Was in Los Angeles last week. Not on business for a change. Went to the Universal City Amusement Park. Haven't been there since '87 or so, when it was basically the studio tour with some fairly lame "shows" scattered around, like a little ballet involving Conan and Red Sonja. The studio tour I found interesting, and I liked the Wild West stunt show (which is still running) on principle, but the rest: eh.
I'm not an amusement park kind of guy. Disneyland pretty much bores me to tears, and the first time I was there, in '81, what I noticed more than anything else was what a crappy job they did covering up the seams. I know people who truly think it's the happiest place on Earth, and a pinnacle of human achievement, but all it is to me is a hot, crowded, expensive tourist trap. With Mickey Mouse. (Where are the Air Pirates now that we need them?)
But the "new" Universal City (it's not exactly new, but no joke is an old joke to someone who hasn't heard it) is my idea of an amusement park. Multi-levels, beautiful vistas, parking close to everything. (They'll offer you supposedly premium parking for $5 more, but I took the low end route and still ended up in a parking garage with direct access to the park through the Citywalk mall now attached to UC, so my suggestion is to skip the high priced version.) Okay, so Universal doesn't have the endless assortment of attractions Disneyland does, but there are a day's worth easy. If Disneyland is about anything, it's about lines. That park seems to judge its worth by how long the lines are and how miserable the people in them are. Universal has lines too, but lines done right: shaded access (important in a climate where the sun bakes down even in late March) constant flow. They really have flow down to a science.
And what attractions they have they generally do right. Some are more kid-oriented, like the E.T. ride and the Animal Planet live animal show, but they're still done right. The studio tour is still worth every second, a great little primer on how movie visuals are convincingly faked, though I notice they no longer point out the Beaver Cleaver house on the backlot or point out how the scene of the JAWS attacks doubles as the hometown of Jessica Fletcher on MURDER SHE WROTE. The Back To The Future virtual ride is easily the best I've come across, with intimate seating (8 to a ride, which might not sound like intimate but after some that seat 30 or more) and true omnidirectional wraparound projection. (I'm told the Star Trek Experience here at the Las Vegas Hilton is spectacular, but my general loathing of all things Star Trek has kept me away from it, so comparisons are out, but Back To The Future beats the hell out of the lame Disneyland Star Wars ride.) Less convincing in Jurassic Park: The Ride, which starts as a fairly pathetic Pirates Of The Caribbean-type boat ride past plastic velociraptors that spritz water, but the sheer drop down an 85-ft. waterfall at the end redeems it. Do yourself a favor: rent a storage locker at the front of the ride for your belongings (esp. cell phones), only take the ride on a warm day, and don't bother buying a plastic poncho. You'll get drenched no matter what you do. Also surprisingly entertaining is the Mummy attraction; surprising because it's little more than a standard haunted house, the kind that sets up in supermarket parking lots in October. Cheesy gimmicks galore, proudly done. (I especially liked the rolling room – guaranteed to invoke vertigo – though the dweebs in front of me, who apparently had no sense of direction to begin with, came to a dead halt there.)
And CityWalk is pretty good as those things go, as is the Flintstones carnival, but Universal really deserves kudos for the Terminator 3-D attraction. Sure, the 3-D is terrific – there was one effect so realistic I flinched – badly – and the mingling of film and live actors was flawless. Sure, it was actually a decent continuation of the movies (with the original actors). But it was also heavy on nasty action (and, sure, they warned that the show might not be appropriate for small children, which wasn't stopping the mobs from taking small children in) totally appropriate to the exhibit, and had a storyline involving the violent destruction of civilization, and, in the wake of Sept. 11, Universal didn't shut it down. I appreciate that.
I dig Universal City. Makes a good day trip. And the best part – or the worst, given your point of view – is when you leave, you're in Los Angeles. Not Anaheim.
On the other hand, if you're staying in Los Angeles, don't stay at the Best Western Sunset Plaza on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Best Western used to be a good hotel chain, but for the last decade they've sucked no end, and though the Sunset Plaza looks nice enough, and has a decent continental breakfast spread, the towel rack in the bathroom was broken, the air conditioning didn't work, you could open the windows but not close them again, they obviously don't believe in lighting the rooms, the ads touted VCRs in the rooms and there wasn't any, the list just goes on and on. While it wasn't exactly hellish, I'm never staying there, or at any Best Western again. I'll stay in a Motel 6 before I'll choose Best Western.
Re: TERMINATOR and on-screen violence and all that, it seems the original handwringing after 9-11 was way off-base. Contrary to early predictions, the terrorist attacks haven't affected American tastes in material much at all. Except that war films that are proud to be war films are back. TRAINING DAY and THE PANIC ROOM are box office hits. Sitcoms are on the fade on the tube. Despite hour-long Fox special canards and reports from Columbia University on the "influence of TV violence" (hey, I've got an idea: let's dump a bunch of kids in a bunch of rooms in front of a bunch of TV sets with basically no other discipline and no supervision or significant human contact and see who becomes a potential menace to society and who doesn't! Then let's blame TV!) not many are rushing to "take responsibility." Let's face it: it still comes down to individual product, because "violent" movies also tank at the box office, and movies that people want to see people want to see and there's really no way to tell what that is until it's put out there, demographic studies, focus groups and cries of social irresponsibility aside. And, sure, see a good action flick and you come away feeling pumped up – this is what many studies refer to as "aggression" caused by viewing – but action still remains a largely cathartic event, and I don't know about you but I still need release now and then.
By the way, fans of Christopher Nolan's breakthrough thriller MEMENTO (Columbia-TriStar Home Entertainment) will want to pick up his black-and-white first "no-budget" feature, FOLLOWING, now also released on DVD (Columbia-TriStar Home Entertainment). Sporting an unforeseen if not totally unexpected ending (you know something's coming, but you don't know what) and what must now be considered a number of Nolan trademarks, particularly a disjoint alinear narrative, it shows just how much can be achieved with basically no money. The DVD is stacked with what should've been on MEMENTO, including director's commentary, a comparison of the screenplay and finished film, and the ability to play the film in chronological order. It's not just a DVD, it's a filmmaking seminar. Loads of fun.
A couple addenda/errata from last week:
From Dan Brereton: so, did I not mention the two NOCTURNALS trades coming out in the next two months?
James from Oni just nailed me on it: THE GUNWITCH: OUTSKIRTS OF DOOM collects the devilishly fun three issue mini-series I wrote and Ted Naifeh illustrated in delicious black and white. it features an introduction by Brian Michael Bendis. NOCTURNALS: THE DARK FOREVER collects the acclaimed full-color painted miniseries three-parter, features my script and art, as well as bonus materials, and introduction by tv/film writer David Mandel and afterword/pin-up art by Alex Ross.
As I said last week, go forth and buy.
I'd also like to take a moment to mention that Dan just sent me a copy of the cover he and Phil Noto did for our forthcoming BIRDS OF PREY story. Dan drew it rather than painted it and Phil colored it, but it's still great, and looks like a watercolor version of Dan's usual work. Hot stuff, and I like this new style Dan's working in. If I had DC's permission to reprint it here,I would. Keep an eye out for it.
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned writer Peter David's tiff with Marvel over an impending price rise (these days a potentially exterminating event) on what Peter feels is his unjustly neglected CAPTAIN MARVEL. It had all settled out peacefully with a six-month postponement of the price hike while Peter did his best to goose the numbers. Recently, though, it took an even more bizarre turn as Marvel honcho Bill Jemas came up with a new wrinkle: for those six months he'll write his own comic, THE MARVEL, presumably in the style he thinks Marvel Comics should be written, and at the end of six months they'll let "the fans" (aka sales) decide which book will continue production.
I assume Bill, never one to risk an unfair advantage, will keep the playing field level, meaning THE MARVEL will start at whatever numbering CAPTAIN MARVEL is on that month instead of a #1 (not that #1s are particularly significant events these days) and he'll steer clear of fan favorite artists or, preferably, have THE MARVEL drawn by the same art team that draws CAPTAIN MARVEL so it can be said the only deciding factor in the contest is the quality and style of the respective writing. May the best man win!
But I kind of like this "contest" idea, especially if the industry's going to remain mired in work-for-hire comics. I think companies should do it more often on company-owned characters, except a little differently from the way Bill Jemas has it set up. It wasn't that long ago that DC, for instance, made a practice of cattlecalling professionals for properties the company wanted to revamp. I specifically recall THE FLASH and CAPTAIN ATOM as properties they multi-sought pitches for because they wanted to revive the names. It gave the illusion of creativity – they were "searching" for a bold new concept – while ultimately reinforcing the innate conservatism of the company in an era when stars were wreaking havoc on company properties with things like Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and Howard Chaykin's BLACKHAWK (which I never thought was a particularly radical departure, but hey...); I saw several highly innovative concepts for THE FLASH, for instance, and ultimately all DC did was raise up Kid Flash to take over the role. The book's still going so it obviously worked for them, but the cattlecall system to get around to what was essentially a foregone conclusion was a waste of a lot of creativity and everyone's time. The contest system is certainly preferable to that, or to companies sitting around twiddling their thumbs because they can't decide which direction to go in. Go in both directions, and let the public decide. Say, for instance, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Tom Peyer and Mark Millar come up with what they think is a great revamp of Superman. Instead of DC just saying yes or no, MWPM get to "challenge" -- meaning they get to put out six months of their version concurrent with six months of the "standard" version, and see what the audience buys most. Hal Jordan fans hate Kyle Rayner? Do a six month challenge of a Hal Jordan GL book vs. a Kyle Rayner GL book and see who wins. Etc.
It's comics event as game show.
And I recently got an e-mail from an independent creator annoyed by my constant trashing of superheroes. I'm not dead set against superheroes – I even have two or three superhero concepts floating around I may yet do something with, though I prefer to view them as action heroes – but my main criticism is that everyone seems to pump out superhero material in either not particularly interesting or not particularly appropriate ways. My correspondent would like me to acknowledge, however, that many people coming into comics want to do superheroes, that's their main interest, and there's nothing wrong with doing your own superhero instead of working on company owned properties.
Okay. I won't go so far as to say there's nothing wrong with it, but I'll acknowledge philosophical differences. But it seems to me if you're trying to do independent superheroes, the deck is stacked against you anyway. You're trying to hit a tiny market without many of the tools that appeal to buyers in that market. Like a "universe." That's something else I'm not very fond of, but superhero buyers are used to characters existing among other characters, and would, say, Image have made quite the splash it did, even with the popularity of the talent involved, had they not pumped that character interaction hard? But they had the benefit of several people working in tandem, and it's hard enough for a single person to create one decent superhero let alone scores of them.
Saw a documentary on the Sundance Channel called REVOLUTION OS, a bit of a pie-in-the-sky presentation of the potential of Linux as a replacement operating system for Microsoft Windows. (I'm not arguing against Linux, by the way. I've never used it and if you love it more power to you. Just don't send any e-mails about how I'm a brainwashed tool of the great Satan, okay?) The documentary spent less time discussing Linux than outlining the development of what is utopically called the Free Software Movement and its offshoot, the Open Source Initiative. As the latter's webpage states, "The basic idea behind open source is very simple: When programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing... We in the open source community have learned that this rapid evolutionary process produces better software than the traditional closed model, in which only a very few programmers can see the source and everybody else must blindly use an opaque block of bits... Open Source Initiative exists to make this case to the commercial world."
Open Source is a bit more complicated than that – there are an assortment of rules that should be followed regarding usage – but it seems to me that if people are going to insist on doing independent superheroes and trying to compete on some level on the DC-Marvel playing field, Open Source may provide a useful model. I suggest independents "source" their characters so other people can use them. This appears to fly in the face of traditional concerns like property rights, but here also a model is provided: Free Software Movement founder Richard Stallman wrote a standard software license for "free software" (the "free" has nothing to do with price, everything to do with usage) in which the creator maintains property rights, preventing the property from becoming public domain, but allows free usage. I imagine a comics parallel would need some hard and fast rules, like characters may be used so long as they aren't altered from the creator's original version, not killed or humiliated, arenlt used in more than a maximum of two issues running, etc.
Of course, everyone would have to stop worrying about strict continuity – there's no reason Mike Allred's Madman should have to stick to the conditions of Mike Baron and Steve Rude's Nexus were Madman to have a guest shot there – and perhaps be a little less anally controlling of properties, but there's always the risk of generating the same cheesy level of excitement as in the early Marvel days when Spider-Man ran into the Hulk for the first time. At minimum, it would engender interplay and cooperation between independent comics talents, possibly create new star characters, and level the playing field, at least a little bit.
Normally I don't do this, but this is such an intriguing concept I wanted to mention it. Got the following from Craig McGill this morning: "Over the last few weeks I've been receiving comics from people trying to spread the word about some titles and here's what there is:
LUCIFER issues 5-22; Joe Sacco's PALESTINE vol 1; SKYAPE Vol 2; LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN 1-4; some DC MILLENNIUM editions; THE SURGEON (2 parter); and DARK ASCENSION (4 parter from 2 Glasgow boys).
The aim is to keep passing this lot around people who may not have the cash up front to go buy the titles to see if they like them (can't blame them with the rising prices). All anyone ever pays is postage passing it on to the next person. Anyone interested should email me.
Click on Craig's name above. Sort of a private volunteer library, an interesting way to drum up support for comics you like though it obviously requires a lot of cooperation and trust. Maybe fans of Peter David's CAPTAIN MARVEL should try it.
Before I get to this week's reviews, let me thank Eric from Ann Arbor's Reanimator Records (Box 1582, Ann Arbor MI 48106) for sending four CDs my way in a move to blunt the sheer boredom of modern records. Works for me. From the MC5 to Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes to the Stooges and beyond, Michigan, and particularly the Ann Arbor area, has always been a hotbed of garage music. The packaging suggests a Midwestern Goth attitude, but the music covers a lot of ground (especially on the great and extensive compilation TOMBSTONE PARK) and is reminiscent of a great Cleveland compilation that came out on Stiff Records years ago. They're also apparently prepping a compilation of the REANIMATOR comics serial that's been running on one-sheets in the records. Way cool, esp. if you want to keep abreast of current garage.
Viz Communications is currently citing a boom in manga sales here, and, given the stack of stuff they sent, I'm not surprised. If there's any company currently providing something for every taste, it's Viz. (Also not surprising, considering that's the Japanese tradition.) Even what we usually consider the most innocuous kid stuff comes in different flavors. POKEMON, for instance, which bears only passing similarity to the TV show, currently runs as MAGICAL POKEMON JOURNEY ($4.95 monthly) by Yumi Tsukirino, and as POKEMON:YELLOW CABALLERO ($4.95 monthly) by Hidenori Kusaka and Mato. The former is clearly aimed at young children, more specifically young girls. I'm not personally partial to it, but it's nice to see anything aimed at that group; it's a nice comic. YELLOW CABALLERO, while not of FROM HELL complexity, is considerably darker and nastier, with a vaster and more complex array of characters than exists in the TV show's philosophies, and, within its parameters, fairly exciting stuff. (Fans of the TV show be warned: something apparently really bad has happened to Ash in YELLOW CABALLERO, here known as Red. I can see why the TV show isn't like this.)
Somewhat less satisfying than the TV show (at least the first two series) is the NO NEED FOR TENCHI: AYEKA'S HEART trade paperback ($15.95). The lovelorn demon pirate Ryoko remains one of the great creations of anime, and it's pleasant enough reading, but for some reason the concept just doesn't transplant well. I also can't fault the quality of the GUNDAM material, represented here by MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM 0079, VOL 3 (trade paperback; $9.95) – it's well enough written and drawn by Kazuhisa Kondo – but I just can't warm to the material. Likewise, FUSHIGI YUGI THE MYSTERIOUS PLAY VOL 6: SUMMONER (trade paperback; $15.95) by Yu Watase is material I'm usually not particularly drawn to – heroic fantasy – but this tale of a young girl who falls into an old book and finds herself a pivotal figure in the ancient land of the book's legends makes a pretty interesting story that has more in common with Hong Kong Wuxan movies. The current volume is an entertaining romp of crushed dreams, devious schemes and clever betrayals. The art's the only drawback. Not that it's bad, but (also a problem wit SAILOR MOON books) the style shifts so radically it's hard to keep track of characters. But, when all else fails, there's DRAGONBALL and RANMA ½ to fall back on. Akira Toriyama's DRAGONBALL 7 (trade paperback, $12.95) continues Goku's battles against the Red Ribbon Army, while Rumiko Takahashi's RANMA ½ 19 is more of Ranma's romantic vexations and martial arts variations, in this case martial arts cheerleading and familial bonding, so utterly ridiculous and involving I have to wonder why American comics don't even attempt something like Takahashi's clever balance of action, romance and humor. If you're going to swipe from manga, that's what to swipe, not the rudiments of the art style.
Eddie Campbell, in his introduction to Glenn Dakin's ABE – RIGHT FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS (14.95), suggests Top Shelf Productions (Box 1282, Marietta GA 30061-1282) will be praised for publishing this compilation. He's right. Though beginning eons ago as a superhero parody – disgruntled citizen of a boring future Abe takes to the skies as Captain Oblivion – the cartoony and well-written Abe strip quickly veered into pithy introspection and social commentary. And not the jerkoff twaddle that passes for introspection in some many alternative comics but the real thing. A great book, and funny. Odd how his style starts to resemble Eddie Campbell's by the end, though...
Eddie's also represented by Top Shelf's publication of SNAKES AND LADDERS ($5.95), drawn by Eddie and written by Alan Moore, which continues Moore's fascination with magical history (both magic as history and history as magic) previously voiced in the pages of PROMETHEA, FROM HELL, BIG NUMBERS and even SWAMP THING. It's comic book as rant, which no one does better than Alan. In some ways, this is the short form of PROMETHEA and somehow Williams and Gray's more solid work on that book serves the material much less well than Eddie's fluid, chimeric art does here. If you're up for an illuminating rant, or if, like me, you can just never get too much of Arthur Machen, SNAKES AND LADDERS is the place to be.
Sara Ryan and Steve "WHITEOUT" Lieber produce a model mini-comic in ME AND EDITH HEAD (no price), reprinted from CICADA magazine. A teenager has her dreams crushed when she ends up doing costumes for the school play instead of being cast as Titania and learns new ways to cope with life as a result. Short and to the point, with a real story, real characters and no hysterionics. Nicely drawn, too, but I expect no less from Lieber.
Gifford Cheung's mini-comic GRILLED (2208 B Parker St, Berkeley CA 94704; $1, or $10 with hand drawn title) is supposed to have a scratch-and-sniff cover, but nothing happened for me. Not a bad effort, though. Cheung's cartooning is rudimentary but expressive, and it's more a vignette than a story, but the main character – a young man stricken with a chronic headache who goes to live with his aunt for treatment – is interesting and real enough that I want to see more of him, and of Cheung's work.
Finally, I get a lot of requests for scripts and the fascination with them seems to be growing out there. If you're in that set, there's now a book for you by Nat Gertler from About Comics called PANEL ONE: COMIC BOOK SCRIPTS BY TOP WRITERS ($19.95.) It doesn't cover every style and approach available, With scripts of actual comics from Neil Gaiman (MIRACLEMAN), Marv Wolfman (MAN CALLED A-X), Dwayne McDuffie (DEATHLOK), Jeff Smith (ROSE), Trina Robbins (GOGIRL!), Kurt Busiek (ASTRO CITY), Greg Rucka (WHITEOUT), Kevin Smith (JAY AND SILENT BOB) and Nat himself, including a section comparing a script with the finished product, it covers many of them. There aren't many books that pass for "invaluable references" in our field, but this qualifies. If you're interested in scripts or the creative process, anyway.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the newly redesigned Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. Not sure what's up with my GRAPHIC VIOLENCE forum on Delphi; it seems to have vanished for the moment, but we'll get that straightened out. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions.