TKO: A Comic Book Publisher with a New Business Model

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

TKO-Studios banner-small

I get a lot of my comic news through podcasts, which means that (a) they’re mostly interview-based and (b) it may take me a month or two to get to them. But on a recent road trip, TKO Studios, a new comic book company, was advertising on a couple of my podcasts and had interviews as well. They sound different. Let me go through the things that caught my attention.

First, the company releases all its first issues for free digitally, for anyone to download. This feels very savvy to me because comic books are expensive. Being able to try some for free really reduces the barrier to engaging. You can download the first issue of each of the four first series right here.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 5, Part 3: Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Look What's Happened to Rosemary's BabyIt’s relatively unusual for me to watch a movie that I know going in is not good. But every so often, and usually at Fantasia, something bizarre comes along that looks bad but also in its way promising. So it was that for my third film of July 16 I settled in at the De Sève Theatre for a screening of the rare 1976 TV-movie sequel to Rosemary’s Baby: an opus directed by Sam O’Steen titled Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby. Star Stephen McHattie was in attendance, and would stick around to take our questions after the film.

(I had actually seen Rosemary’s Baby for the first time in preparation, and I was surprised how much I did not care for it. It was well-shot, and Rosemary’s isolation was captured well in the second half of the film. But it was difficult to believe in that isolation after we’d already seen her at a Christmas party with her friends. Atmosphere stubbornly resisted being evoked. The gothic material almost uniformly fell flat, and the Satanist coven came off as an unthreatening group of busybodies. I did not understand what was supposed to be scary in this movie, or what beyond craft was supposed to make it a classic. Disappointed as I was, I think now this viewing unwittingly set me up to be receptive to Look What’s Happened as a kind of unwitting satire, ruthlessly if unintentionally pointing out the weaknesses and absurdities of the original.)

The movie was introduced by Phlippe Spurrell of Montreal’s Cinéclub Film Society. He noted that the 35mm print came from the personal collection of Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis, and 7 or 8 hours had gone into the inspection, cleaning, and mounting of the film on a single reel. He warned us that some material was faded, but promised us surprises (which turned out to be period commercials inserted into the original commercial breaks of the film, for things like K-Tel albums and “newfangled Pringle’s Potato Chips”). Spurrell observed that O’Steen was the editor of Rosemary’s Baby, and John A. Alonzo was director of photography for both films. Ira Levin, writer of the original novel, was not involved, nor was Roman Polanski (who had scripted his adaptation as well as directed). Instead Look What’s Happened was written by Anthony Wilson, veteran TV writer and creator of shows like Banacek and one of the developers of the Planet of the Apes TV spin-off. (He also wrote what I thought was a fine episode of the original Twilight Zone, “Come Wander With Me.”)

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The Games of Gen Con 2019

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

WarChickenIslandThe summer conventions are winding down, as school starts back up. I have previously mentioned games I discovered at Origins Game Fair earlier this summer, and our intrepid leader John O’Neill has hinted at some of his own exploits in the wilds of Gen Con. John and I usually run into each other when we’re both at the same convention, but Gen Con is massive enough that it’s no surprise our ships didn’t cross paths, particularly since I’m usually busy enough moving through the exhibit hall and participating in demo games that I rarely make it these days to many of the Writer’s Symposium activities … held in an entirely different hotel, as Gen Con has spread tendrils, Cthulhu-like, throughout all of downtown Indianapolis.

This year I’d like to begin my discussion of Gen Con gaming discoveries on the weird end of the spectrum, with War for Chicken Island. This successful Kickstarter funded with over $160,000 and is slated for an October 2019 release. They had a prototype at the Draco Studios booth, but weren’t running complete demos, so I can’t speak to the game play. But this is a game where you fight for control of an island of chickens, using miniatures of crazy battle-ready chickens. I don’t need a full demo to know that I’m interested.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 5, Part 2: The Prey

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The PreyFor my second movie of July 15 I went to the Fantasia screening room to watch the Cambodian film The Prey. Directed by Jimmy Henderson from a script by Henderson with Michael Hodgson and Kai Miller, this is a film that traces its narrative lineage back to Richard Connell’s immortal “The Most Dangerous Game.” In this case, the game’s played in the wilds of Cambodia, and the rules turn out to be surprisingly complex — and the number of players surprisingly large.

Xin (Gu Shangwei) is an undercover Chinese cop with Interpol trying to bust cyber-criminals in Cambodia, despite a significant language barrier. Swept up in a raid by the local police force that nets the criminals he’s hunting, he ends up on the wrong side of a warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) of an isolated prison. Along with a few other malcontents, he’s handed over to a hunting party who’ve paid the warden for a day’s amusement: the criminals will be released into the jungle, the heavily-armed hunters will track them down, whoever gets the most kills wins. But of course it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Rather than keep a narrow focus on a deadly game with one victim and one hunter, the film starts with groups of each — but as they get winnowed down, more characters enter the fray. Xin’s Interpol colleagues come looking for him. The warden and his men take a hand. And it turns out there are locals who live in the playing field. The interplay of the different factions effectively builds a considerable amount of suspense, giving the story more heft than a straightforward action story.

Which is not to say the action’s lacking. There’s a goodly amount of it, executed quite well. There’s some hand-to-hand combat, but also a lot of gunplay and general explosions. The fights are well-planned and well-choreographed, building to a suitably brutal conclusion. Effects are largely practical; there’s a low-tech ethos to this film, the firearms notwithstanding, that plays well. The fight scenes are focussed on telling the story, not on cool moves (though there are cool moves). It’s paced well, not lingering on any given situation. Characters do not wear out their welcome, and the movie does not shy away from racking up a body count very quickly. You do more-or-less know how long each character will last, but there are some surprises in how they play out their parts. It’s familiar without being generic or even all that predictable.

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Magic that Enchants the Reader: The Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty and the Beast by Leife Shallcross

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross-smallThe Beast’s Heart: A Novel of Beauty & the Beast
Ace Books (416 pages, $15 trade paperback/$11.99 digital, February 12, 2019)
Cover by Lisa Perrin

This beautifully simplistic retelling of a “tale as old as time,” is pure magic. The story sparkles at every turn and enchants the reader with a new perspective: it’s the beast that narrates his own story in this version of the familiar fairytale.

For over a century Beast has roamed wild over the land he once ruled, driving away anything or anyone that lives there, his humanity essentially stripped away. He has little memory of what his life once was until he encounters a strange woman who leads him back to his previous domain, a castle in the heart of the forest. Suddenly he begins to have flashes of what was lost. As memories return, so too does some of the splendor that once saturated the castle: a roaring fire in the hearth, one luxurious velvet chair, corners of the garden sodden with out-of-season blooms.

As life returns to the castle, Beast slowly regains his humanity. He relearns to stand on two legs, his paws begin to look more like hands, and he realizes he can read! When a weary traveler wanders onto his land, he also realizes his isolation. Curious about the man, Beast allows his castle to lure the traveler in and care for him. Through the magical abilities of his abode, Beast is able to see the man’s dreams, and in them the man’s daughters. The youngest, Isabeau, immediately captures Beast’s heart.

Thus begins Beast’s plot to bring Isabeau to the castle and her eventual agreement to stay for a year. What unfolds is a beautiful relationship that examines what it means to love someone. Through the use of a magical mirror, the reader also gets to be a voyeur in the lives of Isabeau’s family left behind. Their experiences also lend to the theme of human connection and illustrate an idyllic country existence full of color and substance. Just as we root for Beast and Isabeau, so too are we cheering for them to find love and compassion.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

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Goth Chick News: AHS Shouts Out a Big, Bloody Happy Birthday to AH

Thursday, August 15th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Goth Chick Alfred Hitchcock-small

Back in April, Ryan Murphy announced the title / theme for the ninth season of American Horror Story, “1984.” Since then, no less than a dozen teaser trailers have dropped, making it abundantly clear (if the title already didn’t) the latest season is dedicated to classic 80’s slasher films.

However, this week Murphy pulled out something a bit different. In homage to the birthday of the master of cinema suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, who would have turned 120 on August 13th (a Sunday, not a Friday in case you were wondering), Murphy’s latest teaser gave a nod to Psycho while still maintaining his 80’s theme.

The teaser shows a sexy, blonde camp counselor (a favorite slasher-movie-target, second only to a slutty cheerleader) taking a shower as a knife-wielding maniac sneaks up and… Well see for yourself.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 5, Part 1: Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland

Thursday, August 15th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Bruce McDonald's DreamlandI have fond memories of Bruce McDonald’s rock n’roll road movies from the 1990s, specifically Roadkill, Highway 61 Revisited, and Hard Core Logo. It had been a while since I’d seen one of his films (one drifts away from artists, sometimes, like friends we once knew), but I began July 15 at Fantasia in the De Sève Theatre getting reacquainted with McDonald’s art by way of his new movie Dreamland, at Fantasia presented as Bruce McDonald’s Dreamland.

Written by Tony Burgess and Patrick Whistler, the movie takes place in a European city in which politically powerful aristocrats live in a walled palace while gangsters and assassins roam the streets below. Johnny (Stephen McHattie) is a hitman working for a small-time crime boss, Hercules (Henry Rollins, excellent and electric) who wants to send a message to a trumpet-playing jazz Maestro (also played by McHattie). If his drug addiction doesn’t kill him, the Maestro will be performing for the Countess (Juliette Lewis) who rules the city; her brother, a vampire, is getting married to an unwilling and very underage girl, kidnapped and sold to him by Hercules. Trafficking in young girls is a line Johnny always refused to cross. What will he do now?

I’ve seen reviews criticising the movie for being over-dreamy and not especially linear. I do not understand this. In many ways it struck me as a straightforward story with a few surreal elements — the setting and the vampire, in particular, as well as the dual-casting of McHattie. The plot’s solid, even workmanlike, as characters make moral choices and move the story along to the wedding that marks the big finish of the film. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of this, but I wouldn’t call the violent noirish crime plot especially bizarre.

I would say it’s done well. The story moves nicely, and mixes a range of genres with no obvious sense of strain. Oddly, for a film in which crime and horror elements dominate, it’s remarkably light if never exactly cheerful. It is witty, and unpredictable, and entertaining. McHattie alone makes the film worthwhile, playing both the guarded, sharp, and somehow beaten-down Johnny, and the bitter, ruthless Maestro. Scenes in which the two characters meet come off perfectly.

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New Treasures: The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson

Thursday, August 15th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Saturday Night Ghost Club-small The Saturday Night Ghost Club-back-small

Craig Davidson is the author of Sarah Court and Cataract City and, under the name Nick Cutter, The Acolyte, from ChiZine Publications, which we covered here back in 2015. His newest is the definition of a breakout novel. It’s gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and numerous other places. As Jason Heller puts it at NPR, it’s a novel that celebrates the wonders and horrors of being a kid:

Jake Baker, the main character of Craig Davidson’s new novel The Saturday Night Ghost Club [is] a neurosurgeon, and… The Saturday Night Ghost Club is his story, although most of it takes place in the past — one summer during the ’80s, in which he turned 12. He grew up in Niagara Falls, and the town’s mist-shrouded natural monument serves as a dramatic backdrop to something bordering on the supernatural. Because as Jake tells it, he spent that summer with his eccentric Uncle Calvin and a handful of friends, practicing rituals and hunting ghosts and monsters….

The masterful segues between the narratives of child Jake and adult Jake shimmer. And even more profoundly, the book is a celebration of the secret lives of children, both their wonders and their horrors…. Hunting imaginary monsters is a grand adventure, but the most horrendous monsters can be real people. Immensely enjoyable, piercingly clever, and satisfyingly soulful, The Saturday Night Ghost Club is an exquisite little talisman of a book, one that doesn’t flinch as it probes the dark underside of nostalgia.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club was published by Penguin Books on July 9, 2019. It is 211 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by George Wylesol.


Fantasia 2019, Day 4, Part 5: Shadow

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

ShadowMy fifth and last movie of July 14 brought me back to the Hall Theatre. I had not seen two consecutive movies that day in the same cinema; no two films had come from the same country. It was in retrospect a good day at Fantasia, and it was ending with a bang: the latest film from Zhang Yimou, Shadow (also known as Ying, 影). Written by Zhang with Li Wei, it’s a tale of historical battles and political machinations told with visual dynamism and a distinct colour sense, fitting nicely alongside previous works by Zhang such as Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower.

(The movie was preceded by an animated short, “Modern Babel,” written, directed, and animated by Lin Zhao. It follows a woman on an increasingly hallucinatory shopping expedition, as she must struggle against crowds and sinister black birds, while she and the rest of the world descend into violence and madness. It is expressionistic and indeed nightmarish, the design sense a little like Peter Kuper’s comics. It’s black-and-white, and does effectively create an oppressive visual atmosphere. I found it a bit bare, or perhaps a bit elliptical, in terms of story.)

Shadow opens with exposition. Long ago, in the 3rd century AD, two countries in what is now China battled for control of a city. The country of Pei lost when its general Ziyu (Deng Chao) was defeated in a duel with the unbeatable general Yang Cang (Hu Jun) of the kingdom of Yang. The king of Pei (Zheng Kai) is therefore annoyed to learn, as the movie opens, that Ziyu’s challenged Yang Cang to a rematch; the king has his own schemes to recover the city, which involve marrying off his sister (Guan Xiaotong). But all is not what it seems. The man everyone knows as Ziyu is in fact a double; the real Ziyu, gravely wounded by Yang Cang, has hidden himself away, operating through this double — his shadow, a man named Jingzhou. But has Ziyu’s wife Xiao Ai (Sun Li) developed a new kind of technique that will give Pei victory in battle?

This is a complex story, with various subsidiary characters contributing to the machinations. But it always remains clear, building almost mathematically to an explosive set of final battles. There is an operatic feel to the film, in its grandeur, its self-conscious seriousness, and, inevitably, its body count and tragedy. It’s a tone familiar from Zhang’s previous work, and so this feels a logical extension.

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