Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Back to the 80's

Last week, on a day when I just didn't feel up to doing any work, I decided to put together a DVD compilation of old action movie trailers from the Eighties. No good reason; I was just feeling down and thought it might cheer me up, which it did.

For me, this was a golden age of action cinema, mostly because you could actually still go to the theaters to see low-budget "B" exploitation and action films. Companies like Crown International, Empire, New World – and especially Cannon – could still get theatrical distribution in those days.

I can vividly remember seeing a lot of these movies when they came out. I remember watching American Ninja and Invasion U.S.A – among others – with my pal Bill Crump on our weekly "Bad Movie Nights," at the Waterville Cinema Center (it's a church now). I also remember seeing Revenge of the Ninja my first week in New Jersey when I went down there for art school, and seeing 9 Deaths of the Ninja in the same mall theater shortly before I moved back to Maine. The appeal was strictly visceral – it didn't matter that the stories were basic and predictable or that characters were paper thin cliches or that the acting was terrible, it was all about flying fists and feet, bombs, bullets and boobies.

They don't call 'em exploitation films for nothing, you know.

Now, the descendants of those second tier studios and their product tends to be relegated solely to cable and home video... and, well, that stuff's just not as much fun on the small screen.

Of course, I watched an awful lot of these movies on cable TV and VHS, too. I have a friend named Mark Gerardi who used to waste lots of weekends in the late Eighties with me, sitting on my sofa, eating super-sized drive-thru orders of Chicken McNuggets and watching double and triple features of cheesy action films on tape.

We used to have apartments in the same building, and around noon on Saturday, he'd call and wake me up and ask if I wanted to hang out. After the usual "So, what do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do?" exchange failed to come up with anything new or compelling, we'd usually head for the local video store a few blocks away, and stock-up on VHS tapes.

Of course back then, our local video stores always had two sections devoted to the genre among the shelves. There was always the ACTION section (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, etc.) and the CLINT, CHUCK & CHUCK (Eastwood, Bronson & Norris ) area. Sometimes, there'd be a MARTIAL ARTS shelf, too. I think we watched every tape in those sections – many of them repeatedly.

By the mid-90's though, most of these kinds of movies were going strictly direct-to-video. One after another, the surviving action icons – Stallone, Van Damme, Seagal – moved out of theaters onto the rental shelves. Seeing them in a movie house wasn't even an option. And, consequently, I think the budgets dipped a little lower and the production values got even worse. Instead of shooting for cheap in Hong Kong or the Philippines, they filmed even cheaper in Canada or Czechoslovakia.

I have collected a lot of my favorites on DVD over the last ten years, but a lot of stuff still isn't available on disc. Still, I probably have more than would be considered healthy.

Anyway, I've been feeling nostalgic of late, and even after assembling my 50 trailer disc, I still wanted to ramble on about these movies a bit, and that's what a blog is for, right?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Doctor Strange

I haven't read an issue of Doctor Strange in probably twenty years, and even when I was younger, I never read it regularly. Usually, I only picked up an issue when I really liked the artist drawing it; someone who, in my opinion, could bring to the book the truly bizarre and imaginative visuals that the concept demanded. So, I read it when Michael Golden drew it, during Marshal Rogers' run, and when Paul Smith had his brief stint on the title in the early 80's. This portrait of Marvels' sorcerer supreme by the aforementioned Smith should make it clear why.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Femme Noir in May

Friday I was talking with my publisher on the phone, discussing various projects I'm working on for Ape Entertainment, and was told that the Femme Noir: Dark City Diaries trade paperback had been printed, and should be shipped to the distributor this week.

Now, it'll still be a few more weeks until it's actually in stores – and then, of course, only in those stores that actually bothered to order it – but it's printed, and should be on sale on time.

It took Joe and I almost a decade to get to this point, and I'm still not sure I'll believe it until my copies show up in the mail.

This means we should have copies in hand at the Maine Comics Arts Festival on May 17th, in Portland. Joe and I will both be there, signing copies and hopefully selling a few.

In other Femme news: starting Monday, May 4th, the original Femme Noir webcomics will begin appearing twice a week at the new ApeCMX website. These strips have been re-scanned, re-colored, re-lettered and will be presented about 30% larger than in their original incarnations. We'll be starting with the "An Eye For A Spy" storyline, which pits Port Nocturne's mystery woman against a ring of foreign agents.

Finally, as I posted a week or so ago, there will be a new Femme Noir story, "Demon Bat," in this year's Cartoonapalooza book from Ape Entertainment, which will be in better comic book shops on Free Comic Book Day, May 2nd.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who has supported this series over the last nine years, online, in comic books and now in paperback. Joe and I truly appreciate it... and we've got more Noir in the pipeline!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Funk-y Town

I haven't posted in a while, but then, I haven't been online much. I've been in something of a mental/emotional funk, and also my sciatica has been acting up, so it's been uncomfortable to sit at the computer for long.

My productivity – never anything to brag about – has been suffering, but I'm plugging away slowly on things. I did take yesterday off, pretty much, though. Instead of working, I became obsessed with compiling a DVD-R of Eighties action movie trailers for... well, no reason, I guess. I mean, no one's likely to ever watch it but me. But it was fun digging through my collection for my favorite old previews and transferring them to a dedicated disc. A bunch of Chuck Norris flix are represented, of course, and plenty of Sho Kosugi, along with the first three of the American Ninja series. Surprisingly, I don't actually have very many Schwarzenegger and Stallone ones in my collection, so they're unfairly under-represented.


I see that IDW Publishing has posted a sizable preview of Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Richard Stark's The Hunter on their website. looks great, but then, I expected it to.

I also read today that Gillian Anderson may be playing the evil Rani (a female Time Lord) on the next season of Doctor Who opposite Matt Smith's new Doctor. It's possible, I suppose – I believe she actually has a residence in the UK – but then, I remember similar rumors over the last few years, like the one about Anthony Stewart Head playing The Master... we'll see.

The advance word on the new Star Trek movie is encouraging. I'm very eager to see it. I may even try to get in an afternoon matinee the opening week... word is that J.J. Abrams and his team have really pulled off something of a miracle – a reboot that's inviting to a new audience while not alienating the die hard fans. Looking forward to it.

Oh well. I'll try and post something more interesting this weekend.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Glen Davis, who was selected out of surprisingly few entries (I expected more; hell, It's a free book!) to win my extra copy of the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps trade paperback, by Len Wein, Joe Staton and Frank McLaughlin.

I'll be putting the book in the mail sometime this coming week.

Hope everyone's having a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Free Comic Book Day Noir

Just a head's up for all Femmefans: there will be an all-new 5-page Femme Noir adventure, "Demon Bat," in Ape Entertainment's CartoonaPalooza #2 Free Comic Book Day special. That's the cover at right; la Femme has never looked so 90's! (Extreme Noir!) The artist is Rob Duenas.

This previously unrecorded case of Port Nocturne's blonde avenger is written by yours truly, with art by Joe Staton & Mark Stegbauer, and colors by Michael Watkins.

Be sure to ask for it at your local comic book shop on Free Comic Book Day, May 2, 2009! For more information on FCBD, visit the official website.

And don't forget, just a week or two later, the Femme Noir: Dark City Diaries trade paperback will be in those comic book stores, too! It's at the printers now; I'll keep you posted and let you know when it ships.

Wednesday Cover: Werewolf

Some time back, I posted the covers of Dell's first two "super-monster" comic books, Dracula and Frankenstein. Well, here's the third, inevitable entry, Werewolf, the only one I haven't actually seen.

And it's a shame, too, because I think I could really have gotten into this one, as it's about a super spy codenamed "Werewolf" who battles enemy agents along side his pet wolf. This means that Dell was not only trying to capitalize on the Silver Age super-hero boom and the Famous Monsters/Shock Theater monster fad, but the Bond mania of the era, too! (Interestingly and, I'm sure, coincidentally, there's also a 60's Nick Carter novel titled Code Name: Werewolf.) Drawn by Tony Tallarico, Werewolf's all-black outfit reminds me agreeably of Diabolik. I'm going to have to try and hunt this down someday.

Just a reminder – last week's Wednesday Cover Contest ends tonight at midnight. If you want to get in on a chance to win the new Tales of the Green Lantern Corps trade paperback, scroll down to this post for the rules and instructions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Passing of a Childhood Friend

I was talking to my artist friend (and Captain Midnight collaborator) Rich Clark today on the phone while at my desk. We were chatting about various things while I idly surfed through some of my daily internet stops. I clicked over to Mark Evanier's blog and was suddenly struck speechless. When Rich asked what was wrong, I managed to stammer out the sad news that Starlog magazine has ceased publication.

Now, Rich wasn't particularly distressed by the news, but I certainly was. Back in the mid-1970's, being a science fiction fan just was not cool. Prior to Star Wars, anyone admitting to liking science fiction – at least in the rural Maine schools I attended – was subject to ridicule and occasional physical abuse. As far as the adults in my life, they were all practical New England yankees who had no time for or thoughts to spare for make-believe fantasy stuff about spaceships and aliens. I felt very much alone in my obsession, hiding my James Blish and Alan Dean Foster Star Trek paperback adaptations from my schoolmates, and keeping my thoughts about the short-lived Planet of the Apes and Logan's Run (both of which I loved as a eleven year-old) TV shows to myself.

But sometime around 1976, while browsing the comic book shelves at the local Mr. Paperback bookstore while my mother shopped for groceries next door – the same Mr. Paperback store where I had bought most of my Blish Trek books – I spotted a colorful painting of Kirk and Spock on the magazine shelf above the comics. Normally those shelves were off-limits to me, but certainly this particular magazine had to be okay – it was Star Trek.

Better – it was Starlog.

I was a regular reader from that day until around 1990, when I moved on to magazines like Cinefantastique and Filmfax. For many years, the magazine was my best friend in a way; my only link to the unknown others around the country who shared my love for the fantastic. As Famous Monsters of Filmland was to the "Monster Kids" of the 60's, Starlog was my lifeline in the 70's and 80's. Not only did Starlog cover all the major science fiction blockbusters from Star Wars on, they also covered B-movies, classic films, current and vintage TV shows. They interviewed not only stars, but writers, directors, authors and – especially – special effects wizards. The writers never wrote down to the readers and they opened my eyes to all the wonders of science fiction media. Even now, I will occasionally stumble across something on DVD that I've never seen before but recognize because Starlog covered it 20 years ago. And then I usually buy it.

It was Starlog that introduced me to shows and movies of the decades before my birth – shows like The Invaders, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Prisoner, and movies like This Island Earth, The Time Machine, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Buck Rogers and the Ray Harryhausen classics. Because I read about them in the pages of the magazine, I sought them all out, and I can't imagine my life without having experienced and enjoyed them. And it wasn't just TV and film; the magazine introduced me to SF authors, too – folks like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, David Gerrold, Ray Bradbury. I was first exposed to the artwork of pulp illustrator Virgil Finlay through an article in an early Starlog and Ron Goulart's articles on SF comic strips gave me my first exposure to Alex Raymond's work on Flash Gordon.

Like I said above, I haven't read the magazine since around 1990, but I still lament it's passing. It was one of my most important childhood friends, and while the name will live on as a website, it just isn't the same.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wednesday Cover Contest

This is the wonderful Brian Bolland cover for the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps trade paperback, which also happens to be the cover art of the first issue of the original 1981 miniseries, which also happens to have been Bolland's first (CORRECTION: second) published work for DC Comics. It's interesting that his covers graced this miniseries, drawn by my Femme Noir collaborator, Joe Staton, since Bolland has also become the go-to guy for covers on most of the paperback collections of Staton's early DC work (the recent Justice Society and Huntress collections, in particular). At least in this case, he didn't need to draw a new piece - this cover is still as striking as it was 28 years ago.

For those unfamiliar with the Green Lantern concept, the Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force made up of 3600 members, each responsible for a specific sector of the galaxy. Each Green Lantern is equipped with a emerald power ring, which can do virtually anything that the wielder can imagine, providing their willpower is strong enough. These rings must be recharged every 24 hours from a power battery in the shape of – wait for it – a green lantern. The Corps is answerable to a race of blue-skinned immortals who live on the planet Oa, at the very center of the universe. (For more, check out the Wikipedia page.) The 1981 miniseries collected in this volume was one of the very first –if not the first – Green Lantern story to involve the entire membership of the Corps.

So, what's the contest? Well, thanks to the generosity of Mister Staton, I've ended up with an extra copy of the above trade paperback collection, and I'd like to find a good home for it.

All you have to do is send an e-mail containing your name, mailing address and, if you've got one, the name of your favorite GL, to with the words "GL Contest" in the subject line. I'll pick one entry at random, and send the book (not signed, sorry!) to the lucky winner.

Entries must be received by midnight Wednesday, April 15th. The winner will be announced sometime on Friday. Good luck!

One entry per person, please. Double entries will be disqualified. One winner will be drawn at random and announced on Friday, April 17 2009. The winner’s name will be posted here and will be notified via email. All entries will be deleted immediately after the contest’s close, and no personal information will be retained or transmitted to any third parties. The contest is open to anyone, in any country. Unfortunately, I cannot assume responsibility for items lost or damaged in transit.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Number Five Hundred

This is the five hundredth post I've made in this incarnation of my web journal. There were two previous incarnations of this blog, first on my old Supernatural Crime website, and then for a while on the Atomic Pulp homepage, but this version has lasted the longest, thanks to Blogger's simplicity, which makes it infinitely easier for me to publish my ramblings.

Since the autumn of 2006, I've written endlessly about old movies and new, spy fiction, serials, comic books, 70's sci-fi shows, Godzilla, lots of DVDs, and my no doubt tedious trials and tribulations as I've attempted to forge something resembling a career as a writer and designer. I've also written ad naseum about my chronic poor health and my bout with cancer, and some of the problems that arose from it. I started the blog primarily as a way to periodically purge some of the overwhelmingly pointless shit that swirls around in my pop culture-poisoned gray matter, and as way to try force myself to write something on a fairly regular basis. I also hoped that it would serve as a self-promotion tool, maybe generating some interest in and enthusiasm for my various creative endeavors.

I didn't anticipate that I would make some friends along the way, and I have.

This blog has become a fairly important part of my life, and I'm still surprised that anyone reads it all, never mind that it has regular followers. Some damned cool people follow this blog, and I'm frequently surprised at some of the other visitors who have stopped by once or twice to comment on things I've written, including a few authors I admire, a movie director or two, and others of note. That my words are actually cutting through all the background noise of the interwebtubenet and reaching people... well, it's really just kind of awesome.

Anyway, thank you all. Everyone who reads these words. Thank you for taking a few moments out of your life to read the frequently disorganized ramblings of this misfit from Maine, and thanks for sharing some of your reactions and thoughts with me. It makes my world considerably more interesting, and I hope it does the same for you.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Thrill Me.

"What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?"

I'm experiencing an uncharacteristic display of elation from the announcement over at Ain't It Cool News this weekend that Sony will be releasing a special edition DVD (and maybe Blu-Ray) of one of my favorite genre films of the 80's, Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps!

For a couple of years there, back in the mid-80's, Dekker looked like he was going to be the next big name in genre films. He had writing credits on a few decent B-movies, and then wrote & directed two great cult classics in a row: Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad. Both of them were smart, funny and full of obvious affection for the horror genre. Unfortunately, neither one really set the box office on fire (The Monster Squad, in particular, was badly handled by its distributor, and pretty much flopped), and when his next film, the disappointing sequel, RoboCop 3, died in theaters, his career pretty much died with it.

Both Creeps and Squad had strong fan followings, though, and their cults have only grown over the years, kept alive by aging VHS copies being endlessly replayed. A couple years ago, Lionsgate released a beautiful, widescreen special edition DVD of The Monster Squad, and I guess it must have sold pretty well, because now it's delightful predecessor is coming to disc too.

Night of the Creeps is a smart horror comedy that spoofs 50's alien invasion flicks, as well as 80's slasher and zombie movies. It's got a great cast - especially Tom Atkins as a hardboiled cop – and extremely witty, quotable dialogue. It's great fun, and I'm thrilled to see it get a deluxe home video release at last.

It's supposed to be out for Halloween.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Punisher: War Zone

Once again, I'm going to stubbornly contradict the arbiters of cinematic taste – and the terrible box office grosses – and say that I thought Punisher: War Zone was a terrific, 80's-styled action film. In fact, although I'm a Thomas Jane fan, I thought that War Zone was a considerably better film adaptation of the Marvel Comics character than than 2004 version of The Punisher.

For one thing, Ray Stevenson – who I don't believe I've ever seen in anything before – looked a lot more like the way I picture Frank Castle. He's not a pretty boy, but instead has a weathered, rugged face with some maturity on it. And he played the part well, too, even if his British accent occasionally slipped through.

For another, the main heavy, the hideously disfigured Jigsaw (Dominic Green), was an appropriately bigger-than-life villain and not just another smarmy crime boss – though he starts out that way. Some critics/reviewers complained that the part was played too broadly and campy, but again, I thought it complemented the comic book tone of the film.

It was set in New York and not Tampa, so it was much darker and grittier, and has some very noir-ish scenes.

The violence in the movie was really amped up and very comic book-ish. I could have done with less CG gouts of gore (I would have preferred old school Karo syrup + red dye, personally), but the outrageously gruesome "kills" were kinda cool and fun.

Finally, War Zone demonstrates the absolute best use of a rocket launcher ever. (Rent the film, and you'll see what I mean.)

Now, bear in mind that I actually like the much-maligned 1989 version with Dolph Lundgren. And I liked the Thom Jane version, too. In fact, I think all three Punisher films are enjoyable action flicks. And I kinda dig that each flick has a different lead and that each one stands alone with its own continuity and "universe." (The flashbacks to Frank's past in War Zone match the comic, not the 2004 film, so it's clearly not really a sequel.) But then, we all know that my taste in films is questionable.

I rented this from Netflix, but I'll definitely be picking it up for my collection eventually. It's not a superhero film, but it is definitely a comic book of a movie and manages to accomplish all I want from a Punisher flick – it has Frank Castle kill lots of mobsters in violent and graphic ways. And he wears the skull.

I liked it a lot – of course, your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wednesday Cover: Space: 1999

The first issue of Charlton Comics' Space: 1999 series, based on the 1976-77 syndicated television show, painted by my pal and collaborator, Joe Staton.

I'm pretty sure that this is the comic that made me a Staton fan, even though he only provided the art on the first two issues. John Byrne took over after that. Still, at twelve, I was a big fan of the show (still am) and I read and re-read my original copy of this book until it fell apart. I think that helped me recognize Joe's name and style, so that when I discovered his work on E-Man and the 70's Justice Society and Green Lantern books from DC, I knew who he was.

I was just thinking the other night how lucky I've been to collaborate with Joe on Femme Noir. I'll never have the opportunity to write scripts for most of my favorite childhood artists – they've either passed away or basically write their own projects these days – but I've not only gotten to write scripts for Joe to illustrate, I've been privileged to have him as a creative partner and benefited personally from both his vast experience as a storyteller and his friendship.

Yet somehow, it all started with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain....