Monday, November 29, 2010

Space Dweebs

It's the adventures of the Space Dweebs!

I feel like they have some potential, but I have no idea what to do with them. I need to let them simmer some more.

This is a vector illustration, drawn all in InDesign.

This illustration started life as just the yellow alien. I'm not sure why, but it just didn't do much for me. Maybe because he didn't seem all that dweebish to me. So it was back to square one and I reworked him and added his two friends.

Here's the original sketch of the Space Dweebs, which admittedly isn't much to look at.

The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 5: Wildfire

This week on the Walking Dead:

In the aftermath of the zombie attack on the camp, the survivors begin burying their dead. Andrea can’t seem to let her sister Amy go, and won’t let the others near her now dangerous corpse. The others discover that Jim was bitten in the attack, and he soon gets zombie fever. Shane blames Rick for the attack on the camp, and good pal that he is, comes close to picking him off while the two are along on zombie patrol. Rick convinces the others to desert the camp and head for the Center for Disease Control, hoping they’ll find a serum there to cure an ailing Jim.

We’re definitely off the comic book map now. They never went to the CDC in the comic, so I have no idea where the story’s headed now.

Poor Jim. I was just getting to like him too. He wasn’t in the comic though, so I figured he was cannon fodder. Or rather zombie food. I get why he didn't want to go on with the others, but why wouldn't he take the gun from Rick? I would think it would be better to blow your brains out right before the end than to become a shambling zombie, doomed to wander the countryside looking for fresh brains.

I loved Darryl’s face when Carol borrowed his pick axe to “take care” of her husband Ed's corpse. Pretty disturbing stuff.

I guess we won’t be seeing any more of Merle this season, as it’s unlikely he’d follow them to the CDC. This confirms my suspicion that he’ll reappear in a later season as the TV version of the Governor.

That Shane's quite a pal. Apparently he coveted Rick's wife and child for himself, so he told them Rick died in the hospital and swooped in to take his place. Then when Rick miraculously turns up alive, Shane comes very close to killing him himself this week. Things didn't end well between them in the comic, and it looks like it'll be no different in TV land.

I was on the edge of my seat when Andrea was cradling Amy’s rapidly awakening corpse. I kept wanting to yell, “Shoot it in the head, stupid, before it bites you!” Andrea’s a major player in the comic, so I didn’t think they’d kill her off, but I wasn’t sure there for a minute.

They did pay slight lip service to a "tin can perimeter" in this episode, to help explain why no one was standing guard during the fish fry last week. I've noticed they do this quite a bit; answer questions we have in the next episode.

I’m not sure about this CDC plotline. It seems like it's coming awfully early in the series. In the comic they never find out what caused the zombie outbreak, which is probably for the best. The comic characters are too busy trying to deal with the situation to worry about How and Why. I hope the TV show goes that route as well. So far they’ve striven to make the show as real as possible, and adding some kind of alien virus that fell off a comet or secret germ weapon kind of destroys that realism. Better to not worry about the cause, in my opinion. I’m hoping this CDC guy doesn’t have all the answers.

Dang, only one episode to go. That was a short season!

Update: Jim was indeed a character in the early issues of the comic. It's been 4 or 5 years since I started reading it so I forgot a lot of the details from the first few issues.

Hey Look, It's Enrico Palazzo!

I was very saddened to hear of the death of actor Leslie Nielsen this past Sunday. I was a big fan of his and loved him in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies (too bad that OJ kind of ruined the latter for everyone). He never failed to make me laugh out loud.

No actor ever had an odder career than Mr. Nielsen. He started out as a leading man in deadly serious roles, usually as some sort of stern authority figure like a ship’s captain, policeman or lawyer. He seemed destined to play such roles for the rest of his life, until 1980 when he was cast in the comedy Airplane! That movie launched a whole new career for him as a comedic actor, which is reportedly what he’d wanted to do all along.

It’s interesting that he used pretty much the same serious deadpan acting style in his comedies as he did in dramas. He never actually did anything all that funny, but by saying ridiculous lines in a serious tone, somehow he was hilarious.

He also had a penchant for fart humor, which of course made him my hero. He never went anywhere without a little fart machine he kept in his pocket, and would often use it during TV interviews and on talk shows!

Also, kudos to him for having a decades long career in Hollywood without being involved in a single scandal. Not many actors today can say that. 

I met Mr. Nielsen briefly back in the early 1990s. The company I worked for at the time sent me to some sort of class in Hartford, Connecticut, of all places. I was waiting in the hotel lobby for the shuttle bus to take me back to the airport. I looked across the room and saw a sloppy fanboy standing and jabbering away to a seated Leslie Nielsen! Even at 7am Mr. Nielsen looked dapper and well-groomed, like a proper movie star. The fanboy was gushing on and on about how much he liked all of Mr. Nielsen’s work, and doing the “Remember that part where you said that line” thing. Mr. Nielsen, consummate professional that he was, graciously listened to every word and took it all in stride.

The fanboy hung around way too long before finally excusing himself and exiting, leaving me and Mr. Nielsen sitting quietly in the lobby. Just a week or two prior I’d watched the first Naked Gun movie on VHS and laughed until I my stomach hurt. Truth be told, it was all I could do to not squeal like a little school girl and run over to him and act just like the obnoxious fanboy who’d just left. But I figured he’d had enough of that kind of thing for one morning, so I left him in peace. He seemed to sense my reluctance to approach him, so he said hello to me, and we exchanged a few pleasantries until his limousine arrived. Looking back I wish I'd gone ahead and acted like a fanboy too.

I have a feeling Mr. Nielsen wouldn't want us to mourn for too long, so the next time someone says to you, "Surely you're not serious," proudly reply, "I am, and don't call me Shirley!"

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 4: Vatos

This week on The Walking Dead:

Andrea and her sister Amy have a pleasant time fishing in the quarry, discussing their childhoods. Jim, one of their fellow survivors, can’t stop digging holes that looks suspiciously like graves. Back in Atlanta, Rick, Glenn, T-Dog and Darryl follow Merle's bloody trail to the building next door, where unfortunately the trail ends. They then go back for the Big Bag O’ Guns that Rick dropped in Episode 1. They have a run-in with a Hispanic gang and Glenn gets kidnapped. Rick and the others rescue Glenn and discover that the gang isn’t what it seems. Rick and his posse discover their truck has been stolen (by Merle?) and have to hoof it back to the survivor camp. They return just as the camp is attacked by zombies.

As soon as I saw Andrea and her sis having their nice moment in the boat, I had a feeling one or both of them were doomed. And then when Andrea was looking for wrapping paper for the necklace she looted for Amy, I knew it for sure. In a series like this, any happiness or peacefulness must be squashed. Violently and with gusto.

For a guy we never see, Merle’s becoming quite the major character, isn’t he? He’s what I call an “Absentee Character.” Someone who figures prominently in the storyline and has a big effect on the other characters, but who is never actually seen.

Many have doubted that Merle could tie a tourniquet on his arm, make his way to the adjacent building, kills several zombies in his way and then cauterize his stump without passing out from blood loss. It’s probably unlikely, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Several years ago there was a news story in which a teenaged farm boy was involved in a horrific tractor accident and lost both arms. He staggered back to his house, saw that no one else was home, dialed 911 with a pencil held in his teeth, and finally collapsed in the bathtub because he didn’t want to ruin his mom’s carpet! He was eventually rescued and taken to the hospital and his arms were reattached. If that kid could do all that before passing out, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Merle to do what he did.

I need to watch the episode again to see for sure how Merle got off the roof of his building and into the next one, but it looked like he just left through a rear entrance. So why then in Episode 2 was everyone acting like they were trapped on the roof for good? Didn’t they check to see if there was a back door?

Previously silent character Jim finally got to speak, and had a horrible tale to tell. The only reason he got away and survived is because the zombies were too busy eating his family to notice him. Yikes. That’s harsh, dude. I thought it was pretty obvious that the “holes” he was uncontrollably digging were graves, but apparently the other characters didn’t think so, or they were just to polite to mention it.

Glenn has a pretty good head on his shoulders. His plan to retrieve the guns was well thought out and brilliant. It’s nice to see a character in a horror series who doesn’t do stupid things.

The whole “Vatos” (gang slang for homeboys) subplot was a bit odd, but I liked that the gang turned out to be the good guys, taking care of their grandparents. I thought Glenn’s goose was cooked for sure; glad to see he survived unscathed.

Darryl is fast becoming one of my favorite characters. Sure, he’s a crazy hillbilly with a crossbow, but he seems a bit more rational than Merle, and can be reasonable when the situation calls for it.

So Rick and Co. head back to their truck, only to discover it’s been stolen. Amazingly they decide to jog back to the camp from Atlanta. Were there absolutely NO other abandoned vehicles they could have taken? Surely in the entire city of Atlanta there was at least one vehicle with the keys left in it?

So in every episode so far we’ve seen Dale up on top of his RV, standing watch and protecting the camp. So why wasn’t someone guarding the camp during the fish fry? Was it because it was night time and a lookout couldn’t see? Surely there was some way to rig up a perimeter warning. Tin cans on a rope strung in a circle around the camp, perhaps? Bubble wrap on the ground? Something, anything, to avoid being taken by surprise like that.

I liked that Carl acted like a real kid and started crying and clutching onto his mom during the attack. That’s exactly what a real kid would do. I’m glad they didn’t make him some Hollywood kid who joined the attack and killed several zombies single-handedly.

Last week I predicted that Merle would stagger back to the camp, unaware he was leading a parade of zombies behind him. I guess maybe not. If he did steal the truck, he would probably have arrived at the camp long before the zombies did, and that didn’t appear to be the case.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Merle though, and I still have a sneaking suspicion he will turn out to be the TV equivalent of the comic book character the Governor.

I was fully expecting Andrea's sister's eyes to pop open after she died. Maybe next week.

OK, BIG SPOILER PREDICTION HERE. Highlight the inviso-text if you want to read it, but remember you’ve been warned.
At one point several years into the comic book, one of the characters dies of a gunshot wound, and before they can be buried, they come back as a zombie. The others are shocked and confused, as the victim wasn't bitten. They come to the horrible realization that whatever caused the zombie outbreak is inside and all around them, and the minute any of them dies for any reason, even natural causes, they too will become a zombie. It’s only a matter of time before they all join the ranks of the undead. It’s a great twist and a defining moment in the comic series, and leeches away what little hope the survivors had left. My prediction: This scene will happen in the last episode of the season, and Rick will look at the others and say, “We ARE the Walking Dead,” just like he did in the comic.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sneak Peek!

Here's a sneak peek at this year's Christmas card. Like last year, my plan is to make a card/book combo, in the style of Little Golden Books.

I don't want to get into what it's about right now, because I don't want to spoil the surprise. I will say that it's not about an elf, although there are elves in it. I'm trying to make it look like that painterly kid's book style, which is something I'm definitely not used to doing.

I'm racing against the clock trying to get it done, just like always. I'm working 60 hours a week now in addition to the usual stuff that's going on, so it's probably gonna be a photo finish. Seems like no matter how early I start on a project like this, it expands to fill the available amount of time.

The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 3: Tell It To The Frogs

This week on The Walking Dead: Merle goes even crazier as he’s left handcuffed to the roof. Rick is finally reunited with his family back at the survivor’s camp, much to his best friend Shane’s dismay. Women’s lib is set back 50 years by the zombie apocalypse. We meet Merle’s brother Daryl, who’s not quite as crazy, but darned close. Rick feels guilty about leaving Merle for dead, plus he wants the big bag o’ guns he dropped back in downtown Atlanta, so he, Glenn, T-Bone and Daryl head back to the city on a rescue/salvage mission.

Another great episode! Long on talk, short on zombies, but it held my attention just the same. Actually the comic is a lot like this episode. The emphasis is usually leans more toward how the survivors deal with one another in the absence of civilization, rather than just running from zombies all the time.

The opening scene of Merle having his breakdown on the roof was disturbing and riveting. Nobody plays crazy better than Michael Rooker.

Rick’s reunion with his family was interesting. It was joyful for him and his son Carl, but pretty darned awkward for Lori and Shane. Lori was written a bit more sympathetically here than last week, as we find out that the reason she hooked up with Shane so quickly was because he told her that Rick was dead. That Shane; what a pal! I’m still not convinced that there wasn’t something going on between them before the Outbreak though...

The writers seem to be putting a lot of thought into how the world would work after a major disaster such as this. The scenes in which the women were complaining about having to do all the chores and “the division of labor” rang very true to me. I hate to say it, ladies, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly how things would play out if civilization ever fell.

Merle’s brother Daryl was introduced. He's a little more likable than Merle, and not quite as nuts, but he's a danger nonetheless. He's pretty good with a crossbow too. A crossbow as a weapon of choice is a good idea in a world where gunshots can attract hordes of zombies.

We were also introduce to Carol and her daughter Sophia. They were minor characters in the comic. Carol’s husband Ed was mentioned in the comic, but never shown. We get to see him in the flesh in the series. Ed proves once again that the biggest danger in this world isn’t from zombies, but from butt-hole humans stripped of the thin veneer of society.

Rick’s plan to go back to Atlanta to rescue Merle was just plain crazy, but that’s our Rick. He’s like that in the comic too. Luckily he attached the “retrieving the gun bag and walkie talkie to warn Morgan Jones” riders to the bill to make it seem a little less nutty.

Lori telling Shane to stay away from her family seemed a little over the top, but then I’m not a woman sleeping with my husband’s best friend, so what do I know? I guess she was feeling guilty. It’ll be kind of hard for Shane to stay away from them in a camp of 20 survivors. Shane's reaction was very well done; he couldn’t punch Lori, so he decided to put the beat-down on Ed (not that he didn’t deserve it) in a very brutal scene.

I totally called the ending last week, when I said the next time we saw Merle he’d be a little “short handed.” As soon as Rick first handcuffed him to the pipe I knew what was coming. In a show as violent and gory as this, what other outcome could there have been? Plus they very deliberately mentioned the hacksaw at least twice last week.

Did it seem odd that Rick and his posse waltzed right back into Atlanta and up onto Merle’s roof while only encountering a single zombie? So where’d the hordes of undead go? My prediction: Merle got off the roof somehow and is staggering back to the survivor camp, unaware that he's leading a poop-ton of zombies back like a grisly Pied Piper.

As for Merle’s future, I foresee two different scenarios. One, he will get offed by someone because he’s played by an actor who normally only does films, who probably wouldn’t want to commit to a TV series. Or Two, he’ll disappear for a while and come back in a future season as the TV equivalent of the Governor. In the comic, Rick and the other survivors ran afoul of the crazy nut-case leader of a small town who called himself the Governor. He did a lot of cruel and nasty things to Rick and the others before ultimately meeting his end. The comic book Governor was a little too over the top, and fusing him with Merle would ground the character a bit and give his actions a more realistic motivation. Just some thoughts I had.

Normally I get angry when a comic book movie doesn’t follow the source material to the letter. Somehow it’s not bothering me here. The series is following the comic more or less, but it’s diverging at certain points and throwing in new characters. I kind of like that. That way I have a general idea of what’s to come, but I can still be surprised. I don’t know how they’re altering things without making me hate the changes, but I hope they keep it up.

We’re halfway through the first season already! I wish it would last longer, but then again, maybe AMC has the right idea-- produce a short but very intense season where every episode counts, rather than pump out 24 episodes where half of them are filler.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Evil Thoughts

Looks like someone's thinking some dark thoughts.

This is a vector drawing, done in InDesign. OK, so I cheated a little and added a bitmapped grunge texture to the background.

Here's the very rough original sketch.

Lest you think that all my illustrations just fall out of the mouse fully formed, here's a look at the InDesign pasteboard for this drawing. The final drawing is there on the actual page, but note all the rejects and false starts strewn around it. The one in the upper left corner is the very first version. I just couldn't get it to work, no matter what I did.

Also note that in all the versions on the left hand side, the monster has some kind of weird hollow tube on top of his head. My original idea was to have the evil cloud emanating from this tube. Why? I have no clue. It didn't make much sense even to me. In the end I came to my senses and replaced the tube with a horn and just had the cloud erupting from the general area of his brain.

That's today's tip: Don't be afraid to scrap something and start all over. If a drawing ain't working, maybe there's a reason.

The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 2: Guts

Wow, I'm really enjoying this series so far! I haven't been this excited about a TV show since the first episode of LOST (Hopefully The Walking Dead won't sputter and fizzle out like that did!). I just wish it was going to last more than six episodes.

This week we find out that Rick's wife Lori is a little too close to his best friend Shane. Meanwhile, Rick, still trapped in the tank, is rescued by Glen. Glen is part of the same group of survivors that Lori, Carl and Shane belong to. Glen and a few others ventured into Atlanta to hunt for supplies. The scavenger group is furious with Rick for getting them trapped in a department store. With no way out other than through the zombies, Rick and Glen smear themselves with zombie guts to disguise their human scent. They walk undetected through the zombie horde to a construction site, where Rick steals a truck and manages to rescue the survivors.

I like that the series seems to be more or less following the comic, but not exactly. That way I have a good idea of what's to come, but can still be surprised. So far the characters seem to be behaving realistically; doing what most people would probably do in the same situation instead of wandering off by themselves to be picked off.
This episode really ramped up my hatred for Shane. I'm also not a big fan of Lori either. So far she's much less sympathetic in the series than she was in the comic. I get the feeling she and Shane were an item long before Rick was in his coma.

Back in Atlanta, Glen and Andrea (the blond woman) are the only characters that were in the comic. The rest of the group is new for TV. I suspect these newbies will soon serve as cannon fodder.

Among the new characters is Merle Dixon, a racist, meth head hillbilly played by Michael Rooker (star of Slither and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). I don't ever recall seeing Rooker on a TV show before, so good for the producers for snagging him. He does here what he does best: play a psychotic asshole. It was pretty shocking to actually hear the "N" word on TV; not that I want to hear it, mind you, but I've got to give props to the producers for having the guts to use it.

I've read complaints from others that the Merle character was over the top and unrealistic, and that no one would act like that in the middle of a zombie epidemic. Bushwah! I have no trouble believing there are people in the world who'd behave like Merle, especially after the normal rules of society have flown out the window.  

We last see Merle handcuffed to the roof of the department store, left for dead. The show very deliberately mentioned a hacksaw several times, and the T-Dog character accidentally dropped a toolbox near Merle before abandoning him. I would not be surprised if next time we see Merle, he's a little short-handed (see what I did there?).

The highlight of this episode was definitely when Rick chopped up the zombie body so that he and Glen could cover themselves in the bloody remains and disguise themselves from the zombies. Never thought I'd see something like that on TV! That scene was straight out of the comic by the way, and was definitely not for the squeamish. The sudden rainstorm had me on the edge of my seat!

Can't wait for next week!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Odd October

I've got this daily journal (it's not a diary!) that contains calendar pages at the beginning of every month. Since I do the exact same thing every single day of my life, I have little use for the calendar pages, so I've been filling each day's square with a doodle.

Here are the calendar pages for October. Lots of monsters and Halloween related doodles here.

We've got the Bride of Frankenstein on the 4th, with a steam powered Frankenstein monster on the 9th. That's supposed to be Boris Karloff on the 7th, but he didn't come out very well. I was trying to draw Peter Cushing on the 13th, but he ended up looking a lot more like Tony Randall! Always use photo reference, kids!

There's Ookla the Mok on the 18th, with a vaguely Vincent Price-esque figure on the 21st. That's Nosferatu down there on the 27th.

The Walking Dead Season 1, Episode 1: Days Gone Bye

Did you catch the new series The Walking Dead on AMC this past Halloween night? Holy crap, what a great start to a series! Run, don’t walk to your television receiving device, stat!

Based on Robert Kirkman’s excellent comic book series, it’s the story of a handful of people trying to survive after a zombie outbreak decimates society. The survivors soon find out that being eaten alive by the undead are the least of their problems. It’s well done, but very brutal and relentless, offering the characters little in the way of hope. I highly recommend it.

I had hoped that someone would make a Walking Dead movie, but then when AMC announced earlier this year that they were producing a TV series based on the comic, I was greatly disappointed. In fact, I may have even moaned a little like the undead. A zombie series, on TV? I could only imagine how watered-down it would be and how little it would resemble the source material.

I’m very happy to report I was wrong.

The Walking Dead series is everything you could want in a zombie TV show, every bit as violent and gory as the comic book. I’m not sure how they pulled this off on TV (even on cable) but I’m glad they did. The first episode, written and directed by Frank Darabont (who also wrote and directed The Mist), pulled no punches. The first five minutes set the tone for the series, as SPOILERS! our hero Rick Grimes, searching an abandoned service station for gas, is attacked by a little girl zombie and forced to shoot her through the head. Take that, Standards and Practices!

There were enough headshots, rotting corpses, splattering blood and organ feasting to satisfy even the most hardcore zombie fan. In fact I’d say it easily deserved an R rating.

But lest you think that blood and gore are all the show has to offer, there’s plenty of emotion and drama as well. SPOILER! The scene in which Rick’s neighbor tries to shoot his undead wife in the head but can’t bring himself to do it was particularly moving.

The first episode followed the comic very closely, but with a few changes and surprises. I see this as a good thing. Deviating slightly allows fans of the book (like me!) to still be occasionally surprised. Actually I’m not sure I want it to follow the comic verbatim, especially if it gets picked up for several more seasons. The whole Governor/Woodbury plotline was so horrific and unrelenting that it was tough to read in comic form; I’m not sure I could watch any of that acted out live.

It was great to see the various characters from the comic come to life. I had a little geek moment (and maybe even squealed a little) when I saw Glen, Andrea, Carl and Dale (complete with his hat!). Don’t get too attached to anyone though– if the series follows the comic, then no one is safe. No one. Any character can, and will be put through the ringer and killed off.

Geek alert: In the first episode, Rick’s son Carl appeared to be wearing a Science Dog t-shirt! Science Dog is the favorite comic of Mark Grayson, star of Invincible, one of the other 30 or 40 monthly titles that Robert Kirkman writes (no lie, I don't think the guy sleeps).

I’ve read many complaints online about the opening of the series being a ripoff of the movie 28 Days Later (Rick awakes from a coma in a deserted hospital and wanders through the empty streets, encountering the undead along the way). Creator Robert Kirkman explained that he wrote the first issue of the comic months before 28 Days was released in the states, but for some reason Image Comics delayed the premiere of the book so that it actually came out after. By then it was too late to do anything about it.

Frankly I’m weary of hearing that complaint; yes, the opening is very similar to 28 Days Later, but once Rick leaves the hospital the similarities end. It represents 1% of the series. Accept it and get over it, internet trolls. Besides, 28 Days Later didn’t invent the whole “hero wakes from a coma to find the world destroyed” trope in the first place. Day of the Triffids used it, as well as The Quiet Earth. There aren’t any new ideas under the sun by this point, kids.

The first season is only six episodes long, so hurry and catch it before it's gone! AMC said it was the highest rated show they've ever had, with over 5 million people watching. That's an incredible number for cable. Nothing's official yet, but at this point a second season is pretty much a given.
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