Where Wendy and Richard Pini (a.k.a. "WaRP" or "ElfMom and ElfPop" or "Sunnybright Picture-thing and Nastybad Editor-thing") let slip the wolves of spontaneous commentary, sometimes but not necessarily Elfquest related. For now, until we get this page formatted into the web site, use your browser's "BACK" button to go back to Elfquest.com.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Some catching up

Occurs to me I've left a couple of previous entries hanging unfinished, so I'll attend that right now.

One. Back in May I had some things to say about the (then) upcoming Star Wars movie, "Revenge of the Sixth." I gyrated through various explorations and rants, came to the conclusion that the film's storytelling merits or demerits were merely incidental to how I felt about it, and allowed as how I might then take in a matinee to get an eyeful of what was supposed to be a gorgeous visual experience.

Which I did, about two weeks after "Sith" opened. (Rarely will I wait in a line. For anything.) And visually, the film was indeed a wonder to behold. I remember thinking that never before had I seen environments so meticulously, so completely realized. Give the crew at Lucasfilm and friends credit; I completely believed in the buildings, the architectural details, the textures, the perspectives... In short, I believed in those made-up worlds and cities, particularly Coruscant. It was very easy to imagine what it might be like to live there; there was no sense of disbelief or disconnet whatsoever. Kudos for that. (The story still inhaled forcefully, though.)

Two. A little later, in June, I spoke about the soon-to-open Steven Spielberg version of "War of the Worlds." I put a lot of weight upon (what I thought was) the hook, given in a magazine preview, that Tom Cruise's character had a vintage Mustang. I opined that because such a car had none of the computers or even electronics that infest even the lowest-end vehicles today, it would be able to function after the Martians used an electromagnetic pulse to wipe out our defenses.

Oh well, win some, lose some. The pony car didn't play any such part. Actually, given some of the gaping plot holes in the movie, its presence wouldn't have made much difference. Big gripe: If all electronic devices have been rendered useless, then why in an opening scene are we treated to scenes of carnage as shown in the viewscreen of a working digital movie camera? Big gripe: Tom Cruise gets a van to run by replacing the solenoid in the starter. Smaller sub-gripe: Wrong, that's not what an electromagnetic pulse would damage, especially not when the vehicle is crammed with a thousand other electronic systems that would be fried. Second smaller sub-gripe: Okay, let's give Tom the benefit of that big old doubt. Are the writers trying to tell me that in a city the size of Trenton, New Jersey he's the only mechanic able to suss out a fried solenoid??

(Gripe unrelated to geeky techincal issues: Wendy made the observation that in no way could the lame, "let's dink about the house like the Four Stooges" Martian creatures seen briefly during the middle of the film be the creators of the complicated machines that rise up out of the ground to go stalking and disintegrating the countryside. I agree. As crude - by today's standards - as were the Martians in the Gene Barry 1950s version of the movie, nonetheless they were a heck of a lot creepier than this new bunch.)

Three. This wasn't really a thread left hanging, but there is a nice little denouement to the story. In August I told of the discovery of the web site of a rather rabid seeker of public office here in Poughkeepsie. The more I read, the more I smelled something fishy, without being able to put a finger on anything solid. Then I saw a clear case of copyright and trademark infringement; unambiguously fraudulent use. As that's one of my pet causes, I took some time to (I hoped) throw a little chaos into this person's campaign by alerting the owners of the infringed property, and by writing in to the local newspaper's op ed page.

Now, I don't pretend to claim or even know whether there's any cause and effect at work here, but I did read in the newspaper about a week ago that this individual had withdrawn from the race under suspicion of fraudulently using invalid signatures to get on the ballot. Was I surprised? No. Was I unabashedly delighted? You betcha. In these times of big governmental lunacy running on a scale that's frankly astounding, it's little victories like this on the local level that keep me believing that the pendulum will right itself. Wait... unfortunate choice of words there: The pendulum will correct itself.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Note to self

Remember to look for the kim chee at the mega Chinese-Sushi-Mongolian stir-fry buffet during the dinner phase of the meal, before I go into dessert mode. I like kim chee, but I must have overlooked it while I was grazing the other offerings, so didn't notice it until I was scanning the desserts. Kim chee does not play well with banana cream icebox cake.

Note to self, part two. If I forget the wisdom of part one, be sure to have a large, preferably open, but at least well-ventilated space to walk around in after dinner.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Unexpected perks of the business

I'm not the world's most politically active person. That's no secret. I have my beliefs, and I act upon them from time to time, as the opportunity arises, but generally I'm not out with a picket sign. I prefer quieter action.

This evening, just about 15 minutes ago, the doorbell rang. I wasn't aware of anyone coming to visit, or any appointments I'd made, and there's a "no soliciting" sign by the bell - so my curiosity was piqued. If it was someone I knew, that'd be a pleasant surprise. If it was someone handing out tracts or selling magazines, I would smile sweetly and point to the sign. (And if they then said, "Oh, I didn't read it" I'd have the perfect opening for a whole variety of responses!)

Actually, it was someone running for town office. I'm registered to vote, and this older gentleman had gotten my name and address from the lists, so I figured I'd listen for a few minutes. As long as he wasn't shilling for money, I had the spare time. He spoke a little about what he wanted to do, and so on and so forth, and we chattted a bit about this town we both live in, and I signed a petition for an issue I am in favor of. Then, as he was about to go, he said, "There's one other thing..." And he showed me a printout from the web site run by a group called Justice Team that, as far as I can tell, wants to curb crime and corruption in the county by engaging in what looks to me very much like the same sort of tactic that had children ratting out their parents about 65 years ago in Germany. The site (www.justiceteam.us, if you're interested) is pretty lurid, in my opinion, and is full of grammatical errors that do not speak well of the intelligence of the site builder, at least - and upon first glance I made the choice that I didn't much like these people.

The gentleman at my door opined that he didn't much like what this looked like either, and he suggested I might want to keep an eye on local news leading up to a primary election next month, in which these folks were running. I said I'd do that, and then my eye caught an image a couple of pages in on the printout. It was The Shadow, from the old radio show and pulp magazines. I know for certain that the logo is a swipe, and I'd bet good money that the image of the character is as well. I smiled at the gentleman and said, "But first, I think I'd like to alert the owners of this copyrighted image and this trademarked logo - both of which appear without any attribution whatsoever - that this local group has infringed upon the owners' intellectual property!" (Especially since at the bottom of Justice Team's home page is a no-nonsense disclaimer to the effect that everything appearing on their web site belongs to them and don't you dare think otherwise!)

I told the gentleman that I'd been in the intellectual property business long enough to know a case of copyright and trademark infringement when I saw it. His eyes lit up, he smiled at me, said "Thank you very much!" and went off at a brisk pace. I like to think, as I sit here writing these words, that he's now on the phone to someone, who might then get on the phone to someone else, and at some point perhaps another legally-empowered someone will make a call to Justice Team and point out to them the irony of a vigilante group, railing against criminal ectivity, engaging in theft to make its point.

I enjoy my work, and the years I've put into it. Sometimes, like this evening, I really love this job.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Oh Jack, I am so sorry

My introduction to the wonder that was Marvel Comics in the mid-1960s was via the Fantastic Four. I'd read comics before then, sure, but it was with FF #37 that the budding imagineer within me was hooked and hauled in big time. That issue - unlike any of the DC Comics titles I'd read when I was younger, unlike any of the Marvel anthology monster-spook titles I'd seen previously - caught me and wrapped me up with a ribbon because, at the end of the story... it wasn't finished! It was a cliffhanger, clearly meant to get me to buy next month's issue, and oh how it worked. The "Frightful Four" opener led into the Daredevil/Doctor Doom second act which barrelled without pausing for breath into the Ben Grimm/Thing climax. It was all one big tale spread out into seven issues. I was on tenterhooks waiting the thirty days between installments and let me tell you, no one knows how to be on tenterhooks like a 15-year-old who's just discovered the best escapist fantasy ever. There will never be a moment of heroic transformation in the comics to come up to the scene where Reed Richards, in order to defeat Doctor Doom, condemns Ben Grimm to retransform into the Thing - the memory of that three-panel page still sends chills up my spine.

(And then Stan and Jack went on to introduce the Inhumans! And then the Silver Surfer and Galactus!! Oh, ecstacy! The run of issues from #36 through #50 will never be equalled. Ever.)

Which is why I, like so many other fans of the Fantastic Four in their heyday, were fervently hoping that the recently released "Fantastic Four" movie would capture at least some of the glory of Marvel's first family. And which is why I titled this blog entry as I did.

(And no, I am not dissing Stan by omission. At their peak, in the mid-1960s, the Lee-Kirby or Kirby-Lee creative team was untouchable and more, they complimented each other perfectly. Jack was Olympian vision, sometimes remote but always titanic; Stan was the editorial ear perfectly tuned, sometimes bombastic but always humane. However, we had special connections to Jack and so his name goes on the post.)

How could so many aspects of a story that was originally done so right, be translated so wrong to the big screen? I don't want to do a point-by-point analysis; there are others who have, or who will, do much better. (Ball's in your court, PAD.) I've tried to make allowance for the fact that Stan and Jack introduced the Fantastic Four in a time and a culture removed from the one we inhabit now. I was willing to accept that the original premise - of Reed and crew stealing an experimental rocket ship - wouldn't fly (no pun intended) in today's "we've been in space already for forty years" setting. I was prepared to try - mightily - to overlook the wretched, but probably necessary in today's American Idol driven Hollywood, casting.

But oh, the pain. How could such a wonderful concept go so wrong? How could Reed be made such a wimpish, wishy-washy dork? (Not my word, Sue Storm's.) How could Sue be transformed into such a shrew? OK, Johnny was a hothead - but not so self-centered a jerk. Ben... well, of the four of them, Ben came closest to being what he was in the early, formative comics. I give Michael Chiklis points for doing more than any of the other leads to bring some semblance of emotion (all the while wrapped in a Thing-suit) to the tortured character. And Victor von Doom... toppled from mythic counterpoint to cliché-ridden second-string supervillain. Oh, the pain, twice. I'll even go so far as to say that, for all its clunkiness and low budget, the 1994 film version (which never saw theatrical release for a lot of reasons) had more heart than this year's slick but soulless entry.

Adding that picquant little frisson of insult to injury, I recognized (as I'm sure other long-time fans of the FF did or will) several little dramatic bits that were - or were trying to be - homages to particular scenes in the comics.

(Spoilers be here.) One of my favorite scenes from the comics involves the Thing, in a funky mood, spearing a huge stack of pancakes with a fork, one assumes to comsume the entire wad in one bite, "just to keep body and soul together." It was just the right balance of humor and compassion. In the movie, there's a scene in a diner where a waitress brings such a plateful of flapjacks to Ben - but the moment becomes meaningless in the greater meaninglessness of the conversation between Ben and von Doom at that point. But what really torqued my strings was the scene in the movie that I'm guessing was supposed to be the big dramatic moment when Ben decides to sacrifice his humanity and become the Thing again in order to save his friends. Total waste. As the viewer, you get nothing - a moment of thought showing on Michael Chiklis' face as he looks at the transformation gizmo, then cut to battle with Doom. If this was meant to hark back to that three-panel scene from "The Battle of the Baxter Building" it failed. Abysmally. (Spoilers be done.)

Actually, I lied earlier. There is one other scene, not coincidentally from another Marvel title of about the same vintage, that is as visceral and powerful as the one I mentioned from the FF. It occurred in issue #33 of the original Amazing Spider-Man title. It involves Spider-Man, trapped beneath an impossibly huge chunk of machinery as water rises higher and higher, threatening to drown him. For panel after panel, Spidey goes on about effort and honor and commitment and trial and failure and consequence and... It's basically a talking-head sequence, which can easily be the most boring sort of storytelling known to comics. And yet Steve Ditko's agonizingly slowly animated art and Stan's reach-in-and-grab-your-guts words bring it to life so that when Spidey finally thrusts this mountain of metal off his back, you realize you've been holding your breath the entire time and now you can get back to breathing. In the second "Spider-Man" movie, they didn't spend quite so much time on that scene, but they did show it. And they made me believe Spidey's effort. (Don't even get me started on the elevated train rescue - when it was done my shoulders were sore from the strain of watching!)

So yeah, Stan, Jack, I'm sorry. I don't - can't - know what either of you are feeling about this, wherever you are. (I know Stan took a cameo part in it. He does in about every Marvel character film. He looks like he's having fun doing it, and he's a gentleman. So his having a bit part does not, for me, constitute a personal endorsement.) I only know what I'm feeling, and now I'm going to get my forty-year-old comics and revisit a wonderful story that no one can ever take from me.

Monday, June 20, 2005

War of the Meatloaves

I wish I could recall who it was in the movie business who said the following (or words to the effect): "If, in the course of a film, you see a meatloaf flying by in the background, pay attention - it is certain to be important later." I'm wondering if I've just got served a bit of meatloaf.

I almost never try to predict what's going to happen in a film that's not even yet been released, but I just read an article in the local USA Weekend magazine yesterday that prompts me to go out on a limb. The piece was about Steven Spielberg and his wonderful career, and of course much of the wordage was given to his take on H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," starring Tom Cruise, which is due to open on June 29. (Now, I realize that some may already have seen advance screenings of this flick, but I've not, so have mercy.)

One paragraph in the article begins: "War of the Worlds opens with Cruise, a dock-worker too busy being a kid himself (he keeps the engine for his '66 Mustang in the kitchen) to be a father. His ex-wife brings the kids for the weekend. Shortly after, aliens hurl an electromagnetic pulse that shuts down the planet. This makes the populace much more manageable for the aliens..."

My first reaction: "A '66 Mustang! Cool!" As the proud and often, especially on warm summer days, smug owner of a '66 Mustang convertible of my own, I'd applaud the movie for that choice alone. (With extra credit to whoever let it be a '66 instead of going for the snob factor of having it be a '64 1/2.)

My second reaction: "Wait a minute... why am I being told he tinkers with this particular vintage ride? Hmmm... electromagnetic pulse that shuts down the planet... Ah HA!"

Y'see, an EMP - as anyone knows who's seen any of the "Matrix" films, or even that glorious turkey "Escape from Los Angeles," - will fry anything electronic. Computers, TVs, quartz watches and clocks, vehicles that use any sort of chip to control anything under the hood...

...but there ain't nothing in a '66 Mustang (or any such "ancient" automobile) that runs off sensitive electronics! It's all brute-force electro-mechanical! An electromagnetic pulse wouldn't affect it - which means it would still run after the Martian invasion - which means, I'm betting, it plays a part in saving the day, somehow.

Go, pony-car!

And if it turns out I'm completely off the mark, I still get to crow about Tom Cruise's choice of rides as I drive into the summer sunset.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Thank you NPR, John Williams, and you too George Lucas

When Star Wars Episode 1 (or Episode minus-2, if you're an unrepentant purist curmudgeon as I am), "The Phantom Menace" was in theatrical release, I did not go see it. Neither did I take in "Attack of the Clones" when it opened at the local multiplex. I have, since, seen enough bits and pieces of both films on cable TV to know what they're about, and also to feel content in my choice to put the price of the cinema tickets to other use. (If you're wondering, I did see all three "original" SW entries on the big screen, when they were first released.)

Now "Revenge of the Sith" is newly out, to high praise and, not surprisingly, broken box office records. The reviews are generally kinder than they were for "Menace" and "Clones" but I'm still not inspired to have mine be one of the "butts in a seat" that the movie industry so desperately courts with its blockbuster productions. Many folks I know have already seen it; many of those went to the Wednesday midnight showing so they could be among the very first to say they did see it. (I don't like to stand in line for anything, so rarely will I voluntarily put myself in such a situation; I can't begin to imagine camping out days or weeks ahead of time for the privilege! That's just me; I attend a film showing simply to enjoy the experience in that private place between mind and heart. Whether that's a day or a week or even a month after its release is immaterial.) I imagine that over the next little while I'll be asked what I thought of the movie; I'll answer that I haven't gotten around to seeing it yet, and that will put the kibosh on that conversation. I'm willing to bet a small sum that at least a few of the people who ask, and who get my answer, will then wonder "Gee, what's wrong with him?!" I'm willing to make that wager because sometimes they wonder the question out loud.

That's OK, though. It's their choice to go, my choice to pass. But it's become a little habit of mine, especially when I find myself going against the flow, to look inward and examine what it is I'm really feeling about the choice I'm making. It's very easy to make snap judgments. One such might go something like, "I'm not going to see this movie because everybody else is going, and I don't want to be one of the crowd." Or, "I'm not going to give my ten dollars to George Lucas because he's just being a hack now and he should've let it go after the third film." Or a dozen others. The very cool thing about feeling such a judgment rising up inside is that, if I choose, I can step back from the emotion and ask myself questions about it. Not "why am I feeling this or that" - feelings simply are. But rather, "Why do I think George Lucas is a hack?" or "Why do I believe going to a full theater makes me one of a crowd?" Questions that have nothing to do with Mr. Lucas or big bunches of people, questions that have solely and simply to do with me and what's going on inside me. Because, after all, who can know me better than me?

So ever since the hype about "Revenge" began seriously to push its way into the collective cultural consciousness - maybe for the past two or three weeks, as the Hollywood machine went into high gear - I've been alternately wishing everyone would shut the hell up about the film and asking myself why my feelings are as discontented as they are.

Such musings often turn up more than one avenue of inquiry, more than one answer. One such is very easily come by, because it's an old friend who has taken up such long and ingrained residence that evicting it is a similarly long and incremental process. Simply put, even despite the very settled emotional place I wrote from here regarding an Elfquest movie, I'm still capable of envy - that "old friend" I mentioned a moment ago. I envy George Lucas his success, that's all. There's a saying that old habits die hard. Actually old habits don't die at all... but they can be transformed into new and different habits. It takes time and effort, but it can be done. Envy doesn't have nearly the choke-hold on my beliefs, my sense of self, that it once did - but its echoes are still with me, and they still whisper that without a movie, Elfquest - and I - must be failures, right?

(Wrong. But I want to stay with "Revenge" in this blog, so...)

Another part of the puzzle of why I've avoided the "new" Star Wars films has to do with a strong disinterest in the characters and the storylines. OK, that's fair game for a question: Why am I disinterested? (Which itself leads to another: Should I be interested? The answer, of course, is no. But I enjoy getting at a better understanding of my own self, so I always try to pursue "the next question." Thank you for that, Ted Sturgeon.)

This morning I was tuned in to National Public Radio as I often am, and up came the familiar opening fanfare to the Star Wars theme, signaling yet more coverage of the new film. I reached for the station-seek button; the host announced an interview with John Williams; I decided to stick with the program. As much as I was ambivalent at best about the film, I do enjoy hearing composers speak about their experiences in the trade. So for the next fifteen minutes I listened to Mr. Williams talk about how he got started, how and why he made the decision to score the original "Star Wars" film in the lush, romantic, fully orchestrated style of Erich Korngold and Max Steiner. As he spoke, I remembered how I had felt that opening day in 1977 when, by pure chance, Wendy and I walked into the first showing at a theater in Boston; when, after the lights had gone down and there were a few moments of strange, dark silence, that first cosmic chord boomed through our bones. As John Williams spoke about his decision to give each character his or her own theme, I remembered the music behind Luke Skywalker as he gazed into the double sunset after the deaths of his adoptive aunt and uncle. I recalled the swelling theme behind Yoda's raising the sunken X-wing fighter from the swamp. And who could forget the first martial notes of what has become known as Darth Vader's march? It was all so fresh.

Then Mr. Williams talked about the new film, and how - since the ending of this movie must dovetail into the beginning of the original first - he had wanted to rework those now-classic themes to give viewers hints of what was coming. (Even though we already know.) The example he played was for the young Anakin Skywalker; it was like a hopeful mirror-image inversion of Darth Vader's dark musical signature.

And that's when it struck me, the reason behind my disinterest in the "prequel trilogy." The whole hullabaloo is nothing more than the biggest retcon that science fiction and the movies have ever seen!

If you've not heard the term before, "retcon" is a shorthand for "retroactive continuity." It's what prequels are all about. It means, given a particular story, going into that story's past, and making up more stuff that will explain or lead into or fit into the existing tale.

(Retcon has been used - and abused - in comics for years. The classic example involves Captain America: Cap's adventures - and his comic book title - petered out after World War II and the Nazi threat ended. The character appeared briefly in the early 1950s as a "Commie hunter" during the beginnings of the cold war. In 1963 he was reborn after another long absence... but there was, some writers thought later, a glitch. According to the '60s story, Cap was frozen in suspended animation at the end of World War II and thus out of the picture until nearly 20 years had passed. But if that were true, he could not have been around in the 1950s. Who, then, was the "other" Captain America? Answering that and questions like it - sometimes with a hammer and a shoehorn - came to be known as retcon. It's what led DC Comics to their "Crisis on Infinite Earths." It can be done well, but when it's not, it smacks of artificiality and contrivance. Retcon itself is not a judgment; it simply is.)

(Wendy asked me, when I mentioned all this to her, if I then considered "Wolfrider" - the 12-part series that she wrote about Cutter's sire Bearclaw - to be retcon. I answered honestly that I did since it was, if not actually created then certainly expanded upon well after the telling in 1979 of the original tale of Bearclaw and Madcoil. And I think "Wolfrider" is a superb story - but even it had to stretch a bit to accommodate a wee glitch that pre-existed its telling. I'll leave finding that as an exercise for the reader.)

So the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy is an explanation of how the original trilogy came to be. It's retcon. And like most retcon, I don't care about it.

See, I was wowed by the original first movie; it could have stood forever on its own. "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" weren't necessary, but they did write finis to conflicts that were set up in the first film, and aside from the phosphorescent ending and really annoying Ewoks, they told a satisfyingly complete story. The end.

But George Lucas decided more was needed and, hey, it's his universe and his money and he's going to do what he wants. He's said as much. He's a consummate ficchanozz. (This is a wonderful Italian dialect word, the spelling of which I've butchered, which means "someone who can't leave anything alone" - it's pronounced FEEK-a-NOSS. Have fun with it. We do.) He decided to have Greedo shoot first. He added bits, took snippets out of the original trilogy. He predicted he would make twelve films, then nine, now six... unless that changes again. It's his party and he'll scrye if he wants to.

But it's all stuff that hold no interest for me. I don't buy the years-after-the-fact revelation that Star Wars is Darth Vader's story, not Luke Skywalker's. Vader's bombshell to Luke that "I am your father" was a shocking thing; it was meant to be; it made his choice at the end to sacrifice himself to save Luke meaningful in a nicely and mythically compact way. I don't really care about the political machinations and psychological manipulations and deus ex mitichlorians that created - in excruciating dryness - the Dark Lord of the Sith. I don't care where R2D2 and C3PO came from; they were right where they needed to be at the get-go. Yoda confided to us, in Luke's dark hour, "There is another!" We suspected that might be Leia, and our suspicions were rewarded. I don't need to see her birth. And I don't care much at all to hear how cleverly even as great a talent as John Williams can mix 'n' match musical motifs for the sixth time.

Actually, I feel a lot better now. Thanks to the serendipity of an NPR interview and some inner-directed questions, I can simply and without envy put "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones" into the same personal conceptual bucket as "Aliens 3 and 4" and "Matrix 2 and 3." They don't exist for me in the same place where the original films live, in loving and ever-renewing memory. Note that I'm not saying they're bad; they simply... aren't. This is my choice - because my heart is my sandbox.

And who knows? Now that I've discovered this about myself, maybe I will take in "Revenge." Everyone's talking about how gorgeous it looks; perhaps I'll go for the eye candy - anything more than that will be icing, I suppose. But if I do, it'll be a matinee. George will have to settle for my six-fifty.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

When good people have too much spare time

The mailbox at Warp Graphics (the snailmail one, not the email one - that's a whole 'nuther story) sees some interesting stuff. I'm not talking about the submissions of story and art that come in "over the transom," or about the various offers that marketers out there in hype-land think a company with a name like "Warp" would be interested in.

No. This is about the really off the wall items that people, who have an interest in Elfquest, put together when they have a lot of time. For example, there's a fellow up in Canada who, for the past several years, has regularly sent to us bricklike packages of pages of a comic format story that, as far as I can tell, has to do with the Wolfriders and their adventures with trolls and... well... other creatures that never inhabited the World of Two Moons as we know it. Each roughly 5-by-7 inch page contains a single panel; I guess it might work as a flip book. The only problem is, the entire thing's in French - and while I took a few years of that language in high school, what remains of those lessons today is barely enough to inform me not to order escargots from the menu. In the meantime, I've got many hundreds of pages of really intense but incomprehensible Elfquest comic fanfic - and it keeps on coming.

In a different direction, we recently received a two-hour-long DVD of highlights from the fifth annual Elfquest mini-convention arranged by a group of German fans. It seems that every year these folks and several dozen of their friends and co-conspirators rent a castle - yes, a real, live castle - somewhere in the countryside and, for four or five days, live as (mostly) Elfquest elves. There are all sorts of activities, from the singing of songs to the brewing of Dreamberry Wine (from the looks of the list of ingredients - which is in German, which I know less of than I know of French - this could be lethal stuff, but you'd die happy) to the Live Role Playing of an honest-to-High-Ones quest. There's drama and action and special effects... and you just haven't lived until you've seen fans become Preservers. I am not making this up.

Just today, in the mailbox, there appeared a CD that, on first glance, appeared to be a bootleg of the "Wolfrider's Reflections" album that we released some years ago, and which - for the time, anyway - has gone out of print. Now, it's well known that I look askance upon copyright infringement, so I wondered why on earth someone would be sending me as blatant a rip as I thought I was holding... until I read the note that came with it. This particular clever fellow had not rerecorded the CD... exactly. Every song on the album had been reversed! And listening to the music thus becomes a very weird experience. If you lived during and survived the 1960s, you probably remember all about taking vinyl LPs and spinning them backward by hand on the turntable in order to try to extract the "hidden demonic" messages. I don't know about that, but listening to Catatonia County Rag backward brings to mind a Mexican "Cinco de Mayo" celebration as it might take place in a village in Transylvania! If you want to hear it, the MP3 file is here. It's about 1.5 megabytes in size, so might take a while to download, depending on your internet connection, but I'd be remiss if I didn't share.

And then there's the Flash animation of Terry Collins and Bill Neville's "Tiny Toons" Elfquest story "Berries for the Brave" that one intrepid soul is working on... but I'll save that for another entry.

Ah, for the time when we had time!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Nastybad Basementstuff

Even though it's a near-gorgeous day outside, this Saturday after Tax Day, I'm schlumpfing about the house because earlier in the week I decided it would be efficient to descend the back steps all at once in one foot-wrenching drop off the side of the landing. I discovered that feet do not bend the way hands do, but when pressed into the attempt, they do bruise the loveliest shades of purple. (And then there's having to endure the joke about why a foot injury is the best form of male birth control. Why? Because it makes you limp all the time. Ptheh!)

What led to my becoming Gimpmaster of the Universe was, I had been moving a lot of stuff out of the basement in preparation for contractor guys to come in and, essentially, rip everything out down to the walls and floor in order to refinish the place to make it suitable for human habitation. Previous, and for many, many years, the only function of all that space was to store my various collections - books, astronomy and space, comics, artwork. Problem was, there was so much stuff (George Carlin would've had a field day) packed up into so many cartons that I almost never used it or even looked at it. The basement truly did resemble the closing scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I posted an entry a couple of months ago here that, in retrospect, turns out to be prelude to what's going on right now because, once all the comics boxes were cleared out, I began to see a lot of potential in the now-freed space. Maybe a game room? Or a bit of a home office, hmmm?

So I called around to a number of local contractors, testing the waters to see just what this newest flight of fancy might cost, and yield. Turns out that the quotes didn't cause too much sticker shock, so I made my choice and for several days now, there's been a steady stream of burly fellows wielding sledgehammers and drills and prybars and making loud noises as they've taken out old paneling and studs and wiring and plumbing. In one room there had been a rug that was probably installed during Lincoln's administration, and when they peeled up the actual carpeting, there was some loathsome ichorous goo underneath that had, once upon a time, probably been the padding. That is the nastybad stuff to which the title refers, and that took some heavy duty scraping to remove - and left behind a miasma of foul greasy particles floating in the air that have probably invaded every corner of the house, and every lung I own. And then there's the sealant for the foundation walls. It's powerful stuff, stinks to high heaven, and - if breathed for long enough - grants a strange buzz to the frontal lobes.

Ah, spring!

But the work is coming along. New metal studs have been nailed up, the wiring is going in even as I type, someone's wielding a soldering torch on new copper piping (I can recognize the fragrance of soldering flux at fifty paces) and despite the (slowly lessening) pain in my left foot, and the mess that still lingers down there, I can see the finished space in my mind's eye - and it's exciting. I've still got way too much memorabilia crammed off in corners and rental space, and I don't think I'd be able to forgive myself if all I did was to use the renovated basement as Spiffy New Warehouse 2.0. So I'm thinking about another round of letting go, and that's exciting too. Gettin' lean, here! Hooah!

And one of these days I'll even get to go out in the nice finally-springlike weather, take a hike around the block, and not feel as if the snails that are starting to appear are laughing at me for being such a slowpoke.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

They were heeeeeeere...


Every once in a while you hear or read something that just makes your jaw drop. The April 2005 issue of National Geographic magazine cover features a story that was reported late last year, about newly discovered fossil remnants of what may be a new branch on the human family tree. These "little people" were discovered on an Indonesian island - far off the African "beaten path" of hominin fossil discoveries - and (what originally got my attention) they were only about three feet tall.

Otherwise known as "elf size" - or less, even!

So this was interesting, because, well, y'know, Elfquest is about these creatures we call elves who are smaller than modern day humans and all. Also, it's always way cool to learn that the history of this World of One Moon we inhabit is more varied and mysterious and wonderful than we often imagine.

Of more interest was the information in the National Geographic article that these wee folk lived only about 18,000 years ago - practically yesterday in geological terms. So they could have co-existed with humans who were on a par, evolutionally speaking, with the humans who greeted the High Ones when they first set foot on the World of Two Moons. What really notched up the "whoa!" factor, though, was the following: ...Hobbit (the name given to the first fossil discovered) is our first glimpse of an entirely new human species ... Her kind probably evolved from an earlier Homo Erectus population, likely the makers of the tools (an earlier archaeologist) found. Her ancestors may have stood several feet taller at first. But over hundreds of thousands of years of isolation ... they dwindled in size. ... It's breathtaking to think that modern humans may still have a folk memory of sharing the planet with another species ... like us, but unfathomably different.

We've always tried to keep a touch of scientific (or even pseudo-scientific) grounding in the fantasy that is Elfquest - but we had no idea that our educated guess about the High Ones diminshing in size would find provisional backing in archaeological discoveries made a quarter-century after we started telling the EQ tale! And as Wendy has often asked (of the World of Two Moons, but hey, you never know...), did the elves visit because humans believed in them? Or do humans believe in them because the elves visited?


Friday, March 25, 2005

FDR was half right

I spotted the following on a sign outside a religious establishment earlier today (it doesn't matter what religion it was - the expressed sentiment in my experience is valid across most denominations):

Fear of God is the start of wisdom.

"Say what?!" I thought to myself. "Boy, someone's got that bass ackward. What does fear have to do with wisdom?" And then I was put in mind of another expression that equally throws sand in my mental gears: "Godfearing."

Very often - especially in these problematic and reactionary times - I hear it said of this or that person, as if it's a positive quality, "He's a good, Godfearing man." (Or woman; fear does not discriminate.) Now, it seems to me that if you're a good, Godfearing person, and your particular deity is both all-present and all-knowing (as the biggies generally seem to be), then it makes sense that you are under the microscope - being observed, being judged - at every instant. (Sort of gives a creepy twist to Bugs Bunny's question to Gossamer: "Didja ever have the feeling you wuz being...watched?") Since you define yourself as "Godfearing" then by definition you live every moment in an unending state of fear.

GRUNDGGGE! (That is the sound of mental gears grinding to a halt.) Why would anyone do that to themselves?

Albert Einstein said "One cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." To that I add, "One cannot simultaneously be fearful and be happy." The two emotions are simply at odds with each other. Whatever energy you invest into being fearful, is taken from being happy.

(Smartass that I am, I imagine some, sufficiently Godfearing, might take issue:
Them: "We're not on this earth to be happy, we're here to suffer in anticipation of a better life afterward."
Me: Do you believe you're doing a good job of it?
Them: Yes.
Me: "If that's the case, then, are you happy in your suffering?"
Them: "Yes"
Me: "Gotcha!")

Besides, I don't wish to imagine any deity - male, female, both, neither, or other - whose function requires my fear. That way no wisdom lies, only unhappiness and - if I am sufficiently unhappy about my being unhappy - depression or even worse self-induced malady.

Franklin D Roosevelt famously said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." I reply, why fear anything at all - including fear itself? Ain't nothing in the world says we have to, it's merely something we choose to do on some level. And I ask, borrowing yet another quote from a very favorite Broadway play: "So why choose fear?"

Why indeed?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sometimes you just want to thin the herd

I try very hard not to be judgmental upon what other people do, for there is a school of thought that teaches that we all - every one of us - are simply doing the best we know how to do in order to be happy. But sometimes maintaining that neutrality is deucedly difficult, and my molars suffer as a result of the grinding I put them through.

The following appeared on December 10, 2004. It articulates far more eloquently than I could do, the feeling that comes over me when I observe what the author talks about. (I'm certain every one of you has seen the same.)

Disclaimer: The following editorial is copyright © 2004 by the author, as well as whatever news outlets it appeared in.


by Paul Campos

I'm standing in the parking lot of an enormous shopping mall, staring at a Ford Excursion. A 7,700-pound hunk of metal, the Excursion gets horrible gas mileage, while spewing massive amounts of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

It's the official policy of our federal government to offer Americans bribes, in the form of huge tax deductions, to encourage the purchase of such vehicles. In 2003, Congress enacted a provision allowing people who bought SUVs weighing at least 6,000 pounds to deduct the entire purchase price from their taxable income, if they claimed to use the things for "business purposes."

Manufacturers scrambled to add even more weight to vehicles, to make them eligible for the deduction. This further decreased the gas mileage and increased the pollution emitted by these environmental disasters on wheels. The most awe-inspiring feature of this particular Excursion is a plastic decal shaped like a yellow ribbon, which its owner has affixed to the back door. The ribbon is embossed with the message, "Support Our Troops."

When writing this column, I usually make an effort to cultivate the persona of what in a recent New Republic essay my friend Jon Chait characterized as the "thoughtful observer." Thoughtful observers like to note the blind spots of ideologues all across the political spectrum. The thoughtful observer specializes in melancholy, a-plague-on-both-your-houses musings and fears above all the label of partisan hack.

But there are limits, and on this issue I've reached mine.

I could, for example, thoughtfully observe that here in the pseudo-lefty enclave of Boulder, Colo., it's easy to spot a $50,000 car sporting a "Live Simply So Others May Simply Live" bumper sticker. Or I could muse in a melancholy fashion on how the knee-jerk hawk is no more misguided than the knee-jerk dove, and possibly less dangerous.

I could, that is to say, emit a wistful sigh at the prevalence of human folly among those of all political persuasions and return to cultivating my (metaphorical) garden.

I could do all these things, and normally I would, but today I just can't.

To the owner of the Ford Excursion who implores us to "Support Our Troops" I say this:

You, sir (or madam), are a monumental jackass. At this moment, American troops are risking their lives to protect your inalienable right to live your life in an impenetrable fog of selfishness and stupidity.

If not for the need to service this grotesque monstrosity on which you squander your money and that of the taxpayers who subsidize your comfortably numb life, those troops you support would not be getting killed and maimed in a country I doubt you could find on a map.

I sometimes wonder if anything short of dynamite can shatter your complacent fantasy that the Iraq war is about bringing democracy to the Middle East. The truth is that every Arab from Casablanca to Khartoum could be cutting his brother's throat, and yet this would remain a matter of indifference to our government if not for the need to ensure that you will be able to fill your Excursion with cheap gasoline.

To expect others to sacrifice everything for you, while advertising by your own behavior that you will sacrifice exactly nothing for them, is the height of political and social immorality. And to do so while claiming your political views are an expression of "moral values" is an obscene joke.

Drive off, Ford Excursion. Head back to your gated community, to patiently await the Rapture, or the next Nordstrom's sale. You've driven me past the limits of pundit endurance, and I long to return to the world of thoughtful observation.


Elfpop here again. I thought Mr. Campos' words had expressed everything I have felt on the subject of such insulated and self-centered people... until today. Today, I saw something that - in the words of Emeril - kicked it up a notch. On the highway I saw a Hummer H2 (arguably the worst offender in the miles-per-gallon sweepstakes) sporting a bumper sticker which read:

My SUV (heart) Iraqi oil

Everyone in Paul Campos' editorial could be said to be stupid and thoughtless; the monster driving the Hummer is beyond such soft qualities. This person is consciously callous to the point of evil. If I could have wished the hulking vehicle off a high bridge into a deep ravine, I think I would have.

And those of you who know me well, may have an idea of how far away from my normal mode of thinking such a wish is.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

More thoughts on "Matrix"

Note of explanation: The Elfquest blog isn't set up as many others are, to allow instant and untrammeled response to whatever Wendy or I may post. We decided upon that course well before we put up the page, hoping that new tidbits on the Elfquest.com site would bring visitors more frequently, but also knowing that neither of us has the time to get into an extended dialog about what we've written. (Once in a while, I'll stick my nose into this or that discussion on one of the other EQ forums, just to keep things lively, but neither Wendy nor I want to make a habit of it - and it can be habit forming! I'll touch on that in another blog. Maybe.)

But email works, and recently I received a reply to my thoughts about "The Matrix" and its sequels, that I found delightfully thought-provoking. So I asked the writer - one "web@hobbsnews.com" - if I could quote his letter and make my own replies. He said yes, so here we are. (I don't know for certain that this person is male, but years of reading letters, stories, comments and so on from both genders has, I think, trained my editorial ear. This letter feels very stylistically "guy-like" to me. I'm sure I'll hear back if I'm wrong!)

If you haven't yet read that earlier blog, it's here.

I'm not particularly familiar with the many exegeses of the trilogy on the internet, but this is my take: How the theme of belief was expanded, I think, is at the root of the "psychobabble". Knowledge was achieved in the first film, the demiurge was revealed, so the "power of belief" became a kind of situational fact in the sequels, a part of the mythological landscape rather than a quest item, so to speak.

Ah - this is good. I like this. When I saw the first film, I felt very much at home with its apparent message. That message is made available not only to Neo - who indeed at the movie's conclusion has chosen to become a powerful creative force arrayed against "the Matrix, whatever it may be - but also to us, the viewers. We are given the gift of the question, "What do you believe the world to be?" Or more to the point, "What do you want your world to be?"

But I was put off by what seemed to me to be a squandering, in the second and third films, of that powerful premise in favor of the same noisy and pointless posturing that killed "Aliens" 3 and 4, and "Terminator" 3. I felt that the introduction of the Architect, who is both of the Matrix yet also its creator, was a cop-out. We'd been shown that there was a curtain - the illusion of a "real" world imposed upon billions of minds - so now it seems we must have a wizard behind the curtain. But I accept now, given that the power of belief has evolved from spiritual goal to "situational fact," that it must become less ethereal and more like, well, a traditional superpower. (Neo, with his new abilities, is in fact more than once slyly compared to Superman.)

Neo's objective becomes instead victory over a defined foe. How to put his powers to purpose? He must decide not just which world is real, but the nature of the real world he has found.

Even though I'll agree that Neo's objective has changed, I still ask "Just who is the defined foe?" Is it the machines who are the generators of the Matrix? Is it the Architect, whoever he is and wherever he truly resides? Is it Agent Smith, the rogue program who wants to take over the Matrix (and then, apparently, extend his domain out into the physical world of the machines)?

It appears, in Matrix 2, that the differing characters are novel archetypes, each representing varying types of philosophical determinism for Neo to choose from: Morpheus' holistic fatalism, the French guy's causal determinism, and the Architect's more malign, willed-and-imposed fatalism. Neo chooses free will over all these, but not before we're bamboozled by lots of lectures on the nature of agency. The first movie's clarity is there, buried in it all, only occasionally allowed to shine amid the bigger picture the Wachowskis decided to explore.

Waaaay too many lectures... But I like the metaphor of "characters as menu items." For me, it adds weight to the power of choice - which, when applied to our own beliefs, becomes the single most potent faculty we possess.

So where does belief fit in -- why is it important to make two big loud movies after its power is secured? One thing I've become convinced of: It is to avoid comparisons with traditional western and eastern philosophy. More important, I think, is postmodern epistemology, like that of Jean Baudrillard (Mr "Signs" and "Simulacra"), who phrases the gnostic paradox not as a conflict between a real and false world, but in terms of signs and symbols competing with real experience for the attention of our perceptive faculties.

In this view, instead of having experiences, people observe copies of the real filtered through "control screens". Instead of the real, we have belief-simulations comprised selectively of the real and placed in our heads by our own manipulated senses - by own own beliefs. If so, maybe Neo's victory is to empower free will not only over the simulation, but over "belief" itself, as belief is the manipulable and corruptible part of humanity that the simuation thrives on to begin with.

The merely enlightened "believed" in the real deal, but it took The One to grab the real deal and will some change into it.

Which, I think, begs another question or six. If by the "merely enlightened" you're referring to folks like Morpheus and the inhabitants of Zion who've escaped the Matrix into (what's left of) the real world, then what you say makes a certain sense. There's the world of the Matrix, within which most of humanity exists in a dream state, thinking it reality. And then there's the "real" world where the machines dominate the blasted Earth. Morpheus made the point - at times, overmuch - that he believed in the victory of humanity over the machines (and the Matrix) but as you say, his was a passive faith. Yes, he found and nurtured Neo, but it was still Neo who was set up to be the active player.

But what of the billions who dream their waking dreams? Among all those, certainly there are many who hold beliefs of one sort or another - after all, the illusory world of the Matrix is supposed to be a cautionary mirror of the world as we know it in our everyday lives. The dwellers in the Matrix simulation believe they are other than what they are; they believe they are walking about, doing jobs, going to church, fighting wars, trusting friends, loving family... None of which is "real" if it's all "manipulable and corruptible" as you say. It's almost like there are layers to the world of the Matrix. The first layer contains the population's universal belief that the world is real. Beneath that come all the varied beliefs of individual souls. If I am a denizen of the Matrix world, I live my life in the (ultimately unreal) belief that I am free to choose my own path - and more, I never know that I live, that I am an illusion, a dream.

It's here that I draw my own line in the sand. There is (I believe) a rock-bottom foundation of reality, and I am in it. Within it, I have choice, and that affords me the power to build a happy life upon beliefs that, yes, are malleable. I have the ability to increase my happiness. I can do that, if I choose to - and I do make that choice. Can such an idea exist within the dream world of the Matrix? I don't know, though it's easy enough to imagine that the simulation is so seamless as to allow it. On the other hand, if it were so perfect, no one would ever have "awakened" from it, would they? Someone had to be the first to break out; Morpheus speaks of a man who did just that, and who awoke others - including Morpheus himself. The illusion is thus flawed, and "there is no spoon" if you do not choose to see it. There are forces in the world who would love nothing more than to try to manipulate our every sensory input - there's a bunch right here and now that we call the current Administration - but we each have the power to (as the Moody Blues put it) decide which is right, and which is an illusion. And then "will some change into it."

(I really didn't intend this go in a political direction, but it's difficult to avoid the analogy. I don't give too much of a fig for the postmodern sensibility - if that's not an oxymoron - but the country does seem to be heading more and more toward a condition of heightened ideological fragmentation and meaninglessness. In a way, it is becoming its own little "mini-Matrix" - people accept more uncritically than ever what is put before them. "I heard it on the teevee, I read it on the internet, it must be true!" Here's an intriguing question: Would we recognize a Neo if we saw him - or her?)

One last question that's sticking in my craw: What is up with the revelation that the Matrix has been created and, apparently, overcome half a dozen times - so far? What's the message here? Since at the trilogy's end the Oracle tells the little girl that she expects Neo will return - are we to infer that we're doomed to ride the wheel of cyberkarma forever? Or will his reappearance signify that we're slowly notching our way up the ladder of enlightenment until we are all made free? The Architect's snippy implication that it's all going to happen over and over puts the same sort of sour taste in my mouth as those cheesy 1950s atomic-era monster movies that go to black with a big white "THE END" ... followed by the fade-in question mark. Thanks for the hairball, bros!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Deeper into the woods than ever...

Following upon Richard's "Matrix" musings, I've just seen Disney's fabulous restoration of "Bambi" out now on DVD. Rush to snap it up, gang...this one's a treasure for the ages. Digitally enhanced yet faithful to the soft guache colors of yesteryear, it's a more magnificent work of art than you remember. And don't forget to stock up on Kleenex big time - you'll need it!

While the movie itself is a treasure, I want to call your attention to a section on Disc One called "Inside Walt's Story Sessions." Unearthed for the first time since "Bambi's" beginnings are transcripts of story conferences between Walt Disney and his staff of animators, art directors and music supervisors. Actors are employed to read the transcripts in a naturalistic way as we go through the classic film, scene by scene, listening to the development process in Walt's and his artists' own words. It's a fascinating portrait of teamwork, a meeting of minds, hearts and spirits. More, it is a window into an innocent and poetic mindset of the past, before the word "edgy" was ever coined in Hollywood.

I listened with particular interest to discussions of the musical themes used throughout the film - music so powerful that it stands in place of dialogue and sound effects. Watch "Bambi" yourself and tell me if "Man's Theme," as it builds, is not at least as terrifying as the menacing shark motif in "Jaws." There's a relationship there. Also, Disney's extensive use of a human choir is less corny and more of a revelation than you'd expect. The same vocal qualities that evoke lonely winds blowing over the moors in the Lawrence Olivier version of "Wuthering Heights" are both hair-raising and heartbreaking when used in "Bambi's" most dramatic scenes.

This immensely influential cartoon we all grew up with has often been ridiculed as precious and dripping with sentiment. But I think Walt's own, unrehearsed words provide special insight. He and his staff never set out to tell a cute, compromised story. Their intention was to bring the audience into the minds and souls of the characters, animals though they be. They thought constantly of what the audience would best be able to relate to...where to hit 'em hard and where to give 'em a rest. They intended for the film to be a spiritual experience without beating anyone over the head. And they had a helluva lot of fun doing it!

Treat yourselves. See "Bambi" tonight and be transported to realms of watercolor lushness. Lord knows it implanted love for the Forest and its inhabitants in the heart of the eight year old that still lives in me. It's more than held up over the years. It's so fresh and achingly pure you almost won't believe people's heads, at one time, were ever in such a place.

More soon,


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Matrix Re-re-re-revisited

The nice thing about cable TV is that you don't have to wait very long for one channel or another to rerun a movie. Surfing usually turns up something acceptable to watch, and for me at the end of a long day it's usually mind-candy. So lately I've been stumbling across the two sequels to "The Matrix" - "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" - and if there's nothing else too pressing to attend to, I'll watch the visual pyrotechnics. The past few nights, it appears, have been my nights for catching the last half hour or so of the third film, "Revolutions."

I remember when these two films premiered in theatres; the anticipation had built to fever pitch in the wake of deserved success for the original "Matrix." The first movie could easily have stood all on its own. It was tantalizingly complete just as it was; a stylishly unexpected commentary on the nature of perception, reality, and choice. It was - and still is - a perfect little gem. (As Wendy put it, "It has its own little wisdom.")

It was probably inevitable that the Wachowski brothers, flush with both praise and cash, would want to complete what they said was their original vision of a huge sprawling story in three parts. Thus the buzz grew and grew, and the packaged hype outgrew even the buzz, and then the movies opened...

...and a whole lot of people left the theaters shaking their heads, wondering out loud what the heck was that all about? I was one of those people.

But I'm also a very uncritical date when it comes to video entertainment that flows in via the cable (since I don't have to do anything but turn on the TV); my list of "guilty pleasures" is long. I'll watch reruns of really horrid films like the remake of "Godzilla" or "Lost in Space" simply because they're dependable in their awfulness. And, as I said, when I'm working on other things, I don't have to pay attention to the tube.

So I've been able, lately, to immerse myself in the "Matrix" mythology and - as often happens with repeated exposure to anything - I think I've managed to tease a hint of the original philosophy out of the two sequels. I feel good about that. The first film was all about perception and belief, and how those concepts affect each other. (I'm a big believer in the idea that belief shapes everything we think, feel and do.) The second and third films seemed, at first viewing, to be about anything but. There was much sound and fury, but I couldn't see the point. The psychobabble coming from the character called the Source really irked me, as he seemed to be saying that it didn't matter whether or not your belief lifted you out of the Matrix; it was all cyclical and predestined to happen over and over anyway.

But the underlying power of belief finally started showing itself once I'd had the chance to see the final installment enough times to that I was able to tune out the razzle-dazzle and pay attention to some of the quieter moments and softer-spoken lines. When Neo presents himself to the machine-lord and offers "If I'm wrong then you should kill me" it's not a simple movie bluff. His belief in himself is absolute so he is able to say that completely fearlessly. When, at film's end, the guardian of the Oracle asks her, "Did you always know?" and she replies, "No, but I believed," it's possible to imagine that it is her belief that has underlain the entire success of Neo's (and Zion's) struggle.

(I'm still trying to figure out, though, whether or not it's the Oracle who is lying in the rainy street after the apocalyptic conclusion of Neo and Agent Smith's final confrontation. Either my eyes or my TV screen ain't what they should be!)

I still think the Wachowski brothers would have been well served by letting the original "Matrix" be a standalone film, but I feel better about the sequels than I did immediately after I'd seen them. Sometimes the stew has to simmer a long time before it's palatable.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Brain Gears Going GRUNDGE!

Richard and I were hanging out at the fabulous comic shop Golden Apple on Melrose a few weeks back (do visit if you get the chance - they have just about everything anyone could want in stock, plus a lovely Elfquest display). Anyhoo, we chatted with various staff and customers and I got into a conversation with a young woman who was a pretty intense, longtime EQ fan.

Now, mind you, we were standing directly in front of the fully-stocked Elfquest shelves in the store, which means "Searcher and the Sword" was right there on display. And this dear, sweet fan says to me, "I've been following Elfquest for years but I really miss YOUR work."


"My work?" I chirped brightly, figuring she must be a purist who never got comfortable with any of the other artists Warp used over the years. "Since we've been with DC, it's been NOTHING BUT my work," I reassured her. "I format all the manga reprints, do new covers and add new art as needed - and did you see 'Searcher and the Sword' which came out in hard cover last year and will be re-released in soft cover in April?"

Yes, she said, she had seen Searcher and really loved it. "Well, then," I smiled, thinking I'd made my point.

"But I miss your work," she said.



"Ummm..." I said, "but I just explained...I mean 'Searcher' is all me...no one else touched it...so how can you miss...I mean...it's right there...it's..."

Yes she knew, she said, but she still missed me.


Further explanations were not forthcoming. Clearly we were not connecting and it didn't seem likely we were going to connect so I quietly wandered off to another part of the store.

When someone obviously intelligent persists in making no sense, the detective in me tends to assume the truth lies in what's NOT being said. What, I wondered, had that nice, young woman actually been trying to tell me?

Had she been trying, ever so politely, to scold me for having allowed other artists to draw the elves? Was she missing the way Elfquest looked in its earliest years? Did she want me to know that, no matter what new work I did, now or in the future, she would never forgive what she perceived as a desertion and would always "miss" me?

If any of that's a correct interpretation of her code, I think it's kind of sad...a no-win scenario we've encountered before. By clinging to the past what she'll really be missing, IMHO, is a lot of fun, because there's lots more new story to tell before the Final Quest is done. And Elfmom and Elfpop are the sole tellers - that's the way DC wants it and the way WE want it.

"I like your old stuff best," believe me, is no compliment. It always makes the brain gears go grundge. There's no way to respond other than nod, smile and move on. I don't dwell on the past or try to recreate it. My drawing style, thank goodness, is not the same as it was in the early eighties. I've evolved right along with the elves and love doing what I'm doing now.


If/when we chance to meet, let's not speak in code or dwell on the good old days. Let's talk about NOW, because NOW is all there is. And that's plenty.

More soon,



Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This is a declarative sentence?

When did we stop being confident? I think it was not so very long ago as these things go...

For as long as I can remember, I've loved the English language. It's quirky, it's inconsistent, learning it is difficult compared to learning other languages, the rules are all over the linguistic map. But it's a beautiful instrument, when played well. I fancy myself and editor and a writer and so I strive to use the language as well as I can - in speech as well as in writing. Part of knowing how to do that, I have always thought, involves crafting the sound of the words, phrases and sentences I speak. Like music, spoken English has a palette of sounds, of rhythms, of accents. And one of the most fundamental "riffs" in spoken English is that when you speak a declarative sentence, your voice goes down at the end of it. When you ask a question, your voice goes up.

So when did people - and I mean nearly everyone I hear these days, from friends to interviewees on the radio to celebrities on television - start adopting the really irritating custom of ending nearly every declarative sentence with a vocal uplift? Imperfect memory suggests it must have grown out of "valley-speak," that vocal expression of simpering smugness that has evolved and mutated into whole-body manifestations like Paris Hilton and Ashlee Simpson. Wherever and whenever it began, it certainly seems to have pervaded every area of life and culture in these here United States.

Why else, when you listen to a perfectly innocuous interview taking place on radio, for example, would you hear an otherwise apparently well-educated, well-spoken person say something like, "Well, I was born in the midwest? And then I went to college and got my degree in archaeology? I gave a talk last year at Harvard? My newest book will be out in a month?" At least, that's what it sounds like - every sentence capped by the voice lilting upward as if asking a question. What is up with that, anyway? It's to the point where, from time to time, the phone will ring and I'll pick up the handset and the person on the other end, whom I might know very well, will introduce himself with, "Hi, this is Cutter Kinseeker?" (No, of course that's not his name; I may be an ex-publisher but I'm not a total crumb!) And the expressed question mark gives rise within me to fantasies of yelling back, "Are you sure? Who should I ask to be certain?"

I've been told that such vocal affectations might be the expression of a citizenry whose confidence has been so beaten down by the forces of "political correctness" that we're all scared to make simple declarative sentences. We're so afraid of offending the hypersensitive group du jour that rather than make any statment with conviction, we'll ask it instead in the hope that the shield of our voiced unsureness will keep censure from raining down upon our heads.

I don't know about you, but as a driver's-license-carrying member of a supposedly great nation, I think that's pretty damn sad?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Why does a male dog...?

So there I was earlier this evening, at the Daily Planet (the restaurant, not the newspaper), decompressing after a particularly grueling day at Warp Central. This eatery is one of those "theme" places, featuring decor from the 1960s through 1980s or so; there are LP album covers and posters and iconic images all over the walls. There are also a bunch of period television sets mounted up in the corners so just about everyone can watch whatever retro fare is playing.

Tonight's video entertainment was vintage breakfast cereal commercials. I blush to admit I remembered seeing most of them when they were first run; never mind Quisp and Quake, here comes Marky Maypo! Most of the commercials featured animation of some sort; very few were strictly live action (although it was a hoot watching as Clark Kent - the George Reeves version - sat down to a hearty breakfast of chocolate coated sugar bombs with Jimmy Olson and Perry White).

For reasons unknown, I found myself fascinated with the animation. Much of it was very simplistic, line drawings with limited movement. Some was surprisingly fluid. (In the biz, one says that it was "on 24s" meaning a new drawing for each of the 24 frames that it takes to show one second of action.) I got to thinking about the history of animation, from its beginnings at the turn of the twentieth century, through the many experiments and refinements, successes and flops, all the way up to the present day's computer generated imagery (CGI). I wondered what it must have been like to be in the audience at the 1933 premiere of "King Kong" - or 1937's "Snow White." Or for that matter, "Gertie the Dinosaur" in 1914.

Questions, questions... What is animation for? It's a very special effect. Is it used to show something that can't be filmed in real life? Well, sometimes - dinosaurs don't exist in today's world, or the world of a century ago. Yet both Windsor McKay and Steven Spielberg (and many others) brought them to life. So animation can take us, visually, places that otherwise exist only in the imagination. Then what about something like "A Waking Life"? Animation, to be sure, yet anchored totally in the here-and-now of reality as we think we know it. Here's a film that could easily have been filmed with living, breathing actors (well, actually it was, but that's beside the point) without the overlay of animation. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to convey impressions rather than images, so that the viewer could add his or her own imprint to the narrative?

We accept, most of the time, and mostly without effort, the "reality" of an animated film, whether the characters are seven dwarves or a big green ogre or a talking fish searching for his son. I think we do this because we freely suspend our disbelief for the sake of the entertainment; a good animated film is the audio-visual equivalent of a favorite fairytale. And as a species, I believe we love our fairytales.

So, round about dessert time, the question started rattling around in my brain, what is it with the ongoing attempt to make CGI as... normal-seeming as possible? "Final Fantasy - the Spirits Within" was, I suppose, a noble effort - a totally digitally constructed film. And yet, there's something primally creepy about watching figures waltzing about that you know are supposed to be humans, and yet aren't quite. (There's a term for this creepniess - it's called the "uncanny valley". Put that phrase into your search engine and see what comes up.) We're comfortable watching human actors, and we're comfortable watching unreal T-Rexes and orcses and aliens of all stripes and colors - but slightly-off fake people weird us out.

What's the goal? To get CGI to the point where we actually can't tell the difference between a flesh-and-blood actor and the digital counterpart (a la "Simone," a truly wretched film)? I guess that would be a technical coup - but what's the point? So I can watch Steve McQueen, brought back from the dead, do commercials for Ford? So a studio can put Marilyn Monroe into a new film without having to deal with messy details like salary or sick days or artistic temperament? (And who the hell would program MM Mark 2 to behave like the original, anyway? Who on earth could sufficiently get inside the head of any actor or actress to accomplish that?)

What exactly is the point? I sure can't see one.

The answer to the truncated riddle that is the title of this blog is, "Because he can." Is this progress? It's likely that someday, maybe soon, someone will figure out how to animate, in silico, a human being indistinguishable from the real thing. Why? Because he can. Will this be a good thing? You tell me. We live in a time where the veracity of the news, of what our leaders say, of what's going on in the world, are already difficult enough to establish. Next time your favorite (or least favorite) civic leader or sports icon or musical idol shows up on your HDTV to tell you the way it is, how are you going to know it's real? Where's Neo when you need him?

Perhaps there already is no spoon...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Can "Back When" come back?

TCM ran "Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Collectors' Edition" this afternoon. I was listening to it as I finished formatting the last page of EQ Grand Quest Volume 8. 'Course I had to stop what I was doing and come out to see the last fifteen minutes...possibly the most visionary and spiritually uplifting climax to any movie ever filmed. It never fails to bring tears of gratitude.

You "under thirties" out there...you just cannot begin to imagine what "Close Encounters" did for - and to - my generation in the mid seventies. It absolutely exploded our minds. No one had ever suggested this possibility: peaceful contact with visitors from the stars, in such a glorious, fulfilling, hopeful and visually stunning way before. We were bathed in light from the big screen...drenched in sound and heavenly music. The experience embraced us even as we embraced it. We all went back again and again and walked around outside in a daze of expanded consciousness when we weren't glued to our theater seats.

Most of all, this movie gave us an underlying sense of all-rightness, no matter what was going on in the world. Young Mr. Spielberg dared to tell us everything was basically OK; humanity was likable enough and respectable enough to be visited. He also showed us, in the tragicomic scenes where every-man hero Roy attempts to construct a model of Devil's Tower, how a dreamer may have to sacrifice much that is familiar and comfortable to make that dream come true. Roy's starry destiny filled our hearts with the comforting thought that anything was possible and any price of admission was worth paying.

Personal aside: Elfquest was born in those days, inspired by and reflecting some of that hope and idealism.

Since then, though technology has advanced apace, you'd be surprised how little else has changed. Richard and I really thought 2005 would look a lot different than it does. And I personally thought the spiritual vibes would be higher than they are. Prejudice, war, greed, materialism and, most of all, fear seem to have a firmer grip than ever.

Given that, I'm asking the "under-thirties" out there...you to whom "Close Encounters" may seem corny and a bit dated...what's inspiring you on the big screen these days? Are you content with the recent spate of cynical Urban/Goth good vs evil, Heaven vs Hell CGI blockbuster slugfests? Can you stomach the edgy "re-imaginining" of Bugs Bunny and friends that's happening even as I type? Anyone had their fill of edgyness in general, yet?

You know, it's possible to inspire the world in a different direction. And you CAN do it selfishly, for your own satisfaction, with no crusading agenda to weigh you down.

If you itch to explode on the scene with heartfelt music, art, stories and movies but feel intimidated, even rejected, by the current Hollywood mindset that sentiment is poisonous and optimism doesn't put butts in theater seats - I beg you, don't listen! Don't wilt! Stick to your world view and find a way to put it out there. Let 'em call you corny! Lord knows Steven Spielberg's heard that about fifty million times (Richard and I've heard our share, too). But if "Close Encounters" set my generation soaring, YOU could be responsible for a visonary "back when" for your generation forty years from now. You really could.

Just give it some thought.

More soon,


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Blog Detour

Hi Gang!

Earlier today I started a blog which evolved into a fairly weighty WendyWords. It's off to Richard and Tim, now, so look for it any day on the home page.

Meantime, the earthshaking news is Angel went into the duck pond again (my fault - I looked away). Phew! STINK-ER-ROO! Off to the groomers!

I think they may have used a touch too much fabric softener and ran her too long in the fluff cycle. Now she looks like one of those spherical fiberoptic lamps. I could stick her on a pole and dust the chandelier with her.


More soon,


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Curse you, Apple!

If you've read various editorials that Wendy or I have posted to elfquest.com, you know that Warp Graphics is, completely and coast-to-coast, a Macintosh operation. Back when the Mac debuted in 1984, the only decent page-layout, desktop publishing application was a newcomer called PageMaker, and it was only available for the Mac. Because I wanted to apply such a tool to the production of Elfquest, I bought my first Mac. Yes, the decision may have been "cart before horse" in nature, but in the years since, I have never ever looked back, or regretted that I took the road less traveled.

Until today. You see, I'm not one of those that are called "early adopters" - that class of intrepid folk who will jump upon the very newest hardware and software the moment it becomes available (sometimes even before it's truly ready). I like to let things marinate a while, give other folks a chance to find and kill the bugs that inevitably show up. Give me three to six months, maybe even longer, to see how new products stand up over time, and then maybe I'll spring for the new toy.

(There's also a purely wallet-based factor in that approach; in the world of computers a new model often shows up within half a year of the previous one, and when that happens, prices on the older stuff go down. I don't need any more CPU horsepower or application bells and whistles than necessary to get the job done...and so waiting saves mucho dinero.)

The Apple iPod has been out on the market now for over a year, but in the tradition of "if I don't need it I ain't buying it" I wasn't the least bit tempted to go out and purchase one. Especially given the backlog of orders for the wee beastie's initial release. If I wanted music, I had my portable CD player - or, as I'd more and more often found myself on long flights, my laptop, complete with CD drive and headphones.

It's amazing how personal evolution works. For the longest time I didn't give a hoot about this "MP3" business, whatever that was. But somewhere along the line, Apple started bundling something called "iTunes" with its new computers, and with iTunes came an entire new universe of stuff to listen to, and ways to listen to it. So I began converting CDs I had bought into MP3 format and keeping them on my laptop for those long drives and flights. (No, I don't do the file-sharing thing. Don't get me started on copyright issues.) Then I discovered I could do the same with audiobooks and catch up on a ton of reading that I wasn't managing to accomplish. And all I had to carry along with me was my Powerbook...

...which weighs close to six pounds (more like ten with case and accessories) and has a battery life of about two hours. Hmm.

Hmm again. These iPod things have been out a while now, and they've gone through some improvements, and people are really saying good things about them, and they say I can fit about 2-3 weeks of audio on them, and the battery will go for maybe ten, twelve hours. And they're little. Hmm.

So today I sprung for one. And spent a good chunk of what was supposed to be my work day in loading it up with a whole slew of favorite CDs - mostly Beatles. (What can I say? The music that's all around during your most formative years is the music that stays with you forever, says I.) And then this afternoon I discovered I was all out of a certain kind of photo paper that I use to produce the fine prints of Wendy's artwork that's for sale on eBay in the Wolfrider Shop. So iPod and I got into the van and went flying down the Taconic Parkway en route to the closest place that sells such paper, about an hour away. And that pure, primal rock and roll was bursting out of the speakers, and I was bopping and so very into the experience of being able to listen to anything I wanted to hear in any order from a menu of literally thousands of songs available to me from this slick white gadget no larger than a deck of playing cards...

...that I missed the bleeping exit to get to the store and you know what? There is no easy way at that particular stretch of the parkway to just turn around and catch the exit going the other way. Oh no. So yours truly and iPod spent the next half hour discovering areas of Westchester County that I could have lived the rest of my life happily not knowing about. But hey, the music was prime!

Curse you, Apple. You're making life way too much fun! (Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Lightening the load

Got a note from one of our agents today: "I notice that you're letting go some of your art collection on Heritage - I hope you're only cleaning the closet and not getting rid of all your visual treats." (He's referring to "The Richard and Wendy Pini Collection" auction at Heritage Galleries.)

Well, first of all, no way am I getting rid of all my "visual treats!" I've still got eyes in my head, so I'm still eminently open to whatever the world has to display. Even if I stop being a wag and take the comment in context, I've still got a lot of bits and pieces of artwork and other imagery here at Elfquest Central to savor. But yes, I did make the decision - one of several, in fact - to see if I couldn't find new homes for a lot of paintings, drawings, sketches, and pages of comic book art that I'd accumulated over some 30 years of collecting.

Most of my life, I've been a collector of one thing or another. When I was very young, it was stamps and coins. Every Friday night my parents would have some friends over for penny poker and every Saturday morning I'd diligently search through the penny dish to see if there was anything I needed for my blue cardboard "Lincoln Cents 1909-19whatever" coin holder. (Found a 1955 double-die cent in there once; thought it was counterfeit. But I still kept it, I report happily in highsight.) In my teen years I started collecting comic books, and there was no way I was going to be one of those "my mother threw them away" victims, nuh uh. My comics were kept in a filing cabinet that I fitted with a honking big steel hasp and padlock for which there was only one key. Even if my folks had wanted to get rid of the cabinet, I don't think they could have gotten it out the door to my room. Out of college and into the grown-up world my attentions turned to astronomy and the efforts we humans have made over the decades to hurl ourselves into the "final frontier" of space. I started acquiring anything and everything having to do with rockets and launches and astronauts and observatories and... ( Let me tell you, there is some very tacky stuff out there purporting to commemorate our cosmic achievements. A space shuttle spittoon, anyone?) Then there's the antiquarian books - again, mostly having to do with astronomy but with a generous portion of illustrated children's books on the side.

And everywhere we moved, this ever-growing accumulation came with. Whether we lived in a small apartment or a larger apartment or a house, we were actually living inside a knick-knack cabinet of increasing size. The normal domestic functions of a home - eating, sleeping - were secondary to the true purpose of the place which was, as George Carlin so bang-on proclaimed, "to hold my stuff." Up until very recently, the current basement bore a scary resemblance to the warehouse at the very end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Literally. Ever see a hermit crab, carrying along not only his shell but a growing concretion of bits and pieces of coral and sand glued to it as well? That was me.

Every so often I'd take a stap back, watch myself as I obsessed over catalogs and auction listings for meteorites and space suits actually worn by lunar astronauts, and I'd wonder what the heck I was really doing? All these tschotschkes I was grabbing and hoarding - was I enjoying them in my life or was it more a case of (as Mr. Spock famously said) the wanting being more rewarding than the having? But then I'd go to a flea market or antiques show and doggone if there wasn't the neatest space thingy and look at how low the price is!

Not too very long ago, I had a revelation. See, I'd been waffling for two or three years over whether or not to sell my collection of comic books. Yes, I still had the comics I'd had as a kid (although now they were all safely in long boxes, the padlocked filing cabinet having gotten tossed when parental threats were no longer an issue), and I had added mightily to the catalog. Wendy had also loved comics before we met, and when we married suddenly we had also merged our collections! I could still - and can to this day - recall different emotions connected to various stories, and as I waffled I also wondered how I could ever part with these colorful and evocative reminders of past times. The revelation came in the form of the realization that if it was truly the stories I cherished, there were ways - in the form of nice quality reprint volumes - to hang on to those. If it was the content and not the package...then I could eat my cake and have it too. Sell or auction the original comics and keep the archive editions for the memories.

(There was another consideration in the emotional mix too, though it's not one people generally like to talk about or even admit to. But what the hell, right? This is a blog! And that consideration was, simply, did I want to haul all this stuff around with me for the rest of my life? Would all those long boxes become like Marley's chains? A longtime collector the Wendy and I knew recently passed away leaving several storage sheds full of magazines, books, and memorabilia, much of it untouched in years. Is that what collecting is all about, I had to ask myself?)

So when a very nice fellow named John Petty from Heritage Galleries came up to Poughkeepsie to assess the comic book collection, I took another deep breath and asked him, "Do you guys handle science fiction, fantasy and comic book art too?" And the answer was, "You betcha!" Which is how a lot of artwork that I'd purchased over the years - little of which ever saw the light of day and hung upon a wall - ended up in the auction that's going on right now. (There's Elfquest art in the auction too, but that's for another blog. Maybe I'll write it, maybe Wendy will, maybe we'll take turns.) John spent three days with me going through everything here, and I will say it was both a nerve-wracking and exhilarating time. Nerve-wracking because I was finally letting go of things I'd had my fingers wrapped around for years. Exhilarating because I was finally letting go. Stuff I hoarded will find new homes, hopefully with people who'll be able to appreciate it even more than I thought I did.

Which is not to say I'm sweeping the house barren! But part of the revelation was that there are things you keep because you love them, and there are things you keep because you think you need them to complete yourself in some way. Everything - and everyone - I love, is still right here, whether "here" is my library or my heart. I just no longer believe I need to look for happiness or completion in an unbroken, pristine mint run of The Fantastic Four...which went to pot as a series anyway years ago.

I feel tons lighter, spiritually. And it feels wonderful!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Finding Elfland

A good friend asked me the other day if I thought about Elfquest all the time. She wanted to know if the world of Two Moons was sort of "overlayed" on ordinary reality, so that I always saw two worlds at once.

What a great question.

When you build a detailed fantasy universe and carry it around in your head for years and years, it's easy for others to suppose that you prefer to live in that universe all the time. How wonderful it must be, they think, to escape whenever you want to a world of your own making, where dreams come true just as you envision them. But the truth is, without ordinary reality...that is to say everyday life...to stimulate and inspire you, you have no basis for building an "otherworld" that is believable.

No, I told my friend, I don't think about Cutter, Skywise, Leetah and their earth-like, adopted planet all the time. The characters and their adventures live inside me, in a place where I can close the door, so I can keep all my senses open to whatever this Earth has to offer. Then, when I see or hear something that excites me, that inner door creeps open and Skywise or some other character will peek out and say, "Use that!" That's how it works. That's where the ideas come from.

I think my major motive for being an artist/writer is not to "escape," but to try to make sense of whatever raises resistance in my warrior spirit. For me, creativity springs from opposition, from having something to push against. My imagination is stimulated by what I see and by what happens around me - particularly things that stand out in high contrast - things that puzzle, confuse, even annoy. Elfquest is my vehicle for expressing what I learn. But how could I do that if I were oblivious to what some call the mundane side of life?

That said, I'm gonna go vacuum the family room, now. Angel tracked in a bunch of sand yesterday - she likes to run in crazy circles in the the sandbox at the park behind the library.

Love to all the thinkers and dreamers and vacuumers out there...


Monday, January 31, 2005

Up, up and away

OK, if I don't get this out of my skull and into words my spine will snap...

What does it feel like to fly? No, I mean, really fly. Not "what does it feel like to be strapped into an upholstered toothpaste tube hurtling at 500 miles per hour through the cold air at 37,000 feet." But rather, when Superman flies, or when Rayek or Aroree "float," just what do they feel? Inside, in their skins, in their nerves, behind their eyes.

I found myself wondering this a few days ago. I am one of those for whom flying (more like floating) is a recurring dream. Occasionally those dreams are vivid, lucid. Almost always they involve me...what's a good word for it? "Lifting" off the ground and then sailing rather placidly from here to there. In these dreams, while they can be visually clear, I'm not very aware of what I'm feeling in a physical way. I may be floating, say, a couple hundred feet off the ground, and gliding along, and up comes a precipice, a cliff-face dropping away to a valley far below. In such an instance, I can recall feeling a fear of falling, as if I'm pegged to an altitude of two hundred feet above ground - and if the ground drops a thousand feet, so will I! (Although, in my most recent flying dream, I overcame that fear, and just kept on going at the same level in the air. Score one for me!) In another dream, I recall floating in a cross-legged sitting position (which in real life my knees would not be happy to let me do) and drifting - but with directed purpose - above a city.

But I don't remember feeling as if there were an invisible chair under me. Nor do I remember feeling weightless. So what does it feel like to fly? When I sit, when I walk, I feel my weight on my butt or on my feet. Gravity works, and it's one of the constants in life, a sensation of weight pressing down. This got me to wondering: In just about every comic book, every movie, every TV presentation that shows someone flying, StratoMan is horizontal, parallel to the ground, arms out, legs back (or one leg tucked up, foot wedged into arse), zooming along just like a bullet, headwind fluttering his spitcurl and cape. (Doesn't he know? NO CAPES!) We imagine we can feel the wind in our face, hear it howl in our ears...but what does it feel like to fly? Does StratoMan feel as if he's floating in the air as if it were water, with something pushing him from behind? Does he feel some sort of push all over his body? When he makes a sharp left turn, does he feel the inertia tugging him toward the right, the same way we feel it when we're in a car making the same turn? Or is there no feeling at all, so that the only way StratoMan knows he's turning is by looking at the scenery changing? For that matter, when he wants to make a turn, does he push against something, or does he simply think "left turn" and it happens? What does that feel like? For a planet-bound creature such as myself, who is completely used to the cues that gravity and my muscles and nerves and balance centers in my ears give me, that guide my every move...to be without those cues would incapacitate me, I think.

So I think that somehow, StratoMan must have some sort of internal feedback, to keep him on some sort of personal center. He must feel at least some of the same effects as he zooms along, that we feel in our vehicles. But what, and how much? What does flying feel like, in the pit of his stomach?

There's a glorious scene in an episode of the recent (1996) animated Superman cartoon show, of a teenaged Clark Kent discovering he can fly. He's running, he comes to a deep, wide gully, he jumps...and just keeps going up. He doesn't do the "Up, up and away" thing at all; he soars on momentum, body upright as if he's standing in the air, feet dangling down... It's unique. It's a joy to watch. He whoops with delighted laughter, so it's clear he feels joy and elation. But what does his body feel? The cartoon gives not a clue. Argh!

This spilled over recently into Elfquest, because several of the EQ characters either float (levitate themselves) or can levitate external objects. I wondered out loud to Wendy, "What did Rayek feel when he tried lifting the boulder in the troll caverns, when he met Ekuar? He acted as if he'd strained a muscle, but he was only using his mind, right?" That led me to ponder whether or not Rayek, in trying to lift the stone, actually felt the pressure in his muscles? Did his telekinesis, in reaching out to the boulder, also reach inward in a sort of action/reaction way, to cause Rayek to perceive that he was actually using his arms...at a distance? I think he had to be feeling some sort of feedback, because he's also levitated Leetah and Cutter and Ekuar at different times, and he had to control their movement and position somehow, so that he didn't slam them hither and yon by accident (or by stray thought).

When Rayek flies, what does it feel like on his body? Does he feel the gravity of Abode pulling him downward, and does he feel the exertion of an opposite, self-created tug upward? Does that cause his body to feel weightless? (And prone to nausea, as astronaut trainees experience?) Or does he feel as if he's "riding" in some invisible cocoon - much as we feel when we're flying in an airplane? I am so used to feeling my own weight, I have difficulty imagining an activity that doesn't involve the feedback cues of action/reaction - which in turn seems to imply some necessary connection to the world of matter and mass.

And yet, in my dreams, I fly completely free of such concerns, and it is the most wonderful experience I can imagine. Now, if I could only remember what the bleep it feels like!

A Day in the Life - or - How to clean a sooty fox

Remember what Kimo said to Shuna in Searcher and the Sword? "To be a four-legged is to think no more of dropping one's life than a bird thinks of dropping a feather."

The spirit of a white fox said that to me, not too long ago. His snowy pelt adorned a quiver of arrows and made me cry. But he comforted me. So I took the fox quiver home and gave him a place of honor above the fireplace. Unfortunately, flue problems sent some soot up and the fox, I noticed the other day, was no longer snowy.

How do you clean a sooty fox? Well, with all the leather and feathers and beads attached to him, I couldn't throw him in the washing machine, that was certain. We asked around at various places that might know, including the place where I bought him, and heard everything from "it's impossible," to "baking soda," to "try a taxidermist." Finally someone from the place I got the fox called and said, "Woolite."

"No kidding?"

"Yep. Wash it a strand at a time like you were dyeing your hair, then air dry."


So, outside in the sunshine with Angel prowling in the ivy, I'm washing a freakin' fox, strand by strand, with Woolite. There's a bowl of suds and a bowl of rinse water and about four thousand wet paper towels all over the picnic table. Angel is wisely stearing clear.

Just another average day at the Pinis.

But guess what? It works! OWOOOOO!

More soon...