Monday, April 19, 2010

Carl Macek, 1951 - 2010

Carl Macek 1951 - 2010

It's no exaggeration to say that this man changed my life.

In late March of 1985, Joy and I had just broken up... again. V and Otherworld, the only science fiction shows on television, had just been canceled. I got in a fist fight after school, which needless to say I lost, and in a fit of rage and despair I came home and ripped all my posters off my walls, and spent quite the next few days curled up on my bed ignoring the world.

So after a week or two of this I saw an ad for a new cartoon series called Robotech, boasting "a story to rival Star Wars." Yeah, we'll see about that, I groused, and watched it out of curiosity. It had an interesting start, and I was surprised that there were no parachutes when the jet fighters blew up. I was even more surprised when it ended on a cliffhanger.

So I came back the next day... and that one ended on a cliffhanger too.

Day by day, week by week, I had to find out what happened next. And just like Scheherazade and her 1001 Arabian Nights, it kept me alive and looking forward to the next day. No matter how bad things got, I still had that half hour every day.

Robotech was a cut above any other cartoon on the air. In a time of sanitized, heavy-handed, interchangeable stories, Robotech dared to buck the system and present its story as a multi-generational serial of the Earth at war, showing both the excitement of space combat and the gritty reality of the loss and tragedy that comes with it. Lead characters were killed, there were honorable military leaders you respected and dishonorable ones you despised, and 70% of the entire population of the Earth was wiped out on camera. It had characters that grew and changed, and you felt like they were real people. Oh, and it also had a cross-dressing rock star.

Robotech pulled me out of that depression. The first thing I hung on my bare walls was this picture of the SDF-1 that I found in a Starlog magazine:

So I tried to learn all I could about this show, and the man who was at the forefront of it all was Carl Macek.

Carl Macek ran a comic shop in California. He was a fan of animation and knew the kind of storytelling that anime had going for it. But until that point, any attempts to bring anime into the US always met with it being toned down. The continuity was removed to make the episodes interchangeable, deaths of characters, minor and major, were removed. (Star Blazers gets kudos for being the first to keep the serialized storytelling intact, but they still removed most if not all of the character deaths.) And so when Harmony Gold got the rights to the Japanese anime Macross, Carl Macek became the one to try to bring this show to America with its heart and soul intact.

There were concessions that had to be made. The show had to be 65 episodes long to meet syndication requirements, so it was combined with two other unconnected shows. But even this was done by tweaking the shows to keep the serial format going and to make it a mulit-generational epic. The name had to be changed to "Robotech" because they were being funded by Revell, a model kit company who had bought the rights to many of the Macross model kits, and that was the brand name they were selling them under. And the character names had to be Americanized because people just didn't have faith that audiences could handle names like Hikaru Ichijo and Stick Bernard. If anyone else had been in charge of this project, it could have been another Force Five, but Carl Macek pushed to keep what made these shows special alive.

I got to meet Carl Macek at the Creation Robotech Convention in Valley Forge PA, October 18, 1986. He was very forthcoming about the way the American animation and television industries worked, and how tough it was for a show like Robotech to compete with the big boys that were on the air at the time like He-Man and ThunderCats. He talked about how he had to fight with the model company to have Stick become Scott, when they really wanted him to be named Spike. But he also talked about how rewarding it was to see that there were people who appreciated it, and how "the best was yet to come."
How right he was.

I saw him twice more after that, at Robocon 10 in California and another Creation con where he debuted the Sentinels video. He was so patient with me. After I got his autograph and he was leaving, I followed him just pelting him with more and more questions, and he patiently and politely answered them all while we walked.

He went on to co-found Streamline Pictures, which was dedicated to translating anime movies into English so they could reach a wider audience. I remember making trips to the Roxy Screening Room in Philadelphia with my friends to see Akira, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and my favorite of all, Lensman.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, I made some long-lasting friendships. I met A.J. at a con in a video screening room showing "Codename: Robotech," and he was a huge part of my life during my late teens and early twenties, and we're still friends to this day. I met Derek on the AOL Robotech message boards, and he's practically family-- in addition to he and I being friends and just enjoying hanging out whenever we can, he married my wife's best friend, and taught my daughter how to build and shoot fireworks.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, Joy and I got into anime so much we started our own business, Joy's Japanimation, which provided my livelihood for nearly ten years and took me all over the country. It's still there to this day, being run by our friend Steve-- a friend we made because of Joy's Japanimation, just like Danielle, Amy & Craig.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, my daughter is named Mylene. When Joy was pregnant we were close to naming her Miriya, until Joy suggested we name her Mylene instead, who was Miriya's daughter from the Japanese sequel Macross 7. I loved the idea, and our daughter became Mylene Elissa Goodnough.

Because of Carl Macek making Robotech, I was able to look at the character of Lancer / Yellow Dancer and say to myself, you know what, maybe it's not so terrible that I can't be as butch as all the other guys. Lancer's still tough when he needs to be, and he's totally at peace with his feminine half. It helped me accept myself for who I am.

When I entered college, I had to write a letter saying what my goals were. I had no idea what my goals were (still don't, for that matter), but I was hoping for a career in film production. So in writing the letter, I decided that I didn't want to be like Stephen Spielberg-- I wanted to be like Carl Macek. Someone who may not have the fame and fortune but has created something worthwhile that really touches people. And when I look back on my life now, and I think of the store and the friends I made because of it and my daughter... I think maybe I have.

Carl Macek changed my life.


Marc McKenzie said...

A great commentary on a man who changed a lot of lives--mine included. After watching ROBOTECH, I started drawing more and more in that particular style at a time when people ignored or outright hated it...but I kept going.

Now, 20+ years later, I've worked in animation, done work for the New York Times, been a published writer, and have met many people all because of my interest in that show. And it's never really wavered much.

I never fully understood the animosity towards the man, especially in dealing with the horrific censors at network TV. ROBOTECH was still head and shoulders above a lot of stuff on TV at that time, and so much of what made it work could have been lost had it not been for Mr. Macek.

It's so easy nowadays to fling the crap via the 'Net and to scream insults at this man, but the truth is unassailable--he helped to bring anime into the American mainstream. Fred Ladd and Sandy Frank may have started the ball rolling, but Macek pushed it up and over the hill and kept it going.

Let the sneering haters keep putting out their bile. The simple fact is that a man who did a lot has shuffled off this mortal coil at too young an age, and we are all the poorer for it.

Counter said...

You're giving Carl Macek too much credit. Today's anime fanbase owes itself more to DIC's release of Sailor Moon and Funimation's adaptation of Dragon ball Z than Robotech.

By the 90's, Robotech was a dead issue except for its original fandom who grew up.

LadyWyrmling said...

Wow, I never knew that I owed this man so much, myself. Had he not gotten both you and Derek hooked on Robotech, I wouldn't be married to the perfect husband (for me)!

Fer said...

Counter-- that's my point. The syndicated TV market never would have been there for Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z if Robotech hadn't paved the way for them.

Robotech opened the door. Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z got their foot in it. Toonami nailed it open.

But hey, that's just my pov. You're certainly entitled to your own.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I intensely disliked about Carl Macek was his lack of acknowledgment toward the Japanese creators of SDF Macross. Not a peep from him all these years about the men and women of Studio Nue and Artland who animated Macross. I mean, without them, how would he have "created" Robotech?

Fer said...

I'm not saying he was perfect. I'm not saying I even agreed with everything he said and did.

I'm saying that what he did changed my life. And I'm saying that I'm hurting now that he's died.

Do you really have so little empathy in you that you can look at someone grieving and you feel the need to "correct" them? "You're giving Carl Macek too much credit." "What I intensely disliked about Carl Macek was..."

It's my blog. I'm all for dissenting opinions about my episode reviews, but not about a eulogy. If you can't say something comforting to me in my time of sorrow, then please don't say anything at all.

Anonymous said...

Fer, I'm not the earlier poster, Counter.

I was expressing my disappointment that for a man who owed his career to the work of Japanese animators, he never gave them their dues.

I'm not bashing or rejoicing on the fact that Carl Macek has passed away. I'm not a ghoul. I just find it perplexing that from all the interviews that I've read and watched of the late Carl Macek, he never uttered the names of Kawamori, Ishiguro, Mikimoto, etc. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

And forgive me if I sounded harsh earlier on my post. That's why I stated the only thing I intensely disliked. I'm not attacking Carl Macek, I was just very dissatisfied with some of his behavior.

I reacted to your tribute to the late Macek and I was impulsively wondering why he shyed away from tributing Studio Nue.

Don't take my posts the wrong way. I wasn't trying to dehumanize Carl Macek.

Fer said...

First off, I'm not saying you are Counter. I'm not saying you're a ghoul or you're glad he's dead. I'm saying you and Counter are both showing a lack of empathy. (And for the record, posting under "Anonymous" doesn't help. Stand behind what you say. Just click "Name/URL" and put in a name.)

Secondly-- I'm not saying you don't have a valid point. I'm not even saying I disagree with it.

What I'm saying is there's a time and a place for these kind of comments. Immediately after the man has died is the wrong time. And this particular blog post was the wrong place.

It's not like my blog on his passing simply said "Carl Macek, creator of Robotech, died of a heart attack on April 17, 2010." I'm pouring out my soul here on how much he changed my life. I already stated in my previous reply that I'm doing it because I'm honestly pained by his passing. If we were at his viewing looking down on him, would you walk up to me, look me in my misting eyes and say "I just find it perplexing that from all the interviews that I've read and watched of the late Carl Macek, he never uttered the names of Kawamori, Ishiguro, Mikimoto, etc. Why is that?"

I know you may not have meant it this way, but that's how it feels. This is as close as I'm going to get to paying my respects to someone who helped shape my life.

If you want to discuss it, fine, come back in a few weeks and comment on it on my "Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years" review.

But for right here, right now, leave it alone.

Anonymous said...


Phantom me said...

Beautiful blog. Macek may not have changed my life as much as he changed yours, but he definitely was a big influence on me growing up. I enjoyed his work and listening to him speak. He was very passionate about what he did. I was very saddened when I learned of his passing nearly 3 years ago but will always remember the friends I have made due to his work.

DMC McKeever (or just Dennis)