Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coincidental Artistry

One of the wonders of the Internet Age is the fact that people have the ability to engage in personal conversation with the actual celebrities behind many of their interests. Even though I doubt that many of them would remember who I am (since we haven't actually met in person), I've been able to ask questions directly of quite a few different writers, scholars, and artistic creators, and know that they were responding to my personal inquiry.

One question I see often in these kinds of venues is whether or not a "celebrity" would be willing to read some work written by a fan, or help a fan get some work of art published. I expect most such celebrities get a bit tired of these requests, but they usually respond with a polite but firm "no," and a suggestion to send such works through the proper channels (whatever those may be for a given piece).

Besides the amount of time that would be lost if people accepted each (or even some) work that was offered, there is a very good legal reason why celebrities and creators cannot generally accept fan submissions: if a similar work ever showed up later, the original creator might sue for intellectual property theft. This might happen even if the later work didn't actually have the original work in mind (and I'm not talking about some "subconscious" memory either), and was just a coincidence. Figuring out where an original concept came from can get rather messy, and it's generally considered best not to even get involved.

Amateur Transformers coverMarvel Transformers Generation Two issue #2Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Some time back, I shared some scripts that I'd written for a fan-comic many years ago. I'd never given these to anyone "in the industry," and by the time I'd posted them here, I'd long since given up on any plans to use them in any "real" comic. Although I'd had another fan do a few pages of interior art, I asked my brother to begin work on a cover for what would have been my first issue (frankly, my brother is a much better artist than the other guy I was working with, but my brother was unwilling to spend the time needed to do a full-fledged comic, and as you can see, he didn't even finish the cover image shown here on the left). At my request, it depicted Megatron fighting Fortress Maximus. A few years later, the second issue of Marvel's Transformers: Generation Two comic came out. Their cover also depicted Megatron fighting Fortress Maximus. Despite the fact that Megatron had been upgraded to a new from I could never have imagined when my brother drew his cover, the general layout of the two images is similar enough that I could probably have caused Marvel a fair bit of legal difficulty had I ever shown anyone there the image (even if I ultimately lost the case). Yet I know that the similarity between these two images is purely coincidental!

Still, it remains a fun thing to talk about all these years later. I guess great minds really do think alike! ;)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekly Transformers Feature: Cookie Crisp Jazz

I've collected Transformers for pretty much as long as there have been Transformers, and now have a collection of literally hundreds of toys. Folks who don't have collections probably think that's a little odd, but if you're a collector, this is actually fairly nominal. I know of several Transformers collectors, in particular, who actually have well over a thousand toys. I try to balance the needs of financial responsibility and fun a bit, and this is what works for me.

One of the first Transformers I ever got (that I still have, anyway) is also one of the more uncommon. It was obtained via an offer where you sent in several UPC symbols from Cookie Crisp cereal, along with $3, to get a toy of the Autobot, Jazz. At the time, I had no idea that "Cookie Crisp Jazz" was any different than "regular Jazz," but since I ate cereal anyway, $3 was more reasonable for me to spend than the $10 or so the regular toy cost in the stores, so that's how I got Jazz. Sadly, my Jazz is no longer quite complete: it's missing the missile that goes in the launcher on Jazz's shoulder. I also no longer have the little slip of paper with a black-and-white version of Jazz's box art and bio information (taken straight from the toy's Tech Specs that were generally found on the back of the box, but without the numerical statistics). And you can tell that some of the white plastic has yellowed a bit in the past 20+ years and that the stickers have faded. Ahhh, well. If only I could tell my younger self to take better care of my toys... (actually, in regard to the yellowing, it probably wouldn't have made much difference. To stop yellowing, you pretty much have to put toys in dark places and never look at them!).

I only learned that "Cookie Crisp Jazz" was considered a "variant" of regular Jazz in fairly recent times via the Transformers fan community on the internet. This site, no longer actively maintained, is dedicated to cataloging the variations in pretty much every Transformer made up until the time that the webmaster of the site decided he had other things to devote his attention to. On the site, you can see several pictures detailing what differences were made for the cereal promotion. Basically, the sponsor labels were removed from several areas, notably the windshield, the spoiler, the headlights, and the doors... well, at least that's what the variations site says. If you'll notice the pictures here, my Jazz indeed does lack the sponsor labels on the windshield, the spoiler, and the headlights. But my Jazz's doors still have the "Martinii" logos on them! I've never figured out what's up with that. Is my specimen unusual among "Cookie Crisp Jazzes"? There aren't enough of these around (certainly not cheaply enough today that I'd spend the money buying one), and even fewer that could be verified as having come specifically from the Cookie Crisp offer (I can't exactly document mine anymore!) that I've been able to find out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Year Reflections

It's a fairly natural thing to be reflective during the season of the New Year. It's a traditional time to think about what one is doing with one's life, and to assess whether one should keep doing the same things, or do things a little differently. I have definitely been spending a fair amount of time engaging in that kind of reflection, and I can't say I'm done yet. But at least in regard to the blog, I think that I'm ready to start posting again.

I've had to spend some time thinking about what I want out of this blog, and not only whether it should continue, but if I should again refocus my efforts on what I want to write about. Several friends have recently discontinued their blogs in light of recent life-events. Although I'm sorry to see them go, I certainly respect their decision. For myself, I'm not really in the midst of any major life-changes at the moment, but I'm very much in a place where I know that I need to do at least some things differently than I have been.

In reflecting about the nature of my blog, I often find that my ambitions outpace my ability. There are so many sites out there that I respect. Slacktivist, for example, may well lean further to the left than I'd like, but nonetheless has a gift for turn-of-phrase and witty commentary on current events. NPR sports commentator Frank Deford does a weekly radio message that's kind of like a blog, and although I'm not really a sports fan, he makes me take interest in the various goings-on in the sports world with his insightful and often philosophical musings. Scot McKnight is able to bring people of divergent theological perspectives together to discuss often contentious issues, yet generally maintain a civil atmosphere where people are able to learn how to understand each other better. I would love to have the kind of skill they have at regular commentary, but I'm just not there... at least not yet.

One of the professors at Montreat College is science-fiction/alternative history author William R. Forstchen. Although I never actually took a class from him while I was there (he joined the faculty about mid-way into my time as a student), I did have the opportunity to get to know him. His advice for writing was simply to write. Keep writing. You only get to be good at something by working at it. This isn't just meaningless advice for Forstchen, who has dyslexia. He has to work at reading and writing. But it's who he is, and what he loves doing, so he keeps at it, and has a fairly solid reputation as a result.

But it's not just about "trying hard" and working at the task of writing. All of the people I've cited here have jobs outside of their writing. Jobs that involve them doing research into their favored fields. They have a steady source of information that they can write about. My current job doesn't really fit that bill, and I'm working on improving that aspect, but I still have to pay the bills. In the meantime, what I find I enjoy the most is posting and commenting on what's going on in the Transformers world, and although I don't have (and don't expect to be able to find) a paying job in that area, I do have some connections via the Transformers club which are giving me an ability to "hone my craft" in that area, so I expect that the blog will focus more on that in the coming weeks (although the little tidbits of "news" I occasionally get from the folks behind the club are contingent upon the promise that I won't disclose them ahead of time, so I can't use that stuff here; only the news that's already been made public). I won't be able to leave the other stuff (goings-on at Fuller, politics, Christianity, current events, game shows, and life in general) behind entirely. These are all things I care a lot about, and at least some of those areas are more likely to provide lucrative employment than my love of Transformers. But, for now, this is something that I enjoy, and I do want to get better at my writing. So I'm going to keep at it for a while longer.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Music You Really Should Give a Listen To

First off, please accept my apologies for my extended and unexplained absence this past week. I'm still trying to deal with a few matters I'm not able to share publicly. Rest assured that I am well, and I'll get back to posting when I'm able.

I'm carving out a moment today to post because of a couple of college "reconnections" that happened yesterday via MySpace (I still like Facebook better, but I have to give credit where it's due). The first was from a college roommate who said "hi," which led me to the second via his page, and it's that second "reconnection" that I want to share here.

Jon Abel is singer/songwriter I knew while a student at Montreat College, who often led the music in various campus worship events. Even then, he had a reputation as an easygoing guy with a tremendous musical talent that everyone at the college simply adored. He has a heart for the Lord that comes across practically unfiltered in his music. If the clips he has made available through his MySpace page are any indication, that musical ability has only grown stronger in the years since college (has it been a decade already, Jon?). This isn't the kind of carbon-copy "Christian music" that you may be used to, simply regurgitating other people's styles and putting "Christian" lyrics on them. This is the real thing, coming from a real faith and real talent.

If you like his work, I'd encourage you to support him by buying his albums and/or songs via iTunes. It's worth it! (Incidentally, my former roommate is a musician/worship leader of no small ability, too. If/when I find that he's "gone public" in the same way, I'll post a similar link for him, also!)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Theft of the Golden Disk video

Created by members of the official Transformers Collectors' Club, this 2-part video features several of the characters from the BotCon 2006 exclusive set (not to mention the dragon character you see in the picture here in a pre-Beast form!). They even got original Beast Wars Megatron voice actor David Kaye to reprise his role for this fan video!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Churches and Elections, plus... More Scare Tactics

A little over a year ago, I complained about the scare tactics being used during a local election to scare immigrants (not just illegal ones!) away from voting (with a small bit of follow-up buried in this post). As much as I wish it weren't the case, this seems to happen during pretty much every major election. While I don't intend to weigh in on every time this happens in the upcoming election cycle, I was surprised to hear of it again so soon in the current campaign, when I was directed to read this blog entry. The scare tactics this time don't involve immigrants, but instead pastors. Apparently, some anonymous letters are being sent to pastors who publicly endorsed a particular Republican candidate for President, warning them they their churches could lose their tax-exempt status.

But the writer of that blog, Allan R. Bevere, doesn't dwell on the evils of such scare tactics. Instead, he takes the opportunity to discuss the issues that the letters raise. Just what are pastors and churches allowed to do when it comes to discussing politics and elections? I touched upon this issue briefly a couple of years ago, but that was just to mention the issue. Bevere's blog actually goes into depth about what the law allows and what it doesn't. For example, although pastors are not allowed to directly say "I favor so-and-so" or "I oppose so-and-so" from a pulpit, they are allowed to say these things publicly in other venues, and their name can even be attached to their role as a pastor of a particular church for the sake of identification. Moreover, pastors are fully allowed to discuss issues of political importance from the pulpit, even though it might be implied by the discussion of these issues that they might favor a particular candidate. The key is that the pulpit endorsement may not be "direct" endorsement of a candidate.

For a more comprehensive list of "dos and don'ts," I'd encourage you to check out Bevere's blog entry.

Friday, January 04, 2008

In Honor of the Wreckers

Transformers Wreckers TributeMembers of the Official Transformers Club had a long-term dream realized about a month ago when the story of "The Wreckers" (started by the previous incarnation of the club when they were still handling the official convention) was finally completed. The story is only available to members via the club site, so I can't link to that from here, but I can give a bit of context through links that are publicly available.
  • Wreckers Part 1: Departure
  • Wreckers Part 2: Betrayal
  • Wreckers Part 3: Disclosure has not yet been made available online.
  • The first four pages of Wreckers Part 4: Finale were in the club magazine issue 16, but are not available online.
  • The script to Wreckers Part 4 (apparently originally called "Renewal") was made available a few months ago on the Allspark.
  • Finale was eventually completed as a text story on the club site, incorporating parts of "Renewal," but completing the story based on outlines left by the original creators.
In honor of this achievement, I got out all the Transformers I have that played a part in the Wreckers storyline for an "action shot." Of course, nothing like this scene ever shows up in the story, and this particular assortment of characters was never together in the same place at any one time.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Introducing The Jaunting Pad (A Tomorrow People Wiki)

The Christmas season was a time of a few surprises. Some of them good, some not so good. Among the good surprises: my folks really outdid themselves on their Christmas gifts this year. My wife and I have been enjoying watching Season 3 of Boston Legal, I've plugged in my TARDIS USB hub, and I'm having fun learning all the ins-and-outs of the iPod Nano (Michelle's already had an iPod for some time).

Among the not-so-good surprises, I learned that Big Finish was unable to renew their license with Fremantle Media to produce Tomorrow People audio stories. For the uninformed, The Tomorrow People was a children's series produced in the UK back in the '70s, which has seen revival in a couple of forms since then, of which the Big Finish audios were the most recent. The loss of the license means that the (rather intense) cliffhanger set up this past April will never be resolved. (Moving aside to rant for a minute, I really hate it when writers set up cliffhangers before they have a lock on the story even continuing at all. This is nothing new, and has happened quite a lot over the years, but there's really no excuse. All the writers have to do is give their stories closure, unless they know that the show's coming back. The response I got from Big Finish — "we had no reason to believe that we would not be able to release the sixth season" — really doesn't cut it, since they had to know that the license was still up for renewal. I've had to suffer through this for the 90's revival of Dark Shadows, pretty much all of the Dreamwave Transformers line of comics, and even Team Knight Rider! Yeah, that last one deserved to be canceled. The writers could still have given it an actual ending!)

OK. Rant over. While I was searching through the web for a live forum to discuss this state of affairs with other Tomorrow People fans (all I found was an e-mail list, which seems to be defunct. At least, I haven't gotten anything since signing up last week), I stumbled upon a Tomorrow People wiki. While reading the "purpose" page, I realized that this was actually a wiki that I had asked to have created, and that I was actually credited as the wiki's creator! I had done this back in September, but never got a response that my request had been granted (the e-mail was probably caught by my spam filter), and so I had forgotten about it until "rediscovering" it through my search.

Apparently, no one else had discovered the wiki either, as it was still almost entirely empty when I found it. So I have a request for anyone out there who might be a Tomorrow People fan: please check out the wiki, which I've called "The Jaunting Pad." If you're not a fan yourself, but know someone who is, please send them the link. I've set up a basic structure to the site and a few sample entries to give people an idea of the format I'm shooting for. There's a lot of information that needs to be filled in, and I can't possibly do it myself. Frankly, I'm surprised that this hasn't been attempted by any of a few much more dedicated and informed TP fans I know are out there (and I did do a search to see what else I could find). Hopefully, together we can build up this resource, and the show will continue to live beyond the confines of licenses and broadcast requirements.

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