet robots.

I've watched Mystery Science Theatre 3000 since I was twelve, when the series had already been on air for four years. The voices of Joel, Mike, and the 'bots are inextricably woven into the voices of my subconscious, so maybe that's why it was so strange to be only a few feet away from these people speaking with these voices, and demonstrating remarkably agile and quick wits.

The moderator first called Bill Corbett, the voice of Crow T. Robot in later years of the series, and Corbett came running up from the back of the room amid cheers; his fists jabbing at the air like Muhammad Ali before he took the stage to yell, "SPARTA!" into the microphone.

Next Kevin Murphy, the voice of Tom Servo (my personal favourite), was called to run up to the stage. After finding he'd crawled up on the wrong side of the table, he came around to his seat and cried into his mic, in an uncertain tone, "Athens . . . ?"

Finally came Mike Nelson, to the biggest cheers. I'm not going to repeat what he said.

The audience was treated to extensive clips from three of the four new Film Crew releases, Killers from Space, The Wild Women of Wongo, and Giant of Marathon.

That last movie, sadly enough directed by the talented Jacques Tourneur at what must have been a very depressing point in his career, stars Steve Reeves, familiar to MST3K fans as the star of many a lame Italian Hercules movie. In Giant of Marathon, he plays the clean-shaven Phillipides, opposite a pretty, talentless actress playing Andromeda, whom Phillipides comes upon cavorting with several nubile young ladies in scanty tunics. "This is what the Jihadists think heaven is like," Mike observed.

The Wild Women of Wongo featured an opening narration by Mother Nature herself, who explained that she and Father Time worked together long ago to create these strange, Wongo societies of cave people seen in the movie. After she finished speaking, Mike volunteered narration of his own; "Hi, folks, this is Father Time. Yeah, I bagged that broad Mother Nature. Don't believe a word she says . . ."

I wish I could remember more of what those guys said. Bill Corbett came off as much funnier than I was expecting. But I'm out of time again . . .

Friday, August 03, 2007

Saturday was definitely my favourite day of Comic-Con, for several reasons. I really didn't expect it to be--as it was the day to sell out first, I assumed being there would mostly involve shoving my way through crowds. And yet it turned out to be the day that gave me the least amount of trouble with mass humanity; the busiest day at the Con felt for me like the least busiest day.

I didn't take the trolley that morning because my aunt Gaylene wanted me to accompany my cousin Courtney's friend Susan. Courtney and Susan wanted to go to the Con even though Courtney was working most of the day. Before Courtney showed up, my aunt wanted me to escort Susan because Susan had never been to the Con before and I guess someone, she or my aunt, was wary of the behemoth. So Susan and I got the Convention Centre at around 9:30am, thirty minutes before the Con officially opening.

I didn't talk to Susan very long; apparently she was mainly there to see the entire cast of Heroes, so I talked to her about how silly I thought the ending of season 1 was, and I explained to her my theory about how the writers screwed up with the Haitian character. She didn't say much, and then we were separated at the gates when pre-registers (her) had to go in through a different entrance than people who already had their badges (me). I waited around for her a while in the Sails Pavilion upstairs but gave up after a few minutes. So much for my chaperone career.

There I was with my portfolio and a printout of the first issue of my new comic, and I'd already learned that the portfolio reviews weren't worth my time. So I decided to go downstairs and talk to the people in the small press area of the Event Hall. People were going down there even though it was only 9:45am, but it wasn't very crowded. I've now arrayed about my keyboard all the cards and fliers and little handmade booklets I collected from the various booths and it's sort of dizzying to think I actually had conversations with all these different comic book artists and writers. I can't even quite remember the order in which I talked to everyone, nor can I remember all the faces attached to these comics and cards. I'll do my best, but my apologies to any of you who might actually be checking my blog and getting miffed that I utterly forgot a long, meaningful conversation we had.

The first person I spoke to was a guy who worked on a comic called SPaZ. I glanced through his comic and told him I liked the colouring. I showed him some of my comic and he told me I definitely ought to join the west coast chapter of a comic artist guild. Apparently, it's a bigger thing on the east coast. Considering I've noticed that another two comic book stores have closed around here recently, I'm beginning to think comics are more of an east coast thing in general.

Let's see, I'll just go by cards here . . . Kelli Nelson was pretty cool, and seemed like she had a good sense of humour. Her books were in some amazing, handmade bindings, and she told me about a specific dye or material she used for one book in order to get an interesting thick, glossy texture with oddly good traction.

I met Randy Reynaldo at his booth, and he seems like he has a very nice comic . . . Val Hochberg, creator of a comic called Kick Girl, seemed very sweet, giggled a lot, and really seemed to like my comic.

I met Brion Foulke, creator of Flipside, the only creator I met Saturday whose comic I'd actually read and the only comic creator who'd actually read Boschen and Nesuko. That was a rather pleasant surprise. He told me he really liked my work, and that he didn't always say that to people. I told him I liked his, which I do, though I haven't read more than two-thirds of the Flipside archive. He was doing a radio show or something at the time I spoke to him and I told him he had kind of a radio voice. He was with the creator of another comic called Paradigm Shift, which also looks well drawn.

In the booth next to him was Jennifer Brazas, who I think is Brion's girlfriend, and also the creator of Mystic Revolution. I had a slightly odd conversation with her because she and I were wearing exactly the same hat and glasses (though her fedora had a c-crown). She looked through some of my stuff at Brion's urging.

"You'll like it, it has naked women," he said.

"So I see," she said, for although I'd thought about restricting my portfolio to my less explicit work, I actually had a really hard time finding any significant groupings of pages that didn't feature at least a few NC-17 items. So I didn't bother with self-censorship, which really perturbed the creator of Zecta, to whom I'd spoken earlier. Upon looking at my comic, the first thing he very soberly said to me was that I ought to have a mature content warning on my cover. He seemed very concerned that children might get a hold of my comic.

"It's very hard for me to think that way," I said. "I'm too much of a pervert."

I don't think this was a statement he appreciated. He was also the only person to tell me I needed to replace my handwritten lettering with computer text. We may very well have been broadcasting at polar opposite wavelengths. His comic is about robotic insects.

I spoke very briefly to the creator of Bob the Angry Flower, who was wearing a very stylish cardboard headdress of yellow petals. The comic sample I picked up from his booth was very funny, too.

I spoke to three of the makers of Bushi Tales, and we admired samples of each others' comics, noting how we seemed to be exploring mildly similar design concepts. I had a very interesting conversation with Bushi Tales artist/Co-Creator Lin Workman about colouring programmes. He uses PhotoShop, the industry standard, while I'm still using my 1998 shareware copy of Paint Shop Pro 5 (who wants a copy? Here you go. Now you can colour exactly like me. Results may vary).

There was another artist I spoke to who had some very good stuff, but I seem to've completely lost her card . . .

Next to her was Athena LaRue, creator of The Adventures of Onion Boy, and she seemed very intrigued by my work, just from overhearing me discussing it with the girl whose card I lost. LaRue's comic is rather nice looking, like a cross between Tim Burton and Maurice Sendak.

I spoke to GB Tran and we had a conversation about the butterfly effect, how he used it in his comic, and how unfortunate it is that there's an Ashton Kutcher movie of the same name. I pointed out that I'd heard a character in a Star Wars game refer to the unforeseen dramatic effects the flapping of a mynock's wings can have, so maybe the concept is adequately proliferated in our pop culture regardless of Ashton Kutcher.

There was another guy I spoke to who was charging fifty cents for his little cards bearing his URL.

"Fifty cents for one of your cards?" I said, thinking he hadn't understood what I wanted.

"Yes," he said with perfect sincerity.

"Er, I'll pass." So no link for him . . .

I then made for a booth for a comic called The Devil's Panties. I spoke to its creator, Jennie Breeden, who was wearing a really cool tan coloured, space military looking coat. She explained to me the comic is autobiographical, so I asked the obvious question; "Do you wear devil's panties?"

"We figure the devil would go commando, actually," she explained, and I could tell she's answered the question many times before.

I'd have advised her to own the concept, say, "Yeah, I wear the devil's panties, and they're always on fire!" or something. She seemed to like my comic, and recommended I use a site called for my self-publishing needs, though she said my comic, being in colour, might be quite expensive.

"I knew I was doing the bad thing when I went with colour," I said, sighing. "But I did it anyway . . ."

Next I spoke to Kelly Lynn Jones, who was quite appalled when I told her about the guy charging fifty cents for his cards. She gave me a card and a nice postcard, free of charge,

Well, it's time I did something else to-day, so I'll finish Saturday next time. Yes, there's more. Lots more . . .

Thursday, August 02, 2007

So where was I . . . ?

Ah, I forgot to mention that Zack Snyder actually won a few points with me when he talked smack about the V for Vendetta movie. In discussing the fact that there has yet to be a decent movie based on an Alan Moore comic, Snyder said, "The problem with V was that the filmmakers acted like Alan should be so lucky that they were making a movie from his comic--that they knew better."

Fifty points. But 300 still sucked.

Anyway, after the Warner Brothers presentation, I waited in line at the Con cafeteria until I got close enough to the menu to read that a small, notoriously awful pizza cost eight dollars. So I walked to Horton Plaza and got a nice slice with tomatoes and feta cheese and things for less than four dollars. That's how it's done, as Mitsurugi would say.

I was rather disappointed to notice later that I'd missed Ridley Scott doing a panel about the new Blade Runner cut, but I was upstairs seeing Neil Gaiman speak. I figured it just wouldn't be Comic-Con if I didn't see Gaiman at least once.

This was in Room 6CDEF, which is one of the larger rooms upstairs. There was an enormous line upstairs, but at least we were inside. Ahead of me was a middle aged man leaning on a cane and wearing an extraordinarily placid smile. For some reason, he decided to speak to me; "Seen anything interesting so far?"

Maybe it was because he was so peculiarly calm, but after a brief description of the Warner Brothers presentation, I let into a bitter rant about 300, going on about how it was misogynistic, homophobic, and racist. The man nodded peacefully, smiling, saying, "Yes, that's what I read."

"I'd like to see a good adaptation of an Alan Moore comic . . ." I said.

Behind me was a guy in a button down white shirt and little glasses accompanied by a female assistant-type lady. The man said, "Couldn't [so and so] get us in?"

The woman replied, "[So and so] was talking to [someone else] and [someone else] and finally she had to start saying 'no'--She said everyone--everyone wants a piece of Neil."

"He's like a god," said the man.

I got a seat near the back of the room next to a dark haired kid I could see staring at me in my peripheral vision. I didn't really mind being far away--there are huge screens, and I have no desire to touch Neil, as much as I like his writing.

The crowd cheered as he got on stage and the first thing he said was something like, "There's nothing like looking out on a crowd of several thousand people and thinking . . . I really should have prepared something."

In fact, mostly he repeated almost verbatim a few stories from his blog. He actually took off his leather jacket at one point--a garment that's always looked slightly ridiculous in San Diego weather--and thousands of female voices screamed.

"What was that?!" he asked his swooning masses.

The guy actually looked like he was in better shape than I remember him in previous years and in DVD special features. Though the dark circles under his eyes were much darker.

He told a story about this line of "Scary Trousers" shirts people are selling featuring a cartoon image of himself. Apparently the phrase comes from an incident where Gaiman, having lunch with Alan Moore, became slightly ill when Moore discussed in detail some of the more gruesome moments of From Hell, which he'd been writing at the time. As Gaiman had to step out for, I think, the third time for air, Moore said, "Well, well, well. Neil 'Scary Trousers' Gaiman . . ."

Gaiman said Moore is very tall, and looms, and is hairy, and it occurred to me later, after on Saturday I'd seen J. Michael Straczynski mention Moore as example of a truly great comic book writer, that Alan Moore looms over the entire Comic-Con, even moreso because of his perpetual absence, year after year. I see from the Con's Wikipedia entry that he was at Comic-Con in 1985 "in his only U.S. convention appearance." He's like a vast, dark shadow over everything.

So maybe Gaiman's more of a steward. Alan Moore's the god.

Anyway, I have to cut this short on account of it being Thursday . . .