Sunday, April 26, 2009

Birthday and Books

Blogging was light this weekend, because I soaked up the beautiful SoCal sunshine (minus the heat last weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. You can see details of the Festival (and photos) on my cousin Lee's blog.

I spent Saturday at a birthday picnic for myself on the lawn of the UCLA campus, with the Festival going on around me. (I didn't leave the picnic to go to any festival activities; that would seem rude when people are there to celebrate my birthday). Several folks, known and unknown, showed up for cake and Junior's sandwiches. Among them were Lee's brother, Tod, and Tod's wife Wendy. Lee himself didn't show up (a busy schedule and back pain); but oddly enough, Lee and Tod's friend Sarah Weinman spent some time with us -- totally independent of Lee or Tod. She was a friend of a friend of a friend . . . .

Today we hit a couple of panels (one on humor, featuring Tod and two other writers whose last names begin with "G"; and another on Victorian Age fiction, vintage and modern); dropped some bucks on books; and ate a fairly subpar orange-chicken bowl.

The ranks of the booksellers were thinned somewhat (no Borders or Barnes & Noble), but the crowds seemed as large as ever. I chalk both up to the economy. After all, the Festival was free.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

35 Years of Comic Book Character Progress for Red Sonja

March 1973:

"The Song of Red Sonja."

October 2008:

The thong of Red Sonja.

Is Comic Sans Just Not Your Type?

Typeface Inspired by Comic Books Has Become a Font of Ill Will -

In the midst of an economic maelstrom, the Wall Street Journal devotes some space to a real controversy: The appropriateness and history of the Comic Sans typeface. (A font not available on Blogger. This is the closest approximation.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

LA Times Festival of Books: The Family Presence

The LA Times Festival of Books is being held at the UCLA campus next weekend; and it behooves me to publicize my author cousins' various signings and panel discussions at the event. This information is filched directly from each cousin's blog.

For Tod Goldberg:

Appearances & Signings
Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books
April 25th:
PANEL 1104
3:30 PM Humor & Race Moderator Mr. Tod Goldberg Mr. Lalo Alcaraz Mr. Christian Lander Mr. Larry Wilmore
Signing to follow
April 26th
PANEL 2102
12:30 PM
Enough About You: Fiction & Humor Moderator Ms. Carolyn Kellogg Mr. Tod Goldberg Mr. Seth Greenland Mr. Ben Greenman
Signing to follow
The Mystery Bookstore booth #411 with Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin
Mysterious Galaxy Booth

And for Lee Goldberg:

April 25, 10:30 am, Dodd Hall
moderating a panel with Craig Johnson and Stephen J. Cannell
Signing to follow
April 25, 2pm, Mystery Bookstore Booth
Signing with Tod Goldberg, William Rabkin & others

The "Let's Rebuild Len Wein's Comic Book Collection" Project

Earlier this month, Len Wein and Chris Valada's house was almost completely destroyed by fire. If you've read any comic books in the last 40 years, you're likely to have seen Wein's name -- or his work. If you haven't read any comics, but have watched comic-based movies, you've likely seen movie characters based on his creations. Wein, you see, has created or co-created Swamp Thing, Wolverine, numerous X-Men (including Storm and Nightcrawler), and the character Lucius Fox, seen in the Chris Nolan Batman movies. He's also written just about every DC and Marvel character. And that's on top of his work as a comics editor, which includes the WATCHMEN miniseries, the NEW TEEN TITANS . . . it goes on and on. He even co-created the HUMAN TARGET, which was adapted into a short-lived TV series a few years ago and is slated to be adapted into another one.

One of the victims of the fire was Wein's comics collection -- including every comic he wrote.

Wein's friend Mark Evanier has started a project to rebuild Wein's comic book collection. He's asking fans to send in copies of Wein's comics. He's put up a web page and listed the comics needed. (See the link above.) If you have any, or if you want to buy some comics and send them to a writer who has given readers of all ages lots of fun over the decades, send him some comics.

Other Hollywood Adventures

Besides venturing into Hollywood on Tuesday for the PaleyFest event (see post below), I made two other trips to Cinemaland recently.

On Thursday, April 9, we went to the Knitting Factory (amazing -- a down-and-dirty rock club ensconced in a shiny shopping center, complete with underground parking) to see a concert by Voltaire. Voltaire is your average everyday School of Visual Arts Professor/animator/comics artist/goth-rock-swing-klezmer-caberet performer. He sings what he cheerfully describes as "death death devil devil devil evil evil evil songs" with a tremendous amount of stage presence and a maniacal gleam in his eye. His recordings are fun, but they can't compare with the sheer entertainment value of his live performances.

On Sunday, Amy was out of town, and I drove to the Egyptian Theater for that evening's installment of the American Cinematheque's annual Film Noir festival. The theater served up a double feature of Fritz Lang's last two American movies, both from 1956 -- WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. The former is a wild mashup of two diverse plotlines: the noir story of a comic-book-crazed serial killer, played by John Barrymore Jr. in a black leather jacket and Greek fisherman's cap, pursued by an investigative reporter; and a newspaper version of "King Lear," in which feckless media company heir Vincent Price forces three potential candidates to run his company to compete for his attentions -- by trying to capture Barrymore. The latter is an 80-minute bundle of complicated plotting with almost none of Lang's trademark visuals -- but, as the erudite host for the program pointed out, lots of visual symbolism. The host stated that book-length essays have been written about this film in France. I don't know if there's that much there, but it was a diverting 80 minutes.

Part of the fun of attending a film noir festival is people watching, as the film noir fanboys and fangirls showed up in pinstripes and fedoras.

The Horribleness of It All

The Cinerama Dome in Hollywood was originally built as one of the early '60's gimmicks designed to wean viewers away from their televisions and back to movie theaters. It's therefore ironic that it is being used for Paleyfest 09, a celebration of television. And the irony was intensified on Tuesday, when the Dome was the venue for a Paleyfest program on DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG, the first Paley Festival presentation on a show that was not designed for television; it was shown only on the newest magnet for attention, the Internet.

We attended the program on Dr. Horrible, and were treated to a showing of Joss Whedon's three-act comedy/tragedy/satire/musical on the gigantic Cinerama screen -- quite a change from when I saw it on my video iPod.

Afterward, TV Guide's Matt Rausch moderated a panel discussion with the multiple Whedon's involved in the production -- Joss, brothers Zack and Jed, and even Joss's future sister-in-law -- along with BLOG stars Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. (The doc himself, Neil Patrick Harris, was reportedly out of the country and couldn't attend.)

After the presentation, we had dinner in the Arclight Theater Lounge adjoining the Dome. As we ate, all of the program participants (along with the Whedon boys' father) paraded past our table, as they trooped to a dinner in the same restaurant.

Joss and crew were, as usual, fun and insightful to listen to as they waxed Horrible. But when attending a fency-shemncey program devoted to his work, you'd think the guy would dress up a little. Maybe business casual. Flannel is so '90's.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Area Code

Following the declassification of their project, some former employees at Area 51 finally explain what the heck was going on there: Test flights of top-secret Air Force spy aircraft called OXCART. Which looked amazingly saucer-shaped when viewed from above or below. And if commercial pilots saw one, FBI agents (no doubt wearing black) would question them and ask them to sign non-disclosure statements.

Explains a lot, doesn't it?

Except to the conspiracy theorists who'll say it's just creative misdirection . . . .

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Circle of Quest

The '60's prime-time animated adventure series JONNY QUEST started life as an attempted adaptation of the radio show JACK ARMSTRONG: ALL-AMERICAN BOY. In look and spirit, it strongly resembled Milton Caniff's comic strip TERRY AND THE PIRATES. So it's entirely appropriate that although filmmakers developing a live-action adaptation of JQ, starring Zac Ephron as Jonny and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Race Bannon don't want to call the project "Jonny Quest" anymore -- the SPEED RACER live-action movie made studio execs nervous about adaptations of '60's cartoons -- they still want to make the movie, albeit under another title. The cycle of semi-adaptations continues.


Geoff Boucher, the L.A.Times blogger of the fannish, posted this ode to the JQ series a few months ago. It includes a YouTube compilation of scenes from the top 5 episodes. Number one was the episode that stands out most starkly in my childhood memories: "The Invisible Monster." It was notable both for its ingenuity (how do you fight an invisible monster? Throw bags of paint at it, so that it's not invisible any more!) and for the horrifyingly abstract monster, animated in a style different from anything else in the series.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Frogo Gourmet Frozen Yogurt & Organic Coffee

This window-filled corner shop at the intersection of Wilshire and Euclid in downtown Santa Monica features modern (generic) decor, a 99-cent cup of organic coffee, and fairly tasty frozen yogurt. (I had the swirl of Death by Chocolate and Peanut Butter). There are plenty of outlets around the store within easy reach of the tables, and the wi-fi is fairly strong. (I'm there now.) It also has the benefit of long hours: It opens at 6 am on weekdays; and the closing times range from 10 pm on Sunday to Midnight on Friday and Saturday. The service is quite friendly. If you don't mind spartan decor, this is a pretty good Santa Monica WFWH.

More Fresh-Served Anime: SHANGRI-LA

Continuing the anime marketing trend of streaming anime in the U.S. market (with limited ads) shortly after it shows in Japan, Crunchyroll is streaming SHANGRI-LA, an adaptation of a Japanese science fiction novel. The first episode, shown in Japan last Sunday, is online now.

The show looks like it might be fun. It balances deadly-dull scenes of talking heads addressing manipulation of the international carbon-credit market (such things never animate well) with spectacular, colorful action set pieces. Plus, it's got character designs by Range Murata, who designed LAST EXILE and BLUE SUB 6 from the same studio, Gonzo. And since it's anime science fiction, the protagonist is a teenage girl in a schoolgirl's outfit, accompanied by a transvestite. What can you say?

Freshly-Served Anime: The New FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST

In Japan, a new reversioning of the much-loved anime TV series from the mid-decade, FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, premiered Sunday; and only four days later, American licensors Funimation began streaming this legal, subtitled version of the first episode.

Naturally, in the interim, folks fan-subbed pirated versions of the episode and posted them on the Web.

The new series comes from a new director, and is said to hew more faithfully to the manga that was the source material for both series. Since the first series came out when there were only three or four volumes of the manga issued, and numerous volumes followed, the first anime diverged from the manga's storyline. This version's character designs are closer to the manga drawings, and will purportedly follow the story as told in the manga.

As for the show itself: Well, I hope the studio isn't just pouring its money into the first episode to hook viewers. It looks great.

Starlog Logs Off

The downturn in magazine publishing has taken another victim. On Wednesday, the publisher of Starlog, the 33-year-old slick magazine about science fiction films, TV and print (in that order), announced that the magazine will cease print publication and become a Web-only magazine.

Although I haven't bought or read an issue of Starlog in years, it's one of those seminal publications (like ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS or THE VISUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION) that fired my enthusiasm and shaped my interests when I was a kid. I picked up my first copy (the seventh issue, I believe) in the summer of 1977. That's when a magazine that had started surfing on the crest of Star Trek fandom and had bobbed with movies such as Logan's Run hit a monster wave: Star Wars, and the slew of SF movies that followed. I took the issue with me on a family road trip to Southern California, and read it cover to cover a few times. It had a photo spread on Star Wars (when I loaned the issue to a friend, he cut out all those photos, much to my chagrin.) It had a cover feature on stop-motion animation, something I hadn't thought much of before. It featured an interview with Harlan Ellison, which led me to start reading Ellison's books; he became one of my favorite writers. It featured ads for novelizations of something called Doctor Who; that was my introduction to that venerable British SF franchise. In that issue, and in many issues to come, Starlog's combination of journalism and fannish enthusiasm hooked me.

I picked up Starlog's fits-and-starts comic book news spinoff,COMICS SCENE, and occasionally its sister publication FANGORIA (which started out dedicated to both horror and fantasy films, before the horror took over everything). I also picked up several of the Starlog imitations from other publishers, none of which could match Starlog's Methuselah-like resilience.

In the early '80's, Starlog took on a new dimension for me: A family dimension. I was surprised to see the byline "Lee Goldberg" on several articles. What were the odds of a Starlog writer having the same name as one of my cousins? Pretty good, it turned out; it was my cousin. On his blog, Lee discusses his own history with Starlog, one of his earliest writing gigs, and one that eventually led to his marriage.

I'd like to say that being related to the prolific Starlog journalist brought me derivative fame, fortune, and romantic luck. Actually, what it got me was a comp subscription to Starlog (until the publisher cut it off) and a rainbow-foil BRAINSTORM sticker that I put on the door of my dorm room at UCLA.

I also recall the convention Starlog put on in LA in the mid-eighties. I wrote a letter to the Starlog publisher with a critique of how the con was run. I got back a two-page, single-spaced typewritten letter from the publisher responding point-by-point to the criticism. (Didn't the guy have enough to do around the office?)

In recent years, when I picked up a Starlog on the newsstands (that is, when I could find it), I found less enthusiasm in it; it seemed to become more a forum for press releases than a font of fannish delight. Maybe it's because I was an adult, and Starlog would always be directed toward the adolescent or the adolescent at heart.

Of course, Starlog isn't gone; it'll still be around as a Web magazine. But it'll be one of zillions of Web pages, and could easily disappear in the crowd. We'll have to see if a leaner economic profile will help it continue to survive.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Early Dub

A sign of the interdependence of Japan's anime industry and its U.S. market: The producers of the animated adaptation of GUIN SAGA, a 123-volume series of Japanese fantasy novels, has released a trailer for the series in both Japanese and English language versions (with the English version apparently dubbed by known American dub actors)-- even though the series just debuted this past Sunday in Japan; apparently hasn't yet been licensed for release in English speaking countries.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Desert Dreams

I''m posting this from my father's computer. Amy and I are spending a weekend in the Palm Springs area visiting my dad and Regina. Ít's an interesting contrast to the other desert we visited last weekend, when we drove over to Utah and back. Deserts are deceptively similar at first glance; but each holds unique riches upon further examination.