A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Meltdown Comics

Checking Out ‘Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts’

Last week, I had a chance to see the new documentary film Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts in its Los Angeles premiere screening at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. This is the second movie — I have to resist my tendency to call any movie a “film,” because very few of them are made with it anymore — from the Sequart Research and Literacy Organization, publishers of such fine tomes as my own Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen (buy it now!). Their previous film, Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, was a bona-fide hit with comics fans and got a lot of attention in the mainstream press and was screened at conventions and film festivals. The Ellis version is made by the same filmmakers, headed up by director and film editor Patrick Meaney and d.p. Jordan Rennert — both of whom attended this L.A. premiere screening.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

Like the Morrison doc, Captured Ghosts is an engaging portrayal of the writer behind such huge comic book hits as Transmetropolitan, Planetary, StormWatch, The Authority, Global Frequency, Red, NextWave, Doktor Sleepless, Ministry of Space, Ocean, Desolation Jones, Strange Kiss, Bad World and FreakAngels. The film follows a typical path of starting at the beginning and detailing Ellis’ life from childhood through to becoming a writer and his extensive impact on the industry. Meaney and his crew do a great job of keeping a movie that is probably 95 percent talking heads moving at a fast and entertaining clip. There is a lot of ground to cover in this movie because Ellis is the most influential writer of comics since Chris Claremont (more on him in a bit).

I first came across Ellis’ work on Transmetropolitan, of which I picked up the first three issues after seeing some good reviews online in the ancient internet days of 1997. It instantly became my favorite series of the moment — due in no small part to the lead character being a kick-ass journo — and set off a bit of Ellis-mania. When the one-two punch of Authority and Planetary hit in 1999, Ellis had definitely arrived and the rest has been, as they say history. Though his presence in mainstream comics has dwindled in recent years — mostly by his choice to work with a publisher like Avatar that will allow him do anything he wants without the interference that working on Marvel or DC properties entails — he’s still one of the most popular and well-known writers in comics.

The movie has a slightly different approach than Talking With Gods, as Ellis himself is self-deprecating and even humble when talking seriously about his work and its impact. A lot of the portrait comes through from the interviews with writers and artists and editors he’s worked with over the years. Many of those tales are quite sweet and touching, most notably the story of how Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick first met on the old Warren Ellis Forum, began dating and now are married with two children.

The many interviews — Meaney says he did about 50 of them for the movie — is a who’s who of comic book creators and other celebrities, and runs a huge gamut from Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, John Cassaday and Joss Whedon, to Wil Wheaton, Patton Oswalt and Helen Mirren, who starred in the movie adaptation of Red and is from the same town in England as Ellis. The pacing manages to keep it all very entertaining and packs in a lot of information. It’s clear from all this that Ellis is much-admired as a writer and valued as a friend.

For those who know Ellis’ biography and bibliography, there’s not a ton of new information save for some details on Ellis’ life prior to his breaking into comics writing and some neat bits on Ellis’ reputation among serious futurists. And there’s not much information that puts his accomplishments into perspective, especially for non comics readers. It’s all a bit jumbled and even though you come out of it feeling entertained, it’s still not really clear from the film why what Ellis has done is of such note.

And it’s a problem compounded for viewers not familiar with Ellis, his comics work or the comic book industry in general. One Variety colleague of mine said the film was “interminable” for non-comics folks and a far cry from Terry Zwigoff’s classic Crumb. I can’t disagree on that point, but I also don’t think this movie is made for anyone other than fans of Ellis and his books who want to know more about both subjects. And as such, it’s a success, and a film well worth checking out.

In the Q and A after the screening Meaney and Rennert said they had interviewed Ellis in two day-long sessions a year apart. They shot at a Holiday Inn in England near Ellis’ home because it is the only hotel in the area that has a room that could accommodate Ellis’ cigarette habit. The bulk of the interviews were done in the intervening year, and the film cost about $10,000 to make, with much of the donations coming from Kickstarter.

To see the film, head over here and scroll down for a list of upcoming screenings or here to pre-order the movie on DVD; it’s due out in February.

Which is about as natural a segue as there is to mention Meaney’s next project, a shorter documentary on Claremont’s run as X-Men writer from 1975-1991. (The project has reached its funding goal on Kickstarter, which is good news.) The project is called Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men and will include a round-table discussion between Claremont and his former X-Men editors Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson in its 45-minute run time. It looks like a great project, and I look forward to seeing it when it comes out.

Check out this cool early look at the project:

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 4

I don’t have nearly enough books in the category that this post covers: Books about the art and lives of specific artists. I think there are a lot more out there, but for some reason I don’t have as many of them as I thought I might.

I’ll start with The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, which I bought at a convention directly from the publisher and it was an autographed copy. I only met Carmine once, and it was at a convention and I simply said how much I had enjoyed his art on the old Marvel Star Wars series. That series was the one that got me reading comics and I had, as a kid, mixed feelings about the art. First, the comic was a lot better as soon as Infantino came aboard with writer Archie Goodwin. The stories were cool, fun to read, easy on the eyes and had some very clear storytelling. On the downside, none of the characters in the comic looked like the actors from the movie. That part bugged me enough — especially after seeing the bang-up job Mike Vosberg did on Star Wars Annual #1 — to write a letter to Marvel about it. All of which digresses from this book, which is an amiable recounting of Carmine’s career as he remembers it. That’s both a good and bad approach — there’s lots of good little anecdotes and plenty of cool artwork throughout the book, but there’s not much criticism. That leaves a few areas of comics history — especially during Infantino’s tenure as top editor at DC Comics during the late 1960s and early 1970s — no closer to any kind of definitive history than we were before. Still, fans of Infantino’s artwork should get a real kick out of this volume.

Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier is a very solid and enjoyable read that attempts to cover the life and work of Jack Kirby in a single volume. Given the sheer amount of writing that Kirby’s generated over the years, it’s obviously not going to be possible for any such book to cover every single thing Kirby did in the detail his fans would like. (For that, I always understood Evanier also was working on a much more detailed biography of Kirby that, I assume, will be published at some point in the future.) But this is a very solid account of Kirby, packed full of his amazing artwork and photos and well worth the time of die-hard and casual fans alike.

If you can’t get enough Kirby, then there is always The Collected Jack Kirby Collector. I have four volumes of this series, and expect a few more have come out I don’t own. These are terrific for getting into not just the specifics of Kirby’s career, but also his impact on the field and fans. The articles range from scholarly examinations of Kirby’s work to vintage interviews the artist gave over the years to recollections from people who either worked with Kirby or were just huge fans of his. Each volume also is generously illustrated with Kirby art, often photocopies of his original pencils. Reading this much about a single artist can be a bit overwhelming, so I read through these somewhat slowly, taking my time between stints to avoid Kirby burnout.

Mythology: The DC Comics art of Alex Ross is a beautiful art book packed full of Ross’ amazing paintings. No one really captures a sense of how classic superheroes would look in the real world quite the same way Ross does, with his extensive use of models, photo reference and an amazing talent for producing finished art that looks photographic. I think in a lot of ways, Ross’ art is better suited to being displayed in this kind of glossy format than in actual comic book stories, where painted art can slow down the reading process because it demands to be looked at. I bought my edition at a signing Ross did to promote its release a number of years ago at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. Putting on my Variety hat, I asked him what his favorite comic-book movie was. His answer: RoboCop.

Tim Sale: Black and White is a lovely art book produced by Richard Starkings’ Active Images. Printed in stark black and white on glossy paper, this book really shows off Sale’s atmospheric art to great advantage. The dark, inky pages are easy to get lost in, and there’s a career retrospective interview in there to boot. I think this particular book was released around the time Sale’s art was making a big impact on the TV series Heroes, back in its first season when it was quite the hot property.

Last on this list (for now) is Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens. This was a gift I received from a fellow comics fan on my 40th birthday and really loved digging in to. I had long known Stevens’ work from various pin-ups and, of course, The Rocketeer. But this books goes a lot deeper and shows some of his contributions to many other projects, including such great films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the long-form music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It is a satisfying portrait of the artist, written mostly as autobiography but, unfortunately, finished by other hands after Stevens died from cancer a few years back.

One other volume that springs to mind is another TwoMorrows project, the Modern Masters series. I picked up the John Byrne volume at least in part because of some of the sketches from Byrne’s days at Charlton and later on X-Men. I also was pleasantly surprised to read Byrne talking about his days as a kid in Edmonton, Alberta, which is my hometown, and recognizing a couple of the places he described. In particular, I remember the newsstand at the downtown Eaton’s department story, which was right inside the front door and well-stocked with magazines, newspapers and paperbacks, though not too many comics by the time my teen-age collecting years kicked in. I also enjoyed Byrne’s brief recollection of Mike’s, a famous newsstand on Jasper Avenue that always had several spinner racks stuffed full of comics. I once made my father trudge over there on his way home from work to pick me up a copy of Star Wars #1 that I had seen there the day before but not had the 35 cents to pay for at the time. Here’s a story on Mike’s, which went out of business just a few months before my family moved to the States, complete with a photo of its distinctive neon sign.

I think I have one more post for this series, this one on comic book movies, including my own tome, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen.

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