Month: April 2011

Magic Meathands Present Variety Comedy Night with stand-up and improv

This Saturday night, improv comedy troupe The Magic Meathands have a special all-new show! We’re teaming up with the improv group [this space left intentionally blank] and stand-up comics Jeff MacKinnon and Atul Singh for a full 2 hours of late-night comedy.

The show is at the Mary Pickford Studio, 8885 Venice Blvd., Suite 102, Los Angeles, CA 90034.

Tickets are only $5 for the entire night of entertainment! The show starts at 8:30 PM, Saturday, April 23, 2011.

I hope to see you there. The Meathands will be debuting a new late-night format focused on current events. We’ll be riffing on the big news items of the day. You give us the headline, and we’ll turn it into absolute silliness. (Of course in some instances, this may not be that much of a stretch.)

RSVP on Facebook

Comic Book Improvisation Part 2: Forest for the Trees

Forest for the Trees (page 1 by Kevin Mellon, click for bigness)

Last week, I talked about Kurt Busiek’s daunting task to improvise his way through a script for a lost comic book. In that case, Kurt was working with an intractable improv partner because the art he was working off had been drawn and finished a decade earlier. While not impossible, it’s an uphill battle to find something that clicks when dealing with something that can’t adjust to what you’re adding.

Improvisational theater and improvisation in comics works best when two (or more) partners are listening, embracing, responding and adding to what the other is doing. That fluidity and flexibility is fertile ground for creativity and a magical experience for the audience/readers.

Two comic book artists have partnered to create a fully improvised web-comic called Forest for the Trees. John Bivens (Comic Book Tattoo, Popgun) and Kevin Mellon (Comic Book Tattoo, Hack/Slash) take turns adding 1 page a week. As their site explains it, “Each page is done in response to the one before it, neither artist knowing what each will do in response until the finished page is turned in.”

In performance, Kevin Mellon would be considered the initiator of the scene, as his page is the first. He is the first to establish things about the world they’re creating, and it will be John Bivens’ job to not only not contradict or negate these things, but to wholeheartedly embrace and then explore them. John’s first page, page 2 for the story, should go up tomorrow.

I’m really excited to see how they do, and I’ll be checking in with them to see how they’re doing.

(Via Comics Alliance)

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Single Issue

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Single Issue or One-Shot category.

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year recently. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

I’m breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and giving links to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Best Short Story

Take a closer look with the click through: (more…)

This Friday is brought to you by Ignoring Kitteh

Things to do in LA this weekend:

Spectacular Superhero Variety Hour at the Bootleg Theater in Silver Lake/LA, Friday 7:30 PM, $10. [Interview with director Ben Dickow]

Voices From Chornobyl 25th Anniversary Awareness Event at the Paul G. Gleason Theater in Hollywood, Friday 8 PM – 10 PM, $10.

Record Store Day at your local indie record/music store with events and special releases, not just in Los Angeles, but all over the United States and beyond, all day long Saturday.

The Nerdist and Modern Myth Productions Present: We’re Alive audio drama live performance at Nerdist Theater, Meltdown Comics in LA, Saturday 8 PM, $10.

Comic Book Improvisation

The Defenders: From the Vault - improvised comic book making (Marvel Comics)

This is something I’d like to explore more. As you might’ve noticed, I do a lot of performing with an improv comedy group called the Magic Meathands. We do shows with no script. We just make it up as we go.

And it turns out, sometimes in creating comic books, creators also have to make it up without a script.

A little back story: Monthly comic books tend to have regular creative teams but sometimes those teams fall behind schedule and the book can’t come out every month. So comics publishers will occasionally hire other creators to produce an inventory story for just in case. It’s basically filler material, but they can be fun stories and it buys the regular creative team more time. It’s a bit of a gamble because sometimes they end up paying for a story that never gets used.

And that’s exactly what happened in 2001. Marvel Comics was publishing a superhero comic called The Defenders. It reunited the Incredible Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner (right), misfits all who had originally assembled under that name in the early 1970s. This new comic book series was written by Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Avengers/JLA) and Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon, Amazing Spider-Man) and drawn by Larsen and Klaus Janson (Daredevil, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns). Their editor Tom Brevoort (now Senior Vice President of Publishing) hired writer Fabian Nicieza (X-Men, New Warriors) and artist Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man, New Warriors) to create an inventory story. The two did so, collected their checks, and went on with their lives. It turns out the story was never needed, so the finished art pages were filed away.

Flash forward to today where Marvel is going through old desk drawers and publishing whatever looks ready, and up pops this lost Defenders story. Only problem is it was never scripted, which means the pages have no words on them. And apparently no one saved a copy of Fabian’s original plot outline or script. Well, surely Fabian wouldn’t mind scripting the pages now. He would surely do it except he’s under an exclusive contract with DC Comics. So, Marvel decided to hire another writer to do the scripting.

(Re-)enter: Kurt Busiek. Since the two know each other, Kurt asked Fabian for his original files to help in scripting. Bad news: Fabian lost everything in a computer crash years ago and has no idea what the story was originally about. Kurt also checked with Mark to see if he could remember anything. No such luck.

So Kurt is left with 22 pages of characters silently running around, talking, fighting, flying, leaping, punching, surfing, magicking, swimming, and who knows what else with no idea of why.

What to do? What else? Improvise.

From Kurt’s website:

So I look over the art, and Mark Bagley did indeed do a very nice job. And he’s a good enough storyteller that I can piece together an outline of what the story must be, at least in the basics. But the bits where explanations happen, where the texture and detail go that make it more than just a simple structure?

Haven’t a clue.

So I have to come up with a story to fit the art. A new story. One that might bear some resemblance to what Fabian intended, at least at the big structural moments, but other than that, it’s wide open.

And as I keep looking through the art, I get an idea. A pretty demented idea, really, based on one cryptic panel late in the book (You’ll know it when you see it. The script for that panel is “HTNN–!”). But it’s an idea that, demented as it is, won’t go away. And actually, I’m thinking, it could be kinda fun…

I tell Fabian the idea, mostly as a joke. But he laughs, and says that it sounds like a hoot, and it might even be better than whatever his original story was.

Like with live improv theater, Kurt has to accept what has been presented to him by his “scene partner” Mark Bagley. He has to say “Yes, everything here is happening, and…”. Nothing can be ignored, dropped or explained away. Then he has to build up from there, filling out the world Mark has drawn, adding details like location, plot revelations, opinions and reactions from the characters, and more. And as he goes through the pages, he’ll find a rhythm with Mark’s artwork where his new plot will seem to set up what happens in the art and vice versa. Of course, what makes it even more tricky is that Kurt is working with a very stubborn scene partner. Mark’s art is already set in stone. It’s like a stubborn scene partner determined to get their idea and agenda on the stage regardless of what else is going on. And the only thing Kurt can do is to stay open, “listen” for the smallest clue, take everything as a gift, embrace each visual idea with gusto and see where that takes him. If Kurt stays open, all of the pieces should come together to create something brand new that would never have existed in any other situation.

I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out. The Defenders: From the Marvel Vault #1 will be released by Marvel Comics this summer, July 13.

DEFENDERS: FROM THE MARVEL VAULT #1

Written by FABIAN NICIEZA & KURT BUSIEK
Pencils & Cover by MARK BAGLEY

A Marvel Masterpiece from deep inside the treasure vaults can now be told! The original team of Doctor Strange, The Hulk, Silver Surfer and Namor are together again for a hidden adventure! But why was this tale lost? What happens in other dimensions stays in other dimensions, so what unspeakable secrets of the The Defenders are to be revealed? Find out at last in these pages with the illustrious words of Kurt Busiek (THE DEFENDERS, MARVELS) and the incomparable artwork of artist Mark Bagley (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN)!

32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99

(Via Robot 6)

Economy Catches Up with Comics – Is There Hope?

Comics losing money, as demonstrated by Richie Rich (image via CoverBrowser.com)

Last year, comics were arguably holding ground through one of the worst economic downturns this generation has ever seen, but it looks like ground is finally being lost. It became pretty clear from two recent news items: yesterday’s layoffs of 7 employees at Dark Horse Comics, one of the premiere American comic book publishers; and slipping sales for the first quarter of 2011.

By themselves, these two items are worrisome, but when you add in more recent history, it starts to paint a bad picture. Since the new year, the comics & pop culture publication Wizard Magazine folded, Image Comics studio Top Cow Productions faced layoffs, and Borders stores are closing, along with several of their distribution centers, without any promising signs of the book chain making its way out of reorganization. I was talking about the sales stagnation of comics over the past decade just last month. And before the new year, the largest comics distributor Diamond Comics closed their Los Angeles warehouse, and #2 publisher DC Comics had a lengthy process of reorganization and layoffs of over 80 employees, as well as their closing of several imprints. Despite some reports of comics retailers having better sales than in the recent past, there are also just as many, if not more, reports of comic stores closing. I’ve also been seeing anecdotal reports of comics creators being released from their contracts with big time book publishers that were dabbling in graphic novels over the few years. Newspaper comics continue to contract. Web-comics continue to flourish creatively but for most they don’t pay enough as a full-time job. The only growing sector of the industry is digital comics on mobile devices like the iPhone/iPad, Android and the web, but that’s still so young it’s but a fraction of print sales.

So is it time to jump out of your nearest window? Is it time to write off comics as over and done with? It depends what floor you’re on but I say no. In their most pure and basic sense, comics will never go anywhere, just as music will never go anywhere even if the big record companies fold. People will always create in the way that speaks to them the most, and there will always be people who will appreciate and enjoy it.

The real question, then, is whether a comics industry should be written off. Again, I say no. There are signs of the economy recovering, however sluggish. So I think a bounce back is possible, maybe even likely. I’m also optimistic that in these times of retraction, others will step up and bring innovation.

Something like Four Star Studios and their original digital comic Double Feature, which has complete stories in a variety of genres with great bonus features for just $0.99. And these stories are created by experienced comics creators like Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, who have worked for major comics publishers. They have contributed to proven properties like Young Justice (DC Comics), GI Joe, and Voltron; and have created successful comics like Hack/Slash, The Waiting Place and Battlepug. It’s a very safe bet. The first issue is now available. You can download for keepsies as a PDF, or download it for your iPhone, iPad and other things with the letter ‘i’ in front. Is this going to save the industry? No. There’s no single solution. But that proves that the industry has some very creative, clever and industrious people ready to experiment and offer smart alternatives.

It’s not going to be easy but I’m excited to see what comes.

How Can You Talk About Radiation When the Butterflies are Flying?

With Japan having just increased the crisis level of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant disaster from four to seven, putting it on par with Chernobyl, it seems like this couldn’t be any more timelier.

I know, sorry. This is going to be a bummer. I know it would be easier to just pretend like this isn’t happening, or that we don’t need to worry ourselves about it. And I know some have doubted the dangers of high radiation levels in Japan, as they did in Chernobyl. Some have downplayed the concern over Japan’s current problems. After all, everything looks fine. But looks can be deceiving. And sometimes it takes a while for things to not look fine. For an example, take a look at these pictures by Robert Knoth from 2006, the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. Some of those pictures are tough to look at, but they remind me that people like you and me are affected by this. Voices From Chornobyl does the same with even more power. And they bring me to the conclusion that the benefits of nuclear power are not worth the risk.

As we approach the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster (April 26, 1986), a Voices From Chornobyl staged reading and discussion is taking place this Friday in Hollywood to help raise awareness.

From their press release:

Voices from Chornobyl tells the aftermath of a mismanaged disaster through the words of those who survived. Written and directed by Cindy Marie Jenkins, the play follows six people asking “What is radiation?” and coping with their changing world.

Friday, April 15th
8pm – Play | Reading
9pm – Radiation Talkback
Buy Tickets $10
Paul G. Gleason Theatre, 6520 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90028

An informal Radiation Talkback will follow the reading.
Run Time: 50 mins.

Featuring: Bradford Beacom, Carolyn Blais, Enci, Aaron Lyons*, Shawn MacAulay* & Kappa Victoria Wood
Written and Directed by: Cindy Marie Jenkins
Produced by: Rachel Stoll and Cindy Marie Jenkins

Cash bar included. Parking and more info at www.voicesfromchornobyl.com.

A note about the Radiation Talkbacks: In light of recent events, friends of the project will discuss radiation and how we can understand it, including questions they ask themselves when faced with news about nuclear power, Japan, radiation levels, and Fukushima vs. Chornobyl. We are not professors nor experts, and you will probably leave with more questions than answers, but we wish to create a framework for understanding how nuclear power actually affects you, and resources as you learn.