First Reformed: A 21st Century Taxi Driver

Ethan Hawke cuts a lean figure in the equally lean and potent First Reformed from writer and director Paul Schrader. Hawke stars as Rev. Toller, a pastor tending to the needs of a cold little church in a cold little town in upstate New York. The parish has its 250th anniversary celebration approaching, and multiple sets of prying eyes from the mothership megachurch organization (think corporate bureaucrats more than priests and nuns) are focused on all aspects of the event. It quickly becomes clear that Hawke’s Rev. Toller is something of a black sheep in the church hierarchy, and his direct supervisors are anxious about his ability to successfully pull off the proceedings. Then there’s also bits about the role of God, the Iraq War, fear, alcoholism, suicide bombings, capitalism run amok, and the fate of the entire planet.

The ‘70s grit and localized urban violence found in Taxi Driver are gone, because, well, they don’t really exist anymore. But Schrader deftly weaves in the many frightening aspects of today’s global level of violence- extremist groups, the online world, substance abuse, suicide, greed, corruption, and a general pervasiveness of amorality- in the same way he channeled freaks, weirdos, and revolvers in Taxi Driver. The chief antagonist, if it can be called that, is the idea of a global climate crisis. Indeed, though the story is set in a small church in a small town with a small cast of characters, Schrader presents something out of a superhero plot- the destruction of the world itself – and makes it real. He’s mostly successful.

Some bumps in the road: First Reformed often feels cut a bit too close to the bone, like the version we’re seeing on screen is either the first draft or the 151st, a combination of either whittled away too much or not flushed out enough. The chief victim of this is the character played by Amanda Seyfried. Seyfried acts with a kind of earnestness that is captivating, but unfortunately she’s not given much of a story on her own. Her husband is a troubled environmentalist radical. Why exactly she is with him, given her lack of radicalism on the subject, isn’t really explained, nor are her reasons for seeking the help of Hawke’s character explored to any depth. She exists primarily as a prop for Hawke’s Reverend Toller to explore pretty typical yearnings of a middle-aged man. Hawke and Seyfried have a real chemistry together, and it’s a shame it doesn’t get more time or substance.

What Schrader does accomplish though is pretty remarkable in the sense that it attempts to both boil the ocean and thread the needle at the same time. Schrader takes a deep breath and goes for big, weighty subject matter questions, but where those aspirations threaten to slip over the edge into arthouse pretentiousness or, well, preaching, the movie instead remains ever-so precariously grounded and more importantly, interesting. This is in large part because of the restraint of the script, which although hollow in a few spots, is also sharp and quick enough to not spend too much time dwelling on any one of the many aspects it tackles. In a word, it is restrained, giving the audience plenty to think about but never so much that it blocks the very strong performances of the cast. Hawke in particular gives a lean and mean performance, one of the best of his career, which serves to make the film’s high-concept statements and philosophical tangents more earthy and real. The ensemble of supporting cast members, including a standout serious turn from actor/comedian Cedric the Entertainer as a megachurch management drone, also does wonders in bringing Schrader’s kaleidoscopic view of a world on fire into a crystalized whole.

Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver, brought to life by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, swept up many strands of the violent America of the 1970s into one strange package, a fierce and pointed thrust that spoke directly to its time. First Reformed does much of the same with a very different world of the 21st century. Schrader reminds us of the toll of recent times, from terrorism to the wars to the current state of anger and fear-driven politics, to the absence of grace, compassion, and civility. There are swings toward the abstract, poetic, and nearly psychedelic that won’t sit well with those looking for a traditional drama yarn.

But those choices aside (or because of, depending on your tastes), First Reformed is a powerful piece of filmmaking that takes the template of a singular story and uses it communicate multiple complex feelings on life, God, America, the world, and more (as if that’s not enough), and showcases truly excellent performances from its cast. It’s an angry, powerful, and violent film, much like Taxi Driver before it, but at a modulation and scale that brings the frenzied state of the 21st century’s hyper-polarized, information overload world into a cool and clear focus. There’s a lot to process and it’s not for the faint of heart, but for those unsettled by the trajectory of current events, Schrader’s First Reformed will hit home in ways that are scary, moving, and fascinating.

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Northeast Comic Con Winter 2018 Recap

I just wrapped 3 days at Northeast Comic Con in Boxboro, MA. I didn’t know what to expect from this show– it was my first time doing it, and it fell on the weekend following Thanksgiving. Would anyone be around? Would Black Friday and football syphon off any interest? Would people be too hungover from turkey and gravy to move from their sofas?

Much to my surprise, the crowds were constant and enthusiastic throughout. The Con kicked off Friday evening and new readers quickly stopped by the table and picked up anthologies and comics. I had some great conversations with people genuinely interested in finding new and interesting things in the comic world– a less common occurrence at conventions than you might think.

The strong Friday start provided a solid boost to the rest of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday were equally bustling, with moderate yet steady crowds filing through in intermittent bursts.

I took a brief pause from my table on Saturday to engage in something of a lifelong dream. Peter Laird, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and indie comic legend, was in the house. Mirage Studio stalwart Steve Levigne was also there. Laird’s TMNT and the DIY/self-publishing ethic made famous by Mirage in the ’80s serve as my guiding light, the template and inspiration for my books CRISIS VECTOR and CRYPT ZERO. Meeting Peter Laird was, suffice to say, pretty surreal. The word hero gets thrown around a lot, but in this case there’s no better term I can use. He was generous and kind. A perfect experience that I’ll remember forever. Here’s me with the man himself!

Other highlights include a whole lot of conversation about Famous Monsters of Filmland. This weekend marked the birthday of Famous Monsters founder Forrest J. Ackerman, and let me tell you, Forry’s spirit is alive and well. So many people have fond memories and recollections of their experiences reading Famous Monsters. For some, it was decades in the past and their smiles were those of reencountering an old friend. Others found back issues in more recent years and discovered the world of cinematic creatures through musty yellowed pages. And then there are the new generation of readers (my personal favorite), seeing the Famous Monsters logo for the first time and feeling a magical pull to crack open the glossy cover and dive into a whole new world. I was especially touched by a young man of about 12 or 13 who came by a few times, eventually returning with his father and grandfather. He was sporting a full Ghostbusters uniform, as was his dad, and he was clearly fixated on Famous Monsters. I should note here that I’m not much of a carnival barker or salesperson at cons. I generally let people discover the work on their own and then engage in a conversation if there’s one to be had. Just the way I roll. Anyways, this young man found something in Famous Monsters, and it was cool be a spectator, watching the tractor beam activate between reader and source. That young man’s Famous Monster’s memories begin with Famous Monsters #290, published just last month. Maybe it turns into a lifetime of memories. It’s an honor to play a small role in something like that.

I also was blessed by the patron diety of comic cons to once again have great table neighbors. I was happy to meet Paul Montani, writer and artist of THE RAT RACE, a fantastic looking cartoon strip featuring, you guessed it, rats. Turns out Paul and I work for the same mega-corporation as our day gigs, and I really enjoyed sharing war stories and reflections about everything from local comic shops to new Disney rides with him throughout the weekend. I was also excited to see Patrick Davis, Topps Star Wars artist extraordinaire. I recently met Patrick at That’s Entertainment’s MicroCon in Worcester, and we hit it off with our deep, perhaps unhealthy love of Star Wars. Patrick produced a stellar piece of my boy Count Dooku for me, and I shall treasure it always.

Ok, this is already longer than expected so I’ll close by saying great show, great crowd, and a hearty thank you to everyone who attended and picked up my comics and stories. Also shoutout to organizer Gary and the Northeast Comic Con staff.

This show closes out my 2018 convention season. Now comes the snow, the ice, the holidays, and raising the flame on a bubbling cauldron of content to serve up to you all in 2019 and beyond. 😎🍲

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So I have a piece in “Pros and (Comic) Cons” from Dark Horse Comics!

 

So. See that cover? See those names? Brian Michael Bendis. Kieron Gillen. Jim Zub. Amy Chu. And more!

That’s me. I’m the “and more!” !!!

I’m very excited to announce that I have an essay/prose piece in this tremendous looking anthology project, helmed by editor Hope Nicholson and coming to comic shops and bookstores everywhere from Dark Horse Comics.

I’m beyond honored to be contributing to this book and super grateful for the opportunity to share my little story about what’s it’s like being a writer in Artist’s Alley at comic conventions (hint- it’s weird).

Pros and (Comic) Cons is set to debut in May 2019. Check back here for updates, and check out the announcement coverage below:

Paste Magazine: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/10/dark-horse-announces-pros-and-comic-cons-anthology.html

Dark Horse Comics: https://www.darkhorse.com/Blog/2811/explore-pros-and-cons-being-pro-comic-cons

The Hollywood Reporter: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/pros-comic-cons-anthology-explains-truth-behind-comic-con-myths-1156426

Comiccon.com: http://www.comicon.com/2018/10/30/dark-horse-and-hope-nicholson-reveal-stories-of-con-life-in-pros-and-comic-cons-anthology/

The Beat: http://www.comicsbeat.com/bendis-gillen-grace-among-contributors-to-pros-and-comic-cons-anthology/

 

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Famous Monsters of Filmland 290

I have two feature articles in this year’s edition of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine!

It’s a huge honor to contribute to this legendary magazine. I covered John Carpenter’s incendiary THEY LIVE for its 30th anniversary (spoiler alert- it’s as relevant today as ever!) and also the 35th anniversary of a small independent picture called RETURN OF THE JEDI.

Thanks to editor Holly Interlandi and the whole team out there in California for having this New Englander take part. They’ve really put together an awesome collectible digest that’s sure to please monster and movie lovers.

You can check your local comic shop for a copy (here’s the Previews listing, your shop might be able to order one for you via this if they don’t have any in stock), or your favorite bookstore like Barnes and Noble. You can also order directly from the Famous Monsters folks themselves, and I’ll aim to have a few copies added to my store as well.

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A Big OI’ Update: Cons, Crisis Vector, Podcasts, and more!

Hey! It’s been a busy few weeks here in Radvonland. Here’s a super quick recap:

  • Crisis Vector #1 and Crisis Vector #2 both exist!
  • Crisis Vector #1 was featured as the Pick of the Week on the New Number One podcast!
  • I’m making good progress on Crisis Vector #3. The book is mapped out and beginning to take concrete form
  • I’ve got an entirely new IP cooking!
  • Something involving a card game is underway
  • I went to a first-year convention up in Nashua, New Hampshire
  • I celebrated 13(!) years with Jessika!
  • Radical Visions Facebook Page

All that, plus, like, normal life, which is boring and hard. We’ll skip that.

Crisis Vector #1 and #2 Available Now

Both Crisis Vector #1 and #2 are 100% complete, printed, and exist in this crazy world! For reasons that I can’t even really understand, I put both of these books into production at the same time, like Richard Donner filming Superman 1 and 2 at once. It was nuts. I know that’s not the most nuanced explanation of the process, but it’s accurate. It was like juggling two balls on fire while riding a unicycle and dodging a rabid bear, but that’s all past now. Now we breathe. We reflect. We shill.

This was a big project to pull together. Issue 1 is 24 pages, full color, no ads. Issue 2 is even longer, clocking in at 28 pages. My goal was to amp up production value as much as I possibly could, and that includes first and foremost the artwork from Samir Simao (#1) and Ross Taylor(#2), and also the ever-professional lettering and design work of Micah Myers (both issues). The end result is something that I’m proud of– you’ll be hard pressed to find an indie comic that looks or feels better, and from a production standpoint this project sits on the shelf next to the latest Image book without issue. And it was all done independently. Get your copies of both issues here:

Crisis Vector #1

Crisis Vector #2   

Crisis Vector #1 earns “Pick of the Week” from New Number One Podcast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crisis Vector #1 was recently featured on Pierce Lydon’s excellent podcast New Number One. When Pierce invited me to submit Crisis Vector #1 to the show, I was excited…and more than a little bit nervous! Pierce is a veteran comic journalist who writes for Newsarama and brings a ton of knowledge about the art, craft, and world of comics to the table. I was truly surprised and honored to have our lil’ indie book not only reviewed alongside books from top-tier publishers, but also earn the coveted Pick of the Week designation. Listen to the podcast via the link below, and be sure to subscribe if you enjoy thoughtful and informed comic reviews.

New Number One Podcast – Episode 2- The Eternal Flow of the River of Time

Crisis Vector #3 is underway

The third and final issue of Crisis Vector is in production. The core story has been bouncing around since before I finished #1 and #2. Unlike the first two scripts, which basically fell out of the ether onto the page, #3 has been more deliberative. The beats are all laid out, start to finish, but I keep tinkering with each section, experimenting and reforming. The main thing is, I don’t want the compiled Crisis Vector TPB collection on the shelf and find that it’s missing the heart that was the inspiration for telling this story all along. So I’m spending a bit more time, now that I’ve let it all hang out in #1 and #2, to make sure I’m putting some soul into the panels of #3. I’m excited for you all to see the final version in the months ahead.

New IP – A Superhero!

After stories about black magic phone apps, talking space ghosts, and the Saturday morning cartoon explosion of Crisis Vector, the time has finally come– a Radical Visions superhero! The right blend of ideas came to me and the time feels right. Stay tuned for more soon.

Card game in the works. Wanna battle?

I’ve outlined a 100 card set to tie into Crisis Vector. The next phase is to experiment with some different gameplay mechanics and figure out what’s fun and also what captures the spirit of the comics. But yeah. Going YuGiOh on this. More things to not sell, whoo!

Southern New Hampshire Comic Bash

I recently attended a first year convention in Nashua, New Hampshire. It was a nice little show in a comfortable hotel setting- no concrete floors or red tape to navigate. I didn’t sell a ton, but it was a lowkey and enjoyable experience. Billy Tucci, the creator of Shi, tabled across from me, and it was cool to think of his explosive success with Shi in the ’90s and how it was independently published. An inspiration when thinking of the future of Radical Visions.

Happy 12+1 Anniversary

13 is unlucky so I’ll say I celebrated my 12+1 anniversary with my wife Jessika. We were crazy kids runnin’ down a dream. Now my hair is grey and my tolerance for humanity is at a nadir, but she hasn’t changed the locks yet! I’m lucky. 🙂

Radical Visions Facebook Page

I just setup a new Radical Visions page on Facebook. Be sure to like and follow for the latest on RV comics and events.

Radical Visions Facebook Page

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