Happy Birthday, H.P. Lovecraft

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons, even death may die.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft would have been 122 years old today, had he not died of intestinal cancer on March 15, 1937.

Long neglected by the public, but appreciated by a cabal of aficionados and most writers who came after him, Lovecraft was easily one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His moody, atmospheric stories set the standard for the extreme mind-bending terror that many subsequent authors would essay, but few would approach and none have ever matched.  Lovecraft’s field was known as weird fiction, and that description could not be more fitting. He wasn’t about the scare — although there are plenty of those — it was about creating unease in the reader. He worked hard to generate the feeling that if you were reading one of his stories at night, you mustn’t — no, DON’T! — don’t look behind you!

There were plenty of awful, hideous deaths in Lovecraft’s tales, but his terror was all in the language, and the horror in your mind. If you really imagine a doglike ghoul, isn’t it much more scary than a clear description in Pickman’s Model would be?
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R.I.P., Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, author of classic science fiction like Starship Troopers, Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes, died yesterday at age 91 after a long illness. The cause of death was not specified, but the Sci-Fi Grandmaster suffered a stroke in 1999 that left him using a wheelchair.

The white-haired, bespectled author was born in Waukegan, Ill., on Aug. 22, 1920, and was the last surviving member of the triumvirate known as “the ABCs of Science Fiction: (Isaac) Asimov, Bradbury and (Arthur C.) Clarke. He wrote novels, he wrote short stories, he wrote commentaries, he wrote screenplays, teleplays and plays; he wrote it all. His work appeared everywhere from niche sci-fi magazines to The Saturday Evening Post. He wrote for The Twilight Zone and (not surprisingly) Ray Bradbury Theater. He loved movies and he loved comic books. He loved creating, and he loved life.
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R.I.P. Maurice Sendak, Author/Illustrator, 83

When I heard the news that legendary children’s book author Maurice Sendak had passed away in Connecticut yesterday at age 83 due to complications from a stroke, I was very sad and disappointed because the world of literature had lost one of the modern greats.

Yes, Sendak’s work redefined the boundaries of kid lit; his 1963 classic, Where the Wild Things Are, literally rewrote the book on so-called “children’s books.” And yes, be brought joy to countless children and consternation to quite a number of parents who were unsure if letting a “wild rumpus begin” was such a good idea. But my special connection to Sendak was professional.

© Diliberto & Snyder

In 1998, Rob’t Snyder, a cartoonist friend of mine, and I created a comic book called Kid Terrific that followed the adventures of a small heroic child and his huge monster sidekick. We named that huge purple beast “Sendak” as a tribute to the writer whose big furry beasts had made huge impressions on us as kids. (By the time the comic went on sale, Sendak had become “Maurice,” but still acknowledged the same genius.)

The publication of Kid Terrific by Image Comics represented the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for my buddy and I, and we owed Maurice Sendak — and Where the Wild Things Are, in particular — a great debt for showing us how much fun dark and twisted tales for kids can be.

Thanks for all the great reading material, Maurice. And thanks for your inspiration.

R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie

For my generation, conceptual designer and a matte painter Ralph McQuarrie not only painted space-age weapons, gadgets and buildings, he made them happen. Without McQuarrie, Star Wars would never have had the Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2 or X-Wing fighters that we know and love. The characters would have looked very different — and may not have proved as popular. Could you imagine Imperial stormtroopers clad in anything but full-body white armor?

McQuarrie, 82, died March 3 at his home in Berkeley, Calif., after battling Parkinson’s disease for many years. McQuarrie was a concept artist for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and TV’s original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, among many other projects. He netted an Oscar for his visual effects on 1985’s Cocoon. It’s terrible to think that such a talented artist might have been unable to even hold a brush in near the end of this life.
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Anthony Herrera remembered

Anthony Herrera, the actor who played the villainous (and nearly impervious) James Stenbeck on AS THE WORLD TURNS off and on since 1980, passed away on June 21 in Buenos Aires, according to Soap Opera Digest. He was 67 years old, and had been fighting lymphoma since being diagnosed in 1997.

Herrera wrote a book about his fight against his particular cancer, a rare form called Mantle Cell Lymphoma, but his tome, The Cancer War, was not mere celebrity self-aggrandizement. He worked hard to promote research to help all cancer patients, and even testified on Capitol Hill in support of stem-cell research in 2005. Two operations employing stem cells helped extend his life.
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Sahara Hotel and Casino 1952-2011

Las Vegas’ legendary Sahara Hotel and Casino folded its final hand yesterday, and I was sad to see another era inching closer to its end. The shuttering leaves only the Riviera and Tropicana dating from the 1950s, and the Flamingo from the ‘40s on The Strip. The Saraha was well-known as a Rat Pack hangout, back when being a celebrity posse was more than a publicity stunt.

We weren’t exactly heirs to the Rat Pack, but my buddy Nick and I stayed at the Sahara on one our sojourns to Sin City, and I have pleasant memories of the place. It wasn’t the snazziest joint on The Strip, and if Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin were still around, I doubt they’d be caught dead in the place, because it had been allowed to decline in recent years. But for our purposes, the Sahara worked just fine.
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R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen (1948-2011)

Elisabeth Sladen, who has played the most popular, most enduring companion in the history of DOCTOR WHO, the irrepressible Sarah Jane Smith, on and off since 1973, has died at age 63, following a battle with cancer.

There’s a saying in DOCTOR WHO fandom that the first Doctor you ever saw was “your Doctor.” Well, by that measure, Sladen’s plucky Sarah Jane was “my companion.” She and the well-meaning but bumbling Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) were the companions for Genesis of the Daleks,” the very first DOCTOR WHO story I remember seeing, way back in the primitive days of late 1970s syndication. Back then, WWOR Channel 9 out of New York City purchased a bloc of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor stories, and introduced them to a benighted America that had previously never known the Time Lord. I vividly recall her in that yellow rain slicker and blue knit cap, clambering over the rocks.
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