Like many people, I am looking forward to the "Avengers" movie scheduled to be released next May. And I am enjoying the little teasers and such that are emerging from the production, including the official teaser trailer which was released a few weeks ago.
There has been a lot of speculation about one particular quick bit in that trailer, a glimpse at a scene which shows the mighty Thor leaping through the air and bringing his hammer down on Captain America's shield (as shown here in two screen grabs I made from the trailer).
I have read some speculation that this could be indicative of some sort of dissension or conflict in the ranks of the Avengers.
But while thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that another possibility might be tied into another speculation about the possible plot of the movie, one which says that the Skrulls might be involved.
The Skrulls, as fans of Marvel comics are surely aware, are a race of shape-changing aliens, first encountered, I believe, in the pages of some early issues of "Fantastic Four". If the Avengers are in fact battling shapeshifters in the new movie, could one of the characters in this scene actually not be the real deal… but a Skrull impostor?
I don't read a lot of the fan sites online, so it is entirely possible that this idea has been bruited about already. But I thought it was an intriguing possibility. -- PL
P.S. Of course, it's also intriguing to consider what the result would be if that is the real Thor with the real Mjolnir… and that's the real Captain America with his real shield made of Vibranium. Would the force of Thor's hammer blow be absorbed and dispersed by the unique qualities of that rare metal found only in Wakanda, the jungle kingdom of T'Challa, the Black Panther?
"Record the fleeting thoughts as they arise; A line, once lost, may ne'er again be seen, A thought, once flown, perhaps for ever flies."
For some years -- ever since I discovered a copy of it on the shelf at the first Barnes and Noble store to appear in our area -- I have enjoyed reading "Fortean Times", the British magazine based on -- or inspired by -- the life and works of Charles Fort, and which has the subtitle of "The World of Strange Phenomena", which just about sums up its publishing mission.
While reading the latest issue in bed a few nights ago, I came across an article entitled "Eureka!" No connection to Archimedes and his fabled bathtub realization, but a story about a Victorian era mechanical computer of sorts which composed verse in Latin with the crank of a handle. I haven't read the entire article yet, but I was struck by the paragraph containing the three lines at the beginning of this post.
Apparently, there was a tablet attached to the front of the machine which bore twelve lines of verse, of which these were the last three. The entire poem dealt with the ephemeral nature of thought and creativity.
But I thought those last three lines represented a perfect bit of advice to those who think of interesting ideas or turns of phrase or simply intriguing words… and then forget them, having not bothered to jot them down on a scrap of paper or a small notebook carried in a shirt pocket.
That's something that I have been trying to do these last few years, in part having been inspired by seeing my wife do it. I can't say that anything so inscribed in my pocket notebook has been of any great significance, creatively, but at the very least, it's helped me to remember those fleeting thoughts. And who knows? Maybe someday… -- PL
P.S. While reading those three lines to Jeannine, I was struck by how similar they were in some ways to one of my favorite bits of H.P. Lovecraft's verse:
When I opened up my computer today and started up my web browser (Apple's "Safari", if you must know), I began as I usually do by scanning the headlines on cnn.com, which is my home page. There were, as you might expect, a number of stories about the death of Libya's former dictator Gadhafi. But I was not expecting to discover a strange new spelling for a common word, as you can see in these screen captures.
The first one is from the CNN home page. To find the others, I did a Google search, and it seems that this weird spelling of "reacts" might have originated with CNN. It's bizarre.
How did this survive the editing process and end up on the website of a major international news organization? I mean, it isn't even like it could make it through a basic computer spell check.
(It reminds me of the early days of Marvel Comics, when Stan Lee and other writers would use "thru" instead of "through". I remember thinking that "thru" might be some acceptable variant of "through" (it's not), but later on it occurred to me that it might have been something the letterer had done to be able to fit all of the words in cramped word balloons. Who knows?)
When I was a kid reading DC comics, Green Lantern was -- after Superman -- my favorite DC hero. I thought his costume was cool, the power ring an amazing weapon/tool, and I liked the green theme.
So I was pretty excited when I heard a few years ago that there was a big-budget "Green Lantern" movie in the works. I never got to catch it in the theatre when it came out this year… possibly due to a diminishment of that excitement due to the almost universally horrible reviews.
But I still wanted to see it, and I picked up the DVD when I saw it at Barnes and Noble a few days ago. Jeannine, who'd said she would go with me to see it in a theatre, sat down to watch it with me at home.
She left about ten minutes into the movie. I probably should have too, but I wanted to give it a chance. And I did… but it never got better.
Awful writing. Awful story. Awful pacing. Occasionally great effects. A good character well-played in Mark Strong's Sinestro. Ryan Reynolds desperately trying to make the best of the crap he was given to say and do, sometimes succeeding, most times not. Occasionally atrocious design (the ridiculous "throne towers" for the Guardians, for example). Bad choices at almost every turn.
Did I say awful writing? This movie had some of the WORST dialogue I've ever heard in a film.
I could actually sense Jeannine's attention and interest slipping away during the beginning of the movie, which was so off-putting in it's "let's talk down to the stupid audience" exposition and just dreadfully tiresome videogame-like special effects that even I barely got through it.
And I have to ask -- is Hal Jordan (at least the Hal Jordan as portrayed in the movie) REALLY the sole person on Earth most worthy of the power ring, which supposedly has the ability to seek out the best candidate? Really? He's the BEST of all the billions of people on Earth? Please.
What an atrocious waste of a great character. -- PL
(P.S. I couldn't bear to use an image from the movie to illustrate this review, so instead I found one from the comics of my childhood, on Wikipedia.)
Last Saturday, Jeannine and I drove up to Brattleboro, VT to attend two talks being held, as part of the Brattleboro Literary Festival, at the Brattleboro Museum of Art. The two speakers we were looking forward to hearing were Salley Mavor, the illustrator about whom I have written before in this blog, and Ken Burns, the noted creator of "The Civl War" and other documentaries.
To tell the truth, I was more interested in hearing Salley speak and watching her give her slideshow presentation, and as it turned out (due to what can only be seen as abysmal planning on the part of the event organizers) that was a good thing, because the venue chosen for the Ken Burns talk was WAY too small for someone that well-known. To illustrate that point -- ten minutes before the talk was to begin, it was already "standing room only", and I watched from the outside of the building as dozens of people were turned away. Just ridiculous.
Jeannine ended up staying for the Burns talk, but given that it required standing in one spot in a stuffy room for an hour and some minutes, I declined the opportunity. As I told Jeannine later, there are some people (she being one of them) for whom I would do that, but Ken Burns is not one of them (no offense to Mr. Burns). And from what Jeannine told me of the talk later, it sounds like I didn't miss much.
But it was hardly a wasted trip -- and not just because I was able to go to the Vermont Deli (one of our favorite food joints in Brattleboro) during the time the Burns event was going on and pick up some yummy stuff for supper -- but because before the fiasco of the Burns thing, we were both able to attend Salley Mavor's delightful presentation about the development of what she has come to call her "fabric reliefs". I came away from it with even MORE admiration and appreciation of her artistry.
One interesting thing is that she was thinking in this way of combining real stuff with flat artwork from an early age, as you can see in this slide of pages from a little storybook she made when she was eight.
I was especially interested to see the slides showing the thumbnail sketches which she does to work out the layouts for her illustrations, before she begins the arduous work of meticulously crafting the three-dimensional pieces which she will later assemble into the finished work.
Salley had many slides of work from various points in her career, all of them fascinating and beautiful, but I must say that these bugs she made some years ago simply blew my mind. I think they are absolutely gorgeous.
She told a funny story about the spider she'd made (which is, sadly, not in the photograph) that she used to decorate the inside of the refrigerator in the house she was sharing with other people at the time.
And many of the last group of slides had to do with the development process for the cover she did recently for "The Horn Book", which is a periodical about the world of children's literature. Here's one slide with a view of the work in progress, with Salley's sketch for the layout on the right hand side…
… another with a closeup view of one of the figures she made for the cover…
I just finished reading "Robopocalypse" by Daniel H. Wilson. I was originally sucked into buying the book by the title (which seemed cleverer then than it does now) and the cover (what appears to be a photograph of a shiny white robot face -- almost a glazed ceramic look).
I don't believe I have ever read anything by Wilson, but I found his writing to be compelling and exciting, and the concepts he came up with the war of the robots on humanity pretty intriguing. It's safe to say that I enjoyed reading this book.
There's only one problem with it, and it's a big one -- he gives away the ending on the first page. Not in explicit detail, but it is clear and certain that one side has won the war.
It's a credit to his writing skills that even with that unfortunate reveal, I wanted to continue to read the remaining 346 pages. But… I can't shake the feeling that this could have been a spectacular tale of suspense if the author had not telegraphed the denouement on the first page.
And the obvious -- TOO obvious, in my opinion -- set up for a sequel is unfortunate. It's pretty blatant, and really unnecessary.
One other thing that bugged me was the structure of the novel, where each chapter is presented as a reconstruction of events based on date taken from various sources -- security cameras, robot memory cores, and so forth. It is a clever conceit, at first… but about a third of the way into the book I started to realize that -- given the way the author actually writes each chapter -- it's no better than a standard "omniscient" point of view. (There's probably another term for that in the world of literature.)
I can recommend this book -- just don't start with the first chapter, which is titled "Briefing". Instead, jump ahead to page 13 and begin with "Part One: Isolated Incidents".
It might work better that way. But maybe not. -- PL
Occasionally, I will get a note from a recipient of a Xeric Foundation comic book self-publishing grant, usually thanking the Foundation for the grant. But a few days ago I got a REALLY cool one.
There was a large -- about 11" by 15" -- envelope leaning up against my office door at Mirage, and when I opened it, there was this:
Breena Wiederhoeft, writer and artist of a graphic novel titled "Picket Line", a copy of which was also at my office door (here's the cover)...
... had created this incredible, elaborate "Thank You!" in the form of a full-color page of comics, featuring the TMNT and her character "Rex" from "Picket Line". And not only did she send a nice color copy of the art, she sent the ORIGINAL! Wow. Thanks, Breena! -- PL
To find out more about Breena's work and her graphic novel "Picket Line", you can go to her website, "Easel Ain't Easy" at this URL:
I saw the news last night that Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, had died after struggling with pancreatic cancer for years. Like many people whose lives have been greatly changed by the products he helped innovate and bring to market, I was saddened to hear of this… even though, with the reports of his health issues over the last couple of years, it didn't come as a complete surprise.
I think I became a "Mac Guy" sometime back around 1989 or so. I had been using an Atari ST computer for several years, and was pretty happy with it. Then my friend Rob, who was doing graphic arts work at a small design company across the parking lot from the new Mirage offices, showed me this thing called "Photoshop" -- I think it was version 1.5 or something, still only handling black and white and greyscale images -- running on the Mac IIfx (at that time the "hot rod" Mac) he was using.
After picking my jaw up off the floor, I knew I had to get with the program (literally!) and become a Mac user. It wasn't long -- probably a couple of weeks -- before I had my own Mac, a IIfx model with a gigantic 250 megabyte hard drive, running Macintosh operating system version 6, I believe. I still have it, though it hasn't sounded its happy start-up chime for many years. It sits on a table in my barn, beige case slowly yellowing with time.
But it was the start of a love affair with the Mac platform which is still going strong. I'm typing this blog entry right now on a MacBook Pro laptop, which is so much more powerful and capable and compact than that first Mac IIfx that comparisons such as horse and carriage to automobile come to mind. But the key elements that made the Mac so appealing to me from the day I tried one -- and these are elements which, I think, can be directly attributed to Steve Jobs' influence -- are still there: the ease of use, the directness of the interface, the sense that this was a computer made for people to use for work and play without getting in their way.
I remember being somewhat flabbergasted when, after Jobs had come back to Apple after going off and starting his own computer company called NeXT (yes, I bought one of those too, and the less said about that the better), and one of the first new versions of the Mac that came out after he'd returned was the first iMac, a kind of cool-looking all-in-one gizmo which -- SHOCK!!! -- did away with the floppy disk drive, and -- perhaps even more profoundly influential, eventually -- got rid of the SCSI and Appletalk and ADB connectors in favor of a relatively new connection technology called "USB". I wondered how I would cope without floppy disks… and discovered pretty rapidly that life without them was not so bad. Better, in fact. And USB became well-loved, especially for those of us who had fretted and fumed while dealing with SCSI and its frustrating quirks over the years. Now, it's hard to find a computer or electronic device which doesn't use some form of USB.
It's been said the the iMac was the computer that saved Apple, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. It was certainly a huge hit, and led directly to the models which we enjoy today.
Obviously, Steve Jobs didn't do it all. There were a lot of talented people working at Apple who helped to bring these amazing products to market. But it is telling to remember what Apple products were like during the time when Jobs was not at the company, and what they were like after he returned. It was really night and day. Without him, and his innovative ways of thinking about these things, life with Macs would have been greatly different.
I hope the people who now run Apple have learned enough over the years from Jobs that the company will continue to surprise and delight us with amazing things like the MacBook Air, the iPhone and the iPad, to name a few. I guess we'll have to wait and see. -- PL
(The image I used at the top of this entry is one I found at
this morning when I was reading various testimonials about Steve Jobs. There were a lot of different photos of him and graphic tributes to him, but this one seemed the most poignant, for some reason. I don't know who created it. -- PL)
UPDATE 10-07-11: Now I know who created that moving visual -- a gent by the name of Ben Hughes. He left a comment on this post, as follows: "Hey there!
It looks as if you didn't know where the original image in your post came from. FYI, I created it and originally posted it to my Tumblr. Feel free to link back to the original posting! http://obh.me/pmz6QT
Thanks for including my work in your memory of Steve."
Coming home yesterday, I rounded a corner and saw this...
Unfortunately, (a) it was raining, and (b) I didn't have my camera with the good zoom lens with me, so I had to snap these shots hurriedly with my little pocket camera from the front seat of my truck. But I think they came out okay, nonetheless.
They crossed the road at their usual stately pace, hopped up on the guardrail...
... and then flew off. I wish I had been able to capture some images of them on the wing.