Kool Kats of the Week: WOLVERTON Co-Writers Michael Stark and Terrell T. Garrett Get Adventurous in Turn of the Century London Where the Science of H.G. Wells Goes Head to Head with the Mysterious

Posted on: Jun 13th, 2017 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Michael Stark, former screenwriter for Disney and Universal Pictures and current purveyor of rare horror and sci-fi books (Burnt Biscuit Books) “in the shadows of Pinewood Studios,” and Terrell T. Garrett, screenwriter, reside south of the Atlanta Airport, a.k.a. “Hillbilly Hollywood.” Having written several screenplays together, they decided to take an artistic leap and are currently in the process of producing their first comic, “WOLVERTON: THIEF OF IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS, along with artist Derek Rodenbeck. Initially slated for the big screen but not quite making it past Hollywood’s current aversion to original works, WOLVERTON was revived as a self-published comic book and labor of love for Stark and Garrett. This action-packed story entangles Jack Wolverton, gentleman thief, within a wicked supernatural web, and “Only he can save the world’s most powerful artifacts from getting into the wrong hands.” While their tale takes place in turn of the century London and Wolverton holds H.G. Wells’ science in high esteem, as opposed to the superstition-riddled occultish general population, “Wolverton isn’t exactly steampunk,” tweeted Stark. “He’s more Schvitz Punk!” The premier issue is finished, however, Stark and Garrett made a decision to add four previously cut pages back in before it goes to the printers, so all you retro-fabulous turn of the century comic-loving kiddies will have more action-packed goodness when it hits the shelves!

Stark and Garrett’s home-grown labor of love is being crowd-funded by a Kickstarter campaign, in part to cover printing costs (28 full-color pages with a 5000 copy run!), but also to put feelers out to gauge interest in their project. They are offering many enticing perks for backers, including digital and hard copies, exclusive signed prints and the chance for a few lucky folks to get drawn and/or written into the action. So come on out and be a part of WOLVERTON history and snatch up an adventurous perk or two via the Kickstarter campaign available through July 6! Check out the full range of rewards here!

ATLRetro caught up with Michael Stark and Terrell T. Garrett to gab a bit about their upcoming comic,  writing for the Hollywood machine; and why going with crowd-funding made sense for this project. While you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A, why not take a peek at the teaser trailer and a wee history of WOLVERTON here.

ATLRetro: How did you and your co-writer, Terrell T. Garrett, come up with the idea of “Wolverton?” What inspired the tale and why set the story in turn of the century London?

Michael: I had an old script about a gentleman thief that I pitched to Sean Connery’s company before he did ENTRAPMENT. I wanted to dust it off, but Terrell yawned, finding the trope a bit old-fashioned. So, out of the blue I blurted out: “What if we set it in Edwardian England and he only stole magical objects like the Monkey’s paw?” Suddenly, my writing partner leaned in, very interested, and we knew we had a great idea.

(l-r) Co-Writers Terrell T. Garrett and Michael Stark

Can you tell our readers a little about the creative team behind WOLVERTON?

Michael: I was making a good living writing in Hollywood in the ’90s without actually having anything produced. Those days have changed. The new normal is free options and free rewrites which is why I started looking at trying a different format. Our artist, Derek Rodenbeck, was an army vet whose testimony of overcoming great tragedy with his art really moved us. We think we found a very talented, young man.

Terrell:  I’m currently adapting Alistair MacLean‘s novel, FEAR IS THE KEY, for the big screen. In fact, most of the stuff I’ve written has been in the screenplay format except for a few short stories here and there and a novel that I’m working on at a glacial pace. I’m also a new father.

What is it about the “gentleman thief” trope that inspires you to create a character like Jack Wolverton?

Michael: We were getting known in Hollywood for writing wild set pieces.  I wanted to do something that mixed action with the wit and sophistication of a Preston Sturges or an Ernst Lubitch film. The Gentleman Thief trope fit both worlds perfectly.

We see that you and Garrett worked together on several screenplays, and that you’ve optioned a few to Universal and Disney. Comics and film are similar in that they both rely on dialogue, action and visuals to deliver an awe-inspiring story. As a screenwriter and now a comic book writer, what would you say are the biggest differences between the two, and the challenges of each?

Artist Derek Rodenbeck

Michael: I thought it would be pretty easy to transpose the script into comic book format. I was dead wrong! Especially because modern comic books like modern screenplays have far less text in ‘em than when I was a kid. So, even after we basically locked the book, I’m still calling the letterer and asking if we can fit in a new bit.

Can you tell our readers what drew you to screenwriting, and who would you say are your most inspirational screenwriters/films?

Michael: Thank God for PBS in the 70s.  I saw a Francois Truffaut and Luis Bunuel film festival when I was 10 years old and knew then I wanted to be a screenwriter. Not a director ’cause I looked lousy in jodhpurs. At NYU, I mentored under three Academy winning screenwriters: Ring Lardner JR (MASH, WOMAN OF THE YEAR), Waldo Salt (MIDNIGHT COWBOY, SERPICO) and Ian Hunter, who could tear apart and fix just about anything.

Terrell: I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I saw JURASSIC PARK when I was 14 years old. Something about the collective awe in the theater and seeing all the names in the credits made me realize I wanted to be a part of the movie magic. My favorite screenwriters and filmmakers who inspire me are Walter Hill (ALIEN franchise), James Cameron, Jane Goldman (KICK-ASS), Frank Darabont (THE MIST), Dan Gilroy (NIGHTCRAWLER), Joe Carnahan (THE GREY), Bryan Fuller (HANNIBAL TV series), Jon Spaihts (DOCTOR STRANGE, PROMETHEUS) and Diablo Cody (JUNO).

Of course we have to know, as a native Long Islander, what made you fly south, and what is it about Atlanta that’s kept you around for so long?

Michael: That is a very long and surreal story, but basically I was given a month to live a decade ago and went on a spiritual journey that ended up with this nice, Jewish kid from Long Island becoming a minister in a small, rural GA church. That of course would make a good screenplay, but I strictly believe in never writing about your own life. Oh, yeah, I didn’t die BTW.

Most kids (and now adults, as the guilty pleasure no longer carries the negative geek stigma) can’t wait to get their grubby little hands on the coolest of the cool comics. What comics were your favorite growing up and what are your favorites now?

Terrell:  I grew up reading Chris Claremont X-MEN comics and the ’90s issues of THE NEW MUTANTS. PREACHER and Neil Gaiman‘s SANDMAN blew my teenage mind. These days, I’m enjoying Alan Moore‘s PROVIDENCE, Brian K. Vaughan‘s SAGA and Matt Fraction‘s ODY-C.

MichaelTeam Marvel and mind warping EC reprints. Now anything by Alan Moore.

WOLVERTON began as an original screenplay and was then regenerated into a comic book. Can you tell us a little about that process and whether seeing it drawn on the page in color helps visualize how it will look on the big screen?

Michael: The screenplay was a director’s wet dream with action scenes that were beyond hyper kinetic. Derek did a great job capturing that energy on the page. Even Wolverton’s hair is constantly in motion.

Any plans to take the tale back to Hollywood after its success as a comic book?

Michael: Well, there was just a huge bidding war over a friend’s graphic novel, so, yes! Hollywood is more interested in acquiring existing material than original screenplays. Maybe they’ll come to us this time if the comic book is successful.

Why a Kickstarter campaign for WOLVERTON? What are the advantages of taking the crowd-sourcing route?

Terrell: We chose Kickstarter because it just felt logical. A lot of creatives have used the crowd-sourcing platform and have found success, especially in the realm of comics. We figured it was worth a shot. Not only to hopefully cover the cost of printing, but to see if people would be interested in our little story.

You’ve put together some great bonuses for investors, ranging from digital and hard copies to exclusive signed prints and the chance to get drawn into the action (Exciting!). What can folks looking to invest via Kickstarter expect to get when they back your comic?

Terrell: Backers can, firstly, expect a fun adventure story full of cool visuals, sparking dialogue and great characters.  Secondly, for the backers who dish out a little extra, they can expect to see their likeness or the name of their business in comic book form or own exciting and original artwork. Thirdly, they can know that they invested in a story with little risk, and have contributed to the dream of a brand new father.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Terrell:  Nonfiction Book: MIND HUNTER: INSIDE THE FBI’S ELITE SERIAL CRIME UNIT by John E. Douglas. Podcast: LIMETOWN. Podcast: THE BLACK TAPES. Science Fiction Book: RED RISING by Pierce Brown. Novella: “Agents of Dreamland” by Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Michael: I’m cycling through John Ford westerns and Jeeves and Wooster books at the moment. I’m not sure what I’ll spit out after that combo meal. Although, Terrell and I already wrote a script about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Victorian London.  That may be our next comic book.

Any advice for writers and/or artists out there on putting together and publishing their own comic books?

Terrell:  Treat the artist as your collaborator. Be patient with the process. Never give up.

Michael: Who knew sticking it to the man – the man being Hollywood – would be so damn expensive. Many people I went to film school with are now editors at Marvel and DC. Some even started their own publishing companies. I knew if I asked for their advice, they’d probably talk me out of it and I didn’t want to be talked out of it.

Getting back to why we’re here chatting you up, WOLVERTON, and the comic book’s Kickstarter campaign! Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers a little about the comic?

Michael:  Here’s how we pitched it to Hollywood. In turn of the century London, Jack Wolverton, gentleman thief, specializes in stealing the arcane, the accursed and the occult. With war about to break out, only he can stop the world’s most powerful artifacts (The Monkey’s Paw, The Hope Diamond and the Portrait of Dorian Gray) from falling into the wrong hands! Think Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

And last but not least, how many issues are planned and how can our readers snag up their very own copies?

Michael: We are printing up 5,000 copies and you can get a copy before anyone on the planet does by backing us now. If the ship carrying them through the high China Seas isn’t attacked by pirates, expect a summer release.

All photos courtesy of Michael Stark and Terrell T. Garrett and used with permission.

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Walker Stalker Convention Shambles Into Atlanta To Eat Your Brains!

Posted on: Oct 30th, 2013 By:

By Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

Fans of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, rejoice; most of the show’s cast descends on Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel and America’s Mart this weekend for the Walker Stalker Convention. The highly rated show based on Robert Kirkman’s award winning comic book series of the same name lenses just down the road in Senoia, Georgia.

Cast members Andrew Lincoln, who plays series hero Rick Grimes, and Norman Reedus – breakout post-apocalyptic heartthrob Daryl Dixon – will appear to meet fans, sign autographs and pose for photos (the last two for an additional fee). Also appearing are THE WALKING DEAD producer and makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero, and series stars Laurie Holden, Lauren Cohan, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, Steven Yuen, Chandler Riggs, Sonequa Martin-Green, Sarah Wayne Callies, Scott Wilson, Irone Singleton, Chad L. Coleman and Emily Kinney, who is also performing in concert Saturday night. Other cast members are also scheduled to appear, see the website for a full listing.

In addition, actors from BREAKING BAD, GREMLINS, FRIDAY THE 13TH and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and makeup effects artists from the Syfy Channel’s FACE OFF will be on hand. The convention ALSO features a large vendor’s room as well as panels and talks given by the guests, and evening activities including a Zombie Bash Party Saturday night.

Founded by Eric Nordhoff and James Frazier of the Walker Stalker podcast, the convention began life in a Kickstarter funding campaign in June, which raised $16,782.00.  Though the podcasters are based in Nashville, Atlanta was the only city where the convention could take place; the availability of the actors to appear depended on their proximity to the venue. With almost everyone in town for production of the shows’ fourth season, Walker Stalker Convention was go. The pair has said that they expect as many as 10,000 attendees for the convention.

Cable television’s AMC network recently announced plans for a spin-off series for 2015 and renewed THE WALKING DEAD for its fifth season.

Walker Stalker Con takes place Fri-Sun, November 1-3, at Americas Mart at 240 Peachtree St NW #2200, Atlanta. Hours are 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm Friday, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm Saturday, and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Sunday. Tickets are available online or at the door.

Anthony Taylor is a writer and an expert on retro-futurism, classic science fiction and horror films and television, and genre collectibles. He is the author of ARCTIC ADVENTURE!, an official Thunderbirds™ novel based on the iconic British television series by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. His website is http://Taylorcosm.com.

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The Engines of James O’Barr’s Art: On Returning to The Crow, Heading to Atlanta for Days of the Dead, BLADE RUNNER, Robert Mitchum and His Latest Pin-Up Passion

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

The cover to issue #1 of THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR, a six-part comics series which marks James O'Barr's return to his most famous creation. Used with permission.

At the Days of the Dead convention this weekend at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel downtown, horror fans can meet and collect autographs from a rogues’ gallery of actors from a DEVIL’S REJECTS/HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES cast reunions to Butch Patrick, the former child star who played Eddie Munster. Or they can visit the table of artist James O’Barr and pick up an exclusive signed print, preview original artwork from James’ first return to THE CROW in 20 years, and muse about art, favorite movies and the Retro glory days when Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, full of curves and class, ruled the silver screen.

While quite a few comics creators delve into the darkness, James is one of a handful who cross mediums and regularly attends horror cons as often as comics gatherings. But that’s not the most surprising thing about him. First published by Caliber in the early 90s, then reprinted and completed by Tundra Publishing and recently picked up by IDW, The Crow’s revenge saga was inspired by James’ own tragic loss of a lover. It gained an even more mythic status among fans when Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died due to an accident on the set of the movie based on the comic. So as the creator of a vigilante antihero with an androgynous mimelike visage and Gothic black hair, James might be expected to be as tough as nails as his own hero Robert Mitchum or as dark and brooding as Trent Reznor.  But anyone who’s met the artist knows that while he’s weathered his share of adversity amplified by years living in crime-ridden Detroit and dwells creatively in the realm of the dark phantastique, James has also come through the other side. He has emerged surprisingly soft-spoken and even with a signature joie de vivre. His most common public demeanor is a smile and a wisecrack, probably more than a little politically incorrect.

ATLRetro spent a couple of hours on the phone with James this week to find out more about what he’ll be doing and displaying at Days of the Dead, as well as what it’s like to be back drawing The Crow after all these years. And yeah, we couldn’t help but ask about his own influences from Will Eisner to Bernie Wrightson, mural painting with Mark Bode, his take on the BLADE RUNNER prequel, what makes Robert Mitchum still so unmatched among men, and find out his current Retro pin-up crush.

ATLRetro: You’re one of the few comics artists who regularly does horror media cons as well. What sets the comic and horror con experience apart for you?

James O’Barr: I am one of the fortunate ones that has a crossover audience since I had a film made of my comics. I don’t consider it a horror film, but it does get grouped in. There’s a lot of surface differences between the different crowds, but in reality they are kind of the same thing – groups of fans all broken up into little subgenres. At a comics show, some guys are just there for the super-heroes and others hate super-heroes. At a horror show, some people are into slasher movies. Other people hate them and love the classic Hammer Films. It’s the same animal but just from a different continent.

Will you be have any new work or prints for sale at Days?

Yeah, every time I do a show, I do a handful of prints, maybe 20 of each that you can only get from me and only at that show. That way the fans have something special that no one else has anywhere else in the US. I have so much material that it’s not difficult for me to pick a new image for each con.

Are you doing any panels or demonstrations at Days, or more body-painting like you did at the dooGallery during DragonCon?

I don’t think I have anything officially scheduled. But the body-painting will be at the show, and I volunteered to paint some more half-naked girls because I had a lot of fun doing that last time. I’ve only done it three times, and it’s a learning process. I’m getting better each time. Body-painting is difficult because it’s like painting with makeup, and it has entirely different textures than paint or ink, plus you’re not dealing with a flat surface. It does make a difference because I when I painted Frankenstein or Dracula on a girl’s back the last time I was there, I had to take into account the arch of her back so it didn’t look like he didn’t have a chin. It’s like Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel where he had to elongate the figures so they would look correct from the floor.

What’s the craziest thing a fan ever did to get your attention at a con?

Just the typical like a woman showing me their tits and people just trying to shock me. I’m not easily shocked. Mostly my fans are very kind and gracious and very polite. I have the greatest fans in world who have stuck with me for 25 years, and because of them, I get to do what I love for a living. So I’m very appreciative.

You’ve said that you wanted to work with Jim Terry (the artist on THE CROW:SKINNING THE WOLVES, the recently released three-issue IDW miniseries set in a Nazi concentration camp) because you liked his “Eisneresque style.” How much of an influence was Will Eisner on your own work and wanting to get into comics?

Will Eisner was a huge influence on me. It was by studying old SPIRIT stories that I learned actual storytelling. Then it suddenly dawned on me that he was taking film techniques and applying them to comics, and no one had ever done that before. So I pretty much took that basic premise, using film techniques in comics for lighting set-ups and camera angles, and I push that as far as I can into comics. As much as movies and comics have in common with each other, they also have so much uncommon or ‘discommon’ between them as well. In comics, you can’t control the timing like you can in a film, but you can slow down the pace of a page by making someone spend more time by putting more images on it. Another huge drawback is lack of sound. You don’t have a soundtrack to accentuate the emotions portrayed in the image. You don’t have the voices of the actors, and you don’t have sound effects, so you have to rely on the reader to supply those in their head. But like I said, it can also be a plus. What’s there is only what you put there, but an actor could spoil a scene or music could spoil a scene or a bad sound effect could spoil a scene. I am one of the few artists who does employ sound effects. If someone fires a gun in my comic, there’s a big boom sound effect. To me, supplying sound effects is an essential part of comics. It’s one of the charms of comics, I think.

If you had to pick five classic comics artist greats to recommend to a new reader, who would they be?

Will Eisner. Harvey Kurtzman. Jordi Bernet is not well-known in the US. He’s from old Milton Caniff (TERRY AND THE PIRATES, STEVE CANYON) school – lot of brushwork and shadows. IDW is reprinting his TORPEDO series about gangsters in the 1930s. There are so many. Bernie Wrightson was a huge influence on me. The way I look at it, Will Eisner showed me how to tell the story, but Berni Wrightson showed me how to light the scene for the most dramatic effect. And probably Dave Sim for teaching me how to include dialogue and sound effects into the artwork to where they are essential, which is why I like Dave Sim.

I still hand-letter all of my comics on the actual artwork. Since we’re talking Retro, I might as well point out I don’t use computers for anything. Everything is ink on papr or paint on paper. Nothing is photoshopped. Even my titles are hand-drawn on artwork – which is a pain because lettering is not my forte. I can do balloons, but with a three-inch font, I inevitably fuck it up. But that’s part of charm of hand-lettering. It’s not a perfect font pulled off a computer. It’s not that I have disregard for PhotoShop and those tools. I see people like Jon Foster who do great artwork with them Looking at his work, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t oil-painted or acrylics, but to me, using a mouse or a keyboard or a tablet would just drain all the fun out of comics. I love draging a brush across a blank page. For me, that’s the joy of creating comics. I sit down with a blank sheet of paper, and everything is my choice. And it has to be the right choice because there is no undo. This may make me a more confident artist than those who use computers. I don’t redo. I know what I want before I sit down.

Mark Bode's and James O'Barr's mural tribute to Frank Frazetta at Clarion Alley in San Francisco.

Do you have any more mural work planned with Mark Bode, and how does working with a spray can on a wall compare to a paintbrush on a canvas?

Every time I see Mark, usually once or twice a year, we plan on doing something. The only difficult thing is San Francisco is finding a place to do it and deciding what we’re going to do. But the four we have done have gotten progressively better. I posted some pictures of the Frank Frazetta one on the Internet, and people thought it was the original, so we’ve gotten really good at it. They all have been tributes to our artistic heroes who have passed away –  Moebius, Jeff Jones and Frazetta. I’m going to be up there later this year, and we’re hoping to do a Jack Kirby one which will be a lot of fun — to do that hyper-stylized Kirby line. The main difficulty is not necessarily working with a spray can but it’s working that large. The shortest was like 20 feet tall, so it involves being up on a ladder and drawing, and it’s hard to tell if something is in proportion without stepping back off ladder and walkg back 20 feet. Mark and I are really good about trading off with one of us painting and the other watching. He taught me everything I know about graffiti art, even though I still do more artistic things rather than scribbles or tags. I have no idea what they say. I would rather do Monet’s waterlilies 20 feet tall than put a line of poetry up there that is so stylized that the lettering is illegible. I like mural work. It’s free, outside and for the public. It’s transient because it will only be there for a certain amount of time. And it’s been great to introduce certain artists, like Jeff Jones, to people who may not have ever heard of them before.

What has the reaction been to the return of THE CROW published by IDW?

Honestly it’s been mixed. The one I’m doing by myself (THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR) hasn’t come out yet, but I think some people were expecting right off the bat that the first book would be mine. The first series looks very rushed, though it had a nice script by John Shirley. THE CROW: SKINNING THE WOLVES book has done phenomenally well. The first two issues sold out, and it’s in its second printing, and I think that’s because I was involved. It sticks rather closely to the kind of thing I do even though Jim Terry was responsible for the artwork.

From the original THE CROW series by James O'Barr.

THE CROW: THE ENGINES OF DESPAIR will be six issues. I’m finishing up the third issue, but I didn’t want them to solicit until the third was done because didn’t want there to be any lags between issues. I wanted them out on a regular basis because it’s continuing story. I have to say I am more than happy with the work I’ve done on it so far. It’s far and above the best thing I’ve ever done. I have definitely learned my craft over the last two decades. With the first CROW book, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I just sat down and let things flow out of me. There are lots of flaws in that book, but I think the love and passion which I put into that work is what made the public love it and kept it in print for 25 years. But there were things in that book that I avoided because I didn’t have the skills to do them. With his book now, if I can think of it, I can draw it. It’s not a struggle at all. With every page, I set a challenge for me. How can I make it more difficult and learn something from this page. Without exception, 60-something pages into it, I’m delighted with every page.

Will it be in black and white like the original CROW or in color this time? And can you reveal anything about the story? 

At the beginning, IDW kind of strong-armed me a little bit, saying they wanted it in color. I said it’s my project and it’s a CROW book, and I think it should be in black and white – or at least the ones I do should be. For me, it adds a certain otherworldly aspect to it with hard shadows. Honestly I don’t see it in the coloring I see in comics nowadays. If it was going to be in color, it would have to be handpainted by me, but I am hesitant to do that. However, that being said, I just did 20 black and white pages of this shootout and then in the middle, added an intermission in color – that kind of 1930s technicolor where everything is in brighter, warmer and hotter colors that don’t exist in real life. So that gives it a very dreamlike feel to it. Since I learned all the rules in the last 25 yrs, now I can break them.

Plus after 20 pages of people getting killed, it’s a nice little break for the reader as well. Still even though they are pretty and bright, happy colors, just them having been done by me has sort of a haunting creepy quality about it as well. Also I think it’s kind of funny that it’s a CROW book, but I am 60 pages into it and birds haven’t appeared in it once. I’m using rabbits this time. Not talking rabbits, but they are the animal in it. I think it’s so close in feel and atmosphere to the original book, all on a much higher level of competence, that people don’t even notice there’s not a bird in it. The bird will make a few cameo appearances.

It all looks really amazing, and in this one, the best character is the Skull Cowboy, that never actually appeared in the movie. The death character is with the woman the whole time. It kind of takes the place of the bird. The bunny man. He even scares me when I’m drawing him, probably because he reminds me a lot of myself. He’s very – I don’t want to say evil – but there are no ambidexterous morals in this. He’s frightening, but he’s a smart-ass and he’s lovable as well. It gives the bride a nice alter-ego to play off of.

I don’t want to give too much away, though. I’d rather that you come by the table [at Days of the Dead] and see what I’m doing and decide for yourselves. But I guarantee no one will be disappointed.

James O'Barr gets happy at his convention artist table. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Shifting gears back to some of the pop culture you’re known for being passionate about, as a big BLADE RUNNER fan, how do you feel about Ridley Scott’s announcement that he’s going to go back to and do a prequel after all these years?

BLADE RUNNER was Ridley Scott’s vision so if he wants to go back and play in that universe, I am more than happy to sit in the audience. I will pay my $15. I really liked PROMETHEUS. I think I am one of the few people on the planet who did. I thought it did no disservice to the ALIEN film. I read somewhere he’s going to connect the ALIEN universe and the BLADE RUNNER universe or make references to both taking place at the same time. Somebody told me he read the script to PROMETHEUS 2 and that there were references to replicants in there. I’m a little skeptical about him pulling that off but I would love to see it. I have no idea what he is going to do, but I would love to see how the replicants got to Earth. He throws it all into one sentence — they escaped from an off-world colony. It would be great to see how Roy and Pris escaped from the planet where they were slave labor. I don’t know who could play those parts now, but it’s a really rich universe he created there and a lot was skimmed over the surface. I have a lot of faith in Ridley Scott. He’s made about 20 films and less than a handful have been bad. He needs to stay the fuck away from romantic comedies, though. The one he made with Russell Crowe and [Marion Cotillard] – A GOOD YEAR – that was just horrific, painful. He’s at his best when he’s exploring fantasy and science fiction and – some people probably will hate me but – nobody does epic like Ridley Scott. Even something like KINGDOM OF HEAVEN that’s factually based has more stunning imagery than all three LORD OF THE RINGS movies together.

What’s so great about Robert Mitchum?

He was the last real man, I think. He was a brute and a gentleman and a real life badass. Jason Statham would last about 30 seconds with Robert Mitchum. He just has such a presence. He’s very subtle, and he never, ever plays to the camera. Laurence Olivier could not say a line without turning to the camera and making a face. Robert Mitchum wouldn’t care if his back was to the camera. He was so charismatic, and he was willingness to take on any role. That was endearing to me. He’d play the hero or the bad guy, he didn’t care. He was truly frightening in CAPE FEAR (1962). THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and OUT OF THE PAST (1947) are two films I could just watch any time. I do watch both of them once or twice a year. In fact, I just bought the British release poster for OUT OF THE PAST. It was called BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH in London when it was released. That was the original name of the story.

You’ve often said that you admire the style and shape of the classic actresses and models of days gone by such as Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. Who’s your favorite right now and why?

Right now going through a mild Bettie Page fascination. I purposely avoided the whole Bettie Page parade 10 years ago because I was a little angered and disgusted that all these people were making money off this girl, my artists friends included. So I avoided anything Bettie Page. Just recently I subscribe to those vintage pinup Facebook pages, and I have gotten into appreciation. I see what it’s all about now – all the curves, and there was a really gentle innocence to her, too, where she always looks like she is having fun. I have definitely seen some pictures where I don’t think she had any idea what she was doing, such as the bondage stuff. That’s my least favorite. I love the images of her on the beach. There’s something about her eyes and her smile that is really endearing, and that silly haircut that people are still imitating today. I kind of group her in with Marilyn Monroe. I look at the pictures, and yes, I see all the right curves, but I don’t get aroused looking at them. It’s more endearing and charming to me than anything else. There’s something about both Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe that makes me want to protect them. It makes me want to take on a fatherly role. I have never seen one so I assume it was impossible to take a bad picture of them. There’s some kind of inner beauty there which really transcends the film.

James O'Barr strikes a Mitchum pose. Photo courtesy of James O'Barr.

Given the success of THE CROW franchise, are a lot of fans surprised that you lead a pretty simple life of drawing/painting, writing, watching old movies and hanging out with cats? 

The reality is that I grew up way below the poverty level, and so I have never been comfortable with luxury. It’s not that I don’t think I deserve it, but I don’t need it. Having expensive things does not make me happy. I’ve had a five-bedroom semi-mansion, and invariably I spent all my time in the basement in the dark drawing. There were rooms I never even went in. I like that I lead a very insular disciplined life, and I only bring things in that bring me joy and happiness—books and movies and music and artwork. I don’t need anything else. My cat’s my best friend. He never lies to me. He doesn’t cheat on me. He tries to lie to me. “You didn’t feed me. You didn’t feed me.” “Yes, I did. I did.” Just like dogs, they have unconditional love. My cat is lying on my feet right now. He wants to be close to me. I love dogs, too, but I prefer cats because they’re less needy. I can go away for a weekend, leave cat food, and he will be fine. I definitely like companionship. Being artist or a writer is very solitary. Just to have a little silent partner next to me is very comforting.

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Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 21st, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

BARBARELLA is a special kind of cinematic disaster. A lavish space-opera comedy released in 1968, the most important year in SF cinema since 1951, it had a $9 million budget, making it only modestly less expensive than the same year’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY ($10.5 M) and more expensive than that year’s PLANET OF THE APES ($5.8 M). Meant to celebrate the era’s new found sexual freedom and the changing role of women in society, BARBARELLA is one of those films in which the first five minutes tell you everything you are going to get, as well as promising you all the things it should’ve given us and simply failed to deliver.

The opening image is a lovely array of stars, and hanging within it an improbable and more than slightly feminine-looking space ship. We move in closer until we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit…

Full stop. Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that: “fur-lined cockpit.” You know that whoever came up with that idea was thinking ahead to an exhausted film reviewer of a more innocent age, sometime after midnight hammering out copy and tearing his hair out screaming, “HOW CAN I GET THIS PAST THE EDITORS!”

Jane Fonda as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

OK, so we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit where a space-suited figure floats in a really excellent simulation of zero-gravity (also a simple illusion, the astronaut is filmed from above while lying on a plexiglass platform). The identify is hidden behind a featureless metal helmet. But the material transforms from metal to clear plexiglass (another fine piece of simple FX, the reflective metal is actually a liquid in a space within the helmet’s bowel-like structure. It’s merely drained through the bottom.) revealing the “spaceman” is actually a not-quite-yet-30 Jane Fonda, never looking more beautiful. Her expression not only evokes a potent come-hither sexual promise, but more importantly, pure delight.

The music comes up. The song is deliberately silly (unafraid to rhyme “Barbarella” and “psychedella”) but quite catchy, celebrating the film’s title character’s sex appeal in a way that is far more joyful than crass. Though the film is based on a French comic book, it’s geared to an American audience, so before we hear her name (already legendary across the ocean), the singer compares her to our more familiar Wonder Woman.

Fonda/Barbarella strips off her space suit. It’s a sectional outfit revealing her progressively, teasingly. She is completely naked beneath. The animated titles escape the seams of the garment like venting gasses, swirling around her, protecting her immodestly. Except when they don’t. They keep trying to obscure, but she is happy to reveal. And the wantonness is now more than just promise; she expresses ongoing sexual pleasure (perhaps the caress of the letters?). Finally, wholly naked, she presses a button, tumbles down the luxurious furs, and she clearly is sated.

It’s one of the greatest stripteases in film history.

The next four minutes aren’t half bad either. The dialogue is witty and provides a lot of narrative context without excessive exposition. Barbarella immediately gets a call on her video screen from Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth. Their greet each other by saying “Love,” in what is clearly a political party’s salute.

Barbarella: “Just a minute. I’ll slip something on.”

President: “Don’t trouble yourself, this is an affair of state.”

In short order we learn that Barbarella is a secret agent in a future so perfectly utopian and groovy that she is rendered childlike in her naivete. She is assigned the mission to find an evil scientist named Durand Durand (yeah, that’s where the ’80s band got their name from) and stop him from supplying weapons to primitive peoples and threatening to disrupt the proper social order.

Barbarella (Jane Fonda) strikes a dangerous pose. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Barbarella: “Weapon? Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?…I mean the universe was pacified centuries ago.”

President: “What we know of it…We know nothing of Tau Ceti.”

Barbarella: “You mean they can still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?”

Sweet Barbarella seems only vaguely familiar with the concept of secrets (yeah, I know, she’s supposed to be a “secret agent,” but whatever) and can’t even say the word “war,” but instead babbles absurd multisyllabic euphemisms like “archaic insecurity” and “selfish competition.”

We’re now nine minutes into the film. After this point, there’s not a single Goddamn scene in the film that follows that compares, either in its sexiness, warmth of performances, generosity of humor, playful satire or technical achievement.

So why watch the remaining one and half hours?

I can think of three reasons:

1) The wonderfully creative and over-the-top costumes. Especially Fonda’s, who goes through a wide variety because since she’s constantly undressing, she is therefore constantly redressing.

2) The sets and props, which are even more impressively inventive than the costumes. I especially liked the aforementioned fur lined cock pit, the ice craft, the bird-shaped bird-cage that is the size of a small bus- well, the list goes on. Though the film showed little interest in evoking the title-character as she was presented in Jean-Claude Forest‘s comic strip, they did hire Forest as a consultant on the visuals. As wrote Graeme Clark: “[T]he film-makers’ maxim seems to have been, if it looks cool, if it looks weird, then put it onscreen.” And Gary Morris wrote, “[G]audy, colorful sets, looks like it was shot in the bowels of the Playboy mansion — especially our heroine’s spaceship, with its fur-lined walls that reek of ’60s softcore chic.”

3.) Maybe, deep down in your heart, you hate Jane Fonda, and want to just sit back, watch her flounder, and feel superior.

David Hemmings and Jane Fonda in BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Yes, Fonda has never been more beautiful, but there’s no doubt this is her career worst performance. Despite being charming in the first scene, her performance quickly degrades, as she becomes increasing wide-eyed, vacuous and cold. I have to wonder why she gets worse the farther she gets into the film. I do know it was made in France at the most important transition point in her acting and political career (her follow-up film, the same year, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? earned her first Oscar nomination, and by the time BARBARELLA was released, she’d embraced feminism and thrown her support behind the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island). What I think happened is that in between takes she started listening to the babble of French intellectuals who analyzed the film’s actual content (and I should say, this is a film that shouldn’t be analyzed for content), and they revealed to her some uncomfortable things:

First, the bad guys are led by an arrogant intellectual who insidiously infiltrates and corrupts a primitive culture with the goal of undermining the larger community of peace-loving, wealthy, advanced societies. Meanwhile the good guys, also foreigners, are forced to intervene and also engage in infiltrating and saving the backward indigenous peoples through a nobler, but still newly introduced, ideology, military training and supplying advanced weapons. The good guys turn the indigenous people into a “third force” that will create a society more cooperative to the ideals of more civilized foreign powers. The overarching message is that if you want to preserve universal peace, start a proxy war. It’s almost Robert Heinlein-esque in the way the heroes are “forced” into engaging in foreign interventions. In other words, the movie is pro- the kind of Third Phase Imperialism that led both the USA and the USSR into the Vietnam conflict.

Ugo Tognazzi plays Mark Hand, the heroic Catchman, the guy who introduces Barbarella to the wonders of really good primitive sex. But he also spends most of his day using corporal punishment to discipline nasty, unsupervised, disrespectful children. He then rounds them up so they can be properly indoctrinated into their responsibilities to society. In other words, BARBARELLA the movie hates the youth culture.

And it didn’t like homosexuals much either.

Women are completely objectified, and the heroine is an utter bimbo (which the comic-book heroine was not). Though she does heroic things, she doesn’t have an idea in her head or a goal worth pursuing that wasn’t planted there by an older, dominant male. Also, after arriving on the planet, almost all the “sexy” scenes concern her being captured and tortured. In other words, the movie is amazingly misogynistic right at the dawn of American feminism.

Also, I think even French intellectuals probably thought that director (Fonda’s then-husband) Roger Vadim, was a sleazy creep who was ruining her career with films like this. Vadim’s life reflected the films bizzaro sexual anti-liberation. He was a serial husband with a penchant for woman barely more than half his age and made a habit of trading eachwoman in as soon as responsibility reared its ugly head. Prior to Fonda was Brigitte Bardot (probably the inspiration for the comic book Barabarella in the first place), who was 15 to his 22 and whom he drove to several suicide attempts before their divorce. He left Bardot for the more age- appropriate Annette Stroyberg, but then abandoned her with a two-year-old child for Catherine Deneuve who was 17 to his 33. He was already involved with Fonda during that third marriage – when Fonda and Vadim first met she was 18 to his 27 -and when Vadim abandoned Deneuve, with their two-month-old child, to move in with Fonda she was 26 to his 35. The two would separate not long after BARBARELLA, leaving yet another child too young to walk. During that separation he would get involved with Catherine Schneider who was 26 to his now-44. There would be another two marriages after that.

Fonda would eventually disown the film. At the San Francisco Film Festival in 1994, she was asked “Where was her head?”

“I don’t know – up my armpit, I guess,” she replied. “We all make mistakes. In my case, I keep getting my nose rubbed them.”

Worse still, Fonda turned down the role of Bonnie in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) to do this stinker. Faye Dunaway eventually got that role, and an Oscar nomination. Fonda should’ve listened to Virna Lisi. When Lisi was told to play the part of Barbarella, she terminated her contract with United Artists and returned to Italy.

Jane Fonda changes costumes again as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Episodic in the same way J.R.R. Tolkien’s work was, BARBARELLA lacked the master’s flair for the actual episodes, as well as being completely lacking in forward momentum. It displayed none of Tolkien’s warmth or affection for his characters, and notably Tolkien’s much-maligned female characterization was far better than what we see in this film with a higher percentage of prominent female roles. It wasn’t even close to Tolkien’s capacity to pull the divergent threads of plot into a meaningful climax.

BARBARELLA was panned in its day but has grown into a cult classic. Today, many critics are generous towards it because of its camp value, of which there is a great deal (It’s listed with the “Top 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made” in THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE), but I can’t help but be put off when watching a film that contains much to snicker about, but when it tries to tell an intentional joke, it generally falls terribly flat. Forest’s original comic book was fun, and the movie’s original script was by the great Terry Southern, but later critics seem unanimous that Vadim was more interested in his sexual obsessions than Forest’s swashbuckling adventurism or Southern’s omni-directional satire. As a result, no one in the cast seemed to be having any fun, and lines that really should’ve been been amusing come off stale:

Barbarella: “Make love [in a manner that involves actual physical contact]? But no one’s done that for hundreds of centuries!”

“This is much too poetic a way to die!”

“A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”

Mark Hand: “Are you typical of Earth women?”

Barbarella in a revealing costume made all the more so because it was shredded: “I’m about average.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law, who if anything, a worse actor than Fonda in this movie):

“An angel does not make love, an angel is love.”

“But you’re soft and warm! We’re told that Earth beings are cold.”

And explaining why he saved the evil queen who tortured him: “An angel has no memory.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law) gives Barbarella (Jane Fonda) a ride. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

I will credit one cast member with carrying on like a true soldier. David Hemmings, in an underwritten part as the inept freedom fighter Dildano, was quite good. He offered some hints of what this film could’ve been.

Also very fine was a captivating soundtrack by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox performed by The Glitterhouse which featured Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

Vadim wanted to do a sequel to BARBARELLA, but that dream died with his marriage to Fonda. He then talked about a remake right up to his death, toying with leading ladies like Drew Barrymore. Other directors have expressed interest in the remake project, notably Robert Rodriguez.

In closing, I would like to recommend an exceptionally sophisticated homage to this really dumb film. CQ (2001) written and directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford) takes us back to Paris of the ‘60s where a young American filmmaker, Paul (Jeremy Davies), is trying to made personal art film/love letter to his girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) but all that the honest camera can do is document her depression and resentments. So he gets a job assisting the director of an a cheesy sci-fi that is clearly a better version of BARBARELLA. That film’s director, played by Gerard Depardieu, is turning the project into a complete train wreck because he can’t come up with an ending, but really, can’t cope with the fact that the fantasy of revolution and liberty he creates on film will never translate to the real world. Paul gets drawn into the director’s lunacy through his growing infatuation with the film’s sexy star, played by Angela Lindvall, who remains the same impossible ideal of sexuality and liberty even when Depardieu’s camera is not rolling.

Robert Murphy is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and play with his cats.

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