Tagged: Steve Dillon

Martha Thomases: The Importance of Fleeting Contact


The casual serendipity of random intimacy is one of the wonders of adulthood. I don’t mean the kind of groping that hides in crowds so that its perpetrators can perform a criminal act. I mean the temporary companionship we discover with people we don’t know when circumstances cause us to spend a few hours together.

When I first moved to New York I’d talk to strangers on the bus, surprised at how easy and pleasant it was. I made friends for life (whom I haven’t seen in 30 years) when my son was born prematurely, and I spent a few weeks in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit with parents of other premies. At the playground, I enjoyed getting tips from other parents and caregivers.

So it is with comic book conventions.

It tends to be my role at these events to staff the booth and make sure the talent is comfortable and free to interact with the fans who have paid to be there. I fetch water and snacks, if possible. I stand a lot because fans are more comfortable when they can talk with me eye-to-eye. I keep a smile on my face even though I’ve been asked the same question a couple hundred times, because it’s the first time for the person who is asking.

Just as at the playground, the conversation is both deep and fleeting, subject to easy distractions and the call of duty. We’ll talk about good places to eat, the future of the industry, and which bathrooms have the shortest lines. We’ll get judge-y about cosplayers. We’ll gossip. We’ll speculate with no basis in fact.

For the six to eight hours each day, my booth mates are my best friends ever. It doesn’t matter where they come from, what kind of work they do, or what political views they hold. We have a lived through the fires of hell together, and we all deserve to go the a bar for a drink.

This is why I am so sad about the loss of Steve Dillon. I don’t claim that I knew him well. I never met his family, or even saw a picture of his home. I only spoke with him a few times away from a convention, and one of those times, I interrupted him with a phone call at a pub when there was an important football game happening.

There were hours and hours when I stood behind him at the DC booth as he signed one autograph after another. Sometimes, he’d doodle a little profile of Jesse Custer of Preacher, the book most fans wanted him to sign. I must have watched him draw that image hundreds of times. He could do it with just a few lines, and each sketch had the emotional intensity he brought to so much of his work.

My first comics editor, Larry Hama, would tell me that one of the advantages of working in the graphic story medium was that we had an unlimited special effects budget. It cost just as much to create a page with an intergalactic battle as a page of two people talking in a coffee shop. His point was that I should consider taking advantage of this freedom to write stories that would be incredibly expensive to film. He wasn’t saying that scenes with people talking were bad, but rather that I should have really good reasons for writing them that way.

Steve Dillon could make scenes of people talking in a diner the most intense, emotionally involving possible story-telling choice. When I read his work, I projected deep and volatile emotions into the faces of the characters. Maybe it was his pacing. Maybe it was the way he laid out the panels. Maybe I just had an affinity for his work.

I hadn’t seen Steve in more than 15 years when I heard that he died. My first thought was to wonder what Garth Ennis would do, which is more than a little bit ridiculous. Both of them had other collaborators, and both of them did magnificent work on those projects.

To me, though, they will always be sitting side by side, signing work, making snarky remarks, and otherwise making their fans feel special.

Martha Thomases: The Preacher Feature


A little over twenty years ago, Vertigo began to publish the Preacher series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. It was my job to promote it to mainstream (i.e. non-comic book trade) media. I was already a huge fan of Garth’s run on Hellblazer and almost got a blurb for it from Sting until the corporate types told me that wasn’t allowed.

I loved every issue of Preacher. It was funny and scary and emotional and philosophical and brilliant. It simultaneously evoked John Ford westerns and Harvey Kurtzman slapstick. It had a character named Arseface, for crying out loud. I did some of my best work promoting that book, because I believed I was bringing happiness to millions.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find out there was going to be a television show based on the comics (or “graphic novels” as it says in the opening credits). Unlike many, I wasn’t worried about the involvement of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg because I loved This Is the End, both because it promised the right tone for Preacher and because it’s so damn funny.

I wanted to refresh my memory of the comics and reread the whole run in my collection of trade paperbacks. Alas, I can’t find them, so I went into the television show only slightly better prepared than a Preacher virgin.

Preacher is about Jesse Custer, a minister with a shady past who is suddenly able to compel people to do whatever he tells them to do. He lives in the small town in Texas where he grew up, perhaps hiding, perhaps trying to find himself. There are people (or beings who look like people) trying to find him and take away his special abilities.

The show begins before the comic book stories do, and seem to take major liberties with the plot. I don’t really care. Comic books are not television series, and can’t be precisely reproduced. And more than twenty years have passed since the comic began. A character like Tulip, who is pretty much just a love interest in the comic, is a fully fleshed out character in the television show, with her own problems and passions and sense of herself. More than a few critics think she’s the most compelling character, at least in the four episodes that have aired as of this writing.

A lot of these critics have compared the television show to a Coen Brothers movie, and I understand that. There are a lot of terrific faces in this series, faces that aren’t symmetrical or conventionally beautiful. The cinematography gives the exterior shots a golden glow that can be warm or bleak, and the interior shots can be exalted or claustrophobic or in-between.

Here’s what I remember most about the series: Steve Dillon would draw page after page of the three main characters (Jesse, the titular preacher, Cassidy, the vampire, and Tulip, the girl), and even though that’s supposed to be the most boring thing one can do in comics, I was mesmerized. A lot of that was Garth’s writing, but it was also the way Steve could convey so much information in a facial expression. There are actors that do this, at least for me (Claire Danes, Denzel Washington, Bette Davis), but very few artists in any medium.

The show doesn’t look exactly like Dillon’s art, but it feels like Dillon’s art, just like the Hughes Brothers’ movie From Hell felt like Eddie Campbell’s art without actually looking like his line work. Similarly, Dominic Cooper and Joe Gilgun feel like Custer and Cassidy without actually looking like them. Ruth Negga isn’t cute and blonde like the Tulip in the comics but, as noted above, she’s way better.

Garth and Steve both have their names on the television series as executive producers, and I hope this means the checks clear. I also hope I keep enjoying the vibe the show shares with the series. In the meantime, I’m having way more fun with this than the last few seasons of The Walking Dead.

New Who Review – “Time Heist”

“Are you in or out?”

The Doctor and Clara wake in the company of two strangers and are quickly told they are to rob a bank.  Everything is planned so well, almost as if the planner knows what’s going to happen, that The Doctor quickly realizes that this isn’t a mere bank heist, but a…

By Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas MacKinnon

The Bank of Karabraxos is the single most secure bank in human history.  A loyal staff, redundant security systems, and a guard dog that literally smells guilt in the customers.  When The Doctor picks up the phone of the TARDIS and suddenly recovers from a blackout in a strange room with two criminals, it’s too tantalizing not to move ahead with.  Being chased by the bank’s security at all times, the quartet must breach unbreachable security, all the while not actually know what they’re supposed to steal.

A solid thriller with questions and puzzles all the way through.  Once again, the idea of breaking into the perfect bank is not new, but with the right character work and a delightful twist at the end, it works wonderfully.

GUEST STAR REPORTKeeley Hawes (Ms. Delphox, Mme. Karabraxos ) is best known to genre fans as the voice of Lara Croft in seven games to date over nearly ten years.  She’s played Lady Agnes Holland on the new version of Upstairs Downstairs, and DI Alex Drake on Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to Life on Mars.

Jonathan Bailey (Pai) appeared with David Tennant in the murder procedural Broadchurch and had the titles role in Leonardo.

THE MONSTER FILESThe Teller is a magnificent beast, both in design and ability.  Unlike a number of creatures in the new series, it was made with practical effects, which meant it was on set with the actors and they didn’t have to imagine what it looked like.  Like the Crooked Man from Hide, the being was driven by the loss of its mate, and once they were reunited, its rage and malice abated.  There have been plenty of telepathic species in the show, though few with such a weaponized form.  The Sensorites could affect the minds of other beings, and their planetary neighbors the Ood could communicate at amazing distances from each other.


THE FACES OF THOSE HE’S WRONGED FLOAT UP AT HIM – In that fast flip of hardened criminals, more than a few recognizable faces can be seen.  There was a Sensorite from the Hartnell adventure, a Tereliptil from the Davison years, an Ice Warrior, a group of Slitheen, and a Weevil and John Hart from Torchwood. But most interesting is a character from the Doctor Who comics – Absalom Daak, Dalek Killer. Created by Steve Moore and Steve Dillon, Daak enjoyed a long run in the Doctor Who Weekly.

BECAUSE IT ORBITS URANUS AND LOOKS FOR KLINGONS – One of the treasures in Madame Karabraxos’ vault is quite valuable to episode director Douglas MacKinnon.  It’s a rocket ship made from a toilet paper tube, made for him by her daughter for Christmas.

ONE CAN DO THE WORK OF TWO – They only made one Teller suit.  Even the last scene as they walk away was a double-exposure, the suit actor playing both the male and female.

“It’s a memory worm” – First seen in The Snowmen, the memory worm is a creature whose slimy coating has the defensive ability to erase the past hour of memory from any being who touches it.  In the aforementioned adventure, Sontaran Strax keeps touching it, as he is a boob.  Here, they’re used to erase the memories of The Doctor’s gang (he has a gang now) before beginning their little expedition.  The effects of the worms seem to have changed a bit, or at least clarified – here it’s shown that the memories are not erased as much as blocked. Not exactly a big change, and effectively no difference when attempting to get away from a predator.

“Why are we not using the TARDIS?” – It’s always fun to get to answer the questions the viewer are already thinking of.  Let’s them know you’re a step ahead.  Solar Storms affected the navigation of the TARDIS in The Rebel Flash, so there’s precedent for keeping away from the interference.  Of course, as we’ll find out later, there’s a more ulterior motive for not using it – to make things more fun.

“He’s gone already, it’s over” – Once again, while the Tennant or Smith incarnations would sweat and suffer over not being able to save someone they’ve not even met, this Doctor is a pragmatist.  Even when it looks like their own compatriots are killed, he moves forward, eyes on the prize. Of course, one could note that Clara seems to have rather quickly gotten over the loss of Psi and Saibra once that big tantalizing vault opens.

“Basically, it’s the eyebrows” – Not to mention the air of knowledge and authority The Doctor gives off.  He uses a trick yr. obt. svt. uses whenever he can – act like you’re supposed to be there.  Nine times out of ten, people take your unspoken word for it, and follow your lead.

“You can delete your memories?” – Psi’s story is somewhat of a mirror to Captain Jack Harkness’ original backstory, which has since been somewhat forgotten.  While a Time Agent, he had a large part of his memories deleted, and was trying to find who did it, and if possible recover them.

“Don’t think” – Once again, a simple act is made scary. From trying not to Blink, to Clara having to hold her breath at the beginning of the season to trying not to think of anything here, they’re all things that the viewer can’t help but trying not to do along with her as they watch. We can only hope that nobody thought of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

“It’s a neophyte circuit – I’ve only ever seen one once before” – And I’ll lay odds this is the same one. The Doctor set this entire adventure up – the request from Madame Karabraxos could have been done any number of ways, but he chose to set it up in a way that would not only be the most interesting for himself and Clara, but to help cure/repair two people who he’d clearly never met before he did his research and found them.

“I hate the Architect!” – The theme of the episode is the idea of not being able to trust, or even stand, someone who looked exactly like you.  It’s why Saibra couldn’t touch anyone (“Could you trust someone who looked like you, out of your own eyes?”), it’s why Madame Karabraxos’ relationship with her cloned employees was to tense, and why The Doctor thought The Architect was such a bossy prat.  At that point he didn’t know he’d planned all this, he only suspected, based on an analysis of the mysterious man’s personality.  It’s not the first time he’s displayed such a low opinion of himself – once he realizes who the Dream Lord was in Amy’s Choice,  he said there was only one person in the universe who could hate him that much.

BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – Not much mention of the plot in this episode, save for a brief appearance by Danny Pink, who is certainly (OK, hopefully) not the Big Bad, but is certainly setting up to be important to Clara.

“I’m giving you my telephone number” – At the beginning of the episode, The Doctor once again mentions that there’s only a handful of people who has the phone number to the TARDIS, including a mysterious lady in a shop who gave it to Clara back in The Bells of St. John.  Madame Karakraxos is now a member of that group, which also includes most of of The Doctor’s recent companions (like Martha Jones who used it to call him to stop The Sontaran Stratagem), Winston Churchill (from well before Victory of the Daleks) and, apparently, Marilyn Monroe, whose marriage to The Doctor did not count.  And apparently, he’s STILL been too busy to re-route the line to the control panel, as he asked Handles to remind him to do.

“Beat that for a date” – And right there, all the questions about “Why would The Doctor go through all that rigmarole” are answered.  He set the whole thing up as a game to give himself and Clara something to do that day.  In DC Comics, wealthy socialite Sue Dearborn Dibny would get the ultimate Birthday present for her husband, Ralph Dibny, AKA The Elongated Man.  She would set up an elaborate mystery game for him, usually with the assistance of other members of the Justice League, to give him an adventure he’d not soon forget. It’s entirely likely that’s the motivation for The Doctor here.

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – Clara tries to give Danny more of her time, but The Doctor finds a problem that needs solving by any means necessary.  The Caretaker starts his new job this Saturday