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.

dairangercover.jpg

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.

dairanger4.jpg

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.

dairanger5.jpg

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)

dairanger1.jpg

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

dairanger2.jpg

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

dairanger3.jpg

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

dairanger6.jpg

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”).

dairanger7.jpg

Creepiest Episode
Episode 34: “A Prickly Maiden Hunt”

dairanger8.jpg

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:

dairanger10.jpg

dairanger11.jpg

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

dairanger9.jpg

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.

dairanger13.jpg

dairanger12.jpg

dairanger14.jpg

dairanger15.jpg

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!

Creator Spotlight: Wes Black

L0l87UOi_400x400.jpgIf the name Wes Black doesn’t ring a bell, clearly you haven’t been reading this blog for very long! That’s okay, because we’re here to introduce the man/myth/legend/etc. in our very first Creator Spotlight. This series is exactly what it sounds like: I’ll be shooting questions at artists and writers behind comics and other creative endeavors, finding out more about what fuels their work. 

As a quick catch-up, Wes co-wrote Two of a Vine with me and both Post-Nuke Pre-School and Neon Starlight Express are his feral brainchildren. 

I’m going to pepper this spotlight with unseen Raisins art. I think this was one of the first drawings I shared in our Two of a Vine notes email.

subhumanzoids: Hey, you’re our first creator spotlight! No pressure, but this has to be really good. For right now maybe I should just write “Wes says something funny here” and fill it in later.

Wes Black: Remember when that homeless guy with the high-pitched voice chased us into a Japanese video store on his bike, and then sat parked in the doorway, taunting us by ding-dinging the bicycle’s bell? That was funny after we realized we weren’t going to get stabbed. I recall us having a good laugh about it.

Regular readers of subhumanzoids may know you from two of the “Big Three” on the site: Two of a Vine and Neon Starlight Express. What was your writing process like for each of these comics? 

I love giving myself lots of extra work. For Neon Starlight Express, I wrote a pitch (which I sent you to gauge interest) then a 17-page plot, followed by a full script — a script with way too many panels per page. After you sent me the finished art, I got mad at myself for using too many goddamn panels, and then rewrote most of the dialogue and captions, because half of it wasn’t needed. Despite this, I still managed to saddle you with pages and pages of overstuffed word balloons.

Two of a Vine didn’t have this problem so much, since we wrote that together. Except for the parts I went off and wrote on my own. Those definitely have too many panels. And words. For the past couple of years, I’ve found myself unable to read a comic without counting the panels and word balloons. I’m very good at ruining the things I love.

raisinslap
This was one of the first sketch samples I made to give an idea of how Vine might look as a comic. I guess that tall-headed Raisin is supposed to be Jamain.

Two of a Vine basically stars us and the California Raisins. Were you ever worried said Raisins would emerge from your TV screen to strangle you for twisting them into the deranged creatures we created?

That or a cease & desist letter. I went in fully prepared to make the comic about The Delaware Dried Prunes in order to appease big corporate lawyers or murderous California Raisins.

Prior to this, you had more experience writing spec scripts for movies and TV. How does your approach to writing comics differ?

There’s slightly less anxiety involved, mainly because I’m confident you’ll fix things to where I won’t look like a complete moron. Honestly, I wish you could just illustrate all my pilot scripts.

The fact that we practically share a brain definitely makes communication easier. Have you written comics for people who aren’t named Joseph Luster? How did that go?

I haven’t, but I imagine I probably wouldn’t be able to use “that thing Craig T. Nelson pukes up in Poltergeist II” as shorthand. Sounds terrible, actually.

I know you’re primarily a writer, but do you have any of your demonic drawings to share? I feel like that’s a little known aspect of Wes Black.

I think most states have some sort of law on the books preventing that.

raisingoo.jpg
This sketch comic was based on an early concept of, uh, some kind of goo the Raisins subsisted on? Our email chains are like spitball snowstorms.

Regardless of what you’re writing, what’s a typical day like for Wes Black?

Usually I start by staring at the ceiling, then I talk myself into writing, and try to get down as a much as possible before the self-loathing really kicks in. After that happens I still keep on writing, but things tend to move a tad slower. I like to follow that up with a nice long walk while listening to a podcast (Shock Waves and Pure Cinema are faves). Maybe slip in a movie late at night — most recently 1987’s Dragnet, which has aged wonderfully. Expertly strides the line between spoof and straight buddy-cop film in a way that I feel wasn’t fully appreciated at the time of release.

Alright, speed round time: What’s your current regular comic roundup looking like? 

Kill or Be Killed, Misfit City, Alien: Dead Orbit, Black Hammer, and Rock Candy Mountain. Plus early ’90s-era Valiant.

Favorite movie of 2017?

Does the new Twin Peaks count?

Might as well. Best kung fu movie ever made?

8 Diagram Pole Fighter.

Put 10 grand on it: McGregor or Mayweather? 

Mayweather in the third, unless he accidentally KOs Connor while toying with him in the first two rounds.

Dream project? 

A live-action Gantz TV series.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 11.35.04 AM.jpg
This is a good example of your average dumb email idea we shoot back and forth. In this one, the Raisins created a bridge across some sludge in the flooded shower room. They LOVE doing stuff like this, of course.

Alright, thanks for not messing up our first Spotlight, Wes! I’m writing this in advance assuming we didn’t totally beef it. Any parting thoughts or plugs?

I have a towel stained with the sweat of professional wrestler Kazuchika Okada that I keep hidden in my closet. Since I don’t have a will or anything, I’d just like it in writing somewhere that I want to be buried with said towel in the event of my death. It’s yellow and was made to look like a $100,000 bill with Okada’s face on it. That’s all, really.

Follow Wes on Twitter for a closer look at what watching a ton of wrestling and mainlining movie marathons will do to even the boldest of brains. 

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!

sun-bakery-cover-1-rgb.jpg

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.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

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:

sunbakeryarem.jpg

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

sunbakeryarem2.jpg

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.

IMG_5505.JPG

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! 

 

cut. it. out! crafting comic flashbacks from construction paper

The latest update for Big Dumb Fighting Idiots may not have clocked in at a whopping 10 pages like the one before it, but it had a few tricks of its own. Besides playing around a little more with colors and shadows, I decided to do something special with the Mayor’s flashback sequence. Going against the traditional style of the comic for flashbacks—whether they’re a single panel or multiple pages—has been my goal since the early pages, and this time I busted out the construction paper and got to cutting.

I could probably leave it at that and most would get the picture, but I didn’t start out with this exact idea in mind. The reason I went with it is entirely thanks to the way I drew the thumbnails for the page. I was originally just planning to make the Mayor’s flashback consist of purposefully bad drawings, but the sketch accidentally gave me a better idea.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg
My sketches already looked enough like cutouts…

The second panel sparked the idea: Why not just get a bunch of different paper and start cutting directly with scissors? Sketching the characters out beforehand would be too accurate. I wanted it to look kind of bad, which is a great way to turn your brain off and avoid overanalyzing whatever it is you’re doing. In fact, if you really want to just mess around, you might want to do the same kind of exercise in a sketchbook. Not with paper cutouts, but with extemporaneous drawings that may or may not go anywhere.

I ended up doing four panels like this. I cut the shapes I wanted for each character—separate cuts for arms, torso, clothes, and facial features, for instance—and used a cheap glue stick to put them together.  I didn’t bother gluing any of the figures to the background itself, because I wanted the freedom to move them around if I didn’t like the composition. The final results came out exactly how I pictured them in the first place.

FullSizeRender.jpg
Clockwise, L to R: Mayor Mustang socks a frog, Trunk looks dumb, a robot goes ballistic, the Mayor is surrounded.

The pressure was off to make these the very best. I knew if they even looked marginally decent they’d serve their purpose and look cool next to digitally-illustrated panels. Once I took photos of each collage, I opened the page up in Clip Studio Paint and simply imported them into their respective panels. I made sure to have room in each for text, which is something you should always keep in mind in advance when laying out panels.

And now I have Mayor Mustang himself on my shelf!

IMG_5536.JPG
Also starring: Finn, Rush, and a head-splitting Garbage Pail Kid

So, to recap, I:

    1. Drew thumbnails
    2. Cut out individual shapes
    3. Assembled characters with glue
    4. Placed and photographed each panel
    5. Imported photos into Clip Studio Paint
    6. Added text overlays and polished the page

Hopefully I’ll get to do something like this again, but I don’t know if there are really any flashbacks coming up! (pssst, I’d do clay for the next one if I could.)