Forget Newsroom. Aaron Sorkin should go back to politics


This is an interesting moment for the playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. After months in limbo, his HBO series The Newsroom was just renewed for a third and final season. This should excite hardcore Newsroom fans, but there’s another opportunity we’d like to see him pursue—his long-promised adaptation of Andrew Young’s tell-all account of John Edwards’ downfall, The Politician.


A lot of what goes on in comics outside the actual books tends to go over my head.  I stay off of message boards, avoid getting into arguments, and at cons, I just seek out who I want to meet, have dinner with my friends, and go to bed early.

But lately, there are more and more things going on that I can’t ignore.  There’s a lot of issues that need to be faced – racism, ageism, censorship, a list that would take a dozen more editorials to fully cover – but one that has come to the forefront recently is the issue of harassment of women in comics.

Last month, some ugly, ugly reports came out of New York Comic-Con (NYCC).  Here’s one of the best reports on it.  There was the usual dose of pandering, scantily-clad models and advertising, but the worst was a camera crew for a  public access show that asked deeply inappropriate questions of female attendees – with incidents being reported even after complaints were made to con security.

Any hopes that this was an isolated incident were washed away in the wake of the show, as numerous female comics fans and professionals began coming forward with their own tales of harassment – not just from creeping convention attendees, but from professionals within the industry itself.

There’s this story.  And this story.  And this story. And this story.  This one just came to my attention today. And..well, probably many, many more that I’m unaware of because I’m not actually that good at using Tumblr or other social media.

Even uglier, many of these women who’ve spoken out have been lambasted for doing so, using language I’m not comfortable repeating here.

These tales of harassment are, put bluntly, unacceptable.  The reaction to them is even less acceptable.

Now, as you might have noticed from the headline, I’m a guy.  What qualifies me to talk about harassment?

Well, there’s two things.  First, when I mentioned I wanted to explore this issue on Facebook, a female friend of mine who helped out at NC Comicon (a Durham, NC show based near me that issued a strict non-harassment policy in the wake of NYCC reports) said that she wanted to see a guy talk about this issue.

“Honestly, the sad thing is that men talking about representation in media is more likely to lend it legitimacy, and make the topic a ‘real’ issue to the people otherwise most likely to write it off,” she said.

That’s depressing, though I also saw her point.  I don’t think things should be this way, but if it’s the case, I want to help the cause by acknowledging the problem, and my own culpability.

I think it’s lousy that women who speak out about harassment are often denounced and harassed all the further by coming forward, but I do think it’s important to offer support and understanding.

Secondly…I can’t say that I’ve ever groped a girl or tried to play “casting couch,” but the stories recounted here have reminded me of incidents where I’ve told an off-color joke or gotten in the face some woman I just met at a con with non-stop babbling when really, she just wanted to get away and get on with her show. I’ve only later realized or was told by a well-meaning friend how uncomfortable I was making these women.

Now, I wasn’t trying to be malicious, and I’ve tried to speak out against some of the unrealistic depictions of female sexuality in comics, but there have been times I’ve made women uncomfortable, and those incidents have made me part of the problem.

For that, I’m sorry.

I cop to these mistakes, to mistakes I didn’t realize I made in the past, and I will try to be more mindful of how I might be making other people feel in the future.  And I also want to be more alert of how people around me might be treating others, and am ready to jump in if something untoward might be going on.

That’s the best I know to offer.  It might not be enough, but I hope it’s a start.

I can also pretty much 100% guarantee that I will do or say something hugely inappropriate in the future, possibly even later today.  That’s because I’m human, and part of being human is making mistakes. But another part is taking responsibility for those mistakes, and using them as a guide to your actions in the future.

I’ve tried to imagine how awful a comic book convention would be for me if I was groped, or jeered for being overweight.  I think of all the great times I’ve had at these shows, all the friends I’ve made.  Meeting people who shared my interests, my passion for the art form, even similar career goals in the industry offered me a sense of support and camaraderie that got me through some rough times in my life.

The idea that someone could have that sense of support violated at a place that’s supposed to be about coming together and celebrating the community of comics…that’s hateful to me.  There’s no other word for it.

Forget those gawdawful stereotypes of slack-jawed geeks paralyzed by a pretty girl setting foot into a comic shop.  This is about the sense of entitlement, resentment, objectification and worse that has helped alienate women, who represent 50 PERCENT OF ALL THE HUMAN BEINGS ON EARTH, from becoming part of fandom, or staying in the industry.

How many women have shied away from fandom because of this treatment?  How many who could have contributed something great to the industry chose another path because of how they were treated?  And most importantly – how much guts has it taken for those who have stayed part of fandom and the industry to hang in there in the face of this mistreatment?

(And while it’s necessary for a piece like this, the friend I talked to for this piece also made a note that terms like “female creators” and “female fans” are often used in a way that makes it seem like they are something separate.  “A lot of problems arise from viewing women as secondary versions of what men are in the industry  – ‘female creators’ and ‘female fans’ – so there’s a mental pass to treat them differently than just ‘creators’ and ‘fans,’” she said.

(That’s a whole new series of issues, but though I’ve enjoyed many times when female creators have come together for a book or a panel discussion, it’s important that their presence be viewed as an overcoming of viewing them as “other,” not some strange and exotic novelty.  Of course, it’d be equally nice to see phrases like “black creators” or “Asian creators” just be folded into “creators” as well, but again – another editorial.  End digression.)

The bad news is, this has been going on for decades with too many people turning a blind eye.  The good news is, things can change.  They have before.  And they can again.

I’ve seen great changes in the comic book industry over the past decade.  There are more books for all ages, and better books, than I can remember at any point in my life. Kids are going to cons with their parents, and both generations are fans. I love my dad, but a begrudging, “are you ready to go home yet?” was the best I could have expected growing up (I eventually got him hooked on Concrete).

Countless great works from past decades have come back into print.  Aging creators have been given support and dignity through the likes of the Hero Initiative.  And there is a renaissance of creativity in hard-copy comics and online, along with a renewed interest in original concepts from creators and fans alike.  People are making things more than ever, and showing support for fellow fans and creators like never before.  That is astonishing.  That is the sign of a vibrant and vital community.

But there are still problems – problems that we have to face.  And as much as I wonder how much I’ve been a part of these problems, I also know that there is the power to change.

I don’t know that what I’ve said here has helped. But I do know this: Admitting there is a problem, and not just ignoring it or brushing it under the rug, is the first step toward making things better.

Guys – no matter if you’re a fan or a pro, we’re better than this.  I’m not saying treat women like delicate flowers where you agonize over everything you do or say for the sake of political correctness.  But I am saying to be mindful of their feelings, and to take responsibility for your actions.

And I encourage  readers, from all walks, to share their own stories, whether it’s in our comments or elsewhere.  People will only listen if you speak up.  I applaud the bravery of those who have already come forward, and for those who will speak up in the future.

Comics are an amazing medium, and the community of comics can truly be a great place of friendship and togetherness.

Let’s make it better.


Over the past year, few things have brought me as much joy as the re-released 1987 lost martial arts rock classic, MIAMI CONNECTION.

Miami Connection

If you have not watched this masterpiece yet, it is on Netflix Instant for free.  To whet your appetite, here’s the trailer.

I’ve watched this film like a half-dozen times, and clips from it even more.

It just makes me SO HAPPY.

Why?  Because it’s all full of crazy errors and bad acting and writing, but it’s completely sincere.

It’s like if you and your friends just decided to make a kung-fu movie on your own.  It has that joy of hanging out with your friends and trying to tell a nice, straightforward story about being action heroes.

But I feel the awesomeness of this film has to be CONVEYED.  So I’m going to do something insane.

I am going to do is watch the movie again and write down EVERY SINGLE THING I love about this.

It’s going to take a while to finish this post.

1) The opening (“SOMEWHERE IN MIAMI”)  involves biker ninjas stealing a cocaine shipment.  They are biker ninjas because  “a very mobile way for the ninjas to get around during the day” according to commentary.

2) This is actually explained during the song that plays during the opening credits, which has the lyrics “Biker by day, ninja by night, steal all your cocaine, and also your life.”  That is a  very specific subject matter.

3) The coke dealers both wear white Panama hats.

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4) Their coke is hidden inside a case full of Japanese candy, which looks pretty good.

5) The ninjas are somehow sneaking up on them in the middle of Florida.

6) I’m reasonably certain some of the gang members here for the drug dealers will be in a completely different gang in a crowd scene later in the movie.

7) The classic “cut the cocaine packet and taste it to make sure it’s good” bit you see in EVERY DRUG MOVIE.

8) NINJA STAR TO THE NECK!  Like most scenes of violence in the movie, it involves huge amounts of blood and the victim screaming/grabbing at the weapon.

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9) The drug dealer escapes from the ninjas by leaping off a warehouse ledge, and clearly falls on his face as he hits the ground, based on the sound effects.


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12) After multiple drug goons are assassinated, one rushes in with a pipe video-game style, and puts up a surprisingly good fight before getting HIS ARM CHOPPED OFF WITH A SWORD (followed by several seconds of screaming while grabbing at the stump).

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13) One of the drug dealers tries blocking the ninja with a couple pieces of metal, then just gets kicked off-camera with a video game death scream.

14) The biker ninjas all have a dojo somewhere in the middle of Florida.

15) Master biker ninja Yashito (introduced with a thunderclap), explains to them the most important flaw in their plan: They got the cocaine, but “YOU FORGOT THE MONEY!”  The scene then goes to the credits practically mid-sentence.

16) When he’s not being a ninja, Biker Yashito wears an ascot.  As a ninja, he smashes flaming bricks.  THIS IS A MAN.

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17) We meet Dragon Sound, who have keyboards, hexagon drums, red T-shirts with their band’s name, a girl who looks like Pat Benatar,  Tae Kwon Do moves in their act, and most importantly, A LEAD SINGER WHO LOOKS LIKE HALL AND OATES.


18) They’re clearly not playing their own instruments, and THEY DON’T CARE.

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19) Yashito’s “connection” Jeff has an awesome beard, plus a different awesome outfit and awesome earring for almost every scene.

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20) Despite the film’s title, we’re informed it actually takes place in Orlando.

21) Jeff’s gang includes a Kid Rock look alike and several guys who do nothing but mumble.  We’ll get to them later.

22) The first of many, many ADR-dubbed rapid-fire dialogue exchanges.

23) “Good news.  I got a new shipment of coke for you.”  “You got a taste?”  “It’s the best.  You can move a lot of coke in Orlando.”

24) By the film includes characters named John, Jane, Jim, Jack and Jeff.  Try to keep them straight.

25) An awkward, overweight club owner in a white suit tells us this is “Park Avenue, Central Florida’s Hottest Nightclub.”

26) The club owner’s microphone feeds back horribly as he introduces the band Dragon Sound as “a new dimension in rock n’ roll.”

27) Dragon Sound’s hit song “Friends,” the best thing ever.

28) In the first of many instances, the male members of the band are mostly shirtless for their big number.

29) Is there anything happier than Jeri-Curled keyboardist Jim?

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30) The crowd clapping along to the song clearly does not know the beat to the song they’re supposed to be clapping along to.

31) And the lip-syncing is horribly off as well.

32) Star/co-writer/uncredited co-director Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is clearly just playing air guitar, but who cares, he’s having an awesome time!

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33) Yashito and Jeff are horribly perturbed that Jeff’s sister Jane is singing songs about loyalty and friendship with Dragon Sound’s John (see what I mean about keeping it straight?)  Their confusion is expressed with some deeply heartfelt line readings.

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34) Jane has pretty much nothing to do during this number except…attempt…to dance around.

35) At this point, Jane starts trying to clap along to the beat, and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim…sorry, “Mark” notices and tries to clap along a moment later.

36) During Hall and Oates’…sorry “Tom’s” guitar solo, Kim/Mark is in the background air-guitaring and apparently realizes he doesn’t have his guitar strap on, prompting him to stop to put it over his shoulder.

You know what? Bump this noise.  For the rest of this awesomeness recap, he’s just “Grandmaster Y.K. Kim.”  SO SPEAKETH THE ZACK.

37) Yashito and Jeff end the song by toasting with girly drinks filled with fruit, ’cause they are BROS.

38) We then see how our crew attends the University of Central Florida, which clearly allowed them to film there through generous, generous product placement.

39) Jane is in computer class, where her professor goes on about how the university’s team came in fourth in an international programming contest.  Fourth?

40) He then compliments Jane with, “Good circle!  Great!”

41) John attempts to non-verbally flirt with Jane for a good 30 seconds.

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42) John randomly asks the girl he’s dating about her family .  Jane nonchalantly says she has a brother, Jeff, “but there’s just one thing —  I don’t really like him.”  This is elaborated with, “Well, I can’t really explain it — I just don’t like him.”  She further goes into product placement by explaining that “if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be going to this nice school and staying in the nice dorm I’m staying in.”  She gives a rather elaborate reading of her backstory with all the conviction of a shopping list.

43) More ADR-dubbing as Jane explains Jeff is in with “some shady characters” as she takes John to meet him.

Now, this next sequence contains so much awesomeness that recapping will take a while.  So here you can go ahead and watch it first.

44) Jeff is so cold he brings five cars worth of thugs to assault his sister’s boyfriend and DOUBLE-PARKS ACROSS A HANDICAPPED SPOT.

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45) Plus he’s got army fatigues and a SINGLE SHARK TOOTH EARRING.

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46) We have the first, though not last, moment where one of Jeff’s runnin’ crew vaguely insults our heroes with what are barely recognizable as sentences.

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47) John manages to keep this expression for not just this scene, but pretty much the entire film.

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48) In a moment of utter hypocrisy, despite Jane just telling him she doesn’t like her brother, John still introduces himself to Jeff by saying “I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.”

49) Jeff immediately gets pissy and demands…

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50) Jeff provides one of the film’s top five line readings with his spitting-out of “A FRIEND?!”

51) John takes this in stride.  This is actually a completely different screencap than the one before.

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52) Jeff then just randomly punches John, which prompts Jane to unconvincingly flail at Jeff’s chest.

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53) Dragon Sound shows up to save their bro!  A fight…doesn’t ensue!  Though we do get Jeff’s line-reading of “Are these bums your friends?”

54)  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim valiantly struggles to get his lines out, and doesn’t even manage to finish his monologue before Jeff tells his boys to go!

55) Following another ADR-d bit of the band driving away, we then get a completely random cut-away to ANOTHER group that hates Dragon Sound, Club Park Avenue’s previous band!  Boy, this guy is angry!

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56) There’s no real way to convey how the guy’s swearing is utterly random and off-cue, or how a fight scene starts with the club owner, who then has nothing to do for the entire rest of the film.  So let’s just go to the video.

According to co-writer/co-star Joseph Diamond in the commentary, ““Most club owners in Orlando are actually trained in the martial arts.”
I’m not really sure what the bearded dude wants to accomplish, as cursing out the guy who fired you is not the best way to get your job back.  Perhaps he’s just pissed at “Friends for Eternity.”

57) About a full minute of exposition is then dubbed-in by a long pull-back from a shot of a city front and flags reading “BAYSIDE.”

58) Jeff gets into an awesome business suit to hang with Yashito and “The Yahos” at Yashito’s dojo in Miami.  So it’s “Miami Connection” because Yashito is the connect between Miami and Orlando?  Again, let’s not try to make sense of this.

59) This sets up several minutes of Yashito’s biker-ninjas doing ninja-move training in full black ninja PJs in the daytime.  I’m pretty sure they are dying from humidty.

60) Yashito’s all “We need to get rid of that band, so you can control that area,” despite his never having actually interacted with Dragon Sound in any capacity.  Either he is just bummed that Jeff’s sister is dating John, because he and Jeff are such bros, or he is concerned that their pro-friendship, pro-Tae Kwon Do songs are somehow a threat to his ninja movement.  This POV will be reinforced soon.  This is all done with a maximum of over-dubbed dialogue.

61) We have another scene that has very little to do with the rest of the film with Uncle Song, played by the film’s director Richard Park (aka Woo-San Park).  Dragon Sound apparently eats at his place every night, though it’s not really clear if it’s a pizza place or a burger joint or what.  More dubbed-in dialogue vaguely explains they’re eating there just before they make their club gig…

62) …where they play their epic “Against the Ninja.”

This song fascinates me, as they have not confronted any actual ninjas yet.  Is ninja violence a plague of 1980s Central Florida?  Was there a time when you could not walk down the street without getting assaulted by ninjas?  Or is Dragon Sound just racist, and afflicted with a shameful anti-ninja prejudice?

Their chants of “tae kwon, tae kwon/ tae kwon, tae kwon/ tae kwon, tae kwon/TAE KWON DO!” might as well be “WHITE POWER!” if they weren’t a multinational, multiethnic band of martial arts experts/college students/musicians.

This number of course includes smoke bombs and multiple instances of off-beat clapping/lip-syncing , epic air guitar and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim fist-pumping a second after everyone else.

And a truly glorious shot of Jim playing TWO KEYBOARDS AT ONCE like a good ’80s rock star.

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64) This isn’t a direct bit of awesome from the film itself, but I just love this subtitle in the captioning.

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63) There is then an extremely abrupt cut to the former house band guy (whom I’ve found out went on to become a federal prosecutor in real life).  He’s changed from  his suit to some sort of sleeveless T-shirt with a Dexy’s Midnight Runners cap and a bandanna around his neck, and his crew are scoping out Dragon Sound as they leave…and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim can’t quite jump into their convertible.

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64) Much like Jeff, the band leader has brought five cars worth of thugs to block Dragon Sound off in the street.  Who are all these people?  Was his band super-large like 10,000 Maniacs?  Are they his fan club?  Visibly, several of them are the same people who were hanging with Jeff, meaning they belong to multiple gangs.  That is hardcore.

65) John finds new emotions to display.

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66) After nearly a minute of the gang guys yelling indistinctly at Dragon Sound while the band sits there and stares, the band leader comes over to scream at Dragon Sound that because of them, he lost his job and “got my ass kicked!”  I’m pretty sure that last bit was his own fault.

Grandmaster Y.K. Kim responds with his flawless mastery of the English language:

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I’m sure that was the excuse many people had for appearing in this movie, but NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR BEING IN MIAMI CONNECTION.

Dragon Sound very sensibly points out the band leader should just talk to the club owner, but he’s not having that.  FIGHT SCENE!

67) The gang intimidates Dragon Sound by…pouring beer on their car?  Visibly, one of the gang members pours beer on HIMSELF before doing this.  Perhaps the actor felt bad.

I am also sure that this is because the budget for the film was so low that they couldn’t afford to have actual damage inflicted upon the car.

68) We get the first of many classic Jim lines: “This doesn’t look like the welcome wagon!”  You think?

69) At 26:30 into an 86-minute film, we FINALLY get a marital arts fight.  IT IS ON!  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is kicking ass, literally, with SLOWED-DOWN IMPACT SHOTS and VIDEO-GAME-STYLE ENHANCED YELLING!

70)  Once the gang chases the guys around a corner, they appear to be in a completely different part of the city.  Apparently, Kim was such a beloved figure in Orlando that he was allowed free reign in location filming by the city, according to the commentary.

71) After jump-kicking two gang members at once and landing on his feet in a spin. Grandmaster Y.K. Kim has the most awesome “Did I do that?” expression.

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72) Despite the many technical, writing and acting problems with this film, it must be said that Grandmaster Y.K. Kim does truly know how to throw down.  Confusing direction of this sequence aside, it’s damn good action cinema.

73) JIm lets out a wonderfully high-pitched “YAAA!” as he saves his bandmate.  This is not the last time this voice will provide us with joy.

74) The band leader goes down with literally two kicks, and then we IMMEDIATELY cut to the guys just going home and enjoying life like nothing has happened.

75) Now comes perhaps the greatest acting in the entire film.

The guys are all back at the house they all live at, because in addition to being in a band and practicing martial arts and going to school together, they also live together.  Bygones.

76) Anyway, after high-pitched-ly announcing he’s going to take a shower (with his shirt off and pants unzipped as he struts down the house) , Jim finds out from John that he got a letter, which then turns into like two minutes of keep-away as he demands, in an increasingly high voice, “GIVE ME THE LETTER!”

77) This summons the other bandmates, who like Jim, are also shirtless.  This is one of several sequences where the guys are all hanging out shirtless together.

78) There is also a very dubbed-in, casual line like, “we’ve had enough trouble with that street fight.”  Like, “Hey, that happened.”

In sequences like this, the film achieves an almost Robert Altman-esque effect with its overlapping dialogue, albeit unintentionally.

79) I just love this weirdly framed-shot, where Jim is clearly standing too close to the camera.

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80) And so, Jim reveals his tragic past in this epic monologue.

81) Yes, Jim is looking for his long-lost father.  “I didn’t know you had a father.  I thought we are all orpans.”  That is not a typo.  He also demonstrates an extremely poor understanding of the concept of “orphans.”

82) John is deeply concerned, and develops a new facial expression.

MIAMI CONNECTION [Commercial  -  For Your Consideration  Best Supporting Actor, Maurice Smith  - YouTube

(To further clarify: The main characters are all Tae Kwon Do martial artists who are in a marital-arts-themed band and go to school together and are also orphans, and who are in the crosshairs of a drug dealer, a bitter rival band leader, AND drug-stealing biker ninjas.  It’s important to have a scorecard.)

Co-writer Joseph Diamond (who plays Jack, the band member who pretty much hasn’t said or done anything yet), explained: the band members were all “orpans” in order to “get everyone to feel sorry for us. It’s trying to elicit as many possible emotions on as many different levels as possible.”  He admits they “possibly” went “a little overboard.”

83) And so, Maurice Smith as Jim acts his heart out as he delivers the monologue of a lifetime.  Also, he takes several steps forward to get on his proper lighting mark.

84) In tears, he explains: “My mother was Korean…and my father was Black American.”

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85) I’m not really sure how he came by this terminology, nor what wartime romance his mom and G.I. dad could have had given that this takes place in the 1980s and Jim is supposed to be a college student.  The fact that most of the cast are clearly in their early 30s results in some awkward chronology.

86) Anyway, Jim explains how his mother died and told him to find his father, but…

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That would be logical, yes.

87) For absolutely no reason, this is followed by a sequence of the guys driving their car on the beach.

88) “Friends for Eternity” plays AGAIN.  The filmmakers were right to do this.

89) Here’s our boys homo-erotically frolicking in the surf between bikini babe shots!

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89) There’s some mad-flexing from Hall and Oates look-alike Tom, let’s show that pic again:


89) …and Jim forgets about this dad long enough to check some (clearly non-existent, added in B-roll footage) bikini babes out.

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90) Let’s luxuriate in the utter lack of conviction in such line deliveries as “Baby, I want you” as the guys attempt to hit on women.

91)  Damn, these boys are PIMP!

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92) “They don’t make buns like those down at the bakery.”

93) After showing several women’s rear ends in bikini bottoms, they randomly show a little girl taking a shower in her bathing suit, which is creepy as hell.

94) This sequence just achieves a kind of greatness based on the fact that they obviously just went to the beach, shot footage of as many people and things as they could, and then left most of it in the final cut.  I’m particularly fond of the  guy walking around with a pro-nudist sign for no reason.

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95) Let’s have some comic relief with Tom attempting to scam on bikini babes by following them around and going, “Excuse me madame, may I have a little kiss please?”

96) This is followed by her shoving Tom, causing him to fall onto some other bikini babes, who then kick sand at him for a full 30 seconds.  I’m not sure what Grandmaster Y.K. Kim understands of American courting rituals.  It’s like how Lord Zedd on POWER RANGERS was based on US efforts to come up with a Japanese-style monster and they made this horrific skinless thing — almost as though Kim watched guys hitting on girls at bars and made an even weirder, more obnoxious version of that.

97) The sheer awkwardness of John and Jane’s makeout scene in the waves, seen from like three different angles.

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98) Even better is knowing that the awkwardness came from KathieCollier and Angelo Jannotti (Tom) dating in real life.  Jannotti was apparently sent out for beer during these scenes.

99) We then cut to the gym which Jeff apparently operates out of, where his minions practice by doing things like grappling shirtless on the floor while the Kid Rock look alike (also shirtless) tries to whack them with a pole.

I might be reading something into this movie that isn’t there.

100) Evil Band Leader shows up, now with a bandage around his head, to recruit Jeff to take down Dragon Sound together.  How he knew to contact Jeff is not really explained.

101) We get another instance of Jeff’s goons just babbling semi-coherent insults for about 30 seconds.

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102) Band Leader and his boys all respectfully take off the sunglasses when Jeff enters the room in an all=-black sleeveless outfit.  An intentionally funny joke is that one of the goons winces when he takes off the glasses from his broken nose.

103)  Band Leader offers to join up with Jeff if he gets rid of Dragon Sound.  There’s just one thing:

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104) Band Leader notes that if Jeff gets him his job back, “any money I make is yours.”  A) why would he presume the club owner would hire him back just if Dragon Sound disappears, and B) what’s the point of getting his job back if he’s just going to give away the money?  Does he just hate “Friends for Eternity” that much?

105) Jeff, flat: “It’s that damn band again.”  The scene JUST ENDS.

106) After another establishing shot of the University of Central Florida, just so we know the nice school where this takes place, we get like full five minutes of a Tae Kwon Do exhibition by Dragon Sound on the quad.  Literally, all they do is demonstrate moves for like five minutes.

107) After Grandmaster Y.K. Kim demonstrates a bunch of stances and moves with grunts and enhanced sound effects, he takes down Jack in a match with slo-mo kicks, punches, and whatever this move is:

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108)  John demonstrates another facial expression.

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109) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim then demonstrates various knife-disarmament moves (that will come in handy later — SPOILERS!)  on John, including THE DEADLY FOOT-NOSE GRAB.

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110) Seriously, this ends with multiple shots of breaking boards and a freeze-frame of Grandmaster Y.K. Kim shattering brick.  IT’S JUST THERE TO BE THERE BECAUSE THAT’S HOW THEY WANTS IT.

111) We then get the other great monologue of the film as the guys enjoy refreshing beverages afterwards and talk about life and stuff.

John’s got ideas about how they can be even more of a Tae Kwon Do band!

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112) John’s idea for Jack to do a drum solo (on his hexagon drums, let’s not forget) is poo-pooed by Jack, who has barely uttered two words at this point despite also being the co-writer of the movie.  But he’s finally ready for the most awkward line deliveries in a film filled with them!

See, Jack’s wary because all these people keep wanting to fight them.  He doesn’t want to play at the club because of the other band jumping them, and because of Jeff:

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Regrettably, there are no clips of this from Drafthouse Films on YouTube, so just watch the thing.  I cannot capture the utterly awkward cadence of his dialogue.

113) John tells Jack not to worry about Jeff (again, the whole naming problem in this film) and demonstrates yet another facial expression.

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114) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim points out they need to keep their jobs at the club to pay for school, leading to more awkward, awkward line readings.   But John vows to protect him!

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115) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s mentioning of how he came from Korea and how everyone does Tae Kwon Do there leads to Jack’s stunning monologue: Why not have Dragon Sound do a world tour in all the countries they originally came from?  Why not visit the local Tae Kwon Do dojos in Ireland and Israel AND Italy, and teach kids about positive music and kung fu and stuff?

116) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim reaizes that they’re not just black-belt music-playing college student “orpans:”

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Had this movie only gotten a sequel, what we could have seen!

117) There’s then some more awkward exposition to explain that Uncle Song, the restaurant owner we haven’t seen in a while, is having trouble at his restaurant by a gang of thugs who are completely different from the other three gangs of thugs/ninjas we’ve seen so far.

One of them is wearing a belly shirt and the shortest shorts known to man.

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There is so much that I don’t want to read into this movie.

118) The dudes try to skip out on the bill and push Uncle Song around when he tries to get his money, so he kicks their asses while wearing a Mickey and Minnie Mouse apron!

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119) It’s unclear whether Uncle Song got his money, but Dragon Sound shows up, is amazed that Uncle Song beat all those guys by himself, and then get his explanation that Tae Kwon Do comes from “right here” (the heart) and “right here” (the mind).  This is completely ripped off from THE KARATE KID, but there’s no time to dwell on it because Uncle Song disappears from the rest of the movie, and we’re too busy paying attention to the cutaway to Grandmaster Y.K. Kim fake-kicking Jim’s head and doing the toe-nose thing again in concert.

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This only loses awesome points for NOT including a third Dragon Sound music/Tae Kwon Do masterpiece.

120) OH SNAP!  Jeff and the Evil Band Leader left them a note for a rumble made in origami form!

Logically, they could just not show up for the confrontation, but they do…

121) Jane is mildly perturbed by this and goes to Jeff’s gym to confront him, where she’s briefly catcalled by a couple of his goons.  This does not get its own awesome point, because it is not nearly as awesome as the later scene where this happens again.  It does get points for Jeff wearing a shark tooth earring with a suit, and Jane expressing her displeasure at her threatening to murder her boyfriend and all his friends:

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122) Jane is all, “Why don’t you just leave Dragon Sound alone?” and Jeff is all, “Just concentrate on school and nothing else!”  This is one weird-ass relationship.

123) Jane tells Jeff she’ll keep seeing John “because I love him,” a line she delivers with the conviction of “I’d like to get my car washed.”

124) I sort of love Jeff because he’s just so uncomfortable trying to be the creepy drug-dealing gang-leader brother.

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125) Jeff considers John a “second-rate musician” (not entirely inaccurate, but hey — drug dealer!) and threatens Jane by going, “now I want you to go home and think about what I’ve said.”  Yeah.  Jane is all, “And you are terrible!” like Jeff’s just told a bad joke instead of threatening murder.

126)  The actual rumble between the guys takes place in a trainyard where, if you look closely, the trains are for hauling corn syrup.  Jeff has yet another awesome outfit.

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127) An actual vulture caws in the background, because this is a SHOWDOWN.

128) The Evil Band is trying to match Dragon Sound for pure shirtlessness.

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129) I want to point out that John wears a polo shirt to a gang rumble.

130) I also love how Evil Band Leader’s dialogue mostly consists of him yelling some version of “son of a bitch!”

131) For whatever reason, Jim’s not here, and neither is Tom.  I increasingly suspect Angelo Jannotti was only in the film for the songs and his Hall and Oates ‘do.

132)  Jeff does absolutely no fighting, and at one point, I’m pretty sure a shot just consists of the actor whamming his own head into a train wheel to make it look like he was slammed there.

133) It was pointed out to me in a podcast that Dragon Sound spends most of the film either running from or trying not to get into fights.  Indeed, most of this one consists of our boys being chased, then kicking the asses of their attackers once they catch up with them.  Oddly, despite Jack being in the car, I do not see him doing anything during the fight.

134) In the single best one-on-one match, Jeff’s Kid Rock look alike goon tries intimidating Jeff by doing some sort of M.C. Hammer shuffle.

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135) This is so weird it actually provokes a new facial expression from John…

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136) …who then takes out Kid Rock with a roundhouse kick to the gut.

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137) OH SNAP!  The cops show up and everyone flees!  What’s amazing about this is that they are played by REAL cops, who were so excited by being in the movie that one of them accidentally pointed his gun in the direction of his partner.

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138) There’s also this line, which a friend pointed out doesn’t offer any solutions:

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And where will they go exactly?  Another town to menace people with their ninjitsu?

139) Now comes the sequence that earns the film its R rating — Yashito and his boys all go out to a biker bar for a long, long montage set to a song called “Tough Guys.”  You probably won’t be surprised to find out that what happened was the production went to a real biker bar, had a great time, and shot tons and tons of footage that they mostly left in the movie.

140) This also explains why there are constant shots of bikers with missing teeth, large-breasted biker babes flashing the camera, and at least one instance s of mooning.

141) Man, this whole sequence makes the bad guy lifestyle look awesome.  Biker by day, ninja by night…robbing cocaine dealers, hanging out with your boys drinking brewskies and having girls flash you…you just don’t get that with songs about being friends for eternity.

142) Yashito gives Jeff some sugar, ’cause they’re bros.

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143) After another ADR-d bit about how Jeff needs to get rid of Dragon Sound, we see he’s wearing an “Outward Bound Colorado” cap.

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Clearly, their program did not have the desired effect on Jeff’s morals.

144) Among the most random bits is a guy demonstrating shoving a nail up his nose and taking it out again.  Good for him!

145) We then get several minutes of Grandmaster Y.K. Kim just walking around and chatting with various band members, to remind us that he’s the leader even though he’s a head shorter than everyone else.

This is what is called a “save the cat” scene, where a character is made to seem more likable/heroic by doing something like saving a cat.  In this case, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim asks John about his homework and tells him he needs to get some sleep,

146) Then he checks out Tom’s new music for “the keyboard part” to their new song (presumably about Tae Kwon Do) and is somehow able to recognize it as really good by just sight-reading the sheet music in about two seconds.  And poor ol’ Jim is just asleep.

147)  The dudes are just hanging around the kitchen with no shirts, like you do,.  For some reason, there is a pineapple in the middle of the kitchen table.  There is some vague discussion about their all writing the Defense Department about Jim’s father, and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim starts randomly popping grapes into the other guys’ mouths, which in the commentary he says he did because they needed Vitamin C.  GRANDMASTER Y.K. KIM LOOKS OUT FOR YOU.

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148) There is yet another completely gratuitous plug for the University of Central Florida with our heroes walking across campus in their UFC shirts, and briefly stopping to shake hands with some students.  Hmm, how do you think they were allowed to film on campus?

149) But OH SNAP!  Jeff’s runnin’ crew is in the parking lot watching Dragon Sound as we hear Grandmaster Y.K. Kim say, “Pizza!”

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150) They appear to drive all of two feet to the pizza place before Jeff’s goons grab Tom while he’s parking the car.  No one in the entire packed parking lot or restaurant that’s RIGHT THERE appear to see or hear anything.  But he does get to get off the dubbed-in line, “Mark’s gonna get yoooouuuuuuuu!”

This is probably my racism speaking, but given Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s incredibly poor English and that it’s established his character immigrated from Korea, why is his name “Mark?”  Is “Mark” a common name in Korea?  The world may never know.

151)  Tom is tossed in a closet with an over-ADR-d thud, and has somehow lost his shirt between being taken out of the trunk and taken into the house.

152) We don’t actually get to see Dragon Sound find out Tom is missing.  Instead, we have Jane go look for him at Jeff’s gym…after about a minute of Jeff’s goons incomprehensibly babbling weird zingers at each other.

I feel genuinely sorry for whoever had to close-caption this.

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I think they might be trying to breakdance.

153) Anyway, Jane shows up, asks if Tom’s there, and one of the goons just goes…

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This scene gets extra points for Jane’s zebra-print outfit.

154) So Jane walks to an off-camera room, then turns and walks out, all while the guys just throw out random lines like, “salami.”

I don’t know why I love this scene so much.  It’s like, they thought the guys were hilarious, just turned the camera on them, and left it all in.

Plus, it’s got Kid Rock, some random fat guy, and a dude wearing what appears to be leather pants and a Pink Floyd cap.

155) But we get to see where Tom is — he’s been CRUCIFIED!

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156) Jeff is so evil HE DRINKS COORS LIGHT.

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157) In another apparent case of “Leave it in!”, this kidnapping actually looks like a party, with all these guys drinking beer and making out with chicks.  Even Evil Band Leader has a honey, and a “Kill ’em All” shirt.

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158) There is no scene where Dragon Sound is informed of Tom’s location or is given a ransom note or whatever, but somehow they know where he is and just show up to face the men determined to murder them for A) dating one guy’s sister; B) taking a job offered them by someone else and C) possibly singing songs with anti-ninja lyrics.

159) Evil Band Leader goes, “Son a of bitches are running late!  They don’t get here soon, I’d just as soon blow that son of a bitch out of the sky!”  I love how he’s somehow able to work “son of a bitch” into every single thing he says, like one of those Texans on that episode of SEINFELD.  I bet he orders drive-through with those words as well.

160) Dragon Sound picks up weapons to use against the bad dudes…and Jim gets a plastic pipe.  I find that sort of adorably in-character.

161) I love that the logic of these fight scenes plays like a 1980s-era arcade game.  Hey, here’s a random setting — the street, a train yard, in this case a construction site (possibly the same one from the opening), and a bunch of goons!  Use the setting to kick evil’s ass!  Pick up some weapons to help you!

162) At this point, Dragon Sound just starts straight-up MURDERING the bad dudes.  I’m pretty sure that’s a Tae Kwon DON’T.  OH SNAP NO HE DI’IN!

Grandmaster Y.K.Kim hits a dude in the throat with a pipe, which slices it open with an actual blood spurt.

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163) The scene’s too dark for a good screencap, but John knocks out this dude with a pipe or sword or something and then does that classic ninja/samurai thing where he spins it and strikes a pose.

164) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim kicks a bad dude into a plastic trashcan, which breaks it in half!  BECAUSE HE IS SO BAD.

165) This fat dude in grey sweats picks up  a heavy thing to throw at Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, who knocks it out of his hands!  So he picks up ANOTHER heavy thing, and this time Grandmaster Y.K. Kim knocks him onto his back and steps on the heavy thing AND CRUSHES THE GUY TO DEATH.

This is all pretty baller, but man, things have gotten violent!  Increase the peace.

I just love how gang dudes are dropping in from out of nowhere to get their asses kicked.  It’s just like an arcade game, but with less story!

166) John kicks ass in what we can now see is a half-shirt!

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167) Evil Band Leader stops by a trash can, at which point Jim pops out and cold-cocks him with a plastic pipe and a “YAAAAHHHH!”  Making this even better, he’s wearing an Adidas shirt.

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168) Evil Band Leader actually gets the upper hand on Jim (and we see he’s wearing khaki pants) but Grandmaster Y,K. Kim knocks him out or something.  Thank goodness.  Wailing on Jim is like hitting a small child.

169) But wait!  Jeff enters the game and kicks both Jim and John’s asses…my god, this is confusing…and now confronts Grandmaster Y.K. Kim with TWO SPIKED STICKS.

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170) The amazing thing is that they don’t so much fight as wave weapons at each other, then Jeff heads to higher ground and just sort of slips off a ledge with a sound not unlike that of a STREET FIGHTER villain getting TKO’d.

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Man, Jeff was ROBBED.  But there’s an UNUSUAL HIDDEN SECRET that gives him a second chance!  We’ll get to it later.

By the way, is Evil Band Leader dead?  Because it looked like he was just knocked down.  Perhaps he had a concussion from the previous kickings of his ass.

171) Anyway, Yashito and his ninjas are just meditating or whatever, when some boys come in with bad news:  “Boss!  We got a big problem now!”  This is delivered with only a slightly better grasp of English than Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s.

172) “Your brother Jeff is dead!”

Look at how bummed Yashito is.  This is the best acting in the entire movie that isn’t Jim’s.

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173) Yashito vows that his boys will avenge Jeff’s death! (in a clearly dubbed-in line)

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(By the way, they mention “Jeff’s gangs” (not a typo) are here.”  Maybe the Band Leader was part of them?  Why do I care about this?

174) This results in ANOTHER ninja-training montage, as they pose and do moves and go over pommel-horses and stuff to prep for throwing down on Dragon Sound.  I love the sheer number of montages in this movie.

175) Yashito has a flashback to Jeff, because they were BROS.  He loved Jeff!

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In a way, their villainous friendship serves as a dark mirror to the pure goodness of Dragon Sound, but that perhaps gives the screenplay too much credit.

Now comes THE BEST SCENE IN THE ENTIRE FILM.  Here it is in advance, because the audio is desperately needed for this.

176)  Jim goes out to get the mail, with no shirt and his pants unzipped  (making-of info explains this mailbox was specially installed for the film, good to know!) and spends nearly a full minute just opening up the mailbox and going through the mail.

177) But it’s so worth it for what he finds…HIS FATHER!

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There is no use attempting to recap the sheer joy and glass-shattering high-pitched-ness of this.  I sympathize, I have a high voice as well.  But it just adds such a weird, man-child quality to this scene and this character.

178) Dragon Sound runs outside, obviously attracted by the high-pitched noise.  None of them except Grandmaster Y.K. Kim are wearing a shirt.  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim lets out an “OH MY GOD!” almost, but not quite as good as Jim’s.

179) Anyway, with Jim’s father coming in on a plane the next evening, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim proposes the band pool its savings of $310 to get Jim a tailored suit from “Best Suit Store.”  I used to shop there!

An inflation calculator reveals that $310 in 1987 is $638.96 in 2013.  You can actually get a pretty good suit for all that.  I mean, we’re not talking Brooks Brothers, but something that could pass pretty well at a party.  It is only on this viewing of the film that I have heard Jim’s high-pitched “I’m gonna buy a suit!”  He is almost as excited about this as meeting his dad.

180) Jim is then lifted up onto the shoulders of his shirtless (and in one case, towel-clad) friends as triumphant music plays.  This might be the single most homoerotic cinematic image of all time.

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181) Despite many, many other necessary scenes of exposition being cut out of the final film, we do see the guys getting Jim his suit.  This is actually kind of sweet, though.

182) They come home to discover Jane’s there, and is sorry she hasn’t been around, but is totally cool with Jeff’s death.  We have previously seen no reaction whatsoever from her for this tragedy that took place all of five minutes of screen time ago.

183) John is overwhelmed with emotions by this.

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184) Jane apologizes for “being gone so long” in a vaguely grandmotherly tone.  She also compliments Jim on finding his father.  I suppose the other band members told her about this while she was waiting for John to get back, but I like to pretend that people over in the next county heard him.

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185) John’s like “I feel bad, but we had to do it, we had no choice.”  There was an awful lot of straight-up murder in that fight for “no choice.”  Also, Jeff was bleeding from the head.  I guess I am too pro-Jeff to be objective about this.

186) I like how everyone mentions over and over again that Jim found his father, even as John and Jane have another horrible kiss.

187) So then they just head on over to the airport to meet Jim’s father, and I’m not sure why they even bothered stopping by the house.  Possibly to show the others what kind of suit their savings bought?

188)  But the biker ninjas are now after them, driving in their ninja pajamas in broad daylight!  Wouldn’t someone notice?  And wouldn’t those hoods adversely affect their peripheral vision?

I also wonder if Evil Band Leader is now a ninja, co-opted by Yashito’s boys.  Sometimes I wish I could stop thinking.

189) They head off our boys, which prompts this brilliantly nonchalant bit of exasperation from John:

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It’s delivered like you’d say, “Oh, a detour.”

190) John’s response is all, “Come on, leave us alone!  We have to catch a plane!”  Like he’s shooing a fly.  This line is also clearly dubbed-in.

191) But the ninjas know, you can’t get away with slicin’ a BRO.

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192) Massively bad editing ensues as the guys jump off an embankment and into what is clearly a large park several miles from the previous shot, pursued by ninjas!


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194) Jim’s nearly 30-second-long scream is met by several returned screams by Grandmaster Y.K. Kim!

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195) Seriously, he screams “JIM!” like six times.

196) There’s this shot I can’t quite screen-grab the way I want where Grandmaster Y.K. Kim is coddling Jim’s body, and in the background John just jump-kicks away a ninja sneaking up on them.

197) John kicks away another ninja while Grandmaster Y.K. Kim drags Jim to “safety” through the filthiest-looking swamp water ever (the commentary confirms it was like that in real life).  I’m pretty sure that this would not only infect his grievous chest wound with parasites, but also ruin his brand-new $310 suit, which makes me indignant.

198) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim says “Jim” like eight more times while dragging Jim through the swamp.

199) Meanwhile, John’s emotional arc takes a strange climax, as he flees into the swamp, pursued by the ninjas who just shanked his bro.

You know what this means?  BERZERKER RAGE.

Sweet lord, the screencaps here are UNBELIEVABLE.

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200) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim gets in on the action by pinning a dude in a tree and stabbing him through…the back of his chest, I’d imagine, but the way the dude’s head shoots up made me imagine something more…untoward.  What is wrong with me?

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201) Slo-mo shot of Grandmaster Y.K. Kim’s BATTLE POSE.

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In some ways, I find this tragic.  Perhaps in a Sam Peckinpah-like twist, Dragon Sound has now been infected with the violence of the ninja.

201) I can’t get a decent screenshot, but John is at this point straight-up CHASING a ninja through the swamps with his sword!

202) He gets slashed in the back by another ninja, but just turns around and stabs the dude, and gets like 10 full seconds of blood in his face.

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203) At this point, everything descends into a paroxysm of violence as John rips off his shirt and he and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim just run around massacring ninjas.

204) WAR POSE!

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209) In a strange warping of space and time, one of the surviving ninjas manages to get all the way back from Orlando to Yashito’s Miami dojo to tell him “everybody’s dead.”  Yashito’s reaction is to just decapitate him and laugh.

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I can’t really parse the logic of this, but I do like that the ninja is cut off in mid-scream as he’s decapitated.

210) Somehow, Yashito then magically appears in the park/swamp/whatever with the guys.  Like, a second later, and he’s there.  Googling turns up that it is 320 miles from Miami to Orlando.  What route did he take?  Where is his dojo located?  How long were the dudes wandering in the swamp?

211) Yashito is clearly played by different actor as he confronts Grandmaster Y.K. Kim in a swordfight that has an awful lot of them not fighting each other.

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Here’s the awesome part — according to the commentary, because the actor who played Yashito was no longer available, they just got the actor who played Jeff!  So in a way, JEFF IS BACK FOR REVENGE.

212) There are also visible grass and dirt stains on Yashito/Jeff (Jeffshito?)’s white ninja outfit.  This is why Storm Shadow always had a hard time in G.I. JOE.

213) Seemingly defeated, Yashito-Jeff grabs a hidden knife from his boot and tries to prison-shank Grandmaster Y.K. Kim…only for him to turn around and do the knife-disarming move from the earlier exhibition and stab Yashito-Jeff with his own knife!


214) Yashito-Jeff is clearly still breathing after being “killed,” though he slooowwwly collapses.  That’s not very real-looking blood, though.  He could come back!

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215)  There is a pretty excellent few seconds that’s just a few slow-motion shots of the guys running around.  Good padding!

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This ends with Grandmaster Y.K. Kim just randomly shouting “COME ON!” in slow motion.  I love that.

216) Despite Jim being forgotten the last few minutes, he’s actually still ALIVE, and they’re taking him to the hospital (John is driving, with no shirt and covered with blood).  Why couldn’t they call an ambulance, or explain all the dead ninjas to the police?  Well, that earlier fight at the trainyard did suggest they were more interested in staying out of gang violence.

217) Jim STILL cannot shut up about his father.

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218) This hospital establishing shot has more info than needed.

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219)  Jim’s dad quite possibly left his family because he could not deal with his son being older than he was.

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220) The doctor says Jim is going to be okay!  And he’s leaving him in Jim’s father’s care.  Yes, the father who hadn’t even seen his son until now, or since he was 9.  That monologue earlier was a little confusing.

221) Jim’s dad thanks Grandmaster Y.K. Kim for saving Jim’s life, and swears he’ll make up for lost time with his son.  Grandmaster Y.K. Kim addresses Jim’s dad as “Mr. Brown.”  Wouldn’t that make Jim “Jim Brown?”


…yeah, I can see it.

223) Grandmaster Y.K. Kim gets one more great moment of bad English with , “Jim is like my brudder.  I would…anything for him.”

224)  Jim’s okay!  And he gets to say the word “father” in a high voice one more time!

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225) “Jim, you are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends.  they really care about you.   And I want you to know that now…I really care too.”  PHRASING.

226) Jack, in his Dragon Sound shirt, gets to put a button on the film’s plot…

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227) And John gets in one last face.

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Hey, where’s Tom/Hall and Oates?

228) Classic ’80s ending: “Let’s all go home” and FREEZE FRAME.

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230) The closing credits feature the song “Tae Kwon Do Family.”

231) 25 years later, Grandmaster Y.K. Kim still can’t speak English very well…

232) …and still isn’t really playing the guitar.

BONUS: The original “dark” ending where Jim DOES die, and then they see a plane touching down at the airport, and John goes, “Oh no, Jim’s father is on that plane” in the flattest voice imaginable, and HOW WOULD HE EVEN KNOW THAT?

Dear god, more than 8,000 words over six days.  This was an epic.

If you’ve gotten through all this: Please buy MIAMI CONNECTION on DVD or Blu-Ray and support the fine efforts of Drafthouse Films in rediscovering such masterpieces as this.

Recently I found a CD-ROM I’d burned a bunch of old pulp novels onto years back for research for a thing I stopped writing once I got a real job. Anyway, this inspired me to read a few, which in turn inspired me to write a bit from a novel-within-a-novel for the aforementioned thing on Facebook.  Here is what I wrote, preserved for posterity.


“We’re going to break into that building. The Potassium Airstone will be ours.”

“You’re crazy!”

“Crazy like a PELICAN.”

“Don’t you know who lives in that building?”

“I dunno. Some dork with a tan?”

“Haven’t you heard of Dr. Dire? His story is legend.”

“Legends are stupid, and wrong also.”

“They say his parents sent him away at birth and had him trained to be the world’s
greatest scientist by an ancient order of monks.”

“Those sound like really terrible parents. And how can monks make you a doctor?”

“NO ONE KNOWS. But worse than that, he’s got this team, the Superfly Runnin’ Crew. There’s a pilot and an explosives expert and a telegraph specialist and a cab driver and also an accountant. They’ve all got black belts in tae kwon do and they’re pretty bad, ‘bad’ meaning ‘good.'”

“Reputations are like snowballs — stupid.”

“I don’t want no part of this, man. I would rather drink paint than risk going up against him. I would rather eat a cheese sandwich that had been lying in the sun for an indeterminate period of time. I would rather a large dump truck, drive to the neighboring counties, gather up all the fire ants I could find, create a giant pit full of fire ants — I suppose I’d also need a steam shovel, to scoop up the ants, and to dig the pit — then cover myself in barbecue sauce and dive in screaming, ‘come and get it!’ than face Dr. Dire.”

“You cannot believe everything you read in the newspapers. One day they will be dead, and people will get accurate news from safe, reliable electronic sources.”

“Well, this headline is pretty clear: THING HAPPENING. And when Dr. Dire does a thing, let me tell you: It’s a thing.”

“Let me assure YOU: This thing will be a thing that Dr. Dire will wish was a thing that he had never had. The thing. I mean.”

“Okay, I’m in. But just to warn you: We get caught, he’s mad into delicate brain operations. They make you not evil, and also stare at walls singing showtunes.”

“We’re only going to be singing one showtune tonight, my friend. The showtune of DEATH!”



“Superfly Runnin’ Crew roll call! State your name, your specialty, and your code name.”

“Pinkerton Schlafly, professional aeronaut. Code name: Propeller.”

“Aloysius Bartram Clydesdale Dunkirk Eustace Farrington-Gomez, renowned explosives connoisseur. Code name: Al.”

“Rodney Q. Pants, expert at Morse Code, telegraph service and speed-typing. Code name: Word-Sling.”

“Dangelo Lorenzo DeFilippis-Bologna, undercover checker cab driver and ear for street chat/underworld gossip, along with actual checker cab driver. Code name: Checks.”

“Melvin Peebles, accountant. Code name: Other Dude.”

“And I, of course, am Dr. Archimedes H. Dire, E.O.A.E. Code name: Dr. Archimedes H. Dire, E.O.A.E., or ‘Dr. Dire’ for short. Now – “

“Um. Question.”

“Yes, Other Dude?”

“What’s an E.O.A.E.?”

“Expert on Almost Everything. Now –“

“Do you have to have the doctor part and the title part in your name?”

“Yes, Other Dude.”

“Um, okay. Hey, sorry. One more question.”

“All right.”

“What AREN’T you an expert on?”

“Women. Also pancakes.”


“Moving on. It is my deepest regret to inform you that the criminal mastermind Colonel Dexter Poindexter, aka ‘The Stereotype,’ has set his sights on Dire Dynamics’ latest experiment. Poindexter, as you all know, can do bad imitations of anyone from any country, a M.O. that’s proven surprisingly effective with rookie policemen and several areas in the South. Checks, your report?”

“Yes, sir. Word out of the bingo parlors is that he’s capable of doing a French accent, a German accent, and even a Bronx accent, within the same conversation. He’s even developed an utterly baffling secret code. I gotta go now, I’m picking up a fare at the airport.”

“Very good, Checks. I understand we’ve intercepted one of these notes, which was cunningly concealed inside a hollow cookie at a restaurant. Word-Sling, report your findings.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Now, we haven’t figured out the encryption key, but so far, what we have reads: ‘Ancient proverb say: He who pats himself on back too hard may fall flat on his face. Lucky numbers: 16 8 23 42.’”

“Diabolical. Well, keep working to crack that.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Finally, some bad news: My unicorn-breeding plans have had yet another setback, with subjects exhibiting extreme aggression, along with a curious tendency to breathe fire and grow bat wings. Results are currently being analyzed as we move forward. On a positive note, all senior Dire Dynamics employees will receive a special bonus this month consisting of five pounds of unicorn steaks.”

“And good news, sir! They’ll be completely tax-deductible!”

“Splendid, Other Dude! Now if you’ll excuse me, I must work on my trilling. I’m this close to perfecting my imitation of a South Pacific Purple Crumb-Snatcher. Any other business?”

“Propeller here, sir – it looks like there’s an army of zombie catfish attacking the Dire Building.”

“NOT AGAIN! Everyone! To the gyro-copter!”

“Uh, I still have to pick up my fare.”

“Everyone except Checks! To the gryo-copter!”



“Arise, Large-Eyeball-With-Many-Tentacles…arise as I speak the words of power…Doan-War-E-Bee-Hah-Pee….Doan-War-E-Bee-Hah-Pee…”


“Dr. Dire! The Man with the Tan™!”

“You’re surrounded, Poindexter! Two dirigibles and umpteen airplanes are buzzing this
building as we speak! My crew is all situated with air rifles and steampunk goggles!”

“You cannot put the kibosh on the resurrection, Dire! The followers of Yoggoth-Soggoth shall open the gateway to the higher realms, by chanting and wearing robes and stuff!”

“Your mamma they will!”

“Your arrogance astounds me, Dire! Just because you successfully removed your own gall bladder and claim to have invented waffles –“

“Time travel was involved.”

“—doesn’t mean that you are, as you proclaim, ‘The Sterling Fist of Justice!™’ There are forces beyond your control, beyond the veil of whatever, that will bring about the utter subjugation of humanity by the giant eyeballs! And men like me who helped them out will get cool cars and jazz!”

“You sadden me, Poindexter. You’ll never know the joy of doing right with a smile, being considerate of your neighborhood, or constantly striving to make yourself better through performing delicate brain operations and practicing tropical bird calls!”

“Spanking Solomon! You’re like white rice with plain yogurt – disgusting! No wonder you never get any chicks!”

“That’s merely an unfortunate consequence of being trained to be the greatest scientist on Earth by an ancient order of monks! Even their limitless knowledge has limits. But I believe one day I’ll find a lady who understands she can only be a mistress to my first loves – science and bird calls – and accompany me for a cartoon double feature and a refreshing strawberry phosphate.”

“Your words are as stupid as your haircut! Behold! The ritual is nearly complete! Soon, the demon/alien/whatever shall dominate the nightmares of the general populace!”

“Bushwah! Your plan is as illogical as fluoridated drinking water! I’ll prove you as wrong as when I proved the Thousand-Winged Dragon of Arkansas was just a combination of Swiss cheese, copper plumbing and floodlights!”

“Really! Ah-ha-ha-ha! See now what arises from the pit!”


“You like that, Dire?!”

“…Bother. I’m going to need some serious bird-calls for this.”



THE FINAL INSTALLMENT (because I gots stuff to do):


“Madame Sauvage – an Archimedies Dire is here to see you.”

“Archie! Hey! How are ya?”

“Greetings, Meg. Sorry I’ve been out of touch.”

“Oh, it’s okay. Hey, saw you defeated that giant eyeball. Cool beans.”

“Thank you. And I assure you it’s completely reformed. Performing a delicate brain operation on an eye wasn’t easy, but I’ll have a research paper ready in a few weeks.”

“…I can’t wait. So, what brings you to Tacarembo La Tumbe Del Fuego Santa Malipas Zacatecas La Junta Del Sol Y Cruz?”

“I got the blues.”

“Aw! What’s the buzz?”

“You’re the closest I’ve got to an equal, Meg. And I don’t just mean because Father
intended for us to marry until it was determined we were actually first cousins instead of

“Yeah, Uncle Abednego was kind of messed up.”

“Parents try so hard. I don’t know if I could ever have children myself – that knowledge that you’ve created something that you kind of have to make not die.”

“That’s why I stick to plastic houseplants.”

“I understand things in ways others cannot. I’ve seen beauty, chaos, underground troll-civilizations with buildings carved entirely from rare fungus.”

“Sorry I missed that.”

“Yet somehow…the sum total of my experience feels less like knowledge than…a bunch of weird stuff that no one cares about.”

“Look Archie, you have a lot going for you. You’re smart, financially stable, and you look pretty good for a guy your age –“

“Sleeping in a vacuum-bag chamber will do that. I have an extra if you need one.”

“Thanks but no. You have a job you love, and you do cool stuff all the time, but sometimes you have to understand why people like stuff that’s not your stuff.”

“I’m confused.”

“I mean like – look, every time you finish an adventure, where do you go?”

“To the Alone-Dome in the Arctic to work on my inventions and bird-trilling.”

“Right, see – you can’t just sit around trilling with yourself all the time.”

“Hmm. Perhaps I should pursue this line of reasoning. I could pretend to be a hobo, or attend a class on how to pick up chicks.”

“Baby steps, cuz. Maybe just throw a cookout or something.”

“I do have a surplus of unicorn steaks.”

“You won’t see the results you want right away, but life isn’t science. It’s like Uncle Abednego always said – ‘Save the world, and it’ll pay you back, by still being around and junk.’”

“I feel infinitely better, Meg. I’m glad our family’s forced-eugenics program produced you.”

“Back atcha. Look, you need a break from this emotion biz. You wanna go hunt some manticores with wet noodles?”

“I’ll go get the chloroform!”


As anyone who knows me knows, I’m sort of a sociopathic fan of Cartoon Network’s series ADVENTURE TIME.  It represents something truly imaginative, inventive and spontaneous — not to mention fun!

Having recently gotten to do AN ACTUAL ADVENTURE TIME STORY for issue #20 of the KaBOOM! ADVENTURE TIME comic (order it here!) , I thought I’d share with you some of the best pieces from my collection of ADVENTURE TIME art.  My full collection is online in this gallery.

Here are some of the best pieces, with commentary.

First, I’ve been lucky enough to get some art from many of the talented people who work on the show, including creator Pendleton Ward…

Jake, Finn and Lumpy Space Princess by Pen Ward

,,,Andy Ristaino, who’s done many of the character designs and now writes for the show….

Tart Toter

…and a couple pieces by Jesse Moynihan, who’s written/storyboarded many of the most surreal episodes and does the FORMING webcomic.  Here’s a piece Jesse did of the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, one of my favorite one-off characters from the show.

War Elephant

I also did a trade with Jesse for one of the most unique pieces in my collection.  With each new episode that airs, the writers/artists on the show do a unique drawing they post on the show’s Tumblr that relates to the events of the episode.  This is from “Reign of Gunters” (originally “Gunthers”) showing Finn reading the pick-up artist book “Mind Games” by “J.T. Dawgzone” (later changed to “Jay T. Doggzone.”  This includes the only known appearance of “Dawgzone” to date, on the book’s back cover.

Reign of Gunters

And here is Marceline the Vampire Queen by Rebecca Sugar, who wrote/storyboarded many of the best Marceline episodes (“It Came From the Nightosphere,” “What was Missing,” “I Remember You,” “Simon and Marcy”) and also wrote many of Marceline’s songs.  Sugar has left the series to do her own show, the upcoming STEVEN UNIVERSE, but it was a great thrill to get a piece from one of the creators who helped define this character and created some of the show’s most emotional moments.  This is also signed by Olivia Olson, the voice of Marceline.

Rebecca Sugar Marceline

Marceline has been one of the characters artists most want to draw from the show.  One of the first pieces I got for my collection was a drawing of her by Kate Beaton, the genius cartoonist behind HARK! A VAGRANT.  It is also signed by Olivia Olson.

Beaton Olson Marceline

Here’s a walnut-ink commission of Marceline by Ethan Nicolle, creator of the webcomic and animated series AXE COP.

Marceline Nicolle

And here’s Marceline by Brandon Graham of Image Comics’ PROPHET and such surreal SF delights as KING CITY and MULTIPLE WARHEADS.

Brandon Graham

A very nice piece of Marceline and Jake by Nathasha Allgeri, who created Fionna and Cake for ADVENTURE TIME and did the amazing short BEE AND PUPPYCAT for Cartoon Hangover on YouTube.


Natasha Marceline

And I just got this stunning commission by Robbi Rodriguez, where Marceline rocks out big time.


In addition, it’s been great fun getting artists with a wide variety of styles to bring those styles to the different characters from the show.

For example, Chester Brown, whose tales often deal with very, very dysfunctional looks at relationships, did a dynamite job with this melancholy Ice King.

Chester Brown Ice King

Brown’s good friend and contemporary Seth, who beautifully captures a wintry sense of melancholy in his work, brought a nice dignity to Ice King’s human alter ego, Simon Petrikov.


James Harren, who does more horror/fantasy type work, blew me away with this terrifying take on Marceline’s Dad, Hunson Abadeer.

James Harren Marceline's Dad

Ramon Perez did an unforgettably gross variation on Ricardio, the Heart Guy.

Ramon Perez Ricardio

Here’s a wry Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant by Jennifer Hayden…

Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant by Jennifer Hayden

…and a super-adorable Buff Baby Finn by Katie Cook, who writes the MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC comic.

Buff Baby Finn by Katie Cook

Becky Dreistadt, who does the amazing TINY KITTEN TEETH comic, did this beautiful Fionna and Cake, and has gone on to do a number of stories and covers for the AT comic.


And Lucy Knisley, who’s done some Fionna and Cake comics, did this very sweet piece.

Lucy Knisley

Jeffrey Brown did this take on BMO “playing with itself”…

Jeffrey Brown Beemo

…while Andy Runton of OWLY did this piece of BMO playing with Jake and Lady Rainicorn’s offspring.  PUPPIES!

Andy Runton BMO

Tom Fowler, who does all sorts of surreal fantasy characters, did a hulking take on Billy the hero.

Tom Fowler Billy

And Jeremy Bastian of CURSED PIRATE GIRL did this nasty Ice Queen, which was colored by Beck Seashols.

Ice Queen

Janet K. Lee of RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN brought her dapper style to Peppermint Butler, her favorite character from the show.

Dapper Peppermint Butler by Janet Lee

And Pen Ward himself praised this piece of the Earl of Lemongrab by Jeff Lemire, who did a most ACCEPTABLE! job.

Earl of Lemongrab by Jeff Lemire

The Lich (or the Lich King, as originally pitched), is very popular with creators who have a more horror-based style, as his countenance of PURE EVIL really lets them do some nightmarish work.

This is by Charles P. Wilson III of THE STUFF OF LEGEND.

LItch King by Charles Paul Wilson III

This one is by Nathan Fox, and hews closer to the character’s animated design.

Nthan Fox Lich King

Duncan Fegredo, who’s done many of the Hellboy comics with Mike Mignola, combined a few different looks for this grayscale commission.

Fegredo Litch King

And Ted Naifeh of COURTNEY CRUMRIN did one with its roots in classic mythology — there’s sort of a folktale, Middle Ages quality to this one.

Ted Naifeh Lich King

And finally, here’s Finn and Jake themselves by the Spanish cartoonist Liniers.  This just makes me happy!


I’ve gotten a lot of great pieces, though I might stop soon — my personal goal is 200 different artists, and I’m already up to about 180! (there’s a few repeat artists and a couple updated/colored pieces in my gallery)

Again, you can check out my full collection of stuff here!

The first season of NBC’s Hannibal, the adaptation/reimagining of the classic cannibal created by Thomas Harris for Red DragonSilence of the Lambs and other novels, is out on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.

As it happens, I did some Hannibal press stuff at San Diego Comic-Con for a website that promptly decided not to employ me any more a week after the show.  With the material still handy, I thought I’d share this interview with Hugh Dancy, whose portrayal of Hannibal’s friend/victim/eventual pursuer Will Graham provides the center and emotional arc of the show.

This was part of a group press event with about five other journalists sitting at the table.  Stuff I asked specifically is marked with a (Z).

All photos are copyright NBC.

Will in the Nuthouse

(Z) Have you enjoyed the con, or have you actually had a chance to be on the convention floor?

No, I haven’t yet.  I got in this morning and went straight into this stuff, in the peripheral buildings.  So I haven’t gone into the beating heart of it yet.

The question I have to ask is: What was it like throwing up an ear?

You know, I knew that was coming.  Bryan (Fuller) explained to me that this was where the story was going, so for me, it was kind of an iconic thing – “I want to throw up the ear, I want to throw up the ear.” (laughs)  Because that was when we got into the endgame, and it was just so gross and brilliant.  So I was very hyped.  And it was good!

Are you going vegetarian after the show?

No, I love meat.  (laughs)

(Z) I was curious about how you played the role of Will Graham.  I saw you in Adam several years ago, and given how you portrayed a character with Asperger syndrome there, I wondered if that carried over into how you portrayed Will.

I think so.  And I’ll tell you why: There’s a moment in the first episode when Laurence (Fishburne)’s character and my character first meet on screen, and he goes, “Where are you on the spectrum?”  Something like that.  And I think there might even be a mention of Asperger’s, I can’t remember.

For me, that was misdirection.  I definitely do not think Will has Asperger syndrome.  In fact, what I think he is is almost the polar opposite of someone with Asperger syndrome.  The way I think about it is, if there is a spectrum with autism on one end, people who can’t read anything of another person, and with most of us somewhere down here (gestures with hand), then there’s a spectrum extending to the other side with people who have no control over the information that they receive, and have no floodgates at all.

That’s where Will is.  And the way he protects himself is, he’s deliberately and consciously adopted some of the mannerisms of a person with Asperger’s.

(Z) He’s faking it, in a way.

Kind of.  He’s chosen to block eye contact.  He’s chosen to become kind of antisocial and not engage.

(Z) Kind of autistic by choice.

Right, but socially.  Not in the way his mind works, but in how he carries himself.


What kind of research did you do – did you observe anyone like Will?

Well, I don’t know anybody like Will.  I don’t know that there is anybody like Will, really.  Just as there’s nobody really like Hannibal Lecter.

I hope.

They’re fictional creations.  But that said – obviously, I read Thomas Harris’ novels, that’s the best place to start.  But then after that,  I read some of the stuff by people that Harris had spoken to, some people that work in behavioral science, who work in profiling serial killers.  And they all have this strange combination of science meeting intuition meeting detective work.  So Will is like that character, but pushed a little bit further.

Hannibal is a daring show for network television – are you surprised by the content of it?

Well, I think what you’re saying when you ask that, is about the blood and the bodies and all that, are they daring, and that’s unquestionably the case.  But what I found to be more daring about it, certainly more interesting, and also daring for a network, for NBC, was the format.

It’s an hour-long, psychological, pretty complex grown-up series with limited episodes. And the blood and guts of it – other than being intrinsic to the genre – served all that other stuff, served your understanding of who Will was, of his relationship with Hannibal, and why Will is so messed up, because he carries that stuff around with him.

I think that’s why, in part, we got away with it, because it has context.  It’s designed to be part of the aesthetic of the show, and not just, “Shit, we ran out of story, let’s kill somebody.”

(question a bit hard to hear; sounds like “do you feel the TV is an artistic compromise vs. doing movies?)

I don’t look at it that way.  I mean, there’s no guarantee a movie is going to come your way.  And I chose to do it, insofar as you can tell – I talked to Bryan, and he described to me Year One, Year Two, Year Three, Year Four, Year Five, and it was very rich and different and I thought, “Okay, I’m very happy to sign that contract.  I think I will be interested and enthusiastic five years from now.”  I mean, maybe I won’t be, but I made that guess.

So I’m absolutely positive about it.  I can’t wait to go back.  I was very invested in the show, I really thought we were doing something good as we were going along, and the audience was teetering, and now they’re starting to grow, and I really care about it.  So I’m delighted.

Hannibal - Season 1

So you knew Will would end the season inside of a cell. 

I did.

So there was never any concern for you like, “Is my part going to be smaller in Season Two?”  Because you know the master plan for the show…

No, I didn’t have that concern.  I just, you know…(laughs) I think you could have a show entirely based around Hannibal, but it would be tricky.  He needs a foil.  And if that balance change a bit in Season Two, I’m good with that as well.  I think we’ve set it up for a very interesting and very different trajectory in the second season.

(Z) Without getting too spoilery, what are you most looking forward to playing in Will’s journey in this upcoming season?

Well, I feel that Will, albeit in a pretty unpleasant way, has had the scales completely removed from his eyes, and in a funny sense, is possibly stronger now than he has ever been before, because he’s not only aware of the situation outside of him, with Hannibal and his identity and who he really is.  He’s also much clearer about who he himself is.

(Z) Several critics were calling that last scene in the finale “the birth of a hero.”

(laughs) There is something to that.  I think that – it’s funny, I hadn’t read that, but I do think that in a very shorthand kind of way, the second season kind of allows Will to take ownership of his powers, right?

He has these strange abilities/challenges with empathy, and in the first season, he’s at the mercy of that.  Jack is using him to some extent to get the job done, and Hannibal is certainly leaning on that part of his brain.  And now those people are away from him, and he’s stuck in a cell on his own, and he can begin to take control of his environment, and start fighting.

In the first season, Will tries experimenting with relationships – maybe a friendship with Hannibal, a romantic relationship, maybe being a father figure to Abigail – do you think Will is capable of having a true, fulfilled relationship of any sort?

I think that’s an excellent question.  In the relationship with Alana, the question was, “How the hell would someone like Will go about instigating, and certainly maintaining, any kind of romantic or intimate relationship?”

And I mean obviously, the most intimate relationship he has with anybody is with Hannibal.  It doesn’t help that by the time he kisses Alana, he’s suffering from encephalitis and is losing his mind.  (laughs)  That’s never a good thing.

If you know the books, you know that in Red Dragon, you know Will is in a relationship when Jack comes to pull him back in, to work in Behavioral Science. And that relationship is tested – again, the question is there even in that book: “Is Will capable of sustaining a relationship in a grown-up, in a normal way?”

And the honest answer is, I don’t know.  He has his dogs – had his dogs.  It seems to me like the best situation Will could possibly be in was the situation he was in in Episode One – he was teaching, going home, doing some good, pursuing his interest in fishing, looking after dogs.  Anything other than that is going to be very difficult for him.

Hannibal DVD

It’s pretty amazing how in less than 13 weeks, Hannibal has built this incredible fan base online.

Yeah. You always hope for the best, and I thought (laughs) if there was any upside to the fact that we were struggling to get an audience in terms of numbers of TV viewers, it was that we had this entire other audience that came out of it who were not only watching the show but actively supporting it and spreading the word.

That’s a great feeling.  It’s a really, really nice feeling to be supported, because for me, this really felt like we were doing something different.  It’s very fresh.  And I’d be delighted to hear someone say, “Oh, X million people watch your show on Thursday!”  It’s a guarantee that we get to go on for a while.

But when I see these people invest so much time and energy in their fandom of the show, it’s just great.  It’s really great.

(Another question I couldn’t hear well – basically, it seems to ask about how there are other procedural shows on TV, and how Hannibal is different)

Well, I think that the procedural element to our show – which I suspect will change a just a little bit in Season Two because I’m in jail – was mostly there in Season One in support of the overarching story.  You know, the individual crimes are thematically relevant (to that arc) and are designed to help push it forward.

That’s why I like it – and it allows you to invest those situations with some emotional.  As an actor, I don’t have to go, “Oh, we’re in the morgue again.  Oh look, he had his foot cut off.”  To find a way that, for the character, that means something, and resonates beyond that one scene, is good.

(we’re told it’s the last question): I wanted to ask about Homeland — do you watch Homeland? (Dancy’s wife Claire Danes stars on the series)

Yes, I do.  Yes.

So are you ready for the next season?

Well, I’m reading it. (laughs)  They’re filming it right now, so I’m reading the episodes as they come in.  So I know everything.

Do you and Clare compare notes for the Hannibal scripts too?

Well, we both ended our first seasons institutionalized, so…(laughs)


Hannibal: Season One is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.


And now for a special presentation!

This Wednesday, August 28, sees the release of REGULAR SHOW #3 from KaBOOM!.  It is the first comic I have written that has appeared in a hard-copy form that you can buy in comic book stores and have to pay money to get.



Well, I only wrote eight pages of the comic.  But due to some last-minute shuffling, it’s now the LEAD story and the first thing you see when you open the issue. Hmm hmm!  Hmm!

You can order the comic here, or buy an electronic copy on comiXology here.

You can also read an interview I did with a local paper about it (for the aforementioned STREET CRED) here, and check out the first five pages of the story here.

And if you enjoy the superhumanly awesome art of Brad McGinty on this story, you can buy all eight pages of the original art for $2,060.04 here.    That’s a pretty good deal.  Come to think of it, I need $2,060.04 myself, plus bennies so I can get those pages and have ’em framed on the wall.

If you really like that art, you’ll be happy to know that Brad and I will be doing the backup story for ADVENTURE TIME #20 next month, AND Brad will also be doing another REGULAR SHOW tale with…I dunno, some other writer in a future issue!

We’re aiming to do more backups and possibly a miniseries, but let’s see if people actually like this before we go buggin’ KaBOOM! and Cartoon Network to let us keep playing with their characters.

Anyway, I’m very proud of this story and it got a thumbs-up from none other than REGULAR SHOW CREATOR JG QUINTEL HIMSELF.

So here’s some sweet behind-the-scenes material for the dozens, yes dozens of you who are likely curious about how I became a comic book rock star or whatevs.

It was a complicated process that worked like this:

1) I did my own comic, THE STARS BELOW, that had good art and took like two minutes to read.  This was a good writing sample.

2) Relentless-yet-polite harassment of the KaBOOM! editors I knew.

3) Pitched like 10 ideas.  They took this one (also the idea “Bad Grammar,” which was rejected at script stage by Cartoon Network.  You can read that script here)

4) Convinced Brad McGinty, who I’d met at Heroes Con, that i could maybe write a decent script for him.  KaBOOM! dug his jive.  Baby, we had a stew goin’!


For years, I have been obsessed with South of the Border, a faux-Mexican tourist trap on I-95.  it is advertised with relentless day-glo billboards with relentless bad jokes and horrifying, sometimes racist “Mexican” puns.   There are something like 150 of those billboards, and when you’re stuck on a desert highway, there is little to do but obsess over them, especially if you’re a bored kid stuck in the back seat in the days before they had DVD monitors in cars to pacify little monsters.

Once you get there, there’s a giant Eiffel Tower replica with a sombrero on top and…not much else, beyond cheap trinkets and broken-down rides.   But there’s a certain joy to having gotten there, especially if you weren’t able to get your parents to stop when you were younger and in the backseat.

I had actually done another comic story parodying SotB years ago, but the lovely art was covered up by my excessive dialogue and the joke required people to already be aware of the place.  When the opportunity came to pitch some REGULAR SHOW stories, I realized this was a chance for a do-over.

If you don’t watch the show (you should; it won an Emmy), it’s pretty simple: Mordecai and Rigby are a blue jay and a raccoon who work at a park, under the auspices of a living gumball machine named Benson.  Every episode, some “regular” task (setting up chairs, asking out a girl, etc.) devolves into some massive conflict that involves fistfights, explosions, and the occasional unraveling of reality.

There are also many, many references to 1980s popular culture.  This was my bag.

As such, South of the Border was the kind of thing  that the ADD-afflicted Mordecai and Rigby would gravitate towards — a temptation while stuck in a car on some boring task.  And I thought of a way to escalate this in the typical RS manner for a good apocalyptic showdown — I’ll tell you more about this in a moment.

Ironically, REGULAR SHOW wound up airing an episode called “Firework Run” involving a fireworks place called “South of the Line,” after I made this pitch.  I was sure Cartoon Network would reject the story because it was too similar to that episode!  But they wound up taking it anyway.  They’re very different types of stories; “Firework Run” is more of a parody of Mexico-set crime films, while this is more of a straight-up parody of South of the Border-the-park.

KaBOOM! initially gave me six pages to tell the story.  I got to Page 6 and found I had like five pages worth of story left.  They generously gave me eight pages instead, and I found a way to cut it back.  There were a number of ideas that I didn’t get to, which I’ll tell you about, even though they weren’t good.

So here’s my full script to “Sombrero World,” not the final draft, so I can note the revisions and cut jokes.  You might find this useful, maybe, possibly.

Zack Smith Regular Show Sombrero World Third Draft


Panel 1

PANEL ONE:  BIG PANEL showing the billboard for SOMBRERO WORLD, a crazy faux-Mexican tourist trap.  MORDECAI AND RIGBY are looking up at it through the windshield of the park’s pickup truck with Mordecai driving.  Mordecai absently holds a cell phone in his hand.  CREDITS appear below the billboard.

The billboard is a parody of such tourist traps as South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina.  For reference, here’s a photoset my boy Chris Sims took of his trip to South of the Border, as whatever bad puns I think of cannot match the actual power of the real tourist trap.  Here is also a report of his trip with photos.

Go crazy with the design of this.  It is essentially done up in neon colors like hot pink, and incorporates a sombrero motif.  There is also a mascot called PONCHO, who is a blond-haired, white, obviously-non-Hispanic surfer dude wearing a poncho and a giant sombrero. His name is on the poncho.


MORDECAI AND RIGBY: (shared word balloon) WHOOOOOAAA.

BENSON: (on phone) …hello?

(ZACK NOTES:   Okay, here’s where Brad McGinty is a great artist — I originally scripted this as a shot from INSIDE the truck, but Brad changed it to an outside shot, creating a nice POV and a real sense of movement and action.

(In the first draft of the script, the entire first page was Mordecai and Rigby in the truck talking to Benson on the phone, ending with the first billboard coming into view.  The idea was to establish the boring desert and the job the characters had to do, then introduce the distraction, but the editor suggested immediately introducing Sombrero World to create the conflict — Mordecai and Rigby want to stop there, but want to prove to Benson that they can do an important job.  This was a good move, because it created a visual element to underscore the action, Mordecai and Rigby being distracted by the signs.  SCRIPTWRITING!)

PANEL TWO:  We’re outside the truck,  looking at Rigby pressing the face against the window, awestruck by the billboard (perhaps Poncho is reflected in the mirror).  Mordecai has snapped out of his trance and is on the phone with Benson.

MORDECAI: Oh, sorry Benson!  We were just saying how much we appreciate your trusting us to take the cart to the dealer’s…

RIGBY: (small)  …it is the most radical of empires to all that which is radical.

(ZACK NOTES: Rigby’s line was from the BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD episode “Babes R Us;” it was changed in the revisions from JG Quintel to what you see in the final story)

PANEL THREE: Reveal BENSON on the other end of the phone, in bed with a broken leg.  He looks about as sour as you’d expect.  There might be some balloons and condolence cards there, possibly one that reads, “GET WELL SOON! – AUDREY.”

MORDECAI (on phone): …I mean, because you’re sick and literally everyone else was unavailable…

(ZACK NOTES: Okay, here’s where a cut joke came in.  It was a “Kill Your Darlings” situation, because I was high on this one, but it slowed down the story when every panel needed to count.

(The original version read like this:

MORDECAI (on phone): …I mean, because you’re sick, Skips is on walkabout, Thomas has a final, Pops’s sinuses can’t take the desert and Muscle Man and Hi 5 Ghost are at that concert…

PANEL FOUR: Cut to MUSCLE MAN and HI 5 GHOST at a crazed outdoor music festival that’s basically the Gathering of the Juggalos. Muscle Man and Hi 5 Ghost are both painted like Insane Clown Posse, but with the black-and-white parts of the face paint reversed.

Muscle Man has ripped off his shirt and is twirling it above his head.  If room, other recurring characters (perhaps the Guardians of Eternal Youth) are nearby face-painted as well.


(I had an alternate version to THAT where a face-painted Muscle Man and Hi-5 Ghost went to a “Gathering of the JUGGLERS” and MM went, “Aw man…read the flyer wrong.”

(Eh, maybe in another tale.)

PANEL FOUR: Back to Moredecai and Rigby with a long shot of the pickup truck on the highway with the broken cart in the back…and a billboard ahead reading “SOMBRERO WORLD: STOP OR YOU’RE LAME.”

BENSON: (on phone) Look, I just need you slackers to stay completely focused on this task…

BENSON: (on phone) …guys?

PANEL FIVE: High-angle shot looking down on the truck with billboards for Sombrero World on both sides of the road.  Mordecai hastily covers on the phone while a wide-eyed and entranced Rigby has his head out the window like a dog.

BENSON: (on phone) GUYS!

MORDECAI: Oh!  Hey, Benson!  Still here!

BENSON: (on phone) I KNEW IT!  You’ve gotten distracted already!

PANEL SIX: Back to Benson in bed as he screams red-faced into the phone.

BENSON: THAT’S IT!  I’ve got the number for the dealership RIGHT HERE!  I’m calling it in THREE HOURS and you’d better pick it up…


PANEL ONE: Mordecai and Rigby are about blown away by Benson’s yelling at them through the phone (the skin around their eyeballs blows back)

BENSON (on phone, HUGE): OR YOU’RE FIRED!!!!!

(ZACK NOTES: Weirdly, one of the first things I wanted to do when I got to write a REGULAR SHOW story was split one of Benson’s “…OR YOU’RE FIRED!” rants across two pages as a mini-cliffhanger.  I have no idea why.)

PANEL TWO: Mordecai and Rigby look ticked as they drive on; there’s a blurred-image double-take effect to show Rigby getting distracted and looking out the window mid-sentence.

From this point on, a TICKING CLOCK is visible in each panel.

MORDECAI: Man…Benson’s such a crank.

RIGBY: Yeah, man!  Why can’t he just trust us to OH MY GOSH LOOK

CLOCK: 2:59:59

(ZACK NOTES: Yeah, the ticking clock got cut almost immediately.  Midway through the script, I realized it was a pain to figure out how much time had passed between panels, and Brad McGinty correctly pointed out that almost every panel was packed anyway.  There was enough going on to create suspense already.  Also, JG Quintel revised Mordecai’s line.)

PANEL THREE: Mordecai and a frantic Rigby look up at another billboard featuring Poncho.  He looks slightly sick and has a stomach pump hooked up to him as he gives a thumbs-up with one hand and holds a fish taco (literally a whole fish in a taco shell, with Xs for eyes and flies hovering over it) in his other hand.

149 MILES:


CLOCK: 2:59:37

PANEL FOUR: Mordecai irately swats away an over-excited Rigby.

MORDECAI: No way, dude!  We’ll be lucky to make Benson’s deadline as is!


CLOCK: 2:58:50

PANEL FIVE: Rigby listens intently as a stern Mordecai lectures him…

MORDECAI: Look, dude, Sombrero World looks awesome, but there’s something more important…

MORDECAI: …getting this job done with no shortcuts, no distractions…AND TOTALLY  RUBBING IT IN BENSON’S FACE.


CLOCK: 2:57:40

PANEL SIX:  Mordecai and Rigby exchange a confident look:


CLOCK: 2:57:30

PANEL SEVEN: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE:  The truck drives on…as we see dozens and dozens of Sombrero billboards on the horizon waiting to tempt them.

CLOCK: 2:56:50

(ZACK NOTES:: Brad McGinty condensed this into fewer panels easily; I also just remembered that part of this plot was my wanting to do a couple variations on REGULAR SHOW plots; first, by having Mordecai and Rigby getting into trouble for NOT slacking off, and second, to give them a bit of a do-over from an episode called “Busted Cart,” where they bonded with Benson on a cart exchange but wound up blowing things by playing video games.  I disliked the characters for that, and wanted them to do the job right this time, because…I’m weird.)



PANEL ONE: This is a big SPLASH PANEL that takes up about 2/3 of the page.

Sombrero World Map

It is done like a placemat from a cheesy diner showing a map of the highway, Mordecai and Rigby in the truck, and the route toward Sombrero World, with the cart dealership at the end.  A dotted line follows Mordecai and Rigby’s path.  Sombrero World appears like a big city shaped a sombrero with sombrero-towers.

Each of the Sombrero World signs should have a slightly closer mileage and convey something that is silly and stupid but sort of appealing, especially to Mordecai and Rigby, and occasionally feature Poncho.   I’m open to suggestions, but here are some of the ideas I have:


-Some novelty sombreros, including one covered in light-up neon, one with a working roulette wheel in it, a razor-tipped one Poncho is throwing like Oddjob in James Bond, one with a chip-dip thing in its brim (like the “Nacho Hat” from that Simpsons episode) where you can reach up and dip chips into the dip in your hat; a rocket sombrero (the rocket is in the middle part of the hat and Poncho is flying upside-down), one that’s designed like a crystal chandelier, one that’s designed like a juicer, where you squeeze an orange/lemon against the middle part, one with a satellite dish and a fold-down TV screen that goes in front of your eyes.

Imposed over the map are two Hitchcock-like images of Mordecai and Rigby’s heads, sweating bullets and mouths agape as they are tormented by this cavalcade of temptation.   There is also an image of their hands clasped in solidarity.

(ZACK NOTES: So this came about in collaboration with Brad McGinty; I realized one difference between REGULAR SHOW on TV and in a comic is that the show has a few minutes at the start of each episode to establish the “regular” situation, and also to do a “time passing” montage to build up to the climax, and both those things are very difficult to pull off in a comic book with static panels and a limited page count.

(My first idea was to create something like a nightmare montage with floating billboards and Mordecai and Rigby sweating bullets, but I left the sequence open to Brad for suggestions.  He came up with the placemat map idea…and then asked for some extra billboard gags.  I wrote like 50, figuring he’d use five….and he used ALL of them and asked for more.

(That’s how crazy-good Brad McGinty is.  Hire him for things and give him money!)

PANEL TWO: From inside the truck, we see Sombrero World through the windshield as a crazed Rigby tries to grab the steering wheel from Mordecai…


MORDECAI: No, Rigby!  We’ve almost made it!



            PANEL ONE:  Mordecai pushes away Rigby with one hand while steering with the other.

RIGBY: But…but…TACOS, Mordecai!  TACOS!

                        RIGBY: PONCHO WANTS US TO STOP!!!!!

MORDECAI: We’re nearly there, Rigby!  We just need…

PANEL TWO: The truck is just at the entrance to Sombrero World, with a cheesy statue of Poncho holding a sign that reads, “PONCHO SAYS WELCOME, DUDE!”

MORDECAI: (from inside truck) …to hold on…

            PANEL THREE: …the truck has zoomed PAST the entrance…and the Poncho statue has turned to stare at its cloud of dust in disbelief.


MORDECAI: (from off-panel) …a little longer!

PANEL FOUR: Back in the truck – Rigby has his hands on the back window in agony while Mordecai looks in the rear-view mirror.




(ZACK NOTES: Rigby doesn’t have much to do in this story other than react to Mordecai and the chaos around them, but Brad really did a great job with the character’s facial expressions, and that made Rigby one of my favorite parts of the story.  Brad’s work is so detailed and crazy that it’s easy to overlook that he does great facial expressions and body language, which is something you really need for a comedy story.)

PANEL FIVE: Exterior shot of the truck zooming by Sombrero World…and a giant black billboard that reads, “WAIT!  WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!”

MORDECAI: (from inside truck) Who’s tha may-ahn?  Who’s tha may-ahn?  Who’s tha may-ahn with tha master play-ahn?!

PANEL SIX: Small shot of Rigby looking back as Mordecai celebrates…

MORDECAI:  Who’s the man of the hour all full of will-POW-YAH?!  OOOOOOOHHHHHH!

RIGBY: Uh, Mordecai…?

 (ZACK NOTES: JG Quintel rewrote Mordecai’s mini-rap into the dialogue seen in the final story.)



Sombrero World

PANEL ONE: BIGGEST  PANEL OF THE PAGE…Sombrero World has lifted up out of the ground on giant spider-legs (think Howl’s Moving Castle or the metal spider from that awful Wild Wild West movie).  We can now clearly see a number of cool things on it, like a water slide, a Ferris wheel, a roller-coaster…all stuff that incorporates the sombrero motif.  Some hapless TOURISTS are clinging on for dear life.  The head/face is a robotic version of Poncho with glowing eyes.

RIGBY : (from inside truck) …I don’t think Sombrero World WANTS us to drive past!

PANEL TWO: Close on Mordecai and Rigby SCREAMING as we see the looming park-spider-monster in the background.




PANEL THREE: A giant foot from the park-spider SMASHES into the highway as the truck heads for an exit reading “CART DEALERSHIP.”


PANEL FOUR:  The truck heads down a ramp, where a Sombrero World billboard featuring a bunch of dead-eyed lizards is on the side of the road (some are tilted slightly, obviously not alive and propped up).  It reads “COME VISIT OUR NEW REPTILE PARK!  SOME LIZARDS EVEN ALIVE!”   The lizards’ eyes are all lit up like the terrifying laser statues from The Nevernding Story.

RIGBY: (from inside truck) Look out!

PANEL FIVE: Close on the billboard as the eyes FIRE at them!

 (ZACK NOTES: I sort of regret this gag; it doesn’t work as well with everything else going on.  Brad still drew it well) 


This alternates some bigger panels of action with smaller panels that are close on the characters.

PANEL ONE: On the road, as we see the truck weave back and forth (a curved dust trail indicates their path) as it dodges LASER FIRE from various BILLBOARDS (we don’t have to see them, just enough to suggest this is where the lasers are coming from).

RIGBY: (from inside truck) Don’t go straight!  SERPENTINE!  SERPENTINE!

(ZACK NOTES: Yes, this is a reference to the 1979 comedy THE IN-LAWS, one of my favorites)

PANEL TWO:  Sombrero World foot SMASHES into the ground in front of the truck, which awkwardly changes its path.

PANEL THREE: Close on the robot-Poncho head, whose eyes are glowing red Terminator-style…


PANEL FOUR: Poncho-bot sneers as CANNONS emerge from it, firing giant PECAN LOGS at our heroes!


(ZACK NOTES: Yeah, another joke that doesn’t really work.  There’s not enough room in the story to clearly see it’s a pecan log missile.)

PANEL FIVE: In the truck, Mordecai jacks the wheel left!


PANEL SIX:  BIG PANEL: GIANT PECAN LOGS splatter against either side of the truck!  One has felled a tree!

PANEL SEVEN: In the truck, Rigby is freaked and Mordecai is determined…


                        MORDECAI: Don’t worry, dude…

PANEL EIGHT: Close on Mordcai’s eyes, narrowed like a BAD DUDE.

MORDECAI: …I have a plan.

(ZACK NOTES: Okay, so Mordecai’s plan was a little more elaborate in my initial vision.

(There were two ideas that didn’t make it into the final story.  One was the idea that Mordecai and Rigby had known about Sombrero World in the past and wanted to stop there as kids, and you’d have a flashback with Li’l Mordecai and Li’l Rigby in the backseat begging the unseen parents in the front seat to stop, and later, you’d have another flashback with Mordecai and Rigby fighting over something and not noticing that the parents were screaming about lasers and such.

(The other idea is that Mordecai was originally going to beat Sombrero World by going up a dangerous pass, stop at the top, and then rush toward Sombrero World as it came at the truck and do a skid through its legs, leaving Sombrero World to topple into a canyon.  Yes, I completely knocked off the ending to the great Richard Matheson/Steven Spielberg TV-movie DUEL.  It seemed like a fitting cultural homage for REGULAR SHOW, but that would have required at least three more pages and there just wasn’t room.  So the story wound up with a much more expeditious resolution…)



PANEL ONE: Close on Mordecai and Rigby in the truck, seen through the windshield.  Mordecai is hunched close to the wheel, really determined.

RIGBY: What are you doing, man?

MORDECAI: What we do best on these trips…

PANEL TWO: The truck ZOOMS into a tunnel that reads “10-FOOT CLEARANCE”

MORDECAI: …take a shortcut!

(ZACK NOTES: I justified this to myself by having Mordecai specifically mention NO shortcuts back on Page 3, so there was, like, structure!  But yeah, it was improvising under pressure)

PANEL THREE: Sombrero World bumps its Poncho-head against the entrance trying to follow…it can’t.


PANEL FOUR: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE:  It raises up to the heavens and ROARS in agony, a couple spider-legs raised! (we see some tourists falling off).  The Poncho-head is half-mutilated, giving it a Terminator-style look.


PANEL FIVE: In the truck, Mordecai and Rigby high-five.



PANEL ONE: The truck peels into the parking lot of a building reading “CART DEALERSHIP”

PANEL TWO: Mordecai and Rigby rush in…

PANEL THREE: Inside, Mordecai has DIVED across the front desk and grabbed a telephone…


MORDECAI: Hello?  Benson?

BENSON: Mordecai?

MORDECAI: We got here!  We got the cart!

PANEL FOUR: Benson, in his room, is dumbstruck.

BENSON: Wow.  I…I really believed you two were going to blow the deadline.  This is amazing.

PANEL FIVE: Mordecai and Rigby stare in disbelief as they hear Benson go:

BENSON: I’m proud of you.

(ZACK NOTES: I wanted to give Mordecai and Rigby a rare victory, and have an emotional moment in the story.  It’s not THAT emotional a moment, but Benson is sincere, and that’s something.)

PANEL SIX: A smiling Benson speaks into the phone:

BENSON: Oh, while you’re out there, one more thing I need you to do…

PANEL SEVEN: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE: Mordecai’s frozen as he hears Benson’s request.…as in the background, we see the Sombrero World Park outside the dealership, waiting for them.  Rigby’s tugging at his arm, trying to get him to see it.

BENSON: (on phone) I’ve always wanted to get a hat from this place Sombrero World!

BENSON: (on phone) You think you could stop and get one for me?

BENSON: (on phone) …hello?


(ZACK NOTES: Not much to add, other than Brad McGInty condensed the last two panels into one and did a great job with giving the word balloons a certain rhythm that carried across the panel.  Killer work!)


So anyway, that is my commentary on “Sombrero World.”  I’m sure like three people will read and enjoy this post, and possibly learn something from it.

Come back next month for my commentary on my and Brad’s ADVENTURE TIME story, “Grocery Time” starring BILLY!  And then pray that I get some more comics-writing work so I can do another of these.


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