Comics, Movies

Life After Star Wars

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The point at which the story ends for me. Art by Al Williamson, text by Archie Goodwin.

Alec Guiness liked to tell a story that has become legendary or infamous, depending upon your take. This kid came up to him somewhere and told him that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times, and asked for his autograph. Sir Alec’s response:

“Well, do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?”

The boy burst into tears and his mother took him away after scolding the erstwhile Obi Wan that he had done an awful thing. In later reflections, Guinness said “Maybe she was right, but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”

Full disclosure- I’m a lad, now in my thirties, and I kinda do live in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities. I might be at some stage of recovery, however, and it’s all because of one simple, horrible fact:

I absolutely hated The Force Awakens.

Now listen, before you light something in your immediate vicinity on fire or e-mail me a virus, let me just say that I get it. Star Wars does weird shit to people. Ragging on it is like criticizing your family members, many of whom I personally have much less feeling about than this series of deliberately (?) corny fantasy movies. I was one of those people (or maybe just that person) who looked for merits in the prequels, found them, and resent that I’m expected to apologize for that to people who don’t have my level of emotional investment in these stupid fucking things.

I won’t bore or trouble you with a critique of the film, because there’s plenty of that everywhere on the internet, and it’s actually really beside the point for me. As I detailed in A Long Time Ago,  the narrative of the story as I’ve always understood it is that strict adherence to dogma leads to trouble (1-3), where the love of a group of friends in a found-family can set things right (4-6). This was a really big aspect of what formed my particular set of values from an early age, and I thought as fans we were all in agreement about this. It’s bummed me out more than I am comfortable with that most of us feel like a movie in which the main characters’ world turned to absolute shit, primarily because they failed miserably to collectively raise a kid to be something besides a merciless psychopath, is a fun thrill-ride. I’m puzzled by this, and it’s made my promotion of the book a bit dicey. Not to mention just navigating being around people that mean a lot to me who are into it, when I very much am not.

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Taking it too seriously? Yeah, definitely. I need to get a goddamn grip. When you hate something, and that’s not a feeling I often have, you give it a certain pull over you. Things you hate can control you. It’s rarely healthy, especially so when it’s just a movie.

Add to that- being a fan of genre entertainment is much like being a connoisseur of fast food. A steady diet of it is not healthy, and you probably don’t need to spend too much more time contemplating Star Wars than you would the McRib. And yet, I seem to have a Jones for doing just that, and I’m not alone.

Here’s Jim Steranko from a Rolling Stone interview:

“Comic books are trash. But that TV set is trash, and so much of music trash. And books like Peyton Place and Gone with the Wind and The Power of Positive Thinking and The Love Machine. It’s all trash.” I asked if he considered the stuff he did to be trash. “Of course,” he said. “So you like trash?” “Well, yeah, of course I like trash. Of course, human flesh is trash, too.”

Well, that’s the nail on the head. But we get into things, and we like to know everything we can about them and talk to other enthusiasts about them and compare and contrast, and that’s a beautiful thing. However, this gets really ugly when we inevitably turn hypercritical, when it starts to matter a tad too much to us. We scratch at ourselves, and tear at things we should probably just embrace, accept, or ignore. It’s escapism, after all.

An anecdote I often tell- Once I was at a comic shop (Comic Book World, for those familiar with Louisville) and there was a guy -kind of a goober, but he meant no harm- that we’ll call Fanboy Type A. He was very excited about Wrestlemania, which had occurred over the previous weekend. He couldn’t wait to tell us all about the Undertaker’s new look and the way the stage was set when he came out. Apparently it was as if the Gates Of Hell had opened and unleashed a powerful warrior, and it was the greatest thing this guy had ever seen.

This showing of enthusiasm did not sit well with a gentleman across the room that we can call Fanboy Type B, and it seemed as if he had absolutely no recourse but to piss on the parade. The indictment came on quickly and furiously. The stage looked fake. Undertaker is fat. He’s too old to be out there. And in the ultimate kick to the downed opponent, his hat looked stupid. Now, keep in mind that nobody asked this guy.

Type A blanched, looked at his shoes, and muttered “Well….I thought it was kinda cool…” He had actually allowed the Type B to steal his joy on something as mundane as the validity of a professional wrestler.

This sort of thing happens every second of every day on every subject imaginable on the internet, where the effect above is the same, only on a much larger scale. On no subject is this more true than Star Wars, which no living person seems to have no opinion of. The dissenting voice is always the loudest and the effect is always destructive. The greatest thing about the internet is that it gives just about everyone an equal voice, but the worst thing about the internet is that it gives just about everybody an equal voice.

Too many of those thirtysomething lads with their secondhand, banal fantasies aren’t even enjoying them, either because they’ve allowed them to be ruined by malcontents or they are or have become malcontents themselves. I can sense that I’m in danger of becoming a Type B, and so I’ll need to make a concentrated effort to refocus and flip the script. If you dug The Force Awakens, please don’t stop on my account. My issues are my own.

Star Wars Family

Family Values: The Star Wars gang of tight friends and my own.

I always enjoyed that the story was finite. It spoke to a certain eye towards quality control that the story had an ending. A legit “saga” must have a definite finale. You could criticize Lucas for pimping out the merchandise rights, but the product that he constructed was always sacrosanct. Now, there will be a movie every year from now on, a multi-billion dollar enterprise that keeps coming, like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I also think part of what sticks me is that I don’t feel like any one of us who grew up applying our imaginations using the tools seen above should get to definitively say what happens next to any of these characters. It belonged to George Lucas first and if not him, then it should be Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson.

When you see drawings of Star Wars stuff on shirts, skirts, pajamas, posters, clocks, cups, or any other thing, you’re almost always looking at the art of Al Williamson. He drew the daily Star Wars comic strip (Written by Archie, his frequent collaborator) for most of its run, as well as the comic adaptations of Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Their stuff in the daily papers took place between the first two movies, and then they did a couple of issues of the monthly Marvel comic. It was work for hire, so they got paid once when the work was printed the first time and then not since, and his name is nowhere to be found on any of the mountains of merch at Target and Walmart. But now you know, if you bothered to read this far.

I’m glad Mr.Williamson’s work is out there. But of course, I wish he got credit. I wish I could talk to more people about it. It’s pitch perfect Star Wars– the story beats are such that a new dramtic flourish happens about every three panels, and Archie had an ear for that hammy dialogue that crackled right. If someone told me I either had to never watch any Star Wars movie again or never see Williamson’s art again, it would be no contest. I’d keep Al every time out. This is selfish, pretentious, and whatever else you might call it, but  it is at least partially because stuff like Al Williamson’s art hasn’t been exploited, exposed, and picked apart to Hell and back again. It still belongs to those of us who go Deep Geek. Who cares to talk about how weird it is that Leia frenched her brother when you can talk about how Williamson made it look like it was painted in the Sistine Chapel, but he did it with a pencil and ink? I’m talking about writing an academic essay for a book about Star Wars level shit, here.

Sadly, Al and Archie are no longer with us, so I feel like the next of kin is all of us fans, to decide and do with as we please. I tend to only engage with Star Wars on my own terms, anyway- I like the fan edits of the prequels,  the Gendy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series that has been erased from “canon,” the pre-Special Edition versions of the movies that I grew up with, and my own elaborate daydreams. You can do whatever you wish, and tell your own stories, if only to yourself. As long as you aren’t turning profit, Disney probably won’t call you. Of course, they would have to find you first.

Stormtrooper love

Banksy has the right idea.

 

But then, although it’s never going to get Star Wars huge (which is probably a fate worse than death for any creator, anyway), maybe we would all be well served to take inspiration and build new things. One of the best new comics is Saga, created by Brian K. Vaughn. He once said something that I found brilliant:

“I realized that making comics and making babies were kind of the same thing and if I could combine the two, it would be less boring if I set it in a crazy sci-fi fantasy universe and not just have anecdotes about diaper bags … I didn’t want to tell a Star Wars adventure with these noble heroes fighting an empire. These are people on the outskirts of the story who want out of this never-ending galactic war … I’m part of the generation that all we do is complain about the prequels and how they let us down … And if every one of us who complained about how the prequels didn’t live up to our expectations just would make our own sci-fi fantasy, then it would be a much better use of our time.”

Lucas only conceived Star Wars because he couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon. I can’t get the rights to Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD, so I conceived Ben Venice. It’s time to be more active than reactive, and that’s the lesson I’ve learned.

 

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Movies, Television

I Interviewed Bruce Campbell

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I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my life for a number of reasons. One of the biggest is that I’ve met and often even befriend people that I admire. That takes a certain gift of gab and insight- I asked Jim Steranko what record was on the player in this image, I talked to Greg Dulli about Sam Cooke’s SAR Records, and conversations grew from there.

As a gawky early teen, I was a rabid fan of Bruce Campbell. I got to meet him at a local mall when I was a boy, and did little to endear myself. Just a few very stilted seconds of conversation, and all I had to show for it was a very awkward photo that came back from Walgreen’s and left me terrified.

So when I got the opportunity to talk to Bruce Campbell again for my job at the Voice-Tribune, it was a chance to set things right. It went a little something like this:

 

Bruce: Hi, this is Bruce.

 

(Pause as I try to figure out if this might be the recorded message).
Rocko:Heeey, Bruce. This is Rocko from Louisville…
B: Hey,howyadoin’.Hey, hey, they’ve got you guys too stacked up this morning, I’m gonna need like ten more minutes.
R: Ok. You got it, pal.
B: Maybe like twelve.
R: OK. I’ll call you back then.
(Exactly 12 minutes later…)
B: Good morning! 
R: Hey, Bruce! Did I give you enough time, there?
B: Yes you did, and thank you. I’ll tell (REDACTED) at Wizard to sort of spread these out, they’ve got you stacked up a little too tight. Like planes landing at LAX.
R: Yeah, man. That’s a hard scene.
B: But here we are.
R: Here we are!
B: We’re good to go.
R: We’re good to go! I’m the guy, I think you saw this picture of me and you, like twenty years ago…
B: Oh, yeah.
R: Yeah, I’m that dork.
B: Very good.
R: When I met you then I was super-starstruck, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m sure I was extremely forgettable.
B: Well, that’s gonna happen, you know…
R: Oh, of course. Point is, I was a big fan of yours around age 13 and 14, and the things you guys were doing told me that there was a thing I could do between work in a factory or break it as big as Harrison Ford or somebody, that there’s a “do it yourself” way to go about things. It changed the way I think at an impressionable age and led me to lead my life in ways I otherwise might not have.
B: That’s good to hear. I’m glad you’re doing something at least close to what you want to do in life. Most people don’t really find much time. But “life is not a dress rehearsal,” as Sam Raimi’s mother used to tell me. 
R: That’s good! I talked to Ted Raimi last night.
B: Oh, good!
R: Yeah, I got a real kick out of him. We talked on the phone for around an hour, I think he enjoyed it. He seemed to be having a good time.
B: Well, I won’t give you an hour but I’ll give you a few minutes.
R: OK! Excellent. So do you guys all still hang out together?
B: Oh, I hang out with Ted all the time! Yeah, Ted is my pal. Sam, you know, he has 47 kids, and so he has a very rich life outside of movies. He’s a pretty busy guy. The nice thing is, I’m getting to work with him again.
R: Yeah, on the new show!
B: Yep. Exactly right.
R: Now, I imagine that’s obviously a labor of love. How exciting is it to get back into the chainsaw hand, as it were?
B: Well, now it’s mainly just labor. As a middle aged guy, these things don’t come so easily. But it’s good! It’s fun to play Ash again. I can go back and give him the tweaks I want to give him, now.
R: It’s interesting to have Ash as an older guy now, obviously. Is he in a different place in life, maybe he manages the S-Mart, now?
B: No.
R: No?
B: No. Ash is right where you think he would be. He’s in a trailer park, picking up chicks late at night and lying about how he lost his right hand.
R: Sounds about right.
B: Right? That’s our buddy. And because of his foolishness, he’s unleashed these long dormant demons, and now at a point in his life where he really doesn’t want to have to deal with this…he has to.
R: He has to get back on the horse, as it were.
B: Yeah.
R: Speaking of horses, when I met you on tour for Brisco County Jr., you were Brisco. Completely in character. And I was like “I know who you are, you’re Bruce Campbell.” And you were like “That’s cool, kid. Let’s take a picture real quick…” What do you remember about those tours?
B: Well, I had a lot of energy back then. We would shoot all week, and then like three o’clock in the morning sometimes, on a Friday night…we would call them “Fraturdays.” Brisco was a very challenging shoot. A lot of moving parts. We would put in some serious hours on that show. And I would get picked up by a car at like 6:30 in the morning after about three hours sleep. And they shove you in the car or on a plane, and you’re off to some city with your gun and holster in your luggage, hoping nobody asks you too many weird questions. And then go parade around in some city, come back Sunday night, then Monday morning at seven you’re back on set looking at your costar going “What’s your name?”
R: Yeah.
B: It was a very busy time. But I didn’t mind touring, I still don’t mind touring. I don’t mind promoting stuff, because how the hell else are people going to know what you’re up to? Whenever I hear stories about these actors who won’t do publicity, I’m like “You’re an idiot.” I mean, “Who taught you that?” My dad was a Detroit ad man for thirty years. He was an ad man in the Motor City. And he often told me, “You can do the best work of your life, but if no one sees it, what the hell are you doing it for?”
R: Yeah, exactly. I remember that day, you were at the mall, a local mall…
B: I did a lot of malls, yeah.
R: There were so many people there. And there were kids dressed and cowboy costumes like you would think they wouldn’t have since the fifties.
B: Yeah! Well, Brisco was a slightly old school show.  
R: It was a great show. I loved it. I remember thinking, when I saw that crowd, “Hey, maybe this is something that could last!”
B: Ha! Yeah, one season wonder.
R: You got to do a whole season at least though, right?
B: Oh, hell of a season. Twenty-six episodes.
R: And a lot happened in that second half of the season.
B: Sure did.
R: I would say that all in all, it turned out pretty well. Would you agree?
B: Yeah! Yeah, it did. You know, unfortunately, the last episode was a two-parter, and at the end of the first part of the two episodes, Ash and his guys are shot at dawn Breaker Moran style. And then some markets did not show that second episode, because they yanked it. So some people didn’t see that final episode where we wake up and they were rubber bullets, and we ride off into the sunset. So people were like “Wow, what a lousy way to end that series!” And I’m like “What are you talking about?”
R: Right! You had shovels underneath your shirts. I remember when that happened, I was really concerned about you and Bowler.
B: Yeah, you should’ve been! You should’ve been.
R: Any chance you might revisit Brisco at some point?
B: Hey man, they’re redoing everything, so never say never.
R: Maybe somebody could be Brisco The Third and you could be the dad.
B: Yeah, well, maybe you could finance it, too.
R: (Laughs) Yeah, really. Well, you know, I’m smiling ear to ear, which is maybe not too professional of me. Listen, I’m glad that you’re around. I’m glad that you’re hard at work doing so many things over the years.
B: I haven’t gone anywhere.
R: Absolutely. You’re doing your thing. When you guys started out, did you have any idea it would lead to all this?
B: Well, no. The idea is just to get in the business. That was the only goal. It didn’t matter how we did it. I said yes to every early part…Maniac Cop, whatever. It didn’t matter. It was time to plow the fields. And wherever that led was wherever that led. And it’s like that today. You just lean in and see where it goes, like Mr.Toad’s Wild Ride. Technology changes, movies change, TV changes. Video games change. I just did my first Call Of Duty.
R: Oh, wow. That’s really great. How did you like voice acting?
B: I’ve actually done a lot of it. I did all the Evil Dead games. I did the original Pitfall Harry for Activision. Yeah, I’ve done it for awhile. It’s fun. Very antiseptic work.
R: Pretty easy to do compared to all the physicality stuff you’re doing now, and previous stuff too, I would imagine. I’m thrilled to get to talk to you, I will be there at Wizard World, and I’ll find you, get you a copy of the Voice-Tribune.
B: Good! Come on down.
R: Maybe we can recreate that photograph.
B: Uh, yeah. Sure! Why not? 
R: Heh.
B: Yeah, come on down. I look forward to seeing you and seeing all the folks from Tulsa. It’s always been a very friendly place. I haven’t been in about ten years, we’ll see how it’s doin’.
R:(Contemplating bringing up that this is for Louisville, not Tulsa)…Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. The last time you were here was for your first book, when your book was out.
B: Yeah, I came for the second book I think, too! In 2005. First one was I think 2000, and about five years later we did the second one.
R: Yeah! Good stuff.
B: Alright, my friend! Nice talkin’ to ya!
R: You, too! See you down the road.
B: Alright, sir. Bye!
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