Monday, July 18, 2016

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

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

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