Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Stan the Man

Here's an article about Stan Lee's newest project.

• Posted at 10:20 PM · LINK

Super News

[UPDATE, April 6: I have made a few corrections in the following item since it was first posted to the Internet. See this later post for a fuller explanation.]

Joanne Siegel and her daughter Laura — widow and child of the late Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman — have won another round in their battle against Time-Warner, specifically the skirmish over ownership of Superboy. On March 23, Judge Ronald Lew ruled for the Siegels in summary judgment, tossing out a number of Time-Warner arguments. The biggie, if I understand this correctly, is the judge saying that Time-Warner has no grounds on which to assert, as they have attempted to do, that Superboy was a "work-for-hire" creation.

As you may know, Siegel and his partner Joe Shuster, sued DC Comics in 1946 over the rights to Superman. Part of that suit also involved the assertion, with which that judge agreed, that Siegel had created and submitted a separate idea for Superboy to DC, and that DC rejected Jerry's idea and later did it without his consent. The judge in that case issued a ruling that, legal scholars seem to agree, was not meant to settle the matter once and for all. [And some don't. See the update.] He ruled that DC Comics owned Superman and that Siegel owned Superboy.

Soon after, in a move I believe he regretted, Siegel sold the Superboy copyright to DC. In purchasing Superboy from Jerry, DC acknowledged that he was the rightful owner. Judge Lew is now saying, in effect, "That matter was settled long ago." Time-Warner, as DC's current owner, cannot now go in and argue that Siegel never owned the copyright.

This is a major win for the Siegels. To read more about it, peek in on this story over at Newsarama, which is one of the few comic book news sites that has ever followed this story. Most of 'em are too busy breaking scoops over who's inking the next Wolverine crossover to care about what I think is the biggest newsbreak in comics this century.

• Posted at 5:57 PM · LINK

More on Treasure Chest

Treasure Chest carried the Comics Code for a number of years, which raises an interesting question. As we all know, the Comics Code was formed in 1954 because their comic books were under attack from various groups that wanted to ban them or institute government-controlled censorship or something of the sort. So DC and Marvel and Archie and most of the other major publishers and their printers and distributors got together and formed this self-censorship board and henceforth, all their comics displayed the Comics Code symbol. It was there to assure parents and watchdog groups that the comic had been properly scrutinized and laundered. The smaller publishers had to go along with it or no one would carry their product.

There were two exceptions. Dell Comics, which published in partnership with Western Publishing, refused to have any part of it. They had their own distribution and, more important perhaps, they had Mickey Mouse in their line. They felt the crusaders wouldn't come after them and that their spotless reputation shoudn't be used to repair the blemished name of the folks who'd published horror and crime comics. Later on, when Dell and Western split off (as explained here), Western also refused to have anything to do with the Comics Magazine Association of America and their Code. An editor at Western once told me that in some magazine somewhere, a representative of the C.M.A.A. was asked why Western hadn't joined and was quoted as saying something like, "Well, they have their reasons but believe me, they got copies of our guidelines and they told me they apply its principles to their books." According to this editor — it was Chase Craig, by the way — Western's lawyers immediately dispatched a letter that said, in effect, "That's a lie. We've never looked at your stupid Code and we'll sue you if you ever say that again."

The other company that didn't subscribe to the Code was Gilberton, the people who put out Classics Illustrated. Presumably, they felt that the reputation of the works they were adapting — books that were in most school libraries — made it unnecessary to join the Code. Besides, they had only limited distribution via conventional channels. They sold most of their product through educational outlets.

Okay, so why did Treasure Chest join the Code, which it seems to have done almost from the start? If the folks publishing Walt Disney's Comics and Stories didn't think they had anything to fear, why did the people putting out adaptations of The Holy Bible think they did? I mean, Treasure Chest was the comic that nuns encouraged kids to buy...and even if the occasional Biblical scene could get a little bloody, was anyone going to object to the content? So why did George A. Pflaum, the publisher of Treasure Chest, join up, which not only meant submitting his books to the Code's censor board but also financially supporting the organization? I'd think he'd have been happy to see the mainstream publishers sink. Why did he lend his squeaky-clean image to an organization designed to rehabilitate the reps of the people who brought you Chamber of Chills?

I don't know a lot about Mr. Pflaum other than that in addition to Treasure Chest, he published non-comic religious publications like Young Catholic Messenger, Junior Catholic Messenger and Our Little Messenger. That doesn't sound to me like someone who would have cared a lot if Atlas Comics, publishers of Adventures Into Terror, couldn't get their product on newsstands.

My first thought is that perhaps Pflaum's printer wouldn't print his comics if he didn't have the Code symbol on them. Some printers, like World Color Press, were motivators of the Code and might have insisted on it for all their clients. But there were certainly printers who would have welcomed that business. There were distributors who wouldn't carry books that did not bear the Code seal but Treasure Chest didn't go through newsstand distributors.

Or did it? It's possible that Pflaum thought he was just supporting a cause that would improve comics for all children and that this was of primary importance to him. It's also possible — and this is just me speculating aloud — that Treasure Chest did have some newsstand distribution in some areas. And since he wasn't going to set up his own distributor for that purpose, he had to go through the existing ones, some of whom might have insisted on Code approval.

I don't know if anyone can answer this or even if anyone cares. But one of the accusations against the Comics Code was that it was an alliance of publishers and distributors making a move that stank of anti-trust, telling all their competitors, "You join our group, pay in money and make your product conform or we'll see that you never get on a newsstand." Wouldn't it be interesting if even a guy printing Bible stories felt he had no choice but to go along with this?

• Posted at 9:54 AM · LINK


Several folks have written to ask me about the Honda commercial I linked to this morn, specifically about the part where the tires roll uphill. Back when this spot first materialized, I read a number of articles about it, few of which seem to still be online. My recollection is that while there was no camera trickery involved and while all the action actually occurred in the studio, there were gimmicks used within a few pieces. For example, the tires had weights embedded in them that caused them to roll the way they did. Hold on. Let me see if I can find anything online about this...

Yeah, here over at the Snopes site is this page which says, among other things, "The sequence where the tyres roll up a slope looks particularly impressive but is very simple. Steiner says that there is a weight [in each] tyre and when the tyre is knocked, the weight is displaced and in an attempt to rebalance itself, the tyre rolls up the slope." Sounds possible to me. That page may answer other questions you have about the spot.

• Posted at 9:44 AM · LINK

Popularity Contest

On the redesigned New York Times website that debuted this week, there's a little section called Most Popular Movies. Maybe it was there on the old site but if it was, I never noticed it. But I noticed it just now and it says...

Most Popular Movies, also known as TimesPulse, calculates the most popular movies among NYTimes.com readers, based on the cumulative number of reviews read, movie details pages viewed and trailers accessed.

Know what the top movie is at this moment? The one that is reported as the most popular among the readers of that website? United 93.

Know what's odd about that? It isn't out yet. It doesn't come out until April 28.

But it's already the most popular movie among NYTimes.com readers.

Apparently, this is a measure of how many people access the trailer, which is online for viewing over there, or search for info on the film. This is not the same thing as being popular. It's called being curious, especially after reports that when the Coming Attractions are shown in some theaters, audience members get unsettled and emotional. United 93 is being written about elsewhere in the Times so that's generating inquiries, too.

A couple of the other movies on the "most popular" list aren't out yet. One that is — it came out in 1968 — is the Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda movie, Yours, Mine and Ours. It's currently #22 with NYTimes.com readers...though I'm guessing that just means that a couple of people were looking for info on the recent remake with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo. That, however, is not what it says in The New York Times. They list the '68 version directed by Melville Shavelson.

Beware of online surveys. They know not what they do.

• Posted at 12:22 AM · LINK

Today's Video Link

I had a link to this on my site a few years ago but that was back in the Paleolithic Era, long before the days of video clip embedding. In any case, if you've seen it, you won't mind seeing it again. And again and again. What we have for you today is only, I think, the most amazing commercial ever done. It's entitled "Cog," it's for the Honda Accord, it runs two minutes and what follows are the other bullet points you need to know about it...

  • It is real. That is, what you're about to see was actually created in a studio and not in a CGI program. They actually set this up and did it without special effects.
  • Reported total cost: Six million dollars. The spot ran mostly on British television, which is why it was able to be two minutes long. They have those there.
  • It took 3-6 months to set up (accounts vary) and it was shot over a round-the-clock four-day shooting schedule in a Paris studio. The initial press releases said it required 606 takes but that number has been disputed.
  • Because the studio in Paris was not large enough to house the whole thing, the commercial was shot in two parts. The edit point, which is just about impossible to spot, comes around the one minute mark. So it's two continuous takes butted together, which only detracts a wee bit from the achievement.
  • Two new Hondas were disassembled to get the parts. At the time they made this, the model they were promoting had yet to hit the assembly lines so the ones they cannibalized were new, made-by-hand prototypes.
  • And lastly, that's the voice of Garrison Keillor at the end, I'm told. Doesn't sound like him to me but that's who they say it is.

So now you can go ahead and watch it. Somewhere, the ghost of Rube Goldberg is either smiling or demanding royalties.

• Posted at 12:03 AM · LINK

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