Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blast From The Past - Pt. 1

This being the first of what may well become a series of reminiscences of my early days in the comics biz.

Okay, so it's 1973 and I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, not bad for a kid in his mid-20s. The Marvel offices are on 575 Madison Avenue, I can't remember which floor. Head Honcho Stan Lee has the corner office, and what has lovingly come to be known as the Marvel Bullpen fills most of the rest of the same side of the hall. The Editor-in-Chief's office is a glass-walled room inside the much larger Bullpen area, so the E-i-C is available as needed to his staff. The Marvel editorial staff in those days, as best I can remember it now, includes Chris Claremont, Scott Edelman, Roger Slifer, Roger Stern, Irene Vartanoff, and almost certainly several others who will e-mail me immediately after this is published to chastise me for forgetting them.

Anyway, on this particular day, I had just returned from my annual pilgrimage to the West Coast to attend the now-omnipresent San Diego Comic-Con and spend some vacation time visiting with friends. During the course of my trip, I'd paid a visit to the self-proclaimed "Happiest Place on Earth", Disneyland. Now, being a responsible person and knowing I can't return home to the "kids" empty-handed, while at Disneyland, I've bought my entire staff those classic Mickey Mouse ears with their names embroidered on the back. Got it so far? Good.

So here it is, the end of the day, and the entire Marvel Bullpen is sitting at their desks, diligently doing their jobs, copy editing, color correcting, making bad puns, all of them to a man and woman wearing their mouse ears, and Stan strides by the Bullpen, heading for the lobby and the subway home. He glances into the Bullpen distractedly as he strides by, wishing us all a good evening, and then he's gone from sight.

A beat. Two beats.

Then Stan's hands come into view, grasping the side of the Bullpen door frame, followed a moment later by the top half of Stan's head, peering into the room sideways as if to verify he did indeed see what he just thought he saw. He looked a bit like the famous Kilroy drawing that was so popular during the Second World War. Seeing Stan's confusion, I raise a finger and open my mouth to explain why his entire staff is sitting there, wearing mouse ears. But, with a gesture, Stan stops me before I can utter a word.

"No, don't tell me," he mutters, sadly shaking his head, as he picks up his attache case and heads for the door, "I don't think I want to know."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Only in the Movies

Well, I was supposed to be spending this evening at a screening of the Russell Crowe/Christian Bale remake of the Elmore Leonard western, 3:10 to Yuma, but my movie-going buddy Bob Skir was involved in a minor accident this afternoon (just a dented fender and a mild case of Whiplash, thank Heaven, nothing more serious) and I didn't feel like going over to Hollywood alone, so here I am blogging.

In preparation for seeing the new film, I watched the original Glenn Ford/Van Heflin version of 3:10 to Yuma on the Western Channel a few days back (it's running twice more this Thursday if you've a mind to catch it before seeing the new one) and found it to be an interesting character study with one of the most "What the...? You can't be serious. I spent two hours watching, waiting for this?!?" endings ever, though I'm told they've majorly revised the ending in the new version. But what made the original film for me was the opening theme song, sung by the legendary Frankie Laine. Back then, the right theme song could help make or break a film. In fact, it's long been argued that what helped to make High Noon such a hit was a combination of the theme song, sung in the film by John's dad, Tex Ritter, and later on the record by the aforementioned Mr. Laine, and the brilliance of the film editor who cut in all those wonderful shots of the town's clocks counting down the minutes until the villainous Frank Miller (clearly in his days before 300 or Sin City) would arrive in Hadleyville to shoot hero Will Kane dead. And what would The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance have been without that haunting anthem by Gene Pitney? And even without lyrics, Elmer Bernstein's theme to The Magnificent Seven is one of the greatest movie scores of all time. But, as my friend Peter David often says, I digress. What I really want to talk about is the theme to 3:10 to Yuma, arguably one of the most surreal songs I've ever heard.

I apologize for the fact that I don't have the name of the composer or lyricist at hand (though you can easily check that out if you watch the film on Thursday) but I did take the time to copy down the lyrics. Imagine the great Frankie Laine (accompanied in parentheses by the inevitable chorus) singing this...
There is a lonely train called the 3:10 to Yuma.
The pounding of the wheels is more like a mournful sigh.
There's a legend and there's a rumor
When you take the 3:10 to Yuma
You can see the ghosts of outlaws go riding by (riding by)
In the sky. (in the sky)
Way up high, the buzzards keep circling the train. (ah ah ah)
While below, the cattle are thirsting for rain. (ah ah ah)
It's also true, they say, on the 3:10 to Yuma
A man may meet his fate, for fate travels everywhere.
Though you've got no reason to go there
And there ain't a soul that you know there,
When the 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain,
Take that train! (Take that train!) Take that train!
Wrong. Wrong. And, dear Lord, wrong. Take the stage. Take a carriage. Take a horse or a mule. Take gas, if you have to. But under no circumstances, get on that cockenlocker train. I mean, Jeez, they've just told you the train is lonely, it's haunted, you're more than likely to die while riding it, there are buzzards waiting to pick at your carcass, and you've got no sane reason to get on board in the first place. What are they trying to do, get you killed? Honestly, the lyrics could just as easily be...
Want to die from a terminal tumor
Or perhaps be devoured by a puma?
Then the 3:10 to Yuma is surely the train for you (ooo ooo ooo)
'Cause you're screwed (ooo ooo ooo) really screwed.
At least, that would be more honest. Think about it, people, the train is so bad, there's not only a legend about it, there's a freaking rumor. What more proof could you possibly need?

But things get even worse. Know all that cool, horrible stuff the song talks about? Well, none of it actually happens in the movie. Zero. Zilch. No ghosts, no fate, no buzzards. Hell, the train itself doesn't even show up until the last few minutes of the final scene. If there had been Truth in Advertising laws back in 1957, I think I might have demanded my money back, despite the fact that, aside from the ending, it really is a pretty good film.

Still, the worst part of it all (and my lovely wife Christine will happily testify to this, assuming she hasn't already killed me by now) is this:

I cannot get the damn song out of my head.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog

The problem with starting a blog, says my good friend What's My Line? Live On Stage director Jim Newman, is that it's pretty much like beginning a diet or joining a gym; once you start, you really need to stick with it for it to do you any good. Hence, you may well guess, our little problem. When I started this, I intended to blog every day -- honest to Pete, I really did -- but life seems to keep getting in my way.

To give you an idea how bad this has become, I started to write this particular blog last Saturday. Not the Saturday just past, mind you, but the previous Saturday, ten days ago, and I still haven't finished it. I guess a big part of the problem is that I'm trying to figure out what the purpose of this blog, if any, really is or should be.

I know many people use their blogs for self-promotion, to advertise any upcoming products or appearances. Trouble with me is, much of what I'm doing right now, the expert witness work for a local law firm, the super-secret gaming projects, are things I'm not allowed to talk about, and most of my comic book work appearing these days is usually reprints in the Marvel Essentials or DC Showcase format. I feel weird somehow promoting the old work, and the new material like the Conan: Book of Thoth mini-series I wrote with Kurt Busiek, or the various Simpsons and Futurama issues I've done for Bongo Comics have generated no response at all here, nada, zip, zero, so I'm wondering why I should even bother. Also, with What's My Line? back on hiatus for Heaven know how long, I have no upcoming appearances to plug. I mean, my next out-of-town convention appearance will be in Memphis next March. So, for now at least, there's no point in promoting it this far in advance.

Other people use their blogs to talk about what's going on in their lives but, frankly, not all that much is going on in my life right now worth talking about and that which is gets covered much quicker than I can seem to get around to it by my lovely wife Christine over on her blog. Thus, if you'd like to know what's been going on in my world for the past month, just click on Chris's link over on the right. So, again, what's the point in my being redundant?

Still others use their blogs to discuss movies they've seen or upcoming TV shows. Now, while I've see a number of movies over the last few weeks -- Hairspray (absolutely adored it and can't wait to see it again), Stardust (starts off slow, but picks up steam, and Robert DiNiro's performance alone is worth the price of admission), Ratatouille (occasionally oddly creepy -- these are rats, after all -- but ultimately charming and endearing. Can Pixar make a bad movie?), and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (loved it, especially the last 20 minutes in 3D; gotta love IMAX) -- but, again, Christine has already mentioned these in her own blog, so I'm a day late and a dollar shy. I've also seen many of the new fall TV shows so, if you folks are interested, maybe I'll talk about those in another post. But again, reviews need to be timely, and that's one thing I'm not.

Then there's politics. A lot of folks use their blogs as a platform for their political agenda. Now, while I consider myself a lifelong Liberal Democrat, I've generally been a pretty apolitical person, at least until the Clown Prince stole the office six years ago. I could rail on about that, but what can I say that more well-informed, more articulate political pundits cannot and haven't already said far more ably than I? Besides, the one time I mentioned global climate change on this blog, I started getting nasty comments from several right wing ostriches, and who needs that in their life? So it looks like politics is out.

And what does that leave me with? Well, it turns out that when I fail to blog for any long period of time, I start to get email from many of you wondering after my health. Am I all right? Am I suffering from Death Cooties? Please, let us know. First, let me thank those of you who've done so from the bottom of my heart for your concern. It truly is touching. Second, let me assure you that, as far as I can tell, I'm in as good a shape as I can be for a guy missing most of his internal organs. But that, and that reason alone, seems to be why I've got to continue with this. I appear to be suffering from an affliction unique to the Computer Age...


I'll try to stay in touch.