Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Advance Review: ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1 by James Stokoe

JAMES STOKOE’S ALIENS

The much anticipated Aliens comic book by James Stokoe, published by Dark Horse Comics, will release on April 26th. ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT is going to be one of the comics highlights for 2017. Let’s take a look.

Page from ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT

James Stokoe has a way of drawing with his light and curved lines gathering up an intoxicating level of details. You could very well tell a whole story just from one panel: the way the wrinkles hug a young woman’s flight suit; the curious waft of steam rising from her cup of coffee; and, no doubt, the cryptic slogan emblazoned across the mug she holds. Now, that means something. Is it here just for irony or perhaps more? We’ll just have to see. Welcome to the first issue of ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT, story, art, and lettering by James Stokoe, published by Dark Horse Comics.

GEOF DARROW VARIANT

Dark Horse provides us here with a shining example of their inventive and daring approach to creating work for a franchise. With Aliens, it’s a dance we readers want to engage in before we get to the monsters. The whole look and feel has to settle into place. We want to gradually get to know the characters. With James Stokoe (Wonton Soup, Orc Stain, Godzilla: The Half-Century War) we have an artist/writer with the passion to engage with each trope and build up something totally enthralling and new.

As we begin this issue, we have the classic set-up of a lone survivor on a rust bucket of a space station. Who is he? What happened? What happens next? Where’s the monster? All valid questions and we get to a lot of them. Wassy, short for Wascylewski, is a chain-smoking hardened soldier. He is willing to keep his head down and do his job. That’s a good plan until things get complicated. Suffice it to say, there’s an incident. Oh, it starts out small but then it builds.

Page from ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT

Character development is really fun and solid here. This is a young crew. Our Captain Hassan comes across as impulsive, sort of a scruffy version of Captain Kirk. Well, sort of. Hassan seems to be on unsteady ground. There’s definitely a lot of unpredictable energy here. This is a crew that seems to already be on a short fuse to begin with. Any of the crew members we meet, perhaps with the exception of one, could prove to be Hassan’s equal, and rival. At least, that’s the sense I get from this dynamic.

I think Stokoe is a total natural at what he does. This is a guy who just loves to draw and to tell stories. The colors are gorgeous. The palette of light blues and oranges is a refreshing alternative to brooding dark greens that we usually associate Alien stories with. I also really appreciate the lettering. Word balloons have a nice organic feel. The lettering itself could actually be hand-drawn. It sure has that nice crisp look that a pro at hand-lettering can achieve. This whole first issue is quite a beauty and no reason to believe the rest won’t be just as stunning. Can’t wait for more!

ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT #1 is available as of April 26, 2017. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Aliens, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dark Horse Comics, Ridley Scott, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo

The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Alden Baylor.

The ideal graphic novel expresses one elegant theme over the span of about 100 pages and leaves the reader invigorated. METEOR MEN is such an example. Boy meets space alien. This is a story that turns that trope on its head over the course of a mix of realism and the supernatural. Jeff Parker (Batman ’66, Future Quest) writes a script with his distinctive quirky worldview. Sandy Jarrell (Batman ’66, Unfair) provides artwork that responds right back to Parker’s offbeat style. And Kevin Volo (Rex Zombie Killer, Max & Thorne) provides colors in step with this moody, enigmatic, and totally riveting tale.

Panel excerpt from METEOR MEN

If and when the aliens do descend from the skies, they won’t be anything like in the movies. They will be something totally out of the realm of our experience. That is a key point in any number of sci-fi tales. And that doesn’t stop Parker, like the seasoned pro that he is, from going in there and telling us his version. So, we begin with Alden Baylor, a teenager who already has much on his mind prior to any alien invasion. The kid is sitting pretty on an estate he’s inherited. Alden’s parents died in a car crash and his uncle is his guardian. So, Alden makes for an ideal young princely sort, complete with a common touch, not fully aware of his high station in life. He’s sensitive and gentle and will prove to make a great representative for us humans.

Page excerpt from METEOR MEN

We come to see that an alien race has descended all over Earth via a meteor shower. Among all the potential human connections that could have been made everywhere from Moscow to Timbuktu, the only one that takes hold is the one between Alden and the space creature that crash landed on his property. Alden’s alien friend is melancholy and mysterious. But, push comes to shove, and this guy is potentially dangerous–all for the sake of protecting Alden. Deeper into our tale, Alden learns far more than he ever imagined he would ever know not only about extraterrestrial life but about the very essence of existence.

Among alt-comics, there are basically two fronts: the more low-key comics that rely upon a niche audience; and the more vibrant comics that reach out to a wider readership. METEOR MAN is a vibrant comic. Of course, the hope is that any truly worthwhile comic finds readers even if it is essentially a labor of love. I see METEOR MAN as one of those “labor of love” projects that catches on with casual as well as seasoned readers of comics. Word of mouth has boosted its visibility and it has received good press, including a glowing review from WIRED MAGAZINE. I’m happy to add my praise.

METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo

METEOR MAN is a 128-page full cover trade paperback. For more details, visit Oni Press right here. Order it through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jeff Parker, Oni Press, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Young Adult

ECCC 2017 Interview: Daniel Warren Johnson and EXTREMITY

Daniel Warren Johnson at Emerald City Comicon 2017

Daniel Warren Johnson at Emerald City Comicon 2017

Daniel Warren Johnson is a freelance illustrator based in Chicago. Johnson’s webcomic, SPACE-MULLET, launched in 2012, got people’s attention. It is a quirky sci-fi tale following the adventures of such characters as Jonah, a stranded Space Marine from United Earth, and Alphius, a huge Zozobian who uses too much toilet paper. As Johnson told me, the whole experience of maintaining a webcomic turned out to be the perfect way to demonstrate to publishers how he navigates through a story. This process would lead him to the helm of his own comic book series, EXTREMITY, published by Skybound Entertainment, an imprint of Image Comics.

Daniel Warren Johnson's SPACE-MULLET

Daniel Warren Johnson’s SPACE-MULLET

The world of EXTREMITY, as Johnson states, is “visually stunning in keeping with the characters.” This is a barbaric and futuristic landscape. Think Mad Max. It is a world of extremes. Johnson’s writing process focuses on the characters first and builds out from there. At the forefront, is Thea, from the Roto Clan, who has been horribly wronged by the Paznina. What makes this story different from a typical revenge tale, Johnson told me, is that it is not just one person dealing with what happens next but an entire village.

ECCC variant for EXTREMITY #1

ECCC variant for EXTREMITY #1

Story is everything. Johnson’s method is to write out a script first, let that settle in, and then pursue the artwork. He says he could storyboard the whole thing out but it’s getting that script down that proves to be the most efficient.

Johnson has a very disarming personality. He has an immediate and direct way about him. As I sat in with him for a bit at Emerald City Comicon, he worked on some art while always engaging with visitors. “I invite folks to ask me anything,” he says. One thing that Johnson has become known for are his portraits where he renders his subject as a zombie. So, if you should meet up with Johnson, maybe you should ask him to draw you as a zombie.

Daniel Warren Johnson

Daniel Warren Johnson

Take a closer look at Johnson’s artwork and you’ll find that extra attention to detail. Johnson thanks an extensive art training background starting out when he was a kid and getting private lessons from a kind but determined Italian woman named, Rosetta. “I watch out for the details. If I’m going to draw a car, for instance, it is definitely going to look like a car.” But, for what finally got him where he is today, that he has to thank his wife for.

What Johnson foresees for himself, and hopes for the future of comics in general, is a focus on story, going deeper, beyond a “crafting of cool.” “You know, stories can come to and end too. The standard model is to keep characters going on forever. It can be refreshing to break that model, tell one character’s story from start to finish, and move on.”

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Filed under Comics, Daniel Warren Johnson, ECCC, Emerald City Comicon, Image Comics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Skybound Entertainment, Webcomics

Movie Review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

I went to see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at the Seattle Cinerama Theatre just to make things even more special. Any Star Wars movie is a special event and this latest installment is no different. The big draw for me is the winning performance by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, daughter of a great rebel hero who must prove that her father did not fall in league with the Empire. Her journey becomes more complicated as she runs into conflict with her handler, Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). Our story takes place in vintage Star Wars, just before 1977’s A New Hope. This movie opens the window further to show just what wonders still lie ahead with a Disney-owned Star Wars franchise.

I’m not a hardcore Star Wars fan but even I could appreciate Peter Cushing back on the screen, digitally re-created, in order to reprise his role as the villain Grand Moff Tarkin. Most of the other CGI trickery was all Wookiee to me. But I did catch the vintage vibe here and there with cantina characters popping up and X-Wing fighter pilots back in action. George Lucas must have decided early on that his Rebel Alliance fighters were going to look more like average folks than hardened warriors. Any minute, you could expect your own grandmother to pop on the screen. In fact, one of the pilots does look to be someone’s grandmother.

The plot is pretty straightforward: earnest and lovely Jyn Erso must press on, save her dad, and save the rebellion. There’s a bunch of doublespeak in the interim and good-natured talk of believing in the force within you. There’s nothing really here with the iconic quality of a Yoda but that’s okay. We’re already treading on iconic vintage soil so that’s plenty. But there is one compelling addition in the form of the robot K-2SO brilliantly voice by Alan Tudyk.

The gang is all here.

The gang is all here.

Let me tell you a few things about K-2SO. He’s a big guy, bigger and brasher than C-3PO. I had a little girl seated next to me and she perked up every time that K-2SO acted up. He’s none too refined at times. Where C-3PO relied upon cunning, K-2SO is just as likely to rely upon brawn. In one scene, when a gatekeeper asks if he requires any help, K-2SO simply nods, raises his fist, and pounds the guy to death. It’s a pretty odd scene but easy enough in context to pass over. There’s a war on, you know. In fact, for one quick scene, we close in on ground forces that may as well be in Syria. Then we zap back into space for a bit and, ultimately, we see that everything does not rely just upon brawn but on Jyn Erso guiding the rebels back to a new sense of hope.

One spoiler, perhaps. You probably already know this. It won’t hurt anything really if you don’t but Carrie Fisher appears at the very end. It is a CGI version of her 19-year-old self and she claims victory for the rebellion and welcomes a new hope. That really touched me. The whole experience of seeing a Star Wars movie and in such a regal movie house brought home to me the still enduring power of cinema. With people consuming content is every conceivable way possible, it is reassuring that we can all be drawn back to a more basic and communal activity as going to the movies, to go and sit together to see the big event on the screen. It is not nearly the same powerful experience as it was for moviegoers in the heyday of the box office but it’s still something. It comes pretty darn close.

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Filed under Carrie Fisher, Movie Reviews, movies, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Seattle Cinerama, Star Wars

Review: ‘Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation’

"Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation"

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”

There’s a ragged and raw quality to Octavia Butler’s novel, “Kindred,” first published in 1979, about a young African American woman who time travels to America during slavery. It’s odd. It’s compelling. And it demands to be read all the way to the end. As I say, it’s ragged and raw, and by that I mean it’s a rough journey in what transpires and in the telling. As a time travel tale alone, it’s bumpy at best. The time travel element abruptly kicks in and, just as abruptly, the characters involved accept the situation. The narrative itself is episodic and there is little in the form of subtlety. What can be said of the novel transfers over to the just released graphic novel adaptation published by Abrams ComicArts: this is raw, sometimes ugly, but always compelling and a must-read.

panel excerpt

panel excerpt: a time traveller’s satchel

Octavia Butler rips the scab off a nightmarish era in America, a wound so deep that it remains healing to this day. You could say that what Butler aspires to do is give a full sense of what it means when we talk about slavey in America. There are a number of approaches you can take. If you go down the ragged and raw path, you may end up with something that is deemed bold by some and deemed heavy-handed by others. The end result could be somewhere in between. Butler chose to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, with this novel that finds Dana, an African American woman from 1976 Los Angeles, repeatedly and relentlessly subjected to various torture and humiliation as she finds herself regularly being transported back to America during slavery. The story begins in Maryland in 1815 and subsequently follows the progress of slaver-holder Rufus Weylin, from boy to manhood.

page excerpt: dark journey

page excerpt: dark journey

First and foremost, this is a book to be celebrated. While it is a tough story to tell, it is brimming with truths to be told. Sure, no need to sugarcoat anything. There are no sensibilities here to protect. That said, while a graphic novel, this is a book with a decidedly mature theme running throughout with disturbing content. What it requires is a adult to check it out first and then decide how to proceed. Without a doubt, this is an important teaching tool but best left to high school and above.

page excerpt: slave/master

page excerpt: slave/master

As for the overall presentation of this graphic novel, it has taken an audacious approach of its own. Whether intentionally or not, it carries its own distinctive ragged and raw vibe. The drawing throughout is far from elegant, quite the opposite. In fact, it often has a rushed quality about it and I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. I sense that it’s something of a style choice. This is a harsh and dark story and so it is depicted as such. In the end, this is a truly unusual and intriguing work.

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation” is a 240-page, full-color, hardcover available as of January 10th. It is based upon the novel by Octavia Estelle Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, artwork by John Jennings. For more information and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, African American, American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Time Travel

Review: ‘How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias’ by Prentis Rollins

"How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias" by Prentis Rollins

“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins

I want to share with you a book that really speaks to me as an artist and storyteller. I’d been meaning to write a review of it for quite some time and then it struck me last night as to what to say here. This is one of those books with the goal of art instruction that really gets it! And it is considerably helped along by its niche focus! Are you into science fiction? Would you like to draw work that perfectly fits into that genre? Well, then, here’s the book for you: “How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins, published by Monacelli Press.

This is the ultimate guide for illustrators at all levels on how to fine tune their sci-fi imagery. You get the very best advice from Prentis Rollins, a DC Comics veteran (Rebirth, Supergirl, and Batman: The Ultimate Evil). Given the opportunity, I would love to pick his brain. But, let me tell you, this book is the next best thing as Rollins takes a very accessible and conversational tone throughout his instruction filled to the brim with examples. There are 32 step-by-step case studies in all created and imagined especially for this book.

Whether you are attempting to create a compelling utopia or dystopia, it all comes back to basics. Here is a book that goes through the building blocks all the way to sophisticated techniques to really rock your world. Rollins is certainly not alone in stressing a need to master the fundamentals before veering off to pursue your own thing. In fact, he implores you to not rely too heavily upon emulating the work of others. However, he also emphasizes the very real need to be inspired by others.

For Rollins, he has two main influences: American artist Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture); and the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger (Alien). As Rollins is quick to point out, these two artists could not be further apart from each other. Mead is logical, clean, and rational. Giger is morbid and nightmarish. You could place one in the utopian camp and the other in the dystopian camp. And that falls well into the theme that Rollins pursues: a close look at science fiction imagery, both utopian and dystopian.

A utopian scene

A utopian scene

Consider these examples, among the many you’ll find in this book. One shows you a scene more in the vein of Syd Mead.

A dystopian scene

A dystopian scene

While the other shows you a scene more in the vein of H.R. Giger. And, yet, both resonate a certain way of doing things that is all Prentis Rollins. And that, my friend, is the whole point of the book. I hope you’ll get a chance to pick up a copy for yourself or for someone you know who would get a kick out of such an impressive art instruction book.

“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” is a 208-page trade paperback in full color. For more details and how to purchase, visit Monacelli Press right here.

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Filed under Art, Art books, Batman, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Illustration, Monacelli Press, Prentis Rollins, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Supergirl, Superman

Movie Review: ARRIVAL

arrival-movie-amy-adams-2016

What will it be like when they arrive? It’s a question that’s been asked over and over again, from H.G. Wells to Steven Spielberg. What sets “Arrival” apart is that this new sci-fi film starts where most of these first contact stories end: this is a film about engaging with an alien race from some other world in some rather in depth terms. In the process, we humans may learn more about ourselves and the very nature of reality. It’s rare that a movie really hits me on such a visceral level. Part of it has to do with its steady and realistic pace. 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” set the standard. In recent years, we’ve seen a trend towards more contemplative sci-fi. In this case, it’s what the movie has to say about how we perceive reality. The aliens have got a much different take on that.

"Arrival" screenplay by Eric Heisserer

“Arrival” screenplay by Eric Heisserer

Director Denis Villeneuve is known for pulse-pounding thrillers with a quirky sense of style (Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy). For “Arrival,” the trick was to find the right balance of the theatrical with the compelling and cerebral quality of the original short story by Ted Chiang. I strongly encourage you to seek out Chiang’s story. You will find it to be quite moving with a different set of parameters at home on the printed page. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer succeeds in taking the beauty and nuance of Chiang’s work and finding something comparable in a Hollywood screenplay. Heisserer addresses every aspect of the original story. He amplifies the plot and adds action where it makes sense. Read my interview with Eric Heisserer right here.

"Stories of Your Life and Others" by Ted Chiang

“Stories of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang

Part of this story is about communicating and connecting. How do we do that? The answer lies somewhere in language. Amy Adams plays the role of an exceptional linguist, Dr. Louise Banks. She is assigned to crack the alien language. Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly) is assigned to crack the alien math. And Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber) is there to monitor. There are many others behind the scenes. In fact, there are twelve of these massive alien pods that have landed on various spots across Earth. But our attention is mostly on these three main characters, and our eyes are especially on Louise.

Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks

Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks

By the time that Louise has been enlisted, the alien site in Montana has been joined by an organized U.S. government contingent. And initial contact has been established: a crew enter a portal and make their way to a screen that separates them from a couple of Cthulhu-like creatures. While incredibly strange-looking, they also seem benign. Louise’s breakthrough is to authentically reach out to them. In time, these “heptapods” emerge from the language barrier to reveal a whole other way of looking at reality. Amy Adams delivers an exquisite performance as the one person who really gets it, in the same spirit as the Richard Dreyfuss character, Roy Neary, in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

"Arrival," directed by Denis Villeneuve

“Arrival,” directed by Denis Villeneuve

“Arrival” is one of those special gifts from Hollywood that are still very much possible. This movie ranks right up with 2014’s “Interstellar,” starring Matthew McConaughey, as Cooper, in a somewhat similar struggle involving a parent and a child. Eric Heisserer says that his screenplay pitch went through 100 rejections from producers before it was green-lit. Well, his persistence most certainly paid off. This is definitely the perfect holiday movie, date movie, perfect all-around movie.

“Arrival” went into wide release as of November 11th. Visit the official site right here.

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Filed under Eric Heisserer, Movie Reviews, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Screenwriting, writers, writing

Interview: WREN McDONALD on Comics, Illustration, and SP4RX

Wren McDonald self-portrait

Wren McDonald self-portrait

Wren McDonald is a cartoonist and illustrator. His illustrations appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, and many other places. His first full-length graphic novel, a quirky cyberpunk thriller, “SP4RX,” was recently published by Nobrow Press.

If you are in the New York City metro area this weekend, you can see Wren at Comic Arts Brooklyn. CAB is taking place this weekend with the main event this Saturday, November 5th, at Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, 12 Havemeyer Street, from 11am to 7pm, in beautiful Brooklyn! You can find Wren at CAB, downstairs at Table D31.

Wren McDonald has shot like a rocket since graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013. Wren has a refreshing take on both comics and illustrations: a rare set of skills, talent, passion, and drive. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Wren McDonald, recorded this Wednesday, as he prepares for Comic Arts Brooklyn.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Wren, if we were to do a virtual tour of your studio, what would we find there?

WREN McDONALD: Well, my studio is my bedroom. So, here’s my bed and here’s my desk. That’s my studio! (Laughter)

That’s the set of circumstances for a lot of cartoonists and illustrators, isn’t it?

Yeah, especially living in New York. It just doesn’t make much financial sense to have a separate studio. But I have plenty of room here. It’s pretty spacious. I can spread out and get my work done. I have a super big desk and an iMac. And I actually have (laughs) the extended studio in the living room! There I have a Lasergraph copier where I print out my mini-comics and zines.

That’s for serious cartoonists.

Oh, yeah!

“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald

“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald

I direct folks who are new to your work to go to your website, wrenmcdonald.com. There you will find a cornucopia of stuff. I’m focusing on one of your current illustrations of Trump and Clinton and they are both sitting in a classroom. These two are hyperreal, larger-than-life, cartoonish. You can’t make them up. Could you give us a window into how you created that illustration?

That illustration was funny because I got the assignment the day before it was due, which was also the day before I was traveling to MICE Expo in Boston, a comics show that I was just at this last weekend. That was like a super rush job which was really intense. The art director at The New Yorker, Rina Kushnir, who is super great, I work with her a lot, she emailed me the article. She said it was last minute but she asked if I could do it. And I said, yes, of course.

Rina needed sketches in the morning and then the final that evening, around 5pm or 6pm. So, that morning, I sent in like four sketches. They were sort of goofy and funny. Like you say, these candidates are already cartoony so it’s easy to characterize them. Rina chose the one she liked. That was at noon. From that point, I got to work on the final and sent it over in the evening.

Those jobs are always pretty stressful but I enjoy doing them a lot because I feel that I work really hard and get a real day’s work in and have something to show for it.

It’s a beautiful illustration.

Thank you.

I wanted to ask you about your evolving into the illustrator you are today. Your work is appearing everywhere. Only a few years ago you were in Florida just starting out. Could you give us the cook’s tour of how you got where you are today.

Sure, I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida, in 2013. When I was in school, I had a website and was posting things on social media, like Tumblr, and I think that helped me get my feet off the ground in terms of people seeing my work.

From that point, I started going to comics shows like TCAF in Toronto, Comic Arts Brooklyn, and MoCCA. I tabled at TCAF and other shows I would just go to. I’d have mini-comics to give out to help make people aware of me. It’s two different paths, comics and illustration, so I’ll talk about them separately.

The illustration stuff is, like I say, social media and tracking down email contacts and networking. And a lot of promotional stuff. You want to create a portfolio that really looks like editorial illustration. Editorial work has a snowball effect. You start to get jobs and you’re seen as a professional.

CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald

CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald

The comics stuff is going to shows and socializing. I was approached by Peow! Studio, based in Sweden, about publishing one of my short stories in of one of their anthologies, “Time Capsule.” I thought that was super cool since I was familiar with their work. I was super excited. I think that was the first comics story that I had published out in the world besides my own stuff online, on Tumblr. Soon after that, I talked to Nobrow about doing a short story (CYBER REALM) for their 17×23 series which is a platform to try out new talent. That’s a small format, just 24 pages. We did that and enjoyed working together. So, Nobrow said they wanted to try something longer. That’s what I wanted to do so it worked out that way.

It’s amazing how quickly things came together. Did you already have an idea of what SP4RX was going to be like while you were working on CYBER REALM or did one work just follow the other?

I didn’t have one story cocked and loaded beforehand. I always hear other cartoonists, or writers, when they talk about their work, saying they had this story they’d been working on since they were 10 years-old and it’s part of an epic world they’ve created. I’m not one of those people. When I sit down to write a story it’s about brainstorming and anything that peaks my interest.

For SP4RX, I’ve always been interested in the cyberpunk genre, especially movies and comics. I wanted to work in that genre. I was already creating work dealing with technology, robots, and dystopian settings. I think it just made a lot of sense to me.

We’re always hearing about the digital versus the physical. I direct people to the comic you did for The Comics Journal. How did that come about?

I’m not sure if Nobrow contacted The Comics Journal, or the other way around, but The Comics Journal approached me about doing one of their A Cartoonist Diary columns. I was all for it since I have the attitude of wanting to try something out and make it work. I had not done diary comics before so I had to think about how to do this. Mine is not a traditional diary comic since it has these fantastical elements to it. Despite it being involved with things I was experiencing, the more apt title to it turned out to be “Not A Cartoonist Diary.” That was a fun project.

Over the years, illustration is deemed dead and then it comes right back. It all runs in cycles. You’re firmly in both the world of comics and illustrations. Some cartoonists, I know, have never printed mini-comics nor done the comic fest circuit. But you love that.

Right! I love making comics, reading comics, and telling stories. I am passionate about my comics work because I am able to draw what I want to draw. Illustration is a fun back and forth since it involves work that I would not necessarily choose to draw: it’s more like a puzzle. Okay, how do I use these images to convey a specific idea, very concisely, to pair with the article? It’s a fun back and forth. Maybe I’ve been working on comics for two weeks straight, and then I get an editorial assignment. That’s great, I can take a break from comics and do an illustration, take a break from having my face too close to the page and switch my train of thought–and vice versa.

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

If we were just chatting, we’d end up talking about books and movies, especially science fiction and cyberpunk. I imagine that “Videodrome” must be a favorite for you.

I do love “Videodrome.” David Cronenberg is amazing but I don’t think that “Videodrome” had a specific influence on SP4RX. Instead, concerning SP4RX, I had just read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” which I thought was like the coolest book ever. It is considered “cool.” I wanted to make something “super cool” like that! I’d always been into “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo. And “Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow and his Appleseed series. And movies like Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” or “Robocop.” Or James Cameron’s “Terminator II.” “The Matrix.” “Aliens.” Stuff like that. I wanted to do something in the vein of that genre.

Let’s focus back on SP4RX: a super hacker going up against corporate enslavement. How close are we today to corporate enslavement?

There’s a lot of parallels that I was drawing from. Basic stuff that I’d see on the news. Even just going about my day-to-day, going shopping or whatever, that would end up in SP4RX. It’s a world with hover cars and sci-fi elements but there are plenty of parallels to our real world throughout. For example, I’d be watching some crazy video on YouTube with one newscaster harassing another newscaster and I would basically copy and paste that into the book. Within a sci-fi setting, you can focus on the human element. You don’t get caught up in a specific nation or political agenda. It’s just people in this science fiction world.

Everyone may not get a hover car but we’ve got plenty of the weird and nefarious stuff already. What do you think about Edward Snowden and us being monitored? The future is here.

Yeah, it makes me think that the cyberpunk genre and movement is more relevant than ever. When the internet was first coming about, that genre seemed so cheesy. It’s fun to laugh about it but there’s so much of it that’s relevant. Like you say, that NSA stuff is really happening. It’s important to pay attention to that and be aware.

Panel excerpt from SP4RX

Panel excerpt from SP4RX

Is there anything you’d like folks to know about that you are currently doing?

It depends upon when you think this post will go up. There’s Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend.

I can push things up and get this out by Friday. I’d love to go to CAB. I have my own book I’m working on that is very much science fiction oriented. It’s about the science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. His career and life’s journey has a very intriguing arc. He began with writing the story for the Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven” and crescendoed with co-writing the novel that was the basis for the cult classic, “Logan’s Run.”

Oh, yeah, that movie has a nice sci-fi cheesy quality.

Well, the thing with George was that he kept to his set of values and the integrity of his storytelling. “Logan’s Run” is an example of a big studio having its own ideas on what the story should be. It’s totally fun though and I think a remake would be great. The original novel is very different. I think you’d enjoy it.

I will check it out.

Comic Arts Brooklyn

Comic Arts Brooklyn

But getting back to CAB.

Yes, I will be at Comic Arts Brooklyn this Saturday, November 5th. You can find me downstairs at Table D31. So, come by and say hello! And I have a new mini-comic that will debut at CAB and then be available on my site which is called, “Dirt Dart,” a 12-page story about a soldier lost on another planet.

Well, it’s been fun talking with you, Wren. I know that you’re having the time of your life.

Yes, staying busy!

Thanks so much, Wren.

Thank you, Henry. When you’re in New York, stop by and we can have a drink.

Will do.

You can listen to the interview by clicking the link below. I did not make any edits so you’ll pick up on some slight differences from the transcription which is a smoother read. One thing to mention here is that I was not aware of the title, SP4RX, being pronounced “Sparks.” I must have been firmly in the mindset of George Lucas and his 1971 classic, THX 1138:

SP4RX is out now. Find it at Nobrow Press right here. Visit Wren McDonald right here. And, if you are in the New York City metro area, be sure to visit Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend. Visit CAB right here.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Comic Arts Brooklyn, Comics, Cyberpunk, George Clayton Johnson, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Interviews, Logan's Run, New York City, Nobrow Press, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Comics Journal, Wren McDonald

DVD Review: STAR TREK BEYOND

“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) PARAMOUNT PICTURES

“STAR TREK: BEYOND” (2016) PARAMOUNT PICTURES

The latest Star Trek movie pulls us in with great ferocity and it never lets go. “Star Trek Beyond” makes an excellent case for the franchise as it celebrates its 50th anniversary going back to the original television program. With the third in the new Star Trek movies, first launched by director J.J. Abrams, we have reached a point where we can afford a touch more subtlety. And, having explored the Kirk/Spock dynamic rather thoroughly, it’s a good change of pace to turn a bit more focus this time around to Scotty. Yes, Simon Pegg, as Scotty, comes away one of the big winners this time around. Pegg co-wrote the script and, it may come as no surprise, he found a lot of new wrinkles in which to place his character.

By and large, this latest Star Trek film continues with an action-heavy plot. What it tries to do is deliver on some of the less flashy aspects to the franchise and it does a fairly good job of that. You do get a generous amount of banter between the characters. You do get thrills and plot twists. But, even more than action, what a movie franchise of this caliber can always use, considering its stellar cast and resources, is more compelling content. Ease up on the warp drive, breathe in and out, and allow the story and the characters to engage with the audience. But, hold on, I do think this movie is quite engaging and it is not without its thoughtful moments.

Now, this is what is going on right. First, you’ll have a good time with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. He’s grown with the character. He remains very credible, the guy you want to follow and root for. You get every bit of gravitas you’d expect as Kirk rallies his crew: “We’ve come to understand there is no such thing as the unknown, only the temporarily hidden.” Early in, we follow Kirk down a corridor during a quiet moment. He ponders to himself, “The more time we spend out here, the harder it is to tell when one day ends and the next one begins. It can be a challenge to feel grounded even when gravity is artificial.” Ah, those are the type of nuanced moments of reflection we want. Actually, a little more in and we have a marvelous exchange between Kirk and Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) over some bourbon they found in Chekov’s locker.

What J.J. Abrams aimed for all along was a high wow factor. And that is definitely in place here. It’s very useful to critique a movie within context. That said, as far a providing an all-ages wow factor, this movie is off the charts. Honestly, a lot of what we want is an ultimate razzle dazzle contemporary version of the original show. This is exactly the sort of thing that a big studio is designed to do. The opening sequence, for example, is the gold standard. Kirk walks into an exotic looking chamber. High above is a council of elders made up of imposing gargoyles. Kirk thinks he’s there for a simple ceremony until he’s subjected to harsh questioning by the tribal leader. Things turn ugly and CGI mayhem ensues. It has just the right touch of humor, Kirk swagger, and element of surprise.

This movie is definitely not to be taken for granted. At the end of the day, yes, this is an adventure with an imposing villain, Krall (Idris Elba), and his legion of deadly fighters. You can count on the original show on steroids in that regard. But there’s more to it as well. Running throughout all three latest installments is a grounded storyline: Spock (Zachary Quinto) struggles with survivor’s guilt after his home planet of Vulcan was destroyed. And he finds in Lt. Urhua (Zoe Saldana) a compelling human connection. Perhaps more powerful than his connection to Kirk. We seek a good balance in these kind of movies and, overall, this Star Trek movie delivers. And, if we keep asking for more, that’s alright. This is Star Trek we’re talking about after all.

“Star Trek Beyond” is available on DVD and Blu-ray as of November 1st. And, if you’re a Seattle local, you can always stop by Video Isle and pick up a DVD or Blu-ray rental at Seattle’s best video rental store. Visit them right HERE. And visit them on Facebook right HERE.

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Filed under pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek, Video Isle

Review: CYBER REALM and SP4RX by Wren McDonald

Panel from SP4RX

Panel from SP4RX

I headed over to one of my favorite perches, Victrola Cafe on 15th, and started to read some comics. Okay, let me say this: Wren McDonald is one of the coolest cartoonists around. He likes to send time in cyberspace and he takes his readers along for the ride.

CYBER REALM, by Wren McDonald

CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald

We will start with McDonald’s CYBER REALM, which came out last year, published by Nobrow. And we will ease our way into the newer work out this year by McDonald, SP4RX, also published by Nobrow.

Reading CYBER REALM

Reading CYBER REALM

The short graphic story, CYBER REALM, is very action packed with tons of irony. Our hero, Nicholas was just minding his own business when thugs sent by The Master terrorize his home. Nicholas is from The Mortal Realm and must serve The Master from The Cyber Realm. But, when Nicholas does not have the extortion money that’s demanded of him, his son his killed and he’s torn apart and left to die. Pretty bloody grim!

Page from CYBER REALM

Page from CYBER REALM

Lucky for Nick, a bunch of robots rescue him and turn him into a badass cyborg. We’re now locked into an extreme revenge tale with Nick blasting into the Cyber Realm on his relentless quest for The Master. Thanks to a light whimsical touch from McDonald, this heavy-duty tale does not get too dark and moves along quite nicely. This 24-page comic is part of the Nobrow 17×23 series that showcases new talent and helps set the stage for larger works, which brings us to the graphic novel, SP4RX.

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

SP4RX by Wren McDonald

SP4RX has all the bells and whistles in all the right places. This 116-page graphic novel is a full-bodied cyberpunk adventure that would make William Gibson and Philip K. Dick proud. It’s a story that doesn’t forget to save the cat. There is plenty of heart all the way through. We even have McDonald’s take on our obsession with personifying droids in the spirit of R2-D2. And that only works because we have other lively characters to play off of–some human, some cyborg. After all, this is science fiction.

Reading SP4RX

Reading SP4RX

This is a straight-up common people against the elites plot spiked with an impressive helping of original humor and action. Our hero, SP4RX is your basic hacker for hire. The only problem is that he’s exceptionally good at what he does so he ends up working with some pretty high-powered sorts–and with that can come some pretty high-powered trouble. SP4RX finds himself smack in the middle of the conflict between the rebel forces and the evil all-powerful state. His only hope is that he can do the right thing despite his selfish inclinations.

The general public, also known simply as “lower levels,” has been lulled into accepting Elpis, a cure-all that boosts energy to superhuman levels. But the Elpis program proves to only serve the purposes of those in power. All souped-up on Elpis, the public feverishly increases its performance at work and abandons its humanity. Enter our hero SP4RX to this quirky dystopian tale.

Page from SP4RX

Page from SP4RX

McDonald’s light-hearted cartoony style belies the story’s serious cyberpunk undertones in an uncanny and engrossing way. The way McDonald plays with scale and pacing is masterful. He creates thrilling and immersive scenes that see our characters dodging bullets, running down alleyways, and leaping off ledges—and that includes some artfully rendered interludes into cyberspace. Wren McDonald has created a perfect mashup here of humor and sci-fi.

Nobrow is an excellent publisher focusing on books for all ages. CYBER REALM and SP4RX are suitable for older readers, tween and up. And, as I hope you can tell from my reviews, adults will thoroughly enjoy both of these works too. Visit Nobrow right here.

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Filed under Comics, Cyberpunk, Nobrow Press, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Wren McDonald