“The Madame,” by Josh Ellingson.
Hey! You! In Seattle! Like weird and cool monster-y type art and stuff? You probably want to go to here: Tentacles, A Squiggly Art Show Curated by Bonnie Burton at Ltd. Art Gallery in Seattle.
I reviewed some awfully fun stuff this year for GeekDad – a dozen books and a couple TV shows, most of which are well worth checking out:
Do I prefer the original-era Star Wars movies and toys to the saga’s post-1997 era?
Lest I be accused of Hating All Things Modern Star Wars, however, I present here some clear evidence that in not all cases is The Force with the old-school side of things.
I met Bonnie Burton at Star Wars Celebration V last summer, found myself wowed by her craft skills and creativity, and was bowled over again by her talents on display in The Star Wars Craft Book, which I reviewed for GeekDad. (Spoiler alert: It’s good. If you’re a Star Wars parent, go order it.)
And while I was making my Admiral Sackbar puppet, I thought more than once about the Star Wars Activity Books we had back in the late ’70s.
Consider this display of some projects from Bonnie’s book:
Now, flash back with me to a page from one of the vintage Star Wars Activity Books – helpfully provided by fellow Rebelscum.com vintage forum member Chris Anthony:
Yeah, that’s um… okay. Maybe we’re being unfair here, showing off all those fancy-type crafts. Let’s just compare, oh, say, puppets.
The aforementioned Admiral Sackbar:
and the R2-D2 puppet (?) from the vintage book:
Bonnie’s AT-AT planter:
and the old-fashioned X-Wing for which you’d run around the house pulling all the toilet paper and paper towels off the rolls, ticking mom off to no end:
And if you have a milk or juice carton around, which would you rather make:
…or a sandcrawler which requires you to apparently visit a 1950’s soda fountain to find axles?
Here’s the thing: I actually owned a couple of those activity books, and seeing these pages still stirs that nostalgia.
But this time – this time -
Ever since getting back from Orlando, I’ve been going through those weird waves where Star Wars Celebration seems at once a distant memory and something that’s close enough that if I turned around quickly, I’d still see armored stormtroopers and kids carrying lightsabers and R2 units rolling down the hallway.
These are a few of my favorite leftover memories from the weekend. Once more, then, into hyperspace:
(Incidentally, all the photos in this post come from the perpetually-fantastic Jim Carchidi.)
For starters, here’s a funny picture of me and Jon Stewart:
You know why it’s funny? Because this happened when I was meeting Tony Pacitti, and I had just knelt down so I could sign him a copy of Collect All 21! when I heard Jim trying to get my attention: “John – um, JOHN.” I finished signing and stood back up – and that’s when Jim showed me that picture, which he had taken over my head as Jon Stewart walked right past me.
Bonnie Burton’s Dark Side commitment to R2-D2 was fun for several reasons (Jim and I both show up briefly a couple times in the StarWars.com video), not the least of which is I found myself standing next to Adrianne Curry right before the ceremony and got a picture with her afterward.
Also got to chat with Elvis Trooper while he was in full uniform – Kelsey & I had bumped into him on Thursday, while he was just in street clothes – and caught up with Bonnie for what would sadly be the last time that weekend.
Great stuff from the art show area over the weekend:
After Jim showed me the Katie Cook piece he’d bought for Kelsey, I had to go and get something for Jenn, so I requested this Star Wars/LOLCat-inspired piece:
I also bought her a copy of Katie’s totally-not-for-kids-but-utterly-hilarious-to-cat-owners book.
Made sure to catch up with Joe Corroney, who’s said nice things about my book and designed the OSWCC C5 badges –
Jim and I also crossed paths and hung out with Scott D.M. Simmons a couple times, meeting up at the collectors’ social on Friday and then wandering the exhibit hall on Sunday.
On Saturday, I met multi-talented and all-around-swell Orlando Sentinel online guru Tanya Hanson face-to-face for the first time. She’s the one who engineered the web coverage Jim and I provided for Celebration III in Indianapolis five years ago, and it was great to finally be able to thank her for that assignment in person. Since Jim was spending much of the day shooting the 501st and the Slave Leia group photos, Tanya and I hung out and attended the weekend’s second Robot Chicken Empire presentation. It was a blast and absolutely worth the hour and 20 minutes we waited in line, which we spent talking about cats and Tron Legacy and video games and assorted nerditry.
After that came an unexpected surprise: When Robot Chicken let out, I got a text from Jim saying he was in line for the Gary Kurtz solo panel just 20 minutes from starting – and it wasn’t too crowded.
Gary Kurtz‘ attendance at this Celebration had me whooping as soon as it was announced. The guy’s influence as a producer in shaping the first two (and, to my mind, the best two) Star Wars movies in the saga is legendary, but since leaving that galaxy behind after differences with George Lucas during and post-Empire, Kurtz has rarely looked back and, as far as I know, had never attended any conventions to talk about his involvement in the series. Given that a big part of Celebration V was marking the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, for all we knew, this could be the only time he’d be doing so.
I was absolutely astounded, then, to find that even when Jim moved further back in line upon my arrival (because I didn’t want to be that guy), we still easily made it into probably the first 10 or 15 rows of the auditorium, and even once everyone was in, there were still plenty of open seats. And this was Gary on his own, during his final presentation of the weekend, not sharing the stage with anyone but presenter Pablo Hidalgo. I’m still a little surprised, almost two weeks after the fact.
And it was an awfully neat talk. He may not have been as blunt on a few points as he was in this L.A. Times interview published the day Celebration V kicked off, but Kurtz made no secret of his feelings on Lucas’ changes to the original, more bittersweet Return of the Jedi ending – Han dead; Leia crowned “queen” and working to rebuild the crumbled republic; Luke riding off into the (double?) sunset as the tragic hero. Another interesting note: If my memory is correct, Kurtz – who did some second-unit directing in Empire – said that it’s his hands which are seen wielding the lightsaber in the close-up during the famous Tauntaun belly-slitting scene.
He also talked a fair bit about working on The Dark Crystal, which was an unexpected treat.
One of my favorite things about the whole weekend, though, came in the closing hours of Sunday afternoon. With no panels or presentations on our schedule, Jim and I leisurely took in the whole of the convention again, strolling through all the areas and the exhibition hall, meeting up with Scott and Adam again, shooting ourselves in the giant action figure card, stopping to play with toys at the Hasbro booth, exploring the fan-made Hoth diorama. Just generally trying to soak it all in and stave off the disbelief that it was all coming to an end.
After I filed my final GeekDad post, we decided to visit the Ralph McQuarrie exhibit one more time – a fitting return, it seemed, to the first room we’d visited on Thursday morning to start the convention.
So we’re in there, and who do we see taking in the paintings and sketches but ILM modelmakers Lorne Peterson and Jon Berg – whom we’d just seen give a panel on model-building and Empire three days prior – each kind of separately just slowly walking and looking over the works. Now, I probably wouldn’t have approached either one – we’d just said ‘hi’ to Lorne the other day, and I didn’t want to bother Jon – but during a moment when Jon was walking around the end of an aisle, and not looking at anything, Jim took the opportunity to go introduce himself and thank Jon for his work and for attending the convention and letting us all sort of see a bit of our favorite saga through his eyes. (Or something like that, I bet. I was a little busy thinking, “Hey – Jim’s over there talking to Jon Berg!“)
So of course, I go over and extend a hand, which Jon accepts as Jim introduces me, and I say, “I’m sure this is probably similar to what you’ve heard already, but you know, your work was responsible for helping shape a very good part of my childhood, and I wanted to say thanks for that.”
And he looks at me and says something like, “You know, I don’t have kids of my own, so thank you,” and he puts a hand on my shoulder, and the other on Jim’s shoulder and says, “My boys,” as he pulls us into a fatherly sort of hug. It is a very brief but honest moment, and there is nothing like learning as a creator that you have managed to make something that lasted and mattered to someone else, and as a fan, I’m glad to take the chance to tell artists and writers when they have done so.
It was just about the perfect way to close the weekend. Yeah, Jim and I walked around a little bit more, and the crowd at the convention center got smaller and smaller, and the merchandise store felt kind of empty and echoing, but we were already starting that mental shift back to “real life.”
We headed toward the exit, and I took one more picture, looking back at the main entrance hall. We stopped at the McDonald’s right down the road for a long-overdue lunch, and though there were plenty of con-goers there in their Star Wars T-shirts, still wearing convention badges and lanyards, it was a different atmosphere than it had been just a couple days earlier, in the midst of the Celebration.
Still, for four days, it sure felt like if there was a bright center to the universe, we were there.
So, this was my first Star Wars Celebration in five years, and my daughter’s first ever, as well as her first really humongous-scale convention, and we just had a spectacularly awesome day.
Kelsey and Jim and I arrived shortly after 10 a.m., and once inside the Orange County Convention Center, we made a beeline for an exhibit of Ralph McQuarrie original art, a good portion of which had only recently been rediscovered, and some of which hadn’t been viewed in decades. Seriously neat stuff, from the most bare-bones concept sketches to fully-realized designs that were just never used, like this one:
Then we visited the 501st costuming room –
– and the TK Helmet Project display:
…and then the R2-D2 Builders’ room (about which I wrote at GeekDad):
Jim went off to a photo shoot while Kelsey and I went with Adam & family to visit the exhibitors’ hall and take part in the construction of a giant Lego mural.
Off, then, to a Bonnie Burton talk about Star Wars crafts, after which we met Bonnie face-to-face and she presented Kelsey with a signed copy of her Girls Against Girls book, which was an awfully generous and most-appreciated gesture. (Yeah, Bonnie kind of rocks.)
We hit the showroom floor again for a longer stretch, and then took in a panel about model-building and The Empire Strikes Back presented by Lorne Peterson and Jon Berg – Jim rolled for initiative and caught Lorne’s attention afterward, so we talked for a moment and planned to meet up again over the next few days.
After that, Kelsey and I relaxed for a good long while over a Dr. Pepper and some french fries, and I talked to people I knew as they passed by.
Just before the main hall closed for the day, she and Jim and I popped in to take our turns posing in the giant Boba Fett action figure package.
We spent our last half-hour or so of the day hanging out at a collectors’ social, talking to friends, then called it a day and grabbed pizza on the way back to Jim’s.
Other super highlights: Jim surprising Kelsey with an original Katie Cook sketch of a Yellow Submarine; finally getting to chat with Steve Sansweet and having him sign my beat-up copy of his Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible, which played a hugely inspirational role in reinvigorating my love for the saga in the early ’90s (my Dark Times), and also giving him a copy of Collect All 21, which he asked me to sign; watching my daughter emerge from changing into her brand-new TARDIS-emblazoned Doctor Who shirt.
This was Kelsey’s only day here, and while she was exhausted at its close, she also had an awesome time, and no matter what else, that alone means I did, too.
Here’s a nice wrap-up to what’s been a super-busy and ultra-Star Wars-related week: I received a very kind email this morning from an attendee at last month’s Pittsburgh Comicon who had taken home the copy of Collect All 21 which I gave away at the end of my presentation.
The note mentioned, in part, the “Dark Times” chapter of the book, which deals with my early 20s and a couple particularly rough years during which my Dad passed away and I alienated just about everybody who mattered to me. This chapter was difficult to write, not just because of the subject matter, but from the standpoint of striking the right tone to fit with the rest of the book without losing the weight and impact of those years. (I really owe my editor Adam for helping me find that balance.)
No other single section of the book has gotten me as much feedback as this chapter, and that means a lot, because it means I succeeded at least a little bit in getting across the idea that Collect All 21 is about more than just Star Wars as a movie series or toy line.
This note came on the heels of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back – clearly, the saga’s own darkest-of-dark times, and a movie that’s about way more than spaceships and robots. Thirty years ago this week, my favorite Star Wars era began, and I celebrated the hell out of it: Over at GeekDad, I compiled a list of “Thirty Reasons the Empire Still Rules”; I contributed “A Saga’s Golden Age” to CNN’s iReport and added a couple photo sets; and then Henry Hanks interviewed me for his CNN report on Empire‘s lasting impact.
I also really liked Marc Bernardin’s take on ESB over at i09, and Bonnie Burton’s StarWars.com collection of memories which includes this quote from Sean Lennon: “The scene where Yoda describes the Force to Luke is the closest thing I can remember to a religious experience in my childhood.”
These last few weeks have felt almost overwhelmingly busy at times, but I feel like I managed to get a lot of things done and take some important steps forward, and getting that note this morning just helped pull into focus a sense of optimism and energy and excitement for what lies ahead.
I have a post up at GeekDad this morning about the Solar Stormwatch project, and it took me back to the very first guest post I did for the site almost a year ago, “So, How Many Galaxies Have You Classified This Week?”
When that post went up last April 4, Jenn and Kelsey and I were in Florida, staying with our good friend Jim. It had been about two weeks since I’d lost my job as a news reporter and blogger, and though I was working hard to make contacts and get freelance assignments, things were off to a slow start.
Having been a fan of GeekDad since Wired launched the site, I sent a note to editor Ken Denmead, who suggested I write something up. Since I had just found Galaxy Zoo a few days earlier, I made it my topic.
I remember sitting at Jim’s living room table using the laptop on a quiet morning – I don’t recall if Ken sent me a “Hey, your post is up” email or if I was just obsessively checking GeekDad to see if they’d used it – and there it was.
Quite the encouraging spark: It was the first time post-layoff that I saw my name attached to a piece published outside my former workplace, and it was on Wired. GeekDad accepted another guest post later that month, and I came on board as a full-fledged contributor in May, just in time for Penguicon 7.0.
It’s been a year of learning and building and often struggling with this stay-at-home writing career, and though GeekDad has played a small role financially, it has meant an awful lot to me: Though I’m not the most prolific writer there, I have a ridiculous amount of fun writing for GeekDad, and the group of contributors I have come to know online over the past year is just an amazing, enthusiastic, supportive bunch.
I’ve gotten to talk with people like Bonnie Burton and Jim C. Hines and Tim Kehoe and I mean, holy crap, this month I’m going to be on a PAX East GeekDad Panel, which aside from being awesome in itself, means I get to finally meet and thank a few of my fellow GeekDads in person.
They are a solar storm of fantastic.
Not long after my change in employment earlier this year, I got in touch with GeekDad editor Ken Denmead, who generously ran a couple guest posts I wrote in April and later included me on a very cool invite list, bringing me on board as a full-fledged contributor to the site. I’m incredibly thankful, because a) It’s GeekDad, and How Freaking Awesome; b) I’ve gotten to write pieces I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to, which inspired some writing I’m proud of.
It has been tremendously neat playing a small role in the site and watching it grow, and one of my resolutions for 2010 is to write more for GeekDad than I did in 2009.
That said, I had a TON of fun with this year’s entries, and while I truly enjoyed many of my shorter blog entries, there are exactly 10 longer GeekDad pieces about which I was most excited and got the most enjoyment out of writing, so Yay for a Ready-Made End-of-Year List! (Cop out: I’m presenting them in chronological order because it’s easiest.)
1) May 6 – Hands-on and Close-up Fun: Penguicon 7.0 . That weekend in May was absolutely one of the highlights of the year, and even the decade, for me. (I did a longer, more personal and detailed post here.)
2) May 21 - Girls Against Girls – Figuring It Out With Bonnie Burton – It’s incredibly difficult to accurately describe how enjoyable this interview was, and the book’s lessons have come in handy more than once in my daughter’s middle school years.
4) June 18 - Review: Swim Ways’ R/C Cyber Ray – Well, we got to play with a nifty toy that was only fun for a little while, but I like the way the review turned out, and who knows, maybe Swim Ways has ironed out the wrinkles by now.
5) June 27 – Nature at Its Closest – With several inches of snow outside needing shoveled, summer seems a long way off. But remembering the clutches of baby robins we got to watch hatch and grow on our front porch does warm the heart. (awwww!)
6) July 9 – 10 Things Parents Should Know About Warehouse 13 – It was a good excuse to stay in and watch some SyFy channel with Kelsey, but the truth is, though we though the premiere was OK, we never watched another episode.
7) July 26 – Bubbles, Zubbles, Toys and Troubles – Although at its heart this is another toy review, I had a blast talking to inventor Tim Kehoe about his 15-year journey from the idea for colored bubbles to the final production this summer.
8) Aug. 13 - Activision’s Science Papa Will Remind You Of Mama’s Cooking – Reviewing video games means PLAYING video games, so it’s not like I was going out of my way or anything. Plus I got to write this: “To draw a 1980s toy parallel, it’s Mighty Men & Monster Maker vs. Fashion Plates all over again.”
9) Sept. 21 – 10 Things Parents Should Know About Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs – Kelsey and I had gone to see this just for fun, and I was so surprised that I liked it so much that I jumped at the chance to do the GeekDad write-up.
10) October 6 – Princesses and Mermaids: Who Needs Rescuing Again? – We were introduced to Jim C. Hines and his books at Penguicon, marking yet another reason the trip to Romulus was so memorable.
To circle back to the end of the first paragraph: c) It’s GeekDad, and How Freaking Awesome. Gobs and piles of thanks to Ken, Matt Blum and my fellow contributors and the Wired editors and everyone else I don’t know who makes GeekDad work.
So, Bonnie Burton shares this Village Voice look at a December 1980 issue of Fantastic Films which not only includes the ever-present-for-the-era speculation about how the old Star Wars trilogy will wrap up but an article on “Thundarr the Barbarian.”
This makes me think of the November 1980 issue I have of Warren Presents: Empire Encounters Comix which offers the promise of spoilers for “Star Wars 2!” Stuff like Boba Fett leading stormtroopers, a Rebel assault on “Vader’s stronghold and Han Solo and Chewbacca prisoners of the Empire. Editorially, the magazine covers its tail: You’ll notice this publication is something like six months after The Empire Strikes Back came out, so this goofy article opens with a breathless “Whew! Aren’t we glad we didn’t publish these silly notions!” air.
Lots of great ads, too, particularly the full-pager for the Battlestar Galactica-inspired New Warriors Battle Jacket (“For Exciting Adventures from the Disco to the Outer Limits of Space!”)
I scanned and blogged about this issue last year when I was still on TypePad but discovered this morning that for unknown reasons, that particular entry has not made the trip over to WordPress.
On the one hand, this is an irritant. On the other, its an excuse to share it again. So here’s the whole set of Star Wars-related pages over at Flickr, articles and all.
Last week, over at GeekDad, I reviewed Bonnie Burton’s book Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change. You should definitely click here to read the post – I’m not going to cover much of the same ground here, but I thought it was good and practical and insightful. And my daughter’s been very possessive of it since I brought it home from the library.
Kelsey’s just wrapping up sixth grade – which has included its share of age-appropriate social drama – so Bonnie’s book came along at a good time for us. (And honestly, how impressive is it that someone who grew up in the 1980s like me can manage to write a book that somehow connects with both me and my daughter?)
And Bonnie – who writes and edits Lucasfilm’s StarWars.com and has done a ton of other writing you can find through her Grrl.com site – was a ridiculously fun interview: We talked my office phone’s battery to death, for starters, and for my money, anytime you can look back at a conversation’s topic checklist and check off Duran Duran Trapper Keepers, Nine Inch Nails and Peter Murphy, Fringe, junior high angst, Star Wars, and Ranger Rick magazine, well, that talk is a keeper.
Also, she recently Tweeted that for instant pop culture taste improvement, “Journey is the bacon of music.” And how can you not get behind that?