Seattle Focus: Viewing ‘Mr. Holmes’ at the Guild 45th

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The Guild 45th in Seattle

I ventured out to ye ole local movie house and saw a refreshingly old-fashioned flick, “Mr. Holmes.” It debuted here at our Seattle International Film Festival in May. Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes from three vantage points: as the elderly Holmes on a farm just after World War II, and in two flashbacks: Holmes just a few weeks earlier on something of a last mission in Japan; and Holmes 35 years prior on his very last case.

The theater I went to see the movie played a bit of a role too in its own way. It is the Guild 45th in the Wallingford neighborhood. It’s one of those fixtures on the landscape that people rely upon. Having just mourned the loss of Cinema Books in the Ravenna neighborhood, I couldn’t help placing more value on this theater, while it’s still around. Lord knows, it’s seen better days but, I honestly feel, it has quite a lot of character. It creaks here and there. And that played off my viewing Ian McKellen creak along in a role that asked him to advance his age considerably.

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There’s really everything to enjoy about this film. You can easily add it to the incredible Holmes pop culture canon. The film is adapted from the 2006 novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” by Mitch Cullin, which plays off the famous royal jelly that Holmes believed to be an elixir of youth and uses that motif as a way to explore deeper issues of human connection. Keep in mind the title of the original novel and that gives you a clue as to what you can expect. The idea of the mind betraying its owner certainly informs Mr. McKellen’s magnificent performance.

A ghost enters the Guild 45th.

A ghost enters the Guild 45th.

Sherlock Holmes proves to be as mysterious and elusive as ever here. By a trick of acting, McKellen feeds off the enigma of Holmes and his efforts to remain enigmatic by maintaining a vague and uncertain past and indeterminate age. It’s a wonder he’s managed to elude reality for as long as he has and move about like a ghost. But he has two other human beings living with him on the farm: his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (played by Milo Parker). Both Linney and Parker provide a dynamic counterbalance to the regal and erudite Holmes. If you haven’t seen 1998’s “Gods and Monsters,” also by this film’s director, Bill Condon, then you must. It is also a compelling exploration of relationships and also stars Ian McKellen.

With the elasticity of youth, young Milo is not offended by the attempts to rebuff him by Holmes. And Holmes comes to see that Milo is the key to helping him regain a more robust sense of his own humanity. Mrs. Munro, on the other hand, has been providing stability that Holmes must acknowledge. It is Milo’s innocent curiosity that Holmes responds to and leads to his confiding in him about his goal to write his very first, and last, Holmes adventure after having had Watson do all the writing. This business of unlocking the past, as you’ll see, is not without its complications. And, once Holmes has shared of himself, he is no longer a ghost. He has a life to live and an adventure to complete.

The Guild 45th is a cherished place for entertainment and I look forward to my next visit. While it would be wonderful to see some renovation work, I love it just as it is too. I say this because I want the Guild 45th to continue to live as best it can and go from there. We don’t want to lose the Guild 45th and I am rooting for it. The Guild 45th is no ghost. To all my Seattle friends, I say let’s keep this theater alive and kicking for another generation to enjoy.

This weekend, you can catch “Mr. Holmes” as well as Woody Allen’s latest, “Irrational Man,” at the Guild 45th. For more details, visit our friends at the Guild 45th, and all the other Landmark Theatres in Seattle, right here.

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Filed under Ian McKellan, Movie Reviews, movies, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes

Review: ‘Steve McQueen: Full Throttle Cool’

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Give me a good biography in a comics format anytime. The new graphic novel version of the life of actor and race car driver Steven McQueen is straightforward and appealing. Make no mistake, Steve McQueen was one serious race car driver as “Steve McQueen: Full Throttle Cool,” published by Motorbooks, bears out. Written by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and illustrated by Greg Scott, we zigzag between the movie set and the race track as the remarkable life of a true legend unfolds.

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Steve McQueen was nobody’s fool and I’m sure he would have appreciated this book’s no nonsense approach. There’s really no overreaching to get inside Mr. McQueen’s head. The amazing facts speak for themselves. Raising himself out of great adversity, by the age of 16, he was already a Merchant Marine. He excelled in a rugged and military environment. As a Marine, he rescued five Marines from a sinking boat. This led him to be assigned to Pres. Truman’s Honor Guard. Shortly after that, McQueen would study acting.

In a confident chronological narrative, with a few flashbacks, we see how uncertain McQueen’s career choice would be, even after he had gained notoriety. We gain a greater understanding of the landmark films he starred in such as the celebrated “The Great Escape” and “Bullitt.” All done in a bold realistic drawing style, this is one adventure you won’t want to miss. I can’t think of anyone who would not have anything but praise for Steve McQueen and this book honors his legacy.

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“Steve McQueen: Full Throttle Cool” is a 96-page trade paperback, available now. For more details, visit our friends at Motorbooks right here.

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Filed under Biography, Comics, Dwight Jon Zimmerman, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hollywood, Motorbooks, Steve McQueen

Review: ‘Freehand Figure Drawing For Illustrators: Mastering the Art of Drawing from Memory’

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Whether you are an artist, or would like to be, being able to draw without a model, but from memory, can be a challenge. With David H. Ross, you are definitely learning from the best. Mr. Ross has worked with all the major North American comic book publishers including Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Dark Horse Comics. I can tell you, as an artist myself, that he knows numerous techniques that do indeed make it possible to work from memory. Look no further than his new book, “Freehand Figure Drawing For Illustrators: Mastering the Art of Drawing from Memory,” published by Watson-Guptill Publications, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Here you will find the time-honored methods and practical guidelines that you need. In a lot of ways, it all seems rather easy and Ross makes that possible with very clear examples, one step at a time. I believe that clearing all the clutter is essential in art instruction. You address one aspect, focus on that, and move on to the next. Ross begins with the first place you need to go and that’s the space that your model inhabits. If you’ve ever felt a need for a refresher on perspective, you’ll find it here.

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The basics and then some, that’s what this book offers. I have fond memories of art school and having my trusty little wooden mannequin as well as a skeleton and skull to keep me company. But, with this book, you find ways to internalize that reference. That’s a key point. So, when you do have your model in the flesh, you can work faster as you go deeper into your interpretation. Anatomy, posture, bone structure, all of this will already be stored away and allow you to concentrate on the unique character of your model. And, of course, with this book’s guidance, you can always work without a model at all.

“Freehand Figure Drawing” is a 208-page trade paperback, published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is available as of July 28th. For more details, visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under animation, Art, Art books, Comics, Education, Illustration, Penguin Random House, Watson-Guptill Publications

Review: ‘Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives’ by Marcel Danesi

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

There’s a classic moment I fondly recall from my favorite art theory class. The professor was a true bohemian from his shock of disheveled hair down to his well-worn sandals. We were constantly peppering him with questions back then in that little closet of a classroom. Back when the world was a little slower than it seems today, back in the early ’90s. Someone threw out the latest query: “At what time period would you place the taste of today’s general public?” He shot back with a mischievous look, “No later than 1840!” I appreciated the sarcasm and the point he was making: many people just want traditional portraits and landscapes. However, looking back on this, he must have been having a bad day. If he’d been feeling less gloomy, he would have acknowledged the undeniable power of pop culture. In Marcel Danesi’s book on pop culture, he takes a far more optimistic view and we’re all the better for it.

Marcel Danesi has written an essential book on pop culture, both enlightening and entertaining. The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” will be required reading on many a campus this year. And it will prove quite useful whether you take it as part of a course or not. Danesi wastes no time in setting the stage and cutting to the chase: this is serious as well as lively business. He begins with “Runnin’ Wild,” a 1923 Broadway musical that introduced the sexually suggestive, and highly popular dance, The Charleston, that became a national sensation. If you’re looking for a key moment that ushered in the elements of pop culture as we’ve come to know them, then that is definitely a perfect one to focus on. There was no turning back as the energy and the spirit spread its way across the globe.

The question of what defines pop culture is inextricably linked to the question of who owns pop culture. And the short answer is that pop culture is for and by the people. If that echoes a declaration of independence, it is no mistake as all this is caught up in youthful rebellion. To be young, or at least young at heart, is most characteristic of this subject. Danesi guides us through the inevitable cycle, or transference pattern, that occurs as one generation passes the torch to the next. Youth culture gives way to mainstream culture. What was once scandalous in one era will, as that generation ages, transition from fringe to mainstream. It may be hard to believe now but, in the future, even Miley Cyrus’s current antics will eventually be swallowed up by mainstream culture. Each transition holds its own surprises and challenges. As the ’50s gave way to the ’60s, it was wrongly assumed by conventional wisdom that the flames from the “Rebel without a Cause” generation would just flicker out. Instead, it gave way to a firestorm of protest.

A wide net is cast in each chapter to scoop up various signs of life and proto-life for the world of pop. Print culture, for instance, goes back to 2700 BC and the first books made from papyrus. You could also look back to 1453 and Johannes Gutenberg taking a wine press and converting it into a printing machine leading to the mass production of books. More to our purposes, a significant signpost of upcoming events would be the advent of the Gothic novel with Marry Shelly’s “Frankenstein” in 1818. Throughout Danesi’s work we see how pop culture is inextricably linked to technology. Marshall McLuhan is often cited regarding his views on how the medium of the time will influence content and how people perceive it and reality itself.

One of Danesi’s best examples on the origins of modern-day pop culture comes from his observations on the 2002 Academy Award winning musical, “Chicago.” It’s the roaring ’20s and a brash new chapter in media is opening up. Using the power of the new celebrity culture, starlet Roxy, hopes to win over the press and win her freedom after being sent to prison for murder. Ironically, the reason she murdered is wrapped up in her desire to be famous. Facing a death sentence, her only hope is to become famous, manipulate the media and the jury. With the new hot jazz of the day playing throughout, pulsating and sexually suggestive, Roxy, and her media savvy cohorts, rule their time and would not seem out of place in our own time.

What the future holds for pop culture is related to its cycular nature and technology. The warnings over content overload have been sounding since McLuhan proposed we have entered into a global village. No longer do we have the thought patterns of print culture. The electronic age has yielded a hyperreality. Today, with Facebook, we sacrifice privacy for instant gratification. And we let Google determine what is relevant through statistics rather than measuring the value of content alone. The current Mashpedia form highlights our focus on the ephemeral. Danesi asks if this all signals the end of the pop culture experiment. If so, what would replace it or will it survive? The answer may lie in a persistent desire to rise above any limitations and the individual’s own quirky need to create. Something tells me we will never see an end to talented, persistent, and quirky, individuals.

The third edition of “Popular Culture: Introductory Perspectives” is published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Media, pop culture

Review: ‘When Life Hands You Lemons, Check For Lymes’ by Phil Gerigscott

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“When Life Hands You Lemons, Check For Lymes” is a graphic memoir by Phil Gerigscott in which he ostensibly describes his struggles with Lyme disease. Consider the Lyme disease a bonus. If you’ve ever faced Lyme disease, there’s definitely much to relate with here. However, there’s lots more too. As in any life, one cannot live by Lyme disease alone. What you end up with here is a touching and very funny look at a young couple as they embark upon a life together with all its many challenges and joys. And you also get an honest account of one man’s journey to get answers about Lyme disease.

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This amounts to a journal created in a shorthand form of comics. The drawings are simple and serve to document as well as provide comedy relief. Gerigscott even points out that all the comics in his book were drawn during a certain time: October 2014 through March 2015. If you know anything about Lyme disease, know that it is a risk you take when venturing into the great wilderness. It is there that you, the urban dweller, are out of your element and at the mercy of all these foreign elements, like deer ticks which carry the disease.

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Gerigscott begins his story with where he first got a deer tick bite in early June 2012. It was on North Manitou Island near the northwest coast of Michigan. At the time, he thought he’d gotten the little sucker good. He had burned it off his thigh. That was his first mistake. As he later learned, by burning the insect, Phil had caused the little bug to vomit bacteria into his bloodstream. Not good. But then life happens and one distraction leads to another. Soon enough, Phil has forgotten about that particular incident. His next mistake. This results in a long journey of discovery as Phil tries out various cures for his mysterious muscle and joint pain that leads him to suspect a laundry list of possible causes.

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“When Life Hands You Lemons, Check For Lymes” is a 155-page, black-and-white, hand-drawn graphic memoir. It is a very funny book with a distinctive voice thoughtfully covering the subject of Lyme disease as well as: young adulthood, travel, partnership, mayonnaise, and ghosts in top hats. Lyme disease is not exactly a laughing matter and can, in fact, be deadly. But, thanks to this book and its quirky humor, we can gain some insight along with some laughs.

“When Life Hands You Lemons, Check For Lymes” is currently available for pre-order. For more details, go right here. You can also visit Phil here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Health

Review: GUN #1, published by Reckless Eyeballs

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GUN is a new superhero crime noir comic, written and drawn by Jack Foster. Both the deadpan humor and light touch to the artwork remind me a bit of Matt Kindt. This is a story with its fair share of irreverence while still sticking to the reality that bullets and punches hurt, especially bullets. The premise here is that of a number of comics that take superheroes off the grid: in a world overflowing with superheroes, and super villains, is anybody just plain normal?

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The search for normalcy hangs heavy over our super characters. Maybe one last bank heist, so to speak, would solve everything. Just run away with the loot and enjoy margaritas on the beach. I love the quiet grace to this comic. Our hero is not a hero. Actually, he’s technically a villain. To listen to his story, you’d think he’s just some mixed up kid with superpowers. You can call him, Twist. That’s what the media calls him. It wasn’t his idea. That’s just how he moves. He would have preferred “something cool like King Crimson or Doc Hangover.” Do you get a sense here of silly fun, of bubblegum superhero mythos? It is fun and it works.

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I’ll tell you something, covering comics is built on one work of comics at a time. It can’t just be the big two publishers all the time, although there’s much to cover there as it is. And it is fun to see how iconic superheroes going back close to a hundred years still remain relevant. In fact, Foster is tapping into the swagger and pulpy goodness of yesteryear. Anyway, covering comics is very similar to covering any other art form. As a reviewer, I look for new talent right along with checking out established names. What’s great about Foster’s work is that he’s having a blast. His love for the old school approach is apparent in every hand-drawn and hand-colored panel. This is a character-driven narrative with room for subtilty and wry wit.

This is a beautiful comic, hands down! Rounding out the talent is the lettering of Greg Sorkin and the editing of Nolan Smith. This is the first issue of GUN, entitled, “Fighting is My Monday.” The next issue will be entitled, “Strange Bedfellows.” For more details, and to preview the first issue, visit our friends at Reckless Eyeballs right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Jack Foster, Reckless Eyeballs, Superheroes

The New York Times Declares Graphic Novels to be ‘Summer Reveries.’ Huh?

Panel excerpt from Fatale Deluxe Edition: Volume I, one of the titles on Dana Jennings' summer comics reading list.

Panel excerpt from Fatale Deluxe Edition: Volume I, one of the titles on Dana Jennings’ summer comics reading list in The New York Times.

I love to read The New York Times. I like the idea of The New York Times and I actually enjoy reading it. No problem. It can be quite pretentious but I’ve had delightfully pretentious friends over the years. I may still have a few. So, what’s my problem? Okay, here’s the thing, The New York Times offers up the backpage to its Friday arts section (read it here) to the subject of comics and graphic novels. We are told that there’s nothing quite like a graphic novel on a long summer’s day. And then we get a hodgepodge random list of ten books. They’re all labeled as “graphic novels” while three are actually collections of comic strips. Have at it, folks, enjoy your funny books.

This piece was written by Dana Jennings. He is bravely representing the comics geek at the office (at the dentist’s, wherever, you decide) that we’re not supposed to quite understand. And we’re not supposed to understand him (or possibly her but the stereotype would be “he”) because, as The New York Times implies by this ever so brief offering, graphic novels remain something of a curiosity. Sure, The New York Times includes a category for graphic novel bestsellers but that was inevitable.

So, if The New York Times is really serious about graphic novels, and the comics medium in general, then they need to treat the subject with the respect it deserves.

Again, I love The New York Times. I’m sure they have it in them to provide far more accurate and in depth coverage of the leading art form of the day. Seriously, I’d be happy to work with them in this noble endeavor.

Quite seriously, I believe it’s outdated to need to introduce the world of comics as if it’s an oddball relative. Would you relegate the world of contemporary painting to an arts backpage and then highlight ten works from various times and places and offer it up as a quick look at some “summer reveries”? No, you wouldn’t.

It’s not the comics medium that is this curious little creature. It’s articles like this one that are quite curious indeed.

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Filed under Art, comic books, Comics, graphic novels, The New York Times

Tom Spurgeon Takes The Comics Reporter to Higher Level

Tom-Spurgeon-The-Comics-Reporter

Tom Spurgeon is one of our cherished chroniclers of the comics scene. The Comics Reporter is one of the go-to places for all things comics. There’s only a handful of us out there and I’m very happy to call him a friend and colleague. Right now is an exciting time for him, and all of us in the comics industry, as he takes things to a higher level. In August, he will launch a PDF monthly version of his daily blog which will showcase in depth exploration of the contemporary comics scene. This new magazine will be available to those who join his Patreon portal to help sustain all the good things he does at The Comics Reporter. Be sure to visit The Comics Reporter and become one of Tom’s Pateron patrons, for as little as $2 per month, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Journalism, news, Pateron, The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon

Advance Review: KING TIGER #1

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We all miss the Star Wars comics from Dark Horse. We miss the intriguing detail, the swagger, the sly humor. But the talent that brought you that magic is still around. And there are new tales to tell. Enter King Tiger, written by Randy Stradley (Star Wars, Aliens vs. Predator) and illustrated by Doug Wheatley (Star Wars, Aliens).

There’s just something about this comic, and its confident execution, that will hook you in. Supernatural forces are on the offensive. They will take what they want, sacrifice human lives, wreak havoc. But a sorcerer and martial artist, known as King Tiger, may have the strength and cunning to bring them down.

This first issue sets the bar high and there’s no doubt this story is going to prove itself worthy. First off, King Tiger is very likable and mysterious. His girlfriend, Rikki, has made a man out of him. He appears to have formidalbe magical powers. But we know very little else about Tiger. And he likes it that way. His sidekick, Milo, makes for perfect comic relief. And Tiger is about to embark on the most challenging, and deadly, case of his career.

Stradley masterfully handles the narrative with just the right touches. We get an eerie refrain about how humanity is much better off just giving up hope that strikes a perfect creepy chord. Wheatley has a wonderful way with bringing life to his characters. We instantly gravitate to them. We know Rikki means stability. We know Milo means comedy. And we know Tiger is going to lead the hell out of this adventure.

King Tiger #1 is on sale August 12th. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Randy Stradley

Review: WOLF #1, published by Image Comics

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“Wolf,” is a new comic (script by Ales Kot; art by Matt Taylor) in which we follow Antoine Wolfe, a hard-boiled paranormal detective, down the sun-kissed streets of a noir-infused Los Angeles. The streets are indeed sun-kissed and beautifully harsh thanks to the intense colors by Lee Loughridge. Like any good crime story, we savor the details. One excellent moment simply has Antoine approach an anxious German Shepherd in his path with a mellow, “Meow.” From the start, we know this is going to be one weird tale as we begin with Antoine covered in flames one moment and completely unscathed the next.

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This original fantasy/horror/crime saga is worthy of comparison to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The narrative rolls along quite smoothly as the plot develops. Antoine is steadily revealed to be adroit as well as a bit out of his depth as we find him caught up in something of apocalyptic proportions. Ultimately, his fate will be linked to that of an orphaned teenage girl. And, through it all, we have a compelling clash between fantasy and gritty crime drama. For instance, Antoine may have supernatural powers but, as an African American, he is regularly reminded that he is not welcome in some places. And Los Angeles is depicted as a twisted wonderland, an amalgam of wilderness and concrete jungle. And full of magic. Wait until you meet Antoine’s pal, Freddy, a most Cthulhu-like fiend.

I am often asked where the best comics are coming from and the short answer is Image Comics. A perfect example is Wolf.

WOLF #1 is available as of July 22nd. It is a 64-page comic priced at $4.99. For more details, visit our friends at Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Image Comics, Noir