Monday, August 25, 2008

For Bruce Wayne, It's Pocket Change

If you've got a spare $110,000 lying around, and you've already bought a tank of gas, you could always head over to Ebay and buy a Batmobile.

I must be punchy from late night work. I read the description of the vehicle as "from the Keaton movies," and seriously wondered which Batman movies Buster Keaton was in.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hand Grenade Pins in Every Line

What does a literary novelist do when he writes a media tie-in novel, as my cousin Tod Goldberg did with "Burn Notice: The Fix"?

He searches his soul; draws inspiration from the writers successful with their own books who do tie-ins; invests his emotions in the project; and then writes a nifty L.A. Times essay about the whole experience.

A non-literary novelist likely writes his tie-in, cashes the check, and moves onto the next deadline.

Such a Nice Young Superman . . . .

In the course of surfing the Web and procrastinating on writing a magazine article I promised to complete by the end of the month, I came across this blog post from two years ago by a comics fan/blogger who is also an orthodox jew. The blogger nitpicks (his characterization) a scene from a then-recent Superman story, written by Gail Simone, in which Superman is a guest at the Shabbos dinner of one of Clark Kent's co-workers. This sparked a lively discussion in the comments section. The comments included several by the story's writer, who said she wanted to pay tribute to the fact that Superman was created by two jews (Siegel and Shuster), has a Hebrew name (which he changed to something more middle-American when he emigrated to earth), and might well be described as a nice jewish boy; but who has always been depicted as Christian. (Or Raoist, if he's practicing Kryptonian religions.)

One of the most interesting comments postulates that no jewish law applies to Kal-El, because he is not human. It further hypothesizes that Wonder Woman should be banned from any kind of jewish celebration, because her existence violates a commandment: Since she began life as a clay figure into which the Greek gods breathed life, she is an idol, or a graven image. (Another commentator pointed out that if a B'aal Shem had brought her to life, she would be a golem, and would be perfectly kosher.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beach Volleyball Gold

Ok. Now I can go to bed.

Beach Volleyball Blogging

I've been up since 5 am. I wish Misty and Kerri would hurry up and win the Gold so that I can go to bed.

Who's That Tall Dark Author There? Barer is His Name

Flummoxed by the recent John McCain commercials that assert McCain is "The Original Maverick," a Chicago Sun-Times reporter calls an expert on the MAVERICK TV series -- my cousin Burl Barer, who wrote a terrific book on the series back when the Mel Gibson movie came out. No, Burl assures the reporter, it was James Garner, not McCain, who played Brett Maverick. Nor was McCain one of the myriad of actors who played various members of the Maverick family.

Stay tuned for the next round of commercials, in which McCain will assert that he was the original Sheriff Matt Dillon. Or maybe Festus.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When You're a Spy, You're a Spy All the Way

This past Saturday was Amy's and my 11th wedding anniversary, and what better way to spend a chunk of it than to drive over to the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood (a whole, oh, three or four miles from our house) and watch cousins Lee and Tod Goldberg do a joint signing. The occasion for the signing was that each brother has a media tie-in novel for a USA Network series: Lee has his umpteenth Monk novel, MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY; and Tod has his first BURN NOTICE book.

The latter is a true departure for Tod. His metier hitherto has been literary, non-linear stories of messed-up young men in which the moral compass often spins like a windmill. With BURN NOTICE: THE FIX, Tod dives into the world of heroic fiction -- specifically, the sub-continent of the former spy turned hardboiled private eye -- and tells the linear story of a character who ostensibly operates out of his own elightened self-interest, but actually uses his superior skills to protect the vulnerable and make the world a marginally better place.

Plus, Tod says that he's made me a character in the book; and that my literary doppleganger meets with violence. Just the thing to keep me reading: appealing to both my narcissim and my sense of dread.

****Update (and spoiler warning)**************************************************

Finished the book. Yes, my prose counterpart makes the mistake of pulling a piece on the book's hero (who is not only an ex-spy, but, as the series depicts him, essentially the most badass ex-spy out there), and receives for his temerity a well-placed pistol whip in the schnozz and choppers. One sign that a literary novelist is writing this story: The violence is realllly ugly.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Everything's Archie -- After 67 Years

With the box office success of the Marvel and DC movie adaptations, folks tend to forget that Archie Comics has been one of the most successful comics companies of all time . . . for around 67 years.

This week, the LA Times published the obit of Archie co-publisher Michael Silberkleit. Silberkleit and his business partner, the late Richard Goldwater are the sons of the company's founders; both purchased the company from their dads, and kept it a family-run business for over 60 years. Even now, the business is owned by their families.

Despite re-running the same basic dozen or so storylines, with minor variations, for decades through numerous comics, Archie comics still sell well to their target audiences: Young kids who wish they were teens, and adults who remember when they were kids wishing they were teens.

Profile of the Artist as a Rebel

Writer Jane Devin does a terrific profile of my artist cousin Linda Woods, and her skirmishes with the "scrapbook mafia" -- folks who are offended that a journal-keeper might use the technique of pasting stuff into a book for a reason other than preserving family memories.

The Dark Knight Falls . . . to Number 2

I have not seen "Tropic Thunder," but I understand that people are picketing it because some characters in it who are stupid say some stupid things, and the picketing folks believe that even stupid characters should not say stupid things in movies. (Me, I get offended when smart, sympathetic, nominal heroes in movies say offensive things. Sometimes.)

Anyway, the picketing folks may not realize that there is no such thing as bad publicity in Hollywood; or that the best thing for box office is being picketed. "Tropic Thunder" rules the box office this weekend, actually upsetting "The Dark Knight" from the # 1 perch it has occupied and defended for a month.

"The Clone Wars," meanwhile, is #3 -- a far cry from the live-action STAR WARS movies (even the really badly-scripted and directed ones) that ruled the box office. Maybe if they had put Shreck it it, it would have done better.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Harry Potter Delayed is Harry Potter Denied

What posseses the dominant entertainment conglomerate in the world to take a huge-budgeted movie in one of the highest-grossing franchises in history, set to open in three months, and push its opening back to July 17, 2009 -- a change tantamount to, say, pushing the Normandy invasion back to 1945?

Two things. One, a phemonemon called "The Dark Knight." The other, a summer bereft of the sort of "tent pole" movies that made a lot of executives rich this summer.

Hence, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" -- by all accounts, the sort of dark fantasy that would benefit from the gloom of November -- will debut around the same time that "Dark Knight" debuted this year.

No word yet on how this will be harmonized with the planned releases of parts I and II of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the last two films in the series. (At least until the computer-generated animated prequel. Kidding.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

More People in My Family Who are More Talented than I

My fairly distant relative Sada Jacobson won a silver and a bronze in fencing in the Beijing Olympics.

She's announced that she's retiring from fencing and going to . . . law school?

Maybe not such a distant relation . . .

Iphone and Printing Innovations

More innovations in marketing Japanese manga and anime internationally. Yoshitoshi ABe, the writer/artist who has lent his soft-focus artwork to anime such as HAIBANE RANME and NIEA_SEVEN puts out self-published comics, or Doujinshi. (Indeed, HAIBANE RANME started out as a Doujinshi.) Doujinshi generally don't get commercially distributed in other countries, since exportation and translation would be prohibitive.

ABe has gotten around this by marketing his Doujinshi "Pochiyama at the Pharmacy" as an application for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. The app uses multilingual comics software to toggle between a Japanese-language version and an English version.

Only catch: You have to have an iPhone or an iPod Touch to view it; it's not viewable on an ordinary iPod or on a computer screen. If more creators go this route, fans might well boost sales for both devices.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes, R.I.P.

And once again, global warming increases as another bit of cool is lost to the world forever.

Selling Bubble Bath -- and Scarring Childhood Psyches

Mark Evanier's blog recently featured this bubble bath commercial from the early sixties. I don't know what's more disturbing: Dick Tracy appearing naked in a kid's commercial; Tracy using his two-way wrist TV while in the bath; Tracy using the two-way TV to sing a duet with the egg-stealing muskrat from DEPUTY DAWG; or Tracy doing all this after surviving a car crash in which he's ejected through the front windshield of his police cruiser and into a tree.

Amazingly Enough, a Post About a Signing by a Writer Who's Not Related to Me

My old friend Doselle Young -- who has written Superman and Wonder Woman (not to mention stories about mob weddings and dating a stripper) for DC, and THE MONARCHY for Wildstorm Comics -- writes:

"Hi there, folks!

"As some of you know, I've got a short prose story appearing this month in THE DARKER MASK (Tor Books 2008).

"Publishers Weekly describes The Darker Mask as: 'Themed along the grayer areas of superhero fiction, this anthology of 18 original stories nonetheless covers a wide spectrum. Deceptively simple and entertaining while never skimping on serious topics, this tight anthology will satisfy any superhero enthusiast.' I think that's likely true and, if not, the anthology features stories by well-known luminaries in the mystery and science-fiction genres, including shining light Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress), so I'm sure there'll be something in it even for the discerning lit-snobs among you.

"That being said, I am just happy to be part of the book and doubly so to have an excuse to see many of you that I haven't seen in awhile."

[ . . .]


"TIME: 3-5PM

"WHAT: A BOOK SIGNING FOR THE DARKER MASK featuring myself and a host for far more talented contributors including co-editor Gary Phillips , Naomi Hirahara, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due.

7522 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, Ca 90046
323. 851.7223"

Bernie Brillstein and Bernie Mac, R.I.P.

I'm sure someone will make a sick joke about these two entertainment figures passing away within two days of one another -- perhaps something involving a movie concerning a weekend that came out a couple decades ago -- but I just think it's sad. Particularly Mac, who was only seven years older than me.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Deathstar-Warming Present

The perfect product for STAR WARS fans with money to burn: a 3' 9", 150-pound bronze statue of Darth Vader. It'll set you back a mere $18,000. Apparently, the 6 copies of the artist's proof have already sold out. I don't know whether to be amazed or sad.

Pretty (Obs)Cure

The current bear market for DVDs in general -- and anime DVDs in particular -- has led anime license holders to some innovative marketing moves.

Toei Animation has tried for years to market its magical-girl anime PRETTY CURE -- insanely popular in Japan, where it's on at least its second sequel TV series -- to U.S. TV, without success. Now it is marketing the series itself, in the form of subtitled downloads available on the Direct2Drive Website.

The irony is that the PRETTY CURE series would seem to be tailor-made for a young girl audience. What tween girl wouldn't tune in for two young-teen heroines who save the day in frilly dresses over bicycle shorts, and whose benefactors are magical creatures who live in cell phones? Yet its target audience is rather unlikely to seek it out as a subtitled Japanese language computer download.

Is There Room for Ricola in the Utility Belt?

With Russia at war with the Georgia Republic, and the Olympics in full force in Beijing, it's time to turn to a really important topic: Christian Bale's bat-voice in THE DARK KNIGHT.

I have to agree that Bales's delivery of The Batman's lines in a throat-tearing growl was more distracting than impressive in several scenes -- particularly when compared to Heath Ledger's compelling vocal stylings for The Joker.

My personal opinion is that Kevin Conroy, who voiced the Caped Crusader for multiple Warner animated series, provided the best vocal stylings for Batman -- midway between the whisper Michael Keaton used in the Tim Burton movies and Gary Owens's deep-register boom for pseudo-Batman Space Ghost.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Savage Sword of Sonja

Robert Rodriguez gave away shirts with this image at the SDCC Red Sonja panel (including one to a young kid who asked a question of the panel -- bet his parents loved it).

Warning: Gory, not necessarily work-safe, and wholly unsanitary.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Full-Blooded Trailer for Half-Blood Prince

The teaser trailer for November's adaptation of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" is certifiably chilling. Particularly effective is the casting of Voldemort actor Ralph Fiennes's nephew as the young Tom Riddle, aka the future Voldemort.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Comic-Con 2008: The Rest of the Con

Okay, so I posted about preview night of Comic-Con International:San Diego; then have remained silent until now. Well, during the con I was too busy to post; and since then (a) I've been working like a dog; (b) I've been unpacking; (c) I've been working on uploading lots of photos, and the bulk uploaders on my laptop aren't cooperating; or (d) all of the above. (Anyone who's taken a multiple choice test knows: when in doubt, pick the last choice.)

Anyway, this con was one of the best San Diego Comic-Cons I've been to -- and I've been to 22 of them in the last 28 years. This despite the capacity crowd (it sold out before the first day of the con) and some unseasonable grey weather.

Thursday morning began with a blast of humor as I attended the Tiny Toons/Freakazoid panel. Along with Warner Brothers Animation stalwarts Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Andrea Romano and MC Paul Rugg (the voice of Freakazoid), the panel featured my old friend John P. McCann, who was a writer/producer/voice actor on Freakazoid back in the mid-nineties. (John was one of two TV writer-producers at our wedding 11 years ago. I'll talk about the other one shortly.)

I didn't get a chance to talke to John, but we did get to catch up with his wife Joy, aka Miss Attila (see the link to her blog on the right margin).

I attended a spotlight on one of the guests of honor, photorealistic comics penciller Paul Gulacy; and found out that he could do a terrific Sinatra impersonation. Gulacy revealed that when he was drawing "Master of Kung-Fu" back in the pre-VCR days, he would attend martial-arts movies in grindhouse theatres, toting an audio tape recorder with him. After the flick, when he sat at his drawing board, he would play back his tapes of the fight scenes; and when he heard the kyaas and grunts and impacts, he could play the fights back in his mind and draw them.

Later that afternoon, we went to a panel on the upcoming RED SONJA movie. Red Sonja is a character with an odd provenance: Seventies Conan the Barbarian comics writer Roy Thomas based her on a character Conan creator Robert E. Howard had wrote in a non-Conan story, but inserted her into the Conan universe. She was fairly popular when she appeared in a two-part Conan story, but her popularity exploded in the mid-seventies when her fairly practical battle outfit (a mail shirt and leather hot pants) was transformed into the most impractical suit of armor in history: a scale-mail bikini that left most of her body exposed. In the eighties, the producers of the Conan movie made a highly forgettable RS movie with Brigette Nielson, minus the bikini. Later, when Marvel lost the license for Conan, it also lost the license for Sonja -- a character created for Marvel. Currently, Dark Horse has the license for Conan and Dynamite has the comics license for Sonja. Now, Robert Rodrieguez (of SPY KIDS, DESPERADO, and SIN CITY fame) is planning a new Sonja movie, inspired by the issues of SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN he used to read as a kid. Rodrieguez won't direct it; his assistant director on several projects, Doug Aarniokoski, will (because he's DGA and Rodrieguez quit that organization), with lots of collaboration by Rodrieguez. The actress chosen as Sonja, Rose McGowan (whom GRINDHOUSE viewers will remember as the lady with the machine gun on her stump), appeared on the panel with Rodrieguez. And the poster art they flashed showed that, yes, she would be wearing the bikini (although it's more of a tankini now).

We attended a panel put together by Entertainment Weekly featuring Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, Colleen Doran, John Cassaday, and Mike Mignola (fortunately, the room did not ignite from sheer talent); and finished off the day by visiting our comics writer friend who was holding court in the lobby lounge of a nearby hotel. He snapped this picture of us:

We started Friday out with the panel for BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD, the latest animated incarnation of the Caped Crusader. (I'm too tired to count all the animated series that have featured the Darknight Detective.) This one avoids the dark, brooding version of our hero; the producers rightly opine that the Bruce Timm-Alan Burnett series from the nineties did the dark animated Batman about as well as it can be done. Instead, this series takes the more cartoony version of Batman drawn by 40's to '60's artist Dick Sprang, and tries to do a lighter-hearted Batman that is still action-packed and not a total goofball. The footage shown looked great.

I somehow managed to get into Hall H for one of the most anticipated movie-project presentations of the con: WATCHMAN. (Amy wasn't able to join me; the 6,500 seat hall quickly filled to capacity.) 300 director Zack Snyder and artist Dave Gibbons introduced essentially the entire cast of Watchmen, most of them relative unknowns except for Billy Crudup (who was so good in ALMOST FAMOUS) as godlike naked blue guy Dr. Manhattan; and Carla Gugino (the mom from SPY KIDS, KAREN SISCO, and the topless parole officer from SIN CITY) as Sally Jupiter, the superhero stage mom with a dark secret. The cast was tremendously enthusiastic, and the footage shown truly looked ripped from the graphic novel.

Here's Dave Gibbons on the panel:

Here's Crudup:

And some other cast members.

That afternoon, I attended the Scribe Awards/Media Tie-in Writer's Panel, primarily because my cousin Lee Goldberg (who co-founded the tie-in writer's organization that gave out the awards) was on the panel. When I got to the panel, Lee was waiting outside with his cute daughter Maddie. He shared the panel with co-found Max Allen Collins, STAR WARS/DUNE author Kevin J. Anderson (who handed out gummy sandworms as a promo for his latest DUNE book), and veteran SF/tie-in writer Alan Dean Foster. Everybody took turns telling Foster how much they loved his STAR TREK LOG novelizations of the STAR TREK animated series in the seventies. (I loved them too.) Lee won an award for his Monk novel MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS (which the moderator mispronounced, twice, as MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSASSINS).

Yes, Lee was the other TV writer/producer at our wedding. (And Maddie was there too, although she doesn't remember it now . . . )

Amy put on a costume and took part in a HELLSING costume photoshoot:

Then we hied ourselves to a local theater where Viz was screening the first BLEACH movie, BLEACH: MEMORIES OF NOBODY. The film was important to us for two reasons: First, when we were in Japan last year, the DVD of the film was just coming out; and we loved the Japanese announcer for the TV commercials who intoned -- with that odd cadence of one delivering lines in a foreign language -- the English words "Bleach! Memories of Nobody!" Second, the creator of the Bleach manga, Tite Kubo, attended the screening, as did several winners of an essay contest given by Weekly Shonen Jump, the mag that publishes BLEACH in Japan. As was explained at the screening, this was Kubo's first appearance in North America; and it was rare for creators of weekly manga features to venture abroad, because they have to produce a mind-boggling 19 pages of story and art EVERY WEEK. (Kubo's been doing that for seven years!) But the magazine allowed him to get ahead on the feature so that he could make this trip. The movie itself was fun, if primarily an excuse to allow each of the supporting characters in the strip to appear and show off his or her power.

Saturday began with an extra special treat: I was one of twenty winners of an online contest to actually meet Kubo, and get his autograph on a specially-prepared Bleach Shikishi (autograph board). Despite some logistical problems, I managed to get my autograph; and wished the smiling, Rayban-wearing, red-hair-dyed Kubo-sensei (in Japanese)a good time in America -- to which he responded, in English, "Thank you very much."

Amazingly, I then managed to get into another panel I had been looking forward to: one concerning the new comics anthology COMIC BOOK TATTOO, featuring stories inspired by the lyrics of Tori Amos. Ms. Amos herself was front and center in the panel, and was both articulate and entertaining, particularly when delivering imitations of her exasperated conversations with her English-accented daughter.

Getting into the Tori panel was particularly surprising because although I had secured seats in the room before the panel (by slipping into the Ralph Bakshi panel while Bakshi was waxing political -- "If you don't vote for Obama, you're crazy!"), I left it when I received a phone call on my cell from Seattle-based comic book writer/artist Mike Grell. Grell was doing sketches by commission at the con, and would take the cell phone number of the, er, commissioners. Thus summoned, I met him at his table at Artist's Alley, and picked up a beautiful sketch of Saturn Girl of the Legion of Superheroes (which Grell drew in the mid-seventies). I then fought my way upstream through the attendees who inevitably throng the dealer's room on Saturday; and still managed to score a seat fairly close to the front of the room.

(Interestingly, although publications such as the L.A. Times have bemoaned that the interest in comics programming at the con has been eclipsed by the movie blitzing, I noted that some of the hardest panels to get into were those aimed squarely at comics fans. I tried to get into some of Mark Evanier's comics history panels after they started, only to be confronted with a sign on the door of Room 8 announcing the room was at capacity.)

One of the best panels on Saturday was the one celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Legion of Superheroes, the ever-expanding band of future teen superfolk that has maintained a loyal fan following for decades. The panel included Paul Levitz (who wrote the Legion in the Seventies and Eighties, and is now president of DC Comics), Keith Giffen (who drew and plotted the Legion in the eighties), Mike Grell (discussed above), Tom and Mary Bierbaum (the married couple of Legion fans who wrote the comic in the late eighties), Geoff Johns (currently writing a Legion miniseries), and Colleen Doran (Legion fan and, often, artist). It's a joy to be in a room where everyone's so enthusiastic about the subject material.

Saturday ended with the Comic-Con masquerade, to which our friends Natalie and Sarah (who were in the masquerade) got us VIP tickets. (Unfortunately, the fellow "VIPs" behind us apparently took their status as license to talk non-stop.)

Here's some photos of our friends on stage:

On Sunday, we packed up our toys; had breakfast at Cafe Noir, down the street from our hotel, and hit the con for the last time. We attended a panel about the goth icon Emily the Strange (a merchandising juggernaut, with stores in Hong Kong and Tokyo),

one about Elfquest, the long-running (30 years) comics series which has been optioned by Warner Brothers for a film (the director was on the panel),

another on The Art of the Cover (moderated by Evanier -- the last of the 17 panels he MC'd);

and a last strike at the Dealer's Room before we said goodby to the con. (And the Con said goodbye to us . . . .)

Our last comics event of the evening was the movie we watched while waiting for the traffic to die down: HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY. It was a fun and visually beautiful movie, even if the paper-thin plot depended on supposedly brilliant characters doing really stupid things. (Mild spoiler: I am sick of fantasy movies in which the characters spend most of the movie trying to keep the magical macguffin the bad guy needs to take over/rule/destroy the world away from him; and then deliberately deliver said macguffin directly to the bad guy. Whatever happened to outwitting your opponent?)

That was it for another Comic-Con. Hope the next one is as good or better.