Tag Archives: Geeks

Review: ‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

Creating a biographical work in comics is a very distinct venture. It requires a fine agility as you’re balancing a myriad of facts, more than you will be able to neatly fit into one graphic novel. Any number of factors can add to the complexity, such as the writer figuring what to use if he has personally conducted interviews. David Kushner was one of the last journalists to interview D&D co-creator Gary Gygax prior to his death. He has now teamed up with award-winning illustrator Koren Shadmi on a nonfiction comic book chronicling Gary Gygax’s life and the creation of D&D: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, recently published by Nation Books. It is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind, and well worth a read.

Dave Arneson, a true dreamer.

Kushner and Shadmi do a wonderful job of laying down a behind-the-scenes narrative to Dungeons & Dragons, a pop culture phenomena that we all know to some degree. You may have never seen yourself as a role-playing game enthusiast, but you can’t help but get caught up in the details and history of a bona fide subculture. This book succeeds in putting a face to what has become known the world over as Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are two prominent faces involved here: Gary Gygax, the original guy to tinker with new ideas for role-playing games (instead of always military themes, why not include wizards?); and Dave Arneson, the guy next in line who refined what Gygax set in motion (don’t get lost in the rules and keep it fun!). Gygax was a middle-aged man with a family and Arneson was a young security guard working his way through college.

For the love of the game.

The best moments in the book are once we get to observe Gygax and Arneson just being themselves, warts and all. Gygax turns out to be more motivated towards turning his innovations into a profitable business. Arneson is far more the dreamer, only interested in refining the game. Arneson is so caught up in his own D&D world that he is left out of the burgeoning D&D business venture by Gygax and his associates.

“One day, you catch a break that will change your life.”

Kushner’s script places the story in various first-person points of views. At times, the narrative boxes are quoting Gygax or Arneson or simply become omniscient. While this narrative shift can be disconcerting at times, it’s understandable given the many segments to cover. You have a broad canvas to fill with this person saying this and that other person doing that. And, given the interview source material, there are times that you want to do a flashback scene and other times that you want the person to speak in the present moment. Overall, Kushner and Shadmi do a commendable job of bringing this tale to life. One thing is for sure, you will never look at Dungeons & Dragons the same way again.

RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, published by Nation Books, is a 144-page black & white trade paperback. For more details, visit Nation Books. You can also purchase the book directly from Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Games, Geeks, Journalism, Koren Shadmi

Interview: Mike Capozzola and ‘Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!’

Mike Capozzola and “Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters!”

Mike Capozzola is a unique hybrid, a cartoonist and a stand-up comedian. He’s a professional in both for over 20 years. In fact, the two passions are inextricably linked. I enjoyed his set this last Saturday at Seattle’s Comedy Underground. Mike is based out of San Francisco and maintains a busy schedule so it was a real treat to get to catch his act while he was in town. I asked him about his process, specifically about a bit where he describes weird yet appealing movie scenarios, ending each description with, “Yeah, I’d see that.” I came to find out that this movie routine originated as a drawn-out cartoon. The concept as a cartoon did not seem to work. But, when he performed the material on stage, Mike found what he was looking for.

Mike kicked off his first night at Comedy Underground with his ongoing pop culture extravaganza, Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters. This is a multimedia show featuring all the things that us geeks enjoy: sci-fi, superheroes, and monsters. As Mike said during our talk, geek culture is everywhere today but it was a hard-won identity for kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. It wasn’t so cool to be a geek back then. That said, we can all freely celebrate being a geek now, like we kids from yesteryear could only dream of.

Mike Capozzola at the Comedy Underground in Seattle

The last time I had one of these free-for-all chats with Mike, I offered up the topic of leaf blowers. He had no problem with them. I took the opposing view. Sure, it’s an honest job but, to my mind, the art of leaf blowing can be overdone. I contend that rakes make for a sensible and quiet alternative for much of these tasks. Anyway, I tried a different tack this time and brought to the table the intrinsic character of Seattle. Given that it’s my hometown, I felt it fair for me to say that there’s some truth to stereotypes regarding a certain coolness and reserve to the natives. Capozzola, based upon is observations, took the opposing view.

Is Seattle Sweet, Bitter, or Just Right? That’s what I’d call our lighthearted search for Seattle’s soul. Overall, I think that my friend here was picking up some strong frontier vibes. And I can’t deny him that joy. Seattle does offer the comforts of urban living in close proximity to an abundance of natural wonder. Mike wanted to take the more sunny view of things too. And it was challenging for me to pursue my case that Seattle is too prim and proper while we were chatting outside in Pioneer Square, hands down the rowdiest part of town. Ongoing hijinks near us just played into Mike’s hands.

We had time to dissect a few other things too, namely Trump. Mike had this to say: “The day after the election, so many people felt defeated. Many thought they could turn to art. For comedians, this meant war. I remember Trump for the last thirty years as being treated as a punchline by the tri-state area media. To see it come to this is wild. It’s like the local screw-up, or Ronald McDonald, or a sled has suddenly become president. He’s given voice to a fringe element in the same way that you’d unlock a mystical box and unleash an ancient curse.” That, my friends, says it all. We chatted about how those of us in the Gen X demographic feel unfairly sandwiched between the mighty Baby Boomers and the Millennials. We were misfits to begin with so it figures. And we decried the overall lowering or lack of standards we live with today. Maybe America deserves a pro wrestler or Mark Wahlberg as their next president.

Contact Mike Capozzola with any questions, such as doing commissioned work or presenting his Evil Cyborg Sea Monsters show, at his website right here.

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Filed under Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Underground, Comics, Donald Trump, Geeks, Mike Capozzola, Monsters, pop culture, Seattle, Stand-up Comedy, Superheroes

Review: TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY by Box Brown

"Tetris: The Games People Play" by Box Brown

“Tetris: The Games People Play” by Box Brown

Box Brown is a cartoonist that I really admire for being able to take a subject he’s passionate about and distill it to its essentials into a comics format. His previous graphic novel was on the all-time great pro wrestler, Andre the Giant. You can read my review here. Brown’s latest book is all about the all-time classic video game, Tetris. Published by First Second Books, “Tetris: The Games People Play,” is a testimony to Brown’s determination to collect all the pieces to a story and create a greater whole.

Page excerpt from TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

Page excerpt from TETRIS: THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

You most likely know the game even if you don’t normally keep up with games. It’s right up there with such legends as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. It’s a game with a simple charm and an uncanny allure with origins dating back to antiquity. You can learn more about it and play it for free at the official Tetris site right here. Essentially, the goal of the game is to arrange little blocks as they fall down your screen in the most efficient way possible. There’s a Zen vibe there in its relative simplicity. Ironically, the innocent little game of Tetris became entangled in a complex legal fight that found the game industry giants, Atari and Nintendo, locking horns.

Tetris was originally created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov. Brown faithfully follows the creator’s journey and all related Tetris canon. Now, what you probably do not know is that there is a lot of intrigue behind what happened to this game on its way to becoming a classic. When Pajitnov created the game, it was the result of his passion for games without any other plans beyond that. As a citizen of the Soviet Union, his only plan was simply to be a good computer programmer for the government. Brown runs with the story once a profit motive is triggered.

Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov

Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov

And so our story gains numerous twists and turns as a cat and mouse game is played out. It is at this point that all the machinations can get a bit overwhelming. Brown handles all these moving parts well. He keeps to a basically lean and clean grid of panels that helps to steady the eye. And, at various intervals, he will devote a page to a portrait of the next key player in the drama. It is a modest little portrait set off by a black background. It amounts to a perfect pause, a great way to catch one’s breath.

Brown seems to hold back a bit more with his artwork than he did in his last book. He has a rather pared-down style to begin with. For this book, I think he opted to simplify as much as possible for the sake of clarity given all the details involved. Some work in comics is mostly to digest information. Other work is mostly to admire the artwork. And so on. Brown strikes a nice balance of conveying information with a certain zeal and style all his own. Once you start this book, you’ll want to keep with it and get the whole Tetris story.

“Tetris: The Games People Play” is a 256-page duo-tone paperback, published by First Second Books. For more information and how to purchase, go right here.

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Filed under Box Brown, Comics, First Second, Games, Geek Culture, Geeks, Technology, Video Games

Interview: Kerry O’Quinn and the World of Fandom

Kerry O'Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Kerry O’Quinn and Friends. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Kerry O’Quinn is the co-creator and publisher of STARLOG, FANGORIA, CINEMAGIC, FUTURE LIFE, COMICS SCENE and more than a dozen other monthly newsstand magazines. Mr. O’Quinn is featured in an upcoming documentary on fandom, FROM THE BRIDGE, written and directed by Spencer F. Lee and hosted by George Takei. It was my pleasure to get a chance to interview Kerry. Here is someone who tapped into the world of fandom as if he were born to do so. O’Quinn and his partner Norman Jacobs got their start by creating and publishing a soap opera magazine in 1972. By 1976, they were ready to pursue publications aligned with their passions for genre cinema, television, and related pop culture.

Kerry O'Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG  and  FANGORIA

Kerry O’Quinn, co-creator and publisher of STARLOG and FANGORIA

Starlog and Fangoria are the flagship publications from that golden era. Starlog was launched in 1976. Fangoria was launched in 1979 and continues in its great tradition of covering the horror scene. These are the prime publications, along with Cinemagic, that would go on to influence thousands of creative people including many of the most celebrated talents working today like J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. Before the internet, you got your in depth information on the entertainment industry from magazines. One cannot stress enough how significant Starlog and Fangoria were in their heyday.

Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979

Fangoria, Issue One, August 1979

Kerry O’Quinn would go on to celebrate the worlds of science fiction, horror, comic books, and fandom in various ways. Some of the most notable are his conventions that paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of Star Wars, the 20th anniversary of Star Trek, and the 20th anniversary of Starlog. It was during the 10th anniversary celebration of Star Wars that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas would share a stage for the first and only time together. How was such a marvelous feat accomplished? Well, Kerry O’Quinn was friends with both of these legends. It was Kerry O’Quinn who landed an exclusive in depth interview with George Lucas that was so comprehensive that it spanned three issues of Starlog.

Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars

Gene Roddenberry meets George Lucas, 1987, the 10th anniversary of Star Wars

Over the years, Kerry O’Quinn has proven himself to be a man of many talents consistently exploring and creating new work. He has become an accomplished screenwriter with a number of projects including “Dragworms,” his unique take on zombies which is actually more character-driven than just blood and guts. What strikes me about Kerry O’Quinn is his energy and determination to pursue his dreams. I can relate to him on many levels. We’re both from Texas. We both love New York. We both juggle a number of passions: writing, drawing, acting, filmmaking. I think some people are just wired to need to do many things and will find ways to realize each goal over the course of a lifetime. That’s what is special about Kerry O’Quinn. That said, he’d be the first to say it is well within reach for everyone to follow their dreams. For more details on his remarkable life and his observations, check out his website here.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Kerry, I want to chat with you about fandom, and the upcoming documentary that you are featured in, “From the Bridge,” and cover as much as we can about your remarkable career. I want to begin by giving a shout out to your friend, Kurt Edward Larson. He conducted such a beautiful and heartfelt interview with you.

KERRY O’QUINN: Kurt and I have known each other for a long time and have a lot of fun things in common. Kurt is such a Star Wars fan–and, when he got married several years ago, I wondered about what to get him–a toaster? a blender? No, what he would want was a day at Skywalker Ranch. I arranged that. He and his wife had lunch there and got a tour of the ranch. So, he was in heaven!

I was talking to a buddy of mine about doing this interview and we got to speculating over the long lines for Star Wars on the very first day of release. We were just kids when it came out. I started to think about how Jaws had attracted long lines too a couple of years prior. From your special vantage point, Starlog was already on the scene having come out in 1976, would you share with us your take on the explosion of excitement over Star Wars in 1977?

It was phenomenal timing. My partner, Norm Jacobs, and I had launched Starlog magazine in 1976, the Bicentennial year. At that time, there was no science fiction that was alive and happening. It was all stuff from the past that was being consumed. You know, stuff from the 1950s, the movies made by George Pal. Those movies were popular with nerds like me. But they weren’t going to win any Academy Awards or get any mainstream cheers of any kind. It was considered trash, like daytime soap operas. Horror movies, stuff like that, was not taken seriously.

Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977

Starlog, Issue Seven, August 1977

When we started the magazine, there wasn’t anything like it like there is today. And we had great difficulty starting the magazine for that reason. But, lo and behold, the very next year Star Wars came out. All of a sudden, it made the cover of Time magazine, with exactly the same X-wing cover that we had for Starlog. So, suddenly science fiction was at least getting noticed by a mainstream audience all over the world. It has gone on to become an important part of the culture in the same way that Star Trek has. And in the same way that horror and superheroes have. It’s very trendy today to be a nerd. It wasn’t 40 years ago.

I remember when I first met George Lucas. He was telling me about having lunch one day at Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Boulevard. And it was right across the street from Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He said that he looked across and he saw lines of people. He asked what was going on. And a friend told him that it was his movie that was playing. It didn’t occur to George that huge lines were gathering along the sidewalk for his movie. He was delightfully surprised by the enormous fan reaction to his movie as all the rest of us were.

It was when Star Wars lit up the sky like it did that Starlog went from a quarterly to a monthly magazine. Indeed, we were already there. Starlog was the voice of science fiction. And George launched the science fiction that is very much alive and booming today.

That scene with the long lines, that’s in your interview with George Lucas.

For our Star Wars fifth anniversary issue, I had called to arrange an interview with George Lucas. He had turned down all the big magazines. I was told that he wasn’t doing any interviews but I begged and pleaded. George agreed. I flew out from New York to visit him. This was before he had build Skywalker Ranch. I did an lengthy interview with him in which he told me all kinds of wonderful tales. We were very comfortable talking with each other. We had many of the same values and things that excited us. We talked about everything from space to technology to classic cars. We talked for hours at that first interview. In fact, it turned out to be too much for one issue so I turned into three consecutive parts spanning three issues of Starlog. I believe it is the longest interview anyone has ever done with George Lucas.

Starlog, Issue One, August 1976

Starlog, Issue One, August 1976

Share with us your insights on how Star Trek became a phenomena, after having struggled in the ratings when it was originally broadcast.

It did indeed struggle. In fact, after the first two years, NBC had cancelled the series. And an amazing lady by the name of Bjo Trimble and her husband, John, did something that, at the time, was phenomenal. This was back in the mid-’60s. They organized a letter writing campaign to NBC by fans that generated more than a million letters. A TV network had never received that kind of reaction to the cancellation of a show–and they were stunned by it. Don’t forget that this is before the internet. Fans contacted each other back then with mimeographed newsletters mailed to each other. And then, ten years after the first broadcast of Star Trek, there was Starlog maganzine and fans could communicate with each other through our letters forum–as well as at conventions.

Bjo had gotten a television network to renew a cancelled series. That had never happened before. What Bjo did was allow for a third season of Star Trek. However, NBC scheduled it on Friday nights, which is a dead zone for shows. So, NBC cancelled it for the second time. Everybody seemed to think science fiction was dead. But it was very much alive within this hidden fan culture. And the documentary that my friend, Spencer, is putting together covers how this fan base has grown in the last 40 years. It went from this invisible, almost ashamed, audience to what it has become today when you have 150,000 people show up at Comic-Con in San Diego each year in July. And the biggest movies today are superhero, science fiction, and horror, everything that our magazines were all about.

Star Trek is right at the root of that response, at the heart of it. Gene Roddenberry created a concept of the future that was positive and inspiring: rationality, science, and the better values of human nature would prevail. Star Trek not only inspired the original audience that tuned in for its three-year run. In syndication, Star Trek reached around the world with its universal concept that the human race can be better. Gene deserves everybody’s praise as Star Trek is one of the most inspiring things to be created in any genre. Sometimes science fiction warns us of things that we need to be careful about. And sometimes science fiction shows us that things are within our control, we can make it better, and gives us hope for the future.

I’m thinking of how Star Trek was ahead of its time and so it made sense that it would struggle in the ratings. The same is true for The Twilight Zone. Both of these shows have a lot in common. The primary thing is that they both have subtext. There was social commentary in the guise of fantasy and science fiction, very much ahead of its time–now, we take that for granted, don’t we?

We do but we still need it since we don’t have a lot of it. Even with the science fiction that we have today, with all the dazzling special effects that we didn’t have back in the ’60s. Visually, science fiction today is dazzling, uncontrollable, and amazing. Back then, the effects were kind of clunky, rubber monsters and the like, but nobody cared because–and this is certainly true about The Twilight Zone–the story talked about the issues, important values, and principles.

Science fiction does not show us the day-to-day reality but something that may exist in the future, something that could and that ought to exist. That is the noblest undertaking of art and science fiction is the best at doing that. Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry are hugely important and we featured them in the early issues of Starlog. At that time, there wasn’t any science fiction, like we know today, so for the first few years most of the content in Starlog was looking at things from the past in terms of movies and television.

Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983

Cinemagic, Issue 20, June 1983

You were commenting on the past but then, at some point, you were not only commenting but you were part of the industry. There’s the whole how-to aspect from Cinemagic. There was quite the evolution as you became part of the scene.

Exactly. When we began Starlog, we included everything even those things that were very loosely considered science fiction. And that included horror, and articles on special effects, and Hollywood technology workshops, all the way to NASA and the space program. As we evolved, we discovered that we had many different audiences reading our magazine. Some of these people wanted to be filmmakers. They wanted to make these movies that they loved. Therefore, we branched off and created the magazine, Cinemagic which taught young filmmakers the techniques of production and special effects. We had a short film contest each year. We gave out prizes and trophies at a big theater in New York with celebrities to present awards. Some of these award winners are working in Hollywood today.

A lot of folks, like J.J. Abrams and Robert Rodriguez were inspired by Cinemagic. Steven Spielberg, at one time, said that Cinemagic was his favorite magazine, the only magazine promoting the future of the film industry to young people who were unsure if they could recreate the amazing things that they adored on the screen.

Director/Writer Wes Craven, from "Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors" (1986)

Director/Writer Wes Craven, from “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986)

I was curious about the overlap between Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. There does not seem to have been a rivalry between you and Forry Ackerman. Famous Monsters began in 1958. Fangoria began in 1979. You have Forrest J Ackerman, the founder and editor of Famous Monsters, in your film, “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors,” which I must say is an outstanding documentary on fandom in its own right.

Thank you.

What can you tell us about Forrest J Ackerman? What did you learn from him?

He was obviously the precursor to all of our magazines. He did something very daring in his day: to do a magazine about monsters! What kind of freaks are interested in something like that? Well, it turned out that there was quite a few. Again, these people were all in the closet, so to speak. They bought the magazine but they didn’t have any social status whatsoever. They were outcasts. They were unusual. That was me. That was a lot of people. Our magazine brought people out of the closet. I met Forry many years ago, at a convention, and immediately we had a lot in common. We became friends and we remained friends, it makes me sad to talk about it…I was with him just a few days before he died. He was still in good spirits and still telling me jokes.

From "Fangoria's Weekend  of Horrors" (1986) segment with Forrest J. Ackerman

From “Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors” (1986) segment with Forrest J Ackerman

Forry was such an important person in my world and he became a very dear friend. I actually went over to his old home out here in L.A. years ago, which was called the Ackermansion. And it was a museum of props and artwork and all kinds of things that he collected from these strange movies that no one gave enough credit to but that he knew that it was an important part of the culture that should be saved and preserved. And there still is no permanent museum for that sort of thing. And I’m hoping that, in the near future, there will finally be a museum that recognizes and preserves science fiction, horror, superheroes, fantasy, all of the films that are now way out of the closet–and a part of mainstream culture, not just in the U.S. but world-wide.

Kerry, there are so many things we can talk about. Ayn Rand. Cannabis. More about Star Wars. There’s your book on how to chase stars, chase your dreams.

Yes, “Reach For The Stars.” It’s a book that has a lot of practical advice on how to make your distant dreams come true.

I also have to touch on your project with HBO which may still find its way back to them. It’s a Twilight Zone type of show called, “Future Tales.” Boy, that would be some show!

I agree, it would be. And it’s still a good idea. I haven’t been able to sell it to the Syfy channel even though that ought to be just the sort of show they would be interested in. I enlisted 45 of the world’s greatest science fiction writers (including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison), we signed agreements, that they would create a story or that we could use an existing story as the basis for one of our episodes. It was an anthology series all about the world of tomorrow. When HBO had me develop it, we were calling it “Future Tales.” Now, I’m calling it, “Exploring Tomorrow.”

I love that.

Me too. Who isn’t interested in tomorrow?

Exactly! You know, Kerry, I’m over the moon. We share so many connections. I’m a cartoonist.

Oh, really?

Yes, and I love New York.

Oh, yeah.

And I can see your early interest in cartooning probably having to do with being able to control the whole production and allowing your vision to run free.

That also carried over into animation. In New York, years ago, I was so impressed with Disney and his multiplane animation that created three-dimensional pictures. I got a bunch of plumbing pipes and I built my own multiplane animation stand in my apartment in New York. At the time, my dream was to create a little film that was so damn good that I’d send it out to Disney and he’d have me come out to work for him. That was my dream: to work for Walt Disney! Now, it never did happen and I clearly changed my mind since then but I did produce a few short films on that animation stand. I still love animation, and illustration–that was my original career. I’ve done so many things since then that I have a resume that looks like I’m schizophrenic.

Well, I wish you and Spencer the very best with “From the Bridge.” I’m excited about it and I’m sure it will find a wide audience.

It’s going to be very popular with the fan community–because it’s all about them. And the power that they have grown to hold in the last few decades.

I interviewed George Clayton Johnson a number of times–a science fiction writer and big supporter of fans–and he always brought up people power. In the end, it is the fans who matter the most.

Absolutely. I’m going to do a panel at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo (newly renamed Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) here in L.A. next month with Bjo and John Trimble and my friend, Tom DeSanto, who produced X-Men and Transformers, and we’re going to talk about fandom. That’s what it’s all about.

Well, very beautiful. Thank you so much, Kerry.

You’re very welcome, Henry. I always enjoy talking about what I enjoy most of all.

Here is the podcast interview to listen to. Just click below and enjoy:

Check in with Kerry O’Quinn at his website here. If you are in Los Angeles on October 28-30, come see Kerry and enjoy some pop culture fun at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con. You can find details on that right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Comics, Fandom, Forrest J Ackerman, Geeks, Horror, Kerry O'Quinn, movies, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Trek, Star Wars, Starlog

Interview: Spencer F. Lee and FROM THE BRIDGE

Spencer F. Lee, Stan Lee, and Kerry O'Quinn

Spencer F. Lee, Stan Lee, and Kerry O’Quinn

“I started writing when I was eleven. I didn’t start writing at age eleven because I thought I was going to become a movie director. I did it because I enjoyed it. I fed off the movies I was watching and the comic books I was reading.”

–Spencer F. Lee, writer/director of FROM THE BRIDGE

FROM THE BRIDGE is a documentary that looks at the career of Kerry O’Quinn, one of the leading figures in fandom, and explores in depth the rich and exciting world of science fiction, comic books, and horror–and the fans who love it. At this point, those fans include a vast number. But it wasn’t always that evident. With this new documentary, due out in 2017, writer/director Spencer F. Lee shares with you his childhood passion that has blossomed into a deep understanding of some of today’s leading forms of entertainment.

FROM THE BRIDGE, directed and written by Spencer F. Lee, executive producers George Noe and Spencer F. Lee, produced by Philip Nelson, and hosted on-screen by George Takei, is a feature film documentary that tells the story of how fans worldwide have “come out of geekdom’s closet” in the last 40 years, largely nurtured and encouraged by Kerry O’Quinn. Having the opportunity to interview both Spencer F. Lee as well as Kerry O’Quinn, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for what this film will mean to an audience. The film features interviews with Stan Lee, Bryan Singer, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Nichelle Nichols, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Fuller, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more.

The full podcast interview with Spencer F. Lee is right below. Just click the link:

Up next is my interview with Kerry O’Quinn, co-founder of such landmark magazines as Starlog and Fangoria.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, Fandom, Fangoria, Geek Culture, Geeks, Horror, Kerry O'Quinn, pop culture, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Spencer F. Lee, Star Trek, Star Wars, Starlog

Interview: Jennifer Daydreamer: Comics and Beyond

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer

Jennifer Daydreamer has been published by Top Shelf Productions and regularly contributed illustrations to the Seattle alt-weekly, The Stranger, in the late ’90s. In the course of a creative life, Daydreamer has seen her path take an interesting trajectory. I share with you now a conversation with artist and writer Jennifer Daydreamer on her new project, “Mack Stuckey’s Guide to the Center of the Universe.” A Kickstarter campaign in support of a print run to the book is going on now thru August 28th. You can find it right here. She is the author. Full disclosure, I’m the illustrator for the book, and I contributed to the story. And she’s my partner.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Let’s begin, Jen. We can jump in to the very beginning of the Mack Stuckey project.

JENNIFER DAYDREAMER: You certainly did contribute to the prose. There are details in Mack, plot points, character names and so forth, that you came up with. We are both illustrators but you were the instant choice of illustrator. Although I can draw fast, I don’t normally paint in quick thick brush strokes, the kind you do, and so I was excited about a real artistic collaboration with you. Probably our first. I think after you’ve been blogging for ten years, this has been the first time you have interviewed me. So, thanks!

What was the impetus to writing Mack Stuckey?

Well, before 2008, I could score a job pretty easily. I’m a creative type but I have a detailed part of my brain that does well with accounting. I actually enjoy accounting because I find it meditative and so for most of my career I have been able to do accounting work for my jobs. I was in a series of job layoffs. One, the company went out of business, the next, the company transferred my position out of state, another one I was a new hire and when they do layoffs, the new hires usually get cut first. In a nutshell, the book is about the economy and expressing my frustration about it, in a creative way. I just don’t want to spend my time venting at this point. I have expressed my employment dilemmas to my friends over the years. At this point, I’d rather be joking.

Illustration for "Mack Stuckey" by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration for “Mack Stuckey” by Henry Chamberlain

Jennifer Daydreamer quote

Where does it take place?

It takes place in Seattle. Poor Seattle. The inspiration to write the book is my need to express myself in regards to the economy and state of housing and living in our city with a disappearing middle class. The story takes place in 2014, by the way, and so, any uptick of the economy happening today, I hope is really happening. I digress. Seattle happens to be the fall guy, the theatrical back drop of the story and so, we make fun of Seattle. Specifically, Fremont. We venture into Ballard, Downtown, and the U District.

How so?

For one thing, I create a feud between Ballard and Fremont, either real or imagined. I examine the tension that I think exists between the two locales because when you want to buy something practical in Fremont, like pens and a pad of paper there is only one or two small places to go. There are no standard drug stores allowed in Fremont (I think from building codes) so you have to take your car or the bus or your bike and dip into Ballard for practical needs.

What else is the book about?

Well, we describe the book succinctly on our Kickstarter page! Basically, I created a love triangle between a woman and two men, representing the upper, middle, and lower classes. I don’t come right out and say that in the book, because that would be too explicit, but that is one of the themes. I think there is something for everyone in the book, if you like humor, a sexy romance, or interest in the local icons. I try my hand at what I call comedic erotica.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to in the last few years.

After drawing comics, I was inspired to write a screenplay because that imprint, what was it called?

Minx.

Yes, Minx, from DC Comics, asked me for some ideas. They cancelled the imprint. One of my ideas was for a dystopian novel about the separation between a guy and a girl and killing in the army, that someday I should write. They really did not like it, too macabre, and then Hunger Games comes out later. I remember believing them at the time that the story pitch is not good, so its a reminder to believe in myself. I wrote the screenplay for the humor submission that they did like. Then Minx was cancelled. I never had a contract, just a “that’s funny, I like that one.” So, I spent about a year studying how to write a screenplay and it took me about 1.8 to finish it, because it was my first screenplay.

Where did that leave you?

With one foot halfway in the door! It left me with one manager who switched companies and his job position and so he could not represent it. Then I found an agent who read it, she is known in the industry and so I felt lucky. She was encouraging. She said I needed edits and she gave me her manager contact and said to try and do edits with him and then resubmit it to her. But her manager nixed it. By the way, I respected how he communicated with me, as he got to it, read the script promptly and let me know his opinion. Everyone I submitted it to over a year’s time or so, was very nice, frankly. I know there is crap that happens in Hollywood, but, somehow, I felt encouraged by people in the business I was in contact with. Most did not have room or time to read it and some commented that my pitch was great and so to keep at it. So, I got my foot in the Hollywood door about an eigth of the way. A toe.

Interesting visual, one toe clinging to a door. But, seriously, it put you in an interesting situation. You were in the thick of transitioning from comics, moving beyond comics.

It was fun to try. I felt a cartoonist could get a foot in the door because comic book movies were taking off. I had an agent/lawyer to make some pathway, also, when I submitted, so I was not completely unprofessional and just cold called everyone. I think the writing contributed to writing Mack – the more you create the better you get. Mack has taken 2.5 years to write and I still have some details I want to round it out with. Its basically done. Besides those projects, I have spent a lot of time writing and sketching out a four book Young Adult Fantasy Series which I am eager to launch on social media. For this YA series, I really think a book agent, editor or editors and publishing company is necessary. You need help to keep detail accurate when you are world building.

After Mack, I have one very odd book, I have to get off my chest, then I will launch my YA series. I have spent a year on it. Its not complicated like writing a story but I am scared of publishing it, and so, I have to publish it. I’m scared as I have to dip into some religious and societal explanations. I had an out of body experience or an altered state from drawing my mini comics long ago and it was not until recently when I studied Jung in detail and some Jungian psychologists that I realized there is a biological explanation or a science explanation for it.

Lots of room to dig deeper.

Usually the explanation in our society, is something spiritual or “occult” and so I am eager to lay out my idea to disprove the occult notions, that there may be a more reasonable or logic based explanation. I have not completely ruled out a spiritual component. I think there is a spiritual component, I understand the shamanic explanation for something like that, but I think there is a middle ground, because the explanations from psychologists are so clear and sound. There’s compelling commentary by Oliver Sacks on YouTube (13.45). Maybe you can link the video for our cartoonist friends because it’s interesting if you draw comics.

Yes, consider it done. It will run right below these comments.

Great!

What Oliver Sacks has to say I am relating to my experience in the book. I think the brain is activated because of the archetypal nature of comics. What archetypal nature is, should be explained more but there is not room in this intervew to go into that kind of detail.

“There is another part of the brain which is especially activated when one sees cartoons. It’s activated when one recognizes cartoons when one draws cartoons and when one hallucinates them. It’s very interesting that that should be (so) specific.”

–Oliver Sacks

Are you still drawing comics? Where would you say you are today in relation to comics?

I love comics. I am following my heart and my heart wants my YA series to be prose – just words – and my illustrations. And so, no, its not comics. I would like to draw comics and be in anthologies, but there is no time at the moment. I am really focused on the projects listed above. I have the door open on comics, the door is not closed. Same with, you know, doing another humor book like Mack. When I was in high school I was the kid that made fun of all the teachers and drew riffs on them and passed them to my friends in class. I have a humor side and I have the side that loves to create long fantasy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

One last word. We make fun of some drug usage in Mack but I don’t do drugs. I am a very very square cat when it comes to things like that. It’s important for me to be clear on this because I don’t like my out of body experiences nor my illustrations to be accused of being “drug influenced.” Because I think fantasy story and art is related to healing and I want to contribute to that. I want to explore more in the future on the connection to drawing comics and naturally based hallucinations.

Thanks, Jennifer!

Thank you, Henry!

Be sure to visit Mack Stuckey right here. To go directly to the Kickstarter campaign on thru 8/28, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Humor, Interviews, Jennifer Daydreamer, Kickstarter, Satire, Seattle, writers, writing, Young Adult

Movie Review: STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS

the-force-awakens

And so it begins, a Disney Star Wars movie. Disney had its share of false starts when it started venturing away from such titles as “Superdad” and “The Apple Dumpling Gang” to its first PG-rated movie, a sci-fi action flick no less, the box office flop that was 1979’s “The Black Hole.” At the time, it was deemed too expensive for Disney to use some Star Wars magic and rent equipment from George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic. Of course, all that was a long time ago. After the Disney buyout of Lucas to the tune of $4.05 billion, would Disney gain some real Star Wars cred? The goal seems to be met.

This Star Wars movie had to be better than the last three installments and it had to harken back to that something special from the original, without kowtowing to it. Were the Egyptian pyramids this intimidating to build? Yes, I think so. When I read Lev Grossman wax on about Star Wars in Time magazine, it felt like he was describing something too big to fail. When I saw the Star Wars special edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live, I saw in J.J. Abrams one relieved dude. The major players from the cast were there with Mr. Abrams. And they too looked relieved, after having carried a mighty weight upon their shoulders. They had all survived an enterprise involving enough money to bankroll a number of countries’ annual budgets.

Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This movie was designed to not disappoint anyone. And, if you believe the speculation from diehard fans, the opening line says it all, “This will begin to make things right.” The opening line is recited by Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) at the prospect of finding a gone missing Luke Skywalker. But, as core fans will tell you, it sure sounds like a coded message related to fans’ distaste for the Star Wars prequels. This is something that Abrams certainly took to heart.

Finn (John Boyega)  and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Finn (John Boyega)
and Rey (Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There is no doubt that the shadow of the Star Wars legend looms larger than life here. An answer to R2-D2. Check. An answer to Han Solo. Check. An answer to Yoda. Check. And so on down the line to the Mos Eisley Cantina and Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder. The sense of urgency to get it right is ferociously palpable. It is directed into every single scene by J.J. Abrams. Abrams wrote the final script with original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan. The two best new additions to the franchise: John Boyega as Finn, a runaway deserter; and Daisy Ridley as Rey, a reluctant new hero in touch with The Force.

In simpler times: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford

In simpler times: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford

Star Wars was never true science fiction. It was fantasy and, more to the point, a comment on fantasy. At its core, Star Wars was a quirky tribute by George Lucas, a nostalgic look back to Buck Rogers and action-packed pulp fiction. It was a nostalgia for childhood entertainment that was then reconfigured into something even more enchanting. By the time that the original trilogy was completed, George Lucas was done. So, it’s hard to really blame him for the direction he took with the prequels which was as far removed from the original source as possible. It was simply too early to get all nostalgic over something that was nostalgic to begin with. And, anyway, Harrison Ford would never have reprised his role at that point. More time would need to pass which brings us to what amounts to this fun revisit.

But how often can you successfully tap into nostalgia with a franchise like Star Wars? As the James Bond franchise has learned, it all needs to be measured out in proper doses. For now, it looks like a new trilogy has been mapped out that holds on to what made Star Wars worthwhile to begin with. In the end, at its best, Star Wars was an eccentric notion by an eccentric guy named George Lucas. It’s now a franchise designed to not disappoint anyone.

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Filed under Disney, George Lucas, J. J. Abrams, Movie Reviews, movies, Star Wars

Review: WONDER WOMAN EARTH ONE by Grant Morrison–well, not quite yet.

Finally, "Wonder Woman Earth One" by Grant Morrison. I nearly fell out of my chair when I found out it was released!

Finally, “Wonder Woman Earth One” by Grant Morrison. I nearly fell out of my chair when I found out it was released!

Yes, “Wonder Woman Earth One” has been out since April but I had completely lost track. It’s been years, and years. You know, since the first teasing out of news of Grant Morrison possibly writing a Wondy book. He had said he’d turn her into the woman she was always meant to be or some such hogwash. I mean, who cared about the faux psychoanalysis, really? But Grant Morrison is a solid guy with a fun and creative mind. He could write something interesting, perhaps too interesting! So, that’s why DC Comics settled upon giving him an Earth One story to do, something that allowed him to flex his muscles and ooze his juices as he pleased–and it would remain outside of proper Wonder Woman canon or whatnot.

Alright then, so what did we end up with?? All of you comics geeks already know, right? But I don’t care so much about superhero comics. Well, I sort of take that back. It needs to be interesting! Do you get that? I know a lot of you out there do get that. Okay, here is where I leave my placeholder. I will drop in an ellipsis, a bunch of dot, dot, dots, like this “…..” and that lets me know to come back to it in due time. You know why I’m telling you this? Because I just realized I won’t be coming back to this for yet another long, long while. How about April 12, 2016!!

The following is the latest teaser from DC Comics. Read it and you’ll find the familiar Wonder Woman origin story. So, I’m not sure why Grant Morrison would need to tell this retread of a tale. Is a story that so closely follows canon a story that requires a writer like Grant Morrison who is only supposed to be summoned to completely blow your mind? Well, just saying:

Following tradition of Superman, Batman, Teen Titans comes Wonder Woman Earth One in 2016. Earth One is a series of Graphic Novels set in a new universe separate from the current DC Universe.

From the masterful minds of Grant Morrison (FINAL CRISIS, THE MULTIVERSITY) and Yanick Paquette (SWAMP THING, BATMAN, INC.) comes the most provocative origin of Wonder Woman you’ve ever seen — a wholly unique retelling that still honors her origins.

For millennia, the Amazons of Paradise Island have created a thriving society away from the blight of man. One resident, however, is not satisfied with this secluded life — Diana, Princess of the Amazons, knows there is more in this world and wants to explore, only to be frustrated by her protective mother, Hippolyta. Diana finds her escape when Air Force pilot Steve Trevor, the first man she has ever seen, crashes onto their shores. With his life hanging in the balance, Diana ventures into the long forbidden world of men. The Amazons chase after her and bring her back to Paradise Island in chains to face trial for breaking their oldest law…staying separated from the world that wronged them.

Thought provoking yet reverent, thoroughly modern but still timeless, the power and courage of Paradise Island’s greatest champion — Wonder Woman — is introduced in this new addition to DC’s New York Times best selling Earth One original graphic novel series.

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Filed under Comics, DC Comics, Grant Morrison, Wonder Woman

Comic-Con 2015 Movie Review: ‘Vintage Tomorrows’

Historian James Carrott poses with Cherie Priest. Photo by Ben Z. Mund

Historian James Carrott poses with Cherie Priest. Photo by Ben Z. Mund

“Vintage Tomorrows” has got to be the best title you could give a documentary on the steampunk movement and it lives up to it. This is a much-needed comprehensive look, both informative and quite a lot of fun. The documentary made its world premiere at the Comic-Con Int’l Independent Film Festival this last weekend.

Produced and directed by Byrd McDonald, this documentary is based on the book, “Vintage Tomorrows,” by James Carrott and Brian David Johnson. They’re in the doc and so are many other notable figures. Interviews and appearances include authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (The Difference Engine), Cherie Priest (Boneshaker), China Miéville (Perdido Street Station), Cory Doctorow (Makers), Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate series), Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett (Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Steampunk, The Steampunk Bible), Nisi Shawl (Everfair) and Phil and Kaja Foglio (Girl Genius), and founder of Steampunk Magazine Margaret ‘Magpie’ Killjoy.

What’s all the fuss about, you ask? The story of steampunk, followers will tell you, is for everyone. To give a sense of the many voices and answers to the question, “What is steampunk?” we begin with a whirlwind of responses from many of the participants. Initial segments are sliced together with one person seeming to complete another’s sentence. “Steampunk is…” leads to answers such as “based upon science fiction of the 19th century” and on down to line to rallying cries such as, “you show up in a top hat and spats and you’re there to cause a riot!”

For an ostensibly literary movement, you would expect a rather low-key and subtle vibe running throughout. And, darn it, that is basically what you have and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, what people who are involved with steampunk would have you know is that there’s a strong sense of wonder, adventure, and excitement attached as well. And things are evolving. What may have begun as a quirky meeting of minds, circa 2005, has found formidable and creative leaders in the last ten years.

Steampunk today takes itself more seriously. The irreverence has been tempered a bit with a higher level of self-scrutiny. For instance, as the documentary explains, in order to be more inclusive, steampunk needed to confront the Victorian era’s colonialism and elitism. While history is what it is, attempts are made to address the past. For instance, you hear one participant say she no longer wears a pith helmet, an obvious symbol to her of colonialism.

Attempts to bring the Victorian era into the 21st century are likely to always be weird but that is part of steampunk. Enthusiasts will tell you that a big method to the madness is an attempt to get back to something tactile and real. While a steampunk follower may own an iPhone or iPad, that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t do it grudgingly. A recurring battle cry is that we’ve lost something vital with today’s technology. There is no steampunk smart phone or laptop. However, we have each other. We have community. Steampunk encourages you to not be afraid to look backward as you find your way forward.

Be sure to visit the official Vintage Tomorrows website right here.

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Filed under Comic-Con, Documentaries, pop culture, Steampunk

Review: ‘Inside the Sideshow Studio: A Modern Renaissance Environment’

Inside the "Waxworks," the 3-D arm of the Design department at Sideshow Collectibles

Inside the “Waxworks,” the 3-D arm of the Design department at Sideshow Collectibles

If you are into pop culture, and who isn’t, then one way or another you know about Sideshow Collectibles. Either you own some, know someone who does, or some other scenario. The fact is that this is the place that makes the premium items from the worlds of superheroes, fantasy, science fiction, and more. You know, replica figures of Indiana Jones, Darth Vader, Poison Ivy, you name it. What this new book makes clear is that items of this caliber are indeed worthy of praise and then some. Welcome to “Inside the Sideshow Studio: A Modern Renaissance Environment,” published by Insight Editions.

Insight-Editions-Inside-Sideshow-Studio

For me, personally, I’ve always enjoyed marveling over the various new figures on display at comics conventions. I’m not necessarily a hardcore collector type but, then again, I do find it hard to let go of things. After reading this book, I have a strong desire to just toss a bunch of stuff and make room for one really awesome figure to brighten up a space. Well, at least one. As you’ll see in this grand tour, all the employees at Sideshow Collectibles are encouraged to deck out their work stations and offices with items they hold dear. And, as many will happily tell you, they seem to do best with a certain amount of positive life-affirming clutter. Based upon what I see here, all this clutter is pretty cool and full of style.

Poison Ivy, Premium Format Figure, Sideshow Collectibles

Poison Ivy, Premium Format Figure, Sideshow Collectibles

No doubt, this book is an essential addition to whatever Sideshow Collectible item you may already own. And, if you happen to be pretty new to the whole scene, this book may inspire you. Not only is it a inside look at the fun factory but there’s a fair share of industry insights sprinkled about. Plus, there are numerous extras regarding a vast array of figures. You’ll find a number of inserts like the one above of Poison Ivy coming from different vantage points: graphic design, painting, sculpture, and so on. The book is a total treat.

“Inside the Sideshow Studio: A Modern Renaissance Environment” is a 128-page hardcover, all full-color photography, published by Insight Editions. For more details, visit our friends at Insight Editions right here.

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Filed under Comics, fantasy, Insight Editions, pop culture, Sideshow Collectibles, Superheroes, Toys