Category Archives: stuff i dig

Tomorrow Never Knows

I’m heading back to New York tomorrow — armed with my laptop, notes, and tape recorder — to have a chat with Someone Wonderful related to Project Blue Harvest.  It’ll be a quick day — up on the train in the morning, interviewing in the afternoon, then back that evening — but I’m so excited about it that the day will probably seem to go by even faster. I even made sure to book myself a reserved seat on the train on the way home so I’m certain of a spot where I can plug in the computer, plunk on the headphones, and transcribe everything immediately. Yeah, it’s fun — and, I’ll admit, a bit nerve wracking.

Given my increasingly frequent back and forthing lately, Barb saw fit to give me a good laptop case — something a little unusual that doesn’t look like anything else out there.  So tell me, how cool is this?

Yeah, that’s my MacBook, tucked away inside there between two hardback leather covers. Pretty neat, eh?

Where The Air Is Sweet…

Happy 40th Anniversary, Sesame Street! And if there’s one important lesson I learned from the show, it’s this: be careful when you sneeze that you don’t blow your nose off.

“Ever Seen A Spook, Specter, or Ghost?”

Ever wonder what Ghostbusters might have been like had it been made in 1954, and not 1984?  Look no further.

…And Now A Word From Our Sponsors

Does it seem like commercials these days just ain’t what they used to be?  Maybe it’s me having one of those stay-offa-my-lawn moments, but teevee spots nowadays just seem too loud and too lame.  Man, I miss the days when commercials had to lure you in with catchy tunes, silly costumes, eager faces, and cheap giveaways.

Like f’rinstance…

Here’s one of my all-time favorite bits — albeit attached to a product I was never really a big fan of — and it’s a jingle so memorable that I still sing it today, much to the embarassment of my 13-year-old daughter:

Then here’s my all-time favorite animated commercial — it’s for Freakies cereal, a cereal whose taste I can’t even remember, but which had the best giveaways in the world, including t-shirts, magnets, and plastic figurines. My brother wore his Grumble shirt for years.

Next it’s a spot for my favorite line of toys ever, the Mego Batman figures, vehicles and playsets. Yes, I still have all of these in boxes in my basement — and yes, my Batsignal still works, and it’s just as cool as it looks here:

Let’s wrap thing up with two spots featuring perhaps the most memorable jingles of all time. The first, from the early 1970s, contains a slew of not-yet-famous actors at the time — including Anson Williams from Happy Days, John Amos of Good Times, and Johnny Haymer, who played Sgt. Zale on M*A*S*H — all singing and dancing their hearts out about their pride in keeping their place of employment spotless:

And finally, here’s perhaps the finest — or at least best remembered — song and dance number of my generation. It features David Naughton, best remembered as the lead in An American Werewolf in London, but who also starred in one of the best, and least watched, one-season-and-out shows of the 70s, Makin’ It. Take it away, David . . .

“My Beloved Island of Manna-hata!”

The Wildlife Conservation Society has created a neat project on a topic near and dear to Washington Irving’s heart, and to mine.  It’s a history of New York, but with a twist — unlike Irving’s History of New York, which traced the rise and fall of the Dutch settlers, this one traces Manhattan’s ecological history.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Mannahatta Project imagines what Manhattan Island was like only hours before Henry Hudson and his men set foot on the island 400 years ago, in 1609.  As the WCS puts it:

[T]he center of one of the world’s largest and most built-up cities was once a natural landscape of hills, valleys, forests, fields, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, springs, ponds and streams, supporting a rich and abundant community of wildlife and sustaining people for perhaps 5000 years before Europeans arrived on the scene in 1609.  It turns out that the concrete jungle of New York City was once a vast deciduous forest, home to bears, wolves, songbirds, and salamanders, with clear, clean waters jumping with fish.  In fact, with over 55 different ecological communities, Mannahatta’s biodiversity per acre rivaled that of national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains!

The website for the project is a lot of fun, allowing you to see what New York neighborhoods looked like four centuries ago.  Most familiar sites sit in what was then dense forest, while other familiar locations — like Ground Zero — would be smack in the middle of the Hudson River, centuries before groundfill molded the island to its current shape.

Go poke around on the website, and visit your favorite New York spot or neighborhood as it might have looked in 1609.  And be sure to check out the real work behind the project, Eric W. Sanderson and Markley Boyer’s Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City.

Number Nine…Number Nine…Number Nine

beatles2On September 9, 2009, The Beatles: Rock Band hits the shelves. 

You really have to ask?  Heck yes, I’ll be getting it.  Considering Rock Band was one of the driving factors behind our decision to invest in a game system in the first place, adding the Beatles to the mix makes it pretty much the ultimate win.  And no, I am not one of those fans who is wailing that it ruins the Beatles’ legacy to make them part of a video game.  Stop spoiling my fun and get offa my lawn.

According the the official press release from Apple:

The Beatles: Rock Band will allow fans to pick up the guitar, bass, mic or drums and experience The Beatles’ extraordinary catalogue of music through gameplay that takes players on a journey through the legacy and evolution of the band’s legendary career.

As if that weren’t cool enough, however, there’s also this, from the OMG ARE YOU SERIOUS? category:

In addition, The Beatles: Rock Band will offer a limited number of new hardware offerings modeled after instruments used by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr throughout their career.

Because I have the coolest wife on the planet (this is the one who got me Absolute Watchmen for Valentine’s Day, remember), I’ve already been assured that we will, indeed, be purchasing the limited edition, with all the instruments.  Awesome.

The best part is that I’ve got a 12-year-old — soon to be 13! — who loves both Rock Band and the Beatles, so convincing her to take a crack at a Perfect Solo! in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” shouldn’t be too hard. 

Now I’ve got to learn to play bass left-handed, as there’s something fairly sacriligious about playing a Hofner Beatle bass right handed.  Unless, of course, my lefty daughter decides she doesn’t want to play Lennon’s black and white Rickenbacker, and hands rhythm guitar duties over to me so I can strum away madly on “Help!” while she rocks out the bass line on “Day Tripper.”

Have a great weekend.

“No Masks. No Capes. No Gadgets or Experimental Weapons.”

A public service announcement — courtesy of 1977’s Keene Act — in the name of keeping you safe from masked vigilantes.

God, I love this stuff.

"Someone Is Gunning For Masks…."

This just keeps getting better and better.

While I and my fellow nerds are squeeeing all over the Internets about the prospects of a way-cool Watchmen flick, there’s one person who is decidedly unenthusiastic about the film: Watchmen writer Alan Moore.

Over at the Los Angeles Times, there’s a fascinating article and interview with the always-interesting Moore, who says he will be “spitting venom” all over the movie. He’s entitled. Moore’s a purist about his work and the comics medium in general:

Moore said that with “Watchmen,” he told the epic tale of a large number of characters over decades of history with “a range of techniques” that cannot be translated to the movie screen, among them the “book within a book” technique, which took readers through a second, interior story as well as documents and the writings of characters . . . he believes “Watchmen” is “inherently unfilmable.”

I agree with Moore only to the extent that it’s impossible to pack into even a three hour movie all the complex layers, subplots, and backstories that embody Watchmen. (There’s already a rumor that the comic-within-a-comic, Tales of the Black Frieghter, was filmed but cut from the movie due to length — and will be put on the DVD release as a bonus feature.) In fact, I’ve always argued that it would make an ideal 12-part made-for-cable film, rather than a full-length feature.

That being said, I’m still excited about the film. And Alan Moore is more than allowed to be crabby. He’s earned it.

The interview with Alan Moore is here — and I warn you in advance not to read the comments, as they make me want to punch some people in the face. (For the record, Moore earns nothing off the film adapatations of his work — he signed the film rights to Watchmen, for example, over to artist Dave Gibbons.)

Authors! Authors!

When it comes to games in our household, we’re decidedly analog. We like dice games like Yahtzee, word games like Quiddler, board games like Sorry!, and we love card games. One of our favorites — especially when we’ve got only a short amount of time — has always been a game called Authors.

The object of Authors is a simple one: using Go Fish-type rules — where you ask other players for specific cards — you want to collect all four books by each of thirteen different authors. Each Ace, for example, represents Mark Twain, and each suit names a different book — such as the Ace of Spades shown below at the far right, which features Tom Sawyer:

When it’s your turn, simply ask another player if he (or she) has (for example) Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger and work to complete your set of four. If you come up empty, go to the draw pile and see if you luck into drawing it. If not, your turn’s over. Simple. It’s basically Go Fish for book lovers.

I played and loved this game as a kid — it’s actually been around since 1850 — and it made a permanent impression on me. For one thing, beginning at grade two, I always remembered that Sir Walter Scott (whose face appears on each ten) was the author of Ivanhoe, and that Dickens (number two) wrote The Pickwick Papers. (Oddly, I did not remember that Washington Irving was one of the featured authors, scowling with heartburn from the face of each seven.) Now my own daughter has William Makepeace Thackeray’s bookish face burned into her memory (along with his book Pendennis, which seems to be the card she’s always missing), while my wife, who seems always to be stuck with James Fenimore Cooper, now refuses on principle to read The Last of the Mohicans.

If you’re a parent who’s looking for a fun, easy-to-learn — and, yes, even (*gasp!*) educational — game to play with your child, give Authors a try. Not only will you have fun, but you might even instill in your child a love of literature, and may inspire your young one — or yourself — to seek out some of the books featured on the cards. Our daughter is well beyond playing Go Fish-type games, yet this is still one we return to again and again, discussing the books and writers while we play, and sometimes doing funny voices for the authors pictured on the cards (I like to do a drugged-out Edgar Allan Poe, while Madi does an overly-excited Shakespeare.)

You can order Authors here. It’s the best six bucks you’ll ever spend.

Collecting Collections, Continued

While we’re on the subject of comics collections, a reader e-mailed to ask me if I prefer reading stories in their collected format, as opposed to their original, off-the-rack comic form.

I’ve got an answer, but let me declare some caveats first.

I like being able to pick up trade paperback collections of complete stories — particularly of titles I’ve never read — not only because it’s easier than tracking down the back issues needed to compile, say, issues 45 to 54 of Super Grim and Morose Guy, but it’s also cheaper. I like the ease of having everything in one compact, bound book, and being able to tuck it into a briefcase, where I can read it on the Metro or an airplane and lie about it being mine.

As for titles I already read and collect — like Sandman — I like being able to read and re-read the stories, or even loan the collection to others, safe in the knowledge that my original issues remain in Overstreet Price Guide Near Mint condition. Not because I want to sell them, but because . . . well, I just like them in nice condition.

But when it comes right down to it, I’m a purist. As much as I like glossy trade paperback or hardback collections, I still prefer comics in their clumsily beautiful, easily damaged, and thus completely perfect comic book format.

I think part of it lies in the fact that, to me, comics are historical documents (they are, after all, technically periodicals). There’s a strangely satisfying tactile pleasure in holding an issue in your hands, looking at the glossy cover (and the price! While I never lived in the golden age when comics were a dime, I do remember when they were forty cents!), and smelling the pulp paper and ink. Each issue is a snapshot of the moment in time when it was published — something lost in the translation over to a more timeless trade paperback.

While advertisements are usually annoying, they do provide an almost twisted historical sense to the reading experience, blaring in all their retro glory about Ataris and Super Nintendos, Dingo boots and fruit-flavored drinks, and Saturday morning cartoons. And on the creative side of things, I like seeing how the writers — who knew in advance where the full-page ads would be placed — sometimes work the page break into the rhythm of the story, providing a beat just before a major epiphany or plot advancement.

A trade paperback is also missing an important part of the personality of the original comic: the letters columns. Sandman, for example, was home to one of the most annoyingly pretentious lettercols in comics history; yet it’s still fascinating — especially with hindsight — to watch readers debate who the prodigal member of the Endless might be, submit bizarre haikus about cats, and speculate on who might die in the closing pages of the final story arc. Lettercols provide readers with a sense of community that’s missing from the trade paperback collection — and while their absence from the trade paperback is understandable, it’s still regrettable.

And finally, there was always something exciting in reaching that final page and landing on a cliffhanger that would carry you into the next issue. I remember reading each issue of Alan Moore’s Watchmen as they were published in the late 1980s, poring over every panel, reading and re-reading every issue until the next one arrived — and each one was usually late, so it took about 16 months for all 12 issues to be published.

But that anticipation was part of what made the reading experience so memorable. When I reached the end of issue 7 — where Dan Drieberg says “I think we should spring Rorschach.” — I couldn’t just turn the page and read the next chapter; I had to wait weeks. That’s an experience I can’t have with the trade paperback.

That said, I’ll still continue to read trade paperbacks and other collections. But I still can’t help feeling I’m missing something.