Dual Review: Thief  / The Art of Thief by Eidos / Titan Books
Review by Prof. Jenn
It has taken me a long time, readers, to finally sit down and compose this review, and I’ll tell you why: it’s because I don’t feel like I’ve played through enough of Thief 4 (aka Thief) to give an expert’s opinion fairly. Even when I’m sent a book to review that I can’t stand, I make it a point to read it in its entirety before writing the review for Nerds in Babeland. I feel it’s only fair to the artists involved for me to do so.
It has been so long though, readers, that I want to tell you my thoughts about the game and also the art book that Titan Books were good enough to send me to look at as an accompaniment, and I want to tell you also why I’ve decided to do so with the game unplayed completely. Let’s start with the book, The Art of Thief:
This is not the first time I have encountered a gorgeous coffee table style art book from the folks at Titan, and they really do a good job at it (even of franchises I have no interest in–remember the visual companion to Dark Shadows?). This art book, showing the many facets of the art for Thief 4 (not for any of the earlier games in the series unfortunately), is actually what’s making me want to persevere and continue the game after I have lost interest. It includes character design and development, concept sketches of character, loot, settings and weaponry and often shows said art from beginning brainstorm through to 3D rendering. Another very cool perk included in this book is the many storyboards laid out for various scenes from the game. It’s making me want to pick the game up again, just so I can continue to play to see those cool steampunky prostitutes and Garrett’s fence, Basso. He looks so cool! Which brings me to:
Now I am a huge fan of the Thief games. Huge. The first two, beyond being revolutionary as far as gameplay (the Thief franchise is widely touted as the originator of the sub-genre of the FPS called Stealth. Many call Deus Ex the original FPStealth, but it’s really Thief. But I digress), but offers an incredibly rich world, with an interactive story so well written it actually kind of pisses me off. So I know very well how Garrett lost his eye (a visceral cutscene I’ll never forget), what it was replaced with and what that does to make his vision special. The warring factions of Hammerites (later scarier maniacal Mechanists) and their opposites the Pagans (who can forget the creepy giggle as one navigated through Constantine’s mansion), and of course the enigmatic and ultimately political Keepers. I know the world well, and love it, especially our POV protagonist, Garrett. I’ve even written fan fiction for this world. Wow, I just admitted that online…
Having said that, I am not one to immediately go all Star-Wars-Fan-on-Episode-One when I learn the franchise I love is getting a reboot. I mean, it can work very well–witness the new Star Trek movies. Even with a different studio–I mean, Thief 3 wasn’t quite the rich stellar game its predecessors were, but it was a solid Thief game, firmly rooted in that universe, Garrett was himself and there exists in Thief 3 probably the most terrifying horror level of any game ever. Yes, I include Limbo. I mean EVER. (Read about the Cradle level here.) At the end of Thief 3 we notice our intrepid protagonist acquiring a young (we assume) apprentice. So when I saw that in Thief 4 it begins with Garrett and his now young adult aged apprentice bickering, I thought “huzzah.”
But this reboot is a pale, watery thing compared to the scotch that was the other Thief games. Where Garrett was cynical and world-weary, here he is petulant. Where he reluctantly found his heart of gold, here he’s just uncharacteristically a softie. Where before we had knowing banter with real parental strife between him and the Keepers, now his apprentice Erin whines and bitches and isn’t actually well trained enough to be his apprentice in the first place. And speaking of Keepers:
There are no Keepers in this new rebooted world. No Hammerites, no Pagans. The City is a lovely-dingy steampunk place to live, similar to how it was, but the old fantasy world this is not. This more like post-apocalyptic Detroit than the rich world Thief comes from. Real-world swear words have replaced the “taffer” of the old dialect, and Garrett dresses less like a member of a Lieber-esque thieves’ guild than an emo early aughts Goth.
The retrofitting of his special eye and thereby powers of special sight is a weak version of the mechanical eye he used to wear, designed by megalomaniac Karras. Why was the eye story changed?
And without the warring factions, the religious zealotry, the Keepers, the burricks even (we get a nod to them in the name of a tavern), we are left with a bitter protagonist with no reason for his bitterness. We get whiny teenaged goths we don’t care about enough to quest for, let alone take on their persona through the story. My point is: the reboot of the world has diminished the world irreparably.
As far as gameplay goes, the designers have made a mistake in not taking a lesson from those games that have surpassed Thief on the console. The controls are not intuitive, Garrett doesn’t have all the skills he would have as a thief of his caliber (why didn’t Eidos take a hint from the Assassin’s Creed folks?) and the simplest quests are difficult to follow based on the way the game is set up as far as objectives go. This game needs to be either a) a very open ended sandbox like an AC IV or heck even a Skyrim, or b) much more streamlined and story-driven than it is. Right now it doesn’t know which it wants to be, and, that coupled with all the richness stripped out of the world, I’d just as soon be a pirate with Assassin’s Creed than a thief with my beloved Thief game. And that makes me sad.
Now remember: I have admitted I haven’t played Thief  very far. The reason is because of the above reasons, mainly: Garrett is no longer a likable POV character, the world isn’t as rich and interesting, and the controls are annoying. Maybe it gets brilliant later on. Maybe I’ll find out.
Maybe I won’t.
Bottom Line: if you’re a Thief fan or a steampunk enthusiast, the art book is for you. If you’re not, check out the otherworldly beauty of it anyway–you’ll probably want it on your coffee table, regardless. If only the game had more than just surface prettiness. Skip the game and play Bioshock Infinite.
There is a huge difference between a good graphic novel and a great one. Good graphic novels are prevalent–they’re beautiful, well-written, and an all-around underestimated genre. Still, a great graphic novel is rare and elusive, and will possess some quality that can’t be found in any other book, a unique visual element that the novel cannot subsist without. My favorite graphic novel is Asterios Polyp, which exhibits this quality effortlessly. The Sculptor, Scott McCloud’s book that came out in early February, also contains visual elements that make it settle above the crowded alleys of its neighboring competitors.
The story is as follows: David Smith is one of many David Smiths. He’s not even the only David Smith in the art world. But one day he’s offered a deal by Death himself–a tremendous gift that would allow him to leave his artistic mark on the world, at the price of his remaining life, which would be cut down to 200 days. David accepts the deal and is given the ability to mold any material with his bare hands, but shortly after meets a girl and falls in love.
At nearly 500 pages, this formidable graphic novel is gorgeously illustrated in blue monochrome. Though this is not McCloud’s first foray into books–he has written a few others about comics–it is his first graphic novel. Despite this, it reads like a self-actualized veteran’s accomplishment.
The main character, David, is a frustratingly tortured artist struggling to make his mark on the world. He continues his downward spiral even after he receives his thorny but incredible gift from Death. Then he meets Meg–who appears to him as an Angel during a street performance–and immediately falls in love. Meg is the embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl, instantly loved by all who meet her, constantly helping others at her own expense. As the story progresses, Meg’s character grows beyond the stereotype. McCloud has addressed the manic pixie trope in interviews. Meg is actually based on his own wife. “I married the trope — what am I gonna do?” he says.
Though The Sculptor does not necessarily tread any new ground, it explores its themes of death, memory, and artistic fulfillment, well. David’s artwork, which he takes to the streets, eventually manipulating the entire city to fit his vision, is the needed element in The Sculptor that elevates this novel from good to great. It’s a sad tale, but it gives the gift of hope to the reader and the graphic novel enthusiast who wants this art form to succeed.
Comic Review: A Tale of Sand by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl–illustrations by Ramon K. Perez
Review by Prof. Jenn
A Tale of Sand is a screenplay written by the late great Jim Henson, which never saw the light of movie day. It was written back in 1974, the heyday of Henson’s immense creative output, and one can very much experience said creativity by reading A Tale of Sand. To have this surreal screenplay illustrated sketchbook style by an artist such as Perez only enhances the experience–I opine that this is better as a sketchbook-cum-comic than it would have been as a 1970s film.
The story follows Everyman Mac, who is on a quest for he knows not what (except that he really wants to light that last cigarette). He meets strange people and places as he crosses the desert, some of which are attempting to hinder him, not the least of which are the sinister Patch and mysterious Blonde. When Mac finally reaches the end of his journey, it’s not at all what he (or the reader) imagines.
The illustrations are pleasingly sketchbook-like, some unfinished and some inked to perfection. It adheres well to the odd dreamlike quality of the adventure. There is plenty of backstory about the project in the forms of introductions and afterwords (though in the Afterword, we read about how the lettering was created and handled, and we see colorized, more finished versions of some of the pages–did I miss something in my Press version of the book?), which again gives us another window into the fertile mind that was Henson’s oeuvre, including and beyond the brilliant Muppets.
Bottom Line: bar my confusion as to whether I’ve been given a different version, I still highly recommend A Tale of Sand.
It’s almost time for San Diego Comic-Con 2014 and, like all of you nerds, I’m trying to figure out what I really want to spend my money on because, holy crap, there are always so many cool toys there! So, in my quest to find all the must-have releases this year, I decided to interview one of my friends and favorite toy designers, Nathan Hamill. I already own most of his figures, and since he keeps coming up with even cooler ones every year, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next. So, if you’re one of the many lucky nerds attending the convention this year, make sure you don’t miss out on his awesome SDCC releases. Photos and info on where to buy below!
1) Most of us know you’re a ginormous nerd with a pretty solid toy collection that I often want to steal from, but how did you end up becoming a toy designer? What was your motivation to release Boris, your first vinyl figure?
I started with Boris when Patrick Geologo, who I once worked with at Toy Planet when I was in high school, was looking for artists to work with as U1Toy Arts was just starting out. Boris was originally a design for a cartoon called Animal Bandits. He’s a surly, suspicious little guy with a Napoleon complex. Like a Joe Pesci of the forest. And thanks for not stealing my toys. I know it can be hard not to.
2) What toys did you cherish most as a child? What are some of your favorite figures that you own now?
I carried a Darth Vader 3 3/4″ Kenner figure with me wherever I went. I had a vice like grip on that one. And currently it is Lavabear: Classic Ed., which I took all around Disney World on a recent trip. Some things never change.
3) You have some really cool releases coming up for SDCC. In particular, I’m excited about Lavabear and can’t wait to get one. What’s his story? Where did you get the inspiration to create him?
His backstory is inspired somewhat by the Gollum of Jewish lore and even a little by Tik-Tok of Oz, who was a protector of sorts too. There are obvious pop culture elements in the design but there are some that are more subtle and some that were subconsciously incorporated. I have no control of my pop culture soaked brain.
4) What about Octopup? How did you decide on all the different colorways? Were you trying to make me angry because I gotta catch them all?
Making you angry is always just a happy accident. As my first sofubi, I just chose color ways that would really pop. Stay tuned for some custom pieces from others artists soon.
5) You also collaborated with Flat Bonnie and came up with a rad and squishy Octoplush version. Any future collaborations with her or other artists?
For SDCC, Flat Bonnie and I will have 3 Octoplush: Aquapup Ed. mini plushes as giveaways at the 3DRetro booth #5049. There will be 3 “Golden” tickets hidden inside the header cards of the Octopup: Octocrush Ed. sofubis. If you get a ticket, present it to 3DRetro and take home a free Octoplush.
6) Your toys are awesome, but you’ve also released some fantastic art. What artists do you admire? Is there anything in particular you think influences your style?
There are too many to list if we’re talking about admiration and even influence whether big or small. But I think artists like Kozik, John K., Tim Burton and others that juxtapose cartoons with darker themes or underlying messages probably influenced me the most. I like taking a cute, large character and adding something subtly sinister or off to them. A friend once called my style “cute macabre”, and I’ll happily take that description.
7) “My Father, My Lord” might be my favorite print of yours because I’m a dark, emo nerd. For those of us who can’t even draw stick figures, can you talk about the process of coming up with a piece like this? Is this how you usually work?
I don’t ever really work the same way from one piece to the next. It really depends on what it calls for and the mood I’m in. This one in particular came together really quickly. Once I had the concept, the rough was finished surprisingly fast. It’s something very dear to my heart, so it just came naturally. Then, it was just adding bits here and there and refining the whole thing.
8) Out of all the characters you’ve created, which one are you the most proud of?
Lavabear is my favorite hands down. It contains many elements that I’ve found myself using in other toys and resins. In addition to that, there are a few pop culture references too, one obvious and the rest were subconsciously incorporated. Bubbling up from my nerdy pop culture ladened brain.
9) What other exciting things can fans and collectors expect from Nathan Hamill in the future? Can you give us any spoilers?
2015 will be a great one. Lots to look forward to, but the one I’m most excited about will be very appropriate for the year. And, no, it’s not Star Wars!
Thanks, Nathan! And I’m totally getting one of your MimoPowerTubes while I’m at the con. So rad looking and practical!
Visit www.nathanhamill.com for the latest news on his current and future releases.
Bioshock Infinite was released last week, bringing a new, exciting chapter of the hugely popular game series for fans to obsessively play for days at a time. I, myself, am a fan of the franchise and when I heard about a book release accompanying the game which would outline the artistic development involved, I was thrilled to have the chance to review it. The Bioshock games are known for their complex story lines and tormented characters, but I think the real core of these games is in the mind blowing art work. I still remember my first time watching the opening sequence for Bioshock. I felt real terror and fear living the experience of sinking on a huge ship, watching people and flames plummet in to the ocean around me as my character sank deeper and deeper. Then, the elation of discovering Rapture, the city under the sea, glowing and majestic, yet abandoned and incredibly eerie at the same time. Bioshock has never settled for less than ‘holy shit amazing’ in the visual department and by the looks of The Art of Bioshock Infinite, this latest installment is no different.
The introduction to the book is by creative director Ken Levine and he explains that the process of developing a video game on the level of Bioshock Infinite is far more complicated and time consuming than some may assume. ” the process of making anything—and certainly an Irrational game—is grueling and exhilarating, exciting and depressing, thrilling and scary as hell. For every idea that makes it into the game, a dozen are put against the wall and shot.” This book puts this process on display for you, showing the character and world development, sketch by sketch. Hundreds of pieces of art and ideas were thrown out in the editing machine, but no less impressive. It becomes obvious right away that the artists who created this new Bioshock universe toiled endlessly to achieve the perfect effects on every single detail of every puzzle piece that eventually became Bioshock Infinite.
I found the notes explaining the process behind the art development as intriguing as the pictures themselves. To get a glimpse in to the great care and immense thought behind every detail in this game feels like peeking in to someone’s window and watching them create. Someone with more artistic chutzpah in their little finger than I could achieve in a lifetime. Watching the floating city of Columbia come to life in these paintings and sketches is so much fun, but for me the best part was being witness to the birth and growth of the enigmatic characters of Bioshock Infinite. Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth and Songbird are focused on heavily, their personality and story details being just as imperative as their styles and physical make up. Readers are invited to observe the ideas behind Sky-Hooks, airships and the menacing, powerful Heavy Hitters.
The Art of Bioshock Infinite is a beautiful, enlightening lesson in video game development. It’s not quick, easy, simple or lacking in sacrifice. At least not a game on this level of quality and brilliance. I haven’t actually played Bioshock Infinite yet, but reading this book makes me feel like I already have an intimate knowledge of the people and creatures (or machines) that make up the city of Columbia. Whether you’re a fan of the Bioshock franchise or just a lover of artwork, this book is definitely satisfying and worth having on your shelf. It’s been a real treat for me and has only increased my desire to experience Bioshock Infinite for myself.
Review: Everybody Loves Tank Girl by Mahfood and Martin
Review by Prof. Jenn
Once again, I’m in the position of not being familiar with these comics characters before plunging right into reviewing the latest in a series of volumes. So what I can’t tell you is how the characters have progressed, how this collection fits in with previous ones, etc. What I can tell you is what I did and didn’t like, of this volume.
Let’s start with the bad news first: being new to Tank Girl and her cronies, I didn’t get what world we’re in, what the back story was, etc. For example, what is Tank Girl an outlaw for? Or of, for that matter? For someone already familiar with the denizens of Tank Girl’s bloody world, this is no doubt not a problem, but for a first-timer I needed a little more. The other downside to this volume is its bloody foul-mouthed-ness. Sometimes the base-ness is strong or dirty-fun or hilarious, but sometimes it’s just jejune and crude. Tank Girl has been called the “most rock ‘n roll comic book character ever” (NME, back cover blurb), and I would agree–but we get both the good and the bad of what that potential is.
And now the positives: I like that they’re rarely in color–we get a lovely, gritty tattoo-art sense from most of them in black and white sketchy style. The art itself is the visual equivalent of Beat poetry: rough, busy, sexy, and interesting. I dig the many little joke commercials peppered throughout. The short one-off punch line-centered stories are a lot of bizarre fun; they remind me of a couple of precocious adolescents making a radio show. The storylines are chaotic enough to be hard to follow sometimes, but that’s not really an issue given the tone and feel of the whole thing. Just hang on and enjoy the ride.
Bottom line: Meh, I don’t know what to think. It’s enjoyable enough, albeit quite trippy, confusing and low-down-and-dirty. So…hm, okay my final judgment is “meh.” ~Prof. Jenn
The Great Showdowns is a lovely little art book that is at once a fun geeky guessing game and high quality pop art watercolors.
When I received my review copy, I promptly brought it to rehearsal so I could peruse it while I was backstage, not in a scene. It proceeded to enchant the entire cast, who would, on tenterhooks, look over my shoulder as I flipped the pages, exclaiming the depiction as soon as they could decipher it. They didn’t stay as quiet as actors need to backstage, and I am not sure that a late entrance or two may not have been because of this book.
Scott C. does these showdowns a lot– his work is not just relegated to little comic-y art books, but his work appears in galleries and collections regularly. It shows. The Showdowns are simple in the most complex way–sometimes the showdown will be obvious (Han Solo and Greedo), other times you have to look at it for a bit before you “get it” (the one about Trainspotting made us all laugh way too loud). And there’s an introduction by Neil Patrick Harris, so there’s the awesomeness factor ramped up right there.
Bottom line: The Great Showdowns is a wonderful little magical tome to include in your art library, pop culture collection, or keep out on your coffee table.
How many awesome books can Titan send me to review? Seriously, how many?
Dinosaur Art is a giant, gorgeous coffee-table book that’s chock full of gorgeous paleoart. It showcases several excellent artists by not only displaying their work, but alongside are extensive interviews about their creative process, choice of media and technique, etc. It’s a fantastic combination–this is a book you’ll want to pick up again and again.
What’s most interesting is the variety–not only from artist to artist, but there is everything from little thumbnail sketches to huge unfoldable multi-page spreads. It’s a collection of paeloart at its best.
Bottom line: this is a book that everyone with the least interest in science or art should have out on their coffee table. ~Prof. jenn
Written by: Kasra Ghanbari
Art by: Menton3
Review by Melissa Megan
My local comic shop guy messaged me online: “The Monocyte hard cover is here, bagged and ready for you. I thought I should let you know right away, since you’ve been excited for it to come” ‘Excited’ is definitely an understatement here. I admit I don’t frequent my local shop as much as I should, but they know that for the last year I’ve never been late to pick up my latest Monocyte issues. This one, in particular, had me itching to get my hands on it. Nerds in Babeland readers are well aware of my addiction to these comics, as I have reviewed and highly recommended every single one. Creators Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari felt that the horrible grandeur of Monocyte could not be contained in tiny comic book pages, so they brought fans a collected, hardcover edition that is so, so much more than just the story of Monocyte.
From the minute you turn the book to take in the entire wrap around cover it is obvious that it was created with an incredible love and dedication to the power of Menton3’s art. He’s by far one of the most unique and impressive comic artists of recent years and Monocyte was, I believe, the creation that really got him noticed by readers, art collectors and artists. Within the first few pages of the book I became painfully aware of just how limiting those single issue comic pages had been for Monocyte. All I can compare it to is maybe seeing a film in IMAX for the first time. You have no idea how much you’ve been missing until you see it in all it’s glory, splayed out in giant size images that you can’t help lingering on after you’ve already read the words.
This is not at all to downplay the quality of writing that Kasra Ghanbari brings to Monocyte, which is the backbone of the book. He writes like he’s carving mythology in to a modern world, building characters and events on each other with unflinching grace and balance. The story is complex and requires your full attention, but if you allow yourself to be present in it, you will not be disappointed with the reward. I will stop gushing about how much I absolutely love Monocyte because as I promised, this collection is so much more than just the story of Monocyte.
The Monocyte Collected Edition is a 224 page hardcover book. It contains the entirety of the original Monocyte story, plus the previously digital only prequel. The book also offers over 60 pages of new content, including a gallery of Menton3’s conceptual and design work for Monocyte, plus a very impressive guest artist gallery. Creepy little child demons by sculptor and fine artist Scott Radke. Sexy, gothic pinups by Alberto Ruiz. Fluid, surreal digital art by Chris Newman. Even some bad ass metal sculpted Monocyte head pieces by Tim Roosen. The book is literally stuffed with so much breathtaking art. One of my personal favorite pieces is a super goulish, almost 3D painting by David Stoupakis that I haven’t been able to stop looking at.
The Monocyte Collected Edition is not only a magnificent representation of one of the best comics to be released in the past year, but it’s a guaranteed brag book for your collection. Set this book down on your coffee table (be careful not to spill on it!) and there’s no way someone won’t pick it up and get sucked in. Menton3 and Kasra Ghanbari are up to huge things this year (44FLOOD, anyone?), but Monocyte is the beginning of their magical union and one that every self respecting comic book reader should experience. if you’re a Menton3 fan or just a Monocyte fan, this book is a must own. MUST OWN. Not maybe. Get it now and bask in it’s awesome power of pure, artistic unicorn blood voodoo. Get it HERE.
44FLOOD is a brand new publishing project comprised of Menton3 (Silent Hill, Monocyte), Kasra Ghanbari (Monocyte), Ben Templesmith (Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse) and Nick Idell (Owner of Alley Cat Comics, Chicago). It’s a true creator owned company, committed to bringing readers top notch material. The first thing 44FLOOD has planned is a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of an amazing collaborative art publication called TOME.
TOME will be an annual anthology in an oversized format showcasing world-class artists as they explore a single theme using comic book, painting, and music mediums. The first theme of TOME is vampirism. TOME will gather together a huge lineup of artists presenting their unique interpretations of vampirism in whatever form they choose, including artist to artist interviews. The Kickstarter launches today. If you love art, comics and everything they could be, when given the right medium and environment to grow, you must get in on this.
Not only will you have the opportunity to be part of the beginning of a huge creation that will packed to the hilt with super talent, you’ll get endless chances to be rewarded with some truly incredible, limited edition swag. I’m not bullshitting you when I say every donation to this Kickstarter will get you something brag worthy.
44FLOOD is a great group of guys with outstanding talent and I promise you that whatever these guys produce will blow you away. Please jump on the Kickstarter page, check out the details and consider supporting TOME. I damn sure will be!
Kickstarter (search for TOME)