Monday, March 30, 2009

The Evolution of Print

A little over 30 years ago, I received a treasured copy of THE VISUAL ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION from my parents (it still sits on my bookshelf). This history of science fiction introduced me to the concept of the pulp science fiction magazine, jammed full of short stories, novelets and novellas by the top names in SF. The book implied that these periodicals were still being published; yet I had never seen any displayed in the drug store or supermarket newsstands I frequented. One day I knelt and examined the tiny shelf just above floor-level on the stand, where the Readers Digests and crossword magazines were kept; and lo and behold, there were the SF magazines (and the mystery magazines). Just as the dinosaurs had evolved into birds and lizards, the 8 1/2 by 11" pulp magazines evolved into smaller, digest-sized publications.

Now the remaining published SF magazines are having to evolve further. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, now in its 60th year of publication, has changed its publication status from 10 issues a year to bimonthly; and has doubled the size of each issue, so that each resembles a fat paperback anthology.
Ít will therefore publish about the same amount of material each year, but in fewer editions -- presumably a more economically viable publication model.

The cover of the first new-format issue -- reproduced above -- is telling: A rusty old robot in a sleazy robot bar, swilling motor oil and WD-40 with a melancholy expression on its dialed face. In an era where fewer and fewer folks are reading magazines of any kind -- and genre magazines are practically the last surviving traces of the once-thriving story magazine -- F & SF's only choice is to avoid emulating the rusted-out bot relegated to dreaming electronic dreams of old glories as it slowly winds down to obsolescence.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

So Afraid of Getting Bored

Yesterday we spent the day at a convention full of young anime fans in St. George, Utah, and occasionally found those who seemed to struggle to avoid boredom. This morning I found this timely bit of wisdom on my cousin Linda's blog (happy birthday, Linda!):

If you need attention, for Buddha's sake, learn to amuse yourself. Go read. Go make art. Go listen to music. Go watch tv. Go take a walk. Go blog, twitter, or facebook. Go learn how to do stuff by yourself. Go learn how to not be afraid to be alone with your own thoughts, especially while driving (obey that new Hands Free Law!). There's no reason to be bored, EVER. And, there is no reason to take it personally that other people are not bored. Don't rely on other people to make you happy or fulfill your needs. Your happiness is your responsibility. Being needy and whiny to get attention because you have nothing else to do will not make you more attractive to people. If you really want to be surrounded by people, do what you want without caring if people are paying attention and they will flock to you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Lift in Life

I'm in St. George, Utah, for a 3-day weekend; and we had an unfortunate beginning to the weekend: This evening, when we were on our way to dinner along with some friends, we, the friends, and about 9 other people (including a newborn baby, a toddler, and an eight-year-old girl who was taking the elevator to meet her family in the lobby) got trapped in a hotel elevator for 40 minutes. The experience was awful for the little girl; fortunately, one of the folks in the elevator would call the front desk periodically and have the father put through to the girl. But at least having the kids there prevented me from panicking, because I felt I had to put on a cheerful front for the kids' sake.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Vault of Warner - The Official Online Store of Warner Bros. Studios: Warner Archive

Warner Brothers has come up with a terrific way to give those interested in their classic films a way to see ones that have not yet been released on DVD. You can peruse titles from their archives; and if you see a title you like, you can order a DVD of it. Warners will then produce a single-copy DVD for you. No extras, and the company probably won't do anything to clean up the picture (although digital masters are used for the DVDs), but you'll have it.

I ordered DOC SAVAGE: THE MAN OF BRONZE. I've never been able to make it through an entire viewing of this movie, which left me hoping that somebody will one day make a good Doc Savage flick. Still, with the '30's setting and the high adventure, it'll be nice to have around.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Smartphone Follies

Is Palm doomed if the Palm Pre bombs?

Either by coincidence, design, or some sort of Zeitgeist sine wave, at least three legal publications -- the ABA Journal, California Lawyer magazine, and an online journal -- ran simultaneous articles in the past month comparing Blackberry smartphones and iPhones as firm-issued equipment.  At least one of the articles mentioned the upcoming, not-yet-released Palm Pre; but to my recollection, none mentioned my current smartphone, the Palm Treo.  I find that odd, because in the real world I see almost as many attorneys using various iterations of the Treo as I see using Blackberries; and certainly more than I see using iPhones.

The general consensus among the three articles is that the Blackberry is the best smartphone for e-mail, and is also the choice for those who find the virtual keyboard on the iPhone a challenge, since most of the Blackberries have physical QWERTYUP keyboards.  The iPhone, for its part, is the champion for web-surfing and for viewing pdf documents, owing to its large screen.

Now we are getting articles like the one linked to above, which look at the continuing financial woes of Palm; and view the upcoming Pre as a make-or-break product for the company.  (The reasons for Palm's problems seem fairly plain:  (a) Its main product -- dedicated PDAs like the iconic Palm Pilot, later just the Palm -- have been rendered practically obsolete by smartphones; (b) its smartphone never had as much name recognition as the Blackberry or the iPhone; and (c) Palm really hasn't put out a radically new Treo in the last several years.)  From advance accounts, the Pre has the potential to eclipse both the Blackberry and the iPhone as a business device, because it combines the best of both worlds:  Like the iPhone, it has a big touchscreen, ideal for websurfing (and at speeds faster than the iPhone, according to the hype); but like the Blackberry, it has a physical keyboard, which slides out from under the screen.  Plus, it has features the iPhone apparently has never been able to master, such as cut-and-paste between functions (something the Treos have done for years). 

Apple has such a mystique, and the iPhone such a high visibility factor, that I doubt the Pre will charm the general public away from iPhones.  But it does stand to win over the business crowd, particularly once Sprint's exclusive rights to the Pre expire and it migrates to Verizon, the highest rated cell phone service.  And winning over IT folks who will buy the phone in bulk and issue it to the firm's troops is no small feat.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

San Diego Con Hotel Lottery

This year, Amy and I secured our hotel room for the San Diego Comic-Con in July early, before March 19's shotgun start to the hotel rush through the Con's travel service. It's a good thing we did; anecdotal evidence (reported as news) suggests the servers melted down.

Comics editor/reporter Heidi McDonald observes on her blog that (a) San Diego actually has a hotel room glut, with hotel expansion planned in boom years being finished in a recession; (b) the San Diego Visitors and Convention Bureau report from last year appears to show that the convention attendees contributed a small amount to the local economy (a report that seems belied when one sees the restaurants and bars around the convention center stuffed with folks wearing con badges); and (c) the Convention Visitor's Bureau's Website does not contain any information about the 2009 Comic-Con.

Meanwhile, Colleen Doran blogs that she won't be attending the con this year -- in part "because I can’t decide if I am more afraid of seeing people walking around dressed as Silk Spectre or Doctor Manhattan."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And You Thought the TRS-80 Was Ancient

An amazing look at Difference Engine #2 -- conceived by Charles Babbage in the 19th century; finally built in the 21st.

A Slambang Victorian Funfest

Jonathan Barnes's debut novel, The Somnambulist, is cover-to-cover entertainment. It's the sort of novel that demands that you pick it up as soon as you come home from work so that you can find out what happens next.

It reads very much like what Barnes writes he intended it as: a melding of the Oxford graduate's interests in Dickens novels, Conan Doyle's works, Doctor Who, etc. It also has a bit of first-novel syndrome. First novels are built like sprinters, not marathoners; the author pours in a little bit of everything he or she is interested in, often with little concern for how it fits into the overall story. Here, we've got a Victorian England story with a stage magician/detective, secret societies, socialist utopias, spies, steampunk, sexual perversion, and lots of other "s"'s, together with some mystical mumbo-jumbo and even some nods to classic monster stories and a macguffin reminiscent of Hideyuki Kurata's "Read or Die" franchise. Much of it is probably unnecessary, and on retrospect the joins are suspect.

But reading it, you really don't care, because contrary to its title, The Somnambulist moves like a freight train. It's not very deep, and you're unlikely to unlock the secrets of life from it, but it is a great deal of fun.

Dedicated to Charity

Fantasy author Emma Bull is offering a unique item for a charity auction: If you're the winning bidder, you can have Claim, the sequel to her recent novel Territory, dedicated to you.

Bad News for the Jazz Bakery

One of the best places in the LA area to hear jazz, the Jazz Bakery in Culver City, has lost its lease. The club has been on a month-to-month lease for some time; and the owners of the Helms Bakery building want to use the space for a new furniture store (to join the numerous furniture stores already in the building).

The owner promises to reopen elsewhere; and it appears the promise isn't empty, since the Bakery has been selling out shows.

I've seen several fine concerts there. I fondly remember attending a Sunday concert by trumpeter Mark Isham there; and then heading back home and watching an episode of the HBO miniseries FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. As soon as I heard the opening trumpet riff on the episode's soundtrack, I recognized it; Isham had scored the episode.

The Batcave's Showroom

A nice way to waste time: A detail-obsessive website devoted to the dozens of Batmobiles Batman has used over the decades, in comics, on the big and small screen, and in merchandising.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bye-Bye Seattle P-I

Connelly: Online-only P-I will be a journalism adventure

When I was a kid growing up in Walla Walla, Washington, one of my Sunday rituals was to offer to walk to the Southgate drugstore, about a mile from our house, to fetch my dad one of the out-of-town papers -- either the Portland Oregonian, the Spokane Spokesman-Review, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  These excursions were a win-win situation for everyone. Dad would get a chance to read the political, business, and sports pages of a thick metropolitan paper, to supplement the wafer-thin Sunday Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.  He'd also have one less kid running around the house on a Sunday.  I'd have an excuse to browse the comics rack, paperback shelf, and toy section of the drugstore; plus, I'd get to sample out-of-town comic strips, redolent with the funk of bad color ink on newsprint crushed in tall bundles trucked in from a few hundred miles away.

All that came to mind this morning, when NPR announced on Morning Edition that the Seattle P-I print edition went the way of all newsprint today -- it faded away.

The P-I will live on in a Web-only version, which I imagine will have a much lower overhead.  But Walla Walla kids won't be able to walk a mile to the drugstore to pick it up for their parents.  And there probably won't be comics.  There definitely won't be the smell.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Depressed and in Love: The Song-List Books of Tom Reynolds

I've been having a great time this weekend reading I HATE MYSELF AND WANT TO DIE: THE 52 MOST DEPRESSING SONGS OF ALL TIME and its sequel TOUCH ME, I'M SICK: THE 52 CREEPIEST LOVE SONGS OF ALL TIME. Reynolds, listed in the books' bios as a musician, former technical director of The Groundlings, and a TV writer-producer, tackles his subjects with a mixture of sociopolitical commentary, techonological musical explanation, and sheer snarkiness that's a riot to read.

Some of the songs on his list are obvious. Who could disagree with "Seasons in the Sun," Vicki Carr's "It Must Be Him," or the Cure's "Prayers for Rain" (or any other Cure song, for that matter) as depressing songs; or "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, "Run for Your Life" by the Beatles, or "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths for creepy love songs? (Actually, there's a noteable dearth of Smiths/Morrisey songs in the depressing songs book, even though songs like "Every Day Is Like Sunday" and "Girlfriend in a Coma" were guaranteed party-killers in the eighties. Reynolds explains in the second book that he had a whole chapter in the first devoted to The Smiths; but that he had to remove it, for unspecified reasons.)

But there's also the surprising selections, the ones extremely subjective to Reynolds. For instance, he includes the Jim Steinman composition "Total Eclipse of the Heart" among his "perfect storm" depressing songs, mainly because he finds the bombastic delivery of it exhausting. ("Listening to it is like an opera company bludgeoning you with copies of Anne Rice novels," he writes.) And then there's Paul Anka's "(You're) Having My Baby" in the creepy love song category, which I never really thought of as a CLS but pretty much qualifies; and "Muskrat Love," both versions, which always struck me as more insipid than creepy; and "Ben" by Michael Jackson, which I never even thought of as a love song (but as one delivered to a man-eating rat, by Jacko, is creepy indeed); or even Maurice Chevalier's rendition of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" from Gigi.

The only problem with these books is that as soon as I got them I pretty much dropped everything else and read most of both. Highly recommended.

Time Machine Collectibles

An odd connection between my hobbies and my home town: Time Machine Collectibles, a company that runs official celebrity websites for science fiction movie and TV stars, and sells autographed photos, is run out of my home town of Walla Walla, Washington.

Diabolik-al Cinema

Last night I watched DANGER:DIABOLIK on DVD. This Italian-French co-production from 1967, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by Mario Bava, is pretty much the Platonic (but not platonic) ideal of the sixties mod European action flick. Diabolik, played by the recently-deceased John Phillip Law, is essentially the evil Batman; he dresses in black tights and a mask; he drives a black car (a Jaguar -- jeeze, those were much cooler in the sixties than they are today); he's insanely skilled; he has an arsenal of wonderful toys; he walks up walls; and he has a cave hideout that is unbelievably tricked out for a pad that no one but he and his sidekick sees. Of course, there are differences: His sidekick is not an adolescent boy, but rather a gorgeous blonde named Eva; and he's not out to fight crime -- he's out to commit it. Indeed, he blows up government buildings and kills police officers in cold blood. His only redeeming qualities are his love for Eva and his unalloyed coolness.

DANGER:DIABOLIK may not be Shakespeare, but it's a lot of fun.

He Is Legend

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the Ides of March than patronizing an independent book store and meeting a living legend?

At Dark Delicacies bookstore in Burbank, earlier this afternoon, I attended a booksigning by Richard Matheson. Chances are if you watched any science fiction or fantasy on the large or small screen from the fifties or sixties, you saw some of Matheson's works. That's on top of his novels that are still being adapted into movies today; his novel I AM LEGEND has been adapted for movies three times, most recently in the Will Smith vehicle a little over a year ago.

Eliza "Slap-Happy" Dushku

I've enjoyed watching Joss Whedon's series "Dollhouse" so far, despite its logic-shaky premise.

But having watched the last two weeks' episodes in a row, I have one question:

Why would Eliza Dushku co-create and produce a TV series in which she gets slapped in the face by a man at least once per episode?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tiny Shuffles

The new, 4-gigabyte iPod Shuffle is so tiny, you must breathe carefully around it lest you inhale it.

Rumor has it that the next model will be subatomic, and exist only as a quantum probability.

San Diego Comic-Con 4-Day Passes Sell Out

Welcome to Comic-Con International: Coming up Next...Comic-Con International: San Diego 2009!

If you want to attend Comic-Con in July, you'd better hustle. The four-day passes (which entitle buyers to attend the Preview Night on Wednesday) have sold out, over four months before the event. One-day passes for each day are still available, but they are going too; the Saturday one-day passes are 23% sold. And no passes will be sold onsite.

Apparently the sour economy is not thinning the herds who attend the con.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Split Strike Conversion Strategy Allocution

Here's the transcript of the confession Bernard Madoff made as part of his guilty plea today.

Amazing how confessors like Madoff always make it sound like they were nice guys who made mistakes and then couldn't get out of them. If you look at what he really says he did, it's plain that he didn't make any mistakes -- except getting caught.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's So, So Wrong

Saturday Morning Watchmen

For those who want their Watchmen without all that doom, gloom, geopolitical chaos and dismemberment -- Saturday Morning Watchmen.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Birthday of Justice

Today is US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's birthday.

How do know? Because yesterday, at a lecture by Scalia and Bryan Garner, Garner led me and 999 other attorneys and judges in singing "Happy Birthday" to the justice.

(I also got to hear Justice Scalia's William Rehnquist imitation.)

In honor of the occasion, I suggest you strictly construe everything you read today, in light of the drafter's original intent.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Did We Dig It?

If you see the WATCHMEN movie, you'll note that the credits omit Alan Moore's name (true to his wishes), as did the V FOR VENDETTA movie. You'll also note that, true to its 80's setting, the movie features some 80's pop tunes. Not surprising that they left this one out -- and not just because it was released after the period in which the movie takes place:

Barbie's Real-Life Malibu Dream House

Mattel is celebrating Barbie's upcoming 50th anniversary by hiring an interior decorator to recreate Barbie's Malibu Dream House -- in Malibu.

I'm waiting for someone to build a real-life GI Joe Adventure Team Headquarters.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

We Watched the Watchmen

When watching WATCHMEN at the Landmark earlier tonight, one thought that crossed my mind was that this movie could not have been half as effective if it had been made in the late eighties, or the early nineties, as was planned then.

It's not just the improvements in special effects; that's relative, and what's cutting edge now will be hokey in just a few years. When WATCHMEN was first serialized in comic book form in the mid-eighties, the irony of a comic book -- the home of costumed heroes for several decades -- commenting on and examining the concept of superheroes in relationship to Western civilization was potent. At that point, there had been only a few superhero movies, and no high-budget major ones apart from the Christopher Reeve Superman films.

Now that comic-book movies have all but supplanted the comic book as the superhero medium (at least in the public eye), the irony of a superhero movie commenting on and examining the superhero concept (while using the conventions of superhero movies -- suspensions of physics, "bullet time" manipulation of images, and people taking superhuman amounts of punishment)is almost as potent as the comic book was back then.

Having seen the movie, my opinion is the same as it was when I saw the first clips from the film: It's still unclear whether there should have been a WATCHMEN movie; but now that there is one, this was a pretty good stab at it. It's coming under criticism as too slavish an adaptation (and indeed, numerous scenes are copied panel for panel and word for word from the graphic novel) while never coming close to the wonderful density of the actual comic. And there is no way that the entire graphic novel, along with all the supplemental material stuck in the back of each issue, could be shoved into a single movie -- some support for the argument that the film should never be made.

But you can enjoy a good book, and enjoy an effective film adaptation of it, without regretting what got cut out or changed in the transition. So it was with WATCHMEN. There were definite missteps (particularly some ham-handed use of music behind some scenes -- Mozart's Requiem should probably join Carmina Burana as classical pieces that should never again be used seriously as film music); but I found most of the film effective as a film. Particularly good were Jackie Earl Haley's performance as Rohrschach and Billy Crudup's (and some superb motion capture's) emotionally lost god Dr. Manhattan.

The question remains whether those who never read the graphic novel -- those who, unlike me, don't find themselves recalling where they were and what they were feeling when they were reading the comics -- will think of the movie.

If they thought the DARK KNIGHT movie was bleak, wait'll they get a load of this.

U-2: No Priceline on the Horizon

If you want an MP3 version of U-2's new album, NO LINE ON THE HORIZON, you could download it from iTunes -- and have a version that will play only on iTunes, iPods and iPhones -- for $17.99.

Or you could go to, and buy an MP3 version of the same album that will play on iTunes, all the iToys, and any other MP3 player -- for $3.99.

When Barbies are Outlawed, only Outlaws Will Have Barbies

A delegate to the West Virginia Legislature introduced a bill this week proposing a statewide ban on the sale of Barbie dolls. According to this article, the delegate maintains that the dolls can destroy a girl's self-image.

Another delegate registered his response by plopping a pink, sparkly Barbie on his desk during the legislative session.

Frankly, if this lawmaker thinks that all it takes to destroy a girl's self-image is an absurdly-proportioned plastic doll, he's underestimating America's girls.

The Big Argument

On Thursday, hundreds gathered in Civic Center Plaza (across the street from where I lived when I was in law school) to watch the California Supreme Court hear the oral arguments on the three Proposition 8 cases. Many more watched the arguments in the San Francisco Public Library, and on the Internet where they were broadcast live.

No doubt most of the viewers had never seen a California Supreme Court argument -- or any appellate argument -- before. And no doubt they had the same experience most have who watch an appellate argument -- they were completely lost.

When I and some other attorneys took a class of high schoolers to an appellate argument, we warned them before that if someone has not read the briefs, or at least knows the basics of the case being discussed, the oral arguments will seem completely foreign. That's because the case has already been argued in written briefs; the attorneys and the justices or judges will be thoroughly familiar with the briefs and the record on appeal; and the oral argument is simply designed to clarify and focus the written arguments. Thus, to most observers, watching an appellate argument is like listening to one side of a phone call.

Terribly Trendy

Amy and I were ridiculously trendy Friday night and this morning. Last night, we went for the first time to The Edison in downtown LA. The Edison is an astounding place. It's built in the location of LA's first privately-owned power plant (built in 1910), in the basement of the Higgins building. The basement was reportedly underwater for years; but some nightclub developers rescued it and turned it into a fabulous nightspot. It's a gigantic space, theatrically lit, filled with generators, turbines, brass and copper, furnaces, glass cases, and vintage silent films projected onto copper cladding. The waiters wear 19th-century clerk's suits. It's the sort of place where a woman walks around offering cigars, cigarettes, and mints; and another wearing cellophane wings on her back offers shots of absinthe.

It's also the sort of place where the bouncers at the velvet rope turn away folks who wear sneakers or t-shirts, but enthusiastically welcome those who come in period or steampunk costumes. So when in Rome . . . .

Then this morning we drove to 3 Squares Bakery + Cafe, Hans Rockenwagner's trendy place on trendy Abbott Kinney Boulevard. After breakfast, we strolled amongst the trendy galleries and clothes places.

I think I'm trended out for the weekend.

Photos by Captain Wong Wei.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Paley Festival

Tickets for this year's Paley Festival went on sale today, and some programs have sold out already.

For the uninitiated, the Paley Festival celebrates TV shows past and present. A presentation on a show will usually screen one or two episodes, and then bring creative people and actors onto the stage for a panel discussion.

I note that one of the programs is for DOLLHOUSE. It will take place on April 19. We'll have to see if the show is still on the air when that date rolls around. (Not that cancellation will affect the program. One of the sold-out programs will screen three unaired episodes of PUSHING DAISIES.)

We've bought tickets for the program on another Whedon production, DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG. There was a screening and panel on DHSAB at the 2008 San Diego Con; and the line for it went past the entrance to the room where my cousin Lee's panel for the Media Tie-In Awards was being held. Lee, naturally, asked me why I wasn't in line to see Whedon. Of course, since Whedon writes media tie-ins (most recently, his Dark Horse comics continuing his BUFFY and FIREFLY/SERENITY series), he should have gone to Lee's panel.

How to Keep Your Teen Driver Alive and Healthy

My cousin Sam Barer -- a writer about automobiles, and a parent -- has posted this article on his blog. It's a must-read for any parent who is buying a teenager his or her first car. (Hint: Buying a high-powered rare sports car for a kid who has five minutes of driving experience is a really, really bad idea.)

Digitize Me, Cap'n!

Here's a spot-on article from today's LA Times about the conflicting desires to display our books, music and movies and to tidy up our collections by storing them in digital form.

Cover Story

Given the impossibility of reading every book in a bookstore to determine which one will entertain you, book buyers literally judge books by their covers every day. In this blog post, my cousin Tod Goldberg discusses what goes into picking a cover image -- when the author is given input into that decision.

Seven Why Strange Should Be on the Silver Screen

THE COMICS READER writer Tom Spurgeon offers a nicely-written piece about why a movie version of Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE should be made, and should be made now. One of his points:

"An element that connects Dr. Strange to Superman and Spider-Man that rarely gets explored in his comic book is the fact that the protector of the universe chooses to live in a bad-ass looking brownstone in the middle of New York City. His home is what little kids between the coasts imagine amazing-looking city buildings to be: impressive, old, stuffed with secrets. You'd want to see Dr. Strange's reality show. You know he has deeply fascinating lunches in mens' clubs you've never even heard of. You know he goes to the theater -- he was probably drawn by Hirschfeld. You know he knows the name of his grocers and spice procurers and the people that make his coffee. You know he throws amazing parties, and is invited to same -- when the superheroes have parties you know everyone's way more psyched about them than Dr. Strange is. How is this not totally appealing?"

Designer's Eye for the Spy Guy

My Cousin Lee Goldberg's blog led me to this extremely cool blog spotlighting the design aesthetic of sixties spy films and TV -- futurism meets Playboy Club meets op art. There's little disagreement that SPECTRE's volcano lair from YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is the apotheosis of spy cool.

Now Everyone's Watching the Watchmen

From the fall of 1986 through the summer of 1987, I was finishing my undergraduate degree at UCLA; and working Saturdays and alternate Sundays at Graphitti Comics on Gayley Avenue just south of the UCLA campus. It was a heady time to be a comics fan. Despite rising prices, comics were selling decent amounts, considering that many believed the medium would die out in the seventies. The rise of the direct comics market, in which distributors sold comics to retailers on a non-returnable basis in return for deep discounts, had fostered several competitors to Marvel and DC, including First, Eclipse, and Pacific (all gone now) and Dark Horse (which debuted in the mid-eighties and is still going strong today). Japanese manga companies began to form American subsidiaries and work with American comics companies to reprint translated manga titles here -- the roots of the manga boom that would burst upon American publishing 15 years later.

And many folks who had given up comics when they got interested in cars, or sports, or the opposite sex -- and others who had never picked up a comic in their lives -- were being sucked into collecting by the Marvel and DC comics put out by writer/artist Frank Miller and writer Alan Moore. The biggest draws were two titles that we called at the time mini-series, and that would later be deemed graphic novels issued in serialized form: Miller's four-issue THE DARK KNIGHT (later named after its first installment, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, featuring a middle-aged Batman drawn back into service in a chaotic future; and WATCHMEN, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's 12-issue thriller/alternative world/satire saga that brought an unprecedented literary depth to a story about men and women who feel compelled to dress up in tights and fight (or commit) crimes.

Both THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN would be collated into one-volume editions in the coming years, editions that remain in print to this day. (To the chagrin of Alan Moore, who reportedly had a deal in which the rights to the characters would revert to the creators once the book went out of print -- part of the reason why he refuses any involvement with the current WATCHMEN projects, and has refused to let his name appear on the film).

Cut to the latter part of the first decade of the 21st Century. A Batman film called THE DARK KNIGHT (unrelated to Frank Miller's series) has become one of the highest grossing movies of all time. Miller's own on-again, off-again relationship with Hollywood has resulted in two hit film versions of his work for Dark Horse (SIN CITY and 300), the former co-directed by Miller; and he has rounded out 2008 by directing a thoroughly awful adaptation of his mentor Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT.

And sitting across the street from the office building on Olympic where I work -- in the same place where an IRON MAN billboard stood in the summer of 2008 and a Silver Surfer billboard stood in 2007 -- is a billboard of Rorschach, the complex, noble, and deeply whacko parody of Steve Ditko's objectivist heroes The Question and Mr. A, who was the heart and soul (and most disturbing POV character) in WATCHMEN.

Did we expect, reading those brightly colored, densely written pages of WATCHMEN in 1986, that a $100 million movie version of the story would be billboarded all over urban areas in 2009? Certainly not. We actually expected to see the WATCHMEN movie made sometime around 1989 or 1990. Terry Gilliam was slated as director then; and in light of his work on TIME BANDITS and BRAZIL, he seemed the best suited to realize the work on film. Sam Hamm, who at that time had written what was rumored to be a brillian BATMAN script (a version of which was put on screen in 1989, becoming a huge hit) was attached to the project too. And with media attention focused on WATCHMEN, the movie seemed sure to be made.

Alas, it took a couple more decades, and the comics movie renaissance launched when Marvel finally succeeded in getting its characters onto the screen, for a movie version of WATCHMEN to be realized. And so I can glance across Olympic Boulevard and see, like a message to my future self from the person I was 22 years ago, WATCHMEN billboards.

Funny, on weekends I still dress the same as I did back then.

No-Cussing Week

LA County is expected to declare the first week of March a no-cussing week. I think I foiled that when I stepped out of bed this morning.

Paul Harvey: The Final Page

Another voice from my youth (and the youth of anyone who has listened to AM radio in the last 50 years) has gone silent. I didn't agree with the guy's politics, but both old-fashioned radiomen and old-fashioned storytellers are precious resources, and the loss of one is a loss to us all.