Friday, March 17, 2017

Logan

From the first announcement of its title alone, we could tell that we were in for something different from the norm in the comic book genre. Logan is a title that exhumes such confidence, and treats its audience with a level of respect not often seen in this day and age in which such mouthful, hand-holding movie titles as "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" exist. Logan. It's simple, tells us everything we need to know about the movie on a tonal level before it even begins, and has faith in the movie going audience to know that this is a movie about the X-Men character Wolverine. So already, this movie had won a level of respect from me before I had even seen it. And as to the actual movie, that respect for the audience prevails all through the movie itself, and it more than earns its audience's respect back in return.

I initially wasn't sure if I even wanted to write a review for this film, as I feel that most everyone already appears to be more or less on the same page about it, so I wasn't sure that I really had anything unique to add to the discussion that hadn't already been covered everywhere else. But while much of what I have to say does mirror what you've likely read elsewhere, after pondering over this movie quite a bit, I think that I've come up with a number of interesting points that I feel are worth mentioning, and that I haven't really seen brought up anywhere else, which I'll be getting to in a little bit. But I've seen the movie twice now, and have taken the time to really allow my thoughts to settle on it. And honestly, the more I think about this movie, the more I grow to love every single thing about it.

All of the major studios producing these comic book films have had their landmark movie for the genre thus far. Sony had it with the first Spider-Man, which was the comic book movie that made people take the genre seriously again, after it had become a joke for about a decade by that point. Then DC and WB had theirs with Nolan's The Dark Knight, the movie that made people not just take comic book movies seriously, but see the potential they had to transcend the genre and be looked upon as genuinely great films in and of themselves, as opposed to merely great "comic book movies".

Then I'd say Marvel Studio's contribution came with The Avengers, which was an accomplishment in the genre that really paved the way for how studios would produce these sorts of films moving forward. And while things in the genre may have mostly become stagnant and complacent since then, Fox has finally come out swinging, with the rated R Deadpool last year opening the door for their big groundbreaking film that's bound to raise the bar once more in the form of Logan, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if this is the next movie that leaves all the other studios taking note.

This is a movie that's really more of a hard drama than it is a superhero flick, and is almost entirely performance and character-driven. And every single detail, from the raw and gritty way that it's filmed, to the dirty and somewhat post-apocalyptic setting, despite not actually taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, are all reflections on Logan's mindset and world view, after having endured a life of pure hell that has lead to all of this. It's such a perfect package of a character based movie, with every single element really contributing to the whole in such a way that removing even a single aspect would unravel the whole thing.

And even the R rating really adds to the full package. At first it's a bit shocking seeing so much blood and brutality and hearing so many f-bombs being dropped in an X-Men movie like this, but as the movie proceeds, you can see that all of these instances are a necessity, and not the least bit gratuitous. It adds to the character, to the sheer dark place in his life that he's come to, and all of the pain and anger and grief and torment and regret that he's had to live with for such a long, miserable time. And this material would honestly feel neutered if it was being presented without the rated R aspect, which makes it feel more like a real human story, as opposed to a typical comic book fare. And while I don't necessarily think this approach needs to be adopted for all of the X-Men movies moving forward, it was more than appropriate here, so much so that I honestly can't see this film working any other way.

I do think that a lot of this film's success can be attributed to Deadpool being such a runaway hit. After all, if it weren't for that film's success, I have a hard time seeing Fox greenlighting this project and allowing it to be told in this manner. But Fox tried something new with Deadpool, not only in making it a hard R mainstream comic book film, but also in allowing their filmmakers to make the movie they wanted to make with relative freedom, with very little in the way of studio interference. And so that gave way to the creation of this film, which fully benefits from those looser studio constraints.

With Fox apparently allowing their filmmakers free reign to just make a film with their rated R division of flicks, and not be so constrained by typical studio mandates, we're finally seeing actual films being made within the genre, as opposed to the boring, monotonous, conveyor belt cinema that we've become so accustomed to. And if The Dark Knight was the first big step in taking comic book films seriously beyond the genre itself, then this movie feels like the next big evolution beyond that. This is a movie that truly feels genuinely mature and has a real gravitas to it, and is so consistent with its tone and approach throughout that even when the more comic booky stuff does rear its head in, it never feels silly or out of place, like it has in so many other movies. And the movie incorporates it all in such an organic way that compliments the themes of the movie and maintains its weight the whole way through.

This film feels like the ultimate culmination of everything that had preceded it, and so much of that is conveyed to us solely through the performances. Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are absolutely incredible in this, and both give career best performances that really touch on a deeper level, and are so good that it will be a damn shame should they go overlooked come awards season. And newcomer Dafnee Keen is similarly excellent as well as X-23, showing great range, all while not even speaking through most of the duration of the movie.

One of the things I love so much about the movie is how most of the conflict in the film is internal, and how that's portrayed here. And that actually somewhat mirrors one of my favorite movies in Spider-Man 3, which I have written a full blown defense for in the past. A lot of what made that a favorite of mine has to do with the themes of inner-struggle that were tackled there, and I loved this movie for a lot of the same reasons that resonated so well with me in that one. However, while Spider-Man 3 feels more like the teenage angsty version of this story, Logan definitely feels like the more grown up, mature, and adult version, so it's fitting that its come out so much later, where I myself am at a more adult stage in my own life, and can appreciate it more on that level accordingly.

But one of my arguments in defense of Spider-Man 3 was in terms of how the villains in that movie were incorporated. And for much of the movie, I argued how Spider-Man himself was the main villain, how his internal struggle was the main conflict of the movie, and that Venom was used as a means for Spidey to have an actual one on one encounter in the end on a physical platform. And this movie does something a little similar, with the use of the villain X-24, who is an evil clone of Logan. And while that does sound a bit silly in writing, and is the one aspect I've seen the most complaints about, this film treats this character extremely seriously, and I honestly believe X-24 may well be the most genuinely terrifying villain in a superhero movie since The Joker in The Dark Knight, not just in execution, but also in what the character represents from a more thematic standpoint as well.

Thematically, X-24's inclusion not only fits here, but it completes the movie, and our main character's journey. After all, the real villain in this film was Logan's internal struggle, his fight against his own demons. And by including this character, it really brings that fight to life and makes it a real, tangible entity. In this film, we see how all of the years and years of this relentless life has taken its toll on our leads, only for them to be forced to finally come face to face with all that they've been dealing with and fight back against those demons that have been haunting them for so long. And that is the real villain here, is Logan's emotional state of mind itself. And that's why this is such a striking and powerful film, because it's not just a comic book film about good vs. evil. It's a movie about characters, about facing oneself and finding a way to overcome and become a better person.

Another thing that I noticed in this movie was how it explicitly references events from the very first X-Men film, despite that film technically being retconned out of existence by the time we get to this movie. But then I started thinking about it, and how many other elements from the earlier movies still happened as well, despite Days of Future Past changing history. For instance, Logan still goes by the nickname Wolverine, and in Apocalypse, we see that he still underwent the adamantium operation. And then you consider that the whole purpose to changing history in Days of Future Past was because the mutants were all being wiped out, and yet despite their efforts, by the beginning of this movie, the mutant race has still managed to be wiped out anyways.

So much that was changed had come to pass all the same. And I think that might be yet another telling element to this movie, is that no matter how much it may haunt you, you can never truly run away from your past. Rather, you have to learn from it, learn to live with it, and learn to move on, which is something that Logan struggles with all throughout this film. Logan has endured so much, and has even tried to change things from his past for the better. Yet, despite his efforts, everything still happened anyways, just in another way. And this element only adds to the frustration that Logan must be living with on top of everything else, is the knowledge that all of his hardships in life were an inevitability, and that there was no diverting from this path that he's walked. But even so, no matter how hard it may be, he still has to find a way to move forward and keep fighting.

In this way, despite that the movie totally works on its own as a standalone entry, this movie truly feels like the natural culmination of all of the films that preceded it. And it makes it all the more fitting, too, that the characters we follow in this story happen to be Logan and Xavier, as they are the only two in the series who have retained all knowledge from all of the timelines in this series. It feels like a closing chapter not just on Logan's story, but on this current iteration of the X-Men franchise as a whole. And honestly, before this movie, I would've been pretty annoyed by the prospect of Fox rebooting the X-Men, as has been rumored. But after this film? Yeah, I can't see them ever topping this, and it's always best to go out on top, so I say if the X-Men must continue, then sure, let's do a full franchise reboot, 'cause this is just too good and too fitting a send off to just go ignored.

The Academy Awards increased their possible Best Picture nominee slots to 10 films in response to The Dark Knight getting snubbed. And seeing how Logan is by far the best comic book film that's released since then, it would be a complete waste of that change if this somehow didn't come away with a nomination next year, as this is precisely the sort of movie that change was made to accommodate. This wasn't just a great superhero movie, it's one of the greatest ever made, and was a phenomenal film even beyond the genre itself. From the filmmaking and the production design, to the performances and the writing, everything really came together to produce one of the finest works that the genre has ever seen, a real human story and a truly emotional journey, and it will take a lot to ever top this one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

From the Artist's Side of the Table - My Convention Experience

So as a way to promote my new book, I've been doing a number of book signing events again this year. And this past weekend, I just finished with my first actual convention for the year, that being Freecon in Tallahassee, my third time participating in the event. But upon returning home from the convention and returning to work, my manager asked me a couple of questions about how things went, and well, I guess I felt like there was an interesting enough discussion here to share my responses to those questions to a wider audience, and gives me an opportunity to address some common misconceptions that people occasionally have in regards to doing these sorts of events, and so I've decided to share my responses with you all here.

So the first in a series of mostly financial related questions that he asked me was...

"What do you do with all of the money that you make at these events?"

And, well, I can go into a number of different areas with this question. When my manager asked me this, I believe he thought that I was just rolling in dough doing these events, a feeling that becomes more prevalent when we get to some of his later questions. But the truth is, almost all of the money I make at these things goes towards paying off the event itself.

When you're doing a convention, there are a number of costs that go into it. First, there's the cost of the table space, which varies in price from convention to convention, depending on how big or small the show is. Then, there's the cost of supplies, so in my case, that means the cost of purchasing the actual books I'll be selling, as well as business cards I'll be handing out, or anything else I may try to incorporate to my table in order to attract attention, such as the table cloth or a banner and displays and other such signage.

Now, if I'm doing an event locally, or just doing a book signing at a smaller book store, then that certainly makes things easier. However, if I have to travel for an event, then that adds in a number of added expenses, including gas, food, and hotel costs. So yeah, taking all of that into account, then that explains where most of the money I make at these events goes towards. Quite frankly, I'm usually lucky to just break even, and on the off chance that I do make a profit, then what do I do with that money? Honestly, it usually just goes towards groceries for that week. So basically, it's not exactly enough to be able to quit my day job and live off of, to say the least.

Now, part of that is a bit of my own fault. After all, I'm going to these big nerd conventions with the intent of trying to sell something brand new to a whole group who are all there in a collected celebration of all of the various nerd fandoms that are already well established. They're not there for new, they're there for what they're already into. But still, I'm stubborn and I'm insistent, and seeing as this crowd typically consists of my general target audience, I'll continue to try and push my new ideas onto them until it finally latches on.

Now, this problem is probably easier for other artists to work around, those who draw and sell prints, as they're able to still sell their services and their art, while also selling something recognizable on top of that, by drawing characters that are already well established, just with their personal artistic touch or style added to it. But my art is of the written variety, so I don't really have that as an option. But even so, if I was there just to make money, then sure, I could probably cobble together some more recognizably fandom related memorabilia to try and sell off, which would certainly help with expenses. Except, for me personally, that's not my goal. I'm not there to make money. I'm there to try and get the word out on my own work and build a fandom for my new property. And, well, that's a fandom that's never gonna build if I'm creating competition at my very own booth.

And to be fair, my approach has slowly been working. After all, at this latest convention, quite a bit of my business came from people who had already purchased and read my previous books, and were there to pick up the new one. This is something that my neighbor artist noticed, was all of the return business at my table. And it became something I was also able to incorporate in my pitch to try and gain even more new readers, to tell them that, hey, most of my business this weekend has come from people coming back to get the new one, 'cause they loved the first ones just that much. And you know what? It actually worked, and I was able to make a number of sales and potential new fans that way, too.

But even taking all of the above into account, all of the preparation and expenses and everything, the biggest thing that has to be taken into consideration in terms of making any money at a convention is the actual con-goers themselves. And the thing about them is, it's impossible to predict what you're going to get. Cons can be very hit or miss, and not just for me, but for any vendor or artist. Sometimes, there might be a high turnout of people, but nobody's really buying anything. Sometimes a con that you made a killing at one year, can be a total bust the next. Or sometimes the opposite can happen. You can never tell for sure what sort of crowd you're going to get, which can have a huge effect on how the con goes for you.

But anyways, I feel I've said enough in regards to that question, so let's move onto the next, which was...

"You're going to share all of that money you make selling your books, right?"

Now, what I think he meant by this (again, assuming that I were rolling in dough doing this) was, am I going to put my money towards something good, such as donating it to a charity, or trying to help and support others within my community in some way or fashion? And most of my response to that, for the time being, pretty much mirrors my response to the first question, on account that I'm really not actually making any money doing this thing just yet.

However, while I might not have the means to financially show my support, I do still very much try to show my support in other ways all the same. For instance, I have a number of friends who are also aspiring writers, and I always try to do anything I can for them to help out in any way. Whether it's reading their work and critiquing or editing it for them, or just answering any questions they may have in regards to either the writing or self-publishing process, pushing them and urging them on, I've always been an open book when it comes to these sorts of things.

When I do these conventions, I almost always have at least a couple people approach me just to ask me how I got where I am, how I actually finished something, and how I got it published, asking so that they can have some idea as to what they need to do in order to work towards their own artistic goals. And I give them as honest a response as I can, and try to break down for them the steps I took all along the way (which would be a whole different topic all itself, so I won't go into detail here).

But I won't just tell them what I do know, I'll also be frank and let them know if they're asking me something I don't have the answers to, because I'd hate to just try and bullshit someone like that. After all, I don't have all the answers, not at all. And I'm still very much trying to figure out what I'm doing even now. The learning never stops. But as far as what I've already learned? Yeah, I'm always willing to share that knowledge with others, to try and help them out, much the same way that others have helped me back when I was just getting started on this whole ordeal myself, and continue to do so even to this day.

So there's that, for those still aspiring. But for those who are on a similar level as I am, where they're actively producing things and putting them out there, trying to market it? Well, anytime I see this, I'll almost always be the first to jump at the opportunity to help promote their stuff for them. After all, at this level, any little bit helps, and I know there's only so much I can do on my own trying to self-promote my own stuff. So I know the struggle, and I also know how valuable it can be to have someone else actually lend a hand and help promote your stuff right there along with you, without even needing to ask.

You'll always see me on social media, for instance, promoting other people's work, anytime I happen to see it. This is a practice that I honestly wish more people would get on board with, that being promoting their friends and their peers, as opposed to already established properties that, quite frankly, don't need your help promoting their latest work (after all, they have whole marketing teams to do all that for them, something that people on my level are very much lacking in).

So really, I always spread the word on other people's work, or try to fill my peers in whenever I hear of an event happening in town that I think they might be interested in. (Though admittedly, I will sour on lending that helping hand to others who I see not return the favor or show their appreciation.) After all, it all goes back to that golden rule, always do unto others what you would have them to do unto you. And this is a rule that I've sadly found very few appear to abide by. But for those few that do, you can't even begin to understand how much your help is truly appreciated, and how much it means to myself and those like me who are trying so hard to break through.

So yeah, that all might not be financial related, as the question originally asked. But until I reach a place where I can lend my support financially as well, and actually do something productive with "all that money that I'm making", and can actually really share it accordingly, I'll still always do whatever is within my ability to help out my peers and my community all the same.

Anyways, onto the next question, which was...

"Does your publisher pay you to do these events?"

And the answer to that is, quite simply, seeing as I am my own publisher, being self-published and all (and not one of those obnoxious self-published authors who refers to their self-publishing service, such as createspace or amazon, etc., as their "publisher"), no. Not unless I actually make a profit at a given event, but even then, see my answers above to see where that money actually goes to. But nah, I think my manager is under the impression that I'm a bigger deal than I actually am (which is an odd impression to be under, considering that, despite what my online presence may tell you, I almost never talk about all this stuff I'm working on in person), and he doesn't realize that every step of the way are all steps that I have to take personally.

I have to reach out and set up all of these events, talk to the appropriate people and make all the payments and arrangements, and maintain communication to ensure that everything is good to go. Sure, I'd love to have a publisher, or at least a personal assistant or someone, who could handle all of this stuff for me. But for now, so long as I remain self-published, that's just not feasible, and so it all lays on my shoulders in order to get it all done.

Which now takes us to his last question, which was...

"Did you do anything fun or see anyone while you were out of town?"

And I think this is one of the bigger misconceptions that people have when I tell them that I'm going to a con, is that they think that I'm going on vacation. But really, that couldn't be any further from the truth.

Quite frankly, it's work. And the days are long. There's a lot of interactions with a lot of people that I have to have. I have to sell myself and my product to just about everyone who comes up to my table. And, let me tell you, I'm already not the best salesman in the world, nor am I exactly a sociable or extroverted individual. So it's even harder for me than it is for most, but it's something I still gotta do all the same.

I've got to strike up conversations with strangers all day long, and by the end of it, I'm exhausted. And the next day starts bright and early, so there's not much time to go out and do any socializing with friends after the day's out either. I actually did meet up with one friend this weekend, but it had to wait till after the con was over entirely, and even then, it was a relatively brief meeting, as I still had a 4 hour drive back home waiting for me that night, as I was scheduled to return to my day job the next day.

So yeah, these things aren't a vacation. There's not a lot of free time, or really even a lot of me time. It's a job, and it's draining. But that's not to say that it isn't also very rewarding, and that there isn't fun to be had at all. After all, you do meet a lot of interesting characters, and see a lot of cool and interesting things, such as all of the artwork all around, and the cosplay that people dress up in. So there's definitely an aspect of fun to it. But it still remains work all the same, which is something that I'm not sure you're really able to properly grasp until you actually get behind the booth and experience it for yourself.

And yeah, that was pretty much the extent of my manager's line of questioning. And while I may not have gotten as into detail with my responses to him as I did here, his questions did stay with me well after the fact, and left me with a lot to say on the matter, which I thought might be interesting for anyone who might be curious as to how these things typically go for people on my side of the table trying to make a name for themselves, or for anyone who might be looking into doing this sorta thing themselves someday. I've learned a lot doing these events over the years, but like I said before, the learning never stops, and I'm sure that there are still many lessons waiting for me as I continue to dive into these experiences moving forward.