Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Famous Monsters of Filmland

When I was a kid, I loved monster movies.

I say that to draw a distinction from modern horror films, which are roughly divided between slasher flicks and supernatural thrillers such as The Ring. I'm not, and never really have been, a fan of those genres. For my money, Hitchcock fairly well both opened and closed the book on slasher films with Psycho — one of my dozen or so favorite movies of all time — and pyrotechnic ghost stories just aren't my cup of tea.

But back in the day, movies had monsters. Frankenstein (which properly refers to the scientist, not the monster, but I use the name accommodatively here). Dracula. The Wolf Man. The Mummy. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. King Kong. Godzilla. Gamera the giant flying turtle. The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

You know... monsters.

And because movies had monsters, monster movie fans such as my younger self had Famous Monsters of Filmland.

For monster movie fans — and fans of science fiction, horror, and fantasy films in general — Famous Monsters of Filmland (often referred to simply as FM) was the Magna Carta, the Constitution, and the Ten Commandments rolled into one sensationalistic, hyperbolic, photography-packed magazine. Everything you ever wanted to know about genre films and the people who created them found its way into the pages of FM. Before there was an Internet Movie Database or a Wikipedia, FM provided one-stop information-shopping for youthful connoisseurs of frightening film fare.

Behind Famous Monsters stood a giant of a man named Forrest J. Ackerman. "Uncle Forry," as we legions of readers called him, edited and published FM, and wrote a fair amount of the material appearing within it. Ackerman is often credited, and I believe correctly so, as the father of modern fandom. Everyone who's ever attended a Star Trek, comic book, or science fiction convention owes a debt of gratitude to Uncle Forry, who first made obsessing over such things not only respectable, but marketable.

Forry Ackerman is also the guy who coined the term "sci-fi" as a shorthand reference to science fiction. (I'll let you be the judge of whether that was a good thing. But I believe the Sci-Fi Channel people should be paying Forry royalties, if they aren't already.)

From the time that I was ten years old until I began high school, Famous Monsters of Filmland was my near-constant companion — much to the consternation of my parents, who tended to look askance at my fondness for scary movies in the same way they detested my addiction to superhero comics and Star Trek. My friends and I would pore over every issue, and discussed in animated detail what we read.

In Famous Monsters, I learned of the special effects wizardry of Ray Harryhausen and Paul Blaisdell. I discovered the makeup secrets of Lon Chaney, Senior and Junior, and the up-and-coming Rick Baker. I took peeks behind the scenes at Hammer Films and American International Pictures, two of the great horror factories of the '50s and '60s, and Toho Studios, home to all those wonderful Japanese monster films. I read about the genius of such visionary filmmakers as Roger Corman, George Pal, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Terence Fisher, and of course, Hitchcock.

When it came to monsters, Forry Ackerman not only talked the talk, he also walked the walk. His Los Angeles home, fondly designated "the Ackermansion," warehoused thousands of props, stills, and other items of memorabilia from the movies he loved. Back in the day, Uncle Forry would give tours to fans who dropped by for a visit. Next to Disneyland, the place I wanted to see more than any other on earth when I was a kid was the Ackermansion. Sad to tell, I never had the opportunity.

Though my interest in monster movies faded as I grew older — as did the monsters themselves — I am a film buff and pop culture fanatic today at least in part because of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and the movies it so lovingly chronicled.

Thanks, Uncle Forry. I hope you're having a devil of a Hallowe'en.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Getting your Phil at Match.com

I just caught the new commercial for the Internet dating service Match.com.

Here's the setup: A waitress at a sidewalk café daydreams that a parade of eligible bachelors is marching down the street in front of her. When she snaps out of her reverie, she's actually pouring coffee all over her customer, who just happens to be Dr. Phil. The good doc tells Princess Head-in-Clouds that she's got every quality a man should want — looks, personality, brains. All she needs now is — you guessed it — a little guidance from Match.com.

A few problems here:
  1. If you've ever seen Dr. Phil's show — you might as well admit you have — you know Dr. Phil isn't the kind of guy who would lightly blow off getting hot coffee dumped in his lap. He'd be all up in that waitress's face about her lousy relationship with her father, or something.

  2. Dr. Phil's reassurance of his would-be dating queen rings hollow. Maybe you do have looks, personality, and IQ. But you're a waitress at a café. That's one step up the economic chain from slinging fries at Mickey D's. You're working for minimum wage and tips, while you're hoping to score with a captain of industry or a neurosurgeon. Time for a reality check, sweet cheeks. Try hitting the books for that GED and a real career, then we'll talk.

  3. The punch line of Dr. Phil's pitch amounts to the most ludicrous guarantee in the history of marketing: If Match.com doesn't find your Mr. or Ms. Right in six months, you get six months of Match.com service free. Let me see if I understand this correctly. Match.com will hook you up with one loser after another for half a year, and the consolation prize is another six months of dates with the losers they send you. What kind of freakazoid restitution is that?

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Monday evening quarterback

A busy start to the week for me — in good ways — but for whatever reason, sports have been on my mind all day today as I've plowed through the business of doing business.

To wit:
  • I don't have a strong feeling yet about the Giants' not-altogether-unanticipated hiring of Bruce Bochy as their new shipper. Cynic that I am, I'm more than a little curious as to why San Diego was so eager to let him go to another National League West team while he was still under contract.

  • I go back and forth on whether Barry Bonds will return to the Giants next season, now that he has filed for free agency. Two months ago, I thought Barry and the G-Men were finished. Now, I rather think the Giants will re-sign him. To use a poker term, the Giants are pot-committed — they've invested far too much of their marketing capital and credibility in Barry's quest for the career home run record to risk his breaking Aaron's mark in another uniform.

  • Besides which, I doubt that many teams — if any — are going to queue up to sign Bonds as a free agent. The last time Barry was eligible to write his own ticket, no team in baseball offered him a deal except the Giants. And at that time, he was far and away the best player in the game, not a 42-year-old whose knees and elbows are held together with duct tape and baling wire.

  • Man, those 49ers suck, don't they?

  • The only reason the 1-7 Arizona Cardinals haven't fired head coach Dennis Green is that no one else in football wants to work for the Bidwills. That, and if they cut Green loose, the Bidwills would owe him nearly $4 million to buy out his contract.

  • Congrats to Jim Thorpe, who won our local senior pro golf tournament, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, for the second time in four years. (Thorpe was also the 2003 Schwab Cup winner.) Thorpe was an underrated pro during his PGA years who's found some welcome success on the Champions Tour. And don't you just love the fact that they call the old guys tour the Champions Tour, instead of, say, the Old Guys Tour?

  • On the eve of the start of the NBA season, I still can't believe Don Nelson is back coaching the Golden State Warriors. Next thing you know, bell-bottoms will come back into style.

  • Speaking of the Warriors, nice to hear that former Warriors star Lorenzo Romar picked up a hefty contract extension that will see him continue as head basketball coach for the University of Washington beyond the 2012-13 season. Romar landed his first head coaching job at my old school Pepperdine in the late '90s, and by all accounts, is not only a whale of a coach but a fine gentleman to boot.

  • Alas, my former baseball team tanked in the World Series. I was a rabid Detroit Tigers fan from 1968 — when the Tigers also faced off against St. Louis in the Series, only with happier results for Motown partisans — until 1976, when my family settled in the Bay Area and I adopted the Giants as my "home team." The first major league ballgame I ever saw was a 6-3 victory by the Tigers over the Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum.

  • Hey, Tony LaRussa: ARF!

  • Did I already mention that the 49ers suck?

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

My fall-back position

My thoughts on daylight saving time, summarized in two sentences:

I hate springing forward. I love falling back.

In fact, I think it's a shame that "falling back," the procedure of reversing our clocks by one hour on the last Sunday of October, only occurs once each year. I think that I ought to be able to fall back any time I darn well please.

If I get to bed late one night, and know that I have critical work to accomplish in the morning, I should be allowed to fall back, and snag an extra hour of sleep. Likewise on nights when I've come home late from a chorus or quartet rehearsal, or stayed up into the wee hours to watch a really cool movie on HBO, or got engrossed in a real pageturner of a book that I just couldn't put down, or burned a vial or two of midnight oil catching up on an impending deadline.

But of course, the idiots in Congress who oversee the whole daylight saving time debacle care nothing for my personal needs. They listen far more to some activist corn farmer in Nebraska or a gang of energy conglomerate executives than they do to little old insignificant me.

Next year, of course, they're fiddling with the range of daylight saving time yet again. Thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, beginning in 2007 daylight saving time will commence on the second Sunday in March and conclude on the first Sunday in November (as opposed to the present regimen, which started on the first Sunday in April and ends tomorrow morning).

Not that anyone bothered to ask me.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Wonder Woman Day!

In case you missed the memo, Sunday, October 29 is Wonder Woman Day.

All I can say is, it's about time.

In recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Excalibur Comics in Portland, Oregon is hosting a celebration of everyone's favorite Amazon this Sunday. The highlight of Wonder Woman Day will be the auction of a dazzling array of original Wonder Woman art, donated by an all-star lineup of comic artists, including current All-Star Wonder Woman penciler Terry Dodson (who'll be on-site, signing autographs) and award-winning cover artist Adam Hughes. Proceeds of the event will benefit two women's shelters in the Portland area: Bradley-Angle House and Raphael House.

Since the SSTOL crew can't be on hand to celebrate Wonder Woman Day in person, we thought it appropriate to stage our own Wonder Woman Day in the Comic Art Friday tradition. I've chosen several of my favorite pieces from my Wonder Woman gallery. Some have appeared on Comic Art Friday previously, others will be making their debut here. All are worth a look.

And if these images inspire you to make a donation to a women's shelter in your local community, so much the better.

Here's one you've not seen before: A gorgeous, classically styled pinup by Mitch Foust.

If I recall correctly, this was the first piece of Mitch's art I obtained. I've added several more examples since. I'm a fan of Mitch's smooth, gentle pencil line, and his naturalistic sense of anatomy. His woman always look like real human beings, rather than escapees from some warped male fantasy.

One of the most visually arresting images in my entire art collection is this collaboration between pencil artist Michael Jason Paz and the powerful pen of inker Geof Isherwood.

As stunning as this piece was in its original pencils, Geof's inking elevated it to an entirely different level. I probably get more compliments on this work than any other single piece that I own.

Here's another example of Geof's brilliant inking, this time over Brazilian superstar Al Rio.

Al's original pencils were the first Wonder Woman art I personally commissioned. I fall in love anew with this piece every time I look at it. Geof's inking, once again, brought an already masterful artwork to dizzying new heights.

By the way, if you like Al Rio's style, I learned this morning from Al's art representative Terry Maltos that Al has just been hired by Marvel Comics to take over the penciling duties on one of my favorite current series, Heroes for Hire. It's a splendid choice by Marvel; Al's going to deliver some knockout art for that title. So be sure to check it out.

In case you were curious to see what vision of Wonder Woman Geof Isherwood might create if left to his own devices, the piece you're about to see incorporates both Geof's penciling and inking talents.

I don't believe there's an artist in the business today with a better understanding of figure anatomy, or of light and shadow, than Isherwood.

Here's another piece that I don't believe has appeared in this space before. Nicely rendered in the contemporary style, it's the work of Brazilian artist Diego Maia.

This is one of the special treasures in my Wonder Woman gallery. It's Peter Krause's take on what the mighty Diana might look like, taking a relaxing day off.

Finally, the great Darryl Banks delivers a smashing pinup that recalls the influence of Wonder Woman's original artist, Harry G. Peter, while adding some signature Banks style.

Now I'd call that a Wonder Woman Day worthy of the name, eh wot?

If you still haven't got your fill of the Amazing Amazon, you can view the rest of my Wonder Woman art at my Comic Art Fans gallery. While you're at CAF, I highly recommend a stroll through the online galleries of the world's premier Wonder Woman art collector, Joel Thingvall. Joel owns more Wonder Woman art than any human alive. His collection is nothing short of spectacular; my own pales into insignificance by comparison. You could literally spend hours admiring the work of hundreds — perhaps thousands; I'm not sure even Joel knows — of artists, all paying their respects to the Mother of All Superheroines. If you stop by, tell Joel I sent you.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Little big horn

The name Tommy Johnson probably doesn't mean anything to you, unless you're thinking of...
  • The former major league baseball pitcher who has become synonymous with rotator cuff surgery. That's Tommy John.
  • The former lead singer and guitarist of the Doobie Brothers. That's Tom Johnston.
  • The noted journalist who was both the longtime publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and the longtime president of Cable News Network. That's Wyatt "Tom" Johnson.
  • The guy who used to beat you up and steal your lunch money back in the third grade, whose name just happened to be Tommy Johnson. That's... well... something you're just going to have to deal with on your own.
Though you may not know Tommy Johnson by name, or even by face, you'd certainly recognize his work. He was the tuba player whose sonorous tones were featured in one of the most instantly familiar pieces of motion picture soundtrack ever recorded: the theme from Jaws.

I can hear you doing it now: Da-dum da-dum. Da-dum da-dum. Da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum...

It is my sad duty to inform you that Mr. Johnson passed away earlier this month, following a long battle with cancer and kidney disease. He was 71.

At least the shark didn't get him.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

They stab it with their Steely Dan, but they just can't kill the beast

I've had a Steely Dan song running through my brain nonstop for the past several days.

This is not as unusual as it sounds. I've had one Steely Dan song or another running through my brain pretty much nonstop since 1972, when I first heard "Reelin' in the Years" on the radio and knew I had found my muse.

Thus, for the past 34 years, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker — plus their supporting cast of crackerjack studio stalwarts — have been writing and performing the soundtrack of my life.

I'll show you what I mean, album by album, through the band's classic period (1972-80).

Can't Buy a Thrill (1972)
  • "Do It Again" — "You find you're back in Vegas with a handle in your hand." Anyone who knows me knows that I love Las Vegas. The handle in my hand isn't on a slot machine, though. It's the handle of a souvenir mug. I'm drinking from my Paris Las Vegas mug as I write this.

  • "Midnight Cruiser" — My wife drives a steel blue (as in Steely Dan) PT Cruiser. It's a shade lighter than midnight, but work with me here.

  • "Reelin' In the Years" — Am I really going to be 45 in two months? Egad.
Countdown to Ecstasy (1973)
  • "My Old School" — My daughter is currently a senior at the high school from which I graduated. Her graduating class will be roughly twice the size of mine.

  • "Razor Boy" — I never travel without a knife in my pocket. At this moment, it's a Spyderco Native. Manufactured in Golden, Colorado. Black fiber-reinforced nylon handle, embossed with a spiderweb pattern. 3.125 inch drop point blade in S30V stainless steel. Wicked sharp.

  • "Your Gold Teeth" — I have two; my rearmost upper molars. They went south in my early 20s, after my wisdom teeth were extracted.

  • "Show Biz Kids" — For two years, I attended Pepperdine University in Malibu. I sat next to Charlton Heston's daughter in a poli-sci class. I roomed downstairs from Jack LaLanne's son. I worked at the campus radio station with Joe Garagiola's daughter. I was in a couple of plays with a guy whose dad starred on some soap opera. Need I continue?
Pretzel Logic (1974)
  • "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" — I can't memorize numbers. Even phone numbers I call frequently, I have to write down or store in my computer or cell phone, or I'll forget them. It took me years to imprint my own phone number, which is why I retained it as my business number — I was afraid of learning a new one. I forget my home phone number all the time. I usually memorize phone numbers not by the digits, but by the pattern I punch to dial them.

  • "Night By Night" — I've always been a night owl. I rarely go to bed before midnight, and often not before 1 a.m.

  • "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" — "Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend; any minor world that breaks apart falls together again." Words to live by.

  • "Barrytown" — I've been a diehard San Francisco Giants fan (is there another kind?) since 1976. S.F. officially became Barrytown on December 8, 1992.

  • "Through With Buzz" — My comic art collection contains three original commissioned works by the artist known as Buzz: a Vixen, a Black Panther, and a Ms. Marvel.

  • "Pretzel Logic" — If you're a regular consumer of my contorted prose and wonky sensibility, this needs no explanation.
Katy Lied (1972)
  • "Bad Sneakers" — "You fella, you tearin' up the street; you wear that white tuxedo, how you gonna beat the heat?" I have sung in two barbershop choruses that at one time wore white tuxedo jackets as their performance costume. Wearing a white tux jacket, I somewhat resemble the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

  • "Dr. Wu" — My bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University is signed by the school's then-president, Dr. Chia-Wei Woo. He probably thought this song was about him.

  • "Everyone's Gone to the Movies" — I have written over 100 movie reviews for DVD Verdict. I still owe them a couple. I'll get to them, I promise.
The Royal Scam (1976)
  • "Kid Charlemagne" — "Did you realize you were a champion in their eyes?" Did you realize that I'm the 68th all-time money winner in Jeopardy! history? Of course you did.

  • "The Fez" — "That's what I am; please understand I wanna be your holy man." I've been the minister for our church for the past 19 years. I don't know that I always (often?) qualify as a holy man. But I try.

  • "Green Earrings" — "Greek medallion sparkles when you smile." I lived in Greece for two years — my fourth and fifth grade years — in the early 1970s. Specifically, on Crete. You could get two lamb shish kabobs and a mound of shoestring fries for the equivalent of 25 cents American. I bet you can't now.
Aja (1977)
  • "Aja" — I lived in Asia for two years — mostly my seventh and eighth grade years — in the mid-'70s. Specifically, in the Philippines. Did you know that a number of outstanding comic book artists either hail from or reside in the Philippines?

  • "Deacon Blues" — "This brother is free; I'll be what I want to be." If only I knew what I want to be.

  • "Josie" — One of my all-time favorite Saturday morning cartoons was Josie and the Pussycats. Long tails, and ears for hats.
Gaucho (1980)
  • "Hey Nineteen" — Nineteen has always been my lucky number, if indeed I have one. My birthday, my wife's birthday, and our anniversary all fall on the 19th of the month. (We planned the anniversary. The birthdays we didn't have much say about.) I used to have personalized license plates for my car that read "EY 9TEEN." I still have the plates, but I've never transferred them to my current vehicle.

  • "Babylon Sisters" — "Here come those Santa Ana winds again." I once fell in love with a girl on a warm Southern California evening when the Santa Anas were blowing. She was a terrific kid — smart and funny, with a heart the size of the Andromeda galaxy. We used to listen to Steely Dan together quite often, including this album. I wonder sometimes where she is, and how her life turned out. She'd had a rough go of things before I met her. I'm not sure I improved them any.

  • "Time Out of Mind" — This song contains one of the best backing vocal performances ever, by Michael McDonald. That doesn't have anything to do with anything. I'm just saying.

  • "My Rival" — "The wind was driving in my face, the smell of prickly pear..." When my family used to drive cross-country back in the day, I used to like to buy prickly pear candy from the roadside stands one used to encounter in the Southwest. Usually the stands were owned — or at least staffed — by Native American folks. Do you suppose anyone still sells prickly pear candy?
When I was a late-night DJ in my college radio days, Steely Dan's FM, from the soundtrack of the film of the same name, was my opening theme:
Worry the bottle, Mama, it's grapefruit wine
Kick off your high-heel sneakers, it's party time
The girls don't seem to care what's on
As long as it plays till dawn
Nothing but blues and Elvis
And somebody else's favorite song...
FM — no static at all.
I don't know about you, but I'm going to go put on a Steely Dan CD. After all, my entire life is in the lyrics.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Yo quiero home run to left-center

Taco Bell — America's favorite purveyor of faux Mexican cuisine — has announced that if a player from either the Detroit Tigers or the St. Louis Cardinals hits a home run to left or center field during tonight's Game Three of the World Series, everyone in the U.S. and Canada gets a free beef taco.

There's a catch, of course. The free tacos, if the aforementioned ballpark blast occurs, will only be available on Wednesday, November 1, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Taco Bell officials appear to be taking the Fifth on the reasons why only a left or center field homer qualifies to ignite the promotion. I'm certain that conservative pundits will have a (right) field day with that little tidbit.

Assuming some slugger for either the Tigers or the Cards comes through tonight, please feel welcome to hook me up if you don't want your free taco.

Vegetarians, I'm your huckleberry.

[We interrupt this blog post to bring you this SSTOL special bulletin...]

No player on either team hit a home run in tonight's World Series game. Cardiologists across North America breathed a collective sigh of relief.

[We now return you to our regularly scheduled foofaraw.]


Monday, October 23, 2006

Mother knew best

When I first heard that Jane Wyatt, the soft-spoken actress best known to my generation as Mr. Spock's Earthling mother on the original Star Trek (and to those of "a certain age" as Robert Young's dutiful wife on the '50s sitcom Father Knows Best), had died at the age of 96, my first thought was...

...I guess they really do live longer on Vulcan.

Frankly, I always confused Ms. Wyatt with Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan's first wife and star of the '80s trash drama Falcon Crest. Ms. Wyman, who is also into her 90s now, is still alive at this writing. To the best of my knowledge, she has never been married to an alien. (Unless you count Reagan. Which, come to think of it, you might.)

My sincere condolences to the Sarek family.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sitting here eating my heart out waiting

As I stare into cyberspace on this sunny California autumn afternoon, a barrage of unanswered questions vexes me...
  • Whatever happened to Melissa Joan Hart? After seemingly infinite seasons of Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (or, as it should have been retitled by the end of its run, Sabrina the Pushing-Thirty Witch), she pretty well dropped off the face of the pop culture map.

  • Do those two women of ambiguous orientation in the Yoplait yogurt commercial who refer to the product as "dating-the-masseuse good" not realize that a masseuse is always female? Or is that the point?

  • Is it too much to ask that political TV spots tell me something — anything — about what concrete action the candidate would actually take on some matter of genuine importance?

  • Is there any living creature more ridiculous-looking than a Chinese crested dog?

  • Did we really need to know that Rod Stewart first thought about bedding Paris Hilton when she was only 14?

  • Did we really need the mental picture of Rod Stewart bedding, well, anyone?

  • Do kids still buy ice cream from the Good Humor man? And does he still sell those toasted almond bars that used to be my favorite?

  • Does Nicole Kidman's ability to choose husbands totally suck, or what?

  • Did anyone honestly predict that "Weird Al" Yankovic's career would last 25 years?

  • When Bob Seger sang "America the Beautiful" before Game One of the World Series, was I the only one surprised that he was still alive?

  • Does Seattle's new tourism tagline — Metronatural — mean that every guy in the Emerald City looks like Ryan Seacrest, and every woman has hairy underarms?

  • Which is worse: Wesley Snipes's tax problems, or any of the so-called "films" he's made in the last four years?

  • Could anything be less exciting than 330 West Virginians playing UNO?

  • Do androids dream of electric sheep?

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Happy birthday, Nick Cardy

Today, Comic Art Friday salutes artist Nicholas Viscardi, a.k.a. Nick Cardy, a member of the Comic Book Hall of Fame and one of the truly great talents of the comic industry's Gold, Silver, and Bronze Ages. This week, Mr. Cardy celebrates — depending upon the resource you check — his 85th or 86th birthday. Whichever figure is correct, he's been a legend in comics for a good long while.

The last time I heard, Cardy was still making occasional appearances at comic conventions in the vicinity of his Florida home. As recently as 2004, he was still turning out beautiful artwork, such as this captivating bust of my favorite Amazon.

Cardy is probably best known to modern comic book readers as the longtime pencil artist on DC Comics' Aquaman and Teen Titans. He was also one of DC's most prominent and prolific cover artists for the better part of three decades. His lush and illustrative — though never overdone — drawing style adapted perfectly to almost any character he was called upon to render. And, as typified by this cover to Aquaman #33, Cardy also drew some of the most gorgeous women in comics at the time... not that I noticed.

Aside from his Silver Age DC oeuvre, Cardy holds a special place in my comic history appreciation because of his work on one of my favorite superheroes of the 1940s, Will Eisner's Lady Luck. Aficionados recall that the artist most closely identified with Lady Luck is the great Klaus Nordling, who drew most of her adventures in Eisner's Spirit Sunday newspaper supplements. Cardy, however, also drew Lady Luck for about a year in the early '40s, and is probably the artist most associated with the feature after Nordling.

I admire Lady Luck for three reasons:
  1. I see her very much as the female counterpart of The Spirit, Eisner's greatest creation, and I suspect that Eisner created her with exactly that thought in mind. Like The Spirit, Lady Luck had no superhuman powers, but relied upon her wits and her brilliant detective skills in her battle against urban crime.
  2. Lady Luck was one of the first female characters to headline her own strip, appearing for years as the backup feature in those fondly remembered Spirit supplements.
  3. I'm fond of her marvelously quaint, classically 1940s character design — her costume consisting of a simple green cocktail dress, opera gloves, a cape, and a stylish broad-brimmed hat, with her face masked by a translucent green veil.
Sadly, I don't have a Cardy Lady Luck in my collection, although if I had the opportunity to attend a show where Mr. Cardy was sketching, I would love to have him draw her for me. Instead, we'll make do with this striking, Cardyesque pinup by one of my favorite "good girl" artists, Michael Dooney.

Lady Luck also makes a showing in one of my Common Elements commissions, a piece I've titled "The Hat Squad." Here, artist Anthony Carpenter pairs Lady Luck with DC's sorceress supreme Zatanna, who also is easily recognized by her hat.

Happy birthday, Mr. Cardy. I hope you're enjoying your well-earned retirement. Thanks for all the amazing visuals.

And for the rest of us, that's Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

For the sports fan who has... I mean... had everything

I've heard of fans bleeding Dodger blue...

...but this may be a little extreme.

A company called Eternal Image has signed a contract with Major League Baseball to license caskets and cremation urns bearing the regalia of any of six MLB clubs: the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs, and yes, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Each urn or casket comes emblazoned with the selected team's logo and colors, along with the inscription: "Major League Baseball officially recognizes [YOUR NAME HERE] as a lifelong fan of [FAVORITE TEAM]."

Eternal Image plans to expand its offerings to all 30 MLB teams in the near future. The company also hopes to land similar deals with the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NASCAR.

It seems especially fitting that the Cubs would be one of the first teams selected for this venture. Now, the Bleacher Bums can eagerly anticipate one day being as dead as the Cubbies' World Series dreams.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Christopher Glenn (1938-2006)

If you're interested in my memories of the late CBS newsman Christopher Glenn, please refer to this post, written at the time of his retirement in February.

I'm very sorry to know that retirement was so rudely interrupted.

On November 4 — a mere two and one-half weeks from now — Glenn will be inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

I'm also very sorry that he won't be present to accept this well-deserved honor.

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Tom Lehrer was right!

It came to my attention today that the 118th chemical element, temporarily designated as ununoctium, has recently been synthesized for the first time by researchers at the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the not-so-nearby Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia.

This came as somewhat of a surprise to me, inasmuch as the last time I formally studied chemistry — during the Dark Age of Disco — only 105 elements had been officially discovered, and two of those were still more or less on probationary status.

I had no idea that there were 13 more already.

I didn't know that Element 105, which I learned to call hahnium, is now officially dubbed dubnium.

I certainly knew nothing of Elements 106 through 117: seaborgium, bohrium, hassium, meitnerium, darmstadtium, roentgenium, ununbium, ununtrium, ununquadium, ununpentium, ununhexium, and ununseptium.

(I'm relieved, however, to find out that Element 104 is still rutherfordium. Whew.)

I'm sure that my lack of knowledge in this essential area of chemistry would come as a great disappointment to my high school science teacher, a fine fellow by the name of Mr. Buhn. Or perhaps it wouldn't, given my less than stellar scholastic exploits in Mr. Buhn's chemistry and physics classes back in the day.

But really, I should have known this would happen.

Tom Lehrer told me so.

A history lesson is doubtless in order for the age-deficient in our audience. In the 1950s and '60s, Harvard-educated mathematician turned ivory-tickling troubadour Tom Lehrer was the premier musical satirist of his time. Some would argue that he was the premier musical satirist of all time. Lehrer's lyrically convoluted ditties, which skewered everything from Sophocles ("Oedipus Rex") to thermonuclear warfare ("We Will All Go Together When We Go"), became wildly popular through a skein of hit record albums and concert appearances.

By 1964, Lehrer was a featured performer on the political satire series That Was the Week That Was (known to aficionados as TW3), where he regaled television audiences with hilarious lyrical creations making light of current events — everything from National Brotherhood Week to Wernher Von Braun.

In the early '70s, Lehrer lent his talents to the PBS children's series The Electric Company, the very same program that first brought the talents of actor Morgan Freeman (who played the character Easy Reader) to national acclaim. And yet another generation was charmed out of its collective socks by Lehrer's brilliance.

Having exhausted his interest in public spectacle, Lehrer retired from the stage and the recording studio in 1972. Returning to academia, he began a lengthy career as an instructor in mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz (fight fiercely, Banana Slugs!). He resurfaced briefly in the '80s, when Tomfoolery, a musical based on his songs, made the rounds of musical theaters across the country.

Anyway, I've told you all of that just to tell you this.

One of Lehrer's best-known songs is "The Elements," which basically consists of Lehrer reciting the periodic table to the tune of "The Major General's Song" from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Having rattled off all of the elements known to science at that date, Lehrer concludes:
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard...
And there may be many others, but they haven't been discovered.
(To appreciate the cleverness of the rhyme, imagine the lines being sung by, say, Ted Kennedy. Or the Gorton's fisherman.)

With the confirmation of the 118th element, Lehrer proves himself a prophet yet again.

And what of my old high school science teacher, Mr. Buhn? I run into him every now and again at my local comic book shop, of which he is also a patron. I read Spider-Man and Black Panther, he reads Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck.

But I think we both still dig Tom Lehrer.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The death of glamour

Whatever happened to glamour in Hollywood?

I'm puzzling over this today because it's the shared birthday of two great female stars of yesteryear:

Jean Arthur, the comedic genius with the distinctive voice who shone in such classics as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The More the Merrier, and her best-remembered dramatic role, Shane...

...and Rita Hayworth, the sensuous screen queen who put the "B" in "bombshell" in such films as Gilda, Blood and Sand, You'll Never Get Rich, and one of my favorites, The Lady From Shanghai, directed by and costarring Hayworth's then-husband, Orson Welles.

As Madonna once sang:
They had style, they had grace
Rita Hayworth gave good face.
Where are the Jean Arthurs and Rita Hayworths of today? Where are the Marilyn Monroes? Or the Maureen O'Haras? Or, for that matter, the Veronica Lakes, the Claudette Colberts, the Betty Grables, the Lana Turners, the Jean Harlows, the Jane Russells, the Hedy Lamarrs? (All together now: "That's Hedley!")

When I think of many of the so-called sex symbols of today's Hollywood, I cringe. Jessica Simpson? Britney Spears? Brittany Murphy? Animated Barbie dolls, bereft of talent and class. Jessica Alba? Cameron Diaz? Yawn. Pamela Anderson? Puh-lease.

Who among the stars of 2006 has the true glamour of the legends of the past?
  • Angelina Jolie does, I suppose, though while I believe she's a decent actress, I find her screen persona cold and off-putting.
  • Scarlett Johannson is growing into it.
  • Halle Berry has a certain measure of it, even though to me she's more girl-next-door than icon.
  • Drew Barrymore: Ditto.
Am I missing anyone?

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Too much information

In our instant information age, I sometimes wonder whether we are not indeed privy to entirely too much scuttlebutt about our celebrity contingent.

For example, I could have lived quite peacefully for several more decades without knowing that...

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Votors" can't vote

I stumbled across this gem while surfing BlogMad last night (click the screenshot for a larger view):

My suggestion for stamping out voter fraud? Require potential voters to prove they can actually spell "voter" correctly.

For my money, nothing is a greater threat to democracy than illiterate votors.

I mean, voters.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Your one-way ticket to midnight

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of artist and animator Ed Benedict, the longtime Hanna-Barbera stalwart who designed such iconic characters as the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound. Benedict passed away in August at the age of 94, but news of his death only reached the media this past week. Like Alex Toth, who died earlier this year, Saturday mornings would not have been the same without the work of Ed Benedict.

Speaking of animation...

We're focusing today on the loudest, nastiest, most hellbent-for-leather animated film ever created — the movie that brought together fantasy comic art and cutting-edge animation in a way that no film had before and few films have since.

That's right: I'm talkin' Heavy Metal, baby.

When it exploded into theaters in the fall of 1981, Heavy Metal marked the end of an era in which animation was viewed strictly as entertainment for children. It ushered in a new age of adult-focused animation that continues 25 years later.

Part of the film's genius stemmed from the fact that it was conceived by people (specifically, producer Ivan Reitman, then best known for such live-action comedies as National Lampoon's Animal House and Stripes) with no previous experience in animation, who therefore were unburdened by preconceptions of what could and could not be done. Heavy Metal brought together an impressive a dazzling array of animation talent spanning five cities on two continents, incorporating original art and stories by some of the most innovative creators in the field at that time, under the oversight of veteran animation director Gerald Potterton (best known for his work on the Beatles' Yellow Submarine). Its effects upon animation cinema, and the fantasy genre in general, continue to resonate even now.

But mostly, Heavy Metal kicks major butt.

In case you've never seen Heavy Metal — and if you haven't, don't feel bad; a lot of people haven't, for reasons I'll explain later — the film is a series of animated vignettes representing a variety of artistic styles, nominally linked together by a common thematic device: namely, the Loc-Nar, a glowing green ball of evil that wants to destroy the universe. (Hey, this is fantasy were talking about.) Several of the individual stories were adapted from material originally published in the illustrated fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, hence the film's name. In order of appearance, Heavy Metal takes us through these startling new worlds:
  • Soft Landing (directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, from a story by writer Dan O'Bannon and artist Thomas Warkentin). An astronaut exits an orbiting space shuttle in a vintage Corvette convertible, reenters Earth's atmosphere, and drives to his house (which eerily resembles Norman Bates's abode in Psycho) in a deserted countryside.

  • Grimaldi (directed by Harold Whitaker of Halas & Batchelor Animation). The astronaut Grimaldi gets disintegrated by the Loc-Nar, which he has carried home from space in a briefcase. The Loc-Nar begins a conversation with Grimaldi's preteen daughter, setting the stage for the rest of the film.

  • Harry Canyon (directed by Pino Van Lamsweerde, with designs by comic artist Juan Gimenez). A cab driver in a futuristic version of New York city rescues a young woman from a gang of robbers at a museum. It turns out that the woman is the current owner of the Loc-Nar, which the gangsters are determined to possess for themselves.

  • Den (directed by Jack Stokes, from a story by popular fantasy artist Richard Corben). A teenage nerd discoverers a glowing green meteorite — in reality, the Loc-Nar — which transforms him into a powerfully muscular warrior and teleports him into a primeval world.

  • Captain Sternn (directed by Paul Sabella and Julian Szuchopa of Boxcar Animation, from a story by comic artist Bernie Wrightson). A roguish starship captain gets his comeuppance in a galactic courtroom, when a janitor he had hired as his patsy turns against him in a most surprising way.

  • B-17 (directed by Barrie Nelson, with designs by comics artist Mike Ploog). An ill-fated bomber pilot encounters the Loc-Nar during a World War II mission, and finds his slain crew members transformed into zombies.

  • So Beautiful and So Dangerous (directed by John Halas of Halas & Batchelor Animation, from a story by science fiction artist Angus McKie, with character designs by comics artist Neal Adams). A secretary at the Pentagon finds herself kidnapped by drug-snorting aliens from outer space, and falls in love with a robot.

  • Taarna (directed by John Bruno — now a major Hollywood special effects guru — based on the Arzach stories by French artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, and with design work by such talented artists as Mike Ploog, Howard Chaykin, Chris Achilleos, Phillip Norwood, and Charles White III). On a bleak, faraway planet, a peaceful civilization is destroyed by a band of marauders transformed into invincible warriors by the Loc-Nar. Their murderous rampage is thwarted by a mysterious, silent female avenger riding a pterodactyl-like beast.
As anyone who has seen Heavy Metal can attest, the segments vary in tone from sublime (Taarna) to ridiculous (So Beautiful and So Dangerous), from terrifying (B-17) to hilarious (Captain Sternn). It's sophomoric and aggressively puerile at times, yet when it works — which, for me, is more often than not — it's rough magic.

An additional segment, entitled Neverwhere and directed by Cornelius Cole, appears only on the DVD release. Sadly, Neverwhere — which traces the history of evil on Earth from prehistory to Nazi Germany — was deleted from the film's theatrical cut due to time considerations, depriving a generation of viewers from a piece of the most emotionally powerful animation ever created, and certainly the most brilliant visuals created specifically for this film.

For years, the entire film was little-seen — outside of midnight movie screenings and occasional, brutally edited airings on late-night cable — as a result of licensing issues over the soundtrack, which features songs by numerous hard rock hitmakers of the early '80s. (It also contains some of the greatest work ever recorded by legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein, whose score is considered a minor masterpiece by some aficionados, yours truly included.) Because of the legal wrangling, no legitimate home video version of Heavy Metal existed until nearly two decades after the film's release.

The Taarna segment is Heavy Metal's centerpiece, occupying roughly the final third of the film's running time, and boasting its most spectacular artistic achievements. Given that I'm a fan of rotoscope animation — a process in which footage is shot initially with live actors, then animated over — Taarna remains one of my giddiest pleasures in all of cinema. All of the scenes featuring the title character were created from live action footage of an actress named Carol Desbiens, who only slightly resembles her animated counterpart, but lives and breathes in her every movement. The DVD release contains several snippets of the Desbiens footage, and it's fascinating to watch the transition from live actress to ink-and-paint superwoman.

Given my fondness for Heavy Metal — and for Taarna in particular — it should surprise no one that I have a few pieces of original Taarna art in my collection, two of which you're about to view.

First, here's a classically styled Taarna pinup, drawn by master "good girl" artist Mitch Foust.

Next, artist Michael Dooney places Taarna in her element in this stunning drawing.

By the way, Heavy Metal, the magazine that inspired the film, is still going strong today. It's now owned by comics creator Kevin Eastman, who with fellow artist Peter Laird spawned the ever-popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Michael Dooney has worked extensively on TMNT projects over the years.) Eastman even produced an embarrassingly wretched "sequel" to Heavy Metal the film, called Heavy Metal 2000, mostly so that his centerfold-queen wife Julie Strain could serve as the model and voice actress for the new film's heroine. If you ever have the opportunity to see Heavy Metal 2000... pass.

If, however, you get a shot at the original — and you're an adult who isn't easily offended — by all means check it out. It would be the perfect way to end a Comic Art Friday, especially on Friday the 13th.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

The ink is black, the page is white

The entertainment biz has been abuzz of late with the news that Halle Berry has signed to star in the upcoming DreamWorks film Class Act. The movie is based on the real-life story of Nevada schoolteacher Tierney Cahill, who ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress in 2000 to give her sixth grade students firsthand insight into the inner workings of a political campaign.

I know, that doesn't sound like earthshattering news. The reason for all the conversation, however, is the fact that Tierney Cahill is of the Caucasian persuasion...

while Halle Berry is... well... otherwise persuaded.

In the words of Lance the Intern in Undercover Brother, it's about to get racial up in this piece.

So-called "colorblind" casting — the concept of casting the best available actor in a role, even if the actor's ethnicity differs from the character as written — is a relatively recent phenomenon in Hollywood. A few examples that come immediately to mind:
  • Morgan Freeman as Red, a character conceived by author Stephen King as Irish-American, in The Shawshank Redemption.
  • Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk, a character drawn as a white man throughout 40 years of comic book continuity, in Daredevil.
  • Louis Gossett Jr. playing characters originally written as Caucasian in both the film An Officer and a Gentleman and the television series Gideon Oliver.
  • Denzel Washington in the recent remake of Man On Fire — the lead character was played by Scott Glenn in the original film.
  • Will Smith reprising the role made famous by Robert Conrad in the film version of Wild Wild West.
I could cite a dozen more examples, but you get the idea.

The difference, however, in Class Act is that Tierney Cahill is an actual living person, where all of the instances noted above involve actors portraying fictional characters.

Historically, when producers and casting directors have selected actors to play recognizable real-life public figures, they've made an effort to cast people who at least passably resemble the public figures in question. (Often with an abundance of help from the makeup department.) On the other hand, when casting roles involving real-life people whose faces are less familiar to the general public, Hollywood many times throws doppelganger concerns out the window. Julia Roberts, for instance, looks nothing like the actual Erin Brockovich, nor does Tom Cruise resemble the real Ron Kovic (Born on the Fourth of July).

The case of Tierney Cahill would seem closer to the latter examples. Had I not just turned up the above photograph of Ms. Cahill on the Internet, I wouldn't had known whether she looked more like Halle Berry, Holly Hunter, or Hilary Duff. Given that the story Class Act will tell about Cahill has nothing directly to do with her race, I doubt that the casting of Berry will make any difference in the way the movie presents its protagonist — as opposed to a film about, say, the life of Leni Riefenstahl.

Since Tierney Cahill appears to be all right with the choice, I don't suppose anyone else has standing to argue. Hey, if Hollywood wants to make a movie about my life, and they decide to cast a tall, muscular, attractive actor to portray short, portly, moon-faced me, more power to 'em. (My vote? Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Just in case they happen to be casting this week.)

But the most interesting point in the Class Act debate, at least from my perspective, has less to do with the fact that Halle Berry is playing a woman who in real life is white than with the common assumption that Berry is somehow inappropriately cast in a role that is ostensibly other than black.

Lest we forget, only one of Halle Berry's parents, her father, is of African descent. Her mother is an English-born Caucasian woman from Liverpool. Assuming half her DNA derives from either parent, isn't Halle as much white as she is black?

Not in America, she isn't.

I note this because, like Halle Berry, I am what we today fashionably call "biracial." (In case that's a new word to you, it does not have sexual implications of any kind, thank you very much.)

Although I was raised in an adoptive family by two African American parents, my biological mother was a Caucasian of predominantly German heritage, while my biological father was black. I was conceived and born in 1961, at a time in our nation's history when my biological parents committed what was by law a crime in many juridictions, in the very act that gave me life. In several of these United States, they could not have legitimized my parentage through marriage even had they been so inclined.

As I was growing up, I always identified myself as "black" — remember, kids, this was back in the day before we were "African American," and when we only just beginning to get over being "Negro" — mostly because that's what my adoptive parents were. (The story is actually much more complicated than that, but we'll tell that lengthy tale another day.) This despite the fact that my ethno-external characteristics are slightly more vaguely defined than those of Ms. Berry, leading to a lifetime of oddly personal questions and interesting ethnic misidentifications. During my 44 years, I have been presumed, at various times, to be:
  • Black.
  • Mexican.
  • Native American.
  • Asian Indian.
  • Cuban.
  • Filipino.
  • Hawaiian.
  • Puerto Rican.
  • Korean.
  • Chinese.
  • Various flavors of Central or South American.
  • Jamaican or some other flavor of Caribbean Islander.
  • Samoan.
  • Tongan.
  • Guamanian.
  • Malaysian.
  • Australian Aboriginal.
  • Eskimo.
  • "Mixed," whatever that means.
And those are just the ones people were brazen enough to voice aloud in my presence.

(True story: I actually had a buddy of mine in college get angry with me — albeit momentarily — when he discovered that I was not, in fact, Puerto Rican as was he. I think the primary reason he had befriended me was that he thought he had found a kindred soul in our lily-white university environment.)

Thankfully, my daughter — whose mother is Caucasian, but whose features and coloring are similar to her dad's — is growing to adulthood in an environment where being ethnically indeterminate is at least somewhat less the stigma it was when I was her age. Indeed, it brings a smile to my face sometimes when I drop her at school in the morning and she's greeted by her two best friends — a fair-complected European blonde and a dark-complected girl whose family came originally from India — and the three of them walk onto campus together as their own little human spectrum.

I hope that someday, all three will be able to play whatever roles they choose to play in life...

...and no one will question whether they're right for the part.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cory Lidle (1972-2006)

I was sorry to hear just now about the death of New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle. From the early reports, Lidle was apparently the owner and pilot of a private airplane that crashed into an apartment building in New York City today.

Lidle had the best season of his major league career here in the Bay Area in 2001, when he went 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA as a starter for the Oakland Athletics. This year, he was traded to the Yankees by the Philadelphia Phillies late in the campaign, and posted an overall record of 12-10 with a 4.85 ERA. Ironically, Lidle spent a few days on bereavement leave in August, following the death of his grandmother.

By all accounts, Lidle was a popular teammate and well-liked in the clubhouse. This despite the fact that he was refused membership in the Major League Baseball Players Association because he crossed the picket line as a replacement player during the 1994-95 baseball strike. A few of the hardline unionists continued to regard Lidle as a "scab" and strikebreaker more than a decade later.

My condolences to Lidle's family and teammates.

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Dimbulb of the Week, Golf Edition

So Greg "The Great White Shark" Norman, the one-time Australian golf superstar now best known for having a daughter who once dated Sergio Garcia, thinks Tiger Woods is bad for the sport.

According to Norman, Woods's dominance is taking the excitement out of golf, and is a factor in why fewer people are tuning in to televised tournaments. Quoth the Shark:
You never hear anyone coming out and saying, 'I want to beat Tiger Woods' — I haven't heard that.
Yeah, Tiger's ruining the game, Greg. Just like that Jordan guy nearly ruined the NBA — and with it, the athletic footwear industry — a few years back. Or like Gretzky ruined hockey.

If we want to talk about a guy making golf look bad, perhaps we should discuss, say, the 1996 Masters.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's Up With That? #38: You want hash browns with that?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the $1.65 billion deal that made video site YouTube a part of the ever-growing Google empire took shape over breakfast at Denny's.

The Chron report states that YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen noshed on Grand Slam Breakfasts and chicken fingers with Google topkicks Eric Schmidt and Larry Page as they hammered out the megabuck merger.

Wait a second...

You own a company worth $1.65 billion, and you're eating at Denny's?

For the kind of dough Hurley, Chen, Schmidt, and Page are throwing around, they can come to my place for their next businessmen's outing, and I'll fix them a decent breakfast. I'll even make eggs Benedict with real hollandaise sauce, instead of that faux petrochemical Cheez Whiz crud Denny's slathers on theirs.

I will, of course, expect a sizable gratuity.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Something for everyone

To our readers of Italian descent: Happy Columbus Day.

To our friends in the Upper Midwest: Happy Leif Erikson Day (not to be confused with Leif Garrett Day).

To our Native American readers: Happy Not Having Been Discovered Yet Day.

To our Canadian friends: Happy Thanksgiving (also known as Not Having Been Absorbed By America Yet Day).

To Beatles fans: Happy John Lennon's Birthday.

To my fellow devotees of the film Streets of Fire, Happy Michael Paré's Birthday.

To the folks at the FOX Broadcasting Company: Happy 20th Anniversary, and thanks for all the 24.

To all those not previously included: Happy Monday, and if you happen not to like Mondays, please don't go shoot up a school or anything.

Finally, in honor of Columbus Day, here's my Top Five Favorite Films Directed by Chris Columbus:
  1. Adventures in Babysitting

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday in the park with Swan

It's a Native American summer Sunday afternoon, and the hapless 49ers are manhandling the equally inept Raiders. So much for the NFL. Instead, let's give the pop culture world a vigorous shake and see what tumbles out.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Working on our night moves

As foreshadowed in last week's Comic Art Friday post, I had the honor this past Saturday afternoon of watching artistic genius at work.

Comics artist Darick Robertson, whose talents are on display in the new DC/Wildstorm series The Boys, took several hours out of his busy schedule to sketch and sign comics at my local comic shop, Comic Book Box. Eager to commission a sketch from Darick, I made it a point to arrive early enough to be first in line when he set up shop.

My efforts, as you'll see, were abundantly rewarded. Over the course of about 90 minutes, I looked on in rapt fascination as Darick created the drawing you're about to view.

In preparing for Darick's appearance, I puzzled long and hard over what hero or heroes I would ask him to draw. My first impulse was to have him add a new piece to my collection of Black Panther pinups. Then I thought, why not seize the opportunity to ask for a new entry to my Common Elements theme? Although some artists hesitate to do multiple-character drawings in a quick-sketch setting, I figured the worst that could happen would be that Darick would ask me to choose something simpler. If he did, I could always go to the Panther as my Plan B.

As I scanned my "wish list" of Common Elements ideas, however, I didn't see anything that immediately screamed "Darick Robertson" to me. Although Darick has been working professionally in comics for 20 years, the project I most associate with him is Marvel's New Warriors, a series he drew regularly for about three years in the early 1990s. After an evening of cogitation and online research, I hit upon a new Common Elements concept that would be perfect for Darick: two heroes with the shared theme of "night," who also share a connection to Darick's career.

Night Thrasher (in the foreground and to the right in the drawing above) was the field leader of the New Warriors when Darick began drawing their book. The Night Man (to the left) was a character Darick cocreated (with writer Steve Englehart) for Malibu Comics' "Ultraverse" in the early '90s. Pop culture mavens will recall that the latter was adapted for the syndicated TV series entitled NightMan, which aired from 1997 to 1999 and starred Matt McColm as the titular hero.

When I pitched this concept to Darick, he seemed genuinely intrigued. He quickly set about roughing out the drawing in blue pencil on a standard comic art board. After an initial idea failed to gel, Darick turned to me and asked, "How about if I have them fighting?" That suggestion earned a thumbs-up from me, and within moments the familiar lines of Night Thrasher's costume began to take form.

Chatting almost nonstop as his pencil flew across the page, Darick offered up a wealth of lore about his career and the comics industry in general to the fans who joined be around his drawing table. Darick said that when he was drawing New Warriors, he always wanted to redesign Night Thrasher's costume, which he thought was needlessly complex and bulky for a character who's supposed to be a stealthy night fighter — essentially an urban ninja. Due to potential conflicts with the Night Thrasher solo series that was in production during that same period, Darick was never permitted by Marvel's editorial staff to implement his proposed changes. His drawing of Thrash here reflects a few of the adjustments Darick always wanted to make, and I think he got a kick out of getting "the last word" on the subject. He also noted that it was difficult to make Thrash an interesting character — Darick described him as "the poor man's Batman" — due to these same editorial restrictions.

I was thunderstruck when, after Darick finished drawing the battling duo, he flipped the page end-to-end before signing it. The entire time he had worked on the piece, he had oriented the page on his drawing board such that the figures' heads were at the top. It wasn't until he affixed the dedication and signature that I realized that Darick intended to show the two heroes falling heads-down through the air as they fought. Amazing! That he could envision the scene in reverse orientation as he created it speaks volumes about Darick's incredible artistic sensibility.

Am I delighted with the results? Gee... you think?

Thanks to Darick Robertson for a breathtaking addition to my Common Elements collection. The scan shown here doesn't even approach the immaculate clarity and vividness of Darick's pencil art. It's no wonder that in a recent reader poll conducted by Comic Book Resources, Darick ranks as the 37th greatest comic book artist of all time.

Thanks also to the world's finest comics retailer, Kathy Bottarini, for inviting Darick to "come out and play."

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Swan Tunes In: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Saddled with tons of advance buzz and the most ungainly title in prime time — was there a reason, Aaron Sorkin, why the show couldn't have simply been dubbed Studio 60? — Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip suffers in comparison with both its predebut reputation and its storied predecessor, Sorkin's political drama The West Wing.

Which is why I say watch it now, because it may not last for long. Even with Sorkin's considerable juice behind it.

Studio 60 is a behind-the-scenes look at a live network sketch comedy series (titled, not surprisingly, Studio 60) that couldn't be a more obvious reference to Saturday Night Live if it tried. (Oddly, NBC has two shows this fall with this exact premise. Tina Fey's 30 Rock plays more like a sitcom, while Studio 60 is a drama with ample comedic overtones and 100% less Alec Baldwin.)

Here's the show in a nutshell. Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford play, respectively, Matt Albie and Danny Tripp, a writer-producer duo who quit Studio 60 four years ago, and have just been rehired by the network's new entertainment honcho (Jordan McDeere, played by Amanda Peet) to save the faltering show after the previous producer (a first-episode cameo by Judd Hirsch) goes all Howard Beale on the air one Friday night. Matt and Danny have to resurrect Studio 60 in the face of (a) a network chairman who hates them (a role played to oily perfection by Steven Weber), (b) a trio of opinionated and ego-driven stars (played by Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley, and Nathan Corddry), (c) the pair of "talentless hacks" who head the writing staff (Evan Handler and Carlos Jacott), and (d) angry sponsors and affiliates who despise the show's often politically incorrect irreverence.

If you were a regular West Wing viewer, you'll recognize Sorkin's signature style all over Studio 60: the huge cast, the machine-gun dialogue, the wry political commentary. Unlike The West Wing, which at least in its early seasons crackled with urgency and narrative force, Studio 60 feels peculiarly flat.

The problem isn't with the cast. I didn't realize, not having been a Friends fan, that Matthew Perry was this talented an actor — he commands the screen every second he's on camera. Everyone else — Whitford and Weber especially — is at least decent, though Peet (whom I've enjoyed in other venues) seems miscast as a high-powered executive, and Sorkin hasn't yet found much for some of the other standout performers (i.e., Hughley and Timothy Busfield, who plays the fictional Studio 60's director) to do.

No, the problem with Studio 60 is also its greatest strength: Aaron Sorkin. So far, the show's creator is writing every episode himself, and it feels as though he's distracted. This is especially true during the brief on-air flashes we're shown of the fictional Studio 60 — it's painfully unfunny. (I suspect that's the real reason the show's in trouble.)

I like Sorkin's work, and I like Studio 60's cast and concept. Given all of the hype NBC has poured into the series, I suspect they'll give it a relatively long leash. But unless the show finds its footing fast, the ratings may completely tank before Sorkin and company figure out exactly what it is they're trying to do.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Least surprising revelation of the week

This just in from former Congressman Mark Foley's attorney, David Roth, Esq.:
Finally, Mark Foley wants you to know that he is a gay man.
Memo to Mr. Roth:

I think we figured that one out, Dave. But thanks for the clarification.

If your client decides that he also wants us to know that he is (a) an ephebophile, (b) flagrantly indiscreet, or (c) an utter moron, you can tell him we know that already, too.

You may have to explain ephebophile.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's getting polyester up in here

I usually refrain from memes and the like, but today's "Tell It to Me Tuesday" over at The Art of Getting By was simply too close to my heart to pass up.

Janet asks her readers to list their Top Ten recording artists or bands of the 1970s. For someone whose musical tastes were shaped during that wild and crazy decade, that's pretty much like asking for my favorite recording artists or bands of all time.

As is typical for me, I had a tough time cutting the list to ten. To make the task at least somewhat manageable, I decided to stick to bands, and save the solo artists for another day. Even with that stricture, I ended up with an irreducible list of eleven. Sue me.

These appear in alphabetical order, because as challenging as it was narrowing the list, attempting to arrange it in order of preference, musical stature, or any other subjective quality would have melted my already fevered little brain into a limp puddle of protoplasm.
  1. Blue Öyster Cult. I was never a big heavy metal freak, but BÖC rarely left my turntable once I discovered them. Dazzling, often confounding lyrics, coupled with a melodic sense rare in the genre, elevated by the nonpareil guitar attack of Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser. No other band alive could have recorded songs like "(Don't Fear) the Reaper," "Godzilla," "R.U. Ready 2 Rock?" or the incredible power ballad "In Thee." Favorite '70s songs: See the preceding sentence.

  2. The Doobie Brothers. It really doesn't matter whether one prefers the hard-edged biker band boogie of their early hits or the R&B-tinged sound of the band's Michael McDonald period, the Doobies did it all with soul and style. Favorite '70s songs: "China Grove," "Long Train Runnin'," "Takin' It to the Streets," "It Keeps You Runnin'."

  3. The Eagles. People who know my flaming antipathy toward country music — which includes everyone who knows me, pretty much — are often surprised to discover that I'm an Eagles fan. They shouldn't be. I love stellar vocal harmonies, distinctive guitar playing, and songs with lyrics that are actually about something. That's the Eagles. Hotel California ranks as one of my five all-time favorite albums. Favorite '70s songs: "Desperado," "Take It to the Limit," "Hotel California," "Wasted Time."

  4. Earth, Wind and Fire. In the midst of the disco era, one band bridged the gap between the new-school production sound epitomized by the great disco artists and the old-school funk of bands like Parliament/Funkadelic. That band was Earth, Wind and Fire. If you can remain still in your seat when an EWF track pumps out of your radio, you're either terminally Caucasian or just terminal, period. Favorite '70s songs: "Shining Star," "September," "Serpentine Fire," "In the Stone."

  5. Heart. As I've written before, Heart may be the most underrated band in rock history. Seriously. On a scale measuring sheer talent and musicianship, you can't name five bands in all of rock who consistently outperformed Ann, Nancy, and the boys. With their unique blend of folk sensibility and heavy metal instrumentation, they truly were the American Led Zeppelin. Favorite '70s songs: "Magic Man," "Crazy On You," "Heartless," "Straight On."

  6. Journey. Go ahead, mock me. Favorite '70s songs: "Lights," "Wheel in the Sky," "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," "Just the Same Way."

  7. Kansas. Not as well remembered today as some of their contemporaries — a lot of people still confuse them with Styx — but when it came to taking an American slant on British progressive rock, no one did it better than Kansas. Point of Know Return, the 1977 album that included the classic rock radio staple "Dust in the Wind," is one of the most innovative and technically brilliant records of the period. I spent my 19th birthday at a Kansas concert in San Francisco's Cow Palace. Those were the days, my friend. Favorite '70s songs: "Carry On Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind," "Closet Chronicles," "Sparks of the Tempest."

  8. Meat Loaf. I know what you're thinking — I said no solo artists. It must be acknowledged, however, that the "Meat Loaf" who recorded the epic Bat Out of Hell is a perfect amalgamation of the vocal talents of the Loaf himself with the songwriting and production genius of Jim Steinman, plus the phenomenal combined talents of musical chameleon Todd Rundgren, several members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band (including keyboardist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg), and Steinman's usual cast of backup vocalists (including Ellen Foley and Rory Dodd). Bat is therefore no more a solo effort than, say, a Steely Dan album of the same period. So there. Favorite '70s songs: "Heaven Can Wait," "For Crying Out Loud," "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," "Bat Out of Hell."

  9. Queen. Two words: Freddie. Mercury. I rest my case. Favorite '70s songs: Listed here.

  10. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. When rock critic Jon Landau wrote in 1974, "I saw rock and roll's future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen," he wasn't just tossing off hyperbole. The Boss and his band came to define American rock in the latter half of the '70s. Popular music would never be the same again. Favorite '70s songs: "Rosalita," "Born to Run," "Thunder Road," "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."

  11. Steely Dan. I can summarize the impact the music of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker made on my life in a single sentence: Without Steely Dan albums, I would not have survived adolescence. Favorite '70s songs: "Pretzel Logic," "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," "My Old School," "Deacon Blues."

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AT&T Park, your dump truck is waiting

Call Stacy London and Clinton Kelly: The San Francisco Giants' offseason makeover has begun.

No one should be surprised that the first rat flung off the G-Men's sinking raft was manager Felipe Alou, a nice enough fellow and a good baseball man, but at age 71 and after two consecutive lackluster seasons, not the guy who was going to lead the Orange and Black back to the greatness the team enjoyed when Barry Bonds was in his glory.

Bonds may, in fact, be the next tie to the olds that gets severed. One of eleven — count 'em, eleven — San Francisco free agents, the 42-year-old superstar is likely headed into his last campaign. He may very well spent it elsewhere, assuming another club (in all likelihood, an American League squad for which Bonds can be the designated hitter) wants to take on Barry, his salary demands, and all that goes with him.

Deep down, I believe Giants owner Peter Magowan desperately wants Bonds to return, in the hope that Barry will eclipse Hank Aaron's home run record wearing the San Francisco colors to which he has become accustomed. But that would necessitate Bonds forgoing both a huge paycheck next year and his oft-stated goal of playing on a championship team before he retires. Whether Barry will do that is anyone's guess.

The list of potential managers the Giants are reportedly considering as Alou's replacement doesn't excite me.
  • Lou Piniella? He's the latter-day Billy Martin, a guy who'll generate a lot of excitement in his first season, then quickly implode.
  • Bob Brenly? A fine Giant in his day, but I didn't think he was that impressive a manager during his stint with Arizona.
  • Bud Black, the pitching coach of the Angels? An interesting possibility — and another with ties to Giants history — but unproven as a field general.
  • Dusty Baker, just cut loose by the Cubs? Been there, done that.
  • The Giants' longtime bench coach Ron Wotus? Wake me when his interview's over.
As for the Giants' free agents not wearing Number 25, I'd wager that most of them won't be invited back:
  • Moises Alou had a decent year at the plate — when he could play — but he, like Bonds, is old and injury-prone.
  • Ray Durham: See Moises Alou.
  • Steve Finley: Ditto.
  • Jason Schmidt, once San Francisco's dominating ace starter, looked awfully human in most of his appearances this season.
  • Pedro Feliz is the kind of player who can easily be replaced with any of several someones as good or better.
  • Newcomer Shea Hillenbrand, who joined the club late in the season, will likely attract better offers elsewhere.
In short, Giants fans, it's going to be a long, harsh winter.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Mr. Finerman has his say

When I first joined the ranks of Jeopardy! champions, I thought I was a rather bright individual.

Over the past 18 years, I've become ever more conscious of the veracity of that old saying: "The longer I live, the more things I know that I don't know."

Please allow me to introduce you to a man who doesn't suffer from such inadequacy.

Eugene Finerman was a participant in perhaps the most legendary Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions final in the show's august 23-year history, way back in 1987. Together with fellow stalwarts Bob Verini (the eventual winner) and Dave Traini, Eugene helped form a triumvirate brain trust that astounded viewers as much with razor wit and self-effacing charm as with sheer trivia dominance. When former J! champs get together and reminisce, the '87 ToC final always comes in for fond mention, as do its three memorable stars.

More recently, Eugene has been regaling his loyal fans on the official Jeopardy! online forum. His daily posts cram more historical ephemera into a handful of paragraphs than an Ivy League doctoral thesis. His commentaries on the political happenings of the day dazzle with brilliance even as they baffle with... ummm... rollicking good humor. (What did you think I was going to say?)

Now Eugene has his own Web site from which to disseminate the bottomless fountain of knowledge that bubbles up from between his ears. If you stop by on a regular basis, you'll learn many things you didn't even know you didn't know. While visiting, you can also subscribe to Eugene's Your RDA of Irony e-newsletter, and he'll drop these golden nuggets of satire right in your inbox as you sip your morning beverage of choice.

I have an ulterior motive here, of course. Eugene and I share a common profession. The busier he stays at writing funny and enlightening bits of business for his site, the more paying work there is to be glommed onto by us marketing/PR writer types who are simply trying to keep food on our backs and clothes in our mouths. Or concepts to that effect.

Anyway, go check out Finerman Works. You'll be glad you did. And tell Eugene I sent you.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Think pink

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As the husband of a six-year breast cancer survivor, this cause hits close to home. So indulge me for just a moment.

If you're a woman over 40, don't skip your mammograms, or your annual checkups.

If you're a woman of any age — KJ was diagnosed at 34 — learn to self-examine, and be diligent about it. Learn what your risk factors are. Educate yourself.

If you're not a woman, but you love one, read her the preceding two paragraphs, and make certain that she listens. Encourage your wives, female significant others, daughters, sisters, and mothers to educate themselves.

Whoever you are, pray for a cure.

Thanks for listening. We now return you to our regularly scheduled folderol.