Thursday, July 30, 2015

Con founder opening new horizons

Jayson and son at a signing event.
PANAMA CITY — I grabbed a coffee with JaysonKretzer, graphic artist and founder of Panama City Creative Con, last week to catch up on his efforts to finalize the event.

I’ve known Jayson for a while. I know he likes superhero stories with at least a hint of sunshine in them. Heroes who want to be heroes, who fight for a better world and believe that’s an achievable goal.

Turns out, that’s kind of what he’s all about. He started CreativeCon to give youngsters an opportunity he missed as a child — to be exposed to creative career paths and meet potential mentors, while celebrating the imagination.

“From the time I was a pre-teen and received my first comic book, I was intrigued by art,” Jayson said in a letter to art teachers that he circulated to promote the event. “That’s also when I figured out I was a visual learner.”

But he had no idea how to pursue art as a career. Growing up in the Northwest Florida Panhandle, he never had the opportunity to meet artists in his chosen field or even learn about educational opportunities to enter creative fields.

Finally, at age 25, he attended a comic convention, where he met many industry professionals face-to-face who helped put him on the right track. Now, for more than 15 years, Jayson has worked from home doing freelance illustration, graphic arts and website design. His work also includes sketch cards created for Marvel- and Cartoon Network-licensed products and two self-published books. In addition, he teaches drawing classes in schools and other venues.

Twenty years after he graduated from high school, comic book movies dominate the big screen while graphic novels are moving into classrooms as a learning tool. Between those very visible media, plus the growing popularity of web comics and cinematic video games, Jayson has seen “a renewed interest in sequential art.”

Seeing all that developing on the horizon, Jayson wanted to give children and teens the chance he didn’t have until adulthood; he wanted to establish a convention that would inspire them to be lifelong creators.

“The goal of Creative Con is three-fold,” Kretzer said. “One: To give young people in our area access to mentors in the field they are interested in. Two: To show K-12 students educational opportunities in our area that will help them fulfill their dreams. And three: To provide children with the tools they need to succeed — staying right here.”

Even here in the Panhandle, where it seems like the 21st century is still just getting a foothold, you can make a go of it in creative fields. And you can help others follow their dreams as well.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Drive-In Saturday: The Doctor is Out — way, way out

VHS Cover
Dr. Strange (CBS-TV pilot aired Sept. 6, 1978)
Starring Peter Hooten as Dr. Stephen Strange; with Jessica Walter and John Mills 

If you’ve got a fever for fantasy TV even the Winds of Watoomb won’t quell, then this might be just the prescription.

Doctor Strange, The Master of the Mystic Arts and Sorcerer Supreme created for Marvel Comics by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, first appeared in Strange Tales No. 110, dated July 1963, a year before I was born.

He came to television in a much watered-down version, via a pilot film that even abbreviated Strange’s title as Dr. Strange, in the autumn after I turned 14. I was already a fan of the source material and at the perfect age for a good horror-tinged magical adventure. I watched the show on my Dad’s TV in the living room area of a mobile home he was renting in Gonzales, Florida, if I'm recalling correctly.

It was miles ahead of other Comics-to-TV efforts of the era, from a Hulk with green body paint, to a Spider-Man who couldn’t realistically fight bank robbers (much less a super villain), to a Captain America who traded his winged mask for a motorcycle helmet. At least with Strange you got to see magic lightning bolts and weird dimensions.

Disco Strange
The treatment was written and directed by Philip DeGuere, whose writing credits included episodes of Bionic Woman, Baretta, Alias Smith and Jones, and many others, and who would go on to create Simon & Simon and much more. A made-for-TV movie intended as a pilot for a potential TV series, Dr. Strange even had Stan Lee as a consultant.

The movie diverged from the original material, although Lee apparently felt it was one of the better of Marvel’s 1970s TV adaptations. In an interview published in Comics Feature magazine (January 1985), Lee recalled being “pleased with Dr. Strange and The (Incredible) Hulk.” He added that Strange might have had higher ratings if it hadn’t been broadcast opposite Roots.

In the comics, Stephen Strange is a gifted but arrogant surgeon who loses his dexterity after a car crash and becomes a drunk because he can’t make tons of cash as a surgeon any more. Hearing talk of an “Ancient One” in Tibet who can heal anyone, he travels there on a quest to restore his hands so he can regain his medical practice.

Instead, he is initiated into the hidden world of magicians and eventually becomes the “Sorcerer Supreme” of Earth. He takes on a servant, Wong, and lives in a weird brownstone in Greenwich Village, NYC. And he soon gets a hot silver-haired girlfriend from another dimension, Clea, who becomes his pupil as well as his lover.

Strange has adventures in other dimensions, superbly psychedelic and appropriate for the 1960s, as originally conceived by Ditko. He fights entities like Mephisto, Nightmare and Dormammu, as well as his mortal enemy, Baron Mordo. He hangs out in his Sanctum Sanctorum and gets into scraps alongside the Defenders (initially, Silver Surfer, Hulk and Namor the Submariner).

These battles and other-dimensional jaunts were beyond the scope of 1978-era special effects (at least, on a TV movie budget), but the pilot film makes a valiant effort. Before it’s over, Strange visits a nether-dimension, we catch glimpses of the demon Balzaroth (voiced by Ted “Lurch” Cassidy, uncredited), and our cast exchange magic lightning blasts.

It’s the changes to the mythos for its TV incarnation that don’t ring true to this True Believer, and one wonders if they were made for fear of how audiences would respond to an Asian master in post-Vietnam USA, or a devilish Mephisto (this was a time when Bible-thumping caused all sorts of censorship in fantasy TV; Google some of the censors’ reactions to Star Trek reruns some time just to boggle your mind).

Wong and Lindmer
For example, the Ancient One is now a disembodied voice (the late, great Michael Ansara, uncredited), while Strange’s mentor is now the British actor Sir John Mills as Thomas Lindmer (or “Merlin” — get it?). Strange (played by Peter Hooten and his spectacular disco mustachio and Caucasian afro) is a thoughtful, slow-to-act psychiatrist who initially seems to get his magic mojo from a ring left to him by his father.

The usually mesmerizing Jessica Walter (lately seen on Arrested Development and heard on Archer) plays Morgan Le Fay, Merlin’s old enemy (who was, as you may recall from repeated viewings of Excalibur, the half-sister of King Arthur and the mother of his bastard son, Mordred). While she is physically voluptuous and tempting in her low-cut tops, her delivery of dialogue is flat, and she’s played a bit too cold for you to ever believe Strange could be swayed to her side of the battle.

Clea is presented as a college student haunted by Morgan; she’s played by Eddie Benton (who later acted under the name Anne-Marie Martin in episodes of Buck Rogers and other 1980s shows, but is perhaps best known as co-writer of the 1996 film Twister with her then-husband, the late author Michael Crichton). Clea falls under Morgan’s spell, and Strange seeks alternative therapies for her.

Strange and Morgana
Lindmer tries to convince Strange that the girl’s troubles are magical rather than medical; he’s also trying to prepare Strange to follow in his footsteps as the next Sorcerer Supreme.

The film opens with an image to excite any Strange fan’s heart: We’re in a weird realm of rocky islands floating in space. A stop-motion demon gives Morgan the chance to redeem her earlier failures by defeating Lindmer and turning his chosen apprentice to the Dark Side, or some such. So far, so good.

But the interest dissipates pretty fast. The film becomes overly talky, and little action of any consequence takes place for the next hour, putting the majority of effects and action in the final segment of the show. Strange doesn’t even dress — well, strange — until the last act, first in a very cool cloak and chains bestowed on him by Morgan, and later in a lame disco blouse with a starburst and yellow cape. Both costumes hearken to the various comic versions of Strange’s attire, but neither one captures the spirit.

Strange by any Other Name
(NOTE: The low-budget movie grindhouse, Full Moon Features, made a Strange-esque film called Doctor Mordrid in 1992 after losing the option for Doctor Strange; it starred Jeffery Combs as an ageless sorcerer assigned to protect our world, and it’s worth checking out. Also pretty good is the 2007 direct to DVD animated feature Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme from Marvel Studios.)

Over the years, the comic Strange has been rebooted, retooled and refocused. He’s been de-aged, split into multiple persons with different names, and even gave up his face for a while, replacing it with a blue “mask.”

Likewise, in some writers’ hands, he’s selfless and heroic, while others paint him as distant and possibly deviant, acting to protect his own power base as much as the innocent souls in this reality. His recent appearance in Matt Fraction’s short-lived Defenders title made him a little scary.

I always was happier seeing Strange as a mixture of the two extremes, much as he was initially portrayed: A self-righteous man who was knocked down, broken, and in the process of rebuilding himself spiritually as he learns to serve others — a hero overcoming deep faults against massive odds.

That’s kind of what this pilot film embodies: It’s obviously broken, but it contains enough magic to make you believe that, if it had gone to series, it could have developed into something deeper — until you realize it was the 1970s and even the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth couldn’t have energized it enough.

We’re probably better off watching Kolchak reruns, dreaming of what might have been, and looking forward to a Marvel motion picture starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton. But until then, here's  the whole movie from YouTube:

Friday, July 17, 2015

You can pick your friends

Jim picking figs.
VERNON — They tell me you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends. Sometimes, I think, they pick you.

One of those that welcomed us into the fold in recent years is Jim Weslowski, and his wife Delia, who run Weslowski Farms near Vernon. Friendly conversations at the Bay County Farmers Market led to invitations to pick fruits and berries at the farm, which led to conversations around blueberry bushes.

Before you know it, it’s 100 degrees and you’re talking about the proper care of a papaya tree.

Riding his red tractor last Sunday, Jim led us (in our car) up the back way to the fig tree grove by his house — across grass that took us past chestnut, blueberry and pear trees, then onto a two-rut trail that a wagon might have followed 200 years ago, and up 1,600 feet of incline to the house at the top of the hill.

We couldn’t take the front approach because he hadn’t graded the drive in a while and, he said, “As soon as I fill the holes, it will rain.”

My wife and I picked figs while Jim filled holes anyway, and I was careful this time not to scratch my face or use my hand to wipe sweat from my eyes; last year, I had a reaction to the milky sap of the figs that set my skin on fire (or so it felt). It was worth it for the preserves and jams my wife made, but it didn’t seem so at the time.

After filling a couple of flats, we descended the hill to pick pears. Jim told us he would quit working when we did, and we promised he wouldn’t have to sweat much longer — the heat would keep us from taking too long. The thermometer on the car’s dashboard registered 98 degrees at 11 a.m.

We used a little step ladder to reach the higher pears, as Jim already had grabbed the ones low enough to reach from the ground. Jim and Delia have been selling them at local farmers markets, alongside all the other produce from his farm. (You can usually find Jim at the Bay County Fairgrounds Farmers Market every day except Sundays and Thursdays, and Delia at the Lynn Haven Farmers Market on Tuesdays and the St. Andrews Waterfront Market on Saturdays.)

It wasn’t our first trip to the farm this summer; in June I took my niece there to pick blueberries. And I hope it won’t be our last visit. Jim is really good at teaching and explaining how best to process the produce he and Delia grow, as well as how to care for your own vegetables and fruit trees. There’s always something new to learn, and he’s generous as a teacher and grower.

In fact, Jim and Delia will host their annual open house, autumn farm tour and barbecue cookout in November. Guests will get to view the fall/winter crops, make some fresh lemonade, learn about the fruit trees, and much more. Like Weslowski-Farms on Facebook for details.

Delia — under a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt — ran a mower through the grass while we picked. The work on a farm never ends, although Jim suggested he could quit any time he wanted to.

“She’ll say, ‘Honey, you need to go do so-and-so,’” Jim said with a grin. “I’ll say, ‘I don’t have to do anything. I’m retired.’”


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Reviewer: Simmons' latest is fearful symmetry

S. Brady Calhoun of The News Herald reviewed "Giants in the Earth" this week.
>>Here's the article<<

"The thing that strikes you first, like classical music in the back of your mind, is the dreamlike and lyrical quality of 'Giants in the Earth.'"

Thanks, Brady!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Writers' Jargon (10)

Writers have their own language. A shorthand, if you will. Outsiders (non-writers) think they know what most of these words and phrases mean. But they don't. Here, in a continuing series of posts, I will divulge the SECRET MEANINGS OF WRITERS' JARGON:

Hero’s Journey: (cartographic term) The shortest route to the nearest sandwich shop.

Proposal: (verb) technique employed by non-fiction writers to trick a gainfully-employed partner into marriage when you have no prospects for other income; also used to convince publishers your idea for a book is worth funding. In either case, it’s a pay-for-play agreement.

Editor: (noun) Heart-breaker. Dream-maker. Love-taker. Don’t you mess around with me.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Artist's Touch: Couple’s passion for creative costuming

  • When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 1
  • Where: Student Union building and Amelia Tapper Center at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City
  • Why: Guest artists, costume contest, film festival, writers workshop, breaking into comics, warp-speed dating, celebrity panel and more
  • Admission: $10
  • Details:

C&C Cosplay at Pensacon 2014
PANAMA CITY — I first met Chris Stock and Christina Gilbert in a steampunk panel at Pensacon, a sci-fi convention in Pensacola, in February 2014. He was disguised as The Winter Soldier and she was Black Widow, a pair of Marvel Comics characters that were appearing in the new Captain America movie at the time.

It was his second big convention, and her first, and they assured me they were “super nerds, basically.” They’ve been actively building a reputation as creative costume designers and character players (i.e., “cosplayers”) ever since, and will present a panel for beginning cosplayers at PC Creative Con in Panama City on Aug. 1.

I recently visited them at the Dragon Dojo off State 390, where Chris works as an instructor, to talk about their passion.

“My dad read comics, and he thought comics would get me into reading — and he was right,” said Chris, 23, who was born and raised in Panama City.

As a child, Chris became a fan of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers — specifically, “Billy” the Blue Ranger, who was a massive nerd. Since he couldn’t become a Power Ranger in real life, Chris focused on the martial arts aspect, and under mentor Dorje Jangbu has become an instructor. One of the highlights of his life, he said, was meeting David Yost the actor who played Billy, at Pensacon. Chris hopes his cosplay can serve as an inspiration as well.

“When you see someone really appreciates it, it touches you,” he said. “It not only inspires them, it inspires you to keep going.”

Photo: Daron Adkins Photography
Christina, 28, is originally from Dothan, Ala., but has lived in the Panama City since she was 9. A hair stylist and operator of the local Shear Design, she has two daughters, ages 4 and 6. Chris’ interest in costumes drew her in, and she has a particular interest in steampunk (a subgenre of sci-fi that derives from 19th-century steam-powered technology and aesthetics).

“It’s a way for me, personally, to escape from reality for a few hours,” she said of building props, making costumes, and playing dress-up. “And when someone compliments your work and wants a picture with you, that’s great.”

Chris keeps composition notebooks filled with designs, doodles, patterns and ideas. He uses it to work out details, like the knotwork design on the edges of his home-built Mjolnir (the hammer of Marvel Comics’ Thor), or the horned helmet of a gender-swapped Loki. Then the projects take shape in his workshop — i.e., apartment.

“Our apartment has little projects all over the place,” Christina said, mentioning Captain America’s shield, which hangs in their laundry room.

Winter Soldier was Chris’ first full costume, and the character’s “robotic” arm was created by riveting dozens of individual pieces together. (Chris has added some muscle since creating the costume, and the riveted arm no longer fits him.)

“Before that, I basically did anime characters (from Japanese cartoons), but Winter Soldier I really spent time on,” he said. “I built everything but the pants and shoes. I broke down each part. It was — a lot of hours.”

Chris and Christina discussed how they created many of their costumes and props — from a repainted toy gun or a dowel that became a walking cane, to a wiffle bat repurposed as Harley Quinn’s weapon of choice and socks that became her elbow-length gloves. The most important aspect of building these items, they said, is the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

“I find nothing but flaws in everything I do,” Chris said. “I’m a perfectionist. But art is being able to make a mistake look beautiful. Art is never finished, you just walk away from it.”

C&C Cosplay offered these basic considerations to prospective cosplayers:

•Dress for the weather. “You don’t want to walk around wearing a skimpy Harley Quinn costume in February,” Christina said — a lesson she learned the cold way.

•Props don’t have to be functional, they just need to look right and feel good. “You don’t need to actually be able to climb up walls if you’re (dressed as) Spider-Man,” Chris said. “It’s a costume. It’s all about the look. ... But whether it’s a prop or costume, if it’s not comfortable, you’re going to hate it.”

•Make sure you can move, see, fit through doorways, sit down — and get out of the costume for bathroom breaks. “I’ve seen this happen badly,” Chris said. “If you’re going to design a really complicated costume, make sure you know how to go to the restroom. I suggest wearing it a full day around the house before you go to a con.”

•Most of all, have fun. Be creative. And feel free to ask other people for help. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Drive-In Saturday: Gene Roddenberry's 'Spectre'

Not a Gorn.
(NBC, May 21, 1977)

It would be wrong for me to claim this film had any sort of influence on my early life, as I didn’t see this in its original broadcast; all I knew of it was a photo of the Gorn-like Asmodeus demon shown in Starlog magazine.
Don’t recall how I managed to miss this; at the time, my parents were on a kick to be sure we didn’t get too much horror/occult intake, but I don’t think I was forbidden to watch this. I know some network affiliates across the country refused to air it because of its demonic and sexual content, but I don’t know if that included my local channels. More likely, it just slipped by.
Culp and Young
Instead, I first caught it on an afternoon movie rerun sometime in the late 1980s, and I watched it again recently, streaming on YouTube. Careful which version you try to watch: One was apparently videotaped from a Syfy (at the time “Sci Fi Channel”) show called Pilot Playhouse, hosted by Robert Englund. The version I initially saw on YouTube appears to be missing some scenes, and not just the nudity in the final orgy/sacrifice sequence. At one point, Sebastian and Ham are speaking with Inspector Cabell and ask questions about “these killings” — apparently a series of gruesome murders have taken place, but no one has mentioned them previously in the film. I don’t know if there was a mention excised from this version to allow more commercials, or if the original cut of the film was missing that scene.
Note: Some versions of the pilot contain topless and bottomless (rear) nudity that was inserted into the pilot's climactic sacrificial scene for a theatrical release overseas.
Also, I think Gig Young might have been inebriated in every scene, listening to his words slur.  He killed himself shortly after the pilot aired.
Also also, Robert Culp is a badass. That is all.
Created, written, and produced by the father of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, Spectre was a supernatural mystery starring Culp as criminal psychologist and paranormal investigator William Sebastian, with Young as his old friend and skeptic Dr. “Ham” Hamilton.
Ham obviously served as a sort of “Watson” to Culp’s “Holmes” — or “Scully” to Culp’s “Mulder” — but their relationship also mirrored that of Questor and Robinson from Roddenberry's other genre pilot of the time, "The Questor Tapes," (or Spock and McCoy of Star Trek) as Sebastian was often brusque and coldly logical, while Ham was better with people.
Englishwoman Ann Bell (as Anitra Cyon) appears at Sebastian’s home in the U.S. to withdraw her earlier request for the men for help her family; she does so while standing in front of a fireplace that makes her dress nearly translucent, so we shouldn’t be surprised that she turns out to be a succubus. Even so, the Cyon family jets the two to London to solve the mystery of the family curse, which devolves into a safe-for-TV version of a Hammer Horror film, with not-too-subtle references to sexual depravity. It seems the family has unleashed Asmodeus, the demon of lust, and one of them is possessed by it.
Culp walks the edge.
In the end (not to anyone's surprise, so this isn't really a SPOILER), Sebastian defeats the demon, and a curse he has suffered is cured. But once they return to America, Sebastian receives a painting from the surviving Cyons, and on it is the symbol of Asmodeus — freeze frame and fade to black as the violins screech.

Co-written by Samuel A. Peeples, and directed by Clive Donner, the film also features a (relatively) young John Hurt as Mitri, the younger brother in the Cyon family. Majel Barrett Roddenberry appears as Sebastian’s housekeeper (and witch) Lilith, who cures Ham’s alcoholism with a spell. The older Cyon brother is played by James Villiers, a British character actor who appeared in numerous movies and TV shows including Hammer's "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb."
Watch the complete pilot here (it is one with momentary nudity, but blink and you'll miss it):

Friday, July 10, 2015

Reviewing a bombastic weekend, ‘super’ pilot

Jerry Dorsey by the rocket's red glare
PANAMA CITY BEACH — It was a low-impact July 4th at our place: We cooked a rack of ribs, grilled burgers, splashed in the neighborhood pool, and watched “Independence Day.” At dark, we carried folding chairs to view the Panama City fireworks from the beach side of St. Andrew Bay, sitting in the dark along the sand at the public access off Delwood Beach Road.

“These chairs are about worn out,” my wife said, and I told her they still had life in them. A minute later, mine collapsed and I hit the sand.

Nearby, a group of sky-watchers played the radio, listening to patriotic music synchronized to the fireworks — until the guy a little further down the beach drowned them out by cranking up his boom box to play country songs. (He also shouted profanity at invisible terrorists, who we were better than because, in his words, “we’re sending rockets into the sky.”)

When the second song began, my son said, “He’s playing the same song again,” but I corrected him: “It just sounds like the same song. Every country hit these days sounds like every other country hit. 
In a second, it’ll turn into just a list of adjectives and nouns, followed by a guitar solo.”

About the time the third song started, my wife’s cell phone chimed in, playing a YouTube video of Englebert Humperdinck singing “What’s Up, Pussycat?” — while we kvetched, she googled. Once again, it’s Debra for the win.


Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El/Danvers
Speaking of things that fly and cause explosions, I also got a chance to view the upcoming CBS “Supergirl” TV series pilot (premiering Oct. 26), and it’s both exactly what I feared and most of what a comic book fan could ever hope for.

That is, it falls prey to both superhero and romantic-comedy tropes (though it plays with them appropriately, such as the trying-out-costumes montage) and it manages to take its heroine seriously, setting up her battle against a slew of bad guys worthy of her prowess.

The central actor, Melissa Benoist as Kara Zor-El/Danvers, is delightful. At turns goofy and determined, she provides all the emotions needed to ground a crazy concept like this. Unlike the brooding heroes of “Arrow” and “Daredevil,” this young woman seems happy to have powers, and isn’t afraid to use them to help people.

The effects are well done for television (such as a crashing jetliner segment glimpsed in the teaser), and the acting is above par for genre shows. I also appreciate the nods to “Super” history, from characters pulled from the comics to the actors filling cameo roles as Kara’s adoptive human parents. 

I’m looking forward to seeing what the show runners (who are also responsible for the breakout CW hit “The Flash” as well as “Arrow” and the upcoming “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”) can pull off on a weekly basis. So far, so good.

Up, up and away!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Writers' Jargon (9): Archetype, antagonist, protagonist

Writers have their own language. A shorthand, if you will. Outsiders (non-writers) think they know what most of these words and phrases mean. But they don't. Here, in a continuing series of posts, I will divulge the SECRET MEANINGS OF WRITERS' JARGON:

>>Earlier entries in the series<<

Archetype: (noun) What you prefer your characters to be recognized as rather than “cliché.”

Antagonist: (noun) The kid with the magnifying glass, focusing sunlight on ants.

Protagonist: (noun) The agony of the proletariat.

To be continued...

Monday, July 06, 2015

Early success for 'The Changeling'

I released the first segment (of 3) of The Caliban Cycle on July 1 as an Amazon Kindle book. The Changeling shot to No. 91 in the US Horror category over the next couple of days, but has been in a slow decline since then. If you haven't purchased a copy, please do (it's only 99 cents). And if you have, then please leave a review; not only would I appreciate the feedback, but each review helps the book find an audience by convincing the Amazon robots that readers would like to discuss this one.


Saturday, July 04, 2015

Drive-In Saturday: 'Dark Intruder'

(Welcome to the new iteration of 'Drive-In Saturday.' I'm going to be reviewing a new "dark detective" or paranormal investigator story each week. We'll start with one I watched this week with my son, "Dark Intruder," which you may never have heard of, but in weeks to come we'll also look at more well known such stories of occult detectives, including Kolchak, Dresden, and others.)

I learned about Dark Intruder via an email from Lovecraft Ezine, which regularly reviews and shares movies and books influenced by H.P. Lovecraft's work. There's a great examination of this little 59-minute movie at this link.

The short version: It's 1890, and Leslie Nielsen (best known these days for the Police Squad TV show that gave us the Naked Gun films — though I'll always think of him as the saucer commander on Forbidden Planet) plays the lead, Brett Kingsford, who carefully cultivates the outward appearance of a laughing dandy, while secretly helping local police battle occult menaces. He even disguises himself (a la Sherlock Holmes) to keep the beat cops from recognizing him when he needs to talk to the commissioner and access a crime scene.

This was a pilot for a TV series, but wasn't picked up for any number of reasons. It's easy to see why networks would be uneasy about it, as it is scary (for its day) and doesn't shy from demonic references. Using the black-and-white production limitations to good effect, it incorporates great noirish use of shadows and mist to heighten suspense. It plays almost like a Hammer film, in that respect, and as the above-linked article notes, its writer had some experience in that area also.

But what amazed me most was the fatalism in the script (which, given the Lovecraftian elements, probably should not have been so surprising). Without SPOILING too much (I hope), it shows us a hero who fails at every turn. Like John Constantine in the Vertigo comics, Kingsford manages to survive, but may have a mob of ghosts haunting him — the spirits of those whose lives he failed to save.

>>You can watch the film for yourself here.<<

Of interest to fans of Lovecraft will be mentions of creatures from his mythos, as well as the concept of them returning to our world. I was intrigued also by the body horror inherent in (possible SPOILER) the way the deformed conjoined twin plot line was built.

Finally, it's worth noting that Nielsen is a wonder to watch, shifting from the easily amused socialite to the deadly-serious occult investigator in the blink of an eye. I'd have gladly followed a series of his adventures before the turn of the century.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Reflections on a week of import

Father and Son
PANAMA CITY BEACH — My son, Nathan, turned 27 earlier this week. I don’t know about how you respond to the passage of such dates, but that day made me look back at myself at 27 and try to imagine where I thought life would take me then.

I turned 27 in 1991, just a month after Nathan’s third birthday and couple of months before my daughter was born. I was back in college after several years of working for a retail outlet — on my way to a degree in Journalism, finally, and working freelance for a couple of local publications to help cover the bills.

Two years later, I would be hired by The News Herald and move my little family to Panama City. But in ’91, we had a spitz puppy named Everest and lived in a house owned by my mother, and I had dreams of making it as a reporter and novelist.

I still do.

Looking at my 51st birthday looming now, it would be easy to say the best days are in the past and to worry what the future holds. But I have to say, we (as a family) have weathered some dark days in the interim, and we hope for some great ones still to come.

As I sit here, writing this on the day my latest novel begins its serialized release on Amazon Kindle, I know that there are still stories to tell — indeed, more than I will ever have time to write down — still milestones to reach and wonders to witness. The marriage of children and birth of grandchildren, for instance. The next laugh at a lunch table.

I have more close friends today than at any time since high school. I have great expectations for my children, and a certain assurance that they have acquired the skills and strengths they will need to flourish even when I’m gone.

At 27, things were just getting started and I was struggling to find my way. At nearly 51, though some days can make me feel my age, I still have a sense that things are just getting started. I still struggle, still have worries. But most days the path is there, if I take a moment to see it.

How about you? Are you finding your path? Can you look back and see the trajectory that brought you here?


Check out Tony’s latest fiction by visiting for details.