The Noah and Logan Summer Tour, Part 2: Pulaski Farmer’s Market and Arts in the Park

Pulaski Farmer's Market - At the ARISE table.

Pulaski Farmer’s Market – At the ARISE table.

 

Arts in the Park, Mexico Point Park- Me next to my poster.

Arts in the Park, Mexico Point Park- Me next to my poster.

The Noah and Logan Summer Tour has been going well.  I have only been to a few places to promote the series thus far, but I’ve had favorable reactions at every stop.  I am grateful to see there is genuine interest in the series from kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and everyone in between.  My two most recent stops at the Pulaski Farmer’s Market and Mexico Point Park for the Arts in the Park event over the course of a very busy and exciting weekend continue this positive trend.  They also gave me the chance to connect and, in some cases, reconnect with some truly outstanding folks.

My first sojourn of the weekend was a return trip to Pulaski, this time to participate in the local Farmer’s Market.  Here, vendors from across the region sold foodstuffs, had some spectacular arts and crafts, and there was even a band for live music.  I shared a table with some friends and representatives from the local special needs awareness and assistance organization, ARISE; good company to keep, especially on a somewhat sunny and breezy spring afternoon.

I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in my books at the market.  After all, I was offering a children’s e-book series, not food or the more tangible arts and crafts that everyone else offered.  To my surprise, however, it turned out quite a few visitors stayed a while and spoke at length with me about the series.  In fact, one of the first to come to the table was a fellow author I had met at a prior engagement.  We caught up with each other and we discussed writing and publishing.  It was great to see her again and the rest of my time at the market was just as fulfilling.  I made a few connections with other groups and institutions in the area which have led to further opportunities to introduce Noah and Logan to others.

The next event I attended was Arts in the Park, a gathering of local artists held at Mexico Point Park, a truly stunning example of the area’s natural beauty.  I enjoyed introducing the series to everyone who stopped by my table and the kids seemed to enjoy reading the stories off my iPad!

I was also delighted to meet another author at the Arts event as well, a very nice man named Daniel Middleton.  He, too, has written a children’s book.  His book, Naomi ‘Redflower’: Imagine with Me, is based on a highly imaginative girl and her love of insects and other animals.  In the story, she and her family go on a tour of Central New York and she imagines encounters with a variety of local wildlife during every season of the year.  My mother and I were very impressed with Daniel’s book, so much so that we bought a copy from him that day.  His writing style is very fun to read and his illustrations are gorgeous to look at, really capturing the beauty of the CNY countryside and animal population.  I highly recommend it for anyone’s reading collection.

The events of this very busy weekend turned out to be a lot of fun.  Both engagements happened outside in pleasant weather, I met a lot of very nice people, and I was able to get the word out about my Noah and Logan series!  I even met a fellow author who has written a very cool book himself.  All in all, I think this was a great beginning leg to the Noah and Logan Summer Tour.  Keep your eyes on this blog and Facebook for further updates regarding future stops!

The Noah And Logan Summer Tour, Part 1: Pulaski Public Library and Fulton High School

Here I am with the second "Noah and Logan" book at the Pulaski Public Library for their Disability Awareness Day.  The mural on the background wall is much larger than this photo may make it seem, and it is indeed very vibrant and colorful!

Here I am with the second “Noah and Logan” book at the Pulaski Public Library for the Disability Awareness Day.

I stand next to my first "Noah and Logan" book at Fulton High School, May 2015.  The classroom has a projector, very handy for showing my book to the entire class.

I am standing next to my second “Noah and Logan” book at Fulton High School, May 2015.  I love that the classroom has a projector.  It came in very handy for showing my book to the classes.

Hi, everyone!  I’ve got some news regarding the Noah and Logan series.  First of all, the third book in the series, “Noah and Logan Tie Their Shoes,” is coming soon!  I can’t wait to introduce it to everyone!  Secondly, I am beginning a mini-summer tour of local libraries and organizations where I’ll be introducing and reading  ”Noah and Logan Learn to Clean” and “Noah and Logan Learn to Share” to audiences of kids, parents, and anyone else that is interested, and I will also discuss my life as a person with autism and being a writer.

The tour was inspired by a recent Disability Awareness Day event that I participated in at the Pulaski Public Library.   There were stations set up that helped visitors understand what it would be like to have certain disabilities by engaging them in activities designed to simulate certain aspects of diversified disabilities.

I really enjoyed discussing my life, how my books came to be, and, of course, reading my stories to the event’s attendees!  I loved being able to share my books with the children and adults this way.  I am quite comfortable with discussing my life and work with a room full of people, and also in one-on-one encounters such as those I had with the people who came to my table.  I didn’t feel anxious at all, not even with the thought of sharing so much of myself.

I took this as a great accomplishment, and discussed with my Mom the possibility of participating in more events like this.  We decided to see if other libraries and organizations in the area would be interested in letting me share my stories.  To our delight, quite a few libraries we reached out to expressed great interest in having me be part of their upcoming activities; many more than I had previously thought possible.  Many have slotted me in for spots in their summer programs, with a few others reserving my presence for next fall.  I will keep you updated both here and on my Facebook pages regarding how they turned out.

In fact, another opportunity for sharing my work came to me just this past week.  I shared my stories as well as two of my poems with two classes at the Fulton High School and fielded questions afterward.  The students and teachers seemed very interested in what I was doing.  They were very receptive to my stories and poems, asked good questions, and were a very attentive audience.  I hope the people I meet this summer will be just as enthusiastic.  Again, I was very comfortable sharing myself and my stories with these groups; by now, it feels like second nature to me.

This summer is looking very promising for meeting new readers in all sorts of places and with a third “Noah and Logan” book on the way, there will be plenty to talk about.   If you are interested in coming to one (or more!) of these events, please keep an eye on this blog and the Noah and Logan and Benjamin Kellogg Author Facebook pages for information on dates, times, and locations!

UNO and Royal Rumble

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaI turned 24 years old a few days ago, but to be quite honest, I still think of myself as 23 (and 22 feels like a long time ago).  My family and I had a little party this past weekend to celebrate.  It was a good get-together: we had some cake and ice cream, played a few hands of UNO, opened some presents, blew out a few candles, and generally had a grand old time.  The next day, I watched the WWE Royal Rumble wrestling pay-per-view with my cousin and best friend.  That show was, in a way, also a great present and a fun way to end my birthday weekend.  A lot of excitement was had by all with plenty of great stories to tell.

The UNO game was a real highlight of the party for me.  It’s a quick game to pick up and play that doesn’t require a whole lot of equipment.  My family and I have played it a lot in the past.  The interesting thing about playing this time for me, though, was figuring out new game-playing strategies for the first time.  The game’s instructions show how to play a simple five-hundred point game where numbered cards are worth the same amount as the number on them (zero to nine, to be precise), cards with words are worth twenty (Draw Two is great for you to have and play, terrible if you’re on the receiving end of it), and wilds are worth fifty (if Wild Draw Four were a military weapon, it would be either an atomic bomb or orbital laser, whichever floats your boat).   This past weekend, I started to look at UNO in a new way and to add a bit more strategy in my approach to this timeless card game, one which my family and I gainfully employed to varying success during the party.

The strategy I gleaned from basic gameplay boils down to two important principles.  The first one: Get rid of your word cards as soon as you can.  These cards are ticking time bombs ready to rain points down on you if another player empties their hand first, and at twenty or fifty points per card, they can add up all too quickly.  During the party, I saw firsthand the devastating results of having several such cards in your hand once the dust settles.  One of my uncles kept getting stuck with hundred-point hands.  After a while, though, we were all numbed from the pain from these types of hands and more often laughing at how the fickle finger of fate dealt these cards to us.  (I do find that word cards have good uses.  If you want to keep other players stuck with lots of cards in their hands, Reverse and Skip make for excellent “traffic controllers.”  The Draw Twos and Wild Draw Fours are great for this, too, but their high point value makes them very risky to keep in your hand for too long.  Be careful how you use them!)

The second principle I gleaned from our UNO games, and this one did come as a bit of a surprise to me, but it does make a good lick of sense: Track the colors!  Depending on what your opponents play/call for when playing a wild, you can get an idea of the colors of the cards in their hands and which ones they want to get rid of.  Once you know this, you can change the color on the discard pile to something they don’t have, forcing them to draw more cards.  The discard color became a serious point of contention during our play time, as it meant being able to free ourselves of a surplus of cards of a dominant color or to switch up the color to break a streak of discards from an opponent about to empty their hand.  It was almost like a boxer switching from one stance to another to confuse their opponent and make a few adjustments; catch them off-guard and then score a KO.  This was a very interesting point to me, one I will have to investigate and practice more during future UNO games.

Speaking of strategy, the one WWE used for putting together this year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view was one my cousin, my friend, and I spoke about quite a bit while we were watching the show.  The Rumble is one of my favorite shows to watch each year, usually because it’s so hard to predict and brings a lot of surprises.  One undercard bout this year really surprised me and my viewing buddies: scientific wrestling whizzes Tyson Kidd and Cesaro pulling out a major upset victory over Kofi Kingston and Big E of the New Day faction.  It was the first match of the night and a bit of a shocker; normally, Kidd and Cesaro, the bad guys, would be booked to lose the opening contest so the audience could have a feel-good moment to start the show, so seeing them pull off a win was very unexpected.  Good job!

The WWE World Championship match between John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Seth Rollins was likewise very delightful.  All three men did a great job of bringing intensity to this top-level contest.  Cena played his customary hero role to the hilt, Rollins was a desperate man looking to break through in a big way (I’m not a huge fan of his, but this was certainly his best match to date), and Lesnar steamrolled both opponents like the nearly unstoppable monster he is known to be.  Lesnar won the match in the end, but all three made this one worth watching.  This quickly became my favorite match of the night, and judging from the reactions of my viewing partners, the highlight of their evening as well.

The Royal Rumble Match itself, however, which came right after the world title match, was somewhat less enjoyable for us.  It started out strong for sure with some big-time returns from the likes of tag team specialist Bubba Ray Dudley (who sadly did not break any tables but did pull off a sweet 3D Driver with an assist for R-Truth standing in for the strangely absent D-Von; where did that other guy go, anyway?), WCW legend Diamond Dallas Page (who pulled off several Diamond Cutter stun maneuvers on everyone he came across; great move that ranks right up there with the DDT and RKO as my go-to moves of choice), and even the worm-chewing creepy-yet-cool Boogeyman (who didn’t seem to have any worms on him this particular evening, sad to say; anyone want to bet his favorite book is How to Eat Fried Worms?).  These special guests, as well as the regular superstars who entered, delivered a lot of great action for a few minutes and had me and my guests feeling confident that this year’s Rumble would be something worth remembering.

All that changed once Daniel Bryan was eliminated about halfway through the match.  You see, Bryan is one of our favorite wrestlers, a real crowd-pleaser who always puts on a memorable show, but who has gotten an astonishing amount of resistance from WWE’s higher-ups both behind the scenes and on camera.  Our hopes were on Bryan to mow through this year’s competition and earn the top spot at Wrestlemania, or at least to come in a close second to our other mutual top pick, Roman Reigns.  Instead, Bryan got tossed out in short order, a very disappointing result to the Philadelphia audience as well as us watching at home.  Why WWE did not let Bryan compete longer than he did, or at least make it to the final four remaining contestants before getting eliminated, I would surely like to know.  After numerous years of following D-Bry, we wanted to see him go far, not trip over a stone miles before the finish line.

After Bryan’s unexpected exit, almost all the energy was sucked out of the match.  I mean no disrespect to the other guys who stayed in the match after Bryan left, but his removal was a sore point not easily healed.   Roman Reigns, of course, won the bout, but the Philly crowd and us home viewers were still a bit too numbed to truly accept him as the next big kahuna of the WWE landscape.  Granted, he entered the Rumble well after Bryan left, but, in my opinion, D-Bry’s is one of the hardest acts to follow in wrestling today.  Reigns did win the match in an impressive fashion by tossing out both Big Show and Kane at the same time (they’re both huge men, so lifting them both up and over the top rope in one fell swoop is an awesome feat indeed).  He also got a big-time assist from his close cousin the Rock (yes, that Rock, the star of all those movies and a legit legend of the squared circle) in fending off a post-match attack from a still-vengeful Show and Kane.  However, because Roman’s ascent came at Daniel Bryan’s expense, neither the crowd nor me and my viewing buddies could really accept the result on that particular night.  I’ve had some time to think about it since then, and I am now willing to accept Roman’s position as WWE’s top good guy if he is ready to fill it.  I have to admit, though, that until this point, I had still been on the fence about whether Roman could ever live up to the hype.  I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best.

After all was said and done, I’d have to say my 24th birthday was well celebrated!  I’m looking forward to how 2015 plays out for me. I’m still working hard on my various writing projects and will be sharing news on them, as well as anything else I do/come across, with you.  Have a happy and safe new year, and I will see you in the next blog post!

A Quick Update

Hello again, everyone!  I just wanted to give you a quick update on what’s been going on in my life.  My second e-book, Noah and Logan Learn to Share, is now available for purchase for your Kindle or other device.  This one has been in the works for a long time, and I am proud to see it out in the world along with the first book in the series, Noah and Logan Learn to Clean.  At only a dollar each, they make for great digital stocking stuffers for the readers in your life.  There are more Noah and Logan stories on the way!  Please give them a look and tell me what you think of them in the comments.

In addition to Noah and Logan, I am also working on a pro wrestling novel, the origins of which can be found on this very blog.  Paragon Fantasy Wrestling: The Novel is based on the serialized saga I began in the early days of Kellog Thoughts about a fictional pro wrestling league and the men and women who compete in it.  I’ve taken some of the characters from those early posts and expanded on them quite a bit for the novel, as well as introducing some new guys and gals to the mix to keep things interesting.  I am planning on making PFW: TN into a twenty-chapter story, maybe more if I feel some parts need expanding on.  Right now, though, I am in the middle of chapter ten and I am satisfied with what has come so far.  I will keep you all in the know with where I am in the novel-writing process and, if everything goes well, I’ll be able to share it with you soon.

Of course, I’ll keep Kellog Thoughts going as well with new content.  During my brief time away, I have had a plethora of new ideas I wanted to bring to the blog.  Prepare for new Random Top Fives as well as my perspectives on books, TV, movies, cartoons, comics, games, and other things I feel need to be talked about.  I look forward to seeing what you have to say as well.

Thanks for coming to Kellog Thoughts.  I sincerely hope you enjoy your time here!

My New Book: “Noah and Logan Learn to Clean”

I actually like blank covers on books a little bit, too. It adds to the mystery of what's inside.

Read all about it! My new book is here.

Hi, everyone.  I know it’s been a while since my last blog post, but I’ve had a busy schedule lately.  I hope to get back to doing regular posts soon.  Before I do that, however, there is something important that has happened in my life that I would like to share with all of you.  My first children’s book, “Noah and Logan Learn to Clean,” is now available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle!

In my book, Noah and Logan, two characters based on my young cousins, work together to clean their playroom and put their favorite toys away.  My mother handled the illustrations (I think she did a great job; let me know how you feel about them in the comments).

Even though I’ve been working on my children’s book series for a few years now, seeing the first book out in the world is still quite a surreal experience for me.  I am very happy to see that it has taken flight, and I am working on other stories to follow in its footsteps.  I hope the Noah and Logan series will be of help to other children with autism.  Each book will feature one of the social and life skills I struggled with as a child, and I hope my books will help readers have an easier time with these skills than I did.

There are more Noah and Logan books coming, and I will introduce you to them here on Kellogg Thoughts as each one is published.  Let me know what you think of the series, and Learn to Clean, in the comments.

Free Comic Book Day 2014: Uncle Scrooge Review: Lucky Ducky

Waitaminit, a Don drawing "Don?" I think I just had an "Inception" moment...

Don Rosa, the creator of this issue, drawing Uncle Scrooge at MegaCon 2012. You can see some of his other Disney drawings on the wall behind him. Ain’t he just ducky?

Starting with this post, I plan on taking a comprehensive look at some of what, I think, are the more outstanding issues in my collection of free comics from this year’s Free Comic Book Day.  This is something I have wanted to write about since I started this blog, and I can’t wait to show you what each new issue has to offer. 

One of my favorite issues thus far has been the Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comic from Disney and Fantagraphics Books.  This crazy cartoonish comic features two spectacular stories by Don Rosa, a veteran Disney comics writer and artist.  He has been the premier chronicler of the Duckberg denizens’ adventures for over two decades.  Rosa also presents an essay in this issue in which he recounts how he got started in the comics world and explains some of the interesting details regarding the two featured stories. 

(One small correction before we move on: In my previous Free Comic Book Day post, I stated that this issue featured work from Carl Barks, the legendary creator of Scrooge McDuck.  Actually, it’s just Don Rosa for this issue; the last few years have featured Barks’ work exclusively for the Free Comic Book Day issues, so I guess I just had him on the brain.  Still, Rosa is commonly viewed by Disney comics fanatics as the heir apparent to Barks’ lofty throne and, in my opinion, he has done just as much if not more to make the ducks’ escapades some of the funniest, most exciting comics ever published, so we’re still in good hands here, folks.  I do, however, apologize for my slip up.)

The FCBD 2014 US&DD (Yes indeedy!) issue contains two fun Don Rosa tales from the 1990s, a time when Disney comics were not as widely circulated here in America as they were in other parts of the world (Italy, mostly), so for many readers, me included, this is the first time these stories have been widely available.  I can safely say that both of them have been well worth the wait.  The first story, “A Matter of Some Gravity,” involves Scrooge, Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie attempting to prevent the evil Magica De Spell from stealing Scrooge’s lucky Number One Dime.  Magica casts a spell on Scrooge and Donald which inverts their personal senses of gravity.  They are forced to walk along walls and across ceilings, as well as desperately grab at any foothold they can find, as they chase Magica down.

This story is very entertaining to me, mostly from a visual standpoint.  Don Rosa employs a clever arrangement for the comic panels: the top half of each page presents events from a “normal” point of view, while the bottom half shows things from Scrooge and Donald’s “gravitationally challenged” (Don’s own words, couldn’t have said any better myself) perspective.  These clashing perspectives were fun for me to keep track of, and I enjoyed seeing how the ducks tackled seemingly simple tasks like negotiating a steep hill and riding a bus, made nearly impossible to complete when one’s perspective has been inverted.  I’ve encountered this same kind of fun in ’60s Superman comics in which science and conventional laws of physics seemed to run amok, and I think Rosa captures much of that whimsical spirit here as well.  I also feel that this story is a fantastic introduction to the Disney duck comics and a great imagination-sparker.

The next story in this issue is a Donald Duck yarn entitled “The Sign of the Triple Distelfink.”  While it was not as entertaining for me as “Gravity,” I think it still provides some fascinating food for thought.  The main character is not the Don himself, but rather his less famous, but no less iconic, comics-based cousin, Gladstone Gander.  According to Rosa’s essay, he wrote this tale for Gladstone’s 50th anniversary, and again, I think it serves as a wonderful intro to this great character.  The gander’s claim to fame is that he has outrageously good luck: he wins sweepstakes, gets out of tough scrapes through wildly improbable coincidences, and generally goes through life with little trouble, a trait that gets on Donald’s nerves.  However, in this story, Gladstone is faced with a day of outrageously bad luck.  It’s his birthday, you see, and every year on this special day, his normally good luck is reversed. 

Donald, Scrooge and various other members of the extended duck family throw a birthday party for Gladstone, but he doesn’t want to attend because he fears his bad luck might cause undue harm to his loved ones.  He spends the majority of the story trying to avoid the party by taking a train, boat, plane, and other methods of travel to escape, but his bad luck interferes every time.  The accidents that pile up and the other characters’ reactions to Gladstone’s bad luck are what made this story stand out to me.  The “bad luck” bits did get a bit predictable, but I thought the way things were resolved in the end was quite clever.  And don’t worry, Gladstone is back to having good luck by the end; no cooked goose tonight!

The Free Comic Book Day issue of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck is one of my favorite issues from this year.  I think it contains a healthy dose of fun and some clever stories from a sound craftsman in Don Rosa.  Even better, there’s a promo in the front of the issue which states there is a new collection of some of Rosa’s other Disney work coming in July!  I can’t wait!

There’s more fun from FCBD 2014 on the way here at Kellog Thoughts!  I do not plan on covering every single issue I collected from this year’s festivities, but I do want to feature the comics which I think are simply outstanding, so stay tuned!  Leave your thoughts on this issue, Donald, Scrooge, Disney, and comics in the comments, and happy reading!

Free Comic Book Day 2014 Preview: Introducing Our Special Guest Panels

Talk about a fall from grace...

The price for these comics has dropped down to nothing at all!

On May 3, 2014, Free Comic Book Day 2014 will be upon us.  This is one of my favorite days of the year, the time when scores of comic book stores across the country give free specially published issues to any and all interested parties.  The comics created just for this day will serve as titilating tidbits of the wider world of comics just waiting out there for curious onlookers and cheap (in this case, free!) thrills for those already indoctrinated into the world of four-color funny papers.  As is my custom every year, I plan to visit a few of my favorite local comic book stores to see what they have to offer.  I’ve looked at the online list of this year’s comics and have chosen a few stand outs in my mind that I will be looking out for.  The 2014 field looks very promising to me, to say the least.  Here’s a few of my top picks.

Archie Digest #1

Archie is one of the very first comic book characters I ever encountered and grew to love reading about.  The adventures he, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and the rest of the residents of Riverdale have remained near and dear to me, and I am very interested in seeing what this over 180-page compilation of tales has in store for us all.  This little book will pack a lot of content and, even better, offer wholesome all-ages humor with a character who has delighted readers for nearly a century.  Definitely a good combination in my book!

DC Comics: The New 52: Future’s End

Why does this issue need two colons in its title?  I’m not sure either, but after reading the premise for this unusual offering from one of the oldest comic book publishers, I feel inclined to give it a look.  A few years ago, DC pulled the plug on its expansive comic book universe and started over from scratch.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC superhero community embarked on more grand adventures, ready to tell new stories set much earlier in their careers.  They’ve been publishing new stories for a while now, but of course, a new menace will arise in this issue to threaten them all.  A slew of evil cyborgs will be unleashed in the DC Universe’s future, and it’s up to Terry McGinnis, the new Batman of this far-off time (and star of the Batman Beyond TV show and comics, both which I think are equally awesome), to stop them.  This issue is actually the starting point for a year-long weekly series in which the robots escape from the future and travel to DC’s present to mess with the lives of our favorite heroes.  Curiouser and curiouser…

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Okay, kids, time for a pop quiz.  This consistently successful TV franchise based on popular Japanese superhero and monster shows has just celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary year.  What do you do to mark such a special occasion?  Apparently, the answer is to put out a new comic story featuring the first, and arguably the best, incarnation of this powerhouse property.  That’s right, the original Rangers are back in all their action-packed, acrobatic, multicolored spandex glory and ready to stop the radically rougish plans of those king and queen meanies Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for the umpteenth time.  I’ve seen the preview art for this story, and I think it looks fantastic; true to the original show with faithful representations of these beloved characters.  As my Power Rangers-loving cousin (I probably ought to get an extra copy for him, too) would say, “It’s morphin’ time!”

Kaboom! Summer Blast

This is one of several anthology-type titles available for perusal on Free Comic Book Day, and the selection of stories and characters in it appeals greatly to my sensibilites.  A few Cartoon Network shows are represented in this collection: if you’re a fan of Adventure Time, Regular Show, or Steven Universe, then I think you’ll certainly love their being featured here.  Peanuts and Garfield are also on hand; Kaboom publishes comic book series based on both of these great newspaper comic strips, but I have yet to check them out for myself so this will be a good sampler for me.  An original character, Herobear, and a few other mystery stories round out the issue.  An ecclectic collection to be sure, but one, I feel, is worth seeking.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity

The Disney comics put out for FCBD every year are a frequent selection for me.  They typically contain reprints of classic comics from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s by the great Carl Barks, the “good duck artist.”  He created Scrooge McDuck and is someone I feel made Disney comic books so much fun for many generations of readers.  This year’s comic is no exception, featuring as its main tale an account of when Scrooge, Donald, and their nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie encounter the devious Magica De Spell and are struck with a gravity-altering spell.  I can’t wait to see how this one ends.  In addition, this issue has two unique covers; both variations on a gag involving Scrooge and his family walking across the cover to confront Magica.  I love looking at gimmicky covers like these.  Iwonder where the artist got the idea to draw something so amazing.

Buck Rogers

For the second year in a row, the greatest spaceman in comics, I believe (besides Flash Gordon), returns to FCBD with more crazy retr0-futuristic escapades.  I loved last year’s showcase of classic comic strips from the ’30s featuring Buck and his buddies and baddies, and this year will provide more of the same.  One thing in these strips I’m really curious about, however, is the stamp and coin-trading game presented in the last panel of each strip.  Each week, a series of stamps and coins featuring the strip’s characters would be available for readers to cut out from their newspapers.  You could trade them with your friends and check  their values each week.  Which combination of stamps and coins will prove the most profitable with this issue’s storylines?  There’s also a space rocket race between Earth and Mars as a last-panel feature in this issue as well; I think it is a really novel concept for a time when such technology was still in its infancy.  Cool beans, that’s all I’ve got to say!

Spongebob Freestyle Funnies

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants does have his own comic book, and this year, he’s a featured FCBD character!  This issue contains a number of wacky sea stories from the good people at United Plankton Pictures, the same production company that makes the Spongebob TV show.  It’s amazing to me that these TV guys could make such a high-quality comic, but from the scant few issues I’ve seen of the regular comic, they’ve succeeded numerous times!  Even better, most of the stories in this issue are written and illustrated by former contributors to Nickelodeon Magazine who worked with a variety of Nick shows and characters, Spongebob included.  The Nick Mag comics section was a favorite of mine when I was younger, and I’m super happy that it’s back in a new form, and on FCBD, no less!

Overstreet Comic Book Marketplace

FCBD is about more than just comics, you know!  It’s also a great place to release special mini-magazines about comic book collecting.  This special issue from the makers of the famous Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide contains info-packed articles about various notable anniversaries, including Batman’s 75th and the 20th of the comic book company Shi.  One other article caught my eye: an overview of comic book reboots (basically when a series starts over from issue 1) and the best ones to collect.  Outstanding stuff!

Bleeding Cool Magazine  (not my favorite title, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess)

Bleeding Cool Magazine is another mini-mag like Comic Book Marketplace with more generic articles about collecting comics, but it does have an in-depth look at the Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie.  It also contains price guides of its own for various characters and notable titles.  I already own some price guides, but they’re a few years old.  I am curious to see if and how the prices of the comics in my collection have changed, so this one’s a must-have for me.

These are but a few of the many fantastic selections I’m interested in for Free Comic Book Day in 2014.  What do you think about this magical time?  If you’re planning on participating this year, which titles are you going to check out?  Let me know in the comments.  FCBD is a day that I always look forward to, and I think many families could have the same kind of fun that I have.  So, take your family and friends out to your local comic book stores on May 3 and see what you can find (and ask about special sales the store might have for the day; FCBD can result in some amazing bargains).  If you’re reading this after May 3, visit a comic book store anyway!  Sometimes they have left over issues they’d still like to give away, as well as some other freebies here and there.  Enjoy Free Comic Book Day everyone, and spread the word!

What Lies Out There in the Infinite “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey?”

There is excitement in the air, and for good reason!  An event that has been in the works for some time is finally coming to fruition.  Fans of previous iterations are flocking to this newest incarnation in droves, but it remains to be seen if this year’s edition can live up to the hype.  All the pieces are in place for it to be successful, but then again, it has barely begun, and everything could change on a dime.  But enough about WrestleMania 30 (even though the new Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery movie does look very entertaining, I must say).  What I really want to discuss today is the new incarnation of one of television’s most revered science series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  The original version hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980 and its companion book published the same year opened millions of eyes (mine included, years later) to the wonder of the universe and everything within it.  Can the 2014 version with Neil Degrasse Tyson do the same, or is it as devoid of life as the vast expanse between galaxies?

I tuned in to the first episode of the new Cosmos with my family the night it premiered, and I really liked what I saw.  I had seen a handful of episodes and clips from the original series and was impressed with just how many big scientific concepts and ideas Carl Sagan was able to explain in the most eloquent, memorable ways, and how he was able to effectively convey how they all fit together.  One such feature which made a big impression on me, and an icon of the series as a whole, was the Ship of the Imagination, a sleek, futuristic vessel in which Sagan and the audience could head anywhere in the universe and anytime in history.  On the ship, we could travel to a giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, back in time to witness Sir Isaac Newton getting clunked on the head by a falling apple and discovering gravity, or shrinking down to the size of an atom and flitting about the protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The new series has some big shoes to fill in this regard, and with even less time to do it in (the original show’s PBS airings had 60 minutes per episode, but this one has just 44 with commercials).

One thing the new Cosmos has going for it are some very nice visuals which take full advantage of modern technology to bring science to life.   The new Ship of the Imagination swoops, dives, and curves through space and time, flying past incredibly detailed planets, asteroids, comets, stars, and other space phenomena all the while reflecting everything in space off its shiny outer hull.

Neil Tyson gives a tour of an updated version of the Cosmic Calendar, a device from the original series which condenses the whole of the universe’s billions-of-years old history into a single calendar year.  This time, however, the months and days literally come alive with computer animations of each cosmic event mentioned.  Thus, we get some amazing versions of the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, and moons, and even a very cute take on animals climbing out of the water to kickstart evolution.  Cosmos certainly offers a feast for the eyes and a constant reminder that the universe is full of amazing things for us to discover.

This journey of scientific awesomeness is guaranteed  to lead us to some surprising places.  I think the first episode has some very note-worthy destinations .  To start us out, Neil Tyson opens the upper and lower windows on the Ship of the Imagination to offer overhead glimpses of Earth from space as it appeared roughly 100 million years in the past and how it might appear approximately 250 million years in the future.  The differences between both Earths from our own present planet were simply staggering to me.  Prehistoric Earth’s continents were lumped together as a single giant landmass, Pangaea, with endless oceans surrounding it and little to no signs of civilization as we know it.   In fact, instead it had a lot of green stuff; grass, trees, and thick forests.  Future Earth appears to have the same continents we currently have, but cities have grown noticably larger and use a heck of a lot more electricity. On this Earth, North America looks like a blinding-light advertisement for Thomas Edison’s most famous creation.  Not to mention there’s a lot of muddy brown on the continents:  where did all the green go?

These views of Earth in different times raised a few questions in my mind.  How accurate will the placement of the continents in the Cosmos version of future Earth really be in 250 million years?  Continental drift has created radically different Earths in the past 100 million years; who’s to say if it’ll still look like it is now well into the future?  How much electricity is being used by those cities, and if they’re using alternative energy sources to get all their power, which ones and how effective are they in providing the energy modern society needs to survive on a day-to-day basis?  Did the cities/humanity play a role in the sudden disappearance of green from the world map?  I’m also pretty sure the oceans looked a lot less blue in the show’s future model; a very alarming sign to me that trouble is surely on the way if we don’t watch out.

Cosmos also uses portions of each episode to present intriguing philosophical questions which relate to the scientific content, a feature I greatly appreciate as a seeker of knowledge.  For example, the first episode relays the story of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk with a vision of an infinite universe.  A vision he was ultimately condemned to die for.  I did a little research on Bruno after hearing his story.  As well as being a monk, he was an avid astrologist, and I feel that his story brings up a good point about scientific investigation which is worth some due consideration.  Bruno had little to no way of proving the existence of an infinite expanse of space (aside from Greek writings from 1500 years prior to his time and Biblical accounts which support exactly that conclusion, but apparently no one else besides him bothered to look up those references; it pays to read, kids!), but his vision was later proved to be accurate by scores of scientific studies and other observations.  That’s the beauty of science: an idea deemed ludicrous at one time can later be proven as truth through research and observation, or vice versa, and what remains in the end is factual information.  Science supports the same notion Bruno perceived:   that the universe is endlessly vast, is wonderfully complex, it opens up anew, and offers continual surprises to humanity.   We just have to search for them.

All in all, I’d have to say I really like the new Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  It’s a fascinating journey through the width and breadth of outer space and challenges our understanding of our place in the universe and how we choose to view it.  I think it paints an awe-inspiring picture of the world (worlds?) we call home and all the neat stuff we’ve discovered and hope to find out more about.  Definitely must-see TV to me!

What do you think of this new Cosmos?  If you’ve watched it, what did you like/dislike about it?  If you’re a fan of the original series, how do you think it compares to the new version?  Is there anything you’d change about this new show, and if so, why?  Are there any other scientific figures you’d like to see represented here?  Expand your view of the universe, and mine as well, by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: Attempts at Explaining What Is Funny Through the Cartoon “What Is Funny?”

Of course, another way to word this question could be, "Funny, what is?"

I’ve been turning this question over in my head…

Back in the late 1990s, Nickelodeon had a neat cartoon show called Oh Yeah! Cartoons that I loved to watch.  It was an ambitious project in which a large group of animation directors and other personalities, young and old, worked on a series of almost one hundred shorts featuring a wide variety of new characters (fifty-four characters all told; for some strange reason, I want to see all of these guys in a group shot on a T-shirt).  These shorts acted as what is known in the television industry as “backdoor pilots,” meaning that any shorts that got a particularly great reaction from Nick’s executives or the viewing audience (maybe even both if the short was really good) could be turned into a new cartoon series for Nick.  This was how we got such shows as The Fairly OddparentsChalkZone, and My Life As a Teenage Robot (the original short was called My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot; not much of a difference, I’d say).

All of these cartoons are quite memorable to me, but there is one particular short that stuck in my mind long after I first viewed it.  The short What Is Funny?, directed by Will Burnett and Vincent Waller, features a dog named Slap T. Pooch (Anyone wanna bet the T stands for “The?”) who is always asking the question posed in the short’s title while being caught in increasingly bizarre and presumably funny circumstances.  There’s all kinds of humor demonstrated in this cartoon, and in a neat way, it has made me think deeply about what I find funny and why certain things make me laugh.  I’ve wanted to talk about this kind of thing for a long time, and I feel that now is a good opportunity to do so.  The following are five observations I have made regarding What is Funny (Mind if I not use the question mark for the rest of this blog post?  Thanks, it saves me a lot of headache!), what I find funny about it, and why.

1. Funny is simple yet full of detail.

The premise of What is Funny is pretty bare-bones (pun unintended, all apologies to Slap the dog).  Slap wants to find out what funny is and is willing to go to any absurd length to get a good answer (and in just under seven minutes, no less!).  This premise probably sounds very mundane on paper, but that’s the beauty of it in my view.  A lot of cartoons have amazingly simplistic plots: Elmer Fudd, a hunter wants to blast Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to smithereens (I wefuse to type that as “smitherweeens,” bwast it!).  Wile E. Coyote wants to catch the Road Runner.  SpongeBob Squarepants just wants to work at his dream job and enjoy life in his off time. 

What makes these premises funny is that the way they are achieved is so gosh-darned strange.  Elmer has to deal with a Brookwyn-accented wabbit and a screwball duck who compwains of “pronoun trouble.”  (See what I did there?  I’ll stop now for sanity’s sake.)  The coyote, instead of using his own natural reflexes, relies almost entirely on mail-order products to get his fast-moving dinner (not that he ever gets it, mind you).  SpongeBob works as a fry cook, but he flips his patties in a colorful underwater cartoon fun-land, and the rest of his adventures are certainly not boring by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s the same with What is Funny.  Slap’s exploration of humor is bizarre and takes a lot of unexpected turns.  The question may be simple, but the details encountered in answering that question give this cartoon a strange life of its own that I find fun to explore.

2. Funny could be gross (especially if you’re on Nick in the ’90s.)

One of the first things in What is Funny that had me chuckling was Slap contorting his face into various unexpected shapes, some of which looked really strange (the bit where he had his lips wrapped around his whole head with just his teeth showing and he was singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a laugh riot for me).  This kind of sophmoric “gross-out” humor was quite common in Nickelodeon cartoons during the ’90s, so I wasn’t too surprised when I found it here as well.  Not to mention that Vincent Waller, the director and one of the co-creators of this short, was also a prominent member of the creative team behind Ren and Stimpy, the unofficial king of gross during Nick’s early days; go figure.  To viewers who prefer more sophisticated humor, such visual (and visceral!) material is likely excruciating to take in (or block out). 

Personally, I like this sort of stuff.  I grew up watching it a lot on Nick and Cartoon Network, of course,  but characters squirming and stretching around in bizarre bits of anatomical madness is something that just appeals to me on a base level.  It seems to me that it has always been a part of cartoon culture, too; Daffy Duck was moving his body in all sorts of weird ways from the first moment he “Woo-hoo”ed onto the silver screen, and his signature squirms in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery remain among some of my favorite cartoon visuals.  That traditon is alive and well in What is Funny, and you can still see it in plenty of cartoons today.  Good enough in my book!

3. Funny can be hazardous to one’s health (namely the cartoon star’s health), but it doesn’t seem to leave any lingering effects.

Daffy Duck gets his bill blown off numerous times during Rabbit Fire, but he just puts it back on and continues arguing with Bugs.  The dog in Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie suffers all sorts of physical calamities after the black cat crosses his path, but he recovers by the time the screen fades out then back in for the next gag.  In What is Funny, Slap is grabbed by an eagle and dropped into a wooden tub full of “deadly” stockbrokers (they do work with bulls and bears after all) and suckerfish, which apparently change into thumbtacks and squirrels on Slap’s command (only in a cartoon, I guess).  Even though Slap clearly has a pained expression on his face and says he doesn’t find these objects particularly humorous, the results did elicit laughter from me.

Of course, pain is no laughing matter in real life, so why does it draw guffaws in cartoon form?  I think it’s because the pain in cartoons is usually of the exaggerated kind.  Rarely does one suffer real pain in such obviously outlandish ways.  Besides, it doesn’t seem to affect cartoon characters very much; all that happens is the camera fades away and then comes back to find the characters have fully recovered with no apparent scarring.  There’s also a handful of instances where characters have literally shrugged off the results of their pain and stripped away all the bandages and boo-boos, returning to their usual healthy selves faster than one can say “fountain of youth.”  It seems to me that pain has no real consequences in the cartoon universe other than drawing laughter out of the huge vacuum between fictional injuries and real life.

4. Funny likes terrible puns.  ‘Nuff said.

Come on, what else could I possibly say about a bunch of talking gingerbread men calling themselves “tough cookies?”  That’s just clever right there.  Not since Mr. Peabody has there been such a perfect use of lousy wordplay to great humorous effect.  That’s not just funny, that’s funtastic.

5. Funny never has to explain itself.

Okay, I know this last point probably doesn’t make much sense given the title of this blog post, but there is an element of What is Funny that works in just this way.  Throughout the short, a farmer, a chicken, and a pig keep popping into frame and singing “What is funny?” over and over.  Why they are doing this is never really explained.  It’s just a strange funny thing that is endlessly repeated to the weirdest cartoon music I have ever heard (though it is sort of awesome to me that it sounds almost like the X-Files theme).  There is one thing about it that kind of makes sense in retrospect (the TV Tropes website refers to this type of retroactive realization as “Fridge Logic“; the more you know).  At some point between the second-to-last and final appearances of this strange “Greek chorus,” the pig is turned into bacon and package-wrapped, yet still has a recognizable face and is still singing.  It’s pretty senseless, but I still think it’s neat.

What do you think is funny?  If you watched the What is Funny cartoon yourself, what did you find funny about it and why?  Do you think Slap T. Pooch could have been successful in his own series?  Let me know in the comments, and keep on laughing!  (Oh yeah, one more thing…  Oh Yeah! Cartoons had one of the best theme songs I’ve ever heard.  I thought it was a bit strange that it was always played over the closing credits rather than at the show’s beginning, but it was still one of the most memorable parts of the show for me.  Give it a listen (as well as this longer version) and tell me if it made you go “Oh Yeah” or “Oh No.”)

Random Top Five: Shows That I Think Need to Be On the WWE Network

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaStarting on February 24 at 11:05 P.M., WWE (a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As World Wrestling Entertainment”) will begin broadcasting a new Internet-based television network.  The WWE Network looks promising to me, with a wealth of shows that I am genuinely excited about watching.  From the blow-by-blow account of the epic battles between WWE and WCW that constitute The Monday Night War  to the novelty of a group of wrestling legends living together in a luxurious home on Legends House and even the untold possibilities offered by the prospect of live Super Bowl-esque pre- and post-shows for Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown, the WWE Network will have a lot of great stuff to offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The WWE Network will also have a Netflix-like archive with over 100,000 hours of content, just in case there’s nothing on the main channel that looks good at the moment.  I like the idea of being able to go into wrestling’s past and digging up old shows and pay-per-views to pass the time with, and there are already some shows that I have made a mental note to definitely check out.  Still, there are some shows that I would really like to see that haven’t yet been announced.  My personal vision of what the Network could be has about as good a chance of coming to fruition as Gorgeous George’s ghost has of winning this year’s Royal Rumble.  I can still dream, though, so here’s my wish list of shows which I hope the Network might show one day, whether on the main channel or stored in the archive (but preferably the archive; I don’t have as much time these days to veg out on the couch, so the archive part of the Network is the one I’d probably count on the most for my entertainment).

5. Global Wrestling Federation

WWE recently put out a DVD in which they discussed the content they have in their tape library (which will be heavily drawn from in order to program the Network).  They then showed a graphic of the logos for all of the different wrestling companies and other sources of material in the archive.  At the bottom of that pile of logos were three peculiar initials: GWF.  I had heard of those initials before, but I couldn’t remember what they stood for, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found they belonged to a short-lived company called the Global Wrestling Federation.  As I read through the description, I couldn’t believe how awesomely weird  the GWF’s product sounded on paper.  Some of the storylines they presented sound incredible to me.  What would you say about a ”bungee” match in which the loser is attached to a bungee cord and “launched” all the way to the moon?  How about one of the show’s announcers getting amnesia and believing he’s Elvis Presley (I guess Jerry Lawler’s not the only “King” in wrestling!)?  They even had a storyline in which a psychiatrist evaluated the wrestlers’ mental health (not the kind of “wrestling psychology” I’m used to, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth)!  I sincerely hope some GWF content is included in the WWE Network’s archive so I can watch it at a time that’s convenient to me and see how well these strange storylines hold up today.  Those 2 A.M. ESPN Classic reruns just simply aren’t an option!

4. WWE Saturday Morning Slam

This show actually ended in 2013, but I think there could still be a place for it, or at least a show like it, on the WWE Network.  It was a half-hour show targeted at kids who watched the CW’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup (It shared space on the schedule with the Justice League, Spider-Man, and the Power Rangers; not too shabby!).  Wrestling moves aimed at the neck weren’t allowed to be shown on camera, so the in-ring action tended to skew more toward comedy routines, but that just made the show cooler to watch in my view.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see Santino Marella square off against Heath Slater in an air-guitar contest!  The show ran for only one season on the CW with no indication if it was ever coming back.  I’d like to see a second season with more sensational silliness.  It would definitely bring some of the fun back to wrestling, something I believe it sorely needs these days.

3. WWF(E) LiveWire

During the announcement of the WWE Network, it was stated that it would soon feature a live in-studio broadcast as part of its programming.  I’ve heard rumors that it might be similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter in that they would cover the events of WWE programming and possibly other sports and pop culture topics of the day (which sounds more like ESPN2′s SportsNation, but enough of my kibitzing).  Personally, I think WWE had a show like that already which would be a good example for the new show to follow.  It was called WWF LiveWire.  Back in the days when “the ‘E” still had an F as part of its initials, WWF LiveWire was a live studio show where viewers could make a phone call and talk to their favorite WWF wrestlers.  A show of this nature could be a good way to get viewers more invested in the network, and the myriad methods of communication available to most people today could lead to a wider variety of conversation pieces.  You could still have phone calls, but also e-mails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, Skype video chats, and all types of other ways to facilitate interaction.  A show like this could be the most well-connected show around.

2. WWF Wrestling Challenge 

A few years back, I was a loyal subscriber to WWE’s old video archive service on-line.  One of my favorite features of this archive was its collection of episodes of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Each episode was mainly comprised of “squash matches” in which the big boys of the WWF routinely beat various no-name wrestlers as well as a mixture of promotional interviews and recaps of current storylines.  For some strange reason, I found this show incredibly entertaining.  The wrestlers all had colorful personalities which grabbed my attention very quickly, and the witty banter between the show’s commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was even better than the matches themselves most of the time.  This was popcorn TV at its finest, and I regret to say that there isn’t really a show like this in WWE’s current TV output.  Sure, Main Event and Superstars come close in terms of format, but my overall opinion of these shows is that they are a little underwhelming.  If the WWE looked back on its rich, colorful history, particularly this show, and applied what worked back then to today’s product, I am sure the shows would be much more exciting.  It would certainly make the Network a lot more fun!

1. Tuesday Night Titans

Now here’s a real gem of a show that needs a reboot, stat!  Before Ted Turner founded Turner Network Television in 1988, this original TNT was blowing viewers’ minds in 1984 and ’85.  Vince McMahon made for a surprisingly witty Johnny Carson wannabe as he made light conversation with all of the movers and shakers in the wrestling world.  This show was full of memorable moments such as the Iron Shiek showing off his pet camel, Hulk Hogan getting his famous “24 inch pythons” (his arms folks, not actual snakes) measured by female wrestler Wendi Richter, and Rowdy Roddy Piper starring in a supremely corny rendition of the Christmas Carol story.  Tuesday Night Titans was the place where the WWF’s stars could unwind in between slugfests and have a grand old time.  I wonder if the talk show format could still work in 2014, in an age where the wrestlers’ personal lives are well-known and broadcast on all different forms of social media.  Maybe there’s some sides of them that have never been shown for whatever reason, and a show like TNT could help them to kickstart their careers in a bold new direction.  The WWE has a new network to fill with lots of original programming; I think a revival of TNT could fit in very nicely in the new program lineup.

The WWE Network will be starting up very soon, and I am looking forward to see what the future holds for it.  WWE has a TV lineage dating back almost a century, and in all that time, it has produced a lot of good television, so I have high hopes that the Network will be a great addition to that legacy.  

If you’re a wrestling fan, are you looking forward to the Network and would you consider subscribing to it?  If you’re still hesitant, is there anything WWE could do in terms of programming that might make you change your mind?  Let me know in the comments, and please give this thing a chance.  It could turn out to be something really special if we support it in the right way!