Tag Archives: Art

Review: ‘La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico’

La-Lucha-Verso-Books

A war zone that may not be on your radar: the border state of Chihuahua and its city of Juarez. It is the site of more murders than war-torn Afghanistan. And ninety-seven percent of these killings remain unsolved. This is thanks to the inextricable link between drug cartels and official corruption. But thanks to human rights activists, these crimes will not fade away. Leaders like Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro won’t allow that to happen. “La Lucha,” published by Verso Books, is their story.

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Written by Joh Sack, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, his goal here is to put a face to a crisis. Sack does this with a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. The art of Adam Shapiro adds to the immediacy of each story.

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

There are all compelling stories to be found here. One example is the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and her daughter, Rubi Marisol. Rubi was murdered by her boyfriend, Sergio Barraza. It was a clear-cut case. However, Sergio Barraza would never be found guilty simply for the fact that he was a member of the Zetas drug ring and that made him instantly untouchable. Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, led a fight to bring Sergio Barraza to justice. She was able to repeatedly track him down when authorities were not. Sergio Barraza was eventually slain in a shoot-out in 2012 with the Mexican Army. But during Marisela’s struggle for justice, the Mexican authorities, from the local level to the federal level, would not get involved. In the end, Marisela was killed for her efforts. This is quite an involved story. An excellent examination of it from Borderland Beat is right here.

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If Americans are sensitive to Iraq and Afghanistan, then they should surely take notice of Mexico. Yes, if you’re looking for the most bloody war zone, all you have to do is look south of the U.S. border. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s murder was captured on video (starts at 1:05). Trust me, you don’t need to know a word of Spanish to appreciate the above video. “Él le disparó en la cabeza.” translates to “He shot her in the head.” Just in case, you need that clarity. Cultural and language barriers should never be an excuse for understanding. That is what this book breaks free from in a very compelling read.

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

“La Lucha” is an exemplary example of the comics medium. A book like this one proves how complex issues can be presented in a clear and concise manner that can benefit people in a myriad of ways. It can jump start conversations that require a number of facts that are not always easy to follow. It can make a difference. It can even save lives.

“La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” is published by Verso Books and is available as of March 31, 2015. You can find it here, here, here, and here.

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Filed under Human Rights, Mexico, Verso Books, War

Interview: Bill Plympton and CHEATIN’

Ella and Jake in Bill Plympton's CHEATIN'

Ella and Jake in Bill Plympton’s CHEATIN’

Frank and Cora in 1946's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Frank and Cora in 1946’s THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Bill Plympton Animation Available on iTunes as of April 2015

CHEATIN’ is Bill Plimpton’s seventh full-length animated feature. It is for adults who like an All-American gritty noir story and fans of great storytelling from such greats at Terry Gilliam and Federico Fellini. Read my review here. On April 3, CHEATIN’ opens in New York and then to selected cities throughout the month. It is also available online! You can see it on Vimeo. And you can see other Plympton features on iTunes starting in April. Yes, if you’re a loyal fan or are new to his work, Bill Plympton is here! For details, and to see the movie, just go to the CHEATIN’ THE MOVIE website right here.

Bill-Plympton-Cheatin-2015

A Gritty Tale and a Sexual Odyssey

CHEATIN’ is visually stunning and immersive. It features the journey one woman must take in order to find what she wants. In the tradition of noir, characters must go through the yin and yang to find their true selves. Light into dark. And then dark into light. Truly, a perpetual swirl of desire and searching. And you throw into the bargain a magical soul-transfer machine, and you’ve got yourself a Bill Plympton animated feature.

Disney Can Give Bill Plympton A Call

It is always a pleasure to chat with Bill Plympton. For this interview, we cover a lot of ground on the storytelling process. We chat about how CHEATIN’ and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE would make for a perfect double bill. And I asked Bill, the king of independent animation, if he’d ever consider working with Disney if the right project came along. Yes. Bill would take the call.

What if Hitler Opened a Theme Park Called, “Naziland”?

And we discuss some upcoming projects. You’ll want to listen to that.

Below is the podcast interview. Enjoy:

Be sure to visit the CHEATIN’ website right here. And, if you’re in the New York metro area, be sure to go to Village East Cinema on Friday, April 3, and you’ll see Bill Plympton in person! He will create a drawing for anyone who asks for one.

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Filed under animation, Bill Plympton, cartoon, Filmmaking, Independent Film, Indie, Interviews

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, RIP

Yoshihiro-Tatsumi

“Sensei is dead.” When he clicked on the email, that is all that the esteemed comics authority Paul Gravett had to read to know what had happened. Some will say that the work of the master cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi (1935-2015) has brought them to tears. That’s quite a tall order. But it is certainly plausible. The world of comics, as you may know, is more than one thing. One aspect of it can be so rarified to make the most glamorous and refined creatures on this planet pale in comparison. That’s what you get when certain people communicate with, “Sensei is dead.”

Just imagine getting a text with, “The king has died.” It’s a bit surreal. And, I’m sure, not what Tatsumi would have wanted. Yes, for authorities on comics, and regular everyday fans, Tatsumi knew his manga. He was a master of the more introspective gekiga. He was no king and yet he was a king. Take away the veneer of reserve from the most venerated authority on comics and you’ll find a child looking up in wonder. At least, I hope so. That would have come easy for Tatsumi. His comics are down to earth and irreverent. But, then again, he would likely have respected any goodwill gesture. “Sensei is dead.”

Gekiga-Yoshihiro-Tatsumi

“A Drifting Life” is the epic autobiography of the manga master. Arguably, it is Tatsumi’s work that has inspired graphic novels as we know them today. With “A Drifting Life,” you follow Tatsumi on his journey of self-discovery spanning 1945 to 1960 as he strives to attain the skills of his own manga idol, Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Apollo’s Song, Ode to Kirihito, Buddha). The book is designed by one of today’s leading cartoonists, Adrian Tomine. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Gekiga, Japan, Manga, Paul Gravett, Yoshihiro Tatsumi

DVD Review: THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES!

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There’s an early moment in Jason V Brock’s documentary about Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) that sums it up well for science fiction’s journey to legitimacy. Dan O’Bannon, the writer/director for “Alien” and “Return of the Living Dead,” recounts an episode in his childhood. He is running off to school when his mother admonishes him to be sure he’s not carrying any science fiction with him! Oh boy, what a memory. It goes to show how people looked upon science fiction as something subversive. And they’re right. There is that quality and, of course, that’s something to embrace and celebrate. Back in the early days, as science fiction was coming into its own in pulp fiction and beyond, there came along an individual who would prove to be a perfect spokesperson for the genre, Forrest J Ackerman. “The Ackermonster Chronicles!” faithfully presents to you a vivid picture of a world, a people, an art form, and a person who led the way.

Nothing gets lost in shuffle here. One seemingly disjointed thing connects with another. The elegant and the unsavory lay down together. Science fiction had, some say still has, a bad rap for having too close an association with pop culture and hanging out with other genres like, God forbid, horror. But we’ve come such a long way. In fact, today, we really have a much better perspective. We, at least the more enlightened amongst us, can see so-called literary fiction as a genre, like any other, and not something so up on high. Yes, we value excellence. The problem used to be that any other genre was spat upon and kicked to the curb by the elite literary chieftains. Not so much today as we find countless combinations and recombinations among all genres. And, anyway, great work will ultimately transcend any label you attach to it. The thing is, you need to be open to anything and the work of people like Forrest J Ackerman have helped make that possible.

So, who was Forrest J Ackerman and what did he accomplish? Ackerman provided a way for the general public, especially a younger generation, to tap into a vital art form that had been getting short shrift elsewhere. We’re talking about a huge world, a whole universe, of creativity. Ackerman did the heavy lifting to create a more level playing field. He collected, he documented, he distributed, he promoted, he displayed, he shared. As the founder of the magazine, “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” he opened the flood gates to all manner of fandom and scholarship devoted to a huge facet of culture. This involved monsters, aliens from space, bloody horror, and science fiction. It was a determinedly do-it-yourself gung-ho approach as well as a tempered and highly sophisticated endeavor. He was the literary agent for numerous big name talents including Ray Bradbury, A. E. van Vogt, and Charles Beaumont. The Ackerman archives compromise 200 complete collections of magazines, 50,000 books, and countless one-of-a-kind items. For over 30 years, his home served as a museum open to the public for free. He coined the term, “sci-fi.” He co-created, with Trina Robbins, the legendary character, Vampirella. To sum it up, he was a one-man gateway.

Forrest-J-Ackerman-1916-2008

What Jason V Brock does with this documentary is let all the significant players on the scene simply talk and let you in. This is essential viewing for students of pop culture, science fiction, and art-making in general. This film will prove most useful to any aspiring writer, especially those down a primrose path to a university Creative Writing program. Wipe away any elitist inclinations you may have. Things are not as they might seem. Those things that go bump in the night may prove to save your life.

You can get your copy of “The Ackermonster Chronicles” by visiting our friends at JaSunni Productions right here. And, as of this writing, I have more to share with you about the multi-talented Jason V Brock. We’ll get to that in the weeks ahead. For now, if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this particular weekend (Sunday, March 22), then go check out the Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show. You’ll find Jason V Brock there along with a number of other highly talented individuals. Visit the show’s website right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Famous Monsters, Forrest J Ackerman, Horror, Jason V. Brock, JaSunni Productions, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Webcomic Review: DAWN OF THE UNREAD

Dawn-0f-the-Unread-James-Walker

DAWN OF THE UNREAD is a graphic novel webcomic exploring Nottingham’s literary history created by James Walker. Now, this is quite an impressive project in its specificity and its execution. The underlying mission here is to spark the imagination of new readers and have them rediscover the world of fiction and, most importantly, their local library! To that end, this webcomic is interactive and contains very compelling content. A new installment is published on the 8th of each month. Let’s take a closer look at some of the previous chapters.

Above: Artist Francis Lowe discusses his collaboration with Adrian Reynolds for their “Little Boxes” chapter, published on 8 June 2014.

In “Little Boxes,” you are treated to a variety of interesting facts about Batman lore with a Nottingham connection. Did you know, for instance, that Wollaton Hall was Wayne Manor in one of the Batman films? Well, the focus here is the nearby village of Gotham. And, yes, total Batman connection beginning with Washington Irving bestowing that nickname on Manhattan. We end up making a detour to H.P. Lovecraft. This is a very cleanly drawn comic with just the right touch of whimsy.

"Little Boxes,"  by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

“Little Boxes” by Adrian Reynolds and Francis Lowe

Read it here.

Above: Cartoonist Steve Larder, with Alan Gibbons, discusses bringing Geoffrey Trease back to life in “Books and Bowstrings,” published on 8 January 2015.

With “Books and Bowstrings,” you get it all. Steve Larder, author of “Rum Lad,” provides a punk aesthetic with his quirky artwork. With the help of some literary ghosts, byway of Sherwood Forest, the local libraries are on their way to regaining the old spirit.

"Books and Bowstrings" by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

“Books and Bowstrings” by Alan Gibbons and Steve Larder

Read it here.

Above: Illustrator Amanda Elanor Tribble discusses her collaboration with Aly Stoneman for their chapter, “Ms. Hood,” published on 8 December 2014.

“Ms. Hood,” takes up a contemporary Robin Hood theme to great effect. The artwork is bold and engaging. The story manages to fit in a lot of food for thought.

"Ms. Hood" by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

“Ms. Hood” by Aly Stoneman and Amanda Elanor Tribble

Read it here.

“Dawn of the Unread” is an interactive graphic novel for PC, Mac, iPad, tablet and mobile. Be sure to visit right here.

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Filed under Books, Comics, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Webcomics

Review: ‘Moomins on the Riviera’

Moomins-on-the-Riviera

So, what is a Moomin, exactly? Well, they’re hippos. And their large faces act like masks that hide facial expression. They’re terribly enigmatic when you think about it. They’re also very isolated as they don’t normally wander far from Moominvalley. But they’re not meant to be spooky although they do have their weird habits. For instance, they save all their dirty dishes under the sofa until there’s a good rain to wash them clean.

Moomin is an odd and wonderful world of comics. Truly, one of the best. Do kids pick up on the enigmatic quality? Oh, sure. That’s part of the magic and charm. If you are new to the antics of the Moomins, just think of them as some of the most fanciful creatures to grace a comic strip. This animated feature honors the original work by Tove Jansson. With “Moomins on the Riviera,” directors Xavier Picard and Hanna Hemilä bring to life all the magic and charm from the page to the screen.

Most of the major Moomins, from left to right: the Snork maiden, Moomintroll, Moominpappa (in hammock with top hat), Moominmamma, Little My and Snufkin.

Most of the major Moomins, from left to right: the Snork maiden, Moomintroll, Moominpappa (in hammock with top hat), Moominmamma, Little My and Snufkin.

So, knowing that the Moomins are a strange lot, a change of scenery is not such a bad idea. And they may as well live large and end up on the Riviera. Of course, with Moomins being a bit out of touch, this is strictly a hippo out of water kind of story.

Moomins-on-the-Riviera-2015

The Moomins will win you over. This is a fun and whimsical tale of how these hippos stumble into high society. In the end, both hippos and all who meet them are the better for it. If you’re looking for a feature perfect for the whole family, this is it. And its sense of style and odd humor will keep adults entertained right along with the youngest of viewers.

“Moomins on the Riviera” was released in Finland and France in 2014 and makes its North American premiere on March 22, 2015 at the New York International Children’s Festival. For more details, visit the official website for the film right here.

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Filed under animation, Comics, European Comics, Finland, France, Tove Jansson

Review: LISA SIMPSON’S GUIDE TO GEEK CHIC

Lisa-Simpson-Geek-Chic-Insight-Editions

Behold, “Lisa Simpson’s Guide to Geek Chic,” a new book by Matt Groening, published by Insight Editions. And, check this out, this book is part of the Vault of Simpsonology. Yes, once you’ve enjoyed this book, you can move on to books focusing on other Simpson characters.

Ah, but first, there’s Lisa Simpson and her particular view of the world. How about a periodic table, according to Lisa Simpson? Or her idea of what should be in everyone’s emergency kit. The Complete Works of Shakespeare, perhaps?

While this will win over any young reader, I have to say that this item transcends any age demographic in a very appealing way. This is, indeed, the perfect gift for anyone.

“Lisa Simpson’s Guide to Geek Chic” is available as of May 5, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under animation, Comics, Insight Editions, Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Art: SPRING LIFT

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a new painting I did entitled, “Spring Lift.” First day of spring is this Friday, March 20! This painting incorporates thoughts of Seattle in the spring and the Macefield Home, a symbol of resistance.

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Filed under Art, Ballard, Edith Macefield, Henry Chamberlain, Illustration, Painting, Seattle

Review: Bill Plympton’s CHEATIN’

Bill-Plympton-Cheatin-animation

Ella is an enigmatic beauty. She seems so ethereal and unaccessible. And then, one day, her defenses down, she stumbles into a romance with Jake. This sounds like the start of another great Bill Plympton animated feature. It takes me back to some of my earliest memories of his work. I had seen at least some of his stuff on MTV back in the day. All I can say is, if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.

Bill Plympton is one of the greats. He has a way of looking at the world that is truly original. He stepped into the spotlight with his Academy Award-nominated short, “Your Face,” in 1987. He was courted by Disney but he chose to remain independent. He’s the only animator to single-handedly draw every frame of a feature film–six times. Plympton cartoons blaze upon the screen: joyful, erotic, and full of wonder. And so that leads in to, “Cheatin’,” Bill Plympton’s latest feature.

Cheatin-Bill-Plympton

Things don’t just move in his animation. They jiggle, ripple, undulate, sway, and sashay. There’s a perpetual sexual tension metaphorically attached to nearly everything. We begin with the long fluttering ribbon attached to Ella’s hat. In this feature, our two lovers are quite a mismatched pair but they definitely have a spark between them.

If Ella was ever aloof, Jake wears down her reserve. He rescues her twice, both times with great sexual connotations. But that’s only the beginning of our story. No sooner does boy meet girl, it seems, than boy loses girl. In fact, these two had become quite the couple when things go terribly wrong. Outside forces relentlessly work against them. For example, one of Ella’s rivals attempts to lure Jake away while he’s mowing the lawn. She carpets the sky with a pulsating pattern of her laundry. Ella retaliates with a counter-strike of her own laundry.

Plympton-Cheatin-animation

What happens next involves an elaborate process of regaining love. This includes a wayward magician and his mysterious “trans-soul machine.” Perhaps this contraption will shed light on what has thwarted our lover’s happiness. As this dangerous and uncertain path unfolds, our story spreads out with hints of grand opera, science fiction, and crime noir.

As in all Bill Plympton features, we find that human longing and desire, in one form or another, cannot be ignored and is seldom, if ever, denied. Amid a rogue’s gallery of buffoons and dimwits, lovers race toward each other’s hungry bodies. Sexuality will find its release whether it oozes from the walls or drips from the ceiling. And, amid the melting butter and bubbling coffee pots, a more complex story unfolds. While sex makes the world go round, Bill Plympton, like Federico Fellini and Terry Gilliam, provides much more. The content is implicit, not explicit. It’s a mix of the tragic and the comic that proves so pleasing.

“Cheatin'” is in theaters and online as of April 2015. For more details, visit the official website right here.

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Filed under animation, Bill Plympton, Movie Reviews

Blu-ray review: BIRDMAN

Birdman-Michael-Keaton-Edward-Norton

There’s the legendary tragic story of 19th century American actor, Edwin Booth. He was so celebrated for his performance as Othello that he kept to that role, made a career out of it, and died with it. If only actor Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) were so lucky. He’s stuck with being known as the guy behind the Birdman mask in a ridiculously successful superhero movie franchise. “Birdman” is about a lot of things, including Riggan’s journey toward redemption. After so much water under bridge, he feels he’s found something meaningful he can do with all that he’s learned. He’s adapted Raymond Carver for the Broadway stage. It’s an audacious move and one that rankles those who position themselves as arbiters of taste, specifically the New York theater critic, Tabitha Dickinson (played by Lindsay Duncan). The role of Tabitha is relatively small and yet so pivotal. She’s the one who, for better or worse, holds the fate of Riggan’s play and perhaps much more. And she’s the one who should be most eloquent on matters of culture except her delivery is all too pointed. In a great balancing act, “Birdman” arrives at its satire with grace.

“Birdman” is one of those films that hits the nail on the head so well that it leaves you wanting more. The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” is an instant classic. Forget about anything you may have heard or read from naysayers giving it a nonsensical label of being “pretentious.” I read that’s what, of all people, shock jock Howard Stern labeled this film as being. That absurd assessment, that twisted view of culture, is the sort of thing that is lampooned in “Birdman.” It’s as if Federico Fellini and Paddy Chayefsky were both alive today and created a masterpiece speaking to where we find ourselves. And where do we find ourselves? We find ourselves with the Howard Sterns of the world making empty gestures each day to countless fans.

We are stuffing ourselves with pop culture that often, some would say always, proves to be as fulfilling as cotton candy. In a film full of great conflict, the resounding head-butt is between high and low culture. Not only do we have snooty critics like Tabitha, but we have snooty thespians out to make life a living hell for Riggan. Enter Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton). When Riggan finds himself in need of a replacement for a lead role, Mike is fortuitously available. He also happens to be notoriously rude and unstable. He thinks Riggan is incapable of genuinely caring about anything. He laughs at Riggan’s personal story about Raymond Carver. Mike also realizes that he has a very crazy way of showing that he cares.

And to care about something is at the heart of this film. Riggan is given many reasons to care, including his daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone). There’s a wondrous scene where Sam lashes out at her dad. What’s remarkable is how much is said and conveyed. Sam goes from being triggered into conflict, to full-on rage, to a descent into regret. It’s the sort of sustained moment you would experience in theater. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu pushes the boundaries of what can be conveyed in film, particularly with a series of awe-inspiring continuous shots. It’s theatrical on one level. It’s hyperreal on another. And, you better believe it, it makes you want to care.

“Birdman” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. The feature with a behind-the-scenes look at the film is priceless. For more information, visit Fox Searchlight right here.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Superheroes