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DISPATCHES FROM COMIC-CON

Rose McGowan gets a sharp edge

She was frustrated at not being able to find a strong role. Then 'Red Sonja' came along.

July 26, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Rose McGowan says she can't wait to wear the chain-mail bikini of "Red Sonja," the barbarian queen. Why? "The suffragettes would have loved her," she explained. "She would only be with a man if he had bested her with the sword first. That was a pretty feminist statement . . . well, as far as comic books go back then."

McGowan said she had a "very depressing year" seeking a challenging, nuanced role in Hollywood when most movies present women "not even as straight man, they're the straight man to the straight man." When a script came her way reviving the Marvel Comics character, who first appeared in "Conan the Barbarian," under writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith (drawing, of course, on the work of pulp icon Robert E. Howard), she was intrigued. She showed it to her boyfriend, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, and asked if he had ever heard of the character.

And, of course, Rodriguez turned out to be a rabid fan of the Marvel Conan comics and Sonja as well. "I learned to draw by tracing the art in 'Savage Sword of Conan,' John Buscema and all of that," he said. "They led back to the books by Howard, and I loved him, partly because he was the weird guy from Texas like me."

They told me all of this on Thursday as they relaxed in a (relatively) quiet corner of Comic-Con after their panel on "Red Sonja." The wide-eyed pair had just bumped into Stan Lee (McGowan: "Wow, he is a salesman") and seemed charmed and a bit overwhelmed by the whole day. "I'm a novice, but I love it," McGowan said, talking about the Comic-Con song and dance, as Rodriguez nodded.

"Red Sonja" hit the screen in 1985, with the towering Brigitte Nielsen from Denmark swinging the sword with a certain future California governor along for the fun. This new "Red Sonja" sounds as if it will have some of the hyper-reality of films such as "300" and Rodriguez's own "Sin City." The movie won't hit theaters until 2010, but Rodriguez said they would be back next year with a full-on presentation. The curvy McGowan said the costume will be a big hit. "It's, uh, very visually impactful. Sonja lived in a time when men, if they saw a woman with a sword, wouldn't think twice about killing her. She needs any edge or distraction she can get. The costume gives her that."

One last thing: Will the name "Conan" be mentioned in this film? "I can't tell you that," he said. "The reason I can't tell you is I don't know yet."

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Original artwork is in high demand

I was wandering the showroom floor at Comic-Con and I came across some big-time wheeling and dealing that had absolutely nothing to do with film options or Hollywood agents.

There was intense buying and selling in the booths where vintage original art from comic books and comic strips was on display in thick, oversized portfolios that were worth far more than their weight in gold.

Take dealer Joe Mannarino, whose booth had amazing original pieces by the brilliant Winsor McCay, Jack Kirby and Neal Adams, who is my personal all-time favorite artist. "The marketplace has never gone down, but we're seeing major interest right now. It's a very robust market."

One reason is there are several generations of fans now of collecting age (i.e., they have enough money to jump into a pricey hobby), and the huge Hollywood afterlife of comic properties has also attracted investors who are looking for a place to possibly double and triple their money in a few years. Mannarino is right in the middle of it all with one of the most respected appraisal businesses in the scene. He has also worked as an agent for iconic artists such as Frank Frazetta, Mort Drucker, Joe Simon, Carmine Infantino and Jim Steranko.

When I stopped by, Mannarino had just paid $115,000 for a full 22-page story drawn by Adams and inked by the brilliant Berni Wrightson. Yes, you read that number right. "And someone has already offered me $140,000 for it," Mannarino said, clearly torn about whether to part company so quickly with such a rare find. "It's the only time Wrightson ever inked Adams, I believe," he said of the issue, "Green Lantern" No. 84, circa 1971.

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Gerard Butler is happy to return

"This place is madness, but I do love it." Actor Gerard Butler was sitting under a blue umbrella on a balcony of the San Diego Convention Center after the panel for "RocknRolla," the upcoming Guy Ritchie film. "I was signing posters and my watch kept catching on them, so I took it off and put it between my legs and then walked off. Now I think someone has stolen my sunglasses."

Butler laughed. He can afford to leave some things behind after what he's taken away from Comic-Con. "When I came here for '300,' I came straight from the desert. I had been shooting for 33 straight days -- I was a week short of Jesus, right? -- and it had been all this sword fighting and so surreal to come into a room with 6,800 people or whatever, and I didn't know any of it was going to be like that."

"RocknRolla" has the gritty London crime setting that harks back to the filmmaker's breakthrough projects, "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." "It's so great," Butler said, "to be in a Guy Ritchie film. They're so masculine and funny and smart and just daft." Turns out that Butler's watch and sunglasses were right where he left them and were returned safely. The Scotsman grinned broadly. "See? This place is great!"

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More items can be found on the Hero Complex blog (latimes.com/herocomplex).

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