February 2009

Carolina Ballet decision prompts arts groups to meet with Mayor Meeker

The controversial move by the Carolina Ballet to relocate some of its performances from Memorial Auditorium has prompted a meeting this evening between Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and representatives of several Raleigh arts organizations. But behind the scenes, the conflict over performance space centers on a more pervasive issue: Raleigh’s largest venues are now competing with Durham for the biggest touring acts.

Full article here.

Robots and Life: Tannenbaum on Chronicles of Some Made

By Zack Smith


They might look like cute robots, but the characters in Felix Tannenbaum’s Xeric-winning graphic novel Chronicles of Some Made deal with some decidedly grown-up issues. The new collection from Passenger Pigeon Publishing tells two existential tales about holding on to love, finding a purpose in your existence, and hot dogs. It’s the sort of book that makes you go “awww!” on one page and wince in recognition on the next.

Read the full article here.

Jeremy Bastian – The Return of Cursed Pirate Girl

By Zack Smith


Avast, ye Newsarama readers! Here now an’ listen!

Last year, we showed some preview art from Cursed Pirate Girl, a new series that was then going to be published by ASP. Reader response was overwhelmingly positive, but unfortunately, behind-the-scenes issues resulted in its delay.

But now, Cursed Pirate Girl is back from Davy Jones’ Locker and is ready to set sail for comic shops around the world. Creator Jeremy Bastian, upon threat of a keel-hauling, did reveal the terrible secrets of this seafarin’ lass. Grab a bottle of rum and read on ‘less ye wish to walk the plank.\

Full Interview Be Here!

Don Wood: Taking Us Into the Volcano

By Zack Smith


Ever wonder what it would be like to venture inside a volcano? Don Wood has done more than just wonder. He’s done it many times…and created an all-ages graphic novel about it.

Into the Volcano, released through Scholastic, is the story of Duffy and Sumo, two young brothers who are mysteriously sent on a trip to their relatives’ in Kocalaha, Hawaii. Once there, they learn about the native culture while becoming involved in an increasingly dangerous adventure.

The book marks the first foray into graphic novels for Wood, a Caldecott Honor illustrator of many children’s books. And for him, getting into graphic novels represents the fulfillment of a life-long dream. We called Wood up at his home in Hawaii – under some pretty exotic circumstances, as you’ll later find out – to chat about his love of comics…and volcanoes.

Read the full interview here!

Judd Winick: Reflections on Barry Ween

By Zack Smith


Ten years ago, Judd Winick was mostly known for his role on the third season of MTV’s The Real World based in San Francisco. But a pointy-haired, foul-mouthed 10-year-old with a 350 IQ was about to change all that.

The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, which premiered from Image in the summer of 1999, was a breakthrough work for the young cartoonist, earning raves from the likes of Matt Wagner and Garth Ennis. The initial three-issue run, along with two subsequent volumes from Oni Press, earned a cult following for

Barry and his equally profane friend Jeremy. It was action-packed, politically incorrect, and occasionally, even touching. You can read the first issue for free here.

Ween launched Winick into the spotlight, a position fortified by his acclaimed graphic novel Pedro & Me, chronicling his friendship with the late Pedro Zamora. The success of these books helped launch Winick into a successful and sometimes controversial career writing such Marvel and DC books as Exiles, Outsiders, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and most recently Titans.

Since 2002, the comics industry has been Ween-less. But all that changes on April 1 when Oni releases The Big Book of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, collecting all of Barry’s adventures under one cover for a mere $19.95. In celebration of this, we called up Winick for a spontaneous conversation about Ween, the book’s history, and whether he’ll ever return to his creation.

Read the full story here!

Barry Lyga on Wolverine: Worst Day Ever

By Zack Smith


After years of working at Diamond Comic Distributors, Barry Lyga made a name for himself as a young-adult author with The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, an award-winning novel about a comics fan that features a prominent cameo from Brian Michael Bendis. Two more novels (Boy Toy and Hero-Type) later, Lyga has gotten a chance to play with Marvel’s characters with Wolverine: Worst Day Ever, a young readers novel coming out in April. We called up Lyga to get the scoop on what it’s like bringing Wolverine to prose.

Read the full interview here!

Reprinted from The Independent Weekly

Nevermore Film Festival
Carolina Theatre
Feb. 20-22

Ever since Kevin Williamson, a native of New Bern, N.C., wrote Scream, there has been a flood of increasingly lame horror movies in the American cinema. While he captured lightning in a bottle, perhaps, with his clever, hugely successful send-up of the teen slasher film, it was all too easy for the knowing wit of that influential effort to curdle into cynicism. Currently, the trend seems to vacillate between spineless, suspense-less, PG-13 remakes, and ugly, emotionally disconnected Saw sequels, “torture porn” and … well, more remakes.

That’s why it’s a relief to say that the Nevermore Film Festival at the Carolina Theatre this weekend represents a trip back to the old school—when horror film artists took their craft more seriously, even with extremely limited resources. Low budgets and no stars didn’t stop the horror auteurs, and it’s safe to say this weekend’s program is a cut above the normal horror fare.

While there are a few films that fall into the oldest and dullest of scream clichés, there’s also plenty of work that falls into the category of “real cool flick.” Simply put: With lower budgets and limited effects, there are several gems at Nevermore that put Hollywood to shame by doing more with less.

Of the films that were made available for advance screening, the highlight is Ben Rock’s Alien Raiders. Boasting some studio backing (it’s available on DVD from Warner Home Video) and a few recognizable TV actors (24‘s Carlos Bernard, Six Feet Under‘s Matthew St. Patrick), it’s a surprisingly engaging mash-up of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Stephen King’s The Mist, depicting a grocery store robbery that slowly takes on darker, world-threatening implications. The plot is well-paced and suspenseful, with some unnerving scenes and effects. My one complaint is the title; it gives away too much for a film that’s otherwise very effective at shifting gears. Incidentally, director Rock was the production designer on The Blair Witch Project, responsible for, among other things, the creepy stick figure used to promote that film.

Another winner is The Disappeared, a British film about a teenager haunted by a number of kidnapped children, including his younger brother. Directed with eerie restraint by the wonderfully named Johnny Kevorkian, the film relies more on mood and characterization than empty shocks, and Harry Treadaway (Brothers of the Head) does an excellent job as the haunted protagonist.

Another highlight, yet one that shows no restraint whatsoever, is Pig Hunt, from Jason X director James Isaac. The plot is a typical horror set-up: Some friends take an Army buddy hunting in the mountains, only to be confronted with evil hillbillies, a possibly evil cult and one big pig. But the film is damn fun from start to finish, with wonderfully profane one-liners, realistically gory hunting scenes, well-choreographed action and some hilariously over-the-top characters and sequences. It needs to lose about 10-20 minutes, but this might very well be the greatest giant pig movie since Razorback. (I realize some might consider this faint praise.)

There’s also a nice piece of self-mockery in Reel Zombies, a Canadian mockumentary about a low-budget filmmaker who tries to film a zombie epic with real zombies after a Dawn of the Dead-type invasion. It’s an excellent look at the combination of desperation and self-awareness that goes into making a bad, low-budget horror movie, and it has a tremendous amount of fun with the premise, though there will doubtlessly be some festival attendees who will wince in recognition at this.

Other features didn’t quite grab me. Resurrection County is another evil-rednecks film, but I felt disconnected from its red-states-gone-bad premise, and Blackspot, from New Zealand’s Ben Hawker, is admirable in its ambition and structure yet a bit dull for my taste.

There are also a number of shorts of varying quality; a highlight is Kirksdale, a visually inventive tale of inmates taking over the asylum (literally). First Kill, a Most Dangerous Game knock-off, has some suspense, but mostly feels like the 400th film at the festival about evils in the woods. Some of the comedy pieces go on too long, such as The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Horribly Inefficient Weapon, which might have made a good Grindhouse-type trailer but feels drawn-out at 11 minutes. Ditto with The Auburn Hills Breakdown, which tries to get too much mileage out of the amusing premise “What if Leatherface’s family found themselves stuck in suburbia?” And a few, such as the teen-surgery tale Excision, have a kicky, weirdly compelling feel.

Overall, though, Nevermore offers an eclectic, sometimes wildly entertaining lineup, and the presence of such classics as the original 1931 Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, and the 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon (in 3-D, no less!) make this a must-attend festival. No matter what you make of the endless supply of horror remakes out there (Hollywood, don’t you dare touch Near Dark), Nevermore proves that sometimes the best material comes from originality—or at least the originals.

Reprinted from The Independent Weekly

The Receptionist
Manbites Dog Theater
Through Feb. 28

In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, the victim of anonymous torment was a small-time bank manager. In Manbites Dog Theater’s production of Adam Bock’s The Receptionist, times have evolved enough that even the lowliest of underlings are subject to persecution. An increasingly dark comedy that combines the banality of evil with the banality of office life, The Receptionist is a nifty little mood piece that goes a bit slowly in its first part, but gradually builds to a chilling climax.

Manbites Dog veteran Marcia Edmundson stars as Beverly, the receptionist at the “Northeast office” of a enigmatic corporation. Beverly’s inane existence involves putting people through to voice mail and engaging in small talk, either on the phone or with office-mate Lorraine (Katja Hill).

On the day that occupies most of the play, Beverly’s routine is disrupted by the odd absence of her boss, Mr. Raymond (a very good Carl Martin), just as an envoy from the “central office,” Martin Dart (Derrick Ivey), shows up looking for him. More small talk ensues, which becomes somewhat bigger talk after Dart leaves and Raymond returns. It seems that Beverly has been in willful denial about what her company does, and Raymond has had a crisis of conscience.

Needless to say, things aren’t going to end well.

The Receptionist takes a while to get going, and it’s at its best in the moments when the dark comedy and the deadpan comedy merge: It’s a hilarious, unnerving experience to hear certain things discussed in the same manner that one might talk about a jammed copier.

Edmundson is excellent as Beverly, as is Martin as the broken Mr. Raymond, while Hill has a nicely neurotic presence as Lorraine. Ivey cuts a demonic figure as Dart (with his suit and slicked-back hair, he resembles the comedian Bob Odenkirk), and he also deserves praise for his scenic design of a convincingly bland office environment. The only two weaknesses in this show are the slowly paced first half and the use of Hitchcockian music during the scene breaks (it’s a little too histrionic for such a low-key play).

The Receptionist cuts a convincing portrait of how a soul-killing job might eventually kill you. Still, it does seem like kind of a sweet gig if you get paid by the hour. We hear there might be openings at the Northeast office.

Reprinted from The Independent Weekly

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Raleigh Little Theatre
Through March 1

In the latest issue of The Believer, Brock Clarke has a piece on the use of artifice and metafiction in Muriel Spark’s novels. In Jay Presson Allen’s theatrical adaptation of Spark’s most famous work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the drama is all about the artifice that goes into the presentation of a charismatic personality. (Allen liked the work enough that she also adapted it to the 1969 Maggie Smith film and a 1978 British miniseries.)

The title character, played by Sandi Sullivan, has an eerie guiding hand over the quartet of students that make up her “Brodie set,” the protégés who will live out her dreams and ambitions. One will grow up to be Sister Helena (Alison Lawrence), a nun who publishes a bestselling book of philosophy that rejects Miss Brodie’s ideals. The scenes with Sister Helena serve as a framework to set up each act, and the bulk of the play is set in the past at the girls’ school. The story’s suspense builds as we try to divine which of the four girls will grow up into Helena, and how her relationship with Miss Brodie ended.

Both Miss Brodie and Sister Helena are guilty of interfering in the other’s life, and yet both, beneath the face they put out to the world, are oddly alike. Miss Brodie is a romantic at heart, expressed through her idealization of Italy and poetry, and of her four favorite students: Sandy (Allison Powell), Jenny (Laura Barone), Monica (Chloe Oliver) and Mary MacGregor (Laura Owens). However, Miss Brodie also idealizes the likes of Mussolini and Franco, and her guidance of her girls involves slowly pushing one into a relationship with Teddy Lloyd (Timothy Corbett), a married artist to whom Miss Brodie has once been attracted. Her obsession with “putting old heads on young shoulders” extends to turning her girls into proxies for her ideas, and while tragedy does result, there is also a sense that Miss Brodie’s more positive influence lives on.

Sullivan does fine work as Miss Brodie; the character has a sense of ironic self-awareness in places that gives some of her monologues an extra punch. Director Haskell Fitz-Simons does an excellent job of establishing a large, constantly shifting set in the limited space on the Raleigh Little Theatre stage, though the production nonetheless feels a mite cramped. There’s plenty of excellent supporting work as well, particularly from Powell and Corbett as the lecherous Lloyd (the fact that the girls are played by real-life high school students while Lloyd is played by the also-age-appropriate Corbett adds an additional layer of creepiness to Miss Brodie’s machinations).

At its heart, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is about how it’s possible to be both a good teacher and a bad leader, and how blindly following the likes of Miss Brodie can be as destructive as following the likes of Franco. An individual’s influence can inspire you to greatness, but you must be willing to assert your own individuality.

On another level, Spark’s tale suggests that even the most carefully constructed artifice can’t obscure the truth at the core.

The Race to the Moon in Comic Form: Ottaviani on T-Minus

By Zack Smith


In 1969, man first set foot on the moon. In 2009, a new graphic novel will show readers what it took to get there.

Jim Ottaviani’s science-themed graphic novels have covered everything from fossils (Bone Sharps, Cowboys & Thunder Lizards) to the atomic bomb (Fallout), and now he’s taking readers all the way to the moon and back. T-Minus, Ottaviani’s new graphic novel from Simon & Schuster, tells the story of the 1960s space race from a perspective that’s rarely been seen before., with art from Zander and Kevin Cannon. Ottaviani gave us the scoop on how his story is unique from other tales of the moon landing, and why this seminal event in human history remains important today.

Read the interview here!

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