An Easy Company to Watch

band_of_brothersIt was 15 years ago this month when HBO premiered its World War II miniseries Band of Brothers, a ten part series focusing on the men of “Easy” Company, part of the 101st Airborne Division. The Airborne was a new concept in warfare in which men were trained as paratroopers with the intention of being dropped behind enemy lines. To be part of the Airborne you had to be the best as the training was among the most rigorous in all of American military. This series follows the company from basic training to D-Day to Bastogne and to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the end of the war.

I never caught the show on HBO or anywhere else until I received the DVD set as a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law. He took a chance, thinking I might like it. I did. I do! I watch the entire series at least once a year. In fact, one time I had just finished watching it and I still had time before heading to bed when I thought, “What the hell?” I started watching the series again right there.

Based on historian Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 book of the same name and on interviews with surviving members of Easy, as well as diaries and other sources, the series attempts to be as faithful to the actual events as the production would allow. Some characters, all based on actual people, are shown having experiences that had actually happened to other paratroopers. That was done in order to keep an already large cast manageable. The story is still as accurate as can be possible in such a project.

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg were both involved with the production of the series. Hanks even co-wrote the first installment Currahee and he directed episode five Crossroads. And we see plenty of familiar faces that weren’t as familiar in 2001. David Schwimmer would be the most recognizable at the time as he was in the middle of his wildly successful series Friends. He plays the company’s first commanding officer, Lt. Herbert Sobel. Sobel was a demanding, harsh, overbearing, mean, unfair, and cruel instructor who trains his men into one of the 101st’s best companies. Schwimmer’s mainly in just this one episode, but he does turn up at couple times as the series rolls on. And he gets just a little payback in his appearance in the final episode. It’s really satisfying.

Some of the other actors who were less known at the time include Ron Livingston, Damian Lewis, Simon Pegg, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, and Michael Fassbender. Notice something about those actors? Most of them aren’t American. It seems just about half of the cast are English, Scottish, even South African! But there’s a New Kid on the Block in the cast – Donnie Wahlberg! And he is pretty good. Backstreet’s back! All right!

The production is very well done. They had a budget of about $125 million for the series and they used it well. The settings were great. The battle scenes felt authentic. Those tracer bullets whizzing by, sometimes just inches away from soldiers on the move, were a particularly potent effect. Whenever my wife watches with me those tracers always make her flinch.

But what keeps me watching and re-watching this series are the men of Easy Company. I like these guys. The chemistry, the bond if you will, they have is heartwarming, even when they are surrounded by the terror of battle and then confronted by the horrors of genocide. These men have a camaraderie that few people could ever hope to have. This is the best aspect of the series. You can’t help but admire these guys.

Watching it as often as I have, I’ve noticed a few things. Little continuity glitches, such as in episode two Day of Days, during a battle to take out some heavy guns wreaking havoc on the beaches, Lt. Richard “Dick” Winters (Damian Lewis) uses a German hand grenade to disable one of the guns. But, although he tries, he doesn’t manage to actually pull the cord to activate the grenade. It goes by fast, but watch closely you’ll see it.

And there’s the character Pvt. David Webster (Eion Bailey). It is well established in the episode titled The Last Patrol that Webster is fluent in German. However, in the very next installment Why We Fight, when Webster is confronting an angry German baker in a town not far from a concentration camp, he seems to have forgotten the language. Another soldier tells him what the baker is saying. Webster is one of the company translators, why would he need someone else to translate?

Back in January of this year, I blogged about Hollywood’s overuse of characters’ names in film and on TV or HBO in this case. One of my examples comes from episode three Carentan, which focuses on Pvt. Albert Blithe (Marc Warren). That one show had multiple uses of the name Blithe. But, there’s another Hollywood dramatic trope that can bug me: The dramatic stare with an unanswered question hanging in the air. It especially bugs me when one character asks another a direct question and that person just stares. Sometimes the person asking the question will persist, which works better for me. But sometimes they just let the question hang out there, never to get an answer. The episode Bastogne has medic Eugene “Doc” Roe (Shane Taylor) having several dramatic stare moments in which he doesn’t answer questions.

These are small things. Little quibbles are a hazard when you watch a series as often as I watch this one. And if you’re as pedantic as I am.

Before I leave this week’s topic, I want to do a quick comparison of this series to HBO’s miniseries The Pacific (2010). The Pacific is sort of a sister series to Band of Brothers, but it’s like the much less attractive sister. Not because the production was bad or the writing or acting. I think it’s because of the nature of the warfare depicted in that series was so much more brutal and dehumanizing.

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The Pacific focuses on several Marines, who were actual people, much like in Band of Brothers. However, the harsh conditions: Tropical heat and humidity, insects, mud and malaria, and an enemy who was far more likely to keep fighting even when the fight was clearly lost, made that campaign seem so much more demoralizing. The Japanese soldier was trained, in some cases since childhood, that to surrender was shameful and dishonorable. Death was preferred by most. If I have my numbers correct, one of the islands the American Navy and Marines fought so hard to get was defended by about 3,000 Japanese troops. When the battle was finally won by the Americans, there were 18 Japanese soldiers left alive.

In the Band of Brothers series, the men of Easy Company seemed to hold onto their humanity better. After all, the German soldier, fierce and well-trained as they were, would be much more likely to surrender when they realized the battle was lost than their Japanese counterparts. Easy’s humanity made it much easier to watch, while The Pacific was too psychologically difficult. It was still a good series, but I’ve only watched it once.

There was a scene in The Pacific that really spells out the difference between the two theaters of war. I might get the wrong character if I try to name him, so I won’t, but I do remember the scene. Late in the series, possibly the last episode Home, one of the Marines is getting a cab ride. The cabbie also served in the war and had been home for a while. The Marine goes to pay for his ride and the cabbie refuses. He tells the Marine to keep his money. He says that he may have fought, too, but he fought in Europe and got take leave in Paris. The cabbie knew the hell his passenger had lived through, so there was no fare.

I’m amazed each time I watch Band of Brothers. What those men did is beyond my comprehension. I don’t know that I could do what they’ve done and what the men and women in our military do now. I’m glad there are those who can.

Packing Peanuts!

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Colin Kaepernick, Jesse Ventura, and a stopped clock.

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We here at Warehouse Find, the official blog of Nostalgia Zone, are strong advocates of free speech. It’s what makes it possible for me to post this drivel…er…I mean, pearls of wisdom each week. Well, recently, former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura made a video in which he voices his support for San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had protested the treatment of African Americans in this country, especially by police, by sitting down during the playing of the Nation Anthem. Ventura was concerned by how some Americans were treating the star quarterback for exercising his free speech to peacefully redress grievances with his country.

Ventura stated that, whether or not he agrees with Kaepernick, he supports the athlete’s right to protest. Ventura reminds us that he served in the military and part of what he was fighting for was the right to protest. The former pro-wrestler may be way on there with his believing in any crackpot conspiracy theory that comes along, but I have to say I agree with him fully on this one.

After watching Ventura’s video, I thought to myself, “Well, what do you know? A stopped clock is still right twice a day.”

Unless it’s the kind of clock that doesn’t display the time when it stops working. Then it’s not really functioning as a clock. It’s more like a paperweight or an interesting wall decoration.

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But the clocks with hands and numbers, if they stop functioning, they will still display a time of day. Or those digital clocks with the numbers on little tabs that flip over as the time changes. Remember those? Remember how fun it was to set the time on those clocks? You could flip through the numbers super fast. That was fun. Yeah. Fun… I haven’t thought about those types of clocks in a long time. Funny how things just pop into your mind. Anyway, that kind of clock would display a time of day even if it stopped working, but those digital clocks display am or pm with the time. So, technically, they would only be right once a day, because there is only one am and one pm in a day.

But the clocks we have today have computer screens or LED digital displays. If they stop working they likely won’t show any time all. So, they wouldn’t be right even once a day, let alone twice.

And these days, more and more people are just relying on their smart phones and other such devices for the time. Which is really hurting the sales of good ol’ wristwatches. Personally, I prefer a wristwatch. Who wants to have to dig in their pocket or backpack or purse to find their phone to see what time it is? Just look at that device on your wrist. I can see a time when people just won’t understand what is meant when someone says that a stopped clock is still right twice a day. They just won’t know about that sort of clock.

I guess the old saying really mainly pertains to the clocks and wristwatches with hands and numbers and no indication of am or pm. Of course, there doesn’t have to be numbers. People who know how to tell time don’t necessarily need numbers on the clock face. But I prefer, at least, a dot or mark of some kind in the places where the numbers would have been. There are some clocks and wristwatches that don’t even have that. I don’t like them as timepieces. They make it harder to tell time at a glance, but they would still be right twice a day if they stopped.

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But then there are some clocks and wristwatches with hands that are set to military time, you know, displaying all 24 hours of a day. If you have one of those clocks then you’d have one that’s only right once a day. Unless, the clock face has the traditional round, 12 hour set-up, having 12 o’clock as both 12:00 and 24:00 and so on around the face. Then that stopped military clock with hands and numbers would still be right twice a day.

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So, let’s just say that a clock or wristwatch with hands that has stopped is what people are referring to when using that phrase…

Uh. Hmm.

What was I talking about?

Packing Peanuts!

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Suppose they gave a war…

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Once again guest blogger Michael Noble has a thing or two to say…

When I was a kid, there were all sorts of shenanigans to involve myself with. Along with the neighborhood kids and friends from school, we were forever busy. Table top games such as Trouble and Battleship and Life and Pong. Outdoors we had Jarts (real, steel-tipped ones to add that element of danger) and Capture The Flag and other sports or attaching bottle rockets to toy models and going up against whose was best by whizzing them down the street after traffic would pass by. If it wasn’t games on our agenda, we were forever racing Sizzlers. (Remember those? They were rechargeable Hot Wheels cars which used the same kind of bright orange track. We used to love to put butter on the track and make them squeal and burn out.)

Around this time, role playing games really began making the rounds, things to spur the imagination. Dungeons and Dragons was taking off something fierce but I never had any real interest in them. (Even to the present day I still haven’t sat down and played D&D.) Besides, it took money to invest in a lot of the role playing games. Money, as a kid, that wasn’t readily available.

Luckily, I had a vivid imagination. On the occasions when there weren’t any friends to hang around with, you could often find me holed up in my room drawing and writing and creating secret codes or reading comic books. I was a pretty happy-go-lucky kid given paper and pencil or a stack of comics. And while I had heard about the role playing games, I never really had any interest in them. But I was soon to be introduced to a primitive form of it for the first time.

I was in grade school. Friends and school mates were all around me – nearby, up and down the block, some too far away to get to without the folks driving me to their houses. One of my friends who lived a couple blocks away, Doug Schlaufman, invited me over to play “War.” I didn’t know what “War” was and I told him so, but that didn’t daunt him. “I’ll show you. It’s fun!” he promised.

So, after school one day I asked my mother if I could head over to Doug’s house for a while. I called him up and headed over. He was bursting with anticipation when I arrived and I’ll admit his enthusiasm was infectious. I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into but if he was that pumped about it, it had to be worth it.

We went to his room. Opening a chest of drawers he pulled out two huge bags of army men. There had to be at least 200 men in each bag. I don’t remember what color they were but I do remember each set held a different color of figures. He tossed one to me, opened his and dumped all his pieces on the bedroom floor. I did the same.

“This is what we’re going to do: You take out all your men and see what kind of weapons they have. Some have rifles, some have bazookas, some are running and yelling, some are on their stomachs with binoculars. Those are scouts. What you do is put them around the room and then they fight each other to see who wins … okay?”

I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about. How in the world were these little army men going to “fight” if we were putting them all over the room? They were stationary, immovable army men. But I went along and followed his lead. I watched Doug for clues of what to do.

He was positioning men kneeling with guns atop his shelves, putting different ones behind pillows on his bed, leaning some half hidden against the bedposts. Army men peaked out from the back of a pencil sharpner, they were in groups of two or three or more staked out in a tennis shoe, atop the doorstop in one corner, evenly spread out along one wall across the room. They were all pointed in the same general direction … at me.

I mimicked what he was doing.

A couple dozen men in, I was lost as to where to put the others. Right then and there I got the feeling I was in over my head. So I started putting a lot of men in a straight line on the floor, then more in another line right behind them. Lines of men ready to “fight” with back up reinforcements behind them. Made sense to me. And it was easier than slogging around the room hunting for places to put them. Besides, Doug was apparently getting all the good spots to put his.

What seemed like an hour later (it was probably only 15 minutes) revealed a room littered with clusters of military hiding in every nook, cranny and crevice of the room. On the floor, in corners, behind every conceivable hiding place … everywhere. And while Doug’s men weren’t readily visible in the grand scheme of things, mine were littered all about the room pretty much in plain sight.

“Wow … you’ll hafta work fast if you’re gonna beat me” Doug informed me matter of factly. I think I might have offered a shrug. “Okay, so this is what you do: You pick and man and, if he has a gun or some kind of weapon, you have him shoot at one of my guys. I’ll do the same. The first one whose men are all destroyed is the loser. Got it?”

That made sense … but I was at a complete loss on exactly what to do. But I did what I could to not look like a complete doofus. “How do I do that?” I asked with as much conviction as possible.

“Here … watch …” Doug went over to one of his men, a soldier laying on his stomach, brandishing a rifle. The guy was half peeking out from behind a sock tossed near a clothes hamper. He got down at eye level with the figure and scoped out one of my figures across the room. Then he took his finger, made the sound of a gun firing and traced the trajectory of the shot across the room, crawling all the way, until he came within striking distance of one of my guys. When he arrived at it, he flicked it with his finger and made a huge verbal explosion immediately followed by the sound of the soldier crying out in agony.

“See? You just keep doing that. You aim for my guys and kill’em and I’ll aim for your guys and kill’em …”

I was dumbfounded. This was what “playing war” was all about? It seemed stupid. But I was a guest in his house and I was bound and determined to go through the motions and give it a whirl. Maybe I’d warm to it.

Doug clambered back to his men and began the process all over again. His “firing of guns” was dramatic and continuous, his trajectories were always accurate and my men began toppling and dying in droves.

I tried to do the same. His examples of play seemed cornball and hokey; mine felt foolish and stupid. My attempts at taking down his men were feeble and half-hearted compared to his “expert” game play. It didn’t take long for me to realize “playing war” was one of the dumbest games I’d ever been involved with.

In a matter of 10 minutes his army had utterly obliterated mine. My men were strewn across the floor in heaps. I hadn’t realized some of the “kills” involved piling the deceased all in collective mounds. Additionally, I noticed such concussive devastation warranted men flying through the air and onto the bed or a desk top or next to a lamp on a nightstand. Had anyone walked into the room there would have been no doubt who the victor was.

“Yikes! That was a WIPE OUT! Wanna play again?” Doug asked.

“Nah.  My mom said I could only stay a little while. We’re supposed to go somewhere” I fibbed.

I helped him clean up the havoc we caused, said goodbye and thanks for inviting me over and left …

… never to “play war” ever again.

“War, huh, Good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing, say it again …”

~War, Edwin Starr

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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This month’s great cover…

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It’s time once again to write about another excellent comic book cover. This month we are looking at the cover of Sub-Mariner #6 (October 1968). It was drawn by the great John Buscema. I have written about Buscema and his work on The Avengers back in June, but I thought it was time to look at one of his covers. I think he, along with Gil Kane, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko, was one of the Silver Age’s greatest comic book illustrators.

Beginning in 1968, Buscema was handling the covers as well as the interior art for the first few issues of one Marvel’s more complex characters: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor had a love/hate kind of relationship with surface-dwellers. In his early appearances in the Fantastic Four stories, he could just as easily be the villain as the hero. He was complicated.

Of Buscema’s short run on this series there are other covers I could have gone with (and might in future), but I chose issue #6, because it is so dynamic. We find our hero in pitched battle with the villain Tiger Shark. We’re in close and we can see these combatants are evenly matched. The strain of their muscles is as obvious as the looks of determination on their faces. Each man feels he must triumph in a battle that looks to be to the death.

The cover doesn’t need the headline of Death to the Vanquished! The illustration alone tells us that. The use of color sweetens this fantastically dramatic image. As does the close-up view. It being a close-up is what had me pick this cover over the other Buscema Sub-Mariner cover creations.

Bravo! Mr. Buscema! Bravo!

Packing Peanuts!

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Best & worst of Columbo

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I’ve been watching Columbo on the Netflix almost every night for the last few weeks. I’ve seen all those original episodes from the 70s several times; so I pretty much put them on, get comfy on the couch, and fall asleep to Peter Falk’s most beloved character. Most of the episodes are entertaining and very much of the 1970s. Lots of bad fashion, weird interior design, and smoking. Everybody smoked back then. At least, that’s how it seems.

Well, you might imagine that I’ve gotten to know those shows pretty well, and I have. You might also imagine I have favorites and not favorites, and I have. So, I thought I’d list the top three and the bottom three. This is, of course, just my opinion. Your results may vary.

My top three episode picks:

3) The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case – Original air date May 22, 1977

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In this episode, Lt. Columbo investigates a murder at a Mensa-type meeting house, where people with very high IQs gather to talk smart stuff. One of the members, Oliver Brandt, played by Theodore Bikel, knows his accounting partner and fellow club member, Bertie (Sorrell Booke), has discovered his embezzling of their clients’ funds. Brandt has concocted a brilliant plan to murder Bertie, using a gun with a silencer, then join the meeting of the minds, and make it sound as though the murder is taking place while he is with the group.

Bikel is excellent as the genius troubled by his spendthrift, but gorgeous, wife (Samantha Eggar) and bored by the idiot geniuses he is surrounded by at the club. Columbo, ever the polite, rumpled, non-threatening detective, demonstrates that he might be eligible to join the group as he masterfully gets the murderer to show us how he did it. And Bikel’s momentary joy as he shows the detective his ingenious scheme is terrific.

2) Short Fuse – Original air date January 19, 1972

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Roddy McDowell plays a none-too-serious, spoiled rich kid who is being blackmailed by his uncle into allowing the uncle to sell the family business to a huge conglomerate. “Junior”, as McDowell’s character is called, is a brilliant chemist and he rigs a cigar box to explode, killing his uncle. Junior then takes control of the company.

As always, Columbo politely investigates, appearing to be clueless, all the while innocently maneuvering the murderer into admitting his crime. In fact, the reveal that takes place on a mountain sky car has McDowell very convincingly losing his cool believing something awful is about to happen.

1) Murder By The Book – Original air date September 15, 1971

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This is the premiere episode of the Columbo series and it stars Jack Cassidy as the bad guy. Cassidy, who rivals Robert Culp as the best murderer of the series, (both actors have played the murderer three times) plays the less productive half of the writing team of the very successful Mrs. Melville mystery novels. He decides to murder his writing partner (Martin Milner) instead of letting him go off and write on his own. Later, he kills a woman (Barbara Colby) who was blackmailing him, because she knew what he did.

Right from the beginning of the series, Cassidy set the template on how the suspects would treat Columbo. He would pretend to help, but would soon become dismissive of our disheveled detective, even annoyed. In fact, he would become angry that Columbo just kept popping up to ask one more question.

This episode was directed by Steven Spielberg and you can see some Spielberg touches throughout the show, especially in the final scene as Cassidy angrily walks off the elevator and heads to his office. There are a few police officers around and, as Cassidy passes them and goes off camera, a cop steps into frame to keep a watchful eye. Pure Spielberg.

My bottom three picks:

3) Fade In To Murder – Original air date October 10, 1976

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William Shatner plays the murderer this time. His character an actor who plays Detective Lucerne on a wildly popular television series. Columbo acts a bit starstruck as he allows Shatner to pretend he is the TV detective helping a real detective solve a murder. The murder was of the producer (Lola Albright) of the Detective Lucerne program. She was blackmailing the actor by threatening to expose the fact that he had deserted the Korean War.

The idea is that Shatner plays a sympathetic murderer. And he kind of is, but it’s Shatner and his acting is a bit Shatner-y. The show does acknowledge that it is silly for Columbo to play into the fantasy that the actor is actually the character he plays, which helps. A little.

But what gets under my skin is how often Columbo calls the murderer “sir”. It’s a lot! I counted and I got, at least, 150 uses of the pronoun. It drove my wife crazy when we watched this episode together once. “Stop saying sir!” she shouted at the TV.

It seems the over-abundant “sirs” were intentional. Columbo always called men “sir” through the series, but this show ramped it up so that Shatner could, once he had been busted, tell Columbo to stop calling him “sir”.

Even if it was intentional, it was very annoying.

2) Dagger Of The Mind – Original air date November 26, 1972

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Columbo takes his show on the road. He heads to London to check out investigation techniques at Scotland Yard and ends up solving a murder. Two aging actors of the theat-AR (husband and wife characters played by Richard Basehart and Honor Blackman) have tricked a wealthy aristocrat (John Williams) into financing a production of Macbeth. He had wised up to the scheme and confronted the couple and was accidentally murdered by them. They attempt to cover it up, but that pesky American police detective figures it out.

The problem with this episode is Basehart and Blackman and their chewing of the scenery. If you ever wanted an example of overacting, watch these two. From what I know, they are generally decent actors in other productions; but, for some reason, they needed to act for the back row of a theater a thousand miles away from their stage.

It is so over the top!

1) Last Salute To The Commodore – Original air date May 2, 1976

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And then there was this disaster. It’s horrible. I think it’s meant to be played for laughs, but it just fails so miserably.

This complete misfire was directed by Patrick McGoohan, who had himself acted in the series, playing the murderer on two episodes. McGoohan was largely responsible for the very bizarre, but very intriguing The Prisoner series in which he played the title role. I’m not sure if he brought that bizarreness to this episode, so I won’t placed the blame on him. Not entirely.

I don’t know why, but for this show it was decided to make it an actual mystery. The audience does not know whodunit, which is not the way the series goes. All the other Columbo episodes let us know who the killer is at the beginning and then we are entertained by watching how Columbo catches them. We don’t get that with this show.

The characters are all silly, Columbo is not quite right (there are no “uh, just one more thing” or “oh, I almost forgot” moments), and there are ham-handed attempts at slapstick comedy throughout. What the hell were the producers thinking?!

I recommend you watch it once to see how bad it is and then never, ever watch it again.

Believe me, it’s awful.

Packing Peanuts!

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Comic Con is still about the comics?

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Last month saw the pop culture extravaganza that is the San Diego Comic-Con or, as it is more often referred to, simply Comic-Con. And, as has been the case for the last few years, there was the grumbling that Comic-Con was barely about comic books anymore. Some disgruntled voices decried the turning over of the convention to movies, television, and video games. Well, I’ve never been to Comic-Con, so I have no first hand knowledge of whether or not those complaints are warranted. I reached out to my friend and previous guest blogger at Warehouse Find, Michael Noble, who lives out at that end of the country and has attended his fair share of Comic-Cons to weigh in on this situation. Is it true that Comic-Con is giving comics the short end of the stick?

Here’s what Michael had to say:

Jim sez: “I’ve been hearing a lot about how Comic-Con almost completely lacks the presence of comic books … I thought you might have an opinion on that …”

You betcher Bippy I have an opinion on it.

I’ve heard this sentiment/concern/statement/chide countless times over the years. Over and over and over and over and over again.

Well … here’s the bottom line on it: It’s simply not true. Not in the least. I’ll elaborate in a moment.

First though, I’m going to pepper you with a little Comic-Con history to bring you up to speed.

Comic-Con International (better known as “San Diego Comic-Con” or “SDCC”) has been around since the 1970s when a merry little band of San Diego comic enthusiasts decided to put on a dry run mini convention (coined as the “Golden State Comic-Minicon”), a comic and multi-genre entertainment event, in the hope it would attract enough attention to launch a larger, longer event thereafter. And it worked. That one day get together in March of 1970 boasted 145 attendees and drummed up enough enthusiasm to fuel a 3-day, 300+ attended event in August of the same year. Each year thereafter, attendance swelled. It topped 1,000 just a few years later in 1973, ballooned past 10,000 in 1989, grew to 100,000+ in 2005 and currently fills the halls of the San Diego Convention Center and surrounding venues and hotels annually with more than 167,000 attendees.

The idea of Golden State Comic-Minicon featured comic books and science fiction/fantasy related film and television primarily. Since, the convention hosts a huge array of popular culture elements spanning a wide swath of genres which include horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games, webcomics, and fantasy novels.

But its tenet, its mission statement, has never wavered. In part its declaration states a dedication to “… creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.” Note that “comics” is the first and foremost item featured in that credo and continues throughout. And guess what? Comic-Con has never let that aspect of its being falter.

Now … it’s elaboration time as promised.

To be certain, San Diego Comic-Con – monster of a multi-day event that it’s become – is filled to the brim with all things popular culture, not just comics. There’s no doubt about that.

I’ve attended SDCC since the 1980s. I know of what I speak. I’ve seen its change and progression first-hand, from participation in the mere thousands to the hordes who now populate its halls, panels, seminars, workshops and exhibitor floor space. The days of being able to walk up to a kiosk to purchase tickets for next year’s event and be on your way without jumping through hoops? Long gone. A distant and fond memory.

But if you’re of the mind that the comic aspect of it has been lost to (or overwhelmed by) all that surrounds Comic-Con’s Mission Statement, you’re either: 1) lazy, or 2) obtuse.

Comic books, comic art, comic artists and writers and their ilk, comic related materials, instructive panels and workshops, artwork reviews, ad nauseum are the backbone of Comic-Con. Part of the fun of attending the show is delving into it head first to find that sought-after issue of Fantastic Four to pad your collection. It’s the discovery of a once-out-of-reach original Superman cover surprisingly within your grasp after all those years of admiration. It’s that illusive artist (like Mike Ploog who I’ve written about previously) waiting around the corner to sign an autograph, snap a photo with or commission a sketch from.

All you have to do is delve in and not be seduced by the glitz and glamour of the ever-present Hollywood machine or the scantily clad cosplayers. Stay mindful of what The Con is about and you’ll see, plain as day, Comic-Con hasn’t lost its comic book roots in the least.

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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This seems vaguely dirty…

meri-wilson

Do you remember Meri Wilson?

I had forgotten who she was, assuming I ever really even knew who she was, until recently when I spotted a video on Facebook of the song for which she is known. I may not have remembered Meri Wilson, but I remembered the song.

The 1970s were an odd time in the world. I’ve heard the decade called the “hangover of the 60s”, but the decade had its own freaky vibe. Hippie fashions infiltrated the “normal” clothing style. Lots of stripes and paisleys and wide lapels and those bell bottom pants that were just so weird looking. Avocado green became an acceptable color for kitchen appliances. Shag carpeting was actually desirable. Weird!

And people were doin’ their own thing by jumping on whatever self-help fad was popular at the moment. “I’m OK, you’re OK.” Yeah, right. And everybody needed to know your sign. You know, I have a dream that one day young people will be asked by those old folks who lived through the 70s what their sign is, and they will have no idea what those old farts are talking about.

I can dream, can’t I?

And there was sex. Well, there was always sex, but this was during woman’s liberation, when it became OK for women to enjoy sex. And they could actively pursue it. It even became hip to have seen that 70s porn classic Deep Throat. And there wasn’t AIDS yet.

Men wore open shirts exposing matted rugs of chest hair adorned with gold necklaces displaying symbols indicating their signs. And just about everyone had long hair. Even the more conservative types would have a bit more shag to their hairstyles. And… ahem… people’s private areas tended to be allowed to – how shall I put it? –  flourish.

Oh, what a time it was.

It was also a time of sexual double entendre pop and rock songs. Melanie had that pair of roller skates for which she was in search of a brand new key. Foghat wanted to go for a slow ride. Aerosmith was setting records with a big ten inch… something. AC/DC had their bouncing balls. And the Starland Vocal Band was going for those afternoon delights, which may have been less double entendre and more straight forward in its meaning, but it was still kinda gross.

And there was the sweet and innocent appearing Meri Wilson and her telephone man. Ms Wilson was a model and singer/songwriter in the 70s and, in 1977, she released the song Telephone Man. In it she sings about this telephone man who was no ordinary guy who came over to give her what she needed. Oh, she got it in the bedroom and she got it in the hall and she got it in the bathroom. She even got it with a ding-a-ling.

Hey, as she tells us in the song, get it anyway you can.

A telephone, that is. I think.

The song was a hit and she released an album to take advantage of her new found popularity, but she never had another hit or released another album. The album was First Take and it included other songs of a similar nature as Telephone Man. There were Peter the Meter Reader, Dick the DJ (is Dick a noun or a verb?), and Santa’s Coming, in which she sings that, in return for the big surprise he gives her every year, she’ll have a small surprise for Santa when he arrives next Christmas. Hint, hint.

Normally, I’m not much of a fan of novelty songs, but I can’t help digging the song Telephone Man. Maybe because it’s so vaguely dirty.

Packing Peanuts

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