Sunday, December 29, 2019

2017 Aliens 30th Anniversary Lance Henriksen as Bishop commission by Kyra Morphis

I was really proud for Houston's biggest and longest lived comic show to score the coup of the majority of the surviving Aliens cast ahead of its thirtieth anniversary... until SDCC did the same thing a few month's later, closer to the actual anniversary, then added James Cameron, Lance Henriksen, and Gale Anne Hurd just for spite. Comicpalooza's never tried anything on that scale again, settling into being a purely regional attraction. Given how much money I spent to get all those autographs, I'm not entirely sorry about that. Still, this was a rewarding effort, and I am building a substantially larger portfolio of commissions to celebrate one of the few movies more beloved to me than this one.

At least The H's convention bureau made up for the absence of everyone's favorite fully functioning synthetic, the android Bishop. They brought in Lance Henriksen the following year, and at the same show, I tried out a new artist in Kyra Morphis. She was either an art student or recent graduate, and her portfolio had some really interesting stuff in it. I had my copy of the souvenir magazine for reference, and she took it to work on overnight. Wanting to get a better feel for the likeness, she pulled up additional reference online, printed on heavy stock color paper, and did warm-up sketches on one of the pages. She was really nervous when presenting me the final piece, but she needn't have been, as I was very impressed with her take on the late-film bisected android and the clear attention for detail (note the serial number on his inner arm, for instance.) Never underestimate how many cool applications an artist can come up with for White-Out.

In my haste to get the finish piece to the actor to sign (he was appropriately gravelly) I forgot my souvenir book, which Morphis held on to for a year before returning it to me at the next Comicpalooza. A class act, and not the first time an artist has gone above and beyond for me in this manner. They're good people. Me, less so, since I'd held out on posting the piece because I'd forgotten her name, and then sat on the post for another year-and-a-half besides out of pure inertia. Since Photobucket bombed out most of the images on my blogs, I had to light a fire in my gut to find and repost all of the Aliens pieces (which probably means no podcasting this week,) and here they all are now. At least I got another piece from Morphis for that other project...

2016-2017 Aliens 30th Anniversary Commissions

Saturday, September 1, 2018

DC Comics 1993 Editorial Presentation: The Killing Machine

Adam Cross is a drifter. He takes an almost child-like delight in his life as a manual laborer moving from one job to another...until he is unexpectedly confronted by violence. Then, good-natured Adam Cross explodes with the devastating ferocity of a human time bomb!

In the tradition of DEATHSTROKE, THE TERMINATOR, Robocop, and The Punisher, THE KILLING MACHINE blasts his way onto the scene in this super-hero/spy adventure.

This three-issue miniseries stars a cybernetic hero, Adam Cross, who is part of a government program to create a human defense system in a world where nuclear missiles aren't likely to be used now that the Soviet Union has fallen. Instead, there are smaller "brush fires" to fight around the world. The solution? Implanting human brains in artificial bodies to create a special combat force.

Unfortunately, a glitch in the technology drives the resulting creation mad. The program seems doomed, until a crippled scientist allows his brain to be put in a cybernetic body. He becomes the first to survive, but the gov­ernment doesn't have much time to celebrate before he rebels against them for trying to use him for more and more corrupt purposes.

On the run, THE KILLING MACHINE tries to find a peaceful life. The government tries, through assassins and cybernetic controls, to eliminate him, but there's one thing they didn't count on: confronted with extreme violence, THE KILLING MACHINE goes into combat mode and becomes uncontrollable. Faced with his devastating power and exper­tise, his handlers are driven to the ultimate risk...sending a newer, improved model after Cross.
THE KILLING MACHINE is the first major work created, written, pencilled, and inked by the legendary Gil Kane since his classic His Name is Savage over 25 years ago.
Referenced in comics media in the early '90s, this project has unfortunately never seen print. At least you can see a character sheet.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Frank Review of "Zombie Dearest" (2009)

The Short Version? Zombie day laborer endures routine
What Is It? Dramazomedy
Who Is In It? Additional Voice Talent, Saw III & IV
Should I See It? No.

Gus Lawton (David Kemker) is a failed comic supported the past half-dozen years by his wife, Deborah (Shauna Black.) Gus proves as unsuccessful at adultery as everything else in his life, and winds up forced into servitude at Deborah's rural childhood home in hopes of making amends. Gus inadvertently awakens a buried zombie dubbed Quinto (David Sparrow,) who he uses to do his many chores while he works on a terrible caveman themed stand-up act Gus intends to try out in a barn on the local yokels. Quinto unsurprisingly gets up to flesh eating shenanigans while unsupervised, which complicates the Lawtons plans.

Zombie Dearest is clearly a vanity project for writer-director-star David Kemker, who apparently had enough industry ties to call in favors to match '80s Canadian television production values, pull a strong bluegrass cut for the trailer ("Ain't No Grave" by Crooked Still) and cast a credible co-star. Due to the minimal competence on display, it's difficult to tell whether Kemker intended for his characters to be unlikeable, arrogant left-coasters, or if Gus' act is so wretched because Kemker was afraid rednecks might actually laugh at it if he put even an ounce of effort into the writing. It's probably not a good idea to do bad work on purpose when you're an unknown quantity, since it's so easily mistaken for being of poor quality in itself. It doesn't help that a pseudo-love triangle is resolved off-screen, a major plot point about the town's history with the supernatural is never addressed, and the picture is tone deaf as a whole.

At its core, this is an indie flick about displaced liberals in the sticks and their hubris, but it's played too broadly to offer insight. There appears to be overtures toward this being a comedy, but the film doesn't come within spitting distance of funny at any point. Then there's the zombie element, which is so tacked-on that it's safe to assume its involvement was motivated by mercenary inclinations. The film owes more to W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" than George Romero, so when the shit hits the fan in the final minutes of the last act, it flies briefly and with a remarkable lack of feces. Just to rub it in, there's a twist ending that's more depressing than most zombie flicks for the exact wrong reason. This could have been a decent enough half-hour entry in an anthology, but as a full length feature it is completely charmless.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Frank Review of "Hide and Creep" (2004)

The Short Version? Plan 9 from I-59
What Is It? Zomedy
Who Is In It? Rednecks
Should I See It? Maybe

Hide and Creep is a mildly amusing entry in the zombie comedy subgenre. It earns good will in the early going through slacker comedy, much of it delivered through a "one of us" sarcastic pop culture geek from out of a Kevin Smith movie. There's also a lot of southerners making fun of southerners (filmed in Alabama by Alabamans,) which is much more fun and legit than when goddamned Yankees try to pull it off. On the other hand, a Dawn of the Dead/King of the Hill mash-up isn't for all tastes, and you will not be surprise to learn these guys were working from a $20,000 budget. The make-up and effects are amateurish, the acting isn't much better, and the direction is so bad at times that even a layperson will question the framing. The first half hour is the sweet spot, as characters and quirky situations are introduced. For instance, the "R" rating isn't just for the full frontal male nudity in the opening scene, but who expected that to be a question in the first place? Both figuratively and literally ballsy. Once the foundation is laid and the initial questions answered though, the lack of variety and depth in the characters wear on the nerves, and there's a strong sense of the screenwriter spitballing for scenarios to keep the crew busy until the arbitrary ending. Enjoyment will to depend on getting your drink on from the top, so your standards can drop off as sharply as the material in the second half.

Monday, July 18, 2016

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

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

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

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


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