Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mr. Thunderbird

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gerry Anderson

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Submarines of your dreams

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One for the retrofuturists

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Out of the silent planet

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

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

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

The Origin of the Vision, This Time For Sure

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

The strange world of my dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This just in

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

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

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Practically perfect in every way

Okay, that was the most stunning opening ceremony for an Olympic Games ever, and the only one that ever made me want to watch it a second time to catch all the touches I missed the first time. But I'm still having trouble getting my head around the coincidence of the Mary Poppins Squad flying in to defeat the giant Voldemort in the ceremony, when the climax of Century 2009 is much the same. The last volume of LOEG was only published last month but the script had to have been completed something like a year ago. Danny Boyle's opening ceremonies may have been worked out even earlier, considering the sheer logistics involved.

I'm sure everyone else has already asked themselves: could there have been some kind of communication between Moore and Boyle and this was a prank they cooked up between them (with many others in on it, of course) or was this just some kind of wild coincidence? Or is the idea of Mary Poppins and Voldemort in battle simply a much more obvious idea than I think it is, and it was inevitable two people would come to it independently? The idea of secret collusion seems the most likely, but I just can't tell. I suppose we'll find out soon enough.

But I tell you, when all the rumors this would be in the ceremonies started up a few days ago, I was utterly convinced it was a hoax perpetrated by someone who'd read the comic. One hundred percent certain. When I saw it actually happening, I honestly couldn't believe my own eyes. Now that's showmanship!

And as I said on Twitter, presumably the closing ceremonies will involve a giant telepathic squid materializing inside the stadium, followed by the announcement "we ended the Olympics 35 minutes ago."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sometimes the night is generous

Oh no they didn't. They did! Those crazy fools, what were they thinking?

Continuing their promotion for the Kindle edition of Mutant Cinema by Tom McLean, Sequart has now made Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen, edited by yours truly, a free download for Kindle from now until midnight Pacific time. You can download each book by clicking on its title.

I don't need to repeat yet again how proud I am of the book -- created by the stellar contributors listed at right, down where it says "Legendary Beings" -- and how tickled I am to have my name on said volume. If you've read the previous entries of this blog you already know how I feel about it. I won't belabor the point. But I will venture this: if you've been even mildly curious about Minutes to Midnight but weren't sure if it was really worth the investment in these uncertain economic times, I can safely say it's almost certainly at least worth the price of absolutely free.

Like yesterday, this offer lasts only 24 hours and the clock is already ticking. Don't put it off too long -- you know how tense those final minutes before the clock strikes twelve can be.

[And again, the offer has ended. Early signs are the promotion has been a huge success. I have to thank everyone who helped out in amplifying the signal on this one, whether because you're a friend of mine or a complete stranger who spread the word because interest in the original Watchmen has risen for some reason. Either way, many thanks!]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Consternation and uproar

How is this even possible? From now until midnight Pacific time, Sequart (publisher of scholarly tomes on comic books and related culture) is making the Kindle editions of both Mutant Cinema by Tom McLean, a study of the X-Men film trilogy, and the anthology Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes edited by Tim Callahan available as free downloads for Kindle. All you have to do is click on those titles and each book is yours for no cost whatsoever.

If you don't own a Kindle and you've been thinking "I'd love to try out the free Kindle reader software for my PC or Mac but there simply aren't any critical analyses of the original X-Men film trilogy available for it," this is indeed your lucky day.

If you just now said to yourself "That's all well and good, but a hefty collection of entertaining and insightful essays about the adventures of teen super-heroes in the 30th Century is more my cup of tea, if only it were available in a more convenient form so I don't have to lug around such a heavy volume," then step right up.

And if you've ever voiced the sentiment "I certainly would love to read that essay my good friend Richard Bensam is so proud of, that one about the death and resurrection of Lightning Lad called 'The Perfect Storm' but quite frankly I am reluctant to sully our friendship with something so crude and base as a financial transaction, if only there were some more noble alternative," this is a wonderful solution to your dilemma.

Remember, this offer lasts only 24 hours and presumably some of those hours will already have passed by the time you read this. So act now! Supplies aren't limited but time is.

[Update: And this offer is now over. Thanks to everyone who downloaded a copy; I'm pleased to say the promotion has been a great success!]

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Number one dream

I don't normally record my dreams, much less share them with people, but last night I had one of the best dreams I ever had in my life. This one I have to share. I swear this is an actual dream, and not embellished or improved in any way for dramatic effect.

In the dream, I was watching behind-the-scenes film footage of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and two other British rockers I can't identify (but I knew who they were in the dream) rehearsing on a soundstage for some sort of all-star performance. One of the musicians I can't name was a white-hair gent I'm sure is someone in real life that I've seen on television recently, a rock star of equivalent fame, but I can't place him just now. They were between songs, and they were having a discussion about George Formby.

"A few years back my boy and I went to see the museum," the white-haired musician was telling Mick and Keith. "He was allowed to hold George's uke in his hands."

Keith nodded with understanding. "Number thirteen, right?"

"No! Number one!" replied the white-haired rocker with obvious triumph. "When I'm Cleaning Windows. Blackpool Rock. All the big ones." Mick and Keith were visibly impressed that the white-haired fellow's son had actually been allowed to hold the most cherished of all Formby's ukeleles.

The notion that George Formby had a collection of special ukeleles, and that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger and other British rockers would all be big enough fans of Formby to know each instrument individually and which one was used to perform which song, delights me. I have no idea where the dream came from...but I can wish that maybe, just maybe, it's secretly true.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I've got to admit Amazon has a pretty good idea of my tastes and preferences. Those guys are great writers!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where I'm at

I was a little preoccupied when this went up on Kickstarter so I'm only just getting around to mentioning it now. A few years back I wrote the scripts for a six issue miniseries called The 1000 Year Night from a plot by the ever-enterprising Quenton Shaw. Quenton describes the story in convenient Hollywood shorthand as "Interview with a Vampire meets The Bourne Identity" and there's something to that. The capsule description may make it sound very familiar, but I can safely say we took that starting point in some unexpected directions. Unfortunately the economics of getting the book published didn't work out at the time, but now we have the option of raising funds via Kickstarter, not to mention considerably greater opportunities for digital distribution. I'd love to see the series appear after all this time. Check out the art samples at the link and see if your curiosity might be sufficiently piqued to chip in.

Also, since people have asked, I'm happy to say that both Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen (edited by yours truly) and Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes (including "The Perfect Storm," my essay on the death and resurrection of Lightning Lad in Adventure Comics and what it signified about the development of superhero comics in the Silver Age) are now available for the Kindle. Now at last we're all set for that post-Before Watchmen surge of interest in anything Watchmen-related!

Finally, I just signed up on Twitter. I guess that means it's officially over now, right? You're probably all rushing over to Pinterest as I type this. Ah well. I'll probably just hang back for a while until I figure out how everything works. If anyone wants to go ahead and follow me and be followed back, I can pretty much guarantee you won't be overwhelmed by incoming messages from me. I won't twitter bomb you or whatever the kids call it. You'll hardly even notice I'm there.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

About Mark

I didn't know Mark Bourne personally. All I really knew about him was what he wrote. I was a fan of his writing and his insights and constantly wished I could write like that. I envied everything about his career. I knew our tastes had a lot in common, especially in comedy, and especially in our appreciation of such gems as The President's Analyst -- my favorite film of all time, and I first started reading his stuff because I discovered his essay on it -- or The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. I was planning on working my way through the career of Peter Sellers with Mark's essays as a guide. Before he died I didn't know Mark's age, or what he looked like, or where he lived, or much about his background other than what he mentioned online. But his death feels like I've lost a friend.

I have a draft of an e-mail I was about to send Mark -- nothing big, just something I'd come across that I thought he'd enjoy, an anecdote about Robert Heinlein trying unsuccessfully to collaborate with Fritz Lang on a space travel film years before Destination Moon was made by George Pal. One of Mark's specialties was alternate history cinema, films that never were but could have been made. The prospect of Heinlein and Lang teaming up seemed like his sort of thing. Now I'll never get to send that message to him and find out what he thought of the idea, or whether he'd read Bill Patterson's biography of Heinlein and had already been pondering the topic.

As I say, the full extent of our acquaintance was online, and mainly in the comments section of his blog. That's why I'm startled at how real his death is, how much it feels like a loss beyond the purely selfish disappointment of not getting to read his insights on film or some amazing visual he'd found of space exploration or some planetary phenomenon. I always wanted to keep reading new stuff from him…but mainly I wanted to feel that someone so intelligent and articulate and just plain cool was part of my world. There are so many other things I'd have liked to say here, but I'll leave it at this:

Thanks for all the great things you introduced me to, Mark, and thanks for being a person who loved those things and wanted to share how great they were with everyone else. Thank you for your many kind responses to my overeager comments. They meant more than you could have realized. I would have liked to know you someday, but damn it, now I never will.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Smiling faces sometimes lie

I haven't read them all by any means, but I can tell you right away that you won't find a more cogent response to the announcement of the Watchmen prequels than this one by Lance Parkin. That just about nails it.

Alan Moore's daughter Leah posted a reaction on Twitter that points out the real issue: DC Comics -- and Marvel, for that matter -- don't actually want new characters or properties. They literally wouldn't know how to promote or sell anything new anymore. New things are a real pain for a media corporation. Honestly, the very last thing they want is to publish a new original character created by Darwyn Cooke.

For that matter, the only reason either company has invested money in buying up other publishers' existing characters over the past couple of decades is to keep them away from some publisher who might be able to do something productive with them. Consider the strange tale of Marvelman for instance. There may have been a time when DC and Marvel were like EMI Records, almost accidentally enriching us all by recording acts like the Beatles and the Pink Floyd. Now DC and Marvel aren't even record companies with a roster of oldies and nostalgic tribute bands anymore; now they're companies in the business of selling Beatle wigs, who put out records only to create the illusion they're still a vital part of culture.

And yes, I've been trying to figure out how I can parlay this news into a lucrative volume of Hours Before Midnight: Twelve Essays Prior To Watchmen but so far I just can't see it working. Is there some potential I'm missing? I would do it in a heartbeat. Suggestions gladly accepted!

(I'm still on blogging sabbatical but felt a need to acknowledge today's announcement somehow for reasons that should be obvious. Makes a great Valentine's Day gift!)