Ant-Man

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I’ve been meaning to say this for a while now.

I know that the movie has been in theaters for a while… so long, in fact, that it has probably already left many theaters. However, if you are a fan of the Marvel Movies… and you’ve seen the disappointing reviews of the Fantastic Four… and you haven’t seen Ant-Man…

Well… just go and see it, because as far as I was concerned Ant-Man was perfect.

That’s all. Enjoy the rest of your day.

I’m the biggest geek…

I’m such a big sci-fi geek.

My daughter is getting married in a couple of weeks. It’s a very exciting time, of course, but today I’ve got some down time and I’m scrolling through some of my favorite sites and I stumble across this video clip.

It’s from the original Doctor Who series. The Doctor, played by William Hartnell, the first actor to play the character, says goodbye to his granddaughter Susan.

I know this clip. I’ve seen it many times but watching it just now… well… it really got me right in the feels, you know?

However, I might just incorporate some of what the Doctor says in my speech to the bride and groom. If only I could actually give it from the TARDIS control room.

I never knew these were a thing…

Wedding Bubbles

You see these things? I bought a hundred and twenty of them yesterday. My daughter wanted them.

So what are these things?

My daughter is getting married at the end of this month and the place where her wedding is being held doesn’t like people throwing rice or confetti. It’s too much work to clean up afterwards and wedding parties rarely stick around to clean up after themselves. So what’s the alternative?

Bubbles! Wedding guest now blow bubbles instead of throwing rice or confetti. An apparently it’s a common enough thing that companies market tiny bottles of bubble soap specifically for weddings. The kind that I got hold eight bottles per package. I bought 15 packages.

120 little tiny bubble soap bottles. I had no idea that this was even a thing until I picked them up yesterday.

And it just so happens that the local store that sells them just happened to get a double order a couple of days ago, much more than they usually get. So when my wife called asking about them they had just enough for our needs.

So it was meant to be. Now we just have to decorate them so they look pretty and match the wedding’s color scheme.

Next item to get: little hanging baskets. What are those? I have no idea. But I’ll find out and then buy a whole bunch of them.

Vampirella: Character or Commodity?

(This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where I blog as MD Jackson)

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gonzalez6ftposterPoor Vampirella.

You look at her and you think that she’s free to do what she wants, that she is in charge of her own destiny. The truth is, she is merely a commodity, bought and sold like so much chattel. She is a slave dancing to the whims of her cruel master, who, at this time, is Dynamite Entertainment.

Like a slave from bygone times she has had several owners throughout her miserable life. She has been bought, used up and then sold off to the next buyer.

But it’s not just her alone. All fictional characters are owned by somebody and most of the ones that everyone knows about have likely been bought and sold at least once. They are properties of their creators or their publishing or other entertainment companies and will be until they get so old that they get to enjoy a kind of retirement when they finally slip into the green pasture known as Public Domain.

It was September of 1969, just after the “Summer of Love”. Flower children everywhere were basking in the warm glow of the apex of the hippie era, blissfully unaware of the harsh cold winter that was about to come upon them. It was a time of great upheaval and social change and Forrest J. Ackerman thought: “Hey! We need a sexy vampire woman!”

vampi_trina_robbinsInspired by Jean-Claude Forest’s science fiction heroine Barbarella, who had been made into a film the year before by Roger Vadim, starring his then wife Jane Fonda, Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren of Warren Publishing came up with the idea of a “vampire-ella” as a counterpoint to the ghoulish male presenters of Warren’s comic magazines Eerie and Creepy.

Ackerman and Warren took the idea to artist Trina Robbins who came up with the general look and a costume which would suggest a vampire’s usual attire but be kind of bathing suit-like to show off Vampirella’s physical attributes.

They took this idea to a rising star in the art world, a powerhouse of an artist named Frank Frazetta. Robbins described the outfit and Frazetta provided the first illustration of the character. Frazetta’s interpretation of Vampirella from Trina Robbin’s description gave her more of some things and less of others… like clothing.

frazetta_vampirella69sep“His original cover art of Vampirella looked a lot like my idea,” Trina Robbins said. “but her costume shrunk.”

With each issue the men drawing the sexy heroine seemed to find ways to make the costume smaller to show off more of Vampirella’s other assets. “By now it doesn’t bear any resemblance to what I designed.” Robbins says.

Vampirella began life as a slightly tacky bit of titillation used to introduce the real horror stories in the early issues of the magazine that bore her name. Eventually, though she grew into a strong character in her own right with her own entourage of supporting cast – both heroes and villains. As time passed the focus was less and less on the traditional horror story and more on the Vampirella story, which quickly established itself as the lead story and the cover page subject.

Jim Warren had the good sense to recognize real artistic talent and many of the top writers and artists in comic book history were published in Vampirella. The one artist who stood out head and shoulders over the rest and who’s art defined Vampirella for decades to come was José “Pepe” Gonzalez, a talented artist originally from Barcelona, Spain.

barbaraleigh-fjaThe magazine was a big success and it ran for 112 issues, finally ending its run in 1983 with the demise of Warren Publishing. After a period in limbo Harris Comics bought the Vampirella title and launched her back into the spotlight.

Their first foray was a “continuation” of the Warren magazine format with issue #113, which had limited success. As such, it is one of the most sought after and rare Vampirella comics. Having tested the water, Harris then produced a range of comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines as well as various peripheral items such as statues and trading cards.

After a steady decline in sales Harris Publishing decided that the Vampirella character was no longer a viable concern. In 2010 Vampirella was sold to Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite kicked off a new look Vampirella with a monthly series in November 2010.

talisa-soto-2In her time as a comic book icon Vampirella has been drawn by many artists and portrayed by a multitude of models and other pin-up girls. Hammer films tried to turn the property into a movie in 1976. Plans were to have Peter Cushing and John Gielgud in supporting roles to Barbara Legh’s Vampirella. Sadly the project fell through as did Hammer Films shortly afterward.

Vampirella eventually did make it into the movies, albeit not in such a big way. Roger Corman produced a direct-to-video Vampirella in 1996. The film was done on the cheap and it looks it (Vampirella’s outfit looks like an off-the-rack plastic Halloween costume). Former Bond Girl Talisa Soto was cast as Vampirella, despite not having quite the same… assets.

Poor Vampirella. She has been bought and sold, exploited by men, forced to wear a skimpy, barely-there costume, had her origin story changed several times, had her memories stolen, altered and returned to her, and still she goes on working for her cruel masters, providing cheap titillation for the fanboy masses.

When will her suffering end? Will she ever reach the promised land of the Public Domain?

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the slave metaphor a bit too far. Maybe I’m trying too hard to make some sort of salient and profound point in order to turn this post into something more than just an excuse to show pictures of Vampirella. Then again, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that beauty is it’s own excuse for being. Maybe we can say the same about Vampirella?

Or maybe I’ll just be quiet and you can look at the pictures.

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McDonald’s Minions: A Trick of the Ear

Sometimes we hear what we want to.

Recently McDonald’s came out with a line of toys for their Happy Meals based on the upcoming movie MINIONS.

You know the minions, right? Those little yellow capsule shaped critters that speak a nonsense language that has been dubbed “minionese” Well, the little toy in the Happy Meal speaks some of these nonsense phrases when you tap it on the butt and a lot of people think that one of the phrases sounds an awful lot like the little critter is saying “what the fuck?” Videos are being posted on youtube with parents tapping the little toys’ butts and making it say phrases until it gets to the one that sounds offensive. “That’s not a phrase that kids should be hearing from a toy,” they intone reproachfully. “Seriously, McDonald’s?” they scold.

What the fuck?

Seriously, parents? Do you honestly think that a huge mega-corporation like McDonald’s would do that? Deliberately distribute a toy that utters profane phrases in an attempt to corrupt the youth of America?

Seriously, people?

McDonald’s is a corporation whose dominance of the fast food market is not the sure thing it once was. They have been scrambling in the past few years to combat their image as a major contributor to the nation’s obesity and heart disease problems. They have enough trouble trying to justify the huge amounts of crappy food they sell to impressionable youths around the world.

The last thing they need is a scandal involving a cursing toy.

But people hear what they want to hear. Or, more accurately, people hear what they are used to hearing. If a minion toy says a phrase with an inflection that sounds like another sentence with the same inflection we hear the sentence we are most used to hearing. Recently Taylor Swift released a song called Blank Space. In it she had a lyric about having a long list of ex-lovers.

Well, most people don’t have a long list of ex-lovers, so they tried to interpret the lyrics based on their day-to-day experiences. Thus “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers” in their minds was transmuted to “Gotta love those Starbuck’s lovers”

What the fuck?

Like a trick of the eye, this is a trick of the ear. We hear what makes most sense to us. After all, who doesn’t love a Starbuck’s lover?

When my kids were young my daughter had a toy bat from the animated movie Anastasia. The bat spoke with a Peter Lorre type accent and it said a handful of different phrases from the film including one that we couldn’t quite make out. It sounded like the Peter Lorre bat was telling us to “…buy some tequila.”

Once we saw the film we realized that what it was actually saying was: “Stress… it’s a killer!”. Which doesn’t make much sense on its own but in the context of the film made some sort of sense (kind of). It’s funny what a bad recording can turn itself into in the fertile mind.

It’s like that classic song from the early sixties by the Kingsmen. Louie, Louie, the song made famous by the movie Animal House, had lyrics that were barely intelligible. The Kingsmen’s lead singer, Jack Ely, slurred his way through the infamous rhythm and blues song in one take.. The unintelligible lyrics l;ed to speculation that it was done intentionally to cover up the profanity laden lyrics that graphically described the sexual congress of a sailor and his lady. The song became so notorious even the FBI had some agents investigating it to see if it was, in fact, lewd and depraved.

Even J. Edgar’s finest had to finally admit that the lyrics were unintelligible gibberish.

But people heard what they wanted to hear. Kids wanted to believe that these raucous singers were singing about things that were forbidden, playing into their narratives of raging hormones. For their parents it played into their narrative of the rock and roll music phenomenon being a danger to their pure and chaste children. They found it easy to believe that it was a menace, deliberately corrupting America’s youth.

That’s probably why today’s parents believe that McDonald’s minion toys are teaching their kids to speak profanity. It’s happening, after all. Children all over North America are offering up expletives that would make sailors blush. Parents have to blame somebody (not themselves, of course, they are blameless victims!) so why not an evil corporate giant who is easily made the villain because of the way that their fast food outlets made them and their kids fat.

Never mind about personal choice. Never mind about taking responsibility for one’s own actions or eating habits, or, now, their lack of vigilance when it comes to uttering profanity in front of their darling offspring. No! Blame the villain! Blame corporate culture for filling our kids ears with hateful profanity!

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

What the fuck?

Coming Soon: Time Like Broken Glass

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“In a world of magic one city is the focal point for a desperate struggle that is fought through all of time.

Mages harness the powers of different elements – air, fire, ice, metal, even death – and wield that power in their struggle to survive. But one powerful mage can cantrol time itself. Now mages and mortals alike find themselves allied against that power and three heroes, separated by vast gulfs of time, must find a way to save the magic, the great city and existence itself.”

This is my first fantasy novel and it will be released in the next couple of days from RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Look for a longer post about the book and about the universe in which it is set: Magistria!

Resistance of the New

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(*NOTE: This is a cross post with the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website where it appears under the byline M. D. Jackson. I’m reproducing it here)

It’s the second day of the new year. Are you looking forward to seeing what wonders it will bring or are you dreading it? Are you embracing the new, or are you resisting it?

81711841_1336987555_1367217745_540x540As science fiction fans it is usually expected, even if we only expect it of ourselves, that we will embrace new things, new technologies, new ideas. That’s who we are, or, at least, that’s who we tell ourselves that we are. We explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations. That’s us – boldly going and all that.

But do we really?

I’m sure most of us do. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But sometimes I run into resistance of new things, even things that seem like a fait accompli, and it baffles me.

LudditesSmashingLoomLarge-757004I started thinking about this recently when a couple of co-workers expressed their opinion that the internet and the whole world of online connectivity, was a bad thing. They were lamenting the loss of the days before the internet, before email and texting.

These weren’t cave dwelling Luddites. They weren’t cranky seniors. These were professionals who work in an office environment. They regularly use email, i-phones, Facebook, etc. So it surprised me that they considered the whole digital age to be, on the whole, a negative thing. I disagreed with them. I said that there is good and bad in everything but that, on the whole, the internet and the connectivity of our world is a positive thing.

They remained dubious.

We didn’t discuss it further but it still confused me. Why the resistance? Why focus on all the negative things about our connectivity and ignore all the benefits?

anti-technologyPartly, I think, it is the human tendency to do just that – to focus on the negative. We tend to seek out bad news and ignore good news when it doesn’t effect us personally. As someone who has worked in the newspaper industry I know this very well. An old circulation manager told me as much shortly after I began working for a particular paper. “I get less returns on papers when the front page story is bad news,” he said. “An accident, tragedy, disaster, whatever. Those papers sell out. A “feel-good’ story on the cover means I get lots of returns to deal with.”

Partly it could be fear. The present moment moves from the past into the future and we move along with it like being swept away by a current. We grab on to things… hold on in a desperate attempt to feel safe and grounded. When we encounter something new we don’t want to lose those things that make us feel safe so we hang on to them tighter even if they threaten to pull us under by their ponderous weight.

FredricWerthamE-books were once regarded with fear, distrust and disdain. I know. I was one of them for the longest time until, as an e-author, I saw first hand the advantages and benefits of e-publishing.

Before the advent of e-books there was the great resistance to another fledgling medium, the comic book. When comics hit the scene voices decried their evils and shrill warnings sounded about how they would corrupt the youth of North America. Well meaning (but ultimately self-serving) figures like Psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham and writer Judith Crist decried the evils of this fledgling medium.

Today the majority of the highest grossing films are based on characters from the comic books. Far from turning a generation into raging delinquents, the comics fired up imaginations and led to new expressions of creativity. The medium has produced works, such as Art Spigel’s Maus, that has garnered some of the highest awards that the world of letters can bestow.

Maybe Douglas Adams put it best: “There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented bet ween when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

worldtechnologyRight now our connected world and the mediums made possible by the internet are producing works of astounding quality. If we can resist the Luddite urge to tear it all down (or the business world’s urge to corporatize it) new mediums, mediums of which we have not even dreamt, will produce some of the greatest art that the world has ever known. As we move along with the stream of time we will let go of our fear of art that is not presented on canvas or literature that is not presented on paper, or films that are not shown only in movie houses (Yes, I am referring to Sony’s groundbreaking release strategy for The Interview, regardless of how accidental it was) and we will embrace the new.

The New Year is here. Yes, it can be frightening seen through eyes that are clouded by fear (or perhaps just a hangover) but it also holds endless possibilities. Go boldly. Find those possibilities and grab onto them. Tell stories in whatever new medium comes along.

Just make sure they are amazing.

DEBT’S PLEDGE

ImageMy latest science fiction novel, Debt’s Pledge has been a long time coming.

I started this book many years ago. I wanted to write a military science fiction novel about a soldier who is down and out.

At the time I had been doing research on Ancient Rome and the conditions faced by soldiers in the years before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army. There was opportunity for reward and glory for Roman soldiers, but there was also much deprivation and hardship. I wanted to translate this situation to a traditional military science fiction milieu.

I also wanted to examine the idea of debt. Not just monetary debt, or the debt that a society exacts upon its citizens, I wanted to try to separate what individuals owe to society separate from what is mandated by taxation.

What I discovered, as I wrote, is that we, as individuals owed the existence we have in the present to those who came before us. This seems obvious, though sometimes we forget how much of what we have today we owe to those who came before us. Not just fathers and mothers, but “founding” fathers are owed a debt by all of us in the present. A simple experience like going out for a meal represents an immense societal effort over many years to create the situations where today restaurants and fast food outlets are commonplace and affordable.

Even the simple act of flushing a toilet is the result of decades, even centuries of hard work and building of complicated infrastructure. For that hard work and ingenuity, we owe a debt.

What I also discovered was that the debt goes both ways.

It’s fashionable now to talk about leaving a better world for our children (as if our ancestors didn’t want the same things for us) but do we really appreciate what that means. Parents will sacrifice and work hard for their own children and I am no exception, but what about the many children who are unborn today and who may never be born. What debt do we owe to them?

The concept of debt becomes more nebulous and contention at this point but while I was writing I wanted to explore a situation where that concept suddenly became clear. I think that I was successful in doing that in Debt’s Pledge.

I wrote the first draft of this novel and most of the second well before the global economic crisis happened. World events have borne out much of what I had been thinking at the time and, I hope, have made this story even more relevant and timely now than when I started.

Certainly you can read the book and enjoy it as an exciting, military, space opera adventure. The book contains spaceships, space travellers, future soldiers, aliens (and some really badass aliens) enough to content the lovers of science fiction, military SF and Space Opera.

But there is also a human story mixed into all that, and some thoughts on the relationship between individuals and society and what each owes the other. That is what Harlan Ellison refers to as the “fibre” hidden within the story. I’m quite pleased at the way it made it into the narrative.

I am also happy with the characters that developed and grew along the way. Some were created consciously and others just kind of showed up during the writing. This is their story and I am pleased with the way that it has been told. I believe I was able to stay out of their way sufficiently to allow them to tell the tale as it needed to be. That, for a writer, is the best feeling. It’s like some sort of magic has been invoked and it has infused itself into the text.

Debt’s Pledge is available now at Amazon.com for the kindle. It will soon be available in other e-formats as well as a print edition soon afterwards. Personally I think you owe it to yourself to check it out, maybe even buy a copy. If you have already purchased a copy, then sincerely, thank you.

I am in your debt.

The Man in the Torn Shirt

Here is a reprint of my most recent post for the AMAZING STORIES website. This post was inspired by my good buddy Cal over at the Cave of Cool who tends to knock one of my great childhood heroes because of his choice of shirts.

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This post is about icons.

It’s about powerful images and the way that they can become stuck in the public consciousness.

But it’s also about old pulp heroes. One in particular.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Not back in the 1930’s when Street and Smith released a new hero pulp magazine featuring a super-scientific crime fighter named Doc Savage. Not even in the 1960’s when the adventures were reprinted in paperback format with covers painted by artist James Bama.

For me the beginning was the summer of 1976. I was eleven years old and it was the start of our family summer vacation. Summer vacation for me meant long drives in a hot car with my brothers and I in the back seat. We had made a stop somewhere and my mother sent us in to a used bookstore with a little bit of pocket money to buy comic books to try to keep us interested in something else other than fighting amongst ourselves.

DocSavageTheOtherWorldCoverProofI started rifling through the second-hand paperbacks. I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but when I came across the Doc Savage paperback I was stopped cold. The cover showed a muscled man with a torn shirt and a strange haircut, fending off a trio of weasel-like creatures. The name DOC SAVAGE was blazoned across the top but above it was the name of the adventure: The Other World.

The description on the back of the book got me even more excited. “To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious, figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes…”

How could an eleven year old resist that? I read the paperback and wanted more.

Fortunately there were lots around at the time. George Pal had just made Doc Savage, the movie. There were comic books and magazines and plenty more paperbacks all featuring the iconic image of Doc Savage sporting a torn shirt.

The iconic torn shirt.

An icon is a religious work of art from Eastern Christianity. Depictions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saints, what have you, these images were very powerful representations of a people’s faith.

The icon has become co-opted by our society for anything but religious purposes. An icon is a visual representation of an idea or a feeling. It can be a symbols that encapsulates a feeling or an idea. Icons are very powerful, though we tend not to think too consciously about them. But that’s how they work.

Take Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was never… NEVER… described as wearing a deerstalker cap. The illustrator of the stories, Sidney Paget depicted Holmes wearing a traveling cloak and a deerstalker hat for one adventure. For whatever reason, the deerstalker became permanently associated with Holmes. The deerstalker was a country cap, favored by hunters. To wear it year round, in the city was an absurd thing back in the late 1880’s, yet it quickly became Holmes’ costume.

Put on a deerstalker cap and you are Sherlock Holmes. Even the recent BBC TV series Sherlock, which has updated Holmes to the Twenty-First century, could not entirely get away from at least giving a nod to the existence of the famous cap.

Doc Savage wearing a torn shirt ALL the time is ridiculous. Yes, he’s an adventurer and very busy. If, in the course of an adventure his shirt gets torn he doesn’t have time to get a new one.

Some bloggers, including Calvin from Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool, take to complaining about it, asking why he doesn’t make his shirts out of the same, seemingly durable material out of which his pants are made.

But these questions are immaterial. Doc Savage’s ripped shirt is iconic. It’s as iconic as Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker, or Tarzan’s loin cloth.

It was not always like that. Just as with Holmes’s deerstalker, the torn shirt is a product of the illustrator. Doc Savage’s original pulp magazine run featured lots of action-filled covers and on some Doc appears wearing a ripped shirt. In the very first issue Doc’s shirt is torn. Nowhere near as torn as it would be in later covers, but it was there from the beginning. But other covers do not feature the torn shirt. In some cover illustrations Doc is wearing a suit and tie with not a single rip in sight.

When the adventures were released in paperback the job of painting the covers went to artist James Bama. Bama was the one who settled on the image of the torn shirt (the publishers insisted on the weird, widow’s peak hairstyle, but that’s another story) and the torn shirt appeared on every single cover that Bama or any other artist painted, right up until today.

 
So now, poor Doc Savage has to wear a torn shirt all the time, just like Sherlock Holmes was saddled with his ridiculous deerstalker. Perhaps Doc will move beyond the torn shirt. There is supposed to be a new movie in the works. Perhaps that will give us a new iconic image for Doc Savage. Maybe something cleaner, sophisticated and less… torn.

Perhaps that is a vain hope. I imagine that the poster for the movie, should it ever materialize, will feature a picture of whatever broadly muscled actor they cast sporting a shirt hanging raggedly about him to better highlight his pectorals and six-pack abs. That image will still overshadow the essence of a character who is so much more than a torn shirt.

Such is the power of the icon.