Popular Culture Collectibles Reviews

Friday, December 18, 2009

St. Johns, Kubert, Texeira And Horley


Recently Vanguard Productions released four new books in its artist’s series.  Before I begin reviewing each book individually I’d like to comment on the books as a whole.
As a graphic designer I know how important it is to choose the right type of paper depending on the type of print product you want to promote.  In the case of art books it’s especially important to choose the right cover and interior stocks.
Vanguard has done an excellent job selecting the stock that best complements and enhances the art in each of its books.  Both the cover and interior pages are of coated stock, yet not so high gloss coated as to be too reflective and detract from the art.
Paper stock also determines ink absorbs ion which is especially important when it comes to text.  Text must be crisp and clean and easy to read.  So is the case in Vanguard’s books.
Paper stock must be stable enough to trim leaving crisp edges and no fold over, display colors in their proper hue and intensity, handles scoring and keep small details from smudging or disappearing all together.  Binding must be snug with tightly bound, stitched or glued pages so that the books hold up. All of the books do just that.
Copy structure is equally important in art books.  Too much copy detracts from the art, not enough leaves the readers slightly frustrated having not received enough information.  I was impressed that in each art book I’m about to review that their was just enough copy to hold my interest, of appropriate size and line spacing (leading) for easy reading and very informative context-containing not only interesting facts about the art but facts about the artists as well.
I felt that after reading each book that I knew the artists personally as well as their motivation, work ethic and capabilities. 
Overall production value on each book rates high.  I plan on making these titles an important part of my collection.  Well done.
The Paintings Of J. Allen St. John: Grand Master Of Fantasy by Stephen D. Korshak is a treasure trove of information on the artist’s life as well as a wonderful showcase for his art, both black and white and color.
The paperback cover immediately grabbed my attention with its painting of a giant tiger with two people on its back.  It’s easy to see the influence St. John’s work had on such artists as Frank Frazetta and many others.  As with all the color paintings in the book, the cover painting consists of vibrant brush strokes, stylized character poses and a dynamic composition. 
I have to admit I was not that familiar with Allen St. John’s work.  I’ve seen it reproduced before and I knew that his work graced many pulp magazine covers but I had no idea how extensive his work was or how important it is to modern fantasy art.
Writer Lin Carter provides the introduction to kick off the visual tour of St. John’s work through the early to middle parts of the 20th Century. 
Artist Vincent Di Fate, a renowned artist in his own right, provides the copy for the first chapter.  He examines St. John’s artwork and how it matured over the decades.
Following chapters look at St. John’s career beginning with his early days a struggling young artist trying to establish his own style and career.
Starting at his youth the book looks at his struggle to set a course for his art.  He struggled to decide whether to be a fine artist, illustrator, portrait artist or author.  Ultimately he decided upon a little of all four with most of his work concentrated on fantasy paintings. 
Starting as a realist, St. John’s work slowly progressed to a more interpretive style with hints of fantasy and the erotic.
As he grew older he found himself in high demand as a book illustrator, magazine and book cover painter and perhaps his best known work as the artist who defined and set the standard by which all other Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and John Carter of Mars artists followed.
For a period he did Western paintings, high adventure, mystery and science fiction work.  Regardless of the genre, St. John defined and refined each in its time.
I really enjoyed this book and its look back at a giant of fantasy illustration and painting.  I found myself recognizing the style elements of artists who followed St. John in the fantasy and science fiction illustration field.  The man’s hand can be seen in many of today’s best artists work.
For a wonderful history lesson and fascinating look at one of the most influential artists of modern times be sure to pick up The Paintings Of  J. Allen St. John: Grand Master Of Fantasy.
Another master of illustration who began his career in the 20th Century is cartoonist and illustrator Joe Kubert.  Often referred to as one of the legends of comic book illustration Kubert downplays his fame.  In his 80s, Kubert still produces huge amounts of work both as an instructor at his Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art and as a commercial artist.
Joe began his career in the Golden Age of comics, and continues to produce viable and valuable pieces of art.  His recent foray into the graphic novel field has garnered him praise both inside and outside the industry.  His style has influenced such comic book luminaries as New Adams, Joe’s sons: Adam and Andy, and scores of established artists.
Kubert’s style can best be described as minimal.  He believes no line should be wasted or any work of art overdone.  You can see it in all of his illustrations, cartoon or otherwise.  His clean crisp line work, strong sense of design and mastery of light and shadow and his drawings of the human figure are without peer.
Joe continues to improve his style and try new techniques and media.  In How To Draw From Life, Kubert offers lessons on drawing the human figure and face in a series of one minute to multi-minute demonstrations and examples.
Work contained in the book spans his many years as an illustrator and demonstrations show how sparse lines and careful studies of the human form result in beautiful illustrations.  His demonstrations on lighting, perspective, page composition, and technique are all complemented by insightful text and instructions.  It’s easy to see why Joe Kubert is renowned and revered in the comic book industry.
Tex: The Art Of Mark Texiera: The Artist’s Great Escape came as a big surprise to me.  I’ve always loved Mark’s comic book work-especially his Ghost Rider series and his comic book covers paintings.
I was unprepared and caught off-guard when I saw his commercial art work and paintings.  The man is a powerhouse of imagination and a master of illustration and painting media.  His new book, co-written by Renee Witterstaetter, looks into his impressive career.
Mark was born and raised in New York City amongst somewhat less than savory surroundings.  As a young man he was entrenched within a rough environment with street gangs and poverty all about hi,.  Still his dream to become an artist motivated him to create despite his situation and with the encouragement of a teacher Mark was able to enter a prestigious art school and excel.
Soon after gradating he acquired work and has been producing art ever since.  Besides his comic book work Texiera is also an accomplished painter and illustrator with works gracing book covers, movie production pieces, trading cards and other commercial art projects. 
The Art Of Mark Texiera contains examples from all of his projects.  What I really liked about the book is that it contains sketches and preliminary drawings for much of Mark’s finished paintings.  I enjoy seeing how he puts his ideas down on paper and formulates his final work.  Too often people who look at an artist’s wok don’t appreciate the amount of time and effort it took to create the final piece.
Mark is very candid about his background, his education, his work and his life in general.  His observations and insights into producing art are invaluable and his wicked sense of humor often shines through his prose.   The book is well laid out with black and white illustrations and color paintings evenly distributed throughout its pages.  This makes the book fun to look at as visual treats pop up unexpectantly.
Mark Teixeira’s work is well represented in its pages and both looking at and reading the book is extremely satisfying.
Hailing from Milan, Italy, artist Alex Horley has taken the comic book and fantasy and science fiction worlds by storm. 
Trained as a classical artist, Alex’s love for fantasy soon began infiltrating his work.  Coupling his mastery of the human form and painting he infused fantasy with reality to produce some of the most striking fantasy paintings ever seen.
In the Alex Horley Sketchbook Alex leads the reader through his career and offers some helpful artistic insights and comments on his various projects in the fantasy and comic book fields.
The book contains examples of his art from all of the fantasy genres and provides sketches, comprehensive drawings and final pieces both in black and white and color that showcase his mastery of style, human anatomy, lighting and shadow, composition and environments.
Take a moment to absorb the sheer beauty of his value studies with their strong asymmetrical and symmetrical balances, overlapping figures and dynamic poses, his fine use of line and shading and composition.  I know how difficult it is to arrange elements on a page to make them interesting.  I tip my hat to his talent.  He truly is a master of composition. 
Equally impressive is his ability to create art in different styles.  Although he has his own unique ‘take’ on subject matter, he is able to emulate other artists’ styles and transform his work to fit any particular project.  It’s no easy task as I can attest.  I’m often called upon to change my style to complete a project.  Once again I bow to his expertise.
Purchasing all of these books from Vanguard Productions is money well spent.  As a veteran artist or novice it would be a wise investment to purchase these books not only for their visual value but for their instructional value as well. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

W900, '57 And '72


"Big wheels movin', gotta keep on movin', big wheels movin', movin on!" At some point in their life every little boy, and some girls, wants to be a truck driver.  I know I did .  There's something about the open road and traveling the width of the United States that draws you to them.  The freedom, the sense of exploration and excitement of what's over the next bend has always motivated explorers and truck drivers are the last of a dying breed.
But, where would a trucker be without his or her truck?  Revell understands the long history of trucking in this country and produces miniature reproductions of these mighty machines.  Its latest is the Kenworth W900. 
This massive ten wheel monster is a modern miracle of engineering.  Chromed out with a full grill, wide front bumper, twin diesel stacks, antennae, side mirrors, chrome wheels, horns, trim and lights the Kenworth is a real beauty of gigantic proportions.
Check out the incredible details such as a full cabin instrument panel, seats and twin window sleeping compartment, wheels flaps and hinged cabin that allows you to see the truck's engine and front suspension and exhaust. 
The details don't stop there.  There's more. How about the chrome steps, deep blue painted cab with lightning decals, trailer hitch and side storage units, tubing and more!?  Could this impressive truck require nothing less than a level 2 model-making expertise that includes full paint and glue assembly?
I still remember back in Michigan, where I grew up, that one of the most prized cars to drive was a '57 Chevy Bel Air.  Its swept back design that included rear fins, aerodynamic body, open front grill and bumper detail, twin hood lights and emphasis on chrome made it the perfect car for the younger set.
Revell has recreated this classic car as part of its California Wheels line.  Also a level 2 vehicle, the Two-Door Sedan 2 'n 1 allows you to change the paint scheme, add trim and body details and hubcaps while retaining its red stock Chevy engine.  As with all Revell car models you'll get full interior details on the dash and compartment, clear heavy plastic windows, full chrome detailing, decals and other little extras that makes Revell the standard by which other model manufacturers must match.
Revell's '72 Hurst Oldsmobile Cutlass 2 'n 1 comes as either a light gray convertible with black roof compartment or a deep red convertible with a gray roof compartment.  Both cars come with two-tone body details, plenty of chrome, impressive interior details right down to the dials and a huge engine under their working hoods. The model is part of Revell's Special Edition series featuring  optional parts and new tooling. 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Avatar


James Cameron's new science fiction/fantasy movie, Avatar, promises to be one of the most innovative and ground-breaking films of all time.  Technological advances in computer imaging allowed Cameron to create a film where the line between reality and computer imaging is blurred.  Early trailers have movie goers excited.  If the man who created Terminator, revitalized the Alien franchise and brought the Titanic up from the depths holds true to form, Avatar should be phenomenal.
Equally innovative and ground-breaking is Mattel Toys' new Avatar action figures and vehicles.  The first thing that is different is the packaging.  Although the figures are bubble-packed, they are not the traditional bubble packs.  Bubble chambers holding the figures are set to the side of the card and protrude slightly in the back displaying the I-Tag.  The vehicles or steeds are fully-contained in illustrated boxes with full stats on the back.  They also contain I-Tags.
I-Tags are small rectangular I-Info components that when placed in front of a Webcam (after loading a software application) allow the viewers to control a 3D Avatar model on his or her computer screen.  It's like getting a real toy and virtual toy all in one package!  Cool!
Avatar action figures come in two sizes: 3 1/2 to 4 inches and 6 to 7 inches-give or take.  The Norm Spellman figure (like all Avatar figures) is highly-articulated (hard to believe with such a small figure), nicely detailed in paint application and sculpting and comes with a rifle that it easily holds in either hand.
The small Avatar Jake Scully figure is equally articulated and crafted, is multi-blue, comes with a spear and is slightly taller than its human counterpart.  The larger Jake Scully figure is dressed similarly (with more detail befitting its size) comes with a spear and is articulated even more.  Articulation points are nicely blended into the figure either in join creases or hidden by clothing folds.  Paint application is especially nice (no rough edges or slop over) as is the tight sculpting.
The Direhorse Avatar steed looks like a mix between a terrestrial horse, anteater and insect with its six legs.  Its a muscular beast in muted grays and mottled blue and it, like the Avatar humanoid figures, is highly-articulated right down to its haunches, torso, neck and legs.  It comes with a saddle that Avatar figures easily sit upon without falling off.
The RDA Grinder is a massive land vehicle with independent suspension, twin double wheels in front.  Sides are heavily armored and in the rear twin-tracks enable the vehicle to cross nearly any terrain.
The Grinder is equipped with an arsenal of weapons including missiles, chain gun and lots of armor.  Its driven much like a snowmobile with bike-like handles, has a single contoured seat, a minimal windshield and front-mounted engine.  Highly-manueverable, the Grinder is small but extremely tough and formidable.

Divinity II: Ego Draconis


Guest review by Sopheap Eang
Divinity II: Ego Draconis plays similar to the online giant World of Warcraft.  That's not a bad thing, why change something that isn't broken, right? Did I mention it didn't go online? It's my one and only complaint.
The story starts off with a very well made cut scene that includes the soon to be nemesis.  Afterwards the player is sent off to a tutorial village.  Here, the basics of the game are taught. The game uses standard WASD controls are us-ed.  The number keys 1 through 6 are used to map certain skills or items for quick use.  All of the other windows for items, the world map, etc. can be accessed using the ESC key.  Each window can also be accessed by individual keys.
Something to be noted is that every character is voiced. It's a nice touch.  The graphics in the game are acceptable. It doesn't do a whole lot to "raise the bar", but it does a good job of maintaining the standard. With different computers, different impressions are made.  To truly appreciate the game, a top notch computer is a must.
Throughout the adventure, a multitude of environments are visited.  Woodland paradises where small rabbits frolic in the fields. To dark caves and corridors where turning a corner could mean death. One scene I personally found enjoyable were raiding goblin settlements. Then taking their hearts to sell to a soldier in a nearby village. 
Quests in this game are a large source of where a player gets his/her points to level up.  These quest made me question my sense of right and wrong.  For example, it's a time of famine, and a villagers pigs, who he thinks of as family, are taken by soldiers to feed other starving people. Will you sympathize with the pigs' owners.  Ultimately causing the death of others, or will you say its okay to part a man from his "kids".  There are many quests that make you think about good and bad. They shape who you are in the world of divinity.
Character development is where all the replay value is coming from.  The player has control over every aspect of their character.  Their physical prowess with melee weapons, their to pick off targets from a distance, and their metal strength to perform magic.  Notice I said "and", the game doesn't limit a player to classes.  Having the ability to mix and match skills make gameplay very different for different character builds.  Giving hours and hours of play.
Divinity II: Ego Draconis from Larian Studios puts up a good fight against other games in the RPG genre. I can see myself playing this for a very long time.  Making this game worth every penny it's worth.

Fangoria #289, January


Horror writer Stephen King picks out what he considers scary, Monster Invasion has the Crazies, Hansel And Gretel, Demonic Toys, Distortions Unlimited and more horrific goodies.  The Apocalypse arrives soon in Legion, pigs get their revenge in Pighunt and Horrorfest 4 has some new flicks.
Daybreakers introduces a new kind of vampire, Fangoria's Horrorcade plays some new scary videogames including Demon's Souls, look out for Lesbian Vampire Killers, Trolls return and get ready to provide some Blood, Sweat And Vampires. 

Ultraviolet


"Groovy!"  "Far out!"  That's what you'll say once you take a look at Ultraviolet, the new book from Abrams, written by Daniel Donahue, that includes 69 classic blacklight posters from the Aquarian Age and Beyond.
Get ready to relive the best of the best of rock and roll and social upheaval and commentary.  Look for reproductions of classic blacklight posters featuring The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Robert Crumb, the drug culture, environmental consciousness, free love and other pivotal social changes of the 1960s and early 1970s.
"Let the sunshine. Let the sunshine in," on these spectacular and blacklight collection of classic posters.  "Can you dig it?"