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The Art of the Con

I'm starting to get a lot of phoned and e-mailed questions about how one goes to this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego (July 9-12) and before that, to WonderCon in Anaheim (April 3-5). The first thing you need to know is that though I am a Special-Type Guest at both and will be hosting my usual array of panels at each, I am not involved in the running of either convention, nor am I at all versed in how one procures hotel rooms or badges or anything of the sort. I'm actually one of the worst people you could ask about that stuff.

I can tell you that Comic-Con will sell out and there will be lots and lots of folks who simply cannot gain admission. It will also become beastly difficult to procure a hotel room at any price and even harder to get one at a bargain rate. I can further tell you that if WonderCon does sell out, it won't sell out until fairly close to the date and that it shouldn't be too hard to procure lodging in the vicinity if you need it. Beyond that, you're seeking info from the wrong guy.

There are fine websites for WonderCon and Comic-Con and if they don't have all the information you need, wait a bit. They will.

You might also want to peek at the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog, which is run by enthusiastic folks with no affiliation with either convention. Apart from the fact that they seem unaware that either con has something to do with comic books, they know a lot about the festivities and they report from an attendee perspective.

And I'll say to you all two things about the conventions that I say to folks who ask me about them…

  1. Please stop complaining to me that they're crowded and/or expensive and/or difficult to get into. A lot of great things in this world are and you might as well just moan that you can't pick up a $10.00 ticket for the Super Bowl the day before it takes place and walk in without waiting in line. If you feel that way about any event, especially these conventions, just don't go. If you do go, please accept that some of that is the trade-off for the parts of the experience you're likely to enjoy.
  2. If you do decide to go, you have to plan ahead. You have to keep your eye on when badges become available. If you'll need a hotel room, you have to expend some effort to get one and not at the last minute. You will need to study the programming schedule when it goes online ahead of the convention and maybe study the map and have some idea where you're going and when you're going there. It also doesn't hurt to have some idea where to park and where to eat.

If you follow these advice points, you could have a very good time at either convention. I always do and in most of the same ways you can. The halls are full of fascinating and creative people, many of them rich in history. There are great things to see and buy, great program items to attend, great conversations to be had in the aisles. And the hassle and cost of getting there can be minimized — and I'll put this in bold because it's so vital — if you plan ahead. Thank you.

Today's Video Link

Here's a nice little profile of Penn & Teller. One quibble: Teller is described as "short." He's 5'9", which I don't think is short. People who see him in person are always surprised he's not shorter because they're used to seeing him next to Penn, who is 6'6". It's kind of a magic trick in its own way. [Caution: You may have to watch a 30 second ad, probably for Disneyland, to get to this clip…]

Four More Years! And Then Four More!

Politifact debunks the lie that Barack Obama expects to run for a third term and notes how this story seems to get around for every two-term president.

The other variation I always see is that the president has a plan that's he ready to spring. He will create some bogus crisis, declare Martial Law, suspend the election that would have picked his successor and he would then remain in office indefinitely. Also always a lie.

Recommended Reading

Matt Lewis was one of Sarah Palin's biggest supporters, back in the day when folks like him pretended it was a Liberal Media Trap whenever she was asked a question she couldn't answer. You remember those trick "gotcha" set-ups like, "Where do you get your news?"

Anyway, he's turned on her and is apologizing for contributing to her — as he calls it — "premature deification." I think this woman has been an embarrassment to her cause for a long time, and I don't see that she was ever interested in anything but personal wealth and fame. But with folks like Lewis turning on her, I think she really is "over" as a potential office-holder in this country. Which doesn't mean she won't run for president the way Donald Trump does…as a vehicle of self-promotion.

Today on Stu's Show!

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I have a great admiration and respect for actors who've had long, long careers. Today, Stu Shostak has one of them — Tommy Cook — on his show. Tommy was a child actor who worked incessantly on radio (on shows like Blondie and The Life of Riley) and the screen. His best known role was probably Little Beaver, faithful mascot to Red Ryder. He had a stellar career in television, guest-starring on programs like The Untouchables, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Marcus Welby, M.D., CHiPs, Hart to Hart and many others…and he was also a champion tennis player! Amazing.

Stu's Show can be heard live (almost) every Wednesday at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. Webcasts start at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes. They run a minimum of two hours and sometimes go way longer. Given the length and breadth of Tommy Cook's career, that's pretty likely this time. In any case, shortly after a show's over, it's available for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a measly 99 cents each and you can get four shows for the price of three. There's no better bargain on the Internet.

Sin City Sliders

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Ten years back on this site, I posted the following…

Several years ago, I found myself at a party with several folks who were involved in the planning and construction of a forthcoming Las Vegas mega-resort. (A mega-resort is basically a hotel where you have to walk a long distance to your room.) The gent who was in charge of the food court told me — with a note of pride and achievement in his voice — that the selection of fast food outlets would include…a White Castle. I said, "Really? I always heard they refuse to go outside their area. How did you get them to agree to set one up in Vegas?" He revealed, as if mentioning a minor technicality, that the White Castle Board of Directors was as yet unaware that their wares would be in his food court.

"They cannot say no to our offer," he said in a manner that echoed Don Corleone and explained that the terms he'd be presenting were such that someone would have to be brain-dead to decline. Then he added that if by some chance the head honchos at W.C. were brain-dead or foolishly stubborn, his hotel had "certain business connections" that would and could pressure them into accepting his generous proposal. I don't think he meant Mafia or anything of the sort. I think he meant genuine, above-board business connections. I also think that at that moment, he would have bet his house and kids that he could bring the White Castle execs to their knees and force compliance.

Eight months later, the hotel opened. In its food court, in the slot that was obviously intended for a White Castle, there was a Wendy's or maybe a Fatburger. Many years later, there is still no White Castle stand in Vegas or anywhere west of St. Louis.

How things change. A White Castle opened yesterday in Vegas at, of all places, Casino Royale. This is a surprising location for this because it's one of the smaller casinos, unaffiliated with the big hotel chains. The big ones, you'd think, could threaten and bribe and outbid and get what they wanted…and probably a lot of them wanted the first Vegas White Castle. People lined up for hours yesterday to get bags o' sliders.

It may be of some interest that the other main places to get a meal at Casino Royale are an Outback Steakhouse and a Denny's…and the Denny's is reportedly the highest-grossing Denny's in America. That may have been what caused White Castle to go there.

In the meantime, the popular New York burger chain Shake Shack recently opened at the New York, New York casino and there's been a Steak n' Shake for a year or two now at South Point. All three chains once seemed confined to certain areas that did not include Las Vegas.

But I just decided that instead of White Castle, I want to talk about why the Denny's in Vegas is so overwhelmingly successful. That kinda baffles me.

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I understand some of it. It's in a good location at the middle of The Strip. It's no worse — and maybe even a tad better (or at least, consistent) — than a lot of other restaurants you might choose when it's 4 AM in Vegas. The city has some of the greatest restaurants in the world, especially within walking distance of Casino Royale…but they're all shut down by Midnight. After that, you're at the mercy of casino coffee shops that are mostly on a Denny's level.

But…but during the day? You can eat a lot better in Vegas than that — and you can do it in that area for about the same price.

I understand wanting to go to White Castle or Steak n' Shake because you don't have one back home. The In-N-Out Burger near The Strip is a "must visit" for many folks from the 45 states that don't have that chain….but there are 1,593 Denny's in the United States and I did not make up that number. They're in every state. You don't have to go to Nevada to eat in one. As a person with multiple food allergies, I even understand the value of dining in a restaurant where you know the menu.

That many choose to bypass other options and go to Denny's is one of those things I don't understand. Like why, when they don't have any other options, they still go to Denny's.

Joe Barbera's Birthday Party

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Here's what I did on March 15, 2005…

About 95% of the Los Angeles Animation Community gathered today at the headquarters of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood. The occasion was the unveiling of a wall sculpture honoring Joe Barbera and the late Bill Hanna. Most of us were invited to a birthday luncheon immediately after, as Mr. Barbera will allegedly be 94 years old a week from tomorrow. (I say "allegedly" because there are a couple of animation scholars who claim that Mr. B shaved a few years from his age many years ago and is actually older now than his bio says. In the nearly thirty years since I first met him, he has never looked anywhere near any claimed age…so I have no idea.)

Mr. Barbera, who is now confined to a wheelchair, seemed pleased with the wall sculpture, which joins similar tableaus of Walter Cronkite, Steve Allen and Burns & Allen. One section of wall nearby was covered with a drape which some of us peeked under. Beneath was a very handsome likeness of Jim Henson, surrounded by Kermit, Gonzo, Rowlf and other Muppets. It was in the same style as the one of Hanna and Barbera, perhaps even by the same sculptor, Richard Ellis. No unveiling date has been announced. In fact, we weren't even supposed to know it was there.

Speeches were given by executives of the Academy and Warner Brothers Animation, a representative of Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, and the son of Bill Hanna and the daughter of Joe Barbera. Here's a photo that I took after the unveiling. The lady at right is Bill's widow, Violet Hanna. The gent at the center is Sander Schwartz, the President of Warner Brothers Animation. Between Sander and Jerry Mouse is…uh, I'm not sure. It might be Joe's doctor, whose name I didn't get. But the black guy is an amazing fellow named Carlton Clay who takes care of Mr. Barbera, driving him around and helping him get to work and such. Carlton was the Master of Ceremonies at the birthday party that followed. (And of course, that's J.B. in the wheelchair.)

I'm trying to remember everyone I saw there so here's a partial list in no particular order: Iwao Takamoto, June Foray, Roger Mayer, Phil Roman, Jerry Eisenberg, Fred Silverman, Earl Kress, Scott Shaw!, Karl Toerge, John Kimball, Sarah Baisley, Gordon Hunt, Phil Ortiz, Scott Jeralds, Andy Heyward, Gary Conrad, Don Pitts, Willie Ito, Lucille Bliss, Jerry Beck, John Michaeli, Linda Steiner, Christopher Keenan, Amy Wagner, Heather Kenyon, Marc Seidenberg, Rich Fogel, Tom Sito, Spike Brandt, Alan Burnett, Tom Tataranowicz and an awful lot of others I'm leaving out.

And here's a photo of three great voice actors who were in attendance. At left is John Stephenson, who was the voice of Mr. Slate onThe Flintstones, Dr. Benton Quest on Jonny Quest, Fancy-Fancy onTop Cat and many more. In the center is Gary Owens, who voiced the title character on Space Ghost and The Blue Falcon on the Dynomutt show, and who also announced so many H-B programs. At right is Janet Waldo, who was the voice of Judy Jetson, Penelope Pitstop and many others.

The party was great, with folks telling stories about working at Hanna-Barbera, and a couple of great short films featuring H-B characters. I was more than a little amused at the end when they were passing out "gift bags" to everyone. Each contained, among other items, a copy of one of the recently-released DVDs of some H-B show, and all these grown men and women were scrambling to get one with their favorite program. One woman who found the Scooby Doo DVD in her sack quietly turned around and switched it with a Top Cat DVD in the gift bag of the man sitting next to her…without him noticing.

Anyway…a Happy Birthday to Joe Barbera. May he have 94 (or however many he's had so far) more.

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Chait on Political Correctness and how it's corrupting attempts these days to discuss important issues.

I need to remind myself that "political correctness" does not mean what it used to mean. When the term first came into the vocabulary of those around me, it was not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, how could being "correct" be a negative? Quickly though, I came to hear it being used as a negative, often by people who would — automatically — do or say the opposite of anything that was described by anyone as P.C. They reminded me of certain skeptics I've known who assume that if something is The Popular Wisdom, that alone proves it's wrong.

Now, we seem to be into a time when to not be "politically correct" is to have committed some sort of blasphemy. Just what that blasphemy involves depends on who feels their position is being blasphemed…but it always seems to result in shouting-down an idea that runs contrary to someone's beliefs. And if you don't agree with me, I'll have you killed.

Tuesday Morning

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The above headline is currently visible over at the L.A. Times site. Make up your own witticism.

Good to hear the big storm wasn't as bad in New York as some had feared. The folks on CNN yesterday certainly did their best to make it sound like the end of mankind as we know it.

Believe it or not, I'm starting to plan out the panels I'll be hosting at WonderCon in Anaheim over Easter Weekend. One thing some people don't get about this or Comic-Con is that these things are arranged well in advance. Every year, I get a couple of calls a week or so before either convention from folks asking me if I can help them get a slot on the schedule for some panel they want to do. Actually, they shouldn't call me at any time.

By the way: Badges and hotel rooms are now available for WonderCon. It's always a great event.

In addition to unwanted phone calls from contractors who want to remodel my home, I hear from companies that want to install solar panels…and now I've started to hear from realtors who wish to convince me this would be the perfect time for me to let them sell my house. Of course, to a realtor there's no time that isn't the perfect time to sell your house. Lately, the ones who've phoned have been trying the ol' "We spoke last year and you asked me to call back" trick, to which I often reply, "Gee, when we spoke last year, I told you to never call me again!" Or sometimes, I just call them liars.

Yesterday, I called one a liar and he admitted we hadn't spoken…but then he said, "Listen, I'll do whatever it takes to make a sale. That's why I'm so good at selling houses." I said, "Well, you're not selling mine" and hung up on him.

I have a meeting to go to and a script to finish so I'll be back later.

Today's Video Links

My pal Ken Levine was one of the reasons M*A*S*H was such a good show for several of its seasons. On his fine blog, he recently offered up this disco version of the theme from that series…

You think that's an inappropriate arrangement of a great theme song? Okay, Levine. I'll see your disco version of your show's theme and raise you this rendition of the theme from a show I worked on.  This one was performed by the Ray Conniff Singers who could make any song in the world sound like this…

The Write Stuff

Robert J. Elisberg reports on the recent Consumer Electronics Show…with special emphasis on new products that would be of interest to writers. This is all part of Bob's never-ending campaign to cost me money.

The Politics of Captain America

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I posted this back on 3/10/05. I have nothing to add to it at this time…

My friend/employer Jack Kirby co-created Captain America and did more stories of the character than anyone else did. From time to time, articles pop up that attempt to define Captain America's position on some real issue of the day…or someone claims that their view on some controversial topic is the view Captain America would hold. And hey, there's a meaningful endorsement: "I have a comic book superhero on my side!"

I don't always know how Jack would have felt about certain issues, and just because he said something to me in 1971 about, say, capital punishment doesn't mean he would have felt that way about it in 2005. I try to be real careful not to put my words and thoughts into his mouth but I feel pretty secure in saying that Jack's response would have been that Captain America was a fictional character; that though he may have embodied a certain kind of patriotism, at least in Jack's stories, trying to extrapolate how the hero would have felt about 9/11 or abortion or nuclear test bans or anything of the sort is grasping at something that simply does not and cannot exist.

Certain things get established about a character — their name, their origin, specific adventures — and these are generally kept consistent as the property is handed from writer to writer, though even this is not always the case. Other aspects are even more prone to variance as different creators take charge of the strip for what may be short or long periods and infuse it with their worldview. Jack rarely looked at what others did with characters he'd started but when he did, it was very rare that he recognized his children. He saw them saying and doing things that he would never have had them say or do…and Jack didn't necessarily think this made the other writer wrong. It was kind of like, "That's his interpretation of the Hulk, not mine." Each reader is free to accept either version or neither or parts of this one and that one.

So when someone asks what Captain America would have felt about some topic, the first question is, "Which Captain America?" If the character's been written by fifty writers, that makes fifty Captain Americas, more or less…some closely in sync with some others, some not. And even a given run of issues by one creator or team is not without its conflicts. When Jack was plotting and pencilling the comic and Stan Lee was scripting it, Stan would sometimes write dialogue that did not reflect what Jack had in mind. The two men occasionally had arguments so vehement that Jack's wife made him promise to refrain. As she told me, "For a long time, whenever he was about to take the train into town and go to Marvel, I told him, 'Remember…don't talk politics with Stan.' Neither one was about to change the other's mind, and Jack would just come home exasperated." (One of Stan's associates made the comment that he was stuck in the middle, vis-a-vis his two main collaborators. He was too liberal for Steve Ditko and too conservative for Kirby.)

Jack's own politics were, like most Jewish men of his age who didn't own a big company, pretty much Liberal Democrat. He didn't like Richard Nixon and he really didn't like the rumblings in the early seventies of what would later be called "The Religious Right." At the same time, he thought Captain America represented a greater good than the advancement of Jack Kirby's worldview.

During the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings, Jack was outraged when Ollie North appeared before Congress and it wasn't just because North lied repeatedly or tried to justify illegal actions. Jack thought it was disgraceful that North wore his military uniform while testifying. The uniform, Jack said, belonged to every man and woman who had every worn it (including former Private First Class Jack Kirby) and North had no right to exploit it the way he did. I always thought that comment explained something about the way Kirby saw Captain America. Cap, obviously, should stand for the flag and the republic for which it stands but — like the flag — for all Americans, not merely those who wish to take the nation in some exclusionary direction.

In much the same way, one of the many things Nixon had done that offended Jack was an attempt many decried, on the part of that administration, to usurp the American flag as a symbol of support for Richard Nixon.Jack's 1976-1977 stories of Captain America — the ones where he had near-complete control — show very little evidence of his own political beliefs of the time. He felt strongly about many things happening in the world at that time, especially various battles and hostage situations relating to Israel, but he chose to keep his hero above those frays and to deal more in the abstract. Captain America made his greatest statement by wearing the flag with pride and by triumphing over all forms of adversity.

To Jack, it was the great thing about the American spirit: That it was born of gutsy determination and, as with any good superhero, compassion for all. Some of the storylines he talked about but never had the chance to put into print would have reinforced the idea that Captain America was greater than any one man…including those who created his adventures.

My Latest Tweet

  • You know, it would clear every street on the East Coast if every CNN vehicle that's driving around shooting video was a snow plow.

Show Business Snow Business

With the monster storm hitting New York at the moment, all Broadway shows have been canceled for tonight as have several other tapings. According to this, David Letterman is planning on doing a show. No word on The Daily Show or The Nightly Show. I don't know if The Late Late Show hosted by Regis Philbin was pre-taped and if not, if it'll be taping this evening. They do have a couple of episodes hosted by Drew Carey on the shelf and that might make it easier for them to decide to cancel. Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon are in reruns.

Today's Video Link

John Oliver auditions for Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven't read the book and don't know much about it but I'm sure he'd be perfect for the role…