Chuck and Di and Teresa

Like many people, I was up early the morning of July 29, 1981 to watch at least part of the royal wedding. I wasn’t much of a monarchist, but it was one of those world events I felt I should watch.

On a very cold Saturday, January 16, 1982, my friend Jessica, who was a performance artist, poet, and from England, herded her friends to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Albany to do a mock re-enactment. A number of frigid people played members of the royal family and the Spencers. Jessie played Di, I played the Archbishop of Canterbury. Many pictures were being taken and most of us had no real idea to what end.

A month or two later, at the 8th Step Coffee House, then located in the basement of the church I now attend, Jessie did a slide show of the royal wedding, complete with biting narration. It was amazingly funny! In fact, it was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Of course, the real royals got very weird, Chuck and Di split and, 10 years ago, Diana and two others died in Paris.

Not only did I watch the funeral, I got my wife the soundtrack to the funeral – she and Diana were very close in age, and she related to her death largely on that basis.

I’m reminded, too, that Mother Teresa, a Friend of Diana, also died 10 years ago this very week. Her death was practically lost in the headlines over the royal funeral controversy so well played out in the movie The Queen, which I enjoyed last year. Teresa made headlines recently when papers that were released revealed her doubts about her faith. Yet, she did her good works anyway.

Two women, seemingly quite disparate, both of whom had enormous impact in their own way, died a decade ago, and I feel the need to note this, surprisingly to me in the case of the younger one, who I helped to mock years earlier.
Richard Jewell died Wednesday, and I was IMMEDIATELY reminded about what one of the, well, accused Duke rapists said: that in HIS obituary, he will be described as “One of the accused Duke rapists”.


MOVIE REVIEW: Spider-Man 2

That’s right, the middle movie. I could hardly see the third film without having seen the second. And I saw it in a theater. Sort of.

At our vacation place in the Berkshires, there is a 40-seat theater in one of the buildings, showing some interesting-sounding films. As I mentioned, early in the week, Carol took Lydia to see Charlotte’s Web, but Lydia found the darkened theater experience too intense and so they bailed. The first Fantastic Four film was also showing that week, but it seemed that I should pick the movie I most wanted to see. I liked the first Spidey film and own it on VHS (pre-ownership of the DVD player), so on June 28, I head over to the movie theater.

In retrospect, it seemed almost predestined that I see the film on that day. The day before (June 27), it was Tobey Maguire’s 32nd birthday, and he appeared on Live with Regis and Kelly. I didn’t see that, but I did see the next day’s trivia question, which was asking for the name of Spider-Man’s alter ego. The contestant on the show muffed it, but anyone who’s worked in a comic book store, or has collected the four-color item MUST know Peter Parker. Moreover, the movie was showing on cable that week. TWICE I saw the scene when Mary Jane Watson says to Peter, “Don’t disappoint me.”

So, I get a tiny bag of free popcorn and sit in the theater with maybe a dozen people. And I’m liking the movie until six older people come into the room. It IS pitch black, except for the light from the screen, and they loudly make it known that it’s dark, all through that birthday party scene. I didn’t mind it so much when they were seeking their seats -though GETTING THERE ON TIME would have alleviated the problem – but their recapping (“Boy, it sure is dark in here – I had trouble finding my seat” AFTER they were all in place was REALLY annoying. I mean, SHUT. UP. ALREADY. I thought that, didn’t say it.

The rest of the film went down easy, with a very credible villain in Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, the right amount of personal tension in Peter Parker’s life, especially vis a vis Mary Jane, great action sequences, and the continuing Harry Osborn thread. Great balance, great pacing.

Roger Ebert gave this film four stars. Entertainment Weekly gave the DVD release an A-, and put it on its list of Top 25 action films. Despite the early distraction, a very enjoyable film.

(And there was popcorn left at the end, so I took another tiny bag to go.)


Underplayed Vinyl: Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s 1979 album, Off the Wall, is better than Michael Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller.

1. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
2. Rock With You
3. Workin’ Day And Night
4. Get On The Floor
5. Off The Wall
6. Girlfriend
7. She’s Out Of My Life
8. I Can’t Help It
9. It’s The Falling In Love
10. Burn This Disco Out

1. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
2. Baby Be Mine
3. The Girl Is Mine
4. Thriller
5. Beat It
6. Billie Jean
7. Human Nature
8. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
9. The Lady in My Life

Actually, they are, in some ways, similar albums. Both start with my favorite groove on the album, followed by a more midtempo sound, though I prefer Rock with You. Both have ballads that are OK, though She’s Out of My Life is more appealing to me.

Now, Thriller does have Beat It and Billie Jean, both of which appear on some Rolling Stone list of top 500 tunes. But I will contend that the popularity and import of those songs (and of the title song as well) was fueled as much by the videos as the music.

Where the older album has the great Workin’ song in the third slot, Thriller has This Girl Is Mine. One can argue about the quality of the song – I don’t think much of the dopey dialogue between Paul McCartney and Michael – but listening to it, it just has a whole different feel from what goes on before or after. (The Macca-penned Girlfriend may be the weakest track on Off the Wall.)

And the title tune Thriller is great theater, but is it a great song?

Ultimately, Off the Wall is better because it ends stronger. Instead of the sappy ballad, I’m burning that disco out. There may be better songs on Thriller, but Off the Wall is more consistently solid.

Incidentally, Off the Wall was not a piker of an album commercially, as it sold 7 million copies in the U.S. alone; Thriller was just a monster album, selling 3.5 times as many in this country.

Today is MJ’s 49th birthday.

Chronicles of the Fantastic Four Chronicles

(This conversation will be limited to the Chronicles series. FantaCo had also put out Splatter Movies and Hembeck 6, among other items, in this period.)

The X-Men Chronicles was a hit for FantaCo Enterprises in 1981. We had printed 50,000 copies and had presold at least 35.000 to the distributors. And not only did it also sell as an individual item in the store and in the mail order, we were able to trade some for Marvel, DC and other companies’ product, particularly underground comics from Last Gasp, a company our comics distributor, Seagate, wasn’t dealing with.
So what do we do as a follow-up? We decided to do two books, the Daredevil Chronicles, which Mitch Cohn would edit, and the Fantastic Four Chronicles, which would be my baby. I’m not going to talk much more about the former, except that I thought it was terribly Frank Miller-heavy. One of the Mullaney brothers from Eclipse Comics, Jan or Dean, apparently agreed; he wrote to say he read the book and threw it in the trash. (The letter, I think, appeared in the Spider-Man Chronicles, or maybe the Avengers Chronicles.)

The stuff below in italics is directly from my journal:

September 2, 1981: I call John Byrne, who agreed to write an article and do a centerspread, in addition to the front cover. And I called Jack Kirby, who agreed to fill out a questionnaire about the FF. “What a coup!” I wrote.
October 16: George Perez agrees to do the back cover for the FF book.
October 22: Receive Byrne front cover, centerspread and article.
November 5: Call Jay Zilber re: Wein/Wolfman interview. Then called Jack Kirby re: Q&A – he said he couldn’t answer questions re: FF, Marvel, only re: new projects. I panicked and got upset and angry. By that point, we probably had sent out info on the book to the comic distributors, indicating its content.Mitch calmed me down & said “Why don’t you do interview on Kirby now with a caveat. He [Kirby] agreed to that & also said I could use the rather nasty stuff re: FF 236 & his lack of prior knowledge that it would be used. Typed up new questions.
November 18: Michael Hobson of Marvel called to OK licensing on the FF and DD books, and that the company had “no problem” with the non-licensed X-Men Chronicles.
November 23: Get Kirby response.
December 17: I was going to do some editing (e.g., Joe Fludd’s lengthy piece, Jay Zilber’s just-arrived article), but instead spent most of the day looking unsuccessfully for a letter from Mike Hobson of Marvel giving us permission for licensing, which Tom needs for another bank loan.
O.K., I lied. I AM going to talk a little about Splatter Movies. This was a book written by an author named John McCarty that was really Tom’s baby; Mitch, Raoul and I were all a bit disturbed by it, although I did end up up proofreading it. And it turned out to be the most profitable thing FantaCo published in my tenure there. But at $8.95, it was initially a slow road selling to our distributors, who, after all, were comic book folks. This created a cash flow problem, for which the loan was to address.

January 3, 1982: Type the FF checklist at home while I watch football (Cincinnati beat the Bills, the 49ers beat the Giants; I doubt I was happy about that.)
January 7: I assume we found the Hobson letter eventually because Tom was able to secure $25,000 note from the bank so we’ll be able to pay $8700 printing bill for Splatter Movies.
January: Get various articles and artwork, not including Perez back cover. At some point, I call John Byrne, who allows us to use the front cover as the back cover as well, for free. Byrne was not universally loved, but I always had very good dealings with him; the FFC was not the last time. After the covers go to the printer, Perez cover FINALLY shows up, and I end up replacing content from one of the inside covers. (I’m thinking it was a Joe Fludd piece, because it seemed ironic that such a Perez devotee would be bumped by Perez himself.)
January 26: Tom called accounts (Bud Plant, NMI, Pacific). We now have fewer than 100 out of 50,000 X-Men Chronicles, and anticipate print runs of 70,000 each for FF and DD (the latter, eventually set at 80,000).
March 1: Start shipping out FFC, DDC orders, which takes a week, between the wholesale and retail orders.
March 5: Tom had made up 100 copies each of FFC and DDC in white paper stock, rather than newsprint. Gave 25 each to Mitch and me, 2 each to Rocco and Raoul. Somewhere I still have some of these.
March 15: Returning artwork, paying contributors, sending out review copies.
March 22: For Spider-Man Chronicles, got a Fred Hembeck to interview Roger Stern.
March 26: Mitch called Jim Shooter, who told Mitch in no uncertain terms (“What the f*** were you guys thinking about?”) that they at Marvel were unhappy with the Chronicles series, that there can be no licensing in the future, and that we’d “better be careful” in the future…No [more] Chronicles would be disastrous because another loan was contingent on publishing them…Tom called a patent attorney.
Oddly, a couple months later, there WAS further conversation with Mike Hobson about licensing, but nothing ever came to fruition, and the Avengers and Spider-Man Chronicles came out license-free, with no hassle from Marvel. We DID have another legal tussle, however, but that’s for another day.

In retrospect – let’s hear it for retrospect – I should have either 1) called Marvel about the content of the Kirby interview or 2) pulled the Kirby interview. The former just didn’t cross my mind. The latter did, but I was resistant because it would have meant resoliciting the FFC to the distributors and a costly delay.

I wrote this today for two reasons. One: FantaCo’s birthday was August 28, 1978; the store survived 20 years. The other is that Jack Kirby’s birthday was August 28, 1917, which means he would have been 90 today; he passed on February 6, 1994. Here’s a picture of Jack from the 1982 San Diego comic con, taken by Alan Light.

Zimmerman and MacManus

I just heard this weekend that Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello are performing together in Albany on October 6. My wife seems not only disinclined to go, but unimpressed with the teaming, even though she actually bought me Costello’s North, mostly, I think, because it was, in part, a love letter to one of her favorite singers, Diana Krall.

So, I want to go, but I don’t particularly want to go alone. If you’re in the area (or you want to travel to Albany to see them, please e-mail me.

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