Monday, 28 August 2017

How TV’s “The Mist” Missed – No Monsters? Really?!!



The Mist has always been one of my favorite Stephen King stories. For me it tapped into a fear of civilized society being overtaken by a sudden disaster, and how an every day trip to the supermarket could turn into a frightening fight for survival. But what made it stand out was the way it presented this fear in a totally unique, visceral, and visual way by engulfing the town in a physical manifestation of the unknown – a maddening, mysterious mist, filled with unseen monsters bent on tearing apart the town’s inhabitants. What could possibly be more frightening?

In the post-new-millennium era where our fascination with ‘end times’ fiction shows no signs of slowing, The Mist, published in the early 80’s, stands out as a frightful premonition of pop culture’s present obsession with the end of the world. So you would think The Mist’s TV adaptation would not only be timely, but considering the quality of the source material, a total slam-dunk in today’s apocalypse-obsessed age. The Frank Darabont movie adaptation has become a horror classic, so The Mist more than proved itself capable of being translated from novel to film. What could go wrong?


[Yep - spoiler alert!]

Well, as I watched the first episode of The Mist TV series, my excitement turned to complete disappointment soon after the mist rolled into town. As the mist claimed its first victim (a clueless cop taking a selfie in the mist no less! I really can’t stand the idiot victim trope! g.s.) I suddenly realized the mist had no monsters in it. Not one friggin’ monster! The TV Mist had totally missed the point of the mist! The heart of the mist’s terror – a mysterious fog harboring a host of other-worldly creatures, unseen until it was far too late – had been lost.

The writers instead turned the mist into some sort of reactive supernatural force that probes your deepest fears and then tears you apart with its physical manifestation. While interesting, the execution never proved remotely terrifying, just occasionally gross. Why they chose to tool around with this fundamental concept is beyond me. The monsters were the coolest part of the entire story, and discarding them for some sort of vengeful fog was the biggest mistake of the new series.

The next misstep the TV Mist took was not having a suspenseful, tense, or even coherent narrative. In the novel, I was fascinated to watch the characters devolve from a group of civilized townsfolk into a desperate, murderous mob as the horror of their situation sunk in. The TV Mist tried to follow suit, setting up tons of potential tension amongst the town’s inhabitants: Alex’s alleged rape by Jay, Jonah’s memory loss and his connection to Arrowhead, and Mia’s drug addiction and criminal past. Frustratingly, none of these scenarios played out in a coherent or interesting way, and all just ended up feeling pointless. Jay is exonerated but then randomly killed; Jonah is captured by an Arrowhead soldier only to be inexplicably released (because of Jonah’s higher rank? What?); Mia’s betrayal of the group to grab some dope and cash goes nowhere and falls flat.

Perhaps the most disappointing scene was when Eve confessed to the angry mob that Conner was Alex’s dad. None of the actors had the chops to pull off the emotional weight of that scene, and the crowds’ reaction to the news seemed random and non-sensical. Eve wasn’t set up properly as the pariah she needed to be for the town to turn on her and Alex. The whole situation inside the mall seemed forced as the writers pushed the plot forward with cardboard characters and weak motives, instead of really digging into the characters and letting their development allow the story to unfold.

And perhaps most frustrating to watch was Adrian’s transformation from victim to villain. Did it really have to be the one LBGT character who turns out to be the evil psycho, while the pretty boy quarterback gets exonerated as the hero? It made me sigh internally that the series was brave enough to introduce a gay character but backward enough to then turn around and make him the bad guy.

The one shining light in the mist (sorry) was Frances Conroy as Natalie Raven. Her subtle transformation from docile garden-loving hippie to calculating instrument of the mist was fantastic to watch. But once again, the writers set up something interesting and then let it fall totally flat. Natalie’s arrival at the mall should have been her momentous ascension to messiah of the mist, but instead the writers just randomly killed her off. (What?!) Why did the mist suddenly turn on its chosen disciple after sparing her when she faced off against Father Romanov? It was the final random kick in the teeth that made me totally not care to watch season two (if there is one.)

Considering the source material was quite short, the challenges of transcribing The Mist into a 10-hour series are obvious. But in trying to take the story in a different direction, the writers totally lost what made the original novella so cool – the fear of unseen, otherworldly predators; the fear of neighbors turning on each other in the face of a local disaster; the fear of the unknown. When I saw The Mist pop up on my Netflix feed, I was super excited and thrilled to watch it. Despite excellent production values, and the creepiest mist effects you’d ever see, after slogging through 10 hours of disappointing writing and acting, I think this new Mist totally missed. Don’t pass Go. Don’t collect $200. And don’t watch this pile of garbage.

G.S.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Winner of the Creators For Creators 2017 Grant Announced




It’s official – At the Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle WA. on Sunday, the Creators For Creators fund announced the 2017 Grant Recipient. Quoting the website:

Creators for Creators is proud to announce that M. Dean’s project “I Am Young” is the first recipient of the Creators for Creators grant!”

Details about the winner and their project can be found at creatorsforcreators.org

As you know, gentle reader, I’ve always viewed my submission to the C4C grant as a long shot. So while I’ve been wringing my hands for months desperately hoping “Heroes of the Dead” might somehow pull off a win, I wasn’t terribly surprised by the outcome.

So what does this mean for ol’ Glen Specter, for Heroes of the Dead, and for Specter Comics? Why, it means great things! Terrible, fantastic, horrifying things!!

As you might have seen from my little teaser for “Rotting Hills”, I’ve got lots of plans for Specter Comics. I’ve decided to officially make Specter Comics my platform for self-publishing. So along with “Heroes of the Dead”, I’ve been tooling around with another zombie idea geared towards kids called “Rotting Hills”. I mean, can you think of one successful zombie comic for kids? Me neither! So there’s definitely a niche to fill.

“Rotting Hills” began life (sorry :P) as a cartoon idea I successfully pitched, produced and directed over a decade ago (god I'm old!). While the animated cartoon died when the production company ultimately passed on the idea, I thought it high time to resurrect Rotting Hills in comic book form! If you’re curious, the cartoon looked like this. My plans for the comic book are a little different, as I have no right to the stories or artwork of the original production, but I’m really excited by some of the ideas I’ve come up for it!

Thus, whilst old man Specter had been beaten down and had his old withering heart crushed by the above news, I also feel liberated. For the months I was waiting on news about the grant, I felt trapped in limbo as I didn’t want to proceed with anything until the grant was settled. Now I’m free to go whole hog into self-publishing and see where it leads me.

My plan is to get a “Specter Comics” website up and running to serve as a portal to Comixology, Amazon’s big giant online comic book store. comixology.com

From there I’ll be publishing “Heroes of the Dead” #1 very shortly and see how it does! And the good news is I’ve already finished the scripts for issues #2 and #3, so work on the art will begin forthwith!

As for Rotting Hills, I’ve been working away at a script for the first issue. I’ll be posting progress for that project here on Dying to Draw as well so stay tuned!

G.S.

Monday, 5 December 2016

My Black Hole to Freedom



Remember in "The Shawshank Redemption", how Andy (played by Tim Robbins) escapes his life sentence in prison by slowly digging a tunnel behind his poster of Rita Hayworth? How he dug for years and years, a little spoonful of dirt out of the wall each day, quietly dumping  the tiny bit of dirt and stone in the yard? How he continued this until the hole grew large enough that he could finally make his escape, crawling through a tunnel of shit a mile long to emerge a free man?

Now you're thinking, "He's gonna say this is a metaphor for his life, and that creating comic books is his tunnel of freedom away from the prison of a stagnant, working-wage career...yada yada yada."

And you'd be absolutely wrong. Ha. Because, I used to believe this - that to be happy I needed to somehow escape my life, to scorch the earth and free myself from the invisible shackles of responsibility that come with a salaried job in order to fulfill my life as an artist. To suceed. And five years ago, I largely did that, leaving my safe but intolerable career in animation for the more uncertain life of a contract freelancer, understanding that this move would give me less money but more freedom to work on my own projects.

So five years later, I'm still struggling with balancing paid work and creating something meaningful of my own. And I'm slowly realizing that there might not be a magical moment of freedom, where I look around at my life and say "I've finally made it." And I think that's because when you get into a mindset where you struggle to "make it", and don't understand what that means exactly, you will be forever stuck, dissatisfied and struggling, because the state of "making it" is a fantasy. There is no moment in life like this because life is a slippery slope of expectation and achievement, so completely changeable and nebulous that any moment where you can say "I've made it" or "I've achieved something" is so fleeting that it seems almost pointless.

My personal journey these last few years has seen me constantly searching the horizon for that place, that special moment where I could be satisfied with what I have; some magical reality I could finally settle myself down into a comfortable life of pleasant routine, free of worry, free of doubt, creating meaningful things and feeling fulfilled. Needless to say, I was shit off my rocker to think I could ever achieve a sustainable situation like that. But this is an idea that's sold to us everyday, that somehow if you amass enough money, power, or material stuff, you'll find that G-spot of happiness to last the rest of your life.

So I've come to realize I've been looking in the wrong place for my tunnel to freedom. It's not out there somewhere, it's in here - inside my head. Because that's where my reality begins and ends. So I might look at my life and not be satisfied, or I might wish for something I might never attain, or struggle and fight and hate how little I seem to have while everyone else seems to have it so easy. Or I could stop - dig through the noise of what society tells me success means - and find my black hole to freedom right now. Because it's right there in your head. All you need is the courage to say "screw expectation" and crawl through it.

There's no such thing as an end point to success. Life will never settle down into something comfortable (not with two kids to raise, at least!) And I don't think I want it to be comfortable, because I know it would eventually become boring. I'm looking at my life and I realize I have so much, that in many ways I've "made it". So I've decided to try and calm down about the struggle, the striving for success, and enjoy all the good things I have. Because all of it is fleeting, and we should appreciate what we have now before it all slips away.

This is perhaps a bit deeper than I would have liked to go in this post, but I'm feeling philosophical of late, mostly as I come to terms with the reality that I probably didn't win the C4C grant contest (as I haven't heard anything yet and it's been over a month now.) So I'm trying to understand what it means to me, and realize it's not the end of the world, and that I'm lucky to even have had the opportunity to submit something.

Just a note of irony - at the end of Shawshank Redemption, we see Andy's friend Red released from prison, and in the final scene Red finds Andy on the beach in some tropical paradise, fixing up his yacht. So yeah, even that movie tries to sell us the whole happy ending thing. All I'm saying is that most of us are already there, even if we don't realize it. You don't need a billion dollars and a yacht on the beach to be happy. All you need is a roof over your head and a family that loves you. So get yourself into your black hole and out of the prison in your mind. That happy ending isn't as far off as you think.

From my black hole to yours,
G.S.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

IT'S DONE


Okay folks, you heard it here first! I submitted my proposal package to the "CreatorForCreators" grant program! (found at creatorsforcreators.org ) Woohoo! I still can't believe I hit send. I just about collapsed from the stress! These old bones are not made for this kind of treatment.

The last couple of days I've been agonizing over the wording of my two page proposal, and it was brutal. A good friend of mine helped me edit it, and I have to thank her for patience and insistence. She kept pushing me to break everything down until I could sum up the story in one concise sentence. Not easy, I tells you. Screenwriters call it the 'log-line', which is essentially your whole concept summed up in one or two sentences so someone can glance at it and take in the whole story.

While I hated going through the agony of it, I have to say if you're ever writing a story or script, coming up with a log-line is absolutely an essential step in the process. It forces you to dig through the bull-crap in your mind and make sure the story is working structurally at its very foundation. If you don't do this (and resist doing it like I did for some time), your story will end up a structural mess I guarantee you.

Having said all this, I'd be remiss if I didn't share the log-line I came up with for my proposal. This log-line covers "Hearts of Darkness", the first "Heroes of the Dead" story arc. So here ya go:


Jack O’Brien, a survivor of the zombie apocalypse who is given unnatural powers by the zombie virus, must lure his friends into a trap if he is to save the woman he loves from a sewer-lurking monster.


Yep, at some point Jack has to choose between his super-powered friends and the love of his life - it's a dilemma, people! And honestly, I didn't see this dilemma clearly until I went through the pain of creating this stupid log-line. But now that I have the structure of the story clearly in my head, I can now (finally) start to put meat on the bones and get writing the scripts for the next issues!

Ok - I'm happy. The comic is done and the proposal package submitted. It's been a long journey to this point and I'm happy to have shared it with you. But this isn't the end point by any means. I still have a lot of work to do! I'm continuing to write the next issues of "Heroes of the Dead" and I hope to start roughing out art for issue #2 very soon.

So stay tuned for more updates on "Heroes of the Dead"! We're just gettin' started...

As always, I continue to be your humble hagridden homunculus of the horrific,
G.S.








Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Final artwork - Maggie gets a makeover


Ok...final stretch here before I hand in my comic for the "Creators 4 Creators" contest (creatorsforcreators.org)

I'm making some final tweeks on my comic - some little dialogue changes here and there to make things flow better. But on this page I decided to redraw Maggie, the little psychic girl Jack meets at High Gate church (formally Sanctuary - see, little tweeks!)

I changed her design a bit (she used to be blond and generic looking), as I've been thinking about her role in the story and I've decided to make her a very important character down the road. Originally I just threw her in as a creepy girl who might portend future doom for our heroes, but as the story has evolved in my head Maggie's role has become much bigger. I plan to show her evolve into a powerful hero, one who ultimately holds the fate of the world in her hands. So yeah, I thought I'd better make her cool looking! I'm happier with her look here, so I thought I'd share it on the blog.

So with this final art revision done, I think the comic is ready to go! I'm nervously assembling the proposal package and plan to hit "Send" in the next couple of days. It sort of feels like everything I've been working for is suddenly pivoting on this one contest (which is probably a stupid and unrealistic frame of mind considering my odds of winning). Anyway, I will make a post once the ship has sailed!

Wish me luck! (Or doom, whichever you prefer.)
G.S.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

"Stranger Things" and how I spent my summer in the "Upside Down"



[WARNING: Spoilers! But only little ones.]

Well, summer break is finally over and my little gremlins are back at school. While I don’t usually like to post about my personal life on this blog , I will say this: my summer has felt like a journey through the “Upside Down”, that bizarre, dark reflection of our world on the show “Stranger Things”. Now that the house is quiet and I sit here in front of my keyboard after a long hiatus, I feel like I’ve finally crawled through some slimy inter-dimensional portal back into reality after two months of wandering surreal, supernatural wastes. Yep, my summer with the kids was a complete blur of craziness.

The truth is I love my two boys and have moments of absolute joy with them, but the daily slog of parenting can be so gut-wrenchingly painful, I imagine I feel what Will felt after staying in the Upside Down for too long (although I’ve never puked up a giant monster worm – yet).

I mean, my two little bugbears (bless them) are up at 7am – every single day – regardless of how late daddy went to bed (sometimes 2-3am). This means I’m forced to peel myself out of my coffin (aka bed) to prepare breakfast and basically make sure nothing terrible befalls them (the gloomy crypt in which I make my abode is rife with unseen pitfalls – some mundane, some unnatural – but mostly I have to make sure the two boys don’t kill each other.)

Now that I have returned from that black plane of otherworldly oblivion you call ‘summer vacation”, I finally have some time to ruminate on one of the high points of my perilous summer – watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

Something about this unassuming homage to 80’s sci-fi/horror flicks really wormed it’s way into my brain (sorry Barb). In just about every way, “Stranger Things” hit the mark of awesomeness. The story was paced well (difficult for a serialized tv show – I’m looking at you, LOST!), I got to know and root for the characters (even Nancy’s douche-bag boyfriend Steve, thanks to a redemptive story-arc), and I was genuinely freaked out by the monster and its habit of crossing dimensions to stalk its prey. A completely thrilling, mind-blowing ride!

In so many ways, “Stranger Things” surpassed all of the 80’s movies it honours. I was also impressed that the Duffer Brothers contained the story in a tight eight episode run (but of course at the end of it I was crying inside and dying to see more). It kept the pace moving along well, even during the slow bits with the Nancy love triangle or the kid’s initial bungling around in the dark looking for Will.

Since I love to talk story structure, and I found “Stranger Things” so awesome because it executed a cool story so successfully, I’d like to change gears and talk about a story not so successfully executed. Me and the wife decided to fire up “Allegiant – Divergent part 3” to kill an evening, and about 30 minutes in I nearly rage quit the thing. If “Stranger Things” is narrative perfection, “Allegiant” is a big pile of narrative poop.

While I didn’t expect much from the third part of this Hunger Games knock-off, it was so utterly confusing that I started yelling at the screen. Why did this weird experiment in Chicago end up producing a “pure” (meaning genetically unaltered, I think) divergent person, Tris? How?? And why should we care? We are never told why this process is so important, so we are left to assume something terrible will happen. Was the human race on the brink of extinction? Who knows??

The crux of the story – Tris being torn between the future dude (Jeff Daniels) and her friends in Chicago – becomes meaningless because we don’t understand what she’s doing, or why we should care. If her dilemma was ‘save humanity from extinction or save her friends’, that might be interesting. Needless to say, the story fell apart and the action at the end was boring and pointless.

I like to think that consuming different stories – good and bad – can only help me improve my own writing, so I won’t beleaguer the point of how bad Allegiant was. I will say this: I’d much rather brave the “Upside Down” than return to future Chicago any day.

Thankfully, the word on the street is that Season Two of “Stranger Things” is in the works, so I’m looking forward to more adventures in the “Upside Down”. I only have two apprehensions about this: 1) it’s gonna be really hard to top the first season, so I’m bracing for disappointment 2) I only have 9 months until NEXT summer vacation and my own adventures back to the “Upside Down”! I’ve already fitted myself with a Haz-Mat suit for the occasion!

As always, yours in horror and confusion,
G.S.