This is probably one of my favorite times of the year in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The world descends upon our small city in northern-central PA for two weeks of baseball in it's purest form. 16 teams of 11 and 12 year-olds arrive in town after weeks of local, state and regional tournaments to play on the hallowed ground of Lamade Stadium, and a chance at the title of World Champion.
There isn’t any ticket to buy and about the only thing besides food that you have to pay money for is parking on someone's front yard. Over the course of a two week period nearly a million people will come watch the games and it never ceases to amaze me at how quickly the kids/athletes forget about the television cameras and the crowds.
If you ever plan on coming to Williamsport to see the games-plan way ahead. Hotels book up solid for an hour's drive radius. Just ask President Bush's Secret Service advance team about their experience from trying to set up a visit only two weeks prior to the series a few years ago. They wouldn’t have had a place to stay had it not been for the local chamber of commerce stepping in to help. Hotels start booking rooms almost a year ahead of the games.
Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and The Lyrics to Our National Anthem.
It has been fun watching Phelps smash the records of Mark Spitz and strange at the same time. I sat with my sons telling them that I also got to see Mark Spitz set records and win all those gold medals when I was a kid. That was a loooong time ago!
When the Olympians are standing on the podium you will notice that some will sing the anthem and others will not. Have you ever tried to sing the national anthem? Think about the lyrics and then try to sing them. It's almost impossible if you don't have a crowd around you to remind you of how the song goes. I learned that a few years back when I did announcing for Penn State boxing tournaments. My brother-in-law was the team coach and one time the tape, on which he had the national anthem, broke. When this happened he turned to me and said "I need you to sing the anthem". I said "Sure!" and just dove in not really knowing if I got the lyrics right. No one in the crowd said anything so I guess I nailed it. It did haunt me for the entire ride home so I went online and downloaded the lyrics.
Ugly Dolls and Interesting Sights at Comic Con
I was introduced to Alita Friedman, the woman who runs the Ugly Dolls world at San Diego Comic Con and what a gold mine she has! I think we are so used to the 'Disney' marketing of characters with the big, puppy-dog eyes that their creations are a breath a fresh air. Somehow, they came up with these very cool dolls that defy the traditional research and development dream toy. According to my nine-year-old daughter, "Ugly Dolls just rock".
As for the interesting sights? Well it is Comic Con after all and if you weren’t in costume you were probably working in one of the booths. What struck me as rather funny was a line of superheroes waiting for the bathroom. Those one-piece Spiderman costumes pose quite the challenge when it comes time to 'use the facilities'. I thought about taking the camera into the bathroom but some things really are better left to the imagination.
Unshelved and The Ten-Cent Plague
One of the funniest web comic series the planet, to me anyway, is called Unshelved and the genius creators behind this are Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. Unshelved is a twisted Doonesburean view of life in a library. What's extra cool about these guys is that the stories they tell can be applied to just about any life-at-work scenario. I also like that they find cool books and talk about them. The latest book we agree on The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America. The author, David Hajdu brings to life the history of comics in America complete with the hysteria, congressional hearings and book burnings that raged during the Eisenhower years. Bill and Gene write a great comic strip and they know how to make the right call on books too.
The Dark Knight, the Watchmen and the Future of Graphic Novels
I saw The Dark Knight on an IMAX screen while I was on vacation and now, I dont think I could ever see it on television. What a ride! Heath Ledger gave an Oscar-winning performance as The Joker. Scarily stunning. If you saw the movie then it's no doubt that you saw the trailer for The Watchmen. In the trailer you see copy that reads "From The Graphic Novel". Tell me that the money men in the television and movie industry won't miss that. Alan Moore wrote over twenty years ago and yet it's relevant to the here and now that it's scary. The book is selling so well that DC Comics had to order up another 900,000 copies. The Watchmen is arguably one of the greatest graphic novels in history and also made Time Magazine's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels. It really looks like the movie studio did a great job of creating a masterpiece. Go check out the book and you will see some brilliant writing by Alan Moore.
Get ready for a lot more because there are so many great graphic novels that will serve as the perfect books for more great movies. We have only scratched the surface!
John Shableski works for Diamond Book Distributors as a sales manager with a focus on the independent bookstore market, public and school libraries. He's been a moderator and panelist at Book Expo, a moderator for library panels at the New York Comic Con, a guest speaker at library events, regional book shows and a symposium coordinator. He is currently collaborating on several graphic novel symposiums across the country. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org