July 18, 2017 – The “Revolutionary”

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“The concept of social justice, which purports to promote equality among the lines of gender and ethnicity, is based on intersectional feminist theory. Per the theory, certain classes of people are naturally oppressors, while others are victims. There’s nothing more divisive than that.”

Perhaps I ought not delve into it too deeply if I don’t intend to follow the whole conversation through before moving onto the next project – but it is portrait month, and I do think this is an interesting one. This is a portrait self-proclaimed revolutionary, activist, and savior of the people; that hasn’t quite been my experience of the man, but I certainly have to respect the passion, even if I don’t quite understand the method or appreciate the affectation.

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The Joker – Why So Serious? (pt.1)

The Joker, A New Illustration From LenseBender Studios

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The list of complaints about last years’ ‘Suicide Squad’ is a long one. The machined-gunned roll-call character introductions, the underdeveloped personalities, the ethnic stereotypes, and the ‘walk like an Egyptian’ Enchantress – and this is just to scratch the surface – earned across-the-board negative reviews and a deeply conflicted audience.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve been hearing? The prison-tatted goth-juggalo Joker. And while this version of The Joker has earned such disdain, Jered Leto’s performance has simultaneously garnered some of the film’s highest praise. In fact, many moviegoers are hopeful for a ‘Joker & Harley’ stand-alone movie(although this is looking less likely with the announcement of ‘Gotham City Sirens‘). Audience responses to both the film and this new iteration of the ‘ganagster’ Joker perfectly illustrates how polarized audiences are.

What many moviegoers aren’t aware of is that The Joker has undergone several transformations over the last seventy-five years. After Batman was given his own stand-alone comic title in 1940, creator Bob Kane needed to introduce a new villain. Interestingly, The Joker was initially supposed to die in the first issue – with a knife through the heart – but the decision was ultimately made to keep The Clown Prince Of Crime on deck as a recurring character.

It’s easy to assume that the earliest depictions of The Joker would more closely resemble the 1960s television series – whimsical and cartoonish, rather than sociopathic and violent. The truth is, in his earliest story arcs, The Joker was a ruthless killer similar to more recent cinematic portrayals. It wasn’t until editor Jack Schiff was hired that The Joker’s persona was softened in order to market the Batman comics to a younger audience. After the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, The Joker was nothing more than a puckish, thieving trickster.

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Editor Julius Schwartz took the reigns in 1964, leading to the near-abandonment of The Joker character altogether. Evidently, Schwartz wasn’t a fan of the character. If it wasn’t for the 1966 Batman television series, The Joker might have faded into complete obscurity. The show was a hit, however, and actor Cesar Romero provided the first ever live (non-comic-book) performance of the iconic character.
romero-blogAfter the end of the television series – and despite its success – comic sales were flagging. The Joker was reintroduced in 1973, after a four year hiatus and a decision to change formats. Editors wanted to begin telling more mature Batman stories and shed the whimsical camp of the 1960s. This reincarnated Joker was brought back to his original concept: a ruthless serial killer on equal footing with The Caped Crusader. He was also, for the first time ever, depicted as being completely and undeniably insane.
joker-70sIn 1975 The Joker was granted a stand-alone comic series by DC Comics – this would be the first time that a villain would be portrayed as the protagonist in a comic book serial. The series was short-lived, but The Joker’s popularity expanded rapidly. This would culminate in some of the most iconic graphic novels of the 1980s, spawning feature-length animated films, a reinvigoration of comic book culture, and one of the most ambitious films based on a comic book intellectual property, Tim Burton’s 1989 release of ‘Batman.’

(stay tuned for our exploration of The Joker’s depiction in the 1980s though Suicide Squad)
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Mr Robot – Season Two Preview

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“Mr. Robot” officially begins its second season run on July 13th. The first season was a runaway success, winning several awards including the Golden Globe for best drama. Tapping into a wide variety of prescient subjects ranging from cyber security, “hacktivism,” and social anxiety, “Mr. Robot” has anticipated real-world scenarios of cyber-warfare, data breaches, and hacker activism. Show creator Sam Esmail has gone to great lengths, in fact, to illustrate hacker culture in a more realistic way, eschewing previous pop-culture iterations of the subculture as bands of pithy computer magicians who drink Jolt Cola and play amusing practical jokes on their enemies – usually school administrators or romantic rivals – from the comfort of their messy bedrooms (typically replete with music posters, comics books, and ironically anachronistic bed-sheets).

“Mr. Robot” taps into criticisms of consumer culture (and corresponding anxieties) in a style reminiscent of David Fincher’s “Fight Club.” The main character, Elliot – brilliantly portrayed by Rami Malek – is torn between the world he inhabits and his own idealism. He simultaneously hates the world, but feels oddly compelled to save it. He hates consumerism, but operates successfully within corporate culture. With his unique skill-set, he isn’t so much an anti-hero as he is a vigilante. Similar to the goals of Project Mayhem in “Fight Club,” Elliot is recruited by an insurrectionary anarchist known only as “Mr. Robot” – portrayed by Christian Slater – to try and wipe the debt record to zero and destabilize the entire global economy.

By the end of season one, the hacker collective has been successful in doing just that. But the social, political, and economic infrastructures of the entire western world cannot be obliterated in one calculated attack. The collective, known as “f-society,” still has plenty of work to do.

I’ll be bringing artwork and analysis after each episode, beginning after Wednesday’s season two premier. Hop aboard, will you? Let me know what you’re thinking about, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and also follow me on Twitter.

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Fight Club – I Am Jack’s Lost Sense Of Self

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One of the first movies that ever inspired me to create fan artwork was “Fight Club.” Looking back, there are plenty of opportunities to tear holes in the ethos of the film, but the film is intentionally self-critical, which buttresses it against any concrete philosophical criticism – this is one of the things that’s so brilliant about it. It expresses an anti-corporate, crypto-fascist morality, but it’s also laden with ad placement from Pepsi, IKEA, Tommy Hilfiger, 7Eleven, and many, many others. What I think helped the film overcome its abysmal box office numbers – and eventually achieving cult status in the years following its release – was it’s exquisite illustration of disenfranchisement, job dissatisfaction, and a gnawing frustration with consumer culture.

Today’s illustration is yet another addition to my collection of “Fight Club” inspired illustrations, with the unnamed narrator played by Edward Norton and his only emotional anchor, Marla Singer, played by Helena Bonham Carter. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it, and I hope you might consider adding a print to your art collection. Cheers!

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