Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Viacom Emotionally Blackmails America's Children!

Viacom, the broadcasting giant which owns 19 channels carried on Time-Warner Cable (our local carrier), is playing hardball in its demand that Time-Warner pay it another $39 million in programming fees. It is threatening to pull all of its programming at midnight tonight if T-W doesn't pay up. Worse -- far worse -- it is running newspaper ads featuring Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants crying because of that mean Time-Warner.

"Why is Dora crying?" one ad asks. The all-caps reply: "TIME WARNER CABLE IS TAKING HER OFF THE AIR TONIGHT!"

Nothing says show business like making children cry until you get your way.

Oh, Please Ban These Words

Lake Superior State University has published its 2009 list of "Banished Words" -- words and phrases that wore out their welcome in 2008, and which should be excised from the english language. They include "green" (as in environmentally, well, something), "carbon footprint," "maverick" (in a political sense), "first dude" (ditto), "bailout," "Wall Street/Main Street," "_____ monkey" (well, "code monkey" still holds a special place in my heart), "<3" (yes, an emoticon), "staycation," and "not so much."

A phrase I'd add: "Oh, please." Heard far too much in this election season. In just two words, and as many syllables, it says, "Your point is so far beneath my consideration that you must be a blithering idiot to have even consider raising it. It certainly does not merit an intelligent response. Go away."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy 86th Birthday, Stan Lee

Happy birthday to the guy whose work sucked me into comics collecting in the first place.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What's One Hour and Forty-Eight Minutes in a Man's Life?

The SPIRIT movie:

It was a bad piece of work, Frank.

You shouldn't have signed it.

Kitaro's US DVD Adventure

Western stories of humans encountering the supernatural are usually told from the viewpoint of the humans; and usually feature the humans as either victims or warriors battling hostile magical beings. While all of that also appears in Japanese popular culture, the Japanese also have stories where humans and the other-worldly try to coexist, often through the efforts of a protagonist who is of both worlds.

One example that is wildly popular in Japan is GEGEGE NO KITARO, a manga feature that first appeared in 1959 and that has been adapted into multiple animated series and movies over the decades. When we visited Japan in 2007, toy stores were packed with merchandise from this series.

The DVD of 2007's live action KITARO movie has been released in the U.S., and I watched it this afternoon. From what I've seen of the original, the story and design are fairly faithful to the original; and while the effects are relatively low-budget, the effects folks do a good job of translating into CGI creatures that look ripped from the comics page. The biggest departure is the transformation of the lead character, the one-eyed half human Kitaro, from a short, pudgy-faced kid into a eurasian teen dreamboat played by Eiji Wentz.

The whole affair is plainly meant for kids, so the scares aren't too scary and the plotline does not delve deep. But there is plenty of wonder and beauty in the visuals. Certainly, a supernatural creature who looks like a bearded head mounted in a flaming wheel, who reproduces himself multiple times and becomes the wheels of a steam locomotive that chugs into the afterlife, is something seldom seen in live-action cinema.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Hell of a Batman Cover

In an article on a recent Batman comics storyline, "Batman R.I.P., the Comics Buyers Guide reprinted several covers from the last forty or so years on which Batman appeared to die. This one, which came out in 1977, caught my eye on the newsstands when I was a kid. I recall being surprised and vaguely disturbed at the language on the tombstone. It's a good bet the tombstone was inspired by the last scene in the movie CARRIE, which had been released the previous year.

The Hot Poop on Hot Poop

"Hot Poop" is a track on a Frank Zappa album. It is also a slang term for inside information. And it is a record/CD/video store on Main Street in Walla Walla that is the oldest independent record store in Washington State.

This news video discusses Hot Poop's 35th anniversary. I became a customer there 30 of those years ago. No matter when I visit -- most recently in 2006 -- owner Jim McGuinn recognizes me, the kid who used to ride his bike up to HP when it was in the Eastgate and pore over the underground comix he sold. I recall taking the first paycheck I earned at a job, and spending it on an audiocassette of "Abbey Road" at Hot Poop.

Thanks to my brother Steve for the heads up on the video.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Take Me To Your Backpack

The Costco Alienware computer backpack. Nothing like an inexpensive backpack that fairly cries out, "Hey! I have an extremely portable expensive gaming computer in here! Take me!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Farewell to the videocassette

Twenty-seven years ago, my family bought a JVC VHS VCR. It cost an eye-popping amount, and blank tapes were reused constantly because they cost $20 each.

About five years ago, at the Anime Expo convention, a dealer was hawking anime VHS cassettes, which had been released for about $30 each MSRP, for a couple of bucks a pop. "The death of the medium is your friend!" he called out.

Now, JVC has stopped making VCRs; and will stop selling them when its supply runs out. Commercial programming isn't released on videocassette. This LA Times article discusses the gradual demise of VHS. It's following the eight-track tape, the home reel-to-reel player, and the audiocassette into entertainment oblivion. (At least the LP has a die-hard strata of audiophiles to keep it alive.)

An interviewee in the article predicts that Blu-Ray will supplant DVDs in a few years. I doubt it. But then, I'm the guy with boxes of VHS cassettes and a shelf full of laserdiscs.

"City Hunter" Goes International

Tsukasa Hojo's most popular manga series, CITY HUNTER, has already been adapted into a long-running anime series in the '80's and '90's (most of which has been translated and sold in the US on DVD) and a goofy live-action early '90's Hong Kong movie starring Jackie Chan (also recently released in the US on DVD). Now comes word that a joint production between Korea's SSD and the US's Fox TV will release a live-action CITY HUNTER TV series in Japan, Korea, and the US. The episodes will be written in English, shot in Korea and Tokyo, and released worldwide.

Anime News Network reports that the series was originally going to feature a different cast in a different company each season, suggesting that the series was going to be a less than faithful adaptation of the manga (which was set almost entirely in Tokyo, and revolved around a single set of characters.) Current plans, however, are now to feature the same lead throughout the series.

Continuing the tradition set by Chan's CITY HUNTER, this production features a non-Japanese actor in the lead -- Korean actor Jung Woo-sung.

Here's the singularly stylish closing credits sequence from the first season of the CITY HUNTER animated TV series, circa 1987. We'll see if the live action series can achieve the same sense of style.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukkah with an Alternating Current

My cousin Burl points out the shortcomings of electric menorahs:

Yes, you screw in each bulb as the nights go on --- no messy wax...but what do you do on Friday night if you are orthodox? You can't turn the damn thing on!!

Happy Hanukkah, everyone. May your holidays be bright -- just not electric.

It Looks All Pretty With the Tinkly Synthesizer Playing, But . . .

My brother Steve, back in Walla Walla, points out that my home town is buried under two feet of snow (on top of a layer of ice!) Driving in snow is really one thing that I don't miss about Walla Walla. Many drivers are like old fish: They stink on ice.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You Know You're In the Entertainment Capital of the World When . . . .

In the men's locker room of the West Los Angeles YMCA, you hear two Screen Actors' Guild members arguing about whether to strike.

(No, I didn't look to see who. Did I mention it was the locker room?)

Hellsing Ultimate Vol. 5: London Calling

On Friday, we watched the Japanese DVD of HELLSING ULTIMATE VOL. V. This will eventually be released in the US in a dual-language edition by Funimation; but since we wanted to see it ASAP, we watched it in pure, unsubtitled Japanese.

If you haven't seen it, or the stories on which it is based, here's a SPOILER WARNING for you.

As reported in previous posts, this is a slavishly-faithful adaptation of Kouta Hirano's manga series. To up the stakes for the series, Hirano stranded his protagonist, the vampire-killing-vampire Alucard, on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic, while incredibly nasty Nazi vampires (yes, Nazi vampires) invaded England in a massive zeppelin and, well, ate London. Since the manga was published on a monthly basis, that meant Alucard was missing from the action for about two years of manga stories (which occupied just a few hours of story time). That means that Alucard just appears in a couple of framing sequences in this volume of the DVD series; the balance is made up of beautifully animated yet nightmarishly horrific scenes of the Nazi vampires wreaking apocalyptic revenge upon London for the Allies' triumph in WWII.

(Plus, as Hirano has stated in US convention appearances, he once visited London and had a lousy time. So he decided to destroy it in his story.)

It's not all doom-and-gloom. As adventure fiction demands, the secondary players step up to the plate in the star's absence, and battle on. The truly spectacular battles will be on the volumes to come.

They're the Flintstones

For those who don't mind knowing that there are flesh-and-blood actors who provide the voices for animated characters, Mark Evanier's blog features a photo of the original 1960's voice cast of THE FLINTSTONES.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, R.I.P.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry, a thread of continuity connecting all of the various incarnations of "Star Trek," has died of Leukemia.

In addition to marrying series creator Gene Roddenberry after the series began (the 1990's lawsuit between her and Roddenberry's previous wife, "Roddenberry v. Roddenberry," established several important points of California civil procedure), she played multiple characters in the various "Star Trek" series and movies: First Officer Number One in the pilot; Nurse Chapel in the series and in the movies; Deanna Troy's mother in "Star Trek: The Next Generation"; several voices in the animated series; and in every incarnation, the voice of the Enterprise's computer. She also co-founded Lincoln Enterprises, Roddenberry's merchandising company, whose mail-order catalogs helped keep "Star Trek" fandom alive in the '70's between series and movies.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bebop -- "Whoa"

Keanu Reeves, who appears dedicated to starring in every science fiction motion picture released, talks to the MTV Movie blog about his desire to star as gangster-turned-bounty-hunder Spike Spiegel in Fox's in-development American live-action remake of the Japanese animated series COWBOY BEBOP. We'll see if he gets a perm in order to play the curly-coiffed kung fu master.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Internationally Debuting Anime

Mindful that some anime fans use the time-lag between release of new anime in Japan and its official translation in America as an excuse to create unlicensed fan-sub copies, licensors have been working on narrowing the release gap between Asia and the U.S.

The latest example is Kurokami, a fantasy series that will debut simultaneously in Japan, the U.S., and South Korea. Even more impressive, the release in the U.S. will be dubbed, using Screen Actors Guild actors, rather than subtitled. To accomplish this, the American producers reportedly dubbed it off of pencil test footage rather than final animation.

Can They Rely on the Old Man's Money?

Jstache | Cartoon Brew: Leading the Animation Conversation

I don't think the world is -- or ever will be -- ready for the adventures of "Jstache": The crime-fighting mustache of John Oates.

A Sound of T.H.U.N.D.E.R.

Recent magazine articles have mentioned that during the '60's, when James Bond movies ruled the box office and Bond merchandising lined the shelves, DC had an option to put out a James Bond comic book series -- and never exercised it.

But in fact, Bond was never as big an influence on '60's comics as was the TV spy show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Nearly every comics company developed its own homage/ripoff of that show. The two best known examples are Marvel's NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (which survives to this day, and resulted in both a David Hasselhoff Nick Fury TV pilot a few years ago and this year's appearance in the IRON MAN movie of Samuel L. Jackson as Fury); and Tower Comics' beautifully-illustrated T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. This post from DIAL "B" FOR BLOG takes a look back at the latter feature.

The post includes a short autobiography by the Agents' principal artist, Wally Wood. Wood writes that his career ambition is to retire. That's poignant, because Wood never did retire; in 1981, at the age of 54, he killed himself.

'The Spirit' That Never Was

In Neil Gaiman's comics series THE SANDMAN, he wrote of a library that exists in The Dreaming that contains shelves and shelves of books that were written only in dreams.

If that library has a film section, it should have a place of honor for the SPIRIT animated film that was in development in the early '80's. This article by Steven Paul Leiva tells about his collaboration on future Oscar winner Brad Bird, STAR WARS producer Gary Kurtz, future Pixar founder John Lasseter, and others on what could have been a seminal animated superhero feature -- if it had ever found funding.

There was a SPIRIT movie made in the '80's; but it was a TV movie that aired on ABC in the summer doldrums of 1987, and starred Sam Jones as the masked crime fighter and Nana Visitor as Ellen Dolan. It was a pale shadow of the comic, and failed to capture the -- I have to say it -- spirit of the original.

The Other Shoe Drops

George W. Bush made a final visit as president to Iraq. Here's part of his reception.

The Secret Submersibles

Yes, I know these homemade mini-subs are used for nefarious activities, and pose a threat to U.S. security. But come on; they're home-made secret mini-subs. How cool is that?

Most Inane Comment in a Major Newspaper about Hugh Jackman Hosting the Oscars

"Yes, Jackman . . . is Wolverine of 'The X-Men,' but do we want Wolverine hosting the Oscars? Probably not." Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Well, if he was drawn by John Byrne and Terry Austin . . . .

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bettie Page, R.I.P.

Bettie Page, Queen of Pinups, Dies at 85 - Obituary (Obit) -

After a tumultuous life, this pin-up queen from the '50's has passed away. This obit from the NY Times, unlike the LA Times's obit, mentions that the late Dave Stevens headed the revival of her popularity in the '80's by basing a character in THE ROCKETEER comic book on her. The obit doesn't mention that Stevens became a friend to Page, including helping her out financially.

The LA Times obit not only doesn't mention Stevens; it states that Page's revived popularity stemmed from the Rocketeer movie in the early '90's. In fact, the movie steered away from Page's image, possibly out of concern that the movie's producers would have had to give page money. The Betty character from the comic was played by Jennifer Connelly, who was not made to look at all like Page. Surprisingly that the LA Times, which now has an online blog devoted to comic books, would slight a comics version of a character in favor of the movie version.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Star Trek and Babylon 5 Cross Over in HEROES

Heroes is well-known (or perhaps infamous) for stunt-casting large numbers of science fiction veterans (not to mention sticking Stan Lee in as a bus driver). For three seasons, George Takei has played Hiro Nakamura's father. In this past Monday's episode, Hiro's mother was shown for the first time -- and she was played by Tamlyn Tomita.

I'm familiar with Tomita's work because she attended UCLA at the same time as I did (we never met, to my knowledge -- it's a big campus), and because her movie debut was in KARATE KID II, which I watched in Walla Walla with my family (we took my grandfather and grandmother, who had lived in Okinawa, because the movie was set in Okinawa. "That sure wasn't Okinawa," Grandfather commented after the movie.

But most pertinently here, Tomita played the second-in-command in the pilot movie for the series BABYLON 5. (Her character was swapped out for the TV series, to be replaced by Claudia Christian.) So her playing the wife of STAR TREK's Mr. Sulu was like a marriage of state between two occasionally feuding powers. (Of course, for interseries cameos it did not match the episode of BABYLON 5 in which Gene Roddenberry's widow, Majel Barret, played "the emperor's wife.")

Once Again, I Plug My Family's Books

If you're a fan of the BURN NOTICE TV series, or a reader of the first tie-in novel, THE FIX, gives you the chance to order my cousin Tod's second tie-in novel, THE END GAME, a mere six months before it comes out.

The publicity-still cover is cool; but I can't help thinking the book would look even cooler with a painted cover -- particularly one like the cover on the Hard Case Crime novel I just finished reading, THE FIRST QUARRY by Max Collins:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Blue Mondays Return

Comic Book Resources > CBR News: Thieves Like Us: Clugston on Blue Monday

BLUE MONDAY, Chynna Clugston's various comics miniseries about a group of new wave loving high school kids in the early '90's, is a favorite of mine.  So I was happy to see this preview of the latest BLUE MONDAY miniseries, "Thieves Like Us."  It's been a few years since the last miniseries, and it looks like Chynna's art style has evolved from its earlier manga-centric focus to a more detailed and realistic mode.
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Sometimes It Takes a Brit to Explain America to Us

Neil Gaiman on why standing up for the First Amendment's Freedom of Speech sometimes means defending speech that one finds, well, icky.

Eight Million Stories

Last night I watched the 1948 movie THE NAKED CITY on DVD. The movie is usually classified as film noir, but to me it's a bit too brightly lit and cheefully narrated for that. It is, however, a police procedural -- in many ways, the grandaddy of shows like LAW AND ORDER.

The movie is unique for many reasons. There's that narrator, the producer, who talks more than just about any non-documentary narrator in film history. There's the fact that the narrator announces at the beginning of the film, during the airplane shot of Manhattan: The movie was shot entirely on location, on the streets of post-war New York and in its office buildings and apartments. There's New York's status as the main character in the film; outside of Barry Fitzgerald (playing the most Irish of Irish cops), there are no stars in the movie, and the film abounds with long shots that shrink the characters in relationship to the cityscape around them. And of course there's one of the most famous lines in cinema history in the last scene: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

I was struck by how the close the tone of the movie was to several of Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT comics stories from the same era, both those done before and after the movie's release. If a movie had been made of THE SPIRIT back then, it might have looked like this.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Read the Book? Naw, I Saw the Comic

Bookgasm: Reading Material to Get Excited About » Blog Archive » CAPES, COWLS & COSTUMES >> Adaptation

Comics writer Paul Kupperberg writes about an odd subvariety of media tie-in novels:  novelizations of comic book miniseries.
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The Blackest Black Friday

A very dark Black Friday - Los Angeles Times

In Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's novel THE SPACE MERCHANTS, they hypothesized that as the population grew, we would see more and more extreme cases of selfless heroism; and more and more extreme cases of outrageous depravity.  It's just statistics.

I try to keep that in mind when I read about something like this:  The incident at the Wal-Mart in Long Island last Black Friday, in which the crowd trampled a store worker to death when the doors opened -- and in which onlookers cracked jokes and laughed as the paramedics tried to save the dying man.
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Harry Potter Promo Stuff

The Rock and the Emotional Line

At the 1990 San Diego Comic-Con, I was waiting in line to obtain a sketch from Joe Kubert. A small boy ahead of me brought a handful of comics up to the then-64-year old writer artist and asked him, "Are you Sergeant Rock?"

"No," chuckled Kubert, "I created Sergeant Rock, but I'm not Sergeant Rock."

As with many such assertions in the comics business, that was not quite true, but true enough. Actually, writer-editor Robert Kanigher created the comic book character Sgt. Rock, and Kubert did not draw the first Rock story. But Kubert created the look of Rock, his men, and his world, and is therefore in my opinion at least a creator of the character.

What brings this to mind now is reading the first two issues of writer-artist Billy Tucci's comics miniseries, SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION.

Tucci -- wisely, I believe -- opted not to copy Kubert's version of Rock or his men, and instead drew them in his own semi-realistic style.

Tucci's series is well-written, beautifully drawn, and highly researched. (He went to France to see the settings for the story in person)

But to me, it isn't Sgt. Rock.

The soul of Sgt. Rock is in Kubert's design for the character. A cartoony style, carried off by a master, conveys emotion and subtext that a photorealistic depiction of the same character cannot duplicate. The very weight of the line and crosshatching Kubert uses when drawing The Rock of Easy Company speaks volumes about Rock, his worldview, his experiences and his abilities. You know looking at him that he's battle-hardened and capable, caring and tough at the same time.

That's why, no matter how slick comics art gets, and no matter how spectacular computer-aided comics printing becomes, there should always be a place for the skilled cartoonist. Like a journeyman craftsman, the cartoonist puts soul into his or her work that no production line can match.

Friday, December 05, 2008

R.I.P. Forry Ackerman

Science fiction had no greater supporter than Forrest J. Ackerman, literary agent, magazine editor, historian, and all-around Ackermonster. I'm glad that I got to meet him, and to see him win an award at the 2006 Hugos.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Watchin' the Directors

Sci Fi Wire has an article about Zack and Deborah Snyder, the husband-and-wife directing/producing team behind the WATCHMEN movie, whittling the flick down to running time -- and discussing the video version, which will not only run much longer, but also incorporate an animated version of TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER (a pirate comic book story one of the recurring characters in the graphic novel reads that provides an ironic counterpoint to the main narrative).

The article also features a new trailer for the film -- one that makes me extremely hopeful for the movie. It truly looks like the graphic novel come to life.

At a Loscon panel on movies based on comics, Len Wein revealed that he'd seen the movie, and that he thought it was the comic. Asked how he got to see it, he reminded the panel that he had edited the original comic book.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Spy in Black

I like James Bond films. I like Johnny Cash music. But the mixture of the two is not nearly as nice as the meeting of peanut butter and chocolate.

My cousin Lee's blog has clips from a BBC special that include samples of various rejected Bond movie themes -- including a jaw-dropping one for THUNDERBALL from The Man in Black that would be best suited to a movie in which the hero rides off into the sunset while twirling a lariet.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More about Mr. Monk

My Cousin Lee Goldberg's latest novel, MR. MONK IS MISERABLE, was released today -- and already has two user reviews on the Amazon site, apparently from speed readers.
Be sure to pick up a copy or two, and make the holidays a little brighter for the Monk fan in your life (and for the Goldbergs).

The Gift of Knowledge One Laptop per Child XO Laptop (Give a Laptop, Get a Laptop): Electronics

For folks who'd like to donate to charity and also give a gift to a child they know, One Laptop Per Child is running a campaign through which you can purchase an XO laptop (designed for rough environments and low power) to a child in a developing country, and also get another one to give to the child of your choice.