My comic book and graphic novel review show GRAPHIC CONTENT has officially come to a close after its 26th and final episode, which fulfills a complete biweekly year long run on the Watchtower Database YouTube channel. The following episodes showcase creator owned original series like UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY and NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT, an independent graphic novel by Jeff Lemire titled FROGCATCHERS, and Batman focused comics like THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS written by Scott Snyder with art by Jock, and THE BATMAN ADVENTURES HOLIDAY SPECIAL by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Glen Murakami. The first two episodes immediately below were also filmed at a friends’ house in front of an extensive collection of DC Comics Archives editions which made a great backdrop.
The last few episodes focused on books like GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS which was an interlude mini-series before the launch of GREEN LANTERN SEASON TWO by Grant Morrison, then the first of an original graphic novel series from Image Comics titled NOVEMBER written by Matt Fraction with art by Elsa Charretier, Gail Simone’s run on BIRDS OF PREY that inspired the film adaptation which featured Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (and my episode coincided with the film release date), the MARTIAN MANHUNTER origin retelling mini-series written by Steve Orlando with art by Riley Rossmo, and ended with an episode on MAGE by Matt Wagner who wrote and illustrated the Image Comics series over several decades.
I’ve been lucky to have a forum to share my appreciation and speculation regarding what books I have been following, and grateful for the thousands of people who tuned in each episode to watch my take. Despite some experience in podcasting, being a talking head and internet personality took some adjusting for me, and even then I didn’t always correctly set the video focus or sound levels, but I grew and enjoyed the endeavor nonetheless, and look forward to continuing to produce content for the Watchtower Database. Catch me chatting with James Strecker and Mattie Washburn in the reboot of the 13TH LEVEL INTELLECTS podcast, and read my work in upcoming issues of the LEGACIES OF THE DCAU webcomic.
Bless Your Heart released their debut album “New Very Strange Songs” on December 6th as a collection of lonesome cowpoke ballads with characteristics of a southern pastel gothic flair from Southeastern born-and-bred frontpeople Sunn Set Apple and Vigilance Deadname.
The band defies genre conventions by combining classic country with post-rock, lacing up leather boots for its shoe-gaze aesthetic, all in an effort to unite their southern heritages with queer identities. Songs like “Coyote” and “Meet Me in July” are noodling entrees in an album full of spaghetti western dinners.
Southern slang like “bless your lil’ heart” has always implied a polite but backhanded “screw you” in Bible Belt colloquial, but the phrase has now been repurposed in punk fashion as a rock band.
Sunn Set and Vigilance met in 2005 on their first day of high school. “We were in a couple of [music] projects in high school and college,” said Sunn Sett, “but Bless Your Heart as a concept started in 2013” which is when they began writing and playing music together in a garage as a trio.
“I was having the worst year of my life. I found it cathartic to write country songs, but I wasn’t a very good guitarist,” said Sunn Set, “but I found different palettes to put country songs in while I was learning as I went.”
The band formally came together in 2017 when Sunn Set and Vigilance debuted the project in its current incarnation at a birthday party benefit for J20 Defense.
Bless Your Heart currently features D.K. Ryan on the standup bass, Mike Johnson is the engineer and pedal steel player, Nick Morrino plays drums, and Mary Beth Byrd sings harmony and does all the graphic design.
Since most of the band are professionals in their craft, Bless Your Heart has been able to embrace the semi-DIY approach, and keep many aspects of production in house. The one thing they went out of house for was the mastering.
“Mike was looking into mastering engineers and noticed that Harris Newman at Greenmarket Mastering was available, who mastered ‘Pony’ by Orville Peck,” which was one of their favorite albums that came out in 2019, and received some attention at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
“We sent it off to [Harris]. His rates were reasonable. We’re really happy working with him,” said Sunn Set. “Lo Wolf just sent an album off to him as well. We’ve gotten him some work. I feel like it’s the year of the gay cowpoke, between Orville Peck and Lil Nas X.”
Vigilance revealed that ze worked on the album for over a year. “We hashed out these songs, and these arrangements that just blow my mind and helped grow the band,” said Vigilance. “Now we want to get back into songwriting, start making some new stuff, and playing stuff live.”
Bless Your Heart played an album release show at West Asheville hometown venue The Mothlight on December 9th, and returned for a follow up feature shortly after on January 14th. “Pulling off a show like that, I feel like it’s not really the end of a cycle but the beginning,” reflected Sunn Set. “Setting a goal to release the album on time, getting the release show done, and nailing it, I was driving home, and felt like I had pulled off a heist. Like Bonnie and Clyde.”
“There’s this combination of exhaustion and inspiration,” said Sunn Set. “I feel like I’m going to be tired for the rest of my life, but I’m content with it. It’s like when I was younger and couldn’t fall asleep, my mom and my dad would always say, ‘You didn’t work hard enough today.’”
The band identifies as boot-gaze, bridging the divide between country and indie shoe-gaze. “People compliment my guitar playing, and I still feel a lot more confident than I did when I was starting to play guitar live, but I still feel like I’m not as good of a guitarist as I am a tap dancer,” said Sunn Set. “Solos are easy compared to the basics, like I can’t play a solid rhythm guitar.”
Although Vigilance takes the lead on most of the guitar solos, ze consider themselves to be more of a lyrical person. “I’ve always kinda felt like I’m the forest and Sunn Sett sings all the trees,” explained Vigilance. “I can build the world, and Sunn Sett picks all the plants.”
“I totally love pop music,” said Sunn Set. “I love it from a production perspective, and being able to bring elements of that scale of production to something that’s a little more outsider.”
“The really cool thing is we brought our songs together at the beginning. Now we write together, and you can just hear the unity of just working on it together than separately,” Vigilance spoke to the collaborative songwriting process with Sunn Set. The song “Coyote” has had several phases of existence, spanning back nearly a decade. “I definitely feel like songs are living things. I wrote ‘Coyote’ at three separate points of my life because the song needed more words as it went along to flesh it out. It’s basically the story of my life since 2011 in a sarcastic way.”
Although the band never explicitly went out of their way to present as southern gothic, they inevitably embraced the aesthetic. Sunn Set admits their goth phase began at the same time the band first formed in 2013. Vigilance and Sunn Set dyed their hair black at the same time.
Sunn Set and Vigilance revealed that their true influences are anything from James Taylor to the Magnetic Fields, and The National for the sadness factor. “I definitely feel like it’s really easy for me to go through the songs and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we totally had a Jesus and Mary Chain moment here,’” said Sunn Set. “I also really like Brandi Charlisle and think that comes through.” Sunn Set cited their all time favorite artist as Willie Nelson while Vigilance said White Pilgrim.
I feel like it’s the year of the gay cowpoke, between Orville Peck and Lil Nas X.
Sunn Sett Apple
The album title “New Very Strange Songs” was inspired by the song “Lukenbach Texas” by Waylon Jennings. The chorus includes the lines, “Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and Newberry’s train songs…” but when Sunn Set was a child, they always thought Jennings was singing “New very strange songs” in that final line.
The album title is both a nod, stating their allegiances, and passive aggressively wedging themselves into this canon of country music. “It’s also descriptive,” laughed Vigilance. “Someone told us that at the release show.”
The album was significantly funded by a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign as a community effort. “We had over twenty contributors give us more than $600 to help make it happen,” revealed Sunn Set. “That means absolutely so much to us, with so little to show for what we could do, for that many people in our lives to put their faith in us, is just incredible to me.”
Bless Your Heart is pulling all the stops on the merchandise as well, with cassettes of the debut album, stickers, and T-shirts and posters with the various design layouts by Mary Beth Byrd. Online ordering for any of Bless Your Heart’s products will be available in the near future.
Bless Your Heart also performed shows at Static Age Records on February 15th, and later that month in Savannah, Georgia where they opened for a burlesque group at the Jinx, which has a stage designed like the Black Lodge from TWIN PEAKS.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Find yourself at home on the dynamic range displayed with true grit from Bless Your Heart. “New Very Strange Songs” is now available for streaming wherever you listen to music like Bandcamp and Spotify.
LEGACIES OF THE DCAU released another six-page issue in the “Anno Domini” storyline. Anno Domini translates to “the year of our lord” in Latin which is used as a reference to an ominous ‘dark king’ on the final page cliffhanger. The subtitle “2019” reveals the setting, an important time in the DC Animated Universe since it was the canonical final year that Bruce Wayne operated as Batman, as expanded upon in the previous LEGACIES issue “Prebirth”. The “2019” issue was written by myself Ted Kendrick, pencilled by James Strecker, and cover art by Rick Celis.
“2019” occurs several months after the events of “Prebirth”, and centers around Superman giving a speech commemorating the ten year anniversary of the disastrous Near Apocalypse of ’09, a mysterious event involving Ra’s Al Ghul that was referenced several times in BATMAN BEYOND storylines. Page 3 even reveals imagery with my take on that crisis. One of the most fun aspects of this issue was dreaming up the Justice League of 2019. I included Superman and Big Barda as direct references to the team from BATMAN BEYOND, along with The Atom, Green Lantern, and Static there as nods to the far future as well. Starfire and Plastic Man were fun additions since neither had truly been seen in the DC Animated Universe before, though page 2 shows where all of the original Justice Leaguers such as Wonder Woman, John Stewart, The Flash, and J’onn J’onzz are during this issue.
A few weeks after the issue, James Strecker and I recorded a behind-the-scenes video looking at the process of creating the issue. We broke down the scenes, identified the easter eggs, and called out elements that reference previous issues or set up future events. We have a lot of story to tell, and a few more chapters set in the year 2019, which is 15 years after the end of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, but 20 years before the start of BATMAN BEYOND. The core mission statement behind LEGACIES has always been to fill in the missing gaps between those shows. Check out the BTS video below, and click the link above to read the full issue.
Jim Tackman is kidnapped by gangsters who suspect him to be a DOUBLE AGENT. The action comedy short film featured Erich Reinhard, Zach Echols, and Tyler Buckner, and was written, directed, and produced by myself Ted Kendrick. Garin Wilson was Director of Photography, Rome Widenhouse was editor, and original soundtrack was composed by Tony Mozz. The short was made for Aputure Tech’s #LightThisLocation international film challenge. Unfortunately the entry was not selected as a finalist, but I still greatly enjoyed the production process alongside Wilson’s Productions, Absolute Grip Co., and the rest of the cast and crew.
The challenge required that the short film be no more than 5 minutes in length, occur in a single location, and include the secret word “accent”, with bonus points awarded if the film used plenty of brand sponsored gear and equipment, and we certainly did as you will find in the behind-the-scenes video embedded below, edited by Garin Wilson with footage captured by videographer Steve Howard.
The Lighting Floor Plan was another final deliverable required by the competition. Erik Kitchens of Absolute Grip Co. was the Gaffer in charge of light design, and drew a rough lighting floor plan on the back of a script. The floor plan was recreated by Ted Kendrick in Adobe Photoshop with a consistent and intelligible color palette, naturally accomplished in the familiar Artificial Ink font style.
With DOUBLE AGENT now out of competition and already released online, Artificial Ink Creative will submit and send the film through the independent film festival circuit. The official poster is embedded below, designed by Ted Kendrick, and guaranteed to look even better after flaunting a few film festival laurels.
COMPASSION short film anthology by Corpening Media released its official poster. Ted Kendrick collaborated closely with Jeff Corpening and Betsy Cardwell to produce “Part 1: Knowledge,” and assisted in the production of the other chapters. COMPASSION celebrates its local premiere on Saturday, December 14th at 10am at Asheville Fine Arts Theater. Admission is free, but you must RSVP in advance.
The 12TH LEVEL INTELLECTS podcast reached the landmark of 52 episodes, and at its consistent biweekly release schedule, that means a complete full two year anniversary! However, the podcast will soon be taking a break after the finale episode in order to reexamine our approach, format, and technology. For this last batch of episodes, we comment on a funny fan-made “Exposed” video focused on the WATCHTOWER DATABASE, the host YouTube channel for podcast, review the latest MCU film SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, recap all the relevant news that came out of 2019 San Diego Comic Con, discuss the drama behind Spider-Man’s in-and-out relationship with Disney and Sony, and review Jim Henson’s original cult-classic fantasy film THE DARK CRYSTAL with podcast guest Rome Widenhouse.
The 50th episode was a discussion on the final story arc in YOUNG JUSTICE: OUTSIDERS as well as the induction of Mattie Washburn as an official 12th Level Intellect, though he had been making regular appearances on the podcast for some time. Now a total of three geeky incels (that’s a joke), we review the JOKER film directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix, and consider whether the upcoming action figure line “Batman: The Adventure Continues” will be considered in DCAU continuity as the package bios by Paul Dini seem to suggest. Look for a bold new direction from the 12th Level Intellects in early 2020 and beyond!
DOUBLE AGENT is a short comedy film that was written, directed, and produced by myself, Ted Kendrick, for an upcoming lighting contest by lightthislocation.com. Garin Wilson was the Director of Photography, and Eric Kitchens of Absolute Grip Co. facilitated the lighting plan as the Gaffer. Additional crew included Johan Taljaard as 1st AC, Micah Parsons as 2nd AC, Dalton Stout as Grip, Braethun Bharathae-Lane as Sound Recordist, Tony Mozz as Sound Mixer and Soundtrack, Rome Widenhouse as Editor, and Steve Howard on Behind the Scenes Videography.
The cast showcases Erich Reinhard as protagonist Jim Tackman with Zach Echols and Tyler Buckner as the antagonist gangsters Pat and Bob. The contest deadline is Monday, November 11th before DOUBLE AGENT is uploaded online for a round of voting. Afterwards, the plan is to share the short around to various film festivals before ultimately uploading it online to the Artificial Ink Creative YouTube channel. Check out some screenshots embedded below via Instagram in the meantime.
MY FATHER’S SHADOW is a short film written and directed by Will Osigian of Trust Fall Productions, starring Jeff Alexander. I assisted in script edits and feedback early on in the development process. During the Asheville based production, I also hooked up the crew with donated catering from Takeout Central and Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. The short drama film is now available to view online, though a trigger warning is due for its heavy subject matter regarding alcoholism and abuse.
My GRAPHIC CONTENT comic book review show has continued steadily with its biweekly schedule, consistently earning between 1k to 5k views on the Watchtower Database YouTube channel. Plans are underway to wrap up and reformat either by the end of the year or around February 2020 which would mark the one year anniversary. The following episodes cover DC Comics’ 2019 crossover events such as “Year of the Villain” which touched nearly every book in the DCU and “Event Leviathan” which primarily occurred within the Superman books. I also fell deep into the “Black Hammer” universe crafted by Jeff Lemire for Dark Horse Comics.
The next few episodes took a look at the “Batman: Kings of Fear” mini-series which reunited the 90s Batman comics team of writer Scott Peterson and artist Kelley Jones. I had the pleasure of interviewing Peterson at a separate occasion for his work as an editor on “The Batman Adventures”. I also reviewed the popular new “Once and Future” book by writer Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora for BOOM! Studios, and lastly the DC: Rebirth iteration of “Batman Beyond” by Dan Jurgens.
THE REPLICA RAID II sci-fi short film was selected to screen at the 2019 Greek Short Film Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina as part of the Geek Gala event. The theme this year is Tiki Slumber Party-o-Rama. Don’t ask me what that means because I don’t know yet. The film festival runs throughout the day from 10am to 4pm as part of the Muggle Market at Noah’s Event Venue which is free to attend.
I’ve added laurels for the Geek Short Film Festival to the film poster, next to the ones from Cat Fly Indie Film Festival which is where RR2 premiered in March 2019. THE REPLICA RAID III, the final installment of the unanticipated series, is in development with a finished first draft underway in edits. More on that to come.