Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How to Create A Fairytale Crossover Classic


By Doug Vehle
For The Daily Bosco

It's probably a good metaphor for accomplishing anything in life, but you're going to encounter great resistance if you really do create a better mousetrap and expect the world to be beating a path to your door. There's a counter in the world of technology that says new technology succeeds when it either supports and/or is supported by existing technology. Hence the horse did not fall by the wayside with the advance of the railroads, canals and steamships in the 19th century. In fact the use of horses increased as people not only needed to travel to meet their train or ship, but railroad cars needed to moved around the stockyards and required horses for the job. The horse population in industrial countries actually peaked in the early 20th century before yielding to the automobile. Then the unneeded equestrian population of Europe found its' way to Germany, who conquered the continent using far more horses than mechanical vehicles. Tried and true only fails when you stay with it after it's already proven to not be true anymore.

I think about that a lot when it comes to writing. There's an old saying in Hollywood, (Film and Television) "I prefer to do it second, not first." First means taking a big chance, while second means you consider it tried and true by the time you start. Far greater chance of success. Yet it's also true that for every joke of 'How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?' ("Change? Who said anything about CHANGE?") There's one about the executives; 'How many development directors does it take?' ("Oh, gee, does it HAVE to be a lightbulb? It's been done so many times.") I'm sure New York and Chicago (Publishing) feel the same way.

So when you're writing your dilemma can be summed up with the question of how to repackage the same old hash so people think it's steak? Before you get started about how that's some bitter statement, keep in mind you boil a lot of water into rice to make it edible, imagine trying to eat a raw potato, etc. Writing is a value added activity. One of the first things I learned as an English major at Cal State Fullerton is the concept of 'After Shakespeare, it's all been done.' Get over the idea that you're going to make something all that original, first we have to recognize the human emotions as our own. Had their never been feuding families with children coming of age, would anyone have cared about 'Romeo and Juliet?' During the era of the Hatfield and McCoy feuds, how many family member intermarried? There will always be a place for this, you just need to keep it from being the same old thing.

So out of curiosity over pent up demand, I've turned my attention to fan fiction. Give the reader what they want. It seems the number one thing they want is 'Star Trek.' On the page, on the screen, new stores with the old casts or with completely new characters, the world is awash with unauthorized 'Star Trek' stories. Not all of it cheesy, you can find how to video on youtube illustrating set building by showing the very professional construction of a starship bridge by would be professional set builders completing a set for, say, 'Star Trek: Axanar,' the controversial series of films that raised over $1 million from fans and inspired a lawsuit from Paramount, who felt themselves in competition. (Maybe if they'd make BETTER films than the current 'Reboot' series they wouldn't have to be insecure.) Fans wouldn't be coughing up all that money if they weren't seeking something they weren't getting at present. The fans are really afraid of the upcoming 'Star Trek: Discovery' show.

Another highly sought after tale would involve 'The Jungle Book.' Not so much the original as the Disney Film. In fact, in crossover with other Disney films. From their 'Tarzan' film, we see Jane trying to photograph a large snake, only to have the snake turn it's attention on her. In fact, it is Kaa, You might remember him trying to eat Mowgli in the Disney film. This is a friendlier Kaa. In fact, he is reinvented.

If you were to actually READ 'The Jungle Book,' you would see Kipling depicted Kaa as friendly, actually standing off the monkeys as Mowgli escapes. Here we see Don Juan Giovanni reborn, all in snakeskin leather. The Beast proves no competition for the attention of Belle. Nor does Shaggy from Scooby Doo, as Daphne succumbs. Someone created an illustration of the ill tempered Tinkerbelle giggling as she falls into Kaa's grasp. Followed by Wendy who, after returning home, looks longingly out the window until she turns to see Kaa has been awaiting her. Peter is instantly forgotten.

And that's part of the fun of this: Someone creates a story, someone else decides to illustrate it. Whether it's Gadget from 'The Rescue Rangers' or various Japanese Manga characters, Kaa is so often in fine form. But the best are the Disney Princesses, such as Princess Jasmine from 'Aladdin.' Dang, these are the girlfriends of serious fantasy/action heroes What does he got that they ain't got?

In a word, CHARM. I think there's an underlying desire for these guys creating and reading these stories to see Kaa, for all his unattractiveness, able to make this magic with his trademark "Ssssssay now. . .What have we here?" So how many times you suppose some of these guys reading and writing these stories have been CALLED a snake? Usually for no more reason than they DARE to not realize how unappealing they are. There's only one hero to win the princess in these Disney movies. Most guys realize they compare more to Kaa.

I especially relate to where Ariel is acting mad while Kaa puts his tail on her nose. I remember the moment with the old girlfriend winding up to do some yelling while I just kept touching her nose. Which seemed to take the fight out of her. Confirmation that Kaa really has some style, right?# I can only guess that this apparently started with a Yahoo Group by the name of 'Kaa vs. the Ladies.' Versus meaning, much like 'The Jungle Book' film, Kaa intends to swallow his victim. The group of course is long gone, yet I found some stories that the author says he posted elsewhere to save it as Yahoo closed out most of the groups. I don't know if this occurred within the original group or sprouted up later, but at some point the inspiration shifted from antihero to underdog. Could there really be hope for Kaa?

By far, I'd say the most popular object of Kaa's affections would be Ariel, 'The Little Mermaid.' If you read the original story, (As always, I seem to be the only one) you realize that sea creatures are born without a soul and mermaids have a way of aspiring to gain one by making a human fall in love with her. If you're familiar with the myths of the Scandinavian Hulders, Hans Christian Anderson would seem to have drawn on them. Like most Anderson fairy tales, it has an unhappy ending: The Prince likes her well enough, but when the princess intended for his arranged marriage arrives he quickly loses his heart, Ariel then dissolves away when she might have lived another 300 years luring humans to their deaths as mermaids enjoy doing in the story. So this is a kids' tale, you say? Obviously Disney changed the ending around.

I just wonder if any of the readers of such fan fiction really do know the original story, if that adds something to it. Ariel herself, like the Hulders, is not going to love the one she uses. Oh, maybe they really do only know the movie. But it's such a novel idea to see The Little Mermaid as apparently unwooable when Kaa goes to work. And yet, somehow. . . .

Now, if you take it in your head to track down these stories to read for yourself, I want to warn you this is not great writing. I like it better for the strength of the ideas, some of these people don't know what to do once they have an idea, no matter how good it is the story won't tell itself. Often they have depicted Ariel as going off to find the bear she'd befriended years ago (At the reunion she and Baloo don't immediately know each other in one depiction) and she falls in with Mowgli, Bagheera, the absent from the film Riki Tiki Tavi (My favorite 'Jungle Book' character) and of course, the ever lovin' Kaa. But I find myself laughing at the situation of Mowgli kidnapped by the monkeys and Ariel tries alone to free him and is taken prisoner. So it's Baloo, Bagheeri, Riki, the usual subjects of the heroism off to the rescue. Joined of course by the one who must rescue his beloved. I laughed so hard at some of these scenarios it almost didn't matter when the writing was bad.

Ah well, I suppose not one of the stories merits a $100 million dollar movie. But a lot of the $100 million dollar movies don't merit it, either.

Monday, July 31, 2017

If, Always If


By Doug Vehle
For The Daily Bosco

I'm sure you've imagined meeting some childhood idol, someone important to the way you grew up. But have you ever imagined discovering that you had an idol that you never realized existed?

So I guess you could say I spent the first half of this year living out the Rudyard Kipling poem, specifically the line:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
with sixty seconds' worth of distance run. . . . 

I was taking another shot at Calculus and Analytic Geometry in college. Believe it or not it's possible, barely, to get an AA Degree in mathematics without passing the first of the three semesters, so I have my AA with a collection of mostly nonscientific math. If you know your math majors, I essentially am left with the 'Applied' math, when my goal was 'Pure' math. The first three times I took the class I failed, the fourth I was bordering on passing with no hope of raising to a 'C' as I needed to continue the sequence when I dropped at the deadline. If my math maven Father is watching, it'll be killing him all over again.

But I piled into another mathematical class, Macro Economics, then fleshed out my schedule on a lark with a Graphic Design class. I've made much use of earlier versions of Photoshop: I figured it shouldn't be so hard to step up to the current version. If I was to decide to complete the Photography Certificate at Mount San Antonio College I'd need either the Photography programs own Photoshop class or this one. Hey, as much time as I've worked in marketing communications jobs doing things beyond purely TV/Video, I'm already a graphic designer.

But it turns out to be quite a time consuming class. Economics is no slouch about putting you to work, but didn't compare to the over 300 hours I put into the math lab when I take a math class. If I'd known I'd also be packing in over 300 hours in the graphics labs, I'd have given some thought about what I was getting myself into. Still the graphic design was as close as I was coming to doing what I'd be doing if I was working for real.

For all the effort, Economics should have been uplifting, A subject I sort of know with some interesting new stuff. Not an easy 'A', but guaranteed for a bulldog academic type like me. I've never really been seriously away from school since I graduated from Cal State Fullerton, I just slowed to going parttime. With the degrees to show for it. Including 5 AA degrees. Or could it be only 4?

So there was this distressing part to the Economics class. It seems we had to write a paper on the Japanese economy and their millennial generation. Including the 'NEETs,' Not in Employment, Education or Training. While I certainly can't identify with them, I feel I could get lumped in. Not working because there's no jobs, facing no real prospect of that changing. We have that in the United States, too. Barely working, no real direction in school, I don't really feel I'm doing so much better than those NEETs. Even as I'm getting an 'A' in Macro Economics.

Calculus wasn't going nearly so well, even if there was a big upswing. One month into the semester I had an 'A'. Then the exam knocked me to barely a 'B' before I crawled back up to 85% just in time for the midterm to leave me at 78%. Oops, that meant it was time for integrals. I was passing my previous attempts up to this point. Integrals handed me my worst exam grade ever in my entire history of school, 15%, in my SECOND attempt. Scarred for life on that one. I think I'd rather have been holding onto that 'A' until then so I could hope for a 'C'.

And five sub 60% scores in seven quizzes set me up for yet another nightmare exam that I turned in believing I'd finally done it and had at last beat those integrals. Only to get back a 55%. My best ever on an integral exam, but how in the world could I forget to factor out infinity? (Don't know what I'm talking about? At least my math is better than yours. Heh heh heh.) Weeks to go, a 69% average, a need to raise my grade on the final. And in two college math classes where I entered the final with an 'A' I only hung onto it once. Five times with a 'B', four of which I was close enough to raise to an 'A', I was left with two 'B's and three 'C's. My average drops in the final, it doesn't rise.

It didn't help that I was also having a little trouble keeping those formulas straight in Economics. Three words that people don't understand. Simple, complicated, complex. Simple would be all straight lines. Macro Economics is not that. Complicated would add curves, corners, doubling back. Which still doesn't cover Economics. Complex, then, moves from lines to shapes. Any shapes. Piled on top of each other so you can't see them but you still have to identify them. Now THAT is Macro Economics. Oh, I still got an 'A', but oh that feeling of not gaining the complete understanding of all this complexity.

And I was getting an 'A' in graphic design, too. Even if the teacher was doing a bit of complaining about it. My feeling about Photoshop is that not only can you do more with it than the earlier versions I'd used, but it's far easier. Thinking of how quickly I could make things that previously took days. It was taking some of the sting out of the semester.

But oh, that final project. The teacher gave a bit of a speech about 'You people need to expand your consciousness' or the like. So we're supposed to choose a 19th century poem and research it and the author to make a poster. And me with a degree in English, as well as a minor in Theatre Arts and the graduate certificate in Film from UCLA, which also involved such research projects. Sorry, wrong subject to expand my consciousness, but at least I could help everyone else with their research. I explain to others my five choices I was to whittle down to one, they started taking the others that I didn't use.

Ah, I still had an amazing discovery ahead. I landed on Rudyard Kipling's 'If'. Which people always seem to feel they've lived. I think I can make a case that I really have. Is not easy to be in Catholic school in a class full of the younger brothers and sisters of those your, er, UNRULY older siblings have been victimizing for years to change the family name to 'Mud' as far as they're concerned. Nuns, meanwhile, hold grudges. And then there's my crazy mother and her plot to make me fail in school to force me to be a priest. Yeah, good luck with that, Ma. Then, out of the frying pan, into the fire, I escaped to land at the Don Bosco Technical Institute, one of the biggest educational frauds in America.

And it didn't end when I at last beat Ma and was in real school for the first time in my life. Immediately came word my father was terminally ill and I'd have to take care of him, while still working to pay for my own college. (The only one in the family to do either.) By the time I'd been out of high school 4 years Dad was gone, Mom had moved to Texas, I was the guardian of several socalled adult brothers and sisters---And I had my 4 year degree anyway.

But getting back to 'If', I'm so glad I settled on it. I'd always assumed, as so many do, that that last line:

And, which is more---You'll be a man, my son! 

Was supposed to mean Kipling was supposed to be writing to his own son. I would learn it was supposed to be the embodiment of the man the poem is about, Leander Jameson, living as his father told him to.

February 9, 1853. Scottish novelist Robert Jameson, author of the legendary antislavery play 'Timolean' and the epic poem 'Nimrod,' was rushing home for the birth of his eleventh child. If we hadn't lost one there'd have been eleven kids in my family. A bit of misfortune landed him in the river, he would say he'd have drown if not for a tourist, Leander Starr, who pulled him out. His son was then named Leander Starr Jameson.

The younger Jameson would grow up to be a doctor. Finding his way to South Africa he'd number Paul Kruger among his patients. Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company would name Jameson as the Administrator of the colony, which would bring him into controversy and inspire Kipling. He would be giving his name to the Jameson Raid.

This is a far too complex matter to do justice in such a short piece. But the British had already lost the first Boer War and were smarting at dealing with the victorious Kruger and his country of Transvaal. The British were plotting, Jameson would become a pawn in the plan to provoke the second Boer War. Under orders, he took a group of essentially police officers of the time across the border into Transvaal to 'Restore order.' Except the planned revolt hadn't happened yet. Jameson's unit was taken prisoner, returned to England and tried.

And, in the manner that so often happens, he became a folk hero. As others faced charges they had much to say, pointing the finger at others. Already engulfed in the Venezuela boundary dispute, Secretary of State Joseph Chamberlain, father of Neville Chamberlain of 'Peace in our time' fame, attempted a resignation. Yet the public was impressed at the professionalism and dignity of Leander Jameson throughout the spectacle of his being made a scapegoat. Mary Hannah Krout would describe ". . . .the whole expression and demeanour of the man evinced fearlessness that would be disposed to express itself in deeds rather than words." Paul Kruger of Transvaal, President of the offended country, called for his release.

Indeed Jameson was allowed to go home. He returned to Cape Colony and became Prime Minister. By the time he retired to England, Rudyard Kipling had already written 'If' in his honor. At that time a Baronet was created in his honor, Leander Jameson was then a Lord. When he died during World War I his body waited three years before it could be transported to be buried in Rhodesia, formerly Transvaal and now Zimbabwe.

Ah, to go off in the world and do such things. I meet so many people so jealous that I actually held all my mostly fringe jobs in television. I tell them it's been mostly a parttime career where I didn't always make a living, but it still sounds better than their own life. I guess I'll always be comparing my own life to those of people like Leander Jameson. Dang, his poem is better known than Nimrod's.

I guess I just have to keep remembering people like the old man I met at a college departments open house some years back. He talked about how he'd simply been glad school was over with when he finished high school, that was to be the end of that. But when he wasn't finding a job real quick he decided he should keep his parents happy and he signed up at community college, the first in his family to go. He said he was instantly struck by the same thing I found in leaving Bosco Tech for Fullerton High School. The clowns that were only there to be babysat were gone, as were the teachers only there to do the babysitting. He wanted into the classroom for an hour or more of something interesting. And once he did have a job, he found it hard to tear himself away from school. Over the years, when he would decide he was too busy to go, he'd miss it and sign up again shortly after.

At the age of 42 he finally had the big moment he'd come to dream of. He walked into the personnel office of the factory he was working at and announced; "I just wanted to tell you I graduated and have a degree in Engineering, if that's important." If you know what all that meant you can imagine how you could have heard a pin drop as he said this. In a world where there's always a shortage of engineers there's people hard at work on the job long before they get a degree. And here's someone from their own assembly line.

"And you discovered you should have told them about going to school a long time ago." He agreed. 

While I certainly should have worked on a real masters degree that I couldn't afford, I don't really think of my scattered education as a bad thing. You make television about all sorts of things, with all sorts of things going on in the background. I tell people with just two years of college that can't get started they should go to work in a bank, as that's what the major studios really are, a type of bank. I made my informal study asking all sorts of people working in Hollywood what they were doing when they caught a break, quite a large number said they were working in a bank. Some even said they weren't even trying to get into Film and Television.

Still, do I really need 5 AA's? Here I was planning another in Engineering Physics, but without the Calculus I'm still locked out over a decade later. I suppose I'm close to one in Economics I could just finish. Then there's that 5th AA I may or may not have. Back when I first started college I studied Broadcasting but also went through several Sociology classes, including Social Problems as required for a degree. Back then Fullerton college had three classes in their department, one had to flesh out their unit total with Psychology, Anthropology, etc. Which I did. After I had my BA and rarely worked fulltime I went back to Fullerton College to get the 84 unit total I needed for an additional AA. But did I apply for it? I eventually noticed I didn't have the diploma in my stack. (That's the right word for it.) When I went to get a copy of it they acknowledged older records can have problems, but they had no record of it. Work has kept me busy at times, when I was finishing this it was one of those times. I suppose I forgot.

But things have changed. The Sociology Department now has its' own full schedule of classes for the major. If I want that degree, I'd have to take more classes there than I'd have to at Mt. SAC or Cerritos College. This at the school I'm already supposed to have the degree from.

So our student on the lifelong engineering journey soon found he was still missing school. Before long he was back, enrolling in graduate school. I think he said he was 57 when he got his masters in Engineering. When I talked to he was retiring, planning to take some classes in plastics and woodworking to make things at home on his own. And he still sounded like the child of immigrants in East L.A., with that singsong 'Spanglish' sound. Those STEM programs don't get you sounding like an English professor the way the Humanities classes I dwelled in do.

So I was happy to learn that Leander Starr Jameson was indeed the worthy subject of my poster. I decided to use a countryside photo of the area around where Jameson would have been captured as the background, with line art from the news coverage of his misadventure at the time. Photos of old and young Jameson, as well as any artwork, were all of course black and white but where expected to be color in the final project. I decided to colorize only the representations of Jameson in the artwork, as he was the standout character. That's my hand, by the way, drawing the hand lettering of the title as required. Probably the best technique I developed during the class was the ability to make 3Dimensional looking books, which I used for the title 'If' and for a Kipling quote that would seem to apply when considering a man involved in such a nefarious plot:

I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble.

If you're going to think well of Jameson, you're going to have to accept that he must have meant well. It's the rare man who can lead an invasion of a country then have them issue a stamp in his honor. Leander Starr Jameson was indeed such a rare man. His grave is a tourist attraction in a country that came to believe the best of him. So maybe his really is the world and everything in it. And how many kids just like me grow up reading the poem and emulating him without even knowing it?

Oh, the teacher hated it, of course. I still got an 'A'. He just hates everything, I kept telling the panicky students. My classmates would look at mine, I'd tell them what it was about, they'd all say I had them beat in making it ABOUT something. I also got another academic award. (Sigh.) Once I had the Gold Key from the Honor Society anything short of a Magna Cum Laude can't help but seem pedestrian. It just seems like it doesn't mean anything to have me win it. Maybe I just get too caught up in that calculus situation. Teachers laugh at me not being able to deal with being a mere mortal in a subject, but I think it's more about Bosco Tech leaving me with a lifelong mental block in math, which I could do just fine when I got there. But that's my only opportunity to do the stooping and building again with the worn out tools that Kipling talked about. As much as I'd rather be doing it on a REAL job. . . .