Friday, August 31, 2007
Day Two: More panels,more dealer's room, some parties. Photos are here.
In the dealer's room, Michael Whelan, Bob Eggleton, and a third artist held a paint-off.
Some of the Japanese fan costumes weren't necessarily politically correct. For instance:
Others were just silly fun.
Highlight of the day: A panel celebrating "The Dirty Pair." Although this series of SF novels about two female troubleshooters in space who always end up causing more death and destruction than they prevent is only now being translated en masse for the American market, the anime adaptations of the novels have long been popular here. The panel featured writer Haruki Takachiho (also known as the author of the "Crusher Joe" series), left, and illustrator Yoshikazu Yazuhiko (a gifted painter, manga artist, and animation director, best known in the US and Japan for his characters designs for MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM and his direction of the "Crusher Joe" animated movie), right.
Another highlight was attending a reading by Naomi Novik, whose novels of dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars have fascinated Amy. This photo is from her subsequent interview.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The spirit of Japanese science fiction fandom was very much in evidence on the first day of Worldcon. My fears that this would simply be an American Worldcon transplanted were belied when I saw the masses of Japanese fans (this is the annual Japanese national SF convention, along with the Worldcon) greeting each other. Nor were these all the stereotypical male Otaku. "Watashi da! [It's me!]" yelled an attractive Japanese woman to a man walking toward her in the lobby outside reservation. "Whoa!" he yelled in reply, and the two did a flying high-five.
Possibly the event during the day that best showed the meeting of Eastern and Western fandom was when a woman in a black gothic outfit, with a key turning in her back (along with two impossibly cute little girls in kimonos, each with keys turning in their backs), was passing out flyers for a cosplay cafe.
An American pulled out his iPhone to take her picture.
"Aaah!" squealed the woman, and several male and female Japanese fans nearby. "Iphone!!!"
"First time you've seen an iPhone?" I asked one of the female fans, in my broken Japanese.
"Hai," she replied. "Firsto Contacto!"
As for us, we started the morning of our "first contact" with Yokohama in our now customary way first day in Japan -- we sought out breakfast at a nearby cafe. Thus fortified, we walked along several moving sidewalks and through multiple malls to the Pacifico Yokohama convention center. This is a perfect place for an SF convention; it looks astoundingly futuristic, with its huge wedge- and obelisk shaped buildings, side by side with a gigantic ferris wheel that sports a huge digital clock, and that strobes rainbow neon colors at night.
At registration, we saw Dave Howell, the guest originally from my hometown (who greeted me with, "I was told you would be here") and various other folks from Los Angeles. After a nice lunch at the cafeteria upstairs (where you choose your lunch entree from a vending machine, get a ticket, and bring it to the counter for your dish),
we went to our first panel -- one all in Japanese, featuring manga artists from the magazines YOUNG KING and YOUNG KING OURS. By our "skill" in playing rock paper scissors, Amy and I each won a sketch done at the panel. Amy got one of a girl in Chinese clothes and hairdo drawn by Ooishi Masaru, who writes and draws "Aqua Planet Chronicle" for YOUNG KING OURS; and I got one of the Starship Enterprise, drawn as a giant cat, drawn by an artist named Monmau.
Amy went to panels on proper wearing of kimonos, and on Japanese swordmanship. I went to a panel on recommended Japanese "slipstream" SF writers (unfortunately only one author named has had books translated into English -- and only her mysteries, not her SF books) and a packed panel on anime and manga. One of the speakers at the latter panel was a blond Russian young woman who had moved to Japan to train as a voice actress for anime. She began speaking in English, but found it difficult to express herself -- so she switched to fluent Japanese, which the panel moderator translated.
The opening ceremonies were fun. The audience at the auditorium was packed -- no concerns about low attendance at this con. The mayor of Yokohama was brought onstage on a riksha, and joked that it was part of his platform to save the environment. The western guests of honor, David Brin and Michael Whelan, each managed to speak some Japanese during their speeches, to the delight of the Japanese fans.
Dinner was at a lounge where there were no English menus, and the waitstaff spoke no English. My meager Japanese skills proved inadequate to translating the menu, and we relied on the photos in one section of the menu. I did all right with ordering, but had a bit of a problem with letting the waitstaff know I wanted the bill. I'm going to carry the phrase for that around in my wallet; maybe I'll actually learn it by the time the trip is over.
More photos are up on Photobucket here.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
Reminds me of when I was sitting in my Dad's condo in Rancho Mirage, and brother Mike and Uncle Arny were reciting a list of the attorneys general who ended up indicted. (With John Mitchell, I pointed out he was out of office when indicted and convicted -- but the indictment was for stuff he started doing while in office.)
Sunday, August 26, 2007
So it was that ABC's MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION flew under my radar for half of its four-episode summer run.
I did, however, manage to catch last week's and this week's episodes. Last week was dissatisfying. It was an adaptation of Robert Heinlein's story "Jerry Was a Man." Although it was written and directed by Michael Tolkin, and starred Anne Heche and Malcolm McDowell, it felt bloated, like a half-hour idea blown up to an hour. Alas, half-hour dramas are extinct.
This week's episode was far better -- in fact, one of the best TV adaptations of written SF I've seen. It adapted Harlan Ellison's story "The Discarded"; and although it was updated, and characters' personalities expanded, it was a surpassingly faithful adaptation of the story -- possibly because Ellison co-wrote the teleplay (and played one of the mutants on the ship). It was directed by Johnathan Frakes, who played Riker in the STAR TREK franchise and directed the best NEXT GENERATION movie, FIRST CONTACT. In contrast to the previous episode, the story felt neither bloated nor spare; instead, it filled the confines of the hour like liquid finding its own level. The teleplay, in fact, resembled a stage play, and could probably be produced as a three-act play. The confined setting (a spaceship) and the dialogue-driven storytelling contributed to the theatrical feeling. Some might find issue with laying out a story so much through expositional dialogue; but it worked well in this setting.
Alas, few viewers probably saw this excellent work -- although I'm sure ABC will release it and the other episodes on DVD.
Yet Disney has canceled it. Likely reason: ad revenue was down.
I'm certainly not DA's target audience, but I bought several issues because of the occasional terrific comics pages. In particular, it reprinted Jeff Smith's self-published BONE, helping to make that comic a publishing phenom that is still selling (now via reprint volumes from Scholastic).
Saturday, August 25, 2007
My cousin Lee Goldberg, who has been in Europe all summer producing the pilot for the TV series "Fast Track," is briefly back in the States (he is leaving again tomorrow for the Old Country) and had a signing Saturday afternoon at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood for his latest MONK tie-in novel, MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS. I decided to get my exercise that day by bicycling up to Westwood Village to see him. My neighborhood is downhill from the Village, so the ride was a pretty good workout; and what better way to greet my cousin and his reading public than drenched in sweat.
Lee held a Q & A, in which he discussed Europe ("Crotches. Crotches everywhere."); bringing the top action producer in Germany together with Stephen Cannell; writing bits in the MONK novels that the TV series writers sneak into the episodes; and even a scene written for (but cut from) one of the episodes in which a writer named Lee Goldberg appears. (In the scene, Monk sits in a publisher's waiting room. "Lee" sits next to him, with a fat manuscript. Monk glances at the first page of the manuscript, and announces who "did it" in the book. "Lee" promptly dumps the manuscript into a trash can and walks out.)
Lee also described how he included obscure pieces of automobile techobabble in his script for "Fast Track": He wrote gobbledygook in the script whereevery he wanted tech-talk to go; then called up our mutual cousin Sam Barer (who writes a column about cars) and had him supply automotive stuf for the placeholder words. Our family, the resource.
Since I left my camera at home, and the photo I took with my cell phone was lousy, I took these pix from the Mystery Bookstore newsletter.
Perhaps it was inevitable. Yet it's still poignant to think that as Joe has aged, even his mighty Kung-Fu Grip has failed him.
Old soldiers never die. They just lose their grip.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The article features two hallmarks of traditional news articles about comic books. First, it focused entirely on the "investment" value of the comics. (How many "Don't throw out those funnybooks! They could be worth a fortune!" articles have been published in the last thirty-five years?) Second, it featured the use of the adjective "Holy" in the title, followed by a pun and an exclamation point.
I find extraordinary that journalists still feel that they are being clever by including this tribute to the 1966 BATMAN TV series in their articles, for three reasons. First, it's cliche of the lowest order. Second, Burt Ward's "Holy _____!" expressions were invented for the TV show; the Robin of the comics seldom, if ever, commented on the situation in such a manner before the TV series became a hit. How, then, has the expression come to symbolize all that is comic-booky in the eyes of the Fourth Estate, to the extent where its use in a newspaper article is practically mandatory?
Finally, the BATMAN TV series debuted forty-one years ago. Generations have sprung up since then who know not from the TV show. They know Batman from the more recent movies, or the animated series of the 90's and the 00's, or even -- just maybe -- from the comics. If they have not seen the BATMAN show in syndication, they are likely scratching their heads at these "Holy" references. Recall that forty-one years before the BATMAN TV show appeared was 1925; and somehow I don't think many kids in 1966 were walking around saying "23 Skidoo" or "Oh you kid" to each other.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Ten years after its cancellation -- and after multiple novels, a spinoff animated series, and an attempt to revive it as a TV series -- STAR TREK came back to life as a series of movies.
Ten years after its conclusion (it was broadcast in its entirety, not canceled) -- and after multiple novels, a spinoff TV series, and an attempt to create another (which did not move beyond the pilot stage) -- BABYLON 5 has returned in the first of a planned series of stand-alone movies.BABYLON 5, the TV series, pioneered the use of computer-generated virtual sets, which enabled it to show vast space battles and alien worlds far beyond what its syndicated-series budget would permit. The CGI occasionally looked cheesy; but the strength of the story and dialogue by creator J. Michael Straczynski, plus some excellent acting, carried the show through its visual rough spots.
All of those aspects are magnified in BABYLON 5: THE LOST TALES. Straczynski, who both wrote and directed the two episodes that make up this first volume, has crafted two strong tales that draw on the storylines of the TV series (including the future-history that JMS set up, extending 1,000 years past the period in which the series takes place); yet that are stand-alone episodes that don't require knowledge of complicated story arcs to appreciate.But the budget is a concern. That budget is likely smaller than the one for the TV series. Indeed, JMS has stated that he directed these episodes to show future directors how his vision could be realized within the limited budget.
CGI has come a long way in the years since the B5 series ended; and it shows. The graphics are more engaging and realistic than in the series. On the other hand, it is clear that just about everything on the screen -- except the actors, their clothes, and the parts of their environment with which they interact -- are mere pixels. We don't get a matte line around the actors, as with older technologies, but in closeups we are often very aware that the actors are not part of the computer-generated environments behind them.The other way the budget limitations manifest themselves is in the number of people onscreen. A friend of mine is fond of pointing out that when the MAN FROM UNCLE TV series went from black and white to color, the many extras that used to inhabit the city scenes disappeared; the money that would have went to hiring extras had gone to the color photography. Likewise, in these episodes, space is underpopulated. We have three actors from the original series (Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins, and Peter Woodward); about four other speaking roles; a bunch of voices over intercoms or radios; and a couple of nonspeaking extras who walk by. That's it. No shots of the more populated parts of the space station or the starships. The budget for hiring more actors is limited (as, perhaps, is the space in the green-screen-walled studio). Space is a lonely place.
Nevertheless, THE LOST TALES is a lot of fun. Please buy the DVD, so the producers can afford to populate the planets.
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales starring Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins, Teryl Rothery, Bruce Ramsay, Peter Woodward, Alan Scarfe, Keegan Macintosh from Warner Home Video on DVD - Widescreen, Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85
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That got me thinking about the provenance issues for movie adaptations of comic book characters who have been around for decades, and who are the product of diverse hands over the ages.
That isn't a problem with Stardust, since it was a standalone illustrated novel with one writer and one artist. But consider a character such as Marvel's Wolverine. Wolverine apparently originated as a suggestion by editor Roy Thomas, which writer Len Wein developed. The visual design for Wolverine was devised by John Romita. Wein and artist Herb Trimpe then created the first comic-book adventure for the Canadian mutant. Then Wolverine was picked up for the revived X-Men comic; and the cover artists for the first appearance of the New X-Men, Gil Kane, redesigned Wolverine's costume into the look more familiar today. Dave Cockrum illustrated the X-Men issues with Wolverine. Then after an issue and a half, writer Chris Claremont took over. He, more than any other creator before or since, shaped Wolverine's character into the one eventually depicted in the X-Men movies decades later.
So who created Wolverine? Who would you credit in the upcoming Wolverine movie?
Or take Batman. Bob Kane, who devised the original concept for Batman, had a contract with DC for years requiring that he be credited as the creator of the Dark Knight. But writer Bill Finger reportedly devised Batman's look, as well as much of his background; and is credited by most as at least the co-creator of Batman.
But the story does not end there. The Batman who appeared in the 2005 movie BATMAN BEGINS did not step unalloyed out of the character's first 1939 comic book appearance.
In the federal district court opinion, Netzer v. Continuity Graphic Associates, Inc.,
963 F.Supp. 1308 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), Judge Sweet wrote about Neal Adams, "Adams was and is a comic book and commercial artist well known in his field for, among other things, his creation of Batman." That is quite a trick, considering that Adams was born after the first comic book appearance of Batman. Yet, in a way, it is true. Adams is not the creator of Batman, but he is a creator of Batman. His artwork for Batman stories in the late '60's and early '70's, which visually redefined the character, created (in part) the version of the charactor that exists today -- the one depicted in BATMAN BEGINS. (Indeed, according to Adams's Website, Adams received some money from Warner for the movie -- in part, perhaps, because a character Adams indisputably co-created, Ra's al Ghul, is in the movie.) By the same logic, Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli, Steve Engelhart, Marshall Rogers, Dick Giordano, Denny O'Neil, and several others might be considered "creators" of Batman. Who do you credit?
The creator-credit issue becomes even more complicated when the issue of creation is in dispute. Comics writer Gary Friedrich is currently suing Marvel over the ownership of the character Ghost Rider. Friedrich, who wrote the intial appearances of the supernatural cyclist, contends he created the character and brought him to Marvel. Roy Thomas has written that he came up with the concept of a skull-headed (or masked) cyclist; and artist Mike Ploog added the flames streaming from the character's head. Ploog has stated he doesn't remember who came up with the character. Small wonder that the recent GHOST RIDER movie didn't credit any writer or artist for creating the character. (Unsurprisingly, when Friedrich, Ploog, and Thomas sat together on a Marvel '60's and '70's panel at the Comic-Con last month, the subject of Ghost Rider didn't come up. Instead, Friedrich and Thomas talked fondly of their pre-comic-book days together as ushers in Missouri.)
The first step in deciding whether or how to credit comic book creators of decades-old characters is to answer the question: who are the creators?
Saturday, August 18, 2007
On Thursday, Amy and I celebrated with a dinner at The Restaurant at the Hotel Bel-Air. (That's the name. It's too snooty for a dba.) Delicious -- and romantic. Much like our marriage.
Check it out. It's beautifully written, luminously drawn and colored, and plays like a mixture of Windsor McKay, Ray Bradbury, and Kelly Link.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Later this month, we'll wing off to Japan for the 2007 World Science Fiction Convention. The Con has its programming grid up -- and, suprisingly (at least to me), it doesn't look much different than the programming grid for the Worldcon last year in Anaheim.
One of the participants in the first scheduled panel discussions is Dave Howell -- who appears to be the Dave Howell I grew up with in Walla Walla. No matter where you go . . . .
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Wednesday, August 15, 2007
One choice bit of scenery: just north of San Diego, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey train passed by, complete with animal cages. Visions of "Dumbo" and "The Greatest Show on Earth" filled my head.
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Stardust, the movie, is proof that a good movie adaptation of a book doesn't necessarily have to be a faithful one.
The movie is adapted from the fantasy novel written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess. (Incidentally, despite what some reviews have said, Stardust was not a graphic novel; although it was published by the Vertigo imprint of DC comics, it was an illustrated prose novel. A graphic novel, or comic book, is one where the writing and illustrations alone could not tell the story. But at least one edition of Stardust contained the novel without illustrations; and it succeeded in conveying the story. That isn't a graphic novel.) Although it's not Gaiman's first foray into movies (that would be either Princess Mononoke, for which he wrote the english adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki's script, or Mirrormask, for which he wrote the script), it is the first adaptation of one of his novels. The film retains the essential story of the novel: In a 19th-century English town that shares a party-wall with the land of Faery, a boy (Charlie Cox) promises the object of his affection that he will retrieve for her a falling star. But while in our world a "falling star" would be an inert hunk of meteorite, in Faery -- where the star lands -- the star is an actual star, knocked from the heavens, who manifests as an attractive and highly-sarcastic young woman (Claire Danes). Nonetheless, the boy lassoes her with a magic chain and tries to drag her back -- and adventures ensue. Yet the movie takes several departures from the film. In particular, it cuts out the bitterest of the bitter-sweet moments, such as the lasting scars both protagonists suffer from the mishaps that befall them. And it adds a new sequence with sky pirates -- led by Robert Dinero, in one of the most unusual roles of his career -- who literally catch lightning in a bottle.
But the film ably captures the spirit of Gaiman's prose -- simultaneously taking the fairy-tale tropes of the story quite seriously, and yet drawing the humor from them. The result is a marvelously entertaining night at the movies.
Stardust was doomed to a miniscule opening weekend by going head-to-head with the juggernaut that is the Rush Hour franchise. But don't let the box-office numbers fool you. Stardust is a reminder that fantasy films that feature neither hobbits, boy wizards, nor arachnid heroes can still delight.
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Sunday, August 12, 2007
Today's "Songbook" discusses one of the quintessential California beach anthems, the Beach Boys' "California Girls." Although the song itself is saturated with sunlight and joy, Boucher describes the dark history of its composition. Brian Wilson composed the melody one horrible night, after he dropped acid for the first time and started experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia. One lighter note: Wilson's inspiration for the song's melody was cowboy-movie music -- hence the irresistable hook that runs through the song: "bum-badeeda bum-badeeda." Think "Happy Trails."
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Bear in mind, this song was written shortly after the Soviet Union broke up -- and the number of countries in the world suddenly went up sharply.
Did they wonder why this GI Joe team member was underwater -- in deep-sea diving gear -- at a swimming hole, watching kids splashing around?
Or why this medic was peering through a window into a family's bathroom?
Well, perhaps now they know better. And knowing is, well . . . .
My cousin Burl Barer lists some choice quotes from public figures illustrating the fine arts of intolerance, bigotry, and half-assedness.
Colleen Doran, meanwhile, posted two panels from a religious tract by Jack Chick in which Uncle Bob explains why "[T]he [Harry] Potter books open a doorway that will put untold millions of kids into hell." (Oddly, I've read the Harry Potter books, and I've never found references to Ouija boards or tarot cards. And the crystal balls usually don't work -- except as blunt objects bounced off heads.)
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Specifically, Florida prosecutors are pursuing charges against eight inmates who are accused of the heinous crime of . . . self-abuse. In their cells. Alone.
Nor is the state treating these acts of autonomous intercourse as mere disciplinary infractions. No, they've hauled out full trials for the flagpole polishers. This includes voir dire of the jury, in which the prospective juror are interrogated about their own habits of tenderizing the steak. And during at least one of the trials, both the complaining deputy (the same one in each case) and the prosecutor energetically mimed the physical acts of python punishment the deputy observed on monitors.
The taxpayers of Florida are the ones stuck with the bill for transporting these knuckle-waltzers to court; paying the prosecutors and the public defenders; and staffing the courtroom with bailiffs to keep the dastards' hands in full view at all times. Plus, these prosecutions have drawn the inevitable smart-alecky attention from the Fourth Estate, turning Florida's penal system into an object of derision.
Seems to me it's the public fisc that's being jerked around here.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
-- We saw the premiere of SUPERMAN:DOOMSDAY, a "PG-13" animated retelling of the "Death of Superman" storyline from the early '90's. In one scene (spoiler warning), Lex Luthor lures a clone of Superman he created into a red-sun chamber (robbing faux-Supes of his powers), then pummels the clone with kryptonite knuckles. ("Red and green," Lex rhapsodizes. "The colors of Christmas!") Shirtless, Luthor straddles the stricken clone's chest, and gloats, "Who's your daddy?" Uh-huh.
-- At the Eisner awards on Friday night, British TV personality Jonathon Ross appeared with Brit expat writer Neil Gaiman to present the final awards. Ross rendered the normally chatty Gaiman mute with his energetic monologue on how American comics had given him more pleasure than . . . well . . . see for yourself.
Then, to top things off, Ross persuaded Gaiman to join him in emulating two previous co-presenters (both female) who smooched each other onstage. Inevitably, someone video'd it and posted the video on Youtube:
-- This event was strangely echoed in the movie we saw after the con while waiting for traffic to die down -- TRANSFORMERS, a movie so dumb I could feel my brain cells dying as I watched it -- which is likely the only movie based on a toy line that features the main character's mother delivering a long speech about the boy's self-gratification habits.
-- Among the myriad of celebrities I saw at Comic-con was Danny Bonaduce, who sauntered past us in front of the convention center. I mentally juxtaposed the red-headed cherub from the PARTRIDGE FAMILY, which I watched religiously as a seven-year-old, with this hard-bitten, hard-boiled soul.
-- One of the movie previews during the Warner Brothers panel was the wan-looking Japanese horror film remake ONE WRONG NUMBER. A few souls came up to ask the two actors who appeared about their other roles on ENTOURAGE and similar shows. The actors had at their sides some mysterious black boxes. At the end of the panel, they announced that the boxes were iPhones that they were told to give away. After some confusion about the criteria for awarding the phones, they decided to give the boxes to the fans who had asked the questions. So some lucky fans walked away with $500 pieces of Apple hardware.
-- During a voice actor's panel on Saturday, one of the actors reminisced about delivering his Ed Norton imitation in front of none other than Jackie Gleason. Then I attended the Marvel Studios panel. Speaking about the upcoming Hulk movie was -- who else? -- the other Ed Norton.
More video from the Con coming soon.