death by dairanger: 14 days of madness

Neighbors and local authorities are all no doubt wondering why an area man has been running around the streets in his underwear screaming “TENSHIN DAAAA!” for the past two weeks. Did he follow that battle cry out with a spirited “Whoaaa, whoa-whoa-whoa”? Yep. Will his brain ever be the same? Nope. To shed some light on these ramblings, I am that man, and I recently finished mainlining all 50 episodes of Gosei Sentai Dairanger.

What does that mean, you ask? I’m well aware of the awkward Venn Diagram representing people who read my blog and people who know what the hell Dairanger is. I’ll buck my old ways and play to a broader crowd here, because everyone needs an introduction into this deadly world at some point.

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The easiest way to put it is right on the cover of the Super Sentai box sets Shout! Factory releases once every few months: “Before Power Rangers there was… Super Sentai!” Sentai shows are the Japanese tokusatsu (special effects) TV series that went on to be localized in the west as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and all its various follow-ups. Saban basically just took all the costumed action sequences, monsters, and rad giant robot battles and wrapped it in a sunny Saved by the Bell-esque California Roll.

The results were cotton candy to my still-developing 12-year-old mind. Thus, it would stand to reason that snorting the original uncut lines are exactly what my still-developing 36-year-old mind needs just to wake up in the morning. Each episode is a spandex-clad coffee bean that makes me a little more human than human.

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Dairanger is the 17th entry in Toei’s still-running Super Sentai franchise, airing in Japan from 1993 to 1994 before coming stateside as the continuation of Power Rangers‘ adaptation of the previous series, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. This one has a cool Chinese mystic vibe to it, with all the martial arts styles one might expect making an appearance; even drunken style! Their Dairangers’ mentor, Master Kaku (pictured below, right), is basically Splinter.

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No one needs to know all this crap, though; it’s not like there’s gonna be a quiz, and if you see one you can bet it’s part of an insidious plot devised by Dairanger enemy du jour, the Gorma! Digging in too deep is dangerous, so let’s go for something different with:

THE SUBHUMANZOIDS SENTAI AWARDS: DAIRANGER EDITION

That’s right! Everyone’s here and it’s the moment they’ve all been waiting for, so without further adieu, let’s start handing out the honors.

Best Characters
San Baka (AKA Three Stooges)

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Known in Shout!’s subs as the Three Stooges, this team of ne’erdowells consists of, from left to right, President Gravestone, Telephone-sensei, and Boss Kamikaze. The latter is, as you might have guessed, the leader, and he’s a totally smooth delinquent. He ends most every sentence in a very enthusiastic (and English) “Baby!,” and he’s generally in charge of all the ridiculous plots to rid the world of the Dairangers.

These plots are also always games, and please believe anything goes. From exploding baseball games that would be right at home in a Yudai Yamaguchi flick to, uh, exploding soccer and exploding bike chases, the Stooges are a fabulous font of foolery from their first to final episodes.

Worst Recurring Story
Kujaku’s Quest for Peacock Heaven

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Here’s the skinny as best as I can remember it off the top of my head: Kujaku shows up and quickly becomes the love interest of Daigo, AKA Shishi Ranger. There’s only one problem, her Peacock Buddha powers are running out thanks to the crummy, polluted atmosphere of Earth. Much like the Stooges above, Kujaku episodes are scattered throughout Dairanger‘s run, and they’re just tough to get into. Masako Morishita really ups the melodrama in the role, and her beleaguered shouts of “Daigo!” will be etched into your brain for weeks.

Best Dairanger
Shoji AKA Tenma Ranger

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Would it surprise you to learn that the pompadour’d dude above is the Dairanger member who builds an intense rivalry with the Stooges? They troll him time and time again, and he always falls for it because he just knows one day Boss Kamikaze will present him with a fair challenge. Ei Hamura is the man in this role, and he sells every single one of his Bruce Lee nose swipes with aplomb.

Best Mythical Chi Beast
Won Tiger

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Sure, its pilot may literally be a child, but none of the mechs in the series hold a candle to Mythical Chi Beast Won Tiger. Ryuuseioh comes close, but there’s somethin’ about that slick white paint job that wins me over. Just to give Ryuuseioh and the rest of the beasts some love, though, let’s take a moment to appreciate how they look combined with Won Tiger (cue the Spice Girls’ “2 Become 1”).

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Creepiest Episode
Episode 34: “A Prickly Maiden Hunt”

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And finally, we have everyone’s favorite category, Creepiest Episode. There’s always at least one! If the name didn’t make it clear, episode 34 wins by a wide margin. The monster of the week is General Cactus, who looks like the gas station attendant above in human form. Here’s what he does to this dude’s daughter as soon as he leaves his car:

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And here he is as the somehow-less-threatening General Cactus:

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General Cactus loves to kidnap little girls, paralyze them, and turn them into dolls. It’s a plot that would be at home in any prime time police procedural (tune into NBC next month for the debut episode of Chicago Cactus Childnapper!), but the real creep-out comes when we stumble upon some of freshly-animated yet oh-so-still dolls.

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This is a moment best summed up with video.

Creepy. Yet… I love it! I think that’s about all the Dairanger energy I have at the moment, but if we get any late award-winners in the future, I’ll be sure to update. Once I have my powers back, it’s on to… Ninja Sentai Kakuranger!

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inside the buckwild sun bakery oven

I’ve been a big fan of Corey Lewis ever since I first read his Sharknife graphic novels. His art and storytelling both have an intense energy about them that’s hard to nail with the right level of sincerity, and he’s only gotten better since. His current project, Sun Bakery, has become one of my favorites, and it recently moved from the self-published zone into the gin-yoo-wine world of Image comics.

That means issues are even easier to pick up now, and I highly recommend doing so.

Besides Lewis’s incredibly bold artwork, the best thing Sun Bakery has going for it is its overall structure. It’s essentially a one-man anthology, so every comic within is a shotgun blast straight from the same barrel. It’s like Image’s Island anthology… if every comic in Island was drawn by the same dude. Or maybe it’s like Creepshow 2, except it’s a comic and it’s more Redline than The Raft. I probably could have just left this at “it’s a one-man anthology,” but I really like anthologies in general!

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I’m really into Lewis’s anything-goes approach to making comics, from the broad strokes to the tiniest details. There’s a lot of imagination in each issue of Sun Bakery, and most of the stories carry on with new chapters throughout the run. Dream Skills, for instance, is exactly what you get when you give a fighting game fan free reign to unleash his own world. In this case it’s a world in which swords rule as the ultimate weapon; just like in real life, guns are for wimps and you won’t find any here.

Look at this Dream Skills-based cover issue #3 sports. It’s one of those images you can get lost in, and I love all the movesets pulled straight from a 2D Capcom fighter.

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Arem is another standout. It’s basically a Metroid fan comic that skirts all the nasty copyright issues associated with a typical Nintendo property. Only in this story, Arem Lightstorm—the Samus Aran analog—travels to exotic planets for the perfect Instagram snaps. Arem is as solid an argument as any for Lewis’s expert handling of color and powerful layout decisions.

Here’s a cool splash page from Arem:

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And a second example of that instruction manual aesthetic I dig so much:

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There’s also choice content here for those who prefer their comics in black and white. Batrider stars a hero with a supernatural skateboard, which is about as much of an elevator pitch as I need. The layouts and direction are particularly strong here. Just dig this two-pager that’s straight off the screen. You can practically feel the animation when the Beetle crests the hill and slams down next to Batrider.

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There’s plenty more within the pages of each issue, but I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own. My key takeaway from Sun Bakery is nothing short of a boatload of inspiration. The one-man anthology isn’t just a great idea, it would make for a killer exercise for comic artists of all levels. Do you have a ton of ideas you want to workshop all at once? Why not do exactly that? Focusing on one story is all well and good, but sometimes you just need to break out your Contra Spread Gun and fire away with reckless abandon.

That’s what Corey Lewis is doing, and maybe everyone else should, too.

You can see more of REYYY‘s work on his website and tumblr. His GI Joe one shot is also rad. And get Sharknife, because he’s coming back in the next Sun Bakery! 

 

the silent journey of sam alden’s haunter

It’s no secret that Sam Alden is an incredible cartoonist. Like other top-tier talent, he eventually made his way to storyboarding for Adventure Time, which is like the mothership for people who are great at comics. This post isn’t about Finn & Jake, though, it’s about Alden’s 2014 Study Group Comics release Haunter, a 96-page journey that reads like a dream.

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Anyone who regularly follows Alden’s work is probably like, “yeah, DUH, Haunter is rad as hell.” After all, this was his first long-form work, but it’s also something I just happened to stumble upon at NYC’s Forbidden Planet. The story follows a young woman who runs into an ancient evil while exploring, and from that moment on the two are entwined in a fierce hunter x hunted chase.Haunter01_01.jpg

As the title of this post suggests, Haunter is a completely wordless comic. These are tough enough to pull off even marginally well. Comics are by no means dependent on dialogue or narration, but without them you really need someone who specializes in visual clarity. Alden demonstrates his skills as a soon-to-be storyboard artist with a comic that flows perfectly from moment to moment. When the action picks up, your reading pace follows suit naturally, and Haunter takes a few opportunities to dial it down and change the timing of panels to what’s practically a frame-by-frame piece of animation.

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Sam Alden is some kind of wizard with brushes and watercolors, or whatever was used to create Haunter. Streamlined characters intermingle with deep environments, and the stark black ink outlines are used to great effect, almost like an animation cel. The color scheme is reminiscent of Katsuya Terada’s classic Zelda art. Appropriately enough, it’s also been compared to a video game. I can see that; it has kind of a Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the ColossusThe Last Guardian) vibe to it.

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The act of reading Haunter flies by in a flash, but it’s also a comic I’m more likely to revisit from time to time. Do yourself a favor and pick up this and pretty much anything else by Sam Alden. I also highly recommend his Frontier book, which is available from Youth In Decline. Actually, it’s out of print, but maybe you can dig around and find it somewhere. That’s half the fun!

His site isn’t showing up at the moment, but you can check out more of Sam Alden’s comics on his tumblr.

this bartkira project trailer rules

Some of you may recall that I did some pages for the Bartkira project waaaaay back around the time it was first announced. If it seems like years ago, it’s because it was! My pages don’t come until volume 4, but volume 3 was released in its entirety today, and promotion is going hard in everybody’s yard. So hard, in fact, that they put together an animated trailer that perfectly recreates the Akira trailer with Simpsons characters.

First up, a quick explanation for those of you scratching your heads. Bartkira is a project put together by Ryan Humphrey and James Harvey, among others, that rallied hundreds of artists from around the globe together to recreate Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic Akira manga with characters from The Simpsons.

If you haven’t seen them, here are the pages I did from volume 4.

catch one of my comics in comfort food zine!

Heyyyy… I’ve been busy! Sadly, most of what I’ve been busy with is stuff I can’t post on the blog, hence the lack of updates. Anyway, here’s one for you. I recently contributed a two-page comic to a zine by Lauren Jordan called Comfort Food Zine. The book was successfully funded through Indiegogo, and in it you’ll find a bunch of food-related comics by myself and 33 other artists.

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My comic, naturally, is about bagels. Here’s what it looks like in the book:

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It’s pretty simple. I did it all on paper in brush pen with Photoshop for the grays and a tiny bit of gradient. It was fun.

As far as I know Lauren has had the book with her at various conventions, and will be updating her store with them at some point. If you’re really interested in one you can contact me, because I have about 5 on hand.

That’s it for now! I also still have a very small amount of SLIME minis still available on the bigcartel store.