Monday, January 26, 2015

Between Books - The Adventures of Young Walt Disney

As I looked at the cover of The Adventures of Young Walt Disney and saw that the book was the Official Companion to As Dreamers Do, I got a little worried.  I had heard enough about the Walt Disney biopic that I knew that the producers admitted that some stories found in the movie could be closer to myth and legend than history, since they took Walt at his word.  And I was concerned that this book could have a similar philosophy of storytelling.  Also, with a title like this the first thing that came to mind was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.  Which again is fiction, not fact.  

The Adventures of Young Walt Disney by William Silvester is a historical chronicle of Walt Disney's years before Hollywood.  Silvester covers Disney's early life including why his parents left Chicago, the Marceline years, Kansas City, France and back to Kansas City again.  The story that Silvester presents is the account of a driven young man who often hit on rough times.  Due to illness and a poor crop, his family left his beloved Missouri farm for opportunity in the city.  As a young businessman though he had a contract, young Walt Disney struggled to keep his studio running as he was never paid.  And when the money ran out and he could no longer afford staff, Disney lived in his Kansas City Laugh-O-Gram studio...perhaps with a mouse.  What the reader discovers is that during all of Disney's roughest moments he still had people that believed in him and his talent.  

I really enjoyed The Adventures of Young Walt Disney.  Silvester writes clearly and keeps the reader's attention by telling a fact based story.  He makes sure to point out in his text what is fact and what is legend.  And at times he makes sure to note stories which may not be true.  Therefore it works well as a historical biography.  And it has the benefit of being short!  With a page count of under 130 pages, it is a obtainable biography on Disney's pre-California years.  I am sitting next to another biography covering the same years which is twice the size and something that I could never give to a young adult or someone with a passing interest in Walt Disney. this work is an enjoyable and educational read that non-Disney fans can enjoy just by following the interesting story of young Walt Disney.

I did take the time to watch, finally, As Dreamers Do, after reading the book.  I can see how someone who  had seen the movie would want to pick up a biography like this to fill in gaps and confirm stories found in the movie.  The book and the movie do differ in some key themes, with the book being distinctly less spiritual than the movie.  As someone who saw the movie after reading the book, I did find myself comparing the film and preferring the book.  But I am a history guy who likes the printed word, so "not as good as the book" is a phrase I have used in several situations.  One should note that the movie is not based on the book, and the book is not an adaptation of the movie.  They are related in the content they cover.  While they do have some stories that overlap, each is a stand-alone experience.

I really enjoyed The Adventures of Young Walt Disney.  Sure Walt Disney was no Indiana Jones.  But both did spend time in France!  William Silvester has put together a useful and entertaining biography of Walt Disney.  And one that a young person or semi-interested history buff can enjoy just as much as the intense Disney fan. 

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cap's Comics - Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

I love comic books.  but I have honestly stayed away from the core Disney characters in comic form.  I really do want to be into this books, I just never have dipped the toe in.  I want to know more about Disney Legends like Carl Barks, but his work is a Disney blind spot for me.  So instead of going all in, I started with something free!

Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity reprints Don Rosa 1996 Duck story now reprinted by Fantagraphics Books for Free Comic Book Day 2014.  The main story features Uncle Scrooge and Donald attempting to reclaim Scrooge's Number One Dime from the sorceress Magica De Spell.  But the chase is a challenge as De Spell has placed a hex on the duck duo which reorients their gravity.  Rosa tells the story with the top half the page showing gravity from De Spell's and the reader's view.  While the bottom half is drawn from the view of Donald and Scrooge.  The second story, "Sign of the Triple Distelfink"from 1998 features Donald's cousin Gladstone, who is a very lucky duck.  But his luck always changes on his birthday to bad!  Gladstone attempts to escape his luck while Donald plans a prank on his fortunate cousin.  The issue ends with an interview of Don Rosa discussing his history with the Ducks. The back cover is a Gladstone pinup or from Donald's view a "Obnoxious Cousin Dart Target."  

I will admit I did like this comic.  But it is not my typical fare.  The pages all had more panels than one finds in a superhero comic which really gives the comic more story for the page.  In short, it is dense and you get your money's worth, in this case free!  I also found the story punny.  I could imagine Rosa attempting to work out gags like old Disney shorts story men.  And the use of the gravity flip flop provides plenty of gag fodder.  But most of all the gravity angle creates a really smart story that is delivered in an interesting way.  It is easy to see how the story was nominated for an Eisner Award, that is Will not Michael!  The Gladstone story is also amusing though it does bring out the worst in Donald.  It is easy to see how both kids and adults would like these tales.  I did like the interview with Rosa since I did not have experience with his writing and it helped me realize that he was a dedicated duck man.

Free Comic Book Day you have helped me come one step closer to eliminating a Disney blind spot.  You have turned my world sideways, or maybe Magica De Spell did.  I really enjoyed Walt Disney Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity and hope that there is another Fab Five inspired comic next year.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 1

Star Wars



Yeah decades before Disney acquired both companies, this happened.  From 1977 to 1986 for 107 issues and three annuals Marvel Comics published Star Wars the licensed and official comic.  As a kid I read some of these issues and I still have some in my personal collection.  But with Disney now filming Star Wars Episode VII I really wanted to reconnect with these stories.  This was reinforced by the fact that I have been enjoying Brian Wood’s Star Wars published by Dark Horse.  And in 2015 Marvel will get this title back as it all comes back into the family.  In talking with friends I decided the way to jump back in was through collections which led to me picking up Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…Volume 1 reprinting issues one through 27.  

The first six issues written by Marvel legend Roy Thomas and drawn by Howard Chaykin adapts Star Wars or what we now call Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope.  With issue seven stories begin to follow our heroes after the Battle of Yavin.  The volume includes creative staff changes with most prominently Archie Goodwin taking on much of the writing duties and Carmine Infantino providing art.  These stories separate Luke, Han and Leia into their own adventures.  Han takes on a space pirate named Crimson Jack, becomes a hired gun for farmers with a posse including the talking giant Rabbit named Jaxx, and eventually works his way back to the rebellion.  Meanwhile, Luke searches for a post-Yavin home for the rebels, is hunted by a self-hating cyborg and fights water dragons.  And Leia seeks out the lost Luke who has lost contact with the alliance.  The heroes all reunite on a water world which features the water dragons, giant floating wood cities, and a society divided.  And throughout the stories the shadow of Darth Vader hangs over our heroes.  

These issues are a fantastic adventure for the Star Wars fan.  The fun all starts in the first six issues and their very different take on the original Star Wars film.  The reader knows something is different as the art on page 14 shows Darth Vader using the Force to levitate a cup of what we assume is coffee over to his gloved hand.  And then he begins to drink his beverage, as the reader struggles with the question of how the liquid is getting through the mask.  Hardcore Star Wars fans would likely complain that Darth Vader would never use the Force for something so minor.  But everyone else will still be stuck with the question of how is Vader drinking without a straw?  Another change is Luke flies against the Death Star with Blue Squadron, not Red.  And while we are at it Wedge is in a Y-Wing not a X-Wing.  There are also concepts brought forward that we would not question until other movies were developed.  For example, Blue Leader makes it appear that he knew Luke Skywalker’s father as a good pilot from the Outer Rim, a place we now know Anakin Skywalker never flew through or lived in as an adult.  So yes there is plenty in this story that does not add up with what we know today as canon.  For me, my favorite new moment is Chewbacca getting his medal after the Battle of Yavin.  But of course he has to put it on himself as Princess Leia is not tall enough to present it properly. 

Speaking of Chewbacca the Wookie, Carmine Infantino is a comics legend.  But he really had no idea how to draw a Wookie.  There is way way to much skin in Chewy’s face! 

With the movie in the rearview mirror, Marvel’s staff was able to expand on the Star Wars universe.  We find out, for now, why Han Solo did not pay off Jabba the Hutt.  And I had heard about Jaxx, but I was shocked how easily this rabbit fell into this universe.  And I did search future volumes for more of the big-eared one.  Valance the bounty hunter gives Marvel the opportunity to explore the complexity and illogical basis of racism as he hates all droids!  And he despises the droid-loving Luke Skywalker.  Marvel legend Chris Claremont gets an opportunity to craft a Luke Skywalker/Cinderella story!  And we get to see fantastic environments, I really did enjoy the water world story that finishes the volume.

I can report it is awkward anytime Luke and Leia kiss!  But let us be fair, they did not know!

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago…Volume 1 is a fun trip.  Star Wars fans really should pick-up this collection to explore Han, Luke and Leia’s past.  And I am only looking forward to more adventures in future trips in a Comic Book Time Machine

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cap's Comics - Stars Wars #1: Return to Marvel Comics

Marvel after decades has Star Wars again under its watchful eye.

I share my thoughts with another huge Star Wars fan and a guy who has heard about the franchise at Comic Book Time Machine!

Spoilers...I liked the part about Star Wars!

Warning: The discussion also includes an extensive breakdown of Pop Funko collections. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Between Books - Ema Earns Her Ears

Recently there have been several books put out about the Disney College Program. And at a certain point one begins to wonder do these growing number of books offer something new? This is the perceptive that I have started to take up as I explore new offerings on this topic.

Ema Earns Her Ears: My Secret Walt Disney World Cast Member Diary by Ema Hutton shares Hutton’s two separate experiences in the Disney College Program. Hutton discusses her love of Walt Disney World and her experiences as a youngster as a guest from the United Kingdom. The book is then broken into two separate experiences. Hutton’s first experience was working in Housekeeping at Port Orleans. Her second tour in the program was in Entertainment as Pluto’s supportive friend. The two experiences were vastly different. Yet for both she describes her application process (very different both times), arranging accommodations, training, work experiences and enjoyment she had until she graduated from each of her programs.

Does Ema provide something new to the Disney College program experience books? Yes, and it is an answer easy to reach. First, Hutton’s perspective is an international participant. So her memoir discusses immigration status and visas, topics participants from the United States never need to consider. Second, Hutton had two very different experiences. At Port Orleans she almost termed herself and left due to difficulties with her assignment. While other books have discussed the fear of being dismissed due to making mistakes or bad behavior, this is the first book I have read where the author almost self-termed. And in past books where self-terming seems incomprehensible. Hutton shows a situation and mindset that most Disney fans can understand. And it is very interesting to read a book by someone who had both a bad and good experience in one book as sharp contrasts. It makes it clear that sometimes it is the experience not the individual. Third, while many books share hints on completing the application process the right way Hutton’s first experience was very much the wrong way. By following Hutton’s two different experiences potential participants can see the traps of not being specific, the stress of not being informed and how knowledge can expedite the application experience.

I found Hutton’s writing easy to read. I read this book on a Kindle and the short chapters made it easy to bump in and out of. I also found it easy to like Hutton and pull for her to have a good experience when she joins Pluto’s posse. Also Hutton’s perspective as an international student helps us to see not only the Disney experience from abroad but also let us hear how we as American’s sound to someone from outside the United States even if we are using the same words.

Ema Earns Her Ears has convinced me that there is still plenty to say in the genre of Disney College Experience memoirs. Yes, some experiences are same but everyone’s experience is different. And I expect and hope that in the future new memoirs will have new perspectives and experiences to share.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Walt's Window's - Drunk History: The Birth of Mickey Mouse

When I was in college my favorite professor said there were two kinds of historical tales.  The first was told in a lecture hall.  The second was told from a bar stool.  It appeared he believed the second category all started with, "General Patton...."

Recently when watching Sky High I jumped over to a listing of actor Michael Angarano's recent work.  I stumbled on a segment of a show called Drunk History.  The concept of Drunk History is pretty simple.  You get a narrator drunk.  The narrator tells a historical tale, not about General Patton it appears, and actors attempt to play out out including syncing their mouths to the dialogue.  

Angarano's segment recounts the birth of Mickey Mouse by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks.  And I was actually shocked how much fact there was in this recounting. 

Again, I was shocked about how "true" this drunk story was.  And this the narrator appears passionate, which allows him to keep his story mostly straight despite his chemically induced state!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Between Books - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season One Declassified

I do love me some Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  I seriously cannot get enough of it, which is a good thing since I talk about it basically every week.  So picking up a copy of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season One Declassified was a must!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season One Declassified by Troy Benjamin reads like a S.H.I.E.L.D. report that you must be properly clearanced to access.  Luckily Level Seven agents are cleared to review this report.  The book opens with an introduction that includes a history of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rise of Agent Phil Coulson.  The text then jumps into the preproduction phase of the show and focuses on the casting of our key agents found on the Bus.  Then we get into the heart of the book.  Benjamin provides an episode by episode breakdown that provides key facts about each episode, a mission briefing, specifics about each show which could include guest stars or shooting challenges, and crew mini-profiles which outline not just the person but what the job title does to support the show.  These episode breakdowns run around five pages a piece.  After discussing each episode Benjamin focuses in on key crew with coverage of the work of costume designer Ann Foley, Property Master Scott Bauer, and Composer Bear McCreary with detailed examination of work they completed for the show.  

I mentally file Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season One Declassified into the art book category.  So generally this means my expectation is low word count with maximum visuals.  The book does completely win over the reader with images which include production photos and concept art, like one expects.  And the book design as a S.H.I.E.L.D. file by Nelson Riberio puts the reader into the proper spy frame of mind.  There is no denying the book looks great in its slipcover sitting on the book shelve.  But the real win for me was the large amount of text found in the book.  Benjamin provides his readers massive amounts of intelligence on the show.  I have found some art books in the past rely on massive amounts of dead space to help frame the prized images.  Here text pages are rarely sparse but instead densely packed with information for the fact loving fanboy (like me). 

The actress who plays Raina was almost cast as someone else on the team.  Why was Bill Paxton cast?  Do Clark Gregg's suits speak about the character and his journey?  And the ultimate magic, how does Lola fly?  The book is full of this sort of information.  As I read the book I found myself texting facts and questions to friends who love the show just as much as me.  I now know exactly how many Chitauri helmets were made for The Avengers.  Believe me, when you find out the answer it will help you have a better understanding of movie making.  I know what episode the Zorro Parking Structure was used in as a shooting location, and allowed myself to geek out as I realized I have parked there!  And most of all, I know how the production staff prepared for the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and how the cast reacted when they got the news that their story had significantly changed!  

I fully admit it, I am the audience of this book.  Though the price tag is pretty high.  So I can understand if you have to pass.  But if you are going to spend your money on a Disney/Marvel art book, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season One Declassified is the type of book to consider with its balance of great art and facts about production.  It made me a hot mess and I thoroughly enjoyed reading through it, and plan to return to it again as a reference in my fandom.

For weekly coverage of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follow my podcast Welcome to Level Seven.