Thoughts on the Before Watchmen controversy

If you are a comic book fan, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, you’ve undoubtedly heard all about DC Comics’ plans to publish Before Watchmen, a series of prequels to the critically acclaimed best-selling graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons.  Reaction to this announcement, both among readers and comic book creators, has generally fallen into two camps: it’s either a really brilliant idea, or it’s an absolutely terrible decision.

Some facts that need to be established: back when Moore & Gibbons first created the original Watchmen in 1986, they signed a contract with DC stating that the rights to the series would revert to them one year after it went out of print.  Moore & Gibbons signed this back before trade paperback collections were at all common, and on those rare occasions when a collected edition would be assembled, it might stay in print for a year or two at most.  But the Watchmen TPB proved to be an enormous bestseller, so much so that DC kept reprinting it over and over.  They had a major incentive to keep it in print, because it kept generating sales.  And they undoubtedly saw this as a loophole to hold on to the rights of the series.  Legally that decision was probably in the right, but a great many, Alan Moore among them, felt very strongly that DC was violating the ethical foundation of the agreement.  It was one of several decisions by DC that would lead Moore to vow to never again work for the company.

Watchmen trade paperback, by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Watchmen trade paperback, by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

Fast forward to 2012.  The Watchmen trade paperback is still in print, and has sold even more copies in the wake of the film adaptation.  DC has decided to begin exploiting the property with new material produced by different creators.  Now, you may ask “Why?”  The answer is very simple: money.  Despite all the hornet nests that DC knew they would be kicking over with this decision, they realized that Before Watchmen would bring in huge profits.

I think a major reason why DC made this decision is that they realize that they have hit a wall when it comes to generating new intellectual properties.  The main reason for this is that they have burned so many bridges, not just with Moore, but with innumerable creators, going as far back as Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.  DC, like Marvel Comics, has exploited creators for so long that really no one in their right mind wants to give them the next big idea, only to see all of the financial rewards & creative control be torn away from them.  Nowadays, given the opportunity, I think most creators would rather go to Image, Dark Horse, IDW, or one of the other smaller companies, somewhere where they probably won’t make very much money, but at least they will retain ownership of their creations.

In this atmosphere, DC has but one choice: continually strip-mine their existing library of characters.  They’ve rebooted their entire universe yet again with the recent New 52 event.  And now they’ve finally decided to risk revisiting the characters from Watchmen.

Putting aside the ethical issues, from a creative standpoint, I really wonder if this is going to produce any books that are truly memorable or noteworthy.  The original Watchmen was a self-contained story that told you everything you needed to know about the characters.  Returning to the Watchmen universe would be like filming a prequel to a classic film such as Casablanca or Citizen Kane (both of which, coincidentally, are owned by DC’s parent company Warner Bros).  Sure, if you really wanted to, you could do a story about how Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund met and fell in love, and how Ilsa found out her husband Victor Laszlo was still alive.  Likewise, you could write a close-up look at Charles Foster Kane’s early years, his friendship with Jeb Leland, and how his various relationships with women over the years fell apart.  But what would be the point?

Does anybody really want to see a Before Casablanca prequel?

Does anybody really want to see a Before Casablanca prequel?

So, by that measure, what do we really need to find out about the early years of Adrian Veidt, the Comedian, Doctor Manhattan, and all the rest of the cast of Watchmen?  As I said, everything vital to understanding the characters, all of the significant developments, are already right there in the original book by Moore & Gibbons.

The term “graphic novel” gets bandied about a lot in the comic book biz.  But, in the case of Watchmen, it is just that: a novel, a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  It does not require anything else, any more than, to run with Alan Moore’s own example, Moby Dick needs a prequel to recount Captain Ahab’s first encounter with the infamous White Whale.

In a number of venues DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee have been promoting the hell out of the Before Watchmen project.  Lee has stated “I guarantee you that every single one of these creators that’s working on these books, think they can outdo — match or outdo — what was done in the original.”  Oh, dear.  That sounds like hubris.  It almost seems like they are setting themselves up to fail.  But, again, I’m sure as long as the books sell like hotcakes, the actual quality is secondary.  More troubling was Lee’s attitude towards Moore’s extreme displeasure over DC’s decisions.  Lee took the company line that Moore “signed an agreement.”  Odd words from one of the founders of Image Comics, which was established in response to creators being exploited by unfair contracts.  Yes, I realize Lee departed from Image years ago and is now in an important executive position at DC, so I’m not especially surprised.  But I cannot help but feel a bit disappointed in his stance.

A number of talented creators are working on Before Watchmen, among them Joe Kubert, Len Wein, Jae Lee, Darwyn Cooke, J.G. Jones, J. Michael Straczynski, Amanda Conner, and Adam Hughes.  I do not want to judge their motives, but I am going to assume that they are being well compensated for their efforts.  I really do not blame them for coming onboard this project.  The life of a freelance comic book creator is a very difficult one.  Often you do not know when or where your next paycheck is going to come from.  So I can understand them taking advantage of this opportunity.

Really, the fault lies with DC.  What I would like to see from them as a company is to offer these creators the same sort of money to develop brand-new characters and series, to give them an additional incentive to work on those original ideas by giving them a financial stake, and then promote these new titles with the same rabid enthusiasm with which they are pushing Before Watchmen.

In the end, Before Watchmen is just a temporary solution to increasing sales.  DC needs to re-examine its whole economic model (and so does Marvel, while I’m at it).  They need to stop thinking in terms of short-term sales spikes, and adopt policies that will not alienate creators like Alan Moore.  Imagine if DC had done right by Moore.  He might have gone on to create innumerable best-selling series for them over the past quarter century.  But they treated him as a disposable commodity, and now he wants absolutely nothing to do with them.

Watchmen tattoo

Watchmen tattoo

Watchmen is one of my all-time favorite graphic novels.  It is an intelligent, thought-provoking work of immense magnitude.  I like it so much, I even have a tattoo of the iconic Watchmen smiley face (yeah, I’m crazy like that).  Moore & Gibbons did absolutely brilliant work when they created Watchmen.  That is why I am so disappointed to see DC looking to exploit the property.  I feel that it devalues the original, and it is an insult to the creators who put so much of themselves into it.

At this point in time, I have zero interest in reading any of the Before Watchmen prequel series.  There is just nothing there for me.  If others choose to buy those books, so be it.  That’s their choice.  But for myself, I am just going to ignore the spin-offs, and stick with the original by Moore & Gibbons.

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Doctor Who reviews: The Tomb of the Cybermen

In the Doctor Who story “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” the Second Doctor and his companions, Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield, arrive on the planet Telos.  There they come across an archeological expedition, led by Professor Parry, to uncover the remains of the once-feared Cybermen, who vanished 500 years previously.  The expedition is being funded by a mysterious couple, Klieg and Kaftan, who have their own hidden motives.  The Doctor, who has encountered the Cybermen before, is immediately alarmed.  He suspects that his old cyborg foes may not be nearly as dead as Parry believes.  And he intends to keep an eye on Klieg and Kaftan, to discover what they are up to.

Unearthing the entrance to the Cyberman’s tombs, Parry’s expedition soon finds itself in perilous danger, both from within and without.  The body count slowly begins to rise.  And, as the Doctor predicted, the Cybermen are far from dead, instead lurking in suspended animation, ready to once again come to terrifying life.

“Tomb” is a very exciting, intelligent, atmospheric production.  It is rightfully considered one of the all-time great Doctor Who stories.  Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis’ scripts are top-notch.  The direction by Morris Barry is extremely effective at creating a very tangible mood.  The sets are stunning and ambitious, especially when one considers the budgetary limitations the crew was working under.  One of the most memorable scenes in the series’ entire history comes towards the end of the second episode, when the Cybermen slowly emerge from their tombs.  The Cybermen themselves are imposing figures, looming over the other actors.  Even more impressive is their leader, the Controller, with his glowing, brain-like domed head.

Certainly this is one of the best stories to feature the Cybermen.  Later writers on the show sometimes made the mistake of downplaying or ignoring the Cybermen’s background.  But “Tomb” fully embraces their horrific origins, that they were once human-like beings who gradually began replacing body parts with mechanical substitutes, in a misguided effort to ensure their survival.  Eventually the Cybermen became almost entirely machine, in the process losing their capacity for emotions, their very humanity.  Worse yet, the Cybermen saw this as an actual “improvement.”  And it is an improvement they wish to share with the rest of the galaxy.  In “Tomb,” the most terrifying thought facing the human expedition is not that they will be killed, but instead transformed into emotionless mechanical monsters.  The Cyberman Controller, in his eerie electronic voice, informs the captive humans, “You belong to us. You shall be like us.”  It is a horrific pronouncement.

The Tomb of the Cybermen DVD

I’ve always been especially impressed with Patrick Troughton’s performance as the Doctor in “Tomb.”  Before I saw this story, I never really understood why older fans had such reverence for Troughton’s depiction of the Doctor.  This was completely down to the fact that I had only seen him in such serials as “The Dominators” and “The Krotons,” neither of which, let’s face it, will ever probably make the list of Top Twenty-Five Doctor Who Stories Ever, to say the least!  But watching Troughton in “Tomb,” a very well-written, well-produced story from when he was at the top of his game, wow, I was amazed.  He was electrifying.

There are so many facets to Troughton’s performance.  At first glance he seems to be scrambling about frantically, in a state of near-panic, events totally beyond his control.  But if you pay closer attention, you’ll notice that the Doctor, despite his repeated admonishments that Parry’s group is in grave danger, is the one who ends up solving all of their obstacles.  Each and every time the expedition hits a brick wall, the Doctor is the one who comes up with the solution, and at least once without their even realizing he’s done it.  In a way, he is manipulating people and events.  The fact that the Cybermen do get awakened in the first place would probably not have been possible if it wasn’t for his actions.

I remember when “Tomb” was first recovered in 1992, it was a few years after Doctor Who had gone off the air.  Right before the original series ended in 1989, the Doctor had been played by Sylvester McCoy, who had given a darker, more mysterious spin to the role, portraying the Doctor as a figure who worked on the side to set in motion events towards a specific outcome.  This was carried over in the New Adventures novels in the early 1990s, where many of the writers cast this Doctor as a cosmic chess player, maneuvering living pawns across the field of battle.  For myself, this seemed very strange, and it served to make the Doctor unlikable.  Then I viewed “Tomb,” and I realized that the Doctor as a manipulative, enigmatic figure was nothing new, that Troughton had been doing it a quarter century earlier.  Indeed, I subsequently learned that other stories such as “Evil of the Daleks” and “The War Games” also saw the Second Doctor cast in an ambiguous light, where you weren’t quite clear about his motives, and were left uncertain if he might not sacrifice others for the bigger picture.

At the same time, Troughton is capable of giving the Doctor a great deal of warmth & tenderness, as demonstrated in a scene with Victoria, who is played by Deborah Watling.  The previously-sheltered Victoria is still mourning the loss of her father, who was killed by the Daleks just a short time before (in the aforementioned “Evil of the Daleks”), and being abruptly uprooted from 19th Century England to travel through all of time & space.  The Doctor very much takes on the role of a father figure here, and it’s a very touching scene.

Also apparent is the chemistry Troughton had with Frazer Hines, who played Jamie.  As I understand it, the two actors had a wonderful rapport, and it is obvious how well they work together here.  It’s not surprising that Hines chose to stay on playing Jamie for the duration of Troughton’s stint of the Doctor.  I love the scene in episode one that they improvised where they each go to take Victoria’s hand to lead her inside the Cybermen’s control room, accidentally grab each other’s hand instead, quickly realize their mistake, and frantically shake loose from one another.  It’s a lovely bit of comedy that helps to lighten the tension.

The Cybermen awaken from suspended animation

Mind you, I am not saying that “Tomb” is a flawless production.  If you really want to be picky, a few of the special effects have not aged well.  In one scene where Kaftan’s servant Toberman is lifted up by a Cyberman, you can clearly see the wire pulling him up.  Later, when Toberman throws the Controller across a room, it’s obviously an empty dummy costume.  But those are minor quibbles.  I guess the most obvious problem is that the Cyberman’s tiny metal servants, the Cybermats (sort of metallic silverfish) are supposed to be terrifying, but end up coming across as silly.  Ah, well, they were kinda cute.

There is a major plot hole to the story, namely that the Cybermen did not think to put any controls in their tombs to open the hatchway to the surface, leaving the only switch up in the main control room.  That results in them getting locked up in their own tombs not once, but twice.  For a species based on logic, that seems like a major oversight on their part.  Come to think of it, how the heck did they close the hatch in the first place once they were all down in the tombs if the only control was upstairs?

The other problems are really more to do with the period when “Tomb” was made.  There is the chauvinistic attitude of Professor Parry, who attempts to sideline Victoria and Kaftan in order to keep the women out of harm’s way.  By today’s standards, this is very sexist, but undoubtedly the writers did not foresee how far the Women’s Lib movement would come in just a few decades, much less several hundred years in the future.

Another issue is the human villains.  Klieg and Kaftan are both foreign (i.e. non-British) and although not identified, the audience is presumably meant to infer that they are either Eastern European or Arabic.  Also, Toberman is a big, strong, mostly silent black man.  Once again, this was probably a non-issue in 1967.  But if the story was made today, it would be done very differently in handling the characters’ ethnic backgrounds, as well as the attitudes towards women.

Of course, even the villains aren’t completely black & white.  Yep, Klieg is a megalomaniac.  But Kaftan, despite being an icy bitch, regards Toberman as more than a servant, and shows genuine affection & concern for his well-being.  You also see her becoming more than slightly wary as she observes Klieg’s gradual descent into madness.  In portraying Kaftan, actress Shirley Cooklin adds a certain amount of depth to what could easily have been a one-dimensional villain.  Likewise, when Toberman is partially converted into a Cyberman, the Doctor breaks through his brainwashing to his humanity by appealing to his concern for Kaftan.  In the end, Toberman plays an instrumental role in stopping the Cybermen.

Shirley Cooklin as the lovely but treacherous Kaftan

There are two audio commentaries on “The Tomb of the Cybermen” re-release. The first, featuring Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling, is from the first DVD release.  The second one is new and, in addition to a return by Hines and Watling, features actors Shirley Cooklin, Bernard Holley, Reg Whitehead, plus script editor Victor Pemberton.  I enjoyed the new commentary much more, both because it had more participants, and because it was moderated by Toby Hadoke, who did an excellent job.  I’ve found that on the Doctor Who DVD commentaries, it is a very good idea to have a moderator for the stories made in the 1960s and early 1970s, someone who can help jog everyone’s understandably foggy memories of working on a television series several decades ago.

The picture quality on this DVD edition of “Tomb” looks fantastic.  The images have really been cleaned up magnificently with a computer program called VidFIRE.  There is a short feature about the process on the second disk which attempts to keep the explanations as simple as possible.  For a non-technical person such as myself, I appreciated that they did not try to go into too much detail, because it would have gone all over my head!

There are several other items on the second disk.  The most informative for me was “The Lost Giants” making of feature.  The two participants who recall events most clearly are Victor Pemberton and Shirley Cooklin.  Pemberton worked closely with Pedler & Davis on the scripts, and he observes what an unlikely yet incredible effective collaboration they had.  Pedler was “the scientist” and Davis “the dramatist,” and they managed to successfully mesh their two chosen disciplines together to create highly effective stories such as “Tomb.”  Cooklin explains how she came to be cast in the role of Kaftan, and recalls a number of very humorous anecdotes relating to the production of “Tomb.”

My only major complaint concerning this new release is that it did not include among its extras “Tombwatch,” a panel discussion with the cast & crew filmed back in 1992, which was included on the first DVD.  It is true, some of the information from “Tombwatch” is repeated in either the commentaries or the new feature “The Lost Giants.”  But there was more than enough that was unique to “Tombwatch” that merited it being retained on the new DVD edition.  So now I’m not sure if I should give my old copy of “Tomb” to a friend like I had originally planned, or hang on to both releases.  Decisions, decisions!

That said, I really did enjoy this re-release of “The Tomb of the Cybermen” on DVD.  If you do not already own the story, it is well worth picking up.

Unearthing the Tomb of the Cybermen

I normally do not buy something on DVD twice.  If a “special edition” is released after the initial regular DVD, well, it has to be pretty darn special indeed for me to pick it up.  But I made an exception for the recent two-disk DVD re-release of the Doctor Who serial “Tomb of the Cybermen.”

For those unfamiliar with “Tomb of the Cybermen,” it was first broadcast by the BBC back in September 1967.  In the role of the Doctor was Patrick Troughton, who portrayed the eccentric Time Lord from November 1966 to June 1969.  “Tomb” was written by Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis, the co-creators of the Cybermen, the second most popular villains on Doctor Who after the Daleks.  After its broadcast in the UK, the serial, along with a number of others, was then sold abroad, and several years later the BBC’s master tapes were erased.

Back in the days before VHS and DVD, there appeared to be no alternate market for old black & white shows to be financially lucrative for the BBC.  So, to their thinking, it made perfect sense to wipe hundreds of video tapes to re-use for new material, and to toss in the rubbish bin those film copies returned to them by foreign television stations.  Unfortunately, a great many Doctor Who episodes ended up on the chopping block, including the majority of Patrick Troughton’s first two seasons on the show.

Of course, fans of Doctor Who felt differently.  For the next quarter century, viewers who had seen “Tomb of the Cybermen” on their television screens way back in 1967 spoke of it, and other Doctor Who serials starring Patrick Troughton, in hushed, reverential tones, declaring them to be “the greatest Doctor Who stories ever made.”

For someone such as myself who was born in 1976, nearly a decade after “Tomb” aired, this would drive me crazy.  Here I was, a huge Doctor Who fan in the mid-1980s, being told about all these classic stories from the 1960s that I would never have an opportunity to see.  True, I was able to read the novelizations published by Target, including one of “Tomb” by original co-writer Gerry Davis.  And occasionally I would get to see old, grainy black & white photos published in sci-fi reference books or by Doctor Who Magazine.  But it wasn’t the same as being able to actually view those stories.

For many years, the closest we could get to the original show

For many years, this was the closest we could get to the original serial

Then, in early 1992, seemingly against all odds, a copy of the complete four-episode “Tomb of the Cybermen” was discovered, buried in the archives of a Hong Kong television station.  The serial was returned to the BBC, who immediately rushed it out onto video tape.

A digression: it is an odd thing, in that “Tomb of the Cybermen” has been found nearly as long as it had been missing, yet for many it is still refer to it as a “lost” classic.  I think this speaks of just how utterly unlikely it was for it to be discovered intact so long after it was thought destroyed forever, and how thrilled fans were to actually have it returned.

In any case, back in 1992, I remember thinking to myself, now that I finally have the opportunity to view “Tomb,” can it possibly live up to the hype that had been generated over the previous twenty-five years?  The funny thing is, a lot of those older fans who had seen “Tomb” way back in 1967 were actually a bit disappointed, saying it wasn’t nearly as good as they remembered (just one more example of 1980s Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner’s maxim “the memory cheats”).  I guess it can be difficult to compete with quarter century old childhood memories.

For myself, though… wow, I was completely in awe!  “Tomb of the Cybermen” was an amazing story: intelligent, exciting, suspenseful, ambitious, and lots of other adjectives that I could probably use if I pulled out my thesaurus.  It was fantastic.  And at long last I was able to finally see one of those classic Doctor Who serials the older fans had spoken of so respectfully.  True, there were many other still missing or incomplete stories: “Evil of the Daleks,” “The Web of Fear,” “Fury from the Deep,” and other Patrick Troughton serials from his first two years on the show.  But at least we now had one complete example from what many considered to be one of Doctor Who’s golden ages.

I’ve lost count of how many times I viewed “Tomb of the Cybermen” on VHS.  Then, ten years later, when it came out on DVD, I picked it up.  Finally, when the two-disk special edition came out a month or so ago, I bought that, as well.

So, what are my specific thoughts on “Tomb of the Cybermen” and it’s brand-new re-release on DVD?  I will discuss those shortly, in my next entry.  Stay tuned.  (That’s as close as I’ll ever get to a genuine Doctor Who cliffhanger on this blog!)

Doctor Who: How It All Began – An Evening With Waris Hussein

Last week, on April 10, I attended the event “Doctor Who: How It All Began – An Evening With Waris Hussein,” held at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan.  Waris Hussein is the man who directed the very first Doctor Who serial, “An Unearthly Child,” far back in 1963.  In addition, he directed the majority of the seven part lavish historical epic “Marco Polo,” also produced during the show’s first season.  For a long-time fan of Doctor Who, it was a real thrill to be able to attend this event, to hear the reminiscences of one of the production personnel who were there at the very beginning.

The event was moderated by Barnaby Edwards, president of the fan organization Doctor Who New York.  It began with a screening of the very first episode of “An Unearthly Child,” with commentary by Hussein and Edwards.  Afterwards, Hussein discussed a wide variety of topics with Edwards.

The Indian-born, Cambridge-educated Hussein explained how he came to be one of the very first non-white directors at the BBC.  He explained how the BBC initially wanted to offer him a position in their foreign office, but how he insisted that he was keen to become a director in England.  I had to admire Hussein’s determination and confidence, in that he turned down a lucrative offer of a permanent, pensioned job with the BBC abroad to accept a six month trial run at the BBC’s home office.  Obviously that worked out well for Hussein, as he spent a number of years with the BBC before going on to a long, prolific career directing at various other television stations, both in the UK and here in the States.

In regards to his involvement with Doctor Who’s early days, Hussein spoke of his collaborations with series creator Sydney Newman and producer Verity Lambert.  It was interesting to hear about how he and Lambert went about courting William Hartnell for the role of the Doctor, and Hussein’s key role in casting Carol Anne Ford as his granddaughter Susan.  Hussein touched upon how there had actually been an unaired pilot episode, and the almost unheard-of decision to reshoot it, ironing out all the technical wrinkles, as well as tweaking the characterization of the Doctor to make him more sympathetic and mischievous.

During the program, someone observed just how unconventional Doctor Who’s origins truly were, for an era when the vast majority of creative personnel at the BBC were white British males.  Its creator, Newman, was a Canadian, its first producer, Lambert, a woman, and its first director, Hussein, an Indian.  Certainly I cannot help think that this must have played at least a small part in the show becoming such a distinctive, unconventional, groundbreaking series, one that has lasted nearly half a century in one form or another.

Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me, so I wasn’t able to take any photographs.  I did, however, get my DVD of “An Unearthly Child” autographed by Hussein.  The event was very crowded, so I only had an opportunity to talk with him for a few seconds, but he seemed like a pleasant fellow.

I do have to say, Hussein looks very good for his age.  According to Wikipedia (assuming, of course, they’re accurate), Hussein was born in 1938, making him 73 years old.  He looks at least ten years younger, and very spry, at that.  If I do make it to my early 70s I hope I age half as well as he apparently has!

As an aside, it’s worth noting that the entire seven-episode “Marco Polo” serial that Hussein directed is missing from the BBC archives.  This is somewhat odd, in that nearly the rest of the first season of Doctor Who, barring two other episodes, is intact, having been recovered from various areas around the globe where the BBC sold copies of the show before they wiped their master tapes.  As I understand it, “Marco Polo” was one of the most widely sold Doctor Who serials, which makes its total absence very mystifying.

It certainly is a shame that Waris Hussein’s second contribution to Doctor Who is presently lost.  I have read the novelization of “Marco Polo” written by original scripter John Lucarotti.  I’ve also viewed the half hour reconstruction of the serial created from original soundtrack, “tele-snap” images, and production stills that was included on the Doctor Who: The Beginning DVD box set.  Based on these, “Marco Polo” seems to have been an interesting, not to mention incredibly ambitious, production, and I would really like the opportunity to see an actual episode of it.  (Additionally, Lucarotti’s other serial from the first season, “The Aztecs,” is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories from the 1960s, giving me another reason to wish to view “Marco Polo.”)

It isn’t completely beyond the realm of possibility that somewhere, buried in some vault or attic, there might be at least one episode of “Marco Polo” in existence.  As recently as last year two previously lost Doctor Who episodes from the 1960s were rediscovered.  So we can hope that someday some actual footage from the story reappears.

In any case, “An Unearthly Child” is completely intact.  And it was certainly a pleasure attending last week’s look back on the early days of Doctor Who.  I found the Waris Hussein event to be very informative and enjoyable.  We’re very lucky he is still with us to share his memories and insights into the beginnings of the series.

Two Cats and a Turtle, Part Three

Even though we now had two cats, Nettie and Squeaky, my girlfriend also wanted to get a pet turtle.  At first, I could not see the point.  In my mind, a turtle would not be far removed from fish, in that you really cannot interact with them.  But she was insistent.

She contacted someone on Craig’s List who had to give their turtle away because their new job required them to be on the road most of the time.  This guy dropped off the turtle, along with a tank, filter, and sun lamp.  It turned out it was an aquatic turtle, which meant that the tank and filter needed cleaning about once a week, and the turtle required fresh water regularly.  At first I was not thrilled, because this seemed like a lot of work to me.

The guy had named the turtle Meeshee.  My girlfriend came up with the idea of giving the turtle the last name Gamera.  Yes, like the giant Japanese movie monster.  So that is how Meeshee Gamera came to live with us.

We were told that Meeshee was a female.  It had something to do with the size of her tail, which was how you could tell.  I was a bit skeptical until one day she laid an egg.  Okay, yep, definitely a girl!

Meeshee Gamera

Anyway, gradually Meeshee Gamera grew on me.  Yeah, it can be a pain to clean that tank.  But Meeshee is such a pretty turtle.  And she really has personality.  When we are cleaning her tank, we let her walk around the apartment.  And she can be really fast!  She runs all over the place.  So much for the myth that all turtles are slow.  The two cats react to Meeshee in different ways.  Nettie usually observes her curiously, and my girlfriend jokes that the cat is supervising me while I’m cleaning the tank.  Squeaky, on the other hand, will always run away the instant Meeshee starts walking in her direction.  Meeshee also knows how to let you know when she was angry.  She lest out this loud hissing noise if you picked her up.  And she has a very sharp beak to bite with.

My girlfriend read somewhere that you could feed hot dogs to turtles.  It sounded really crazy to me.  But she insisted, and boiled a hot dog, chopping it up into tiny bits.  We started hand-feeding Meeshee, and she loved it.  She would put one flipper on her rock, the other on the side of the tank, pull herself up, stretching out her neck, snapping for the food with her mouth.  Like I said, Meeshee had that sharp beak, so you have to be very careful not to have your finger chomped on along with the hot dog!

I don’t know if it was the chemicals they put in those hot dogs, or if it’s just normal for a turtle, but Meeshee really grew.  We had to get her a bigger tank and a larger rock so she would have room to swim and to lie out and catch rays from the sun lamp.  That seems to be her favorite activity, getting a sun tan.

Meeshee Gamera in the park

During the warm summer months, we sometimes take Meeshee outside to a nearby park.  She loves walking around in the grass.  Once, she even started climbing a fence.  Another time, Meeshee tried to crawl under a fence onto the railroad tracks on the other side.  I was on the ground, struggling to hold on to her as she thrashed about, digging into me with her sharp claws, trying to keep her from getting all the way through that hole.  For a minute, I was genuinely afraid I was going to lose her.  Now, when we take her to the park, we keep a very close eye on her.

As I said, Meeshee grew on me, and nowadays I cannot imagine not having her living with us.  She is as much one of my babies as Nettie and Squeaky are.  Oh, wow, that sounds soooooo sappy!  This whole series of blogs about Cats and Turtles no doubt seems overly sentimental.  But all I can say is that a pet really can help to brighten up your life and help you be a happier, more positive person.

If you would like to view more photos of Nettie, Squeaky, and Meeshee Gamera, go to my Pets set on Flickr…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bh123/sets/72157612736536250/

Thank you for taking a look.  I hope you enjoyed these blogs and photos.  If you have any pet stories you’d like to share, please let me know.  I would certainly enjoy reading your blogs.

Two Cats and a Turtle, Part Two

Right after my girlfriend and I moved into our second apartment, in June 2009, we took in another cat.  This one was already at least five years old.  She had been living in a home that had contained too many animals: seven cats, two dogs, several reptiles, a couple dozen birds, and a few other things I’m probably forgetting!  This poor cat was constantly getting beaten up by the other cats, and apparently spent most of her time hiding behind a radiator.  Every time she tried to come out for food, the other cats would pounce on her.  Since we only had one cat, Nettie, we had more than enough room for a second.  And we did not want Nettie to be lonely.

This new cat was very shy, and got startled extremely easily.  I remember the first day we had her, she fled behind the radiator in our apartment, and I had so much trouble getting her out.  After that, she spent most of her time hiding in the closet, and my girlfriend had to bring food to her in there.

The strange thing about the new cat was that she never had been given a proper name.  The previous owner had just referred to her as “Kitten,” and kept doing that, even though, as I said, she was now several years old.  We decided she needed a real name.  Because she sounded like she was squeaking when she would meow, we finally decided to name her Squeaky.

Squeaky

We soon learned that one of the reasons why Squeaky kept hiding in the closet had nothing to do with her being afraid.  In fact, she was in pain.  When we took Squeaky to the vet, we were told that half of her teeth had become rotten with cavities and infections.  Even though it cost almost a thousand dollars, we had her bad teeth removed.  After that, Squeaky was like a new cat.  She no longer hid in the closet, but would casually roam about the apartment.

Squeaky is a black & white tuxedo cat.  Since we got her, her fur has become very shiny, and her eyes brighter.  They are now these deep, soulful pools of green.  Sometimes, looking into her eyes, I get a feeling of peace and serenity.

Squeaky is, as my girlfriend says, a bit of a misfit cat.  During breakfast and dinner, Squeaky gobbles down her food, probably because for so long, back in her old home, it was always being stolen from her.  She started out as a skinny little thing when she moved in, but now she has quite a belly on her.  My girlfriend observed “A round cat is a happy cat.”  If that’s true, then Squeaky must be very happy indeed!  (As I type this, Squeaky is by my feet, meowing sadly for food, even though dinner time is more than an hour away.  She can be very persistent!)

Also, it took her a while to get used to Nettie.  Since Nettie had been an only cat for most of her kitten-hood, she never had anyone to play with.  She would try to play with Squeaky by wrestling with her, but Squeaky, who was so used to being beaten up in the past that she thought Nettie was attacking her, and she would flee.

That said, over time the two of them have grown closer together, and they can often be seen cuddling together, sleeping next to each other, or grooming one another.  The funny thing is, if you happen to spot them doing that, and they notice you, they appear to get embarrassed and will quickly move apart.

Squeaky and Nettie cuddling on the bed

Squeaky appears to be very happy in her new home.  I know she appreciates being able to take a long nap without being disturbed or harassed.  She is still skittish, though.  Loud noises easily startle her.  Also, she seems to be afraid of tall people looming over her.  I’m six foot two inches, and when I’m walking in Squeaky’s direction, she will often run.  However, if I’m sitting down or lying in bed, she’ll come right up to me, looking to be petted, or to have her tummy rubbed.  When I’m watching television, she’s often curled up in my lap.  I like to call her my TV buddy.

I’m glad we were able to give Squeaky a good home.  Having said that, I’m still not sure what she thinks of the turtle we later got.  But I’ll tell you all about Meeshee Gamera, the red-eared slider with an attitude, next time.

Two Cats and a Turtle, Part One

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted a pet; a cat or a dog.  My parents, who already had three children, me and my two younger sisters, most likely did not want the extra responsibility of having to take care of an animal.

After years of pleading with them, my parents finally gave in… sort of.  They got a fish tank.  To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  I know they meant well, but I just could not relate to a bunch of little fish swimming back and forth in a tank of water.  There was no way to interact with them; they literally existed in their own world, apparently unaware that I existed.  And they kept dying off!  My parents would buy a cool-looking fish and, nine times out of ten, it would be belly up in the water within a week.  Eventually they all died off, one by one, and we put the fish tank away permanently.

Years later, when I was in my twenties, I was having lunch out with my mother.  She made a startling confession to me.  She said that she finally realized that I had been very lonely as a child, and maybe it would have been the right thing to let me have a pet after all.  But, of course, by now I was living on my own, so it was moot.  Somehow, I still ended up in an apartment building that didn’t allow pets, though.

Fast forwards several years, and I’m now living in Queens, dating a wonderful girl.  After several months, we decided to move in together.  She had had cats as pets ever since she was a little girl, so she was very receptive to the idea of us having one together.  She had previously rescued a cat from the street and given her to a friend.  That cat was now pregnant with a litter.  And so, a short time later, in January 2009, a fluffy little two month old kitten came into our lives.  She was so adorably cute.  I remember how she fit in the palm of my hand.  That first night, the kitten cuddled up to me in bed, and I remember being afraid I was going to roll over in my sleep and squash her!

Nettie as a kitten

My girlfriend decided to name the kitten Netzach, which is Hebrew for victory or endurance.  I came up with a nickname, Nettie.  I was so thrilled to have Nettie in our lives.  At long last, I finally had a pet of my very own.

Life with Nettie was very eventful.  She bounced around the apartment, almost going “boing boing” off the walls, so much so that I joked she had springs in her paws.  She would get into fights with a big green sponge that we had, and my girlfriend joked that it was her arch-enemy.  Nettie also liked to grab my hand or my girlfriend’s and basically wrestle with us, holding on with her front paws, kicking with her back, gnawing on our knuckles with her teeth.  We let that cat get away with murder sometimes!  What can I say?  She was my very first pet, and I spoiled her.

Nettie is a very distinctive looking cat, with long fluffy fur.  She is part Persian, part Siamese, part Himalayan.  Given her wild nature, I would joke that the Himalayan part of family must have had a few abominable snowmen in it.  That gave rise to the nickname Nettie the Yeti.  Nettie also has the most beautiful blue eyes, and a lovely voice.  Sometimes, when she wants food or attention, she can give you this wide stare, letting out such a sad meow.  She really knows how to tug on the heart strings.  And, of course, I always fall for it.  My girlfriend tells people that I treat Nettie as if she was my daughter.

Nettie at three years old

Over the past three years, Nettie has grown up, and she is a lot less manic and hyper.  Well, most of the time.  A few months after we first got Nettie, we moved into another apartment, and then had a second cat come to live with us.  Nettie, who spent most of her kitten-hood by herself, now found herself living with another feline, one she hoped would play with her.  Cue lots of running and wrestling.  And then, on top of that, we got a turtle.  But more on all that next time.