Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Silver Screen Scores (or Curses! Foiled Again!)

As I've been writing this blog, it occurs to me that more than anything I'm using these anecdotes and essays to describe what makes me, as a person, tick. 

I've talked about my various fandoms, the fact that I love video games, and that science-fiction/fantasy runs through my veins. But, if I were to point at a single thing that shapes who I am as a person, it is music. It has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. We listened to various types of music in the house while I was growing up, mainly classic rock and soft rock, but interspersed with more eclectic selections at times. While it did form the basis of my taste in music as I got older, as I was more and more involved in music in school, the more my interests expanded to more choral and instrumental styles of music. By the time I made it through high school, I was listening as much to classical music as I was popular music, with a bit of new age instrumental for good measure.

There is one genre of music that, while I had enjoyed for a very long time, I didn't really start to concentrate on until I got into college: movie soundtracks, scores specifically.

From Star Wars to Star Trek to The Last Starfighter to Tron, while the spectacle and awesomeness of the action and special effects brought the people into the theater seats, the musical scores for these movies help the viewers' brains interpret the emotion of the scene on the screen. And, while I was very aware of what I was listening to as I watched these and other movies, it wasn't something that I necessarily listened to outside of the context of that movie, with the exception of pieces that made it into the popular stream, like the Star Wars opening fanfare, or the theme from Jaws.

Fast-forward to freshman year of college. One of the activities that I was involved with was the college radio station. Once I got my FCC license, I was given an over-night DJ shift. The fact that I was the only person in the station for most of this time gave me a lot of opportunity to check out the library of music that the radio station owned. Among the classic rock and alternative music was a small collection of movie scores. Between times on the mic announcing the next song, I listened to these albums, and I realized what I had been missing all this time: the ability to watch a movie again, in my mind, as I listened to the score. Not long after that, I began to collect recording of these movie scores. At first, just the movies that I truly loved, like the Star Wars trilogy and the Star Trek movies. But soon I branched out into other movies and genres, and discovered a number of composers that have since become some of my absolute favorites.

John Williams has been, and will likely be for some time, the ruler by which movie composers are measured, and for good reason. His catalog is absolutely massive, with each and every one a mini masterpiece in its own right. Even his lesser-known scores are a joy to behold. And while you could fill your library with his work and have a truly eclectic collection, there's so much more out there. Here are some of my all-time favorites:

The Last Starfighter - The movie is known primarily for two things: it was the first movie to use CGI instead of traditional models and miniatures for its space battles, and it was the last movie that the great actor Robert Preston worked on. But, as important as those are, its score is a great listen. Craig Safan composed a rousing march-inspired score, with a memorable theme. It gives a great sense of weight to a movie that is often dismissed due to the lack-luster box office performance.

Battle Beyond the Stars - This cult-classic movie was released in the wake of the success of Star Wars, and was the first major film project for a young James Horner. The notoriety he gained from this project propelled his career, leading to scoring Star Trek movies, Braveheart, Titanic, and numerous other blockbuster hits. Roger Corman liked it so much that he reused the score for two additional movies. This score definitely shouldn't be missed.

Lost in Space - Not to be confused with the techno/house soundtrack also released. When discussing movie scores, I often refer to this film when I want to emphasize the importance of a good score. The movie, which attempted to reboot the classic television series (which a young Johnny Williams scored) was a massive failure on many levels. But composer Bruce Broughton elevates the movie to watchable status with his amazing score. Personally, I think Broughton believed that he was scoring a much better film when writing it, because it deserved much better than it got.

These composers, and others such as Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer, and Danny Elfman, have all influenced my musical tastes and my own composing style.

I wonder who I would choose to score Furble...

Strip 99/166 - Jenga gone very wrong

I gave myself a chance to do some more practice with drawing 3-D shapes. Not too bad. 

I wish I would have removed the divider between the third and fourth panes here, so the "CRASH!" was less obstructed. It still works, I think.

Strip 100/166 - Those rentals will get you every time

I do find it amusing that I decided to make his predilection to save a buck by renting everything his true nemesis, not necessarily Furble, who hardly ever interacts with him, giving the Admiral no true reason to be angry with him.

Strip 101/166 - There's always a rule

Once again, Furble and FC slip through the Admiral's hands/tentacles/protuberances. And, while the Admiral has been denied his quarry, our favorite duo is probably not out of trouble just yet.

Strip 102/166 - When I say don't touch anything...

Off they go, ready to face whatever may come as they careen through space and time on new adventures. TV box time machines can be fickle.

Put on a good soundtrack, kick back for the long weekend ahead, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Food, Glorious Food (or The One With the Missing Strip)

Nostalgia. Ostensibly, it's what this blog is all about. The sense of longing for the past, thinking about the good memories that make you say "I remember back in my day..." (although I don't think I'm quite to that point, yet). There are many things that can produce a sense of nostalgia, whether it's an old television program, a song, a photograph, or even a smell. In fact, smell is one the most powerful triggers of memories. It's so prevalent, that there are actually a number of different words and phrases that refer to it, such as odor memory, olfactory memory, and redolent.

As I'm thinking back on growing up, the scents that trigger memories are most often associated with food, or at least food preparation. 

In the summer, while we lived on the family farm, there were a number of gardens on the property. Grandpa planted everything, from potatoes to strawberries to cucumbers. Whatever wasn't eaten fresh (which was quite a lot, to be honest) was either frozen or canned. The canning process produced many scent memories for me. The vinegar used to pickle the cucumbers to the heating of the filled jars to produce the required seal filled the summer kitchen with familiar smells every year. To this day, the smell of dill sends me back to those times, with my grandma and mom working in the hot kitchen to ensure that nothing from the garden went to waste.

When you're feeding a family, you have to make the dollars stretch, and while using veg from the garden certainly helped, not everything could be grown. You need to get your meat from somewhere. Ground beef was a staple, certainly, but an even more notable smell reminds me of those days: Spam. Before it was associated with unwanted email, it was a common main course at the dinner table. Smelling almost like ham, but not quite, it was actually quite good, if a bit on the salty side. Mixed with mayonnaise, it made a great cold salad spread for bread. Even today, there's still a part of me that craves that World War II-era product.

In the interest of stretching food to feed a family, mom would mix the ground beef with bread to make a Danish dish called frikadeller. It was about this time that mom started cooking with the microwave. The appliance had been around for some time, but had recently become more affordable. And the convenience of putting a dish in and cooking it with little or no attention required was certainly a boon to busy people needing to multi-task. While I always craved the smell and taste of a 100% beef patty, frikadeller fed us quite well growing up.

There are so many other smells that trigger sense memories today. The smell of frozen cardboard triggers the memory of the office of one of the hog farms we grew up on. The smell of lilacs tiggers memories of the family farm and the lilac tree that grew there. But food smells are definitely the most powerful. And they are something that I will hold on to for the rest of my life.

Strip 95/166 - Guess who's baaaaack?

Is the whole "complicated dialog simplified for the simpleton" getting old? Obviously I didn't think so, since I kept coming back to it so often.

Speaking of coming back to things, our favorite Admiral is back once again to harass our heroes. In the first frame, I was going for a "opening of Star Wars"-type, ship passing overhead towards the planet-type shot, but the aspect of the ship overhead turned out a bit wonky. But it's always good to try new things.

Strip 96/166 - Something, something, something, better fool.

Speaking of coming back to things... I think I had a tendency to rely on call-backs a bit too much. They can be a fun trope, but they do rely on the reader to have something of a familiarity with the history of the strips to really pay off. Otherwise, they just don't land right.

Strip 97/166 - Caption missing

In the history of the strip, there are two missing comics. One was never published, as we'll get to that soon. But this one was actually published. 


When I started the strip, we were keeping each edition of the Kiester Courier-Sentinel as they came out each week, for the sole reason of keeping a copy of each published comic. Over time, these papers started taking more and more room in the closet in which they were being kept, and at some point we made the decision to just cut the comics out of the papers (with the exception of a few other items, like the small article blurb in the first issue) and discard the rest. Unfortunately, during the course of this process, we realized that we had missed an issue. I don't know if it was too late to get a back issue of the paper, or if we just didn't think of trying that, but we just came to terms with the fact that there was going to be a missing strip.

So, there it is. The basic gist of the missing strip is as follows: the Admiral comes upon a hill, with Furble, FC, and their new friends located on the other side. He comes up with the Wile E. Coyote-esque plan of rolling a boulder down the hill to squash them. As the boulder hits the top of the hill, it instead rolls back down and squishes the Admiral. Hilarity ensues. End scene.

Maybe someday I will redraw it.

Strip 98/166 - Just call me Sisyphus

Maybe it's time for another plan. This one seems to be letting the Admiral down.

You know what never lets you down? Food. And nostalgia. See you next week!

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Dad Controls the Remote (or New Character Fun)


Today, we have a seemly unlimited supply of options when it comes to watching stuff on TV. Hundreds of cable/satellite channels, more streaming services than your pocketbook can keep up with, and pretty much every movie ever made available on some sort of digital platform. Not to mention the petabytes of content being produced every minute on YouTube. If you can't find something to watch, you're not trying.

Growing up, there were a grand total of 4 stations for those of us living in the country to choose from. If it wasn't on the local ABC, CBS, NBC, or PBS affiliate, you weren't watching it. If you were close to a major metropolitan area, you could probably get some of the unaffiliated stations. In the country, you may or may not get all of the stations in your current location, at least not without hoisting an external TV antenna aloft above the house. We got ABC, CBS, and PBS, and on a good day we sort of got NBC. Given the limited network choices, this obviously limited the viewing choices on any given night. And, as long as dad was at home, those choices were often dictated by him.

Don't get me wrong; with few exceptions we all enjoyed, at various levels, the televisions shows that we watched as a family. There were similarities in tastes in entertainment that were common among all members of the family. But, given a choice, my dad would choose a cop show or military drama over a science fiction or fantasy show, where I and my mom's interests tended to drift.

Some programs of choice, from my (albeit sometimes faulty memory) were the likes of T. J. Hooker (William Shatner trying to move on from Kirk), The A-Team, Mission: Impossible, Dallas, CHiPs, The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, and Hogan's Heroes, with some comedy from the likes of Newhart, Mork & Mindy and The Love Boat as examples. Some were first-run at the time, others were syndicated reruns of older shows. These shows are integral in making up large parts of my personal taste in televised entertainment today.

For the record, when I say "Dad Controls the Remote", we didn't have a television with a remote until later in the 80s. So, my brother and I were the "remotes".

When my dad was working nights for a while, my mom and I (and my brother) got the run of the television for the night. While we did gravitate towards many of the same shows that we watched with dad, we also had the chance to change things up, and watch some of the more fantastical programming of the day. Shows like The Powers of Matthew Star, V, Starman, and Max Headroom, while they didn't often last longer than a season or two, did provide enjoyment and escape.

Of course, after-dark during the summer was my time to control the TV, and on Friday nights, it was invariably tuned to PBS for Friday night science fiction, which consisted of British imports like Red Dwarf, Blake's 7, and probably my personal favorite science fiction show of all time, Doctor Who.

Now, most of these shows are readily available on streaming platforms, for purchase, or running on any number of channels dedicated to syndicated classic programming. And I can relive my childhood memories in front of the television anytime I want.

Strip 91/166 - New characters on the scene

I really liked introducing new characters into the strip whenever I could. It always gives the comic a breath of fresh air. Of course, per my level of drawing aptitude, the designs were simple. Round dudes with arms gave me something to work with while making them easy to create.

Strip 92/166 - You need to be specific with these guys

Joke as old as time. Where am I? Right here. Duh. Be specific next time.

Strip 93/166 - If you don't get this gag, congratulations! You're not old.

This strip actually contains call-outs to two different pieces of entertainment from my youth. The second panel is actually a reference to a line from The Last Starfighter ("Welcome to Rylos, my boy!"). The rest of the strip is a shameless rip from the 80s comedy Newhart. For the uninitiated, three of the characters were brothers. The first brother would introduce them all using the same dialog I used in the strip as a running gag throughout the series, hence Furble's concern about breaking copyright laws. Yeah, I wouldn't worry too much about that.

Strip 94/166 - What are you, psychic or something?

This gag comes from the likes of the classic spy comedy Get Smart. Something else that I greatly enjoyed in reruns, as the series was off the air before I was even born. I do like how these different influences made their way into my strips. It's like a mini time capsule of memories about the television that shaped my brain. Maybe a little scary at times, but I consider myself well-rounded.

Keep changing those channels, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Roughing It (or Adventures Through Space and Time)

Tents, camp stoves, canned food, grilled meats, and lots of hiking. Camping is a favorite pastime for many families, and ours was no exception. At least one weekend per month during the summer months saw us packing off to one of the area state parks to enjoy a few days communing with nature. And, as much as I probably would have issues with camping today, I really did enjoy the relative peace and quiet whenever we were out there. 

Really, the only camping experience that I truly did not enjoy was the one and only time I went camping during my short-lived time as a Boy Scout, which just turned out to be another place outside of school to be bullied. But, that's a story for another blog...

One of my most cherished camping memories was during an extended family vacation up north at Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota. The headwaters of the Mississippi River are pretty cool in their own right, and the area up there is absolutely stunning. But what made it truly memorable was something that happened away from the park camp grounds.

We were on a supply run to the local Pamida in Bemidji. Outside of the store, someone had a box of the more adorable kittens you have ever seen. We spent a few minutes petting a cuddling them, knowing that we were 8 hours away from home, and adopting a cat at this point would have been difficult, at best. We went in, did our shopping, and started to leave. But, the allure of the cute furballs in the box outside was just too great. So, here we are, taking an adorable male kitten back with us to the campground.

Johnny, as he was dubbed by the family, was the best boy. He had fun running around in our enclosed screen tent. Even chased a small chipmunk who had the misfortune to find himself inside the tent, which was impressive, because as a just-weaned kitten Johnny wasn't much bigger that the little rodent. After he had played himself out, he curled up next to the kerosene lamp on the picnic table and took the cutest nap you've ever seen. Johnny would grow up to be a big boy, and would spend time with me as my first cat when I was able to have pets in my apartment.

Our last major family camping adventure was at Yellowstone National Park. After a two-day trip, we managed to get to the park after the main gates closed. Instead of turning around and finding a hotel in one of the local towns around the park, we decided to sleep in our cars and wait for the gates to open the next morning (along with a surprising number of other late-comers).

Once we made it into the park, we had an amazing experience. When you experience one of these national parks in person, you realize why they were set aside for preservation. The waterfalls, the geysers, the hot springs, each one is more stunning than the next. The previous year had seen a major forest fire in the park, and driving through the areas affected by the natural disaster was an entirely different type of awe-inspiring experience. Acres of burnt tree trunks where once was lush forest, but even then you could see new undergrowth pushing up from the ground. Nature renewing itself.

Of course, this particular trip was also the site of one of my biggest camping faux pas. Given the danger of bears in the park, we were told to keep all food stowed in vehicles to prevent the smell from attracting any of the ursine forest dwellers. So, we stowed all of the food in my car, and locked the doors. The next morning, with breakfast on the agenda, I went to unlock the car and retrieve the food. After a brief but frantic search, we realized that I had not only locked the food in the car, but my keys as well. Breakfast we delayed as we requested the assistance of a park ranger in opening the locked car. And Marcus didn't live it down for the remainder of the trip.

While camping isn't really an option for me any longer due to reasons, I still enjoy nature when I can. I think that "roughing it" (in a relative sense) really helped me to gain a level of respect for nature and our place within it.

Strip 87/166 - Oh, Furble, you kooky alien.

We've made it past the halfway point of Furble's run in the paper. While I was borrowing heavily from other franchises for story concepts, I'm still amazed that I was sticking with it, especially since I have such a hard time as an adult focusing on a single task long enough to complete it.

Strip 88/166 - Maybe try that again

Having access to a TV box that can travel in time and space should make it easy to travel anywhere you want, even lightyears back home. But, like the TARDIS, this particular TV box seems to have a mind of its own. Or maybe Furble simply doesn't know what he's doing.

Strip 89/166 - Perhaps Furble should revisit "foolproof"

Make something foolproof, and life will make a better fool. That's the takeaway.

Strip 90/166 - You are "here"

With Furble and FC finding themselves in the middle of nowhere, perhaps they should simply pitch a tent and make an adventure of it.

See you all next week!

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Pets (or Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Apparently, the Internet is good for two things. One, well, I won't discuss that here. But the other thing is cat videos. And I really cannot argue the point. There are few things that calm me more than watching a video of a cute kitten doing cute kitten things. In fact, you could show me nothing but cat videos for hours on end, and I'd be perfectly content with my lot in life.

Needless to say, I'm a fan of cats. I'm a fan of pets in general, cats specifically. We always seemed to have some sort of pet while growing up. Whether it was the various cats that would find their way to the farm, or animals that we would adopt, there was always something. We tried hamsters for a while, but it turns out that they are actually quite a lot of work to take care of properly, so that didn't last long. We had fish for a while, as well. Unfortunately, that ended when the fish tank didn't survive the U-Haul move from Minnesota to Nebraska my senior year.

We had a few different dogs while growing up. The first one I remember was a huge Doberman Pinscher who was less of a pet and more of a guard dog for the hog farm we lived on at the time. My brother and I had a pair of Australian Shepards for a while. I had a Cocker Spaniel who, while a sweet and wonderful pet, was not the most intelligent of dogs. My brother had a Rat Terrier who was super smart (per breed).

There were only a couple of occasions growing up where we actually had cats that were proper in-the-house pets. Most of the time, as I said, they were cats that decided to take up residence at the farm. Of course, we fed them, and actually built a little house for them, but they were firmly outside cats. I don't know why, but I became a cat person. When I was finally able to get a pet of my own after college, it was always going to be a cat, no question in my mind (and Johnny was the best boy). Even today, my wife and I are decidedly cat people.

There's a human need to love something, and have that love returned. Pets are the perfect vessels for that purpose. And not just cats and dogs. I've known people with ferrets, rabbits, rats, even knew someone who owned a chameleon. All loving their owners, unconditionally, in their varied ways.

Pets may not be for everyone, but I think that everyone should at least investigate the possibility.

Strip 83/166 - Spike, the living asterisk

Furble's nemesis, the Admiral, has brought his own pet to the show. Named Spike, he bears an uncanny resemblance to an asterisk, that little star character that exists about the "8" on your keyboard. When I decided to introduce the little guy in the strip, I considered many options for drawing some sort of small creature. I've already discussed my illustration prowess (or lack there of) on numerous occasions, so no need to elaborate, other than to say I figured it would be best to come up with something that I could easily recreate. Implementing the concept of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I chose a simple star-like creature. Four intersecting lines that could be bent around as needed. I think it came off pretty well, given the design aesthetic of the rest of the strip.

Strip 84/166 - The blame game

Furble and FC play the blame game while sining the jailhouse blues. I assume that Spike managed to shut the cell door somehow.

Strip 85/166 - Deus ex whistle

Furble is supposed to be blowing into something similar to a dog whistle to summon the "time machine", which is why all you can hear is the "FFFFFF!" of him blowing into it. It may not have come off exactly like that in the end product.

Strip 86/166 - Punishment protection

PSA: don't punish your pets by hitting them. Only evil Admirals do that.

Hug your pets extra tight (unless they are fish, that could have adverse effects), and see you next week!