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.