On June 21, 2017, a comedian by the name of Nate Fernald posted the following on Twitter:
Little did he know that he was setting off one of the most unusual internet mysteries of the last few years.
“I was looking for a pin of the band The Jam,” Nate explained in an interview with Atlas Obscura “I came upon this eBay seller who had thousands and thousands of pins from the ’70s and ’80s, and I went down this weird rabbit hole. I bought a whole bunch of them, because they were old and weird and made me laugh.”
Amongst this collection was the aforementioned "Geedis" pin.
“I didn’t really think about it at first, but then it just kept popping in my head, like, what is that?”
Internet searches provided no answers, making the mystery of who or what Geedis all the more enticing. “The more obscure the thing became the more it made me laugh,” Nate said “Then I bought it and became more obsessed with it.”
He contacted the seller to see if they had any information on the pin, with no luck. Soon, Nate came across 3 more Geedis pins from different sellers, but none could tell him anything about them or where they’d come from. This is what led him to post the question to his social media.
Nate’s Tweet caused a storm of replies. Many had the vague sense they had seen the character before. Comparisons were made to everything from Where the Wild Things Are...
...to Ninja Gaiden
One poster pointed out that alphadictionary recognized "geedis" as 90's slang:
Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary defines “geedis” as “"A word for money, like dollars, quarters, etc", a usage that apparently originated with The Three Stooges in the 1940’s.
None of this seemed even tangentially related to the character on the pin, however.
It wasn’t until someone found a sticker sheet featuring the character that things really took off…
"The Land of Ta" is the apparent fantasy setting providing the theme for this 1981 set of stickers, with Geedis in all his glory alongside a number of other curious characters. Swiftly following this revelation, two other sheets of Land of Ta stickers were found
Armed with this new information, a more intensive search was undertook, with “The Land of Ta” curiously leading to the music world
Nadieh’s album “The Land of Ta” can be found in it’s entirety on YouTube, but curiously there seems to be no relation to the stickers nor mention of Geedis or the other characters.
Moreover, a seemingly completely unrelated song also called “Land of Ta” was released by the band Smith & Dragoman in 2007, ten years before this search began.
Despite being curious coincidences, this avenue seemed a dead end.
The stickers themselves had been posted to the Flikr album of a collector named Donald Deveau, and one poster contacted him asking “What the hell is The Land Of Ta?” Deveau eventually answered:
By this point the mystery had found it’s way to Reddit, and more and more people became fascinated by the mystery of Geedis and The Land of Ta. The logical next step was to contact the company that had produced the stickers, Dennison (which was now “Avery-Dennison” after a merger). A Reddit user named “AskedMeAboutSharks” managed to get a response:
This seemed to have led to another dead end, but it was only a few days later that a Twitter user named “Rimramruff” aka Carrie Zinn posted about a book she remembered from her childhood titled Tomb of the Dragonspeaker by Kenneth Famea that featured several characters from the Land of Ta, including Geebis!
All hell broke lose, especially as, again, no one could find any information online about a book by that name, the author, even the company “Rendstrom Books” that according to Carrie’s pics of the indicia published the book in 1982.
Furthermore “Shuntbridge, Ohio”, the place where the book was published, does not exist!
Because internet, this caused speculation to take a turn into The Mandela Effect and proof of parallel universes. However, the explanation for all this became clear when Carrie posted the full page pic a few days later:
“disclaimer: this book is a work of fiction, as is its author. The book was not actually published in 1982, but constructed by me in 2017. I am happy to continue the tale of the elussive Mr. Famea and his work for anyone who may be curious, but i have no desire to actually decieve anyone. thanks for reading! -carrie z”
Yep, this was a hoax. Some people praised Carrie for it, others got angry about it. But no one was any closer to unravelling the mystery of Geebis.
This is essentially all the concrete information we have to this day about Geedis and The Land of Ta. Since then, there’s been numerous speculations, theories, and uncomfirmed testimonials that range from plausible to obvious trolls.
Some think it originated as a pitch for a toyline or children’s cartoon that never left the development stage. Some think it was simply nothing more than a sticker artist exercizing their imagination, like fanfic in merchandise form. Others maintain the belief that there is something more to be uncovered, a secret franchise that fell into obscurity long before the internet archived every minutia of pop culture. Some have even claimed the entire thing is an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Nate Fernald, who produced the pins and stickers himself!
You can find a summary of every theory here:
Currently, an attempt is being made to find the artist of these stickers, but as of this writing there’s been no luck in this regard.
However, consider myself one who revels in the mystery without answers. There’s an allure to Geebis and Ta, something familiar yet undefinable, with plenty of space to fill in with one’s own imagination.
I. The Prisoner
As far as I'm concerned, this was the greatest work of art (of ANY medium) of the Twentieth Century, clearly and deftly dealing with the essential struggle of Mankind in the modern world: that being the Individual vs Society.
II. Twin Peaks
In this I am including the David Lynch episodes of the original series (I've never seen a show crash and burn so hard as when Lynch abandoned it in the middle of the second season), and the more recent Twin Peaks: The Return. A masterpiece of psychological horror and symbolism, wrapped in the jazz-noir style of a genius.
III. The Storyteller
It's no secret that I am a huge fan of folklore and fairy tales, which I've spent the larger part of my life devoted to researching. Jim Hensen's The Storyteller is perhaps the only television series to actually faithfully and beautifully capture these original stories, with exceptional writing, a fantastic cast including the inestimable John Hurt, and the remarkable puppet effects that passes the bar the studio previously set by Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal.
IV. Pushing Daisies
Bryan Fuller's incredibly charming modern fairy tale noir intertwines incredibly dark and twisted concepts in a witty and whimsical artistic approach that is perhaps best described as a cross between His Girl Friday and The Addams Family. While I've loved all of Fuller's work (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Hannibal), Pushing Daisies particularly struck a note with me.
Besides continuing to be laugh out loud funny in a way almost no contemporary comedies ever managed, Community alternated between exploring the history of pop culture media and the personal development of a diverse group of people whose failures in life all brought them together. Heartwarming, hilarious, and clever, it transcends the very notion of sitcom.
Years ago, Buffy and Angel would easily have been on this list. Whedon's trope-destroying genre deconstructions revolutionized television and the effects are still seen today. But the deconstruction eventually ate each show as the premise of subverting cliches became cliche in and of itself, and the very nature of deconstruction is that without reconstruction to complete the cycle, it becomes unsatisfying, anti-climactic, and alienating. Firefly was, perhaps unfortunately, a still birth, and while amusing in the very same way full of Whedon characters spouting Whedon witty lines, I've no doubt it would have, if allowed, followed itself to the same fate. I think being cancelled early and existing as a handful of episodes and a film, was maybe the best thing that could have happened for it.
Anyways, fast forward a couple years, and Dollhouse premieres. To be perfectly honest, I took one look at the supposed premise, and thought "Jesus Whedon, what are you doing?". At first glance it seemed shallow, exploitative, and derivative, a clone of similar shows like Alias with a single gimmick that couldnt save it. So it wasnt until a few years later when I found a DVD of the first season in the bargain bin that I bothered to give it a chance.
Simply put, Dollhouse is Whedon's masterpiece. Everything you think the show is about is wrong. This is classic high concept science fiction in a way TV almost never manages to sustain; take one piece of speculative technology and explore the implications and effects on society. And without the desire of ruining it for anyone else who missed or misjudged this show, let's just say the implications are explored to an extent that takes the series from a action spy thriller to a pst apocalyptic cyber war, all the while playing with the notions of identity, self, and the soul that hits close to The Prisoner.
Neil Gaiman was at the top of his game in the 90s, the generational voice of modern fantasy, and of all his works, Neverwhere is the one that I connected with the most. I first read the novel, before even The Sandman comicbook series (indeed, it inspired me to do so and thus, indicretly, started my love affair with Vertigo comics even as I was cutting ties with Marvel from my youth). But the novel is actually based on the TV mini-series, which came first, and it is a distillation of the 90s aesthetic of a secret fantasy world parallel to our own, as popularized by Charles De Lint, White Wolf, and The X-Files. Laura Fraser is amazing as Door, Paterson Joseph (who really should have been Doctor Who at some point) is masterful as The Marquis de Carrabas (a fairy tale reference that is beyond hilarious once one gets it), and Clive Russel and Hywall Bennet are the penultimate British villains, equal parts amusing and terrifying. The story, the world, leaves you wanting more, with hinted at depths that could sustain many seasons of a television series (or book series), but sadly all we got was a taste. That taste, however, is the richest imaginable.
Another entry by the Jim Henson company, Farcape was hit and miss in it's blend of humour, romance, horror, and adventure, but when it succeeded, it transcended anything else in the genre. I'm not going to wax poetic about this one, if you havent seen it, you owe it to yourself to experience this most unique and gonzo re-imagining of Buck Rogers.
VIII. The Avengers
Few shows hold up like the Emma Peel era of The Avengers, which I still say could play on Prime Time today and captivate an audience. Avant-garde and delightfully charming, it sets a bar that I dont think has ever been surpassed, from understated sexual tension of its flirtatiously British leads, to the menagerie of bizarre and captivating villainous plots. Everything from X-Files to the X-Men owes a debt to The Avengers.
IX. I, Claudius
Based upon the novel by Robert Graves, author of The White Goddess, a seminal work in the understanding of pagan ritual and magick, I, Claudius is a ten part mini-series chronicling the fall of Rome from the PoV of it's last great Emperor. Spanning Claudius' childhood as the nephew of Tiberius, through the insanity of Caligula's reign, to Cladius ultimate ascension and death. I'd say this is essential viewing for any fans of Dune as well, as it clearly lays out the plans of the God-Emperor, based as they were upon Claudius' great plot to destroy the monarchy he was trapped inside.
X. Doctor Who
Don't think I really need to say anything about this one.
Adventure of Brisco County Jr, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Altered Carbon, Ash vs The Evil Dead, Black Adder, Black Books, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Brother Cadfael Mysteries, Buffy/Angel, Captain Power, Covington Cross, Daredevil, Dexter, Eerie Indiana, Father Ted, Fawlty Towers, Flight of the Conchords, Frasier, Friday the 13th: The Series, Game of Thrones, Get Smart, Hannibal, Highlander, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, House, The Invisible Man, Jeeves & Wooster, Kids in the Hall, Lovejoy, The Middleman, Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs, News Radio, The Office, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Quantum Leap, Read All About It, The Punisher, Red Dwarf, RThe Ricky Gervais Show, Robin of Sherwood, Scrubs, Sherlock, Sledge Hammer, The Soup, Spaced, The State, Strange Luck, Stranger Things, The Tripods, Wonderfalls, The X-Files
In 1998, one of the weekends during my second year at Kubert, three of my friends and I drove an hour and a half to New Haven, Connecticut to Pepe's Pizza. I remember three things about that excursion.
The first, is that I was incredulous about driving nearly 2 hours to a restaurant that one had to in turn spend two hours waiting in line outside to eat. Yes, my friends claimed, backed up by Alec Stevens, one of our teachers, that it was the best pizza in the world. And I didn't dislike pizza, but I also had no Ninja Turtle-esque devotion to it, so to me that was like saying "it's the best pancakes in the world". A pancake was pretty much a pancake, to my mind.
The second, is that I was entirely and absolutely wrong. Pepe's Pizza IS the best Pizza in the world. I've never tasted anything close again. In fact, I barely eat pizza now because it's always a little disappointment.
The third, is that on the ride over and in line waiting a large part of our conversation revolved around Dave Stevens. To the point we even referred to that afterwards as our "Dave Stevens Trip". Stevens is one of those select comicbook artists whose work was held on a sort of pedestal among our group. I have to admit I was indoctrinated to this, as I wasn't introduced to his comics until my time at Art school (I discovered a lot of comics and comicbook artists at that time). Actually, prior to attending Art School I tended to follow comicbook writers more than artists. After the fall of Marvel and the rise of Image, I'd transitioned to being a heavy reader of DC's Vertigo in the 90s. So it wasnt until Kubert that names like Stevens, Toth, or Hughes became important to me.
Stevens, like Adam Hughes, had a frustratingly small output. Luckily, as he didn't appeal to the Speculator market dominating comics at the time and this was years before Ebay, you could still hunt down his stuff for at or near cover price. Hence, a lot of our free time during those years was travelling to any comicbook shop within a 100 mile radius of the school and hunting through the longboxes.
Also like Hughes, Dave Stevens took his art style from classic illustrators and contributed to the resurgence of "Good Girl Pinup Art". Stevens cites Will Esiner, Frank Frazetta, Bill Everett, and George Petty among his many influences.
Of course, what Dave Stevens is most known for, and his only sustained comicbook series, was The Rocketeer. Like many, my introduction to the Rocketeer was the ill-fated and vastly under-rated 1991 film by Disney, that came out during the early 90s "Pulp Adaption Explosion" in the wake of Batman '89, along with The Shadow, The Phantom, and Dick Tracy. The film is actually one of the closer adaptions of a comicbook work ever done by Hollywood. Probably as Stevens himself was very hands on as an Executive Producer. But there was one major change to a main character that was obvious the minute I got ahold of the original comics.
In the film, Cliff Seacord's girlfriend is Jenny Blake, portrayed by Jennifer Connelly
Connely has that perfect mixture of beauty and down to earth attainability that they call "the Girl Next Door". (Frell do I wish I'd grown up next door to Jennifer Connely).
However, in The Rocketeer comicbooks Cliff's girlfriend was named "Betty"
Yep, as in Betty Page.
Of course, I don't need to explain who that is nowadays. She's a pop culture icon of the twentieth century. You cant throw a stick in a collectibles shop without turning up Betty Page posters, trading cards, photo books, etc. In the late 80s and early 90s she inspired a fashion trend, and also helped to "mainstream" S&M culture through tributes in film. You could trace a direct line from her popularity surge right up to the fetishistic costume design of The Matrix.
But it wasn't always that way. In fact, when Stevens first published The Rocketeer in 1983, Page was a complete unknown, with no presence on the pop culture landscape. So much so, that when Stevens introduced the character in his comic he got into a row with the editor of Eclipse comics who thought that he's stolen a character from Frank Frazetta!
Knowledge of Betty Page was akin to knowledge of Cthulhu in the 70s - known to a small select group of fans of old pulps and nostalgic trivia, which is what The Rocketeer was rooted in, a tribute to adventure serials of Hollywood's Golden Age.
Betty Page herself was a model in the early 50s for "photography groups" that were common at the time. She immediately gained notoriety for her audaciousness and flagrant rejection of the societal norms for women at the time. This was before the sexual revolution of the 60s, or the Women's Rights movement, when Donna Reed clones was the norm for portrayals of women. Lots has been written on this, but to sum up succinctly the standards of the era, it was a common unstated rule at the time in any sort of verging on erotic imagery that women would look away from the camera, ostensibly showing an embarrassed reaction to being "captured in a compromising situation". Betty Page, instead, stared defiantly directly at the camera, and this was actually shocking enough to be commented on extensively at the time.
Page's popularity peaked in 1955 when she was chosen as one of the very first "Playmates of the Month" for Playboy, chosen by Hughes himself, who has continued to express his admiration for her and her social influence over the years. And then, shortly afterwards, Page disappeared.
Some speculated she married a rich foreigner, other rumours confused her with the Black Dahlia and thought she was the victim of a gruesome murder. Though we know the truth now, at the time it was an enduring mystery. But as the 60s and 70s pressed on the world largely forgot her.
Dave Steven's inclusion of Betty Page as a character in the Rocketeer was an "Easter Egg" in the common parlance, a nod to those few aficionados of nostalgia like himself, who venerated the aspects of the 50s beyond the whitewashed culture influence of Happy Days and American Graffiti.
But as this was discovered and slowly spread, interest in Page began to grow again. A fanzine called The Betty Pages started republishing rare old photo sets and speculating on the mystery. By the end of the decade, Betty Page was bigger than she was in the 50s, and hit the mainstream with her iconic hairstyle re-entering the world of fashion. I doubt many knew this started with The Rocketeer. The comics themselves wouldn't even become commonly known about until the Disney film.
But it was this resurgence that caused Betty Page to finally come out of hiding. She'd become a born again Christian and gave up her modelling career, and later, spend time in a psychiatric institution. By the time she'd become a pop culture phenomenon, she was practically penniless. In fact, her reason for revealing herself again to the world (I say that very tongue in cheek, as in interviews she refused to be photographed or shown on camera) was to attempt to gain royalties for the money being made off of her image.
Stevens, to his credit, was the first. The moment it was revealed that Page was alive and well, with no prompting, he began sending her royalty checks. These alone kept Page from the street when an unscrupulous rights firm she'd signed up with defrauded her. Sometime during this time, Stevens and Page met and became friends. Page eventually signed up with another Estate house, and to this day her inheritance is a 10 million dollar a year industry.
Disney actually purchased the film rights to The Rocketeer in the mid 80s. But it sat in development hell until Batman had Hollywood scrambling for superhero properties and a bunch of films were greenlit and fast-tracked in the wake of 1989. It's funny that Hollywood overall embraced adaptions of early Pulp heroes, perhaps aware that they did not yet possess the technology to successfully do a massive super-powered film extravaganza as required by the Fantastic Four or Justice League. Most were disappointments in the box office for one reason or another. Dick Tracy banked on star power, and was well recieved by audiences, but it failed to replicate the merchandising success of Batman and its iconic symbol.
The Phantom, perhaps my absolute favourite of the group, was far too campy for the 90s audiences, when Grimdark was just starting to take over the cultural zeitgeist.
The Shadow had a great cast, great writing, and great effects, but was failed by the director and editor, and seen by many as simply a Batman rip-off.
'And the Rocketeer just flopped. Opened 4th in box office sales, behind Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, City Slickers and Dying Young (I don't even remember that one), and only earned a total of little over 45 million domestically before being shunted to the world of home rental. Most film critics loved it, but it was too slow for young kids, and teens and adults stayed away because the marketing made it seem like a kids film (and the big Disney logo on top didn't help that perception). And, well, frankly the Pulp Aesthetic has never had mainstream success. Years later Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow would suffer the same fate.
The Rocketeer has since developed a strong cult following however, and Disney currently has a reboot in the works called The Rocketeers, with a all female cast (so, while it will probably also bomb, at least now the studio can blame internet trolls).
But why did Betty become Jenny? Especially as this hit at a time when interest in Page had hit an all-time high? Well, because Disney wasn't comfortable with the implied connection to a fetish star as the female lead in the film, basically. Though truth be told, I personally am not a Betty Page "fan". I find the story interesting, but as a "sex symbol", she's not my type. And make no mistake, I have no complaints about Jennifer Connelly in the role. I've no complaints about her being in ANY film. I want MORE Connelly.
One final intriguing note to this story. Both Dave Stevens and Betty Page sadly passed away in the same year, 2008. Betty in December at the age of 85, and Dave in March at only 52. Today, on what would have been his birthday, I just wanted to reminisce about another comic book legend that will be sorely missed.
"You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada"
The Last Starfighter was released in 1984, part of a wave of science fiction films released in the wake of Return of the Jedi, trying to capitalize on the success of Star Wars. Most of these were relatively awful and forgettable, at best pastiches that tried to emulate the window dressing of the franchise without the talent or effects to compare to the trilogy or stand up on their own. The Last Starfighter is the only exception I'm aware of, and to this day I think I actually like it more than Star Wars, though its definitely a smaller, less ambitious story.
Together with its contemporary, Tron, Last Starfighter is notable as the first film to make extensive use of CGI effects, ironically the element that would come to define the Star Wars prequels and re-releases. Though obviously dated, the effects hold up surprisingly well to this day.
This is a film I rewatch on a pretty regular basis, and the potent blend of nostalgia and that optimistic charm that defined the 80s, but was largely cast out in favour of the cynicism of modern Hollywood, makes returning to it a pleasure in the same category for me as Critters, Better Off Dead, and Buckeroo Banzai.
The concept is a strong one as far as children's fantasies go: a teen growing up in a small rural community dreams of getting out into the wider world. To pass the time he plays an arcade game at the local gas station eponymously titled "The Last Starfighter." Typical teens trials and tribulations regarding friends, girls, and family occurs, and one night, full of frustration and angst, he makes his way to the game and finally manages to beat it. And this is where things get weird.
Our protagonist is suddenly confronted by the game's designer, who - naturally - turns out to be an alien, who designed the game as a recruitment test to find starship pilots to fight in an actual intergalactic war. This improbable means of enlistment is an act of desperation as the "good guys" are losing pretty badly at this point, and sure enough after our hero initially freaks out when confronted with the reality of an off planet battle (Campbell's "Hero Reject's the Call" archetypal trope #1), the good guys are pretty much wiped out and he finds himself the universe's last hope.
This isn't the sort of film that can be taken too seriously, but it makes up for its small budget and goofy story with some exceptional veteran actors, an improbably witty and intelligent script, a very good score that manages to tap into the spirit of William's iconic Star Wars themes without simply bastardizing them, and some pretty high quality creature effects.
From what I understand, the film was a modest success, and everyone I know who saw the film growing up in the 80s remembers it fondly. I suppose one might consider it a "cult classic" in this day and age, one that surprisingly (perhaps mercifully) was never subjected to a sequel or reboot. Though there was, oddly enough, an off-broadway musical adaption!
...But the curious story of this film is actually its relationship to video games. The LAst Starfighter was conceived of during the height of the Arcade era. For those who never lived through this brief cultural phenomenon, its difficult to explain. From the late 70s to the mid 80s, arcades were as ubiquitous as gas stations in North America. Every kid I knew would spend hours at these places, that became social meccas for youth in the same manner as supermalls. The Golden Age of video games saw vast innovation for a time, but began to cool as arcades were saturated with generic copies of popular games. What in 1981 was a billion-dollar business would crash in 1983, just before The Last Starfighter's release.
Which is why there wasn't a Last Starfighter video game when the film came out. Generation X is the "merchandising generation", and even at that tender age I thought it was bizarre that I couldnt play this game from a film I loved so much. Especially as the end credits of the film actually advertised a game from Atari!
This was different than the similar situation with Superman III, which feature a videogame sequence that it turns out was far too advanced for the period.
The Last Starfighter's featured gameplay was completely in line with the game technology of the era, being similar in concept to the original Star Wars arcade game.
It was also the opposite of the situation with the contemporary Arcade game Dragon's Lair, which I waited for years an animated feature of which to be released*...
...and the original Legend of Zelda game; the illustrations in the original game manual I was for years was convinced were cells from a Japanese animated film that for some reason was never released Stateside.
Anyhow, it turns out there was a Last Starfighter game developed, and was about 75% complete when it was cancelled for budgetary reasons, the most prevalent being the Arcade industry crash. If finished, this game would have been the first to make use of the newly-designed Motorola 68000 CPU, a 16/32-bit CISC microprocessor that would later be utilized by the first Apple Macintosh computer and whose underlying architecture is still in use to this day.
A home version of the Last Starfighter game for the Atari console was also developed, but was similarly shelved, until later being released as Star Raiders II, a sequel to the original Star Raiders, which was actually a graphical version of a text-based Star Trek game!
6 years later, in 1990, Nintendo would release an 8-bit Last Starfighter game, though it was much too little, too late, and was actually simply a conversion of an old unrelated Commodore 64 game that had no similarities to the game featured in the film.
With the dawn of the internet, for years there were rumours that The Last Starfighter game actually existed, in its completed form. This became one of the more persistent video game urban legends, up there with Polybius (the game that caused players to go insane). But this was not made a reality until 2012, when a company called Rogue Synapse got a hold of the original designs and finally made a completed version.
Though purchasing the actual arcade cabinet is a bit prohibitively expensive for most of us, luckily Rogue Synapse was nice enough to make a ROM of the game available for free download online: http://www.roguesynapse.com/games/last_starfighter.php
I've...never done so. It warms my heart to know that this is out there, and exists now, I feel like that in and of itself completes some childhood quest. But I've long since outgrown the me that would have enjoyed this. I prefer it exist as a memory.
And now if you'll excuse me, I think in writing this I've just engendered the urge to once again pop in my Last Starfighter DVD...
* There was however, quite recently, an Indigogo campaign by Bluth to finally make an animated film based on Dragon's Lair. Dragon's Lair is something I'll probably devote an entire post to at some point in the future.
I've been on a quest for many years now, pretty much my entire adult life.
My mother was only 16 when she had me. For all intents and purposes, I'm very lucky she was Catholic I suppose. But I was put up for adoption. The only relic I owned from my real mother was a stuffed mouse she bestowed upon my birth that had a wind-up mechanism that played 'Brahm's Lullaby.'
That stuffed mouse, who somewhere along the road acquired the name 'Mousey' was my inseparable companion growing up, through foster homes and eventual adoption. The Hobbes to my Calvin. The Rosebud to my Kane. His music box mechanism long-since stopped working, his delicate felt hands multiple times replaced, his tail worn to nothing. I grew up drawing comics about Mousey and his adventures, and he never strayed far from my bed.
Then, tragically, when I left home as a teen, he was lost, a loss that has haunted me since. A gnawing at my heart akin to the Velveteen Rabbit. A piece of my soul extant.
Finally yesterday, after over a lifetime of searching, I've found that same plush Mouse again. Produced by a long-since dissolved Toy company called Bantam.
Being An Epic Rant on Star Wars, in Regards to the Announcement of a New Lord of the Rings TV Series...
Warning: Pretentious Vitriol, Rambling, and Ravings Ahead, at all times my opinion and "YMMV" as an ongoing conceit...
"Hello, I am Howard Phillips Lovecraft and I'd like to take a moment and reflect on a curious phenomenon that we see here from time to time. Since my wholly unexpected reanimation I have answered hundreds of your questions. And of those questions the type that reasserts itself more than any other is the request for me to offer an opinion on, or to parse some element of, your pop cultural landscape; usually of a juvenile bit.
(Sigh) I've said it before, but you people have transformed nostalgia into a national passtime. Constantly dissecting and referencing it until all of your cultural creations become like an Ouroboros devouring and excreting itself over and over again..."
Star Wars is omnipresent in our culture now. For my generation, and the so-called Millennial generation proceeding it, it appears Star Wars has become a cultural touchstone, but whereas in the past this would take the form of a cooperative exchange of ideas and artistic endeavours, in the modern world this is culture as dictated by corporation. I'm not going far to go into a cliched consumerism diatribe, suffice to say that this is not art for art's sake, this is art co-opted, re-purposed and exploited. Of course this is neither unusual not unexpected. Everyone in the Western world comes to grips with this to one degree or another. Society has prepared us for this our whole lives; our childhood tales were half-hour advertisements for toylines. We've been trained to not only expect this, but ask for it. Fans demand toylines, posters, t-shirts, and endless host of brand signifiers to illustrate the love and connection felt to something that at some point touched a place in our heart, forever impacted our lives. Each C3PO tape roller, R2D2 toilet Paper holder, and Darth Vader vibrator is a votive offering to one's childhood, an attempt to capture and illustrate the way that Star Wars at one time touched our spirit, and in some way externally defined the sacred.
And I view this more and more as a perversity. A form of consumerism heightened to the level of religion. But the biggest problem is not the merchandising. Its the continual new attempts to "add" to the initial piece of art that are hollow and devoid of value. Photocopies of photocopies that succeed not on their own, but by manipulating the audience, who wants so badly to recapture that experience, into projecting those feelings onto these...well, "clones" seems an appropriate term.
Star Wars is a love I once shared. Growing up in the 80s, I was as enamoured with those films as anyone else in my generation. Unlike many of my peers, however, it was not the Prequels that killed my relationship with the original films. It was the Special Editions. After seeing those in the theatre, I knew that I could never feel about Star Wars the same way I once did. But at the very least, those I could excuse. I could understand. This was, I rationalized, a creator returning to his own work, years later, and attempting to "fix" the weaknesses he saw. Of course, this undertaking was by a man who, 20 years later, was a very different person that the one who made those original films. His life had changed drastically, he came from 20 years of new experiences, and changed viewpoints. Essentially, in a very literal sense, the George Lucas that created those special editions was not the George Lucas that created the original films. It would be like me taking one of the hundreds of comicbooks I drew as a young child, and attempting to "fix" it to fit with my current sensibilities. A faulty endeavour, to be sure. But as I said, understandable on that level.
But then came the Prequels. And what these showed more than anything, blatantly and on every level, was that this George Lucas, a man 20 years isolated on Skywalker Ranch, surrounded by sycophants, idolized by a generation, a man who had become the embodiment of the very elite that his younger self railed against in THX 1138, possessed no understanding of the films his younger self created. What George Lucas did with the Prequels was create his own fanfiction, and all that that implies.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written and spoken about the prequels in the years hence, so that's not a subject I need to get into in depth, but let me simply highlight one, perhaps subtle, thing to illustrate my point that tends to get missed in the furor over Jar-Jar Binks and Midichlorians. Ben Kenobi, in the original Star Wars, hides on Tatooine following the rise of the Empire, living out the remainder of his life as a hermit. And he dresses appropriately. His garb is for the most part the same as that worn by Luke's uncle, and presumably the large majority of humans dwelling on the dessert planet. In the Prequels, this is suddenly the official uniform dress of ALL Jedi. I'm sure I don't need to go into detail as to why this makes absolutely no sense. Kenobi was in hiding for years dressed exactly like a member of the Jedi council? Uncle Owen just happen to dress pretty much exactly like a Jedi?
The reason this struck me as such an important oversight is because it clearly displays that quality of creative failure that defines fanfic. Jedi dress that way in the Prequels because thats how a Jedi was dressed in the original film. This is not creation, this is simply an echo of an original idea. It is vapid and hollow recycling of ideas from another imagination.
A photocopy of a photocopy.
There has been remarks that the new films by Disney have "saved" Star Wars. I saw the term "redemption" thrown around so often in their wake that if I'd never made the analogy to a consumerist religion before, it would have been undeniable at that point. But while its impossible at this point to divorce this film from the originals, and the Empire that's grown from them, I'm certain that if this film had been released without the Star Wars branding in place - if it didn't count on the legions of devotees willing to project their love for those original films onto it - it would, in and of itself, be a failure. It does not stand alone as a story, or work of art. And sure, I can bring up how it's plot was blatantly a recycling of the original film, but that's low hanging fruit. Everyone knows that. What matters is the excuses people are willing to make to compensate for that. To project a gravitas onto it that it was carefully designed to exploit. And I'm not saying its a bad film. What I'm saying is...its no Star Wars.
Now obviously art is very important to me. More than most people, I'm certain. I remember the shock I felt as a teenager the first time I realized that there were people who simply didn't experience art at all. Or at least not in the same myriad ways I did (I warned you this was going to get pretentious, bear with me). But I feel that certain works of art deserve to be cherished. That they deserve to exist in that moment (a different moment for everyone who first experienced them, but always that same moment) that they touched the audience's spirit. Not everyone can be a part of that audience, but thats okay. I mean, I will never experience that feeling of awe and holy rapture from a church or Biblical verse that so many other do. But I experienced that as a kid watching Star Wars. I experienced it reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, and in so many years, for the hundredth time. I experienced that with Dune. And just as a religious follower speaks and prays to their deity, performs penance and makes offerings, extends faith, the relationship between a work of art and the audience is a two-way street. Its reciprocal. The imagination of the artist comingles with our own, and inside of us is born a synthesis of the two, personal and greater than the sum of its parts.
And to illustrate what I mean here, I don't think I need to look any further than this exchange from the original Star Wars:
Luke: No, my father didn't fight in the Clone Wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.
Obi-Wan: That's what your uncle told you. He didn't hold with your father's ideals; he felt he should've stayed here and not gotten involved.
Luke: You fought in the Clone Wars?
Obi-Wan: Yes. I was once a Jedi knight, the same as your father.
Luke: I wish I'd known him.
Obi-Wan: He was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior. I understand that you've become quite a good pilot yourself.
[sorrowfully]...And he was a good friend.
I think all of us know that there are two perceptions of that exchange that exist:
one before the Prequels, and one after they were released.
And this is what derivative works do;
they impose a lesser imagination onto a work of art.
Okay, so I have to follow this with some explanations, because I know by this point I'm certainly “Begging the Question”:
First off, so what about King Arthur? Arthurian romances, much like Star Wars, hit the cultural landscape of the Middle Ages and caught a ride on the cultural zeitgeist in a similar manner. And its endured to this day, with hundreds, if not thousands of derivative works. So how can I say derivative works taint the original art if these numerous iterations of myth have not diluted the power of the concept?
Well, there’s some key differences here. First, is that there is no single “work of art” held above the others. Sure, one can point to Mallory’s or Tennyson’s contributions to the corpus as definitive. I’d even add TH White and Rosemary Sutcliffe to that roster. But these came hundreds of years after the stories had dispersed into the popular consciousness. And I am not totally discounting the idea that another piece of art can be created that rivals an original, if it exists (but more on that in a moment). Rather, the biggest distinction here is that no one “owned” King Arthur. Star Wars does not belong to the culture that venerates it. It has owners. It has “Word of God”. It allowed Lucas to mangle the original creations, so that even to this day there has not been an official release of the films on a current format in their original forms. And the Prequels are “Word of God”, just as every new Star Wars property that Disney inflicts on us will be, from the tragically flawed Rogue One to the ill-fated “Adventures of Young Han Solo” coming soon. There’s no opportunity for a dissenting voice, and alternative vision. This is not folklore of the people, it’s a product.
Secondly, the original piece still exists (granted one must to hunt down a VHS copy or laserdisc at crazy prices on the secondhand market in the specific case of Star Wars). Can’t they be appreciated on their own, and the stuff one doesn’t like ignored?
Well, yes and no. Its tainted.
I loved the first Matrix. I still do. And every few years I rewatch it, and try my best to ignore the existence of the sequels. But when they talk about Zion, the Shining City, the last bastion of free humankind, as much as I try not to, the first image imposed on my imagination is that of a dirty techno rave party with people in rags. Its fair perhaps to claim this is to an extent a failure on my part maybe. A capacity for distinction I’m lacking in. But, well…fuck off, this is my rant.
And lastly, as I mentioned, there is always the remote possibility that another work of art will be created. A genuine piece of creation that matches or even surpasses the original. And yes, this happens. As I’ve been writing this long and rambling post, Voros mentioned The Hannibal series. This was a television series I instantly avoided from the get-go. Silence of the Lambs was a great film. And I liked Red Dragon. But Hannibal, the film, was trash, and by the time we got to Hannibal Rising, I was like “no thank you Mr. Harris. That will be quite enough.” We’d once again descended into Fanfic territory. Hannibal Lector was no longer a character serving a plot, he was an icon being elevated to levels of superhuman adoration even as the craft surrounding his films descended into b-movie insipidness.
But then I heard who was helming the TV series. Bryan Fuller. And this was a creator I respected. Pushing Daisies remains one of my favourite TV series of all times. And so I gave Hannibal a chance, and it was frankly amazing. It reached, at its best, Twin Peaks-levels of awesome. Thus, that possibility is always there. Its why I’m not condemning the idea of a LOTR TV series offhand, merely cautiously apprehensive. It’s possible. But, let’s be honest; it’s pretty goddamn rare.
Far more frequently we have something like the Dune prequels:
A Brief History of D&D's Most Iconic Villain
Warduke began life on the cover of issue 17 of The Dragon magazine in 1978, as an unnamed evil fighter with the iconic dragon-winged helm and glowing red eyes.
He would not be fleshed out and named until a few years later in the 1980s AD&D toy line. Premièring in 1983 from LJN, the AD&D toyline introduced Warduke as the primary antagonist for Strongheart the Paladin.
Warduke was available as a single figure, or mounted upon Nightmare.
Warduke's origin, along with several other characters from the toyline, was revealed in the 1984 module XL-1 Quest for the Heartstone by Michael L. Gray, with art by Timothy Trumane & Jeff Easley.
Originally a close friend of Strongheart the paladin, the two became mortal enemies when exposed to a magical item called the Heartstone, which brought Warduke's cruel nature to the fore. He is a close ally of a woman named Skylla, an evil wizard. Warduke is loved by one woman, a formerly good cleric named Raven, and hated by another, a good cleric named Mercion. He works under the evil Sorcerer Kelek, but he and Skylla plan to overthrow him once all the good fighters are defeated.
“A true fighter,” Warduke feels, “makes himself rich and powerful by the strength of his sword arm. He takes what he can—if you would keep your possessions, kill those who seek to take them.” He calls his sword “Nightwind.”
Warduke previously made his first appearance in the Dungeons & Dragons gameline, however, in 1983's AC-1 The Shady Dragon Inn by Carl Smith, a supplement designed to help DMs introduce fully designed characters into any scenario.
Herein Warduke is mentioned as being a member of the same adventuring party as an elf named "Peralay," who also had an action figure in the LJN toyline.
Interestingly, the Peralay figure was originally named "Melf." In the Greyhawk campaign setting, Melf, also known as Prince Brightflame, is a grey elven archmage, and was originally a player character of Lucion Paul Gygax in Gary Gygax's home campaign.
Warduke would also appear in two D&D colouring books in the early 80s...
As well as being immortalized in the Dungeons & Dragons animated series episode "In Search of Dungeon Master," wherein Warduke succeeds in capturing the Dungeon Master with plans to ransome him to Venger.
Throughout the 80s, Warduke would continue to be featured in a number of D&D-branded merchandise
After the TSR takeover, and the end of D&D's merchandising endeavours, Warduke fell into obscurity, though he lived on in the hearts of those who grew up with him.
It wouldn't be until December 2003, after Wizards of the Coast acquired the D&D brand, that Warduke made his triumphant return in issue #105 of Dungeon magazine.
Finally, in March 2006, Warduke was included in the D&D Minis War Drums expansion with his very first official miniature:
Warduke retains his popularity among a generation of roleplayers, not only because of his iconic appearance, but the continued mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding him. He continues to be a popular subject for fan creations, from custom action figures to actual suits of armour, and even home-made videogames.
In 2001 I was tentatively exploring the world of online forums, after a few years in the chatrooms of AOL and USENET groups that had started to die down. It was then that I discovered RPG.net, and for the next few years this would become my home away from home on the internet. The population there was large, diverse, and composed of just the sort of geeks I loved. I was a regular in both the main RPG forums and the off-topic Tangency, a quirky and amazing set of running in-jokes, ridiculous flame-wars, and explorations of geek culture. This was what is now known as the "wild west days" of rpgnet. There were moderators, but basically beyond the rules of no personal or group attacks, its was very hands-off. This led to some epic online battles, and I was on the ground floor of the epic and infamous Bigfoot flamewar of '03, I was a veteran of the GMS Clone Wars, and I am well versed in the lore of Killfuck Soulshitter and Snake Ghandi, while my "hat of D02" continues to know no limit. These were my friends, my online family, for the better part of a decade.
Many others have written about the fall of RPGnet, a google search will bring up the horror stories. Long story short, it became infected with a very pervasive and totalitarion form of Leftwing political extremism that in later years would be dubbed "Social Justice Warriors." Moderation went from an open and honest attempt to keep order and prevent escalation of fights to a totalitarian and nonsensical attempt to ban everyone from the site that didn't go along with a very specific, extreme, and Tumblr-esque political narrative. The rules of "No personal or group attacks"were replaced with the concept of "acceptable targets." Instead of a celebration of geek culture, it became a morass of self-loathing and hatred of geeks. A mass exodus followed, many forced off and banned, as many more simply leaving for greener pastures online. The community fragmented, and many were lost. That bright, magical online geek mecca was gone, only a dream remaining of that wonderful time.
I eventually found my way to TheRPGsite as my online alternative. Run by the infamous RPGPundit, someone who managed to be banned from RPGnet well before the takeover just because of his extreme style of arguing and inability to make a point without adding a personal insult, The RPGSite was proposed as a bastion of free speech online. More than that, there was a very strict no tolerance policy for any political talk in the RPG forum. You were there to talk about gaming, or you could fuck off.
The RPGSite became a port of call for the disenfranchised former RPGnetters. We would greet newbies with the phrase "welcome to the Adult Swim," and it was a sink or swim sort of place. The Mos Eisley of rpg forums. If early RPGnet was the Wild West, The RPGsite was 1970s inner-city New York. You developed a thick skin, you learned to laugh at yourself and others, or you didn't survive.
Which is not to say all of us agreed with the extreme views of our founder. The RPGPundit had an odd personal crusade against what he dubbed "The Swine" (he idolized Hunter S Thompson in those days), what he saw as a group of pretentious elitists centerered around the Forge indy rpg forums that he was convinced were out to "destroy gaming." These views brought Pundit more than his fair share of ridicule from the regulars. But there was a begrudging respect that he held to his ideals of free speech, even when the vitriol was directed at him. He could take a punch without compromising his ideals. You could disagree with him just like any other poster, without worrying about being banned (as the infamous RPGnet phrase) "for not being a good fit for the community").
This was my new home. Not the same as my old home, but we made the best of our exile.
Then things started to change. TheRPGPundit became a political pundit. He embraced the Rightwing extremism of Breitbart and the Trump campaign. The Swine were replaced with "Leftist commies." Its hard to pinpoint exactly when things went wrong. It might have been the departure of the moderator Benoist after Pundit unprovoked and without reason called him out for attack on his blog. It may have been when The Pundit first violated his own ideals and banned a poster for disagreeing with him. But I think it was a slow decline. Pundit's political extremism became a beacon, and sooner or later the site began attracting racists. Another moderator tried to hold back the tide, and banned posters spouting white nationalist rhetoric, but then after getting chewed out by The Pundit for it, stepped down as moderator.
As time went on, I became increasingly uneasy being there. Yesterday, I finally reached the end of the line.
In response to the Berkely riots, Pundit posted a thread entitled "Every one of These Bitches Deserved it," in which he linked to one of the most odious and misogynistic blog posts this side of a Red Pill site. I don't want to encourage him with any extra vistor counts, so I'll just post some of the 'highlights':
"Why don't you fucking cunt leftists tell the whole story?"
"because you leftists are fucking pussies"
"we kicked the fucking shit out of you goddamn commie fucks"
"What option do you really have...but to punch the stupid bitch in the goddamn face?"
"Certainly, almost no woman ever deserves to be hit by a man. But this bitch sure did.
Almost no woman deserves to be called a 'stupid bitch' either, but this one certainly was,"
"I have no idea if the guy who hit her was a 'white supremacist' or not, but I know that in that moment he, and everyone who fought FOR free speech instead of for leftist totalitarian censorship and terrorism at Berkeley, is A MOTHERFUCKING HERO. "
Those were in response to this captured image (and related video) of a female protester getting punched squarely in the face:
It was the final straw for me. I don't want to be associated, even indirectly, with the sort of person who can write this sort of misogynistic warmongering. And so I've left TheRPGSite. Once again, politics have driven me from an online home.
I'll miss it, just as I miss RPGnet, or what RPGnet once was, and I don't know if I'll be looking for a new RPG forum to hang my geek hat or relegating myself to the abyss of social media. At the very least perhaps it will be less time wasted from pursuing my other projects.
Mutterings, Rants, & Observations
"What a wee little part of a person's life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself."