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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Review: Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat by Todd R. Baker


Secrets of Men...in a Lifeboat
Author:  Todd R. Baker
Publisher:  Aqueous Books, April 1, 2016
Format:  Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook, 460 pages
List Price:  $24.99 (Hardcover); $16.99 (Trade Paperback); $9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780692554852 (Hardcover); 9780692554845 (Trade Paperback)

Review: Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat by Todd R. Baker
Luke Morrow, a financially struggling young single parent to an 8-year-old boy, comes to believe that he has nothing, until by a magical twist of fate, his improbable internet technology start-up turns him into a Silicon Valley billionaire star. Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat begins with Luke’s harrowing romantic sojourn on the moneyed Westside of Los Angeles. Just when Luke can’t bear life’s pain anymore, he is remade—into a rich but brutal man. As Luke catapults through realms of fame and fortune, he is granted one last chance to seek redemption in a final showdown between honor and his own devastating power.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

Luke Morrow's downward spiral began years ago when his startup business failed and his wife left him, taking with her their young son, Trevor. Things go from bad to worse and Luke is reduced to working at a minimum wage job and forced to downsize from a modest one bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood to something much smaller and not so nice. The light of Luke's life is his son. During Trevor's visits, the two share adventures and happiness that money can't buy. Then Luke discovers his ex-wife and her husband plan to relocate to the east coast which would make it impossible for him to see his son. Luke is filled with self-loathing and becomes obsessed with the idea that if only he were rich and powerful, his life would be perfect. Or would it?

Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat is hard to break down into neat categories. It has an It's a Wonderful Life aspect that delivers some very powerful messages about consequences. Todd R. Baker expertly paints a portrait of an unfulfilled man who has reached rock bottom. Luke is mildly unlikeable but his tenderness towards his son makes him sympathetic. So much so that in Part 1, Luke's lonely journey into the depths of desperation and fear as he struggles in a cruel, uncaring world actually made me uncomfortable. But Secrets of Men tells two very different stories through its alternate timeline. Part 2 depicts a very different Luke Morrow. In his pursuit of wealth and power he brutally tramples everyone in his path, including his son. His heartless behavior towards his son and his degrading treatment of the women who love him is despicable.

I was intrigued by the author's observations of the psyches of married/divorced men and their expected role in society. The novel explores the stress men put themselves under to attain financial success and offers a rare perspective of their struggle to find their place in a competitive world.

Todd R. Baker's writing style is aggressive and direct and might have seemed somewhat disjointed if the approach didn't serve the story so well. Its third person narrative softens the impact of some of the hard-to-take events making them feel less personal and more objective.

Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat is thought provoking and unusual. It touches on difficult topics such as anxiety, autism, infidelity, divorce, depression and suicide in a realistic manner and without stigmas, which I found refreshing. I believe it will become a favorite of Book Clubs because it's packed with symbolism and issues ripe for discussion.

Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat has only a small speculative fiction portion, so it's not my usual fare and parts of the book were difficult for me to read due to the ugliness of the situations. However, its message of redemption won me over. Ultimately, I enjoyed the love story between father and son. The touching moments between Luke and Trevor stand out as memorable highlights. Todd R. Baker has written a strong debut novel. Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat is haunting and unforgettable.

Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley


The Last Mortal Bond
Author:  Brian Staveley
Series:  Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 3
Publisher:  Tor Books, March 15, 2016
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 656 pages
List Price:  $28.99 (print); $14.99 (digital)
ISBN:  9780765336422 (print); 9781466828452 (digital)

Review: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley
The trilogy that began with The Emperor's Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion, as war engulfs the Annurian Empire in Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all--Valyn, Adare, and Kaden--come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

War is consuming the lands and people of Annur. The Csestriim, an ancient and immortal race, have orchestrated events intended to destroy the gods who have flawed their human children.

In the towering heights of Intarra's Spear, Kaden both protects and imprisons Triste, the human vessel for the goddess Ciena. To secure the goddess's ascension to heaven, Triste must willingly participate in a ritual that will free the goddess but extinguish her host's life.

The exiled Emperor Adare and her armies defend against the invasion by the savage race of nomads called Urghul who have rallied under the banner of the warrior, Long Fist. Adare has assumed many mantles since her father's murder; prophet, emperor, mother, murderer. In an effort to save her people she has appointed Csestriim Ran il Tornja as general of her armies. Adare doesn't trust il Tornja but his brilliant war tactics have proven the strongest defense against the legions of Urghul who are hell bent on slaughtering the Annurian race.

The Last Mortal Bond is the magnificent conclusion to a trilogy that is truly a masterpiece of epic fantasy. Brian Staveley has woven an intricate tale that spans the course of three books, culminating in a rich and breathtaking tapestry that is nothing short of perfection.

The Last Mortal Bond unfolds through four main points of view which allows for crucial character development while also revealing far flung events with real time urgency. Part of what makes this story powerful is the depiction of its main characters. Staveley portrays their flaws and strengths with brutal honesty which creates a tangible sense of empathy.

The balance between male and female characters is worth noting. I am impressed with the inclusion of multiple strong and heroic female characters who have major parts to play. Adare, stands out because of her bravery in the face of the unthinkable. Her desperate longing to protect her infant son while attempting to save her Empire resonated strongly with me. The choices she is faced with would break a lesser person. I also grew to love gruff Gwenna, and felt a tremendous sympathy for Triste. Look for Huutsuu, Pyrre and Sigrid as well; they kick major ass.

Staveley is an expert wordsmith. Throughout his detailed descriptions of battles, hand to hand combat, covert missions and other levels of human suffering, Staveley conjures images that are uniquely stark , utterly realistic and at times hauntingly beautiful. His ability to take seemingly minute elements and incorporate them into the greater story to produce a dense and satisfying work, rich in layers and complexities is remarkable.

The Last Mortal Bond is not a lighthearted adventure where the reader envies the heroes; at times I felt sorry for them. Yet faced with choices that are as cruel as the world they are living in, they persevere, and in doing so grace the reader with their strength. A phenomenon like the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne comes along once in a lifetime, so I encourage lovers of high fantasy to read this series sooner rather than later. The Last Mortal Bond is a true masterpiece of imagination, invention, intrigue, and adventure.

Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Artisan's Avenue is a place to showcase fantasy, horror, or sci-fi artists and their creations. As you may have guessed, the name pays homage to Artist's Alley and the wildly talented people I've met at various comic cons. I am continuously fascinated and impressed with their creativity and imagination and I hope our readers feel the same.

Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


The Qwillery would like to welcome Wendy Allen, the talented fiber artist and fashion designer behind the Moss Fête and Miss Fitt collections. I wandered into Wendy's delightful booth at New York Comic Con 2015 and immediately fell in love with the whimsical wool hats, scarves and other gorgeous accessories.

Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt
Wendy Allen and Tracey/Trinitytwo at NYCC

Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Tracey/TrinitytwoHi Wendy, would you please tell our audience a little about your creative background?

Wendy Allen:  I was forced at gunpoint to learn to sew as a child, but by Junior High I was grateful for the skills and had started making both my own clothes and costumes for school plays. By high school I ran the costume shop myself and had also become a quite a hat collector. While studying costume design in college my grandmother who had been a weaver in the Appalachian Mountains died and left me her loom. We had a really good fiber teacher named Edwina Bringle and a magnificent collection of looms and yarn so I took some classes with her. Edwina encouraged me to try felting and loaned me some equipment.

I bought a bag of smelly raw sheep wool out of the back of a magazine and dyed, carded and felted it at home, making 3 hats and a pair of bedroom slippers. Not long after that I abandoned costume design and took up directing and performance art (I was also studying modern dance and voice). After graduating from UNC-Charlotte I went on to study interdisciplinary performance art at the Naropa Institute in Boulder CO. I then moved to San Francisco where I started Miss Fitt & Co., a general production company with the aim of generating performance art with the other artists I had moved there with. We put on several shows in which we created and performed various dance, music, film, and dun dada daaaa…….costumes. Full circle.

Most of my income was coming from making costumes for Burning Man customers and commercials as well as bridal gowns for brides with a taste for the unusual. I was holding a knitting B at my studio one day when the owner of the local hat shop spotted those hats I had made waaaaaaay back in college and asked me to design a line of hats for her store. I had no idea if I could pull it off but by then the internet had been invented and I found a wealth of information and a much more ready supply of carded and dyed wool. I made about 15 hats for her and she sold out of them in 2 weeks. I've pretty much been making felt hats for a living ever since. The name Miss Fitt & Co. seemed to work well for a label so I kept it.


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


TTHow did the Moss Fête and Miss Fitt collections come about?

WA:  After that first store ordered hats from me, I started getting requests from other stores around town. Then a sales rep from LA approached me and asked if she could represent me. That was around the same time the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) picked me up as a vendor for the gift shop. My business exploded overnight. I had the room to expand and a ready source of employees from CCA (California College of arts) where I had taught a couple of classes. But I didn't really know what I was doing and I wore myself out after a few years.

I thought I was ready to be done with felting and moved to North Carolina to take over my stepfather's jewelry wholesale manufacturing business. BIG MISTAKE! I hated it. I missed Miss Fitt desperately. I missed my employees. I missed sleeping til 10 and working til 2 am. Fortunately I discovered indie craft shows (like the Big Crafty in Asheville) and figured out a way to go back to Miss Fitt. I quickly graduated to much bigger shows like American Craft Council in Baltimore. Some of the bigger craft shows I loved doing but there were others that were downright soul sucking.

I missed my old Burning Man customers and my weird brides. I decided to branch out and take a new line of more costumey stuff to Dragon Con. I felt like the Miss Fitt label wasn't quite right for the new work and I didn't want to confuse my older customer base from my craft shows, so I launched Moss Fête….a further play on words from Miss Fitt. I had become a little bored with Miss Fitt because I was making a lot of stuff I knew would SELL, but wasn't stuff I actually wanted to wear myself. Moss Fête is a lot more fun to make.


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


TTPlease briefly describe the design to prototype process.

WA:  I spend several weeks going through magazines and websites of designers that inspire me and cutting out pictures of color combinations and surface designs. I create collages from those pictures and put little wool swatches of all the new color combinations for the year. I put those up all around the walls of my studio. I sketch new hats shapes I want to try. I then make samples of those hat shapes to make sure I can actually execute what I have on paper and that I have the right hat blocks for them. Once I get the design nailed down, I assign it several color combinations from the wall and it goes into the line for the year.


TTWhat inspires you in regard to your creations?

WA:  Oh golly, just about anything. That crop of fabulous mushrooms growing in the yard. That Indian blanket hanging on the wall. Pottery or armor I saw at some museum. Seed catalogues. I have a series of top hats in the Moss Fête line called 'Tool Users', that was inspired by the painting elephants in Thailand and these amazing YouTube videos of intelligence tests for crows.


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


TTPlease tell us about your current collection.

WA:  My Miss Fitt line this year is much more late 1930's (and) early 1940's inspired than usual. I excel at the cloche and that line tends to be heavy on them, but I got some new hat blocks recently and have been branching out into other decades.

Moss Fête is still in its infancy so I'm mostly doing color variations on a lot of the original designs that have sold really well for me. The Tool User's series is a new hit though. I have a couple of crow top hats that are very popular.


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


TTWhat is one of your favorite pieces?

WA:  Oh definitely the painting elephant top hat. It has a big 3 dimensional flower and an elephant with a tiny paintbrush in his trunk.

Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


TTWhat's new for 2016?

WA:  My design faze happens in the months of June, July and August because I don't do any shows during those months. So I don't have anything super new for 2016 yet.


TTAsk and then answer a question about your product or designs that I haven't asked.

WA:  I'm not sure how to phrase the question but I wanted to touch on (the importance of) creative surroundings. Maybe it's something to do with life philosophy or creative drive.

My husband is a recording engineer and we are both musicians. We have always surrounded ourselves utterly and completely with our creative process. Our lives are always about the creative process. We are both workaholics and throw ourselves into our creative work 100%. One of the reasons I moved towards performance art in the middle part of my life was because I have always been drawn to create intricate and layered spaces in which to 'perform' my life. One of the things I love about doing Cons and craft shows is that it gave me the opportunity to create my enchanted felt forest 'set' for my booth space. It also gave me the opportunity to use my big boring white cargo van as a canvas. My goal is to open a store so that I can continue that vision.










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Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt


Artisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss Fitt

Review: Gideon by Alex Gordon


Gideon
Author:  Alex Gordon
Publisher:  Harper Voyager, January 6, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
List Price:  $14.99 (print); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780061687372 (print); 9780062091765 (eBook)

Review: Gideon by Alex Gordon
Preston & Child meets Kim Harrison in this edge-of-your-seat debut thriller—a superb blend of mystery, urban fantasy, horror, romance, and the supernatural.

When Lauren’s father dies, she makes a shocking discovery. The man she knew as John Reardon was once a completely different person, with a different name. Now, she’s determined to find out who he really was, even though her only clues are an old photograph, some letters, and the name of a town—Gideon.

But someone—or something—doesn’t want her to discover the truth. A strange man is stalking her, appearing everywhere she turns, and those who try to help her end up dead. Neither a shadowy enemy nor her own fear are going to prevent her from solving the mystery of her father—and unlocking the secrets of her own life.

Making her way to Gideon, Lauren finds herself more confused than ever. Nothing in this small Midwestern town is what it seems, including time itself. Residents start going missing, and Lauren is threatened by almost every townsperson she encounters. Two hundred years ago, a witch was burned at the stake, but in Gideon, the past feels all too chillingly present . . .



Trinitytwo's Point of View

December 20, 1836 began abnormally warm. It was the day murderer Nicholas Blaine was to be judged at the stake. The Council had decided against hanging, saying he should suffer like the innocent girl he so callously killed. Blaine was more than a cold-blooded killer, he was also a wielder of potent magic. Gideon's residents had power of their own; they are children of Endor, adhering to the word of the Lady. Their duty lies in guarding the "thin places" from the demons who seek to cross the borders of the "wilderness" where they are damned to wander for eternity.

A lethal and unnatural freeze follows hard on the heels of Blaine's death and the ice storm kills the men of Gideon right where they stand. The women and children, who wait in security two miles away, are grief-stricken by their losses. All the while, Blaine's soul awaits the spell from his accomplice that will bring him back more powerful than he was before. Eliza, despite the mistrust of the community, is able to thwart the plot, binding Blaine with a spell of her own to the underground chamber where he has been laid to rest. As the years pass, Blaine's malevolent spirit hungrily waits and the people of Gideon conveniently forget the evil lingering in their vaults.

In the here and now, Lauren Reardon mourns the death of her beloved father, John. While going through her father's personal effects, she finds a small leather bound book called The Book of Endor. Printed inside is the name Matthew James Mullin and a location, Gideon Illinois. Curious, she scans the book's pages and finds a newspaper clipping wedged inside with a photo of teenaged Matthew Mullin. Lauren is shocked to discover her father and Mullin are one and the same.

Desperate to uncover the secrets of her father's hidden past, Lauren goes to Gideon for answers. But Gideon is falling into disrepair and the grudges of its people have not been forgotten. Being an outsider and a Mullin puts Lauren in danger. She senses the palpable enmity of its occupants and the malignant spirit who has become impatient to be freed.

Gideon is appealing on many levels. The author took actual tragic historical events such as Chicago's "Sudden Freeze" of 1836 and the subsequent "Great Fire" in 1871 and intertwined them to provide a gripping and realistic background. The eerie tone of the town's growing despair and impending doom paired with the author's descriptions of the "in between" places was frightful.

Lauren is a terrific heroine. She's smart and strong and when things start to go bad, she's bold enough to face the supernatural challenges head on. The supporting cast of characters were also well-written and some of them definitely had me fooled. In Gideon, I was never sure which members of the Society of Endor were working for good and which had sided with evil. This uncertainty ratcheted up the tension levels and made for some exciting and unexpected twists and turns to the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sojourn into Gideon's past and rooted for both Eliza and Lauren as they fought their monsters; both human and demonic. Gordon artfully spreads Nicholas Blaine's malignant presence slowly, like a disease whose evil taints the town and the souls that live there. Alex Gordon's Gideon is a delightfully dark tale that kept me under its spell from start to finish.




Upcoming

Jericho
Harper Voyager, April 5, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 464 pages

Review: Gideon by Alex Gordon
In this follow-up to the masterful debut Gideon, a young witch must risk death and damnation to defeat a powerful ancient evil.

In unearthing her father’s secret past, Lauren Reardon discovered a shocking truth about herself. She is a Child of Endor, a sect of witches who believe they are the guardians of the “thin places”—areas across the globe where evil can seep through the divide between the worlds separating the living and the restless dead. At any time, she can be called upon to close one of these breaches and prevent demons from infiltrating our realm. When Lauren has a disturbing vision of an Oregon forest, she is drawn back to the familiar woods of the misty Pacific Northwest to investigate.

Locals had long whispered about an abandoned logging camp known as Jericho—of the strange disappearances and eerie sounds heard in the woods deep in the night. But these ghost stories only hint at the true evil lurking within the camp’s dilapidated buildings, a primeval malevolence far more terrifying than Lauren’s darkest imaginings. And now, Lauren must face this evil, even if it takes her life . . . even if it costs her soul.


Review: Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak


Black City Saint
Author:  Richard A. Knaak
Publisher:  Pyr, March 1, 2016
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 390 pages
List Price:  $18.00 (print); $9.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9781633881365 (print); 9781633881372 (eBook)

Review: Black City Saint by Richard A. Knaak
For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him…but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms…then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

The legend of Saint George and the dragon is true. Nick Medea is living proof.

Over 1,600 years ago, devout Nick, then known as Georgius, slew the dragon but with disastrous results. Unbeknownst to Nick, the dragon had been charged with a solemn duty; to guard the Gate to the realm of Feirie and keep a balance between the two worlds. Through a twist of fate, Nick also died, but rose from the dead an altered man. In fact, Nick and the dragon's aura merged, forging an uneasy alliance, with the mind of the dragon continuously struggling for control while providing Nick with its powers.

The ever shifting Gate has settled in prohibition-era Chicago, some fifty years after the Great Fire, amidst the backdrop of rival gangs and corrupt police. Together Nick and the dragon, continue to guard the Gate by tracking down and destroying any unwanted intruders from among the dangerous denizens of Feirie. Although he keeps a vigilant watch, shadow folk have begun to creep back into the human realm. Nick, with the help of shadow-piercing dragon sight and a magical sword given to him by the Lady of Feirie, rids homeowners of their lethal houseguests.

Nick, in his role of paranormal detective, receives a call for his special brand of assistance from executive Claryce Simone. He is devastated to learn that Claryce is the reincarnation of the woman he has loved over and over again through the centuries, but has never been able to save. Through his interactions with Claryce, Nick realizes that he is facing an extremely powerful foe and he, along with his supernatural companions, must prevent a diabolical creature of Feirie from opening the Gate once and for all.

Richard A Knaak's urban fantasy has a gritty, noir feel that sets a great tone for his story. His use of the many colloquialisms of the era, such as duck soup, copacetic, and the cat's meow, gives the setting an authentic feel.

Also inspiring is the pairing of Nick and the dragon. I love that Nick happens to be Saint George and that he and the dragon he slew must somehow coexist in Nick's body. The story is told from Nick's POV with some interesting jumps when the dragon takes control. There are some instances that really shine as the two struggle with the circumstances of their past and their very real trust issues.
Problematic is the fact that the story is told from Nick's POV, but I didn't feel there was any real character development. Although Nick is interesting, I found him to be neither likable or relatable; the fact that he was still holding a grudge about a betrayal that took place 1,600 years previously seemed excessive.

Most of the other characters in the story were one dimensional, especially Claryce, the strong-willed damsel in distress. The monotony of her inevitable refusal to listen to Nick's warnings and his constant struggle to keep her safe annoyed me. More exasperating was that her behavior seemed only to endear her to Nick, making him believe she was somehow superior to her predecessors. I felt her only raison d'être was to keep the action rolling at a steady pace and to provide Nick with a level of danger that wouldn't have occurred if she wasn't along for the ride.

Although the plot is intriguing, I felt the execution left something to be desired. I had a problem with the fact that Nick and his allies were constantly chasing bad guys from one part of town to another. It dragged out the action and served no real purpose.

The idea of Saint George working with the dragon to fight nefarious beings from the world of Feirie is a wonderful and original idea. The final showdown was exciting and Knaak's plot points did come together in a satisfying conclusion. Parts of Black City Saint were terrific but in the end, the lack of character development left me underwhelmed. Overall, Black City Saint will appeal to fans of paranormal noir who like their adventures action driven.

Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool


Deadpool, directed by Tim Miller and starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and Ed Skrein among others, opened February 12th. Featured in this film is Greg LaSalle who is the facial performer for Colossus. The following are excerpts from our spoiler-free telephone interview. All photos provided by Prism Media Group.



Tracey MaknisI'd like to welcome Greg LaSalle, actor and veteran motion capture artist to The Qwillery. Hi Greg, how are you today?

GL:  Great. How are you?



TMFantastic, thanks. Greg, let's talk Deadpool. You're featured as the facial performer for Colossus. You must be excited for this film.

GL:  Yes, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I think it's going to be a blast of a movie.


Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool



TMCould you tell us some of your experiences while working on this film?

GL:  Sure, well first let me explain a little about about this new technology that we're using. It's the first time it's been used on a major character in a film. The original technology is about ten years old but this new version is about two years old.

Tim Miller, Deadpool's director, has been involved with the company, MOVA, that does the facial capture side of things for a long time and that's where he and I became friends. We invented this new technology, that unlike the traditional motion capture which give you approximately 200 to 250 data points from the facial performance, gives 6 or 7 thousand data points. It actually creates a scan of the actor's face per frame of film. It then mathematically transfers that performance to the computer generated character. So, whatever the performer/actor does, all the subtlety in that performance, the wrinkles from their face, every expression down to micro expression is transferred to the final character.

I think that's really important for Colossus because he's a very empathetic character and he spends a lot of time in the film talking to Deadpool and trying to convince him of certain things and how he should live his life. I think if the subtlety of the performance wasn't there he wouldn't be as believable in trying to plead his case.

So it's exciting for a number of reasons, one is to play a character that is so prominent in the film and two, to use a technology that actually transfers the entire performance over to the character.


Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool


Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool


Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool



TMTell us a little bit about Colossus's character.

GL:  It's unique because Tim's take on Colossus is that he's got a very human element. He has beliefs that he holds near and dear to him about superpowers being used for good. He's quite a gentle soul. He doesn't even want to fight unless someone's in trouble. He's very sensitive to blood and guts. He doesn't like it. He's very gentlemanly. I think it's really important that in order to transfer those emotions you need subtlety in the performance and that's what Tim believes too and this really is the first time we are able to do that.

Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool



TMDid you have the chance to interact with the actors on set?

GL:  In this case I didn't interact with any of the actors, only with Tim. Of course, the other actors had filmed all their parts months and months beforehand. So I didn't have any real interaction with them, only the plates from the film and the WAV files from the voice.

So, how it worked was they split about 60 to 40 percent whether the audio was recorded beforehand or whether they went back and did it again after the fact. The filming was a little bit tricky because then I would get WAV files and I would just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse the timing of the voice but not any of the actual voice performance. Until it became kinesthetic - I could just do it.

Then, when we were filming, that's where we had the performance part. Tim would tell me 'ok this is what's going on, this is what you're trying to do, this is your behavior, this is why you're doing it,' and that's where the performance actually comes out in that part of the process.



TMIs it difficult to work on the facial performance aspect with only the director to play off of?

GL:  There are plusses and minuses. In this case, we get to loop the plates which gives us the chance to play the scene repeatedly over and over again. This gives me the opportunity to modify and get more into the character instead of having to wait to reset a scene.

For instance, in a fight sequence, I can go through the entire fight sequence and stay in character the whole time. When you're filming you don't get that opportunity. So I don't get to play off of the other actors as much.

But in the case of creating a computer generated character, this process is actually me playing off of Tim and having live action playing as well. The director has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve with Colossus and in between each take or loop we have about 10 seconds where he will actually shout out things like 'You need to convince him more. Be more upset that he's not believing you' or 'try harder.' Those kinds of things are really, really useful as an actor. It's just a lot of fun and you can do these lines over and over again, getting about 10 -12 takes in a matter of a minute or two. So awesome.

Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool
Greg LaSalle and Tim Miller



TMYou and your team were honored during the 87th Academy Awards with a Technical Achievement Award for the innovative design and development of the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system. Can you tell us how your system evolved into the award winning system it is today?

GL:  Sure. When I originally moved to California, I started working with a friend of mine who owned two motion capture systems really just as a hobbyist. I learned how to use those and that was about the time when the technology was getting good enough that instead of using the large markers and reflective balls that you'd see on actors, the cameras got good enough to see very small markers. So people would glue those to an actor's face, but you can only glue so many markers to a face.

We decided that was kind of a bastardization of the existing technology and instead there needed to be a whole new technology that actually captured the surface of the skin performing at high resolution. We got a team of excellent engineers and software developers together and we spent three years trying different things. We eventually came up with the idea that's the current MOVA system where we are delivering what is basically a high resolution scan of an actor's face per frame of film that is useful to a visual effects company.

Then, when I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, Digital Domain took that a step further and said 'Well, this is great data but no one had never come up with a way to actually apply it to the computer generated character without having it be something animators have to deal with.' So we invented a technique that mathematically transfers the performance to a computer generated character that looks nothing like the performer and you don't need animators to do anything.

So when Tim is directing me he knows that that performance, or take that he wants, is the way it's going to look on Colossus. No animator goes in there and says 'oh, it didn't transfer well enough because the data center is too sparse.' And that advancement has just meant everything now in being able to portray these characters in all their subtle detail especially where the character is the full size of the screen.



TMIt must be so exciting for you to be at the cutting edge of that.

GL:  It's half luck, being at the right place at the right time. To be in an area that is growing like that and you are able to actually help advance it. And in my case, to actually be on both sides of it.

I mean, think of my position, one of the co-inventors, I started the company with a friend of mine
and now I'm doing the facial performance for the first time this technology is ever used in this way for a major character in a film. I didn't even dream about this.



TMAre there any more Facial Performance roles on the horizon?

GL:  It's funny, I started doing some acting about 2 1/2 years ago. I didn't plan on any of this happening. So, I hadn't been pushing very hard on it. I don't know if it has a release date just yet but I'm actually working on a film with Ryan's wife, Blake Lively, where I play two characters in that film. They are human characters but one is her newborn baby.

Here again, it's like pushing the envelope. They wanted a computer generated version instead of having a real baby, because it's literally just delivered. The baby is in the delivery room and is taking its first breath and opening its eyes and you know it can't see yet but its eyes are still moving around. So it was really interesting to play that especially as a middle aged man trying to pretend I'm a newborn and I'm trying to get my first breath and I'm crying. It's interesting.



TMAre you working on any non-motion capture roles?

GL:  I'm starting to do some shorts with some friends. I met a really good new director down here. Shooting some shorts, kind of developing a new way of writing and filming. This is all kind of new to me but apparently it's working. So I'm trying to move a little bit in that direction.

It actually all started when we were developing the technology and we needed to put it on a character to see how it was going to work. I had been taking acting classes, actually I was lucky enough to work with Josh Brolin and we became friends and he set me up with one of his acting teachers, and it was this eye opening experience and it still is.

So, when we were generating this new character they were like 'Greg will do it.' And so it's my voice and my performance on a minotaur in an interview process and it's phenomenal the way the technology shows all the subtlety of the performance. The performance itself was an improv kind of thing in an interview process which Digital Domain now uses for pushing the technology.

I'm always amazed that all these actors and directors are seeing this work and they keep commenting to me. I was so lucky about a month and a half ago, I had a meeting with Stephen Spielberg and before the meeting they showed him my work. And the first thing he said is 'You're really good, it's very funny, I liked it.' I'm like Holy Moly. It's Stephen Spielberg telling me this!!



TMWow, how cool is that?! On Digital Domain's site, it shows your transformation from man to minotaur.

GL:  I'm hoping they will release that soon. There's been talk about getting it out there in the public. I think it's really amazing.



TMIt's amazing, but creepy in a way.

GL:  It looks creepy but it's amazing that after 2 seconds of watching it, it's not creepy anymore because it's 100% believable. Same thing with Colossus. After 2 seconds you're not going to think that Colossus is computer generated; you're going to think he's just another character in the film.



TMFinally, ask yourself a question and then answer it.

GL:  You want me to do your job too? (laughter) What do you hope for this movie?

I hope that this movie brings more computer generated characters using this sort of performance technology to the screen because it really works well. Colossus in Deadpool is a pretty major character and a perfect stepping stone for this kind of technology.

Now that technology has solved the problem with computer generated characters, I hope that we'll see more scripts come off the shelves that can leverage the technology in an awesome way. All the writers' and directors' imaginations can flow with the knowledge that they can have the actor's performance on that character and let it be purely a creative process. They don't have to worry about the technology.

So, I'm really hoping that this is the beginning of a new phase in filmmaking. For instance, the first movie I worked on was Benjamin Button and that movie had been floating around Hollywood with a lot of different directors. (Director) David Fincher was taking it around to a bunch of places. He was adamant that it had to be Brad Pitt playing Benjamin the whole time, that it couldn't be different actors. But how do you do that?

It was a fluke that we were able to get a meeting with him. And he was onboard. But back then you couldn't transfer the performance on a frame to frame basis, so Benjamin Button is still hand animated. The system was used to capture Brad's facial expressions and then that was turned into a system that could do that. So this progression is really awesome and I hope it continues to drive more projects like this.



TMGreg, thank you very much for joining us at The Qwillery. Much success to you.

GL:  Thank you.





About Greg

Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool

In 2014, Greg starred in his first feature as an actor in Night at the Museum: Secrets of the Tomb, playing August Ceasar opposite Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Robin Williams in his final on-screen role. He followed this performance with his on-screen debut in the X-Men Cinematic Universe, with the aid of new breakthroughs in motion capture that fully embodied his facial expressions and performance in the character of Colossus, the surprisingly gentle 7 and a half foot tall metallic powerhouse.

As a veteran of facial motion capture performance, his work has appeared in over two dozen productions, including Marvel's The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gravity and both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films. A member of visual effects house Digital Domain, Lasalle and his team won a Technical Achievement Award at the 87th Academy Awards for the innovative design and development of the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system. He also shares ownership on several patents for facial capture.

LaSalle's early career spanned from teaching and performing music and owning a successful chain of music stores, to writing music for and editing children's videos. Following his studies at the Berklee School of Music, he relocated to San Francisco and later Los Angeles to help develop the technology that has revolutionized motion and facial capture in films today.





Tracey's Review of Deadpool

Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool
Deadpool
Director:  Tim Miller
Screenplay:  Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese
Producers:  Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, Ryan Reynolds
Actors:  Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand

Wade Wilson's backstory is interspersed between beheadings, skewerings, and shootings. Wade, a messed up ex Special Forces operative, works as a mercenary and enjoys starting fights in his local hangout. Wade's life changes when he meets Vanessa, and these two impossibly twisted human beings fall in love. All is good in the world until Wade discovers he's riddled with cancer.

Desperate to stay alive, he agrees to radical treatments that will not only save his life but make him into a superhero. Enter bad guy, Ajax, and his foul tempered associate, Angel Dust, whose radical treatment involves torture followed by more torture. Wade's treatment leaves him severely disfigured and he becomes obsessed with finding Ajax, hoping that his disfigurement can be cured and that Ajax will pay for his foul deeds.

Deadpool is markedly different than most of the other Marvel Comics movies because it doesn't follow the same template and definitely marches to its own insane drumbeat, making it fun and refreshing. For instance, referring to the film's producers as "asshats" and the director as "an overpaid tool" in the delightful opening credits is just one indication that this film doesn't take itself seriously.

Ryan Reynolds is perfectly suited to play the merc with a mouth. His voice lends the right amount of charm to Deadpool's foul-mouthed diatribes and he portrays the suffering Wade Wilson with just the right amount of disbelief and shock.

The movie, directed by Tim Miller, pokes fun at whatever it feels like, and is especially successful with properties within its own franchise like X-Men and in particular, Wolverine. Deadpool continuously breaks the 4th wall by speaking directly to the audience, and it's especially rewarding because he lets other characters in the film know that he's speaking to the audience.

Deadpool's cast is terrific. Kudos to Mr. Pool's friends and acquaintances, Colossus, a fully computer generated character played by actors Stefan Kapicic (voice)and Greg LaSalle (facial performer), and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, played by Brianna Hildebrand, who both help and hinder Deadpool, adding some interesting twists to the plot. Also enjoyable are the lovesick taxi driver, Karan Soni, Wade's pal Weasel, T.J. Miller, along with Blind Al, Leslie Uggams, who added some really hysterical moments to the film.

On the minus side, Ajax and his sidekick Angel Dust are just not very impressive villains and because of this, the story lost some of its oompf. Deadpool also falls into some of the inevitable stereotypical superhero tropes that I had hoped this film could avoid. Finally, the climatic showdown between Deadpool and Ajax was simply not as exciting at the opening sequence of the film, although to be fair, it tried really hard.

This movie is raunchy, with plenty of sexual encounters, strippers, bare breasts, crude language and a couple instances of male nudity. There is some gratuitous violence, but nothing that made me cringe. This film certainly earns its R rating, and is in no way appropriate for children. That said, it was a pleasure to watch a superhero movie that had the freedom to say or do whatever it likes because it is intended for mature audiences. The first half of the movie was definitely stronger, but overall I found it irreverent, brazen, action-packed, slightly gross, and extremely enjoyable. I'd see it again and would recommend it to fun-loving adults everywhere.

Review: Dragonolia: 14 Tales and Craft Projects for the Creative Adventurer by Chris Barnardo


Dragonolia: 14 Tales and Craft Projects for the Creative Adventurer
Author:  Chris Barnardo
Publisher:  Skyhorse Publishing, November 3, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 96 pages
List Price:  US$16.99 (print and eBook)
ISBN:  9781634503273 (print); 9781510700925 (eBook)

Review: Dragonolia: 14 Tales and Craft Projects for the Creative Adventurer by Chris Barnardo
Dragonolia is a storybook with a difference. Discover 14 charming tales, where each one is intertwined with an exciting craft project enabling the reader to relive the amazing adventures of Sir Richard Barons, the famous 19th century dragon hunter.

Learn how to make an antique-looking Box Frame while reading about the tale of the Mischievous Mink; or perhaps you might like to find out how to easily craft the fabulous Wizards’ Wand that brought the dying dragon, Angeline, back to life at the last minute; or even make a real-life Dreamcatcher to hang above your bed as you follow Sir Richard Barons into the Brazilian jungle on the trail of the Celestial Dragon Spirit to cure his niece of the horrible nightmares she suffered after she banged her head falling off her horse.

The stories, written in an imaginative Victorian style befitting of the great adventurer, fit perfectly round their accompanying craft projects, which being beautifully laid out in simple, easy-to-follow steps, ensure a truly immersive and rewarding experience for the reader and listener alike.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

Sir Richard Barons, a dragon hunter and explorer of some renown, shares exploits from his past in the form of short stories. It should be noted that Sir Richard does not hunt dragons to kill them but rather to gather information and artifacts. Each story ends with a modern idea for creating your own artifact and the instructions are easy to follow and well detailed.

The first chapter entitled "Shadow Box Frame; The tale of the lost mink that was the cause of an invention" is a highly creative and imaginative tale. This story recounts Sir Richard's father's exploits as a boy who desired to tame a mink and make him into a trained pet. Chaos quickly ensues as the mink escapes its captivity and finds refuge in the walls of their home. Destructive measures are taken to capture the mink by making holes in the plaster. A quick-thinking housekeeper uses her ingenuity to cover the holes and an innovation in displaying prized possessions is born. Directions to create your own shadow box are provided in 15 steps along with tracing templates.

The next story entitled "Antique Chart; Dream of an undiscovered country" and the art of mapmaking tells of the author stumbling upon his father's charts and journal pages. On Dragon Island his father and his crew were able to repair their ship and get much needed provisions. During their stay they enjoyed the company of the locals so much that they gave the island's inhabitants a gift of a set of maps of the entire archipelago. Keeping a set of maps for themselves, they vowed to return but the company never found the island again. Sir Richard tells the story with the hopes that it will inspire readers to make a map of their own. Nine simple instructions are provided as well as samples of lettering and other details. The short story inspired me as I have always loved looking at maps, and I tried my hand. The template for the map was easy to download but I made the mistake of printing in black and white where color would have been preferable. Mapmaking is somewhat time consuming, even if you are just using your own imagination, but I was able to produce a pretty cool map in under three hours.

The next craft to catch my eye was the Dragonhide Pouch, accompanied by the short story "Tough negotiations for the toughest hide". In this amusing anecdote, our hero must procure dragonhide for a friend whose up and coming London business plans on catering to the whims of the upper crust. He plans on providing them the opportunity to purchase authentic dragonhide purses, wallets, and pouches. Sir Richard Barons travels to Nepal in order to purchase the highest quality dragonhide available. Negotiations are successful but a few months later the intrepid negotiator learns that he may have been played for a fool. This craft has nine steps with instructions that are simple to follow. I made some modifications since I didn't have the correct material in my craft bin. Instead I used a red flannel sock and a pouch I already had on hand. Two bits of advice: Please use caution around hot glue if there are little ones involved, and the inevitable dangling glue threads were time consuming to get rid of, but should definitely be removed before painting.

Dragonolia by Chris Barnardo accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It entertains by way of 14 amusing tales of adventure and provides instructions for accompanying crafts that will inspire both young and old. The stories lend themselves to older children through adults. "The Filigree Egg Case; the inspiration for the most famous of jewelry eggs" and "Wizard's Wand; The big freeze of '27" are worth mentioning because the stories are outrageously wonderful and although I didn't get to these projects yet, they look enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had making these crafts. I am proud of my Dragonolia creations and I hope to find time to make more.

Review: Dragonolia: 14 Tales and Craft Projects for the Creative Adventurer by Chris Barnardo
Dragonolia Projects
Dragonhide Pouches and Map of Alabaster Island
Photo and Crafts by T. Maknis

Review: Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'Keefe


Steal the Sky
Author:  Megan E. O'Keefe
Series:  Scorched Continent 1
Publisher:  Angry Robot Books, January 5, 2016
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
List Price:  US$7.99 (print);  US$6.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780857664907 (print);  9780857664914 (eBook)
Cover:  Kim Sokol

Review: Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'Keefe
Detan Honding, a wanted conman of noble birth and ignoble tongue, has found himself in the oasis city of Aransa. He and his trusted companion Tibs may have pulled off one too many cons against the city’s elite and need to make a quick escape. They set their sights on their biggest heist yet – the gorgeous airship of the exiled commodore Thratia.

But in the middle of his scheme, a face changer known as a doppel starts murdering key members of Aransa’s government. The sudden paranoia makes Detan’s plans of stealing Thratia’s ship that much harder. And with this sudden power vacuum, Thratia can solidify her power and wreak havoc against the Empire. But the doppel isn’t working for Thratia and has her own intentions. Did Detan accidentally walk into a revolution and a crusade? He has to be careful – there’s a reason most people think he’s dead. And if his dangerous secret gets revealed, he has a lot more to worry about than a stolen airship.

File Under: Fantasy [ Sky Heist / Doppel Vision / Knives Out / Up Up & Away ]



Trintytwo's Point of View

Detan Honding and his faithful sidekick/mechanic Tibs are in trouble, as usual. Their flier needs major repairs, leaving them stranded in the selium rich mining town of Aransa in the Scorched Continent which is as dried out as its name suggests. In this post-apocalyptic world, selium is the major source of energy and power. There's one drawback: only those born with sel-sensitivity can trace it. Regardless of rank or wealth, any person found to posses the gift is obliged to work in the mines divining new selium to harvest. Citizens look the other way, but these people are nothing short of slaves to the selium mines, and life expectancy is short owing to the combustible nature of the gas .

Due to the recent murder of the town's warden, Honding and Tibs soon discover that, with their checkered pasts, it's not a good time to be stuck in this particular part of the Scorched Continent. The local authorities, headed by watch captain Ripka Leshe, have enough trouble on their hands tracking the murderer; a suspected sel-sensitive or doppel, who can manipulate selium to masquerade as someone else. Honding's bravado and big mouth quickly entangle the pair in the political machinations of ruthless ex-Commodore Thratia Ganal who will stop at nothing to be elected the next warden. Lethal threats abound and, true to form, Honding devises a risky plan to escape the perilous sands of Aransa by stealing Thratia's prized airship, the Larkspur, right out from under her nose.

I liked O'Keefe's cast of characters right from the start. Detan Honding's a complicated mess, which makes him unique and extremely likeable. He's a charming, reckless con man who enjoys mouthing off to authority figures. He's smart enough to know better, but can't quite help himself which often made me cringe and giggle at the same time. I admire the fact that his sense of mischief is never quite beaten out of him no matter what hardships he encounters. Honding's irreverent personality balances the bleak setting of the arid mining town and the grim subject matter of a downtrodden population.

Tibs is constantly working to steer Honding out of trouble and is the best kind of sidekick; one who ignores and insults his friend whenever the opportunity arises yet is also unwaveringly loyal. His total disregard for Honding's wishes kept me entertained throughout the novel.

Steal the Sky was not the entertaining romp through a desert mining town that I expected after reading the opening chapters; it was so much more. O'Keefe's debut contains elements of action, adventure, steam punk, and espionage with a hefty dose of social inequality issues that make it an exciting and thought provoking read. Steal the Sky also receives high marks for transporting me to sun baked Aransa. Even though I was shivering in my wintry New England home, I could practically see the heat vapor rising from the hot sand and feel the parched air fill my lungs. Hitch a ride with Honding and Tibs and Steal the Sky; it's a journey you won't forget.

Review: Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.



Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether
Author:  Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
Series:  The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin 3
Publication Date:  December 22, 2015
Format:  Kindle eBook, 283 pages
List Price:  $3.99
Review Copy:  Provided by the Author

Review: Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
Earth is an icy wasteland, devastated by an alien invasion hundreds of years before. Left with only steam power, the human survivors have formed into steampunk clans. And now these clans are at war.

Reeling from a Founders clan invasion, Captain Romulus Buckle of the Pneumatic Zeppelin faces a desperate decision. Does he return home to bolster the Grand Alliance or attempt to rescue his sister, Elizabeth, who is prophesied to be the key to winning the war? With only an ancient automaton and the words of a madman to guide him, Buckle leads an expedition to the mysterious underwater city of Atlantis, where mythical monsters and human treachery make every move perilous.



Trinitytwo's Point of View

The prophesy of a trusted oracle has convinced Captain Romulus Buckle that he will find his long lost sister Elizabeth in Atlantis. The oracle warned that without Elizabeth, The Grand Alliance has no chance in winning the war against the power-hungry Founders. Buckle, leading a small team that includes Lieutenant Sabrina Seraphim and an ancient but child-like automaton named Penny Dreadful, embarks on a covert quest to find his sister and forge an alliance with the Atlanteans. As hostilities between the Founders and the clans of Snow World escalate, the team is forced to hire mercenaries to transport them undetected to Atlantis. Unfortunately, a blockade of powerful Founder submersibles stands in their way.

Max, Romulus' adopted half Martian/ half human sister, is recovering from her near fatal encounter with a sabertooth while saving Romulus's life during The Engines of War (book 2). She finds recuperating in the infirmary unpalatable and seeks to return to the Pneumatic Zeppelin as soon as possible. Her parting from her adoptive father, Admiral Balthazar Crankshaft stands out as a tender moment for the normally undemonstrative Max.

Also in this volume, the reader relives flashbacks from Pneumatic Zeppelin officers Sabrina and Max. I especially enjoyed Sabrina's escape from the Founders and tidbits of her life before being adopted by Admiral Crankshaft.

Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether is packed with everything that makes author Richard E. Preston Jr.'s steampunk adventures so highly entertaining. However, instead of being treated to Buckle's high altitude battles between enemy zeppelins, Luminiferous Aether features two different underwater games of cat and mouse that kept me reading far into the night.

Preston's remarkable world building skills and his attention to detail is certainly a highlight. The perilous journey to the troubled city of Atlantis and the description of its architecture and domes practically leapt from the pages. It was amazing that the author's depiction of tight spaces felt so real that I actually felt tense, uneasy and almost claustrophobic at times.

Although this book leaves many questions unanswered I still finished the last page with a sense of satisfaction and look forward to Buckle's next exploits. Definitely start with book one because Preston covers a large amount of new ground with each book. They are fairly quick reads so those new to the series will be able to catch up pretty fast. Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether is an exhilarating, steam-powered rollercoaster ride you won't want to miss.



Check out the Art Reveal: Romulus Buckle, Max the Martian, and Lieutenant Sabrina Serafim from The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin here.

Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek


Artisan's Avenue is a place to showcase fantasy, horror, or sci fi artists and their creations. As you may have guessed, the name pays homage to Artist's Alley and the wildly talented people I've met at various comic cons. I am continuously fascinated and impressed with their creativity and imagination and I hope our readers feel the same.


Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek


The Qwillery's first guest to Artisan's Avenue is Kfir Mendel, the amazing artist behind CaveGeek. I recently met Kfir at the Walker Stalker convention in New Jersey and was completely captivated by his work.


Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek
Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek


Trinitytwo: Welcome to The Qwillery. Please tell our audience a little about your creative background.

Kfir Mendel: Well, I come from a family of creative people. My mother has been an artist for as long as I can remember. Painting, drawing, sculpting... she does it all. And my father is an avid photographer. So I guess it was natural for me to want to create stuff too.

I've always liked working with my hands and creating new, unique things. I love taking natural materials and bringing them back to life by making them into something beautiful and interesting again. It's sometimes a problem, as I end up with a massive collection of sticks, rocks, and various animal parts. There's something very satisfying about having a “vision” in your head, thinking “I wonder if I can make this”, and then just going for it and seeing it come to life.

Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek



TTHow did CaveGeek come about?

KM:  Primitive technology has been a huge part of my life since I was first introduced to it in 2000. In fact, over the last decade I've taught primitive skills classes in general, and the process of making traditional brain-tanned buckskin specifically. So I was used to working with natural materials such as hide, bone, etc.

When the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012, the idea popped into my head to try and make a “primitive” map of Middle Earth. I had already begun working with wood-burning at that point, and had the idea of combining that technique with primitive ones, along with natural materials, to create a unique map.

I had a hide and some natural pigments, so I set to work. Two weeks later, I had a map of Middle Earth in front of me. It was so cool I could hardly believe I had made it myself.
To cut a long story short, the map was sold that winter at a Tolkien art show in Los Angeles, and that experience encouraged me to continue exploring my art.

Since I'm half caveman and half geek, the name itself was easy to come up with.

Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek



TTPlease briefly describe the process.

KM:  When it comes to my pyrography work, the leather I use is called “Brain-tanned buckskin” and is probably the oldest form of leather. The oldest artifact made of it that I'm aware of is a 10,000 year old moccasin found in a cave in Armenia. All of us have ancestors that used to make it and wear it. To this day, the methods of making it haven't really changed much. It's still made entirely by hand and is some of the highest quality leather on Earth. Every skin is different, and has slightly different qualities. They also bear different scars and scratches from the deer's life. So I try to pick a piece that will fit well with the art I have in mind.

Then I burn the image onto the skin using professional pyrography tools (What most people refer to as a “wood-burning” tool). I'm basically drawing with a really hot pen.

Like any skin, when the deer hide is burned it shrivels, and this allows me to create a 3-Dimensional surface. It takes some careful planning, but it's fun, and the results can be quite striking. This is where the magic happens, that makes the piece “pop” out of the background.

The next step, which is optional and depends on the art piece, is painting. I use 100% natural, non-toxic, powdered pigments that I mix with a base to adhere them to the hide. As a “brush”, I usually use a piece of deer leg bone from when I first started doing this art three years ago. Sometimes, when there are large areas to paint, I use my fingers. And when really small details are needed, I might work with a feather quill.

Once the image is finished, the last part of the creative process is figuring out presentation. This usually means selecting the right color combination of matting for it. The matting makes it easy for most people to frame and hang on a wall like any normal picture. But sometimes I feel another form of presentation is better, such as nailing the piece to wood, or hanging it from something such as a bow, or large bone.


Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek


Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek


Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek


TTWhat inspires you in regards to your creations?

KM:  In today's world, us geeks don’t lack for inspiration. It's everywhere. Books, TV, movies, comics... it's everywhere. I see something that speaks to me and makes me think “That will look great in 3D on leather!”

If the image is another artist's work, I approach them to get their permission to recreate it. It's important to me to develop relationships with other artists based on mutual respect and collaboration. I'm often inspired by art I see while walking down Artist Alley at a convention, and I've made quite a few new friends collaborating in that way.



TTPlease tell us about your current collection, favorite pieces, stories behind a favorite piece.

KM:  It's a pretty eclectic collection. Since I'm a fan of so many things fantasy and sci-fi, I enjoy creating pieces inspired by many different subjects. Currently, I have various characters from Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Lord of the Rings, quite a few recreations of classic comic book covers (those are a lot of fun to do!) and of course maps, which are my favorite pieces to work on.
My favorite piece currently has to be a tie between my own personal map of Middle Earth, and the “Barn Door” tribute to Hershel's barn from The Walking Dead. Both took many hours to make and create the displays for, and they are both milestones in my work as an artist, in their own way. The “Barn Door” especially has come a long way and taken on a life of its own, with Sophia's eye and hand that I had another artist sculpt for me, and all the autographs of Walking Dead actors that I've collected on it.

Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek



TTWhat's new for 2016?

KM:  Well, as far as art goes, I need to remake a couple of pieces that I've sold, because I think I could do a better job the second time around; pieces such as the Westeros map and the “One-Eyed Willy” map. But I also want to create a lot of new things, like maps of Skyrim, Krynn, Hogwarts (Marauder's map), and a few others. There are also a lot of comic covers I still haven't gotten to, and I've had an Alien project in my head for a while now.

I'm also planning on doing quite a few new cons. I'll be at the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention in February, for example, and that will be a new experience. Other new cons are Heroes Con in Charlotte, Dragon Con in Atlanta, Baltimore Comicon and a few others.

Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek



TTAsk and then answer a question about your product or designs that I haven't asked.

KM:  Many people are squeamish when they hear about the materials you work with (skin, bone, eyeballs)... have you had any negative responses to your work based on that?

Actually, I am continuously surprised at how overwhelmingly positive the vast majority of the response to my work has been. People seem taken by surprise when they hear about how it's made (especially the eye-ball juice part), but I think they then realize that the materials were used to create something beautiful and unique.

Every once in a while I get a person who will walk away from my table because they are vegetarian or vegan, but they're few and far between. If they stay long enough to talk about it, I'd point out their leather shoes (in a few cases) and also tell them that the materials I use are all sourced ethically, meaning the deer were not killed for me to use their skins or eyes. They were killed for food, and the parts I use normally go to waste. The methods used to tan the leather are traditional and all natural. I see creating art from these deer as a way of honoring their life.


Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek
Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek







Review: Secrets of Men in a Lifeboat by Todd R. BakerReview: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian StaveleyArtisan's Avenue: Wendy Allen of Moss Fête and Miss FittReview: Gideon by Alex GordonReview: Black City Saint by Richard A. KnaakInterview with Greg LaSalle and Review of DeadpoolReview: Dragonolia: 14 Tales and Craft Projects for the Creative Adventurer by Chris BarnardoReview: Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'KeefeReview: Romulus Buckle & the Luminiferous Aether by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.Artisan's Avenue: Kfir Mendel of CaveGeek

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