How Santa Got His Red Suit

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yesterday, I wrote of the wonders of Christmases past - especially the delight of reading classic comic-book stories to our kids on Christmas day. Today ended up especially busy (and I suspect things will not become less busy as December 25 approaches), so there's no time for an extended essay. However, I have a suspicion that this week's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast from National Public Radio (Tweet #PCHH) is going to have a mention (Dec. 10) of one of the stories I referred to yesterday. It's "How Santa Got His Red Suit," written and drawn by Walt Kelly, the lead story in the Dell Four Color comic book #61: Santa Claus Funnies copyright 1944 by Oskar Lebeck. If the PCHH gang chats about it, this is what they're talking about. Just saying.


Christmas Memories of The Three-Flavored Blizzard and More

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When our kids were young, our annual Christmas morning tradition was well-established. While Don, downstairs, turned on tree lights, prepared beverages and cold cuts and other such treats, set up the background music, and so on ... As I say, while he did all that, I'd sit with the kids upstairs, reading any of a number of classic Christmas comic-book stories. These included Walt Kelly's "The Great Three-Flavored Blizzard" from Dell's Four Color: Santa Claus Funnies #175 (copyright 1947 Oskar Lebeck), in which the Easter Bunny is confused by a lack of snow, and he and Fuzzychin (who always helps Santa at Christmas) visit Santa to find out the problem. That problem turns out to be that the machine that regulates the weather is stuck on "Summer." Of course.

It's only one of many delightful Christmas comics stories. Among my favorites are: Kelly's "How Santa Got His Red Suit," "A Mouse in the House," "The Three Blind Mice and a Christmas Deed," and "Hickory and Dickory Help Santa Claus"; Carl Barks' "Christmas on Bear Mountain," "The Golden Christmas Tree," and "Letter to Santa"; and Oskar Lebeck and Morris Gollub's "Santa and the Angel" and "A Letter to Santa."

Mind you, none of these is in print at the moment. Sometimes, people ask me, "Why do you collect comics?" And this is a reason: The only people who can read these stories are the people who (a) bought them and (b) kept them.


If You Could Only Pick One ...

Monday, December 6, 2010

A friend recently asked me what I'd recommend as the one comic-book that people should be advised to read. (OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, but let's move along.) I opted to consider something that would simultaneously reflect standard comic-book-character storytelling with an outstanding script and, if possible, something that would also let a new-to-the-field reader see a variety of art approaches. After more mulling, I decided that a good introduction for an adult who grasps the storytelling challenges of fantasy (which is, after all, what a huge percentage of today's comics consists of) would be The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman and illustrators Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and Malcolm Jones III. It reprints issues #17-20 of the comic-book series, so it's a sample of what can be found in an ongoing series. It's an anthology, so it's a sample of a variety of artistic approaches. It features an assortment of "what if" approaches for a fantasy character. At least one story ("Facade") ties into DC Comics continuity, analyzing what might seem to be a wonderful super-power, revealing the tragedy of what its reality would be. Another story is a World Fantasy Award-winning tale ("A Midsummer Night's Dream"). None of the tales is predictable; all are excellent. And there's the bonus of a behind-the-scenes look at how Gaiman approached a story, including the script he provided to the artist.

That was my choice and my reasoning. What would you have recommended? What has worked for you when you've tried to introduce comics to people who are interested - but new to comic books?


iPad .... because

Sunday, December 5, 2010

That's a header that will bewilder anyone who has no familiarity with the strange vagueness of a series of ads in 1950s magazines with sizeable female readerships. And, yes, I'm revisiting the general snickering that accompanied Apple's announcement of the name for its all-purpose lug-around computer thingy. (I'm a little surprised there didn't seem to be an immediate flood of fake iPad ads featuring gorgeous women in over-the-top formalwear with iPads discreetly Photoshopped into the images.)

The thing is, "iPad .... because" pretty much sums up the reason for my addiction to the thing (though I don't pretend to know why those '50s ads seemed to insist on four dots instead of the usual three in ellipses - trademark, maybe?). Today, again, I'd hauled my iPad with me to an event, and, when I began to use it (in this case, to note some upcoming dates in its Calendar app), folks stopped to ask what it was and how it worked and why I found it useful.

So. When I first heard about it, I thought, "Well, I'll get it in 2011, when they release the second version, because what do I need it for right now?" Then, I thought, "Well, maybe I'll treat myself with one for Christmas, because I hear good things about it." Then, I thought, "How about my birthday? I could get it for that." Then, I visited daughter Valerie, whose son has one, and I borrowed it for an evening, at the conclusion of which I asked, "Could we go to the Apple store tomorrow so I can buy one right away?" Because it's not just what so many have called it when I've showed it to them. It's not just "Maggie's toy."

I travel quite a bit. Not on the level of Neil Gaiman, who jets around the globe because so many people rightly want to see and hear him in person. Not on the level of businessfolks whose jobs take them hither and (especially) yon. But I'm often in locations I don't know well, away from entertainments of home, and I've found my carry-ons growing more and more heavy with an assortment of electronic thises and thats - and, even so, missing things I enjoy. So currently on my iPad (top of the line, with AT&T's 3G service, so I can connect lots of places without WiFi), I have (free, once I bought the thing) Calendar, Notes, Maps, iTunes, and iBooks apps. (Maps is of particular importance in my travels, showing me clearly how to get here or there by car, bus, or walking - and even showing me where I am at the moment: a help in some cities, let me tell you.) I've loaded a number of free apps (iMDb app for quick movie info, many books [especially Saki and Wodehouse at the moment], Marvel and DC apps, and a National Public Radio app. I also connect with the Internet via Safari and (and this was when I decided I had to have it) that lets me connect to Wisconsin Public Radio's two networks (Ideas and the News and Classical Music service) and its 24-hour classical music service so that I can listen to my favorite NPR programs, no matter where I am. I have not begun to explore the iPad's possibilities, though my daughter showed me one app I paid for: "Star Walk," which lets me identify the current constellations wherever I turn. (That's one that evokes an "Ooooooooo!" when I show it off - and, yes, that is a toy aspect, but hey ...)

Got an iPad? What's your favorite application?


Obsessing on Harry Potter

Saturday, December 4, 2010

At an American Association of University Women brunch this morning, I found myself once again discussing the wrap-up of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series with someone. And once again I found it intriguing that those who have read the novels divide into two camps: those who grasp the full meaning of what happens on page 658, the end of Chapter 32 - and those who don't. I missed it on first reading, I have no idea of how on earth filmmakers will be able to convey it (assuming they even make the attempt), and it's my favorite moment in the entire series. Oh - and I can't even discuss it at any length (or why my favorite character in the series is my favorite character in the series) because it's part of one of the Big Reveals of the entirety of the epic. But it really does divide the People Who Get It from the People Who Don't Get It about what happens to a major character.

All of which comes to mind because, having seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 twice now, I've been revisiting the entirety of that final book, listening (for the third time? the fourth?) to the marvelous unabridged (Grammy Award-winning) audiobook performed by Jim Dale. He holds the Guinness World Records record for most voices in an audiobook, and his career has included a number of pop-culture achievements, of all of which that I have seen or heard, I am an admirer. His performance in the Rowling series is the reason I tried to "read" each of the novels first via his audiobook readings: That's how good they are. [And I note to my dismay that, at least from Amazon, the audiobook of Deathly Hallows is out of "print" as a stand-alone release. Dang!]

In any case, my point is that I know many people who have been following the Potter tale only through the movies - and, as the wrap-up of that format nears, I'd just like to encourage anyone who has enjoyed the epic in that form to check out the books before the final installment hits theaters. Most fun, as I say, are the audiobooks. But, whatever the format, you're missing wonderful, rich storytelling if you've skipped the books.


Have You Ever Heard of Chicago Cartoonist R. Guerrieri?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Every now and then, we get involved with what we around here have taken to calling "Whatzit Day." Since Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., has a decades-long focus on collectibles, some of us occasionally sit at tables to which people with Weird Stuff can bring said Weird Stuff. And we try to identify it and (when we can) try to come up with some sort of valuation for it. It's not Antiques Roadshow. But we do our best. However, this year, we were challenged by something we thought we'd be able to identify right away. And we failed miserably. So here's a challenge - and my guess is that it will remain a challenge for months to come. What you see here is a portion of a cartoon pretty obviously done as a gift to the pictured gentleman. There are all sorts of inside jokes and identifying hints: A note reading, "Dear Harry Who [old?] is my son Geo. A. [?] Peck." Socks labeled "white socks." A drawing of him diving off a board and wearing a swimsuit label "IAC." [The Illinois Athletic Club was active in the teens of the 1900s and actually dominated competitive U.S. swimming then.] He's a Shriner. He's shown driving a new car "cheaper than having the old one fixed up" - of a model looking like vehicles from around 1915.

The signature seems to read "R Guerrieri" - and we can't find anything about him, though the drawing is excellent. And that's pretty much all we could tell.

Could he be U.S. Attorney George R. Peck from Chicago? We haven't been able to find a photo of him. And, when I say, "we," I include here "Mrs. D," who is the person who brought the art to us in the first place. It's large, it's framed, and among the details of the framing are a number of actual dollar bills, fanned in to cover the corner mountings. She is refurbishing a Victorian house, furnishing it appropriately, and she encountered the art in the course of her project. You'll find another shot of the art in her blog entry for Oct. 15, 2010 - with more background on its origin (though our car experts, as I've already noted, place the probable date as closer to 1915 than 1925).

Are there any detectives out there? Who's the artist? Who's the subject? What was the reason for the drawing? Any ideas?


The Importance of - HUH?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I've always loved Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. I have no idea of when I first read it; by now, I've memorized portions of the play to such an extent that I can say the lines just before the characters do in my favorite version of it. And my favorite version is the 1952 film by Anthony Asquith, starring such performers as Michael Redgrave and Dame Edith Evans ("A handbag?"), not to mention Dorothy Tutin in her screen debut and the husky-voiced Joan Greenwood. I saw that film on TV long before we had a color set; in fact, I find I tend to think of it in retrospect as being in black and white - which it isn't. And, recently, I wondered whether it had made its way to DVD. That resulted in one of those "oh, boy!" moments followed by one of those "oh, heck!" moments. Because it was (oh, boy!) available on DVD but it was (oh, heck!) only available as part of "The Criterion Collection" (aka "a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films," aka "it'll cost $10 or so more than if it came from some other source").

Now, among the reasons for higher prices for Criterion releases is the excellence of its supposedly meticulous transfers. On the insert sheet, there's a credit for audio restoration. "This digital transfer," moreover, "was created from a new 35mm composite print. The soundtrack was mastered from the 35mm optical soundtrack. Audio restoration tools were used to reduce pops, clicks, hiss, and crackle." And, yes, it sounds fine. But. But. But. A mere 3 minutes 53 seconds into the feature, I'm startled to see, twitching into top-of-screen center, a hair. A hair? In a flippin' Criterion edition? And it wasn't for a few frames; the hair twitched and wiggled impertinently from 3:53 to 5:44, nearly two minutes during which I lost track of the polished performances of Redgrave and Michael Denison in my increasingly disbelieving fascination with something I'd never expected to see from Criterion.

Oh, well, maybe Criterion will reissue the film someday in which it'll boast it's repaired the picture (which, yes, does still have other, more easily overlooked, imperfections) as well as the audio. And I am glad to have even a hairy copy of a delicious play. In fact, my purchase of this version reminded me that I'd also enjoyed the BBC version (starring, among others, Gemma Jones, Paul McGann, and Joan Plowright), so I grabbed that, too, via the BBC's The Oscar Wilde Collection. Hot dog! Four Wilde plays for a lot less than Criterion. But, then, I already commented on the price point, didn't I?

(Oh, and in case anyone wondered: Both the 1952 motion picture and the 1988 BBC TV release outdo the sadly pedestrian 2002 film with Colin Firth. Leonard Maltin commented, "This time, unfortunately, the tone is all wrong: the actors are terribly, terribly coy, the comedy much too self-aware." Yep. And it's just plain tiresome. So, even if you saw that version, do try one of the earlier releases; I'm sure your library will be able to get you a copy.)


Every Time I Think I'm Well Informed about Comics ...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I've just come from one of my favorite shops: Half Price Books - in this case, the outlet in Appleton, Wis. After a quick ramble through the store, I'd found nothing and was preparing to leave, when I decided to glance through the "books of comics" section. (That is to say, there's an accumulation of everything from Spirit pop-ups to random fifth volumes of reprint collections.) And I came across Rick Random Space Detective, a thick softcover subtitled 10 Classic Interplanetary Comic Book Adventures. It's from Prion in England, but it's "published under license from DC Comics." The book is edited by Steve Holland, and a quick online check (thank you, iPad) while waiting for friends in a nearby restaurant provides more details about a 2008 book I hadn't known about before.

Its contents consist of reprints of stories from British digest comics from Super Detective Library, and I guess I know what I shall read until my friends show up. (I will update this post tomorrow, you can bet.) I love used bookstores.

Update #1: At least two of the stories are by Harry Harrison. Details here. I've also linked to that online check my iPad provided in which details (dates, some creators) that would have (should have, I think) been provided in the volume itself are available. (In fact, I think I'll copy and print the information and tuck it into the book. But my goodness.) I also note the online community provides a bit of information as to why DC Comics holds the license. The more you learn about comics, the more there is to learn.


Paying Full Price on Black Friday for Judith Viorst's Latest

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Don and I first came across the work of Judith Viorst when we bought her It's Hard to Be Hip over Thirty and Other Tragedies of Married Life. Clearly, that was a long time ago, considering that (in the midst of Black Friday sales) I just stumbled over Unexpectedly Eighty and Other Adaptations. Mind you, in the intervening years, we probably treasured her work more for such children's classics as Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and The Tenth Good Thing about Barney (even though I could never manage to read Barney aloud). The point is: Judith Viorst always seems to have something to say that's either simply funny or simply enlightening. Translation: Her books are always worth buying - and some passages are worth memorizing.

So I didn't wait for a sale - or even to buy the book on Amazon (though, obviously, I've got the link right here). I grabbed it up, paid $17 at Barnes & Noble, and then doled out the material to myself, a two-page spread at a time. This time around, my favorite is probably "Exceedingly Eighty," written as a comment on the current saying, "Eighty is the new sixty." Each verse ends: "Eighty is not the new sixty./ Eighty is eighty." She's always seen things clearly - and helped the rest of us see them clearly, too. In the meantime, though, her most motivating poem for me was published a decade ago in I'm Too Young to be Seventy and Other Delusions. A portion thereof:

You want to slow down time?
Try root canal.
Try an MRI.
Try waiting for the report on the biopsy.
Or try being a child on a rainy morning
With nothing to do,
Wishing away the hours, the days, the years,
As if there will
Be more.

I hope that sobering sample does not exceed fair use. If it does, I'll take it down. What I'm saying is that, if you've somehow managed to get this far through life without reading what she has to say, you owe it to yourself to check out some of her books, at least at the library.

 In the meantime, I'll begin rereading Unexpectedly Eighty.


NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour Brings Comics to "Normals" - and Comics Can Learn from It

Monday, November 29, 2010

As an enthusiastic fan of National Public Radio and its "Monkey See" blog, I am, of course, devoted to its "Pop Culture Happy Hour" (for references to which, you can filter Twitter for #PCHH). Begun during the summer, the weekly podcast has become a treat to end the work week for many - and I should say before I go further that (full disclosure) two of the four participants are well known to me. Linda Holmes is a friend, and Stephen Thompson is a son. My son. So. In any case, it was of particular interest when I finally had a chance (following the delights of Black Friday) to settle down to listen to the November 26 event. While, as ever, there were a variety of pop-culture topics under discussion, a longer than usual chunk of the podcast was devoted to comic books. Comics commentator Glen Weldon, addressing the "non-comics folks" in the group, announced his plan to "dunk you into the turbid waters ... of the comics mainstream." (He also called them "three normals," which took them aback - with reason.) His initial plan had been to present each with a copy of Marvel's Spider-Girl #1 and Osborne #1, but both had been sold out at his local comics shop. (Collectors, take note.) Still in search of current iconic characters for the experiment, he purchased DC's one-shot Batman: The Return #1 and Batgirl #15 (each dated January 2011).

The discussion was revealing. The three "normals" are intelligent folks, deeply into popular culture and eager to find things to like in these issues. (In fact, there were gripes amid the ensuing posted comments from listeners that the participants had been too polite and eager to find things to like.) But the remarks included comments that it'd be handy for pros, as well as fans, to consider. The "normals" found, for example, that Batgirl was "easier to follow" than the "Done in One" one-shot. Stephen remarked that it would have been helpful to have had, say, a "60-second introduction" to what was going on. Among the barriers to entry was confusion over who was talking. (Weldon commented that thought balloons were a thing of the past - which, for some reason, I'd not internalized.) "These comics need to do more work," was another remark. Commenting on the difference from Silver Age comics, it was noted that these were "not as welcoming." "You need things to be clear."

Linda noted the distraction of ads for the newcomer, pointing out how confusing it would be, if - when reading a novel - a page of text advertising were occasionally inserted between story pages.

There's more - and it'd be great, if people (including pros) who are trying to increase the audience for mainstream comics would listen to what these adult "normals" have to say. "These comics need to do more work."


35th Friends of Old Time Radio Con: Day Two

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Irwin Hasen
Leonard Starr
Little did I think when Day Two began that I'd end up hanging around in the hotel bar with Irwin Hasen (creator of DC's Golden Age Wildcat and co-creator with Gus Edson of the Dondi comic strip). It was a delightful day, in short, focusing for me on the afternoon "Funnies Friday: Old Time Radio and the Comics" panel. Panel members comprised Jim Gauthier, Anthony Tollin, Leonard Starr, Irwin Hasen - and me. Hot diggity! (If you can imagine covering the entirety of the topic in an hour and a half, of course, you don't have enough information. But the scope of the discussion meant we hit several high points, and I, at least, had a great time.) Biggest theory I came away with was one posited by Anthony, and I'd never considered it before: He suggested that the idea of long-time serialized dramas [read: radio and TV soap operas and, oh, yes, vast chunks of today's entertainments] came out of comic strips, perhaps beginning with The Gumps. This needs further mulling. Which I shall do.

By the way, if you haven't been picking up the wonderful strip compilations of Starr's On Stage and Dondi, you should start now. With Volume One of each. (And thanks to Jim for helping to bring those projects to existence.)
The afternoon was topped off for me by the fact that, as Leonard and Barbara Starr prepared to leave the hotel following the panel, Irwin Hasen reluctantly decided he wasn't up to his original plan to stay until 10 or 11 p.m. So there was an early need to contact the driver who was to take him home - but the driver was at that point at JFK, so it would take a couple of hours for the driver to get to Newark. So (oh, I'm so thoughtful!) I said Irwin and I could sit in the hotel bar until the car could get to the hotel. What a delightful couple of hours! As anyone who's been lucky enough to attend any of his convention appearances knows, his conversation is packed with wit and information. It was grand. Oh, and do let me recommend another of his projects that I only had a chance to glance through before an eager fan bought it: Loverboy - recently out from J. David Spurlock's Vanguard Productions. Note, though: It's not the suitable-for-kids project that was Dondi. I don't think you'll have seen anything quite like it.

And now I've got to get ready to head to the morning rehearsals for the Blondie performance. I'm to play Cora Dithers. Guess who's going to play Dagwood. (Yes, Will Hutchins, who played the part on the TV series broadcast in 1968-1969. Hee!)


35th Friends of Old Time Radio Con: Day One

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Show organizer Jay Hickerson, performer Chuck McCann
Satellite Media's Fred Berney
 I've spent a bucket o' cash, had countless fascinating conversations, and enjoyed three performances of radio material, and it's only the first day of the Friends of Old Time Radio convention in Newark, N.J. On my schedule are the upcoming panel on comics and their associations with Old Time Radio (Friday), a re-performance of a Blondie radio show (Saturday: I'll play Cora Dithers), and a re-performance of a Superman episode (Saturday: I'll do a voice and a tiny part as Lois Lane). In the meantime, I'm hanging out with brother Paul Curtis and daughter Valerie Thompson and seeing a vast number of friends I haven't seen for a year. As with every convention, I can't begin to predict what all the fun will be. Fun "purchase" of the day is an auctioned old (pre-ZIP-Code) NBC envelope and pencil that came from the desk of Gregg Oppenheimer's dad, Jess (who, among other things, was producer and head writer of I Love Lucy). Now, come on! How could I have predicted I'd end up buying that at auction? Recording many of the events is Fred Berney of Satellite Media Production, so many of the adventures can be shared even with those who can't attend. What will tomorrow bring?


AAUW Book Sale Is Coming Oct 21-24 to Appleton, Wisconsin

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Off and on over the past several weeks I've been helping to prepare books for the annual American Association of University Women book sale in Appleton, and it's time to spread the word. (My attention was drawn to the AAUW years ago, when its book sale in Lake County, Ohio, turned out to be one of the best book sales I'd ever attended.) Basically, we get donations through the year and sort them into categories. Then, there's a last-minute push in October to move the boxes and boxes and boxes from the storage site to the sale site. Above left is a view of that sale site following preliminary table set-up. Above right is one of several photos I took last week, as the sorting reached its final stages. To give you an idea: I worked Saturday from about 11 a.m. till 5 p.m., hoping to wrap up sorting the "Mystery" tables in alphabetical order. (There had already been a lot of pre-sorting done, with - for example - three large boxes of Agatha Christie mysteries pulled into their own section.) I did not complete the job; in fact, I think I managed about half the alphabet and then time ran out. I'm sure they - and more - are sorted by now.

So. Don't miss it if you (a) buy books and (b) are near the Northland Mall in Appleton. (Enter in the Mall entrance near Shopko. Walk down the hall and up a short flight of stairs. The sale is on the left. You'll see. The schedule is as follows:
Thursday 3-8 p.m. (hardcover fiction will be $2 @, most other books will be $1 @)
Friday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. (almost everything will be $1 @)
Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (half-price day)
Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. ($5 per "armload")
A few items will be priced higher, but there will be bargains galore. Just saying.


Hey, THIS Is the Harlan Ellison Photo Source!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I've just received a phonecall that says that the photo that appears at the beginning of one of my Harlan Ellison posts is appearing on the Good Old Internet as some sort of "Harlan Ellison doing pushups before MadCon" shot. Harlan was not doing pushups, the photo is mine, and if you give three hoots in Hell about accurate reporting, you'll do me a favor if you spread the word. It is precisely and exactly as I reported it on this website. He fell to the floor as a joke to amuse Peter and Kathleen David's daughter Caroline - and, believe me, there was panic amid the several folks who were standing there but not paying attention until he fell. Just as I reported. People who are using the photo (without, by the way, asking me) and saying anything else are, well, not to be commended for their truthiness. I'd appreciate your telling them so.


MadCon 2010: Where'd the Weekend Go?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harlan Ellison, Susan Ellison, Josh Wimmer
You see, there's a conundrum for people who have websites like this. We can either be websiting or we can be out there in the wide, wide world - gathering material for websiting. Or we can be breathing heavily after being in the wide, wide world and trying desperately to remember all the things we told ourselves we'd remember to post "as soon as possible." And, yes, I have stacks of notes and photos and such regarding what I plan to post about Comic-Con International: San Diego. Which was weeks and weeks (and weeks) ago. So I'm in the hotel room munching on a McDonald's bagel with (um, let's see) egg and cheese and bacon and sucking down a Frappe - mostly because the hotel coffee bar had indicated yesterday it wouldn't be open today and (as I came back into the hotel) it is - but after I'd gone out to East Towne Mall and ended up settling for McDonald's because East Towne Mall turns out to be not even functioning until 10 a.m. on Sundays (which I didn't discover until I went there. Whiiiiiiiiine).

So. Here's a photo I'd planned to post yesterday. As he sat to sign books (with a huge line stretching down the hall), Harlan was handed print-outs of an e-mail exchange between Josh Wimmer and Buck Howdy. Who, you may ask, is Buck Howdy? Well, for the 52nd Grammy Awards, there were six nominees for Best Children's Spoken Word Album. Put on the ballot in alphabetical order, Howdy's performance came first, thanks to alphabetical order: Aaaaah! Spooky, Scary Stories & Songs. The other nominees were by Dean Pitchford; the group of Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Hillen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and others; David Hyde Pierce; Ed Asner; and Harlan. (Harlan, by the way, was reading Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There - and it's a wonderful performance, unlike any other I've heard. I would link to its spot on Amazon for you, but the one thing Amazon apparently wants to discourage people from buying is audiobooks. It has separate link departments for "Grocery" and "VHS" but not for "Audiobook." It has 1,759 options for "Through the Looking-Glass," though fewer than 300 for the full title - but I still don't have time to find it, given that such items as Alice mousepads were apparently a better match for the title than Harlan's wonderful performance. I digress.)

Buck Howdy won the Emmy is the point here. And he'd e-mailed Wimmer a note that came across as something of a "say hi to loser Harlan" message. And here's Harlan with his first look at the printout. And, in his banquet speech, Harlan waxed eloquent on the matter. And I didn't have time to post it last night. And I've got to get back to the con. So ...


Harlan Ellison's Not the Only Person at MadCon 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sophie Aldred and Peter David

John Krewson
Just saying... It suddenly occurs to me to acknowledge that there are lots of fun guests here. (In fact, an hour or so went quickly by in a bar discussion that included John Krewson of The Onion and Pat Rothfuss of The Name of the Wind and such topics as the subjunctive mood and the lacks of translation of such works as Cyrano de Bergerac and The Iliad.) Anyway, cool people are here and chatting: Gene Wolfe, Mark and Kathryn Sullivan, Sophie Aldred, Peter and Kathleen David ... and wait a minute. I've got to dress for dinner. Yikes! Outa here!


Harlan Ellison at MadCon: Friday Night

It was a late night last night. Thing is: Last major event on the schedule was a talk by Harlan - a talk that, it was thought, might be followed with a book signing. And Harlan talked. And talked. And talked. When would he move from the podium to the table outside? I didn't know. Tom Galloway didn't know. Susan didn't know. And Harlan talked. And there were roars of laughter erupting from room, and Harlan was in full-speed mode, and everyone was having a good time. And slowly, slowly, slowly the line outside the room grew, as people figured they'd better get in line for that autograph.

And we finally figured out a solution, as Harlan would clearly not be up to autographs. We handed out numbers, so that the folks in the line didn't lose their place. And all of us (including Harlan, who had to be virtually dragged offstage) staggered off to bed. And what am I doing posting this from my hotel room the following morning? Hey, good question. Signing off for the moment; banquet tonight. Cheers!


Harlan Ellison Prior to MadCon 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

What the heck? Oh, no! I knew Harlan was ill, but is this it? Harlan, having traveled halfway across the country with Susan, had arrived at the convention hotel for MadCon 2010 (there are still a few memberships available: Madison, Wisconsin - my favorite city - come join us). And now he's on the floor?

Well, see, Harlan (Who has lost an incredible amount of weight since I saw him last: Hello, bright side of illness! I'm looking on you!) was not alone at this moment. He was, in fact, surrounded by admirers, one of whom was a child whom Harlan clearly felt needed to be amused. Suddenly, he fell to the floor. People who hadn't been watching as closely as I had been (as I viewed the world through my camera) and had not been noticing the fact that he had been striving to entertain Caroline David rallied round following what they feared was a catastrophe. (Let's start the convention by watching EMTs toting Harlan to a waiting ambulance.)

But, ta daaaa! Caroline was, indeed, amused. And we all went out to dinner at Red Lobster.


More Anecdotes about Harlan Ellison. Just Saying.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wups! I forgot I'd promised to tell you about the door to Harlan's study. It's actually not much of a story, but for the record ... I come back to the results of Harlan's caring so much about ... just ... everything. His incendiary remarks sometimes set others ablaze - and one of the results is a huge target that he has, in effect, painted on himself. And one of the longest-standing, easiest ammunition sources seems to be: Hey, didja know? Harlan Ellison is not tall! Admittedly, it's not one of the most intellectual comebacks to his arguments. But, surely, the point must add weight to any other response his critics may have ...

Clearly, the snark has wounded him to the quick. Except ...

He's made a joke of it. The door to his study is a work of art, a sculpture in itself. And one of its aspects is that the lintel is something like four feet above the floor. Which means that everyone including Harlan has to stoop to enter his work area. Hee!

Oh, didn't I also promise to tell you about his early experience as a television interview subject? OK, this was fun. He'd have handled it with aplomb later in his career, but these were relatively early days. (The version of the book he was promoting shown here is a later edition; the first release was a Regency paperback in 1961.) Background: Dorothy Fuldheim was a major TV personality. She has a lengthy entry on Wikipedia, which notes that she may have been  the first woman in America to be anchor of a TV news broadcast. In any case, in 1961 she had an ongoing feature on Cleveland TV in which she interviewed guests, and it was a coup to be the subject of such an interview. She had an incredible style that merged occasionally insightful questions with being out of touch on a strange variety of topics. (I think I recall her answer to rats in the slums as being that slum homes should all have garbage disposals in their sinks. I know I recall her asking Gaylord Perry about Me and the Spitter precisely what it was that a pitcher did in baseball. "I mean is it like a tennis player serving the ball?" was roughly her elaboration - as people in the studio tried unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter.) Anyway, there was Harlan, trying to promote his book of essays - about running with a teen gang to get information for his writing career and about incarceration in the Manhattan "Tombs." Gang violence and jail: Memos from Purgatory was and is strong stuff. So here he was in the studio, facing Dorothy Fuldheim, and he began by saying that, as he'd embarked on a writing career, he'd worked a number of jobs and then decided that the topic of his first novel would be kid gangs. Fuldheim asked what jobs he'd worked. Thrown a bit off-stride, he listed a few, including driving an ice-cream truck. "Oh, did you always want to do that?" "What?" "Drive an ice-cream truck. You know, when I was a child, I always thought that driving an ice-cream truck would be such a wonderful job ..." I've seldom seen Harlan more taken aback. As I say, today, he'd easily regain control of the message to make his points. But that was a classic in the field of derailed interviews, as she continued to discuss how much fun it would be to drive an ice-cream truck and what career goals children have and so on ... And I was lucky enough to be watching the broadcast - a broadcast that never did give him time to share his messages on either kid gangs or jail.

There: an anecdote not likely to come up at this week's MadCon 2010. It doesn't look as if Harlan will be well enough to attend in person, but I bet other anedotes will be flying. I hope I'll see you there!


Harlan Ellison: Is He Truly a Luddite?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Well, no. Ah, that was easy. Oh. What? Why would anyone suggest such a thing in the first place? Well, consider: Harlan does not write his thousands and thousands and thousands of words on a computer, though he has written oodles of science fiction, speculative fiction, whatever it's called this week. (Do me a favor, though: Don't identify him simply as "a science-fiction writer," because he writes lots and lots and lots of words that are not science fiction. Just saying.) Anyway, his writing tool of choice is a portable typewriter (an Olivetti, as I recall). He can use it anywhere. He can use it even if the power goes off. He is, in fact, a major advocate of the wonders of the portable typewriter.

Consider: Harlan griped to me at one point that a hotel in which he was staying not only didn't have blotting paper in the desk in his room, but (when he called the main desk) the staff didn't even know what he was asking for. He verged on outrage at the very fact.

Consider: Harlan has expressed himself as being of the opinion that television is A Bad Thing. (I challenged him on this a few years ago, and we ended the discussion when he became virtually incandescent in rage over the failings of the medium.) I think that opinion may have something to do with his closely analyzing TV via writing so many columns about TV that he has filled two books with his illuminating commentaries. [Sample: Regarding CBS censorship of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1969, he wrote in part, "No, what that banned segment shows us, shows all of the country, was that not only are the network potentates a gaggle of cringing, petrified, spineless twerps, they are ripe patsys for extortion and blackmail. ... Look, CBS, I'm talking to you like a Dutch Uncle. You see, what's happening is that we're building a psychopathic society. Everybody lies, everybody sells out, everybody stinks of hate. We're all being driven mad as mudflys, CBS. The hatreds are running deep, core-deep. How much longer do you think we can tolerate our guardians of the public trust, dudes like you, who corrupt and bastardize that trust?"] Anyway, by the time John and Bjo Trimble took us to visit Harlan and Susan in 1976, I think most of his readers were convinced that Harlan had long since destroyed his television machine.

But, at the end of that delightful evening at Ellison Wonderland, Harlan stood politely to say that, while we were all welcome to stay to share it with him, he was not going to miss the evening's broadcast of Hill Street Blues. And we understood perfectly (though we had not yet been captivated by the show) and took our departure, cheered by the information that he had not truly abandoned the medium. (And, it should be noted, I've enjoyed other televisual entertainment with the Ellisons since.) So. No Luddite there.

But he uses a typewriter. And blotting paper. And loves at least some old radio shows - to the point at which he even helped put together a performance of a Robert A. Arthur radio script at a SPERDVAC convention because any recording of the original broadcast has long since been lost.

The thing is: Harlan doesn't forget to treasure what's best of the past while we travel in that 60-seconds-per-minute time machine that we all inhabit. So do consider joining a flock of us this coming weekend to treasure Harlan. And share anecdotes. Just saying ...



Celebrating Harlan Ellison

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Here's a photo that not even Harlan has seen of himself. I took it at a World Science Fiction Convention, either in Detroit (September 4-7, 1959) or in Pittsburgh (September 3-5, 1960); I'd thought for years that it was the former, but my current guess is the latter. In any case, I was sitting a couple of rows back at a panel in which the entertainment consisted simply of (left to right) Isaac Asimov, Randy Garrett, and Harlan exchanging banter until the panel was over. You can probably tell that the movie screen behind the panelists did not enhance the shot, and Harlan's response to my flashbulb came down to the fact that it was (especially with the screen) blinding and knock it off, already. Which I did, but, hey, otherwise there'd have been no photo of what was a delightful entertainment. Just saying.

My point? Wups, sorry. I was wallowing in memories of the days when WorldCons were small enough that folks like me (age 16 or 17, depending on which con it was) could just pull up a chair and enjoy listening to the casual wit of such folks as these three. And it was the first photo I ever took of Harlan.

Mind you, I'd met Harlan at the 1955 WorldCon in Cleveland, when I was 12. Mom (Betsy Curtis) was a science-fiction writer and had contributed to Harlan's Dimensions fanzine, and, at that convention, I hung around and eavesdropped on all the conversations - at least one of which was between Harlan and her. The last time I visited Harlan and Susan, we simultaneously realized that that meant that our friendship had been one of the longest either Harlan or I had had.

And now MadCon 2010 is gearing up for an Ellison celebration September 24-26 - and, again, people will be able to hang out and savor the wit and share anecdotes and such. Now, mind you, convention organizers are warning as follows on the home page, "due to ill health it is very likely that he will not be able to travel to Madison for MadCon. However, Harlan is determined that ... he will still be appearing at MadCon telephonically for his talks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday." There's more on the site; do check it out. But that won't keep the rest of us from sharing enough anecdotes to keep him blushing, even at long distance.

So I hope you'll join me (and such other folks as Sophie Aldred (from Doctor Who), writers Gene Wolfe, Peter David, Pat Rothfuss ... Heck with it. Check the website. (See? I didn't even mention John Krewson of The Onion.) Where was I?

Oh, yes. Celebrating Harlan. Well, the thing about Harlan that many people just don't quite get is that Harlan cares. Sounds like a book title or a charity drive - Sorry about that. But the point is that you and I may (for example) like Keebler's oyster crackers as they used to be served as accompaniment to some airline meals. But Harlan loved Keebler's oyster crackers as they used (etc.) - and he followed it up by trying the variety in stores and didn't love them as much - and he followed that up by contacting Keebler's elves. Long story short: He obtained a case of individual airline packets of Keebler's oyster crackers and slowly doled them out over the ensuing months - to his friends, as well as himself. Because he cared.

Which is more adrenaline than some folks can handle. (Pause to thank Heaven that he found another unique human being in Susan, because she's the only person on Earth who could handle living with a person who just cares so much about everything.)

But Harlan not only cares about everything, he acts on those cares. He spreads the word,just as he distributed those oyster crackers. In 1962, for example, he sent Don and Maggie Thompson an essay for their fledgling fanzine just because he cared. Sample: "But today the gross desire to capture everyone by broadening the [comics-reading customer] base so shamefully that no one gets full measure for his money has allowed such patently ludicrous creatures as Batwoman, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Aqualad, Mon-el, Bizarro, Streaky, Supergirl, Krypto (which is phonetically the Russian word for a 'fellow traveler' and thus, by the let's-not-offend-anybody policy of plotting today, highly suspect), Super-monkey and (so help me God) Super-horse." See? He even cares about comic books.

Next time (if the creek doesn't rise and flood the carrot patch) I'll tell you about the time Harlan revealed his devotion to a certain prime-time show. And about the door to his study. And ... but maybe you know all that already. Hey, folks, this coming weekend is going to be full of Harlan anecdotes. Come join us. And in the meantime, take a look at any of his stories. (Did I tell you about his singing in Kismet? Or the time he appeared on Cleveland's interview show with Dorothy Fuldheim when she derailed the discussion following his mentioning he'd once driven an ice-cream truck? Surely, you've heard about his sending a dead animal ...) Stay tuned.



The Fantastic Mister Beagle

Monday, September 6, 2010

Peter S. Beagle
Among the treats I experienced at this year's Wizard World Chicago was the unexpected meeting with one of my favorite authors, who was accompanied by someone with whom I'd lost touch years and years ago. The author was Peter S. Beagle. The lost-touch guy was Freff. I'd admired the work of both in years gone by - and the treat was discovering that both are not only still around, but also active today. Let's see ... Background ... When I was 17 or so, Don loaned me a copy of the fantasy novel A Fine and Private Place by Beagle, and it was a stunner. At Wizard World, I heard Freff introduce people to the book by reading the first two paragraphs, so:

"The baloney weighed the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door. Frantically he beat his wings to gain altitude, looking like a small black electric fan. An updraft caught him and threw him into the sky. He circled twice, to get his bearings, and began to fly north.
"Below, the shopkeeper stood with his hands on his hips, looking up at the diminishing cinder in the sky. Presently he shrugged and went back into his delicatessen. He was not without philosophy, this shopkeeper, and he knew that if a raven comes into your delicatessen and steals a whole baloney it is either an act of God or it isn't, and in either case there isn't very much you can do about it."

The raven is bringing the baloney to feed a man who has spent years hiding in the Bronx's Yorkchester Cemetery - and talking with the spirits of the recently dead. And it's a delight to reread this gem 50 years later. And, of course, meeting Beagle meant that I sort of blithered about how much I'd enjoyed it in the past and was looking forward to savoring it again - end of conversation. (I often pontificate about how to best speak with people whose work one admires. Surely, I say, you have a question if you're a fan of that work. Ask the question, I say. Except when I meet such a person in unexpected circumstances, at which point I gabble about being a fan and loving the work - to which the only response is usually, "Thank you," end of dialogue. So it has gone with Joss Whedon, Jim Dale, and so many others. And now Peter S. Beagle. Sigh.)

On the other hand, also at the table was Freff, and it was all "Let the chit-chat commence!" First, for those who have come along later, let me say that Freff may be best known in comics circles for his work with Phil Foglio on the delicious but sadly short-lived D'Arc Tangent in 1982. Given that several years have gone by, what's with Freff now? And, for that matter, what's with the name "Freff"? What sort of weird acronym is that? Well, it's not an acronym; it's actually his middle name. He's Connor Freff Cochran, and one of the things he's doing is helping people today get more of the work of Peter S. Beagle. While A Fine and Private Place is the first novel of Beagle's that I'd read, the author is probably best known for The Last Unicorn (1968) - so do note the image on Freff's T-shirt.

Among other projects (and I bought, not only the 2007 edition of A Fine and Private Place to savor it anew, but also The Unicorn Sonata [1996], The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche [1997], The Line Between [2006], and We Never Talk about My Brother [2009], not to mention the Beagle-edited The Secret History of Fantasy [2010]), Freff told me about "the 52-50 project." And I'll tell you more about that another day, if the creek don't rise and the bunny rabbits don't eat all the celery.


Stephen Reads a Book

Sunday, September 5, 2010

This is my son, Stephen. He says he will read a book. He does not say he will read a big book. But he says he will read a book. His mother is happy. "See? Stephen reads!" she will say. "Stephen reads a book!" (She knows Stephen can read. Stephen can even write. Stephen can, in fact, even edit. But now, now, now he will read a real book.) "Hot dog!" says his mother. "At last!"

I was listening, as I do every week, to the delightful National Public Radio Pop Culture Happy Hour. I think everyone who enjoys popular culture would enjoy this experience - but I confess there's extra fun for me because one of the participants is my very own son. And it's sort of like attending a party at his house without my having to travel many hours to get there. In any case, this time, he was waxing philosophical (as much as he does) over the fact that (without referring to notes) he had commented in passing on Slap Maxwell and Hooperman - and had had a discussion with friends over the most obscure details of Insane Clown Posse - but he (he said) hadn't read a book. (This could be substantiated, by the way, in an earlier NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour [that I won't link to] in which a mention of Death of a Salesman was followed by Stephen's quickly commenting, "I don't read books.")

(Let me say that he has occasionally read books in the past - just in case you wondered. But he has certainly not made a habit of it recently.) In any case, the lad now declares himself motivated to participate in "a project in which I read a book." [Show host Linda Holmes quickly suggested How to Win Friends and Influence People and added a possible vote for something by Miss Manners.] The point is that Stephen has actually taken the step of reserving for himself an e-mail address for the project: And he has, moreover, expressed hopes that the book suggested might have some relevance to popular culture so that he could discuss it on the podcast.

I should point out that his 9-year-old son has read many books, recently completing the "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan. In fact, that might be a place to start, Stephen: with a book that Jonah is reading. Wouldn't a father-son read-off be nifty? And, if Jonah still hasn't begun the "Harry Potter" series ... Well, what'd be more pop culture than that? With the forthcoming film about to whip Daniel Radcliffe fans into a frenzy? Think of Happy Hours filled with references to Muggles and Snape and Quidditch and He Who Must Be Obeyed ... Wups! Nope! Sorry! I blended my pop cultures there. But think about it, Stephen. Just saying ...


Wizard World Chicago 2010: Day Three Comics Folks

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Michael Golden
Geof Darrow

I'm getting grumpy about this website's inability to give me the power of providing lotsa photos in one big mass titled "Here Are Lots of Photos." Because I'm loving my new camera (Canon Rebel T2i) which, even with its customary 18-55mm lens, is letting me take almost all photos with available light. I'm guessing its "Image Stabilizer" software hasn't hurt my photos, either. (Translation: If there's blurring, it's not because I'm not holding the camera steady - which is not to say that I'm actually holding the camera steady.) Anyway, here are three more photos.
Bill Sienkiewicz


Wizard World Chicago: Day Three Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award

Jim McLauchlin
Talking with Jim McLauchlin at The Hero Initiative booth (apologies for the picture; memo to self: take a better photo of Jim), I learned that the organization devoted to helping comics professionals in difficulty has instituted an award in the name of Dick Giordano.
The Dick Giordano Humanitarian of the Year Award will make its debut at the Harvey Awards Banquet at the Baltimore Comicon Aug. 28-29. Giordano worked in the industry for decades not only as a famed editor and artist but also in support of his fellow professionals. He served on the board of directors of The Hero Initiative until his death earlier this year. "In honor of Dick," the organization has announced, "The Dick Giordano Humanitarian of the Year Award will recognize one person in comics each year who has demonstrated the generosity and integrity Dick brought to the charity, and comic-book community at large." The award has been crafted by Tommy Allison of Mad Robot Studios. Giordano's longtime friend, co-worker, and executor of his estate Pat Bastienne said, "So many people have referred to Dick as 'The Great Gentleman of Comics,' and I'm sure he'd love to see his name and legacy carried on, especially in such a wonderful way that honors others who have shown kindness and generosity. If Dick were here, he'd raise a Rob Roy and toast the idea."


Wizard World Chicago: Day Three Oh, My Gosh, the Crowds

The morning started with a chat with Wizard's Gareb Shamus, as we both surveyed the line of Saturday-only attendees waiting to get in to buy their ticket to join the fun. The line (which had already begun to filter in through the convention center doors) was moving fast but still stretched further than I think I'd ever seen it at a Chicago comic-con. (The view above doesn't begin to capture it; this is a chunk of the portion that hadn't yet reached the covered entry area, which probably had a hundred or more closer to the door and a couple hundred more stretched along the building behind these folks - and there were still people approaching the building who hadn't yet joined the line.) Gareb mentioned the outreach into the community and commented that I'd be surprised how many in the crowd were first-time attendees.

So I approached a chunk of the line at random and asked each of about 50 people in turn, "Is this your first Chicago Comic-Con?" Slightly more than half said it was. There were many families coming as groups, often with toddlers in strollers, looking forward to the adventure. When I entered the hall, I was stunned to find the first booths in the hall jammed with people - and, as noted, most of the Saturday crowd hadn't yet entered the lobby to purchase their tickets. Here's a shot taken much later in the day from a vantage point overseeing a portion of the hall floor. Whuf!


Wizard World Chicago 2010: Day Two You Can Get Sketches

Mont Blanc
Mike and the buyer
And "sketches" may not be the right word. Mike Grell, for example, was working on an elaborate "sketch" at the Hero Initiative booth - and even someone (like me) who wasn't paying for the art could watch a pro at work. This was a lovely pencil drawing, and we got into such discussions as pencil-art technique (including using graphite shavings to tone the art and kneaded erasers to highlight it) - and he even showed off his fanciest pencil: a Mont Blanc $300 automatic he'd bought at O'Hare. The primary pencil he was using was a Eberhard Faber "shaker": "I don't have to moderate my grip." When I told him I'd quote him on that, he responded quickly, "OK, Eberhard Faber: Send me a case!" Just saying.


Wizard World Chicago 2010: Day Two: OK, More Photos

Sandra Taylor
Walter Koenig
Wrapping up the display of media celebrities, I should note that these were all just taken in passing as I walked through the aisles. I didn't wait in line, talk to the performers, or otherwise interact. You can do that. Just bring a camera and wait for opportunities. (And when, Maggie, will you get around to the comic book coverage? Well, not soon. I just realized I should be heading for the convention floor - in the conflict so intrinsic to convention coverage. I can be there taking photos and getting information to post - or I could be posting to this site. Gee.)


Wizard World Chicago 2010: Day Two Argh Only Three Photos Per Post?

Richard Roundtree
Richard Anderson
Michael Hogan
Well, I knew this website doesn't like me to use a lot of photos, but I didn't know that more than three small photos would overwhelm the post to the point at which it'd overrun text, insert symbols, etc. Man. (I guess I can't blame it for misspelling "Celebrities" in the first posting. Dang.) Let's see if I can post three this time. Oh, and you'll notice that some of the nice folks will even let you have your photograph taken with them. Just saying. Doesn't your Facebook page mean you should head for the nearest performer you've always admired?


Wizard World Chicago 2010: Day Two Where Are Media Celebrities?

Brent Spiner
Lindsay Wagner
Well, they're here. And you can see them and talk to them and get their autographs and - wow, isn't this great? A problem with this website is my general inability to post the number of photos the way I want to organize them, but let's see what happens if I just put a bunch of photos here. Note: If all you want to do is breathe the same air or be in the same room with such folks, there's no problem. And, if you've always enjoyed their work, you can say thanks by helping fund their visit: Pay for an autographed photo. Oh, and my ongoing tip for meeting a celebrity whose work you like: If you're a fan, you probably have a question you've always wondered about that work. This is your chance to ask that question. Worst-case scenario: The celebrity won't answer. Best-case scenario: You'll get information.
Malachi Throne


  © Blogger template The Professional Template II by 2009

Back to TOP