A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe: It’s really a real book! Today!

Source: A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe: It’s really a real book! Today!

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The Sacred Scrolls – Your Key to the Planet of the Apes Comics


I am a child of the 1970s, and like owning a vinyl copy of Frampton Comes Alive!, an Evel Knievel stunt set, and a Farrah Fawcett poster – being a fan of Planet of the Apes was mandatory. I love the Planet of the Apes, and so did everyone my age. Imagine the thrill for a comics geek like me when I found out about Planet of the Apes comic books. Now there’s a book from Sequart that examines those comics, meet me after the jump when I take a look at The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes.

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Available NOW! The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes

The Fog of Ward.

Awwwwwwwwwwwww, yeah.

After many months of (im)patiently waiting, Sequart‘s latest tome of pop culture essays has dropped on an unsuspecting fan populace. This time, we journey to the future and a world gone mad, where man once stood supreme and now apes rule.

Planet of the Apes was one of the biggest properties of the 1970s. Five feature films, two television series, and merchandise out the wazoo…including comics. After one attempt to reboot the franchise in 2001 (we pause here for stink eye  levied at Tim Burton), we got another, much more successful try in 2011. 2014 brought with it a sequel to the film, which ended up being my favorite movie of the year, and a third film is coming in 2017.

In and around all of that, there have been comics.

Spanning more than forty years and nine different publishers, Planet of the Apes has always been…

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A Wee Bout of Shore Leave


Shore Leave 37 is here!

This weekend, I’ll be heading down to Hunt Valley, MD to take part once more in the festivities put forth by the Star Trek Association of Towson.

cover front1Yet again, they saw fit to invite me as a guest.

The exciting part is that this weekend marks the world premiere of The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes, edited by both yours truly and Rich Handley, ape extraordinaire. Copies of it will be on sale Friday night at the Meet the Pros event, and afterwards through the ministrations of Patrick Darby of Novel Places, the convention’s bookseller.

Along with The Sacred Scrolls at Meet the Pros, I’ll also have copies of Gotham City 14 MilesStar Trek: Gold Key Archives Volume 3 (for which I wrote the introduction), and, of course, New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics.

I’ll also be taking part in four panels this time around:

Saturday, August 8
Noon-1 p.m.: Publishing: The Good, The Bad, and The Indie, with Mary Fan, Stephen Kozeniewski, Marco Palmieri, Jim Johnson, Donna Frelick, Daniel Morris, Joseph F. Berenato (Derby Room)

1 p.m.-2 p.m.: The Best & Worst of Star Wars & Star Trek, with John Jackson Miller, Dayton Ward, Kirsten Beyer, Kathleen David, Donna Frelick, Rigel Ailur, Peter David, Joseph F. Berenato (Salon A)

Sunday, August 9
Noon-1 p.m.: Comic Books, the New TV/Movie Go-To Source, with John Jackson Miller (moderator), Russ Colchamiro, Joseph F. Berenato, Dave Galanter, Keith R.A. DeCandido (Salon B)

1 p.m. – 2 p.m.: The 60s: What’s Old Is New Again: Trek, Batman, UNCLE, Apes, etc.: Joseph F. Berenato, Phil Giunta, Susanna Reilly, Dayton Ward, Robert Greenberger, Howie Weinstein, Marco Palmieri, Scott Pearson (Salon E)

And, of course, I’ll be wandering the convention floor, and sitting in the audience for various panels. So stop down and say hi!

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Il Camposanto Largu

My grandfather died last Sunday morning. He was 96. I said before that I don’t have the words to properly express what Grandpop meant to me, or the void he leaves behind. It was true then and it still is. I’ve been staring at this screen, off and on, for more than a week. The words don’t come. I sit and I stare, taking a break only to wipe away tears.

His death was a shock to all of us.

I realize how patently absurd that sounds. The man was 96 years old. How in hell could that possibly have come as a surprise?

Simple. We all thought he would live forever, as ridiculous as that sounds. But for those who knew him, it seemed the most natural sentiment in the world.

Mohawk with Blueberries

Joe “Mohawk” Berenato, holding the last crate of blueberries packed during the 2013 season.

He never stopped. Ever. We’d often joke that the only time he would stop was when he died, and then he probably wouldn’t stop for another day or two.

His father – my great-grandfather – started our family farm in 1922, when my grandfather was just three years old. And but for a few hospital stays throughout his life, Joe “Mohawk” Berenato went to that farm just about every day of his life, up to and including the day before he died. And because of that, I have seen him almost every day of my life for the last nine years.

As a result, ours became a particularly close relationship.

Growing up, of course, I always felt a close kinship with him. (I am, after all, named after him.) On Sunday afternoons when he and my grandmother would come to our house with donuts and danish and we’d all drink coffee and have dessert, my place at the table was right next to him. During holiday meals, be they at our house or his, my place was next to him. And for the last nine years when he, my father, and I would drink coffee at the farm, my place was next to him. No matter the location or the occasion, it often felt like it was the two of us against the world. In the swirling sea of conversations that usually bellowed at Sunday dessert or on holidays — have such a meal at an Italian household and you’ll know what I mean — our little snide side comments helped develop and strengthen a bond that has defined me in ways that I still don’t fully understand.

hj-1285And morning coffee has long since transcended from a work break to a tradition to a ritual to simply a fact of daily life, seven days a week if possible. But for a few exceptions, I have taken the time to go to the farm every morning — even on Sundays, even in the winter months when there is absolutely nothing to do on the farm but make sure the building is still standing — and have coffee with my father and grandfather, and often just the latter.

I loved having coffee with the two of them, but I often looked forward to the mornings when it would be just Mohawk and me. We’d talk about everything and nothing. We’d talk about family history and we’d talk about Phillies games. (Full disclosure: I couldn’t possibly give less of a shit about the Phillies, but Mohawk watched them religiously, so I started paying attention to their stats and game outcomes years ago so that we’d have something to talk about.) We’d talk about events around town, and who got married and who got divorced and who was running around with who and who had a baby and who was sick and who died. We’d talk about what had to be done on the farm, and about how to do it.

Which was the subject of frequent arguments between all of us.

My grandfather was great at giving technical advice, which mostly consisted of him telling us how to do everything because most of what we did we did wrong. Some of it was helpful, some of it not so much.

Case in point: a few years back, I was driving stakes into the ground with a sledgehammer, and in the process I smashed my thumb. I howled and threw the sledgehammer in the air, and it landed about thirty feet away from me (take that, Thor). That was when I noticed that Mohawk had pulled up in his pickup truck and watched the whole affair.

“What happened?” he asked me.
“I hit my thumb with the fuckin’ hammer,” I said.
“That’s ’cause you’re not hitting the stakes square.”
“No shit,” I said. “Is that why?”
“Well thank God you were here to tell me that.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “Don’t forget to get your hammer.” He smiled and drove off.

Not helpful at all, but I know he meant well.

And that’s the thing. He always meant well. He wanted things done right because he wanted everyone to do well. The problem came when we simply didn’t agree on what was the right way to do things. He and my father bickered almost incessantly about how to do just about everything on the farm, whether it was how to properly trim the blueberry bushes (an annual conversation) or how to reassemble a disk plow (a topic which led to surprisingly heated arguments). That’s to be expected, though, when you have a father and a son working together every day for sixty years. (My grandmother told me years ago that Mohawk was the same with his father, and I am told that I am becoming the same way with my father. Fathers and sons, I suppose. It’s the way of things.) Mohawk and I didn’t usually have that problem, because I knew how to resolve the issue in one of two ways. Either A.) I would tell him I thought his way was a good idea, but Dad signs my paycheck so I have to listen to him; or B.) I would tell him I thought his way was a good idea and start to do the given task his way until he left, and then go about doing it my way. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to imply that his way was always wrong or inefficient. Far from it, actually. But there were times when his way of doing things was mired in the distant past and he refused to accept that there are far better, more modern methods of doing a job.

Like how to make wine.

bottleWe started making wine in 1997, give or take, at my suggestion. We started off with blueberry wine — since we have plenty of raw materials, natch — and, in ’07, moved into various types of grape. (We also had a brief flirtation with peach wine, but once my cousins stopped growing peaches we quickly ran out of material.) I appreciate traditions — we started off using a fruit grinder that’s older than my father — but also recognize that every field has advances, including winemaking. So, like wineries and home vintners the world over, we use modern grinders, presses, Brix testers, and yeast.

Mohawk hated all of it. Every year I knew the conversation was coming, about how his father never used yeast, and his father never tested sugar levels. I would then remind him that his father went half his life before getting a toilet, and a quarter of his life without electricity.

Every year. Like clockwork. We had the same conversation every single year. I hated it. I dreaded it. But I also looked forward to it, and I loved it. It became a yearly tradition, like the wine making. Like so many other things that I can’t even begin to enumerate.

He was a hard man, as gruff as any member of his generation. And it took a lot to get a compliment out of him, so when he gave one it really meant something. And it meant a lot to me to know how proud he was that I finished grad school with a 4.0. It was then he told me that he never really thought I belonged on the farm. He knew I like the work, and he told me that I was good at it — holy shit, a compliment about my work on the farm! — but he always thought that I should be doing something else. And now, with the MA, hopefully I would. He told everybody he could about my teaching work, about my editing, and about my writing. He never specifically said he was proud, but he didn’t have to. His actions said it for him.

I didn’t think anything would ever stop him. I really didn’t. Not after his surgery.

Eight years ago he was in the midst of congestive heart failure. The good folks at Our Lady of Lourdes’ cardiac unit didn’t want to operate because his aorta was calcified and, because of his age, his odds of survival weren’t great. They essentially told him to go home and lay down, and not to bother buying any green bananas. We took him to a different hospital — Mainland Regional — to see if there was anything they could do.

One night, my father called me at 3 a.m. to tell me that Mohawk’s heart had stopped but they were able to revive him. By the time we got there around 3:30, he was screaming a blue streak.

“Jesus Christ!” he hollered. “I just want to fucking sleep. Why won’t these people let me fucking sleep?!”
“DAD!” my father yelled. “You died! Do you understand? They brought you back to life.”
“They want to put you under and put a tube down your throat,” Dad said. “Do you understand? They’re going to induce unconsciousness.”
“Well I wish they’d hurry up and fucking do it!” Mohawk said. “Maybe then I can get some God-damned fucking sleep!”

I swear to God, I thought those were going to be his last words.

Once he was under, it was obvious that surgery was no longer optional but necessary. As it stood, they gave him a 5% of surviving the procedure. And if he survived, they didn’t think he would walk again, and that he would need dialysis three times a week. Having nothing really to lose, we opted for the surgery. Once they got in his chest, they found that his aorta was indeed calcified — except for the exact spot they needed to clamp, which was soft, pink, and fleshy. They were able to perform a double-bypass and replace one of his valves. He not only survived the procedure, but he went through recovery and physical therapy with flying colors.

Four months after the operation that should have killed him, he was once more driving himself to the farm for coffee. Not long after that, he was trimming plants and hoeing the garden. He never once needed dialysis and never lost the ability to walk. He did his own shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, everything. This last year he started to get a little shaky on his feet from time to time, but what he fuck; he was 96. Occasionally he lost his footing and would fall.

That’s when I started to worry.

After surviving his surgery, his doctors called him the Miracle Man, and I think he believed it. He refused to accept the fact that he was almost a century old, that almost everyone in the obituaries was at least a decade younger than him, and that he could no longer do all of the things that he could when he was thirty, twenty, or even ten years younger. Anytime I would bring it up, or try to get him to get Life Alert, or a live-in, he’d reply, “Il camposanto largu,” Sicilian for “the cemetery is wide.” “Plenty of room for all of us,” he’d say. “We all end up there someday.”

No, he never stopped. And that’s what killed him.

He was at the farm last Saturday, same as always. He showed up in the morning and had coffee, then worked on the blueberry inspection line for a while. He went home for lunch, after which he went outside to water his plants. There was a broom handle outside that he used to check the level in his heating oil tank, and he must not have seen it because he tripped over it and fell. In the process he dislocated his shoulder. They were able to reset it at the hospital, and sent him home with the caveat that somebody stay with him. They mentioned a little concern over clots, but figured because he was on blood thinners that it wouldn’t be an issue. My father stayed the night, and got up with him at 5 a.m. on Sunday. Mohawk got dressed, and had the same Cheerios and apricot nectar for breakfast that he’s had for decades. (A doctor in 1955 told him that apricot nectar would help with his ulcer, so he drank it every morning for the rest of his life.) Dad left around 6 a.m. to get things started at the farm and to pick up Mohawk’s prescriptions, and said he’d be back at 9 a.m.

When he got back, Mohawk was gone. It was mostly likely a clot of some sort, having traveled either to his brain or his heart. Whatever it was, the paramedics believed it was almost instantaneous and that he felt no pain. He probably never even knew it happened, just like a lightswitch being turned off.

Everybody’s reaction was the same. “What do you mean, he’s gone?” “I just saw him at Walmart two days ago.” “He just drove by me last week.” “He just brought me blueberries yesterday!” Yes, Joe Mohawk was a very old man. He was on his way to 97. But for anyone who ever knew him, his death was a complete shock.

hj-1571The farm is empty without him. It’s lonely. He was a constant presence there for 93 years, a constant presence in my life for 37 years, and a daily presence for the last nine. And now, he’s gone. More than just a grandfather, he was a mentor, a confidante, a co-conspirator (he had a way of saying something particularly incendiary to someone, then looking at you and giving you a wink and a smile, as if the two of you had just shared a private joke), a parental figure, and a best friend. He leaves behind a void in my heart larger than I thought possible. I am lost without him.

Yet I have no regrets. There was nothing left unsaid between us. Anytime we had an argument or a problem, we were always able to talk through it. Sometimes I apologized. Sometimes he did. It didn’t matter. We always resolved our problems, which were usually minor anyway. And though I can’t remember the last time he actually said the words, I never doubted his love for a minute. And I know that he never doubted mine.

I will miss him terribly.

For this one farmer the worries are over, lie down and rest your head,
Your time has been and struggles enough, put the tractor in the shed.
Years were not easy, many downright hard, but your faith in God transcended,
Put away your tools and sleep in peace. The fences have all been mended.
You raised a fine family, worked the land well and always followed the Son,
Hang up your shovel inside of the barn; your work here on earth is done.
A faith few possess led your journey through life, often a jagged and stony way,
The sun is setting, the cattle are all bedded, and here now is the end of your day.
Your love of God’s soil has passed on to your kin; the stories flow like fine wine,
Wash off your work boots in the puddle left by blessed rain one final time.
You always believed that the good Lord would provide and He always had somehow,
Take off your gloves and put them down, no more sweat and worry for you now.
Your labor is done, your home now is heaven; no more must you wait,
Your legacy lives on, your love of the land, and we will close the gate.
–Nancy Kraayenhof.

Mohawk Tux

Joseph Antonio Edward “Mohawk” Berenato
December 7, 1918 – July 5, 2015



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Writing about Apes and Star Wars for Sequart!

The Fog of Ward.

Not together, you understand. I mean, that’d just be weird.

Those of you who follow this space with any regularity know that the good folks over at the Sequart Organization have seen fit to invite me into their fold here and there, so that I might contribute an essay or two on various pop culture topics of interest. Last year, it was New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, edited by Joseph F. Berenato. Coming later this summer is The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes, edited by Joe and Rich Handley.

Having not learned their lesson so far as what happens when you allow me to come over and puke in your punch bowl, Rich and Joe have taken complete leave of their senses and called upon me to contribute to not one but two more collections of Sequart essays.

(Overheard from…

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Spock's Chair

Leonard Nimoy died today.

I see the words on my screen, but I can’t comprehend them. They seem like a fiction, and a terrible one at that. I feel like a two-bit hack for writing such unbelievable dreck.

But it’s not fiction. It’s fact. Leonard Nimoy died today.

When he was rushed to the hospital last week with chest pains, I had a feeling this day was coming. When he stayed active on Twitter, though, my hopes were bolstered. I thought maybe he was making a recovery.

I had no idea he was taking the opportunity to impart his final words to us all.

And by God, do we all have memories of him.

I’ve written before about how I got into Star Trek at an early age, due largely to my mom’s influence. I’ve long held that part of her interest in the show was due in no small part to a fangirlish crush on Leonard Nimoy. And it was the thought of seeing someone flip Spock the bird in Star Trek IV that finally convinced me to sit down and watch a Trek flick from start to finish. From there I devoured the previous movies and all of the original and animated series, and started religiously watching The Next Generation.

Then I got into the novels. I wasn’t much of a reader before then, unless you count the occasional Garfield or Peanuts book or, of course, comic books. The thought of tackling so many words on a page without a picture break was daunting — I was, after all, in the fourth grade. I started with Jean Lorrah’s The IDIC Epidemic and never looked back. I compiled a complete Trek library shortly after, and looked forward to each new novel release. Novels, technical manuals, comic books, fan club magazines… if it was Trek, I read it. I even tried my hand at my own Trek stories; besides my Ghostbusters script in second gradeTrek fanfic was the earliest stuff I wrote.

I also wrote letters. Lots and lots of letters. I started a regular correspondence with Richard Arnold, Gene Roddenberry’s assistant at Paramount’s Star Trek office. Every other month I’d send a letter with a bunch of questions about the franchise, about upcoming projects, costume suggestions, what have you, and Richard would write back each time, without fail. (Lots of things have been said about Arnold, but I’ll give him this — he always, ALWAYS took the time to write back multi-page letters to me.)

I also wrote to the cast members. I started off with DeForest Kelley — my idol at the time — and squealed with delight when he sent me his autograph not long after. Then I wrote to Nimoy. I couldn’t even begin to remember the contents of the letter, but I do know that I asked him to please send an autographed picture saying “live long and prosper.” Imagine my delight a few months later when I got a large envelope in the mail, opened it, and found this:

Spock Autograph

Over time, I had the opportunity to meet Kelley, Jimmy Doohan, George Takei and Walter Koenig (I just missed Nichelle Nichols at one con, and haven’t yet had the chance to meet William Shatner, though I have talked to his agent a few times). Though I never shook hands with Leonard Nimoy, I did have the opportunity to attend one of his “Spock vs. Q” stage shows with John DeLancie, at a convention at the Ft. Washington Expo Center in 1998. (Full disclosure: I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, because my girlfriend at the time — also a Trekkie — was a little freaked out by the fact that Gary Lockwood, a.k.a. Gary Mitchell from “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” spent the better part of the day coming on to her. I thought it was awesome, but she didn’t appreciate his advances.)

Though I never personally interacted with him, the impact that Leonard Nimoy has had on my life is unmistakable, particularly regarding my love of the written word. As I got older, my tastes naturally, eventually, expanded beyond Star Trek. Stephen King, Mario Puzo, Neil Gaiman, Tim O’Brien, Whitman, Shakespeare, Stoker, Shelley and countless others. That led to my English degree, which ultimately led to my forthcoming master’s degree. My love for Star Trek comics is directly responsible for my first published book, which has not only led to a full publishing slate for the foreseeable future but has also helped me foster professional and personal relationships with many of the comic book writers and Star Trek novelists whose works I’ve cherished since childhood.  All because of a journey began with Star Trek novels. And had it not been for my mom, I wouldn’t have gotten into the show. And had it not been for Leonard Nimoy, neither would she.

I wrote before that I write because of Harold Ramis, but I read because of Leonard Nimoy.

And now he’s gone.

Leonard Nimoy died today. Like I said, I see the words, but I don’t comprehend them. And I don’t think I’ll fully comprehend their import for a long time. My story is just one of hundreds of thousands of people who were impacted and influenced by man we never personally knew, but his work somehow touched us all. We are who we are because of Star Trek, and because of Leonard Nimoy. More so than William Shatner, more so than even Gene Roddenberry, Nimoy was the heart and soul from its earliest pilot in 1964 to its most recent screen iteration in 2013.

(A brief note about that last one: when I first saw him show up in Into Darkness, I thought it was pointless pandering; that he had no business being in that film. Strangely, when rumors started that both he and Shatner were to make cameos in the forthcoming 2016 film, I was all for it and wanted to be pandered to shamelessly. Because, really, I didn’t care if it was just three minutes of Spock eating a salad; I just wanted to see Nimoy as Spock one MORE last time.)

I would have loved to see Nimoy live to see the official 50th anniversary celebration next year. I would have loved for him to reprise Spock Prime again. I would have loved for him to keep tweeting his Spockian wisdom. I would have loved for him to keep on keepin’ on.

But he is keepin’ on, in a way. Through his acting, through his autobiographies, through his music (his album Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space is a must-have) through his poetry and his photography. Through me, and my love of reading, and my devotion to the franchise. Through you, reading this. Through all of us who feel his loss. Through all of us whose lives were affected by his presence. Through all of us who are who we are because of Star Trek and because of him.

Leonard Nimoy died today, but his legacy continues. He’s really not dead, as long as we remember him.

Live long and prosper.

Nimoy Star

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