Thursday, March 25, 2010

Required Reading: "Just Before the Black" by James Franco

It's rare these days that a talented actor can be found in Hollywood - save for those of old. Enter James Franco: At first, I think nothing of him. He's just the pretty boy cast to play Peter Parker's best friend in Spider-Man. Like any nerd, this deeply insults me.

Still there's something alluring about James Franco that I can't quite point out - at least, not during the first movie. Two Spider-Man sequels later, I watch a little film called Pineapple Express where Franco plays drug dealer/best friend to the main character played by that fat guy whose name I hardly remember. Then it hits me: James Franco has talent. Fuck that - he's brimming with talent. He's a guy who's not using the term actor loosely in this world of Robert Pattinsons. 

Then an explosion of sorts happens when I discover the April 2010 issue of Esquire in my mailbox one afternoon. Not only is the ever sexy Tina Fey on the cover, but within its pages also lies a short story by one James Franco. Surely this cannot be the James Franco who has won our hearts over the years. No man can have that much talent, right? 

I turned to page 20 only to find out that yes, it is that James Franco. I also learned that he's coming out with a book called Palo Alto this coming October, published by Scribner.  It's a collection of short stories and I'm guessing that "Just Before the Black" is one of its features. Steady now - we all know that actors want to be more than just actors and usually fail at doing their moonlighting jobs. Could James Franco be a great writer? 

I wasn't even done with the piece when I called El Senor and told him he had to go out and buy a copy of Esquire only to read the story. Hell, I'd lend him mine if he didn't want to pay for it. Because James Franco is a great writer, or at least he has promise of being a great writer. 

In this short story, James writes about life right before death. Only someone with great talent can pull this off. I tip my hat to you, James. Well played, hombre.

Kill Two Birds & Get Stoned

A few years back, I met Kinky Friedman at the University of Texas, Pan American while he was campaigning for governor. I was interested in writing an article for him, but the opportunity never presented itself. Still, it was great meeting Texas first non-politician politician. He was the anti-hero of Texas politics, a quick shooting Jewish cowboy who smoked cigars - even had one on him during his entire speech, though it wasn't lit.

About two weeks before meeting with him, I decided to buy - from Amazon - two of his CDs - Last of the Jewish Cowboys - The Best of Kinky Friedman and Mayhem Aforethought. I listened to them on end, trying to gather the feel of the man who would be speaking at my school. So when the day came to watch him perform - for anyone who's seen Kinky Friedman campaign, you'd agree with me that his speech was a performance piece and not an actual speech, right?

He hit on things that I agreed on and a few that I didn't. In the end, he left us with a bit of advice. Don't vote for him because he isn't one of the other cookie cutter politicians, but because it felt right. While I didn't vote for Kinky Friedman that year, my only regret was not taking my CDs with me so he could sign them.

Flash forward a handful of years, I'm sitting at the Dustin Sekula Library in Edinburg with an urge to get up and browse the books that are on sale. Still wrapped in its dust protector is a hardback copy of Kinky Friedman's Kill Two Birds & Get Stoned. I saved it from certain doom and returned to my seat for the poetry reading.

What would've taken me a few days to read, I recently just finished the book - took me about a week, by the way. The book's amazing, it's difficult to put into words. Or that could be attributed to the fact that I have a head cold.

The book follows Walter Snow, a non-writing writer, as he befriends the two troublesome adventure seekers known as Clyde Potts and Fox Harris and their adventure throughout the streets of New York. The novel is littered with wit, wisdom and the human spirit. Much like it is said with On the Road and traveling, the same can be said with Kill Two Birds & Get Stoned - if you're going wanting to take down corporate giant Starbucks by the end of the novel, then you're one of the no-hopers of this world, lacking the human spirit.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Book Hunter

I've mentioned in the past how Jyg is the best girlfriend ever. Well, the day before my birthday, she bought me New Dead adding on to that coolness. 

I had fun on my 27th birthday, more so than any that came before it. We didn't hold a big deal for me, just a movie and pizza with some friends. I look forward to next year now, which is something new to me entirely.

Also received on Friday, Binx bought me a toy - DVD Makerr USB 2.0. This should get me going on the editing work I've picked up.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Clive Barker's Age of Desire

Adaptations take on many forms; they aren't always films. With this in mind, I only picked up Clive Barker's Age of Desire because of name recognition - something that failed me earlier.

While I've never read the Clive Barker prose, this adaptation is stunning. P. Craig Russell's adaptation is blessed by being accompanied by the artwork of Timothy Bradstreet. Russell also adds in some added artwork himself within the pages of this graphic novel. 

Age of Desire deals with an experiment gone awry. Blind Boy, Jerome is the center of a sexual study of a drug used to stimulate the sexual imagination, turning him into a rapist and killer. He kills one doctor after - or upon - raping her and seriously injures another. The latter doctor's only mission is to destroy all records of the failed experiment. 

Police are after Jerome, hoping to catch him before he rapes and kills again. The story's climax is foretold before the final page, but its meaning lives on forever. In an age where desire is mimic through drugs - where even a blind boy can have vivid sexual fantasies - what part of us is left human?

Maybe you should read Lovecraft instead

I had my doubts when I picked up Fall of Cthulhu: The Gathering at the public library. Maybe there was something I missed, another volume that I could've read before picking up The Gathering. Truth is, I only picked up the trade because of name recognition. I'm a fan of Lovecraft's work, and this graphic novel was obviously inspired by the mythos, extending from the Cthulhu mythos and touching down upon the Dreamlands.

However, Michael Alan Nelson's story left me wondering if he really was inspired by the mythos, or if he just read about it and then decided to go on his own to see if anyone would realize it. Maybe it's just me. I'm a fan of graphic novels, but it seems in my attempts to read horror comics, I always feel like I'm being cheated out some of something essential.

Nelson split his story up into five parts with the last two merged together. Each has a different artist, with the except of the last two. The art work various from contemporary comic book fashion, to the nitty gritty old style often found in horror comics, to cartoonish depictions. The last two parts of the book, covered by Pablo E. Quiligotti, are my favorite. While the story didn't capture my attention, Quiligotti's work reminded me of better graphic novels with better stories - Sandman comes to mind.

Read it if you must - mostly because it's a boring day and there's nothing else for you to do. But trust me, if you're a fan of the mythos, you'll probably wind up hating yourself for even bothering to pick this up.

Batman: Year One

I'll never understand why I put off reading Batman Year One for so long. Maybe I wasn't ready for Frank Miller's version of the story. Which bothers me, because I accepted The Dark Knight Returns with open arms.

Many things come to mind while reading Year One, though. First of all, its importance to the Batman mythos, a signature in the canon, and so forth. I've said this before with another book, haven't I? It's still very true, however. 

Told from the point of view of both Batman/Bruce Wayne and Lieutenant Gordon, the story follows both narrators through their first year in Gotham City. Influenced much by the film noir concept of storytelling - isn't Frank Miller responsible for the film noir graphic novel, Sin City? - the book engulfs the reader, leading them down the path of chaos, destruction and finally redemption.

David Mazzucchelli's artwork combines the gritty comic look that pays homage to Miller's film noir style of writing. There isn't another team who could have pulled the story off any other way - of course, unless you consider the original origin story. 

I wonder why Year One wasn't considered as a Batman film adaptation, though you can see its influence on such films as Batman Begins. There's a Joker in the story, but there are a lot of mob bosses, crooked cops, petty criminals and corrupted city officials - did I fail to mention Catwoman?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

History Rewritten

For decades, Superman has been on his unending battle for truth and the American way. He's a household name, even amongst the non comic book readers. We've watched his movies and know his origins. His story is something of an American mythology now. America in the flesh, born on a distant, destructed planet. Sent here so that he might live while his planet was consumed by its own red sun. 

That's until Mark Millar decided to go on the opposite direction. Much of Superman's American ideals comes from the fact that his ship crashed landed in a farm in fictional Smallville. He is raised by his foster parents Martha and Jonathan Kent, he attends school and goes off into the real world, just as any normal human being might do. He meets Lois Lane and falls in love with her. He feels a sense of responsibility to use his powers for the good of mankind, sparking jealousy from his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor. 

That is the Superman we've come to know over the ages, but Mark Millar pondered the what if of our hero's origin. What if Superman's ship crash landed in a Ukrainian field, rather than Smallville? What if he was raised to believe in Communism, rather than Capitalism? What if Superman was an enemy of the state?

But Superman Red Son is more than just a tale of the what if; it's also a colorful depiction of the what is. From America's constant need to be on top of the world, demanding others to follow suit, insisting anyone against Capitalism as a dictator, a tyrant, a foe, a terrorist threat to our way of life. In this alternate world, Superman comes out from obscurity, promising to do what is right. He doesn't only save lives from within the USSR, but aids America as Sputnik 2 nearly crashes into Metropolis - as part of Lex Luthor's plan to figure Superman out. Lex Luthor is the evidence of a visionary gone awry. Unlike his "real world" counterpart, Lex Luthor does promise to fix the world and he does in the end. But much like the Lex we've come to know and hate, his goals can only be met by destroying Superman no matter who is killed or injured in the process. And in this sense, Lex Luthor is the embodiment of the American Way. As long as the consequence turns in favor of the American people, then things went as according to plan.

Red Son also gives us the origins of other well known DC Universe heroes. A young child who witness his parents slaying by a KGB operative vows revenge, becoming a masked terrorist who stands opposed to Superman. Wonder Woman falls in love with a blind-to-the-fact hero turned USSR leader, sacrificing her well being in the process. Green Lantern appears as a USA military force along with his marines with the same advantages. It seems a perfect example that despite the alteration of history, people still have a legacy to follow.

Mark Millar's story is seasoned with inside jokes that one can only understand if you're a fan of the Superman mythos - and even if you're not a fan of the comic books, TV shows or movies, I mean, it's pretty common sense things. Two memorable scenes that both made me snicker and groan both contained the probability how things would be if the ship had crashed in America. A scene with President Eisenhower remarks to Agent Jimmy Olsen, "Just think, Agent Olsen: if that rocket has landed twelve hours earlier, this Superman they're talking about would have been an American citizen." Later, Lex Luthor is speaking to Agent Olsen: " It's such a shame he works for the other side. I honestly believe that Superman and I would have been the best of friends if he'd popped up in America."

Altering more facts, Mark Millar allows us a glimpse into the future and leads us down the Superman bloodline. The ending is both cunning and probably the most original since Krypton exploded for the first time over half a century ago.

And let's not ignore the incredible art work. Had it not been for the artists involved, the concept of Superman as a member of the socialist party wouldn't have been as convincing. Nor would had the transfer of Batman as terrorist or Wonder Woman as part of the regime.

It's something worth reading and having upon your shelf for the times when you feel like seeing the world through a different lens.

Magazine Sale - $10 off select titles!
Magazine Sale - $10 off select titles!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Foreseeing the Punchline

Headed over to Dustin Sekula Memorial Library yesterday to peruse their "collection" of graphic novels. I came out with a only five that piqued my interest. There's more, but they were either checked out or somewhere else on the floor. It doesn't matter. 

I've been in the mood to read a whole bunch of graphic novels because my imagination has been at its most active. I've been wanting to write a script of my own for about half a year - probably more. Another reason can be accredited to my lack of commitment on the whole 100+ Book Challenge that I started at the beginning of the year and haven't really kept up with it. Unlike their prose counterparts, reading a graphic novel only takes me a few hours - mostly because I like to take in the visual aspects - spending at least a few seconds on each panel aside from the reading time. I even go back if a particular piece draws me to it. 

Batman R.I.P. is one of those collections that had me flipping backward through the panels, inspecting each panel for something that will lead me to understand its conclusion before I get to it. Much like Watchmen - and at the same time, very much  unlike it - Batman R.I.P. allots you a lot of important information in small doses.

The superb writing is greatly complimented by the awesome artwork. The sinister Joker's qualities are intensified within these pages, reminiscent of something diabolical - at times, I swear I could picture Marilyn Manson's face (even though, he's probably the least diabolical singer in the "industry"). The torn identities carried by Bruce Wayne/Batman, the loyalties between family and friends - they all play the part of who we are and who we want to be and what we use in order to stay sane.

Batman R.I.P. won't find it hard to garner a place within the Gotham mythos and the canon of comic book fans everywhere. It should be read by anyone wanting to know how to write a story, be it prose, script or a graphic novel.

Save up to 50% on books for Writers at
Reach Your Writing Potential with Writer's Digest

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dealing with our "Shortcomings"

I read Adriane Tomine's Shortcomings for the first time two years ago. It was a gift from Monica during a time in my life when nothing was certain and all paths seemed to lead to a dead end. Things happened that I wish I could undo now or do differently. I could've handled them better if I weren't so caught up in myself. In the end, I hurt someone that means the world to me. 

Much like its main character, Ben Tanaka, I was having difficulty accepting change. The book, however, wasn't to my liking. It tainted Adrian Tomine for me after I had shown interest in his works in the past. I dubbed the book as a waste of shelf space and carried on to read something better. 

Two years later, I find myself reading Shortcomings once again, in a different, less jaded light. Much like 2008, I've been burdened with the sudden shift of change in the air. It seems that the aftershocks of two years ago has carried over through 2009 and landed dabbed in the early months of 2010. This was the reason why I picked up Tomine's graphic novel for the second time. Rather than pining at the end of something in my life, making pathetic attempts of grabbing onto strings, I've come to accept them for what they are. 

Nothing about Shortcomings has changed between the two reads. Perhaps, I've changed. Learned to accept things for what they are. It isn't the best book out there, or the most imaginative, but it is something to which we can relate. – Textbooks

"It takes a zombie to do what I've come for."

I'm going to be honest with you - I've never finished reading the original J. O'Barr's The Crow, nor any other series based on his mythos. I've read the first part, though. A buddy of mine gave - or lent  - me a copy when we were in high school. It wasn't the complete first series, just a part of it, maybe the first two issues or something. I was in love with the movies, but never read the graphic novels that inspired them. So I wanted my first time with an actual series to be a unique one, which is why I decided to read Flesh & Blood first. The fact that it was also the cheapest also added to its pro list. 

But I always wanted to read Flesh & Blood, since I first heard about it when I saw the first issue in the plastic protector at Myth Adventures - a local comic book store. And it was for the same reason I saw it as an unique experience: It features the first female Crow. 

Iris Shaw is murdered in an explosion by a right-wing militia group and finds herself alive through supernatural occurrences. A crow is her spirit guide as she avenges not only her death, but that of her unborn child. 

Like all - I'm working on assumptions here - Crows before and after Iris, her death is untimely and tragic, purely violent. Told in three chapters (issues), Iris takes down each of those responsible for her death, building up for the climax of taking down the man in charge, Ray Henderson. 

While it doesn't contain the art of J. O'Barr - let's face it, I wouldn't want to read it if the writer and artist attempted to mimic O'Barr - the story is canon for anyone who is a fan of The Crow. It's a must read, a must own. While Amazon doesn't have any copies in stock, sellers are selling them for cheap. Buy one for yourself, will you? You won't be disappointed. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Picking Up Trades

I got it in my head that I should write a comic book - excuse me, a graphic novel - so I phoned a couple of my friends to see if they wanted in. JD, a tattoo artist, said he was game. Donovan, an artist greatly influenced by his hip hop background, stated he had been wanting to start his own, but didn't have the story idea to go through it. Great, two artist friends with great talent wanted to partake in my venture. 

Only there was a slight problem: I didn't know what it takes to write a comic script. So, as it is in my nature, I went book hunting. I found DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, which I picked up but never finished. Never got passed the first chapter, to be honest.

I was at my wits in. I've written numerous short stories, a few personal essays, a one act play - that was back in high school, so there was a great chance it isn't any good (it isn't good) - an a few articles for an alternative newspaper. However, writing a comic script seemed to be quite difficult. Something a person with a short attention span shouldn't venture into. But I'm hardstrong. I continued hunting. 

Then came Alan Moore's Writing for Comics, an essay on the craft. Like most real writers writing about their craft, Alan Moore doesn't beat around the bush. It's certainly impossible to teach someone how to write. Ask any creative writing professor. Alan Moore simply gave us the tools to make decisions about our writing, not attempting to teach us how to write like him, or like the next Stan Lee. He doesn't give us the conventional wisdom of comic books that have padded out childhood, but to learn how to grow within our own realm. 

Writing for Comics isn't only "the rules" for storytelling in the graphic novel world, but storytelling in general. Even if you're not attempting to be the next Frank Miller or Alan Moore, the book will help you out with literary pieces - meaning prose. Highly suggest all writers and would be writers to pick up a copy. It isn't expensive and you'll impress your audience.

As for me, I'm going to give The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics another try. And hopefully start working on some notes that will lead to an idea that would lead to a plot that will lead to a script that will lead to a comic. Wish me luck. Seriously.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Brian Keene: A Master in the "Darkness"

I'll be the first to admit this: I'm a spoiled English major brat. Give me your Hemingway, you Plath and whatever literary figure you can chuck my way and I'll give you an opinion. Keep that genre bullshit away from my sights because I'll frown upon you. I'll feel superior to you in all ways. Your selection of garbage fiction disgusts me. Something you buy at the airport to accompany you on a long flight. Something you pick up because it was on the New York Time's Bestseller List. Something Oprah told you was worth reading. 

Yes, after all these years of being told that I was a spoiled English major brat, ruined by professors in the department, stripped of creativity by the creative writing instructors - I'll be the first to admit that I'm spoiled rotten. Spoiled rotten to the core. 

Sure, I might pick up a Stephen King novel or an Anne Rice book from time to time, for the hell of it, because I don't want to think about what I'm reading. They aren't filled with anything intellectual. They won't pass the test of time. 

But oh no! Just leave it to someone like Brian Keene to have to go and prove me wrong. I've read a book by Keene in the past, if you recall. Besides being a literary nutjob, I'm also partial to zombies - movies, that is. Other than World War Z, Dead Sea was the only book I've read dealing with the subject matter.

As for Darkness on the Edge of Town, Keene once again proves the awesome powers he has a horror writer, incorporating his take of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Following the lives of Robbie Higgins - the narrator - his girlfriend Christy and neighbors Russ and Cranston during an supernatural occurrence, the book details the horror that lurks in the unknown - a popular Lovecraft theme, I may add - and the inner darkness that plagues our most primal instincts and depraved desires.