The World Behind The Curtain : Austin MacDonald’s “The Emperor’s Chamber”

Modestly billing itself as a “12-page three color risograph scifi comic,” Brooklyn-based cartoonist Austin MacDonald’s self-published mini The Emperor’s Chamber certainly is all of those things, but it sells itself short by not, at the very least, calling itself “charming” or “trippy” or “charmingly trippy” or something along those lines. It’s also more than a tad innovative in its transition from traditional line artwork to Claymation-styled digital (I’m assuming, at any rate) stuff and back again. But I suppose I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Still, that’s a good sign that I have a fair degree of enthusiasm for this gorgeously-produced little comic (all rich riso tones that absolutely sing on the parchment-style paper stock MacDonald uses), and so I do : it’s simple, sure, but agreeably so, and utilizes what I’ll call for lack of a better term “Peow Studio-style art” much more effectively than many a publication from Peow Studio itself, so yeah — I was impressed. Certainly MacDonald demonstrates a slid grasp of visual storytelling principles and is making real progress from one project to the next — Finger Flip! was fun, his contribution to the Weird Futures anthology was even better, and with this he continues to up the ante, as well as find his footing and a unique authorial voice.

Which isn’t to say this story about an understandably disgruntled member of the palace guard who follows our titular emperor behind a curtain into his equally-titular chamber and discovers a mystical realm beyond his imaginings (as well as the reason the kingdom’s ruler appears so utterly zonked-out half the time) is in any way original, but that’s okay — MacDonald’s approach to the material is, and more often than not that’s plenty sufficient when one is plying their trade in a shop-worn genre such as fantasy.

In a pinch, then, what I’m saying — or at least attempting to — is that MacDonald’s eye-catchingly cool multi-media art really does imbue these proceedings with a sense of the fantastic and that his wry, understated wit grounds them in relatability. It’s the best of both worlds in a tidy, concise, carefully-crafted little package that literally doesn’t waste a line — of art or dialogue.

One could be forgiven, I suppose, for thinking this all sounds a bit “old wine in new bottles,” and maybe it is, but shit — it’s still wine, and that stuff’s pretty good. The same can be said for a well-constructed genre story, and if I’m being completely honest here (hell, it’s my blog, so there’s no reason not to be), I’m actually more than a bit tempted to call this an impeccably-constructed genre story. Or perhaps I just did. What matters even more, though, is that I think you, dear reader, are likely to feel the same once you’ve read it.

So read it you should, and I earnestly hope that you will. MacDonald is an interesting and exciting emerging talent well worth keeping an eye on, as well as somebody who knows how to make a comic that is both marvelous to look at and fun to read. If there’s a long-form epic of some sort percolating away in his mind, that’s terrific and I’ll be more than game to check it out, but if he wants to continue honing and developing his skills with more short-form works, there’s certainly no shame in that. The world needs more comics like this one, and I think this cartoonist has more of them in him.


The Emperor’s Chamber is available for $6.00 from Austin MacDonald’s Storenvy site at

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The Fighting Marshal (1931, directed by D. Ross Lederman)

The town of Silver City has a new marshal. He’s tough, no-nonsense, and an expert marksman. He is exactly what it needed to clean up the town and he is also a complete fraud. The marshal is actually Tim Benton (played by Tim McCoy), an escaped convict who was doing time after being framed for the murder of his father. Seeking revenge on the men who framed him and who stole his family’s silver mine, Tim escaped from prison with the help of Red Larkin (Matthew Betz), who actually was guilty of the crimes for which he was imprisoned. After Red kills the man who was actually appointed to serve as Silver City’s new marshal, Tim took the man’s identity.

Despite the years that he spent wrongly imprisoned, Tim really isn’t an outlaw at heart. He’s one of the good guys and he soon starts to settle into his role as town marshal. He even falls in love with Alice Wheeler (Dorothy Gulliver). However, Tim still has to get revenge for his father’s death and he is also going to have to deal with Red Larkin, who has no interest in going straight. Ironically, what Tim doesn’t know, is that he was only a day or two away from receiving a full pardon when he broke out of prison and went on the run.

The Fighting Marshal is an above average western programmer. Though the low-budget and rushed quality of the production is obvious (just check out the opening title card, which misspells Marshal), Tim McCoy is a credible western hero, looking credible on a horse and handling a gun with the skill of someone who started his career as a sharp shooter. The film’s mistaken identity plot is an interesting wrinkle on all of the usual western action and McCoy is convincing as he goes from being an escaped convict to being a man who truly cares about maintaining law and order in Silver City.

Of course, like many of the early western stars, McCoy was himself an authentic cowboy. He looked convincing with a gun because, in real life, McCoy was an expert marksman who was considered to be the best shooter in Hollywood. When he wasn’t making movies, McCoy served in the U.S. Army and he was also one of the first Hollywood actors to try to make the leap over to politics, running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming. Later, when his film career waned, McCoy hosted a children’s show where he would show his movies and discuss the history of the old west. He was nominated for a daytime Emmy but refused to attend the ceremony when he discovered he would be competing against a show featuring a talking duck. His exact words, when turning down the invitation to the ceremony, are often quoted as being; “I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit there and get beaten by a talking duck!”

One final note: According the IMDb, The Fighting Marashal was filmed over the course of a week in October in 1931. Less than a month later, it was released on November 25th. That’s the old Hollywood system for you. They didn’t waste anytime getting their movies into the theaters.

Quick Review – Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino)

The following was posted on 4/6/2007 from my LiveJournal on Grindhouse (which is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary). I’ll admit I respect Death Proof a bit more now than I did back then:

Gotta write fast. Have to jump into shower and head for work.

I got into the movie theatre at about 8pm, and spent the hour talking with a pair of film students from the School of Visual Arts. At 9 (an hour before the movie), the rest of the sold out crowd appeared. I was officially 3rd in line. Sweet. 🙂 I didn’t my preferred seat (the single one on the right reserved for patrons coming in with someone in a wheelchair), but did get a seat in the empty row (meaning I could stretch my legs, even better).

The short of it: Grindhouse is paying one low price for 2 bad movies, on purpose. You get 3 great built in trailers, and two mini movies. Between the two mini movies, I loved “Planet Terror” (the Rodriguez one) more than “Death Proof” (The Tarantino film), simply because Death Proof had too much of Tarantino’s conversational style that all of his films have. It’s like you’re listening to a conversation that absolutely doesn’t tie itself to any of the storyline’s major points. It’s just “cool” stuff, but I literally almost fell asleep until Kurt Russell showed up on screen. I think that if one knows to expect this from Tarantino, it comes across better. It’s like watching both Kill Bill volumes back to back. The first one’s cool and action packed, and the second one has some action (the chase scene alone in Death Proof had me wondering how they did that), but is so slow before getting there, you want to sigh.

Being a Charmed Fan, it was great to see Rose McGowan again, and there were so many cameos to laugh at. Fergie has a cameo, and Michael Biehn’s (“Hicks” from Aliens, Navy Seals) even in this. Where did they dig up these guys?

Grindhouse is easily a party film. I’d go see it again in the theatre, but I don’t see myself getting the DVD. It takes you back about a good 30 years, and does that really well. There are missing reels, serious jump cuts in the film and the sound sometimes cuts out. 🙂 In that sense, it’s really beautiful. The audience laughed and applauded, though there were some that at the end were like “Man, that sucked.” In the 60’s and 70’s, Grindhouse movies were pretty bad. I guess it’s like watching one of those old Hammer films, mixed in with a cheap horror flick. You have to walk into this movie not expecting “The Departed” for it to work. Just have fun with what you’re seeing and remember, this is what your parents sometimes saw in the movies (it should be noted that my parents went to something of a Grindhouse once – the movie they went to see was Night of the Living Dead. The other movie that was in the show was John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, which freaked my Dad out).

The music in particular is really great. Robert Rodriguez, Chingon, and a few friends come up with a sound for Planet Terror that’s in essence a John Carpenter like sound. If you have access to the Itunes Music Store, give it a listen (I bought it). Plus, if you’re a fan of some of the older movies out there, you’ll find references to some of Carpenter’s films in there (for example, one of the songs from “Escape from New York” is actually used in the film). The same occurs with the soundtrack from “Creepshow” – The story with the drowned couple. There are also tons of older Tarantino/Rodriguez references in there. One fellow actually yelled out a line, word for word, from what was on screen. It took me a second to realize the line came from “From Dusk Till Dawn”. Sweet.

The in betwen trailers are absolutely fantastic. If I were to get the DVD, it would probably be for this reason alone. You can tell that Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel) really had fun with their pieces.

So, Grindhouse is worth seeing in theatre at least once with a bunch of friends, but know what you’re walking into. The movie can get gross at times and no young kid should even be brought near to this (we got carded to actually get into the theatre, and a Weinstein Rep. was on hand after the film to let us take surveys). Also before the movies, one of the teaser trailers is for Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. I haven’t been so excited for a horror film like this since Zack Snyder’s version of “Dawn of the Dead”. This looks really good, and I’m wondering what Michael Myers is going to look like when someone like Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from the first X-Men movie) is playing him. That’s going to be creepy.

Music Video of the Day: Love In An Elevator (1988, directed by Marty Callner)

Lovin’ it up when I’m goin’ down

I don’t think anyone has ever accused Aerosmith of being a particularly subtle band when it comes to the subject matter of their songs.  That’s one reason why their fans love them.  Love In An Elevator is one of their least subtle songs and, not coincidentally, it’s also one of their most popular.

The elevator operator is played by Brandi Brandt, who was Playboy’s playmate of the month for October of 1987.  She had a brief acting career, one that largely consisted of this video and an appearance on Married With Children.  Many years later, in 2014, she pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine into Sydney and she did some time in prison in Australia.  Fortunately, she received an early parole and is now safely back in California.

The video was directed by Marty Callner, who directed several videos for not only Aerosmith but almost every other popular band of the period as well.