Bloggy-blogging

AMA: What happened to the CrossGen stuff?

Last summer, I did a month of Ask Me Anything posts. The beauty of the internet is that it remembers everything. Last week, I got a new submission from those old posts. It asked:

What happened to your CrossGen stuff?

Scroll down to the last paragraph for the answer if you know the CrossGen story. If not, read this first:

meridianSoooo… for context, CrossGen Comics was a comic book publisher that ran in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, I was pretty burnt out on Marvel. They offered a great alternative without being too alternative. They were mostly action/adventure tales using similar storytelling techniques seen in superhero comics but they were set in different genre trappings or remixes, like sci-fi, high fantasy, Victorian mystery, kung-fu, etc. Like Marvel and DC, the comics were all set in the same universe, but to give breathing room, independence and accessibility, each comic was set on a different planet, instead of a different city or part of New York. This allowed a lot of unique world building and stylistic freedom. But because there was some shared mythology and the possibility to visit other planets, it still had the appeal of shared universes. For the most part, this allowed readers to read as little or as much of the publisher’s line as they wanted. When characters did crossover, they were initially very good at presenting it so it held up regardless of how much of the line you read.

That unique approach to publishing was already intriguing to me, but to add to that was the unique business model. At the time, and for the most part still today, comic book creators work as freelancers. There will be exclusive contracts here and there, but for the vast majority, comic creators still almost entirely work from home project to project with little job security. CrossGen Comics was bankrolled and led by a comics fan who just so happened to have been a CEO for a previous non-comics company that had been bought. He took a decidedly corporate approach to running CrossGen. Creators were hired full-time to work in the office headquarters in Tampa, Florida. They were given a salary and full benefits like a real full-time employee. This led to a collaborative bullpen, like the mythological Marvel Bullpen. At the same time, the company innovated in how it handled reprint editions to bookstores, establishing a format and release schedule that has become industry standard, and digital comics well before the launch of comiXology.

It all sounded pretty exciting, so I jumped right in early on. I bought every book and built a fan-site that tracked each character and their appearances. It was pretty barebones design-wise, and I never got around to actually dressing it up, but it became a good resource for those getting into the company’s universe, especially as it grew. Around the same time, I started writing for the short-lived online resurrection of The Comics Reader (another site sadly no longer online), and interviewed CrossGen’s CEO for one of the first in-depth articles on the nonprofit organization that would become The Hero Initiative. I interviewed several others on the initial board for The Hero Initiative, but CrossGen’s CEO was the most generous with his time. We spoke on the phone and he was very charming, generously sending me a few prints.

Good times.

Abadazad1So what happened? Long story short (too late), the company overreached. The CEO’s ambitions outstretched the limitations of the comics industry at the time. Plus, from what I understand from various interviews, there were some significant clashing of egos at the CrossGen Compound in regards to how much the shared universe elements should play a part in each book. Risks were taken that didn’t pay off. Paychecks started to slow down. Creators started to leave. Finally, they went into bankruptcy. Because of the corporate structure, all of the properties were either fully or partially owned by CrossGen (aside from a few partnerships with other publishers). When the properties went to auction, Disney’s Hyperion Books showed up and bought the entire line just so they could get J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog’s Abadazad, a beautiful fantasy series that riffed on classic children’s books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The comic was a late entry in the publisher’s output intended for an imprint set outside the CrossGen Universe line. Only 3 issues were published before the company went under. The book was relaunched by Hyperion Books in 2006 as a comics/illustrated children’s book hybrid that sadly didn’t find an audience and was discontinued after the third book in the series. Also in 2006, Checker Books licensed reprint rights to try to get unreleased collected editions to market. At the time, there were rumors of Checker trying to also publish unreleased stories, such as the highly anticipated Negation War. But alas, Checker seemed poorly equipped to really promote the line properly and their production quality couldn’t match the original books. Plus, the bad taste of the company’s end was probably still too fresh.

Then in 2009, Disney acquired Marvel Comics, which means that ironically CrossGen Comics is now part of the same company it once wanted to supplant. The following year, Marvel announced a CrossGen revival, and a few mini-series were released in 2011 minus the shared universe element. Historically, Marvel has not done well with marketing non-superhero comics, with the most notable exception of Star Wars, which basically markets itself. So needless to say, that relaunch fizzled. It’s been nothing since.

Every so often I’ll get an email asking me about that old site proving that either old CrossGen fans are still out there or new readers are somehow still finding the old books. As I said in the beginning of this post: the internet remembers.

To (finally) answer the original question, somewhere mid-2000s I switched a few services in how my sites are hosted. Sadly, the CrossGen site was lost. I thought I had locally saved the information, but even that seems to be gone now, probably swallowed up in a computer transfer. It’s one of those things in the back of my mind that I’d like to try to rebuild but honestly it’s not a priority as I don’t really relish the idea of redoing all that work, and I don’t really know if there’s still enough CrossGen fans out there that would care. Maybe someday… Heck, if Valiant can come back…

EDIT: Oh yeah, and sure, I’ll keep the Ask Me Anything open:

The Infestation…!

HALP!

Our apartment is being overrun by weird little moth-type bugs!

I’ve tried reasoning with them. I’ve tried making examples of the bold ones and letting the weaker ones escape to spread the word of my wrath. I’ve tried butchering their families. But none of it matters!

Every day I viciously murder more and the next day more are back.

Sometimes the little moth bugs are wearing police outfits to come arrest me for the crimes I have committed against their kind. Sometime they’re in military outfits. Their efforts are futile but so are my efforts to get rid of them.

This stalemate must end!

How do I defeat them? What is their weakness? When will I be free of their torment? How can I wash the blood of their fallen off my hands?

 

The Web Space for The Improv Site

Wait, reverse that.

The web site for The Improv Space.

I’ve been performing at this theater, located in Westwood near UCLA, since October 2012 by my count. A few years ago, I offered to help out with the redesign of the website, and I’ve been serving as webmaster ever since. I can’t take full credit for the site because a lot of the overall look was established before I started to help out, and several of us pitch in to update it, but I’m glad to contribute to a really wonderful group.

So if you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to take some classes in how to do improvisational comedy and/or want to be entertained for a night or two or ten, this is a wonderful community with smart and silly players.

We’ve got some classes starting in September with excellent, experienced teachers. You can sign up now.

YOUConventionThere’s a full line-up of stand-up comedy, open mic and jam opportunities, and improv. I perform every Thursday night in the 8:00 hour with The YOU Convention.

GroundControlBefore joining up with The Improv Space, I was part of the Magic Meathands, which incorporated a lot of games and short-form improv into their shows. So it’s been really fun to return to short-form improv with Ground Control, which has a show this Saturday night! That’s going to be a lot of fun! (Fun fact: that fantastic Ground Control logo was designed by the super-talented Kristian Horn.)

And the theater has started a sketch comedy program, and we’re now accepting submissions for writers and performers to help form our first sketch house teams.

So yeah, lots going on in Westwood. Please check out the site and stop by the theater in person. I’d love to see you there.

Trying to Catch Up

Last Sunday, I scheduled most of the week’s blogs in advance. I was so productive and efficient!

Over the last few days, you might’ve noticed that my posts haven’t been going up at the regular time (around 12:30 PM Pacific).

So yeah this is a quick cheat blog to buy me a day and also to remind you that you can still submit a question for me to answer. I love hearing from you!

Hot Rod, You Punk

It only took me 30 years, but what is this nonsense? (Warning: the following is a total geekfest. Proceed at your own risk.)

In 1986, I had been obsessed with the Transformers cartoons and toys since they first debuted two years earlier. As a 10-year-old, that’s a century. On August 8, 1986, The Transformers: The Movie hit theaters. This was a fully-animated feature length film that promised big changes to the toys and TV series. I begged my parents, and my father took me to the movie theaters to go see it.

I remember driving back home trying to figure out how to answer my father’s question of what I thought of the movie. I think I was still in shock. They had killed my hero Optimus Prime. I was stunned. They also killed a bunch of other favorites while introducing a new cast of characters.

It took me a long time to forgive those new characters. I was mad at them because they just couldn’t replace my favorites, especially Optimus Prime. Over the years, I found it in my heart to forgive them and accept them. (Yes, I’m still talking about toys and fictional characters. Why do you ask?)

One of those new characters was named Hot Rod. He was a younger character, a little impetuous, a little rebellious, and a little bit in the way during a crucial battle that caused Optimus Prime’s death, but he meant well. At the end of the movie (30-year-old SPOILER WARNING!), he officially took Optimus Prime’s place as leader of the good guys, and was given the new name Rodimus Prime.

Of course, new toys of these new characters followed. Actually, I don’t know for sure if the movie was released before the toys, but it’s clear they didn’t want to spoil anything on the toy boxes. As was now tradition with the Transformers line, each toy came with a little character bio and power grid explaining their personality and abilities. The power grid portion worked on a scale of 1 to 10 and measured things like strength, intelligence, courage, and skill. To add to the intrigue, the power grids were color coded so that you needed a red plastic thingie from the box of the toy you just bought to read it. Actually, you could usually make it out without the red plastic thingie, but don’t ruin the fun. Called “tech specs,” these mini-character bibles, along with the cartoon episodes, were mined for source material to inspire hours of playtime.

Since I was mad at the characters back in the day, I never got the Hot Rod or Rodimus Prime toys. But a little internet wandering over the weekend led me to a website that has every single tech spec!

It’s been a lot of fun combing through each character, remembering some of the ones I had when I was a kid and learning about others. Every once in a while, the numbers given to a character for their abilities would seem slightly off. Nothing too terrible, but not what I expected. Turns out, the three original jets Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp all had their numbers swapped around. Soundwave wasn’t nearly as powerful as I imagined him to be, turns out he’s actually pretty average as giant robots go.

Then I got to Hod Rod. And come on!

ts_hot_rod

This is ridiculous! In case you can’t make it out, he’s basically all tens except for speed (9! For a car!) and courage (7). Averaged out, he basically rates as powerful as Optimus Prime. This is blasphemous! Mind you, this is Hot Rod, before he’s turned into Rodimus Prime. It turns out, Rodimus Prime is the most powerful robot ever.

ts_rodimus_prime

All tens again, except for nines for speed and firepower!

Just to be clear, on almost all other toys, a 9 for speed is only used in the case for the fastest of jets. 10 shows up for space shuttles and things that go ridiculously fast outside of orbit. Hot Rod turns into a race car. Rodimus Prime turns into a TRUCK! What the entire what?!

Hot Rod was sold as part of the Autobot Cars sub-line of the Transformers. These were medium sized toys when compared to the rest of the Transformers line. Every other character in that line has power levels more in-line with this. They were mid- to high- but not outrageously powerful.

Let’s take a moment to remember that Megatron easily over-powered Hot Rod in The Transformers: The Movie in the midst of a brutal fight with Optimus Prime. At this point in the fight, both characters were near collapse, and then in runs Hot Rod, who immediately gets headlocked by Megatron. According to the above, Hot Rod should’ve been able to take Megatron on his own.

I can begrudgingly accept Rodimus Prime’s levels. He’s the next leader of the Autobots, and despite being a story about giant robots, there is some unexplainable magic to the story where each leader is in some way linked to past leaders. So, I’m fine with Rodimus being more powerful than Optimus. But why bother turning Hot Rod into Rodimus Prime if Hot Rod is already the most amazing robot in the universe? The numbers are so unbalanced from all the other toys, it’s like a fan snuck into Hasbro headquarters and got his own character released. If this wasn’t an official toy, I’d think it was a Mary Sue.

This injustice cannot be allowed to stand! I immediately demand from Hasbro a retraction and apology, plus the release of corrected tech specs for Hot Rod 30 years after the fact. I will accept no excuses, as there is no statute of limitations on fan indignation.

Please watch for my Change.org petition.

The Greatest Birthday Playlist Since the Dawn of Playlists and Birthdays

OK, maybe it’s not that good. But I like it.

I play this playlist every time there’s a birthday at the Blake abode. Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, and while she lives in her own abode, I felt it was good timing to share.

I want to add more birthday-themed songs to it, but at the same time I really like how it plays right now. A 16-minute set of shorter songs with comedic relief interspersed among full-length songs to celebrate someone’s life.

Hope you dig it!

 

AMA: The Rodney Dangerfield Dream Joke

Hi Corey, I have a question for you. One night last March I had a dream that I was watching Rodney Dangerfield perform in a comedy club. He told a joke that the audience barely laughed at, and that I didn’t get at all. When I woke up I still didn’t get it. Here’s the joke: “Just heard the weather report. It’ll be operations in rain today. Heck, I’m standing IN operations! Huh. No respect.” Remember, he only told this joke in my dream. Can you please tell me how it’s funny? I still don’t get it. – Nick

Hi, Nick – thanks for reading and asking!

I can’t believe you don’t know that extremely famous Rodney Dangerfield joke? Everyone knows that joke! “Standing in operations”! Whoo-boy, so good!

Yeah no that doesn’t make any sense. I was trying to connect some pretty vague dots between running military operations in the rain and standing at attention but… It doesn’t really work.

Since the in-dream audience didn’t laugh either, my guess is it wasn’t supposed to be a good joke. Maybe dream-Rodney was working out new material. Or maybe he was riffing and stumbled.

Dreams are created by the sub-conscious, possibly by our brains trying to make sense of brain synapses and light patterns we see while sleeping. Or something else. I don’t think anyone really knows for sure why we dream or what they’re supposed to be. Maybe we’re actually peaking into an alternate reality. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they’re even meaningful and help us work things out, and sometimes they are a random assortment of images and events.

I’ve had plenty of dreams where I or someone tells a joke or says something that is supposed to be funny, but it actually either isn’t funny at all or straight out makes no sense in the real world. I’ve come to the conclusion that what is being said doesn’t actually matter, it’s just a place-holder. It’s kind of a Mad Libs collection of words that sound similar to a cohesive thought but are only there to represent someone saying that type of thing in that kind of moment. The moments around what they said are probably more important. But our brains like to try to figure things out, so after we wake up, it’s easy to latch on the nonsensical part and try to make sense of it, when that might not have been the part of the dream our brain wanted us to focus on.

So I guess that’s my answer. The content of Rodney Dangerfield’s joke is irrelevant. Instead, look at the context. What does the joke represent and what was happening before and after it. There might be something more meaningful there.

Or your brain was just amusing itself with total gibberish and none of it holds any significance. Yay human brains!

Facebook and the Rules of Friendship

I’ve been on Facebook since 2007 (back when they forced your status to start with your name. “Corey Blake is sleeping.” is an actual status of mine from April 11, 2007, that now just displays as “sleeping”). It’s fun, and one of the things that amuse me are some of the habits or quirks of how people behave on Facebook.
I was once de-friended by someone because he decided that all his Facebook friends had to have real photographs as their profile pic. So he went through his list of 5,000 Facebook friends and de-friended anyone that broke his rule.
 
For years, I have used a cartoon drawing of myself that was given to me by Scott Shaw! when we were both working on Dig Comics. I love that drawing, because it really captures by double interests of performing and comic books. It’s not like it’s a drawing of Wolverine as my profile pic. This is an original piece of art that is intended to represent me. But I’m sure this person didn’t do that much research on it. He just saw a drawing and hit unfriend.
It was so ridiculous but really he was just finding ways to free up spots. Facebook caps you out at 5,000 friends and he kept getting new requests from people that he wanted to let in. Which I get. It’s not like we personally knew each other.
While I really liked some of what he posted, I was kind of relieved because half of his posts were just updated declarations of new rules. A week would not go by where at least one new edict would not be issued.
I still have a couple of other Facebook friends that do this, and it just cracks me up. Is anyone keeping track of all these rules? I don’t know how you could. They’re spread out across so many individual posts, and Facebook’s algorithm may not even show all of these high priority notices. Then it looks like you’re flagrantly disregarding their rules if you accidentally break one. Ignorance is no excuse, after all. Just try using the “I didn’t know” excuse with the police. It just doesn’t fly.
Maybe Facebook can generate a downloadable user manual-style PDF that compiles all of my friends’ various rules for being friends with them. I just can’t keep them all straight and it would be super convenient to have them all in one place where I could ignore them.
If you’re one of my Facebook friends that does this on a consistent basis, don’t worry about my silly post. You keep being you. I’m sure there’s a good reason. If it makes being on Facebook and life in general better for you, then I’m in full support. I just don’t know if anyone else is keeping track quite as closely as you.
 
And it makes me wonder: are there some Facebook users with only 2 friends because they’ve disqualified everyone else?

What Representation Feels Like

There’s a school of thought that poo-poo’s or ridicules the use of diverse characters in entertainment. Whether it’s the gender-reversal of Ghostbusters or the attempt at increasing female and minority characters in super-hero comics and their adaptations, I hear a segment of fans dismiss it.

“I just want good stories. I don’t care if the character is black or not,” goes the veiled objection.

As if having a character that isn’t a straight, white male as the lead character automatically puts the quality of the story at risk. Besides, nobody sets out to make a bad story.

One of the aspects that make stories good to an individual is the story’s relateability. If I see myself in the story, I’m going to have greater empathy for the narrative of that story and will be more likely to like it and consider it “good”. That’s because I know my own story, and when I see someone that looks like they’ve been through the same life experiences as myself, I attach the possibility of us having both gone through those experiences to the story. That may not be entirely logical or even reasonable, but it’s human nature.

Having diverse representation is powerful because it allows audience members not accustomed to seeing themselves in entertainment instantly feel recognized, empowered, and somehow seen by the world.

It’s hard for me to exactly explain why representation is so valuable because as a straight, white male, I’ve been represented by media 99% of the time since before I was alive and will continue to be represented. I see myself pretty much where ever I go, so me seeing myself in a movie doesn’t have a huge impact on me anymore. Me seeing a skinny, dorky, straight, white guy in the lead role. That has a better chance. If I had never or rarely seen me, I would have a big reaction.

This is usually most powerfully felt by kids. It’s another reason why I have a hard time putting a lot of weight in people’s objection to representation because they’re usually adults. These stories have a crossover appeal for adults due to nostalgia or just universal fun and appeal, but they’re most magical for kids.

When you see and feel how kids respond to seeing themselves reflected back at them for the first time, it’s beauty and power are undeniable. This video illustrates it more powerful than I ever could. This little girl has a prosthetic leg and for her birthday, she got a doll with a prosthetic leg.

I can’t imagine not being moved by that. The absolutely pure evolution of her response is amazing. She goes from (a) happy she got a doll but nothing too out of the ordinary when she first things it’s yet another doll, to (b) surprised disbelief it also has a prosthetic leg, to (c) in tears at the realization that it’s “just like me”. Now imagine if that doll had its own comic book, TV show or movie.

I remember the joy I had when I saw Superman: The Movie and Ghostbusters for the first time. Straight, white men have nearly every iconic pop culture thing marketed to us. If they’re going to love it to the extent that little girl above loved that doll, I gladly want them to have their own Supergirl and Ghostbusters. I still have my memories and attachment to my version, and they get to have theirs, and everyone wins.

Kristen Wiig

Kristen Wiig is seen at the Los Angeles Premiere of Columbia Pictures’ “Ghostbusters” at TCL Chinese Theatre on Saturday, July 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony/AP Images)