Friday, November 13, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
For your inner fanboy
Now there's a headline that catches your eye. Yes it turns out that late Frank Zappa, the restless musical genius who may have been the most committed inconoclast in the history of rock, was a pal to the late Jack Kirby, the cosmic dreamer who is arguably the second most essential figure in the history of the American comic book. (You have to put Superman at first.)
I remember seeing a vintage 1968 issue of "Fantastic Four" that had an ad for "We're Only in It for the Money," the new album from the Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and it surprised me because it seemed like an unexpected crossover moment between counter-culture music and the Marvel universe. Both were popular on college campuses, of course, but seeing the gaudy little blurb ("Thrilling clean fun!" it promised) still made me smile and think about the sweet confusion of a young first-time Zappa listener trying to get his head around the album. If you don't know it, it's a masterpiece of cultural satire and heady music with Zappa's smirking wit at every corner -- the titles include, "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body," "Hot Poop," "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" and the mad-laughter finale "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny."
That last title sounds like some weapon you might use against Galactus if you've misplaced your Ultimate Nullifer, so maybe it makes sense that Zappa found plenty to talk about with Kirby. I first learned about this friendship in a piece written by Jeff Newelt for Royal Flush magazine. It turns out that Newelt got his hands on a photo (below right) of Kirby and Zappa together and then later met Ahmet Zappa, the youngest son of the musician, who filled in some of the compelling blanks. Here's an excerpt of his article...
So I had to show Ahmet my Blackberry screensaver, the image I had found of his dad and Jack together, and Ahmet goes, “Whoa, I never saw that! That’s in my living room… Jack would come over and smoke cigars and Frank would smoke cigarettes, and they’d talk and talk.”
One of the things Frank and Jack had in common: the prodigious amount of cosmic goodness that extruded from their respective noggins was not the result of drugs; They both enjoyed tobaccy but only the unwacky. We had other stuff to discuss that evening, so I made Ahmet promise to reconnect ASAP to spill the magic beans on this egregiously undocumented duo. And he kept his promise.
Ahmet, one of four Zappa kids, the other three being Moon Unit (the oldest), Dweezil (second oldest), and Diva (youngest), was always into superheroes his entire life.
“I loved Spider-Man; it’s the jam,” gushed Ahmet. “My dad loved comics and was the first to advertise rock 'n’ roll in comics, for 'We’re Only In It For The Money' [in Fantastic Four #72, 1968, Natch!]. My mother made Dweezil and I costumes of Spider-Man and The Mighty Thor.”
The son of a gregarious rock star, Ahmet grew up meeting every celebrity musician under the sun. But it wasn’t a rocker who gave Ahmet that first feeling of being around greatness. “I was not starstruck at all by rock stars because music is its own language and my father spoke it, so we spoke it,” Ahmet explains matter-of-factly. “This totally demystified the fame or the celebrity. There was no currency for ‘oooh, that guy sold a million records, we just cared about good music. One of the most significant moments in my life is when my dad said, ‘Meet Jack, he’s the guy who created all those superheroes you love.’ That blew my little mind. I thought it was awesome and weird that my dad had this friendship with this guy. It was like meeting like a real magician!”
There's a lot more in the piece (including a snapshot of young Ahmet dressed as Thor and a sidebar on Kingdom Comics) so do check out the whole thing online or in the print edition of the magazine, which is now on sale. Newelt, a good friend to the Hero Complex, also sent over a fantastic illustration done for the magazine article -- it's the Rick Veitch piece you see at top left which shows Zappa in cosmic Kirby-mode. I'm a longtime fan of Veitch's work and if you are too, check back here in the weeks to come because we're long overdue on talking to him for the H.C., especially with the recent re-release of his twisted classic "Brat Pack." But right now I'm going to go dig out some Zappa vinyl and read that spiffy hardcover version of Kirby's "Fourth World" saga...
-- Geoff Boucher
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
In 1994, Alien concept designer HR Giger was asked to design a Batmobile for Batman Forever. His spindly, pincer-like design is an oddly organic take on Batman's tech, but still an improvement over the neon-lit monstrosity that was ultimately chosen.
Batmobile Art has a more detailed description of Giger's design:
His unique "X" shaped design was to include articulated front legs/mandibles, retractable fins, and gatling gun emplacements on each of the four pods on the sides of the vehicle. The design also combined side and forward intake ports with organinic spines and a central pod connecting the four legs.
H.R. Giger's Batmobile design [Super Punch]
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Spectacles can hear what someone says and beam a translation on to the lens.
By Claudine Beaumont, Technology Editor
Published: 1:47PM GMT 03 Nov 2009
Foreign language dictionaries could soon be a thing of the past, after Japanese manufacturer NEC unveiled a pair of glasses that can automatically translate spoken words and phrases.
The system is designed to be compact and lightweight, so it can be comfortably worn for long periods and not to use too much battery power. The retinal display projects the text in the wearer's peripheral vision, enabling the user to maintain eye contact with whoever they're speaking to.
The Tele Scouter is currently still a prototype, although NEC plans to start selling the system to businesses next year. The Japanese manufacturer admits that the device's translation capabilities are limited at the moment, so it will market the device as a wearable, hands-free data display. NEC envisages that it could be used by engineers and technicians to view user guides or manuals while installing and repairing hardware.
A Tele Scouter system capable of supporting up to 30 users will cost around Y750 million (around £5.1 million), and NEC is hoping to sell 1,000 of these systems within the next three years.
a compact microphone and camera, which picks up the foreign-language conversation. This audio recording is then relayed to a small computer worn on the user's waist, which transmits the information to a remote server. The server translates the words from speech to text, and transmits it back to the glasses, where the translated phrase is then appears on a tiny retinal display, providing the wearer with a transcript of the conversation in their own language.