Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills
Friday, June 27, 2008
Geez, it's pretty.
The first Femme Noir strips went online in 2001. I came up with the character and concept almost exactly one year before that. So, it's been seven or eight years – depending on where you want to start counting – that I've been working toward this moment... and it's been a rough seven or eight years, too. There have many times over those years when either Joe Staton or I were tempted to cut our losses and move on, but we somehow persevered... I'm not sure if it's through stupidity, stubbornness, or sheer inertia.
But now the book exists, and is already on sale in Chicago at the Wizard World convention. Wednesday it should be on the shelves of the nation's comic shops – those that ordered it, anyway.
Yet, while one journey has reached its end, there's still much further to go. There are three more issues of this initial miniseries to get out in a timely manner, then a 48-page Annual to write, draw and get into print before the end of the year, a trade paperback collection of this first miniseries, and – hopefully – a second miniseries for next year. Now that the property's out there, we have to try to build it up by sticking with it and continuing to produce more adventures for our nameless heroine and hope that the right audience has a chance to discover the book.
Hopefully, the material is as strong as I believe it is, and people will "get it," and start talking about it. 'Cause in today's cutthroat comics market, word of mouth is the only hope a small, independent, creator-owned book has of surviving and (maybe) prospering.
I am deeply indebted to my accomplices: Horacio Ottolini, Mark Stegbauer, Melissa Kaercher, Matt Webb, Brian Bolland, Matt Haley, Phil Hester, Mike Wieringo – and especially, my partner in crime, Joe Staton – for having confidence in the project and sticking with it through countless personal and professional crises, and bearing with me as I struggled with a plethora of crises of my own. Hopefully, our hard work and faith in the property will pay off sooner than later.
Man, this book is pretty.....
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Are you a fan of hard boiled action, organized crime, street level vigilantes, tons of mystery, justice given with a gloved fist, high heels, and .45? Then you should be reading Femme Noir. Christopher Mills and Joe Staton have created a world that jumps right out of a 1936 radio or a dime store pulp novel. As I was reading the first two issues, I was enthralled with the story and completely wrapped in the art. The city the story takes place is like giant combination of Gotham City, Dark City, and New York’s Hell’s Kitchen all rolled into one. Obviously not a place you want to visit, but a place people love to read about. Grade: ARemember: the first issue should be in stores next Wednesday!
After the set-up in the first issue, the story heats up in part two, with newshawk Carl up to his frayed collar in hungry cannibal "zombies," both human and... otherwise.
It's taken a long time to get this series out – I'm actually lettering the third issue this week! – but I've been very pleased with the response I've gotten from Kolchak fans so far. I haven't gotten much feedback, but what I have gotten has been quite complimentary.
I just hope that it sells well enough to be collected into a trade paperback someday... especially if Moonstone printed such a trade on nicer paper stock to better showcase Tim Hamilton and Ian Sokoliwski's artwork and coloring.
But since I've heard nothing about any plans to do so, and Moonstone's not always predictable in that regard, if you're interested in the story, you better pick up the individual issues as they come out. And if you do, I'd love to hear what you think.
I'm sure it made sense at the time – super-heroes were getting big again thanks to Marvel Comics and the Batman television show, and the classic monsters were popular with kids thanks to Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland and "Shock Theater" TV syndication packages, so why not combine the two? Dracula's a natural, since he's kind of a "bat man" anyway. And while we're at it, let's make Frankenstein's Monster into a super-hero, too! Can't miss!
Of course, it did.
I'm guessing that the goofy costume didn't help....
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
With that first film, Lucas, Spielberg, Kasdan and Ford captured lightning in a bottle, and created a modern classic with a character that was so original – ironic, considering the film's pulp & serial inspirations – that he became an instant cultural icon. There was no way that that lightning could be captured again, and it never has been.
That said, both Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade have their merits, and while none of them can match the original, they're fine entertainments in their own rights. And the same can be said of the long-awaited Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Now, I never thought that there was a need a for a fourth film; The Last Crusade made a fitting and mostly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I also never really thought a fourth movie would ever get made. I've got film magazines touting this fourth film going back to at least 1990, and as the years whipped by and Harrison Ford became more and more bland and wooden in his rare film appearances, not only did I figure that the possibility was a pipe dream, but kinda hoped it wouldn't happen at all.
Well, last weekend I finally saw the movie, and I liked it. Not loved it though, and I wanted to. It was too long and had too much CGI (waay too much CGI), but at least Ford appeared to be conscious, alert and engaged, and I found myself enjoying visiting with the character again. Like Temple of Doom, much of the action is too cartoony and over the top for my taste – which robs the scenes of any sense of genuine danger or consequence – but overall, I had a good time with it.
The science fiction elements didn't bother me; the theological stuff in the previous films are just as far-fetched to me, anyway. And while I hated the idea of Indy having a son to share his adventures with, the character was written and performed well enough that I was able to bear it. Finally, I was pleased to see Karen Allen in there; not only has she aged well, but her smile is as devastating as ever.
I look forward to watching it again on DVD. Going into the theater I couldn't help but bring decades of expectations and apprehensions to it. When I was a teenager, Raiders was probably my favorite movie ever. I saw it at least four times in the Summer of 1981, and paid to see it at least six different revival showings over the next decade or so.
On DVD, I'll be able to look at it more objectively, and have a chance to discover any hidden/subtle pleasures that may have whipped by me the first time. It often happens for me upon rewatching – I never cared much for Temple of Doom, but since I got the DVD, I've watched it a few times and found a lot more to like about it than I did before. I expect that the same will be true of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
At least, I hope so.
So, if anyone reading this blog happens to be in the Windy City this weekend, and absolutely can't wait to get their hands on this sure-to-be-collectible first issue, stop by the Ape Entertainment table and pick up a hot-off-the-presses copy.
Everybody else will have to wait until Wednesday. :)
Monday, June 23, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Well, the first season (a paltry eleven episodes!) is now available on digital disc, and I persuaded the wife, on the basis of our shared enthusiasm for Campbell, to let me pick it up. I've only watched four episodes so far (but, I guess that's nearly half of them, isn't it?), and I like it a lot.
Jeffery Donovan plays secret agent Michael Westen who – while in the middle of a sensitive mission in Nigeria – finds himself suddenly cut loose by his employers – "burned." He soon finds himself dumped in Miami with no job, lots of enemies, all of his assets frozen and no idea why he was burned, nor who's responsible. With very few other options, he finds himself taking on odd jobs for people that need help, jobs where he can employ his years of espionage tradecraft and combat training. With the help of trigger-happy former flame (and ex-IRA terrorist) Fiona (played by the always lovely Gabrielle Anwar, who looks particularly hot now that's she's got some maturity on her) and a burnt-out, boozing ex-agent (Campbell), Westen ekes out a living helping the helpless while trying to uncover the person behind having him burned, and why it was done.
It's kind of a hipper, younger take on The Equalizer, but instead of a middle-aged ex-spy and gritty New York locale, you've got a hunky ex-spy and lots of sunbathed Miami vistas.
And girls in bikinis.
The stories are okay, but the dialogue – and Westen's voice-overs – really shine. The writing is smart, sarcastic and funny. The action is well-staged, and the stories move along briskly. It's good stuff.
The DVD set is fine. Picture quality is quite nice, considering that the show is shot on 16mm film ( a rarity these days), sound is strong, and there are a few decent bonus features. There are a couple of lame ones, too, but that's the way it goes.
I guess the second season is or will be airing this Summer on USA. If you've got cable, it's worth checking out.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The primary reason for this latest bout of depression is a betrayal by a former friend, someone who's wronged me – and continues to do so – but is getting away with it because I'm not in a position to put a stop to it. It's especially painful because I considered us to be very close for over fifteen years and always thought him to be a moral, ethical guy. (He certainly thought so!) But in the last couple of years that has changed, and several of his other friends (some of them are "former" now, too) and I are at a loss to explain what's happened to him.
Anyway. It's been a rough week or so. Stan Winston, the special effects wizard behind some of the most influential movies of my generation – The Terminator, Predator, Aliens, etc. – has passed away. Regular readers of this blog (and it still amazes me that there are any!) will know of my disdain for shoddy computer generated effects in fantasy films and my preference for well-executed, hand-crafted FX work – well, Winston was the master of practical (physical, on-set) effects. He and his studio always created the most believable creatures and effects, and his passing is a great loss for fantastic cinema.
Cyd Charrise has passed away as well. I'm not what you'd call a big fan of musicals, but my wife is. Therefore, I've watched a lot of them, and enjoy them well enough. But out of all of them, the female dancer I always liked best – for her beauty, charisma, grace and stunning, sexy long legs – was Cyd Charrise. Even before I knew who she was, I lusted after her as a nameless dancer in a green dress in Singin' In the Rain, and her co-starring role with Fred Astaire in Silk Stockings (a musical remake of Garbo's Ninotchka) is delightful. She was a unique beauty.
I traded in some old DVD's last week and picked up the first seasons of two 60's television classics – The Invaders, with Roy Thinnes, and I Spy, with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. I've seen a fair number of I Spys before – they used to air it on Nick At Nite years ago, and I had a handful of episodes on VHS – but I'm still amazed at the quality of the scripts (especially those penned by Culp himself) and the authentic international locations. Producer Sheldon Leonard somehow worked out a way to shoot on locations from Hong Kong to Africa on a television budget, and that verisimilitude helped make I Spy the most realistic of the 60's spy shows. It's a fun show, too, thanks to the stars' easy camaraderie and witty banter. The whole series has just been re-released on DVD for only fifteen bucks a season!
It's great stuff.
As to The Invaders – I'd never actually seen an episode before. But when I was a kid, I had an Invaders Big Little Book and a TV tie-in Whitman hardcover novel written for kids (I also had the Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea and Star Trek ones; the Voyage one is awesome!), and both of those Invaders books scared the pee out of me. The idea that malevolent aliens were on Earth, virtually indistinguishable from you or me, and only one guy knew about them – well it was a bit much for my seven-year-old mind. And I really related with David Vincent – no one listened to me, either!
So now I finally get to watch the show... and it's really quite good. Smart scripts, fine acting by Thinnes and some of the era's best and most familiar character actors, and a palpable paranoia. You can see clearly where this series greatly influenced Chris Carter's X-Files, along with Kolchak the Night Stalker, so it's quite fitting that both Thinnes and Darren McGavin later had roles on the Files.
Finally, the first issue of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries was supposed to be in shops on the 25th, but it's been delayed at least a week due to an error at the printers. The mistake was caught before the book was actually printed, I believe, but correcting the problem caused a delay. Now I'm told that it should be on sale the first Wednesday in July. I'll let you know if that changes.
Keep your fingers crossed.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Here's an excerpt:
Femme Noir, is finally (finally!) making it into print, revamped and ready to kick ass, and anyone out there who likes detective stories and comic books and isn't getting enough high-fibre pulp in their diet is definitely in for a treat. Imagine Red Harvest meets The Dark Knight, starring the bastard love-child of radio's The Shadow and Eisner's The Spirit set loose in Gotham City, with a script cobbled together by Chester Gould, Dash Hammett and Bob Kane on a three-day bender (possibly at Spillane's house). And then imagine the Spirit as a dame with to-die-for-gams in a broad-brimmed hat, a trenchcoat, fishnets and spike heels. Armed with twin automatics not afraid to sneeze "KA-CHOW!"(Of course, it was Bill Finger who wrote those great Golden Age Batman stories, not the solely-credited Bob Kane, but man, I appreciate the compliment. Wow!)
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Too bad we had to obscure them with those huge UPC code boxes.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I just finished the Showcase Presents: Adam Strange volume, which collects 500 pages of Fox's Adam Strange adventures from the old DC Comics title, Mystery In Space. It took a couple months, reading a few stories at a time so as not to burn out on the admittedly formulaic tales. Still, despite the sameness of plots – Earthman Adam Strange is transported to the planet Rann by "Zeta Beam," is met by his hot alien girlfriend Alanna just as some new alien menace attacks the planet, then, equipped with an often ineffectual raygun and a jet pack, he must defeat the threat by out thinking it/them – Fox demonstrated his vast imagination in the seemingly limitless variety of the menaces and Strange's elaborate (if frequently implausible) plans to defeat them.
I also recently re-read the first Crisis On Multiple Earths trade paperback collection of the first few Justice League/Justice Society team-ups from the Sixties. What a brilliant idea it was to have DC's Silver Age and Golden Age heroes meet and work together to combat threats too great for either team to handle alone. No wonder they made it an annual event for so many years!
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been going back and forth between both his Kothar and Kyrik sword & sorcery series. The Kothar novels, written in 1969 and 1970, during the first surge of Conan's popularity in paperback, are entertaining and imaginative, but Kothar himself is pretty much a cypher – a literary "action figure" to fight monsters, go on quests and be manipulated by sorcerers and sorceresses (namely, Red Lori). The stories are very pulpy and fun, fast reads.
The covers by Jeff Jones are quite lovely, too.
Kyrik, though, is a different breed of barbarian. Reminiscent in some ways of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, Kyrik is a warlock as well as a warrior, and was once king of Tantagol. Betrayed and turned into a 6-inch bronze statue, Kyrik waits – immobile but aware – for a thousand years, until he is returned to human form by a young sorceress. Although he eventually wins back his throne, he turns his back on it, leaving it in the hands of appointed regents, to wander the world with his gypsy girlfriend – and make up for a millennium's lost living.
He's a more interesting and complex character (well, complex for this genre, anyway) than Kothar, and I think I like the Kyrik books better. (Of course, I've only read two of them so far).
Anyway, I'm finding myself quite impressed by Fox's creativity. He was a great storyteller, and I wish I had a fraction of his creative inventiveness. I also wish I could be as disciplined and prolific – he wrote thousands of comic book stories and over a hundred novels under his own name and various pseudonyms.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Femme Noir, as the name would imply, is solid gumshoe-goodness filled genre entertainment. The book and style clearly pay homage to Will Eisner, but it doesn't get lost in that feel. Writer Christopher Mills has clearly found his own back beat as the characters rampage through witty dialogue, fun action and the occasional elements of suspense. Here, there are loads of atmosphere and I found myself enjoying the hard boiled storytelling panel after panel.Lots more in the link above.
Here are a couple of excerpts:
Mills really pulls out the old-school hardboiled vibe with this book. Moreover, he overlays it with a 40s/50s detective comic mien. Women with alliterative double entendre or punning names. An amorphous, timelost town. Rain literally drips off the panels. Sure, it wears its Paul Cain and Will Eisner roots on its sleeve. What it doesn't do, however, is simply ape those templates. Mills and Staton take their work that one step further. Like Rick Veitch's Greyshirt, what could easily become pastiche is instead rendered as something unique that can stand on its own. Port Nocturne is indeed a city enveloped in darkness. Crime does run rampant. The cops are on the take, or inept. It rains. A lot. Women like Laurel Lye and Dahlia Blue inhabit it. But in Mills hands, it's not simply a façade; this is a lived-in city with some real backbone to it.
I have long been an admirer of Joe Staton's art. His broad stroke characterizations and thick lines mix perfectly with Mills' story – his women are bold, his men are square-jawed. Everything is so angular. Sharp and distorted. Deep dark shadows. I found myself staring at the first page of issue one, mesmerized. And, Staton really draws rain well. I know that sounds like a strange compliment, but the first two issues are peppered with some really good, really effective panel work that is offset with some striking rain effects. I liked that without compromising his own distinct and cool style, there is an Eisner influence to some of the panel work , countered by some unexpected Chester Gould influence. Detective Riley shows off a real Dick Tracy sheen on several pages, nicely undercut by the seamier aspects of the story. These little nods don't detract from the book. On the contrary, much like the street and character names, they are faint nods to the history of detective fiction. I've argued in this column before that the essential tropes of noir are timeless, it's what you do with them in context of the present that makes a piece work, or not. Staton's art goes a long ways towards subverting them, and making the work his own. Mills writing similarly brings a deeper life to these. They are a potent pair.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
The long-running newspaper strip has declining steadily under the pen of Dick Locher, who may have been an assistant to Tracy creator Chester Gould and – as is apparently obligatory to mention whenever his name is brought up – an award winning political cartoonist, but as a storyteller, he's just awful.
I mean really, have you seen the strip lately? Probably not, as it's not carried in many papers these days. But it can be read daily on the Tribune Media Services website (among others). The art is ugly and crude, the stories are plodding, meandering affairs with uninteresting plots and mundane villains. Ever since writer Max Allan Collins left (or was ousted from) the strip, the chisel-chinned detective's been on life support... and the prognosis isn't promising.
Another sign of the once-iconic character's decline is the closing, this month, of the Dick Tracy museum in Chester Gould's hometown of Woodstock, Illinois.
Back in the early 90's Tracy had a brief resurgence, thanks to Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy film. While it wasn't the Batman-sized blockbuster that Disney hoped for, it was fairly entertaining, marvelously designed, and faithful to the spirit – if not the letter – of Gould's strip. Collins, who had taken over the scripting chores on the newspaper feature back in the mid-Seventies, and who was still handling the strip at the time, knocked out a great movie novelization and a couple of excellent original novels, and even edited a very solid short story anthology. There were various strip collections, tie-ins and merchandise.
Disney published a three-issue miniseries to coincide with the film. The first two issues were written by Jerome Moore, and were prequels to the film, establishing the film's version of the Tracy universe. The third was an adaptation of the movie, scripted by veteran Len Wein. All three issues were illustrated by the astounding Kyle Baker, whose stylized art looked nothing like Gould's, but worked beautifully.
(Trivia note: Apparently, Warren Beatty was unhappy with Baker's rendition of the Tracy character in the comics, and insisted that all the faces be re-drawn. Then, he only approved two faces, which were Xeroxed and pasted over all the Tracy drawings throughout the series. Hollywood. Cripes!)
Now, though the character is nearly forgotten. Attempts to mount new film or television projects have been foiled by Beatty, who insists that he still owns all the rights to the character. Since the strip isn't carried by many papers, Tribune doesn't appear to care too much about its quality. IDW is doing some marvelous hardcover reprints of the early strips, but they're pretty pricey, and I suspect only die-hard Tracy and classic strip fans are picking them up. Checker Books did three collections of Collins' 70's strips, but they didn't finish reprinting his run, so I doubt they sold all that great. (I reviewed them over in my Guns In the Gutters blog, if anyone's interested.)
It's a shame. Personally, I would crawl across broken glass naked for the opportunity to write the character. I think the world could use a tough and tough-minded cop hero like Tracy these days, and it would be an honor to follow in the footprints of Gould and Collins.
Oh, well. A man can dream....
Friday, June 06, 2008
His characterization of Bond was generally too light for my tastes (although he had his moments, and both The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only are among my favorite Bond flicks), but I thought he was a fantastic, charming Simon Templar, and I'm a big fan of his work in 70's adventure films like ffolkes and The Wild Geese.
Hell, he also made a great – if somewhat more suave and urbane than is traditional – Sherlock Holmes, in the television movie Sherlock Holmes In New York.
He has a new autobiography, My Word Is My Bond, coming out, and I'm looking forward to reading it. If it's half as fun as Roger Moore's James Bond Diary, in which he chronicled his hiring as the new James Bond in '72 and the making of Live And Let Die, it should be a very entertaining read.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
I also like this cover because Eduardo graciously gave me the original art as a gift, and it hangs proudly in my living room.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
For the last five years or so, I've been reading about a film director named Uwe Boll, who, if his critics were to be believed, was the living incarnation of Ed Wood. Specializing, as he does, in cinematic adaptations of video games, I had never personally encountered any of his work before last night. However, this weekend I got my chance to sample his wares, when I rented his sword & sorcery opus, In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, starring my favorite film badass of the moment, Jason Statham.
Now, I was unaware of Boll's connection to the movie when I picked up the disc – I was simply intrigued by the thought of The Transporter starring in a sword & sorcery saga. I was further intrigued by the film's offbeat cast: Statham, Ron Perlman, Lelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Matthew Lillard, Kristanna Loken, Ray Liotta and Burt Reynolds (!), so I rented it.
Now, maybe Boll is a terrible director, but I couldn't prove it with this film. Sure, it's a pretty by-the-numbers fantasy film, with the usual cliches and corny dialogue – but you know what? I liked it. The fight and battle scenes were really quite well done, the CGI was limited and rather restrained, costume and set design were both excellent, and I never got bored. Granted, Ray Liotta's portrayal of the evil magus was pretty laughable, and I had trouble with the sight of good ol' boy Burt in fur robes and armor (tho he was actually okay in his role), but Statham was a fine, kick-ass hero and Ron Perlman and Rhys-Davies brought some dignity and a touch of class to the flick.
From the reviews online and at the IMDb, you'd believe that this thing was the Plan 9 of fantasy epics. In The Name... isn't The Lord of the Rings or Excalibur, but it's sure as hell not the worst movie I've seen – not even the worst in it's genre. I grew up watching and enjoying stuff like The Beastmaster and The Sword & The Sorcerer, along with Roger Corman's shot-in-Argentina S&S films like Deathstalker, Barbarian Queen and The Warrior & The Sorceress, so I'm obviously pretty forgiving when it comes to the genre. Hell, I rather liked last year's Pathfinder, too, and that one was panned almost as badly as In The Name of the King!
Would I recommend it? I don't know. People seem to be pretty hard to please these days, and determined not to enjoy things. But I plan to buy a copy, if and when I find a cheap used one somewhere, and I'll definitely be watching it again.
But then – I clearly have no taste at all....