Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Strongarm Interview: John "Widgett" Robinson

Strongarm Interviews
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet

Strongarm Labs introduces you to John “Widget” Robinson.

In his own words:
Widgett Walls is the chief cook and bottle washer of, the pop culture website he founded on an etch-a-sketch attached the internet via two cups and some string back in 1998. He previously had worked as a content provider and editor at the now defunct Corona’s Coming Attractions. He writes under the pseudonym of John Robinson at times, and has published a novel, *Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point*, and a book of short stories, *Magnificent Desolation*. His first children’s book, *There’s a Zombie in My Treehouse!*, co-written by Ken Plume and with art by Len Peralta, is due out this fall. He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.


**It is 1998. Ultra-sleek computer monitors weight 50 lbs., a revolution in human existence called Virtual Reality is just around the corner, and the internet, still in diapers, is crawling along at 56 kbs. And then you come along and start a website that just celebrated its tenth birthday. How and why did that happen?**

Who told you about Or did you mean Needcoffee? You meant Needcoffee. Sorry. That, like so many things in my life, started off as a joke and then got serious. It was me and some friends talking about pop culture crap to the point where we said, “Eh. You know? We should put some of this nonsense online. Just for the hell of it.” And now ten years later, I’m trying to turn it into my day job. How that happened…I honestly don’t know. I wish somebody could explain it to me.

** I was disappointed to find Googling yields nothing. I'll be upfront with that. I had visions of a salty dating site for Pirates. Work on that, will you?**

It’s a very private site. Get with me after the interview, we’ll hook you up.

As for Needcoffee, would you then say pop culture knowledge is becoming a commodity? In order to make a living with it you either have to tap into a pre-existing demand or create a new one, and we both know pop culture is well established. But has it grown to the point where it is a resource? And if so or not, why?

Well, I think it’s important to have people that you trust sort of minding the store on pop culture. When I was growing up, you had three channels on television. Back then Fox, long before Fox News—just Fox—was a fourth channel. Oooo. And you went to the cinema because it was a novel thing to do and because if you missed the movie, you had no idea when you might see it again. And trips to the mall to hit the coin arcade were a big deal. You didn’t need anybody to help you weed through all of that because there wasn’t that much to weed through. If some great foreign film or new band showed up somewhere else—guess what? Even if I told you about them you probably couldn’t get access to them. So who cared?

Flash forward to 2008. The pop culture world is freaking unrecognizable to what it was back then. The comics that sell like crazy? Manga from Japan. Movies come at you from all directions now: the cinema is almost an afterthought. iTunes, TV, pay per view, DVD, Blu-Ray…I have a friend who never goes to the cinema anymore, ever. He downloads movies to his gaming console and watches them on his uber-television. How many channels can you get? It’s insane.

Now, you’ve got a lot of people who that’s their thing. They are otaku for any type of pop culture and they’re your subject matter expert. But there’s lots of people who want to have lives, you know? They don’t have time to keep up with all this shit. Hell, *I* don’t have time to keep up with it. But I think the resource aspect is somebody who can cut through all the bullshit and say, “Look, forget all that nonsense. Here’s what you need to know.” Where I think Needcoffee strives to be different—and where I hope we succeed—is that we want to add to the conversation. We want to ask the next question. There are lots of ooh-that’s-cool linkblogs. If you want one of those, go find one. There are lots of sites who—and this drives me crazy—will write up a huge story based on a casting announcement for Saw V. Look: I got that same press release. No one and I mean no one gives a shit about how happy the director is that this person got cast, or how happy they are to work with the director. It’s just “X was cast in movie Y and will be playing Z.” If there’s some additional useful information, or entertaining information, then great. Otherwise, done. That’s why I started Stuff You Need to Know. Just distill the pop culture news down to a manageable level, you know?

Okay, one last thing and I’ll stop. The other thing that drives me fucking mental are DVD reviews. 95% of sites do not review DVDs. They review movies and then list the DVD contents. That is NOT a DVD review. That is a movie review with DVD contents listed after it. If you’re going to review the DVD, you have to watch the whole thing. And that’s frankly why we don’t do a lot of full-on DVD reviews—because it takes a long time to get through a well-stocked DVD with features. But if we review something—we have watched the whole thing and we can tell you about the whole thing.

Was there a question? I got lost there.


**You wrote one of my favorite zombie short stories of all-time. **

Holy shit. Really? Thanks, man.

**What is the appeal of zombies?**

Geez, there’s so many reasons. Especially for the Romero zombies. It’s like in DAWN OF THE DEAD. “They’re us.” They’re a diminished shadow of ourselves. They’re also death, shambling after you. Seriously. You can run but they don’t have to sleep. They don’t have to stop to take a piss. They don’t get winded. They will simply keep coming until you either drop them or you get dropped. It’s what Max Brooks described as the first true “total war” in WORLD WAR Z. But also, zombies can signify anything in your life that will eventually catch up to you and demand it be dealt with. But death is some scary shit just on your own. Not even just for yourself, because what will you care, you’ll be dead. But the horror is in the deaths of loved ones. Outliving those you love. And having to then deal with them. The little girl in the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, for example. The mother in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Nobody wants to have to look at a loved one and see something that has to be destroyed. It’s pretty much the ultimate apocalypse.

And they’re a lot more horrific in my opinion than say, vampires. Because most of the time, vampires are either elegant and snooty or 30 DAYS OF NIGHT bad mamma jammas. It’s only when you get back towards a more zombie-ish vampire like in Matheson’s I AM LEGEND that you get horror. Otherwise a lot of it’s just thrillers. And I’ve got a big problem with thrillers dressed up as horror movies.

Now the Rage Zombies of 28 DAYS LATER are interesting too. Because it’s the rheostat turned exactly the opposite direction. It’s an over stimulated shadow of ourselves. They are us with all safeties off and all gauges in the red. But even more than that they’re the ultimate expression of “Oh shit, NOW what do we do?” Fast zombies are bad, bad news.

Did that even remotely answer the question?

** Yes and you touched upon two very interesting point on zombies. The first: ...zombies can signify anything in your life that will eventually catch up to you and demand it be dealt with. Does the current zombie craze underlie a subconscious anxiety in our culture? I ask because when I managed a large, independent video store a number of years ago, the horror rentals always spiked during tax season and school finals. Perhaps zombies are a meaning of venting about looming problems and the inevitable end of the flesh.**

Oh, I think horror movies in general are that way. How do you explain this really disturbing torture porn movement? What point is there in a story about strapping someone to a chair and carving bits off of them? What the hell is that about? But to get back to your thing, yes, I think zombies are a way of dealing with a lot of problems. You can very easily make them symbolize anything.

**The second...And they’re a lot more horrific in my opinion than say, vampires. I agree. Is that the reason why you can find people who believe in vampires, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who believes in flesh eating zombies? Logistics aside, of course. I'm asking about the concept of the zombie versus the concept of the vampire.**

Well, I don’t know. When you’re talking conceptually, the difference between one bit of undead and the next is intelligence and sense of style, I guess. Well, and diet. I’ve never heard anybody who actually believed in vampires—and I listen to Art Bell, so I’ve heard them—say, “Well, you know, I’m talking more about the CONCEPT than anything else.” They actually buy into it.

**Final note, what age range is THERE'S A ZOMBIE IN MY TREEHOUSE?**

It’s for twisted children of all ages. That being said, use your discretion when reading it to a three year old, say.


**What websites make life worth living?**

There are websites that make life easier, and some that are very cool, but none that make it worth living. Haven’t found one yet, let’s put it that way.

**Which make life a living hell?**

Dunno. If I ever ran into any that bad I simply wouldn’t go back. That’s the beauty of the Internet. Freedom of choice. That being said..

**Does America REALLY run on Dunkin? If not, what does it run on?**

America runs on stubbornness. Coffee merely helps us stay up longer so we can be stubborn about more things longer.

**What are the cool websites you mentioned?**

Hmmm. There’s a lot. Offhand, I would say BLDGBLOG, Chortle for UK comedy news, bighappyfunhouse, Classic Television Showbiz, Dark Roasted Blend and Neatorama are excellent linkblogs, Modern Mechanix,, and everything I want to know about comics I get from Invincible Super-Blog and Occasional Superheroine. Just to name a few. My Google Reader list is ridiculous.

**Are you stubborn?**

Hell yes. Are you kidding? You can’t run a website for ten years or self-publish books and not be.

** Thanks, John**