Friday 31 May 2013

A Scottish Barbarian in Arizona: Phoenix Comicon, Day 3

Day three approacheth! I discuss animation, more indy comics, couple teams, and more!

Well, I turned the heat down a few degrees on Friday night, but ended up still too hot. However, I was fed up with this, so I popped out and got some ice, and had it close at hand to wrap in a napkin and dab with. It worked well enough, though I was a bit late getting up.

I first zoomed to the Animated Career panel, which was very informative: it featured Joel Adams, Bret Blevins, Shannon Eric Denton, Kristen Fitzner Denton, and Christy Marx. It was a very interesting panel, which discussed the intricacies and mixture of patience and urgency which seems to permeate the life of the animator. Bret Blevins (who worked on Batman Beyond, one of the most interesting Batman series) had the most soothing, gentle voice. Imagine Kiefer Sutherland with his vocal cords replaced with Kashmir. And of course, we also heard from Christy Marx,* lead show writer of Conan the Adventurer, and I knew I had to talk to her!

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.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

A Scottish Barbarian in Arizona: Phoenix Comicon, Day 1

So this marks the second year I've attended the Phoenix Comicon. I feel much more comfortable this year, it isn't such a Strange New World to me, and I feel like I've gotten to know the place a bit better. In this report, I discuss comics, books, artists, and finally reveal the secret of Melville.

This little chap is my mascot, and has been since I was a lad. I bought him at the McLean Museum a long time ago, naturally named for the author of Moby Dick and proud beard-owner Herman Melville. Now, back when I was in Primary School, all the children in Primary 7 were treated to a trip to Paris. I was a very shy and retiring child, so I never took pictures with myself in the photo: I just took snaps of the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur, Champs-Élysées, and so forth, with no sign of me, the other children, or the teachers. When I came home, my family was perplexed: why would you take pictures of the places without yourself? To them, the whole point of holiday photos was to prove you were there: pictures of the monuments can be found anywhere, but a picture of you outside Notre Dame was unique. That revelation troubled me: how, then, could I find a way to prove I was present on holiday without actually putting myself in photographs?

Melville was the answer. Every time I took a picture, I made sure that Melville was somewhere in the frame. He might just be moseying about a corner, looking off into the horizon, or pride of place in the centre. Melville has been all over the world: Florida, France, Spain, Majorca, Corsica, Italy, and now Arizona, and soon Texas. As I grew more comfortable having my photograph taken, I still took photos with Melville for traditional purposes. There was a period prior to the First Scottish Invasion where Melville disappeared: I was most distressed, but figured he was somewhere in the house. I used to joke with the folks he was off on some adventure or top-secret mission, though in reality it turned out he was in my bedroom all those years. And so, after much ado, Melville will finally make his Cross Plains debut, and at last be photographed at the Howard House like I initially hoped.

But that's still a while away: for now, I'm a Scottish Barbarian in Arizona, and Melville's come along to his first convention!

Sunday 26 May 2013

Red-Headed Comic Woman With A Sword Writes Comic About Red-Headed Comic Woman With A Sword

You know you're serious about a Sword-and-Sorcery adaptation when your spouse takes a picture of you with a sword. And you know you've found your soul-mate when they let you stab them for a photoshoot.

I still haven't checked out Eric Trautmann's Red Sonja beyond the first few issues, but I got the general impression that his work was well-received, so it's with a mixture of disappointment and surprise that I learn Gail Simone will be taking over for Dynamite's relaunch. Simone is an author whose work I haven't read, though she's been getting rave reviews for her work on Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl, so she seems a natural fit for the She-Devil, following Jen Van Meter into the Hall of Female Red Sonja Writers. She also gets clearly "gets" it:

Gail: Anyone following my work has probably seen that I love shoe-horning in fantasy and pulp elements into my superhero books. Catman was inspired by Tarzan, the Secret Six went to Skartaris, Wonder Woman met Beowulf and Claw. To be blunt, I love that stuff.
I love the earthy primal quality of it, I love the pulp mythos from people like Lovecraft and Burroughs, and of course, Robert E. Howard.
 - Gail Simone, welcome to the list
And in this more recent piece:

I love the primal storytelling that can be found in period pieces and fantasy settings. The world is complex and full of subtlety, it’s kind of lovely to be able to tell stories of loinclothed, sword-wielding heroes fighting demons in the desert. I’m a fan of the cultured, mannered fantasy of Tolkien and others, but there’s a tremendous appeal to the bloody, half-naked asskickers of Robert E. Howard’s earthier imaginings.

My first contact with Sonja was definitely in comics, these immaculately told stories of this incredibly dangerous woman. I loved them immediately. I wasn’t aware that she was not a direct adaptation of a Howard character, but rather an amalgam of several of his toughest female adventurers. But it’s a mistake to discount the Howard influence in those stories, it’s in the setting, the tone, it’s in everything.

I’ve been re-reading a lot of Howard stuff (and the Sonja comics) for this assignment, and one of the exciting things is rediscovering that Howard was a bit of a proto-feminist, he created many amazing female hell-raisers. There’s stuff that time has thankfully passed by, but some of his fiercest, smartest, toughest characters were female.

... My favorite Howard barbarian story is possibly Red Nails, which has so much of what I like about the sword and sorcery genre, kickass heroine, lusty bloody adventure, giant serpents, and a powerful and disturbing allegorical twist. I’m very inspired by the mood and tone of the Howard books, but also the visual kick of the best of the comics work—in particular, I love the monsters and mythical aspects.
 - Gail Simone - why isn't SHE writing Conan!?!

The internet's been abuzz about this famously feminist writer and what it could mean for Big Red. But of course - since we're dealing with general comic news sites who aren't always up-to-speed on REH matters despite all the information they need being literally thirty seconds away - then we get that problem.

Friday 17 May 2013

Bite-Sized Blog: Iron Man the Third

What could have been...

Saw it a few days ago, before I went to the States. I’m not going to write a full review, but I do feel sufficiently moved to comment on one thing that really got my brain whirring – the villain.

As it is, Iron Man Three is another fun superhero film with top-notch effects, some sparkling dialogue, a few very inventive set pieces, one or two moments of attempted profundity, and plenty of nods and winks to fans of the comics. In my opinion, it’s better than the second film, though not as successful as the first: it’s largely middle-of-the-road as Marvel Cinematic Universe films go.

But the villain! What an incredible, brilliant, paradigm-shifting antagonist the Mandarin was... or could have been, if the film had any guts.


Monday 13 May 2013

The Fourth Scottish Invasion

Hope Blogger doesn't eat this one...

It's been a while since I've posted anything Howard-related. To be frank, I think I'm a bit burned out on REH, not just on the Encyclopaedia, but on REHupa, and keeping up to date on news and events. Combined with working on my burgeoning comic artist career, things might be light on the Howardian front for a while. I'm particularly frustrated that I haven't continued the "80 Years of Conan" despite being a year since I started it.

That said, I'm still going to Howard Days in June, where I'll be speaking on Robert E. Howard in comics. Unlike fellow Cimmerian blog alumnus Jeff Shanks, I'm not a collector and not much of an authority on the Marvel comics; unlike Mark Finn, I haven't been asked to write forewords and afterwords to Dark Horse collections. But I'll give it a shot all the same!

I also plan on attending the Phoenix comic convention. No William Shatner this year, sadly, but there are lots of others whose ears I plan on chewing off.  I'd be ecstatic to meet Bruce Boxleitner as a Babylon 5 aficionado, but if I get the chance, I'd like to see if I could pick his brain about Robert E. Howard, since he's a hardcore REH fan himself.  On the Star Trek side, Walter Koenig, Wil Wheaton and Nichelle Nichols will be in attendance: my young cousin would practically demand I get a picture from Wil, and I very much want to meet Ms Nichols. Uhura was one of my favourite Trek characters, and she just seems like such a lovely person.

Then there are others vaguely linked to Conan and REH like Brandon Sanderson, Dan Jurgens, Geof Darrow (heh), Jay Fotos, Nat Jones, Joshua Dysart, Michael A. Stackpole (who I still owe a signing!), Mike Mignola (who I'm just as anxious to meet for his work on Hellboy), Mike Norton, and a few others like the Pinis. Peter David wrote some rather fun Star Trek novels I enjoyed: I'd love to know if he based Mackenzie Calhoun on Conan/Kull, or if it was just a fun coincidence. Rice & Haggis has a Scotsman at their panel, who I'd like to show countryman support. Katelyn McCaigue's work interests me greatly. And I vividly remember Jolene Houser and Val Hochberg from a lovely panel they did last year on female comic writers, so it'd be nice seeing them again.

Another interesting semi-Howard connection is Christy Marx, most famous for Jem and the Holograms (a fixture of my early childhood, even without considering I had a babbie sister at the time) but also the story editor and writer for the much-maligned Conan the Adventurer. Much as I had severe issues with the cartoon, it's easy to see that a lot of the problems are borne from the very nature of making a Saturday morning cartoon show out of Conan to begin with: all things considered, I'm actually impressed with the number of Howardian elements that did make it into the show. Certainly more than the more mature-themed Marvel comics at the time bothered with, I'll tell you that much.

There are a few events and panels I might go to: Writing Believable Fantasy, Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Epic Fantasy Panel (even if Terry Brooks is there, boom boom!),  The Short Fiction Panel, Illustrating Your Own Work, The World of Sketch Cards, Webcomics 101, Historical Settings, Nichelle Nichols' panel, Star Trek and the Human Potential, Historical Fiction and Dystopian Fiction: Similarities and Differences, and An Animated Career. Some of these might overlap, so I'll check closer to the event.

Most hilariously, John Barrowman will be attending - hilarious, because I live only a hop, skip and a jump away from his childhood home Millport, and in fact the Weird Sisters often spend weekends over there with friends.  Their natural charm almost got Erin Gray hijacking them for the weekend last year: who knows what would happen if they came across Barrowman?

So I'll be in Arizona shortly, where I'll spend two weeks or so getting over the flight, exploring more of the arid alien landscape, catch up with old friends, and maybe a bit of blogging in between preparing for CP. Then on to the 36 West, where I'll hope to see more old friends and make new ones.

See you there, folks!

Sunday 12 May 2013

Scotland Into Darkness, and other thoughts on Star Wars

“(Star Trek) always felt like a silly, campy thing. I remember appreciating it, but feeling like I didn’t get it. I felt it didn’t give me a way in. There was a captain, there was this first officer, they were talking a lot about adventures and not having them as much as I would’ve liked. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough”
“"I had no idea there had been 10 movies! I still haven't seen them all. I didn't want to become a student of Star Trek. I felt that was actually one of the few advantages I had. I was trying to make a movie, not trying to make a Trek movie." ”  
 - J.J. Abrams - just as well he isn't making any Star Trek films, right?

I had some other thoughts on it.  I could do the Energiser Bunny on this with my criticisms, but I'll just keep it to this post. If I think of anything else, I'll just add it here, and not clutter up the rest of the blog.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Star Wars Into Darkness

So I've given you my thoughts on the previous Star Wars film, and since I've now seen Star Wars Into Darkness, I think it'd be fun if I did a review of it.

... This was a Star Wars movie, right?

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Ray Harryhausen - Requiescat in Pace

I had to learn to do everything because I couldn't find another kindred soul. Now you see eighty people listed doing the same things I was doing by myself.
 - Ray Harryhausen
EDIT: The following is something I wrote for my BA degree in 2006. The subject was to discuss a pioneering filmmaker's impact on modern media: I chose Ray Harryhausen. I figure it only fitting to pay tribute to the man who had such a profound impact on my imagination to share some of the findings I have on a blog that might not exist without his inspiration.

I Spent an Entire Evening Writing a Post.

It was full of links, citations, quotes, you name it. I was very proud.

I mistyped. Oh dear, I'll have to undo that: CTRL-Z, my friend!

CTRL-Z. Whole page goes blank.



CTRL-Y. Nothing. CTRL-Z. Nothing.

Backspace in desperation.


It goes to previous page, even as I knew the cursor was in the typing field.

I scour the internet for solutions.

You cannot turn off Auto-Save. You cannot retrieve unpublished posts. You cannot restore previous drafts.

It is gone.

It has drifted on the aether of night's Plutonian shores.




Impotent rage.

Saturday 4 May 2013

That Star Trek Film Wot Came Out A While Back

 C'est la vie.

"How do we know that your 'correct history' is the right one? The best one?"
"Because, Jim, here in your timeline, billions of people are dead."
 - Star Trek: Phase II, "In Harm's Way" (which you can watch here and here)

Hey, it's May the Fourth! Let's talk about that beloved science fiction franchise which has inspired and delighted a generation since its debut all those decades ago - that's right, Star Trek!

I'm a Trekkie.*  I'm also a fan of Star Trek: Phase II, which is easily the best Trek we've had this entire millennium.  So when I learned that the astoundingly high-quality fan series would continue their tradition of adapting lost Star Trek scripts with Norman Spinrad's "He Walked Among Us," I was over the moon.

But then, CBS put the kibosh on this...

... after news of Spinrad’s discovery spread rapidly around the Internet, CBS set its phasers to “meddling threats of litigation,” sending a cease-and-desist letter to Spinrad that demanded he remove the script from the web and immediately scrap all plans to adapt it, given that it still legally belongs to the studio.

Spinrad complied and has said little on the matter since, other than posting a clearly lawyer-prepared statement noting that he is not allowed to comment further and that CBS is now “considering opportunities to offer licensed copies of the work”—but not, however, considering allowing Phase II to go ahead with producing it, even if it’s had little problem with the group’s not-for-profit homages before. As the New York Times notes, Phase II has even been allowed to adapt another shelved Star Trek screenplay in the past (David Gerrold’s “Blood And Fire”), leaving Spinrad to drop some pretty strong hints that much of CBS’s recent change of heart has to do with pressure from J.J. Abrams to not allow the production of any Star Trek material that could possibly interfere with his own.

It's unclear just why CBS would stamp this out when they've turned the controversial "Blood & Fire" (aka The Gay Episode) into a fully-fledged episode that's better than 75% of official Star Trek episodes considering they also technically claimed copyright, but it seems Abrams may have a part in it:

For what it’s worth, Spinrad only makes this connection indirectly—responding to a fan’s assertion that “maybe J.J. isn’t to blame after all” with “I didn’t say that,” then continuing, “But I am not legally bound not to say that I found J.J. Abrams' first Star Trek film quite inferior to the Phase II videos and his cavalier attitude towards the decades-long legacy of what Star Trek has come to mean to the general culture quite reprehensible, and indeed artistically counterproductive.” So, that definitely seems sort of telling.

Now, I'm aware that lots of people liked 2009's Star Trek.  Other people loved it.  I - horror of horrors! - liked it too.  It was a well-designed, fun action adventure with some phenomenal acting from Karl Urban (who I'm convinced performed a seance prior to filming to summon the spirit of DeForest Kelly, or at least just watched everything the man's ever been in up to and including Night of the Lepus). I had a great time at the cinema oohing and aahing at the explosions and pretty starships. I enjoyed all the little in-jokes and nods that were put in for guys like me. And whatever happened, it worked. It obviously gave Star Trek the shot in the arm Viacom wanted after the massive over saturation of the late '90s/early 2000s, and you could argue the association would have drawn a new generation of fans to the original series. I certainly wonder if we'd be enjoying the super-duper remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation blu-rays without the proof that the Star Trek brand was profitable, because brand equity's all some executives tend to care about.

On the other hand, I had serious problems with the film : most of the complaints were made by others, and I really wasn't in the mood to engage with Strawmen on the issue ("You didn't like it because it wasn't full of pseudo-scientific drivel!" "You didn't like it because it had young actors instead of old fogeys!" "You didn't like it because it's hip and mainstream instead of weird and underground!")  And the Children of the Straw were out in force.  You got sites like The Onion making what seems to pass for biting, insightful satire by making the (entirely jocular and not at all serious) claim that classic Trekkies don't like the film because it's "fun," "action-packed" or all those other things that apparently preclude it from being Trek.  Now, I'm not criticising The Onion for their parody - that's what The Onion is for - but I do criticise those who feel that it's a reflection of the truth. Even reviewers I admire were far more forgiving than I was willing to be, especially the legendarily scathing Red Letter Media and SFDebris. It can be frustrating, since it seems many people cannot understand that you can like a thing and still acknowledge its shortcomings.

So if you liked 2009's Star Trek, then by gumbo that's just dandy, I'm glad you did - so did I. However, I hope you'll note that I'm not legally bound not to punch the air at Mr Spinrad's remarks all the same.