Mercenary Mind: Issue #6

Tue, July 4th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Justin Gray, Columnist

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Last week I spoke with Matt Kennedy, the multitalented president of Panik House Entertainment. If you weren't with us for that interview then click the archive link and get caught up.

Thanks for all the emails showing your support and love of pinky violence. Matt returns this week with interesting news for fans of Mexican cult cinema and the inescapable world of comic books. Lets talk DVD's first. What's the new company all about?

MK: We've launched a second DVD line called CasaNegra, which is dedicated to preserving the classic films of Mexico, and the first half dozen or so titles are all horror. These are truly the cream of the crop; the masterpieces of Mexican cinema. The first two are "The Curse Of The Crying Woman," a sort of Latin "Black Sunday" and "The Witch's Mirror," which conjures recollections of Val Lewton's work at RKO. Every other month we'll revolve Panik House titles with CasaNegra titles, so in August we'll be releasing "Brainiac" officially for the first time ever along with "The Black Pit Of Dr. M," which was considered a lost film for a long time. These are incredibly atmospheric films that recall the classic Universal Monster films, but with a heavy nod to the cinema of Mario Bava. In October we'll release "El Vampiro" and it's sequel, "The Vampire's Coffin" as a specially priced two-disc set on Halloween.

JG: That's great because when I think of Mexican films in the fifties and sixties, I think of Aztec Mummies and Wrestlers as the focus, so I'm unfamiliar with the influence from the Italians blending with the Universal Monsters approach.

MK: Oh yeah! The Mexican film industry in the '50s and '60s was huge, and had been since the '30s. There were thousands of cinemas, not only in Mexico but also in America, that showed these films in their original Spanish language. There were studio divisions that were marketing American films in Mexico and in Border towns, so these people were used to larger-than-life American films necessitating that films from Mexico had to be just as highly budgeted and sophisticated and well made. And these were. In many aspects, these filmmakers were able to get a bit more artistic and a bit more experimental and a bit more violent because US censors and executives would turn a blind eye to it. As long as they continued to remain profitable, nobody was going to interfere. The heyday of the Mexican fantasy film lasted from 1953 - 1965 and all of these films are from that era.

JG: Okay, shifting very quickly from horror to comedy. I haven't seen it yet, but I watched the trailer for "Sex is Zero" on your website, which caused me to spew coffee all over the keyboard. Please tell me Panik House will distribute more comedies in the future.

MK: If I can find another comedy that I enjoy as much as "Sex Is Zero," I'd be happy to release it, but it's a somewhat unique animal in terms of an Asian sense of humor matching an American sense of humor. I'm not even a particularly big fan of Stephen Chow's comedies, for instance. I have really specific taste.

JG: I go back and forth on Chow's work; it has moments I love and moments where I completely lose interest. Then again I tend to like more serious Kung Fu in the same way I prefer my westerns to be dramatic.

MK: Same here.

JG: When we first spoke you mentioned your love of comics and even the fact that you donated a copy of "Fantastic Four" #1 to a charity. I'm sure people would love to hear about that.

MK: I mentioned before that I used to be an actor. Well I had commercials that ran in the Superbowl something like four years in a row, and some of those spots won awards. It was my main source of revenue for several years, and I'm actually still a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Well, I had an agent who managed to embezzle over $20,000.00 before he was caught by the agency, and I got it all back in one lump sum, but I didn't realize that it hadn't been taxed, so when it came time to file my taxes I owed a small fortune.

JG: No wonder people are always telling me I need an agent. They must be the evil little agent helpers. How did you deal with this unwanted financial hit?

MK: My accountant suggested that I make a series of charitable donations to bring down the amount of money I owed, so I donated "Fantastic Four" #1 to the Boys & Girls Club of America for them to auction. I had to supply an appraisal and it was then worth about $21,000.00, so it more than covered the amount of money I would have owed. I also dropped off a long box of classic Marvel silver age comics on Christmas Eve at the Hollywood youth drop-in center. Some of those kids walked away with "Spiderman" #127, "Hulk" #s 140-142, "Giant Size X-Men" #1, "Avengers" #5 -- there were some really key books. I think there was an entire run of "Uncanny X-Men" from #94 to the mid 200s.

JG: Obviously your seat is reserved in comic heaven. What were some of your favorites?

MK: I held on to the Frank Miller "Daredevil's," pretty much anything Alan Moore, especially "Watchmen" and the Bissette & Tottleben "Saga of the Swampthing's." That "Superman" annual that Moore wrote, "For The Man Who Has Everything" is to me one of the greatest single issues ever written. I used to collect anything Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Barry Smith, or Jeff Jones. I was a huge fan of those Studio guys. I used copy Kaluta's style when I used to sketch. That guy was like God to me. I also had a pretty good collection of EC Horror comics; specifically I had almost everything that Ghastly Graham Ingalls ever did for them. And the early '70s horror stuff like Jim Steranko's "Tower Of Shadows," and "House Of Mystery" and "House Of Secrets." Anything I could come across that had been referenced in Wertham's "Seduction Of The Innocent," I would snatch up. The Marv Wolfman "Tales Of The Teen Titans," especially "Judas Contract" which I have to admit I liked better than "X-Men." Let's see... the Neal Adams Ra's Al Ghul stories and the Marshall Rogers "Joker Fish" stories in "Detective," Michael Fleischer's Spectre stories in "Adventure"… I really liked "Grim Jack," "Mage" and "American Flagg," in fact when I was twelve I wore a Bob Violence costume to my first over-night convention. Much later I got really into "Sandman." I have two "Death" tattoos and the Key To Hell. I also have "Tank Girl," a Dave Stevens witch, the Space Cruiser Yamato, Mekon from "Dan Dare," Cesare from "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari," and Robby The Robot from "Forbidden Planet."

JG: Holy shit. Sorry, go on.

MK: So I'm pretty much a comic book geek from way back. That was sort of my dream when I was younger -- to write comic books. One of my childhood friends, mentors really, is Tom Sniegoski, who has had a very successful career in comic books.

JG: Here's the small world segment of our discussion. I worked with Tom a few years ago when I interned at Marvel. He was writing "The Punisher" with Christopher Golden and Bernie Wrightson was illustrating.

MK: Tom is the greatest. He was very encouraging of my writing when I was younger. I actually wrote an entire twelve-issue story line for an original character about eight years ago, which I still have. Several years before that, when I worked with Don Murphy at the comic book store in Hollywood, I wrote a spec thing under the impression that Oliver Stone wanted to get into comic books. This was right before the whole "Natural Born Killers" thing happened, and my comic book went unproduced. Which reminds me:

Don, I'm sorry that I gave Lawrence Tierney the NBK script and he showed up and wreaked havoc on the set.

Wow! I haven't thought about that in years! See what happens when you get me talking comic books? Hahaha.

JG: You know you're probably going to get a call from someone at Marvel or DC now -you know that right?

MK: From your mouth to Joe Quesada's or Paul Levitz's ears!

JG: I guess we'll wrap this up with some teasers on what to expect from Panik House in the coming year.

MK: The CasaNegra stuff I've told you about. I've got two films from the late, great Teruo Ishii streeting in July: "Blind Beast Vs. Killer Dwarf" and "Screwed." The former is his final film. It stars director Shinya Tsukamoto, and has cameos from Sion Sono, Hideo Nakata and a host of others. It has this amazing custom artwork from the New York underground artist Gea* and we've included a stamped, numbered insert card bearing the deceased Dwarf's imprint. "Screwed" stars Tadanobu Asanao and is based on a manga from Yoshiharu Tsuge who is like a Japanese composite of Will Eisner & Robert Crumb. I'm including a DVD-Rom feature of a never before available photo-manga, which is newly translated in English & Spanish. I'm releasing standard editions of some of the special edition releases from last year, and I'll be taking two titles from the "Pinky Violence Collection" box set and giving them solo releases, because there are a lot of people who just don't have a hundred dollars that they can spend on something that high end. I'm not going to make everything available, just two titles, and as I've stated before, that box set will never be reissued. I purposely signed a contract preventing me from ever issuing the "Reiko Ike Sings!" CD outside that box, and I've no intention of issuing the booklet, sticker or packaging ever again. I'm all about rewarding the fans and collectors. I guess because I'm one of them.

My thanks to Matt for taking the time to hang out and talk shop with me. I hope these past two columns have you curious enough to seek out some of the films we discussed. Trailers are viewable at both Casa Negra and Panik House's websites.

We now return to shameless self-promotion!

In just two short weeks "Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters" return to comics. Like "Jonah Hex," this is the thirtieth anniversary of their first title. Thirty years is a long time and much about this country has changed, some say we've become more cynical. In the pitch devised by Grant Morrison something grabbed me from the first page, "This is a story about grubby, grimy people finding new hope and a fresh motivation. Cynics relearning their idealism."

I am by nature a cynical person. I try not to be, but I have my own views on the country, as do you and everyone else in the world. Jimmy Palmiotti, who writes USFF with me, is pretty much on the same page. It is very easy for me to take the negative outlook, to criticize the handling of the war in Iraq, the administration, the media and national policies that, whether you agree or not, are changing the landscape of the country. A book like this requires a change in my personal thought process, a weeding out of the negative and discovery of the positive. A lot of people will be opposed to political commentary in what they view as escapist entertainment. By its very nature, USFF is a political book, but I think you'll be surprised at how the subject matter is handled.

Change is difficult and slow in coming, but for a long time now I've hoped to move away from the presentation of gritty and jaded superheroes and into the light where I first discovered them. The situation to make that progression wasn't realized until this book came along. As Grant said in his pitch: "Uncle Sam is the American Dream come to chastise the American Reality and inspire his country to new greatness. A pioneer, a philosopher, a radical, a fancy given flesh and power by some deep-seated need and loss - Uncle Sam is here to weigh America in his scales."

You'll notice he did not say people or American's. Despite my cynical nature I have faith in the American people as a whole to stand up and challenge or embrace the representation of their country. The needs of the few should never outweigh the needs of the many. That goes for politics, comics and everything else. That was where the optimism had to be found in Uncle Sam.

Now of course we can never forget that Uncle Sam's Freedom Fighters is a superhero book and it is filled with awesome powers, wonder and wide-open fight scenes among colorful characters. There is light at the end of the tunnel where superheroes can be fun and unburdened by the constraints of trend and leanings toward deconstruction. In Issue #1, the journey out of the dark begins for The Freedom Fighters. In their return since "Infinite Crisis," they have been less than heroic, pawns and assassins, but Uncle Sam is back to show these superheroes how to be heroic. I hope you'll join them on the journey.

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