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Archive for October, 2005

The King of Comics

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Fret not, all of you fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower–the series of novels might be done, but he’s going to be writing a number of limited series and original graphic novels for Marvel Comics fleshing out that world and much of Roland Deschain’s yet-untold backstory.

I’ve never been as a big a fan of the Dark Tower books as some others, though I have liked the ones I’ve read (only the first four so far). I know that there’s an enormous contingency of people who regard the Dark Tower series as the apex of King’s work; I suspect that King himself might be one of them.

What excites me more than anything else about King’s continuing the story at Marvel, however, is the number of potential new fans he could bring to the medium.

If these new Dark Tower comics can get even a small fraction of King’s readership into the stores, then that’s a pretty sizable number–likely a larger number than read even the top-selling comics published currently. And that potential for new readership encourages both other comics creators to up their games and retailers to promote the books properly so that the industry keeps these new readers. These rookies just need to be shown how much worthwhile, entertaining work is out there to be had. There’s every chance that someone looking for the Dark Tower comics could find other comics they’d like just as well–Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, for instance, or Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, just to name two.

MAYDAY! Initiating awkward narrative transition in 3, 2, 1…

I first became a Stephen King fan when I was thirteen–it was Halloween night, 1984, when I bought a paperback copy of Pet Sematary from the 7-Eleven near my house. [1] I tore through that book pretty quickly (I still think Pet Sematary has one of the creepiest, most perfect final pages I’ve ever read, though a lot of that could be 13-year-old me talking), and then I devoured almost all of the King I could get my hands on after that. And I’ve continued to be a faithful reader during the 21 years since. I can’t say I’ve read everything he’s published, but there’s more of his oeuvre that I’ve read than I haven’t. [2]

And I’ve been a fan of comic books for even longer, since I was ten. I’ve gone through various stages where I’ve been more or less excited about the form, including some periods where I was flat-out embarrassed about liking them (when I was a teenager and really concerned with being thought of as cool), but comics are still the storytelling medium for which I have the most love and affection.

All of which means, of course, that Stephen King writing any comics, Dark Tower or otherwise, is pretty much guaranteed to get my geek up. It’s actually been something of a surprise to me that he’s never really done any comics-related work before; he’s never made any secret of the fact that he’s always been a comic-book fan. I wonder if it’s just that no one ever asked him before?

Anyway, for those of you interested, the first Dark Tower comics will start coming out in March of next year. I’ll be sure to keep you updated. In the meantime, enjoy a sample of the gorgeous artwork you’ll be able to expect (courtesy penciller Jae Lee and colorist Richard Isanove):

[1] I found that very book in one of the water-damaged boxes in our basement. Luckily, it’s pretty much OK–I have more than a little sentimental attachment to that particular book.

[2] Big Steve was also the first author I cna honestly say had a direct influence on my own writing. He was the first writer I consciously stole from, and his conversational tone greatly informs much of my writing to this day.

Written by Allen

October 29th, 2005 at 4:16 pm

An Open Anniversary Card To My Amazing Wife

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Seven years ago today, Terry and I were supposed to get our marriage license. Instead, we got married.

I left work at lunchtime so I could go pick Terry up and we could drive to the county courthouse and register for the license. As I was getting ready to leave, my friend Scott said to me: “I don’t want you to come back here tomorrow married or anything.”

“Heh, yeah, right–don’t worry, that’s not gonna happen,” I said.

But on the thirty-minute drive to downtown Pensacola to pick up Terry at work, I started to think about it. Why couldn’t we just get married? We were planning on eloping the following Saturday.anyway But surely there’s no way Terry would go for that, right? We had our ceremony all planned out: nice sunset ceremony on the beach, just us and the official and one witness, Terry in a beautiful white dress she’d bought for the occasion…

I proposed the idea anyway, though I didn’t seriously think she’d consider it. And at first, she didn’t. “We can’t do that!” she said. “We–we have plans! And a dress!”

The more she thought about it, though, and the more we talked about it, the better an idea it sounded. We drove around an extra hour discussing it and discussing it some more. And when we got to the courthouse and finally filled out the paperwork for the license, we told them we wanted to get married while we were there.

After waiting in the lobby for half-an-hour or so, a Justice of the Peace took us into a dim, empty stairwell. Terry and I held hands, she not in her white dress but in jeans and Birkenstocks, as the justice read the standard non-demoninatioal ceremonial vows, and then, just like that, we were married.

We left the courthouse a little stunned and a lot ecstatic. We had known we weren’t going to be able to have a big wedding–there was just no money to be had for a lavish ceremony (or even a not-so-lavish ceremony) and our parents were spread across the Eastern seaboard. We went over to my dad’s house and told him by subtly leaving our wedding-ringed fingers out for him to see; we called Terry’s mom and my mom. Everyone was happy for us, and if anyone was angry about out not having a big to-do, then they certainly hid it well.

I don’t regret the way we got married at all. Some people spend thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on their weddings, yet we’re every bit as married as they are. I don’t begrudge anyone their big weddings–if that’s what you want, that’s cool with me. But the ceremony itself wasn’t what was important to us; what the the ceremony meant was.

Terry, seven years and two beautiful children later, I’m still every bit as much in love with you as I was then. We’re on an amazing and occasionally challenging journey together, you and I, and while I don’t know exactly where it will lead, I do know that having you at my side (or above or under me or wherever) makes the journey worthwhile. These last seven years have gone by far more quickly than I would have imagined possible, but they’ve easily been the best seven years of my life. I love you, baby.

Written by Allen

October 27th, 2005 at 12:01 am

Posted in Personal

Curious About “Curious George”

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I was reading “Curious George Goes to the Hospital” to my older daughter last night, doing the thing I normally do when reading interminably long books to her–speaking the words while letting my mind wander off to something more interesting. (Yes, I know that probably loses me Good Daddy Points, but c’mon, man, that book is long.)

But I noticed something during this read-through that I’d never caught onto before. As George and his yellow-chapeaued friend sat in the waiting room of the hospital, a little girl sits crying near George. The girl’s mother points to George and tells her daughter, “Look, dear, it’s Curious George! He’s not crying.” (Or something along those lines. Like I said, I wasn’t paying much attention.)

Setting aside the questionable tactics of using celebrities as role models for children, or the fact that no one in the hospital seemed to find it the least bit strange that a small monkey was there for treatment, I found myself wondering…

…how, exactly, did this woman (or, presumably, her daughter) know who Curious George was?

“Hospital” wasn’t the first in the “Curious George” series, of course; it was, in fact, the seventh, published in 1966, some 25 years after the first book hit the stores. So let us posit for a moment that all of George’s adventures from the previous six books–his kidnapping from Africa and forced relocation to the unidentified Big City, his job as a newspaper delivery monkey and his brief stint in the circus, his ether addiction, all of it–had happened in the same world. Let us say all of the books in the series took place in the same universe, not an unreasonable assumption to make (though we’ll be revisiting this topic later).

Would all of George’s various misadventures have made the news? Might that be how the mother and daughter knew of him? Did he find himself in the newspaper for the “escaping from jail, flying through town holding on to a bunch of balloons and ultimately causing an enormous traffic jam” incident? Perhaps he did–but buried somewhere toward the back of the paper, if at all. It’s far more doubtful that he would have ended up on the television news at that time for something so inane. There were far fewer news outlets back then, and less need to fill air time with inanity–George wouldn’t even have qualified as a human interest fluff piece.

The way I see it, there are two likely answers to this conundrum:

One. It seems quite likely that the mother and daughter both recognized George from the “Curious George” books. This scenario has interesting metatextual implications: does each new story starring George spawn its own new universe, one in which all of his previous adventures exist only as children’s books? The girl’s mother recognized George from the books she read to her daughter at bedtime, never realizing that she herself is only a bit player in one of George’s adventures.

And does that mean that those of us reading the “Curious George” books are ourselves nothing but simplistic cartoons to be found in future volumes? Might I someday see a little monkey driving a carjacked Duck Tour boat raggedly down Tremont Street in Boston, narrowly missing pedestrians and cars alike on his way toward crashing harmlessly into the Frog Pond in the Common? And then might someone ultimately turn my page?

Two. He’s the victim/focus of some spectacular merchandising in his own world. In addition to the books, George’s likeness is featured on other products directed at kids–in one particularly disturbing turn, the jigsaw puzzle from which he swallows the piece that sends him to the hospital shows the scene where he’s first captured by his “friend” in the yellow hat. Can we assume that it’s The Man who’s responsible for selling George to the youth of America (or of whatever country in which the stories take place)? Is he the Colonel Tom Parker to George’s Elvis?

And does George profit from the expolitation of his image? George seems to be a smart little monkey, and always very curious, but would even a smart monkey like George realize he was being swindled by his management? The Man does indeed buy him a new bicycle for a gift at one point (though we won’t count the gift of that fateful jigsaw puzzle–since George’s image is on the puzzle, we can assume The Man likely got it for free). How many millions of dollars must The Man have made off of this poor little monkey, this monkey he stole away from his home and family in Africa? And the best he can do is to give George a fucking bicycle? Shameful.

Whichever option above turns out to be correct (and it can only be one of the above options), I clearly cannot let my children read the “Curious George” books any longer. Doing so would either be contributing to the exploitation of a kidnapped and abused young monkey…or would mean that this entire existence is a lie. Either way, those books are going in the trash tomorrow.

Written by Allen

October 25th, 2005 at 11:28 pm

Posted in Books,Pop Culture

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Sorkin Returns!

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NBC has announced that they’re willing to overlook Aaron Sorkin’s little cocaine binges and drunk-driving arrests (or maybe willing to concede that mind-altering substances help fuel his genius) and are giving him a new show for fall 2006, “Studio 7.” The show will be a behind-the-scenes look at a “Saturday Night Live”-style comedy series.

Sorkin’s return to television is tremendously good news–I’m still firmly of the opinion that the first four seasons of “The West Wing” were the best-written episodes of television ever [1]. And the short-lived “SportsNight”–likely a decent harbinger for what we can expect from “Studio 7″, given its behind-the-TV-scenes premise–was flat-out brilliant. The man knows how to craft some dialogue and he knows how to create and develop some characters, both skills which have made him one of my favorite writers, regardless of medium.

So my first question: given the high cast turnover we can expect from “The West Wing” with the impending change of administration, can we expect any of President Bartlet’s staff to end up in “Studio 7?” Or how about any of the old “SportsNight” staff? (I think it’d be awfully cool to have an actual character from “SportsNight” join the cast–it’s far from inconcievable that someone working for the TV show “SportsNight” could, years later, find themselves working for the TV show “Studio 7.”)

Good news for my Monday morning, indeed.

[1] Not that I’ve, y’know, seen every episode of every TV show ever. But c’mon, this is a blog–I’m required by law to make these sorts of hyperbolic absolutes.

Written by Allen

October 17th, 2005 at 10:45 am

Posted in TV

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Cleansing Waters

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I’ve never had a basement before. Never, not once in my entire life. So when we got all the rain that pounded the Northeast over the last ten days or so–apparently several months’ worth of rain compressed into a week-and-a-half, or so I hear–it never once occurred to me to go down into the basement to see how everything down there was faring.

The answer: not so well.

Honestly, I think we might have been OK if it weren’t for Tommy. One of Tommy’s favorite spots to rest her fat ass is right up against the side of the house…more specifically, right against one of the two small windows that opens into the basement. Even more specifically, right against the window which has a rotten board on the underside. The window which Tommy was able to knock completely out of place, opening a foot-wide hole into the basement. I have no idea when she did that or how long the rainwater had free access to my stuff.

Most of what’s underneath that window will probably be OK; it’s either in plastic boxes or just not likely to be damaged much, if any, by water.

But my comic book collection was under that window, too. And I’m not positive yet, but I think I might have lost half of the comics I’ve been collecting since I was eight or nine.

I’m not a bag-and-board guy. My comics are just stored in longboxes [1] without the mylar sleeves or backing boards that so many collectors use to store their books. It’s not that I don’t care about my comics; it’s just that A] bags and boards add to the expense of my little hobby, and I already have very little money to spend there, and B] I’ve always been more of a reader than a collector–I’ve never once considered the resale value of any comic I’ve ever bought. I buy them for my own reading enjoyment, plain and simple, that’s it, so I never thought much about “protecting my investment.”

That said, these comics are something that have been part of my life for a long, long time. I’ve been carting my collection around with me everywhere I’ve lived for the last–well, forever, honestly. From the time we moved up here in ’03 until about three months ago, they were all in the storage unit we were renting to house all of the stuff that wouldn’t fit in our tiny apartment, and I was very happy when we finally liberated my comics from storage and moved them into our basement. I’d been meaning to go through them and figure out which ones I wanted to keep, which ones I might think about selling and which ones I could donate to a learn-to-read program or something of that ilk.

Now it seems like many of those decisions might have been made for me.

As I said, I don’t know yet exactly what’s lost and what’s not. It might be that I just have a bunch of comics that are just a bit floppier than they’d been before, thanks to the humidity (the one box I looked at seemed to bear that out as at least a possibility).

But here’s the thing: even if they’re all relatively OK, I’m thinking it might be time to get rid of them.

While Terry and I were in the basement trying to assess the damage, we found a couple of boxes of books that had also taken on some water. As I was going through that box to see what was in it, I was stunned to realize that I’d had no idea I still owned most of the books that were in it. These were books I just hadn’t thought about for years, and very few of them were books I ever had any intention of re-reading.

So why have I been dragging them across the country? Why did I bother stashing them in our storage unit for two years? Why bother still having them at all?

And the same goes for most of the comics I’ve been holding on to. I have them because I’ve always had them, not because I still have any great need to have them. Some of them I’m sure I’d like to keep (the dry ones, anyway)–either I think I’d enjoy re-reading them, or could possibly use them for story or art reference, or think I might actually be able to sell them at some point. But that doesn’t describe a very large percentage of them anymore.

Taking this realization one step further: there’s a lot of crap in that basement that we don’t need and don’t really want but still have just because. I can look around our office right now and see any number of books or other items that we have no use for anymore. How does it add anything to our lives to have all of these possessions around if we don’t even remember we have them?

I’m thinking the time is coming to simplify. We got rid of a bunch of stuff before we moved up here, but there’s obviously still a large amount of crap we’re holding on to for no good reason [2]. The time might be coming soon for a Purge. A Cleansing. A Lightening of the Load. A Basement Enema, so to speak. I think our familial spiritual colon would feel much better afterwards.

So…anyone want a bunch of soggy comics?

[1] Lidded boxes of heavy white cardboard about two feet long and about eight inches across, for those of you unfamiliar with such things. [2] I think that sentimental attachment is a perfectly valid reason to keep some things, but I think there needs to be a valid reason for the sentimental attachment, or you wind up back in “just because” territory.

Written by Allen

October 16th, 2005 at 11:08 pm

Posted in General

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