Sunday, June 19, 2011

Reading The Art of Jaime Hernandez

I've always admired the work of Los Bros Hernandez, even if I've never been an avid follower of their Love & Rockets comic book series. By the time I started noticing the brothers' work, the series seemed daunting to jump into. They would occasionally do one-shot stories but, more often than not, each story was another chapter in the continuing lives and adventures of Maggie the Mechanic or Gilbert's fictional world of Palomar. My main intersection with the brothers has been through works done for other publishers than Fantagraphics such as Gilbert's Vertigo work or Jaime's Mister X issues.

So when I saw The Art of Jaime Hernandez by Todd Hignite at my local library, I had to grab it. Not only am I a fan of the artwork but I love to read about cultural history and this book covers a stream of the comic book narrative that I was, more or less, unfamiliar with.

At times, the book bordered on hagiography (look it up) but, overall, I think Hignite put together a really nice package to showcase one of the luminaries in the field. And, while Hignite does an admirable job of covering Jaime's story from childhood to present day, where the book really shines is in the wonderful photographs and artwork that have been included in this volume. Everything from the childhood photographs of Jaime and his family to the rare and unused artwork and concepts are a real treat and make this book an indispensable, and highly entertaining, resource. Lastly, the oversize nature of the book lends itself well to the material. Not only did much of it first get presented in magazine format through Love & Rockets, but it gives readers a nice sized page to read, or just to admire Jaime's exquisite linework. Instead of squinting at word balloons, or struggling to see detail, Abrams Books makes it effortless to enjoy these pages.

I'm going to leave you with my favourite image from the book. It's a panel from an unused page where the character Hopey is writing a letter to her friend, Maggie, while she is on tour with her band. She's telling Maggie about all of their misadventures and the panels are arranged vignette-like, giving tiny glimpses of the events she's describing.

What I love the most about this image is the way the line effortlessly leads you through the panel. Hopey's posture is evocative and implies movement despite it being a very static image. This is sequential storytelling at its best. Plus, the image just rocks on a purely aesthetic level.

Anyway, if you have a chance I definitely recommend the book to anyone who loves art looking for a day or two of reading, and a bunch of eye candy.

I think I'm going to really dive in and read some Love & Rockets. It's about time I did.



*Hernandez image blatantly lifted from the Criterion website.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Satisfying my Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth PrintThis past Thursday one of my LCS' had a gallery/signing event with Canadian cartoonist, Jeff Lemire. For anyone who doesn't know Jeff, he is the creator of the Vertigo comic Sweet Tooth, his Essex County book published through Top Shelf was included as an entry in the Canada Reads competition (I think a first for the event), and he is currently writing Superboy for DC. So, Jeff made a stop here on his way through to Calgary for the Calgary Expo, putting up some artwork to sell, as well as some prints and sketchbooks, the latter of which I purchased despite wanting one of those prints, big time.

Meeting Jeff was nice, he was pretty laid back and an overall nice guy to chat with. He recommended a couple of comics to me (including EmiTown by Portlander, Emi Lenox), signed my Superboy #1, drew me a sketch on my backing board, and signed and drew a sketch in the sketchbook that I bought. Not a lot of guys do that anymore, so that was pretty cool.

Superboy #1Board SketchSketchbook DoodleSketchbook

I was planning to attend the Calgary Expo but, for various reasons, could not. Seeing as Jeff was one of the creators I was really hoping to see at the show, I can't help but feel it was kind of a nice little bit of karma floating my way. I now have to catch up on my Sweet Tooth reading because I am woefully behind and I think Jeff could tell.

Jeff Lemire & I



Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Happened at the U2 Concert?

U2You know, it occurs to me that it has been a while since I got back from the U2 concert and I have yet to post anything about it. I think a big part of that is because Jen, for some inexplicable reason, took the camera to work and left it there, and continues to do so, preventing me from having access to the video and still images I took while at the show. I suppose I could always add those in later, but it's a fantastic excuse to procrastinate and watch old episodes of The Twilight Zone instead, so I'm hanging on until that camera makes its return.

I will say that the show was good, I got some merch, and we'll talk about it more soon.



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Greek Street Tragedy

In a previous post I talked about Peter Milligan's modern Greek tragedy pastiche, Greek Street, which only lasted 16 issues. I had the first 6 issues bought but, for reasons I can no longer remember (either boredom or money) I stopped picking them up every month. Even though I was ridiculously excited to see a new Milligan series I just didn't connect enough to keep up with it.

Flash forward a bit and I'm grabbing the TPB at my library figuring, 'Meh, I'll give it another shot. Read it in one sitting'. Which I did, and I really enjoyed it the second time around. Now I wanted to pick up where I left off but, alas, I was too late to pick up the missing issues. They were long gone from the shelves of the stores I frequent. What I didn't know, however, that one of the stores did have copies, just not on the shelves. They were sitting in their dollar bins and I discovered them one morning while I was browsing on a day off.

I now have issues 8-13 (with issue 8 being in rough shape, but it's the only one available, so...) so that leaves 7, and 14-16 that I still need to find somewhere and pick up. Still, it's a much better position than I was in previously. Also, for the cherry on top of the story, I was at yet another LCS and I was looking for issues of The Unwritten when I inadvertently unearthed a bunch of issues of Greek Street which got the comic book archaeologist in me all giddy. Unfortunately, I didn't have the money on me to grab what they had but I'll be returning soon to try and fill in the blanks.

So, in the end, my Greek Street tragedy may have a happy ending after all.



Whatcha Watchin'?

I'm so glad you asked!

I've actually had the rare opportunity to watch a few movies of late and thought I would post about them here.

First up, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Our local Cineplex theatre is participating in the whole Potter Passport thing where you buy a pass to all 7 Potter movies for $25 and you get to see them all, once a week, leading up to the premiere of the last movie. SO, this week it was HP3.

Honestly, I can't say enough good things about Azkaban. Not being an avowed fan of the novels (or films, for that matter) I think it carries a bit of weight to say that this is, perhaps, the best of the series. Something about the first two movies was just too...happy American hocus pocus with kids, you know? Smiling faces, sucky sweet music, overly warm lighting and a really traditional shooting style. With Azkaban, the studio brought on Mexican director, Alfonso Cuarón. I once read a comment that the first two films were perfectly serviceable but it wasn't until the third that they truly got it right and I think Cuarón had a lot to do with making that happen.

Right from the opening credits, you know this movie is going to be a bit different. The look of it is so much more moody and English than anything Columbus committed to film. The fog, the dampness, the aged exterior of Hogwarts, all of these things gave a new character to the series that, if memory serves, was never really recaptured in later installments of the series. The performances by the actors was a distinct improvement (although that may have more to do with age and experience than anything else) and little touches, like the irising in and out between scenes, just made this story so much more interesting to watch.

Lastly, I knew that John Williams did not do the scores for all of the movies, was certain that he did the first two, and assumed he did themes for the third but that Patrick Doyle (who did the next one) did most of the music. It sounded so different from the previous movies but just enough like Williams to make me think he still had some part in it. Well, I was surprised to find out that Williams was, indeed, sole composer on Azkaban and that he was clearly getting very specific direction on the first two movies because what we heard in the third was much closer to the kinds of music he was playing with in the new Star Wars movies, using more percussion and relying less on overt themes.

Some fans have criticized the movie as going too far off the page, but I've also heard the argument that it's the closest to the source material, so I guess it's who you ask. Me, I think it was pretty inspired, really.

The next movie I watched was Primer, a little indie movie that cost $7000 and made a splash at Sundance. A friend asked if I had seen it and I told him that I had always wanted to, ever since John Rogers mentioned on his blog that he thought the movie was amazing. He told me that was pretty much true and that I should check it out, so I went home and did just that.

What a treat this movie was. No budget sci-fi with a high concept, no special effects and a plot that will give your brain a charlie horse. To talk about it too much would probably take me into spoiler territory so I'll just say, if you dig movies like Pi or The Man From Earth, this is really worth checking out. And it's, like, 77 minutes, so it's not even a time drain for you busy people.

Last on the list for today will be Michael Clayton, a 2007 movie written and directed by Tony Gilroy and starring George Clooney. You've probably heard of it because it was nominated for a handful of Oscars. I remember when it was out and wanting to see it, just never getting around to going to the theatre and watching it. Writers I love kept blogging and tweeting about it expounding its many virtues, some even called it the best movie of that year. I'm not sure what sparked my interest in it last week, to be honest, but I'm so glad I put it in my DVD player and watched it one Monday morning. It was fantastic! A brilliant character piece and a legal thriller rolled into one. Sydney Pollack, Tilda Swinton, and Tom Wilkinson all delivered great performances, and Gilroy did a good job of balancing the action and keeping things flowing and interesting. It's not a flashy movie, but I can find little or no flaw with it and so it gets my highest recommendation.

That's it for this time. There are actually a few more flicks I wanted to talk about but I'll maybe get to those in another post. Until then...



Saturday, June 04, 2011

Director's Meme Who's Who #4

Returning to my Directors thoughts, I tackle #4 on my list of filmmakers who changed the way I look at movies:

Darren Aronofsky

I came to Aronofsky in a weird, roundabout kind of way. It was actually through the efforts of Ed Flynn, the artist of the then virtually unknown Pi: The Book of Ants graphic novel (and, oddly enough, the guy who gave me my first paid writing gig), that I got to know Darren's work. Ed sent me a random e-mail asking if I would be interested in interviewing him to promote the book and I was, at that time, happy to talk to anyone in the industry. He sent me a free preview of the book and a Pi pin (both of which I still have) and I was intrigued enough by the concept and our conversation that I sought out the film, managing to convince a co-worker to go see it with me at a local art house theatre.

The movie was great. On the cheap, high in concept and full of great ideas and a catchy industrial score by Clint Mansell. This was really good stuff. Science, math, faith, ants...I was hooked on this Aronofsky guy. I was eager and excited to see what he would come up with next and it goes without saying that Requiem for a Dream was brilliant and emotionally exhausting. Most stories have the structure where things get dark for your characters but through perseverance and other factors, they rise above their troubles and conquer their problems. Not here. In Requiem things just keep getting worse until they hit rock bottom. And then they keep going down some more. In fact, when we leave all the characters, there is still depths that they will likely sink to and you feel, as a viewer, pretty drained after the experience. The performances by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connely, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn were top shelf, and the 'hip-hop' editing of the movie was stylish and interesting.

Then there is The Fountain which is as beautiful and engaging as it is impenetrable. Aronofsky, again, shows us how good these actors we've seen before can be when given the right direction and material. He once again examines love, faith and gives us scenes that are so heartbreaking it's honestly difficult to watch.

I'm not going to go into his other films because, honestly, I have yet to see The Wrestler or Black Swan, but they are on the list. I have the former and will pick up the latter when time and finances permit. Until then, though, I will close off this little love letter to Darren by saying that he has proven time and again to be one of the medium's most provocative and visually engaging filmmakers. He never shies away from difficult material and is able to think outside the box, something he has been doing since those very early days in New York, trying to make a small movie about God and math and publish his tie-in graphic novel.

I think most of that was gushing but I'm pretty sure I got my point across.



Friday, June 03, 2011

Curses, Spoiled Again

So, I'm reading The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and more-or-less enjoying the experience so I hit the 'net and check out the official site to see if they have any fun stuff there. They kind of do and kind of don't, but that's neither here nor there for this story. I clicked over to their Facebook page and was just browsing through pictures and poking around when I see a wall post by some d-bag named Vojtěch Weiss who totally drops not one, but two, spoilers in one blow, effectively spoiling a good chunk of the last 20 pages of the book I am just about to finish.

Not only that, but the second one ruins a plot point from the second book, The Fall, which I recently purchased and was going to start reading very soon.

This development makes me cranky. I'm not usually a spoiler sensitive person but something about these two were just touchy enough to make me surly and get my stomach acids bubbling. I guess I should know better than to recklessly peruse online but I did, and I did so without taking the proper precautions.

That'll learn me.