Monday, September 29, 2014

Between Books - Make Comics Like the Pros

As someone who collaborates with a comic book professional, it would be nice to understand his job. And as someone who reads a lot of comic book it would be nice to fully understand what goes into the creation of the final product. And as someone who loves Archer & Armstrong, I am more than happy to let writer Fred Van Lente explain it all to me.

Make Comics Like the Pros: The Inside Scoop on how to Write, Draw & Sell Your Comic Books and Graphic Novels by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente breaks down the comic book making process for the aspiring professional and the fan. The book goes through the various steps in creating a book from idea to finished product. And they explain the various jobs in the creation pipeline including providing tips for those holding those jobs based on their own experiences. Along with telling you how to make a comic, they show you as they work with an artist to create a new comic in the book’s pages based on their creation concepts. Along with the text, the book is illustrated on nearly every page with a piece of comic art that helps illustrate their points, generally from a Pak or Van Lente project though never from the big two publishers.

Now, I am not a comic professional. Though this week I did declare myself the COO of a non-existent comic press. After I made my inspirational speech, my staff seemed to have evaporated. But now I have a toolbox to assist me in bringing everyone back!

Okay, seriously, Make Comics Like the Pros has value for those who do not make comics. First, Pak and Van Lente stress the need for collaborating. Unlike a book, a comic book takes several different artists to make the final product occur. And they stress the fact that several people are generally needed and they all need to get credit and get paid. Additionally, they discuss the value of collaboration between writers and artists and how two people can make something even stronger. As someone who writes with a team non-comics it was both validating and instructive. Second, for a comics fan there is a nice summary of what each artist does. Their book helps illuminate what an editor, inker and letterer does and some of their general tools.

Though they do not share any Marvel art, the two discuss the Marvel Method of comic book writing. This method sees the writer giving a plot to an artist and then afterwards filling in the dialogue and narration. They explain the fear around this method, but also how it can be beneficial. For some this method is liberating and not as terrifying as it seems.

For those who want to crack into comics they do discuss how. And the big key is writing stories, your stories. They remind us that Marvel and DC own their heroes, and own your work if you write for them. They do not hire people who send unsolicited pitches. And the best way to get their attention is to write your Avengers story with a team that is yours and not the Avengers.

If anything, Make Comics Like the Pros could have used more illustrations from Archer & Armstrong. Okay, that is me showing a bias. For those who want to get into comics or are interested in how a comic is made this book will be of interest. For those getting paid in the industry, it may seem like information that is already in their toolbox. But again, for a fan this is a quick, illustrative read that is fun.

Review Copy Provided for Purposes of Review

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mousey Movie Preview - Big Hero 6's Second Trailer

Disney has just released the second trailer for Big Hero 6:

What did you think?  Here are some of my thoughts:
  • This is my favorite trailer to date.  I finally feel like we have a story.
  • The Between Kid is standing next to me singing over and over again, "on top of the world."  So I think they are winning.
  • The Between Tween is already guessing who the bad guy is.
  • This really does feel like it is an animation studio original with nothing to do with Marvel.  
  • Baymax feels like someone I can cheer for.
  • Hey...we finally saw some more of the team!  Yeah, I still don't know much if anything about them.
  • There's a lot of day I want to say,  "I am not fast!"
A lot of early Disney trailers have not worked for me.  And I may not have been overly impressed with the teaser.  But this worked for me and I can finally say, I want to see that.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Between Books - Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man

As I have become more and more familiar with those that make the magic, the late Marc Davis has become my favorite Imagineer.  His ability to mix fun with interesting designs continues to help The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Haunted Mansion.  I have often said on my list of literary wants is a volume that captures all of his interests from animation to the theme parks and beyond.  And now we can finally say that title exists.

Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man provides an artistic biography of Davis' life.  The artist's journey is documented by numerous authors, including some who knew the man, including John Canemaker, Andreas Deja, Pete Doctor, Marty Sklar and Marc Davis (yes, I said Marc Davis).  Each author takes up an aspect of his career from his own early animal studies, Davis the art teacher, animation, Imagineering, Davis' fine art and more.  Davis' own chapter is an excerpt from an unpublished book in which he discusses anatomy and motion.  Author Mindy Johnson provides a chapter that will delight Disney fans, "The Divine Miss Alice", which provides a biography of Davis' widow Alice who is a legend in her own right.  The entire volume is wonderfully illustrated with Davis' work, much of it coming from the Alice Davis Collection.

First and foremost what strikes a reader is the art.  The book has over sized pages which show off a master artist and draftsman's efforts.  A common theme amongst the authors is Davis' flawless representation of movement, and his personal sketches of football games and dancers shows that clear ability to visually communicate movement with static pictures.  The inclusion of early drawings, including those done on Butcher paper are exciting, as one feels they are uncovering Davis' early works.  And the included Disney Theme Park images will delight.  My personal favorites include concept art for the Western River Expedition which show that Davis planned a ride full of puns.  But the concept art for the Haunted Mansion art gallery found on pages 138 and 139 made me wish the page was even bigger so the crease did not have to interfere with my view of the masterpiece. Speaking of masterpieces, the book provides something that Disney fans are not used to, numerous samples of Davis' fine art.  These pieces, be it a tree study or a spirit house from his Papua New Guinea trips show Davis' ability to work in numerous formats and styles.

The chapter text, usually 3 to 5 pages long, present Davis' well-rounded life.  My favorite chapters show a teacher, a man at play, and a husband.  "Marc as Teacher" by Bob Kurtz presents Davis the instructor.  One really can see the ease at which Davis could quickly form an image with expert lines.  And you get insight to his teaching style.  For me a highlight is seeing something I thought no longer exists, photographs of some of his chalkboards.  "Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands" shows a man looking to learn more about his world and his art.  But his sketches, including a canoe mishap allow us to see a man with a sense of humor.  And of course, his art from his trips is spectacular.  And along with his whimsy, the accompanying text shows that even in his later years he still had a vivid imagination.  Finally, "The Divine Miss Alice" gives us a biography of Alice Davis.  I have personally gotten so used to hearing Alice Davis talk about Marc Davis that it was refreshing to see her own work highlighted.  Additionally, the images help document a true romance.

Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man is a book I have wanted on my Between Book shelf for awhile, well before it even existed.  This volume is a must have for Marc Davis fans, Disney animation historians and Disney Parks enthusiasts.  In one volume Davis fans can reference his entire art career and see why Walt Disney considered Davis his Renaissance Man. 


Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Friday, September 19, 2014

Between Books - The Disney Festivals Guide to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2014

One of the toughest Disney reality of being Between Disney is have a Disney bucket list that is difficult to fill. Schedules and geography make it very difficult to take in all things Disney parks.  Yet, on that bucket list is Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, which will continue to be debated in the Betweenland until the day the Between Family finally gets to attend.

The Disney Festivals guide to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2014 by Ken Bingham is a Kindle only offering from Theme Park Press.  Bingham provides his readers a breakdown of the annual Halloween party including costs, planning, attractions, characters and entertainment.  Along with text to help describe what a guest would experience, Bingham links to some of the finest Disney Internet sites to provide videos and resources that would help a first time visitor develop an expectation of their visit.  And most of all since this is a hard ticketed event, Bingham helps you plan for how you will spend your time so you do not waste a moment of your experience.  

As a guidebook, Bingham is clear and helpful.  The fact that he in a digital only format allows him to link to some of the best of the Internet.  And it allows the reader to have instant access.  The book is a whopping $2.99, a very safe investment especially for those going to the party for the first time.  And it the book is available on Kindle Unlimited as a borrow.  Even if parties of two or more just follow Bingham's advice on Sorcerers limited edition cards, the small price of the book would add to the party experience.  In short, The Disney Festivals Guide to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2014 is an easy to use and cost affordable resource for those lucky enough to visit Walt Disney World during the Halloween season.  

But what about for everyone else.  I am not going to the 2014 party.  For me, it provided a nice overview of events during the party, what I'm missing out on.  Bingham includes notes about past events and changes, what I missed out on.  And now I know when I can see many characters especially villains I have not seen in the parks, who I am missing out on.  For me it was a quick read that better educated me on the party and makes me feel more comfortable in fielding questions about a party I have never attended.    

Those attending this years Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party will want to pick up a copy of The Disney Festivals Guide to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2014.  For those in Betweenland still waiting for their first party, Bingham provides an informative guide with access to multimedia that may allow you to consider how to make your own Halloween a little more magical.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Between Books - The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit 2014

Can we be honest, the Disney guidebook market is a pretty hard one to crack into.  It is a market where one title honestly dominates the market.  The remainder of sales are mostly divided up between big name travel companies and as I have recently seen, but not had the heart to review in most cases, eBooks where good meaning bloggers give the same advice with little production or organization.  But one might still be able to find a niche to crack the market.

The easy Guide To Your First Walt Disney World Visit 2014 by Dave Shute and Josh Humphrey targets a specific niches, or two.  What if this was your first visit or even worse your only visit to the Walt Disney World Resort?  Then you would like have very different questions than many guests since you would not know what you liked or wanted to do.  The guide therefore tailors its descriptions and advice to those who have never gone to the parks.  With this bias in mind, the text follows a pretty straightforward outline; planning, lodging, touring, and eating with extensive summaries for accommodations, attractions and dining. The text is accompanied by a number of spreadsheets, charts and maps (including links to some of the planning documents) to help someone make he most of their only trip to Walt Disney World. 

Shute and Humphrey are honest with their readers, and that honesty impacts how they visit the parks.  They do not like getting up early.  So instead of a typical strategy of up early, they tend to provide their readers with a plan that allows them to sleep in a little later and get to the park after the gate opens.  Now, this is not how I would typically visit the parks.  But I can see the merits of their strategy and though I may not consider this as my basic strategy.  I can see how my family would apply this in the middle portions of our vacations when we occasionally hit a fun wall.  Also they suggest longer trips, especially for those who may not ever be coming back to the parks.  I agree that anyone who is Between Disney needs to consider more days than less for cost and experience reasons.  Shute and Humphrey are bot clear writers and it is enjoyable to see them even show their different opinions.  The two are both knowledgeable with Shute writing and Humphrey authoring (note: these were not the well meaning bloggers I was referring to earlier).  

The easy Guide To Your First Walt Disney World Visit 2014 is a strong book and does a good job of discussing the topic with its target audience.  There are a few improvements I would suggest.  Some of the descriptions are not standard, so for example Sum of All Thrills there is no expected wait time, something I actually really wanted to know since I have not experienced this attraction.  For some attractions it asks the questions can we handle it, for others this is absent.  The biggest problem I had reading is maps.  I was reading a paperback black and white copy and for my eyes some of the shading was not clear enough to show me differences in attractions.  But I did check with the Kindle version, which has very clear color differences in their differentiation scheme.  So my recommendation is to pick up the Kindle version of the book.  This would allow the graphics to be fully appreciated and allow someone who has never visited the parks to have this book on a electronic device for easy reference instead of having to carry the weight of this, or any book, through the parks.  

I think that The easy Guide To Your First Walt Disney World Visit 2014 is a useful book for those who have never visited the Walt Disney World Resort before.  It is clear and well-organized helping one to plan their once in a life visit.  And for someone who has not visited Walt Disney World in a few years it helped refresh me on essential information I will need for visiting Disney's second park.  

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press


Friday, September 12, 2014

Dreaming Disney - Marvel Comics 75 Years of Cover Art the Interview

I was lucky enough with my podcasting partner Ben Avery to be able to interview Alan Cowsill about his book Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art

Topics in the interview include:
  • The process of crafting the book including cover selection.
  • World War I in comics.
  • Marvel UK heroes.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The interview can be accessed at


Monday, September 8, 2014

Between Books - Walt's People Volume 1

As someone who loves Disney history, the Walt’s People series edited by Didier Ghez has often caught my eye.  And now with one volume in my rearview mirror I find myself wanting more of the oral histories where those who lived share their experiences with us.  And the fact that sadly many of these legends have passed away makes hearing directly from them even more exciting to the historian.

Walt’s People: Volume 1 Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him is the original volume, recently reprinted by Theme Park Press.  As content goes, this volume kicked off the series right with interviews with Disney figures including Milt Kahl, John Hench, Ken Anderson, and John Hench (they are so big they share the cover).  The volume includes interviews with 10 Disney artists, with Hench and Davis being featured twice.  The interviews are standard question and answer with some editorial background to help orient the reader.  The volume covers both Disney’s early Hollywood years with interviews with figures like Rudolf Ising who had known Walt Disney in Kansas City.  Other’s like Harper Goff discuss both live-action and theme park projects.  And the legendary Marc Davis covers topics that include both the development of Snow White and Disneyland improvements, spanning multiple Walt Disney masterpieces.  

I have published a biographical profile of Marc Davis.  And I will admit I really wish I had this volume back when I wrote this.  This book, this series, is a researcher’s treasure chest.  To be able to hear directly from these individuals, even with their lapses of memory, is a delight.  It is fun hearing what they remember and the grudges they hold into their later years.  

For me the last interview with Joyce Carlson was honestly my favorite.  Her long career included animation, the World’s Fair and four Disney Parks as she truly became the queen of it’s a small world.  And her observations on Mary Blair, Rolly Crump and Davis are first person accounts of the three of them working and fighting together.  It did find it very insightful who won!  And Crump often paints himself as someone not always well liked by the older men of the studio.  Carlson shows us an audience that did enjoy his company, young ladies, which also helps explain why other men may have been resentful.  Additionally, she shows how friendly Walt Disney was with Crump with the ease he could slip into Crump’s projects and interests.

Walt’s People: Volume 1 Taking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him edited by Didier Ghez is a great starting point to jump into this series.  It is under 200 pages and includes a large number of names Disney fans know, with an introduction to some that you may not be familiar with.  Currently this volume is only 99 cents for Kindle!  For a Disney history fan, there is no reason not to give this volume a try.   

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cap's Comics - Figment #4

Alas friends, things do not look well for Blarion Mercurial, Figment or all of London.  In the last issue Blarion and company escaped the Sound Sprites, but their escape led them right into the Nightmare Nation.  And in this installment, our heroes face the consequences of entering a realm of bad dreams.  For each of our company the attack is very powerful and emotionally draining. Meanwhile in London the Singular and his Clockwork Army are enforcing order on London.  The consequences for disorder are very painful and I am guessing right now Chairman Illocrant wishes his imagination was not so orderly.  The issue ends with the reader wondering how and if Blarion and his friends, at least the ones that escape the Nightmare Nation, can free London from orderly control and bring a little chaos.

Let me first say the Between Kid is not a fan for things that are not Disney Infinity, Lego Marvel Superheroes or YouTube videos about those games.  But for Figment there were no complaints about settling down to read a book.  In fact this time I made my first pass on the issue with the Between Kid instead of alone.  The first significance is engaging a kid and getting them to leave their valuable video game research for a story about imagination!  Okay, the big deal is no complaints about reading.  But there is another significance.  The Between Kid has not seen Figment in any incarnation inside a theme park.  And the Between Kid likes Figment a lot.  Now I know a lot of Disney fans have enjoyed the title because it is extending the story of the beloved Figment.  But I think it is important to note that for some Disney fans this comic is their first taste of Figment, and they like it.

Yet again Jim Zub has presented a well written story.  And despite the fact that it is a "scary", we are talking about Nightmare Nation, it is still a strong all-ages story.  Honestly, it may be Figment's reactions as he faces this threat that may help kids feel less scared despite the fact the little guy is in danger.  I really enjoyed Filipe Andrade's art in this issue in representing the Nightmare Nation.  As each hero is tortured, I could imagine a booming voice to accompany the formations in the sky.  Sorry, I don't want to give it away.  But it is a very imaginative way to communicate dialogue in a story about a fantastic land of imagination.

I am ready for next month.  I want to see what Blarion does to save London.  I want to see how Figment functions on a grander scale in our world.  But what I really want to know is what is next for the Disney Kingdom's series.  If you told me another series of Figment was coming I would be very happy.  But I am also more than willing to try another park's based title.  But I really want this experiment to keep going...and maybe get us a yearly installment of Figment.

Yeah, so we have an older and more mature Blarion.  And he has to fight demons in a museum of strange things.  Yes, yes...and let's just keep the ball rolling!

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