Friday, February 27, 2009

Google Search(es) Of The Month: February

I finally, after lengthy slacking, set up Google Analytics for the url. One of my favorite things about it is the ability to see what searches are getting people to visit (one of the main sources of traffic for remains google searches for "shirt and pants"). So far, most of them have been pretty normal, like:

A couple stood out to me today, though, as I discovered that I am the number one result for:
  • zombies public domain
  • zombies in ancient text
Personally, I would think that "zombies public domain" would show more results for Night of the Living Dead (a film that resides in the public domain by accident), and that "zombies in ancient text" would return more about... well, zombies in ancient text? Not so much a lonely blog post about copyright law and creativity. But I'll take it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Open C.L.A.W.: A Brief Report

This evening I had the pleasure of attending the second monthly (monthly?) open meeting of the Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians: The C.L.A.W.

On The C.L.A.W.'s agenda for the evening, after their formal opening ritual, was the further carving of their steamroller print (made with 100% real steamroller!) for Sunday afternoon's Wayzgoose/Letterpress & Book Arts extravaganza at King's Books in Tacoma. I have seen the near-complete version of their piece, and I can safely say that it is pretty dang bitchin'.

There was also a brief impromptu tutorial on layering and coloring techniques from Stowe, shown via the example of a piece for an upcoming Vampire: The Masquerade card set (way over my head, I know basically zero about photoshop, and am barely competent drawing with mere pencil and paper) and a display of some of member-in-waiting Stan Shaw's WSDOT and Star Wars Minis work.

As the only true outsider at the meeting, I mostly just sat back and watched, and scribbled. Here is what I personally accomplished while keeping company with professional cartoonist types (click to enlarge):

Main goals of these drawings were 1) attempt at least moderately realistic faces with zero photo-reference and 2) attempt to display at least some range of motion, and open mouths. I have a bad habit of sticking to the closed-mouth grimace because I've never been comfortable drawing actual mouths, or what happens to faces when they move.

(Certain family members may recognize Mr. Super Guy, whose bumbling cartoony exploits hung on our kitchen wall for years and years.)

Now I need to learn how to shade. And how to draw musculature. And fabric. And, um... everything that's not faces?

Don't forget to come to the Wayzgoose on Sunday! Not only will you witness the C.L.A.W. steamroller print from noon to one, but they should have copies available of their new 'zine, Claw-tu Verata Nikto.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Back To The Drawing Board

When I was a kid, I drew a lot. I mean a lot. Buried somewhere I have a giant stack of illustrations of superheroes, mostly my own creations. The quality varied: I started out awful, and got better over time, as one would expect. I was never great, and eventually, long after determining that I would never be a professional comic artist (an early goal of mine), drawing drifted off, as the time taken by music and computers expanded.

I still doodle endlessly, and draw bizarre stylized faces. Recently I've been tossing around the idea of starting up my own webcomic, but nothing has really sprung to the front of my mind that I could 1) make consistently entertaining and 2) draw consistently recognizably enough for my own tastes. I sketched a little and moved on.

A couple days ago, though, something interesting happened. I have, of late, been frequentint Warren Ellis's message board, Whitechapel. Whitechapel is populated by a ricoculously talented batch of people. Late last week someone posted an art exercise idea: forum members would post pictures of themselves, and others would draw them.

The thread has been a huge hit, and the aforementioned talented folk have done some amazing stuff. Fortunately, due to Warren's firm "Don't be an arsehole" policy (a rarity on web forums), even those lesser artists among us are able to post our portraits to encouragement rather than mockery. So I whipped out a pencil and paper and gave one a shot. It turned out, well... hideous. But I kept trying. And man... I had forgotten how much I enjoy just sitting and drawing. Even pictures that turn out crap.

So here's my first page of Whitechapelers (not the first one... it was on a different page, and it sucked - really, truly). Hopefully this will get me off my ass coming up with a webcomic idea.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Final Toast: It's good, go see it

Sure, I'm biased. Theatre Northwest is the brainchild of my mom's fiancee, Brett Carr. My mom painted the set, and I know or have worked with virtually everyone on the new theatre company's staff.

But the other half of my bias is this: I like the theatre. It was a big part of my teenage existence, and I hate to see it fade away, as it has in much of Tacoma over the last couple years. And I know I'm not the only one. At the opening night gala I was mistaken for someone important (I was wearing a suit and a fancy hat), and an elderly woman thanked me for "bringing theatre back to Tacoma". A lot of people are excited to see a professional-caliber theatre company resident to Tacoma, and a lot of people who aren't yet should be.

But more than the principle of the thing, The Final Toast is just a good, entertaining, worthwhile show. Award-winning mystery author Stuart Kaminsky writes a different kind of Holmes than we often see performed, on stage or on the screen. He is neither smug and superior nor dry and academic. This is a detective who is not just scrounging for something to test his ample intelligence: he genuinely enjoys his work, and takes an almost giddy excitement in putting on disguises and outwitting opponents

This joyful Holmes comes through in both Kaminsky's writing and the performance of Brian Tyrrell. He is contrasted not against Watson, but against his brother Mycroft (played skillfully by Steve Manning), who in Holmes mythos is perhaps the superior deductionist, who turns his skills to political intrigue and repeatedly scolds Sherlock for "wasting" his gifts chasing murderers and blackmail schemes.

The show is not perfect by any stretch. On more than one occasion the lighting changes broke the illusion, which is exactly what lighting should not do. But it is still an excellent first run for a promising new company. That it played to sold-out houses the first weekend is a good sign that people are willing to embrace it. Last I checked, both nights this week were at about 80% capacity, so if you are thinking of going, get your tickets sooner rather than later.

Five shows remain: tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 PM, next Friday (Feb 27) at 7:30 PM, and Saturday (Feb 28) at 3:00 and 7:30. Tickets are $22-$34 and are available from the Broadway Center Website.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: What The Public Domain is All About

The internet, or at least the corner of it that I inhabit, has been moderately abuzz with talk of the upcoming release Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which intersperses the original text of Austen's classic work with harrowing zombie battles in a single, theoretically cohesive narrative. In the words of the promo summary, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action."

I don't know if it will be a good book. It has a solid chance to be at the very least amusing, but that's not really important at this point. I don't care if it's great or crap. What's important is that this book has the potential to serve as a reminder of something that seems to have fallen from public view.

The public domain is an important part of copyright law. Though the specifics vary from country to country, the premise is the same: after a given period of time, intended to allow an author and their family to appropriately profit from their creative property, that property's copyright lapses. At this point the complete text of the work is free to be reprinted, modified, and/or redistributed by others.

You've seen the main results of this: countless editions of the "classics" (largely those novels which were written and published prior to the advent of the copyright) by dozens of publishers packing the literature shelves of all your local bookstores. At best each of these editions will include a academic essay or two expounding upon the literary merits, maybe an author biography (as is prevalent in the Penguin Classics series). At worst just a photograph of a vaguely related (and likewise public domain) piece of art slapped on the cover as another publisher tries to capitalize on a proven seller. And whether good or bad (and certainly there is plenty of good out there in some of these), all of these companies have completely and utterly missed the point.

The public domain provision in copyright law is built with the intent to encourage progress in the arts and sciences (a goal considered noble enough to be included in the U.S. Constitution) by enabling the production of derivative works. Whether this is a cross-media adaptation, such as an innovative film by a crew that could never afford the rights to an owned property, a fresh translation of an ancient text, or inserting zombie-combat into a novel of 19th century British manners, the principle is the same. Such a new creative act, built upon those previous, can be just as viable as a work of pure imagination.

It is my hope that this new work will serve as a wake-up call to other writers, filmmakers, musicians and most of all the publishers that employ these artists. There is a massive wealth of opportunity in the derivation of existing works that is wasted on endless repackaging and reprinting of the same old text. Get over the idea that new work and old work need to be two separate things. Let Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation show how something truly new and original can be grown from the fertile soil of another piece. And, of course, the hype that P&P&Z has gotten should serve as a sign of the money-making potential (yes, I know where the bottom line lies).

We'll see if this plays out like I hope it will. So far all anyone seems to have managed to come up with is a different kind of monster to stick into Pride & Prejudice. But there's hope.

Red Hot Sundays

What was the one thing missing from this past NFL season? The chance to watch the Seahawks lose on the big projection screen at The Red Hot while eating hot dogs and drinking beer. The Hawks stayed off the Monday Night Football schedule, and out of our hot dog routine.

Well, no longer. I was informed by certain among the Red Hot staff that, starting March 1, The Red Hot will be open seven days a week. Rising rent costs for their space have been cited as the primary reason for an increase in hours.

Obviously it will be a while before football starts up again, but I with baseball season around the corner, I suspect we'll soon have the chance to at least watch the Mariners lose for a while.

In other Red Hot news, don't forget to pop in Thursday night for the Zombie Movie Night Food Drive. Bring in non-perishable food items [insert non-perishable/zombie pun here] and enjoy zomromcom classic Shaun of the Dead on the big screen. And take the opportunity to try the Silver City Dry Hopped IPA, which was dry-hopped by the brewer exclusively for the Red Hot

(err... I think it's the Silver City. They have enough IPAs on that I get them confused, so correct me if you know otherwise)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Grand Reviews: The Wrestler

If you follow movie hype, if you watch buzz from festivals and start to pick Oscar movies before you've seen the films (like I've been known to do), you've surely heard about The Wrestler. They've called it "a rare convergence of player and part," "the resurrection of Mickey Rourke," just to quote a couple of blurbs that made the trailer. Well-crafted film promotion is one of the few forms of advertising that blatantly works on me, and I found myself telling people I thought Rourke would win Best Actor before the nominations were released, before I'd seen a single movie that even would be nominated.

Well, now I have seen The Wrestler. And I've seen Milk, which, if you believe the hype, is The Wrestler's stiffest competition for Best Actor. And let me tell you: there is no contest. Not even a little.

Every inch of hype this movie has gotten is well-earned. I've been aware of Mickey Rourke for awhile, mostly as a background goon, and that actor who was a boxer for awhile. There were signs that he was returning to the big time with Sin City, but... well, that movie was what it was. It was a pure replication of the comic, and suffered the same unbelievability and absurd dialog that is the weakness of any Frank Miller comic. It proved that Rourke could still play lead in a box office draw, but not that he could still act.

The Wrestler puts any such doubts to rest. The quote "rare convergence of player and part" hits it dead on, I think. There are elements of Rourke's own character in the role: the star who is reduced to bit parts and sideshows; the athlete whose sport gets the better of him (Rourke suffered numerous head injuries as a professional boxer); and the craftsman who ultimately keeps doing his thing because it's what he does, what he loves doing. And whether it's because he feels that connection to the role, or simply because he really is a talented actor, Rourke brings every ounce of believable emotion to bear on the role.

Happily, the movie holds its own against Rourke. There has been more than one instance in recent memory (Capote and Last King Of Scotland spring immediately to mind) where the performance of the lead far outreached the film itself. In both of those films, the actors worked their parts to perfection, but the works as a whole left me unfulfilled. Simply the fact that Marisa Tomei is nominated for another Oscar here (regardless of what you think of the Academy) should speak to the quality of the remaining cast. Personally, I feel that Evan Rachel Wood's estranged daughter far outshines Tomei's run-down stripper in emotional range. And the construction of the film, with shaky handheld cameras and hasty edits, brings the vague sense of a documentary to the piece, in many ways cementing the character portraits throughout, and demonstrating director Darren Aronofsky's wealth of skill.

People have been calling this a comeback. Comeback isn't exactly the right word. Mickey Rourke never really went away. He faded from the spotlight, certainly, but continued to find regular work as an actor. But it is certainly a return to form, and rekindling of promise. And also just a frickin' great movie.


Tacomans (and our neighbors) can see The Wrestler until at least the 19th, I suspect longer (especially if it picks up the Oscar that following Sunday) at the Grand Cinema on 6th Ave and Fawcett, near downtown.