Saturday, July 31, 2010

Babies Babies everywhere and Steve Martin with a Banjo

Being about 9 months in from the beginning of last years winter, its babytime in springfield. Of Rachel's sisters, one has a fresh baby girl named Avalon and the other is about to have a baby girl named Hartley (thats my vote anyway). Then our good friends the Darst's are about to have a baby boy, whom I hope remains to be called Catfish although I am sure he will eventually be called John or William or something less fish related. With all of these little ones around I think back to my childhood and wonder if I had been born a couple decades later how much different my life would be. I feel sad for the modern child, growing up in a disposable, Politically Correct, me me me society. Self respect and more importantly, responsibility for ones own actions seem to have fallen by the wayside. So many of the little joys seem to be coming obsolete or considered inappropriate. Kids are having to be forced to play outside rather than going on their own, but you can't travel to far from the yard because you never know who is using facebook to keep an eye on your folks so they know when they can snatch you up. There are legal groups trying to get toys taken out of Happy meals and childrens cereals. Their reasoning (and I am not joking), 'Kids arent bright enough to make informed marketing and nutritional decisions and will pester their parents until they buy them.' Pretty much saying todays parents are completely controlled by their kids and have no say in what their children eat or play with. Again, an odd state of constantly shifting arguments of 'I don't want to take responsibility for the actions of myself or my children' and 'Don't tell me what to do or how to raise my kids.' Its mind boggling.

Plus, I couldn't imagine being nostalgic for the toys, cartoons and video games todays kids have. I know I sound like an old man at the ripe age of 29, but I can look at my toys I still have and easily remember my childhood with remarkable clarity. Todays youth culture doesn't seem to be given any type of property that will have any retention value. All of the toys are either rip offs of some decade old japanese cartoons whose entire philosophy is creating as many variants as possible and then making the catch phrase 'gotta buy them all', or anime reimagined versions of toys I had as a kid. The cartoons are more Japanese redubs or crappy flash or 3D animations that have no soul to them. Not to mention, there are almost no Saturday morning cartoons anymore. Used to be you would get up at 730 and have back to back cartoons until noon. Now you have a 8-930 window if you are lucky. And the video games? I somehow cant see being misty eyed remembering an xbox or ps3. The 80's were a time where girls toys celebrated being a girl, hearts and flowers, and all of the toys boys would ask for christmas had a certain gross out factor. Madballs, Garbage Pail kids, My pet Monster, Boglins and mutants. And all of them came with a can of ooze, whether it was Ghostbuster, Ninja Turtle, or He-man. There was one rule to live by, never put Moss Man or Grizzlor in the Slime Pit...ever.

At any rate, cool thing this past week. Steve Martin, yes that Steve Martin, was in Lampe, Missouri as part of his banjo tour. The only reason I can think he ended up at an outdoor ampitheater in Lampe was that when he began his standup career 40 years ago he played there (he mentioned this fact at the beginning of his set) and wanted a certain symetry. Otherwise, there is no reason an intelligent manager would put a place that far out in the middle of nowhere on a tour. Of the 4000-ish seats in the joint, I think they maybe had 1100 full. It was sad. But as Steve said, if all goes well I will only loose $12,000 on this tour. I suppose when you have had his type of success, you can do big things for fun and not profit.

The show in its 3 and a half hour entirety was glorious. Rhonda Vincent played for an hour, then the legendary Earl Scruggs, then Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. They were all incredibly talented, but Martin's combination of comedy and super slick banjo pickin completely blew me away. Also, he gave me a new favorite song that you haven't lived until you have heard, a bluegrass version of 'King Tut.' Although, his song Atheists got no songs was also pretty spectacular. Yes, be jealous that you missed out. Below are some pics from the event. Also, buy the CD if you even think you may like banjo.

May and June were slow months

The majority of May and June were spent with me in bed or easy chair in a crotchety mood popping pain meds due to my back so there was very little of note to be spoken of. I turned 29 in June, which was cool because Rachel threw me a surprise party. However, it was not cool because I spent a celebration of being older using a cane to get around. Bah.

At the beginning of May I did get to see Winter's Bone at the MSU student Union with some of my fellow crew and cast members. This was the first time I had got to see it and I was blown away. It was a remarkable film with some incredibly stunning performances (they are talking oscar worthy) by John Hawkes, Jenn Lawrence and my good friend, Lauren Sweetzer. I could definitely get used to seeing my name roll by in the credits. Its most likely at a theater near you right now, so go and catch it.

As far as professional life, I had one new DS game I was art lead on hit store shelves and (as of last week) another was wrapped up. The one on the shelves is Chuck E Cheese, a shockingly fun and addictive game. For the price, its replay value is completely worth it if you enjoy classic arcade games. I spent a couple weeks of preproduction on this guy researching old video game cabinet designs and layouts to try to make the visual style appeal a little more to parents my age as well as their kids. You can see a video of some of the gameplay here.

The game we just shipped to nintendo's approval department is Nickelodeons Go Diego Go, Mega Bloks Build and Rescue. You can find it on amazon as well, but despite being art lead I want you to know I had nothing to do with the cover art shown on there. I am hoping its just placeholder until they can get some better stuff up, but you never know. It is a pretty fun play, and despite being the 7th or 8th Nickeloden title I have worked on/lead its my favorite thus far. Its a mega man style side scrolling platformer type game where Diego has to go thru mega blok style habitats to gather rescue badges and lost animals. Two of the guys that did the bulk of the sprite animations that really make the game shine were James Rutherford and Zoey Engell. I've never seen either of these guys do anything less than stellar pixel work and they were on their A game for this title.

Almost caught up!

Zombie Survival, a lecture by Max Brooks

April went by with very little to report, outside of the aforementioned injuries. The one very note-worthy event was getting to meet Max Brooks, the son of Mel and the author of the two zombie-phile bibles The zombie survival guide and World War Z. You cant call yourself a zombie lover if you do not own at least one of these books. The zombie survival guide is one of the few books I have owned multiple copies of, because I kept giving mine away.

For those of you who read this blog yet somehow aren't familiar with the zombie lore, The Zombie Survival Guide (from here on referred to as ZSG) is crafted like a traditional survival guide; however, instead of how to survive in the woods its how to survive a zombie uprising. Which, lets face it, is way more handy than learning how to pitch a tent.

World War Z (WWZ) is written as if the zombie apocalypse has occurred and it is years later during societies reconstruction. A military correspondent is gathering reports from various eyewitnesses and survivors in order to craft a comprehensive guide of the world wide disaster for the United States government. I highly recommend the audio book for WWZ as its incredibly well produced, with the actors adding an extra weight to the stories narrative. During my first sampling of the audio book, I have a very scary memory of a road trip where I found myself on a bridge over a lake right around 11pm. About 50 yards from shore, there was a fire burning in the woods. I couldn't see the flames but the smoke was glowing with a dull orange light, illuminating cedar trees from behind, casting them in shadow so they looked like cloaked and hooded giants. On my ipod I had just reached the point in the story detailing how Cuban refugees were being pushed into a shipyard, the living being chased into the ocean by zombies of their families and friends. Trying to reach the relative safety of a few barges and ocean liners a hundred yards offshore, the eyewitness spoke of how the water was deep enough that a zombie could stand on the ocean floor unseen and grab the legs of the people swimming overhead. He spoke with a tremble in his voice that all around him people swimming toward their perceived safety were suddenly jerked out of sight under the crimson waves, never to resurface. The combination of the bizarre destruction I was seeing along this midwestern lake and his incredible testimony left me in a nervous mood for a good 40 miles.

Before I speak about Max Brook's lecture at Missouri State, it is worthwhile knowledge for this story to know that I idolize Kevin Smith and Sam Raimi and based the production style of my first two films after their example. The reason for this necessary exposition will soon be apparent.

Apparently Missouri State University was having a zombie week. How my nerd alarm didnt go off with this happening so close I have no idea. It was simply a matter of luck that I noticed a friend on facebook had posted he was going to see Max Brooks at the student union that very night (a thursday). I thought surely not, I would have instinctually have known the moment Mr. Brooks had bought his tickets to Springfield. But sure enough, he was going to be there that night.

I got a little excited.

And then disappointed when I found that due to this or that only one of my friends was free to see him with me, not even my wife was available. Seats were free, and after his lecture he would sign his books. How could this be passed up?!

I assumed that there would be a ridiculous line considering how awesome he was. I should have recalled that this is the Show Me state, and people only show up early for events when there is a chance they may win a year of smokes or a lawnmower or something. My friend, David Lee, and I got to the union an hour and a half early expecting to be a fair distance back in the line even at that point. However, when we got to the union doors there was no line. Even the majority of the tables near the theater entrance were mostly empty, save one couple seated near the door who when I tossed down my books on an empty table in confusion and dismay simply said, 'You too huh?'

'Yeah, I was sure there would be a line. I'm disappointed in my fellow nerds.'

'Dont feel too bad, we've been here two hours already.'

The doors were locked, so Dave and I sat and read, visited with the slowly collecting group of zomb-geeks and waited for a line to form. After about 45 minutes I saw Max Brooks walking toward the union speaking with who I assumed was the show organizer and being basically ignored by everyone he walked past. The two walked past our table, but stopped within earshot. The show organizer was telling him how after the show would go down.

'We will have a table set up in front of the book store over there for you to sign at. Someone will escort you from back stage to the-'

'Will you excuse me for just one moment?' He interupted her.

He then turned around, walked over to me, put his hand on my left shoulder and with a smile said, 'Kevin Smith, I love all of your movies.'

Then with a wink he turned on his heels and walked into the union theater with the girl.

This proved without a doubt in my mind he was a cool guy. True, I get told I look like Kevin Smith often as most bearded, be-speckled and overweight filmmakers are apt to be, but coming from him somehow it seemed grander. I could have left at that point and still considered the night a good one.

Once they finally opened the doors for the show and he got onstage...well, the lecture was amazing. His wit was astounding as was his grip on the subject matter. This wasn't a how to write a book talk, or my process of writing or even my dad was Mel Brooks ego speech. It was an incredible deadpan lecture on how to survive in a zombie apocalypse. Never once did he even remotely let on as if the content of the book wasn't based in pure fact. A personal favorite line was 'Return of the living dead did for zombies what Adam West did for Batman.' I don't recall ever laughing so hard or being so impressed with someone's speaking ability. It was glorious.

After the show I waited in line for an hour to get him to sign my two books. Luckily I was near the date of a good friend of mine, Nathan Shelton, and he showed up half an hour into our wait. He too is a zombie enthusiast and he brought his copy of WWZ that I had bought him as a birthday gift (along with a short handle crowbar) when it first came out. I had inscribed it with 'Its only funny until its true. Happy Bday." He was somewhat concerned that Mr. Brooks would be annoyed someone else had already signed it.

When I worked my way up in line Mr. Brooks saw me and with arms held wide said, 'Kevin! Its good to see you again!' He signed one book 'Thanks for being a good sport' and the other one 'Survival writing is easy, actual survival is hard' (I had thanked him for writing these survival books for our reference). We spoke breifly about how the WWZ film was coming along. It wasnt coming along at all at the time and he was rightly annoyed at the studio for dragging their feet. Brad Pitt (another Springfield Mo boy) had bought the rights to the books some time back, but the studio had stalled on putting them into production. However, this past week at comic-con it was officially announced production would start in the fall, so hopefully it will be in theaters before you know it.

After I got my books signed Nathan stepped up to give his book to Mr. Brooks to autograph. Once he had seen it, Nathan was quick to point at me to tell Mr. Brooks who had inked the inner page first. However, Mr. Brooks just nodded, smiled and wrote in 'I couldn't agree more' followed by his signature underneath what I had wrote years ago.

Afterwards we got the blurry pic below with Mr Brooks and another of Nathan's friends. I am in focus, as is Mr. Brooks, so I am satisfied with the resulting image.

All in all a terrific night that I will remember forever. I would do everything I could to catch his show if you can, you wont regret it. Unless, of course, you hate zombies in which case you shouldn't be reading this blog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The long overdue Planet Comicon post

The KC con was indeed awesome. Considering news is still coming from the San Diego Con that ended yesterday, it seems a little silly to even talk about another con, but I have photos and I want to post em. So there.

Like I had said, this year had a pretty decent spread of celebrities from screen and comic book fame. Its rare I go with any intent to spend any large amount of cash on merchandise, but I always have a pocket full of $20s (ie a couple of bills) for autographs. I dunno why, but I dig autographs. Photos, books, comics, whatever. I love meeting the folks that helped create the stories that I love (especially those from my childhood). My prized autograph is from Bruce Campbell and is on my Canon XL2, the camera I used to shoot my first two movies (in eternal post-production). I idolized the Evil Dead films (as well as Kevin Smiths movies) throughout my collegiate career, so having Bruce bless the camcorder I was using to start my film-making career was an amazing moment. But I digress.

The booths were the standard fare of comics and random toys that I had seen 100 times before. No rare figures, nothing from Dr. Who, Dexter, Firefly and almost nothing related to the Big Bang Theory; all things I was really into at the time and wanted some swag to show my interest off. Having fully embraced my inner geek this year, I was hoping to find some figures and toys from my youth, but there was nothing. Not even random MUSCLE men, Ninja Turtles, or Ghostbusters. There were however a couple of really nifty local artist booths, most notably a woman by the name of Anne Quinn from Overland Park who creates pixel images from beads. Considering most of my work in video games has been on the DS, I have spent a lot of time pondering the pixel and how best to get everything I want from a 256 color palette (or even *gasp* a 16 color palette). This gal had some really incredible work, not just video game characters brought to life 10 inches tall in brightly colored beads, but full on portraits of friends, family and beloved pets. Her website,, has a few examples of her work.

After a quick pass around the merch booths, I swung past the artist booths. I was a little disappointed to find that a couple of the bigger names were D-bags. I suppose it could be argued that they earned it, but it seems to me if you have found enough success that fans want to come by and say hi and get a book signed the least you could do would be to give a smile and a couple autographs. There was one gentleman (I wont say who, but he'd been in the industry since the 70's) who would only allow guests to approach his table during two half hour periods each day. During the rest of the time he would work on commissioned pieces only.

I ended up grabbing some art from zombie legend, Arthur Suydam, a bender drawing from Bill Morrison of Bongo Comics and a sketchbook from a Frank Cho style pin up artist, Chad Spilker. There were lots of other artists but most of them I had dropped coin previous years on getting their autographs, so wasnt as keen to get fresh ones. They have the whole list of guests here if you want to peruse em. I also grabbed a few random comics to fill in my collection and the full spectrum of the Light Corps rings from the Green Lantern series, Blackest Night.

I got into a weird moment during the day where all of the celebrities had absolutely no one in line for an autograph. Lou Farrigno was quiet but extremely nice and still could throw the green makeup on and look the part. With Mira Furlan I got flustered talking to her when I first stepped up to get an autograph so kept quiet other than a thank you until she finished signing my Babylon 5 swag to keep from making a (bigger) fool of myself. She had an aura of class that you could feel when you approached her and you couldn't help but know she belonged on the stage.

I had considered not getting Helen Slater's autograph as I hardly remembered Supergirl and had only the slightest recollection of Billie Jean. However, I long ago learned to hit any celebrity panels that went on during my time at a convention (learned by being amazed by the then unknown to me Tura Santana and Dee Wallace at a horror Con years ago), so I swung into Helen's to see what she was about. To say she was an impressive lady would be an understatement. Also, she was shockingly aloof as to her success and popularity (she had a room full of folks in Supergirl costumes) and spoke of some incredibly interesting moments with Peter O'Toole. She seemed genuinely surprised she was seen as a very strong female roll model for girls of the 80s, what with Supergirl and Billie Jean. I had read an article just a couple of days prior discussing how Billie Jean was one of the first films to feature a strong female lead that didn't rely on beauty or sexuality to attain her goals. After the panel I went back and had her autograph a photo for me and was able to talk with her for a delightful few minutes, making her the highlight of the Con for me.

It was a good time and worth making the drive for. Of course, next year I hope to make it to San Diego.

I have a bunch of photos below, mainly cosplay folks (its not a good con without a Zatanna or Power Girl). As I am horrible for not remembering to bring a camera to conventions, I have swiped all of these photos from friends or fellow nerds who attended, let me know if they belong to you and I will credit you as such.