Lost in Translation 114 – Howard the Duck

Lost in Translation has taken a look at different movies based on Marvel characters, from the Avengers Initiative to the licensed characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil.  The recent movies have all been well received for the most part.  However, Marvel’s fortunes weren’t always so lofty.  The first theatrical release featuring a Marvel character* laid an egg.

The character, Howard the Duck, was created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik for Adventure into Fear #19 in 1973.  Howard was a duck who found himself stuck on Earth, pulled away from his life on his home planet of Duckworld, plucked from his life by Thog the Nether-Spawn.  Thog wanted to collapse all realities into one under his control.  Howard teamed up with several other heroes to stop Thog, but a misstep sent him to Cleveland.  After a few problems with law enforcement and being mistaken for a mutant, he happened across the lair of the villainous Pro-Rata and rescued Beverly Switzer, a life model, with the help of Spider-Man**.  Howard and Beverly would come to love each other across species differences.

The movie Howard the Duck, released in 1986, focuses on Howard and his arrival on Earth.  Without access to other characters in the Marvel-verse, the movie shows Howard in his everyday life, establishing him as an everyduck, before hurling him through a wormhole to land in Cleveland, Ohio, outside a dive bar with live band Cherry Bomb.  Howard bounces from trouble to trouble before finding a place to hide and gather his wits.  Meanwhile, the lead singer of Cherry Bomb, Beverly Switzer, has wrapped up for the night and left the bar.  Two “fans” intercept her and refuse to let her leave.  She fights them off the best she can while calling for help.  Help does arrive, all three-foot-two of him.  Howard leaps in with his Quak-Fu and helps Beverly chase away her assailants.  Not having anywhere else to go, Howard takes up Beverly’s offer to go home with her.

The next day, Beverly introduces Howard to Phil, a scientist and intern at a lab.  Phil is ecstatic at meeting an living, breathing, talking example of parallel evolution.  Howard gets overwhelmed and leaves.  As he tries to adjust to Cleveland, he looks for a job.  The best he gets a position as a janitor at a romance spa.  The job and the boss soon get to him and Howard quits.  He wanders around Cleveland, eventually returning to the dive where he first landed and met Beverly.  Cherry Bomb is on stage inside.  Howard goes inside, where he overhears Cherry Bomb’s manager talk about his plan to withhold the band’s money to get Beverly to go home with him.  A barroom brawl breaks out with Howard outnumbered three to one by the manager and his friends, but the alien duck wins.  Howard takes the money and forces the manager to stop managing Cherry Bomb.  Later backstage, Howard reveals the cash to Cherry Bomb.

Meanwhile, Phil has been busy.  He has spoken to Dr. Jennings, the lead researcher at the lab, and arrives at the bar.  Phil wasn’t expecting Howard to be there, but takes advantage of the situation to take one of Howard’s tail feathers.  The DNA in that feather matches the DNA on a feather that appeared after a laser-retrieval experiment.  Dr. Jennings was responsible for pulling Howard across the galaxy to Cleveland.  Howard reasons that if the laser could pull him to Cleveland, it could send him back to Duckworld.

An accident at the lab interferes with Howard’s plan.  Dr. Jennings has been changed.  The police arrive as a result of the alarm going off and wind up arresting Howard for being an illegal alien.  Howard manages to escape from the police and meet up with Beverly and Dr. Jenning.  In Dr. Jenning’s car, the researcher starts undergoing a transformation.  The last experiment had pulled one of the Dark Overlords, one who is now occupying Dr. Jennings’ body.  The Dark Overlord wants to free his comrades and plans to use the laser to bring them to Earth.  His comrades need a body, and the Dark Overlord plans on giving them Beverly’s.  Howard, with the help of Phil, rescue Beverly, defeat the Dark Overlord, and sends the other Overlords back.

As mentioned at the beginning, the movie bombed.  However, as an adaptation, it works.  There’s a change from the existentialism that Gerber had in the comic to a science fiction comedy, but the idea of a person ripped out of his home, his life, to an alien landscape is still there.  The love between Howard and Beverly is still there, and builds subtly where even they aren’t aware of it even if the audience is.  When two people can finish each other’s sentences without effort, there’s a true connection between them.  The main issue is the design of Howard.  The movie was made before CGI was commonplace.  The Last Starfighter had been released two years earlier in 1984, but the techniques were still in their infancy.  Thus, Howard was a man in a duck suit.  Howard’s look in the comics was still very duck-like, and his stance would be murder on most people’s backs if attempted in real life.  Industrial Lights & Magic did manage to create believable animatronics for Howard’s facial expressions.

As for tanking at the box office, Howard the Duck was an odd choice to adapt.  George Lucas had found the comic, read it, then passed it on to Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck to write.  The project sat for a few years before Universal needed a film to add to its line up.  The original idea was to create an animated feature, but Universal needed one sooner than animating would take.  This need led to Howard being live action.  The other issue was that Howard, both comic and movie, wasn’t a children’s title.  Howard smokes cigars and has sex.  At the time of release, though, the movie received a PG rating, which allowed for saltier scenes and topless nudity without necessarily allowing much in language or violence.  As a comparison, Airplane also received a PG rating with a topless woman shimmying with the plane.

In favour, the writers, producers, directors, even actors had read the comic.  Lea Thompson, who played Beverly, was given copies of the comic after she was hired.  The original idea of an animated film would have avoided some of the problems they had.  With John Barry, of 007 fame, composing the soundtrack and Thomas Dolby writing songs for Cherry Bomb, the music fit.  The original Howard the Duck was respected, even with the problems of doing Howard live.  With Howard making a cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, it could be time for his triumphant return.

Next week, The Wolverine.

* The 1944 Captain America Republic film serial was under the Timely banner.
** To establish a character within the Marvel Universe and to pull in readers, editorial frequently used Spider-Man as a guest star.  In later years, the Punisher and the Wolverine would also guest in titles for the same reason.

An Interview With Photographer And Videographer Erik Urias

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Erik Urias, beyond having a a name that clearly marks him as a fantasy hero, is also a photographer involved in cosplay, steampunk, and even the philosophy of art. I met him at Con-Volution, and he took time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed about his applied geekery. Continue reading

An Interview With Author ElizaBeth Gilligan

I met ElizaBeth Gilligan at ConVolution. She’s got a series called “Gypsy Silk” published through DAW, with a third book coming. She’s also a writer of short stories, a journalist, and more.  So it’s time for us to get her secrets (and she managed to raise kids to boot). Continue reading

Geek Catalog Update 10/20/2014

And here’s the latest update on the Geek Catalog.  Be sure to check out the ever-growing lists for Geek Focus or Community Focus.

Comics

  • Education
    • Reading With Pictures – A nonprofit advocating using comics in the classroom to promote literacy and education. Researches comics and their role, collaborates with artists for content, and partneres with educators.
    • The Comic Book Project – A literacy program that gets young people involved in creating comics to boost skills, awreness, and engagement.

Computing

  • Education
    • Hack The Hood – A nonprofit that helps low-income youth of colors into tech careers by having them build websites for businesses in their communities, teaching them both technology and business skills.
  • Female Geeks

STEM

  • Education
    • Stated Clearly – Stating science simply to make the facts clear – and counter misinformation.

Video Games

  • Charitable Work
    • Gaming For Others – Raises money via grueling gaming marathons. They push themselves for money – for others!

Writing

  • Books
    • Book Harvest – Collects used books and distributes them to children in need.
    • The Book Bus – The Book Bus gets books to people who’d normally not have access to them in various countries around the world. They’re always expanding their focus, and do educational programs

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.

Way With Worlds: Originality’s Smoke And Mirrors

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(Way With Worlds runs  at MuseHackSeventh Sanctum, and Ongoing Worlds)

Every worldbuilder, author, artist has had that moment. That moment where originality seems to be a fleeting illusion.

Perhaps they feel that they can’t seem to do anything original. Every idea they have seems done (and perhaps done better). The fear of being accused of derivation. The sense everything they do seems to be alike.

Perhaps they feel there just isn’t anything left. Everything has been done, there’s nothing left to do.

So let’s address that issue that many a worldbuilder faces – how do we deal with the need to be original? Fortunately there’s an easy answer.

Screw originality, who needs to worry about it? Continue reading

An Interview With Stephen Machuga Of Operation Supply Drop

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Operation Supply Drop‘s goal is simple – get game care packages to troops in the field and recovering in hospitals.  It’s one of several groups supporting US troops – and one you as a gamer can get involved in.

Stephen Machuga, aka “Shanghai Six” founded the charity, and was able to take the time to talk to me about his work, and how you can help!

1) Stephen, tell us a bit about yourself first.

Army Infantryman turned Intel guy. Spent eight years in, four at Fort Bragg getting tossed out of perfectly good aircraft at disturbing intervals, while my last four was between Fort Huachuca transitioning over to Intel and Fort Lewis. I got out in 2006 and have until recently been working as a government contractor. Now I run the charity full time and wake up every day wondering how I got so lucky.

2) First of all, Stephen, give us your summary of Operation Supply Drop and how it works.

OSD started as a way for me to send video games to soldiers deployed to combat zones. My driver from Iraq got out, then re-enlisted in 2008, was almost immediately shipped to Afghanistan. He knew I had contacts in the games industry, so he asked if I could reach out and see if they could get some games. My contacts came through like gangbusters, and we sent them thousands of dollars in Guitar Hero and DJ Hero bundles. Of course, you can’t send that kind of stuff to a bunch of grunts without getting a half dozen follow up emails asking how they could get some games of their own. The charity was born; the four year anniversary is coming up November 1st!

3) As a 501(c)(3) charity what kind of paperwork did you have to go through to found Operation Supply Drop?

I had no idea how to start a 501c3, so instead of trying to fight the legal paperwork, I paid a lawyer to file the paperwork for me and cut a whole huge piece out of the pain. Smartest thing I could have done; I had my 501c3 paperwork in record time and was off doing good work as a charity instead of trying to figure out who I needed to contact, what papers I needed to file, etc. Cost $3000-$4000, so not exactly cheap, but I figured it was an investment in the future. Boy, how right I was.

4) How can people support Operation Supply Drop?

Donations can be sent to us, whether cash or physical games and gear: bit.ly/donateOSD
We’re always looking for volunteers and helpers, simply reach out to us at @OpSupplyDrop on Twitter, or email padmin@operationsupplydro.org and we can figure something out!

5) How has the response been to Operation Supply Drop?

Amazing. We filled a niche in the games space we didn’t realize needed filling. There are dozens of gaming charities out there, but none of them address the needs of our military. Everyone is supportive, especially when things are getting nasty in the Middle East again. Suddenly, there’s a noticable uptick in donations with ISIS running around and soldiers on standby to be re-deployed to Iraq.

6) Do you partner with any other groups, charities, or organizations?

Anyone who is willing to sit down and talk with us, we’re happy to work with them. Everyone generally has a good mission out there, everyone is trying to do good work, so if we can find a good middle of the road where we can work with them, we’re always willing to do cross-organization events.

7) Do you work with any conventions or video game events to spread the word?

We actually just did UMG-Nashville last weekend, we have booths at PAX and South by Southwest, and regularly are invited to E3. Again, we fill a niche out there not being serviced by anyone else, so larger organizations are happy to let us come in and make some noise for the troops.

8) There are a lot of people out there that want to turn hobbies into helping – what advice can you give them.

Woof. First, keep your day job. You need that paycheck to keep the lights on and your significant other happy with your “hobby”. There will be a tipping point, and you’ll know it, when your hobby starts picking up momentum where you can look at yourself, your financials, talk with friends and family and say, “Should I go for this?” It’s a rough economy right now, so if you’ve got a paying job, KEEP IT. The only reason OSD was my full time job to start was because I got laid off.

Also, be ready for you to start working like you’ve never worked before in your life. When you’re your own boss, you can feel every minute that you’re screwing off, so until you’ve got a solid team working under you, you’re going to want to do every single thing yourself to your standard. You have to let go and let others help out, or you’ll never actually have the time to ENJOY the hobby you turned into your job.

Thank you for your time, Stephen, and thank you for your service.

OK everyone – get donating, you know what to do!

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.