“WE ARE ALL NEELU”
No “super-powers” or “magic weapons.” No corny superhero tropes -like contrived “sexy” outfits, arch-villains/monsters, improbable situations, fanboy gimmicks, etc. Just a schoolgirl thrown into a real-world hell, fighting evil forces straight from current world news (ISIS, Taliban, anyone?), surviving with her skills, courage and wits. Not confined to any race or ethnicity, she’s accessible and attainable to any girl in the world…
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ACROSS OUR UNIVERSE (Related news)
Real-world, present-day Neelu -the current best-seller about the Kurdish women who took on ISIS (and women’s rights) and triumphed against impossible odds! https://www.amazon.com/Daughters-Kobani-Rebellion-Courage-Justice/dp/0525560688/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2LE0VPDEXIKRU&dchild=1&keywords=the%20daughters%20of%20kobani%20by%20gayle%20tzemach%20lemmon&qid=1618180137&sprefix=the%20daughters%2Caps%2C159&sr=8-2&fbclid=IwAR3ixpHKUejcjoMvNrUFRsHWeOUANd9hAoTmi36k_25GaMCF1x1Mm_crafI
The spirit of NEELU lives in a Bollywood release about a real 19th century action-heroine who fought British imperial forces in India: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyeVWWy_dc4&feature=youtu.be
Neelu, rescued from her sadistic Malgynian captors by IronPrincess began as sort of a young “sidekick” to her, along the lines of Xena’s “Gabrielle” or Batman’s “Robin.” But not goofy/chatty like those two; Neelu’s more inspired by “Azumi,” a popular Manga character who’s a schoolgirl turned samurai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2mHYtoPlUw and “Deadly Little Miho” from Sin City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33bM0PbOgGc
“Azumi” inspired our character “Quadzumi,” the precursor to Neelu.
But Neelu’s struggle is more real-world, and less contrived. This is important to me because so many action comic characters are contrived and gimmicky. Neelu grows from something which could be taken straight from today’s world news- like those schoolgirls kidnapped by the likes of ISIS, the Taliban, al Quaeda, Boko Haram, etc: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dozens-of-nigerian-schoolgirls-kidnapped-by-boko-haram-released
and those female Kurdish fighters who’ve been helping fight the scourge of ISIS:
Neelu’s simply a teen girl living an idyllic childhood in her village when it’s sacked by ISIS/Boko-Haram/Taliban-like forces called Malgynians (the name suggests malevolence toward females). Many of the villagers are massacred, and Neelu, along with her fellow schoolgirls (including her younger sister Neba) are taken captive to be raped, tortured, ransomed, sold off, rigged as suicide bombers, etc. She and some of her classmates are rescued by IronPrincess. Neelu’s been rendered mute by the atrocities she’s witnessed against her schoolmates, and has devoted her life to rescuing and avenging them by killing as many Malgynians as she can- and finding her sister Neba.
Who is Neelu?
Neelu began as a young “sidekick” of sorts to IronPrincess, along the lines of Xena’s “Gabrielle” or Batman’s “Robin.” But not goofy/chatty like those two; Neelu’s more inspired by “Azumi,” a popular Manga character who’s a schoolgirl turned samurai, and “Deadly Little Miho” from Sin City. But her struggle is more real-world, and less contrived. This is important because so many action comic characters are contrived and gimmicky. Neelu grows from something which could be taken straight from today’s world news- like those schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, and those female Kurdish fighters who’ve been helping fight the scourge of ISIS. I can’t really say IronPrincess is uncontrived, but she provides an important catalyst to launch Neelu.
Who is IronPrincess?
This began simply as a photo project, creating battle scenes that echo the work of fantasy artists like Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell (ie -life imitating art) with physique-women attired as a sort of Red Sonja/“female Rambo” fighting modern terrorist soldiers along the lines of ISIS, Boko Haram, al Quaeda, Taliban, etc. While they’re armed with assault rifles, IronPrincess uses her bow, blades and physical prowess. Several reasons for this: guns need to be de-glamorized; they feature daily and epidemically in our ugliest news stories. They’re a “macho” symbol, which is ironic since anyone- even a five year-old- can kill with a gun. It takes strength, skill and cunning to fight effectively with a bow, blades, and body. I’ve always disliked the superhero genre because the whole “super-powers” thing is such a lame gimmick- what’s at stake if you can’t be killed? All that’s left are clever one-liners and endless cgi-effects destruction. Wonder Woman’s “magic” lasso and bracelets, Xena’s frisbee, uh-chakram are silly crutches which suggest that an action heroine can only kick ass if she’s given “magic” weapons. For our purposes, using a bow, blade or unarmed-combat move brings out the muscles in an organic, functional way- as opposed to the way physique women are usually photographed- doing some “look-at-me!” pose for the camera. Occasionally they’ll pose holding a sword, invariably grinning or glaring at the camera lens- kinda pointless, isn’t it, without the context of armed foes -dead or alive- in the scene? In our photos, they’re showing no awareness of a lens (ie “the 4th wall”) -they’re playing a role in an actual scene, with props, dummies and smoke -so there’s actually a reason for her to be brandishing a weapon. This isn’t just a backdrop, as in physique photos, but a world they’re in, and interacting with. The idea was to create shots that looked like stills from an action epic, but featuring women who actually look physical enough to be doing this -as opposed to scrawny Hollywood actresses like Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley et al, who got these roles for other reasons.
What’s the Sisterhood of Iron?
That goes back a long way; originally I applied it to all women who seriously pumped iron -be they strength athletes or bodybuilders- because of the adversity muscular women face from society. Understand that for over two decades I was deeply involved in the world of women’s bodybuilding, writing magazine articles, exhibiting a line of tee designs (thevalkyries.com), exhibiting/sponsoring at the big shows, hosting shoots…. heck, I even wrote and produced an anthem for them called Mesomorphic Girl which you can find on YouTube. And back in the late 1990s I wrote a full-length screenplay about them that while never produced, garnered praise from industry professionals, and was optioned a couple times. Things have changed since then with more exposure to muscular female athletes, and far more women using weights, but it’s not all for the better. Drugs, money, and sex keep the “industry” afloat. And while there’s nothing wrong with bodybuilding/physique competition for those who simply enjoy competing or watching it, the “sisterhood” thing is largely a farce: it goes out the window after the first call-outs in prejudging. The inherent “look-at-me” selfish-centeredness in bodybuilding was glamorized by Arnold, who actually said he’d left team sports as a teen because he hated sharing the limelight. He made it cool to espouse doing whatever it took (and to whomever one needed) in order to be #1. You can probably attribute much of what’s wrong in our society today to this “me-first” mindset. But true sisterhood means self-sacrifice, placing your comrades’ welfare before yours. In the Wonder Woman movie you saw Amazon women launching themselves off cliffs and facing almost certain death from bullets to save one of their own. Countless women in theaters, unused to seeing themselves portrayed this way, wept at that scene. In the real world, check out those female Kurdish soldiers who continue to battle ISIS in Rojava while suffering heavy losses -or even some of our own female troops, police officers, firefighters, etc, putting themselves in harm’s way. Those are the true inspirations for IronPrincess and Neelu. Comparatively, muscle divas with their biceps poses, as dedicated and disciplined as they are to their diet and training, and as spectacular as they look, seem less worthy of the sisterhood appellation.
So tell us about Neelu…
She’s a teen girl living an idyllic childhood in her village when it’s sacked by ISIS/Boko-Haram/al-Quaeda like forces called Malgynians (the name suggests malevolence toward females). Many of the villagers are massacred, and Neelu, along with her fellow schoolgirls (including her younger sister Neba) are taken captive to be raped, tortured, ransomed, sold off, rigged as suicide bombers, etc. She and some of her classmates are rescued by IronPrincess. Neelu’s been rendered mute by the atrocities she’s witnessed against her schoolmates, and has devoted her life to rescuing and avenging them by killing as many Malgynians as she can- and finding her sister Neba. Like some of the real-world forces who inspired them (ISIS), the Malgynian soldiers fear death at the hands of a female for ideological reasons -it’s the ultimate disgrace (maybe no 72 virgins await?) so Neelu relishes being the last image a dying Malgynian sees. And few of them even see her since most fall to her arrows before even realizing they’re being picked off.
Why don’t Iron Princess/Neelu just use the rifles from the soldiers they’ve killed?
Most of the evil forces in the world rely on them so they’re a scourge. And again, we want to de-glamorize them. It takes strength, athleticism and skill to kill with a bow, blade and hands. It also requires the IronPrincess/Neelu to display their muscles engaged in functional, organic action -which is the point of the photos. But they may occasionally use a rifle taken from a soldier- to clobber or strangle him with it!
Bows… against automatic weapons?
Like most renegade outlaw armies, the Malgynian troops, while sadistic, are poorly trained and disciplined; they’re no more adept at long-range marksmanship than your average gang-bangers, and rely on volume, spraying automatic fire. If you have doubts about what is possible in terms of speed, accuracy and penetration with a modern bow in hyper-expert hands, watch these video clips:
Also, Neelu operates mainly from the forest (as opposed to wide-open terrain), where cover and concealment offer an advantage. The surroundings not only protect her, but even offer her other weapons. And a gym- along with her fighting skills she’s also trained by IronPrincess to improve her functional strength and athleticism using rocks, trees and the terrain (hopefully this might inspire a new generation of young fans to do the same – a bit more wholesome and worthwhile than “Harley Quinn?”). We’re all constantly seeing clips of amazing physical stunts online (eg “People Are Awesome” on Facebook)which push the envelope of human performance… thus giving Neelu’s feats some credibility- and eliminating the need for “super-powers.”
So this is less contrived?
Yes…Neelu not only has no “superpowers.” She never aspired to be a heroine- she was yanked out of a happy childhood and brutally thrust into this world of survival and killing. Even her outfit makes sense; it’s what she and the others were wearing when they were taken hostage – no fancy tights, masks and capes here. And while Neelu may take boots or other items from her kills (“to the victor, the spoils”), she deliberately retains her school outfit for battle, as a taunt to her foes. If she needs camouflage, she may cloak temporarily with a camo uniform top (taken from a slain Malgynian) and a screen-shield from living foliage.
I notice that the different girls who portray her in your photos are quite an ethnic mix. So are the physique women who portrayed IronPrincess. And in the artwork (a comic artist is currently working on a script I wrote for Neelu’s back-story) you’ll see a girl whose ethnic extraction could include nearly any mix.
This too is deliberate. We wanted to avoid the All-American Barbie-doll face cliché that seems to characterize nearly every depiction of mainstream action heroine- from Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, Supergirl, to Xena, Elektra and Lara Croft. Incidentally, some of the most beautiful faces we’ve ever seen are largely the result of mixed blood, but hopefully that girls of any background could see themselves as Neelu. We’d especially like to include more Middle-Eastern women, as female repression there seems to border on medieval in some respects. It was gratifying though, to see Baahubali 2, a Bollywood film which broke box-office records worldwide, feature a warrior-princess slaying scores of attackers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riw9U73BBYI&t=2s
Doesn’t it get “old” shooting the same action, poses, location, etc?
Not nearly as “old” as all those bodybuilding poses all the physique photographers put women in -at least here the display isn’t gratuitous. We constantly experiment with a variety of shots, and determine which shots “work” and which don’t. The main variable here is the different girls portraying Neelu. The setting or pose may be similar but the individual brings the difference. And in a lesser way, the background will never be exactly the same; the light, the leaves/foliage, the battle-smoke, the positions of the soldiers, weapons and other props, etc would always be slightly different even if we tried to keep them exact. Remember though, the emphasis is on her, so the background must not distract from that. This is one reason why the dummies all are all masked, in identical uniforms, and plentiful: not only are we trying to convey Neelu’s deadly efficiency, but the dead soldiers become dehumanized- simply part of the landscape, like fallen leaves- and don’t distract us. Noteworthy too is that their camouflage uniforms blend into the grass/foliage, while Neelu’s black and white outfit stands out in contrast. These are all deliberate artistic choices.
What’s with these faux comic-book “covers?”
The cover of a comic book is usually its centerpiece. Most of the story panels are “fly-over country” in-between panels leading to the “big” scenes. We prefer to focus on the big scenes in our photo shoots: battle scenes composed of Neelu (and others), plenty of slain Malgynians (and occasionally one about to die), smoke, and various props. We select a few of the best images from each shoot to render as covers. And while composition and poses may be similar, again, each model/actress brings something new to the scene.
And how many comic books have a photo as a cover? Obviously a lot more here than just a comic book – where do you hope to take this?
“Multi-media” is a quaint term nowadays, but that’s the concept. It takes a long time to generate fully-completed comic pages, so there’s no immediate plan to be cranking out comic books; the current script being worked on was initially intended to provide just the back-story. But the Neelu of the comic art will be an evolving character, with as many inner conflicts as outer; though an action heroine, she is foremost a girl- and that makes her more accessible to her young audience. Eventually we’re contemplating a sort of “graphic novel” hybrid which would include artwork, photos and text. And a web-page. Appearances at comic-cons with some of our models. Casting-calls. Of course, like nearly every entity with a fully-developed original character, we’re not averse to the idea of earning the attention one day of a film studio. Nothing would please me more than one day seeing girls embrace Neelu the way we saw them embrace Wonder Woman in 2017…
Why do you only do still shots? Why don’t you also make moooovies?
Because moooovies –especially outdoor action moooovies- cost millions of $$$ to produce without looking embarrassingly B-grade; just go on YouTube and you’ll find thousands of examples of cheesy woman-warrior/action-heroine films made on low budgets. Until someone with the bank account of a Getty or Gates takes an interest in this, you’re stuck with the scrawny/flaccid Hollywood starlets in the big-budget productions! However, we may soon be offering some “behind-the-scenes” videos with footage of the photo-shoot itself.