Comic Con is still about the comics?

Bob and crew at SDCC2015

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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The best portrayal of the Joker…

JOKER

Is Heath Ledger’s, of course. His was the most plausible version of the Joker in film or television so far. I have to admit I have not seen Jared Leto’s Joker yet, but from what I’ve heard he’s barely in the Suicide Squad movie anyway. Ledger’s performance was based on how such a character would be in the real world. He wasn’t dropped into a vat of nasty chemicals that bleached his skin and snapped his mind. His mind was snapped somehow, the audience is never told how, but I’m certain a vat of chemicals wasn’t involved. His clown look was achieved with simple, mundane makeup.

In fact, until I read Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke many years ago, as I started getting interested in Batman, I had no idea the Joker didn’t wear clown makeup. I had been a Marvel kid for most of my life, what did I know about DC’s universe?

However, I’m not going to heap more praise on Ledger’s Joker here. No, I’m going to praise the creepiest Joker. Cesar Romero’s Joker. To my mind, that was the most creepy and scary version. Of all the portrayals of Batman’s archest villain, Romero’s was the most clown-looking one. And that clown look is pretty unsettling.

I’m also taking into account the fact that the Batman TV series in the ’60s was my earliest exposure to Batman and Robin, Batgirl (Yvonne Craig – yum), and all those villains. And being a kid when I first watched that great series, I took it seriously. I didn’t realized the campy take of the show. Adults watching the show caught it and liked it for that. But we kids didn’t pick up on the humor. We believed it!

So, the fact I was a naive kid watching Batman, taking it all so seriously, probably still plays into how creepy I think Romero’s Joker is. There was something about Cesar Romero’s voice and laugh that really felt like lunacy. And I think that Romero’s insistence to not shave his mustache and have the clown white applied right over it also added to the creep factor. Of course, adult fans of the show at the time probably felt the makeup over mustache look just added to the camp factor of the show.

Regardless, Ledger may have made the Joker seem real. But the Joker I get skeeved out the most by and still like the most is by the originator: Cesar Romero.

Packing Peanuts!

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Another excellent cover…

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In this installment of my monthly look at comic book covers I really like, I’ll be looking at the cover of Fantastic Four #263 (Feb. 1984). The cover was illustrated by one of my favorite comic book artists: John Byrne. When he drew this cover, he had already been both drawing and writing a substantial run of the Fantastic Four series, starting with issue #232.

Bryne was given the task of revamping Marvel Comics‘ signature super-hero family: The Fantastic Four. Some of what he did was to bring the group more in line with their original look. He did away with the super-buff Mister Fantastic and made him thinner, less super-hero, more super scientist. He reworked the look of the Thing, he would even return our ever-lovin’ blue-eyed monster to the lumpy, Jack Kirby original version for a time. The groups’ uniforms no longer appeared painted on, there were folds and creases again as when Kirby designed them.

Byrne even explored the potential of the Invisible Girl. He had her go evil for a time, which seems to be his thing. He was involved with the Dark Phoenix of the X-Men series and her going evil. And he had the Scarlet Witch give into the temptation of evil during his writing and drawing stint on the Avengers. He must really like ELO’s Evil Woman.

Once he was done making the Invisible Girl far more powerful than she had been and put her through her evil phase, he rechristened her the Invisible Woman. Progress! Did I mention this was 1984?

This stint drawing the FF was not Bryne’s first go ’round. He had done the breakdown pencils and layouts for a while earlier. Joe Sinnott, the great inker from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, but this was the Bronze Age and his inking seemed… meh, did the finished art for those issues. One could barely tell Byrne had anything to do with the art of those stories.

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Sinnott’s inks, not helping.

Be that as it may, when Byrne took over the FF writing and drawing, he churned out some intriguing and entertaining stories and some excellent art. I will say this wasn’t the height of his art, which he achieved on the X-Men with the help of inker Terry Austin, but still very good stuff.

This month’s cover (see above) is very dramatic. The Thing is desperately trying to find Johnny (the Human Torch) in some kind of inferno of debris. I’m not sure  Johnny can be burned, he is the Human Torch, after all. Still, the Thing is determined to rescue his little “brother”.

The high contrast inking and color, using mostly orange and yellow with white highlighting, makes this cover feel very hot. And it makes Ben Grimm’s desperate search more desperate. I also like the dry brush inking (or maybe it’s charcoal) to create the texture of the burning debris and smoke.

It’s a terrific cover. Worthy of high praise. Which I just gave it.

Packing Peanuts!

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ABBA said what?

abba-super-trouper-2001-inside-cover-48231I love ABBA.

Well, I love their hits. Most of them. I’m not an obsessed superfan or anything like that. I don’t own their albums, just a greatest hits thing or two. I don’t know their deep tracks.

But I love ABBA just the same.

ABBA was the embodiment of the 70s’ light-hearted, pleasure-seeking, let’s party lifestyle. They were just so pleasant. Easy to listen to, to dance to, and to forget about all your cares and concerns. And the gals had lovely voices and lovely other bits. Ahem. And the fellas weren’t bad looking either. Even their more somber efforts, such as Knowing Me, Knowing You, still fill me with that youthful joy the Swedish supergroup has long engendered.

However, there was one song. It’s a great song, but with lyrics that must have given their most hardcore superfan a moment of pause. The song is Super Trooper and it’s all about how sick and tired the singer is to be touring and performing before adoring fans as part of a “success the never ends.” She wishes each show was the last show. But, tonight will be fine because the person she loves will be in the audience.

Hmmm. Kinda dismissing the rest of the fans, ain’t she?

Sure, I understand that kind of work can be grueling, but is it a good idea to tell your fans that your sick of singing for them and the only time you don’t mind is when your significant other is present? But, somehow, the song doesn’t insult. It still manages to uplift. Such was the power of ABBA.

Oh! Slightly off topic, but still an indication of their awesomeness. Check out the video for their song Ring Ring. Bjorn is wearing a cape! And he’s rockin’ it! Oh, man. The 70s were really something else.

ABBA-early-costumes-1024x683

Ahhhh-BBA!

Packing Peanuts!

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1985. A Great Year in (Mostly) Alternative Music

Last month, I looked at the year 1979 as it pertained to alternative music. The reason was that I noticed that 1979 saw a lot of really good alternative music albums being released.

The inspiration for this blog came about because I periodically guest blog on the Stuck in the 80s blog. My main contributions to that blog is to profile musical artists of the alternative scene in the 80s. These artists did not chart on the Top 40 Pop charts in America. A wider audience was, for some reason, denied them, so I dubbed them to be Never Found in the 80s. And I was looking at my list of artists that I have yet to write about. I realized the songs I picked to post with the write ups were very often from 1985. So, I thought, “Why not do my Top Ten of alternative albums for the year 1985?” I couldn’t think of a reason not to, so here it is…

(Oh, one of the albums isn’t exactly alternative, but I like it, so what are ya gonna do?)

Wishing_Chair

10) The Wishing Chair – 10,000 Maniacs  I was reading an interview of REM‘s Michael Stipe in those mid-80s days and in it he was asked if there was anything interesting he was listening to at that time. One of the bands he mentioned was 10,000 Maniacs. And just on that recommendation I picked up this their debut album and I discovered an excellent folksy rock album with the terrific lead vocals of Natalie Merchant.

Favorite track: Scorpio Rising

MeatMurder

9) Meat Is Murder – The Smiths  Aside from the unlistenable, preachy, veganny title track, this is a solid album by the quintessential 80s alt band. The American release included the awesome How Soon Is Now? making it damn near perfect, except for that “cows are beautiful, so eating them is murder” track. Eh, I’m a meat eater, perhaps I’m wrong and Morrissey is right.

Favorite track: What She Said

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8) Our Favourite Shop – The Style Council  This is former front man of UK’s The Jam Paul Weller and Mick Talbot’s second full length album as The Style Council and it is my favorite. Heavily socialist in its message, it was the band’s most successful release, earning gold record status in the UK. (I sure hope they didn’t feel guilty about all the money it earned.) In the states, this album was released with different cover art and song order and was called Internationalists.

Favorite track: Boy Who Cried Wolf

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7) The Head on the Door – The Cure  This was the sixth album by these moody Goth rockers and it has some awfully cool songs. I love the great thumping bass open of the song Screw. This was also The Cure’s first album to crack the US Top 100 Album chart. It reached 59. Even greater charting success was yet to come.

Favorite track: In Between Days

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6) Night Time – Killing Joke  So far this list has been pretty sensitive and, perhaps, a bit on the navel gazing side, but that changes with this album by UK post punkers Killing Joke. Intense is a good word to describe this band, especially front man Jaz Coleman. The album is an ass kicker.

Favorite track: Eighties

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5) Fables of the Reconstruction – REM  This was REM’s third full length album and it was becoming clear that these guys might get some traction on the charts. Stipe’s vocals were also becoming clearer. He was muttering and mumbling less on this album than on their previous efforts. And there was the welcome addition of horns. Horns almost always boost a song to greatness.

Favorite track: Can’t Get There From Here

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4) New Day Rising – Husker Du  Hardcore punk with harmonies and a do it yourself attitude pretty much describes this band out of St. Paul, MN. Released just six months after their magnum opus Zen Arcade, New Day Rising continued their buzzing feedback screech with tight catchy melodies that had some people taking notice. And if this wasn’t enough material for fans, the boys would release Flip Your Wig in a mere eight months.

Favorite track: Celebrated Summer

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3) Tim – The Replacements  Critics’ darlings from Minneapolis were on the verge of breaking it big (but the band themselves made sure that didn’t happen) with this their first release on a major label. It is a more cleanly produced (by the late Tommy Erdeyli, formerly Tommy Ramone original member of The Ramones) than their previous records and, perhaps, less appealing to their hardcore fans. But, I think it is a fine album, which contains one of Paul Westerberg’s best songs (see my favorite track).

Favorite track: Here Comes A Regular

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2) White City: A Novel – Pete Townshend  Yeah, this is the one I warned you about. It’s not quite an alternative album, but I really like it and Townshend is my all time favorite songwriter, so on the list it goes. It has all that Townshend pretentious goodness (the album is being called a novel?) and some great songs. Not his best solo album, but pretty damn close!

Favorite track: Give Blood

SUZANNE

1) Suzanne Vega – Self-titled  I don’t know what it is about this album, but it is one of my very most favorite albums of all time. OK, this may also not be what people think of when they think of alternative music, but its folksy simplicity and directness certainly set it apart from everything else in 1985. This album must have come to my attention at the right time of my life that it has come to be so important to me. Vega continued to create great music, but nothing ever came up to this one’s level. At least, in my eyes. I just love this album.

Favorite track: Marlene on the Wall

Packing Peanuts!

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Cardboard boxes and empty lots

Market_and_Summit_in_Akron,_empty_lotIt appears to be true that smells are a potent trigger of memories. I’ve heard it said often, so it must be true, right? Well, maybe. I will say that each summer, a season I generally dislike, whenever I catch the smell of freshly cut field grass and weeds memories of summers of my youth fill my mind.

Specifically, I recall that empty lot across the street from where I lived as a boy. The empty lot was behind a strip mall, so there were dumpsters for diving to find unexpected treasures. And just a couple blocks away was another strip mall with one of the stores being an appliance store.

Oh, would we kids case that store’s dumpster area. We mainly had one item in mind: Boxes! You see, sometimes the appliance store would neglect to break down its boxes when they put them out by the dumpster. And when we spotted those empty, but still intact, boxes, we knew what we were doing that day. We’d be makin’ forts!

We would scarf up those boxes. Usually, they would have been for ovens or dishwashers, but sometimes there would be the must coveted of the cardboard appliance boxes – the refrigerator box! Oh, boy, if you got your hands on an intact refrigerator box you were the envy of the rest of your gang.

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So, the boxes would by hauled over to the empty lot and knives and scissors and string would be acquired. Some of us might even get some markers or crayons to draw control panels for a rocket, for example. We would cut windows and doors with flaps for privacy. And we might connect each section with smaller, but still big enough to crawl through, boxes to serve as tunnels for our fort/hideout/rocket ship.

One time my friend Todd grabbed a box for a mattress. He made it work even though pretty much all you could do in it was lay down. Good thing he wasn’t claustrophobic.

Usually it would take as much or more time just getting the boxes from the store to the empty lot and all set up as forts or whatever, than we would spend playing in them. But we would play in them. And the whole day would be spent with those boxes.

Inevitably, kids being kids, it would be time to destroy the structure we had so painstakingly built. And that was almost more fun than all that earlier work and play on that busy summer afternoon. And, because our empty lot was about half surrounded by a hill, we would take parts of the broken down rocket/fort and use the cardboard as sleds to ride down the hill.

The day would be coming to an end and supper would be on the table soon, so it was time for these tired kids to head home. We were good kids, though. We would gather up the flattened cardboard remnants of that day’s imaginings and put them in the dumpster where they belonged.

Well, maybe not in the appliance store’s dumpster, because two blocks at the end of the day felt way longer than at the start. We’d put the cardboard in one of the closer store’s dumpster. We were good kids, but not that good.

Packing Peanuts!

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