The UK’s National Film and Sci-Fi Museum Has Opened

By James Bacon: Phenomenal. Star Wars, Star Trek, StarGate, Space:1999, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Guardians of the Galaxy, crikey almighty, no matter what you love, there is something in this outstanding display of devotion to the wonder and fantastique of the screen for all. 

This is an overwhelmingly incredible experience, there is so much on offer here and feels how a museum should, a living collection, a celebration and sharing of the passion fans have for the brilliant artistry and  imagination that so many of us love and are entertained by. 

Located in Milton Keynes, the museum is a registered charity and states that “These artefacts and relics are created and used for only a very short time to make those films before being discarded, and most are never seen again by the audience who cares so much about them. The National Film & Sci-Fi Museum is dedicated to saving these amazing creations and making them available for everyone to see and enjoy, and at the same time telling the story of their creation and the people who helped to revolutionise the way we see films today. Our team of volunteers are very busy working on the exhibits and displays and working with a team of experts from the film industry on the monumental task of bringing them to life, and sharing the magic of the art of film making.”

The Museum opened its doors to the public on Friday, August 27 and as promised, I was able to get in and have a really good look around.

Situated in the first floor of a stylized concrete building in MIlton Keynes, the team here have made good use of the 24,000 sq.ft. space. This is situated next to the previously-reviewed Pixel Bunker Retro Arcade

As I walked in through the styled entrance, I was immediately taken by the Indiana Jones display. Glass cases holding a production-used Bull Whip, a Sankara Stone, River Phoenix’s Scout Hat and, and, and so much more….I was barely 3 feet from the entrance, adjacent to these cabinets full of history and then, ahead full costumes and an Ark of the Covenant.  

I just stood, trying to take it in. I looked back and noted I had walked past a rendition of the Maschinenmench “Maria” from Metropolis, then the Indy display just grabbed my attention. 

The Ark was stood next to a screen-used Indiana Jones costume, along with other costumes, and behind a Ralph McQuarrie production etching of the Ark firing out rays as used in the film, quietly sitting there. 

I turn and there is an Alien display. With art and posters creating the backdrop for a Ripley costume and a sleeping pod, an Alien decorative skull from Predator 2, a Corporal Hicks costume, models, and so much more. I kept finding things I liked, and here no different, as I loved the look of the Reebok Alien Stompers. These were Rebook trainers/runners/sneakers, and I was so impressed, because I found them so fascinating. 

Every which way one turns there is more to see, a James Bond cabinet had guns, props, hats. Octopussy, Moonraker and Licence to Kill all represented amongst so many others, and then a full size Ludo awaits to greet you and then a mixture of replica helmets from Top Gun, and Beverly Hills Cop items.  

The Star Trek section begins subtly, a model of a Klingon War Ship, an original cover art from the ST:TNG book Exiles by Keith Birdsong, and a costume sketch from Star Trek The Motion Picture and soon the space opens up and a vast display of 25 costumes are presented. 

I slowly looked at each and every costume, all the films and so many characters represented,  Krudge’s Kilngon costume, as played by Christopher Llyod in The Search for Spock  but which is explained as being repurposed for Star Trek TNG  and DS9 and worn Robert O’Reilly playing Chancellor Gowron was fascinating, it’s that real history detail that I love. 

With strong representation from Captains, my two mind blowing favorites were an Ilia costume, played by Persis Khambatta in Star Trek The Motion Picture and Chief O’Brien’s costume from seasons 6 and 7 of DS9. 

I counted 11 different phasers, a multitude of tools and medical equipment, and badges. I walked right past a couple of cabinets more items and was impressed that the Grand Nagus cane used by Wallace Shawn in Deep Space 9 was on display and my favorite of the hundreds of Star Trek Items here was Spock’s headband from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. This is what the Museum has to offer, I realized. Not the usual, not clinical, while many grail items are here, and I am sure that the Picard or Shatner costume will be of interest, I realized that this collection spoke to me as a fan. That simple headband made me smile wide. 

A huge model of Mole from At The Earth’s Core was situated across from a cabinet containing items from X-files and Skeletor and Eternian Helmets from Masters of the Universe

The Space:1999 display had a huge backdrop, Comlock and gun prop, and then a host of wonderul models. It was clear that like many others James Winch was sharing much of his collection. 

The Gerry Anderson section was also very impressive,  the Zelda cube from Terrahawks amongst other possibly more iconic items standing out for me, but lest you think we were in a quintessentially British section with Sherlock, Doctor Who and Red Dwarf on the horizon, a Jaws display had the Orca’s radio, Quint’s baseball bat a mechanical scale model of Bruce, as the shark was known to the crew, and a scale model of the Orca.

The Sherlock display was incredible, the whole of Sherlock’s flat rebuilt here in the Museum. There was a long list of key props from given episodes listed, so the observer could spot them and 8 large cases with further props were outside. Martin Freeman’s Watson props including his Afghanistan service medal. I stood and looked at the items, and looked into the Sherlockian living room.  

The Doctor Who section is very impressive, so many costumes, and such key ones too, and then all the props, it was so very cool, and next to the Red Dwarf team which felt perfect. 

If I thought the Star Trek was incredible, I was just not ready for the Star Wars displays. A wonderful space, surrounding a globe, with cabinets and display cases, feeling so science fictional in layout, and there was so much. I have to say, here, there were some legendary items that I never expected to see, and I have seen a number of exhibitions of Star Wars props and costumes, and there were some very very special items. I stood a looked for a long time at one pair of items, and wondered how people will react. 

There were heads, helmets, blasters, costumes and some incredible key props. Pieces of props, and every cabinet stylishly laid out, some so full. For fans of Star Wars weaponry, there was a full display, for those interested in the intricate and beautiful there were amazing personal props, there was something here for everyone. 

It was lovely to see the Liberator and a host of other items from Blake’s 7 in a dedicated display, with many items on loan from Matt Irving. 

I was so impressed that there was a Flash Gordon display and oh my god, war rocket Ajax. And his sword, yeah, so many lovely things.

There is a general approach from the Museum that they want things to be a surprise, and I was surprised, but there are so many things here for so many fans and there’s a love here – a special case contained Gary Kurtz’s baseball cap – Star Wars the saga continues, and the Star Wars items were from the Kurtz-Joiner archive and one felt that a real level of appreciation and genuine hard work had gone into so much of the museum. 

I was very impressed to see so many items from Peter Cushing, personal as well as related to film, and this was very cool, a nice space for such an accomplished actor. 

Throughout the museum, I was surprised, I was not anticipating all the Star Wars toys, nor the Harry Potter props, nor the John Williams Star Wars orchestral sheet paper. And there is a fabulous attention to detail here, as well a real demonstration of love for history and the artistic creativity that goes into it all. 

It’s hard to process just how much is on display here, hard to comprehend, but what Jason Joiner and his team have gathered here at the National Film and Sci-Fi Museum is testament to collectors and fans who want to share their passion, view the unexpected up close and appreciate it. 

An incredible museum, and a wonderful visit. 

The National Film & Sci-fi Museum is in central Milton Keynes at 34 Secklow Gate West, MK9 3AT, England.

File 770 is very grateful to Jason Joiner, the trustees and volunteers of the Museum and appreciate the photographs. 

Pixel Scroll 8/31/21 The Pixelscroll Experiment

(1) FINAL GIRLS CONSIDERED. Stephen Graham Jones cheers on the “final girls” of slasher movies at CrimeReads: “Let’s All Be Final Girls”.

…Part of the final girl’s DNA, after all, is the scream queen, typified in Fay Wray’s performance in King Kong. She wasn’t necessarily the first of her kind, but talkies were relatively new in 1933, so her scream was especially loud—loud enough to carry across the whole century.

However, final girls may come from the tradition of scream queens, but that doesn’t mean scream queens are final girls themselves. Yes, scream queens are menaced by horror, and yes, they survive their ordeals, but what their screams tend to do, actually, is bring the men in to deal with this bully. These scream queens are, after all, “white women in peril,” usually from some “dark” monstrosity—a giant gorilla, say. Their main function in the story is to cringe and run, and be abducted. Scream queens are damsels, perpetually in distress.

The final girl is no damsel. She doesn’t scream to call a man in to help her. No, she takes this lumbering beast down herself….

(2) PAGES MISSING. Dean Wesley Smith’s and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s WMG Publishing told Facebook readers their website is currently having major problems. Their ISP, Bluehost, is to blame – a company that no longer hosts File 770 I’m relieved to say.  

If you’ve tried going to the WMG website the past week or so, you’ll discover that it seems to no longer have any content. This is a result of an issue with our website hosting platform, Bluehost, that we are still trying to get them to resolve. They accidentally deleted it…all 1,500 or so pages of it (we have backups, of course, but they can’t seem to restore the site even using those…it’s a long, frustrating story). At this point, we have no idea how long our website will be down, so in this newsletter, all of the links we direct you to are external. Please send some positive tech vibes our way that Bluehost resolves this issue soon.

(3) HEARING FROM FRIENDS. Cora Buhlert’s Fancast Spotlight introduces listeners to the “Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection” podcast hosted by Oliver Brackenbury.

Who are the people behind your podcast or channel?

I host, screenwriter Chris Dickie is the producer, and ultimately the Friends of Merril volunteer group are behind the show. The Friends of Merril are dedicated to spreading awareness of, and otherwise supporting, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy – located on the 3rd floor of the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library system. With over 80,000 spec fic texts going back over two hundred years, it’s a tremendous asset for writers, scholars, and readers, one I’ve benefited from greatly.

Why did you decide to start your podcast or channel?

Well, Chris had just joined the Friends and when I asked him if he had anything specific he’d like to try in promoting the Merril, he said he’d been wanting to try podcasting. I’d been wanting to create some kind of shareable promotional content for the Merril, and had plenty of experience with hosting from my old Youtuber days. So, we figured we’d give it a whirl and see if it helped spread awareness of the Merril!

As far as I can tell, it’s certainly helped spread the good word. But we can always do more!

(4) STRONG MUSEUM’S ERIC CARLE EXHIBIT. Eric Carle: A Very Hungry, Quiet, Lonely, Clumsy, Busy Exhibit opens at The Strong Museum in Rochester, NY on Saturday, September 18 and will be on display through January 2.

Step into the pages of beloved author and illustrator Eric Carle’s Very series of picture books—including the iconic Very Hungry Caterpillar… Co-organized by Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, Very Eric Carle is the first North American traveling exhibit for children inspired by the work of Eric Carle.

At this play-and-learn exhibit, visitors step into the pages of Eric Carle’s colorful picture books. His classic “Very” series, all illustrated in his hand-painted tissue paper collage technique, introduces five special insects who take journeys of discovery. Each story is a testament to Eric Carle’s love of nature, his respect for the emotional lives of children, and his recurring themes of friendship, creativity, and the power of imagination….

(5) RAY’S HOMETOWN GETS A CONVENTION. Wauke-Con, Waukegan’s First Comic Book Convention, will be held October 16-17 at the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum, located at lucky 13 N. Genesee, from 12-6 p.m. both days. 

(6) STAR SCRIPTURE. “Star Trek Series Bibles Released Through Official Website” reports Gizmodo. Links to the Bibles themselves are here.

Series bibles are a staple of television production. Part early pitch, part worldbuilding exercise, they form the fundamental basis for the earliest concrete visions for a TV show on the road to production. And now you can get a glimpse at the documents behind decades of Star Trek TV, giving access to some truly fascinating behind-the-scenes materials.

The series bibles for TNGDS9Voyager, and Enterprise have been floating around the internet in various iterations for a while, but in a new piece by Rob Wieland today, the official Star Trek website provided a fresh look at the foundations of the first four major Star Trek TV continuations. Thanks to these documents, fans can see how these iconic shows were first imagined, what changed on the road to the small screen, and what ideas were the ones writers decided were the most-thought provoking and exciting to sell these shows on to networks….

(7) PUPPIES: THE NEXT GENERATION. With Debarkle Chapter 60, Camestros Felapton some significant late arrivals to sf’s culture wars, Nick Cole and Jon Del Arroz: “Dramatis Personae — The Next Generation”.

…In February of 2016 former soldier, actor and writer Nick Cole[5] announced that he had been “banned by the publisher”. Cole had already published a few books with Harper Collins including a trilogy of post-apocalyptic books and a novel Soda Pop Soldier in which gamers fight a virtual reality war for corporations. It was the sequel (or rather prequel) to Soda Pop Soldier that led to the dispute. Cole had planned for the story to feature a Terminator-style AI rebellion and for motivation, he had decided that the AI at the source of the rebellion would deduce that humanity would kill it after watching a reality TV show in which a character has an abortion….

(8) FILE 007. The next James Bond movie, No Time To Die, comes to U.S. theaters on October 8.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • 1979 – Forty-two years ago on this date, Time After Time premiered. (It would lose out to Alien for Best Dramatic Presentation at Noreascon Two.)  It was directed by Nicholas Meyer who wrote the screenplay from a story by Karl Alexander and Steve Hayes, and produced by Herb Jaffe. The primary cast was Malcolm McDowell, David Warner and Mary Steenburgen. Reception by critics was unambiguously positive, the box office was good and the audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it an excellent sixty-eight percent rating. 

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born August 31, 1914 — Richard Basehart. He’s best remembered as Admiral Harriman Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He also portrayed Wilton Knight in the later Knight Rider series. And he appeared in “Probe 7, Over and Out”, an episode of The Twilight Zone. He showed up on The Island of Dr. Moreau as Sayer of the Law. (Died 1984.)
  • Born August 31, 1933 — Robert Adams. He’s remembered for the Horseclans series, his overall best-known works though he wrote other works. While he never completed the series, he wrote 18 novels in the Horseclans series before his death. (Died 1990.)
  • Born August 31, 1949 — Richard Gere, 72. He was Lancelot in First Knight, which starred Sean Connery as King Arthur, and he was Joe Klein in The Mothman Prophecies. That’s it for genre film work. First Knight for me is more than enough to get Birthday Honors, but he also was in live performances of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in the Sixties. Though definitely not genre, one of my roles by him was as defense attorney Billy Flynn in Chicago
  • Born August 31, 1958 — Julie Brown, 63. Starred with Geena Davis in the cult SF comedy, Earth Girls Are Easy. She’s been in genre films such as The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Bloody Birthday (a slasher film), Timebomb and Wakko’s Wish. She’s had one-offs in Quantum Leap and The Addams Family. She’s voiced a lot of animated characters included a memorable run doing the ever so sexy Minerva Mink on The Animaniacs. She reprised that role on Pinky and The Brain under the odd character name of Danette Spoonabello Minerva Mink. 
  • Born August 31, 1969 — Jonathan LaPaglia, 52. The lead in Seven Days which I’ve noted before is one of my favorite SF series. Other than playing Prince Seth of Delphi in Gryphon which aired on the Sci-fi channel, that’s his entire genre history as far as I can tell unless you count the Bones series as SF in which he’s in “The Skull in the Sculpture” episode as Anton Deluca.
  • Born August 31, 1971 — Chris Tucker, 50. The way over the top Ruby Rhod in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, a film I really, really like. His only other genre credit is as a MC in the Hall in The Meteor Man. 
  • Born August 31, 1982 — G. Willow Wilson, 39. A true genius. There’s her amazing work on the Sasquan Hugo Award-winning Ms. Marvel series starring Kamala Khan which I recommend strongly, and that’s not to say that her superb Air series shouldn’t be on your reading list as well. Oh, and the Cairo graphic novel with its duplicitous djinn is quite the read. The only thing I’ve by her that I’ve not quite liked is her World Fantasy Award winning Alif the Unseen novel.  I’ve not yet read her Wonder Women story but should soon. Her Invisible Kingdom, vol 2: Edge of Everything is nominated at DisCon III for a Best Graphic Story Hugo.
  • Born August 31, 1992 — Holly Early, 29. She was Lily Arwell in the Eleventh Doctor story, “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.” She was also Kela in Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Agnes in Humans, and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

(11) HE LOST ON JEOPARDY! “Mike Richards is out as producer of ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Wheel’”AP News has the story.

Mike Richards is out as executive producer of “Jeopardy!”, days after he exited as the quiz show’s newly appointed host because of past misogynistic and disparaging comments.

Richards is also no longer executive producer of “Wheel of Fortune,” according to a memo to staff that was confirmed by Sony Pictures Television, which produces both of the shows.

“We had hoped that when Mike stepped down from the host position at Jeopardy! it would have minimized the disruption and internal difficulties we have all experienced these last few weeks. That clearly has not happened,” Suzanne Prete, an executive with the game shows, said in the memo.

…In her memo, Prete said she will work with Richards’ interim replacement, Michael Davies, until further notice. Davies produces ABC’s “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.”

(12) STAY FROSTY. James Davis Nicoll helps Tor.com readers find “Five Chilly SF Stories to Help Beat the Summer Heat”, including —

Icerigger by Alan Dean Foster (1974)

Interstellar salesman Ethan Frome Fortune made one small mistake when he traveled to the desolate ice-world of Tran-ky-ky. He boarded the same starship as the fantastically wealthy and eminently kidnappable Hellespont du Kane, and du Kane’s daughter Colette. An attempted kidnapping ensues.

The kidnapping fails. A single kidnapper survives. He and his prospective kidnappee and several innocent bystanders (including Fortune) end up marooned on Tran-ky-ky.

The castaways are a diverse lot; at least one of them, adventurer Skua September, is suited to survival on a backward, frozen world. Other off-worlders could save them…if the stolen shuttle had not crashed on the other side of the world from the trading post.

Providentially, a nearby community of indigenes are willing to assist the odd-looking off-worlders. There is just one minor complication. Even now, a nomad horde is bearing down upon the town. Perhaps the off-worlders can help the desperate townsfolk repel the attack. If not, the humans will die alongside the townsfolk.

(13) PORTAL CREATOR. At The Walrus, Jason Guriel makes the case for “Why William Gibson Is a Literary Genius”.

…It’s been four decades since William Gibson’s short story “Johnny Mnemonic” appeared in the May 1981 issue of Omni magazine. He’d already published a couple of pieces, but “Johnny” was a landmark feat of fiction: in a matter of eight magazine pages, Gibson roughed out the contours of an entire world.

The world Gibson was building was a wormhole away from most science fiction—from space-opera optimism and the sort of intergalactic intrigue that’s settled by laser sword. Gibson’s heroes were hustlers, their turf the congested city. They used substances, skirted the law, and self-edited via surgery (see Molly’s nails). He provided more detail, the following year, in the story “Burning Chrome,” which coined the term cyberspace: a boundless 3-D grid, “an abstract representation of the relationships between data systems”—a kind of web. And then, in 1984, he went even deeper with Neuromancer. His zeitgeist-rattling debut novel was about a hacker for hire who navigated cyberspace using a modem and an Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7 deck, a Gibson confection that rests on his hacker’s lap (and sounds a lot like a modern-day laptop)….

(14) DOUBLING DOWN. In “Tales Twice Told”, episode 60 of the Two Chairs Talking podcast, Perry Middlemiss and David Grigg discuss recent award winners, the nominees for the Short Story category of this year’s Hugos, and the books they’ve been reading. 

David was particularly impressed by “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love” by Davina Bell, winner of this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers: “Probably the best piece of SF I’ve read all year”.

(15) OLDER THAN YOU THINK. Smithsonian Magazine says archeologists have established “King Arthur’s Stone Is Older Than Stonehenge”.

Arthur’s Stone, an enigmatic rock burial in Herefordshire, England, is one of the United Kingdom’s most famous Stone Age monuments. Now, reports Carly Cassella for Science Alert, excavations carried out near the tomb—named for its supposed ties to King Arthur—have shed light on its beginnings, revealing that Neolithic people built it as part of an intricate ceremonial landscape.

“Although Arthur’s Stone is an iconic … monument of international importance, its origins had been unclear until now,” says dig leader Julian Thomas, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, in a statement. “Being able to shine a light on this astonishing 5,700-year-old tomb is exciting and helps to tell the story of our origins.”

(16) METAVERSE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] In the Washington Post, Dalvin Brown says for a Ready Player One-style metaverse to happen, tech companies not known for cooperation will have to work together and virtual reality headsets will have to be much more popular than they are now (the Entertainment Software Association says only 29 percent of America’s 169 million gamers have a virtual reality system). “What is the metaverse? Microsoft, Facebook want to build next version of the Internet”.

What is the metaverse?

The term was coined by writer Neal Stephenson in the 1992 dystopian novel “Snow Crash.” In it, the metaverse refers to an immersive digital environment where people interact as avatars. The prefix “meta” means beyond and “verse” refers to the universe. Tech companies use the word to describe what comes after the Internet, which may or may not be reliant on VR glasses.

Think of it as an embodied Internet that you’re inside of rather than looking at. This digital realm wouldn’t be limited to devices: Avatars could walk around in cyberspace similar to how people maneuver the physical world, allowing users to interact with people on the other side of the planet as if they’re in the same room.… But for a robust virtual universe, everyone needs to want and afford VR headsets. The technology would need to be stylish and minimal enough to interest more people and sophisticated enough to work seamlessly. That hasn’t happened yet.

Nimble wireless headsets, like Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2, take a hit on image quality, while bulky VR goggles, like the HTC Vive Pro 2, enable more computing power with their wires. Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 is among the most affordable at $299, while the HTC Vive Pro 2 headset starts at $799 plus the cost of controllers.

(17) ANOTHER VERSE. When you’re a fan, it’s important to be able to tell your multiverse from your metaverse. “Marvel Comics Reveals 8 New Tentpole Titles”.

In celebration of Marvel’s Birthday today, Marvel Comics revealed its first look at eight new tentpole titles that will shape the future of the Marvel Universe in the months to come.

Here’s one of them —

Marvel Comics’ Avengers Forever pulls together archaeologist Tony Stark aka the Invincible Ant-Man and Avengers from across the multiverse to bring order to timelines where ‘hope’ is a four letter word. Jason Aaron and Aaron Kuder present an all-new series that will redefine the Avengers as…the Multiverse’s Mightiest Heroes.

(18) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Brian And Charles is a short film about a lonely farmer who decides to build a robot to be his friend and what happens when the robot starts having issues.

[Thanks to Michael Toman, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Cora Buhlert, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Martin Morse Wooster, and JJ for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

US Comic Book Layouts: A Book To Help You Do Layouts For Your Comic Books

The book in print form.

By James Bacon: Prolific Irish Comic artist PJ Holden has designed a layout sketchbook – 9 thumbnail layouts per page (with a blank facing page) the spine is white for writing what it is. 

There’s 120 pages with 60 pages with layouts on them. The layout page contains nine rectangles – these rectangles are scaled to fit the US comic book dimension size.

PJ Holden has been working in comics for 20 years now, with a considerable amount for 2000AD and his comic work with Irish writer Garth Ennis on The Stringbags last year, published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press has been critically acclaimed.  

I caught up with him and asked some questions.

JAMES BACON: Is this something you would have found useful earlier in your career?

PJ HOLDEN: I think so – certainly it’s a thing I was frequently doing with my own sketchbooks for layouts – I used to have a cardboard template with nine comic sized boxes drawn on it, I’d lay it on a page of my sketchbook and then trace out the layouts, so I was using something like it 15-20 years ago. 

JAMES BACON: Why would it have been useful to you, and at what stage in your drawing career?

PJ HOLDEN: One thing I don’t think you think about before you make the jump to professional work (and by professional I really mean getting paid to draw, so time becomes money) is how much time you spend on any given job that isn’t drawing. Once you make that leap, suddenly anything that can shave 5-10 minutes or that is just that little bit more convenient becomes worth pursuing, and over the last 20 years I’ve always sought out anything that could speed up the process, especially those bits that really don’t take skill – drawing layout boxes is one such bit.

JAMES BACON: Why are layouts important to master?

PJ HOLDEN: Well, once you’ve read the script you’ve got to start committing things to paper, and while some are lucky enough to go straight to inks most (me included) really need to figure out what it is we’re drawing first. The layout stage is where you do some of your early thinking on the page — how many people are in this panel, what’s the focal point for the page, will these two pages face each other? What’s happening on the page turn, etc.

You do it at the thumbnail stage because it’s faster and you can see the big picture very easily. Once you’ve got your layouts you can then move on to the pencils and if the layouts are tight enough (ie they have enough detail) then the pencils stage is greatly simplified.

JAMES BACON: What do you hope with this book?

PJ HOLDEN: Well, my initial thinking was “oh this is a smart way to get myself a neat little layout sketchbook I can use” and I figured making it available for anyone would help give me a little bit of a passive income (I mean, it’s not going to pay for a holiday, but I might be able to buy a couple of books…) 

Having done the first book, of course, other ideas occur, and I’ve a few other books waiting in the Amazon KDP — Kindle Direct Publishing — system for approval for publication (and about a dozen ideas for more). One in particular is a unique comic creators project diary that lets you track the course of projects while you do them over a year, incorporating many of the tricks I’ve learnt about using structured time to get work done.

What started as a bit of a lark, I’m hoping might actually end up a set of worthwhile tools for professional comic creators or anyone embarking on a comic making project.

PJ kindly went on to share some useful insights:

PJ HOLDEN: The book has a blank page facing a layout page – a deliberate choice I’ve made because, frankly, I don’t like drawing on the back of a page – but if you do, you’ve got a nice blank area to work with, and, the bane of all of my many dozens of sketchbooks, rather than a black spine that you can’t write on, it’s got a nice clean white spine for dating/other info, as well as space on the cover for more information. I think one key thing is to learn as much from as many people as possible and then find the tools that work for you. The books I’m doing, I hope are shaped in such a way that they give some of the necessary stuff to get the job done but equally are wide open for you to play an explore with how you’d find it useful – to be honest, I made this first book for professional comic artists but delighted to find a number of writers have picked up copies because it turns out knowing what your layouts might be is pretty handy for a writer!


The book is available from 

PJ Holden’s own Twitter thread about the book is here.

Fantasy Forest Festival

By James Bacon: Fantasy Forest Festival took place this year at Sudely Castle, Gloucestershire in the beautiful Cotswolds. 

 An excitingly adventurous event, only in its second iteration, it combines Art, Music, Performance and a wide variety of family entertainments but is seeking a broad audience and welcoming of all fans and ably demonstrated with appearances of Daleks to Deadpool.  

 The traders, and three stages for entertainment are the main attractions. With over seventy traders selling everything from medieval-style furniture to delicate jewelry, there is a strong emphasis on crafting, be it in leather, crochet, paper, or even role playing swords.

Anne Stokes was on hand with a pavilion of art wonders and “Stoked 2021” took place, a mini-convention within the festival, with a dedicated talk and crafting space, continually on the go. Kids loved this, while fans were excited by the huge hand-sculpted dragon’s head, sculpted by John J. Woodward based on Anne’s art. Anne in leather armour was busy engaging and meeting her fans continuously from what I could see. 

Chris Achillios, Anne Sudworth, and Micheal Meech were among the other artists attending while armourer Terry English also had an impressive stand full of historical things to see, with affordable items to purchase.  

The music ranged from Inkubus Sukkubus, English Underground Goth Rock, The Dolmen, Celtic Rock and Slainte traditional Irish players. There were three stages, two were for music the third for performances, talks, and costume competitions.

A wooden Phoenix sculpture was set alight, but first this beautifully made offering was allowed to be written on, and held a basket full of notes, wishes, hopes and so on. We watched on as it was lit and soon burning furiously.  

In Covid times, having everything outdoors was very helpful, hand san was everywhere while there were ample hand washing facilities and a social distancing rule. Seats were set out in a spacious manner, and Orcs rambled about encouraging the 2-metre rule where people gathered.   Generally people kept apart and it felt safe.  

The fusion appears unique. This was not a music festival, yet music was very much a part of the weekend. It was about bringing together a variety of elements. Arts and crafts were very much to the forefront. 

The festival organisers state, “A festival that brings fans from all genres of fantasy together for the weekend, providing a feast of entertainment and spectacle. Whether you’re into sci-fi & fantasy films, books and TV, fantasy art, comics, Anime, Cosplay, LARP, Steampunk or historic re-enactment, all are welcome. A gathering place to meet like-minded people – get together with old friends and make new ones! For fans of Lord of the Rings to Star Wars; Star Trek to Harry Potter; Game of Thrones to Doctor Who; Marvel superheroes to Tim Burton; pirates, fairies and medieval days of yore – there’s something for everyone.”

Having attended Ren Faire events in the US, this was far from that experience, which I generally felt was a forced Disney-esque experience. Here, the armourers made armour, historically accurate, the falconry people save and care for all types of birds of prey, and also ravens, and would not fly them in the heat of the day, happy to chat. Once in, one did not have to pay for anything else and could still have a terrific time. Many experiences were gathering funds for charity or welcoming tips, but in a discreet and nice way.  There were a few things you could learn, blacksmithing for instance, and I admit smashing a white hot metal rod twixt an anvil and heavy hammer not only appeared appealing but an affordable good value training session. 

Obviously as people encounter new things, it’s exciting and we talked to LRP weapon sculptor Simon Medlock (Medlock Armoury) who had a cracking weekend, surpassing his expectations, but then considering the personality, detail and individuality of his pieces, with incredible attention to detail, pieces of art in their own right, people found then wonderfully attractive.  

There was a Dalek display, a Star Wars group but really the event benefited hugely from the ingenuity and willingness to dress up that so many attending really got into.  The amount of whimsically wonderful summer frocks, pirates, especially the Salty Dog Pirate Crew gang who were handing out medals made of snot to the “best farter” or “biggest booger picker” and number of wonderful costumes was incredible and that buy-in made the event so colourful and exciting.  

I was very fortunate to have camper van accommodations and I know the hot weather was a struggle for some. With a background in Dutch events, the organisation heavily relies on volunteers, with many people wearing the purple shirt, gaining access in return for six hours of volunteering a day, although one got to recognise the stalwarts who enjoy the festival work, despite the sun trying to kill them. 

With Covid in mind the organisers had put a 3,000 person limit one third of capacity, camping and glamping had sold out with reduced limits, and there was a roll over arrangement from 2020 which was cancelled, day tickets were readily available and many families attended for the day. 

The growth potential here is huge. I pondered what sort of weekend booksellers or authors would have had, notably in their absence, but I assume welcome to apply for space like anyone else, and I did then think how publishers will no doubt focus on this potential market as it grows. 

A cracking day out awaits anyone who heads to Fantasy Forest, which I hope returns next year.   

 Many more photos follow the jump. –>

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United States of Captain America #1 – A Review

By James Bacon: Welcome Aaron Fischer, Captain America of the railways. 

Captain America, a symbol of what is right, standing for justice, the pinnacle of heroism, punching Hitler from the outset,  has always asked difficult questions, has eschewed purely jingoistic nationalism, has told stories that questioned what it means to be Captain America and whether America is right, and what is morally the right thing to do. 

Over the 8 decades of the character’s existence, in thousands of comics, frequently we have seen this reflection and challenge in the character, questioning much. In Captain America #180 (Dec 1974) Steve Rogers, disgusted with the US government and a senior official who is supporting terrorism, assumed and hinted to be Richard Nixon and mirroring Watergate,  can no longer wear the red, white and blue uniform and starts  fighting as Nomad, a person with no country. Fifteen years later, the government again appalls Steve Rogers and by issue #332 (Aug 1987)  in he takes on the mantle of “The Captain” and John Walker who was the Super Patriot takes on the mantle of Captain America. It’s a useful story turn. 

 Here, in this issue straight away, Steve Rogers questions what the American Dream is but in a way that suddenly spoke strongly to me. As I look across the Atlantic into America, it’s odd contemplating freedom, or considering what it doesn’t mean to me or mean to others in America, be it being able to own an assault rifle, eat what you want, have black smoke emanate from your car, pay as little taxes as you can while working in a brutal oppressive capitalist profit driven stitch-up where workers rights are minimal, weakness is scorned and belittled, and where there is no social responsibility, and  those less fortunate face destitution or death, with the wealthy subsidized, supported and untaxed. I don’t think that is freedom at all, just subtle ensnarement to a mis-sold system where the rich get richer and people are allowed to imagine the American Dream.  It’s a fecking nightmare, with workers pitted against other workers,  instead of solidarity against billionaires who buy off their guilt with charity, Americans fooled into thinking they pay less in taxes than others, but instead pay huge amounts of health insurance, where climate change is leading to power outages, where water the simplest of things, may poison them…. 

Science fiction readers, intelligent and thoughtful get this, understand and can see injustice and duplicity, the society slowly walking into a tyranny would be obvious. 

It didn’t seem like this on Telly. You know, I don’t recall the Murder She Wrote where the lack of insurance was the cause of death, or the episode where Joey dies from septicaemia while in between jobs, or the ER team writing down these vital insurance details, and so, as one learns more about America, quite a wonderful place, parts slightly tarnished, it gets very ropey, sketchy, not what one had imagined at all. And I love the place. I really do. 

So back to Cap who is thinking about the Dream. “I’m Loyal to nothing, except the dream” “I actually said that once”… “But lately– spending my days in this country, as the years march on by — I’m starting to think America actually has two dreams and one lie.” He describes one dream as something that never really existed, which can become nationalistic and jingoistic, using a white picket fence as an analogy, because that dream doesn’t get along nicely with reality, other cultures, immigrants, the poor and the suffering. People easily become seen as “different” or “un-American.” He describes the lie, the empty promise, “instead of a dream they get a raw deal.” He describes it as a lie.  

He continues to muse about the dream, one where people work and fight together, but his uncertainty and doubt about things comes through thinking;  “The Smithsonian is putting on a special exhibit called ‘Americans who Fight’ To tell you the truth, I don’t really love the name, only because so sometimes we fight when I feel like we could handle things another way.”

We get seven pages of good reflection and introspection, suddenly broken by someone in a Captain America costume, breaking in and stealing the Shield. As a chase ensues, Steve is currently wearing the Steve Rogers super soldier costume, no red and white midriff, and he enlists the Falcon to help him chase down the thief, and things come to a head on Hell Gate bridge where the impostor derails a train using the shield, leaving Steve Rogers and the Falcon to first avert disaster and then help with those who have been injured in a serious train crash. 

As the rescue continues Cap grabs hold of someone dressed like Captain America, and we meet Aaron Fischer, who explains that the people on the rails are kinda like family, and unsavory people show up, he deals with them, fighting for those who need it. Fischer is absolutely in awe of his heroes, and Falcon leads the way in keeping things very cordial, and Fischer explains that there are more “Captains”, a sniper tries to take out Aaron and Cap saves him, and both he and the Falcon affirm that Aaron is a Captain America. Despite this, after getting his wound taken care of, he disappears, but Steve and Sam agree to go find the shield, with Sam putting on the Captain America uniform and also warn the other Captains America of the danger of the assassin. It’s a nice easy intro to a road trip story. Christopher Cantwell did a good job, I liked the questioning side. Sale Eaglesham’s art is really nice in places, although I thought that the physique of both Steve and Sam were a little too exaggerated, but it was good overall. 

Then we get “Tracks”, a second story by Josh Trujillo and Jan Bazaldua. This tells the story of Aaron Fischer, an admirer of Captain America, an “A” tattooed on one arm, he hears that unhoused kids are being disappeared. Roxxon are kidnapping them and using them as a form of labor, and so Aaron, takes it upon himself to daub his denim dungarees with the appropriate colors, make a shield, don a mask and fight, and so he does, and with a young sweetheart in tow. It’s a nice story, and we get to meet someone who is coming from a different background. 

Josh Trujillo and artist Jan Bazaldua spoke to Out (“How the Gay Captain America Creators Crafted Aaron Fischer’s Look”) about the character: “The overalls were something Jan Bazaldua and I settled on really quickly. They felt true to the character and were more practical than a super suit. Plus, I just think the overalls look cool.” said Trujillo.  “We tried to give him a simple appearance since he is a street boy who lives in LA, someone who could only make his suit with what he had on hand,” Bazaldua added. “And we just tried to give him a kind look, someone who did not have resources or large amounts of money but has a huge heart and a great desire to help people like him.” Bazaldua also said the two of them were excited to take “a very American and very macho symbol,” and make him gay and someone who resonated with real-life queer people, and that includes sharing in their struggles. The issue of young LGBT homelessness being one they wanted to draw attention to.  

“Aaron is inspired by heroes of the queer community: activists, leaders, and everyday folks pushing for a better life,” Trujillo said in a release. “He stands for the oppressed, and the forgotten. I hope his debut story resonates with readers, and helps inspire the next generation of heroes.” Bazaldua said. “I really enjoyed designing him, and as a transgender person, I am happy to be able to present an openly gay person who admires Captain America and fights against evil to help those who are almost invisible to society” and added, “While I was drawing him, I thought, well, Cap fights against super-powerful beings and saves the world almost always, but Aaron helps those who walk alone in the street with problems that they face every day. I hope people like the end result!”

 And I think they have done a wonderful job. I have to say that the artwork was super, really clean lines, with some lovely perspectives, low down giving one a sense of not just street level, but being on the street, and the action was also smartly done, with a great sense of movement. The tender moments are perfectly timed, while the story was really advanced by the slick and smooth artwork. 

 And so one would recommend the comic…. 

 And then well, Washington Times and Fox News happened. 

 The Times headline was “Marvel celebrates July 4 weekend by having Captain America say American dream ‘isn’t real’”, on the 2nd of July, and yeah, quotes Captain America. 

They then, dreadfully, excise Aaron Fischer from the story, but use his lines saying “Another point in the story features a character who, standing next to Captain America, suggests that Sam Wilson, a Black character, is more representative of all Americans. ‘Wow, Sam Wilson,’ the character says. ‘Two Captain Americas for the price of one. Can’t tell you how much it means to meet both of you. You fight for everyone. I mean … everyone.’”

 Well, Sam Wilson is representative. And I thought Aaron’s words were nice here. Give Sam some love, why not, he is a great character. But for some, it is reason for umbrage. 

Then Fox News obviously picked up on the “news” and they rolled out some opinions. Senator Tom Cotton, wanted Captain America cancelled, or at least demoted to Lieutenant. (WtF)

Then on the 5th of July, Dean Cain, like talk about Hero to Zero, I know he once played Superman, now obviously a poor pundit for Fox and Friends, went on to criticize the comic and rage against wokism….

“I am so tired of this wokeness and anti-Americanism,” Cain said, while later admitting that he actually hadn’t read the comic… 

And getting some mileage, comedian Michael Loftus was angry. He reckoned Marvel and Stan Lee are the embodiment of the American dream and this story violated that. 

I had a little laugh there, to be honest. Stan was no angel, but he came up with some brilliance, but he often spoke positively and encouraged people to be really good, but I reckon he would have loved the publicity.

I think this all mis-portrays what is going on of course, Captain America is meant to question America and this has occurred many times over the years. 

The idea of the dream is interesting, I was impressed that Ta-Nehisi Coates focused on the dream as his departure point and then Captain America here starts with questioning the dream and I loved that connectivity. 

The loyalty to the Dream may be a reference to Daredevil #233 at the end of Frank Miller’s run with artist David Mazzucchelli in an arc featuring Nuke, where Cap states that “I’m Loyal to nothing General.. except the dream” as he holds the flag. This portrayal is one where Daredevil educates Cap, who seems mildly naïve, but does do the right thing. 

Yet Captain America has never been a flag-clutching propaganda tool. Well in Marvel Fanfare 19, with art by Frank Miller, written Roger Stern and Roger McKenzie Cap is it is a bit overly sickly sycophantic, but… 

 Created at the end of 1940, a year before America had entered the Second World War, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two working class Jewish New Yorkers, the sons of immigrants portrayed Captain America punching Hitler. 

Joe Simon who came up with Captain America said of the germination of the character,  “’We both read the newspapers, we knew what was going on over in Europe. World events gave us the perfect comic-book villain, Adolf Hitler, with his ranting, goose-stepping and ridiculous moustache. So we decided to create the perfect hero who would be his foil. I did that first sketch of Captain America, and Jack and I did the entire first issue before showing it to (publisher) Martin Goodman at Timely Comics. He loved it immediately.’ he continued ‘But when Captain America came out, America wasn’t yet in the war, so the American Nazis weren’t happy with what we did to their beloved Fuhrer. … We had a couple of personal encounters with the Bund (German American Bund, a US Nazi group 25,000 members). But that didn’t stop us. If anything, it added fuel to the fire.’”

This was serious stuff. In the Comic Book Makers Simon says that “Our irreverent treatment of their Fuhrer infuriated them. We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and  vicious obscene telephone calls. The theme was ‘Death to Jews”… “but then, people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building at 42nd St… we reported the threats to the police department.”

One day Joe Simon was told there was a call, being told “There’s a man on the phone says he’s Mayor LaGuardia and he wants to speak to the editor of Captain America” and the Mayor personally called to guarantee that no harm would come to the Captain America creators, with Simon quoting him as saying “You boys are doing a good job, The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.” (“Art Spiegelman: golden age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism” in The Guardian.)

The cover was hugely political, and while the stories were in parts fantastical, it put a clear enemy at the forefront, and a hero to take it on.  Joe Simon and Jack Kirby went on to serve their country in the Second World War and Captain America has remained, for eighty years. 

Politics has been deftly avoided at times. Tales of Suspense #61 from January 1965 saw Captain America travelling to Vietnam to seek out a captured pilot, who is a POW and brother of a WWII veteran who helped Cap. 

Cap has to fight a Sumo fighter, who is the champion of a Vietnam General, and then he and Barker escape and in doing so effectively run away from the challenging politics that surrounded the American War in Vietnam for over five years. 

Issue 125 of Captain America May 1970, written by Stan Lee with art by Gene Colan, we saw Cap distraught after breaking up with Sharon Carter, and so again we go to Vietnam, he needs something to do….

Cap seeks the kidnapped Dr. Robert Hoskins. Parachuting out of a B-52 he gets captured, and is taken to the Mandarins Castle — Iron Man’s foe. Although he defeats the Mandarin and escapes with Hoskins and this helps all involved get back to peace talks, the final panel, is full of woe but the last line where he says “and the knowledge that one day, even Captain America must surely face defeat”  really felt like a subtle commentary on Vietnam. 

Though one would love to say that Disney, Marvel are wonderful and perfect, they surely are not, and issues about recognition and payment are well known. Ta-Nehesi Coates spoke out about this recently, and one of the most senior Marvel Execs, Ike Perlmutter supported and worked for Donald Trump (“Meet Reclusive Marvel Billionaire Ike Perlmutter, Trump’s Close Friend” at Business Insider.) And there was much unhappiness amongst fans when Captain America shields or t-Shirts were misappropriated by fascist and racists at right wing protests. Indeed Neal Kirby, son of Jack, said when he saw images of the Storming of the Capital Building (“Captain America creator’s son hits out at Capitol mob’s use of superhero imagery” in The Guardian) — “Captain America has stood as a symbol and protector of our democracy and the rule of law for the past 79 years. He was created by two Jewish guys from New York who hated Nazis and hated bullies. Captain America stood up for the underdog and, as the story was written, even before he gained his strength and process from Army scientists, always stood for what was righteous, and never backed down.” “I was appalled and mortified. These images are disgusting and disgraceful. Captain America is the absolute antithesis of Donald Trump. Where Captain America is selfless, Trump is self-serving. Where Captain America fights for our country and democracy, Trump fights for personal power and autocracy. Where Captain America stands with the common man, Trump stands with the powerful and privileged. Where Captain America is courageous, Trump is a coward. Captain America and Trump couldn’t be more different.”

I hope that we get to see more of Aaron Fischer, and the other Captains America, as Sam and Steve go on their journey and I look forward to Aaron’s adventures, and those of future Captains America, Nichelle Wright, the Captain America of Harrisburg, Joe Gomez, the Kickapoo Tribe’s own Captain America, Ari Agbayani a college campus based Captain America and Air Force Captain Jeremy Merrick who looks out for veterans who have fallen through the tracks, as this five-issue mini-series develops. 

Captain America Vol. 9 — The Ta-Nehisi Coates Run: Review by James Bacon

By James Bacon: It was big news, proper news when Ta-Nehisi Coates took on Captain America, this was the successful Black Panther writer, and well known thinker, journalist and author taking on one of the most iconic Marvel characters, hugely popular and immediately recognizable, and also one of the trickier characters to get right.

Ta-Nehisi Coates himself wrote about it in The Atlantic (“Why I’m Writing Captain America And why it scares the hell out of me”). I reread the article, thinking about it with excitement, phrases sticking with me “…would be forgiven for thinking of Captain America as an unblinking mascot for American nationalism. In fact, the best thing about the story of Captain America is the implicit irony.” And “Rogers becomes the personification of his country’s egalitarian ideals.” And “Why would anyone believe in The Dream? What is exciting here is not some didactic act of putting my words in Captain America’s head, but attempting to put Captain America’s words in my head. What is exciting is the possibility of exploration, of avoiding the repetition of a voice I’ve tired of.”

The Free Comic Book Day in May 2018  featured a primer story, Cap taking on Nuke clones and we have a voice-over from Alexa Lukin who says: “Like you we rebelled against the old-world elites, like you we embraced revolution, you and I were allies once, revolutionary allies”… “I am told the Super Soldier still calls himself ‘Captain.’ But Captain of what?” She continues “It was all so simple, Captain America was right because America was right and Captain America was good because America was good.” A great start to a fabulous run.  

It’s been an interesting few Captain America years. The Ed Brubaker run on Captain America was phenomenal in 2005. I cannot adequately explain, there had been good moments, great moments of art and writing, but suddenly, we had a phenomenal run, Steve Epting’s and Mike Perkins’ art was so good — but the story. Creating Winter Soldier and then seeing Bucky become Captain America. A great seven years on the title, not without controversy, Brubaker got death threats because anti-tax protestors were characterized as “racists” by the Falcon and this upset Tea Party people no end, a placard had “Tea Bag The Libs Before They Tea Bag YOU!” and you know, apologies ensued and Brubaker well, as he said himself to io9 at the time: “I had to shut down my public email because I started getting death threats from, y’know, peaceful protesters.”

You see. Captain America is tricky.

In the intervening years, we had a series of writers, and a number of new issues 1’s and for me, while Sam Wilson Captain America by Nick Spencer was nice enough, overall, it had been only OK, I did like Spencer’s and Waid’s writing.

There had been huge fuss over Captain America being Hydra, although this was a ruse, it was someone looking like Steve Rogers.  The concept of a fake Captain America doing heinous things is not exactly new, indeed Stan Lee used the concept in Strange Tales 114 (Nov 1963) to revive Captain America, having the Acrobat pretend to be Cap and first fight with and then get uncovered by the Human Torch. The end left a question for readers “This story was really a test! to see if you too would like Captain America to return! As usual your letters will give us the answer” and so we got Cap in  Avengers #4 in 1964, in Tales of Suspense 58, and then in Captain America 117, where we meet Sam Wilson for the first time, the Red Skull is masquerading as Captain America. A well-used theme concept, a trope even.

And so here we were. July 4, 2018 and Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing, Lenil Franci Yu on pencils and a number of covers, although the Alex Ross one being quite amazing*.  And we meet our main protagonists Alexa Lukin neé Volkoff and the mystically powerful Selene Gallio. The stresses of the previous stories are all apparent, people have lost faith in Captain America, and indeed there is considerable change. Men once jailed are now in leadership roles, because they opposed Hydra. The Power Elite are a new group trying to usurp power and Captain America has lost trust, and is expected to sit out incidents. While all this is going on, the time and space given to the relationship between Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers is brilliant, allowing reflection and there is a lot of that in these comics. Steve gets ample chance to engage with others or observe, to see what Hydra did, and how the bad guys fixed problems for people…

There are some lovely twists and turns, Sharon gets part of her soul stolen, Selene helps Alexa Lukin to resurrect her husband, Alexander but he has the mind of the Red Skull. Steve gets stitched up for killing Thaddeaus Ross and is imprisoned and Sharon calls upon The Dryad and the Daughters of Liberty, who are pretty fabulous.

First formed in the 18th century, they predate Captain America and the first Dryad was Harriet Tubman. The Daughters of Liberty are, Agatha Harkness, Aja-Adanna as Shuri, Ava Ayala as White Tiger, Bobbi Morse as Mockingbird, Jessica Drew as Spider-Woman, Maya Lopez as Echo, Misty Knight, Sue Richards as Invisible Woman, Toni Ho and the Dryad who is someone else and has a wonderful history.

After prison, we see Captain America on the run and portrayed as actually the Hydra Supreme commander, meanwhile Sharon is trying to figure out what is going on, and at the same time helping Steve come to terms with where he is, and there are some great interactions about what law and order is with Ava as they go on their first mission, to take on a Militia who are hunting illegal immigrants. Steve wondering if it ‘was it ever as simple as I remembered, was it me and Bucky versus Hitler and Zemo? or was it a Jim Crow Army making common cause with Stalin?’

Here we meet the “Watchdogs” masked militia, who wear a red mask with a line of the Bars and Stars at an obtuse angle. While Nick Fury has decided to track down Steve and soon we have Sin and Crossbones and John Walker showing up, as Steve and the Daughters of Liberty go from the Watchdogs on to seek out the Cop Killing Scourge which presents some interesting moments of further thoughtfulness. Linking the Confederate Battle Flag to an armed Militia targeting immigrants where police do not seem to care and through inaction endorse or condone the action, made one think of MAGA aspects in the USA, and the inherent link between the Confederacy, racism and violence and hatred against immigrants. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates takes us on quite a series of adventures full of excitement and action, meanwhile weaving the story cleverly, and the concept of idealism, dreams and Captain America himself is well explored. Scourge is not just a criminal but an idea, and as we wheel around following the story, it feels like to so many current issues in the USA, are deftly and gently looked at. This ranged from recognition of Harriet Tubman, to the powerfulness of the Daughters of Liberty to the nature of power, powerful criminals, business people and politicians, sometimes changing role to suit their own egotistical greedy motives we see the, jailed going to jail keeper, and corruption and brutality 

Adamsville, a Christian town refuge where down-on-their-luck men can find work and welcome, is in reality where Selene has been vampirically feeding off their souls, and its thanks to Sharon the battle is won, and in a really impressive way. This brought in an interesting religious aspect and one that I recognized, the church that offers with one hand, utterly brutalising with the other. 

As I reflected on the second reading, I realized, that one of the best things about this whole run, is that really, it is Sharon Carter’s story. While yes, we follow Steve Rogers who is Captain America around a lot, it really felt like Sharon’s story and a chance for Steve to take things in, to contemplate as well and fight, while her actions and decisions lead a lot of the route of this journey, Captain America relied upon Sharon, and at times she had to work around or behind him, this was her story, and it’s a good one.  The art is amazing. Straight away having Alex Ross on covers, was fabulous, his painted work is incredible in its realism, and he really can capture a moment of action and movement, while there were a number of variant covers, for those preferring a different style. I thought Leinil Francis Yu and then Adam Kubert did fabulous pencil work, and I was so impressed and Leonard Kirk likewise finished the run off in style. The action scenes and portrayals of characters were great, all the time it all worked to complement the other components of the comics. Again touching current events, the May cover of Captain America featured the Capitol Building, Ross neatly repossessing the important building that had been stormed earlier that year. 

In the last issue, Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke of “a great honour to fulfil a childhood dream — writing for Marvel comics”…. “was more than a childhood fantasy. Grappling with Steve and T’Challa, trying to understand them as people” and ended the piece by saying “And thank you to the fans for reading. I tried to stay true to nothing — except the dream.”

Well in many regards, Ta-Nehisi Coates worked exceptionally hard for the fans, the history of Captain America was well utilized, it’s hard to know if he researched the hell out of it, or is just a very serious fan, I suspect the later. Nuke who debuted in Daredevil was first out of the traps, we also had The Watchdogs from issue 335 (Nov 1987), who then were right wing radical extremist militia, who wanted to hang Lemar Hoskins who was at the time Bucky to his friend John Walker who was Captain America at the time, and of course Ta-Nehisi Coates had John Walker as the Secret Agent appearing in this run. Yet whether it be Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter, Agatha Harkness, Bulldozer, Misty Knight, Wrecker, they are all portrayed well and with what I felt was a total understanding of the characters and history. 

 I had hoped that the systematic problems that America has would be addressed, and in many respects, I felt they were, maybe it was hints, immigration, police issues, police getting killed, the blue line, political expedience, sometimes it was oblique in nature, but in many instances, not only were bigger issues looked at, but also the issues of the moment, seeped in, but were delicately fictionalized or portrayed, so as to gently encourage what I consider proper thinking, without causing a huge fuss. Throughout the time, America was challenged, but those of us reading Captain America, saw that here at least, in a fantastical world, Captain America was a fighter for those who needed defending, who stood against racism, fought for all, even if he had to question it, who relied on brilliant women, were guided by them even, and who happy to reflect, question and develop himself, and egalitarian. 

The story came together well and in the last number of issues as matters get resolved, there is a lovely tension and heightening and one knows that we will be presented with an ending, and indeed we were, but with lots of potential. As if Coates knew that he had to do more than just end, he left some beautiful aspects that future writers can really work with, and I would like to see The Daughters of Liberty in their own title.

One of the great things about Coates is that he spoke to Evan Narcisse about his run (“The writer reflects on his half-decade run in the Marvel universe and the choices he made along the way” at Polygon.) I held off reading until I was finished my own full second read of the run. He defended comic book creatives. He took the industry to task. He said: “I’m talking very specifically here, I wish they found ways to compensate the author of the greatest Winter Soldier stories that you’re ever going to read. I don’t love that there’s a Falcon and Winter Soldier show on TV and I’m hearing from Ed [Brubaker] that he can’t even get in contact with … I just don’t love that. I don’t love that. Look, I had a great time. I had a tremendous, tremendous time writing for Marvel. I am indebted to Marvel.”  he continued later and said  “’The Death of Captain America’ is just one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read. I’m talking about the volumes. It is fucking incredible, ridiculously good. When I was going on Captain America, I thought about that. I was like, if I could get anywhere near this, I might have done something. I didn’t. I didn’t, by the way. But to have that, and to have him bleed into that book, to have Steve Epting bleed into that book the way he did, to see folks making billions over top of billions, and for my man to say he can’t get a phone call returned. I don’t know what the relationship will be like in the future, but as a creator, you think about that. You think about how people treat other people. You think about how corporations treat other people. And I just don’t love it, dude.”

He also spoke about Captain America; “He is inherently political from jump. There’s never a point where he’s not speaking to the real world. And you do take some amount of inspiration from what’s going on around you. I think Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and everyone else advanced the Steve Rogers myth in the moment they had him coming out of the ice, in the ’60s. It made him timeless. It’s probably one of the most brilliant tropes I’ve ever seen. Because it’s ultimately a commentary on the Greatest Generation, and the idea of the Greatest Generation literally being the ‘Greatest Generation.’ This guy’s an embodiment of the Greatest Generation faced with a postmodern world. It is such an incredible setup, and he’s constantly disappointed. Because who can live up to that? Who can live up to that?”

I just love it when we get to hear writers on comics, and the industry, it’s just so very welcome, and he spoke with such integrity and insight, honesty. That is real honesty.

I felt that throughout his run on Captain America. He was working hard and being honest to the characters, story and to the fans, who want an enjoyable and good read and yet he was also doing as he set out. Now he is off to write the Superman movie for J.J. Abrams, but I do hope we can get him back to comic books. As issue 30 approached, I had hoped that that the United States of Captain America would start after, but comics schedules are hard and there was a bit of overlap, so I decided to reread Captain America 1 to 29 to refresh for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ final issue — it’s a good run.   He addressed so many issues in a gentle thoughtful, allegorical or metaphorical way, like — it musta been hard to find that balance but it’s been really good Captain America. Tricky to get right, but really very good.

2000AD Sci-Fi Special: Global Justice

Review by James Bacon: The traditional summer special edition of 2000AD has always been a fun read, usually a selection of stories, showcasing the best characters of the British anthology weekly comic. This year, there has been a subtle change, and it’s quite inspired and brilliant. While we have had linked stories in specials before, this comic has six stories set in the Judge Dredd world, but across the planet, with a Dredd story top and tailing the special. 

Writers Michael Carroll and Maura McHugh have plotted and overseen this ‘Dreddworld’ story, based on a concept from Matt Smith, the 2000AD editor, and they worked to craft an overall arc  across six different stories, providing the reader with a cracking piece of entertainment bringing in quite the selection of classic and popular 2000AD characters. With 4 different stories taking place in different locations, the variety of artwork does not at all jar the reader, rather it sits very well as we change city. 

The cover sets the tone, we see the planet earth, with Dredd, PSi Anderson, Judge Armatige from Brit-Cit, Chopper from Oz, Judge Inspector Inaba and Devlin Waugh, and so we follow them. 

Dredd comes to the assistance of Cursed Earth Coburn, who is in the middle of a riotous situation after a nuclear waste incident, where innocents have been killed,  and the involvement of the large corporate responsible for the site, whose senior management is immediately onhand way too quickly makes it murky, but there is a supernatural element and so we travel, around the globe and with other writers and artists, we follow the story, each distinct and individual, but forming part of the puzzle, enlightening the reader as we see Toxic waste being dumped in Oz, and paranormal activity in Hondo City, and while there feels like Big Corp conspiracy is at hand, there is considerable paranormal activity too. 

The Judge Anderson story, written by McHugh with incredible art by Anna Morozova is fabulous, Pippa Bowlands colour work definitely enhances this story, but as one gets to this story, the situation becomes clearer. 

The damage that humanity have done to the planet, in this science fiction post nuclear apocalypse future is staggering, and it continues  apace, and it literally comes back to haunt and as we come to the final chapter, back where we started, Mike Carroll and Maura McHugh bring it all together.

A very enjoyable and fun read, bringing together some fabulous aspects of the Dredd universe. 

Credits: Biohazard by Mike Carroll and Ben Willsher; Chopper: Dreamgazer by David Baillie and Tom Foster; Armitage: Natural Fern Killer by Liam Johnson and Robin Smith; Hondo City Justice: Daughters of Uranium by Karl Stock and Neil Googe’ Judge Anderson: All Will Be Judged by Maura McHugh and Anna Morozova; and Apotheosis, by Mike and Maura, James Newell.

Sample interior pages follow the jump.

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Pixel Scroll 6/23/21 Second Stage Lesnerizer

(1) STARTING A STORY. This compelling thread starts here.

(2) BUTLER BIO ON THE WAY. Yesterday’s Oprah Daily acknowledged the author’s birthday with an excerpt from a new biography: “Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler: Excerpt”.

…But the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author who explored themes of gender fluidity, climate change, authoritarianism, and the rise of Big Pharma is perhaps more widely read now than ever, and that phenomenon is destined to grow with the publication Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi, due out in January of 2022.

Zoboi, who was a National Book Award finalist for her young adult novel American Street, is not just a Butler devotee, but was mentored by the writer. Now, she has written an ode to her told in poems and prose. Here, Oprah Daily shares an exclusive sneak peak of the forthcoming volume, just in time to say: Happy Birthday Octavia Butler.

(3) THE PLAY’S THE THING. (Except she’s talking about a different play than Hamlet.) Connie Willis shared “Some Midsummer Night’s Dreams for Midsummer Night” on Facebook.

…The first night of our film festival, we watched GET OVER IT, the teen movie with Ben Foster, Kristen Dunst, and Martin Short. Berke, played by Ben Foster, has been dumped by Allison for another guy, so he tries out for the school musical DeFores-Oates (Martin Short) is directing, to try to get her back. He’s helped by Kelly (Kirsten Dunst) who really likes him, but he doesn’t even see her because he’s completely obsessed with getting Hermia back. Sound familiar?

The movie doesn’t do the whole play–there’s no Pyramus and Thisbe and Bottom’s just a walk-on, but there are fairies (including the rapper Sisqo), and a stoned stage crew who double as Puck, and the movie’s surprisingly faithful to the play, except for the ending, when Berke takes things into his own hands. GET OVER IT captures even better than Shakespeare the agony you go through when you’re in love with someone who doesn’t even know you exist.

The second night we watched the 1999 A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM (or as I call it, the Ally McBeal version,) starring Calista Flockhart and Christian Bale, with Kevin Kline as Bottom and Stanley Tucci as Puck. It’s a good movie overall and lots of stuff I loved–the lovers flee to the woods on bicycles, Puck is very funny and as much of an annoyance to his boss Oberon, Michelle Pfeiffer makes a sexy and funny Titania, and Max Wright is beyond wonderful as the reluctant actor dragged into the play at the last minute to be the Man in the Moon, with a cigarette dangling from his lip and a dog getting into the act.

But there are three moments of true genius in the play…

(4) GOODBYE TO AMAZON. Amanda S. Greene continues her step-by-step explanation of everything involved in shifting her books away from the Amazon platform in “Moving Forward or Onward or Whatever” at Mad Genius Club. There are a lot of issues that require thoughtful decisions.

 …I knew when I started it more would be involved than just uploading my books to the various storefronts or 3rd party aggregator. I hadn’t anticipated having to retrain myself to think in ways I haven’t since going exclusively with Amazon. 

Without going into too much detail, I had to look at how to get my books into the various storefronts, which storefronts I wanted to go with, etc. Initially, I decided to upload direct to BN, Kobo and Apple. I’d use Draft2Digital for the rest. I’ve changed my mind. The time saved alone by using D2D for everything is worth the few pennies per sale I pay to D2D to handle things for me. All I have to do is upload a generic ePub of the book, fill in the blanks and they do the rest. 

There is an added benefit of allowing them to handle it. Draft2Digital has a “sister” site called Books2Read. I’ve mentioned the site before but I am really starting to appreciate how powerful of a tool it can be for a writer. For example, here’s the landing page for Witchfire Burning. It shows the cover, gives the description and below lists other books (showing covers) I’ve written. It’s a much more attractive landing page than the product page at Amazon. If you click on the “get it now” button, it will take you to a new page where you can choose which storefront you want to visit (and I need to update it to pull in the Amazon link). 

The great thing about something like this is you can use it as your landing page for the book on your website…. 

(5) WE INTERRUPT THIS KERFUFFLE. Michael Swanwick offered “A Few Quiet Words of Thanks for the People Putting on Discon III” at Flogging Babel.

Yesterday, I reserved my hotel room for Discon III. And that put me in mind of the first and only time I was on a con committee.

This was in the 1970s, before I made my first sale. I’d only been to a few science fiction conventions but I knew the guy in charge of putting on a con whose name I conveniently forget and, doubtless for reasons of fannish politics, he filled the committee with his friends, despite the fact we none of us had any experience at the tasks we were assigned.

Long story, short. I did a terrible job. And I’ve never volunteered to serve again. Because even if everything goes perfectly, your reward for putting on a convention is not getting to experience it.

So I’d like to express my gratitude to the Discon III staff, both present and past. That includes everybody who quit for reasons of principle and everybody who decided to tough it out, also for reasons of principle.

This has been a star-crossed year for the Worldcon. I won’t bother to list all the problems: Acts of God, acts of Man, acts of Fans. We all know them. It must have been maddening to be at the white-hot center of them all.

Which makes this a good time to say: Thank you.

(6) FINE DISTINCTION. And one of John Scalzi’s comments:

(7) VISIT FROM THE DOCTOR. Jo Martin will be a guest at Gallifrey One: Thirty Second to Midnight, to be held in LA in February 2022.

It’s with great pleasure that we can now announce that JO MARTIN will be joining us next February as a confirmed guest, for her very first Doctor Who convention appearance in North America!

Jo Martin became an immediately beloved part of Doctor Who mythology when she appeared as Ruth Clayton in series 12’s “Fugitive of the Judoon” opposite Jodie Whittaker… a woman who was, in fact, a previously unknown earlier incarnation of the Doctor herself!  As the landmark first Doctor of color to be shown in the long-running series, she also appeared in the season finale “The Timeless Children.”…

(8) ONLINE PROMETHEUS AWARDS TO INCLUDE LFS-REASON PANEL. The Libertarian Futurist Society couch plans for their online award ceremony in these terms:

In 2021, LFS members will have a rare opportunity to watch and enjoy the annual Prometheus Awards ceremony and an interesting related panel discussion for free online – without having to register for a Worldcon.

Reason magazine will be the media sponsor of the hour-plus panel discussion, which will immediately follow the online half-hour Prometheus Awards ceremony for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame). Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward and Reason’s book editor Jesse Walker will join LFS leaders, including board president William H. Stoddard, on the hour-plus panel discussion along with, we hope, the 2021 Prometheus Award-winning novelist (tba).

(9) VETERAN COMICS READER. James Bacon was interviewed by Football Comics Podcast Champ/We are United, as hosts Rab and Gull take a little break from all the footie and have a look at War Comics, covering classic titles like Battle, Commando, Victor, Warlord, and many more. “Champ/We Are United Episode 13: War Comics”.

(10) COSPLAY DATING. Yahoo! says “Singles Dress Up as Creatures for Blind Dates” is the premise of Sexy Beasts.

Given the popularity of The Masked Singer, we can ascertain that viewers enjoy watching people dressed up in strange costumes. And given the general state of reality television over the past two decades, we can also conclude that people enjoy watching people go on bizarre dates. Netflix has endeavored to combine these two irrefutable tenets in one convenient package. Thus, we have Sexy Beasts, in which elaborate-prosthetic-laden singles meet for a night of “nonjudgmental” romance. At least that’s how they’re touting it. Take a look at the trailer, which features dolphins, demons, canids, scarecrows, insects, bovines, and a handful of uncategorizables….

(11) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • June 23, 1976 — On this date in 1976, Logan’s Run premiered. It was directed by Michael Anderson and produced by Saud David. The screenplay by David Zelag Goodman is based on the 1967 Logan’s Run novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. It starred Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Roscoe Lee Browne, Farrah Fawcett, and Peter Ustinov. Though critical reception was at best mixed, it was a box success and is considered to have MGM from financial ruin. It was nominated at SunCon, a year in which no film was awarded a Hugo. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it an excellent sixty-seven percent rating. 

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born June 23, 1945 — Eileen Gunn, 76. Her story “Coming to Terms” based on her friendship with Avram Davidson won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story. Her stories are in Stable Strategies and OthersSteampunk Quartet and Questionable Practices. With L. Timmel Duchamp, she penned The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 2: Provocative Essays on Feminism, Race, Revolution, and the Future. She’s well stocked at the usual digital suspects. 
  • Born June 23, 1951 — Greg Bear, 70. Blood Music which won both a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award is an amazing read. I’m also very fond of the Songs of Earth and Power duology, The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage, and found his Queen of Angels a fascinating mystery. He’s deeply stocked at the usual suspects. 
  • Born June 23, 1953 — Russell Mulcahy, 68. You’ll likely remember him as directing Highlander, but he was responsible also for Highlander II: The Quickening, but disowned it after the completion-bond company really messed with production. He would later released this film in Highlander II: The Renegade Version. He also directed episodes of The HungerOn The BeachPerversions of Science and Tales from The Crypt
  • Born June 23, 1957 — Frances McDormand, 64. She’s God. Well at least The Voice of God in Good Omens. Which in on Amazon y’all. Her first genre role was in the “Need to Know” episode of Twilight Zone followed shortly thereafter by being Julie Hastings in Sam Raimi’s excellent Dark Man. She’s The Handler in Æon Flux and that’s pretty much everything genre worth noting. 
  • Born June 23, 1963 — Cixin Liu, 58. He’s a winner of a Hugo Award  for The Three-Body Problem and a Locus Award for Death’s End. He also a nine-time recipient of the Galaxy Award, the Chinese State sponsored SFF Awards. Anyone got a clue what’s going on with the alleged Amazon production of The Three-Body Problem as a film? Is it still on? 
  • Born June 23, 1964 — Joss Whedon, 57. I think I first encounter him with the Buffy tv series. And I hold that Angel was far better told. Firefly was a lovely series that ended far too soon. And don’t get me started on the Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Born June 23, 1972 — Selma Blair, 49. Liz Sherman in Hellboy, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. She voiced the character also in the animated Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron as well. She’s Stevie Wayne in The Fog, a slasher film a few years later and was Cyane on the “Lifeblood” episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. Later on, she’d be Jessica Harris in the “Infestation” episode of Lost in Space. 
  • Born June 23, 2000 — Caitlin Blackwood, 21. She was the young Amelia Pond in these Doctor Who episodes; “The Eleventh Hour”, “The Big Bang”, “Let’s Kill Hitler”, and “The God Complex”, and had a cameo in “The Angels Take Manhattan”.  She’s the cousin of Karen Gillan who plays the adult Pond. No idea how she was cast in the role but it was brilliantly inspired casting!

(13) COMICS SECTION.

  • Tom Gauld’s cartoon for New Scientist.

(14) WELCOME TO THE NEW WORLD. CrimeReads excerpts a new history of comic books by Paul S. Hirsch: “The Early, Wild, Exploited, and Sometimes Radical Days of the Comic Book Industry in America”.

The American comic book is inseparable from foreign policy, the great twentieth-century battles between capitalism and totalitarianism, and the political goals of the world’s preeminent military and cultural power. The history of the American comic book is a story of visual culture, commerce, race, and policy. These four fields are analogous to the four colors used to print comic books: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. They lie atop one another, smearing, blending, and bleeding to create a complete image. To separate them is to disassemble a coherent whole and to shatter a picture that in its entirety shows us how culture and diplomacy were entangled during the mid-twentieth century.

THE EARLY YEARS, 1935–1945

The period from 1935 to 1945 was defined by images of darkness and light. The comic industry itself—populated by otherwise unemployable immigrants, racial minorities, and political radicals—emerged from the shadows of the New York publishing world….

(15) BOOK RESURRECTION. “’Most of Australia’s literary heritage is out of print’: the fight to rescue a nation’s lost books” in The Guardian.

…This is the unfortunate fate of most books, even literary prize-winners. In fact, of the 62 books that won Australia’s Miles Franklin Award between 1957 and 2019, 23 are currently not available as ebooks, 40 are not available as audiobooks, and 10 are not available anywhere, in any format whatsoever. They’re officially out of print. This is something that Untapped: The Australian Literary Heritage Project is trying to rectify.

“Untapped is a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers, and it came about because most of Australia’s literary heritage is out of print. You can’t find it anywhere,” says project lead, Associate Professor Rebecca Giblin from Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne. “Think about it. If so many Miles Franklin winners are out of print, you can imagine how bad availability must be for memoir, and histories, and other local stories.”

Untapped’s mission is to digitise 200 of Australia’s most important lost books, preserving them for future generations and making them available through a national network of libraries. They include books such as Anita Heiss’s I’m Not Racist, But … (2007) and Frank Hardy’s The Unlucky Australians (1968). “One exciting thing is that all these books will now be part of the National E-deposit scheme,” Giblin says, referring to the legal requirement for all publishers to provide copies of published works to libraries – a framework only recently extended to electronic publishing. “This means they’ll be preserved forever. These books will now be around as long as we have libraries.”

(16) WEIR Q&A. Suspense Radio, a thriller podcast, interviews Andy Weir: “LaunchpadOne: Interview with Andy Weir”.

Andy Weir built a two-decade career as a software engineer until the success of his first published novel, The Martian, allowed him to live out his dream of writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of such subjects as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He also mixes a mean cocktail. He lives in California.

(17) ROY HOWARD GOH SPEECH. [Item by Cora Buhlert.] The Cromcast has a recording of Roy Thomas’ guest of honor speech at the 2021 Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains. Lots of interesting stuff about working at Marvel in the 1960s and 1970s, not just Conan related, though there is a lot of that, too. “Howard Days 2021 – When Conan Went Public!”

(18) BUILDING UP THEIR INVENTORY. James Davis Nicoll knows where the cargo in their holds came from — “Risky Business: Five Books About Interplanetary Trade” at Tor.com.

Humans have, starting in prehistoric times (with obsidian, red ochre, etc.), established vast trade networks that cross mountains, deserts, and oceans. Presumably, this will be true in the future as well, even as humanity expands out into SPAAACE. While there are reasons why larger concerns will tend to dominate, the little guys will often provide more engaging narratives. Thus, these five heartwarming tales of working traders enthusiastically engaging in commerce among the stars…

The Trouble Twisters by Poul Anderson (1966)

Hyperdrive gave humans the stars…also vast fortunes to Polesotechnic League merchant princes like Nicolas van Rijn. Great men cannot be everywhere, however, which is why this collection of short pieces focuses not on van Rijn but his employee, David Falkayn (don’t worry! David eventually gets into management by marrying the boss’s beautiful daughter). Whether upending religious prohibitions, obtaining state secrets, or intervening in bitter ethnic strife, Falkayn and his co-workers always find the solution that delivers profit.

Long after the events in this book, Falkayn would become disenchanted with the League’s conscience-blind focus on immediate profits. This would have regrettable implications for Falkayn’s relationship with van Rijn, but without actually saving the League or humanity from the consequences of the League’s short-sighted policies. But at least they generated lots of profit for the shareholders before the League-armed space barbarians descended from the skies….

(19) SPIDER-MAN BEYOND. A Marvel press release tells me – “Stay tuned tomorrow for information on this exciting new Amazing Spider-Man era from Kelly Thompson, Saladin Ahmed, Cody Ziglar, Patrick Gleason, and Zeb Wells!”

(20) MARVEL MARKETING. Did that previous item come from this guy? This video from Screen Rant, which dropped today, features Ryan George as master marketer Normantula McMan, who says, “I get butts in seats.  I influence butts in ways you can’t imagine.”  And McMan knows butts, because his grandpa came up with the idea that four out of five doctors recommended a particular smoke!

(21) ASTRONAUTS TO EXPERIENCE TIDE EFEFCT. Yep, here’s the science entry in today’s Scroll courtesy of the AP: “Dirty laundry in space? NASA, Tide tackle cleaning challenge”. It turns out there’s a simple reason why the International Space Station smells like an old gym sock.

How do astronauts do laundry in space? They don’t.

They wear their underwear, gym clothes and everything else until they can’t take the filth and stink anymore, then junk them.

NASA wants to change that — if not at the International Space Station, then the moon and Mars — and stop throwing away tons of dirty clothes every year, stuffing them in the trash to burn up in the atmosphere aboard discarded cargo ships. So it’s teamed up with Procter & Gamble Co. to figure out how best to clean astronauts’ clothes in space so they can be reused for months or even years, just like on Earth.

The Cincinnati company announced Tuesday that it will send a pair of Tide detergent and stain removal experiments to the space station later this year and next, all part of the galactic battle against soiled and sweaty clothes….

(22) RETURN TO SENDER. Yahoo! draws our attention to a remarkable working model: “Fan-Made Captain America Shield Actually Bounces Back”.

…We have to give big props to the YouTuber here. Unlike other “make your own Cap shield” videos, he didn’t go the drone route. Which is kind of cheating. The MCU shield bounces after all, it doesn’t fly. According to their own description, the shield they made was created with carbon fiber with a fiberglass ring, to provide bounce while keeping maximum strength. The shield also magnetically connects to the user’s wrist, and can be thrown overhand just like Cap. We think the final results are pretty darn impressive….

[Thanks to Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Andrew Porter, Hampus Eckerman, Cora Buhlert, James Davis Nicoll, Olav Rokne, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Michael Toman, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to contributing editor of the day Daniel Dern.]

Pixel Bunker Retro Arcade

By James Bacon: Pixel Bunker is retro arcade in Central Milton Keynes, England, and has opened with the end of the Covid lockdown. With over 100 arcade machines, they operate on a pay-once-to-enter and no further charges model, so a three-hour visit is £12, an absolute bargain when I think of how much I spent in so little time any time I could get to an arcade! 

With Covid-Safe precautions, there’s tight control and pre-booking required, and there is a max capacity of 70 in the 2000 sq ft space — it felt spacious and uncramped. With a number of games for two players, there was never a wait to get onto favourite machines.

Which, let’s be honest, is a new experience. 

The variety of machines, is amazing, Outrun, Time Crisis 2, which was always very popular, Tron, Afterburner, Donkey Kong – well, they have 100 machines! 

I was impressed to find Return of the Jedi and even more so, the sit-down X-Wing Star Wars machine which was utterly fabulous. The sounds, the visuals, linear and basic, and such an immersive machine where one can escape. And if you get blasted, just press Start.  

I got a chance to speak to Jason Joiner, who is currently developing The National Film and Sci-Fi Museum where the arcade is situated. He explained that the Museum had some machines but another business rented them out to him for large events. This business was in trouble during Covid, so an accommodation was made to buy the machines, all of which are fully restored and maintained and the same team continues to maintain them — a collobarative success in time of crisis. 

More machines have been acquired, and they cycle games in and out. 

These are unique and fascinating moments in history. I was minded of the Pinball Machine museum near Oakland, the old games on the pier at San Francisco, both of which I enjoyed, but these are the electronic machines I grew up with, and do much Science Fiction, Aliens, RoboCop, Battlezone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many more. 

The collection is growing and there were Star Trek II, Willow and Empire Strikes Back machines awaiting cycling into use.

I loved it. I went to Sega World in the Trocadero many years ago and loved it, I think the pay in once model really helps, and although they did not have Gauntlet or the Sega R360 After Burner game, I cannot complain and really enjoyed it. 

Click for details of the Pixel Bunker and National Film and Sci-Fi Museum.

Pixel Bunker tickets are available here from Eventbrite.

The National Film & Sci-fi Museum is in central Milton Keynes at 34 Secklow Gate West, MK9 3AT.

[We’ll send James back to the National Film & Sci-fi Museum when its 20,000 sq foot museum opens and get a full report.]

Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – Review by James Bacon

Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga — Titan Books $29.99 

By James Bacon: This 176-page book is surprisingly nice and informative, given the incredible amount of literature available on Star Wars.

Each film gets an impressive double page photo spread, the bulk of the book are three columns of quotes, some quality film images, and loads of behind the scenes photos. Sometimes there is a bit of contextualization to these quotes, but there have been some seriously clever and judicious choices. While Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are much quoted, and I did yearn for more Alec Guinness, the actors speak considerably, we also get people involved in the production, we get Brian Muir who sculpted the Darth Vader costume,  Ralph McQuarrie who was a concept artist, Joe Johnston who was effects illustration and design and Peter Hirsch the editor of Star Wars. Added with images of cast that were cut from the film, it really adds up to a surprisingly enjoyable book, with quite a bit to interest most fans. 

There is a system, each film has around 18 pages, as well as an introductory double page spread, there is an image of a film poster and a page of trivia. The paper is very high quality and it is nicely packaged with what I think is an enhanced collage of images as the cover. 

This is the perfect book for someone who does not have much literature on the films, but who wants more insight, especially into the production and views of the actors, but who is not ready for the likes of J.W. Rinzler ‘Making of books’ at 360 pages each or Craig Miller’s wonderful Star Wars Memories: My Time In The (Death Star) Trenches with its 400 pages of sharp insight and unique perspective.  

An interest in the making of the film is definitely being cultivated here, without being inundated with information, and the quotes are fun, the editors have found some quirky pieces, none are ever too long and it feels very well matched to the imagery.  I suspect some of it may have appeared in the lifetime of the Star Wars Insider magazine, but I’m not checking 200 magazines, so it’s a suspicion. 

It’s for the newer fan to Star Wars who wants something relevant, but also something that can be dipped in and out of quite easily. 

Without doubt I think the behind the scenes images, cut scenes  and some of the more interesting quotes, really make this book, and I did love seeing Declan Mulholland as Jabba the Hutt and the guys at Torsche station that we never saw, and Lupita Nyong’o in motion capture suit who we saw as Maz Kanata. 

With so many books on Star Wars, it is vital to know the reader who a book best suits, and it make me think of some newer fans, with the Lego, who have seen the films, but not many books on the shelves, sharing details and maybe piquing interest in the art and work that goes into making a film. 

[Titan Comics says this can be ordered from Amazon: Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga The Official Collector’s Edition Book Hardcover]

Sample page spreads follow the jump. Click for larger image.

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