Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Colorist Appreciation Week Day 3 - Dean White

This week I've decided to call attention to some of my favorite colorists in comics, the unsung heroes of the industry. If you missed the previous posts this week, the reason I decided to highlight colorists is they deserve more recognition, so without further ado, today's spotlight is Dean White.

When I really threw myself back into comics in 2010, two new series from Marvel were launching that I immediately picked up; Uncanny X-Force and The Avengers.

Art by Jerome Opeña
X-Force was my first introduction to artist Jerome Opena, and his art blew me away. I had never seen illustrating quite as dynamic before, but what really made those drawings soar was the stellar coloring. The greens and pinks just leapt out at me, transporting my senses to a new dimension. There was nothing else on the stand that looked like this and to this day, that remains true. I loved the boldness White's colors brought to the overall package and although I was totally invested in the story, it was a title worth picking up for the art alone.

Art by John Romita Jr.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you had told me that The Avengers was colored by the same person, I would have double checked the credits to confirm this for myself. Although not as immediately eye-catching at first glance, John Romita Jr.'s art also benefited from White's partnership. It's no wonder that they collaborate so often, if I was Romita, I wouldn't want to let White go either.

Looking at this piece of art with the Avengers' major players, the way they are appear is, for me, the definitive colors for each character. In my opinion, these renditions should set the standard for future colorists to use as a guide when coloring these heroes going forward. And check out that Infinite Gauntlet! It's never looked more powerful than under White's masterful eye.

Art by John Romita Jr.
It's also clear from looking at the art in the Kickass comics, that White's keen sense for how to color the costumed vigilantes was majorly taken into account when designing the real-life costumes of the film adaptation. Although still Romita's art, White gives it a more gritty, lived-in appearance, as opposed to the shiny perfection of The Avengers. The difference in his approach to Kickass over the iconic Marvel heroes is an important one, as it has an almost DIY feel to it, which suits Kickass to a T. If the coloring in Kickass looked anything like The Avengers, it would betray the spirit of what it's trying to achieve. White knows this, and the series is that much better for it.

So what do you think? Can coloring make a break a comic? What other colorists would you like to see spotlighted? Let me know @greatscottcomic and tag it #ColoristAppreciationWeek.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Colorist Appreciation Week Day 2 - Jordie Bellaire

I’ve been highlighting some standout colorists this week in a bid to give them the credit they deserve. See my original post where I explain why I chose to do this as well as spotlight one of the best colorists ever, Dave Stewart.

Art by J Bone
Today I focus on Jordie Bellaire, a more recent discovery of mine after I realized she was working on two books I regularly pick up; Deadpool and IDW’s Rocketeer minis. Bellaire’s work on both series are very unique and really caters to the art style and tone of each artist she works with.

The colors on The Rocketeer bring a sense of adventure and match the time period perfectly, giving it a silver age feel. The way she colors J Bone’s art on the Hollywood Horror mini is very cartoonish in style where every color is defined and stands apart from each other, which compliments Bone’s style nicely as it looks like an animated series come to life. 

But when she colors Chris Samnee on the Cargo of Doom arc, WOW. This very much evoked Dave Stewart’s coloring on DC: The New Frontier for me, as the colors blend so smoothly to create perfectly balanced panels. After seeing this, I’d love to see her colors on Darwyn Cooke’s art. 

Art by Chris Samnee
Bellaire’s colors on Paul Smith’s Pulp Friction 4-parter was a little more subdued, again complimenting his style, and also showcasing further versatility.

Her color pallet on Deadpool also demonstrates great flexibility as it matches the frenetic energy of the series spot-on, but from one scene to the next can go from eye-popping to subtle, really setting the tone. I was impressed with how even in a bright red room splattered with blood, your eye still goes to Deadpool, whose red suit pops in every panel. You can tell how much fun she’s having on this book as her work here is just plain eye-candy, in the best possible way.

Art by Declan Shalvey

Justly, Bellaire’s name is featured on the covers of her work on Deadpool, something creators like Yanick Paquette and Scott Snyder are championing for colorists and which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Hopefully I’ll come across more of Bellaire’s work in the future as it elevates the art on each title she’s credited on. Until then, tell me who your favorite colorists are as #ColoristAppreciationWeek rolls on! 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Colorist Appreciation Week Day 1 - Dave Stewart

 It seems colorists are the unsung heroes of comics. But why is that? I mean can you picture Superman and not imagine him in a red cape with a big yellow "S"? I know I can’t. I have even known people who won’t touch the value size Essential volumes for the very fact that they seem to be allergic to black & white.

There’s been rumblings as of late amongst comic creators concerning colorists and what they’re worth. A-list creators such as Yanick Paquette and Scott Snyder have recently spoken up in support of colorists, urging the big two publishers to pay them royalties like their peers, as well as list their credit on the cover alongside the other talent. It’s a valid point.

I wanted to pay tribute and highlight some of my favorite colorists this week. When I asked myself, what book did the colors really pop and elevate the art to another level, for me it was DC: The New Frontier.

If you've ever been impressed with the coloring in a DC or Dark Horse comic, chances are, Dave Stewart was responsible. Today’s spotlight is on Stewart, one of the all-time great colorists who frequently works with the best artists in comics.

Stewart’s work on DC: The New Frontier hit the perfect balance of silver age pop art while still appearing contemporary. How he manages to achieve both all rolled into one is what sets him apart from his peers. Art by Darwyn Cooke.

The art on Batwoman, already in a class of its own, was still elevated by the ethereal quality Stewart’s coloring brought to it. A true master of his craft, the art by J.H. Williams seemingly brings out the best in him.

It’s difficult to pin Stewart down as his style is distinct, yet versatile. When it comes to his work on the Hellboy line of titles, his choice of muted color pallets evoking a moody atmosphere that defines Hellboy’s world. Art by Mike Mignola.

Gotham never looked better. In masterworks such as The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, Tim Sale’s art was drenched in shadows, underscoring the mysterious narration, but in the short “Date Knight,” Sale’s work pops under Stewart’s colors.

Check back tomorrow to see who the next spotlighted colorist is!

Hello Star Wars Episode 7, Goodbye Expanded Universe

I was just as excited as the next Star Wars fan when a new trilogy was announced and when JJ Abrams signed on, that was just icing on the cake. His take on the Star Trek franchise was essentially Star Wars in disguise and if he could do for the next era of Star Wars what he did for Trek, I was on board.

With the announcement, we learned the long awaited Episodes 7-9 would finally see the light of day, but the question remained; how would this effect the Expanded Universe that fans had come to accept as the canonized events following the conclusion of Return of the Jedi?

Well, it came as little surprise with the recent news that the upcoming movies will be taking a different direction, thus negating the Expanded Universe (EU) as we know it for the past three decades plus. After all, I can’t blame Abrams for wanting to carve his own path and not be tied down to multiple authors’ interpretation of “what happened next.”

At the same time, I grew up reading the books, playing the video games (not to mention the Star Wars Collectible Card Game!), and obsessing over the minutiae of every ancillary characters’ backstories in my Star Wars encyclopedia (it was all for nothing!). I’ve relished exploring new corners of that galaxy far, far away and it’s very bitter sweet to know that the EU has more-or-less been relegated to fan-fiction status. Although that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop publishing them by any means, apparently under the banner Star Wars Legends.

So, as I eagerly await new details from Episode 7 to surface, I thought I’d count down the 5 things I’ll miss most from the Expanded Universe:

5) “Tales” Anthologies

This “Tales” anthology series of short stories focused on minor characters that populated some of the most notorious Star Wars locations such as the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba’s Palace. Many of the SW novels published by Bantam in the 90’s focused primarily on post “Jedi” chronology, with a timeline in the back placing each novel “X years after the Battle of Endor.” These books, however, took a slightly different approach, showing readers a different angle to events during the movies themselves. The behind-the-scenes look at what other stories were taking place during some of the most iconic scenes gave characters with as little as three seconds of screen time their own backstory, which really helped enhance the movies, giving them a more lived-in feel.

Focusing on a variety of characters from fan favorites (Boba Fett) to the obscure (the Rancor keeper), these stories were thrilling, sometimes heartbreaking, and occasionally hilarious. The tales were written by a variety of authors, many of whom have contributed notable entries to the EU, including Timothy Zahn, Barbara Hambly and Kevin J. Anderson (who also edited the series). As mentioned, because these stories took place during the original trilogy, I’m not sure how much affect they would have on future events of the series, but despite that, nothing can retcon the laugh-out-loud “Gamorrean Guard’s Tale” from my history.

4) The Force Unleashed

In the same way that the “Arkham” games allowed me to immerse myself in Batman’s world and experience what it was like to be the Dark Knight, The Force Unleashed was the first Star Wars game to truly produce the sensation of having the Force under my command (sorry Knights of the Old Republic). Timeline-wise, Force Unleashed falls between the prequel trilogy and A New Hope, introducing fans to Starkiller, Vader’s secret apprentice. The engaging story paired with dynamic gameplay made for a worthy addition to the SW mythos and added new depth to Vader’s relationship with the Emperor. Plus you get to bring down a frickin' Star Destroyer!

3) Splinter of the Mind’s Eye
Another “fill-in-the-gap” story, Splinter slots in between Episodes 4 and 5. Originally a story written by Alan Dean Foster that was intended to be shot as a mini-movie if Star Wars wasn’t a success, it ended up as a novel and eventually adapted into a comic. This was the first Star Wars comic I ever read and between the spot-on likenesses of the actors and the flawless renderings of the starships and props, it wasn’t hard to visualize this as an official entry into Lucas’ universe. The story starred Luke and Leia and it was cool to see the siblings on an adventure of their own, with subtle foreshadowing about their yet-to-be-revealed relationship. They cross paths (and lightsabers) with Vader, at his most menacing, and share a hilarious moment which may be my favorite Luke/Leia scene in all of Star Wars history.

2) Shadows of the Empire

Bridging the gap between Empire and Jedi, Shadows of the Empire felt very epic in scope, a major Star Wars event of its time. Shadows was treated with the gravitas of a new entry to the cinematic saga. A novel, a video game, comics, even a new line of toys. The works. And I ate it all up. The novel was so cinematic that all that was required was John William’s score in the background and it felt like the official Episode 5 ½. Han was frozen in carbonite during the events of this story (spoiler alert!) so the rogue mercenary, Dash Rendar, was the fill-in Han. You play as Dash in the game, and although the N64 graphics haven’t held up, the game itself was another solid effort from LucasArts. Shadows was the perfect entry point for fans of the movies into the Expanded Universe and helped fill the void until the prequels arrived. But Shadows wasn't mere filler, it felt like it was always part of the plan and now I can’t imagine the original trilogy without it.

1)    “Young Jedi Knights” series

Years after the events of Jedi, it was time for the new class to take center stage. With the Emperor ensuring the Jedi were all but extinct, it was now up to Luke to train new recruits at his academy. No surprise that Leia’s kids with Han turned out to be force sensitive and quickly rose to the top of the class. Jacen and Jaina’s adventures were just beginning and being the same age as them at that time, it was easy for me to relate to them and imagine myself training alongside the young padawans. Admittedly, Chewbacca’s nephew being one of their classmates felt a little too convenient to tie it in to the family but the series did manage to introduce some captivating new characters and tell some fresh stories with real stakes as written by the previously mentioned Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta. It’s a little to sad to think that their existence has now been blinked out of continuity for the foreseeable future, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some elements of the EU will carry over into future movies. Time will tell!

Honorable Mention: The Ewok Adventure. Just kidding, the less said about this, the better. If killing off the EU takes this down with it, we’re all better off.

So that’s my list! The fact is, the Expanded Universe isn’t going anywhere. To me and millions of other fans, it all still happened and will never be separated from our own personal SW canon. I eagerly await future movie installments of one of my favorite sci-fi franchises and am curious to see what will become of a brand new incarnation of the SW EU. Did I forget to mention your favorite SW novel, comic, or game? Let me know!

You can follow my random string of consciousness here - @Scott_Duvall

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Showrunner

Who doesn't love TV?

TV is a fantastic medium for telling a story. It's also a huge time/creativity killer where hours of one's life disappear faster than you can say "Netflix binge weekend" but that's a topic for another blog.

I think TV is a perfect avenue for filmmakers looking to flex their long-form storytelling abilities and that in many ways, scripted TV keeps getting better (if you know where to find it). But who is responsible for making those hours spent staring at a screen worth it? The showrunner. Here's some recent examples of why their guiding hand is the key to a show's success.

One of the best comedies on the air is NBC’s Community, which just wrapped its 5th season last Thursday. The show is frequently on the cancellation bubble, never quite sure from year to year if it will be returning, but has nonetheless maintained a fervent fan base which is what keeps it alive. The show’s creator, Dan Harmon, was sent packing after the show’s 3rd season, leaving the future and quality of the series in jeopardy. Once it was official that it would return for a 4th season, hardcore fans swore off the Harmon-less season, claiming that Community minus Harmon isn’t Community and as far as they’re concerned, the show ended with season 3. After a lackluster 4th season, the unimaginable happened. It was announced that the show would return for a 5th season and Harmon would be back at the helm!

Community would be restored to its former glory because of one man’s involvement! And that leads me to my point: where movies are a director’s medium, TV is where the showrunner is the visionary. So once he/she leaves, is it really the same show?

Take Breaking Bad vs. Dexter. Breaking Bad (arguably the best show of the 21st century) was Vince Gilligan’s story to tell from start to finish. By the end, you could be satisfied with the knowledge that no matter how you may have liked to witness the saga of Walter White unfurl, at least this was the definitive ending by the creator who brought him into this world. A successful show can’t be an easy thing to walk away from but Gilligan knew when to call it quits and for that I commend him.

Dexter didn’t have the luxury of a dedicated showrunner to see it through from start to finish and in its 8 seasons changed hands three times. The original showrunner, Clyde Phillips, exited the show after season 4 (where many, including myself, like to pretend it ended) and went out on a high note. Once it did reach its conclusion, he chimed in with how he would have ended the show just in case fans weren’t on board with the ending they did receive (they weren’t). The series eventually went past its expiration date because it was mishandled, something I explored further in a previous blog.

This is the cinematic equivalent of Wes Anderson dropping out of his own movie mid-production, and the studio not wanting to eat the cost so they bring in hired gun Brett Ratner to finish the job. An extreme example, but it gets the point across.

You find this in music occasionally when band members come and go but still record under the same name because it has brand recognition. The packaging may fool some, but its contents are not the genuine article. Like when Velvet Underground put out its final album minus all the founding members. Who wants to listen to a VU record without Lou Reed? The answer was nobody. At this rate, Guns n’ Roses might as well quit pretending and just be billed as “Axl Relives His Glory Days, a GnR Tribute”. C’mon, you think Jack White would ever tour as The White Stripes without Meg?

The Wire had David Simon. The Sopranos had David Chase. The Walking Dead has…

And that leads me to this week’s news, in which current Walking Dead showrunner (third and counting) Scott M. Gimple stated that he envisions The Walking Dead could last 10 years or longer. Either this guy is hoping for a self-fulfilling prophecy so he can have more job security than the previous men who filled his role, or he’s deluded himself into thinking he’ll be around for the show’s final act (more on that later). 4 seasons in and already this show is past its prime, but ok, let’s entertain this idea.

In Gimple’s words, “it's possible that the cast — considering the amount of deaths on this cast and everything else — after 10, 12 years, it could shift into a whole new cast.”

#WalkingDeadSeason10 cast?
Well if that’s the case, why not just produce a Walking Dead spinoff with a fresh set of characters. Oh yeah, that’s exactly what they’re doing. With Breaking Bad done and Mad Men on its way out, AMC is scrambling for another Walking Dead size hit. So what’s the answer? Clearly two Walking Dead shows are better than one, right?

I know I’m coming off as a bit of a hater right now, but that’s not my intention. I truly want the show to succeed! Who would have thought we’d have a zombie series on TV, let alone two a few years ago? That in itself is progress. But what I don’t want to see happen is the flagship series suffer when the focus becomes split. Wouldn’t fans prefer one kickass zombie show as opposed to two mediocre ones? But Walking Dead is now AMC’s sacred cash cow, bigger than any one showrunner, and they will drag it on for as long as viewers are tuning in. After all, Walking Dead mastermind Robert Kirkman is still involved, so that’s something, right?

His concept for the comic book series was to offer what zombie movies could not deliver. To follow a group of survivors throughout the zombie apocalypse and to never have to wonder what happens to them after the credits roll, but for the story to continue as long as need be. Comics are the perfect medium to achieve that goal. There’s no major studio notes, budget constraints, or scheduling conflicts with actors to worry about. It’s just Kirkman and the artist.

But comics play by a different set of rules.

Creators come and go on longstanding titles. It’s become standard industry practice to bring in a new creative team to shake things up, hopefully bringing in new readers to kick off a fresh arc. But it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without Kirkman, would it? If he ever decides to move on, will the comic continue on without him penning it? I mean what zombie loving comic scribe wouldn’t want to play in Kirkman’s sandbox? “Before The Walking Dead,” anyone? Nah…

Yes, the comic series that inspired the hit show has run far longer than your average creator owned series (over 100 issues and going strong), so there’s plenty of source material to pull from, but all good things must come to an end. Vince Gilligan knew this and that’s why Breaking Bad wasn’t handed off to a new showrunner to finish his story for him.

I’ll probably still tune in to The Walking Dead when it returns, if for no other reason than to stay apart of the conversation, but at this point, I don’t know if I’ll be celebrating 10 years on the air once it reaches that point. Now that AMC is in the driver’s seat, and not the interchangeable showrunner, it appears that the Dexter curse has taken hold. Perhaps in a decade or so from now when Walking Dead ends its run, original showrunner Frank Darabont will give us his version of "how it should have ended."

I refuse to die... as long as I stay lucrative!
So that’s my rant for this week. Sorry Walking Dead, I don’t mean to pick on you. I’m just a firm believer that in order for a show to be a creative success, a solid showrunner is crucial.

I turn it over to you, dear reader: who are some of your favorite showrunners and are there any exceptions where a show went on to higher heights due to a new showrunner taking over? Let me know in the comments!