Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review - WILLIAM SHATNER'S GONZO BALLET


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2009's William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet directed by Pat Buckley, Bobby Ciraldo, Kevin Layne, and Andrew Swant.

Elkin: When you think of the music of William Shatner, I’m pretty sure that your head is flooded with his plaintiff cry, “Hey, Mr. Tamborine Man!” Captain Kirk was not a song and dance man, T.J. Hooker no hoofer. Shatner’s musical output was a joke, becoming the fodder for hipster cool sound mixes that you play before your girlfriend’s performance piece of crushing depth to which you smugly smile and turn to your friend who too knows how cool it is to be ironically derisive, something you will post on your Tumblr later in the evening as you twirl your mustache and sip your artisan tea.
And Shatner knew this. And he played it for what it was worth. And he conned you out of your pennies all the while turning the joke back on you.
But maybe, just maybe, there is more depth to William Shatner than you knew. Maybe Shatner was more human than you could ever aspire to be. And maybe other people realized it and, in a non-ironic, non-derisive way, wanted to celebrate that.
And thus we have this week’s subject for Convenient Truths.
The poorly titled William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet is a 2009 film which explores the creation of choreographer Margo Sappington’s ballet called Common People. Common People is set to the music from William Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been which he recorded with Ben Folds and featured guest appearances by Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann, Henry Rollins, and Adrian Belew.
The story goes that Sappington heard Shatner being interviewed on NPR about his album and was so intrigued by his earnestness and his “everyman-ness” that she went out, bought the album, and then realized she wanted to make a ballet out of it. She called Shatner, told him her idea, and he responded, “It can’t possibly turn out bad.”
The 60 minute film features interviews with Shatner, Sappington, Ben Folds, Henry Rollins, and Michael Pink, the Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet. It also features behind-the-scene moments from the making of Has Been, as well as footage of the actual ballet Sappington choreographed.
And it all works. And it is all beautiful. And it is all celebratory. It is dance, it is music, it is us, and I loved just about every moment of this film.
Sacks: One of the great experiences I had at last year's Comic-con was when I had the opportunity to interview William Shatner. He was doing publicity for a documentary on the Epix channel - not this documentary but one I hope we can get to eventually – and it was a truly memorable conversation. Shatner was so affable, so interesting and so sincere that I instantly liked the man.
There's a fascinating sort of openness in William Shatner that comes from being at a certain point in your life, with a certain amount of success in the past and contentment in the present. He seems a truly happy man, a man confident with his legacy and legitimately curious and thoroughly engaged in the world around him.
And as you said, Elkin, this documentary captures exactly that spirit and energy in Shatner, this wonderful directness and questing that gives him a wide-open view of what is possible as a creative person, this chance to really explore different areas in the ways that a person can create work that is meaningful to him.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review - TORCHBEARER #1

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Torchbearer #1
(Nicolas Dedual/Dennis Calero)
Odd Truth
Torchbearer #1 is a decent enough independently produced comic book. Nicolas Dedual and Dennis Calero have put together what appears to be on the outset a nice little science-fiction/action/thriller story that takes place in one of those Blade Runner type futures where there are powerful corporate interests, a street level rebellion of some sort, manufactured humans, and hover taxis (I’m a sucker for hover taxis, always have been).  The art is serviceable, the story moves along nicely, the dialogue is believable, the characters seem to have some depth, and the world building is just fine.
But sadly, that’s about it. Certainly this is only a first issue, and it is hard to gauge where this book is going, but for now there was little in Torchbearer #1 to stir my juices. There just isn’t a whole lot new or exciting or different to make me take note or scratch my head or do that little excited dance that I do when I come across something, well, exciting.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Because it is Friday.

A young Raquel Welch dancing a space girl dance in this video made in the 1970s.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review - A CHINESE LIFE

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin



The history of modern China is a vast, complicated bit of business and one better suited for a website more geopolitically savvy than this here Comics Bulletin. I bring little to the table when I talk about China except mere platitudes based on my limited global sensibility carved from the trough of the American educational system and my over-reliance on Twitter as the source for my news. I know, in theory, that the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and its subsequent “Great Leap Forward” and Cultural Revolution, set the stage for what is now the China we know as an economic powerhouse, home of 1,344,130,000 people, the world’s largest producers of plastic gewgaws, and the place where your I-Phones are made by folks working in slave-like conditions (or not – you would think we would get the definitive answer to this at some point).

But I’m not here to talk about China specifically. Rather, as this is Comics Bulletin, the focus of this review is on a comic book, A Chinese Life.

A Chinese Life is a graphic novel and a memoir, one which covers the transformation of modern China. It follows the life and development of artist Li Kunwu through nearly sixty years of upheaval and change as his country goes from the leadership of Mao Zedong to the modern economic policies of Deng Xioping. Through Li Kunwu’s life, China has gone from a time of deep commitment to ideology, a cult of personality, and a strong sense of nationalism and xenophobia, to a loosening of the constraints of collectivism, a rising middle class, and a focus on the fruits of individual endeavor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review - COMIC BOOK LITERACY

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin.

When I’m not reading or writing about comics, I masquerade during the day as a High School English teacher.  I like to think that I am pretty good at it, too, as I am constantly looking for new and inventive ways to engage my students in the pursuit of high order critical thinking, as well as help them develop the tools they need to lucidly express the products of those thoughts. I often use comics (oh, excuse me, “graphic novels”), in my teaching as a unique medium in which to do both. I firmly believe that comics have a place in the Language Arts curriculum and I am always excited to discover new ways in which I can integrate them into what I am doing. So when our avuncular Comics Bulletin publisher, Jason Sacks, asked me if I would like to review an independent documentary called Comic Book Literacy for the site, I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, what I jumped into ended up sticking to the bottom of my shoes, leaving foul smelling tracks all over the new carpet.
Comic Book Literacy promotes itself as “an independent documentary film that showcases the utilization of comic books to promote literacy and education.” Director Todd Kent claims that, “throughout the film educators, researchers, writers and artists give commentary in both an historic and contemporary context on a variety of subjects related to the topic.”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

International Space Station Star Trail

Journalist Christoph Malin created this time-lapse video of star trails with imagery captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The star trails were not captured in camera — Malin added them digitallly using StarStaX, an image stacking program.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review - DEADLESS #0

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin
Deadless #0
(Matt O'Keefe/Arisyahrazad/Cecilia La Tella/Sam Tung/Pat Loika)

Let there be no mistake, the Devil is one tricky motherfucker. He'll promise you all kinds of things -- sweet, desirable, luscious things - but whatever succulent or savory service he provides, eventually you will rue the day you made that deal.
 You want eternal youth? Sure, you can have it, but you never said anything about staving off the degeneration of your mind engendered by old age. You want eternal life? Sure, you can have it, but you never said anything about staying young. It never pays off, when you dance with Mr. D.
This is the Devil that we meet in Matt O'Keefe's Deadless #0, the douchebag devil, the evil motherfucker.  Deadless #0 contains four short stories, each illustrated by different artists, each telling the tale of some poor sap who has made a deal with Azil, the devil, who is subsequently trying to figure out a way to get out of it. This leads to the formation of a team who are working with the Devil to try to get out of their bargains, the titular Deadless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

San Francisco - Time Lapse Tilt-Shift

Using 30,000 photos, video producer and “Jedi editor” Jeremy Williams spent over ten months creating this beautiful time-lapse tilt-shift film of everything he loves about San Francisco. He says that it took him “50 hours of rendering to generate 62 tilt shift timelapse sequences.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

Convenient Truths: CROSSING THE LINE

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin.
Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2006's Crossing the Line directed by Daniel Gordon
JasonThe Korean War is the forgotten war of the 20th century for many of us in America, but it is not forgotten in the Korean Peninsula. The war wreaked horrible devastation throughout North and South Korea and created a pair of counties divided by a two-and-a-half zone of death called the DMZ. South Korea, America's ally, remained a capitalist democracy and has become a great force in world economics. North Korea, the ally of the Soviets, became a totalitarian Communist society where the populace serves the Great Leader and his successors and has struggled economically since the Korean War.
Only a handful of American soldiers defied American propaganda and crossed the DMZ to live in North Korea. One of those men was Private First Class James Joseph Dresnok, a giant of a man who gave up his personal problems and his boredom to try life in Korea. What he found there was intriguing. In some ways the country lived up to his stereotypes and in other ways it was quite different. That complexity is what makes Crossing the Line such an interesting documentary.
I've been vaguely fascinated with North Korea for a long time. That country seems so different and bizarre and alien to our way of doing things in the United States that I thought it hard to imagine any American choosing to give up the freedom that we all have in the West to move to one of the most totalitarian countries in the world. But Joe Dresnok chose to do exactly that during the height of the Cold War and three other men followed him across the DMZ.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: TOMORROW JONES #1


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Tomorrow Jones #1
(Brian Daniel/Johan Manadin)
Arcana
Tomorrow Jones #1 is as spunky as all get out. This tale of blemish free teenage angst and superheroics is perfectly pleasing and easily accessible  -- sort of the "Call Me, Maybe" of comics. It is pleasant pabulum designed neither to offend nor to challenge, rather it is created to make you smile as you settle into the warm embrace of its familiarity. 
Which is perfectly fine if that’s what you are looking for.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Series of Moments: A Conversation about Creating Comics with Andy Belanger and Becky Cloonan by Keith Silva

This interview originally ran on Comics Bulletin 


A comics interview article by: Keith Silva

When Andy Belanger is five, his father, Paul, tells him what every boy wants to hear: I'm Batman. Years later Paul will ask Andy if he and his fiancée worship Satan, but that's a ways away.
''We kill very few reporters,'' is what I think I hear Andy Belanger say as I follow him down a cinder block corridor that looks like it was inspired by the lighting and art direction in Fight Club. Belangeris near six-feet tall with broad shoulders; his long sideburns and goatee give him the aspect of a brawler – the kind of guy you'd want on your side in a bar fight. He is gregarious, generous with his time and a stone-cold extrovert. Reading from top to bottom, he wears a fedora, a pair of sunglasses hang from the collar of a red “Hello my name is Inigo Montoya” t-shirt, with shorts and sandals completing the ensemble. If I am going to have my throat slit by this artist, it will be with a hip sense of irony.


Belanger stops in front of a non-descript door and says something about the place being busier and less creepy during weekdays. It is at this moment that this industrial grey shoebox-of-a-building in residential Montreal transforms into a sepia-toned Kansas farmhouse. It must, because when Belanger opens the door, what I see on the other side resembles Oz, or better yet, Xanadu – if Charles Foster Kane were a nerd. A four-foot statue of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice stands ready to cast a spell, not far away a similarly sized Betty Boop bats her lashes in a coy over-the-shoulder come on, a 12'' Star Wars Stormtrooper takes up a position to halt an attack from a Matrix Sentinel.
This tableaux is overseen by Droopy Dog; stacks of Lucite display cases filled with every kind of science-fiction, horror, and fantasy gewgaw divide the room into workstations for half a dozen artists; a 1:1 scale Boba Fett helmet and a bust of Elvis eye each from opposite ends of the room. Icons, insignias, and symbols of superheroes are ever-present, framed comic strips hang on the walls, and each drafting table is bivouacked by bookshelves lined with every trade, graphic novel, and essential collection of a half-century 's worth of comic book and graphic art. It's less a studio and more an ark of twentieth-century pop culture.
Belanger's workspace is at the far end of this geek gauntlet with a view that overlooks the city as it slopes down to the St. Lawrence River. Opposite Belanger's massive drawing board is the neat as a pin cubby of Becky Cloonan, Belanger's fiancée. Cloonan is the epitome of an in-demand comic book artist. Very few times during my visit does she look up from the pages on a drawing board that she balances on one knee as she works on this or that “yet-to-be-announced-double-super-secret” project.
Soft-spoken and down-to-earth, Cloonan is at heart a romantic, easy-going and quick to break into a dorky voice when she talks about meeting her favorite comic book artists and writers. As a young girl, her father would read her stories about that “sentinel of the spaceways,” the Silver Surfer. Later on, with the care shown by a docent or that of a fervent true-believer, Cloonan will hand me a foxed, fuzzy and well-worn book of pen and ink illustrations by the American artist, Joseph Clement Coll. So deep is Cloonan's affection for Coll's work that she has had it tattooed on her body.
For Cloonan and Belanger, it's this kind of devotion to that moment, that memory, that first timewhen one understands a thing so deep down in one's bones, to one's very soul, that it marks and changes a person into who they become. Cloonan and Belanger live in that moment; and the comics they create are a testament to that very second of invention.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review -- CASANOVA: LUXURIA

THIS REVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN ON COMICS BULLETIN

Book Title: Casanova: Luxuria
Rating:
  • Daniel Elkin: 4.5 stars
  • Jason Sacks:  4 stars
  • Keith Silva: 4.0
  • Aaron Meyers: 4.5 stars

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist:  Gabriel Ba'
Colors: Cris Peter
Letters: Dustin Harbin
Publisher: Icon



Daniel Elkin: Let's talk about Lust.

You know what Lust is because you are human and you feel it.

It's that intense desire that you are overwhelmed with at the sight of a person or an object – the one upon which you have that deep animal longing to rub your genitalia.

It's that copper taste in the back of your mouth as the blood rushes turgidly to whatever corpora cavemosa happens to be about. It's that hunger. It's that singularity of focus. It's the body taking over for the mind.

What is it about Lust that is so elevating and debilitating, so visceral, so all-encompassing, yet so potentially destructive?

Out of Lust can come great art: tremendous paintings awash in reds and purples and swirls and undulations; epic poems rhyming words like “right” with “tight” or “taste” with “waste”; powerful ballads that can fill the loins of teenage boys holding their lighters aloft in the Megadome at the end of the third encore.

Just as easily, though, Lust can turn us illogical, brutal – wars and rape and wanton savagery are all gestated in lust’s womb of more, more, more. Thought gives way to expression. The grabbing hand moves quickly, devoid of social constructs, grabbing all that it can.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review - BEHIND THE CROOKED CROSS

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin


The horrors of war compounded by the horrors of insanity, the fragile promise of family ripped apart by a larger conflict, the struggle for life amongst so much death, the creative sensibility battered by an overwhelming destructive force, such is the stuff of Behind the Crooked Cross, the latest comic from Australian creator Frank Candiloro. This book takes Candiloro’s usual fascination with the horror comic genre to a whole new level, mixing it with profound tragedy and simple heartbreak.

Behind the Crooked Cross is, for all intents and purposes, a World War II story. Set in Poland in 1942, it follows the story of a Polish artist named Matylda who values, above all else, the community and comfort, the love and the nurturing, that the concept of family provides.  But in Behind the Crooked Cross these familial bonds are broken time and time again by death, to the point where it is eventually death itself that becomes family, and it is in its final embrace that Matylda is at last able to find a complete and lasting solace.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Comic Review --- BLADE OF THE NORTH WIND

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin



Title: Blade of the North Wind
Artist/Creator: Jeong Mo Yang
Writer: V.R. Porter
Publisher: Creator’s Edge Press
Rating: 4.5 stars


Blade of the North Wind is a beautifully rendered, dynamic fantasy story that had me immersed in a cinematic world where a twist in the story only pulled me out of its environment long enough for it to twist me back into where I thought I had been; only now the ground beneath my feet was slightly less solid. It played with my expectations as if it were a meat cleaver wielded by a monster of great girth and greater savagery.