Welcome To My Blog

Ever wonder what it's like to be in that moment between struggling artist and published author? Read on and find out.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Interview with Steve Crompton - Part I

            With this post I am expanding the pool of creative talent that I’m interviewing. In the next few weeks I plan to share the discussions I’ve had with an artist, a musician, and the creator of the City Of The Gods chapter books and related products. What all of them have in common with the subject of authors in training is that they are writers as well. I hope looking at different forms of the writing craft will at least be entertaining and possibly educational as well.

            First on the list is a good friend of mine, Steve Crompton. Steve is an artist and we have collaborated on game related projects over the last twenty years. He is the Art Director for Flying Buffalo Games, the Art Director for Twisted Entertainment, and has worked as a graphic artist in Phoenix for nearly 30 years.  Here’s a sample of his art.


            I interviewed Steve primarily because of his work in the comic industry. The idea of one person writing and illustrating a story in comic form really intrigued me. How do the two forms of artistic expression blend together? Well, read on and you can find out for yourself.

Randy: When did you decide to become an artist?

Steve: I was drawing comic books when I was 6 years old, so I think I’ve always wanted to be an artist.  I’m lucky in that it was something I strived to do from the time I was in grade school.  Anytime the chance to do art presented itself – I did it.  And I’ll probably be doing art till the day I die…

Randy: What are your artistic influences? Meaning which sources have had the most influence on your career?

Steve:  Probably the old Mad comics from the 1950s.  Take a look at Will Elder’s art and you’ll see where I learned a lot of my stuff.  Will Eisner and Murphy Anderson are also big influences.

Randy: Is there any kind of comic illustration that you enjoy more than others?

Steve: I prefer doing other worldly fantasy stuff really.  Alien princesses, strange planets, monsters & other dimensions.

Randy: Which comes first – art inspiration or story inspiration? Do they feed off one another? How do you work with both to come up with your finished product?

Steve:  For comics the art is very important.  You want to be able to present wild amazing things.  The visual appeal is really important.  You draw a bizarre character and then it’s all the more exciting to figure out where they came from and why they look like they do.

Randy: Do story lines ever get changed after you’ve finished a piece of art to reflect an artistic inspiration you’ve had?

Steve:  Always – (Well almost always) Often what is written when translated into a visual medium isn’t physically possible, so the situation needs to be changed to actually make it work visually.  This is true with novels being changed into movies as well.

Randy: Is there a tendency to rely on art in a way that weakens the story? Or does it just enhance an already strong plot line?

Steve: Well art can certainly take the place of written description.  A picture is worth 1000 words (so they say).  I don’t think art for a story would change the actual plot of a story, just the appearance and actions of things in the plot (if that makes any sense)


Randy: Which do you enjoy more; art, or writing, or something else altogether?

Steve:  I like the process of creating.  Most times that’s a piece of art, but often it’s the layout of a book, a website or even a deck of cards…

Randy: When you finally retire, what do you hope to be most known for? Artist? Writer? Snazzy dresser?

Steve: Creator / Artist but many people know me for my gaming and role-playing book art.  So maybe I’ll be remembered as that RPG Gaming Artist? 

Randy: Do you think there is more prestige in being a dual threat of artist and writer?

Steve:  There probably is.  It certainly has lots of advantages.  I control both sides of the equation, so I can make sure the cover matches the story (for example)

Randy: What kinds of stories make the best comics? Or illustrated novels?

Steve:  Comics are a visual medium, so the best stories need to have potential visual appeal to make good comics.  Comic stories also need to have lots of short scenes that can fit on one to three pages, otherwise the comics gets boring real fast.  The first and second original Star Wars movies are perfect examples of a comic book story.  Lots of short exiting scenes with many different settings and visuals.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour    $$$ ½  

89 Minutes
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella
Director: Chris Gorak

            There seems to be a rule of three when it comes to movie releases. What I mean by that is in any given year there is likely to be a set of three movies with a similar theme. In 2011 that was the alien-invasion films. First on the scene, and one of the worst movies ever, was Skyline. Shortly after that, and what I had hoped Skyline would be like, we had Battle Los Angeles. There barely in time to be considered a 2011 release The Darkest Hour was released.

            I enjoyed both Battle Los Angeles and The Darkest Hour. It would be tough picking my favorite between the two, because they each had a different feel. The first is basically a war movie and the second is much more suspenseful.

Of course, these are my kind of movies. Growing up, I read as much post-apocalypse fiction as I could find and the whole invasion of Earth concept has always been among my favorites. Keep that in mind when deciding for yourself if this is a movie you’ll want to see.

            The Darkest Hour starts with Ben (Max Minghella) and Sean (Emile Hirsch) arriving in Moscow to sell the internet software they’ve developed to Russian investors. When the deal goes sour, they decide to go out and party Kremlin-style to assuage the pain of defeat.

            They meet an American girl, Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), and her friend Anne (Rachael Taylor) and the two pairs of friends immediately hit it off. The festivities come to a grinding halt when golden lights descend from the sky and turn out to be aliens intent on killing anyone they find. For the most part, the aliens are invisible and invulnerable to firearms.  

            The four of them, and an unwanted party-crasher, find a hiding place during the confusion and survive the initial onslaught. But when food runs out they decide to venture outside once more.

            This movie reminded me of Alien. Not in plot, but the overall feel. It’s a suspenseful sci-fi outing that has you wondering if the humans can do anything to stop the extra-terrestrial menace; containing lots of lurking and learning as they go.

            What really worked for me were the aliens themselves. These are not ugly creatures with bigger and better guns than the humans, but a different sort of life form. That made it fun to find out, at the same time as the characters, about what they are really facing.

            The film had more than a few surprises for me and a gratifying ending. Once again, keep in mind that this is really my sort of film.

            The Darkest Hour earned a 3 ½ from me. They did a reasonable job with the suspense scenes. The acting was decent, especially considering there were no big names involved. I felt the dialogue could’ve been better, but found the overall plot engaging and was genuinely interested in finding out how it would all end.

            This is definitely a film that you want to see big and loud in the theater. That being said, catching it as a matinee is more than a reasonable option. I have offered to go again with a friend of mine who hasn’t seen it, but I don’t think I would probably buy it on DVD.

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Movie Review: Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol    $$$

133 Minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Paula Patton
Director: Brad Bird

            My oldest son dragged me to the theater Friday night.

            Let me say up front that I am not a fan of the Mission: Impossible movie franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the televisions series. It’s the recent movies that have left me un-entertained. That being said, I enjoyed this film.

[Spoiler Alert – I discuss one of the film’s early surprises. Read at own risk.]

            Ghost Protocol opens with the IMF team of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) breaking Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) out of a Russian prison. They are given an extremely high priority mission within the Kremlin.

            However, the mission is blown – literally – when a wild card appears out of nowhere. In one fell swoop, the IMF mission is ruined, a major portion of the Kremlin is destroyed, and the IMF team is framed for an act of terror that puts the U.S. and Russia at the brink of war.

            Things get worse from there. I’ve already given away one surprise, I don’t want to give away any more. The result is the President institutes “Ghost Protocol” and the entire IMF organization is disavowed.

            The team is left entirely on their own for this – possibly last – mission. The only logistical support they have is one another. The only supplies they have access to are the hidden caches that the team can find along the way. And I think this is one of the reasons I liked the film. In story-telling, limited, and dwindling, resources equal dramatic tension.

            Another thing I liked about this film is that we have an elite team of super spies that are not infallible. They make mistakes. Murphy’s law comes into play. And a few other elements that us common folk are familiar with besiege the IMF team. That made it more believable for me. (Not that anything in Hollywood is believable, but within Tinsel-Town parameters it was more easily accepted.)

            Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol earned a solid 3. All of the actors did a good job; the Ethan Hunt character seemed less arrogant, Simon Pegg was humorous, and I really enjoyed the lesser role played by Anil Kapoor. I thought the plot was smartly written and appreciated a villain that gave the heroes a run for their money. Much like the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, this film had a wonderful move – countermove component that kept my interest.

            This is a movie that benefits from a big screen and a good sound system. As much as I enjoyed it, I definitely could’ve waited for a matinee showing. And that is what I recommend.

            One last comment: I liked this well enough that I would be willing to go see the next film in the franchise. If they make another one.  

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows    $$$$

129 Minutes
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris
Director: Guy Ritchie

            It’s not very often that a sequel is as good as the original film. In this case I think the second outing for this grand re-imaging of the legendary super sleuth team of Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) is even better than the first.

            The story opens just days before Watson and his fiancĂ© Mary (Kelly Reilly) are to wed. Watson arrives at 221 Baker St. and finds Holmes immersed in a conspiracy theory of the grandest scale. He has linked the latest series of violent events in Europe to the machinations of a single man. Professor Moriarty.

            Not to be put off from the events of his scheduled marriage, Watson dismisses the matter as the two of them embark on the last adventure of a single man - The bachelor party. While Watson drinks, smokes cigars, and gambles Sherlock is involved in a running brawl to save his best lead on the Moriarty project.          

            Sherlock survives the battle. Watson survives the last hurrah. And in the morning, despite his feelings that a beautiful partnership is about to be destroyed, Sherlock safely delivers Watson to his wedding.

            Then, after assassins are sent to kill the newlyweds, Watson agrees to join Sherlock on one last case together and they set off to stop Moriarty.

            I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a “perfect” movie, but I felt that this one came pretty close. There is a definite chemistry between Downey and Law that has given a new life to these characters. The interaction between the two actors alone is enough for me to recommend this movie.

            Sometimes the look of the film sets it apart. This series is an excellent example of that. The filmography adds depth to the story telling taking place here. It includes the tone / tint of the film itself to the fast-stop editing of the action sequences. (My apologies for not knowing the technical terms to describe this better – I just know that the way the film looks made the story as a whole even better.)

            The writing is brilliant. And the story itself is the very heart Sherlock Holmes as a series. “A Game of Shadows” aptly describes the rivalry between Holmes and Moriarty. Most importantly it describes the thrilling move, counter-move plot of this film. I love watching two intellectual giants maneuvering against one another for supremacy.

            Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows easily earned my top rating. The action scenes scream out for a full size screen and the bright images you’ll get at a first run theater. Same is true for the sound system at the cine-plex. See it, hear it; big and loud. And my response to anyone asking me if they should wait to see it as a matinee is: Are you insane? See it right away. Then see it again as a matinee. And then buy it when it comes out on DVD.  I’m mostly convinced that this will assume a place in my Top 10 Favorite Movies of all time.

            So, did I like it?    Yeah, you could say that.

            Randy’s Rating System

$$$$   = Full Price    See this movie right away and pay full price, it’s worth it.
$$$     = Matinee      Catch this as a matinee or other discounted showing.
$$        = Discount     Wait until this movie reaches a discount theater near you.
$          = Rental         Wait until this movie reaches your local video rental outlet.
0          = No Sale       Don’t see this movie at any price.