Tag Archives: Science Fiction

We Are Not Alone review — Roku Original is a Delightful Sci-Fi Comedy Series

The Office on the dark side of the universe.

We Are Not Alone, a new Roku Original, debuts on January 27 on The Roku Channel and it is a promising sitcom: not one moment is wasted; solid casting; creative production value for a low budget sitcom; engaging story; solid humor; characters jump right in. In my previous post, I discussed what content like this can mean for Roku’s future. In this follow-up post, I share a few observations from viewing an advanced release. From what I can tell, this is a feature-length pilot for a sitcom.

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Roku Original Sci-Fi Comedy: WE ARE NOT ALONE

Maybe, like me, you are a Roku person. And maybe you noticed this new offering, a sci-fi comedy, We Are Not Alone. I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued on two main tracks: first, I genuinely think I’ll like watching this; next, I have a feeling this could be one of those turning points which adds to Roku’s profile as an original content provider, as it moves beyond its original purpose of just making streaming devices. Last year’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was a significant step forward for Roku as a serious original content provider.

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Cartoonist Brian Fies Interview: THE LAST MECHANICAL MONSTER

Brian Fies in conversation with Henry Chamberlain

The Last Mechanical Monster, published by Abrams (available as of October 18, 2022), is a wonderful book for the whole family and we’ve got Brian Fies, the creator, here to chat about it. Just go over to the link and enjoy the video. First, you should know that Brian Fies is an amazing cartoonist and he has quite a gem here, a full-length story that uses a classic animated short as its jumping off point. It’s a genius move, I can tell you. The basis for this graphic novel goes back to a 1941 Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon entitled, The Mechanical Monsters. Fies builds a story around this with the premise being that the bad guy gets out of prison many years later–and the first thing he does is plot a scheme to get his revenge. Here’s where I should share an exclusive with you. The villain goes unnamed in the original animation and Fies follows suit, however, he did have a name in one version and that was Stanis Smith. Yes, you’re reading that here and Brian says he’s never mentioned it in an interview before. The joke was that the evil mad genius inventor was basically a “tinsmith.”

Let me back up a bit. Fies created a webcomic of his story, The Last Mechanical Monster, long before the release of a print version. In fact, Brian Fies is a webcomic trailblazer. He led the way in webcomics as the winner of the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic in 2005 for Mom’s Cancer, the year that category was introduced. During our chat, he shares how the narrative for The Last Mechanical Monster took shape–and it wasn’t easy. He freely admits that the first hundred pages of completed comics pages ended up being a false start and had to be scrapped.  “When I was asked about the story I was working on, I’d tell people what the story was about, only to realize that this really wasn’t the story I was creating.” That’s a lot of completed pages but, in the long run, a necessary part of the creative process.

I’m just going to go ahead and include here a panel excerpt that features the Ballistic Arc equation. It will make total sense if you click onto the video interview podcast. That said, I’ll tell you here that this is a fine example of the Brian Fies secret sauce. It’s basically just a way to add some fun weird science kind of stuff.

As you’ll appreciate during our conversation, The Last Mechanical Monster is very much a character driven story featuring a misguided old guy who is tough, sometimes a little scary, but perhaps a Grinch just waiting for a reason for redemption.

The Last Mechanical Monster is a delight that, dare I say, would make a great animated feature in its own right. Who knows, there’s really no reason that it couldn’t be. Brian confided in me that he was more than content to have had his creation remain a webcomic. Of couse, he is overjoyed that it is now a book. And I believe you will get a kick out of it too. I’ll just emphasize here that this is one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done. I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of it. We really had fun doing this interview and that sense of fun, I’m confident, will pass on to you.

Be sure to visit Abrams for a world of amazing graphic novels. That is where you can find The Last Mechanical Monster.

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Review: ‘Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?’

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? Brian Fies. Abrams ComicArts. New York. 2009. 208pp. $24.95 hardcover.

We are constantly documenting…from the most ephemeral to the everlasting. Much of art is one form of documentation or another. Most graphic novels are some form of a document, some more specific than others. That brings me to a work in comics that does a wonderful job of collecting a lifetime’s worth of observations into a cohesive whole. Brian Fies is an excellent cartoonist in every sense of the term: an auteur creator who dives in and makes sense of the world with crisp and concise combinations of words and pictures. Brian Fies is someone that I look up to as an example of the cartoonist-explorer or cartoonist-journalist. One of his landmark works is A Fire Story which chronicles the devastating California fires from both a personal perspective and a collection of profiles. You can find one of my reviews here as well as one of my interviews. For the book I’m talking about with you now, Fies explores the futuristic dreams promised Americans at the end of World War II and what has actually resulted. That book is Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?

Fies takes the reader to the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and shares a boy’s excitement and idealism on a visit with his father. Buddy is a boy with big dreams fueled by pop culture, government propaganda, along with the inevitable conclusion that humanity is indeed destined for the stars one way or another. Human progress could not be denied, despite a few setbacks, right? Alternating between inspiring entertainment (Chesley Bonestell’s space age paintings in Collier’s magazine) to bona fide advancements (universal electrical wiring, trans-atlantic telephone cables, high-speed motorways), Fies paints a picture of a future that seemed to only be getting brighter. However, there were still those bumps in the road as well as bumps to pave over in the name of progress.

A cold war was to trigger a space race and propel the space age into high gear. Fies dutifully recounts the back and forth rivalry between the Soviets and the Americans. And then it all seems to come to a head in one transcendent moment. During the two-man U.S. Gemini mission in 1965, two astronauts engage in some playful bickering. Jim McDivitt must coax his fellow astronaut, Ed White, to cut short his spacewalk and return to the ship. This less than by-the-book behavior revealed humanity. And it laid to rest Wernher Von Braun’s concern over whether humans could tolerate the free-falling sensation of being in a weightless environment.

The reality that Buddy, our main character, must face is that the idealism of the space age is not just about idealism but also tied to politics and the military industrial complex. Over the decades, our perpetually boyish Buddy and his remarkably youthful father, get to see the full arc of the space age, from its inception to its dwindling popularity. Fies has a lot of fun extending the life of his comics characters in order for them to get the full picture. The era of the big swagger gave way to a new era of smaller, faster and leaner. But this was hardly a step backward and, truth be told, we were inevitably heading in that direction. That’s what Buddy figures out. Tomorrow maybe be late but tomorrow will inevitably come. And what about those jetpacks we were promised? Well, at the time of this book’s release in 2009, that was still a promise. Today, we’re on our way to keeping it. A jetpack currently goes for around $400,000 but they’ll become common someday, within the reach of anyone, and that’s worth the wait.

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Paul Buhle on Comics: Review of ‘Street Cop’ by Robert Coover and Art Spiegelman

Street Cop. Robert Coover and Art Spiegelman. London: IsolarII, 2021. 104pp.  $20.

Guest Review by Paul Buhle

This vest-pocket size story-and-comic arrives to a world without…vests! But it is the same size, more or less, as those once-famous Little Blue Books, printed by the millions in Girard, Kansas, at the former office of the Appeal to Reason, aka Temple of the Revolution. That hoped-for revolution had been quashed by the repressive blows of the Woodrow Wilson government against antiwar socialists. The print revolution of Little Blue Books, if it may be called so, is actually part of a larger saga about comics as an art form and its connections with Modernism-become-Post and Post-Post Modernism.

Art Spiegelman and Robert Coover. From Street Cop.

Readers of Comics Grinder need not hear much about Spiegelman. Maus won a Pulitzer and has circled the world dozens of times. It may be said to have validated comics as art, at least in the US, where that designation had lagged. But actually the advance was twice-over, because Art and his wife Francoise Mouly had created, via their RAW Magazine of the 1980s-90s, an avant garde sensation. A collaborator, Ben Katchor, caught the flavor best by suggesting that RAW positioned or marketed itself as the organ of comics seen anew, a child of obscure or forgotten avant-garde French poetry and art. It was perhaps an extended reach if not actually a dubious claim, but never mind. The occasionally-appearing RAW was unlike any comic ever produced, more global, more arty, and in a curious way, the uneasy cousin of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky’s Weirdo, which was just plain…weird.

Novelist and lit prof Robert Coover is nothing if not the ungrateful, bastard grandchild of modernism, or possibly in his own world of categories. In novel after novel, story after story, Coover manages to lambaste the disordered society, indeed the disordered world, that we live in. Here, in a Manhattan of the future, neighborhoods are manufactured anew through computer printing, and they are never quite solid. The notoriously corrupt as well as brutal NYPD is put into a situation at once hopeless (cops chasing robbers into buildings disapper entirely) and favorably permissive toward ever higher levels of brutality.  Actually, we seem well on our way to parts of this dreaded future already.

Coover’s protagonist is the cop of title, an ex-criminal badly paid, but without any other definition to his life, and true to noir traditions, he continues on what could only be called existential grounds.

I do not object in the least to flying cars, low-down characters of all kinds, to say nothing of a collapsing city-scape. This part actually seems closest to current reality, although the destruction of historic architecture is part of Capital’s plan. When our cop steps into a ghoulish pet shop with very ghoulist pets, I stop to object. My own work environment has avians walking and flying around me through the day. Ghoulishness is not in their remit. Or perhaps we are in a worse version of The Birds, where the animals are wreaking revenge upon the wrong-doing humans?

The story seems to dissolve somewhere around here, but the illustrations by Spiegelman remain wonderfully strange  in their shape and colors. The artist who once did bubble gum cards, mixing the mundane with the more or less fantastic, delves popular culture imagery again and again here. The cop himself looks remarkably, sometimes, like Sluggo. This is a hell that is, at least, pretty funny.

Paul Buhle

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Advance Review: PET HUMAN

PET HUMAN

Pet Human. Written by David Guy Levy with Steffan Schlachtenhaufen. Illustrated by Alex Heywood. Periscope Entertainment. 2021. 131pp.

The sooner you know this, the better. I love dogs but I see way too many of them in my Seattle suburban neighborhood of Ballard. It’s like nearly everyone is paired up with a dog, or more than one dog. Sometimes small. Often big. But also quite fascinating. I recall an old friend of mine lamenting how he’d succumbed to the Seattle blues, that funky feeling we natives blame on the generally overcast gloomy Pacific Northwest weather (and very poorly planned high-destiny living). He may have said this with his signature smirk but, the next time I saw him, he had taken upon himself to become the proud owner of four dogs! So, fast forward to now, I’m quite intrigued with this new graphic novel that explores a pet’s life…but from a highly irregular point of view. This time around, it’s the big furry creatures who are at the top of the food chain and it’s those puny hairless little apes, the humans, who make for the perfect malleable and docile pets. This wonderfully inventive book provides a rather sobering, and very entertaining, portrait of human as pet. This books originates from the mind of film director/producer David Guy Levy (Would You Rather, The Mandela Effect, Banking on Bitcoin among many others). The book was inspired by his late dog Buster.

Resigned to a pet’s life.

When you stop and think about it, we humans are pretty darn lucky in our overall place in the world. But what about life in some alternate reality? Even if you are in prime health and super fit, you’re simply no match for a high-functioning Sasquatch! And, even if you are highly intelligent and alert, you are still no match for any Sasquatch! Like it or not, humans defer to the big hairy ones in charge in this scenario. And, let’s face it, your typical human, given the chance to lounge around all day, will not put up a fight and simply give in. There are certainly exceptions. But Buster, our human hero, is not exceptional by any means. He is very typical. He gives in without so much as a whimper of resistance, albeit an occasional meek complaint.

Walking a human pet.

Illustrator Alex Heywood breathes life into this scenario with stunning results. It took him two and a half years to illustrate Pet Human. “I was excited when David reached out and asked me to illustrate his story, and bring the Pet Human world to life,” said Heywood in a press release. “It was my first long-term project as an artist and it fit perfectly with my style of drawing. I create dense, imaginative wildlife scenes in my art all the time, just for fun.” It is Heywood’s uninhibited depiction of lush natural, yet otherworldly, terrain that keeps the reader riveted to this wonderfully subversive story. Readers will cheer on Buster as he must navigate life with his alien family of Pruni and Blorg.

Pet Human is quite an unusual story that somehow manages to gently trod over a number of issues. Buster is a human being with a heart and soul who happens to live the life of a pet with two Sasquatch-like creatures. What could be more normal? Buster doesn’t seem to mind his lot in life very much but, of course, he lacks the capacity to see beyond his circumstances. Suffice it to say, there is plenty to unpack here. The creative team have set up a world as compelling and engaging as looking into the eyes of your favorite pug. As of this writing, a Kickstarter campagin in support of this book is just about to wrap up in a few days. Go check it out. And, for further details, check out Periscope Entertainment.

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French Graphic Novelist Ugo Makes Animation Debut, ARCO

Ugo’s ARCO

I love this still from the upcoming animated feature, Arco. I have to hand it to the French as this looks like something very weird and wonderful–and will live up to its promise. All the little details, so delicate and precise, speak to the dedication of a true graphic novelist, which Ugo surely is as he has a fine and consistent track record of actually creating numerous graphic novels. You really can’t call yourself a graphic novelist without actually being one! So, here is a bona fide bande dessinee artist!

Here is the news on Arco which appeared in Variety last month:

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Interview with Underground Comix Artist Sharon Rudahl

From Famous Cartoonists button series, 1974

Sharon Rudahl was at the forefront of underground comix as a founder of Wimmen’s Comix, the first on-going comic drawn exclusively by women, beginning in the 1970s. Since then, she has created a range of fascinating underground comix including Crystal Night, which was reprinted in full in Dan Nadel’s Art In Time collection. Rudahl has created two graphic novels, A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman and A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson: Ballad of an American. Read my review here. It is a pleasure to get a chance to share this conversation with you.

Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson

I began our talk by mentioning that Sharon marched with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teenager. I said that it appears that she has always been an activist. To that Sharon said that she’s found herself speaking out as often as possible. In fact, Sharon began her career as a cartoonist with anti-Vietnam War underground newspapers. She’s been active ever since and has participated in numerous publications and exhibitions in dozens of countries over the last 50 years. Always a fighter, she proved to be just the right person to take on a graphic biography of another social justice warrior, Emma Goldman.

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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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Interview with Cartoonist and Illustrator Francois Vigneault

ORCS IN SPACE

Francois Vigneault is an accomplished illustrator and cartoonist. For his latest project, he teams up with a stellar creative team, including Rick and Morty co-creator, Justin Roiland, to create ORCS IN SPACE, a delightful outer space adventure for all ages, published by Oni Press. What follows is a fun and informative chat with a lot of food for thought for those trying to break into the middle grade market–or just looking for a good read for the kids in your life.

ORCS IN SPACE kicks off with a special double issue as of July 7, 2021 and then continues as a monthly series. The first collected volume comes out in October and I’ll remind you guys around that time–just in time for the holidays!

I hope you enjoy this video interview and, if you can, be sure to do all those good things: LIKE, SUBCRIBE, and COMMENT at the YouTube Channel! Thank you.

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