Thursday, November 26, 2009
A holiday message from Kamandi
And should this be the case, Kamandi would very much like to spend Thanksgiving with you instead of the mutants next year.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
The jungle lord
Some of what you've heard is true.
In 1890, the British Colonial Office dispatches a young nobleman and former Army officer named John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, to investigate reports of forced labor conscription of natives by a rival colonial power. Clayton departs for Africa with his bride of three months, the former Alice Rutherford, intending that they present themselves as wealthy idlers whose family owned a rubber plantation there before the colony changed hands in 84.
The couple never reach their destination. Following a mutiny aboard their ship out of Sierra Leone, Lord and Lady Greystoke are put ashore at a remote spot on the coast. Rather than following the coastline, the couple head inland in hopes of reaching a Christian mission, because the pregnant Alice urgently needs medical attention. The mutinous ship is attacked and sunk before its crew can reveal the Claytons were spared rather than killed in the mutiny, so a search never takes place. Husband and wife are never seen again.
In 1902, a lone survivor from the lost ship emerges to describe how John Clayton had saved the life of the black sailor who subsequently led the mutiny. Putting the Claytons ashore was meant to protect them, not further endanger them. (An allegation that the ship's captain may have been employed by the rival power Clayton was sent to investigate can neither be proved nor denied.)
The following year, heir presumptive to the Greystoke estate William Clayton mounts an expedition to learn the fate of his long-lost Uncle John and Aunt Alice. Joining this expedition is Professor A.Q. Porter of Baltimore, with Porter's sixteen year old daughter Jane serving as caretaker and factotum to her naturalist father. Finding no trace of the Claytons on the coast, the party moves inland. Very much further inland, they find a secluded village. Among the villagers they're stunned to see a twelve year old boy, in all respects a normal member of his tribe…except for his distinctly Caucasian skin color. The boy is nearly as surprised: he's never seen any albinos other than himself before, but now several show up all at once!
Through their interpreter, Clayton and Porter hear an outlandish story of hunters from the village discovering a female gorilla trying to nurse a hungry newborn human baby. Bringing the infant back to their village, one of the hunters and his wife raised the boy as their own. Going by the child's apparent age, William Clayton works out what anyone would at this point: Alice apparently gave birth to a child in the jungle. This boy may well be William's cousin, the true heir to the Greystoke estate.
The interpreter explains to the villagers that William is the son of the brother of the boy's father, and wishes to bring the boy to his family home. As soon as the boy hears this, he flees into the jungle. The albinos want to buy him from his family? He won't go! The expedition tries to lure him back, but he stays hidden. Finally, after much effort, they're obliged to give up and leave. As they make the long journey back to the coast, the expedition are aware of the boy tracking them the whole way. They continue trying to coax the boy, but they've misunderstood his motives. He's not watching them leave with ambivalence: he just wants to make sure with his own eyes that they're gone and won't come back.
Sometime around 1906, a scruffy vagrant youth is spotted in fishing towns and shipping ports along the coast. He's sometimes dubbed "the white savage" and sometimes other, less benign names. Over the next couple of years, he picks up bits of spoken German and English and French and Dutch from sailors, though he remains illiterate. The boy watches black workers driven past the point of collapse by white bosses, as their forced labor builds railroad lines connecting the ports to the plantations of the interior. Finally he hops aboard a steamer heading across the Atlantic, working his passage as a deckhand.
On the crossing to America, the boy becomes the responsibility of Julius, an old merchant sailor. Julius outfits the boy with an old Navy coat for the approaching cold weather. It's the first winter coat the boy has ever worn. He's overawed. Seeing the boy parade back and forth in his big coat with the brass buttons, admiring its finery, Julius mutters an affectionate insult in Hebrew -- "tarzan," which means a dandy or a toff. From then on, "Tarzan" becomes the boy's nickname aboard ship.
Apart from his new coat, Tarzan has only one other possession. He keeps it hidden away, but pulls it out to examine when no one else is watching. It's a piece of paper given to him by the ugly albino girl during her well-intended but futile attempt at teaching him to read. Although he still can't read, Tarzan knows -- because the ugly girl told him so -- this slip of paper holds the location of the ugly girl's home. And she can tell him where he came from.
John Clayton, the Viscount Greystoke, and his wife Jane arrive in New York City at the start of the Roaring Twenties. The Jazz Age. Art Deco. Prohibition. Speakeasies. Bootleggers. Gangsters. Babe Ruth playing for the Yankees. The music of Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and Bessie Smith. Clayton loves the towering buildings and the lights and the sights and the sounds. It's like he can see the future being assembled before his eyes.
The Claytons are hailed as celebrities. At age 21, John Clayton -- not yet granted his inheritance and needing some quick cash -- sold the story of his African childhood to a writer in Chicago. The tale became a magazine serial and then a series of popular books. The arrival in New York of a titled young English nobleman with money would be exciting enough; the arrival of the real-life Tarzan is an absolute sensation.
When Benjamin Franklin was the American Ambassador to France, he affected shabby clothes, a fur cap, and a folksy demeanor. The French ate it up. Playing to their lowest stereotype of a simple country bumpkin, Franklin conned the pants off the French aristocracy. John Clayton does something similar, playing at being "Tarzan the jungle man" for the crowd while leading a refined upper class lifestyle. He's the urbane and debonair "natural primitive" in fine tailored suits. His looks and charm make Clayton a hit in society.
But inwardly he's seething. The book based on his childhood left out his adoptive family and his entire village in favor of claiming that he was raised by apes, because readers would more readily accept a human raised by apes than a white boy raised by blacks. Raised by apes! The sequels were spun from whole cloth: Clayton is sickened to hear of his fictional alter ego becoming the king of "savage black cannibals" who he calls "my children."
The racism of the sailors and bosses he saw in the port towns as a boy barely prepared John Clayton for what he's seen since then. Lynchings. Race riots. Cross burnings. Men in white hoods. The persecution of immigrants and trade unionists in the Red Scare. Perhaps Julius could have explained it, but Julius was killed by a lynch mob in 1915 while traveling through the South.
Jane Clayton shares her husband's views. The Porter family had been abolitionists and freethinkers, and Jane's mother a suffragist. Jane no longer seems ugly to John. Now that John has finally come into his long-delayed inheritance, the couple move to New York City to advance their hidden social agenda.
(His cousin William Clayton would readily sympathize with his disdain for the Tarzan novels. They made him out to be a cowardly buffoon grasping to keep his wrongful inheritance, then killed him off. In fact, William had urged John to claim his full due, and stayed on to manage the estate after the courts declared John the rightful heir. William was also surprised to find himself cast as Jane Porter's jealous fiancé, when in reality he belonged to the Order of Chaeronea. He chose not to sue the author.)
In August of 1920, John Clayton is among the audience of 25 thousand seeing Marcus Garvey at Madison Square Garden. Some alongside Clayton in the audience know him only as the racist Tarzan of the books, and don't know what to make of his presence at the rally. Neither does John Hoover of the government's Bureau of Investigation, whose agent spots Clayton there while keeping watch on Garvey. Clayton is vexed when Garvey has himself named "the Provisional President of Africa" but nonetheless is deeply moved by the rhetoric, and shares Garvey's rage at the current state of things.
The wealthy white nobleman is a black nationalist, ardent anticolonialist, and clandestine backer of African native uprisings. He's a foe of Gandhi for his support of the British against the Zulus in the Bambatha Rebellion. Spied on by Hoover. Pursued by Garvey. He wouldn't use guns, but he's no stranger to hunting with knife and spear. In his exploits, Tarzan becomes the nemesis of rumrunners and racketeers and slumlords and feds alike.
And then, in 1924, the Klan marches into Tarzan's city to support their candidate for President of the United States…
Monday, October 12, 2009
"The story was that Woody Allen had been hired to write an episode of The Flintstones and had handed in an unusable script that was essentially a Honeymooners episode set in the stone age. Among the things wrong with it was that it presumed the limited-animation Barney Rubble was capable of an extended pantomime scene a la Art Carney, and that it was all set in one room for the entire half hour. This never happened and Joe Barbera even told me it had never happened...but a lot of people believed it."
Apparently I have better show business connections than Mark, because after some time and effort I was finally able to get hold of Woody Allen's long-lost story for The Flintstones. It's not exactly as it was originally described to Mark, but it's easy to see why Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were ultimately forced to pass on it. Despite its shortcomings, I'm very glad to present this rare document for the first time.
There's this old joke: these two elderly dinosaurs are talking, and one says to the other "My brother's crazy, you know. He thinks he's an archaeopteryx." And the other dinosaur says "Really? Why don't you take him to a doctor?" And the first one says "I would, but we need the eggs…even though archaeopteryx eggs are gritty and tasteless."
That's pretty much how I think relationships are like dinosaur eggs: we need them, even when they're hard to swallow.
I was born in the Jewish neighborhood of Bedrock, in a house built directly underneath the Pterodactyl ride at Coneyrock Island. Which I think accounts for my personality: to this day I can't shake the feeling something traveling very fast is going to swoop down on me from above. It was here that I first began to contemplate the inhumanity of the modern stone age family.
At the age of nine I fell into a profound existential crisis, the roots of which I tried to explain to a doctor summoned by my nonplussed mother. "Why are there all these dinosaurs around?" I asked him. "What is this, the late Cretaceous era? The early Triassic? How can there be hominids coexisting with dinosaurs? We shouldn't even be in the same epoch!"
"So we're coexisting. Everybody's getting along peaceable. This is a bad thing why, exactly?" The doctor turned to my mother, puzzled.
"It's something he read." My mother turned back to me in exasperation. "How is this your business? Take your chisel and stone tablet and finish your homework!"
When I got home last night I found a message from my ex-wife Betty on the answering bird saying I was behind on alimony payments. Maybe my payments would last longer if she didn't take in so many extra mouths to feed; I don't know who told Betty it was her duty to adopt underprivileged cave children from every nation. When we were together, it was just the one boy.
It's funny, I remember how nervous she was about adopting a child for the first time. "I heard the vacuum cleaner and the washing machine gossiping about it last night. They talk to one another when they think no one else is listening," Betty said.
"In fairness, a baby woolly mammoth on wheels and a pelican with a beak full of soapy water probably don't have that much else to talk about," I answered. "I don't understand why we have to have so many gadgets in the first place."
"Well, pardon me I should want just a taste of the good life! After all, the Jetstones have a robot maid to do their chores."
"The Jetstones do not have a robot maid. What the Jetstones have is a velociraptor with a metal pot over its head that they call a robot, just to make everyone think they have all the latest conveniences up in that treehouse of theirs. Besides, what kind of name is Jetstones anyway? What does that even mean? And don't get me started on the way their daughter runs around in that skimpy outfit with the bare midriff -- "
"Their daughter Judy? What about her? Is there some reason you should notice what a teenage girl is wearing?" Betty's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Our son moved to Rock Orleans a few years ago to pursue his career as a celebrity chef. He isn't speaking to me anymore. To be honest he wasn't the most articulate of children, so it was hard to tell. But I knew deep down he had never forgiven me for taking up with his former girlfriend. What can I say? The heart wants what it wants.
Pebbles was the daughter of my next-door neighbor and the childhood sweetheart of my son. I could remember a time when her greatest intellectual pursuit was reaching into a bowl of dinosaur pudding and rubbing it into her hair. Eventually she left home to attend Stoneford University. After graduating summa cum laude, she returned to Bedrock with a degree in Pleistocene philosophy and a figure worthy of a Penthouse Pet Rock of the Year.
We had an argument after Pebbles attended the funeral of her Grammy Slaghoople, a fact which I found deeply arousing. I always associate arguments and funerals with sex, probably because I've been ejected from all three for not having the correct ticket. Anyway, Pebbles was leafing through an issue of New Rockpublic in bed while I smoked a Winstone cigarette and mused. "Bedrock. New Rock City. Rockville. Rock Vegas. Rock Angeles. Haven't you ever wondered what's behind this mania for adding 'rock' to proper names? It's anti-semitism, that's what it is."
"What? How can it be anti-semitism? Anyway, Prinstone doesn't have 'rock' in its name. Neither does Sand Simeon."
"Aha! That just proves my point!"
Pebbles sighed. "Is this going to be another one of your things? You always find something trivial to obsess over as a way to avoid facing your fear of success. Sigrock Freud says that -- "
"Sigrock Freud? Really? I mean, do you even listen to yourself?"
"Don't get so worked up. Remember what daddy said about watching your stress levels."
"Your father should talk. At the rate he pounds back those bronto burgers, he's going to be extinct a few years before the rest of us."
As it happened, Pebbles' father was also my best friend. Our friendship survived not only my involvement with his daughter, but also his increasingly strong conviction that he was being followed everywhere by a small, invisible green man from another world whose sole purpose in life was to subject us to constant scorn and verbal abuse that only he could hear. He was completely psychotic, but a good man.
We were heading home after a meeting of our lodge -- or as I liked to think of them, the Ku Klux Klan with fur hats. I'm not saying the Water Buffaloes were intolerant, but if the Grand Poobah of Lodge 26 ever found out I was circumcised, he would invite me down to Slate's gravel quarry late one evening for a friendly chat. Shortly afterwards, small portions of me would be evenly distributed among every driveway in the town of Bedrock.
"Barn, that little girl of mine is her own woman," Fred explained. "It's not my place to get involved in a quarrel between you. Oh, and Gazoo says to tell you you're a microcephalic dum dum whose grasp of interpersonal dynamics is facile at best."
"Whatever you say, Fred." I sighed. "But I still can't help feeling the whole concept of Neolithic tool-making hominids domesticating Mesozoic era dinosaurs is inherently self-contradictory."
"Not that again? Look, I may just be an ordinary working class Apatosaurus operator, but I know the fossil record is incomplete by its very nature. Our picture of mass extinction events is necessarily limited, so we can't rule out the survival of certain dinosaur species. After all, Darwin said -- "
"Darwin?" I shouted. "You don't know what you're talking about! I just happen to have Charles Darwin right here, and he says we can't possibly exist!"
With that I pulled Charles Darwin from his hiding place behind a nearby movie poster. "I heard what you were saying, young man, and you know nothing of my work. Indeed, your very existence contradicts all established scientific fact!"
Boy, if the stone age were only like this.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Also, the top of this post features an overview of the best reporting so far on the topic. A lot of silliness is being spoke on this subject, but these two links will not steer you wrong.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I form a tactfulness merely to carry out to another tactfulness
Maybe from now on I should just run all my writing through whatever produced that.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The headless men all doff their hats
It's been very strange to see all the media coverage for the death of Frank McCourt, because I spent three years in his class, probably somewhat longer than most students. He was my English teacher in the sophomore year of high school. The following year, I sat in on his class unofficially while skipping an especially boring math class. (Yes, I cut a class only to attend another class. That's the kind of place Stuyvesant High School was.) In senior year -- while making up the missed math class with a different teacher who was not boring -- I took his writing class. If you add in that one time he was a substitute teacher during my freshman year, Frank McCourt was a constant presence throughout the whole of my high school education.
Going back even further, he was part of the reason I wound up attending that particular high school, despite its reputation as an "elite" math and science school with no emphasis on the humanities. This turned out to be complete nonsense -- shielded from excessive meddling by administrative indifference, the History and English departments at Stuyvesant were up there with the finest in NYC; hobbled by micromanagement and constant pressure on the faculty to produce prizes and awards, the Math and Science departments were a mess -- but I had no way of knowing that in advance. What won me over was getting a copy of the school science fiction magazine, for which McCourt served as faculty advisor. If a New York City public high school had its own student science fiction magazine, that had to be the place for me.
(In fact, that particular issue even had a four page comic strip satirizing McCourt himself, written and drawn by a student named James Fry. James and I didn't get to spend much time together when I got to Stuyvesant, two years behind him, but we became close cronies when we both worked at Marvel Comics a few years later. But I don't remember if I ever told him about seeing that satirical strip or what an impact it had on me...)
If you'd asked me at the time, I'd probably have told you I kept going back to McCourt's classroom because I was going to be a writer, and he was a writer. Even if he was unpublished, he could tell you all you needed to know about being a writer. When I got to be a little less pretentious, I'd have said I kept going back because he was so entertaining: full of darkly humorous tales of his grim boyhood in Limerick, always ready to turn the class into a freewheeling discussion of whatever struck our fancy, never bound by whatever he'd told us we were going to be doing the previous day. But if I'm brutally honest, I always knew the real reason I kept going back to his class year after year was that I'd discovered early on you didn't need to do any work to get by in his class. You could always distract him, or get him talking about something else, or make an excuse, and he'd never push back or make a fuss. I was just incredibly lazy, and that's no reflection on him...but I never thought much of him as a teacher, and to be honest I still don't.
Please understand, this isn't some lingering bitterness speaking; I didn't have some grudge against McCourt that I've been nursing for all these years because he savaged my masterpiece, dashed my hopes and dreams, or anything like that. I don't recall we ever had any problems, and he was as encouraging about my writing as he was for any other student alongside me in his class.
Where McCourt excelled -- and I don't mean this as dismissively as it may sound -- was in playing the role of a writer for his students. For students who wanted to be writers, he was the embodiment of that world, a living gateway to the patrons of the Lion's Head and the White Horse and all the other two-fisted literary hangouts (i.e., bars) of New York. That life was tantalizingly within reach so long as he was in front of us, even if at the time it was almost as notional for him as it was for us.
I wonder how many of his former students were as stunned as I when Angela's Ashes was published? That was sixteen years after I graduated high school and I certainly never expected to see his name on the cover of a book. He and his brother Malachy had written a comical two-man play about their childhood in Limerick and I'd seen them perform it, but I expected that would be as far as things ever went. Surely he was destined to be just another of those sad figures at the bar, talking about the great work they were going to write someday, or would have done if life hadn't got in the way. And then suddenly he was at the White House, more than once, and winning a Pulitzer.
It's very odd when someone you knew as a regular person becomes a celebrity, and then becomes a crazy international mind-blowing celebrity consorting with heads of state and royalty. I've probably had more than my share of experience with this. (Is it normal to have known two people who went on to win Pulitzers for literature? Why, Lord, have you blessed me so?)
Because Frank McCourt's subject was himself, everyone who's read his books feels as if they know him. They don't; they know a version of his life that he rehearsed and refined and pared down for dramatic impact and maximum charm. He did know how to get through bad times on little more than charm...and that's certainly one respect in which I've tried to copy him over the years. He could be sarcastic and disdainful and ungenerous in his opinion of others. But you didn't forget the things he said. I certainly haven't.
Mr. McCourt, I know I left class owing you an essay or two. Sorry this one was so late.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Everything you see here was as it happened that day
It was very shortly after the episode of Mary Tyler Moore in which Cronkite made a guest appearance as himself. That episode aired in February 1974, and this would have been no more than a few weeks later. Cronkite was visiting someone at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, where my father was working at the time. My dad saw Cronkite in the elevator and said "Mr. Cronkite, if you're willing to shake Ted Baxter's hand, you should be willing to shake mine." Cronkite laughed, and they shook hands.
Look, I didn't say it was an exciting story. But it's the only story I have about Cronkite, and I won't have any other occasion to tell it.
My family had only just moved to New York City a couple of months earlier...and on the basis of this incident, I probably assumed meeting national celebrities was just something everyone took for granted here. Like it happened so often that it wasn't even worth mentioning. Actually, that last part turned out to be true.
The most apt memorial writing I've read is Celebrating Cronkite while ignoring what he did. The increasingly pompous Brian Williams in particular is the new Ted Baxter. In his self-congratulatory reminiscences you can hear an echo of those booming stentorian tones: "It all began at a small 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California..."
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Via Cartoon Brew. I need to see this movie. How its existence eluded me for the past ten years I'll never know.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Pure radio, this is
Pass the word along to any Grant Morrison fans of your acquaintance, okay? This looks like it'll be something to watch out for.
Patrick's webseries The Third Age is also well worth your attention.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The real him
Because 64 years have passed since May 19, 1945, happy birthday wishes as always to Mr. Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend of Richmond.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Actually, I think you can see everyone's house from here.
(Um...stewardess, may I have another airsickness bag?)
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Every time I read the papers that old feeling comes on
Waist Deep in the Big Muddy from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Season 2, Episode 24, aired on February 25, 1968 after some technical difficulties. It still seems like it could have been written today. I'm afraid it always will.
Happy 90th birthday to Pete Seeger! I'm all for him getting a Nobel Peace Prize.
(Hat tip to the great Scott Edelman for reminding me to post this.)
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Seventy bat years
That issue of Detective was packed with several ongoing features, including Slam Bradley and Bart Regan, Spy (both created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), the Shadow-like Crimson Avenger, Cosmo the Master of Disguise, ace investigator Speed Saunders, Bruce Nelson, and range detective Buck Marshall. Several of these had been running since the first issue of Detective in February 1937. But the cover of this issue showcased a new feature: “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by Bill Finger and Bob Kane introduced us to Police Commissioner James Gordon, idle playboy Bruce Wayne, and an eerie figure of the night called the Bat-Man.
I never thought of myself as a Batman fan. I always figured I was much more a Superman guy. As Jules Feiffer explained in 1965:
"If I were ever to be trapped in a steel vault with the walls closing in on all sides, I was obviously going to have to break out with my fists because it was clear from my earliest school grades that I was never going to have the know-how to invent an explosive in my underground laboratory that would blow me to safety...my idea of a superhero was some guy, bad with his hands, who came from an advanced planet so that he didn't have to go to the gym to be strong or go to school to be smart."
That sounded about right. (Other acceptable answers would have included receiving a power ring from a dying alien, or becoming super-fast after being struck by lightning while chemicals splashed over me.) I was always willing to read Batman comics -- particularly during my peak comics-reading years in the Seventies -- but I don't remember going out of my way to seek the latest issue, the way I did with Green Lantern or the Flash or Superboy or the LSH or the JLA. So I was a bit surprised when Tom presented his list of seventy favorite Batman stories and I remembered pretty much all of them.
A few months ago, I was asked to do fact-checking and proofreading on a book about Batman. I really didn't want to do it. "I'm not your guy. I don't know Batman the way I know the Legion of Super-Heroes. I haven't even seen all the Batman movies. There are more qualified people who'd do a better job of spotting errors," I said. "We'll pay you," the publisher said. "Give it here," I replied. The funny thing was, as I read the manuscript I found myself going if you're going to mention this, you need to mention this other story here and no, they wrote out Aunt Harriet in this issue, not that issue and the Outsider was revealed as Alfred in... and so on, all from memory. Obviously I'd absorbed way more Batman lore than I realized in what I'd thought was casual and haphazard reading over the years.
Maybe part of the reason it all stuck is that the character's seventy year history in comics is more or less a solid edifice. Superman and Wonder Woman and the rest have had their pasts and personalities and backstories tossed out and reinvented and reimagined several times, to ever-diminishing returns. By contrast, Batman has remained sufficiently coherent -- even allowing for the occasional Earth-1 versus Earth-2 hiccup, or multiple mutually incompatible origins for the Catwoman -- that Grant Morrison was able to craft a story starting from the premise that the entire body of stories had all "really happened" to one individual.
At the same time, Batman has always been the most protean of costumed superheroes. Depending on your age, Batman might be the scientific detective of Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino...or the "hairy-chested love god" of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams...or the humorless psychopath of Frank Miller. For me, he's the purposeful, driven yet totally sane adventurer written by folks like Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, and Len Wein. (And for those to whom this distinction means something, my Batman has his chest emblem inscribed in a yellow oval. That's just the way it is.) Each generation gets the Batman it wants, but somehow it's always still the Batman. That's quite an accomplishment for something that's lasted this long and passed through so many diverse hands.
I never thought of myself as a Batman fan...and I thought I had nothing to say about him in this post. Instead I could go on for a few thousand more words, but I'll leave it at this: Happy birthday, Batman!
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I first read these early strips in paperback collections published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston some twenty years after the fact. Most of us have never had the chance to see them one a day, as they were originally meant to be read in a daily newspaper, until now.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The right man for the job
Tom Hanks circles 'Major' toy story
Universal will develop "Major Matt Mason," a live-action feature based on the vintage Mattel action figure. Pic will be developed as a star vehicle for Tom Hanks, and Graham Yost will write the script.
Playtone partners Hanks and Gary Goetzman will produce.
The toy line originated in 1966; Mason led an astronaut team that worked on the moon and lived in a space station. The toy was a hit in the buildup to the first manned moon mission. Mattel retired the line in the 1970s.
When Mattel execs Tim Kilpin and Barry Waldo came to Playtone for a meeting, they brought an arsenal of the Matt Mason figures. Hanks came armed with his own.
It might be difficult to convey how huge this is unless you were seven years old in 1969, in which case it doesn't require explanation. The toy line was iconic. I would ordinarily be pretty upset at the thought of someone unearthing a bit of my personal mythology and turning it into a Hollywood project all these years later. I mean to say, it's not like someone taking a book or comic you loved and turning it into a crappy film. It's more like someone stealing your favorite childhood toy and making you watch while he plays with it clumsily and breaks it. Right after taking twelve dollars from you.
However...if there's anyone in the world who could do this right, it's Tom Hanks. He might just pull it off and produce a film that conveys what space travel -- and space travel-based toys -- meant in the Sixties, up until we actually landed on the Moon. After that happened, it suddenly became boring and a waste of money and a distraction from the serious business of ending the war in Vietnam and campy and hopelessly naive and a relic of Cold War thinking. When it was no longer fantasy, nobody wanted to hear about space anymore (other than sad nerdy kids) and Major Matt Mason sales plummeted. But for a while there, this was the future.
(I do hope he puts in a female astronaut, though, because that's been waiting 40 years to happen. And Matt's space buddy Jeff Long damn well better be there too...)
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Changing as you can plainly see
This clip seems to be extremely popular on the You Tube, proving that it's useful for more than filthy double-entendres and adolescent smut. Interesting fact: the young men who wrote this song, Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley, were in London when this originally aired and never had a chance to see it for themselves until decades later.
And to prove cognitive dissonance can work in both directions, here's Patti Smith:
Friday, March 06, 2009
From Radioactive Man #100 (December 2000), script by Batton Lash, art by Bill Morrison and Steve Steere, Jr. Enjoy more from that issue here, if it doesn't completely blow your mind to read a few sample pages from a comic book for which you haven't actually paid yet. Warning: it might include eight year old spoilers!
I was too preoccupied by other things (and too darned angry) to post anything about the community's demise on this blog, though I posted some comments on the topic here and here. But that place was probably my favorite thing on the whole Internet and there are a few aspects of how it all went down that still totally bum me out.
Anyway, long live the new scans_daily and noscans_daily. And for those who cheer the end of the original community -- including those creators incapable of distinguishing between discussion and scholarship on the one hand and piracy on the other -- here's another panel:
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Silent malevolent voices
You'll be seeing a post more or less identical to this one on a number of blogs this weekend, I think. But to add one personal note: it's been impossible to watch what's been happening in Britain over the past few years without a sense of surreal horror. It's as if the government wants to turn the UK into a theme park devoted to recreating scenes from 1984, The Prisoner, and V for Vendetta, but they're doing it so slowly and quietly that too few realize what's happening until it's too late to say anything.
Philip Pullman wrote an essay on this topic for the Times of London which would be worth reading for the power of its language alone. That essay appeared in the print version and then online. Now I'm posting it in its entirety below. Many other bloggers are posting this text on their own sites, for a reason I'll note at the end.
To mark the Convention on Modern Liberty, the children’s author has written this article
Are such things done on Albion's shore?
The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake's prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.
We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness - the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.
We are so fast asleep that we don't know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation - after all we have an Established Church - or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?
The new laws whisper:
You don't know who you are
You're mistaken about yourself
We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless
We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you
And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised
The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:
Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity
Whatever your opinions are, we don't want to hear them
So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are
And we do not want to hear you arguing about it
So hold your tongue and forget about protesting
What we want from you is acquiescence
The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.
You are not to be trusted with laws
So we shall put ourselves out of your reach
We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition
You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them
You do not need to hold us to account
You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?
Who do you think you are?
What sort of fools do you think we are?
The nation's dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.
And the new laws whisper:
We do not want to hear you talking about truth
Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours
We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on
We do not want to hear you talking about innocence
Innocent means guilty of things not yet done
We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence
You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt
We do not want to hear you talking about justice
Justice is whatever we want to do to you
And nothing else
Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don't mind if we are. They don't think we care about it.
We want to watch you day and night
We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you
We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people
We can see you have abandoned modesty
Some of our friends have seen to that
They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible
In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide
We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural
We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things
One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:
We know who our friends are
And when our friends want to have words with one of you
We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need
It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law
It is for us to know what your offence is
Angering our friends is an offence
It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.
And those laws say:
Sleep, you stinking cowards
Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms
Freedom is too hard for you
We shall decide what freedom is
Sleep, you vermin
Sleep, you scum
Source: Times Online - Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms
The above link now gives a 404 error.
Update: After being missing from the website for around three days, the original piece has been restored and can be seen at the above link. No word yet on why it took so long to fix. Thanks to Garrie Burr for the heads up in the comments!
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Ms Vessey's mermaid tail was created by Wellington-based film industry wizards Weta Workshop after the Auckland woman wrote to them two years ago asking if they could make her a prosthetic tail. She was astounded when they agreed.
She lost both legs below the knee from a medical condition when she was a child and told Close Up last night her long-held dream had come true. "A prosthetic is a prosthetic, and your body has to be comfortable with it and you have to mentally make it part of yourself," she said.
Mermaid dream comes true thanks to Weta
That sound you just heard was the world becoming slightly more awesome.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
All stars, all lamps, all sources of light
Many years later I acquired the published version of the script, loaded with stills from the broadcast, and that did a lot to refresh my memories...but I was never able to view for a second time the actual program that had such an impact on me. Until now.
Thanks to a fellow by the name Randy Wilharm, Between Time and Timbuktu can now be seen in its entirety on YouTube starting here.
My first reaction after thirty-seven years? I'd remembered the show as being dark and dystopian; I'd forgotten how funny it was. I remembered how funny Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were, but the rest of it has more humor and less savage social commentary than it seemed when I was little. But if you give it your time and attention, you might still see what unsettled a nine year old so much as to make me read all the Kurt Vonnegut books on my parents' shelves.
I'm indebted to Mr. Wilharm for making this available. Randy's blog Pre-70s Sci-fi Pictorial is full of stuff you will enjoy looking at, so go look at it.
"If all places in the universe are in the Aleph, then all stars, all lamps, all sources of light are in it, too." -- Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Putting the pieces together
Thanks all for your patience with my continued lack of updates! I devoted this past week after NYCC to getting some work out of the way, some of which was directly or indirectly the result of the convention. So, a brief update on where I'm at and where I'll be in the weeks to come...
I had some misgivings going into NYCC this year...partly to do with not yet being fully recovered from my medical stuff and not feeling quite ready for all the running around congoing entails, and partly to do with various unrelated personal and professional stresses weighing on my mind the night before. But it all came out well in the end. I felt a bit shaky the first day, and folks told me I looked pale and wobbly, but the exercise did me a world of good and by the end of it I was in great shape. Right now I could do another convention standing on my head if they'd only let me.
I had a good time, but I won't be doing one of those massive con reports this year. My one big regret is failing to hook up with fiend of this blog Sean Witzke at any time during the weekend, but it sounds like his dance card was full up without me. Much quality time was spent with Patrick Meaney, Redhead Fangirl, and the indefatigable Rob Kelly, Rand Hoppe of the Kirby Museum, and the folks from TwoMorrows and Sequart. Also, former Doctor Who star Colin Baker turns out to be a mighty engine of sheer charisma and likeability who turns otherwise sensible people into blabbering starstruck idiots. Not, some might say, so very far a journey for me, but there you go.
Since the con, I've finished my third script for Flashback Universe. (You know, if Jim had asked me first, I would have advised him against those initials...) My second script for them -- a two-fisted pulp adventure starring Flashback's Doc Savage homage character, Doc Nomad -- is on hold, so the new one would be my second published story for the line. I'd like to see the Doc Nomad story released someday, mainly because it has one scene in it I'd been waiting over fifteen years for a chance to write! But the new script features Flashback's most popular character and I'm pleased with how it turned out.
(In unrelated comics news, because people have asked: yes, I wrote a six-issue miniseries for an indie publisher last year. The book is currently being drawn. I've seen the first few pages and they're spectacular. Given the present state of the market I have absolutely no idea whatsoever when this project will appear, but it won't be this year. I can't discuss the story itself because my contract includes a confidentiality clause. I think telling you even that much violates my contract, so let's keep this between us for now.)
I'm also going to be editing a new book for Sequart, the publishers of Teenagers From The Future. This will be another anthology, but very different from the Legion book. The contributor notes in Teenagers included word of another project I've been writing for Sequart; that book has been pushed back -- entirely due to extreme slowness on the part of the writer, I hasten to add! -- and this one is being brought forward.
And as a reward for wading through all this self-promotion, here's something awesome:
Behold the Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage" lavishly recreated in Lego form by Flickr user Detail Man 60, a.k.a. Frank Elchesen: part 1, part 2, and part 3.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Con schedule update
I will not in fact have a prearranged signing schedule at any publisher's table this year. However, if you see me at the con, I will be more than happy to sign copies of my Fantom Force comic or my essay in Teenagers From The Future. If you don't already own a copy of the latter but will be at the con and want to purchase one there, the publisher, Sequart.com, will be at booth 2251. I'm just saying. If you don't already own a copy of Fantom Force as well as everything else published by Flashback Universe...what's your freaking damage? You did realize they're all free, didn't you? Yeesh!
I will not be appearing on or moderating any panels this year. However, I am willing to pay someone else to ask Dan Didio a certain question about the horrific train wreck that was published claiming to be Legion of Super-Heroes #50.
I will not be announcing any new miniseries or ongoing titles. I've been asked to wait on these until the moment is right/the economy has improved/this group of pigs receive their FAA certification as airline pilots rated for instrument-assisted takeoff and landing.
I will not be doing sketches or taking new commisions at the con. For a small gratuity, I will write you into my next script for Flashback Universe or another publisher to be named later. For a larger gratuity, I will give you a lead role, subject to editorial approval.
I will not be selling RAB-themed merchandise this year, nor will I be giving out t-shirts saying "Richard Bensam is Indifferent" to the first 100 people who speak to me. I'm sorry, but the logistics simply didn't work out this time. I'm not at all sure about the prospects for a line of RAB action figures at NYCC 2010 next autumn; I'll have to get back to you on that.
I will not autograph copies of the Richard Bensam nude calendar, as this was released without my permission and against my wishes. Nah, I'm kidding. There is no nude calendar. I just wanted to see if I'd get any hits on this blog from people searching for "Richard Bensam nude calendar."
What I will do is keep my eyes peeled for anyone whose blog I read who's attending the con -- or who reads this blog and mentions in the comments below that he or she will also be there -- and I look forward to the chance of putting faces to names as well as catching up with some really cool people. As in past years, my nametag will once again say "Estoreal" so as to spare you the ordeal of perhaps seeing my name but not remembering where you know it from, walking up to me to start a conversation, then awkwardly backing away in embarassment.
Hope to see some of you there!
Saturday, January 24, 2009
A dent in the world
Twenty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh at an event in the Flint Center for the Performing Arts to an audience of about 3000 people.
The above link has links to many historical resources about the occasion, including a YouTube video of that event a quarter century ago. Highly recommended!
It would be fair to say that the Macintosh changed the course of my life. Believe it or not, at one time I was fairly well known in the Mac shareware community for my user interface designs and was training to go to work for Apple itself. Some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life have been connected with Apple hardware and software and the people I met because of them.
And if you're reading these words now, you can say the same thing. You owe the web itself to Tim Berners-Lee developing his global hypertext system on the NeXTstep platform -- which was both successor to the Macintosh and direct ancestor of the current OS X operating system. But more than that, by marrying the vision of Jef Raskin back in the late Seventies of a relatively affordable computer for ordinary people to the mouse-driven graphical user interface borrowed from Xerox PARC, the Macintosh so fundamentally altered the way people thought of computers that we can't even see it anymore.
Computers used to be Colossus: The Forbin Project and math geeks with pocket protectors handling stacks of punched cards with loving care. All of a sudden, the world of computers became a space ordinary people could see and reach into. In one sense, the Internet had existed back in late 1969, well before there was an Apple Computer...but we would not now think of it as a place for us to be in, if not for the innovations brought to us by the Macintosh.
That is some big dent in the world right there.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Images found at grickily's Krazy Kids Items set at Flickr via the amazing collection of Dan Goodsell.
I remember buying these because they featured the JLA, but I'm pretty sure I never wore any of the tattoos.
This post inspired by a chance sighting at Jon's Random Acts of Geekery.
Update: a bit more here and here -- both of us drawing on the original post here.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Another treat from the XTC vaults with this video for "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" taken from The Laughing Prisoner, filmed on location in Portmeirion and broadcast in April 1987.
Simply because of the title, I'm going to call this a tribute not only to Patrick McGoohan but also to John Mortimer -- barrister, champion of civil liberties and freedom of expression, political activist, writer of the autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (a film which helped me better understand my relationship with my own father) and, of course, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey.
(Funnily enough, McGoohan and Mortimer are both most famous for their work involving Leo McKern, who played both Horace Rumpole and the most formidable yet ultimately sympathetic Number Two in The Prisoner.)
A while back, I swore off making any more posts about the deaths of any of my childhood icons...but I had to violate that promise once again, because the careers of both these guys were so important in my life. (Mortimer also advised Monty Python on avoiding prosecution over the film Life of Brian so he gets a twofer in my personal pantheon of heroes.) So here's to you both, for the things you did in both fiction and real life that helped other people become a bit more free.
As a bonus, here's the real meaning of The Prisoner so far as I'm concerned:
The correct answer to "Why did you resign?" is it's nobody else's business. That's not avoiding the answer, it is the answer.
Hope that clears up any questions.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
From the blueprint of the weird
This might be the best thing ever.
I have almost no tolerance for Kirby pastiche. Whenever I see people refer to GØDLAND as "Kirbyesque" I wince inwardly, even though the artist is an old chum from the Jack Kirby mailing list. The very word "Kirbyesque" or the term "Kirby as a genre" employed in the pages of The Jack Kirby Collector causes me pain. Even Rick Veitch doing his best Kirby just makes me shrug and go "yeah, cute, whatever" and put up with it. The only Kirby homage I've genuinely enjoyed is Doris Danger by the thoroughly wonderful Chris Wisnia. And now this.
Unlike the equally good Crime and Punishment by Dick Sprang pastiche by R. Sikoryak, this isn't a mashup intended to produce irony via the juxtaposition of incongruous source materials. At least, I don't think it is. These guys seem to get that Kirby's Fourth World genuinely is about personifying these inner drives and primal urges...and that Freud really does present psychoanalysis as a heroic struggle against vast power principles locked in Cyclopean conflict. Kirby and Freud were already speaking the same language anyway; Ryu and Hans Rickheit just pointed it out to the rest of us.
(Thanks to Matthew Brady for the link.)
Update: Among previous Kirby tributes, I forgot to mention I also liked the charming Donatello TMNT one-shot from 1986 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the entirety of which is available online.
Monday, January 12, 2009
I choose to believe what I was programmed to believe
I associate Futurama with sick beds and recuperation because Cartoon Network aired a farewell marathon of the show at the beginning of last year, right when I was laid up with severe bronchial pneumonia. I spent all that time propped in front of the television set, unable to function and hoping only for a momentary distraction from my misery. If I'm ever in a severe auto accident and suffer frontal lobe damage, I'll spend all my time saying "People said I was dumb, but I proved them!" and "I'll make my own theme park! With blackjack! And hookers!" and "I'm literally angry with rage!" -- or conversely, "I've never heard of such a brutal and shocking injustice that I cared so little about!" -- and "Teach me to love, you squishy poet from beyond the stars!" Presumably I'll still be trying to sputter out "Hey baby, wanna help me kill all humans?" when someone finally smothers me with a pillow.
So anyway, I'm out of the hospital and back home and everything is going well. In medical terms, my body has sustained what it considers an unprovoked assault and is retaliating against this perceived insult by trying to drive out all intruders. When this immune response calms down a bit, I should be able to breathe better than I have in many years. Soon I'll have to get caught up on work I've missed over the past few days in order to be ready for NYCC at the start of next month, though right now I'd gladly skip the convention this year...which says more about how tired and achey I am at the moment than anything else.
Thanks to everyone who posted a comment or sent an e-mail wishing me well. You deserve a special treat for that. Since folks seem to like the links I find, please enjoy Andy Partridge of XTC discussing how "The Man in the Ant Hill" by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers in Tales to Astonish #27 inspired a song on the 1989 album Oranges and Lemons.
P.S.: That song is called "Across this Antheap" and may be listened to here.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
A joke for the occasion
Her butler was confused. "I beg your pardon, madam? Your son doesn't play the grand piano!"
"What? Of course he does!" she replied. "I hear about it all the time. People are always telling me, your son really is an incredible pianist, isn't he?"
Maybe it works better if you read it out loud.
Anyway, this is just a heads up to say I'm off to the hospital today for some minor surgery, and I might be out of touch for a few days while I recuperate. Obviously my wonderful blog readers are forebearing and patient folk who aren't ever bothered by me going for days or even weeks without posting...but it seemed worth mentioning here in case anyone is waiting for an e-mail or other communication from me.
Monday, January 05, 2009
Highly interesting link
I don't know who the author is, but there's a lot of good stuff in these three chapters so far...though it's much less detailed than it could be. I hope the author will a) step forward to receive credit, and b) expand and continue the project as promised.
On a personal note, if you consider that essay I wrote about my childhood move to New York from Pennsylvania while reading the description of Omega the Unknown in The Gerber Curse, it should be fairly obvious where my fixation on the Omega series came from. My parents were not, to my knowledge, robots...but I definitely had that too intellectual, trying too hard to be a detached observer thing down pat. Part of the reason I still feel cheated we never got the resolution Gerber and Mary Skrenes had in mind for the series is that I really was desperately hoping to get some more tips on how to cope with life from James-Michael Starling.
Friday, January 02, 2009
Students of abnormal psychology take note
Sayre, PA was an almost impossibly perfect manifestation of the ideal American small town. It was unbearably picturesque: the town in which Norman Rockwell paintings seem to take place. Fictional towns like Smallville or Riverdale would have seemed bustling and cosmopolitan by comparison. But the town was also narrow minded, parochial, conservative, economically depressed and oppressive, with little hope of escape for those born there. The television series The Prisoner never seemed like science fiction; I always felt as if I'd lived it.
Among the half dozen highly entertaining blogs maintained by indefatigable blog master Rob Kelly at any given moment, perhaps my favorite is Hey Kids, Comics! Its mission statement is "to share the beloved memories of discovering comics for the first, second, tenth, or hundredth time" and over the past couple of years, some two dozen contributors have stepped forward to share heartfelt, sentimental, touching, and sometimes painfully honest essays and ephemera about their childhood memories and earliest associations with comic books. The focus is not so much on the comics themselves but rather on the authors' lives and formative experiences.
In the latest installment, Rob has posted an essay by me about a major change in my life at the start of a new year and how it connects with my childhood fixation on comics, written in one sitting shortly after midnight this New Year's Eve. This is probably the most openly I've ever written about my childhood; normally I like to keep my cards a lot closer to my chest and not reveal a lot about my past. But Rob had graciously invited me to contribute...and though I didn't think I could offer anything up to the level of what usually appears on that blog, when this anecdote bobbed to the surface it seemed like the best thing I could offer in the way of thanks to the other contributors for their excellent posts.
As I told Rob, I have a sinking feeling this essay will convince everyone I'm secretly autistic. Well, maybe so: I am pretty devoted to watching The People's Court every day. Be that as it may, I promise anyone who reads this will know me a lot better...even if it does make you look at me a bit more suspiciously from now on.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Unsung casualties of the new year
The year 2008 has claimed one final victim. The guys who invented those New Year's novelty eyeglass frames in the shape of the year numbers starting in 1991 are closing shop as of 2009.
"It doesn't look very good for 2010. You wind up with a '1' in front of one of your eyes."
You see these things at parties and high school graduations and on television every year and you just take them for granted until suddenly they're gone. Even worse, like all true innovators, these guys were undercut by cheap knockoffs and never received their full due for the original idea. But here at least, we celebrate the names of Richard Sclafani and Peter Cicero, unsung visionaries.
More details here.