Saturday, March 19, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project: Matt A.

I was beyond excited to see this entry show up in my inbox. Matt A. - who pops up in the comments - is a friend going all the way back to the 4th grade when he and I had both just moved to Austin.  His family came in from Minnesota and my own from the Houston area. Matt was my first comic book buddy, but I'll let him tell the tale.

We lost track of each other in the maelstrom of the early 90's when I moved away, but found each other again in the past decade when we both returned to Austin.  Matt's folks, by the way, are easily some of the nicest folks you would ever meet.  They get a solid thumbs-up from me.

Matt also had a special nickname at my house.  My grandparents were from Finland, and liked Matt enough that they called him by the Finnish version of Matt, which we bastardized to "Mutty".  He's still "Mutty" to my parents.  I doubt he knows this.

The thing is:  Matt knows. He was there at the very beginning when I was making all sorts of questionable calls. To get really old school, Matt and I played the Marvel Role-Playing Game together, rented Monty Python and the Holy Grail together, and, indeed, made our first voyages to the comic shop together.

Matt: Circa 5th Grade, Freaking Out The Squares

When I was 10, my family moved down from Minnesota to Austin, Texas. I was interested in a wide variety of sports, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars, and I was just starting to get a taste of video games.

With the move, though, came new friends. Most of my interests were shared with the kids that I met in Austin. I had to transition to different sports - hockey wasn't too popular in the south at the time. But because the TV shows were shown nationally, we all had a shared interest in the toys of the time.

However, one kid I met had just started reading comic books. He showed me an X-Men comic, and I remember feeling a little strange about it. I had heard about them from my dad, who had told me that they were silly stories that kids had read when he was young. So I had this picture that comics were for kids younger than us.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Monroe Watch: River of No Return (1954)


I was actually planning to let this movie be a product of its time period and discuss the film's more problematic elements further down the post, but in looking for a copy of the movie's poster, I see I'm just going to need to deal with this movie's issues as the focus.

Back in high school I had exactly one "girly" poster up on my wall, a poster cropped from this image:

This poster was okay.  I got in trouble for a Sid Vicious poster, instead.
But it wasn't until relatively recent times that I figured out where the image originated - as a publicity still for the 1954 movie River of No Return - a sort of western musical adventure action film starring Marilyn Monroe at the height of her powers, Robert Mitchum as our swaggering male star and Rory Calhoun (the actor with the most fun name of any actor, ever) as a cad gambler in the pioneer era of the west.

Happy Birthday to My Brother

our birthday boy

To most of you, today is a day to wear green, tap into your Irish roots, get drunk on green beer and say something about St. Patrick chasing snakes out of Ireland.  And leprechauns.

In my clan, St. Patty's Day is my brother's birthday.  Today he's, like, 40-something.  I dunno.  If I figure it out, I have to figure out how old I am.

He may be sleep deprived, but he's had a good year, what with the addition of my nephew.

Here's to my brother.  A decent guy, an adequate lawyer and a terrible bass player.

Happy birthday, man.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - Gen-X Recollection Project: Peter from Denmark!

Hey, everyone!  When I sent out the call for your recollections, I didn't expect the second response to appear in my inbox to come from someone I hadn't previously met, let alone someone from the fair land of Denmark!  That's pretty exciting, in my book.  And, to today's contributor, I can only say:  Jeg vil gerne hav en kop kaffe.*

We're collecting the stories of folks born before 1982 or so who grew up on comics, sci-fi and fantasy - back when that was maybe not the coolest thing to do.  There are a lot of different stories out there that defy the stereotypes and show what life was like before the internet and social media - and we want to hear them.

If you'd like to also participate in this grand experiment, please visit the info page we've put together.

Without further ado, here's our first surprise contributor:  Peter from Copenhagen!

My name is Peter Ravn Rasmussen. I'm an historian, mainly working as a teacher. I live in Copenhagen, Denmark, with my three sons. I am divorced.

I was born in 1965, the child of two people who came from working-class families. By the time I was a small child, my father had managed (despite very little education) to rise quite high in the ranks of one of the world's largest shipping companies, so I grew up in a fairly affluent home. But my parents were not academically inclined, and they were not habitual readers. To a certain extent, this meant that I was a "cuckoo in the nest" -- because I learned to read at a very early age (just before I turned 3). My earliest reading material was Donald Duck comics and, later, Tintin. By the time I was of school age, I was already reading voraciously and at very high speed, which caused some friction with my classmates (some of whom were just beginning to read).

In 1973, my father was asked to relocate to Hong Kong, and (after conferring with us all) accepted. I learned English in short order, and this must have happened at a favourable time, for English became functionally my second native language. It was while I was in Hong Kong that my interest in science fiction and fantasy, and comics (and all the other trappings of geekery) first began to grow. I watched classic 1950s and 1960s sci-fi movies on TV, I read superhero comics, and I came across some of the first science fiction books that I can remember reading. In particular, I remember reading many of Heinlein's juveniles, including "Farmer of Ganymede" and "Tunnel in the Sky", in this period. After a few years, we relocated again, this time to Singapore -- and I continued my exposure to these interests. I watched "Star Trek" (both the original series and the animated series), and I remember buying many of the Star Trek-themed Meco 8-inch dolls (this was before the term "action figure" had become common) to play with.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

CBS's "Supergirl" Seems Markedly Better

Against my better instincts, I kept tuning in week after week to CBS's entrance into the superhero game, Supergirl.  In all honesty, I didn't think the show would last, so I figured I could stick with it for a season and call it a day.  The show would demonstrate these bits of promise, and then revert back to the disappointing formula blend it seemed the network wanted to enforce - all of which seemed out of step with what might make the show work.

None of what I think has an impact on ratings, and I don't know how large or small the actual audience is for the program.  I hear things about falling ratings, but then I'm told its been renewed, so someone has faith in it.

I was pretty hard on this show when it started.  If I can give it grief, I can say some positive things as well.  And there's been good on the show in ways I've found pleasantly surprising - especially on network TV.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - Gen-X Recollection Project: Stuart W.

This is the first in what I hope will be a long-running series wherein we collect the memories of fellow Gen-Xer's recalling their experiences with comics, science-fiction and/ or fantasy, from back when these things were far from the coolest activities one could get up to, the internet didn't really exist, and the words "nerd" and "geek" were intended to cause shame.

By the way, I haven't really come up with a name for this project yet, so if you have ideas, email me.

Our first submission is from Stuart, a frequent commenter and a fantastic guy.  Stuart and I met in person last summer at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, and in between checking out The Superman Museum and eating fried foods, we go to hang out and talk quite a bit.  Stuart is a solid guy, and as we chatted, I realized he had this kind of amazing story, so I'm glad he chose to share it with us.

I know you all have stories, too, and we're here to collect them.

Stuart is a father, husband, and I personally know about one terrific act of heroism he performed that he cannot discuss and which is totally legit.

And so, without further ado...  

Stuart sits upon the Kryptonite stone, sharing his wisdom with all who seek it out

My first memory of buying comic books is off the spinner rack at the Navy Exchange in Keflavik, Iceland. My mother was a Foreign Service Officer stationed at the embassy in Reykjavik, so I lived there when I was nine and ten years old. This was during the height of the cold war, and the famous peace summit between Reagan and Gorbachev occurred while I was there.

As a Foreign Service dependent (“brat” is the common term, but it’s not derogatory) I moved with my mother every couple of years to a new country, or occasionally to the DC Area. As soon as I made a friend or two or started feeling at home, it was about time to move. So from a pretty young age I generally felt like an outsider and avoided emotional attachments.

Foreign Service Officers and their dependents usually live in civilian housing near the embassy or consulate they're stationed to. So it’s not like living on a military base surrounded by Americans with a familiar sense of cultural identity who speak English. Generally, you shop and live and do everything in-country. When I wasn’t being homeschooled, I went to foreign schools.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dog Watch: Lassie Come Home (1943)

I had no burning desire to watch Lassie Come Home (1943) to see the gripping tale of a dog coming home.  But I was aware of the ascendency of Lassie in Hollywood via this movie, a career that would span into the 1990's before kind of fading, so far as I know.  I was also curious about the movie as it stars a young and precocious Elizabeth Taylor (that's Liz there on the right) and Roddy McDowell as a kid (our man there on the left).

The movie also features Edmund Gwenn of both Miracle on 34th Street and Them! fame and, Signal Watch favorite Elsa Lanchester of Bride of Frankenstein as Roddy McDowell's mother.

I don't know that I grew up with Lassie, but I watched reruns of an American show from the 1950's on Nickelodeon, and everyone knew Collies were "Lassie Dogs" back in the 80's.  In the 1990's I made my pre-Jamie girlfriend go see an American movie called Lassie that starred Helen Slater.

In my ever-expanding fascination with how much more frank kids' movies used to be back in the day versus now, this sweet movie about a dog and boy who love each other very much and are separated thanks to the economic forces of Depression-era Britain would probably, mostly, make it for kids today if you didn't have some coarse behavior and hobos beating up Edmund Gwenn and killing his own little dog (spoilers).

The movie was shot in color, and it's a beautiful look at the countryside of California doubling as England and Scotland.

It occurs to me that during this same window where Lassie was making a name for her/himself at the movies, Rin Tin Tin was literally being used as a training dog for GI's as part of the war effort.  Meanwhile, Lassie was providing a bit of escapism for the kids back home and in England, I suppose.  And, of course, the movie released during war time mentions that the author served with Britain in World War I and was just killed in WWII.  That's a hell of a thing, but I guess it was no secret America was at war.

I don't think kids of today could tolerate the measured pace of the movie, but you never know.  The story is largely episodic as Lassie meets folks along the way returning home, so it moves at a decent clip.  You could have worse introductions to the character.

In the 1990's I was working at a mall record store and whichever dog was the official Lassie at the time came through for a photo-op sort of thing, and I've always regretted not paying the $20 and getting my picture with that dog.  But, you know, it was a Lassie photo or eating, so I guess I made the right decision.

"I Remember When No one Knew What An Avenger Was!" Signal Watch Comics/ Sci-Fi/ Fantasy Gen-X Recollection Project - Call to Participate

Hey all!

If you've been considering participating in our Gen-X Nerd 1980's Recollection Project, we have some additional tools to do so.  (Basically, we're interested in your experience as a young nerd back when being a nerd could land you an atomic wedgie.)

We've had a pretty good response rate early on, so we started thinking a bit about possibly, maybe, one-day collecting the stories into an eBook or something. You know, for the people.

So, if you're trying to remember what we're up to - review the original post.

Y'all a diverse bunch and a better picture of what the comics/ sci-fi and fantasy scene was really like back in the day, so I'm hoping we can capture some of the pre-internet, pre-billion dollar movies world of nerddom here on these pages.

We've created some questions to get you going, but don't limit yourself to those points.  It's your story, tell it how you want to see it in digital print.

Click here for the questions.

But, I am asking that if you'd like to participate, you also make it semi-legit and make sure we're square in the future if we go the eBook route, I've got a release I'd like you to sign.  Sorry if it feels formal, but they beat it into us in film school to get those releases so we wouldn't have any confusion in the future.

If you're uncertain how all this works, I've got a couple of posts that will go up starting this week.  You'll see you're in good company.

If you'e got questions or want to participate, just email us here at The Signal Watch!