Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Italiano

Warning: this article contains content not suitable for children.

Today we’re talking about a comic book project on Kickstarter with big dreams, an ambitious goal, and an interesting take on the gangster epic, one of the more popular genres in popular culture.

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The project is a series of graphic novels created, drawn, and produced by Mike Bloom.

It is currently seeking funding for the debut issue of a planned long form series and is seeking to reach $10,000 by June 30th, 2017.

Here’s the link to the campaign:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1916419692/italiano-the-graphic-novel-series?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

The story is simple.  Four crime families are fighting among each other for control of the fictional town of Capitol City.  These families all have colorful leaders such as Mario Italiano.

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So it seems like it’s a pretty stereotypical gangster story but the way it tells its story is so interesting and quirky that I can’t help but be impressed.

You’ll notice that the art style is…different.

I want to say this is Saturday morning cartoon violence cranked up to eleven but…it’s not.  It’s too angry and violent for a kid cartoon but it’s too clean and polished for mature and gritty.

I guess the only word I can use to describe it is…unique.

It’s a rapid fire assault on the senses that makes it bizarre, almost alien, and I love it for that.

Also, the creator claims that this graphic novel series is “The Sopranos meets Rick and Morty”.

I like the Sopranos,

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and I LOVE Rick and Morty,

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and if this comic lives up to its promise than I will be a very happy man.

If there was one correction I would make I would say that the art style reminds me of Invader Zim more than anything.

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It’s probably just me but hey, is being compared to Invader Zim really a bad thing?

Why you should donate

If the art and premise didn’t grab your attention and make you want to donate than I highly recommend checking out the story behind the creation of this comic.

I’m not going to go into the creator’s entire life story here but just to give you a rundown, the man is passionate about this project and has dedicated over fifteen years of his life to making this series a reality.

Heck, before it was a comic it was actually a card game you could play on your phone.

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Now, I don’t normally use the backstory behind the creation of something as a selling point.  Usually I believe that it doesn’t matter how much time you put into something if the end result is going to be garbage.  But this?  This is different.

You can tell that the creator is incredibly passionate about this project, and that he has poured his heart and soul into it, and that is worth our respect and attention.

Italiano is an ambitious project that is the textbook definition of a labor of love.  It’s crazy, violent, bizarre, wholly unique, and is worth your time and money.

Campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1916419692/italiano-the-graphic-novel-series/description

Golden Age Showcase: Target and the Targeteers

 

You know what they say…comedy comes in threes.

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And I like to think that today’s superhero group took that lesson to heart, even though I’m willing to bet any comedy was unintentional.

Today we’re talking about the rather humorously named Target and the Targeteers.

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Origin and Career

This trio of superheroes was published by a company called Novelty Press, which was created in 1940 by Curtis Publishing.  If that name isn’t familiar all you need to know is that they publish the Saturday Evening Post.  If that name isn’t familiar then you probably recognize this cover.

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Novelty Press was created as a comic book imprint in order to take advantage of the comic book craze.  They were able to draw a lot of great Golden Age talent such as Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and Basil Wolverton and their two most famous publications were the superhero series Blue Bolt,

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and the anthology series Target Comics.

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Despite sharing the name of the title, the superhero we’re talking about today didn’t appear until issue #10 in November of 1940.

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Yes that is him on the cover and I have to admit I don’t know what’s funnier: the testicular fortitude of a man who is willing to get shot by painting a giant target on his chest or how stupid the gangsters are for not aiming at the knees or face.

The hero was created by artist Dick Briefer under the pseudonym of Dick Hamilton. Image result for golden age dick brieferBriefer’s most famous work was with the Frankenstein character and is widely considered to be the first modern comic book artist to work with horror stories.

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 Back to Dick’s most famous superhero, Target’s first adventure had him sending an ominous message to criminals everywhere: “Live your life on the straight and narrow or I’ll find you”.  He does this by buying up advertising space on nationwide newspapers, radio space, and even hijacking the phone service.

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You know how in modern movies the bad guy can mysteriously deliver a message to every computer, television, and phone around the world?  It’s nice to know that this particular cliche isn’t so modern.

The Target’s ominous message doesn’t deter a group of gangsters from kidnapping a scientist who is developing a new explosive that other countries want.

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The gangsters reach the professor’s house, only to find that the Target is already there.

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On the face of it, it would appear that the hero has a very poorly designed costume for dealing with guns, but the comic explains that while the suit protects his chest and arms (thus leaving the face and legs unprotected) the target is there to draw enemy fire to the places where the bullets can’t harm him.

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I would commend the comic for attempting to use “Batman psychology” to explain why the hero made the decisions he made but no, in real life that man is dead.

The adventure ends in typical fashion.  The bad guys are stopped, the hero saves the day, and the reader is left wondering what’s next.

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The next issue not only delves into the Target’s backstory, it also reveals that he has two friends who share a similar death wish by dressing in similar costumes.

The Target’s civilian identity is Niles Reed.  He was an athletic prodigy who decided to become a metallurgist had a brother named Bill, who decided to become a lawyer.

Unfortunately, Bill was framed for murder and arrested.  In his rage, Niles decided to rescue his brother while disguised as a masked vigilante.

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While it’s a bit unclear it would appear that the cops accidentally shot Bill as he was trying to escape with his brother.  So in an interesting twist, Niles was responsible for his brother’s death.

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Later that evening Niles happens to stumble across two orphaned boys who were in a lot trouble with some gangsters for not paying protection money.  The three become friends and decide to dress up like superheroes using the same bulletproof costumes of Niles’ design.

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The origin story ended with the reveal that Bill had been framed by a crime boss named Hammerfist, who would become something of a recurring villain for the trio.

I’ll admit, there are some interesting points to this story.  The fact that the hero is actually responsible for his brother’s death coupled with him taking in two orphans who share similar tragic stories draw a lot of similarities to more popular heroes like Spider Man and Batman.

The rest of the trio’s adventures were all one shots with a very patriotic bent them.  The three did their duty and fought against America’s enemies, both at home and abroad.

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The post war years saw a return to form for the trio where they went back to waging war against criminals in the United States.

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So what happened?

The trio of crime fighters had a pretty long shelf life for the Golden Age heroes.  They lasted until issue #95 of Target Comics where their last adventure had them foiling criminals who were sabotaging advertising signs in order to extort an advertising firm.

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Yeah, maybe it was a good thing that they got cancelled.

The trio would disappear for a while until the Target made an appearance in AC Comics’ Men of Mystery series in 1999.

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The trio itself made a comeback in Dynamite Entertainment’s Project Superpowers series in 2008.

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Their backstories remained the same, only this time they all had super speed on top of their indestructible suits.

The Target and the Targeteers embodied everything that worked and didn’t work about the Golden Age of Comics.  On one hand they were goofy, wore silly costumes, and relied on some pretty bad science in order to survive and function.  On the other hand, they had one of the better origin stories I’ve read, they had a long run, and a lot of the things that made it into their stories such as the use of psychology to fight criminals would be use to great effect in other, more popular comic hero stories.

All in all, they weren’t that bad.

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President’s Day special: Uncle Sam

Happy President’s Day everyone!

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For our non American readers, President’s Day is an American holiday held on the third Monday of every month.  It was originally made a legal holiday in order to honor George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

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but depending on what state you live in it can either celebrate one of them, both, or every President who has been elected into office.

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Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the position of President of the United States of America is probably not the most popular position of leadership in the world right now,

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but let me make my position on the matter perfectly clear.

While it is important to realize that the position of President of the United States is a difficult one, and that we should honor the people who sacrifice their time and health to the job, the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day the President is an elected official who can, and should, only do so much.

At the end of the day the problems that we face as a society can only be solved when ordinary people come together to fix them and take action.  Solutions are almost never the work of one great individual, but rather a collection of ordinary people.

Sadly, the slow and tedious work of millions is difficult to comprehend.  So in order to make sense of it all we do two things.  We celebrate the lives and achievements of a few men and women and we craft symbols and signs that we can rally around.

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That is part of the reason why I like superheroes so much.  They’re colorful, larger than life, and an easy way for people to relate to things and events that are much bigger than themselves.

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In an increasingly complex and chaotic world, they are the walking solutions to many of our problems.

So let’s take a look at a Golden Age superhero who wasn’t just a superhero who represented the millions of men and women who fought in WW2, but a walking symbol of America as well: Uncle Sam.

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Origin and Career

Uncle Sam became the personification of the American people and government during the War of 1812, although you probably recognize him more from his World War 1 recruitment poster.

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According to legend, the character of Uncle Sam was based off of the real life Samuel Wilson, who was a meat packer from New York and a fervent American patriot.

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Uncle Sam is up there with the bald eagle, baseball, and the flag as great American symbols and since he has such a violent history and is often associated with war it only makes sense that when America decided to get involved during World War 2, they co opt the ever loving crap out of him.

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Naturally he found a home in comic books and in July of 1940, Quality Comics published National Comics #1 hit the stands with Uncle Sam leading the charge against the Axis.

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I don’t know what I like more, the fact that Uncle Sam’s hat hasn’t blown away in the wind, or that they have a LITTLE KID RUNNING ACROSS AN AIRPLANE WING ATTACKING A FULLY GROWN MAN ARMED WITH A PISTOL!

Boy, child safety laws were pretty lax back then.

Like every hero, Uncle Sam needed an origin story.  It turned out that the folks at National Comics were content to keep him as a vague symbol of American government and way of life, only this time he was going to get his hands dirty and join the fight against crime and injustice.  It turned out that Uncle Sam was the spirit of a fallen soldier from the American Revolution and continued to appear whenever his country needed him to fight.

With any other company or creator this probably would have turned into a silly little farce, but this version of Uncle Sam was written by Will Eisner.

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If you don’t know who Will Eisner is, all you need to understand is that the comic book industry’s version of the Oscars is named after him.

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Anyway, this version of Uncle Sam did his patriotic duty and fought off, what else, the forces of evil and tyranny that just so happened to look like the Nazis.

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His superpowers were whatever the story needed and he had a kid sidekick named Buddy Smith who accompanied Uncle Sam on his many dangerous adventures.

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So what happened?

He spent 45 issues beating the enemies of America, and freedom loving people everywhere, to a pulp.

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Then Quality Comics went belly up in 1956 and was bought out by DC.

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DC’s Uncle Sam would go on to be a pretty big supporting character in the DC universe.  He became the leader of the Freedom Fighters, a group of old Quality Comics characters that were brought together in a Justice League type of arrangement.

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His origin was retooled a bit.  Now he was a spiritual entity that was summoned by the Founding Fathers in an occult ritual that bound the “Spirit of America” to the body of a dying patriot.

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He’s had a steady presence in the DC universe ever since the 1970’s.

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In 1997 DC’s greatest imprint, Vertigo Comics, gave Uncle Sam a two issue mini series written by Steve Darnell and drawn by Alex Ross.

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My hat is off to Vertigo for taking a pretty goofy character and treating him with respect and giving him a meaningful story.

He appeared in the DC event comic Blackest Night.

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and was dramatically revamped as a mortal black man in the New 52 reboot.

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Uncle Sam is an interesting character.  On one hand he’s goofy, colorful, and the kind of un ironic display of patriotism that would make a lot of people cringe.  On the other hand he’s a symbol of a violent and destructive superpower that has a nasty habit of sticking its nose in business that it has no right to be in.

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Personally, I’m more inclined towards the first interpretation.  Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that the man is pure Americana and I can’t think of a better symbol of the effort and determination of the American people.

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Sure, you can call me corny and cheesy but you know what?  I’m okay with that.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Hello Earth

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter comic book project called “Hello Earth”.

It bills itself as a “science fiction/horror comic” about a group of aliens who mysteriously land at JFK airport (because as we all know, every alien in fiction seems to gravitate towards New York or Washington D.C) bringing a strange creature known only as “Project Nimbus” who desires to learn more about Earth.

According to the information provided the alien’s human guide eventually uncovers a massive conspiracy and the unseen threat of an alien invasion.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1641791007/hello-earth-a-sci-fi-horror-comic?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

I am a huge fan of science fiction.

I’m not the biggest fan of horror but this is one of my favorite movies of all time.

The reason I bring this up is because both “Alien” and “Hello Earth” understand what makes horror truly effective: it’s not WHAT you see, it’s what you DON’T see.

I want anyone reading this article to really think about “Alien” for a second.  It’s a dark movie, and I don’t mean that it’s gory or violent I mean it’s dark

You’re watching the movie and you can’t quite see what lurks in the shadows, you have no idea what the contents of the crashed ship are,

and when the Alien starts killing people you only see glimpses of the creature.

It is truly terrifying stuff.

Now let’s look at “Hello Earth”.

If you watched the Kickstarter video above you’ll see that the comic is not very dark, it doesn’t bother hiding its aliens, and it’s actually not very scary at all.  If anything it looks more like a “fish out of water” comedy than a horror film.

But if you ask me that’s a point in the book’s favor.  You have no idea what the aliens are doing there, you have no idea what they want, and you have no idea what’s going to happen.  At the same time there are glimpses of something much larger and much more sinister going on.  The video reveals that the landing alien ship was actually on JFK’s flight schedule a few days before it landed.

Who are they?

What do they want?

What are they planning?

Why you should donate

Besides from the intriguing idea, the artwork is fantastic,

and they’ve got a great creative team behind it with plenty of experience.

But besides all of that, I believe that the real reason this comic needs to be made is because we are long overdue for a smart, well written, well drawn, and well thought out sci fi horror comic that knows how to build suspense and lead the reader wanting more rather than throwing everything at the reader all at once and hoping they’ll like it.

I hope you enjoyed this article and please feel free to donate to this campaign and make this project a reality.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1641791007/hello-earth-a-sci-fi-horror-comic?ref=category_newest

The Primordial Soup: Creating truly mature content and art

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES OF SEX AND VIOLENCE ARE POSTED BELOW!  IT IS ONLY THERE TO PROVE A POINT.

I would like to share something with you that’s been on my mind recently.  We as an art loving and entertainment consuming culture have fallen in love with the word “mature”.

Audiences love mature content because it treats them like the fully functioning adults they are.  Maturity in art and media gives the audience the benefit of being able to think and process an idea in a complex and interesting way and doesn’t treat them like children.

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After all, anyone who is capable of handling mature art and content is clearly operating on a superior emotional and mental level than a child so why shouldn’t art and entertainment reflect that?

The problem is that there are far too many artists and creative types who have no idea what the word “mature” even means and it needs to change.

Let me explain.  If you’ve bought a video game, a music album (when that was still a thing), or a comic book before 2000 you’ve probably seen something like this on the box.

Mature

Granted the label above is what you would find on video games but the idea is the same across all forms of media: the rating agency for that particular form of media (in America we have the ESRB for video games, the MPAA for movies, and we used to have the Comics Code Authority for comic books) took a look a that particular piece of art and decided that anyone under a certain age wasn’t emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle that content.

But what qualifies any form of entertainment as mature?  Well, if the label above is anything to go by than mature content implies this

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this

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and a lot of this.

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And speaking as someone who enjoys comics and has decided to create comic books as a form of creative expression I’ve seen a lot of comic books, especially from the 1980’s and 90’s with a lot of this

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this

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and, dear God help me, this

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yes a lot of creators like to use the word “mature” as an excuse for putting in all the raunchy, dirty, scandalous stuff that a mainstream, decent, God fearing audience simply cannot handle.

Here’s the thing tough, simply putting a barely clothed woman into your game/comic/movie/what ever you’re creating for the sake of having her there doesn’t make your work mature, it makes it childish.  The same can be said for drug use, extreme violence, and excessive amounts of swearing.  Keep in mind, I’m not saying children should watch Hostel

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but this sort of entertainment should be labeled as “adult”, not mature.

So why do people make this stuff?  Well if you ask me it’s because nothing pisses off an artist or any sort of creative type than having to adjust their vision to some sort of censoring authority.  Want proof?  Look no further than video game industry during the early 2000’s where sex and violence was used almost as a form of protest.

Most of you reading this article will remember the time when games like Grand Theft Auto

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faced tremendous social and political backlash for being a corrupting influence on our poor innocent youth.  There were protests, politicians tried to have it banned, and other lawmakers tried to jump start careers by trying to take it off the shelves.

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In response to all the criticism of their art form a lot of video game developers created a whole slew of violent and “mature” video games.  These were games that you wanted to play, not because they were intelligent or even necessarily good games, but because they had all the blood and violence you could stomach and your parents would hate them

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You can trace this sort of behavior across all forms of media.  Artists don’t like have other people tell them their work can’t be shown to people so they react by making art that tries to subvert the status quo.  The problem with things like violent video games and excessively sexualized comics and film isn’t that it will cause the downfall of society, it’s that it’s usually just not very good.  We slap the mature label on material like this when all it really winds up being is childish and immature.

The good news is that there is quality art out there that does deal with mature themes in a much better way.  The even better news?  It’s not necessarily just for adults.

I want to show you one of the best examples of art that deals with mature subject matter in the last 20 years and also happens to be a children’s Saturday cartoon.

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Most of us know this series, most of grew up watching it as children.  Batman TAS was known for not just being a really well animated and well directed show, but for the way it treated its audience like the mature and responsible people they were without resorting to excessive violence and overly sexualized images.  Probably the best example I can think of is the episode “Baby Doll”

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Without going into too much detail the episode deals with an out of work actress who became famous as a child protagonist on a popular TV show.

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Unfortunately, the actress had a rare genetic condition called systemic hypoplasia which meant she would never grow as she got older.  Even though she was 20 when the show ran she still looked like she was 5.  When she tried to leave the show and branch out her disorder meant that she couldn’t find any work as an actress and, coupled with the fact that many people just couldn’t take her seriously, she eventually snapped and attempted to kill the cast of her old show.  The episode ends with her surrendering to Batman and suffering a severe mental breakdown.

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Here we have a case where, and I cannot stress this enough, a children’s TV show displaying more maturity and adult subject matter than almost any other media ostensibly meant for adults.  It doesn’t show any blood, sex, or hard drug use but it does deal with incredibly mature themes of loss, denial, depression, and hopelessness.  Real maturity has almost nothing to do with blood and sex but has everything to do with complex emotions and themes.

So in conclusion all I have to say is this.  If you are setting out to create a piece of art in any form and you would like to create it for an adult audience feel free to put in all the sex, drugs, and violence you want into it.  Just make sure that you use it to present something in a mature and responsible way.