Doctor Who reviews: Hide

The Doctor: “Telepathy and precognition are normal in anyone whose childhood was spent near a time fissure, like the one in the wood.”
Jack: “He’s as bad as she is! Here, what’s a time fissure?”
The Doctor: “It’s a weakness in the fabric of space and time. Every haunted place has one, doesn’t it? That’s why they’re haunted, it’s a time distortion.” – Doctor Who: Image of the Fendahl

When I first heard beforehand that the upcoming Doctor Who episode “Hide” was written by Neil Cross, who also penned “The Rings of Akhaten,” I must have inwardly groaned.  But, having watched the episode, I was much relieved.  Whereas “Rings” just never came together and left me underwhelmed, “Hide” was a very tightly plotted, engaging tale with interesting characters.

The year is 1974.  Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and empathic psychic Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) are at Caliburn Mansion, attempting to obtain proof of the existence of the Witch in the Well, a ghost who has reputedly haunted the area for many centuries.  Alec and Emma’s inquiries are abruptly interrupted by the Doctor and Clara, who arrive claiming to be from the Health and Safety division of the Ministry of Defense.  And, in typical fashion, the Doctor quickly takes charge of the investigation.

“Hide” very much reminded me of the “gothic horror” stories of Tom Baker’s era on the show.  Indeed, scientists probing the existence of bizarre phenomena at an old English house out in the countryside is highly reminiscent of the set-up found in the above quoted 1977 serial “The Image of the Fendahl.”  Certainly the director of “Hide,” Jamie Payne, does an absolutely marvelous job at creating an eerie, spooky atmosphere.  There were some really suspenseful moments.

Of course, as with so many of those Tom Baker stories, the apparently supernatural entity in “Hide” is eventually explained as a scientific occurrence by the Doctor.  The solution to the mystery is unexpected, yet highly effective.  And right until the end, Cross’ script provides a number of well thought out twists.  I really enjoyed the conceit of the Doctor and Clara using the TARDIS to travel forward in time from the beginning of Earth’s history until the planet’s final days, periodically stopping in the exactly same spot, the once and future location of Caliburn Mansion, in order to collect evidence.

Come on out, all you ghosts, I'm from Health and Safety!

Come on out, all you ghosts, I’m from Health and Safety!

There is some excellent character development in this episode.  Watching the Doctor crossing through the entirety of Earth’s history as casually as if he was taking the bus across town, Clara finally begins to understand just how alien he is.  She realizes the Doctor operates on a scale vastly beyond human comprehension, and is actually intimidated.  As with last week’s “Cold War,” we see great work by Jenna-Lousie Coleman here, once again really fleshing out Clara beyond the initial character remit of plucky girl genius tossing off clever one-liners.

As for the Doctor, Matt Smith once more shows us, underneath the wacky nonchalance, the hints of his darker, more manipulative side.  It seems he is becoming more and more obsessed with finding out who or what Clara really is, why she keeps reappearing throughout history.  At times he appears to regard her not as a person, but as a mystery to be solved, or a laboratory specimen to be examined.

Cross does very nice work scripting the characters Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling.  Alec is haunted not just by the Witch in the Well but by his own past.  He ran black ops during World War II and saw a great deal of death.  Dougray Scott really buried himself in this role, and I didn’t even realize it was him until I went to Wikipedia to check the episode credits.

(As a side note, I did think Alec Palmer looked about a decade too young to have seen action in the war.  He’d have probably been in at least his early to mid-50s by 1974.  In real life, Scott is 47 years old.  Maybe the make-up department should have given him a few extra grey hairs. Ah, well, Scott played the role so well, I’m willing to shrug it off.)

Also well cast is Jessica Raine as Emma Grayling.  Cross’ script makes it clear that Emma’s paranormal senses often leave her feeling vulnerable and exposed.  Raine brings this quality across without making the character look weak.  I also thought Emma’s unreciprocated feelings towards Alec were well handled, and the relationship between the two seemed to evolve naturally throughout the course of the episode.

It’s interesting that such a dark, eerie, atmospheric episode becomes one about hope and the future.  But, again, the transition works effectively.  Unlike “The Rings of Akhaten” or “The Snowmen,” here the message of the importance of love and relationships is underplayed.  Cross allows it to come out of the events of the story, rather than hitting us over the head with a blunt object.

I probably could write more concerning “Hide,” but I would rather not give away too much about it.  If you haven’t watched it yet, it is well worth seeing.  I’d say that it is probably tied with “Cold War” for my favorite episode so far of Series 7B.

Happy birthday to Elaine Lee

I wanted to wish a very happy birthday to writer Elaine Lee, who was born on April 22, 19XX (I’m not going to guess the year, because it is impolite to speculate about a woman’s age).  I first discovered Lee’s work back during the summer of 1994.  Lee had collaborated with artist William Simpson and cover artist Brian Bolland to create Vamps, a miniseries about a quintet of sexy vampire bikers crisscrossing the highways of America.  The book was published by DC Comics under their Vertigo banner.  Lee was doing a signing at the Heroes World comic shop in White Plains NY, and I picked up the first issue there.  Lee had come to the signing with her friend Rachel Pollack, whose bizarre writing I had been enjoying on Doom Patrol.  It was there that I learned that Pollack was also a prose author, and soon after I picked up a copy of her excellent novel Unquenchable Fire.

Vamps #1

Vamps #1

Vamps was a pretty good read, and I was interested in finding some more work by Lee.  I soon discovered that she had written the sci-fi series Starstruck, which ran for six issues under Marvel Comics’ Epic imprint in 1985, as well as a graphic novel.  I found a copy of the first issue, and was totally blown away by the amazing artwork by Michael Kaluta.  Truth to tell, I was a bit confused by the events in Lee’s story, but Kaluta’s art was simply amazing.  This was the beginning of my love affair with his work, and I soon became a huge fan.

This was also the first time I learned that Starstruck had originally begun life as an off-Broadway play, via the cute editorial cartoon on the inside cover, wherein a robotic Archie Goodwin presented the readers with a striking portrait of Elaine Lee herself in the role of freedom fighter Galatia 9, as seen below:

Archie Goodwin presents Elaine Lee as Galatia 9

Archie Goodwin presents
Elaine Lee as Galatia 9

A few years later, I started running into Kaluta himself at several NYC comic conventions.  He must have mentioned that the original Starstruck script could be found on Amazon.  I ordered a copy and when I read it, I was laughing out loud almost non-stop.  The script was written by Elaine Lee, Susan Norfleet Lee and Dale Place.  Michael Kaluta did the imaginative & intricate costume and set designs.  A funny & clever homage to and parody of space opera, it had two month-long runs, first in 1980 and then in 1983.

Early on, Lee and Kaluta decided they wanted to expand the Starstruck universe and characters beyond what was seen on stage, and planned out a whole series of comic books & graphic novels.  Starstruck, in addition to the Epic issues, appeared in the pages of Heavy Metal, through Dark Horse, and then finally a 13 issue miniseries published by IDW starting in 2009.  That was a combination of “remastered” older material and brand new work by Lee & Kaluta.  Having met both Lee and Kaluta at different comic book conventions throughout the years, I knew that they had a wealth of unpublished stories that they’d one day hoped to bring to print.  So I was thrilled when the IDW series was released, although I did end up waiting for the trade paperback edition so I’d have everything in one handy volume.

Starstruck script book

Starstruck script book

Currently Lee and Kaluta are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds in order to publish a new graphic novel, Harry Palmer: Starstruck.  I definitely wish them the best of luck.  After so many years of dormancy, it’s great that they have these opportunities to return to the Starstruck universe.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. The second time I met Elaine Lee was, I believe, a year later.  She was at a comic con in upstate NY, somewhere in the Hudson Valley.  One of the books she had for sale was her graphic novel anthology of erotic sci-fi stories, Skin Tight Orbit.  I really wanted to get a copy, but back then I was only 19 years old, plus my father was with me at the show, so I was much too embarassed to buy it!  Hmmm, all these years later, and I still don’t have that book.  Time to look for it on Amazon, I guess.

But, anyway, each of the times I’ve met Elaine Lee, she’s always come across as a very friendly person.  It’s always a pleasure to see her at a convention or on Facebook.  So, once again, let us wish a very happy something-something birthday to the talented, lovely, and very pleasant Elaine Lee.  Here’s hoping for many more years of amazing stories from your pen.

Lil Bub in the Big Apple

Cats are everywhere on the Internet.  Cute cats, funny cats, strange cats, crazy cats.  You even have your celebrity cats, such as Grumpy Cat and Colonel Meow.  And then there is Lil Bub.

For those unfamiliar with Lil Bub, she is a dwarf cat with big eyes, extra toes, no teeth, and a tongue that hangs out of her mouth.  Lil Bub and her human, Mike Bridavsky, are from Bloomington, Indiana.  They travel around the country making appearances to raise money for animal-related charities.  There is actually a documentary about Lil Bub that is going to premier at this year’s Tribecca Film Festival, with a book coming out in the Fall.  Here is one of Lil Bub’s official photos:

Lil Bub official photo

On Tuesday morning, Michele and I took the subway to the East Village.  We had found out that Lil Bub would be visiting Social Tees Animal Rescue from 11 AM to 1 PM that day, and we really wanted to meet her.  After wandering around for a while, we finally located Social Tees at their new location, 325 East 5th Street.  I later remarked that, since we had been trying to find Social Tees in its old spot, we had been “Looking for Bub in all the wrong places.”  Michele booed me very loudly.

When we got there, the first thing I noticed was that there were several cops standing around.  For a second I thought that maybe Lil Bub had actually gotten a police escort.  Nope, it turns out that Social Tees is next to the neighborhood precinct.  According to the owner, the cops pop in to visit the animals all the time.  It was around 10:30, so we the line was luckily pretty short at that point.  As we were waiting over the next half hour, though, it really grew behind us.

A little after 11:00, Social Tees started letting people in, two at a time.  They were accepting donations of cash or animal food.  If we had known, we’d have brought along this bag of food that our two cats, Nettie and Squeaky, are too picky to eat.  I guess we can drop it off some other time.

Michele and I soon got in.  And, wow, Lil Bub was such a cutie!  Plus she was so small.  I mean, I knew she was a dwarf cat, but she really was tiny.  I think Bub was sort of shy & nervous about meeting all of these new people, but she was still very well behaved.  Here is the photo that Michele took of me petting Lil Bub:

Lil Bub and Ben

Michele said that I had such a happy look on my face when I met Lil Bub.  Having Nettie and Squeaky has really turned me into a cat-lover.  As I said afterwards, it was Bub-tastic.

I think we both wished we could have spent more time with Lil Bub.  But it was a long line, and obviously everyone else needed to get their chance to meet her.  We’re hoping that we’ll be able to go see the Lil Bub & Friendz film in the near future.

New York Comic Book Marketplace 2013: a convention report

I made a last-minute decision to attend this year’s New York Comic Book Marketplace show organized by Mike Carbonaro & Allen Rosenberg.  I wish I had decided a few days earlier when I could have bought an advance ticket cheaper, but what are you going to do?  I also wish I’d been able to take photos while I was there, but my camera went kaput a few months ago.

In any case, my main reason for going was that George Perez was the guest of honor.  I have an Avengers theme sketchbook that I’ve had going since 2007, and I’ve always hoped I’d be able to get a piece by Perez in it.  Well, I got to the show at a little after 10:00 AM, and already the line was really long.  It was also moving very slowly, because everyone else was also getting sketches from Perez.  I decided I’d try and get something from him some other time, because I really did not want to spend a couple of hours waiting.

Uncanny X-Men 204 signed

The other guest I really wanted to see was Chris Claremont, one of my all time favorite writers.  I’ve met Claremont a few times before, but it’s always nice to see him again, because he has written so many great stories over the years.  In addition to having him autograph a few X-Men trade paperbacks, I asked him to sign a pair of issues of Uncanny X-Men, specifically #s 204 & 205, which are favorites of mine.  They came out in early 1986, when I was nine years old, and were some of the first issues of that series I ever read.  Uncanny X-Men #204 features Nightcrawler, one of my favorite X-Men, and it was penciled by Power Pack co-creator June Brigman, whose artwork I love.  Issue #205 is a spotlight on Wolverine in a dark story illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith.  What I really like about this one is that Claremont tells this very gritty, violent story from the point of view of five year old Katie Power, aka Energizer from Power Pack (yep, them again) and he really makes it work.  It enables Claremont to so effectively explore the very disparate aspects of Wolverine, how he is this extremely nasty berserker warrior, yet also have the capacity to be a kind, paternal figure to Katie.

It is a real shame that Marvel does not want to give Claremont any work nowadays.  I mean, he wrote Uncanny X-Men and most of its spin-off titles for a period of 17 years, playing a significant role in building a gigantic franchise (and I certainly don’t mean to overlook the parts that Len Wein, Dave Cockrum or John Byrne also played).  When Claremont returned to Marvel a decade ago, he did very solid, entertaining work on X-Treme X-Men and X-Men Forever (the later was my favorite Marvel title during the time it was being published).  Marvel is very happy to endlessly reprint Claremont’s old stories and to have their newer writers base their stories on the classic arcs he co-created.  But the company seems uninterested in giving him any new writing gigs.

Anyway, Claremont is currently working on prose fiction, and I definitely wish him the very best of luck with his new efforts.  I’m looking forward to picking up his novels.

Spider-Man Death of Jean DeWolff

Getting back to the show, I did not buy too many comic books, because I already have so much stuff.  In fact, I’m looking to get rid of a lot of comic books in the near future.  One of the few books I did pick up was the hardcover collection of Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff.  That’s one of Peter David’s early works.  I’ve wanted to read that one for a while now.  Also, Rich Buckler, who penciled that storyline, was a guest at the show.  I went over to his table, and he remembered me from our e-mail correspondence.  When I gave Buckler the book to autograph, he was genuinely surprised to see it, because he had no idea it had been published.  Which means that, yep, Marvel did not bother to send him a copy.  Again with the lack of respect by Marvel!  In any case, it was a good read, with nice artwork by both Bucker and another favorite of mine, Sal Buscema.

One artist I was very surprised to see at the show was Paris Cullins.  I’ve wanted to meet him for years.  I like his work a lot.  Back in 1988, Cullins penciled a six issue Forever People miniseries written by J.M. DeMatteis and inked by Karl Kesel.  He did really nice art for it, and so for some time I had been hoping to get a drawing by him in my Beautiful Dreamer theme sketchbook.  I even corresponded with him about it on Facebook in the recent past.  So there he was, and this was his first appearance at a NYC show in quite a number of years.  Only one problem: his coming was a last minute decision, so I had no idea he was going to be there, and I hadn’t brought along the Beautiful Dreamer book.  I was mentally kicking myself.  Cullins really wanted to do a piece for me, and suggested that he could draw it on a loose piece of paper to paste into my book.  But I felt it just would not have been the same.  So I left the show feeling pretty disappointed.  No Avengers sketch by Perez, and no Beautiful Dreamer drawing by Cullins.

Forever People by Paris Cullins

About an hour later I got back it Queens, and I told Michele what happened.  Her suggestion was that I should take my sketchbook and go back to the convention.  At first I thought that was a crazy idea, but then I realized I had nothing to do all day, so I shrugged and rushed back into Manhattan.  As soon as I got there, I went directly to Cullins’ table and half out of breath said something like “Good, you’re still here. If you had left, I’d be feeling very silly right about now.”  Cullins ended up working on my sketch right away, which was good for me but probably didn’t especially thrill everyone else waiting for a sketch!  I think he could tell from my Beautiful Dreamer tattoo that I was a huge fan of the character, and that I’d really appreciate what he was drawing.

In addition to the piece by Paris Cullins, I also got some very nice sketches from Dave Fox, Jim Salicrup, and Billy Tucci in my Avengers book.  I’ve posted scans on Comic Art Fans:

http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60

It was a pretty good show but, between this and Mocca Fest, I’m pretty worn out when it comes to comic book conventions.  Think I’ll wait until the New York Comic Con rolls around in October before I go to another one.

Doctor Who reviews: Cold War

I was really looking forward to Saturday night’s new Doctor Who episode “Cold War,” which featured the long-awaited return of the Ice Warriors.  Yeah, I’m not really spoiling anything by giving that away, because if you are a Doctor Who fan with an internet connection, odds are you’ve known for weeks now that the Ice Warriors were returning.  That’s the thing about the spread of info on the World Wide Web.  You go onto Facebook to look at photos of cute cats, and next thing you know you’ve unwittingly found out such tidbits as Neil Gaiman is writing an upcoming Cybermen episode, David Tennant, Billie Piper, Jemma Redgrave & the Zygons are all appearing in the show’s 50th Anniversary special, and Gumby & Pokey are going to become the Doctor’s new companions in the TARDIS.  Okay, I made that last one up, but you get what I’m talking about.

First introduced back in 1967, the militaristic Ice Warriors are Doctor Who’s version of Martians.  They made a quartet of appearances during the Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee years, last showing up in the 1974 serial “The Monster of Peladon.”  Since then, even though they were absent from television screens (narrowly missing out on returning a couple of times in the mid-1980s) they’ve appeared in various novels, comic books, and audio plays.  The Doctor also gave them a shout-out in “The Waters of Mars.”

A major factor in the Ice Warriors’ appeal is that sometimes they were enemies of the Doctor, sometimes allies, and sometimes something in between those two extremes.  Unlike such out-and-out baddies as the Daleks or Cybermen, you never know quite what you’re going to get when the denizens of Mars pop up.

Writer Mark Gatiss does a superb job reintroducing the Ice Warriors in “Cold War.”  The set-up is an excellent one.  The year is 1983, and a Soviet submarine is patrolling the waters of the North Pole.  In command is the pragmatic Captain Zhukov who is constantly clashing with his second in command, the saber-rattling Lieutenant Stepashin, who believes war between Russia and America is inevitable.  Also aboard the sub is Professor Grisenko, an eccentric scientist with a fondness for Western pop music (his favorite song is Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf”).  Grisenko has located some sort of creature frozen in the Arctic ice, and the sub is transporting it to Moscow for examination.  Unfortunately, a bored, impatient crewmember decides to melt the ice.  And out emerges a very grumpy Ice Warrior.

As the defrosted Martian goes on a rampage, and the sub begins to sink, the TARDIS materializes aboard.  The Doctor and Clara were on their way to Las Vegas, but they are obviously waaaay off course.  The Doctor, communicating with the Ice Warrior, learns this is the famed Martian hero Grand Marshall Skaldak.  Discovering that he has been in suspended animation for five thousand years, Skaldak realizes that everyone he ever knew is long dead.  Unable to make contact with any other Martian forces, and having been attacked by Zhukov’s crew, the mournful Skaldak decides to launch the sub’s nuclear arsenal and trigger World War III, wiping out humanity.  The Doctor desperately hopes he can find some sort of peaceful resolution to the conflict, recognizing that Skaldak isn’t truly evil, merely belligerent & misguided.

Cold War

“Cold War” is a tense, atmospheric tale, with almost all of the action confined to the narrow, dark corridors of the submarine.  It really brought to mind the “base under siege” formula seen in the old Troughton serials of the late Sixties.  This is quite appropriate, as that was the era which saw the debut of the Ice Warriors.  I thought Douglas Mackinnon did a fine job directing this story.

I liked how the Ice Warriors were presented.  They were slightly redesigned, giving them a more streamlined look, but they’re still obviously the same beings.  They also move a lot faster now (in their old appearances they lumbered along at something like five MPH) and their voices are much easier to understand.

The contrast between “Cold War” and last week’s episode, “The Rings of Akhaten,” is interesting.  That episode did an amazing job at creating this vast alien world populated by all manner of otherworldly beings, yet I felt the actual story never really came together in a satisfying manner, resulting in a merely average entry.  In comparison, “Cold War” is a rather more modest production, yet it is one of the strongest episodes of Series Seven.  This goes back to one of the strengths of Doctor Who from its original incarnation, when the shoestring budgets meant that the effects were primitive and the sets quite limited.  Given those restrictions, the production teams had to rely on their inventiveness, and on the strengths of the writers and actors, to create compelling episodes.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for episodes such as “The Rings of Akhaten.”  Rather, the lesson is that amazing special effects should complement good storytelling, not replace it.

Another reason why I was looking forward to “Cold War” was the guest appearance by the great David Warner.  He has previously acted in a number of the Big Finish audios, including “The Children of Seth.”  He even portrayed an alternate reality version of the Doctor in a pair of stories.  And he lent his voice talents to the animated special “Dreamland.”  So it was a pleasure to finally see Warner appear in a live action Doctor Who episode.  Professor Grisenko was a great role for him to play.  It is a performance that is both humorous and poignant.

Regarding the regulars, Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman both do good work.  Smith’s Doctor is an oddball with a steely determination beneath the babbling and flippancy.  I really enjoy that he tries to think his way out of a crisis, using either logic to outwit his foes or emotion to appeal to them, only using violence as a last resort.  “Cold War” showed off this quality very well, as the Doctor earnestly strives to get Skaldak and the Russians to see each other’s point of view, and to convince the Ice Warrior that his race is not dead, that the future has possibilities.

As for Coleman, now portraying the third incarnation of Clara (a mystery for another time), she has definitely growing on me.  We see a more vulnerable side to her character her in “Cold War.”  Before now, traveling with the Doctor has been a grand adventure, and she’s come across as the super-confident, almost infallible figure.  But seeing the submarine crew violently killed by Skaldak drives home to Clara that it isn’t all fun & games.  And that leads into a lovely moment between Coleman and Warner, as Grisenko take on a protective, almost grandfatherly role towards Clara.

“Cold War” was a very satisfying view.  It is definitely some of Gatiss’ best work on the show.  His script gives both the regulars and the guest cast solid material to work with.  I think the reason why it works well is because it so successfully blends the strengths of classic Doctor Who and the new series.  Intelligent writing, behind-the-sofa moments, great acting, and real character development are all present.

Mocca Arts Festival 2013: a convention report

Last Saturday I went to this year’s Mocca Arts Festival.  The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art was recently acquired by the Society of Illustrators, and so this was the first Mocca Festival organized by the Society.  As with the last few years, the Festival was held at the 69th Regiment Armory on 68 Lexington Avenue.

Originally, due to a limited budget, I wasn’t planning on attending this year’s show.  But at the last minute my girlfriend Michele Witchipoo had the opportunity to share a table with two other artists.  So I went to the show with her.  One of the books Michele was promoting was An Invitation to the World of Luisa Felix, Cartoonist.  Luisa Felix was an artist who unfortunately passed away in January of this year.  This tribute book of her work was assembled by Paul Curtis & E.J. Barnes.  Michele was one of several artists to illustrate a tribute piece for the book.  It’s a very lovely volume, and you can read more about it on her Witches Brew Press blog.

One of the first artists I stopped over to see was Teylor Smirl.  I first discovered her at Mocca Fest two years ago.  She does this sardonic mini comic Flightless Birds.  I really enjoy her art style.  Since I wasn’t at the show last year, I picked up her last two books, Flightless Birds Vol. 2 and Wild Turkey.  That later one is, as you can imagine, about drinking.  Brought back some odd memories for me, since back during my wild drinking days, I’d go out on Thanksgiving and knock back shots of Wild Turkey to celebrate the holiday.  One type of turkey was as good as another, I would drunkenly reason!  But, anyway, I enjoyed Teylor’s latest work, and it was nice to see her again.

Flightless Birds Vol 2

Flightless Birds Vol 2

I also went over to say “hello” to David Quinn, co-creator of Faust: Love of the Damned.  A few years back, Quinn, along with collaborators Michael Davis and Devon Devereaux, produced The Littlest Bitch, which they issued under the banner of “Not For Children Children’s Books.”  This darkly comical volume is the story of a little girl who plays the role of a ruthless corporate CEO.  I’d been meaning to pick this one up for a while now, so I’m glad I finally had an opportunity.

My pal Justin Melkmann is the guitarist in a local punk band, World War IX.  For the last few years he’s been putting out a self-published comic book titled Earaches and Eyesores, which recounts the real-life trials & tribulations of the band.  Justin was at Mocca Fest to promote the fourth issue, which relates the misadventures involved in the group having to find a new lead singer.  It was a really fun, crazy read.

World War IX Presents Earaches and Eyesores #4

World War IX Presents
Earaches and Eyesores #4

Sitting next to Justin at the show was artist Charles Fetherolf.  I wasn’t familiar with him, but he was sitting there doing these absolutely amazing sketches.  I purchased a copy of his self-published mini comic Dear Aunt Mollie.  It is an illustrated version of a letter which was written by his grandfather, an infantryman who fought in the trenches during World War I.  Fetherolf is hoping to be able to expand this to a full-length graphic novel in the near future.  I definitely wish him luck, because this was a really well done book.

Another artist whose work I really enjoy is Jodi Tong.  I’ve gotten several really lovely sketches from her over the last few years.  Jodi does a web comic called House of LSD.  It’s about three cat sisters who run an adult film company.  Yeah, it sounds naughty.  But, really, it’s actually quite sweet & funny.  Jodi was able to publish a collection of her strips from 2008 to 2010.  I read those on her website a couple of years ago, and really enjoyed them.  So I was happy that she was able to get them into print.  It was definitely fun re-reading them in book form.  I really hope that a second volume is forthcoming.

House of LSD

House of LSD

I was able to get a few sketches done at the show.  Teylor Smirl, Charles Fetherolf and Jacob Chabot drew some very nice pieces in my sketchbooks.  I’ve posted scans of them on the Comic Art Fans website:

http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60

As I said, I was on a budget, so I really did not pick up too much else.  Which is a real shame, since there were so many amazing creators who had interesting books for sale.  There is so much creativity going on in the independent and small press corners of the business.  Mocca Fest is a fantastic show to go to in order to discover what is taking place outside the mainstream.

Some of the Museum’s collection of artwork was on display in a section of the show.  It was a very nice mix of old & new, of mainstream and alternative.  Among the artists whose work was on display were Walt Kelly, Ken Bald, Milton Caniff, Jose Gonzalez, Alex Raymond, Bill Griffith, Marie Severin, and Mark Texeira.  I wish I could remember more names.

Anyway, yeah, Mocca Fest 2013 was a great show.  I had a lot of fun.  I think the Society of Illustrators did a fantastic job organizing the weekend’s events.

Joe Jusko draws Tomb Raider

When I was in high school, I was a big fan of artist Joe Jusko.  He would create these superb painted covers for such titles as Punisher and Savage Sword of Conan.  And then in 1992 the Marvel Masterpieces trading card set came out, composed entirely of Jusko’s painted renditions of Marvel’s most popular heroes & villains.  That was really amazing.

At the time, though, I often wondered why Jusko never did any interior artwork, never drew any full-length stories.  Obviously back then I was a bit too young to realize that it is a very time-consuming process to paint an entire 22 page comic book.  But since then, I’ve always kept an eye out for those rare occasions when Jusko did illustrate an entire book.

Tomb Raider Jusko coverIt really came as a surprise to me, then, when I recently found out that Jusko had worked on just such a project, and it had completely slipped under my radar.  That book was Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All, which was published back in 2005 by Top Cow / Image Comics.  However, I was hardly the only one to miss out on it, though.  On his Facebook page, Jusko referred to it as “Probably the best work of my career overall and also the biggest disappointment since almost no one saw it.”  He went on to explain that he had worked on the book for several years, and had put a tremendous amount of effort & energy into it.  But once it came out, somehow it had disappeared almost without a trace, and many people were not even aware that it had actually been published.

Looking through Jusko’s scans of the original painted artwork that he’d posted on Facebook, I thought to myself, “This looks fantastic!”  I immediately decided that I’d try and find a copy of the book.  I was pleasantly surprised when I checked Ebay, because several different comic book dealers had copies of the issue for sale at cover price.  So, yeah, once you know to look for it, it is out there.

Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All is written by long-time Superman creator Dan Jurgens.  I’m a fan of his work, as well, so it was a nice surprise to see he had plotted & scripted this story.  Jurgens turns in an exciting, suspenseful, humorous tale that features Lara Croft and her associate Chase attempting to liberate a mysterious treasure from an ancient Mayan temple, all the while dodging trigger-happy guerillas.  And, yes, Jurgens does explain why there is a lion in the jungles of Central America!

Tomb Raider Jusko pg 6

I don’t really play video games, so I don’t own a single one of the Tomb Raider games.  And I’ve never before picked up any of the various comic books featuring Lara Croft that Image Comics has published over the years.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed The Greatest Treasure of All.  Jurgens did a nice job writing a fun, entertaining story.

As for the artwork, wow, Jusko definitely outdid himself!  This book really showcases his talents, not only as an amazing painter, but as a storyteller.  The thing about comic books, I now fully understand, is that it is not merely a matter of drawing pretty pictures.  It is also being able to illustrate the flow of action & events from one panel to the next.  There are many extremely talented artists out there who are simply not suited to draw comic books, simply because they do not have that crucial skill for sequential illustration.  With Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All, Jusko demonstrates that not only can he create amazing covers, pin-ups, and posters, but he can also illustrate a multi-page story in a very dramatic fashion.

What I especially liked about Jusko’s work on The Greatest Treasure of All was his depiction of Lara Croft.  He gives her a very lithe physique.  To be perfectly honest, from what I have seen of some other Tomb Raider comics published by Top Cow, many artists drew Lara as having this exaggerated porn star-type body, with huge breasts & a narrow waist.  Jusko, in contrast, renders Lara as an athletic figure.  She still looks drop-dead gorgeous, but in a realistic, believable manner.  A major part of this was undoubtedly due to the fact that Jusko uses models.  For Lara, he had Hollywood stunt woman Jasi Cotton Lanier pose for him.

Tomb Raider Jusko pg 19

There are ten pages of “behind the scenes” items at the back of the book.  On display are some pages from Jurgens’ plot, Jusko’s initial pencils & sketches, photos he took of his models in various different poses, and painted pages in progress.  It is a nice look at the creative process.

It is definitely unfortunate that Tomb Raider: The Greatest Treasure of All went pretty much unnoticed when it was initially published.  It features some really amazing art by Joe Jusko.  If you are a fan of his work, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of the book.

I also recommend heading on over to Joe Jusko’s gallery at Comic Art Fans where he has posted high quality images of the art from The Greatest Treasure of All.  His paintings looks even more beautiful when scanned from the originals.