Tag Archives: Social Commentary

Movie Review: ‘Get Out’

When I first saw the trailer for “Get Out,” I was hooked on the idea of a racially explicit horror movie. I had already written a script in my head of what I had expected to see. I took for granted that this would be a wry and revealing look at how African Americans can still be seen as the Other. And that is definitely there. We also have the opposite where it is those who are subjugating who are seen in the same way, as some menacing Other. And I expected some dark comedy mixed in. With all that in mind, I wondered, not if, but how far this movie would cross the line.

What “Get Out” does best is keeping to a true horror movie pace, gradually building up. Instead of a frog that is in a pot of water gradually set to boil, we’re all expecting a black man to be boiled alive, so to speak. No, there are no black men being boiled–just a metaphor. In fact, there are far more gruesome things up ahead. The remarkable thing is that there is a certain level of restraint that allows writer/director Jordan Peele to navigate deeper into our collective racial history than some of us out there are ready to go.

The opening scene alone is loaded with plenty of food for thought. An African American young man is walking through an upscale, and presumably white, neighborhood. He is talking on the phone and joking with his friend that he’s lost in what he calls with a whiny accent, “the suburbs.” As he proceeds down streets with tony- sounding names like “Peacock Street,” a white sports car pulls up blaring an old 1930’s song, “Run, Rabbit, Run,” a sly reference to the classic WASP novel, “Rabbit, Run,” by John Updike. The young man attempts to avoid the car by walking in the other direction. Ultimately, he can’t help walking towards the car whereupon he’s knocked out and thrown in the car’s trunk.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya)

We next see an interracial couple preparing for a trip. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), are about to meet Rose’s parents. Chris is hesitant and Rose asks him what’s the matter. Chris asks Rose if she mentioned to her parents that he’s black. Rose laughs it off and reassures him that’s it’s not an issue at all. It’s a tender moment. It shows that Chris is vulnerable while Rose is far more in control of the situation. The acting is quite believable. Rose seems clearly in love with Chris. But the focus leans towards Chris as we see events through his eyes. He’s convinced he’s entering the lion’s den and we easily sympathize.

The focus never leaves Chris and, once they arrive at the family estate nestled in the woods, the attention heaped upon Chris grows. It begins with the first meet-the-parents round. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener make for deliciously out-of-touch parents attempting to be hip. If only that was all that lay in store for our hero. Red flags go up one by one. There’s a quick aside by the dad, “Oh, that room leads to the basement. We closed it up due to a buildup of black mold.” Yikes, in the context of a horror movie, that says it all.

Things are gonna keep steadily getting freaky from here on out. And so they do, some artful and some more in line with standard-issue tropes. One horror chestnut, the comedy relief sidekick buddy, is given new life and put to fine use here. Lil Rel Howery as Rod Williams, one of TSA’s finest, adds another dimension to the narrative. While he may rob the movie of some of its more provocative and scary potential, that seems to be the right approach for a project that is unleashing so many racial issues. Overall, we end up with a number of compelling scenes and images without resorting to a heavy hand.

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Filed under Horror, Horror Movies, Movie Reviews, movies, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Satire

Seattle Focus: Kickstarter campaign for satire, ‘Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe’

This is NOT "Sleepless in Seattle"

This is NOT “Sleepless in Seattle”

Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe

A Kickstarter campaign has been launched (ends 8/28) for the illustrated novel, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe,” a dark satire set in Seattle. This isn’t your “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Singles.” Join the campaign right here.

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Filed under Crowdfunding, Games, Geek Culture, Henry Chamberlain, Humor, Jennifer Daydreamer, Kickstarter, Microsoft, pop culture, Satire, Seattle, Sex, Social Commentary

Review: ‘Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist’ by Bill Griffith

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

As if drawn with invisible ink, there are mountains of comics from yesteryear that, even if popular in their day, will never be read again. But once upon a time, cartoonists were bona fide celebrities. Today, of course, everything has splintered off. But we still have some of the good stuff that harkens back to a golden age. We have Bill Griffith’s legendary comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. Mr. Griffith is an expert on comics many times over and a masterful storyteller. He takes all that and gives us his first long-form graphic story, “Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist.”

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Griffith navigates us through the often murky world of pop culture’s past and puts it into unique context. The past easily holds onto its secrets all too often because no one bothers to ever try to pry them open. This is a book about prying open the past and revealing the most intriguing secrets, family secrets. Much in the spirit of Griffith’s surreal Zippy the Pinhead, the mundane here collides with the supposedly more colorful world of mass media. Add to that, a decidedly offbeat look at the world. I swear, I found Zippy creeping up when you least expected it. For instance, there’s a scene in a diner between Bill and his uncle, Al, and Al says, “You know what’s coming back?” Bill asks, “Salisbury steak?” “No,” Al says, “morse code!”

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Check out the page above that I just made reference to with the morse code comment. Ah, such a thing of beauty! A perfect example of the Bill Griffith sensibility and I’m sort of just picking a page at random. It speaks to the very best spirit of underground comix which Bill Griffith came from. It articulates a worldview of someone finely tuned in to his feelings and observations. It is a very relatable view since we all feel we’re tuned in to the world around us. The idea is to create an expression of what one sees that touches on all the details of the moment and evokes a stream-of-consciousness. We see Griffith reacting to a quaint world of yesteryear still alive in the here and now. It’s a world where you can expect to order three different kinds of macaroni & cheese. Of course, the actual K&W Cafeteria doesn’t think of itself as out-of-date. It offers free Wi-Fi, after all. But, from Griffith’s perspective, it is a strange world to marvel over and that’s what we’re looking for!

Invisible-Ink-Bill-Griffith

You can imagine that Bill Griffith’s mother might have pretended she was writing with invisible ink in order to be as revealing as she was in her journals and related work. Whatever the case, we hear her loud in clear in this exploration of her inner life. Griffith synthesizes various artifacts to find a greater truth. When you go hunting for answers like this, you’re liable to get lost in your own issues with your parents. Griffith is no different in this regard. He is just like any of us trying to deal with the past and that is an excellent hook for readers. What makes this story extraordinary is that Bill Griffith has definitely met his match with his mother who gives his storytelling skills a run for their money. If truth is stranger than fiction, then this must be one hell of an example of that. It boggled the mind of Bill Griffith, one of the great mind-bogglers in comics.

“Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist” is a 208-page black & white hardcover published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, and to order, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

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Filed under Bill Griffith, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Underground Comics, Zippy the Pinhead

Review: ‘Locomotive / IDEOLO,’ published by Centrala

"Locomotive / IDEOLO," published by Centrala

“Locomotive / IDEOLO,” published by Centrala

“Locomotive / IDEOLO,” published by Centrala, is one beautiful and simple idea brought to life for all its worth: take a beloved famous Polish poem for children and then adapt it for adults. The poem is “The Locomotive,” by Julian Tuwim (September 13, 1894 – December 27, 1953) who is remembered for his satirical and subversive poetry. Listen to “The Locomotive” in Polish and, even if you don’t speak the language, it evokes the strains and struggles of the mighty steam-powered monster. What designer Małgorzata Gurowska and journalist Joanna Ruszczyk have done with this book is provide a unique format upon which to meditate on Tuwim’s poem.

Julian-Tuwim-Locomotive

I found this book to be a great form of therapy as I lingered upon each page. Gurowska and Ruszczyk provide an intoxicating mix of light and dark content. We have animals that appear to be undergoing an organized exodus while other animals have been neatly packed as surplus. And the same goes for humans. On the train cars, as we begin, it seems that we have everything we would ever need for anything: a celebration, a riot, the next all-out war. As we proceed from train car to train car, the stakes grow higher, the urgency more crushing. Countless suitcases are stored away never to be reunited with their owners. Troops are deployed. War is imminent or already unleashed.

And amid all the mounting tension, there is a cry for change. The political commentary is sly and well-placed challenging the reader to face difficult questions about national identity, racism, anti-Semitism, and attitudes towards ecology and animals. The design is impeccable and does a great job of evoking a highly regimented state of alert. The clean and sharp silhouettes of rabbits, soccer players, and suitcases will hit you with their significance. Contemplate each page and then spread out the entire book, just like an accordion, to fully appreciate it.

From Julian Tuwim’s THE LOCOMOTIVE:

A big locomotive has pulled into town,
Heavy, humungus, with sweat rolling down,
A plump jumbo olive.
Huffing and puffing and panting and smelly.
Fire belches forth from her fat cast iron belly

“Locomotive / IDEOLO” is a 188-page hardcover and is appropriate for ages 9 and up. Visit our friends at Centrala right here.

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Filed under Centrala, Comics, Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Poetry

Review: THE REALIST by Asaf Hanuka

Hanuka-The-Realist

For the last four years, Asaf Hanuka has been doing auto-biographical webcomics about his life in Tel Aviv, Israel, entitled, “The Realist.” In many ways, this is a pretty straightforward narrative but, as in any life, things can gain, at any moment, a razor-sharp specificity and intensity. This is, after all, one of the most watched war-torn areas in the world.

So, when a morning can simply consist of a father goading his little boy to eat his toast, that already carries potentially more weight than a similar moment somewhere else. That said, Hanuka seems to carry himself like a man on a mission wherever he might live. The Realist has now been collected for the first time in English as a graphic novel, published by Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.

The-Realist-Hanuka

Comparable to the work of R. Crumb and Daniel Clowes, Hanuka has a keen sense for depictions of everyday life. What really matters is that he’s FUNNY!

I actually laughed out loud from reading his comics. He wears his version of the average Joe quite well. There’s one strip where we follow Hanuka throughout his day, as if following the daily routine of a computer from start up to sleep mode. At each point of the day, he has options to choose: engage or ignore the bus driver, the neighbor, the co-worker, his son, his wife. End. Repeat the next day. It strikes close to home, and it’s hilarious.

They say that if if you try to call attention to your merits, people will gladly ignore you. However, if you revel in self-deprecation, suddenly you have a following. Well, Hanuka definitely has a following. But it’s more than having readers relate to your problems. Hanuka has an engaging style with his artwork. It’s a crisp rendering of his life that you can’t help but want to know more about.

“The Realist” is an original 192-page hardcover graphic novel, priced at $24.99, arriving in comic shops from Archaia on April 22nd with a cover by creator Asaf Hanuka. For more details, visit our friends at Boom! Studios right here.

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Filed under Archaia Entertainment, Asaf Hanuka, Boom! Studios, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East, War, Webcomics

Review: THE COMPLETELY UNFABULOUS SOCIAL LIFE OF ETHAN GREEN

Ethan-Green-Eric-Orner

Eric Orner is one of the pioneers in LGBT comics. “The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,” published by Northwest Press, is a great way to not only further establish him in the canon of LGBT comics, but simply to showcase the work of an excellent cartoonist.

Eric-Orner-Northwest-Press

All of us cartoonists can learn from Eric Orner. Just when you get that first wave of resistance, that’s when you push back a little harder. Orner had tales to tell, just like Howard Cruse before him and Alison Bechdel right alongside him, and they could not wait.

Unfabulous-Social-Life-Ethan-Green

Orner’s comic strip ran in that fuzzy, chaotic, and bubbling time (1989-2005), before the internet and digital and then well into it. Orner grew as a person and as an artist. Collected here are some 300 of his groundbreaking comic strips. Well before Ellen DeGeneres was ready to come out, and perhaps a mainstream audience was ready to accept her, there was this comic strip. And casting the longest shadow, the less understood epidemic of AIDS, which Orner would address with both grace and thoughtful humor. Bit by bit, Orner was there to chronicle, in retrospect, a most confused and dangerous time–and it wasn’t that long ago and it’s still unfolding before us.

Northwest-Press-Eric-Orner-2015

By 1997, the Ethan Green comic strip appeared in every large city and most mid-sized cities in the United States, as well as running in Canada and overseas. As Orner states in one of the section introductions, “Given that I wasn’t watering down the content, the fact that this very gay comic strip seemed to be building a readership among straight folks was a source of pride.”

Still, controversy could easily arise when least expected. It was also in 1997 that Baltimore’s alt-weekly, City Paper, had to fend off a church group that took great offense over a mild sex scene in the comic strip, something akin to soap opera content. Maybe they were just waiting for the very next depiction of two men making love anywhere to set them off.

Just as a comic strip unfraid to grow, Ethan Green stands out. As anyone who does a webcomic today can attest, there is an unrelenting grind that a cartoonist can succumb to. But, even in the earliest years, Orner was willing to push his artistic and literary limits. Right from the start, he aspired to reach greater heights of insight and downright zaniness. In one strip, circa 1990, he has The Hat Sisters attempt to save lives through time travel. For every vulnerable penis they find, they sheath it with a condom. Everything in the strip is in balance and it speaks volumes.

Ethan-Green-Hat-Sisters-LGBT-Comics

Towards the end of Ethan Green’s run, in 2005, a couple of young independent filmmakers from Hollywood adapted the comic strip into a movie. It premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival and enjoyed a 19-city theatrical release in 2006.

Ultimately, Eric Orner’s comic strip enjoyed a great run. And now it is collected in this deluxe edition and off to begin a whole new life with old fans and new readers.

“The Completely Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green” is a 228-page trade paperback, black & white and in color, priced at $24.99, and available now. For more details, visit our friends at Northwest Press right here.

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Filed under Alison Bechdel, Comic Strips, Comics, Eric Orner, Gay, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Howard Cruse, LGBT, Northwest Press

Book Review: ‘To Marry Medusa’ by Theodore Sturgeon

To-Marry-Medusa-Theodore-Sturgeon-sci-fi

“To Marry Medusa” takes us further into the ideas explored in Theodore Sturgeon’s landmark novel from 1953, “More Than Human.” I reviewed that recently and you can read that here. Five years later, in 1958, “To Marry Medusa” finds us with one unconventional character, Dan Gurlick, instead of an ensemble of damaged misfits. The main idea is that we all have worth. Even Gurlick who, as his very name suggests, is quite an unsavory figure. This is a completely different and separate story from “More Than Human” but carries on that same humanist spirit.

Gurlick is as far down the heap as you can go: a illiterate homeless alcoholic with the thinnest grasp on reality. But, as Sturgeon would be happy to point out, he is still a member of the human race. Yes, …but. He’s human but he behaves more like an animal and pushes to the limits anyone’s tolerance for him.

And when an extraterrestrial being emerges, in pursuit of a human host, it is Gurlick who it stumbles upon and places the fate of humanity in his hands. As far as this entity, “the Medusa,” is concerned, Gurlick is as good as any other human to achieve its goals. Without a second thought, Medusa simply needs to plug into Gurlick and use him to plug into the rest of the humans and take over Earth. It really should be as simple as that, once a few details are carried out.

Medusa is a hive mind and has always been able to conquer other beings, once converted into hive minds. Why would humans be any different? The first mistake Medusa makes is attaching itself to Gurlick. In turn, Medusa finds humans to be a most unpredictable species. They are smarter than given credit for. They are more resilient than first believed to be. And they are more capable of fighting back than ever expected.

In a beautiful fable-like story, Sturgeon evokes human activity across the globe with vignettes of various characters. We see them at a bit of distance, never get too close to them other than to get a sense of their dreams and struggles. For a good part of the novel, we alternate between a profile from somewhere on Earth, whether it’s within an African tribe, or an Italian village, to the latest phase in the odd pairing between Medusa and Gurlick.

Sturgeon has such a seemingly effortless style. Every description and dialogue follows what appears a seamless path. Highly readable, Sturgeon’s work grapples with incredibly complex notions. He clearly loves his characters and it’s Gurlick who he loves the most. The guy can barely form a thought. He’s so limited and primitive as to be more suitable to another place and time other than a contemporary American city. When he’s out attempting to do Medusa’s bidding, he sounds insane, more so than usual. Medusa and Gurlick, no doubt, make for a delicious coupling of high an low.

We are given every indication that humanity will survive. However, it may not be as planned. For one thing, the hive mind perspective proves to be enlightening beyond measure. In fact, humans find that they can accomplish far more as a group than they ever could as individuals. Does that sound familiar? Well, sure, it’s us today on the Web, isn’t it? As Gurlick demonstrates, maybe we’ll always only be as strong as our weakest link. And Sturgeon never even once mentions a computer.

You can find “To Marry Medusa” over at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Hive Mind, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon

Retro Movie Review: François Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451

Oskar Werner as Guy Montag in François Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451"

Oskar Werner as Guy Montag in François Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451”

François Truffaut, the champion of children and misfits, was the perfect writer/director to lead the way in bringing Ray Bradbury’s classic, “Fahrenheit 451,” to the screen. If Bradbury had tapped into the anxiety and conformity attached to the dawn of the television age with the publication of his novel in 1951, then by 1966, Truffaut was making the case with all the more evidence. To make the point in a fresh way, for the time, we begin with various close-ups of TV aerial antennas superimposed upon brash colors.

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Filed under François Truffaut, Movie Reviews, movies, Ray Bradbury, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: ‘Wide Awake in Slumberland’ by Katherine Roeder

Winsor McCay with Gertie the Dinosaur

Winsor McCay with Gertie the Dinosaur

What will today look like one hundred years from now? In the world of comics, we have no choice but to include DC Comics’ upcoming “Teen Titans #1” in a time capsule, filed under “sexism.” Many of us today see through a glass darkly. But not all of us. One hundred years ago, Windsor McCay was at the top of his game as America’s preeminent cartoonist. Attempting to see what McCay’s world was like one hundred years ago could provide some interesting perspective.

There were certainly other big name cartoonists and plenty of newspapers but there was only one Winsor McCay. He could dazzle his audience. He was part of the zeitgeist. Much like Chaplin, he did what he did with far more distinction than his competitors. In a new book that attempts to place McCay in context, we get some insights about Little Nemo, Gertie the Dinosaur, and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, and how they reflected the American dream. And, among the findings, we confront a problematic character named, Impie.

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Filed under animation, Comic Strips, Comics, Winsor McCay

BALLARD COMICS: Drawing Ballard in 24 Hours, #2

Ballard-comics-Henry-Chamberlain-002

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October 12, 2013 · 5:27 pm