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Category: Backstage Pass


Review by C.J. Bunce

TV historian and Star Trek expert Marc Cushman has returned with his next volume in the history of the creators of Star Trek, the 1960s television series, the hardcover book These Are the Voyages: Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek in the 1970s, Volume 1 (1970-75).  At a massive 763 pages, Cushman uses his trademark style of sifting through every available source to collect details about Hollywood, executives, writers, actors, and everyone in between to provide a history of television via the extensive use of contemporary, primary source materials.  The book includes dozens of black and white photographs, screen shots, marketing images, and behind the scenes photographs.

Fans of Star Trek: The Animated Series and the tie-in novels that began with author James Blish should take note: Much of the book is about Star Trek: The Animated Series, the marketing of Star Trek by Roddenberry’s company Lincoln Enterprises, and several studio tie-ins during the 1970s, including the Gold Key comics, and Blish’s famous run of novels–all which kept Trek fans engaged for a decade without a live-action presence.  The rest is devoted to Roddenberry’s personal projects before and after The Animated Series.

Many themes are brought to light as Cushman tracks Roddenberry’s career and efforts to revive Star Trek after the 1960s series cancellation.  Roddenberry’s in-your-face nature with studio executives didn’t help him any, yet his persistence kept him in the business.  William Shatner was able to rely on his past success as an actor to easily move ahead with his career and lay the groundwork to become the icon he is known as today.  Leonard Nimoy benefited the most directly from Star Trek–he became a sex symbol, and moved from a music career to becoming co-star of the original Mission: Impossible.  He also didn’t miss a beat continuing his acting with major stage productions.  The rest of the cast was type-cast, having more difficulty finding work, especially Walter Koenig, who was even denied a voice-acting role on The Animated Series.  But The Animated Series would prove several things: Every member of the cast was ready to jump at the chance of returning to Star Trek despite their other projects.  Nimoy was at first hesitant, but when seeing the rest of the cast join up he seemed to not want to be left behind.  This included the writers for the original series–everyone asked to provide a script for The Animated Series wanted to return to the unique science fiction material–and did.

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If Classics Illustrated was ever your thing or you like peering into fantastical worlds, a new graphic novel series online will be worth checking out.  It’s not really about a fantasy setting as found in Black Panther or Flash Gordon or Tarzan or Conan, but it has the same appeal, the same visual cues, bold colors, and feel.  It’s Aztec Empire, by writer Paul Guinan (known for his time-bending mash-up Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel and his participation in the documentary 24 Hour Comic) and comic artist David Hahn.  It features an incredible culture from the past along with good storytelling that will keep you coming back for more.  And it’s timed right, as this spring is the 500th anniversary of the events featured in the introductory pages of the series.

As with the Eisner Award-winning writer-artist Eric Shanower’s look at ancient Greece in his Age of Bronze graphic novel series, Aztec Empire is a heavily researched time travel voyage back into the daily lives of a people in history, in this case the period before the fall of the Aztec peoples to the Spanish in 1521, only three years after the arrival of Europeans.  Guinan researched dozens of primary sources (including contemporary writings from the 1500s) as well as secondary historical sources, and the end of each episode of his series provides six pages of equally fascinating explanatory annotations to the historical record to support each panel.  Some of these feature photographs of the source materials used to derive the look of references like glyphs on walls, or embellishments on character clothing.  In many ways Aztec Empire is an attempt to update the writings of the past with the benefit of today’s resources and knowledge, but its sources are very much contemporary to the events chronicled.  Human barbarism to other humans is also not reserved for only one side of the story–here the atrocities of each side of the conquest come to the fore.

Guinan is not only the series writer, he provides layouts, coloring, and lettering.  “In telling this story, my main challenge is keeping it as authentic as possible,” says Guinan.  “All the persons and events depicted in Aztec Empire are based on the factual record, with some extrapolation as to specific character motivations, dialogue, costume details, etc.  I’m cross-referencing primary sources from different viewpoints, looking at Mesoamerican and European sources with an awareness of their cultural biases as well as my own.”  Hahn designed the look of the characters and provides the finished pencil work and inks.  The combined artwork shares a style in common with the animated style of Doug Wildey and something of P. Craig Russell’s work on his illustrated novels.

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Happy April!

Planet Comicon Kansas City wrapped its 2019 convention yesterday, another great show this time highlighting the event’s 20th anniversary.  We snapped several photographs of sights we’re sharing today as we wind down our coverage of this year’s show.


I snapped some photographs of a family in front of this great fire-breathing dragon.  Whenever I see a person taking photos of their family I offer to step in so everyone can be included.  How many people have photos of everyone in them except their mom?  This was another success.

We also caught up with several authors at the show, including…

… our pal Jason Arnett, writing and signing his books Evolver and A Map of the Problem.

And we met up with Geoff Habiger and Coy Kissee, enjoying their second year at the event, highlighting their books Wrath of the Fury Blade and Unremarkable.

As usual, there were lots of cosplayers at the show, especially compared to the first years of the show back in the 1990s when cosplay was a rarity.


Hard to beat this great Darkwing Duck.


This was a fantastic, fully lit-up Ghost Rider.

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As expected Saturday at Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019 meant a great turnout for the annual convention, with tens of thousands of fans from the Midwest converging on the Kansas City Convention Center after a day of rain and morning of surprise March snowfall to meet their favorite celebrity and creator guests from years past and today.  Each year the event gets bigger, and for the show’s 20th anniversary that also meant better, with a host of comic book creators whose names any comic book reader of the past 50 years should recognize.


Creator of dozens of characters including Rogue, Mystique, Phoenix, Emma Frost, Legion, Gambit, and Captain Britain, and whose books include a long run on Uncanny X-Men, including the popular story arcs The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, adapted into X-Men: Days of Future Past, multiple X-Men movies, and this summer’s coming film Dark Phoenix, writer Chris Claremont was on-hand signing his books for fans.


Artist Denys Cowan studied under the late comics legend Rich Buckler (a previous Planet Comicon guest) and went on himself to become one of the biggest names in comics, drawing issues of several great series from both DC Comics and Marvel Comics including runs on three of my favorites from the 1980s, Green Arrow, Batman, and The Question.  He was signing books and selling prints of some of his best-known work.


Jim Starlin is a well-known writer/artist and creator of Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, the Master of Kung Fu, and his classic books include Batman: The Cult, Batman: A Death in the Family, and Cosmic Odyssey. This weekend he signed autographs for a long line of fans.


Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez began in comics illustrating books for Charlton Comics and then became one of the longest running names associated with DC Comics, where he drew major issues of Superman, Action Comics, The Brave and the Bold, Detective Comics, and later, the pop culture favorite Atari Force.  He signed comics and had prints of his work on hand for his fans.


Most of us knew him from the single word that graced many of his unique and futuristic comic book covers–Steranko.  Pretty much nobody has been making comics longer.  Here Jim Steranko chats with a fan at his booth in Artists’ Alley.  More recently he’s known for his nostalgic recollections he shares with fans in his many near book-length tweets on Twitter.

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Lines for Friday guests started early on the opening day of Planet Comicon Kansas City 2019.  Today is expected to be the biggest day of this year’s show, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  The event is open today and tomorrow at the Kansas City Convention Center.  A big plus for the tens of thousands of parkers today: no NCAA Final Four game is scheduled today, so parking east of the convention center should be freed up for the convention’s annual biggest attended day.

In part because of the 20th anniversary, and because of the great slate of celebrity and creator guests this year, Comicon Friday by all counts seemed to be better attended than a typical Friday at a pop culture convention.  That didn’t stop us from tracking down some actors from TV and film.

Like Henry Winkler, visiting Kansas City this weekend with his lovely wife of 41 years, Stacey.  Winkler, who became a household name in the 1970s and 1980s as Fonzie on Happy Days and as co-star of Night Shift (followed by more than a hundred starring and guest-starring roles in TV and film since), never sat down, graciously greeting everyone who stood in line to meet him, he chatted with adoring fans, signing autographs, and posing with fans for photographs.

John Wesley Shipp became a familiar face in the 1980s on Guiding Light, and then became the star of the first modern superhero TV series in 1990, portraying Barry Allen on The Flash.  He went on to star and co-star on several series over the past 30 years and has a legion of fans on social media.  Most recently fans of the superhero genre saw him portray not only the father of Barry Allen on the CW’s The Flash, Shipp also returned as the Flash that he portrayed in 1990 in the new series last season–fulfilling the dream of those who loved the original show.

We enjoyed talking about his favorite character as a kid (he wanted to be Luke), the weight of a crossbow, and what it felt like to be one of the most beloved characters in the history of film with Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, who played Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.  No matter how tall you think Chewbacca is, in person, he’s much, much taller.

This weekend visitors also can meet, from film and TV, William Shatner, Lori Petty, Cary Elwes, Dean Cain, Linda Blair, Jennifer Morrison, Daniella Panabaker, Mark Pellegrino, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Bonnie Wright, and James and Oliver Phelps. Check out the entire line-up of celebrity guests and great creator guests like Chris Claremont, Jim Steranko, Jim Starlin, Denys Cowan, Kevin Eastman, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Keith Giffen, Bob McLeod, at the PCKC website here.

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In the summer of 1979, Ridley Scott revealed the next evolution in science fiction and horror with his landmark creation Alien Thanks to Star Wars art director Roger Christian, audiences saw the first lived-in look into our future, a sci-fi world that felt more realistic than nearly any sci-fi movie before it (space fantasy Star Wars excluded).  Dismissing the brand new, antiseptic look of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was Christian’s realism and H.R. Giger‘s creepy creations that made the scares of Alien that much more jolting.  Arriving for the 40th anniversary of Alien, go-to behind-the-scenes movie book writer J.W. Rinzler is back after last year’s The Making of the Planet of the Apes (reviewed here at borg), with his next book, The Making of Alien.

Emerging first from the mind of writer Dan O’Bannon, Alien would become one of the most memorable sci-fi/horror thrillers of all time.  The film brought us Academy Award-winning concept art, new alien monsters, gore, ships, and other spectacular effects thanks to Giger, Carlo Rambaldi, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, and Dennis Ayling, and groundbreaking set work by Christian, Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, and Ian Whittaker.  Including new interviews with Ridley Scott and other key staff from the original production crew and featuring many never-before-seen photographs and artworks from the Fox archives, The Making of Alien promises to be the definitive work on this masterpiece of sci-fi/horror.

Above and following are some preview pages from The Making of Alien Pre-order The Making of Alien now here at Amazon, and come back this summer for our review here at borg:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We have a review of the first of three tie-in books to the new Robert Rodriguez film Alita: Battle Angel coming your way.  Alita: Battle Angel should appeal to any fan of cyborgs–the story as envisioned by James Cameron was a pet project of the director for several years, one he’d picked up from Guillermo del Toro.  When Cameron decided to pursue management of his several Avatar sequels directly and finally handed over the project to Rodriguez he did so with more than 600 pages of notes he’d prepared.  The film is an adaptation of the manga Battle Angel: Alita by Yukito Kishiro, a story about self-discovery and empowerment via a centuries-old human brain that finds its way into the cybernetic body of a young girl.  A part-time doctor, part-time bounty hunter, Doctor Ido, played in the film by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, takes center stage in Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal, the new release by writer Nick Aires for Titan Books.

After losing his human daughter’s struggle to live, the Dr. Frankenstein-inspired Dr. Ido finds the “core” of a cyborg in a scrapyard with a surviving, living human brain.  He uses the prosthetics and futuristic body parts he’d designed for his daughter to rebuild a new girl, quasi-Pinocchio style, naming her Alita after his daughter.  The sci-fi story follows Alita as she tries to learn about her past and survive in a dystopian world that mixes inspirations from John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Neill Blomkamp, and George Miller.  The visions of each of these directors’ best futuristic films comes through in Doctor Ido’s Journal, an in-universe document which reprints concept art, sketches, and photographs from the film, combining them with a diary entry narrative written by Aires in the place of Dr. Ido.  Doctor Ido’s Journal will be familiar to fans of Aires’ past in-universe books, including Oliver Queen’s Dossier, S.T.A.R. Labs: Cisco Ramon’s Journal, and Arrow: Heroes and Villains and works by others reviewed here, including Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report, The Book of Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, and the Batman v Superman Tech ManualFans will first find a cleverly designed flex-cover that mimics metal (a great design effect that would make for an attractive blank journal), followed by pages of dense notebook entries that track the action of the film, all from Dr. Ido’s perspective.

The artwork is exceptional, vivid engineering-level drawings like those found in Mark Salisbury’s Elysium: The Art of the Film, reviewed here at borg, and the combination of horror and beauty found in production artists Dan Hallett and Matt Hatton’s elaborate designs in Alien: Covenant: David’s Drawings, reviewed here (it’s worth noting the Weta Digital created much of the designs for both Alita: Battle Angel and Elysium, and the similarly realized scrap-metal worlds of Blomkamp’s District 9 and CHAPPIE).  At times the gear-heavy animatronics inside the cyborgs echo the real-world 19th century automaton past of these creations, making these modern borgs into something that feels almost steampunk.

Here are some preview pages from Alita: Battle Angel–Doctor Ido’s Journal courtesy of the publisher:

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Captain Kirk, The Fonz, Chewbacca, The Flash, Starbuck, the Weasleys, two Supermans, Tank Girl, and a slate of characters from The Princess Bride are heading to Kansas City

For twenty years Planet Comicon has been one of the Midwest’s biggest comic book and pop culture conventions and that was no less so in 2014 when it became the largest attended event in the history of the Kansas City Convention Center.  And it’s only gotten bigger.  Last year’s show featured guests including Jason Momoa, John Cusack, Michael Rooker, Danny Trejo, and Alan Tudyk, and this year Planet Comicon Kansas City is bringing in some of the most memorable names from TV and movies from the past and present for its 20th anniversary show.  Leading things off, Captain (and Admiral) James T. Kirk, William Shatner is returning to Kansas City for the annual event, which takes place at Kansas City’s convention center at Bartle Hall, March 29-31, 2019.

The guy who invented cool, the first person to “jump the shark,” Arthur Fonzarelli “The Fonz” from Happy Days actor Henry Winkler is making his first comic-con appearance in Kansas City.  Star of last year’s big Star Wars event, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo is scheduled to attend.  Star of one of the best sci-fi TV series of all time–the reboot of Battlestar Galactica–Starbuck actor Katee Sackhoff will be appearing at the show.  Two co-stars of the CW’s The Flash will be on-hand for autographs and photographs: Danielle Panabaker and the original 1990 Flash, John Wesley Shipp, both attending the event for the first time.  And for more of your superhero retro fix, two Superman actors, Lois & Clark’s Dean Cain and Smallville star Tom Welling, will have autograph booths on the convention floor.

Famous for her role as Tank Girl, and star of A League of Their Own and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, actor/director Lori Petty will be in the house.  Harry Potter fans can meet actors that portrayed three of their favorite Weasleys: Ginny Weasley’s Bonnie Wright, and brothers Fred and George, James Phelps and Oliver Phelps.  Also in the fantasy movie realm, three stars of The Princess Bride are making their way to Planet Comicon 2019:  Westley’s Cary Elwes will join Prince Humperdinck’s Chris Sarandon and the inconceivable Vizzini himself, actor Wallace Shawn.

–there’s something for every TV and movie fanboy and fangirl at this year’s show.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You’re first thoughts of Orson Welles probably reflect him addressing a crowd as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (long hailed as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film of all time), or from his astonishing use of radio in his live performance adapting H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  Beyond that, he’s well known as the ultimate Renaissance man and artiste of the 20th century, as a screenwriter, playwright, director, producer, and actor.  As unearthed in a new hardcover exhibition of artwork released by his estate, Orson Welles’ artistry didn’t end with the visions he left on film.  Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate, compiled by Simon Braund, shows Welles as a professional, hands-on, art designer by any definition, integral to the detailed look of his many plays and films.  His work demonstrates an early understanding of set design and storyboarding, and a career-spanning prowess for illustrating costume designs rendered as deftly as the best Hollywood costumer designers.

Now eighty years after his famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, Welles’ fans and a new generation of film enthusiasts can learn more about the mind of the man through 300 images.  Through interviews and reprints of an extensive library of everything from a stunning, museum worthy rendering of Don Quixote to mere scribbles that come to life, evincing an artist well ahead of his time.  His youngest daughter, Beatrice, tells of her relationship with her father, and discusses a vast collection of original personalized Christmas cards featuring Santa Claus, a favorite, recurring creative pursuit for a man who might be the most talked about auteur of his day.  And his caricatures show his hand and eye could convey a complex feeling with only a few strokes.

Orson Welles Portfolio arrives in advance of a new documentary on the subject, The Eyes of Orson Welles, an Irish production slated to open in limited release in the U.S. today, but not currently listed in theaters or via streaming platforms outside the UK.  I’ve included the trailer for the documentary below.  The film uses many of the same pieces of artwork from the book and searches for meaning and understanding through the efforts of filmmaker Mark Cousins.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A giant new photographic essay of the space program reads like a behind the scenes account of the greatest production ever attempted.  And it might be just that.  Space Utopia: A Journey Through the History of Space Exploration from the Apollo and Sputnik Programmes to the Next Mission to Mars is the result of a decade of collaboration between photographer Vincent Fournier and the world’s most important space and research centers.  Fournier worked with researchers at NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Space agency, the European Southern Observatory, and other locations to identify those intriguing parts of earthbound facilities, historical locations, and physical objects that have gone to space and back, seen through an artist’s eye.  From space suits and environmental suits to spaceships, satellites, Soyuz trainers, ballistic missiles, and rovers, to training facilities and environments, to experimental items used on the International Space Station and flown to the moon, Space Utopia is a one-of-a-kind look at the history of the space program in pictures.

Through his photographs Fournier is attempting to explore humankind’s myths and fantasies about the future.  According to Fournier, “My aesthetic, philosophical and recreational fascination for the space adventure undoubtedly comes from the pictures and books I saw and read in the 1970s and ’80s —  movies, television series, science fiction novels, documentaries and news reports — that have mixed and superimposed in my memory like a palimpsest…. Space explorations emblematic locations are like cinema sets where Tintin might meet with Jules Verne in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”

THE SPACE PROJECT – Fournier’s Space Shuttle Discovery Nose Landing Gear, J.F.K. Space Center [NASA], Florida, U.S.A., 2011 (from theravestijngallery.com)

Has the future already happened or does something more lie ahead?  Some images are stunning and colorful in their brilliance–high-tech concepts at their finest.  Others are stark and haunting, like posed space suits from Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom.  Space shuttles frozen in their retirement like the dismantled Discovery and immovable Independence, and the Atlantis standing majestically poised for its final flight all appear as ghostly, solemn relics, while the futuristic sound chambers. the dexterous robotic humanoid Robonaut 2, and Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America evoke an optimistic future ahead.
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