Saturday, October 30, 2010

Green Lantern vs. Captain America: Tale of Entertainment Weekly Superhero Hunks

 I have no idea if Green Lantern (a new film based on a superhero comic I never followed) and Captain America (based on another superhero comic I never followed) are going to be any good. As far as eye candy goes, though, it'll be a fun contest.

I admit to being pleased to see Chris Evans headline the Captain film; I thought he was fun to watch in the Fantastic Four films (again, based on a comic I never followed – frankly, superhero comics never were big for me).

But I'll have to give my preview vote to a third film,  Green Hornet, for now, because it co-stars Chinese actor-singer Jay Chou, of whom I'm quite a fan. Unless I've missed it, Green Hornet has not yet gotten an Entertainment Weekly cover story. When it does, I say put Chou on the cover. I am primarily a fan of his music; he and David Tao are arguably the best at mixing R&B, rap, pop, and traditional Chinese music into powerful tunes.

But I am also a fan of Chou's acting. You might remember him as one of the princes in Curse of the Golden Flower, and he was very good in that. But I think a film that fits him even better was his early starring role in Initial D, a Chinese drift-racing film from 2005.

So, hey, Entertainment Weekly: Where's Jay Chou's cover story?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

China's New Bullet Trains Reminds Us U.S. is Standing Still

The front page of the Financial Times this morning shows off two science-fictionish-looking bullet trains that have just gone into service between Shanghai and Hangzhou. Yes, the People's Republic of China has just added two new cool super-fast trains to its network of rapid rail that, the FT informs us, now extends 7,430 kilometers. I don't know what that is in miles and am too lazy to look up the conversion, but I know it's a lot.

Meanwhile, California is still squabbling over building a north-to-south high-speed rail line in the state. The California version will travel slower than the 400 km/h of the Chinese trains, but much faster than the usual slow rail traffic in this country.

What's happened to us? Why aren't cutting-edge trains and bridges and skyscrapers being built here in the United States? Are we too lazy? (Okay, okay, so 7,430 kilometers equals 4,616.788 miles, and 400 km/h equals 248.54848 miles per hour -- so I've proven that Americans can reform.) Too cheap? Too worried about government spending needed to do giant infrastructure projects? Or – and I think this is the main reason – do we no longer care?

I can be tempted to sympathize with that last reason. I get easily tired of the boosterism of most people in most places, for whom being the biggest and best is a self-justifying pursuit. New Yorkers think they're the center of the universe. San Franciscans think they're the coolest people ever. Texans think nothing can't be made better by making it bigger and gaudier. And we'll easily get tired of the boosterism and the boasting of other countries, such as China's rapidly expanding national economy and ego.

But Americans' lack of interest in being cutting-edge on technology and infrastructure strikes me less as a modest and mature reaction to having achieved a great deal, and more like a rejection of the concept of advancement and technology (and science) altogether. I don't think it's a coincidence that our country's fundamentalist religions are gaining strength and political power at the same time as our country has lost its fascination with how the world really works. Instead, the new spiritualism seems more dedicated to defending how we feel things are, and that's not how science works.

You can't build a 248-mph bullet train without science. Jesus and St. Paul (and the Talmud and Dianetics and the Koran and every other religious source) didn't leave us directions on building bullet trains. That's okay. I don't want Deepak Chopra or Rev. Al Sharpton performing brain surgery or designing suspension bridges, and I don't want Sir Richard Branson or Steve Jobs giving me warmed-over Wired editorials as pop spirituality.

Defenders of America's drift often claim that China's able to do these giant leaps of technology because it has an authoritarian government. But Europe is filled with countries that are even more democratic than the United States, and they're building record-breaking tunnels and bridges and high-speed trains all across that continent.

Another tactic these defenders of staying put use is to argue that private enterprise will build these things in the United States, and we don't need government involvement and funding. If that were true, of course, we'd already have privately built high-speed rail here, but we don't. I'm all for a vibrant and expanding private sector; as I've written here before, I think one of the best things to happen to space technology has been the government's near-exit from the field and private industry's embrace. But let's face it: Private enterprise will be just as happy designing and building the trains and bridges and buildings in Asia or South America or wherever as they would be building them here. Whoever cuts them a check.

Yesterday I read these words by David Gergen, a longtime presidential aide and political commentator, that he spoke at The Commonwealth Club recently:
[T]he reason America became the number-one nation in the world was that we had the best educational system in the world. As of 1900 we were the most-educated people in the world, and we continued to improve the quality of education in this country right through the first decades of the 1900s. Every generation went to school on average two years more than their parents did, and that happened generation after generation after generation. As of the 1960s, we were number-one in college graduation rates in the world, and we had and continue to have the best universities in the world. But since the 1960s and ’70s, since that “Nation at Risk” report, we have actually gone downhill very rapidly. We are now number 15 in terms of college graduation rates. And you know a third of our kids are not finishing high school, another third finish but are not ready for college, not ready for 21st-century jobs, only a third come through the system. We talk about No Child Left Behind – it’s a joke; we are leaving millions of children behind. That’s because we haven’t come to deal yet with this chronic condition.
Gergen identifies part of this overall decline, which is we're just feeding less-educated and less-equipped people into the world, while other countries are equipping their students better and better, all to the betterment of their economies.

I want bullet trains. I want spaceships. I want new cures for diseases. I want giant windmills offshore powering my cities. I want supercomputers. And I want them here, in the United States, as well as elsewhere.

But I fear the tidal forces of culture and history are going to hold back America for a while, until this new wave of superstition has run its course.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the Wake of Gene Roddenberry: The Starlog Project: Starlog #175, February 1992

On October 24, 1991, Gene Roddenberry passed away of heart failure at the relatively young age of 70. But you can read all of that on Wikipedia. This February 1992 issue of Starlog explores at length the impact that Roddenberry had while he was alive, particularly in terms of his creation and shepherding of Star Trek, which was, after all, the namesake and inspiration for Starlog magazine itself.

Starlog’s staff pulls out all of the stops for a 20-page salute to Roddenberry that includes contributions from many of the actors, writers, directors, and other artists who worked in the Trek universe, bookended by editor David McDonnell and former publisher Kerry O’Quinn, who knew Roddenberry well. In essence, it’s a print version of a wake for the man, and though it’d be overkill in most other magazines, it seems entirely appropriate in Starlog.

I do not remember who said this, but it has always stuck with me: The 1960s Star Trek series got worse as it progressed and creator Gene Roddenberry’s involvement was limited; however, Star Trek: The Next Generation got better as it progressed and Roddenberry’s involvement was limited. By noting that – and that I agree with it – I do not intend to slight Gene Roddenberry. If anything, it shows that the greater control he had to create Next Generation was reflected in having a staff and fictional creation that could thrive even as Roddenberry’s health declined.

Starlog #175
100 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $5.95

Okay, the cover promises a “special 25-pg. tribute celebrating” Roddenberry, but by my count, it’s closer to 20 pages (starting on page 41 and ending on 60), but there are a few other Trek articles in the issue, so they might’ve been counting those. Maybe they counted the letters pages. Not sure. (Also, in this issue, the mag replaces its usual two-page back-issues ad with a one-page ad that compiles all of the past issues of the magazine featuring Star Trek articles. Talk about knowing your audience!)

However you do that math, this edition is still a special 100-pager with a high-for-its-time $5.95 price tag; but, hey, it’s only £3.50 if you’re in Britain. Next issue, the magazine returns to its regular size but boosts its usual cover price from $4.50 to $4.95, where it will stay (with a very minor variation) for almost a decade.

The rundown: The cover copy of “Is this the end of Enterprise?” over a photo of the starship is meant to refer to the new film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, but it ties in nicely with the Roddenberry obit this issue; between the exhaustive coverage of the film and the death of its creator, readers should be able to answer with a definitive “No” after they’re done reading. Meanwhile on the contents page, a photo of hook – just a metal hook – illustrates this issue’s coverage of the Steven Spielberg film Hook.

It’s an abbreviated Medialog column from David McDonnell this month, but he does manage to tell us that Tri-Star is planning Taking Liberty, a film about the hikacking of a space shuttle; Dan Yakir profiles William Shatner on his expected Trek swan song, Star Trek VI – little did they know, you can’t kill Jim Kirk – and Pat Jankiewicz contributes a sidebar chat with Jon Vitti, who discusses Shatner’s famous “Get a life” skit from Saturday Night Live; the five-page Communications section is devoted to letters eulogizing Gene Roddenberry, plus Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features Frankenstein’s monster; the Fan Network pages include Lia Pelosi’s fan club and publications directory, plus the convention calendar; David Hutchison’s Videolog column announces the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, plus other genre releases; and Booklog reviews A Bridge of Years, Mirabile, Dawn for a Distant Earth, The Emancipator I: The Pharoah Contract, The Time Patrol, Voyage to the Red Planet, Dream Baby, and Lunar Descent.

Ian Spelling interviews actor Michael Dorn, who plays the best Klingon ever, Worf; Kim Howard Johnson and Hank Kanalz preview the new Star Wars comics from Dark Horse Comics; Ian Spelling next checks in with actress Nichelle Nichols, who discusses Trek classic and new; Kerry O’Quinn kicks off the Roddenberry section with his column, “My Friend, Gene,” which recounts how they became friends and delighted in sharing ideas with each other; Lee Goldberg profiles the late producer in “The Creator’s Tale”; a four-page article, “Celebrating the Creator,” collects statements about Roddenberry from George Takei, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Wil Wheaton, Carel Struycken, Whoopi Goldberg, Mark Lenard, Ralph Winter, Michael Dorn, LeVar Burton, Ray Bradbury, Brandon Tartikoff, and Gates McFadden; “The Creator’s Legacy” features writers from the Star Trek franchise: Howard Weinstein, Carmen Carter, Peter David, J.M. Dillard, Robert Greenberger, Diane Carey, A.C. Crispin, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and Brad Ferguson; and editor David McDonnell wraps it all up in his Liner Notes column by noting the impact of Roddenberry’s life and death on the science-fiction universe.

In non-Trek news, Lynne Stephens interviews Hook designer John Napier; Marc Shapiro talks with Hook’s production designer, Norman Garwood; Will Murray visits the set of Freejack and talks with director Geoff Murphy; Karl Shook chats with actor and former Avenger Patrick Macnee about The Avengers, Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., Sherlock Holmes in New York, and more; Jean Airey interviews actor Nickolas Grace, who portrays the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin of Sherwood; and the dinosaur stampede is beginning (to be increased in future years), as Marc Shapiro reports on the TV revival of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost.
“The last time I spoke with him was a few months ago. I called Gene [Roddenberry] at home one Sunday evening with some questions involving philosophy. ‘We’re just going out to dinner,’ he said, and I quickly replied, ‘Let me call you at a more convenient time.’ ‘No, no – let’s talk,’ Gene insisted. ‘I’m so delighted to hear from you.’ And in that single, sincere sentence, Gene summed himself up. He showed that he wanted, always, to be available to his friends – that despite the marvelous aliens who emerged from his head, he cherished above all the companionship of humans.”
–Kerry O’Quinn, columnist, “From the Bridge: ‘My Friend, Gene’”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Starlog Days: Interview with Carr D‘Angelo

Above: Starlog Managing Editor Carr D'Angelo in the Starlog offices in 1986. Photo courtesy Carr D'Angelo.

A quarter century ago, magazines had not yet been knocked off their business models. Large mass-market magazines still counted many millions of copies sold and many millions more readers each issue. Smaller publishers filled up the remaining space on newsstands with niche publications and one-shots as they chased trends.

There were many of these smaller, entrepreneurial publishers, but one of the most successful and visible was the New York-based Starlog family of periodicals. Known for much of the 1980s as O’Quinn Studios (after co-publisher Kerry O’Quinn), and later as Starlog Communications International and eventually Starlog Group, its products included dozens of magazines in nearly every genre. Science fiction. Comics. Horror. Women‘s lifestyle. Professional wrestling. Baseball. Country music. And on and on. 

Like many independent publishers, Starlog kept costs down – and profits up – by having its staff work on multiple titles. To learn more about life in the center of the storm, we interviewed Carr D’Angelo, a mid-1980s editorial staffer for science-fiction film magazine Starlog, when he wasn’t busy writing captions for wrestling magazines or putting together rock one-shot specials. 

Arguably, the 1980s were the last great decade of the magazine industry. But it was also a time of big changes. By the latter part of the decade, desktop publishing was pushing into the publisher’s offices, resulting in changing processes (good-bye, typesetters) and new page design fads (hello, bright pastel colors and over-designed text treatments). 

From starvation salaries to interviewing muscled actor Dolph Lundgren to chaperoning Freddy Krueger, D’Angelo explains what it was like in the Starlog offices.

JOHN ZIPPERER: How (and when and why) did you get involved with Starlog? Had you had a journalism background before you joined the company?

CARR D‘ANGELO: It was the fall of 1984, the year I graduated from college. My journalism background was the high school newspaper and fanzines. In college and post-college, I was working for a public relations firm, where I discovered my talent for proofreading – via press-releases – and copy-editing – via transcribing conferences and turning them into a readable dialogue.  

In terms of job-hunting, I would go through the ads for editorial assistants in The New York Times. Mostly I was looking for publications where I was interested in the subject matter. I think the Starlog ad said something like movie, TV, wrestling magazines. It might have mentioned science fiction or horror specifically, but I don't remember. It also mentioned the low salary. The ironic part is that Dave McDonnell had also placed a notice via an article in the Comics Buyer's Guide, of which I was essentially a lifetime subscriber going back to the TBG days when Dave was doing his Media column.  
The notice in CBG emphasized working for Starlog and to a lesser extent Fangoria. I sent in a resume and letter with a full-court push. When I was called for the interview, Dave mentioned that I was the only person who applied twice. I guess that fit their profile: someone who read both The New York Times and the Comics Buyer's Guide. When I heard that, I really hoped they were not the ad that listed the absurdly low salary. They were.

ZIPPERER: A question you might not want to answer, but if you do: Starlog’s former staffers have occasionally noted online that they were paid ... terribly. Care to tell me what your salary was as managing editor?

D‘ANGELO: As editorial assistant in 1984, the salary was $9,000 a year. That was less than $175 a week. It was crazy, but it was the only job I was offered at that time, and I really wanted to work for a magazine that covered science-fiction movies. The PR gig was part-time and didn't really lead to what I was interested in, which was the entertainment industry. I think when I got the promotion to managing editor in 1985, I got bumped up to $11,000; by the time I left, I think my total annual salary was closer to $14,000, but that also included a few freelance payments here and there for some of the spin-off magazines. But I was also supplementing my income with other freelancing and even teaching SAT prep courses. 

Dave McDonnell knew the staff was overworked and underpaid, so when extra magazines like the Aliens movie magazines or Star Trek IV books were added to the schedule, he would include additional editorial payments into the budget, since those projects would result in us working overtime. 

ZIPPERER: What were your duties at Starlog?

D‘ANGELO: When I first started as editorial assistant, the main job was proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. And that was for every magazine the Starlog Group was publishing. In addition to the main magazines Starlog and Fangoria, there were teen magazines, wrestling magazines, soap opera magazines. There was additional copywriting/editing for the wrestling magazines, since it was mostly about the photos and the text pieces that came in needed a lot of punching up.

Every now and then, we the assistants would be tossed a special project. A guy named Max Rottersman and I co-edited a magazine called Rock Stars Scrapbook, which was simply a collection of publicity photos and edited bios of 50 or 60 pop acts. Maybe it also had posters? But it was just about creating another product for the publishers to sell to newsstands. Since Max and I were on salary, there were virtually no production costs to that magazine outside of printing. 

Also, we wrote captions. Dave McDonnell had a photo piece for an issue that was the "Women of Science Fiction," basically an excuse to run another photo of Carrie Fisher in the Slave Leia gold bikini. It got expanded another page or two and he gave me a bunch of photos to write captions for. Since there was no article, the captions were clever little paragraphs about each actress. Dave had written the first batch, and I figured my assignment was to match his style. Apparently, he liked the job I did on that, and I was given a lot more of that kind of work. 

As managing editor, the job was really support for what Dave was doing as editor. The magazine at that point was his vision. He assigned writers and articles. He laid out the issue, picked the photos. Mostly, I did the first pass at copyediting all the manuscripts as they came in. That included titling the article and also writing the copy block/summary of the article along with the sub-heads that would break up the copy. Those tasks were fun and were the opportunity to be creative and clever and maybe even funny. 

At one point, Eddie Berganza – now an editor at DC Comics – and I were given responsibility for a section called Fan Network, which I think you mention in your overviews. Kerry O'Quinn really wanted that section to be a big part of the magazine, but it was a bitch to put together, as we did not have the massive amount of fan submissions coming in. Digging up fan news that could also be presented visually was not easy. I remember Kerry was not happy with the first couple of pages. He thought there were these great fan stories out there and I just wasn't finding them. We ran one story about a guy who built a life-size replica of the Galileo 7 from Star Trek and I thought that was cool, but Kerry burst my bubble by telling me that Starlog had already run that story.

And of course, proofreading. I would say I read every Starlog article about 5 times, from the first pass, to the copyediting, to the proofreading of the galleys, to the proofreading of the actual paste-up boards – to make sure the art department did not re-arrange the text – and then maybe again when the issue came out. 

At the time, Starlog was also involved with doing conventions with Creation Conventions, and we would serve as hosts and moderators at those shows. We did a show in Boston once, and one of my jobs was to escort Robert Englund around. He is an extremely nice guy, and that led to me doing a really cool interview with him for Fangoria

I also tended to be responsible for comic-book coverage. Starlog had published a magazine called Comics Scene before I got there, and we made that an occasional section in the magazine, but in Starlog, we focused on science-fiction comics only. We wouldn’t run a story on Batman. Eventually, we revived Comics Scene while I was there, and I wrote a bit for Comics Scene as a freelancer over the years. 

ZIPPERER: Tell me a bit about what it was like to work there. How much control did editor David McDonnell have over the magazine – i.e., did he have a lot of freedom to plan it the way he wanted, or were the publishers heavily involved? How much influence did you have?

D‘ANGELO: The magazine was definitely working according to Dave's plan at that point editorially. Generally, working with the possible movies and TV shows that were coming out that would fall under our domain, Dave would assign a writer to do an article or usually a series of articles on the upcoming project. In my opinion, I think we generated too much inventory on certain projects. Since we were always working months ahead, it would sometimes happen that a movie came out, flopped and we still had two or three articles coming out. That sometimes made the magazine feel behind the curve. 

The magazine was designed to be a mix of the new and the old, and that was its strength and weakness. There was pretty much a commitment to running interviews with anyone and everyone who had anything to do with the original 1960s Star Trek series. Dave loved old character actors, and we would run a lot of interviews with them. There were also things that were not science fiction per se, like James Bond and old pulps, but would find their way into the magazine. 

The main editorial note from our bosses was to be more visual, and the magazine evolved design-wise in that era. But the magazine was always copy-heavy, including the cover lines, which tried to list everything in the magazine. One of the big changes was to drop the copy over an enlarged photo to jazz up the layout. 

One thing I’m proud of was an article called "The Other Marty McFly." It was very unusual for Starlog, as it was an analysis of the time travel plot in Back to the Future. The article was brought to us by David Hutchison, who was the in-house special effects expert and editor of the beloved Cinemagic publications. David was friends with Bruce Gordon, who was a Disney Imagineer. It did not fit the typical Starlog format, which was virtually all one-on-one interviews, with the occasional historical overview thrown in. 

I was always pushing for more fun kind of articles that could keep popular projects covered in the magazine. One of my favorite articles I ever read was a Filmfax article that came out after Empire Strikes Back and speculated about what might happen in the next Star Wars movie. It was full of all sorts of crazy theories about what the Clone Wars were about and who the "other" might be. I wanted to get more ideas like that in the magazine.

The Marty McFly proposal blew me away, and ultimately the article proves that, parallel to the movie we watched, there is another Marty McFly who is the son of the cool McFly parents, gets Doc Brown killed and finds himself returning to a 1985 where his parents are losers. Basically, the two Martys switch timelines. It was a fight to get that kind of article approved for the magazine. From the fan mail, we got, it turned out to be incredibly popular. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale even wrote in and said that the article touched on things they were planning for the sequel (which turned out to be the idea of two time-traveling Martys visiting the same period). 

After that, there were more articles like that, [such as] one about the Aliens in the Cameron movie, as well as sequels to the Marty McFly article about the next two BTTF movies.

ZIPPERER: During your time at Starlog, what was the interview or article you wrote that you enjoyed the most (and why)? 

D‘ANGELO: While on staff? I think the dream come true was talking to Christopher Reeve on the phone for Superman IV. That was actually for Comics Scene magazine, and it was one of those cases where we needed more quotes than we had in the original interview. Superman the Movie is and was my favorite superhero movie, Reeve was a hero of mine, so that was a memorable moment. It was not a great article, as it was a patchwork piece, but I still can remember the sound of his voice on the phone. I think he was calling from Canada and started the conversation with a mention of how he was tired from flying. I don't recall if I used that in the article. He said it very off-handedly, and I was never sure if it was a joke he deliberately used to break the ice. 

The Star Trek Cruise article was also a lot of fun. That's an article I like, because I really had to recreate an experience and tell the story of this weekend cruise with the cast of the original 1960s Star Trek. Again, it stood out from the usual interview format of the magazine. 

And I will always be fond of the first interview I did: actor Peter Coyote, who was a fascinating interview. He was doing publicity for the thriller Jagged Edge. But because he was "Keys" in E.T., we made a point to interview him. He said a couple of things that always stuck with me and taught me how to get a good interview.

One was that, for him, E.T. was the story of a dedicated scientist trying to save the world from a biological threat that had invaded the planet. The second was how spiritually lifting it was to see one of the disabled actors who operated E.T. greet the world with such joy each day. 

ZIPPERER: And what did you enjoy the least?

D‘ANGELO: Can I admit I was never a fan of the 1960s Star Trek TV show, though I loved the movies starting with Wrath of Khan? So all that material was a struggle, because it was in a foreign language to me. I was more of a Twilight Zone guy, but I think we avoided The Twilight Zone because they had their own magazine at the time. 

The Fan Network section as I said earlier was always a struggle. And the one time I got a pic I was excited about, a cos-player in a really cool Robin the Boy Wonder costume, the art director ran it in black and white on a color page. That kind of disconnect between editorial and the art department was always frustrating. 

ZIPPERER: In his web sites, former Fangoria editor Bob Martin has noted the politics of dealing with movie studios and how he avoided the worst of their politicking because in his time, Fango was ignored or derided, so they didn’t push him too much. You’ve worked with studios as a journalist and you worked inside Hollywood as a producer. Could you say anything about the challenges of genre journalists working with studios, and how to do it well? 

D‘ANGELO: Not really. Dave had good relationships with the publicists he primarily dealt with, a couple of whom were the primary genre publicists in the field. When there were projects not covered by those guys, it was sometimes a harder battle to make a studio realize that it was important to play to the fan base. Of course, it is hard to imagine that now, when Comic-Con is ground-zero for most studios' PR efforts for everything!

ZIPPERER: In a comment on my blog, you explained the “Starlog Process” of assembling a story, in which the editors sometimes had to set up follow-up phone calls with interview subjects to get additional material for an article. That leads to the obvious, juicy question, if you care to answer it: Did you have any interview subject horror stories, someone who was terribly difficult or otherwise a problem to deal with? If so, who and what happened?

D‘ANGELO: I actually like the way the article came out, but I remember interviewing Dolph Lundgren was a difficult task. The explanation was that he had tooth surgery or something, so he was kind of out of it. I also found it hard to interview and write about people I was not that interested in. And as little as I had to say about [Lundgren‘s movie] He-Man, I think Dolph had less to say. There just wasn't a lot to talk about. 

When I interviewed Mandy Patinkin for Alien Nation, he was in his alien make-up and very uncomfortable, because it covered his whole head. He was also unhappy that for legal reasons, his character couldn’t be called “George Jetson,” which was the name in the script when he accepted the part. So he expressed a lot of anger during the interview, which made it a great interview but also made me a little uneasy sitting there. 

I also interviewed James Caan for Alien Nation, and that was a tough conversation. This is a legend who was in The Godfather, and we have to find a couple thousand words about this science fiction movie he signed on for. He liked telling long, wandering stories about his experiences in Hollywood, but at the end of the day, it didn’t leave me a lot of material for a James Caan profile. He kind of argued with the premise of every question, so it was real cut-and-paste job for me at the end of the day. 

ZIPPERER: Former Starlog Art Director Howard Cruse told me that he saw changing technology over the years, from when he was pasting up boards as art director to when he would visit in later years to drop off art work; typesetters, then no typesetters, then different computers, then desktop publishing. What changes to you remember from your time there? Starlog was a small magazine publisher; was it behind the times, current, or ahead of the times in terms of its internal technology?

D‘ANGELO: When I was there, we were getting typewritten manuscripts or, in some cases, printed on dot-matrix printers, which were hard to read. We would handwrite our editing notes and a typesetter retyped the articles, and that led to human error. After I left, I do recall that articles were being sent in electronically and copy-edited on computer, which gives the editor much more control, obviously.
The big technological advancement while I was there was fax. When writers relied on the mail, they had to be a few days in advance of their deadline. Then they started using Fedex to overnight, and then they started faxing articles at the last possible minute.

Graphically, there were design improvements, as I mentioned; more color in the magazine. And I think that was due to new graphic tools that were available.

Word-processing did affect the articles, because it made putting together articles easier. With a computer, you could transcribe your interview, edit the quotes, group them, find themes and then write an article around them. That was a best-case scenario. I had a few writer friends who were a bit lazy and would literally just type up the transcript and add as little additional text as possible.

That kind of article would read something like: Directing on Star Trek is fun, but also hard work, according to Nimoy. “It was fun,” Nimoy says. “But also hard work. We would start at 5 a.m., but by night time we’d be laughing from exhaustion.” And that would be followed by a dozen paragraphs of quotes with no further elaboration. 

If there was time, I would kick it back to the writer, but occasionally I would just rework the story. By the way, I just used Nimoy as an easy example — I am not citing a particular story.

ZIPPERER: You left Starlog after the January 1988 issue – in which you penned a good-bye column on the last page. You have been involved in the movie business, and you currently have two comics stores in the LA area. How did that come about?

D‘ANGELO: In a nutshell, I moved to LA knowing I could generate some income as a Starlog freelancer. Ironically, my editorial skills led me to fill out an application at Universal Studios for the script department. I figured there was a division that proofread and published scripts. I was wrong, but that flagged my app for the Story Department, which is the script library and the department where submissions get read by story analysts who write up reports (called coverage) on each script. I began as a file clerk but started reading scripts on the side and got a job as a script reader. My magazine background trained me for churning out synopses quickly. That led to becoming a development and production executive, which led to the relationships that led to me being offered the opportunity to produce a couple movies several years ago. 

Eventually, I did cross paths with people I knew from the Starlog era. I developed an early version of the Incredible Hulk with Gale Anne Hurd. I had met and interviewed her on the Alien Nation set – that was one of those movies Starlog ran about eight stories on – and there I was working with her as the studio executive. 

Because the movie business is so mercurial and as a producer you can have lots of time between projects, my wife suggested I find a second business. She noticed I was fascinated with trends in the comic book industry and suggested opening a store. I partnered with Jud Meyers, and we opened Earth-2 Comics Sherman Oaks in 2003. In 2007, we won the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailing Award, which is given out at San Diego Comic-Con each year. In 2009, we acquired a second location in Northridge. I am also active as a member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, a trade association for comic book retailers. 

ZIPPERER: I jokingly call my fellow former colleagues from Internet World magazine the “Internet World diaspora,” because we keep in touch even though we’re now dispersed far and wide. Do you keep in touch with your former colleagues from your Starlog days?

D‘ANGELO: Facebook has been good for that, and I see DC Comics Editor Eddie Berganza when I get to New York or when he comes out for Comic-Con. I occasionally see Lee Goldberg, who has been writing TV shows and novels and has a great blog about writing. I follow Brian Lowry’s column and reviews in Variety. I would see some of the gang at conventions, but mostly it’s watching what everyone is up to on Facebook. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why You Should Vote. Every Election

Over at California Forward, writer Joe Mathews has posted a note on the blog explaining that he won't be voting in this election because regardless of who wins in November, the state of California won't get the systemic governance reform that it needs.

Now, I agree that California needs reform. It needs redistricting reform (which voters wisely supported last election, only to have to defend it in this election). It needs budget reform, taxation reform, criminal justice reform, referendum reform, and on and on. But I think Mathews is horribly wrong to think we're more likely to get them if we don't do our civic duty in the election.

Here's the comment I left on his blog post:
This reminds me of the late editor of The Progressive magazine, Erwin Knoll, who before his death in 1994 would write a syndicated op-ed column each election season telling people he wasn't going to vote because the choices on the ballot were too similar. I thought he was irresponsible then, and I think Mr. Mathews is irresponsible today.
A republic is not about perfection or even sometimes the good. It's just what we've got, and to choose not to participate in an election should mean that the rest of us don't have to listen to a word of political commentary from you until the next time we put things up for a vote.
Just as Mr. Knoll was wrong – really? no difference between Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan? – so too is Mr. Mathews. He writes, "Not voting is a vote for trashing that system, and starting over." Seriously? Are you 13? Not voting is a decision to let other people run the system, and they're hardly likely to do it in a way that's more to your liking. There are plenty of people and organizations who are happy to have you not vote, and it's not because they agree with your politics. It's because then they get to run things.
So if the Democrats just didn't deliver for you this year, you will not be sending them a message by not voting. You will be letting the Republicans do even worse next year.

Life in a republic is not about getting everything you want. It's about having to convince people and compromise and continuing to work for what you want. I wanted Hillary Clinton to be president; she didn't win; I moved on. I want Barack Obama to be stronger on consumer protection and gay rights; he hasn't been, but I think he's working toward being better on both fronts, and if the GOP grabs power again, both of those issues will go in exactly the opposite direction.

Vote. Even if you're a Republican, vote. If you're a Democrat, be sure to vote and tell your friends. Do not let the Joe Mathews and the Erwin Knolls of the world make it out to be cool or fashionable to skip voting. Because when your health care depends on the outcome of an election, when your small business depends on financial industry regulation, when your education and your employment and your immigration and your privacy and your pocketbook all stand to be negatively affected if the other side wins, then Mathews and Knoll are the absolutely last people to whom you should be listening.

All You Starlog Fans: Heads-up About Upcoming Feature Interview

In the next few days, Weimar World Service will be posting a Q&A with former Starlog managing editor (turned movie producer and award-winning comics retailer) Carr D'Angelo.

So make some popcorn, put the kids to bed, turn off your iPhone, and settle down in the living room with your significant other and keep watching this space.

Well, like I said, it'll be a couple days before I post it, so you should have some food and other provisions with you and be sure to schedule some bathroom breaks.

The Single Best Political Ad This Year

Jerry Brown's team put out this tough (and good) ad. It's proof that all attack ads are not necessarily made equal, and neither are they necessarily bad. This goes right to the heart of Whitman's reasons for seeking office, and it obliterates them.

President Obama Releases "It Gets Better" Video – I Assume He Means, His Gay Rights Policies

Smart-aleck remarks aside, he deserves credit for finally making a video.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Penthouse, Omni Publisher Bob Guccione Dies

Bob Guccione, creator and publisher of Penthouse and many other magazines, has died, notes MSNBC.

Out of the public eye for a number of years since losing control of his media empire (following a series of bad business decisions compounded by a changing media market – especially in the adult niche where he made most of his money – and government harassment), Guccione died in Plano, Texas, at the age of 79.

Guccione was a very controversial figure in society in general and publishing in particular. He started Penthouse magazine as a way to supplement his art career in England. The early years of the publication (as noted in this blog post of mine from a while back that continues to be one of my most-read posts – probably because a lot of people do searches on the magazine's name) were almost a comic affair, with the editor and a small handful of staffers trying to make the magazine and its impact look bigger than it was, working out of a small office and doing all the work themselves.

Of course, Penthouse grew dramatically, eventually reaching millions of copies in monthly sales and spawning a publishing empire that included everything from Omni and Longevity to Viva. The company also produced television programs, books, videos, web sites, comics, and more.

Viva was a 1970s attempt to do a magazine aimed at women, featuring somewhat nude men (less explicitly than Penthouse showed the women) along with health and political articles. It was a rather odd attempt; if you like Mickey Rourke and want to see him naked, then maybe you'll like the men in Viva. But Viva did bring to the publishing world something of greater value: its fashion editor, Anna Wintour, who would go on to great success at Vogue.

Throughout his career, Guccione careened from successes (such as Penthouse, or the early years of the science/science-fiction magazine Omni, which topped a million copies in monthly sales in the early 1980s before beginning a long decline) to failures (such as failed investments in casinos that were never built or in energy schemes that went nowhere). Along the way, he had the expected battles with feminists and the religious Right, winning some battles and losing others.

Though his core product, Penthouse, was not aimed at my demographic, that doesn't mean I'm unaware of his impact on the media world. I do not think Guccione is an icon in the way that Hugh Hefner is; Hefner changed the society instead of just riding a wave, and I think he set (and continues to set) a higher bar for thought and publishing. But Guccione made an impact by being willing to be brave and bold in his moves. Though far too many of Penthouse's articles were conspiracy-mucking, they could also be brave, such as when they took on Scientology. He also championed some of the top writers and editors in the country, such as Wintour, Ben Bova, Harlan Ellison, Carl Sagan, James A. Michener, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Philip K. Dick, and so many more.

Whether one liked or disliked his publications, I think it's worth noting that it was possible for one man to conceive of and then build a media empire the way he wanted to do it, to publish the ideas and artists that he wanted to showcase, and even to make the mistakes that he wanted to do. Far from being a bean-counting MBA heading up a soul-less corporate publishing company, Guccione ran his empire from his heart. Again, Penthouse wasn't my cup of tea (though Omni was), but I hope we haven't lost the ability for someone to do the same thing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sulu Gets a Promotion: The Starlog Project: Starlog #174, January 1992

Though Steven Spielberg’s overblown Hook film is the cover feature this month, the real news is contained in that “roof text” above the logo: “Gene Roddenberry 1921-1991.” Obviously the news arrived too late to do much to note it this month, so other than the cover text and a brief sidebar in the Medialog page, you’ll have to wait until #175, when the editors produce a 100-page issue with a large memorial to the Star Trek creator.

None of this should detract from the fact that Hook was typical Hollywood schtick, where you know beat-for-beat what emotional changes are going to happen before they happen, where you know what action has to take place and in what order (always save the big baddie for last!), where you know Robin Williams was miscast. Just because it’s aimed toward young people doesn’t mean it has to be lazy screenwriting and directing, Steve.

Not that I have an opinion.

Starlog #174
80 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.50

BTW: This is (unless my memory is rusty) the last $4.50 Starlog we’ll ever see. Next issue is a special extra-pages salute to Gene Roddenberry, and after that the magazine settles into a higher cover price, with a few added pages.

The rundown: None other than Dustin Hoffman is featured on this issue’s cover, in his guise as Captain Hook; but Starlog reaches back in time about a decade for a shot from John Carpenter’s The Thing to illustrate its contents page. Is it just me, or are the letters in Starlog’s Communications section getting longer? Across four pages, there are a grand total of five letters in small type, and they cover everything from recent Time Tunnel articles to Terminator 2-inspired political ruminations to more time-travel ideas, plus Mike Fisher’s Creature Feature is the War of the Worlds alien.

David McDonnell’s Medialog dispels some rumors about a revived Doctor Who, plus there's a four-paragraph sidebar noting the passing of Star Trek’s “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” Gene Roddenberry; Booklog reviews Ecce and Old Earth, The Dragon Reborn, Black Sun, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, Winds of Fate, Alien Tongue, and The Jungle; David Hutchison’s Videolog notes the release of the short-lived Dinosaurs sitcom on video; Fan Network includes Lia Pelosi’s fan club directory and a convention calendar; in his From the Bridge column, Kerry O’Quinn unearths The Best of Frederic Brown; and in the Tribute section, Tom Weaver remembers the late Frank Capra and Don Siegel, Anthony Timpone says good-bye to John Hoyt, and Ian Spelling does the honors for Wilfrid Hyde-White.

Starlog uses Patrick Stewart’s one-man Christmas Carol stage play as the foundation for Lynne Stephens’ interview with the Star Trek: The Next Generation star; meanwhile, Leonard Nimoy gives his possible-maybe Star Trek exit interview to Marc Shapiro; Tom Weaver reports on Dark Horse Comics’ new The Thing comic book; Ian Spelling writes the cover story, an interview with Hook screenwriter Jim Hart; and Ian Spelling interviews “Captain Sulu,” George Takei, whose character has finally been promoted to captain and given his own ship (but we never would get a Sulu-led TV series, as was occasionally rumored).

Christopher Lambert tells Marc Shapiro about his co-starring role in the largely unloved sequel Highlander II: The Quickening; don’t call it a RoboCop ripoff: Bill Wilson goes behind the scenes of Super Force (previously known as Super Cop), a television program that allegedly “proved popular in syndication, ranking in the top 15 first-run shows" (then why don’t I remember ever hearing about it?); interplanetary correspondent Michael Wolff and illustrator George Kochell look at Santa-themed fantasy films; Bill Warren checks in with writer George Clayton Johnson, who discusses his work on The Twilight Zone, Logan’s Run, and other productions, including his brief stint as an actor; Mark Phillips talks to actor Michael Dante, who guest-starred in the classic Star Trek episode “Friday’s Child”; and David McDonnell’s Liner Notes is a bit of a hodgepodge, ranging from asking for more subscribers to comments on fiction magazines to announcing “that inevitable, all-color Star Trtek VI: The Undiscovered Country Official Movie Magazine."
“In the mid-60s, [writer George Clayton] Johnson also made his movie debut as an actor – in fact, he made his only movie as an actor. Roger Corman had bought Charles Beaumont’s novel The Intruder, intending to make his first truly serious film out of the novel of Southern racial unrest. ‘Chuck [Beaumont] ... having sold this thing, was advised that he could come and watch it being shot, and he could even play a part. And the next thing we knew, Roger Corman is saying, “Why don’t you bring along a couple of your friends?”’ Beaumont, Johnson and William F. Nolan found themselves in steamy-hot Missouri playing supporting roles to William Shatner in The Intruder. (Many regard this as Shatner’s best performance.) Johnson and Nolan were a couple of nasty, racist rednecks who try to stop the arrival of civil rights in their Southern city; they’re actually both quite good in their roles, particularly Johnson as a giggling psychopath who seems just this side of a moron. ‘I practiced slouching around like the lout I grew up to be as a child in Cheyenne, and trying to play the Fonz in my own slovenly way.’”
–George Clayton Johnson, writer, interviewed by Bill Warren: “His Own Man”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Video: Timothy Geithner on the Dollar, Deficit Spending, and Business

Here are some short video excerpts from U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's October 18, 2010, program at The Commonwealth Club of California, in Palo Alto, Calif.

On the dollar:

On reforming federal spending:

On deficits:

On perception that Obama is anti-business:

Timothy Geithner: American vs. Japanese Responses to Economic Crisis

From The Commonwealth Club of California in Palo Alto today, oct. 18, 2010.

Timothy Geithner in Silicon Valley

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner came to Silicon Valley today to address The Commonwealth Club of California. Though I've worked at The Commonwealth Club for more than four years, this was the first time I traveled down to the Valley to catch one of our programs down there.

Today's event, which began at 1:00 pm Pacific time (probably not coincidentally, that's when the New York stock markets close) took place before a sold-out audience and about 40 members of the press.

In the photos below, Geithner (top) is viewed entering the Oshman Family JCC auditorium, where the event was held. Below, Geithner in discussion on stage with the moderator, Sequoia Capital's Michael Mortiz.

Photos by John Zipperer.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Carl Paladino Gets the Taiwan CGI Treatment

Honestly, every time I see one of these, I love Taiwan more and more. If the People's Republic of China ever succeeds in taking over Taiwan, they'll probably destroy this great video tradition. But until then, this is some of the best take-no-prisoners political slapstick around.

The 10 Best Reasons that Magazine Lists Are Worthless

A couple days ago, film critic Roger Ebert noted on his Twitter account that "Guardian picks #1 romantic film of all time. All such lists are bullshit."

He is, of course, correct. It being Twitter with a 140-character limit, we're left to fill in our own reasons for why he believes them to be BS. However, selecting the best of anything is likely a subjective exercise; it's also a waste of the reader's time, unless she just wants to get suggestions for possible romantic films to rent. (When it comes to reviewing films, I'm always reminded of writer Harlan Ellison's comment about film quality. Ellison is both knowledgable about film and unafraid of telling it like he sees it. But even someone as expert and opinionated as he admitted – and I'm paraphrasing here – that at some point, for many films, he simply either likes it or doesn't.

That said, I happen to agree with Ebert (and, of course, Ellison). And I want to expand upon his comment to fit in one of the themes of this blog: magazines. How often do you see a magazine with a special cover story shouting "10 Best Rock Songs of All Time" or "Readers Pick Top Senators" or whateverthehell? And did you buy the issue? Read the "article"? Were you impressed that somehow, this one magazine – out of the thousands published regularly – managed to find the absolutely best dive bars in Chicago or toughest bosses in the world or the sexiest chefs?

Here's the deal. Big list features are, to borrow an artful word from Mr. Roger Ebert, bullshit. With the arguable exception of consumer research publications (Consumer Reports, for example) or car magazines – which perform real tests on products and produce a hierarchy of quality – these lists are almost complete silliness, often the result less of editorial inspiration and more of budget cuts. So instead of doing an investigative piece of journalism (which would cost money, might anger advertisers and readers, and could be a legal liability), or instead of sending a good writer to report on some distant event, the editors either compile a list from talking to other editors, or they corral feedback from some of the magazine's friends, or they assign it to a junior staffer (who maybe conducts a readers' survey), and the result is a "best of" list that is trumped up as if it's got some actual claim to legitimacy.

So, my Top 10 List of Reasons that Magazine Lists Are Worthless:

1) They're lazy.
2) They're cowardly.
3) They're cheap.
4) They're meaningless.
5) They give a false sense of information.
6) Just like the magazines, I have to pad the rest of my top-10 list so that it is complete.
7) Again.
8) Still with me?
9) Almost complete.
10) They're unimaginative.

So the next time some publisher is trying to dupe you into appreciating a "Top 20 Best..." of anything, ask yourself: Do you really care what a bunch of editors cobbled together from a bull session in the lunch room, asking each other what they think were the all-time greatest science-fiction films? Does that really mean anything to you? Or would you rather read a collection of articles, perhaps by people like Harlan Ellison and Roger Ebert, explaining why they think a particular film is noteworthy? Or does your money mean nothing to you?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hillary Clinton on How to Deal with China

Addressing The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco October 15, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton answers a question about U.S. policy toward China.

Video of Hillary Clinton Discussing the Taliban

Short (not terribly clear) video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling The Commonwealth Club of California on October 15, 2010, about American policy toward dealing with the Taliban in China and Afghanistan.

Hosting Hillary Clinton - A Review in PIctures

Last night, The Commonwealth Club of California hosted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in San Francisco. A sold-out crowd of at least 1,400 people attended the event, which was held at the Marriott Marquis hotel.

We had three photographers at the event (as well as radio and video people). None of the photos on this blog post here came from those photographers. We'll get their photos and disseminate them starting on Monday. But here are some photos I took on my Nexus One smartphone before, during, and after the event. If any of you have ever been involved in putting on a large public program like this – one involving hundreds of guests, a very tight security line, national and local members of the press, one of the most famous people in the world – then you'll already know what the Commonwealth Club's staff has been through in these past two weeks.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Above: The view from the podium, where two hours later Clinton would deliver her opening remarks. The ballroom (actually two rooms combined to accommodate 1,400 guests) stretches before her. Though, in the darkened lighting when she gave her speech, visibility was something different. She joked that she could only see the first three rows, though she knew there were many other friends in attendance.

 Above: Part of the audience, once the crowd filed in.

Above: A view from the chair in which Clinton would soon be seated. Waaaaaay off in the distance, in what is the far side of the auditorium, you can barely make out two photographers on a low stage. The photographers needed special (rather expensive) lenses to allow them to take good photos from that distance and in the darkened lighting of the auditorium during the actual program.
 Above: The view from the podium of the chairs in which Clinton (foreground) would sit for most of the program while she answered questions from the audience, which were read to her by Climate One Director and Commonwealth Club Vice President of Special Projects Greg Dalton.

Above: Clinton (seated) looks on as Commonwealth Club President and CEO Dr. Gloria Duffy makes opening remarks from the podium.
 Above: After Duffy spoke, Dr. Mary Bitterman, the chair of the Club's Board of Governors, officially began the program and introduced the secretary of state.

Above: Clinton begins the program with a short speech from the podium, where she called on more Americans to get involved in American foreign relations.
Above: After her speech, Clinton shook hands and chatted very briefly with folks in the front rows before heading off the stage.

Above: After the program, while speaking with other Club staffers off to the left side of the escalators, I suddenly noticed Clinton and her large security detail walk through the hall and up the escalators. It took me too long to take out my phone, switch to camera mode, and aim, which is too bad; because if I had been five or ten seconds faster, I'd have had a great photo of her at the bottom of the escalator. As it is, one of the people in the photo above is her. I'm not sure which. I think that's her at top center, wearing black. Such is tangential fame.