Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping … into the future.
In a few short days, we’ll be breaking bread with our loved ones and indulge in a day where we give thanks by cooking and consuming more food than we need. Some sanctimonious scads will also donate time, money, and food to charities to actually be good people. And then, for some, comes the relatively new tradition of lining up at brick and mortar stores to purchase items at rock-bottom prices in the name of some long-lost holiday spirit.
I am thankful that I don’t partake in that particular assholery. But I digress.
This has been an awful year for an awful lot of reasons. Our President is a blowhard buffoon who has only succeeded in raising the collective blood pressure of the people he swore an oath to protect. Hollywood blew up, and it turns out it’s full of absolute monsters. That Donald Trump dick is an idiot and attained the highest job in the country, and that some of the most powerful men of media used their position to pray on unsuspecting women and men does not come. It’s just that it all piled up at the same time. So much so that I’m having a hard time finding the silver lining amongst the low-hanging clouds.
But I’m not a sex-predator. And despite all his idiocy, President Trump has not personally affected my day-to-day life significantly enough that I’m in any worse station. So, I venture forward. These are the things I am most thankful for here in 2017:
Unshaven Comics finished our first graphic novel.
After over five years of work, me and my studio mates have put to bed our very first trade paperback. Collecting issues one through four of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, and packing it full of bonus materials has produced a 192 page tome that represents literally the very best thing we have done in our lives – specifically speaking of our creative output. As of this writing, the final details are being laid into the file that will be gleefully sent to our printer. The only thing left to do with it this year is toss the necessary shekels to pay for it. This will allow us in 2018 to pursue bigger and better things. More Samurnauts. A refreshed brand. A commitment to sell harder than we’ve ever sold before. 2017 was the year we limped across the finish line.
I’ve held a steady and stable day job at the same place now two years running.
Understand that for most of my career, I’ve worked for some ahem challenging people. After paying whatever dues to the universe that might have existed – I think – I’ve finally found a position that is just right. As an Interactive Media Project Manager, I’ve found a place that challenges me without overworking me. That offers me day to work from home. Actual vacation time. And most important… Support for my personal endeavors like making comics, without ever questioning my commitment to the company.
The indescribable joy of fatherhood (but yeah, I’ll try to describe it)
In 2017, I’ve watched my older boy, Bennett, learn to read and write. Seeing him figure out words and have passion to hold a pen and write his name fills me with emotion that frankly my younger self would declare as trite to be enamored with. But younger me is an ass and an idiot. To see the world through my children’s eyes, is to remember joy that has long been stolen by a weary world. To both Bennett and Colton Fishman, there is no debt, fear of heart disease, crippling insecurity, or the ever-present feeling that we’re nigh on to nuclear Armageddon. In its place is unadulterated glee over video games, comic books, TV shows, and the high fives and hugs of supportive parents. And trust me, until you see my younger, the hilarious CM Fish himself, boisterously vibrate with pure delight over being handed a spoon to eat his yogurt? You don’t know joy.
Yes, you read that right. In 2011, I submitted my very first column to ComicMix. And ever since, I have tried to carve out a tiny little spot on the big world wide web where my specific brand of snark could plant a flag. In 2017, I’ve been able to touch on all my favorite nits to pick. From yelling at DC’s Dan Didio for declaring comics are dead, eulogizing a lost friend, to ranking my favorite meals as a comic book creator, I’ve enjoyed being able to spout off whatever tickles my fancy, all while you – my adoring public – have afforded me the luxury of doing so without posting inside a vacuum. Every week, my Facebook feed teems with well-wishers, cage-rattlers, and crafty cohorts alike… all instigated by the words dribbled out of my mighty(ish) pen. Having this space is a boon to my psyche. Knowing that I can commiserate with all of you over every bit of pop culture bric-a-brac that floats past my cerebellum is something I can’t ever take for granted.
They’re still awesome.
Injustice 2 announcing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be playable.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Nickelodeon Animation Studio and their new Entertainment Lab in Burbank, CA. I chatted with Chris Young, Senior Vice President for the Entertainment Lab; Chris Savino, creator of The Loud House; and Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz, creator of Shimmer and Shine. I played around in their newly developed immersive and interactive VR experience; sat in on a recording session for Shimmer and Shine; stopped in to say hi to Ciro Nieli, executive producer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and see his cool office; and viewed all kinds of creativity in progress during the studio tour.
And let me tell you: the experience was awesome.
As in, so awesome, I’m wondering how Alternate Me could get a job there. Because let’s be honest – there are office jobs that look like The Office, and then there are workplaces like Nickelodeon, which has slime stairs, a SpongeBob wall, weird egg-cup like chairs that tip you in circles until you feel like maybe you’re going to fall backwards but you don’t, full-sized versions of cartoon characters just sitting around, rotating art exhibits, squishy seats shaped like the iconic Nickelodeon Splat, outdoor creative collaboration areas, and walls and walls of stills from their shows and white boards filled with creative notes and doodles.
And in the midst of all that is the Entertainment Lab, a new unit that will spearhead long-range research and development efforts around new technologies for Nick and its audience. There, I met with Chris Young, who invited me in to the immersive multiplayer virtual reality game they’re developing right now, the VR Slime Zone. Since it’s VR, the game requires a headset through which you view and hear the action. It also uses left and right handheld joysticks that you can walk around with. Once in the game, you can pick a Nickelodeon character to be, and then there are several activities to try.
When I played, first I got used to moving – both walking around on a real-world area of carpet to walk in the game, and teleporting my character to different spots using the controls. Then we were shown the slime gun, which can be used to – you guessed it – slime other players for points! Super-fun! In addition to that, you could use the slime gun to play a shooting gallery game. And if you wanted some variety, there was also a basketball court where you could shoot hoops (I was decent with the gun but throwing the weightless basketballs took some getting used to – I never did make a basket!); and for the more creative types, tubes of different-colored paints you could pick up and use to paint in the air.
What’s really cool about this game-in-progress – beyond the endless varieties of interactive activities the lab could potentially design for it – is that it’s a real-time VR interaction with other players. Some of the Nickelodeon folks hopped into the game with me to show me its features and interact; and Chris envisions that friends could play with each other in this space from their individual homes, in a more immersive experience than you can get from, say, playing a regular video game together.
After the demo, I sat down with Chris and he shared with me more of his thoughts about the new Lab and his goals for it:
“As Senior VP for the Entertainment Lab, my focus has been looking at new technology and how we can use it to create new forms of content or the tools that we use to create that content. One thing I do is look at using game engine technologies to create a real-time universe that uses virtual reality and mixed reality. …In the last half-year, we’ve been looking at the Lab with a more entertainment focus; to look at new ways of connecting some of this technology to live-action or to games and our recreation and consumer products business. There’s a cool opportunity right now around location-based technology – out-of-home experiences that might work in a retail or recreation-type setting.”
Chris also talked about the more future-focused aspect that exists for this Lab:
“The Lab really looks two to three years out, identifying new technology and cool ways we might use it to entertain our audience. It’s hard to predict what the future of entertainment is going to look like. The real opportunity right now is to experiment around with different ideas. For instance, the Slime Zone VR is a suggestion for what a Nick metaverse might be in the future, where you could connect with your friends and your family, and have these shared experiences around Nick IP. In the VR, you can interact, you can make art, you can watch cartoons, and you can run around with a slime blaster and slime each other…”
But Chris noted that the Lab is not just about bringing this interactive entertainment to the masses:
“A big focus of what we are trying to do here as well is to give these tools to the artists who work at Nickelodeon and help them see the potential for different ways for seeing things, or maybe unlock an idea.”
I bet a lot of cool ideas will come out of the Lab! You can listen to my whole interview with Chris Young here.
And speaking of cool ideas, I then sat down with Chris Savino and we talked about his show, The Loud House. The Loud House follows 11-year-old Lincoln Loud as he gives an inside look at what it takes to survive in the bedlam of a big family, especially as the only boy with 10 sisters. The show came about as after it was pitched as a two-minute short during Nickelodeon’s annual Animated Shorts Program. It was really great hearing Chris’s insights into working in animation for the last twenty-six years and on his show, which happily, I can share here!
We first discussed how things have changed with the internet, and how new talents can be discovered via that sharing.
“I am impressed with how much bravery kids have in putting their work out there and showing it, regardless of all the competition. But as much as things change they stay the same. I think it all boils down to talent – if you’re on the artist side, you kind of have to have it. And there has to be an awareness when you’re looking at other people’s work regarding whether they have a talent. Talent aside, there’s a need for understanding what the job entails; and the bigger picture of what your part of the job is giving to the whole. Sometimes it’s hard to get a perspective on that. But circling back around, the things that stay the same are that it’s all about storytelling and character – that is key. It’s also about using your role to make the story better than it was before you got it.”
Regarding how Chris came up with The Loud House, he shared:
“I’m a guy who admittedly has very few ideas; and when I have an idea that I like, it is with me for a long time. It could be years before I even show anybody anything about an idea… Over the years I have pitched a number of shows, but with this particular show, I was guaranteed a short after pitching three ideas to Nickelodeon’s Animated Shorts Program. The Loud House was originally a pitch about a boy rabbit with twenty-five sisters. I think Nickelodeon gravitated toward that pitch because it was about a big family, and they were looking for a big family. And the notion of me being from a big family – five boys and five girls – intrigued them. I think they thought it could bring authenticity to the project.
When it was suggested that the characters become human, I did start connecting the dots and pulling from my life. As they became human characters I started to connect with them more, and I realized that was what the show needed to get the audience to connect.”
Chris and I also talked in great detail about the development and growth of the show:
“For the first thirteen half-hours, I wanted to try to stay in the house as much as possible, because it was created like a microcosm of the world around them. That hallway was designed to feel like a street that they all lived on, but then you could go into their different domains and experience whatever their character is experiencing. But we knew eventually we needed to venture out. So we slowly expanded outwards from there.
While keeping Lincoln in the forefront, we were able to tell stories where even when he was the main character, the character who had the emotional arc was one of the sisters. And of course they had friends, and we started to show them more. Another thing that changed was showing the parents’ faces, which we didn’t show in the beginning. If the parents’ faces were shown, the idea was they’d have more of a role in the episode, and the kids could run to them and say, ‘I’m telling,’ and the episode would be over. I wanted to make sure that the kids, in all of their wisdom, were forced to solve their problems on their own. That was a rule up front.
One thing that happened that we didn’t expect is that we hired two super-talented voice actors for the parents, Brian Stepanek and Jill Talley, and the writers would come to the recordings and say ‘I want to write more for these people.’ So they started writing more dialogue, and the parents gained a bigger role, and it became something where we had to show their faces.”
We also chatted about what to expect from the next season, and branching out into other families:
“In the show, we ended up developing that Ronnie Anne, who likes Lincoln at school, turns out to be Bobby’s little sister, and he is dating Lincoln’s sister Lori. And then we kind of didn’t know what else we wanted to do with those characters, and I had this crazy idea to have them move away into the city with their grandparents, aunt, and uncle, and their kids, so it’s a multigenerational family. I think doing things like that also gives us new perspectives that we can look at, with generations, and culture, and heritage.”
Chris shared a lot of other fun tidbits, and you can listen to all of them here.
What was really fun about the studio visit was getting to talk to several show-runners in one day and hear their unique experiences. I next sat down with Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz to talk about her show, Shimmer and Shine. Farnaz shared that she started working at Nickelodeon fifteen years ago as an intern and came back after finishing her degree to work on a multitude of shows. During that, she started pitching to Nick Jr., and after multiple pitches and tries, she landed Shimmer and Shine in 2013. Speaking of the show and her inspirations, she said:
“My little girl and boy inspire me in so many ways every single day. For example, Shimmer’s catch phrase is ‘My favorite color is glitter.’ That is something my little girl said when she was about three – she’s turning six now. Ever since they were little I started watching, ‘What makes them laugh?’ ‘Why are they laughing?’ ‘What is it about their favorite cartoon that they like?’ And then I try to apply that so that the show appeals to both boys and girls. A fun fact is that 60% of our audience is actually boys. I often have parents come up to me like, “My little boy watches Shimmer and Shine…!” and they’re so confused by it! But it’s all about fun characters, and action adventure, and magic – so why not!
I developed the show out of things that I like. Everybody always asks me, ‘are you Shimmer or Shine?’ And I say, ‘Well, I look like a Shimmer and act like a Shine.’ I’m the girl who likes to get dressed up but also climb the mountain before she comes in to work. So it’s a balance, which is what’s in the show too.”
Farnaz also talked about balancing message and entertainment in a show for young kids:
“If I wouldn’t let my kids watch it…I do try to keep it where the morals and the messages are always good, the girls are always supportive of each other, they never put each other down, and they always work together as a team to accomplish what’s going on. That’s always in the back of our heads. And one thing we keep an eye on is Zeta, our bad guy, to make sure she’s not too bad because we don’t want her to just be mean. We’re very conscious of those things as we’re writing and developing.”
We also discussed resilience, which is a theme of the show:
“It’s a huge quality that I have; I just didn’t realize that I had it! If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be here. Because development is not easy. I always say, ‘You’d better be prepared to get knocked down, punched while you’re down, and then get up and say, ‘Absolutely, what’s next?” Because it’s never easy. Getting to this place was a lot of work, and it was very difficult, but I’m grateful for every minute of it. It made me stronger and it made me wiser, and it made me tougher. That’s just who I am.”
Regarding advice for those wanting to get into the business, Farnaz advised:
“Be humble. Be eager. Soak up as much as you can. There are things to learn all around you every day. You just have to be open to it. Never stop growing. I always hope to not be the smartest person in the room. I want to be surrounded by people who know more than me, because that’s exciting!
It really comes down to you. You’re going to hear no more often than yes. You need to be able to not take it personally. I think that’s a big thing for a lot of artists. You put so much of yourself into everything that you do, so it’s hard not to take it personally. But you have to be able to disconnect yourself from what you submit, take a step back, and try to understand, ‘Okay, they don’t like this. Why don’t they like it? What is it about it that needs to adjust? What are they reacting to?’ And to be able to look at it as an outsider, not as yourself looking at your work in a precious manner.”
Finally, Farnaz shared that the show has been picked up for a fourth season, during which they plan to explore some new locations within the Shimmer and Shine world. We had a great chat, and you can listen to the whole discussion here https://soundcloud.com/emilyesse/2017-nickelodeon-studio-tour-farnaz-esnaashari-charmatz-interview.
While I was in Shimmer-and-Shine-land, I also got to actually sit in on part of a recording session. It was so neat to see some behind-the-scenes action as one of its lead voice actresses recorded different inflections for script lines and the folks in the recording booth selected which versions to use. And although I’ve always known that being a voice actor must be a lot of fun, this gave me a first-hand look at the patience that is also required as the actor goes through lines several times, and the way that she has to be continually “on,” performing in the booth for long stretches. And, of course, it gave me a first-hand look at how amazing the voice actors and directors are – because all of the readings were good in their various ways, and yet once the director had chosen a reading I could see why that variation was the one chosen. It was clear just from the short time I was sitting there how uniquely talented these folks who create the Nickelodeon shows we love really are.
But much as I loved watching the live recording, we had to move on eventually, because what would a visit to Nickelodeon be without stopping in to see one of my favorite executive producers, Ciro Nieli of TMNT? Since TMNT is in its last season (noooooo!!), Ciro may soon be moving on to other projects (which are currently unknown, but I’m sure whatever he does next will be excellent), but his office was still packed with Turtles merch (including a manhole-cover pillow I coveted), horror movie posters, and an actual spinner-rack of comics (I wonder if anyone would mind if I planted one of those in my office…). The halls around were plastered with Turtles posters, concept sketches, and other cool art (including little Mousers someone had drawn on the white boards). And down the hall was a full-sized version of the actual in-show arcade game that the Turtles have in their lair. How freaking cool is that??
Visiting the studio was such a blast. It was a real experience to pull back the curtain a bit on how great cartoon shows and interactive experiences are developed; and as always, a pleasure to speak with some of the talented creative minds behind it all. Thanks, Nickelodeon, for giving me a little peek into your world (and check out my full set of photos here!
And fortunately, for anyone who is going to San Diego Comic Con this week, you can get a little bit of this experience too. Nickelodeon’s nostalgia-themed San Diego booth and panels were a favorite part of my SDCC experience last year, and I’ve been wondering what we’ll see from them this year. It turns out this year’s experience will focus on Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Every day of the convention, Nickelodeon’s booth (#4113) will feature a 23-foot-tall pineapple, housing an interactive gaming experience which will allow fans to step inside the world of SpongeBob SquarePants, TMNT, or The Loud House (after my recent VR experience, I definitely want to try this!); a life-size replica of Helga’s shrine from Hey Arnold!; a retail area featuring a custom t-shirt station and one-of-a-kind, exclusive collectibles (I need the sepia-toned Avatar Aang statue!); costumed-character appearances; and autograph signings with the voice casts and creators from Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nick animation creators Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents), Chris Savino (The Loud House) and Billy Lopez (Welcome to the Wayne), and more.
Nickelodeon will also present four panels during the convention: Rocko’s Modern Life: Return to Earth!, a reunion with the original voice actors and sneak peek at the upcoming TV special (Thursday); Hey Arnold!: From Hillwood to the Jungle!, celebrating the return of the beloved characters in the upcoming TV movie with past and present casts and a live musical performance (Friday); Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a dive into the thrilling story arcs in season five (Friday); and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-kini Bottom, a behind-the-scenes look at the new stop-motion Halloween special, along with a live table read of a classic episode picked by fans via social media (Saturday). The panels will feature the likes of Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Ciro Nieli, Stan Sakai, Sean Astin, Rob Paulsen, Greg Cipes, Eric Bauza, Carolyn Lawrence, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, and many more.
Whew! So much excitement had, and so much more coming up. I can’t wait to get into some more Nickelodeon fun at the San Diego Comic-Con. If you’re going, check it out, and maybe I’ll see you there! Be sure to say hi!
Geek Culture, unlike other passion businesses like sports or music, affords fans the opportunity to collaborate with fellow fans and rub elbows with professionals. I’d argue that it’s unique to this industry.
For example, music fans would find it difficult to imagine playing with Mick Jagger or Sir Paul McCartney. Oh, you might see them in concert, but to really spend time with them probably isn’t going to happen.
Likewise, even if I was a big football fan, I couldn’t realistically plan a way to spend quality time with an NFL Superstar. I did briefly meet football legends Larry Czonka and Rocky Bleier back in the 70s, but hey, that was the 70s.
But Geek Culture is different. There are so many opportunities for fans to meet their favorite creators. Like super hero movies, comic conventions are sprouting up just about everywhere.
With all these new conventions, and the inevitable competition for available weekends, I’m thrilled that our invitations to talent for Syracuse’s Salt City Comic-Con were so well received. This show has quickly developed a very impressive guest list. I anticipate it will be a fantastic opportunity for all kinds of fans to meet many of their favorite folks.
The legendary Neal Adams will be one of the creators attending. He’s a guy who’s been contributing groundbreaking art for many years. He’s also been a trailblazer – with his own entrepreneurial efforts and on behalf of creator’s rights. He seems to love conventions. He brightens up with a big smile and genuinely enjoys meeting his fans.
For this convention, Adams created a variant convention exclusive. The cover to this comic showcases Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and (for the first time on a comic cover) Syracuse’s iconic Niagara Mohawk building.
I’m a big Batman fan from way back, so collaborating with Neal Adams, IDW, DC and the convention to create this Batman cover was really fun.
The more I thought about it, though, this was fun because it wasn’t really a Batman cover. This was going to be, essentially, a Brave and the Bold cover. B&B, as we called it back in the day, was a long-running comic series showcasing Batman with all his super hero pals. It was always an engaging read and was a strong seller for DC as well.
Neal Adams worked on many of the early issues of B&B, but he has always been good at team-up covers. He’s great at capturing diverse characters and making them work together.
Neal Adams has also illustrated quite a few Marvel Team-Up covers to, as you can see on the top of this column.
All this got me thinking, “What would this special Batman/TMNT cover have looked like if it was published in the 60s or the 70s?” My Captain Action business partner, Joe Ahearn, brought my ideas to life with a faux Brave and the Bold 60s cover:
We then took it one step further and created an imaginary cover with a funky 70s vibe:As a marketing consultant, I collaborate a lot. Collaborations are fun – be it on work projects, fan projects or even comic book covers. Especially comic book covers, now that I think about it
As you undoubtedly know, San Diego’s Comic-Con International happened this past weekend, and I was fortunate to be amongst the tens of thousands of attendees. There was, as always, a mega-ton to see and do, and it was hard to keep the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) from getting completely out of control over the 4.5 days of the con. To stay sane, though, at some point you just have to accept that you’re going to miss a bunch, and focus on what you do have the opportunity to see.
This year, one of my main interests was what Nickelodeon was showcasing. Of course, Nickelodeon is always on my radar, and particularly the current TeenageMutant NinjaTurtlesanimated series, which I adore. But even beyond the coolness that is the TMNT, this year, Nickelodeon was focusing on its past – in the best way possible. Through its late-night programming block of “The Splat,” which has been airing from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Teen Nick since it took over for “The ‘90s are All That” late night programming in October of 2015, Nickelodeon has been tapping into the deep, deeeeeeeep nostalgia that a lot of us have for shows like Clarissa Explains It All, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Double Dare, All That, Doug, Hey Arnold!, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, You Can’t Do That on Television, and more. And given that all of those shows were amongst my favorites growing up, I just love that, and was looking forward to experiencing some nostalgia up close and in person.
Of course, for SDCC people are always going to want to see what’s new. But since this is the 25th Anniversary of Nickelodeon Animation; Nickelodeon’s upcoming movie lineup includes updates and sequels from popular ‘90s properties – including Hey Arnold! and Legends of the Hidden Temple; and “The Splat” has proven to be a hit, it made sense that to celebrate that. Therefore, Nickelodeon’s Comic-Con 2016 celebrated the ‘90s with “an immersive retro experience” at its booth, panels, and party.
The booth was a well-set-up and eye-catching blast from the past. It featured a virtual reality experience and King Olmec head from Legends of the Hidden Temple (on which the King was voiced by the ever-talented Dee Bradley Baker), and the King’s head was festooned with 3-D characters from classic shows like Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, CatDog, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. There was also a backdrop area where you could get photos with characters from shows like The Fairly Oddparents. The signing area and schedule included everyone from the TMNT to the cast of All That to legendary creators of the animation world. To purchase merchandise, you went up to windows set in the lenses of the purple glasses that bespectacled a giant Chuckie head from Rugrats (the only thing that would have made it better would have been if you could actually go inside Chuckie’s head. Next year’s virtual reality experience, Nickelodeon?). And, to top it off, the setup featured photo ops with the Hey Arnold! stoop and the original giant nose and red glassesfrom Double Dare. The merchandise on offer was also cool – including The Nick Box (similar in idea to LootCrate and other monthly “mystery boxes” of merchandise), which featured items from classic Nicktoons for its first release.
Nickelodeon’s panels this year included “Happy Happy! Joy Joy!: 25 Years of Nickelodeon Original Animation,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Return to New York,” “She Made That?: Nickelodeon hosts Women in Animation,” “ and “Back to the ‘90s: Nickelodeon’s All That Reunion and Legends of the Hidden Temple!” They all sounded amazing, but even my FOMO couldn’t bend time and space so that I could experience them all. However, I did get to attend the first two panels, and had the privilege of sitting down with the panelists for interviews.
“Happy Happy! Joy Joy!” featured Craig Bartlett (Hey Arnold!), Jhonen Vasquez (Invader Zim), Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom) and Arlene Klasky, who along with Gabor Csupo and Paul Germain, created Rugrats. It was great to hear these innovative and clever creators talk about bringing new ideas to fruition and developing their shows over the years, as well as looking forward to future projects (such as Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, which Craig Bartlett discussed, and for which we saw some cool production art. We also learned that the movie will finally answer the question of where Arnold’s parents are). Butch Hartman showed animation from his latest show, Bunsen is a Beast! And we got to see a TMNT short, Don vs. Raph by Jhonen Vasquez, that was awesome in its absurdity.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Return to New York” was, as always with the TMNT panels, a total joy. I love this show and everyone involved with it; and this year, we got to meet a new guest, Gwendoline Yeo, who voices new character Shinigami in the upcoming season (airing Sunday, August 14, at 11 a.m.). I also was glad to hear from Mae Whitman, who has been voicing April O’Neil since the get-go, but whom I’d not gotten to see on a panel before (every time she’s been on one I’ve missed it somehow) and from TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman (likewise). And what TMNT panel would be complete without executive producer Ciro Nieli, and more amazing voice talent like Rob Paulsen (Donatello), Sean Astin (Raphael), Greg Cipes (Michelangelo), and Eric Bauza (Tiger Claw). We missed executive producer and head writer Brandon Auman, but apparently he was hanging out at the Sistine Chapel, so I guess that’s an okay reason to miss a Turtles panel. Maybe.
At the panel they showed the entire first episode of Season 4, which introduces Shinigami and features some really cool development of April’s story, as well. I hate to use a cliché and say that Episode 1 was all about girl power, but: well, it was, and that was fun! I like how far April has come in the show; and I’m very curious to see more of Shinigami’s backstory with Karai, who we also caught up with. We also got to see a couple of fun TMNT shorts, which you can watch too! The first was Pizza Friday by Kevin Eastman and Paul Jenkins, and the second was Turtles Take Time (and Space) by Brandon Auman. I loved them. Booyakabunga!
And as cool as everything I’ve just talked about was, there was one more totally rad thing I experienced with Nickelodeon this year; and that was the Nickelodeon Double Dare Party with Marc Summers! It took place at Fluxx Nightclub, and was just So. Much. Fun. For one thing, they literally hosted a mini Double Dare show right on the dance floor – where the obstacle course from the show and physical challenges were set up. To make it even better, the Red Team and Blue Team were composed of great players like Nickelodeon staff, and voice actor Greg Cipes (Michelangelo on TMNT) who had been on the show as a kid. And of course, to make things really authentic, the show was hosted by Marc Summers, who didn’t miss a beat as he ran the teams through their paces (watch it here!). It was super-cool to be “on set” for the show and watch the Blue Team win it all live.
For another thing, it was fun to have some chill time with some of Nickelodeon’s great talent– including folks from the panels like Craig Bartlett, Butch Hartman, Greg Cipes, Eric Bauza, and Ciro Nieli – and to get to know more of Nick’s cool staff. And finally, after the Double Dare show ended, they cleared the dance floor for some totally ‘90s DJing, and we all had a rockin’ time dancing and being completely unembarrassed at knowing, for instance, all the words to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.” (Wow, it had been so long since I’d sung that song.) My one complaint about this party is that the dancing ended too soon! And on top of all of that fun, I give high praise to the snacks at this party (especially since I’m always dying of hunger at the end of a busy day at Comic-Con) which included mini burgers, fries, shakes, and eclairs. Small but substantial food, easy to eat, and totally in theme.
All in all, Nickelodeon killed it this year at Comic-Con, and it wouldn’t have been the same without ‘em. I’m already feeling the nostalgia for Comic-Con 2016 and all the Nick fun I had there (which you can see in my photo album here). But that doesn’t mean I can’t wait to see what they do next year, too!
Stay tuned for tons more SDCC reporting from me, and until next time, Servo Lectio!
You don’t really believe that Chief Thunderthud was a racist, do you?
Our man Thunderthud was called a “chief,” but he wore only a single feather on his head instead of the fully-feathered bonnet we were used to seeing perched atop guys who answered to “chief” in the cowboy pictures I saw before you were born. The (if I may) chief is most notable, not for something he wore, but for something he said. This was “Kowabunga,” sometimes spelled “Cowabunga” and used mostly, if memory serves, as an expletive you could say freely in front of your church-going grandma. Some of you – most of you? – thought that Kowa/Cowabunga originated with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of movie and comic book fame. Sorry, but no.
Beginning in 1947, Chief Thunderthud dwelt in Doodyville which, in turn, was located in midtown Manhattan in a studio owned and operated by The National Broadcasting Company.
He wasn’t necessarily lonely, there is Studio 3B. Doodyville had other inhabitants, some of them marionettes, such the town mayor, Mr. Bluster, a strange beastie known as Flubadub who seemed to be a mashup of eight different animals and, of course, Howdy himself. Human beings also called Doodyville home. There was the chief, and another member of Thunderthud’s tribe, Princess Summerfall Winterspring who was sometimes called Judy Tyler and who later made a movie with Elvis Presley. (Presley wasn’t a puppet, either.)
And there was Clarabell the Clown, who spoke only three words in the show’s entire run and who communicated by blowing a horn and whose favorite prank was squirting seltzer into somebody’s face. That Clarabell! What a hoot! Though maybe I should mention that he was a male hoot, despite the name.)
We’ve saved the best for last. I refer to none other than Buffalo Bob Smith, who did a lot of things including but not limited to emceeing the proceedings, interacting with the studio audience, and – here comes a surprise – supplying Howdy’s voice. Bob wasn’t a ventriloquist the way, say, Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist, but who cared if his lips moved when Howdy talked? As long as a camera wasn’t aimed at him during Howdy’s chat, nobody except the kids and other performers and technical people knew exactly where the words were coming from. And did they care?
Why all this Howdy stuff now? Well, Howdy’s coming back! He’ll star in a Fourth of July video marathon that will incorporate old shows and new material, and maybe serve as a pilot for similar excursions into Doodyville. Which prompts us to ask: If Chief Thunderthud and the lovely princess were debuting today, would they run afoul of the defenders of political correctness? Will the antics of the Chief and princess, which could be seen as racist lampoons, be shown on July Fourth? Should they be seen as racist? I don’t know.
Final question: why? Has the world been yearning for a return to Doodyville?
You know how every year when spring rolls around you get that compulsion to turf out, e.g., those sweaters you’ve had since high school (high school, for heaven’s sake! That was an eon ago, back when you thought skater style was rad)? And those old magazines, and maybe a set of silverware someone gave you once but you’ve since replaced with a nicer set?
Well I always get that compulsion after Christmas. Possibly because I don’t have a ton of storage space, and inevitable I’ll return from Christmas break with some awesome thing that I have absolutely no place for. And thus, the turfing out begins.
It always takes me awhile, and I like to blame this on my grandmothers (who I loved dearly, by the way). You could not imagine two more different houses when it came to aesthetic than those of my two sets of grandparents (and while everyone contributes to the home decor, I think my grandmas set the tone the most).
My dad’s parents had a home that was well decorated and homey but only lightly accented with knick-knacks – a jar of marbles here; a stained glass biplane there; that weird spinning perpetual motion thing my grandpa loved. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place.
My mom’s parents, on the other hand, had a proliferation of collectibles, living side by side somewhat regardless of their categorization and in whatever room they felt like living in. Thus, my grandma’s perfumes hung out with her collection of Taco Bell dogs (she had the whole set at one point) and her beautiful hand-painted items kept company with Babe the talking pig. And so on.
It could be genetic, or it could be that I grew up in a house that combined these aesthetics; but either way, I find I am constantly warring with myself when it comes to home decorating…and especially when it comes to geek collectibles. I want a nice, neat place for everything and everything in its place; but I also want the “everything” to include a display of, e.g. every single Deadpool thing I own and at least some of my Minions (I can’t resist the Minions. They’re so silly!). And that’s how every now and again I look around and realize that suddenly, within my neatly organized habitat, my bookshelves have become so overrun with fun collectibles that I can’t get to my books. And why it takes me forever to do my sorting; because every decision of what to keep or give away is an agonizing debate of, “I must get rid of things to have a nice neat space,” versus, “I must display all twelve variations of Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that I own, and no, I can’t get rid of that Pez dispenser, because then I’d only have eleven Donatellos!” Sigh.
My winter cleaning this year has unearthed a number of geek collectibles I didn’t even remember I had, and made it clear to me that maybe, just maybe, I have a wee bit of a collecting problem. It’s also made me wonder what it is that makes us geeks want to own every collectible for the things we love (and in my case, a lot of cute plush anthropomorphic food, as well). Is it a compulsion? An addiction? A desire to express our love of said things in visible ways? A way to wordlessly connect with fellow geeks through a simple display? Or is it simply the sheer happiness of owning and being able to see and touch the embodiment of things we love?
I don’t know. What I do know is that even though I vowed to myself that I wasn’t going to buy any more Deadpool or other collectibles, my mind also has the perpetual caveat unless they’re really awesome and I can’t live without them embedded in it, and clearly, I can’t live without this: a.k.a. the Hot Toys movie version Deadpool. I mean look at it: it’s a thing of Deadpoolian beauty. I must own it.
I also know that I have a lot of things I ought to be selling on e-Bay, and also, that I need more shelf space.
So if you haven’t noticed, the Thursday of New York Comic Con has kiiiiiind of turned into “Turtles Day” for me, in the sense that Nickelodeon does their press and events for the current animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show on that Thursday, and since I love Turtles and the current show, that’s where I’m at each year for whatever they offer.
This year, that means I had the pleasure of interviewing Ciro Nieli (Executive Producer/Director), Brandon Auman (Executive Producer/Head Writer), Hoon Lee (voice of Master Splinter), Rob Paulsen (voice of Donatello), and Greg Cipes (voice of Michelangelo) about the show. They dished about everything from the upcoming season to whether Raph and Mona Lisa are really going to maybe have babies in, like, Season 6 or something (heh). I also got to go to the rockin’ Turtles panel (in which cast and crew geeked out as much as we did when they realized their nameplates for the panel were made out of Megabloks and had TMNT character toys on them), and got to get a great Season 4 poster signed by the guys afterwards. And along with the aforementioned folks I interviewed, the panel also included Seth Green (Leonardo) and Eric Bauza (Tiger Claw), so we got to hear what they had to say as well, which was pretty cool! Not to mention there were lots of fun moments, such as when Eric Bauza gave Rob Paulsen a “gift” onstage (heh), or when Greg Cipes got Sean Astin to say hi to all of us live on his phone (since Sean was running a marathon and couldn’t be in New York).
As you may know if you have been keeping up on the show, (Spoilers Ahead!), big changes have come to the Turtles world in the now-wrapped Season 3. Namely, Earth and everyone on it, except for the four Turtles, April, and Casey Jones, are gone. As Season 4 opens, the remaining adventurers are now zipping around space with an android named Fugitoid. (Who just happens to be voiced by David Tennant, who just happens to know a little bit about shows involving time travel, so, you know, maybe we’ll get the Earth baaaack? But in the meantime…)
I was a little skeptical about how Turtles in Space might go in the show going into Thursday; but after hearing what’s in store for the season during the interviews, and getting to see the Season 4 premiere episode, I’m totally on board. The first episode, in particular, was really fun: action-packed, with the excellent humor I’ve come to love, but also able to fit the setup for the season and the introduction of a vastly varied and fascinating new planet setting comfortably into one episode. Since the Turtles are apparently going to be bouncing around to all sorts of new planets during this season, that’s very promising.
The panel also revealed some new characters and voices that we’ll be seeing this season, including a race of “Salamandarians” which will include the character Sal Commander; Mona Lisa; the genie Wyrm; and a familiar 1987-style Krang (voiced by Pat Fraley). Other callbacks to the 1987 show include a “transdimentional” episode I’m totally psyched for, in which the 2012 show turtles encounter their 1987 counterparts in the 1987-style animated world, a CG world, and possibly a Mirage comic as well. We got to see a little clip of that work in progress, which was pretty rad; and learned that the original Turtles will be voiced by the original cast! I bet that was a trippy recording session for Rob Paulsen; but the bit we heard sounded great.
I’ve said before that some of the voice actors I’ve interviewed are the voices of my childhood, but I couldn’t possibly have been closer to interviewing a whole collection of voices from my early childhood at the same time than when I was at Awesome Con this year talking to all four of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Rob Paulsen, Cam Clarke, Barry Gordon, and Townsend Coleman. (I also interviewed the amazing Jess Harnell and Jim Cummings, so if you missed those interviews, check ‘em out now!)
I watched a fair amount of cartoons as a child, and among the ones with the earliest, largest impact on my young life were those coming out in the ‘80s, including Thundercats, Duck Tales, Inspector Gadget, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, He-Man, Danger Mouse, and more. But of all the ‘80s cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles consisently stands out as a favorite, with both a premise and characters (brought to life by the voice actors!) that I just loved. Like Greg Cipes (the current Michelangelo), I used to glue myself to the TV when TMNT came on, knew the theme song by heart (still do!), and totally had a favorite Turtle (Raphael! I do love snark). To this day I remember weird little bits of plot or character that apparently ingrained themselves in my brain from the age of six. So getting to talk (albeit a bit briefly, since the con was so busy) to all four of the Turtles in the span of the same hour was just really, really cool. As is being able to share those talks with you!
So if you’re a Turtles fan or you just like cool videos, click here for shout-outs from Raphael (Rob Paulsen) and Michelangelo (Townsend Coleman), and interviews with Leonardo (Cam Clarke) and Donatello (Barry Gordon).
And if you want to see what the guys were like in action, doing their fun voices at Awesome Con, check out the Awesome Con Twisted Toonz panel, as filmed by my great friend Kristy Sproul of Voice Chasers.
Enjoy! And until next time, cowabunga! And Servo Lectio!
And of course (of course!) I love literature; and especially genre literature. So when I was browsing Etsy for some lilac jewelry to wear on April 28in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett and stumbled upon a brand of a) holographic (rainbowy!) nail polishes b) inspired by literature, including a fair amount of genre literature, I was very excited. The pictures looked awesome, the descriptions were great (read them!), and the literary inspirations showed that the creator of these polishes is clearly a kindred spirit. I immediately wanted to try them all; so I contacted Literary Lacquers to see if I could get some samples to review, and the great gal behind the brand kindly obliged.
Right off the bat, I will say that they seem to be of a consistently good quality. They go on evenly, and with three coats (I do thin coats) they give me solid color coverage. (They could also be put over e.g. a light colored or silver or gold base coat for a light sheen on top.) They also seem to be fairly durable when it comes to chipping. I have only been wearing them for a couple of days; but in that time I’ve had no major chips and only a little bit of wearing off on the edges of a couple of nails (which happens with pretty much every polish I’ve ever tried).
Most importantly, the colors are great. Even though I have some difficulty in photographing holographic effects (they always look better in person!) here are photosof ten of the colors so you can see what they look like on and in comparison to each other. Also here are a couple of close-ups attempting to capture the holographic effect. And best of all for seeing the full effect, here’s a quick Vine video of Strong Steady Hand in action.
The pure holographics (Phenomenal Woman, The Mad Ones, Ether Binge, The Ultimate Outlaw, Sidewalk’s End, I’m Drinking Stars) all have a consistently high-quality holographic effect in bright light, and even in low light you can see a bit of a rainbow. The glitter holographics (Strong Stead Hand and Laters, Baby) have the same sheen, only outshone by the bigger glitter flecks. I really like these for the fact that the larger flecks of glitter add to the gradient rainbow effect of the holographic, and are of a brighter, more dimensional and holographic quality than glitter I’ve seen in other polishes. Swallowed Up In Blue, the holographic blue that also has a pink shimmer to it, is also particularly cool, because the holographic effect is as strong as the pure holos, but on top of it, even in low light, you can see the pink sheen over the blue.
Marilla’s Amethyst Brooch is one of the rare non-holos I chose; and although I always prefer rainbows, it has a good depth and rich purple glitter to it that is actually slightly more striking in low light than a pure holo. Goodnight Moon, another non-holo, is nice for its light purple sheen and tiny rainbow glitter, along with the bigger flecks, including moons. As with any of the larger glitter fleck polishes I’ve ever used, it needs to be applied with care to get the bigger flecks off of the brush and onto the nail, but it’s no harder to use than any similar polish I’ve used. Avada Kedavra, the only matte I chose (I like the look of mattes but have bad luck with them chipping) is very cool; without a top coat, three coats gives a nice slightly sheer black, with a much more evenly distributed coating of large glitter flecks than similar polishes I’ve tried; and chipping so far is no worse than for a regular polish. With a top coat, the mixed-in tiny rainbow glitter flecks are made brighter, which gives it a bit more pop.
Altogether, I am very impressed with this nail polish line (as well as with the cool themes and descriptions. You should read them! If you like any of the books that inspired them, the descriptions will make you feel happy and nostalgic for your favorites). I would not single out any color as a non-favorite; but I would say that my favorites of the pure holos by a small margin might be Phenomenal Woman, Ether Binge, and I’m Drinking Stars (the holos are particularly visible in them); and of the others, Strong Steady Hand (excellent bright rainbow effect!) Avada Kedavra (cool even glitter application, and can be worn two ways!), and Swallowed Up In Blue (good effects in both high and low lights!). In summary: I recommend!
So if you’re into literature, nail polish, rainbows, and the like, hop on over to Literary Lacquers and give some of these great colors a try. (And speaking of geek shopping, remember my recent column about it? Well I’ve just created a Pinterest board to show some of my favorite recent purchases. Check it out!)
Last week they announced a remake of 1970s cult classic The Rocky Horror Show. Social media collectively said “Are you &)$!* kidding me?” and expressed their righteous anger to the world. I was among them, filled with fury.
The biggest outcry to these remakes/reboots/retcons is that our media tends to forget the original in favor of the newest one. The first time I noticed this is with the movie Yours, Mine and Ours. I adore the original 1968 movie starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. Every time I saw it was on, I watched it. That is, until the remake starring Renee Russo and Dennis Quaid came out in 2005. Then, I never saw the original playing on TV. It was like the media world forgot about it.
Then, a few months ago, Marvel released a number of pictures hinting popular stories would be reprinted starting in 2015. We know now that is due to their upcoming Secret Wars universe reboot. Still, they gave off the air of “Let’s just give them what we think they want, which is the same story over and over.” I complained about that one too. If I really want to read Civil War, I’m going to grab the original before anything else. Granted, me complaining about lack of innovation in comics isn’t new. Still, enough is enough.
I have decided not to let the remake of comic books, TV shows, and movies get me down. If I loved something, remaking it doesn’t affect my personal feelings for it. Or, at the very least, it shouldn’t. I can still love the ‘90s live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies without cursing Michael Bay’s name – even though he deserves it. His crappy movies don’t change my love for the Turtles or those films.
I have always had strong connections to characters. If they get abused, I want to defend them. They are as real to me as the woman giving me a weird look on the subway right now. I’m going to remember my characters for who they were when I loved them, not the current shlock in which they are currently featured.
I’m still going to give remakes a chance. Some of them might even be good but most, I wager, will disappoint me. Still, I am not going to be upset that a story lives on – even in name only. I’ll just be nostalgic for the good ol’ days.