Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tod Goldberg: Hypothermia For History

While I was whining about finding a TV for the inauguration, my cousin Tod was actually at the inauguration, freezing cold and all. (Why can't they amend the constitution to provide that the inauguration either (a) occur in May or (b) take place in Florida, California, or Hawaii?)

Monday, January 26, 2009


When I first saw the Sean Connery Bond movie THUNDERBALL, I thought that the climactic underwater battle looked like something dreamed up by a kid playing with his GI Joes.  (In fact, I seem to recall that the GI Joe frogman costumes and accessories were inspired by that scene in THUNDERBALL.)

Apparently I'm not alone in making that association.  In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Stephen Sommers, director of the upcoming live-action GI Joe flick, says:

"I always loved the old Bonds . . .  In a very contemporary way, G.I. Joe is inspired by the memory of the kind of movies I saw when I was younger. I remember being in the theater for Thunderball and the big underwater battle at the end of that movie just blew my socks off. In G.I. Joe, there's an underwater battle under the polar icecap that's Thunderball times 10!"

Almost makes me excited to see the movie -- even though it's, y'know, a Stephen Sommers movie based on a bunch of toys.  (And not even the original, manly, full-size GI Joes, either -- it's the tiny, barely-articulated Joes from the '80's.  Sigh.)
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Important Safety Tip About Home Offices

A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran » Archive » The Home Office: Important Safety Tips

Comics writer/artist Colleen Doran advises those who work out of owned homes to beware of mortgage agreements and insurance policies that forbid doing business in the home.
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Will This MADness Stop?

news from me - ARCHIVES - January 23, 2009

Mad Magazine is a survivor.  When the great EC Comics line of the early '50's died a gory, hideous death, slain by a Comics Code designed to put EC's best-selling comics out of business, Mad survived by transforming itself from a color comic book to a black-and-white larger-format magazine -- and became a gigantic seller.  Mad survived its eventual sale to EC's competitor, DC Comics.  It survived the leaving and eventual deaths of some of its most distinguished contributors -- Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, Will Elder, publisher Max Gaines, Don Martin.

But will it survive the general malaise in the magazine industry?

Mark Evanier conveys the news that Mad is going to quarterly publication, and that its various ancillary publications are being axed.  Eventually, Mad the magazine may go away, leaving only Mad the brand name.  Alfred E. Newman could lose his trademarked smile at last as he is laid off.

If the economy is going down the toilet, we need some toilet humor.  Let's hope Mad survives.
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Consider the Keyboard - Technical Art and Steampunk Contraptions

For those who think computer keyboards are doomed to be merely functional hunks of plastic, take a look at the Web page of this artist who creates stunning custom-made keyboards out of brass, wood, and old typewriter keys.  These are far too expensive for my tastes, but they're beautiful to look at.

So is his fully-functional wood , leather, copper and brass laptop -- complete with wind-up key.
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Watching the Inauguration

On Tuesday mornings, if I don't have court or an out of the office meeting in the morning, I like to go to the gym before work. This past Tuesday, I went a half hour early so that I could get to the office before 8:30 am and watch the inauguration.

In years past, I had picked up a couple of portable TVs -- a tiny pocket one that barely picked up a color picture, and a slightly larger LCD one that has inputs for cable and RCA jacks. I had intended to bring the latter to work; but when I plugged in its AC adaptor the night before to test it, I heard a hissing sound, smelled burning plastic, and saw smoke billowing from the adaptor. (It was like the pre-credits sequence in MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, minus the cool music.) I tossed the adaptor and decided to use the tiny TV.

Alas, when I got to work and started the TV up, the picture punked out about five minutes in. (Since the TV will be utterly useless, not just functionally useless, once we go to all digital broadcasting, I tossed the TV into our office building's electronics recycling bin.) came to the rescue. I watched the inauguration on my computer monitor. (Since I was unable to work on the monitor and watch at the same time, I took the chance to file piles of paper around my desk.)

Even though we've had the ability to broadcast live TV over the Internet for a decade, it still amazes some people. One of my co-workers looked into my office, shook his head in amazement, and wondered aloud why we have TV anymore.

First Family Book Signing of the New Year

This afternoon, I bicycled up to Westwood for a book signing at the Mystery Bookstore featuring my cousin, Lee Goldberg, and his writing partner, Bill Rabkin.

Lee was publicizing the latest media tie-in book he wrote, MR. MONK IS MISERABLE (which is enjoying anything but miserable sales; it's in its 3rd printing).

Bill was promoting his first tie-in novel for the TV series PSYCH.

I intended to head home and blog about it in detail. But in the time I biked the four miles from Westwood to my neighborhood (all downhill), took in dry cleaning and had dinner, Lee had already driven back to his home base in the valley and written up his own blog account, complete with photos. The man plainly knows how to write on a deadline.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

They are Legion

This past Thursday's episode of SMALLVILLE was a valentine to fans of the fifty-year-old DC team title The Legion of Superheroes. The episode guest-starred the three founding members of the team -- Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy (yeah, I know, but it was the fifties). And although previous SMALLVILLE episodes featured watered-down versions of DC characters, this was indeed the Legion from the comics --goofy code names,flight rings, 31-Century slang ("Grife!"), references to the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and all.

By my calculation, this is actually the fourth version of the Legion to appear on TV. The Legion had guest appearances on the '90's animated Superman series and the recent Justice League animated series, as well as its own two-season animated show on the CW. But this was its first live-action adaptation.

The Legion's appearance on this show was apropos. The Legion (specifically, these three Legionnaires) first appeared in the Superboy comics series as a group of far-future teens who were inspired by Superboy's 20th-Century feats; and Superboy remained a member of the Legion for about a quarter of a century. And SMALLVILLE is the spiritual descendent of the Superboy series, although Clark Kent has never been called that. On the other hand, the Superboy who appeared in the comics with the Legion was a teenager, like them. At this point in the long-running SMALLVILLE series, Clark is in his mid-to-late 20's; and agewise is more of a Scoutmaster to the Legion kids than a peer.

Nevertheless, the appearance was a treat. I'd like to see a follow-up episode where Clark Kent heads to the future and meets the rest of the Legion. But depicting the entire Legion would probably blow an entire season's worth of the series budget.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Splice of Life

What Is a Comma Splice, and How Do I Fix It?

For those who want to improve their writing, I recommend this article about the proper use of comma splices.  A comma splice is a combination of two independent clauses, using a comma as a connector.

Sometimes it's proper, sometimes it isn't.

Hat tip to Emma Bull for the link.  Emma gets extra points for noting fan-fiction writers' fondness for comma splices.
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More Anime Los Angeles Stuff

For anyone who can't get enough of seeing me make a fool of myself in costume, the Manticore Society blog has photos of the Steampunk costume gathering at Anime Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago.

More photos can be found on the blog "All That Wanders."

Andrew Wyeth and John Mortimer, R.I.P.

This has been a bad week for older creative people.

Spidey Helps Obama; Obama Helps Spidey

My comics retailer, COMICS INK of Culver City, was good enough to save me a copy of this past week's issue of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which reportedly sold out the day it was released. That's because it included a backup story in which Spidey, covering the inauguration as news photog Peter Parker, springs into action and foils a (really stupid) plot by his old enemy The Chameleon. The story obviously plays off of Obama's comments during the campaign that his favorite super-hero is Spider-Man.

As an old fan of Spidey's habit of trash-talking villains, I must admit I laughed out loud at his quip as he smashed Chameleon in the chops: "Ya hear that, Chameleon? The President-Elect here just appointed me . . . secretary of shuttin' you up!"

Mondays are Blue Again

The first issue of the new BLUE MONDAY miniseries by writer-artists Chynna Clugston is out, after a multi-year hiatus for the BLUE MONDAY characters. Clugston seems to have benefited from the time away from the series, because her already-impressive art is sharper than ever. It shows more attention to design and to balance of whites and blacks in the interior art. As for the story, Clugston continues to depict early-90's teens obsessed with mid-80's music who are relatively smart, but nevertheless do dumb things -- much like real teens. That judgment part of the brain takes a while to develop. Highly recommended.

Kona Vacation: The Wrap-up

If anyone has been following my posts about our Hawaiian vacation, I'm sorry to leave you hanging. The combination of a spotty Internet connection and a desire to actually experience the vacation rather than merely blog about it limited my posts while we were on the island. And unpacking, catching up with work, and general exhaustion prevented me from finishing up until now.

On Friday the ninth we went on a whale-watching cruise aboard one of the Body Glove boats. This is the time of year when humpback whales come to the waters off Hawaii to make little (well, relatively little) whales. Hence the numerous whale watching excursions heading out into the bay.

During our three-hour cruise, we ended up seeing only one humpback

but we got a great look at a pod of melon-head whales (one of those critters that, like a killer whale, is sorta a whale and sorta a dolphin) which, the guide said, were rarely sighted in that area.

After the trip, our wanderings brought us to an oddity: The Starbucks in Kailua Kona -- which, by the way, doesn't serve Kona coffee.

The next morning we went on a snorkel trip on the Fair Winds II. We had initially been booked on a trip to an area where we had never snorkeled; but that trip was canceled, and we went to the place we snorkeled the last time we were at the Big Island: Captain Cook's monument.

But we had no complaint. The crew took good care of us, and we had some great snorkeling. Amy saw a moray eel, and we both saw numerous tropical fish, including some huge parrotfish. Plus, during the trip, we saw about four humpback whales, including a mother and calf -- several more than we saw on the whale watching cruise.

Sunday morning brought the only storm we had during our stay -- a two-hour blow with 30-knot winds and heavy rain. During the storm, we saw two men snorkeling in the choppy waters directly off the rocky outcroppings of the shore. The two men managed to make it up onto one of the outcroppings. One man ran and sheltered behind a wall while the other was still struggling to pull himself up onto the rocks. If they were friends, I hope the friendship ended right there.

After the storm was over, the weather was beautiful. We rode our bikes back into Kailua and dropped them off at the rental place, hit the local Hilo Hattie store for souvenirs, and took a last amble through town.

That afternoon, we watched the sunset from the resort's pool area. We saw the sun go down in a perfectly clear sky -- and as it disappeared, we saw the green flash.

We finished up the day at Bongo Ben's for dinner, and then reluctantly packed.

On Monday, we drove the 100 miles back to the Hilo airport, and flew home after a great vacation.

Farewell, Hawaii. We will be back.

You can find more of my photos from the trip here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban, R.I.P.

Today brought the sad news that two giants of the big and small screen, Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalban, passed away this week.

McGoohan was brilliant as Number Six in THE PRISONER, a secret agent in the predecessor show, SECRET AGENT (duh), Dr. Syn in Disney's DR. SYN ALIAS THE SCARECROW, and numerous heavies in movies.

Montalban was, of course, Mr. Roarke, Khan Noonian Singh in STAR TREK, a villian in the NAKED GUN movies, and a pitchman of rich corinthian leather. More recently he parodied his movie persona in recurring roles in animated TV series, such as Rodrieguez on FREAKAZOID and Sr. Senior, Sr. on KIM POSSIBLE.

Montalban also said something on a TONIGHT SHOW episode that has stuck with me. Never look down on someone who has a foreign accent, he advised. That's someone who can speak more than one language.

Mazel Tov!

Congratulations to my brother Steve and his fiancee Dawn, who are getting married in May.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Vacation Reading

I find book exchange shelves in vacation spots vaguely romantic. I imagine the beaten-up paperbacks within to have traveled the globe, snatched up in moments of repose during adventure-filled journeys.

As usual for one of my vacations, I've dragged with me more reading material than I can consume (particularly since I've added to it, as discussed below). I brought Michael Chabon's THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION (I'm halfway through it), Max Allan Collin's A KILLING IN COMICS (a whodunit set in the comics biz in 1948), three graphic novels from Phil and Kaja Foglio's "Girl Genius" series (sat around for a couple of years because I couldn't find the time for them), and a couple of volumes of manga. I've just about finished the Girl Genius books, have cracked the Collins book, and have already read one of the stories in the Westlake omnibus book I bought today. It's wonderful to have time to read.

Hawaii 2009 -- Days 3 and 4

The scene from our lanai, a few hours ago:

Yesterday, after experiencing lousy service at Green Flash Coffee for breakfast (20 minutes to get our drinks -- we got them after our breakfast sandwiches had been prepared -- and one drink was just poured coffee!) we went to Kahaluu beach, where I did some snorkling. There was an amazing variety of sea life just a few yards offshore. That day, like today, started out sunny, but clouded up in the afternoon. We finished the day with steaks at the Kona Inn restaurant, where we witnessed the restaurant's amazing belt-driven ceiling fan system (there is a central motor that drives a series of belts operating all of the ceiling fans).

Today, Amy went horseback riding in the morning. (I opted out of that, since it's been just two years since I fell off a horse during my last Hawaii visit, and broke my wrist.) Before leaving, she had a much more positive experence at Green Flash Coffee. (Guess we just hit them at the wrong time.) While she was riding a horse, I rode my rented bicycle east through Kailua, and then north along Highway 19 until just before the Kona Airport. (The highway shoulder is quite accommodating for bicyclers -- there are special lanes for bikers to use in crossing the on-ramps). I visited a number of stores, including Kona Bay Books. There, I engaged in a vacation tradition from my childhood -- I bought an "old" book (Donald Westlake's LEVINE, in a 25-year-old paperback edition) and an old comic book (an issue of World's Finest from 1967, with a silly-but-entertaining story). The chatty lady at the bookstore remarked that mine was the second Westlake book she had sold that day. She hadn't realized that Westlake passed away last week, leading to various tributes and to folks like me picking up his books.

This evening, we had another delighful dinner experience, at Huggo's on the Rocks (at the same seaside location where Java on the Rocks serves breakfast). Nothing says "vacation" quite like sipping fruity frozen cocktails under the light of tiki torches with the sea roaring below you and a live band playing acousting Hawaiian music (with a hula dancer, yet).

Some photos can be found here. More will be posted when I get to a faster, more reliable Internet connection.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Owning the USA (Network Media Tie-Ins, That Is)

As readers of this blog may know, my cousin Lee Goldberg writes the tie-in novels for the USA Network mystery series MONK. His brother Tod writes the tie-ins for another USA mystery series, BURN NOTICE. Now an unofficial Goldberg -- William Rabkin, Lee's writing partner for over tweo decades -- has put out his first media tie-in novel for yet another USA mystery series, PSYCH. Yep, Goldbergs across the USA.

Kona Vacation -- Days 1 and 2

Right after the Anime LA convention, Amy and I boarded a plane on January 5 and flew off for our 2008 vacation -- delayed to early 2009. We wanted to go back to Hawaii, and since we had last been on the Big Island in 1999, we decided to go back -- this time, to the Kona side of the island. That's where I'm posting these deathless words.

Monday was spent entirely flying to Hilo, and then driving the 100 miles from the Hilo airport to Kailua-Kona. (They don't call it the big island for nothing!) Our arrival was complicated by two factors. First, the key we were left in a lock-box would not open our unit. (That was rectified that night, thank goodness.) Second, we arrived after 9:30 pm, and discovered that most of the restaurants close up no later than 9. We ended up at the local Bubba Gump Shrimp location, which fortunately was open late.

Today was absolutely gorgeous. The temperature has hovered between the upper 60's at night and the upper 70's during the day, all with that intoxicatingly balmy Hawaiian atmosphere. The weather today was clear. We are in a second-floor condo with the waves crashing against lava rocks below us. It is stereotypically Hawaiian.

We began the day by hiking over to Java on the Rocks for breakfast. This is an alfresco restaurant/bar right next to the lava-rock coastline, with the waves crashing nearby. (It becomes more of a bar in the evening.)

I had a magnificent cup of Kona coffee, and we shared a plate of tropical fruit.

We were joined at breakfast by an inquisitive gecko, who walked around on both Amy and me.

We then walked the rest of the way into town, and prowled the shops. I had an ulterior motive of replacing a long-billed baseball cap I bought in Kona back in 1999. The hat had blown into the Pacific the last time I visited Hawaii, in 2006. But long-billed baseball caps have passed out of fashion; the store where I bought it didn't have any. But I did buy a different hat, a pair of Crocs, and an aloha shirt (I have so many of those that a shirt must really speak to me to be selected). We had lunch at the Kona Canoe Club, overlooking the bay; and damned if we didn't see dolphins leaping and spinning in front of us. Talk about putting on a show for the tourists . . . .

We rented bicycles in town and rode them back to our complex, after signing up for a few activities (nimbly dodging the offers of discounts if we merely devoted a few hours to time-share presentations). We then walked to Lava Java for dinner. LJ is a wi-fi watering hole plus; it serves up not only coffee, but breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. I had a delicious mahi mahi entree in some kind of sweet coconut sauce. We then walked into the center of town again and back to the complex. All together, we walked three miles and bicycled another mile, not counting the walking around we did in town. Got to burn off those calories . . . .

What I Did During New Years' Weekend

I attended Anime Los Angeles, held at the Airport Marriott. This turned out to be an excellent location; the con didn't have the space problems previous Anime LA cons have had.

Some things about this con were similar to previous Anime LA's. Our friends from out of state attended, and even stayed with us the night before the con. Other friends were there too.

What was different was that, for the first time, I decided to join in the fun and attend in costume one day. One of the trends in costuming is "steampunk" -- Jules Verne style costumes that postulate some form of advanced technology in the 19th or early 20th century eras. For some reason, that appealed to me. Hence, the costume -- which, with the exception of the bowler and the walking stick (both of which I acquired at the con) all came out of my closet.

More photos later.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Devils under the Sea


The latest edition of DIAL B FOR BLOG -- the beautifully-laid out and illustrated blog that celebrates comics from days gone by -- profiles one of the more unusual comics of the Silver Age, SEA DEVILS  The Sea Devils were a quartet of skin divers who had no super powers, and who operated in a fairly realistic world -- except that they regularly encountered aliens, giants, and other fantastic creatures undersea.  Probably the biggest factor in the series's relative success (it lasted 35 issues, along with three tryout issues in SHOWCASE) was the phenomenal art of Russ Heath, particularly on the covers where he used various tonal effects to give the covers a painted look.
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Follow-Up: Viacom Reaches Deal with Time-Warner by Making America's Children Cry

Viacom pursued its contract negotiations with Time-Warner in one of the lowest ways possible: It went after its youngest audience. And it worked. Per the LA Times:

Viacom had purchased newspaper advertisements, featuring a tearful Dora the Explorer, and placed an on-screen crawl on its channels to alert viewers to the impending programming blackout. The ads encouraged viewers to complain to Time Warner Cable.

The tactic worked -- parents reported having to soothe children who were upset over the prospect of not being able to watch their favorite shows on Nickelodeon, including "SpongeBob SquarePants."

"Our family will cancel Time Warner if a suitable agreement is not reached," threatened Debra Cooper, a mother of two who lives in San Diego. "I admit SpongeBob's laugh drives me nuts, but he is part of our family, as is George Lopez, 'Home Improvement,' 'i-Carly,' and all the rest."

Cooper said she called Time Warner Cable twice Wednesday to lobby for the channel. The company was inundated with calls, and executives from both companies put their holiday plans on hold to return to the negotiations.