Alan J. Porter's Journal
It's no big secret that for the past couple of years I've been researching and developing a novel about William Shakespeare, an alternate history style political thriller set in Elizabethan England with a young William as a spy, a sort of a cross between a prototype Bond and Bourne.
Of course central to the concept is what is euphemistically called "The Authorship Question," the idea that an apparently uneducated man from the provincial town of Stratford-on-Avon couldn't have possibly written the greatest works in the English language, that only a man with an aristocratic background could have been privy to the knowledge displayed in the plays and sonnets.
As part of my research I've read numerous books proposing alternative candidates, and in fact I am in the middle of one at this moment, and none have yet presented what I would call a conclusive case. Then again neither is the case for The Stratford Man that strong either - and therein lies the fascination, and the springboard for my novel.
Not long after I started the project I pitched the idea to a movie producer friend, who liked it enough to take it to a few studios for consideration - the response we got? This is a direct quote from one email - "It just seems extremely difficult unless you can bring a pre-existing property that has a huge fan base or a property that has a niche fan base to build on."
I guess the underlying message was that no-one believed a Shakespeare movie had enough pulling power.
And then today I see this......
At first I was a little pissed off to be honest, but after a few minutes reflection I realized that's the way things work. Sometimes it's your turn and other times it isn't. You just shrug and move on.
So will this movie open up debate on the authorship question and make it easier to get people interested in my project? - Who knows.
The thing that has me worried that it might have the exact opposite effect is those words that appear over the shot of the River Thames and London Bridge at the 55 second mark ... "A Roland Emmerich Film."
I somehow doubt that this will be an intelligent, balanced presentation of the central debate.
In the mean time I continue to research and work on developing the best story I can that mixes history with informed speculation, plus some plain good fun, and all-out action.
So here's the latest trailer from the BBC to promote the upcoming season of Doctor Who in the UK....
And here's the BBC America version...
Watching both has left me wondering, what does this say about the way that the relative intelligence of the two audiences are perceived by the broadcasters involved.
Is it a cultural difference? Do US audiences really need to be spoon feed every thing, or is there a perception that playing up the US connection in this season will draw higher ratings?
Frankly as a loyal supporter of BBC America, (one of the only two reasons I still have cable TV rather than watching everything online), I feel a little insulted.
A couple of weeks ago I felt in the mood to watch a Bond movie, no specific reason, just wanted to watch a good fun spy movie, so plucked the 2009 version of Casino Royale off the DVD shelf (OK, one of the DVD bookcases!) and sat back to enjoy Daniel Craig's debut as 007.
Then last week, without really thinking about my selection too much I pulled Live & Let Die off the shelf and threw that into the DVD player. - Another debut movie, Roger Moore this time.
But a couple of days later, as I walked past the bookcase where my collection of Bond books is housed I realized something else about my recent movie selection, they were the first two Bond novels.
Each year I go through a period when I will sit down and re-watch all the Bond movies, and I usually do it in the order they were made and released, if I'm feeling like being a purest sometimes I start with the Barry Nelson, CBS TV play of Casino Royale, other times I'll start with Doctor No, but I always go in movie order.
But after realizing the significance of the order of following Casino Royale with Live & Let Die, I'm wondering should I do something different this year, and organize my annual Bond re-watch in story order - watch the movies based on the date order that the original novels and short stories were published?
The problem is that means I have to watch Moonraker next..... Gulp!
As we move on into a new month, let's see what delights awaited me on the shelves at Austin Books this week?
Amazing Spider-Man #653 (Marvel) - Still continues to be one of the most fun books out at the moment, the momentum and action don't let up, and are underscored with some great character moments.
Batman Beyond #2 (DC) - So far so good for this new on-going featuring one of my favorite incarnations of the Batman franchise.
House of Mystery #34 (DC/Vertigo) - More intrigue and weirdness from my good friend Matt Sturges.
Iron Man #500.1 (Marvel) - Giving Matt Fraction's Iron Man run another try and testing if Marvel's .1 "ideal jumping on point" initiative works.
iZombie #10 (DC/Vertigo) - I'm never quite sure what direction each new issue is going to take this series. Excellent work from Chris Roberson & Mike Allred.
Jonah Hex #64 (DC) - not picked up an issue for the last few months and not sure why, this needs to get back to being a regular read.
The Last Phantom #4 (Dynamite) - Scott Beatty is telling a very different story for The Ghost Who Walks and it's working well.
Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 (DC) - The regular monthly book slipped off my list, but thought I'd give the Annual a try.
Superboy #4 (DC) - Funny how the Superman family books are starting to replace the batman ones on my regular pulls. Strong story telling wins out.
Superman 80 Page Giant (DC) - talking of Superman Family, a collection of Superman themed stories by up and coming talent - always worth a try.
Who Is Jake Ellis #1 (Image) - I missed creator Nathan Edmondson when he was in town a few weeks ago, and have been hearing good things about this book.
After a week on the road, it was time to once again visit the fine folks at Austin Books to see what comics style goodies would attract my attention:
Action Comics #897 (DC) - Lex Luthor and The Joker written by Paul Cornell - excellent. Things are really building up towards the milestone issue #900.
Age of X: Alpha #1 (Marvel) - Things are so confusing in the various X-Men book these days that I get lost - so I thought I'd give this latest "alternate reality" version a spin.
Amazing Spider-Man #652 (Marvel) - Spider-man hasn't been this much fun in a long time. Dan Slott is hitting all the right notes with this "Big Time" story arc.
Astonishing Thor #2 (Marvel) - The art in the launch issue was breathtaking, but the story didn't amount to much - this is the books second chance to see if it can captivate me with the story as much as it did with the visuals.
Avengers Academy #8 (Marvel) - I'm late to the party with this book, but catching up fast. This is easily the best Avengers title at the moment, with some interesting new characters in the mix.
Captain America #614 (Marvel) - Must admit my interest in this book is starting to drift again, not sure if I'll be picking it up for much longer.
Detective Comics #873 (DC) - really enjoying the fact that this book is returning Batman to his roots as a detective as well as a superhero.
Doctor Who #1 (IDW) - my pal Tony Lee continues his excellent run on Doctor WHo with the first issue to feature the 11th Doctor. Looking forward to seeing where he takes this new cast.
New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo) - I enjoyed Brain Wood's original New York Four graphic novel published under DC's now defunct Minx line back in 2008. This sequel looks just as promising and it will be interesting to see how it plays out as sequential issues rather than as a self-contained complete story.
Star Wars: Darth Vader & The Lost Command #1 (Dark Horse) - Don't normally pick up the Star Wars books, but something about this one caught my interest.
Superman: Sole Survivor #1 (DC) - A 100 page done in one stand lone Superman story? - I'll give that a go.
Sunday's With Sullivan: How the Ed Sullivan Show brought Elvis, the Beatles, and Culture to America." by Bernie Ilson (Taylor Trade Publishing)
As a Beatles writer and historian I was very familiar with the name of Ed Sullivan and have read numerous stories of how the Fab Four ended up appearing on his show and the impact of that appearance. But growing up in the UK I never actually saw the show itself (except through modern DVD releases) and had no first hand experience of its impact on the entertainment landscape. I was hoping that this book would provide me with more information and understanding of the show itself and its somewhat enigmatic host. Unfortunately that was not the case.
The book is derived from the author's PhD thesis, and at times reads like that, with lengthy interview extracts that should have been edited to make them more pertinent to the story being told. And perhaps that's where the main problem with the book lies, author Bernie Ilson may have been Ed Sullivan's top public relations guru, but, based on this book, he is not a natural story teller. The narrative is very disjointed and makes sudden jumps without explanation. In fact big chunks of the story are missing. Most of the book's interest hinges on Ilson's own personal anecdotes of encounters with various guests and celebrities rather than any explanation or real examination of the show's growth and ultimate demise as the networks and advertisers shifted towards a younger target demographic ( a point raised and discussed by a TV network executive in one of the tacked on interviews rather than by the author himself in the main body of the text.)
By the end of the book I didn't really know much more about Sullivan himself that I hadn't gleaned from other sources. I would have expected a more in depth examination of his drives and methodology from someone who worked alongside him for so long. The one part of Sullivan's aims for the show that does get a spotlight in the book is his aim to bring what he termed 'culture' (classical music, ballet and opera) into the living rooms of America. Unfortunately this aspect is repeated over and over again almost relentlessly. The repeating of facts and concepts about the show is constant throughout, almost as if each chapter had been written to be read independently.
In the introduction the author cites that the book was the result of over a dozen years of research, it's therefore surprising that the main narrative is only 112 pages, with the rest of the book being filled with insights and observations from various interview subjects.
In short I found the book to be somewhat disappointing and superficial; but maybe my expectations were too high.
A conversation over dinner last week with a friend from the UK, who is here in the USA for an extended business trip, diverted at one point into a discourse on the various (legal) ways it was possible to keep up with British TV shows while on the other side of the Atlantic. (Of course we also talked about the pain of various online 'not available in your market' type restrictions.)
One aspect of how technology has changed viewing habits is the ability to revisit whole seasons and runs of favorite TV shows through either DVD box sets releases, Netflix streaming, Hulu, iTunes, etc.
Part way through the conversation I realized that probably more than half my TV viewing these days comprises such re-watch type sessions where I work my way through a show's run. Sure there are still a handful of TV shows that I watch on a regular basis (but it is literally less than five); if it wasn't for motor-sports and football I wouldn't really need cable TV anymore.
On my flight home on Friday I started thinking about my re-watch list. So here's the run down of shows that I am currently working my way through.
Angel / Buffy(Netflix) - I list these two together as I am doing an alternate watch switching between the two as they cross-over - that comics geek need for continuity coming out in my TV habits.
Bionic Woman - (DVD) - The original and the best. - Waited a long time to watch these shows again, and while some are creaky and show their age, others are surprisingly good.
Birds of Prey - (iTunes) - Started watching for research purposes, but surprised to rediscover the lost potential this series had.
Doctor Who (Netflix / iTunes) - Started right at the beginning with the 1st Doctor stories and worked my way through every available story on Netflix. Now reached the 'new' series relaunch and switched to watching episodes on the iPad.
ROME - (iTunes) - One of my travel shows, tend to watch on the iPad when flying. Great show.
Saphire & Steel - (Netflix DVD) - Not the easiest of shows to follow and a little slow moving, but it does challenge you to actually think about the story.
Star Trek: Enterprise - (iTunes) - Another iPad travel show. Really enjoying this one a second time around, picking up on a lot of nuances now I've got past the initial fanboy "This isn't real Trek" reactions.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - (DVD) - Starting over again with season one - having a giggle at Wesley's sweaters while glimpsing signs of the greatness to come.
Time Slip - (Netflix DVD) - A childhood favorite revisited. - Seems I always had a thing for time trvel stories.
Time Tunnel (Hulu) - Almost finished this re-watch of one of my all time favorite shows - sure it's corny, but this is one property I would kill to write an updated comics adaptation.
And there are plenty more queued up behind them.
So last night I finished reading the first volume of Saga of the Swamp Thing collecting the first seven issues of Alan Moore and Steve Bissette's seminal and ground breaking work on the series.
When I sat down to read this collection, I would have sworn that what I was about to do was in fact re-read these classic tales. Yet part way into the first story I realized that I had in fact never read them before!
Over the years I have read so much about them, read extracts, seen the art, studied various writings analyzing them that they had seeped into my mind as something that I had already experienced. They were all so familiar that I must have read them.
Yet experiencing the actual narrative bought me to the realization that, in fact, it was all new.
A special evening at Austin Books last night as local writer Chris Roberson was on hand signing copies of his first issue as the new writer on Superman - Issue #707.
So along with chatting to a very happy Chris, what else did I pick up off the shelves?
Amazing Spider-Man #651 (Marvel) - the new "Big Time" story arc by Dan Slott is proving to be lots of fun.
Avengers Academy: Must Have #1 (Marvel) - as I mentioned recently I've been hearing good things about this book and enjoyed the issue I picked up to try it out. This "must have" collects the first three issues under one cover for the price of a regular issue. A great way to back track and see how it all kicked of.
Batgirl #17 (DC) - As I've said before, consistently my favorite Bat book of the moment.
Batman & Robin #19 (DC) the last part of Paul Cornell's great fill-in arc on Batman & Robin. Hope he gets another crack at the Dynamic Duo before too long.
Bird's of Prey #8 (DC) - Still not sure about the direction and feel of this latest incarnation of the Birds, but I trust Gail Simone and her feel for these characters.
Captain America: Man Out of Time #3 (Marvel) - what could have just been another updated retelling of the Captain America revival story is turning into something special. Great work by Mark Waid.
Daredevil Reborn #1 (Marvel) - Not sure why I picked this one up. Hated what they did with DD in his own book, so maybe this is a sympathy read, hoping that his new direction (whatever it turns out to be) is a good one.
Heroes For Hire #2 (Marvel) - A few months back I was bemoaning to another writer about how we hadn't seen the character of Silver Sable in a Marvel book in a long time, and that I thought she was too good a character to waste (and yes, I have a couple of Sable story ideas I'd love to write). And lo and behold there she is on the cover of this month's Heroes For Hire. I just had to pick it up.
Knight & Squire #4 (DC) - The hilarious adventures of the British heroes as they continue to guide us along a looking glass distorted journey through the UK's pop culture history.
Next Men #2 (IDW) - John Byrne's Next Men was one of the seminal titles during my comics reading in the early 1990s, making this relaunch/continuation a must read - at least for the moment.
Superman #707 (DC) - I've been looking forward to reading Chris's take on the Man of Steel since it was first announced he'd be taking over scripting his adventures. Knowing Chris's love for the character it should be a fun ride.
Doctor Who Vol 3 (IDW) - The final story arc for the 10th Doctor in comics. I read all these as monthlies, and they deserve a place on the bookcase. Strong work.
The Sixth Gun Vol. 1 - I had the pleasure of hanging out with creators Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt prior to the 2010 Free Comic Book Day when this title was launched. This supernatural Western has been one of the break-out books of the year.
I'm a few days late posting this, but let's kick off with a look at the first stack of four-color fun I picked up at Austin Books in 2011.
Avengers Prime #5 (Marvel) - The last issue of this fun mini-series by Bendis & Davis with Thor, Cap and Iron Man trapped in Asgard.. I just wish the main Avengers book was this good.
Batman Beyond #1 (DC) - The recent BB mini-series obviously did well enough to rate an on-going series. I hope this new title maintains that quality.
Green Hornet #12 (Dynamite) - I wasn't impressed by the Kevin Smith scripted story arc that launched this new version of the Hornet, but with Phil Hester now writing it has drastically improved.
House of Mystery #33 (DC/Vertigo) - A must pick up each month to see what strange and twisted stories my buddy Matt Sturges has come up with. This issue also features work by David Lloyd, one of my favorite artists, and a genuinely nice bloke too.
iZombie #9 (DC/Vertigo) - The Austin writer connection continues with the latest issue of Chris Roberson's creator owned series. This book just keeps getting stranger, and better, every issue.
Steel #1 (DC) - picked this up for one simple reason, it's the first comics work by one of my favorite Doctor Who novelists, Steve Lyons.
Superboy #3 (DC) - Writer Jeff Lemire is making me care about a character I had no interest in previously. A fun read and a good lesson on writing technique each issue.
The Thanos Imperative #1 (Marvel) - Abnett and Lanning doing what they do best, large scale cosmic stories. And this one has Beta Ray Bill in it!
twenty-seven #2 (Image) - I meet writer Charles Soule at Emerald City ComicCon a couple of years ago and was impressed by his Strongman graphic novel. I've been hearing great things about his new series that investigates the link between a series of famous rock musicians who all died at the age of 27. Unfortunately I missed picking up the first issue, but really looking forward to diving into what looks to be an innovative and compelling series.
Gill was with me during my trip to the comics store this week, and asked the magic question "What comics should I be reading now?" She hasn't read any particular comics series on a regular basis since the end of Strangers in Paradise. Rather than bombard her with various titles we just chatted about what looked interesting to her - she came home with copies of OZ (Marvel), The Odyssey (Marvel Classics) and The Murder of King Tut (IDW). It will be interesting to see what she thinks of them.