Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Six years, six posts, and a random crayon story.

I wrote my first blog post – and came up with the name Cornfield Meet – six years ago today.

The six most-visited posts since then, in ascending order:

#6 A Dollar Well Spent – 6/15/11 – Hardly surprising, I suppose: I mean, a 1970s science fiction fan magazine with a Forbidden Planet / 2001 / Star Wars mash-up poster? Come on.

#5 The Rebellious Robot at 30 – 9/10/09 – A rework of an interview-based piece I originally wrote folliwing a 2004 conversation with one-time Star Wars illustrator Mark Corcoran. Incredibly nice guy, and still super-talented.

#4 My Concerns with Ohio’s New Passenger Rail – 1/31/10 – The issue itself has been dead for awhile, but this one seemed to attract searches for a map of Ohio’s population density. Weird.

#3 “Smoke up, Johnny!” – Things I Love So Far About “Community” – 9/23/09 – No question, this one drew searches for the origin of that particular quote. And the show has only gotten better.

#2 Remembering Ralph McQuarrie – 1929-2012 – 3/4/12 – The most recent post on this list, my tribute to the late Star Wars concept artist was the beneficiary of some serious signal boostage from both Bonnie Burton and the official Star Wars Twitter feed.

And in the top spot,

#1 John Hughes and “The Breakfast Club” – Forever Quotable – 8/6/09 – And there’s a sizable gap between this one and second place. True, this one’s been on the site for three years, where the McQuarrie piece isn’t even a month old, but I love the fact that this essay/research project/weird obsession still sits here quietly pulling in people looking for the source of a quote they’re sure they know from somewhere, or wondering what song Bender air guitars in the library, or what the heck he says in that line which begins, “So, Ahab…”

I should note that this ranking reflects only the visits since I moved the site over to WordPress in early 2009. (The posts from 2006-2009 made the move, of course, although their traffic stats did not.) Still, looking at which posts have attracted the most traffic and why, it’s highly unlikely that anything from the first three years would have cracked this list.

At any rate, this blog is now as old as I was when I learned that trick of snapping crayons in two over my middle finger, as a direct result of which my school “art box” was suddenly filled with half-length Crayolas.

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March 27, 2012 Posted by | geek, Ohio, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering Ralph McQuarrie: 1929-2012

I wish I had gotten to meet Ralph McQuarrie to thank him in person.

As a little kid who hungered for all things Star Wars from my first viewing of the movie, learning about McQuarrie and seeing his visions of George Lucas’ universe were a way to see even more of its unexplored corners, and to get a glimpse into its creation and evolution.

McQuarrie’s works took me places – and still do, in ways that I couldn’t have imagined as a kid: While they still provide those windows to a galaxy far, far away, they’re also lightspeed trips back in time, thanks to powerful memory associations.

One of my favorite Star Wars-era McQuarrie paintings is from The Star Wars Portfolio, which my friend Mike had. It was also reproduced on a set of German Star Wars cards:

Two other McQuarrie favorites come from The Empire Strikes Back:
His matte work on the Millennium Falcon at Cloud City landing platform still has the power to touch the part of my brain that holds the 8- or 9-year-old me who was eagerly awaiting the second Star Wars movie.

And at least once or twice every winter, there’s an afternoon where the sun and clouds mix with just the right color notes to make me think of this painting from The Empire Strikes Back Portfolio:

My other favorite McQuarrie piece is one that I only learned was his when I saw it in person at the Ralph McQuarrie exhibit at Star Wars Celebration V:

Oh, man: Totally triggers the goosebumps and a mental playback of John Williams’ slow, mysterious and foreboding Lost Ark theme music. “Lightning. Fire. Power of God or something.” Indeed.

I’d thank McQuarrie for far more than his art’s impact on my own memories, though: Several of my closest friends are blessed with artistic talent, and they’ve often said over the years that seeing McQuarrie’s work as kids was a huge inspiration and motivation. In turn, I have been inspired and awed by their own creativity and passion.

Thanks for your visions, Mr. McQuarrie. I see differently because of them.

March 4, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, geek | , , , | 2 Comments

Through The Force, Things You Will See

Once upon a time, back in my eight-year-old mind’s eye, I envisioned this new denizen of the Star Wars universe:

New Star Wars alien! Or not.

Or something close to it: That’s actually my current attempt to convey the general image which formed in my head when, as a kid, I tried to make out the photographic detail in the background of a magazine article teasing us with All New Star Wars Stuff from The Empire Strikes Back. Here’s the memory from Collect All 21!

Pre-internet, back when we lived in caves and watched our sitcoms on papyrus flip-animation books, there wasn’t much in the way of movie speculation available to your average elementary-school kid. The closest thing I can think of was an issue of National Geographic’s World magazine which had a whole story on some of the special effects in the yet-to-be-released Empire. It came with this great poster of the Millennium Falcon being chased by a Star Destroyer – the familiar publicity shot with the green laser bolts ricocheting near her hull – and just a few photos in the article, but enough to get us really excited about what we were in for. Asteroids! Big metal animal-looking things! Luke and Vader going at it with lightsabers! (I kid you not – in one photo, there’s a background light or something that looks, if you’ve got a little imagination and some hyperactivity, like a ghostly figure. My friends and I wondered if old dead Obi-Wan was making a spiritual comeback of sorts. He did, of course, but not in the way we’d been thinking.)

So where did I get the idea that some Jetsons-collar-wearing lizard-guy was going to be in Empire? From a photograph that looked like a part of this one at the Ralph McQuarrie exhibit at Star Wars Celebration V:

Continuing the passage from Collect All 21:

There was also a picture of the Falcon sitting on that Cloud City landing platform just after her arrival. I think it may have actually been in the background of a photo showing one of the matte-painting artists at work or something, because the picture was small enough that I couldn’t actually tell it was the Falcon. Only later did I realize that what I’d thought was some kind of alien was actually Han and Chewie’s starship. Even when I’m watching Empire for the umpteenth time, it’s still easy to dredge up just enough of that 8-year-old me to see that landing platform as a creature with a Millennium Falcon-shaped head.

I was absolutely thrilled to see this picture on display, not only because it struck those deep childhood chords of memory, but because at long last I could point to this picture and say, “See? See?! It’s like the head … and the eyes … and this spacesuit thing, and -”

Maybe you don’t see it. Maybe I’d gnawed on one too many non-toxic indoor playsets in kindergarten.

But heck, I’d still buy an action figure of this guy.

September 13, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Star Wars Celebration V: More Memories

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:

Punch it, Chewie.

(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:

I'm down there on the floor, oblivious. (Not, perhaps, the first time that's happened.)

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.

Nice day for a >Billy Idol sneer< Sith Wedding.

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:

By Katie Cook

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 –

Yay OSWCC! (and, by extension - Yay Joe Corroney!)

– and complimented Grant Gould on his Celebration badge artwork, too. (Also loved his “Quantum of Sarlacc” postcards.)

G, that's a nice badge.

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.

Gary "Oh, man, that's GARY FREAKING KURTZ" Kurtz.

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!“)

Jon Berg during his Empire Strikes Back panel.

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.

Looking back.

August 25, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Star Wars Celebration V: Day One

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:

ESBdesign

Then we visited the 501st costuming room –

– and the TK Helmet Project display:

Jane Wiedlin's Cylon helmet

…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.

August 13, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Shiny new droids and two-wheeled TIEs

I just found the files from an old FieldsEdge page I thought I had lost for good: Several years ago, inspired by Gus Lopez’ patent images page at The Star Wars Collectors Archive, I went poking through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database for similar stuff. (You damn kids and your Google, get off my lawn.)

My three favorite finds were this Japanese toy designer’s ship (clearly a TIE Fighter with wheels instead of solar panels – it even references the TIE’s design patent):

At least it's not up on blocks.

Somewhere, Bob Falfa is insanely jealous.

Mock it all you want: No X-Wing's got a turning radius of ZERO.

… and the two original design patents filed Sept. 12, 1977 in the names of Ralph McQuarrie and Norman Reynolds. Each is labeled simply “robot.”

A mindless philosopher...

... and an overweight glob of grease.

I kind of like that Threepio’s eyes make him look like a refugee from the Island of Misfit Droids, and this is clearly the No Frills Artoo.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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