Comics Grinder has always got you covered for interesting tidbits, insights, and suggestions regarding comics, pop culture, and culture in general. Here are some quick suggestions for discerning Comics Grinder followers:
I’m going to keep this simple and jump right in with 10 items for your consideration beginning with Wes Anderson: The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan, an “unofficial and unauthorised” yet stunning tribute to the beloved filmmaker. 176-page hardcover with deluxe slipcase, fully illustrated. $35. From White Lion Publishers, an imprint of The Quarto Group.
Next up will please any fan of D&D, especially younger players or anyone who enjoys a trading card style description of characters. This is Beasts & Behemoths, the fifth and latest installment in the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide series. It is by Jim Zub, Stacy King, and Andrew Wheeler. 112 pages, full-color illustrations. $12.99. From Ten Speed Press and Penguin Random House.
Moving right along, this book will need to be in your kitchen and bar as soon as possible, whether you’re a D&D fan or not yet. Welcome to Heroes’ Feast: The Official D&D Cookbook. Yes, now you can eat and drink like a hero. There are recipes here for everything from Honey-Drizzled Cream Puffs to Sembian Honey-Glazed Rothe Ribs to Bytopian Shepherd’s Bread to Roll Rum! Seriously, this is an impressive cookbook with lavish illustrations alongside charming and meticulous D&D factoids and insights. If you’ve been looking for a way to hook yourself into the world of D&D, then seek out this cookbook. Fully illustrated. 240 pages. $35. From Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Quite honestly, this is the best gift for 2020 on so many levels.
If you are a fan of Critical Role, then you are in very good company as this is one of the most popular role-playing game communities ever. Now, you can join in on all the fun and get all you’ve ever wanted to know about this fantasy RPG livestream phenomena in one deluxe book, The World of Critical Role: The History Behind the Epic Fantasy, by Liz Marsham and the Cast of Critical Role. Just like the name suggests, go deep into this world with up-close and personal features on all the talent involved. Critical Role was established in 2015 by a group of friends with a passion for storytelling and has evolved into a multi-platform media company with a variety of shows, comic books, graphic novels, animation, podcasts and more. Its epic adventures and memorable characters attract millions of viewers live every week. Yes, this is a big deal and, if you’re new to it, then all the more reason to get this book. This is a 320-page fully-illustrated hardcover, $35. From Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Let’s shift over to the Star Wars universe and a most compelling book indeed. For anyone who cares about quality storytelling, and enjoys Star Wars lore, this is a perfect gift. From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back is an anthology celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back with forty acclaimed science fiction writers. You will find such gems as Hank Green chronicling the life of a naturalist caring for tauntauns on the frozen world of Hoth. Or about Charles Yu’s quirky look at what it’s like to be in Darth Vader’s death grip? So much to enjoy here. So kick back with a Roll Rum and get into some serious Star Wars storytelling. This is a 564-page hardcover, $35. From Del Rey, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
It’s impossible not to like the hilarious work by Yehuda Devir and Maya Devir with their comics adaptation of their everyday lives. It all began as a fun spoof on young married life. Yehuda would draw. Maya would art direct. Next thing you know, these candid illustrations went viral on social media. Welcome to One of Those Days, a collection of these funny and touching illustrations that just about anyone can relate to. This is a 272-page full color hardcover, $30. From Penguin Random House.
Dbury@50 Celebrates 50 Years of Doonesbury
Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury has been around for fifty years and it’s time to celebrate. Enter, Dbury@50: The Complete Digital Doonesbury, from Andrews McMeel Publishing, priced at $125. This includes a 224-page “user manual,” a poster, and a thumb drive which includes what looks like a little website presenting all the comic strips on a per week basis. The fifty-year milestone celebratory package takes readers through each year of the strip, providing historical context and featuring key storylines, and proves to be a valuable first step in preserving a significant comic strip for future generations.
Another huge property is anything and everything to do with Frank Herbert’s monumental novel, Dune. Was it ever really meant to be more than a novel? Well, how about a graphic novel? The answer is yes and no. Apparently, it takes more than one graphic novel to properly attempt to cover the novel. Enter, Frank Herbert’s Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 1. It offers a good mix of the cinematic and more cerebral that should satisfy true believers and newcomers alike. This is a 176-page hardcover, $24.99. From Abrams ComicArts.
If anyone tells you that they’ve finished reading XX, the new mammoth novel by Rian Hughes, they are lying to you. This work clocks in at 992 pages. It actually weighs in at almost 3 pounds. Isn’t that close to the weight of a newborn baby? No, the average weight is around 7 pounds. Okay, I don’t want to overstate this. What I do want to say is that the book is huge and sometimes big books come with a lot of hype. In this case, we have an art house book with a lot of type, as in fancy footwork with various fonts. This is supposed to be a glorious melding of the literary arts with the graphic arts from a master designer. I’m not sure that I’m buying all that. If you are looking for something really compelling and unusual that is playing with the literary and the visual arts, you may still need to go back to 2000 and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. That said, I’m still working on this mountain of a book and the basic story hasn’t really hooked me in yet. I’d love to know what you think if you have indeed made it to the end. This is a hardcover, $26.43. From Abrams.
How much do you like Batman? I love me a good Batman story, but I mean something really good. Well, a lot of good things came from Batman: The Animated Series. The higher-ups at the Big Two Publishers can be a mysterious bunch but, when they prioritize, they can achieve remarkable results. Look, iconic characters like Batman are only as good as the creative team behind a certain project. What made Batman: The Animated Series work out so well was the creative team led by Bruce Timm back in the early ’90s. It seems that Timm set the gold standard and it has been honored ever since. I have yet to see a subpar DC Comics/Warner Bros. animated feature. The book, Batman: The Animated Series, honors all that hard work and dedication with stellar artwork. Enjoy. This is a 144-page hardcover, $60. From Insight Editions.
Hasbro’s current Marvel Legends packaging features multiple plastic elements that the company plans to eliminate. (Photo credit: The Pop Insider)
Depending upon your level of participation, one aspect of pop culture that could be high on your radar is collecting. Let’s focus on action figures. Hasbro, with a forward-looking approach to the environment, will be doing away with plastic packaging for its action figures. Let that sink in. Is this something that makes you jump up? An excellent story on this can found over at Pop Insider.
Seriously, even the most casual observer can appreciate how pretty, and safe and secure, a collectible figure looks encased within its hermetically sealed world. Yes, if you didn’t know, collectors love that. Most collectors want the action figure to stay in the box! Sure, they claim to enjoy a nice debate over it. But, no, most of them want the darn thing to stay out of harm’s way and not have to endure the ravages of time in any way, shape, or form like us mere mortals.
But all collectors of some of the most coveted actions figures will need to adjust. Hasbro is the prime source, the undisputed champ. So, folks will need to give this a little think. One of the first road blocks that could trigger some trauma is having to deal with the fact that, without the plastic packaging, a potential buyer can’t inspect the product before buying! No more plastic see-through windows! Then there’s the ultimate conundrum, once the toy is purchased, do you still just leave it in the box, not really knowing what lies inside, or do you dare open the box and actually handle it, risking it being compromised in some way? It becomes a philosophical question, for some people, doesn’t it? Should we all do our part to save the world or are we better off focusing on saving the mint condition of a collectible action figure?
For me, if I were to purchase a collectible figure, I would try to get a look at it before I bought it and then I would plan to display it out of the box. I’d buy a collector’s cube and display it that way. But, most likely, I wouldn’t buy a figure in the first place. I don’t rule it out though. Some of these figures are definitely charming. I don’t think they add up to a viable investment. Maybe everyone just needs to relax and take it all in stride. Buy one of these items, take it out of the box and never plan to sell it, just display it in your office. All this is assuming that you’re an adult collector. If you’re a kid, then tear open the box already and get on with life! Who is buying these figures the most, the adults or the kids?
It will be interesting to see how things develop as this plastic packaging is phased out in the next two years. With just the adult market in mind, is there perhaps some biodegradable plastic that can replace the plastic currently used for those essential windows on the display box? All this makes my head spin since, if you stop and consider the position of most, if not all, adult collectors, this plastic packaging will never be thrown out! The whole point, for just about every collector, is to leave the figure in the box! Also, keep in mind, the figure itself is made out of plastic!
An aspiring writer does well to heed that famous Tolstoy quote about families: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Cartoonists, many of them and I include myself among these wonderfully wretched souls, gravitate more often than not to stories about outsiders, people dealing with deep issues. It leads to glorious work like The Nao of Brown, originally published in 2012 by SelfMadeHero/Abrams. A new edition, from SelfMadeHero and Abrams, just came out and it’s a good time to revisit what has become a classic tale of a young woman finding her way.
Welcome to the world of Nao Brown.
Nao Brown, at 28, is still teetering along on the precipice that takes one from childhood to adulthood. Nao comes to understand that one can remain dangling on that cliff forever. This is the year that Nao makes it to the other side. The Nao of Brown is in the same spirit as Ghost World, the Daniel Clowes tour de force graphic novel that seemed, with its major motion picture version, to bring geek culture out of the closet back in 2001. The Nao of Brown is also, just like Ghost World, a crisp combination of exquisite art and writing. Where Clowes is more hard-edged and sarcastic, Dillon is more dreamy and bathed in soft watercolor washes. Our main character, Nao, is struggling to find her place in the world with one foot in her Japanese ancestry and the other foot in her Anglo-British ancestry. And she sees the world in the black and white extremes of an obsessive-compulsive. Her dark thoughts terrify her. Pop culture, hip and ironic, is an island that she can escape to.
The life and times of Nao Brown.
Will one more mix tape be able to save Nao? She works in a pop culture boutique run by Steve, a hapless nerd if ever there was one who has a crush on Nao. She cringes at the thought of the pack of teenage boys who frequent the shop only to worship her. She knows she’s too old for them. She intellectually knows her youth is relative. But she still thinks like a little girl. For most of the book, she works out her feelings for a man she’s developed a relationship with recently. Her initial interest in Gregory was triggered by the fact he resembles a pop culture toy she adores.
Steve, trapped in the friend zone.
This is a fascinating read, no two ways about it, as immersive as any of your most beloved movies, music, novels…or graphic novels! And, as an added bonus, alternating throughout the main narrative is a “story within a story” that is simply icing on the cake! All that said, it’s a crowded field these days with one amazing graphic novel after another. The solution sometimes, just as with any other art form, is a revisit or reissue. And so that brings us to this recent reissue of The Nao of Brown. This new edition, with additional production art, is a totally well-deserved relaunch into the world and will undoubtedly enchant a whole new crop of readers.
Searching for Nao Brown.
The Nao of Brown is a 216-page hardcover. For more details, visit SelfMadeHero and Abrams.
The destiny of Rey, and the Rebel Alliance, hangs in the balance.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has arrived! I saw it last night and I was quite entertained. This was a late night show complete with long line and excitement in the air. I will make a deal with you. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already in the trailer–this is a movie about finding one’s destiny. You could say that about most movies. And there is the big conflict going on, of course, over what Rey (Daisy Ridley) should do with her life. Should she follow the light or the dark? Well, no one needs to feel obligated to do what they “should” do, right? Therein lies the deeper conflict. By all counts, Rey is, and this is no secret, the last Jedi. Who can help her with this? Ah, that is what this movie is all about and it does a fine job with that premise.
I will tell you that I went into this movie in the spirit of a true Star Wars fan–I was dutifully ready to be amazed. I was not to leave my seat. I was definitely not to check my phone. I was not to smack loudly on any edibles–if I even dared to indulge in cinema snacks. The woman seated next to me did have these plastic-wrapped treats she noisily noshed on and she DID check her phone, which is outrageous. And some people were not riveted to their seats and took bathroom breaks or whatever–more checking of phones? There seemed to be a jittery vibe going on. And that is the biggest challenge the Star Wars franchise has to contend with: can it keep you amazed? The answer is more of a so-so attitude. This Star Wars movie has its share of self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood–which is fine as that is a staple for these big tent events–but perhaps there was just a tad too much–even if the Disney team is supposed to have perfected the delicately-balanced recipe for mass entertainment.
Star Wars delivers both art and action. Maybe a little more art than action–but that’s okay!
So, how much did Disney spend to buy out George Lucas? Enough to run a space colony on the moon, right? Well, then, we all deserve to be amazed! Again, I come back to the so-so vibe going on. The audience was there because this is an event. The movie was there because this is a huge investment. Writer-director-mastermind Rian Johnson is there to pull off another J.J. Abrams rabbit-out-of-a-hat-trick. This is, in its own way, a noble effort–not be dismissed. Is it possible today to really pull off an old-fashioned trick like this that gets an audience genuinely thrilled? For one thing, the audience has shifted, in its interests and attitude, since the first Star Wars in fundamental ways: less patient, wiser, snarkier–there wasn’t even any snark in 1977! To do the rabbit trick today, you need to scale back and dial down.
Some of the very best moments in this Star Wars movie are when everything goes into radio silence. For a crowd-pleaser, you don’t necessarily want to get too arthouse on the public. This is not “2001: A Space Odyssey,” although, given the wide demographic for Star Wars, you have plenty of wiggle room to enter into artistic mode. Truth to told, everyone hungers for some art with their action. Anyway, there are a number of these moments of radio silence as Rey deals with the profound obstacles on her journey of self-discovery as well as when we get to the nitty gritty conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. And it is beautifully done. I don’t care if some people got it and some chose to munch away on snacks or sneak a look at their phone for the millionth time. The Star Wars franchise, all of these franchises, know that’s part of the game and some will play it well while others will fall short. All in all, the results from this latest Star Wars are well played.
The whole cast delivers the goods, to be sure. For instance, I cannot image this without Adam Driver just as much as I cannot image this without Mark Hamill. Now, these two actors are very different, no doubt. Driver as an actor, we can mostly agree, runs circles around Hamill but Hamill is a special case. He has some acting chops. For this movie, he has all the acting chops he could possibly need. He comes to this role honoring something amounting to a sacred trust. Overall, he is a pleasure to see on the screen as the reluctant and conflicted legend, the great Luke Skywalker. What should he do at this point in his life? What is his greater purpose? He is admirably up to the challenge of this pivotal role. The same can certainly be said of Carrie Fisher. Hamill, ultimately, carries a good bit of this story as he is caught in the destiny triangle between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). By the time we’re getting down to these three revealing their true selves, no one is munching or checking their Facebook.
I have some treasures to give away. Here is the plan: I will mail out any of these treats to you in return for a little good cheer back. My prime objective is to get more folks to become aware of my book of collected works in comics, “A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories.” What I ask of you is to read the book and give it a review on Amazon. Of course, say whatever you like. I will truly appreciate the feedback. And it can be as short and sweet as you like too. You can easily purchase my book (or read for free) at Amazon. Just go right here. I think this will be a natural fit for my thoughtful readers.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!
My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?
Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.
Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne
There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.
Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will open in U.S. theaters on July 21st. It all began as a French comic book series. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. The science fiction comics series was entitled “Valérian and Laureline,” or just “Valérian,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The first volume in a complete collected works was recently published by Cinebook. “Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is now available from Cinebook. You can also purchase it at Amazon right here.
“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1”
This deluxe edition includes various supplementary material related to the movie. It starts out with an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). He shares his childhood adoration for the Valerian comics. He dutifully awaited each new installment in Pilote magazine, just like all the other kids he knew. The Valerian comics, with their mix of classic science fiction and whimsical fantasy, helped to influence Star Wars. And perhaps, only now, has movie technology caught up to do justice to a Valerian movie.
Drawing by Jean-Claude Mézières of Star Wars meets Valerian
All you really need to know to enjoy the movie is that it’s like Star Wars but with a distinctively French flare. The main characters are a couple of special operatives, Valérian and Laureline, on a mission to save the world, or should I say, the universe! It is in reading the actual comics that a reader quickly picks up on that refreshing sense of irreverence that is Valerian. Keep in mind that director Luc Besson worked with Valerian artist Jean-Claude Mézières on “The Fifth Element.” Indeed, this is a very special case of a major motion picture and its comics source material working seamlessly together.
Now, consider the significance of the Valerian comics because, make no big mistake, Valerian set the stage for much that was to come. Valerian comics, in their day, were groundbreaking. There was nothing quite like it in its scope and influence. These comics hit France in the Sixties during a major time of transition: a post World War II culture seeking out fresh new entertainment. To get away from the gray and the drab, the two French creators of Valerian went west to the U.S. for a time to get recharged. In fact, their first work together originated in Salt Lake City, Utah!
Panel excerpt from Valerian
In the U.S., Mézières, the artist, and Christin, the writer, were enthralled with wide open spaces, colorful B-movies, and great promise for change, as demonstrated with the Civil Rights movement. They honed their skills. Mézières focused on such artistic talent as Giraud, Jijé, Franquin, and Mad magazine. Christin focused on science fiction writers like Asimov, Van Vogt, Vance, and Wyndham. And, together, they created Valerian.
This first volume of the collection contains books 1 and 2 of the series: The City of Shifting Waters – in its original two parts, 9 pages longer format – and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. It also includes book 0, Bad Dreams, translated into English for the first time: the very first adventures of our two heroes, published after City and retroactively numbered.
And to really get a sense of what’s in store with the Valerian movie, check out this particularly informative trailer below that goes into the vital connection to the original comics. Yes, Valerian is a big deal. Consider it as big as Star Wars:
“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is a 160-page full color hardcover suitable for all ages. Buy it on Amazon right here.
What if your favorite movie character had poor eyesight? Take Indiana Jones, for instance. What if his eyesight failed him right at that crucial moment when he is risking his life to plunder that golden idol? Not a pretty sight! Award-winning illustrator Wren McDonald has created a series of comics for Visian ICL.
Not a pretty sight for Luke Skywalker!
At Visian ICL, they take vision very seriously. Visian ICL believes that everyone deserves to see the world as vividly as possible – whether with glasses, contacts or more the advanced procedures which they offer. To learn more about Visian ICL, and see more Wren McDonald comics, go right here.
Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
I went to see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at the Seattle Cinerama Theatre just to make things even more special. Any Star Wars movie is a special event and this latest installment is no different. The big draw for me is the winning performance by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, daughter of a great rebel hero who must prove that her father did not fall in league with the Empire. Her journey becomes more complicated as she runs into conflict with her handler, Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). Our story takes place in vintage Star Wars, just before 1977’s A New Hope. This movie opens the window further to show just what wonders still lie ahead with a Disney-owned Star Wars franchise.
I’m not a hardcore Star Wars fan but even I could appreciate Peter Cushing back on the screen, digitally re-created, in order to reprise his role as the villain Grand Moff Tarkin. Most of the other CGI trickery was all Wookiee to me. But I did catch the vintage vibe here and there with cantina characters popping up and X-Wing fighter pilots back in action. George Lucas must have decided early on that his Rebel Alliance fighters were going to look more like average folks than hardened warriors. Any minute, you could expect your own grandmother to pop on the screen. In fact, one of the pilots does look to be someone’s grandmother.
The plot is pretty straightforward: earnest and lovely Jyn Erso must press on, save her dad, and save the rebellion. There’s a bunch of doublespeak in the interim and good-natured talk of believing in the force within you. There’s nothing really here with the iconic quality of a Yoda but that’s okay. We’re already treading on iconic vintage soil so that’s plenty. But there is one compelling addition in the form of the robot K-2SO brilliantly voice by Alan Tudyk.
The gang is all here.
Let me tell you a few things about K-2SO. He’s a big guy, bigger and brasher than C-3PO. I had a little girl seated next to me and she perked up every time that K-2SO acted up. He’s none too refined at times. Where C-3PO relied upon cunning, K-2SO is just as likely to rely upon brawn. In one scene, when a gatekeeper asks if he requires any help, K-2SO simply nods, raises his fist, and pounds the guy to death. It’s a pretty odd scene but easy enough in context to pass over. There’s a war on, you know. In fact, for one quick scene, we close in on ground forces that may as well be in Syria. Then we zap back into space for a bit and, ultimately, we see that everything does not rely just upon brawn but on Jyn Erso guiding the rebels back to a new sense of hope.
One spoiler, perhaps. You probably already know this. It won’t hurt anything really if you don’t but Carrie Fisher appears at the very end. It is a CGI version of her 19-year-old self and she claims victory for the rebellion and welcomes a new hope. That really touched me. The whole experience of seeing a Star Wars movie and in such a regal movie house brought home to me the still enduring power of cinema. With people consuming content is every conceivable way possible, it is reassuring that we can all be drawn back to a more basic and communal activity as going to the movies, to go and sit together to see the big event on the screen. It is not nearly the same powerful experience as it was for moviegoers in the heyday of the box office but it’s still something. It comes pretty darn close.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.
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
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.
Yes, and I love New York.
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.