Category: Comics & Books


Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s face it.  The “turn of the century” was eighteen years ago.  Are you happy with the styles that define this decade?  Why not re-define what the new ‘twenties are going to represent, and why not start with how you want to look?  Timeless, a new book by fashion makeup artist Louise Young and film industry hairstylist Loulia Sheppard, provides readers with a step-by-step guide in photos and instructions to recreate the most memorable styles from the silent screen era forward.  So not only is it an obvious tool for cosplay and theater, it’s a way to bring the golden age of women’s fashion to everyday lifestyles.

Young and Sheppard also recreate actual style icons, and provide the steps for anyone to follow suit.  Readers will find not only how they can recreate styles, but what materials were available for contemporary women to make the look they are after.  Models reflect many memorable looks in Timeless, including Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Ginger Rogers, Myrna Loy, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney, Grace Kelly, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Farrah Fawcett, Julia Roberts, and many more.

Timeless is not your typical makeup and hair book.  The creators have decades of experience in film creating any and every look imaginable.  Louise Young has created makeup designs for celebrities in movies including Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spectre, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Wonder Woman, Murder on the Orient Express, Pride & Prejudice, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Clash of the Titans, Jack the Giant Slayer, and The Avengers.  Loulia Sheppard has created hairstyles for several award-winning productions, including Gosford Park, The Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Last Samurai, Jane Eyre, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, RED 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Victor Frankenstein, and Murder on the Orient Express–and most recently the looks of Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson.

Take a look at some of the designs featured:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

People have been colorizing photographs nearly as far back as the invention of photographs in the early 19th century.  Hand-painted photography took personal photographs from cold and lifeless to something more real, vivid and exciting.  Although methods for actually developing photographs in color existed as far back as the 1860s, it was rarely done.  Mid-twentieth century colorizing became a popular pastime, and so many people can look back to family portraits in color (by hand, with pencil or other coloring) regularly found in the 1940s and 1950s, just as color film became more available to the public.  Attempts of the past to accurately add color to historical images sometimes were made with reference to actual objects or people–such as matching eye color and hair color via reference to paintings or contemporary written descriptions–to ensure the accuracy of color choices.  But no single effort has been made to accurately colorize historical photographs until recent digital technologies made it more possible.  Brazilian artist Marina Amaral has become well-known for her coloring work, and she has teamed up with historian and journalist Dan Jones to create an extraordinary new history text, The Color of Time: A New History of the World, 1850-1960 It is a must-read for history buffs and anyone who could use a brush up on their history knowledge.

Readers first will be attracted to The Color of Time (titled The Colour of Time in European editions) first for Amaral’s 200 colorized images (she has colorized images seen in this book plus many more).  But the book’s value is equaled in Jones’s history text, which stitches together photographs of important subjects from the beginning of the tintype to 1960, when black and white was still prevalent, with a chronology of every major world event and figure in between.  So The Color of Time is, in a sense, a world history textbook (this one is ideal for teaching high school world history or as a supplement to a first year college history survey course) with the added benefit of bringing historical figures to life via color.  Amaral has noted it is nearly impossible to perfectly capture every color correctly (you’d need historical access to every item in the camera’s lens), but Amaral has researched the clothing, objects, and people who are the subjects of this book to get as close as possible.  Historical figures–many presented for the first time in color–include Darwin, Marx, Lincoln, Tolstoy, Edison, Stanley, Schliemann, Pope Pius IX, Sitting Bull, Barton, Twain, Mata Hari, Curie, Einstein, Villa, the Red Baron, Rasputin, Louis Armstrong, Lenin, Stalin, Michael Collins, Elie Wiesel, Hitler, Mussolini, Earhart, FDR, Mau, Gandhi, Churchill, Elvis Presley, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Castro, Guevara, and Mandela.

A surprising number of these photos take on a new life in color.  A spectrum of color in the Times Square photo of a sailor and a nurse in an embrace on VJ Day brings out the happy dispositions of nearby watchers.  The blue sky in a Wright Flyer image accentuates the fragile, finely geometric balance of the famous inventors’ first airplane.  A colorized image from 1900 of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid makes them look like movie stars of the Golden Age of cinema.  Perhaps nothing compares to the beauty of England’s Crystal Palace in 1854–you can almost smell the clear, blue water in the great pool.  Another image shows the tan wooden infrastructure of the Statue of Liberty’s hand, while being built.  The famous 1895 Montparnasse rail crash is even more jolting in color.  But the strangest jolt may come from an image of a handsome young man that could be a young Clint Eastwood–it is instead of a man days before his hanging, for stabbing President Lincoln’s secretary of state while his co-conspirator killed the President a few streets away.

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

You’ve seen the late-night art school advertisements on TV.  Have you ever tried to draw a picture but never knew where to start?  Or you tried an art textbook but never could get your pen to connect with the paper?  Maybe the last time you tried to draw anything was back in grade school.  If you have the desire, but don’t know how to get there from here, a new book from artist John Bigwood may be able to help.

How to Draw Characters for the Artistically Challenged is not the next art school textbook.  It only has one page of words, so it’s also not really going to realistically be able to teach you how to draw.  It is, however, a book for budding artists to hone their skills and learn to draw character portraits.  It includes more than forty illustrations and drawing prompts to help complete them.  But you really don’t need any skill to give it a try, and you may find it is simpler than you think to create basic cartoon characters.  All the sample works seem to be of a beginner skill set, interspersed with slightly more difficult projects, leading to a prompt to draw an image of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (with or without Gene Simmons from KISS swapping out one of The Beatles).

Each two-page spread includes a 7-inch by 7-inch square page to the left with possible finished designs, plus hand-drawn components of the drawing so you can focus on details of the drawing.  To the right is a mostly blank page with one or more colored splotches of watercolors.  It looks like a Rorschach test.  I tried it and quickly had a Marilyn Monroe-inspired picture to show for my effort followed by three more completed pieces.  These aren’t likely to result in frameable or professionally rendered works, but they do provide the spark to get the pen onto the paper.  And it is fun.

Here are a few sample pages from the book courtesy of publisher Harper Design:

Continue reading

Micronauts banner

I have been a fan of Edward Hopper since the first time I saw his artwork.  I view a print of his Automat every day at home.  In college a wall of every other dorm room had either Hopper’s Nighthawks or the Helnwein pop culture adaptation Boulevard of Broken Dreams with Hopper’s characters swapped for Elvis Presley, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe.  A few years ago I made a special side trip to visit the original in Chicago, housed just across America’s most famous artwork, Grant Wood’s American Gothic.  Nighthawks means many things to many people.  For me it’s about nostalgia.

I always have an eye open for new adaptations of Nighthawks.  Some of the best adaptations have been created as variant covers for comic books.  It’s a rare find, but it happens, oftentimes in places you wouldn’t expect it.  The best comic book cover adaptation of Nighthawks is available this summer, and it’s our pick for the best comic book cover we’ve seen so far this year.

Nighthawks Hopper

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

It’s J.K. Woodward’s variant cover to Micronauts, Issue #5.  Innovative, futuristic, inventive, thought-provoking, and evocative of adventure for fans of the 1980s toys.  I have been a fan of Woodward since his brilliant and beautiful watercolor work on his cover-to-cover Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who crossover series Assimilation².  At first glance you might not even realize this fantastic future world is something familiar to you.  Is it the alien behind the counter that cinches the Hopper homage?  Maybe the yellow hue color choices in the background?  The commercial coffee pot?  Or just the overall design?  Check out his artwork in full and decide for yourself:

Continue reading

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

By C.J. Bunce

Today we know what happened to Charles Van Doren, either through living through the aftermath of the quiz show scandals or watching the movie Quiz Show.  Like McCarthyism and later like Watergate, certain events poke at the public and make you question what is going on around you.  Comparing ourselves to readers in the 1950s we know that we never made it to Venus  colonization in the 1990s.  We know that Marilyn Monroe would die young.  We know that Tucker’s automobile would not get very far.  Imagine the era of the Cleavers in Leave it to Beaver.  When Sandra Dee didn’t have to worry about her future but could smile and make everyone happy on the big screen.  Imagine back to the world of the Twilight Zone, but the Twilight Zone neighborhoods before weird things start to happen.

To me, it all looks black and white.  That is of course because of television, because movies had color in the 1950s.  Kodak photos were in color in the 1950s.  But even if you grew up in the 1970s you got to see everything your parents watched because of the miracle of cable TV.

Of course Time Out of Joint could take place anywhere, but it is roughly 1958 when Philip K. Dick wrote Time Out of Joint that we meet Vic and Ragle and Margo and Junie and Bill.  A time when Charles Van Doren was winning game shows on television.  Upheaval in the Middle East.  Recession, millions unemployed.  Familiar?  A normal family: Vic who works the registers at the grocery store, stay-at-home wife but civically active Margo, and son Sammy.  Margo’s brother Ragle, irresponsible, single, 46 years old and flirts with the neighbor’s wife, lives with Vic and Margo and spends the day answering contest entries in the newspaper.  He works as hard as anyone who works full-time, simply to keep winning the contests, and he has won two years in a row–national champion, his photo published in the newspaper.  Publicity of Ragle as local winner was good for the local paper.

If you have ever moved across the country to a new city, you probably felt uneasy at first.  Maybe its the new trees that look like nothing you grew up with.  Ocean where you knew only plains.  Seasons that don’t change quite right.  Simple things like grocery store chains you never heard of in your several years as resident of planet Earth.  And yet some things are familiar and you gravitate toward those places.  Maybe it is something as familair as a Target store or A&W root beer stand.  Anything that can help you get your bearing.  maybe you put your phone down at home and later find it in your car.  Too much on your mind?  Or is it something else?

Neighbors Bill and Junie Black come over to Vic and Margo’s with espresso and lasagna one night.  And tidbits of information make the reader feel like something is a little off.  Sammy’s radio gets no signal, and we learn there has been no radio reception nearby for years.  As a reader, you are slowly sucked into a world like our expected America of the 1950s, but something makes us uneasy.  Vic walks into a room fumbling for a light cord that is not there.  He doesn’t remember the room having a light switch.  Soon Ragle becomes the central character in our trip back 50 years.

Vic is paranoid.  But not so much as Ragle.  No surprise, since this is the age of paranoia, right?  Russians, civil defense alerts…all ready for the Bay of Pigs coming soon to a bomb shelter near you.  Everyone is a bit… paranoid, everyone except Bill Black.  Vic suggests Ragle can pull it all together, after all, he solves riddles with data and charts and scientific-precision calculations in their living room.

Later in the week Ragle asks Junie to go swimming, a break from strategizing his contest entries.  She recalls walking up steps where there should have been three steps but there were only two.  Ragle can’t seem to get the oddities out of his brain.  He walks to the soft-drink stand to get a beer, and it dematerializes leaving a note that states “SOFT-DRINK STAND.”  Ragle thinks he is having a nervous breakdown.  He wants to quit the contests and take a vacation out of the country.  He tells Vic.  Vic and Ragle agree something is wrong.  Somehow “the time is out of joint.”

Sammy has more slips of paper he picked up at the site of some old houses Margo was trying to have leveled by the city to protect kids from getting hurt there after school.  Ragle buys the slips of paper from Sammy and goes to the ruins and unearths several magazines he is not familair with and a phone book from an unrecognizable town and time period.  He begins calling the numbers and the operator says to try the call again.  He questions the operator and she hangs up on him.  He flips through the magazines.  One features a story that Laurence Olivier is dead.  “But he’s alive, I know it,” says Margo.  And there is a photo of a beautiful woman none have them have seen before and the magazines speak of her as if she is famous.  “Marilyn Monroe.”  The magazine says she is famous here in America.  But that can’t be.  No one has heard of her.

As readers, and suggested by Dick, is Ragle just mentally ill?  After all, he lives with his sister’s family at age 46.  He doesn’t have a real job but sleuths out word games not by solving puzzles, but like the kids that ace the SATs because they figured out the supposedly random code of the bubble dots.

The next morning neighbor Bill Black gets to work and receives a report.  About the phone calls being made.  He rushes to the office of a man named Lowery.  Could all this be happening?  Is Ragle sane again?  Suddenly we are thrust into a world that could be found in the TV series Lost.  But this experience is for more personal, far more real.  Hints at the world Dick would later write that would become the film The Adjustment Bureau and short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” that M. Night Shyamalan would uncover with The Village, that Bruce Willis encountered in Mercury Rising, that Rod Serling would investigate in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and countless other Twilight Zone episodes.  That The Truman Show would unapologetically borrow from decades later.  But there is more here.  Dick reveals ideas in his novels in a way that seems relevant and current, even 50 years later.  Time Out of Joint is no different, and is one of my favorites of all his works.

My hints at read-alikes and watch-alikes above will give you a hint at themes to expect in this solid science fiction work that today would be side by side with mainstream bestsellers as the science fiction is only a small part of what happens to these characters.  Looks for themes that Dick pursues in later works, like the meaning of what is real, who we are.  I have a stack of all but one of Dick’s works and plan to make my way through many of them again and others for the first time.  If you have only met Philip K. Dick through the numerous movies based on his works, then there is a giant volume of brilliant novels, and maybe even more brilliant short stories that lies ahead.  Time Out of Joint would be a great entry into Dick’s work.

Cross-promotional marketing is nothing new, whether it’s a tie-in of Coca-Cola and Sony, Pepsi and Michael Jackson’s tour, or a national baseball team and the city’s grocery store chain, we are bombarded everywhere we go with not only that special product we didn’t know we needed, but also that seemingly unrelated product that some marketing whiz decided we also need.

Back in the late 1970s and 1980s it seemed like there was a constant battle for the best tie-in promotion between McDonald’s and Burger King.  For a while, the Star Wars franchise was tied into Burger King, introducing a giant size sticker folder, numerous trading cards (you’d need to cut out yourself), and probably the best drinking glasses anyone ever stamped a movie image on, for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi

And they were made from actual glass no less.  They even brought the glass concept back in 2009 with the new Star Trek movie.

E.T. the Extraterrestrial (which also had glasses as giveaways at Pizza Hut) made waves by altering its own original story and tying Reese’s Pieces into the actual storyline instead of M&Ms.  At the opening night of the movie I remember everyone was given a free pack, totally taking you along with Elliot on his garage encounter with our new alien friend.  I don’t recall hearing of Reese’s Pieces before E.T.  The M&M guys blew an opportunity there no doubt.

Every year it seems products become more invasive in actual movies and TV shows.  Once upon a time product names were rearranged on TV shows so a Tide laundry detergent box, for example, had the same logo and design but carried a nondescript word.   Morley brand cigarettes, back to not just the X-Files, but as early as 1961 on The Dick Van Dyke Show, became the TV generic cigarette pack of choice, just as 555 became the area code of everyone in movie land.  Morley was Spike’s brand on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been seen on Burn Notice, Heroes, Medium, and even William Shatner’s brand in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at Twenty Thousand Feet.”  But cigarette marketing bans aside, why use a fake brand when you can sell some ad space on your show?

Movie tie-ins are the subject of Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning author Connie Willis’s novel Remake.  The past is “in” and all the women dress in copies of famous Marilyn Monroe dresses and as other stars of classic Hollywood.  But in Remake, the future has arrived and censorship also is “in” and movie studios must edit ads and vices out of old films, essentially undoing all the marketing found in classics of the past. 

In its unabashed, in your face, greatness, no TV show today better uses cross promotional advertising than Subway on the TV series Chuck.  A typical episode has Morgan not just gulping down not just a sub, but a Subway sub and not only a Subway sub but this week’s selected menu sub of the week.  This doesn’t work on the serious drama, but on an off-the-wall genre show like Chuck, it just adds to the shows good-natured fun.  Points go to Chief Brenda Lee Johnson on The Closer.  Her temptation to dig into her drawer for the next Hostess Ding Dong really makes me want to grab the keys and head to the store.

What I find more annoying is cars on TV shows that focus on a car brand, from Claire’s Nissan Rogue in Heroes to the Oldsmobile Silhouette as the “Cadillac of minivans” in Get Shorty to the Ford Taurus conversations (“check out that Ford navigation system”) in White Collar.  That said, I don’t seem to have any issue with all the slick, high-end cars used by James Bond.  Probably because it actually serves to define the character’s wealthy lifestyle.

Subway and Green Lantern teamed up this movie season in a pretty standard ad campaign, with its own website, another current staple of cross-marketing (and even Doritos brand chips get to carry the Green Lantern campaign).  But there’s something not quite right with this campaign.  I don’t know a bigger guacamole fan than me, but spreading the avocado across all things Subway as part of its promotions this season seems a little stranger than usual.  Green is the color for ads this season and all products are apparently welcome.  Bring on the guacamole!

But the Green Lantern avocado is not the strangest thing appearing right now in cross promotions.  Most campaigns, including the Subway campaign, have some reasonable link between the products.  But the X-Men: First Class TV commercial with… Farmers Insurance (?) offers no explanation.  X-Men‘s audience would not seem to be a natural tie to trying to hook a family to a new casualty policy.  So what’s behind this campaign?  Here is one where I have no answer.  Check out the ad for yourself and let me know if you figure this one out:  Farmers X-Men TV commercial

But even this isn’t new.  Check out this old tie-in between the True Blood HBO series and GEICO.  These marketing guys must be on to something…let’s see, what else should we pair with mutants and vampires? 

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

%d bloggers like this: