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Tag Archive: Neil Gaiman


Review by C.J. Bunce

It helps to know upfront that Scottish comedian and personality Frankie Boyle always wanted to write comics.  His inspiration wasn’t from the decades of superhero comics, but Alan Moore, whose attitude, as Boyle sees it, was “that comics had sort of run their course.”  A fan of the writing of Ed Brubaker, David Lapham, and Jason Aaron, Boyle embarked on an ambitious project, asking “what sort of comics do you write after comics have been done already?”  The result was first published in serial format in Mark Millar’s short-lived CLiNT magazine, and with two new chapters to wrap up his story a complete, graphic novel-length story arrives next week from Titan Comics, called Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd.

Ambitious is the key word to describe Rex Royd.  At its worst, Boyle has touched on Alan Moore’s outrageous depravity as seen in his Lost Girls.  At its best, Boyle has created a character that will appeal to fans of the disconnected and dispassionate Dr. Manhattan and the idiosyncratic and self-absorbed Ozymandias in Moore’s acclaimed Watchmen series.  With his protagonist, the Lex Luthor-esque supervillain scientist and CEO Rex Royd, Boyle has created a brash reflection of non-mainstream comics in the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe era.  His “hero” is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond if you remove all the tropes that make us actually like Bond, all the fun things that keep us coming back for more and not just dismiss the character as a misogynistic, unexpurgated blunt instrument.  Boyle is fully in on this, as his lead female character Eve–as in the biblical partner of Adam–resembles Bond’s confidante Eve Moneypenny in the last two Bond movies.

And yet, Rex Roydthe book–is like a writing experiment.  What do we get if we take out all these good elements and swap in the dark outcomes?  So it sometimes reads like Neil Gaiman writing a 24-Hour Comic (I’ve read that, this is probably better), but then, as in the ninth and final chapter of the book, we’re surprised with a clever sort of play on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with some Harvey Pekar-inspired attempts at making some meaning of it all.  So there’s a lot going on.  If you find linearity and deep meaning in the book, well, the joke may be on you, as the author has said when the artists needed some of his script to be explained, his response was, “It’s supposed to be a joke.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Most of the world knew Roger Zelazny for his fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels.  Neil Gaiman has cited Zelazny as his greatest influence.  In his 58 years Zelazny won three Nebula awards and six Hugo awards, and is best known for The Chronicles of Amber His “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” was included in the DVD collection Visions of Mars: First Library on Mars, taken onto the Phoenix Mars lander in 2008.  In 2008 an unpublished novel was located, a crime thriller by Zelazny called The Dead Man’s Brother, and Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint published it for the first time ever in 2009.  We’re reviewing it here as part of our excursion into lost novels and our “Retro Fix” series for fans who thought they’d read the entirety of their favorite authors’ works.  Previous works reviewed here include lost novels by Michael Crichton, James M. Cain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, Gore Vidal, and others, as well as several forgotten classics of science fiction, fantasy, and pulp noir.  In an afterword by the author’s son Trent Zelazny, he comments on his father and writing genre, “Great writers will never hold back due to genre.  They will tell the story they want–or must–in spite of the limiting labels designed  by publishers.  They don’t think of themselves as science fiction writers or mystery writers or western writers.  They think of themselves simply as writers, period.”

In Roger Zelazny’s crime thriller The Dead Man’s Brother, his hero Ovid Wiley runs Taurus art gallery in New York.  Wiley is a former art smuggler and also a former CIA operative whose genetics (explained in the book) reflected a type of super soldier tendency.  At present, the early 1970s, Wiley had cleaned up his act for the most part, still in the art world buying and selling artwork as a respectable art dealer.  In the first scene we meet Wiley entering his gallery to find the dead body of his former partner in crime, a man he had neither seen nor thought about in several years.  Wiley is then accused of his murder, but the CIA intercedes.  It turns out they could use his unique skill set and familiarity with Rome specifically to earn a “get out of jail free” card by finding a missing priest alleged to have stolen millions from the Vatican.  Wiley begrudgingly agrees, and his investigation re-introduces him to the dead partner’s girlfriend and finds the embezzling priest dead.  Before he gets accused of that murder, he takes the girlfriend in tow and heads to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to locate the dead man’s brother.  He is imprisoned and tortured by locals for days, getting into a bizarre national conflict he has no interest in.  Armed with a machete and thoughts of revenge, he ventures home with a package and secret information.

Fans of Zelazny’s writing are the real target for this novel.  The tale is not particularly gripping, yet readers will stick with Zelazny to the end simply to see what completely insane circumstance his hero is going to get involved with next.  The Dead Man’s Brother often reads like an early draft–many stream-of-conscience paragraphs pepper the plot that conjure the image of a writer who sat “butt in chair” and wrote from beginning to end, intending to return with a few good edits later.  Little is known why this novel was shelved, and it is only a guess that he wrote the book around 1970-1971.  Was he merely experimenting with styles?  Was he attempting to write his own version of an American James Bond or dabble with mainstream works?  More than a few threads remain hanging by the end of The Dead Man’s Brother.  Presumably he intended to return to finesse these once the novel was sold?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Both Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) tried it, but didn’t complete it in time.  Professional comic book writers and artists and especially the combination writer/artist most likely have all heard of the 24-hour comic challenge, but not everyone has given it a try.  Twenty-seven years ago comic book writer/artist Scott McCloud came up with the idea to improve his skills and speed in creating a 24-page comic book complete with story and art, which normally can take about 30 days.  The result was not so much a contest but a personal achievement challenge like running a marathon or climbing a mountain.  A new documentary titled 24 Hour Comic, directed by Milan Erceg, screened for attendees Saturday at the Marriott Grand Ballroom at San Diego Convention Center as part of San Diego Comic-Con.

Eight participants.  24 hours.  Gravitas Ventures’ 24 Hour Comic follows an event hosted at my old local comic book shop, Things from Another World, in Portland, Oregon.  24 Hour Comic is both a celebration of the Portland comic book creator scene and a close-up look at eight individuals of differing levels as they each try to meet the challenge.  Not everyone makes it to the end.  Four-time Harvey Award and Eisner Award winner Scott McCloud appears in the film, describing the origin, process, and history of the 24-hour challenge, which is hosted by comic book shops, schools, and art studios around the world, often following a designated annual 24-Hour Comic Day.  Eisner and Harvey Award winner McCloud wrote the useful guide to sequential art Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and several other comic book art texts.  He also compiled several attempts at the 24-hour comic in his book 24 Hour Comics, where he showcases the efforts of Neil Gaiman, Steve Bissette, Alexander Grecian, and others.

The rules can be found here, and are detailed in McCloud’s book.  The biggest surprise having read about the contest and several 24-hour comics over the years was that I assumed the artists used standard comic book pages, those full-sized 11×17-inch art boards.  In the film each artist uses what appears to be paper half that size, splitting each sheet into two full pages, which would seem to take less time to fill.  Erceg introduces us to his eight subjects, each in different phases of skill, from a 13-year-old girl to a 16-time participant, a web creator, a design professional, independent creators, and an ex-creator returning to give the process another try.  The final works for those who completed the challenge?  We don’t get to read the entirety of the final books from any creator in the film, but the excerpts given are surprisingly polished. Far from the frantic scribbles you might expect from anyone missing a night’s sleep to work round the clock, the comics appear professionally done, clever, and humorous, reflecting each artist’s creativity and talent.  The film is dotted with interviews by several well-known faces, including Dark Horse Comics president Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics editor-in-chief Scott Allie, cartoonist Batton Lash, and graphic novelists and digital creators Arnold and Jacob Pander.

The hour-long documentary provides a fair look at a cross section of a profession where the median income for a full-time comic book artist is about $38,896, according to the film.  Although the challenge is not a competition per se, a few participants throw about some contrived and good natured trash talk to keep the film light-hearted.  One participant had some interesting insights into the comic book profession, a bit of a creators’ quagmire: “You work on a project you don’t care about, but make good money, but you work on a project you do care about, and don’t make any money on it”–something reflected in many fields, no doubt.  This is not a time-compressed look at the 24-hour period of this challenge, but provides interviews with subjects about their status at intervals throughout the day, night, and following morning.  So to fill some of the time Erceg follows two subjects on a quick trip to Stumptown Comic Con, other subjects are interviewed at local studios or homes, and another is followed on a side trip to Seattle to discuss a commission project.  The majority shared how difficult it is to succeed in the comic book industry, and one tried and left the industry after initial success because it couldn’t pay medical bills.

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Guardians of the Galaxy new 2014 poster

Review by C.J. Bunce

In the past three hours Walt Disney Studios released a new “teaser for a trailer” that premieres Monday, May 19, 2014, and promotes a live Q&A with the cast (details below).  Guardians of the Galaxy won’t arrive in theaters until August 1, 2014, so we still have some waiting to do.  If you missed the first trailer, check it out here.  It’s one of the best previews for a superhero film we’ve seen in years.  But while you’re waiting for the movie, you’ll want to read two great trade editions of a Guardians of the Galaxy series that will give you some background for this motley band of space rogues.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers provides an update to these characters from the Marvel Comics stories of years past.  It collects the four issue “Cosmic Avengers” mini-series and the one-shot “Tomorrow’s Avengers” stories from 2013’s Marvel NOW! line.  Forget about mainstream, title-character superheroes.  The Guardians are exciting and down-right fun.  As a hook to bring these B-level heroes into the fore, Iron Man joins forces with the Guardians to protect the Earth from a nicely orchestrated attempt to eliminate Earth from the Galaxy’s stage prompted by a King from another world.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-1

That King of Spartax visited Earth 30 years ago while he was very young, had a brief encounter with a woman, and a boy was later born—Peter Quill aka Star-Lord.  Quill grows to dislike his dad, who he encounters years later.  Along the way he meets up with Gamora, the daughter of the well-known Marvel villain Thanos, known as “the most dangerous woman in the universe”.  Then there is the very large Drax the Destroyer, killer of Thanos, and a wrecking ball of an adversary. Which leaves the two best characters of the troupe, Rocket, a snarky, cocky, walking and talking raccoon with a vendetta against everything and everyone, and his trustee partner Groot, a brawny, walking and talking tree, whose only speech is the phrase “I am Groot” but who can be interpreted (via inflection, I’ll bet) to be saying any number of things by Rocket (think Han and Chewbacca).  (Can’t wait to see how Vin Diesel gets to play Groot).

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Sandman-Overture-CV1

Just as Comic-Con celebrated the 20th anniversary of Jeff Smith’s Bone comic book series in 2011–and every year seems to bring another landmark to celebrate something–Neil Gaiman will be attending panels at Comic-Con this year promoting the 25th anniversary of his popular Sandman series, which ran until its 75th issue published ten years ago.  Comic-Con will be featuring artwork by original Sandman artist Dave McKean on a new convention T-shirt and his work will be featured on the cover of the 2013 SDCC Program Guide, handed out to guests with one of several giant swag bags as with past years.  Tied to the anniversary, DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint has amped up the promotion of a new six-issue prequel series to Sandman, titled Sandman: Overture.

Another follow-on to a classic comic book property?  The difference between Sandman: Overture and Before Watchmen is Gaiman’s participation–he is not only endorsing the concept but unlike Alan Moore’s absence and disapproval of Before Watchmen, Gaiman is writing the story, with artwork by the stylish Batwoman artist J.H. Williams III and covers by both Williams and McKean.  “This is the one story that we never got to tell,” Gaiman said in a Vertigo press release. “In Sandman #1 Morpheus is captured somehow.  Later on in the series, you learn he was returning from somewhere far, far away – but we never got to the story of what he was doing and what had happened.  This is our chance to tell that story, and J.H. Williams III is drawing it.  It’s the most beautiful thing in the world.”

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If you have spent much time at all chatting it up with comic book writers or editors at comic conventions, you have probably heard several mentions of the phrase “creator-owned comic” or “creator-owned project.”  The conversation usually goes like this:

Fanboy: Hey, Awesome Comic Book Creator, what are you working on?

Awesome Comic Book Creator: I am working on a big project right now featuring Huge Comic Character for [insert DC Comics or Marvel here].  [And then they look like they are pondering something deeply as they say:] I am also working on a creator-owned project that I have had in the works for several years.

It was Frank Cho last year at Comic-Con who let us in on a project he had been thinking about for years:  Guns & Dinos, a project he said he had been thinking about ever since an image came to him of an archaeologist discovering an arm with a modern gun in a dig along side a dinosaur.  Guns & Dinos (yet to be released) is a creator-owned project he was trying to generate interest in.

Hitting the stores this month was a new book with an odd title: Creator-Owned Heroes #1.  It’s a collaborative new ongoing book between writing partners Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (who are at the top of my favorite comic writers right now with their All-Star Western series), Steve Niles, Kevin Mellon, and Phil Noto.  The point?  Get away from big publishing house content and bring some diversity into comics–stories you might not see reaching readers from the big houses.

The book features two eleven page stories that will have readers easily coming back next month.  It also has several interviews with the creators in the nature of “here’s what this is all about.”  It also includes photos of the creators with fans at conventions, an interview with a cosplayer who Palmiotti asked to create the costume of one of the stories, and an interview with Neil Gaiman.

The two stories were superb.  We’ll come back to those.

For the first issue of a new type of publication I didn’t have any issue with the interviews and explanations.  That said, I’d rather have more than 11 page stories or a third story for future issues.  $3.99 is a fine price but a comic sized magazine with columnists as opposed to news is not really something I think can last too long.  And I haven’t read much new from Gaiman in the last several interviews with him I’ve seen so that didn’t add much value for me.  I am interested in what these creators think, but are most comics readers readers who just want to read new stories or do they also care about the behind-the-scenes so much?

So back to what is great about this book–two very interesting stories.  First Palmiotti, Gray and Noto take on cool muscle cars in a dismal, futuristic world of survival in American Muscle.  Great title, great idea.  The dialogue is believable, the images make the reader feel the environment.  I just hope future issues focus let us in on the cars themselves (they probably can’t specify actual makes and models because of licensing reasons from the auto dealers).   Niles and Mellon give us one part Leeloo Dallas, one part human-Cylon, one part David 8, one part la femme Nikita, and one part Ultraviolet in their Trigger Girl 6.   That actually should give you all you need to decide whether to check out this one.  I’ll just say the pacing of the story was spot-on and the dialogue and art top-notch.  I also really liked the color choices in both stories.  If this is what creator-owned is, then give us more please.

The publisher of Creator-Owned Heroes is Image Comics.  I’ve always viewed Image as sort of a “fourth network” like Dark Horse and Dynamite.  I do wonder why Creator-Owned Heroes didn’t try something like Terry Moore and his Abstract Studios publishing company.  If you don’t make it big at the major publishing houses I would think Moore has created the model to make it big on your own.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I’ve gotten in and out of reading comic books several times in my life.  I couldn’t tell you where the comic book store was when I lived in Columbia, MO.  I found one when I lived in Delaware.  There wasn’t one for miles when I lived in the mountains (but I found a baseball card shop).  I knew of and visited at least six comic book stores when I lived in Kansas City and I visit about the same number in Los Angeles.  I’ve visited them when I’ve made brief stops in London, England and Austin, Texas.  I had subscriptions to several Marvel titles when I was in junior high and didn’t have to worry about getting my parents to take me to the comic store.  One day a comic would arrive in my mailbox covered in the plain brown paper wrapping that I would later associate closely with either comics or porn.

A map of comic book stores across the U.S.

Still, every walk into a store is like a step into a colorful, inedible candy shop and I start to wonder, what I’m going to take home in my brown paper bag.  I like recommendations quite a bit when I look for new things (and that’s why on Free Comic Book Day as I went to a few of my favorite stores, I picked up All-Star Western and Justice League Dark) but since my time in Kansas City, my main focus for when I look on the shelves of whichever store I find myself in, is new material by past favorite authors.  That’s why on Free Comic Book Day I also picked up Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, who has entertained me in several stories like Pride of Baghdad, Runaways and Y: The Last Man.  Saga looks to be a great start to another captivating yarn as I ripped through both issues I bought as I curled up to relax on Sunday night.

However, I must ask myself, is using the past a logical way to pursue entertainment?  Are past performances indicative of future returns, unlike financial instruments?  How can you tell when to jump off the creative train of a favorite author?

This reminds me of a game a friend and I play every now again based on the Fellini movie, 8 1/2.  The film deals with the creative process and my friend and I used it as a jumping off point to analyze the careers of creative people by asking, “Does X have eight unarguable classics to their name?”

It’s tougher than you think.  To be able to create eight works of art is an accomplishment in and of itself, and to make eight super-duper terrific things, well, that’s a rarefied air.  Of course, everyone has a different opinion of what a “classic” is, but we generally know that Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both Steven Spielberg classics, where War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull don’t come close to reaching the same height.  Even though I’m not a huge Spielberg fan, he gets to eight relatively easily as you could add E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me if You Can to Jaws and Raiders and you get seven, though there are a few flaws, but I quibble.  Finding an eighth movie among The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Munich and Jurassic Park should be easy.  George Lucas on the other hand, I think he’s lucky to get two.  I suppose I’m saying that at this point, going to see a Spielberg film may be a bit more of a question mark than it was in the 90s, but if you gave me a choice between Spielberg and Lucas right now, there’s no question I would choose to see a Spielberg film.

Looking at my favorite movies over the past few years, Midnight in Paris has reinvigorated my belief in Woody Allen and I’m more likely to see his next film.  The quality of Marvel’s movies Thor, Captain America and The Avengers makes me more likely to go see non-sequels put out by Marvel Studios.  (Iron Man 2 still leaves a poor taste in my mouth. That’s what I get for licking the screen).  True Grit cemented my love of the Coen brothers, which I had before the movie as I’ve seen every one of their films.

My point?  If you like the creative work of a person, you’ll probably like their other work.  Looking at my bookshelf filled with several novels from Kurt Vonnegut, quite a few selections from Alan Moore and most every film by Wes Anderson, I probably didn’t need to do much thinking about it.  Still, it’s nice to come to that conclusion and know that when I roll into a comic store, I can find some Brian Michael Bendis, some Matt Fraction, some J. Michael Straczynski, some Neil Gaiman, some Jason, some Craig Thompson, some Daniel Clowes, some Kurt Busiek or many others and be happy when I get home, turn on the lamp and snuggle beneath my covers.  Plus, there’s always a chance I can stumble onto many more authors in the future through sheer luck, the recommendations of friends or the recommendations of the people I meet while wandering the aisles at my local comic book stores.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

When the idea first came around to write the top five adaptations of comic books, video games, books or characters that I’d like to see, I thought, “Great, what a great idea.”  Then, it slowly dawned on me.  I hate adaptations in most every case.  Seabiscuit?  Hated it.  The Lorax?  That looks so despicable, I refuse to give it my money.  Harry Potter?  I will never trust anyone that says, “No really, the next one is when they start getting good.”

The next thing I realized is that in some, possibly misguided, corner of my mind, there are still some things that I’d like to adapt.  Stories that captured my attention and that are on my list of things to write after I finish my current project.  I may never get to them, especially since a couple have been on my list for a while, but hope spring eternal, especially at this time of year.

So, how would I approach this?  First, I have to assume that I trust the filmmaker, like I trust Peter Jackson after the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I know that’s not a rational assumption.  For every Fellowship of the Rings that Jackson did, there’s a filmmaker who does Batman and Robin, Iron Man 2 or any Harry Potter movie.  For every V for Vendetta that takes Alan Moore material and makes it great, there’s a From Hell or Watchmen and I go back to hating adaptations.

To make a great adaptation, the filmmaker has to respect the source (don’t get me started on Michael Bay and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), understand the vibe of the source and still be willing to go off script and put their own voice into it.  I wonder if instead of a shot for shot remake, if Gus Van Sant had done something new with Psycho, it would have worked.  The cynic in me doubts it very much, but the optimist wonders mostly to himself that it could have been interesting if nothing else.  A shot for shot remake with Anne Heche instead of Janet Leigh?  Why not just watch the original?

So, what does that leave to adapt?  I think it leaves things that I don’t consider sacred and fortunately that still leaves plenty.  I’m not saying these aren’t favorites, but I think they could work nicely as adaptations.  Just to make it more interesting, not only will I choose the five things to adapt, but make them in five different genres.  First the honorable mentions: American Gods (tough to make, but in the hands of someone like Tarsem Singh who did the underrated The Fall there would be some cool, trippy otherworld sequences) and Geek Love (come on, aren’t we due for a great carnie movie?).  Now, let’s do the countdown.

5.  Red Dead Redemption – Genre: Western

I don’t know if there has been a good video game movie.  However, if they follow the story of Red Dead Redemption they’ve already got a pretty cool cinematic western.  John Marston plays the typical western hero of a former rogue looking for redemption and trying to save his wife and child.  It’s been done many different times, but if you have good actors, good scenery and good dialogue to go with this story, it could work.  I can’t tell you much more about this particular story;  I just know that I’m still surprised that a video game actually moved me.

   

4.  Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew – Genre: Animated Feature

Originally, this spot was for The Invaders as I love a good WWII movie and there’s nothing better than fighting Nazis.  Then, as I wrote it, I mentioned some other favorite comic book characters: The Powerpuff Girls and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew and how they would look cool fighting Nazis as well.  Then, I kept reading it over and over, and since Captain America: The First Avenger already went back to World War II, there’s not much space for The Invaders.  There won’t be more Bucky.  There won’t be the original Human Torch, Toro, Union Jack or Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  The Powerpuff Girls already have a TV show and a movie.  However, if you’re looking for a silly parody of super groups as an alternative to The Avengers or I have to assume an eventual Justice League movie, then look no further than Captain Carrot, Yankee Poodle, Fastback, Pig Iron, Alley-Kat-Abra and Rubberduck.  If they can fight the Nazis, that might be the perfect movie.

3.  Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – Genre: Medieval England Period Piece and Sci-Fi

C.J. Bunce introduced me to Connie Willis at his first San Diego Comic-Con when we went to a panel she did, and I read a few of her novels and found them charming, interesting and fun.  I think the appeal to adapting Doomsday Book comes from glimpsing a true epidemic in the form of the black plague in the eyes of someone from the future.  I didn’t like Contagion much, so maybe the book adaptation of Doomsday Book could effectively show the terror of an incurable disease spreading and the feeling of helplessness that follows.  For the protagonist Kivrin, trying to not reveal you’re from the future adds a great layer to that tension, having to remain disconnected while not being sure if she’ll ever leave this doomed time.

2.  Sleeper by Ed Brubaker – Genre: Noir

I’ve written about Sleeper in two previous Borg.com posts, so you know how much I like it.  I also think that it would make a fantastic film noir.  You have the femme fatale in Miss Misery, you have a guy that doesn’t know what’s good or bad anymore and you have crime galore.  If that’s not a great film noir, with bonus super powers, I don’t know what is.

1.  The Great American Novel by Philip Roth – Genre: Baseball Comedy

The Great American Novel might be one of my favorite baseball books of all time.  I took it in the third round of a baseball book draft.  (I knew it would last until then, so I grabbed The Boys of Summer and The Glory of Their Times with my first two picks).  The story of the Ruppert Mundys and the forgotten Patriot League as told by “Word” Smith (thanks, Wikipedia) would run circles around Moneyball the movie.  I think the fictional 14-year-old manager (I think that’s the age – goodness, I need to buy a copy of this book to read again and so I can look up such queries) would make a better representative of sabermetrics than the “fictional” Peter Brand.

Moneyball the book was my fifth round choice in the baseball draft – and just another perfect example of how I dislike movie adaptations of books that I enjoy.  As much as I would like to see this list made into movies now that I’ve written this post, my gut tells me it’s probably better if they’re not.

Come back tomorrow and C.J. Bunce searches out some choices he think would be difficult to adapt but fun to watch.

By Art Schmidt

What a simple question.

Borgeditor: Hey, I’m asking all of the staff to write something about their five characters?  Are you in?

Me a Week Ago: Sure, that sounds great!  What could be easier and more fun?

Then, fast forward to Me Last Night:  Wow, this is hard as hell.  Who are my favorites?  Today?  Yesterday?  When I was a kid?  Why are they my favorite?  What makes them tick?  What makes me tick?

Needless to say, it’s been a struggle.  I normally think about something a long time before I ever write one word.  A story, an article, a review, whatever it is.  I dream about it and cogitate on it and mull it over in my head for days or weeks before I ever put a single word to paper.  I normally sit down in front of my portable imagination recording machine (otherwise known as a laptop) with most of what I want to say already outlined in my mind.

As of this writing, I am sitting here with next to nothing.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but I have a hell of a lot less than I normally do.  Every time I scan my bookshelves, my DVD/BD collection, or my DVR favorites list, I come up with a handful of great characters that I somehow missed during the previous evenings’ preview.  Hard, hard, hard.

But it’s time to fish or cut bait, and I ain’t about wasting bait.  And this is good bait, this ‘Five Character’ idea.  It’s certainly made me think a whole lot, about a whole lot, for a whole lot longer than I normally do.  And so without further procrastination, here’s my Top Five Favorite Characters.

5.  I’ll start with more of a character type (and sliding toward an actual actor), than a specific character.  And that’s Han Solo / Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford).   Yes, I know, that’s kind of breaking the rules.  But then, that’s what Han and Indy were all about, right?  Bend the rules, live by your own code of morality, and as long as you’re crusade is just, damn the torpedoes.  And no one could have played these guys with as much success as Harrison Ford.  Admit it, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you liked Han.  Especially in the original Star Wars, where he shot Greedo first.  (Damn, I promised myself I wouldn’t go there, again.  Sorry.)  And Indiana is obviously one of the most well-known and beloved characters in film.  Other characters fit into this archetype: Batman, obviously, and John McClane being among the most popular.

But why?  The films were fun and amazingly entertaining, especially back before CGI and $100 million budgets.  The stories were engrossing, the action was breathtaking, you cared about the characters, and everyone came away smiling.  Han and Indy were a big part of that, perhaps more than people usually acknowledge.  One of my favorite quotes from an actor (and there are endless quotes from self-important actors clouding the ether out there) is from the normally down-to-earth, personable Harrison Ford:

“I think what a lot of action movies lose these days, especially the ones that deal with fantasy, is you stop caring at some point because you’ve lost human scale. With the CGI, suddenly there’s a thousand enemies instead of six – the army goes off into the horizon. You don’t need that. The audience loses its relationship with the threat on the screen. That’s something that’s consistently happening and it makes these movies like video games and that’s a soulless enterprise. It’s all kinetics without emotion. I don’t have time for that.”

An action hero that understands the power and necessity of the emotional connection between a character and the audience.  I love it.  And no characters bring that to bear on the big screen like Doctor Jones and Captain Solo.

4.  Othyisar Du’Morde – Who?  I know, probably no one reading this knows who this character is or what piece of fiction he is from.  Well, this is a bit self-serving, and you’ll have to forgive me for that.  Othyisar is a character I created myself, and who has only seen print one time.  If you have no interest in reading a short bit about this arch-mage from the Forgotten Realms, by all means skip ahead to #3 and forget I even listed this guy.  If you forgive me for listing him, I’ll forgive you for skipping him.  We’re square.

Othyisar is my favorite ‘character’ from the days of my youth, playing RPGs (read: Dungeons and Dragons) and computer games endlessly, before marriage and kids and profession all took priority over my free time.  If I created a character who was a wizard of any kind, he was named Othyisar.   If you ever encountered an ‘Othyisar’ in Norrath or Azeroth, or in The Old Republic, it was me.   🙂

So it’s no surprise that my first published article featured Othyisar Du’Morde.  It was for the ‘Arcane Lore’ feature of Dragon Magazine issue #203, and it was my first paid gig as a writer.  The following year at Gen Con, I got my copy autographed by the three guys who did the cover for the issue, artists Tim Bradstreet and Fred Fields, as well as the model who posed for the cover (hey, he was standing there at the booth with the artists, and I didn’t want to be rude).  And in that same issue, the folks at publisher TSR reviewed a little video game that had just came out and was taking the world by storm, called Doom, which is one of my favorite games of all time.  All reason enough for Othy to be one of my favorite characters.  But it got better.

Years later, in a different State and a different place in life, I was chatting with a new co-worker and, after much hesitation, he asked me ‘Is this you?’ and showed me issue #203 online.  In quiet “we shouldn’t be talking about this at work” tones, I admitted that it was me, and he proceeded to gush to me how his gaming group ran a long adventure based not only on the contents of my article, but also with the Othyisar character and the little background piece I had written.  He said it was one of his favorite adventures (I know, he was probably just being nice, but indulge me).  Wow, that was one of the coolest moments ever.

It’s amazing to find that you can view PDFs of this (and other) back issues of Dragon Magazine here.  If you’re curious and want to check it out.  But no pressure.  Just sayin’.  And no, I don’t get a nickel if you click on the link.  🙂

3.  Mr. White – At the time, Quentin Tarantino was unknown, Sundance was a quaint little film festival where artsy films made by non-European directors were showcased, and Hollywood’s ‘independent’ film-makers hobnobbed in the snow and sun.  Then came Reservoir Dogs and in a blaze of unapologetic gunfire and stylish F-bombs the place was turned upside-down.  The movie centers on four main characters, all members of a criminal gang brought together to pull off a major heist.  Given anonymous names by their leader to maintain secrecy and minimize his liability, the story follows the lives of the four main members of the gang: Mr. White, the unacknowledged leader played with brilliant ruthlessness by Harvey Keitel; Mr. Orange, the in-over-his-head undercover cop played by Tim Roth; Mr. Blonde, the unhinged crazy killer given life with gleeful abandon by Michael Madsen; and the skinny, twitchy Mr. Pink, played by the always scene-stealing Steve Buscemi.

Mr. White is a master criminal, a bad guy, and a cop killer.  No argument there, and no apologies; he’s not one of my favorite characters because I admire or even like him.  He’s my favorite ‘Love to Hate’ character, more so than Darth Vader or Elric of Melnibone, because the performance by Keitel is so top-notch, and the character so likable when he needs to be, but ruthless and evil when he wants to be.  Mr. White is the epitome of the gun-toting thief, loyal one moment, then sticking a gun in his comrade’s face the next.  He alternately hefts drinks and guns with the same zeal.  You can argue that the glue in this story is Mr. Orange, but for me, Keitel’s character holds Reservoir Dogs together and makes it just as much a thrill ride today as when it came out.

And you have to admit, he’s got a cool-sounding name.

2.  Dream of the Endless – Otherwise known as The Sandman, Dream is the central character in Neil Giaman’s award-winning and world-renowned comic book series of the 90s.  He is one of The Endless, who control the destinies and lives of all mortal creatures in the universe.  His realm is The Dreaming, and he is alternately the benign King of Dreams or Morpheus, the bringer of nightmares.

Gaiman’s character is an endless conundrum, never really a clear-cut hero or villain.  And the stories are as deep and intellectually satisfying as anything in print.  Dream confronts his adversaries the same way we approach life; uncertain, unsure, with imagination and help from friends, at times alone and in the best way he knows how.  Part of the character’s allure is that he’s both a mystery and an open book.  The Dreaming gives him the ability to create things out of thin air, partially illusion but at times also very real, things that can directly affect the lives (and deaths) of mortals in the real world.

Amidst his Endless brothers and sisters, Dream is the introvert, the thinker, the recluse.  He’s hesitant to interfere in the lives of people, despite his stations’ often demand of it.  His dream powers are the super power everyone wants, even if they don’t know it: the ability to create something out of nothing, to weave dreams into reality, and to travel anywhere, at any time, he chooses.

The series ran in the early to mid-nineties, and has been collected in multiple editions of paperback graphic novels ever since.  My two favorite collections, or story arcs as the author Neil Gaiman refers to them, are ‘A Game of You’ and ‘The Kindly Ones’, both of which reflect both the breadth of Gaiman’s story-telling ability and the best (and worst), of the Sandman character.  In short, his humanity.

1.  Prince Corwin of Amber – My favorite character of fiction is Prince Corwin, hands down.  Why, you ask?  Well, I could give you a bunch of reasons (and I will in a bit), I could go into a mini-review of the books themselves (the five original brilliant novels, followed by five less-worthy ‘sequels’), and wax poetic about how Roger Zelazny created what could be perhaps one of the very few real contenders against The Lord of the Rings for best fantasy series of all-time.  I could go on and on, but really, it boils down to one thing.

Prince Corwin kicks ass.  Plain and simple.

Zelazny’s masterpiece The Chronicles of Amber is the saga of the ruling family of Amber, the magical kingdom of which all other worlds are but shadows, including Earth.  In by far the best use of amnesia as a plot device, the story opens as Corwin awakes in a mental institution and subsequently escapes, lying, fighting, and sneaking his way through a dangerous landscape of monsters and villainous relatives, where he doesn’t really know who anyone is but his instincts tell him enough to be wary.  He’s clever, he’s strong, and he’s decisive.  He knows what he wants, and he works hard to get it.  He gives others a fair shake, but if they cross him he doesn’t hesitate to let them know it, with words or steel.  Corwin is a modern-day update to the Conan archetype (one of my favorite characters who didn’t make the ‘Final Five’ cut), but unlike Conan, Corwin is a little more down-to-earth, a little more accessible, a little more human.  He’s fallible and can be beaten; he eventually comes out on top, but at times only after years of torture and toil.

Corwin cemented the blueprint that was used for DC Comics The Warlord (another favorite I had to cut out of my list) and countless other fantasy heros who had access to both guns and swords, heroes thrown into bad circumstances and had to make the best of it.  The latest incarnation, in the movies anyway, will be Edgar Rice Burrough’s second-most-popular hero John Carter of Mars, from the Barsoom series, thanks to Disney’s upcoming epic adventure based on the character.  But even then, Corwin is still the epitome of that archetype.

One of thirteen siblings, all scheming to hold their father Oberon’s abandoned throne, Corwin is not the best at anything; his brother Eric is older and smarter, his brother Benedict is a better swordsman, his brother Gerard is stronger, sister Fiona is an unmatched sorceress, and on and on.  But Corwin is perhaps the amalgam of all of them, the ‘Jack of All Trades’, good at everything and more well-balanced than the others.

And did I mention that he kicks ass?  🙂

Come back tomorrow for Elizabeth C.  Bunce’s five favorite characters.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

American Gods is a pretty wonderful book and I can’t help but think about what a friend said after her husband read it.  He said, “I think this book would have blown my mind if I read it when I was eighteen.”

I can totally relate to that and I don’t mean it as a criticism, it’s just that it’s those years that really are the time when we explore religion.  We take the actual step into adulthood.  Eighteen is the age to go off to college, to find a job, to move out of the house and find your way in the world.  Faced with such a change in lifestyle, we all contemplate what it all means.  Is it money?  Is it happiness?  Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly makes it easier, right?  (I mean, how many of the fights that we saw between our parents were about money?)

If it is money, then we can measure how well we do in life by the amounts of money we make.  There is a measure to tell us how well we are doing.

Then after four weeks working at a campus snack bar, we hope that isn’t true.  Getting to the level of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Carlos Slim seems to be way out of reach.

So, maybe it is happiness.  Maybe we can find it and “win” at life.  So, we go to the local Christian church to find the joy, the power of an unconditional love and forgiveness.  We know that there will be trials and tribulations on Earth (and we’ve seen that first hand with that first paycheck that will never, ever come close to paying our rent), but if we love our neighbors, if we follow those commandments, if we turn the other cheek, we will find eternal happiness in about 49 years.

However, as teenagers, that seems way too far away and won’t help us at all with the possibility of missing our cell phone payment or a lifetime of chronic masturbation that faces us if we can’t get a date for this weekend.

How do other cultures find happiness?  Soon we look at the stories of heroes, of rebirths, of meditation, of inner peace and we can pick and choose what we like and what we don’t (or maybe we find a religion that suits us perfectly in every which way – though like a political platform, I find that less and less likely.)

Then we come to the realization that we’re the only person that believes in the combination Hindu-Buddist-Norse-Egyptian-Aztec-Judeo-Christian-Flying-Spaghetti-Monster belief system that we’ve described and defined in a three-ring notebook complete with commandments, tenets and a very liberating dogma.  That also means that the weekly prayer meetings are very lonely and dates for many of the following weekends look less and less likely if we keep following this path.

At that point, we look for things that help us to connect with more people.  Instead of being the only person under the age of twenty, thirty or even forty at an Audubon Society meeting, maybe we start to volunteer at the campus radio station.  Instead of constructing a really cool Dungeons and Dragons adventure that will probably never be played by another living soul, but if it was, they would get so many experience points, we sign up to go to football games with a big group from our dorm floor.  Instead of going home right after work, we think that a beer does sound like a good idea with the rest of our co-workers because they know the bartender and he’ll let us drink even though we’re underage.  Instead of living in a dorm, we join a fraternity, an organization that promises friends, lifetime bonds and the chance to meet girls on a regular basis.  Instead of staying home for the weekend, we go to WonderCon, DragonCon or many other trade shows/festivals where there are thousands of people with the same interests.

Soon our beliefs are that there is no way the Yankees will ever miss the playoffs, Batman is so much cooler than Superman and we have had enough dates to actually hold an opinion on the question of whether blondes are better than brunettes. (The answer is brunettes.  For now.)

We have found happiness.  We have surrounded ourselves with friends that like to do the same things, that love to talk about music, movies, comics and sports and we share the cool things that we find with each other.  We are no longer tied around a building where a lone figure talks to us from a stage on Sunday mornings, but rather a bunch of like-minded folks that we connect to on a daily basis, there for us when we need to keep busy to forget about money, break-ups or our other problems.  Sure, there are still those occasional Sunday meetings 6,000 strong in Hall H at San Diego’s Comic-Con listening to Steven Moffat, or the Sunday afternoon 30,000 strong in Dodger Stadium, because we all generally still have that day free to follow what we believe.

We believe in watching our DVR’d episode of Community.  We believe in community.  It may not include a promise of eternal life (or it may because we have just added our faith in the Christian God to our other beliefs) but it is a promise that our days don’t have to be spent in solitude, that as Kurt Vonnegut proudly exclaimed, “Lonesome No More.”

Would this book have been better as I transitioned to being an adult?  Sure.  Is it great now that I have become an adult and can look at all of my beliefs, my loves that I have brought around the world and thought about so furiously (please, please, please, let the St. Louis Cardinals win and let Albert Pujols hit three home runs for my fantasy team; please, please let Hurley survive the island; please, please, please let “Dogtooth” win an Academy Award) and wonder how they would effect the world Neil Gaiman has created?  Absolutely.

A book through the eyes of a child, a teen and an adult can be three very different things.  I may not know how American Gods would have affected my younger self, but I do know that it made for some really cool reflections and an enjoyable read right now.

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