What I’m Thankful For: My Parents (and TV!)

12:17:57 am

Okay, so one of the reasons that I haven’t been posting as much the past five days or so is because my parents came in for a visit on Friday and left Sunday. I had asked my dad to root through the boxes in their basement and bring some of my oldest action figures and he responded in spaces with boxes full of He-Man, Batman, Silverhawks, Star Wars, Ghostbusters and plenty of other random toys from my childhood. So, first of all, a huge thanks for that, Dad’s awesome.

But that’s not all, for not real reason, Mom and Dad also took Em and I to Best Buy where they treated us to a brand new flat screen TV as well as a new DVD/VCR player (which is great, because, as regular readers know, I’ve been watching DVDs on my PS2 and our old TV SUCKED). So, again, they’re awesome and not just because they bring and buy me/us stuff. This isn’t really the forum to get into all the great things they’ve done, but, according to Rickey, they’ve got to be in the top 3 sets of parents of all time. I’ve got to agree.

The TV is freaking mind blowingly awesome. After setting it up we watched Kung Fu Panda and it looked AMAZING. I kept giggling throughout the movie because it looked so good. I was astonished both by the quality and my parents’ generosity. Aside from all that, though, the movie is awesome. The voice acting is spot on (Jack Black, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross even Angelina Jolie and more) and the action scenes are SICK. It’s great to see filmmakers who realize you can do all kinds of things with CGI and not be shackled down by the physical world that real movies are. It’s also just a lot of fun, Jack Black’s funny without being TOO Blackian. I recommend everyone check it out.

I ended up staying up late after everyone else went to bed just to watch Friday the 13th 5 (I wanted to see how it looked on the new TV), there will be a Halloween Scene review soon. I wasn’t quite tired after that, still, so I popped Star Wars Battlefront II into the PS2 and had some fun with that for a while, but I wasn’t quite done so I watched some TV just to see how it looked. I eventually tapped out around 3.

On Saturday Dad and I watched college football, bouncing between the Notre Dame game (my team) and his team, Ohio State. But we weren’t just sitting there as Dad and I (but mostly him) built these frames with shrink wrap on them to place in our windows to help keep the cold out this winter. Meanwhile Mom and Em made Christmas cookies all day. And mind you, they got in around 5 on Friday and took of Sunday morning. I think Rickey’s right (though I’ve known this for a while), they’re the best. Thanks a lot Mom and Dad!

What I’m Thankful For: The Real World

4:46:23 am

My name is TJ and I am, in fact, a Real World-aholic. It feels good to admit it in public, but, to be honest, I have no problem talking about my problem. I’ve been a fan of the Real World for a long time now, which doesn’t necessarily vindicate me, but it might explain some things. 1996’s season in Miami really sticks out in my memory. I would have been 13 or 14 at the time. The funny thing is that, in the early 90s, my parents sat me down and told me they didn’t want me watching MTV because of shows like Beavis and Butthead and rap videos objectifying women.

I followed that rule for a while, but eventually started watching MTV after school and whenever I’d stay up late. The funny thing is that I never liked B&B and I really didn’t like rap at the time (and I’m still playing catch up today). But the show that really caught my attention was The Real World. I have a basic knowledge of the seasons before Miami (I’ve probably seen most of them in reruns by now), but Miami was the first one that really grabbed my attention, partly because of theaforementioned inclusion of Wilstorm Editor Sarah Becker. But the whole cast really intrigued me. These were the kinds of people I didn’t experience in my everyday life and it was really cool to see them all together and trying to start a business (which, if memory serves, never took off).

Real Worlds Boston and Seattle were also pretty big deals at the time and probably the last seasons where they didn’t stunt cast as much as they do today. I remember talking to my friend Shannon on the phone in high school for hours and one of the big topics of conversation was always the Real World. She was the first person I talked on the phone with for more then two minutes. I don’t know why that’s important, but it’s fun.

After that things started getting crazy with all the drama of Hawaii, then New Orleans and heading back to New York for the tenth anniversary. That was one of the first things in pop culture that actually made me feel old because I actually remembered ten years of something on TV. Of course now I know it to be just the first of many events to make me feel old.

I don’t remember much about Chicago by name except for the fact that two guys I would go on to know in college, Jeff and Pat got their way onto the show, though I didn’t know them when the episode aired and haven’t seen it since. As I’ve heard the story, they found out where the show was while they were filming and actually set up a lemonade stand outside the house. Eventually they got noticed by the housemates and made their way onto the show! My friends tell me that you can actually see them in the background of an episode that I would love to see.

After Chicago was the game changing Las Vegas which I remember watching every week in Jacob’s room in college. It’s weird how such a debaucherous show could bring people together (he was in my wedding party). By this time I wasn’t talking to Shannon about every episode anymore, but Jacob filled that space pretty well. You know a season’s gonna be crazy when there’s practically a threesome on the first episode. Jacob (who was a year older) and I would watch the next few seasons together until he graduated.

After that things definitely get fuzzy and I have to refer to the Wikipedia page just to remember who was in what cast, but I was also equally enamored with the Real World/Road Rules Challenges which would pit casts from the two shows against each other in games of a physical nature. I was also a Road Rules fan until they decided to take a Survivor approach and kick people off. “Why become more like the show that’s trying to steal your original concept?” I thought. Anyway, I appreciated how they’d schedule Real World seasons to follow Road Rules and vice versa and then once Road Rules tanked for whatever reason they’d fill in with the various challenges.

After college I spent a few months at home where I worked most mornings at Barry’s Bagel Place at Westgate and most nights at the Chad/Chad/Toth house (I really miss that place) watching whatever was on MTV (I regret to say that that included The Hills along with the less embarassing Real World and Challenges.

Luckily, when I moved out here to New York I found a kindred Real World spirit in Rickey, who shared my love of how ridiculous the show had become. You see, back when I was a kid I actually wanted to be on the show and now I’ve reached the peak age at which I could make it onto the show (a realization that struck me a lot harder than it should have). In three months I’ll be too old. Depressing. But after a while, that desire to be one of them transformed into an amazement at how self obsessed some people can be as well as a kind of character study. Sure the inclusion of camera will change how people act, but Real World definitely offers the budding writer (which I still consider myself, until I hit the top of that age limit as well) a great look at some truly interesting characters. But, let’s be clear, I don’t want to sound all literary and whatnot, I do like watching people get drunk and make bad decisions. It’s the same part of me that liked watching Jerry Springer when I was younger.

Anyway, Rickey and I stayed pretty well caught up, though I did fall of the wagon for a season until he told me how awesome it was and I caught up with episodes online (I wish every season was available online, I’d watch the crap out of that). Since then I’ve been watching every season and challenge as they come out.

What I like about the challenges is that you get to see these characters that you got pretty close to in previous seasons. To me they’re real people but also just characters on a TV show and seeing them all together on another show is like seeing a cool comic book team-up where you get to see a group of characters you never thought you’d get to see again.

Like I said above, I do have a problem and I accept that. I’ve known for a while that my love for the Real World and it’s bastard offspring is somewhat unnatural, but it really hit home yesterday when I realized that there wouldn’t be any new shows this weekend as The Island (the latest challenged) aired it’s last episode two weeks ago and it’s reunion show last week. I guess I’ve just got to wait until the new season hits which features a cast in Brooklyn. How crazy is it that I’ve been living this close to a Real World house and not set up a lemonade stand yet? Hmm, maybe there’s still time. What do you say Rickey? Interested?

What I’m Thankful For: The Wildstorm Universe

10:13:41 pm

As far as comic book universes go, I think the Wildstorm one might be my non-DC and Marvel favorite. Gen 13 was my gateway into Wildstorm back in the day. #14 was my first issue (with Roxy going to school on the cover) and I was hooked immediately. I didn’t really branch out into other Wildstorm books for a long time, but I was really impressed with how historic this new comic book universe felt even back then. Gen 13 were the kids of guys in a group called Team 7, whose members were on all kinds of other teams or hanging out in their own solo books (Grifter, Backlash, Lynch, Deathblow, etc.). I didn’t really know what all was going on, but I was super intrigued. So intrigued that I bought a few other books like a Team 7 mini that came out and whatnot, but not a ton of books.

I completely dodged the initial Image onslaught of comics when the boom hit, which I’m still thankful for, but I did wind up with some random issues here and there thanks to various grab bags I picked up over the years. I also watched the Wildcats cartoon when it was on, because, at the time, I’d watch ANYTHING comic book related. So, with all that I had a basic idea of what was going on in their universe and it all seemed really cool. A big part of that has to do with the artists working on these books. Man, they looked slick and definitely appealed to me as a kid, but I was also into the “super powered kids on the run from adults” story that came along with Gen 13 as it was my first exposure to such a concept. Oh yeah, I also remember Sarah from the Real World Miami being a Wildstorm editor. On the very first episode they showed her getting kicked out of her place after a big party. If memory serves (which it probably doesn’t) her roommates were J. Scott Campbell and another notable who I can’t remember. Her desk in the RW house was also surrounded by comic book pictures, which totally geeked me out back when no one on TV ever talked about comic books.

Skip ahead a bunch of years, I’ve dropped Gen 13 from my list because of Claremont’s relaunch (yeesh) and not really interested in Wildstorm anymore, but I’m hearing a lot about this book called The Authority. I eventually score an internship at Wizard where Rickey recommends I read Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch which leads directly into The Authority. I did and dug it and then read Authority and got less and less impressed as it went on. So recently, I re-read all five Stormwatch trades and they’re really good. Ellis does a surprisingly good job playing in a super hero universe that doesn’t have as many rules as DC or Marvel. I’m looking forward to reading his Authority again soon in the next few weeks too. Ellis’ Planetary is also a lot of fun, but I want the last trade dag nabbit!

Once I started working for Wizard full time I jumped back into the Wildstorm pool and was surprised to see some names that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with the company like James Robinson and Alan Moore who both did stints on Wildcats. I can’t remember how far I got, but I started with Wildcats #1 and read through Moore’s stuff (which includes Robinson’s run). Both Robinson and Moore’s arcs are pretty fantastic (especially Moore’s, no big surprise there). Like with Ellis, it was great to see Moore coming in and picking up elements from previous Wildcats stories and running with them. Moore did a bunch of other stories here and there that have been collected in one big trade that’s definitely out there, but still a lot of fun.

I also read Ed Brubaker’s Point Blank which lead into his Sleeper series with Sean Phillips. Man, this story blew me away. It could have very easily been it’s own stand alone story of espionage and intrigue, but Brubaker set it squarely in the WU, with references to Alan Moore’s Wildcats and plenty of other goings on. It’s a great series and one I recommend to anyone who loves dark and dirty comics.

From there I jumped into more modern Wildstorm as they shook up their universe with the Wold Storm event. Even now I’m not really sure what the deal was. Things were predicated by the Will Pfeifer-written Captain Atom: Armageddon mini which placed Cap in the Wildstorm U. He blew up and so did the WU, but it reformed in similar and different ways after that. I got to talk to most of the creators for the big relaunch (this is when Grant Morrison was announced to be writing both Wildcats and Authority) which was a lot of fun, but as a fan of the existing Wildstorm U, I was left mostly confused. Unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths there wasn’t a “we’re completely starting over” vibe as some teams seemed to be unchanged (Stormwatch PHD which was a great book seemed to be exactly in line with previous Stormwatch stuff) while others were way different (my beloved Gen 13). There were a few stumbling blocks as Wildcats and Authority have only put out one and two issues respectively, but overall Stormwatch PHD, Deathblow and Midnighter were all pretty solid books and Gail Simone added a whole new element with her Welcome to Tranquility series.

But the changes weren’t over as Wildstorm geared up for another big shake up with their trilogy of stories: Wildstorm: Armageddon, Wildstorm: Revelations and Number of the Beast which I liked for the most part though I wish Number of the Beast would have picked up more elements from Revelations. Anyway, now you’ve got the Wildstorm U in a kind of post-apocalyptic Mad Max-like world where everything’s turned on it’s ear and all these familiar heroes are fighting just to keep humanity going.

It’s not an easy universe to break into with over a decade’s worth of stories, but I’ve had a great time exploring the good and the bad of the Wildstorm U, which is a lot more intricate and detailed than you might think at first. If you’re looking to get in, I’d recommend Sleeper, Moore’s Wildcats, the upcoming James Robinson Wildcats trade, Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch and Authority and Stormwatch PHD. I’m really curious to see where they go with this new path and I can’t wait to see what they do and what new creators and characters will pop up in the future.

What I’m Thankful For: Halloween

2:47:59 am

As I’m sure you could tell from my near daily Halloween Scene posts throughout the month of October, I’m a big fan of Halloween. Unfortunately I’ve had some weird Halloweens over the past few years. My senior year of college I got pretty sick with bronchitis and pneumonia, so that sucked. Then my first year at Wizard (I started on October 17th), I was too new to get invited to one of the guys’ Halloween party (I also was too much of a wuss to ask if I could come, so no big deal, I just watched horror movies in my hovel of a room). The year after that, my first Halloween married we went out to the bar. Em went as the killer rabbit from Monty Python while I went as Charlie from Lost. Neither of us were very creative with our costumes. Then last year I got sick again, just a cold this time, but it was still annoying.

So, this year, I was psyched for Halloween and refused to get sick. It helped that I was sick about two weeks before (yeah!). And boy was it a fun one! I was even able to make it last for a full week as we had a party to go to on the 25th. Thanks to Em’s smartness I went to the first party as a black and white zombie from Night of the Living Dead.

I wasn’t able to find a black suit based on the first zombie we see in the beginning of the movie, but I was able to get a gray one and then Em did my makeup. Ah, it reminded me of my days doing musicals in high school.

It also reminded me of a horror movie because, while we were getting ready the freaking power went out and Em had to do both of our makeup(s?) by candle and flashlight. I was pretty sure a slasher was going to break in at any moment OR a real zombie outbreak would happen. Oh, it was also a dark and somewhat stormy night. Crazy! We then went to a party where we drank, which as you all know is just asking for trouble (especially for Miley Cyrus cut outs).

Oh and at the party we also played a super fun board game called Pimps and Ho’s. I’d throw in a link for you to check out their site, but it might seem a bit lewd, just put the name in the browser without punctuation or spaces and check out the fun.

So, that party was great great fun, but it wasn’t the end of the Halloween festivities. In addition to the plenty of horror movies I watched, we also dressed up at Wizard and there was a costume contest. I took second place and won $10. Woo hoo, thanks Summer for setting it up! (I’m the one in the monkey suit by the way).

We also carved pumpkins and I took the old school Nintendo approach and did Boo from the Mario games. It didn’t involve much actual carving, but I did have to shave all the orange off. I think it turned out pretty good and the trick or treaters seemed to like it, even the punk kid who said “More” twice after I had already given him two pieces of candy. Little jerk.

But even THAT wasn’t it. Halloween night we went to a party of one of Em’s coworkers’ house. We didn’t want to do the makeup thing again and I didn’t want to wear the monkey suit (it’s freaking HOT inside that thing), so we stole Rickey and James’ idea from a few years ago (the rabbit/Charlie year) and wore big boys footy pajamas. Man that was fun.

I also played beer pong for the second time and for two games, my partner and I were champions of the world (which I told everyone at the party, most of whom were strangers to me up until that point). There’s nothing funnier than thinking about myself, drunk and dressed like a little kid playing beer pong. There was also a baby at the party which was weird. I tried not to swear too much around her, but I did. Sorry Abby.

So yeah, that was this year’s Halloween. I’m gonna try and get my streak of not being sick on Halloween back up again and keep enjoying the creepiest night of the year.

What I’m Thankful For: Kevin Smith

4:22:18 am

So I’m starting a new recurring element for November. It’s called What I’m Thankful For and it’s pretty self explanatory. First up, I decided to do Kevin Smith. I’ve been a fan of his since my freshman year in high school and just saw Zack and Miri so it seemed like a natural place to start.

It’s kind of funny because I almost wrote Kevin Smith off early on in my high school career. I remember going over to a girl named Erin Sullivan’s house and she tried putting on Clerks, but everyone was pretty grossed out by the snowball conversation and we turned it off (oh how young and prudish we were). Later, I was at someone else’s house (Chad Yates, I believe) and he put on Chasing Amy which got turned off pretty quickly for whatever reason (it’s not really a good party movie).

Now, I’m not sure when I actually started watching his movies, but whenever that was, I was hooked. I do remember seeing the Mallrats Magic Eye ads in the back of comics, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it. There was something about the way he had his characters talk that seemed to echo how I thought (though not necessarily how I talked). And the themes were completely original too me. Clerks showed me what the world can be like. Mallrats gave me a comedy that seemed to speak to my generation (or at least the one slightly above mine) and Chasing Amy broke my heart with it’s unorthodox love story and less than happy ending.

I want to say that I saw Dogma in the theater, but I really can’t remember. I do remember that I was freaking in love with it. I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic grade school and high school, but it wasn’t the ultra-strict kind of thing that tend to spring to mind for a lot of people. I actually learned a great deal in those schools about everything from history to sex ed, which kind of blows my mind after talking to other people who went to Catholic schools. Anyway, Dogma basically started pointing out a lot of the kind of crazy things about organized religion around the same time the thoughts started kicking around in my own head so it was great timing.

Somewhere around here I discovered Kevin Smith’s Viewaskew site. I wasn’t really down with the whole message board thing but I really appreciated how open he was with his fans. Smith was one of the first director’s I discovered and really followed in my younger years (Tarantino was another) and I really appreciated how he interacted with people. He seemed like a new kind of director.

I do remember when I saw Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back though. It was the day before I went off to college and my buddy Eric Toth got screener tickets for Randy Lemle and myself, which was great because I had to go down on a Wednesday I believe and would have missed the normal Friday release. It was pretty great timing really as I was leaving my own weird cast of characters for a completely new one (just like Smith was supposedly leaving the View Askewniverse behind. Yes it’s a love letter to the fans, but being such a big fan I gladly accepted it.

Somewhere along the line I saw Jersey Girl on DVD and while it’s definitely not your average Smith flick, I thought it had a lot of heart and he got great performances out of Ben Affleck, George Carlin, Liv Tyler and everyone else. And, if nothing else it lead directly to the 10-years-later sequel to Clerks which I freaking loved in the theaters and watched again with Em back when we didn’t have cable and laughed like crazy. Again, the timing was right as I was feeling older, I’d moved away from home and I wasn’t really around my good close friends from either home or college. So, while my life didn’t reflect the events on screen (no donkey shows for me), I could definitely relate to the scariness of the next steps of life along with questioning what the heck I’m supposed to do with my life. And, of course, I like seeing these characters over and over, it’s the comic book fan in me.

When I started getting into podcasts a few years back Smith and Scott Mosier’s Smodcast was one of the first ones I subscribed to and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s just two dudes talking and it’s great. I, of course, also have the Clerks cartoon on DVD even though I didn’t watch it when it was on. I do have all the DVDs (except Jersey Girl) and have actually watched Mallrats with commentary more times than without. I bought the first round of Clerks Inaction figures and the Jay and Bob figures. Oh, and I got super jealous when Rickey, my roommate at the time, got to go to Smith’s house to take notes during a big poker game with comic talent like Jim Lee and Geoff Johns for a feature in Wizard. I was able to contribute the headline of that feature though, “The Royal Flush Gang.” Hey, it’s something, I guess. The closest I ever personally got was interviewing Walt Flanagan and Bryan Johnson about their rad monster horror comic War of the Undead via E-mail.

So last Saturday I found myself in the theater with Em watching Zack and Miri Make a Porno. I dug the movie. I do have some problems with the plot (they SPOILER never finish the porno or go back and explain what’s up with the other characters), but I laughed hard and got to see some familiar faces (maybe a few too many Apatow familiars for my personal preference). Mostly I liked how Seth Rogen’s character so closely paralleled Smith himself when he was making Clerks. It’s not a necessary piece of information to fully enjoy the movie, but it was kind of cool knowing he was using his own experiences. I’ve got no problem with the porno thing, I guess it would be kind of hard to be a Smith fan by now and actually have a problem with it, but whatever.

I fully recognize that my relationship with Smith’s movies has been very “right place, right time.” I’ve got no idea if I’d be such a big fan if I was a few years older or younger, but hey, that’s how it works. I’m excited to see where he goes from here, especially with Red State, his in-progress horror movie (two great tastes that will hopefully taste great together). Until then, I’ll keep my ear to the Smodcast to see what historical and factual inaccuracies the boys can come up with next.