Tagged: Shakespeare

John Ostrander: Comics Writing Lessons from Shakespeare

Ostrander Art 130512When asked my influences, I invariably add William Shakespeare which may seem a bit pompous. Shakespeare? Really? (Aside: this column is not going to deal with the whole “Who Really Was Shakespeare?” debate. If you want to believe someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s play, you go ahead. It’s not germane and, frankly, I’ve read as much on the subject as I care to and so far as I’m concerned, Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays. End of discussion.) Please note I am not comparing myself to Shakespeare; simply that I’ve learned some things about writing from him.

Such as:

Theme is tied to plot. There are famous speeches and soliloquies in Shakespeare, where the character stops to speak his or her mind, none more famous than the “to Be Or Not Be” speech in Hamlet. The action, however, doesn’t just come to a stop while the player addresses the audience. They always advance the action of the moment, of the play. The action during the “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy is found in Hamlet trying to decide if he is going to kill himself because of the grief of his father’s death. It is appropriate for him to ask this question. To translate this to comics or movies – does the explosion advance the plot or is it there just to blow things up? All action sequences, all fight scenes, can be used to advance plot or explore character.

Explore all sides of the question. What did Shakespeare think on any given question? It’s hard to tell because he would give convincing arguments to both (or more) sides of a question. Example: in his play Measure For Measure, set in Vienna, the Duke feels that the city has gotten morally a little out of control. Pretending to leave town, he leaves Angelo – very upright, very moral, very strict – in charge. The Duke, however, disguises himself as a monk to see what happens. Angelo decides to close all the brothels and, under an ancient law, execute those who have gotten a woman pregnant without the bonds of marriage. A young man, Claudio, has fallen afoul of that and Angelo decides to make him an example. Claudio is clapped in jail and sentenced to die.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella, soon to be a nun, comes to plead for her brother. Angelo is taken with her beauty and, filled with desire for her, agrees to exchange Claudio’s life for a one night stand with Isabella. Virtuously, she refuses.

In the dungeon, the Count – disguised as a Monk – counsels Claudio, telling him, “Be absolute for death; either death or life / Shall thereby be the sweeter.” It’s a great speech about the acceptance of death and Claudio seems both comforted and made resolute by it.

Yet, shortly after in the same scene, after Isabella tells Claudio of Angelo’s offer, he begs her to do it. He expresses his fear of death with, “. . . to die, and go we know not where / To lie in cold obstruction and to rot. . .” Which attitude speaks Shakespeare’s true mind?

Both. Both are true, to the moment, to the character, to the author, and for the reader or audience. It comes down to which is truer for us and that was Shakespeare’s intent or what I learned from it. Shakespeare had a many faceted mind and he used it in his work.

Write for the now. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were popular entertainments. Poetry might be gathered in a book but plays were not. Theater was a low art form, just above bear baiting. Shakespeare himself never gathered his plays for publication; that was done after Shakespeare’s death by his friend Ben Jonson, himself a playwright of no small fame or self-esteem who felt that his own plays were worthy of publication and his friend Shakespeare was almost as good and so deserved the same respect.

Shakespeare was writing to please the crowd, but also to note and comment on the issues of the day. Queen Elizabeth I was aging and indeed would die in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Until the very last, she had no heir. Shakespeare’s War of the Roses documented what happened to the nation when King Henry V died without an heir, the wars and cruelties of both sides and that could happen again if no successor was named to Queen Elizabeth’s throne. He also explored what made a good, even great monarch.

As writers, we have to work with the time we have, today, and write things that will resonate with our readers today. Shakespeare did so brilliantly and wound up speaking to people of all time – but he wrote for his own time in a manner that was very entertaining.

That’s what I want to do when I grow up, as I grow up. Be entertaining; touch a chord. These are among the things I’ve taken away from Willie S.




Mindy Newell: Baby’s First Footprints

Newell Art 130415Friday was a miserable day in the New York City metropolitan area. Slashing rain, blustery winds, and c-c-c-cold. It was a day made for staying in your pajamas and just vegging out in front of the TV, watching The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy on TVLand, popping in DVDs of the original Dallas (nobody has ever played the villain we hate to love – but do – better than the late, marvelous, wonderful Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing), and eating too much of stuff that is bad for you, potato chips being my particular poison.

So what was I doing, getting up at 6 AM so that by 8:30 I could be walking with Alixandra and Jeff to the PATH station to take the train into the city? Why was I fretting that Alix wasn’t dressed warmly enough and that her hair was wet? After all, the woman is 33, old enough to deal with inclement weather on her own. Why was I feeling sorry for Jeff, who was struggling with an umbrella that threatened to either lift him into the sky like Mary Poppins or poke his eyes out? After all, Jeff is a Ph.D and a college professor and certainly wise enough to know that an umbrella turning inside out is the last thing you need on a windy, rainy early April day.

We were on our way to Alixandra’s third sonogram appointment.

No, nothing is wrong with my daughter.

The complete opposite.

I’m going to be a grandma!!!!!

So nice to be able to tell you all some good news this week.

I’ve actually known since the beginning of February, when I sat on the first sonogram, which Alix and Jeff* had placed on the backseat of the car for me to find. (We were on the way down to see my parents.) I said, “Oh, I’m sitting on something,” and fished it out from underneath my ass, realized it was some kind of photo, and tried to hand to Alix in the front seat, saying “I don’t think I creased it,” while my daughter and her husband cracked up.

“You’re such a dodo,” said Alix. “Look at it.”

I did. And what was my reaction?

Frankly, it didn’t register for a moment.

Then I said…

“Holy cow! Is this what I think it is? Is it real?”

Which only made them laugh harder.

Me, too.

A little while ago, Jeff came by so that we could exchange sunglasses – I was at their house last night, and inadvertently went home with Alix’s pair of shades. We chatted, and then Jeff asked me about the column, and I said, “don’t talk to me about it, I don’t have a fucking clue what to write about.” Yeah, yeah, I know, nice way for a soon-to-be grandma to talk, but hey, the kid’s gonna have to get used to me. (Only kidding, I will be toning down my use of colorful language around the child, at least until he or she is three months.)

He said, “Write about the baby’s first footprints,” which is what I said at the hospital when Alix and Jeff were given a picture of the baby’s…well, first footprints. (So tiny, and, yes, all ten toes are there.)

“But it has to be comics-related.”

“Oh, well…”

“Unless you think of sonograms like a graphic novel.”

There you go.”

And you ask where writers get their ideas.

John Ostrander has written in his column here at ComicMix several columns (and wonderful columns they are!) about the art of writing, of plot building and character development. Well, if you think about it, a sonogram is a story arc – complete with pictures! – that begins with a something that looks like a walnut – Alix’s words, not mine – and over a nine month period, follows the walnut’s journey, or metamorphosis, into full-fledged “babyhood.” You can even imagine the little walnut – I think I have stumbled upon a nickname for my grandchild, in the same way Pa Ingalls called Laura “half-pint” – quoting from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces as he or she tries to put into words that will make sense to us who have forgotten what’s it’s like grow from a clump of cells into a sentient being…

“I had to climb a mountain. There were all kinds of obstacles in the way. I had now to jump over a ditch, now to get over a hedge…”

Or, to misquote Shakespeare…“All the world’s a page, And all the men and women merely characters…”

Alix and Jeff, you didn’t know you were authors, did you?

Just don’t call me Bubby.

*Alixandra Gould and Jeffrey Gonzalez are expecting their first child at the end of September. A Libra! He or she will need some balance with a bubby like me!




Watch the trailer for “Much Ado About Nothing”

Much Ado About Nothing Alexis Denisof Amy Acker

Okay, so Wesley and Fred are getting romantic advice from Agent Coulson, while Captain Mal Reynolds, Detective Kellerman, and Garfunkel lurk around in the background, in Joss Whedon’s latest iteration of the Avengers… oh, just watch. It’s Shakespeare, it’s good for you.

REVIEW: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Your first thought at seeing this review is: “Why on earth is ComicMix reviewing this?” First of all, we’re a pop culture site; but more importantly, this is a film filled with marvelous British actors we have enjoyed in countless genre offerings. They deserve to be seen in just about anything they do and when you put them all together, it’s a British version of The Expendables, the geriatric edition. When you have Judi Dench (the current Bond films), Maggie Smith (Harry Potter, et. al.), Bill Nighy (the Pirates of the Caribbean series), and Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins) acting together, you sit down and pay attention.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a charming, well-written, well-acted film that is actually about something. It was directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) and based on Deborah Moggach’s novel These Foolish Things. The cast is fortunate to still be working, but many of their peers – and many of us – are not working as we age, and our future has come into question. The film follows these Brits as they decide to relocate from their homeland to a more affordable retirement community in India. They were suckered into believing the glossy brochure, without stopping to investigate. The reality, of course, is far worse than imagined and now they have to deal with the decisions they have come to make.

The film, now out on DVD from 20th Century Home Entertainment, plays things with a light touch while the subject matter is fairly heavy and resonates with our aging elders here, too. There’s Dench as a recently widowed woman who finds 21st Century technology baffling, and Wilkinson, who lived in India as a young man and has desired for a return. Nighy and Penelope Wilton (Shaun of Dead) blew their retirement savings on funding their daughter’s failed start-up so make this move out of desperation. And there’s Smith, playing a racist who only came to India for a quick and cheap hip replacement operation. It’s not all bleak as Ronald Pickup plays a retiree hoping to score with some of his compatriots, his ardor still running hot.

Sharp contrasts are drawn between the characters and their motivations for making such a major move so late in life. How they react to the decrepit hotel, run by the charming, enthusiastic and overwhelmed Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) propels much of the story. Jaipur, where the story takes place, is beautiful and squalid, a composite of modern day India.


The film follows the characters and over time we watch some adjust, some struggle, and many fight. It’s a school of fish out of water, prompting a lot of cultural miscues and comedy, but it overlays a poignancy that this stellar cast projects in a nice, subtle way. They learn things from the local people, and each other, while they also teach Sonny a thing or two, letting him finally take the belated steps towards a mature adulthood.

The film has its predictable moments but you’re smiling through most this and you want a happy ending for all concerned, which you (for the most part) get. It’s immensely satisfying and worth a look.

The transfer to Blu-ray is good, not great, and has fine audio. There are a handful of perfunctory extras that are too short for the subject matter, such as Behind the Story: Lights, Colors and Smiles (2:34) and Casting Legends (3:55). The exotic and picturesque locales get their due in Welcome to the “Real” Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2:55) and Trekking to India: “Life is Never the Same” (2:45).

John Ostrander: How I Learned to Write

One of the pleasures of the Internet and of Facebook in particular is that sometimes old friends find you or you find them and you get a chance to re-establish old bonds. One such for me is David Downs who I knew in my Loyola University theater days. Recently, he was asking about my writing and about writing plays and I realized – by Gum! – there was a column in it. Thanks, David!

I’m essentially self-taught as a writer. I’m not putting down writing classes or seminars; I’ve taught some myself. As I think I’ve said elsewhere, however, the theater was my writing school. Much of what I’ve learned about writing comes from my days in theater. I was an actor, a director, a playwright, a sometimes techie, a teacher and occasional inept producer.

My sense of structure comes from the theater and my work as a playwright, an actor, and a director. All three demanded that I be able to break down a play, to comprehend where the conflict lay and how the action built to a climax, how it paid off. The acts break down into scenes and the scenes into beats. A beat can be described like a heartbeat – ba-DUM, ba-DUM. It’s an action/reaction, usually between two characters but it can be one character (witness Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy) or even two groups of characters.

Beats build into scenes with their own mini-climaxes, which in turn lead into acts with their own climaxes, which in turn lead to the play’s climax. What a character does is determined by their motivation; something that drives the character. Not just something they sorta kinda want to do, but what they need to do. There may be more than one motivation and they may be conflicting within the character. Sometimes the characters will think they want something but, underlying, there is something they want more and they learn that in the process of the story.

I learned from theater that everything is defined by action and that includes the dialogue. No one ever just talks – they confirm, they deny, they ask, they reject, they explain, they lie, they oppose, they attack, they defend and so on and so on. How they express themselves reveals something about them as characters. Do they hide behind words? Do they not know how to use words? What is the rhythm of their speech? Do they use long words? Do they use short sentences? Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter but his characters do not all speak in the same way. How characters speak reveals themselves as people, often in ways they don’t expect. It happens in every day life; that’s why it works in theater or in writing.

From Shakespeare I also learned how theme should be tied into plot – hard wired in. It’s not something that you overlay; it’s not the “moral” of your story. On any given topic, it’s hard to tell what Shakespeare “thought.” That’s because he was so brilliant at exploring and expressing different and even diametrically opposite points of view. What his characters said on different topics fit because in the plot it was appropriate at that moment to advancing that plot. It was deciding their actions and those actions drove the play.

Case in point – in that same “To be or not to be” speech I mentioned earlier, Hamlet is trying to decide whether to kill himself or not. He debates the pros and cons with himself. He’s trying to determine his course of action. If it’s just declaimed as a beautiful piece of poetry or philosophy, it misses the point. It needs to have an urgency, a real sense that Hamlet just might kill himself if he can’t find a reason why he shouldn’t.

I’ve learned other things from other playwrights – Samuell Beckett and Harold Pinter taught me about economy of language. George Bernard Shaw was very good at wedding social issues with bright characterization and very clever dialogue.

I also learned a lot of Improvisational theater. My sometime writing partner, Del Close, taught many, many classes in Improv and I was privileged to be in some. He taught as well as directed at Second City for a couple decades before moving to the ImprovOlympics. Del was famous for hurling chairs at actors if he felt they were going for the funny. He wanted them to go for the true because, as he often said, “Reality is far funnier than you can ever hope to be.” He wanted the moments that would reveal situations and characters.

He also wanted us to “start in the middle and go on past the ending.” He wasn’t interested in “all that boring exposition crap” and he wanted to see what the next moment was beyond what should have been the end of the story. He wanted the next day after “happily ever after.”

One of the really big things I took away was how little exposition we really need to get into the story. Much less than most writers would think. Assume the readers can keep up. Stan Lee did that with many stories; he’d start you in the middle of a fight and promise to catch you up as he went. He did, too.

From the theater I learned to do without explanation. Don’t tell the reader what to think or feel; let them think and feel and then tell you. Character is to be found in contradiction; don’t try to resolve the contradictions – explore them. I learned all this from constant repetition until it has sunk deep into me; it becomes second nature.

It comes down to this. If you’re going to be a writer, then write. Don’t talk about it, don’t just think about it – do it. A lot of what you write at first may be twaddle. That’s okay. Write the crap out of your system and keep improving. I believe I’m a good writer but not yet as good as I can be and I hope that never occurs until the day I die.

There is no one system or course of instruction that works for everyone; there’s only what works for you. This was my path. Find one that works for you.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


REVIEW: Margaret

The world seen through the eyes of a teenager is an overly complex place, spoiled but adults who overly nuance everything while teens see it all with unjaded clarity. Such a worldview can be permanently altered by a single action and the resulting repercussions, which ripple in waves, touching many in unexpected ways. From that premise comes writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, a film whose making is as tortured as its premise.

Originally scheduled for release by Fox Searchlight in 2007, Lonergan (You Can Count on Me) labored over the production and then the editing until the release date came and went, prompting law suits. He finally delivered a cut totaling 3:06, far longer than the 2:30 the studio insisted upon, which became a part of the suit. Finally, Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker stepped in to craft a cut that the director and studio could live with and the movie opened in December.

You missed it. You probably never heard of it or vaguely recall it was something Anna Paquin shot before True Blood made her a superstar. Before that series though, she was always an accomplished actress rarely given the right roles to demonstrate that but Lonergan wrote Lisa Cohen with Paquin in mind and she delivers a riveting performance worthy of your attention. Fortunately, the film is available as a Blu-ray Combo Pack on Tuesday and comes complete with both cuts of the film.

Twentieth Century Home Entertainment recently sent me a screener of the studio cut and it is extremely powerful and moving. Lisa is a 17 year old girl living with her divorced mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), an actress, and younger brother. Preparing to spend the summer at a ranch with Dad, she is seeking the proper cowboy hat when she spots one atop bus driver Jason “Maretti” Berstone (Mark Ruffalo). Chasing the bus in the hopes of boarding it and talking to him, he is distracted long enough to run a red light and strike a pedestrian (Alison Janney). Margaret comforts the woman whose life quickly ebbs away and with that the movie is launched.

Margaret gives a false statement, at Joan’s urging, to the police and the guilt weighs on her. She struggles with the memory of the event, the lie, the lack of justice in a cruel world and questions the meaning of life itself. As a result, she is adrift, thrashing out at friends and family alike. She is distanced from her mother, who is distracted first by the impending opening of her Broadway show and then an unlikely romance with a foreign businessman (Jean Reno). Lisa confides in her math teacher (Matt Damon) and ignores her English teacher (Matthew Broderick) and best friend (Olivia Thirlby). She does, though, make a conscious decision to lose her virginity to a stoner (Kieran Culkin) in what has to be one of the most honest lovemaking scenes in a long time.

Eventually, the weight of the lie and lack of proper closure eat at Lisa who connects with Emily (Jeannie Berlin), the victim’s closest friend, and together an odd bond is formed. Lisa confronts Jason, berates the police who have closed the case, and seeks legal remedies. She has made Jason losing his job, protecting potential victims, her mission and focuses solely on that with dramatic results.

As you can see, this has a hefty cast that underplay their parts. Emily is brittle and rude and not terribly warm to Lisa but they’re in this together, a relationship Joan has trouble accepting. No adult can say the right things or make the right moves to salve Lisa’s fevered conscience and Paquin runs with it. Lisa is appealing and sympathetic for the most part, but far from ideal and perfect.

The movie is heavy and dramatic but Lonergan brings a precision to the dialogue and storytelling, making it feel honest and real. He lets his characters argue, including some nice scenes in high school where the kids debate current events and Shakespeare with fervor. There’s one false note, a blunt statement Lisa makes to two of her teachers late in the film that feels out of left field with no follow up. Still, the movie is well worth your attention.

As for who Margaret is, she is a character in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child”.

MARTHA THOMASES: To Kill a Mockingbird, Mein Kampf, and Comic Books

It’s spring, that magical time of year when the flowers bloom, birds sing, and school libraries publish the list of books most frequently banned or attempted to be banned.

This year’s list is a mixture of new best sellers and timeless classics. You’ve got your Hunger Games, your To Kill a Mockingbird, your Brave New World and your Gossip Girl. There is a guide that explains to kids about what happens to mom when she is pregnant, and the reason it’s listed is because it is “sexually explicit.”

Look, I understand that most school libraries have limited budgets and limited shelf space. They can’t stock every book in the world. Someone has to make decisions about what gets purchased and where it gets shelved.

The problem is who gets to decide.

I’ve been the mother of a first-grader, and if there arose a ridiculously hypothetical situation wherein my six-year old came home with Brave New World, I probably would have a talk with his teacher. I think it is inappropriate (my kid would have just learned his ABCs, so I think Alpha and Beta might be a stretch), but rather than try to get it banned, I would hope to understand what the teacher was thinking. Maybe there is a new pedagogical theory that I don’t understand.

But no one is complaining about Aldous Huxley being taught to first graders.

The idea that someone is objecting to To Kill a Mockingbird because of “racism” is ludicrous. It’s a story about racism, how it affects people of all races in a community. It’s great novel, beautifully written and evocative. It’s also a great opportunity to start a conversation with students – most likely middle school or older – about how our country evolved and is still evolving.

A lot of the books on the list made their places because, according to their critics, they contain “sex,” “violence” or both. Some contain “nudity.” Some have “language.” I have trouble imagining books that don’t have at least a few of those elements. How can you describe human interactions without at least one? How can they teach the Bible (any version) or Shakespeare without them?

Some parents say things like, “I don’t want the schools teaching my child about sex/racism/war. I want to do it myself.” And that’s all well and good. However, one doesn’t teach a child by restricting information. If the school teaches something with which one doesn’t agree, one should use that as an opportunity to demonstrate one’s own position. As a Jewish parent in a predominantly Christian society, this was something I did regularly.

Some parents don’t want their children exposed to any ideas that might influence their kids to think independently. I have to wonder why these people had children. They would be happier with dogs.

Why does this matter to comics fans? Because the people who decide to ban books from school libraries are the same people who think comics are just for kids, and therefore should face the same restrictions they think are appropriate for school libraries. These people are why the American Civil Liberties Union has always included comics as part of their mission, because they remember that the attacks against comics in the 1940s and 1950s were attacks on all of us.

Our democracy can only succeed when all members have access to the marketplace of ideas. That includes Mein Kampf and Heather Has Two Mommies, Twilight and The Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter and Captain Underpants. It also includes Superman and Spider-Man, Hellboy and Preacher, Fun Home and The Playboy.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


JOHN OSTRANDER: Ch-ch-choices

“To be or not to be, that is the question.” So goes one of the most quoted lines in Shakespeare, probably in all of literature. It’s so well known that it’s become a cliché; people who know almost nothing of Shakespeare know that phrase. Most of the times when I’ve seen it acted, the actor playing the character who speaks it, Hamlet, makes it an intellectual question, maybe something for philosophy.

Except that it isn’t.

In context of the play, Prince Hamlet is contemplating suicide and every moment of that speech should be about whether or not Hamlet will choose to end his life – right then and there. If I was staging it, I’d have Hamlet with a sharp knife, playing with his wrist, maybe cutting himself, while he debates his choice.

It is the choices made and not made that drive the play – or should. And they drive story in general as well. How will a character act in a given situation? Even to choose not to act, not to make a decision, is in itself a choice.

In one of my favorite films, Casablanca, the female lead (Ingrid Bergman at her loveliest) confronts ex-lover Rick (Humphrey Bogart at his manliest) over letters-of-transit that will enable her and her heroic husband, Victor (Paul Heinreid at his Paul Heinreidiest), escape from Nazi-controlled Casablanca. Rick has refused so far to surrender the letters-of-transit because of lingering resentment at having been ditched by Ilsa. Problem is, she still loves Rick so she won’t shoot him to get the documents. She falls into his arms and tells him that she can’t choose, that he will have to choose for her, for all of them.

Rick holds her and then simply says, “All right. I will.” From that point, the movie rockets towards its fabled conclusion. Rick has been essentially choosing not to act up until this point. He now makes choices that will resolve all their fates.

Every story is full of choices that the characters make. They’re not always good choices; in fact, it’s often bad choices that make for a more interesting story. There are big choices, there are small choices, there are choices made for all kinds of reasons – and all that reveals character.

Think of your own life. What is more important? What a person says or what a person does? It’s what they do and that reflects choice and that reveals character. What a person says is also a choice and an act – they defend, they deny, they explain, they confront, they rationalize and so on. We all like to think we would know how we would react in a crisis situation but the truth is we don’t. We only know how we think we would act. You don’t know until you’re actually in the moment. That’s when you learn who you really are. That’s when we learn who a character really is. That’s the story.

This is a big year for story. The national political scene is one huge story. Choices are made constantly. Who do you choose to trust, who do you choose to believe, who will you choose to elect? Each choice is an act and each act tells us something about the character/person making that choice – in this case, ourselves and our country.

Each choice has consequences for the character or the person – good, bad, or indifferent. They link together, these choices made or not made, and they determine how the story comes out, what the destiny is. It’s true in fiction because it’s true in real life.

Choice defines our humanity and our freedom. Where there is no choice, there is no freedom. It doesn’t make it easy but it sure makes for a better story – whether we read it or live it.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

Introducing John Strain as…The Black Bat!

Introducing John Strain as…The Black Bat!

From http://audiocomics.wordpress.com/


The AudioComics Company is pleased to announce the casting of San Francisco Bay Area stage actor John Strain in the title role of The Black Bat, part of the production company’s Pulp Adventures anthology series, and a pivotal character in the forthcoming Moonstone AudioComics offering, Battle for LA. As with The Domino Lady, The AudioComics Company’s world-premiere productions featuring The Black Bat will mark the first time that the pulp character has graced the airwaves.

The Black Bat first appeared in the July 1939 issue of Black Book Detective, in the origin story “Brand of the Black Bat” written by Norman Daniels under the house name G. Wayman Jones. Both the Black Bat and Batman hit the newsstands around the same time, and both Thrilling Publications and National Comics (respective publishers of the characters) claimed the other was a copy. National (now of course known as DC) editor Whitney Ellsworth, who had previously worked for Thrilling’s head Ned Pines, negotiated an arrangement between the two companies, allowing both characters to exist (staving off potential lawsuits).

The world believes that District Attorney Tony Quinn is blind from a gangster’s attack. In truth, he is able to see, the result of a secret operation where the corneas of a murdered small town sheriff were grafted onto Quinn’s eyes. To everyone’s surprise, not only can Quinn see normally, but he can see in complete darkness. While blind, he had developed the necessary skills of the blind, all of which stay with him after he regains his sight. Posing as a blind man to throw both cops and criminals off the trail, “Special District Attorney” Anthony Quinn, armed with a pair of .45’s, becomes The Black Bat, a vigilante determined to bring those who slip through the system to justice…by any means necessary. For this reason he is wanted not only by the underworld but by the authorities as well. Aiding Quinn is his “girl Friday” Carol Baldwin, daughter of the slain sheriff; Butch O’ Leary, the over 6’5” giant with fists of fury; and Quinn’s “valet,” one-time hood-gone-straight Norton “Silk” Kirby.
John M. Strain holds a BA in Literature with an Acting minor from San Francisco State University, an MFA in Acting from UC Irvine, and a Teaching Credential from Chapman University. Some of his Bay Area roles include Bobby from David Mamet’s Bobby Gould in Hell, Feste from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and Mendoza in The Politics of Decay. Southern California roles include Linder in A Raisin in the Sun, Eddie in Fool for Love, and Zarius Michaels in the short film Hold On! (Semi-finalist, Triggerstreet.com).  Most recently, John played Robert in the AFI short Morning Latte, and Adolf Hitler in the premiere stage production of Disney in Deutschland. John currently teaches English, Study Skills, Journalism and helps run “Read Aloud” public speaking tournaments for young adults in the city of San Francisco.
As mentioned, John will first suit up as The Black Bat in a San Francisco recording studio this spring, when the character appears alongside The Phantom Detective, G-8, Secret Agent X, and The Domino Lady (Karen Stilwell) in Battle for LA, based on the Moonstone one-shot by CJ Henderson and Mark Sparacio.

Uneasy Lies The Crown on Anthony Head as Merlin Begins Fourth Season on Syfy Tomorrow

The poetic irony of Shakespeare’s phrasing is not lost on Anthony Head. When the Bard wrote that “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” even he could not have known what was in store for the actor Head’s royal character as the fourth season of MERLIN begins tomorrow at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy.

As the new season opens, Head’s character – King Uther – is a mere shadow of himself, mired in bleak despair after realizing that his illegitimate daughter Morgana has arisen to become his greatest enemy, using dark magic to besiege Camelot and its leaders.

The first of a two-part episode, “The Darkest Hour, Part 1” finds Morgana’s blinkered determination threatening not only Arthur’s future, but the very balance of the world. With her magic stronger than ever, the sorceress summons the mighty Callieach (pronounced “kay-lix”) to tear open the veil between the worlds. Hellish creatures – the Derocha – pour forth, killing any who succumb to their touch. With King Uther in dire straights, it falls to Merlin, Arthur and his loyal Knights to protect the kingdom.

Head, the beloved Rupert Giles of Joss Whedon’s cult classic TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, enters his fourth season as Camelot’s monarch Uther Pendragon. The actor has been particularly busy for the past year working in television on both MERLIN and reprising his role
on NBC’s Free Agents, as well as appearing in feature films, including The Iron Lady alongside Meryl Streep and the upcoming sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

QUESTION: After all that happened in Season 3, how has Uther’s perspective changed entering Season 4 … and how does that change things in Camelot?

ANTHONY HEAD: Uther is broken man. Everything that he basically believed in and held
as reality has shifted. I’d say he’s not playing with a full set of marbles. And all of that means Arthur has more responsibility, and there is another – Nathaniel Parker has joined the cast as Agravaine – who has been drafted to act as the chancellor, to politically help
Arthur. It’s an interesting and kind of logical progression from where we were. (more…)