Monday, July 18, 2016

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Artist Jam featuring Facehugger by Cody Schibi

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Of the Aliens cast, I feel the greatest kinship with Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser, unlikely popcult avatars, and have followed their careers the most closely. So many movies have tried to have their own Carter Burke, but it never works as well because they forget that he was more than a corporate slimeball with a homicidal eye toward the bottom line. Despite being manipulative and having an agenda, Carter Burke seemed like an alright guy that supported Ripley emotionally and in the xenomorph business for better than half of Aliens (especially if you factor in the revelations of the director's cut) before his true nature was revealed. You liked the guy, so the betrayal stung all the more. Those positive qualities led me to Reiser's other contemporaneous movie roles, his stand-up, but most especially one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Mad About You. I relate strongly to Paul Buchman, and appreciate his family and environment. That was one of the only long running shows to end on a high note, and I made a point of telling Reiser so.

Carter Burke was the second commission in the series that I initiated, when I still thought it would be dominated by jams instead of one-off character spotlights. Given my affection for Reiser, I began to fret that he might take offense at having to share space with other characters when so many of the active fighters in the movie got their own solo works. I nixed adding another character like Spunkmeyer or an alien egg to fill out the page, but the intersect between that character and Burke was close lab encounters with a facehugger, which inspired the idea to use one of those to complete this jam.

Facehuggers are one of the most memorable and unnerving aspects of the Alien franchise, with a live specimen that tried to "kiss" Burke with its prehensile sphincter stalk from inside a fluid filled tank anticipating his fate (in an unfilmed or undiscovered scene, Ripley found Burke cocooned and impregnated during her search for Newt, and left him with a grenade he could use to kill himself, which was meant to tie into one of those random explosions in the final act.) I loved this piece offering a chance to (literally) showcase the creature, especially as rendered by Cody Schibi, who is excellent at depicting the weird and grotesque (as well as being another of my very favorite regular artists to commission!) I was asking an awful lot of him though, between the complicated organic spider-crab-beastie, the textures of the metal and glass case, and to stroke Reiser's ego just a tad more, his mirror reflection (as reinterpreted by Schibi in direct contrast to an entirely different artist on the same page.) It was a ridiculous demand that I figured Schibi would overlook to preserve his sanity, but instead he gave me every single thing I wanted with panache like the boss he is!

Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton were the top priority signatures, since they were only appearing for one day across less than four total hours between them over roughly simultaneous sittings broken in two between the cast panel. I was lucky enough (and had unwittingly spent enough money beforehand on an extra priority express ticket) to score Weaver's signature during her first hour long signing session, while the girlfriend I was forced to abandon secured me a nice place in line for Paxton. I don't remember if I had Schibi's addition to the jam piece in hand yet, but with all the anxiety and hullabaloo from those first two signings, I wanted to take a break and check on pieces floating around Artists Alley. Also, with Reiser scheduled to be signing for the rest of the weekend, I hoped to eventually catch him during a dry spell and maybe try to milk some extra anecdotes out of him in a b.s. session. However, my girlfriend had kept her eye on Reiser, and didn't think he was enjoying his time stuck at a comic convention in Houston in the summer. To my knowledge, besides Comicpalooza and SDCC, I don't think Reiser really does nerdy conventions. At her urging, I figured I'd go ahead and get the signature just in case, plus standing in line gave me more of an opportunity to mill about near the celebrities, eavesdropping without being creepy.

When my turn came up, I presented the commission to Reiser, who said "Hey look, it's me with Bill Hope!" I chatted him up a bit, he politely thanked me for my kind words, and that was it. I saw him again at the panel, where he and Paxton stole the show with their lousy one question a piece in a shrimpy 40 minute Q&A involving eleven actors. And I didn't see him again for the rest of the show, so I'm mighty damned glad I got to him when I did!

Cody Schibi

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Ricco Ross as Private Ricco Frost commission by Adrian Nelson

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One of the ways I regulate my spending and exposure on art commissions is to only get pieces at local shows for cash money, which I tried to do with this Frost piece. I considered having Joe Jusko do the job at Space City, but here was another Colonial Marine I was wishy-washy about whether or not they would take part in a jam, and the clock ran out. Also, I had my heart set on getting a piece by Adrian Nelson, who I could usually rely on to appear somewhere at Space City each year. I reached out to him on Twitter, only to learn that he was skipping all the local shows this year to focus on finishing a graphic novel for Kickstarter and another work-for-hire job besides. I couldn't fault him for that, especially because I feel he's one of the strongest local talents to transition into sequential art publications, and I'm still surprised he hasn't done work for a top publisher. I still really wanted him to be a part of the project though, and broke most of my rules by paying him over the internet for a commission I'd receive by meeting him in a McDonald's parking lot partway across town. It was worth it though, as we had a long chat about his potential in comics and his clear influences from greats like Michael Golden, Jason Pearson and Greg Capullo in no way interfering with his having developed his own distinctive and dynamic style. Nelson wasn't comfortable with doing likenesses, and initially struggled with getting the piece started over concerns about that aspect. Once I let him know that wasn't a big deal to me, Nelson cut loose, focusing on Frost's attitude instead of my reference materials. Despite never having drawn a xenomorph before, Nelson went whole hog, incorporating them into his complex design for the piece. The results were splendid, and while Ricco Ross is too suave a dude to make a scene over it, he sure enough got a good cell phone snap of the piece all the same!


Adrian Nelson

2016 Daniel Kash as Private Daniel Spunkmeyer Comicpalooza Commission by Toni Shelton

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Spunkmeyer was a character I didn't know quite what to do with. I thought about adding him to one of the more open Colonial Marine art jams, but he never saw that kind of direct action in the movie. I couldn't put him in a cockpit scene with Corporal Ferro without knowing if I'd ever get to meet Colette Hiller for her autograph. Spunkmeyer was the other person besides Ripley seen using a power loader, but replacing her seemed sacrilegious, and the few artists I spoke with didn't seem keen on drawing that piece of equipment. I considered putting him in with Burke and Gorman as one of the sort of non-combatants, but I felt like it would be too crowded, and I didn't have great reference for his lower half. I then started thinking about obscuring it with something like a xenomorph egg, maybe even having Spunkmeyer squatting to lift a stream of alien ooze off it to reflect his climactic appearance in the bay of the Dropship. I couldn't make up my mind, Space City Comic Con passed into Comicpalooza, and I was swiftly running out of time.

The girlfriend and I walked Artist's Alley, going booth to booth, trying to figure out who to choose for this piece. Eventually, we reached Toni Shelton toward the end of our trek, and we were both impressed with her, so she received the nod. It turned out to be a bit nerve wracking, because she was the only artist on the project chosen that late in the game that I'd never had any experience with. It didn't help that she was so young that she'd never even seen an Alien film, or that she was driven to do good work on this at-home project that lasted until Sunday morning. That said, Shelton's sample pieces were tight, I was confident that the Colonial Marines would stick around for the entire weekend as scheduled, and I wanted her to have the time she needed.

As it turned out, that was the correct course of action. I thought Spunkmeyer was a rather pretty young man with very distinctive features and piercing eyes that Shelton could best capture, and her aim was true. Spunkmeyer was a fairly minor player in the film, and actor Daniel Kash seems to embrace that status, not even taking a proper chair or his own microphone at the furthest end of the table during the cast's panel at the con. When I approached him with the commission explaining that this was the last finished piece and the concluding signature of the project, Kash jumped at the comment as an opportunity for self-deprecation along the lines of "everybody always picks me last." The shame of it is, Toni Shelton drew a leading man, the image of a hero in this narrative that reflected Kash's anecdotes about his self-image while auditioning for the role before Jim Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. I complemented Kash on his straight from the hip, no B.S. interviews and entertainingly surly attitude, but at the same time I felt bad that he didn't seem able to see himself at his best thirty years past, as captured in Shelton's appealing work.

Toni Shelton

2016 Cynthia Scott as Corporal Cynthia Dietrich Comicpalooza Commission by Chris Beaver

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Forgive me if this later set of Aliens 30th Anniversary posts are shorter and sloppier, but I piddly-farted around too long and the actual date of release caught up with me. I'm posting these pretty much in real time after working a 14 hour overnight shift and having stayed up 21 hours so far trying to get this done. I got as many of these Colonial Marines commissions finished at Space City Comic Con as I could manage, because I really didn't want to juggle turning around pieces at the same show where I was also trying to get cast signatures. Dietrich was a candidates to join one of the multi-character/artist jam pieces, but that notion didn't pan out, so I needed a solo piece at Comicpalooza. Not wanting to take any chances, I approached Chris Beaver, who has always done good work for me. Here, he thinks outside the box, going for a landscape waist-up action heavy image. I'm fond of the hallway recalling the ruined Hadley's Hope, and how the flamethrower's light bleaches out much of the surrounding area and the xenomorph warrior's midsection (a choice rendering, and) a turnabout on the infamous Mars Attacks trading card "Burning Flesh". Dietrich was the very first marine taken out by the xenomorphs, from behind in an ambush. When I showed it to her actress, Cynthia Scott, I think we were both happy to see Dietrich finally get the chance for some payback!

2016 Aliens 30th Anniversary Xenomorph Queen Comicpalooza Commission by Mark A. Nelson

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As Comicpalooza approached, I began to realize that the convention had booked a number of non-actors associated with Aliens for the show. It occurred to me that I ought to get some sort of catch-all "technical achievement" commission that would create a space for all of these creators to be acknowledged and leave their John Hancocks. For instance, the entire team responsible for the first Dark Horse Comics Aliens mini-series were present, including illustrator Mark A. Nelson. I was familiar with him through his extensive work at Dark Horse, as well as the cool but forgotten Vertigo mini-series Blood & Shadows with Joe R. Lansdale. I approached him about doing an Alien Queen, which he confessed he hadn't drawn in a long time, but we had a shared reference point through Starlog's 1986 The Official ALIENS movie book. He'd used it for years but I'd only recently bought one after being taunted by ads for it going back to my impoverished childhood. Nelson was totally game about the commission, and also a great sport in general and a good conversationalist besides.

I ended up buying a copy of Aliens 30th Anniversary: The Original Comics Series from him, which is a very nifty oversized hardcover collection of the first mini, covers, plates, anthology stories and other rarities with black metallic ink ringing around the edges of the pages. Nelson drew an Alien Warrior head for me on the inside, while letter Willie Schubert (who I still need to contact about a project we discussed) and writer Mark Verheiden (who I also got to interview) also signed the book & the commission. Pretty sweet, no? They were joined on the art piece by Spat Oktan of SpatCave Studios (who had designed costumes for the Aliens: Colonial Marines video game and outfitted a number of cosplayers at the show) and Alec Gillis. The latter had done design and effects work on several Aliens films, and is featured on the commentary track for Alien3. We had quite a nice chat about the virtues of practical FX and his current project, Annabelle 2, which never would have happened without this commission. Pretty sweet, no?

Mark A. Nelson

2016 Bill Paxton as Private William Hudson Space City Comic Con Commission by Geoff Shaw

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Bill Paxton is one of my favorite Aliens cast members, both because of his willingness to put himself out there with difficult characters, and because he's such a Texan. I know the characters he plays in real life, and sometimes I see myself in them. My cousin is basically Hudson + Vince Vaughn's character from Made. It's also why I love Billy Bob Thornton's screenplays, especially One False Move, which starred Paxton as an over-eager small town sheriff in way over his head as vicious murderers bring neo-noir to town on their way to Houston. I can't imagine how hard it is to play a cowardly blowhard like Hudson, over a human hurricane like Dale Dixon, or the dichotomy of a god-fearing serial killer like the father in Frailty. It has to be emotionally draining and often thankless, because Paxton so inhabits these compromised characters that he doesn't get the credit for his acting effort.

I feel that Hudson is one of the iconic roles in cinema, like Ripley, Vasquez, and Burke, that created an archetype seen in scores of flicks since. I also believe Bill Paxton remains one of the great under recognized character actors, so I wanted to get a really awesome commission to show my appreciation for both the character and performer. I wanted someone who could capture Hudson's more comedic side, but wouldn't drift too far outside the action/horror/sci-fi of the films as reflected by the other commissions. Ahead of the show, I was seriously considering Joseph Michael Linsner, but he cancelled soon after he was announced. For two days, I traveled up and down Artist's Alley, trying to find a replacement that could manage the precarious balance required to nail Hudson.

After much deliberation, I finally chose Geoff Shaw, an up and coming artist I'd been impressed by through his online galleries (and I'd just gotten a copy of his new Dark Horse Comics trade paperback The Paybacks, but haven't had a chance to read it yet.) We set up the commission late on Saturday, and he wasn't able to get it done Sunday, so we made arrangements for me to pick it up from his hotel lobby the next day shortly before he was to leave for his flight (which is getting to be a habit with me after picking up jobs from Rob Liefeld and Norm Rapmund the same way.) I seriously had no idea what to expect when I showed up, which was great, because I got to be that much more blown away by the reveal of the finished work.

I'd asked Geoff Shaw to take the character seriously, treating with respect a braggart in an unbelievably terrifying situation who cracks under the strain but still soldiers on (not remotely in those words, but in a scatterbrained approximation with a bunch of other babbling nonsense to muddle through.) As Shaw put it, "he's not a strong man," but he sincerely looked into the soul of Hudson and found at least a semblance of strength in a man who watches everything he had faith in collapse swiftly and brutally under the weight of xenomorph infestation. It's an exceptional likeness, but more than that, Shaw captured the very being of Paxton as Hudson. I was overwhelmed with admiration for the obvious effort, and when I showed the piece to other artists, they were very impressed with the technique (which presumable included cutting out a stencil around the main figure to allow him to be dirtied up with greasy ink splotches in the midst of shuttle wreckage while the surrounding background remained prestine, surely a time intensive but highly satisfying effect.) This gorgeous commission immediately rocketed up to my top favorites.

A few weeks later, I hopped into Bill Paxton's signature line at Comicpalooza. He met me with a big smile and a boisterous voice, jubilantly scrutinizing the piece and pointing out his wife's name on Hudson's armor. I explained about how this was an original piece of art, the overall project, and also how much I'd enjoyed Paxton's overall career, seeing his directorial offering Frailty with friends during its theatrical run, and I might have even referenced his old band Martini Ranch (as suggested by their fan, Matt Haley.) I'd only asked Paxton to carry on the character name theme from the other actor's signatures, but after my fanboy gushing, Paxton said "Aww right, you're getting a "Game Over, Man!" I don't know if that was some sort of prize, but I certainly dug it, and I think Paxton genuinely did, too.

Geoff Shaw

2016 Jenette Goldstein as Private Jenette Vasquez Space City Comic Con Commission by Liam Sharp

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As a minor Marvel U.K. fan, I was on board to preorder Death's Head II for both its solicitations based on my past experience with the cheesier original version of the character and the tiny but rad looking sketch of the new Chromium Age version used in the copy. I was blown away when the mini-series finally came out drawn by an exciting new find, Liam Sharp, who combined the flash of Jim Lee with the sinewy punk rock Frazetta feel of Simon Bisley. I kept up with Sharpe from then on, to Frontier, Verotik, and wherever. When I heard he was coming to town, I knew I had to get a piece, and it seemed obvious he should do the toughest of all the Colonial Marines!

I liked Vasquez straight away when I saw Aliens thirty years ago, and she's since become a cultural icon. Despite the actress being Jewish, my Mexican girlfriend bought her as one of her own, and dismissed the recent P.C. police murmurings about whitewashing. It would be an issue today, but in 1985 England? Not so much. I had some ideas about how Sharp's take might turn out, maybe emphasizing action and employing her smartgun. I was very happily surprised to see him offer a more pensive Vasquez, staring out from some sort of fence or barrier. The approach emphasized her humanity over being the smack-talking Valkyrie that usually comes to mind, recalling her deep affection for her comrades and her penchant for self-sacrifice in their defense (not to mention her her defiant resignation during the final assault on the marines' stronghold. I have major reservations about the current sword-slinging incarnation of Wonder Woman, whose book Sharp just took over as part of the DC Rebirth initiative. Sharp's thoughtful approach here (and his writing partner Greg Rucka) gives me heart that the Amazing Amazon I love is still being published, and what I've seen of Sharp's work on the book looks to be a career best for both the artist and Princess Diana.

I took the page up to the actress who played Vasquez, Jenette Goldstein, who expressed the most enjoyment and interest of any of the cast toward these commissions. She asked questions about who the artist was and what the image represented, as well as both admiring his technique. I kept the Sharp in hand for more of both Space City Con & Comicpalooza than most any other piece, and it generated the most comments from the other artists. Also, I brought my girlfriend to meet Goldstein, and she was wearing a souvenir t-shirt from our European vacation a few years ago. Goldstein noted, "You don't look like a Poland," to which the girlfriend swiftly replied "You don't look like a Vasquez," which we all got a chuckle out of (with assurances that no offense was intended, and that the actress' portrayal of a Latino had both of our seals of approval.) Goldstein tried to take a cell phone pick of the art, but I happened to have a xerox of it handy, so it was nice to offer her a souvenir of Houston in reciprocity for signing my stuff. I have to say, my best experience with the Aliens cast was with Jenette Goldstein, and she's still a favorite!

Liam Sharp

...nurghophiles...

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