Happy Halloween: Seven Critters in Black & White

Here are some new illustrations I did recently for a private client. I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. All were done in pen & brush on Bristol.

The Crazies (2010)

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I previously wrote about George Romero’s 1973 film, “The Crazies.” Romero’s original film was a movie I liked, but I had to admit that it was pretty flawed. I usually have a knee-jerk reaction against remakes, but the 2010 remake of “The Crazies,” by director Breck Eisner is, I think, better than the original.

The basic plot remains the same. The inhabitants of a small, friendly and close knit town in Iowa start going crazy and killing each other. It is eventually revealed that a chemical weapon, code-named “Trixie,” has found it’s way into the water supply. We see the story unfold through the eyes of a leading male, his pregnant wife and his best buddy. The US military arrives and tries to “contain the situation,” but the military’s solution is ultimately ineffective and the situation spirals out of control.

Eisner’s version improves on Romero’s film because Eisner shows us rather than telling us. Romero’s film had a lot of situations in which people like military officers and scientists would talk to each other and thus reveal what was going on. There were also three or four simultaneous story threads and the film switched back and forth between all of them. Eisner spends 99% of his time with the small town’s Sheriff, David Dutten, and we find out things as he finds them out, leading to a lot more suspense and the feeling of a mystery being slowly revealed. The Romero version of “The Crazies” centered around a pair of fire fighters and a nurse; the new version has substituted the sheriff and his deputy for the fire fighters and the town’s doctor, Judy (who is the sheriff’s spouse and pregnant with their first child). Eisner does away with all of the military officers and scientists that populated Romero’s film; the military enters the film early but remains as a group of soldiers in camouflage and gas masks throughout the story. Rather than telling us through lengthy conversations that the “Trixie” chemical/drug got into the town water supply from a crashed military plane, the director shows us by having a rash of people acting erratically infect the town, then a trio of duck hunters find the corpse of a pilot in the swamp, then the sheriff and his deputy find the ruined plane, and then finally the sheriff puts it all together when he figures out that the people who started to get sick first live closest to the water tower, thus they probably drank the contaminated water first.

I can more easily forgive Romero’s lower production values and am not sure that Eisner needed to resort to make-up effects to let us know who was “crazy” and who wasn’t (Romero didn’t use make-up on his “crazies,” he just had them act crazy, which I think might have made the film even creepier — as it is, the ‘crazies’ in Eisner’s version look all wrinkled and bloody-eyed, like zombies). But Eisner’s version really pared down the story to the essential elements. In addition, Eisner’s bigger 2010 budget allowed him to get better acting talent than Romero was able to afford for his 1973 version.

Idiots on Parade!

Sometimes the shit that happens for real is weirder than anything you can make up.

Earlier this week, a woman wearing a blonde wig and carrying a fake “Employee of the Month” award tried to heckle Tea Party darling Rand Paul at one of his rallies by presenting him with the award in the name of “corporate America.” Given Rand Paul’s stated beliefs, I would of thought his supporters would have taken this as a compliment. One of Rand’s supporters, Tim Proffitt, stomped on her head after she was pushed to the ground. Video cameras captured the whole thing. Paul’s campaign subsequently severed all ties with Proffitt and denounced head stomping as a form of political expression.
Proffitt first blamed the police (presumably because they didn’t STOP him from stepping on this woman’s head) and now wants an apology from the woman whose head he stepped on. I don’t know why; maybe he hurt his foot.
Ironically, one of the people shown pushing the woman to the ground was carrying a sign that said, “Don’t tread on me!”

Also, Clint McCance, an official of a school board in Northern Arkansas, recently posted his opinion on the public campaign to get people to wear purple in order to show sympathy for gay students who may have killed themselves because of bullying.

“Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves,” McCance allegedly wrote. “The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin.”

OK, not only is McCance a douche, but he is obviously too stupid to serve on a school board. “Killed thereselves“? I wouldn’t trust this idiot to teach a dog how to shit in the grass.

Moorlocks attack!

Roger the GS mentioned Grimlocks over at Roles, Rules and Rolls. I love the old circa 1960 movie of Well’s “Time Machine” with the blue morlocks and their too perfect hair… it really gave me the creeps when I saw it back in the 1970s (probably on the local network back in St. Louis which showed a lot of horror and sci-fi movies). I barely remember the 2002 version of the same story, although I love the way the moorlocks lope along the tunnels in the above clip.

Original movie clip is below:


Why are crabs so scary?

Zombie Survival Strategy

This post over on DF got me wondering… as a fun exercise, I pondered my “Zombie Survival strategy” if Z-day came.

The initial question is, “You wake up from a coma in a hospital to discover that the zombie apocalypse has come. You are in a bed dressed in a paper gown in a deserted ward. What do you do?” No doubt the proposal is based on the comic book and upcoming TV show, The Walking Dead.

My assumption is going to be that the zombies will be hunting the ‘free range’ meat. Assuming I don’t wake up with a zombie trying to eat my face, I’d take time to don my clothes (shoes especially) and arm myself with an improvised ‘basher’ of some kind. Protecting your feet is going to be important since you will want to stay mobile, and there is bound to be broken glass, etc., on the ground.

Hopefully these are slow, stupid, shuffling “Romero” zombies. Assuming the hospital is semi-abandoned and not absolutely crawling with zombies, I’d retreat upwards in the building for the meantime, trying to find somewhere to hide, doors that can be barricaded, etc. I’d try to use the phone… or my cell if I have it, to contact friends and family and find out where everyone is. Employee lunch rooms would have food and water. If I have to rest, I might try to hide somewhere where I could barricade the door. Are there other survivors? I’d team up. Try to stay quiet. If the water works, fill up a lot of containers with clean water for drinking; enough to last a couple days if not longer.

The roof might be a good bet — maybe there would be a helicopter arriving to pick up/drop off? If so, I could advise the pilot/attendants of the situation, and, assuming they believe me, get help. I would strongly suggest that anyone who appeared to be infected (bite marks, etc) be made comfortable but restrained, so if they turned we would not be surprised by someone suddenly going “zombie” in our midst. I’d suggest we wrap the dead in curtains/blankets/shower curtains and then tape/bind them and isolate the bodies, so if they come back to “unlife” we are not overwhelmed. Keep at least 2 people on the roof to signal passing aircraft and write messages on the roof with strips torn sheets or paint if we can find it.

From an upstairs window I hope I would be able to see the streets below. Assuming the zombies are going to follow easy prey during the initial freak out, I would want to let “zombie rush-hour” slow down and hopefully the undead would leave the downtown area over the next few days as everyone else tried to beat it. I imagine streets will be filled with abandoned vehicles, which might make driving impossible. If not, I would think an ambulance or a cop car would make a pretty good escape vehicle. Perhaps the cop car is equipped with a reinforced front that would help plow abandoned vehicles out of the way. Maybe the cop car has a shot gun in it?

When we see that the zombies are few and far between, we might finally make a break for it. Try to keep to main streets/wide areas since I would think my chances would be much better out in the open.

Gah! Legion (2010) Movie Review

Sometimes the best parts of a movie are all in the trailer. Such is the case with 2010’s film, Legion, directed by Scott Stewart. The premise of the film (God has grown sick of the humans, and so has decided to wipe them all out) is one I found appealing, and in the previews there was a shot of an ice-cream truck driver who turned into a gangly weird creature straight out of Oz (which delighted me)… and the creepy old lady who bit a man’s throat out was good for a laugh… but where do you go, narrative-wise, once you opened up the giant can of whoopass that is “the end times”?

Unfortunately, Legion takes itself a little too seriously. Archangel Michael (yes, he is a character in this film) is a good angel who has been cast out of the “angel corps” or whatever and falls to earth in LA where he cuts off his wings (why is not explained… if I had wings like FUCK ALL would I cut them off… wings are bound to be useful (as Gabriel later proves)). He raids a toy warehouse which is filled with SMGs and rocket launchers (OK, I guess the toy warehouse is supposed to be a front for gun smugglers) and steals a cop car after one of the cops gets ‘possessed’ and tells him that the rest of heaven is coming for him (Michael) — and they may have mentioned ‘the child’ who is mankind’s only hope. That child gets mentioned (a lot) later. It seems that angels (or spirits of some kind) can possess some of the “weaker willed” humans and use them to do bad things that our angry God wants done. After taking care of this situation, Archangel Michael takes off in the cop car with a trunk full of weapons.

Cut to a shithole diner/truckstop on the edge of nowhere in the desert. Here we meet the diner’s embittered owner (played by Dennis Quaid), his son ‘Jeep’ (who has a heart of gold), the cook, Percy, and a dysfunctional family consisting of a bitchy mother, a loudmouth father and emo/sexually promiscuous daughter. The family is passing through but their car has broken down. The young waitress, Charlie, is very pregnant but the father of the baby is out of the picture and it’s made painfully obvious that the son of the diner’s owner, “Jeep,” dotes on her. Why he is named after an off-road vehicle is not clear. A black guy/gang banger (who turns out to be a stand-up guy who wins the respect of others) comes in, wanting to use the phone. He’s lost and can’t get a signal on his cell.

Well, just when you think that this is going to become a film where loveable misfits are tossed together by circumstance in an out-of-the-way desert truckstop (like “Bagdad Cafe,”), things start getting weird. An old woman pulls up, enters the cafe, orders a steak and, after inquiring about the baby’s due date, starts calling Charlie the waitress nasty names and telling her the child will die.

The old woman goes berserk and bites the throat out of the loudmouth husband and then scuttles across the ceiling as Quaid shoots at her with his 20 gauge and Percy the cook hits her in the face with an impressively hurled frying pan. Black guy/gangbanger pulls out a Glock and drops the old lady. They are all still freaked about this when Archangel Michael pulls up and explains that Charlie is going to give birth to the savior of mankind, but God is sending his servants to kill the child so they better board up the diner and hunker down and try to save the child.

At this point the movie becomes more like a cross between “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Night of the Living Dead.” Led by Michael, the good guys fortify the diner. The angels send waves of weird possessed losers/cannon fodder whom the good guys mow down with all of the weapons Michael brought with him. Eventually Archangel Gabriel shows up. Unlike Michael, he still has his wings and has a neat trick where when someone shoots bullets at him he can brush the bullets away with his wings.

I don’t want to give any spoilers beyond this point other than to say that eventually the day is saved and even God doesn’t seem like such a bad guy after all. I don’t mind that the film is probably “theologically unsound.” But the degree to which it takes itself serious kind of busts it for me. If you saw the preview, you have the gist of what the movie is like. Unfortunately, there is not a lot more to it.

Progress Report

Work continues on several fronts. There is a floor mosaic in my front hall that needs more of my time (currently the tile ~75% done, then the grouting needs to be finsished).

The Mines of Khunmar project has maps about 50-60% redrawn (I have the originals, I just need to redraw them all, then take them into photoshop to add legible type and numbers). There are a number of errors in the maps that I am correcting as I go along. After that, I need to work on the text and then do the artwork and layout — a daunting task. The image at right will possibly be included — this is the famous ‘crapper of death’ where those who stop to make a deposit risk being bit in the tukas by giant centipedes. Right under the ‘crapper of death’ is the famous ‘cesspit of death’ which I think may have caused 2 TPKs back in those halcyon days of my gaming youth.

I’m currently working on a fistful of illustrations for GameDevOnline. I’m probably upside-down as far as effort I am putting in versus money that will come out on this one, but the illustrations were interesting ones and I was enjoying to buckle down and really work these ones; I think I’m learning something new here and perhaps making some aesthetic discoveries, so its all good.

I have a new (old) project from a while back on which it is too early to say much other than, a) hopefully will result in a published piece; b) represents a somewhat unique idea as far as I know and c) will hopefully earn me some money if I can figure out where to place it. Still in the early stages, though. My one hint is that it deals with The Shaver Mystery.

I’m also still job hunting (sigh) which cuts into everything else. Plus I just finished winterizing our house, applying for a position at a local institution that took up a lot of time (and appears to have not paid off) and doing all the little jobs that now fall to me as ‘house husband’ (including cleaning, home maintenance, shopping, yardwork, etc.), so I have been a fairly busy beaver. But I continue to give an hour here and an hour there as I can; hopefully I’ll be able to make an honest effort to see Khunmar in print early next year, the mosaic finished before Christmas and my other (currently secret) project done some time in the new year.

Baby Cakes: Be Aggressive

Thanks to Lord Gwydion for turning me on to Brad Neeley’s comics.

When bad neighbors get worse

The other day, I posted about a local story in nearby Trenton, Michigan, about the neighbor from hell. Interestingly, my significant other and I had a continuing problem with our next door neighbors, but it was in no way as bad as the Trenton story… but it is perhaps illustrative of some of the problems of modern living, so I will post it anyway.

Short version: My partner likes a semi-wild looking garden with lots of native plants, vines, etc. I consider grass just a place for the dog to poop and have no lawn pride whatsoever, mowing only when absolutely necessary. The folks next door like their plants in neatly ordered rows and sorted by color… they are retired and the husband of the couple spends many hours every week manicuring and fertilizing his lawn.

Five or so years ago my partner had a native plant called “pokeberry” growing in the yard (on our side of the property line) which was one of her favorites. It grows fairly tall and has reddish colored stems; late in the year it puts out grapelike clusters of juicy purple berries that the birds love to eat (see pic at right). Apparently, the birds scattered some of the berries on the neighbor’s driveway and, after they stepped in the mess, some of the purple juice got onto the carpets inside their home.

One afternoon, my partner was out in her garden in late summer and noticed that all the pokeberry was wilting. She looked closer and saw that it appeared that someone had used scissors or a knife to cut off the berry clusters. Eventually, she found out that the neighbors had snuck over at night and poisoned her pokeberries because they were angry about the damage to their carpets (although why it should be our responsibility to check their shoes for berries before they walk on their own carpet is not clear to me). We were not happy about it, but they apologized and we decided to try to forget about it.

Each year, however, a similar event would occur. Other plants mysteriously died or were uprooted. The neighbors put in a fence but left scraps of lumber and concrete rubble in our yard until Annie reminded him that he had left all the refuse in our yard. Some of Annie’s flowers would ‘poke thru’ the pickets of their fence and this irritated them so they sprayed round-up through the fence and killed a foot wide swath of plants along the edge of our yard. I don’t dispute their right to clip or cut any plant that grows or hangs over the border, but once they started defoliating on our side of the fence I began to get very irritated.

The arguments grew less and less rational, but the neighbors seemed to follow a yearly policy of “poison plants in spring/summer, apologize later” almost like clockwork for about 4 years. Annie stopped gardening (an activity she loved) because she just felt uncomfortable about the folks next door looking daggers at her whenever she was out there.

The weird thing is that these people didn’t seem to want to leave us alone. Throughout our period of conflict, they always seemed to want to say, “Hello” and “Good Morning” and “Nice weather we are having!” even though they might have been sneaking across the property line the week before to poison Annie’s plants. Annie noticed that the more she pointedly ignored the neighbors’ greetings, the fewer incidences of poisoning/plant uprooting/etc., occurred. They didn’t stop entirely, but if we were nice to them during the daytime, it seemed as if they felt more comfortable doing whatever “covert garden control” they felt was appropriate on our side of the property line. Perversely, being nice and forgiving seemed to just encourage them in their bad behavior. We finally began to ignore them entirely.

After one poisoning too many, she called the local police and asked what to do. The officer was sympathetic, but said that unless we caught the neighbor in our yard, there was little he could do. He suggested we file a claim against them in small claims court.

We filed, went to court and both sides told our story. We showed photos of the dead and dying plants, photos of the ‘dead zone’ along the fence and a note from the neighbors that said, “I am sorry we poisoned your plants.” They showed photos of flowers poking through the slats of the picket fence and photos of our yard and admitted that they had done at least some of the poisoning, but they did it because our garden was “ugly.” The judge found in our favor and awarded us $350.00. Compared to the heartache and the aggravation of dealing with these people for 4+ years, the money seemed like a pittance, but it had a satisfying effect on the evil neighbors. The husband lined their picket fence with some sort of clear plastic panel to keep our plants from poking through the slats instead of continuing to spray herbicide.

I guess I feel like there are a lot of potential messages in my little story. One of them is to perhaps not underestimate the power of the craziness of some people. The fact that being rude to them (i.e.: pointedly not acknowledging their greetings) actually seemed to encourage them to behave seemed counter intuitive to me at the time. I wanted to believe that there is something good in most people and most problems can be worked out if people try to understand each other’s point of view and work out a mutually satisfying solution. I would have surmised that if my neighbor was doing me wrong, it would actually be a good strategy to be nice to him since that might make him feel bad about what he was doing. But my partner’s strategy (along with the lawsuit) were the only things that worked. “Forgive and forget” seems to have convinced the neighbors that the poisoning and garden vandalism was OK and they could do it again and again and get away with it. Rudely ignoring their greetings and dragging them to small claims court (which was a big pain in the ass and a huge karma suck, so I recommend it as a solution of last resort) were the only things that did work.

I don’t like what this story says about the nature of human beings.