We're going to see a lot of these…articles speculating on whether Comic-Con International will decamp from San Diego and relocate elsewhere. I am cited as a person whose opinion — that Comic-Con will not move — is worthy of some consideration. Let me explain why I think what I think…
It's not that the folks who run Comic-Con would refuse to move if they felt the convention was being harmed by staying put. They clearly like San Diego and the set-up they have there but if they couldn't get the terms and cooperation they need, they'd migrate. I just don't think the folks in San Diego who control the convention center and the connected businesses could possibly be so f'ing stupid that they'd let this thing get away.
Estimates vary on how much loot Comic-Con brings into the local economy. Whatever it is, it's a lot. Comic-Con is by far the largest annual convention to hit the city and even if some of us are a little frugal in our dining, it's a massive cash infusion. If Comic-Con does not do wonders for businesses in San Diego, no convention does and they shouldn't have built that big convention center in the first place, let alone be frantic to expand its size.
And it isn't just a matter of how much Comic-Con itself energizes the economy there for five days each year. It's that that whole section of town is constructed to cater to conventions. That's why they built the Marriott next door and the Hyatt next door to the Marriott and the Hilton on the other side of the convention center and the other Hilton across from it, etc. It's to service and exploit those who attend whatever's in the convention center and/or at Petco Park. Petco Park alone won't do it, especially when it ain't Baseball Season.
The entire financial Raison d'être of that area began with Comic-Con. Comic-Con is what made San Diego a convention town. Before that, the whole area was bars and strip joints…and tattoo parlors in the Good Ol' Days when the only people who got them were sailors. Downtown S.D. and the area now filled with hotels and the convention center catered to sailors stationed in the area. And when that stopped being a viable industry, along came the convention industry.
Comic-Con is the keystone to that industry. If the city lost that, they wouldn't just lose what Comic-Con brings in. They'd jeopardize their entire rep and momentum as a town that attracts other conventions. So I don't think the city will ever be dumb enough not to give Comic-Con the terms and support it requires.
Ah, but might Comic-Con move in order to get bigger? To expand beyond the capacity of that building in San Diego? I don't think so. For one thing, even a larger convention center might not serve Comic-Con's needs because it wouldn't have the outside support. The Los Angeles Convention Center has more square footage…but it doesn't have all those hotels and restaurants within easy walking distance. It's also a terrible, terrible convention center with a confusing, sprawling layout and awful parking and too many other crowd magnets within a block or two. For reasons I've stated here before, I don't think Las Vegas or Anaheim would work, either. Those are the alternatives.
I could be wrong about the city driving Comic-Con away. San Diego has not always had the sanest governing bodies — Google "Bob Filner" for but one example — but they'd have to be quite mad to lose one of the best things that ever happened to that city. And the only way I see Comic-Con getting bigger is to expand into more of the surrounding city, which is not really an option in L.A., Vegas or Anaheim.
I think…I hope we'll be there for a long, long time. One of these days, I'll write a long post about how my feelings about Comic-Con are changing; how some aspects of it no longer thrill me as they once did and I've found others to take their place. But that'll be a post about me, not the convention. The convention as it is works just fine, right where it is. I don't want to see them screw with it by trying to move it to another city. (Then again, WonderCon did survive the relocation from San Francisco to Anaheim, so…)
Fred Kaplan on why he believes Obama should not bomb Isis in Syria. I don't get that anyone really knows exactly what to do with Syria or even what we want the place to be like when we're done with it. All I know is that the people crying loudest for us to bomb there are the people who are always yelling for us to bomb everywhere. And if we'd gotten President John McCain, they probably would have gotten their wish.
That's Jack Kirby, dancing with his beloved Roz at a surprise birthday party some of us threw for him in 1987 when he turned 70. He was born in the not-so-affluent part of New York on August 28, 1917 so he could have been 97 today.
I have written thousands of pages and articles about Jack and somehow, it never seems to be enough. There are people out there who think he was just a great comic book artist and the co-creator of some of the world's most popular fictional characters. That would have been enough to warrant all the honors and accolades he achieved in his life…and the recognition of him has only grown since we lost him in 1994.
But Jack was more than that and it's tough to put it into words. I used to use "visionary" until it came to be applied to everyone who ever thought of anything. "Genius" isn't bad but Jack's uncanny ability to understand and prophesize didn't span the galaxy like so many of his stories. His mind raced about from topic to topic, leapfrogging over some to land in the darnedest places. He would start talking about the future and take you there via a load of yesterdays and even a couple of todays. If he sounded disconnected, it was partially your fault for being unable to bridge the gaps as he vaulted from one thought to another.
He knew he was the best in his field but somehow, he was amazingly humble about it. When one of his comics or stories met with disapproval somewhere, he wasn't bothered. He just said, "You watch. One of these days, most people will come to appreciate it." And more often than not, that's exactly what happened. It's why his work — even work which at the time was deemed a flop — is constantly reprinted, much of it in very fancy volumes.
I loved the sheer, non-monetary value of being around him. There was so much to learn and somehow, when you talked with Jack, you came away feeling more talented and energized. That was because he treated you as an equal so some of the sheer imagination within him was absorbed by osmosis. You didn't have to actually meet Jack to be inspired by him — you could do that by reading darned near anything he worked on. But meeting him sure helped. It reminded you that human beings could do things like he did and that he thought you were fit to breathe the same air.
Happy Birthday, Jack. It's hard to miss you when there's so much of you surrounding us. But miss you, we do…
While Jon Oliver's on vacation, they've been releasing little "web-only" videos — like this one, for instance…
The news that Mitt Romney may run again reminds me of joke that Mort Sahl (I think it was) told in 1961. It went like this: "Looking ahead to 1964, the Republicans are thinking of running Richard Nixon again so they won't have to break in a new loser."
I agree with what Jon Stewart said last night. At times, I don't think Fox News is the right-wing channel so much as it is the haven for white people who think the whole world's supposed to go their way on every issue. The whining and outrage about folks wanting to acknowledge that there are other holidays adjacent to December 25 is a dead giveaway.
I recently read Behind the Curtain: An Insider's View of Jay Leno's Tonight Show by Dave Berg, who is no relation to the guy in MAD who used to do "The Lighter Side of Staple Removers" and other controversial articles. This Mr. Berg worked on the show for years and since he had a political background, was very much involved in the booking of politicians who came on. I found the book pleasant but not particularly packed with revelations.
Berg is a big fan of Leno (as am I) and he doesn't dig any real dirt because, and this corresponds to what I've always heard, there wasn't much. A few guests' misbehavior is about the extent of the scandals. He does go through the whole Jay/Conan mess and his version matches my understanding: NBC made a series of bad decisions and Jay unfairly wound up looking like the Bad Guy. If you're interested in reading that and the rest of the book, you can order one here.
Lastly: Posting, I know, has been light here lately. I have a few longish pieces in the works so it will all average out.
For years, we've been hearing that the convention center in San Diego would be undergoing a major expansion to the tune of $520 million. That was one — though hardly the only — reason it seemed unlikely Comic-Con International would soon move to another city.
Well, the expansion plans are off. Whether there's a chance of it coming back or a downsized expansion plan taking its place, I have no idea. But I do have an idea what it means for the future of Comic-Con in San Diego: Nothing. I still don't see it moving.
Not that we don't love blogging for you but we have a ton o' stuff to do today. Also, I have a lot of these fancy soup can graphics to use up here. So I won't be posting a lot here today, though even this is more than some bloggers do for you.
I was awakened this morn by a call from another contractor's representative who told me I was on the Preferred Homeowners list but wouldn't tell me who sells this list or where they got their copy. I told him this homeowner prefers not to get these calls. Interestingly, he told me — I dunno how true this is — that he calls everyone on the hunk of the list assigned to them except those who are marked "in bid," meaning a contractor who subscribes to the list is trying to close a deal with the homeowner. This, presumably, is to prevent one of them from underbidding another.
I thought these calls came from various firms that just bought the list and then it was every man for himself…but apparently, there's some tracking and constant updating of prospects. I think I'll try telling the next few that I no longer own the house. I've moved into a condo that has a maintenance contract with some company so I'm no longer in a position to hire contractors. Wonder if that'll get me off this list. I'm willing to sacrifice the pride I get from being a Preferred Homeowner to make the calls stop.
See you later…maybe.
I can't take the Emmys (or any awards show not hosted by Neil Patrick Harris) in its entirety but I watched pieces. Robin Williams was, of course, deserving of that special tribute…but didn't Sid Caesar and James Garner warrant more than a few seconds of screen time? I have the feeling one or both of them gave us a lot of hours of beloved television programming.
I wish they wouldn't do those teasers like "6 minutes to Ricky Gervais." It's like they're saying, "Yeah, we know this is boring but hang in there because someone interesting lies ahead."
I was on the Disney lot this afternoon for the first time in a while. It's fascinating how much some of that lot has changed and how little some of it has. The Animation Building — apart from now being full of producers instead of animators and sporting "no smoking" signs — is very much what it was when Walt roamed its halls.
I continue to get one or two unsolicited, unwanted calls per day from contractors or other businesses that want me to pay them to do things to my home. They fall into two categories…
- The ones who introduce themselves honestly, ask if I need any work done on my house and then go away when I tell them I don't.
- Those who lead with a lie. Sometimes, it's that they're working on my block and an unnamed neighbor told them I need some work done. Other times, they claim to have spoken with me months ago and I told them I'd be ready about now to discuss some work and they should call back.
I deal with those in the second group via cross-examination. Who is this alleged neighbor? Can I call them and see how happy they were with the work done? For some reason, they have a policy of not divulging the identity of customers who might tell me what a swell job they did. Or if they claim I asked them to call, I tell them they're lying. Sometimes, they'll say, "Yeah, I'm sorry. That's what they tell us to say."
The calls in the first group get asked where they got my phone number. They refuse to tell me and when they do, I say, "I'm sorry…I can't deal with a business that won't answer a simple question like that."
This is a close re-creation of a call from a lady this afternoon…
ME: Could you tell me where you got my number?
CALLER: You're on the Preferred Homeowner list.
ME: I see. Could you tell me where you got this Preferred Homeowner list?
CALLER: Oh, you know. It's the Preferred Homeowner list.
ME: And what did this homeowner do to warrant his inclusion on the Preferred Homeowner list?
CALLER: You'd have to ask them.
ME: I'll do that. Could you tell me how to contact the people who compile the Preferred Homeowner list?
CALLER: Oh, come on. It's the Preferred Homeowner list. You should just be proud that you're on it.
ME: I am. I'd like to call and thank them. Do they have their phone number on the Preferred Homeowner list?
CALLER: It's just a computer program. The only numbers on it are the ones I call.
ME: Are any of my neighbors on it? I was thinking we could get together…maybe start a little club…
CALLER: We're not supposed to give out that information.
ME: Oh well, maybe I could get my own copy of it. I'd like to frame it and show everyone I'm a Preferred Homeowner. Where did you get your copy?
CALLER: The company I work for gave it to me. Listen, if you don't need any work done on your house, I don't have time for this.
ME: Oh, I'm sorry. This isn't going to cost me my spot on the list, is it?
And that's when I heard the click. You know, these calls can be a real pain in the ass if you don't learn how to enjoy them.
In December of 2012, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra moved its base of operations to Brisbane's South Park. It seemed to be the proper occasion for an outdoor, surprise performance. Thanks to Walt Patterson for suggesting this as being linkworthy…
James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales are about to release a new edition of their oral history of Saturday Night Live. I can't give you a link to advance order it from Amazon because it's a Hachette book.
There have been times in my life when I've felt like I grew up in one of about ten American families that were not the least bit dysfunctional. I would go to friends' houses and everyone would be screaming at one another. There was very little screaming in our house and it never lasted long. More often than not, it would be immediately followed by apologies and offsetting affection.
Part of that, I'm sure, was because of my fortuitous lack of siblings. Most of it was due to the kind of people my parents were. In our household, no one ever got drunk. No one ever got into legal or financial trouble. In most of these essays, I'm telling you about the problems because, you know, there's no interesting story when the airliner lands safely; only when it crashes. I'm running out of memories of where there was trouble in my childhood because there just plain wasn't very much.
The biggest family trauma probably occurred when I was in my early twenties and decided it was time to move out and get my own apartment — a decision I probably should have made two or three years earlier than I did. My father did not want me to do that. When I mentioned the possibility, he scrunched his face, looked sad and said, "Oh, why would you want to do that?"
I couldn't tell him it was because women didn't like to sleep with a guy at his parents' house with Mom and Dad in the next room. Instead, I told him — and this was true — that I needed a lot more room for my comic book collection and my profession required a lot more workspace, especially now that I was writing with a partner. Once or twice, my father put forth a suggestion that he probably knew would never fly: I should rent an office nearby, work there during the day and then sleep at home. That, obviously, would not have solved the part of the first problem, the one I couldn't mention to him.
When the day finally came that I rented an actual apartment — one that was a good 15-minute drive away — he was very upset and we had some father/son melodramatics. But he accepted it and I moved out.
I had another reason for moving out though I didn't know it at the time.
My nose had never worked well…for breathing purposes, I mean. I could barely take in air through my left nostril and not at all through my right. When I was a small child, my pediatrician had said, "Well, maybe that will fix itself as he gets older. If it doesn't, you may have to look into surgery."
As I got older, it didn't fix itself. If anything, it got a little worse. But since I was breathing fine through my mouth, I didn't look into surgery or any other treatment. Actually, about the time I reached sixteen, I hit a prolonged spell of Good Health and didn't even have a regular doctor to call until I was well past 40.
One evening about six months after I got my own apartment, I was out on a date with a lady named Teri. We'd been to a movie in Santa Monica and were sitting in Zucky's Delicatessen on Wilshire eating Knackwursts when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the aroma of the one before me. I could really smell it. I could smell the mustard and the pickles and potato salad as if they were right under my nose instead of a foot or two away on the table. I began gasping and taking deep breaths and holding my hand under my nose to feel whatever air was rushing in and out.
Teri thought for a moment I was having some sort of attack and asked, "Mark, what's wrong?"
I couldn't quite believe it but I began to say to her, "I may be wrong…it seems impossible…" I felt like I was in a scene in a comic book and my next line would be, "…but I seem to have developed super-powers!"
Instead, what I said was, "…but I think my left nostril just opened up all the way!" A few days later, I noticed for the first time ever, a slight flow of air in my right one.
Since I didn't have a doctor, I called my dentist. He referred me to a respiratory specialist in his building who wandered around in my nose for about ten minutes, then said, "Everything seems pretty normal. Have you changed your diet lately? Anything you've stopped eating?"
I said no but I told him about moving out of my parents' house. He said, "Do either of them smoke?"
"My mother does," I replied. "Incessantly."
He said, "Well, there you are" and then did a test or two which confirmed it. Being around the smoke all those years had impaired my ability to breathe through my nose. Being away from it for six months had allowed things to partially heal.
Don't let anyone ever tell you that Second-Hand Smoke is not harmful. And when you think about it, how could breathing non-pure air not be bad for you in some way?
Sitting in that specialist's office, I remembered something. I hadn't been back to the house I grew up in for several months. My father came to my apartment to visit once a week and slightly less often, I'd meet him and my mother at a restaurant for dinner. But it had been a while since I'd been to their home and the last time I was there, the smell of cigarette smoke was uncommonly overpowering. It was most unpleasant and while I hadn't said anything, I also hadn't stayed long.
That evening, I went over there to see them. I walked in and could barely breathe. My mother, who had her 20th or 25th Marlboro of the day going didn't smell it, of course. My father didn't, either. He'd built up a tolerance or immunity to the smell (though probably not its harmful effects) as I'd once had. But mine had worn off and I could not stand to be in the house. I opened a window and stood near it as I explained what had happened. Eventually, even that got to me and I had to get out.
My mother was quite upset. She had smoked since she was 14, working her way up to somewhere between 1.5 and two packs per day. Various habit-kickers had been tried — special chewing gums and cigarette substitutes, most of which had the syllable "nic" in their names. They failed so totally that she accepted her addiction as unfixable and gave up even trying. When someone said to her, "It's going to take years off your life," she just replied, "Well, then I just won't live as long."
Other times, she'd say something like, "If it came down to living forty more years with cigarettes or fifty without, I'd pick the forty. The fifty without would be so horrible and agonizing, I wouldn't want to live."
What no one said to her — and it wouldn't have done any good if someone had — was, "The smoking might not just kill you. It might mean that the last two decades of your life before it did, you'd be going blind, you'd lose your ability to walk and you'd spend an awful lot of time being carted off to hospitals in ambulances."
After that evening when I had to leave though, she decided she had to do something. She couldn't keep fouling the air such that her son couldn't stand to visit. She was also concerned about what it was doing to her husband, a man she loved as much as any woman ever loved a man. Within days, two changes were initiated.
My old room was still sitting empty. My father half-joked with a hopeful subtext, "It's waiting for you if you decide you want to move back." What they did after I explained about my nostrils opening and the smell driving me away was to convert it into a den for my mother. The walls were repainted and decorated appropriately. Then they brought in furniture to go with my old TV set which I'd left behind and fans were installed to circulate air in and out the two windows. Henceforth, my mother would smoke only in there.
Then she tried to see how much she could cut down.
A few months earlier, I'd suggested something I'd read about. We totaled up how many cigarettes she was smoking a day. It was around 38. "Why don't you try just cutting down by one every few days? Try getting by on 37. Three days from now, try just smoking 36 and so on." She'd convinced herself she could never quit altogether and somehow that became a reason to not even try to smoke less.
Now, she got a calendar and marked it off to cut back by one each week. To her considerable amazement, she got down to 25 without too much torture. After that, it got rougher and it sometimes took several weeks to lower the daily allotment by one more cigarette. After a year or two though, she got down to 16 a day.
From there on, she concentrated on not smoking them completely. When I'd come over — and by this point, I could — she'd point to an ash tray full of partially-smoked cigarettes. She had a ruler and a little diagram and she'd show me: "See? I used to smoke them down to here and now I only smoke them down to here." It was about half the length.
"I'm lighting sixteen a day," she explained. "But I figure I'm only really smoking eight." Well, sort of. Whatever it was, it was better than before. In the last few years of her life, she got down to lighting ten a day, which she figured was really five.
All this time, her doctors — especially her heart specialist and her podiatrist — urged her to quit altogether. Her general practitioner said she had fifteen different ongoing ailments and that every one of them would be lessened if she didn't even smoke the "five." She insisted it was simply not possible.
I threatened to forbid her caregivers from buying her cigarettes. She showed me that she had phone numbers for several markets and pharmacies that would deliver…so I switched to outright bribery.
Before I offered this, I ran it past her doctor and he said, "Go for it." My mother loved seafood…shrimp, scallops, fried clams. Especially fried clams. She also loved the clam chowder at the Santa Monica Seafood company so I proposed a swap: The cigarettes for daily deliveries of clams and crustaceans. She thought about it for a moment, then passed. So I went back to threats.
She had this button she wore 24/7 around her home at night. One push would alert an operator who would notify me and dispatch the paramedics, usually in the middle of the night. I said if she wasn't going to quit smoking, I was going to quit responding. But that was a bluff. She knew it. I knew it. And she knew that I knew that she knew it.
Then came an awful four weeks of hospitalization — two weeks in a hospital, two weeks in a nursing facility. It started with one of those middle-of-the-night alarms and then while she was in the hospital, I was called in twice in the wee, small hours because they thought they were losing her. They wanted me there to see they were doing everything humanly possible to save her…and if they couldn't, to authorize them to discontinue treatment as per her advanced directive. She made it — but she became acutely aware of how close she'd come to dying…and what she was putting me through.
The day before she was to go home from the nursing facility, I went in, sat on the unoccupied bed next to hers and said, "We have to discuss smoking." She said, as she always had, "I can't give it up."
Ah, but this time, I had a new response to that. I told her, "You have."
She looked at me puzzled and I went on. "You haven't had a cigarette the entire time you've been in here. You've quit. The only question is whether you're going to be dumb enough to start again."
There was a brief silence as she thought it over and she finally said, "No, I don't think I'm that dumb."
By that point, it really didn't mean much for her health. Her eyes and her legs were never going to get better and she didn't think they would. I'm convinced the main reason she quit was because she was hoping it might mean one or two less times I'd be summoned out of bed at 5 AM to rush to her house, meet the paramedics there, follow them in to the hospital, spend half my life there talking with doctors, etc.
I can't figure exactly how long after she quit it was that I lost her. I'm guessing six months with one or maybe two late-night Emergency Room visitations in there. When her doctors would allow it, I brought her clams and crustaceans. She said, "Hey, you promised these to me every day if I quit." I told her, "You passed on that offer, remember? You should have made me shake on it before you gave up the cigarettes."
One day, and it may have been the last time I saw her, she said, "You know, I still miss smoking. It's been a long time since I enjoyed it but I still miss it."
I asked, "Do you miss smoking? Or do you miss not going through withdrawal pains?"
She said, sadly, "The second."
I asked, "Was there ever a time when you truly enjoyed it?"
She thought for a moment and said, "There must have been. But it was so damned long ago that who the hell knows?"
From the Academy Awards ceremony in 1972: Charlie Chaplin, after years of exile from America, finally returns to pick up an Honorary Oscar. This was the only video I could find online that didn't involve someone dumping a bucket of ice water on their head.
Ten years ago, I read a great article online about ketchup, made a mental note to link to it…and forgot. I just came across it again so here it is. This is Malcolm Gladwell and Jerry Adler explaining why there are so many options for mustard and so few for ketchup. I believe a lot of new variations of the latter have since emerged but it's still an interesting piece.