Alexander Film Works

Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

The Hero Concept

In Think About It on October 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm

This past weekend was Detroit FanFare 2012, a comics and toy expo, and the chance I had to meet and speak to legends of the comics world, like Allen Bellman, who worked at Timely/Atlas/Marvel Comics starting in 1942, a contemporary of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Carl Burgos, and Bill Everett, was something we just couldn’t pass up.

I was inspired to write a piece on the concept of heroes, and tie it in with the comics industry… which follows immediately.

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            We, as story-listeners, always seem drawn to the concept of the mysterious vigilante… the outsider who does what ordinary citizens, or even the authorities, can’t.

The legends come down… Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Robin Hood, Charlemagne and Le Chanson de Roland, tales of Arthur Pendragon and the Knights of the Table Round, the tales of Siegfried and the Rhinemaidens that became Wagner’s Das Ring Des Niebelungen, the labors of Hercules, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Johnston McCulley’s stories of the wily El Zorro battling the corruption and oppression in Spanish California, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger, the heroes of the “penny dreadfuls” celebrating the non-existent Code of the West, which set the archetypes of the cowboy heroes we see up until now, and especially the four-color heroes, the superheroes and superheroines of the comic books.

With ancestors from the “pulps”, the mass-market books printed on lower-grade paper dedicated to a single subject, like Doc Savage and his five assistants battling the forces of crime, G-8 and his Battle Aces endlessly fighting the Great War in the air, costumed crimefighters like The Spider – Master of Men, The Bat, and, most notably, The Shadow, they burst forth on the consciousness of the public in the 1930’s, starting with a certain red, yellow, and blue figure flashing across the sky, who became the exemplar of truth, justice, and the American Way – SUPERMAN.  His name may have had unfortunate resonances with the theories of Nietsche and the übermenschen that helped inspire a failed artist to attempt the “purification” of Germany and Europe into the Aryan Fatherland, but the execution of the concept of Superman was purely American… not only that, but truly Midwestern American.

Jerome Siegel and Joseph Shuster were both from Cleveland, Ohio when they came up with the concept of Superman… and the Midwestern ethos they were raised with helped inform their creation from his genesis.  He did good deeds, expecting no reward, and used his titanic strength in service to mankind in general.

Following shortly thereafter, from Fawcett Publications, whose lineup before this contained how-to books and the Great War’s anodyne, Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, a joke book compiled and published by the founder of Fawcett Publications, William Fawcett, came C. C. Beck and Bill Parker’s take on the super-powered man, CAPTAIN MARVEL.   Where Superman had his powers and abilities for pseudo-scientific reasons, Captain Marvel’s powers came from magic; when Billy Batson shouted the name of the wizard who gave him his powers, a bolt of magic lightning would strike him, transforming him into The World’s Mightiest Mortal, as he came to be known.  The magic word “SHAZAM”, the ancient wizard’s name, granted him the following powers of legendary gods and heroes:

  • S – the wisdom of Solomon
  • H – the strength of Hercules
  • A – the stamina of Atlas
  • Z – the power of Zeus
  • A – the courage of Achilles
  • M – the speed of Mercury

Following these two progenitors came many others… The Flash, Wonder Woman, The Batman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Crimson Crusader, Captain America, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, Skyman, the Blackhawks, Doll Man, Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, Airboy, the Sandman, Starman, Green Arrow… The litany rolls on.

The ‘30’s and ‘40’s became known as the “Golden Age” of comics… with such heroes as Captain America, Major Victory, the Patriot, Uncle Sam, Liberty Belle, and other, lesser known red-white-and-blue metahumans, it seemed almost anyone was donning patriotic garb and battling the Axis powers… but it was not to last.  The Congressional investigations sparked by Dr. Frederic Wertham’s 1954 book, The Seduction of the Innocent, headed by Senator Estes Kefauver and his Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, threw many of the comic publishers into disarray; many went out of comic publishing, and those that remained banded together in self-defense, cooperatively instituting the Comics Code Authority.  The CCA lasted until 2009, and in 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization devoted to defending the First Amendment rights of comic artists, writers, and publishers, acquired the intellectual property rights of the CCA, including its seal.

The Seal of the Comics Code Authority

For almost fifty years, this seal was on virtually every comic sold.

After the institution of the CCA, fewer titles existed… Fawcett settled a long-standing lawsuit with DC Comics to suspend publication of Captain Marvel; most of the heroes of the Golden Age faded from sight… and from memory.

Then, in 1956, DC Comics revised and reimagined The Flash, followed by Green Lantern, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, and many others.  In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics (previously Atlas Comics, which sprang from Timely Comics, the 1940’s era publisher of Captain America, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner) started a revolution in the industry with Fantastic Four, heroes with no secret identities, no glamorously perfect physiques (especially in the case of “The Thing”, transmuted Marine pilot Benjamin J. Grimm), and a penchant for arguing among themselves.  This “realistic” approach became the norm in the industry, as time went on.

One can honestly say the world hasn’t been the same since.

And the newer generation just keeps on writing and drawing…

Detroit FanFare 2012

In Just Because..., Roughly About Films on October 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Yesterday was the first day of Detroit FanFare 2012, one of the local comic book and toy conventions.  We went to see what it would be like, since it was at the New Name Coming Soon Hotel, formerly known as the Dearborn Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Megan and I compared how this was run compared to many of the science fiction conventions we’d been to, and it compared quite favorably.  It was well organized, seemed to be adequately staffed, and laid out well and thoughtfully.

I voted! Did you?

Many people we knew were there, and we circulated and had fun for as long as we stayed.

Megan patriotic

I glow, rotate, and vote, too!

There will be more, including videos, soon…

I came, I saw, I blogged about it

In Think About It on October 22, 2012 at 11:30 am

Here are a few of the video blogs I’ve done so far…

These are the first four video blogs I’ve done. I intend to do more, and we’ll see just how well I can do this.
Cheers!

Why I Write

In Think About It on October 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

A periodic reassessment of the reasoning behind my habits of self-torture

The glib answer to the titular question is as follows:  “I don’t know how not to write.”

If I dig a little deeper – and I usually don’t try to – I say that I feel I have something to say.

I don’t think I’m consciously trying to impress anybody, and I certainly don’t expect to become rich and famous from it.  (That would be a bonus, however…)

Basically, I try to tell stories.  The medium by which I do this can vary from just words, to words and pictures (in a comic strip/graphic novel format), to motion pictures.  I try to get these stories told.

But “self-torture”?  Is that my view of the entire process?

At times, yes… You see, anything committed to paper (or phosphors on screen, or magnetic bits on a computer drive) is rarely, if ever, my very first draft.  It may be my first written draft, but it’s been recirculated countless times in my brain before that, and each written draft will undergo many stages of revision before its final form emerges.

A standing joke in my house is “Stop me before I revise again!”

Does all this revision and rewriting make my work better?  I can truly say “sometimes”… Sometimes a revision cycle pares a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter down to its irreducible minimum, letting the central thought shine like an expertly faceted gemstone… and at other times, revision squeezes all the juice, all the life, out of a passage.

It’s a hard determination sometimes.

If you are as afflicted with this malady as I am, the best thing you can have is someone who will read your work and give you an honest opinion, rather than the one that salves your ego.

You then have at least one person who will tell you when your figurative britches are around your ankles.

This is a valuable asset.

What else you need is the discipline, the will, or the gumption to stay with it and keep writing.  The general consensus of many professional writers I know, your first million words (or so) are crap, and you progress faster once you get this apprenticeship process out of the way.

So, aspiring writers, cheer up!  It could be worse…

The Lost Art of Compromise…

In It Bugs Me, Just Because..., Think About It on October 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm

The old saying goes,”Politics is the art of the possible.”  Back in the day, business actually got done in Washington – Democrats and Republicans were able to see the bigger picture past the partisan issues, and give enough to the other side to produce a palatable product… nobody was totally satisfied, but everyone had skin in the game.

With the rise of single-issue politics, and the increasing polarization of the political process, any chances of effecting a workable compromise seem to shrink like a snowball in a blast furnace.  Anti-tax crusaders (such as the “Tea Party”) refuse to consider any measure that might increase government revenue (e.g., taxes), even when it may prove to be necessary.  Anti-abortion forces mobilize against anything they perceive as promoting birth control, abortion (of any sort), sex education, or anything that transgresses their views of the sanctity of life.  Groups who demonize gays, lesbians, transgender persons, and bisexuals wish to deny them the rights and responsibilities that normal Americans enjoy.

The gulf between these factions gets larger even as I speak.

What, if anything, can be done to get these groups to even consider talking to each other?  Are we doomed to partisan gridlock, where insults and hate are hurled from massively fortified positions, with incessant battleground maneuvering for advantage?

Maybe… just maybe… there’s a way out.  Maybe we need to sit them all down, and start from the beginning.

The very beginning.

First and foremost, each of us is a person.  Each of us has the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else…but each of us does not have the same talents and abilities as everyone else.  This is an important distinction.

When each person uses their unique talents and abilities for the betterment of all, not just their own select group, progress happens.  The saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

It is also necessary to realize that the things that divide us are not as important as what unites us as people.  We all need food, water, shelter, air, and love.  What we must then realize is that not all of us have access to all five of these things.

The important thing is to “level the playing field”, so all have a fair shot… this is not the same thing as “redistributing the wealth”, despite what some people (who, by some chance, happen to be the ones who have more resources) would have you believe.

Next, no one belief system is better or worse than any other belief system.  (This would seem to be a difficult pill to swallow for members of organized religions, like Catholics, evangelical Christians, mainstream Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Mormons, or of any other faith.)  To follow the tenets of your own belief, and to be a moral person in the eyes of your own particular Deity, is not a bad thing to work for.  But no one else has to believe as you do… nor, for that matter, do you have to believe as they do.

There may be times in a particular negotiation when a suggested course of action, though it may produce a desirable result, would transgress your moral guidelines.  So then, what should you do?  I suggest you pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and think.  Is there a way to achieve this desirable result without breaking your moral code?  If you search hard enough, there just may be… this may then be offered up as an alternative.

Another thing you need to do is to learn to prioritize.  There are usually four levels of priority in any negotiation.  They are:

  1. Things I can’t live without (a/k/a Deal-Breakers)
  2. Things I want badly.
  3. Things I’d like to have.
  4. Things I’d take if nobody minds

Anything in level 4 can be horse-traded away to get something you’d classify as a level 3, or even a level 2.  Level 3 items can be negotiated for a level 2 from the other party.  You get the idea.

The big thing comes down to the Deal-Breakers… So, consider this.  Are those items there on your list purely because of the dogmas of your belief system?  Is there a logical reason behind them?  Is there any latitude in the interpretation of these beliefs?  And, most importantly, do they even need to be referenced in the negotiations at hand?

If they don’t need to be there, then they don’t need to be there.  You don’t need to negotiate it if it doesn’t need to be there.

Seems simple to me…

Vlog Around The Clock…

In It Bugs Me, Just Because..., Think About It on October 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm

We are moderately proud to announce…

Not one, but TWO new blog posts!

The first one, #3, is at the following link:

And the second one, #4, is here:

I hadn’t thought this blog would end up being about politics, but since I’m offered such a wide-ranging sweep of topics in politics I think it would be downright rude of me to refuse, you think?

Aloha!

And Once More, With Feeling…

In Think About It on October 8, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Well, a second iteration of my vlog!

Mostly talking about Columbus Day… which was today, along with Canadian Thanksgiving.

The Video Connection

In It Bugs Me, Just Because..., Think About It on October 5, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Well, I gone and done it… I started to try to make a video blog.

The first result is now up on YouTube, and implanted below:

Look at it, tell me if you think it’s acceptable or not.

***

I received a few pieces of feedback on my previous post, “The Nuances of the Tentpole”… the people who responded to me were unclear about my usage of the word “tentpole”.

A “tentpole” movie – in the common Hollywood usage – is the movie whose receipts support the remainder of that movie season’s releases… in most cases, summer, the “blockbuster” season, ever since Spielberg’s Jaws in 1974.

Hopefully, that makes everything clear…

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