Monday, March 28, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – A Review

What the hell was that? Seriously, what just happened? Did I just dream that? There was Superman. But Superman was a nervous wreck, on the edge of a breakdown, crippled by self doubt and pretty much only concerned with saving Louis? And Batman was there too, except Batman was filled with rage and hate and regret and fear, and I mean filled with it. Lex Luthor was around as well, but this Lex Luthor wasn't the suave self assured sociopath that we all know and love. This Lex was a raving lunatic, more like the Joker than Luthor? Also Wonder Woman was there, but she didn't really seem to be doing much?

Oh no, wait, I know what that was, I just watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The plot? Well, it's been nearly two years since Superman's (Henry Cavill) colossal battle with Zod (Michael Shannon) devastated the city of Metropolis. The loss of life and collateral damage left many feeling angry and helpless, including crime-fighting billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck). Convinced that Superman is now a threat to humanity, Batman embarks on a personal vendetta to end his reign on Earth, while the conniving Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches his own crusade against the Man of Steel.

I've got to say up front, when the trailers were coming out for this film, I was not excited. I was indifferent. It looked like a yawn fest. A tiresome repeat of the wanton destruction at the end of Man of Steel. A boring slugging it out between an inhuman Superman and a tired old bat. Well, I went anyway, and I was wrong, it wasn't boring.

Was this the superhero movie we wanted? Was this the superhero movie we deserve? Was this even a superhero movie? To answer those questions in order: no, maybe, and no.

It's a brutal film, filled with hate and revenge and selfishiness. It's concerned with weighty questions, like man v god, who is to blame, who does Superman owe allegiance to? And it's totally freaking weird. I mean, off the wall weird. Garrett Cook said it was “a superhero's nightmare” and that's a fair summation. It's full of imaginary and dream sequences and if you're not paying attention you're going to get lost.

The DC universe is often described as the coming of the new gods and this seems to fit with what DC are doing in their ambitious film universe. The film is just chock-full of questions about what does it mean for there to be a man who is so powerful he can literally do anything? Does he have the right? What does he want? And what can we do as humans to stop him, if we don't like the answers to those questions?

Is this even a superhero movie? Arguably not. Sure people have superpowers but, a bit like the end of Man of Steel, no one does much heroic. Everyone is selfish and self absorbed. They have a reason to fight, but they aren't holding up a noble ideal, they're fighting for their reasons and their reasons alone. It's not for a brighter dawn, or protecting the weak, they're fighting because they're pissed off or have something to lose. That makes them the old Greek Gods, but certainly not heroes.

This is the nightmare scenario. When gods fight. Yeah, Batman is just a human, except he clearly isn't. If Kal-El is Ra, or possibly Zeus then Batman is Hades, stern and unyielding and unmoved by prayer. Gone is the Christopher Reeves Superman, there is no fanfare. Now we have a Superman who leveled Metropolis to stop Zod. A Superman who appears to have nothing to fear. And gone is Batman too, no Adam West goofiness, or Michael Keaton steel, or even George Clooney cheese. Even Christian Bale's bat is banished in favor of a brutal Frank Miller-esque Dark Knight. A huge, bone snapping gladiator ready to punch the man of steel in the face. Who will seek vengeance for the slain? Who will bring the guilty to justice? Who is the Man of Steel accountable to? Batman.

Do we deserve this? Do we deserve a DC universe which is filled with weighty gods who rain destruction down upon the innocent civilians and appear to care nothing about it? Unfortunately, yes we do, because we did this. I don't know if BvS was in preproduction when Man of Steel was getting roundly thrashed by the critics, but it certainly feels like the criticisms of that film were listened to. Most people, myself included, complained about the wanton destruction at the end of MoS - “What about all the people who must have died in Metropolis? Doesn't Superman care?” Well, here's your 2.5 hour reply. If you said that, or thought that, you are Batman. You did this.

Zack Snyder's reply is more destruction (with a slight nod that no one is in fact in these buildings at the time), god v man, a Superman who appears to only care about two women on the planet and a brutal Batman who snaps limbs and brands his victims.

Garrett Cook also said of this film “you're not high enough to watch this film”, here I don't agree with him. You're not sober enough to watch this film. This is the cold hard sobering smack to the Marvel Movie face. Shit is real. People are going to die. What do you believe in?

Secondary question, do I even want this film? Do I want this dark and macabre DC universe? How the hell is it going to hold itself together? Remember this DC universe, in potential, has Captain Marvel with the power of Shazam, 52 Earths, Gorilla Grodd and Krypto the Superdog in it too? Only time will tell if they can balance this universe or not. At the moment, on the strength of this outing, I'm willing to give it another shot. This sure as shit ain't Marvel and that's alright, now that I understand that.

So, did I enjoy it? Enjoy is not the right word. I respected it. I came out feeling like a piano string after a Shostakivich recital - battered and bruised but feeling like something good had just happened to me. It's intelligent, and it's asking questions, which I have to give it points for. It's brave and bold. It wasn't boring, but it's not for kids either. This is not Marvel. This is the DC universe, and the DC universe is cold, and brutal. Bones are snapped. Fires are started. People are branded. Characters are flawed and wracked with guilt. Nightmares walk abroad. And humans are scant on the ground. Hold onto your loved ones and pray that the giants don't notice you.

My name is Chris Meekings, I watched this film, you might want to too.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Portraits of Bizarro #1: Artist Jim Agpalza

by Lee Widener

This is the first in a series profiling prominent figures in the Bizarro community who are not authors. First up is Bizarro artist Jim Agpalza, who has done many book covers for Eraserhead Press, including two of this year's New Bizarro Author Series books; my own "Rock N Roll Head Case" and Chris Meekings' "Elephant Vice."

LW: Jim- Some of our readers might not be as familiar with you as they are with the writers in Bizarro. Can you give us a little info on your background- where you came from, art training, etc.?

JA: First of all, Hi Lee and readers! I come from a tiny sugar plantation town on the north shore of O'ahu, Hawaii. I was raised but never baptized as a Jehovahs Witness. I used to draw flip book cartoons of little stick figure people getting crushed by giant boulders or shot down by jets or spaceships or an explosion of lava from a volcano all on the pages of my JW bible or other JW publications. As for art training I'm mostly self-taught. When I did art in school my teachers just left me alone. I took a couple of art classes at the local community college when I moved to Portland, and again was pretty much left alone to my own devices.

LW: Has your work always been so deliciously twisted?

JA: Aww thanks. I'd like to think so, but I doubt it. There was a good chunk of my childhood drawing lowriders and dinosaurs and Superman and Garfield and other safe comic book stuff. My mom told me that the first drawing I did for her was of a man falling off a building. Comic books are actually the gateway to my twisted stuff. I'd always see hints of nipples on the costumes of the lady characters, and as a kid they'd always give me chubbeez in my undeez. I thought if I could make my own art- porn that I could masturbate to I'd be the envy of all of my male classmates. I then had to learn how to draw nipples. We didn't have the internet in the early 90's so I had to glean everything about the female anatomy from R rated movies and porno magazines, and once that door was opened I was pretty much a fat kid in a candy store screaming for DIABETEEZ FO MY UNDEEZ! From the porn I learned about the male anatomy and where things went. Soon kids at school were asking me to draw sexually explicit pictures to jerk off to. It took a while, but I eventually got bored with sex drawings. From there things got weird.

LW: Do you have a particular outlook or philosophy behind your artwork?

JA: I strive to make something that hasn't been seen before, and to make it look good as I possibly can. Which Bizarro has given me ten-fold.

LW: Do you have a particular medium you prefer to work in, or do you have a large bag of tricks?

JA: I started out with no.2 pencils and crayons to pen and ink to oils and acrylics. I'd have to say oils are my jam. I grew up on Bob Ross. It always blew my mind as a kid to see him scratch his pallet knife full of paint on the canvas and shwip shwip you've got a mountain. As a kid I watched this and knew this is what I have to do. I wanna go shwip shwip and make a giant vagina! For the book covers and illustrations I've been solely using digital.

LW:  When and how did you get into doing book and magazine illustration?

JA: One of my closest and oldest friends(Gaetano Evangelista) and I did an animated short for Tony Clifton where he murders a guy and diddles with his severed cock.

LW: WHOA! Hold on there! You just went from drawing pornographic cartoons for your friends to doing an animated film for Tony Clifton! Can you fill in the blanks a little bit??

JA: Yeah, years went by between drawing porn for friends and Tony Clifton. When I say I got bored drawing porn for friends it's because their ideas of porn were so boring and not Japanese enough. I mean they never wanted to add anything to it. It was always straight up porn, no tentacles or animals or something I deemed interesting. At 16-17 I felt drawing nudie pics needed something for it to pop, and at the time I just didn't know what or how. It took years of messing around and experimenting to get to where I wanted to be. I took up painting and got obsessed with color and technique, and all the masters and their works. I'd try to incorporate some of the ideas I'd seen from Bosch, Dali, Goya and Van Gogh. It's still an ongoing process. I'm still learning from them, but now I'm influenced by comic book artists too. The big two I try to steal from are Junji Ito and Robert Crumb. I could cum just from their cross hatching. Movies were a huge inspiration too. The biggest influence for me was Sergio Leone, Igmar Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa. I was in my own world, developing my own style.

I painted a picture of Marilyn Monroe whose face was half melted, helping a goofy Jesus off the cross with the help from a tiny Hitler holding up my Darwin fish(a fish with legs, the front legs has hooves and the back legs has hands for feet and a monkeys tail) which was suckling on Jesus's teats. I have to say this painting gave me months of giggles. A friend of mine was getting married, and wanted a painting from me as a wedding gift. After some reluctance I finally did one. It was of my Darwin fish and a half man with a Hummingbird head and a dead astronaut holding up a Japanese flag. A mutual friend saw the painting and became obsessed with turning it into a cartoon. And there my friends, is the birth of Spacefish. After some convincing, we started work on it. I painted all the characters, and my partner started on background collages. We had like seven minutes worth before we kind of gave up. At that time my partner started to work the lighting at Tony Clifton shows. Wha???? Yeah, he's badass. He somehow convinced Tony to let us animate a segment of the show where Tony went off on a story during one of the songs. I think you can find that video on YouTube I think it's called "Tony Kills A Man". I'm not sure, but I think Tony still uses it in his live shows. It's fucking awesome.

 With the money from that, we got interested in doing a full length episode of something we had both been working on earlier which turned out to be Spacefish. We had done some clips of it (pre-Clifton) where all the characters had been hand painted in oils by me, which took a really fucking long time, then the animation alone and the computer rendering shit took forever. I had done the Clifton stuff entirely in primsicolor which was faster but murder on my hand and wrist. So when we got a producer and some funding to do Spacefish proper we got a bunch of cool equipment like an office in the pearl district downtown. We got other artists and writers and computers....and (cough cough) other stuff. I got a Wacom to do all the characters digitally which sped things up nicely. The writers turned out to be the power couple Cameron and Kirsten Pierce who Simon Ore our producer is a huge fan of and of the bizarro genre all together. I worked at the office when I could, and I got to witness these geniuses work on their craft. There were all these cool looking books lying all over the place in the office and I begged Cameron to let me do a book cover. I always wanted to do a book cover, and Cameron and Eraserhead finally relented. From there I've been involved ever since.

LW: What was the first cover you did for Eraserhead Press, and how many covers would you say you've done for them?

JA: The first cover I did was Unicorn Battle Squad by Kirsten Alene. I think I've done around twelve more or less including the one I did for various imprints of Eraserhead.

LW: I know for my book, "Rock N Roll Head Case" you didn't read the book before you did the cover, yet you captured the spirit and essence of the book perfectly. What's the process like, creating a cover for a book you haven't read? How much guidance do you get?

JA: Sometimes it's pretty easy. The writer or editor will send me a description of what they want, and I'll try to come up with something that's as close as I can get to in the description. Sometimes it's a grueling back and forth where I end up yelling at my wife and kids, and punching the couch cushions. And tons of crying in the fetal position in the shower as blood from my ass flows into the drain. Most of the time it's pretty easy and fun! Rock N Roll Head Case was fun to do because I got to draw Alice Coopers head! His face alone was such a joy to draw with the backdrop of the cosmos and psychedelic colors and Andre the freaking Giant. I was sold.

LW: Do you have a preference for one type of output over another? Do you really like doing animation, or book covers, or commissions, or the freedom of just letting your imagination run wild?

JA: I like doing it all. Like everyone else, I feel like my balls tighten up nicely when doing my own stuff. I'm also a level 3 guitar and bass player.

LW:  Do you have an online gallery or website where people can see more of your work?

JA: Yes, I have a blog where I haven't updated in a while at JIMAGPALZA.COM .
I also have a redbubble where you can get my stuff on things and shit.
Jim Agpalza on Redbubble

LW: Jim, this has been FANTASTIC chatting with you! I love your artwork, and I hope everyone else will find it as compelling as I do. This is truly Bizarro in spirit and form. Let's finish this profile with one more image. Thank you!

Monday, March 14, 2016

6 Surrealist Films from Silent to Now, Some You May Not Know

by Madeleine Swann

From The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928) to the modern day, Surrealist films have delighted and enraged in equal measure. To some they exist purely to make fun of those on the outside while to others they explore humanity via the subconscious. Perhaps they do both. They're strange, opaque and often have a mischievous sense of humour.

There are too many films and filmmakers to look at them all including Jean Cocteau, Christiane Cegavske, Luis Bunuel, Guy Maddin, David Lynch and many, many more, but here's a few to get your evening off to a clock melting start.

1. The Life And Death of 9413, A Hollywood Extra (Slavko Vorkapic & Robert Florey, 1928). 

 Slavko Vorkapić and Robert Florey - Serbian American and French American respectively - both made their marks in Hollywood, Florey directing The Marx Brothers' Cocoanuts among others and Vorkapić inventing the montage.

The story in Life and Death is quite easy to follow compared to others and seems old hat now, but at the time it must have been exciting to see a film mocking film making and exploitation. The mask imagery and forehead branding seem cliched but this is where those cliches stem from. Plus look at that actress''s gorgeous.

2.  The War of Jan-Ken Pon (Shuji Terayama, 1971)

Shuji Terayama was a Japanese poet, writer, photographer and director. In 1967 he opened an experimental cinema and gallery called Universal Gravitation.

I could go all intellectual and say I like this film because of its depiction of war as a childish game, and I do, but really it's because it looks like something I and my friend Steve might do (though not as well of course).

The men's game of rock paper scissors devolves into a physical fight, which is absurdist and daft, but there is a serious side to it. Like Sarah Kane's play Blasted a couple of people enact everything that happens on a large scale in war, but here there's more humour and less baby eating. Bomb and army sound effects play and a small crowd of onlookers - other countries who stand by without helping? - watch through the window.

3. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)

Alain Resnais began his career as a contemporary of the French New Wave directors, though never truly associated himself with the movement.

 This beautiful film echoes Noel Coward's Shadow Play and the yet to be made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though in it's own very unique and very French way.

A couple drift through a grand building and it's estate (literally the corridors of memory), he convinced they met last year and she uncertain, both unable to remember what happened next and unsure of how to proceed. They analyse their past, present and future while apparently existing outside of it in some peculiar dream.

4. Dreams That Money Can Buy (Various, 1947)

A portmanteu of surrealist shorts held together by a connecting narrative, Dreams contains almost everyone we associate with the early Surrealist movement. Denounced by many at the time as inconsequential and shallow, it was an attempt to make surrealism more accessible to the general public.

Now, though, I think it stands up as an enjoyable film with a clear link to Being John Malkovich (the scene where people crowd outside Joe's office to purchase a dream is too similar not to be an inspiration) and, if you don't feel it has a deep enough message, you can still appreciate it's beauty.

5. Daisies (Vera Chytilová, 1966)

Part of the Czech New Wave, Daisies led to Vera Chytilová being unofficially banned from making any more films in her home country until 1976 due to the anarchic behaviour of it's protagonists and the amount of food, "the fruit of the work of our toiling farmers," being wasted.

Two girls decide that as the world is rotten they should also become rotten, and the result is scene after scene of joyful mischief - they trick men, play up in bars, argue, make up and generally loaf around. It's done with an innocence that makes it devoid of malice, rather it's a celebration of seeing what they can get away with.

6. The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013)

Jodorowsky's latest film is a kind of autobiography, though one with an opera singing mother who urinates on her husband to cure his wounds. One of the things I love about his films is the recurring theme of circuses, a shorthand for outsiders and misfits, but in The Dance of Reality it's also a symbol of home and belonging.

It's probably, not to sound simplistic, his happiest film. Not to say it doesn't deal with big subjects like war and death and sadness, but it left me with a warm feeling and a sense of knowing him a little bit better, however true that is.

Well, there we have it my little slices of cherry pie served at the Twin Peaks cafe. Speaking of which, I'm going to leave you with a BBC documentary from 1987 of David Lynch discussing his favourite early surrealist films. I must warn you, the last minute has been chopped off, but you don't really miss anything. Toodle pip!

Madeleine Swann's novella, Rainbows Suck, was published as part of the 2015 New Bizarro Author Series. Keep up with her writing at her website and her twitter.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Naked Metamorphosis - A review

Naked Metamorphosis – Eric Mays

So, what would happen if Hamlet had been written as a weird comedy? And what if it hadn't been the Bard who wrote it, but Franz Kafka?
The answer is Naked Metamorphosis. Hamlet is a drug addled pampered prince who's convinced he's turning into a cockroach, Ophelia has brain damage, Polonius runs the kingdom, and the whole thing is seen through Horatio's eyes! But wait, there's more. Puck's also about – popping up from behind a handy door and screwing with everything. The rude mechanicals are about too. MacBeth and Othello get an honorable mention, so this is a Bizarro tribute to Shakespeare not just the Dane. And not just that, Kafka also gets drawn into his own creation.
I really enjoyed this, let's get that out of the way first and foremost. This is one of the original NBAS releases from 2009 and it's just plain old fun. I have to admit, I'm a big Shakespeare fan, and especially Hamlet. You might think this would make me hesitant for someone to muck around with it, but nope. Have at it. You're up against Shakespeare, but don't let that stop you. And Eric Mays does a fabulous job here.
It's screwy and fun. There are the normal parts of Hamlet, the characters, the play within a play. But there is new stuff in here too. Puck is a particularly inspired choice, and I loved every time the crazy fairy turned up.
Horatio is also a good choice by Mays as our protagonist. He's our sensible anchor in a sea of craziness. Although I personally would have loved to have seen some of the big Hamlet speeches riffed on a bit more, but you can't have everything.
This book is slightly straighter than some others in bizarro – that's not a bad thing. It's a good introduction to the whole genre. It's also slightly light on any emotional impact – Horatio is mainly confused or exasperated, but I didn't feel the stakes were that high for him. But too be honest I'm having far too much fun with Puck to wonder about the heavier meaning of life stuff which is absent or lightly used.
So, why should you care? Well, apart from Eric Mays being a brother NBASer this book is really fun. It's well written with some good imaginative ideas thrown in, and Puck is the ace in the hole for this novella – if in doubt throw on Puck to screw things up.

Overall, check it out for some Shakespearean/Kafka twisted fun.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Surreal Sketchbook Selections

by Betty Rocksteady

I've been filling pages with brain drippings since I could pick up a pen. I recently spend some time flipping through my stash of old sketchbooks and figured it was time to share some of this stuff with you guys! The drawings here span from 2011-2013, but rest assured I have plenty more to share if you wanna see 'em.

The page on the left is the kinda doodling I do when I'm thinking about a fuller drawing. I started with the nipple teeth and eyeball belly, and moved into the pose on the bottom that I ended up using on the next page.

 I drew this after I had a dream that my cat and I saw a really big snail.

If you can't read it, the text is a little limerick.

"There once was a girl who was dead,
With eyes that were cloudy and red.
A child full of life,
She kidnapped with a knife,
And nourished on mouldy old bread."

I have a sketchbook somewhere with tons of these weird little comics in it.

 Little bit of yellow colored pencil here. I was really into gross yellow skies for a while. Yellow is the creepiest color.

Trying out watercolor wash. A friend of mine had lots of dreams of strange cryptid/aliens with antlers.

I actually don't remember drawing this one at all. Pretty sure this is how I was raised though.

Thanks for looking!