Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Scottish Barbarian in Arizona: Phoenix Comicon, Day 2

Another successful day! Today I'll discuss more artists, comics, and Star Trek! Lots of videos, so be warned.

Not as successful a night, however: I slept soundly until about 3, when I woke up, to my horror, covered in sweat. Fearing the worst, I checked the air conditioner. It showed 75! I was surprised, that's normally nice and cool. I didn't know what was wrong, but if it was 75, I daren't go any further. So for pretty much the rest of the night until 5 or 6, I kept getting up and doused myself in water, having a drink whenever I felt I needed to.

Next time I woke up, it was 8. Completely parched and sweating again. Great, I was hoping to mosey down gently. What was the culprit? The fan had been set to low. So what we got was one corner of the room nice and cool, the rest of it - particularly the beds - unchanged. Well I could've boiled the kettle without even getting mad.  I dearly hope changing it to high would make things better: I wouldn't be able to stand another night of that heat. Of course, my poor entourage tutted about the centre being cold - evidently the radiating human heat that was frying me alive ignored them.

An interview with Val Hochberg, where you can witness her endearing giggling firsthand. At least I find it endearing: I'm sure some people would find it annoying, just as I'm sure there are some people out there who find butterflies and baby rabbits annoying. I'm not here to judge.

Anyway, I went down at about 1 to wander about the centre. No Transformers or books today, but on a whim I set around the independent comic scene. I saw Val again, we high-fived, and had another good chat. I apologised that I couldn't attend her panel, but she understood, she said she probably wouldn't talk much anyway.  And giggled, of course. She can't stop giggling, she's like a toy that giggles when you squeeze, except you don't even have to squeeze her to start her giggling.

I also noticed Jean Arrow, who I met last year, eating a fruit-nut bar of some description at her stand. She waved - evidently she recognised me! Ms Arrow is the creator of The Extraordinary Tales of Lazer Woman and Strong Girl, which is exactly as pulptastic as it sounds. She's an illustrator, artist and writer who styles her work - and on special occasions, herself - after classic 1940s pinup art. She did a fantastic job replicating that fashion: to wax poetic, she looks like a painting who walked off the side of a WW2 aircraft, like Anita Ekberg in Boccaccio '60. I mostly gravitated towards her not just because of the nostalgic style of her art, but because she really reminded me of my sister, who is also very into early 20th Century fashion and motifs. It gave me a little connection to home, and I was really missing her. Got a lovely picture of her with Melville, too.

Jean Arrow, fresh out of a time machine's return journey from 1942, and all ready for an interview.

A pinup artist who's practically a pinup herself certainly has an interesting perspective on pinup art, and indeed, I'm quite intrigued and heartened by the number of female pinup artists I've encountered at the event. Val, Denae and Jean I already mentioned, and I would meet and get to know others, but I actually think there was a roughly equal proportion of female-to-male artists present. At least, that's what I thought: I didn't get the opportunity to meet and greet all of them, so I can't be sure how many were the artists and not writers/publishers/etc. In any case, it's interesting noting the subtle differences between pinups drawn by men, and pinups drawn by women: evidently being in possession of a female mind and body themselves as opposed to being outside observers results in a different approach and execution, no matter the sensitivity and intelligence of the artist.  Considering many of the most iconic examples of pinup art are by women,* perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised to see the successors of Brundage, Mozert, and Ballantyne alongside the heirs of Armstrong, Elvgers, and Vargas.

Denae Frazier in an interview from last year's Comicon.

I met Denae again, as well as her husband too, an absolutely fantastic gentleman. I had a great conversation with the two of them, and I'm very glad that they instantly understood where I was coming from.  See, whenever I talk to bonny lassies, I'm always very anxious to ensure that I don't make them uncomfortable, that I'm not overwhelming or overbearing. This also applies when said lassies are in the presence of their significant other.  But of course, I had nothing to worry about: the Fraziers were very generous and erudite, and they make a brilliant team. I also got a better look at a selection of Denae's work, and I cannot gush more about how incredible I find her work. Behold this image, for instance:

That is a picture made with coloured pencils. On a 2.5 x 3.5 inch card. I don't know how she did it. I mean, I know it involved pencils and a lot of careful draughtsmanship, but I still can't figure how on earth she took an empty card and some pencils, and then made that. It's like sorcery to me!

So because I had such a great time talking to artists & writers, I went around. There were two young artists working together, so I had a wee chat. They hit upon an interesting idea: sketch for tips! The idea is they'd do little sketches, and then the customer would decide upon a price. I noticed a few $1 notes in the jar, so I felt I should give them something more in return for the sketches. I also noticed something odd about myself: whenever I mention to artists, writers, anyone at the stand, that I'm an artist, they express an interest in my work. I'm always momentarily taken aback: what, you want to see my work? Whatever for? And we've only just met! This is all so sudden! I guess I'm still stuck in that reluctant stage where art is quite a personal thing, and it still feels a bit like baring my soul.

Melville was a great success yet again: he mustered up the courage to ask (through me) for photographs with people, and everyone was happy to oblige.  Mostly, though, he only did it with people he already "acquainted": a Deadpool was joking about "Oh noes! a turtle! watch out for the nunchaku!" which segued handily into a picture. I also got one with Mike Mignola, who seemed very nonplussed by the whole thing. I told him about how the first comic I published was inspired by the Baba Yaga, which featured in one of his Hellboy series: I sense he was thinking more "yes, another one inspired by the Great and Powerful Mignola," he had a very matter-of-fact attitude. He also talked about being glad not to work on more Howard, because he felt Conan didn't have enough of a sense of humour, and he really needs to have lots of humour in Hellboy.  That said, I said I liked his interpretation of the Nestor fragment. Frogs are always fun.

One of the most special moments was while I was eating my Chicken Caesar. A mother and boy sat down next to me for a rest as I was finishing, and the boy said hello. I looked to his mother to see if she was alright with her son making conversation to the bearded stranger, and since she was smiling apologetically, I had a conversation with him.  He got a toy Godzilla, and another monster called Biollante. When I said its name, the boy jumped up, crying "how did you KNOW! Do you know other Godzilla monsters? What about the three-headed one? And what about the little Godzilla?" So I was happily chatting for about a minute to this wee tiny boy of about 5 or 6 about Godzilla.  But I had to hurry for a panel, so I bid good day, though I asked for his name (it was Oscar), shook his hand, and said "I'm very glad to have met you today, Oscar." It was a really wonderful moment. I hope Oscar goes on to great things.

Before I went to Nichelle Nichols' panel, I organised the photo-op with Mr Barrowman. We get four photos, and one can be a group photo (I'm using mine for that, and letting Les Girls get one on their own each): this ensures a bit more time with him, and we can have about 30 seconds or so to say something. The problem was that I had ordered online, but you required a printed ticket: without a printer I was compromised. Luckily they had prepared for that eventuality, and the lady very kindly printed out the tickets. She was so nice - "we Celts have to look out for each other" - her name was Kate Murphy, close enough! Regrettably, I never found her again to say thanks afterwards. If you're reading this, Ms Murphy, slainte!

Then on to Ms Nichols. As I expect many people who've seen and done as much as her are wont to do, she loved to ramble - but when she had something very important to say, it was precise and insightful. She was very lovely. Someone in the audience asked her opinions on gay marriage (to which several dozen groaned and I heard a muttered "that's not right to ask"), but she very skillfully and tactfully explained that it's something that she's glad people could talk about and see each other's point of view, since we're all different and we're all people. I think the questioner was gay himself and wanted to think she was pro-gay marriage, but I get the impression she wasn't wanting to say. It was very well-handled by both sides though, as the questioner responded by citing how trailblazing she was and continues to be.

She also sang, seen in the above video at the 4:00 mark. She has a fantastically droll sense of humour, and she took the time to move to the left side of the audience to answer questions, which was reserved for the deaf (so they could see her better and the signer). I'm going to talk with her at the autograph signing: paradoxically you'll get more time to talk there than at the photo op, and I just really wanted to talk more than anything else (and get a signed photo for her time.) It's a shame the hall was only about a third or so full: obviously she isn't the captain, but I would've thought there would be more people. Still, it was easy enough getting seats.

We then waited for Star Trek Continues, preceded by a wee video about Star Trek moments and an introduction from Vic Mignona (who plays Kirk): the aunties were fair taken with him, and didn't even recognise him as Kirk in the show! The episode was...

Good Scot / Bad Scot:
Star Trek Continues - "Pilgrim of Eternity"

Good Scot: So much love and attention was put into the show's details, it was uncanny! The sets, the sounds, and especially the lighting was so authentic you'd think it was shot in 1966. I can't get over how brilliant the lighting was, it made every scene! The direction was brilliant, evidently influenced by Gene L. Coon (who did all the best episodes), and the music wasn't just repeating the same melodies, but still felt right. Different movements from the same symphony, perhaps. The acting from some of the leads was excellent. Kirk was superb: though his voice isn't quite right, he has the mannerisms and intonations, and even has the physique (he gets a shirtless scene). Chris Doohan may not be an experienced actor, but he did a very good Scotty - but strangely it's the dramatic scenes in which he soared, with the comedy ones a wee bit too jocular, without that hard edge his dad had. Spock was alright, but far too youthful and "pretty": he resembled a fairy more than a Vulcan, though again, he had most of the mannerisms alright. The real standout, though, was the return of Apollo - played by Michael Forest from the original episode! His age is a plot point related to the waning power of Olympian worship, as the episode takes place only two years after "Who Mourns For Adonais."

But what was most commendable about the show was it had that vital spark the Abrams Star Trek lacked entirely - exploration. In this case, what happens when a god doesn't want to be a god anymore? It was a really powerful, dramatic story with incredibly subtle and Shakespearean style from Apollo, who is trying to come to terms with the fact that the worship he gained sustenance from was from fear, not love. This wounds him, because he truly loved humanity, and didn't realise the truth. There's also great character conflict between Kirk and Scotty over what's to be done with Apollo, and everyone (except poor Chekhov) gets something to contribute. I won't spoil the end of the episode, but it's really fitting, and has that very hopeful message which marks the best of Trek.

Bad Scot: It was very much "amateur night," as many of the leads weren't professional or even amateur actors at all: many were just big fans. Kirk, Spock and obviously Apollo were, but aside from Doohan, everyone else was a bit "off." They definitely tried, but they just weren't as convincing as the others, which made them stick out like a sore thumb. It's very unfortunate, as if they were either all amateur or all professional, it would at least be cohesive. I also think the special effects could've been a little more in-style with the '60s: because they went to such pains to replicate the sets, lighting, sounds etc while also tweaking them to be more smooth (Dr. McCoy's bed scanner with all the arrows got a cheer and round of applause from the audience), I would've preferred they kept to that same aesthetic for the effects. A lot of the exterior  shots taken wouldn't have been possible in the '60s, and I think they could've made them look more like what was achievable with '60s technology while also keeping it convincing.

The other problem is one that is rather besides the point in a nostalgia project like this, but as I saw the Enterprise set replicated in perfect detail (the filmmakers bought a huge set and basically recreated the ENTIRE Trek sound stage), and I watched the really gripping, moving story of "big ideas" develop, I felt a twinge of frustration that all this effort was put into revisiting the past. Even though the use of Apollo was just as effective and natural story-wise as Scotty in The Next Generation's "Relics," and the film was excellently made and very imaginative, at times I was thinking: why are they just doing this? These people are talented enough to create their own show and story. Although it was integral to the story and entirely justified, bringing back Apollo has the ring of "fanservice," and the cynical mind could think a lot of goodwill was created simply by including him in the episode. I understand exactly why they did it (who wouldn't if you had the time, money and ability to recreate something you loved and contribute to its mythos so accurately it could pass for a "lost episode" at times?) but I truly hope the people who made this film excellent go on to do even greater things.

Overall: this seems to be the start of a new series a la New Voyages/Phase II, and it's a belter of a debut. Kirk was great, Scotty very good, Spock too. Effects top-quality, lighting superlative, sound perfect, music solid. Direction completely in tune with the original show. Story, however, was the best part by far, as it provoked the same thoughts and considerations as its predecessor: though some elements of "Who Mourns for Adonais" were undoubtedly very over-the-top and bombastic, the central questions of worship, gods and mortals were solid, and I actually think this is a considerable improvement on an already good episode.

I'm very glad I saw it. It's illuminating comparing the current J.J. Abrams universe with Star Trek Continues, because both treat the source material and the audience in markedly different ways. Where Abrams' films work by the mantra "make a story, then add Star Trek,"** Star Trek Continues takes the opposite approach - make Star Trek, then build the story from it.  One treats Star Trek as practically an afterthought to a story that's really just another run-of-the-mill space adventure, the other treats Star Trek as the foundation of the narrative and tone. Abrams' films are designed to appeal to a mass audience, to make it as simple and unchallenging as possible for greatest results; Star Trek Continues relies on knowledge of Star Trek history, and rewards that knowledge with a greater emotional and narrative depth based on what went before. One treats the audience as naive and ignorant while throwing morsels to the more informed fans, the other treats the whole audience as knowledgeable and aware.

I may grouse about Abrams' films, but as long as we have thriving fan productions like Star Trek Continues, Star Trek: Phase II, and others recalling that there was something more to Trek than space battles, fisticuffs and miniskirts, I think Trek will do alright. And you can find out for yourself, as "Pilgrim of Eternity" is available to watch online at their site and on Youtube.

Afterwards we went to Subway. I went back with mine intending to catch up with others, but found to my horror that the exhibition hall closed at 7, not 9 as last night. Curses! So I wandered about. I had Melville perched on my manbag - it let me keep an eye on him, so I knew he was safe, and also let people see him - and I got a few nice comments from people. One woman asked who I was dressed up as, and I could only reply "Sadly my dear I can only say I dress as myself, for I dress as strangely as this in my daily life!"

So there it is. I've had to pay $20 for internet for two nights, but it's worth it to get emails to family back in Scotland before I forgot any good wee stories. Besides, I arranged it for late night, so I could essentially get 3 nights for 2, ho ho! That was Melville's idea.

*The infamous poster for The Outlaw starring Jane Russell - drawn by a woman, Zoë Mozert.

** Roberto Orci explains the sheer numbskullery that was the writing process of Star Trek Into Darkness (SPOILER ALERT):

OK, I’ll do a deep dive with you. In a way, (fellow co-writer and co-producer) Damon (Lindelof) and I were the biggest debaters about this. He argued for Khan from the beginning and I argued against it. The compromise that we came to was, let us devise a story that is not reliant on any history of Star Trek. So, what’s the story? Well, we have a story where our crew is who they are and they’re coming together as a family. Then, suddenly, this villain arrives and his motivations are based on what happens in the movie. They’re not based on history. They’re not based on Star Trek. They’re not based on anything that came before. They’re based on his used by a corrupted system of power that held the things he held dear against him and tried to manipulate him. That story stands alone with or without Star Trek history. That’s how we approached it, and God bless Damon for going down that road.
So, once we had that, that’s when Damon came back and reared his ugly head and said, “OK, now that we have that, is there any reason why we cannot bring Star Trek history into this?” And he was right. So we ended up sort of reverse engineering it. We started with, “What’s a good movie? What’s a good villain? What’s a good motivation? We cannot rely on what’s happened before. Now that we have that, can we tailor this villain into something that relates to Star Trek history?” And that’s what we did. So, step one was “Don’t rely on Star Trek.” Then, step two was “Rely on Star Trek.”
Step 1: Don't rely on Star Trek.
Step 2: Rely on Star Trek.
Step 3: ???
Step 3: Profit!

Says it all, doesn't it? On the one hand, they're saying "let's do something that doesn't rely on Star Trek history" IN A STAR TREK MOVIE, then they say "after that, let's see how it ties into Star Trek." AGAIN, THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A STAR TREK MOVIE. WHY ARE YOU WRITING A STAR TREK MOVIE IF YOU HAVE TO WRITE IT AS A NON-STAR TREK MOVIE BEFORE ADDING ELEMENTS INTO IT TO MAKE IT INTO A STAR TREK MOVIE OH SWEET MOTHER OF MCGILLICUTTY


  1. "I've had to pay $20 for internet for two nights..."

    >blink< 'Tha hell?

    The place you stay doesn't have free Wi-fi for guests?


    (dirty pool at the crossroads is what it is)

    1. Yes. Yes it is. They obviously realised "hmm, lots of Comicon goers will be nerds... nerds use their computers a lot... ah-hA!"

  2. I also thought Star Trek Continues was pretty good, with the look of the show being the big standout. I had some niggles with the scripting - just thought they could have tightened things up a bit - and I agree that beginning the series with a sequel was questionable, but altogether I was very impressed. Hopefully they'll be able to improve as they go along, especially as the actors get more comfortable in their roles.

    1. Fair enough, Andy. You could be right about the script needing a bit of fiddling. I just hope STC and Phase II coexist without stepping on each other's toes (or, better, combining their forces with the best of each!)


    My review is the last one on this page.