A Fun Fact…

Despite its name, the Panda Ant is a type of wingless wasp. But why am I sharing this fun tidbit with you? Consider the Panda Ant as your first look at one of the new portraits from Atypical Animal Book, my upcoming work featuring some of the most interesting and unusual animals from across the world. I’ll be writing and illustrating this child-friendly introduction to weird and wonderful animals you never knew existed. This activity is funded in part by a grant from the Lake Region Arts Council with McKnight Foundation funding. This is very exciting news for me, as it not only marks my first officially published book, but it checks off another item from my bucket list as well as represents a multi-faceted labor of love. The book is scheduled for a release date of March 15, 2017. If you would like to get all the latest news and updates about the book, as well as exclusive previews and members-only content, make sure to sign-up for the Atypical Animal Book Club. And as an extra-special incentive, everyone who signs up for the Atypical Animal Book Club will receive a members-only print from a privately curated collection ABSOLUTELY FREE. For more information on this, you absolutely must join the Atypical Animal Book Club! With that, I bid you farewell for the moment, as I have many miles of work ahead of me. But if you would like to help make this journey a success, please share this post as well as follow me on one or more of the following social platforms: Facebook Instagram Tumblr Twitter Thank you very much for everything, and I wish you all a wonderful week ahead. Sincerely, Mark
Read More

October Scareathon

It has never been much of a secret that I love Halloween. Zac Gorman did a great comic that explains my reason why. Anyways, this year, I ran across an article listing 31 horror movies for horror newbies1 and decided to have myself a month-long, scary movie marathon, or "scareathon". Whereas the original list of movies was not in any particular order, I decided to rank to rank them and add notes where I thought necessary. This is in no way a form of legitimate film criticism, or a "best of" list. In fact, had I built the list myself, there would be a great number of these films replaced by better known and critically favored films. One final thing to mention before I rank all the films - there will be spoilers ahead. And now, the list...

31. Nightbreed

This movie was all form and absolutely no function. I restarted from the middle because I had no idea what was happening. Even after reading the IMDB plot synopsis, I still had no idea what was going on. The only thing it really had going for it were interesting visuals.

30. The Descent

I had seen this once before, and apparently fell asleep, because I didn't remember there being a physical antagonist. My original memory of this film made it out to be a subterranean "Lord of the Flies", which I think would have been more interesting.

29. Friday the 13th

I'm not entirely sure why this movie is called "Friday the 13th." Did everything occur on that day? Couldn't it have occurred on any other day? I mean, it was about a mother seeking revenge on counselors that had nothing to do with her son's death at a camp that has been closed since the original incident. There was no hint of superstition from what I recall. The fact that this became a franchise is...surprising.

28. The Blair Witch Project

Film students get lost in the woods and yell at each other.

27. Hellraiser

Back in elementary school, I checked a book out from the library that was filled with movie monsters. In addition to classics, like Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster, it also had sections about the Gremlins, Freddy Krueger, and Pinhead. I've never been completely certain what the deal with Pinhead was, but after watching this movie, I will admit that it has one of the more interesting concepts: Frank the Monster, a violent sadomasochist human, acquires a puzzle box that summons extra-dimensional travelers (the Cenobites) that capture him and imprison him in a hellish torture dimension for eternity. Frank decides he has had enough of the torture and tries to return to our world with the help of his mistress. Unfortunately, multiple blood sacrifices are needed to restore Frank to this dimension.

The main weakness of this film is that there are two seemingly separate antagonists: Frank and the Cenobites. I feel it would have been a stronger film if one or the other had been dropped. Regardless, I did find the idea of the puzzle box and Cenobites interesting.

26. Martyrs

Definitely the most violent/gory film on this list; so much so that it would make even Eli Roth a little nauseated.

25. Trick 'r Treat

I've seen horror anthology films before, like V/H/S or The ABC's of Death, but I can't say I'd ever seen a full-length feature anthology film centered around Halloween.

Now I have.

24. The Entity

The prime-time version of Poltergeist.

23. [Rec]

Originally, I thought this would just be a foreign, locked-room zombie film. Stuck around to the end. Was pleasantly surprised.

22. Them

This was an interesting idea, performed adequately.

21. Evil Dead 2

Before I had ever seen "Army of Darkness" or "Evil Dead 2", I saw "Evil Dead." That movie was okay. Then I saw "Evil Dead 2". Which...confused me. Aren't they basically the same film? Except, ED2 was done for laughs, right? Maybe not purely for laughs, but it didn't take itself as seriously as the first. It did act as a perfect bridge between ED and AoD, however.

Anyways...watch all three films. Much like the arc of Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy did years ago, it starts off serious and ends absolutely absurd.

20. Suspiria

Visually, this was unlike anything horror movie I had seen before. This also signals the first film on the list that I would watch again.

19. You're Next

Interesting film, but really more thriller than horror. The poster is much creepier than the film itself.

18. Drag Me to Hell

Another Raimi film on the list.

In terms of horror...it really felt hopeless. Had I made the film, I don't think I could have pulled the trigger that determined the final moments of the film.

17. Paranormal Activity

I worked at the Fargo Theatre as a projectionist when this film first came out. As such, I listened in on this movie multiple times a night for the duration of the theatrical run. This was the first time I actually watched the film. Lives up to everything I heard.

16. Poltergeist

Apparently, there was a time in the 80's when legitimate horror was deemed appropriate for children.

15. The Thing

The first time I saw "The Thing" (as well as "Poltergeist," for that matter), I was spending most of my nights and weekends making props and decorations for one of the epic Halloween parties my friends used to host.

Those were good times.

As such, I have fond memories associated with this film. After having watched it again, I can say I enjoy this film even more than before.

14. Nightmare on Elm Street

There is something to be said about being too afraid to fall asleep. Been there, done that. Being too afraid to fall asleep not because you're vulnerable, but because there is something in the dream world waiting for you? Terrifying.

Believe it or not, this film is based on real events.

13. The Conjuring

Another film based on real events. It's "Vera" good.

12. The Exorcist

Some people consider this one of the scariest movies ever made. I don't know if I would go that far. It is pretty fascinating, and I feel like I may come back to this film at a later date, as I noticed some things in passing that I haven't really mentioned about the film.

11. Texas Chainsaw Massacre

I'm usually not a fan of slasher films, but this one is actually a bit more than just a generic slasher. In fact, as good as "Halloween" is, I think this film is actually better. From the opening moments of the film, you can already the feel discomfort from the dry, bug-filled heat. Follow that with the foreboding creepy hitchhiker and the altogether disconcerting desolation of the area they are traveling through, and escape from the redneck cannibals feels genuinely hopeless. The film places pressure on your fear instincts all the way until the end.

10. Scream

When I first saw this film in high school, I really didn't think much about it. Watching it again years later, and I can appreciate just how smart the film really is.

9. The Fly

Jeff Goldblum really owns this film from the start. Whereas many actors have to work to pull off the geeky/nerdy scientist, Goldblum comes to it naturally. This becomes even more impressive later in the film when he starts oozing confidence and transitioning into a jittery, sugar-fueled mania resembling that of a methamphetamine user. And though Geena Davis really holds her own at the beginning, I do feel a little disappointed in how her character seemingly folds after having displayed a fierce independence at the beginning of the film.

8. Re-Animator

I always knew this film was a cult classic. I just never knew why. Despite how some people may criticize the the cheesy production utilized throughout the film, it was the final moments of the film that made it all worthwhile to me; transforming "Re-Animator" from cheesy fun to a film willing to step forward and take the road less traveled by actively avoiding the happy ending through the wholly believable actions of the main character.

7. Alien

Many other people have said many good things about this film already. So all I'll say is this: I'm glad it exists.

6. Night of the Living Dead

Years later, and this film holds up surprisingly well.

5. American Werewolf in London

I've always had a special place in my heart for werewolves. This film is, in my opinion, the best film I have seen featuring werewolves.

Just thinking about the film, and I can clearly hear "Moondance" in my head.

4. Cabin in the Woods

In regards to a horror movie marathon, this film works very well as an epilogue, and as such, was the last film I watched. Though it may not be the best horror film, it is definitely one of my favorites.

3. The Babadook

This film was discomforting on many levels, and was absolutely terrifying on most of them. Furthermore, the lesson I took from the end of the film is one I'm surprised I hadn't seen in any other horror film previously.

2. It Follows

Gothic horror in a modern setting that will leave you unsettled throughout the entirety of the film and looking over your shoulder long afterwards.

1. Let the Right One In

Everyone who told me about this movie described it as a Swedish vampire film. Despite that totally accurate description, it did not prepare me for the actual monster in the film. Though all three of the top films on this list lingered in my mind long after, this is the only one that completely flipped my expectations.

So that's the list! If you're looking for a scary movie this weekend, I would highly recommend any of the top 5, although you probably can't go wrong with any of the top 10. Just stay away from "Nightbreed." 1. A few weeks after starting the scareathon, I discovered a similar list on /r/movies. Many of the films happen to be on both lists, but in my personal opinion, I think /r/movies would have been the superior list.↩
Read More

The 12 Months

Over the past couple years, I've noticed that some of the holiday traditions that I've enjoyed for years are slowly disappearing. The thought was at first a little sad, but more recently I realized it meant the opportunity to create new traditions. Last year, in an attempt to adopt a new tradition, I started sending out holiday cards that featured an illustration that I had also used as a component of the more typical gift giving.   This year, I decided I would like to continue the tradition, but I couldn't decide on what the illustration would look  like. Many options developed, including a few displayed below:   Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with any of these. I started thinking about what I could do in 2012 that would be better, more iconic, than just another winter holiday themed image. "Important" numbers started flowing through my mind: 2012, 12/12/12, 12/21/2012. Then it came to me: The Twelve Days of Christmas. Part of what made me interested in The Twelve Days of Christmas involved an incident over Thanksgiving, where I mistakenly claimed that one of the gifts in the song included "lepers leaping." As I remember it, my brother was quick to point out that it was "lords-a-leaping," and that receiving a group of lepers would be quite a poor gift indeed. Through this incident, the realization was made that I could not name all 12 gifts. This of course freed my mind, allowing me to imagine new gifts that could be given, such as leaping lemurs (quite the improvement over lepers) or Danny Partridge stuck in a tree, or... What were the original 12 gifts? The question needed to be solved, so a quick internet search later lead to an unanticipated result: there were more than just 12 gifts to choose from. Now, any practical contemplation on the song, and realizing that it is quite old, would infer that yes, there would be many different versions of the song. Even today we have variations of the melody, including The Twelve Gifts of Christmas or The Twelve Days of Yaksmas. Yet, I never would have imagined that there would be previous incarnations of the song that included much better gifts, such as ships that sail or bears that fight! Of particular interest to me was an old French folk-song.   Around 1998, an email started circulating inboxes that made claims about the “secret” history of traditional Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas. The email told a story about how the song was written in England as a coded reference to to tenets of Catholic faith as a way to skirt the ire of the English Parliament, when written evidence of practicing Catholicism could result in imprisonment at best, drawn and quartered at worst. According to the email, each of the gifts given on the twelve days correlated with a part of the faith; eleven pipers piping represented the faithful apostles, five golden rings represented the Pentateuch, and the partridge in a pear tree represented Jesus Christ himself. In reality, as with many Christian traditions, the song is actually a relic of pre-Christian paganism. In the book Chants populaires des Flamands de France: recueillis et publiés avec les mélodies originales, une traduction française et des notes, published in 1855, author Charles de Coussemaker writes about the song Le premier jour d’l’année, also known as Les Douze Mois or The Twelve Months. In his description, he cites the song as being a traditional folk song derived from pre-Gaul druidic tradition. The first verse... ...asks the question “What will my love give me on the first day of the year?” and answering with “one lone partridge that flies in the woods.” The remaining verses... ...though slightly different than the gifts we typically associate with the Twelve Days of Christmas, follow the same format, asking what one’s love will bring, and answering with everything from the familiar turtle doves as well as a variety of other birds, to the strange, extravagant, and odd gifts of branches, windmills, and horned bulls. De Coussemaker then follows up with a paragraph (seen above) describing how in it’s current state, the song has been extremely distorted. Despite that fact, he felt it important to publish in the collection out of respect for the country’s druidic heritage. He then concludes with a sentence about how the song has spawned several versions of the song where symbolic religious value is assigned to each hour of the twelve hour period. In case any of you want to play and or sing this song for yourself, the musical notation is displayed below:
Read More