26 December 2008

Rom sales: April 1984

Here's a quick quiz for you. Which out of the following issues sold the best on the direct sales market in April 1984 (cover dates of August 1984)?
  1. Captain America #296
  2. G. I. Joe #26
  3. Iron Man #185
  4. Incredible Hulk #298
  5. Micronauts #59
  6. Rom #57
If you guessed Rom #57, you're correct! (And if you didn't, all I can say is, "yo, dude, this is the Rom blog.") This bit of information comes from a May 29, 2007 blog post by Marvel editor Tom Brevoort I recently discovered. For that month, Rom, with 73,800 units, outsold all the other titles listed above.

There is, of course, a caveat. The direct sales market was still very young in 1984 and Marvel was still seeing most of it's sales in the traditional, newsstand market. The difference between the two is that newsstands could return unsold comics, while direct sales shops couldn't.

So what sold better than Rom? The usual suspects (X-Men, New Mutants, Spider-man titles, Fantastic Four, etc.) plus Marvel's hot new limited series, Secret Wars (#4). If you want to see the complete list, visit the blog entry linked above. For now, I'm (naturally) going to focus on Rom's numbers.

Rom ranked 16th amongst Marvel's titles, down from 15th the previous month. It was pushed down by Power Pack #1, Alien Legion #2 (a bi-monthly that wasn't published the previous month), and Quest Probe #1 at 15th (78,800 units). Rom saw a remarkable increase in sales of 12.5% from 65,600 the previous month. Mind you, a quick glance through the numbers shows that most titles were seeing increasing sales. This is just another reminder that the direct sales market was new and expanding.

Three issues prior, in Rom #54, Marvel had printed its statement of ownership. It revealed an average sales per issue of 160,741 for the year and 170,588 for the most recent issue. That means direct sales accounted for approximately 35-45% of the title's sales.

So what's the bottom line here? When he was in print, Rom was not the third-tier character comic fans tend to think of him as now. While consistently outselling Dazzler, Doctor Strange and Power Man & Iron Fist may not sound like something to brag about, how about Marvel stalwarts like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk? Not to mention other licensed comics like Micronauts, G. I. Joe, Conan, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. You might say I'm jumping to a conclusion, but I think the only reason we haven't seen full revivals of him is because of the Parker Brothers license.

23 December 2008

Finally found a copy of Zap!

[The following was originally posted to the Usenet group rec.games.video.classic. I waited until after Christmas to post it to my blog so my mother wouldn't know what she was getting. As a result, this post has been backdated from when it was actually posted, five days later.]

My mother is hard to shop for, but an avid reader, so today I went to a used book store to see if I might find something for her. This led me to wander through a lot more of the hard cover section than I usually do on my infrequent trips there. And in doing so, I finally came across the game section. And what do I find on the shelf between the books on chess and bridge? A copy of Zap!: The Rise and Fall of Atari by Scott Cohen. I have been looking for this book for years! (Possibly because I've been unwilling to pay eBay prices.)

I've actually already read it before. It turned out my local library has a copy. (And yes, I considered doing something unethical like checking it out, failing to return it, and paying the fine, but I'm not that kind of person.) I realize it's not a perfect history. I also realize that it was republished by John Hardie through Xlibris. But that's just not the same as having an original, hard cover copy from 1984.

It makes a lovely addition to my collection. It's in very good condition with a tight spine, free of markings, and still has the dust jacket. Just some light wear along the top and bottom of the spine. Looks like it may have been read once (or possibly not) and then sat on someone's shelf for years before being traded in. Heck, for all I know it could have been sitting on the shelf at the book store for years. (Although not since the '80s, as they had a fire 11 years ago which forced them to restock.) Oh, and the best part was the price: $4 plus tax. (And I did find something for my mother, too.)

22 December 2008

R.I.P. Rufus, 1993–2008

We had to put our cat, Rufus, to sleep today. It was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make. He's now at rest in the raised flowerbed in our backyard next to our other cat, Somalia.

It appears Rufus had a blood clot or possibly a stroke. Back in September, I came home from work and heard a thud. Rufus had apparently attempted to get off the couch to greet me, but instead fell. I stood him up and he was having problems walking, so I rushed him to the vet. I called them as I was preparing to leave and they stayed and waited for me. The cause was uncertain then, but when he hadn't improved much the next day, they thought he'd probably had a mild stroke. The main symptom was his walking in a drunken stagger. Within just a few weeks, however, he'd appeared to have recovered.

We had to board him while we were gone for Thanksgiving. He seemed to do fine, but then I noticed after a few days of being back home he had appeared to stop eating. I might have noticed sooner, but the job of feeding him had been given to Andrew, and he didn't bother to mention it to us right away. A visit to the vet seemed to get him back on track, but then – after they'd done a follow-up call, of course – he seemed nearly to stop again.

I'd planned to call the vet today, but this morning, after Hannah woke us up, I heard him calling from the living room. I found him lying on the floor in front of the couch. Upon trying to stand him up, it seemed he was unable to. Further examination showed no movement in his tail or back legs. He was happy for the attention, though, calmed down, and began purring.

Once we got to the vet, the prognosis wasn't good. The options boiled down to more of the kinds of tests he'd had lately or putting him down. After much heart-wrenching discussion, we decided for the latter. I stayed with him while it was done, which broke my heart.

I think I understand, now, an emotional reason for burying the dead. Digging a large hole to put a loved one in helps a little, because it actually gives you something to do and focus on. Putting him in and preparing to cover him, however, I broke down again.

Dorothy and I got Rufus from the Humane Society back in 1994. He had gotten sick and his family had been unable to care for him. The Society had gotten him healthy again and then put him up for adoption. He was about 13 months old and came with the name Rufus.

I had taken Somalia from Dorothy's family a year earlier. She was a stray who was obviously uncared for and they couldn't really handle another cat, as they had many. We naively hoped that maybe she'd get along with Rufus immediately since she hadn't been a problem for Dorothy's family. We introduced them far too soon and, naturally, she attacked Rufus, the intruder. I grabbed the cat who was closest, which happened to be Rufus, and paid for it with numerous scratches on my hands and arms. Eventually, of course, they got along, although Somalia seemed to remain the dominant one.

Rufus was an unusual cat and extremely laid back. He loved to have his belly rubbed. Once we had children, Somalia tended to just stay away from them. Rufus, however, tolerated them better.

Sometime after Walter learned to crawl, Rufus came, laid down in front of him and rolled over for a belly rub. Walter, not knowing how to pet, just grabbed his fur. Rufus didn't react, other than to give him a look like, "what are you doing? That's now how you do it," and then got up and laid down a little further away. Walter crawled over and the scene repeated itself. Rufus tried a third time before giving up and wandering off.

When Andrew was one year old, he tried riding Rufus. Meaning, essentially, he sat on Rufus, although not putting his full weight on the cat. Rufus just sat there until he could get away. Other, more high-strung cats might have responded with clawing and/or hissing, but not Rufus. The above photo of baby Andrew and Rufus is not from either incident, but was one of the few I was able to find of Rufus with one of the kids.

I realized while burying him that Rufus had been in my life longer than any of my children and almost as long as Dorothy. While I felt sad when we had to euthanize Somalia, it didn't hurt as much. That was, perhaps, because while Somalia let us feed her and pet her, she remained aloof as only a cat can. Rufus was more affectionate. I don't know that I'll ever know another cat like him. Goodbye, kitty.

17 December 2008

15 years is the "washing machine anniversary"

About two days before our wedding anniversary, our washing machine died. For just $35, the repairman was kind enough to tell us that a slow leak had caused its innards to rust and the motor was dead. Even if he could repair it, it would cost more than a new machine. Great.

Thanks to my sister-in-law's Christmas present (unwrapped early), we had dinner plans for our anniversary. (Thanks, Beth!) Afterwards, we'd originally planned to get some Christmas shopping done for the kids. When you have three children, however -- particularly when one is in cloth diapers -- dirty clothes aren't something you want to get too far behind on. So after dinner, we had a lovely evening looking at washing machines.

It seems our desperate circumstances actually worked in our favor. After narrowing down our choices, we found out we were incorrect in our assumption that they'd have a sample of most models in back. So we asked what they had in the store right then. This revealed a discontinued model that the store happened to still have sitting in the back. There was no floor model on display; this was truly the only one they had. But we got a good deal on it because of that! (Or so it seems to us and we'd appreciate not being disillusioned.)

And there was also a good thing about the timing, as far as time of year. Our babysitter wasn't available until later than normal dining time. If it hadn't been the holidays, the store wouldn't have been open late enough for us to shop after dinner.

So, we found out we could indeed fit the washer in our minivan and drove it home. I then had to get the old washer out of the laundry room. I'd attempted to do so before dinner, but discovered it wouldn't fit through the way I'd initially picked, so I had to clear a second path when we got back home. Thanks goodness the laundry room has more than one door. Once that was done, I had to bring in the new washer and install it. And after that, I had to run an "empty load" to clean the machine out before using it. In the end, I think I got to bed around 1:30 a.m., but there was a load of clothes running when I did.

Two last interesting notes. First, the new washer thankfully came with new hoses. In removing the old ones, I discovered we were supposed to have changed them about seven years ago. You'd think after having our house flooded by a burst washing machine hose several years ago, we'd have learned our lesson and kept a better eye on that. I have dutifully recorded the date that the new hoses should be replaced in my PDA, so I'll get a an alert sometime in 2013.

Second, I was once told by a repairman that a clothes dryer can last through about three washers. Most people don't keep them that long, however, because they want their appliances to match. We're on a budget and don't give a flying fig; the laundry room's not a room we show off to guests. We bought our first washer and (the current) dryer from our home's previous occupants. The dryer is now on it's third washer. So happy anniversary, dear. I hope you like your present the clothes washer. Let's hope the "clothes dryer anniversary" doesn't come until at least 20 years of marriage.

21 November 2008

Hannah update: 2 months

The idea was that keeping up a blog would be easier than updating web pages at my personal site, but it's not working out that way. Apologies, but here's a late update on Hannah. At a six week checkup, she was up to 9 pounds, 11 ounces and 22 inches. Now she's up to 10 pounds, 2 ounces and 22-1/2 inches. Growing like a weed, but she's right at the 50th percentile in height and weight. Our perfectly average child. :-)

Earlier this month she was baptized. At the left you can see her sporting the lovely christening gown one of her aunt's knitted crocheted for her. She did an ensemble made up of the dress, hat, and a blanket. She couldn't ever quite get the booties right, so Dorothy bought a pair (not shown). I'm not sure, but Aunt Beth may have spent nearly as much time working on it as Hannah did in her mom's tummy.

Our church does two services each Sunday and we, having three kids to prepare, almost always go to the later one. But on the Sunday of her baptism, we got a call from a friend about the time early service was starting. "Is Hannah's baptism today?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"But not at early service."

"Uh, no."

"Okay, we'll go straighten the pastor out."

We had six people, not counting Hannah, at the baptismal rehearsal. All but one knew the baptism was to be at the late service. Unfortunately, that one was the pastor. (Of course, the rest of us were focused on this one thing while he has a dozen or more to coordinate each week.) Luckily no harm was done, other than the bulletin had the baptism listed for the wrong service. The pastor worked around it with seeming ease.

And here is a photo from the actual baptism. (Thanks to our friend, Sarah W. for taking photos for us.) Up until this point, Hannah had slept through most church services in her mother's or my arms. We were hoping that might be the case this morning, but it was not to be. Right before the baptism, the youngest children's choir sang. Doing a great job, I might add. Unfortunately, as they rushed back to their seats, one child ran past Hannah, stomping just right and waking her up. There was no time to get her back to sleep, so she fussed through a good portion of her baptism. It was probably the most anyone at church had ever heard from her up to that point. The pastor even commented as he showed her around that he'd seen her at church a lot since her birth and this was unusual for her.

So Hannah's doing fine. She's been remarkable at sleeping through the night . . . most of the time. Hopefully the next belated post will show off the kids' Halloween costumes. I've just got to manage to get Andrew back into his costume long enough to get a good photo.

19 November 2008

Hasbro re-registering trademark on Rom

On November 6, 2008, Hasbro began the process of re-registering trademarks on "Rom" and "Rom the Spaceknight." What exactly they have in mind, I can only speculate on. But first, let's review a little terminology and history. In the interest of keeping this (relatively) short, I'm going to gloss over some details where possible. And naturally, I must disclaim the following as legal advice, as I am not a lawyer and don't even play one on TV.

First, if you don't know, a trademark is merely a word or logo used to distinguish the goods of a company from all other companies similar goods. The words "Coke," "Pentium," and "Spider-Man" are all examples of trademarks. Any company can declare something a trademark by adding that little TM symbol (™) after the word or logo wherever it appears on the company's packaging.

However, to assure full legal protection, it is best to register the trademark with the federal government. The agency that handles this is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Once a trademark's registration is approved, it becomes a registered trademark. At this point, and only at this point, the company can use the little R in a circle (®) on its logos instead of the TM.

Another aspect of registered trademarks is that they only apply to the category of items for which they are registered. For example, while no one else can call a drink "Pepsi," one might be able to use it for a hammer. (I by no means advise trying this, as the litigation would probably kill your company even if you ultimately manage to win the lawsuit.) This is also why Apple Computers has had a history of trouble with Apple Records since going into the music market with iTunes.

That's trademarks in a very small nutshell. For further reading, I suggest reading the USPTO's Trademark FAQ and/or visiting their trademark page.

Moving on to the history, back in 1979 when Parker Brothers released the Rom action figure, they filed with the USPTO for a trademark on the word/logo ROM. This was actually done through their parent company at the time, CPG Product Corp. Although the toy was only sold for a couple years (at best), they maintained the rights to the trademark until 1987, about a year after the character's Marvel comic book series had been canceled. Parker Brothers assets were later acquired by Hasbro, who is still Parker Brothers' parent company today.

Trademark law is a tricky thing. Because Marvel had licensed the Rom character from Parker Brothers, they could no longer use him upon expiration of the agreement. Or, at least, not blatantly. He managed to make a few cameos in the years after his series, but by and large it is most likely Marvel has seen no potential profit in reviving a B-list character they'd have to pay for the rights to use again.

It is important to note that Parker Brothers only registered a trademark on the mark "Rom." Not "Rom the Spaceknight" or anything similar. The title of the comic book series, according to the indica, was similarly just "Rom," not "Rom: Spaceknight" or any other variation on that theme. Although generally included on the cover, the word "Spaceknight" was sometimes omitted there as well. Furthermore, the registration only covered it's use for "toy figures and related accessories sold as a unit." If you look at your Rom comic book collection, you will not find a single instance of "Rom" as a registered trademark because comic books weren't the category the trademark was registered for.

This became important in 2000 after Chris Batista got the green light for his Spaceknights limited series. He was kind enough to contact me during this period and one of the things he told me was that Marvel's legal department was concerned that they couldn't use the name "Spaceknights" because it might be co-owned with Parker Brothers as well. Ultimately they not only decided they could use the name – most likely for the reason just noted above – Marvel even applied for registration of the "Spaceknights" trademark themselves. (Only as a comic book title, mind you.)

Now we're back where we started: Hasbro has re-registered for a trademark on Rom. This time they've gone much further than they did back in 1979. They applied for eight trademarks, four on "Rom" and four on "Rom the Spaceknight." (I should note that the phrasing of the latter was most likely chosen because it is the three word phrase that actually appeared on the action figure's box back in '79.) That's one for each of the two versions of the mark in four different categories: entertainment, paper goods, toys, and equipment. The last one is a bit puzzling. In full, the category is:
Scientific, nautical, surveying, electric, photographic, cinematographic, optical, weighing, measuring, signalling, checking (supervision), life-saving and teaching apparatus and instruments; apparatus for recording, transmission or reproduction of sound or images; magnetic data carriers, recording discs; automatic vending machines and mechanisms for coin operated apparatus; cash registers, calculating machines, data processing equipment and computers; fire extinguishing apparatus.
If that seems like an odd combination of items, it might not entirely be Hasbro's fault. The USPTO seems to have certain categories for marks and many of them are some odd groups of things. The forum that I believe first announced Hasbro's move says the category is "normally used for video games." Although in this case it seems Hasbro's wording for the numeric categories they registered might simply be out of date. Other video game trademarks in the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) database actually just say "video game software." Then again, a vending machine that looked like a life-sized Rom would be really cool!

So we're finally back to the question of "why?" Why has Hasbro chosen to do this after all these years? Could it be that repeated interest from various parties in somehow bringing Rom back to comics has finally gotten their attention and something is forthcoming? Or have they gotten wind of someone who was going to take advantage of the Rom trademark's inactive status and are preparing for a lawsuit to stop it? I hope it doesn't mean they're coming after my humble fan site. Surely it wouldn't be worth all that trouble. All I can say for sure is that, pending the actual approval of the USPTO, I might have to change the fine print at the bottom of all those pages from "ROM was a trademark" to "Rom is a trademark." Thank goodness for server-side includes.

15 October 2008

Another Rom revival bites the dust

I sat on this news so long, it's a relief to finally be able to tell it, although the result is sad. Back in February, Bing McCoy sent me a note saying:
Negotiations with Hasbro completed. Platinum comics is going to re-release ROM.
Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to tell anyone! Now I'm a very patient person, although some might merely call it procrastination. Anyway, I set up a ChangeDetection alert on Platinum Comics news page and waited. And waited and waited and waited. Not a word. Figuring I'd long since passed the point where inquiring would make me a pest, in September I asked McCoy about the status of the "re-release." He responded:
Hasbro backed out just before signing the contract - and thus ended a long business association with them. Cannot do business with people who do not honor their word.
So it would seem that McCoy is done trying to revive Rom, which is a shame because he seemed to be the one who's come closest to doing so since the Marvel series ended. (And upon asking, he said yes, I can talk about it now.) Of course, whether Platinum's series would have resembled the original, Marvel series in any way is a whole other topic and I won't go into that right now.

Still, other questions remain. How far did Platinum get in defining the series? Did they have creators lined up for it and, if so, who? Assuming Platinum wasn't going to answer questions from a no one like me, I e-mailed the only person I could think of who might be able to get answers: Rich Johnston. Unfortunately, he tells me he doesn't have any contacts at Platinum. But he might publish something about it in his column and see what comes up. I guess there's nothing to do but wait and see.

13 October 2008

Children all dressed up

By popular demand, here are photos of Hannah. First, on the left, we have her in a lovely dress picked up at a recent kids' consignment sale. (Click the photos for bigger views.) Totally impractical, as she'll be lucky to wear it more than twice, but too cute and too cheap -- especially considering it still had the tags on it -- for her mother to pass up!

Next, on the right, we have her only slightly more casual and with ballet slippers on. Dorothy recently took her out wearing this outfit and never once got the "boy or girl" question. (Just the "how old is she" question.) This finally proved to me that those bows are completely silly after all.

Finally, we have a milestone for Walter. He is now old enough to serve as an acolyte at church. This primarily consists of lighting the candles before service and putting them out afterwards. Here he is doing the former for the very first time.

08 October 2008

Purpose of the blog

I don't know that I have any real readers yet, but as I'm jut starting out I thought I'd go over the purpose of this blog. This is all as I see it right now and naturally I reserve the right to change my mind as the blog evolves.

First, you're unlikely to see much in the way of politics and religion. Or rather, you're unlikely to see much proselytizing on either subject. I hate conflict, so I tend to keep my opinions to myself. This probably forever dooms me with the label "boring," but I've (mostly) come to accept that.

You're also unlikely to hear much about sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Sex is private, I don't do drugs -- let me reiterate for any current or future employers doing Google searches on my name that I DON'T DO DRUGS -- and, okay, maybe I have experimented with rock & roll. Yeah, I take it back; you'll probably hear me talk about music. (For example, did you know Weird Al just released a new single?)

You're also unlikely to see many four letter words here because that's simply not how I usually express myself. Does this mean the blog will be kid-safe? Mostly, but I make no guarantees. I do find much naughty humor funny and I might find something too irresistible not to share.

So what will you find here? Mostly tidbits from my life. I'm hoping for more humorous photos like the one I started with. Unfortunately, those sometimes take time to produce, which is the one thing I don't seem to have a lot of right now.

Speaking of which, I make no promises for anything resembling a normal schedule of posting. I'll simply grab time where I can, so I encourage you to use the RSS feeds or to visit often. I'm hoping this will work out as a better way to keep my kids' grandparents, aunts, and uncles appraised of their activities, as I've proven hopeless at keeping their web pages up to date.

Another thing you'll find are updates on my interests, often related to web pages I "maintain." For example, I'm hoping the next post will be about the recent failure to return Rom, Spaceknight to comic books. If you've come here from one of these pages and aren't interested in, for example, how my kids are doing, note the labels at the bottom of each post. You might want to bookmark a single label rather than the whole blog.

Lastly, I've actually been doing something resembling blogging since before the WWW took off. (Remember, "blog" is short for "web log.") So over time, I plan to find old e-mails and Usenet posts that I think are worthy and post them with the original dates. Whenever I do this, I'll try to also post a new entry referring to the old one(s) so you don't miss anything. In fact, I've gone ahead and posted one from 1996.

Whew, and here I thought this would be a short little post. Sorry it seems to have turned into a manifesto.

01 October 2008

Hannah update: 2 weeks

Hannah is two weeks (and a bit) old now. At birth she weighed 7 lbs., 3 ozs. If she'd been born in a hospital, that number probably would have been higher because they would have weighed her right away. At the midwife's she was an hour or two old when they did it, so she'd pooped away several ounces.

The midwife checked her the other day and she's up to 8-1/2 lbs. Not bad for two weeks. Because of her gestational diabetes, Dorothy had been concerned those first few days that her milk wasn't coming in fast enough. Whether it came in quickly or not, this is confirmation that Hannah's getting plenty now.

Hallmark missed the point

How did this happen? I caught a post on Usenet a couple months ago saying there would a Pac-Man coin-op ornament released in October, so I set a reminder in my PDA. (That's what they're for, right?) It goes off today, so I go looking at the Hallmark web site to see if I can find the date. What I find is an ornament page with the photo you see to the right.

That's not the coin-op I remember and loved. Yes, it's yellow. Yes, the shape's right. Yes, it has the lovely, red-knobbed joystick. But the marquee and side art, two of the most important distinguishing characteristics of an arcade cabinet, are all wrong. What I remember is the classic Midway cabinets, like the one to the left (photo stolen from the KLOV).

What, I wondered, had gone wrong? Could it be that somehow, after Midway's Pac-Man contract expired and Namco got the rights back in the States that they could no longer use the art from Midway's cabinets? Is this, perhaps, what the cabinets looked like in Japan, except for having "Pac-Man" where it was "Puc-Man"?

Unfortunately, my Google fu failed me and I could not find a photo of the Japanese coin-op. But I did come across what you see to the right at the Brookstone web site: a 25th anniversary coin-op for home use. Look, right there on the side! That's the Midway artwork! (Yes, with a 25th anniversary Pac-Man logo over the top of it, but that's irrelevant.) Obviously, Namco can still use the artwork.

So now I'm just baffled. Hallmark has made an Pac-Man coin-op ornament, advertised under "Nostalgia & Fun," but made something that doesn't actually look like what Generation X will remember. Nostalgia is a very tricky thing. No, an item need not look exactly like the original to invoke it, but it needs to be close. Hallmark's ornament falls short of that. I don't care if it does make the original arcade sounds -- which is cool, I admit -- I'm not nearly as interested as I was and probably won't bother to buy it now.

Am I being to picky? Has my years of dedication to the classic video games as a hobby clouded my judgment? Will others not remember the Pac-Man cabinet as well as I? I may have to poll my friends. Maybe that's also a good excuse to let them know about my new blog!

23 September 2008

And so it begins

I've toyed with doing a blog for a while. Unfortunately, I have little profound to say and little time to write it. However, I recently had my third child, a girl named Hannah. This is our first girl, so I was inspired to take (and caption) the below photo.

To clarify, those are cloth diaper covers hanging up to dry and the purple thing at the lower left is the diaper pail liner, also drying. No doubt there will be more photos in the future of this blog. In the meantime, welcome, friends.