Posts filed under culture

Public Domain Cover Art

I’ve been working on a video for my PubSlush pitch for my next novel, which has led me off on a tangent or two…

This is the cover art I’ve made for what I believe to be the only Public Domain book (so far) by Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe.

My own cover art for "Under The Andes" by Rex Stout ~ CC0 (Public Domain)

My own cover art for “Under The Andes” by Rex Stout ~ CC0 (Public Domain)

One of the things I’ve been doing for the video is rounding up covers of books I read in my youth. In today’s world of copyright insanity I’m being extra careful never to infringe copyright. This means I can only use works in the Public Domain or explicitly licensed to share.

The problem is that very often it’s simply not possible to even know whether it the cover art is in the Public Domain — even if it is the cover of a Public Domain book.  After all, just because a book is in the Public Domain it’s no guarantee the cover art is.  Especially if all you have is an image found online without the publication date– as most are.

And especially for books like this one: it has been republished many times precisely because it is in the Public Domain.   That’s why I’ve been making a few of my own covers.   If you’re interested, more of the covers I’ve made myself can be found on Flickr in my Public Domain album.

I have to say I am pretty pleased with my mountain… having never actually been anywhere near a real mountain ( neither Blue Mountain or Hamilton Mountain count… they may be big but they are really just hills.  Like the ones in Hollywood).

So I began with my own photograph.  But my “mountain” wasn’t photographed in the Andes, it was taken near Tobermory.

Before and After: "Under the Andes" cover art

Before and After: “Under the Andes” cover art

Originally I had planned to use a few of the Edgar Rice Burroughs covers, since they are Public Domain for Canada.  Even the early books are PD in the United States.  After all, I grew up reading my Dad’s ERB paperbacks, (all twenty-whatever Tarzan books, Mars, Venus and Pellucidar etc… formulaic or not).

But it seems the current holder of the remaining Burroughs copyrights is ruthlessly asserting Intellectual Property Infringement against any reuses, legal or not.

This is one of the major reasons I believe copyright is actually harmful for most creators.

It makes no difference if you are in the right if you haven’t the funds to go to court to defend against any big company with deep pockets, even if its challenge is specious. (They call that “copyright chill.”) Since I really don’t want my video yanked from YouTube, I dropped the idea of using the ERB covers because it is not worth the hassle. Besides, I don’t really want to promote the books if the company that would profit behaves so reprehensibly.

Image Credit:

As mentioned, the original photograph and the cover design for “Under The Andes” pictured here originate with me, but since this is cover art for a Public Domain Book, I’ve given it a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication.

Copyright Note:

Even though an American author like Mr. Stout only died relatively recently, back in the day if he didn’t renew the copyright on a book, it would go into the Public Domain… as this one did.

That is not true for Canada (or any of the commonwealth countries which were signatory to the Berne Copyright treaty) because copyright all rights reserved was (and is) the default for any creative works, so they didn’t need to be registered. For this reason, some of my contemporary culture originating south of the border is in the Public Domain.  However with the insane copyright extensions that seem to be the norm, that’s not true for the next generations… their contemporary culture will be locked up in copyright until after they are dead… and if things keep on as they are, maybe forever.

James Garner

It’s funny how imagination and empathy can allow people to feel a connection to people we’ve never met.

James Garner as the charming and charismatic Brett Maverick

James Garner as the charming and charismatic Brett Maverick

That’s why some Wikipedia character pages have more depth and information than those for real people. For me as a writer, character is at least as important as story.  Maybe even more so. A brilliantly written or played character in an average story can elevate a book or movie to brilliance, while the reverse is not true. When we re-read a book, or watch a movie or TV series again, we don’t do it for the story — no matter how good it is, once you know the story, you know the story — we do it so we can revisit the characters who have touched us in some way.

Over the years I’ve fallen in love with countless characters in books, on tv and in films, and sometimes with the people who brought great characters to life. This kind of affection helps create the shared culture that ties us together.

Some actors, like Larry Olivier or Catherine Zeta-Jones, can become completely different people when they play a part. Others, like John Wayne or James Garner, always play the same guy.   James Garner was a very good actor who fell into the latter category.  It didn’t matter if he was playing Brett Maverick or Jim Rockford, no matter what part he was acting, he was always the same charming guy.

James Garner has long been one of my most enduring celebrity crushes.  In the 1970’s he swept me off my feet in “The Rockford Files tv series.”  Realistically, in the real world, James Garner was always too old for me. A few years older than my dad, he was already a star around the time I was born (which was around the time he left the tv show “Maverick“.)   Watching my Rockford dvds now,  it’s a little amazing to realize I found that leather skinned old man to be such a hunk when I was a teenager.  Of course, he was often much older than his leading ladies, but nobody cared because everybody liked him.

In many ways Jim Rockford was my idea of the perfect man. He was charming, smart, charismatic, a loyal friend, and most important, he was self deprecatingly funny. And I have this idea that that was what I think James Garner was, too, not because I ever actually knew the man, but because that’s who he seemed to be onscreen.

And I invariably fell in love with the characters he played. After The Rockford Files, I loved Jim in a short lived series called Nichols. I’ve not seen it since, so I don’t know if it would have held up, but at the time I thought it was brilliant.  Some of my very favorite James Garner characters are Jason McCullough in a movie called “Support Your Local Sheriff,” King Marchand in “Victor Victoria“, and Murphy in “Murphy’s Romance.”

I can’t think of a single character he played where I didn’t like Jim. (Yes, in my mind, I am familiar enough to think of him as “Jim.”) The parts Jim Garner played are woven throughout my life, gems of my cultural experience.

But The Rockford Files will always be my favorite. The plots were always good, the guest stars were always excellent, but the interaction between Jim Rockford and the regular characters his life — from Rocky to Angel to Dennis to Beth — was perhaps the most important element in making The Rockford Files such a solid series.   It was certainly one of the influences that led me to enroll in Media Arts at Sheridan College, and then go on to work in television.


James Whitmore Jr and James Garner

Jim Rockford was the manJames Garner with guest star James Whitmore Jr.

Which is why, even though I never met the man, James Garner will always have a place in my heart. Thanks for all the wonderful memories, Jimbo.

James Garner
April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014
Rest in Peace.

Photo Credits
Rockford Files: James Garner and James Whitmore Jr. Rockford Files 1977 public domain via Wikipedia

James Garner as Brett Maverick a public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

When a Classic becomes a Commodity

When I went to a Muppet Special taping at CFTO years ago in the height of my muppet mania, I thought it was odd; the muppets were carried on and off stage in black silk bags.

The Bags only came off when someone was working them.

I thought it was silly until someone didn’t bag Miss Piggy fast enough, and it was freaky. Laying there on the chair, she didn’t look like a cast off puppet, she looked dead.

Last night we watched the 2010 movie “The Muppets

It pains me to see such a wonderful part of our culture, and such a wonderful idea brought so low. The muppets used to be brilliant, now they’re just sad.

And lifeless.

Image credit
Muppetographs licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License by lothlaurien