Saturday, 15 March 2008

The WB Rises From the Grave?

After merging with UPN nearly two years ago to form The CW, it appears that The WB could be back. Well, after a fashion. The Warner Bros. Television Group is planning a website, tentatively called "wb.com," on which viewers can watch free, streaming episodes of TV shows produced by The WB during its existence from 1995 to 2006. This new online version of The WB might even include short series produced specifically for the website with five minutes long.

Unfortunately, at this moment it is not clear whether or not series that were not produced by The WB itself, but ran on the network, will be included on the website. As is often the case with American broadcast television, many of The WB's biggest hits were not produced by the network. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Felicity, 7th Heaven, and Charmed were all produced by other companies. It seems to me that this could create serious holes in wb.com's lineup. I don't know about others, but there were times when Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were the only shows I watched on The WB.

Of course, even if shows not produced by The WB, but which ran on the network, are not included on the website, this is still good news. Both The Gilmore Girls and Everwood, two of the best shows to run on the network, were both produced by the WB. And while reruns The Gilmore Girls currently air on ABC Family and every season is available on DVD, Everwood is currently being ran on any network and only season one has been released on DVD. I must also confess that, while it has a rather poor reputation, I would enjoy seeing Unhappily Ever After... again. I know that it is not the best loved sitcom of all time (TV Guide ranked it in their Top 50 Worst Shows of All Time back in 2002, but then they also ranked Hogan's Heroes, so what do they know?), but I always enjoyed it.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how wb.com will unfold. As sad as it is, I must admit that I miss The WB. It seems as if The CW simply inherited the worst of both The WB (teen dramas) and UPN (America's Top Model), with only Everybody Hates Chris, Supernatural, and Aliens in America to redeem it. It will then be very pleasing to see some of the old WB shows again.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Rocketeer Creator Dave Stevens Passes On

Dave Stevens, the illustrator and comic book artist who created The Rocketeer, passed on March 10 after a long battle with leukaemia. He was 52 years old.

Stevens was born in Lynwood, California on July 29, 1955 and largely raised in Portland, Oregon. Eventually his family moved to San Diego. He attended San Diego City College. Stevens was active in the San Diego Comic Book Convention, which would evolve into Comic-Con International. He began his career in 1975 inking Russ Manning's work for the Tarzan newspaper comic strip. Stevens would also do some work for Marvel, including the Star Wars comic book. He would later work with Russ Manning on the Star Wars newspaper strip as well. In 1976 he created Fear and Laughter for Kitchen Sink and Quack for Star Reach.

In 1977 Stevens went to work for Hanna-Barbera, working with Johnny Quest creator Doug Wiley and drawing layouts and storyboards for Super Friends and Jana of the Jungle. Stevens eventually joined the art studio of friends science fiction illustrator Richard Hescox and film designer William Stout. While working with Stout and Hescox, Stevens storyboarded the truck fight sequence for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It was in 1982 that The Rocketeer first appeared as a back up feature in Starslayer #2, published by Pacific Comics. Set in Los Angeles in 1938, The Rocketeer centred on stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who discovers a mysterious rocket pack. Stevens endowed the series with the look and feel of old pulp magazines and movie serial, influenced heavily by Doc Savage, The Shadow, and Bettie Page (Doc and The Shadow would appear in the series, although not by name, while Miss Page lent her appearance to Cliff's girlfriend Betty). The Rocketeer was published over the years 1982 to 1985 by Pacific Comics, Eclipse Comics, Comico, and Dark Horse. The series developed a cult following which has lasted to this day and provided the basis for the 1991 movie The Rocketeer.

Stevens would later make a living with Good Girl art. The subject he most often illustrated was legendary pinup Bettie Page. The two would eventually meet and become friends. Stevens would even assist her financially from time to time and drive her to cash her Social Security cheques. He also helped Miss Page set up a licensing business so she could profit from her image.

Although hardly prolific, Dave Stevens was one of the greatest illustrators of all time. Whether it was The Rocketeer, his various comic book covers, or his glamour art, Stevens always did fantastic work. It was clear that he put his heart and soul into it. Had Stevens only been a great artist, he would be remembered, but Stevens was also the creator of The Rocketeer. Of the characters to grow out of independent comics in the Eighties, The Rocketeer was arguably one of the most original and, at the same time, nostalgic. Indeed, Dave Stevens stands as one of the few men who was actually able to capture the look and feel of the old pulp magazines and serials, while at the same time keeping the material up to date for modern audiences. As a huge fan of The Rocketeer and Dave Stevens, I am then very, very sad at his passing.

Monday, 10 March 2008

All Those Years Ago

Today is my birthday, which has put me in a nostalgic mood. In fact, I have just been thinking how much of our personalities and interests must be shaped when we are very young. Certainly family, community, and environment play pivotal roles in shaping who we are, but I think in the modern world pop culture plays a role as well. I need look no further than myself for an example.

In fact, I think the years 1966 to 1968 were pretty important for me. I was about three to five years old at this time, so I was finally able to form long term memories. And I remember various pop culture artefacts from that time. And looking back, I think they did play a large role in shaping me. I need look no further than television. When I turned three years old the most popular show on television was probably Batman. The United States was in the grip of Batmania at the time. If adults couldn't resist its lure, how could a three year old? I took to Batman as most children would. And while it was clearly a parody of the character and not the original, Dark Knight of the comic books, it did serve as an introduction to the character. It also introduced me to comic books. I have been both a comic book fan and a Batman fan all my life. Indeed, in a roundabout way Batman led me to become a writer. While very young I decided I wanted to write my own comic books. I even created my own superheroes. Eventually I would write fiction and eventually shift to nonfiction. It's then largely because of Batman, then, that I am a writer.

Of course, there were other shows on the air at that time. Underdog heightened my interest in superheroes, as did the numerous other superhero cartoons that aired at the time. On Saturday mornings the old Warner Brothers shorts would engender an interest in classic animation in a way that I bet Pokemon never has. Given that I was born in raised in Missouri, I would have probably developed an interest in the Old West anyhow (we were home, after all, to Jesse James), but Westerns such as Bonanza probably encouraged it. Both the United States and the United Kingdom were in the middle of a spy craze at the time, so television was filled with shows such as The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Wild Wild West. I then naturally developed an interest in spy dramas and espionage.

At that time American television was also dominated by what Sherwood Schwartz termed imaginative comedies. This was the era of Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, The Addams Family, and The Monkees. There were also sci-fi shows on the air, then, most notably Star Trek. If I developed a taste for fantasy. In fact, the earliest movie I can remember watching all the way through was an fantasy movie on TV--Jason and the Argonauts

Of course, television wasn't the only pop culture influence in my life. Even if I hadn't watched The Monkees and The Beatles cartoon loyally, I would have probably been a power pop fan. This was the era of the British Invasion, when music by The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and other bands from England filled radio airwaves. Early power pop would give way to psychedelia which would give way to heavy metal, again influencing my tastes in music. I rather suspect my choice in music was developed very early.

That is not to say all of my interests developed so early. My ex-brother in law and my friend Al would introduce me to Doc Savage and the world of pulp magazines when I was about eight. And I wouldn't develop a real interest in medieval history until a little later. But it does seem to be that so much of what interests me developed when I was very young, when I was between three and five years old.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Malvin Wald R.I.P.

Malvin Wald, who was nominated for the Oscar for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story for the film The Naked City, died Thursday at the age of 90.

Malvin Wald was born in 1917. Wald worked in a New York post office for a time after graduating from Brooklyn College in 1936, before moving to Hollywood to pursue writing. During World War II he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He served in the First Motion Picture Unit, based out of the Hal Roach Studio in Culver City. In all, he wrote more than 30 recruitment and training films.

Wald first received credit for a screenplay before the United States' entry into World War II, on the film Two in a Taxi in 1941. He wrote the stories for films from Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942) to The Underdog (1943). It was in 1948 that he had his breakthrough screenplay with The Naked City.

One of the best known and best regarded films noir, The Naked City was set in New York and centred upon the police investigation of the murder of a model. As opposed to other films of the day, The Naked City largely de-glamourised the process of investigating a crime, showing step by step and day by day the police investigation. It was one of the earliest police procedurals on film, pre-dating TV shows such Law and Order and CSI. It was also revolutionary in being filmed on the streets of New York, at a time when on location shooting was rare. The film would later serve as the inspiration for the TV series The Naked City (1958 to 1963).

Wald wrote the screenplays for such films as The Dark Past and Outrage before largely moving into television. His first work in television was an episode of the anthology series Your Favourite Story in 1953. During the Fifties he wrote for several anthology series, including Lux Video Theatre, Fireside Theatre, Goodyear Television Playhouse, and Playhouse 90. He also wrote episodes for the shows Jungle Jim, My Friend Flica Have Gun Will Travel, and Perry Mason. He continued to write films, including Battle Taxi and Al Capone.From the Sixties into the Seventies, Wald wrote for such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Combat, Daktari, and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.

If Malvin Wald had only written The Naked City, he would be remembered. The movie was truly the forerunner of police procedurals from Dragnet to CSI. But Malvin Wald did much more, including films such as Not Wanted and Outrage and episodes of several classic TV shows. He was one of the movies and television's most prolific, and arguably best, writers.