Archive for Friday Fun Links

Friday Fun Links: Got Those Escaped-Dog Blues…

No, this is not my dog Romeo making good his escape...

No, this is not my dog Romeo making good his escape…

Feeling rather bummed out today. My dog, Romeo, an 85-lb fox hound, dumb as a box of bricks (but lovable), got out of the house three times yesterday. I caught him after his second escape when I pulled up to the house from the train station and found him loping towards me up the driveway. I put him back inside and slapped the invisible fence collar on him – the one that gives him a big ZAP! when he goes more than fifty feet away from the house. I’ve been trying to train him that, when the ZAP! collar is on him, he will get ZAPPED! When the ZAP! collar is NOT on him, and I have him on his regular leash, he will not get ZAPPED! The problem is, after a training session, he is terrified to go outside… whether the collar is on him or not. After about three days of being terrified, he forgets all about being ZAPPED! and is eager to escape again.

Well, wouldn’t you know it; the kids came home shortly after I got the collar on him and let him out of the house again. That big dummy loves tracking the scent of deer so much, he took off like a Saturn V rocket – and ran right through the electric fence, ZAP!-be-damned. He stayed away all night, when the temperatures were dropping close to freezing. Didn’t show up this morning. Hasn’t shown up during the first half of my workday.

What does this have to do with Superheroes-as-Manatees?

Absolutely nothing. But I came across the work of Joel Micah Harris while bumming around on the Internet and figured sharing my favorite mystery-manatee heroes with you might help alleviate my bummed-outedness. So here they are!



Thor Manatee

Thor Manatee

Wonder Womanatee

Wonder Womanatee



Hawkeye Manatee

Hawkeye Manatee

Captain Amanatee

Captain Amanatee


If you’d like to see all the X-Manatees together, go here.

And here is Joel Micah Harris’ gallery on DeviantART, with lots more mystery-manatee heroes and plenty of other fun stuff.

UPDATE: According to Dara, Romeo has returned, safe and sound. So the mystery-manatee heroes have served their noble purpose.

Friday Fun Links: the Weird, Wonderful Worlds of Mark Cline

The ruins of the Enchanted Castle attraction (1986-2001)

Who says the mega theme parks, the Disneyworlds and Sea Worlds and Six Flags, have killed off America’s traditional roadside attractions? Those durable, lovable staples of summer road trips may be ailing, but they aren’t quite dead yet. And if “the poor man’s Walt Disney,” Mark Cline, has any say in the matter, the old-fashioned roadside attraction will never die.

Over this past Memorial Day Weekend, my family and I took a road trip to Natural Bridge, Virginia. Our goals were to see the Virginia Safari Park (very much worth seeing, by the way) and the famous Natural Bridge monument and park, one of the natural wonders of North America. While driving on U.S. Highway 11 toward the center of the town of Natural Bridge, we passed several signs advertising a free attraction called Foamhenge. This sounded like something very much up our alley (aside from being free, which sounded good after the $$ we’d dropped at the safari park). So we put Foamhenge on our agenda for the afternoon, following our visit to the Natural Bridge monument and park.

The ticket takers at the Natural Bridge Park told us Foamhenge was definitely worth seeing, and that the man who had created Foamhenge had also operated a family attraction next to the park called the Haunted Monster Museum, which had burned down the year before (this unfortunate news greatly disappointed the boys and me). Foamhenge, a short drive away, turned out to be fabulous, in a tacky sort of way, a full-sized, accurate reproduction in Styrofoam of the world-famous Stonehenge in England. Reading the signs that adorned the little site, I discovered that the creator of Foamhenge, Mark Cline, had a wonderfully wicked sense of humor. He also appeared to be a talented maker of fiberglass figurines, judging from the impressive Druid priest who “guarded” the installation.

Entrance to Mark Cline’s Enchanted Castle Studio

Also along U.S. Highway 11, we spotted a ramshackle compound called the Enchanted Castle Studio. A wooden wall surrounded most of the compound, but we could see the tops of numerous enticing dinosaur figures inside, as well as the tops of various mythological creatures and heroes rendered in fiberglass. Off to the side of the walled part of the compound lay an abandoned castle-type building and several very weird giant figures, including a massive blue and yellow insect that we took pictures next to.

On the drive home, I promised myself to learn more about this Mark Cline fellow. Little did I know then that I had already seen numerous examples of his work, at Dinosaur Land in White Post, Virginia, and in the parking lot of the Pink Cadillac Diner just outside the entrance to Virginia Safari Park. Nor could I suspect how fascinating the story of his career would be… the story of one of America’s great roadside attraction impresarios. Beset by adversities and setbacks which would have stopped most other entrepreneurs’ careers cold, Mark Cline has gone on and on and on, never ceasing his search for that pot of gold at the end of a fiberglass rainbow.

Mark Cline, born in 1961 (three years older me), and I lived almost parallel childhoods. We both spent our youths filming our own monster movies and building miniature monsters and dinosaurs. The major difference is that Cline ended up going a whole lot farther with his artistic pursuits than I ever did (I got sidetracked into acting, first, and later writing). During his teen years in Waynesboro, Virginia in the 1970s, Cline made his own Super-8 horror movies and helped build sets and props for a local monster movie show. His latex monster creations won awards in local art competitions. He learned the art of sculpting in fiberglass during a job at Red Mill Manufacturing in Lyndhurst, outside Waynesboro, a company which manufactured small resin figurines, including Minutemen and turtles, for souvenir and novelties stores. His mentor at the company showed Cline how to make a mold of his own hand, then sent him home one night with a five gallon bucket of resin to experiment with. In 1982, hoping to achieve his childhood ambition, he attempted to start up his own horror-themed roadside attraction in Virginia Beach, but, without any business expertise or experience, he failed miserably.

However, on his drive home, he ran out of gas in Natural Bridge, Virginia, a small town whose major claim to fame is the privately-owned Natural Bridge monument and park, then surrounded by several downscale roadside attractions. He decided to make a second attempt to start his own business. Later that year, he opened his first version of the Haunted Monster Museum in Natural Bridge, but his attraction was shunned by the operators of the nearby Natural Bridge park, and it closed after three years. He reopened it shortly thereafter, retooled as the Enchanted Castle, and began a more collaborative relationship with the owners of the Natural Bridge park, who began selling tickets to his new attraction at their own well-attended facility. The Enchanted Castle featured a bungee-jumping pig, leprechauns, fairies, a giant-sized Jack-in-the-Beanstalk, plus weirder creations, such as a tremendous tick, a “Holy Cow” (cow with wings), and a 15-foot-tall devil’s face guarding the park’s entrance. In retrospect, given what was to happen a few years later at his small park, perhaps he would have been prudent to skip the devil’s face, which apparently did not sit well with the more religiously minded among his neighbors.

On the grounds of the Enchanted Castle, Cline founded his Enchanted Castle Studio, where he created new fantastical fiberglass creations, not only for his own attraction, but for other businesses, as well. A fortuitous chance meeting with either William Hanna or Joseph Barbera (Kline can’t recall which of the men he talked with) at a trade show resulted in Kline winning a contract to supply ten-foot-tall fiberglass Yogi Bear statues to all 75 of the country’s Jellystone Park Campgrounds. In 1987, Joann Leight, the daughter of the original owner of Dinosaur Land (opened in 1963), hired Cline to create a new group of more up-to-date, dynamic dinosaurs for her roadside attraction near Winchester, Virginia. Mark had visited Dinosaur Land as a boy, and that visit had been one of the primary inspirations for the direction his life’s career would later take.

“‘My father and I were traveling, coming back from Baltimore, and Dinosaur Land [in White Post, Virginia] was closed, but I asked my dad to stop there—I’d been there before—and he said, “OK.” I was probably about 12 years old. We stood there together looking through the fence at these huge dinosaur figures, and I said, “I’m going to make these when I grow up, dad.” And he just said these 11 words to me: “If that’s what you want to do, nothing can stop you.”’”

Cline, in addition to being a businessman and artist, has always been a trickster. April Fools’ Day is one of his favorite holidays. However, one of his theatrical holiday pranks, intended to amuse his neighbors and drum up additional business for his Enchanted Castle attraction in 2001, resulted in a major setback, an apparent arson which nearly ended his career as a roadside impresario.

The boys and I posing with the giant, bloated tick on the grounds of the Enchanted Castle

“A couple of weeks before the blaze, Cline played a prank on the neighborhood by scattering a handful of ‘flying saucers’ and ‘aliens’ along Route 11, the main drag through Rockbridge County. In the spirit of the neighborhood, the saucers were crafted from discarded satellite dishes. In the spirit of a true entrepreneur, they were subtle lures to his ill-fated tourist attraction.

“On April 1, 2001, the stunt and its maestro were revealed (as if there were some doubt) in a story with color photos on the front page of the Roanoke Times. The blaze occurred eight days after the story was published. … Since the October before the fire, Cline says, he had been finding religious tracts tucked under the wiper blades of his pickup truck … On the night of the fire … he went out to his mailbox to find a more ominous tract.

“‘We have prayed for you,’ read the hand-written letter, which also accused Cline of ‘darkness’ and ‘beastly madness.’ The writer warned that ‘the wrath of God is very fierce.’ Included was a burnt-around-the-edges copy of Cline’s photo clipped from the Roanoke paper.

“‘Fire represents God’s judgment,’ the letter closed. ‘Behold, the judge is standing at the door.’

“‘I read this as I was watching the castle burn,’ says Cline. … Cline, who received an insurance settlement for his buildings but not for the contents, readily concedes that he was a suspect. He says that before the flames were fully extinguished, he and his wife were separated and interrogated.

“‘I know who left me the messages,’ says Cline. ‘But there’s no proof they actually set the fire. It could have been oily rags or lightning– I believe in coincidences too.’”

Not a man to be deterred by adversity, a year later, in 2002, when the owners of Natural Bridge park offered Cline a lease on a rundown Victorian mansion on their property, Cline decided to begin anew, and he turned the old mansion into his Haunted Monster Museum & Dark Maze.

The following year, seeking to expand his empire of southwestern Virginia roadside attractions, Cline decided to go bigger. He turned the faded boomtown of Glasgow, Virginia, six miles from Natural Bridge, into “The Town that Time Forgot.” Cline made agreements with the owners of a dozen or so Glasgow merchants to allow him to put one of his life-sized fiberglass dinosaurs on their property, either on their lawn, in their parking lot, or even atop their building. Then he convinced the town government to pay for 50,000 copies of a promotional brochure he had created. The town fathers, initially convinced that Cline’s creations would help put them back on the map, gave a green light to the plan. So on April Fools’ Day, 2003, Glasgow became the dinosaur capitol of southwestern Virginia. However, Cline’s dinos didn’t pull in as many visitors as the Glasgow authorities had hoped for, so a year later, they pulled the plug on Cline’s scheme.

Not to be deterred (and suddenly having a dozen or so life-sized fiberglass dinosaurs that he needed to so something with), Cline moved his dinosaurs to a forested tract of land adjacent to his Professor Cline’s Haunted Monster Museum & Dark Maze, giving visitors two attractions for one admission price. But he went much further than just plopping a bunch of recreated dinosaurs under the trees and behind the bushes. He imagined a whole alternate history scenario for his creations to romp in, combining his love of dinosaurs, his fondness for the old Ray Harryhausen movie The Valley of Gwangi (also a childhood favorite of mine; my best friends and I stayed up late to watch it during my eighth birthday party), and the regional fascination with the Civil War. He called his new attraction Dinosaur Kingdom.

“(V)isitors are asked to imagine themselves in 1863. A family of Virginia paleontologists has accidentally dug a mine shaft into a hidden valley of living dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the Union Army has tagged along, hoping to kidnap the big lizards and use them as ‘weapons of mass destruction’ against the South. What you see along the path of Dinosaur Kingdom is a series of tableaus depicting the aftermath of this ill-advised military strategy. As you enter, a lunging, bellowing T-Rex head lets you know that the dinosaurs are mad — and they only get madder. A big snake has eaten one Yankee, and is about to eat another. An Allosaurus grabs a bluecoat off of his rearing horse while a second soldier futilely tries to lasso the big lizard. Another Yankee crawls up a tree with a stolen egg while the mom dinosaur batters it down.”

The boys and I on our “pilgrimage” to Foamhenge

Perhaps Cline’s most famous, or infamous, creation arrived the following year, landing on the Natural Bridge landscape overnight, once more on Cline’s favorite day of the year, April Fools’ Day. “‘About 15 years ago I walked into a place called Insulated Business Systems where they make these huge 16-foot-tall blocks (of Styrofoam),’ Mark tells us. ‘As soon as I saw them I immediately thought of the idea: “Foamhenge.” It took a while for the opportunity to present itself, of course.’ … It is, Mark points out, the only American Stonehenge that really is an exact replica of the time-worn original. ‘I went to great pains to shape each “stone” to its original shape,’ he tells us, fact-checking his designs and measurements with the man who gives tours of Stonehenge in England. Mark has even consulted a local ‘psychic detective’ named Tom who has advised him on how to position Foamhenge so that it is astronomically correct.”

Cline’s creations have spread beyond the immediate vicinity of the Natural Bridge monument and park. A few miles to the north, near the access road to another local attraction, the Virginia Safari Park, Cline installed a 14 foot-tall statue of King Kong in the parking lot of the Pink Cadillac Diner. He explains this was actually a protest against the local government’s having forced him to take down one of his signs: “I placed it there three years ago after the county made me take down one of my signs that they said was illegal… Since it’s too much of a challenge to regulate ‘art,’ they left King Kong alone. Now many of the supervisors wished they had left my sign alone.”

Cline’s unfortunate history with fire nearly repeated itself shortly before September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack. A businessman in Waynesboro, Virginia, who had been a high school classmate of Cline’s, arranged for Cline to create a fiberglass memorial to the Twin Towers. However, while the memorial was being installed, a support cable touched a live power line, creating a shower of sparks and a major power outage in Waynesboro. Cline’s creation almost burning down before it was unveiled.

Far worse was yet to come, however. 2012 began auspiciously for Cline; the struggling Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia decided to host an exhibition of Cline’s weirdest figures in February, advertising it as a major retrospective of American folk art. The event was featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Investors flew him on a private jet to New Jersey to have him consult on a big job; other art museums contacted him, as well as the producers of a reality TV show. However, just two months later, the centerpieces of his entertainment empire, his Haunted Monster Museum and Dinosaur Kingdom, suffered a devastating fire eerily similar to the fire which had destroyed the Enchanted Castle eleven years earlier.

“A mid-April blaze demolished the Victorian-era mansion that served as the Haunted Monster Museum as well as the centerpiece of a bizzaro place called Dinosaur World where dinos would gobble Union soldiers and where brave visitors could also hunt Bigfoot with a ‘redneck.’ … Although the fiberglass dinos in the woods outside were saved, the Monster Museum was incinerated. The mechanical rats, the ‘Elvis-stein’ monster, and the mighty fiberglass python that seemed to slither in and out of the second-story gable windows all went up in flames late on the afternoon of April 16. … Like the rest of us, Cline says he’s now trying to face the prospect of a summer without his Monster Museum. He’s seen an uptick in contract work, like the 13 men’s room sinks he recently built for the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. A couple of reality show producers have made inquiries about following him around. Cline veers between ‘pissed off’ anger at an unknown arsonist and the peace of knowing that nobody was killed or injured in the fire.”

Cline’s website,, has announced plans to reopen the Haunted Monster Museum and/or Dinosaur Kingdom “sometime in 2013.” Until that happy day arrives, fans of Cline’s work can still visit Foamhenge, accompany Mark and his wife Sherry on Lexington, Virginia’s Ghost Tour, or see the artist at work at his Enchanted Castle Studio on the grounds of his former attraction, the Enchanted Castle, the remnants of which can still be viewed from U.S. Highway 11. Cline’s work is also on prominent display along the main commercial drag of Virginia Beach, where his creations are a large part of the appeal of such tourist draws as Nightmare Mansion, the 3-D Fun House and Mirror Maze, and Cap’n Cline’s Pirate Ghost Ride (which replaced a long-running funhouse attraction called Professor Cline’s Time Machine).

And, of course, Mark Cline’s dinosaurs can still be enjoyed at the very place where all of his dreams got their start, White Post, Virginia’s Dinosaur Land (I did a three-part post on my family’s trip to Dinosaur Land, chock full of terrific photos of Cline’s dinos).

Friday Fun Links: Potty News and Views

the Mr. Toilet House in South Korea, now a potty theme park

I haven’t posted an edition of Friday Fun Links in a while, but I stumbled across an article which has gotten me back in the saddle (at least for this week). Those who’ve read Fat White Vampire Blues know that I’m not adverse to potty humor; in fact, I’m rather fond of it (having three boys between the ages of six and nine in the house helps). So, when I came across this article announcing that Hitler’s toilet (actually, the toilet from his mega-yacht) has spent every year since 1945 in a suburban town in New Jersey, and it recently went on tour in England, well… I just had to share.

Just one link an edition of Friday Fun Links does not make. So I had to check if there had been any other interesting toilet-related stories in the news. Turns out, yes, there have been. Suwon, South Korea is now home to the world’s only potty-centered theme park. And I’m sure you’ll be happy (and maybe even relieved) to learn the following: “the proceeds from the museum will go towards cleaner toilets around the world…”

Here’s a video link for those potty fans unable to make a trip to South Korea, plus a little background on the Mr. Toilet House and its builder, Sim Jae-Duck.

Needless to say, I was stunned to learn that the Mr. Toilet House was not the world’s first toilet museum; an institution in India can lay claim to that honor.

All this potty news got me thinking about the original Mr. Toilet, the reputed inventor of the flush commode, Thomas Crapper. Unfortunately, just a wee bit of internet research debunked my favorite story about the man, how his products had led to the origin of the words “crap” and “crapper.” As it turns out, the Gladstone Pottery Museum, “the only complete Victorian pottery factory from the days when coal-burning ovens made the world’s finest bone china,” was more than happy to dispel all the myths circulating around the illustrious Mr. Crapper. Disappointingly, he didn’t invent the flush toilet. All my illusions are shattered, shattered, I tell you!

If, however, now that I have pissed all over the legend of Thomas Crapper, you still insist on deifying the man and outfitting your home with genuine crapper equipment, rest assured that you are not out of luck; Thomas Crapper and Co. Ltd., Producers of the World’s Most Authentic Period Style Sanitaryware, are more than happy to supply you with the bathroom of your Steampunkiest dreams.

Update: So sorry! Links were not properly flushing before, but they are fixed now.

Friday Fun Links: Amazon vs. IPG, Updated

800 lb. gorilla

I apologize in advance if these “Friday Fun Links” are less fun than the ones I usually post. But I wanted to update my readers and friends on the current status of the Amazon versus IPG (Independent Publishers Group) standoff. In what has widely been viewed as a David versus Goliath conflict, scrappy little IPG continues to hold their ground, not knuckling under to Amazon. However, this means that over 5,000 ebooks published by companies distributed by IPG — including Tachyon Publications, publishers of my The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 — continue to be made unavailable by Amazon (although Kindle editions are available from other online retailers and directly from IPG).

Considering Amazon’s enormous (and growing) power in the publishing marketplace, this story has the potential to impact many, many more people than just the employees of IPG and the small publishers whose books they distribute, the authors of those books, and those books’ readers. If Amazon can succeed in driving its smaller competitors and partners from the marketplace, readers and writers alike will be at the company’s mercy, which does not bode well for the future of a thriving intellectual market in the United States or, given Amazon’s worldwide reach, much of the rest of the Western world.

Amazon vs. Indie Publishers: IPG “not budging”

Amazon’s Assault on Intellectual Freedom

Amazon’s Squeeze on Booksellers Leads to Boycotts and Protests

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Protests Amazon’s Yanking Kindle Availability of 5,000 Books, Many of Them SF and Fantasy

Jacob Weisman, owner of Tachyon Publications, responds to SFWA’s move

A Simple Explanation of Wholesale versus Agency Pricing of Ebooks

Friday Fun Links: Thanksgiving Greetings from the Food Police

Hello out there to my hordes of appreciative readers, all five of you, those stalwart die-hards who trudged into work today and are desperately looking for something to fill up your eight hours. (Yes, I know most of you, those who are NOT reading my website today, are either Black Friday shopping, Occupying Black Friday, or blogging on the pros and cons of Occupy Black Friday.) My own office looked like one of those end-of-the-world movies (think The Omega Man) where some plague has killed everyone off but left all the good stuff (convertibles, caviar, pre-war issues of Action Comics) behind for some lucky(?) sole survivor to enjoy. I, too, am seeking to fill the lonely hours. Plus, I haven’t put up an edition of my ever-popular Friday Fun Links in a while, and I still need to beat the drums for the ebook editions of The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501. So, here we go…

Reality is quickly catching up to the scenario portrayed in my third novel, the aforementioned The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 (now available as an ebook! all the popular formats! cheaper than the trade paperback! a screaming bargain!). So I like to occasionally point my noble readers in the direction of the stepping stones which are leading us all down the calorie-counting path toward my nanny state dystopia (click here for an earlier compendium of links):

You’ll be happy to know that this Thanksgiving, the Food Police were on the case

The terrifying tale of the Food Grinches Who Want to Steal Your Thanksgiving

Asking the important questions: Is Flavored Milk Public Enemy #1?

Scientists asking the important questions: Is America a Nation of Food Junkies?

Yes, I know we have a budget deficit the size of our entire national economy, but is a tax on obesity the way to fix it?

And here are a few recent news items from the wonderful world of Frankenfoods (or genetically modified foods, for those of you who cannot abide neologisms):

Be afraid, be very afraid… Genetically Modified Organisms are Taking Over Your Pantry

Asking the important questions: Ten Billion Acres of Genetically Modified Crops Can’t Be Wrong, Right?

And, although this item has nothing to do with genetically modified foodstuffs (unless you like eating flying insects), its not-so-subtle hint of things getting out of c-o-n-t-r-o-llllllllll does put me very much in the mind of various corporate/scientific snafus in my recent novel: Scientists Buzzing on Genetically Modified Mosquitoes (I mean, what could possibly go wrong?)

Friday Fun Links: When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield…

my first Cap comic, Captain America and the Falcon #142

This past Saturday was Captain America Day in my household. The day I finally got around to taking my three boys to see Captain America: the First Avenger. Why did I wait so long? Because I’m cheap. A skin-flint. I just happen to feel that taking my three kids to see a Saturday movie matinee shouldn’t cost approximately twice what it takes to feed them lunch at a mid-priced restaurant. So we waited until the Cap movie came to the second-run movie theater a half-hour’s drive away.

I made a big deal of it with the boys. I told them that if they were good, they’d get to pick out a Captain America toy or comic book of their choice after the movie. (Considering the prices of toys and comic books nowadays, maybe I’m not such a cheapskate.) I really wanted them to like the movie and to like Cap. I remember falling in love with Captain America as a kid. He wasn’t my first favorite superhero; that would be Iron Man. But I fell in love with Cap because my dad told me he’d loved Captain America comics when he’d been a kid, when Cap had just been created by Simon and Kirby, and because he took me to a comic books show and pointed out some of the old issues he’d read, and because I saw a Mego Bend ‘n Flex Captain America at a toy store that I dearly wanted. But, most importantly, I fell in love with Cap because I then read a ton of Captain America comics written by Stan Lee and Steve Englehart, drawn by Jack Kirby and Gene Colan and John Romita and Sal Buscema, and those comics made me want to be Captain America. So I wanted my boys to love Cap, too, because I’d come to think passing down a love of Captain America from father to son was a family tradition I wanted to continue.

the comic that made me fall in love with Cap

My first Cap comic was Captain America and the Falcon #142, where Cap and the Falcon finished their showdown with the Grey Gargoyle, drawn by the great John Romita (who, true to his roots in romance comics, drew Sharon Carter like nobody else). But the comic that truly made me fall head over heels for Cap didn’t come out for another year — Marvel Triple Action #5, which reprinted The Avengers #10, a story called “The Avengers Split Up!” I bought the comic because Iron Man was in it. But I ended up reading it over and over because of Cap. Cap was portrayed as the heart and soul of the Avengers, despite being their physically weakest member (well, maybe not weaker than the Wasp). Immortus (in his first appearance) manages to alienate Cap from the Avengers temporarily, and in Cap’s absence, Baron Zemo and his Masters of Evil pretty much kick the remaining Avengers’ asses. But then Cap shows up and reunites the team, causing the tides of battle to rapidly turn and the Masters of Evil to run with their tails between their legs. It was thrilling and inspiring to see how even Thor respected the heck out of Cap (whom he could thwack across Manhattan with his thumb and forefinger).

My favorite Cap artist ever? I think that would have to be Gene “the Dean” Colan. He didn’t draw all that many issues of Cap, but the ones he drew were terrific. My favorite of the Colan lot is Captain America #131, which features the appearance of a robot Bucky. The reason I love this issue so much is that Gene got to draw Cap having an absolute blast on the beach riding his motorcycle. Those panels of Cap cutting loose with acrobatic joy made a huge impression on me and cemented my determination to become Captain America when I grew up. Here’s a reproduction of those panels (I just wish I could’ve found a bigger scan):

Gene Colan art from Captain America #131; my favorite sequence

So what did I think of the new movie? I’ll admit I had my trepidations going in. Having seen the 1992 Captain America movie will do that to you, as will any familiarity at all with the two 1979 made-for-TV movies. I only knew Chris Evans’ work from the first Fantastic Four movie. I enjoyed him as the cocky, none-too-mature Johnny Storm/Human Torch, but I had a hard time picturing him making the transition from Johnny Storm to Steve Rogers, a much different sort of character.

Well, I must say he sold me. I completely bought Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, and I’m looking forward to him reprising the role in The Avengers next year. In all my years of following Steve Rogers’ adventures, whether as Captain America, Nomad, The Captain, a beat cop, a struggling comic book artist(!), or as the head of SHIELD, the qualities that always remained consistent were a bedrock sense of decency and fair play, a grounded sense of modesty regarding his own importance in the big scheme of things (probably due to his modest background and original scrawny stature), and a refusal to ever quit once he’d decided on a course of action. Chris Evans captured all of that. I thought the best line of the film was when, in the middle of his climactic battle with the Red Skull, after the Skull taunts him by pointing to their shared status as super-humans, Cap says, “I’m just a guy from Brooklyn.” Bull’s-eye, and bravo to the script writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely).

As good as Chris Evans was, my favorite character in the film was Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the super soldier serum. Erskine never got much development in the Captain America comics. Originally, he only appeared in a few panels of 1940’s Captain America Comics #1 before being killed by a Nazi spy. His story got slightly expanded in subsequent retellings of Cap’s origins, but the good doctor always got the short end of the stick. Not so in the film. Tucci makes the most of his few moments of screen time. The relationship between him and Steve Rogers is, I think, the most touching and heartfelt relationship in the movie; I could’ve watched a full ninety minutes of nothing but Dr. Erskine and Steve getting to know each other. The only little reservation I have about the movie’s retconning of Erskine’s story is that it has him injecting, unwillingly and under duress, an earlier version of his super soldier serum into the man who becomes the Red Skull. I assume from his name that Abraham Erskine was Jewish; would the Nazi Red Skull have really permitted himself to be subjected to mongrel Jewish science?

I enjoyed the film for many of the same reasons as this guy did. But it wasn’t an ideal film, by any means. I agree with a number of critics who complained that the wartime action sequences felt repetitive and were unimaginatively staged. My favorite of the action scenes in Europe lasted only a half a minute; this was Cap dropping a grenade down the hatch of an immense German super-tank, a monster war machine I would’ve enjoyed seeing more than a few seconds of. The most effective action sequence in the film is the earliest one, when Steve Rogers chases down the Nazi spy who shot Dr. Erskine. This sequence was considerably expanded from its comics counterpart, and it is thrilling, particularly in showing us Steve’s discovery of the extent of his new abilities, as well as his initial awkwardness in making use of his newfound speed. Loved that scene of him careening through the window of a dress shop because he’d turned a corner too fast.

In any case, this picture so immeasurably improved upon its most recent forebears, the 1992 Captain America movie (which I remember seeing a coming attraction for in 1990 at a screening of Dick Tracy, but ended up being so bad it was never theatrically released in the U.S.) and the two made-for-TV movies from 1979, that it earns considerable bonus points from grading on a curve. In my humble opinion, the 1944 Republic serial was no great shakes, either, with its protagonist having nothing in common with the comic book character other than portions of the costume (it was a pretty decent adventure serial, but a pretty lousy Captain America serial), but some viewers are willing to show it more love than I have.

So what did the boys think of the film? Levi, my oldest, thought parts of it dragged (the non-action scenes) and complained that he was bored; he said he’d enjoyed X-Men: First Class much better. Asher, my middle son, enjoyed it and said he liked Captain America: the First Avenger and the X-Men film from earlier in the summer about the same. Judah, my four year-old, was the most enthusiastic about Cap. He also insisted that we hurry to a K-Mart so he could pick out his Captain America toy.

Mego Captain America Bend 'n Flex figure, circa 1973; the one that got away

Right after the movie, I took the boys to a comic book store in the same shopping mall. I asked Levi to pick out any Captain America comics or youth-oriented graphic novel he wanted (within reason). Couldn’t get him to bite; he insisted I buy him the latest Wimpy Kid book instead. Then I took the boys to a K-Mart so my other two sons could pick out a Captain America toy. Asher loves cars and trucks, so he gravitated to the Heroes vs. Villains custom cars sets. I asked him if he’d like me to get him the Captain America vs. the Red Skull set. No sale; he picked the Wolverine vs. Sabertooth set instead. Come on, kids, you’re killing your old pop! Can’t you see I’m begging you to let me buy you Captain America stuff? Only Judah, my littlest guy, picked out a Cap action figure. Now I know who will be inheriting my collection of Bronze Age comics…

Well, here are some fun Cap links for you all to chew on–

Someone probably put more time into compiling this Wikipedia article on the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon shows of the mid-1960s than the filmmakers put into making the cartoons themselves. Scary.

This 1990s Captain America cartoon series would have had much better production values, but it never got beyond the drawing board stage.

A nice little portrait of Reb Brown, the actor who portrayed Cap in two 1979 made-for-TV movies. A month after giving this interview, though, he seemed mighty pissed off that he hadn’t been given a cameo in the new film.

If you thought nothing could look worse in Captain America-land than Reb Brown in that motorcycle helmet, try taking a gander at this.

If that last image really lit your cigar, you might want to bid on Reb Brown’s costume from Captain America: Death Too Soon. Shame it doesn’t come with the famous motorcycle helmet, though…

A really cool DIY Captain America shield.

Mego 8" Captain America; the one that hung out with my Mego Planet of the Apes figures

A helpful history of the many, many characters who have taken up the mantle of Captain America over the years.

The same history, but edited down to eight comics panels.

A bit of nifty what-if on who might’ve been cast as Captain America had a big-screen movie been filmed in earlier decades.

A visual history of the Mego Captain America toys of the 1970s.

Fifty-six pieces of great Captain America swag I wish I could’ve had as a kid.

An appreciation of Gene Colan’s “groovy” late 1960s and early 1970s Captain America work.

A drinking game you can play while watching your DVD copy of the 1992 Captain America movie.

For your aesthetic pleasure, here’s a marvelous page of Gene Colan’s art from Captain America #131:

Gene Colan art from Captain America #131

And let us close with these inspiring lyrics from the 1960s Captain America cartoon show:

When Captain America throws his mighty shield
All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield
If he’s lead to a fight and a duel is due,
Then the red and white and the blue’ll come through
When Captain America throws his mighty shield…

And remember — Let’s rap with Cap!

Friday Fun Links: What’s Up With All the Toys Movies?

The conventional wisdom about Hollywood? Producers want to avoid RISK. They want to make movies that have a built-in audience, that partake of an already established and beloved brand. Making a movie that, in actuality, is hardly more than a glorified product placement seems to be more of a sure thing than pulling out a ouija board to ask the ghosts of Hollywood Past what will kill on that all-important opening weekend at the multiplexes. Still, a tsunami of major studio productions based on toys? Isn’t it bad enough we’re occasionally subjected to movies starring Paulie Shore? Don’t you wish the power brokers of Hollywood would get a frickin’ CLUE? Can’t they realize they don’t have to use a Magic 8 Ball to tell them most of these pictures are going to be absolute stinkers, toxic waste polluting our Red Box dispensers and flat-screen TVs? Movies I’m going to have to beg my kids not to drag me to, not even at the discount theater?

Who started this trend of basing TV shows and movies on toys, anyway? The father of this whole mishegas was Bernard Loomis, toy developer and marketer whose long career included notable stints at all the biggies, including Mattel, Kenner, and Hasbro, each of which he helped elevate to new heights of sales and success. The fruit of his somewhat-evil genius which has had arguably the biggest impact on our culture? In 1968, while developing the Hot Wheels line of die-cast toy cars for Mattel, he pitched the notion of an animated TV series to be based on the toys. Before then, toys had been based upon TV shows, but TV shows had never been based upon toys. Hot Wheels premiered on September 6, 1969 on ABC. The series wasn’t destined for a long life, running for only sixteen episodes before ABC got into hot water with the Federal Communications Commission, which decided the show did not constitute entertainment, but rather a weekly thirty-minute commercial for Mattel’s toys. However, the series did provide a paycheck early in the career of noted actor Albert Brooks, who provided the voices of characters Kip Chogi and Mickey Barnes.

Bernard Loomis had already departed from Mattel by the time the company rubbed the FCC the wrong way, next landing at Kenner. While deciding that Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind wasn’t going to cut the mustard as a source of toy spinoffs, he coined the neologism “toyetic,” which means the extent to which a movie or TV show can generate profitable toys.  Close Encounters simply wasn’t toyetic enough.  After licensing the rights to produce toys based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Man From Atlantis, somewhat more toyetic properties, Loomis scored his biggest triumph ever by nailing down the rights to make toys based on characters and concepts from a little picture called Star Wars. So he found ways to profit from properties going in either direction, either film-to-toys or toys-to-film. Later, while he was with General Mills, he scored a possibly unique trifecta, partnering with American Greetings to simultaneously launch the Strawberry Shortcake property as a toy, a cartoon, and a greeting card character.

So what hath Bernard Loomis wrought, even from beyond the grave (he departed this globe on June 2, 2006)?

A movie based on the board game Monopoly. Might possibly be interesting, but only if they get Oliver Stone to direct.

A Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots movie? Didn’t whatever thunder this concept might possess already get stolen by Real Steel, based on the Richard Matheson short story and fondly remembered Twilight Zone episode?

Movies about Legos and Erector Sets? Somehow, I just don’t see the pieces coming together for either of these projects.

A Candy Land movie? Sounds pretty candy-assed to me…

A movie about Stretch Armstrong? Are you freaking kidding? Even as an eleven year-old, I thought the toy was totally lame when it came out in 1976. Don’t the producers realize two recent Fantastic Four movies, starring the eminently stretchable Mr. Fantastic, didn’t exactly set the world on fire (despite also starring the Human Torch)?

So you tell me a movie based on just one famous toy isn’t good enough for you? How about a movie starring all of Hasbro’s heavy hitters, including Play-doh, Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Pony, Army Ants, and Lite Brite? Oy…

Hasbro shouldn’t have all the fun, of course. Wham-O has signed its own film development deal. So we may have future celluloid classics centered around Frisbee, Hula Hoops, Super Ball, Slip ‘N Slide, or Hacky Sack to look forward to.

Who will save us from this titanic deluge of toy-based movies? Which Hollywood luminary will take a stand and decry meaningless spectacle, over-reliance on special effects, and picking consumers’ pockets with mandatory 3-D surcharges?

It is rapidly becoming impossible to lampoon this invasive kudzu of toys-to-film, although satirists continue trying. However, I fear they only give encouragement (and ideas) to producers sitting around mahogany conference tables in Southern California. Dan Hopper, you’re six for ten thus far (and I hope you’re damned happy with yourself). Peter Martin, you’re only batting two out of seven, or .286, but there’s plenty of time yet for you to catch up to Dan.

I have a suggestion to make, Hollywood. Why limit your creative magic (and $200 million budgets) to just toys? Why not widen the playing field to other categories of household products, all having a plethora of well-established brands, some even more beloved than Candy Land or Play-Doh? Think of the possibilities… I’ve taken the liberty of listing just a few properties which I think are potentially filmetic (to riff a bit on Bernard Loomis’s neologism):

Brides of Clearasil–(genre: teen exploitation/horror) Updated take on Carrie. Acne-scarred girls at a Beverly Hills high school are tormented by members of the popular clique. They find revenge when one of their members, a budding Wiccan priestess, conjures a vengeful spirit from the netherworld which can make the faces of their rivals vanish, leaving behind blind, noseless, and mouthless cheerleaders (coincidentally, the spirit also does an amazing job of clearing up blackheads and blemishes). Could potentially be released on a double-bill with Preparation H: the Shrinkage (tag line: “So you got a problem with some assholes…?”)

The Man from V.I.A.G.R.A.–(genre: weekly television drama) An emissary from a mysterious organization visits the homes of various one-time teen heart-throbs, pop stars, and leading men, now all washed up, elderly, broke, or drug-addicted, and restores to them their sense of purpose and sexual vitality.

Pepto Bismol: the Pink Revenger–(genre: “edgy” comedy) Socially relevant take on Revenge of the Nerds. A retired superhero becomes the faculty advisor for the members of a new gay fraternity at Texas A&M University. When the brothers begin suffering the harassing and dangerous “pranks” unleashed by various rival, homophobic Greek organizations, their mild-mannered advisor re-dons his costume and secret identity, dedicating himself to “coating” the malefactors in layers of pink venom and “soothing and protecting” his adorable and heroic (if somewhat quirky and maladroit) charges.

Mr. Clean Cleans Up–(genre: urban vigilante/suspense) New take on the Dirty Harry series. Mr. Clean, rogue inspector for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, declares war on all those coddled scum who dare leave their countertops infested with germ-spreading grime. He saves his “special Extra Power cleansings” for those perps who use the urinal at a restaurant, don’t wash their hands, and then take an after dinner mint from the mint bowl by the cash register.

Aunt Jemima’s Magical Journey–(genre: family/animated) The heartwarming story of Aunt Jemima, corporate spokeswoman who started her career during the dark days of Jim Crow and segregation but who rose above the stickiness of her undignified past to become a modern, empowered African American icon. Aunt Jemima travels back in time to the days of her youth to visit fellow corporate mascots Uncle Ben, Rastus the Cream of Wheat Chef, and Little Black Sambo of Sambo’s Restaurants, gently convincing them to show pride in their ethnic heritage and behave as proper role models for the young. An educational, uplifting story for viewers of all ages.

Producers, feel free to make liberal use of any of the ideas listed above. Just be sure to give me a screen credit and a percentage of the gross; offering me a slot as associate producer would be nice, but don’t consider it mandatory. We’ll have your people talk with my people. And remember, all of my books are currently available for option…

Friday Fun Links: Mail Order Novelties!

Hey, did you realize there are only 191 days left to April Fools’ Day, 2012? What better time to post a brief history of mail order novelties in America?

Actually, I’m not being entirely up-front with you, dear readers. The real reason I’m posting this edition of Friday Fun Links is that I stumbled across this wonderful article on novelty company H. Fishlove & Co. and its first runaway success — fake vomit. Here’s a fascinating fact: the co-inventor of the country’s original rubber vomit, Marvin Glass, also designed a number of the most beloved children’s toys and board games, including Mousetrap, Operation, Lite Brite (“Making Things With Light, Out of Sight!”), and the inimitable Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. And here’s an article on the company that bought out H. Fishlove & Co. back in the 1980s, Fun, Inc., which continues to rely on the profits raked in by latex barf.

When I was growing up, way, way before Al Gore invented the Internet, the king of the mail order novelties companies was the Johnson Smith Company, in business since 1914 (and no, I was not ordering stuff from them while Sergeant York was mowing down the Kaiser’s soldiers in France). I spent many a pleasant, yuks-filled afternoon in an easy chair in my parents’ living room paging through the latest Johnson Smith Fun Catalog, imagining pulling pranks with all the stuff I’d never have the guts to ask my parents to buy for me — Exploding Gift Wrapped Pop Boxes, Remote Control Money Snatcher, Phony Blood, Life-Like Lady’s Legs to hang out of the back of Dad’s car’s trunk, or, my personal favorite, Bathroom “Parking” Meter.

Those of you who’d like to peruse the entirety of the Johnson Smith Company Fun Catalog #792 from 1979 in all its awesomeness can find a complete scan here. And for those of you who’d actually like to buy this stuff? The Johnson Smith Company is still in business, now with their catalog on the Internet (of course).

The main competitor to the Johnson Smith Company was the S. S. Adams Company, founded eight years before their rival, in 1906. They celebrated their hundredth year in business by issuing this beautifully illustrated book, Life of the Party–A Visual History of the S. S. Adams Company. Adams invented Cachoo, America’s first sneezing powder, and the Dribble Glass. Unfortunately for him, he took a pass on the Whoopie Cushion, feeling it was in poor taste. Smith Johnson didn’t think so, and they sold a bazillion of them.

Other classics? Here’s a history of the Shock Pen. And could this be a contender for a modern classic? Its name alone assures it a place in the history books.

One of my favorite mail-order novelties operations when I was a kid wasn’t a true catalog; it was the back ten or fifteen pages of any issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Aurora Model Kits always had ads in the back of Famous Monsters, hawking kits of Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. But some of their niftiest kits were for Monster Hot Rods — you got to build a monster and a crazy Mustang or Model T! Famous Monsters also sold four or five minute Super-8 movie clips from pretty obscure or weird monster movies (I remember wondering what Yongary, Monster from the Deep could be like… a giant monster movie from Korea?). My dad had a Super-8 projector, and he bought some of these to show at my birthday slumber parties. Famous Monsters sold all kinds of great stuff… Don Post full-head vinyl masks, spooky sound effects records, superhero action figures, haunted glo-heads…

The art and science of the novelties catalog live on, online. Modern day successors to the Johnson Smith Fun Catalog and the S. S. Adams Catalog include the Archie McPhee Novelties Online Catalog and trendsetter ThinkGeek, purveyors of Canned Unicorn Meat. Mmmmm…. probably goes great with a nice white wine…

One last note, though. The stuff you actually got when you ordered from one of those catalogs or from an ad in a comic book could be a terrible let-down, especially for a ten year-old who’d been waiting weeks for his package to arrive. I actually ordered this from the inside of one of my comics:

Yes, indeed, it was life-size, as advertised. What they didn’t mention in the ad was that some species of bats have only a three-inch wingspan. That bit about the fangs being seven and a half inches long, though? That was simply a lie. They weren’t even seven and a half millimeters long. And all that stuff it was supposed to do at my command? Maybe if I’d attached a piece of elastic string to it, I suppose it could have “danced, jumped, floated in the air” and “rattled windows with terrifying, loud, creepy sounds!” But I was so disappointed when I opened the package, I didn’t bother. I think the tiny rubber bat went straight into a drawer in my desk. And the Free Horror Outfit? Don’t ask. It was more pathetic than the crap you could get from the ten cent novelties dispensers at the grocery store.

The crushing of dreams… Oh, well. At least I never ordered this from the back of a comic. Now, there would’ve been a let-down to top all let-downs…

Friday Fun Links: Science Fiction Movements and Manifestos!

the Futurians in 1938, with Fred Pohl in the middle row, second from right

I walked out of the house this morning and into the delicious crispness of the first day of fall (ignore what the calendar says; I say it’s summer when I want iced coffee and fall when I want my coffee hot — and I wanted my coffee hot this morning). Fall is books season! And, for a science fiction fan, how better to kick off books season than to dive into decades of fun hoo-hah over SF movements and literary manifestos?

I love to classify things. It’s fun! One of my earliest pleasures was to pour through tomes on dinosaurs and separate out the carnivores from the herbivores, the sauropods from the theropods, etc. Some of the biggest attractants for me to books on naval history and naval architecture were the fine distinctions between protected cruisers, belted cruisers, scout cruisers, armored cruisers, light cruisers, heavy cruisers, and battlecruisers (not to mention submarine cruisers and dynamite cruisers, those endearing oddities).

Lots of SF fans share my mania for classification and taxonomy. And since most professional SF writers have gotten their starts as fans (at least since the days of the Futurians), science fiction has been a fertile playground for those practitioners and armchair theorists who wished to divide between this and that (and oftentimes between us and them, which is when things get really juicy). Sometimes, science fiction movements have been primarily attempts by publishers to goose the market by publicizing “the new hot thing.” But far more often, movements and manifestos have erupted from the passions of fans and writers themselves, flourished or fizzled in the hothouse world of magazine letter columns, fanzines, prozines, scholarly journals, blogs, and convention discussion panels, then mellowed later into tasty subjects for historians and obsessives of the field.

Judith Merril

The first genuine movement to have arisen from science fiction (or from science fiction fandom, to be more exact) was that of the Futurians. Much of what we think of as modern science fiction would either not exist or would be radically different had it not been for literary lives of the young men and women who numbered themselves among the Futurians’ ranks in the late 1930s and early 1940s, including Frederik Pohl, Judith Merril, Cyril Kornbluth, James Blish, and Isaac Asimov. For a bit of entertaining deep background on the roots of SF fandom, check out this excerpt (entries beginning with the letter F) from the Fancyclopedia; make special note of articles on Numerical Fandoms, Feuds, and the Futurians. Here’s an article on Fred Pohl’s involvement with the Futurians, and the man himself has written a great deal on those fabulous days of yesteryear, both in his memoir The Way the Future Was and his highly entertaining blog, The Way the Future Blogs (both highly recommended!). Andrew Milner and Robert Savage wrote about the Futurians as the vanguard of utopianism in 1930s SF, and Paul Malmont has blogged movingly on the Futurians and the joys of being involved in the wars and controversies of fandom. Bruce Sterling, lead theorist and popularizer of a more recent movement in science fiction, has claimed the Futurians as direct ancestors of the cyberpunks and lists the infamous 1939 raid by the Secret Service of a communal apartment occupied by the Futurians as part of his Chronology of the Hacker Crackdown.

Michael Moorcock

Harlan Ellison

One of the Futurians, Judith Merril, played a key role in the next major movement to arise from science fiction, the New Wave of the 1960s, a literary and cultural reaction against the vision of science fiction embodied by Astounding/Analog editor John W. Campbell (whose influence on the field was so monumental, he might be considered a one-man movement all on his lonesome). Other leading figures of the New Wave included Michael Moorcock, editor of the key and highly influential British magazine New Worlds; J. G. Ballard, author of classic explorations of “inner space” The Drowned World, The Drought, The Crystal World, and The Atrocity Exhibition; and Harlan Ellison, outspoken editor of landmark anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions. Plenty of polemics and manifestos were published by the movement’s supporters (and detractors); unfortunately, since these were written in the pre-Internet age, much of this material must be hunted down in analog form (here is a helpful bibliography of key documents from the period, including essays by Judith Merril and Harlan Ellison, as well as a listing of essential works of fiction from the period). Here’s a recap of a recent reunion of a number of New Wave luminaries, a July, 2011 event at the British Library featuring Brian Aldiss, John Clute, Michael Moorcock, and Norman Spinrad.

Bruce Sterling

Following all the tumult promulgated by the rolling in (and receding) of the New Wave, science fiction entered a backwards-looking phase in the latter half of the 1970s, dominated by the triumph of Star Wars (an homage to the Edmund Hamilton and Leigh Brackett space operas of the 1930s) and, on the publishing side, by Betty Ballantine’s decision to commission big, fat fantasy novels written in the Tolkien tradition. However, the conservative reaction did not reign unopposed for long. A fresh movement, representing a whole new attitude, outlook, and aesthetic sensibility, burst on the scene in 1984 with the publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Two years later, the young cyberpunk movement found its chief polemicist in Bruce Sterling, who threw down a gauntlet to the rest of the SF field in his Introduction to the cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades. Here Bruce Sterling looks back at cyberpunk in the Nineties.

Cyberpunk had a good run, but even it eventually came to taste somewhat stale. By 2002, Norman Spinrad was kvetching in the pages of Asimov’s Science Fiction about a lack of recent, exciting movements in science fiction. Lawrence Person had written some notes toward a post-cyberpunk manifesto back in 1999, but not too many appeared ready to jump on that bandwagon. However, Norman need not have been so concerned. The decade of the 2000s would be replete with SF movements, great and small.

China Mieville

Like a many-tentacled horror from the unspeakable depths of Lovecraftian space, the New Weird slithered onto the scene, brought to you by those shambling monstrosities Jeff VanderMeer, China Mieville, and Paul DiFilippo, among other horrors from another dimension. Much excited chatter ensued, academics rushed to dictate The Higher Meaning of It All, and literary hipsters looked to glom onto it as the Happening Thing. But by the time the San Antonio Current was announcing “Something Weird This Way Comes,” inviting its readers in 2010 to “meet the 21st century’s new literary movement” (just a half decade late to the party), other critics were busy debunking the New Weird as a commercially viable publishing label. And other commentators stooped to terrible puns, a sure sign of the New Weird’s loss of prestige.

Around the same time as the New Weird’s inital fling with fame, Geoff Ryman was announcing his Mundane Manifesto to the Clarion Class of 2004, suggesting that science fiction should turn away from what he described as the impossible (FTL travel; time travel; alternate histories) to concentrate on the future of the possible. In case that poor quality scan of Ryman’s text hurts your eyes, Rudy Rucker explains matters in a more visually appealing format, and Ian Hocking expands further, providing additional helpful links. Mundane SF has its own blog. Finally, the always helpful Science Fiction Research Association has its say.

The tenets of the New Wave never really died; they just acquired a jazzier title: Slipstream. Proving yet again that he is one of the field’s indispensable polemicists, our old friend Bruce Sterling wrote the seminal essay on Slipstream fiction in 1989. Matthew Cheney celebrated Slipstream as the slayer of science fiction, gleefully dancing on SF’s grave in 2005. All the cool kids seemed to be going for it, but a few expressed doubts about Slipstream being a meaningful category at all. Recently, Lev Grossman decided he doesn’t like the term, politely requesting, “Can’t we rename this nerdy literary movement?”

One movement of the 2000s that has proven to be both a magnificently fertile font of discussion AND a commercially viable subcategory is Steampunk, which has spread from the literary SF world to the allied realms of filmmaking, visual arts, costuming, and role play. It, too, has had its manifesto. In fact, multiple manifestos.

Website SF Signal hosted a “Mind Meld” in September, 2010, asking a panel of experts, “What’s The Next Big Trend/Movement in SF/F Literature?” In addition to their suggestions, we may wish to mull the following contenders in the always inventive realm of SF manifestos and would-be movements:

the Ribofunk Manifesto;
the Positive Science Fiction Manifesto (this one has already generated an anthology);
the Scifaiku Manifesto;
the RocketPunk Manifesto;
the SquidPunk Manifesto;
the New Comprehensible Movement;
and, lest we forget, the New Space Princess Movement.

By the way, I recently made my own suggestion.

Cory Doctorow

Then there’s Cory Doctorow’s thing. Information should be free? The anti-copyright movement has repercussions far outside the field of science fiction, but it can be said to have SF roots. Movement theorist Doctorow explains himself in 29 absolutely free, non-DRM-shackled chapters.

While we’re waiting for the Next Big Thing to emerge, here are some anthologies to enjoy regarding various Former Big Things:

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, a Team Supreme

England Swings SF edited by Judith Merril (out of print, unfortunately, but well worth searching for)
The New Worlds Anthology edited by Michael Moorcock
Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison
Mirrorshades: the Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Greg Bear
Rewired: the Post-Cyberpunk Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Feeling Very Strange: the Slipstream Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
The New Weird edited by Ann VanderMeer
Steampunk edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Shine: an Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction edited by Jetse de Vries

Friday Fun Links: Weird Disasters

Will the Gates of Hell swallow us all?

An earthquake in Washington, DC?

A major hurricane threatening New York City?

What a week! What else could the subject of this week’s Friday Fun Links be but… Weird Disasters?

The granddaddy of 20th Century weird disasters — the Tunguska Event. Was it a comet? An asteroid? Or a UFO heroically sacrificing itself to prevent the destruction of Planet Earth?

The worst industrial disaster in U.S. history — an entire freighter full of ammonium nitrate goes BOOM!

1944 was a really bad year for weird disasters in the U.S. — the great Cleveland, Ohio gas explosion and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut

A pair of weird man-made disasters in the old Soviet Union — the evaporation of the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest inland sea in the world; and a massive crater in Turkmenistan filled with natural gas that has been burning for the past forty years, known as “The Gates of Hell”

A “pea-souper” fog in London in 1952 that caused the premature deaths of four thousand people

Here at Fantastical Andrew, we’re really into food — how about a flood of molasses, a deluge of beer, and an explosion of tapioca?

But wait, there’s more! Poisonous snakes that escape an erupting volcano mountainside and invade a terrified village in Martinique! Elephants stampede through five villages in India! A gigantic gasometer explodes in Pittsburg — and it’s not Roseanne Barr OR Rush Limbaugh!

Earthquakes and hurricanes are starting to seem mundane…

Friday Fun Links: Goofy Vampires

As a blogger, I’m all about adding value. If you’ve sought out this site, curated by the author of Fat White Vampire Blues, there’s a good likelihood you have a rarified taste for… goofy vampires.

Want a Vampire Nixon mask for Halloween or your next office party?

Want a Vampire Elvis tattoo?

Could this be conceptual art for an updated, political version of Scream, Blacula, Scream?

A deconstruction of the TV tropes present in Santo Contra La Mujeres Vampiros (a.k.a. Samson vs. the Vampire Women)

A heartwarming story: the son of El Santo protects his famous father’s virtue by denying that the heroic wrestler had anything to do with the naked women scenes added to the “lost film” El Santo y el Vampiro y el Sexo

A pair of never-to-be-forgotten 1960 titles from Italian cinema: The Vampire and the Ballerina and The Playgirls and the Vampire

Could this be David Niven’s most embarrassing film role ever?

Something never seen in any other vampire film ever (and probably never to be repeated): a vampire bat with a tiny woman’s head attached

How about a vanity project by disco-era starlet Nai Bonet, Nocturna, Granddaughter of Dracula, costarring Yvonne DeCarlo and a nearly dead John Carradine?

What are the chances that one film could boast both Harry Nilsson as the son of Dracula and Ringo Starr as Merlin the Magician?

The worst portrayal ever of Dracula in the comics — and now you can read all of issue #4!

This post would be woefully incomplete without a link to Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, a.k.a. La Noche de Walpurgis

And let us close with… Jews for Vampire Jesus

Friday Fun Links: It’s J. G. Ballard’s World, We Just Live in It

Yes, indeedy. After the events of this week, who can deny that J. G. Ballard is enjoying a wry chuckle from the grave? His final novels, Cocaine Nights (1996), Super-Cannes (2000), Millennium People (2003), and Kingdom Come (2006), along with earlier works such as High-Rise (1975) and Running Wild (1988), pretty much laid out the full scenario for the four days and nights of rioting, looting, and arson which convulsed London and other English cities this week.

As soon as news of the London rioting hit CNN, I held my breath and began counting down the seconds before some British journalist would fill in the dots between the civil unrest and the oeuvre of England’s most acclaimed and significant postwar writer. It didn’t take long. (I was never in danger of self-suffocation.)

Readers familiar with Ballard’s final quartet of novels, all of which feature middle class professionals either diving into or being pulled into revolutionary, nihilistic violence due to ennui, boredom, or a cancerlike consumerism which has replaced religion and patriotism at the center of their psyches, will certainly nod with recognition at this article from The Daily Mail, which reveals that arrested looters and rioters included a law student, a social worker, a ballerina in training, and the school-age daughter of a millionnaire.

Coincidence or karma? Ballard’s penultimate novel, Millennium People, published in the U.K. in 2003, was finally released in a U.S. edition just last month. It features middle class professionals in suburban London instigating terrorism and revolution in an effort to shock a sense of meaning back into their lives. Several reviews appeared in major U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Seattle Times, just a day or two before the London riots broke out. I’m sure the reviewers whacked their foreheads with their palms and wished their deadlines had been just a couple of days later so that they could have infused their articles with the weightiness of current world events. Here’s Ballard himself talking about what he was up to with Millennium People, plus a lengthy, insightful, but unfortunately undated review from Open Letters Monthly called, presciently, “On the Barricades with the Bourgeoisie.”

There don’t appear to be any plans to soon publish Ballard’s final novel, Kingdom Come, in the U.S., although that may change following this week’s events. I suppose it will hinge on the sales performance of Millennium People. If the book doesn’t appear in the States, that would truly be a shame, because I think it features some of Ballard’s funniest and wittiest writing since Crash, which, if you read it in the right way, is a snarkingly funny book. Here’s a fairly recent review of the novel, focusing on the book’s savage critique of consumerism. And here’s Rob Latham’s in-depth look at Ballard’s final three books, including Kingdom Come, The Complete Stories, and Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography, nicely entitled “A Malaise Deeper Than Shopping.”

Theodore Dalrymple, author of Our Culture, What’s Left of It: the Mandarins and the Masses, has been writing about the slow decline of the English peoples for as long as there’s been an Internet. In 2008 he wrote an impassioned article for City Journal on the connections between Ballard’s visions and the state of English society. He focused on a key element to understanding Ballard’s take on social psychopathology: Ballard’s experiences as a boy prisoner in the Lunghua concentration camp in Japanese-occupied China, a micro-society where feral children exercised much more autonomy and power than their authority-stripped parents could. This week, he wrote another article for City Journal, this time commenting on the English riots. Anyone who enjoys a strong dose of “I-told-you-so, damn-it!” owes it to himself to read this piece. It tracks fairly closely with my own observations and musings, posted yesterday.

Here’s an academic paper drawing connections between one of Ballard’s earliest novels, the classic The Drowned World, and the Hurricane Katrina flooding disaster in New Orleans. And here’s an examination of a mid-career Ballard novel, High-Rise, which directly presages his final quartet of “English anarchic revolution” books.

I did entitle this post “Friday Fun Links,” so here’s a little fun:

Ballard’s childhood home in Shanghai gets turned into an upscale restaurant

For travelers to Shanghai, a guide to visiting sites mentioned in Ballard’s Empire of the Sun

For those of you who simply can’t get enough Ballard (and I hope that’s most of you), here are some additional goodies:

Three websites which offer a smorgasbord of Ballard bits–,, and, my favorite, (which features a stupendous article on Ballard’s literary obsession with Elizabeth Taylor)

Ballard’s Paris Review interview from 1984

Links to excerpts from Re:Search Publications’ marvelous selection of books on Ballard, including Re:Search 8/9: J. G. Ballard, J. G. Ballard: Conversations, and J. G. Ballard: Quotes

Links to photographic portfolios of Ballardian landscapes

Have a Ballardian weekend!

Friday Fun Links: Weird and Wonderful Abandoned Stuff

the Victoria Baths in Manchester, England

I am a big geek for the esthetics of ruins and the magnetism of abandoned places. I have been ever since my father started taking me to see the derelict Art Deco hotels of South Miami Beach in the 1970s, a decade before the massive gentrification of that Depression Era resort neighborhood got rolling. I just love this stuff. The crumbling Art Deco hotels with their drained or murky swimming pools led me straight to the weird, entropic apocalypses of J. G. Ballard, in whose books I always felt at home. He loved drained swimming pools, too.

Here are some links I can heartily recommend:

For a big dose of the Ballardian esthetic, here’s a set of photos of abandoned Soviet and U.S. space technology, gloriously rusting away.

Since it’s summertime, and we’re talking about J. G. Ballard, here’s a portfolio of abandoned swimming pools.

Cross J. G. Ballard with Ralph Kramden and you get… abandoned bowling alleys.

Cross Ballard with Gloria Swanson and you get (of course) abandoned movie theaters.

abandoned underground Soviet nuclear submarine pen

Cross Ballard with the Mole Man and you get incredibly weird abandoned underground installations.

Hurricane Katrina, by flooding Six Flags New Orleans, upped my awareness of the strange beauty of abandoned amusement parks.

Speaking of amusement parks and tourist attractions, the Florida of my boyhood days was chock full of them. Most of them are gone now, driven out of business by the Big Mouse. This site allowed me to revisit old favorites, long gone, such as Pirates World, the Miami Wax Museum (I had a great uncle who worked there), Circus World, and the Stars Hall of Fame.

Here’s an entire resort region that has been abandoned, the Salton Sea in California. Created by a hydrological mistake, the result of a dam accident, it thrived in the 1950s and 1960s, only to be doomed by its lack of natural fresh water replenishment, which turned the artificial sea into a salt bowl and killed off all its fish, leading to nearly all of its surrounding communities becoming ghost towns.

A massive movie set created for men in monster suits to destroy for a Godzilla film? No–it’s the Japanese island of Gunkanjima, also known as Battleship Island. Once a thriving coal industry city, the island was abandoned for years, officially off limits. Only now are people allowed to begin to return.

Because I’m also a naval buff, I had to include this site devoted to abandoned shipwreck sites, including an amazingly cool Soviet big-gun cruiser wrecked off the coast of Norway and left to rust.

Something abandoned that the local populace now wants to reclaim–the ironclad breastwork monitor H.M.V.S. Cerberus, built in 1868 for the Royal Australian Navy, sunk as a breakwater in Half Moon Bay in 1926. Now, after decades of pounding seas have crumbled the old hulk, there’s a campaign to save her.

Lastly, an abandoned artifact of a different sort–a script written by Alfred Hitchcock for a murder mystery film that was never released.

Now go abandon yourself to some good old-fashioned time wasting!

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