Tag Archives: art

A Comic Book, Apocalypse, and Dolly the Sheep

http://jesusisland.com/

An Interview with Escape From Jesus Island creator, Shawn French.

This is an extended version of an interview I had with French that originally appeared in The Reporter, a weekly newspaper out of Waterboro, Maine.

What would happen if someone cloned Jesus?

This is the question Shawn French–(local)Limerick, Maine writer, filmmaker, stand-up comedian, and comic-book author–asked himself twenty years ago in the parking lot of a movie theater. He had just seen a film that graphically illustrated the unintended and dangerous consequences of attempting to create life from ancient DNA. The year was 1993. The movie, of course, was Jurassic Park.

Now, two decades later, French has just published a horrifically creative answer to his question in the form of a graphic comic book entitled Escape From Jesus Island.

A 1987 graduate of South Portland High School, French spent a few years after high school working as a stand-up comedian and then traveling the country for a decade before moving back to Maine in 2000 with his wife, Sue, and stepchildren, Erica, Kim and Robert. He found creative outlets in a variety of genres–writing for the Windham Independent newspaper, writing film and video-gaming scripts, and working on and acting in a dozen independent films. In 2008, French wrote and directed his own movie, The Wrong House.

He was busy, but some ideas grab hold and just don’t let go. The Jesus clone premise had sunk its claws into French, and he began to seriously research both the subject of cloning and the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Starting out as a film script, the story eventually evolved comic book series which combined French’s story and the graphic artwork of illustrator, Mortimer Glum, the finesse of letterer, Peeter Parkker, and the expertise of editor, Shawn Greenleaf. Thanks to the team, plus a successful Kickstarter campaign, the first issue of Escape From Jesus Island, was published in December 2013.

This week, French agreed to answer some questions about the comic book, the creative process, and the team of people working on the Escape From Jesus Island franchise.

Q: Okay, walk me through this slowly. I’m looking at the Escape From Jesus Island website (http://jesusisland.com). What does ‘original full-color, digitally painted comic books series’ mean for those of us who know nothing about graphic novels/comics? Are these traditional comic books? Or are they graphic novels that are more like soft-cover books?

A: Size and shape are like a traditional, old-school comic book, but comics have come a long ways. Instead of the filmsy, newspaperish stock, we print on a heavy, glossy paper in full-color. To the touch, it feels more like a magazine. I’ll drop one off so you can see.

Illustrator Mortimer Glum digitally paints EFJI. He uses a variety of techniques, most of which I don’t understand at all. I love the end result, though. He built fully poseable 3D models of every major character, as well as a full, digital 3D model of Malsum Island, the setting for Act One (Issues 1-8). We can virtually ‘walk’ through the tunnels, anywhere on the island or even inside some of the hospital. Mortimer uses these models to achieve consistency panel to panel. Like a filmmaker, he can pan the camera to the spot he wants and grab a digital snapshot of a background image as a reference. Then he digitally paints on top of that using a Cintiq tablet. It’s amazing to watch. The guy is magic.

Q: Can you give a brief synopsis of the story? What is Escape From Jesus Island about?

A: EFJI is the story of an attempt to clone Jesus by the ReGen Corporation. Years of failed attempts leave behind scores of near-Jesus mutant freaks before they succeed in creating a set of twins, Jesus and his monstrous brother Yeshua. Christ and Antichrist. The Vatican gets word of Christ’s return and sends in an extraction team just as Yeshua is leading a mutant uprising and things get all kinds of crazy. And that’s just Act One, the first eight issues in a 40-issue series.

Q: And of course the question every writer is asked: Where did this idea come from?

A: The original spark of an idea hit just after watching the first Jurassic Park film in 1993. Just, as in, still in the movie theater parking lot. At the time, I was working as a standup comedian and was always on the hunt for comedy material. I wrote a bit that was essentially Jurassic Park, but with murderous packs of Jesus clones in the place of dinosaurs. A remote island testing facility where the Bodies of Christ get loose one stormy night and wreak havoc. The first script was basically a Monty Python sketch.

The story evolved in layers over the years. Because I couldn’t get this Jesus-cloning story idea out of my head, I did a bunch of cloning research and that’s when the story we see now really started to come into shape.

Dolly, the first sheep ever cloned, was attempt number 277. The first 276 were fatally mutated. The realization hit me that if scientists were ever to acquire Christ’s DNA and try to clone him, and you KNOW they would try, they would have to make hundreds of mutant saviors before creating one you could show to the press. I find that equal parts horrifying and hysterical. This
realization was how EFJI turned from a comedy into a horror story.

The next tectonic shift in the story came while spending a full year studying Jesus and Revelation before starting on the comic book scripts. I listened to sermons about the Apocalypse around the clock. I bombarded myself with them, from every possible denomination. It was during this period that I realized EFJI is a story about the Antichrist and the End Days. That the cloning experiment in EFJI results in twins, Jesus and the monstrous Yeshua. Christ and Antichrist emerging from the same womb.

4. I noticed from your bio information that you are also a filmmaker. How do the two interests mesh?

I first wrote Escape From Jesus Island as a film script and I gave serious, serious thought to shooting it as follow-up to The Wrong House, the horror movie I released in 2008. Ultimately, the story was just too big to do it justice on an independent budget. As a comic book, though, there are no cost restraints stopping us from making this as big and bad as it needs to be.

We intend to blur the lines as much as possible between comic book and live action. Many of the primary characters are modeled after actors I trust in Maine. This will allow us to do a Jesus Island character photo shoot with Biddeford photographer Jakk Blood, and a live-action trailer for the comics.

5. Did your background in film help you plot this story? And there are some film terms being used in the marketing aspect, right?

We think of this story as a film or super intense television series. I’m credited in the comic book as director and Mortimer as cinematographer, and we include a cast page. Morty has also done film work, including storyboards, so we both come at this with a cinematic eye. We aren’t using a lot of the super exaggerated angles traditionally seen in comics. The action is framed like we’re shooting it all on camera.

6. You were supposed to be interviewed on CNN’s New Day program, but the segment was canceled. How did you happen to get on CNN’s radar to begin with and why was the segment canceled?

That whole thing was really weird. They approached me out of the blue, wanting me to discuss the comic and backlash on their Faces Of Faith series. Then two weeks in a row, they bumped me on less than a day’s notice, and were kind of nasty about it the second time. The segment had been shifted from producer to producer a couple times and I’m guessing it finally landed on the desk of someone who found it offensive. I can’t figure out any other reason why they would approach me to be on their show and then angrily cancel just hours after confirming. Twice. The funny part is, the focus of the segment was going to be the challenges of distributing an independent comic in the face of backlash from offended people. Then I got backlashed right off the air.

7. The story shares many thematic elements with the Book of Revelation in the Bible. What would you say to someone who accused you of being sacrilegious or disrespectful of Christianity?

The one thing the offended people all seem to have in common is that they haven’t read our comics. They see the title and the Antichrist crucified on the cover and decide they know everything they need to know.

EFJI is essentially the Biblical story of Revelation, using cloning as the catalyst for the prophesied return of Christ and rise of the Antichrist. Many of the things that Biblical scholars say are symbolic, we interpret literally, such as the seven-headed Beast who rises from the sea. We named him Pariah and he is one of our main antagonists.

Oddly, the people who are offended by our comic are the ones who would be most able to catch all the subtle religious references. We have a whole lot of Christians and Catholics among our fans, though. Fortunately, most grownups have the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality and know that a comic book doesn’t pose a credible threat to their belief system.

I get some nasty emails from time to time and doors get randomly slammed in our faces (like with CNN), but it isn’t my responsibility to navigate around the emotional triggers of seven billion people. My job is to tell the most compelling story I can, so I focus on doing that.

To our critics, I would say, “Give me a chance to actually offend you before you get all hot and bothered. We haven’t even gotten to the offensive stuff yet. It’s a 40-issue series. Pace yourselves.”

8. Did you always want to be a writer and filmmaker?

Absolutely. Independent filmmaking really wasn’t a valid option when I was in my 20s. The technology just wasn’t there yet, so I had kind of let that longtime dream go and focus on writing. I’ve never stopped writing stories. I wouldn’t know how to stop. It’s how I process my thoughts. There are two epic stories that I’ve been working on for more than 20 years, building enormous story worlds with the knowledge that I would one day find an outlet to bring the stories to life. Escape From Jesus Island is the first of those stories.

The massive technology leaps in the past 20 years have completely changed independent filmmaking. Now, anyone with the drive and passion to make a film, can. So I of course pounced all over that. I’ve worked on nearly a dozen independent films (mostly playing monster roles) and finally got to write/direct my own movie, 2008’s The Wrong House.

9. The artwork in EFJI is arresting, to say the least! How did you and artist, Mortimer Glum, become collaborators on this project? (And is that his real name?)

Mortimer and I met during post-production on The Wrong House. He’s part of a Portland-based FX group called The Shoggoth Assembly, that handled the practical horror effects in our movie. Morty designed our posters and DVD cover art, which is how we met. We immediately hit it off and I eventually got the courage to pitch the EFJI comics to him. Fortunately, he was hugely into it and we’ve been full-speed ahead ever since.

10. Once you wrote the story and collaborated with Mr. Glum on the artwork, how did EFJI become a published book? Can you talk a little bit about how graphic novels are designed and produced?

Printing in full color is extremely expensive, and we are starving artists, so we started with a Kickstarter campaign, where fans could pledge their financial support for the series in exchange for various perks… signed copies of issues, custom artwork, or even a chance to appear as a character in the series. More than forty of our fans will appear in EFJI in the first eight issues alone.

200 backers contributed nearly $16,000 on Kickstarter to help us get up and running. This allows us to print the first four issues.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1254797765/escape-from-jesus-island-comic-book-series

The actual production of a comic book was all new territory for our team and we made a lot of rookie mistakes as we were getting our workflow figured out. Editor Shawn Greenleaf was a life saver during this stretch. He handled all the technical details with the printers (Transcontinental in Canada)… and there are a LOT of little things that have to be exactly right or the final product will suffer.

The workflow we have settled into now is basically this…

* I write the script (generally 3-4 issues ahead)

* Mortimer breaks it down into panels on the page and sends me rough versions

* I use those roughs to rewrite the script to perfectly fit the images

* Letterer Peeter Parkker takes the new script and puts the words on the page

* Editor Shawn Greenleaf (based in Seattle) picks apart the artwork, text and anything else he can find a flaw in

* We grumble at him, then fix the stuff he suggests

* We all pick through the pages for any last changes

11. Where do you see this project going?

This is more than a comic book series to us. We’re treating this as a franchise from Day One and striking out in as many directions as possible. Portland sculptor Nicolas Genovese has already created our first two gaming miniatures and is working on a full-size action figure; Portland-based horror FX group The Shoggoth Assembly will be creating some EFJI gory goodies, including character masks; Event Screen Printers in South Portland is working on T-shirts; we have an EFJI board game in the works; and we’re in talks that could lead to EFJI as a full radio drama.

Our crew know a whole lot of amazingly talented people and we have an All Hands On Deck approach to making this series everything it can be.

12. Will you have a booth at any comic book conventions? How has the reception been so far with readers/fans?

We’ll be hitting a lot of conventions in the Northeast this first year and hopefully can expand a bit further in 2015. We first premiered our trailer at Coast City Comicon (South Portland) in 2012 and Mortimer Glum held an art workshop again there in 2013.

Reception from fans and critics has been amazing so far. Clive Barker, a hero of everyone on the Jesus Island team, even checked it out and offered us an official endorsement. http://www.facebook.com/officialclivebarker/posts/422151551226901

It has been a crazy rollercoaster ride already and we’re just getting started.

13. Is there anything else our readers should know about you or EFJI? Where can readers buy the book?

This map shows all the stores currently carrying us and our network is increasing all the time: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=ze8U5uNxcdYA.kSUrLlBpTwO8

Current options in Maine are: Coast City Comics (Portland), The Complex (Scarborough), Game Box (Topsham) and Top Shelf Comics (Bangor)

We’re also available on Amazon (www.amazon.com/Escape-Jesus-Island-Shawn-French/dp/0991186419).

And we sell subscriptions and signed artwork at our online store: http://escapefromjesusisland.bigcartel.com

Localista At Large: Shopping, shopping, and more shopping!

At San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art

Dear Reader:

I have now spent many hours trolling through gift shops and wandering in that aimless touristy way that is at once relaxing and exhausting in equal measure. The Teen and I managed the public transportation options yesterday, starting out with the MTS express bus, the 150, from just across the street in La Jolla down to Old Town. There, we procured a couple of Compass passes from a vending machine at the trolley station–three-day passes that would allow us unlimited bus and trolley rides until Wednesday.

Picture the trolley/bus station at Old Town. Two sets of tracks divided by concrete walkways and covered benches. A few bus lanes dotted with more benches with signage listing the various routes going north and south. An underground passageway between the bus and trolley lines–the walls of said passageway artfully decorated with red roof tiles and large stones in wavy shapes.

The trolley are like above-ground subway trains– bright, shiny red on the outside and very clean inside. Finding the right trolley and getting Downtown was no problem yesterday. Soon we were deposited a block or so from our destination, Seaport Village, a recreated seaport development of small shops and restaurants along the waterfront, not far from the giant ship museums and the Fish Market Restaurant.

We ended our day at the Kansas City BBQ where the bar scene from TOP GUN was filmed. This very casual rib joint was laid-back with checkered plastic tablecloths, styrofoam cups for our sodas, and really hot and salty fries. We didn’t order any ribs, but the smell was spicy and sweet wafting from the table behind us. In the bar area, people sat in close quarters at the worn bar over which hung Navy caps–I’m assuming they were donated by military customers over the years. Signed photos on the wall included Richard Dean Anderson and Brooke Shields and a bunch of athletes I didn’t bother to look at. Sorry sports fans.

Today, we intended to go to Balboa Park for some art & culture, but the thought of navigating the MTS again just made me feel tired before we even started. We opted for another foray into La Jolla Village where we did spend a good hour and a half at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art before shopping, refueling at the Brick & Bell Cafe, more shopping, and meeting Hubby down at the cove where the sea lions were diving and flapping and honking beneath a cloudy afternoon sky.

Dinner at the hotel “social hour” ended our day as we couldn’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for dinner out. Early to bed. Sea World, hopefully, tomorrow.

So, here are the highlights from our last couple of days.

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Hotel Suite Kitchen

Our hotel suite kitchen where I’ve composed some good, fresh salads as well as pasta and even garlic bread. Avocado with everything!

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village Flag

Seaport Village: a cute shopping area, waterfront district.

Kites over the waterfront

Kites over the waterfront

Watching the kites flying over the waterfront park at Seaport Village was relaxing…and chilly!

Wax Candle Artist

Wax Candle Artist

Balls of wax are dipped into colored wax and become beautiful, one-of-a-kind works of art. We had fun testing out many of the wax balls beneath the handy spotlights before choosing a few to bring home. The artist was very friendly and agreed to pose for us after explaining her process. Can you see the colored wax buckets beside her?

Top Gun Hats

Top Gun Hats

Here are the hats hanging over the bar at Kansas City BBQ. Remember Tom Cruise singing “She’s lost that loving feeling?” Here’s where it happened.

Art meets sci-fi

Art meets sci-fi

At the Museum of Contemporary Art, the main exhibit featured art inspired by science fiction. This one was based on a mythological sci-fi story about slaves dumped overboard in the Great Lakes who created a lost world beneath the water. Note the eyeballs beneath the waves. Cool, I say. Sketchy, says the Teen.

Flower People

Flower People

Another artist created a world where people were able to genetically combine with plants. These are the flower people of her imagination.

Echoes Too

Echoes Too

Walking down the street with no particular destination in mind, imagine my delight when I spotted–tadaa–a resale clothing store in ritzy La Jolla Village! Echoes Too Resale Shop carried some pretty impressive name brands. I especially liked a slinky black jersey Calvin Klein cocktail dress and a nice white cotton shirt. However, I didn’t feel like trying on clothes. It was enough to have found the shop and snap a photo, I guess, for this Localista.

IMG_cafe

The Teen and I spotted the Brick & Bell Cafe from across the street and zipped right over. It sits on a quiet back street across from a shoe repair shop and dry cleaners…and a few locals were hanging out at the outside cafe tables and reading and chatting and greeting each other. We split a chocolate chip scone and drank cappucinos. It felt like Europe to me, somehow. Must’ve been a certain vibe. That and all the languages we heard on the street. La Jolla draws people from all over the world. I’ve heard snippets of French and strands of Italian, watched people of all shapes and sizes and ages and colors brushing past each other in and out of shops and restaurants. There is nothing like getting out of small-town rural Maine and into a large, metropolitan city to wake up one’s interest in culture and cultures!

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!