Archive | April 2012

Event Recap: the Cartoon Art Museum’s 8th Annual Benefit at PIXAR Animation Studios

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As a ‘nut’ about almost all things entertainment, it should come as no surprise that I am also a huge fan of PIXAR. Over the years, I’ve had some run-ins with several of their ilk.

Me, Producer John Walker, and Writer/Director Brad Bird (I supervised a sneak preview of "The Incredibles" with them in attendance)

John Lasseter & Me (I covered the World Premiere of Cars for JimHillMedia.com in 2006, and came face-to-face with John, and many others!)

Even though I had these little brushes with PIXAR super-geniuses, there was always one place that I wanted to go to: PIXAR’s studio in Emeryville, CA. Not being an animation or storyboard impresario, there were a few options, but one that made me take notice was the annual Cartoon Art Museum benefit that was put on every year at the campus.

For 2010, CAM offered two tiers: a $250 ‘fan’ experience (with access to the main building, their Studio Store, and a screening in PIXAR’s main theater with employee Q&A afterwards), and a $500 VIP experience (which included the ‘fan’ experience, plus the chance to visit PIXAR’s newly-completed Brooklyn building, and see their upcoming short La Luna 6 months early). Pining for simplicity, I chose the ‘fan’ experience.

My first step past security, and through the gates of PIXAR.

With the experience set to start at 11:00am, it was recommended that we arrive when the campus opened to us at 10:30am. I wasn’t sure where to enter, and assumed I’d have to walk up to the main security booth. luckily, one of the security guys waved me towards a side gate, where my name was checked off of a list, and I took my first step onto “Mt Olympus.”

I’ve had a couple dreams about being at PIXAR (most likely brought about from watching behind-the-scenes material), and found myself reaching out to some of the trees, seeking reassurance that I was actually there.

Me, pretending to be John Lasseter

Though a line was quickly forming, I couldn’t help but join in with several other people, taking pictures and marveling at the giant Luxo Jr, and his ball.

While we were waiting in line, a few of the CAM employees asked many of us how far we had traveled to be there (one guy came all the way from Ireland!).

Shortly afterwards, we got in line, and were allowed to enter early by a good 15 minutes! Soon, we had passed from the outside world-

(insert angelic choir here)

-into PIXAR’s main atrium!

After signing in, I quickly got in line for one store that I had to visit: The PIXAR Studio Store! There’s plenty of goodies that you can ONLY get at the store. Usually, the opening of the store is hit-and-miss (or so I’ve read). But inside, it was like a combination of the Emporium at Disneyland, and Black Friday…only every single person was polite or genial if we were shoving or bumping into each other. Enticingly, the store employees were wearing T-shirts with the logo for PIXAR’s next film, Brave. Sadly, we all found out they weren’t for sale yet. Even so, the staff was surprisingly helpful and very cheerful (they even allowed me to run out and back in when VISA froze my card, wondering why so much money was being spent in Northern California). The store was only going to be open for a set amount of hours, but when the demand was greater than imagined, they opened the store back up in the afternoon. Talk about World-Class Customer Service!

Once my shopping spree was done , I began to wander through ‘the house that Steve Jobs built.’ Though we didn’t receive non-disclosure agreements to sign, we were not allowed to take pictures on the second floor area (this was one of the major bummers for me, as I had worn my vintage Incredibles T-shirt, in hopes to get a pictures with the life-size statues on the second floor).

Some of the original art and signed posters up for auction.

Even so, there was plenty of stuff to keep me wandering to-and-fro. In the center of the atrium, were numerous original art pieces, art prints, signed film posters, and much more for CAM’s benefit auction. Some of the pieces were very tempting, but in the end, I passed (besides, I have plenty of signed PIXAR stuff of my own).

Other goodies to be found in the Atrium included:

The Cereal Bar, containing almost every kind of cereal there is.

Cafe Luxo, PIXAR's in-studio eatery

A display case containing almost all of PIXAR's statuesque accolades. I was very thrilled to see the Golden Globe award PIXAR received for Toy Story 2...when they won for Best Comedy/Musical (none of that kiddie-table Best Animated Feature crap)!

There were all sorts of fliers posted around the atrium for various in-studio events. A couple told of a PIXAR/Dreamworks improv contest (I'd pay money to see that!!), but this one was my favorite. Just check out the funny little things they did with the text!

Thanks to plenty of friendly PIXAR fans, I was able to get some pics of myself. Here they are:

For Toy Story 3's promotion, this human-sized display box was erected. It was still there, so, I decided to show what a 'Midwestern PIXAR Fanatic in Incredibles Attire with PIXAR Store accessories' looks like.

And for those of you who love limited-edition figures, here's the 'Midwestern PIXAR Fanatic in the throes of emotional turmoil' variant figure.

Sully has two Mikes to contend with now!

Luigi and Guido are as pleased to see me, as I am to see them (yes, I'm one of the few on this planet that has no problems with talking cars...as long as they don't try to kill me).

I had an ulterior motive for buying my three LEGO alien guys...I wanted them to meet these three guys standing around the Atrium.

Of course, we were all hoping to see and hear from PIXAR personnel, and filed into the Main Theater for a special showing of PIXAR’s animated short-subjects.

Cartoon Art Museum Board Member (and 18-year PIXAR veteran) Michael B Johnson welcomes us to PIXAR's Main Theater.

Our host Michael B Johnson had some fun little stories for us, from telling of his meeting with PIXAR co-founder Ed Catmull, and also reminding some in the audience just what films PIXAR made (for example, Shrek and Ice Age were not made by PIXAR). Michael then had a few words with several of the PIXAR staff, before we screened the shorts. The line-up included:

Eben Ostby – Modeler, Software Engineer, and Technical Director for Red’s Dream

William Reeves – Modeler, and Technical Director on Tin Toy

Andrew Jimenez – Writer, and Co-Director on One Man Band

Ronnie del Carmen – Director of Dug’s Special Mission

Teddy Newton – Director of Day and Night

Angus MacLane – Director of Small Fry

After the screening, our 6 PIXAR-IANS were out in the Atrium to meet-and-greet. One of the most interesting stories I overheard, was what a bunch of drunken artists and technicians did at a party, when they were next to large glass windows with rain and lightning outside. The answer: smoosh their faces against the glass, and observe the rate of falling rain, and the timing of the lightning flashes! Why can’t I attend drinking parties like that!?

Andrew Jimenez really liked my shirt (he was the Director of Photography on The Incredibles, after all!).

After the screening, I headed to the second floor, where along the walls and display rooms, were art pieces from Cars 2. I wish some of the people who claim PIXAR just made a cheap cash-in film could see the concept art and attention-to-detail that was on display. Concept art, background art, multiple designs for signage, and even 3-dimensional sculptures of several of the characters was plenty of proof to show the talent on hand. If there was a downside to the art, it had to do with how much of the art these days seemed to be done in digital. It’s definitely a long ways away from the blue-pencil and ink drawings I saw at the Pixar: 25 Years of Animation exhibit in Oakland in 2010.

Meeting other fans there, it was like a mini-convention. I talked “Disney” with two teenagers wearing Disneyland-themed Hawaiian shirts, did a two-man PIXAR line-reading with one kid (his Mom was amazed that I knew almost as many lines as her son!), and met a father-and-son from the Midwest too!

But of course, like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother said, “Like all dreams, well, I’m afraid this can’t last forever.” Eventually, the sunlight outside began to dim, the winning bidders had claimed their auction pieces, and several had already begun to move over to the Brooklyn annex for the VIP Experience. Even so, I just couldn’t ‘quit’ the atrium. I couldn’t just take one picture. I wanted more, and then it hit me: “I have an iPhone. Download an app for that!”

I found what I was looking for in an app called 360. Standing in one place, I then took the following picture (it’s a little crude, but I hadn’t had time to hone my craft just yet):

A 360-degree view inside PIXAR's atrium, courtesy of my iPhone, and the '360' photo-taking app.

Once outside, I dawdled around Luxo Jr, and his ball, watching others take pictures, and trying to take in as much of the Emeryville campus as I could. During the day, I kept running into Marvin Rosario, his sister Maricris, and their friend, Elora Lyda. In an amazing coincidence, our dinner plans coincided at the same place: Fenton’s Creamery (note: Fenton’s is where Carl, Russell, and Dug go to have some ice cream in the film, Up). The day wasn’t quite over for our little group, and we made plans to go there afterwards, as we headed off to our various modes of transportation, exiting through the entrance way that had seen the likes of John Lasseter, Steve Jobs, Andrew Stanton, and many more pass in and out.

Ending a perfect day with a couple new PIXAR-obssessed friends: Marvin Rosario, Maricris Rosario, and Elora Lyda.

In the end, the experience was the high-point of 2011 for me. The things I saw, the people I met, all seemed to help ignite a creative part of me that I had shoved aside for much of the year. So far, 2012 has proven to be a very creative year in the first few months, and I can’t help but think this experience helped me back to the one thing that made me happy for so many years.

Regrettably, while I did spend a few days in the Bay Area, I did not find time to visit the Cartoon Art Museum. However, if you want to find out more about the Museum, as well as future exhibitions and charity benefits, just click on the logo below:

iPad App Review: Universal Movie Tycoon

Ever since my Uncle Frank introduced me to the sim(ulated) world of SimCity back in the late 80’s, I’ve been fascinated by the ability to create small pockets of civilization (my sister on the other hand, was moreso into the divide and conquer aspect of games like Civilization).

Since then, I’ve played my fair share of variations. From the late 90’s sensation Rollercoaster Tycoon, to the movie-inspired Jurassic Park: Project Genesis, I’ve seen the good and the bad.

In recent weeks, Fuse Powered Inc has released a sim game based around motion picture company Universal Studios, titled Universal Movie Tycoon. The game was originally released through the Apple App Store, with a version available for the iPhone, or the iPad. Download of the game is free.

The game’s release ties into Universal’s 2012 promotion, celebrating their 100th Anniversary. Tycoon allows players to build their own iteration of the world-famous studio, and create interior/exterior sets on which to shoot movies. Several of them are even specially-themed to some of the studios’ most famous blockbusters.

Create movie-related sets and facilities for your studio, along with plants to make things look nice and pretty.

I was pulled into wanting this game when I saw the specially-made sets for certain films like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. Thanks to an assistant and a maintenance guy in the game, you can get advice on what to build, as well as what films to make. Keep in mind that your computerized assistant is sometimes no more smarter than a real-life one (the one here claims that films like Van Helsing should be fast-tracked into production asap).

At the start of the game, you are given a certain amount of coins to buy scripts with, and hire actors and directors for your production. The scripts are based on actual Universal films, but the actors and directors are generic names (so much for my dream of hiring Robert Zemeckis and Michael J Fox). Of course, before you can get to your favorites, you have to sift through plenty of titles you may not have considered before (take Biloxi Blues, for example). You may also find yourself making the same movie over and over again to make more money (I believe I’m already on Uncle Buck 18 by now).

As you make films, you gain experience points (XP), that help move you from one level of playability to the next. As you go higher, new challenges are unlocked, as well as sets, buildings, and more.

I had assumed there would be some minor hiccups along the way, but I have come to the conclusion that what Fuse and Universal have unleashed, is a rushed game that should have had some more time to gestate.

Here is a rundown of my nitpicks:

1) The Money Pit – One would assume that with the money you’d make off of the films in production, that you could then buy more stuff along the way. Well, there comes a time when the money ceases to mean anything. If you want to get to some of the more popular film sets (or certain buildings or plants), you need to use a feature called “Movie Magic.” You’re supplied with a small amount at the beginning, but you will then need to either ‘buy’ some more (using your own credit card), watch some ads to get free Movie Magic, or take part in some special offers to get some more.

If you want more Movie Magic, it isn't exactly free.

2) The App’s functionality – Originally, my attempts to download and open the app resulted in an immediate crash. I downloaded it again a few days later, and it looked like the issue had been resolved. It has been a few days since I started playing the app, and as of today, I’m back to it crashing on me again. Definitely not a very stable game (I was lucky to get these screenshots when I did).

3) Orientation of structures and items – Certain items can be rotated, but only in 2 directions. If the game gave a full 4 points of rotation, one could really make something of setting up proper parking spaces, and shrubberies.

4) Math is hard – At one point, I was raking in the dough for my films. Then one day, I found out that all the time and effort I put into making a film, resulted in a return of: “$-1.” Eventually, this cleared up, but then, I had a film that made over a billion dollars in gross, but instead of increasing my Hollywood war chest, it sent me into $-400 million territory!  This may be the first app I’ve encountered that doesn’t know how to count properly.

5) Who are these built for again? – You can build movie star trailers, executive offices, and even prop departments…but for what purpose? With UMT, you build all these structures, but you don’t have people actually using them. One would assume your assistant would give you messages like, “we just hired some more executives. I think we need to build them a new place so we don’t get too crowded.”

6) Landscaping…one square at a time – I guess I got spoiled on SimCity 2000, where one could cover a large portion of land with trees or grass. With UMT, one can only place one plant/patch of grass/shrubbery at a time. The only thing that bucks this trend are roadways. So what could possibly take you only seconds to finish, can sometimes take several minutes.

7) You can’t stop the connection – Got an iPod or an iPad that is wifi-only? Well, unless you’re near a solid internet source, you ain’t playing this game on the go.

8) False enticements on the logo screen – While I did finally get my Back to the Future set, there are several others on the opening screen that look enticing, but do not exist. These include sets from Jaws, Psycho, and King Kong. Maybe they are hints of things to come, but if the Jurassic Park set takes 975 credits of Movie Magic, one has to wonder how much many more will be.

Given my blog name, one can assume I got into this game for the fun. Well, after a little more than a few days, the fun is pretty much over. It doesn’t help when your app keeps crashing, and the only way to continue when it does work, is to rely on your own wallet.

A couple times, I received notice that a film I was making got a negative review, and stood to lose several millions of dollars. For just 10 credits of Movie Magic, the marketing people would find a way to ‘fix’ that issue. It didn’t really make much sense when I was sitting on a pile of money that wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, that’s where most of my large cash surplus in the game went to.

The makers of this app could definitely take a tip from the creators of another sim app called Tiny Tower. With that game, you need “bux” to do certain things, but Tower also gives you ways to earn bux, or convert your coins INTO bux! The ability for Tiny Tower to give in a little to the player’s needs helped me loosen my purse strings a couple times and buy from them.

Plus, imagine if you had certain events or things to do to help you earn Movie Magic. For example, let’s say Japanese Investors were coming to visit the studio, and word was they liked colorful flowers. You could take steps to landscape certain portions with some colorful flower boxes to help make their visit be worthwhile, resulting in money to the studio, and maybe some Movie Magic for helping present the studio in a positive light.

Overall, Universal Movie Tycoon is a game that reels you in, and almost like a theme park, attempts to trap you into spending lots and lots of money. However, the methods used here do not endear me to do so, and I’m sure many others will agree that it is a definite time waster, in the worst sense of the words.

The opening screen of the game. The "Play" button should send you on your way, but good luck getting there. You have better luck seeing your iPad's homescreen than actually playing the game, given that it can't stop crashing.

Gimmicks of Yesteryear – The 13 Variant Covers of Gen 13 #1

I don’t know what it is about the 1990’s, but there seems to be an overload of special-edition/limited-edition stuff overflowing from that decade. One that reared its head in the 90’s comic industry, were Variant Covers.

It used to be that one would buy a comic book, and that was it. That was all you got. But somewhere in the early 1990’s, the gimmick of specially bagging comic books with extra incentives (like promo trading cards), or giving them alternate covers came into play.

In February 1994, the Wildstorm Productions arm of Image Comics released the beginnings of a 4-issue miniseries titled Gen 13 (originally titled Gen X, until Marvel Comics came knocking on their door).

The comic dealt with a group of super-powered teens, who after their powers manifest at a secret training facility in the desert, go on the run from the group I.O. (International Operations). Joining them is former I.O. member John Lynch, who has defected, and becomes the group’s mentor as they work out their life and new powers in La Jolla, California.

The series proved to be a surprise hit, and even ended up adding a 5th part to the storyline, and serving as a launching pad for up-and-coming artist J Scott Campbell (also known these days for his art on Danger Girl, and Wildsiderz). As it neared the end of its run in 1994, word spread that Wildstorm would make Gen 13 into an ongoing series, with the first issue released in March 1995.

I remember eagerly walking into my local comic shop, only to be greeted by a surprise. Along with 2 regular cover variants, I noticed 4-6 different covers for issue #1 sitting behind the counter (with much higher price tags, courtesy of the shop owner). Now, I had encountered variant covers before (they were a staple of the whole death/return of Superman saga DC Comics did), but Image had taken the promotion of this new release to insane levels.

According to the comic shop owner, as well as Wizard magazine, a total of 13 different covers had been released. Even though I salivated over these covers, they cost much more than a 15-year-old like myself could afford (my Dad also wouldn’t pay the $25+ per issue they were asking). Though somehow, over the course of the next year, I did manage to obtain all 13 of the covers. Nowadays, pricing on the variant covers is not as extreme as it was in 1995 (I attended the San Diego Comic-Con for the first time that year, and a couple sellers were asking upwards of $70 for a couple!!), but still, it can take a little jumping around to find these. So, let’s take a little stroll down memory lane, and look at the 13 different variant covers, and a few other odds and ends. Also, if you want to see what the covers look like at a higher resolution, simply click on the image.

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Cover #1A (Charge!) – The ‘standard’ cover of the regular series’ March 1995 release. The image would later go on to grace a chromium poster from Image Comics, and artist J Scott Campbell would use the same 5-figure setup when he penciled a cover for the series’ reboot 11 years later.

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Cover #1B (Thumbs Up) – The second cover image shows us more of a generic group shot of our main cast. Not quite as dynamic as Cover #1A, making it almost like the cool-down session after the action photography of the first cover.

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Cover #1C (Lil Gen 13) – One of Campbell’s influences according to one interview, was X-Men artist Art (Arthur) Adams. When he worked for Marvel, Adams and Chris Claremont created a series based around a younger version of the X-Men, calling them X-Babies. The cover-art here does the same thing with the kids from Gen 13, with Adams making John Lynch look very much like Professor Charles Xavier.

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Cover #1D (Barbari-Gen) – Heavy Metal artist Simon Bisley brings his painterly art-style to the characters of Gen-th Irteen. Bisley re-imagines Grunge as a Conan-like warrior, and Fairchild, Roxy, and Rainmaker as his adoring girls. Burnout it seems, wasn’t endowed with big muscles or panache, and sulks in the corner.

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Cover #1E (Your Friendly Neighborhood Grunge) – One of the most popular cover images from the early 90’s, was Spider-Man #1, released in August 1990, and drawn by Todd McFarlane. That cover’s layout is parodied here by John Cleary, with Grunge getting caught in a web of silly-string.

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Cover #1F (Gen 13 Goes Madison Avenue) – This cover has no original art that it is parodying, and instead, artist Michael Golden pokes fun at the over-commercializing of certain properties. Here, the Gen 13 cast are in danger of being buried alive under the weight of Gen 13 action figures, Gen 13 super-soakers,Gen 13 video games, and much, much more.

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Cover #1G (Lin-Gen-rie) – The 90’s wasn’t without controversy, and this cover was one of 2 that had many a young man’s tongue wagging in the breeze (mine included). Here, Roxy Spaulding (aka Freefall) poses on the cover of a lingerie magazine, that is meant to be a parody of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. This cover was done by artist Michael Lopez, and is notable because it is original pencil art, with color added later.

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Cover #1H (Gen-et Jackson) – And we’re back to controversial covers. This one is a parody of Janet Jackson’s appearance on the September 1993 cover of Rolling Stone. This time, Caitlin Fairchild has taken the pose (rendered by Jason Pearson), looking a lot more naughty than she normally does.

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Cover #1I (The Gen 13 Bunch) – J Scott Campbell’s pencil fires up to deliver a parody of the clean-cut television family from the 60’s, with inking duties performed by Chuck Gibson. Of course, this cover is funny in regards to how Roxy is portrayed as the youngest Brady girl. The cover also includes the gang’s live-in maid named Anna, and the little green alien pet named Qeelocke, who would be introduced in issue #1.

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Cover #1J (All Dolled Up) – Caitlin Fairchild goes solo on this cover (drawn by J Scott Campbell, and inked by Tom McWeeney), meant as a parody of a paperdoll cut-out sheet. I often wondered if anyone was crazy enough to cut the items out.

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Cover #1K (Verti-Gen) – For those not in-the-know, this cover was a parody of the Vertigo imprint from DC Comics (who were known for such comics like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman), with collage duties/artwork by Joe Dunn. Along with using some art by J Scott Campbell, model Lisa Nation poses as Fairchild’s live-action counterpart.

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Cover #1L (Picto-Fiction) – One of the only covers to forgo any major art, and use a model for the character of Roxy (portrayed here by Sofia Dominguez). As anyone can tell, this is a parody of the Pulp Fiction poster. Btw, that tagline at the top of the comic is true. The mini-series that introduced the characters did win Favorite Mini-Series from Wizard Comics’ 1994 Wizard Fan Awards.

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Cover #1M (Do-It-Yourself Cover) – This to me, was the most unusual cover release, meant to emulate a blank comic-page template. Though Grunge encourages the reader to draw their own variant cover, word was that several of Image Comics’ artists had drawn on several of these, and that they were super-rare variants floating out in the ether somewhere.

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I never did find one of the super-rare Do-It-Yourself variants, but over the years, I have been very fortunate to get a couple Do-It-Yourself covers drawn on by several members of the original Gen 13 crew:

This was drawn on by Jim Lee at the 1996 San Diego Comic-Con. Lee was there promoting the ‘Heroes Reborn’ reboot for Marvel Comics, but I got in line to see if he would sign a couple things. When I handed him the Do-It-Yourself cover, he started just to sign his name. It was then that I asked if he could draw Caitlin Fairchild for me, and in a few minutes, the original curve of a ‘J’ had been transformed into a strand of hair that graced Fairchild’s head (see if you can find it).

But wait, that’s not all!

Since I had first seen the Do-It-Yourself cover, it was my dream to one day get J Scott Campbell to draw Fairchild on one. I saw him several times over the last 15 years, but due to time and long lines, I never was able to get my wish…until I attended C2E2 in 2010. I brought forth my blank Do-It-Yourself cover, and explained to Campbell how long I had been pining for the ‘impossible dream.’ Even though there was a line of 4 dozen people behind me, Campbell fulfilled my wish, and in 3-5 minutes, had gone from mechanical pencil to pen, drawing Fairchild for me!

Btw, in case anyone is wondering, no, these are not for sale!

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Now that we’ve blown through 13 covers, it may surprise you to know that there is an unofficial 14th cover. This cover was never released on retail shelves, but is part of a collected box set. Adding more wood to the collecting fire, Wildstorm released a slipcase box set containing all 13 variant covers.

Left) The black-box variant cover set; (Right) The super-rare red-boxed 'Artists Proof'' variant cover set.

Left) The black-box variant cover set; (Right) The super-rare red-boxed ‘Artists Proof” variant cover set (Thanks, Sven!).

The incentive to purchase these box sets was the 14th cover, signed by either Jim Lee, Brandon Choi, J Scott Campbell, or Alex Garner. Each signature set for each of the creators was limited to a numbered edition between 1500-2500. Unknown to a lot of people, there was a super-rare ‘Artists Proof’ red-box of the variant cover set that was released. If you were looking to get that exclusive 14th cover without a signature, this was where you’d find it.

Through an online source, I was able to obtain one of these rare treasures, though I was surprised that unlike the black box set, the red one does not give a number of how many were produced (mine just has the number “294” on it). I have a vague recollection of the comic store owner I used to go to in Iowa, telling me that he heard one was going for $500 (and this was in 1995!). Since then, I’ve never seen a proper price guide amount for the ‘Artists Proof’ set, which I guess just goes to show that these sets are incredibly rare.

I will admit even with the promise of an unsigned Chromium Cover inside, I have not been able to bring myself to open my set. I’ll blindly trust that the “legends” are true (and that possibly, there may be a drawn-on Do-It-Yourself cover inside too!), and keep my set sealed.

Cover #1N (Puzzle Cover) - The jigsaw imagery is made up of art contained within the comic issue.

Cover #1N (Puzzle Cover) – The jigsaw imagery for this box set exclusive, is made up of art contained within the comic issue.

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But, the fun doesn’t stop there.

The Wildstorm Archives I chase card set, featuring 11 of the Gen 13 variant covers in a holofoil finish.

Later the same year that Gen 13 was released as a regular series, Image released the trading card set Wildstorm Archives I, which was a 99-card set showcasing cover art from various comics under the Wildstorm Productions banner. These included art from comics like Wildcats, Stormwatch, Deathblow, and more. Every card series needs some chase cards (aka special incentive cards) to make people keep buying, and that’s where Gen 13 came into play. 1 out of every 6 trading card packs contained 1 of 11 holofoil cards that showed one of the variant covers.

Over the years, I have often wondered which of the covers is the most popular, as I’m sure everyone has their favorites (mine is Cover 1J!). Sometimes when I visit random comic shops, I’ll leaf through the Gen 13 back issues to see what’s sitting around. Aside from covers 1A & 1B, I often found cover 1F to be the one that would pop up most often. Of course, sex appeal does sell, and that explains why covers 1G & 1H are almost never seen in back-issue bins. Sometimes, you can get a good deal on a set selling on eBay, or in some shops (I saw a 1C at a shop the other day going for just $2!).

Keep in mind that this was not the only variant cover gimmick that Image took part in. There was an 8-cover variant set that came out in the fall of 1994, with each of Image’s main titles getting a special issue that showed all of Wildstorm Production‘s main characters front-and-center, creating a connecting image that spanned across all 8 covers. In August 1996, a spin-off from Gen 13 was created, with the series DV8. This series followed a second set of super-powered teens, although moreso a bad-guy version, and led by John Lynch’s former partner, Ivana Baiul. The release of the DV8 series was heralded with 8 variant covers. Along with a group-shot, the remaining 7 covers featured one team member partaking in one of the seven deadly sins. Unlike those from the Gen 13 release, prices for the extra covers barely reached above $10, and it was pretty easy to obtain a full set at release time from local comic shops.

After leaving Gen 13 to pursue greener pastures, J Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell then created the Indiana Jones/James Bond homage comic series titled Danger Girl, which continued the trend of multiple variant covers. However, collecting the Gen 13 #1 variants was a cake-walk compared to all the exclusives that were released for Danger Girl (from merchant-exclusive releases, to foil-tinted cover-art, and even one cover release that was recalled!). I almost got into the hype, when my pre-order for the issue #1 Chromium cover netted me one on that issue’s release date. I held onto it for a couple years, before selling it to fund part of my trip to Comic-Con 2000. In the end, I didn’t really regret it, as my heart wasn’t quite into this new series like it had been with Gen 13.

All these years later, Gen 13 has been the only comic series in my collection that I was there for the start of. Though I can vaguely recall some of the story points all these years later, it was mainly Campbell’s art that kept me coming back for more, and by the time his art duties began to wane around issue #20, I began to pull away. It was a fun part of my teenage years collecting the series, and I still have a fondness for this little Variant Cover gimmick that Wildstorm pulled during the 1990’s.

Some thoughts on how Titanic helped me get acquainted with the Internet, and some words on the new 3D release

Collide With Destiny

Titanic’s original promotional campaign image and tagline, prior to the fall of 1997.

I still remember that slogan plastered on a Titanic cardboard standee, popcorn bags, and cups in the concession stand of the (now-closed) Grove 9 in San Diego, CA. That was the film’s original slogan, when it was supposed to be released on July 2, 1997.

1997 was an interesting year for film, and James Cameron’s Titanic soon began to creep into the news more and more as numerous ‘problems’ began to befall the film. Editing and visual effects issues caused the film to fall behind schedule, nixing its planned Summer release date. The budget ballooned to $200 million, and its re-scheduled December 19, 1997 release date made it the whipping boy for the news media. After all, who was going to see a love story at Christmas time, that took place aboard a ship that everyone knows is going to sink?

Titanic was the first film to shoot at Fox’s Baja Studios outlet just south of San Diego and the Mexican Border. The giant water tank would later be used for productions like “Pearl Harbor,” and “Master and Commander.”

But, shortly after the beginning of 1998, many of those same persons were eating crow, when Cameron’s film took off in ways that noone could have possibly imagined. It took hold of the whole world, breaking box-office records everywhere, and wracking up awards and accolades left and right.

Though like most phenomenons, it soon grew tiresome. Pretty soon, we were all tired of Celine Dion’s voice in our radios, and quotes from the film that were newly-discovered soon turned into humorous catchphrases. Entertainment Weekly released a flash-based game showing Steven Spielberg firing cannonballs at the Titanic cast (his film Amistad came out that same fall, and quickly sank from view), and word was that Leslie Nielsen would be starring in a parody film called Titanic Too: It Missed the Iceberg (the film never surfaced on screens).

The cover of the book my childhood friend Aaron Block showed me, that began my introduction and fascination with the ship Titanic.

I saw the film 6 times in theaters during its run, and was thoroughly fascinated by the visual effects, and the recreation of the ship. I had first been mesmerized when my childhood friend Aaron Block showed me a book he had received about Robert Ballard’s discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1986.  It was fascinating to go through the book, and see what had once been a regal and brand-new ship, now torn in two and decomposing deep in the Atlantic, but noone had really brought the ship to life in a way that made it seem real, until Cameron’s film.

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How Titanic helped me discover the communal internet, and its potential

Up until the fall of 1997, the internet was still a very strange entity. People had said it was the place to find information, and I’d often find myself at the Public Library, using the Netscape Navigator, and hanging up/redialing into the 56k modem only to hear that voice say: “Wel-come…you’ve got mail.”

As for Titanic, I hadn’t given it a second thought since seeing the only information I was getting about it came from Entertainment Weekly, who kept releasing information as if they were egging the film on to die an early death. However, they did report of one person who did have faith in the film: Tim Doyle. A fan of Cameron’s work, Tim was eagerly anticipating this film, despite a lot of the media backlash. He was so enthused, that he started a fansite for his enthusiasm, dubbed Countdown to Titanic.

Thanks to the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, I present the (skeletal) internet remains of Countdown to Titanic, as she was originally formatted in 1998 (RIP).

With a clock ticking down the time, Tim’s page became a one-stop portal for information regarding the release. I soon found myself checking out the site daily on my lunch breaks in high school. I had visited many other pages on a whim, but Tim’s was the first that I really gravitated towards, and I was enthralled by the layout work (at the time, I was just discovering the graphics power of Adobe Photoshop). I still remember going to the library the Monday after the film came out, and the main graphic had been changed to a portal showing the ship about to leave Southampton, with ‘C2T’ photoshopped on the side of the hull, and the proclamation, “Titanic Has Arrived!”

(Left) Lincoln’s original C2T logo; (Right) The revised logo once the film was released.

Pretty soon, a community began to grow around the C2T site. We were using the site’s messageboards, and meeting at the chatroom that became known as “The Clock” (a reference to the clock at the foot of the ship’s Grand Staircase). When we got the internet at my house, many a late night was spent chatting for hours at “The Clock,” and many of us were in there as the television rattled off the award show wins over the early months of 1998. But we weren’t all tethered to the site, and some of us then moved over to the messenger program ICQ, when we weren’t able to all get to “The Clock” on time.

Eventually, Tim would parlay Countdown to Titanic into something even grander. After starting a line outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in 1999 for eventual release of The Phantom Menace, Countdown to Titanic was re-imagined (with the help of Lincoln Gasking) as Countingdown.com, a site that would have separate pages for many new films, and give fans of those films a place of their own to count down to their anticipated releases (almost as a tribute, the Countdown To Titanic section was embedded, with the clock now counting off into infinity). I eventually crossed paths with Tim and Lincoln in the summer of 2002 online, when I noticed there was a Countdown to Spirited Away page, but next to nothing about the film. They allowed me on as a page editor for that section of the site, and I attempted to do pretty much what Tim had done with Titanic in the fall of 1997: put my fandom up online and alert people to what would be a great cinematic experience.

Thanks to the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, I was able to find an image of the Countdown to Spirited Away page that I had a hand in editing for Countingdown.com.

Sadly, in the last few years, Countingdown.com has sank beneath the surface of the internet. To this day, I often wonder about many of the people I encountered on the original Countdown to Titanic site (I did a watercolor portrait for one girl I met on there). Wherever they’ve gone, I wonder if they also may have a special place for Countdown to Titanic somewhere in their memory.

To those who were part of Countdown to Titanic, this Photoshopped image is for you…from me.

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The Re-Release (in 3-D)

Over the years, many wondered if Cameron would re-release Titanic to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ship’s doomed maiden voyage. We soon received a yes, and like any major studio re-release (these days), it was to be reformatted into 3-D.

When it was announced that there would be a sneak preview screening on April 3rd, I decided to attend. Why? The truth is, I knew that if I saw the film over the weekend, I was sure to get a bunch of idiots laughing at inopportune moments, kids talking/texting on their cellphones, and plenty of other people just looking to blow $9 on a weekend matinee. Normally, the people who really want to see the film will come out for the very first showing.

The crowd I was with (though we didn’t pack the house full), was a crowd that took me back to those that I remembered from 1997/early 1998. They laughed at the right moments, murmured worriedly when Spicer Lovejoy (David Warner) framed Jack, and some even winced in pain when the one guy smacked into the propeller. However, if the audience was just what I wanted, the 3-D image made the experience less than stellar.

Now, it’s not like I saw bad 3-D conversion like some claimed with Clash of the Titans, or pitch-black 3-D night scenes like some claimed with Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The 3-D was decent enough, but what killed the experience, was when I began to question the whiteness of the Titanic’s walls and paint.During the scene where Jack and Rose stroll along the First Class deck, I decided to do a little test. Here’s how the brightness of the scene looked with my 3D glasses on:

And, here’s how it looked when I pulled off my 3D glasses:

I was surprised just how bright the image really was! Putting the glasses back on, made me feel like I had wandered into the theater on a hot summer day, and forgotten to take off my sunglasses. I know that a lot of people say that theaters should be sure that the brightness settings on the projectors should be turned up to compensate for the glasses, but I really don’t think that does much. Having been a projectionist myself once, the low-light look of the 3D scenes soon got a little distracting, and for a good portion of the film, I found myself watching certain parts with the glasses off. I did wonder if the 3D dims the bright whites of a film like this so much, one has to wonder what it did to the candy-colored Truffula Trees in The Lorax.

It is sad that 3-D is the only option to see Titanic, as I would have preferred to see it digitally projected without the gimmick of 3-D. In truth, James Cameron’s films are those that are made to be seen on a big-screen. I still recall when the (now-closed) Sony Store on Michigan Ave had numerous flat-screen TV’s for sale, and was running Titanic on all of them. Even in sizes from 40-65 inches, the ship just didn’t look that impressive. Titanic truly is a film that was made for the theater. To hear the groans of the ship coming from the speakers, taking in the helicopter-like shots that fly all over the ship’s exterior. I can’t highly recommend the 3-D release as a must-see, but if you are willing to go for the experience, it is something to see (though I just hope your audiences aren’t too annoying).

Seeing it return to the screen reminded me of another film that was too big to be contained on a TV screen, and that was Star Wars. It still was amazing to take in those images I had scene on my family’s living room TV, and then see them in projected on a screen in a room of with over 500 people.

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In Conclusion

To this day, I still can’t buy the theories that teenage girls were the main reason behind the success of Titanic (Twilight yes, Titanic no). It’s not just a chick-flick, even though Cameron did pitch the concept to Twentieth Century Fox as “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” It plays out far better than what constitutes romance movies these days. Of course, one thing success will do is breed imitators, and one that I remember well was 2001’s Pearl Harbor, another doomed romance amid a major tragedy.

I still recall seeing making-of footage where some of the crew were joking that they were going to do what Titanic did, and beat the film’s record. Well, once Pearl Harbor came out, I saw it once, and swore off not falling for another film-trap by Michael Bay (that was, until he got ahold of Transformers, so I ended up going cold-turkey for only 6 years). Bay simply proved that he could do cool war and explosion scenes (all anyone would talk about was the 45 minute attack on the harbor), but the emotions of the film never stuck.

That was where Cameron succeeded with Titanic in my eyes. Though Jack and Rose are fictional characters, they take us all over the ship. We get to know enough about the people aboard, so that when the tragedy occurs, you actually feel something for the 2,200 people aboard the ship. Maybe that’s why I cannot seem to dismiss Cameron’s film amid the internet rabble, and the many who warble like Celine Dion whenever they hear My Heart Will Go On.

Proof that Filmmakers have a sense of humor, George Lucas had this piece put in the Entertainment magazine Variety in the Spring of 1998, when Titanic surpassed Star Wars’ U.S. Box Office gross.