Sunday, July 24, 2016

My ArmadilloCon 2016 Schedule

For those of you who can't get enough of the ol' Finnster, here's my ArmadilloCon schedule for next week. Of note is the History-Making Gentlemen Nerds Podcast with live-audience participation, on Saturday at 10 AM. Now, I know it's the first panel of the day, and we wouldn't dream of sending you out into the world without coffee and doughnuts, right? Well, how about this: You bring the beverage, and we'll bring the doughnuts. Cool? We'll all be in the same room for the first time ever, and we WILL be talking to the audience. Come be a part of the magic of podcasting, won't you?

And for the rest of the festivities, here you go:

Fri 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Ballroom D
Allen, Mark Finn, Klaw*, Lansdale, Williams
A history and appreciation of Tarzan, including, of course, the 2016 movie. 

Comic Books You Should Be Reading
Fri 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Ballroom F
Benjamin, Mark Finn, Humphrey, Porter*, Rogers
What comics should we be reading, and why? 

Gentleman Nerds Podcast 
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Southpark A
de Orive, Mark Finn, M.A. Finn, Fotinos
The Gents gather to create a podcast discussing a variety of nerdy topics. 

Sat 1:00 PM-1:30 PM Conference Center
Mark Finn

Game of Thrones - What's New, What's Coming
Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Ballroom E
Mark Finn, Goldsmith, Picacio, Rountree, Swendson, Wilson*
Our panelists discuss the latest season of Game of Thrones, and any hot rumours as to what may be on the way. 

Fannish Feud
Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Ballroom D
Mark Finn*, Bobo, Wilson, Cherry, Landon, Martinez
Come see our Fans vs. Pros game show event. Let's play the feud!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooke 1962-2016

If Darwyn Cooke had only given us DC: The New Frontier, it would have been more than enough. I mean, that whole thing is a masterpiece from start to finish. The book starts out with the Losers on Dinosaur Island, for crying out loud. And it gets better from there. An amazing achievement from start to finish that really captures the mid-century zeitgeist.

Just one example of his impeccable
design sense.
Mid-Century. It's kind of one of those buzzwords, now, and it refers to the design aesthetic that emerged Post-WWII to roughly the late sixties. Mod furniture. Boomerangs in the design. The 1966 Batmobile. Surfboards. Mid-Century.

There was a light side and also a very dark side to that time period. And that was where Darwyn's artwork was situated. A lot of people compare him to Bruce Timm, (and don't think I'm dissing Timm, who is an amazing artist), but that's not a fair comparison. Darwyn's artwork, to me, was closer in tone to Alex Toth, or maybe Will Eisner. It's hard to put a finger on. But there was an elegant simplicity to what he did that looked effortless, fun, and occasionally whimsical.

If he'd only done Catwoman with Ed Brubaker, it would have been enough. If he'd only done cover illustrations, it would have been enough. But he did something else that will be regarded as his critical zenith.

He gave us Parker.

Richard Stark's Violent World of Parker series are my favorite caper novels. And I'm not alone, either. And now, thanks to Darwyn Cooke's brilliant adaptations, they are favorites of so many others, too. When I worked at bookstores, I often took it upon myself to foist these books onto people who were looking for something good. Many of my friends are Parker fans because I put these books in their hands. I used to have to give them this succinct elevator speech about the book, the character, the series.

Monochromatic, nihilistic, and elegant.
The Parker Graphic Novels are some of
the best crime comics, ever. Period.
Now I can just point to Darwyn's brilliant, pitch perfect, couldn't happen any other way, or in any other medium, graphic novel adaptations of these novels. That Mid-Century aesthetic has a dark side, and it's the world Parker lives in. Darwyn did things in adapting the Parker novels that you can only get away with in comics. They are a master class, the kind Will Eisner and Alex Toth used to teach, on how to tell a story in words and pictures.

I got to meet him, once, a few years ago, the last time I went to San Diego. The Score had just come out and I was giddy with excitement. I know a bunch of comic book creators, and I long ago stopped getting excited to meet them. There were exceptions, of course. Joe Kubert. Will Eisner. And now, Darwyn Cooke. I could not understand why I was so nervous, waiting in a line that flat-out wasn't moving, to meet this guy.

My friend Joseph McCabe, an excellent pop culture journalist, kept me company while the line inched forward. We were both pretty stoked about meeting him. And when it finally, by degrees, inched around to where we could actually see him, he looked tired. The signing was supposed to be an hour long, and we were in hour two.

At last, I got my chance to speak to him. "Thank you so much for doing these books justice," I blurted out. Nothing cool. Nothing suave. "I hope you're not stopping at three."

He smiled. "I really want to do Butcher's Moon."

That stopped me. If I had had gum, I would have swallowed it. "Butcher's Moon" is the last of the original Parker novels, and it's a sort of a Parker's Greatest Hits, where he calls in every thief he ever worked with to pull a massive heist the likes of which have not been done before. It makes Ocean's Eleven look like Waiting for Godot. Unfilmable. But not un-comic-able. It would be sublime.

I thought all of that in the span of a heartbeat. then I tried to say it all out loud. What came out of my mouth was, "Holy Shit!"

He smiled again.

"That would be--so--" Words failed me. I stopped trying to talk and just smiled and nodded. He personalized my book, and I shook his hand. It was an amazing moment, one I haven't forgotten. Not profound, but just nice. I think he understood what his books meant to me.

He was one of my favorite artists.

It's not fair that he's gone. He was too young, too talented, too nice, too...too...ah, dammit.

Fucking cancer.

And rest in peace, Darwyn Cooke.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Ghostbusters are Women Now.

If you really don't think these four actors are funny, then
you and I will never see eye to eye on anything, ever.
And I'll always hold this against you. 
In honor of National Woman's Day, I'm going to come right out and say I have no problems whatsoever with four women in the beige jumpsuits. None whatsoever. And if you do, well, I can't speak for you and won't try.

But I will offer this up in reply to your, um, stance: If you say, out loud or in print, that this movie (or any other thing you seem to disagree with) has "ruined your childhood," I'm going to invent white dwarf matter, create a shrinking device, shrink down to the size of an electron, travel through the fiber optic network and pop out of your computer and chop you in the throat. I'm totally not kidding.

Your childhood has been ruined? What kind of idiot are you?

Allow me to elaborate:

1. If the whole of your childhood hinges on whether or not a single movie gets remade or updated, then you are far more fragile than your profile picture would seem to indicate and you need to be in therapy.

Childhoods are ruined by learning there is no Santa Claus at the age of 6 when no presents arrive on Christmas Day because Daddy lost the money at the track. Random beatings. Social Services intervening. Nasty, contentious divorces. Creepy uncles. That stuff ruins childhoods. Movies don't ruin childhoods. And movies you watch as an adult certainly don't ruin personal childhoods, unless you're so developmentally stunted and emotionally retarded that you're still in your childhood at the age of 37.

2. No one has gone back in time and killed Ivan Reitman's parents so that he can never direct the first Ghostbusters movie and it never gets made. That didn't happen. The first Ghostbusters movie still exists out there for you to watch in an endless loop if you so desire. No one is stopping you. All of the venom and bile you keep vomiting up online about it could be better spent watching the first movie. Or, you know, the not-as-good second movie. Or the not-nearly-as-good cartoons. Or trawling ebay for the toys from the cartoon. Or getting out of your man-cave. All in all, 10,000 other things you could be doing instead of mewling to a bunch of strangers that you have no actual perspective by claiming some sort of Ret-Con childhood destruction because of a movie that you haven't even seen yet.

3. No one--and I mean, NO ONE--is making you see this movie. You don't gotta go. And let me tell you something, that alone will be your saving grace. If you're that upset by four funny women in a movie, you just don't have to expose yourself to that experience. Don't pay the ticket price. That'll teach 'em!

I have used this technique for years with great success. I still, to this day, have not seen Highlander 2. Or any of the other Highlander movies. You know why? There can only be one, that's why. And that one movie remains high on my list because I haven't surrounded it with all of the negative baggage of the other movies. It's not a 'franchise' to me; it's just one good movie. I wish I had done that with the first Ghostbusters, but I didn't, and now I have to square Mood Slime and Slimer driving a Midtown bus with the brilliance that was the first movie.
It helps if you stop thinking about this one good movie and
all of the crap that came after it as a "franchise." Also,
it helps to have actual perspective about pop culture. 

But I digress. We were talking about your hang-ups.

4. Was Ghostbusters 2 so good, so brilliant, so much better than the first movie that you want a third one with the same cast? Minus Harold Ramis, on top of everything else? Old, sad, and not as funny? Fat Dan Aykroyd? Come on. You're better than that. Well, you should be better than that.

5. If the movie comes out and it falls flat, let's look at it from that point of view. The script doesn't work? Fine. Ham-Fisted directing? Okay. Wooden acting? Fair point. But let me be very clear about this: if everyone but you likes it, then you're the asshole. Unless your standards for comedy are so Byzantine and esoteric that you don't like anything from any of the people in the movie, and can back that up with reasonable, if subjective, criteria, then saying "The four chicks in the movie ruined it" is not valid criticism and you henceforth suck.

Me, I'm willing to wait for the movie to come out before I throw it under the bus.

In conclusion: Grow up. Get a Life. And Shut Up Your Damn Head About the new movie. Participate, or walk away, but stop with the Nerd-Rage. We're all just sick of it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

An "Anti-Star Wars Rant" Rant

I'm already seeing it--the snarky posts, the cheeky reviews, the hipster-bullshit-condemnation of the new Star Wars movie. It happens every time something popular threatens to bring fandom together to, you know, get along, under a common banner, or standard, or even via a common language. For something that is nearly forty years old, you'd think that Star Wars would get a pass, wouldn't you? By Star Trek's 25th anniversary, their status as an "institution" was conferred, and they were in the middle of making terrible movies.

Maybe it's the commercial aspect of Star Wars they object to. Maybe Lucas kept tinkering with it for too long and squeezed everything that made it good the first time out of the subsequent iterations. Maybe it was the price tag that Disney paid for it, a willfully obscene amount of money by anyone's defintion. I don't know, honestly. But here's the deal: I don't care that you didn't like the movie. I honestly could not give a shit. That you spent twelve dollars on the film to be insulted by it, and then spread that bile over the Internet, is your problem, not ours. So, please stop vomiting your displeasure up and calling us over to look at the eructation.

This is where it seems to break for these nattering nabobs and nay-sayers. They fall into three camps:

1. "I never liked Star Wars, even when I was a kid. It just didn't interest me then and it sure doesn't appeal to me now."

You know who those kids were in 1978? The weirdos that even the weirdos wouldn't play with. EVERYONE was into Star Wars. For six years, if you knew the right quote, or piece of trivia, or had the right toy, you were spared a beating from the class asshole. Why? Because he liked Star Wars, too. I don't know who hurt you; maybe your father, the alcoholic, used to flick lit Star Wars figures at your head to wake you up in the morning. But that's your damage to get square with.

And I know I'm being judgey right now, and I don't care. If you didn't like Star Wars as a young person, then I find that highly suspicious. Either you pre-dated the hipster movement during post-modern's heyday, making you post-post-modern, or you were just fine being the one irritating kid that didn't like anything. Either way, I am highly suspicious of your judgment when it comes to subjective criteria and art and I'll never trust any recommendation coming out of your mouth, ever.

2. "When I was a child I thought like a child, but when I became an adult, I put away my Star Wars toys and realized it's just for kids."

We can debate that all day (watch Episode III again and when Anakin slaughters all of the Jedi children, let me know how that sits with you), but the point is this--I had memories of a great childhood, one that the Internet and our Digital culture have all but completely ruined for me. You can't go back and re-visit the shit you enjoyed as a youth, because it was terrible. Wonder Woman? God-awful. Battlestar Galactica? Forget it.  Buck Rogers? Flash Gordon? Battle Beyond the Stars? Come on. It's all horrible. You know what still holds up, though? Star Wars. We all hate the teddy bears, but it doesn't keep us from rewatching Jedi all the way through.

That you have cut yourself off from your childhood joy makes me very sad for you.

3. "Come on, it's just such a product of the hegemony! Elitist, Classist, Racist, Sexist, and oh yeah, badly written. Lucas can't direct, Mark Hamill can't act, and no, I'm NOT a Star Wars fan! I'm wearing the vintage 1978 Iron On of R2-D2 IRONICALLY! So, yeah, whatever."

Ah, the hipsters. I knew you'd be in this group, barking the absolute loudest. What's even weirder is that they are doing it in SF/F author/fan circles. Why? Because everyone is talking about Star Wars and not whatever pet/fringe/foreign/under-appreciated/personal novel they constantly champion instead. "The science is bad." Thanks, genius. Where were you during every single science fiction movie over the past 75 years? Just now, the science is bad? This is right up there with that willfully obtuse newscaster from MSNBC who thinks Star Wars is racist because Vader is black.

News flash, Genius. I can make anything racist, satanic, or sexist. It's easy. You just put on your filtered glasses, and look for anything you can twist around like a balloon animal into another shape. It's easy to do, embarrassingly so. When you've stuck your head so far up the ass of whatever social/cultural/academic zeitgeist you're currently contributing to that you can't NOT see it everywhere, that makes me super sad for you.

Then there's the SF fans...not necessarily self-loathing, but for some reason, always looking for a way to shit on whatever other people like. "Rey is a Mary Sue," they say. Aside from the misuse of the term, there's never been a genre more forgiving of its heroes and heroines--up to and including the characters in books and movies that this chucklehead likes--than Fantasy and Science Fiction. These plot hole-spoiler posts, these snarky asides, these broad, sweeping condemnations of the franchise that brought tens of thousands of people into their chosen industry and hundreds of thousands of people into the related fields of gaming, animation, movie making,, and millions of people with an appetite for fantastic storytelling up to the plate--well, they ring hollow. They smack of disingenuous jealousy.

Hey, Look, before you start kvetching back--I understand. I was on your side when that Flash in the Pan, Twilight, clogged the internet up. I get it. And sure, okay, Harry Potter was a YA series that maybe shouldn't have appealed to as many adults as it did. But you're messing with Star Wars, now. You're pulling threads on a Gordian Knot. This franchise is both the Alpha and the Omega, as this weekend confirmed. A whole new generation of kids just came out of the movies indoctrinated into the Star Wars family. I know. I watched them come out of my movie theater all weekend. Those kids are your economic future, if you consider yourself to be a Creative Person of any kind.

I get that you say you don't like Star Wars. I don't pretend that I'm not bothered by it, but I'm going to make you a deal: shut your big fat flapping mouth and quit trying to bring down a bunch of people who are having a good time and NOT arguing politics for once this year, and I won't knock you down and take your lunch money and call you names. Just go play an XBox game and wait for this to blow over. I hear Star Wars Battlefront is awesome. We'll rejoin you in February when Deadpool comes out, okay? Until then, keep your head down and stop trying to kill our joy.


 Real fans, genuinely disappointed for one reason or another, are not going to use this as an opportunity to "count coup" and score social/political points by punching down on Star Wars. That's the problem I'm seeing. It's like the "film critic" who says they hate Martial Arts movies and then goes on to tell you for 2,500 words why Kill Bill is Tarantino's worst movie. If you want to have a go at Tarantino, be my guest, but don't throw something under the bus to highlight your ignorance.

Now, the flip side to this is....FANS...mostly GROWN-UP Fans...need to be okay with hearing that The Force Awakens isn't perfect. Legit criticism needs to be at least acknowledged. I think it's fine to love flawed things. And, judging by the number of people who adore Dino de Laurentis' Flash Gordon movie, most fans should be well-attuned to the idea of something being so bad that it's good.

So, I guess what I'm saying, in my unfair and un-egalitarian way, is this: Star Wars is OUR movie to like or dislike, and if we choose to criticize it, that's our right. Everyone else, who hasn't spent thousands of dollars loving the franchise over the years, doesn't get to talk shit

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Memories 18: What Did Star Wars Teach Me?

If you can, why not?
I’ve said throughout this series of essays that Star Wars was a part of me, an influence, etc. It’s easy to just rattle that off and not pay it any mind. It sounds good, but what am I really saying here?

Basically, Star Wars jump-started my creative process. I started drawing space ships and stormtroopers, pretty obsessively, after I saw the movie. This artistic swell turned into me creating my own characters, and giving them stories, and well, after that, it was all downhill.

Just for laughs, and in case any of you are still interested in this topic after nearly three weeks of navel-gazing, I’ll break it out and explain a little bit about what I took creatively from Star Wars. Some of these lessons revealed themselves to me as I got older, and some were pretty apparent right away. Mind you, this is not a Rosetta Stone to my creative self; I got these ideas reinforced to me in a number of other forms over the years, and so these lessons from Star Wars were just one of many voices saying the same thing, over and over, until it resonated in my sternum like a bass note. But the first note, the first thrum, came from Star Wars.

1. When telling stories, make them fast, tense, and if at all possible, clever. That snappy dialogue, the back-and-forth bickering stuck with me and became some of my favorite moments in a story moving at the speed of sound. I like that there’s just enough explanation, or exposition, to set the stage, and then after that, we’re telling the tale as we go along.

That idea set itself early on in my brain and I’ve preferred to read, as well as write, muscular prose ever since.

2. Myth-Making. Playing with existing structures and putting my spin them. This developed over time. The idea of taking a known thing and turning it around so that it’s seen from a new angle really appeals to me. Star Wars led me to the Hidden Fortress, which led me to Akira Kurasawa, which led me to The Seven Samurai, which led me to The Magnificent Seven, and then my mind was blown. You can make samurai flicks into cowboy movies, and vice versa.

3. Use what you like in your creative process. Lucas created Star Wars out of The Hidden Fortress, Flash Gordon serials, and judicious parts of Frank Herbert’s Dune. But unless you’re steeped in all of that scattered SF and Samurai lore (and at the age of 7, I knew nothing), it all had new paint on it and you couldn’t see the influences very well, mostly. At the age of 27, those influences were all well known to me, but that made Star Wars even more interesting.  Why not write about the thing you love?

4. People like rogues and bad guys more than good guys. It’s true. People like villains even more. Star Wars and Empire both had great rogues and fantastic villains. Darth Vader tortures Han and Leia for no other reason than to call out to Luke through the Force. Yikes. Characters who aren’t always squeaky clean are also unpredictable. That makes for entertaining characters.

5. Don’t be afraid to step back from what you’ve done and admit that it sucks, or that you were wrong. This was a lesson learned from watching Lucas do it the wrong way. I have been fortunate to work with some impressive and talented writers over the years, and our mutual honesty has served us well in this regard. Listening to people who like you and like your work when they tell you it’s broken is invaluable. Sometimes, you think it’s good and it’s not. Other times, you know it’s good, but want to hang on to it anyway. Learning to let it go is a good lesson.

From a post-modern perspective, Raiders of the Lost Ark picks up where Star Wars leaves off. It’s pure cliffhanger and B-western homage, only it’s not really. It’s a Republic Serial story with a reactionary wish-list of rules and demands placed on it by two men who hated it when the hero lost their hat in a fight scene and it miraculously re-appeared back on their head at the scene’s end.

For a while, I thought I was the only person digging around deeply in this stuff. I found out later that most writers, including friends that I’ve known and worked with over the years, had similar experiences and compulsions. A burning desire to see how the sausage was made, either in print or on film. Especially the thought processes behind those creative decisions.

The big action image from The Force Awakens.
As a professional and paid, if not steadily employed, author, I’ve tried to imbue my writing with that same urgency, that same sense of wonder and even that same language. Hey, you can’t go wrong there, right? It doesn’t always work, and the Star Wars approach isn’t always the right one for a story, but as a tool set, it’s not let me down yet.

That wraps this series up. I hope you enjoyed reading them. With any luck, it fired you up to see the new film, or at least got you talking about the prequels. Hopefully you’ve got ticket to the movie this weekend. Maybe you’re bringing your seven year old kid. I hope you both get what you’re looking for out of the experience.  

May the Force be With You.