May 11, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Frank Frazetta -- UPDATED

UPDATE: 5/11/10

The news regarding Frazetta's death hit the wires yesterday. Frazetta passed away at the age of 82. I was never very good at obituary-writing, but suffice to say that Frazetta was an artistic influence that cannot be overestimated. His work redefined several genres, including comics, paperbacks, and sword-and-sorcery, among others.

Here is a re-published interview with Gary Groth at The Comics Journal (originally conducted in 1994). It shows great insights into the man: Frank Frazetta Interview.


April 20, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Sheldon Moldoff

Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff celebrated his 90th birthday last Wednesday.  A living legacy, Moldoff has had an impact on comics that cannot be underestimated.   Besides his obvious stylistic influences on characters like Hawkman, the golden age Green Lantern, and Batman, Moldoff also created a bevy of new characters like Poison Ivy, Ace the Bathound, Hawkgirl, The Black Pirate, and Moon Girl. 

I will expand upon this blog post at a later time (I'm still reviewing some audio sources), and will discuss some rather controversial treatment of Moldoff by some legendary comic figures, but wanted to get both a placeholder and an exhibition of some of Moldoff's most distinctive covers (as well as a PSA and a Batman interior). 

March 31, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Fred Guardineer

"When I sat down to work at Chesler, I started with a blank piece of paper and did the whole bit:  I penciled it and I lettered it and I inked the lettering and then I inked the pencil drawings and turned out the finished product.  I know of no other way to work."  -- Fred Guardineer (interviewed by Dylan Williams in Comics Journal #282)

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are the names that come to mind when Action Comics #1 is discussed.  For those not in the know, it's the historic issue featuring the very first appearance of Superman, and depending on who you talk to, also heralding the success of an entire medium.  A recent on-line auction of a higher-grade copy of this issue went for a reported million dollar final gavel price.  But Superman wasn't the only costumed hero making his debut in the first issue of Action.   There was also a tuxedoed magician-detective named Zatara with the ability to create magic by speaking commands backwards (it's probably more impressive displayed in print than in real life -- where it probably resembles a mentally ill person shouting gobbly-gook or a Baptist preacher speaking in tongues).  Fred Guardineer was the creator of this sartorially splendid magical crimefighter.   Zatara, while often on the periphery of D.C. Comics up through the decades following his debut, did outlive a good chunk of his golden age compatriots, finally meeting his demise in an issue of Swamp Thing (#50) in 1986.  His daughter Zatanna, famous for the fishnet stockings, continues his backwards-spoken-spell legacy in the Justice League and in her own set of solo series.  But Zatara wasn't Guardineer's only magician-adventurer.  Zatara was merely the first, of many magic-spouting heroes, across numerous comic companies, most lost to the ages.

March 22, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Joe Maneely

Joe Maneely was as much a story of "What if?" as he was an example of a prolific, immensely talented golden age artist.   He was a relative star for Atlas Comics (Martin Goodman's precursor to Marvel Comics), and handled assignments in every genre.   An excellent draftsman, Maneely drew characters and scenes with a distinctive style, yet with almost photo-realistic detail.   His cowboys dressed like real cowboys and his soldiers fought with off-the-assembly-line-like gear.  His drawing was above all action-oriented.   Not as pretty as some other artists, but very vivid.   And his inking became stylized over time, resembling fine etching as he reached the apex of his career.  

March 4, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Irwin Hasen

Irwin Hasen was born in 1918 on the west side of Manhattan, and lived around 110th Street and Amsterdam Ave.  Like many of the other creators profiled on this site, Hasen was always drawing as a child (and then as a teenager).  He devoured the Sunday comics, and appreciated the artistic talents of legends like Roy Crane (of Wash Tubbs fame) and Milton Caniff.  A graduate of DeWitt Clinton High School, Hasen had the fortunate circumstances of a supportive mom and the National Academy of Design across the street.  A class in drawing turned into three years of drawing instruction and attendance at the Art Students League (also in Manhattan). 

Hasen started out as a boxing cartoonist, doing caricatures, action poses and blurbs, which were then sold to Madison Square Garden as pre-fight public relations for the weekly fights.   This association with boxing probably led to the creation (with the golden age legendary writer Bill Finger) of Wildcat, whose alter ego is Ted Grant (no relation to the anchorman who worked with Mary Tyler Moore, presumably) and whose dayjob was heavyweight boxing champion of the world.   Hasen went fully into comic books in 1940, working on such titles as The Green Hornet, The Fox, Secret Agent Z-2, Bob Preston, Explorer, Cat-Man, and The Flash, through the Harry 'A' Chesler shop. While at All American Comics/DC, in addition to Wildcat, Hasen drew stories and covers for Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and All-Star Comics.   Under the editorship of Sheldon Mayer (who will get his own spotlight here soon), Hasen contributed many memorable works, including being the only artist who drew a complete 38 page All-Star comic (they were generally divided up among artists to concentrate on individual characters, with another artist doing the wrap-around story as well).  He was also able to work as a contemporary with young artists like Alex Toth and Joe Kubert, and noted their incredible talent right off the bat.   Unfortunately, with a change in editorial direction, Hasen, like other artists responsible for the birth of the golden age, was unceremoniously let go by D.C.  A bachelor in his thirties, Hasen took this opportunity to travel the great cities of Europe and expand his horizons.

It was another trip to Europe, this time Germany, during the Korean War, to draw for the troops as part of a USO contingent, that Hasen encountered another opportunity, after meeting Gus Edson, to be a regular artist on a daily strip, to be named Dondi.   An adventure strip about a young boy, the collaboration started in 1955, and lasted until discontinuation in 1986.  

Post-Dondi, Hasen went into semi-retirement, but even now, in his early nineties, he continues to create and teach.   A long-established senior instructor at the Joe Kubert School, and despite a stroke in the spring of 2007, Hasen has just recently produced an entertaining 128 page graphic novel, semi-autographical, called Loverboy, and available directly from the publisher Vanguard here (and via Amazon here).  A regular featured guest at conventions, Hasen continues to provide a living legacy of the golden age.   He might be short in stature (topping out at 5'2"), but he stands tall as a creator.   It seems appropriate that Hasen is most proud of his tenure as the editor and publisher of the Fort Dix Post, a military base newspaper in New Jersey, during World War II.  He virtually handled every single aspect of the publication, from editing, writing, interviewing celebrities, taking to the printers, distribution, to of course, handling the comic page.  He worked so hard on the job that he ended up in the hospital.   That's dedication to serving others, including his country, before himself.   


So, if you see him at a convention, at the Joe Kubert School, or on the street, remember to thank him.  

Enjoy the covers!

February 22, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Mort Meskin

"Mort Meskin was a consummate professional, dedicated to his work. A great talent." -- Jack Kirby

"Meskin was fabulous, I couldn't believe the ease with which he drew: strong compositions, loose pencils, yet complete; detail without clutter. I loved his stuff" -- Steve Ditko

Morton "Mort" Meskin was another of the true professionals of the Golden Age comics, i.e., the foundation/backbone of an entire industry.  Like many others entering comics in the late thirties/forties, Meskin was a scrappy New York kid (Brooklyn-born, in 1916), who grew up reading the pulps, The Shadow being a favorite, and scribbling exciting adventures incessantly.   After graduating from high school, Meskin attended the Art Students League of New York and the Pratt Institute. In 1938, he started drawing for the Will Eisner/Jerry Iger shop, with Sheena of the Jungle in Jumbo Comics.
Meskin then went on to do work for MLJ and D.C./National. While at D.C., Mort was given the artistic chores on Vigilante, a back-up feature on Superman's flagship title, Action Comics. After showing his proficiency as a story-teller, he was also handed responsibility for Johnny Quick in More Fun Comics. Meskin also did work on Starman and Wildcat during this time period. A clean line, kinetic, lithe, athletic figures, artistic experimentation, and solid story structure are what differentiated him from the majority of fellow artists.  Meskin has commented that Citizen Kane had a positive effect on his storytelling approach, and cinematic techniques in storyboarding appear throughout his output.

After World War II, Meskin left D.C., and with Jerry Robinson (of Batman fame -- creator of the Joker, among other achievements) opened up their own studio.  Together they created heroes for Spark Publications (Atoman and Golden Lad), Standard (Fighting Yank and Black Terror) and horror stories for Marvel (working with a young Stan Lee at the time).   In 1949, Meskin joined the studio of comics greats Jack Kirby and Joe Simon (creators of Captain America, among a virtual host of other properties), and produced the series Boys' Ranch for Harvey Comics, and Black Magic for Crestwood Publications.  In 1956, with the resurgence of new heroes and a comic book renaissance, Meskin returned to D.C. and created hundreds of stories, including war, science fiction, horror and romance until the mid-sixties.   During this time, he often inked his own work.  Mark Merlin is noted as a successful feature created and cultivated by Meskin.  Again, his clutter-free panels and crisp linework define his artwork during this period.   There are reports of issues with nerves and a chaotic relationship with editor Mort Weisenger, but Meskin was prolific and dutily handled every assignment, if not directly celebrated through the choice of high profile characters to draw.  

In 1965, Mort Meskin left the world of comics behind, and became a successful illustrator and art director at one of the large national advertising firms, doing layouts, storyboards and artwork for major consumer ad campaigns.   He continued to paint for the rest of his life, and was by all accounts a loving, generous man devoted to volunteerism and providing for his family.  He passed away in April of 1995 at the age of 78. 

Sorry these are but covers and not the interior linework.  I hope to present more complete stories by artists in the future.   Enjoy!

Thanks to my brother, Will, who suggested this artist spotlight.

February 19, 2010

Jimmy Johnson, Corporate Spokesman

You've won a national college football championship at the University of Miami, you've won two Superbowls with the Dallas Cowboys, and you've been doing studio work for Fox for god knows how many years.  You probably eat in a different high-end steakhouse every night, and keep a bevy of lovely ladies on speed dial.  The world is your oyster.  You've achieved goals that many people dream about.  How do you top it?

I guess by selling boner pills.

Apparently, Bob Dobbs of the Church of the SubGenius lost his Extenze gig.   Bob, you'll be missed.  What's that?  My bad, it's Enzyte. Same difference.

Now, frankly, a couple of things really bothered me about the commercial.  Jimmy, why are you talking to me out on the field about penis size during what looks like a series of quick changes in possession during a football game?  The coaches and players look seriously stressed behind you (ladies and gentlemen, your Anytown Generics!), so perhaps our private discussion about your increased girth can wait for a more opportune time.  Perhaps on a drive to meet your parents, at the coffeeshop, or on your boat down in the Keys.   And you seem a bit defensive that you've done all these incredible things and the only topic of conversation that comes up time after time is whether your own little Jimmy the Johnson is bigger now.  I wasn't asking, I swear.   I just wanted to get the hell off the field before I get tackled by security.   I'm happy for you, and best wishes, but your timing kind of sucks.

And why would an offer of a special Dinner with Jimmy Johnson be something to look forward to now?  Unfortunately, the whole dick size thing is the proverbial elephant in the room conversation-wise, and besides the inherent awkwardness in that I would be expected to come up with a hugely shameful secret of my own, I'm afraid if Jimmy has a couple of drinks in him, he might feel obligated to show off his "personal growth" to me.  And some things just can't be unseen, no matter how many times you wash your eyes with bleach.

Kudos, Extenze.  You may not be FDA-approved, and in 2006 you agreed to pay the Orange County, California district attorney’s office $300,000 in civil penalties for unfair business practices and false advertising, because you could not back up your claim that the pills caused users’ penises to grow 27%. You also agreed to cut down on lead content after sick people complained and investigations found that your lead content was beyond the legal limits.  You sell snake oil and patent medicine to poor suckers with probable sexual dysfunction and/or deep-seeded insecurities.  And you lined up someone who used to have a decent reputation (forget about it now) to take a quick buck in order to establish one of your own.  HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS!

February 17, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief -- Movie Review

Richard Riordan, the writer of the series that the Chris Columbus-helmed picture is loosely based on, realized that the best narratives and storylines are those that have already been around for thousands of years.  No need to ransack the pop culture detritus of sixties and seventies sitcoms, action figures, board games, and reboots, when you've got a veritable pantheon of familial conflict, supernatural creatures, sex, and mindless violence.  They've probably retold Homer's Odyssey (which is admittedly pretty kickass) at least a couple of dozen times now.   

Still, no matter how good the underlying story, it always comes down to the execution.   And Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief flails and misses most of the time.  There is the increasingly annoying overreliance on CGI, dialogue which can charitably be called expository, and an underlying thematic structure that just moves from set piece to set piece and finally to predictable ending like a connect-the-dots-puzzle.   The performances are hardly noteworthy either:  Brandon Jackson plays a hoofed Stepin Fetchit offering sad, urban comic relief, Pierce Brosnan appears constantly drowsy from flu medication, and Joe Pantiliano seems to have cornered the actor's market on New York-accented douche (with a noticeably expanded gut to boot).   Is Catherine Keener the middle-aged mom in every single coming-of-age movie being produced now?  Uma Thurman chews scenery like a pro.  And poor, poor Steve Coogan.  Channeling Alice Cooper via Alan Partridge as Hades.  I'm not sure if he was trying to convey menace, but it came off as bare-chested embarrassment instead.  The two leads, who probably should remain nameless, can't do much with what they're given, and so don't.  And ala Watchmen, is anybody aware that you don't need to match songs word-for-word with the narrative?  I.e., playing "Highway to Hell" driving on the highway to Hades/Hell and playing Lady GaGa's "Poker Face," while walking through a casino?  When did music in movies have to be so goddamned literal? 

I was intrigued, though, at the idea of a Camp Crystal Lake for the various offspring of god/human couplings.   Considering that there were at most a dozen gods on Mt. Olympus (including oddly, a token black Greek god), and since there were what looked like a couple hundred or so teenage warriors-in-training at summer camp, someone needs to find the gods a hobby besides penetration and impregnation.  Ease off the throttle, boys and girls.  Sudoku, perhaps?  How about a cooking class?

"My mom was raped and knocked up by Zeus, who literally came in the form of a swan.   I now crave breadcrumbs and poop on the lawn incessantly."

And I don't even want to think about centaurs.   Allegory is pretty creepy when it likely involves horse dicks and ultrasound.  

Percy Jackson might be worth a rental, depending on how high you are at Blockbuster.   And the PG rating might be a little deceptive, as my five year old found a few of the scenes unnecessarily terrifying (thanks for making me feel like a bad parent, MPAA!).

February 16, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- George Evans

George Evans (Feb. 5, 1920 - June 22, 2001) is widely recognized as one of the comic field's greatest illustrators, with over a half a century of both comic and comic strip art and stories for almost every major publisher.   An aviation buff, his airplane covers are easily recognized, and his proficiency for drawing them led to his showcasing in probably the last great aviation comic ever produed, E.C.'s Aces High

February 3, 2010

Man Rant: This Week's Exercise -- Snuggling

Welcome to another edition of the wonderful world of emasculation!  I'll be your guide, as we check our nuts at the door, strap on an apron, and just talk about how we've been feeling about things.   Chamomile tea and ginger snaps will be served, so don't be shy.   You're among friends. 

First order of business on the agenda.   Snuggling.  The act of intimacy without actually being intimate.  Sharing space without the moving parts.  Cuddling.  Spooning.   Post-coital warmth redistribution.  Refractory tenderness.   Coyote breakfast (i.e., where you'll bite your arm off before you'll wake up the other person and actually have to talk to them). 

Now before this devolves into accusations of misogyny and chauvinism, let it be known that there are some tangible enjoyable advantages to the experience.  There is the very obvious benefit of warmth, particularly in a temperate or colder climate, in a house or apartment with inefficient heating (old windows, lack of insulation, frequent cold snaps, etc.).  The utility of a warm body on a cold night cannot be understated, particularly if you don't have a dead tauntaun you can crawl into.  There are also the long-term practicalities of discussing the varied and sundry aspects of life and love while in a supremely vulnerable position of slightly pajama-ed or straight-up starkers.   The mere act of naked vulnerability lends credence and solidity to any affirmative statement of support or love, because let's face it, there's a very limited palate of body language you can throw out there when you're pinned into the mattress.  The fight or flight mechanism is under an arm-bar submission hold.  In the absence of actual sleep, you either feign sleep (keep your faux-snoring consistent and light, though, to deter suspicion), or you make a good faith effort to ponder the romantic imponderable, and hope any unachievable or patently false pillow-talk wasn't recorded (by electronic or mental lockbox means) for regurgitation at the next available inopportune instance.  So believe what you say and say what you believe when in the upright and locked snuggle position.  Because a betrayal of snuggle conversation is a betrayal of a sacred trust.   That shit will haunt you the entire relationship, for as long as the little time it still lasts.    

That's not to say that the snuggle option doesn't have its blatant abusers, though.  There are some distinct acts of snuggle malfeasance that deserve recognition and analysis.  There is the bedding hog, of course.  That guy/gal who agglutinates every square inch of every sheet, blanket, comforter, and pillow on the bed like a black hole of linen.   Which then leads into the tug-of-war throughout the night, where neither party gets full body coverage, and thus frost sets in on the lower extremities.

And this directly impacts another continual complaint.   Feet colder than a well-digger's ass.  My girl, hell, all my once and future lovers, have had feet that felt like the surface of Pluto.  There's nothing more shocking to the system than settling into bed, nodding off to semi-sleep, and then having Little Miss Cold Miser plant both frigid footpads on the thighs, top of the feet, or on numerous occasions, my flubby ass-cheeks.  There's probably no real chemical reaction to speak of, but it certainly resembles from a sensory standpoint to be what would happen if you poured liquid nitrogen into a roaring fireplace.  Good god, woman, have mercy.

That's momentary pain, for the most part, at least.  Perhaps worse than the serial bed sheet consolidater is the space shrinker.  Currently, my fine lady likes to squeeze me into a strip of real estate on one end of the bed the width of a couple of saltines. Resembling nothing less than a cuddling bulldozer, she pushes me into a  Tempur-Pedic OK Corral and forces me to make a last stand for bed autonomy. But I have simply learned that I cannot win against her nocturnal Manifest Destiny, and have come to accept that spatially, for all intents and purposes, my king-size bed is a twin bed with delusions of grandeur.

It takes a wise person to know they've already been defeated before the game starts.  Snuggling is a no-win proposition.  If you want the happy and frequent sexytimes, then cuddling is a necessary post-game news conference you have to show up for, answer questions, and face the music.  Enjoy it whenever possible.  But give no quarter on the side battles involving territoriality, bedding theft and cold fusion of the limbs.  Once a snuggling precedent has been set, the die is cast.  There's no going back.

Thus endeth the tea party.


February 2, 2010

Lost: Season 6 Premiere Tonight -- WALLLLLTTTTTTT! GIVE ME BACK MY SON!

WARNING: If you haven't caught up with Lost through the fifth season finale, you might want to skip this discussion. Spoilers this way be.

Unlike apparently most of the television viewing universe, I've only been a Lost fan for about a month now. Thanks to the good folks at Netflix streaming, and owing to my obvious lack of any semblance of a consistent social life (Divorced and Proud! Say it Loud! No, I'm not a loser! I call it solitude not loneliness! Freebird!), I was able to knock out all five previous seasons in about three weeks. It's easy to say after the fact, but I don't think I could have enjoyed it any other way, particularly with all the hiatuses (hiati?), months between finales and season premieres, writer's strike, etc. That makes some seasons seem a little choppy (or alternatively meandering) when viewed in big blocks. (Season 3 in particular feels rushed and truncated, even though there's a lot of meaningful action and piece-moving going on). But viewing it en masse lends one to see some of the bigger picture narrative themes running through the show. Some more obvious than other. And it will be incredibly interesting seeing how those themes carry all the way to the end, whether they get resolved, or not get resolved in satisfactory ways, and of course, the last thirty seconds or so of the final episode of the series (Will it be ambiguous and without closure ala The Sopranos fade-to-black? Will it be a "what was shall always be" Battlestar Galactica warm-and-fuzzy ending? Will Jack wake up in a bed next to a CGI-rendered Suzanne Pleshette?)

Of course, the most basic conflict running through Lost is the competing concepts of faith (represented by Locke) versus reason (represented by Jack). The elements of faith, as represented by the admonitions declaring "destiny," the healing power of the island, the mystical and mythological components of the temple and four-footed statue (including Jacob, the man in black, and perhaps immortal Richard Alpert), as well as the continuing presence of ghosts and smoke monsters, face off against the structured reality of science (more accurately, science fiction) with time travel, electromagnetic charge-releasing clock timers, medical experiments, sonic disruptors, donkey wheels causing spacial and temporal displacement, hydrogen bombs, and escaped polar bears. Put it simply, it's the Dharma Initiative (science) battling with The Others (faith) over control of the island. Where the future for the passengers of Flight 815 break down depends on whether they put their stock in either faith or science, Locke or Jack. Neither of them has been particularly successful as of late at providing either answers or security to the rest of the survivors and both have questioned whether they were on the right path in Season Five.

So with the hydrogen bomb going off and potentially setting the clock back to before Desmond decided not to press the button in the hatch, we may see what happens when the passengers land in Los Angeles as originally planned. The key is whether they remember their time on the island or not. Particularly those passengers who died the first time around. And what happens with those who already left prior to the reset? Walt? Aaron? Do they get poofed out of existence, or just go back to their assigned seat and amniotic fluid, respectively? Since the actor who played Walt has definitely reached puberty since 2004, I'm wondering how they find an out, story-wise or actor-wise. And how will it tie in with the overarching narrative of faith versus reason? Will Locke still be paralyzed (or dead if Jacob didn't "heal" him after his father tossed him out an 8th floor window)? Will Not-Locke still exist? What about Jack's father? Still dead? Will his casket go missing? Obviously there will be a schism between what can and did occur scientifically and what happens more or less magically due to the island reset. But, obviously, life cannot just go on as if nothing happened when and if they land at LAX in September, 2004. Whether Jack settles on faith, and Locke on science, or neither, could be the deciding factor in how the whole shebang shakes out.

I'm rooting for Vincent the dog to be the key, though.

(Any and all thematic and guessing questions welcome in the comments! I'd love to discuss.)

You Stay Classy, Japan!

Why even attempt to find a real girl when "enhanced" mouse pads, painted pillows, and computer-generated babes do the trick?   Kink's fun, I get it, but there's a pretty well-lit line to cross into "sociopath who probably needs therapy" and it seems that there's a fair amount of this stuff coming from the Land of the Rising Sun. 

February 1, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- John Stanley

Like Carl Barks, John Stanley might not have known the breadth and width of his influence on potentially millions of boys and girls, as well as those who appreciate a perfectly scripted and story-boarded ten-page story (with finished art by Irving Tripp in many cases).  Stanley created wonderful stories involving Little Lulu (and Tubby) from 1945 to 1959.  Frequently overlooked, but never forgotten, John Stanley leaves a legacy of hundreds of stories and pictures that continue to entertain and amuse.

January 28, 2010

Man Rant - This Week's Exercise - Memory and Gender

ME:  So, honey, what do you feel like eating?

SHE:  Why don't you decide?   Be decisive for once. 

ME:  Hmmm.  How about that Chinese place on Route 1?

SHE:  How could you even suggest that place?  Do you remember how after I ordered the appetizer, the waiter took away my soup, which I had hardly touched, because we were discussing whether to drive to New England or not the following weekend.  And the shrimp lo mein only had six shrimps in it.   And I recall that you were a little emotionally distant that night.  That place has all kinds of negative memories associated with it.

ME:  (Trying to recall lunch from earlier in the day, and failing).  Right, I forgot.  In the mood for Mexican? 

SHE:  You choose. 

ME:  Okay, we're going to Rio Bravo.  

SHE:  (Stares).  The same place you got liquored up on margaritas and told me you wanted some "space."  Are you going to tell me you want "space" tonight, too?  What shoes should I wear to a break-up? 

ME:  Jesus.  I don't remember that AT ALL. 

SHE:  Of course not.  Your feelings weren't smashed against the rocks.  I also caught you watching a football game on one of the monitors when you thought I wasn't looking.   I bet you didn't know that.   Sorry to bring it up now, but do you realize that wasn't very respectful to me?

ME:  Honey, I'm sorry.   (Brain in crisis mode.   Trying to remember romantic dinner.   Any romantic dinner.  Chuck anything out of the cerebellum that doesn't apply.   Bye-bye, mental file cabinet of job-necessary training and entire junior year of college.  So long, remnants of Japanese language skills.   What's this file?  Red Sox-Yankees game in the Bronx in 1983 where Dewey Evans hit a fourth-inning dinger which ended up being the difference-maker in a final score of 3-2?  Refile and keep.  That could be important some day.) 

SHE:  You've gotten better since then.   Still a long ways to go, though. 

ME: (DING!  Slot machine hits three cherries.) How about Armando's?

SHE:  Oh, that might be nice.   We hardly ever go to places like that now.  You had two glasses of that Tuscan chianti, and I had a couple sips of the sherry.   Do you think they still have the cheese plate appetizer we shared?  I remember you said that you were pretty sure that you think you thought that you might be in love with me.  You held my hand and looked into my eyes, and at that point I knew that we would be together forever.  And the creme brulee.   Baked just right, with crinkly caramelized skin, golden brown, and light on the almond extract.  A perfect evening from start to finish.  

ME:  Yeah, I remember lucking out and finding good parking.  The matre 'd was kind of a dick, though.

SHE:  Okay.  Glad you finally picked something.  Let's go. 

ME:  Umm.  I can't remember where I left my keys.....  


Sad Trombone sound bite

January 26, 2010

Adventures in Parenting: The Nuclear Family

You never know where your next "teachable moment" is going to come along.  My ten-year old daughter and I have been occasionally playing the PC version of the turn-based simulation game Civilization IV, although never head-to-head against each other.  For those unfamiliar with the Civilization series, a player starts off in 2500 B.C. or so, as a classic society like the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, or Indians, and "grow" the civilization by discovering advances like the alphabet, iron-working, drama, etc.; building Wonders of the World like the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Great Wall; exploring new lands; setting up trade routes; and establishing new cities on continents near and far.   The game can be won in several different ways, including conquering all the other empires on the planet, Risk-style, winning a diplomatic victory in the United Nations, achieving a specific cultural score on or before the clock runs out in the year 2050, or sending a rocket out into space with the people and supplies to colonize a planet.  It's labor-intensive mouse-clicking trying to keep all your cities growing, protected from opposing armies, and ensuring that your populations are happy (which avoids rebellion and increases your GDP).  It's a time-burner and pretty engrossing from the get-go.

Of course, the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants parental part of me is proud that a ten year old girl (or boy, for that matter) is taking an interest in a game with such complexity, history, civics, and inherent responsibility.   But it's the last aspect or lack thereof that gave me pause last Sunday morning. 

While helping the five year old boy get dressed, I happened to chance a glance over at the computer screen where my daughter was playing the game.  I saw a series of mushroom clouds erupt across the screen.   Apparently, my kid found a cheat code, god knows where on-line, and was hammering the poor bronze-working Egyptian civilization with ICBMs; just mercilessly raining nuclear death from above without warning. 

 Now, I was a teenager during the eighties, when the Russians were the Evil Empire and the Cold War was in full icebox mode. Nuclear armageddon was the 800 megaton gorilla in the room.  Consequently, popular culture was obsessed with mutually assured destruction.   WarGames, Threads, The Day After, The Terminator, the Mad Max films, Testament, One Night Stand, and World War III in cinema and TV, Watchmen, The Postman, Red Storm Rising, Doomsday Plus Twelve, Akira, and When the Wind Blows, in comics and literature, video games like Red Alert and Missile Command, and songs like Nena's "99 Luftballons," Sting's "Russians," and this badly dated gem from Frankie Goes to Hollywood:

Paranoia involving death by immediate disintegration or slow, mutant-inducing radiation is a powerful molding force on a teenage brain.  Still, by the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall fell, there was a McDonald's in Moscow, and somehow I'd end up with a full-blooded Russian wife in the '90s (and a scorched earth divorce from the same in the '00s).

But, alas, the damage was done.  My liberal sensibilities are forever tied to nuclear disarmament, "peace in our time," and conventional war strategems.   In Civilization IV, I usually go heavy on ground troops and only attack when attacked, or more likely, if I'm terribly bored with the current political map or one of the other civilizations' leaders is annoying the shit out of me.  My belligerence has limits though, because after the United Nations civilization advance comes along, I finagle my way into the U.N. Secretary-General chair, and bully through a "no-nukes" resolution.  Nukes are still too scary for me to conceptualize usage of, even in a video game, particularly when I ostensibly need to drop them on other civilizations' cities indiscriminately.

My kid, on the other hand, has no such reservations.   Bombs away.  I try to explain to her that pets, grandparents and little children get decimated even in videogame nuclear attacks, but the hard line on armageddon is a little soft without a similar pop culture apocalyptic message immersion that I bathed in throughout in the eighties.   We just aren't making our kids paranoid enough about instant death these days.               

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Lou Fine

Louis Kenneth Fine was born in New York. He studied at the Grand Central Art School and Pratt Institute. He was partially crippled by childhood polio. Among his major influences were Dean Cornwell, J.C. Leyendecker, and Heinrich Kley.

January 22, 2010

Questionable Cover Art #4: Didn't You Die in Vietnam?

Just too many immature sex jokes to choose from here.   Might as well pass a few of them out as one-liners.....
  • "So, is it a Beaver Wagon or a Pussy Wagon?"

  • "Camping out with Beaver ...  worst female masturbation euphemism ever?"

  • "A beaver, a pussy, and a wally.  A menagerie a trois?"

  • "Worst episode of Taxicab Confessions ever?"

You too can play at home.  Ask a twelve year old boy for help.

NFL Playoffs -- Conference Finals Edition

Zach Galianakis doing the running man, a jaguar-skin coat, and Popeye's chicken washed down with Jaegermeister?  It's kind of crazy but it just might work. 

Seeing a homemade Saints Superbowl video, plus this chick,

makes me think that there may be some sort of weird dirtbag karma going on for the Saints.  I believe in dirtbag karma, particularly when there's ample sideboob.  

I'm picking the Saints over the Vikings.   38-31.

I was sort of "meh" when the Colts won their last Superbowl, and barely recall it, even though it was only four years ago (or was it three?).   I think I was finalizing my divorce at that point, so I probably watched the game in a dark room, popping the occasional anti-depressant.   But I really don't like the Colts this year for some reason.   Maybe it's residual irritation with all the Peyton Manning commercials, maybe it's the piggy, overly earnest Indianapolis fan base, as exemplified by this little midwestern choad:

Maybe it's the Patriots rivalry, maybe it's the Mayflower truck in the middle of the night leaving Baltimore.  In any case, I just don't like them, at all.   That leaves me rooting for the Jets by default.   Good enough.

Jets 20, Colts 17.

Enjoy the games this weekend.

January 21, 2010

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Interesting to see the Democratic Party continue to pile on Martha Coakley as the primary factor in losing the special Senatorial election up in Massachusetts, and thereby losing the filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate.  Sure, she was a bad candidate and didn't campaign well, but there might be a bigger picture here.  A larger message about the party in power, and the way Washington governs.  First things first, though, the Republicans who are crowing like it's an affirmation of the GOP way of life and a portent for the huge upcoming Republican revolution, well, stop patting each other on the ass, and just shut the hell up and sit down.   Noone likes you.   Bragging now is like congratulating yourself for not getting wood on your wedding night.   You can rationalize it all you want, but all you did was "not lose."  Show some dignity and decorum, for once.  Please.

January 20, 2010

Man Rant -- This Week's Exercise -- Insomnia


10:00 PM  -- Alright, I've got my gym clothes ready for tomorrow.  Starting up the new exercise regimen.  Big plans.  Going to get into work a little early.  Maybe 8:00 AM or so.  Should probably plan to get to bed by midnight at the latest.  That's a good seven to eight hours of sleep, and that's more than enough.  Think I'll hop on-line, check out a few of the usual suspects, play a little on-line poker, and just veg and decompress before bedtime.

January 19, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Bernard Baily

Bernard Baily co-created both The Spectre and Hourman, as well as creating some of the most bizarre and creepy covers ever.    Baily began his comics career under S.M. "Jerry" Iger, who was editor of Wow, What a Magazine!, one of the very first American comic books that reprinted black-and-white newspaper comic strips in color and adding occasional new material as well. For DC Comics precursor National Comics, Baily co-created and drew the adventure feature "Tex Thomson" in Action Comics #1 (March 1938). Most of us know Action Comics #1 for the first appearance of another caped hero. In More Fun Comics #52 (Feb. 1940), Baily and writer Jerry Siegel, Superman's co-creator, introduced the future DC's violent spirit of vengeance, the Spectre. The afterlife alter ego of murdered police detective Jim Corrigan, the character would become of the longest-enduring comic-book creations, revived during the mid-1950s to 1960s Silver Age of Comic Books and continuing into 21st century. Baily as well co-created the frequently revived DC superhero Hourman (dubbed Hour-Man in his earliest appearances), with writer Ken Fitch, in Adventure Comics #48 (April 1940).

January 15, 2010

Compulsory Performance Review -- Cinematic Edition -- Big Fan

What's the difference between "passion" and "obsession"? Between "devoted fan" and "addiction"? Big Fan takes an introspective look into the self-delusional nature of those who claim to be the former, but weave scarily into the latter. It stars Patton Oswalt, who performs excellently as Paul Aufiero, a mid-thirties parking lot attendant who still lives with his mom in Staten Island, drives her car, and spends large parts of his monotonous day scripting smack-talk for a local New York area sports call-in show. His call-ins are anonymous performance art, and provide the only catharsis and real achievement in his life, although Aufiero seems fine with that. He can't even afford to go to the games, but tailgates in the parking lot anyway. His universe more or less implodes when a chance spotting of his Giants linebacker hero leads into a violent beating, and his loyalty to his team is placed in direct opposition to his family's wishes and his own dignity. When his anonymity (and brother's lawsuit against the player) gets exposed by his nemesis, Philadelphia Phil, on the call-in show, Paul decides to respond with appropriate rage and retribution.

Directed by Robert Siegel, who also wrote The Wrestler, the movie is light on sentimentalism and on portraying Aufiero as a hapless, sympathetic victim. Aufiero never focuses on the violence that was done to him by the Giants player, because his devotion to the team would somehow be in question, if he acted contrary to the best interests of the team. Instead, he focuses his rage on the slights of some unknown asshole on the radio. This projection and acting-out allows him to process his feelings (and manifestations) of impotence, rage, and alienation, without actually changing any of his limited life options in response. The last twenty minutes or so of the movie wallow in the dark, vicious, and often homophobic nature of regional sports rivalries, where rites of manhood get passed along on a barstool in a sports bar, profanely, loudly, and full of free-form bravado. I wish I could say that I didn't grow up in an environment similar to that (albeit on the high school football level), but I can't.

Considering that my last rental movie review on this blog was Anvil: The Story of Anvil, it's interesting how they evoke similar feelings of uncomfortableness for their main characters. You want to shake them by the collar, and say "get your shit together," but they are set on certain paths, and really don't define themselves by typical societal standards, to everyone around them's head-shaking disapproval. Big Fan is interesting from a sociological viewpoint almost as much as an entertainment one. Good performances, minimalist directing, subdued lighting and cinematography, and a story-line that avoids easy payoffs and happy-ending sentimentality -- it's an above average rental or Netflix streaming download.

Questionable Cover Art #3: Whole Lotta Love

Little Dot and Richie Rich are the worst kind of enablers.   You have a friend, with an obvious obesity problem, and even worse impulse control issues.  And how do you celebrate her birthday?  By assisting her in eating her pain away, probably towards premature death.  I mean I can understand giving a grossly overweight fat person a freshly caught forty-pound tuna, in this case weirdly wrapped with a pink ribbon and summarily deposited on a presumably dirty floor.  By all indications, it still needs to be scaled, gutted, filleted, and cooked.   That should burn off a few calories, or at least stave off the feeding frenzy for about a half hour or so whilst amid food preparation activities.

But I would expect that the fish will simply rot away in a deep freezer, or be thrown in a dumpster once the party ends, because why would you waste time with omega 5 fatty acids, when there's sweet, sweet pies as tall as a small child.  Why even give fruit when you also give a ridiculous gravity-defying Jenga sandwich that could feed the entire Teamsters organization?  The jar of olives I assume was given in an ironical fashion, i.e., garnish your mammoth roast pig with a toothpick and a pimento, lardass.  That's just really, really cruel. 

If there's any justice, Lotta, at the end of her days, after having losing most of her left foot to diabetes and becoming completely blind in one eye, will realize that her friends really weren't friends at all.  They were laughing at her, not with her.   Her gluttony as performance art was applauded by many, but at what cost to her dignity?  A shame spiral of eating, where she ate because she was disgusted with herself, and thereafter became more disgusted with herself, which led to more eating.... As she rides off on her heavenly Rascal, to that great Vegas buffet in the sky, I can only hope she spits out a blood curse on that obscenely rich bastard and his obsessive-compulsive friend.   

January 8, 2010

Best Fails of 2009

Via College Humor....

This is the kind of "Best of" that I can support every year. One that documents and immortalizes the potential thinning of the herd, i.e., Darwinism in action.

I do hope when I die, though, that it's spectacularly stupid enough and captured on video, so that my children get a large monetary grand prize handed out by Tom Bergeron. (Don't scrimp on the headstone, kids!)

NFL Playoffs -- Wildcard Weekend


Finally. Seventeen weeks and we're thankfully at one-and-done. This is the time of year where the hair stands up on the back of your neck right before kickoff, knowing that all the hype and conjecture means exactly jack-squat. Every year a team gets hot, like Arizona last year, and win-loss records don't mean much.

I think my Patriots get through the first weekend, but after that I'm not too confident. My Superbowl picks? They're probably the two sexy consensus picks right now, but I'm thinking Green Bay and San Diego meet in the final. Explosive passing offenses with decent running games and so-so defenses. In a field without a dominant defensive team ala Pittsburgh from last year, with most of the quarterbacks in the MVP race still playing, there should be a lot of scoring, and teams that consistently score through the air have an advantage. Still, a team like Arizona or Cincinnati could make it all the way through. That's why the second season is so much fun.

For Saturday's games, I like the Bengals over the Jets at home, and, only going by recent history, the Eagles over the Cowboys in Dallas. On Sunday, the Patriots squeak by the Ravens in Foxboro, while the Packers win in a shootout over the Cardinals in Arizona.

January 7, 2010

Man Rant -- This Week's Exercise -- Movie Theaters

With the advent of big screen HD TVs, with 7.1 (fixed) channel speaker subwoofer-enabled surround sound, Blu-Ray DVDs, and streaming hi-definition video, one probably can't blame the large theater chains from attempting to squeeze out every penny of revenue, at the expense of the average movie-going consumer. They're acutely aware that, save for the collective experience involving the groans, cheers, and gasps of a packed house and the size and volume of the presentation (although it should be noted that these are factors that can slide negatively as well as positively), Johnny Q. Public can more or less replicate the entire cinematic experience from the comfort of their own Barcalounger. This technological great leap forward also translates into zero home-based issues with price-gouging, inadequate parking, rude fellow movie-goers, and the non-stop inundation of advertising. When convenience catches up with the previously exclusive sensory experience, that should rightly ring capitalist alarm bells.

It's the pre-movie commercials that irk me the most. I generally don't have a problem with advertising. It IS part of everyday life. Advertising pays for content so I don't have to. That's why the Superbowl isn't on pay-per-view, and it's how the networks, newspapers, magazines, websites, and other content providers continue (or don't continue) to keep the lights on. But the ubiquity of marketing doesn't mean there are not differing degrees of personal interaction. For most people, it comes down to active or passive compliance with advertising. The biggest factor for whether one shows passivity or not may also involve their value of personal time. It may be a by-product of billing time by the hour in law firms for twenty years, but my personal time has intrinsic value to me. I actively resist when the alternative to choice is to be either proselytized to or marketed to. In other words, I don't care what you're selling, be it butter, guns or God, I'd rather check it out on my own based on my pre-determined necessity or desire. If I want or need a car, I'll look around on-line, I'll go to a dealership or three, and let you or your functional equivalents try to sell me a car. But if I don't have to watch a car commercial, because I don't want or need a car, then I will choose whatever means possible to fast-forward through the advert with my DVR, close the pop-up, ignore the billboard, page through the magazine, or most likely on-line, make the advertisement a free-floating part of the background... peripheral, if economically necessary, eye pollution (in lieu of installing an ad-blocker). In any case, I have some semblance of CONTROL over my environment -- perhaps it's illusory, perhaps not -- where I can simply walk (or click) away from an ad. In the theater, that's just not the case. I'm stuck watching fifteen minutes of ads for the National Guard, Coca-Cola, Sprint, and all sorts of non-movie-related hucksterism (I don't have a problem with trailers, per se, as long as there aren't fifteen in a row. I see coming attractions as germane to the reason why I came to the movies in the first place, to see something that interests me). With theater commercials, I'm literally a captive audience, unless I want to show up late, potentially losing a seat or the chance to sit next to someone I want to see the movie with. It's a gambit, where I as the consumer, get to play chicken with a movie's starting time.

This in and of itself isn't the dealbreaker, it's the fact that I'm PAYING FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING SHOWN COMMERCIALS. The theaters are taking the dead air between sitting my ass in a seat and waiting for a movie to start as lucrative revenue generators. If I'm at a free or dirt-cheap concert, and Coca-Cola runs a spot or plasters the place with ads in exchange for making the concert free or dirt-cheap, then fine. But there is NO reciprocity in terms of lowering the price of the movie ticket to offset the revenue generated by the in-seat ads. According to sources such as this Slate article, "some advertisers are paying more than $50,000 per screen annually, especially to theaters willing to pump up the volume to near ear-shattering level so that seated customers will pay attention. Since there are virtually no costs involved in showing ads, the proceeds go directly to the theater chains' bottom lines." I find it hard to believe that theater owners can legitimately make the argument that commercials are being shown to keep DOWN ticket prices. We went to a matinee showing of Avatar, with no 3D (fuck 3D movies by the way, a rant for another time), and the tickets were $8.50 apiece. A matinee showing with 3D would have cost $10.50 each, $14.00 per during evening "prime time" showtimes. This is in the D.C. suburbs, not in the middle of Manhattan, by the way. How far can the price point rise where you can legitimately claim that your expenses cannot be met by actual ticket sales, and commercial advertising is necessary to avoid sinking into the red? I hardly feel jaded and cynical to think that captive-audience commercials reflect a profit center, rather than a "cost of doing business." The lack of choice in whether to participate in the commercialist enterprise is the odious part. How about I pay full price for no commercials, and people who want them or don't care one way or the other pay a dollar less and see it on a different screen, hmmm? Because my other alternative is to skip the theater altogether. That works too, and as noted earlier, is becoming less and less of a qualitative difference viewing-wise. And I also get to skip, bypass, fast-forward, or main-menu my way past any fucking commercials.

And then there's the movie theater food. There's a racket. According to the Slate article linked to earlier:
[Theater owners] are in the fast-food business, selling popcorn, soda, and other snacks. This is an extremely profitable operation in which the theaters do not split the proceeds with the studios (as they do with ticket sales). Popcorn, for example, because of the immense amount of popped bulk produced from a relatively small amount of kernels—the ratio is as high as 60:1—yields more than 90 cents of profit on every dollar of popcorn sold. It also serves to make customers thirsty for sodas, another high-margin product (supplied to most theater chains by Coca-Cola, which makes lucrative deals with theater owners in return for their exclusive "pouring" of its products). One theater chain executive went so far as to describe the cup holder mounted on each seat, which allows customers to park their soda while returning to the concession stand for more popcorn, as "the most important technological innovation since sound." He also credited the extra salt added into the buttery topping on popcorn as the "secret" to extending the popcorn-soda-popcorn cycle throughout the movie. For this type of business, theater owners don't benefit from movies with gripping or complex plots, since that would keep potential popcorn customers in their seats. "We are really in the business of people moving," Thomas W. Stephenson Jr., who then headed Hollywood Theaters, told me. "The more people we move past the popcorn, the more money we make."

Greedy bastards. A large popcorn at the Regal theater we went to went for $8.00. That's equivalent to buying at a Safeway or Giant three, probably four, boxes of microwave popcorn, with four to six bags in each box. I could fill a trashbag with that much popcorn. But I'm okay with paying that much for a salty bucket's worth at the movie theaters. And it's deadly -- here are the dietary specs for 1 large popcorn -- 1640 calories, 1134 calories from fat. There are 126 grams of fat in a Regal Cinema large popcorn, which is 194% of the daily recommended value of fat, and a whopping 73 grams are saturated fat, a coronary-inducing 365% of the daily recommended limits. "Would you like extra butter and salt on that?"

Don't like popcorn, how about an $8 egg roll? $7 nachos? How about the Regal's "Kid's Meal" for $6.75, which includes popcorn, candy, and for $1.50 more, a big cup of Freezie/Slushie. Just like mom used to make. Obesity doesn't come cheap, apparently. And how about that customer service? Rarely, and I mean rarely, have I met a group of individuals who either hated me or hated what they do more than the slugs and misanthropes running the ticket and concession counters at the theater chains. I'd rather deal ten times out of ten with the barely English-speaking Guatemalan refugees running things at your average McDonald's over the surly, zit-faced, indignant, high school-remembering-as-the-best-years-of life, wage-slaves at the movies slinging Twizzlers with attitude.

Clearly, the business plan for big chain theaters appears to be entirely reliant on unskilled labor and disposable income, not unlike most drug dealers. And I'm not so sure I can afford the fix anymore. There is probably a bright side though, as now I'm a lot more interested in investigating independent theaters in the Washington D.C. metro area. Maybe I wait an extra month for a popular movie, maybe not. But after the commercially obnoxious saturation bombing I'm seeing from AMC, Loews, Regal and other chains, it might be the best and only valid alternative, even if it costs an extra buck or two...

January 6, 2010

Golden Age Artist Spotlight -- Wally Wood

Wally Wood, for lack of a better term, was a rock star.   He became an undisputed star of the medium in his twenties, drawing some of the best and most memorable science fiction ever created.   Wood's work habits were always petal to the metal, fueled by booze and cigarettes and all-nighters, but incredibly productive.   He pushed for the re-introduction of science fiction into comics, fought for the creative rights of the artist, and pioneered self-publishing through witzend and other publications.   His aliens are unique, his women are luscious and alluring.  He spent twelve years straight building Mad Magazine into an American institution.  And ending up leaving them (and other marquee comic jobs) for little perceived slights.  Wally Wood was a true American original.   Burned out, bitter, and brittle long before his time.  But his legacy continues to grow.

January 5, 2010

Avatar -- Movie Review -- Attack of the Blue Na-Na

Avatar presents the interesting juxtaposition where I want desperately to defend something I found deeply hollow and unsatisfying, just because it looked so damn pretty up on the big screen.   Since I'm pretty much stuck in the Charlie Brown wishy-washy role, I might as well go pros and cons.