Archive for July, 2009

A RANDOM COMIC-CON MOMENT

July 28, 2009

So there I was in line at the Marvel booth waiting to get some books signed by British writer, futurist and comics god Warren Ellis. There’s a cute girl behind me in line, soon joined by a friend of hers. From their conversation, I glean that she’s a writer and from a furtive look at her badge, I see that her name is Caitlin Kittredge. I ask her what she writes and she says urban fantasy.  Suddenly Warren Ellis arrives for the signing and this happens (as recounted on Caitlin’s website):

Warren: Caitlin!
Caitlin: Warren!
[Hugging happens]
Guy in queue behind me: That was the most awesome thing I have ever seen.
Caitlin: If you want to touch my hand, it’s five dollars.

Notice she never mentions yours truly. But she has gotten some good reviews for her books, so I might read one… after I figure out why someone who lives in Olympia, Washington uses the word “queue.”

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THE SDCC EXPERIENCE 2009

July 28, 2009

Just back from San Diego and five days at Comic-Con International. As always, there was fun to be had, although I’m never sure if I would have had more fun spending the same money on a real vacation somewhere else.

The show started out on Wednesday night with Preview Night, giving me a few hours on the convention floor to check out the layout, followed by dinner at the Bayfront Hilton beside the Convention Center. I had two friends staying there and they were very happy with the laidback quiet atmosphere. Meanwhile, I was staying at party central at the Hard Rock Hotel (which at night had crowds outside begging to get into the parties inside) and wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Thursday I learned an important lesson. If you’re really interested in going to a panel, you need to get in line more than ten minutes before it starts. Thus I missed the “Burn Notice” panel, which I might have minded if star Jeffrey Donovan was scheduled to appear. Sadly, that meant I never got one of the cool “Burn Notice” bags people were walking around with.

But it did mean I got into the only panel that really mattered to me (and no, I’m not talking about “Twilight: New Moon”!). Friday morning, I rolled out of my sleeping bag at 7:30 and was in line for the final “Lost” panel of Comic-Con by 8:30. The time went by fast considering the panel was starting at 11:00 and it was worth every second of waiting. Producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof went all out, spicing up the proceedings with plenty of specially made videos and live guest appearances. You can see it all at docartz.com, so check it out. Just as exciting was the afternoon panel for “Totally Lost,” hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen and Dan Snierson. I was sitting near the door and every time someone opened it, I couldn’t hear what was being said. I was getting a little peeved, when suddenly right beside me, I heard someone yell out, “What are you doing?” It was Carlton and Damon making a surprise appearance to kidnap co-producer Greg Nations before he could give up any secrets about the show. That was soon topped by acting genius Michael Emerson walking right by me to go up to the dais to answer questions for ten minutes. Sadly, they ran out of time before I got to ask a question. I also loved seeing the display of “Lost” props on the main convention floor. They had everything, and it will all be auctioned off next year.

Those were the only two panels I attended though. Still I found plenty to do, constantly scouring the DC and Marvel booths as well as Artist’s Alley for comic stars to sign my various books and draw some sketches. I especially appreciated Jill Thompson’s take on her signature character Scary Godmother, “Air” artist M.K. Perker’s detailed rendering of a demon and Ryan Kelly’s head sketch of a character from “The New York Four.” Final total: 13 free sketches and 67 new autographs. Sadly, I just didn’t think it was worth it to pay Adam West $ 40 to autograph my “Greatest Batman Stories” book after 46 people had already signed it for free…

Made it to EW’s TV columnist Michael Ausiello’s meet and greet party on Thursday night (he says he gets the most mail about “Grey’s Anatomy”), although I didn’t get into any other big parties or screenings, including a concert by Daughtry that I could see from the window on my floor when I was waiting for the elevator. Probably had the most fun just hanging out in the Hard Rock’s lobby at night, watching the girls go by as well as the stray star, including “Chuck”’s Adam Baldwin and “Buffy”’s Seth Green. Of course, the biggest star sighting was Marvel’s Stan Lee, whose co-creation of such icons as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four put him far in front in importance of any appearances by Johnny Depp or Robert Pattinson in my mind.

I also spent some time at the outdoor carnival “Heroes” sponsored to promote their upcoming season, especially enjoying the free snow cones. Didn’t grab too many promotional items, although I was wowed by a copy of Detective Comics # 854 given to me and autographed by writer Greg Rucka. Beautiful artwork by JH Williams.

So another Comic-Con gone. Time to get reservations and tickets for next year!

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC

July 20, 2009

Attended my first junket in a while on Friday afternoon for the new kids’ adventure, “Aliens In The Attic.” I quite enjoyed the movie, which was rather clever and funny, and knew the press day would be just as painless to attend with just three sessions in an hour and fifteen minutes.

Interestingly, the stars we interviewed ran the gamut from an actress who first started working in live television during the 1950’s to a young actor whose first credit on IMDB was just six years ago. First up was Doris Roberts, who first gained my attention playing Mildred on the TV show “Remington Steele.” While Ms. Roberts often plays down to earth middle class types, in person she has a bit of the grand dame about her, while still remaining nice. While her longrunning role on “Everybody Loves Raymond” may be over, Doris is certainly keeping busy, with three movies ready for release. And for all her success in comedy, she admitted she never knew she could be funny until she heard the audience’s laughter while doing a Broadway play back in 1969.

Next up was Ashley Tisdale, who is well known for her role as Sharpay in the “High School Musical” movies. While a lot of actors can’t wait to leave playing teenagers behind, 24 year old Ashley is more than happy to do it as long as the parts are interesting. I asked her about creating her characters. She said that her aim is to keep things fresh when filming and so doesn’t memoritze any of her lines until the last minute. Fortunately, she has no problem with the memorization.

Last but not least, we interviewed two of the young male stars of the film, Carter Jenkins and Robert Hoffman. Robert has worked as a dancer and a choreographer in addition to acting. His training in movement serves him well in “Aliens In The Attic,” as he throws his body around quite a bit as the aliens control him. You could see during the interview he’s not much for sitting still, as he started rhythmically moving his neck. While Robert doesn’t feel the need to play gritty parts, his co-star Carter can’t wait to take on meaty roles.

I got to speak to Carter for a bit after the interviews while waiting for the valet to bring my car and told him how I worked on “Alvin & The Chipmunks.” He said “Aliens In the Attic” probably wouldn’t have gotten made without that previous hit.

It’s hard to tell early in an actor’s career if they’re going to be stars or even just continue to work on a regular basis. Based on their level heads and smarts shown during Friday’s interviews, I wish Ashley, Carter and Robert all the best in the future.

ALL DAY AND ALL OF THE NIGHT AT AMERICAN IDOLS LIVE 2009

July 17, 2009

Spent the day in and around Staples Center where the American Idols Live Tour lit up the night. However, for the Idols, it was a full day of work. They started with a press event at 2:30 which I attended with Fred Bronson, who was gathering quotes for a possible radio special. There were journalists and interviewers from radio, TV and print. Each participant got a minute or two with each Idol. Kris Allen had just returned from Arkansas and immediately joined the lineup.

Next up for the Idols was a meet and greet with fans, who got their shirts and programs signed and also got to take photos with their favorites. Meanwhile, I went to Starbucks, followed by dinner at Wolfgang Puck. The service was a little slow but we still made it back across the street in time for the show.

While I didn’t feel this was the best of the “American Idol” concerts I’ve seen over the years (I’ve previously attended the Los Angeles concerts for Season 3, 4, 5 and 7), it was still an entertaining show. Some of the highlights included Scott MacIntyre’s take on Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” every one of Matt Giraud’s three songs (he brought such passion and showmanship to his set, he seemed like a totally different artist than the one who competed on “Idol”), and Allison Iraheta’s “Cry Baby” and especially her version of Heart’s “Barracuda,” which had all the power and intensity of the original. Of course, the Top Three shined. I enjoyed the variety that Danny Gokey brought to his set, mixing the R&B pop of Michael Jackson’s “PYT” with the Latin spark of “Maria Maria” by Santana, then showing his heart on two Rascall Flatts songs, “What Hurts The Most” and “My Wish.” And I have to admit, after reading a bit about Danny’s interlude where he does a bit of preaching, I was worried it might spoil my enjoyment of his set but the opposite happened. Rather than making the moment about him, he makes it about the audience, encouraging everyone to follow their dreams and not to let anything stop them.

Next up was the performer the audience had been waiting for, yet it was a performer they had never seen. That’s because we were about to witness Adam Lambert unleashed. Adam showed off not just his great voice and rocking spirit, but also a gallery of rock star poses and quite a bit of hip action. The audience ate it up, and the excitement went even higher when Allison joined Adam for “Slow Ride.”

Of course, Kris Allen was the night’s final solo performer and in addition to his emotional take on “American Idol” favorites “Heartless” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Kris let out his inner rock star on Matchbox 20’s “Bright Lights.” Then Kris was joined by the rest of the Top Five for “Hey Jude.” Kris got the lyric on the first verse wrong (I asked him about it later and he just hung his head in shame), but at the time, I actually thought that maybe they had edited the song for time. Still, the sing-along chorus was perfect for the event, as was the final song, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The song started with Scott and Matt playing piano and trading off lines and believe me, they both have that famous Steve Perry falsetto perfected!

After the show, we headed upstairs onto an outdoor balcony for the after-party. For a while, we were worried that a better party for VIP’s was taking place somewhere else in the building, but eventually the Idols started showing up, so we were definitely at the right place. There was plenty of time to get a chance to talk to your favorites. I got to congratulate both Matt and Danny on their triumphs, and also got to meet the families of Allison and Scott, all of whom were super nice. Also in attendance was Debra Byrd, the “Idol” vocal coach and a longtime background vocalist for one of my favorite artists, Barry Manilow. Whenever I see Byrd, I always like to bring up a concert memory I have from the many times I’ve seen Manilow in concert This time, I talked about the night in Reading, PA when the sound went on the fritz and Barry entertained the crowd by beginning a strip tease until the problem was fixed a few minutes later!

All in all, a fun concert, so if you get the chance to see the Idols on tour, by all means check them out! All you can lose is your voice (from screaming of course!)…

10 TIPS FOR HAVING FUN AT COMIC-CON

July 13, 2009

I’m a big fan of comic books. I go to a comic book store every week to buy new books and I also keep up with the lastest doings in the comic book world by visiting websites like Comic Book Resources, Newsarama and The Beat.

There’s a weekly column on Comic Book Resources by longtime comics writer Steven Grant called Permanent Damage. In addition to his always interesting take on comics, politics, TV and whatever else strikes his fancy, Steven includes what he calls the Comics Cover Challenge. He illustrates the column with various comic book covers and you have to guess what secret theme they all have in common. Whoever sends in an e-mail first with the right answer wins and gets to plug the website of their choice in the column the following week.

This past week, I finally won the contest with a guess of the word “Bugs” and naturally I’m having Steven mention my blog. Keeping in mind that I’m (hopefully) getting some new readers from a comic book site, I thought I would write about a comic book topic.

Of course, this week everyone who cares anything about comics (as well as movies and TV) has their eye on next week’s 40th annual Comic-Con International in San Diego, so I thought I would come up with ten tips to keep in mind when attending the show. There are many more comprehensive guides online, but here are some suggestions that have served me well over the years:

1.  Try to attend Preview Night:

Attendees with four day passes get to go into the show for a few hours on Wednesday night. Two years ago, I skipped Preview Night and made my first entrance into the show that year on Thursday morning. I soon saw a sign advertising a signing by comics legend Stan Lee. I rushed to the booth where they were distributing the tickets, only to discover that they all been given out the night before at Preview Night (don’t feel too bad for me… I eventually did get a Stan Lee autograph).

Also, if you want to commission a sketch from a popular artist, it’s smart to get on his list as soon as possible before it fills up, so if you can talk to the artist on Preview Night, you’re ahead of the game.

2.  Try to go to Comic-Con on Thursday:

Thursday has always been the least crowded day, even now that the show is sold out for the entire four days. Therefore, if you want to get a sketch or an autograph, it’s easier to do on Thursday when the lines aren’t so long.

3.  Buy a hardbacked sketchbook if you want to get sketches:

When I first decided to buy a sketchbook to take to Comic-Con, I bought one with a softcover to save money. Unfortunately, after taking it to the show a year or two, the book got a little frayed around the edges. You’re much better off with a hardback one. My other tip when it comes to sketching is even if artists are charging for sketches at their tables in Artist’s Alley, if they’re scheduled to appear at a publisher’s booth like DC or Marvel’s, they’ll usually do a sketch at that time for free. I especially like DC’s setup as they’ll have multiple artists sketching at once, with different lines for each.

4.  Make sure you check the daily printed newsletter that Comic-Con puts out:

If there are schedule changes or if someone is added to a panel or will be signing autographs at a certain time, the information will be there.

5.  Check out Kansas City Barbeque, my favorite place to have lunch at the Con:

It’s only a block or two from the Convention Center at 600 W. Harbor Drive and has great, reasonably priced food, yet it’s never that crowded come lunchtime. I usually eat there two or three times during every Comic-Con and I’ve never had to wait for a table.

6.  If you want a soda or something to eat late at night, there’s no reason to pay steep hotel prices:

Just stop in at the Ralph’s Supermarket at 101 G. Street. It’s open 24 hours and is just a few blocks away from the Convention Center.

7.  Go over the convention schedule (it’s already up at the Comic-Con International website) and if there’s anyone appearing that you like, make sure you bring something for them to sign:

In past years, I’ve brought a second suitcase filled with comics to be autographed. You’ll find it’s easy to find the comic artists and writers, who will usually put in hours at their publishers or at their tables in Artist’s Alley. Then there are many actors who are scheduled to be in the autograph area who sell photos, but others who come up for an hour signing after appearing on a panel may not. Imagine my horror while I watched a panel about the great TV show “Veronica Mars” a few years back and realized the cast would be doing an autograph session afterward and I didn’t have a DVD of the show to get signed (again, don’t cry for me, as I eventually got Kristin Bell to sign Season 1 DVD at the “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” junket). It pays to be prepared.

I also have a number of hardbound books that I have been bringing to the Con for years, like “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” that I get everyone who has worked with the Batman universe to sign. I’m currently up to 45 autographs. The first person to sign it was Batman creator Bob Kane. The  most recent was Christian Bale. Obviously it is one of my most treasured belongings and I’m not done filling it up yet (I’m talking about you, Frank Miller!). I also have histories of both DC and Marvel Comics I’ve gotten signed, plus a book each for TV and movie stars. Remember to keep a Sharpie with you too!

8.  At night, various movie companies take over the movie theaters in the Gaslamp District for screenings of upcoming sci-fi and action films:

In recent years, I’ve seen such movies as “Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow” and “Shoot ‘Em Up,” so keep your eyes open as you walk by the movie studios’ booths for screening info and ticket giveaways.

9.  If you’re just driving down for one day at the Con, I suggest you park at the large lots behind Petco Park, the Padres’ baseball stadium:

It’s cheaper than the other parking lots near the Convention Center and a lot larger to boot. Unfortunately, you can’t leave your car there overnight.

10.  Have a great time!

REACHING FOR THE STARS

July 8, 2009

The recent news that radio icon Casey Kasem was retiring from counting down the hits brought back a lot of memories for me. Like many young music fans, long before I ever started reading “Rolling Stone” or “Billboard,” I first learned the stories behind the hits from listening to “American Top 40.”

During college, one of my friends called Casey’s office to see if he would send us a tape of himself announcing a song for the school’s annual dance marathon.  We were amazed when Casey himself got on the phone. A bunch of us crowded around the dorm phone to listen in on the conversation. Little did I know that a few years later, I would be talking to Casey myself on pretty much a daily basis.

After I moved from Pennsylvania to California, my first big job was working at Dick Clark Productions. I was soon working as a researcher on Dick’s  “Countdown America” radio show and eventually became the writer of the program. After leaving that job, it wasn’t long before I heard that Casey Kasem was looking for a writer for his “Casey’s Top 40” show. I went in for an interview and landed the gig. I was definitely the junior writer on the staff and that was okay, considering one scribe was well-known food critic and radio personality Merrill Shindler and the other was Leonard Pitts, Jr., who eventually left writing for Casey to became a columnist for the Miami Herald, where he won the Pulitzer Prize. Not bad company to be in and I learned a lot, especially from Casey himself.

When you had written a story, you faxed it to Casey and he would call back and either approve it, disapprove it or give you some ideas on how to fix it. I made a niche for myself chasing down artists for phone interviews in order to give myself the makings of the kind of story Casey wanted, which was about people triumphing over great odds by perseverance, talent and hard work, all of which could be summed up by his motto, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

Of course, my most successful story in Casey’s eyes wasn’t about that at all. Instead, it was a story about how a singer named Jane Child has been influenced by the culture of India, and started wearing a chain that ran from her nose ring to an earring. She had also become a vegetarian. Casey himself was a vegan, and believed that eating animal products was a mistake. He believed hunger could be wiped out around the world if we all became vegetarians, so he thought I had really hit it out of the park with my Jane Child story.

As the new guy, I was given the job of sorting through the boxes of letters we received to find ones that could be used for Casey’s famous “Long Distance Dedication” segment. It was hard to do because when I worked on the show in 1990, it was the heyday of New Kids On The Block and just about every letter ended with a request that Casey play “Hangin’ Tough” or “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever).” There wasn’t a lot of variety in the requests, but somehow we managed to find enough appropriate letters to use in the show every week. And this would be a good place to add that while Casey is famous for the tapes that have gotten out of him losing his temper, I never saw him get upset once during the year I worked on the show. I believe that’s because our producer Bert Kleinman always gave Casey the kind of stories he wanted to tell.

There was one letter we got for the “Long Distance Dedication” that never made it into the script, but I’ve saved it ever since. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s from Lawrence, and he writes…

Dear Casey,

My family and I came down to Tennessee to live. My dad and our family thought we could have a good life in Tennesseee. My dad and mom bought a little meat shop in Manchester. Business was going great for us. We got to spend a little more time together. My mom and dad asked my brother if we would like to spend their 12th anniversary with them, and me and my brother said yes.

My mom and dad decided to spend it in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So we went and came back to find out that our place burned. We lost everything we had. The fire marshall said my dad set the fire. My dad said how could he do it when he was in Chatanooga overnight. So my dad found another job, but he would be on the road all the time.

The new business was doing great until our truck burned one night. My dad and my uncle just came off the road and pulled in our driveway. My dad and uncle came in the house. My mom had supper ready for them when they came in like she always did. My dad and my uncle weren’t in the house five minutes and all of a sudden our truck exploded sitting in our driveway. My dad tried to put the fire out. We live close to the interstate. The interestate was blocked off a mile each way. That night our business burned right in front of our faces. The reason the interestate was blocked off was because the truck had exploded on it. The fire marshall gave us the same trouble as they did when our other place burned.

After that, my mom and dad got a divorce and she moved out and got her own place. One night she went to work and about midnight, the police called her at work and told her that her place had burned to the ground. Now my mom has her own place and living fine. My dad and my brother and me are living in a good neighborhood.

So Casey, will you play “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel?