The 2016 Oscar Animated Shorts Laugh Track

world of tomorrowWho’s old enough to remember the laugh track? The laughter added to the audio of old sitcoms in lieu of a live audience? Watch Gilligan’s Island. The laugh track tells you when to laugh.

I just saw the 2016 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts at the San Jose Camera Three theater. One of those shorts before, World of Tomorrow, I saw on Netflix a few days ago. In the privacy of my apartment. Alone. And quietly. No laughing. But watching it again at the Camera Three? People laughed at the funny parts. So did I.

Earlier today, when I bought my weekly comic books, the store manager told some friends about a TV show. “See it with friends,” he said.

A live audience makes a difference. Or maybe it was my good twin sitting next to me (I am the evil one). Or maybe I would make a lousy movie critic. But I liked World of Tomorrow a lot more the second time around. And the rest of the shorts were good. Check out the 2015 Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts at a movie theater if you get the chance. Seeing it with an audience, and with friends, makes a difference.

P.S. The last short in the show, Prologue, had male nudity and violence. The shorts program gave two warnings in easy to read, screen-filling text. Just before Prologue started, a lady did the right thing and took her little boy out of the theater. On the way out, he cooed, “Why?” The audience laughed.

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Super Working Stiffs

Even superheroes gotta earn a living. (Billionaire Bruce Wayne excepted.)

Like Ant Man. Gets out of prison, tries to earn a living with a private security company, and doesn’t do well at it. Poor guy. I love it.

hellcat-retail

I also love Marvel’s new Hellcat! comic book. The art is fun, the writing is funny and warm. Issue #1 had Hellcat encounter a low-level super villain. He had money troubles, “I’m just trying to live my life, y’know?” Instead of a huge fight, she talked him out of stealing and rented a room from him, she needed a place to live. Then she visited a comic book shop, had a beer, and started a super(hero) temp agency. She ended issue #1 with: “I, Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat, am going to work retail.” That is VERY refreshing!

It reminds me of Harvey Pekar. In his comic book American Splendor, Harvey wrote about his life as a file clerk in Cleveland: “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Many of his stories were about his different jobs, and how his file clerk job was a cornerstone of his life. As a real life person, Harvey never put on a cape.

I take that into account in my story writing. My superheroine, Super Holly Hansson, is paid to put on her cape and do super heroics, Holly considers herself a working stiff. Unlike the current movie Superman, calling her any kind of god would be a great way to get a fat lip. Like Harvey Pekar, Holly’s comic book writing also earns money. It is a huge cornerstone of her life that she loves a lot more than punching out Harry Headbutt when he tries to “ROB BANK, GET MONEY, BUY TEN POUND STEAK, AND NOT LEAVE TIP!” And Holly’s love interest, Cal “The Intellectual” Critbert, became far more human when I finally gave him his day job as a movie critic.

My supers can get government-funded jobs and be paid for putting on the cape and doing super heroics. Beats putting on masks and running around looking for trouble at three o’clock in the morning. The police get to do that.

P.S. Why do my supers put on capes? Same reason cops wear a badge.

Two ways not to use superhero names and titles.

AForce_CaldwellI have obsessed over character names. I recently spent a few hours coming up with one that alliterated and had a sound that exposed the character’s character. I have recently found two ways that character names should not be used.

First, in the A-Force comic book, Marvel’s first all-female superhero(ine) team does a bad habit: characters announce their superhero titles when they show up in a scene. I think that once upon a time, some Marvel editor-in-chief mandated that writers have the superheroes announce themselves by their titles every time they entered a room. Imagine the Avengers living room. “Hello Hawkeye, I see you on the couch watching the news! It is I, Captain America, returning from a mission!” “Yes, Captain America! I see you are five feet nearer to the refrigerator than I! Mind grabbing me a beer? This is an adult comic book, after all! Hey, who is that my eagle eye now spies in the doorway? The Mighty Thor!” “Yes Hawkeye, it is I! The Mighty Thor! Hey ho, Captain America, I see you approaching the fridge! Any mead in there?”

Okay, A-Force did not do this THAT much. I am going to give it another chance. A new creative team, writer Kelly Thompson and artist Ben Caldwell, will be taking over soon. I think Ben’s art looks great, and I have high hopes for Kelly’s writing. But Kelly, please, go easy on the title announcing. I have been guilty of similar name-bombing myself, so I know of what I speak. Real people don’t talk like that!

Second, I am in a nice critique group where one person wrote on one of my stories that I could make a list of characters at the start of the story. Comic books have done that. It can be entertaining. The first page of Metamorpho #13 listed the characters: “Rex (Metamopho) Mason–Leading (Element) Man! Simon Stagg–Character (Harrumph) Actor? Frank Zorb–The ‘Heavy’–and is he ever!”

I used to do this years ago when I handed out chapters to critique groups. But even with a sugar coating (Alfred Hitchcock’s advice), a character list at the story start now feels too expositiony. I now give my super guys and gals their names and powers within the story itself, as in any prose story. I break enough rules already.

Figuring Out Female Action Figures

rey-letter-eight-year-oldAn eight year old girl (same age as my Kittygirl character) wrote this letter to Hasbro about their Monopoly Star Wars game. After a Twitter storm, Hasbro will add a Rey figure. Adding a main character, what a concept!

But can little girls find Avengers Black Widow dolls? Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora dolls? Do those dolls have pretzel-bendy spines? Don’t get me started on Merida, the archer girl in Brave, who became a Barbie-skinny doll stuffed into a tight princess party dress, which she HATED in her movie.

What if Super Holly Hansson is ever dollified? Certainly they’d keep Holly’s triple-Ds, but would they keep her beaky, Roman nose? Barbie skinny or She-Hulk strong? Will Holly’s grimace growl, “You afraid of getting beat up by a girl?” Or will her grin giggle, “I’m going to the ball!”

P.S. To you butt-heads who snidely snarked that an eight year old girl could never have written that note: you got proof of that? You got hidden cameras in her house? (Ew, pervy.) Picking on a little girl goes beyond obnoxious and into poisonous nausea. You are villains whom Kittygirl would beat up and NOT say she is sorry afterwards. You FAILED to crush an eight year old girl! OOOOOOHHH, YOU FAILED!!!! As said on Regular Show (start at 0:34)…

power-girl-statue-dc-cover-girlP.P.S. What action figure do I own? Power Girl! I loved Amanda Conner’s Power Girl run in the comics, I loved the Harley Quinn / Power Girl crossovers, and I admit Super Holly would tear my head off if I ever tried to stuff her into Power Girl’s costume.

Hyper Light, Giant Bug Farts, and Respecting the Audience

I have seen Star Wars VII twice, once with my good twin (I am the evil one). He asked me if there was anything that I picked up the second time. Yes, two things.

1: The light of the blaster shot that the newer, younger Darth stopped mid-air early in the flick. It was a cool effect.

2: First time I saw the bigger, new and improved Death Star’s laser, I wondered about those inconvenient laws of physics limiting the speed of light, and thus, making it a very long time before that laser hits anything in other star systems. Second time, I heard the line about hyper-light. See? Just one little bit of doubletalk, and the light beam goes faster than light.

Which made me remember that old movie, Starship Troopers (much as I’d prefer not to). In that flick, giant bugs in another star system threw an asteroid at Earth. In other words, they threw a big rock. At Earth. From another star system. The rock had no warp drive, no hyper-drive, no lightspeed drive, no nothing except rock.

I will pause here to let you think about that. (ONE SECOND PASSES!) Okay, you should have thought of this: A ROCK WILL TAKE A VERY LONG TIME TO TRAVEL SEVERAL LIGHT-YEARS!

Let’s say the bugs are at the closest star system, which is four light years away. One light year equals 5,878,499,810,000 miles. That’s a lot of miles. Assuming the bugs can get the rock to travel at near light speed, that will be a bit over four years. The energy to get a rock going that fast will be tremendous, as in turning lots of gas-giant planets entirely to energy (since I am not a physicist, I suspect that is a very conservative estimate). About four years later, the big nearly-light-speed rock will destroy the Earth, not just dig a crater. Remember this thing called kinetic energy? That rock would have LOTS of it. If the rock goes any slower, we Earth people will have thousands, or maybe millions of years before we bother to take our hyper-light spaceships to the rock and give it a little tap to knock it off course.

These bugs blasted the energy to move that rock from the ends of their abdomens. Yeah, out their butts. Not only is that incredible aim (hitting a moving target that far away when you are facing away from it), but that is an incredibly powerful fart. Do those bugs eat planet-size anti-matter burritos?

This is one of the many reasons why Star Wars VII works and Starship Troopers does not. Star Wars VII understood that the audience knows what a light-year is, and took a moment to write the screenplay around that. Starship Troopers, by not bothering to do that, insulted the audience’s intelligence.