Friday, January 31, 2014

Tanzania from the passenger’s seat

The opportunity to speak at a school brought me to Africa.

In the process, I got an education myself—largely from the passenger’s seat en route to and from the school every day for four days.

A bit of what I learned and experienced:

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for a short time beginning in 1934. We were going to drive by his former home but in all the excitement it slipped our mind.
  • Lots of people wear T-shirts with logos of familiar brands, including American colleges and sports teams. This is at least in part because the Salvation Army regularly distributes used clothing.
  • Lots of people try to sell goods on the street—the literal street. Almost anytime the car stopped, someone was there with handfuls of small electronics (cables, etc.), pirated DVDs, nuts, flowers…even individual eggs. At first their faces were inscrutable, but when we politely said no, we always got a smile. The people seem to have a kind soul.
  • I was told of an incident when something disrupted the water at the school. The expats found that frustrating but the locals who worked there didn’t; some did not have running water at their homes.
  • I was told of another incident in which, one night, several intended thieves climbed over a wall enclosing the school grounds. They landed on a generator, which shocked them, so they couldn’t help but let out shouts of pain. This brought residents to their windows and balconies, and they watched as the school guards beat the intruders as the intruders called out “But that’s where you told us to climb over!” Corruption is common, and it appeared these men paid off the guards to turn a blind eye, but once the residents learned of the intruders, the guards had to put on a show so the residents would feel the guards were doing their jobs.
  • Before taking off from Africa, the flight attendants walked down the aisles spraying special airplane insecticide along the ceiling.
  • I was told the malaria pills I had to take might induce nightmares. I wish they had. The closest instance occurred on the plane home; I dreamed of a large, brown, hairy spider-like creature, only it had a fan tail (almost like a peacock) and visible pincers. I was watching it slink along a wall until it took flight, circled around, then headed straight for my face. That jolted me awake.

Seen around town:

 The “F”s are made out of flip flops.

 The night watchman at my hotel was a Maasai man.

 View from my hotel room of low tide, morning.

 Tide, late morning.

 Tide, afternoon.

 Tide, late afternoon.

 Spot the sign to the school.

 Coco Beach. Sadly, not safe.

 The Indian Ocean.

 This was a band singing in a moving truck.

The one-night, two-day safari I was going to 
spontaneously go on...until I got a fever.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Aftermath of the UFO crash in Tanzania

The week of 1/20/14, in connection with Writing Week, I had the honor of speaking with the students at the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The night before my first day, something resembling a UFO appeared (crashed?) on the grounds.

Naturally, this created quite a stir.

Some kids were skeptical. Some were scared.

Some started investigations.

Some did research and found that something similar happened in London not long ago. Some took this as proof that both incidents were real…and possibly connected.

Wonderfully, many were inspired to write—stories, newspaper-style articles, emails to NASA.

Here are some of the overheard reactions:

  • “THERE ARE ALIENS!” (grade 1 student)
  • “I can read the writing. It says ‘Four women jump off a cliff.’” (grade 2)
  • “It has ‘Made in China’ written on it.” (grade 3, about “alien” writing)
  • “I think it may be an evil thing from another universe come to destroy us all. That or to save us all. It is hard to say.” (grade 3)
  • “Is it Turkish?” (grade 5)
  • “It would have made a bigger hole if it really came from high up.” (grade 5)
  • “It’s a mineral digger that’s come up from underground.”
  • “Have you seen God?”
  • “I think this is a scam!”
  • “It’s not real. It’s all a ploy by the teachers to get us to write.” (grade 5)

For the sake of argument, let’s say it was indeed such a ploy. Could/would an American school create a scenario like this to prompt kids to write?

Generally speaking, I’m afraid the answer is no.

And for the same reason some books are banned.

What happened in Tanzania shows that a “UFO” on school property would excite and motivate many students…but if it could scare even oneif even one parent complainedthat would be enough for some schools to nix the idea.

And that is unfortunate.
As we all know, you can’t please everyone. Whatever happened to the greatest good for the greatest number? Fire drills (and now, intruder drills) are scary for some kids and schools aren’t giving up those. Different good intention, same principle.

I’m a parent myself; I see that a little fear (at any age) is a good thing. It challenges us. It helps us analyze. It helps us overcome. And it may inspire us to write. All of which we want for our kids.

Therefore, I enthusiastically encourage schools in America (and everywhere else, of course) to consider crashing a UFO on your grounds. Tie it into your own Writing Week. 

Tie it into an author visit. 

Tie it into nothing.

In any case, the benefits far, far outweigh any risk.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ty Templeton shows us Batman if Bill Finger did not exist

Inspired in some part by my campaign to see a Bill Finger Google doodle on his 100th birthday (2/8/14), Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman artist Ty Templeton, my partner in Crime Alley, gifted the world with something no one I know of has thought of before: a comic sequence starring Batman as created by Bob Kane.

Think of it as It’s a Wonderful Life, comic book edition.

The uninformed may be scratching their heads saying “Wait, every Batman story features Batman as created by Bob Kane.”

Not even close.

In this case, the revisionist history came firstKane is not the sole creator, or even the main creator, of the Dark Knight.

Ty did not stop with the cartoon. He also offers a number of custom badges that anyone can freely use to spread the word. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Of course, should you use any, please credit Ty. This is, after all, for a guy who was not credited...

Thanks to Ty, and these kind folks, and what feels like a quarter of everyone on Twitter, the truth is finally breaking up from the underground, cracking Kane’s gravestone to reach the light.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bill Finger Google doodle: "Hollywood Reporter"

Bill Finger never saw California in person, but now, forty years after his death, he is going Hollywood.

Hollywood Reporter, that is.

Batman supports the underdog so let’s keep supporting the underdog behind Batman...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Skyping with the “Addicted to Love” women

Last year, I became the first person since the iconic 1986 Addicted to Love video to track down and interview all five women who appeared in it.

All along I intended to run this girl in the video” series here on my blog, but at the 11th hour I did pitch the concept to a few brands, including Yahoo. Yahoo said too niche. Yahoo said no. So I proceeded with Plan A.

I am happy to (re)report that the series garnered considerable attention from media and fans.

Last week, in building up to the Grammys, Yahoo did a short video interview with four of the five.

I guess in these past six months the idea lost its nicheness. Whatever could have changed that?

(And where are you, Julie Pankhurst?)

As of this writing, there are close to 1,000 comments under the Yahoo video, most of which I did not read, but this one made me laugh: “THEY WENT ON TO LIVE DIFFERENT LIVES??! You mean they don’t all live together in a house, walking around all slinky like in short black dresses!?”

2/4/14 addendum: The video has been removed from the U.S. site but remains on the UK site (link above), though without an embed option.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bill Finger Google doodle: Comic Book Resources on "Washington Post" coverage

A week after first covering my push to honor Bill Finger with the Google doodle on 2/8/14, his 100th birthday, the Robot 6 column on Comic Book Resources again covered it, this time focusing on the Washington Post coverage of the same!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bill Finger Google doodle: "USA Today"

“I hope Finger gets his day, even if the attention comes several decades too late. Props to Marc for working so hard to make sure he's remembered.”

On 1/21/14, Whitney Matheson of USA Today’s “Pop Candy” kindly threw heavyweight support behind my home-stretch effort to honor Bill Finger’s 100th birthday slash staggering cultural contribution with the 2/8/14 Google doodle.


Thank you again, Whitney. So appreciated.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kevin Smith and I talk about Bill Finger for an hour


That is all.

Who am I kidding? That is not all.

I was the guest for the 1/20/14 Fat Man on Batman podcastfirst of the new year, first of the year of Bill’s 100th birthday.

Though Kevin prefers in-studio interviews, we have tried and failed for months to be in the same city at the same time; given the time-sensitive nature of lobbying Google about my idea for the 2/8/14 doodle, Kevin for the first time recorded over Skype.

We had the video on for only a moment before shutting it off to improve sound quality. In that one moment, I did not look good:

Apparently, kibitzing with Kevin about one’s book does wonders for one’s Amazon rank (screen shot from a few hours after the podcast went online):

(Before the show, it was six figures.)

And, if one of the comments can be taken as omen, it could also be good for ones nonexistent film career:

“This has to be a film. Starring and directed by Ben Affleck. Guaranteed Oscar gold.”

People seemed to like the podcast.

Thank you again, Kevin (and Meg, Will, and Ashley). I look forward to seeing you soon...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tanzania school, day 1: UFO crash

My first day of speaking at a school in Tanzania was hugely memorable on two counts.

First, because I was speaking at a school in Tanzania.

Second, because the night before I arrived, a UFO crashed on the grounds.

The story:

On 1/20/14, I presented to four groups on my first of four days at the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam—one large assembly and three humor workshops.
gym in which the group assembly was held

 spacious library in which the workshops were held

This library so far from home held many reminders of home—books by (and, in at least one case, about) author/illustrator friends of mine:

(Not pictured: books by other friends including Jenni and Matt Holm and Chris Barton.)

Seen around the campus:


I loved the school and the kids seemed wonderfully engaged during my talks. 

But I was not the biggest buzz on campus.

It’s hard to compete with evidence of alien life.

Upon arriving (just shy of 7:30 a.m.), we saw a phalanx of heavy-duty guards standing around something covered by a tarp and blocked off by yellow caution tape:

I heard kids speculating it was a fallen satellite, a bomb, or a big crab…any of which would have been scary in their own ways.

At some point during my assembly, the tarp came off and the jaws dropped:

Because it sure looked like a UFO. And I had just talked about Superman, who was sent to Earth in a small spaceship...not unlike what this resembles.

Part of the ground around it was scorched. The kicked-up soil was reddish, different than the brown dirt underneath. Some kids even reported seeing something white moving inside, and some found green goo on the ground nearby.

Some brave boys took soil samples.

By day’s end, even parents were crowding around the mysterious, metallic object. 

We were told scientists would be coming out later this week to examine it.

One scientist, however, had been on the scene from the start. She is in 1st grade:

Soon after the staff and kids learned of the object, one enterprising teacher put up canvases nearby for people to write what they thought it was. The answers are fascinating and often funny:

I am hoping the mystery will be solved by my last day here…

1/29/14 addendum: What happened next.