Today, I want to share with you an interview I did with Kansas Public Radio. We discuss George Clayton Johnson’s unique role in science fiction and pop culture in my new book , George’s Run, published by Rutgers University Press. The show is Conversations, hosted by Dan Skinner. Listen to it here.
As I proceed down this path of being interviewed and explaining my process to different people on various formats, I find I keep connecting new dots. One recent eureka moment for me was simply contemplating the fact that The Twilight Zone has long since established itself in the canon of pop culture, and given the fact that George Clayton Johnson wrote some of the most iconic episodes of the show, that alone secures his legacy. In George’s unique case, he also happened to have been involved in other huge pop culture phenomena, including Ocean’s Eleven, Star Trek, and Logan’s Run.
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone is published by Rutgers University Press and is available now.
That’s the magic and power of graphic storytelling.
Yes, the gang, or The Group, is all here!
I was just minding my own business when I stumbled upon a delightful review on Amazon of my new book, George’s Run. This was from I Forgive Heathcliff (depending upon your browser, you may need to do a separate search) and it gets to the heart of what my graphic novel is all about. All I can say to any fellow creative, no one will love and understand your work as much as you do until, all of a sudden, it does click and people do get it! This review made me think and gave me pause. It helped me to better appreciate my own efforts. One of the goals of my graphic novel is to connect the dots and make the subject at hand accessible. That is what graphic novels do best. Here’s an excerpt from I Forgive Heathcliff’s review:
The best thing about this graphic novel, spurred on by the brief, blossoming friendship between George Clayton Johnson and Henry Chamberlain which describes George’s life and adventures as a writer, is the sweet and straightforward artwork combined with a sort of stream of consciousness storytelling that picks you up and floats you along, moving forward through years, events, and situations. I particularly loved the author’s humorous, respectful nod toward the entire group of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers by depicting them as shambling zombies.
So, yeah, this review got me to thinking. I did hit the nail on the head. I have George as our guide, our main character, who connects us with a significant movement in contemporary writing. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. You’ve got one of the most colorful and engaging of individuals, George Clayton Johnson, who acts as a main character in a novel about his own life and times while also taking on the role of tour guide into the inner workings of much of what we take for granted today in entertainment, both high and low culture. The members of what came to be known as The Group were fully aware of what they were doing: along with a wide variety of offshoots and variants, they were primarily engaged with reshaping genre writing for a contemporary audience.
Well, what can I say? I can and will keep saying more and more! For now, if you’re looking for one of those kind of books that helps make sense of it all while also being a fun read, then George’s Run is the book for you. You can buy it directly from the publisher, Rutgers University Press, or any number of other platforms and outlets, including Amazon.
I remember well Johnny Carson’s final show on The Tonight Show. I fondly recall the show having a mellow yet spontaneous vibe to it. I happen to have been watching it with a pal of mine and he said that Johnny should have been doing more casual and “unplugged” type of shows all along. In fact, I believe he actually did let loose more often than some may think. Of course, all in all, Johnny kept to the brand he created and it came natural to him. He was definitely the cool cat for a cool medium.
I notice a lot of mention being made today of this farewell show, May 22, 1992, but the first-ever show, October 1, 1962, is just as worthy of celebrating. It was mentioned on the final show and for good reason. It was still the dawn of television. We went in laughing only to wake up a few days later to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16-29, 1962). There was no particular reverence placed on this new show as demonstrated by the fact there is no preserved video of the first few years. For the first few years, the network was still relying on recording on kinescope which was of poor quality and not particularly archival. That’s why you only have photo stills in the above example to document the first broadcast.
On that first broadcast, Johnny quipped that he had already been knighted as the new king of late-night television (a nod to the out-going Jack Parr) but he was okay with settling for the title of prince. After a monumental 30-year run on the show, it was undisputed that Johnny was king. It is reported that he conducted around 22,000 interviews and was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in U.S. television history. It is no mistake to say that Johnny Carson ruled TV, set the gold standard for late-night, and, oddly enough, remains something of an enigma. Such is the life of a king. Set the gold standard, he did. You see the influence everywhere on late-night.
The Larry Sanders Show
It was Garry Shandling’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998), his satirical version of The Tonight Show, that best articulates the delicate balance, the lonely existence, of being known by all while also being understood by few. Garry Shandling would have known as he was set to take over The Tonight Show when the time came but he turned it down. He preferred to do his take on the show for HBO. I can’t help but think of both men when I see the work of each and maybe that’s a testament to the uncanny quality of what both men had to bring to television.
This is the book for any fan of comics, pop culture, and great stories!
It is my pleasure to present to you my conversation with Ray Carcases on his YouTube channel. Just click the link to the video right below this paragraph. This time around it’s me who is being interviewed. We discuss my new book, George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone, published by Rutgers University Press. Ray is a kindred spirit and I am so lucky to have gotten this opportunity to chat with him. I look forward to pursuing more of these sorts of conversations with him in the future since he’s a thinker and an excellent conversationalist.
I’ll tell you right now and I’ll bring it up more as we continue to spread the word about George’s Run. I said it in so many words but maybe I didn’t come right out and say it in this interview. I really feel that I’m the ideal spokesperson to guide the reader along as we pursue several pop culture backstories. It’s folks like Ray and myself, from Generation X, that have a certain perspective and so much to share with each other and younger generations. And that doesn’t make me feel “old” at all. It just makes me feel like, as Ray expressed so eloquently, I’m in that group that “know enough to know.” You just don’t get it until you finally reach that point!
An old woman has fought with death a thousand times and has always won. But now she finds herself afraid to let a wounded policeman in her door for fear he is Mr. Death. Is he?
Ray and I got into a groove and built upon one observation after another. We marveled together over the cinematic elements to The Twilight Zone and how you need to appreciate them, “know enough to know,” in order to understand this most celebrated yet misunderstood pop culture phenomenon. I like one moment when Ray observed the quality of Rod Serling’s epilogue to the George Clayton Johnson masterpiece, “Nothing in the Dark.” Just as the scene comes to a close, that one final thought summing up the tension between fear and reason: “There was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on.”
Gladys Cooper stars as an old and dying woman named Wanda Dunn.
The time has come to start spreading the news. My graphic novel, George’s Run, will be out soon. It is in the March edition of Previews, and you can find it here. The book will become available as of May 12, 2023, published by Rutgers University Press–and I could not be more thrilled. If you’ve ever set foot in a comics shop for any significant amount of time, then you’re aware of the monthly Diamond Comic Distributor Previews catalog. Each catalog provides previews of comics and graphic novels that will be available in the next couple of months. The issue for March, which comes out on February 22, features items scheduled to ship in May 2023 and will have my book in it. This is a big step towards getting the book out into the world! And, for a comics fan, it’s a huge big deal.
This is the book for any fan of comics, pop culture, and great stories!
George’s Run has been years in the making. If you’re one of my loyal followers, then you already know that this book is about the power of storytelling, a special blend of it going back to pulp fiction, especially science fiction. I’ll keep you posted every step of the way. For now, if you happen to visit your local comic shops, ask them to check out my book in the March Previews catalog and seriously consider ordering some copies of George’s Run. Your support means everything to me!
Here I am debuting a mini-comic version of George’s Run at Short Run!
An early color version of a page from the book.
I love the promotional material put together by Rutgers. It sums it all up quite nicely:
George Clayton Johnson was an up-and-coming short story writer who broke into Hollywood in a big way when he co-wrote the screenplay for Ocean’s Eleven. More legendary works followed, including Logan’s Run and classic scripts for shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. In the meantime, he forged friendships with some of the era’s most visionary science fiction writers, including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling.
Later in life, Johnson befriended comics journalist and artist Henry Chamberlain, and the two had long chats about his amazing life and career. Now Chamberlain pays tribute to his late friend in the graphic novel George’s Run, which brings Johnson’s creative milieu to life in vividly illustrated color panels. The result feels less like reading a conventional biography and more like sitting in on an intimate conversation between friends as they recollect key moments in pop culture history, as well as the colorful band of writers described by Chamberlain as the “Rat Pack of Science Fiction.”
Here is more marketing material:
New Graphic Novel Traces the Origins of Pop Culture Through the Life of Eccentric Storyteller George Clayton Johnson
“George Clayton Johnson was one of the most brilliant and important writers of the 20th Century, creating classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, as well as co-authoring Logan’s Run and Ocean’s Eleven. George’s Run spectacularly and charmingly invites you on the amazing journey of his life and legacy, from 1929 through the Fifties and Sixties to 2015 and beyond. It’s a trip down Memory Lane via time machine and rocket ship—and it will definitely blow your mind!”
—Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion
George Clayton Johnson
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through the Twilight Zone (Rutgers University Press; May 12, 2023, 978-1-9788-3420-0; $24.95) is a mashup of gonzo journalism and whimsical storytelling with the overarching theme of how a group of writers influenced each other to create some of the greatest pop culture of all time. This is an exploration of self and creativity.
The reader follows cartoonist-journalist Henry Chamberlain as he seeks to reveal secrets and insights from a unicorn from a golden era. George Clayton Johnson was one of the greatest television writers of the 1960s. George showed up, as if out of nowhere, to command a significant place at the writer’s table for the original Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Co-writing the cult classic novel, Logan’s Run, was to be the cherry on top of a career that began, believe it or not, with George co-writing the story that was to become the original Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.
Henry Chamberlain is a cartoonist, artist and writer living in Virginia Beach, originally from Seattle. Henry regularly writes about comics and pop culture on his blog, Comics Grinder. He writes for other venues, including The Comics Journal.
We Are Not Alone, a new Roku Original, debuts on January 27 on The Roku Channel and it is a promising sitcom: not one moment is wasted; solid casting; creative production value for a low budget sitcom; engaging story; solid humor; characters jump right in. In my previous post, I discussed what content like this can mean for Roku’s future. In this follow-up post, I share a few observations from viewing an advanced release. From what I can tell, this is a feature-length pilot for a sitcom.
Maybe, like me, you are a Roku person. And maybe you noticed this new offering, a sci-fi comedy, We Are Not Alone. I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued on two main tracks: first, I genuinely think I’ll like watching this; next, I have a feeling this could be one of those turning points which adds to Roku’s profile as an original content provider, as it moves beyond its original purpose of just making streaming devices. Last year’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was a significant step forward for Roku as a serious original content provider.
Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century. Dana Stevens. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2022. 415pp. $29.99
Buster Keaton (1895-1966), the “Great Stone Face” of silent movies, found himself hurled, figuratively and literally, into the 20th century. And quite an impact he was to make! We often seek a way into a story through an event or a person. Buster Keaton proves to be a perfect guide in an understanding of where we’ve been, in terms of media, these last hundred years or so. Dana Stevens, film critic for Slate since 2006, gives Buster Keaton his due and even credits him with having more than a little to do with defining the last century.
It’s only in hindsight that we can see the big picture. One of the most celebrated anecdotes about the early years of cinema goes back to one of its inventors, Louis Lumiere, who is said to have declared that “the cinema is an invention with no future.” Perhaps that is more legend than true but it was kept alive by Jean-Luc Godard for his screenplay, Contempt. As Stevens points out, time and again, there was nothing certain about this new art form. It was a gamble. It was a game for risk takers. Enter Buster Keaton and his family of daredevil vaudevillians dealing in the most spine-tingling and acrobatic of stunts!
Buster Keaton set upon the stage at the tender age of five, just at the dawn of a new century. As Stevens does throughout, she connects all sorts of disparate dots to focus on a whole, while crafting a sense of the poetic, especially with her favored metaphor of Buster in mid-air. Here is an excerpt where she tightens the frame around Buster’s origins:
By the time Buster was taking his first public falls at the turn of the century, watching talented children onstage was a cultural thrill that came with a built-in moral twinge, even when those children weren’t being flung into scenery or the rib cages of hecklers by their strapping fathers. The awareness that “the cruelty” was liable to shut down the show must have added to the audience’s frisson of mingled guilt, pleasure, and suspense–the precise mix of affects Joe and Buster’s father-son knock-about act also specialized in eliciting. This conflicted cultural, legal, and psychological space, where children were at once fragile treasures to be protected, market commodities to be exploited, and private property to be disposed of at their parents’ will, was the world into which Buster found himself thrown.
Buster Keaton, in his own way, was the ultimate Everyman of the Twentieth Century, a regular fellow thrown into a suddenly faster world. In one film after another, in countless intricately plotted near-death antics, Buster Keaton is the sad sack in over his head, just trying to get by, but forced to contend with a topsy-turvy chain of events whether it was a house frame perfectly timed to fall only inches away from him or a locomotive set to just barely miss from killing him. Stevens, with great gusto, details every step of the way of Keaton’s ongoing good citizen trapped in a new-fangled pursuit of the American Dream.
Sharing similar childhood pathos and artistic achievement in adulthood with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton is among that elite group of artists that simply transcend any one medium, elevated to the level of an icon. Look to his movies and you will find gems with a distinctive Buster Keaton artistic vision. Beyond his silent movie glory, Keaton remained relevant as a character actor at the dawn of television and in movies well into the sixties. It was Keaton’s special mix of talents and demeanor, a combination of the subversive and the melancholic, that truly spoke to a new generation and remains timeless. Dana Stevens is spot on to celebrate this singular talent and her book is a most fitting tribute.
SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN (DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults, paper, $16.99)
The big news for the 2021 Eisner Awards at Comic-Con in San Diego is that cartoonist Gene Luen Yang was the big winner of the evening, taking home three Eisner Awards, including two for Superman Smashes the Klan (Best Publication for Kids, and Best Adaptation from Another Medium) and one for Dragon Hoops (Best Publication for Teens). That’s the big takeaway and quite a worthy one at that. Also, just as important is the news of Junji Ito‘s Remina (translated by Jocelyne Allen) manga winning this year’s Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia award. Junji Ito also won the Best Writer/Artist award for his Remina and Venus In The Blind Spot manga.
Panel excerpt from DRAGON HOOPS
While we inevitably focus on the winners–let’s also pay attention to the nominees. And then there are all the others who did not make it that far. I’ll tell you right now that these award lists are not the final word, but a great guide nonetheless. In a perfect world, for instance, Welcome to the New World, a graphic novel by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan, would have been nominated for the 2020 book published by Henry Holt. It was nominated for an Eisner as a webcomic in 2018, so that’s a good thing. Among this year’s winners, I do think the Eisners got it spot on for Best Reality-Based book going to Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, by Derf Backderf. And it was great to give a shoutout to Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns & Moonage Daydreams byway of an award for Best Penciller/Inker to Michael Allred.
Anyway, I think it helps to make you dig around a little to see who won…you’ll see what I mean….
From Henry Chamberlain’s graphic novel, George’s Run
William F. Nolan was one of the grand old men from the golden age of science fiction and horror spanning pulp fiction, television and the movies. Starting out as an illustrator in Kansas City, Nolan ultimately made his way to Hollywood and became part of a group of writers within the orbit of Ray Bradbury, and subsequently Charles Beaumont, all trying to break into television. As part of the inner circle of writers, casually known as, “The Group,” little by little, Nolan gained some ground.