Wednesday, December 23, 2009



"My participation in comics originally grew from my personal admiration for the work of Eddie Campbell, both in partnership with Alan Moore (on FROM HELL) and on his own (in the inimitably observant ALEC stories, as well as the irreverent BACCHUS tales). Driven to expose Eddie's work to the widest possible audience, I entered the comics business as Eddie's distributor in the United States, and soon thereafter partnered with Brett Warnock to re-launch Top Shelf. Fifteen years later (!), I'm holding in my hands one of the things I'm most proud of: A gorgeous edition of Eddie's groundbreaking autobiographical comics, collected in a giant 640-page single volume!" -- Chris Staros

A brief description: Brilliantly observed and profoundly expressed, the ALEC stories present a version of Eddie's own life, filtered through the alter ego of "Alec MacGarry." Over many years, we witness Alec's (and Eddie's) progression "from beer to wine" -- wild nights at the pub, existential despair, the hunt for love, the quest for art, becoming a responsible breadwinner, feeling lost at his own movie premiere, and much more! Eddie's outlandish fantasies and metafictional tricks convert life into art, while staying fully grounded in his own absurdity. At every point, the author's uncanny eye for irony and wry self-awareness make even the smallest occasion into an opportunity for wit and wisdom. Quite simply, ALEC is a masterpiece of visual autobiography.

Available in two handsome editions:

Softcover with French Flaps:

-- $35.00 (US), Diamond: JUL091081, ISBN 978-1-60309-025-4

Deluxe Hardcover:

-- $49.95 (US), Diamond: JUL091082, ISBN 978-1-60309-047-6

Or see both (and more) at EDDIE CAMPBELL's webpage:
Top Shelf

Here's what people are saying:

"ALEC is magic, and even if I knew how all of it was done I'd be doing you a disservice if I pointed out the wires and mirrors. ... It is written by someone who obviously finds being alive an endless source of novelty and conundrum." -- Alan Moore

"Do you need me to tell you how good Eddie Campbell is? Or that ALEC is probably the best book-length comic about art and wine and midlife crises and families and friends and wine and love and art and saying goodbye and terror there is?" -- Neil Gaiman

"This impressive collection -- a high-water mark in the graphic novel's short history -- confirms that no one else in the medium combines emotional truth, literary intelligence, and formal daring with such adroitness and elegance." -- Booklist (starred review)

"Witty and thoughtful ... a great and epic comic documentary novel like no other." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


(December 22, 2009, Hollywood, CA) Studio 407 announced today that their sci-fi horror property Night and Fog has been optioned for film by renown producer Gil Adler and Shane McCarthy. No stranger to comic book material, Adler has produced such comic book films as “Constantine,” “Superman Returns,” as well most recently “Dead of Night” which was based on the popular Italian comic book Dylan Dog.

Said Adler: “This material is definitely in my strike zone in more ways than one. And having produced the “Tales from the Crypt” series and some Dark Castle horror films, I can say horror’s a genre I know intrinsically. But what really appealed to me wasn’t so much the genre trappings, but rather the characters that really drive this story.”

Tied to an unsolved mystery from World War 2, Night and Fog, tells the story of a “Frankenstein” like infectious mist unleashed on a military base that transforms its victims into preternatural creatures of the night. But when the survivors try to kill them, they adapt and change into something even more horrific and unstoppable. Caught in between, is a security officer on the base who must escape this gauntlet of horror to save his children before the creatures kill them or the fog infects them.

Added Adler: “When I read this I knew I had to take it off the market. It’s a great high-concept that blends the gothic horror of the Hammer films with the sci-fi horror of “Aliens” and “The Thing.”

“We’re really excited to see Gil’s take on the story,” remarked Studio 407 Managing director Alex Leung. “We’re also honored to be working with an experienced guy like Gil, who knows how to play up iconic figures and can tie them into a horror setting. He’s the perfect person to bring Night and Fog to life”.

Adler and McCarthy are also working together to produce the adaptation of “Havana Nocturne” along with Eric Eisner, and recently optioned Ken Bruen’s crime thriller “Tower.” Leung will also serve as a producer on the film, having worked on Jackie Chan’s “Around the World in 80 Days” as an associate producer, and most recently executive produced the horror film “Hunter” with Stallion Media (“Punisher: WarZone”).

Night and Fog is currently available in comic shops in the single issue format and digitally on I-Phone through Comixology. It will be hitting stores in a trade format April/May 2010.

To see more of the products from Studio 407 you can visit Retailers should email to get the release information mailing list.

About Studio 407: Studio 407 brings together the imagination and creative talents of writers and artists from North America and Asia to generate a flow of distinct and kinetic East-meets-West entertainment. A writer driven studio that blends innovation with tradition, Studio 407 is dedicated to publishing the highest quality in comics and manga across a wide variety of genres. From capes to kung fu, giant robots to vampires, and secret agents to mad scientists; at Studio 407, we sweat the details. Studio 407

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TIGER in the outhouse

Fallen idols never seem to recover, but think of this fact, Tiger Woods is being assailed for private behavior and is losing money for image, none of which have anything to do, with the thing he built his empire around, his game. I am not a fan of Golf, I find it rather boring in fact. But it isn't like he used steroids to improve his abilities, nor cheated to achieve a better score. He acted foolishly in his personal life.

I consider sports a part of mass culture, popular culture then by extention. A person like Tiger Woods can be seen on television selling products, and making money. But if he were to disappear from those commercials, and just play golf, he'd still be rich, more so than 98% of the world's population. I find it hard to summon sadness for his loss of income.

No Worrying this Christmas, just WorryWoos!

Watch this video and then go HERE

Sunday, November 22, 2009

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, A different take on Alice in Wonderland

According to Frank Beddor, author of the Looking Glass War, Seeing Redd and ArchEnemy, ALICE IN WONDERLAND was not properly understood to be a fairy tale, but rather a poorly interpretated oral history, not a cloaked allegory, nor even perhaps an analogue. For there was a true girl named Alyss, who faced a much more difficult existence than Alice of Lewis Carroll’s tale. Reverend Charles Dodgson did write about Alice Liddell, but changed things, even distorted things, so much, for reasons I am not altogether clear upon, that Beddor felt the need to tell the “real” story of Alyss. Alyss told her story in confidence, and Dodgson let it spill, but, not directly.

Wonderland is ruled by imagination, and is filled with both dangerous and wonderful enchanted things. The cards of a playing card deck take life, in the various castes and tribes of Wonderland, and the power structures are divided between the throne of the Queen and that of Parliament, with Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds marking the various divisions of power. Wonderland resembles England prior to most of the Industrial revolution, perhaps in the latest era of the feudal system.

A fierce violent civil war set the kingdom of Queen Heart on edge, but eventually the bloodshed is a memory, and eventually Alyss Heart, is to become Queen. Her bodyguard Hatter Madigan, and some friends are able to help Alyss when a coup d'√©tat led by Aunt Redd occurs. While Hatter and Alyss flee, they are chased, by the assassin in the service of Redd, called, The Cat. Alyss' best friend Dodge Anders, Jack of Diamonds, and military commander General Doppelg√§nger are deeply sorrowed by her being missing, and search, seemingly endlessly. Hatter and Alyss escape through another dimension, and are separated. Alyss finds her self in Charles Dodgson’s time, and becomes convinced she must forget Wonderland, and stop imagining it into being.

The first book, The Looking Glass War is a book that is used three ways by Beddor. To construct a world for his characters to explore, to set a tone of the intrigues and adventures, and to create a context for all that is to follow. It succeeds at all three of these better perhaps than the writing, which, while very good, is still rather stiff in on occasion.

The second book Seeing Redd is very much a change from the first, in that the tone becomes much more focused and direct. The story centers on Alyss's reign as Queen, and the citizens of her land’s fear of Redd. King Arch is actually the one causing issues, but due to her notoriety, Redd is seen as being behind it all. However, while King Arch is causing trouble, Redd and The Cat have been quietly building forces, for an army to take over Wonderland. In doing so they swipe Arch’s forces as well, and the world’s of Borderland and Wonderland collide.

The Second book is better than the first, in my eyes, the way that Empire Strikes Back was better in the first Star Wars trilogy. The characters are fleshed out, the world is developed ... And there is a growing respect or love for the characters, even Redd and The Cat.... Some might argue that the first book was more settled when the last page turned, but I would argue that is the way trilogies work. Some might argue that this series is dark, and violent even, but it is not so much more than anything you see on PG films and by no means is it gratuitous as it serves a purpose within the story.

In the third book Beddor drops all the gloves, this is a book about war, powerful women, and how King Arch and his allies wish to stop Alyss and her new ally, someone who agrees that power and leadership comes from Imagination, but, who you would think would be an odd choice. I am reluctant to give more of the plot, save to say, this is a final battle, where all the debts and plotlines are sorted and paid. King Arch is a brilliant enemy in this work because while Queen Redd was evil, she is somewhat a cracked mirror of Alyss, while Arch uses power directly, is male, is hungry for what he wishes to achieve, and is not the least bit like Alyss or Redd.

This series moves me, and I have to say, I am generally not a fan of Young Adult works, nor straight fantasy outside of Swords and Sorcery. There is even some whimsy here, and that tends to be the death of me, but, when sprinkled here, it works to perfection. Individually would grade the books B , B+, and A-. For a series it would then be an B+/A-, which, for a generally hard to please guy like me would tend to suggest that if you are a fan of such works, this would work well for you, and, if you aren’t, the quality of writing and subject matter might still work for you.


The Looking Glass Wars homepage, Another view of the Looking Glass world, Watch Frank Beddor discuss Alice/Alyss

Friday, November 13, 2009

THE GREEN FAIRY, or, How Absinthe models how Popular Culture embraces or ostracizes

There are always people who insist that the present trend, whatever that is, is new and unique. And there are those who just as insistently argue that whatever is new has been around forever. So I am initially here going to say that this isn’t a ground breaking commentary, nor is it likely to be something new to you. But I want to place into perspective a concept I’ve heard remarked upon that is somewhat in error. People talk about how product placement in media is subliminal, that there is an effort to use messages to sell a product. People talk about how media “glamorizes” drugs or violence. People talk about how popular culture is totally manipulated by those in the advertising and marketing departments towards the ritualized indoctrination of youth.

But people who make up popular culture cannot swim outside of the stream, they are a part of it, they are not thinking Dog poop is yummy no matter what someone might insist, and they follow their interests. I know two retailers who told me that customer purchases completely changed their outlook for their business by purchases and revenue streams showing them where the money to make existed. Not in one associated product, but another they thought would be ancillary. That is, the tail does not wag the dog. The voices of popular culture might embrace a product, might endorse it by use, but if Bruce Willis decided to glamorize dog poop by eating it in his films, there’d be no rush anywhere, no matter how we love Bruce, to model his choice ourselves.

Absinthe is a perfect example of how a product, that artists tended to desire to use became celebrated in media. Outsider creative communities seemed to adopt the use of it, and it became a product that possessed a certain air of mystique around it. And then it became taboo and banned in many places. Popular culture might celebrate things like drug use, but just as often, it uses media and the voices of popular culture to isolate and remove what it perceives as dangerous. Just like poets. All voices that are deemed dangerous get shunned, or silenced. So, if a product or view is uplifted by media, it probably already exists and is being reflected.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NPD: SHADOW COMPLEX's Spotlight Sales

When Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft’s downloadable games service, first launched in November 2004 for the Xbox, it had a grand library of six titles, all of them retro arcade classics. A year later, to coincide with the Xbox 360’s launch, the service was greatly expanded, ballooning to include original content (such as the perennially popular Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, largely considered the 360’s best launch title).

Just two months ago, XBLA was given a shot in the arm that was a long time coming: Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex, a retail-caliber game, containing a narrative, gameplay, art assets, and, even, a graphics engine all fully capable of appearing in a full $60 game gracing GameStop’s shelves.

Released on August 19, the title raked in over 200,000 sales in its first week alone – enough to make the NPD Group’s top ten list for the month, one of the very first times a $15 game has managed to sneak its way in with the likes of EA’s Madden NFL Football and Nintendo’s Wii Sports Resort. This is more than banal videogame trivia; it’s a watershed moment for gaming.

As Live enters its sixth year, more and more publishers will take Chair’s example, pouring an ever larger amount of resources into downloadable development, furnishing experiences that will compete with – and, as is already evident, steal from – traditional games’ clout. In an economy that is still faltering, this means gamers will be just as likely to spend their hard-earned money in their living rooms as in Best Buy, playing titles that aren’t that dissimilar. Much like cinema in the wake of television’s grand arrival in the ‘50s, publishers will have to find even more reasons to entice gamers into retail locations for retail experiences.

Of course, Sony is betting that all games, big and small, will soon find their way to users exclusively through digital distribution: the PSP Go, the latest iteration of its handheld, released on October 1st, is completely physical media-less, making it the first system of any stripe to do so. And even Microsoft is already dipping its toes in the market, having launched Games on Demand – a service that offers (slightly) older retail games for (slightly) discounted rates – in August.

And behind this latest evolution of the interactive industry will be games like Shadow Complex, a bestselling title that has put the still-fledgling Chair on the map – along with, for many gamers, digital distribution itself.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Soupy Sales

One of the old-time comedy greats has decided he is too good for our world. And ya know what?

He's damn right.

Milton Supman
January 8, 1926 – October 22, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NPD: Sony's September Superiority

A funny thing happened on the way to the store…

Since the Nintendo Wii’s release on November 19, 2006, there have been only three months when the system wasn’t number one in console sales (in terms of overall system sales, the Wii has been frequently oscillating with Nintendo’s other mega seller, the handheld DS) – and two of those were November and December 2006, when, as is common with all console launches, the big N couldn’t produce enough units to satiate the demand of technological evangelists everywhere.

September 2009 is now the fourth month. And as if this weren’t surprising enough by itself, it is compounded by the fact that it isn’t Microsoft, the company responsible for the first three lapses in the Wii’s dominance, that has dethroned Nintendo.

It’s Sony.

To come from dead last place – the PlayStation 3 was typically outsold on a monthly basis not only by the Wii and Xbox 360, but also by Sony’s two other systems, the now-obsolete PS2 on the console side and the PSP on the handheld – to end Nintendo’s 22-month consecutive streak, and outselling the 360 by nearly 150,000 units in the process, is quite an impressive feat.

It’s a miracle the likes of which has been evading Sony since the PS3’s launch two days before the Wii’s, nearly some three years ago. So why now? What makes September any different from the previous 34 months, when the PS3 was in a sales slump so severe that it looked as if it were unending?

It turns out there are two possible reasons. First and foremost, Sony dropped the price of the system to $299 – finally – on the first of the month, making it half the price of the original (high-end) model, with 60 times the hard drive space, to boot. (It’s not all deals and sunshine, however; Sony has stripped some of that first iteration’s features over the years, including slots for PSX and PS2 memory cards and, much more importantly – particularly for a company that skewered Microsoft for omitting it – backwards compatibility.)

And then there’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, what just may turn out to be the PS3’s killer app, the next-generation equivalent of Super Mario Bros. or Halo (indeed, it was Halo 3’s release in September 2007 that caused the Wii’s last momentary tumble from the top of the sales charts). Although it didn’t ship until last week, on October 13, it may very well be that diehard gamers were already attracted to the title and they more than happily pounced on the opportunity to play it for a price point that was less than $460.

But U2’s release in and of itself probably isn’t enough to account for the massive surge in sales numbers, no matter how excellent the game may be – a point reinforced by two previous AAA titles that, while garnering critical praise and hardcore followings, still failed to break Sony’s behemoth of a console into the mainstream market: Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 4 (June ’08) and Sony’s own Killzone 2 (February ’09). And $300 is still a significant amount of money to spend, particularly if there are no up-and-coming titles to get the newly acquired userbase excited. It is more than likely the combination of the two, forming a one-two punch, that delivered Sony its single stellar month of sales (and less the nebulous lineup of 2010 software, as some venues are hypothesizing, even if that roster includes the likes of Gran Turismo 5, God of War III, and a new motion-sensing controller [assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get pushed back, as all Sony hardware inevitably does]).

A better question than why just may be what next? Will this prove to be an aberration, as with Microsoft’s sudden leap to the front of the line two years ago, or will it be the basis of a new trend: Sony resurgent, slowly but efficiently climbing past the formidable install base of the Xbox 360 and, perhaps, even beyond the unprecedented success of the Wii? Will Sony truly have the last laugh, riding the slower-but-stronger wave of a ten-year generational cycle, as it has been boasting since 2005, or will this merely be a flash in the pan, more a September “curse” for Nintendo than anything else?

Microsoft and Nintendo both have followed Sony’s suit in the several weeks since Gamescom, slashing their prices to $299 (the starting price of the original Xbox eight years ago) and $199 (the starting price of literally every Nintendo console for the past 24 years), respectively. Whether this affects the PlayStation 3’s sales or not, a financially scarred public, at the very least, will finally have the laws of economics on their side for the very first time this generation.

At a time when all previous console generations were ending, this one is finally getting started.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Noun horror (plural horrors)

1. An intense painful emotion of fear or repugnance.
2. An intense dislike or aversion; an abhorrence.
3. A literary genre, generally of a gothic character.
4. (The horrors, informal) An intense anxiety or a nervous depression.

Horror Fiction Encyclopedic entry


For me a horror film or horror novel involves fear, terror, and boundless fascination with some force that is unseen and difficult to define. Almost always, good horror novels and films have to do with the supernatural and the way that it menaces human beings, or works in their lives in mysterious ways. But not always. The remake of The Thing was an excellent horror movie and the source of the horror was an alien who could enter into and take over human form.

---- ANNE O’BRIEN RICE Amongst the finest Horror authors, and writers ever

Merriam Webster gives the following as the primary definition of horror:

Horror: noun. painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.

While it's certainly all that, I've got a bit of a different take.

If you want to see ice hockey being played, you may trudge to the Nassau Coliseum (if you're an Islanders fan), or Madison Square Garden (for the arch-rival Rangers), to take in the game. At the arena, you'll see fast play. Passing and shooting. Scoring, on most nights. You'll see fans rise to their feet, emotions unchecked, when the home team hits the twine. You may see the crowd agonize if a favorite player or superstar goes down with an injury. You'll see collective tension as a member of the opposing team races in on a breakaway, and a collective sigh of relief if the goal tender makes a save and the puck squirts harmlessly away.

What does this have to do with horror? Go back to the Merriam Webster folks' summation.

Figured out my take?

Horror is the arena. Horror is Maple Leaf Gardens or the old Spectrum in Philadelphia. Horror is where you, as the creator or as the visitor, choose to go to attend the thrill-ride. Like buying tickets to a hockey game. Or like strapping on the blades and the helmet if you're fortunate enough to be on the proactive side of the equation.

When I write, I'm lacing up. I'm taping my stick and sharpening my skates and heading out to the ice to do my thing. And, my thing will be, in part, to bring the pain. To make the fans in the seats uncomfortable. To cause them to hold their collective breath as the bad guy threatens to lower the boom, before, perhaps, letting the goal tender bat away the shot.

Or perhaps letting it tear off his hand...glove and all.

Horror encompasses everything we have in the emotional toolbox of human existence. It's not just the painful and obscene and terrifying. It's the quiet dread, like a fan might feel before facing a favored opponent whose team leads the league and has all sorts of weapons on offense. It's the very rafters of the building. It's the seats upon which we spend all that time on the edge. Horror is all the negatives of our existence, put into black and white and stuffed down our throats, no different than the box scores in the paper the morning after a true whippin' at the hands of another team. Horror is the inescapable. You're there, in the building, trapped in your seat, or mucking about in the corners looking for a shift change. It can be exhilarating, it can be nerve-wracking, it can be heart-stopping. It does not have to be bloody...but sometimes it is. It doesn't have to be violent...but sometimes it is. It doesn't need to stay with you...but when it's good it does, following you around like the lingering afterimage burned into your retinas of a pass taken in full stride and fired into the net in the blink of an eye. Something you stop, examine well after its occurred, and can still find awe-inspiring, or blood-chilling.

Horror is our arena for taking people on the joyride. For others, the arena may be comedy or drama. For those of us who live and breathe the darkness; who seek to mold the unseen and unthinkable into our tools of the trade, horror brings us all together, tears aside our defenses and sends the lowest-common-denominator of our fears hurtling at us on an end-to-end rush.

That it breaks the rules, or occasionally locks the EXIT doors and pins us to our seats as the rafters threaten to crumble in upon us, is just part of the price of admission.

--- JOE MONKS Horror author, and Director

Horror is a feeling. People often want to define horror as the thing that CAUSES that feeling, but that's too vague. The causes for horror are too subjective. What horrifies me may not affect you the same way. Horror is personal.

It's more than simple fear. It's shock. It's revulsion. It's primal. It's so strong that we crave it until we actually experience it. Then we want to get as far away from it as humanly possible.

--- MICHAEL MAY writer and blogger

Like all genres, horror's main function is as a marketing tool: it lets book publishers and movie producers tell you succinctly, through the use of a universally recognised code, what sort of story you'll get if you buy a particular book or see a particular movie. It helps consumers to avoid the wrong kind of narrative surprise - the kind you'd get, say, if you were all keyed up for blood and gore and you found yourself reading a Mills & Boon novel.

Once you get into the specifics of the code, of course, you find that it's more subtle and variegated than you might expect. Horror narratives are distinguished by being - at least potentially - frightening or shocking or disturbing, but within that there are supernatural narratives, there's slasher fiction, there's the sort of cosmic horror of Lovecraft, genre fusions like urban fantasy, and monster movies that (at one extreme )may intentionally be far more cheesy than scary. there's no one, universal thing that both binds these stories together and separates them absolutely from other stories. It becomes a question of weighting and emphasis. Maybe you can still get away with saying that horror tells stories about things that are now or were once thought to be frightening: or maybe you should look at the narrative purpose of horror instead.

Brian Boyd's book "On the Origin of Stories" discusses the possibility that all narratives confer adaptive advantage - that they evolved because they're useful to our development ad our survival. If that's so, then one thing they do is certainly to allow us to test our responses to situations we've never encountered, so that arguably if we *do* then encounter them we don't freeze up from the sheer strangeness of the sensory input. Horror would be an extreme example of that process: it pre-adapts us to the most hideous and appalling events, toughening us mentally and emotionally.

Or maybe it's just fun to get pants-wettingly scared when there's nothing really at stake for us...
--- MIKE CAREY Writer of Hellblazer, Lucifer and far far more.

TWO HORROR AUTHORS in print have said

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. --- H.P. Lovecraft * Supernatural horror in Literature (1927)

Fear is an emotion that makes us blind. How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unpluggin' it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion that makes us blind, the emotion that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.

--- Stephen King, Night Shift, foreword (1978)

And lastly Me

Horror is what humans do to each other, like war, terrorism, racism, and violence.

Farewell Captain Lou

I am preparing a fun group interview about the definition of Horror to celebrate Halloween, but will post that tomorrow. Today PopLitiko saw the sad news that Captain Lou Albano died. He was a wrestler, manager, actor, and personality that saw popular culture and wrestling meet. It is only appropriate that a site like PopLitiko remembers him, today, for he exemplifies the fact that more and more, our mediums mix, and what used to be low brow or high brow entertainment, no longer has false walls to divide them.

full Wikipedia entry

“Louis Vincent Albano (July 29, 1933 - October 14, 2009), better known by his ring name Captain Lou Albano, was an American professional wrestler, manager and actor. With an over-the-top personality and a penchant for boisterous declarations, Albano was the epitome of the antagonistic manager that raised the ire of wrestlers and incited the anger of spectators. Throughout his forty-two-year career, Albano guided 15 different tag teams and 4 singles competitors to championship gold. A unique showman, with an elongated beard, rubber band facial piercings, and loud outfits, he was the forefather of the 1980s Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection. Collaborating with Cyndi Lauper, Albano helped usher in wrestling's crossover success with a mainstream audience. Capitalizing on his success, he later ventured into Hollywood with various television, film, and music projects.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Once More unto the Breach

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again.

The sixth annual
X-Files Halloween marathon is scheduled to start tonight, at the customary time of 8:00 pm sharp. Every night, for the next eight nights, a different episode from each season of the series will be screened, highlighting the scares and creepiness of the long-lived television show and savoring both the cool, all-too-brief atmosphere of the season and the warm companionship of friends and family.

But that’s not all the marathon is meant to underscore.
The X-Files itself is, without hyperbole, one of the strongest-produced series to have graced the boob tube. From concept to cinematography, acting to music, special and visual effects to dialogue – the most subtly sublime ingredient of showrunner Chris Carter’s recipe – X-Files is on a par that few have reached.

The fundamental achievement underlying all this success, however, is the show’s incredible level of production value. Few, if any, television productions before or since have managed to maintain the sheer number of locations shot at every week, the consistency in detail of set dressing (“End Game’s” submarine tower and “Piper Maru’s” diving suit are just two examples of intricate – and, in this case, huge – props that come immediately to mind), and the prodigious but nuanced atmosphere assiduously applied to each and every scene. More than any other string of components, it is these elements that combine to create a movie each and every installment, doing so six years before David Chase would have a similar dream – and realization – with another seminal series,
The Sopranos.

Yes, such glorious praise is, indeed, mitigated, if not hamstrung, by the arsenal of flaws that Carter and his writing staff brought to bear on their prodigal creation. The weaknesses – some systemic, some occurring at the end of a long marathon (no pun intended) of a production – exhibited in
The X-Files are voluminous and run the gamut of incongruous continuity (“The Truth”), inconsistent characterization (Special Agent Monica Reyes), and ham-handed theatrics (C.G.B. Spender’s return in the series finale). It is not for nothing that I personally omit the ninth and final season from my personal version of the canon, though I still do include it, of course, in the Halloween marathon every year.

But to err is human, even in the immortal realm of art. And, ultimately, despite the stumbles and the failures, the missteps and the (sometimes very blatant) course corrections, the passion and soul that Carter and his cabal of writers poured into their baby shines through. It is such quality, both within and without, that keeps the show afloat through any marring or, indeed, the passage of time itself; no matter how dated the hairdos or the big, bulky cell phones become, the series itself never will be antiquated.

Making it the perfect choice for a perennial marathon.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 13th – “Conduit” (season one)

Wednesday, October 14th – “Blood” (season two)

Thursday, October 15th – “Avatar” (season three)

Friday, October 16th – “Paper Hearts” (season four)

Saturday, October 17th – “Unusual Suspects” (season five)

Sunday, October 18th – “Tithonus” (season six)

Monday, October 19th – “En Ami” (season seven)

Tuesday, October 20th – “Roadrunners” (season eight)

Wednesday, October 21st – “Scary Monsters” (season nine)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tributes and Farewells

In early 1997, during my junior year of high school, I was the proud owner of a several-month-old Nintendo 64. Having been a huge Nintendo fan since the tender age of eight, I, of course, was very much keen on the console – despite its lack of releases – and was equally excited to try and quench my thirst for knowledge of the system with the final frontier of the twentieth century, the internet (another technological newborn, incidentally, in my house).

What was waiting for me on the other side of the information superhighway was a meager, but lovingly tended to, site called Little more than a collection of sparsely written news articles – I still vividly recall a curt piece about the voice of Mario being heard for the very first time, a gaming landmark, in Super Mario 64 – and an “otaku” section, it was still love at first sight. And post after post, link after link, the name that kept popping up was Matt Casamassina.

Over the years, as became became became, the love affair continued. And through the never-ending parade of changing domains and evolving site designs and editor musical chairs, Casamassina remained the sole constant. He has steered the good ship Nintendo at IGN for twelve years, declaring his love for underdogs like Eternal Darkness and Zack and Wiki, proclaiming his disdain for Tingle, jibbing the big N with editorials and podcasts named Voice Chat, wrestling Perrin Kaplan to the floor, and posing as Ed the Janitor.

He became a familiar presence across this time, a friendly face and tireless traveling companion down the long and winding road of fandom, reinforced by the fact that I spent nearly as much time with him as some of my good friends. I’ve “known” him through many a personal milestone in my life:
graduation from both high school and college; my one-year tenure as a sensei in Japan; my first publication; marriage; the purchasing of my first house. And, likewise, I’ve been (an infinitesimally small) witness to many a development of his life, to his marriage and the birth of his daughters and the death of his father.

And now he’s leaving.

I suppose “leaving” is the wrong word; he’s trading his current position as editor-in-chief for the new title of editor-at-large, becoming a free-floating agent of chaos within the mega-structure that IGN has become over the past decade. And while I greatly anticipate hearing his input on a now-unfettered list of topics outside the strict domain that is Nintendo, his loss as the bedrock of the Nintendo team will still be deeply felt, and it still strongly reflects the end of an era.

It is, all histrionics aside, a sad development. It reminds me of the Nintendo that I used to know – more than just a company that turned out the gold standard of traditional (read: hardcore) gaming, such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Stafox and, most especially, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but also the people who constituted that company: Arakawa Minoru, Howard Lincoln, Howard Phillips, the aforementioned Perrin Kaplan. It is a generational shift and a turn that every generation universally suffers and absorbs, of course. It also is the essence of samsara. No wonder the older individuals get, the more their appreciation of nostalgia is refined and defined.

Amidst the melodrama and the melancholy, the remembrance of friends gone and the anticipation of joys to come, I should like to not only commend Casamassina on helping to make IGN the powerhouse of reporting and entertaining that it is, and, of course, to compliment him on the vast body of work that he has left behind, permanently buoyed by the passions of online zealots the world over, but to issue him a heartfelt thank you for all the time spent and what could only be described as love dedicated to his craft. It is such passion that elevates the otherwise immaterial hobby of videogames into unvarnished art and which connects one singular individual on this vast planet to another, even if the words they exchange are few and far between – or, indeed, nonexistent.

Beyond a fond farewell, there is only one last sentiment to voice – that most sacred vow between all travelers on all journeys everywhere:

We will see you down the road a ways.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fozzie: Right-Handed Muppet

Muppets tend to be lefties. Look here, here, and here.

Not all Muppets are lefties, mind you. Fozzie is often referred to as Kermit's right hand, and, it turns out, for good reason. Observe:

First of all, you may be wondering why Muppets tend to be lefties. The reason is this: most of the smaller Muppets (meaning most of the Muppets) are operated with the Muppeteer's writing hand (usually the right hand, as you might guess) inside the head. This leaves the left hand to strum whatever stringed instrument the Muppet might need to strum. In the case of larger, live-hand (as they are known) Muppets such as Fozzie, it is more natural to strum with the hand with which the performer would usually strum, were that performer actually playing an instrument.

Oz was usually operating Fozzie's head with his right hand. He manipulated Muppet heads with his right hand most of the time when he was the lead operator, meaning that his left hand was free to perform both hands in those cases where he was operating a hand-and-rod Muppet, such as Miss Piggy. His left hand was free to perform only the Muppet's left hand, however, in those cases where he was operating a live-hand muppet.

(In cases where Oz was not the lead performer--such as Rowlf, whose main performer was Henson--Oz was the right hand. In even rarer cases--such as Swedish Chef, whose head was operated by Henson--Oz was both hands.)

I say "most of the time" because there were multiples of a number of the more commonly featured Muppets (see: Bike-Peddling Kermit). It might not always be the case that Fozzie would strum or write with his right hand, as another version of him (one that wasn't built for sitting down, as the one in the embedded video seems to have been) might have required different hand placement.

My guess is that Oz was squatting on a platform some feet below the visible stage floor, with his right hand in Fozzie's head, his head in Fozzie's belly, and his left hand on the guitar neck. Another performer (I don't know that there was a standard assistant for Fozzie) was probably crouched down to Oz's right, right arm rising up from behind the guitar, hand draped over the strings--at least for the close up.

It's unclear to me who would have been performing Fozzie when both he and Piggy share the screen--or if the Fozzie in that shot is the same as the one used for the closeup. We don't see Fozzie's feet in the closeup, so it's likely that it is an entirely different Fozzie.

Whatever the case, a lot went into selling the illusion. It is a testament to the Muppet performers' ability to suspend the audience's disbelief that a scene such as the above can continue to be as affecting as it is thirty years on, and it is a testament to Oz's mastery of the craft that he could provide Dave Goelz's Gonzo with such gentle backing harmonies--one as a pig, one as a bear, and neither in his natural voice--without it seeming ridiculous.

Dept. of Filk: The Literary Mack the Knife

This morning while running some errands I was listing to our local Public Radio station and it played a suite of Kurt Weil tunes from his Threepenny Opera. That inspired me to go back in my files and dig up a li’l piece of filk I wrote several years ago. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present…

The Literary Mack the Knife

Oh the shark has
Pretty teeth, Dear;
And he shows those
Pearly whites;
You won’t find him
Read a book, Dear,
But you might see
Mack the Knife.

When the shark bites
With his teeth, Dear,
Scarlet billows
‘Gin to spread.
Mack is very
You might say that
He’s well-read

Once upon a
Midnight dreary,
Weak and weary
Pondered I;
Is that tapping
Just a raven,
Or is Mackie
Stopping by?

It was brillig
Slythy toves did
Gyre and gimbal
In the wabe;
Vorpal Mack went
Snicker-snack, Dear;
Jabberwock lay
There outgabe.

Mistress Em’ly
Belle of Amherst
Once sat writing
Over tea;
“Since I could not
Stop for Death, Dear,
Mack he kindly
Stopped for me.”

By the shores of
Gitche Gumee
Used to go;
Now Nokomis
Sits there weeping;
Mackie say it
Isn’t so!

Captain Ahab,
That fanatic,
Sought to kill a
Monster whale;
But who really
Sank the Pequod?
Mack says “Call me

Once an Old Man
Caught a “Beeg Feesh”
As he struggled
‘Gainst the Sea;
When the Sharks bit
With their teeth, Dear,
Mack said “Leave a
Bite for me!”

Rev’rend Dimmsdale,
Sinning Hester,
Ol’ Judge Pyncheon,
Sweet Goodman Brown;
Mister Hawthorne
Set them up, Dear,
It was Mack who
Knocked ‘em down.

Our great authors
Wrote us stories
Full of sorrow
Pain and strife;
Don’t go napping
While in Lit class,
Or you might miss
Mack the Knife!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MODERN WARFARE 2’s Post-modern Story

Even before the likes of BioShock 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction were pushed back to early ’10, Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 was poised to dominate this holiday season like few other games have before or will hence. With an extremely robust online multiplayer component (Call of Duty 4 is still, two years after its release, one of the top-ranking Xbox Live games) and an engaging single-player campaign filled with over-the-top – but not superfluous – action set pieces, it’s easy to see why there is so much anticipation for the sequel.

But there’s another reason, one much more fundamental to the evolving requirements and sensibilities of game design:
its story. As videogames continue to mature, their stories likewise grow more sophisticated; and while most titles still hew to the more insipid, tried-and-true formulae of the damsel-in-distress or the best-friend-who-(surprise!)-is-revealed-to-be-the-antagonist, multi-layered, thematically resonant narrative experiences are slowly, precariously being erected across the interactive landscape. COD4’s edifice is one of the tallest and, certainly, one of the grandest – no small feat, considering the narrative heavyweights it had to contend against: BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Halo 3, and, of course, Portal.

The building blocks that Infinity Ward, the title’s developer, employed are not, interestingly (and, perhaps, tellingly) enough, the standard components that, say, an author would utilize in composing a novel; the game’s premise is standard enough – ultra-national terrorists dominate their home countries and, united, conspire to bring down the global American juggernaut – and its characters are crack military commandos, as ubiquitous to videogames as the crate and the tutorial. (This is not, of course, to say that its plot is bad or otherwise subpar; particularly for a special forces-centric first-person shooter, the developers managed substance and panache enough.) Much like Modern Warfare’s level design, it’s the presentation that makes its narrative stand out.

Cutscenes, the keystone of the vast majority of games’ storytelling structure, are also used here, but in a rather unique – and far more emotionally powerful – fashion: rather than stick with the traditional cutscene that is taken right out of the language of film, pulling the camera from its perspective in the protagonist’s head and making it a detached, objective observer, Infinity Ward kept everything first-person. Seeing a former premier, as such, disposed, detained, and ultimately executed loses its passive, disconnected quality; by viewing the events from his perspective, the player becomes the former national leader. It’s no longer a guard kicking a character in the mouth – it’s now a boot slamming down in our face, or a gun being pointed right against our temple. When the trigger is pulled, it is we who die. There is a potency here that no other medium can afford.

If such cutscenes can immerse the player so deeply and so effectively in a one-off character’s demise, the magnitude of such an impact is intensely amplified when one of the game’s two protagonists is killed in a subsequent scene. The resultant player involvement cannot be overstated: by killing off the character – and the American character, no less – that he has played as for several hours, and by doing so in such a direct, immediate, and visceral way, the task of taking out the evil terrorists and stopping them from killing any more innocents is no longer a purely abstract exercise; now it’s a vendetta, a personal crusade, ensuring that the player will stop at nothing to extract his revenge. Simple story or not, its emotional draw is terrific, and the developers utilize it for the maximum leverage.

These so-called interactive cutscenes, as such, propel both the emotion and the narrative drive forward, but they only account for an infinitesimally small fraction of the game’s actual story. The nuts and bolts of the plot’s mechanics are found in the levels themselves, in radio chatter or other forms of in-game dialogue; much like the first-person scenes and the short pre-level briefings, Infinity Ward decided not to shatter the first-person barrier by having a third-person camera and, thus, lose the momentum of intimacy. And consistent with the current trend in story-driven games, small, staged “vignettes” play out both in front of and around the player; as Captain Price, for example, is talking with Nikolai, his Russian informant, players can choose which angle to frame the tableau in – or to ignore it completely by running around like a chicken with its head chopped off.

Multiplicity is actually Call of Duty 4’s thematic motif, and it resounds in other, non-narrative aspects, as well. Sprinkled lightly throughout the game’s 18 missions are a few that present a completely different tack on level structure or the gameplay itself; the title’s first act contains a level that has players (once again jumping to a one-off character) pilot an AC-130 gunship as their SAS squad attempts to fight its way through to an extraction point in hostile territory. The subsequent act features a two-mission flashback that is told from yet another character’s perspective and consists of, alternately, the title’s sole stealth and its most intense, all-out action sequences. Much more than providing welcome breaks from the run-and-gun gameplay, these alternate sections help round out the breadth and depth of the military, showing all of the means at its disposal to fulfill its function(s) in a modern society. They also highlight videogames’ ultimate storytelling imperative: in a medium where story and player action intertwine, different perspectives on the gameplay create different narrative experiences – they are one and the same.

And this is the angle that Infinity Ward will more than likely push the hardest in its soon-to-be-released follow-up. While there may be a quantitative expansion in terms of a thicker script, containing more interactive cutscenes or lines of in-game dialogue, it is undoubtedly the qualitative increases that the developer will be most lured to: instead of featuring four first-person cutscenes that let players experience moments of great calamity or import, it may still be only two – but these two will be of an emotional quality several orders of magnitude more than watching a nuclear bomb go off in a Middle Eastern city and experiencing the last fretful minutes of a poor Marine’s life in the post-apocalyptic aftermath, as hard as that may be to imagine. This would be a lateral extension rather than a straight, linear one, a development which makes sense given both COD4’s relationship to Infinity’s two previous Call of Duty entries and the fact that Modern Warfare 2 is, technically, the first out and out sequel in the eight-game-strong franchise.

Increasing personal, as opposed to player, identification is a major breakthrough in the videogame industry, and it heralds a shift in game development, generally. If early gaming featured stories only as afterthoughts – inserted in the instruction manual exclusively, as happened in many an NES title – due to technical limitations, and if the modern period, starting with the 32-/64-bit generation, started to expand and then shift games’ narrative components down to the very foundation of gameplay (as witnessed in the Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid series, among many others), then the duo of Modern Warfares are among the first wave of post-modern titles: games that not only feature robust – even solid – narratives, but also ones that make players feel as well as think, that touch their hearts as well as their trigger fingers.

This will be the post-modern warfare of development studios in the years – and generations – to come.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Comic Book Inker of Note: Vince Colletta

If you look online you will see a variety of different opinions regarding former Marvel and DC inker Vincent Colletta. Some of the views come from fans and some from people who dislike his work or the man behind the work. The fans usually refer to the amazing volume of work by Colletta, as he worked many books each month, and did so with speed. The non-fans usually point to the same thing, that his work is sparse compared to other inkers, and suppose that it was due to the speed in which he worked. Fans say he was a rescue worker at the publishers, saving books from being late. Non-fans suggest that they’d prefer late and better work. Vincent Colletta’s claim to fame beyond speed is his work with Jack Kirby and some romance comics from earlier eras. Being that you are reading this, you likely wonder what I think about his work. It is a normal thought. Jack Kirby was the first artist I could identify by sight and know that his work was good. When I became more sophisticated in my views I grew to dislike the inks done to his pencils by Vincent Colletta, while I never felt the same towards any of his other inkers. I did not assume then, because I didn’t know, that it was speed, I simply didn’t like it.

But I appreciate that the person of Vincent Colletta worked hard, however the end result, because amongst other things, I realize art is about taste. I am not a fan of the work, and while I’ve heard a large amount of stories about Colletta by many of the artists in comics who I know, I do not suppose them all to be true. There are many other things I could say, but few have to do with his work, or even much the man himself. Most are arguments about the legacy of his work, and stories about the man. And of course there are debates online about things almost nobody witnessed first hand. So like him or not, Vincent Colletta was an inker who should be remembered for many good things, and perhaps some less than good things. Beyond that is not my point.

Two different considerations of Vincent Colletta’s work

Reasons to dislike Vince Colletta and his work

Reasons to like Vince Colletta and his work

Two different views:

Len Wein, Writer at DC and Marvel, on what he enjoyed most about working on Luke Cage: "Getting to work with the wonderful George Tuska, before Vinnie Colletta got his hands on the pencils and ruined them."

Jim Shooter EIC Of Marvel Comics : “He (Frank Miller) ended up getting a small job from Western Publishing, I think. Thus emboldened, he went to DC, and after getting savaged by Joe Orlando, got in to see art director Vinnie Colletta, who recognized talent and arranged for him to get a one-page war-comic job."

Search his work on the comic book data base

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sandman: The Dream Hunters

A year ago starting in September, I ordered the Vertigo Sandman mini-series The Dream Hunters as they appeared in Previews. When the first issue came I put it away somewhere to be safe. When the second issue came I couldn't find where I had put the first issue. After the 4th issue arrived I still couldn't find that first issue. On Free Comic Book Day I went to my local store to see about buying the first issue again, but they didn't have it. They did have the hardback book with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano. I bought that.

This weekend when I was trying to find something else in our bedroom, I came across the first issue of The Dream Hunters. It had slid behind some other things. So, I read the four issue mini-series. P. Craig Russell's adaptation of the story was beautiful. The whole thing is just magnificent. It was great to read new Sandman. Sometime in the future I'll read the prose version with the illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano, but I was happy to read the mini-series this weekend. A hardback collection of the four issue series is currently available. You can see some sample pages of the series here in this review of the first issue.

Meanwhile, I have P. Craig Russell's adaptation of Coraline just tempting me on the shelf.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Eric Goldman's Final Repose

Just recently, I engaged in a bit of auditory experimentation, doing something that I’ve never done before: I listened to Channel Surfing, IGN’s television podcast.

Listening to podcasts, in general, of course, is not a new phenomenon for me; I’ve been doing so for the past three years, since my computer became my best friend during early morning ironing in Japan. And I’m certainly no stranger to IGN, having been a regular at the site since its birth in the distant year of 1997. What constitutes the new experience, then, is listening to Eric Goldman and his fellow editors’ musings on the television world’s happenings.

And what an eye-opener. The episode I downloaded was a special podcast dedicated exclusively to the final installment of Battlestar Galactica, and, hidden amongst the analysis and remembrance of great moments past – par the course for IGN’s editorial content – was a little nugget, an epiphany buried just off the road and waiting to go off on unsuspecting travelers like an IED.

Nothing exists in a vacuum; there is an approach to art that frames every thought and molds each word. All narrative examinations and thematic investigations exist within a context: literary assessment, author’s intent or biography, historical placement, comparative analysis with other like-genre stories. And the context erected for the Channel Surfing podcast was… fanboys.

It’s one thing – and quite valid – to interpret a work of art in terms of its audience, of reader interaction for texts or viewer participation in film; it’s quite another to weigh every story development or couch every evaluation of narrative quality on what certain segments of the audience may or may not appreciate and whether or not it may go over their heads. And yet this is a consistent – and deep – vein running through the TV crew’s discussion from beginning to end, the fundamental mentality that defined their entire approach to Battlestar Galactica’s entire series. When you sit at home and watch a series privately, for pure enjoyment and not as part of your editorial duties at work, and your response to a particular scene is “[t]he first thought in my mind was, ‘Ohhhhh – there’s going to be a lot of bitching about this,’” as Dan Iverson did, you know that there is a problem, and it is a systemic one.

The dialogue, the actors’ performances, the cinematography, the score – all of it was overshadowed by the thought that the scene might be alienating to some viewers. That’s a pretty momentous sentiment and statement both, and it only begins to scratch the surface of the situation at hand. Art is art. Its value may initially be found ontologically, by the very virtue of its existence as a venue of artist(ic) expression, but that is only its genesis; its true significance and quality lies in its composition. The brushstrokes of paint, the performance on the stage, the beauty of its coding, the intersection of plot and character and theme – they are the singular consideration of quality, the sole metric of success. While all else may still be of (some) substance and relevance, there is no ingredient as vital or necessary.

The proof, of course, is in the putting, and there’s no better putting than history. Hamlet is not a masterpiece of literary craftsmanship because of its initial reception by Elizabethan crowds (which, incidentally, was quite warm); 2001: A Space Odyssey is not a superb cinematic achievement thanks to its box office take (which went from abysmal to stupendous). Conversely, the Kill Bill films will not last the test of time, passing from scholar to student to general storytelling vernacular, predicated on the sole basis of its success in the popular culture of the early twenty-first century (in the wake of artistic competence, this is the strongest consideration going for it).

The danger of evaluating art based on wanton external factors is a far more dangerous affair than may initially meet the eye. As this becomes a bigger trend amongst the so-called fan community, the penny pinchers that ultimately control all of the levers in the film industry fall more under its sway, as well. As Hollywood comes to rest on the sole concern of whether or not its wares will appeal to the masses – and the masses as increasingly defined by the disproportionately vocal forum goers and Facebookers and podcast hosts – the studios outdo one another in pandering to the lowest possible common denominator. And as this lowest class becomes more base, an entire society props up around it, finding sustenance on the deluge of nearly identical pop culture and clamoring for more. The circle is then complete and the process starts all over again, an increasingly downward spiral that consumes all in its path. Everyone suffers – most particularly the artists themselves.

And all because of one small, subtle shift in the structure of art. Of all the forms it can take, all of the roles art can play and effects it can produce, entertainment is just one of them – and by no means the most fundamental or the most imperative. When this structure is inverted and entertainment is made king of the hill, with expression relegated to a subservient status, an individual’s relationship dramatically transforms: gone is the mandate for him to work for understanding and insight and to apply himself to the subject matter presented; it now has to mold itself to his standards, to his judgments and his lack of attention span. The world goes topsy-turvy, and now the single most important attribute a multi-year narrative saga has is whether its conclusion will be found pleasing enough to an audience used to constant self-pleasure.

With such an attitude hovering amongst the Channel Surfing podcast like fog over a swamp, barely obstructing some patches but choking others out completely, the inevitable question must inexorably be asked: was it still entertaining? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes, although that is ultimately a subjective query with a subjective answer.

But, more importantly, was it full of quality?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tribute II


Karl Malden was not the most handsome fellow you might run across in Hollywood. He wasn’t an action hero, he wasn’t a spectacle of a human being turned actor. He was a brilliant actor and he died at the age of 97 years old. Someone wrote to me about my memorials to Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon thanking for including the memorials to recently fallen soldiers alongside them and said, not every life was iconic, but every life is important. And I completely agree. And Karl Malden is a perfect example, he was a brilliant actor, in a field of talent, celebrity and spectacle. Not everyone has the talent who is beautiful, not everyone can hold your interest such as a person who is more spectacle than anything else. But talent for acting will make you a sought after actor, and the extreme length of Malden’s career attests to that fact.

The list of films he was in that were brilliant is amazing, it includes On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, Patton, How the West was Won and many more... But, there is more, he became perhaps more famous as the veteran cop in The Streets of San Francisco, and later as the pitchman and voice of American Express, with the famous catch phrase slogan, “Don’t Leave Home Without It”.

He will be missed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Publisher of wonderous books talks

A word to begin this interview.

I met Kelly, the Cyberwizard, following a meeting with a wonderful editor of her publishing house. In addition to simply having conversations, we have a professional relationship, so if you are worried about bias in an interview, this one has plenty.

Kelly has given me brilliant advice, as well as offering me substantial wisdom regarding far more than simply publishing my work.

I could never have hoped for more right out of the box.

So I present here an interview with The Cyberwizard: Kelly, of Cyberwizard Productions

How did you become a publisher? Why did you become a publisher?

It wasn’t on purpose! It just kind of grew there. Seriously. It started with me not wanting to give up control of my own couple of books and self-publishing them. I’d been feeling like I was in a rut for a couple of years and wanting to start a business but I certainly never planed to start a publishing company. But in order to publish my books correctly I had to learn a large number of skills, and that lead to me buying a set of ISBN numbers and making an offer to publish Danny’s series, which lead to … where we are now.

What role do you see your publishing house as playing? Are you taking whatever space you can find in a fantasy publishing niche, or, do you see bigger things on the horizon? What are your goals?

What role do I see my publishing house playing in what? The future of publishing? My author’s lives? On stage? You know better than to ask me an ambiguous question like that ;) I can’t answer that though, until you clarify the question.

Am I taking whatever space I can find… umm no. I’m coming out this from a completely different angle than most publishers are. My first goal is to provide quality reading material in a wide range of subjects. I’m growing the poetry imprint right now, for example, not because I think there’s a killing to be made in selling poetry (there’s not) but because people NEED to be exposed to it. They need to see that poetry is a lot more than just random sentences spouted from the lips of drugged out beatniks in smoke filled coffee houses at 3am. One of my poets told me that the only reason that publishing houses ever put out poetry was to improve their “class” rating. Make themselves look a bit more high-brow. I publish it for the general public, not for a rating, and we have a nice selection of very good poetry – all the way from deep, soul searching poems to fun and imaginative sci-fi and fantasy poems. And who knows, we might even wind up with a beatnik or two ;)

The same goes for all the other books we’re putting out. The audience is the focus. There’s a wealth of good, entertaining content out there. There are thousands of authors writing it and people like to read it. But the major publishers aren’t putting it out. Maybe they should be. They don’t seem to be doing all that great these days on what they ARE putting out. When I read through a submission, the first thing on my mind is “will people want to read this?” not “how much money can I make off of this.”

What past authors are your favorites?

Roger Zelazny, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury

Have you any desire to perhaps reprint in stylish fashion any of the older greats who have works that have now become public domain?

Define stylish fashion. We already have a couple of reprints. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabotini and very old work called The Mabignion. I have several others started, just haven’t gotten a chance to finish them up. However they’ll be out in affordable paperback and e-book to read, not sit-on-the-shelf-to-look-at cloth bound.

Would you do a fine collection of art by a passed on artist if their works were similarly available?

I might. I haven’t run across any that are in that state.

Do you see any ethical reasons not to do so?

No. Do you?

Public Domain to me is fair, but, in modern publishing it seems less about quality presentation as a quick shot to make money. I think there are various authors and artists who deserve great presentation. I’d never accuse anyone of the quick buck, unless I had specifics, and I wasn’t aiming at you.

What is the hardest aspect about publishing?

Everything from the small frustrations of trying to figure out why the printer had a problem with a perfectly good file, to calming down an author who’s going over the edge because their first book signing is about to happen. But it’s fantastically rewarding too. To see someone’s face light up and their enter world suddenly change because the dream they’ve been struggling to achieve has happened, and to hear just how much of a difference a small, square object has made in some people’s lives (readers and authors both)… those are marvelous experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything else.

To what extent do you see publishing and the future being compatible in a paper free office/environment?

There’s nothing that requires paper in order to publish. E-books are picking up in popularity. I’m behind in that area, but I do at least create e-books for each book we publish and manage to get some of them into kindle format. I’m in discussion with Pressmart about their services for Abandoned Towers. Paper’s not going anywhere. People like it. But virtual is where everything is moving to. And virtual is a good idea. Virtual doesn’t require trees to be cut down, paper mills to run, waste to be created… even a 100% recycled paper book has waste and pollution costs.

Tell us about Abandoned Towers, how is it related to Cyberwizard, and where can it be found to buy?

Abandoned Towers is available from my web site. It’s the magazine that Cyberwizard Productions publishes. Abandoned Towers has 3 reasons for existence:

1 To provide a wide range of good, high quality content to the public and stretch their horizons if possible.

1. To provide a wide market for authors. A place that DOES want to publish all the cool things that people want to write, and people want to read, but no one else wants to publish.

2. To train writers and turn them into polished authors who can go on to get acceptances from the major houses. That’s the one job small press should always be doing and the one job apparently a lot of small press houses have forgotten about.

We’re seeing nice success on all three of those.

Where is the best place to buy products from your company, so that both you and the creative talent get paid? Amazon? Directly to your website? Stores like Barnes and Noble or Walden Books?

Directly from the CWP websites. If you want the magazine, then go to and click on the Print Issues icon on the home page. If you want books, go to the main page of Cyberwizard Productions, and click on the imprint that publishes the book you’re interested in, access the book itself, and read over the page.

You produce content on Abandoned Towers web magazine, in your print version of the magazine, is there a podcast for a trifecta?

No podcast as yet and I don’t know what a trifecta is.

Or do you have any other plans to expand the territory of the magazine?

Yes. But I’m not at liberty to tell what those plans are at the moment

Do you attend Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Renaissance Cons and Festivals?
Which ones?

FenCon and ConDFW. I’d attend others, but those are close and that’s important

What advice would you give to people desiring to submit work to you,

READ my writer’s guidelines and then follow them. Please! I didn’t spend hours writing them just because I wanted to practice typing.

And in a more general setting, what advice would you give aspiring creative talents who seek an audience for their work?

Don’t try to target the world. Figure out what audience you’re trying to reach and then be relentless till you reach it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


And perspective

August 29 1958 - June 25 2009

I was a young child when I first saw Michael Jackson sing, with his brothers in the Jackson 5. I could not believe that so much talent poured from his mouth, and danced through his body. Later when I was 19 years old I watched in amazement when Michael Jackson moon walk danced across the stage on the Motown 25 Yesterday Today Forever television special. I was speechless and my father, who didn’t like anything close to popular music (and nearly never cursed), exclaimed, “what the hell just happened?!”.

That moment was one that many fans and witnesses of his career remember. But his life was one of joy and pain, both from inside his family and from the outside world. Michael Jackson sang from an early age and performed incredibly, and started achieving hits with the Jackson 5 and moved to singing solo and never stopped creating hits. And there are reports that he was physically and emotionally abused. He was accused later in life of sexually molesting children. But he either avoided prosecution through settlement or was acquitted of the charges. I am not commenting upon his innocence, except to say he was never proven to be anything, except different.

For me Michael Jackson was a child who never grew up, with amazing talents, who was broken. For time beyond measure the mediocre have attacked the genius, and Michael Jackson was made to be even more strange than he already made himself into being. I do not, again, claim to know what he had done, or not done, but I do know, that he was prey for the media, and his talents became his sorrow, for if he’d been less gifted might he not have lived normally? This doesn’t forgive or forget things he might have done. Simply points to the question, but for this would that...

February 2, 1947 – June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcet was an icon of beauty, forever symbolizing American fascination with the glorious blonde, captured upon film and television, but through humankind’s memory I think, for a very long time through one iconic poster. She was in swim suit, apparently somewhat wet, and a bit cold, and beaming with a smile you couldn’t manufacture.

Her acting would have been considered weak if she’d only appeared upon the T & A fest CHARLIE’S ANGELS, but she didn’t end her career there. She went out of her way to find hearty roles that would display her talents. And in doing so she created a certain question mark, for while we seem to adore empty headed gorgeous people, she seemed to possess something more. Whatever that might be. Certainly she had talent, and beauty.

I was not particular to her iconic appearance, I have no particular fetish for hair color or hard nipples, but I do think she was a nice person from what I saw.

March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009

A television presenter, comedian, comedian straight man, an announcer, and more Ed McMahon became a part of American television culture due to his presence there. It wasn’t just his voice, or his physical appearance, he didn’t dance, he didn’t sing, at least on camera. He was however someone we trusted, and seemingly loved.

He became famous as the “sidekick” to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, his work there was to give the brilliant Carson someone to bounce comedy off of, to pace the opening of the show, and to generally give the viewer a feeling that you too are a member of the fun.

It is the fate of such a person to be considered in the light of another’s success. His work was complimentary to Dick Clark, Jerry Lewis and the aforementioned Carson. However, he shined in an area lesser known but just as important. He flew as a training pilot teaching others to fly during WW II, and as a tactical air and artillery observer in the Korean Conflict. He retired as a Brigadier General in the Air National Guard, and as a Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was everyone’s friend so to speak, and more than one generation of viewers will remember his voice and presence upon the stage.


In amongst the tributes for recent celebrities who have died, I suggest we end with a sobering reminder that people die every day who are not famous and who are doing very important work...


Sgt. Justin J. Duffy 31 02 Jun 2009 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division, MND-Baghdad Died June 2 of combat-related injuries after an IED detonated near a patrol in eastern Baghdad / DoD Rlease: Died June 2 in Baghdad, Iraq, when an IED detonated near his vehicle

Spc. Christopher M. Kurth 23 04 Jun 2009 3rd Bn, 82nd Field Artillery, 2nd BCT, 1st Cavalry Division, MND-North Died from injuries received during a grenade attack on a patrol in the Kirkuk province of northern Iraq, June 4 / DoD Release: Died June 4 in Kirkuk, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade

Spc. Charles D. Parrish 23 04 Jun 2009 5th Engineer Bn, 555th Engineer Brigade, MNC-Iraq Died of injuries received during a grenade attack on a patrol in the Diyala province of northern Iraq, June 4 / DoD Release: Died June 4 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered earlier that day in Jalula, Iraq, when his vehicle was struck by an anti-tank grenade

Lance Cpl. Robert D. Ulmer 22 05 Jun 2009 1st Bn, 8th Marine, II MEF Headquarters Group, II MEF, MNF-West Died as the result of a non-combat related incident June 5 / DoD Release: Died June 5 as a result of a non-hostile incident in Anbar province, Iraq

Staff Sgt. Edmond L. Lo 23 12 Jun 2009 797th Ordnance Company, 79th Ordnance Bn, MNC-I Killed by an IED during combat related operations June 12 / DoD Release: Died June 13 in Samarra City, Iraq, when an IED that his explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team was acting to neutralize detonated

Sgt. Joshua W. Soto 25 16 Jun 2009 1st Bn, 77th Armor, 4th BCT, 1st Armored Division, MND-South Killed by an IED near the city of Samawah June 16 / DoD Release: Died June 16 in Iraq of wounds suffered when an IED detonated near his vehicle

Capt. Kafele H. Sims 32 16 Jun 2009 18th Engineer Brigade, MND-North Died as a result of a non-combat related incident in the Ninewa province of northern Iraq June 16

Spc. Chancellor A. Keesling 25 19 Jun 2009 961st Engineer Company, MNC-Iraq Died as the result of a non-combat related incident June 19 / DoD Release: Died June 19 in Baghdad, Iraq of a non-combat related incident

Originally posted at this link