Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: THE SMURFS #8: THE SMURF APPRENTICE

This collection of Smurf comics includes three different stories. The first is “The Apprentice Smurf” (this collection is titled under a slightly differed name). The second is “Smurf Traps” and the third story is “The Smurfs and the Mole.”

In “The Apprentice Smurf” after watching Papa Smurf make a potion, the Apprentice Smurf wants to be a potion-maker, too. However, Papa Smurf tells him he’s too young, but they’ll talk about it later. The Apprentice Smurf can’t wait and sneaks into Papa Smurf’s house. His plan is foiled, but the other Smurfs play a prank on him. Dejected, he decides to sneak into Gargamel’s house and steal one of the spells from his spell book. What follows is a disaster and a valuable lesson in patience and listening to one’s elders. In the cartoon based on this comic, the Smurf apprentice is Clumsy Smurf, but he remains unnamed in this comic.

“Smurf Traps” is a much shorter comic. Gargamel uses a variety of specially designed traps to capture all the Smurfs. However, Papa Smurf escapes and plans a rescue mission.

“The Smurfs and the Mole” is another short comic. Brainy Smurf has his glasses stolen by Jokey Smurf. Meanwhile, a near-sighted mole pops out of the ground in the middle of the Smurf Village and destroys a house. Papa Smurf recruits Handy Smurf and Jokey (disguised as Brainy Smurf) to follow the mole and find out why it appeared in Smurf village for no apparent reason.

THE SMURF APPRENTICE is an enjoyable read. They aren’t the best Smurf stories, but they aren’t bad ones either. It’s a short collection that makes for a quick read. This book is a must have for a Smurf fan’s collection. Also recommended for younger children who enjoy comic books.

My First Time As an Extra

Pillars - Day 246,176 - Gunfight at the Airport from Tim Euler on Vimeo.

Hey, look closely at the guy who is the first ticket agent/check-in person at about 1:40. He looks strangely familiar.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Media Consumed: September 2011

Books Read
Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline
The Cardturner   by   Louis Sachar
Words Made Fresh   by   Larry Woiwode

I recommend all three of these books, but for different reasons. Anyone who spent any part of their childhood in the 1980s will probably enjoy Ready Player One, an action-adventure story set in a world where video games are more popular than real life. The Cardturner is written by the guy who wrote the book Holes and is a engaging drama that makes the game of bridge fun. Lastly, Words Made Fresh is a collection of essays with some powerful messages; it's written in the way that I wish I could write.

Movies Watched
The Smurfs
The Spine Tingler
Brother's Justice

The Spine Tingler is a great William Castle picture. Everyone should watch more William Castle movies. Brother's Justice was a fun mockementary. And Drive, one of the best movies of 2011, hands down.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: THE ODYSSEY

A few years ago when I had to teach my first high school freshmen English classes, part of our curriculum included excerpts from THE ODYSSEY. While the textbook version sufficed for the students, I wanted to read a translation of the entire book and not just excerpts. After doing some research, I chose the Penguin version translated by Robert Fagles. The main reason I chose the Fagles’ translation was because I wanted a version that I could read quickly so that I could stay just ahead of my students and their assigned readings from the textbook. Under different circumstances, I might have chosen a more literal translation: as a student of the English language, I don’t mind books that take longer to read and comprehend. However, given the circumstances at the time, Fagles seemed the best choice.

Fagles’ translation of THE ODYSSEY has been trounced by many scholars and critics as taking far too many liberties and contains very little of the original meter and rhyme of the original Greek. Fagles discusses some of his choices and his attempt to find temperance between staying true to the original meaning while updating the language so the text is understandable by a common, post-modern reader. Though I don’t know much Greek myself, there are certain passages that I disagreed with Fagles choices. For instance, the use of modern phrases such as “cease and desist” that are peppered throughout. I’m all for trying to translate an ancient text into language that a modern audience will enjoy, but choices such as that are too much to the extreme of readability. The very concept of some of those modern phrases would be nothing like the idea in the original language.

However, despite Fagles’ choice of readability over poetry and literal meaning, I enjoyed his translation of THE ODYSSEY. When I read it, I was able to keep pace ahead of the excerpts my students were reading from their textbook. Had my students been upper class students or college students, this would be a translation that most of them would have been able to understand best. This really is a translation for a modern audience.

Fagles’ translation also includes an introduction by Bernard Knox that provides a context of the story and examines some of the major themes of the story.

As for the story itself, Homer’s THE ODYSSEY is one of the most famous stories in Western literature. It follows Odysseus after the Trojan War and his long quest back home. Plagued by Poseidon and the gods who had supported the Trojans and beleaguered by his beloved, but often inept crew, Odysseus’ journey home to Ithaca takes another decade. Meanwhile, his faithful wife Penelope fends off an army of suitors for her hand and young prince Telemachus is sent on a mission by Athena to uncover new about his father. There’s also Cyclops, sea monsters, drug-inducing flowers, beautiful witches, and lots of fighting. THE ODYSSEY has been and will remain a story for the ages.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review, Graphic Novel: AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 2

AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 2 begins eleven years after AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 1 ended. Like the previous edition, it’s split into two different stories. The first, “Devil in the Sand” takes place in 1936 Las Vegas. It introduces a new character to the saga, Cash McCogan, an officer for the Las Vegas police department. There’s a series of grisly murders happening in Las Vegas and Cash is convinced that Jim Smoke (aka Skinner Sweet) is somehow behind the crimes. The murders bring two agents from the Vassals of the Morning Star, a group of international vampire hunters, to Las Vegas who join McCogan in his investigation. However, things aren’t exactly what they appear to be and Cash finds himself in the midst of an alliance he could never have imagined.

The second story in the volume, “Way Out,” features Pearl and Henry. The two are now living as husband and wife. Like Sweet, Pearl is determined to find and eliminate the old vampires who have infiltrated the U.S. She and Henry have been living a fairly quiet life. However, there is a person from Pearl’s life who hates Pearl as much as Pearl hates the old vampires and this person is determined to make Pearl pay.

Even though Stephen King wrote part of AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 1, I found AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 2 to be a better overall story. The book can be read without having read the first volume. However, familiarity with the first volume makes volume two much more interesting.

There is a difference in the artwork between “Devil in the Sand” and “Way Out.” The styles of both volumes fit the stories they tell. For instance, “Devil in the Sand” has a much darker and sinister tone than “Way Out.” This fits because “Way Out” is mostly a story about Pearl and Henry and their relationship together. The lines are softer and the shapes not as harsh as are the illustrations in “Devil in the Sand.”

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 2. Recommended for those who have read the first volume as well as anyone who is a fan of Scott Snyder, those who enjoy interesting vampire stories, and those who like horror comics.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Andrew Stanton Vs. Disney

I recently saw Disney's new live action picture, John Carter. I realize that we are not quite a fourth of the way through 2012, but so far, JOHN CARTER is the best movie of 2012. The script (adapted by Michael Cabon no less) is transcribed from Edgar Rice Burroughs' nearly century old story into 21st century vernacular. There's great action sequences and most of the special effects are seamless (there's only one scene that isn't). The movie has the potential to introduce a whole new audience to Burroughs' John Carter novels.

However, the movie had one of the worst marketing campaigns I've ever seen. The movie made $30 million in it's opening weekend, which was better than Hollywood number watchers were expecting, but far below the $250 million+ budget. The film did better on Saturday and Sunday than Friday, which suggests the film had some good word of mouth.

Disney seems to be throwing Stanton under the bus. "Reports are now surfacing" that Stanton was the one responsible for the poor advertising/marketing campaign. Really? I know Andrew Stanton wrote a huge amount of blockbuster animated films and directed several of those, too. But, this is a Disney picture. Disney is a king of marketing and cross-promoting. The trouble with the JOHN CARTER campaign started because Disney execs got scared when last year's MARS NEEDS MOMS bombed so bad. That movie bombed so bad that they forced Andrew Stanton to rename the movie from JOHN CARTER OF MARS to JOHN CARTER. That in itself was a very foolish marketing and advertising mistake. John Carter found fame on Mars, not Earth. The execs should have embraced that, but were too scared because of MARS NEEDS MOMS. There's so many ways that they could have marketed the film so it would get some buzz, but they didn't. Now they are blaming Stanton. Personally, Stanton probably was so involved in the actual making of the movie, that after they pulled the "OF MARS" from the title, he was so ticked off it probably made things worse.

With that said, you should go see JOHN CARTER. It's got something for everybody (men, women, kids, and old people). The story is well told. There are some really great effects that for the most part are seamless (there's only one scene in the whole movie that looks fake). It's the best movie of 2012 so far.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


I enjoyed the novel JURASSIC PARK and loved the movie. When the film was first released in 1993, the film far exceeded expectations and it was one of those rare instances where the movie was better than the book it was based upon. Therefore, when I learned that IDW had won the rights to publish a series of new comics for the series, I was excited.

JURASSIC PARK: REDEMPTION is set 13 years after the events of Jurassic Park. Both Lex and Tim are grown up and are successful entrepreneurs in their own right. Lex is a business celebrity and one of her many projects has been developing a renewable food crop that will solve the world’s hunger problem. Tim, meanwhile, has been secretly breeding dinosaurs in an underground facility in Texas. He wants to build a new Jurassic Park that consists of only herbivore dinosaurs. However, unbeknownst to Tim, one of the employees at the facility is actually a spy hired by Tim’s largest secret backer and has been raising some carnivorous creatures, too. The time comes to begin moving the creatures to their new home, but then one of the creatures escapes (or is released?) and begins causing destruction all around the area.

I was excited that Lex and Tim were back, but JURASSIC PARK: REDEMPTION is a huge disappointment. The story jumps around all over the place and it’s incredibly difficult to follow what exactly is going on. There are times when a person is attacked by a dinosaur and left for dead and then the story immediately switches in the next panel to a completely different scene. Later it’s revealed that the person who died earlier, didn’t really die, but just had a flesh wound. Then there are other times when a person is killed, but the next panel cuts away to a completely different scene then it’s later revealed the person really was killed. There are characters who appear in this story that died in both the books and movies of Jurassic Park. Then there’s the artwork. It’s not really good. There’s no real distinction between the different dinosaurs other than in size. There are sections where you see a dinosaur and you think it’s a carnivore when it’s actually an herbivore and vice versa. I was also really distracted by the noses of the people. I’m not sure what it is, but the noses of the human characters just don’t fit well with the rest of their faces. The noses look like they’ve been penciled in.

Overall, JURASSIC PARK: REDEMPTION has a promising premise, but it’s ruined by poor execution, jumpy storytelling, and lackluster illustrations.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Zig and Wikki, the stars of the Toon Book ZIG AND WIKKI IN SOMETHING ATE MY HOMEWORK return in this sequel, ZIG AND WIKKI IN THE COW. In the previous book, Zig picked up a pet fly from Earth. Now his fly is sick. At first neither Zig nor Wikki know why he’s ill, but then Zig figures out he must be homesick. So, the duo returns to Earth and lands on a farm. All sorts of crazy things happen and along the way Zig and Wikki learn about cows, dung, and ecology. This story is more interesting and entertaining than the first one. It’s also more educational. Zig and Wikki were fairly forgettable characters in their first book, but in this sequel they become more memorable. Children who enjoyed the first Zig and Wikki book will really like this one. Overall, it’s an enjoyable Toon Book that’s almost on par with some of the other Toon Book stories.


In this graphic novel version of the legend of King Arthur from Tony Lee & Sam Hart, Arthur isn’t just a regular mortal man, but instead is part fairy and is chosen by the good fairies to be King of Albion (England). However, his half-sister, Morgana, is taken by the evil fairies and raised in the black arts. She comes to despise Arthur and all that he stands for. Unlike many of the stories we read about Arthur, in this version he is fully aware of his familial lineage. However, he begins to doubt the existence of the wizard Merlin until Merlin appears just before Arthur sets off to face the evil King Ulrich. Merlin sends Arthur away to the good fairy realm of Albion where a year is as a few hours in Albion. While there, Arthur falls in love with Vivianne, the Lady of the Lake. He ends up staying in Avalon for two years before returning to face Ulrich in Albion, where only a day has passed. Thus begins Arthur’s journey to becoming King.

I had been looking forward to reading EXCALIBUR: THE LEGEND OF KING ARTHUR. I enjoy the legends of King Arthur and was excited to see how this updated version would be. I was disappointed. I don’t mind trying to update the stories of Arthur. However, EXCALIBUR does more than just update the stories. It changes the very essence of Arthur. Instead of the man who would be king, he becomes the fairy man that’s destined to be king. The mystery (and humor) of some of the tales are explained away through faire knowledge (aka magic). Arthur’s love for Guinevere and the betrayal of Lancelot and Guinevere are easily forgiven because in this version of the story, Guinevere was not really Arthur’s true love. That’s just one example of how the Arthur legends are distorted.

I was also disappointed by the artwork. I had seen Sam Hart’s work in an earlier graphic novel, OUTLAW: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD. In that book, the illustrations were much too dark. The illustrations in EXCALIBUR are better than in OUTLAW and there isn’t as much shadowing and dark colors as there was in that book. However, the expressions and physical positions of the characters in EXCALIBUR are bland, dull, and often emotionless. EXCALIBUR is supposed to be an exciting updating of the Arthur legends, but it’s difficult to become excited about a story when one of the most exciting panels is seeing a withered Arthur after part of his “life force” has been taken from him by an evil fairy. There is so much more of the story, but the illustration don’t do the story justice.

Overall, EXCALIBUR is a disappointing update of the King Arthur legends. The story suffers from giving the tale a fairy subplot and the actual graphic novel itself suffers from mediocre illustrations.