The Last Page - Pen and Ink Drawing with Digital Coloring

Posted on

Digging through some old files, I found this is a comic strip I did for the last issue of the Madison, Wisconsin art magazine, Artzine. I had previously done a few other comics for the ‘zine on while I was graduate art student in Madison, but this one I did after I moved to Chicago in the early oughts. The “Scott” in the last panel was Artzine’s editor and the current proprietor of Western Exhibitions Gallery here in Chicago, Scott Speh. This is a pen and ink drawing that was given shading and tweaked digitally.

View a close-up of the full image here.

Pictures of the Socialistic Future by Eugene Richter (7/10)

Posted on

An incredibly prescient book from the 19th century that basically lays out everything that is wrong with the practical application of socialism decades before the first socialist states came in to being. Unfortunately, the story is more of an afterthought. However, just like the lunches that socialist “occupiers” want, this book is free:

The Psychic (7/10)

Posted on

Fulci! Certainly not the greatest Italian director, but he has his moments. This film, also known as Sette Note in Nero, follows a formula you probably have seen many times before. The climax is foreshadowed (in this instance as a psychic vison of a grisly murder), and you spend the rest of the movie putting the pieces of the future vision together until the events finally take place. Of course, there are twists and red herrings that add to the suspense, but you get the idea. If it wasn’t for a cliff jumping suicide in the first five minutes of the film (a sequence which steals an super cheesy effect from Fulci’s own Don’t Torture a Duckling, and is just as out-of-place here as it was in that other movie) you’d never know this was a film by the master of close-up gore. Well, to be fair, there are a ton of zoomed in eye shots (ala Manhattan Baby), but, other than that, is a by-the-numbers thriller that kept me entertained for the most part.

Phineas and Ferb: Make it Stop!

Posted on

At times an issue emerges of such great importance that I feel compelled to take a stand in hopes of bettering our world and insuring the continuation of our species. I am speaking, of course, of the destructive influence of the Disney Channel cartoon, Phineas and Ferb. Children seem to love this show. That is understandable because what are children other than smaller, stupider versions of adults (with blemish-free skin). What surprises me is the number of adults who claim to like the show. I feel it is time for us adult television consumers of taste to stand up for quality cartoon entertainment so that we can go drink martinis on our back porch knowing that our children are inside being raised according to the highest standards children’s television programming.

Now, before I lay out the specifics of my case against Phineas and Ferb let me preface this by saying that that it is not the worst cartoon out there (I would watch it over Dora or even The Suite Life with Zak and Cody any day), and I will admit to liking the occasional joke from the show. However, the show is such a blatant example of everything that wrong with most TV animation that I have to single it out.

1. Horrible Art and Character Design

The thing you notice when you first see an episode of Phineas and Ferb is Phineas’s big, ridiculous triangular head with his blank expressionless face. Ha, ha! That’s so silly! Then it sinks in. They never deviate from the character sheet. Seriously, do a Google image search and the most variety you will see is the occasional frown or sleepy-eyed Phineas. Compare this with the artistic insanity of Bob Clampett or John Kricfalusi where every nuance of emotion is rendered in exaggerated, malleable glory. There is no strict adherence to the character sheet. If the mood calls for a squishy wet Stimpy, there is no limit to the imaginative use of drawing in a Ren and Stimpy cartoon. I imagine that the slave laborers at Disney Animation are whipped if they come up with any sort of drawing that strays from the monotonous look of the characters on the patterned bed sheets that they are cranking out at the other end of the factory.

2. Zero Dimensional Characters

Not only do the characters look bland, they are written with the same committedness to blandness that one finds in a hospice bedside meal. At least in hospice you can look forward to a late afternoon sponge bath from an orderly (hopefully a former member of The Fat Boys). Take a moment to think about some of the great characters of animation such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck or even Spongebob Squarepants. We know these characters. We know that they will each think, emote and act differently given the same situation. All we know about Phineas and Ferb is that they might, er… build… something? This harkins to the experiment posed by RedLetterMedia in their excellent review of the Phantom Menace. In that video, various people are asked to describe characters from Episode I without reverting to their job or physical appearance. It proves to be an impossible task.

Take a look at the main group of kids in Phineas ‘n’ Ferb, there’s the nerdy kid, the bully, the girl with a crush on Phineas. Sure they all have different “jobs,” but in the end they all react and behave exactly the same. There’s no dynamic or conflict other than the occasional, “I, ‘the bully,’ did something mean to ‘the nerd’ sometime in the past but that’s okay, we are all pals just the same.” Extend beyond this main group of characters and the same applies. Candice exists only to bring an end to the boys’ daily activity, Perry exists only to give Doofenshmirtz an antagonist. I guess that you could argue that Doofenshmirtz has some character to him, but, unfortunately, he’s a captive of the rigid and formulaic plots of each episode. Speaking of which…

3. Plots and Jokes Built Entirely on a Formula a.k.a. Boring Story Telling

Okay, now I hear you saying, “Now, Mr. Webmaster Sir, there are plenty of great cartoons out there, like South Park for instance, that are drawn horribly and aren’t deep character studies, but dammit they’re funny!” True. But unlike that show, Phineas and Ferb relies almost entirely on formulaic plots and catch phrases for jokes. The shows are so mechanical and by-the-book that, more often than not, the supposed laughs come from pointing out the slight variances from the standard plot bullet points. This leaves no room for going off the ranch and trying something creative and fun. It’s like a half-hour animated jack-in-the-box: keep turning the crank and listen to that familiar little weasel tune… eventually, “Pop!” and the lid flies open and Jack the clown of your nightmares springs up. This can be pretty exciting and fun the first time around, but after you reset the clown and turn the crank again, the only people who will be amused are two-year-olds and the drooling idiots who buy Rihanna albums (sometimes one in the same thing).

Scratches: The Director’s Cut on PC (6/10)

Posted on

Having whet my appetite for adventure games on the excellent Sam and Max series, I thought it would be a good time to try some more modern PC adventure games. Scratches is an indie game that uses the tried and (not-so) true first-person point-and-click gameplay formula. MystHell CabDragon Lore… I have many fond memories… well, not really fond, but I do remember playing a lot of those types of games from back at the dawn of the CD-ROM era.

Scratches Hunt the Pixel!

Now, I liked this game for reasons I will go into in a bit, but it did serve as a huge reminder as to what really sucked about first-person point-and-click games. First there are the dreaded “hunt the pixel” situations. Scratches isn’t that bad in this respect, but there were two or three times when a puzzle was unsolvable until I found the exact cursor position (see the image to the left – I’m supposed to be picking up that stone). Secondly, a lot of the time there is no indication that a graphical element is important. Rather than saying, “You are in a dark room full of junk, but there is a useful looking crowbar here,” you are supposed to click on every object in the pile of junk and just randomly figure out that you can only pick up the crowbar.

That said, I did like the game. Once the narrative kicks in the game gets very interesting (and believe me it takes a long time of aimless exploring before things start to happen). You slowly learn the dark history of the house via newspaper clippings, diaries and other found texts. And once you are fully versed in the lore, unexplained things start happening. I have never been this creeped out by a game (and I have even played House of the Dead 2), let alone being creeped out by what is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified slideshow. Nonetheless, thanks to an awesome, well-integrated soundtrack the game gets VERY creepy. It’s worth slogging through this one with a walkthrough by your side just to experience those intense moments of horror.

Obento Alternative by DS i Love You - CD (9/10)

Posted on

DS i Love You is actually one man, Kanji Honma, a Nintendo DSi and the excellent Korg DS cartridge. Given that credo, you might expect this to sound like your typical 8-bit video game music, but it doesn’t. While there are hints of the 8-bit aesthetic, the final product really comes across more like a gritty version of Kraftwerk, or, more appropriately, Yellow Magic Orchestra. This is a very good thing. DS i Love You is so much more interesting than most of the DJ driven electronica that gets churned out these days. Unlike those knob-twisting posers, Honma places song structure and melodic phrases over loops and beats. It’s amazing the sounds he comes up with given the limitations of his medium. Most excellent. I can’t wait until is second Christmas album gets released here in the States.