I'm at Comic-Con. Where are you?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Posting from my phone may turn out to be too much of a challenge. We shall see. The Marriott has wired Internet in the room, which won't work with my notebook, not to mention that there's a charge...

Milton Griepp is providing a business seminar today 1-5 p.m. at the Marriott. Scheduled speakers include Jeff Smith.

Phil Foglio has changed printers to return GIRL GENIUS to the U.S. Improved production, tinier carbon footprint.


Curiosities of TV's Old Curiosity Shop

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Among my countless obsessions, I discover I'm fascinated by Charles Dickens' Old Curiosity Shop. Among its aspects is that it's one of the several works of fiction that have had a vital plot point become a matter of common knowledge. Who today can read Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without knowing in advance the solution to the mystery? And virtually the only thing most people today know about Old Curiosity Shop is [OK, spoiler warning, but do you actually care enough to stop reading? If so, great; stop reading this posting and read the novel; it's even available complete online, and it's my favorite Dickens novel.] is that Little Nell dies. Oscar Wilde famously wrote, "One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears ... of laughter."

Thing is: Wilde got it wrong. Nell doesn't have a death scene in the novel. In any case, while the book was probably among the first novels to deal with gambling as an addiction, Nell and her gambling grandfather do not interest me. My fascination lies with the subplot of Richard Swiveller and the Marchioness: a fascination that began with the 1980 nine-part BBC dramatization [white background image] that aired in America on Once upon a Classic. With Granville Saxton as Swiveller and Annabelle Lanyon as the Marchioness, the production (scripted by William Trevor) focused on that portion of the plot with enough fidelity to drive me to read the novel in the middle of the weekly broadcasts to find out what happened next.

As a result, I've kept an eye on adaptations of the novel ever since to see how that subplot is handled -- if, indeed, it's handled at all. Last night, I settled down with another DVD from the BBC [brown background image]: a 2007 non-serialized version scripted by Martyn Hesford. And, yes, the subplot was there, with Geoff Breton as Swiveller and Charlene McKenna as the Marchioness. The weird thing is that somebody, somewhere didn't grasp what was so clear in 1980: The Marchioness is a foil for Little Nell. They're roughly the same age -- which is to say 13. Little Nell is deeply loved by those who fail to help her. The Marchioness is starved, beaten, and too poor to have a name but she not only saves herself, she saves others.

It's true that Trevor had a break, with the total running time of 4 hours, 25 minutes -- as opposed to Hesford's 1 hour, 33 minutes. But Hesford included characters and scenes that could have been omitted to focus on what G.K. Chesterton termed one of the two true love stories in all of Dickens. On the shoestring that seemed to be the budget for the 1980 version, the focus was on characterization, with only Nell (played by 20-year-old Natalie Ogle) looking wrong for the part. (It's still amazing to me that Lanyon, also 20, is absolutely convincing as a 13-year-old.)

And, oh, the changes in the 2007 version! Not only does Nell's grandfather (Derek Jacobi in an otherwise excellent performance) settle himself sullenly to wait for money he's bullied her into begging for in a pouring rain (for all his faults, not something Dickens' character did), not only does Nell get a full-on deathbed scene in which she forgives everyone in person, and not only does the Brasses' lodger turn out to be -- Who? Wow, not who is in the novel! But the Marchioness is no longer the counterpoint to Nell: While Kit and Nell are played by 15-year-olds, the Marchioness is 22 and looks it.

Not to say that the 2007 version is badly acted or poorly shot or poorly directed. It's just that -- for all its merits -- the filmed-on-a-shoestring version of nearly 30 years ago is still the best, even with a Nell in her 20s. I'll bet you can find a copy via your local library.


O, Stephen Thompson, my son, my son, why do you celebrate grief?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Three days ago, Stephen posted at "It's Time to Party: Summer Songs" at National Public Radio "Party of One: Misery Alienates Company." Stephen addresses lonely people, "All you and your poor, pockmarked soul really need is a soundtrack -- five songs to ensure that you and your stuffed animals will have a night to remember." And he provides a commentary on each of the songs, opening with one he introduces as "a bruisingly sad look at a relationship torn asunder by tragic circumstances."

It's actually a pretty funny essay, so I laughed my way through it but then the "Related NPR Stories" at the end provided a double-take. Each consists of an opening mini-essay followed by the songs with commentaries. And here's the thing: The titles of a year and a half's run of these are as follows: "So Your Tiny Black Heart Is Broken" (Feb 12, 2008), "Weeping at the Wheel: Crushingly Sad Songs" (Aug 13, 2008), and "Songs for a Drab and Unfulfilling Existence" (Oct 9, 2008). Man! And each and every posting is written by Stephen.

But there is a cure. It's just that you'll have to look for it. For example, he came up with an essay on finding the perfect CD mix for a wedding. He's done more than one devoted to great Christmas CDs (springing to my mind this July day; have you finished your holiday shopping for 2009 yet?).

So no problem. But if, on the other hand, you'd like to wallow in grief, he's got the music for you.


It's Old Cars Show in Iola!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Once a year, the teeny town of Iola, Wisconsin, copes with an influx of old cars. I'm not talking about rusty heaps still managing to hold together well enough to get to the grocery store and back. I'm talking about Cars They Don't Make Any More. And it's not as though we're not used to it here. Thanks to Krause Publications' long-running Old Cars Weekly, we've long been accustomed to seeing classic vehicles parked in the lot next to the latest models (and, for that matter, my own aging Ford Focus station wagon). But even the KP parking lot has been turned over exclusively to collector cars. In a quick walk down some of Iola's village streets today, I just pointed my pocket camera and shot images of vehicles not on display -- but used as actual transportation, just part of today's traffic. It's a trip to the past ...


Monkey See is my "Must-See" NPR blog

Since it began 11 months ago, Monkey See has become my favorite blog on the favorite-blogs-filled National Public Radio website -- and one of my two favorite blogs, period. (The other is Mark Evanier's newsfromme, packed with insights, hilarity, and information that's mostly about things I care about. But I digress, though it must be clear from this that popular culture is one of my ongoing affections.)

To quote its own information, Monkey See aspires "to be a haven for the geek and a translator for the confused, and to carve out a space where both longtime residents and curious visitors can comfortably roam the pop-culture landscape." It is presided over by Linda Holmes, whom I first encountered on Television without Pity, where her remarks (as "Miss Alli") actually kept me following The Amazing Race for a season or two, despite my lack of interest in "reality TV."

Monkey See is a spot that keeps me informed about events at which I could turn out to be entertained -- by its commentary as well as by the events themselves.

Yesterday, for example, there was an intro to Bravo's Top Chef Masters. Such is Linda's skill that she managed to provide a hook that explained the show, evaluated the differences between it and "Top Chef Classic," and concluded with the reason to see the episode in question. Succinct. Entertaining. Enlightening. Even for someone who has never watched Top Chef.

So it is that Monkey See rambles through the forest of pop culture, blazing a trail so that members of its expedition can keep up to date, even on aspects of entertainment to which they're not personally devoted. They provided a link to a Harry Potter quiz that's one of the best current promos I've seen. (I scored 31 out of 35 and would have scored 32, had my screen display made me more aware of precisely which of the films I was supposed to respond to.)

And, as host, Linda presides over other insightful commentators on today's entertainment. For example, Glen Weldon's comic-book commentaries are something I always find intriguing. A recent post, for example, was "Let There Be Bike Shorts: A Profile in Comics-Geek Courage." It's about DC Editor Matt Idelson and Supergirl, it was posted July 1, and it already has 37 comments. Rightly so.

So the link to "Monkey See" on my home page is no accident. It's there to remind me not to miss checking its most recent postings, because I don't want to be out of the pop-culture loop. Do you?


The Third New Look for the Home Page

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I haven't hung out much on my website recently, mostly because experimentation continues regarding the best way to set it up and contribute to it. With Comic-Con International: San Diego coming in two weeks, I was eager to get this working, and Kindly John Jackson Miller has moved it to this iteration. (Iteration: what a great word, no?)

At the moment, I'm continuing to experiment. I just tried to post from my cell phone but found it incapable at the moment of even finding online sites via its dial-up. My fingers now figuratively crossed that it's something that Verizon will fix magically without my whining yet again at one of its stores, I'm posting from my neat little HP whatchamacallit: It's one of those lightweight, no-disc computers. (I had earlier tried an Acer, but its lunatic trackpad was, well, lunatic. I'll probably be showing off the HP at San Diego, though it requires WiFi, rather than dial-up.)

Ah, techgabble. Sorry to be gone so long. But one of the neat advantages to the revamped site is that I suddenly can see that people have been e-mailing me here without my noticing. Apologies! I'll try to get to you soon!

Now, let's see if this posts properly.


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