Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pokemon Go in the Funnies

Check out the latest "Making It" comic strip by Intellivision veteran Keith Robinson. It revolves around a certain viral video game that you can download for free to your smart phone.

Click on the image for a closer look.

Star Trek at 50

Star Trek has been going where no television show has gone before for half a century.

The original series lasted only three seasons, from 1966 to 1969, but the program gained new life in syndication during the 1970s. Instead of withering away, the sci-fi phenomenon grew in popularity after its cancellation, spawning fan clubs, fan fiction, conventions, a cartoon, merchandise (make that tons of merchandise), parodies, TV and movie sequels and prequels, and much more, including the highly anticipated Star Trek Beyond, debuting in theaters July 22.

Set in an optimistic future where humans have largely outgrown hunger, racism, and war with one another, Star Trek was created by humanist Eugene “Gene” Wesley Roddenberry, a.k.a. “The Great Bird of the Galaxy.” He developed the show as “Wagon Train to the stars,” drawing inspiration from the Western TV series Wagon Train (1957-1965), the space opera TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954), and the cinema classic Forbidden Planet (1956), along with such serials as Flash Gordon (1936) and Buck Rogers (1939).

Literary works influenced Roddenberry as well, including the writings of A.E. van Vogt (The Voyage of the Space Beagle), Eric Frank Russell (the epic voyage of the Marathon), and C.S. Forester (the Horatio Hornblower novels).

Roddenberry, who died Oct. 24, 1991, at the age of 70, began his career in Hollywood during the 1950s. While holding down a “real job” as an LAPD officer, he wrote scripts under the name of “Robert Wesley” for such shows as Highway Patrol and Have Gun Will Travel.

Roddenberry’s ambitions went beyond freelancing, so he developed a World War II adventure series called APO 293, but couldn’t get the networks interested. He had better luck with his next series, a Marine Corps drama called The Lieutenant, which NBC picked up in 1963. Unfortunately, The Lieutenant, which featured Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols in its first episode, only ran one season.

In 1964, Roddenberry filmed the pilot for Star Trek, with Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike and Leonard Nimoy as Science Officer Spock. It was called “The Cage.” NBC executives deemed the program “too cerebral” for mainstream audiences, but in a rare move, the network, seeing potential in the concept, let Roddenberry film a second pilot (which they approved, of course), this time with William Shatner in the lead role of Captain James T. Kirk.

The episode, which also introduced chief engineer Lt. Commander Scott (James Doohan) and Lt. Sulu (George Takei), was called “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” The title refers to Shatner’s famous voiceover introducing it and subsequent episodes: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

The first season of Star Trek, which debuted Sept. 8, 1966, also saw the addition of: Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley), who was third-billed behind Shatner and Nimoy; Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney), who left midway through the first season; Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett, Roddenberry’s wife), head nurse and assistant to McCoy; and Lt. Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the first African-American female to hold a prominent, non-stereotypical role in an American television series. Walter Koenig joined the cast as Ensign Pavel Chekov in the second season.

During its original run, Star Trek was nominated for Emmy Awards (13 nominations, 0 wins), and it had a fiercely loyal cult following, but it was a relatively expensive show to produce, and its ratings were only mediocre. Late in 1967, NBC was rumored to be cancelling the show after just two seasons. However, in March of 1968, after receiving more than 100,000 letters supporting the show (a campaign promoted by super fan Bjo Trimble), NBC announced that they were renewing it for a third season.

Trek expert Paul Cortez, an IT service manager at a Department of Energy research facility, understands the passion that would prompt tens of thousands of fans to save what is “just” a TV show.

Star Trek examined certain progressive and cultural issues,” he said. “The symbolism was not lost on the counter-cultural mindset of many young people at the time who probably saw the show as speaking in support of many of the same ideals they espoused. For that reason, these first Baby Boomer fans were the ones who set out to make sure that Star Trek should never be forgotten, and they passed that enthusiasm on to younger fans of my generation and beyond.”

In addition to its social relevance, Cortez appreciates the exploratory nature of Star Trek.

“I think the show never lost sight of showing people the wondrous possibilities of exploration,” he said. “That exploring means you will possibly find things that are dangerous but also things that are wonderful as well, and that the bad must be accepted along with the good to give the act of exploration any kind of meaning.”

Cortez began watching the show in 1976 when he was in first grade.

“It was on in late-afternoon syndication on a local station, but of course I had no idea what syndication or reruns were at the time,” he said. “It was all brand new to me. I watched it pretty much every day after school. I was mesmerized by the bright colors of the characters' uniforms. The fact that the show was about people who explored outer space was the most amazing thing ever, yet it seemed to me to be the most natural thing that people would want to explore space.”

Citing his favorite episode, Cortez bypassed such oft-cited classics as “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and “Mirror, Mirror” in favor of “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” a heavy-handed but sincere allegory for racial discrimination. In that third-season episode, which starred Frank Gorshin, a humanoid alien whose face is black on the left side and white on the right hates the guy whose face coloring is the opposite.

“‘Let That Be Your Last Battlefield’ makes an open-and-shut case for the pointlessness and potential risks of sustaining racial prejudice as part of a society,” he said. “As an adult fan I've always felt that Star Trek was at its best when it had a strong, positive social message, and this message was one of the show’s best.”

Cortez’s favorite character, Spock, is a more obvious, more mainstream choice than his favorite episode, but his reason for liking the green-blooded Vulcan is highly personal in nature.

“By the age of 8 my parents had divorced, and I had relocated to another city, so I was going through a lot of emotional turmoil,” he said. “I would watch Star Trek and see Mr. Spock as an example of how I didn't have to let sadness and grief dominate my mind if I chose not to. I also had a lot of emotionally volatile people on both sides of my extended family, but Mr. Spock showed me that it was possible and worthwhile to live a life with emotional restraint, as well as in pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself. It's no exaggeration to say that Mr. Spock was highly instrumental in putting my life on a better course than it would have gone on had I not had his example to follow.”

On a lighter note, Cortez shared a story about his father and Dr. McCoy. When he was 7 years old, Cortez got a piece of glass stuck in his foot while swimming at the lake, prompting him to exit the water “screaming and hysterically limping around.”

“My dad tried to hold me still so he could remove the glass, but I kept nervously pulling my foot away from him,” he said. “Finally he looked at me and said, ‘Calm down, didn’t you know I used to be Dr. McCoy on Star Trek?’ As I was inclined to believe anything my dad told me at this age, I immediately relaxed and let him pull the glass out of my foot and get a bandage on it. That’s how much Star Trek meant to me—I trusted Dr. McCoy more than my own father!”

From a collecting standpoint, Cortez has “always been enamored with the different types of spaceships, both those belonging to Starfleet and the different alien races,” so a lot of his memorabilia is “centered around representations of these ships ranging in scale from small vinyl-molded figures up through full-sized model kits.”

Cortez also has “quite a few” of the various Star Trek-themed tactical and role-playing games published in the 1980s, but his favorite item is an original Star Trek bridge playset, which Mego released in 1974.

“This bridge playset is basically a ‘Barbie Malibu Dream House’ for Trekkies,’ and I say that unashamedly,” he said, laughing. “I enjoy it because it directly connects me to that period of my childhood when I first discovered Star Trek.”

Devoted Star Trek fan Mike Mahnich, owner of Versus Gameplay Arcade in Plano, Texas, was born during the late 1960s, but he didn’t discover the show until the 1979 premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His first memory of watching the TV series was in 1982 during summer break.

“To the best of my recollection, Star Trek didn’t run in syndication in the Dallas/Fort Worth area at that time,” he said. “However, my brother and I would stay with my grandparents in Illinois for a few weeks each summer, and a local station was showing reruns in syndication. One of the episodes included ‘Space Seed’ as a tie-in with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I had no idea that the movie had a ‘prequel’ episode on the original series, so I started watching other episodes to see what else I had missed.”

Mahnich’s favorite character is Captain Kirk because of Shatner’s delivery and the captain’s strength of character. His favorite episode at the moment is “Who Mourns for Adonais?” in which the crew of the Enterprise encounters the Greek sun god Apollo.

“All seven of the main cast are featured in this episode,” Mahnich said. “Also, I always thought the idea of a giant hand in space holding the Enterprise was awesome!”

Mahnich collects Star Trek books, toys, “unusual licensed items” (he seems especially proud of his Enterprise pizza cutter), and Christmas ornaments, but one ornament in particular has remained elusive.

“I have a boxed collection of every Star Trek ornament put out by Hallmark, except one,” he said. “In 2009, Hallmark had a booth at Comic-Con in San Diego featuring an exclusive run of Lt. Uhura ornaments. It was a variation of a 2007 release featuring Uhura in her common red uniform, but the Comic-Con edition has her dressed in yellow. Because she only wore yellow in one episode, ‘The Corbomite Maneuver,’ and the run was limited to 450 ornaments, it is now hard to find at a reasonable price. I have yet to see one in person.”

Mahnich’s favorite Star Trek item is an early U.S.S. Enterprise technical manual, though it has “plummeted in value” since he got it years ago.

“Back then there was no Internet, and fans would publish their own material,” he said. “The tech manual I have, which was given to me by a great friend and fellow fan, is obviously printed on a dot-matrix printer, which only makes it cooler to me. It was probably sold at an early Star Trek convention.”

Mahnich enjoys all of the various “Star Trek” series, including The Next Generation, which he watched with his parents while he was in high school, and Voyager, which he’s watching now on Netflix with his wife and kids.

A self-described Trekkie/Trekker (“doesn’t matter which,” he says), Mahnich believes The Original Series lives on 50 years later because of its “bold stories and well-defined characters,” along with its positive outlook on the future.

Star Trek really was ahead of its time regarding diversity and dealing with social issues on TV,” Mahnich added. “So much of what it has to say is still relevant, and since it teaches using the metaphor of space adventures, it continues to gently influence its viewers, even if they are not aware of it.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Three Sides of the Coin Podcast -- KISS Book

I had a blast discussing my KISS book on Three Sides of the Coin. It was a huge honor to be on the show. Listen in at the
29:00 minute mark.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Encyclopedia of KISS only $3.03!

The digital version of my latest book, Encyclopedia of KISS, is just $3.03 on Amazon. Limited time only. You can check it out HERE.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Interview with Lydia Criss, Ex-Wife of Original KISS Drummer Peter Criss

The legendary rock band KISS, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, has been in the news a lot lately. Founding members  and Paul Stanley, still wearing kabuki makeup and crazy costumes, keep the brand alive by continuing to tour (with drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer) and involve themselves in such enterprises as the Rock & Brews restaurant chain and the LA KISS Indoor League Football team.

Original KISS guitarist  has a new solo album filled with cover tunes, Origins Vol. 1. The band’s first drummer, , has pretty much retired from pounding the skins professionally, but he’s still in the public eye, as evidenced by his recent appearance at Texas Frightmare Weekend, where he signed autographs and posed for pictures with a large crowd of happy fans.

Criss’s ex-wife, Lydia, who was married to the Catman from 1970 to 1979, has been visible as well, promoting her spectacular book, . The autobiographical tome is filled with candid stories of Lydia’s exciting, if sometimes tumultuous life with Peter and is loaded with rare photos, including early pics of the band sans makeup.

I recently caught up with Lydia , who discussed her book and her years with  and KISS.

BRETT WEISS: Growing up, what kind of music and what bands did you like?

LYDIA CRISS: Initially I liked Motown. Then when  arrived I changed to the British bands, like the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, and .

WEISS: If someone had told your teenage self that one day you would be married to a famous rock star, what would you have said?

CRISS: No Way!!

WEISS: Please describe the first time you met , and your first date. What attracted you to him initially?

CRISS: I met Peter at a club in Brooklyn when he was playing with the Barracudas.  My friend was dating the bass player, and she thought I would like Peter, the drummer. Our first date was the following day. We went to the beach with a bunch of his friends. What attracted me to Peter was his personality.

WEISS: When and how did Peter propose?

CRISS: Peter never proposed. We went out to dinner and then went to see Romeo and Juliet, and he then said he wanted to get married. It was just understood that after three-and-half years of dating that we would get married. I never did receive an engagement ring.

WEISS: Did you help Peter come up with his Catman character and look? Did you ever offer Peter any advice about his music or costumes?

CRISS: No, Peter came up with the Catman character and look by himself. There was always discussion about his music, but me not being a musician, I didn’t give him any advice. Regarding his costumes, I did help make some of them in the early days, but after they signed with Casablanca, there were professional people working with them on their costumes. Peter would come home with sketches, and we would discuss the sketches.

WEISS: You were there at the Coventry on January 30, 1973, when KISS played their first show. Please describe that experience.

CRISS: It was exciting that they were finally getting out of the rehearsal loft and playing to the public. It was also scary. The first night, there were only three people in the audience. It was Jan Walsh (Gene’s girlfriend), Jan’s friend, and me. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Other reports have described the crowd as being “less than 10 people.”]

WEISS: You supported Peter financially before KISS became successful. Did either of you resent this? Was he truly appreciative?

CRISS: Yes, I supported Peter for the first six years of our marriage, and the three-and-a-half before we got married. I didn’t resent it. I think it paid off. As far as Peter being truly appreciative, you will have to ask Peter that question. I really don’t know the answer.

WEISS: What was it like watching the band morph from guys in T-shirts and jeans, playing in a loft and in bars, to famous rock stars adored by millions?

CRISS: It was great seeing this happen, but it was a slow process. First they got the show and costumes together, thanks to Sean Delaney. Then they had to get the public to love them. That’s what took a while. They were playing small venues for the first two years, and then in the third year it all started to explode. 

WEISS: What was the best thing about being married to Peter?

CRISS: He was very funny, and I like guys that make me laugh.

WEISS: What was the worst thing?

CRISS: His dependency on drugs.

WEISS: In your mind, what caused the divorce? Who instigated the divorce, you or Peter?

CRISS: Infidelity on his part. Peter wanted the divorce.

WEISS: What is your opinion of ?

CRISS: I liked all of the guys.  It was always fun being around them.  Lots of laughs. As far as Gene, he was a very understanding and pleasant.  He was the person to talk finances with.

WEISS: What about Paul Stanley?

CRISS: I thought Paul and Peter were the closest back then. They roomed together in the beginning, and we went on vacations with Paul. He was good to talk to about clothes and food.


CRISS: Ace was just a happy-go-lucky guy, always telling jokes.

WEISS: What is your favorite KISS song and why?

CRISS: My favorite KISS song is, of course, “Beth.”  I do have other favorites, but that is number one. I also like “Hard Luck Woman,” “Strutter,” “Do You Love Me?”, and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.” My favorite albums are Destroyer and Love Gun.

WEISS: Please describe your life as ex-wife of . Do you still talk to Peter or any of the other band members?

CRISS: I only talk to Peter if we happen to be at the same place together. I do talk to Ace, but now that he moved to the West Coast, I only see him when he plays on the East Coast.

WEISS: Your book, Sealed With A KISS, is truly amazing—lots of great stories and information, and the photos are incredible. How long did the book take you to write? Please describe the writing and publishing process.

CRISS: Writing  was a long process. I was approached by a publisher who was a KISS fan. He had published a couple of books before I met him. I started writing the book in December of 1997.  I was working a fulltime job at the time and was also going back and forth to Brooklyn to take care of my father, who was sick. I finished the text around May, 1999.  In the meantime, the publisher had Dave Snowden scanning all the photos. By March of 2002, the book was still in progress when the publisher went bankrupt. I got all my stuff returned and then started to figure out how I could publish it myself. In 2004, I started finding people who could work with me. I finally decided to started the book in 2005 and finished it in 2006. 

WEISS: Did , who is fiercely protective of the KISS brand, have a problem with you publishing the book? Did you get any feedback from KISS members about the book?

CRISS: As far as I know, KISS did not have a problem with the book. I did check with three lawyers before I printed it. I believe I was protected by our First Amendment right. The only feedback I got from KISS is that Tommy Thayer bought the book and told me that I did a really good job. Tommy was one of the major writers for KISStory, so I felt that was a great compliment.

WEISS: Anything else you care to share about your book or about your life in general?

CRISS: Well, if you don’t have my book, you have to get it. It is one of the best KISS books. It is the most accurate and the most honest. It’s a hardcover coffee table book, 12” x 10” glossy, full color, 384 pages. It has over 1,500 photos and approximately 120,000 words. It weighs almost five pounds. If you purchase an autographed copy from www.lydiacriss.com, you will get a free CD by my boyfriend, Richie Fontana, who played drums on Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album. The CD is called Steady On the Steel.

WEISS: Thanks for your time, Lydia!

My Sega Collection & Room of Doom

Check out my latest video showing my Sega collection and Room of Doom. To watch my videos in full screen and subscribe to my channel, click HERE. Thanks for watching! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Encyclopedia of KISS -- Brett Weiss Interview

I was interviewed recently by Patrick Hickey Jr. of Review Fix about my KISS book. Here's that interview: 

Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this book?

Brett Weiss: Three years or so ago, I went through a phase where I was reading every KISS book I could get my hands on. It occurred to me that no one had over done an encyclopedia on the band, even though such musical acts as , the Stones, the Beatles, and Elvis had encyclopedias. KISS is in the same conversation with those guys regarding their iconic nature, so I figured it was long overdue that someone write such a book. Since I’m a freelance writer and have been a huge KISS fan since the mid-1970s, it seemed like something I should do—fill a gaping hole in the music and reference book publishing industry. Fortunately, the editors at McFarland Publishers agreed with me, and the rest is KISStory.

Review Fix: Why does KISS still matter?

Weiss: Like the Beatles, KISS influenced countless singers and musicians to grab a microphone and/or a musical instrument, including such popular acts as Garth Brooks, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lenny Kravitz, Motley Crue, Pearl Jam, Poison, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister and Marilyn Manson. Further, their music is timeless, especially their first six studio albums, their first two live albums (Alive and Alive II), and Creatures of the Night—those records rock! Most of their other music is awesome as well. And the band is still recording, performing, and making public appearances today (such as their Rock & Brews and LA KISS events), and you can hear “Rock and Roll All Nite” during various games in sports arenas all around the country.

Review Fix: How has KISS played a role in your life?

Weiss: Sometime around 1975 or so, I discovered the band through my older brother and some of his friends. I was eight- or nine-years-old and completely blown away by Alive!, one of the three or four greatest live albums of all time. I was mesmerized by the subsequent records—what I call the second Holy Trinity of KISS albums—Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over, and Love Gun. I would play those records over and over again on our hold furniture-style stereo while starring at the covers, especially Destroyer and Love Gun. The fantasy, larger-than-life depictions of KISS by Ken Kelly are phenomenal, and I love every song on those albums. The makeup, blood, bombs, and all of that is cool, but it is the music that has kept me a KISS fan for 40 years.

KISS has affected me from a more personal standpoint as well. When I was a kid, before I know about any of the problems in the band—the in-fighting, Paul’s insecurities, Ace and Peter’s alcohol and drug abuse, etc.—they were my larger than life heroes, a colorful, cool, and exciting contrast from such hassles and mundanities as school, chores, and getting sick all the time (I had bad bronchitis, allergies, etc., which I’ve outgrown, thankfully). Some of the most exciting times in my young life were KISS moments: the first Marvel comic book, watching KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park on TV when it originally aired (I loved every second of it, even though it is cheesy seen through adult eyes), pouring over the various magazines and making my own scrapbook, and finally getting to see them in concert for the first time in 1983. Sadly, I didn’t get to see them in makeup until the 1996 Reunion Tour, but that was awesome as well. KISS is an amalgamation of sorts of many of the things I loved as a kid and still enjoy: rock music, monsters, mystery (who were these guys behind the makeup?), comic books, spectacle, and science fiction.

Review Fix: What did you learn about the band through this book?

Weiss: I learned crazy things about and his ex-wives. I learned that Tom Arnold and Dallas Taylor rushed to the aid of a homeless person who they thought was Peter Criss (check out the “Peter Criss Imposter” entry in the book). I learned that Gene’s son Nick was accused of plagiarism. I learned that Tony Powers, who wrote “Odyssey” from Music from “The Elder” also wrote “We’re the Banana Splits” from the old Saturday morning kids’ show. I learned about obscure movie and TV appearances by the band members, more than I ever wanted to know about KISS condoms, and much more. I learned KISS was featured in an Animaniacs comic book. Encyclopedia of KISS is filled with this kind of stuff–I learned a TON.

Review Fix: Any obstacles?

Weiss: The publisher insisted on a generic cover because they wanted to avoid copyright violation and any negative attention from the band. The inside of the book, however, is all KISS all the time, including photos.

Review Fix: Why should a KISS fan own this book?

Weiss: Virtually everything important to know about KISS is conveniently laid out in alphabetical order in this one volume, plus there’s an insane amount of minutia and obscure trivial tidbits—the kind of stuff dedicated KISS fans will enjoy. The book provides detailed information on songs, albums, tours, special events, girlfriends, family members, solo projects, current and former members, movie and TV appearances, comic book appearances, and much, much more. Plus, I quote experts, band members, family members, critics, etc. Researchers, historians, music journalists, and casual and hardcore KISS fans should enjoy the book.

Review Fix: What’s next?

Weiss: Lots of writing. I need to wrap up the next book in my Classic Home Video Games series and then maybe get started on a possible sequel to The100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987. I recently interviewed LydiaCriss, so that should be on my website soon.