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Interview: Kerry O’Quinn and the World of Fandom

Kerry O'Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Kerry O’Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Kerry O’Quinn is the co-creator and publisher of STARLOG, FANGORIA, CINEMAGIC, FUTURE LIFE, COMICS SCENE and more than a dozen other monthly newsstand magazines. Mr. O’Quinn is featured in an upcoming documentary on fandom, FROM THE BRIDGE, written and directed by Spencer F. Lee and hosted by George Takei. It was my pleasure to get a chance to interview Kerry. Here is someone who tapped into the world of fandom as if he were born to do so. O’Quinn and his partner Norman Jacobs got their start by creating and publishing a soap opera magazine in 1972. By 1976, they were ready to pursue publications aligned with their passions for genre cinema, television, and related pop culture.

Kerry O'Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG  and  FANGORIA

Kerry O’Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG and FANGORIA

Starlog and Fangoria are the flagship publications from that golden era. Starlog was launched in 1976. Fangoria was launched in 1979 and continues in its great tradition of covering the horror scene. These are the prime publications, along with Cinemagic, that would go on to influence thousands of creative people including many of the most celebrated talents working today like J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. Before the internet, you got your in depth information on the entertainment industry from magazines. One cannot stress enough how significant Starlog and Fangoria were in their heyday.

Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979

Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979

Kerry O’Quinn would go on to celebrate the worlds of science fiction, horror, comic books, and fandom in various ways. Some of the most notable are his conventions that paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of Star Wars, the 20th anniversary of Star Trek, and the 20th anniversary of Starlog. It was during the 10th anniversary celebration of Star Wars that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas would share a stage for the first and only time together. How was such a marvelous feat accomplished? Well, Kerry O’Quinn was friends with both of these legends. It was Kerry O’Quinn who landed an exclusive in depth interview with George Lucas that was so comprehensive that it spanned three issues of Starlog.

Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars

Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars

Over the years, Kerry O’Quinn has proven himself to be a man of many talents consistently exploring and creating new work. He has become an accomplished screenwriter with a number of projects including “Dragworms,” his unique take on zombies which is actually more character-driven than just blood and guts. What strikes me about Kerry O’Quinn is his energy and determination to pursue his dreams. I can relate to him on many levels. We’re both from Texas. We both love New York. We both juggle a number of passions: writing, drawing, acting, filmmaking. I think some people are just wired to need to do many things and will find ways to realize each goal over the course of a lifetime. That’s what is special about Kerry O’Quinn. That said, he’d be the first to say it is well within reach for everyone to follow their dreams. For more details on his remarkable life and his observations, check out his website here.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Kerry, I want to chat with you about fandom, and the upcoming documentary that you are featured in, “From the Bridge,” and cover as much as we can about your remarkable career. I want to begin by giving a shout out to your friend, Kurt Edward Larson. He conducted such a beautiful and heartfelt interview with you.

KERRY O’QUINN: Kurt and I have known each other for a long time and have a lot of fun things in common. Kurt is such a Star Wars fan–and, when he got married several years ago, I wondered about what to get him–a toaster? a blender? No, what he would want was a day at Skywalker Ranch. I arranged that. He and his wife had lunch there and got a tour of the ranch. So, he was in heaven!

I was talking to a buddy of mine about doing this interview and we got to speculating over the long lines for Star Wars on the very first day of release. We were just kids when it came out. I started to think about how Jaws had attracted long lines too a couple of years prior. From your special vantage point, Starlog was already on the scene having come out in 1976, would you share with us your take on the explosion of excitement over Star Wars in 1977?

It was phenomenal timing. My partner, Norm Jacobs, and I had launched Starlog magazine in 1976, the Bicentennial year. At that time, there was no science fiction that was alive and happening. It was all stuff from the past that was being consumed. You know, stuff from the 1950s, the movies made by George Pal. Those movies were popular with nerds like me. But they weren’t going to win any Academy Awards or get any mainstream cheers of any kind. It was considered trash, like daytime soap operas. Horror movies, stuff like that, was not taken seriously.

Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977

Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977

When we started the magazine, there wasn’t anything like it like there is today. And we had great difficulty starting the magazine for that reason. But, lo and behold, the very next year Star Wars came out. All of a sudden, it made the cover of Time magazine, with exactly the same X-wing cover that we had for Starlog. So, suddenly science fiction was at least getting noticed by a mainstream audience all over the world. It has gone on to become an important part of the culture in the same way that Star Trek has. And in the same way that horror and superheroes have. It’s very trendy today to be a nerd. It wasn’t 40 years ago.

I remember when I first met George Lucas. He was telling me about having lunch one day at Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Boulevard. And it was right across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He said that he looked across and he saw lines of people. He asked what was going on. And a friend told him that it was his movie that was playing. It didn’t occur to George that huge lines were gathering along the sidewalk for his movie. He was delightfully surprised by the enormous fan reaction to his movie as all the rest of us were.

It was when Star Wars lit up the sky like it did that Starlog went from a quarterly to a monthly magazine. Indeed, we were already there. Starlog was the voice of science fiction. And George launched the science fiction that is very much alive and booming today.

That scene with the long lines, that’s in your interview with George Lucas.

For our Star Wars fifth anniversary issue, I had called to arrange an interview with George Lucas. He had turned down all the big magazines. I was told that he wasn’t doing any interviews but I begged and pleaded. George agreed. I flew out from New York to visit him. This was before he had build Skywalker Ranch. I did an lengthy interview with him in which he told me all kinds of wonderful tales. We were very comfortable talking with each other. We had many of the same values and things that excited us. We talked about everything from space to technology to classic cars. We talked for hours at that first interview. In fact, it turned out to be too much for one issue so I turned into three consecutive parts spanning three issues of Starlog. I believe it is the longest interview anyone has ever done with George Lucas.

Starlog, Issue One, August 1976

Starlog, Issue One, August 1976

Share with us your insights on how Star Trek became a phenomena, after having struggled in the ratings when it was originally broadcast.

It did indeed struggle. In fact, after the first two years, NBC had cancelled the series. And an amazing lady by the name of Bjo Trimble and her husband, John, did something that, at the time, was phenomenal. This was back in the mid-’60s. They organized a letter writing campaign to NBC by fans that generated more than a million letters. A TV network had never received that kind of reaction to the cancellation of a show–and they were stunned by it. Don’t forget that this is before the internet. Fans contacted each other back then with mimeographed newsletters mailed to each other. And then, ten years after the first broadcast of Star Trek, there was Starlog maganzine and fans could communicate with each other through our letters forum–as well as at conventions.

Bjo had gotten a television network to renew a cancelled series. That had never happened before. What Bjo did was allow for a third season of Star Trek. However, NBC scheduled it on Friday nights, which is a dead zone for shows. So, NBC cancelled it for the second time. Everybody seemed to think science fiction was dead. But it was very much alive within this hidden fan culture. And the documentary that my friend, Spencer, is putting together covers how this fan base has grown in the last 40 years. It went from this invisible, almost ashamed, audience to what it has become today when you have 150,000 people show up at Comic-Con in San Diego each year in July. And the biggest movies today are superhero, science fiction, and horror, everything that our magazines were all about.

Star Trek is right at the root of that response, at the heart of it. Gene Roddenberry created a concept of the future that was positive and inspiring: rationality, science, and the better values of human nature would prevail. Star Trek not only inspired the original audience that tuned in for its three-year run. In syndication, Star Trek reached around the world with its universal concept that the human race can be better. Gene deserves everybody’s praise as Star Trek is one of the most inspiring things to be created in any genre. Sometimes science fiction warns us of things that we need to be careful about. And sometimes science fiction shows us that things are within our control, we can make it better, and gives us hope for the future.

I’m thinking of how Star Trek was ahead of its time and so it made sense that it would struggle in the ratings. The same is true for The Twilight Zone. Both of these shows have a lot in common. The primary thing is that they both have subtext. There was social commentary in the guise of fantasy and science fiction, very much ahead of its time–now, we take that for granted, don’t we?

We do but we still need it since we don’t have a lot of it. Even with the science fiction that we have today, with all the dazzling special effects that we didn’t have back in the ’60s. Visually, science fiction today is dazzling, uncontrollable, and amazing. Back then, the effects were kind of clunky, rubber monsters and the like, but nobody cared because–and this is certainly true about The Twilight Zone–the story talked about the issues, important values, and principles.

Science fiction does not show us the day-to-day reality but something that may exist in the future, something that could and that ought to exist. That is the noblest undertaking of art and science fiction is the best at doing that. Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry are hugely important and we featured them in the early issues of Starlog. At that time, there wasn’t any science fiction, like we know today, so for the first few years most of the content in Starlog was looking at things from the past in terms of movies and television.

Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983

Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983

You were commenting on the past but then, at some point, you were not only commenting but you were part of the industry. There’s the whole how-to aspect from Cinemagic. There was quite the evolution as you became part of the scene.

Exactly. When we began Starlog, we included everything even those things that were very loosely considered science fiction. And that included horror, and articles on special effects, and Hollywood technology workshops, all the way to NASA and the space program. As we evolved, we discovered that we had many different audiences reading our magazine. Some of these people wanted to be filmmakers. They wanted to make these movies that they loved. Therefore, we branched off and created the magazine, Cinemagic which taught young filmmakers the techniques of production and special effects. We had a short film contest each year. We gave out prizes and trophies at a big theater in New York with celebrities to present awards. Some of these award winners are working in Hollywood today.

A lot of folks, like J.J. Abrams and Robert Rodriguez were inspired by Cinemagic. Steven Spielberg, at one time, said that Cinemagic was his favorite magazine, the only magazine promoting the future of the film industry to young people who were unsure if they could recreate the amazing things that they adored on the screen.

Director/Writer Wes Craven, from "Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors" (1986)

Director/Writer Wes Craven, from “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986)

I was curious about the overlap between Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. There does not seem to have been a rivalry between you and Forry Ackerman. Famous Monsters began in 1958. Fangoria began in 1979. You have Forrest J Ackerman, the founder and editor of Famous Monsters, in your film, “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors,” which I must say is an outstanding documentary on fandom in its own right.

Thank you.

What can you tell us about Forrest J Ackerman? What did you learn from him?

He was obviously the precursor to all of our magazines. He did something very daring in his day: to do a magazine about monsters! What kind of freaks are interested in something like that? Well, it turned out that there was quite a few. Again, these people were all in the closet, so to speak. They bought the magazine but they didn’t have any social status whatsoever. They were outcasts. They were unusual. That was me. That was a lot of people. Our magazine brought people out of the closet. I met Forry many years ago, at a convention, and immediately we had a lot in common. We became friends and we remained friends, it makes me sad to talk about it…I was with him just a few days before he died. He was still in good spirits and still telling me jokes.

From "Fangoria's Weekend  of Horrors" (1986) segment with Forrest J. Ackerman

From “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986) segment with Forrest J Ackerman

Forry was such an important person in my world and he became a very dear friend. I actually went over to his old home out here in L.A. years ago, which was called the Ackermansion. And it was a museum of props and artwork and all kinds of things that he collected from these strange movies that no one gave enough credit to but that he knew that it was an important part of the culture that should be saved and preserved. And there still is no permanent museum for that sort of thing. And I’m hoping that, in the near future, there will finally be a museum that recognizes and preserves science fiction, horror, superheroes, fantasy, all of the films that are now way out of the closet–and a part of mainstream culture, not just in the U.S. but world-wide.

Kerry, there are so many things we can talk about. Ayn Rand. Cannabis. More about Star Wars. There’s your book on how to chase stars, chase your dreams.

Yes, “Reach For The Stars.” It’s a book that has a lot of practical advice on how to make your distant dreams come true.

I also have to touch on your project with HBO which may still find its way back to them. It’s a Twilight Zone type of show called, “Future Tales.” Boy, that would be some show!

I agree, it would be. And it’s still a good idea. I haven’t been able to sell it to the Syfy channel even though that ought to be just the sort of show they would be interested in. I enlisted 45 of the world’s greatest science fiction writers (including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison), we signed agreements, that they would create a story or that we could use an existing story as the basis for one of our episodes. It was an anthology series all about the world of tomorrow. When HBO had me develop it, we were calling it “Future Tales.” Now, I’m calling it, “Exploring Tomorrow.”

I love that.

Me too. Who isn’t interested in tomorrow?

Exactly! You know, Kerry, I’m over the moon. We share so many connections. I’m a cartoonist.

Oh, really?

Yes, and I love New York.

Oh, yeah.

And I can see your early interest in cartooning probably having to do with being able to control the whole production and allowing your vision to run free.

That also carried over into animation. In New York, years ago, I was so impressed with Disney and his multiplane animation that created three-dimensional pictures. I got a bunch of plumbing pipes and I built my own multiplane animation stand in my apartment in New York. At the time, my dream was to create a little film that was so damn good that I’d send it out to Disney and he’d have me come out to work for him. That was my dream: to work for Walt Disney! Now, it never did happen and I clearly changed my mind since then but I did produce a few short films on that animation stand. I still love animation, and illustration–that was my original career. I’ve done so many things since then that I have a resume that looks like I’m schizophrenic.

Well, I wish you and Spencer the very best with “From the Bridge.” I’m excited about it and I’m sure it will find a wide audience.

It’s going to be very popular with the fan community–because it’s all about them. And the power that they have grown to hold in the last few decades.

I interviewed George Clayton Johnson a number of times–a science fiction writer and big supporter of fans–and he always brought up people power. In the end, it is the fans who matter the most.

Absolutely. I’m going to do a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo (newly renamed Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) here in L.A. next month with Bjo and John Trimble and my friend, Tom DeSanto, who produced X-Men and Transformers, and we’re going to talk about fandom. That’s what it’s all about.

Well, very beautiful. Thank you so much, Kerry.

You’re very welcome, Henry. I always enjoy talking about what I enjoy most of all.

Here is the podcast interview to listen to. Just click below and enjoy:

Check in with Kerry O’Quinn at his website here. If you are in Los Angeles on October 28-30, come see Kerry and enjoy some pop culture fun at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con. You can find details on that right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comics, Fandom, Forrest J Ackerman, Geeks, Horror, Kerry O'Quinn, movies, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek, Star Wars, Starlog

Review: COSPLAYERS by Dash Shaw

COSPLAYERS by Dash Shaw

COSPLAYERS by Dash Shaw

Dash Shaw‘s work keeps moving the ball forward regarding comics as an art form. With his new graphic novel, “Cosplayers,” Shaw provides us with a delightful look at the clash between the real and the unreal. The book promises to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the world of cosplay. Ostensibly, this is a collection of stories that add up to a tableaux of geek life. All that can be taken with a grain of salt. A hallmark of Shaw’s work is that he keeps you on your toes wondering about everything: the characters, the plot, the theme, the comics medium.

Meet Verti and Annie. They are taking a year off between graduating high school and going off to college. During that year, they just want to do what they want to do which involves cosplay and making videos. Annie is white. Verti is black. Both girls see themselves as unconventional in every way: looks, goals, and attitude. Shaw wants you to know that these two are a couple of misfits. But you are not supposed to know too much about Annie and Verti beyond the basic fact that they’re callow and bratty. Shaw’s aim is to provide you with two main characters that are disconnected from everything, including the reader.

Annie and Verti ask that you keep your distance.

Annie and Verti ask that you keep your distance.

Shaw is one of our more intellectual cartoonists, always looking for a tripwire to the narrative flow. So, don’t expect him to provide a straightforward guide to the world of fandom and cosplay. He is mostly interested in playing with characters from one scene to the next and more evoking a way of life than following a story’s arc or presenting specific information. When he does focus on a character’s feelings it can fall a little flat, as when Verti is remorseful for the way she and Annie have been pranking people. That said, for the sake of balance, that is a pivotal moment since Annie has a high tolerance for being hateful.

Channeling Osamu Tezuka

Channeling Osamu Tezuka

But you’re not supposed to get too close to Annie or Verti–or any of these characters, right? Just when you think you might have found a sympathetic character who you can trust, Shaw will yank you awake. You’re getting soft on Baxter, the expert on Osamu Tezuka? Well, think again, he’s a fool! Now, hold on, you think the kind and gentle comic book store owner is someone to put on a pedestal? Nope, you can knock that pedestal to the ground. After this comic book nerd gives Annie some of his most prized comics, she goes home and cuts them up to shreds. Ouch, how’s that for a wake-up call?

In the spirit of French new wave cinema, led by the work of Jean-Luc Godard, you can see this comic as a ship of fools out to sea. Each character has their own agenda, their own axe to grind, but no one really seems to know what they’re doing. With these lost souls engaging in the make-believe world of cosplay, Shaw has set up a perfect vehicle to explore issues of identity and self-empowerment. By initially coming across as presenting a random set of acts (Annie and Verti engaged in endless video pranks) Shaw lures us into a deeper exploration. It all adds up to something quite fascinating, with a French vibe.

“Cosplayers” is a 116-page full color hardcover, published by Fantagraphics Books. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comics, Cosplay, Dash Shaw, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Osamu Tezuka, Satire

Interview: Spencer F. Lee and FROM THE BRIDGE

Spencer F. Lee, Stan Lee, and Kerry O'Quinn

Spencer F. Lee, Stan Lee, and Kerry O’Quinn

“I started writing when I was eleven. I didn’t start writing at age eleven because I thought I was going to become a movie director. I did it because I enjoyed it. I fed off the movies I was watching and the comic books I was reading.”

–Spencer F. Lee, writer/director of FROM THE BRIDGE

FROM THE BRIDGE is a documentary that looks at the career of Kerry O’Quinn, one of the leading figures in fandom, and explores in depth the rich and exciting world of science fiction, comic books, and horror–and the fans who love it. At this point, those fans include a vast number. But it wasn’t always that evident. With this new documentary, due out in 2017, writer/director Spencer F. Lee shares with you his childhood passion that has blossomed into a deep understanding of some of today’s leading forms of entertainment.

FROM THE BRIDGE, directed and written by Spencer F. Lee, executive producers George Noe and Spencer F. Lee, produced by Philip Nelson, and hosted on-screen by George Takei, is a feature film documentary that tells the story of how fans worldwide have “come out of geekdom’s closet” in the last 40 years, largely nurtured and encouraged by Kerry O’Quinn. Having the opportunity to interview both Spencer F. Lee as well as Kerry O’Quinn, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for what this film will mean to an audience. The film features interviews with Stan Lee, Bryan Singer, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Nichelle Nichols, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Fuller, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more.

The full podcast interview with Spencer F. Lee is right below. Just click the link:

Up next is my interview with Kerry O’Quinn, co-founder of such landmark magazines as Starlog and Fangoria.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, Fandom, Fangoria, Geek Culture, Geeks, Horror, Kerry O'Quinn, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Spencer F. Lee, Star Trek, Star Wars, Starlog

Review: SEVEN TO ETERNITY #1

seventoeternity-image-comics-jpg

Image Comics reports that, in order to keep up with overwhelming customer demand, it is sending SEVEN TO ETERNITY #1, written by Rick Remender, drawn by Jerome Opeña, and colored by Matt Hollingsworth, back for a second printing on the same day as the issue’s release. And that makes total sense. This is the just the sort of quirky, weird, action-packed comic that will excite many readers. This is the tale of Adam Osidis, one reluctant hero confronting, The Mud King, one scary evil ruler. Both characters are up for a fight–or perhaps a discreet understanding of some sort.

Welcome to the kingdom of Zhal, ruled by The Mud King, officially known as The God of Whispers. How this works is left sort of mysterious. Part of it has to do with The Mud King having cast a spell on all of the kingdom’s inhabitants. Much weighs upon whether or not someone will take up The Mud King’s offer, whatever that may be. Under no circumstances would Adam’s father bend his knee and accept any offer from The Mud King. That did not work out so well for Zebadiah Osidis. There is a whole village in exile hiding in the mountains because of Zebadiah Osidis’s defiance. So, maybe Adam can figure something out.

This is definitely one of those big deal titles right up there with the likes of Jonathan Hickman’s celebrated Image Comics series, EAST OF WEST. This new breakout hit reunites the creative team behind Uncanny X-Force. You have all the depth and texture of a story you can really sink your teeth into. There is so much referred to and implied here to keep a series roaring for years. That said, we have a steady and compelling narrative unfolding. We’re in good hands with Adam, our reluctant yet cunning young hero.

SEVEN TO ETERNITY #1 is available as of September 21st. For more details, visit Image Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, fantasy, Image Comics, Jonathan Hickman, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: THE STRANGER by Jacques Ferrandez

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

Meursault and Raymond Sintes entered into an ill-fated friendship.

It has been a number of years since I read the 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Reading Jacques Ferrandez’s graphic novel adaptation, I was struck by all the details I had forgotten. It also helped me to appreciate the parts to this story that can be considered existential and the rest that falls more into philosophy of the absurd. The main character in “The Stranger” is a young and indifferent man, Meursault. He is in the tradition of such characters as Kafka’s meek Gregor Samsa or Melville’s nebbish Bartleby. For Meursault, there are no rules to follow and nothing really matters. That’s not to say one can’t make their way in the world and be decent about it. But there’s nothing in Meursault’s mode of living to motivate him to make any great effort. And then a calamitous chain of events deliver him his comeuppance. Ferrandez brings all this to life in a way that adds to the reading of the original novel.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

A young man with plenty on his mind.

Ferrandez favors a more painterly and economical approach to creating graphic novels. Throughout the book, he has paintings floating behind the panels. Elements of the watercolor artwork are mirrored back in the panels. The drawings are quick and simplified, kept light, while also providing substance. I see a lot of interesting play with character development. Marie Cardona, Meursault’s girlfriend is depicted as lovely and ethereal but also warm and concerned about Meursault. Then there’s Raymond Sintes, the unsavory fellow who leads Meursault astray. And, finally, there’s Meursault who Ferrandez is careful to depict with just the right mix of arrogance, vacancy, and idealism. Originally published in French by Gallimard in 2013, this new 2016 edition is published by Pegasus Books. The English translation by Sandra Smith is completely in sync and offers a smooth connection to the artwork.

Jacques Ferrandez's "The Stranger," published by Pegasus Books

Jacques Ferrandez’s “The Stranger,” published by Pegasus Books

After a good long while of playing with words and pictures, a cartoonist knows how to conjure up what matters most. It is remarkable to see how Jacques Ferrandez has made this landmark novel his own, confronting its ambiguity. There’s an added sense of effortless spontaneity running throughout which is, certainly, a result of a great deal of planning and foresight. I have to hand it to him for consistently finding ways to combine his desire for pure painting, and uninterrupted imagery, within the comics narrative framework of panels. You really do need panels and/or some way to keep the story coherent. Ferrandez makes the process look easy and natural. And, again I must stress, he provides a refreshing take on our lost soul, Meursault. It is a pleasure to behold.

“The Stranger” is a 144-page full color hardcover, published by Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Albert Camus, Comics, Existentialism, French Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Jacques Ferrandez, Pegasus Books

Review: PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

Evoking a Quiet Moment

A quiet moment.

Evoking a quiet moment is one of the most natural and satisfying things to do as a cartoonist. A story takes shape. A conflict. A conversation. Before long, a compelling story unfolds like Cyril Pedrosa’s “Portugal,” published by Europe Comics. Sometimes what is not said is as important as what is said. Pedrosa plays with the spaces in between words. This is the story of Simon, a young man struggling to find his place in the world despite the fact it would appear that he has everything in place: a loving mate to share a life with, a promising future in his chosen career, and the potential for lifelong stability. But Simon does not see it that way at all.

A conflict. Simon is a man who still feels he is only a boy–or a young man with much to learn. Simon is at that age when life has taken root from all directions but he is not ready to settle down. He must either break free or reassess his current state–do something instead of just vacillate. Pedrosa has created a perfect depiction of a Peter Pan syndrome: Simon refuses to grow up. Of course, Simon must grow up in some sense since he’s miserable. Claire, his longtime girlfriend, has been beyond patient with him. The clock is ticking but nothing is moving forward for Simon. Not the most inspiring or likable of main characters, right? Ah, but this is the stuff of life. This is a compelling story told in words and pictures by a master cartoonist. It also happens to be loosely based upon the author’s own self-journey. In 2006, at age 33, Pedrosa had his own reassessing to do.

A conflict.

A conflict.

A conversation. And then another. Pedrosa does a beautiful job of exploring Simon’s struggle even when his main character is the least cooperative, either hovering or drowning. There seems to always be someone open to pursuing a conversation with him not the least of which is Claire, Simon’s beautiful but beleaguered girlfriend. Nothing seems to get through to Simon. In one scene, Claire literally spells it out for Simon. If only he were to say that he wishes her to stay, she would stay with him. Simon has perfected his way of coping with the world: as little movement as possible; as few words as possible. In this case, with Claire, he chooses to remain silent. It is a moment that rings so true during the process of a breakup. Sometimes, one must read between the lines–or no lines.

A conversation.

A conversation.

Another conversation. And then another. If there is one thing Simon needs most, it is to talk and Pedrosa throws his main character into numerous opportunities to do just that. In fact, Simon, stumbles upon what will save him during a visit to a comics festival in Lisbon, Portugal. It is an chance for Simon to socialize with his fellow cartoonists as well as with the public. The interaction invigorates Simon.

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa

It takes Simon a while to put two and two together. The reason that his Portugal visit enlivened him was that it gave him time to consider his Portuguese roots on his father’s side of the family. The third act to this graphic novel finds Simon finally turning to family after having remained in his own isolated bubble for so many years. While being around family alone won’t solve his problems, and may cause new ones, it does help Simon find some answers. With some luck and a new will to live, Simon may very well find himself no longer the boy in the bubble. Pedrosa provides you with an exquisitely paced narrative able to pause for quiet moments and sustain the delicate rhythms of human interaction.

Here is a trailer for the book:

Sometimes, as Pedrosa puts it, a story’s journey must go through a labyrinth. Pedrosa, in his own words, shares the process of making the book:

If you are going to the Small Press Expo in Maryland, the Brooklyn Book Festival, or are in New York City, be sure to catch Cyril Pedrosa during his North American book tour in support of PORTUGAL, published by Europe Comics, and EQUINOXES, published by NBM. On Monday, September 12th, you can see Pedrosa in conversation with Bill Kartalopoulos and Gabrielle Bell at Albertine bookstore. For details, click the image below:

U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa

U.S. Book Tour for Cyril Pedrosa

PORTUGAL by Cyril Pedrosa is a 261-page hardcover in full color. For more details, visit Europe Comics right here. You can also find PORTUGAL at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Cyril Pedrosa, Europe Comics, European Comics, Gabrielle Bell, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, NBM, NBM Publishing, Small Press Expo, SPX

Review: THE OSAMU TEZUKA STORY by Toshio Ban

Osamu Tezuka, as a boy, shows promise.

Osamu Tezuka, as a boy, shows promise.

“The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime,” by Toshio Ban, published by Stone Bridge Press, is a work in manga fit for one of the greatest manga artists ever, Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989). Manga is a very particular experience and much can get lost in translation. One key trait to manga is that time constraints often go out the window, the format embraces extended scenes. I like this approach and find it can be quite effective in setting a mood. Like any other technique, it can be overdone. I thought this to myself as I began to undertake this behemoth of book clocking in at 928 pages. Could it have benefited from some restraint? Well, yes and no. Overall, I highly recommend it on many levels. It provides much needed context and general information. And, in the end, there is an enthusiastic spark throughout that lifts the reader.

Manga is inextricably linked to a different world view, as opposed to most Western comics. We Americans, even the most seasoned readers among us, have been conditioned to more tightly edited work. You just need to come into reading this biography with the same spirit you would approach a gloriously sprawling foreign film. Yes, expect to find many detailed scenes with the little boy Osamu. And, yes, expect various detailed scenes of Osamu, the man, at his drafting table.

Osamu Tezuka in his prime.

Osamu Tezuka in his prime.

Who exactly was Osamu Tezuka? you may ask. In the United States, Osamu Tezuka is not as well known as he could be. But, in Japan, he ranks as high as, say, Charles M. Schulz does in America. There is every reason to believe that Tezuka could become as beloved an artist as Schulz. And that adds to the importance of this biography. In America, a certain number of enthusiasts know Tezuka for his landmark Buddha series. In Japan, Tezuka is also celebrated for Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. Also covered in this book is Tezuka’s trailblazing work in animation. It is no exaggeration to say that Japan’s manga and anime owes greatly to the work of Osamu Tezuka.

Working for Osamu Tezuka

Working for Osamu Tezuka proves challenging.

Among the memorable detailed accounts: Tezuka, up to his ears in work, is literally fleeing anxious editors from various publications hounding him to meet his deadlines. The King of Manga, hiding out in hotel rooms from publishers, with the press not far behind, became a veritable cause célèbre. At the height of so many conflicting deadlines piling up on him, Tezuka had to devise various systems to cut down the time-consuming process of creating manga. This included hiring a team of assistants. The poor devils were left to do various bits of piece work without a clue as to what would ultimately go where. This would be just a taste of what it would be like once Tezuka began to work in his own anime studio.

You are in for a treat. Yes, here you are dealing with a mammoth book. Take it bit by bit and you will be rewarded. Frederik L. Schodt’s translation works smoothly with Toshio Ban’s original script and artwork which greatly emulates Tezuka’s own artwork. This is indeed a treasure trove. The original work was published in 1992, three years after Tezuka’s death. It originally came out as three books: Osamu to Osamushi (1928-1945), Dreams of Manga (1945-1959), and Dreams of Anime (1960-1989). With that in mind, it is more reasonable to see how we ended up with such a big book. I think a graphic novel should be as long as it needs to be. Some 300-pagers could easily be half as long. But, in this case, here is a story that is well justified in spreading out as much as it needed to.

"The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime," by Toshio Ban

“The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime,” by Toshio Ban

THE OSAMU TEZUKA STORY is a 928-page trade paperback, published by Stone Bridge Press. Visit them right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under animation, Anime, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Japan, Manga, Osamu Tezuka

Review: LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

LAID WASTE by Julia Gfrörer

Julia Gfrörer‘s ethereal comics are a perfect counterbalance to our world of memes and jittery nonsense. There are certainly a number of notable artists and writers who have carved out for themselves an intriguing landscape, an answer or a retreat from the everyday. Julia Gfrörer is one such person. What she does astonishes and resonates: those blank stares from eyes without pupils; all the delicious longing and despair; and that distinctive haunting feeling running throughout. Well, if you dig that, then you are going to be head over heels for her latest work, “Laid Waste,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

Like many a great cartoonist, Gfrörer takes what she does seriously, takes it to heart. I dare say that we see her inhabit her own comics more often than not. And that’s perfectly fine. When one undertakes a longer work, even a short piece, one needs to establish some hooks. Nothing is more natural than to include one’s self. So, that said, I suspect that Gfrörer is Agnès, our main character, a young woman at odds with circumstance and fate. She is in a medieval hamlet as she watches everyone around her succumb to the plague. She has supernatural powers but seems at a loss as to what to do with them.

Panels from LAID WASTE

Panels from LAID WASTE

Gfrörer has established herself over a relatively short time as a masterful storyteller with a distinctive gothic style. I have followed her work with great admiration. She is following in the footsteps of a select group of cartoonists with similar sensibilities. Edward Gorey comes to mind. A contemporary for Gfrörer would be the equally bookish visionary, Kate Beaton.

Along with a gothic vision, Gfrörer is quick to emphasize the theme of pain. In her new book, Agnès suffers greatly. She only sees gloom ahead. Only a brief sexual respite provides some relief. It is one of the more compelling unions I’ve seen in a good while. It is not explicit, per se. We only see the tip of a penis. There is room to explore and she strikes the right balance: a heady mix of passion and angst. For that moment, all the surrounding darkness can just go to hell. Afterwards, once alone again, the pain returns.

This book has been categorized as a “graphic novella.” Sure, you can call it that. The page count of about 80 pages would safely keep it within the range of a proper “graphic novel,” especially by European standards. What takes place within this story might have it qualify more as a vignette than a full-bodied narrative. It is certainly possible to pull together decades of activity, bring in generations of characters, from far-flung locales–all within 80 pages–and have that more in line with the idea of a graphic novel. In the case of this story, we are concentrating on a very special character with remarkable traits in a severe and desolate place with questions of life and death before her. Sounds like a great story no matter what category you place it in. For my money, go ahead and call it a graphic novel, for God’s sake.

Page from LAID WASTE

Page from LAID WASTE

Julia Gfrörer has poised Agnès, who I am suggesting is her alter-ego, in the position of a saint, or at least a heroine. It’s a gutsy move. But the risk is worth taking. As a cartoonist myself, I can fully appreciate the desire to take control of the hero’s journey. Let the cartoonist be the hero! Why not? I see it as a totally organic process. If it works, you go with it. In this story, while seeming to be modest in scope, we find a main character engaged in a full arc of growth. It is, at times cryptic, and, to be sure, heroic.

There is a relentless energy to Gfrörer’s light line work. It is delicate, determined and well-balanced. She keeps to a steady pace. She aspires to poetic heights and reaches them. The narrative does well within a four panel grid per page. This consistent framework complements the story and has a way of catching subtle shifts. There are moments like an abrupt appearance by Death that get a extra magical pop from taking place within this four panel system that can act as a stage. Gfrörer’s work can be called dramatic but it is never merely theatrical. That said, I would surely welcome a play, or maybe a set design, by Julia Gfrörer.

“Laid Waste” is an 80-page trade paperback, published by Fantagraphics Books, available as of November 1st. You can pre-order now at Fantagraphics Books right here. You can also find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Julia Gfrörer

Review: MAN-SHRIMP LIVES! (On Kickstarter thru 9/8)

MAN-SHRIMP LIVES! by Wesley Dickson

MAN-SHRIMP LIVES! by Wesley Dickson

Here is a special review of “Man-Shrimp Lives!” A Kickstarter campaign in support of this 74-page full color graphic novel is going on thru 9/8. You can find it right here.

This is a very silly comic on a very twisted existential jag. I have to hand it to writer/artist Wesley Dickson for stoking the fires to his absurd and surreal work. We begin with a Man-Shrimp in search of new souls to eat him in order for him to live through them. One misadventure leads to another as we make our way through the whole animal kingdom. Yes, rest assured, there is also a Man-Gorilla, a Man-Lion, a Man-Giraffe, and so on.

Strange creatures, besieged heroes, undersea adventures, ramen noodle soup, and TENTACLES!!

Strange creatures, besieged heroes, undersea adventures, ramen noodle soup, and TENTACLES!!

This comic truly makes one’s head spin but that’s Dickson’s intention. There are some nice extended moments like a detailed ode to the contents of ramen. And there is a logical plot at play here too. For me, however, I enjoy this comic most in the spirit of the work of such entertainers as Andy Kaufman and Sacha Baron Cohen where the joke or point of the story is elusive or irrelevant. What matters most is that you can’t help but stick around. This is wacky weird fun stuff.

I hear Man-Shrimp is pretty good in a nice gumbo. Give it a try. You may come back for seconds. Catch the Kickstarter campaign going on thru 9/8 right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Humor, Kickstarter

Seattle Focus: MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Once a toy has become an artifact of childhood, it has reached a very special place. For the purposes of this exhibit, a look at American toys spanning three decades, the focus is upon the joy and comfort these toys provided. The context is both simple and complex as viewers are invited to study the various exhibits from their own personal point of view. Did you have a happy childhood? If not, maybe a toy helped you along the way? Sectioned off into three decades worth of childhoods, there is plenty to recollect and reassess.

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is enjoying its West Coast premiere on display at MOHAI here in Seattle. Originating from the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit asks you to revisit many toys that, by today’s standards, would not be deemed suitable for children on many grounds, including common sense safety! Lawn darts, anyone?? Yep, we don’t see lawn darts sold in today’s toy market. They’re basically sharp steel projectiles. They’re not going to cut it, or rather, they ARE going to cut it! But, you see, lawn darts have a home here–on display only. Lawn darts are not subject to recall within the bounds of this exhibit. They are here to conjure up good lawn dart memories, for those who have them. And they’re also here as a subject for discussion. As much as this exhibit is a trip down memory lane, it also invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

What are your thoughts on Barbie dolls or toy guns? You’ll find them here ready for your marvel or scrutiny. The point is that you’ll find all sorts of toys, whether or not they pass today’s safety or societal tests. The overwhelming nature of childhood memory takes over. Countless kids loved their toys and now we have the nostalgia for yesteryear and contemporary perspective to guide us. You’ll find a lot of kids attracted to the exhibits. You’ll see lots of families with their toddlers, too young to appreciate any nuances but ready to grab at anything not secured. And then there are the adults who grew up in these respective decades. For them, especially, the exhibit features living room re-creations for each decade on view. For these viewers, the couch is right there to sit and go back in time with, alone or perhaps to share with younger family members.

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

Toys are certainly not easy to pin down. Toys resist being dismissed even if the originals are stored away or thrown away. Toys come at you from every direction. At a certain age, they define your leisure, your means of escape. They can become your world, your identity. They’re based upon all you think you know about the world whether from books, movies, television, just about anything. What does a choice in a toy say about a child? What does a toy say about the adult who chose it for the child? The adult who created it? The manufacturer that produced it? The country that embraced it?

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

One of the best examples of how toys can make a difference is the American reaction to the Soviet’s being the first in space in 1957 with the Sputnik satellite. That little object in space caused shockwaves in the United States. Toy makers would definitively enter the Space Age and Space Race. Hubley’s 1954 Atomic Disintegrator, right out of science fiction, was all well and good. But now was the time to step up a focus on science and technology. Amsco Industries responded in 1958 with the Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, “designed by missile engineers, tested in Cape Canaveral.” And, as the display makes clear, kids ate it up! There’s this priceless quote from the exhibit:

“How did I get interested in science and make it my life’s work? Kids in the late ’50s and ’60s could get toys that complemented that interest. My friends and I loved my Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile: Mix up some baking soda and vinegar, put it into the missile, put it on the launch pad, and pull the string. That baby could really fly.”

–Mike Smith, b. 1952, meteorologist

It was fun, as a discerning adult, to wander back and forth between the three living room areas: the wonder and innocence in the 1950s; the keen interest in science and exploration in the 1960s; and a full circle escape to wonder and innocence in the 1970s. It seemed like, after having landed on the moon, and the rise of the Vietnam War, Americans were ready to refocus. Instead of looking to actual stars, Americans were ready to go see the new blockbuster hit, “Star Wars,” entertainment with its roots in 1930s pulp fiction. They were also ready to buy all the Star Wars toys.

Hey, that's Han Solo's Millennium Falcon!

Hey, that’s Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon!

I have fond memories of the ’70s as a kid. And I recall seeing “Star Wars” in 1977, at age 14, at our local movie theater at the mall. It would not have occurred to me to buy all the Star Wars figures, let alone a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. But it was really nice to see the whole Star Wars set on display here at MOHAI. Any kid would have been thrilled to have owned them back then. But I’m sure that I owned a couple of figures. And I know that I went to see “Star Wars” more than once, despite the very long lines. I didn’t question any of it back then, although I was certainly old enough to do so. I was more than happy to accept it just as fun. I didn’t think about profit motives or the future of franchises or the American spirit. This brand new thing called “Star Wars” left you with a good feeling inside. And that’s the best thing any toy can offer.

TOYS at MOHAI!

TOYS at MOHAI!

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Childhood, Children, Comics, Education, Family, History, MOHAI, pop culture, Sci-Fi, Science, Seattle, Toys