Friday, May 30, 2014

Video Blog

Just put out my first attempt at a video blog where I discuss all my thoughts about nerdy things I enjoy in film, television, comics and music.  Hope you like it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Right Team Wins on Kickstarter

“They’ve got the guns but we’ve got the numbers.” 

That refain, screamed Jim Morrison on the song “Five to One” by the Doors, to me, it is a battle cry for the inherent power of true society to win out against all forms of dogma and cultural imperialism. Back when this song was written in the late sixties Morrison could have been referring to any number of shifting opinions but today the lyrics could easily refer to the evolving state of media.  

It does not require a long memory to recall the last time a popular television show was cancelled for reasons that had nothing to do with quality and were beyond the control of its fanbase.  Whether it was hindered by a bad time slot, poor promotion or was simply on the wrong network the story of a good show failing for the wrong reasons is as old as pop culture itself. As I type this in 2014 that story is changing, and it brings me to the subject of this piece, that is; during the past month the power of numbers prevailed and fans helped give new life to the cancelled Spike TV Original Series: Blue Mountain State.

During its three-season run on Spike TV, Blue Mountain State brought a hilarity and a touch of surrealism to the timeless story of college football players drinking, getting laid and not going to class. The comedy featured an excellent cast and garnered a small but loyal following based on the merits of its smart writing, inspired storytelling and balls-to-the-walls debauchery.  Although BMS was not a critical darling like some other recently revived shows, as the New York Times and Variety can corroborate, it was cancelled despite having a loyal audience with an unfortunate preference for streaming the show on Netflix.

While the show experienced significant gains in ratings over its first two seasons on Spike TV, it dipped to about 900,000 in Season 3 and that was all she wrote for the Mountain Goats.  Alan Ritchson, who starred on the show as surrealist blonde jock caricature Thad Castle, shed some light on the show’s cancellation in a recent interview with Den of Geek.
“We were surprised as much as the fans were. We were told we were coming back for a fourth season and not only that but we were told [Lionsgate] was working on a deal to do two seasons back to back. All of a sudden the next phone call we got was it was going to be cancelled.”

While the program did not deliver huge ratings for Spike TV, in all fairness, it is not as though the network is known for its rich satirical comedy.  Fans were much more likely to stumble across the program on Netflix than in-between episodes of Cops and Catch a Contractor. 

Speaking as a fan, I always felt that the show did not fit on Spike TV but was a perfect match for Netflix. Each episode requires little or no prior knowledge to enjoy and the show as a whole lends well to binge marathons but also holds up well to repeat viewings.

The humor and creative energy of the cast and crew is palpable throughout the entire run of the series, which can largely be attributed to the management of showrunners Eric Falconer and Chris ‘Romanski’ Romano. The collective unity and team spirit on-set is what made Blue Mountain State a special show to work on and is also a big part of why every one involved was ready to come back, as Ritchson explains:

"It was not hard getting these guys back together for the movie. We put the calls out there and everybody was overwhelmed so that was the easy part.It’s hard to put into words the chemistry we have. It’s truly a family. It started with Romanski and Falconer, the showrunners. These guys put in a lot of effort without it looking like effort into creating a family. It was such an open environment creatively. I’ve worked on sets where if you stray from the lines you’re getting pulled aside. It was the only set I’ve ever been on where nobody wanted to be in their trailer. It was like a frat it was so fun. It was totally a college experience and no one wanted it to end. Every night we’d go hang out and we’d be inseparable. I attribute that to [Romanski and Falconer] and I commend them for that because it’s something that nobody does and that chemistry was tangible it was almost like its own character.

That energy could not be extinguished by cancellation.  The producers requested and eventually received the rights to the show and then launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a film so that they could finish the story of Blue Mountain State in a way that will satisfy both themselves and the fans. 

As Falconer explains, the film will be a love letter for their fans.

"Making Blue Mountain State was one of the greatest experiences of my life. If you had fun watching it, believe me, we had just as much fun making it. When the show was canceled unexpectedly in 2012, after only three seasons on the air, I felt cheated. For you and for us. College is supposed to be four years. We needed four seasons to complete the show. Since the day of our cancellation, we’ve been trying to figure out a way to make a BMS movie. “We” being myself, my co-creator Romanski, and our amazing cast lead by Alan Ritchson, who played Thad Castle on the show. Our goal is, and has always been, to make a movie that will satisfy our fans. Our fan base is fiercely loyal, and we couldn’t imagine making a movie that wouldn’t honor that. I truly believe that with your support, we can make something special."

Since launching last month, the campaign has exceeded its goal and become just the third Kickstarter to gross over 1.5 million dollars.  Along with a number of hilarious videos to promote the campaign, the producers rewarded each of their backers with unique prizes, such as; custom beer pong accessories, autographed jerseys, a cookie race (if you don’t know watch the show) and tickets to the world premiere of the film along with access to a private after-party. 

The most unique reward was an on-campus party with the cast and crew for the college that raised the most money for the film.  The winning school was Arizona State who raised just under 18,000 for the film - which is about one year’s tuition but I highly doubt that any of the students on the guest list will be bothered with the irony.

Personally, it warms my sophomoric little bro-heart to see this movie getting made.  Not only that, but since the campaign reached its goal it was announced that the film will be directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Beerfest, Supertroopers, Community) who is a great choice in my opinion because he has a brilliant mind for comedy and directed five of the series best episodes including my all-time favorite: “Marathon Monday.” We are fortunate to live in a time where fans and producers can work together to see a vision realized. The advent of the Netflix model is giving way to a new era of media where discovery happens at whatever time and place is convenient. While Kickstarter is creating an avenue through which fans can directly contribute to the production of the content they love and be recognized and rewarded for it.  While many will still scoff at the notion of crowd funding, arguing that it is an unfair position to place on fans, I argue that getting to party with the cast and crew of your favorite show in exchange for fundraising sounds a hell of a lot better than asking everyone you know to turn on their spare televisions so your show can get a ratings boost, as Ritchson explains:

"It’s exciting to be able to live in a world where we are in direct contact with the consumer and giving them what they want. We wanted to make a strong campaign and we’ve been overwhelmed by the support. With the heat that [the Kickstarter] has created, the conversation [about the future] is changing. If this campaign is any indication, there’s more here."

We live in a time where popular shows with so-called niche audiences no longer collect dust in flea market baskets and in the memories of crestfallen fans that cannot find a DVD collection without Japanese subtitles. The numbers have always been there, but companies like Netflix and Kickstarter now give them a place where they can be heard. Moreover, it is fitting that a show founded on the conviction that every member of a production has a voice worth hearing should have a fan base filled with voices of equal measure.  While only a few backers will have the honor of being included in the film’s credits, it is clear to me that this film will be the product of the fanbase as a whole.  Moreover, to borrow once again from Morrision’s immortal refrain, BMS: The Movie will stand as testament to the fact that while companies like Spike TV and Lionsgate may have the guns, thanks to Netflix and Kickstarter, the fans have the numbers and we are taking over.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wet Hot American Summer Series Could be Headed for Netflix

Netflix is reportedly in talks to develop a series based in the world of Wet Hot American Summer. While you might think this project is about fifteen years too late, I believe the timing has never been better and that Nextflix is the perfect platform for this project. 

According to Variety, the streaming service, taking cues from its success with Arrested Development, wants to produce a 10-episode prequel series that will seek to reunite the original cast. Although that means the characters will still be teenagers while many of the actors are now in their forties, in my opinion, that suits the spirit of the original because those actors were ten years older than their characters back then.

While Wet Hot American Summer was critically-panned and performed poorly at the box office, thanks to word-of-mouth and the magic of home video, the film eventually found its audience and has enjoyed cult status ever since. Personally, I can scarcely recall ever laughing as hard or as often as I did the first time I saw the film and it absolutely has stood up to multiple viewings. The film is packed with great performances from an obscenely talented cast of stars including; Paul Rudd, Amy Poeher, Bradley Cooper, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, Ken Marino and Elizabeth Banks.

The notion of a prequel to Wet Hot American Summer has been kicked around for over a decade now. Similar to Arrested Development, its style of humor was a bit too surrealist and dry for the digestive tracts of mainstream audiences during its initial run. That’s not a knock on moviegoers of the time; I just think that there wasn’t enough precedent for the sort of irreverent humor this movie delivers to reach its true audience by the conventional distribution methods of the time.  Fortunately, we now live in an era where every twelve-year-old has an Netflix account with everything from Family Guy to Undeclared on their queue.

The movies creators, David Wain and Michael Showalter, have been trying to bring new life to the franchise for years now.  But it has not been easy. Back in 2011, Wain revealed that he had been in talks to develop and had requested that Universal re-release a DVD of the film for the movies 10th anniversary, which would include special features as well as a teaser for the planned prequel, but the request was outright denied. In a Q&A Wain said, “I told them we would be willing to do a new prequel teaser short for it and new interviews and new material but they were like, ‘No, nobody buys it. Nobody cares.’”

Lets hope that the genius who decided not to splurge on an anniversary disc for this classic gets proven dead-wrong and this project turns out to be another big win for Netflix. Thank God we have arrived at such an evolved point in media distribution that projects like these can start becoming more common and 'cult classics' can stop feeling so cult-ish.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working on a new script

The hardest thing to do is often doing what you are compelled to do...

I'm finishing an old script I started in college and it's taken me places I never thought I would return to...but every time I step away the urge to go deeper and flesh it out more gets stronger.

I hope I can see this made, but even more than that, I just want to finish it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Album Review: 'Upside Down Mountain' is One Fine Way to Get Through the Day

Upside Down Mountain, Connor Obersts' third record under his own name, is in equal measures deeply thought provoking and blissfully light. While not a first-wave Bright Eyes fan (and therefore have no axe to grind with Oberst about the maladaptive effect of mainstream attention) I am knowledgeable enough about his history to know that he has always had a talent for deeply rich lyrics exploring the biggest questions of life. This outing is no different and houses more than enough revelations and memorable refrains to provide the soundtrack to any number of collegiate summer drives or serve as the soundtrack to any number of life’s internal conversations.

As a whole, the album is all about the hope you find in the face of life seemingly endless heartache.  The songs form a greater dialouge that, like all good records, builds upon itself to become greater than the sum of its parts.  In short, it is precisely the type of album I am drawn to the most at this point in my life because it has a lot to say but does so with well-composed restraint, intimacy and understanding. Personally, I was hooked after the first track, the powerful Time Forgot, where Oberst ends the song perfectly with: "someone told me that exact same thing once."

At risk of waxing too philosophical, the biggest reason I listen to music is because I am always seeking to understand myself through the pointed meanderings of another voice. That drive forms the foundation for my passion in all artistic mediums and, much like the myriad of messages and ideas brought up in Upside Down Mountain, is a universal truth. While holding onto our personal truths makes us who we are, I believe it is by recognizing and celebrating the things that make us the same that gives us the hope to get through the day.
Upside Down Mountain starts off with “Time Forgot" which infuses thundering drum fills with strum-heavy Americana while exploring the universal struggles of everyday life. “Hundreds Of Ways” is about resigning oneself to the strange cost of freedom and packs a blissful melody that rings with that magical sort of melancholy that only happily married 30-something rock stars seem to deliver.  There is a twinge of hopefulness amidst the melancholia as Oberst tells a friend or lover: “There are hundreds of ways to get through the day...just find one.”

“Desert Island Quesitonairre” explores the old  ‘what is reality’ chestnut with the endless hypotheticals of a philosophy club smoke-den layered against some great riffs and spirited vocals. During the reverb-heavy "Artifact #1" Oberst croons that “life can’t compete with memories – they never have to change.” Memories will always bring us up and break us back down which ties into the albums over-arching theme that willful acquiescence to life is the best route to holding onto your soul.

The album has no bad tracks, only a few cool downs among standouts like the minimalistic parental pep-talk “You are Your Mothers Child” and the lively “Kick” which delivers some of that good old fashioned new wave chaos while exploring personal recovery from a broadly familiar setting. The whimsical wah guitar tempers the tone of the beautiful waltz "Double Life," which features one of the catchiest refrains of the album: "There's an honest life on the other side."

All in all, Upside Down Mountain is about a lot of things, but mostly I see it as an album focused on universal hope. That might not everyone’s cup of tea but it is something that everyone needs to hear from time-to-time and that is what makes this album soar.  In the midst of Obersts’ active chorus and endless meandering there is the pointed suggestion that we are all one in the same and there is a fortress within each of us that we can call upon whenever the going gets tough.  As someone who finds himself inundated with his own relentless internal monologue on a daily basis, songs like “Hundreds of Ways” provide a great way to get through the day as well as the comforting thought that I am not alone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Favorite Character in Comics

In honor my recent run of comics-related articles on I want to talk about my favorite character and first experience meeting a writer.

Kyle Higgins wrote his last issue of Nightwing last month after almost three years on the comic. He has written every issue since the New 52 relaunch and has undoubtedly became my all-time favorite writer of the character.  The reason why I have always liked Nightwing is because he has a lot of the facets that I love about Batman - the realism of having no powers and the resolve to find strength in the face of great tragedy - but with an altogether healthier outlook on life.  Being Batman's sidekick allowed him to crack jokes and be a little less paranoid while growing up with him as a father figure helped him become a hero but never lose his smile.  An idealistic notion of a human being but aren't all those who wear capes and cowls? This was a hero I always found relatable and during my first big comic-con experience I got to share that passion with Higgins at the Javits Center in October 2011.

As the enormous late morning crowd had trapped me in a slow-moving line to nowhere in-between a video game demonstration and the abyss of fandom that was the autograph section, I began having idle conversation with a familiar-looking face. Suddenly it dawned on me who he was and my wholly-inappropriate response to discovering his identity was:

 "Wait...are you ****ing Kyle Higgins ?!"

He was kind enough to let that slide - although looking back he did not exactly have an escape path at that moment - and for the next few minutes I was able to talk to the man who was writing my favorite character in comics. At the time of this meeting, only the first issue of his run had been released but had already given me high-hopes for the future therefore putting him at the top of my list for autographs. When I mentioned to him that Nightwing was my favorite comic book character, to my excitement, he revealed that was something we had in common. Even as the crowd slowly dissipated he stuck around and discussed his passion for the character with me before signing my book. After that conversation, I was certain that Nightwing was in good hands... and I was right. Fast-forward a couple years and my ever favorite run on the character, Higgins revealed that he was leaving the book on his Facebook page:

 So here’s something I’ve put off writing for a while. On Tuesday, DC solicits for April 2014 hit. They’ll introduce a new creative team on NIGHTWING which, sadly, I won’t be a part of.
It’s a weird feeling to leave the book after almost three years, and even though I would love nothing more than to write Dick Grayson for another fifty or sixty issues, it’s time to move on. (In that spirit, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention BATMAN BEYOND 2.0 and C.O.W.L…two of the books I am currently working on, which are also– both in their own way– helping to curb the Grayson withdrawal :-)
I’ve talked many times about my love for Nightwing. He was the hero I grew up with, the book that got me collecting, and the inspiration for my first film. For all those reasons, I had a lot of reservations about launching his New 52 series. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if DC wouldn’t let me tell the stories I wanted? What if people hated it? What if I hated it?
As much pressure as I felt about doing DG justice, the truth is there’s very little I ever could have done to break him. He’s an amazing character who’s been around for almost seventy five years and will still be around long after I’m gone. Instead of thinking about what I’ve been able to do for DG, I’ve found it much better to think about what DG has been able to do for me. In that regard, I’ll only ever be able to look at my time on Nightwing and smile. Why?
Because Dick Grayson made me a better writer.
All good things must come to an end and are a lot easier to swallow when paired with an earnest display of humility and gratitude. In response, let me just say "thank you" and I look forward to your continued success in whatever projects you choose to pursue in the future. Meanwhile, I will have to remind myself to add C.O.W.L to my pull list.
Like Higgins, Nightwing was the first series I started collecting when I became interested in comic books. Actually, it was Nightwing and Ultimate Spider-Man, but largely for the same reason. Unlike the vast majority of mainstream super-heroes the journey of these two characters is always about growth and transformation.
Sure, those themes present themselves from time-to-time in the tales of all super-heroes but with these two it is ingrained in their characters from their origins onward. Despite my love for Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man, including Miles Morales, I personally find Nightwing even more interesting than Spider-Man or Batman.

While Peter Parker became a hero after a freak accident gave him super-powers and tragic circumstances brought him face-to-face with the weight of his new-found responsibilities, Dick Grayson never had the benefit of super powers.  He was given the opportunity to help as Robin and then chose the life for himself. In my view, Batman's greatest victory is helping to form a better hero than himself because Nightwing is not driven by tragedy and inner demons but instead by genuine altruism and dedication...and yes, a lot of money for vehicles and grappling guns but hey its comics so I let that slide. Over the years he has opened up his shop of good works in Gotham, New York City, Titans Tower, Bludhaven and Chicago...which is a lot like real life in that he never completely outgrows the shadow of his past but simply grows into his own man by being a hero wherever and whenever one is needed.

In a departure from the obsessed approach of Batman, Dick sometimes takes a break to get laid or is the best friend he can be to his Teen Titans rather than always crime-fighting. Or at least before the New 52 ret-con.  Recently he took over the role of Batman for a temporarily dead (time-displaced is more accurate) Bruce Wayne and helped instill humanity in an impossibly competent but tragically immoral Robin in Damian Wayne. Just before Damian's death, in Grant Morrisons' epic series Batman Inc., his final words to Dick before sacrificing himself were: "So far you've been my favorite partner. We were the best, no matter what anybody says," which is telling.

Now it seems my favorite character is headed for another transformation as his central role in the New 52's first big event, coupled with the recent announcement that he will appear in the upcoming Batman-Superman film, makes me believe the future is bright for Dick Grayson. DC recently announced a new series, written by Tim Seely (Revival) and former CIA officer Tom King, where Grayson will dish out non-vigilante justice which I think sounds awesome and has endless creative possibilities.
As I have stated before, I personally find that reading most mainstream comic books often feels like you're ingesting the same stories ad nauseam. Oh Superman saves Metropolis from so-and-so but there is bigger threat looming and they have Kryptonite...uh-oh there's another psychotic band of super-criminals on the loose in Gotham City and Batman has to come face-to-face with his inner demons in order to stop them...damn Supergirl is hot and also punches bad guys and flies and stuff. The publishers bottom line relies on those stories to maintain a healthy bottom line. But, from my perspective, Nightwing has never fallen off the tight rope of semi-realism. This view is shared by many including the writer of Image Comics staple, Invincible, who named his main character Grayson in honor of Nightwing/Dick Grayson.

Like Spider-Man, Nightwing has always been a hero whose greatest strength was his ability to smile and enjoy a life of altruistic service to his community while maintaining strong relationships coupled with general badassery. But what really made me connect to him was that, unlike Spider-Man or any other character I can think of, Nightwing is a character who is in constant transition. From where he lives, what he does for a day job, who he associates with there have always been changes to his status quo. Now it appears that he is headed for another transformation, perhaps as a public hero or perhaps as an hipster chick, but I take solace in knowing that his legacy will always be that of a young man with no powers other than his ability to be an ass-kicking light of hope and justice in a world of crime-ridden darkness. If Batman became fear to overcome darkness, then as Robin he became hope to light his way. Then he went off on his own as Nightwing to do good works on his own while honoring his past. That's a life-long commitment that I, as an emotionally-subnormal adult, can rationalize a lot easier than most mainstream heroes.

Hopefully the bigger spotlight will show only serve to shine that light brighter. If the new creative team is anything like Kyle Higgins, I don't think I will be disappointed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Just Sayin' with Shawn - Ninja Turtles Theorizing

The upcoming Ninja Turtles film, directed by Johnathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Darkness Falls) has been on the receiving end of a sh**storm of controversy since the moment the project was given the go-ahead.


First off, it was quickly announced that Michael Bay would be producing this blockbuster.  That's right, Bay, producer of endless hipster punchlines with his critically-reviled but occasionally enjoyable films, including: Transformers 1-3, Friday the 13th, Armageddon and The Purge.

Second, shortly after Bay came out as producer fans got wind of the news bite that, in this film, the turtles would be aliens and to say this irked some fans would be an understatement. Bay came out against the rumors a little later with this cavalier comment.

“Fans need to take a breath, and chill. They have not read the script. Our team is working closely with one of the original creators of [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles to help expand and give a more complex back story. Relax, we are including everything that made you become fans in the first place. We are just building a richer world.”


Part of me liked the idea of them being aliens. The turtles need an endgame other than defeating the baddie of the day and going back to the sewer. They are four good dudes with a loving rat for a father - its enough to let us believe they can become insanely skilled ninja warriors despite all the pizza they eat...but for them to remain amongst themselves practicing zen martial arts forever? Any good story deserves to have an endgame and, for the turtles, their needs to be an ultimate goal other than just saving the day.  Their has to be a desire to grow up and see the world free of the sewers like coming-of-age ninja that was hinted at wonderfully well in the first film but is the juice of endless possibilities left to explore in this one. This isn't the late 80's early 90's anymore and this is a Bay production - maybe its time to expect some big changes.  Maybe some Drugs, Sex and Rock n' Roll?

Well they tried the rock thing in the early 90's. It was horrifying.  As for drugs, c'mon, the turtles are too way cool for drugs as this PSA corroborates - although, personally, a little pothead subplot sounds like just about the most natural direction one could take with a party dude like Michelangelo but this is a big-budget movie so bad idea for now - but the subject of sexuality is a hard conversation to have when your three brothers are the only other members of your species. But then again...

Nothing odd at all about Raph's expression here...

In just about every incarnation of this story I have read or watched...and believe me as a child of the nineties and card-carrying comic book nerd I have seen just about all of has been established that all four turtles are attracted to human females. I am not even going to try to get into their history within the comic book canon because there is just too much to talk about, including; Michelangelo settling down with a human girlfriend to write comics about his brothers adventures, Leonardo's cute  relationship with Karai, multiple female turtles and the many alien conquests of Raphael. They also have been known to throw back a few so who knows who else visited the sewers off-panel.

Now you might think, oh well that's just in the comics, they would never put that in any of the mainstream material. Well, first of all, shut up because the comics are where these turtles are truly from and what they're all about and second of all WRONG! In the original movie - one of my all-time favorites - they each have a crush on April (particularly Raphael) but are cool with it when Casey gets with her at the end of the movie. Committing second-degree murder to finish off the shredder earned him some points.  There's material for the argument in each sequel but lets jump to the present - in the current cartoon one of the popular kids series long-running jokes is that Donatello has a thing for April. The fan videos are just insane...what are we doing to kids these days?

Anyways, the big point is that I believe that the reason for all this alien conversation was merely an effort on the part of the producers to flesh out their world and create more of an endgame. Whether its a love interest or what have you...these turtles need to have lives outside of kicking ass and eating pizza or they're just going to get old before they're no longer teenage. They live in New York City for cripes sake - home of the melting pot and every type of strange that ever existed - there are many creative opportunities to play with there and if they were aliens than there would be a socially acceptable way for them each to get laid.

 But that's not what I think is going to happen here...especially based on the trailer which reveals that the Turtles were an attempt to "create heroes" by the Shredder and April's Dad (don't have high hopes for that bit)...however, through the magic of CGI the turtles now look more human than ever before and their wardrobe seems to imply some anatomical adjustments to their physique as well, as in, what do you think is behind the loin cloths hmm?
Add to this the fact that two unrequited conquests human female characters in April O'Neil and Karai are both going to figure big in this movie and that there is also going to be no Casey Jones for April to end up with this time around and...well, did I mention Megan Fox is playing April this time around? Now the trailer and some earlier reports (since taken down) lead me to believe that Raphael is going to be on a mission to save his brothers and Splinter once they are kidnapped by the Foot Clan. His only ally left will be the two will be spending a large part of the film together. Oh, and did I mention Alan Ritchson is playing Raphael? You know...this guy.

Juuust sayin' ...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Legacy of Heroes

In the small town of Manchester, Connecticut there stands a comic book store with a legacy that cannot be described in any other way than heroic.

A Hero’s Legacy is the second incarnation of Buried Under Comics, which for almost three decades provided an oasis to Connecticut comic book fans at 188 West Middle Turnpike. The store was renamed after reopening in honor of its late owner, Brian Kozicki, who gave life to the spirit of the store with his passion for people and comic books.  As current owner, April Kenney explains:

“Brian was a really dear friend of mine and with my involvement over the past seven years that it was Buried Under… a lot of the customers became kind of family to me as well. I really was touched by the kind of tight-knit community that everybody was and it was losing my best friend and trying to keep that community together which made me decide to try to reopen. In memory of him.”

Kozicki began working at the store in the late 80’s before he bought the store outright from original owner, Chuck Bruder.  He was known for being the type of business owner that cared more about creating relationships and building bonds of friendship rather than just making sales.  Under his management, Buried Under Comics became a store where customers could always find what they were looking for - whether it was comics, busts or toys - because if they didn’t have it already, Kozicki would get it for them. Under his management, Buried Under Comics won the Hartford Advocate’s coveted “Best Comic Book Store in Connecticut” award two years in a row before his passing in August 2012.
Personally, I would not be as big a comic book fan – nor a fan of reading or writing in general – if it were not for the nurturing environment that was (and, in spirit, remains) Buried Under Comics. A late-bloomer when it came to reading, comics were my gateway drug and the thing that kept me coming back to the store over the years was the positive energy and enthusiasm of its staff and customers. Two of the most prized comics in my personal collection were suggested by Kozicki during my fateful trip to Buried Under Comics - and remain among my favorite stories ever, including: Ultimates #1 (volume 2) and Identity Crisis #1.  On that same trip he also encouraged me to buy NYX#3 - which marked the first appearance of X-23 and shot up to $50 on Ebay within a week – but I said no and learned a valuable lesson about listening to shop owners.

Built on his infectious enthusiasm, the store cultivated a strong and tight-knit community that ended up continuing his legacy.  Just two months after Kozicki’s passing, his co-workers Kenney and Scott Prentice reopened its doors under its new name: A Hero’s Legacy.

According to Prentice and Kenney, the experience has been challenging but rewarding for both of them.

PRENTICE: I started part-time at Buried Under in 1998 and went full-time in 2003 until the end and [re-opening] was one of those things where you just have to work at the goal. There were a few days where everything was up-in-the-air because we didn’t know what the previous owners family might want to do with the stuff but once we found they had no interest we knew it was just a matter of time. The whole two months where there wasn’t any comic book store here we were just behind the scenes getting everything ready.  There was no down time for us. It was really just refocusing the mission on getting the store back up-and-running.

KENNEY: It has been a rewarding experience. It’s a little different being on this side of the register versus when I used to come in and hear the stories from the opposite side. Occasionally I like to walk around the counter and breathe in the olden days and just see everybody interact without having to work behind the scenes.

In addition to the new name, since re-opening Kenney and Prentice have made some changes to the stores layout.  They now sell branded t-shirts and have an active social media presence.  

PRENTICE: Before we opened we went around to different comic book stores and we kind of saw what worked and what didn’t work in different venues and stole a few ideas for ourselves. It’s kind of a weird flip… Buried Under was way more organized behind the scenes and it looked like a mess up front and we’ve kind of flipped that dynamic…so now it’s super-organized up here and I have no idea where anything is in the back.

KENNEY: We made the store more shopper-friendly. The way the layout was, at times, people were walking over one another or they felt like they were bumping into someone. We tried to gear everything to where customers are easily able to find things and not have to worry about inconveniencing someone. It helps that we’re in the exact same location. Sometimes people come in here and say “are you going out of business” because they’re not used to things being so organized. And we laugh and say “no we’re not going out of business and we can help you find whatever you’re looking for…”

Despite the changes, current owner Kenney maintains that the core values of made Buried Under Comics successful are and will remain ingrained in the stores blueprint.  Her co-workers, like recent Uconn Graduate Cliff Saccoccio, agree that is an essential part of the recipe - or as Kenney puts it:

“We’re not as buried under as we used to be but this store will always be buried under comics. The staff here loves comics. They love each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re a DC or Marvel fan they don’t discriminate. Its really neat seeing them all try to encourage to try something new.”

Personally, I find that the changes have been subtle yet effective while the great energy and welcoming atmosphere that made Buried Under Comics what it was is alive and well. This view is one shared by long-time customers, Brendan Nicholas and Siobhan Covill, who were relieved when the store reopened after having explored the alternatives.

NICHOLAS: Overall the redesign is very nice. I’d say it’s a bit more organized but the feel is the same. When this place was shut down for a few months after Buried Under closed, we tried a few other stores in the area and none of them have the selection or the feel of this place. Their focus isn’t on comics, this is the only comic book store in the area where to the focus is comics.

COVILL: I’ve been coming here since I was about thirteen, back when it was Buried Under Comics. I like that it’s not a chain. I have a rapport with the people here. I’ve known Scott and April since I’ve been coming here. I have a friendship with them. They’re family to me. Being a female comic reader, especially, it’s always been a welcoming environment. There’s never anybody looking down on you.

With strong management at its helm and as its foundation, it appears that the legacy of Buried Under Comics is in good hands.  In further, while I am certain that somewhere up there Kozicki is proud of what his friends have accomplished in his name, I think he would agree he is no longer the only hero in this store’s legacy. 

As for the future, there is no telling what could be in store for A Hero’s Legacy down the road…other than remaining a great place to talk shop and have a great time picking up comics.

KENNEY: Ultimately, I think our goal is to expand our customer base so largely that I am forced to open a larger store but we really want to keep the same feeling where everybody feels like they’re at home and can hang out here and there is no judgments in what you like and what you’re into.

PRENTICE: I don’t think our portion of the industry is going to change any unless something drastic happens to one of the publishers or something. It’s just a matter of keeping up with what we’re doing - keep building our customer-based clientele. Its our job to sell whatever the people our offering and there has never been more variety in the publishing than there is now.  I think we’re in a new golden age of comic books…of course you never really know when you’re in the golden age so quote me on that one and talk to me in five years.

Well five years seems to pretty much mean "the future" in comics these days so I just might do that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Simpsons/Family Guy Crossover Got Made – But Can Their Fans Get Along for an Hour-Long Special?

After years of public squabbling among the creative teams, in-episode jabs and incalculable frat house arguments about which show is better – Fox has confirmed that The Simpsons and Family Guy will appear in an hour-long crossover this September.

According to Mashable, during the networks annual upfront presentation in New York City earlier this week, Fox’s Chairman of Entertainment Kevin Reilly confirmed the crossover and showcased a preview of the episode that featured both Homer and Peter getting into a good ol’ fashioned fist fight on Evergreen Terrace.

"Generations of fans will be talking about this one," Reilly said in New York City.

Aside from the fight - which we can only pray will approach the levels of sheer gratuitousness reached in Peter’s bouts with the Chicken that gave him a bad coupon - according to the synopsis, the episode will focus primarily on the two families making friends and playing nice.

Peter (Seth MacFarlane) and the Griffins get out of dodge and end up in Springfield, where they are greeted by a friendly stranger named Homer Simpson (guest voice Dan Castellaneta), who welcomes his new “albino” friends with open arms. The families get along famously: Stewie (MacFarlane) becomes obsessed with Bart (guest voice Nancy Cartwright) and his old-fashioned pranks; Lisa (guest voice Yeardley Smith) takes Meg (Mila Kunis) under her wing and is determined to find something – anything – at which she excels; Marge (guest voice Julie Kavner) and Lois (Alex Borstein) ditch housework for a little bonding; and Peter and Homer fight over the best beer in town – Pawtucket vs Duff.

Guess that leaves Brian to get a drink at Moe’s and get run over again by Mr. Burns.

My love for both programs aside, the sort of bonding session implied in this synopsis makes me think this special will either come across like an extremely tame episode of Family Guy or an extremely recent episode of The Simpsons that focuses heavily on its guest stars.  But with that said, I am sure that this will be a huge ratings win for the network and will feel a lot more special than your average season premiere.

All the material for a classic is certainly there and both programs have amazing track records when it comes to doing specials, as evidenced by everything from Family Guy’s Star Wars specials to The Simpson’s recent (and excellent) Lego episode. We will likely also get some good cutaways jokes too…

As you might expect, considering the differences of taste and form that exist between the two programs and their hardcore fan bases, so far reactions have ranged from the extremely excited to the apathetically uncertain.

Here’s looking forward to a summer filled with good conversation about the crossover that brings out interesting opinions from passionate fans of both programs. If there is a little negativity in the mix, well then I guess all these years of making jokes at one another's expense has finally caught up with the creative teams of both The Simpsons and Family Guy.


Along with the crossover special, Fox also showed off a new Simpsons app made with FX Networks that will allow fans to stream all 552 episodes of the show on their smartphones or tablets. The new app will be available in August, coinciding with The Simpsons' syndicated debut on FXX, FX's new comedy-centric spin-off network. To celebrate, the network will air all episodes consecutively in a 12-day marathon starting on August 21st and continuing into September 1st.