Monday, December 31, 2007

Sick daze

Apologies for my extended absence, but I'm still getting over a bout of viral pneumonia that put me out of commission for most of the past three weeks. From what I'm seeing on other people's blogs it looks like this or something milder but similar has been making the rounds all over, and it's been no fun at all. I still feel like crap, I still have to take six different medicines to combat all the symptoms, and I'm still hacking up large quantities of phlegm at highly inopportune moments, but I'm in better shape than I was a few days ago.

As soon as I'm back to fighting strength...I'm still going to be on a reduced blogging schedule for a while. I fell way behind schedule on all my assignments while I was nonfunctional, and I'll need to make up for all that lost time as quickly as I can. It's a full plate waiting for me, once my appetite comes back.

In the meantime, here are some links of interest I've come across today:

I sincerely believe Marc-Oliver Frisch has discovered precisely where mainstream comics went wrong this year in this collection of particularly telling quotes. Can you spot the common theme?

Jim Shelley offers a year-ending recap of The Top Ten Digital Comic News Stories of 2007. People could spare themselves much frustration in life if they'd just broaden their horizons and try to learn about something beyond their own narrow field of endeavor. The comics industry seems determined to repeat every single mistake made by the recording industry with regard to digital distribution because they never bothered to find out how poorly those strategies worked out for the record labels, who are in the process of retreating from subscription models and onerous DRM even as we speak.

The Fortress Keeper writes the rebuttal I would like to have written if I had the strength and if I'd seen the offending lazy remark in the first place.

Have an excellent New Year, folks, and I'll be back when I'm up to it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Toying with Kirby

With Christmas shopping in full swing, and inspired by a discussion with Jon K over at Jon’s Random Acts of Geekery, here are some pictures from the Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. line of toys featuring box art by none other than Jack Kirby!

And another shot showing the fourth figure in the series visible inside the box:

Ah yes, those were the days...back when Mattel made high-quality merchandise and didn’t expose children to high quantities of lead from Chinese factories. Or if they did, we were none the worse for it. I played with Mattel toys like Big Jim all through my childhood and it did me no harm whatsoever, other than an uncontrollable urge to eat paint chips.

Obviously these boxes have no art credits, and other artists did the packaging for later additions to the line, so precise attribution is a matter of opinion. However, looking at these I feel pretty confident in asserting these four boxes are the ones Kirby drew. Compare them to his published comics work of the same period (say, his last few issues of Kamandi) and you’ll see the same techniques and even the same drawing errors!

Kirby did a few other art jobs for Mattel prior to this, and about a decade later produced some designs for the Kenner Super Powers toy line. In all likelihood Kirby could have made better money doing this kind of work full-time than he did in comics, but Kirby saw himself as a storyteller -- essentially, a writer who just happened to draw the stories he wrote -- rather than a commercial artist.

Looking at comics from 1975 or 1976 you may come across this ad for the toy line, sometimes mistakenly attributed to Kirby but actually the work of illustrator William Stout, who rendered it in a Kirby-derived style after asking the King’s permission.

Images found at

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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Right Honourable Lady

The following is possibly only of interest to hardcore Doctor Who fans and other Anglophilic sorts.

Last night I watched the first two episodes of The Amazing Mrs Pritchard on Masterpiece Theater. Despite my nearly boundless love for political dramas/thrillers/soaps/comedies (particularly those of the British Parliamentary variety) and despite my total admiration and worship for the divine talent and beauty that is Jane Horrocks (Little Voice! Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous!) I won't be watching the rest of the series.

Although the premise was potentially interesting -- ordinary supermarket manager fed up with clueless politicians declares herself a candidate for local MP, only to find herself succeeding beyond her wildest dreams and becoming Prime Minister by accident -- and Ms. Horrocks (here looking almost exactly like J.K. Rowling) was excellent as always, the script really let this down. The writer gave Mrs. Pritchard at least three different, mutually contradictory characterizations in the course of the first hour. Was she "just plain folks" whose common sense cuts through the obfuscation of old party hacks or was she a brilliant orator with a superhuman ability to memorize and recite the careers of potential rivals despite never having been interested in politics? The script couldn't make up its mind. Also, the storytelling consisted largely of expository dialogue telling us important things about the characters rather than showing them. And there was more than a little sexism in the way the initial conceit was presented. Yes, the series was written by a woman...but if you think a woman can't be sexist and perpetuate the same old lazy stereotypes of how men and women supposedly behave, then we live on different planets. (And I don't mean Venus and Mars.)

The doings of Parliament have inspired a lot of great television over the years. House of Cards and its sequels are one example on the dramatic side. The comedic tag-team of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister probably did more to explain the inner workings of governments and why things are the way they are than anything else on television. The prinicples discussed in YM and YPM are universal and apply to all democratic nations; the American viewer can get just as much of an education from them as the British audience. (One of the creators of YM went on to direct the surprisingly excellent Eddie Murphy film The Distinguished Gentleman depicting the same factors in play in American politics, albeit with a greater emphasis on the corrosive effects of money and lobbyists.) Even the main idea behind The Amazing Mrs Pritchard -- decent woman of integrity gets an education in how politics and government work while juggling ordinary home life with her husband and kids -- was already done better (and with considerably less condescension) in a little-known British sitcom called No Job For A Lady starring Penelope Keith.

Like I said at the start and have just demonstrated, I watch a lot of British television with political themes. But the above list conspicuously omits one of my very favorite television depictions of a British political leader: a character who was always realistically and convincingly depicted in every appearance, brilliantly written and acted, no matter how wild and outlandish the situations were.

Yes, my disappointment with Mrs. Pritchard last night made me think of another female Prime Minister of recent memory...and that's when I realized Russell Davies made a huge mistake in building his Doctor Who spinoff around Captain Jack Harkness and the oversexed boys and girls of the Torchwood Institute. Instead, he should have done a series about Harriet Jones.

From the moment we meet her in Aliens of London, she's a coherent, consistent, and believable character -- timid and unsure, but with a core of feisty determination beneath that, ultimately leading her to help save the world from an alien conspiracy. When the Doctor reveals that this newly elected junior back bencher from Flydale North is destined to become Prime Minister, it makes sense. We can believe it because the strength of the writing and acting has shown us her exceptional qualities; we didn't need to be constantly told because we'd seen it for ourselves.

Now, instead of a tired and obvious X-Files wannabe series, imagine how cool and unique it would be to have a series about political intrigues and governmental infighting against the backdrop of a world facing the prospect of invasion by aliens. Think of it as West Wing with science fiction. In addition to worrying about who's going to become deputy undersecretary of commerce, Jones also has to worry about fending off the Cybermen or the Sycorax without causing public panic. Questions are being asked in Parliament about budget can the PM answer the Opposition without exposing the secret anti-Dalek gun those hidden funds really went to? You could have your Torchwood or UNIT or what have you in the story as well, but PM Harriet Jones would be the focus of the series. Torchwood was a combination of a lot of second-tier SF series we've seen before, but this would have been something really fresh.

Well, I'd watch it, anyway.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

One billion

One billion seconds ago President Gerald Ford declared that the American Bicentennial would be marked by the ringing of bells.

A billion minutes ago the emperor Hadrian was born in Rome, the Maya first entered the valley that would someday be Mexico City and the temple in Jerusalem fell for the last time.

A billion hours ago Cro-Magnon from the east and Neanderthal from the south began a ten-thousand-year struggle for dominance of southern Europe as the glacier receded.

And a billion dollars spent in Iraq ago was the day before yesterday.

From a speech given to the Burbank Democratic Club yesterday by Elliot S! Maggin, one of my favorite Superman writers and now candidate for California's 24th Congressional District.

(Oddly enough, this is the same district former Babylon 5 cast member Jerry Doyle also sought to represent in Congress back in 2000. Seven years ago, Doyle ran as a Republican against a Democratic incumbent...but thanks to redistricting Maggin is now challenging a Republican incumbent who's been in Congress for twenty years, while Doyle's opponent is still in Congress as well. Ah, politics!)

Youngsters who wonder why the name "Elliot S! Maggin" sounds vaguely familiar should investigate some of his comics and comics-related work here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yes, but I may mean no

First brought to my attention by good friend of this blog Mark Cardwell, the animated webcomic City of Thamesis makes me wonder if this is what online comics -- perhaps even all comics -- will become in the future.

Mark described the series as having "a nice dark Luther Arkwright/Jerry Cornelius vibe" and that's a good starting reference point. City of Thamesis is set in an alternate-reality Britain, the history of which isn't explained in much detail up front...but it involves Steampunk-era advances in psychic technology leading to the use of mind control in the Great War, a radically different royal family in the United Kingdom, and a vaguely dystopian social structure in (presumably) the present day, in which a monolithic "Britomart" corporation provides officially sanctioned epidermal patches giving their users various enhanced physical and psychic abilities. The cast includes black marketeers dealing in unregulated pirate patches, telekinetic bodyguards, foppish goth turncoats, "postmasters" who deliver courier messages with superspeed, and the endangered teenaged heir to the throne.

The story could go in a predictable direction or it might hold some surprises -- I have a sense of where I think it's going, though I may be wrong -- but either way, the real draw here is the world building. You get the feeling at least as much thought and creative effort have gone into designing the history and background details as went into the plot or characters. In addition to the actual story installments, the site includes subsections such as "Environment" and "Techgnosis" more akin to the extras in a video game or DVD than to an online comic, allowing the audience to scroll through panoramic views of different parts of the alternate-reality London and see mock vintage advertising and newspaper clippings that divulge at least some of the background.

But it's the format and presentation of the actual story that gives me pause as to how this project should be described. My immediate reaction on first viewing it about a month ago -- and I feel this way even more strongly now that a few episodes have gone up -- was to be unsure I'd call this form of presentation a comic at all. I mean, yes, in the sense that it has images and written text placed together and neither one tells the story without the other, it's very much an example of comics storytelling. But, at least for me personally, a comic involves the reader controlling the pace of the reading/viewing experience -- whether by clicking to move forward, or turning a page, or just deciding when to look at the next panel. City of Thamesis has animation that directs the eye, music and sound effects synchronized to the visuals, and someone else deciding the speed at which the viewer moves through the story. My gut feeling is that this might be better described as an online animated series than as a comic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining: I enjoyed City of Thamesis a great deal. It may be that my definition of a "comic" is too rigid, or that I've spent too much time reading Scott McCloud. And because it does have that written text component rather than voice actors playing the characters, this story has a lot of comics DNA in it. I think it's a very strong hybrid.

From what I hear, the creative team behind the project plans to introduce some voices in future installments, taking this further away from being a hybrid comic and making it even more like standard animation. If so, that's too bad...because these early episodes do suggest a direction many more online comics could take in the future, especially given a new generation of artists for whom Flash and Shockwave are as familiar as print. Most of all, City of Thamesis embraces the fact that it's being viewed on a computer screen rather than on a printed page, something most "webcomics" and "online comics" don't do.

Take for example Sugarshock by Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon at the Dark Horse Presents page on MySpace. As Stephen Frug points out, the presentation really kind of sucks. It was designed for a standard printed comics page and is a huge pain to navigate through. Which is why Stephen has done lovers of entertaining comics everywhere a huge favor in finding these links to read "issue" 1 and "issue" 2 directly, without the annoying mediation of the awkward MySpace layout. The writing and art is a lot of fun...but I have a feeling these guys could come up with something more suited to being read onscreen were they given the opportunity.

Having mentioned these online comics, I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention a couple of favorites I follow regularly:

Deadbeats started out as an impressively long-running but ultimately failed comic book by my close personal friend Richard Howell. I was a fan of his back in the day when he was doing Portia Prinz of the Glamazons (even before it was published by Eclipse) but I was made into a character in Deadbeats so don't expect me to be remotely objective about the latter. When the Claypool Comics line folded, Richard turned Deadbeats into an ongoing webcomic formatted much like an ongoing newspaper comic strip, picking up the continuity where the series left off. This is almost the opposite end of the spectrum from City of Thamesis in terms of innovation, but an equally valid approach. It may seem retro by comparison, but Richard knows the comic strip form as well as he knows the comic book page...and it turns out to work really well for onscreen presentation of a serialized story. Reading this strip since its start online persuades me that: a) the quasi-newspaper strip format may have been the ideal presentation for a vampire soap opera all along, and b) this may well be the ideal format for Richard as a creator. It plays to all his narrative strengths, and the very aspects of Deadbeats that sometimes made it a hard sell to a wider audience as a traditional comic book -- it's, um, heavy on exposition and dialogue, to say the least -- turn out to be strengths rather than liabilities in this form.

(He might want to relax a little on the recaps of past events, actually, because one of the virtues of the whole free online webcomic deal is that -- unlike the newspaper strip of yore -- the audience can actually go back at any time and catch up on the events they've missed, so little if anything needs to be repeated for latecomers. And another appearance by Reed Bensam somewhere down the line would be much appreciated. I'm just saying, is all.)

And finally, Brat-Halla by my remote personal acquaintance Jeffery Stevenson and my complete and utter stranger Seth Damoose ranges from always entertaining to occasionally utterly brilliant. My only quibble is that it's been presented in portrait rather than landscape orientation. Does anyone even make portrait-type monitors anymore, let alone use them? But as I say, that's just a quibble. If I could marry a webcomic and have babies with it, it would be this one, in hopes that our kids would grow up to be webcomics as consistently good as this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Excuse me while I whip this out

This may be old news already, but I want to make sure no one misses Bill O'Reilly on his dinner with Al Sharpton at Sylvia's:

"I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy, and he comes on The Factor a lot, and I treated him to dinner because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time. And all the people up there are tremendously respectful, they all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was, like, big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice. And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean it was -- it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship; it was the same."

He goes on to say:

"There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."

What gets me is how O'Reilly clearly means this to be a compliment and genuinely believes it to be one. He's praising the staff and patrons of a legendary restaurant for being well-behaved. What could be wrong with that? You couldn't get him to recognize the depths of racism his comments reveal any more than you could explain the concept of "wet" to a fish. If Al Sharpton said to Bill O'Reilly "When I visited your studio, I was very impressed that even though you're Irish, you didn't spend the whole interview getting drunk, throwing up on the carpet, and waving a broken bottle around before passing out in a puddle of your own vomit," I don't think O'Reilly would understand what he was talking about, much less draw any parallel with his own words.

If there were any justice in this world, this incident would lead to a Imus-like public scandal and the end of Bill's broadcasting career...but that won't happen. I suppose we should just be glad O'Reilly didn't mention feeling disappointed that he wasn't greeted with a rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" or "Camptown Races"...because what could possibly be racist about praising those people for their natural rhythm and their urge to sing spirituals? It's a compliment, after all!


Look here for more info.

Found here, where it's garnered some amusing comments...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kirby in the park

I spent this past weekend helping my friends Rand and Lisa Hoppe (previously mentioned here) represent the Jack Kirby Museum at the HOWL Festival in Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side.

As the name suggests, the HOWL Festival showcases artists, musicians, and performers of the East Village and Lower East Side...and it took place just a few blocks north of where Jack Kirby was born and spent his childhood. The Kirby Museum was involved at the request of festival curator, painter, graphic novelist, and noted Jack Kirby scholar James Romberger and his wife, filmmaker and former punk rocker Marguerite Van Cook. James insisted that Kirby be represented at the festival, Rand and Lisa were up for promoting the Museum...and I was more than happy to spend a couple of days goofing off and hanging out, so I invited myself along.

The Kirby Museum table was pretty much what you'd expect to see at a comics convention. We had recent issues of The Jack Kirby Collector for sale, as well as the trade paperback collections of same, the Kirby Unleashed portfolio book, the Silver Star Graphite Edition, and the Streetwise anthology including "Street Code," Kirby's autobiographical story about his impoverished childhood on Suffolk Street. With that selection of items, the Kirby Museum table was threatening to look like a TwoMorrows Publishing table instead, but we also had postcards promoting the museum and photocopies of an article about Kirby from the Sunday, August 26 New York Times written by Brent Staples to hand out. Rand put up some samples of Kirby art, including posters offered as a bonus with museum memberships. We also had a preview flyer for Mark Evanier's upcoming Kirby: King of Comics to show around, because it's always good to help a struggling new author get his start.

Perhaps the strangest item we offered visitors -- at least in the sense of being most incongruous with the above -- was an issue of the hardcore conspiracy journal Steamshovel Press published by hardcore conspiracy theorist (and hardcore Kirby fan) Kenn Thomas featuring an article by aforementoned festival curators James and Marguerite describing how Jack Kirby helped the CIA free six Americans during the Iranian Revolution.

So you have the basic picture: as a favor to an arts festival organizer, the three of us are sitting in a New York City public park on a summer weekend, behind a table that obviously belongs at a comics con and just as obviously does not belong in Tompkins Square Park. Surely, you say to yourself, this is a recipe for misery and disappointment; those poor saps are about to suffer abject humiliation and embarassment. This would be a reasonable assumption. And it would be totally wrong.

What I discovered this weekend was that if you put up a big display about Jack Kirby in a New York City public park, you get tons of people stopping by. And I mean people who were Kirby fans. Painters and actors and musicians participating in the festival were coming over and telling us how Kirby inspired them...but at least half of our visitors were folks from the neighborhood who hadn't even known an arts festival was taking place that day. Random passersby would say "Oh man, the guy who created the Silver Surfer!" or "The Inhumans were the best! They oughtta make a movie with them!" or "He came from around here? No way!" We met uniformed cops who were comic fans, and Kirby fans in particular. Over the course of the weekend we had four or five people who met Jack in person or had spoken to him. I'm not making this up; I have witnesses.

It was nothing like I expected. Had this been a comic con, the level of traffic coming by our table would be pretty decent, but this was in the middle of a city park on a summer afternoon. Rand sold a respectable stack of books; this is all the more impressive when you consider that people weren't coming to the park with cash expecting to buy expensive artsy books full of interviews and articles about some comic book creator, as they would be at a convention.

Here's a funny thing: kids still dig the superheroes. They know the characters from cartoons, they know the movies, they have the toys, the games, the action figures. I saw kids who were genuinely excited to hear that the guy who first drew the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and Thor and the Hulk and Captain America came from their neighborhood. If only we'd had something more kid-friendly and accessible to offer them than back issues of JKC our table would have been an even bigger hit with the younger crowd. I've said it before and I'll say it again a thousand times: hiding comics away in those secluded and forbidding comic shops for grownups and not making any available in newsstands or drug stores or supermarkets is killing comics with the younger audience. I saw with my own eyes that a lot of kids still want the characters and the colorful costumes and all the good stuff; it just isn't where they can get to it anymore.

Another comment I heard a lot was regular folks -- not geeky weirdo fans -- asking where the "Kirby Museum" was located and if they could go there. On finding out it only exists online so far, they were disappointed. The idea of visiting a museum for a comic book artist sounded really appealing to them. Imagine!

This weekend, I saw a big crack in the wall dividing "comic book culture" from the general public. There was a time when comics could handle being a mass medium, not just a precious little inside club for our elite fandom. A fair segment of the public wants to be allowed back in. Are the big companies ready to let them? Who among us is willing to tear down that wall?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Found poetry

Woman visits her own heart at exhibition:
Transplant patient Jennifer Sutton paid a visit to an exhibition in London called The Heart today, mainly to check out a particular item on display - her own heart.

Jennifer, 23, from the New Forest, UK, had a heart transplant at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, on 4 June 2007. She lent her heart to the Wellcome Collection for the exhibition to increase public awareness of donation and Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, the disease that would have killed her.

As you might imagine, she found the experience very odd and moving. "Seeing my heart for the first time is an emotional and surreal experience. It caused me so much pain and turmoil when it was inside me."

Yeah, it'll do that.

(Found at Boing Boing)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Two and two is...

Lately it seems I've fallen in with a bad crowd of meme addicts. True story: when I saw that Ben had been tagged by Becca with "The Meme of Four" my first thought before he even posted his entry was "I bet Ben tags me for this next, because I've previously shown myself to be an easy mark, a patsy, a sucker for this sort of thing." And lo, it came to pass!

The way this one works is that I give four responses in each category, then add a new category of my own at the end before tagging four other suckers. And so...

Four jobs I've had or currently have in my life:

1. sales clerk in a bookstore
2. answering telephones in a print shop
3. sign painter (only once: I misspelled "stationery")
4. handing out flyers in the street

Four countries I've been to:

1. Canada
2. England
3. Holland
4. New Zealand

Four places I'd rather be right now:

1. Ordering lunch at the Fishmonger's Cafe.
2. Visiting the Akihabara for the first time.
3. Having a pint at the Melton Mowbray in Holborn, London.
4. In bed with your sister, if by some unlikely chance you happen to be Jake Gyllenhaal.

Four foods I like to eat:

1. tuna sashimi
2. shrimp tempura
3. Belgian-style fries
4. oil-cured black olives

Four personal heroes, past or present:

1. Jack Kirby
2. Kurt Vonnegut, for reasons previously stated.
3. Mary Shelley, a brilliant writer who at the age of 19 understood what science was all about before they even used that word.
4. My dad -- this might seem a safe or gratuitous choice, but the truth is every day I find myself consciously emulating him in one way or another.

Four books I've just read or am currently reading:

1. The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
2. The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
3. Changing Planes by Ursula K. LeGuin
4. Science Fiction At Large, edited by Peter Nicholls

Four words or phrases I'd like to see used more often:

1. gawrsh
2. flibbertigibbet
3. pellucid
4. spot on

Four performances in history I'd attend If I had a TARDIS to bring me there:

1. 9 December 1978, Studio 8H in the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center, New York: Kate Bush performs as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, hosted by Eric Idle.
2. 30 January 1969, roof of 3 Savile Row, London: the Beatles perform "Get Back" three times (!) as well as several other songs from the album Let It Be for a bemused audience of office workers before the police show up.
3. 24 November 1964, Marquee Club, 90 Wardour Street, London: the Who play a gig for an audience of less than 30 people. We have reason to believe it was spectacular; word of mouth from those who attended was so positive that one week later, the band's next show at the Marquee had an attendance of nearly 300.
4. I'm stumped for a fourth choice. With the whole of human history and every variety of performing arts to choose from, I've picked three examples of pop music from within my own lifetime. I should probably mix it up a little and go for something like, I dunno, a 1599 performance of Henry V at the Globe Theatre? But that seems so forced. I'm definitely not fond of crowds, so the big theatrical events of history aren't what I'd choose anyway. I'd rather find something small and intimate that no one knew was going to be historic.

And the category I'll add to this meme is...four things I like:

1. coffee
2. used book stores
3. Earth shoes
4. voice actors and actresses

And the four people I'll tag are:

1. Rob
2. Mark
3. Joel
4. Jeff

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gotham on the Champlain

I don't know how I missed hearing about this, but apparently it's old news that six-term Senator from Vermont, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, nemesis of Dick "go fuck yourself" Cheney -- and longtime Batman fan -- Patrick Leahy has a speaking role in The Dark Knight.

After the attention his bonehead colleague from Alaska got simply for wearing a Hulk tie, I'm surprised the Leahy news didn't get more play in the comics blogosphere. Or maybe it did and I just didn't see it?

They certainly seem to be loving it in the political blogosphere, especially since it provides endless opportunities for all the predictable Adam West/Burt Ward-inspired headlines like "Zap! Pow!" and "Holy Beltway, Batman!" Surely we can do better than that...

Monday, August 06, 2007

The road

That's my mom a few steps ahead of us on the road into town one evening.

In 1977, my family started spending summer vacations in this town. The year is fixed in my mind because I remember hearing on the radio that Elvis Presley had died while we were there. We took a house about a mile away from town, and we'd walk along this road -- past the route to the beach with the cast iron lighthouse, past the restaurant in the geodesic dome, past the dock where tourists boarded the ferry to the more desirable tourist destination -- to reach the post office, the grocery store, a few places to eat, and the drug store. Besides aspirin and suntan lotion, the drug store sold paperbacks and magazines and comics.

A couple of my happiest discoveries were Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love and Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven. The last year we were there, I found the Schrödinger's Cat trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson in that same drug store. I scoured the magazine rack for new issues of Starlog and its spinoff publication Future Life. But of course I lived for the comics spinner rack. I don't know why the memory of buying Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233 there should be particularly vivid -- the comic itself didn't seem especially good or memorable to me even at the time -- but it's inextricably linked to that time and place. I can remember a dozen other comics I bought in the same place just as clearly.

As we walked back I'd usually be a few steps behind the rest of my family, lost in thought while plotting comics. My imaginary comics tended to be multi-issue epics, closely patterned after what Chris Claremont was doing in The Uncanny X-Men and Iron Fist. One of my ideas involved a time-travelling mutant sent back to our era by a benevolent future leader to protect the leader during his present day boyhood. How could I have guessed that both The Terminator and The Invisibles would swipe from me? Besides my own characters, I mapped out an elaborate story featuring the Legion of Substitute Heroes, because it seemed like no one had done anything interesting with them. I devoted much thought to a thorough revamp of Karate Kid -- the comics character, not the film series -- a great character cursed with a lame solo series. I was always more inspired by bad comics and the desire to improve on them than by good ones. I never put any of it down on paper; just endlessly rehearsed and reworked it all in my head. To this day I still do most of my writing on long walks, and this road is where I developed the habit.

Our last family trip has to have been in 1981. (This date is the subject of much heated debate between my sister and myself -- she's convinced it was earlier -- but I'm right.) This year my mother and my sister devised a plan for us all to return there and rent a house the way we used to. The town was almost exactly the same as I remembered it, but of course there were some differences: my dad is gone (he died shortly before I started blogging, in fact) and we were joined by my sister's husband and their two sons. The drug store is gone, replaced by a coffee house which offers live jazz in the evenings and free wi-fi connectivity. The nearest comics shop is an hour's drive away, though the book store in the neighboring town had a shelf of graphic novels and several shelves of manga had I been so inclined.

My sister's older boy spent a great deal of time inside reading the last volume of Harry Potter, but as I've mentioned he and his younger brother aren't interested in comics so they didn't go around plotting imaginary series in their heads. While we were up there, my first story for Flashback Universe came out (as you may have heard) with more to come. I've scripted a yet-to-be-announced six-issue miniseries for an indie publisher, and I've got a new project coming up soon. I could walk down this road again and honestly tell my younger self I didn't forget...

...hey, are they having a party down at the Coast Guard station? With all those colored lights it sure looks like it..., it looks like that every night. Sure seems festive, though.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tom Swift and his geodesic dome

It's nearly impossible to get a good full shot of it due to the surrounding trees, but this is the first geodesic dome building ever constructed by Buckminster Fuller. Despite a bit of sagging and superficial damage, the structure, sixty feet in diameter, is in remarkably good shape 55 years later.

For a very long time it was a restaurant, a good one. Disappointingly, they put a roof inside to cover the interior of the dome...but while it would have been spectacular to see, I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to manage such practical matters as acoustics and air conditioning if they'd left the entirety of the dome interior exposed. The restaurant closed not too long ago; the interior view shows the place in its present abandoned state.

The Dome is currently being investigated by the state historical commission and may qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places...but the property on which it rests has been targeted by a developer seeking to build condominiums on the land. This is a major story for the local newspaper (only published twice a week and 80% of each issue seems to consist of obituary listings) and may end up playing a role in a statewide grassroots effort to repeal an outdated state law which grants developers the right to bypass local zoning laws more or less at will.

I'd like to see the Dome preserved and revived. Perhaps used as a restaurant again, or perhaps some other use that would make it accessible to the public rather than making it the private property of the owners of expensive condos. I don't believe in ghosts, but if I did, I'd think that place would be full of them. Not only ghosts from the past, but also from the imaginary techno-utopian luxe future where posh restaurants are built in geodesic domes and robot valets accept the keys to your Dymaxion car before you board the Pan-Am space clipper for a jaunt to the orbital Hilton.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


A specimen collecting ship docked near the oldest research aquarium in the United States.

Having four research institutions devoted to marine biology and environmental science located in one town guarantees one thing at least: the quality of the raw seafood is spectacular. The look of horror mingled with disgust on my sister's face while I savored cherrystones and littlenecks on the half shell only made them sweeter.

Thirty years earlier in the same town I watched with fear and envy as adults consumed piles of raw shellfish, wishing I was brave enough to try one but never daring to make the attempt. To come back three decades later and actually be one of those adults (while my sister's children looked on as I once did) was everything I could have hoped it would be.

Well, except for not being married to Kate Bush and not flying there on my jetpack. But I don't want to sound greedy.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A long walk

One of the docks at the seawall, with a fisherman barely visible at the far end. This particular town is not a tourist destination...though many hundreds of them pass through every day en route to the ferry going to the island in the distance, which is a major tourist spot.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Where I've been

Yeah, I came back after all! Many thanks to John and Red and Jeff for reminding me I hadn't been forgotten, and to GTS for plugging my Flashback Universe debut while I was away. These thoughtful gestures are much appreciated.

Above is the same beach from the previous photo, now seen from the other end, taken from the twisting road that runs past a cast-iron lighthouse from 1876 which is still in use. Most days were remarkably clear and sunny...but on the particular day I chose to get these shots of the beach an afternoon fog came in, making the distances recede into an atmospheric haze.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Where I'm at

Further updates after I return. If I return.

In the meantime, my friends Felix, Nick, Tommy and Jenny invite you to join them for afternoon tea over at their place. I'm not entirely sure of their address, but directions can be found here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Shuffle mode

I managed to screw up my back last weekend through overzealous exercise, leading to a couple of days when walking around was excruciatingly painful and merely sitting in front of this keyboard was very uncomfortable indeed. So my renewed burst of regular blogging got conked on the head just as it was getting started. I'm mostly better now, but on Friday I was still concerned enough about not putting extra strain on my back that I cancelled plans for dinner and an outing to Rocketship with Jeff Brady...

...only to have my sister show up unexpectedly with my nephews. They're great kids -- funny, jaded, cheerful, and well-adjusted in all the ways my sister and I certainly never were -- even if they do insist on being far older than they ought to be. I remember seeing each of them the day they were born and now the older one is getting ready to start high school. Surely children must be starting high school at an earlier age these days, that's the only reasonable explanation. I hardly get to see them...but I greeted the visit with mixed emotions, as I'd bailed on those dinner plans specifically to take it easy Friday evening to be sure I was in good shape to attend the MoCCA Art Festival on Saturday. And here I was entertaining two energetic boys and their harried mother instead, trying to think of refreshments and diversions that would make me seem like Cool Uncle instead of Lame Tired Pathetic Uncle. I had what seemed like a brilliant inspiration to take them to Forbidden Planet which is very close to me. Bit of an ulterior motive there, the store has toys and models and video games so surely something would be a hit with them...and I'd get to see what caught their attention and what their sort of kid thinks is cool. But when we got there, my nephews were about as excited as they would have been on a trip to a shoe store. No, I tell a lie: they would have been much more excited by a shoe store. Both kids used to read comics and were at one time very keen on the Spider-Man films as well as anything Harry Potter. My sister had warned me it would be a dud, but I had to see it for myself. These are two completely normal, well-adjusted kids...and completely normal, well-adjusted kids have no interest in anything to do with fantasy or SF or (least interesting of all) comics in any form. There may be some added parental influence there -- my sister has always disapproved of anything to do with SF or comics; her vehemence is very telling indeed, considering that both our parents were avid SF and comics fans -- but my nephews almost certainly don't have any geek friends at school either.

It was a good evening out overall, apart from that one entirely predictable disappointment...but that one bit gave me a vision of my comics writing ambitions leading to a future where at best I'd be writing for an ever shrinking group of sad holdouts, getting on into their fifties and sixties, waxing nostalgic as we wheeze at one another "Remember that one, 52 it was called? Came out every single week! Ah, comics were great in those days, not like today..." And no one else will know what we're talking about. I want someday to write a comic that my counterpart, someone who might be ten or twelve now, would think was cool. But would I even be reading comics at all if I were twelve today? I probably couldn't afford them... I was in a funny state of mind going into MoCCA the next day. Fortunately my mood was considerably lifted by spending time with that paragon of manly ruggedness Timothy Callahan, the shockingly talented and destined for imminent greatness Todd Casey, and the aforementioned pillar of virtue that is Jeff Brady before my back started to ache again and I decided it was time to call it a day. I no longer care if only elderly people will be reading my scribbling, so long as they are fine elderly folks like those people, and the other people I met and chatted with at MoCCA, and of course all the wonderful people reading this blog...

...and at MoCCA was some inkling of what my next big project will most likely be, and if this comes through as planned it will be a corker indeed...

...and with Harriet now deputy leader of the Labour Party, this spares her any need to be locked inside the Cabinet Room with a visiting doctor and his assistant before rising to national prominence. But if I were her, I'd be very careful around Christmastime: that's when people are prone to start asking "Don't you think she looks tired?"

I'm pretty sure I do. So now I'm going to bed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Eight for a fool

Knowing I'm a willing patsy, Ben Varkentine has tagged me with another meme:

  1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.

  2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

  3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

  4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. (You’re not the boss of me!)

  5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

And here are the guaranteed true facts:

1. I was born with severe strabismus. By the time I was four years old I had undergone four separate eye operations, two on each eye. As a result I have never had stereoscopic vision or depth perception.

2. When I was ten, a teacher admitted to my parents that she'd been giving me lower grades in English class than my work deserved because she thought this would motivate me to work harder. This was about a year after I started reading Kurt Vonnegut.

3. I'm the only member of my family who has never been fluent in any other language besides English.

4. My first kiss was in a theater at a late afternoon showing of Monty Python's Life of Brian. I had already seen the film a couple of days earlier, and took this girl I liked to see it after we got out of school that day. We're watching the movie, and suddenly she starts kissing me. My first thought was "I've waited for this my whole life! This is awesome!" My second thought was "But she's gonna miss the scene where the alien spaceship swoops down and grabs Brian!" My third thought was " she'll have to see it again."

5. I worked for a few years as a professional guitar tech -- and once built an entire electric guitar from leftover parts -- despite not actually being able to play guitar. But I could wire pickups, set the action, and correctly intonate a bridge like nobody's business.

6. Twelve years ago I appeared in a television commercial. It was one of those things where they have ordinary people who've tried the product give testimonials to its benefits: "I'm amazed at how well it worked" and "I would recommend this without hesitation" and like that. I got to see the commercial only once, at about 2 AM. My expression on camera looked like a stunned deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car.

7. I have received fan mail from Michael Chabon. I also once touched the sleeve of his corduroy sports coat: my tendonitis cleared up and has never returned since. I wish I'd asked him to heal my eyes as well.

8. I own two santoku knives, two serrated bread knives, a chef's knife, a cleaver, and three cutting boards. If you live in the New York City area and need a body disposed of, I'm your guy.

Tagging people always seems like such an imposition, so consider yourself free to ignore this if you'd prefer...and anyone else who wants to try this meme should consider themselves retroactively invited. But the rules say I have to name names, so hello Cole, Erich, Fortress Keeper, Gordon, Matt, Rob, Todd, and Walaka!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Half a page of scribbled lines

The meme theme continues with a challenge from plok to create a premise for a new television series about time travel.

The problem with loving time travel stories and reading every one you can find and then trying to think of an original idea is that you keep recognizing what's already been done! Heinlein did that already. John Varley covered that. I had one idea I really liked before realizing Trey Parker beat me to it. (South Park is surprisingly fluent with its time travel episodes.) What I've ended up with instead is a knowing and deliberate homage/rebuttal to one of my all-time favorite stories: "Vintage Season" by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Also a fair bit of influence from stories by William Tenn, namely "Child's Play" and "Errand Boy."

This one is called "Tourists."

Four people arrive at JFK Airport. Nothing about them gives any clue where they're from. They speak flawless unaccented English -- and, it turns out, every other language they encounter, with equal perfection. The first is an incredibly successful artist, hungry for authentic sensation and experience to be transmuted into her future work. The second is a jovial and friendly old man who has retired from his life's work and now indulges his passion for learning. The third is a graduate student in history whose trip was paid for by a wealthy patron. The last is their somewhat stiff-necked tour guide, showing the rest around and pointing out things of interest. His three charges look around gaping, awestruck by the sheer strangeness of their surroundings. They're charmed by how primitive and pastoral this airport and its inhabitants are. So many people! The jumbo jets -- people actually get inside those huge rickety things? How delightful!

They're a tour group from the distant future visiting the present day, here to fully experience the last phase of our culture before...that really bad thing happened and it all fell apart. Centuries later it simply isn't discussed in polite company but everyone knows how awful it was. The hints of it are all around but no one living at the time sees where it's going to lead. It's quite touching and tragic, really, how blithely they dance on the edge of the precipice without ever realizing it's there.

The behavior of the tourists is much like that of the wealthy person visiting the Third World today. They're friendly to the natives and absolutely charmed by our strange primitive customs and quaint way of life...but with a smiling condescension rooted in the assumption they're better and smarter than we are.

As they explore New York City, the group is supposed to stay together...but the student wanders off on her own. She's spent considerable time in the ruins, of course, but actually seeing the place when it isn't submerged under the ocean is amazing. Anyway, a history major certainly knows the rules of chronal disengagement and she hardly needs that supercilious Guide to instruct her on how to behave. She befriends a poor inner city child and asks the little girl to show her around, to see the 21st Century through the eyes of a typical crecheling. As a reward, the student entertains the little girl with a demonstration of some future gadgetry: the pantograft, the attolens, the gravisend -- it's so sweet how the simplest things dazzle them! -- and that's when the others catch up. The flustered Guide gives the student a warning on not contaminating the past with anachronistic displays of technology. They argue over what constitutes harmless fun.

This foreshadows the growing conflict within the tour group. As they travel around the world, the history student gets increasingly involved with our time: seeing how basically innocent and naive we are, and so totally undeserving of...well, you know, what's coming. How can decent people just stand by and watch? The kindly old man is sympathetic, but he also knows sometimes you just have to let things happen as they will. The conceited artist is unsympathetic: she needs to take in more unmediated misery and suffering in its purest form to make truly powerful art. Come on, people, there's a horrible famine going on: you can't honestly expect her to miss that! The Guide is caught in an awkward position: each of his charges represents serious power and wealth, and his impulse is to be subservient and win favor. Any one of these people could wreck his career and ruin his life if they become displeased; he has to act as referee without offending any of them.

The student, who's on our side and wants to help us, is essentially the bad guy here: she's talking about changing history, or at least helping ease the suffering of individuals if they must leave the vast flow of events intact. But how can she know what's acceptable meddling and what's too much?

Structurally I see this as episodic, not a story arc building up to a huge climax a la Heroes or The 4400, but still with continuing threads and character building. The student's desire to get involved develops slowly over a series of episodes, as does her conflict with the artist: the two of them would finally get fed up and have a big actual fight with future technology and gadgets, so ray blasts and force fields and anti-grav circuits ahoy...but it wouldn't really solve anything.

We would never get to see the future the tourists come from, getting our picture of it solely by implication from the things they say. (The budget department is welcome to send me flowers.) Weirdly enough, given the premise of this challenge, we don't ever see time travel take place: the tourists have just arrived as the story opens, and time travel itself is so expensive and power-expending that it isn't done lightly. You set off on your tragical history tour -- ha ha ha, I crack myself up! -- and you had bloody well better be finished when the Guide activates the recall signal that brings the group home.

And finally, we do not see or find out much about the big event that's so terrible in our future. That would erode the premise and destroy whatever mystique it originally had. The tourists will leave before it arrives, no fools they. (Whether or not the student decides to stay, marooning herself to eventually die here, is another matter. Or will she resign herself to the past being inevitable? Will the artist learn empathy? Will the old man find out something shocking about an ancient ancestor? Will they meet other visitors from the future? Are there contemporary people who know about the time travelers and serve as native bearers?) The real point here is to look at our culture and ways through the eyes of visitors who know how it all turns out, and give us the opportunity for poignant or humorous or satirical commentary on our failings...and while we're at it, to show how America and the West in general treats other cultures in our own time.

So whaddya think, sirs and madams?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Just what I needed

The following meme comes from PJ via Ben Varkentine: search for “[your name] needs” on Google and see what comes up.


Richard needs...

...your votes
Some campaign donations wouldn't go amiss either.

Constantly. have life ordered and predictable
It's a coping mechanism because so much of my life has been neither of those things. finish grade school
That's not very nice. give out the coupons to the orchestra
Please stand in an orderly line, woodwinds in front, then brass, then strings, then percussion.

...Elizabeth right now
Last name please! I've known a lot of Elizabeths.

Nick, you know Elizabeth, right? I hope you two get along.

...his red horse

...a Mac
Sure, I'm always looking to upgrade.

...100 new bandanas for his fitness class
They'll conceal my physique and make me look fabulous.

...serious help
Hey! get a better editor
To my editors: this is not true, I love you all.

...the mud people to call a council of seers
I know if we all work together, we can develop this "shower" thing. now, or he’ll slip away
So very true. shower because he has a stink about him
Man...only a stranger will tell you, huh?

...the audience as an outlet in a world where he is alone
Welcome to my whole freaking life!


Having found these, it occurred to me that I might be tampering with meme karma somehow by using my given name rather than the name I blog under. So I tried again:

RAB needs..., says leading psychologist
Yeah, yeah, we got that already. be modified
I've heard that before as well.

Now that's just mean. I do the best I can.
I'm looking for something that will lift AND separate.

...defined procedures and a mission and goals that are clearly stated and understood by all participants
Step one, steal underpants. Step three, profit. What could be clearer? just read the Plain Dealer
Mainly I just use it to cover my head in the rain. understand the power of horcrux to view destroying it as essential to Voldemort's destruction
Surely you're thinking of someone else.

...a car
And a driver's license. calm down
Aren't there pills for that?

...a detox
Okay, maybe the pills weren't such a good idea. learn how to spell
If you keep throwing made-up words like "horcrux" and "gillyweed" at me, naturally there will be the occasional mistake. buy new cymbals
Buy your own damn cymbals. Bad enough I had to lug your old ones around for all those years. be seen in perspective
I'm more worried about my vanishing point...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Out from under

For the first time in months I have no pending writing jobs or deadlines hanging over my head. Now I can do stuff like, I dunno, watch a DVD instead of...watching a DVD and feeling guilty about it because I should be writing that thing instead. Of course I'll still be writing every night, but without the crushing guilt and shame. Except for the crushing guilt and shame that's with me every waking moment -- but that's another story, doctor.

The biggest thing on my plate this past month was an essay for an upcoming book on the Legion of Super-Heroes being compiled and edited by Tim Callahan, who is both author of Grant Morrison: The Early Years and my close personal friend.

I got an early copy of Tim's book -- the first of a promised three volumes, corresponding to three phases of Morrison's career to date -- at NYCC this year. I've read it all the way through more than once since then...most recently while trying to get in the right frame of mind to write in a similarly analytical manner about old Legion stories from Adventure Comics. Tim strikes a very good balance in writing about comics from a literary perspective without getting mired in lit crit jargon. He hasn't got anything to prove; if you're reading a book about Grant Morrison in the first place, presumably you're already of the opinion that Morrison's comics are worth writing about and stand up to close reading. If you're that sort of person, and I am, this book is well worth a look. The sample pages at the link above as well as this appreciation of Morrison's early "Future Shocks" from 2000 AD will give you a good idea of whether or not the book is for you.

Do not think for a moment that my appreciation of the cultured and urbane Mr. Callahan is in any way influenced by the fact that a piece of my writing is now awaiting his approval. The last thing I would ever want would be for his objective evaluation of my work to be swayed at all by my deep and heartfelt admiration for the brilliance of his critical insights. Fortunately, a man of such high moral and ethical caliber as Mr. Callahan would not allow his head to be turned by mere flattery. Truly a paragon among men, and one whose example we can all but hope to emulate.

Writing at length about the Legion of Super-Heroes was a trip and a half. I was heavily involved with organized Legion fandom back in the day, but that day was a long time ago. Doing the essay was partly an act of personal archaeology. I tried to look at those stories more objectively than I ever did before in a way that I hoped would satisfy the editor (mere words cannot do justice, I am unworthy to offer praise) and maybe even persuade a few readers that those stories were a bit cooler and more innovative than they might seem from a distance of more than forty years. It's probably a safe bet that anyone reading a book of essays about the Legion already thinks that, but who can say for sure?

About a hundred times while writing it, I wished comics scholar supreme Richard Morrissey was still around so that I could check my facts with him and get some historical insight...and then a hundred times I would realize that if he were around I wouldn't have been writing it in the first place, because he was better qualified for the task.

Anyway, that's all done with, and I'll be starting on a new round of pitches and query letters soon. Here's a thought, maybe I'll write some blog posts too...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A giving thing

Courtesy of Stuart Immonen:

If you're like me, and have wanted to donate to the fund to assist the family of the late Tom Artis, but are unable to write a cheque in U.S. funds, Tom Spurgeon has announced on the Comics Reporter that he is collecting PayPal funds for a single mass donation on Memorial Day.

More on Tom Artis from his friend and collaborator Peter B. Gillis here and here.

I can't afford a large donation myself, but being able to contribute even a small amount via PayPal lets me feel like I was able to do something. All the more so if mentioning it here can help encourage other people to chip in a tiny bit: maybe it all adds up. Tom Spurgeon says he's sending a check to the Artis family on Monday, so there's still time if anyone reading this also wants to join in.

I know what it's like to be at home as a full-time caregiver to a terminally ill family member. My situation wasn't comparable to the one Kim Artis and their children were in, or are in now...but when I think of how psychologically devastating it was, in addition to the simple material demands, I can only guess at how overwhelming it must be for the Artis family now, and how brave that woman has to be in facing these additional financial woes with two children to raise on her own.

I didn't know hardly anything about Tom Artis before he died: reading the reminiscences of Peter Gillis made me feel like I really missed something there. Here was a guy who loved the comics medium and chose to work in it despite considerable risk and little reward, and that makes us part of the same family. So I made the small donation I could manage, and encourage you to do the same.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Doctor Wayne

Since "The Black Casebook" mentioned in Batman #665 has received favorable mention (here for instance) as an example of Grant Morrison refusing to throw away even the bizarre and goofy bits of Batman history, I thought it might be interesting to look at the little-known part of the Batcave where Bruce Wayne might store that particular volume.

From JLA Classified #1 by Grant Morrison, Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines:

Let's have a closer look. He's got what appear to be Thanagarian police wings, he pulls out a Kirbyesque-looking "Boom Tube Gauntlet" for travelling through spacetime, and there are a few other items I can't identify but which look familiar...and oh yeah, over there on the right...

...Batman keeps a freaking Dalek in his "Sci-Fi Closet." Presumably captured during the Dalek Invasion of Gotham City. Which he stopped all by himself. Didn't even need a sonic screwdriver. That's how tough he is. Goofy wandering Time Lords are advised to stay out of his city.

Was this JLA story never reprinted? Why not, when it provides significant information on the backstory to Seven Soldiers?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Congratulations are presumably in order

My old friend and former drinking buddy Neil Gaiman reports:

I have to fly to the UK this afternoon, for Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's wedding on Saturday. There's too much travelling involved in the next few weeks, especially when I just want to stay home and walk the dog and write before the madness of the summer, but this one trip I'm doing because I want to, and I'm looking forward to it. Alan says he's going to wear a blue bowler hat for the wedding, and frankly that's worth flying across the Atlantic to see.

It's always touching when pornographers get married, isn't it? No, I kid. I kid because I love pornography nearly as much as I love Moore's and Gebbie's comics.

The prospect of marriage has always seemed very strange and foreign to me -- I felt that way even when I was actually engaged and wondering what it would feel like to go through such an alien ritual, though as it happened I never did find out -- but I'm sure it's a lovely thing for them what are keen on it. And if Alan Moore or Melinda Gebbie were reading this blog, I'd offer them my best wishes.

See, this is why you don't want me as best man at your wedding.