Oct 222017
 

Late 1996, I resigned from Colossal Pictures, the only full time staff position I’d ever had. By then I’d been working in animation for 15 years, but recent job disasters had soured me to the industry, and I was unsure what to do next. After traveling for a few months, I’d decided to focus on the enjoyable aspects of being a cartoonist by creating some projects of my own, and by February 1997 I came back to San Francisco to draw. Although my plan was to save money by working at my kitchen table, Robert Valley suggested that I sublet some space at an animation studio he’d founded in 1995. I did, and it represented a turning point in my creative life.

For several months I didn’t think about paid work, but came up with silly characters and goofy situations for them to be in. I’d recently created some characters for a company and loved the creating part, but the process of getting it made wasn’t a fun experience at all. To rekindle the joy I once felt at being a cartoonist, I resolved to make something primarily for fun. My own thing, not tied to schedules, budgets and the whims of others. I started doodling in the solo medium of comics, and gradually, I began enjoying drawing cartoons again. ROCKET RABBIT, SEPHILINA, and many other personal projects, were all born out of this period of play.

Rocket Rabbit Rocket Rabbit Rocket Rabbit

At around the same time, more freelancers moved in to Robert’s studio; Bosco Ng, and Steward Lee, two more colleagues from our Colossal Pictures days. Maverix slowly became a shared workspace for a loose collective of freelance artists, each working on their own professional or personal projects, while sharing resources and sometimes collaborating on certain jobs, and my American freelance career had begun. More artists joined; Sho Murase, Derek Thompson, Vaughn Ross, and Robert’s brother, John. I’d been on staff continually since arriving in the USA, but once Maverix became my base of operations I could try my hand at a variety of different projects at many different studios, both in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Following various leads (from ex-Colossal Pictures colleagues) I worked for ILM (‘Frankenstein’) Pixar (‘Finding Nemo‘) PDI (‘Tusker‘) and on various commercials and shorts projects at Wild Brain.

The balance between my career, private life, and personal projects had always been hard to manage. When working in a professional studio, I’d get wound up in the cogs of production and think of nothing else but my job, but working at home as a freelancer didn’t give enough structure and I’d waste my downtime. At Maverix Studios however, I had the freedom of a freelancer with the routine and inspiring camaraderie of a studio, allowing me to do my personal projects for the first time. The studio changed its spelling from MaveriCKS  (initially named for the NorCal surf spot) to MAVERIX, to mark the transition from the commercial studio it once was to the collective it had become (besides, that domain name was available). Around 2000 we bought a shared G4 computer (the first time I’d ever used Photoshop) and soon after got a shared website:

Maverix at times became a hive of industry, that expanded from the core membership to include friends helping with various animation projects (commercials and the like) and this meant that it was often a raucous place to work, with loud music, people playing video games, a barking dog running around, and friends of friends dropping by with beers. It could be a difficult place to concentrate in, and ironically I sometimes had to work on my kitchen table at home simply to get away from the noise in my paid workplace, but it was always an energetic and inspiring place to brainstorm, despite those distractions. When we were buzzing with activity, we’d take breaks by playing video games. I remember those competitions fondly, even though I was the loser every time, and the brunt of good-natured smack talking that was a fun feature of these bouts of digital fisticuffs.

During a slow spell at the studio in early 2001, Bosco Ng, Derek Thompson, and I were sitting with nothing to do, and somebody suggested that we should each make a comic for that year’s Comic-Con and actually exhibit. We’d all been attending and submitting portfolios for years, but actually making something to sell had never occurred to us before. We were perhaps inspired by the recent example of a colleague from ILM, Steve Purcell, who had a Comic-Con table the year prior to sell his own artwork. We decided to do something similar ourselves and just make something for a change, instead of getting raked over the coals by snotty art-directors at portfolio reviews. Many times throughout my career, in eager beaver conversation in pubs or coffeeshops, such notions had been mentioned before (“let’s make an animated short!” etc) but this was the first time we followed through, and made the things we said we’d make: three separate comic books.

We knew nothing about printing or exhibiting, but it was remarkably easy to exhibit at Comic-Con in 2001; there was no waiting list, and in February 2001 we booked a table for July that same year, which would be unthinkable now. We’d committed to exhibiting and the ensuing period of making stuff remains one of the most pleasant stretches of several months in my entire career. Each day, the three of us would come in to the studio, jazzed to draw our comics, excited about what we were each doing, and what the other two guys were doing too. My effort was NERVE BOMB (my first Rocket Rabbit book) Derek made BINDU (a collaboration with Brian McDonald) and Bosco made METALUSION. We got them printed just in time. It is quite common for a group of artists to self publish these days, but it wasn’t as common back then, and we got a good reaction simply because of the novelty of a booth containing three artists selling their own stuff. A high point was when Mike Mignola visited our table and bought our books.

I got a rude shock when I finally got my bill from the printer. I’d cut the print deadline very close, and asked the printer to ship a few hundred of my comics expedited direct to San Diego, so they’d make the convention deadline, and ship the remaining 1800 books to San Francisco, at regular rates. They instead sent ALL the boxes to San Diego. The bill for expedited international shipping (from Canada) for 2,000 books was brutal. As that last minute transaction had been all arranged on the phone, I had no paper trail as to who said exactly what & when, so when the printer sicced a collection agency onto me I had to pay up. This was my first lesson that getting things printed was often the sour note in self publishing..

The next few years saw all Maverix members exhibiting their own projects at Comic-Con. There was the annual drama of getting various personal projects drawn and printed in time for the show, shenanigans with printing companies, Kinkos, or ink-jet printers. Hare-brained money-saving schemes to drive to the Con, all Maverix members crammed into a rented van, like the Scooby Doo gang or some lame rock band. Several years of fumbled bookings in shitty San Diego hotels, and assorted shenanigans; Robert accidentally drinking Sho’s contact lenses (twice) or getting stranded in Tijuana without his passport. Oh, such tales could be told (and might be one day.)

Maverix was a chaotic band of loons that nevertheless helped me break the cycle of my own creative lameness. I am not sure why it took me so long to actually make something of my own, except that when younger, I had no idea how to get things printed or made. Researching the means of production wasn’t easy in the 80s and 90s, and it’s only relatively recently that those technologies have been accessible to your average Joe & Jane. Even so, I deeply regret not getting off my arse many years earlier and making something. Anything. I always thought about it, but somehow had the feeling that I needed permission or validation from someone else to move forward. The younger generation of artists today do not make that mistake, and self publish books and make short films right out of school. This is definitely the way to go. When you’re young and before you have a family, you should make stuff of your own as much as you can, as personal projects are the gymnasium where professional artists get to train their creative muscles and stretch themselves.

Maverix became known as a fun place to hang out. The studio was not far from San Francisco’s South of Market club scene, and would often serve as a staging area for night club away teams, and after-parties. There were themed movie nights (“Ape Night” or “Monster Night”) or we’d simply gather to watch the latest anime blockbuster or foreign hit film on Bosco’s groovy projector. Maverix knew how to throw a very fun party on any pretext at all, and members of other bigger studios would all mingle on our common ground.

On the fateful day of September 11, 2001, I was the only person working at Maverix. This was before the era of carrying the internet in your pocket, and I was unaware of the world-changing attacks on The World Trade Center. I walked into work early that morning, and assumed that the police vehicles surrounding City Hall were there for another episode of ’Nash Bridges’, and continued to the studio, where I was working on paper and therefore not connected to the internet. By mid-afternoon, no one else had come to work but I didn’t think much of it, because Maverix was the kind of place where people kept odd hours. Later in the day, I went out to get something to eat at a nearby deli, where the the radio broadcasted something hectic in Korean. The guy making my sandwich was agitated about something in New York, but didn’t speak clear English, and I assumed it was a sporting event. After I walked all the way back home at about 11PM that night and turned on my TV, I finally saw the nightmarish images of airplanes dissolving into the Twin Towers. It still took 20 minutes for it to sink in that this was NOT a movie. That this was real. For the next 24 hours I stayed glued to the TV trying to make sense of it all. Al Qaeda who? Osama Bin What? Why?

My girlfriend at the time was in Europe traveling with her family, stranded by the USA flight ban imposed in the wake of the attacks (for everyone other than the fleeing Bin Laden family). It was a stressful and gruesome time. At the national level there was great distress, but many things in my own life started to fall apart after 9/11. Freelance work started to dry up almost immediately, and most of my friends were out of work for a long time. As the disasters stacked up – political, personal, professional, financial, psychological – it was almost comedic, like a sequence from a movie where a shlub (a Jerry Lewis or a Jim Carrey) is subjected to one humiliating pitfall one after the other, to teach him ‘a lesson’. The difference being that everyone was experiencing this spiral of disaster at the exact same time. For me this grim period culminated in a bitter break up with my girlfriend in September 2002, leaving me dejected about life in America, about relationships, about work, and human beings in general. It took several years to find my optimism again.

The original 9th Street address of Maverix Studios was in a seedy part of town. My memories of Maverix itself are overwhelmingly positive, but any negative memories come from that low-rent tawdry neighbourhood, rife with petty crime and scuzzy ne’er do wells prowling about. I had two different bikes stolen from inside the studio itself within three months, and I wasn’t the only Maverix member to have issues with theft. There was a strange ecosystem of Fury Road shantytowns in the alley behind the studio near our dumpsters, ruled over by a semi psychotic Hobo Warlord in camouflage combat pants, stripped to the waist. This methed-up alpha hobo was known to us as ’Hatchet Man,’ because we’d often see him out our back window flexing his muscles and practicing tossing his tomahawk into a telephone pole; wzzzz THUD! We’d have to thread our way gingerly past Immortan Joe and his underlings to put stuff in our own dumpster.

The back alley shanty town would grow, and periodically the city would swoop in to roust the squatters, and steam clean their paste off the alley. Then another shanty would slowly re-assemble, only to be purged when it too became a festering sore. The City wanted to offset costs for these frequent cleanups, and clearly the hobos had no money, so The City would attempt to send US the bill for these cleanings. One time I was at home in the shower in my own apartment when there was furious rapping on the door, with an officious voice demanding; “Open up! City Trash Police!” (or some such). I opened the door in my bath towel to be confronted by a guy we came to call ‘The Garbage Nazi‘, an enforcer with the city who’d found a scrap of rubbish in the alley bearing my name and address, and this was to be the justification for a BILL from City Hall; if any of our trash was strewn about by the human racoons that lived in the alley (as it often was) we’d get hammered by The City for alley cleanup. There were already stiff penalties for not having a padlock on our garbage can. However the entire system broke down when the guys driving the garbage trucks and emptying our dumpsters wouldn’t put the locks back on after emptying our trash. Then our garbage cans became prime scavenging sites, and even impromptu porta-potties for Hatchet Man and his homies (yes, not kidding).

The initial draw to the area was cheap rent, when most businesses around us were fabric sewing sweat shops, likewise taking advantage of low costs. The first wave of internet start ups happened around that time, and when the tech boom hit the neighbourhood, suddenly those crappy sweatshops were turned into tech lofts and the area was awash with hipsters on scooters. But the .com boom of San Francisco wasn’t all glamour. Sometimes, when working late, we’d overhear tawdry transactions taking place in the medieval monkey cage in the back alley below the studio. It’s a strange disconnect to be working on a child’s cartoon at 2 in the morning, when you hear some drunk tech-nerd stumble out of a nearby bar to haggle a drugs-for-sex swap with a hobo-junkie. This sleazy Blowjob Bartertown was an aspect of the SF tech boom not covered by WIRED magazine.

Maverix soon lost its lease due to the escalating crazy rents brought on by this .com boom, when our landlord suddenly wanted us to pay something like $10,000 a month for a space that cost less than $2000 a month previously, which was very indicative of the greed of that time. The combo of tawdry sleaze & crummy infrastructure and high prices was brutal (and became the problem with San Francisco in general). When it was time to renew our lease in 2003, we couldn’t afford to be in the area any more, so the studio moved to 17th street and the new space was infinitely better than the original place. By that time, some of the members chose to become a proper LLC company, and the loose collective dissolved, and I left Maverix (thinking that we could barely manage the studio trash cans, let alone file paperwork for an actual company). This separation was 100% amicable, it was simply that our different goals for the studio had changed. Although I was no longer officially a member, I still participated in many Maverix events, and often dropped in on my old studio mates. We are all still good friends to this day.

One of the things I was most happy to collaborate in were the Maverix charity art auctions. The first was held out of a desperate need to express our love and support for our friend Mike Murnane, who’d been brought low by a tragic accident. He required surgery but had no insurance, and thus no funds to cover his ballooning medical expenses. The broader Maverix community came together to generate money in the only way we knew how; by making and selling artwork. Organised in a matter of weeks, this first auction raised a significant amount of money, even though many of us were out of work ourselves at the time. It became the first charity fundraiser of many, and such auctions became regular events at the studio. People from Pixar, PDI, ILM, Wild Brain, Ghostbot, and other studios in the Bay Area all assembled for good times and good causes.

This was my first experience of artists doing what they do to raise money for charities without any goal of self-promotion. I have seen similar things since, but for me the Maverix auctions were always the best. They may not have raised the cash of bigger art auctions that came later, but they were always all-inclusive and immensely rewarding to be part of. Lately, I’ve had a visceral sense of what such fundraising activities can do for a person who’s been medically devastated, when I was a beneficiary myself (in 2013). Though the money is very welcome, I found the support from the community to be the real force for good.

I’d recommend any freelance artists who work at home to find like-minded friends to share a workspace with, at least once in your career. In my opinion, an essential ingredient to make the whole thing work is a sort of rulebook (or ‘manifesto’ if you prefer) to ensure that the day to day nitty-gritty of bill paying and trash removal happens smoothly, and it it’s clear in everybody’s mind’s to what extent the studio is a workspace, and to what extent it is a fun space. If you can get those things mutually understood, this is one the most satisfying ways to work as a commercial artist.

When I first fell in love with San Francisco in the early 1990s, the Bay Area had a healthy cross-section of big studios, medium-sized studios, and small studios. Over 25 years later, the middle of that ecosystem has died. There are still a few big places (impenetrable fortresses like Pixar, and ILM) and a few tiny studios too, but the mid-size studios are gone (perhaps because animated commercials are neither so common nor lucrative as they once were). Mid-sized studios were my favourite places to work, providing the bulk of the freelance jobs for people doing what I do, while taking more chances on younger talent than bigger studios. I miss these mid-sized studios a great deal. A lot of innovation is happening in the South Bay in GAMES, but my focus has always been on animation for broadcast or film, and in that respect San Francisco is not the vital town that it once was, sadly.

In 2011, MAVERIX STUDIOS finally closed its doors, marking the end for this fantastic collective of independent, Bay Area animation artists, though ex-members have gone on to work on many high-profile projects in a wide variety of media, from comics & games to film & TV. All members look back on the studio with fondness, despite some setbacks here and there. It was quite an achievement that such an unwieldy group of screwballs could operate so well for so long, during some very difficult years in the Bay Area media community, when many studios with ‘business plans’ and MBAs all went kaput. For many years I’d toyed with the idea of making some projects of my own, but it wasn’t until Maverix that I actually did it, and interestingly, it made me a more professional worker for others, when I had an outlet to do my own thing. Becoming a self publisher led to exhibiting at comics conventions, which I did for about 10 years and got a lot of satisfaction from. Being a member of Maverix Studios remains one of the most fruitful periods of my career.

Founders of the Maverick commercial animation studio: Robert Valley Jeanne Reynolds.

Initial members of the Maverix Studios collective: Robert Valley, John Valley, James Baker, Steward Lee, Bosco Ng, Sho Murase, Vaughn Ross, Derek Thompson.

The 3rd wave: Tom Rubalcava, Osamu Tsuruyama, Tony Stacchi, Sergio Paez, Ted Mathot, Chris Petrocchi, Garett Sheldrew, Ed Bell.

Other friends who collaborated, or hung out: Patrick Awa, Mike Murnane, Gennie Rim, Granger Davis, Lyla Warren, Charlie Canfield, Dan McHale, Chris Carter, Charlene Kelley, Victor Gascon, Sam Hood, Dedan Anderson, Joel Hornsby, Jamal Narcisse, Lance Hughes, Ken Kaiser (and many more!)

Feb 012011
 

My current pocket sketchbook has a long history; it was purchased in 2002, drawn in sporadically until 2004, then lost and only just found again late last year.

Consequently, there are OLD sketches amongst the new, such as these from a trip in 2004, when Bosco, myself and Chris (pictured below) went driving south along highway #1 (along the coast) and wound-up at beautiful Big Sur.

It was a purely spontaneous trip and by the time we got all the way down there it was dark and we didn’t want to drive all the way back to San Franciso along that windy coastal road at night. Of course, travellers without accommodation reservations are often punished by fate when there’s no place to stay the night (the day you travel is the one day in the year when a ball-bearing convention is in town; who knew?!) and, given that there are not many hotels down there, we were prepared to iether sleep in the car or be charged an arm and a leg for a bed in some crummy dump. As luck would have it however, we DID manage to find a very decent and affordable place to stay; a lovely inn overlooking the sea, and we stayed there and had a very pleasant evening.

The next morning we had breakfast, did some exploring, had one more quick drawing sesh on the beach, and then head home to SF. All in all, a great little trip. Sometimes, Spontaneity is rewarded.

Oct 022007
 


One of my favourite things to do over the past few years has been to participate in the MAVERIX STUDIOS ART AUCTIONS. They have all been held to raise money for worthy causes, and the satisfaction in being part of one is many-fold. First of all, they are a fantastic prompt to make some original artwork that has nothing to do whatsoever with working for “the man”. Secondly, they are great social gatherings and gallery shows where I can see artwork made by my friends. Thirdly, If I get my check-book out and wield it wisely and boldy, I get to take home some of that inspiring artwork at bargain prices. Fourthly, they are wonderful ways to raise money for charity and the knowledge that I am part of that process creates a rosy glow that lasts for weeks. Lastly, because of all of the points raised above and more factors besides, they are one hell of a lot of fun to attend.

Initially, the choice of beneficiary charities for each auction, and the ensuing preparations, were made by Maverix Studios members themselves, but recently Maverix has been approached by friends to host auctions for charities that they have some connection to. Enrico Casarosa instigated the EMERGENCY auction held earlier this year and this most recent auction was initiated by Esther Pearl and Nate Stanton, and then organised by them and Maverix to raise money for the Alzheimers Association. Amazingly, the preparations for this show were done in a mere 4 weeks and yet the auction raised a staggering $13,842.

You just got walked on by Maverix Studios
Maybe as much as $6,000 of that total was raised in the live-auction. A Maverix Studios auction is silent for most of the 3 hours, whereby bidders write down their bids beneath each art piece. However, Maverix reserves the right to pull a few of the most contested pieces off the wall and use them in the live auction BIG BID BATTLE at the end of the night. So, even though you’ve secured the winning bid on paper, you may be obliged to battle it out even further LIVE. As auctioneer MIKE MURNANE hilariously explained to the first such thwarted paper-bidder, “You thought you’d already won this piece but you just got WALKED ON by Maverix Studios.” Thereafter followed a series of cut-throat bid battles.

The drama and hilarity of the BIG BID BATTLES has become one of my favourite parts of these auctions, and a large part of the reason for that fact is the MIGHTY MIKE MURNANE. Mikey is a natural born button pusher and his skills at goading are nowhere put to better use than at these events. He surely gouged another several thou out of the crowd last Saturday. It is also fitting that Mike be the auctioneer at these shows, seeing as how he was the beneficiary of the very first Maverix Auction held in 2004, to raise money for his eye surgery.

Bidding for FULL QUENCH
I had it in mind to finally secure myself a Rhode Montijo original. Even though I had won a Rhode painting at the very first Maverix auction, I soon after gave that painting to Mike as a gift and have been in dire need of replacement Rhode pic ever since. However, this time around, there a was a giddy frenzy of bidding the likes of which I’d not seen before. I bid on a SWEET Rhode piece in the live auction, battling one-on-one with Bosco, each of us topping each other’s bid by $25, until the price was almost $200 more than the paper bid, which had been held by Bosco. Then Ronnie del Carmen blind-sided BOTH of us; he jacked the bidding up by $75 to $500 (which was my secret top price) and secured the pic for himself!

Ronnie’s bold bidding strategy got a huge round of applause, from Bosco and I no less than anyone else, and I think his boldness set the tone for bids to come, because thereafter bidders really pulled out all the stops. Luis battled Vaughn neck and neck for Patrick Awa’s GUITAR WOLF piece and, with the bidding at around the $750 mark, Luis blew the opposition away by bidding $1000, to a HUGE cheer from the assembled crowd.

Brenda Chapman made the room gasp as she bid against a woman called JUDY, taking the bids from $400 all the way up to the dizzy heights of $3,500, for a beautiful painting by Steve Purcell, who sadly wasn’t there in person and therefore missed out on the massive ego-stoke of seeing two women fighting over him so passionately. The crowd loved the theatre of this battle, and Brenda had a huge smile on her face as the victor, even though she wound up paying a few thousand more for a picture she’d already won on paper.

I have to point out here that even these “high” prices are actually bargains for the quality of the work on auction. A mere fraction of what you would pay at a gallery.

Thwarted for a good cause
Last time I walked home with a huge swag of goodies, whereas this time I was beat out on most of the stuff I bid on. I was tipped to be one of the people to pull the bid-sheets off the wall, and in doing so I wasn’t as able to defend my bids on a few pieces elsewhere in the room, and the last 5 minutes are everything in the silent bidding. However, I was able to win a great print by Sho Murase, and I was very happy with the fact that my donated pieces raised a lot more money than any of my submissions to prior auctions.

Plus, even though I was denied in gaining many of the things that I had wanted, I was happy in the knowledge that I was thwarted for a good cause and my bids had at least forced someone else to pay some extra money to charity in order to be the winner. There are no sad faces at the end of a Maverix Studios auction. And if there was any sense of having to lick my wounds, I took that vibe with me to Mitchell’s Ice Cream and instead licked a chocolate dipped Mexican Chocolate Ice cream, served in a chocolate waffle cone.

(thanks to Carlos, Rhode and Ronnie for the photos seen here).

If you like the idea of this kind of auction but don’t live in the Bay Area, then why not organise an art-auction charity fundraiser for the holiday season this year? Scoop up some of the holiday purchasing budget in your community for a good cause, and walk away with some great artwork that you can give to friends and family over the gift giving season!

——————————–

A chronology of the Maverix Studios Auctions:
#1. AUGUST 19TH, 2004: For the Love of MIKE: $6000 raised for Mike Murnane’s eye surgery.

#2. FEBRUARY 4TH 2005: TSUNAMI RELIEF: $22,955.60 raised for the victims of the Asian Tsunami, with donations given to UNICEF, HABITAT FOR HUMANITY and SAVE THE CHILDREN. Participation by 80 artists who donated 220 pieces sold at the auction night and on a follow-up Ebay auction.

#3. NOVEMBER 17TH, 2005. HEAL: $9000 raised for the CHARLOTTE MAXWELL COMPLEMENTARY CLINIC.

#4. DECEMBER 15TH, 2005. EARTHQUAKE RELIEF: $12,000 raised for the victims of the Earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir, with donations given to the PAKISTAN RED CRESCENT SOCIETY and DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS.

Over $40,000 was raised in 2005 at 3 auctions, and perhaps due to exhaustion there was an auction hiatus in 2006.

#5. MAY 20TH, 2007. EMERGENCY: $13,003 raised for LIFE SUPPORT FOR CIVILIAN WAR VICTIMS

#6. SEPTEMBER 29TH, 2007. $13,842 raised for the ALZHEIMERS SOCIETY.

Feb 262006
 

Many films that have recently inspired me (and my friends) have been from abroad (and not just old ones). A few are from countries whose film industries I was previously unaware of. Here are some (both sublime and ridiculous) that may be worth your time…

NIGHT WATCH is a Russian movie just being released in American theatres (just as the sequel is coming out in Russia) but I was lucky enough to see it on DVD in late 2004 via some friends who are hooked into the film scene abroad. It has provoked more excited discussion amongst my pals than any film since we first beheld the majesty of Shaolin Soccer.

The context for my first viewing of Night Watch was that a largish group of us were at Maverix Studios watching movies on their stylin’ video projector, it was late and we were getting ready to leave. Derek and Bosco said that they wanted to show us a sequence from another movie. We groaned; we were tired from watching a bunch of movies already. “Just the first 15 minutes” they said. We grudgingly relented and they played the film, and hit the pause button at the 15 minute point, as promised…. to HOWLS of protest from everyone present. We were all wide awake and on the hook now. We HAD to see the rest of the movie! That’s all I want to tell you about that film. If you don’t like the first 15 minutes (it’s not everyone‘s cup of tea) you may as well leave the theatre. On the other hand, if you like the first 15 minutes then hold on tight; this film is for YOU and it won’t let you down.

Some of my recent favourites have been from Korea even though I had never seen a Korean movie before 2004. When watching them I am on the edge of my seat at all times and have no idea what is going to happen next. Perhaps it is because Korean storytelling conventions are different (and consequently unpredictable to me) or perhaps part of the reason for these films’ impact is that I had not been exposed to any desensitizing hype?

OLD BOY is hard to describe without giving anything away. It would be criminal to expose the compelling plot or it’s weird twists and turns. The performance of Choi Min-Sik is absolutely superb; He’ll shock you, inspire your pity, disgust, and amusement… He’ll take you on an excrutiating emotional journey… it is a real workout, an emotional stair-master. There’s talk of an American remake of Old Boy and though the eagerness to mine the gold in this film is understandable, I cannot imagine it working as well as the original.

SAVE THE GREEN PLANET is another Korean Movie full of insanely intense emotional moments. Without spoiling anything, this film is about an eccentric trying to save the world. It will take you to weird and worrying places, and you’ll want to give your harried soul a warm bath when it’s over. At the mid point of this film, despite being absolutely enthralled, I had no clear idea of; 1) what was going to happen next, 2) what the film was about, or even 3) who I was rooting for, as all the characters were equally appalling and sympathetic.

From what little I know of the Robert Mckee ideas of story-structure, that should be a No-No; by the mid point of the film I SHOULD know what the film is about, who I’m rooting for, what his problem is and what he is looking for… But with many of these Korean films I’ve seen the story rules go out the window… but I love them.

JSA (AKA: “Joint Security Area“) takes place in the “no-mans land” between North and South Korea, and deals with the guards on either side who can clearly see the individuals on the opposing side of the border. In talking with Bosco about the moral ambiguities cleverly threaded into this, and other Korean films, we wondered if the complexities of the North/South split of that country may explain the ambivalent shadings of “good-guy” and “bad-guy” in some of the better Korean movies that we have seen.

Honorable mentions go to two other Korean films that I enjoyed, even though they were not as original as the ones already mentioned. “NATURAL CITY” has been described as a “Korean Blade Runner” in that it is set in a future where there are synthetic humans and the protagonist falls in love with a beautiful synthetic woman. “A TALE OF TWO SISTERS” is a gorgeously filmed taught psychological thriller with horror movie undertones (or is it the other way around?).

On my list of Korean films yet to see (recommended by John Stevenson, who turned us onto these films in the first place) are “SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE” and “A BITTERSWEET LIFE.” Those titles tell me to expect more mental punishment, Korean-style….

If you have a taste for something less high faluting (or emotionally harrowing) in a foriegn film, then you cannot falut any closer to the ground than “Turkish Star Wars” and “Turkish Spiderman” (AKA: “3 Dev Adam“). It is hard to find a “proper” copy of these films but don’t feel guilty for watching the grainy bootlegs (available for purchase on the internet) as the films themselves are hilariously bad ripoffs of other films.

In “Turkish Star Wars” they have swiped entire FX scenes from “STAR WARS” (the real one) which cut the effects budget down to… about $4.95 (or whatever a “Star Wars” VCR Bootleg costs in Instanbul). In the space-battle scenes, a grim Turkish “space-pilot” sits, wearing a natty Vespa helmet and Walkman headphones, while the world famous “Death Star” sequence is projected on a wall behind him, scene cuts intact.

At least the producers of “Turkish Spiderman” shelled out the money to make their own Spiderman costume (complete with scary eyebrows on the outside of the suit) which is worn by a squat pear-shaped man who has the inspiration of playing Spiderman as a knife-wielding villain… The highlight of this pulse-punding epic is seeing a chunky Captain America and a flabby El Santo teaming up to fight villainous potbellied Turkish Spidey in some pretty vigourous punch-ups where all kinds of 1970’s furniture gets smashed. It is certainly a lot easier to get those cross-over dream-teams to work when international copyright law isn’t an issue…
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Still on the subject of movies, a yet to be released American cartoon this time, the latest trailer for Open season is online and getting a good reaction from most people, including righteous animal lovers and hunter haters. Check out this thread on an VEGANS forum. For contrast, see the indignation being hosed around in the hunters forum.

Dec 222005
 

It was just announced on the Maverix Studios Blog that the money raised during the fierce bidding-battles at their Holiday-party/art-auction a few weeks ago totalled a mighty $12,000! Not bad considering that the benefit was arranged in under 3 weeks. This means that the Maverix guys have raised a grand total of $47,000 dollars for charities during their three fund-raisers in 2005. I competed for some paintings by Patrick Awa, Steve Purcell and Jennifer Chang but was defeated in each of those arenas…But I didn’t go home empty handed, as I managed to win this neat little Lady matador painting by Bosco Ng.

Nov 282004
 

Benton Jew just turned me onto the fact that on Dave Johnson’s NEWS page there is a nice review of Babes in Space:

Sunday, November 21, 2004
You must buy this!!!

This is one of those books that really blew me away. It’s a collection of Space Girl stories by the likes of: Benton Jew, Anson Jew, Les Toil, Ed Reynolds, Bosco Ng, Brian O’Connell and James Baker. What was that? Never heard of them? Well, put down your Jim Lee comic and try something else. These guy’s rocked my socks with their talent. So give them so of the moola you were going to spend on that Wizard retrospective on foil stamp covers from the late 90’s. For more info go to: www.babesinspace.com

If, as a result of that fine endorsement by one of the best in the biz, you now feel inspired to purchase BABES IN SPACE, then visit my ONLINE STORE, or BUD PLANT where arrangements can be made for a copy to find it’s way into your grubby little hands.

Jul 012004
 

I’m a contributor to Benton Jew’s Babes in Space anthology, which goes on sale for the first time at the 2004 San Diego comic-con. My contribution is a 10 page NAUTI GIRL story, that I expanded from a short sequence that she appeared in in NERVE BOMB #0.1.

There are short stories by a bunch of different artists: Benton Jew, (who also edited the thing) Anson Jew, Les Toil, Ed Reynolds (who did the book design and layout) and my ole pal, Bosco Ng.

Obviously each story combines some aspects of Space…. and Babes.

I’ll have some copies on sale soon through my Web Store (look to the left for the link), or you could get them via Bud Plant’s catalog if you prefer that option. If you DO visit Bud Plant, type “sketchbooks” or my name into the search field to find all my Gourmet Gruel sketchbooks on sale.

Jan 022002
 

This goofy Chihuahua/Giraffe critter is from the cancelled Frankenstein project, that I worked on at ILM in 1998. It was a great project with a stellar crew of all-stars, and I eventually gave up trying to design cool, tough and scary monsters, and left that to the many experts.

Instead, I went for goofy ideas in an attempt to make the directors LAUGH. My sensibilities were not the greatest fit for Frankenstein, but this silly critter was eventually used in “Work in Progress”, a short film that actually did get made and released.

Aug 102001
 

The big push to get our comics finished for the San Diego Comic Con 2001 Convention is finally Over. We managed to sell a few at our Maverix booth down there. It was very gratifying experience for us to have a table instead of traipsing about showing our folios to uninterested editors. Showing our comics to uninterested fans was much better. At least we got to sit down…

I’m kidding!

It was a lot of fun, and especially gratifying to have done what we set out to do: self-publish some comics! Rocket Rabbit is FINALLY out of my head and in his own book at last! NERVE BOMB comics, issue # ZERO. And Derek and Bosco both reached their comic-creation goals as well. Hopefully, Derek Bosco and I will figure out a way to sell all these books from our website in future.

Rocket Rabbit