Saturday, September 12, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe in Austin

Last week two new exhibits went up at the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus, which is literally about a city block from where I work. The Harry Ransom Center (or HRC to us hip kids) is one of a few* very important and impressive repositories on campus at UT. It houses all sorts of stuff, from what is supposed to be the first daguerreotype to one of the Gutenberg Bibles to Robert DeNiro's personal memorabilia collection.

One of these exhibits is the Edgar Allan Poe collection. I plan to take a couple of hours next week during work (an extended lunch break, don't get in a tizzy) and check it out. Items include handwritten items by Poe, artwork tied to publications of his work, etc... Seems quite nifty.

There's also an exhibit called "Other Worlds: Rare Astronomical Works". I guess its an exhibit on the history of astronomy which, between you and me, I know absolutely nothing about.

For the benefit of my family, who mostly don't usually seem to understand what the group I work for does for a living: I'm linking to the Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection. Now, this isn't our work, but its representative of the technology we manage and are bringing to 18 separate institutions across Texas. So, they might now have a Poe collection, but they are likely to have some collection between their walls that could easily be shared with the world.

I agree that I am much more excited about seeing these items in person than I am about looking at images on my monitor, but I am also thrilled that the HRC is working to put these sorts of things online as part of their exhibit. I'm just trying to figure out if they're using Content DM as their repo...

Anyway, if you took high school English, you most likely are the barest bit familiar with Poe's work. I've only read chunks of it, but I think it will be fun to get down there and maybe learn a little something. Several items appear to be on loan from other institutions, so Austinites should come see them while they're in town.

*UT also houses the Benson Latin American Collection, The LBJ Presidential Library, The Blanton Art Museum and, I think, at least another two museums, a Federal Depository Library (with several component sub-libraries), and a ridiculously large football stadium which will be used 6 days this year.

The League Watches: Glee

If my Facebook friends are any indication, I am not the only one who has tuned into Fox's new program "Glee".

Fox did something fairly smart, originally broadcasting the pilot last spring, and then offering it for free online all summer long, let the buzz grow online and at places like Entertainment Weekly, rebroadcast the pilot (which is, honestly, very good) and then got the season going again with episode 2 broadcast last week.

That's not going to work for every show, but a show that needs to find its audience by word of mouth and from trusted sources rather than a blitz of ads... I guess I think the same approach would have helped "Arrested Development" with a stronger start in teh ratings, and give people an idea of the sense of humor the show had instead of going back grazing to "According to Jim" and "Everybody Loves Raymond".

Nickel synopsis:

"Glee" is about a high school teacher who dearly loves his job, and gets the opportunity to coach the unpopular and underfunded Glee Club at the school. The same school where he led the Glee Club to nationals in 1993. Which makes the character just about my age.

The characters include what should be crude stereotypes for the kids, focusing for now on the "girl with a dream" who firmly believes too much in her aspirations of Broadway, and the jock who is realizing he likes to sing.

But any show that wraps with a spirited rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'"... that goes from a pomo chuckle to actually hitting that sweet spot of the Broadway musical by songs end... hey, my hat is off.

The show equally (for now) follows the teachers at the school. The aforementioned Glee Club coach, a football coach who actually isn't that interested in his job, a germ-o-phobe guidance counselor, beleagured but shrewd principal, and Jane Lynch (who I can't cook up enough superlatives to describe) as the cheerleading coach who has won nationals and has let it maybe go to her head a little.

The League was, of course, a drama kid, so I feel I have some small insight into the non-sports high school world and the adults who led us kids. But Jamie was actually in Show Choir in high school, so I think she's particularly entertained (Hey, She's headed for the future...!).

Its tough to describe the sense of humor of the show, but its certainly got a knowing wink and a nod to the world of high school that you aren't going to find in shows like 90210. And its treatment of the adults who live in that world isn't bad, either. There's an interesting juxtaposition between the kids with their future ahead of them and the adults who are looking at doors potentially shutting around them.

While I adore Jane Lynch in pretty much everything she ever appears in, the character who rings oddly, insanely true is Rachel Berry, the wanna-be-a-star heroine of the show. We didn't necessarily have anyone with that myopic view of stardom at KOHS, but I spent 7 weeks at drama camp*, and the number of kids who believed they were headed for stardom.. tomorrow... was astounding.

Anyway, you sort of have to love that dame.

One thing I've noticed... there are different styles of acting (no, really). Broadway and stage actors have certain habits that you can see (in front of a camera, they might forget they are not projecting to the back of a theater). When you listen to the delivery of lines by the leads, occasionally you pick up that odd lilt to their lines that doesn't sound weird in musical theater, but on a Fox TV show... Anyway, it doesn't bother me, especially as I know that by necessity, they were working with musical theater people... but every once in a while, actors Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele sound a bit like they're voicing for a Disney movie.

The Music:

I have no idea what actually happens in Glee Clubs and Show Choirs across the country, but I do know that there's a hopelessly optimistic view of music as its processed by the show choir directors.

So seeing bright-eyed kids wearing matching outfits singing Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" rings just about right. That the pilot winds up with Journey, and the second episode features Kanye and Salt'n'Pepa is something The League can only salute.

It could be a one note joke to see covers of popular favorites, but I think the producers are savvy enough that they know how they can make this work.


The League recommends.

*Yeah. Drama camp. I said it. It was money well spent as it showed me that I was not going to major in drama in college.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Las Amigas

Pic taken by Jamie today

Some Comics Bits from Loyal Leaguers

We always appreciate it when folks send us links to comics-related items. (a) It's nice to know that we're being thought of during your work day, and (b) it's instant blog material. Shazam!

The Hall of Justice is located in Cincinnati?

Baby, did you ever wonder? Wonder whatever became of me? I'm living in the Hall of Justice. Which is located in Cin-cin-nat-ti.

NTT sends this item along. Apparently, the Hall of Justice which 30+-year-old Leaguers may recall from the Super Friends cartoon as the majestic headquarters of the Justice League, is based on a train station.

I did not know that.

The article is here.

New Clip From Superman/ Batman Animated feature

Shoemaker sends along this link. It's a video clip from the upcoming home video release of "Superman/ Batman: Public Enemies".

I am anxiously awaiting the release of the DVD. The original story from the "Superman/ Batman" comic was a fun, big screen adventure-ride, even if the story never made a whole lot of sense. It wrapped the multi-year arc featuring Lex Luthor as the President of the United States and siccing a legion of super heroes and villains on The World's Finest.

The comic also featured art by Ed McGuinness. I confess I'm not sure either the story or art will translate perfectly, but you have to have hope that DCU Animated knows what its doing.

Superman's Birthplace Now a Landmark - Siegel Home Restored

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were living in Cleveland at the time when they brought Superman to the company that would become DC. Its one of my favorite parts of the history of comics that Superman was cooked up by teen-agers that were working with a gumbo of influences and didn't know the rules enough to think that Superman wouldn't sell.

The neighborhood where the Siegel house stood has changed, and the house itself fell into disrepair. The Shuster house was torn down several years ago.

Novel and comic author Brad Meltzer has done more in the past two years than the city of Cleveland has ever done to turn the house into an historical landmark and ensure the structure's future (which is somebody's house, I should mention).

JimD sent this. Which links to this page, featuring a video demonstrating the work done.

While this project may not be as important as many, its great to see that Americans care enough about the source of what's become an American icon to preserve a part of its history (and improve someone's living conditions as part of the deal).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Heart Achewood

DC Gets a Corporate Shake-Up

Today, while I was working, apparently DC Comics announced the end of an era as Paul Levitz has stepped down from executive duties at DC Comics. Levitz was a writer who ascended DC's corporate ladder, becoming Jenette Kahn's right hand man (as near as I could tell), and when she left DC, became Head Honcho.

This was a move I'd recently hinted was likely to happen, and pondered what it could mean.

I obviously know very little about any of these figures other than interviews I'd read online or clips that would appear in the documentaries tied to my DC Comics-related DVD's and Blu-Ray discs. But I always liked Levitz. In interviews he always seemed aware of fanboy rantings and capriciousness, but it was one small factor as he considered DC's role within a massive media empire where the characters of Superman and Batman made millions on licensing, and the comics maybe eked out a small profit in a good year.

It's not often that I disagree with blogger Kevin Church, but I think he gets it very, very wrong. Even if its hilarious.

What happened:

Levitz announced his new position and acknowledged change was afoot on the DCU Source Blog, stating he's no longer in chief, but will keep up his writing duties. This is, of course, not unlike when Hollywood execs are let go, and to save face the company gives them a multi-picture deal with the studio as a producer (which they most likely pray will not materialize).

Later in the day, there was an announcement of that the rumored move to put Diane Nelson over DC had materialized, and DC Comics is now: DC Entertainment (sound trumpets)

IE: DC owns characters who are to be exploited in many different forms of media, not just funny books with word balloons. And Ms. Nelson will make that happen.

What it means when the new super-boss replaces the guy you thought of as boss

The continuity of Paul Levitz from Jenette Kahn meant roughly two-decades of the same leadership at DC. That's unusual in any business, let alone the entertainment business. Marvel certainly hasn't seen that kind of stability, and I'd guess with Disney now looking over their shoulder, Joey Q may want to at least have a copy of his resume updated.

I'm not surprised DC is starting from the top down. And for good or ill, Dan Didio's record at DC may be one of the most public track records of any editor in any medium, from comics journalism, bloggers and the endless interaction Didio has had with the comics media itself (which always surprised me. I'm not sure he always came off as well as he thought he did in those first few 20 Questions videos).

With Levitz de-powered, the old boys network of DC is most likely to see something of a shake-up as someone new comes in to see what actually sells, and, to be blunt, its always seemed to me there are writers put on books who must be friends of Didio or Levitz, or they wouldn't be getting the work they're currently enjoying, given where they consistently fall in sales and from a creative standpoint. And, of course, the editors who haven't really seemed to have a decent book out since I was in college, but who hang on at DC.

As of today, all bets are off at DC Comics. Removing the traditional head is usually the first signal that an organization is about to be "re-organized".

Given the lengthy readership of the fanboys who make up the bulk of the comics audience, to suggest that readers don't notice these things (or that its not their business) is sort of ridiculous on its face. Its like not noticing a band's work is better under certain producers, or that somehow certain directors make better movies than other directors, no matter who is actually in those movies. After a while you draw connections on the names you see...

Better Promotion of the DC Characters

Somehow, the comic geek perception of Superman, Aquaman, and many non-Batman DC characters as somehow not as "cool" as Marvel's heroes has seeped into the public consciousness (although, for my dollar, Brave and the Bold's Aquaman is where its at).

What we do know is that DC Comics, as its been, has lost a lot of ground to Marvel in the public eye, from number of films produced to shelf space in the toy aisle at Target. And certainly Disney declaring the competition is worth $4 Billion, even with all the dispersed licenses for theme parks, film franchises, etc...

I'd also return to the complicated issue of portrayal of women on the cover of DC's line of books (and in the interiors), and how new blood is going to bring new perspective to all of this. Especially as Nelson considers each character as a possible t-shirt, movie, TV show, etc...

From Nelson's letter on the DC Blog (this looked like an intra-office memo. I'm surprised it wound up on the blog):

The founding of DC Entertainment is about Warner Bros. taking DC to the next level and giving DC an even greater degree of focus and prioritization in all the businesses in which we operate—films, television, home entertainment, digital, consumer products and videogames.

For readers looking for Nelson to not make any big changes: it isn't going to be her focus. There's real money to be made here. But for folks who think DC is off her radar? Paul Levitz. Gone. Do the math.

In conclusion:

Surprise, comics fans... the huge multinational company that owns your favorite superheroes would very much like to exploit them in all sorts of ways that aren't currently happening, and the first thing to get a hit are the people who have been there and not found themselves worth $4 Billion dollars.

Its not going to be one massive change, but certainly Nelson has the opportunity to make her mark with DC, and is hopefully not as vaguely embarrassed by superheroes as the previous master of the kingdom seemed to be (but this is a guy who greenlit a Catwoman movie).

Adios, Summer '09

It's been 100+ and dry almost every day since, oh, May. So I was stunned when I saw the forecast...

I predict we get a two day freeze this winter. We earned it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Changing habits of the longtime comic fan

So this weekend, Austin Books had their Big Annual Sale, where I wound up spending my fair share of coin. I picked up several Superman, Action Comics and Jimmy Olsen back issues.

I also picked up this issue of The Flash. Because when one sees issue #177 of The Flash, one BUYS issue #177 of The Flash.

This is what you put on a cover when you're trying to grab The League's attention

You may not know this, but they recently raised the price of about half the line of comics at DC, while increasing page-count with back-up stories. Detective now has back-up stories featuring "The Question", Action now has back-ups with "Captain Atom" (a move I fully endorse). Best of all, Booster Gold has "Blue Beetle" back ups.

I'm not sure what it means to my pocket book as I would most assuredly pick up a Question, Blue Beetle and Captain Atom series from DC. But many comics I'm buying now cost a full dollar more. That's not chump change, week in and week out. So I'm reducing the number of titles I pick up. I'm mostly looking at core titles from DC, and I'll pick up Sherlock Holmes while its running, and Buck Rogers. But everything else...?

DC operated on the "WTF?" model for their covers for about three decades

Well, Boom is still putting out good comics (seriously, Irredeemable is phenomenal. As is "Poe").

But I've dropped the Project: Superpowers books from Dynamite, and I only look at Cap and Dardevil at Marvel these days (a world in which I'm not interested in Spidey. It's a frikkin' crime, I tell you).

There are literally hundreds of comics which hit every month, so while you may believe that this superhero/ comic fan has his eye on the industry, I tell you that's near impossible. And at some point, you begin to see the same things popping up on cover after cover, month after month, from upstart companies, new talent, etc... And like any other form of entertainment, 90% of it is dreck.

Somehow the confluence of rising prices and my disinterest in a lot of what's on the shelf has meant I'm becoming increasingly keen on reprints and back-issues these days.

Back-issues are those bagged and boarded comics someone else was saving, believing they'd pay for a car or semester of college at some point. "Old Comics", I guess, most of which are worth nothing, others are worth more. Reprints are collections of that same material.

Oh, Jimmy Olsen, what freakish bull@#$% are you up to this issue?

It may also be a time issue. In Arizona, I genuinely DID have time to scour the internet and find new comics. Less so these days, so when I do stumble across something cool, like "The Stuff of Legend", I'm far more impressed and surprised. And part of me knows my tastes are also getting a little more focused as I try to figure out (sigh) even more about Superman comics.

I know.

There's 70-odd years of the stuff out there now. And that's not a bad thing. That just gives me something to do for a couple of decades while I catch up, both by reading reprints, and by filling out my own Superman collection of original print issues (which, yes, I do read).

And, no, I have absolutely no idea how many Superman stories I've read in my lifetime. Let us say its been lots and lots. But there are literally thousands more out there, when one considers two major Superman titles and the ancillary titles that each had long lives of their own (Superboy, Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Adevnture/ Legion, etc...). So there's plenty to keep me busy.

I love the prestige reprints, such as the new "DC Comics Classics Library", but would point you first to the super-affordable "Showcase Presents" format, which collects 500 pages of comics for about $15. That's a whole hell of a lot of whatever character you want to check out, and they've covered all sorts of characters, from the obvious (Batman) to the less so (Elongated Man). Not bad when one considers the cost of those back issues (36-48 pages) ranges from $2 - $250,000.

Anyway, all this talk is inspired by the issues I was able to pick up and some Flash reprints that showed up in the mail last week. So I'm going to go read some comics.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Halloween Spooktacular 2009!

So, it seems we're going to do this thing. Based largely upon the fact that Matt has come up with two very good costume ideas.

Also, we need to redeem ourselves for the lousy Halloween party we tried circa 1999. That thing was a bust. But this year, we know how to ensure everyone has terrifying fun:

add warm water and H1N1, and it truly is a frightening party game

It's a Costume Party

We're planning a costume contest, and we'd prefer it if you played ball by actually wearing a costume. And, no, "serial killers look just like everyone else" does not count. Jason in antennas claiming to be "The Blair Witch", however...

Will your 6 Million Dollar Man costume win the contest?

We'll be kicking things off around 8:30, and we hope to see you there. We know Halloween is a kooky night, so we fully expect people to come and go as the evening goes on. We can't promise fire dancers or anything too exotic, but I would expect we can still scare up a pretty darn good time.

Goodness. She IS the most sincere kid in the pumpkin patch.

E-mail me if you'd like to come but somehow fell off my list on Facebook, etc... where I've posted announcements.

On Kids: We know that Halloween is a kid-friendly Holiday, and while we love your kids, too... If Scout eats your kid, all I'm going to be able to do is apologize. We are happy to have them, but nobody ever accused League HQ of being an overly toddler-friendly place.

Rides Home: I will also see what I can find out about safe rides home. Halloween is a tricky night for driving, and we want all of our friends to make it home safe and sound.

What You Can Do: Do you have any ideas for the party? Share them. Have treats or goodies for the party? Bring them. I'm still requesting people think long and hard before bringing a case of beer. But if you really wanted to make popcorn balls, nobody is telling you not to.

The Story of Jeff the Cat: Act 1

You don't see what Jeff the Cat has seen and stay right in the head. That was the first I knew about him.

That and his name. The name they'd given him at the orphanage should have clued us in from the beginning. Toughy. Tough little guy, with a mouth full of teeth and who wanted to box. We called him Jeffrey George Taylor. Jeff for the dozen or so Jeff's we knew at the time. George Taylor for Cheston's heroic turn in "Planet of the Apes".

He wasn't quiet like other cats, this Jeffrey George Talyor. He talked. A lot. But it was always as if he was covering for something with the chatter, as if he talked enough, loud enough, we'd all stay away and he'd get what he wanted. But who knew what the hell that was?

Things I did know: he was a tough kid. Not afraid to pop claws on you at what was taken as the slightest insult (Am I a clown to you? I could swear I heard him say...). Sometimes, just for a laugh, he'd wait until 4:00 AM and then wrap himself around your foot as it hung off the bed, all fangs and claws, then run like hell when you woke up swinging. You could hear the little bastard running the whole way down the hallway.

His mother was overprotective, and stood between that kid and death a million times over, to be sure. And its not clear that maybe she should have got out of the way and let that kid take his lumps, for all the heartbreak he would cause her. It didn't matter if he was playing with matches, destroying a 12-pack of Charmin or shredding the dustcovers on $40 hardcovers. Forget about the biting and clawing. She was always ready to forgive and forget, even after he gave her the cat-scratch fever. And not the fun, Nugent-related kind.

We knew better than to guess he'd stop with claws, and so we looked at one another... what do you do with a problem like Jeffrey? Now this kid is sending his own mother to the hospital.

So we took away the claws.

I know that in the Golden State, some peace-niks decided this was cruelty to animals. In our world, it was take 'em out or the kid gets the slammer. Maybe the needle. So we did what we could and he came off it none the worse for wear.

It was an odd day when a new kid moved to the neighborhood. Ten times Jeff's weight, teeth that could crush him... but it was a single, bassy "woof" that settled things the first day Mel arrived. We saw Jeff turn tail and run in a way we'd never seen before, and that was good for a laugh. Sure, within a year, Jeff would be curling up next to Mel for warmth on the dog bed in the living room, and eventually Jeff would begin hunting Mel and pouncing on him when the mood struck him, but by and large, Jeff knew... do not push the big, orange one.

(coming soon: Act II)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Dog-Related Frustration

Scout has, thus far, been a pretty good dog as dogs go. But... she does act out, and she has caused us our fair share of destruction to personal property.

Like all dogs her age, she wants to chew and play with things. And she's got a toy box full of toys that she scatters all over the house. And because its part of the game, we pick them up and put them back in the box.

There are plush squeaky toys, rubber balls, nylon bones, skins of former toys of Mel's (that Lucy was never interested in), rope toys, etc... And she plays with them all.

We realized she was interested in shoes early on, something Lucy and Mel never gave two figs about, so we've learned quickly to keep shoes out of reach. But that doesn't mean I haven't forgotten from time to time and left shoes out when I've gone to bed. This has cost me laces off two pair of shoes and the life of two pairs of sandals. Both sandals went this week.

And then the other day, she discovered Jamie's magazines. This alarmed me, because for weeks, Scout has had free-reign of the first floor, day and night. I hadn't put the kennel up, but we haven't required she sleep in the kennel. And we've left her out when we've left for dinner, movies, work, etc... But magazines are paper. And I happen to keep a lot of folded and stapled paper products around the house, not entirely dissimilar to Jamie's magazines.

I spoke to her about the magazine incident, and hoped for the best.

This evening we went out to N. Austin to my folk's place for dinner. For some reason Scout escalated the interest in magazines, and several were on the floor in shreds. Along with three fairly premium-priced comics in shreds, several non-premium comics had been chewed on, and about another dozen or so were scattered around the house for good measure. And a couple of DVD's.

Sadly, it looks like Scout is going to have to start spending time in the kennel again when we leave.

I am aware that she could use more exercise, but she was run today, and played with repeatedly today. She's lacked not at all for attention or fun.

I just have no idea why, suddenly, she's decided to go after things that have been there all along. And while I do feel like as she's gotten more comfortable here, she's become a bit more bold with being pushy, I'm not sure what suddenly triggered her to change her attention to items she'd never seemingly noticed before. At least they're just books that can maybe eventually be replaced. I'm much more concerned about what she might decide to go after next.

As I mentioned, she's back in the kennel tonight, and she'll no longer have run of the house when we're not home or awake. Not for quite a while.

Even sadder, she doesn't understand she broke a trust. She just knows she's sleeping in that cage again. And I doubt she understands what the yelling and waving of books at her was all about.

For me, its not so much about the comics. I just really feel like we've been moving backward in the last week or so, and I need to figure out why, and what we can do to move forward again.

And poor Lucy. She is very bent out of shape about the yelling. And I almost have no doubt she watched Scout from the other room, as Scout dragged books all around the house, thinking "Oh, geez... are YOU going to catch it..."