Sunday, May 29, 2011

Art What I Like: Richard Corben, always awesome

The recent one-shot Hellboy: Being Human (one of a series of always-excellent Hellboy stories written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Richard Corben) was quite good, and it featured some really nice Corben art, which isn't exactly out of the ordinary for him, but certainly seemed to feature some stuff worth pointing out this time around. I always enjoy the grittily-textured volume of Corben's figures and their surroundings, and that aspect pays off well here, grounding the spooky setting well. And the grotesque corpses are as leeringly skin-crawling as ever, while the rough grappling of Roger the Homunculus and a similar "thing that walks like a man" is wonderfully physical. But that's regular Corben stuff; where he really starts to shine is when the action kicks in, when he gets to contrast the stony visages of Hellboy and Roger with the old witch antagonist of the tale:

With a title like "Being Human", the comparison of the (justifiably?) angry old woman, who has let her hate turn her into a monster, and the struggles of two monstrous creatures with souls seems obvious, but for an expressive artist like Corben to bring it internal is really interesting.

Later, Corben gets even more expressive, with this great panel of the witch's wild gesticulations:

And an incredible combination of Kirby-style energy and a Ditkovian sound effect for an explosion:

A climactic image of the witch's face is pretty amazing too, especially the scratchy detail of her hair, which seems like something that would come from someone like Guy Davis, and is startlingly effective as a frozen moment:

It's pretty awesome artwork all around, some seriously great work from Corben, who has been doing this for over forty years now. If he keeps showing up with stuff like this, we'll all be better off.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Case Study: Superhero Comics and the Plastic Chicken Leg

Over the last decade (at least), an entertaining nomenclature has sprung up around mocking bad art in superhero comics, especially art of the cheesecake variety that bears little resemblance to reality, or even the airbrushed version of reality presented in soft-core pornography. Writers have coined terms like "boob sock" and "brokeback pose", and pointed out the ridiculous, and downright un-sexy, distortions brought upon the female gender by artists who understand little about anatomy and less about using art for storytelling purposes.  Upon perusal of some images recently released by a major superhero comics publisher, I believe I've coined a new addition to the lexicon: the Plastic Chicken Leg:

Ignoring any other deficiencies in the picture (the Goku-style hair is a particular favorite), the central character's upper leg and hip is drawn as though it were composed of one solid chunk of PVC (it certainly reflects light as if it is something synthetic), one smooth curve from the upper hip all the way down to the back of the knee. It resembles nothing so much as a piece of plastic food from a children's play set:

This seems to be a common sight in superhero comics art, if not one that is usually remarked upon, what with the oft-hilarious depictions of breasts receiving the majority of the mocking attention. But this is certainly an egregious assault on decent anatomical depiction as well, perhaps brought on by the ever-rising swimsuit cuts that come with the proliferation of crack-snuggling thongs, as well as a difficulty in drawing realistic posteriors, or attractive curves of any sort, really.

There's nothing wrong with a shapely leg, but whoever is creating these assaults against eyeballs seems to forget that legs have musculature; they don't just look like balloons puffed into somewhat human proportions. One need only glance at a beach, or, say, an underwear catalogue, to see what an attractive appendage is supposed to look like:

So, please, artists, inflate breasts if you must, and bend spines to display tits and ass simultaneously, but please pay attention to the way legs work. It can't be that hard, can it? After all, if you're going to ogle a drawing, it would be nice if it appeared to be human.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The winner of the contest is revealed, and no interesting post title is thought of

Due to time-consuming personal issues, I'm behind in posting the results of the recent contest, but don't worry, I haven't forgotten. If you haven't read the entries, I recommend checking them out; there are some really good ones in there, like Chris Sims' Herbie Popnecker/Boy and His Blob mashup, and some other funny ideas from Jason and Heidi Fan, and Pericope. But I really dug the winning entry by Jamie Stahl, which I'll reproduce here:
"I had an idea for a First Person Shooter. Since the genre is based so often on running around shooting bland nameless soldiers, and security guards, I wanted to see a game that explored the ramifications of what you're actually doing in these games a little bit more.
So my idea was basically a frame story, where you are a Black Ops lone wolf infiltrator, shooting security guards in the face for some reason. It plays like normal, but at certain points throughout, when you shoot someone - the camera slo mo's on the bullet and stops right before the bullet hits that guard in the face. Then it stops, and you play as that guard in a self contained stage, in the past, before you kill them. Each stage reveals some small part about that guard: some of them turn out to be assholes, some turn out average, some are wonderful people. I had, as a specific example of this, an idea where one of the guards stages is him telling his daughter a story about a knight rescuing a princess. You play as the knight in a fantasy world, but while you're playing you can hear the father and the daughter talking in the background, making up the story as they go along, which causes the world around you to shift and alter as if it's being made up on the spot (which it is). It ends when the story is done, and then cuts back, and the bullet hits the guy - and you move on.
If I had to name it, I'd like to name it something innocuous like "Stealth Ops" so that people looking for the next Call Of Duty might stumble on it.
Sorry this is a bit long, I've been wanting to get that idea out for awhile. Also it is clearly based on the Invisibles, but I thought that issue was great and would work really well in a video game - when you take over a character you empathize with them so much more then when you're reading about them (IMO)"
That is an excellent idea, one with a lot of potential for storytelling twists and turns, and forcing players to examine aspects of gaming (and maybe even social interaction?) that usually go unnoticed. It's a great example of a counter-argument to Roger Ebert's infamous "video games can never be art" statement.

So, Jamie, if you could contact me at the email address in the sidebar (or via Twitter/Facebook/telegram), I'll pass your information on to the Localpages people and get you your gift card. Congratulations!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Will free stuff make up for not blogging?

I do feel lousy for posting so little lately, so maybe this opportunity that I was offered will make up for it to "all" my "loyal" readers. As a promotional thing, has offered a $50 gift card to a video game store of your choice for one lucky commenter.  All you have to do is give an idea for a video game that you would like to play, either based on an existing property such as a comic, movie, TV show, novel, or whatever, or something completely original (and maybe which would match the interests of this blog, although that's not required). Leave the description and name of the game in a comment, along with a link to a gaming store (or any retail location found on LocalPages that sells video games) where you would like to win your gift card, and the one I like best will be the winner (if I can't decide, I'll just choose one at random). There's no need to get too detailed, but I'm hoping for something funny or original.  Have at it, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. The deadline is midnight, Central time, one week from today, which is Wednesday, May 11.

In order to be eligible to win, commenters must be at least 18 years
old, reside in the U.S. and must not have won any Local Pages
giveaways within the past 30 days. There is a one prize per household
limit per 30 day period.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors: They're not all bad

Elsewhere: Continuing my streak of writing about movies rather than comics, I contributed a thing about Four Lions to The Factual Opinion's latest movie column. Check it out if you're at all interested in a British comedy about would-be suicide bombers. Fun!

Also, I'm one of the contributors to this zine, which was put together as part of the Team Cul de Sac initiative to benefit cartoonist Richard Thompson, who was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. I'll post more information, including where you can get a copy, as it is made available.

Links: I thought this comic about living with epilepsy was really interesting, even though it seems to suffer from an awkward translation, which is strange, since its creators are apparently English-speakers. Still, it's quite good.

And I might be late linking to this, but you can read Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca's Eisner-nominated Afrodisiac in its entirety for free here. Check it out!

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #1
Written by Mark Andrew Smith
Art by Armand Villavert

The superhero genre of comics may be essentially dead, but there might be a little bit of energy to wring from its bones, at least in the indie margins proliferated by the likes of Adam Warren or, uh, well, there must be somebody else doing interesting work. Mark Andrew Smith, co-creator of such neat-o comics as The Amazing Joy Buzzards and Aqua Leung, looks to be making an attempt to join the ranks of those who are trying to do something interesting rather than just rehash all the usual riffs on Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, with Gladstone's School for World Conquerors, a reversal of the occasionally-glimpsed "superhero academy" micro-genre. It's possible that this could turn into something pretty enjoyable, at least as a genre riff on a well-established type of serial storytelling in other mediums, but as with so many first issues, it's kind of difficult to tell, since this is mostly introduction to the setting and cast.

The issue begins with what seems to be a non-essential prologue in which an alien speaks directly to the reader and relates the backstory of the titular place of learning; it might be an attempt to establish an atmosphere, but it's slightly awkward, neither completely goofy nor serious, just a bit "off" from the regular cape style. And maybe that's the point, since what follows is more or less standard high school drama with a bit of villainous flair injected. We quickly get to know the pompous rich kid who gets upset at any grades below A, the withdrawn girl who secretly likes the popular guy, and the rival cliques who provoke a schoolyard dust-up. It's nothing groundbreaking, but Smith does make the interpersonal dynamics interesting, given that these are evildoers-in-training. The aforementioned fight is a solid bit of action, and the speechifying and banter are enjoyably "bad", kids trying to be all mean and tough.

Smith does seem to be setting up some interesting ideas regarding the world in which this school is situated, and he does fill the book with nice details, like classes on "victory speeches" and goofy code names for all the students, so future issues could build on this one to form a pretty satisfying series. A large part of that enjoyability will be due to the artist, Armand Villavert, though; he's got a cool, cartoony style that's clean and dynamic, yet full of fun details, like the way Mummy Girl (the aforementioned shy girl) has prehensile embalming cloths:

Or the speed-line-filled action:

And the designs of the characters is top notch; I especially like the K- and N-tipped scarf worn by Kid Nefarious, and the neat-looking students wandering around in the backgrounds of scenes add a sense of life to the book, making it feel like there's a lot more to explore beyond this issue's focus. Villavert is also greatly helped by colorist Carlos Carrasco's bright palette, which really pops the images right off the page. All in all, it's a gorgeous-looking comic, sure to stand out on the stands.

So it's certainly worth checking out, but will it last? That's the question; if Smith and company can continue to build their world into something interesting and fun (and keep the book going beyond a few issues, which is something that often plagues Image books), this could turn into something special, one of those series that people can point to as evidence of life remaining in the direct market. That would certainly be an ideal result, but it's a pretty steep hill to climb; I hope these guys are up to it.

This review was based on a complimentary electronic copy provided by the creator.