Christopher Mills

Mar 032015
 
I'm pleased to announce that the Femme Noir team - Yours Truly, artist Joe Staton, inker Rick Burchett, and colorist Matt Webb - have begun production of a new Femme Noir miniseries, "Cold, Dead Fingers."  I can't say when it will be finished, but I'm hopeful that it will be completed this year, and probably see print in 2016. No publisher yet, but I have been having some encouraging discussions.

To celebrate this new beginning, I thought you folks might like to take a look at the first page of our forthcoming supernatural crime saga. To make it more special, I'm going to share with you the process that we employ in making our Femme Noir funnybooks.

I. It Begins With The Word: In this case, I wrote a detailed plot, breaking down the storytelling in some detail. No dialogue or captions as yet - I write those after I have Joe's penciled pages in hand; as I am the letterer as well as writer, I basically do both at the same time. Here's how the plot described this first splash page:
PANEL 1. And here we go…. We begin with a movie poster-styled splash page. In the center of the image is a full-length shot of Le Femme, hat pulled down low, guns in hands, trenchcoat whipping in the wind. Behind her is a sketched in Port Nocturne skyline. On the left, there’s a huge, spookily-lit “ghostly” head shot of our brutish killer – in this iteration, he’s called “Crusher” Corrigan – and below him, a full-length image of mad scientist Dr. Karl Boroff. On the right hand side of the page, opposite Corrigan’s scary melon, is an equally spooky “ghost” head of Madame Morella MaCabre. Below her, opposite of Boroff, is a full-length figure of plainclothes dick Lt. Rod Riley, pistol drawn.

Below that, room for the title lettering – ‘COLD, DEAD FINGERS’ - and a breathless introductory caption.
II. Joe's Deadly Pencil: From this florid description, Joe draws the page in pencil, employing his considerable talent and experience, working his magic:

FN_CD_01_01A

Joe then e-mails me a lo-res jpeg to review. Once I've looked it over, and am sure that we're both happy with it, Joe then e-mails the page as a hi-res image file to...

III. Putting The Noir In Femme Noir: ...inker Rick Burchett. Joe and Rick have worked together numerous times before, perhaps most memorably on the 1980s incarnation of E-Man. In this case, Rick is applying his atmospheric blacks digitally, using his Cintique tablet.

FN_CD_01_01B

Once completed, Rick sends jpeg files to both Joe and I to see if we have any notes. If everything's cool, as it is here, the image is then sent on to our last teammate.

IV. Dangerous Hues: Colorist Matt Webb gets his hands on the page next, and with the original script for reference (and having colored several Femme Noir adventures before), Matt digitally - and dramatically - colors the page.

FN_CD_01_01c

Nice, huh? Once again, a lo-resolution copy of the colors is sent out for approval of all and sundry. Then, it all comes back to me.

V. The Final Words With the finished page in my e-mail box, I take it into Photoshop and fit it into the appropriate page template. Having scripted the dialogue - or in this case, caption - when I got the pencils, I then do the lettering in Illustrator. Finally, I drop the text in on the page back in Photoshop...  and voilà!

FNOIR_CDF_01_01

So that's how we do it. Repeat for pages 2, 3, 4 and so on... until the book is complete.

Stay tuned here for future Femme Noir updates, sneak peeks and announcements (which will always appear here first!).
Feb 252015
 
The amazing Robert McGinnis, nearly 90 years-old and not missing a trick, provides this gorgeous cover for Max Allan Collins' latest "Quarry" novel from Hard Case Crime. I just got this book and it's right on top of the reading pile. Collins' "Quarry" novels, which chronicle the life of a hardboiled professional killer, are among my favorite books - and Quarry one of my favorite protagonists - in the genre. 
Jan 152015
 
It was just a little over two months ago that the hardboiled crime comic that I created with artist Rick Burchett, Gravedigger, concluded its online serialization. At the time, I speculated that we wouldn't have to wait long for the character's return... and here it is.

Rick and I have just signed with Action Lab Entertainment's "Danger Zone" mature readers imprint, to bring the two existing Gravedigger sagas - "The Scavengers" and "The Predators" - to both print and digital formats in 2015. The stories will be presented in a three-issue comic book miniseries format and as a digital edition on Comixology. Action Lab will be making their own announcement soon, and there will be more details revealed then.

The release dates haven't been set yet, but you can be sure I'll be plugging the hell out of the book when the time comes!
Jan 142015
 
Back in 1997, Kitchen Sink Press published several issues of Will Eisner's The Spirit - The New Adventures, for which they invited a number of the comic industry's top talents to contribute original stories featuring Central City's masked crimebuster. A lot of great names were involved, and many of the stories were extremely good, sometimes rivaling the master's own tales. They sported some terrific covers, too - including this Brian Bolland masterpiece from Issue #3. It was also released as a limited edition print (shown below).

Jan 122015
 
Well, we come at last to the final episode of A Man Called Sloane, "The Shangri-La Syndrome," directed by none other than T.R. Sloane himself, Robert Conrad, and originally airing on the 22nd of December, 1979.

I wish I could say that the series went out on a high note, but "Syndrome" is, in every way, a seriously lackluster affair.

Sloane is investigating the theft of some top secret material from Doctor Karla Meredith's (Daphne Reid) scientific institute. A meeting with one of her (young and pretty, 'natch) researchers is interrupted by an intruder whom Sloane pursues. By the time Sloane gets back, she is dead of apparent old age. It turns out that Meredith is working with KARTEL and an ex-Nazi named (of course) Hans Kruger (Dennis Cole) to clone a South American dictator.

There are some interesting concepts in here - Kruger is being kept young by an age-reversing formula and must stay in a hot environment to avoid reverting his to his true age - but nothing is done with them. There's only one gadget in this episode, and it's rather pedestrian, too.

It's a shame that the series came out when it did. NBC in 1979 was something of a creative wasteland, with network head Fred Silverman desperate to attract viewers to the floundering net. His approach to this was to program shows that were colorful, titillating, and, basically, stupid. This was the season of Supertrain, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Hello Larry and Pink Lady & Jeff.

It's also unfortunate that the producers didn't bother to actually give Conrad a character to play. Sloane was Conrad, basically, and was never shown to have any personal life, nor was there any backstory ever revealed for the character. In the pilot film - where the character was played by Robert Logan - Sloane was established as an art and antiques dealer, which at least provided him with a cover for his international travel, and provided a little color. This appears to have been forgotten by the time of the actual series. The character of Torque was badly used as well. A giant with a multi-purpose cybernetic hand should have been a lot more useful and interesting than he actually was. I don't blame actor Ji-Tu Cumbuka, though. He simply wasn't given anything much to do most of the time.

Anyway, it was fun re-visiting the series (again). I'm planning to finally review the pilot film, T.R. Sloane/Death Ray 2000 in the next week or so. Stay tuned!
Jan 092015
 
Written By Arnold Drake & Leslie Waller
Illustrated by Matt Baker & Ray Osrin

B&W Digest Format, Graphic Novel

St. John Publications, 1950
(Dark Horse Comics Edition 2007)


It Rhymes with Lust was originally published in 1950, and is considered by some comics historians to be one of the first – if not the first – modern graphic novel. Originally marketed as a "picture novel" by publisher St. John Publications, it was written by comics veteran Arnold Drake (The Doom Patrol) and novelist Leslie Waller (together using the pseudonym "Drake Waller"), with black-and-white art by Matt Baker (Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Phantom Lady) and inker Ray Osrin. In co-author Drake's opinion, "I don't think there is much question that It Rhymes with Lust was the first graphic novel."

The edition reviewed here is a facsimile edition published by Dark Horse Comics, which includes an afterword by Drake, and biographies of Drake, Waller and artist Baker.

It Rhymes With Lust deals with the machinations of malevolent femme fatale Rust Masson, a seductive, red haired siren with an insatiable lust for power. Upon the death of her crimelord husband, Rust moves to take full control of the mining town Copper City – both its legal operations and its illegal ones. As part of her scheming, she brings an ex-lover, disillusioned and cynical reporter Hal Weber, to town and puts him into the Editor-in-Chief's slot at one of the town's two newspapers, hoping to use him as both a propaganda tool and intelligence agent. But, eventually, Weber tires of being Rust's patsy, and with the more wholesome love of Rust's own, blonde stepdaughter, Audrey, Weber finds the strength to stand up to Rust and moves to bring down her empire.

Drake and Waller have scripted a pitch-perfect noir potboiler, a story that deftly combines politics, crime and James M. Cain-styled sexual manipulation into one compact package. This is very much in the tradition of the pulp paperback fiction of the era. The dialogue is perhaps a bit too expositional and the captions a bit too weighty for today's tastes, but this was published in 1950, and follows the comics writing conventions of that era.

Matt Baker's art is exceptional. Known for his superior ability to render the female form, Baker proves to be the perfect choice to illustrate this tale of the archetypical femme fatale. With her short, mannish hairstyle and impeccable fashion sense, Rust is strongly contrasted against her idealistic stepdaughter, Audrey, with her lush blonde mane and soft features. All the characters are distinctive and instantly recognizable, and while the book is very dialogue heavy, Baker manages to keep it visually interesting through careful use of varying "camera" angles. It's superior work.

Overall, I liked It Rhymes With Lust quite a bit. My only criticism is that Drake & Waller's story is just a bit too talky and static. It really could have used just a little bit more action – another fistfight or firefight would have livened things up nicely. Definitely worth checking out, though.

Five out of Six Bullets.
Jan 062015
 
I don't know if it was because I was groggy and watching it at four in the morning, but I really enjoyed the penultimate episode of A Man Called Sloane, "Architect of Evil." (Original air date: December 15th, 1979.)

Worthington Pendergast (Michael Pataki) is the titular architect, who has conceived a "perfect city" for KARTEL to build and rule in an undisclosed location. Who will construct – and ultimately, live in – this city? Well, Pendergast has a typically complicated and insane plan to solve that problem: using a ray projector that can increase the mass of objects, he intends to sink a ship carrying nuclear waste which will then contaminate a large portion of the West Coast of America. This will dispossess millions of people, who KARTEL (will somehow) then draft as slave labor to build their city.

Unfortunately for Pendergast, the unique "blue crystal" that makes the ray weapon work, has been stolen from his home safe along with his other valuables, by a cat burglar named Harry Helms (John Aprea), who has no idea what it is and thinks it's worthless. Fortunately, UNIT had Pendergast under observation and caught the thief on film, so Sloane is able to track him down, and ultimately impersonate him (an impersonation which, as usual, isn't very effective) in order to infiltrate Pendergast's operation...

The story is nonsensical, but for some reason, it plays out pretty well. Pataki's villain is suitably over-the-top, executing his own henchmen with sonic deathtraps and playing Bach's tocatta and fugue in D minor on the organ to relieve stress. There's a sequence set in a health club where burglar Helms attempts to kill Sloane in a manner highly reminiscent of the Shrublands scene in Thunderball, and an interesting – and unusual climax featuring Sloane, Torque, a helicopter, and a lot of soapsuds.

Well directed by veteran TV and B-movie (Cujo, Alligator) director Lewis Teague, "Architect of Evil" is a satisfyingly silly but entertaining hour of spy-fi adventure, and is probably one of the best in the series.

Only one more episode to go!
Jan 052015
 
Well, stills are starting to leak out from Warner Brothers' new Man From U.N.C.L.E. film, directed by Guy Ritchie and due for an August release. I want to be excited about it, but so far, I'm not. The casting bugs me: Man Of Steel's Henry Cavill is playing Napoleon Solo, while The Lone Ranger's Armie Hammer assumes the role of Illya Kuryakin.

They're both very "Hollywood" choices - big, beefy, square-jawed heroic-looking types... but that's exactly the kind of actors that U.N.C.L.E. creators Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton didn't want to play those roles. Rolfe & Felton specifically cast Robert Vaughn and David McCallum back in the day because neither of them were beefcake types. They wanted handsome men who were of normal stature, and not the stereotypical "action" sort of guys.

I'm also concerned that the movie is another unnecessary "origin" story, showing the two agents working together for the first time, with lots of obligatory friction, before U.N.C.L.E. (the organization) is founded. The film is set in the 60s, though, so that's good.

Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it turns out okay...
Dec 232014
 
Episode ten (originally airing on December 8th, 1979) of A Man Called Sloane, "Lady Bug," features more spy-fi gadgets than any other episode, including a gas-spewing silver dollar, a submersible automobile, a tape-recording wristwatch, a keyring that can give off electric shocks, and a cigarette case with a 2-way TV communicator. Oh, and The Director (Dan O'Herlihy) plays around with a rocket-launching umbrella in the lab, much to "Q"-girl Kelli's (Karen Purcill) dismay.

The villain of the piece is a KARTEL contractor named Chandler (the late Edie Adams), a glamorous, middle-aged woman who likes to surround herself with young male bodybuilders. She's working with a disgruntled entomologist (!) who has bred a hybrid species of "devil locusts" that can strip a field of crops in a matter of seconds, and whose bites are fatal to humans. With the help of a pretty young entomologist (Barbara Rucker), Torque and many of those aforementioned gadgets, Sloane manages to save America's breadbasket from KARTEL's sinister plan to corner the world's food supply.

"Lady Bug" is a hoot, with an entirely ludicrous – but amusing – plot and a great performance by Adams, who seems to be enjoying her opportunity to play against her usual image, with charm and a sly wit. Torque actually gets a little bit more to do in this episode, rescuing Sloane from a grasshopper (!) and demonstrating a few new accessories for his cybernetic hand. There's also a fun homage to Hitchcock's North By Northwest when a low-flying crop duster drops a load of poison gas on Sloane and his lady faire in a field. Unfortunately, there's also a judo match between Sloane and a henchman (played by Martin Kove), where it's clearly – even on my crappy copy of the show – a stunt double filling in for Conrad.

A fun episode. Two more to go!
Dec 152014
 
The ninth episode of A Man Called Sloane (originally airing on December 1st, 1979) opens with Sloane and Torque in France, covertly observing a test of a laser cannon in an isolated valley that in no way resembles L.A.'s Bronson Canyon. (Sure!) They're not the only ones, as Sloane observes an attractive woman (Andrea Howard) also watching. As these bystanders stand by, a team of six women attack the scientists testing the laser, beat them up, and steal the weapon.

Sloane repels down a cliff to intercept their fleeing truck, only to have his ass handed to him by the "Sweethearts," and then be tossed unceremoniously off the moving vehicle.

It's not a total embarrassment for UNIT's "only Top Priority Agent," though – somehow, in the melee, he managed to steal the ruby needed to make the laser cannon function. Anyway, UNIT decides to try and lure the thieves into the open by having Torque pose as an African king who is auctioning off one of the only two other rubies capable powering the device. KARTEL baddie Bannister (Ted Hamilton) and his all-female terrorist squad - The Sweethearts – as well as the beautiful KGB agent that Sloane saw in France, all converge in Vancouver to fight over the gem. The usual hi jinks ensue.

As a poster on the IMDb points out, this is a smaller-scale, faster-paced remake of the Death Ray 2000 pilot film, which hadn't been seen on TV yet, with the gratuitous addition of the sexy "Sweethearts" – a virtual necessity on Fred Silverman's NBC at the time. The episode is briskly directed by veteran B-movie and TV auteur Jack Starret (Cleopatra Jones, Race With The Devil), who, in keeping with the tradition of nepotism on the Sloane set, cast his daughter as one of the Sweethearts! Not the series' best episode, but far from its worst.

• Andrea Howard, who portrays KBG operative Anna, also co-starred with Don Adams the following year in the first Get Smart feature, The Nude Bomb, where she inexplicably took the place of Barbara Feldon's 99. She was pretty and likable, but a poor substitute for Feldon.

• With so much of today's TV being shot in Canada, I find it interesting and amusing that in this 1979 production, Los Angeles is standing in for Vancouver, rather than the other way around!