Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Alabama Phoenix Festival

Hello, Readers Mine! As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mockingbird and I headed down to Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend to take part in the Whedon Track and to generally geek out at the Alabama Phoenix Festival. It was a fun, exhausting, and inspiring weekend of old friends, new friends, and a plethora of geek flags flying high, and I thought I'd share a little bit about it with you.

The Whedon Track Super-Panel, from left to right: yours truly, K. Dale Koontz, A.J. Wiley, and Paul Smith (Nicole Brunk and Cam Crowder were also in on the fun, but they're not pictured here). This is pretty much what we did all weekend. Photo credit: Pam Smith.
I've written here about the academic conferences I go to fairly regularly, but this was a different kind of event. Alabama Phoenix Festival (APF) is a fan convention, where geekdoms collide and intermingle, and you don't have to cite your sources nearly as much. The Whedon "Track" was basically a series of discussion panels focusing on various aspects of the works of Joss Whedon including war and military representations, faith and religion, women and feminism, and general discussions about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and The Avengers. It was a tremendous time, and great fun to share a table with folks who have the same general passion for all things Whedony, but whose areas of expertise were so varied that between all of us, we were able to field most any question from our audiences. And those audiences were gratifyingly large, well-informed, and comprised of devoted, thoughtful fans who are some of the finest people on the planet, and from whom we all gathered some cool new friends.

APF wasn't all Whedon, all the time, though. There was an enormous amount of stuff going on at any given time. I'm not going to list all the folks and fandoms who were there, but I'll tell you about those with whom I was privileged to meet and greet. First up was Mr. Allen Bellman, who worked at Timely/Marvel Comics from 1942 ~ 1951. During World War II, he worked on Captain America Comics, The Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch, Young Allies, and All Winners, to name just a few of the classic Golden Age comics Mr. Bellman had a hand in. I'll put it to you this way: Al Bellman remembers when Stan Lee came to work at Timely - as an office boy. If you have ever enjoyed a comic book, you have folks like Al Bellman to thank for the medium as we know it today. The Golden Age artists and writers literally invented the medium, and there are damn few of them left today. Mr. Bellman is also one of the kindest, humblest, and funniest men it has ever been my pleasure to meet, making it not only an honor, but a true pleasure to have met him - and to get some originals signed!!!!

Bombs Away! by Allen Bellman, limited edition print numbered and signed by the artist.
Next up was another comics superstar, David Michelinie, who's written comics for DC, Marvel, and Valiant Comics since 1975. He is perhaps best known for writing the Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle arc, which dealt with Tony Stark's struggles with alcoholism with a compassionate realism that is unfortunately still rare today, not to mention in 1978 when he actually wrote the story. It is one of the great moments of courageous storytelling in comics, and it was incredibly moving to meet Mr. Michelinie, who also turns out to be a total sweetheart of a guy. Mockingbird got her hardback collection of Demon in a Bottle signed, and we were lucky enough to chat with Mr. Michelinie off and on throughout the weekend.

In an entirely different fandom, we got to meet Oliver and Terry Holler, who have bought an old DeLorean and modified it into an exact replica of the time-travelling vehicle made famous by the Back to the Future films. The car really is just incredible, and has to be seen to be believed, which you can do pretty easily as the Hollers (and their time-machine) tour the country raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. The Hollers are wonderful down to earth, and very funny people, and were one of the highlights of our weekend.

We also ran into an old friend from the academic world, Jennifer C. Garlen, author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching, which, if you love great films, you really should have on your shelf. Jennifer was at APF indulging in her LEGO fandom, including a LEGO Dr. Who-ville complete with custom built Daleks. We also ran into Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers!) and Ernie Hudson (Winston from Ghostbusters!), and I got to sit next to Jeremy Roberts (Kakistos from BtVS!!!) on the Buffy panel!

Finally, there was the exhibition hall, where I spent way to much money on comic books (including some great Bronze Age Our Army at War and Sgt. Rock books), buttons, books, and MST3K episodes, and Mockingbird got herself a very cunning hat! It was a weekend of early mornings, huge breakfasts, late lunch/dinners with friends, and wonderful fun. This was my first con, and I loved it. The organizers brought their A-game, and took extraordinarily good care of us even when they were rapidly spinning 50 other plates at the same time. If you didn't make it this year, plan on going next.

We sure are!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's Really Wrong with Abrams' Star Trek

So Mockingbird and I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness this weekend, and unlike the majority of film goers, we weren't that impressed with the movie. So being who we are we spent the rest of the weekend debating the film with friends on Facebook, and trying to nail down exactly what we didn't like about it in a series of rambling conversations. Turns out, there is quite a lot we didn't like, and she goes into some of it in a post on Unfettered Brilliance which you should go read. Personally, I have been ambivalent about J.J. Abrams' reboot of the franchise since his first film, and after Into Darkness, I think I have finally figured out why. FAIR WARNING: this post may get spoilery, so if you haven't seen the movie, and don't want to be spoiled, don't continue after the jump.

William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The problem is that Abrams has gotten away from the heart of Star Trek, and a big chunk of that missing heart lies in the fact that Abrams and Chris Pine's Kirk doesn't read. Instead he moodily rides motorcycles in picturesque settings, stares into glasses of whiskey in dive bars while wearing cool leather jackets, sleeps with tailed twins, and other manly-type things. Gene Roddenberry and William Shatner's Kirk, on the other hand did all of that, could quote from the classics, and school Spock on American history. Star Trek has traditionally been a very literate and literary franchise. In "Where no Man Has Gone Before" (1.03) Gary Mitchell describes Kirk in his Starfleet Academy days as "a stack of books with legs," and the value and importance of books and reading was emphasized both overtly as in the hardcopy-loving lawyer Samuel T. Cogley who defends Kirk in "Court Martial" (1.20) and Spock's gift of A Tale of Two Cities to Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, and more subtly in the stack of books that was always seen on a shelf in Kirk's quarters aboard the Enterprise. Kirk was as much a man of letters and science, of wonder and poetry, as he was the dropkicking, quick-drawing space western action hero.

This literacy and humanism was one of the key factors in the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation's success and popularity. Remember Picard's own vast knowledge of literature and general intellectualism as displayed perhaps most wonderfully in "Darmok" (STTNG 5.02) where Picard is able to recount the story of Gilgamesh from memory, and finishes the episode reading Homer, which, of course, he has in hardback form in his ready room? Not to mention Data's search for humanity through the plays of Shakespeare  the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, classical music, and painting. Star Trek is one of the great works and proponents of humanism in American popular culture, and Abrams abandons that in favor of more and more action, with less and less thought.

Finally, let's not forget that Star Trek's literacy has historically informed its villains as well. Remember Kodos the Executioner, the mass murder who went underground as the leader of a Shakespearean travelling troupe in "The Conscience of the King" (ST 1.13)? Or Garth of Izar and his Shakespeare reciting Orion lover Marta in "Whom Gods Destroy" (ST 3.14)? Or the brilliant "Mr. Flint" of "Requiem for Methuselah" (ST 3.19) who quite literally was  DaVinci, Bhrams, and Alexander the Great? Christopher Plummer's Shakespeare quoting General Chang stole every scene he was in for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and finally, as much as I truly loved Benedict Cumberbatch's viciously intense Khan, he comes nowhere close to the power of the original, who goes down quoting from what is arguably the greatest novel ever written by an American:

That's Herman Melville right there, straight out of Moby Dick. That's the literate Star Trek, and the heart and soul of the franchise that Abrams and Co. have, sadly, forgotten.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Meth Monday: Catching Up

Hello Readers Mine, and thanks for your patience as I wrapped up school and this blog got a bit neglected! Season 5B of Breaking Bad will start on August 11, 2013, which means we still have months to go before we find out what happens to Walt, Jesse, Skyler, Jr., Hank, Marie, and Saul. I'll try and keep things interesting around here, but I think for the summer, "Meth Monday" will be going to an every-other-week schedule. Today's the 20th, so look for the next post on June 9. In the meantime, I'll be putting up some other stuff here now and again, so I promise to keep it entertaining. Meanwhile, don't forget Dale's blog, Unfettered Brilliance, because she is WAY better than I am at blog posts, and she's smarter than I am too. In any event - onward!

Here Lies Heisenberg. Fan art by Glenn Brogan
So there's lots of stuff going on with the book lately. First, as of today we completed the first round of copy-edits for seasons 1 - 5A, including sidebars. As you may remember, we had a big push in March to get the line edits for all of this complete, which meant that we were sending drafts, corrections, and comments back and forth between me, Dale, and our wonderful editor, Jen Hale. After that, the final result went to Emily Schultz, our incredible copy-editor, (and one hell of a writer in her own right!) who's job it is to find and fix all of our spelling, grammar, and style errors, and who not only did that (and let me tell you, for my parts of the book, that's a pretty big job!) but also caught several other things that really helped to make the manuscript stronger. I'm pretty sure we owe her dinner and drinks big time next time we're in Toronto. Emily is a fan of Breaking Bad too, and so our comments back and forth have more than a bit of fan-squee about them. Our team at ECW Press is tremendous: talented, passionate, smart, funny, and as committed as Dale and I are to making Wanna Cook a success. We couldn't do it without them all.

A case in point is Erin Creasey, ECW's Director of Sales and Marketing, whose team created a fantastic set of promotional business cards for us on very short notice so we could plug the book this weekend at the Alabama Phoenix Festival, where Dale and I will be joining Paul Smith and others to talk about all things Joss Whedon. (See what I did there? For more info follow the festival on Twitter as @PhoenixFest.) So we'll be giving out these little gems in Birmingham:

Promo card, front and back. Not the greatest pic, but you get the gist.
Next up on the book are the long extras, which are due into our editor by July 1st. These pieces will take a closer look at some of the major themes in and around Breaking Bad, from the violence in the series, to fan responses to Skyler and Marie, to the use of place and space in the show. Then in September and early November, we write like crazy to finish up season 5B and the whole thing then goes to ECW for proofing and publication in the spring of 2014. In the meantime, we bite our nails and wait to see what Gilligan & Co. will bring us in season 5B.

That's it for this week, folks. Join me back here on June 3 for the next "Meth Monday," and for all the latest news about Breaking Bad follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Until next time, Readers Mine, be well!