By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Debra DiPaolo|
Pennsylvania teenager Kate Cheney is sitting before a computer in a stark, white corporate office in Santa Monica, somewhat reluctantly taking OffBeat through the Harry Potter Web site she created. Suddenly, her monotone voice shows some emotion.
“She signed my guestbook,” says Cheney, sounding awestruck, “she” being, of course, J.K. Rowling, author of the astoundingly popular Harry Potter book series about a wizard-in-training. “She said she liked [the site] very much. But she didn’t leave an e-mail address. She said she isn’t very Internet savvy.”
From time immemorial, or at least since the ’50s, teens have been assembling scrapbooks and collections to celebrate their pop icons. The Net illiteracy of her idol notwithstanding, it was a small step for Cheney, the 13-year-old daughter of a “computer geek” (dad) and a Harvard-educated technical writer (mom), to take her scrapbook online.
Times being what they are, it was only another small step before Cheney was signing with Fandom, Inc., the Santa Monica pre-IPO dot-com that’s in the business of snatching up pop-culture-fan domains and merchandising companies. In exchange for putting her Potter domain on the fandom.com site, Cheney is receiving a monthly salary, stock options and an all-expenses paid trip to California for a comics convention in San Diego. Which is why she is sitting in Fandom CEO Mark Young’s office with her very pleasant mother, Judy Lewis, and giving what appears to be a painful interview.
“I don’t have to baby-sit anymore,” Cheney comments on her salary, which she prefers not to disclose. “I was, like, amazed,” she says of her contract, which was negotiated by e-mail. “Cool,” is her assessment of the day’s meeting with the other “fanatics” who run Fandom domains (X-Men, South Park).
It’s not that Cheney isn’t cooperative, just shy, and like most teens, not given to loose lips in front of strange adults. About Rowling, she is a veritable fount of information. The J.K. is for Joanne Kathleen, Jo for short. Rowling loves strange names and often draws on classical sources for ideas, i.e., Hera’s 100-eyed watchman Argus for Hogwarts’ wizards-academy caretaker Argus Filch. And Rowling is sick to death of everybody talking about how she was a single mother on welfare in Scotland when she scribbled early Potter drafts in a cafĂ©.
As we talk, Cheney clicks through to Rowling’s photo. “J.K. looking pretty,” Cheney wrote beneath it. The picture is of the pre-makeover, red-headed Rowling, not the blonde bombshell who appeared on CNN.
Cheney shows me some of her most popular site features: the interactive Sorting Hat, which digitally assigns the Web surfer to one of the four houses at Hogwarts (in the book, an old patched witch’s hat does the job). Most Potter fans want to be in Potter’s house, Gryffindor (sign: bravery); Cheney prefers Ravenclaw (brains) or even Slytherin (ambition, home to the most dark wizards).
“I don’t know why I like Slytherin, because, I guess . . .” Cheney says, looking helplessly toward her mother.
“I don’t know why you like Slytherin,” Lewis responds. We look at the dust-jacket illustrations, including the drab British ones designed so adults could read Potter on the tube without embarrassment. “The silliest thing,” Cheney comments. There’s a killer Potter trivia questionnaire (“A lot of the questions are pretty hard,” Cheney admits).
OffBeat notices a Potter paper-dolls link, and asks to have a look. Big mistake. The hand-drawn figures of Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron Weasley, which can be printed out and colored in, were drawn for “kids” a year ago, back when Cheney, presumably, was still a kid and not a teenager eager to distance herself from such inanity.
“It’s really embarrassing,” she flushes, with that mixture of chagrin and contempt for the cluelessness of adults that only a willow-thin 13-year-old with braces on her teeth can convey. Finally, she brings the dolls up on the screen. “They really do look a lot better when you print them out,” she says.
Cheney has no illusions of becoming a dot-com millionaire, but she does have one ambition, in addition to wishing that Book 5 of the Potter series wasn’t really a WHOLE YEAR AWAY. “I wish I could meet her in person,” she says wistfully. “Her books are magical. They get better and better.”
Lights! Camera! Dynasty!
“With this video out, I will have to explain to my children how it wasn’t exactly me who led the Lakers to their first championship in a dozen years, that it was a team effort,” said utility player Rick Fox, tongue-in-cheek, during the release last week of USA Home Entertainment’s L.A. Lakers Championship Season video. We fans, crunched side by side in the Miracle Mile’s Conga Room, laughed and tilted our martini glasses as we watched the video roll (they showed only the second half of the tape, in which the Lakers bullied lesser opponents out of the running). The theme was the heroic struggle the victors had to endure in achieving sports’ most coveted position — the championship endorsement deal, ka-ching!