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Latest Words
> AUGUST 27: Black Ops Synth
> AUGUST 23: The Silver Surfer
> AUGUST 20: Touching Greatness
> AUGUST 14: The Black Arts of Editing
> AUGUST 13: Robotic Perfection
> AUGUST 8: Movie Speculation
> AUGUST 7: T-Shirt Semiotics

AUGUST 30, 2013: Moneypenny

Fans of early James Bond movies all remember Miss Moneypenny. Even though she appears to embrace the Cro-Magnon, alpha male protocol in which  Mr. Bond (Sean Connery) forces himself onto every female until she caves in and yields to his forceful irresistibility, Moneypenny never actually really encountered it. Her playful repartee would suggest she would probably acquiesce, but it doesn’t matter. Mr. Bond did not pursue her. Maybe that’s why we all remember her so fondly. In a way, she managed to escape Bond’s defective and misguided attitude toward women.

While she continued appearing in the Roger Moore Bond films in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Lois Maxwell moved back to Canada (she was born in Kitchener, Ontario). Under the name Miss Moneypenny, Lois wrote a column in The Toronto Sun, which is where I got to meet her. She was one of the friendliest and most charming people I have ever met. Roger Moore said she should have been promoted to M (instead of Judi Dench). I’m not sure about that - she was actually too nice for that job. Bernard Lee was the best M.

I was amazed to find out Lois had worked as a waitress at Bigwin Inn on Bigwin Island in Lake of Bays near Huntsville. I used to have a place there. See my pen & ink drawings (click on the thumbnails to see them larger).

Lois goes all the way back to the very first Terence Young (director) Bond film Dr. No and was in 14 Bond films including right up to A View to a Kill in 1985. What I would have liked to see was more of a “spin-off” concept for Moneypenny. Like Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, it would have been interesting to see what her life was like “off stage.” Where did she live? What did she do on the weekend? Who were her real friends? How did she deal with a career in the British Secret Service?

Now there’s a movie with Lois Maxwell I would have loved to have seen.

AUGUST 27, 2013: Black Ops Synth

The hero of my illustrated book is a highly conjectural robot. I call him a "black ops synth," because he is extremely valuable and requires high levels of secrecy and security, but he can walk and talk like a (synthetic) human. We all anticipate future robots will be able to do that. In terms of abilities, he has extremely delicate sensors - far beyond the organic capacities of mortals.

His name is Kele (pronounced the same as "Kelly") and his name comes from a long tradition of science fiction and physics fiction that includes chemicals to make baseballs repel wood and substances deflect gravity. I consider those to be tall tales. Kele actually has a greater potential for credibility. He is theoretically able to predict the weather accurately (based on inifinitely superior measurements and analysis).

His suit is an electronic grid combining titanium thread impregnated with conductive diamond particles in a seamless, flexible carbon fibre surface. Beneath his suit, multiple processors are protected within an interdependent, silicon micro-chassis for tensile strength and durablity. The array of microdish antennae around his head allow him to scan in 360 degrees. Combined with the millions of sensors in his suit, Kele is capable of recording an almost infinite number of measurements in air pressure, temperature, velocity, vapour and molecular suspension density.

He is even capable of extrapolating coordinates using geometrical optics and isotropic deviation with coherent pulsed doppler signal processing. His goggles provide data representations to substitute visual capturing technology (like cameras or eyes). The only trouble is, with all this sensitive technology he is not supposed to make contact with the Earth. He must not be contaminated, corrupted or exposed by organic surfaces, living organisms or other external electronic devices. That's why he has a self-destruct mechanism. Unfortunately, it didn't work and that's how all the problems started.  

AUGUST 23, 2013: The Silver Surfer

FanExpo is on this weekend in Toronto, so I thought I should touch on the comic book topic. The great pencil and ink artists of The Silver Age of Comics are among my favourites, not just because I was a kid back then, but because they brought a new level of skill and imagination to the form. Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four are at the very top of my list. Jack said Wally Wood was his favourite inker and I think many people agree he was one of the best. I will go into more detail about technique another day, but for now I just have to declare one particular character of that age who stands out among all others for me - The Silver Surfer. By no coincidence, he was created and drawn by none other than Jack "King" Kirby.

Born Norrin Radd on the planet Zenn-La, The Silver Surfer was originally a scientist and philosopher with a streak of nobility that saw him sacrifice himself to defend his home planet from Galactus (a "godlike" entity who devours entire worlds to support his appetite for The Power Cosmic). How big a story is that? For comics fans, the Surfer is practically a religion. He has fought the Fantastic Four, Thor, The Human Torch, Spider-Man and had run-ins with The Avengers and The Defenders, but he is just so darn pure, not only can he not be defeated - no one wants to. He is invincible, indestructible and invulnerable. He also possesses limitless energy. He doesn't need to eat or breathe and he can fly so fast he enters hyperspace in order to travel across the Universe on his silver surf board at speeds faster than light. It can't get any better.

As it turns out, the original series of 25 cent giants (72 pages) are now very valuable today. I've seen copies of #1 going for $7,000 (near mint) and Fantastic Four #48 (his first appearance) going for $15,000 (near mint). If you look at all the appearances he has made in movies and books and music, he is a unique and amazing cultural icon with few rivals. Of course, it helps that he has got to be one of the weirdest super beings of all time. Too bad the Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) movie was a completely botched mess with a lousy story, bad direction and absolutely awful special effects (they should have called the film Rise of the Flannel Gray Surfer). I absolutely hated it and never want to see it again. Unfortunately, the film may have hurt the franchise in terms of general popularity, but among the truly devoted fans nothing can tarnish the ultimate hero of the cosmos. 

AUGUST 20, 2013: Touching Greatness

We have a strange preoccupation with contacting popular heroes. It's only natural to be a fan of particular individuals who excel at skills or abilities we admire. From composers to painters and designers to writers and photographers too, creative people from the past have become legends over time. I'm thinking of Stravinski, Van Eyck, Syd Mead, Malcolm Lowry and Richard Avedon. There's also Paganini and Mozart and William Holman Hunt and Nijinsky, but today there are also great film directors, programmers and animators who can be put on the list of legends.

What is strange, however, is that we want to meet such special individuals and make contact with them in addition to appreciating their unique and wonderful work. Seeing them perform or owning a copy of their work isn't enough. It has become a modern obsession, but now it's no longer a few creative types on a short list who attract us like moths to a flame. Now it's anyone who appears on the vast stage of exalted acclaim. This includes actors, singers, athletes and golfers. It even includes people who have appeared on television.

In the past, I got to interview some of my film heroes including Martin Ritt, Richard Donner and Alan Parker, but I was working. I was writing for film magazines. I also got handed an interview with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill when Star Wars came out (you can read about it here and listen to the interview available online), but that was all in a day's work too. I was editing a magazine called Cheap Thrills for CPI (Concert Productions International). That''s how I got to meet The Who, The Bee Gees and a whole bunch of big names in music.

When it comes to just bumping into someone by chance, though, no matter how much I admire someone, well, that just seems different. We're all ordinary people with the usual responsibilities and tight schedules. If you want me to publicize your latest project, let's set up a meeting. I'm sure we can work something out. On the other hand, if you could review or promote any of my projects or books, I will be grateful, but if you just come up to me in a restaurant while I am trying to have dinner, it seems a little thoughtless - maybe even intrusive.

One night, back in 1995, I was out with a some people at a popular Indian restaurant in Toronto (on Jarvis). We had been working long, long hours, seven days a week and it was late. Jewels of the Oracle was going to be released worldwide in eight languages that March. It was late and we were the only ones left in the restaurant until two guys walked in and sat down at the table behind us. It was Eric Clapton. I am a big fan, but I just couldn't help it. I left him alone. I could hear him talking. I don't remember finishing my own dinner. All I could think about was walking over there and saying, "I am such a big fan," but what would that accomplish? I'm sure Mr. Clapton would probably have been very gracious and kind. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm wrong?

Here's another example: I used to live in Connecticut and got to know some recording studio people there, one of whom was good friends with Dave Brubeck's family. Five of his six kids were musicians and they were all really, really good (naturally). Sometimes they joined their father in the studio, which was an indication of how good they were, but they also had a reputation for playing endlessly, non-stop for days (as musicians do)! I was invited to go play with them, but I was so intimidated by their incredible notoriety I just couldn't get up the nerve to go. Now, there's an opportunity I DO regret. That would have been fun - and it would have been far more memorable than just anonymously touching the hand of a passing famous person - that's just weird!

AUGUST 14, 2013: The Black Arts of Editing

We should all be familiar with the world's most famous literary editor Max Perkins, because of his active participation in delivering the work of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe (while at Scribner's). There are many wonderful stories about what he went through and thank goodness he did. The literary world might be missing a few giants if not for him.

You can read his bio by A. Scott Berg, but I wanted to mention Max, because while he may be at the peak of the historical editing pyramid, as you descend the steep slope down from the top there are many unsung editors who don't get credit for making good writing great. I am not going to provide a list of individuals, but I do want to point out how absolutely necessary their role is in the process of polishing the words of others.

Musicians understand the importance of great engineers in the sound booth and writers are just like performers too who need support backstage. A great editor can help maintain solid structure and efficient sequence from both the writer's point of view as well as ther reader's. That's where the black arts of editing come in. There are very strict rules for punctuation and grammar and it seems (these days) they are becoming archaeological artifacts instead of legitimate tools in a contemporary arsenal.

While style can provide extreme tolerance for innovative writing, it should never open the door to the anarchy of bad prose. We still need editors to point out inconsistent verb tenses, incomplete phrases, preposition placement and proper use of modifiers. These can be conjured up by the warlocks of words and cast upon mountains of misunderstanding to form pearls before swine. I don't want to sermonize, but we need to protect these arts from being trampled. Otherwise, it becomes more and more difficult for readers to understand exactly what the writer is trying to say.

AUGUST 13, 2013: Robotic Perfection

Every robot or automated "slave" is inherently a perfectionist. No bot can intentionally depart from its programmed purpose - unlike imperfect, organic humans, who have trouble maintaining focus on tasks. For those, they need discipline, responsibility and guilt. Robots don't have such issues. They are sociopathic, but in a good way. Without any sense of morality, they are so pure in dedicated purpose their default is pure ethos.

People tend to look at the descriptive term "perfectionist" as a person who is flawed, which is certainly highly ironic. No one likes a perfectionist. They have no tolerance for mediocrity. In our irregular and impaired world, the notion of logic becomes an alien concept appreciated only by science officers from the planet Vulcan (with thanks to Mr. Roddenberry). Robots and Vulcans can appreciate pure logic. The perfectionist, however, must suffer from LAS (Logic Anxiety Syndrome). Robots, however, don't suffer from Logic Anxiety. For them, our messages (such as television commercials) simply "don't compute." They are nonsense.

That's because people don't respond to cloaked messages logically. Instead, human audiences respond "instinctively," which is another way of saying there is no cognitive process in the equation. In fact, there is no equation either. No wonder we admire the perfection of robots. We are not capable of competing with them, although, in our world they are not capable of competing with us. We have almost nothing in common.

In the world of sports requiring absolute perfection, we will always lose. For example, in golf, no human will ever play a perfect round of 18 holes, but no robot will ever write a great television commercial. In an infinite universe, filled with an unlimited supply of monkeys with word processing programs on computers that will never crash for an infinite amount of time, they might produce a book exactly like The Perfect Round, but they will never appreciate or understand the perfection of Kele's abilities. That's because their book will simply be the result of irrational randomness, which is exactly what is missing from robotic perfection.

AUGUST 8, 2013: Movie Speculation

So far, Iron Man 3 is still leading as this year's box office top grosser, but that's to be expected. Where it gets mysterious is how disappointing Red 2 has been and how The Lone Ranger took a nosedive into an empty swimming pool. Then, on top of all that, R.I.P.D. completely tanked in two weeks even though I loved it! Audiences, however, did not even take a look. They just decided not to go. It's as if it wasn't even there.

On the other hand, Despicable Me 2 is the wagon you want to be on. This is definitely predictable. In five weeks it has done $326 million domestic and another $387 million foreign for a worldwide total of $716 and it ain't over yet. The biggest surprise has to be The Conjuring. With a production budget of $20 million, it is currently sitting at $141 million - and I have no interest in seeing it. At a cost of 10 times that budget, Pacific Rim is doing OK (but not great) at just under $300 million (I loved it). It should be at $400 or $500, but it's running out of steam.

So is it me? I do tend to be a fan of the cult pictures and I have written about this before. I find it baffling how audiences decide on box office bombs without seeing them. Then years later, they reverse a film's perceived status and it catches fire in DVD/BD retail sales. The movie business is so darn volatile. It's full of huge monetary risks, but also incredible successes. Even when you think you have the perfect formula with a great cast, great script, great crew, bottomless budget and support from the studio, your movie comes out and it flops and everybody burns. Such nightmare stories are legendary.

No wonder Soderbergh walked away. Talk about mysterious! I absolutely loved his last film (Side Effects). It was brilliant, but it only grossed $32 million over 14 weeks. I have been following him (@RetiredSteven) since he went on Twitter back in April. He has 77 tweets, 284 followers and he is following 2 (Subway Restaurants and The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences). I keep waiting for a punchline, but maybe he is just being as mysterious as the crazy movie business.

AUGUST 7, 2013: T-Shirt Semiotics

A controversial T-shirt design really touched a nerve on Monday. The message printed on it was a list of "Best Subjects." I'm sure it was meant to be funny, but you have to wonder what the approval process is at Children's Place stores. They ended up making a public apology. The "subjects" checked were Shopping, Music and Dancing, but Math was left unchecked. Here is a link to the New Jersey On-Line story and here is a link to the twitchy version of the story.

Mind you, there's already a ridiculous number of T-shirts out there with rude, foul, obscene and crazy slogans and I wouldn't want to be seen in any of them. There is no denying, however, T-shirts are an essential part of contemporary apparel and an opportunity for expressing individuality. As one semiological aspect of identification, a T-shirt can be informative and revealing. From Miami Vice understatement to Adam (Mythbusters) Savage's obscure artwork to Dr. Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) Cooper's cult collection, the T is certainly a modern art form.

Today, everyone needs to have their own T-shirt manufacturing agent or resource. I get "one off" custom designs in colour for under $30 and then there is no limit to what I can wear. I have a Zic Zac shirt (Max Headroom), a Kelly Johnson (SR-76 Blackbird designer), Mike Zoss Productions (Coen Brothers), Yardbirds (my fave band), Blackhawks (DC Comics), TRON, TOHO, Sinistar (Williams arcade game) and many others and I treasure them as if they were all priceless jewellery.

Just be careful and be aware what message you expose or promote. It might be better to wear a plain buttoned cotton shirt and be thought a fool than to wear a T-shirt and remove all doubt.


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