The late Harlan Ellison (fantasy writer) and Steve Ditko (comic book artist) each deserve a little credit.
Harlan won Hugo and Nebula awards for his stories. Harland had opening lines like, “When they unscrewed the time capsule, preparatory to helping temponaut Enoch Mirren to disembark, they found him doing a disgusting thing with a disgusting thing.” Don’t tell me you can stop reading there.
But Harlan deserves more credit for his essays. If you can read only one Ellison essay, read “Somehow, I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas, Toto,” in the book “Stalking the Nightmare.” Harlan tells the story of his script, “Phoenix Without Ashes,” degraded into a TV series called The Starlost. Those of you close to my age might remember that awful TV series; it looked like it spent $1.56 on special effects. Harlan tells how his pilot script was renamed to “Voyage of Discovery.” (I guess the producers were afraid the audience would get confused reading the word “phoenix”), and how they made an episode about giant bees. Harlan’s pilot script is about humanity on a gigantic space ark fleeing Earth’s destruction, and the crew were killed in an accident, and one man discovers that the ark will fly into a star within five years unless he finds the ark’s control room and gets it back on course. Harlan is on the phone to the idiots making the show, and…
“You’re building the control room?” I said, aghast with confusion and disbelief. “But you won’t need that till the last segment of the series. Why are you building it now?”
“Because you had it in your bible,” he explained.
“That was intended to show how the series ended, for God’s sake!” I admit I was screaming at this point. “If they find it first time out, we can all pack our bags and play an hour of recorded organ music!”
“No, no,” Davidson argued, “they still have to find the backup computer, don’t they?”
“Aaaaarghh,” I aaaaarghhed. “Do you have even the faintest scintilla of an idea what a backup control is?”
“Uh, I’m not certain. Isn’t it the computer at the back of the ship?”
“It’s a fail-safe system, you drooling imbecile, it’s what they use if the primary fails. The primary is the control… oh to hell with it!” I hung up.
If you want to write for TV or movies, you must read this essay. Must as in not doing so would be one of the few capital crimes in the Star Trek universe.
Steve Ditko was one of the greatest comic book artists of all time. His art made Spider-Man a star (along with Stan Lee’s writing to make a flawed, problem-plagued teenager a hero). But Ditko deserves more credit as a writer. For me, his jewel was Shade the Changing Man, a brief but bright star. In 9 issues (its run was cancelled due to DC axing a huge number of comics all at once), Ditko made an oppressive world vs. the one hero framed for murder, a world with strong women at a time when that was NOT usual. The scene where Shade’s former fiancée (and a cop tracking Shade down) sees that Shade saved her from the Area of Madness (not a place where you want to take photos) shows how a strong tough woman can still have a heart. And the names! Rac Shade! Mellu Loron! Sude: the Supreme Decider! The Meta-Zone! The Zero-Zone! The M-Vest (M for Miraco)! I wish this story could have lived longer. It deserves a movie and a resolution. If you want to read it, buy the Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume One.
P.S. I read that Ditko plotted it and drew it, but another guy wrote the dialog. The Marvel method? Well, that is Steve Ditko being a Stan Lee, and so I still give Ditko big writing credit.
P.P.S I admit that Ditko’s artwork influenced how Super Holly’s telekinesis manifests.
P.P.P.S. Yeah, I am late with this post, Ditko and Harlan passed months ago. But WordPress just told me that my blog is getting a spike in traffic. So now’s a good time.