Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Explorigator (1908)




When he began the amazing story of The Explorigator on Sunday, May 3rd, 1908, Harry Grant Dart was already well on his way to becoming an established and respected illustrator. After serving as a sketch artist in Cuba for the New York World paper, he assumed responsibility as its art director. It was for them that he developed the idea of The Explorigator as a response to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland, running in the rival New York Herald.  

Whereas McCay's Little Nemo found himself in all manner of fanciful places through his dreams, Dart's crew had a more pragmatic approach: the titular flying machine. Via this contraption, the crew was prepared to answer untold mysteries that haunted the minds of humanity. According to the blurb introducing the first strip:
Do we know that the Moon is inhabited or that it is made of green cheese? Do we know that Mars is inhabited or whether it is cracked? Do we know anything about Santa Claus Land or where Fourth of Julys are made? No! Decidedly no!
Realizing our terrible ignorance and remembering how long it has been since Alice visited Wonderland, the FUNNY SIDE decided that something must be done. The ablest minds in the country were consulted and exhausted. As a result behold "The Explorigator."
Neither brains nor money were spared in fitting out this wonderful airship. It has hot and cold water, dumbwaiters and a southern exposure. The crew has been carefully selected.
THE EXPLORIGATOR sails from this page to-day. It will go directly to the Moon, where the first series of explorations will be conducted.
That crew is a colourful cross-section of character archetypes (and racial stereotypes) common to this golden age of newspaper comic strips. There is the plucky reporter Teddy Typewriter and Chinese cook Ah Fergetit, the British guard Grenadier Shift and the sleuth Detective Rubbersole, navigator Maurice Mizzentop, Captain Nicholas Nohooks, and Admiral Fudge himself, rocking a fine pre-Nazi swastika charm on his hat.

Their first and only stop was the Moon. Like other stories of the type, the lunar sphere investigated by the Explorigator is a canvas for fanastic architecture and terrible puns, with incidents practically out of Lewis Carroll. After the Grenadier is caught trying to steal a product of the Moonbeam Factory, his hat (who was the real culprit, since the pilfered moonbeam was hiding beneath it) was confiscated and rehatched, whereupon it sprouts wings and a beak. The chase for the hat lands them in the palace of the Lady in the Moon, whose ladies in waiting are captivated by the Chinese cook, which causes the jealous Admiral to fire him. They then end up in a cave of giant cats and are pursued by giant frogs up to the strip's abrupt ending.

It's too bad that The Explorigator never continued. It is a classic newspaper strip from the golden age of newspaper strips, with some nice offbeat humour and a delightful premise. As it stands, the strip can be read in black and white at Barnacle Press, but if you'd like the full colour edition, you might have to shell out the $125 for Forgotten Fantasy: Sunday Comics 1900-1915 from Sunday Press Books. 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

On GamerGate, Toxic Marxism, and the Death of Online Liberalism

It is the six month semiversary of GamerGate and the more things change the more they stay the same. The media has maintained its narrative that a group composed primarily of liberal women is a misogynist hate mob because they stand up to the people who keep poking at them, supported by so-called progressives who engage in an endless variety of gendered and racial slurs. But real progress has been made with games media. Some of the major sites have seen their ad revenue drop by seven figures, other have inaugurated new ethics and disclosure policies, and still others have turned over their staff to provide greater diversity of voices. In the mean time, AAA games developers have been getting more vocal in standing up to the media and pretty much just wanting the whole thing to end

For me, one of the weirder and more cathartic things to come out of it is seeing how much this conflict echoed my experience with the Steampunk scene, which is probably why I've been riveted to it despite not identifying as a gamer. Though written respective to Hacker culture (and subtextually to GamerGate), Meredith Patterson's When Nerds Collide itemizes a lot of what happened when the "nerds" of Maker culture, cosplay culture, post-Goth culture, and SJW's discovered this thing called Steampunk (i.e.: "Many geeks can tell you stories of how they and a few like-minded companions formed a small community that achieved something great, only to have it taken over by popular loudmouths who considered that greatness theirs by right of social station and kicked the geeks out by enforcing weirdo-hostile social norms... [it] is by now a signaling characteristic of weirdohood."). With that act of appropriation came the entitlement and judgmentalism intrinsic to those kinds of cultural in-crowd movements. This anonymous article on NoteHub articulates the similar drive in SJW culture respective to GamerGate. A simple word-substitution of "SJW" for "Maker" suffices to explain much of how Steampunk culture operates (e.g.: "Maker culture operates on a hierarchical hub-and-spoke communications model. In this model, your right to speak is determined by your status. Your status is determined - among other things - by your displayed enthusiastic agreement with cultural precepts established by high-status individuals").    

It's probably not possible to do a better six month-recap than the one delivered by shoe0nhead, or this article by T. James, However, since the media narrative hasn't changed by much, the article I wrote back in November still seems to apply. So here it is, once more...    

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Océadia (2004)

The following short computer animation is a brief tribute to Jules Verne by David Uystpruyst and Sylvain Potel, featuring Harper Goff's famous design of the Nautilus. Enjoy!



The official website can be found here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon (1965)


Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon was the eighth full-colour feature film by Toei Doga, the studio widely considered to be one of the top contenders for the throne of "Japan's Disney". The other two contestants are the "God of Manga" and creator of Astro-Boy, Osamu Tezuka, and Studio Ghibli. There is a connection between this film and Studio Ghibli, however: Gulliver's Travels shows the very first glimmers of the storytelling talent held by one aspiring young inbetween animator named Hayao Miyazaki.

In the post-war recovery melieu in which Toei was situated, being innovative was the best way to remain competitive. It was the 1960 adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's manga My Son Goku as Saiuki (or Alakazam the Great in English) that whet his appetite for animation, leading to the development of Astro-Boy into a television series in 1963. To counteract such bold moves, Toei was open to fresh ideas from throughout its hierarchy. Hayao Miyazaki began working for Toei on their previous film Watchdog Bow Wow in 1963, after having been inspired to enter the field of animation upon seeing Toei's first feature film Tale of the White Serpent (aka: Panda and the Magic Serpent) in 1958. He achieved some notoriety when he agitated during a studio labour dispute in 1964, but got noticed in a positive way for his contributions to Gullver's Travels.

It is impossible to talk about that contribution without revealing the end of the film, for that is where it lies. In the original draft, a homeless boy in the modern day is chased out of a theatre showing a film adaptation of Gulliver's Travels. Late at night, after making the acquaintance of a dog named Mack and a discarded toy soldier, he falls asleep. Upon waking, the trio trespass in an amusement park for a little fun, being forced to flee on rockets after security finds them. The rockets take them into the forest where they meet an aged Gulliver who dreams of leaving Earth for a planet he calls "The Blue Star of Hope". Along with his avian copilot, Gulliver and our heroes board his sleek, Googie rocket and blast off. They are eventually brought to a planet neighbouring the Blue Star and learn that its inhabitants were kicked off it by their own robot servants. These same robots conduct occasional raids on their former alien overlords, and in their latest kidnap the Princess and Mack. Gulliver, Ted and the rest proceed to launch a rescue.

At this point the original script and Miyazaki's altered one begin to differ. In the original, the robots were defeated, the Princess rescued and everyone lives happily ever after. Miyazaki found this unsatisfying and proposed a different version that would resonate through the remainder of his life. In his version, Ted revives the Princess by shedding the robot suit she herself was wearing. Rather than the overt defeat of an enemy, resolution comes by reconciliation and rebirth: the aliens of the Blue Star are free to reinvent their lives without subjugation to machines.

Unfortunately, while this ending does alter the meaning of the film, it is evident that it was not a planned ending. For anyone who screwed up their eyes at the left-field, final-act revelations in Ghibli films, this is where it began. Practically nothing is presented to the viewer to suggest that the aliens were anything other than aliens, no clues whatsoever that they were to taken as robots themselves. It even begs a question about why, if they already had robot suits, they bothered to make robot servants. Nevertheless, it certainly demonstrates the early fermenting of Miyazaki's standard tropes.

Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon is itself a film of astonishing quality. Those familiar with animation's history might best describe the late-Fifties and Sixties as a time of trimmed budgets and cost-saving measures. The guiltiest, most-defining examples are Hanna-Barbera and Disney's fetish for xerography. Tezuka's Astro-Boy series is often an example of how to do an unanimated series, and for as much as I love it, Rocky and Bullwinkle does frequently earn the reputation of a radio show with pictures. Toei's films stand head and shoulders above the pack. Without a doubt they are without parallel, being owed the highest praise for fluidity of animation and charm of character design. Their formula of predominately Asian fairy tales melding drama, romance, comedy and music can almost be said to out-Disneyed Disney in the same time period.

Sadly, though, dub-missteps and low-budget importers resulted in low acclaim for Toei's films overseas. Hopes ran high that drawing inspiration from a European fairy tale might help them really break through into the American market, but Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon didn't do any better than any previous Toei film, which wasn't much to write home about either. As a consequence, this was the last film that saw Stateside release. Short of torrenting a fansub, getting a copy of this or any other Toei films of the era remains extremely difficult.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Doctor Who: Risk - The Dalek Invasion of Earth


The Dalek Invasion of Earth is rightly regarded as one of the greatest stories of the original Doctor Who. The Daleks burst onto the scene in the Doctor's second story and were almost single-handedly(?... Single-plungeredly?) responsible for saving the fledgling show from cancellation. The following season, the Daleks were sent to Earth in an epic and game-changing adventure. I've made no secret of my love for that story and for how it was updated and referenced in modern Doctor Who, and the new board game from Hasbro/USAopoly is a fantastic addition to it.

Based in modern Doctor Who, this special edition of Risk doesn't exactly follow the story from the original serial. To quote the box:
Earth. Early 20th century. The planet has faced many invasions in the past, but never has mankind faced an assault like this, as multiple Dalek armies descend from the skies, seeking to destroy one another and conquer the world.

Many years ago, an ancient artefact was hidden somewhere on the planet, an artefact that will enable the Daleks to reign supreme across the universe, defeating any who stand in their way. Such an object is so valuable that even the Daleks cannot agree how best to wield it, and have split into renegade armies, each as cunning and determined as the next...

As you fight for supremacy, the Doctor will do his best to stop you, bringing peace to a different territory each turn, and if your army is not victorious by his eleventh regeneration, then the battle is over and all Daleks must retreat as the Oncoming Storm saves the Earth.
The gameplay is comparable to the classic version of Risk, and veteran players will be comfortable with it. There are some alterations to give it the flavor of Doctor Who, the obvious one being Daleks. You control one of five competing Dalek armies, either classic or New Paradigm (the hugely unpopular candy-coated version). The box says you're supposed to get three armies of the former and two of the latter, but when I opened my box it was the other way around. It would have been neat to have Daleks fighting the human resistance (and maybe some Cybermen or something), but it is understandable why they would opt to just mass produce Daleks in different colours. The contrived story about the ancient weapon - a black hole maker called the Heart of Darkness - is irrelevant. The weapon never comes up in play. It is solely the fig leaf of excuse needed to get a bunch of Daleks together, exterminating each other.


Gameplay is augmented with a small number of "power cards" and "mission cards." The mission cards depict an enemy local to a territory on the map. If you have the card for that territory and you conquer it, you can turn that card in for extra Dalek reinforcements. For example, two of the mission cards are for the Aztecs in Central America and Tergana in Mongolia (from the First Doctor stories The Aztecs and Marco Polo respectively). Power cards can upset the balance of power by granting rerolls, adding 1 to each die roll, and things of that sort. The theme for each card draws from elements of Doctor Who history, such as a UNIT counterstrike lead by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart or a photo of the Third Doctor with his catch-phrase "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow." The only problem with these is that there are so few of them and so much rich material from the show to work with.

The real game-changer is the Doctor. At the beginning of each turn, the TARDIS lands at a randomly selected territory, making it impossible to attack, defend or move troops. This has a real effect on the game, as in my first play-through when I was ready to take over Madagascar and the Doctor shows up there, spoiling not only my plan for that turn but changing the course of my whole strategy. The game is also timed according to the Doctor's regenerations. To the side of the board is a "regeneration strip" with photos of the first eleven Doctors and a token of Clara Oswald (recalling when she plunged through the Doctor's time-stream... the season arc of series 7, made obsolete by The Time of the Doctor, because Steven Moffat is not necessarily as clever as he seems to think he might be). As the territory the TARDIS lands in is selected, the Doctor may or may not be forced to regenerate. When he reaches his eleventh incarnation, the game ends.

To give an idea of how this can also affect things, one of my playmates had just swept through North America, taking it over but at the high cost of severely depleting his own troops. Next was my turn, and I was prepared to turn in a bunch of cards and reinforce myself with a nearly insurmountable army of Daleks so I could mop up that continent for myself (just as I had for Europe on my previous turn, because apparently I become Genghis Kahn when playing Risk). Before I could do that, the Doctor regenerated into Matt Smith. This ended the game and my playmate won. Had the game not ended there, it was highly probable that I would have won instead. It's all fun and games, and certainly changes the dynamic of things.

The big advantage of the limited number of turns is that it limits the duration of the game. A regular game of Risk can go for hours. An average game of The Dalek Invasion of Earth goes for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Yes the Doctor may have cost me a victory, but shorted games were the only condition by which my wife allowed me to buy it to begin with! Rather than an endless slog for only the most dedicated of players, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a nice bit of fun for casual gamers who were drawn in by the Doctor Who license.

And so it begins...
Ashley at the ready with her army of Daleks.
The Doctor interferes!
Me preparing to go Genghis.
An hour after we started.
  

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

20,000 Leagues to Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar


One of the real treats of the latest set of renovations to the Disneyland Hotel at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar. Intended as the resident hotel bar, it quickly became the go-to regular bar for residents of Orange County. For example, Paul Barrie of the fantastic Window to the Magic podcast holds court there every week.

Two things really make Trader Sam's the enchanted place its moniker promises, after the fact that it's just a cozy little hang-out. The first are the animatronic touches of Disney design that activate whenever certain drinks are ordered. The house special Krakatoa, served in a souvenir tiki mug, will cause the lights to go down and the volcanoes in the windows to start spewing lava (all while the patrons of the bar shout “WE'RE ALL GONNA' DIE” and the bartenders wail on their sirens). A Shipwreck will cause exactly that for the poor ship-in-a-bottle over the bar, while simulated rain appears to pound outside.







The second are the walls filed to the brim with references to Disney films and attractions. A map to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye is mounted in a case, courtesy of Indiana Jones himself. Those who remember Walt Disney World's legendary, and defunct, Adventurer's Club will weep at the sight of photos from the beloved drinking establishment. Tucked away in there is even a photo of Walt himself, taken on his goodwill tour of South America.


"Do... not... look... into... Nah, I can't read it. Whatever, we'll be okay."

Of course, the Mightiest Motion Picture of Them All could not go without tribute! It would take a full afternoon to comb the entire bar, as it is so packed to the gills with ephemera, but I managed to find the three most obvious references and dutifully photographed them for you.


The note says "Sam, This comes with a whale of a tale. Ned."
Harper Goff, designer of the Nautilus, was also the
banjo player for the Firehouse Five Plus Two (a Dixieland Jazz band
formed by Disney animators) and taught the banjo to Kirk Douglas
so he could look like he was playing it properly on film.

Trader Sam's has proven so popular that it is also being imported to the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto will have many touches peculiar to WDW, including a number of references to the defunct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine ride. In the concept art below, we see a squid tentacle, a diving helmet behind the bar, and a Nautilus-shaped Tiki mug. This new Trader Sam's is set to open later this year.



Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Victorian Invention of Christmas

On the odd occasion when I am asked what the greatest invention of the Victorian Era was, I tend to step sideways on it. Yes, various industrial, scientific, entertainment, and transportation technologies are interesting, but I think the best invention of the Victorian Era is the middle class. The idea of the bulk of persons in a society standing between obscene wealth and dire poverty, being able to enjoy opportunity and the fruits of their education and labour, to experience personal freedom as a birthright rather than a class privilege, is a remarkable idea virtually unprecedented in human history. For my second favourite Victorian invention, I may have to say Christmas.

Victorian card of Father Christmas
in his traditional green coat.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Year in Review 2014

Once more we have reached the end of another year on Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age, and quite the monumental year it was. The biggest event happened off the blog, of course: I got married! Ashley and I were wed on August 29th in nearby Banff National Park. In addition to posting about it here, we also shared photos and a honeymoon report on our Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy weblog. That weblog is still going strong as well, after a brief and ill-conceived interruption when we hooked up with the Internet's preeminent Disney-bashing website.

Here on Voyages Extraordinaires, our year began as it usually has with Doctor Who. Having run out of First Doctor episodes (and with the latest season being must-avoid TV), our attention turned to the audio-dramas. The most notable of these was The Beginning, telling the story of the Doctor and Susan's first adventure after swiping an old Type-40 TARDIS.

In February, I finally got to feature something I've wanted to for some time: Dinotopia! If you've never read Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time, The World Beneath, and Journey to Chandara, do yourself a favour and ask for them for Christmas.

From March onwards, I tried a little experiment, which was to go beyond our typical theme months to spend an entire month delving into a particular work and rooting out its sources and inspirations. The first was the video game Bioshock Infinite (and I did voice my views on an ongoing controversy in gaming culture later on in the year) and the second was the film The Adventures of Mark Twain. With respects to Bioshock Infinite, we examined its roots in American Exceptionalism, New Religious Movements, and the City Beautiful Movement (as well as waxing on the game's beauty and what could have been). This study was implicitly extended into the following month when we looked at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which was also an influence on the game. As a bit of a preamble, we looked at the work of American artist Thomas Cole, particularly his epic paintings The Course of Empire, The Voyage of Life,The Past and The Present, and The Cross and the World.    

The Adventures of Mark Twain is one of my favourite movies and my affection for it lead me on to reading the works of Mark Twain himself. Among the stories referenced in the film were Tom Sawyer Abroad,The Mysterious StrangerCaptain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, and some of his meditations on Halley's Comet. The space between Bioshock Infinite and Mark Twain was bridged by Walt Disney, the Gay Nineties and our return to Main Street USA (and commenting on Mechanical Kingdoms, The Disney Gallery's Steampunk exhibition). This "American Series" ended mid-year with our return to space, including the quite good novel A Honeymoon in Space and the pretty not good novel A Columbus of Space.

After taking September off to get married, we came back in October with a look at Vincent Price and Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe films for American International Pictures. In November, I got the chance to share some of my studies into Jacques Offenbach's Voyage Dans la Lune operetta and how it may have influenced Georges Méliès.

Which brings us up to today. Most recently, we debuted Voyages Extraordinaires' new companion weblog Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Vintage Dinosaur Fiction. And we switched to a new biweekly schedule! There is one more post for this year, on Christmas Eve, and then join us in the new year with our new format.

Thank you all once again for your ongoing support of Voyages Extraordinaires! It is sincerely appreciated. We could not have shared this journey of seven years without you to share it with!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Introducing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World


Voyages Extraordinaires has a new companion weblog: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Vintage Dinosaur Fiction!

In this new weblog - which will publish at least once a month or so - we will explore the seminal novel of prehistoric adventure and its original 1925 silent film adaptation, as well as other adaptations and classic Victorian-Edwardian prehistoric fiction and dinosaur films from the silent and early talkie eras.

News of updates will be shared on our Facebook page, so if you're already a member stay tuned for that. Otherwise, don't forget to take a look at our new weblog and bookmark it at http://sirarthurconandoyleslostworld.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Our New Schedule



So that I may enjoy the Christmas season with my new wife, Voyages Extraordinaires is going to be going on its brand new schedule starting this December. Based on the feedback we received when the question was posed, we are going to be going to a biweekly schedule. Next Wednesday we'll be publishing a genuine article, and then again with our Year-in-Review on Christmas Eve, and then again on January 7th, and so on.

In the mean time, enjoy your Christmases, Hanukkahs, Kwanzaas, and Solstices!