Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spotlight on "Ghosts"

 I came across three new books that sparked my nosy-ness recently.  I found these on the shelves at a local supermarket (presumably this indicates the targeted audience for these types of books).  So, I snapped some quick pics of the covers...just to demonstrate once again the utter absence of anyone else's name listed as "author".  The first book is FED UP! ostensibly "written" by Rick Perry.  The second book is titled IS IT JUST ME OR IS IT NUTS OUT THERE? and is purportedly "written" by Whoopi Goldberg.  The third book is George W. Bush's memoir of his time as President.  Do I believe DECISION POINTS was actually "written" by W?  No, I do not and digging into the acknowledgments will surely identify the true author.

FED UP! is subtitled "Our Fight to Save America from Washington" and it says that the author is Rick Perry.  And to make sure everyone outside of Texas knows who Rick is, they make sure to place "Governor of Texas" right there on the cover.  First thing to note is that this book was primed to come out right around the time of Perry's ordination as lifetime emperor of Texas AND the beginning of his never admit-to run for the Republican nomination for President in 2012.  Otherwise, there's no other reason for him to have hired someone to write a book under his name and start waving his fist at Washington...except to establish himself as a Washington "outsider" and a good-ol-boy Texan who ain't gu'n take no guff from Oily Obama.

So who actually wrote this book?  Page 190 buries this special acknowledgment:

"I want to single out for special recognition Chip Roy, an outstanding legal scholar who previously served as senior adviser to U.S. Senator John Cornyn in his Senate leadership office and on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and who resigned his position as Special Assistant United States Attorney to devote himself full-time to the completion of the original manuscript.  Writing a book of this nature in the midst of a campaign for reelection was a herculean task and wouldn't have been possible without Chip's dedication aver the course of several months."  

I'll bet.  Hello Chip Roy.  I bet you wrote your very own special acknowledgement.  I've heard Rick Perry talk.  He couldn't spit that sentence out if it was on a teleprompter.  How does it feel to see Rick Perry's name on the cover of a book you wrote?  I know, I know.  You were well-compensated.  I guess that's some level of satisfaction.

For some reason, I think Whoopi actually tried to write this book on her own and discovered...guess what?...writing books is harrrrdddd.  So, Whoopi writes in her acknowledgments:

"First, I want to acknowledge Tom Straw because without him I would have been able to have this done on time."

Since this kicks off a short acknowledgment section where everyone else thanked are people at the publisher...and her cat!...and since Tom's contribution here is non-specific yet spotlighted?  Hello Tom Straw.  You wrote a book and Whoopi Goldberg gets all the credit.  Well, except for here where I like to spotlight the Ghosts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Austin Comicon (WizardWorld) SHOW! 2010 Report




Ah. A beautiful morning. Get to sleep in a little bit. Drive the boy to school for play-off pep-rally. Back home to shower and leisurely pack a large duffle bag. Slip all my credentials and info into a nifty Batman folder bought from Wal-Mart. Slip on my Legion Flight Ring and all is a-go. Ran to Duke's BBQ with the wife and daughter for a yummy breakfast taco and a short-stack of pancakes. Said my goodbyes and I was off....well, I had to swing by Kohl's on the way out of town to pick up an awesome tee with the cover of SUPERMAN #300 on it cuz all their character tees were half-price! Came in a cool collectible tin also emblazoned with that classic cover. I remember buying that comic when it first came out in 1976. It was a personal favorite imagining what it would be like if baby Kal-El had landed on Earth in 1976 and become Superman in the future of 2001. I made the mistake of "loaning" that one to the kid across the street, cause I was a nice kid and he was sick. He moved away without ever returning it. But I don't hold grudges. Except about that. Still one of my favorite covers.

Easy drive in. Sunny. Found a parking lot close by for $5 and headed in just as the gates opened wide. Walked right up to the press booth to get my wristband for the weekend and headed inside. Man on a mission. Snapped some general pics of the entrance as I walked in, no crowd at all yet so I strolled right up to the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) and Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson). Wagner is still gorgeous and seemed terribly shy. Difficult to get a conversation going at first. Lots of awkward, nervous smiling. So, I introduced myself. Told her I was here on behalf of Aintitcool but I was buying the picture and an autograph for myself. She asked what I did and I told her I write reviews and do interviews and that I'm an artist. That was a point of interest. She wanted to know what type of art and she seemed to like the fact that I still do it old-school and then scan the art in to digitally manipulate and/or add color. Gave her a business card with my website address on it and in a Columbo-moment asked one other thing...could I snap a picture? She gets nervous. The lady with her gets stone-faced and clipped. I think, did I say something wrong? So I mutter out..."for the website?" Wagner looks at the other lady like she's hiding Jews in the basement and I just showed up wearing a swastika (I make the Nazi-reference for reasons that will become clear later). Awkward silence hung in the air and then I just shrugged and said "Really, its no prob..." Then the other lady interrupted in a mollifying tone that "Well, there's the paid photo-ops and we're not supposed to..." And I said, "That's fine...I wasn't thinking in personal terms but for the website..." and smiled. Then the two of them looked at each other and said "Okay..." So, I snapped a nice picture. The fact that I was probably only the second person to talk to her made that possible. I promise that any later in the weekend, I would've been shut down immediately and likely had a cattle-prod shock to the groin.

Next up was Richard Anderson right next to Wagner. So incredibly nice and friendly and soft-spoken. Big genuine smile. Friendly handshake. I may have been his first customer. I bought an Oscar Goldman photo from him. I told him that he and everyone else from the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN show were a little bit of a lifeline for me during my formative years of '72 - '76 while my family was stationed in Puerto Rico. Everything on TV was in Spanish except for a handful of primetime shows that had the English audio simulcast over military radio, and their show was one of those. He wanted to talk about Puerto Rico. Nice visit and I moved along once others started lining up behind me.

The next few hours were spent scoping out where everyone was situated; getting a feel for the place. I promptly hit up Greg Horn to buy a gorgeous "Star Sapphire" print (and wound up buying a Vampirella print too...I'm a sucker for Vampi...have I mentioned that I have one of those life-size posters of Vampi from the '70s signed by Vampi herself?). I checked out Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) and Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Erin Gray has aged quite well and were I single and she willing...well, I'd canoodle a bit.

On to Mike Grell to buy a WARLORD print and get him to sign a copy of an issue of GL/GA that I am pretty sure was the first Mike Grell comic I ever bought. It's well-worn. Grell was drawing headshots for $50 and full figure shots for $100. If I was into that, I think it would be worth it. He also signs your first comic for free and additional comics are $1 for each. It's an easy way to keep away the ebay-ers because they hate anything that erodes their profit. Grell is an energetic guy with a nice tough-guy persona and an entertaining story to tell for each and every hand he shakes. A great guest. I'd love to see him on a panel with Howard Chaykin, another great storyteller from the same generation of creators.

Visited bunches of dealers just looking for a "good deal." One guy had a bunch of longboxes with random comics thrown in for 50¢ each. I found mint copies of all 3 issues of GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS...a series I regret having gotten rid of years ago during a comics purge. Knowing Mike Grell was at the con, I was thrilled to find them. So, I presented them to the dealer who looked at me with a constipated look and groaned "Are you sure you can't find one more?" I said "Well these are all I wanted." He groaned again "....I don't have.... 50¢" Really? He didn't offer to just let me take all 3 for $1.00, so I said "I'm sure I can find something." I remembered flipping past an old '70s BATMAN comic I had as a kid, so I grabbed that one. Dealer was happy and gave me my bills. Mentally tucked away the fact that I needed to get back to Grell for another sig.

About 30 minutes before Lee Majors was scheduled to show up for signings, I made my way into line to wait. I was the third person there. He eventually showed up, not too late. The 2 ladies in front of me were drooling over the footage of the $6,000,000 man playing on the TV while we waited. Obviously, Majors' appearance here is coordinated with the release (finally) of the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN series on DVD in the U.S. for the very first time (legally). The only downside to this great news is that it's a $250 package from TimeLife and unavailable for rent or in individual seasons. You gotta buy them all or nothing. And no stores are allowed to carry them. So, a good news/bad news situation for fans.

Majors himself is in real good shape and seemed completely overwhelmed by this whole experience. The TV show predates the modern convention mania, so he was obviously quite outside of his comfort zone here. However, he was very friendly and nice. I shook his hand...TWICE! So sue me...he's the frackin' SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and I wanted to hold his hand a little bit!

I told him that I was an actual member of his "Fan Club." To which he laughed and said "I didn't know I still had one!" So, I smiled and told him about how when I was 9 years-old I clipped out the form from a comic and slipped10 thin dimes into an envelope and sent it in to join the official "Six Million Dollar Man Fan Club." But, a few weeks later, I received an envelope back with 9 dimes inside, my form, and a note that said I had only sent 9 dimes instead of 10. A very sad me was shocked and surprised and gloriously happy about a week or so later when the full Fan Club package arrived anyway! So, I walked away the first day with all my birthday money spent on autographed photos of Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson and autographed prints from Mike Grell and Greg Horn. Like a friend of mine said...I was "like a kid in a candy store." All I know is that those 3 photos join my Johnathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) sign photo and my birthday sketch from George Perez as most prized possessions. Now I really need to finally get that Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) autographed photo.

After that, it was time to check in at my hotel room. Originally, I planned on heading back for the Bionic panel, but I realized I needed a little lay-down time. So, I relaxed at the hotel until about 5:30 and then started getting ready for dinner with some friends up from Louisiana. Chatting by text a few times during the day, I knew they were in town and we planned on meeting up for dinner. They wanted to know where and when, so I made a reservation real quick at MariaMaria Restaurant right off 6th Street. A great place for high-end Mexican food and drinks, plus it's co-owned by Carlos Santana. :) I figured more than enough time to meet up with my wife and daughter on the south end of Round Rock and skedaddle back to the downtown by 7.

I was wrong.

What I did not know or take into account was that this wasn't only the Comicon weekend. It was also "Play-offs" night at various high school football arenas, and it was the U.T. vs. O.S.U. game on Saturday, and it was a state teacher's conference meeting in the same location, and a friggin' movie was filming in downtown this weekend. Add all that to the normal afterwork traffic and our travel time tripled. :/ I kept sending my friends my apologies by text, and thankfully they went ahead and got the table and relaxed while they waited for us. Increasingly frustrated, we finally made it to where we normally would turn onto Colorado Street and damn if the road wasn't blocked off! So, takes forever to get around in Austin because of all the blasted one-way streets downtown. Finally make our way down to MariaMaria and the fracking $5 garage we always park in on the left is shut down. So, with no way to cross traffic back over to the right side....and to avoid Valet (because my OCD has a problem with valet parking), I drop my wife and daughter off and tell them to go in and find Jim and I'll be there as fast as I can. ..which, because of Austin's bassackwards road and traffic, took me way longer than it should, but I finally got parked in well-lit garage on the right and dashed inside and started scoping around for our table.

Great food. Great visit. A couple of hours later, around the time that the live music started kicking it up, we parted ways and I took my wife and daughter back to their car....which this time took all of 15 minutes rather than 1 1/2 hours. I headed back to my room close by the Con and made an early night of it so I could be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning for the mongo Saturday.

Woke and showered in plenty of time to catch the "Continental" breakfast at the hotel. First time ever that his included Mexican fried burritos and boiled eggs....but I'm not complaining. Booked it over to the Convention Center, no prob. Staying literally 3 minutes south (away from all the football madness) was genius. Met up with my sister and my son just as the doors were opening. Friday had been a steady but not overly large crowd. The Saturday crowd was monster sized already. In terms of space, this was not a particularly large space...easily about 1/4 of the size of the C2E2 for comparison. So, when this crowd descended on Saturday...well there were times during the day where I literally could not move because there was simply no space, just bodies. Of all the comics guys there, the top 3 in terms of continuous long lines were Greg Horn, Joe Madeiura, and Arthur Suydam. Suydam was the most popular (again, in terms of lines) with his massive Marvel Zombies banners and hundreds of zombie prints. Horn and Suydam were selling prints and books and were willing to sign with a purchase. Without a purchase, Horn was requesting a donation go into the Hero Initiative donation jar in exchange for sigs.

There was a huge emphasis on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE at this Con. Which is bizarre to me. I don't get that appeal at all. But the guy and the two hot girls who star in that low-budget torture flick were there and the most disturbing thing I overheard as I walked by was a guy holding his signed picture from one of the girls and telling her he loved the movie. *shudder* How anyone loves a movie where that girl gets her mouth surgically attached to a guy's butt is beyond my comprehension. Had no interest in Xander from BUFFY. But he was there.

One thing I noticed immediately upon entering the Con was a deep fixation on the camera I wore around my neck. It was kind of crazy. Every time I moseyed anywhere within sight line of a celebrity...if I even glanced their way I would be staring eye-to-eye by someone with badge either shaking their head at me or actually putting their hand up and saying "No pictures." Except for poor Ernie Hudson of GHOSTBUSTERS fame. He was there wearing his full Ghostbusters costume and set up right next to a replica of their Ghostbusters-mobile. Nobody seemed to mind when I stood back and took a string of pictures of Ernie. But whatever you do, don't try to snap a pic of Peter Mayhew or Gil Gerard. Try to take a picture of Billy Dee Williams or Lee Majors and I got the distinct impression that my children might become orphans. This kind of thing eventually started pissing me off...because I really don't like people treating me like that and I get kind of immature. So, yeh. After awhile, I turned off my flash and started just nonchalantly snapping pics without aiming as I walked through the aisles. Wound up accidentally catching folks like Claudia Christian, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Nash, Joan Severance in some of them. Oh well, let's all remember the WizardWorld sign outside at the entrance says:

"By entering these premises you consent to be photographed, filmed and/or otherwise recorded for any use and waive all rights you may have to any claims for payment or royalties in connection with any exhibition, televising, or other publication of these materials." [emphasis mine]

Roaming around in the crushing crowd, I periodically popped by the Artist's Alley to see if a few of the guys I was interested in talking to (like Matt Sturges) were available, but crowds everywhere. Eventually I gave up and decided to hit them all up on Sunday when I was sure that the crowd would be much smaller. I overheard a lot throughout the day as I went in and out of the pathways of celebs, comics pros, and dealers. The most obvious constant was that they were without exception very very happy with the response in Austin.

My son spent a lot of time at a dealer in knives, swords, and stun guns. I will say that the telescoping light-sabre-style massive stun gun was definitely impressive. You could hear those things going off all day as the dealer was demonstrating her wares. She always had a full contingent of men checking out the weaponry.

Claudia Christian bumped into me on what I believe was a quick dash to the restroom and when I turned back around, there were some friends I was supposed to meet up with for lunch. So, the three of us grabbed my son and headed outside to look for a place to eat. I wasn't exactly sure what all was in the area, so we just started walking. Sidewalk was a little busy, so we slipped into the mostly empty bike lane for a block or so. That was a mistake. I forgot that the Austin bike community is a militant wing having delcared a fatwa upon all pedestrians and drivers. We weren't there 5 seconds and an obnoxious biker...with more than enough room...yells "BIKE LANE!" at us. We ignored her. But we got a good amount of daggers flung our way from bikers' eyes during that short walk across the street. *sheesh*

After a good lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse, we headed back to the Con. Walked around some more with my boy and then he headed back to the stunguns, so I left him alone and felt the need to visit the restroom myself. What I found in there is difficult to describe, but besides the enormous line of geeks waiting to use the various holes, the place looked like a bunch of angry chimpanzees had had a poo party or something. So, I tried the other restroom. It too was a disaster, and now it was becoming urgent. Then I remembered the Teacher's Conference upstairs..."teachers are less likely to conduct themselves like angry chimps" and hopped on the escalator and snuck into the restroom up there. Clean, quiet, victory.

Rushed back downstairs to meet up with my son to sit in on the Walter Koenig panel. Took note of the sign at the entrance to the Exhibit Hall with two stages set up. The sign said "Photos allowed in Exhibit Hall while celebrities are on-stage as long as photos are for personal use only." Woohoo! So, I happily snapped away with my phone as ol' Walter talked. I'm not kidding when I say that he was asked TWICE to say "Nuclear Wessel" in 30 minutes. If he was Del Shannon, he would've killed himself on the spot.

After Walter's talk, it was time for my son to decide how he wanted to spend his $20. Out of everything he walked around to look at, it came down to a decision between 2 items: A butterfly knife from the stungun lady or a signed soup ladle from the "Soup Nazi" from SEINFELD. The "Soup Nazi" won the prize...and my son is incredibly happy and thrilled. "Soup Nazi" was so nice, visited with us, and let us take pictures with him. At one point as he was signing the ladle, I told him "that must've taken some practice." To which he smiled up at me and said "You'd think so. But the weird thing is that the very first time I tried it, it came out perfect. I guess I was born to sign soup ladles!" And he laughed. That was the end of the day for my boy. Once I got him dropped off with his mom, I was back inside for Bill Sienkiewicz's panel. Snapped a couple of shots of him just with my phone. Good sized crowd. Immediately after that was the Adam West & Burt Ward panel on the other stage.

Crowd was pretty huge, so I went off to roam again for awhile. When I checked the time and realized the West & Ward thing was 15 minutes into it, I strolled back in and stood way in the back to listen in and snap a couple of grainy zoomed-in photos. By the time I snapped the second picture I was being manhandled by this long-haired dude (too old to keep his hair that long unless he's a member of an '80s hair band). He was in my face about how he told me "4 times from the stage that there were no photos allowed!" To which I informed him that I just walked in and didn't hear that announcement and... he interrupted that we needed to let security deal with me. And I, again politely but firmly, pointed out to him that I obviously understood there was a policy against photos out on the floor because of the paid photo ops (I'm not a moron) but that the sign at the entrance to the panels says that photos ARE allowed while the guests are onstage...for personal use. He smirked and mockingly said " me the sign." I said.."Okay. Unless someone has taken it down or something." Which got me a superior snort from him. So, I walked him to the entrance and pointed out the sign triumphantly. His puffed up chest deflated as he read the sign and he didn't outright apologize, but he told me that I could keep the picture I took. I accepted that as an apology. Then he hustled off to get that sign taken down because, according to him, it was "not supposed to be there." Pissed me off, but there was a sense of satisfaction in that I was right this time. But thank you long-haired Whitesnake reject for ruining the West & Ward panel for me. I had no interest in walking back in there after that. Basically, the Con organizers and their bullies need to lighten the hell up on the quick-snap photos or they need to just outright ban cameras entirely from the event.

In fact, I kind of needed to just get out for awhile at that point and went and grabbed some dinner. Headed back for the Costume Contest after some food, which was a lot of fun. Lasted over 2 hours and a guy dressed as Mario actually won. He was funny and good...but Power Girl, Blue Falcon, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl were all much better and all deserved Best In this humble reviewer's opinion. Honorable Mention should go to "Pimp" Vader.

Headed in to the last hour of the GHOSTBUSTERS screening and afterwards visited outside for about another hour with the drop-dead gorgeous cos-play model "Taffeta Darling" and Scott from I then headed to Sixth Street where I thought I might pop in to the costume after party at the Gypsy Lounge until I realized it was waaaayyyy down on the east end of Sixth Street. I no go there. Sorry. Soaked up the Sixth Street scene for a bit. Grabbed something to eat while reading a HOUSE OF MYSTERY trade and it was about 1 a.m. and time for bed. Relaxed and streamed the pilot of THE WALKING DEAD before heading to sleep.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview with Peter Straub and Michael Easton about THE GREEN WOMAN

I had a chance to talk with Michael Easton & Peter Straub for about their collaboration for DC Vertigo’s THE GREEN WOMAN. Check out my review of the book here, then scroll down and see what the writing team of this awesome new book had to say about THE GREEN WOMAN.

KEITH HOWELL (KH): How many years have you two known each other?

PETER STRAUB (PS): I can't exactly figure it out, but I'd say probably five or six years.

KH: How did the two of you meet and come to collaborate with each other?

MICHAEL EASTON (ME): One of my Mom's favorite books was "Koko". I remember reading it to her during her chemotherapy treatments. Fourteen years later and a world away I recieved a copy of "Koko" in my mailbox at the ABC studio inscribed to me by Peter Straub. It took about two months for me to get the courage up to contact him and tell him this story.

PS: On a tour of the studio, I dropped off a book for Michael. Not long after, he wrote to thank me and asked if I were willing to look at what he had so far of his graphic novel, SOUL STEALER, done with Christopher Shy. Come on over, I said, or thereabouts, and in a couple of days he was in my house and we were paging through SOUL STEALER. It didn't take long for the two of us to begin contemplating the notion of collaborating on something of our own.

KH: What is the actual working relationship in your writing collaboration?

PS: We drink bourbon at a little joint (now, alas, closed) called O'Neals; we talk about plot and character, with me emitting clouds of vapor and impassioned ranting; exhausted and drunk, I fall asleep sitting up; Michael writes a couple of pages. That was pretty much the way it went.

There was no real design to the collaboration. No "you do this and I'll do that". Or none that I recall. I remember the bourbon. Cheap stuff while we were writing. Good stuff -- Pappy Van Winkle -- when we were done for the night.

KH: Describe a little of the manner in which the project was pitched and developed at VERTIGO.

PS: There hardly was a pitch. Vertigo was eager to work with me, at least Karen Berger and Jonathan Vankin were. As Michael and I progressed, we now and then showed them what we were doing. Berger and Vankin patted our heads and told us to go on playing. In the end, both of them contributed very solid editorial suggestions.

The nice people at Vertigo told us not to hold anything back and we never did. Karen Berger and Jon Vankin were both very nurturing. Nothing would be as it is without their kindness and insight.

KH: Peter has demonstrated in the past an openness to the collaborative process, yet not with a visual artist. Michael has collaborated with visual artists but not with another writer. I've heard, for example, that in THE CATERPILLAR'S QUESTION, Philip Jose Farmer and Piers Anthony actually alternated chapters and effectively challenged the reader to try and figure out who wrote which. In writing THE GREEN WOMAN, what was the actual process that the two of you entered into to tell this story together?

ME: Peter got us into this fine mess with the notion that one of his characters, Franklin Bachelor, who dies in "The Throat", is still alive and it's the conceit of some asshole writer trying to wrap up his book that he's dead. Peter said something that I still have jotted down on a cocktail napkin somewhere; "There isn't a writer born who doesn't turn into a lying piece of shit the second he picks up a pen". That became I think the third line of the book and the genesis of what was to follow.

Michael had most of the good ideas.

KH: Haha. Were there ever points of plot or thematic disagreement or was this one of those stories you were both of one mind about?

PS: I don't remember a single moment of disagreement.

No disagreements. It was just there from the beginning. The character of Franklin Bachelor had been with Peter for years, ready to leap off the pages once again. The only thematic roadblock was creating a proper foil for this powerful life force. We needed Bob Steele. That took some time but was also part of the synchronicity as I know a lot of cops. Some of the best people in my life wear the blue. Great jugglers of demons. That's who Bob Steele became.

KH: Compare solitary writing to writing with a partner. What do you gain from both and what are the difficulties inherent in both processes?

ME: On a personal level It was like being let into the master class at school. Working with Peter Straub you learn to put the right words in the right order. As far as the writing process, every word on the page felt like the culmination of our collaborative effort, that none of it, for better or worse, would have existed without the two of us sitting in the same room during these long sessions of inspired madness.

With a partner, you have to do only half of the work. Alone, you get to be the Absolute Monarch and Ruler of your realm. Both of these are good deals.

KH: Now that you (Straub) have finished your first graphic novel, is this something you might be interested in pursuing again in the future?

PS: If I could work with Michael, sure. With anyone else, not a chance.

KH: THE GREEN WOMAN is dedicated to Michael's OLTL co-star Robert S. Woods. I know he has a reputation in the industry as one of the true "nice" guys, but this is a pretty harsh and graphic foray into the darkest of evils. Which leads me to ask you what about Woods and his relationship to either or both of you led you to honor him this way?

PS: Michael has known Bob Woods much longer than I, but it's safe to say that both of us love him. Robert S. Woods is an extraordinary man, and he runs very deep. You can trust him absolutely; he is true-blue all the way down. Also, Woods is a lot more complex that he seems at first. He never does anything meaningless, something always lies behind his actions. As an actor, he is astonishingly subtle, refined, and elegant. As far as I can see, almost no one has noticed this, because he makes it all look so easy, so natural. Well, Ted Williams made swinging a bat look easy, too.

Woods is "Gary Cooper". Larger than life but that's only half the story. He's a deep man. There's a lot there to begin with and so much more beneath the surface. I think that's what you want in a friend. That's what we wanted for our characters.

Also, and this is pretty amazing, Bob Woods was a Green Beret officer in Vietnam, and he worked with the mountain tribes to fight our common enemy, the ARVN and the guys in the black pajamas. In fact, he and Franklin Bachelor lived with and led the same tribe, the Bru.

KH: John Bolton's artwork creates an emotional atmosphere for every page and tells the story visually in an amazing way. How was the working relationship with Bolton? Did you write the book script style and deliver to him that way or was there a more writer/artist collaborative effort her that allowed John freedom to deliver artistic input that affected elements of how you tell the story?

ME: John's a visionary. We never met him in person but it's as if he had been occupying the barstool next to us the whole time we wrote. Our ghost partner.

We wrote a lengthy script and turned Bolton loose. We wisely got off the stage and let John Bonham have his drum solo.

For the next three years art came rolling in. We wanted something twisted and epic and that's what we got from the very first page. You never have to ask John to push the boundaries with his work because he's already doing it.

We were happy to turn our final product over to masterly John Bolton and wait to see what amazements would return our way. The only problem we ever had with him, and it was very minor, was that he kept making the "Green Woman" figurehead a total babe, with lipstick and pink nipples. Eventually he stopped panting and toned her down, but she's still a babe.

KH: The indulgently evil "Fee" Bandolier is the focus of THE GREEN WOMAN. Yet, his story appeared to end originally at the end of Peter's novel THE THROAT. Was it always a plan to resurrect Fee or did the idea for THE GREEN WOMAN develop later, and if so, what led to the decision?

PS: No, I knew Fee was dead at the end of THE THROAT. Yet...when Michael and I first began to talk about doing a story together, he came back to me, saying that I had maybe been mistaken, that he could probably do a lot of good for me by doing an insane amount of bad out in the world.

KH: The "hero", if one can use that term here, of THE GREEN WOMAN is Bob Steele -- a great name. Can you share some background on your thoughts behind the development of this character, your reference to an old cowboy actor of the same name, and especially...your harsh direction for the character.

PS: When I was a kid, WTMJ in Milwaukee used to run Bob Steele movies in the afternoons, as part of a larger context involving a host, a few clowns, I forget what else. Steele seemed to be completely heroic. In our book, of course, his heroism is largely ironic, as our Steele lives la vida loca, with a vengeance. On the other hand, he really is a good cop, an inspired detective, and so in that way he does possess a real heroism.

Within "The Green Woman", the hard lines between good and evil, hero and villain, are easily breached. The characters of Fielding and Bob are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin.

Both Michael and I agreed that our story could not turn out well for anyone. What it accepts is so absolutely bleak and grim that a happy ending for even our deeply compromised hero would have rung false, would have felt like a betrayal of the book.

KH: Talk a little about "The Green Woman" herself and the role she plays in this story.

PS: The Green Woman was a figurehead on an ill-fated ship called The Black Galleon, on which the officers and crew wound up killing each other. When the ship drifted unto port, its timbers were stripped and used to construct a Belfast pub called The Black Galleon. The figurehead is shipped to America and is installed in a bar (an evil bar) where for more than a century she warps men's minds and schemes to be reunited with the rest of her. Whatever wickedness transpires in our story comes from her teeming mind.

KH: What is "evil"?

ME: Evil comes in many forms and all of them want you. We each have a choice to make.

Evil is what you get when you mistreat a child. Evil is what happens when love turns baffled and angry. Evil is a kind of suffocation. Evil wishes to devour everything that is not itself.

KH: Can evil ever truly die?

PS: Oh, I think evil hangs in there, like roaches and bedbugs. It seems to me that some parts of evil die off to get folded up with the flags and insignia, while other parts move into small towns and start hanging out in the coffee shops, talking to the local teenagers in this really interesting and unexpected way.

KH: What is "good"?

PS: Let me give you a shorthand answer to this question. Tune into ONE LIFE TO LIVE one day and watch Robert S. Woods being "Bo Buchanan." There is simple goodness and complex goodness, and both are moving, but the complex variety lets you learn a hell of a lot more about other people.

Making the right choice.

KH: And I have to say that the "right" choice in this instance was Peter Straub and Michael Easton collaborating on THE GREEN WOMAN. Thank you for your work and your time...and your thoughts.

THE GREEN WOMAN is available right now from DC Vertigo.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE...a disappointing almost-classic


Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Shane Davis (pencils) & Sandra Hope (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics

"So what do you think about this super-guy?"
-- unnamed Arctic researcher

This is going to be a long review, so I apologize up front for that. But I think the degree of press attention for the first in DC's new line of EARTH ONE books justifies a lengthy examination.

I appreciate what DC is attempting here, but I wound up ultimately feeling dissatisfied by the end. The mythically iconic nature of Superman's origin story is such that I never tire of reading different versions of it. I do tire of retellings of Batman's origin, Spidey's origin, etc. As a general rule, just note the origin and get on with a more interesting story. The INCREDIBLE HULK movie did the origin perfectly... quick flashes of images that give the viewer all he needs to be up to speed and then jump into the story. Superman, however, touches that messianic aspect within that makes it eternally ripe for reinterpretation. So with hesitancy, but also anticipation, I dove into SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE and there are parts I liked a lot but rather than build enthusiasm as I read it, I eventually reached a point where I felt I was simply plodding through to a thunderous clunk at the end.

Don't get me wrong. It's a beautifully produced book. I love the printed hardback cover (rather than a slipcover). It looks and feels substantial in your hands. For $20, you want to at least feel like you're getting your money's worth.

And like I said, I appreciate the attempt here to reinterpret the Superman concept for the modern, and presumably, more current youthful market. The news coverage of the event has been stupidly fixating on the "hoodie" that the brooding 20 year-old Clark Kent wears on the cover, much like the news media missing the point of the WONDER WOMAN reboot by hyper-fixating on her costume change. As such, the media misses the bigger picture. First though, let me first lay out those elements that did work for me.

The degree of thought that went into this work is impressive. Straczynski removed nearly every shackle of DC continuity from Superman and approached much like a new concept within the "real", or rather a more "realistic," world. This is not the "Earth Prime" of DC continuity. The concept of "Earth Prime" was that it was "our" world...that is...a world without "Metropolis", "Gotham City", "Star City", etc. "Earth Prime" was our world in that the DC characters existed there, but in comics only. This new line of EARTH ONE comics is not the same concept. This is "our" world only in the sense that it is mundane and recognizable. On "Earth One," the fictional cities of DC exist and the characters do not already preexist in the comic books of that world. So, it's not "our" world. In "our" world, people would have instantly recognized Clark as a "super-hero." But in the EARTH ONE series, not only is he the last son of this point...he is the only one of his kind. He is something truly new.

I liked Straczynski's characterization of Clark throughout the entire book. He's a young man striving to determine his purpose in life. I liked how Straczynski extrapolated the impact of these types of powers upon a young man of good character in this modern day. In a sense, the first part of the book plays out a lot of details quite similar to the classic novel GLADIATOR, by Philip Wylie, which was an inspiration for the Superman character originally. Clark, in this well-thought out concept, basically has his pick of anything he wants to do. He can sign with any major sports organization because of his physical abilities or he can write his own ticket in the science field because of his heightened mind and information processing. So, why does he choose a daily newspaper in 2010 when the newspaper industry is struggling for relevancy in the digital age? And why does a major metropolitan newspaper decide to hire a 20 year-old with barely a 2-year degree from community college? Straczynski sets it up fairly well. Not totally believable, but it kinda works for the apparent necessity of inserting the iconic elements into Superman's origin.

I appreciated the utter absence of any sense of a Lex Luthor or a Brainiac or a Zod. My geek side may love these characters, and truthfully, Lex Luthor particularly is one of the great villains of literature...who has rarely had a great story utilizing him. But for this EARTH ONE type of project to work, it has to establish Superman in this "realistic" world first...and there's no need to tie his feet to the continuity cement blocks before he's even gotten out of the gate.

I appreciated Straczynski's decision to focus on the conflict that gives rise to Earth's first super-powered champion and to make the outside conflict an extra-terrestrial assault. One thing Straczynski does well is set-up under layers of conflict that give a sense of a larger story at work. In this case, the main focus is clearly on the inner workings of a young man struggling to embrace his destiny against the temptation to just make a lot of money and make sure his widowed mother never has to worry about anything. At the same time, the larger conflict brewing out there is that Clark is also the target of an intergalactic hunt to track down and destroy the last Kryptonian by Krypton's bitter enemies.

The details of these conflicts were all very fascinating and well-thought out...but the end I felt dissatisfied. It was actually around the point where Clark finally put on the suit and took on the alien assault that the book started to lose steam. At the point where it should be at its most exciting, I was losing interest. I couldn't tell whether it was the pacing, the dialogue, the art, or what...but I went from thinking this was surprisingly good to the point where I cringed almost when Clark put on his sloppy, low-waisted pants, suit with a tie and popped on the glasses.

I realized, ultimately, that it was the forced introduction of the familiar that intruded upon my enjoyment. So much of the first half of the book felt new and "real" that as each of the more familiar aspects of the concept appeared, the flow was interrupted with the recognition of what was happening. What I realized was that, like the frustration of reading a book that violates its own internal logic with a deus ex machina resolution, this story worked within its own logic up until it started adding back in those elements outside its own "realistic" logic. Would that Straczynski had been afforded an opportunity to fully extrapolate the basic Superman/Clark Kent dynamic into something completely new, I think this would be more substantial than just a best-selling piece of eye candy.

Which brings me to the art. How do I put this? Buried somewhere beneath the stiff bodies, stone faces, gnarled hands, and light-boxed Google photos of "Debra Morgan" from DEXTER is a good artist trying to pull himself up and out like a zombie clawing itself out of the grave. The tracing and swiping is hamstringing Davis's ability to tell this story in a truly effective way. Compare his lack of drama (because his panel compositions are limited to fit the photos he Googled) to John Bolton's uses of photo referencing in THE GREEN WOMAN (which I reviewed last week). It's an astounding gap between the two and it's more than just years of experience.

All artists, myself included, are guilty of some degree of tracing and swiping. In fact, the first "cartooning" I did back in elementary school was using carbon paper to trace RICHIE RICH and SPIDER-MAN covers. And a lot of what I produced in my teen years was built from tracing or copying my favorite artists, which actually taught me quite a bit about basic drawing techniques. Hell, as a 17 year-old, I all but redrew a bunch of Bernie Wrightson panels for a school project. I'm not proud of it, but that's the idiocy of youth there. Transitioning into a commercial illustrator, however, a person has to move beyond that and into your own. In a professional job like this one, Davis is flat-out guilty of artistic plagiarism, at least in his use of the "Debra Morgan" photos, but I suspect now throughout the book. Immediately noticing the tracing made me start fixating on every other character in the book and wondering about the photo references. As a result, I started seeing faces that might be Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr., and maybe even Christian Bale as Clark? I'm not sure. But the Lois reference isn't even disputable because it's an outright trace much of the time. In contrast, Gary Frank's version of Superman is a fine example of how to take a real person and use them as the basis for your character without tracing photos of that person.

I've noticed a tendency in younger artists in the Google age to rely on tracing rather than develop their own style. And in an artist like Davis, this does a disservice not only to the project but also to his own development as an artist. He obviously has raw talent because the details that he adds and his landscapes, alien designs, and his ability to copy as well as he does all demonstrate that he has the skill if he stops leaning on the photo crutch. He is clearly weak when handling the human form, the human hand, or how the body moves in any real sense and this creates that stiffness throughout the book. Working slavishly off of posed photographs will diminish any sense of movement that an artist is trying to evoke. It's the difference between photo as reference and photo as crutch. The experienced artist takes the photo and uses it to give himself an "action" line for his character, then he builds up from the action line with the basic skeletal framework for the form. Then he draws his character from his own action line and framework...NOT FROM THE PHOTOGRAPH. It's the same type of thing I deal with when I am teaching basic research and writing. To avoid a charge of plagiarism, when researching facts, take bullet point notes (not complete sentences) on a separate sheet of paper and then write your paragraph or paper from your notes and not from the original source. This way you are creating your own work and not stealing someone else's work.

Davis's blatant tracing here is akin to a writing student I once had, one of only two I've ever had to fail. She was actually one of the strongest natural writers I've taught, but the final research project counted for 50% of her grade and I never allow make-ups for the Finals. She had 3 solid weeks to work on it. When I sat down to grade it, I noted that the project was formatted beautifully, structured correctly, and was reading quite well...and then I caught a glitch. In the middle of a well-written paragraph there was a "page number"...the type of "page number" that Westlaw inserts in their digitized Case law so that a researcher can properly cite the page number for the physically printed version of the case. She had missed it or forgotten to delete it before she turned it in. So, I pulled up the case on Westlaw and found the page number and yes, she literally cut-and-pasted paragraph after paragraph. Without spending the rest of my night trying to distinguish between which parts of the project she wrote on her own and which parts were plagiarized, I had to give a zero on content.

Unfortunately, turning a critical eye towards this project, Davis's artwork in SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE winds up getting a zero from me as well because I honestly can't tell what all he traced and what all is his own work. Had he sketched from the photos first and then worked from the sketches, there would be similarities to the photos but they would not be blatant tracing.

Sandra Hope, on the other hand, lays down gorgeous inks and texturing to Davis's art. For my money, the gorgeous look of the art overall is grounded more in Hope's inks and Barbara Ciardo's beautifully rich but slightly desaturated colors. Hope particularly brings confidence to the line-work and demonstrates once again why she is one of the finest of the current crop of inkers. Digital rendering is leading to a reduction of opportunities for professional inkers, but I am very happy that DC chose to bring her in on this book rather than work directly from Davis's pencils.

I really admire what was attempted here. And it is not a failure. In fact, I suspect most people will enjoy it and never dig any deeper critically...and that's fine. We all approach our art and literature with differing needs and expectations. I, however, found SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE at times excellent, at others stilted and dull, and overall a disappointing almost classic.