Working Title #020: The Usefulness of Memory Lapses

Working Title #020: The Usefulness of Memory Lapses

I have now coasted past my 70th birthday and have acquired the rights of geezerhood, one of which is a variable memory. I forget things. Not everything nor am I making claims to senility (yet). But sometimes some things drop out and that isn’t necessarily bad.

I suspect I acquired both this trait and outlook from my mother. Every year she would re-read Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather and at the time I didn’t understand that. Why re-read a book when there are so many out there she had not yet opened? She told me that, due to lapsing memory, she didn’t always remember the plot and so had the pleasure of discovering the story anew. I have since discovered that pleasure for myself. It’s not simply re-reading books that I like but forgetting some the plot details. Mysteries work well with this; for example, I have read every Nero Wolfe mystery that Rex Stout ever wrote (and a few that he didn’t) and I am currently re-reading them. With some (not all), I have forgotten who-dun-it and that’s okay. The real pleasure is not in the unravelling of the mystery but in time spent with the characters, especially Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. I’ve really come back for the interplay between them. The resolution to the mystery – indeed, of most mysteries – is very secondary for me compared to that interplay. I would argue that’s true for most mysteries; when Arthur Conan Doyle introduced us to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in A Study In Scarlet, we’re not deeply interested in who the killer is but in how Holmes catches him. I would argue that Doyle’s deepest interest also is not in the killer although he spends a great deal of time in the killer’s backstory. The identity of the murderer and the workings of the plot are there to drive the story and to give us an excuse to visit with our friends, the main characters.  Continue reading “Working Title #020: The Usefulness of Memory Lapses”

Working Title #019: Grieving

Working Title #019: Grieving

A friend of mine has died. Mike Raub. Some of you may know him (many here on Pop Culture Squad do). He was a well-known and respected comic book retailer in CT and a radio broadcaster and he was my friend. He became my friend when I moved to Connecticut because Mike Gold was my friend and the two Mikes were very good friends so I was just accepted into Mike Raub’s circle. I went to his house, his parties, his shop, we went out to dinner—he was friends with my late wife, Kim. He was 67 and that‘s too damn young to die. I don’t know who among the Powers-That-Be thought that this was a good idea but they were just plain wrong and it pisses me off.

March is a hard month. Winter drags its heels on its way out and spring is mostly a rumor. One season dies and another is about to be born. My late wife, Kim Yale, died over two decades ago on March 7, a bit short of our tenth wedding anniversary. My father died about 50 years ago just after the Ides of March. So I’ve had some experience with grief and loss.  Continue reading “Working Title #019: Grieving”

Working Title #018: World Making 101

Working Title #018: World Making 101

As a writer in fantastic fiction, I sometimes have to create a setting, an environment in which the action takes place – a world. GrimJack, for example, is mainly set in Cynosure, a pandimensional city where the multiverse meets. Cross the street and you may be in a different dimension. Guns work here, magic works there, a sword and a bad attitude works most everywhere. I didn’t create Cynosure; Peter B. Gillis did that in the first WARP special at First Comics. I did, however, use it extensively and defined it.

World making can be fun, frustrating, tedious, exhausting, and a host of other adjectives. Mostly fun. The setting winds up being a character itself in the story; Gotham City is an important supporting character in Batman stories. The Dark Knight really works best against it as a backdrop. When Anton Furst designed the set and look of Gotham for the first Michael Keaton-Tim Burton Batman movie, I remember one thing that was said about the design is that Furst created a Gotham against which a man dressed as a bat looked like he belonged. You can’t stick the Batman in Peoria and make it look right. Continue reading “Working Title #018: World Making 101”

Working Title #017: Watching Miracle Workers

Miracle Workers, is a limited series from TBS, airs Tuesdays at 10PM EST.

SPOILER ALERT: I reveal some of the plot and a few jokes in the show so far. Read at your own risk.

So – in the second episode, Miracle Workers kill Bill Maher by blowing up his penis.

Now that’s comedy.

The show is set in a heaven that’s a corporate entity. Steve Buscemi plays God with longish lank gray hair, puttering around in a bathrobe, drinking beer, and more interested in Lazy Susans than the planet Earth. Bill Maher annoys him (hell, he sometimes annoys me) so God orders that Maher be killed off. The method devised is to blow up his penis which pleases God.

Also, because God has been challenged to exert himself and do something about the terrible state of Earth, announces that he is going to blow it up in two weeks.

You see? Wacky.  Continue reading “Working Title #017: Watching Miracle Workers”

Working Title #015: And the award goes to. . .

Working Title #015: And the award goes to. . .

So, the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards have been announced and there were a few surprises. A super-hero film, Black Panther, became the first of its kind to be nominated and Netflix landed its first nomination for Best Picture as well and Meryl Streep got nominated as Best Actress. No, wait – Streep wasn’t nominated. That was the surprise. I thought there was some sort of rule she had to be nominated.

I have different levels of interest in the Academy Awards depending on the category but a particular favorite of mine is soundtrack, a.k.a. Original Score. And the nominees this year are:

Black Panther — Ludwig Goransson

BlacKkKlansman — Terence Blanchard

If Beale Street Could Talk — Nicholas Britell

Isle of Dogs — Alexandre Desplat

Mary Poppins Returns — Marc Shaiman

I haven’t seen as many movies this past year as I usually do and only saw one film that was nominated for best score (Black Panther, natch) but I was very impressed at the time with the music. I don’t know Goransson’s work very well, aside from Creed (which was also first rate) but his score for Black Panther both stood out and, at the same time, fully supported the film.  Continue reading “Working Title #015: And the award goes to. . .”

Working Title #014: Welcome to 2019

Working Title #014: Welcome to 2019

So. New Year’s Day. Happy 2019. Traditionally, a time to look backwards and forwards, see where we’ve been, take a guess where we’re headed.

I wish I could say I was optimistic about the future but I’m not. I’m going to hit 70 this year; cranky old man time. Not, I think, unwarranted.

Let me state my prejudices upfront; I’m a Democrat, a liberal, and I despise Trump. I thought he was a joke the first time he ran for President and now I think he’s a disaster. He’s a narcissist and a liar; he must think we’re fools because we can fact check a lot of the lies. They’re on video. He doesn’t care. He lies, lies some more, and double downs on the lies. He is racist, homophobic, misogynistic and delusional. As the old gag goes, “And those are his good points.”

His presidency is going to do a lasting damage to this country. While I think there’s a fair chance the Democrats in the House will impeach him, I think there’s little chance the Republicans in the Senate will convict him. Unless he ups and quits or just drops dead, Trump will be in the White House, continuing his mischief, until at least 2020.

And I don’t think the damage can be undone.  Continue reading “Working Title #014: Welcome to 2019”

Working Title #012: The (Im)Possibilities of Christmas

Working Title #012: The (Im)Possibilities of Christmas

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

                                        -Nephew Fred, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Christmas has also always been my favorite time of year. More precisely, it’s Advent – the time leading up to Christmas – that I’ve enjoyed the most since I was a kid. Advent was full of possibility; there was the anticipation of what Christmas was going to be. What was I going to get, what could I give within my limited funds that the recipient might actually like, what would it all feel like?

Part of Advent was the Advent Wreath. It was made of evergreen boughs and laid flat on the table. Four candles stuck up out of it; each representing one of the weeks in December leading up to Christmas. Three were white and one was purple; the purple one was for Gaudette Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent. You’d light the candles at the start of dinner, say a prayer, and dig in to the food, hoping the candles wouldn’t fall over and set fire to the wreath and perhaps the table as well. Ah, Holiday cheer!

In 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on TV. The following year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas debuted which was even better. (I am, of course, referring to the TV special created by Chuck Jones and narrated by Boris Karloff and not the bloated movies since made.) I have both on Blu-ray and they continue to be a part of my lead-up to Christmas every year. Both are very much a part of my own personal Christmas.

We also had an Advent calendar. For those who don’t know, these are large cards usually with the picture of the Nativity scene on it and windows set in it that can be opened, revealing a picture of a toy or a piece of candy or a portion of a story. Ours had the Nativity story from Luke. The windows were numbered from 1 to 24, going from December 1st to Christmas Eve. That’s when the whole Advent schtick climaxed. We didn’t use the one that had chocolates behind each window because I think my Mom instinctively knew they’d never make to December 24th. They probably wouldn’t have made it to the 3rd and I most likely would have been the reason. I was only as patient during Advent as I was forced to be.

Part of our family Advent ritual was to go downtown to State Street, that Great Street, and see the Christmas windows at the big stores, especially Marshall Fields. They always did up Christmas in a grand style and, if you want, you can take a peek here

Back then, the Christmas shopping season started the day AFTER Thanksgiving. No running out on Thanksgiving dinner to be the first in line. No Black Friday sales in the middle of August. (Okay, I exaggerate but only for effect.)  Continue reading “Working Title #012: The (Im)Possibilities of Christmas”

Working Title #011: CW – Elseworlds

Working Title #011: CW – Elseworlds

The CW has been doing annual crossovers of some or all of its DC shows each season to the point where the characters themselves are commenting on it. They like each other well enough but they know each situation is going to involve a BIG Bad and they’re not always keen on it. Kind of a funny, hip, self-aware thing.

In fact, there was a lot of humor in this year’s Crossover Event which was titled Elseworlds. It involved only the Big Three of the CW/DC shows – Supergirl, Arrow, and the Flash. Legends of Tomorrow (which has been a LOT of fun this year) and Black Lightning didn’t get to play which I can understand – by the time you get not only the main characters but significant amounts of the supporting casts it can get a little crowded and unwieldy, especially since they try to advance some of the subplots running in each series.  Continue reading “Working Title #011: CW – Elseworlds”

Working Title #010: Writing 101 — Contradicting Your Characters

Working Title #010: Writing 101 — Contradicting Your Characters

The most oft repeated dictum about writing that I’ve heard is: Write What You Know. The question is – what do you know? To take a literal meaning to the question suggests that you can only write within your own experiences which is awfully limiting. I’m a white middle class male and yet I created Amanda Waller who is black, female, and from the projects. What did I know that allowed me to do that? And yet, Amanda is one of the best, most realized, characters I’ve ever created.

My view of Write What You Know is – what do you KNOW as opposed to what you were TAUGHT. What has your own experience taught you to be true? An unquestioned belief, in my opinion, is not worth having. Only by testing that belief – by doubting, questioning – does a belief become your own even if you come to the same belief that you started with. Now it’s your own.

What do you know of life? Not what you were told or taught but what have you experienced? What do you know that is true? That should be in your writing.  Continue reading “Working Title #010: Writing 101 — Contradicting Your Characters”

Working Title #009: Dear Mr. Maher

Working Title #009: Dear Mr. Maher

Dear Bill Maher

Well, you’ve done it again. You’ve gotten a certain percentage of the population mad at you – which I suspect is exactly what you want. You’ve gotten people talking about you and your show, Real Time, and by your lights this is a good thing. That’s what you do; by inclination and occupation you’re a provocateur  — which is fine. Gadflys are useful if annoying.

However, your targets were things on which, by your own account, you know little or nothing. You took the occasion of Stan Lee’s death to belittle comics and comic readers. On your blog you wrote: “I have nothing against comic books – I read them now and then when I was a kid and I was all out of Hardy Boys. But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures. “

You were born in 1953 so in 1963 you’d be about 10. Prime age to start reading comics. Your assessment of the medium might have been correct if you’re just talking about DC (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al) of that era but Marvel, under the guidance of Stan Lee, began what we now know as the Marvel superhero. In 1961 Stan debuted The Fantastic Four followed by Spider-Man in 1962. By design, these books were meant for an older reader. In 1965, both Spider-man and the Hulk were listed by Esquire as among 28 heroes on college campuses along with JFK and Bob Dylan. So the concept that comics were for the young uns only was not the assumption of every kid and adult; it was and is your assumption.

You later said, “. . .a culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditations on the human condition is a dumb (explicit) culture.” Really? The graphic novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman, won a Pulitizer in 1992 and a National Book Critics Circle Award. I think we can say it won because it is a profound meditation on the human condition.

You said that you weren’t saying the comics readers were stupid per se but, “The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.“

Yes, it is a huge stretch of the imagination and you should know that. The polls have suggested that the typical Trump voter is an older white male without a college education. That’s not the typical comic book reader that I’ve met.

I’ve heard you fulminate about comics before. Your war with religion seems to color some of your perceptions. You complained that comics teaches people to wait for a hero to come down from on high and solve our problems for us instead of taking charge and doing it ourselves.

That’s not what comics are about. Superman is not from on high; Superman is within. Every time Clark Kent opens his shirt to reveal the big red S on his chest, he’s telling the reader or the viewer that they have Superman within them. They represent ideals to which we can aspire. Not of godhood but of being a hero. Of trying to be something greater than ourselves. Of doing and being our best.

Your problem is that you’re wrong and you will never admit it. In that, you’re very much like Donald Trump. You know nothing about the subject (comics) but that doesn’t stop you from putting forth your opinion about it. What, then, is that opinion worth?

Which raises a question – a problem – in my mind. If you’re this wrong on a subject about which I know a lot, how often are you equally wrong on subjects of which I know less?

It won’t matter to you, I think, but I’ve watched you for the last time.

Good-bye.

John Ostrander