Live Long and Prosper

“Live long and prosper.”

Introduced in the STAR TREK episode “Amok Time” Spock spoke these immortal words along with the iconic Vulcan hand gesture.

Leonard Nimoy borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish blessing and it has since grown an identity of its own. But it’s those words that speak to me.

All I really want for anybody is for them to live long and prosper. In fact, that is the ultimate goal of the entire staff of “Be A Better Geek” (yes, I’m counting the cat as a team member) and I hope of anyone who follows this site. I want people to be able to live their own lives and be able to find joy, love, compassion, good health, generosity, and hope in their lives. To me the greatest ideal is to help others also find that and to be able to be unburdened by fear of others or personal growth. I hope that in some small measure my words help to cultivate that search for joy and community growth.

And to acknowledge the obvious elephant in the room: yes, it affects my ideology. My social and political views are guided by the goals set forth by the Vulcan greeting. Yes, there are people whose ideologies are in direct opposition to myself. There are people who I think prosper, economically or politically, by exploiting others. But I do not wish harm upon these people. I’ve heard people wish suicide or diseases on their enemies. I have watched people die by the grips of depression or terminal disease and I wouldn’t want that for anyone. But I do want my ideological and philosophical opponents to find a sense of humility and compassion for their fellow humans. Perhaps they should study the character of Spock. He was a scientist, a compassionate friend, and an inspiration to many generations. And thanks to him we have the most important words in geekdom.

Geek in the Streets

One of the papers I wrote in college was about Roger Corman and his thematic use of outsiders in his films like the bikers in “Wild Angels,” the hippies in “The Trip,” and the beatniks in “A Bucket of Blood.” I can’t say that marginalized people is what initially drew me to his films but I have always been fascinated by outsiders and members of counter cultures.

I wasn’t a hippie, a beatnik, or a biker but as a geek in western Lawrenceville, Georgia I definitely felt like I was outside of the mainstream. I didn’t care about sports, especially the semi-religion of college football. I didn’t enjoy outdoor activities like fishing and didn’t go hunting with my dad. And though I went to church at that time I wasn’t Baptist or Methodist so I wasn’t even in the popular religions. I would later learn that there were other parts of the city and county that weren’t quite as southern, white working class as the area I grew up in but I was smack dab in the middle of what natives called “Dawg County” and my best friend was a cat named TJ. In middle school I met a few people who watched some science fiction movies and introduced me to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” but it wasn’t until I got into high school that I found other kids who read comic books.

These days my nickname is SpaceCat. Back then it was “long-haired, hippie faggot*.” I was called lots of names. I was picked on frequently. I can’t say that whether I delved deeper into a world of comic books and fantasy more as an escape from the bullying or that being a geek attracted the bullies. I was especially awkward thanks to being on the autism spectrum and being overweight and without any athletic ability.

I didn’t fight back. I got angry. I got depressed. And I pushed away from people who didn’t share my interests. But I still wanted to have friends. And in high school I found them in 2 places: honors English and at the comic book store. I have lifelong friends to this day from those places. Keeping it 100 here: the kids at the comic book store were a little less motivated than kids in honors classes. And in the early 90s comic book stores were almost entirely patronized by boys and men. “Elfquest” and “Sandman,” which had substantial but still minority female readership, were the exception to the rule but mostly comics were marketed towards and purchased by males. Lots of hypersexualized women and musclebound men with guns were the popular fare. Now that I look at it now the industry created this echo chamber where they thought only boys read comics so they only made comics for boys. But since I hadn’t had much experience thinking out of the limited androcentric worldview I just thought comic books were cool and I was disappointed that there weren’t more girl readers. That’s why ComicsGate and the whole gatekeeper mentality seems so backward to me now. I wanted to share my passion with girls because, let me tell you, I wasn’t sharing ANY passion with girls. But more on that later.

*I detest this word. Yes, I am primarily heterosexual and I know that a lot of people use that term because in their eyes it’s demeaning to be called gay. I didn’t pursue their perceptions of masculinity and it fed into their bullying. I think homosexuality, heterosexuality, asexuality, and pansexuality are all awesome and cool and so it hurts to know that a person would be marginalized and treated poorly because of one of them. I can’t imagine how hurtful that word is to members of the LGBTQA community.

Review: “HEATHEN Vol 1” by Natasha Alterici and Rachel Deering (Vault Comics)

After the recent announcement that “TWILIGHT” director Catherine Hardwicke has signed on to make the an adaptation of Natasha Alterici’s fantasy comic book “HEATHEN” the following summary was given in IndieWire:

“The story follows fierce Viking warrior Aydis, who is scorned by her village for kissing another woman and declares a one-woman feminist war against the ultimate patriarch, Odin, the god-king of Asgard and all-seeing father to thunder-god Thor.”

What a pitch! I immediately ordered a copy of the collection of the first 4 issues of the comic. After reading the collection you couldn’t find a more succinct, accurate description of the narrative. Of course this is just the first 4 issues of the comic. Since then 2 more issues have come out and it was recently announced this year that issues 7-12 are to follow.

The heathen in question, Aydis, is the daughter of a respected warrior of a Viking community. She flees her tribe because of an earnest, loving kiss to another woman setting up her story of adventure and self discovery. Elements of Norse folklore, with immortal warriors, Valkyries, and enchanted animals act as a backdrop to what is essentially a tale about finding empowerment in yourself and loved ones, embracing your individual journey, and rejoicing in your sexuality, whatever it may be. It’s not an overly complicated story but it’s an earnest one.

It’s unfortunate that the world is filled with myopic individuals and communities that want to set limitations on self exploration and want to place obstacles to growth and experience. And while that myopia may be of many different stripes in “HEATHEN” that limitation is the socio-religious regulations set forth by their chief god, Odin. And given that Odin is one-eyed, and therefore of singular vision, it is no surprise that Aydis knows to bring about liberation to herself and her community she needs to begin by destroying the source of patriarchal oppression, the aptly named All Father.

On a strictly formal level I want to give an appreciation to Alterici’s art. Her artwork has a graphic quality that brings to mind the clear storytelling of Alex Toth and David Aja. And while she still plays around with the illusion of space the intentional flatness of the artwork gives it a storybook quality that makes “HEATHEN” feel as much as fairy tale as it does a comic book. It has an overt sexiness to it, as it should given the storyline, but it isn’t played for licentious reasons. It shows sexuality in different forms, and all of them are about love – a love of others and a love of self. Given the positivity of that message it should come as no surprise that the book was recognized by the American Library Association YALSA in 2018 as one of their “Great Graphic Novels For Teens.”

“Heathen” is available at your local comic book store!

Tarzan and the Tarnished Idol

Writing about Edgar Rice Burroughs in the last “Be A Better Geek” I hit upon a topic that I want to explore further. While particularly relevant to geeks it speaks to a nearly universal human experience: idol worship.

Elmo Lincoln, star of the silent “Tarzan of the Apes” (1917, dir Scott Sidney)

In the previous post I mentioned how I think that there are Burroughs apologists who want to downplay the racism in his books. I claim his works are openly racialist in content while others think it’s an exaggeration or even a projection of the biases of people always trying to find racism in things. Obviously, I think I’m right and I think the evidence is overwhelming.

But here is a point that I failed to mention: I love reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books. I read “Tarzan of the Apes” 3 times while I was in high school. I had an actual, private conversation with “JOHN CARTER” director Andrew Stanton about our love of “A Princess of Mars” and the should-have-been Martian franchise that he proposed to Disney. As problematic as I find the ideologies reflected in ERB’s writings I still find his books quite enjoyable.

Burroughs brought a sensationalistic, mysterious tone to the adventure novel. He may have had his societal biases reflected in his work but he was also writing escapist fantasy. If you love space opera then you owe it to yourself to read his books. They are fun and descriptive, fast paced and action packed. The dude could spin a yarn. His influence is immense, particularly on another problematic writer whom I love even more, Robert E. Howard. You can love Tarzan and hate the racism surrounding the character and the culture from which he was created.

In the debate regarding separating art from artist I choose this compromise: be inconsistent and be flexible. Be okay with yourself for responding to different parts of art (like stories of Tarzan hunting) but also remember that just because some part of a book or movie or song resonates with you doesn’t mean that you have to fully endorse the creator. That’s how we fall into the trapping of idol worship. Maybe it’s an American quality, I’m not sure. But because we identify such emotional connection with the art we love we then project that love onto the artist. Sometimes this may be deserved. But other times it causes us to think un-clearly about the creator. I think we don’t want to acknowledge their faults because we fear that it can undermine our own emotional connection to art.

I think that’s a valid fear. An individual who once was a major influence on my world at large has turned out to be a terrible person. I can’t speak their name now. I can’t think of them without disgust. But I don’t beat myself up for their actions. But because I don’t hold them or any of the activities that I did identify with as sacred I am okay letting them go. Yes, you want to acknowledge the influence of others on your life and celebrate positive contributions. But it’s unhealthy and unsatisfying to base your own joy and self worth on the achievements or failings of others.

Fully engaging with the art and recognizing its faults is good practice for examining our own lives. You can still find areas in your life that need improvement without sacrificing your self love. For me it is a love of self that gives me the fortitude to address some of my shortcomings.

Chewie, We’re Home

Now I bet you’re asking “why don’t he write?” Sorry, I know a DANCES WITH WOLVES reference isn’t exactly geeky or especially cool but it came to mind and I’ll just have to work through the inner agony I’ve caused myself.

But, yes, I’m aware that I haven’t posted in a while and it’s been nagging on me. But I have a few good reasons. One is that I’m working very steadily right now. When I started “Be A Better Geek” it was during a hiatus from work and so I had plenty of time on my hands. But once I start working, well, everything falls to side.

So what do I do that would suck up all of my time? I work in the film industry, specifically in the Locations Department. I say “film” broadly because almost all of the work I have done is for television. There is a long-term dependability that you get from working on a TV show with a lot of episodes. Both TV and film have their advantages and disadvantages but the pace of TV is exhausting. Making 45 minutes of screen-worthy stuff in 8 days means you move at a breakneck pace. Do I love it? Much of the time I do. Recently I encountered a bunch of stuff that really hit me in the gut but I will talk about that at another time. Right now I just want to share a note of positivity.

You might be asking “Chuck, what does this have to do with geekstuff?”

I like that word, by the way. “Geekstuff.” I’m going to keep using it.

As luck would have it I have worked on a lot of shows of interests to geeks. I’m not going to name drop but I’ll say that I have shared parking lots with zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, inter-dimensional horrors, at least one gargoyle, big name make up wizards, and a self-proclaimed king of the world.

And what did I do after we all parked? For quite a long time I cleaned their bathrooms. I handed out safety vests. I picked up trash and set up tents. I’ve shoveled up the goo they’ve left behind. Thus far I have only disposed of one dead bird. I don’t do quite as much of that now. Now I find places for these folks to park, where to put those bathrooms, and spots for their trucks. Sometimes I locate places to film. I’m particularly proud of one hero location that pops up regularly on a TV show that some of you probably watch.

Right now I’m working on a 70+ hour work week. We bought tickets to go to New York City in October and I plan on checking out the King Kong setup they have at the Empire State Building so I’m happy to put in those extra hours. But it means I don’t get to write this blog as much as I like. For that, I apologize, but know that my heart is here with you.

Oh…and another reason I haven’t been writing as much…eh, I’ll tell ya later.

Flash Gordon! An Intro into Space Opera

It has recently been announced that Fox, now a subsidiary of Disney, has hired Taika Waititi to develop an animated feature about Flash Gordon. For those of you that enjoyed his earlier work with Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok this will come as welcome news because he has already demonstrated an aptitude for space opera.

In the late 20th century, following the success of STAR WARS space opera became one of the most visible of science fiction sub-genres. Just in the decade following we saw blatant rip-offs like Battlestar Galactica and the more bizarre Star Crash. The literary origins of the genre began to develop in the 19th century when the different components, like space travel, alien civilizations, and futuristic settings were appearing in different stories. In 1928 all of these finally found their way into the first of the Skylark series of stories by E. E. Smith. Space travel! Interplanetary war! Questionable literary value! The stage was set for space opera to flourish.

Intended to mock the serialized melodramatic nature of soap operas, the term “space opera” was introduced by writer and fan Wilson Tucker. Though perhaps a bit more action-heavy, the term fits well because whether it’s Buck Rogers or The Princess of Mars it’s all pretty much melodrama in space. Space opera doesn’t usually involve itself much into the speculative nature of so-called hard science fiction though it does often rely on super advanced technology as plot devices. Since intergalactic space travel is, at the time of this writing, a physical impossibility, you sometimes have to take liberties with your star hopping adventurers and thrill seekers.

The comic strip Flash Gordon came into being in 1934, the creation of Alex Raymond. It was essentially an imitator and then solid competitor of the Buck Rogers comic strip. Buck Rogers, like much of the early space opera, came from a pulp magazine. Like the Skylark series it first appeared in Amazing Stories. My first exposure to Flash came not from the 1980 feature but from reruns of the animated series by Filmation. I wouldn’t come to see the film or the movie serials until I reached high school.

People love space adventures. Whether it’s Space 1999 or Cowboy Bebop or Guardians of the Galaxy or Saga action and romance in a spacey setting will always find an audience. I myself love space battles, outre costumes, and weird space aliens. If I could I could become an expert on any single genre it would likely be space operra.

Like I said in the title, this is simply the briefest introduction to space opera because it is a hugely important facet in the tapestry of geek culture. There have been at least a dozen references to creators and creations in this post and each one of them may, at some time, get more space for discussion or examination by Be A Better Geek. Right now the goal is to just plant seeds. Feel free to follow BABG on Twitter @better_geek and please SHARE THIS POST!

Ready to Batdance!

June 24, 1989…it was 30 years ago today that I saw “BATMAN” for the first time.

As you may remember from my previous post that my life was forever altered by seeing Tim Burton’s “BATMAN” that fateful night but the transformation had already begun. I was not going into this movie blind.

I was 12-years-old at the time and, for better or for worse, a voracious TV watcher. Mostly I watched cartoons and reruns of shows from the 60s and 70s. On one of the syndicated television stations in Atlanta I could watch both “The Monkees” AND the magnificent “Batman” starring Adam West and Burt Ward. So even though I had not yet picked up a single Batman comic I had a baseline familiarity with the some of the main characters inhabiting Gotham City.

I don’t know that there was much of the cynicism that exists today in media consumption of the general public. I would guess that the number of people who first saw promotional material and the famous “BATMAN” movie trailer and said, “man, that’s gonna suck. They’re not doing the character justice” or any such prejudgement was probably less than 10. There was no internet to break and certainly no forum for people to build up a feedback pit of vitriol like there is now. Americans, by and large, were hyped about this movie coming out. And I was no different. In fact, I was so hyped that I dressed up for the occasion. And while I don’t have any pictures of myself from that night but I do remember exactly what I had on.

I had on this hat:

I had on this t-shirt:

On my YELLOW SUSPENDERS I had affixed these buttons:

And on my feet I wore these shoes:

I don’t currently own any of these highly fashionable items now but if you ever want to put together a 1989 Chuck Goes To See “BATMAN” cosplay then you have all the necessary tools to go forth and succeed. Sadly I don’t recall what kind of pants I was wearing but it was most likely grey cargo pants from Mervyn’s. You’re welcome.

Obviously when I saw the movie I loved it. I still do. It doesn’t hold my attention quite the same way it did when I was 12, of course, but now that I have worked in the film industry for a few years and have a greater understanding of the work that goes into a movie I am even more bowled over by the production design, set construction, and miniatures than when I was a youth. It’s a winner.

An added note: I just happened upon the 1989 Warner Bros. “BATMAN” Merchandising catalog on a Batman collectible’s blog, Under the Giant Penny. Imagine owning that airbrushed, rhinestone “BATMAN” jacket! These catalogs were passed out at the theater before the movie and I would wager that was the first time I became familiar with the name Bob Kane.