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Collect All 21! – Five Years Old Today

Five years ago today, I released the first edition of Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek into the wild.

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: 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 DowntownMegas 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 Toyswhich 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.

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July 2, 2013 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, Books, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Remembering Leigh Brackett in Kinsman, Ohio – at StarWars.com

Hey, look – I’m at StarWars.com:

StarWarsBlog2

It’s a piece I wrote about visiting Kinsman, Ohio, where Empire Strikes Back first draft screenwriter Leigh Brackett lived.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Boba flakes out.

Boba Fett paper snowflake

Click for a larger version.

 

My crafting skills are fair at best, and I haven’t folded a paper snowflake in years, but after seeing the link to Anthony Herrera’s Star Wars templates on GeekDad, I gave the Boba Fett a whirl. (Note: The Boba Fett design actually came from Matters of Grey, which inspired Anthony’s creations.)

December 15, 2011 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Return of the JediCon WV – Episode VII

You know what snuck up on me?

JediCon West Virginia VII is this Saturday! (That’s October 9, 2010, starting at 10 a.m., at the Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum.)

I really enjoyed my first trip to Wheeling for the 2009 show, so I happily accepted the invitation to share some more Collect All 21! memories this fall – and check THIS out: Former Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons – “The Man Who Shot Luke Skywalker” – is not only coming back to this year’s JediCon, he designed this amazing toy-populated Empire Strikes Back-inspired poster as a commemorative bonus:

JediCon WV VII poster by Kim Simmons.

I mean, come ON – that’ s just Too. Freaking. Cool.

Kim will be giving another retrospective on his Kenner years, and Star Wars animator Jon Seay is expected to attend with some pieces of the original Death Star to show off. Besides, how much of an excuse do you need, really, to spend a fall day hanging out with some fellow Star Wars fans in a fun and truly nostalgia-inducing atmosphere?

October 4, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Bounty Hunters: More Dave Perillo Star Wars Sweetness

Check. It. Out.

Bounty Hunters by Dave Perillo

Image: Dave Perillo

This was attached to a very cool and complimentary email about Collect All 21! this week from artist Dave Perillo, whom I met last month at the Pittsburgh Comicon. It’s a companion piece to Dave’s Mos Eisley Cantina “advertisement”, inspired in part by the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. And you can bet the next time I cross paths with the guy, I’ll be picking up a Bounty Hunters print. (Bossk’s smile is killing me!)

I can’t say enough about this style – his Twilight Zone alphabet piece for the Gallery 1988 “Another Dimension” show knocks me over, too.

May 27, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, science fiction | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Darkness and light

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.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, 1990s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Empire Strikes (Flash)backs

As part of my presentation on Saturday, I scanned some images from the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back to go with a passage from Collect All 21!, and it seems fitting enough to share them this week, along with the few relevant notes from the book:

I did come away from that first viewing, though, with the two-dollar “Marvel Super Special Magazine” comics adaptation of the movie, since there was a special counter full of Empire merchandise set up there in the theater lobby.

I read it until its cover came off and then some. I tracked down a copy within the last few years and was surprised at how the full-color pictures

took me back and reminded me of all the differences between the comic and the movie. Luke’s post-Wampa plaster face mask; the ice creatures attacking inside the Hoth base; the Jedi training on Dagobah where Luke tries to slice up a metal bar; the silhouette of Vader’s bare head that actually makes it seem like he’s got curly hair. (I’d also forgotten about the full-page black-and-white ad in the middle of the book: a scantily-clad space-warrior-princess flanked by a couple snarling Yeti-gorilla things advertising a new Marvel Masterpiece – Bizarre Adventures 2! Seeing it sparked the memory of wondering what this had to do with Star Wars.)


May 16, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

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