Sunday, June 29, 2008

Curse you Khan Noonian Singh!!!

We're closing in on the San Diego Comic Con.... home of many, many exclusive collectible items.  Comic Con Exclusives are usually very short run, and only available to buy during the four and a half day run of the convention.  (Or, you know, on Ebay forever after).  Last year, I barely resisted getting the exclusive Snoopy & Woodstock Kirk & Spock bobbleheads, above.  I'm sure many collectors of Peanuts, Star Trek, or bobble heads were delighted to snap them up.

I've bought many, many convention exclusives in the past - Stan Lee action figures, silver Boba Fett's, Night of the Living Dead Summer Spectacular Comic Books.  This year, I may just be tempted by the Madd Muggs vinyl "spider sense" Peter Parker.

Comic Con is the collector's mecca to end all collectors meccas, with something like 75,000 people attending on Saturday alone in 2006, before they started rationing day passes.  MY favorite things about it are the chance to buy original art direct from the comic book artists, and to find small, independently produced books I never would have heard of otherwise. 
  More to report after the show this year!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Three of Clubs - is this your card?

I've liked Penn & Teller since I first saw them - probably on Saturday Night Live, but definitely on Late Night With David Letterman on NBC in the 80's. I've been lucky enough to see them live twice (not counting the time Penn was standing outside the deli around the corner from my apartment, talking to some people as I drove by).

The first was at the Wiltern Theater which, like many places in Los Angeles, takes its name from the intersection it stands at - (Wilshire Blvd. and Western Ave. Get it?). It was called the 38% original material tour, or something like that, sponsored by Comedy Central. We had great seats - about eighth row stage right - and they did a lot of good stuff. I specifically remember Teller doing a bit where he threw a bunny into a full-sized wood chipper producing a splatter of blood. After the intermission, Penn said some people were upset about that (despite the bunny being, if you paid attention, fake), and he insisted that if rabbits were big enough, they'd do it to us in a second.

Teller did his amazing "drowning in a tank of water in plain sight" illusion. Penn talked on and on after Teller shuddered and fell still, in plain sight under water, no apparent way he could be breathing. After about seven minutes of monologue, finally discussing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on his water bottle, someone finally shouted "What about Teller?" which is the prompt he was waiting for to go on. Penn berated us for listening to him prattle on while a man apparently died before us. (Teller survived).

The finale found the two of them on a bare stage wearing nothing but plain, white t-shirts that came down to their knees. They proceeded to make all manner of objects appear out of thin air - a glass of wine, a knife, a rose with thorns. the gag was that by the end, they were both completely soaked in blood from these objects cutting and pouring on them. They bowed, and walked through the theater out to the lobby, where they stood on plastic tarps and signed anything and everything people brought up to them - and made sure each item got smeared with as much fake blood as they could wipe on it. Books left with two signatures and full handprints, concert t-shirts were signed and then wiped on their faces to smear with blood. I left with only my ticket stub signed, with Teller's thumb print and a piece of Penn's palm still showing clearly today.
Years later I saw them again at the Wilshire Theater - you guessed it, down the Boulevard from the Wiltern. Tickets were available through work, and I put in for a pair immediately. These tickets are usually pretty good, and on the way there we both expressed our desire not to get called on stage and ridiculed, as unlikely as that was.  But when we got in the theater, we saw that our seats were very good.

Very, very good.

Front row, right side.  In fact, if I stretched out my feet from my seat, they rested on the stairs you would climb up onto the stage if you were picked to help the performance.

Now, if you know me, I think you might agree I look exactly like the kind of guy a magician would be happy to call up on stage to look silly.  I won't speculate what kind of guy that is, but at least Penn agreed with me.  I remember only three specific parts of the show:

1) Teller escaped from a trunk we all examined up close on stage before the show started.

2) They did a bullet catch; fantastic.  And,

3) The card counting trick, because Penn called me up.

He does a trick where he asks someone to randomly cut the deck, then tells you how many cards are in the cut by weight alone.  He called three of us up for this one.  One guy cut the Vegas deck, the most carefully produced cards in the world, therefor relatively easy to count.  Another guy cut the standard Bicycle deck, pretty normal cards anyone might have at home, a little tougher to guess.

I cut the "nudie" deck.

Nudie cards, according to Penn Jillette, are cheaply produced with whatever cardstock is available and therefore, very very difficult to count accurately.  His count of my cards would truly show off his amazing skills.

I cut the cards, and he held them carefully out, bobbing the small stack up and down a bit and concentrating.  "Thirteen." He said, and handed them back to me.

HE then instructed us to count the cards for ourselves, and went down the row as we each verified his count - at least the first two did.

I counted twelve cards.  So I counted again.


The first two matched his count, and the audience applauded each time.  Then he got to me: "And how many of the nudie cards are in the stack?"

"Twelve" I said, with the board with his "13" prediction right behind me.  He froze.

"Well," he said taking the small stack from me, "It's certainly possible I'm wrong, as these are very hard to count, or, it's possible you may have been...distracted while you were counting.  would you please check again?"  He handed them back.

I counted thirteen cards this time, and everyone had a good laugh as Penn gave me one to take home, since I appreciated them so much.  I nodded sheepishly - appropriately - and slunk off stage.

The special, secret sidenote is, just as he took the stack back from me, I saw on his opposite breast pocket a single "nudie" card sticking up in plain view of the audience.  So he and they
 knew - he counted correctly, and Penn had a little fun holding one card back from me until the final count.
At the end of the show, Penn and Teller bowed deeply... and walked straight through the theater out through the lobby, and signed anything and everything  that people brought up to them.  Including my card.  (It's not the 3 of Clubs, if you were wondering - their "signature" card - it's a Jack of Diamonds.)

Penn Jillette has said the point of life is to get good stories to tell, and they gave a good story to every person they signed for, spoke to, shook hands, or wiped fake blood on a souvenir of.  Walking straight out through the crowd like that made it clear they were there for everyone who wanted a piece of them - and frankly, showed quite clearly that they truly appreciated their audience.

A class act.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Across the 8th Dimension!

Way back in the summer of 1984, I got dragged to a movie I had little or no interest in seeing: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. It looked stupid to me, but my friend really wanted to go, so I went.

I hated it.

Hated might be a strong term, but I thought it was pretty silly. The funny thing was, a week later, I was still thinking about the movie. I wanted to see it again but it was too late - it only played one week in the theaters. So months later, I was on the waiting list to get a copy as soon as it came out on VCD - that's a video disc format that actually played with a stylus in a groove, much like a music LP. This meant your picture could skip with the slightest piece of dust, which made for some amusing re-edits on the fly while watching sometimes.

It never came out on VCD - even though it was promised - but it did play at my college, and I eventually got a VHS copy. I was hooked. The world of brain surgeon / rock star / alien fighter Buckaroo Banzai, the Hong Kong Cavaliers (his rock band / posse), and the Blue Blaze Irregulars (civilian supporters of his fight against evil) was too much fun not to want to play in. If you're familiar with the movie, you probably know this. If not, I'm not sure how it would play to someone viewing it for the first time now, long after the 80s.

This book, though, is very interesting as "movie novelizations" go.  Written by Earl Mac Rauch - the same guy that wrote the screenplay - it's not so much a print version of the movie, but reads like a full-fledged well-rounded novel that a movie was based on.  Written from the point of view of Reno (of course - since he's the Hong Kong Cavalier's record keeper) it fills us in on details of Buckaroo's life - past adventures, his first marriage , etc. - only eluded to in the movie.  "Reno" even includes footnotes referring to past issues of Buckaroo Banzai comic books- that were never actually published - giving the impression you, the reader, are living in a world where the exploits of larger than life Dr. Banzai are known to all.  

It also includes quite a lot of info on Hanoi Xan, leader of the World Crime League and Banzai's eternal nemesis - who movie watchers only know obliquely from the end of the video, which promises Buckaro will return in "Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League."  This sequel was never made.  A favorite line from the novel about Xan, from Reno:  "I last saw Xan across the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel in New York, bedecked in a robe made from the knuckle bones of a thousand slain warriors, and would have killed him instantly if only I had a clear shot."  (I'm paraphrasing from memory, so don't kill me if it's not quite right...)

For years, almost nothing was available to collect on Buckaroo Banzai, so I got everything I could - like this Team Banzai headband, a replica of the one Buckaroo wears driving the jet car, now proudly tucked away in my storage space.

In short, though it's a bit late for that:  Buckaroo Banzai = good movie, and even better book.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I Go Mego: The Collectible Reissue

As a kid and comic book reader in the 1970s, I naturally was totally into Mego dolls. Mego created the best, most posable action figures in the 70s, hands down. The dolls (they really were dolls) all had real, cloth costumes, and accessories, and originally, big shiny silver buttons at their joints. I had the original, cowl-removable Batman (now worth big bucks Mint) and I'm proud to say I played with it mercilessly and it's a tattered, worn Batman who is buried in a box in my storage space.

After the superhero lines were well established, they did a series of Star Trek dolls that were, for the time, incredibly good likenesses of real people. And, a lot of fun to play with in the back yard. I got all the main guys - Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty (a used one salvaged from another kid - I'll tell that story when I find it and can post a picture) and even Uhura. I even got the Enterprise playset when it was half price at the Woolworth's in downtown Syracuse - I remember they had a big stack of them by the window on the side of the store. Half price means it was probably about six dollars. This is one item I no longer have - I asked my Mom to sell it for me when I was new to Los Angeles and low on money.

I never did get the aliens, though. I got two of the Klingon figure - which was released as part of the "main" series - but I never even saw one of the Aliens on their own cards, like the Mugato here. Unlike the actors, who were good likenesses, these were bizarrely unlike the creatures that appeared on the show. The Mugato, for example, was a wild furry white apelike creature that didn't wear clothes, so I don't know who picked out this outfit for him, probably to "help him sell better?"

As years went by, I heard that the Aliens were selling for as much as 400 bucks apiece. So, when I drove cross-country to Los Angeles in 1988, I had visions of stopping in a drug store in the middle of nowhere and finding Star Trek aliens dusty on a forgotten toy rack still marked at $4.99.

This did not happen.

So recently, when it was announced that Diamond was recreating and reissuing the Mego Star Trek dolls - including the aliens - I was thrilled, and I bought them all to date (and will continue to as they're released). Finally, I had the elusive Romulan, and the Andorian - one of my favorites from the show, for some reason. I think because of the funny blue antennas. Reissues are happening more and more often these days, and it's a great way to get something you always wanted - or a reasonable facsimile, anyways - without breaking the bank on Ebay. (One side effect: the value of the originals often goes down, too, just because there is less of a demand with the copies available).

What's funny, though, is that I displayed on top of my shelves the reissues of figures I had as a kid - the crew and Klingon -
and the aliens I had sought for so long are not displayed at all, but shoved sideways on a shelf below (partly blocking my fictional beverages!).

I guess it's more fun to see the toys I had, and remember playing with friends in the backyard, digging holes as alien landscapes... than to see the toys I sought, later, and remember looking in vain in drugstores for a "collectible deal." I'm glad I got them - no doubt about that. And coming soon - "Mego" versions of Chekov and Sulu - to fill out your collection with two characters who were never available in the 70s...

Gotta have them. It looks like despite myself, I'm a Star Trek Mego completist.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Random Figure (A Storage sub-story)

I used to collect toys - mostly action figures - like crazy. Like this Teenage Mutant Samurai Turtle. I have no idea which one wears the blue mask, or why he isn't a ninja - I just liked the toy.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Something almost, but not quite, entirely like a Sniglet

I love Douglas Adams. I first heard the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio on the air in Syracuse New York way back in...1980? It looks like it hits the States then, and that's when the second series - which was part of that broadcast - was completed. At the time, I taped the episodes off the air (holding the same old Panasonic Recorder that taped Quark off TV up to the radio). I later replaced those with BBC released tapes, and finally CDs off of Hitchhiker's, if you're not familiar, created a wonderful, rich, funny universe in which fantastic, powerful alien races were often hampered by the same little details that make everyday living here on Earth such a bother.

Hitchhiker's of course became a book series, and a TV show, and a movie - but the radio show is the truest best form to me. Anything Adams did was great to read and I recommend it all - but one of his lesser-known works, I believe, is the Meaning of Liff. If that sounds vaguely familiar to you, you may be remembering the opening titles of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - where "Liff" is engraved in stone until a lightning bolt corrects it. Basically, the book came about from Adams and his friends drinking in a pub and making up definitions for place names that were perfectly good words going to waste just hanging around on street signs. One of my favorites was "kentucky: (adv.) Fitting exactly and satisfying. The cardboard box that slides neatly into an exact space in a garage, or the last book that fills the bookshelf, is said to fit 'real nice and kentucky'."

I don't recall where I got the original, British print little black book I have, which is odd. I've always had a pretty good memory for where I came across anything I collect. It may have been in a bookstore in Ithaca NY in my collecge years, or it may have been at the Boston SF convention I attended in 1986 (my first time out of New York State, not counting Canada). The Deeper Meaning of Liff, though, I know I found at the Citadel outlet center in Los Angeles - a rather run of the mill outlet behind an amazing facade evoking a Babylonian temple that was, I believe, a tire factory before or right after WWII. (Link: Deeper Meaning has more definitions inside, but there's something about that well-worn little black book that fits my memory of Hitchhiker's and all Adams work, well, real nice and kentucky.

Liff, by the way?

(n.)A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words. 'This book will change your life'.
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