GEARING UP FOR PUNISHMENT

April 15th, 2004

 

 Despite my currently solid connection with the comic book industry, I actually never read comics as a kid.  My youth revolved around MAD magazines and comic strips in the newspapers, that is when I wasn't busy playing video games.  It wasn't until the summer of 1990 that I started frequenting comic book stores.  The first comic book I picked up inside a comic book store was an ALIENS comic from Dark Horse with airbrush artwork by Dennis Beauvais.  However that same store visit I was distracted by a Marvel comic that just looked so very cool.  Can you guess what it was?  That's right, THE PUNISHER.  It was the very first Marvel title I picked up, and quickly became my favorite Marvel Comics character.  I liked the fact that he wasn't a superhero, and didn't have any powers.  He was just a big mean guy who liked to brutally murder criminals.  Now that's a concept!  Since the Punisher was introduced in 1974 by way of the now high-dollar AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129, he has become one of the most emulated comic book characters ever.  Perhaps it's the simplicity of his concept.  Guy loses his family to crime, so guy gets revenge on all crime.  Nothing fancy, but it works.  I still love looking at Mike Zeck's beautiful work on the PUNISHER mini-series.  In 1989, after Tim Burton's highly publicized cinematic revamp of BATMAN, comic books started to become a property focus for Hollywood.  Suddenly The Punisher was announced as being in production, with Dolph Lundgren playing Frank Castle.  Fans of the comic were initially excited, only to be let down with the end result, which wasn't actually released until a few years after if was done.  The film was done on a shoestring budget, shot in Australia, and Dolph didn't even have the skull on his chest!  That film was little more than a low-budget revenge flick that was poorly executed in every way.  It never even got a theatrical release!  But the character remained interesting.  After surviving some unusual and just plain bad storylines, it saw a terrific revamp a few years back in the hands of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, sporting hauntingly realistic covers by Tim Bradstreet.  The "Welcome Back Frank" storyline introduced us to a darker and more hard-edged Punisher.  This incarnation of Frank Castle was meaner than ever, and made people love the character all over again.  So when Hollywood announced a new Punisher movie, fans reacted with a feeling of hope, seeing a possible redemption for what had come before.  After all, the books had improved upon the original, so why couldn't the new movie do the same?  On April 16th THE PUNISHER opens from Lion's Gate Films, and I for one couldn't be more excited.

Last month I had the pleasure of hanging out at WIZARD WORLD L.A. with my good buddy Tim Bradstreet.  He was supposed to sign at the Punisher booth, and help promote the new film.  What I didn't know is that this trip would turn into an awesome opportunity to spend time with all of those involved in making this movie.  Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Lieb at the San Diego Comic Con.  He was running the Punisher booth there, doing marketing for the film, and we talked off and on during that show.  Eric and I stayed in touch through e-mail, and we both share enthusiasm in seeing this character brought to the big screen the right way.  After arriving at the Long Beach convention center on Friday, Tim and I were greeted by the Liebster, who had put together an amazing Punisher booth that was perfectly positioned at the front of the show.  Aside from the very visual "skull tower" backing the display, it was complete with a brilliant prop case, video game display, and plasma screen playing THE PUNISHER trailers all day long.  Eric had done a terrific job putting everything together.  Tim sat down and began signing almost immediately, I helped him out with prints and such, and we stayed pretty busy until the show closed.  I got to see my good friends Todd and Dawn Nauck, and talk to them since they were setup in artist alley.  I also saw my good friend Rena Owen, who is just the coolest girl you'll ever meet, and one heckuva good actress.  That night we had a fabulous dinner with Eric and Debra from Lion's Gate, and just had a really fun evening all-together.

 On Saturday we were joined first by director Jonathan Hensleigh and Marvel Comics movie master Avi Arad.  These guys were great, signing nonstop for fans, and answering the same questions from fans over and over.  Then Thomas Jane showed up.  Before I knew what was going on I was sitting next to Tom as he signed autographs, helping him to keep things going.  I had unwittingly become Thomas Jane's right hand man.  Hey, I ain't complaining!  Tom was incredibly nice.  At one point someone asked him if he could sign an extra item, to which he said "Of course, that's what I'm here for."  Tom took time to speak with every fan, and made sure everyone got something signed.  As the show winded down I had a chance to walk around for a bit.  I talked with David Carradine about KILL BILL: VOLUME 2, and chatted with Kevin Smith about this and that.  Comic fans will be happy to know that Kevin is planning on picking back up his SPIDER-MAN: BLACK CAT series now that JERSEY GIRL is out of the way.  He assured me that he will be back to work on comics soon.  Just before the show doors closed Tom's wife Patricia Arquette showed up with her son Enzo (cool guy) and her new baby Harlow.  We met them briefly, and they took off soon after.  Thomas was scheduled to go to dinner with the studio cats, so Tim and I headed back to the hotel to make our own dinner plans.  As we were walking around the hotel, I noticed Thomas standing at the front of the lobby.  Tim and I walked over to say hello, and he invited us to dinner.  We figured he was inviting us to the "studio" dinner, but it ends up that wasn't the case.  The studio boys were nowhere to be seen, and we (Tim and I) ended up at the restaurant with Thomas, Patricia, Enzo and Harlow.  Just us.  No one else.  HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!  I had a great conversation with Patricia at dinner, and even got to talk about comic books with Thomas.  Plus Enzo and I talked about video games, which was cool since I know guys that work for game companies. It was a great dinner, and like I told Tim afterward, it's so nice to meet people who despite working in Hollywood are so genuine and laid back.  It was like having dinner with old friends.  Tim and I then headed to the Wizard party back at the hotel, where we schmoozed with comic personalities and had a few drinks.  Thomas came down and joined us for the end of the party, which was awesome.  We ended up talking about goofy stuff that happened on the set, which I won't go into detail on to protect those involved.  Heh-heh.

Sunday is usually a relaxing day when it comes to conventions.  Not so this time!  Kevin Nash showed up at the booth to sign and meet fans.  For a wrestler that's 6'10, he's a total sweetheart.  Before you know it the PUNISHER movie panel was about to begin.  Tim and I walked to the green room, where we saw Gale Anne Hurd and (drum roll) Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.  I hung out with Patricia's son Enzo while Tom got ready for the panel.  I gotta say, Enzo is very cool, and I'm glad he was there, cause being in that green room was kinda surreal for me.  Don't get me wrong, I've hung out with several celebs, but there were press cameras and agents in there, and that's a whole other animal.  We all headed to the freight elevator to go to the panel room.  Ahem.  I rode in the elevator with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.  That's right.  And yes, she looked good.  Tim, Enzo and I took a seat in the back of the panel room, which I'm happy to say was packed with fans.  Jonathan Hensleigh, Gale Anne Hurd, Avi Arad, Thomas Jane, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Kevin Nash took the stage, and began talking about the movie.  Fans asked questions, and we got some amusing tales from their days on the set.  Kevin talked about how Thomas actually stabbed him with a knife in one scene, because the prop guy screwed up with the blade.  Thomas talked about getting in shape, and joked about how he's no longer trying to since the checks stopped coming in.  Gale mentioned that she's working on AEON FLUX with Charlize Theron in the lead.  We were treated to THE PUNISHER opening credits, followed by an early cut of the fight scene with The Russian (Nash) from the film.  I gotta say the fight scene with The Russian is straight out of the comic.  Hensleigh also talked about how he used the "Welcome Back Frank" storyline as a direct template for the screenplay.  The crowd asked a few more questions, and cheered when everything was over.  Back on the show floor, things were about to get really hectic.  Rebecca Romijn-Stamos decided to come sign at the Punisher booth.  While I would've loved to stick around, security was everywhere and I would've just been in the way, so I bolted after saying hello to Rebecca.  After walking around for an hour or so, I came back to find Tim looking exhausted.  Apparently Rebecca only signed for about 30 minutes, but it was a hectic 30 minutes!  As the show was wrapping up, Tim and I went to have drinks with Hensleigh and Hurd.  Once again we were happy to experience a great time with genuinely pleasant people.  Jonathan told us some very funny stories about working with the actors, and Gale talked about what she was working on and has worked on before.  It was a great time, and I just can't get over the fact I was sitting with these amazing people.  Jonathan and Gale are married by the way, and make a great couple.  Afterward Tim and I headed back to the con to say goodbye to Eric.  After everything was packed up, Eric ended up coming out for dinner, which was great.  It was good to have a chance to hang with Lieb outside of the show, since it had been so busy all weekend.  He did such an incredible job putting everything together, and should definitely be commended for it.

All in all it was an awesome weekend, and I can't wait to see the film.  Big thanks to Eric Lieb for everything he did, and did so well.  Huge thanks Tim for letting me be involved with everything and being such a good friend.  Also thanks to Seymour from Wizard Entertainment for putting together such a great show and hanging with us after hours.  Thanks to Brent Irwin from Wizard Entertainment for just being cool.  Big shout outs to Jimmy Palmiotti, Michael Turner, Kevin Smith, Todd and Dawn Nauck, Rena Owen, Olo and Matt Hawkins - to all of you, I wish we had more time to talk.  And last but certainly not least thanks to Thomas Jane, Patricia Arquette, Jonathan Hensleigh, Gale Anne Hurd, Kevin Nash, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and the great Avi Arad for making that weekend one I'll never forget.

Check out the PUNISHER movie website at www.punisherthemovie.com 


Considering how much time I spent hanging out with Tim, it would seem silly if I didn't have some sort of interview to post here.  Well I didn't, so Tim and I put this together the other night.  For the sake of interesting journalism, I've gone ahead and asked several questions I already know the answers to.  Hey, that's how I do.

TIM BRADSTREET INTERVIEW

by Mark Walters


Mark:  Letís talk about how you became involved with THE PUNISHER movie.  Iím so glad they got you to do the posters for this film.  Describe the process that took place leading into all of this.

Tim:  The first thing was that I contacted Frank Darabont.  I read an article through the web interview with Gale Anne Hurd on Comics Continuum.  She mentioned that the film was going into pre-production soon.  I was wanting to work on this film in some capacity, mainly conceptual, so I knew I needed to get in contact with someone from her office at Valhalla.  I needed a phone number.  So I contacted Frank, and he responded with ĒScrew the number, Gale and Jonathan are very good friends of mine.Ē  He sent Jonathan an e-mail with his recommendation of me, and the original e-mail that I sent. Hensleigh responded pretty quick and forwarded his contact info.  Then I contacted Jonathan and told him how much I'd like to work on it.  I found out through talking with him that he was an already an admirer of my work, so that made the process a bit easier.

Mark:  I know you put a lot of work into this project.  How many pieces did you end up doing before the final pieces were picked?

Tim:  This is hard to answer accurately.  I probably did about 30 different full designs.  Of the 30, there were hundreds of different permutations.  What we ended up with was two primary poster designs, and five teaser images.

Mark:  What were your thoughts when you initially read the script?

Tim:  I liked the story, and I thought it would make for a very good movie.  'Nuff said.

Mark:  It seems you now know the director Jonathan Hensleigh pretty well.  Did you guys get to work directly with one another on many levels?

Tim:  Initially we talked a ton.  We shared a lot of ideas back and forth.  We had a long talk one night about what to use for the "teaser" trailer.  After I got off the phone with him, I had a better idea, and I wrote it all down in an e-mail.  Strangely enough a lot of those ideas ended up in the teaser trailer.  The tone, the lighting, the weapons on the table. It was kind of a shock to me when I first saw it, cause I had no confirmation from Jonathan that he was going to do that, but it was also extremely exciting.  It boded well for our relationship, and gave me a good feeling about what was ahead.  We talked several more times, and we basically bounced ideas back and forth.  There was a lot of talk about pre-production, working with characters and sets.  I think Jonathan and I were on the same page throughout, which was nice.

Mark:  Letís talk about Thomas Jane.  The first time you guys met was during your photo shoot for the poster campaign.  What were your initial impressions of him?

Tim:  I thought Tom was great.  He really dug my work on the comic series which was very flattering  We are both comic book fans, and talked comics.  He was very exuberant about it.  We were born around the same time, so we grew up liking the same books, like Pacific Comics stuff. Bernie Wrightson for example, stuff like Master of the Macabre, and Bruce Jones' writing back in the day.

Mark:  He seemed very excited with your artwork for the film.  Is it safe to say that your artwork played an important part in him taking this part?

Tim:  Tom was one of my greatest advocates.  He actually said a big reason he decided to do the movie was from seeing my illustrations.  Tom pulled for me a lot, and ultimately it was his decision that I had to be the guy that designed the one-sheets.  Tom really fought for me. What's funny is that I think Tom would be just as thrilled to be on a comic cover as on a movie poster.  He's a big fan of the art form.

Mark:  We have to talk a bit about the greatness that is Eric Lieb.  For those of you that donít know the name, Eric is the man who has gone above and beyond promoting the crap out of this film.  All of the clever marketing ideas that have been seen for the new film are pretty much a result of him.  If you will, say a few words about Eric so that people can better understand just how important he has been with all of this.

Tim:  Well, I can only embarrass him further by heaping more praise on the guy.  The reason I say that is because he will no doubt read this, because he sees everything on the net.  That guy doesn't miss a trick.  He sees every post.  A web savant if you will.  I credit Eric with expanding the parameters of my job by coming up with the idea of having me do the four extra teaser posters.  That in itself was great.  It went from one poster on one day, to all of those. I have a TON of respect for Eric. He was my lifeline to Lion's Gate, and easily the heart and soul of this project.  More importantly I made a great friend.

Mark:  How do you like being involved with movie campaigns, as opposed to comic books?

Tim:  I absolutely love it.  The difference is I had so much freedom on this project, and so much support from Tom and Jonathan and Avi Arad.  They really made me feel a part of the family. I get a lot of the same in comics but to have that much trust given to me by this production is a truly astounding thing.

Mark:  Wow.  More freedom on a movie project than a comic project?  That's unexpected isn't it?

Tim:  YES.  It's about the last thing I expected.  I'm not saying I don't have that kind of freedom in comics.  I definitely do.  But to have it on a project like this is uncanny.  It was a very rewarding experience so I consider myself lucky.

Mark:  So you went to the premiere, you lucky bastard.  In short how was that experience?

Tim:  Pretty amazing to see everybody there at once, then see the film.  The Paparazzi, limos and whatnot... the red carpet.  Free popcorn and Robert Patrick in the house!  John Travolta sitting to the left, and Thomas Jane sitting to the right.  Stars and industry people everywhere.  It's a pretty cool experience for a Midwestern guy like myself.

Mark:  Wow, the T-1000, really?

Tim:  Yeah, I'm walking around in the lobby, and up walks Robert Patrick munching on some corn.  I'm sorry, but how cool is that?

Mark:  So everyone will surely want to know, what did you think of the film?

Tim:  This is only my opinion, but my honest feeling after seeing the film was that it was pretty true to the source material.  I think they've done a lot of people proud.  I thought Jane's performance rocked.

Mark:  Who's Jane?

Tim:  Tom.

Mark:  It's Mark actually.

Tim:  No, Tom Jane.

Mark:  Who's Tom Jane?

Tim:  He's the guy pumping bullets into yer head for a couple hours.

Mark:  End of routine.  We'll be here all week.  Thereís already been a whole lot of talk about a sequel.  Is there anything youíve heard that you can tell us?

Tim:  As far as a sequel is concerned, All I really know is that it is already in development. For my part I can tell you that after speaking with Avi Arad about it I think there's about 100% chance that I'll be involved.  Avi loved the posters, and I got the distinct impression that we're beginning a long relationship.

Mark:  I'm a huge fan of Drew Struzan, and it saddens me that the art of illustrated film posters has been in such decline in the past several years.  Hopefully this is starting a trend, as far as bringing the art back to movie marketing.  Do you see it that way?  Is there anything film-related you're currently working on that you can tell us about?

Tim:  There definitely aren't a lot of illustrated posters these days.  But I see it coming back a little bit.  I think there will be a resurgence of this during the next few years.  I'm noticing more people thinking outside the box a bit these days.  I think the film industry posters have looked too similar in recent years.  It can be an incestuous business.  But I think poster ART is making a comeback.  You only need one success, and I'm not saying that it's mine, but the right thing will get the ball rolling.  Hopefully then the rest of Hollywood will jump on the bandwagon.  I have at least three projects that are already in the works, but it's just way too early to be specific.  But as soon as I can say something, you Mark will be the first to know.

Mark:  Funny thing is, I already do, but have sworn myself to secrecy under the Bradstreet code of ethics.  (thumbs nose at reader)

Tim:  I'll send Jane after ya.

Mark:  Hey, that whole "Jane" routine is over.  Thanks so much for taking time out to chat.  I know we're all looking forward to seeing you back in Dallas this weekend for the FAN DAY show.  You can check out more of Tim's work at www.timbradstreet.com

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