Friday, June 19, 2009
Yes, tornadoes, which European pioneers on the North American continent used to call "the Fingers of God". Tornadoes, twisters, abductors of Dorothy's house: the funnels of whirling air that reach down from the clouds with vortices that can spin at up to 300 miles an hour. Tornadoes. I love 'em. I think they're fascinating and beautiful.
I know, people find them terrifying, and with good reason. Tornadoes are the most powerful and destructive natural events on Earth. They can obliterate towns and annihilate people. But damnit, they're gorgeous. I used to take out weather books from the library just to stare at the drawings and paintings of tornadoes. Even now, if I come across a cable-TV documentary about them, I will watch. I am a dyed-in-the-wool lilapsophile.
I think of the reasons why I love tornadoes as similar to the reasons why I love classical super-hero comic books, especially those of Marvel with their Jack Kirby heritage. There is something about super-hero/villain battles, classically speaking, that I like to compare to the feeling you get from watching forces of nature in collision: a thunderstorm, or waves crashing on the rocks or on the beach. You're watching something violent, but it's nature's violence, not man's. It's more powerful than we are, but it's clean and bloodless. It's power unleashed in its purest form: graceful violence, elegant destruction, beautiful power. I don't get that feeling from a lot of comics that are being done today, especially the ones about ugly, brutal, and bloodthirsty "heroes" like Wolverine and the Punisher who are the exact opposite of the kinds of characters that made me love comics. It's more like the feelings I get from the great battles of the Fantastic Four, and Thor, and the Avengers, and the Silver Surfer, and Kirby's New Gods. Those stories--think of Thor's epic battle with Hercules (The Mighty Thor #126), or the Silver Surfer's rebellion against Galactus (Fantastic Four #50), or the epic smackdown of the Avengers and the Justice League of America (Avengers/JLA), or any of Orion's big battles in the original Kirby New Gods, to name a few--are what I'm talking about. And seeing a film or video of a tornado makes me feel somewhat the same way.
If I were to make a list of the things I'd most like to do before I die, one of them would have to be to go on one of those tornado chasing vacations you see documented on some of the cable TV programs, like on Discovery or The National Geographic Channel. I have always wanted to see tornadoes in person, for real, not just on TV. My brother thinks I'm crazy for this, but I do. I want to see them! I prefer the "pretty" tornadoes, the ones that look like ropes and funnels and columns, not the fat, mean-looking nasty "wedge" tornadoes. I want to see the beautiful ones. Really, one of these days when I'm able to do it, I just have to go for it. They're too awesome and wondrous not to see for real. When I go to New York City, I can't actually see the Human Torch flying overhead, or Thor and Iron Man coming in for a landing at the Frick Museum (which is supposed to be the model for the Avengers Mansion), but there are people who can take you out in the American heartland and actually let you see a tornado.
This post contains a collection of some of the most beautiful tornado images I've found on line. Linger over them. Perhaps you'll understand why I'm a die-hard case of lilapsophilia.
Next on The Quantum Blog: After the 4th of July, it's back to Hollywood for more of the Star Trek saga!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Here’s the wrap-around cover of the portfolio book Perez: Accent on the First E, which I ordered through the mail in high school. Click on the image to get the full effect! This early rendering of the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, and Galactus demonstrates, even at the dawn of his professional career, everything that George’s work is about. I still have my copy of Accent, signed by George himself. At the time I was heavily into using Prismacolor pencils and I colored some of the drawings in the book, which are mostly black-and-white pencil reproductions. I wish now I hadn’t done that. It’s one of those things you do when you’re very young and not thinking about what you’re doing.
George is one of the last great “classical” comic book artists, the guys who came directly off the influence of the pioneers like Jack Kirby, et al. He names the long-running Superman artist Curt Swan, as well as Kirby, among his major influences. George is also one of the last Marvel artists to have a nickname. In the first generation of Marvel Comics, one of the ways that the company formed bonds and camaraderie with fans was by dubbing its creative talent with nicknames: Stan “The Man” Lee, Jack “King” Kirby, Rascally Roy Thomas, Jazzy John Romita, etc. George was very fittingly dubbed “The Pacesetter” and did his first major work on The Avengers, his favorite Marvel book, with writer Stainless Steve Englehart. (The name “Pacesetter” survives today as the title of the official magazine devoted to George’s work. The only other comic book artist with a regular magazine specifically about him is Jack Kirby himself. A couple of Pacesetter issues contain articles that I wrote about George’s incredible work on the 1979 X-Men Annual and his career breakthrough on the Marvel adaptation of the film Logan’s Run.)
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t think highly of George’s work at first. At the time, I was under the spell of artist Rich Buckler (for whom George had once been an assistant!), who had adapted his style to emulate that of Jack Kirby, frequently to the point of actually swiping Kirby drawings from the past and putting them into new stories. (And if you know the King’s work well enough you can identify which images he took from where!) The inking of such luminaries as my old pal Joe Sinnott and Chic Stone only reinforced the effect. Well, the first book on which I spotted George’s work was The Inhumans, a Fantastic Four spinoff, and I was insulted that a book about FF characters wasn’t being drawn by Buckler! I looked at George’s art and thought, Who is this nobody? I didn’t appreciate it, to say the least, and I ignored Perez--at first.
Except for the early work of Jack Kirby himself, this shot of the inconceivable Inhumans is perhaps the best representation of those characters I’ve ever seen.
Then they put him in a place where I couldn’t ignore him: My longtime third-favorite comic book (after The Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man), The Avengers. George quickly proved himself to be the ideal Avengers artist. He relished drawing large numbers of characters--the more, the merrier--in a variety of costumes. He took consummate delight in drawing elaborate action sequences with multitudes of combatants--again, the more the merrier. And what’s more, he drew everything in the most excruciating detail. The maxim “Less is more” has never applied to George’s work; with him “Less is boring!” George draws it all; nothing is too trivial to be left out. If someone else goes the extra mile in his work, George goes the extra light-year! Detail, detail, detail--and then more detail on top of that!
And his “camera” is never at a static, fixed point; he’ll take you from a panning wide shot to an upshot to a downshot to a closeup to an over-the-shoulder shot, all in one page. And he’ll pack twice as many panels into a page as any other artist will.
Here are the three most essential Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America, captured in their purest and most classic form by the artist who draws them better than anyone else. I colored this one myself.
If that’s not enough, he makes every character look like his or her best, most awesome, and if applicable, most beautiful possible self. His heroes and heroines are more heroic, more handsome, more gorgeous. His villains are more fiendish and dangerous-looking. And he has a knack for capturing the best possible version of everyone’s costume. Oh, and about costumes: When it comes time to design a new character or give an old character a new look, very few people in the business can design ‘em better than the Pacesetter.
This is a design master for Nightwing (that’s Batman's first Robin, Dick Grayson, all grown up) that the character unfortunately never wore in any DC Comics story. It amply demonstrates George’s wondrous design skills. It is truly a masterpiece; you don’t know how I wish I had created this!
Indifference and disdain on my part quickly turned to respect, admiration, and awe. Where I snubbed George at first, now I couldn’t wait to see the next issue of every book he drew. (Which is a lucky thing, because the next book they gave him was The Fantastic Four itself!) And as I had with Kirby before him, I made it my business not just to look at his work, but to study every facet of everything he did, to learn how it all worked. It didn’t take long for George to establish himself as my all-time most important artistic role model in comics, after Kirby himself. It’s a position he holds with me to this very day.
This post of The Quantum Blog, then, is devoted to some of my favorite drawings I’ve found online by the former Mr. Nobody. Immediately below are my old friends, the Fantastic Four, in another shot that I personally colored. This one, showing the FF as I loved them, in their pure Kirby form, used to be one of the rotating images in the upper left hand corner of the FF Plaza Website, which my pal Sean Kleefeld used to run.
George never got a chance to work with my favorite member of the X-Men, Phoenix, besides a few isolated images. Here’s one where he captures her perfectly.
George has a special love of drawing super-heroines. This is a shot of Ms. Marvel, skillfully rendered in line and grey tones.
This shot of the sensational Storm in her original, classic Dave Cockrum design shows why it’s such a shame that X-Men characters have been made over so much. Storm has never looked better.
George’s most magnificent accomplishment was the miniseries Avengers/JLA, the battle between and team-up of the Avengers and the Justice League of America, which ran 4 issues and more than 200 pages--all of them penciled and inked by the Pacesetter. I consider it the all-time, single greatest achievement in comic book art. This drawing from the early 1980s commemorates the first time this story was attempted.
And speaking of the Avengers and the Justice League...
By far my favorite rendition of Wonder Woman was that of George in the mid-1980s. He took a character that I basically liked and a book that I never read, and made her my favorite DC character with a book I couldn’t miss. His work with the Princess of Paradise remains one of the most ingenious things I’ve ever read in comics. Here’s WW battling Marvel’s She-Hulk.
Though fans have the strongest attachment to Hal Jordan in the identity of the Green Lantern, the sexiest of the Green Lanterns and my personal favorite is Hal’s successor (who recently stepped aside as the “official” GL when Jordan was resurrected), Kyle Rayner. This costume that Kyle wore is my favorite of all the Green Lantern ensembles. Sexy character, sexy costume, the world’s best comic artist: It’s a win/win/win combination. I really should color this one...
To finish up, the Silver Surfer (whose book George used to write!) and a smackdown between the mighty Thor in his classic Kirby form and the ever-incredible Hulk! I have one more of these that I colored myself, but I’m saving that one because I’m sending a scan of it to my brother for his birthday in a few weeks and I want it to be a surprise!Next in The Quantum Blog: Do you know what “Lilapsophilia” is? If not, try not to let your house be swept up over the rainbow until we meet again, and I’ll tell you about one of my secret passions. Then, it’s back to Hollywood and more of my personal Star Trek experience.
Monday, June 8, 2009
I leave it to you to imagine how keen my sense of disbelief was at this moment. Just like that, “When can we get you out here?” No tedious interview process with witless idiotic questions. No hoops to jump through. No red tape to cut. No horse-and-pony show to put on, the way one has to do for some ordinary job. With one resume, one cover letter, and one spec script that I had written for The Outer Limits, I was being hailed by Star Trek and asked to beam aboard. Just like that: “Come on out and join us in Hollywood,” plain, simple, and direct. How often does a thing like that happen to anyone? As I said, unbelievable--but true.
Remember when we were talking about the relatives in Seattle on whose cable TV I used to watch The Outer Limits when I visited them in the summer? That happened to be the home of my late Uncle George Carroll, who was an engineer for Boeing. George had passed on and remembered me in his will. It was by this means that I was able to take up Star Trek on its invitation. As the will was in probate, it took several months of waiting, and the money came at the eleventh hour. I was set to fly out in the middle of January 1997 to be the final screenwriting intern for the third season of Voyager. The check arrived about a week beforehand and I had that much time to prepare. I thought I had selected a suitable hotel from a gay travel guide, but we'll get to that in a moment. I’ll never forget the snowy day I rented a car and spent an entire day shopping for everything I’d need for my Hollywood odyssey (including a pocket driver’s map of Los Angeles, which I still have); I had to find a deal on a plane ticket and do a whirlwind shopping spree and mall-crawl, but I was under the gun (or the phaser, as the case may be) and I got it done. And you know what? I don’t usually like stress and prefer to avoid a stressful situation, but I remember that day as one of the most fun I’d ever had--snowstorm and all!
In the meantime, I made damn sure that everyone knew what was happening. I had my friend Joe (the guy who was scared by my reading of “Ice”--he doesn’t handle scary suspense well) notify The Gaylactic Network about my pending adventure. (At the time my gay science fiction group, The Alternate Universe, was an affiliate of the greater Gaylactic Network based in Boston, and Joe was our liaison to the Network). Every Gaylaxians group was properly apprised that one of their own had made a breakthrough, and The Niagara Falls Gaylactic Colonizers, some of whom were fans of my art from Gaylaxicon Art Shows, wanted regular updates on what I was doing. And I called the local newspaper and got an interview with the television editor, which made the paper as the time approached. The article caught the attention of my cousin Jaretta, who at the time was a local radio host, and one morning she brought me onto her show. That was fun, being interviewed about my upcoming Trek experience on the air as the greater Hudson/Mohawk Valley listened. And Jaretta, my late Uncle Henry’s daughter--under her pseudonym of Lynn Richarde--was great. She said she got plenty of call-ins that day about her cousin who was going to Star Trek!
Of course, no one was more tickled by all this than Uncle George’s daughter, my cousin Nancy. During our weekly phone calls during my stay in Beverly Hills (from which I would commute to Paramount on Melrose Avenue), she would tell me that every time she mentioned “her cousin Joe” to her friends, they would automatically fill in, “...who’s doing a writing internship at Star Trek Voyager!” (Nancy is also a science fiction fan, and is what you would call an uber-Trekker. This lady has actually gone on Star Trek cruises! As a girl she was so terrified by the Outer Limits episode “Corpus Earthling” that she used to have my Aunt Nancy, her late Mom, check under her bed for the little alien black rocks before she could go to sleep at night.)
Anyway, with all my preparations made--hastily as they were--I was ready as the morning of January 17, 1997 arrived. My Mom and my friend Danny B., whom I’ve mentioned here a number of times, put me on the train to Manhattan, and I was off. I spent that evening in the Big Apple and attended one of the last performances of Sunset Boulevard by Andrew Lloyd Weber on Broadway. (Elaine Page was Norma that night. I was third row center. My only disappointment is that Alan Campbell, who played Joe, for some reason chose to do his poolside theme song fully clad in a suit. Why? WHY?) The next morning, I flew to Los Angeles.
My first weekend in LA, I found that the hotel room that I had had to secure so hastily was not a place where I wanted to stay in a place where I wanted to be. (See if I ever trust that gay travel guide again.) Actually, that whole first weekend was a bit of an adventure, and not in a good way. For the first four weeks I rented a gold Chrysler Sebring ragtop convertible--what, you think I was going to experience L.A. and Hollywood and not drive a convertible?--and for the first evening I drove around looking for my hotel. I discovered at once that 1) I had to adjust my sense of scale to a big city that was designed to spread outward rather than upward, like Manhattan and 2) I was really intimidated by the freeways at first. I got over the fear of the freeways in time, but that first night I somehow found myself in a part of the city that was so thoroughly Asian that I almost couldn’t find any business signage in English or anyone who could speak same! To redirect myself, I ended up pulling over a cop at a filling station, and I actually heard myself think, Thank God he’s white!
As I didn’t like the hotel when I finally found it, I retreated to a Super 8 Hotel until I could come up with something else. I only wish I had known about Extended Stay America back then. Anyway, the next morning I stepped out into the California sunshine and found myself looking up a hill right into the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. It felt like a Steven Spielberg moment; there should have been John Williams music playing. The accommodations problem dogged me the whole weekend; I was so upset that I couldn’t eat. (J.A. FLUDD FACTOID for the week: Being emotionally upset or physically ill effectively kills my appetite until the thing that has upset me is resolved or I get better. Then I eat like a Grizzly bear.) I did manage to get down a croissant at a Starbucks in West Hollywood, where I met my first TV star as I sat outside eating. There was a gentleman sitting at the next table with a notebook on which I noticed the name Scott Plank. I knew that name from various things I’d seen on TV; he’s one of those journeyman actors who goes from show to show and Movie of the Week to Movie of the Week. (Another J.A. FLUDD FACTOID: I take pains to note every attractive-looking MALE actor I see on film or TV. I look them up when necessary.) I asked him, regarding the name on his notebook, “There’s an actor by that name; are you he?” And he was, and we had a nice chat that helped me calm down for a moment. It turns out he had shot several episodes of Melrose Place that were going to be on during my stay, so for a few weeks during my stay in L.A. I watched Melrose, which I wouldn’t otherwise have done, just to see him. One thing about being in Hollywood is that you never know whom you’re going to run into that you recognize from the things you watch. I had a number of such chance encounters in addition to meeting the stars of the two Star Treks that were on at that time, some of which I’ll share with you as this saga goes forth.
To help calm myself further, I went to the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and looked up Gene Roddenberry’s star. Though I’m a strictly secular person, as I’ve said, it was a nearly spiritual moment as I sat crouching there on the street of celebrity plaques in the pavement, tracing the letters of Gene’s name as if to commune with the man whose vision of the future had guided me through life and brought me to this place and this moment. For a moment I felt that much closer to one of the most important heroes and role models of my life.
Before the weekend was over, a check through the local alternative newspaper put me in touch with a residential hotel in Beverly Hills--Beverly Hills, yet!--where I was willing to settle down for my six-week stint. I moved in, let my family and friends know where I was, and inhaled a quarter of a rotisserie chicken from the local equivalent of the Boston Market. As I explored my new temporary neighborhood, I was to discover that Rodeo Drive was just a couple of blocks away, the Los Angeles Branch of The Museum of Television and Radio was right down Santa Monica Boulevard, and further down that same Boulevard lay an art supply store and The International Male store! Oh, and in a coincidence that would only happen in my life, a comic book specialty store had just opened on the next block! The folks in Beverly Hills must have gotten the word: Psst, hey, this guy from New York who reads comic books is coming to work on Star Trek; we’d better be ready...
So, bright and early Monday morning, I was calmed, fed, rested, and ready. I found another Starbucks where I had another croissant and had a nice chat with a friendly cop. (Don’t believe for a minute that Beverly Hills is an enclave of snooty rich people; the place felt like home with better weather, fancier stores, and palm trees.) Then I climbed into my rented gold Chrysler convertible and drove from Beverly Hills to the Melrose Avenue complex of Paramount Pictures (avoiding the freeway and using Wilshire Boulevard). I drove up to the front gate in a supremely “Hollywood” moment and Security passed me through. Within Paramount Studios lay the Hart Building, where the writers and producers of the Star Treks worked. And the adventure began.
TO BE CONTINUED.