Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mr. Thunderbird

I couldn't quite bring myself to become immersed in childhood memories* by watching old tv episodes this evening, so I spent an hour watching this excellent documentary from 2000 I'd never seen before and it cheered me up immensely. They've left quite a few things out for time reasons, and some of the omissions leave a false impression about the sequence of events if you're a hardcore fan and already know the chronology…but this really conveys the spirit of the shows and how popular they were. It may help explain how some people think of Gerry Anderson the way people of other generations might think of Walt Disney or George Lucas.

All four parts embedded below for your viewing convenience. Enjoy!

* If you know anything at all about me, you know this statement is the equivalent of a fish saying "I didn't especially feel like getting wet tonight."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gerry Anderson

Stingray and Thunderbirds were my first favorite things, and Gerry Anderson was my first favorite creator. Those shows did so much to shape my earliest feelings of adventure and imagination and heroism. I know he was in a bad way for a while and I’m glad he’s at peace now. But a world that never had Gerry Anderson in it isn’t a world I would recognize.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Submarines of your dreams

I have to admit, I had my qualms about the world ending…but now that it’s done, a huge weight has been lifted off all our shoulders. Whew! All the pressure is off! Here’s the song that best expresses my sense of relief.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One for the retrofuturists

In 1957 a Russian director named Pavel Klushantsev made a science fiction film called Doroga k Zvezdam, or Road to the Stars. It's amazing. As far as I can tell from my position of not speaking Russian, the film was a kind of fictionalized documentary about the future of human space exploration, much like the 1955 film Man and the Moon directed by Ward Kimball for Walt Disney. Yet Klushantsev went far beyond any other filmmaker of the time in the cinematic ambition and scientific accuracy of his predictions.

All the clips from this film on YouTube are worth watching, but this particular segment includes some of the most striking "no way was this made a decade before 2001: A Space Odyssey" moments. Bear in mind this film was made even before the launch of Sputnik!

I definitely see a lot of stuff in these clips using the same visual motifs and techniques and special effects methods used in 2001, and a few things the later film didn't even try to do. The blatant visual similarities have made some people suspect Stanley Kubrick must have seen Road to the Stars while doing research for his film, but it could also be a case of convergent evolution.

More details and links about Road to the Stars here. And a tip of the hat to John Sisson at Dreams of Space for posting about a Czech children's book on space travel which seems to have been inspired by Klushantsev's visionary film.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Out of the silent planet

My guest post for the  "How Would You Fix…?" blog (devoted to fan-created tweaks and revisions to mangled or ill-considered comics continuity) proposes a startling connection between the android Vision of the Avengers and the seemingly unrelated Golden Age character the Vision created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for Marvel Mystery Comics in 1940.

This piece is definitely me working through some long-standing childhood passions. As noted in the introduction, my first issue of The Avengers was #55, the comic that introduced an evil robot named Ultron back in 1968. A vague memory suggests that because my parents were devoted viewers of The Avengers at the time I may have chosen this comic based on the title alone, under the impression it was a comic about John Steed and Emma Peel. It wasn't, but I liked it even better. When Ultron returned just two issues later to send his android slave the Vision against the team, I already considered myself a hardcore fan of the comic. The Vision never became a star outside of comic books, but with his brooding, introspective angst he went on to be one of the most archetypal of Marvel characters. (Come to think of it, maybe that's why the Vision never achieved crossover appeal: the character is simply too much of the comics medium, and perhaps can't work quite as well in any other format.)

I'm extremely pleased with how this piece turned out, but fair warning: it gets deep into the weeds of obscure Marvel Comics lore. The Vision has had a convoluted history and even though I ignore the most recent stuff, I don't untangle those knots in his history but pull them even tighter. My synopsis also pays deliberate homage to a couple of science fiction classics, which I felt was only appropriate given the predilection of both Roy Thomas and Jack Kirby to borrow liberally from that wellspring. Anyway, if you enjoy the continuity manipulations of Steve Englehart or Kurt Busiek, this might just be your cup of tea:

The Origin of the Vision, This Time For Sure

Many thanks to Nathan Adler for his encouragement and his patience!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The strange world of my dreams

On the Friday night of NYCC 2012, I had a dream that Steve Ditko showed up at the convention. If you know anything at all about Ditko, you will know this is highly unlikely. But in the dream, he arrived at the convention and made his way to the Kirby Museum table in the small press area of the show floor.

I was alone at the table when Ditko arrived, none of the other museum crew were there, so I did my best to explain to him the goals of the Jack Kirby Museum. And Ditko was not happy about it at all. He was very much annoyed.

Not because we were proposing a museum devoted to Jack Kirby. That wasn't it at all. Ditko laid out his objections in great detail. First of all, we were simply asking people to donate money with nothing of equivalent value offered in return, so the transaction was inequitable. Moreover, we were collecting this money based on work which we had no hand in producing or causing to be produced, taking advantage of someone else's labor rather than creating value by creating and presenting something material of our own. Worst of all, we were proposing to take this work which we had not created and turn it to a purpose for which it had never been intended. The pages of a comic book were drawn solely to be reproduced and published for a mass audience, dream Ditko said. Once they had served that purpose these pages were without intrinsic value. To elevate these pages to the status of art objects divorced from the context in which they were created was an absurdity. The creator of the comic book page did not intend for that page to be viewed as a separate object in its own right, so there could be no possibility of artistic intent carried out in its display --

I tried to cut in at that point, pointing out that not all work by Mr. Kirby (and believe you me, I was careful to call him Mr. Kirby in the presence of Mr. Ditko, never "Kirby" or "Jack") had been created for commercial purposes. For example the "Psychedelic Flyers" prints we were offering as a thank you gift for museum donations, my favorite items on the table. They weren't designs for characters; these pieces were intended to be viewed for their own sake as art.

Besides, I suggested, even if a page of comic book art isn't intended to be displayed as a work of art in its own right, at the very least it has historical value as an artifact, representing a critical stage in the process by which a comic book is created? I can still remember the first time I saw original art from a comic book, in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum that included pages from books by Jack Kirby and Neal Adams. To see those pages from comics I'd loved made comic book creating and publishing seem that much more real to me. Surely galleries devoted to comic book pages could be another vehicle for making it all more real to people who might not think in terms of comic books having creators at all?

I was hoping that if I talked quickly and matched him for earnestness, Ditko would be more willing to accept what I was saying. Then I pushed it too far. I started to tell Ditko that the people I knew who most admired Jack Kirby were also tremendous admirers of his own work, and wanted to see him get the credit he deserved -- and that did it. Ditko decided I was trying to butter him up, and he had no patience at all with appeals to his vanity. I'd blown it. He went away mad. And then I woke up.

Yeah, my dreams are like that sometimes. Especially when I'm wired after having to be "on" for two days soliciting donations for the Kirby Museum at a comics convention, with two more days to go after that. But dammit, even after I'd worked out exactly what to say to him, Ditko never showed up.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This just in

I know I haven't posted anything here in ages…but if you're still reading this blog for some reason and if you're also attending the New York Comic Con on October 11 through 14 at the Jacob Javits Center just two weeks from now, I'll be there with all the folks behind the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center at booth 2378. You'll find us right between comics artist and historian (and friend of the museum) Arlen Schumer at booth 2376 and ComixTribe at booth 2380.

Here's an interactive map of the show floor where you can zoom in and find the Kirby Museum just to the right of the area marked as "Construction Zone" -- though personally I like to think of it as the "Wild Area" -- and all the other myriad attractions the exhibitor floor has to offer.

I expect to be at the Kirby Museum table for virtually all of the convention except for meals and bathroom breaks. If I even get those. That's pretty much how it worked out last year, and this year it's bound to be even more crowded. If you're there, it'd be awesome if you stop by and say hello!