On Robin

I’ve found it hard to process the death of Robin Williams since first hearing about it this afternoon, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on it here. Nothing formal and maybe not even coherent. Just what I’m feeling.

We’ve lost many celebrities that I’ve admired these past few years—Elmore Leonard, Harold Ramis, Lou Reed, just to name a few. I’m a huge fan of Warren Zevon and Hunter S. Thompson, both of whom died within my recent lifetime. But I’m taking this one harder than any of those.

And I think I’ve figured out why. One of my earliest memories as a child was watching Mork & Mindy on TV with my father. It’s one of the first TV shows I can clearly remember watching at night. (One of the others was The Muppet Show, and I took the loss of Jim Henson very hard as well.) As a young child, I didn’t watch much TV at night, most of the shows weren’t exactly aimed at kids, but you didn’t have to get all of the humor to find Mork funny. Williams energy and over-the-top response to every situation was pretty transcendent in its appeal—it spoke to kids and adults.

A couple years later, I remember seeing clips of Williams doing stand up on some TV show or other, and my father pointing out that he was Mork. I also remember seeing Popeye and having it explained to me that Popeye was also Mork. I think it might’ve been the first time I realized that actors existed outside their characters—that he wasn’t actually Mork, but a really funny guy who did other things as well. From that point on, I was a fan, even though I was probably too young at that time to be listening to much of his comedy.

No worries, though, since I eventually grew into it. Good Morning Vietnam, Hook, The Birdcage, Awakenings, Aladdin, Good Will Hunting and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen were all favorites of mine. But there are a few that really stand out. A few that really meant a lot at a key time in my life.

Club Paradise probably isn’t a movie of his that many people would list as a favorite, but I love it. I fell in love with reggae in junior high and seeing Robin Williams and Jimmy Cliff in the same movie—directed by Harold Ramis, no less—was just too cool. Yes, the best lines in it belong to Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy, but Williams’ banter with Peter O’Toole and the other resort guests was priceless.

I’ve actually blogged about The Fisher King here before, but it’s hands down one of my favorites of his. Possibly my very favorite. I think it’s funny and imaginative and wonderful, and also truly poignant. I think it helped me realize the psychological aspect that often accompanies loss. It may seem strange that I learned that from a Terry Gilliam movie, but hey, I was still relatively young and inexperienced with life when I saw it.

And finally, Dead Poets Society. A movie that I’ve seen at least two dozen times and still can’t watch without turning into a sobbing mess at the end. Man, I loved Professor Keating. He spoke to me in a way that no teacher of mine ever had. His lesson about seizing the day is something I try to keep in mind constantly. His comments about poetry and art fed my interests in high school and are a big reason why I do what I do today. Combine Keating’s lesson with some amazing, quotable, unforgettable lines and you have a phenomenal film. It’s shocking that this isn’t the one that earned Williams an Oscar, honestly.

Anyhow, what I’m getting at is that Robin Williams has been a source of entertainment for me throughout literally my entire life, and that’s one of the reasons why this one hits particularly hard. A friend of mine tweeted earlier that she felt like a piece of her childhood had died, and I understand what she means. I’d imagine that for many of us in our later thirties, it does feel like we lost a friend we’ve had since we were kids.

Rest in peace, Robin. I didn’t know you and can’t begin to imagine what you must have been going through in your life. But thank you for bringing some real joy to all of ours.

Surviving the Third Floor

I live on the top floor of a three-story building in Studio City. I’ve lived here with my girlfriend and my cat for close to a year now. On the surface, it’s a pretty great arrangement. Studio City is nice, we have good Italian food and tacos within walking distance, the neighbors here are friendly, our apartment manager kind of reminds me of Lou Reed… All good things. At first, being on the top floor felt like being on top of the world a bit, or at least at the top of the apartment social ladder. We could stand outside our front doorway, which opens above the courtyard, or from our back balcony and look down on our kingdom and all who lived within it, like some sort of minor lord in a Hawaiian shirt.

And then summer hit.

All of you who live in upper level apartments in warm areas know what I’m talking about. Every evening, the sun sets, the world cools and the Southern California weather turns brisk. By early morning, there’s dew on the grass and a sweet, kale-scented breeze in the air. (Everything in LA smells like kale. Haven’t you heard?) It’s mild and comfortable. Except for in our apartment, where it’s a balmy 85 degrees and has been since the prior afternoon.

Look, I know hot air rises. Everyone knows that. But what I didn’t expect was for this apartment to hold onto that heat like a tea partier holding on to outdated ideals. There are about five different windows in this place, and opening them doesn’t seem to make much of a difference at all. Fans don’t seem to help move the air around. Short of moving our bed out onto the balcony, there doesn’t seem to be much that works when it comes to cooling the place down.

Of course, there IS the air conditioner. We do have one. I always feel guilty about turning it on, though. I’m not an overly guilt prone person, but there are two things that seem to do it to me. One is eating greasy, unhealthy food. The other is turning on the air conditioner. The first has everything to do with my high cholesterol, but my guilt over air conditioning can almost entirely be pinned on an ex.

A few years ago, I dated a woman who was heavy into environmentalism. Now, before anyone gets started, I’m a firm believer in environmentalism. I try to impact the environment as little as possible, but I’m not perfect about it. I know I could be doing a lot more and for some reason, all of that guilt has decided to target my use of indoor climate controls. I resist turning the air on until all of us here are on the brink of passing out, and when I finally do, it’s with thoughts of how disappointed my mother would be and how I’m a terrible, terrible father for leaving my son and his children a Mad Max world to inherit. (Let’s face it. As much as you may love Mad Max, you don’t really want him as a son.)

I know it’s stupid. I’ve even brought it up with my therapist a few times, and how much it makes me dread the heat every year. He didn’t tell me it was stupid, but I certainly felt dumb after realizing I had just dropped $20 to spend an hour literally talking about the weather.

So stupid or not, the air conditioner isn’t going on until the heat becomes intolerable, and currently the heat’s not there yet. But it’s enough to make living at the top of the world not seem like such a great thing anymore. More often than not, I find myself getting out of my home and castle to mingle with the masses in an air conditioned movie theater or café, leaving my cat to look down on our kingdom since she’s the only one of us who doesn’t seem to mind the heat. I suspect one of her ancestors may have belonged to a Pharoah or some other renowned Egyptian. In fact, if the cats in Egypt handled the heat as well as she does, I think I understand why the Egyptians revered them. My cat’s ability to tolerate the hot weather is worthy of admiration, and I can totally seeing that leaping up to worship if the temperature were to hit 120 degrees with any regularity. So yeah, maybe the Egyptians were on to something. Maybe instead of turning cats into memes and viral videos, we should be seeking their wisdom for dealing with the heat.

They’d probably just tell us to turn on the damn air.

Clearing the Cobwebs

There was a time, not that long ago, that I used to edit comic books. I started as a staff editor at the now defunct Tokyopop, then entered the world of freelance contract editing. Which, as it turns out, isn’t much of a world. It’s more like a small town in south Kansas. But I made my home there for a few years, working on fun comics like Fraggle Rock, Dark Crystal and Labyrinth until my financial obligations required me to move on to something else.

There was a time, also not long ago, that I used to blog here pretty regularly. But as you can see by the date in the entry below this one, I haven’t done that in quite some time. In this case, however, I haven’t stopped blogging. In fact, I’ve been blogging quite a bit. I’ve just been doing it on a much higher profile site. For those who don’t know, I’m currently the full-time content editor for the DC Comics and Vertigo blogs, which means that instead of editing comics, I’m now editing and writing site features. You can see some of my more recent entries here, if you’re curious.

If you know all this, you may think I’m filling space by stating the obvious, but there seem to be a good many people who don’t know what I’ve been doing. That became clear to me a couple of months ago when I finally added my current job—which I’ve been at for over two years now—to my LinkedIn profile. I must have received at least three dozen messages congratulating me on the gig. If you were one of the people who sent one, don’t worry. You were in really good company.

This didn’t surprise me. This is partly because you can’t add so much as a comma to your LinkedIn profile without it blasting it to all of your connections, but mainly I don’t expect anyone short of my parents to follow my career. You have your own life to worry about. I don’t expect any of you to give two shits about mine. But if you’re reading this, then you must enjoy my blogging or my writing in general, and I feel I owe it to you to explain why this place has gone without an update for over a year. Which brings us back to my job.

Let’s just say it keeps me busy at a level that took some getting used to. I’ve worked long hours in the past, but this is the first time that almost every single one of those hours has been spent tapping on a keyboard. Hey, writing is what I do, it’s what I enjoy and it’s what I’m best at, but it can certainly tire you out. I come home mentally drained fairly regularly and the last thing I want to do is spend more time in front of a computer.

But that’s a problem because while I enjoy the writing I do for DC (and it really is a lot of fun), it’s not MINE. It’s theirs and more to the point, it’s largely promotional. I try to take a creative or informative approach, but when you get right down to it, I’m part of their marketing team. So I’m making an effort to carve out at least a little time each week for writing that’s strictly for me. For now, it’ll be primarily blogging, but who knows where it’ll go from here. There are more comics, prose and plays within me, and they’ve been screaming to get out for a while. And they’re really fucking irritating, at times. Seriously, if I can get them to shut up for a few weeks, that alone will be worth it.

So yes, I’m clearing out the rats and spiders who have taken residence here since I left it to stagnate. (I actually like spiders and have kept rats as pets, but neither are interesting blog subjects.) Instead, I’ll be writing about movies, TV, sports, life in Los Angeles, relationships, single parenthood, health, spirituality… Basically, whatever interests me on a given day. I’ll also continue to write about comics and the industry as a whole. These past few years certainly haven’t made me any less opinionated or frustrated at the mistakes I see made time and again in the comic book industry and community.

I’ll do my best to make it all interesting in hope that you’ll do your best to stop by here every once in a while. But whether you do or not, I’m determined to keep this blog a lot fresher than it’s been because while there may have been a time I edited comics and updated this site regularly and it may not have been all that long ago, it doesn’t matter. What matters, is what I do with it now.

Some Thoughts on Space Shuttles and Sunsets

Today, I watched with much of my office as the space shuttle Endeavor flew over our building in Burbank. It was an undeniably cool moment. Certainly an exciting one, but there was also a little sadness mixed in there for me.

Not many people know this, but as a young child, I lived for a couple of years in Lompoc, CA. My father found a job in the town, and we moved there with him at the very tail end of the 70s. If you’ve been there, you’ll know that there’s really not much in Lompoc. It’s largely a military town, and my family isn’t a military one, so it was strange that we moved there. But as a very young boy on the brink of the Reagan years, it was about the coolest place on earth.

The reason is that Lompoc is only a few miles away from Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is why it’s a military town. And Vandenberg, for those of you who don’t know, was a huge part of our nation’s then very thriving space program. I remember being woken up by my father on more than one occasion back then to watch various rockets taking off and missiles being launched (which when you’re four years old, is pretty darn cool). I could see them from my bedroom window. From my window! Admittedly, I don’t remember much else from that early in my life, but I remember that.

At such a young age, I had no basis of comparison when it came to things like rocket launches. For all I knew, watching rockets enter space from your bedroom was something that every kid did in the morning, as common as eating breakfast. I didn’t know that this was something that was pretty rare until I got a bit older, and by then we had moved away.

Outside of the various launches, I really only remember one more thing about that time in my life, and it’s largely why I wanted to see the shuttle today. In the seventies, Vandenberg was selected to become the west coast’s launch and landing site for the space shuttle. As far as I can tell, it was never used as such, but at one point while I was living there, they had one of the space shuttles—I’m assuming Columbia, though I can’t say I know for sure—at the base. And at one point, people of the community were invited to come down and see it.

Now, when I say see it, I don’t mean see it from a distance. I mean, go right on up to it and take a look inside, the same way you might look in an old WWII bomber at an air show. The memory’s a bit hazy, but I can recall being held up to get a good peek inside by one of my parents, and I was surprised by how small everything was inside.

Yes, friends, I’ve actually been in the space shuttle, and my reaction was being slightly underwhelmed. I did mention being young and having no perspective, right?

The point is that now I do. I realize that was something fairly rare. Something that by any standard is pretty darn cool. I realize that I was lucky to be there at that point in time, just as I was lucky to be in a place where I could see the Endeavor fly by overhead today. Seeing the space shuttle so up close and personal as a tyke is one of my earliest memories, and while I never harbored serious dreams of becoming an astronaut, I do attribute those early years for my love of science fiction and appreciation and support of our space program.

Soon, it sounds like everyone will have a chance to see the space shuttle the way that I did, and I hope people take advantage of it. But it’ll be a look back in time, not a look forward, which is what it was when I was a child. These things matter when we’re talking about exploration. The point of exploration is to chart new territory. We should always been looking forward when it comes to space.

I realize things change, and privatizing space exploration and travel makes sense. I’m all in favor of it if it’ll get up back up in space. But the space shuttle’s been flying almost as long as I’ve been alive, so seeing it take one last flight is an emotional thing for me. It’s been a very rough flight at time, but it’s always been our link to the stars. It’s been the closest thing we have to an Enterprise or Millenium Falcon, and now it’s gone.

So goodbye, Endeavor, and farewell, space shuttle program! Yes, you didn’t literally fly off into the sunset, but that’s okay. I think when you’ve been to outer space, that’s no longer necessary.

An Unexpected Look at 9/11

I sometimes wonder if 9/11 was indirectly responsible for my comic book career. It sounds strange and I absolutely mean no disrespect to any of the people who lost loved ones in the tragedy. But it’s hard not to acknowledge the fact that my life may have been completely different if not for 9/11.

At the time of the attack, I was working for a company called JPI Design, which was an entertainment design and architecture firm in Ontario, California. I was their staff writer, responsible for drafting up everything from press releases to trade articles to scripts for the various theme park rides and attractions they developed. It was a very different job to what I’m doing now, but I enjoyed it and found it very creatively fulfilling. Plus, I enjoyed the industry. There was a lot of passion in it, similar to what I’ve found in comics.

JPI Design was a very small company, but their star seemed to be on the rise. They were in the early design stages for several large, international resorts and theme parks, and I was busy in the days leading up to 9/11 working on proposals and written narratives to help sell the projects to investors.

And then the attack happened and everything changed.

It felt like the whole nation spent about a week in shock. No work was done because all of it suddenly seemed insignificant and unimportant. People were grieving and asking questions, and I was no different. When people began picking themselves up and going back to work, everything had changed. Nothing felt the same, but the impact of 9/11 on the industry I was working in was extreme. No one was traveling after the attacks. Security at the airports was intense, but also, the simple fact was that no one was in the mood for riding roller coasters and getting splashed on log rides after we’d just unexpectedly and violently been robbed of thousands of American lives. Theme parks and resorts seemed so frivolous and at odds with the mood of our nation and much of the world. Leisure and entertainment projects were shelved. All of those large developments JPI was working on disappeared and the company was left without a source of income. They managed to hold on for a little while, but they were soon unable to make payroll and went under. In the end, they were yet another victim of 9/11.

Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to freelance edit manga titles at Tokyopop before that happened, and while I loved what I was doing at JPI and hated to leave the company, it was clear where things were headed. Accepting the Tokyopop offer was an easy decision to make.

If you know anything about me, you know what happened next. I really took to editing manga and eventually wound up with a full-time position at Tokyopop, which opened the door to the career I have now. But occasionally, I have to wonder about what would have happened had 9/11 not occurred and those big projects JPI had in the pipeline had all moved forward. I would have had no reason to leave them and may have built up a career scripting shows and attractions instead.

Yes, it’s true that 9/11 changed everything. Our country isn’t the same place it was before 2001. But not every change was far-reaching. Many, if not most, of the changes were on the individual level for millions of Americans. The most direct—the loss of loved ones—were tragic and painful, but strangely enough, some of the less direct changes may have been positive. Certainly, I’m not defending the terrorist act or suggesting that we’re better off as a result. Don’t misunderstand me. It was a tragedy and I think if any of us had the power to undo it, we would. But in an unexpected way, the tragedy eventually brought me to something good. Like everyone else, I picked myself up, rebuilt and I’m better and happier as a result. And if that’s not a sign of resilience, I’m not sure what is.

Things aren’t good out there right now. We’re on the brink of a second recession and the job market is terrible. Millions of people are out of work and wondering how much longer they can stay afloat…if they haven’t already sunk beneath the weight of debt. People have been affected by storms, earthquakes, drought and there are millions of people out there in the world who still hate us and mean us harm… It’s been a tough year. But we’ve survived tougher, and often in the end, we emerge better than we were before. Stronger.

It’s a message from 9/11 that I think is well worth heeding right now.