Ten Famous Science Fiction Properties That Would Make Great VFX Movies — Part 4 ‘The Airtight Garage’

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This is a series of posts discussing ten existing science fiction properties (from literature, animation, games and comics) that could serve as the basis for ground-breaking live-action VFX films and television shows. This time: Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s 1976 graphic novel
The Airtight Garage.

For an explanation of the choices for this list, see the first entry.

Number 7 of 10: The Airtight Garage (US title, comic, 1976), aka Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius, Le Garage Hermétique de Lewis Carnelian

In the Before Time, in the Long Long ago, in the late 1970s and 1980s, some movie execs decided it might be a good idea to make a few big-budget effects-heavy comic book movies. So we had two classic films based on DC Comics characters. The first was Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, a hammy cheese-fest that nonetheless managed to charm the audience, largely via Gene Hackman’s movie-saving charisma and Christopher Reeve’s unshakable determination to play a ridiculous character as seriously as possible. On the other hand, the producers spent literally one-third of the $60 million budget to hire Marlon Brando in a cameo; and Margo Kidder gave a performance as Lois Lane that should have tipped off any competent psychiatrist that she was suffering from bipolar disorder and needed help.

The other was Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, the first superhero film ever to capture the comic book fanboy’s love for the source material (in this case the uncredited Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (1986), but that’s a fanboy rant for another blog post). Burton, following Miller’s lead, showed mainstream audiences that comic books can be dark, intellectual, weird, artistic and funny. And Jack Nicholson was a thespian ruminant, chewing the scenery and then chewing it again.

Over time, Hollywood gave us films of all the superheroes the mainstream public, unfamiliar with comic books, would surely recognize; after a steadily declining series of Superman and Batman films, we had Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Hulk. Then the studios churned out films based on properties familiar to comic book fans but new to the general public; The X-Men, Iron Man, Hellboy, Blade, and The Fantastic Four amongst the box office successes; Howard the Duck, Judge Dredd, Mystery Men, The Punisher, Catwoman, Elektra, and Daredevil amongst the rest.

The next phase – comic book movies that weren’t about superheroes. Some were still science fiction or fantasy – 300, 30 Days of Night, Constantine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Others took place in the real world — Art School Confidential, From Hell, Ghost World, A History of Violence. But now the comic book world was completely wide open to film and TV adaptation – stories didn’t have to feature Warren Ellis’ “underwear perverts.”

This was good news, because those comic book titles that are the most visually striking are usually not hero titles. Of course there have been great artists working in that medium, from Jack Kirby and Will Eisner back in caveman times to… I dunno, I stopped regularly reading superhero comics when they brought Jean Grey back from the dead in 1986. Yes, I am a grumpy old man. I like J. Scott Campbell, Kevin O’Neill and Howard Chaykin, off the top of my head.

For this series I have chosen an artist who has never worked in the traditional hero genre (except once, briefly), but made his name drawing Western serials in France. His art has influenced generations of artists and production designers, but has never been used as the basis for an entire film.

Jean Giraud became a working artist at age 18, in Paris in 1956. His most famous Western comic book, Blueberry, ran from 1962 to 1974 and earned Giraud his face on a French postage stamp. But he is best known in America for his science fiction and fantasy stories and art, done under the pen name “Moebius.”

In 1974, Moebius and three others founded the seminal adult comics magazine Métal Hurlant; an American version was launched in 1977 called Heavy Metal, which is accidentally displayed in bookstores’ music sections to this day.

One segment of the 1981 Canadian animated anthology film Heavy Metal, containing stories from the magazine, was “Taarna,” inspired by Moebius’ “Arzach” fantasy stories; but the art style was not based on his. (This is the segment parodied in the 2008 South Park episode “Major Boobage.”)

He contributed to several feature film projects. The most notable were Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted 1976 project to bring Frank Herbert’s novel Dune to the screen as a ten-hour feature, with Moebius and Alien artist HR Giger doing original production art; and Luc Besson’s 1997 The Fifth Element, perhaps the only live action film in which Moebius’ elements (the Mondoshawan ships, the Flying Noodle Boat) appear recognizably as he designed them. Other films on which Moebius worked: Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982, uncredited), Tron (1982), Masters of the Universe (1987), Willow (1988) and The Abyss (1989).

His most famous creation is a bizarre, stream-of-consciousness science-fantasy graphic novel originally called Le Garage Hermétique de Jerry Cornelius, released in the US as The Airtight Garage by Marvel under the Epic Comics imprint. The Airtight Garage was written, drawn and colored by Moebius, four pages at a time, as a game with himself to introduce irreconcilable plot strands in each segment, and then reconcile them later. As a result, the “story” does not exist as such, at least not until the final 15 pages, which were drawn all at once to bring the tale to a conclusion that parodies superhero comics and leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

In rough outline, the Hermetic Garage of the title is a large asteroid containing a much larger artificial world on the inside (“hermetic” in this case is used to mean both “airtight” and “esoteric”). The Garage was created by Major Grubert, an immortal human from Earth who is locked in ceaseless battle against another immortal, Lewis Carnelian. Eventually, these mortal enemies must join forces to prevent the destruction of the Hermetic Garage by an evil alien known as The Bakalite.

Nearly every panel of the comic contains characters, images, references, jokes and invented words that hint at entire worlds, civilizations and conspiracies just beyond the frame’s edge. Hardly anything is explained, not even the backgrounds or motivations of the two main antagonists.

An animated feature adaptation of The Airtight Garage, to be produced by legendary Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa Akira (!!!) and directed by Otomo Katsuhiro of Akira (1988) fame, fell through in the mid-1990s.

So why on Earth would you use The Airtight Garage as the basis for a big-budget, live action VFX film? Three reasons.

First, the non sequitur storyline provides a blank slate for the filmmakers, who are free to fill in the blanks however they wish; or, a la JJ Abrams, just leave the blanks blank. The Airtight Garage provides a firm skeleton on which to hang a dramatic sci-fi high adventure with a good dollop of comedy.

Second, The Airtight Garage is a cult classic with a large fan base. In 1999 the Metreon shopping mall in San Francisco opened with an Airtight Garage-themed attraction, which was hugely popular until the mall was shut down in 2007 (probably a Bakalite trick!).

And third, Moebius’ artwork is beautiful, original, and unique. Many artists and filmmakers are inspired by him, but no one has produced an entire feature film that takes place in a Moebius universe. At one time, his vision could only have been realized through traditional animation, whether one was the director of The Seven Samurai or not. But with modern VFX, that has changed.

The mind-bending, multidimensional layout of the three levels of the Hermetic Garage; its vast alien vistas and retro-futuristic architecture; Grubert’s trusty starship, the Ciguri; the Star Billiard, a colossal green humanoid robot that the Ciguri crew uses as an exploratory vehicle; the bizarre lifeforms of the Garage, such as the pink riding animals called Melvils – all of these could come to life.

And not only would Moebius’ actual drawings provide inspiration for artists – I think that the incomplete nature of The Airtight Garage would give CG and VFX professionals an unprecedented world-building opportunity.

Jean Giraud is 72 years old, and hopefully has many years ahead of him, thanks to French cuisine and Socialized medicine. But it would be nice to finally produce an Airtight Garage adaptation that he would be alive to enjoy.

Previous: Wings of Honnêamise (anime, 1987); Erma Felna EDF (comic, 1983-2005); Appleseed (comic, 1985-89)

Next: Warhammer 40,000 game franchise (1987-present)

See a set of The Airtight Garage art on Flickr.

Quiz: Can You Identify These Geek Icons?

Originally posted in 9/06. Images restored 9/14/09.

Can you identify all 12 of these sci-fi, fantasy and geek-culture-related symbols? Anime, comics, gaming and computers have not been overlooked.

Some of them are very easy — others, I hope, are pretty hard. If you’re unfortunate enough to be using Internet Explorer, you can mouse-over the pics for a hint.

Answers follow. Good luck!

Hint:  Kaneda! Tetsuo! Hint: John Smallberries!
1. ____________ 2. ____________ 3. ____________
Hint: Can you form some sort of rudimentary lathe? Hint: Don't say the P-word. Hint: 64.
4. ____________ 5. ____________ 6. ____________
Hint: Waaagh! Hint: Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me. Hint: JRRT
7. ____________ 8. ____________ 9. ____________
Hint: I'd like A Better Tomorrow on VHS, please. Hint: In space, no one can hear you scream. Hint: First great graphic novel?
10. ____________ 11. ____________ 12. ____________

Select the following invisible text for the answers:

1. The design on the back of Kaneda’s jacket, “Akira” (1988). 2. Sheeta’s necklace bearing the Laputa crest, Miyazaki Hayao’s “Laputa” aka “Castle in the Sky” (1986). 3. The symbol on the side of Buckaroo Banzai’s jet car, “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984). 4. The logo of the NSEA Protector, “Galaxy Quest” (1999). 5. The logo for Network 23, Edison Carter’s evil employer, “Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future” (1985). 6. The Commodore Business Machines “chickenhead” logo; Commodore manufactured the PET and Commodore 64 personal computers. 7. The banner of the Imperium of Man from Games Workshops’ “Warhammer 40,000” series of science-fantasy tabletop wargames, RPGs, and computer games. 8. Logo of the evil Blue Sun Corporation from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi western “Firefly” (2002-03). 9. Runic symbol devised by fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien as a form of signature; formed from the letters “JRRT.” 10. Logo of Tai Seng Video Marketing, major distributors of East Asian cinema in the United States; brought the films of Chow-Yun Fat, John Woo, Jackie Chan and Jet Li to the U.S. 11. Logo patch of the USCSS Nostromo, “Alien” (1979). 12. Blood-spattered “happy-face” pin of the murdered Comedian, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” (1986-87).

The Ten Most Common Supervillian Blunders

As the creator of VillainSupply VillainSource.com, I know a lot about villains.

And yet, villains never ask me for advice. What’s up with that?

Here are the ten most common supervillain blunders. Eliminate these mistakes, and someday soon, you will RULE THE MISERABLE EARTH!

Lex Luthor10. Basing your evil activities on some ancient grievance or outmoded ideology. What, you’re “evil” because your hair fell out? Because that middle school tramp turned you down? Because you’re albino, or scarred, or have a hook for a hand? Please. You need a therapist, not an evil empire. And Communism? Fascism? Nationalism? Capitalism? Dianetics? These are all outmoded 20th Century ideologies, and they’ve all failed. Only one ideology will reign supreme in the new millennium: Global Domination!

9. Becoming friends with your “good” counterpart. Some foolish villains decide to befriend the very man or woman out to destroy their dreams of Global Domination. Do not respect your enemy. Do not allow him or her to find your lair so you can chat. Don’t ask them to join you, so that together you may rule the world. “Honor” is a hero’s weakness; don’t fall prey to it yourself.

8. Holding the world for ransom. So you’re going to blow up the Earth unless they pay you 400 trillion dollars. How the hell are you going to launder 400 trillion dollars? If you want to get rich, invest in stocks. If you want to take over the world, establish a worldwide cabal of intimidation and terror. And if you want to blow up the Earth, just blow it up. The U.N. can’t pay its own bills, much less give you 400 trillion dollars. It’s a rookie mistake.

7. Hatching an inflexible or overly complicated scheme. Does your plan for world domination require a single unique device, artifact, or crystal without which you will fail? Then it’s a bad plan. Does your plan require ten thousand henchmen, organized cells around the globe, the replacement of six of the seven G7 delegates with robot duplicates, and a coordinated global effort in conjunction with an alignment of the planets or the end of the Incan calendar? Then your plan is too complicated. Simplify. It’s the evil, stupid.

6. Trusting your henchmen. Don’t. They’re all idiots. And if you must hire scientists, or assassins, or butlers or bodyguards or sous chefs, be prepared to kill them all at a moment’s notice. Remember, you’re the god.

5. Trusting your femmes fatale. Oh sure, they’re perfectly loyal to you, sitting around your lagoon in gold lamé bikinis, seducing and murdering your enemies, and pleasuring you in sick and perverted ways in your private suite. But then some handsome government agent comes along, and the next thing you know, your beautiful female underling with the risqué name is helping the agent find your obvious and accessible self-destruct button. This is why I recommend that every woman in your employ get a gift: a dainty gold necklace containing a remote-controlled explosive charge.

4. Having an affectation. Your precious Persian kitty, your taste for wines from a specific French vineyard, your third nipple – they all serve to identify you or your lair to agents of “good.” And you look like an idiot in that Nehru jacket.

3. Explaining your plan to the “hero.” Sure, you’re impressed by your own genius – who wouldn’t be? But by giving your opponent an idea of what you’re up to, you are just insuring your own downfall. Keep your plans a secret.

2. Letting “heroes” near your obvious and accessible self-destruct button. Every villain needs one of these, of course, for obvious reasons not worth going into. But it’s up to YOU to keep some do-gooder from getting his or her hands on it.

1. Not simply killing the “hero.” No death traps, no female assassins, no scorpions in the hotel room. And for crissakes, don’t offer dinner or entertainment in your lair. Just shoot him in the head. One 9mm round to the forehead. Done. Corpses can’t sneak around your lair or base, looking for that obvious and accessible self-destruct button.

Comic-Con 2007: Fletcher Hanks, the batshit genius of Golden Age comics

In 1938, two Jewish kids in New York sold a story to Detective Comics Inc., and Superman was born. The idea of the “superhero” caught fire, and within a year dozens of publishing houses were blanketing America in “underwear pervert” titles.

During that initial boom of the “Golden Age of Comics,” many writers and artists toiled in obscurity, working under different pseudonyms for different authors. Some went on to greatness (at least in the world of comics), like Jack Kirby and Bob Kane. Others are remembered only by the most dedicated collectors.

But one was completely forgotten until recently, which is shocking – the stories and art of Fletcher Hanks are beautiful and terrible, gripping and maniacal, unintentionally hilarious and totally batshit.

Cartoonist Paul Karasik discovered Fletcher Hanks decades ago, while working on Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine in the 1980s. The bizarre beauty of Hanks’ stories stayed with him for years; and recently he created a collection of Hanks’ best work, published by Fantagraphics.

In the process, Karasik discovered who the mysterious Hanks really was, why he only produced comics for three years, and what eventually happened to this mad genius.

Hanks created 48 stories over three years, which is 12-15 pages a month. That’s quite an output, if you’re writing, penciling, inking and lettering all by yourself.

He created two memorable superhero characters. One was Stardust the Super Wizard, who first appeared in Fantastic Comics #1 in 1939. Stardust is not in fact a wizard in any Gandalfian sense, but an Aryan-looking alien whose “vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived.”

Stardust is nearly omnipotent and functionally omniscient, and lives “on” his own private star, which must be rather uncomfortable. His powers come from bizarre Seussian technology and his control of “rays” – an “attractor ray,” “suspension ray,” “shadow transfer ray,” “thought-recording ray,” “transmitting ray,” “fusing ray,” and “repelling ray” (and that’s all from just one story!).

Being an intergalactic superhero with near godlike powers, Stardust has turned his attention to fighting the greatest threat the known universe can face: racketeering.

No, seriously, racketeering.

Hank’s other great creation was Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle. Also omniscient and omnipotent, also Aryan, also a great fan of “rays,” Fantomah patrolled “Jungleland” in search of “jungle crimes.” These crimes usually involved crazy scientists trying to turn jungle creatures into monsters, rather than violations of the RICO act.

Stardust and Fantomah stories often followed the following winning formula:

1. Stardust (or Fantomah) uses omniscience powers to eavesdrop on criminals plotting a crime. Stardust (or Fantomah) pontificates on how evil the plan is, but does nothing to prevent it. (In all fairness, sometimes Stardust discovers the plan while on a distant “star,” and must travel by “accelerated supersolar light waves” to Earth. Einstein just spun in his grave.)

2. The villain explains his grandiose plan to (a) destroy democracy or (b) subjugate the Earth with jungle creatures. Stardust (or Fantomah) does nothing.

3. The villain puts his plan into action, and many Americans/jungle denizens are killed or forced to flee. Stardust (or Fantomah) does nothing.

4. Stardust (or Fantomah) finally glaciates into action. Verbally berating the villains, the hero sets into motion a series of increasingly bizarre and violent revenges against the evildoers, often turning their own schemes against them.

5. Then the revenge gets really bizarre. And it keeps going.

6. And going.

7. And going.

8. America/Jungleland is saved, and the citizens/natives bemoan they didn’t have the chance to thank their redeemer.

Check out this sample story if you don’t believe me. You definitely do not want to be a racketeer in Stardust’s world.

One of the things I love about the Stardust stories is the picture Hanks paints of organized crime in the 1930s. Apparently, mobsters formed armies of tens of thousands of America-hating solders, and used fleets of airplanes and high-tech rayguns to attempt to take over the country. I guess protection rackets and gambling dens got boring.

Hanks’ heroes do not believe in courts or due process. While Superman gingerly deposits criminals in front of the police station, Stardust crushes their bodies or turns them into living representations of their crimes. While Hanks the narrator insists his hero exists to protect democracy, Stardust’s willingness to eavesdrop on everyone, his disregard for the law, his eagerness to resort to violence and “eye-for-an-eye” brand of justice are most reminiscent of… well, in 1940 one would say “fascism,” but in 2007, one might suggest “Bushism” instead.

So whatever happened to Fletcher Hanks? Karasik was asked this during his panel presentation, but refused to answer. He insisted that the best way to learn the secret was to buy the book. Sure, that sounds like an author trying to get more sales. But I bought the book and read Karasik’s graphic story detailing his encounter with Hanks’ son. And you know what? The best way to find out what happened is to read the story. I won’t ruin it for you.

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, edited and with an afterword by Paul Karasik, is only $13.57 on Amazon. I paid $20 at the Fantagraphics booth, but I got it signed.