Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Know Art... and I Know What I Like.

As far back as I can remember I'd always wanted to be a cartoonist.

This was before the advent of the VCR, laserdisc, DVD and digital sound, stadium style cinemas. Back when my main forms of entertainment were Marvel Comics and the $2.50 paperback digests of Peanuts and Popeye I'd grab at the local King's Department Store. Back when at the age of nine I'd figured out how to write a fan letter to Charles Schulz, to which he kindly responded by sending me a couple of sketches... and back when at the age of ten I'd called up the Boston Globe myself and asked if I could be their new daily comic strip artist. (Naturally, it didn't work, but I did get my 5th grade homeroom into the Sunday "Fun Pages.")

I still like sketching here and there, but realized a long time ago I couldn't make it my adult career choice. Call it lack of discipline, call it moving on to other interests. But... If I had to do it every day to survive, if I was enforced to do so -- not as simple entertainment, but as a vocation -- it wouldn't be as much fun. Still, I often have a look at the work of some artists and smile, as if feeling some sort of kindred connection; these people, the ones that continue and grow and thrive as artists, they are people to look up to. The ones that never fell out of love with what they do. They are the lucky, the skilled, the few and the wonderful. And here are a few of my favorites...

Homestar Runner (Mike and Matt Chapman)
This internet Flash-animation cartoon success story needs no introduction or kudos from me... It's been going strong for more than six years and continues to grow by leaps and bounds, self-releasing DVDs, a music CD, figurines and soon a Wii-ware game. The amiable Homestar Runner, the lovable-but-dim hero, might be the title star, but cantankerous troublemaker Strong Bad is the breakout star who's weekly e-mail segments continue to bring in millions of hits per week and have gone on to make "Trogdor," "Thnikkaman" and "Dangeresque" household names. (Don't know them? Ask around.) It's a weekly-visit necessity for those who want to remember what it was like to be a kid, or just those who want to laugh their heads off.

Megatokyo (Fred Gallagher)
Three times a week (give or take), Megatokyo brings us the epic adventures of Largo and Piro, two American videogamers stuck in Japan, the women they each love (whether they can admit it or not)... and the ninjas, magical girls and Rent-A-Zillas they encounter in their lives. Part slapstick action and part introspective drama, Gallagher's strip (co-created by Rodney Caston) is widely beloved by internet travellers worldwide, and for good reason. A favorite feature is the site's "console" section below the comic itself where Gallagher and his fellow megatokyo.com personnel blog about their creative processes and daily lives. Something this good that's been running this long is proof that sometimes the good guys can finish first.

Odd Todd (Todd Rosenberg)
Some time ago, I, like many others, had a well-paid job that sadly came to an end due to recessionary cutbacks. So did Todd, a dot-commer in New York. But where I didn't do much with my time off, Todd created a one-man, web-cartoon empire based on his experiences with being out of work. Very much an R-Rated series featuring adult language ("f-bombs") and sexual situations ("boobs in the face" is a great recurring motif), oddtodd.com offers more than just cartoons. There are hilarious movie reviews, amusing photo collections from Rosenberg's travels and a lot more. The site has so many fans that Todd's even done original animations for ABC News and had a few offers from Hollywood. Good vibes, all around.

Chemical Comics (Tim Hulsizer)
A close friend from my Keene State College days, Timmy keeps his daily cartooning requirements filled with his 5-day-a-week entry into the Daily Grind webcomic contest entry. Whether blogging about his day or exploring recurring characters like Caska the Cat, Warhare and Sandwichbot5000 (my personal favorite), Tim's posted a comic every weekday since February 2005 in competition for comics greatness. However the contest turns out, he's already a winner as far as we're all concerned. http://ignatz.brinkster.net/daily.html

Bellen (Boxbrown/Brian Brown)
With his daily webcomic that features with more heart and emotion than is even fathomable, Brian's work never fails, and I mean never fails, to raise a smile and lighten one's day. His main characters, Ben and Ellen, share those sweet, romantic, silly moments that those in love know so well. And for the many of us not currently in love... well, for us this comic is the next best thing. http://boxbrown.livejournal.com/

Goodbye, Foom! (John Campbell)
Updated sporadically but always worth the look, this webcomic features simple but elegant line drawn figures with a sharp, wicked sense of humor. Recurring storyline strips intersperse with satirical slams on everything from life to language and are often full of the type of wild cynicism that keeps one coming back for more. His "hourly comic" experiments even inspired me to try my own, once. Unlike my attempt, though, his work never gets dull. Adult themes, on occassion. http://stereotypist.livejournal.com/

Theatrical Reviews:
The Last Emporer (1987) ****
There Will Be Blood ***1/2
The Forbidden Kingdom ***
My Blueberry Nights ***
Semi-Pro **1/2
Superhero Movie *1/2

DVD/Home Video:
The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988) ****
An American Werewolf In London (1981) ****
Super Troopers ****
The Shining (1982) ****
Heat (1995) ****
Samurai I ****
Samurai II ***1/2
Samurai III ***
Voice Of A Murderer (Korea) ***1/2
Bicycle Thieves (Italy) ***1/2
Le Samourai (France) ***1/2
Snake Eyes (1998) ***1/2
Manhunter (1986) ***1/2
Children Of Men ***1/2
Thief (1982) ***1/2
Crime Story: Season Two (TV) ***
Arthur and the Incredibles ***
Eye In The Sky (Hong Kong) ***
Natural City (Korea) ***
The Monster (Italy) ***
Retribution (Japan) ***
Thunderbolt (HK) ***
Big Bang (Korea) ***
Apocalypto ***
Borat ***
Yangtze River 7 aka "CJ7" (HK) **1/2
The Sea Is Watching **1/2
Eraserhead **1/2
Hunter (TV Pilot) **1/2
Big Bang (Korea) **1/2
Mulholland Falls **1/2
Southland Tales **1/2
Shoot 'Em Up **1/2
Loft (Japan) **1/2
Diggers **1/2
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift **
Tokyo Drifter (Japan, 1966) **
Paradise Murdered (Korea) **
Princess Raccoon (Japan) **
L.A. Takedown (1986) **
M (Korea) **
Saw II **
M (Korea) **
Branded To Kill (Japan, 1967) *1/2
Saw III *1/2
Turistas *

Raiders of the Lost Ark ***
Aeon Flux **1/2
X-Men **