Monday, September 1, 2014

Between Books - Life, Animated


What now feels like three lifetimes ago I spent my evenings, weekends and summers providing support to children and adults with a wide assortment of special needs.  And though I was not Between Disney at the time, I was blessed with a love of movies.  However, these jobs wore me out on some titles as youngsters rewatched and rewound the same film and scene over and over again in living rooms and community centers.  To this day the Between Wife refuses to watch The Sandlot, a classic!  So when I saw a description of Life, Animated, I knew I had to take in this Between Book.

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism by Ron Suskind tells the very personal story of the author's family.  Ron and Cornelia Suskind were blessed with two vibrant sons.  However, their second son Owen began to developmentally regress as a very young child.  His regression was painfully witnessed by his parents as his language became non-existent, he was increasingly anxious and skills he had mastered like drinking from a big boy cup were lost.  Doctors would diagnose Owen with being on the autism spectrum and Owen's parents looked to an uncertain future.  There appeared to be no openings into their son's private world and specialists warned them about his limited capacity to learn and progress.  Owen moved into a routine of watching Disney animated movies, including rewinding scenes, with his entire family.  And then one day Owen spoke, repeating a line from a Disney song.  This act was followed by further instances of communication.  The family then used Disney movies as a tool to help Owen expand his communication and social skills.  Suskind after this breakthrough outlines the family challenges working through the educational system and helping a young man trapped in this own mind express himself and show the world his inner thoughts be it by using the voices of those he has seen on screen or drawing his favorite sidekicks.  The book ends with a contribution from Owen, a story about his favorite kind of Disney characters...sidekicks. 

Life, Animated is an incredibly personal book.  It really is the story of Ron, Cornelia, Walt and Owen Suskind.  And the Suskinds open their life to show the pain of uncertainty in raising a child on the autism spectrum.  They (since Ron really speaks for the whole family) share the pain of being uncertain of your child's future and the fear of making the wrong choices.  The Suskinds open the doors to Owen's triumphs as he is able to find ways to express himself, along with the pain of when showcases of Owen's abilities go wrong.  As a reader we are upset as Owen is "exiled" from one school and we feel his pleasure as he leads a successful family play.  We get to walk with them for some of their triumphs and failures.  The reader understands the outrage of parents as they witness their child being bullied and retreat from the world around him.  And I hope that it gives hope to other families.  Yes, the Suskind family experience are unique to Owen and their family situation.  And honestly as magical as Disney movies are they will not be an affinity for all children.  Results truthfully do vary by individual and they do not offer a magic formula.  But by sharing their experience I hope that others can see that even in uncertainty and in the face of massive challenges every family can find their own share of victories.  And despite a solitary feeling, there are others who have walked not the same but similar paths.

Owen is one of us, he is a true Disney fan.  Owen would like to spearhead the return of hand-drawn animation.  And he would prefer that resurgence to start at Disney.  Owen knows more about Disney movies, voice actors, animation processes and animation history than most of us will ever know.  As a Disney fan our hearts soar as Owen discovers voice actor Jonathan Freeman in a stage production of Mary Poppins and connects him to one of his favorite villains Jafar.  I found myself in awe as I read Owen's analysis of Disney movies, how they connected to real life and finally having Disney artists validate those insights.  Readers will love reading of how Owen used his love of Disney movies to create a Disney club for others who enjoyed Disney films and needed to express themselves and socialize with others.  And I found myself tearing up as Owen met Disney animators and discussed past creations and Owen's possible contributions to the future.  And probably out of all those Owen meets it is probably meeting Eric Goldberg, Disney's sidekick animation specialist, that made me happy for Owen.

To be fair, it is the Disney aspect that pulls Disney fans into this story.  But it is a story of a family, including some Disney magic.  The Suskind family discuss much much more including the specialists and schools the family worked with.  The attempts to provide Owen as much of a typical experience as possible, modeled after his brother Walt.  A reader with no background in children on the autism spectrum will walk away better informed about education options, therapeutic theories, and the complexity and expense of raising a child with special needs.  Honestly, if it takes a Disney hook to pull you into that story it is a win.

Life, Animated is the story of a family who continue to face a challenging world.  And Ron Suskind introduces you to his son Owen.  As a Disney fan, you would likely find it easy to cheer on Owen as he finds his place in the world.  As a human, Owen reminds you that our judgements of others are shallow and typically off-base.  In the end the Suskind's remind us that those who face challenges are not alone and they give us all hope for the successes on the horizon.  And Owen will help us understand that there is an inner hero within each of us. 


Review Copy Provide for Purpose of Review 




Monday, August 25, 2014

Between Books - Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art


Writer Alan Cowsill should add curator to his resume.  Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Comic Art is more than a book, it is a mobile art museum.  Between the book's two covers is a treasure chest of art developed by some of Marvel's finest artists from the Golden to the Modern age.

Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Comic Art by Alan Cowsill collects Marvel's finest covers in an over-sized 300 plus page book.  The text puts on displays hundreds of Marvel covers, with typically one or two covers being highlighted on a page.  Occasionally, 3 or more covers will share a page when linked by a theme or story arc.  Covers are organized by title and theme, so Avengers covers reside next to other Avengers covers.  Cowsill provides a brief caption highlighting the historical or artistic attributes of the cover.  The captions help explain historical trends such as the growth of variant and special covers.  On a few occasions, Cowsill offers a description of significant cover artists like Jack Kirby and John Byrne.  The book also explains how covers are developed using Nova #1 and Black Panther #1 as examples. The title is broken into four sections; The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, and The Modern Age.  Despite being an art book with brief captions, readers will find they cannot rush through the pages but instead will spend hours enjoying the visuals.     

The book is designed to show off the included covers and the covers are the star.  The pages are large, giving the maximum space to display the art.  The captions are helpful but not overly wordy to only highlight not steal the focus from the covers.  The text comes with a sturdy slipcover to protect the book, though honestly, the book's front cover with a partial print of Marvel Comics #1 and the back cover with the fan chosen The Infinity Gauntlet #1 are eye-catching in their own right.  Every aspect of this book shows that the artists' reign in this large book, with writers as secondary contributors.  And as a bonus the publisher has included prints of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Iron Man #1 from the 2005 run that could be framed and displayed.  No one needs to worry about cutting up a copy to have prints for display.      

The text has really helped me to appreciate and find covers I had not been exposed to yet.  For example, I have enjoyed Jim Steranko's covers from Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and loved that issue #6 which I own is included. But I am now in love with his March 1969 Captain America 111 cover.  And I was thrilled that Cowsill included Dikto's original and unedited Amazing Fantasy #15.  I did question the inclusion of seven David Aja Hawkeye covers, but the Aja art is spectacular.  And this choice shows that Cowsill wanted to display strong and interesting art.     

I honestly can only provide two criticisms of Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art.  First, the book gives over half of its pages to The Modern Age, and personally I would like to have seen more covers from The Golden to Bronze Ages.  But I cannot argue with the choices of the curator as there have been many more covers produced in The Modern Age based solely on the number of titles, artists and variations printed. Second, I would love a short conclusion where Cowsill would have provided a concluding word on this large book for his readers.       

Marvel fans will love this book.  Disney fans who want a concise visual history of Marvel comics will appreciate the text and find the art to be enjoyable.  Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art by Alan Cowsill is a large, in-depth and artful text.  The biggest problem is the size of one's comic wish list after finishing the last page.  


Review Copy Provided by Publisher 


Friday, August 22, 2014

Dreaming Disney - What if Michael Bay Directed Up?


I love Up, you love Up, but what if Michael Bay loved Up enough to have crafted this classic for Disney?

Boom!


Explosive!

You are welcome! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Between Books - Ears & Bubbles

As noted before the Mickey Mouse Club is a Disney blind spot for me.  So of course we have back-to-back Between Books about this television phenomenon of the 1950s!
Ears & Bubbles:Dancing My Way from the Mickey Mouse Club to The Lawrence Welk Show by Bobby Burgess is a memoir of Burgess’ long dancing career.  Burgess discusses his early life, how he became involved in dance and his early public performances.  Burgess’ dancing skills would get him cast on the Mickey Mouse Club.  He then provides a brief summary of his experiences on the Disney show.  This account is then followed by his transition back into private life and eventually being cast on the Lawrence Welk Show, which at the time may have been even more popular than Burgess’ earlier success.  Burgess then outlines his decades dancing for bandmaster Welk, including his key dance partners, and his continued relationship with the Welk legacy.  Along with his time in entertainment, Burgess discusses his family life and his continued role in dance education.  

Burgess’ writing is light and positive.  As a reader you get the feeling that Burgess is an uplifting gentleman who leaves you feeling good about yourself.  His writing is clear and allows for a quick read that one could easily enjoy on the beach.  For Disney fans, there may not be enough Mickey Mouse Club, with the chapter focused on the show being relatively brief compared to the Welk material.  However, the amount of time that Burgess spent with Disney was minor compared to his time dancing for Welk.  Additionally, Burgess gives us a window to another 20th century media giant in Welk, allowing us to make some comparisons with Walt Disney since he interacted with both.  
Now growing up I did have grandparents who watched Lawrence Welk…and I hated it.  I viewed the program as a show that catered to senior citizens.  And if they turned on Welk, I admit I turned to a book.  But the picture that Burgess presents to me is quite different.  Yes, Welk and his team did understand that they were beloved by an older audience and they made specific decisions to cater to that audience.  But Burgess describes a show that provided a mixture of musical presentation styles.  As Burgess presents The Lawrence Welk Show it really comes off as a true variety program.  I did wonder if we would discover the “seedy” side of the Welk community.  And yes there is one traditional farmer’s daughter story.  But really one discovers that the Welk alumni are close-knit, which only helps to explain why Burgess stayed on for so long. 

Ears & Bubbles, like several other Theme Park Press titles, are available for borrowing in the Kindle Unlimited program.  (Honestly as a member of this program the Theme Park Press titles are at the moment the better Disney related titles available in this subscription program.)  Additionally, if you purchase through Amazon the title is part of the Kindle Matchbook program which allows you to purchase a Kindle version of the text for free when you buy a new print edition.  

For Mouseketeer fans this title is a must.  But those not as interested in The Mickey Mouse Club would likely find this a fast and enjoyable read from a very positive personality.  And Ears& Bubbles proves as a Disney fan you never know what connections you might find with your fandom and how it might lead you to reflect on your childhood!  

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Cap's Comics - Star Wars #20


In 1991, a young comic book company named Dark Horse Comics started to print Star Wars titles and carry the monthly torch of Star Wars fandom.  And I think every fan has to agree that in general Dark Horse treated Star Wars well with reprinting the Marvel issues and making them available to fans, numerous titles including one of my favorites Star Wars: Agent of the Empire, and 20 months ago launching a Star Wars title which featured Han, Luke and Leia along with the gang.  But this was all before Disney acquired LucasFilm.  And Disney has announced that the license will be moved from Dark Horse to the Disney owned Marvel Comics, where Star Wars comics got their launch in the 1970’s.

At San Diego Comic Con Marvel announced three Star Wars titles.  One mini-series will be about Princess Leia and another will focus on Darth Vader.  But for me the title that has my interest is Star Wars which will be written by Jason Aaron, who I am loving on Original Sin, and will feature our original cast.  In effect this title will effectively replace Dark Horse’s title of the same name though it will not continue those stories per say.  So despite the fact that business realities are putting Dark Horse’s Star Wars volume 2 into retirement, I am optimistic about Disney bringing the Star Wars title into the Disney family and back to Marvel.  Seriously the Between Kids found a lightsaber in Disney Infinity this week and it is really fun to see Mickey swinging his saber around in the Toy Box.  It feels so good as a Disney fan to have LucasFilm in the family.  

I have read all of Dark Horse’s Star Wars, as I found the first issue was really enjoyable and I felt like it captured the spirit of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  And when I realized the title would end I decided to keep collecting it since I was months away from having a full run since it would clearly eventually end.  And now in August 2014, Dark Horse’s time with Star Wars ends.

Star Wars issue 20, “A Bright Center to the Universe” by Brian Wood gives Dark Horse a chance to say goodbye to Star Wars.  Princess Leia recruits Han and Luke to retrieve Rebel spy and childhood friend Seren Song who is attempting to come out from undercover.  But the Rebels worry that Song may no longer be their agent.  As they seek Song, both the spy and Princess Leia’s party are stalked by IG-2000 the robot bounty hunter, though he is mislabeled as IG-88 at one point.  Will our trio be able to save Song?  And most importantly can Wood give his readers an adequate conclusion?

Overall I would say this issue was not my favorite of Wood’s run.  It is a nice adventure story, but it has to conclude quickly due to the nature of the title ending.  And I have to compare it to an earlier two issue arc that shows Darth Vader tying off loose ends from the first major story arc, which are both brilliant.  In that Vader arc we had more setup to prepare us as readers.  But issue 20 is an enjoyable adventure that a reader can enjoy.

I would say that Wood does give his readers a bright conclusion.  He clearly could not harm any of the core characters and he does put them back into a place where readers could assume or pretend the future Marvel title is simply a continuation of the story, though it will not be.  And a piece of information is provided that helps explain how the story, if LucasFilm wanted to, could transition the Rebels from the Battle of Yavin to Hoth.  But it is also a piece of information that is small enough it could be ignored if Marvel chose to.  I have really enjoyed Wood’s writing and I would rate this entire series very highly!

Overall I have really enjoyed this series as I said.  I was really surprised that really Princess Leia was the core character, with Han and Luke being more in the background.  I liked the fact that Luke was portrayed with plenty of farm boy, who often had to be counted by the wiser Wedge.  And Han was full on scoundrel, though I needed to see more of him.  If I had a complaint it was that our main cast were rarely together.  Instead they generally went off on their own missions.  It was really only at the end that one noticed the core together in one adventure.  Though one could argue the same trend occurred in the early Marvel issues in the last 70s.  But again, the entire series was well-written, well-drawn and a success in conveying stories that felt like Star Wars.

I will miss Dark Horse’s Star Wars.  It was a nice run and one of only four titles I follow on a monthly basis long-term (longer than six months).  I am still excited about our new Disney possibilities.  And I will grab the first issue of Aaron’s run in January 2015, but the real question is will I add it to my pull list permanently?
     

Monday, August 11, 2014

Between Books - The Accidental Mouseketter: Before and After the Mickey Mouse Club


I have discovered a massive Disney blind spot in my Disney fandom, The Mickey Mouse Club.  I really am not of an age where the Club was readily available to me in any form including the pop-stars to be version on the Disney Channel.  So when it comes to Mouseketeers I have a lot to learn.

The Accidental Mouseketeer: Before and After the Mickey Mouse Club by Lonnie Burr discusses Burr’s life as an original Mousketeer and beyond.  Burr details his early life, his time on The Mickey Mouse Club and his post Mousey years in television, film and theater.  Burr’s life comes across not as one defined by Disney, but one of a professional and working actor and writer in the theater, movies and television.  So while this 365 page book does discuss and reflect on Burr’s time working for Disney and the legacy it has left, there is even more material on Burr’s other endeavors including social and intellectual life.  The book is illustrated throughout the text with photos of Burr's numerous productions and private life. 

Burr is first and foremost honest.  He shares his perspective on what being a success at a young age meant for his adult years.  Burr also shares his thoughts on incidents where Disney abused him and his fellow Mousketeers.  He pulls no punches and often shares names.  But beyond professional life he shares his honest thoughts and opinions on love and sex, Hollywood and philosophy.  He truly opens up his entire self to his readers.  

Burr’s autobiography is not a book that many parents would want to share with young children who are Disney fans.  He does detail his romantic life in depth including discussions of his sexual partners.  Burr does not hold back and describes his philosophy behind relationships, which allows you to look into his heart and soul but is not always kid friendly.  And Burr clearly wrote his autobiography with adult audience in mind.  Some Disney fans hoping for a description of working with Disney as rainbows and unicorns will be sorely disappointed as he pulls no punches with mature audience.  

Other Mouseketeers have described Burr as the intellectual one.  And it is not out of the ordinary for Burr to make reference to European philosophers and ancient poets.  Burr writes with a big picture in mind making his transitions not always flow.  For example he mentions his wife Diane several times before really introducing his readers to her.  Additionally he might discuss an event in the 1950’s working on Mickey Mouse Club and jump in the same paragraph to a play from the 1970s.  For some this could slow the reading pace.  But then this text is a slow read due to the sheer comprehensive picture of his life that Burr provides.  

Mousketeer fans will find Burr’s book a must have Between Book.  But it honestly may not be a good fit for everyone!  Burr shares all of himself from a detailed account of his life, to his opinions and his personal perspective of others.  Further he shows the impersonal side of the Disney Company looking for the economical path.  The Accidental Mouseketeer: Before and After the Mickey Mouse Club is more than a Disney book but a chronicle of one Mouseketeer’s saga as an entertainment professional. 

Note: For those who wish to sample this title and are Kindle Unlimited members this title along with many other Theme Park Press books are included in the service for borrowing.  

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cap's Comics - Figment #3


From the sound of it, Blarion Mercurial is in some trouble!

Blair and Figment have been arrested by the Sound Sprites for making bad sounds.  The sprites have used their control of sound to create a net to capture the duo.  In their imprisonment they meet Fye the Flawed who has been arrested for his bad audio.  The trio must learn the rules of the game in the Audio Archipelago and imagination could be the key.  Meanwhile back on Earth, Chairman Illocrant and the Singular take steps towards bringing us all order!

The first two issues of Figment have gone to second printings, which I think is awesome.  I had to create a pull list at my local comic shop or I would not be getting the title.  And this is all great news and the title has been in the news a lot.  But I have noticed that the success of Figment may be giving the impression that this title is much more successfully than Disney Kingdoms Seekers of the Weird.  Let us do some comparison.  According to comichron.com, the first issue of Seekers sold an estimated 24,910 copies.  It went to second printing.  The first issue of Figment sold out and went to reprint with 12,735 copies.  So, Disney has created a demand by giving us a beloved character in a title with half the copies!  Now Seekers did see a big drop off, with issue #5 selling 7, 185 copies.   And perhaps this is Marvel's strategy of controlling the drop that naturally occurs in a mini-series month after month.  They are partially creating a demand by printing less than they did of Seekers!  Oh, and they have cut down the number of variant covers being offered!  Now, I personally do find this interesting because I feel like a little social engineering is going on.  But I want people talking about Figment, so I will just keep smiling and buying my copy.

Now the great news is I have read the first two issues again.  And both kids are excited to read this third issue.  The Between Kid who I read the first ones to, grabbed it and asked if we could read it now.  And I did get a little stressed out as I am looking at it as a collection not literature!  I love it, an all ages comic that all ages are enjoy while I am picking up a Disney collectible!

I found this story interesting and engaging.  Jim Zub continues to craft a story that makes me want to see what is next.  And I do feel like the spirit of imagination is bursting from the pages.  In fact at one point where imagination was needed, I found myself dreaming up options of what could come next.  And the youngest member of the Between Family wants to meet Blair's new and interesting friends as drawn by Filipe Andrade.

Figment #3 continues to be a win.  And I am anxious to see where the next installment of this adventure is going.  And maybe we might all learn to dream a little more while we dive in.