Saturday, August 30, 2014

Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley

“If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!”
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Author Mary Shelley was born on this day in 1797.  Shelley was a writer of novels, short stories, screenplays, essays, travel pieces, and more.  However, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

A woodcut  depicting Frankenstein's Creature by Lynd Ward for a 1934 edition of the novel

Frankenstein is considered a influential, classic work of Gothic Horror and, perhaps the very first Science Fiction tale.  In her novel, Shelley warns of the perils of man playing God as an obsessive scientist does the fantastic and terrifying, resurrecting a creature composed of dead tissue.  Upon his the "birth" of his creation, Frankenstein rejects the "Monster" and thus sets into motion a series of horrifically tragic events.  Readers sympathize with Frankenstein's creation, who turns out to be a tortured, misunderstood figure and justly recognize the doctor himself as being "the real monster".

Famously, an 18 year old Shelley began writing the story in Switzerland during the stormy summer of 1816 (apparently brought on by the eruption of an Indonesian volcano).  She and her future husband, Percy Shelley, were challenged by Lord Byron to create a horror story.  Initially stumped as to what exactly to write, Shelley became preoccupied with the idea of a man reanimating a corpse.  This germ of an idea led to severe nightmares.  Inspired, Shelley sett out to create just a short story, but the tale eventually developed into a novel.  The book was first published anonymously in 1818, although Shelley's name would appear on an 1823 edition and all subsequent publications of the story.

Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and the Monster (Boris Karloff) face off in the classic 1931 Universal film

While the book would receive mostly negative reviews, it was popular among readers and would go on to become a classic.  Shelley's story is a cultural phenomenon that has inspired multiple stage and film adaptations.  Her legacy lives on as Victor Frankenstein and his "Monster" are now archetypal characters that remain indispensable fixtures of popular culture.

One Hundredth Post...

This is my one hundredth post on the Cryptic Corridor.  I guess that's significant or something.  Actually, I did think it pretty nifty!

Unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything profound to share to mark the occasion...  So here's a poorly photoshopped image I created of the 16th President of the United States and a Triceratops!


(And thanks for reading the blog!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Music of Mastodon

I first heard the sonic rumblings of Mastodon back in college.  Some online article was calling them "the next Metallica" so, of course, I had to check them out.  Whether the author of that half-forgotten article will end up being correct remains to be seen.  Mastodon is still very much in the process of forging their own legacy (Although they can boast numerous awards among the Metal community and two Grammy nominations).  One thing is for certain:  Mastodon is easily among the most dynamic and intriguing metal acts on the scene today.  Like the monolithic prehistoric beast the band is named after, Mastodon is primal and heavy, unrelenting and...  weird.

While I cannot remember the first Mastodon song I ever heard, I do recall being instantly drawn in by their unique sound and immediately wanting to hear more.  A decade later, this is a consistent craving...  Even after 6 albums, I can't get enough.  I devour each release and find myself obsessively longing for the next.

The instrumentation is amazing and tight.  Even if you are not a fan of the Heavy Metal genre, you can certainly appreciate the skills of every member of Mastodon.  Like most metal bands, the core sound is defined by drums frantically driving the pace while the guitars alternate between thick riffs and brain-metlting solos.  But Mastodon injects elements of punk, bluegrass, classic rock and other genres that one would not expect to mesh.

The band also experiments with synthesizers, organs, and effects pedals that serve to enhance the ominous and creepy vibe of some songs. Through the years nearly every member of the band has contributed vocals which inexplicably range from piercing screams to harmonic melodies.  The combination of all these elements lead to some thrilling dynamics and genre-defying musicianship.

Speaking of genre...  Metal is very unique for a number of reasons.  Perhaps one of the most intriguing (and hilarious and occasionally frustrating) idiosyncrasies is that the genre is divided and further sub-divided into a plethora of very specific (yet, loosely defined) sub-genres.  Just to name a few: speed metal, death metal, thrash metal, power metal, viking metal, etc...  The list literally goes on and on.  Fans will endlessly critique and debate one band's sound in attempts to decide how to properly classify the band and label it as falling within a particular sub-genre (or two or three).  Another quirk of the genre is the loyalties of the fan-base which tend to be very fickle. A band can be beloved and faithfully followed after just one album, only to be hatefully derived for changing their song structures and musicianship on the next.  Of course, the ultimate kiss of death is for a metal band to be labeled "not heavy enough".

Like many bands within the genre, Mastodon's signature sound has been classified in a number of various ways.  Sludge metal, stoner metal, groove metal...  Again, the list literally goes on and on.  However, one label that has consistently stuck is "progressive metal", since the band regularly incorporates a number of experimental elements, including dramatic shifts in tempo, unique instrumentation, and psychedelic interludes.  Mastodon's sound is constantly evolving and each album is distinctly different, and yet, unmistakably Mastodon. 

Mastodon has drawn more than their fair share of criticism for their ever-changing sound.  Like many bands unafraid of embracing change and further developing their music, they have been unfairly accused of "selling out" to create more "radio friendly" songs (Say what you will, but I have a hard time imagining many songs from Mastodon's catalog on the Top 40 countdown).  While Mastodon have indeed flirted more with Hard Rock on recent albums and have gotten more catchy, they have somehow retained the elements that make their sound so unique, remaining very original and, of course, progressive and "heavy".

In addition to the constantly shifting musical landscape the band generates, Mastodon is also notable for its concept albums.  Leviathan is a tribute to Herman Melville's classic novel Moby-Dick.  Blood Mountain is narrative-based album about a fictional mountain and a hero's struggle to battle his way past a bestiary of strange creatures on his way to the top.  Crack the Skye deals with a variety of themes, but mainly centers on Czarist Russia, Rasputin, and astral projection.  The band's most recent albums have abandoned the theme-based approach, but the eclectic lyrical elements of the songs remain somewhere "out there" in Mastodon's bizarre fantasy-land.

Based soley on their amazing album artwork and their offbeat lyrical themes of prehistoric creatures and mythical beasts, if there was ever a band I was destined to fall in love with, it had to be Mastodon.  For example:  How could you not adore a ballad to a swamp-dwelling monster preceded by creepy sound effects and psychedelic synthesizers?  

It was very difficult picking out individual songs for this post.  Be on the look out for more Mastodon in the future!  For more music and info check out the band's site.

Monday, August 25, 2014

In Memory of Richard Attenborough

(August 29, 1923 - August 24, 2014)
"Creation is an act of sheer will."
- Richard Attenborough as John Hammond in Jurassic Park

Unfortunately, I've been posting way too many of these lately...  So many talented artists leaving us this year.

Rest in peace Mr. Attenborough.

The Art of Noriyoshi Ohrai

Noriyoshi Ohrai is a Japanese artist who has worked as an illustrator for over 50 years, creating amazing posters for movies and covers for Manga.

A self-portrait
Unlike most artists I've featured on here, I can't find much information on Mr. Ohrai.  All for the better I suppose, we'll just let his work speak for itself.

I have no idea what any of these illustrations are for so far, but they are certainly trippy and striking!

Of course I was delighted to find that Ohrai has painted great Godzilla poster illustrations, including some of my favorite posters from the Heisei series.

I was also thrilled to discover that Ohrai has produced some excellent Star Wars artwork as well!  

My wife will be happy to know that Ohrai was also responsible for a Goonies poster.

You can find some additional information about the artist here.  

The Sealed Book - "The Hands of Death"

"Once again the Keeper of the Book is ready to unlock the ponderous volume in which is recorded all the secrets and mysteries of mankind through the ages...  All the lore and learning of the ancients...  All the strange and mystifying stories of the past, the present, and the future..."

Here's another spine-tingling episode of The Sealed Book.  This morbid tales is about two brothers, one a deranged serial killer and the other an obsessed collector of the macabre.

As always, dim the lights and enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tyrannosaurs in F-14s!!!

I needed some whimsy.  So glad it's Friday...

If you haven't seen it already there's a great documentary on Calvin and Hobbes' creator Bill Watterson called "Dear Mr. Watterson" currently on Netflix.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Happy Birthday to H.P. Lovecraft

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, 
and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown."
- H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on this day in 1890.

Lovecraft was an author who remains most famous for his works of supernatural gothic horror.  The writer was particularly interested in exploring the horrors of madness and an indifferent universe.  Most of his contributions to the genre were printed in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales Magazine.  Among Lovecraft's most notable creations are the arcane grimoire known as the Necronomicon and, of course, the tentacled, malevolent deity called Cthulhu.

Unfortunately, like so many artists ahead of their time, Lovecraft's talents were not fully recognized in his time and he died in obscurity and poverty.  In spite of this, the writer left behind a treasure trove of what are now considered classic stories. While not appreciated in his own time, Lovecraft has achieved a sort of immortality, having inspired and influenced a myriad of modern writers, directors, and other artists.

Artwork by Barret Chapman.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Halloween Preparations

As I have alluded to before, I am something of an amateur monster-maker and home haunter.  Emphasis on the "amateur"!   As I gear up to begin building this year's new props (off to a late start, I know...), I thought I would share a sampling of some of my props from recent years.

This Grim Reaper is the first prop I made.  I think I put it together just before the trick-or-treaters showed up a few Halloweens back.  It turned out pretty good considering it was thrown together in just a short amount of time.  I used a broomstick, a coat hanger, a graduation gown with some creepy cloth draped over it, and, of course, an old mask and some leftover skeleton hands.  It looks really eerie swaying back and forth in the wind.

I got "serious" two years ago and made this guy.  He's probably my favorite prop I've made.  I call him the "Zombie Chef" and, as you can see, he's got some treats for the little monsters on Halloween night.  I found some great plans online for making stationary, full-size dummies using PVC pipe and chicken wire.

My "Lantern Ghoul" is another PVC pipe and chicken wire creation.  I wanted him to look tall and gaunt and I think I succeeded.  Unfortunately, he's very difficult to move around. Last year I used a tea light for his lantern, but this year I'm going more sophisticated with an electronic flickering Christmas candle that will be integrated.

I can't decide if my "Evil Garden Gnome" will make the cut (no pun intended, really) this year.  He's probably my least favorite and is constantly falling apart.  Maybe if I do some tinkering he'll stick around.

The "Toxic Zombie" is my first attempt at making a making a moving prop.  I saw some "ground-breaker" zombies that spat fog and decided to try building my own.  I took an old osculating fan and rigged it up in such a way to make the head move.  I put a radio in the chest cavity and had it growling, which actually spooked more adults than kids.  Unfortunately, I couldn't manage get the fog to come from his mouth in a fully satisfying way.  The prop just ended up looking like it was on fire or something.  Pretty cool, but not exactly what I was going for.  I can't decide if I want to try to make it work again this year or not.


With Halloween being less than 75 days away, it's well past time to kick preparations into high gear.

As far as the blog is concerned, I'm afraid I may have to take a bit of a hiatus.  However, I am toying with the idea of sharing some "how-to" posts complete with pictures in the future, if anyone would be interested in such a thing.  The only problem is that such posts may end up being published after Halloween considering the amount of work I'm planning on undertaking in the coming weeks...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rocket Raccoon and Groot

I've seen Guardians of the Galaxy twice already...  Although, I'm ashamed to say that I was barely aware of the comic before the movie was announced.  I guess I loose some of my geek cred or something for that.  Oh well.  I'll turn in my badge (but I'll be keeping my gun).

The movie was action-packed, hilarious, and pretty much just filled with good stuff from start to finish.  It's awesome to see what Marvel can achieve even with a lesser-known title.  (I just realized that I did two Marvel posts almost in a row.  I didn't plan it but it worked out that way.  Again, oh well.)

Artwork by Mike Mignola.

Cryptic Curiosities: The Red Ghost

For about a decade back in the late 1800's, settlers in American Southwest had reported numerous sightings of a phantom creature they called the "Red Ghost":  A spectral beast of burden bearing a ghastly rider upon its back.

In 1893 a farmer in Arizona spotted a large animal on the horizon, at the edge of his property.  Suspecting the beast to be a predator of some kind, he shot and killed it.  He was shocked to discover that the dead creature was a camel.  The animal wore a saddle with mysterious rope binding attached to it.  The farmer had found the Red Ghost!

Oddly enough, this and other strange tales of the Red Ghost apparently owe more to fact than fiction.  

In 1843 the U.S. Army Quartermaster was faced with the challenge of providing supplies and mail to remote western outputs.  Unfortunately, pack mules and horses were not up to the task with the heat and harsh terrain of the desert proving to be too much for them.  Eventually, a unique solution was proposed:  Camels!

Thus, the U.S. Camel Corp was born. The camels were ideally suited for the task being already acclimated to the conditions of the desert and were able to carry riders and supplies with little difficulty.  The program was successful and operational until around 1866 when the Transcontinental Railroad rendered it obsolete.  The camels used in the corps ended up being sold to circuses and private owners, but some managed to escape into the wilderness, which might explain the presence of a camel in the Arizona desert, but what of the Red Ghost's legendary rider?

This is where some speculation comes in:  The story goes that a young solider within in the corps who was fearful of camels slipped up somewhere along the way, and landed in some trouble.  In a cruel form of discipline, the man was bound to a camel to teach him a lesson.  Unfortunately, before he could be set free, the camel escaped into the desert, taking the man along for the ride.  It is supposed that the unwilling passenger, unable to free himself, died on the camel's back. If this is true, the rider could conceivably had rode on the animal's back for years, slowly decomposing until the point it fell off.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Amazing Fantasy #15 - Spider-Man!

Amazing Fantasy #15 was first printed in 1962, but it was in the mid-90's, when I was in middle school, that Marvel began releasing reprints of the original Spider-Man stories.  The first issue was, appropriately, a reprint of Spider-Man's first appearance from Amazing Fantasy #15.  I'll never forget laying on the carpet of my old room, elbows propping my head up, reading through those magical pages being totally enthralled.

Spider-Man was most definitely my favorite character at that time and I was already somewhat familiar with the details of his origin story, having read a synopsis on a trading card.  In spite of this, I wasn't prepared for the emotional, life-altering journey I was about to embark on...

Heavy stuff.  Stan Lee's words in the final panel resonated deeply with me and still give me chills to this day.

"With great power there must also come great responsibility!"

It is probably surprising to hear today that Spider-Man almost never came to be.  Stan Lee had recently achieved great success with his creation and co-creation of characters such as the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men, one would think that Marvel would have trusted his creative instincts that had been translating into profits for the company.  However, when Lee proposed the concept of Spider-Man (reportedly inspired by his watching a fly climb up a wall) the idea was met with rejection. 

Marvel's publisher at the time believed that readers would be disgusted by a character with bug-like powers.  Undeterred, and convinced that he had a great idea, Lee persisted.  Noticing that many of Marvel's readers were teenagers, Lee further suggested a teen-aged hero that the readership would relate to.  This was considered ridiculous as well since most teenage characters at the time were minor characters or sidekicks of established heroes at best.

But, with Amazing Fantasy declining in sales and being on its last legs, Stan Lee finally convinced the publisher to allow him and artist Steve Ditko to do basically whatever they wanted in one of the comic's final issues.  Thus, seeing little risk in the venture the publisher allowed Spider-Man's debut to finally be printed.  And, as they say, the rest is history!  Spider-Man was a huge hit with readers who became enamored with the the web-head's strange powers and, more importantly, Peter Parker's realistic characterization. Spider-Man was soon given his own ongoing series, going on to become the web-slinging, wall-crawling phenomenon we know and love today.

The original cover for Amazing Fantasy #15 which did not see print

I digress. Getting back to middle school me:  

By the time the reprint reached my hands and I read that first Spider-Man story... I was hooked.  As if I wasn't addicted to comic books already!  The origin of Spider-Man remains one of my favorite comics to read and reread.  

Of course, adding to my fascination was my discovery that this was the 15th issue of Amazing Fantasy, which just so happened to be printed in August...  

In my young mind I was convinced that there was some kind of deeply profound significance in the perceived fact that I shared my birthday with Spider-Man!