Golden Age Showcase: The biggest space opera of early science fiction

I feel compelled to talk about a well known, nostalgic, space opera about a small group of plucky rebels against an all powerful empire that threatens the freedom and safety of the entire galaxy.  It would also help if this space opera has a rabidly loyal fan base and has gone on to influence popular culture for decades

Image result for flash gordon comic

What, you were expecting something else?

Origin

Before Superman made comic books profitable in 1938 the best way to get sequential stories published was through a newspaper comic strip.  The strips were published and distributed through something called syndication.  This was where a syndication company would hire a creator to create a strip and then distribute it to various newspapers around the country.

One of the biggest names in the industry at the time was King Features Syndication.

Image result for king features syndicate

How big is it?  Well, it’s still around today and if you’ve ever picked up the comics section of a newspaper before, I guarantee that you’ve read one of their strips.

Image result for king features syndicate

Anyway, in 1934 King Features had a problem.  A rival company had just rolled out a science fiction adventure comic called Buck Rogers to huge commercial success.

Image result for buck rogers comic

King didn’t want to miss out on this explosion of sci fi popularity, so they turned to a staff artist in their employ named Alex Raymond.

Image result for alex raymond

He was the man who created Flash Gordon and in May of 1934, the first comic strip debuted.

The strip begins with the end of the world.  A giant planet named Mongo is on a collision course with Earth and a half mad scientist named Dr. Zarkov kidnaps a Yale polo player named Flash Gordon and his true love Dale Arden to stop the collision and save Earth.

They manage to stop the collision and save Earth, only to come into contact with Mongo’s evil ruler: the awesomely named Ming the Merciless.

Image result for ming the merciless comic

Impact and legacy

The comic was a huge hit and would go on to inspire dozens of adventures, re imaginings, and become a massive multi media franchise with the release of several movie serials between 1936 and 1940.

Image result for flash gordon movie serials

The character remained popular through the 1940’s and 50’s, transcending the backlash that so many comic book characters faced in post war America.  He even got a big budget re imagining several decades later which was a pretty blatant attempt at cashing in on its nostalgic value in 1980 where the main hero was re imagined for modern audiences.

Image result for flash gordon movie

Because the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Side note: the comic has a website that publishes strips every week.  You can find it here and it’s really worth checking out.

Everything about the character, from the comic to the movies, is deliciously cheesy and over the top.  It’s got strange aliens, grand romance, and the forces of good triumphing over impossible odds.  It was also a massive influence for a lot of film makers and creative types at the time, including a little known film student named George Lucas.

Image result for george lucas

Lucas would go on to use the Flash Gordon space opera, along with ideas from film legend Akria Kurosawa and a host of others, to create a little film called Star Wars.

Image result for star wars

It’s a really obscure movie, you’ve probably never heard of it.

The more you look at it, the more similarities you can find.  Like Flash Gordon, Star Wars has a band of plucky rebels,

Image result for star wars han luke leia

resisting an evil ruler,

Image result for star wars the emperor

and tells a deeply personal story set against the backdrop of a massive and violent sci fi universe.

Image result for star wars space battle

Oh, and both franchises are famous for the sheer amount of merchandise and spin offs they managed to produce.

Image result for flash gordon toys  Image result for star wars toys

Flash Gordon is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction stories of all time.  It’s epic scope and scale, along with it’s amazing story telling and imagination, have ensured its place in the annals of pop culture history and as the direct ancestor of one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.

Image result for flash gordon comic

Advertisements

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Enough Space for Everybody

Boy, it’s been waaay to long since I’ve done one of these.

For anyone who might not know, I run a blog series where I talk about cool crowdfunded comic books I like and try to help them out for free.  Unfortunately, silly things like work and sleep tend to get in the way so I don’t get to do this as often as I like.

However, today I was feeling especially awake and I decided to browse the projects on Kickstarter and I found this!

The project is a science fiction comic book anthology with a really intriguing twist: it’s a collection of sci fi stories without any military or imperialism themes, tones, or stories.

The project is headed by J.N Monk and needs to raise $30,000 to pay for artists, editing, printing, and shipping.

Kickstarter link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1638576966/enough-space-for-everyone-else-an-anthology?ref=home_featured

Why I like it

I’ll be honest, when I first read the project description I was a tad confused.

You see, I am a guy who likes comic books and science fiction.  This means that, for most of my life, this is the kind of sci fi I’ve been raised on:

As you can see it’s big, brash, loud, and awesome, but “Enough Space for Everyone” is trying to do science fiction without all the guns, fighting, and violence and that intrigues me.

For me, and I would assume almost everyone else who likes science fiction, the genre is at its best when it creates timeless stories that speak to some particular part of the human condition

By setting stories in the distant future authors allow their stories to become timeless.  After all, we won’t have to worry about a sci fi story being dated because we’ll be long dead by the year 10191

and the wondrous technology that sci fi is known for allows its creator to physically show the reader everything from the meaning of humanity,

To the dangers of our hubris.

The reason why I think conflict is so prevalent in science fiction is because it makes a story easy to understand.

War and violence are one of the few constants in human history and it is something that everyone understands at some level.

Sci fi often uses conflict to set up two opposing sides and use each side to explain the point he/she is trying to make.  One side is good, the other is bad, here’s why, and this is what happens when one side wins.

But if science fiction is a way to explore the human condition, why do we have to always limit ourselves to conflict?  Aren’t there other emotions and ideas that humans have been coping with for thousands of years?  Why can’t science fiction tell those kinds of stories?

The creators of “Enough Space for Everyone” want to write sci fi stories like that and claim that “there is enough space for friendship, for art competitions, for understanding, for magical nights at the theater, for creativity, for vacations, for new beginnings.”

I like this project because I have spent a LOT of time with violent military sci fi and I want to see what stories from other perspectives look like.

Why you should donate

Another interesting thing about science fiction is that a lot of its art tends to rely on a very specific, very detail oriented, very realistic style.

But “Enough Space for Everyone Else” takes a very different approach, preferring to promote artwork that is much less realistic and almost childlike.

I’m not advocating one style of art over another, I’m simply saying that this comic anthology is different from what a lot of people normally associate with science fiction and that’s a good thing.

Which brings me to the biggest reason why I think more people should support this project: it’s different from so many other stories out there.

Whether you like it or not, the past forty years of science fiction has been dominated by two pop culture behemoths,

Almost every work of mainstream science fiction has tried to emulate these two franchises in theme, tone, and visual aesthetic from the idea of a giant galactic war that threatens to tear entire galaxies apart,

to re purposed colonization and exploration stories that used to be about the Wild West but now take place in outer space.

Personally, I think it’s time that science fiction tries to break away from these two narratives and tries something new.  It’s time for a change and “Enough Space for Everyone Else” is a great start.

So if you’re interested in promoting and encouraging science fiction that seeks to bring a new diversity of ideas and stories back to a genre that we all know and love, consider donating to this campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1638576966/enough-space-for-everyone-else-an-anthology?ref=home_featured

Star Wars: My review and opinion

So this is normally the day when I post some article on an old and crazy Golden Age comic book character but since it’s the Christmas season and since most of the pop culture consciousness has turned its massive head towards one particular franchise for the time being

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens.jpg

I thought it would be interesting to offer my two cents on the movie and the franchise as a whole.

Note: The following below does NOT include any spoilers for the new film.  Feel free to read away at your leisure.

I liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens, at least enough to want to buy tickets for the next one.  Let me be clear here, I didn’t think it was “Oh my God this film is the greatest thing ever in the history of movies J.J Abrams is a God among men” good but good enough to bring Star Wars back into the popular consciousness and is a feather in the cap of the movies director J.J Abrams.

MV5BMTM4MTE0NTkzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODEwNDU0OQ@@._V1_UX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_.jpg

I thought it was a respectful homage to the old cast, I think the new cast did a phenomenal job, and I think the future of the franchise is in very good hands.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-comic-con.jpg

Most importantly I thought the movie succeeded in its most important goal: capturing the spirit and feel of the original trilogy.

download.jpg

But what exactly does that mean?  How did the Force Awakens succeed in making us remember the original films while going out of its way to say “hey those prequels that everyone hates?  Yeah, those don’t exist anymore”?  Well, let me explain what I think makes Star Wars a huge success.

For starters there’s something we have to come to grips with: the Star Wars movies just aren’t very good.

tumblr_mir0m5lPNR1qmpfldo1_500.jpg

Okay, pitchforks down everyone!  Let me explain.

If you take the original trilogy and put it up against another science fiction masterpiece like “2001: A Space Odyssey”

images.jpg

Then you can start to see a lot of holes and uncomfortable gaps in the plot.

For example: Isn’t it kind of strange how the Death Star is a massive space station the size of a small moon but only needs one exhaust port to vent what must be a massive amount of waste energy into space.  And doesn’t it seem weird that all that exhaust wouldn’t send something as small as a fighter sized torpedo flying outward?

Thermal_exhaust_port.png

Isn’t it strange that a farm boy from a backwater desert planet who just recently joined the Rebellion (bear in mind in the beginning Luke wanted to join the Empire as a pilot) was just given a highly advanced space fighter and expected to survive the dangers of combat in deep space?

Red-Five-Luke-Skywalker-star-wars-25252985-960-637.png

Granted, you can make the argument that the Rebellion needed all the pilots it could get and that Luke was familiar with the controls from flying his T-16 back home, but as any actual fighter pilot will tell you combat is incredibly stressful.

And that’s just the first film.  How about the elephant in the room that is the really uncomfortable kiss between Luke and Leia in the Empire Strikes back?

luke-leia.jpg

Or how about how an entire legion of the Empire’s best stormtroopers

TempestForceEndor-ROTJ.png

were defeated by these guys?

databank_ewok_01_169_747db03a.jpeg

Here’s the thing though.  The Star Wars movies may not be very good but that’s okay.  In fact: it’s part of what makes them brilliant.

In the original trilogy George Lucas tells us an epic story filled with space ships, laser swords, and feats of daring that seem so impossible you could call them magic but the story he tells is only part of something that is so much bigger.  Probably his most brilliant scene in the entire trilogy is the Mos Eisley cantina scene from A New Hope.

mos-eisley-cantina_2489136a.jpeg

Sure the scene has a purpose within the film, the main characters are looking for a ship to take them off planet and it introduces another character in Han Solo

hanshotfirst_400x400.jpg

but Lucas takes time in this scene to let the audience look at all the aliens and other crazy characters that are also in the bar.  You may know Luke and Obi Wan but aren’t you a bit curious about this guy?

creature-cantina_3fdabe24.jpeg

or this guy?

Labria.jpg

or how about this guy?

download (1).jpg

What’s the back story for these creatures?

EP4_KEY_482.jpg

Why is this band playing the same song over and over?

maxresdefault3.jpg

And how did Cornelius Evazan get the death penalty on twelve systems?

Evazan_with_blaster.jpg

(author’s note: I do know why because Wookiepedia is a thing.)

Most of these questions have been answered and that’s what makes this scene so brilliant.  The original Star Wars trilogy was wise enough to give us A story within its massive universe but it didn’t tell us THE story.  It granted its audience enough information to be entertained but left enough out there for us to fill in the blanks on our own.  And fill in the blanks we did.  The toy and merchandise empire Star Wars spawned?

starwarsfront.jpg

What better way to play out our own adventures than with a Star Wars action figure?  The library of books and video games?

download (2).jpg

star-wars-video-games.jpg

A chance for other people to put their own stories into the Star Wars Universe.

You want to know why I think the prequels failed to catch the original spirit of Star Wars and were viewed as awful movies?  They tried to explain too much and be more complete movies by talking about things like space politics and…

midichlorians_pvp.jpg

And that is why I like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  We don’t know why the First Order exists or what it’s plan is.

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-First-Order-stormtroopers.jpg

But we don’t need to because, much like the motivations of the original Empire, we are capable of filling in the gaps ourselves.  We barely know any of backstory or motivations for any of the main characters in the new movie

poe-ridley-finn-131779.png

but that’s okay we can do it ourselves, at least until the later movies reveal more about them.

Star Wars is a brilliant franchise because it has the courage and wisdom to surrender itself to the fans.  Much like the Force itself the fandom is a an energy field created by each person making their own contribution to the story as a whole no matter how big or little.  It surrounds the fandom and binds the movies, books, games, tv shows, and countless fanfics and wiki articles together.  It is no longer just Lucas’ franchise or Disney’s franchise, it is a franchise that belongs to everyone who loves Star Wars.

So in conclusion, go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s a wonderful way to get back in touch with your imagination.

The Primordial Soup: What is Star Wars?

So this little movie is going to be coming out soon.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster.jpg

Probably won’t be that much of a big deal…there’s a good chance not too many people are going to see it.

Yes, like many people on the internet with a blog I love Star Wars, but why?  After all, if you look at it at the surface level it’s just a bunch of guys with cool swords flying around in cool ships  and shooting lasers at each other.

download.jpg

But most people who watch and enjoy these movies, and believe it or not I have met people who don’t like Star Wars, know that there is something much bigger and deeper to it.  Over the next couple of weeks I, and most likely half the Internet, will be posting a series of articles talking about one of the greatest movie franchises of all time in an attempt to answer a very simple, yet incredibly complicated, question:

What is Star Wars?

Well, in order to do that let’s look at where Star Wars came from.  George Lucas was an up and coming director in the 1970’s, part of the nascent film school movement that would give us Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese.

a35c885feeee21099f43156401f19cc1.jpg

These are the men that became the titans of American entertainment and created many of the most iconic works of art the world has ever seen.  Here’s the thing though.  Those men in the picture?  They didn’t just come with their ideas on their own.  When they were learning how to make movies they had inspirations of their own.

These guys learned from the classic films of the cinema scene from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.  The movies these guys grew up on were the ones that inspired them to make a new generation of American classics.  After all, this

download (1).jpg

is basically a better directed and better funded version of this.

1291687_f260.jpg

This,

Jaws-movie-poster.jpg

is basically a better version of this

claw.jpg

and this,

taxi-driver_13.jpg

took quite a bit of inspiration from this.

Murder_by_Contract_FilmPoster.jpeg.jpeg

But what about Star Wars?  Well, in order to find out what inspired Star Wars we have to dig a little bit deeper.

First and foremost: what’s the first genre you think of when you talk about Star Wars?  Science fiction.

download (2).jpg

Believe it or not there was a time when science fiction was treated as a small time genre in Hollywood and most of the science fiction movies of the 1950’s were pretty cheap and throw away affairs.

robot_monster_movie.jpg

hqdefault.jpg

invaders-from-mars.jpg

Granted, Hollywood did produce some genuine sci fi classics at the time.

MV5BMjIxMjAyMTcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgwNjc0MjE@._V1_SX214_AL_.jpg

91+idOIPqcL._SY606_.jpg

Film1956-InvasionOfTheBodySnatchers-OriginalPoster.jpg

and a little known producer named Rod Serling had some really interesting things to say.

Twilight Zone banner_0.jpg

But for the most part science fiction was relegated to B roll status.

So that’s one part of where Star Wars came from but there’s quite a bit more to it then that.  Star Wars opened up a whole new world in showing us what movies could do in terms of action and excitement and it’s pretty safe to say that it didn’t get its sense of excitement from old school sci fi.  I mean, in these old films the space ship tends to just…float and sit there.

fp32.jpg

Granted it’s safe to say that it was probably because of budget constraints but while early sci fi did that Star Wars gave us this.

ExecutorBattle-SWM.jpg

Can you imagine sitting in a movie theater in 1977 and seeing THAT for the first time?

200_s.gif

Lucas didn’t get the epic space battles that Star Wars is known for by watching B movie schlock sci fi so where did he get it from?  Well, you know how Darth Vader’s helmet looks like a Nazi helmet?

13yexs8.jpg

Besides serving the purpose of letting the audience know that THIS IS THE BAD GUY!!  Star Wars borrowed a lot of its action and fast paced bits from the footage and movies about World War 2.

Red_Tails_Dogfight_Poster_Header.jpg

So Star Wars was created on a foundation of early science fiction movies and given a boost with exciting action inspired by World War 2 fighter pilots but there is one final thing missing.  What about the guys with cool swords?

Star-Wars-jedi-luke-skywa-001.jpg

Bear in mind, I am talking about the Jedi within the context of the original three movies (we’ll get to the prequels believe me) and when you’re talking about the Jedi you have to talk about one of the all time legends of movie making: Akira Kurosawa.

akira_kurosawa.jpg

For those of you who don’t know Kurosawa is one of the greatest film makers of all time.  He is basically the entire reason we enjoy samurai films

7samurai2.jpg

and he created what is possibly the greatest adaptation of any Shakespearean play to film.

MV5BMTM1MTk2NDIzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTA5ODQxMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_.jpg

He’s done plenty of other work but all we really need to know within the context of this article is that he made the samurai one of the most iconic figures in cinema.

harakiri.jpg

Lucas saw Kurosawa’s work and liked it so much he decided to borrow a whole bunch of stuff for Star Wars.  The term Jedi is a play on the Japanese word “jidai” which is a reference to the Japanese genre of historical films. R2-D2 and C-3PO

download (3).jpg

are robotic copies of two comidic, yet incredibly helpful, peasants Tahei and Matashichi from the Kurosawa film Hidden Fortress

download (4).jpg

Yoda

download (5).jpg

is modeled after the wise and war weary Kambei Shimada from Seven Samurai

sevensamuraibluray2.jpg

and the whole idea of fighting based off of intuition and feeling?  Of emptying your mind in order to anticipate you opponent?  Using the Force?  It’s an overly simplified version of Zen Buddhism.

So there you have it.  Star Wars took elements of early American sci fi, World War 2 action, and Kurosawa’s samurai films and built one of the most iconic film series of all time on it.  Granted, there is much much more to Star Wars then this but hey…we have to save something for later.

 

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Aria

Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite genres in all of literature: science fiction.  The project I want to talk about is a Kickstarter campaign for the prologue and first chapter of what is hopefully going to be a much larger work called Aria.

Aria cvr by JOEYDES

The comic is written and drawn by Joseph DeSantos and is the very definition of a passion project.  According to the campaign page Mr. DeSantos states that the idea for the project came from his frustration with some of the more unsavory aspects of our modern culture such as greed and corruption among the rich and powerful on a seemingly epidemic scale, widespread ecological destruction, and the massive gulf between the haves and have nots.  It is intended to be a story that spans thousands of years.

The prologue and the first issue are intended to give more detail on the backstory

panel 4 page 1 Aria#1

and to introduce two of the main characters, the Earth Air Force engineer Talia Green and the mysterious alien Ya’Ren.

pg. 10 Aria#1- First face to face of Tali and Ya'Ren

The project is currently on Kickstarter and needs a little under $2000 to meet its goal as of writing this article.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeydes/an-indictment-of-systemic-corruption-and-intoleran/description

Why I like it:

This is probably the most personal I will ever get in this article series.  I have actually had the chance to work with the writer/artist on this project before.  It was on a separate project of my own creation that unfortunately fell through for various reasons that I won’t go into here.  I will say that Joe DeSantos was not one of those reasons and he was a blast to work with.  I will also say that out of all the artists I have seen he is one of the best at drawing emotion into his characters.

Kickstarter exclusive print featuring the cast of Aria#2!!

Talenthouse Submission by JOEYDES

lost_in_time_and_space_by_joeydes-d6vz2e4

You always get a sense of what’s going on in each character’s mind and to me that’s the hallmark of a great artist.

I’d also like to take a moment to say that Aria is the sort of speculative sci fi project I have a soft spot for.  I love stories about Earth in the distant future, all the problems the future holds, all the potential solutions, and how the future can be used to comment on the present.

So basically I’m saying this is the sort of project that is being developed by an artist I like in a genre I really like.  Yes, I am somewhat biased towards this project.

Why you should donate:

For starters the artwork and story for the Prologue and First Chapter are already done, the campaign is just there to cover the cost of printing.  In an uncertain world it’s nice to know that there are places you can get your money’s worth in a timely manner.

The second reason is a bit more…intellectual.  This is by no means a definitive statement but you can argue that most, if not all, of science fiction can be divided into two very broad camps.

The first type of sci fi story can be seen in movies and shows like Star Wars.

103012-star-wars111

These are the kinds of shows and movies that go to the audience and say “hey, here’s a fun cool looking product that doesn’t have much in the way of a deep message or big important point but look, laser swords!  Space fighters!  Awesome story and characters!”.  We know something like Star Wars isn’t going to challenge our minds and make us think too much (the prequels tried to do that but failed) but we don’t care.  Star Wars science fiction is science fiction as pure entertainment.

 The second type of science fiction story is the kind that bears a lot of similarities to shows like Star Trek.

ST_TOS_Cast

These types of shows tend to attempt to imbue their stories with a deeper meaning behind the effects and future technology.  Star Trek attempted to broaden the minds of the audience and while future tech like the transporters were designed as a cost cutting measure, the message of exploration, attempts at peaceful co existence with other alien species, and the all around positive vibes of organizations like Starfleet served as a critique of the present day and as a message of hope and optimism.

Now granted, this is by no means a definitive idea.  There are plenty of shows and works of sci fi that bridge both camps but Aria firmly places itself in the Star Trek camp.  By using a past where humanity’s decisions have practically doomed our planet the work serves as a scathing critique of our society and an exploration of what could happen to us.

As I said before, I like the artist and I like the project.  This is definitely something worth checking out.

Campaign link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeydes/an-indictment-of-systemic-corruption-and-intoleran?ref=nav_search

Cambrian Comics Friday showcase: The Art of James Beihl

Today is the day Cambrian Comics tries something new.  This is the first (of hopefully many) posts were we get to showcase the art and work of other great artists who deserve more attention.  Today we’re going to showcase the work of a friend of mine: Jame Beihl.  James has been working as a comic book artist on a graphic novel called Abandon All Hope and is  an artist for Wayward Raven Media. Below is a collection of James’ work presented without context or unnecessary words.  Enjoy!

AAHGHG1

AAH4GHG

AAH3GHG

ninjaturtleshires

CthuluGHG

ForceAwakens (1)

If you like what you see and want to show James your appreciation feel free to drop him a line on Twitter @jbcomics and make sure to follow Abandon All Hope on Facebook and Twitter.

Also, if you are an artist or an author who wants a little free publicity make sure to let us know by dropping us a message on Facebook, leave a comment below, or hit us up on Twitter @cambriancomics.