Monday, August 29, 2016

Sausage Party

As most of you probably know, my long battles to get distribution for my animated features are all caused by an old mind-set, that there's no audience for adult animation.

With that in mind, I was looking forward to seeing if Seth Rogen's new feature, "Sausage Party", was any good, and also to see if it could attract an audience.

So, last week I attended an afternoon screening of this adult film at my local multiplex.  I was happy to see a large crowd - but I was especially delighted to experience the totally entertaining and raunchy film, directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon.

The film is a wildly erotic and profane look at the lives of food products in a supermarket.  It portrays the sexual and romantic lives of these edibles in a very hilarious way.  And, believe it or not, it works.

The people in my audience were in constant hysterics.

And you can see the film's popularity in the box office reports - not since Ralph Bakshi's "Fritz the Cat" in 1972 has an "adult" cartoon done so well at the box office - and becaues of the failure of a lot of Ralph's later films, the consensus over the years came to be that animated films with mature subject matter just have no audience.

I thoroughly disagree with that belief.  I just believe that the stories, art and characters have to be made better.  I know that a lot of people are just like me, they grew up loving animation and now that they're adults, they still want to see animation, but with stories and characters that speak to them.

A great example is the "Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation" show, which still pulls in great crowds, and has been doing that for 30 years.  People love outrageous animation.

I realize that Hollywood doesn't understand animation at all, but now I hope they have a better appreciation of the marketing potential of cartoons for adults.

I give "Sausage Party" a B+ (I took off points for the cheezy animation)  But go grab your (adult) friends and go see Seth Rogen's "Sausage Party"! 

Bill Plympton

                                     with Seth Rogen at the Telluride Film Festival last year!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

I've just returned from a premiere screening of Laika's "Kubo and the Two Strings", directed by the great Travis Knight.

First of all, it's gorgeous - and the animation is awesome.  All of the characters are well-designed, especially with regard to the mouth movements, and the voices and music are superb.

The problem I have with the film is the story.  There seems to be no constant theme or direction.  Out of nowhere, these monsters pop up to stop a journey that really makes no sense.  People always accuse my films of having too many tangents and diversions - well, "Kubo", in my mind, suffers from the same problem.  There's no "maguffin" that unites the story.

Also, I heard rumors that the originator of the story, character designer (and early director?) Shannon Tindle was kicked off the film to make way for Travis to take over.  Now, I don't know the back-story or the details - perhaps they had problems with the story and Travis decided to take charge and save the film.  I'd love to hear the whole story sometime. 

In any case, I highly recommend the film if you love great animation and great characters, all of the reviews have been wonderful.  Go out and see "Kubo and the Two Strings"!

--Bill P.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con 2016 Wrap-up

A big thanks to everyone who made our trip to San Diego Comic-Con this year such a great success!  I met so many fans and I did so many caricatures of them that I worried that my hand might fall off!  But it didn't, and a lot of people walked away with drawings of what they might look like if they were a Plymptoon!

We had our "Revengeance" panel on Friday, Jim Lujan addressed the crowd and kept things moving, plus we had 5 or 6 of the voice cast members there.  We showed 5 clips from the film, which is very close to being finished, and took questions from the audience.  People really seemed to love this film, so I can't wait until we start showing it at film festivals.

On Saturday, the Comic-Con Independent Film Festival showed my short film "The Loneliest Stoplight" and that was also very well received.  I can't always make it to the film festival, since it's no longer in the convention center but in the Marriott next door, but this year I'm very glad that I left early and made it there for the screening. 

We did a Wrong Reel podcast from the booth, and also Jim Lujan and Ken Mora figured out something called Facebook Live, so we were broadcasting on the web for a while.  After it was over, I went up to Portland for a week - so while I'm out, here are some pictures of the people who came by the booth.

                                               with Rick Farmiloe and Christi Haydon

                                                 Recording the Wrong Reel podcast with
                                                       Jim Lujan + James Hancock

                                                                 with Leonard Maltin

                                        with Sandrine, Jim Lujan, Sara Ulloa and Ken Mora

                            with Jim Lujan, Ken Mora, Kevin Sean Michaels and Erik Williams

                                                    with Mike Allred and Gloria Allred

                                     the cast of "Revengeance" signing posters after the panel

                                            with Sandrine and Spike from "Spike & Mike"

Now I'll turn things over to my office manager, John Holderried, who always has a few things to say about how the convention is run. 

--Bill Plympton

Hello, Crimestoppers!  I'm back with another Con report from San Diego, "the city that means well".

When people ask me what I do for a living, "office manager" doesn't really cover it, because I also run the booth at Comic Con, which means I have to file convention paperwork, apply for a temporary CA tax permit to sell things, plan the flights & hotels for Bill, his wife and myself, request and promote a panel, assign badges to our booth staff, ship merchandise & promo items to San Diego, then maintain inventory and take customer payments at the convention itself. It's a process that begins on the last day of the previous year's convention, but really picks up steam in late June and early July.

I got to San Diego in the late morning om Preview Night, checked in with my AirBnB host (I'm the perfect guest, I get in late at night and leave early each morning) and even had time for a nap & sandwich before I had to set up the booth at the Convention Center. James Hancock helped me get the boxes of merch from the "secret" UPS store (I found it last year, and I'm still not ready to divulge its location), and we got the banner up & the boxes unpacked before he had to split to attend the world premiere of "Star Trek Beyond".

After, I went out to Brian's 24, home of the best peanut butter/bacon burger in town, then took the trolley back to Mission Valley. I think I was on the last trolley out of downtown, and at this point I'd gone 36 hours without real sleep, so I was making bad judgments. I missed my trolley stop, largely due to the giant promotional sheath around the trolley (thanks a lot, Conan!) and without even checking to see if I could take the trolley back one stop, I embarked on a 23-minute walk with help of Map app, only to watch the trolley pass by on the elevated rail as I walked along an unlit, unfamiliar road below.  Boy, did I feel stupid.  And tired.

With the exception of that long walk, I've come to realize that this annual trip is all about sitting: I sit in a cab, then I sit in the airport, then I sit on the plane, sit in the booth, sit on the trolley, sit in restaurants. My career appears to be built around my ability to sit for long periods of time. So why am I so damn tired at the end of the Con?

What I've learned is that Other People tend to not know how to walk at the Con, moving in random directions and stopping on a dime without regard for others behind them. Running through the main hall is a no-no, and so is blocking the aisles. Next they should outlaw standing anywhere without a clear purpose in mind, if you ask me. Plus there are people in giant robot costumes, people with big fake (I hope) weapons, people with large backpacks and swag bags who don't realize they're bumping into others every time they turn around.  It's important to remember to be considerate of others, because we are all part of one whole, there is no self, and to harm others is therefore to harm yourself. Are we clear? Good, then get out of my freakin' way.

And don't get me started on baby strollers - who brings a BABY to a comic con, that's like bringing a dog to a football game, he's not going to appreciate it! Wait until the kids are old enough to read comics or collect toys, at least. People won't be tripping over your damn 3-seater baby stroller & everyone will be happier.  (the exception to thus rule is Lucas Plympton, who's been coming to Comic-Cons with Bill since he was a month old. At the age of 4, he's officially a convention veteran, like me. He knows his way around the convention center, and he sits in the booth and hands out postcards to people - who can refuse him? I may just have to train him as my Comic-Con padawan, and eventual replacement.)

Other People also don't know how to talk - "actually", "like", starting every sentence with "so", using non-words like "supposebly". Plus the things people talk about, so banal!  "So, like, I didn't actually know that the Con was going to actually be, like, actually so crowded!"  Aw, too bad, sorry/not sorry, hashtag sucks to be you. In other news, water is wet.

Other People also don't know how to properly interact with each other. The self-absorbed, self-indulgent  "selfie" generation feels the experience isn't real unless they take a photo of themselves there & post about it.  Meanwhile, the "bros" have taken over the Con - I had something of a booth war with the bros across the aisle, who stood in the middle of the aisle and handed out promotional items. This is against the convention rules, so you better believe I dropped a dime on them. But I know in the end, it's a young man's game, and I became too old for this shit about 5 years ago, and it's only gotten worse since.

Maybe I'm just jaded & cynical, I'm just no longer impressed by the proceedings. Many of the booths I liked to visit (Official Pix) no longer attend the Con, perhaps they've been priced out by rising booth costs, or they've sought out more profitable modes of publicizing themselves elsewhere. Now I just want to buy my weekly comics, some fun t-shirts, a couple of Mimobots, and something for my niece & nephew.

I've tried to buy them "exclusive" Con items over the last few years, 2 copies, one to play with and one to save (and maybe sell to help pay for college someday). But this new "double lottery" system, which has been implemented by popular booths like Lego and Funko, mean that people need to show up before the convention's even open, to get a wristband which enters them into a drawing for a chance to buy the exclusive items. This process is now preventing me from buying the best items, simply because I can't stand in line at 7 am for a wristband, and still open up my booth at 9.

Plus, you can't make it fairer to buy rare items by making it inconvenient for everyone. You know what system was fairer? "First come, first served." Because now you could be standing at a booth, money in hand, and get told that you can't buy the thing you want, because you didn't camp out all night and then win a lottery drawing. THAT'S what doesn't seem fair.

But on Thursday night, I was able to cut out a little early and attend the Weird Al Yankovic concert up at San Diego State.  This was definitely a highlight for me, and I visited my favorite restaurants (Brian's 24, the Tin Fish, Kansas City BBQ, Karl Strauss Brewpub) but even then I wondered if I'm stuck in a rut by going to the same places and eating the same things (more or less) as in years past. However, I did have to change up the schedule this time, because I lost a night to the concert, plus I found out the Yard House closed in December, which is a shame because they made the best beer floats. 

Also, we hosted a successful panel and made some good sales at the booth. But the cost of a booth for next year rose quite a bit, making it darn near impossible to be profitable in 2017. Are we collectively paying for the expansion of the convention center, so the event won't ditch SD & move to Las Vegas? Plus I nearly had an altercation with the convention staff, when I put down the deposit on next year's booth, and their counting machine was consistently off by $100.  I had to ask them to count the money by hand and use math to prove the amount of our deposit.

Little things annoy me at the Con now, maybe because I'm far from home. There was the granola dude on trolley handing out food to strangers, the woman serving cookies at Mrs. Fields who had to put ALL the cookies in the display before giving them out to customers, the Dad dressed as Han Solo complaining about the lack of veggie burgers in the upstairs cafe, and most notably, the dude who cut in line for beer at the Tin Fish. There was nearly a bar-fight there, the only thing preventing me from dragging that guy outside and beating the piss out of him was the fact that I don't know how to do that.

Maybe it's just that laidback attitude I don't understand. I really appreciate the family that watched my bag for me when I left it behind at a picnic table near Petco Park, but otherwise I find most California people way too trusting and friendly. It can come across as fakey, plus it makes me nervous. In NYC, if someone left a messenger bag behind a sports stadium, it would be gone in 5 seconds, or at least someone would call the bomb squad. So I'm grateful, but also quite confused. (I'm strangely OK with someone stealing my bag and assuming my identity, as long as they show up at the booth the next day and work my hours for me. Fair is fair. If someone wants the perks of being me, they also have to assume the responsibilities.)

I'm also worried that someday someone will take advantage of the good feelings that surround this event attended by over 120,000 people, and there will be some kind of terrorism, foreign or domestic (does the difference really even matter?). I know that the event itself has security personnel, and only fake weapons are allowed, but since related events now take place in neighboring hotels and also throughout the entire Gaslamp District, how can I be sure all those buildings are adequately patrolled? "Close enough" counts with horseshoes and hand grenades, or so goes the old saying, so anyone could easily dress as an alien soldier with a gun or a soldier with an explosive vest and get close enough to the convention to do some real damage. I pray it never happens, but I fear that it eventually will.

Speaking of costumes, I'm impressed by the complexity of cosplay today - I'll take photos of anything really well done, or cases where the female form is well highlighted, but I'm so over the basic costumes. Hey, did you see that great Darth Vader? Sure, about 10 years ago. Welcome to your first Con, newbie. You may also want to check out a drink called "coffee", it's all the rage these days.

Now I'm looking for the new costume motifs, the truly bizarre, or the mash-ups. I saw one guy who was part Thor, part Ronald McDonald. I didn't get the visual pun until much later. (Ronald McDonald Blake) I also saw a woman who was half Louise from "Bob's Burgers", half a character from "Game of Thrones". I'm sure she had a very specific reason for mixing the two characters that way, which she would probably be willing to discuss at length if you're curious. I'm just not curious enough to inquire, nor do I have the time.

Anyway, the weird thing about the convention is that it seems to go on forever, like it's never going to end - but then it does, and it feels like it went by too quickly. Nobody could possibly see all that there is to see there, with all the panels, screenings, booths, events around town. Mostly I've given up on even trying to see most things, except for a select few things that I know will appeal to me.

And I think that's the secret to enjoying the convention: ask yourself what you're really into, and find events or booths that are centered around that topic. Instead of wandering around hoping to bump into something you like, do some research and figure out where the things you like are going to be. And when. Then just get in line 6 hours before that, and you'll be all set.

Or, you know, just ask me. People often ask me where to go and what to eat, probably because I look like someone who knows where he's going, and enjoys eating well when he gets there. I'm always willing to help someone find the booth they're looking for (did you even TRY looking in the program guide?) or a good place to eat dinner (umm, it's called the internet, and it's probably on your phone...). Since I've been at this for 15 years and I try to get a little smarter (or at least a little less dumb) each year, I'm something of an authority on the workings of the convention and the surrounding Gaslamp district.

But the convention did come to an end, and I broke down the booth, packed up the unsold merch & James helped me carry 2 boxes to UPS, all in under an hour. By 7 I was at the brewpub with a free night ahead, since my flight back to NY wasn't until late Monday morning. I used to try to fly back on Sunday nights, but it's too stressful.  Then I get back to NYC after missing a week, and it takes me about two weeks to catch up again. 

But now I've got 50 weeks to go until the next San Diego Con - but wait, the New York Comic Con starts in just over two months!  So there's that to look forward to.  Please enjoy these photos of crazy costumed people from San Diego in the meantime.   

--John Holderried