Thursday, November 20, 2008

David Wellington

David Wellington is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. Wellington hit the scene big with his novel MONSTER ISLAND during the height of the zombie fiction craze a few years ago. There have certainly been better zombie novels (WORLD WAR Z being my favorite) but Wellington hit at just the right time with a surprisingly well-written, well designed book that made it a must-read for zombie fans. Wellington's different take on zombies (He plays with the tropes a little.) brought freshness (heh) to a genre that was burning out fast. But that's not what makes Wellington stand out. The cool thing about him is that he writes his novels in chapters and posts them on the internet before they ever see print. Then, once he's done, he collects the chapters and tweaks them to read better in novel form and releases them.

Wellington followed up MONSTER ISLAND with a sequel and a prequel (MONSTER WORLD AND MONSTER NATION) and has since moved on to a new subject...vampires. I'm currently reading the third of his vampire novels, VAMPIRE ZERO. In the first of his vampire novels, 13 BULLETS and it's first sequel 99 COFFINS, he introduced us to a completely different kind of vampire. No romantic Europeans in dinner jackets and cloaks here. Wellington's vampires are savage, animalistic and incredibly powerful. And completely obsessed with blood. They're hairless, colorless and all teeth and claws. They're scary.

What impresses me most about Wellington is that never takes the easy way out. He throws his characters into crazy, impossible situations and then finds a logical way out. And in the vampire novels, his central protagonist is a lesbian but this fact is never presented in an exploitive way or used to titillate. It's merely a part of her character. And only occasionally is her orientation reacted to by other characters.

Very rarely, Wellington's prose doesn't ring quite true and sometimes the books feel like the serialized chapters they started out as but he is improving with each and every novel and his books are all compulsive page-turners. I'm really looking forward to what he does next. May I suggest werewolves?

With this drawing, I wanted to see what would happen if I just roughed it in in blue and then attacked it with the brush pen. I also wanted to try out my new whiteout pen. Things got a little sloppy around the legs since that's what I was going for, I guess that's okay.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Peter Cushing

For my movie-viewing pleasure this Halloween, I mostly restricted myself to Hammer Films. (With the exception of the infamous CALIGULA of which the less said, the better.*) As much as I’ve loved their films since childhood, I’d really only seen the “big” ones like DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS or CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN because they were the ones that were shown on TV. As a result, I hadn’t yet been exposed to some really good stuff like BRIDES OF DRACULA or PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. (Yes, Christian, it was good. I was just sleepy.) So, by adulthood, my exposure to Peter Cushing was somewhat limited and I mostly knew him as the evil Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS. Tarkin was a really bad guy and, according to Princess Leia, had a “foul stench.” This really didn’t endear Cushing to my nine-year-old self at all. Which is too bad because Peter Cushing was the tits.

This year, working through as many of Hammer’s horror films as I can get my hands on, I’ve grown to realize just how incredibly awesome Peter Cushing was. Whether he was playing the noble Van Helsing in the Dracula films or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the slimy Victor Frankenstein in a multitude of films, he made even the worst of them entertaining. Cushing started with Hammer at a relatively advanced age (in his forties) and so I’m amazed, as I discover my own new aches, pains and twinges each day, that Cushing was able to perform most of his own stunts, even into his sixties! In BRIDES OF DRACULA, he bounds around the set, jumping from ladders to hay bales to staircases with agility and grace. And his performances were never less than top-notch. He obviously took his craft very seriously and brought dignity and class to a genre that sorely needed it. By all accounts, Mr. Cushing was also a true gentleman in every sense of the word, famously apologizing to his female co-star when the studio insisted (despite Cushing’s protests) that a rape scene was necessary in one of the Frankenstein movies.

I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with Cushing on YouTube and he was gentle, humorous and charming to the end. Tragically, he lost his beloved wife Helen sometime in the 1970’s (right before filming TWINS OF EVIL) and was quoted as considering the rest of his life after that point merely “marking time” until he could be with her again. That’s so sad, it breaks my heart. I hope they’re together now, somewhere, and he’s happy again. He certainly deserved it.

Likenesses are not my strong suit but fortunately Cushing had very distinctive features that must have been a Director of Photography’s dream. Every once in a while I see someone and that urge to draw them kicks in. Usually it’s a pretty woman but lately, I’ve been absolutely needing to draw Cushing. I think it came out pretty good and I’m surprised at how quickly it happened. I did this drawing in less than an hour which is fast for me. I think it’s a fairly accurate likeness (I drew from a photograph.) but I think I somehow missed that little twinkle in his eye that you can see in a lot of his films.


* I don’t really like porn. In all honesty, I find it repetitive, frustrating and eventually downright boring. Unlike pro football, sex is something that’s more fun doing than watching. I’d rather be teased, which is why I enjoy the Hammer films so much. But I’d always wanted to see CALIGULA because the idea of a big-budget, all-star historical epic crossed with a triple-X-rated porn movie was too much to pass up. But it was a huge disappointment because it felt like they shot a genuine Hollywood movie and then, without telling the stars, cut in some barely-relevant boom-boom. Problem is, the Hollywood part was very brutal and gory and, in my opinion, gore and sex are two great tastes that do not taste great together. It was very disturbing and a huge turn-off. (With the exception of Helen (THE QUEEN) Mirren who was absolutely stunning back then.) Funny story, though. The morning after I watched this atrocity, I was flipping channels on the HDTV Suzanne got me for my birthday and when it got to some local religious programming, it froze. The remote wouldn’t work and the controls on the TV didn’t respond. I couldn’t even turn it off. It was as if the TV, feeling I needed redemption, was going to force some proper viewing on me. I was alarmed about the problem but couldn’t stop laughing. I guess the TV felt like it had cleansed itself because it’s working fine now. Hilarious.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Marvel Horror

I've been working my way through the second volume of ESSENTIAL MARVEL HORROR and I have to say it's a great improvement on the first. While I love all things horror, Satanism and witchcraft occupy the basement of the genre as far as my personal interest is concerned. With the exception of THE EXORCIST films, THE NORLISS TAPES and that one episode of STARSKY AND HUTCH, I just don't find satanic rituals all that scary. So the SON OF SATAN-heavy first volume was a disappointment.

Not so, Volume Two. I skipped around a bit because I wanted to read the GABRIEL: DEVIL HUNTER stories. I know that goes against what I just wrote but I remember reading these stories from MONSTERS UNLEASHED when I was a kid. The stories are kind of boring and repetitive and terribly derivative of THE EXORCIST. They consist mostly of Gabriel being summoned to banish a demon possessing someone (usually linked to Gabriel's past somehow) and then several pages of Gabriel and the demon of the month hurling insults at each other, usually accusing each other of needing deodorant. Gabriel always comes out on top, often chasing off the demon by a shameless display of affection with his lovely assistant. Typical '70s melodrama. But the art on the majority of the stories was done by the great Sonny Trinidad and that was worth the price of the volume alone. Damn, that guy could draw, just like most of the Filipinos Marvel used in the Seventies.

Also in the volume is the complete run of THE LIVING MUMMY from MARVEL SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS. The art is pretty good, starting off with Rich Buckler drawing the Mummy to look like Lou Ferrigno in bandages then moving on to a long run by Val Mayerik. Mayerik's stuff is kind of wonky but in a good way, perfectly suited for this monster-as-superhero thing Marvel was doing then. Kind of a cross between Neal Adams and Berni Wrightson. The story started off promising, recounting the tale of N'Kantu, an African king leading a revolt against the Egyptian pharaoh who has enslaved his people. He is captured and, as punishment, mummified while still living only to be revived in modern times after spending 3000 years in a waking hell. The time he spent buried and fully aware has driven him insane and he spends the first issue on a rampage, looking for revenge against the descendent of the man who mummified him. By the second issue, the writers had already apparently tired of the insanity angle an decided the electrocution he received at the end of the first issue must have "cured" him. It's mentioned almost as an afterthought. Still, it had the makings of an innteresting story until the third issue in which it takes a weird left turn into Alan Moore territory and the Mummy is recruited by extra-dimensional elementals who what to take over the Earth. Did all Marvel's writers in the Seventies drop acid? Still the art is interesting and I'm looking forward to the BROTHER VOODOO stories. I'm sure the stories will be trippy but Gene Colan's artwork is top-notch.

With two volumes of fairly obscure stuff behind them, I'm hoping Marvel will focus next year's volume on MORBIUS: THE LIVING VAMPIRE. Starting off as an off-beat villain for Spider-Man, he proved popular enough to soon get his own stories in, I believe, ADVENTURES INTO FEAR and benefited from some great artwork by the underrated Frank Robbins. Robbins drew great vampires and though, I believe, he was unfortunately inked in several stories by Vince ("I inked every comic you've ever read") Colletta, Robbins' greatness shines through. The stories suffered from the same new-age hippy-trip stuff that was in all of Marvel's horror books back then but the artwork really brings the books up several notches. Later, Morbius starred in a series of stories in Marvel's black and white magazine VAMPIRE TALES, including one of the most poignant, memorable stories I've ever read in a comic. I won't go into plot details (my fingers are cramping) but the series was drawn, again, by the great Sonny Trinidad, turning in some of the most amazing, horrific visuals I remember from my childhood comic reading.

WIth these stories in mind, I headed off to Legend this weekend with Christian to do one of our infrequent sketching bees. Last time we did this, the waitress sold us out to our models at the bar and they got up and left. So this time, we just drew from our heads and I suggested Morbius. Without reference, I got the collar a little wrong but I think he turned out okay. I drew this in the same sketchbook as the "Old Man Isis" sketch and the paper hasn't grown on me any. It's still like trying to draw on wet sandpaper. I'm considering having some sketchbooks made up of laser printer paper, which is my favorite paper to draw on. Anyway, I hope you like the sketch.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008


This one's for you, Jamar: ooooohhhh—BAMA!!!

I usually try to keep my political opinions to myself, at least publicly. But I'm pretty damned excited this morning so forgive me if I let it all hang out.

I'll probably go into more detail later but I couldn't stop thinking about Mike the last 24 hours. I really wish he was here to see this for so many reasons. It was no secret that the current administration frustrated him terribly and he would be so happy right now. I'm sure he would have called me by now to celebrate. If not, I certainly would have called him. I hope Mike is seeing this.

While I don't think we can ignore how important this election was to African-Americans and what this means to them (Lots of people brought their kids with them to vote!) it's important to remember that Obama represents hope for the future of ALL of us. Race played absolutely no factor in why I voted for him. I voted for him because I wanted a smart person in the White House again and because whenever I heard him speak, I felt hope again. President Obama has a big mess to clean up but I think he's up to the job. Maybe the political parties will finally stop sharpening their claws on each other's backs and get to work for us for a change. Here's hoping.

Hey, there's that word again.


Monday, November 3, 2008

No Costumes...No Candy!

This is the sketch I'd intended for my last post but a visit from the In-laws and quite a bit of yard work took up most of my time last week. So here it is, a few days late. There isn't any one incident that prompted me to draw it, just a general frustration with folks who want free candy without actually getting in the spirit of Halloween. In our last house, we always saw one or two kids who would just show up with a little greasepaint smeared on their faces expecting a handful of candy. I'd suppress the urge to kick them off my porch ("Git off my lawn!") and would grudgingly give them a snickers bar or two. (Fun-size of course. What's "fun" about smaller candy, anyway? I've always wondered.) Anyway, Halloween was great this year. I had a blast and don't expect me to stop watching horror movies or drawing spooky things just because it's November and "Jingle Bells" is playing over the Walmart speakers.

Tomorrow is Election Day, I'm getting up at 5:00 a.m. and heading for the polls. I expect the lines to be massive. We usually have pretty brisk turnout in our neighborhood so I think this year will be huge. Suzanne's already voted since she's headed to New York on business tomorrow but I'm looking forward to going to the polls. I love the experience of voting. It's and event, like a nationwide party. Especially this year. Most elections I feel like I'm spitting into the wind. Virginia votes Republican in every Presidential election so it's never felt like I needed to vote one way or the other. But I've never missed an election and I never will if I can help it. And this year, Virginia is a battleground state so it feels like my vote really counts. I'm so excited.

I just don't get folks who don't vote. Regardless of who they would vote for. Too many people have bled and died for our right to vote, especially in the cases of women and African-Americans. I simply can't understand why someone would take that right for granted or, worse, willingly give it up. It is not just our right as American citizens to vote but also our duty. I didn't support the Iraq war but I keep thinking about the Iraqis who, despite being threatened with their own deaths and the deaths of their families, voted in their first free elections, proudly holding up their ink-stained fingers, knowing full well it could cost them their lives. That was a very gratifying scene. But then I think about folks over here who skip voting because they want to sleep late or because they hate waiting in lines or, unforgivably, they don't know who the candidates are. And that makes me angry. I would walk ten miles through snow and sleet to get to the polls if I had to.

So, please, tomorrow, no matter how busy you are, set aside a few minutes (or hours as the case may be) and honor the people who have given their lives so that we can have a say in who runs our government and go cast your vote.