Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I was a little surprised the WGA East Rally in Washington Square Park on Tuesday didn't receive more media coverage, even locally. What little mention it got on the news here was almost entirely focused on the quasi-campaign appearance by John Edwards. There were about a dozen camera crews set up in front of the podium to record his appearance for various news outlets...and as soon as he finished, most of them packed up their gear and left quickly while the next speaker was talking.

The thing of it was, Edwards was far from being the only interesting person there. Aasif Mandvi from The Daily Show acted as emcee, opening the rally proceedings and wrapping the whole thing up at the end. Other celebrities addressing the crowd were Tim Robbins, Danny Glover, Gilbert Gottfried, and Colin Quinn. As a political groupie I was excited by the presence of our congressmen Anthony Weiner and Jerrold Nadler and Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer. I may be a minority voice there. To get a sense of how celebrity-filled the turnout was, you can watch an excellent star-studded video of rally highlights (highly recommended) and read a couple of representative eyewitness accounts here and here.

All around there were people who looked as if they must be famous and I ought to know them but no one I could identify easily.  It was fairly easy to tell the SAG actors who were there in sympathy apart from the writers, though: the successful actors all dressed down and looked scruffy (to show they were still regular folks) while the writers all dressed up and looked well groomed (to show they weren't desperate).  Not realizing the dress code in advance, I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, ripped jeans, and had stubble, so presumably at some point I was mistaken for someone trying to look like an actor.  Or a guy looking to score weed in the park who didn't know there was a rally planned.

I've previously mentioned my sympathy with the Writers Strike, so I was thrilled to be a tiny part of it. I got there well before the rally started and as a result I ended up at the front of the crowd, about three feet away from the presidential candidate (and all the other speakers) with no one between me and the platform. Isn't the Secret Service supposed to prevent something like that? But I wasn't there to gawk at Edwards. Well, okay, maybe a little. (I also saw Barack Obama up close when he did a campaign stop in Washington Square Park a couple of months ago, so there's always the possibility in the future I might get to tell someone else's grandchildren "I got to see him before he became president...") But really I was there just to help the crowd be nice and big, to show how much we New Yorkers value our endangered television and film writers. For one thing, if the strike isn't resolved they'll all start writing for Marvel and DC and none of the rest of us will ever get a chance.

Anyway, I had this idea for a little visual gag to do in this post. To show I was really there, I went looking for some photo of the rally in which the camera was pointed roughly in the direction where I was standing. I'd post it with a caption saying something to the effect of "I'm that out-of-focus blur in the distance" or "You could see me here if only that tree wasn't in the way." Side-splitting humor in the finest tradition of Estoreal, right? But when I looked at photos on the WGA East website for a suitable picture, I came across this one:

Can we just zoom in on that for a second?

Yep, that's me, immortalized by the WGA, freelance comic scripters and comics history essayists out in support of our screenwriting brethren. Don't mention it, guys, I know you'd do the same for us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Con text

A comics convention turns out to have a lot in common with a New York City public park. One difference is that you meet a lot more crazy people at a convention.

This past weekend was the Big Apple Con in Manhattan, and once again I joined my friends Rand and Lisa Hoppe to promote the Jack Kirby Museum the same way we did at the HOWL Festival in Tompkins Square Park back in September.

Visiting British hack Rich Johnston describes the con:

"A hundredth the size of the San Diego and NYCC events, yet with a decent guest list and a critical mass of people and attention. Where else would you see S Clay Wilson and Rodney Ramos sitting together? Or someone who once played a stormtrooper sitting next to Val Kilmer? Where suddenly without warning on Saturday, Neal Adams shows up as a surprise...Basically it was a British comics convention in the USA."

I've been to a few conventions in the UK, and that's an apt comparison. It was intimate enough that no one felt overwhelmed...including the guests, who got to have decent conversations with fans in a normal human way. No one, fan or pro, seemed to experience the terrible crush of "where am I supposed to be in five minutes ago got to get out of here I need to touch base with you you and you and has the panel started yet?" that can make one of these things a relativistic blur.

The Kirby Museum ended up just one table away from no less than Sergio Aragones, who walked in, set up his own table, and then sat down to draw pretty much nonstop for the rest of the weekend as a steady stream of fans, friends, and colleagues stopped by to pay their regards. If you wanted to see everyone at the convention including all the comics pros in attendance without making any effort, there was no better place to sit than in direct sight of his table.

It was a good thing we didn't have the table next to Sergio, or the flow of traffic would have prevented anyone from reaching the Kirby display. Instead, the table between us and Sergio was occupied by a guy named Mark Evanier. Which couldn't have been more appropriate placement, really, as Mark was in town not only to sign copies of Groo with Sergio -- as well as discussing their future collaborations -- but also in connection with his own upcoming book on Kirby.

During the three days of the convention, Rand Hoppe was acting in his capacity as museum curator in borrowing original Kirby art from dealers and collectors in attendance to make high-quality scans for the museum archives. Speaking as a hardcore Kirby fan, looking at this original art from New Gods and The Demon and Kamandi with Mark -- who had last seen some of those same pages more than thirty years ago as they came off Kirby's drawing board -- and hearing his anecdotes about those pages, how they were drawn, the minor spelling corrections and touch-ups he made...well, that was pretty damn great.

But for all that I enjoyed our chats, I think Mark would forgive me saying that the nicest person I met during the weekend was an artist named Carolyn Kelly, who happens to be the daughter of Pogo creator Walt Kelly, as well as a terrific person in general. Occasionally you're fortunate enough to meet someone who has the quality of being totally present in a conversation, someone whose manner says implicitly "I am giving this conversation with you my full attention because I see you as a fellow human being whose opinions matter" and makes the other party feel very special and rewarded. Talking with Ms. Kelly for five minutes made me feel as if we were old pals, and I'm sure a lot of people felt the same way.

As is always the case at conventions, I spent way too much time talking with Richard Howell -- no stranger to being mentioned on this blog but apparently a stranger to reading it, to judge from his reaction of "You have a blog? I didn't know you had a blog," when I asked his thoughts on my comments about his webcomic Deadbeats a while back. (Richard, if you ever see this, those comments can be found here...but it isn't anything I haven't said to you already.)

Other notable visitors to our table included Jim Salicrup (who was my editor at one time), Peter Sanderson, and official Friend of the Kirby Museum Danny Fingeroth, author of Superman On The Couch and Disguised As Clark Kent though the world may know him better as a former writer of Dazzler. Perhaps outshining all of these notables was the arrival of Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, a comic industry historian and archivist widely considered the world's foremost authority on Atlas -- the company run by Stan Lee in the Fifties previously called Timely, but subsequently to be known better as Marvel Comics -- and a friend of mine on the Kirby Mailing List since its inception more than a decade ago. Doc V has his practice in Manhattan (I've even known people who were his patients!) but we'd never met in person until this weekend. Through the good doctor, I was also introduced to fellow list members Nick Caputo and Barry Pearl. When painter, comics artist, and Kirby scholar James Romberger (who curated the HOWL Festival) joined us, this was the largest gathering of Kirby-L participants in quite some time.

So that's me dropping names promiscuously. What else, you ask? The Kirby Museum display had pretty much exactly the same promotional materials and merchandise on hand -- basically, whatever was left over from September -- and as you may remember me saying at the start, the two experiences had a lot in common. Our visitors here included many more comics pros; that was different.

At the convention we had a few more of the intense sort of fan with strongly held opinions, rehearsed over and over again in their own heads, and maybe not so much experience talking about their views with others in a social you end up as the captive audience for an extended diatribe on how, for example, if he had lived Kirby would have sued to keep those Fantastic Four movies from ever being made. (To which we replied that Kirby was certainly more interested in seeing movies made from new ideas; both Silver Star and Captain Victory started life as film treatments. A way of "agreeing" without actually, you know, agreeing.) Or fervent denunciations of Stan Lee. (Which we answered by pointing out how Stan elevated the credits for artists and writers at Marvel beyond anything other comics publishers had ever done, and built them all up as celebrities in his letters pages and Bullpen Bulletins.) People like these simply want to be heard and acknowledged without interruption, every bit as much as the guy in the park with detailed explanation of precisely how the Bilderberg Group caused 9/11.

(Great, now I'm going to get more Google hits for that than anything else I just said.)

Other than that...exactly the same types of people in the same percentages stopped by our table in both locations. The serious knowledgeable comics fans. The bemused parents whose children were attracted by familiar Kirby characters like the FF and the X-Men and the Hulk. The bemused children dragged along by parents who wanted to show their kids what comics they read when they were young. The folks who knew nothing about comics themselves but had a relative in the business. The ones who'd never heard of Kirby. The ones who only cared about Kirby and didn't like any other comics. In Tompkins Square Park or the Big Apple Con, they come to our table, take our postcards and flyers, and learn a little bit. And they are all so much fun to meet.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Our top story tonight

For everyone missing The Daily Show because of the WGA's not back, and here it isn't:

Also, someone needs to tell all studio executives and media moguls the same thing someone should tell all politicians: anything that you say or have ever said in front of a camera can be found and be made available for everyone to see. It's not possible to escape your own words either quit lying, or at the very least try to be consistent and tell the same lie all the time. The following example repeats and underscores the central point made in the above video:

On a side note, to anyone interested in the future of comics online...this issue is going to affect our industry too, especially with those publishers operating under the same non-creator-owned "pay once, profit from forever" model.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The allegory of the cave

"The nerd has based his career, maybe his life, on the computer, and as we’ll see, this intimate relationship has altered his view of the world. He sees the world as a system which, given enough time and effort, is completely knowable. This is a fragile illusion that your nerd has adopted, but it’s a pleasant one that gets your nerd through the day."

The Nerd Handbook is a brief essay on how to be with a nerd. It's one of the most astute and insightful character analyses I've read...all the more impressive because the author Rands (a.k.a. Michael Lopp) is the very guy he's talking about, but has managed to step outside himself to describe what he looks like from outside while also explaining how that person works from the inside.

This is an essay thousands of self-identified nerds will send to their significant others, because it describes things they might never have had the words to explain before; people in relationships with nerds will send it to their very own nerds, by way of saying "I understand you a little better now." It definitely scored a bullseye with that audience. The essay got 74 comments within the first day it was posted, virtually all the replies being variations on "I'm scared by how well you know me" and "Have you been spying on me?" The remainder of comments so far have been arguments over the respective definitions of "nerd" and "geek" and whether or not these words should be used interchangeably. (And yes, the difference matters a lot to nerds and/or geeks.)

Some of the terminology used by the author is specific to the computer-obsessed variety, but his description applies equally well to the comics and science fiction crowd; he's also careful to note at the start that, despite his choice of male pronouns for the sake of simplicity, it applies equally well to female nerds.

As for me, there are a couple of items I didn't relate to...but yeah, this is at least 80% me, probably a bit higher. I shivered with recognition a few times. If you're reading my blog -- and you almost certainly are -- you'll either recognize yourself or a few people you know.

(Via John Gruber at the always useful Daring Fireball.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

A writing lesson from Gail Simone

i·ro·ny (ī'rə-nē, ī'ər-)
n. pl. i·ro·nies
  1. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.
  2. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.
  3. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect. 

More here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The random talk of people

1. A public service announcement:

Believe me, I take a back seat to no one when it comes to deploring the current trend of Cartoon Network broadcasting things that aren't cartoons. It's hardly an isolated phenomenon: I still don't know why the Sci-Fi Channel shows wrestling and soap operas -- ones that aren't Dark Shadows anyway -- and as long as I'm being curmudgeonly, I also don't know why MTV airs the Music Video Awards when they never air music videos. But it bothers me most of all when Cartoon Network does their damnedest to run away from the medium which once provided their core identity, when so much great animation goes entirely unrepresented on the airwaves. Don't even get me started on the relentless self-promotion of Adult Swim, so in love with its own hipness and daring. The problem with Adult Swim is that they know they're much smarter than they actually are, if I may borrow an apt phrase.

All that understood, I'll be watching Cartoon Network this Friday night for Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and I recommend you do the same. Where I am, the episodes will air at 11:00 PM and again the following 2:30 AM, but check your local listings to be sure you don't miss it.

Nothing I could say would adequately convey the full impact of Marenghi's accomplishment, so just see it for yourself...

2. A true story:

Last night I saw the following written on the chalkboard in front of a well-known bar on First Avenue: "Your liver is evil and must be destroyed." And I thought: wow, they've hired Warren Ellis to write their signs.

3. And now...the fish-slapping dance:

Produced with Stripgenerator, and with thanks and apologies to Jim Roeg.