Monday, November 30, 2009

Loscon: Books and Nooks

Amy and I spent Friday-Sunday at the 36th annual Loscon science fiction convention, held this year at the LAX Marriott. Loscon tends to focus more on books than on movies or other SF media; and as usual, there were several booksellers in the dealers' room, including mail-order house Cargo Cult books. Cargo Cult is one of the few mail-order places that actually mails out a periodic circular of books and videos -- a rarity in a day when even Sears doesn't mail out a catalog any more.

The Nook e-reader that I have on order has changed my approach to such sellers. Previously, I'd browse the tables, see what SF books looked interesting (cover and interiors), and then calculate (a) how much I'd like to spend and (b) how much space a new book would take up. This time, I found myself browsing the tables to find books that I might potentially download as e-books. The nasty part of that, of course, is that I would be cutting the bookseller out of the deal.

I'm aware that as e-readers grow in popularity, this attitude will likely become a trend that will threaten the already tenuous position of independent booksellers. The folks who buy books -- a shrinking part of the population -- will gravitate toward e-books, which are sold either by the big-box websites or directly by the publisher. The same phemomenon we've seen with iPods and music sellers may play out. Sure, there will always be folks who prefer the heft, look and smell of a physical book -- just like there are those who would not dream of listening to anything except a 33 1/3 LP. But in a way, such habits are self-defeating: the folks who most treasure books likely have the most books, and thus will benefit most from those space-saving e-readers.

Other dangers loom. Print is a medium that outlasts formats. Already we are seeing a format war, with Amazon using a proprietary format for its e-books that no one else can use, and the Nook able to read various formats the Amazon Kindle can't touch. If you can read, and can open a book (or have someone open it for you), you're set, no matter the state of technology. But imagine if the crucial works of the 20th century were recorded on 5 1/2" floppies, or 8-track tapes. Think of the COWBOY BEBOP episode in which folks in the future are trying to watch a videotape -- and worse, a Beta videotape.

Despite such dire possibilities, I'm getting the Nook. I don't think I can single-handedly bring about the death of print.

Friday, November 27, 2009

20,000 vs. 2012

"Bloom County" cartoonist Berke Breathed wrote a great essay for today's L.A. Times Calendar section, in which he explains why James Mason battling a rubber squid on the deck of a pinewood submarine is infinitely more "awesome" than the world being destroyed in "2012."

Missing Nemo: Berkeley Breathed says new movies are missing magic and drowning in pixels [UPDATED] | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving movie viewing: DUPLICITY and MONSTERS VS. ALIENS. Not much connective tissue between the two, except strong female leads in each: Julia Roberts as a spy in the first; and Renee Zellweger as a giant mutated platinum blond in the other.

Oh, and Syfy is running Bond movies in high-def today and tomorrow. Things get really good tomorrow, because they'll be showing the Connery Bonds -- a.k.a. the real Bond movies.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can't Stop the Rock?

The current issue of BACK ISSUE MAGAZINE (
focuses on DC and Marvel war comics from the '70's -- an era in which the comics featured mainly World War II stories (with occasional trips into World War I) even as the Vietnam conflict raged on. The magazine notes that DC's flagship war-comic hero, Sgt. Frank Rock, first appeared 50 years ago. Almost simultaneously, the trades have reported that Joel Silver's 20-year quest to bring the Rock of Easy Co. to the big screen may be moving forward -- albeit by moving the combat-happy joes of Easy to (arrgh!) the future. (

All this brings back memories of my comics-reading days in the early-to-mid 1970's. Before I started collecting superhero comics, war comics were my passion. Even at that young age, I could tell the differences in the styles of Marvel's and DC's war comics. Marvel's comics (primarily SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS; occasionally other COMMANDER AND HIS ADJECTIVE NOUNS spin-offs) were mainly gung-ho caper stories, in which the charismatic lead and his multi-ethnic team would crack wise as they cracked heads. They were basically like Marvel's superhero comics, except that the heroes killed people. The DC comics were more brooding and bordering on realistic (although they had more than their share of lone-soldier-with-a-few-grenades-takes-out-a-regiment tales). They were more likely to focus on single lead characters (Enemy Ace, Unknown Soldier, Balloon Buster, etc.) or a rank-and-file combat squad (the Easy Company dogfaces, who had colorful nicknames but weren't quite as diverse as the Howlers) rather than special-mission commando cadres. The one commando-type comic I recall featured the decidely non-heroic title THE LOSERS.

All of these comics were put out under the Comics Code. That meant (a) lots of panels of either soldiers shooting or soldiers falling -- but hardly any of the shooter and victim in the same panel; and (b) when soldiers did meet in close combat, they were more likely to resort to fisticuffs or wrestling rather than point-blank shooting or graphic knifing/bayoneting. This generally had the effect of making war look much less nasty than the footage running on the nightly news from Vietnam and the Middle East.

When I moved from war comics to superhero comics, I found two aspects of the transition jarring. First, superhero comic artists didn't know squat about drawing firearms. Although war comics artists paid lip service to drawing different weapons correctly (after all, in some stories, choice of weapon substituted for characterization), superhero comics artists would often draw vaguely gun-looking devices for the characters to shoot. (Jack Kirby, of course, knew how to draw guns; but he would design completely new firearms for the superhero comics, and you didn't care whether they had any analog in real life.) Second, superhero comics had a different attitude toward death. The death of a single person in such a comic was a monumental event. By contrast, death was such a constant in the war comics that individual lives were pretty much meaningless. I like to think I benefited from the transition.

Anyway, I think that the various efforts to bring comic book soldiers like Rock to the silver screen is doomed. There's really no reason to bring war stories from the comics to movies; movies have been doing WWII stories about ordinary soldiers since, well, WWII. That said, I do think SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS has already been translated into a movie, with some success -- except that it was called INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Distant Blog

Graphic novelist extraordinaire Colleen Doran was nice enough to call me a "blog buddy" in her latest post.

Be a blog buddy to Colleen. Go to her blog, read the web comic version of her series "A Distant Soil," and buy her stuff. If you've been to our house, you know that we've bought a lot of her stuff -- it's all over our walls.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Bit about Alfredo Alcala

Comics historian Mark Evanier has a great story on his blog ( about a sketch Filipino artist Alfredo Alcala did, pro bono, for the San Diego Comic-Con in the seventies; and how this act paid off with good karma.

If you read a Marvel or DC comic during the late '70's and '80's, you likely saw Alcala's art, usually inking another artist, mainly because he turned out incredibly textured ink art incredibly fast. We got to speak with Alcala a few times before he passed away, due to a mutual friend, Phil Yeh. Our first wedding anniversary took place during the 1998 San Diego Comic-Con. Phil invited us to go out to dinner at Dick's Last Resort with him and a bunch of comics artists, including Alcala. At Phil's request, Alcala drew us an anniversary present -- a beautiful drawing of a panther. It was a wonderful link to the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN issues inked by Alcala that I had so enjoyed as a teen.

An Animated Film Fit for Princes

We first encountered the artwork for Michel Ocelot's animated film "Azur et Asmar" in the hallways of the Studio Ghibli Museum during our 2007 visit. One hall featured images and backgrounds from the movie as murals. That should give you an idea of the artistic accomplishment of this animated film.

The computer-animated movie features flat, stiff character animation (a consequence of the storybook-come-to-life look of the movie), but the colors and imagery are lush and unlike any animated film I've seen before. And although the multicultural story, set in Renaissance-era France and North Africa, follows a fairytale formula, it manages to confound expectations at every turn.

American kids may find the storytelling slow, and the many portions in Arabic (with subtitles) frustrating. But it is definitely worth watching (and likely owning, for repeated viewings).

The Real "Book Nook"

History | Downtown Walla Walla Foundation

Mike Barer posted a comment to my "Book Nook" post, commenting on the namesake for the post:  The Book Nook, a business that used to exist in the Die Brucke building in downtown Walla Walla, Wa.    The Book Nook was apparently around for a looong time -- the photo above purports to be a picture of its soda fountain in 1910; and the building itself was constructed in 1903.  The Book Nook sold the type of general-store sundries you'd see at a drug store.  It also had the sort of old-fashioned lunch counter that small retail stores used to feature, selling burgers and sandwiches.  (It got very busy at lunchtime.  I recall once, while working downtown, I was settled at my table with my drink when my sandwich order was called at the counter.  I went up to grab my sandwich, and came back to find a woman had snatched up my full glass and was "bussing" it so that she could sit down.  She protested that she thought I was finished there . . . .)

The odd part was that, apart from the usual magazine-and-paperback rack, the store didn't sell books.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Amelia Flies

Bucking critical opinion, we saw AMELIA tonight. (It's playing at the Culver Plaza, which was a happening Mann theater for years but is now an independently-owned seedy second-run house.) We liked it better than the critics. It definitely has flaws: Swank too often sounds like she's imitating Earhart rather than being her; Swank and Gere have zero chemistry as an onscreen couple; and the pacing often seems off. But you can't go too far wrong with lots of '30's airplanes. And Earhart's story in itself is compelling enough to propel the plot.

One big mistake Earhart makes: Taking The Doctor along as navigator. That guy's getting lost all the time . . . .

Thursday, November 12, 2009

About Me - In Case you Didn't Already Know : Danny-ology

Yes, it's one of those Facebook quiz things. I've pasted it to my blog so that I can slay two fowl with one missle.

Copy this, paste in a new note, replace my answers with yours and re-post this as your name followed by "ology".


What is your salad dressing of choice?
Whatever they put on the salad at Blue Marlin -- kind of a sweet-gingery stuff.

What is your favorite sit-down restaurant?
Hotel Bel-Air Restaurant.

What food could you eat every day for two weeks and not get sick of?
Chicken katsu from Yokohama (the restaurant, not the city).

What are your pizza toppings of choice?
Chicken and veggies.

What do you like to put on your toast?


How many televisions are in your house?

What color is your cell phone?
Green and silver.

Do you have an iPod?
Yes -- a silver Nano.


Are you right-handed or left-handed?

Have you ever had anything removed from your body?
I had a tooth extracted when I was a teenager.

What is the last heavy item you lifted?
My backpack, a heavy leather jacket, and a bag of comic books -- all at once.

Have you ever been knocked unconscious?
Only by anesthesia.


If it were possible, would you want to know the day you were going to die?
Nah. Destiny is mystery, and mystery is life.

If you could change your name, what would you change it to?
Well, I could change it, but I like my name. People keep saying I'm a "David," though.

Would you drink an entire bottle of hot sauce for $1000?
Yes -- if I could do it gradually, over the course of a few years. (Lawyer answer.)


Summer in SoCal!

Fourth of July -- it's in summer!

Day of the week?


I don't re-read books (except law books). Probably the one that had the biggest impact on me was Slaughterhouse-Five.


Missing someone?
My friends in other cities.


What are you listening to?
Amy's watching "The Mentalist" in another room.

Current worry?
Getting various ducks in various rows.


First place you went this morning?
Walked to my office.

What's the last movie you saw?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (on DVD)


How many pairs of flip flops do you own?

Last time you had a run-in with the cops?
I don't really have run-ins. Only discussions.

Last person you talked to?

Last person you hugged?

Do you always answer your phone?

It's four in the morning and you get a text message, who is it?
Somebody who'd better have a damned good reason for texting me at that hour . . .

If you could change your eye color what would it be?
I wouldn't. Brown is beautiful.

What flavor do you add to your drink at Sonic?
I've never eaten at Sonic.

Do you own a digital camera?

Have you ever had a pet fish?
Several . . . in the past.

Favorite Christmas song?
"Linus and Lucy" by Vince Guaraldi. (Hey, it's from a Christmas special.)

What's on your wish list for your birthday?
Books -- even though we have no room for them.

Can you do push ups?

Can you do the splits?

Does the future make you more nervous or excited?
Depends how far into the future you look.

Do you have any saved texts?
My Treo saves texts as conversation threads, so yes.

Have you ever been in a car accident?
Yes. (Thankfully without injury.)

Do you have an accent?
Depends on who you ask.

What is the last movie to make you cry?
Probably "Up."

Plans tonight?
You're looking at them . . . .

Have you ever felt like you hit rock bottom?
I've felt mighty low, but not rock bottom. You can even fall off the floor -- if there's a lower floor.

Name 3 things you bought yesterday.
A bowl of oatmeal, a cafe misto, and a Nook.

Have you ever been given roses?

Met someone who changed your life?
My wife.

How will you bring in the New Year?
Steampunk party!

What song represents you?
"Wondering Where the Lions Are" by Bruce Cockburn. I've no idea why.

Name two people who might complete this?
Amy and Laurid. ('Cause they have!)

Would you go back in time if you were given the chance?
If I could get back again. And not wipe out humanity by stepping on a butterfly.

Have you ever dated someone longer than a year?

Do you have any tattoos/piercings?
No. But I have a metal rod in my right ankle . . .

Does anyone love you?

Would you be a pirate?
Only if I could be Captain Harlock.

What songs do you sing in the shower?
Rogers and Hammerstein.

Ever had someone sing to you?

Do you like to cuddle?
With my wife.

Have you held hands with anyone today?
With my wife.

Who was the last person you took a picture of?
Some goth-loli girls at PMX.

Are most of the friends in your life new or old?

Do you like pulpy orange juice?
Pulpy and chewy.

What is something your friends make fun of you for?
I prefer not to have my friends laugh at me. They should only laugh behind me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Birthday Celebration

Some photos of Amy's birthday party on Saturday (together with our party on her actual birthday, November 2); and photos of fun with some of our birthday guests the next day, at Pacific Media Expo.

Amy's 2009 Birthday
Blogged with the Flock Browser

The Book Nook

This evening, I walked over to my local Barnes & Noble and pre-ordered a Nook. (And felt a bit like a Nook Shnook for doing so. The information booth guys just went onto the B&N Website to order the thing. I could have done that. From home.) Because I ordered today, they said, I'd go onto the waiting list and had a good chance of getting my Nook by, oh, about December 21. (Of this year, thankfully.)

I opted for the Nook, instead of the Kindle, primarily because the Nook purportedly handles pdf files better than the base-model Kindle (which costs the same as the Nook). I foresee using the device mainly for work. Nowadays, all federal district and appellate court documents are served in pdf form; and we scan a lot of the state court filings. I'd rather carry a wafer-thin electronic reader into court than a thick file or a box of 300-page appellate record volumes.

Of course, I'm buying the thing sight unseen, so I'll have to wait and see whether the Nook lives up to its hype; or whether it will just sit in its nook.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Shel Dorf, R.I.P.

Shel Dorf, the founder of the San Diego Comic-Con, has passed away. I met him on a few occasions, and always found him polite and affable.

A few days ago, prior to Dorf's death, my friend Phil Yeh posted an essay on the Shel Dorf tribute site discussing what Dorf meant to his career.

Another loss to comics history.

Happy Birthday + 1, Amy!!

We were so busy celebrating her birthday yesterday that I didn't have time to post this until today!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Prisoner Billboard: Image Duplicator


In Roy Lichtenstein's painting "Image Duplicator," he copied (in part) a Jack Kirby panel from the first issue of the X-Men comic, depicting a close-up of Magneto's eyes.

In the X-Men movies, Ian McKellen played Magneto.

And the billboard for the upcoming TV remake of "The Prisoner," currently situated at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda in West Los Angeles, features a close-up of -- Ian McKellen's eyes.

Who is the image duplicator?

Watching the Jury

I went to a conference this past week in San Francisco that culminated with a mock jury trial exercise. A group of jurors (chosen based on the demographics of the place where the case at issue would have been tried) listened to abbreviated openings/closings, including video reenactments and other exhibits. Then we watched on closed-circuit TV while the jurors -- unaware of their audience -- deliberated and came to a verdict based on the statements.

I've watched such exercises before. It's always sobering to watch how jurors will focus on the facts and considerations important to them -- regardless of whether those facts were actually present in the evidence submitted to them.

The Art of Justice

On Wednesday, I took part in a tour of the Santa Ana appellate court's new courthouse, which opened in July. One of the most striking aspects of the new building is the artwork in the Lobby.

Justice Moore, our tour leader, was in charge of decorating the courthouse -- which she had to do with no budget, given California's money crunch. At first, a prominent local family was going to donate art. The problem with that plan, Justice Moore explained, was that people who donate art are usually rich; and rich people tend to appear in court a lot. She wanted to avoid any appearance of favoritism from plaques throughout the courthouse thanking the party to a lawsuit for its donation.

Her solution was to ask local middle school and high school students to create paintings based (primarily) on cases the court had decided, including some for which Justice Moore wrote the opinion. The results were stunning. The students found symbolism in the opinions, both their fact patterns and the principles for which they stood, that the justices themselves had never seen. The L.A. Times story at the link above shows some examples.