Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday
i just learned that actor Leonard Nimoy passed away at age 83. It’s no secret that i am a HUGE Star Trek fan and that show has permeated my life in so many ways.
As you might expect, the Internet and social media are blowing up with condolences for his legendary actor.
i would like to dedicate this particular Week in Geek to Leonard Nimoy. As his most famous character, Mr. Spock was beloved by fans all over the world including me. This icon of the science fiction world has inspired me so much. The complex character has always appealed to me because of his vast intelligence and underlying humanity.
Over the years, i’ve watched a lot of interviews with Nimoy, and when he talks about the character and how much it developed over the years, you can tell it was more than just a pointy-eared alien to him, and fans too of course.
He imbued the character with so many layers of emotion and spirituality which is what elevated Mr. Spock to such an important cultural figure.
Just the other day, my aunt shared a video with me on how the famous Live Long and Prosper greeting came about. Rooted in Jewish lore, the well-known Vulcan greeting is actually a blessing in the Jewish faith. If i take away anything from news of his passing, it’s that i believe Leonard Nimoy truly exemplified the philosophy.
In our memories, Leonard Nimoy will always Live Long and Prosper.
Just so i don’t feel as sad, i think he would have liked for us all to party and have a logical time tonight.
The wait is over
i don’t know a whole lot about the Cleveland art scene, but one figure i do know, who is as much a part of our Rust Belt landscape as the gritty backgrounds he lovingly crafts in his work is John Greiner – or simply John G as most folks know him.
My introduction to this phenomenal fellow goes back to the early aughts, when the now-defunct Tonight Magazine in Cleveland (helmed by the prolific Bob Ramsak) tasked me with interviewing John G for their inaugural edition.
Since then, John G has been on my radar, producing not only comic book work but commercial art all over Northeast Ohio. A couple of years ago, i first heard about work on a documentary focused on his life from the crew at Turnstyle Films. And today, Feb. 27, the film was released on Fandor and VHX.
The documentary opens with several people who know and work with John G describing his demeanor and work ethic, interspersed with shots of the man in question at work in his studio, and i particularly like the opening shot. Seated at his art table, shot from behind, the focus subtly wavers between his body and the table itself – blurring the line between him and the work that he does. Right away, you get the sense of how dedicated he is to his art, and how much a part getting at who he is as a complete person is woven into that.
“This dude is for real,” one of the speakers says to describe meeting him for the first time, shaking hands with the man who has the word “DRAW” tattooed across his knuckles. One the other hand – “HARD.”
When John G himself is first heard, he begins by talking about his lifelong history with comics books and it’s obvious he has a deep admiration for – and skill creating – sequential storytelling.
“There’s things you can only do in comics,” he narrates, while shots of him working with a brush to ink panels showcase his distinct line work. “There’s things you can only do with words and images juxtaposed together.”
Joshua Rex, another Cleveland artist, mentions his line work later in the film, offering a wonderful analogy.
“Something about his black line is just so distinct and unique and creepy,” Rex says over a series of images from John G’s portfolio. “It’s almost like it was burned rather than drawn.”
John G is revealed through a series of conversations with his friends and colleagues. One of them is Jake Kelly, another Cleveland artist and co-creator of the horror anthology comic The Lake Erie Monster set in Cleveland.
Incidentally, this is a terrific quarterly series with a unique vision and fantastic artwork that i highly recommend. You don’t have to be from Cleveland to appreciate it of course, but the level of detail and nods to the city’s history and visual cues is an added treat.
“Cleveland is a pretty strange place,” Kelly says while explaining The Lake Erie Monster book. “You always see some bizarre thing.”
To illustrate his point, he relates a story of he and John G driving down East 55th Street and seeing a man sitting in his parked car alone, screaming and thrashing about.
“That’s fuckin’ Cleveland right there,” he said.
Another prominent figure in Draw Hard is Matt Fish, owner and operator of Melt Bar & Grilled, which has become a Cleveland-area institution since the first restaurant opened in Lakewood in 2006. Oddly enough, i found out about the place just before it opened from his then wife, a tattoo artist who was giving me some ink at the time.
Fish has nothing but positive things to say about John G in the film, attributing a healthy amount of Melt’s success to the work John G has put into promotional art, as well as his creativity in helping to name sandwiches.
One of the things i appreciated was that the filmmakers chose not to reveal a particular aspect of John G’s life until a few minutes into the film’s 20 minute run time. It’s a significant part, to be sure, but i like that they didn’t throw it at the audience right away or build the narrative around it.
Dave Gibian, from Cleveland thrash punk band All Dinosaurs, speaks about his relationship with John G, and how much impact it had on the band’s success. Early on, John G created the band’s first show poster.
“That was a big deal, if you had a John G poster,” Gibian says in the film. “You were playing a legit show.”
Echoing Gibian’s sentiments, Fish has nothing but praise for the artist whose work on Melt’s advertising brings the same kind of excitement to their menu that his show posters do for musician’s shows.
“Melt would be a completely different landscape if John G wasn’t involved,” Fish says. “John’s art is like part of our brand.”
As evidence of this, Fish points out a framed John G print in his office, the artist’s first work for Melt back in 2009. Since then, he’s done tons of work for Melt, and a panning shot of Fish’s office shows just a handful of those prints.
In the second half of the film, there’s more conversation with John G himself, sharing details about his life that reveal more about him personally and help to ground him after establishing the impact made by his work. By relating more of his personal story, you come to learn a deeper meaning behind the film’s title. After leading into the film with some discussion on his perceived demeanor as a grumpy or angry person, one might take “draw hard” to mean that John G is perhaps a harsh guy, or some kind of tortured artist. This is far from the truth, and the film’s title speaks more to his artistic journey than any sort of personality quirk.
“That’s what I do, so that’s kind of where that came from,” John G describes his method of drawing. “I don’t draw fast. I draw hard.”
On a side note, one of the things i particularly enjoyed about Draw Hard was the original score by Ryan Harris. He did a good job using music to keep the pace and enhance the mood of the various segments of the film. Towards the end, when John G talks about his past and how he got to where he is today, i thought the score added a wonderful layer of emotion.
If i have any issues with the film, it’s really only that the run time is too short! Clocking in at 20 minutes, the documentary does a terrific job of introducing audiences to John G and his vibrant importance in the Cleveland landscape. As a fan of documentaries in general, i would have liked to see more of the great work putting the narrative together by director Jon Nix, who clearly put significant time and effort into speaking with John G and people who know him as well as capturing footage of him at work, enjoying concerts and generally just living the Cleveland life.
One important thing that i feel got left out was John G’s role in organizing the yearly Genghis Con, the small press and underground comic convention held annually in Cleveland. Overall, the film focused a lot on The Lake Erie Monster and John G’s commercial work, and it would have been nice to explore his involvement with comics more, both as a creator and event organizer.
For more details on Draw Hard, please visit their Facebook page and head over to Fandor or VHX to check it out. It’s only $1.99 to stream it, and there are some upgraded packages with great additional bonuses. The top tier of these is The Gritty Package, which includes a digital copy, director’s commentary, trailer and hi-res PDFs of both The Lake Erie Monster and a John G art collection – for only $9.99!
Best of Cleveland
If you enjoyed Draw Hard, and want to support the film even more, head over to Cleveland Scene’s website and cast your vote for Made in CLE – Best of 2015. The Arts & Entertainment category has several entries you can vote in like Best Comic Artist and Best Illustrator.
There’s a Best Director category where you can vote for Jon Nix who directed Draw Hard.
And – shameless plug – there’s a Best Local Blog category too, so you can vote for The Long Shot 😉
You can vote once per day, so make sure to visit daily and vote for what you think is the best stuff Cleveland has to offer. Online voting ends on March 9, plenty of time to support your favorite stuff.
Wizard World addendum
A few other items of interest from my experience at Wizard World Cleveland last weekend that didn’t make it into my coverage i want to share here.
There were two different charitable organizations i came across while wandering the exhibition floor.
The first was Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio, who visit children’s hospitals and special needs centers in superhero costumes.
This is a great example of parlaying the immense popularity of comic book superheroes into something really positive.
In a similar vein, Heroes Alliance is another nonprofit group using costumed superheroes to make a difference in the community. Founded in Florida, the group has expanded throughout the U.S. and is focused on fundraising for organizations like Give Kids the World as well as making appearances to brighten spirits.
Both of these groups operate as nonprofits through donations, so please check them out and donate if you are able. We can never have too many heroes and, as both organizations agree, it’s those they seek to help who are the real heroes that keep them inspired.
Both groups also accept volunteer help, so if you want to take the extra step and participate yourself, there’s information on their websites to help you do just that.
One of the things i didn’t get a chance to check out directly at the convention was the film Hero Tomorrow, a homegrown Northeast Ohio superhero story.
The hero in question is APAMA, and i recall seeing posters for it plastered around downtown Cleveland when i was still attending Cleveland State University.
i love the description of the project from the website:
David spends his days cutting grass and his nights smoking it while desperately trying to keep his superhero fantasies alive. When Robyn, his aspiring fashion-designer girlfriend, makes him a Halloween costume of his original character APAMA it doesn’t take David long to hit the streets and begin blundering towards disaster.
The character of Apama has elements of several super heroes i’ve enjoyed over the years, like The Creeper from DC Comics and Mike Allred’s Mad Man. His kooky adventures are represented by tight artwork, and as many people know, i’m a sucker for schmaltz so it’s cool to see that his girlfriend Robyn is an integral part of his escapades. Plus, Apama is Cleveland-based which adds a whole other level of cool to the property.
A table with a big sign that read “Space Party” was something i had to swing past.
Yuri’s Night in an international celebration every April to commemorate milestones in space exploration. Named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, Yuri’s Night was first held on April 12, 2001, exactly 40 years after the launch of the Vostok 1 spacecraft that Yuri piloted.
In Cleveland this year, Yuri’s Night Space Party will be held at the Great Lakes Science Center on April 11 from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The celebration will feature live music, refreshments, a “cosmic trip” with The Solar Fire Light Show, space-themed costume contest, a new Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition and more.
Visit the Great Lakes Science Center website or call 216.621.2400 for more details and to purchase tickets.
This sounds like a really awesome event, and a great opportunity for someone to Take a Shot at covering. If you need added incentive, there’s a chance for you to earn some exclusive geek loot in the process.
* * * * *
With my usual caveat to editors and audiences that “brevity is not my thing,” this is a good point at which to wrap it up this week. Wizard World Cleveland was an amazing experience and it was a bummer heading back to the real world on Monday.
Thank you so much to everyone who read my preview article and visited the media gallery at The News-Herald. All the awesome fans who checked it out helped it to account for over 5% of the total traffic to their website for 2015 so far, so on behalf of my resume and measurable results everywhere, i sincerely thank you all. The opportunity to attend comics convention as a professional writer is literally the reason i got into journalism in the first place. So, Nerd Mission Accomplished.
Thanks for reading the latest Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!
If you would like some further reading, about some science, technology and pop culture stuff that happened this week, here’s a few links i hope you find as interesting as i did:
Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.
Week in Geek will be back next Friday, March 6 and i’d love to see you here!
Remember – if you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, i’d be happy to make that happen!
Week in Geek also appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).
Check out the articles i’ve written for The News-Herald.
Thanks for reading!