GEORGE’S RUN is now ready for your digital reading pleasure at comiXology. Just follow the link right here. And now, for those unfamiliar with this graphic novel, here are a few words. And, for those loyal true believers who know what I’m talking about, I hope you get to enjoy the book. A print run is coming soon too. This is a book about a bunch of hungry writers all seeking that elusive touch of strange!
Charles Beaumont on the set of “The Howling Man.” Illustration by Henry Chamberlain
Imagine a book that checks off all the boxes: compelling main character, appealing to any age, and a meaningful story. This is a graphic novel about the life and times of George Clayton Johnson. You don’t need to know who he is. But you won’t forget him once you do. George is a gateway to a universe of storytelling. George came from nothing but went on to claim his rightful place among the Rat Pack of Science Fiction, in the heyday of a lot of creative energy, with icons like Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.
George Clayton Johnson’s Cafe Frankenstein
I encourage you to look up professor Paul Buhle because he provided an essay for my book that really blows my mind! Mr. Buhle is a respected scholar who has worked with various cartoonists over the years. I have also received a testimonial from novelist Jerome Charyn, who you may be familiar with. I have received a testimonial from cartoonist Jeff Smith and cartoonist Craig Frank. I have received a testimonial from Disney writer Martin Olson. A lot of very cool and significant folks have given GEORGE’S RUN a thumb’s up. This is one of those books that is very special, I think, and part of the magic is that it’s offbeat and unusual. At the heart of the activities going on in this book are all the interconnections emanating from the original Twilight Zone. It’s like a mystery within a mystery. It’s like a favorite amusement park ride. I’m looking for an agent who, once she’s read the book, is thrilled by it and can’t wait to let people know about it.
George Clayton Johnson
George is like a Holy Grail of Insight who, Henry, the author of this book, seeks. Henry finds George and unlocks an enigma wrapped in a riddle. So much hiding in plain sight. Within a quirky and dream-like narrative, George and Henry embark upon an adventure in grand storytelling. In the process, the reader becomes immersed in fanciful and insightful observations recollected.
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone is NOW available on @comiXology Submit!
Wren McDonald is a cartoonist and illustrator. His illustrations appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, and many other places. His first full-length graphic novel, a quirky cyberpunk thriller, “SP4RX,” was recently published by Nobrow Press.
If you are in the New York City metro area this weekend, you can see Wren at Comic Arts Brooklyn. CAB is taking place this weekend with the main event this Saturday, November 5th, at Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, 12 Havemeyer Street, from 11am to 7pm, in beautiful Brooklyn! You can find Wren at CAB, downstairs at Table D31.
Wren McDonald has shot like a rocket since graduating from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2013. Wren has a refreshing take on both comics and illustrations: a rare set of skills, talent, passion, and drive. So, without further ado, here is my interview with Wren McDonald, recorded this Wednesday, as he prepares for Comic Arts Brooklyn.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Wren, if we were to do a virtual tour of your studio, what would we find there?
WREN McDONALD: Well, my studio is my bedroom. So, here’s my bed and here’s my desk. That’s my studio! (Laughter)
That’s the set of circumstances for a lot of cartoonists and illustrators, isn’t it?
Yeah, especially living in New York. It just doesn’t make much financial sense to have a separate studio. But I have plenty of room here. It’s pretty spacious. I can spread out and get my work done. I have a super big desk and an iMac. And I actually have (laughs) the extended studio in the living room! There I have a Lasergraph copier where I print out my mini-comics and zines.
That’s for serious cartoonists.
“Did Trump and Clinton Get a Pass on Education?” illustration for The New Yorker by Wren McDonald
I direct folks who are new to your work to go to your website, wrenmcdonald.com. There you will find a cornucopia of stuff. I’m focusing on one of your current illustrations of Trump and Clinton and they are both sitting in a classroom. These two are hyperreal, larger-than-life, cartoonish. You can’t make them up. Could you give us a window into how you created that illustration?
That illustration was funny because I got the assignment the day before it was due, which was also the day before I was traveling to MICE Expo in Boston, a comics show that I was just at this last weekend. That was like a super rush job which was really intense. The art director at The New Yorker, Rina Kushnir, who is super great, I work with her a lot, she emailed me the article. She said it was last minute but she asked if I could do it. And I said, yes, of course.
Rina needed sketches in the morning and then the final that evening, around 5pm or 6pm. So, that morning, I sent in like four sketches. They were sort of goofy and funny. Like you say, these candidates are already cartoony so it’s easy to characterize them. Rina chose the one she liked. That was at noon. From that point, I got to work on the final and sent it over in the evening.
Those jobs are always pretty stressful but I enjoy doing them a lot because I feel that I work really hard and get a real day’s work in and have something to show for it.
It’s a beautiful illustration.
I wanted to ask you about your evolving into the illustrator you are today. Your work is appearing everywhere. Only a few years ago you were in Florida just starting out. Could you give us the cook’s tour of how you got where you are today.
Sure, I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida, in 2013. When I was in school, I had a website and was posting things on social media, like Tumblr, and I think that helped me get my feet off the ground in terms of people seeing my work.
From that point, I started going to comics shows like TCAF in Toronto, Comic Arts Brooklyn, and MoCCA. I tabled at TCAF and other shows I would just go to. I’d have mini-comics to give out to help make people aware of me. It’s two different paths, comics and illustration, so I’ll talk about them separately.
The illustration stuff is, like I say, social media and tracking down email contacts and networking. And a lot of promotional stuff. You want to create a portfolio that really looks like editorial illustration. Editorial work has a snowball effect. You start to get jobs and you’re seen as a professional.
CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald
The comics stuff is going to shows and socializing. I was approached by Peow! Studio, based in Sweden, about publishing one of my short stories in of one of their anthologies, “Time Capsule.” I thought that was super cool since I was familiar with their work. I was super excited. I think that was the first comics story that I had published out in the world besides my own stuff online, on Tumblr. Soon after that, I talked to Nobrow about doing a short story (CYBER REALM) for their 17×23 series which is a platform to try out new talent. That’s a small format, just 24 pages. We did that and enjoyed working together. So, Nobrow said they wanted to try something longer. That’s what I wanted to do so it worked out that way.
It’s amazing how quickly things came together. Did you already have an idea of what SP4RX was going to be like while you were working on CYBER REALM or did one work just follow the other?
I didn’t have one story cocked and loaded beforehand. I always hear other cartoonists, or writers, when they talk about their work, saying they had this story they’d been working on since they were 10 years-old and it’s part of an epic world they’ve created. I’m not one of those people. When I sit down to write a story it’s about brainstorming and anything that peaks my interest.
For SP4RX, I’ve always been interested in the cyberpunk genre, especially movies and comics. I wanted to work in that genre. I was already creating work dealing with technology, robots, and dystopian settings. I think it just made a lot of sense to me.
We’re always hearing about the digital versus the physical. I direct people to the comic you did for The Comics Journal. How did that come about?
I’m not sure if Nobrow contacted The Comics Journal, or the other way around, but The Comics Journal approached me about doing one of their A Cartoonist Diary columns. I was all for it since I have the attitude of wanting to try something out and make it work. I had not done diary comics before so I had to think about how to do this. Mine is not a traditional diary comic since it has these fantastical elements to it. Despite it being involved with things I was experiencing, the more apt title to it turned out to be “Not A Cartoonist Diary.” That was a fun project.
Over the years, illustration is deemed dead and then it comes right back. It all runs in cycles. You’re firmly in both the world of comics and illustrations. Some cartoonists, I know, have never printed mini-comics nor done the comic fest circuit. But you love that.
Right! I love making comics, reading comics, and telling stories. I am passionate about my comics work because I am able to draw what I want to draw. Illustration is a fun back and forth since it involves work that I would not necessarily choose to draw: it’s more like a puzzle. Okay, how do I use these images to convey a specific idea, very concisely, to pair with the article? It’s a fun back and forth. Maybe I’ve been working on comics for two weeks straight, and then I get an editorial assignment. That’s great, I can take a break from comics and do an illustration, take a break from having my face too close to the page and switch my train of thought–and vice versa.
SP4RX by Wren McDonald
If we were just chatting, we’d end up talking about books and movies, especially science fiction and cyberpunk. I imagine that “Videodrome” must be a favorite for you.
I do love “Videodrome.” David Cronenberg is amazing but I don’t think that “Videodrome” had a specific influence on SP4RX. Instead, concerning SP4RX, I had just read William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” which I thought was like the coolest book ever. It is considered “cool.” I wanted to make something “super cool” like that! I’d always been into “Akira” by Katsuhiro Otomo. And “Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow and his Appleseed series. And movies like Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” or “Robocop.” Or James Cameron’s “Terminator II.” “The Matrix.” “Aliens.” Stuff like that. I wanted to do something in the vein of that genre.
Let’s focus back on SP4RX: a super hacker going up against corporate enslavement. How close are we today to corporate enslavement?
There’s a lot of parallels that I was drawing from. Basic stuff that I’d see on the news. Even just going about my day-to-day, going shopping or whatever, that would end up in SP4RX. It’s a world with hover cars and sci-fi elements but there are plenty of parallels to our real world throughout. For example, I’d be watching some crazy video on YouTube with one newscaster harassing another newscaster and I would basically copy and paste that into the book. Within a sci-fi setting, you can focus on the human element. You don’t get caught up in a specific nation or political agenda. It’s just people in this science fiction world.
Everyone may not get a hover car but we’ve got plenty of the weird and nefarious stuff already. What do you think about Edward Snowden and us being monitored? The future is here.
Yeah, it makes me think that the cyberpunk genre and movement is more relevant than ever. When the internet was first coming about, that genre seemed so cheesy. It’s fun to laugh about it but there’s so much of it that’s relevant. Like you say, that NSA stuff is really happening. It’s important to pay attention to that and be aware.
Panel excerpt from SP4RX
Is there anything you’d like folks to know about that you are currently doing?
It depends upon when you think this post will go up. There’s Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend.
I can push things up and get this out by Friday. I’d love to go to CAB. I have my own book I’m working on that is very much science fiction oriented. It’s about the science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. His career and life’s journey has a very intriguing arc. He began with writing the story for the Rat Pack classic, “Ocean’s Eleven” and crescendoed with co-writing the novel that was the basis for the cult classic, “Logan’s Run.”
Oh, yeah, that movie has a nice sci-fi cheesy quality.
Well, the thing with George was that he kept to his set of values and the integrity of his storytelling. “Logan’s Run” is an example of a big studio having its own ideas on what the story should be. It’s totally fun though and I think a remake would be great. The original novel is very different. I think you’d enjoy it.
I will check it out.
Comic Arts Brooklyn
But getting back to CAB.
Yes, I will be at Comic Arts Brooklyn this Saturday, November 5th. You can find me downstairs at Table D31. So, come by and say hello! And I have a new mini-comic that will debut at CAB and then be available on my site which is called, “Dirt Dart,” a 12-page story about a soldier lost on another planet.
Well, it’s been fun talking with you, Wren. I know that you’re having the time of your life.
Yes, staying busy!
Thanks so much, Wren.
Thank you, Henry. When you’re in New York, stop by and we can have a drink.
You can listen to the interview by clicking the link below. I did not make any edits so you’ll pick up on some slight differences from the transcription which is a smoother read. One thing to mention here is that I was not aware of the title, SP4RX, being pronounced “Sparks.” I must have been firmly in the mindset of George Lucas and his 1971 classic, THX 1138:
SP4RX is out now. Find it at Nobrow Press right here. Visit Wren McDonald right here. And, if you are in the New York City metro area, be sure to visit Comic Arts Brooklyn this weekend. Visit CAB right here.
As many of you out there know, I am currently working on a graphic novel about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am also working on some other projects that are just as important. They all share something in common as they use the graphic novel format. I invite you to take a moment to complete a quick survey that will prove quite useful. For the first ten respondents, if you choose, I will send you a free copy of the first issue of George’s Run. Just reach me by email, which you can find in CONTACT right on the navigation bar, and let me know that you completed the survey. Thank you to all my loyal followers. You can go to the survey right here.
One of George’s favorite themes as a writer was that of cheating death. News outlets have already reported on his death but he is still among us, the living. This is an irony that I must think is appreciated by George. His legion of fans have entered a process of mourning. His spirit, I must think, is pleased, restful, and joyful. Some fans believe he will hang on with us until Christmas.
George Clayton Johnson is in hospice and nearing the end. Of course, he will always live on. His impressive writing career began when he thought up the ultimate heist story. That was to be the Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.
George Clayton Johnson has led a full life as a writer, activist, and all-around humanitarian. He will always be an important part of some key pop culture: Ocean’s Eleven, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Logan’s Run. It’s pretty phenomenal when you stop and think about it. And such a decent man. Such a very decent man.
George came from humble origins, poverty-stricken Cheyenne, Wyoming during the Great Depression. He followed his heart, became great friends with legends and, in the process of living, loving, and creating, became a legend himself. This man did not seek out notoriety in some contrived manner. George had the great fortune of possessing just the right combination of talent, determination, and luck. As for luck, he gravitated toward other great talent. As for talent, he’d always had that. He loved to read since he could remember and writing came naturally to him. And, as for determination, that’s just second-nature to a man like George.
This is the man who co-wrote the novel that led to Ocean’s Eleven. He then went on to write iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone. He wrote the first aired episode of Star Trek. And, in a great capping off to a career, co-wrote the novel that led to the cult-classic Logan’s Run. But there’s much more to it than that. On a deeper level, it was always about maintaining one’s integrity and fighting to create something original in a world that demands the tried and true.
I had the opportunity to interview George for a couple of podcast interviews and got to chat a bit over the phone with him. During the course of one of our conversations, I suggested to him that his life and times would add up to an interesting book. I began work on it. We got to meet in person at his home in Los Angeles in December of 2014. For the next year, I began work on a book in a graphic novel format. It was through knowing George that I opened myself up more to my own love of writing. It was George who helped me rediscover Theodore Sturgeon. And it was George, because of his spirited way, that I opened myself up more to the world in general.
We had planned to meet again this year like before, in December of 2015, but, by then, it was too late. George was already in hospice care and, in the time that followed, it became clear that his time left was short. I had hoped to show him what I’d created thus far. But, I immediately understood, a significant page had turned. The time for asking questions or seeking advice had passed. I understood that I was alone to proceed. George had passed on the baton, just like he did for so many others like me.
For all of us in the comics community, whether creators or fans, it is time once again for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. There’s a nice write-up about it in the local alt-weekly, The Stranger, that you can check out here. Among a splendid array of comics that you will have a chance to choose from, I humbly add something I am working on. This is the first installment to a full-length work. It’s called, “George’s Run,” and it’s about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am still in the process of weaving the narrative but this is a perfect time to share some of what I’ve put together thus far. If you happen to go to Short Run, you’ll have a chance to buy a copy of this 24-page comic. You can find me at the Short Run tables under the name, Comics Grinder Press.
Short Run Comix & Arts Festival takes place this Halloween: Saturday, October 31, in Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center from 11 am to 6 pm.
For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Short Run right here.
William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Art: Henry Chamberlain
William F. Nolan is a writer with a brilliant career. Stephen King has acknowledged Mr. Nolan as “an expert in the art and science of scaring the hell out of people,” and Ray Bradbury has spoken of Mr. Nolan’s ability “to create an atmosphere of ultimate terror.” Crafting an interview with him can take a variety of directions. You could focus on race car driving, movies, television, horror, or science fiction. I chose to talk about genre fiction, specifically the pulp era, as Mr. Nolan is an authority on that subject. And, of course, we made our way to the biggest title that Mr. Nolan is attached to, Logan’s Run. He co-wrote, with George Clayton Johnson, the original novel and has gone on to write further Logan’s Run novels as well as the pilot episode to the television series.
Imagine yourself a young person with big plans to embark on a career in writing. It’s the 1950s. You’ve made it out to Los Angeles. You grew up reading pulp fiction. You adore it. Max Brand Westerns are the best! But you also love hard-boiled detective stories. Who better than Dashiell Hammett to deliver on that score, right? And then there’s science fiction. If only you might meet up with your hero, Ray Bradbury. Wouldn’t that be the tops? Sure enough, you meet Ray Bradbury. Not only that, Mr. Bradbury takes you under his wing and helps set your writing career on a high-flying course. That would be your first published story, “The Joy of Living”, in If magazine in 1954. Welcome to the life of William F. Nolan.
We focus on three major writers and, in turn, see how Nolan learned from them, adopted their techniques and tenacity, to become a professional writer in his own right. We talk about Ray Bradbury and his penchant to pay it forward with other writers. “We all support each other,” Nolan says. We talk about Frederick Faust, known as “Max Brand,” among other pseudonyms, and his uneasy relationship with fame. As for Faust’s all-time famous title, “Destry Rides Again,” it paled in comparison to his devotion to writing poetry, which never sold. It’s a similar case with Dashiell Hammett. Despite his wildly popular “Thin Man” stories, he wasn’t satisfied and had hoped to develop writing beyond his genre, but never did. Oddly enough, despite any reservations from Faust or Hammett, all three of these writers are held in high regard. But only Bradbury was to live to see and appreciate his place in fiction as well as his notoriety.
It’s a perplexing predicament to be, or aspire to be, a writer. “The problem is that most students of writing are lazy,” Nolan points out. “They want to become Stephen King over the weekend. Well, you can’t become Stephen King over the weekend. Stephen King couldn’t do that. People have some idea that he’s always had it easy and been rich. But, no, he spent ten years writing and struggling before ‘Carrie’ came along and made him a tidy sum of money.” And far be it for a writer to always be the best judge of his own work. As the story goes, King threw away the manuscript to “Carrie” in a fit of frustration. He tossed it into a waste basket only to have his wife fish it out and persuade him to send it to his agent. Good thing he did just that.
“Writing is like a roller coaster,” Nolan says. But he is also inspired to share the fact that hard work will pay off. What best illustrates this is just talking shop with him. For example, you get great insight exploring the work that Nolan has done with George Clayton Johnson. Among the dozen or so writers that Nolan has worked with, it is with Johnson that he wrote his first teleplay and, years later, his first novel. It was to be firsts for both of them. In 1959, Nolan and Johnson wrote their first teleplay, “Dreamflight,” for “The Twilight Zone.” It was never produced. Thanks to the jet age, the show found itself with one too many airplane-related stories. It’s since been printed in the anthology, “Forgotten Gems.” And it is a gem, a modern day take on Sleeping Beauty.
In the intervening years, Nolan and Johnson would continue to grow as writers, in no small measure due to the collaborative process they developed as part of what became known as The Southern California Writers Group. And so they did work together again, including two unproduced “Star Trek” teleplays, finally leading up to one of the best collaborations ever, the original “Logan’s Run” novel.
As we closed out our interview, I asked about upcoming projects and William F. Nolan is, at 87 this March, as busy as ever. On his list of top priority items, he included his longtime friend and collaborator, writer/artist/filmmaker Jason V. Brock, who is set to work with Nolan on a new Logan’s Run novel that will deconstruct what has come before and is entitled, “Logan’s Fall.” Also on the list: “Images in Black,” an edited collection of Ray Bradbury stories with an African-American theme; “A Man Called Dash,” a definitive biography of Dashiell Hammett; “Soul Trips,” a collection of Nolan poetry; and a Nolan horror collection for the series, “Masters of the Weird Tale,” to be published by Centipede Press.
Just click below to listen to the podcast interview. Enjoy:
There is something downright thrilling about a project that is adding to the appreciation of Logan’s Run, a franchise with numerous tropes and backstory. Logan’s Run means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are diehard fans of the original novel, the major motion picture, and the television program. This omnibus edition collects all six issues of the Bluewater Comics series of Logan’s Run Last Day. It is a story that gives a big nod to the original novel, basically makes a case for what a remake of the movie might look like, and is a fine example of what you can do to tease out more nuances to such an iconic work.
George Clayton Johnson is a born storyteller. Listen to him and you’ll find a good yarn told by someone with a love for the spoken and written word. He is, after all, one of the big players of pop culture: Among his credits: writer of landmark episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE; writer of the first broadcasted episode of STAR TREK; co-writer of OCEAN’S ELEVEN; co-writer of LOGAN’S RUN. For this interview, George and I began to talk about William Shatner. I was thinking over how William Shatner can be misunderstood as only being brash when that’s definitely not the case. With “Star Trek Into Darkness” arriving in theaters on May 17, Mr. Shatner was an excellent point of departure.
William Shatner in “The Intruder”
We quickly moved forward with a look back to Roger Corman’s 1962 “The Intruder,” a significant drama about the high tensions in the American South during the Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Corman was having difficulty in finding actors and approached Mr. Johnson, as well as his writing partner, William F. Nolan, about playing roles in the film. They were more than happy to join in. The film is based on the novel by Charles Beaumont, a science fiction writer, and a fellow contributor with Mr. Johnson to “The Twilight Zone.”
George then related a wonderful story about the origins of “Star Trek” and we ended with news of an exciting possibility. There is a tantalizing possibility of “The Twilight Zone” making its way to the stage. As George envisions it, the story would take place in a rest home, just like the famous “Kick The Can” episode. It would be about a seasoned writer who has had a lifetime of success and wants to knock one more ball out of the park. He has an idea for another story. This one will be about an individual focusing on a special moment, either in the past or the future. The trick is to avoid the present. In that way, you can live forever. In the course of the production, there will, in fact, be a series of stories and each will play off landmark “Twilight Zone” episodes that George wrote. And, to top it off, there needs to be a narrator, of course. Who better than Rod Serling? If all goes according to plan, this will be a musical.
Who would play the role of Rod Serling? Well, that brings us back to the subject we began our interview with: William Shatner is on the short list of possibilities. That is certainly an exciting prospect. Mr. Shatner came of age in that era, he knows the talent behind the original series, and he starred in one of the most memorable episodes, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” He would be an excellent choice.
There are a number of details to consider about taking such a project, conceivably, all the way to Broadway. Not least of concerns is getting just the right tone to what the Rod Serling narrator would say. He might be presented like a hologram. And he certainly will have a vital role to play, much like the narrator of “Our Town.” It was very gracious of George to share this project in the making with us. He has a number of projects in the works and this one is very dear to his heart. These are the early stages. We all hope it will come together.
Other subjects we cover in this interview are what led up to the original novel, “Logan’s Run,” and what may lie ahead, and a most intriguing thing that happened when George Clayton Johnson and J.J. Abrams discussed working together.
“Logan’s Run,” the original 1967 novel, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, from which the 1976 major motion picture is loosely based upon, is a lost gem in science fiction. It’s been out of print since 1976 and deserves a return to the spotlight and easy accessibility. You have to seek out a used copy and those are all collectibles with prices to match. Wouldn’t it seem rather fitting to have this as an e-book too? It is an odd, poetic, and unique work.
“Logan’s Run,” the original novel, was featured in a promotional item from Crown Publishers in 2012. The promotion was a poster entitled, “The Dystopian Universe,” that featured “a collection of the most memorable apocalyptic futures and digital wastelands ever put to print. Each represents a uniquely disastrous vision of a society fantastic and familiar enough to keep you exploring every corner of this literary galaxy for years to come.” This promotion included a new tilte, “Ready Player One,” among a pantheon of classics old and new: “The Hunger Games,” “Blade Runner,” “Logan’s Run,” “The Stand,” “Neuromancer,” “World War Z,” “The Giver,” “I am Legend,” and “Snow Crash.” There must be something to the original “Logan’s Run.”
“Logan’s Run” is included in this promotion, as well it should, and yet “Logan’s Run” has been out of print for almost 40 years and not easily accessible. There is an appealing shaggy dog quality to this adventure story akin to a pulp detective novel that rewards thoughtful reading. Hollywood had to step in and chop the plot up to bits to fit into a vehicle for Micahel York, who plays Logan, and Jenny Agutter, who plays Jessica. The movie is famously known for being primarily filmed inside a Dallas shopping mall. The novel, on the other hand, is very wide in scope. People can shuttle all over the globe. It doesn’t take much consideration to sit in a tram and be bolted thousands of miles at one go. Now, compare the excitement of a shopping mall to crisscrossing the globe, and you can see how other aspects of the movie fall short of the original novel.
The movie version, as limited as it was, lost much, if not all, ground once “Star Wars” hit theaters the very next year, in 1977. If it had stayed true to the novel, it would have had much more to show for itself. Instead, key elements were streamlined and glossed over. In the movie, there is a controlled society where every citizen must die at age 30. In the book, the age limit is 21 which gives the story an intriguing edge. You have a society run by people who are just beginning to know themselves. The powers that be have set up a society of voluntary euthanasia at age 21 since it was a youth revolt that took over the world. Growing older is what led to the corruption in the first place so no more old age. Wisdom has been forgotten. Only the vitality of youth can be trusted.
Youth have destroyed the elders. Machines think for humans. The whole natural order of things has been disrupted to its very core. The government’s hub of activity is housed in a supercomputer, humanity’s brain. It resides within Crazy Horse Mountain. And things are so screwed up that the brain thinks it’s Crazy Horse. An important part of keeping the order belongs to the government agents, the “Sandmen,” who are entrusted with capturing any citizens who rebel against dying at 21 and try to run for it. But the system is threatened when one of the agents, Logan, begins to think for himself and, along with a runner, Jessica, seeks out the legendary Sanctuary, a rebel alliance led by a man who has lived beyond his legal age, Ballard.
This is another example of how the movie diverges from the book. In the novel, Ballard has figured out a way to turn off his palm flower. It never went black to alert authorities that he’d reached his expiration date. Ballard is a heroic rebel that has grown into a legend, and is a real threat to the government. The movie gives us Peter Ustinov as Ballard. It is a wonderful performance but this Ballard is senile and as menacing as a pussycat.
The book also provides us with a number of interludes not found in the movie that lift the narrative with greater energy, nuance, and irony. What William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson do is revel in the power of youth. They show us its unbounded energy and raw power. They make a case for its right to be taken seriously while also depicting its intoxicating allure. But, as is the case in any dystopian novel, you can always end up with too much of a good thing.
And there is simply more action in the book, intricate detailed action. There’s a whole scene where Logan and Jess attempt to allude their captors by blending in with an American Civil War re-enactment run by robots. It’s hilarious on one level and wonderful commentary. The book also makes much use of “devilsticks.” They are only hinted at in the movie as a band of rebels hold them like staffs. In the original novel, they are both weapon and transportation, like a witch’s broom. Imagine the visuals. It’s not like the movie had a meager budget. They could have had devilsticks do more than just stand there if they had wanted to.
I keep saying “original novel” because it’s such an important distinction. There have been countless “Logan’s Run” spin-offs. There was a TV show. And more comic books than you can imagine with more on the way. All of them have spawned from the movie as if it guaranteed success. This has left the original novel in something of a pristine state.
Let’s consider a passage from the book and you’ll get a sense of its urgency and sutblety. Here’s a depiction of one of the harsh terrains that Logan and Jessica encounter:
The firey wheel of the moon sun blistered its slow way across the Dakota sky, crowding the thin air with waves of shimmering heat. Deadwood was dust and ghost town stillness. The squat, wind-worked buildings along the main street had long since been scoured of paint, and their weathered boards reared up crookedly from the red earth.
“Logan’s Run” is an adventure story, a fable, and social commentary. The characters are bit players in a cosmic tale. Nolan and Johnson don’t concern themselves so much with fleshing out these characters and that is purposefully done. You know only what you need to know. They speak in a rather clipped fashion but not in an amateurish stilted manner. And they are thrown into numerous situations but they’re not an awkward jumble. It’s more like a grand opera or monumental painting. It’s good to keep in mind that Nolan and Johnson have been around the block a few times. These men are part of science fiction legend dating back to the Southern California Writer’s Group. They go back to a tradition of working together on projects, projects that included, among other things, scripts for “The Twilight Zone.”
Seek out “Logan’s Run.” Maybe you’ll find an old beat up copy in a used bookstore or on eBay. Ask, even demand, that it be reprinted and made available for e-books. And discover its unique quality. The movie missed the boat on this one. But it’s not too late to read the book. Any way you look at it, we are well overdue for a new edition.
George Clayton Johnson makes his living by daydreaming, as he has put it. And those dreams have led him to some amazing places. You may know about him already or, perhaps, you’ve heard of his work. The story that he co-wrote with Jack Golden Russell was the basis for the 1960 and 2001 films, “Oceans Eleven.” He wrote the first aired episode of “Star Trek.” With William F. Nolan, he co-wrote the novel that was the basis for the cult classic film, “Logan’s Run.” Along with other remarkable television writing and countless science fiction stories, Mr. Johnson wrote some of the most poignant and beloved episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” including “Kick The Can,” which was remade in the movie version.
Mr. Johnson’s life is the stuff of legend. He was born in a barn, in 1929, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and not exactly set on a path for the success he has achieved. But with a strong force of will, George Clayton Johnson gave his life shape and purpose. Leaving behind a troubled upbringing, he set out at the age of fifteen to make his living as best he could. He started out as a shoeshine boy. Later, in the army, he mastered the job of draftsman and was involved with charting the intricate underground wiring systems related to the Panama Canal. By the late ’50s, he had set his mind on being a writer and this led to his story about an outrageous Las Vegas casino bank heist. This became his calling card and led to his joining a group of elite science fiction writers in Southern California. From there, he met Rod Serling who just happened to be preparing for a new show that would chart a new course for television, “The Twilight Zone.”
Where to begin with such a talent? One big point of interest: the remake of “Logan’s Run.”