A few non-work-related photos from my trip last week to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville.
I love amusement park skylines. This is part of Kentucky Kingdom, re-opening in May.
Next: Nerdworld and truckland collide:
Western Star Trucks’ Optimus Prime, from the next Transformers movie.
Back on March 20, our department at work got together for a good chunk of the day to talk about storytelling. We had lunch, saw one of the short film programs at the Cleveland International Film Festival, and then hung out for awhile with the director of one of the movies we’d seen.
Here’s what we watched:
I enjoyed the program. All the movies were entertaining, and it was a nice mix of subjects and tones and length. Thoughts on a few:
Real Change – a nine-minute documentary about four homeless men who sell the Real Change newspaper Seattle – led off the program, and its director, Adam Michael Becker, shared his time with us after the screening. As a former journalist, I was incredibly impressed with the stories and personalities he put on screen in such a short amount of time without the movie feeling rushed.
I’m a fan of rock photography, so it figured that I enjoyed Who Shot Rock & Roll, although compared to the rest of the pieces, it felt a little long at 37 minutes. Some parts dragged or seemed repetitive while others were too short.
The Pledge for Mr. Bunny: This is such a bizarre and offbeat little movie, and I loved it, even if I can’t quite explain why. I can see where it wouldn’t be for everybody, but if you want to give it a try, it’s available in its entirety on YouTube:
I’ve said before how excited I am to have played a small part in this project, so when the finished DVD of Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys landed in my mailbox last week, it was a little like the day I got my Bossk.
Here’s the elevator pitch from the DVD web site:
Like no toys before them, Star Wars toys were a phenomenon that swept the nation, transforming both the toy and movie industries, and ultimately creating a hobby that, 30 years later, still holds sway over its fans.
Plastic Galaxy is a documentary that explores the groundbreaking and breathtaking world of Star Wars toys. Through interviews with former Kenner employees, experts, authors, and collectors, it looks at the toys’ history, their influence, and the fond and fervent feelings they elicit today.
I may not be the most impartial reviewer, of course, but think the movie turned out well. It’s a nice balance of nostalgia trip, toy merchandising history lesson, eye-popping show-and-tell, and behind-the-scenes storytelling. There’s some fun animation work throughout, too.
Several nifty people I’ve met and/or know from fan circles are also in the movie, like Jim Swearingen, and a couple OSWCC and KennerCollector.com friends, and Steve Sansweet, who wrote what’s still one of my all-time favorite Star Wars books, “From Concept to Screen to Collectible.” (A book, which, it should be noted, also inspired Plastic Galaxy. It’s still a good read 20+ years after its publication. Most of what has become common knowledge about the Kenner/Star Wars backstory was unearthed by Sansweet first.)
It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that if you remember the Kenner brand or coveted the neighbor kid’s Landspeeder or grew up in the twin-sun shadow of the original Star Wars, then Plastic Galaxy is probably in your wheelhouse. You can order it from Brian and Karl’s Futurious Industries.
Released October 7, 1983, Never Say Never Again was the first James Bond movie I remember seeing.
I suppose it’s possible I saw bits and pieces of the classics prior to that, and although I remember the theatrical releases of both Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only, I didn’t see them.
I do remember my parents being excited about this guy Sean Connery, and that because of their enthusiasm, I had decided that he was my favorite James Bond – despite having not seen a single 007 movie.
Mom dropped off me and friend – I seem to think it was my Dungeons & Dragons partner, Mike S. – at the Gold Circle Cinemas for a Never Say Never Again matinee, and we were entertained as hell by the movie. (Of course, we were 12 years old: “James Bond – Urine Specimen! Hi-LARIOUS!” “That world domination video game was AWESOME!”
Post-’83, it was another few years before I really developed a fandom for the character, sparked by a kid I had met at the North Canton Playhouse during my sophomore year of high school. He loaned me an old Signet copy of Thunderball, which launched me into a rabid pursuit of All Things Bond for a couple years.
My friend Aaron shared the interest, and one of our ongoing jokes was a “serious” debate over which yacht had the better name: The Disco Volante from Thunderball, (Aaron’s pick) or the Flying Saucer from Never Say Never Again. (You see it coming, don’t you?) This debate ended the day I encountered a paragraph in my Spanish class referring to someone spotting “discos volantes” in the sky. Oh. Well. There you go.
The first batch of pre-orders and sales that summer and fall of 2008 were mostly to family, friends, and the supportive Star Wars fans of the Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club and the vintage forums at Rebelscum.com. They really jump-started this whole thing with their responses to my 2007 online series of Star Wars recollections.
In early 2009, right around the time my last full-time newsroom job was eliminated and I found myself out of work, Rob Wainfur posted one of the earliest completely-neutral-party reviews of Collect All 21! on his Retro Finds site, which was a more-than-welcome bit of nice news, and especially neat because Rob’s from Wales.
Around the same time, Adam, my Collect All 21! editor, launched Deus Ex Comica, and suddenly I was like, “Hey: I want a cool, professional cover and a foreword, too!” And that’s where Kirk Demarais and David Morgan-Mar came in, generously contributing their talents to the revised version of Collect All 21!, providing me with some amazing front cover art and a kick-ass introduction.
Working with a great digital publishing team, I expanded the book for a Kindle edition in July 2011, adding some new personal material as well as interviews and my magazine-length feature on Lorne Peterson.
Some of the other neat stuff that’s happened along the way:
- In spring 2009, I got an incredibly kind and supportive email from George Krstic, another Northeast Ohio first-generation Star Wars fan who grew up to write neat stuff like MTV’s Downtown, Megas XLR, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Motorcity. We’ve hung out a few times since, and recorded a few Star Wars nostalgia podcasts, and it’s always a blast. (George also introduced me to Josh Ling, who’s also a first-generation Rust Belt kid that came of age addicted to Kenner toys, and, I think it’s also fair to say, deals with the same old-school v. new-era Star Wars internal conflicts that twist so many of us in geek knots.)
- Jenny Williams and Curtis Silver both said really nice things about Collect All 21! on the GeekMom and GeekDad blogs, respectively.
- At PAX East in 2010, thanks to the GeekDad crew, I met Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf, who bought a copy of the book on the spot while we were all hanging out, and later provided me with a superlative blurb.
- CNN interviewed me for a 30th anniversary story about The Empire Strikes Back.
- Sharing Star Wars memories became kind of a thing: My friend Jonathan Liu sent me an advance copy of Tony Pacitti‘s My Best Friend is a Wookiee (2010), and I wound up meeting Tony at Star Wars Celebration V to exchange books and stories. A couple years later, in 2012, Gib van Ert released A Long Time Ago: Growing Up With And Out Of Star Wars, which I read and enjoyed on the way to Star Wars Celebration VI. And, of course, earlier this year, Fanboys director Kyle Newman (who also encouraged me regarding Collect All 21! in 2010) put together The Return of Return of the Jedi.
- Geek A Week artist Len Peralta and I recorded a Star Wars and 1980s conversation/podcast.
- I got invited as a guest to a couple JediCon WV events, which were tons of fun, and got my name on a spectacular poster by Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons.
- Hugo Award-winning author and good guy Jim C. Hines read Collect All 21! and blogged about it.
- Then there was that time in 2012 when the fantastic Renita Jablonski called me and said, “So, we were thinking of doing a piece on the 35th anniversary of Star Wars, and I said ‘I know a guy,'” and we talked on the phone, and then BOOM! I’m driving to work a day or two later, and right there in the middle of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” is me. (And five years before that, when Renita was at WKSU, she produced a piece I wrote about not remembering the first time I saw Star Wars, which, again, is pretty much where all this started.)
- Topless Robot put Collect All 21! on its list of The 10 Greatest Non-Fiction Star Wars Books, which includes the line, “Celebrate the love, yub yub.” Yes!
- Somehow my book caught the attention of filmmaker Brian Stillman, who visited our house a couple summers back and interviewed me for Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys, which should be coming out later this summer.
Crunching some numbers from Lulu and Amazon to figure out about how many copies of Collect All 21! are out there – counting print and electronic versions – I come up with a number somewhere close to 2,500. (I’m always looking to make that number bigger, of course, but hey – that’s not a bad run for a completely independent, word-of-mouth effort.)
I will never be able to say thanks enough for all the encouragement and support from my friends and family and everyone who’s ever bought, borrowed, read, or shared Collect All 21! among fellow Star Wars fans and 1980s-era nostalgia loons (which I can say since I’m one of them).
The Force Will Be With You. Always.
WarGames came out just a few weeks after Return of the Jedi, yet the films seem to embody two such different personal eras for me. One marked the close of the most influential storytelling in my childhood, the other feels very much tied to my early teenage years.
Not quite five years ago, Adam and I went to the WarGames 25th Anniversary theatrical showing. Here’s part of what I wrote the next day:
WarGames starts, and sonofabitch, I’m so far back in time I’m stunned. Not just drawn into the movie itself, but shocked at the deep nerves it’s hitting: God, I can actually remember what it was like lying awake late on summer nights like this, hearing the wind in the cornfield behind our house and wondering what the hell WOULD happen if there was a nuclear war. And it wasn’t sci-fi cool post-apocalypse stuff, it was scary and sad and lonely.
David Lightman’s onscreen obsession with video games – and how sad is it that I think I caught a flaw in his Galaga game during the movie? – and computers was echoed in my real-life addiction to our Atari and later the Timex Sinclair 1000 that I bought for ten bucks, and then the Commodore 64 I finally talked dad into. I wanted so much to program a BASIC “Joshua” that I could pretend to play WarGames with, and I still love the sound of computer keys that clack and aren’t velvet-wrapped tickings. And has there ever been a computer voice better than Joshua’s?
Plus, you know, David Lightman the DORK, hooked up with Jennifer the BABE, and being a guy right on the edge of teenagerdom and still wearing thick plastic glasses and sporting brown corduroys regularly, I took this as was a sign of hope, just like when Billy Joel married Christy Brinkley.
And the last 20 minutes or so were as tense as they ever were. I couldn’t blink when those white glowing dots and their cold static hum explosions started mushrooming over the world map one by one, then in clusters, then in hyperspeed fireworks followed by those amazingly perfect final few lines from Joshua echoing through a NORAD movie set in the 1980s and reaching to a theater two and a half decades later.
Now, I could be wrong on the timing, but it seems very likely that the summer of 1983 was also when my friend Mike and I took a kids’ introduction to computer programming class at the Stark County campus of Kent State University, working on Timex Sinclairs. While I can’t say for certain it was that year, I do have a vivid memory of our instructor challenging Mike and me with a problem one day, offering a pad of graph paper as a reward because he knew we loved using the stuff for Dungeons & Dragons.
I probably didn’t see WarGames more than once in the theater, but it was one of those movies we recorded onto VHS and watched over and over again. And as I wrote for GeekDad, it holds up.
Not too sure about that goofy guy at the beginning, but I know several of those other people, and this looks like a fun, seriously nostalgia-inducing movie.
Brian and Karl visited me – gosh, a couple summers back, already? – and talked Star Wars toys and 1980s kidhood for a couple hours, and it was a blast. They were talented and professional, and I’m really excited to have played even a small part in this project.
Kelsey and I popped into Hazel’s Heroes this afternoon because a) Free Comic Book Day, and b) Sean and Stephanie Forney were there, and it’s all of three miles from my house. (Hey: Before I forget – Sean’s running a Kickstarter for his Scarlet Huntress Anthology, and it’s packing a bunch of cool stuff at pretty much all the backer levels, for both individuals and comic shop owners. Try as I might, I can’t get the video to embed, but it’s really worth checking out.)
Here’s what I brought home from the store:
Four freebies on the right, and two purchases. That July 1983 Comics Scene is full of good stuff I’m going to scan and share, and I bought the Star Trek IV adaptation for Kelsey. (Could I have said no? Sure, but then it would have been double dumbass on me.)
Finding some odd stuff while cleaning and reorganizing my office. Here’s a newspaper archive photo of James Earl Jones and Mark Hamill:
I love it: It feels genuine.
According to the caption information, it’s New York, September 1987, following a Broadway performance of Fences, which Jones was starring in at the time. (The caption also notes their roles in Star Wars, indicating that the saga connection might be what prompted Associated Press photographer Frankie Ziths to get the shot.)