Tagged: Orson Welles

Ed Catto: Trick or Treat For Comics


img_6145For the umpteenth year in a row, we’ll be giving out comics instead of candy for Halloween today. We’re typically met with a mixture of surprise and delight… by both kids and their parents. Returning families call us “the comic book house” and tell us that they remember this tradition from last year.

The occasional parent confides in me that “this is the kids’ favorite house.” They probably say that at all the houses, but it’s still nice to hear.

When I was kid, the standard Halloween traditions were often modified. “Trick Or Treat for UNICEF” was designed for kids to collect small donations from neighbors as they’d go from house-to-house with a specially designed orange UNICEF container. I fondly recall TV ads that basically taught young trick-or-treaters to scream “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” when they knocked on doors. The program still continues today.

img_6138Another modified tradition, which must have been either a local one or an Italian one, was that one the night before Halloween we’d put on our costumes and my parents would drive us around town to several relatives’ homes. We had a big Italian family in town and getting to their houses to hold them up for the yearly candy ransom clearly mandated a car and driver. My brother and I would gleefully don our costumes for this pseudo “dress rehearsal” and of course, enjoy collecting the extra candy in that insatiable way that all trick-or-treaters do.

So it’s natural that by giving away comics instead of candy, we’d put our own twist on the annual candy tradition. But I’ve heard about many other comics fans giving away comics for Halloween.

For the past few years, we’ve been setting up two tables: one filled with “All Ages” comics that are appropriate for the youngest kids and another with comics more suited for older kids. We label each table. In the early hours we only need the younger kids table, and in the later hours we just leave the older kids table out.

img_6140The kids never seem to pick out the comics you’d expect them to choose. It’s fascinating to see the selection process when kids are presented with a table full of choices. Sometimes they choose by character or just by an interesting cover.

Some kids know just what they want and quickly sift through the choices. Too many kids are unfamiliar with comics are amazed to see media properties in comics form. “Scooby Doo? Cool!”

In this age where a hero like Iron Man who used to be a B-lister has hundreds of kids dressing like him, the impact of comic heroes at Halloween is palpable. Every kid now knows Iron Man and Thor, but few of them have read, or even seen, an Iron Man or Thor comic.

I love the kids that struggle to make a choice between two comics. If we have enough comics, we typically let them get both.

img_4750But traditions change. We’re empty nesters and we’ve just moved after 26 years to a town called Auburn, nestled in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It’s a great town with a rich nerd history.

Auburn was blessed with one of the pioneering comic shops back in the 70s and several after. There was also a back issue dealer who was selling in Auburn before the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was established. He’d use the Passiac Book Guide to establish pricing. On the other hand, Auburn NY was the site of one of those comic book burnings in the 50s.

It will be fascinating to see how our new neighbors react to comics on Halloween. I’ll let you know next year how it all went.

img_4760One More Halloween Thought

Orson Welles’ Mercury Radio Theater was an old time radio program that adapted classic books as radio dramas. But on Halloween in 1938, they tried something a little different with their H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds adaptation. Orson Welles cast himself as a reporter broadcasting live from the horrific scene of the Martian invasion. Some listeners who tuned in midway through the broadcast thought it was real.

Last year, a podcast on the Panoply Network tried the same trick with a drama called The Message. It’s a spooky thriller, with clever twists and turns. And they played it straight – just like Orson Welles did all those years ago. If you need one more Halloween fright this year, give it a try!

Mike Gold: The Dimension of Mind

Twilight Zone

The so-called Golden Age of Television, with its two and one-half channels of network programming, produced an astonishing number of great writers, directors and talent. To name but a very, very few: Barbara Bel Geddes, Paddy Chayefsky, George Roy Hill, Ron Howard, Ernest Kinoy, Jack Lemmon, Sidney Lumet, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Boris Sagal, Rod Serling, Rod Steiger, Gore Vidal, Joanne Woodward… my fingers won’t hold out long enough to type even a “best-of” list.

requiem-for-a-heavyweightYou’ll never guess which of the above pioneers is my favorite.

When Scottish engineer John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in January 1926 (six years before Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first electronic television), Rod Serling was just a few days over one year old. Baby boomers think we grew up with television; Mr. Serling actually has that honor. And he did a lot more with the medium than we would.

His worldview was clearly progressive; his 1950s work was not the one for which the Conservative movement longed so desperately. His scripts reflected his philosophy and he was left-of-center, but somehow he avoided being blacklisted. To Serling, his great enemy was censorship. “I’ve found censorship always begins with the network. Then it spreads to the advertising agency. Then the sponsor. Among them, when they get through, there isn’t very much left.”

PatternsRod Serling wrote about, and wrote to, the human condition. Most of us are familiar with his creation The Twilight Zone, a high-water mark in the history of the medium. But I urge you to seek out a few of his previous works, in particular Patterns and Requiem For A Heavyweight. Both were originally done on live television, and each was so successful that theatrical movies were produced later – and both movie versions were written – rewritten – by Serling. Patterns was so successful that the broadcast was restaged live with the original cast about a month later. Remember, Ampex didn’t start marketing video tape recorders until 1956, a year after Patterns was broadcast.

Both plays are about the human condition, sans science fiction and fantasy elements. Patterns is about the ousting of a long-time big business executive who fights being phased out due to his age. Requiem is about an aging boxer no longer fit for the ring and his fight to maintain some sense of dignity while trying to cover the rent. Jack Palance starts in the latter (Tony Quinn starred in the film version) and Everett Slone starred in both versions of Patterns. Slone is best known for his work with Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, The Lady from Shanghai and Journey Into Fear; he also was a regular on Welles’ The Shadow and his Mercury Theater radio productions.

I prefer the original video versions because they were initially written for that medium and because live television, particularly in the 1950s, had the ambiance of “holy crap; that guy just tripped over the microphone cable.” The original versions of both plays are available on DVD, or, better still, the three-disk version of Criterion’s The Golden Age of Television.

Many consider Serling’s The Twilight Zone to be the epitome of great television writing. I concur, but it must be noted Rod brought in a hell of a lot of first-class talent to help him turn out those 156 episodes. Serling wrote 80 and the rest were scripted by folks like Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Earl Hamner Jr., George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, and Reginald Rose. The shadow cast by Twilight Zone is so deep and rich that it tends to overwhelm Serling’s other achievements.

I know there’s more worthy programming on the boob tube these days than any non-shut-in can handle, but when you can arrange for a free second or two, check out the original versions of Patterns and Requiem For A Heavyweight.


Mike Gold Kisses Up To Robert Downey Jr.

Right now, the pop media is full of stories about how Robert Downey Jr. is about to sign on to Captain America 3. Evidently, the only thing holding up the deal was his amount of screentime: he wanted more. He really wants this to be a true Marvel-style crossover, ushering in the Cinematic Universe’s adaptation of the first Civil War storyline.

I think Downey has a very strong understanding of how the Marvel Universe works, and how to bring that over to the movies. This crossover flies in the face of the movie star image: he’s fighting hard to be the second banana in a movie titled after somebody else. It’s hard to imagine Al Jolson doing that.

O.K. He gets it. Other than making a potentially fun movie happen, how does that affect us?

Well, for me and hundreds – now, maybe, thousands – it protects our jobs. This, in turn, protects the future of the comics medium in America.

Prior to Iron Man 1, the comics business was on the ropes and heading into the worst economic crisis we have seen since The Great Depression of 1929 – 1941. Then this particular movie, starring a number of actors who really were no longer “A Listers” at that time and featuring a property that was hard-pressed to be considered a “B Lister,” was unleashed on a world in need of some high-quality diversion. And the comics business has never been the same.

Let’s face it: the profits of even one well-received movie can eclipse the profits made by that property in its entire history of publishing. Fine. Something’s got to provide fuel for the engine, and shoveling in flatcars full of money usually works.

Lots of such movies started being made, and most of those produced by Marvel Studios made just unbelievable amounts of cash. Some of the others didn’t do badly either, although Batman has its own momentum and Superman has been treated like a leper. And, now, Batman has to bail out the Superman franchise.

A year after Iron Man’s release, Disney bought Marvel Comics for a mere four billion bucks. That’s not publishing money, that’s not even movie money. That’s movie-and-licensing-for-movies-and-television-and-new-media money. Yep, that’s Steve Jobs’ face on the one billion dollar bill.

Only one month later, Warner Bros. took control of DC Comics, renaming it DC Entertainment in a fit of reality. They started measures to move the company to the left coast, a process to be completed sometime in late spring.

Whereas I’m not crazy about Hollywood running a marginal industry that it (and most MBAs) does not understand and wouldn’t believe if they did, it beats oblivion. And let’s face it, you cannot keep your stockholders happy with profits that would barely impress even the most conservative investor.

And we owe it all to Robert Downey Jr. His performance was electrifying, akin to Orson Welles’ Harry Lime. We wanted to see more, and by “we” I mean moviegoers, not just the ever-tightening circle of comics fans. Iron Man probably would have been a fine movie without him, but with him we were able to root for the previously-troubled actor at the same time as we were rooting for his character.

So, Mr. Downey, on behalf of the Greater Comic Book Community, I thank you for helping keep our jobs alive.

Next time, lunch is on me.