G A N Z E E R . R E V I E W S

by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy o-o-o-c

Madness. Sheer and utter madness.

I must admit that before MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, I hadn't even heard of Brendan McCarthy, which is a damn inexcusable shame. But to be fair, the work of Milligan & McCarthy hasn’t really been part of the dialogue in comix culture. Not even when it comes to talking about the impactful indie work that fell outside of the mainstream; you never hear their work cited alongside that of Frank Miller's SIN CITY (which, before the 2005 film release was only really known in pretty small circles throughout the 1990's) or Eddie Campbell's ALEC or Dave Sim's CEREBUS. But that silence is in no way reflective of the duo's influence.

About a year ago, I listened to an interview with Neil Gaiman for the British Library podcast focused primarily on the RAMAYANA and Gaiman's involvement in adapting it for DreamWorks. When asked if he had a particular style in mind when working on the various [never-produced] treatments, Gaiman was quick to point out Brendan McCarthy's work on ROGAN GOSH, which Gaiman describes as being birthed from Brendan's “Road to Damascus moment, where he ran into a pile of comics in India, and just went 'I love this, there's art stuff here that I've never seen in the West,' and started doing stuff and playing with it.” He also goes on to describe ROGAN GOSH as “one of the most interesting moments of fusion between Indian and British and American comix culture.”

Naturally, I immediately looked into getting my hands on some ROGAN GOSH and discovered that it was reprinted in the pages of an over-sized hardcover titled THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY published by Dark Horse Books in 2013 and retailing for only $24.99 (down to $7.19 as I type this). Although a horrendously produced edition (pages are actually falling out in less than a year since purchasing it), I'm still happy to have gotten my hands on it because it has been blowing my mind ever since. Not least because of the work itself, but because it simultaneously exposes a very vital almost secret history of comix lost to... I dunno,an obsession with the founding of Image Comics and the less than negligible work its founders produced? If there was ever a demented, revolutionary punk rock duo in comix, Milligan & McCarthy definitely fit the bill.

ROGAN GOSH first appeared in REVOLVER, a short-lived anthology magazine for mature readers published in the UK between 1990-1991. GOSH was finally collected by DC Comics/Vertigo into a 48-page one shot in 1994. It is perhaps because of the book's modest page-count that it is never mentioned in the same breath as say THE SANDMAN or PREACHER, or THE INVISIBLES or other long-running titles central to the Vertigo imprint's identity. But hey, Aristotle's POETICS is no more than a sodding 44 pages, which is sometimes all you need to jump-start a revolution.

In Milligan and McCarthy's own words, surrounded by “long and bloated 'concept album' comics”, they were more interested in “the short, sharp, throwaway pop single. The type you danced to. The type you had sex to.”

While the above statement can most be applied to their series PARADAX (also featured in the book), it pretty much hits the nail on the head with the majority of their collaborations, including ROGAN GOSH.

By the duo's own admission, it is not only difficult to describe what ROGAN GOSH is about, it is even pointless to ask. What may have been originally conceived as a “sci-fi Bollywood BLADE RUNNER” rapidly evolved into something far more demented. It starts off with Rudyard Kipling in Lahore en route to a place “where men of all castes come to sleep the sleep of dreams.” Essentially, an opium den where “karmanauts can relieve a man of the curses of his sins.” If you think that opening scene will give you any idea of what follows, you are sorely mistaken. Kupling is entered into a “jasmine-scented dream of the future” where we are transported to psychadelic trip after psychadelic trip involving completely different characters:

  • A man named Raju Dhawan waiting on another named Dean Cripps at a Tandoori joint called “Star of the East”
  • The blue-skinned Rogan Gosh on the run from the “bloody-tongued, dark destroyer” Kali together with a small idol of Kipling.
  • Raju Ghawan as Rogan Gosh together with Dean Cripps on the run from robotic hindu “Karma Kops”.
  • Rogan Gosh as a bull-riding ancient Egyptian cowboy of the future, roaming through the mythic land of Wild Bill Osiris and Horus Thuh Kid.

If none of this makes the slightest bit of coherence, well that's because there is nothing coherent about it. Rather than there being any kind of train of thought, it's more like a train blown to bits upon the detonation of atomic dynamite. Shards of ideas floating around a nebula, jabbing into each other with every turn of the page. It's bizarre stuff, heavy on logic-defying captions almost as much as the explosive visuals. If you, the reader, let yourself go, you'll find that the synergy of text and image in ROGAN GOSH will drag you around a strong relentless current of spicy thought soup. Washing ashore an island of utter confusion is inevitable, but not without a sense of thrill retained from the memories of the surrealist storm that was.

Imagine a comicbook operating along the logic of say, PROMETHEA, 8 years prior to PROMETHEA's publication and without any of the rigorous explanation of the world's mechanics the way PROMETHEA delves into. Instead you're just thrown into it and left to make connections entirely on your own. That's what ROGAN GOSH feels like; a weird transcendental spell cast in comicbook form.

It isn't a coincidence that Milligan & McCarthy share something with Alan Moore other than British citizenship. All three after all did get their start making comix in the indie music paper SOUNDS. Moore with ROSCOE MOSCOW in 1979, and McCarthy et Milligan with THE ELECTRIC HOAX in 1978. This discovery, although new to me, was not at all surprising, as I find that I am typically drawn to creators who cut their teeth in avenues that fall outside of “the mainstream”. Where the ones “in charge” understand little about what they’re doing, where anything goes and opportunities for mad experimentalism aren't stifled.

The greatest discovery in THE BEST OF MILLIGAN & MCCARTHY for me has been the duo's work on FREAKWAVE, a comic that, by Brendan's own admission, was directly inspired by MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR which Brendan became obsessed with during his surfing getaway in Australia in 1981. After which Brendan coerced Milligan to co-write a “Mad Max goes surfing” treatment Brendan could pitch to Hollywood. Hollywood didn't bite, but the duo did get to produce it as a backup strip in the pages of VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED published by Pacific Comics in 1983. Pretty straight adventure story initially (well, as straight as Milligan & McCarthy can muster anyway), with the most striking aspect of the strip being character designs and world building.

FREAKWAVE is a post-apocalyptic punk-rock drifter who windsurfs a flooded Earth in search of floating trash he can live off. He battles it out with disease-ridden humanoid “Water-rats” and psychopaths in gasmasks wrapped in old tin cans and the random cultural ephemera of old. FREAKWAVE would later resurface as a punk-absurdist Tibetan Book-of-the-Dead story in 1984's STRANGE DAYS, an anthology showcasing the work of Milligan, McCarthy, and Brett Ewans published by Eclipse Comics. It only ran for 3 issues, but Warren Ellis says it “landed like a hand grenade from another world”, which is still exactly what it feels like going through its contents 34 years later today. It is especially in the pages of STRANGE DAYS' feature comic FREAKWAVE that you see Brendan McCarthy and Peter Milligan really rocking out like some kind of alternative comicbook band, the pages crackling with the energetic buzz of an electric guitar. Brendan especially reaches peak McCarthiasm, with 90% of his visionary work on FURY ROAD appearing here first on the page a good 31 years before blowing people's minds on screen.

Which, by the way, how fucking cool is that? To be asked to work on the sequel to a film that inspired your scarcely read comicbook. And to be asked specifically because of your work on said comicbook?

Not to mention that FREAKWAVE, although given a pass by executives in Hollywood, very likely influenced the movie WATERWORLD in 1995, at the very least in terms of look and production design, which let's face it was the only really good thing about the film.

Nothing will give you that good kick in the balls to go off and make comix (or any ill-advised pursuit) more than looking at the work of Milligan and McCarthy. If a big part of the draw of comix for you is that it is medium void of filters between creator and reader, well then that cannot be more true of Milligan and McCarthy's collaborations. Because there are always editors keeping creators in check, or heck, even self-inflicted inhibition on the creator’s part. Not for Milligan and McCarthy.

Never for Milligan and McCarthy.


Ganzeer November 23, 2018


by Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra, Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal (& various) o-o-o-o

BIRDS OF PASSAGE is a crime movie that does not feel like a crime movie. Chronicling a Wayuu family’s rise to power by way of illicit drug & arms dealing prior to their fall from grace and the inevitable disintegration that follows, the film serves as more of a window unto rural Wayuu culture in the seldom seen highlands of Columbia. The crime plot here isn’t the main attractor, but rather a narrative vehicle used to explore the Wayuu way of life, crime involved or not. Special attention is given to the depiction of unique Wayuu marriage ceremonies, burial rituals, the interpretation of dreams, and the passing down of ancestral stories. All this makes the film feel more like an anthropological documentary than your regular run-of-the-mill crime yarn, yet it is the crime yarn that serves to propel the narrative forward in a way anthropological documentaries seldom can.

In that sense, a lot of the film’s DNA seems to stem from Third Cinema, in that a fictional story is being delivered through an all too real, very-documentary-like package. Where it veers from standard Third Cinema is in its motive: It doesn’t exist as a critique of capitalist bosses in favor of the masses, nor as a critique of the colonizer in favor of the colonized. It simply serves to highlight the unique qualities of a culture far removed from where cinema is typically made, and in so doing it highlights the thing that makes us special as a species. Even if we all end up killing each other in the end.

Ganzeer November 9, 2018


by Allen Ruppersberg o-o-o-o-o

On view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (Feb 10-May 12) is an excellent retrospective of Allen Reppersberg's work which encompasses everything from print-making to drawing to installations and found objections. Really great stuff that I found myself very much connecting with (the classroom installation was a major highlight for me), and provided much invigorating food for both mind and soul.

Like myself, one of Ruppersberg's core fascinations is the novel, resulting in several peculiar artworks, chief among them is his “Remainders” and “The Novel That Writes Itself”.

The former is a “sculptural” work comprising a number of custom-made novels sitting on a table (under which is a number of discarded cardboard boxes). A nod to the discount tables often seen at bookstores, the books feature custom-designed covers by Ruppersberg featuring entirely believable fictional titles and author names. It is said that the text within these books is a screenplay for a 1960s educational film that warns of the dangers of hallucinogenic drugs, along with inserts of black-and-white stills from the artist’s film archive. Something I can't vouch for as the “sculpture” is meant to be seen, not touched or read, which creates a rather anxious tension (it's hard not to flip through a stack of books sitting on a table).

For “The Novel That Writes Itself”, Ruppersberg invited friends and family to appear in his life story for a fee: major ones for $300, minor ones for $100, and cameos for $50. Started in 1978, the book has been ever-evolving, different each time it was exhibited up until its “publication” in 2014 by mfc-michèle didier in a limited edition of 24. Effectively, a highly prized artist-book existent only in special collections and museum displays, the book is a fat stack of paper held within a heavy-duty ring-folder. Its contents again inaccessible by the general public, rendering it little more than a sculptural object. Albeit one that alludes to a lot more than just the form of the sculpture itself.

Other favorites of mine include Ruppersberg’s newspaper-canvases. Essentially newspaper clippings of true-crime reports, screenprinted large on canvas and inscribed with notes by the artist himself.

A common thread in all of Allen Ruppersberg’s output is that it is at once personal while also intrinsically connected to a larger cultural existence. It speaks very much of the artist’s psyche while also revealing much about the time, place, and culture within which the work is created. Deceptively simple, the work is multi-textual and hard to forget long after you’ve seen it.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: 1968-2018 is on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from February 10 to May 12. It is a must see.


by William Gibson o-o-c

NEUROMANCER is not a good novel, but it is essential reading.

How do you figure that?

Well, the first thing that hits you when reading NEUROMANCER is Gibson’s inventive use of language. The opening line, which is not dialogue, not a bit of “action”, not anything pertaining to any character—but rather a mere description of a scene—is one of the most memorable opening lines in the history of literature:

The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel. And that is actually very indicative of the entire novel. The characters negligible, the story unmemorable, but the passages: sheer magic. Most of the time, they won’t mean much, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be enchanted by them anyway.

Under bright ghosts burning through a blue haze of cigarette smoke, holograms of Wizard's Castle, Tank War Europa, the New York skyline.... And now he remembered her that way, her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard's Castle burned, forehead drenched with the azure when Munich fell to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon. Gibson, like Alan Moore, admits that he’s never cared much for plot, but unlike Moore, Gibson strikes me as someone who has very little to say (at least as far as his first novel is concerned), and rather than step away from the obsession with plot (that most entertainment writers are consumed by) in favor of a story’s core concern, Gibson seems to divert his attention entirely to the musicality of words.

Case triggered his second program. A carefully engineered virus attacked the code fabric screening primary custodial commands for the subbasement that housed the Sense/Net research materials. “Boston,” Molly’s voice came across the link. “I’m downstairs.” Case switched and saw the blank wall of the elevator. She was unzipping the white pants. A bulky packet, exactly the shade of her pale ankle, was secured there with micropore. She knelt and peeled the tape away. Streaks of burgundy flickered across the mimetic ploycarbon as she unfolded the Modern suit. Even when describing action, an actual plot point in the story, Gibson gets too caught up in the rhythm of fresh-sounding words, even if they do very little to affix the mind’s eye to the scene at hand. In fact, they typically serve to do the exact opposite, eject one from the story completely and instead get swept away by the sheer aesthetics of vocabulary, meaning be damned.

It is no wonder that even admirers of NEUROMANCER have very little to say about the story, and instead prefer to lean on Gibson’s invention of the word “cyberspace.” Of course, they also stress that one has to consider the time it was written: 1984, and as such realize how ahead of its time it really was.

While yes, envisioning a completely virtual world made capable by a vast network of computer mainframes that characters plug into in order to enter and operate within is indeed a visionary stroke of genius for that time, but let’s not forget that there was some degree of precedent to that idea in things like TRON (1982). Gibson is often credited with “envisioning” the internet before it happened, but a more accurate prophecy less soaked in fantasy can be found in the networked discussion forums imagined in Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME.

But yes, “cyberspace” as a word was indeed invented by Gibson in NEUROMANCER. And the book is full of like inventions. On every other page of the thing you’re bound to come across a new word:

Temperfoam Microbionics Ultrasuede Microchannel Dermatrode Shockstave Dermadisk Wintermute

And on and on. But after a while, you get the gimmick: slap two average words together and voila! A new exciting word emerges, much like “cyberspace”, or heck, the book’s very title for that matter: “Neuromancer”.

Not to downplay Gibson’s knack for inventing new words or his ear for the musicality of unexpected words following one another. It is, after all, the novel’s highest selling point as far as I’m concerned. Possibly even its only selling point, but not one to be undermined, for it will completely shed new light on the beauty of language and give you a purely aesthetic experience from the mere act of reading sentences.

But all of that comes at the expense of story.

Is it a good novel? No. Highly recommended? Hell yes.



By Dennis Villeneuve, Hampton Fancher, Michael Green (& various) o-o-o-o

Ridley Scott’s original 1982 Blade Runner was flawed, and so is this one. But damn is it good. As good as the original? No no, it’s better. I’ve read think pieces about how the original Blade Runner flopped because it was way too dark for its time. Far from the optimistic futures of Dan Dare and Steve Rogers, which wasn’t what people were ready to see. I call bullshit, because if that were the case, Ridley Scott’s previous film, Alien, would’ve been a huge flop as well. I mean, Blade Runner was dark, but nowhere nearly as dark as Alien. The main difference, I think, is that Alien clearly knew what it wanted to be, whereas Blade Runner didn’t. Even to the point where for the 30+ years following the film’s release, Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott continued to argue over whether or not Deckard (Ford’s character) was supposed to be a replicant (humanoid android). It is perhaps for that very same reason that the movie found itself gaining a prominent cult status long after its commercial flop. The ambiguity of its meaning. That, and of course the expansive world building hinted at from just the vantage point of a future Los Angeles plagued by acidic rain, and home to a wide array of tongues. Not to mention the eerily impressive future noir production design and set pieces.

Luckily, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 has all of that and then some. It builds upon the original Blade Runner elegantly without losing any of the spunk that made the original the closest thing we’ve seen to a cyberpunk noir spectacle. Except in this version, Ryan Gosling’s character who goes by K, short for KD6.3-7, knows very well that he’s a replicant. He is, however, a replicant that follows orders, doesn’t rebel like the older models (like Deckard’s), and as such is tasked with “retiring” them, which he does with an absolute clear conscience. Or perhaps, no conscience at all. Until he discovers something that makes him question the origin of his memories. Or rather, memory implants. Uncovering the mysteries requires some critical detective work on part of K, none of that hi-tech, cheating with a computer a`la CSI stuff, but real deductive detective skills that would make even Sherlock Holmes proud. The kinda stuff that could only be pulled off with an analytical mind and a keen eye for subtlety (something Deckard never really got around to doing much of in the original Blade Runner, as Harrison Ford put it himself, “I was a detective who did very little detecting”). The theme of the original Blade Runner, which centered consciousness around love, is present in this one, albeit not the main plot that drives the narrative. But it is taken up a notch through K’s relationship with his virtual assistant (compared to Deckard’s relationship with an actual replicant), which only serves as a minor subplot, one which if eliminated from the film wouldn’t really change the narrative one bit. The main plot however, is built upon a different philosophical question: the relationship between consciousness and the ability to reproduce?

Although easily dismissible as a pretty dumb question (because the ability to reproduce obviously isn’t what makes us human), one can see how this could be a major game changer from a replicant’s point of view, even one designed to strictly follow orders.

Although never boring, the film is needlessly long, close to 3 hours. Aside from the unnecessary subplot involving K’s assistant, there are a few questionable scenes in there, like the one in which Jared Leto’s character Niander Wallace kills a “newborn” fully grown replicant for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than to point out that he’s the big bad guy, I guess. Although his motives, and our protagonist’s aren’t necessarily opposite, because what Wallace essentially wants is to get replicants to reproduce. This makes one feel that perhaps the only reason they are at odds is a case of miscommunication, even if not necessarily intended by the filmmakers.

The moment K and Deckard first meet is a big one, but is somewhat ruined by our knowledge of it already happening, thanks to the film’s marketing campaign greatly hinging on announcing Harrison Ford’s involvement. I feel the studio has done the film a great disservice by revealing it so early on. It’s a bit akin to placing a novel’s central plot twist right on the book’s cover.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is grand and daunting in all the right parts, but I personally could’ve done with just a hint of 80’s Carpenter-esque synth goodness.

Without a doubt, the weakest link in the chain of the film’s artistry is in the dialogue, for there are a way too many instances where it is cheesy beyond belief. The strongest link is the visuals and production design. My god, how gorgeous! Every set, every scene, and every goddamn frame is a beaut, it’s unbelievable.

Between that, the world building, and the philosophical questions inherent in the world presented to us, I am already eager to watch the film again. And I may even be on board for another sequel or two.


by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson o-o-o-o

One of the best exercises in plotting I've ever seen came in a comicbook I don't think I'd normally be interested in picking up: MANHUNTER.

Yes, it has the names of Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson on the cover, but it's a comicbook called Manhunter for Christ's sake. Look at what this supposedly fearsome Manhunter is wearing, my God. But, Warren urged me to check it out and I have never been disappointed by a Warren Ellis recommendation to date.

Lessons learned from this slim collection are numerous. First of all, it is an absolute joy to read! Which was such a breath of fresh air because more than once in the past few months have I found myself dropping a book out of sheer boredom. MANHUNTER will engage you from start to finish. I started reading it one night before bed, and found myself finishing it the next morning over cereal at the kitchen table, almost unable to put it down. Now if that ain't good storytelling, I don't know what is. As far as escapist fiction goes, forget DOC SAVAGE, or heck Michael Moorcock's ELRIC novels even (blasphemy, I know), but your blueprint for good ol' fashioned escapism is right here, because what Archie Goodwin did with this is pretty much toss in every pulpy plot trick known to man. Clones? You bet. Moles? Check. Conspiracy? Check. Super-healing? Check. Suspended Animation? Check. Teleportation? Yup. Mind-controlled machines? Oh yeah. Betrayal? Of course.

The book has it all, but what's most impressive is how it was all fit into such a slim package. Before it was collected into this 72-page edition in 1984, MANHUNTER ran as an 8-page backup story, serialized in a 1973 run of DETECTIVE, who's lead character was Batman. Sales were low, and the title needed spicing up, but Goodwin realized that he couldn't get away with doing anything too radical on the Batman. A backup story starring an unknown character, on the other hand, he could play with. A whiff of editorial genius pushed him to tap into the then young Walt Simonson, who did with Goodwin's loose plots some really groundbreaking work. If, like me, the notion of drawing or writing a 9-panel grid has ever brought about a feeling of dread, MANHUNTER is your remedy because Simonson will sometimes do a 13-panel page, and it will look beautiful, designed. The storytelling is clear, natural, and effortless. Somehow, the 9-panel grid looks like a walk in the park after studying Simonson's work on MANHUNTER.

Goodwin started out writing “Marvel style” on these with Simonson. Essentially, rather than giving Simonson full scripts, he gave him plots. Walt would then take these plots and use them to rough up his page layouts, which Goodwin would then use to work in dialogue and captions. Such was the collaborative nature of this thing that by the 3rd or 4th episode, Goodwin no longer wrote the plots and instead just talked them out with Simonson. Ideas bounced back and forth between them with such excitement that you can actually feel it reading the comicbook.

Sure, it's rather hoaky in many parts, but it's good hoaky. And in a very short amount of time you somehow find yourself growing rather fond of this ridiculously dressed man who calls himself Manhunter. His adventures take him from Nepal to Marakech to Istanbul, Japan, and Nairobi. It's rather genre defying in that it's part spy thriller, part detective mystery, part super-hero adventure. All of this in 8-page episodes! I don't recall ever seeing that before. A true masterclass in condensed adventure-storytelling.

Now, everything I've mentioned so far is evident of MANHUNTER being made up of a great deal of plot, and nothing much else, which goes against my argument for “sly escapism”. And I think that towards the last episode when it came time to end the story, Archie Goodwin realized that if his story didn't have some kind of point to it, then all the amazing plotting he'd conjured up would amount to absolutely nothing. So he gave it a point and it's a really good one [spoiler alerts are for pansies]. He made it a story against the idea of resurrection and prolonging of life. A story about accepting death when it is time to die. I may be giving this fun little adventure tale more depth than it calls for, and I fully acknowledge that there's no way in hell this comicbook will interest anybody not already interested in comicbooks about costumed superheroes. It definitely doesn't transcend the genre in the way something like, say, WATCHMEN does, but you can be sure that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were informed by the storytelling techniques employed in MANHUNTER if nothing else.


by Ana Lily Amirpour (& various) o-o-o-o

This is one fucking weird movie, but I actually really liked it and I'm not sure why. Logically speaking, I really shouldn't like it. I mean, there's hardly a likable character in the entire thing. What little dialogue is in it is actually really slow and kind of off and pointless. But it stays with you long after you're done watching it. Or at least it has with me.

A 20-something year old girl is dropped off by the police at a fenced off desert, where she is hunted down by cannibals. She manages to escape and make it to a self-sufficient community called Comfort, where besides having drugged out raves, inhabitants grow their own vegetables and raise bunnies. Up to here, the movie has you gripped by the balls and is pretty fucking flawless. But after that the story zigzags into these completely irrational directions and, despite being really slow and moody (appropriate for the desert setting), it all ends abruptly on a whatever sorta note.

So: I can see why so many people really fucking despise this movie, including the two friends I saw it with.

But: This is the first time in a very long time I've walked out of a movie and actually felt like; if I could, I'd actually like to own an original print of this film. It is absolutely gorgeously shot. The post-apocalyptic set pieces in the desert are made up of the debris of our current very average world, but the assemblage is peak style and super artistic. I get that it's very easy to write the whole thing off as some kind of millennial hipster Burning Man bullshit, but you can imagine a society of white suburban John Wayne-like family men hating on Dennis Hopper's EASY RIDER for reasons not entirely dissimilar. The equivalent of the long-haired hippie biker of the 70's is probably the millennial hipster of today, who is often shat on by the generation that came before. Which is why I suppose THE BAD BATCH isn't really made for the current generation of film critiques or Rotten Tomatoes voters, hence the really poor reviews it's been getting. Its audience is likely only within the millennial crowd, who unfortunately will probably not even hear about it before the film's director, Ana Lily Amirpour, is sent to Hollywood jail and denied the privilege of directing ever again.

I'm hoping that won't be the case though, because if anyone can make a unique film right now on a nickel-to-dime budget, it's Amirpour, as demonstrated by her previous masterpiece, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT. I would argue that THE BAD BATCH is the EASY RIDER of this generation, but that would be selling the artistry of Ana Lily Amirpour really really short. It might be more appropriate to compare her to 70's Jodorowsy whose EL TOPO was viewed religiously in late night exploitation theaters. Indeed, if such theaters still existed to this day, you can imagine them being the perfect viewing venues for THE BAD BATCH, where a contemporary crowd of young, high 20-somethings would likely frequent regularly just to watch the picture over and over and over again (although, it might have to be annexed to a craft brewery or artistinal coffeehouse for that to work).

Amirpour has reportedly stated “I don’t make a film to tell you a message,” so if you're expecting to walk into a film that is spoon-feeding you what it's about, or where every action is supposed to have some kind of payoff as per the conventional storytelling mechanics of the Hollywood film school, then you will certainly be disappointed. We find out at a much later point in the film that this barren desert is where “the bad batch”, society's unwanted, is sent. So you find yourself assuming that maybe... these outcasts will break out and fight back? Or maybe we focus on the internal struggle within this desert prison and we have the cannibals facing off with the people of Comfort? Or maybe our heroine takes it upon herself to enact full-on revenge against the cannibals? The story never goes there though. Instead, much like the film's protagonist, you're tossed into a world that makes little sense, where people say shit that has no meaning and will lead to absolutely nothing, and you just go with it because that's actually what we do in real life most of the time.

Not that you won't come out of THE BAD BATCH with something. It's a work of art where new meaning can be derived from the whole experience as per each and every viewers own persona, where new meaning can be derived each time you watch it. It's a work of art created by someone who might've tossed a young Jodorowsky, Lynch, Tarentino, and Miller into the blender, and chugged that shit down right before marching on set and declaring ACTION!

The soundtrack is also killer (way better than BABY DRIVER's, by the way), and I am very much eager to give it a listen on vinyl.


by Edgar Wright (& various) o-o

A young guy named Baby, whose name isn't really Baby, is the go-to getaway driver of a very bad man named Doc who turns out to be not all that bad after all. Doc assembles a different crew for each of his heists, but Baby is a constant because he's just so fucking good. Baby wants to get out of the game though, and this desire is brought to the forefront when he falls in love with a cute waitress all in the span of a 5-minute conversation.

The waitress, whose name I cannot recall because of her utter lack of personality, sweeps Baby off his feet for no other reason than she flirts, laughs at Baby's jokes, has a pretty voice, and is readily willing to go on a murderous crime spree with Baby even after being stood up by him just the other night (huh?). Oh, and Baby's deceased mom used to be a waitress at the very same diner (oh I seeeee).

Listen, I love Edgar Wright to no end and I was actually super excited to watch BABY DRIVER. But the movie might as well have been scripted by a poorly-written algorithm. There isn't an inkling of originality in the film, aside from a handful of quirky moments from some of the characters. It's the same heist movie you've seen a million times, albeit a lot more Disneyfied.

Typically, I'm not one to care much for plot anyway, and do believe that how a story is told contributes to the originality of a story more than anything, but even in the storytelling department I'm afraid Wright has severely underperformed. Much has been written about how BABY DRIVER is the perfectly synchronized heist ballet, with all the stunts perfectly choreographed to sync to the soundtrack Wright had already decided on over 20 years ago. Lies, I tell you, lies!

The stunts are not synched. The editing is synched. We've all watched the music videos of Spike Jonze and know what choreographing live action to music actually looks like. And BABY DRIVER is not that. The closest it gets to achieving anything remotely close to that is a scene void of stunts in which Baby is walking down the street to fetch coffees for the gang. It is also the only scene in which you get a true sense of place, Atlanta, where the film was shot on location. The rest of the entire thing, except for a handful of aerial shots, might've easily been shot within the sterile confines of a production studio's lot.

And y'know what? All of that could've been fine, just fine. If you're going to give me a plastic plot acted out by plastic characters in a plastic setting because you're using them as an excuse to do some really cool stunt scenes against the backdrop of your favorite music, well even that would've been fine, but the car chases that dominate the movie deliver less thrill than watching a leaf fall off a tree.

Edgar Wright's BABY DRIVER shows that he's got style, knows where the funny is, and has a good ear for music, but an auteur he is not.

(As for the public's fascination with it? It shows that holy shit, we're doomed! DOOMED!)


by Peter Biskind o-o-o-o-o

When the two [John Wayne and Dennis Hopper] were working on True Grit, Wayne once flew his helicopter in from the minesweeper he kept at Newport Beach, landed on the Paramount lot, swaggered onto the soundstage with his .45 hanging from his belt, and bellowed, “Where's that pinko Hipper? That goddamn Eldridge Cleaver's out there at UCLA saying 'shit' and 'cocksucker' in front of my sweet daughters. I want that red motherfucker. Where is that commie hiding?”

Like the war between old gods and new in Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS, EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS chronicles the battle between Old Hollywood and New. Well into the 60's, Hollywood was still churning out the glamorous musicals and John Wayne Westerns that were popular in the 50's, but America was a different place that the big studio bosses didn't quite get or understand. Anti-War protests and the Civil Rights movement were taking hold. The already popular Nina Simone began addressing racial inequality in her songs, and Bob Dylan became the most popular singer/songwriter in the country, second possibly to The Beatles, who, even they –mere pop artists– couldn't avoid addressing the horrors of the Vietnam war. Television was new, and it was on TV that you could get a glimpse of people like Bob Dylan and The Beatles, who neither looked, sounded, or behaved like anyone on the silver screen. Television was also where you could see mad, groundbreaking ideas for the first time. Things like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone were miles ahead of any feature-length film starring John Wayne or Elizabeth Taylor.

As the studios began to lose a lot of money, the control enacted over film-making was relinquished to smaller production outfits, which started giving directors full control over how they made movies. So radical were the results that first time filmmakers like Dennis Hopper, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorcese became stars almost overnight.

And yes, you read that right. Dennis fucking Hopper. EASY RIDER is America's first biker movie, and thus spoke to Americans at the time in a way that no other film ever had. According to Biskind, it largely involved Hopper dicking around on set. The “set” being America's open roads. Nevertheless, it cost $501,000 to make, and brought $91.1 million in rentals. A huge, and very unexpected, return on investment. It won the First Work Award at the Cannes Film festival and was nominated for two Oscars, and Hopper was subsequently christened by LIFE magazine as “Hollywood's hottest director.” It was 1969, and the gates of Hollywood finally swung open to welcome American counter-culture for the majority of the 70's. Arguably, the best decade in American film-making until Spielberg and Lucas showed up to introduce the formula for what would become the, ugh, summer blockbuster.

The book is a treasure trove of “New Hollywood” history, and delves with great detail into some of the horrors, trials, and tribulations involved in making some of America's greatest films. Warren recommended it to me, after I had listened to this NPR interview with Coppola about the difficulties faced in making THE GODFATHER. And let me tell you, what is revealed in that interview is nothing compared to what's in this here book. Not just in regards to Coppola, but pretty much every American filmmaker who rose to prominence in the 70's.

Paul [Schrader] made the call to his agent, Michael Hamilburg, said, “This is The Godfather meets Bruce Lee. It's gonna sell for sixty grand. You get a third of the money, I get a third, and Leonard [Schrader] gets a third.”

Hamilburg gave them $5,000 on the spot. The brothers arrived in L.A. around Thanksgiving and rented a tiny apartment on Bicknell in Venice, a block from the beach, for $90 a month, which Hamilburg paid for. They took the bedroom doors off the hinges, stole some cinder blocks from a construction site, set up two desks, one in each bedroom, facing each other. The only other piece of furniture was a massive butcher block coffee table with wrought iron legs. They rented two electric typewriters, wrote three drafts in about eight weeks. They wrote around the clock, twenty, twenty-two hours a day, worked ten hours, slept one, very little food.

Toward the end, around Christmas of '72, they were running out of money, even though they were spending less than a dollar a day, $7, $10 a week for food, stealing plastic envelopes of ketchup from restaurants, making tomato juice.

“We sat down, took a good look at the script, and said to each other, 'We gotta write it one more time,'” recalls Leonard. “We were just wiped out, needed to find the energy to write one more draft. For us, the only surefire source of that big a jolt was guilt. We talked about, 'How we gonna get' – you didn't wanna go out and rob somebody – 'the guilt?' My brother said to me, 'We'll go to Vegas, lose our money, we'll feel so guilty, so pissed off, we'll come home and finish the script.'”

And sure enough, they did. And a couple paragraphs later:

Says Leonard, “There was an auction, sixteen bidders, it was the highest amount for original script ever sold at that point: $325,000.”

The film that came out of it, THE YAKUZA, directed by Sydney Pollack, is... well, alright. But it did open the gateways for Paul Schrader who went on to write TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL, and eventually direct his own films, like HARDCORE and AMERIAN GIGOLO. But not before screwing his brother over.

When the dust settled, instead of an easy three-way split, The Yakuza money was split 40-40 between Paul and Hamilburg, with Leonard getting only 20 percent. “I wanted to have that sole screenwriting credit, so I made him take shared story credit,” says Paul. Leonard looked the other way, pretended it hadn't happened.

Even though THE YAKUZA was originally Leonard's idea for a novel, before his brother convinced him to co-write it as a screenplay with him. Such personal stories aside, one can't help but see the overarching parallels between then and now. Like Old Hollywood back then, Hollywood today has been riding the wave of an old formula – the summer blockbuster – since well, the 80's really. Like Television in the 60's, the Internet has sprung up as the new media outlet through which one can experience things a little closer to today's equivalent of “counter-culture.” The internet became home to some of Cory Doctorow's first novels, it is where the art of Molly Crabapple first saw the light, where live video was being broadcast from the heart of the Arab Spring, where people are Tumbling their homemade unairbrushed porn, where kids are producing microfiction using cell phones, and where you can hear Kim Boekbinder sing Pussy Grabs Back in response to Donald Trump.

Again, there is a sense that big media outlets are stuck in their old ways, producing things that are far removed from the pulse of now. But if recent hits like MOONLIGHT and GET OUT are any indication, it seems like Hollywood may be catching up. MOONLIGHT is an honest portrayal of homosexuality in an African American community. GET OUT unapologetically tackles the horrors of racism by way of a popular genre film. One of them won the Oscar for best film, and the other is the highest grossing film by a writer/director in the history of American cinema. These are game-changers that tell us that the decade to come will be nothing short of a cultural revolution. And that excites me.



by Walter Simonson o-o-o-o

Warren Ellis insisted I read this after noticing stylistic similarities in my work on THE SOLAR GRID. I'll admit, this isn't something I would've necessarily been attracted to, not at first glance, as I tend to lean more towards science fiction that has its roots more in science rather than fantasy, but it only took me the first few pages to understand why Warren would recommend this. STAR SLAMMERS is a masterclass in comicbook storytelling.

Now, for the B-movie aficionados, it might disappoint you to know that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie STAR SLAMMER: THE ESCAPE (previously released as PRISON SHIP), but I guarantee you it is much better.

It blows my mind that this is Simonsons' first ever comix work, because it has all the hallmarks of a seasoned professional, one who knows the medium like the back of his hand. Although, with enough enthusiasm for it to bend the rules from time to time and experiment with storytelling techniques. One of my favorite parts in the book is when Senator Krellik (the bad guy) asks the delegates of his planet to vote on whether or not to eradicate the Slammers, effectively an act of genocide. Monolithic holograms take form behind him, a rose for life, a skull for death. The votes are cast, and it's as if the skull awakes.

Now what's interesting is that this warmongering democracy is not brought to its knees by way of a lone warrior, but rather a collaborative tactic that requires a level of elevated spirituality. Sure, it isn't the most groundbreaking story, but it's beautiful stuff. And it feels like a full fledged movie, told almost effortlessly in just 64 pages. I find myself referring to it over and over again just to learn how to pull that off (once I bring THE SOLAR GRID to a close, I don't think I'll be able to handle a project of the same scope for quite a while).

“Genre-bending” is the new buzz word de jour, but STAR SLAMMERS, first published in the WSFA Journal in the early 70's, and later reprinted in 1983 by Marvel, has its fair share of it with elements drawn from sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, and samurai cinema. While the story will hardly blow anyone away, especially not today, the book is an exemplar manual in conscious and powerful graphic storytelling, not to mention illustration in general.

STAR SLAMMERS is available used on Amazon for as low as $0.99

In 2014, IDW released a poorly marketed re-release of STAR SLAMMERS, complete with a sequel that, once upon a time, was partially released by Malibu Comics in 1994. Based on the previews, this new collected edition seems to have been “re-mastered” with 90's era digital coloring that I just can't swallow. But do pick it up if that's more your jam.


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