Tag Archives: Movies

Disney Sketchbook: Samantha Vilfort

Samantha Vilfort has been a Story Artist with Disney Animation for four years, working on Ralph Breaks the Internet and Frozen 2. In this episode of Sketchbook she draws Mirabel, the star of Encanto. (Disney/Richard Harbaugh)

SKETCHBOOK: an intimate instructional documentary series featuring talented artists and animators. Disney Plus Originals. Premieres on April 27, 2022.

Sketchbook is a new behind-the-scenes series, that features Disney top artists sharing their art process in a combination of a profile and dynamic how-to-draw demonstration. In a brief interview, I chatted with one of the featured talents, Story Artist Samantha Vilfort. She recently worked on the Disney acclaimed 2021 animated feature, Encanto. For her episode of Sketchbook, Vilfort did a step-by-step character study of Encanto‘s main character, Mirabel.

Mirabel Madrigal struggles to fit in a family where everyone has been blessed with magical powers – everyone but her. Determined to prove she belongs within this extraordinary family, she strives to contribute in meaningful ways—denying to everyone, including herself, that she feels all alone, even in her own house. Opening in the U.S. on Nov. 24, 2021, “Encanto” features Stephanie Beatriz as the voice of Mirabel and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Mirabel is a kid just trying to figure things out, someone anyone can relate with. As a longtime cartoonist, I was intrigued by Vilfort’s very natural, careful and graceful approach to the character. This is an impressive demonstration that will inspire anyone interested in drawing, whether you’re totally new or a seasoned pro. During our conversation, I had to share with Samantha the drawing I did from following her instruction on Sketchbook.

It was a lot of fun drawing along with Samantha!

Samantha gained so much inspiration as a kid drawing from a Mulan how-to-draw book. So, it all comes full circle as she has a chance now to give back to fans and guide them on their creative journey. “I firmly believe that drawing is a teachable skill just like anything else,” says Samantha. “Anyone can draw–and not just stick figures!” This is something that I love to pass on to folks every chance I get! I encourage you to seek out Sketchbook on Disney Plus!

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Filed under animation, Disney, Drawing

Drawing the Meaning of Life

I direct your attention to a short film I made. My goal was to open things up and see what I might come up with in a day-in-life or a window into the creative’s mind. I had some hurdles to jump, namely creating some decent pieces of art on the fly while filming to actually show me being creative; and then it was touch and go as I worked my way up to a moment where I say something to pull it all together. YouTube provides the option to transcribe and create captions so I did that. Here are the words that I spoke, my grand soliloquy:

When we’re drawing, we create a sacred space. We do that because we need to do that. We need to allow ourselves that freedom, that security, to just do whatever. Just do whatever. That goes for just about any kind of activity that requires concentration and focus. We create a sacred space.

We as humans are constantly gathering information. And a lot of the information we’re gathering is just to confirm that we’re okay. Are we okay? Yeah, we’re okay. Is everything fine? Everything’s fine. That’s constantly going on.

So, we gather information. We process data. Ongoing thing. Ongoing activity. There’s a great demand for that. A great demand for collecting data and processing data. What does that have to do with drawing? Well, a lot. I think a lot because I think drawing, well, we know, drawing can simplify things, and highlight things, and bring the essential points into focus.

With clear spot on drawings and concise words combined together, yeah, the act of drawing, it’s there to help in so many ways. So many ways. It’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things. It’s a form of self-expression and a form of making sense of the world.

I invite you to check out my short film…

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Filed under Art, Comics, Doodles, Drawing, Graphic Recording, Henry Chamberlain

Review: ‘Camera Man’ by Dana Stevens

Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century. Dana Stevens. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2022. 415pp. $29.99

Buster Keaton (1895-1966), the “Great Stone Face” of silent movies, found himself hurled, figuratively and literally, into the 20th century. And quite an impact he was to make! We often seek a way into a story through an event or a person. Buster Keaton proves to be a perfect guide in an understanding of where we’ve been, in terms of media, these last hundred years or so. Dana Stevens, film critic for Slate since 2006, gives Buster Keaton his due and even credits him with having more than a little to do with defining the last century.

It’s only in hindsight that we can see the big picture. One of the most celebrated anecdotes about the early years of cinema goes back to one of its inventors, Louis Lumiere, who is said to have declared that “the cinema is an invention with no future.” Perhaps that is more legend than true but it was kept alive by Jean-Luc Godard for his screenplay, Contempt. As Stevens points out, time and again, there was nothing certain about this new art form. It was a gamble. It was a game for risk takers. Enter Buster Keaton and his family of daredevil vaudevillians dealing in the most spine-tingling and acrobatic of stunts!

Buster Keaton set upon the stage at the tender age of five, just at the dawn of a new century. As Stevens does throughout, she connects all sorts of disparate dots to focus on a whole, while crafting a sense of the poetic, especially with her favored metaphor of Buster in mid-air. Here is an excerpt where she tightens the frame around Buster’s origins:

By the time Buster was taking his first public falls at the turn of the century, watching talented children onstage was a cultural thrill that came with a built-in moral twinge, even when those children weren’t being flung into scenery or the rib cages of hecklers by their strapping fathers. The awareness that “the cruelty” was liable to shut down the show must have added to the audience’s frisson of mingled guilt, pleasure, and suspense–the precise mix of affects Joe and Buster’s father-son knock-about act also specialized in eliciting. This conflicted cultural, legal, and psychological space, where children were at once fragile treasures to be protected, market commodities to be exploited, and private property to be disposed of at their parents’ will, was the world into which Buster found himself thrown.

Buster Keaton, in his own way, was the ultimate Everyman of the Twentieth Century, a regular fellow thrown into a suddenly faster world. In one film after another, in countless intricately plotted near-death antics, Buster Keaton is the sad sack in over his head, just trying to get by, but forced to contend with a topsy-turvy chain of events whether it was a house frame perfectly timed to fall only inches away from him or a locomotive set to just barely miss from killing him. Stevens, with great gusto, details every step of the way of Keaton’s ongoing good citizen trapped in a new-fangled pursuit of the American Dream.

Sharing similar childhood pathos and artistic achievement in adulthood with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton is among that elite group of artists that simply transcend any one medium, elevated to the level of an icon. Look to his movies and you will find gems with a distinctive Buster Keaton artistic vision. Beyond his silent movie glory, Keaton remained relevant as a character actor at the dawn of television and in movies well into the sixties. It was Keaton’s special mix of talents and demeanor, a combination of the subversive and the melancholic, that truly spoke to a new generation and remains timeless. Dana Stevens is spot on to celebrate this singular talent and her book is a most fitting tribute.

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Filed under Book Reviews, movies

Book Review: ‘American Comics: A History’ by Jeremy Dauber

AMERICAN COMICS

American Comics: A History. Jeremy Dauber. W.W. Norton & Co. New York. 2021. 592pp. $35.

Jeremy Dauber’s narrative resembles a rocket ship as it blasts through page after page which is ideal for a book covering the entirety of American comics, from its early days to the present. Arbuably, this is the first survey of its kind and it proves to be compelling stuff. For myself, a Gen X cartoonist based in Seattle, I couldn’t help but begin with Chapter 8: Between Spandex and Seattle. Dauber dutifully recreates the scene leading up to the rise of indie comics in the early ’90s and, in the process, provides a window into the ever-evolving world of alienated youth. If Andy Hardy movies from the ’30s and ’40s helped to invent the American teenager, then comics, specifically indie, played a significant role in a more recent iteration of youth culture, one with a more nuanced argument for perpetual arrested development. Why not remain snarky, callow, self-deprecating, the whole immature shebang, all the way to the grave? The work of leading cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns made nihilism seem cool again, picking up where the sixties underground left off. If these cartoonists never meant for anyone to take them literally, it was besides the point. The impact of comics was never in doubt.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: ‘Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula’

LUGOSI!

Koren Shadmi, Lugosi: The Rise & Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula. Foreword by Jon R. Lansdale. Los Angeles: Life Drawn/Humanoids, 2021, 160pp. $29.95.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

It is best to admit that we live in terrible times, while we struggle to keep things from getting markedly worse, as they surely will without the needed collective effort that a large number of Americans (among others) seem not actually to want. How does this gloomy reality affect the creation of comic art, one of the more interesting artistic developments of our time, all the more important for its popularity among young people?

Horror comics once occupied the center of social controversy, along with the supposed gay relationship of Batman and Robin and other such McCarthy Era nonsense. The Congressional hearings that broke the booming comic industry of the 1940s-50s, reducing its successors to smaller fields, hit paydirt in one real way: those horror comics were indeed bloody and grim. Harvey Kurtzman’s widow Adele insisted that she and Harvey never allowed the children to read them, not even the EC horror comics whose heavy sales made Mad possible.

Did the controversy around horror comics connect somehow with the huge cult of horror films going back to the Silent days, getting hugely bigger in the 1930s and turning upon themselves as parody in the 1940s? Without a doubt. Nothing was bigger, nothing in the future of horror films all the way into the twenty-first century, could be bigger than Dracula and Frankenstein, aka Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

We have no Karloff comic yet, and we can hope that it is more politically attuned than the volume at hand for Boris’ leading role in the early Screen Actors Union, his ardent antifascism and his insistence that children watching the classic Frankenstein (1931) knew the supposed monster was the real victim of the ignorant, vicious villagers. His literary lineage, of course, traced back to Mary Wollstonecraft and the big metaphor about the degradations of modern aka emerging capitalist society with the monster as metaphoric proletarian body, both product and victim.

Dracula comes from a different place, of course, but is historically wound around a surprisingly similar character. The careful tracing in this comic of Bela Lugosi’s Hungarian background, his meteoric rise to stardom, his floundering personal life, downfall and notorious final engagement with Ed Wood, is enlivening but misses a whole lot. Hungary had a red revolution in 1919 followed by a rightwing takeover that placed the nation in a similar spot, a natural alliance, with Mussolini taking power in Italy, followed by Hitler in Germany.

What could have been….

Lugosi was not exactly a union or community organizer. But the artistic giant of the large Hungarian-American Left, Hugo Gellert, would have been well known to Lugosi, politically and culturally. Lugosi, asked by revolutionary leader Bela Kun to be the leader of the national trade union movement before his departure, seems to have become a New Deal Democrat in the US, but played a key role in the Hungarian-American Counncil for Democracy, that is, working closely with Gellart and with that other  famed  antifascist Bela: Bela Bartok. As the rampage of Fascism threatened the world, from the middle 1930s onward, the “two Belas” could be counted upon for financial contributions and public appearances rallying the immigrant communities, in wartime to raise funds and support antifascism, in this case, Russian and Hungarian in particular.

Of all this, we see nothing in the comic.  Nor the ways in which the descending Cold War moods brought depression and a sense of panic among erstwhile antifacists. Hollywood, in Lugosi’s last years, was the home of the Blacklist. He escaped by not actually belonging to any Left organizations. Or perhaps because he was already too beaten to subpoena.

All that said, the personal drama of Lugosi’s life is well told here, and the drawing is impressive. Too much seems to be about the complicated romantic life, women won and lost, the over-extended ego that seemed to take over his creative power, with too little about the complications of his Hollywood career, let alone the unique artistry with which he approached his parts.

There goes a great star…

The Black Cat (1935), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, using a title from Edgar A. Poe’s work but bearing no other resemblance, was a masterpiece of horror and a brilliantly-wrought critique of the destruction brought upon humanity by the First World War. The two old military adverseries (the other is Boris Karloff) meet, and are seen with some of the staggeringly expessionist cinematography to that point in film-making anywhere. The subtle politics of the film are entirely lost to the comic artist, but the importance for Lugosi is clear. He was already a star, but now he became a super-star.

All too soon, the moment passed. By the time Robert Lees and his sreenwriting partner Fred Rinaldo delivered the script of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein to the studio in 1947 (sadly, Karloff had been replaced by Lon Chaney, Jr., and Lugosi is strictly camp), the cliches of monster films were already being turned inside out and played for laughs. Actually, with Bud and Lou offering up the best comedy around, Lugosi and Karloff were perfectly straight-faced and perfect.

But of course, this suggested a drift downward. Where to go from self-satire? Lugosi’s life was turning bad in every way. As depicted, he was addicted to drugs, unable to make a living or a personal appearance in Hollywood’s clubs and restaurants in the old way. He died too late, if earlier would have meant avoiding Ed Wood.

Paul Buhle

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, Paul Buhle

Steve Lafler’s ‘1956: Movie Star’ on Kickstarter thru Oct 31st

Steve Lafler, one of our great indie cartoonists, has a new book out, 1956: Movie Star. This graphic novella launches a Kickstarter campaign running from today until Halloween. You can read my review of Steve’s previous book in the 1956 series here.
“Fifty-Second Street crackles with electricity as midnight beckons. Limos and cabs drop revelers at jazz hotspots like Birdland and Jimmy Ryan’s, decked to the nines.
Headliners from Sarah Vaughn to the Miles Davis Quintet rewrite the rules of cool nightly in clubs packed to the gills. Enter Ramona Lopez and Nikki Garcia, brimming with intent to quit the streets and embrace the cultural ambitions–but wait, here’s Jack Rolfe and Susie Ferrari in the house. Can these fashion industry avatars help Ramona & Nikki?”
A book trade edition will ship March 2022 via Diamond Comics and Ingram, among other distribution outlets.
1956 Movie Star ISBN 978-1-7341087-7-4 / Trade Paper 72 pages $12.99
Steve Lafler is always brewing something good. Keep up with him here.

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Top 10 Manga You Likely Haven’t Heard About

Photo credit: Jeena Paradies

Catching up on obscure manga has never been easier. Nowadays, there are tens of thousands of manga titles available online through platforms like Kodansha and izneo. And if you’re having a hard time picking which ones are worth checking out, here are 10 of the best manga you’ve likely never even heard about.

  1. Platinum End

Using powers granted by his guardian angel, young student Mirai Kakehashi enacts revenge on his foster parents who were responsible for his real parents’ deaths. Mirai soon finds out that he is among the 13 candidates to replace God, who’s retiring in 999 days, and that the other 12 are coming to kill him. A gratuitous action-packed fantasy by the writer-artist tandem behind Death Note.

  1. Otoyomegatari

Also known as A Bride’s Story, Otoyomegatari is a gorgeous portrayal of the 19th century customs, cultures, and brides of a tribal town along the Silk Road near the Caspian Sea in Central Asia. A poignant romance based on real customs and traditions from the 1800s, Otoyomegatari has won several international awards.

  1. Violence Jack

Whether it’s the original 1973 manga by Go Nagai that has spawned its own anime or Yu Kunutani’s tributary Violence Jack 20XX which launched early in 2021, this title features a shapeshifting anti-hero who gets his name for his signature 40cm jackknife. It’s one of the first mangas about a weird saviour dealing out justice in the post apocalypse.

  1. Jagaaaaaan

While riding the train, bored city cop Shintarou Jagasaki encounters a monster which he instantly kills when his right hand inexplicably transforms into an energy gun. Shintarou sets out on a journey to kill the fractured monsters – former humans transformed by the same force that gave him his new powers. Every kill results in a frog, which he collects in order to be granted a single wish.

  1. Akagi

Written and illustrated by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, one of the most prominent creators in manga history, Akagi is the 36-volume tale of a Mahjong poker prodigy who gives the Yakuza a run for their money. This manga has also been adopted into arguably the most intense Mahjong poker anime of all time. While a lot of manga tackle Mahjong drama, Akagi is hands-down the best one.

  1. Poker King

Alongside his two brothers, Hiroshi Nikaido inherits 100 million yen, and whoever makes the best use of the money gets the rest of the family business. Hiroshi takes the money and proceeds to have the best time at some of the most famous poker rooms in Las Vegas, where the stakes are high, the players are serious, and 100 million yen can only get you so far. It’s one of the few mangas that explores the wild side of sin city.

  1. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

The five graduates of a Buddhist college – each with their own special skill or supernatural power over the dead – form a business that helps people find out and enact the last wishes of their recently deceased loved ones. In this must-read dark comedy, every chapter is named after a Japanese pop song and every story is an entertaining exploration of mortality.

  1. Buddha

This manga is a unique take on the life of Gautama Buddha by writer-artist Osamu Tezuka, the brains behind Astroboy. Winner of several Eisner awards, Buddha is a fresh and in-depth account of the Enlightened One’s well-known spiritual journey.

  1. Chainsaw Man

Human-devil Hybrid Denji merges with his Chainsaw Devil dog Pochita to kill the Yakuza members who betray him. He’s then recruited by the state’s Public Safety Division as a devil hunter, eventually pitting Denji against the legendary Gun Devil. Dark humor and creative violence abound in this insane new shonen manga.

  1. Blood on the Tracks

Slow-burning thriller Blood on the Tracks has been hailed as one of the greatest psychological horrors manga of all time. Filled with unique stories tackling the mundane lives of ordinary people, Blood on the Tracks effortlessly achieves what so many horror titles aspire to but never pull off. It’s an absolute must-read for the most jaded horror fans.

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Filed under Anime, Comics, Lists, Manga

2021 Eisner Awards: The Nominees and the Winners

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN (DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults, paper, $16.99)

The big news for the 2021 Eisner Awards at Comic-Con in San Diego is that cartoonist Gene Luen Yang was the big winner of the evening, taking home three Eisner Awards, including two for Superman Smashes the Klan (Best Publication for Kids, and Best Adaptation from Another Medium) and one for Dragon Hoops (Best Publication for Teens). That’s the big takeaway and quite a worthy one at that. Also, just as important is the news of Junji Ito‘s Remina (translated by Jocelyne Allen) manga winning this year’s Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia award. Junji Ito also won the Best Writer/Artist award for his Remina and Venus In The Blind Spot manga.

Panel excerpt from DRAGON HOOPS

While we inevitably focus on the winners–let’s also pay attention to the nominees. And then there are all the others who did not make it that far. I’ll tell you right now that these award lists are not the final word, but a great guide nonetheless. In a perfect world, for instance, Welcome to the New World, a graphic novel by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, would have been nominated for the 2020 book published by Henry Holt. It was nominated for an Eisner as a webcomic in 2018, so that’s a good thing. Among this year’s winners, I do think the Eisners got it spot on for Best Reality-Based book going to Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, by Derf Backderf. And it was great to give a shoutout to Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams byway of an award for Best Penciller/Inker to Michael Allred.

Anyway, I think it helps to make you dig around a little to see who won…you’ll see what I mean….

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comics, Comics News, Eisner Awards

William F. Nolan Dead at 93; New ‘Logan’s Run’ Remains a Mystery

From Henry Chamberlain’s graphic novel, George’s Run

William F. Nolan was one of the grand old men from the golden age of science fiction and horror spanning pulp fiction, television and the movies. Starting out as an illustrator in Kansas City, Nolan ultimately made his way to Hollywood and became part of a group of writers within the orbit of Ray Bradbury, and subsequently Charles Beaumont, all trying to break into television. As part of the inner circle of writers, casually known as, “The Group,” little by little, Nolan gained some ground.

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Filed under George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Obituaries, pop culture, William F. Nolan

Review: ‘Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics’

Summer movies!

There are times when an illustration is most apt. Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics, by John Malahy and Turner Classic Movies, published by Running Press, inspired me to highlight some of my own favorites from this fun and informative book! Among a number of factoid-filled books, this one really stands out for some very specific reasons. This is not just a listing of popular titles. You will actually learn a lot here–about fan favorites and less familiar classics. I’m very impressed with the genuine attention to detail as the author invites the reader to try out some lost gems, like 1928’s Lonesome about a couple of star-crossed lovers who have a dream date at Coney Island and then, by the hard luck of fate, get lost from each and frantically try to reconnect.

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