Hosting Horror

To me, as a kid, Saturday afternoon was a sacred time. I spent each Saturday from 1pm until 6pm watching Superhost Marty Sullivan show old horror and sci-fi movies from Cleveland, OH. In fact, I dare say it was a more religious experience to me than my Sunday mornings at church!

http://www.clevelandseniors.com/photos/marty-sullivan/superhost.jpg

As such, I have a great fondness for Horror Hosts and the Creature Feature programs they hosted. According to what I read, they were the result of packages of old B-Grade Horror Movies being sold to small and independent stations back in the day to pretty much act as filler content during lulls in programming. The problem was that these movies were all of odd lengths, and generally needed to be fit evenly with commercials into 2-3 hour blocks. So, they created Horror Hosts like Vampira (the first horror host was actually a Host-ess!) to fill in the gaps or occasionally narrate around edits for time when things needed to be shortened.

This evolution was chronicled in the documentary American Scary, which you can watch in full here:


American Scary by filmow

Each Horror Host had their own schtick and style, and there were a lot of them! Superhost was the one I actually watched on a regular basis because of his fondness for Japanese Giant Monster Movies, but I did occasionally watch Sir Graves Ghastly from Detroit if there was something he was showing I thought it was worth staying up for.


Most Hosts did extra comedy skits, and many of them became very famous local celebrities, often appearing at special events and doing charity work.

Oddly enough, Cleveland (which is right across Lake Erie from my own city of London, ON) was a hotbed for Horror Hosts, and the producer of one of the most famous- Ghoulardi. Ghoulardi was way before my time (1963-1966) but was so influential and popular that there’s even a convention in his honor held every year which attracts many fans of the genre. There was also an Emmy award-winning documentary made about him called Turn Blue, which you can also watch on Youtube…


Sadly, Horror Hosts seem to have been a uniquely American phenomenon (here’s a list of the Top 12), with the only non-American host I’ve been able to find being one in Australia. I tried to find examples of Canadian ones, but we don’t seem to have had any true ones. (I have heard there might have been one in Montreal, though.) They’re a cultural artifact which has mostly passed into history, as there are only a tiny handful of them left, mostly on local public access TV channels in the US. I’ve also heard there are a few modern Horror Hosts doing their thing on Youtube, but haven’t found any yet.

I’m not sure why they interest me so, I guess it’s just nostalgia as I get older. They’re an artifact of my childhood that I wasn’t aware was different while I was growing up, but are gone now that I’m old enough to appreciate them. Yeah, there’s Rifttracks and MST3K, but it’s not the same. I guess you just had to be there! 🙂

Stay Sick!

A few sites with more information:

http://www.horrorhostgraveyard.com/

http://myweb.wvnet.edu/e-gor/tvhorrorhosts//

http://www.horrorhostmagazine.com/

The Population vs. Productivity Paradox

This is one of the most fascinating discussions I’ve listened to in a while, and also one of the most sobering. Take the time to listen to this episode of the Cracked podcast, it’s 100% worth it, although a little unsettling in its conclusions. You don’t expect to get something this deep and thoughtful from a “comedy” podcast, but here it is…

Listened to it? (Really, go listen to it, it’s worth the time.)

Okay, now my own thoughts.

I think Jason’s pretty much 100% right, and while I wouldn’t quite call it a “hive mind”, I do think that societies function as organisms on a greater level than the individual which have their own goals and responses. The idea that societies produce the kinds of people they “need” makes sense if you look at it from this perspective and the children of each generation are shaped to suit the needs of that society by social forces.

Of course, his conclusions are pretty uncomfortable. When I first heard what he said, all I could think of was Mega-City One from the old Judge Dredd comics. Despite how the city is often portrayed post-1980’s in the comics, the original idea behind the city was that it was a city where everyone’s basic needs were taken care of by the state, and so the whole population existed in this everlasting condition of slight boredom. The city was essentially a warehouse of people who existed to exist, and this produced bizarre social trends and cultural movements which the comic played for darkly humourous social commentary.

However, looking at it with a more logical eye, I think the society he proposes might not be the worst option. Heck, as he says we pretty much do this already, we just call it something else. Those with ambition work, while those without ambition would just spend their time doing whatever it was they enjoyed and keeping out of trouble. Here in Canada we almost do this already with our extensive Welfare system, which many Conservatives harp on all the time and say we need to be rid of to “force them to work”. But the truth is we already have an “official”  unemployment rate hovering around 7%, and the true rate is probably much much higher (the government manipulates the numbers so they don’t look bad), so if we were to force all those “welfare bums” out onto the street what work would there be for them? Do you want hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of unemployed, starving and desperate people dumped out into our society? How’s that going to benefit social stability?

Meanwhile, as he says, all those “welfare bums” put 100% of what the government gives them back into society and keep our economy going, so why should we begrudge giving them what they need to survive? If anything, it’s the rich people who hoard their money that actually take money from the system and work against the economy by not putting most of what they make back into circulation.

What’s the alternative anyways? We either give people what they need to live, and let them choose what to do with their lives, or we have a large excess population that is poor, increasingly desperate, and progressively on the verge of social unrest until revolution finally does happen. And when it does, everyone will lose- rich and poor.

Then again, it would solve some of the overpopulation problem. As Jason says, society has a way of correcting these things on its own.

Rob

 

 

D.I.Y.O.F.S. Culture

D.I.Y.O.F.S. Culture

(Warning! Incoming rant! Warning! Explicit Language!)

So yesterday, the new 12th Doctor Who was revealed. A Scotsman named Peter Capaldi will replace Matt Smith, and by all rights Capaldi is a fine actor who will do credit to the job. However, this being the internet, what almost immediately followed was a cascade of whining.

He’s too old!

He’s too male!

He’s too white!

And infinite variations of the above.

To this, I have two responses. One, fuck you. He’s fine, and you’ll probably think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread after you’ve gotten used to him. Stop killing pixels for your self-indulgent pointless chatter.

Two, if you want to see your socio-ethnic-cultural group of choice become The Doctor- Do It Your Own Fucking Self! Make your own Stories, Videos, Movies, Comics, Audio Dramas, or whatever else, with the Doctor of your choice and stop being a lazy fucking consumer who expects to have anything they want handed to them.

You live in an amazing age, when the ability to produce quality media of all kinds, and get it out to literally the world, can be done at almost no cost. This wasn’t true even 20 years ago, and a lot of people still act like it’s the pre-internet age, but right now the only thing stopping you from making your dreams into reality and having your voice heard is YOU.

Now, you might whine- What do I know? I’m just some guy mouthing off on a blog, right? What have I done?

The answer is- plenty!

In 2006, I decided I wanted to create a full-cast Audio Drama Podcast (Audio Drama = Radio Plays in the old days.) because I wasn’t hearing the kind of shows I wanted to hear and I thought it would be cool. But, I had a few problems…

  • I had almost no money.
  • I had no microphone.
  • I only had one aging laptop.
  • I had no production software.
  • I had no music and no musical talent.
  • I had no sound effects.
  • I had no idea how do make or post a Podcast.
  • I had written exactly one script in my entire life.
  • I had no contacts or connections online that could help me.
  • Very few people had done this kind of thing at that time.
  • I was sitting in the middle of Taipei, Taiwan. On the other side of the planet from all my friends and personal resources. (And people who spoke English.)
  • My job took about 60 hours a week of my time.

All I had was a desire, a will to do it, and my own creativity.

  • I studied scriptwriting and learned how to do it properly.
  • I found a cheap iRiver MP3 player with a decent Mic on it.
  • I found free audio editing software like Audacity.
  • I found sites with Creative Commons Music and Sound Effects that others would let me use for free.
  • I made contacts within the internet audio production and audio drama community.
  • I found the Voice Acting Alliance forum where amateur voice actors would do recordings over the internet for free.
  • I taught myself audio engineering.
  • I learned how to work with and manage actors from across the planet.
  • I taught myself how RSS worked and how to get a podcast out. (Now it’s super-simple, but then it was a little more tricky)

And I produced my first show, and it was total shit!

Then I produced my second one, and it was better.

In the end, between 2006-2011 Kung Fu Action Theatre would go on to produce 47 shows, averaging 20-25 minutes each, and has had around 400,000 downloads to date. I’ve made contacts, friends and fans. I’ve become part of many online communities. I developed skills I never thought I’d have and it’s helped me both personally and professionally.

And, I’ve made the shows I wanted to hear.

I didn’t whine online and ask someone else to change the world for me, I did it myself and then used the incredible tools this modern age offers to get my stuff out there. I Did It My Own Fucking Self, and it’s a badge of honor I’ll wear for the rest of my life.

So, in a time when you can make HD movies with a cell phone, when Youtube lets you reach millions of viewers (and get a better viewership than some TV stations!), when the software to produce and edit audio and video is free, when the knowledge to do anything you want is just a Google search away, and when you can get people to help you just by posting on Reddit- I have no sympathy for those who want to sit there and whine instead of trying to DO something and put their effort where their mouth is.

You want the world to be different? You think we need an epic tale of a Mixed-Race Lesbian Mormon Vampire Hunter? A Transgender Action Hero? A Native American Superspy? A female Doctor Who?

Do It Your Own Fucking Self.

You have more power and ability to change the world than anyone had had in the history of mankind. So stop whining in comments, get off your lazy ass, and use it!

Rob

Wow, that is just cool! Oldschool Stilt Walkers

Now I have to think of a Martial Art to go along with this! That would be awesome!

The practical workaround for this problem started with shepherds, but gradually spread to anyone, including postal carriers and law enforcers, who needed to move vast distances quickly. They wore stilts. And not small ones, either. Any stiltwalker perched about three and a half feet up, and some had stilts that were much higher. They carried a long cane that reached to the ground which they would lean on whenever they were still, or even sit on to rest. With practice they became agile – dancing, running, and even lowering themselves so close to the ground that they could pick flowers.

via An ancient mode of transportation that could work on other planets.

More detailed history can be found here.

Do American Comics still mean Superhero Comics?

My friend Don C. proposed an interesting theory to me last night when we were talking, he said that in his educated opinion (and he does know a lot about comics) the age of the Superhero Comic in North America was finished. That while there are still Superhero comics being sold, their future is as limited as their sales. (In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Marvel Comics were selling close to a million copies per title for their top tier, now they sell close to a million comics for their entire lineups!)

His thesis is that although it hasn’t become clear yet, Manga won. Not just in terms of sales, but in terms of being the comic form that captured the imaginations of the next generation of readers and creators. He sees superhero comics are largely running on inertia and nostalgia, and thinks that while they won’t disappear, that superhero comics will be a smaller and smaller piece of the North American comics landscape.

Now, this doesn’t mean all comics will become Manga, or even manga-wannabes (although the market does have a fair amount of both), but it does mean that a generation that sees comics as an open art form that can tell many different kinds of stories is now rising up. I myself agreed with this thesis when I thought about the current webcomics market. Those are the next generation of comic creators, and they’re producing slice of life, comedy, romance, drama, fantasy, sci-fi, and a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t fit into any one genre, but they’re not producing much in the way of superhero books.

Right now, part of the reason we’re seeing so much in the way of superhero movies is because the current generation (my generation) grew up in the great Bronze Age revival of Superheroes in the 70s and 80s. They’re the ones ruling the Hollywood roost, and they’re drawing from their formative reading years in what they’re producing. The upcoming generation grew up on Harry Potter and Manga, so what will they produce when they rule in the roost in 10 to 15? And will Superheroes still hold a place in that world?

While I love superheroes, I have to admit that for a long time I think they’ve been the thing holding back Comics as an art form in North America. Only superhero books seemed to sell, so that’s mostly what got produced, and people came to associate comics with superheros so tightly that I think it was hard to differentiate the two. Given that superhero books are inherently 14 year old power fantasies, it’s been hard for comics to break out of the ghetto society has placed them in. It will only be when we break the comic=superhero link that the art form of Comic Books will truly flourish and they will become an accepted medium in society as a whole.

As Don suggested, that may have already happened. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Rob

Project Play- Aftermath

Today I attended Project Play, London’s first (or is that most recent? not sure) gaming convention of the universal sort. What I mean by that is that there wasn’t just Role Playing Games, or Tabletop Games, or Electronic Games, or Console Games, or Mobile Games, or Tablet Games or Classic Games or even Card Games- there was all of them! And more!

Fanshawe’s Student Union building was filled with game sellers, producers, and players. It also played host to Doll fans, Cosplayers, and Anime fans, who each had their own little areas, and other oddities like the Personal Computer Museum. (Which made me feel quite old as I looked at all the consoles I used to play as a kid, like the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and the Commodore 64. I remember when the Vic 20 was new!) A nice collection of different smaller fandoms all under one roof that wouldn’t normally have enough people for a con, but could collectively benefit from being together.

I arrived about halfway into the event and I spent my time flitting from place to place and visiting with different people I knew, but mostly I spent time at the Forest City Go Club table playing teaching games of Go with Matt and Mark (who were kind enough to give up their day to man the table). When I first got there the club had been relegated to a back room, but eventually we managed to get moved to a more central location between a number of video game producers and things really started to hum! Quite a few people were interested in learning about Go, and with luck we made a few new Go fans. (And maybe club members! We’ll see in the coming weeks!)

I’d say somewhere between two and three hundred people came out to Project Play today. That’s just a guess, but by the afternoon that place was really moving, and it was a joy to see. There have been attempts to hold Comic and Sci-Fi conventions in London before, with varying degrees of success, but none of them really brought together so many diverse groups and done it so well.

I hope that there’s another Project Play next year, and that it’s bigger and better advertised than this one! I think they’ve only tapped their potential, and will just get bigger and better from here!

Rob

John Ralston Saul on The Collapse of Globalism

Just finished watching this amazing 2 part interview with John Raulston Saul that aired on TVO’s The Agenda this week. A really fascinating discussion of the real nature of Globalization and how and why Saul believes it failed.

I’m not sure I agree with everything Saul says, but most of it does make a large degree of sense. One of the most interesting things he explained (for me) was about the “Oil Crisis” that occurred in the 1970’s, of which Oil was only a part of the problem. The short version is that what really happened in the 1970’s was that we went from an economy of scarcity (there not being enough product) to an economy of surplus (lots of product available from multiple competing sources) and this rocked our whole financial system. Suddenly, there wasn’t big profit in making things anymore because there would always be so much competition out there to drive prices (and profits) down. Globalization was an attempt to solve this problem by “creating new markets through pulling down borders and bringing up standards of living”, thus creating more customers and in theory driving up prices again by making products scarce again. Of course, I’d say it didn’t work out so well for many reasons, including that those new markets became our factories where where produced products even more cheaply, and instead drove prices and profits down even more!

An interesting sidenote is that this is why in the 1980’s we saw a rise in Stock Markets and financial instruments, because making money by real investing didn’t produce the kind of profit people wanted anymore, so it became about playing with money in order to produce more money. Think about it, people don’t buy stocks because they care about a product or company, they buy them because they want to ride the wave and dump them at a time when they can make more profit from that stock.

Anyways, enough of my thoughts on the subject, spend the 50 minutes it will take to watch this 2 part interview (especially the second part) and give Saul a listen. It’s one of the most interesting interviews I’ve seen in a while, and I may just pick up his most recent book and give it a read.

 

Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters – Medical Daily

Behold! The power of reading!

Psychologists have discovered that while reading a book or story, people are prone to subconsciously adopt their behavior, thoughts, beliefs and internal responses to that of fictional characters as if they were their own.

Experts have dubbed this subconscious phenomenon ‘experience-taking,’ where people actually change their own behaviors and thoughts to match those of a fictional character that they can identify with.

Researcher from the Ohio State University conducted a series of six different experiments on about 500 participants, reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that in the right situations, ‘experience-taking,’ may lead to temporary real world changes in the lives of readers.

via Psychologists Discover How People Subconsciously Become Their Favorite Fictional Characters – Medical Daily.

Our real first gay president – American History – Salon.com

Salon.com has just published an amazing article about American’s first actually 100% real gay president, not one who is just pro-gay- James Buchanan. It’s a rebuttal of sorts to this week’s Newsweek cover on Obama as “America’s First Gay President” for his support of gay marriage.

But, what impressed me so much wasn’t that the article focussed on trying to prove Buchanan was gay, but the emphasis it placed on what it terms Chronological Ethnocentrism. (I’d probably just have called it Chronocentrism, but that’s just me.)

From the article:

Despite such evidence, one reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now.

This ideology of progress amounts to a chronological form of ethnocentrism. Thus chronological ethnocentrism is the belief that we now live in a better society, compared to past societies. Of course, ethnocentrism is the anthropological term for the attitude that our society is better than any other society now existing, and theirs are OK to the degree that they are like ours.

Chronological ethnocentrism plays a helpful role for history textbook authors: it lets them sequester bad things, from racism to the robber barons, in the distant past. Unfortunately for students, it also makes history impossibly dull, because we all “know” everything turned out for the best. It also makes history irrelevant, because it separates what we might learn about, say, racism or the robber barons in the past from issues of the here and now. Unfortunately for us all, just as ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from other societies, chronological ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from our past. It makes us stupider.

I’d never really considered this before, especially the part about it being what makes history seem so dull to most, or how it prevents us from learning from other societies and times. (We’re “better” than them, so why should we learn from them?) It’s an excellent point, and the article does a great job going into further detail about it, so give it a read!

via Our real first gay president – American History – Salon.com.

Bakuman

I buy very few manga these days, in fact, I can count the number I do buy on one hand without using all the fingers.

But if I had to pick just one manga from that very short list, that manga would be Bakuman.

How do I describe Bakuman to someone who hasn’t read it? Well, I guess the simplest description would be it’s about two Japanese teenagers who want to draw manga (comics).

But, like most things, that simple definition doesn’t even begin to cover what it really is. You see, Bakuman is funny, witty, and charming, but it’s also an in-depth exploration of the creative process, the Japanese manga industry, and even the philosophical underpinnings of what it means to be a manga artist. It manages to critique the industry and the art form itself while at the same time making us fall in love with a sometimes kooky, lovable and weird cast of misfits who inhabit that industry and live in the pressure-cooker environment that it produces.

And, it’s those characters that keep me coming back each time a new volume comes out (I refuse to read it online), because it’s like getting together with old friends with each new release. You become a part of their world, invested in their successes and failures and in them as people.

You also learn from them. Volume 10 just came out this week, and it reminded me of one of the most important things to remember as an artist- failure is good.

Not blind failure, but learning from everything you do even if you fail or if your work doesn’t measure up. The audience will never see the pile of failures that each successful story is built on, but they’re what make an artist’s craft what it is.

It’s so easy to forget that as a writer, and only want to do projects that you think you can do 100% or not do anything at all. But, those risky projects, those experimental projects, and those failures are what will make you that successful artist you want to be.

Bakuman reminded me of this, this week, and helped get me back on the right writing path. So I want to give it thanks.

If you’re curious, some fans did what they call a “visual comic” (a comic with voiceovers, music and sound effects) of the first couple of stories of Bakuman, here’s the first one-

There is also a Bakuman anime, which I’m told is quite good and popular, but I’m enjoying the manga too much to switch over.

Rob