Sunday, July 31, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 8

This is the first picture I took at this year's Comic Con, a girl in a candy car. But we'll need more than a candy car to get to Mars, which is how I'm seguing into talking about the NASA panel I saw this year.

NASA, and the private companies working with (or against) NASA, had several panels this year. The one I saw was called Mars Needs People.

People were talking bold faced shit on this panel. They were throwing down. I couldn't believe the drama.

Like several panels I saw this year, a bunch of people were on the panel who weren't announced in the schedule. One of them was a representative from CASIS (Centre for the Advancement of Science in Space) who talked about how, a few years back, the U.S. government had made room for other organisations on the International Space Station so that now CASIS has 50% of the space on ships going up to supply the space station. He also debuted the new CASIS logo designed by Marvel:

A couple people from NASA and NASA's Jet Propulsions Labs (including the cute-as-a-button oddly among balding middle aged men, Rebekah Sosland) talked proudly about the missions to Mars and the robots that they've been sent there and have reported back.

Grant Anderson from Paragon Space Development was not impressed. He said the small number of robots that made it to Mars, compared to the much higher number that've been sent, is inexcusable. "The robots will be forgotten," he said. He told us that his company aimed to make space stations and Mars stations independent of Earth for resources and repeatedly criticised NASA's failures with its robots and space stations. He boasted that his company was developing a water reclamation device and a machine that converted carbon dioxide to oxygen.

The nice people from NASA didn't seem rattled. Maybe they were just good at putting on brave faces. Or maybe they figure if Anderson can back all this up it'll all be for the best anyway.

Matt Duggan from Boeing and Bill Pratt from Lockheed Martin were a little more diplomatic, the former calling himself a "space architect" excited by the idea of designing spacecraft while the latter discussed working with NASA to create habitats. Though he did criticise JPL for slow communication times between robots and Earth.

Three people on the panel made predictions on when we'll have people on Mars and no-one seemed to acknowledge being contradicted. One person said 2022, another said 16 years. Sosland said JPL was keen to get a helicopter on Mars for survey missions.

Maybe they should talk to these folks:

Or this woman:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 7

When I asked these two young ladies who they were dressed as they looked at me as if I was crazy. They explained they were both from Overwatch, the insanely popular new video game from Blizzard. I had heard of it but only because I'd read an article about people complaining one of the characters was too sexy. The game I expected to see all over the place, the game people said was all over the place, was Pokemon Go. But I didn't see it anywhere. Maybe I need those magic glasses called smart phones. Someone on the mental health and pop culture panel, though, did remark that Pokemon Go was beneficial for people with social anxiety because strangers have a tendency to help one another.

I saw two panels about video games this year.

I think this picture says a lot about the Tomb Raider twentieth anniversary panel. On the left is Debbie Lash, who was in charge of the models hired to promote Tomb Raider since the beginning of the franchise, on the right is Camilla Luddington, the voice and motion capture actor for the current incarnation of Tomb Raider's protagonist, Lara Croft, and in the middle is Noah Hughes, current franchise creative director. He was intensely nervous the whole time. When asked about the defining characteristics of the Tomb Raider story, Hughes said it was about "the human spirit" and the "desire to discover." Lash distilled it as representing, "Girl power" and invoked the Spice Girls. She said in the first years following the first Tomb Raider release, she worked with models who could expect a minimum of one hundred days of work including international travel. She said it was a little like working with a pop star.

She seemed to have some very fond memories of working on Tomb Raider promotion. She singled out a cosplayer in the audience who is apparently known for cosplaying Lara Croft going back years. She asked the cosplayer to stand for the audience.

Lash seemed particularly proud of the latex top which she developed with a well known costume designer she knew who happened to specialise in latex.

When it was time for the panel to take audience questions, a young woman thanked Hughes for making the current incarnation of Lara Croft, who has more realistic proportions and does not wear latex, less sexualised.

In responding, the increasingly nervous Hughes, without referencing any sexualisation of the character, stumbled through explaining that he sought to bring out dimensions of personality in Lara, to make her more "grounded", necessitating a more "believable" style.

Luddington did not seem remotely nervous. While admitting that she had very little knowledge of Lara's biography, she said she felt like Lara was a part of her and that for one emotionally intense scene she tapped into the feelings she'd had when she'd lost someone in her own life.

Also on the panel were a former Lara Croft cosplayer and current community manager for the franchise, Meagan Marie, and the artist for the tie-in Tomb Raider comics, Andy Park.

Marie said to her Lara Croft's story was about the need to "push through flaws and accept them." Park referred to the character as "Iconic, sexy," and "strong". He talked about quitting art school in order to focus on a career illustrating Lara Croft comics.

Personally, I do prefer more realistic proportions and I think the latex top is kind of ugly. But Lara's new look succeeds a bit too much at making her look unremarkable. Sometimes it's nice for a character not to look boring and one way to go in the opposite direction of boring is towards sexy which, I humbly submit, is not an entirely bad thing.

After this panel, I saw one on playing video games professionally. Everyone on the panel was extremely serious about it, except Dennis Fong, aka "Thresh" (on the right).

Arguably the world's first gamer superstar, Thresh rose to prominence playing 1996's Quake. Since carpal tunnel put an end to his gaming career, he has spent his time as a commentator and running several gaming related businesses.

The panel talked about how gaming communities have changed since Thresh's time, moving from community LANs and now centring in community forums where posters help one another focus on building skills. One of the panellists said, in scouting for players, he was looking for "players not personalities", explaining how the people who talked the best in game chat weren't necessarily the best at playing, the best gamers often times being introverts. One of the panellists remarked that young, potential pro-gamers face "downward pressure from society" that doesn't respect the idea of someone making a career out of playing video games, advising players that they should "pay them no mind."

Jace Hall, CEO of Monolith Productions, said he believes people should be able to earn money for doing what they want. I have to say, I went into this panel with no particular opinion on the viability of playing video games as a career, now I think it looks really obnoxious.

Hall spoke angrily against cheating in video games. Several of the panellists talked about the importance of building their skills by playing as much as possible. But the panellists also emphasised that playing a lot is useless if you don't learn from experience so it was important to analyse. Thresh, who said he didn't spend nearly as much time playing as modern players, said it was important to "find your superpower."

"So, Setsuled," you might be saying, "are you almost done with these Comic Con reports?"


Friday, July 29, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 6

I'm not sure what all these pin-up girl X-Men were doing on the roof but it was nice to see them up there.

I saw one other of the Inside the Writer's Room panels this year, this one hosted by Sony Pictures Television's executive VP of drama development and production, Chris Parnell, seen at the podium below.

On the panel were several television writers--from left to right: Mark A. Altman, who moderated the Star Trek panel I talked about; dressed as Mel Gibson in Braveheart is Jose Molina (Agent Carter, Firefly, Sleepy Hollow); after him is Stephen Melching (some of the best episodes of Star Wars Rebels season 2); Steve Holland (Big Bang Theory); taking pictures of the crowd is Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Xena: Warrior Princess, Lost); then Gennifer Hutchison (some of my favourite episodes of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul); Michael Narducci (The Originals, Vampire Diaries, Medium); and Gabrielle Stanton (Time After Time, The Flash, Haven). Stanton was the first to respond to Parnell's first topic, which was notes writers received from producers, showrunners, or network execs--like Parnell. Stanton said notes from the executive producers or showrunners tended to reference the overall "feeling" of the show, or the tone that showrunner or executive producer is trying to set.

Grillo-Marxuach said that showrunners rarely to-day create a "safe space", they tend not to communicate very well about their vision. He called this kind of showrunner the "I'll know it when I see it" showrunner and they tend to run very dysfunctional shows. But Grillo-Marxuach also added that showrunners didn't need to be polite but rather clear and decisive. Niceness, he said, was often a façade that caused a lot of time and energy to be wasted.

The group got to talking about disagreements between the writing team and the showrunner. Narducci said that it's important for showrunners to trust the team they've assembled and sometimes when everyone disagrees with the showrunner on something it's important to listen. Hutchison said the people in the writer's room at Better Call Saul like to refer to it as a safe space where everyone kind of assumes the first pitch will be bad. The task was to find the core of the idea behind the bad details and then build from there.

Holland, not saying which show he was referring to, said he worked on one show where the showrunner personally rewrote practically everything. Holland said it's important to surrender your ego and that nearly everything on The Big Bang Theory is written as a group.

Molina said it was good to throw things at the wall, see what sticks and then, "let it stay stuck for a minute".

Parnell observed that allowing oneself to feel vulnerable made for better writing. Grillo-Marxuach built on this topic, saying that writers need to get past insecurities. He learned he need to be like a spiritual warrior with the mindset that "you walk in dead" so you have nothing to lose. He said you had to get rid of the idea that anyone can tell you you can't write.

Altman pointed out that a bad idea can often look great. Melching said that dumb ideas often come from the right place.

Grillo-Marxuach said on one of the shows he worked on they had a "stupid stick" they passed around that allowed the holder to pitch a stupid idea without ridicule. Hutchison remarked that while it's important to have the "safe space" it was also important for writers to be able to challenge each other. She said the core of a good note to know "where the note comes from". Grillo-Marxuach said that one needed to take time to understand one's own visceral reaction to a note.

Altman mentioned the importance of holding "tone meetings" that help make the feeling of the show clear to everyone.

Stanton said a lot of new shows in particular run into a problem when there's a disparity between what the writer thinks the pitch is and what the network thinks the pitch is.

Grillo-Marxuach said he had a rule for himself; he sets in his mind "Three Hills" or three points where he will absolutely refuse to compromise, no matter what. The "Hill" here refers to a well-known term in writers' rooms, a "hill to die on", a point where a writer will not budge to requests or demands from the network or producers. When asked why he set three hills for himself, where he came up with that number, Grillo-Marxuach said he more or less chose it arbitrarily but it allowed him to see things he could be flexible on which he otherwise wouldn't see.

At this point, Parnell invited the panel to throw out some of the terms common to writers' rooms and notes. Terms thrown out included "hang a lantern", when something needs to be made clearer; "hide the ball", for when something needs to be less clear; "schmuckbait", for when the stakes are obviously phoney, like when someone says they're going to leave the country but because they're the star of the show they obviously won't; "shoe leather", referring to the process characters go to to reach a solution; "a hat on a hat" or "gilding the lily" referring to taking a good or big moment too far by adding another needless element; "long road to a little house" or, as apparently it's referred to in the Agent Carter writers room, "long way to go for salami", meaning a lot of plot to get to something that's not very rewarding; "refrigerator logic", a plot hole someone notices when they get up to go to the refrigerator; and "way homer", something someone figures out on the way home from the theatre.

Asked to name their favourite shows this past year, Stanton said Penny Dreadful, Narducci said Better Call Saul, Hutchison said Fargo, Grillo-Marxuach said Night Manager, Holland said Mr. Robot and Archer, Molina said Game of Thrones, and Altman said The People v OJ Simpson.

Now that you're at the bottom of this blog entry, here's the Magneto Samurai who was on the floor beneath the X-Men pin-up girls:

Twitter Sonnet #896

Ambling absence of palms appeased the sauce.
The kudzu came and could not hold the meats.
A tattered clutch concludes a car across.
A regular raccoon reclines in streets.
A fortune founds hospital shirts in trees.
The random horse beheld as blur enticed.
The legs inside the web displayed their knees.
The insufficient sorts what's said sufficed.
A watch appeared in Heaven's mall at lunch.
A cart upended south of fountain's yield.
A captain needs not slice or even crunch.
The milk in dreams abruptly takes the field.
Upstairs, the art deco engraves the lights.
Umbilical, the dance sequence delights.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 5

Here's Elvira posing for photos on Saturday in the event hall. I guess she hasn't aged, and I thought she wasn't supposed to be a vampire.

I'm currently on a plane from Charlotte to San Diego, happily with wi-fi this time.* Not that I would've used it in the four hour flight from San Diego to Charlotte which I mostly spent sleeping. I hadn't been on a plane in seventeen years. It's not that I don't like flying--I remember liking it. I think I still like it now but to-day's the first time I've been awake enough to analyse my feelings. Having a destination I actually want to get to helps a bit.

I find my opinion of Tennessee hasn't improved. I love all the green, the beautiful trees, and all the undeveloped land is great. But in between are all these depressing buildings that almost invariably seem to resemble barns and contain churches, church related establishmens, restaurants that try to find creative uses of the word "pig", and bars. I'm glad the family emergency I came for ended up being a false alarm for more reasons than one.

I think this bear knows a lot about life:

UPDATE I've just now learned that this bear is in fact Adam Savage.

My notes for other panels I attended are in my bag under the seat in front of me and I don't feel like getting them out. So I'll just share some pictures to-day.

I didn't see a lot of sword fighting this year. The little arena was mostly deserted but I finally caught a duel on Saturday;

I took a few stills of the fighting I might use as reference later for my comic.

I went east, across the street from the convention centre, to the Hilton for the first time since the Con had expanded to using its indigo ballroom. I was trying to get into the Samurai Jack panel but I quit when the number of people lined up made it look impossible. Apparently there's a show on Adult Swim now called Rick and Morty that's very popular and a lot of people wanted to see its panel, which was in the same room. So I wanted around the little carnivals set up by different companies. Here's a Statue of Liberty for The Strain, optimised for carnal pleasure;

I think she'll make another statue somewhere very happy.

Nearby was the Adult Swim area with delightful, surreal décor as usual. I liked this illustration on the fence:

Here's the event hall from Thursday, the aisles remarkably clear this year.

I wonder if the new security system actually prevented a significant number of people without badges from getting in. It was all paid for by The Walking Dead so promotional pictures for the show were on the electronic badge scanners and even on the badges themselves. With that kind of exposure, maybe people will finally start paying attention to this obscure little gem.

*It's a lie. Only I, the footnote, know the truth, that the wi-fi ended up costing six dollars for thirty minutes so this was saved and posted from home instead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 4

Two days, I saw Nichelle Nichols in the autograph area with only about five people around her. You wouldn't think this was the big Star Trek 50th anniversary Con. I don't see why Nichols wasn't on the big Hall H panel, which I didn't see, though not because I wasn't interested. Just as I thought, the whole thing ended up online anyway but I heard about Bryan Fuller using an unusued 1970s Ralph McQuarrie Enterprise design for the new show's ship, from Mark A. Altman author of several books on Star Trek, when he couldn't help gushing about the announcements when I saw him on another, much smaller panel.

I saw one Star Trek panel this year. This year, there were several panels spread out on various days in various rooms called Inside the Writers Room that gathered groups of writers to discuss aspects of the process and business. On Friday I saw the Inside the Writers Room focused on former writers for Star Trek. Moderated by Altman, the panellists included David Weddle, who wrote for Deep Space Nine and now works on The Strain; Robert Hewitt Wolf, who worked on Deep Space Nine and now Elementary; Michael Sussman, who worked on Voyager, Enterprise, and now Perception; Fred Dekker, who worked on Enterprise and he wrote the 80s movie The Monster Squad; Naren Shankar, who worked on The Next Generation and is now showrunner on The Expanse; and Ronald D. Moore--of TNG, DS9, the new Battlestar Galactica and currently showrunner on Outlander. I thought about asking him if there would be any upcoming group of three episodes without an attempted sexual assault. Moore did say he was frustrated with the limitations imposed on the subject matter he was allowed to explore on Deep Space Nine, I wonder if he envisioned the Attempted Rape of the Week format that now distinguishes Outlander.

As much as a rut as his current show seems to be in, though, Moore has written some of the best episodes of Star Trek and I loved his Battlestar Galactica. He and Shankar were the two writers I was most interested in hearing from.

Sussman said working on the fourth season of Enterprise was the most fulfilling time of his career because the execs stopped giving a fuck. Shankar mentioned that he also used several ideas on The Expanse which he first had while working on Deep Space Nine. In talking about how DS9 was a precursor of modern serialised television, Shankar said the old self-contained format allowed the writers to write wildly different kinds of stories for one show. Robert Hewitt Wolf seemed to miss being able to change things up but said how writing murder mystery episodes of DS9 were a good early experience for now writing on Elementary.

When the panel were asked how they got their jobs writing for Star Trek, Hewitt Wolf said he got a masters degree in screenwriting and then didn't find work for five years. He tried to sell a script for an episode about the Watts Riots but finally got a script approved, "A Fistful of Datas", when he was working on the show as an intern. Those who remember that lousy western pastiche holodeck episode might agree with me that his degree should be rescinded.

Moore got his job through his girlfriend who worked on the show. Of the panellists, only Fredd Dekker, who had Hollywood movies under his belt, was hired through his agent and wasn't required to pitch.

Dekker used a term that sounded like it was familiar from writers' rooms and producers, "Care and feeding of franchise" when he talked about the limitations Moore and Shankar mentioned on the kinds of stories they could tell. The panellists agreed that Deep Space Nine ushered in a new era of serialised television--no-one mentioned Babylon 5--though Hewitt Wolf said Hill Street Blues was the true originator of the format. I guess ignoring soup operas, Doctor Who, and various anime series.

Moore said the reluctance to switch to a serialised format was due to the fear that people would tune out if they missed crucial episodes and got lost. Serials can flourish now that people can binge watch.

Nearly everyone cited the book The Making of Star Trek, which was published during the original series' run, as a major influence for getting into the business.

Along with Rick Berman, the late Michael Piller was showrunner on Star Trek: The Next Generation in its defining years. When asked to comment on Piller, Moore said he was "a unique man";"guileless" and "with no filter". He would criticise a script quite casually to a writer's face without seeming to feel any remorse about it. Moore said Miller believed in the process and the writers' room. He said Miller gave a lot of writers their first shots.

Shankar said Miller brought discipline to the show, wanted little hierarchy and encouraged people to voice their disagreements. Shankar said he was "like a laser beam" adding that the lessons he learned from Miller he carried to other series he worked on.

The writers on the panel were asked to name their favourite episode and their favourite episode to which they contributed writing. Hewitt Wolf said the TOS episode "Amok Time" and the DS9 episode "The Wire". Sussman seconded "Amok Time" for favourite episode. Dekker said "City on the Edge of Forever" and the ENT episode "Sleeping Dogs". Shankar seconded "City on the Edge of Forever", though he also mentioned TNG's "Inner Light". His favourite that he worked on was TNG's "The First Duty". Moore, rather surprisingly, chose TOS's "Conscious of the King", with Shatner at his hammiest, as his favourite episode and, less surprisingly, chose TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise" as his favourite he worked on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 3

Here's an unconventional conventionist. Where else but Comic Con would you find Rocky Horror Picture Show cosplay? Yeah, okay. Well, it was nice to see a Columbia. I guess she was there for the panel on the new TV movie version. I can't say the trailers look very inspiring, even with Tim Curry in the Charles Gray role. But given the regular disparity in quality between trailer and film these days I probably oughtn't to judge yet.

I felt like meeting some comic writers and artists this year. One of the nicest to talk to was Emily Willis, who writes an alternate history comic called Cassius, illustrated by her wife. It presents a version of ancient Rome where women are not barred from any profession or position in society as they were in real life. I read the first issue and it seems like a nice adventure. Willlis told me the story is based in part on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Telling her a little about my comic, we got to talking about doing research and she told me she was speaking on a panel regarding historical research in comics later that afternoon.

It turned out to be an LGBTQ history in comics panel. In addition to Willis, there was Joseph Hawkins, from USC ONE Archives, the largest archive of LGTBQ media in the world; Mister Loki, a transman who writes a comic about werewolf dog fighting in the twenties, the panel moderator mentioning that werewolves in the story are a metaphor for the trans experience; and Trina Robbins, who was instrumental in the production and promotion of comics by women in the U.S. for decades, beginning in the late 60s. Robbins was by far the most interesting person on the panel, with an easy manner telling stories about authors she's known. She talked about how the comic book shop kind of killed women's comics, saying that she used to sell her products primarily in women's book stores and head shops. Once comic book stores started opening and women's book stores started going away in the early 90s, she suddenly couldn't find anyone to buy her comics as the comic book stores became an exclusive domain of young men.

The souvenir book this year was filled with art and essays dedicated to Forrest J Ackerman, the well known figure in Science Fiction fandom responsible for bringing attention to many artists and writers and for inspiring greater respect for Sci-Fi in general. Robbins was a friend of Ackerman's and told the audience, "Forry loved lesbians."

The panelists talked about the difficulty of researching some subjects because of the lack of primary sources. Mister Loki embarrassingly told the audience how difficult a task Willis had in writing about ancient Rome because no writing from the time as survived. I suppose Loki's yet to come across obscure finds like Virgil and Seneca in his researches.

Well, I'm in Tennessee now and really wishing I was back at Comic Con. Among other things, internet is spotty and unrealiable here but hopefully I'll be able to post again to-morrow. I get back to San Diego on Thursday so I'll probably start longer, proper posts on Friday.

Twitter Sonnet #893

A legend walking past the vacant screen
Affords to cellular ventilation
A kind of shining cranberry or bean
Or plant becoming versed realisation.
In space the outer spoils lean across
To see the hole the rain took months to scrape
Into the glass and rotten wood and moss
In no appointed thatch did lines escape.
Ablutions blued the reddest cabbage if
Cantank'rous roustabouts esteem the colt
Now born in bordello chutes claimed a gift
To rivets shorn of scrap too soon to bolt.
The yellow threads obliged to raise the lead
Traversed the metal leg of journey's head.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 2

Here's Georgia Congressman John Lewis walking past me at Comic Con on Saturday. I guess he's probably at the Democratic Convention now or "Dem Con" as I suppose no-one calls it. I bet he misses Comic Con. I think he was actually promoting a comic.

Getting back to the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 panel, which was moderated by Paul and Storm, Joel Hodgson was asked by Paul why he recast everyone for the new season. I'd never heard Paul and Storm's podcast before but I heartily appreciated Paul's guts for asking the question. Though Joel replied with an even less satisfying explanation than he's given previously, that he felt the show needed to be "refreshed". It's funny to have heard this right before he started talking about how the fans dictated what was best about the show. He also talked about how the unique flavour of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 had to do with the fact that all the writers and performers lived within miles of each other in Minneapolis, that they were part of a culture of performers well outside of, and ignorant of the normal writing processes of, the LA and New York comedy scenes. For the new show, writers weren't even in the same room, relying on Skype to communicate from all over the country.

Hodgson seems to have traded home grown for the best he could get from all over the place--Elliot Kalan, former head writer of The Daily Show, replaces Mike Nelson as head writer on Mystery Science Theatre 3000; Robert Lopez, composer of the songs for Frozen, is writing the new music; Patton Oswalt and Felicia Day are playing the mad scientists. The big hired gun Hodgson spent most of the panel talking about, though, was Guy Davis, a comic book artist and conceptual artist for film who has worked with Guillermo Del Toro on Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim. Hodgson showed slides of designs Davis did for the "Backjack", a sort of space tow truck that halls meteors on cables in a way Hodgson said he wanted to "look like mylar balloons". In spite of this amusing concept, Davis' designs of course looked like sophisticated blueprints right out of Pacific Rim. Hodgson showed the new designs for the corridor of doors leading to the theatre he worked on with Davis--each one is in the shape of a number that splits in the middle to reveal different rooms. It all looked pretty fascinating though, again, well divorced from the conspicuously cheap design of the original series. The new show might be good but it's clearly going to be a fundamentally different beast. Again, Hodgson saying the fans dictated what was best about the show started to seem more and more ironic.

Hodgson was joined on the stage by Felicia Day and the new voices of Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot--Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount, respectively. The two guys seemed funny enough and with a genuine love of the show but not close to being able to fill the shoes of Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, or Bill Corbett.

The show won't be completely devoid of old cast members. Hodgson did announce that Mary Jo Pehl, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett would be appearing as Pearl Forrester, Professor Bobo, and Brain Guy.

The panel were asked to name their favourite episodes of the original series. Yount named Cave Dwellers and Pod People while Vaughn chose Laserblast. Vaughn, a black man, remarked sarcastically how he felt for the poor white guy in Laserblast who felt undervalued by society. Day picked Santa Claus Conquers the Martians or any of the sand and sandal films, like the Hercules movies--anything "with oiled chests".

Hodgson, surprisingly, chose a Mike era episode, Final Sacrifice, as his favourite--though he later added that the episode where he felt like his team did the best job was I Accuse My Parents.

Someone from the audience asked Hodgson if Crow's doppelgänger, Timmy, would be returning. Hodgson said he couldn't answer that question, which sounded like a yes to me. Someone else asked about the remarkable good natured quality of the show. Yount opined that it was because the performers were all from the midwest. Hodgson said midwesterners have plenty of problems but talked about how there was no real premeditation in the clean humour, beyond the knowledge that they were limited by the standards of their networks. But he did say that there was some deliberate push back against an emerging comedy scene of dark or nasty humour, mentioning Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. Hodgson remarked he felt that kind of humour burnt out quickly and as Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was meant to be a sort of a "companion", someone you would want to hang out with, "no one wants to hang out with an asshole."

Hodgson seems to have spent a lot of time thinking deeply about the show and what made it work. He talked about how each movie they watched drew something from the riffers, each movie had a different character which made him and the bots different people by the reflection.

I didn't get much video of the panel, just this bit from the beginning when Hodgson announced where you could find the new show:

Then my camera's memory card ran out. It was mostly filled with footage of William Gibson I'd taken in the morning, which I present to you here:

I dig his references to the influence of Naturalism in crafting characters and William S. Burroughs' relationship to Sci-Fi. I saw Gibson wandering the exhibit hall later. I made eye contact and he looked away quickly like he didn't want to be recognised so I didn't say anything. I settled for this creepy picture:

I'm flying to Tennessee early in the morning to-morrow and I won't arrive there until the evening. I'll post if I can find internet access, I have a lot more about this year's Comic Con to share.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Comic Con Report, volume 1

I saw this Sarah and two Jareths (from the movie Labyrinth) to-day. I asked the Sarah to look confused and the two Jareths to look angrily at each other and this is what they came up with:

I didn't see much else to-day, I mostly just roamed the event hall. I suppose I could've gotten up really early and tried to get into the Sherlock Hall H panel but last night was the latest I'd stayed at the Con in years and getting up at 10am this morning was too early as it was. Last year I was starting to think maybe I was getting a little sick of the Con, this year I just didn't want it to end. I saw a panel on comics and therapy and the moderator described the Con as his "mental health week" just for the atmosphere of decent and strange people all in one place. To-day I bought a birthday present for someone in the event hall--I picked it off the rack and looked in the dense crowd calling, "Who's selling these?" It was a couple minutes before someone who evidently wasn't even slightly afraid of thieves came up and told me the item was his. And if anyone wants a perfect model of how a diverse society can function beautifully together, I would offer Comic Con. 200,000 people from all over the world, frequently crammed together like sardines, openly gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Shinto, or an anime version of Shinto. I saw four dwarves this year, making me reflect on the idea that Peter Dinklage may be the Sidney Poitier of our time--one man whose performance completely shifted a society's perspective on a minority group. Really, I think Dinklage can take more single handed credit for it than Poitier. And Game of Thrones is better written than Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

I'm rambling. Well, kind of. If there was a theme for the panels and various other experiences I had this year it was perspective or ownership of perspective.

This is what I stayed up so late for--Joel Hodgson on the left and Felicia Day on the right, there for the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 panel. There was a lot of info about the new season and Joel also discussed his feelings about the old episodes. He described each episode as a "document" of the best the performers and writers could do that particular day and once that document was complete, it became different when it was released to an audience. He said the audience decides the "great riffs" and the best episodes, things he and the others never know while they're making the show. "Watch out for snakes!" one of the most quoted lines, he pointed out, came from a movie they watched on the show, not something Joel or the bots said.

He looked back to the old series to see what was most popular when making decisions about the new show. I was reminded a bit of attitudes regarding George Lucas' special editions of the original Star Wars trilogy, how people said once the product was finished it belonged to the audience, by way of describing how Lucas could be an intruder on something that was patently his. There's a strange "neurotic auteur" thing happening now where even creators who have total control of their art seem to be obsessively second guessing based on fan demands. I thought the problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was that Spielberg made a movie more for what he thought the audience was than for himself. Now it seems he's doing it again for the next Indiana Jones, I've already seen one quote where he's said precisely that, that he's making it "for the fans." There's an inescapable ouroboros about being aware of subjectivity--being aware of it doesn't really help you circumvent it because you have only your own perspective of the subjective perspective; it's like a copy of a copy. You have to somehow manifest thoughts that you don't think you can manifest on your own, inevitably muddying the image that would have been clearest if you'd just gone with your own impulse.

Earlier, at the Mental Health and Pop Culture panel I mentioned, someone from the audience asked the panel if "neurotypical" people should, as actors, portray people with mental disorders and should neurotypical writers write people with mental disorders. This was the first time I'd heard the term "neurotypical", and I'd barely caught up to this addition to my vocabulary before I started to contemplate another thing that's supposed to be off-limits to writers. On the panel was recent Eisner award winner Nate Powell, a comic book writer and artist who has also worked as a caregiver for adults with mental disorders. He responded to the questioner, saying he felt neurotypical actors shouldn't portray people with mental disorders but that writers could, though only if they avoided sensationalism, romanticism, exploitation, and other things conducive to inaccuracy.

As far as actors, I guess that's bad news for the Anthonys Hopkins and Perkins. Powell said something I liked about how a writer should try as hard as they can to get to the actual experience of the character, to use their imagination to go through it as much as possible. This contributes to empathy, he said. I would also argue it makes the writing more interesting--when you're trying to be sensational, you're in a sense being the neurotic auteur again as you're thinking more about how the audience will react than about what you want to express. But I would argue there is a place for portraying even inaccurate perspectives of other people because inaccurate perspectives are also part of a human experience. That's how we get Impressionism.

Anyway, hopefully to-morrow I'll have time and energy for a proper post. It looks like I'm going to need to fly to Tennessee this week to see to a family emergency so I don't know how much time I'll have between that and school.

I'll leave you with two pictures from two separate days of the fantastically dressed comic artist Joe Phillips whose pin-up drawings of naked men you can find on his web site here.

Weather Collects

From the sea, a fog overtook Comic Con Saturday morning.

Amount of money I've spent so far on Comic Con this year:

15 dollars on trolley fare.
16 dollars on comics.
9 dollars on coffee.

Starbucks is undercutting Mrs. Fields at the Con this year--a grande Starbucks drip coffee is 2.50 while Mrs. Fields sells a small for three dollars. What can this mean?

Twitter Sonnet #894

Ordained to lakes across the scorchéd plain
A pie consumed at night in ice but warm.
A towing snake usurps assumption's lane
If enmity were left athwart the storm.
In Rome, a Forest praised and loved Sappho.
The radio nickel has drawn no crowd.
Across the books a dame could wield lasso.
Unknown TVs transmit no churning cloud.
A trail of energy condensed to bars.
The eyes between the cats observe the line.
Not ev'ry robot found its way to Mars.
A glowing orb ascends a certain pine.
A hinted twin returns in golden pin.
A nat'ral neuron spoke of bloodless kin.

Friday, July 22, 2016

They Can See You

Looks like Newt spotted me taking her picture to-day. Well, I'm glad she survived the beginning of Alien 3 after all.

I sure did a lot of walking to-day. 100+ Fahrenheit weather. I think I'll take a cold shower.

Lots more to see to-morrow. I'm still not sure whether I want to try to get into Hall H for the Aliens and Star Trek panels when all the Hall H stuff is going to be broadcast anyway. There are three other panels I'd like to see but I'd have to skip Hall H to see them. At the same time, Hall H is, common wisdom dictates, the Main Event. There've been people camped out for days for it, though only a few hundred. I'll see how I feel in the morning.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Comic Con Bird

This bird was trapped inside Comic Con to-day. Luckily there was plenty to eat:

So the newly beefed up Con security is no match for the humblest creatures. Still, I wonder if I'll be hearing about as many people sneaking in this year with the new Walking Dead key card badge system. I feel like I'm entering a secret government lab or conference when I go through. Still no frisking, though.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Preparing the Eyes

Clearing my camera out to-day for Comic Con, which starts this afternoon with Preview Night. I don't seem to have accumulated a lot of pictures over the past few months, though.

I haven't even had a proper look at the schedule. I kind of want to see the Aliens anniversary panel. Maybe the Star Trek panel. Ever since I got a C in Star Trek class last year, though, I've kind of had an identity crisis as a Trekkie. Do I really belong? Surely. I had the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual when I was in high school. I knew the name Heisenberg from the Heisenberg Compensator more than a decade before anyone heard of Breaking Bad. It seems like Star Trek is kind of pathetically running a bit behind Star Wars lately though. The fact that it seems that way even after Star Wars poached its director from Star Trek only seems to confirm it's real. It's not just that Star Wars can take Star Trek's lunch money, it's that everyone feels that money is better off in Star Wars' hands.

They're going to be having the San Diego Symphony Orchestra playing Star Trek music just like they played Star Wars music last year. How can something so magnificent seem so pathetic? Well, maybe I'll change my tune if I see it. I might as well since Doctor Who seems to be all but absent this year.

As usual, posts from me will be scarce or short until after the Con.

Twitter Sonnet #893

The best defined of clouds conspire cut.
Afforded late, the logs awash embark.
At heads, the storms and trees with noise rebut.
A walking mop surveyed the deck of lark.
Behind the organ, hid within the tin,
In houses built by trees for Grecian urns,
A round reverséd road avasts a grin.
In turning round, a vane yet never learns.
Ingrained before a crack of fondue drips;
A balcony condemns a lower door.
Abused by rank, a languished gourd she sips.
Her armless chair occurred in times of yore.
A climb begins with cattish knocks outside.
A further proof conceals the word's divide.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Goldfish in the Mind's Cake

Arguments for the existence of God in previous centuries often were based on the premise that a world without God is simply too monstrous to contemplate. A warrior of faith fights not to establish a truth but to rebuke those who obnoxiously deny what's plainly true. So you can understand Francie Brady's frustration in 1997's The Butcher Boy, my favourite Neil Jordan film. That's not to say Francie's especially religious, though he does have visions of the Virgin Mary. He simply can't understand how people don't recognise what a threat Mrs. Nugent and her son Philip are and how Joe is the finest fellow around. It may seem extreme to kill to argue his point, but what can you do when people aren't able to face certain essential facts?

"You know where I met Joe first?" asks Francie (Eamonn Owens) at lunch with the other boys at the reform school. When one asks, "Joe who?" Francie's incredulous reply makes it seem Joe's renown is roughly equal to the Pope's. In the cosmos of Francie's mind, Joe (Alan Boyle) is that important.

The two are a couple bullies, best friends, as the film opens in their small home town, the opening credits accompanied by an instrumental of "Mack the Knife". The boys steal apples from a neighbour's yard and comic books from young Philip (Andrew Fullerton). As the film progresses, Francie's private war with the Nugents--Philip and his mother (Fiona Shaw)--and his mythologising of his relationship with Joe gain increasing strength as Francie's home life disintegrates.

Francie's father, played by Stephen Rea (who also provides voice over narration as an adult Francie) is a talented trumpeter but also a drunk. He and Francie's mother (Aisling O'Sullivan) have violent brawls.

One could see the film as a tour of Irish and Catholic stereotypes--there's even a paedophile priest. What makes it really work is its matter-of-fact attitude. The pizza parlour version of "Mack the Knife", the folk song "The Butcher Boy" from which the film takes its title, reflect Francie's apparent unflappability. He is capable of great violence without real remorse but he never seems especially vehement. It's all one chore after another just to get reunited with Joe as the two are the local Lone Ranger and Tonto for the upcoming atomic war.

The Virgin Mary in Francie's visions is played with a nice lack of self-consciousness by Sinead O'Conner. It's somehow really lovely hearing her finally become exasperated and say, "For fuck's sake, Francie." Mostly she talks how you might expect a vision of Mary to speak--gently and comfortingly. She doesn't entirely seem like she's Francie's hallucination. She tells him to stop fixating on the goldfish Joe mentions in a letter that Phillip won for him at the fair. But Our Lady has no hope of extracting that from Francie's craw.

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Faces Ruled the World

I'm not doing a great job adjusting my sleeping schedule for Comic Con this year. Last night I was up late playing chess after having a glass of Chartreuse with water. I'm more than a little hungover. I wonder if I be can dragging myself out of bed at 7am by Thursday?

2001 sure was a good year for talking heads. Especially sweeping crane shots that went from talking heads to wide shots or vice versa. 2001 had both Fellowship of the Ring and Amelie, massive successes on both the blockbuster and art house fronts, it was truly a year when faces were in all our faces.

It was like Sergio Leone on speed. And kind of a watershed, Peter Jackson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet had made several of their face-o-ramas throughout the 90s--really good films like City of Lost Children, Dead Alive, and Heavenly Creatures. Success seemed relegated to outside the U.S., though, with The Frighteners and Alien: Resurrection being disappointments, the latter due to be retconned out of canon by Neill Blomkamp's upcoming sequel to Aliens.

It seems like their time has passed, too. Jeunet never seemed to make a movie that connected again since Amelie and Jackson was a lot more restrained on faces in his Hobbit movies. For now, the faces have stepped back, waiting to be summoned again in some other future era.

I watched Jeunet's Amelie last night for the first time in quite a few years. I was pleased to find my old Amelie DVD wasn't as bad as my old Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon DVD, the menus less spoilery and the colours more evenly transferred. I think Amelie was one of the first movies to use digital colouring to be creative. It seems so standard now. I remember being surprised to learn this blue lamp was coloured in post production, now it looks pretty obvious.

But the film hasn't aged badly. In the years since I last watched it, I've seen many of the films that influenced it--Jules and Jim, Chungking Express--certainly Amelie owes a massive debt to Chungking Express. The main difference is that while both movies offer an effective portrait of a pretty, introverted woman who secretly manipulates other people's lives, Amelie is more of a fantasy film and has more of a fairy tale ending. Not surprising given Jeunet's background with City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, movies that are more Disney than Dostoevsky. Amelie could be looked on as a rare sort of perfect fusion of some psychological frightfulness and wish fulfilment. That's just the sort of combination that becomes a massive success, like Amelie did. So there's the recipe if you wanted it. I make no guarantees.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Killing Energy with Feet

It's not easy for a teenage boy to ask out a girl he likes. Is this all 1981's Gregory's Girl really about? There's something sweet about its aiming for such a humble target. Filled with unimpressive performances from non-actors but competently shot, a few effectively charming moments--and some subtle hints at sexual impropriety--set this above porridge.

Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is the goalkeeper on his high school soccer team. Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) joins the team despite everyone else feeling trepidation about it because she's a girl. Dorothy never displays any lack of confidence, though, all of the girls in the film being distant and wise creatures. The film is very much from Gregory's point of view. He proclaims in a cooking class that he's in love with Dorothy despite having spent very little time with her and never having spoken to her. "She's very modern" he explains to the boys who scoff at a girl playing football. Gregory is enamoured of her novelty.

Every other boy in school wants to ask her out, too. Gregory talks to the Italian teacher about learning Italian because Dorothy has been to Italy and likes the language.

A lot of the performances in the movie remind me of teenagers I've seen in low budget science fiction movies of the 50s. They're all very stiff and deliberate with their lines. Sometimes this heightens the sense of seeing guileless, defenceless babes dealing with being sexually attracted to girls all of a sudden. At the same time, there are very subtle indications that some of the teachers are sleeping with the students, or in one case, a drop out who's become a window washer. A teacher is so excited to see him cleaning the window of her classroom she throws a book at another student to stop him from reading aloud from A Midsummer Night's Dream so she can talk to the drop out. She concludes their brief conversation by telling him to "Come up and see me some time," like Mae West. A few of the boy students talk about this later, laughing--the fact that they're so goofy and usually wrong deflects the issue a bit but a few minutes consideration makes me think, yeah. Those two are having sex.

The climax of the film could also be read as a complete misdirection for another teacher having sex with a student. I won't spoil it but the point seems to be that Gregory's lust isn't nearly as discriminate as he thinks it is and that's okay. The film ends with a gag that's so dumb it's downright puzzling, which may have been intentional. And I found myself, like the Wicked Witch, asking, "Where's Dorothy?"

Twitter Sonnet #892

In orlop darkness pairs of eyes await.
A petal rain restrained in time to-night.
A moon, a cliff where chalk always abates.
The colourless rocks hear the Mock recite.
Allotments reached the punch before the kick.
A chaser swelled in hopes of dashing sauce.
We all will sally to a hippo's nick.
A rounder prison gorgons kill at loss.
The arms of zero crawfish clack the pan.
Insomniod dolmades float to kirk.
Forgiveness was tamale's last demand.
And first was calamine to always work.
The arm inside the socket scorched the dart.
A plate of captains cooked a balanced heart.