Friday, December 29, 2006

Comic Art Friday: The best of 2006

We've come to the final Comic Art Friday of this year, so you know what that means:

It's time for our Best of 2006 Awards. [cue fanfare]

We had, admittedly, a lighter year in comic art collecting in 2006 than we enjoyed the previous year. Money, as the old saying goes, doesn't grow on trees, nor does the art it can finance. But as I page through the portfolios, I'm pleasantly surprised at the number of truly stellar creations that entered my galleries over these past twelve months. So let's get started, shall we?

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Heroes Division:
"Night Warriors" — pencils by Darick Robertson
The Night Man and Night Thrasher

A special piece, both for its amazing technical brilliance, and because it's the only artwork in my Common Elements theme gallery that I actually observed in progress. Darick Robertson graciously allowed me to peer over his shoulder one Saturday afternoon as he drew this magnificent sketch, during a signing at my local comic shop.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Heroines Division:
"The Hat Squad" — pencils by Anthony Carpenter
Lady Luck and Zatanna

Anthony Carpenter's lush pencil treatment and inventive design make this piece a standout. The fact that Anthony draws gorgeous women doesn't hurt a bit, either.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Co-Ed Division (tie):
"Seconds Count" — pencils by Lan Medina
Spider-Woman II and Mr. Terrific II

Two heroes with striking appearances join forces in this drawing by Lan Medina. I love the propulsive forward energy of Lan's layout, and the athletic grace of his figures.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Co-Ed Division (tie):
"Reindeer Games" — pencils by Luke McDonnell
The Comet and Vixen

I had no idea what Luke McDonnell would do with this rather whimsical combination. When I saw the completed artwork, I was blown away. The detail, both in the design and execution of this scenario, is nothing short of amazing.

Favorite Wonder Woman:
James E. Lyle (pencils and inks) and Buzz Setzer (colors)

I own several other pieces by James E. "Doodle" Lyle, including another Wonder Woman artwork I personally commissioned from him. The moment I saw this classically styled pinup, however, I knew I had to have it. One of the very few color artworks in my collection.

Favorite Black Panther:
Ron Lim (pencils) and Bob Almond (finished inks)

A double winner, this. Ron Lim, whom I always look forward to seeing at local comics conventions, drew the central T'Challa figure at San Francisco's WonderCon in February. A few months later, Bob Almond — who loves the Panther as much as I do — inked Ron's drawing and added a jungle background of his own creation.

Favorite Mary Marvel:
Chad Spilker (pencils) and Bob Almond (finished inks)

A rough preliminary sketch by "good girl" specialist Chad Spilker transformed into this eye-catching pinup on the drawing table of inker Bob Almond.

Favorite Ms. Marvel:
Buzz (pencils and inks)

Buzz is another artist I always look forward to seeing at conventions. Buzz accepted the commission for this piece at WonderCon, and delivered both it and an equally stellar Black Panther at Super-Con later in the spring.

Favorite Scarlet Witch:
Michael Dooney (pencils)

One day as I was paging through my Scarlet Witch portfolio, I suddenly realized that I'd never commissioned a Wanda from Michael Dooney. Mike was kind enough to rectify this omission by creating this beautiful drawing.

Favorite Supergirl:
Ron Adrian (pencils) and Bob Almond (finished inks)

Start with a powerful pencil image by the talented Brazilian artist Ron Adrian, then add skillful embellishment by Bob Almond, and you end up with something truly spectacular, like this.

Favorite Storm:
Thomas Fleming (pencils)

Thomas Fleming is an artist whose work I would own much more of, if only I could afford it. His awe-inspiring, photorealistic tonal pencil work must be seen to be believed. I was thrilled to acquire this incredible portrait of my favorite X-Man from him.

Favorite Solo Hero:
Dynamo — pencils and inks by Dan Adkins

Dan Adkins may have been one of the most underrated artistic talents of the Silver Age. Best known as an inker, the former assistant to the great Wallace Wood is a marvelous draftsman as well. All of his skills come to bear on this evocative ink drawing of the star of Wood's classic '60s series, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

Favorite Solo Heroine:
Amazon — pencils by Michael Dooney, finished inks by Bob Almond

Michael Dooney had never seen Amazon — a comingling of Wonder Woman and Storm who appeared in a one-shot Marvel/DC crossover book a decade ago — before I sent him a scan and asked him to draw her. From the looks of this piece, you'd think he'd been drawing her for years. Bob Almond contributed his typically flawless finish work.

Favorite Co-Ed Pinup:
"Blackbirds" — pencils by Rags Morales
Lady Blackhawk and The Falcon

Okay, so this is really just an excuse to squeeze in another peek at one of my Common Elements theme commissions. The great Rags Morales gives a solid presentation to a couple of my favorite heroes.

Favorite Inking Makeover
"Blind Man's Bluff" — pencils by Ron Wilson, finished inks by Bob Almond
Daredevil and Doctor Mid-Nite

Bronze Age star Ron Wilson created the original pencil art for this Common Elements commission in 2005. This year, Bob Almond kicked this already awesome artwork up a notch with a superlative inking job that displays the complete range of his skills. This one is hanging on my office wall at this very moment.

Which is one of the reasons for this acknowledgment:

Comic Art Friday's 2006 Artist of the Year:
Bob Almond

Bob Almond reminds me of those BASF commercials — he doesn't so much make art as he makes other people's art better. (That's Bob on the left in the photo above; the bearded gentleman is the late, great comic artist Dave Cockrum of X-Men fame, one of many legendary comic creators we lost in 2006.) As I've observed on other occasions, Bob's gift as an inker is his chameleonic ability to match and enhance any penciler's style. No matter who the original pencil artist is, I'm always confident that Bob will find a way to bring out the very best in that creator's work.

Bob delivered a number of terrific commission projects for me this year, several of which are featured above. Every one was a revelation. Bob's also a nice guy, and fun to work with. I look forward to utilizing his talents further in 2007.

Thanks to all of the creators whose artistry and imagination enlivened my collection — and my Comic Art Fridays — in 2006. I can hardly wait to see what wonders the new year will bring!

And that, dear reader, is Comic Art Friday's Best of '06.

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Riding a Blazing Saddle to Fargo

Two of my favorite films in cinema history landed on this year's list of 25 inductees to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. By virtue of selection, these films are deemed national treasures, guaranteed to be preserved in perpetuity for future generations to appreciate.

Blazing Saddles is a long overdue choice, especially given that two other Mel Brooks films, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, are already in the Registry. For my money, Blazing Saddles is both the funniest comedy in film history (it's Number Six on the American Film Institute's list of great American comedies) and the cinema's most incisive satire on the subject of race. Originally, Richard Pryor — who cowrote the script — was supposed to star, but he was serendipitously replaced at the last moment by the brilliant Cleavon Little. When I was a kid, if I couldn't grow up to be Spider-Man, I wanted to be Sheriff Bart.

Fargo is an unusual film, in that it can be viewed either as a comedy punctuated by gruesome violence (it's #93 on AFI's list of funniest comedies), or as a neo-noir thriller with inescapable comedic overtones. However you choose to classify it, Fargo is terrific moviemaking by the Coen Brothers (whose films I don't always enjoy). The lead performances by Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant police chief of Brainerd, Minnesota (no, the film doesn't take place in Fargo, except for the first few minutes), and William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard, the hapless car salesman whose get-rich-quick scheme launches the story, have to be regarded as two of the most memorable of all time.

Other interesting picks among this year's Registry selections:
  • Red Dust, starring the all-but-forgotten sex goddess Jean Harlow. Harlow, who died of kidney failure at the tender age of 26 just as her career was taking off, was Marilyn Monroe before Marilyn even hit puberty. To see Harlow on screen is to fall in... well... desire with her. She was truly one of a kind.

  • Halloween, John Carpenter's horror classic that launched a thousand slasher flicks. Halloween isn't Carpenter's best film — Starman is — nor his most entertaining — that's a tie between Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China — but it's certainly his most iconic work. Is there a good reason why Rob Zombie is remaking it?

  • Groundhog Day. Not a favorite of mine, frankly, but a film that has pervaded popular culture in much the same way that Halloween has.

  • sex, lies and videotape, Steven Soderbergh's breakout film, is another peculiar if perfectly reasonable selection. In my estimation, Soderbergh is one of the four or five best directors working today, and this film illustrates most of the reasons why. A stellar performance by James Spader — a highly underrated actor — makes this odd material come together.

  • Notorious. One of Hitchcock's best — I was actually surprised to learn that it hadn't been chosen previously. You put Hitchcock together with his favorite leading man, Cary Grant; a sublime leading lady, Ingrid Bergman; one of cinema's great character actors, Claude Rains (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor); a slinky script by a legendary writer, Ben Hecht — how could it not be wonderful?

  • Rocky. Two words: "Yo, Adrian!"

  • The T.A.M.I. Show, which — by an ironic and altogether appropriate twist of timing — showcases a sensational performance by the recently departed Godfather of Soul, James Brown, among other music icons.

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Baseball been Barry, Barry good to him

Smacking a nail into the coffin of their reputation as one of the more penurious clubs in baseball — except when it comes to a certain slugging left fielder — the Giants today reached an agreement with former Oakland Athletics star Barry Zito on a seven-year, $126 million free agent contract.

It's the largest contract ever signed by a major league pitcher, eclipsing the pact Mike Hampton snagged from the Colorado Rockies in 2001. (Everyone in Denver remembers how well that turned out. [Snicker.]) It's also the biggest money the Giants have ever shelled out, surpassing the $90 million deal Barry Bonds completed last season.

Is Zito worth the money? Hard to predict, but my guess is that he will be. Factors in favor of the deal's success:
  • The Giants just lost their staff ace, Jason Schmidt, to free agency, and desperately needed a Number One starter. Zito was by far the best pitcher available.
  • Zito is a proven innings-eater with a history of sound health (knock wood). He hasn't missed a start in seven years.
  • Unlike the flamethrowing Schmidt, Zito is a breaking ball specialist in the mode of Greg Maddux, who's still throwing well at 40. Zito's only 28, and with his pitching style, he should still be effective seven years from now.
  • Zito's already won a Cy Young Award (American League, 2002), and coming to a league more accustomed to power pitchers than finesse artists, might have a couple more in his future.
  • Zito won't have to be The Man all by himself. The Giants already have three solid starting pitchers — Matt Morris, Matt Cain, and Noah Lowry — to surround him in the rotation.
  • Zito's a popular local guy who's already a star here in the Bay Area. He won't even have to move.
  • He's left-handed. The baseball gods love a southpaw.
Too bad Barry Larkin is retired. The way the Giants throw money at guys named Barry, he'd clean up.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man

This has been a rotten December for ex-San Francisco Giant infielders.

First, we received the news three weeks ago that Jose Uribe, shortstop for the Giants in those heady late-'80s days of "You Gotta Like These Kids," had been killed an an automobile accident in his native Dominican Republic.

Now, the sad news arrives that Chris Brown, who as the Giants' third baseman shared the left side of the San Francisco infield with Uribe during the 1985 and '86 seasons, died yesterday from injuries sustained in a November 30 fire at his Houston-area home.

Brown was 45 years old, a mere four months my senior.

I recall Chris Brown as a decent hitter (he racked up a .317 batting average in 1986, and made the National League All-Star team) with surprisingly little power for a corner player (his highest seasonal home run total was 16, as a rookie in 1985). Sadly, he was also a stone-gloved fielder — perhaps the worst defensive third baseman I ever saw on a regular basis, if you don't count either the Cincinnati Reds' embarrassing experiment with Johnny Bench late in the Hall of Famer's career, or Pedro Guerrero's 1983 debacle with the Los Angeles Dodgers. (At the nadir of that '83 season, in which Guerrero's defensive miscues provided nightly fodder for sports commentators nationwide, Dodgers skipper Tommy Lasorda asked Guerrero in a team meeting what he was thinking about while standing at third base. Pedro's refreshingly candid reply: "I'm hoping they don't hit it to me.")

During his playing days — which spanned parts of six major league seasons, including post-S.F. stops in San Diego and Detroit — Brown's teammates nicknamed him "the Tin Man," after the Wizard of Oz character. The tag was a not-so-subtle insinuation that Brown's penchant for sitting out games with apparently minor injuries was indicative of his lack of heart.

Ironically, Brown spent much of the past few years dodging bullets and roadside bombs in Iraq, as a fuel truck driver for Halliburton. Perhaps that was his way of laying all of those questions about his courage and mental toughness to rest.

Now, it's Chris Brown himself being laid to rest.

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Everyone knows it's windy

I don't know what it's like in your part of the world today, but here in my little corner of northern California's Wine Country, it's as windy as all get-out.

The wire fence that keeps my personal assistant Abby from fraternizing (read: picking fights with) the neighbor canines collapsed early this morning. In the hours since, the plastic shade that keeps the afternoon sun from glaring into my eyes has been shredded into confetti by periodic 50 mph gusts.

If it gets any windier, my house will take wing for a distant fantasy kingdom, where it will land on a witch.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

He was no Lincoln — but then, who is?

All right, whoever had 93-year-old former President Gerald Ford in the dead pool, please step forward to claim your winnings. Amazing foresight there.

Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of these here United States, made a much better source of Jeopardy! fodder than he made a Chief Executive:
  • The first (and to date, only) President never to have been elected either to the Presidency or the Vice Presidency.

  • The first Vice President installed under the provisions of the 25th Amendment. As shocking as it sounds in today's world, in the nearly 200 years before Ford replaced the resigned-ahead-of-the-impeachment-boot Spiro Agnew, when the office of Vice President fell vacant due to death or succession, it simply remained unoccupied until the next Presidential election cycle filled the position — on occasion, as much as four years later (as in the case of our 13th Vice President, William R. King, who was terminally ill when elected and survived a mere 45 days in office). No wonder John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's longest-serving veep, referred to the job as "not worth a bucket of warm [urine, only he didn't say 'urine']."

  • The only President to hold the office under an entirely different name than the one he was given at birth. Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., but was renamed by his mother when she remarried. (Ulysses Simpson Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he changed his name while at West Point to avoid getting teased about his initials: H.U.G. Simpson was his mother's maiden name.)

  • The only President whose parents were divorced.

  • The only President to fully pardon a disgraced predecessor who would undoubtedly have faced criminal prosecution.

  • The only President to survive two assassination attempts (by what had to be the most inept would-be assassins in the annals of crime — Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a whacked-out disciple of Charles Manson, and Patty Hearst fanatic and FBI informant Sara Jane Moore) within the space of less than three weeks.

  • The longest-lived former President, beating Ronald Reagan's record by more than a month.

  • The first Republican President to name an African American to his Cabinet (William Coleman as Transportation Secretary, one of the few jobs in Washington even more anonymous and thankless than the Vice Presidency).

  • The only human being on the planet who could have lost a Presidential election to Jimmy Carter.

  • The only President in the last 75 years never to have been Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

  • The last surviving member of the Warren Commission, and perhaps one of the last people to carry to his grave the true answer to whether there was or wasn't a second gunman in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Gerald Ford, the former football star from the University of Michigan, became Vice President and ultimately President for one simple reason: He was a nice guy who could be counted upon to grant Richard Nixon absolute immunity when the time came for Tricky Dick to beat feet for San Clemente in the wake of the Watergate scandal. And he did.

Ford was such a nice guy, in fact, that he frequently gave free advice to the men of both parties who followed him to the Oval Office. Given what's eventuated in the administrations of those men, one might well suppose that Jerry perhaps should have kept his advice to himself.

History will not be kind to the brief Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, perhaps one of this country's greatest exemplars of the Peter Principle. But at least he was one President of whom the American electorate could honestly say, "Don't look at us — he wasn't our fault."

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Monday, December 25, 2006

The Godfather has Souled out

We interrupt your Christmas revelry for this bit of unfortunate news:

The one and only James Brown, also variously known as...
  • The Godfather of Soul...
  • Mister Dynamite...
  • The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business...
  • Soul Brother Number One...
  • The Night Train...
  • Butane James...
  • The Father of Funk...
  • Mister Please Please Please...
  • The Original Disco Man...
  • Universal James...
  • The Sex Machine...
  • and His Bad Self...
...passed away this morning at the age of 73.

Tonight, the world is a less funky place.

It's a hoary cliché to say that someone's influence cannot be overestimated, but when it comes to American popular music, James Brown is the perfect exemplar of that statement. Every rock, soul, funk, and R&B performer of the last 40 years owes an incalculable debt to the Godfather. Without James Brown, you have no Michael Jackson, no Mick Jagger, no Janis Joplin, no Aretha Franklin, no Bono, no Prince. Hip-hop? Forget about it. Without James Brown, there is no hip-hop; he's the most sampled artist who ever laid a track on wax.

In short, the man had a zillion hyperbolic nicknames, but he earned every one.

I enjoyed the privilege of attending one of the Godfather's legendary performances nearly a quarter-century ago. Brown was in his late forties then, and some of his "get up offa that thing" had already got up and gone, but Butane James still threw down an incendiary 90-minute set that would have put many younger performers to shame. Heck, I was a hale, hearty twentysomething college kid, and the man wore me out just watching him work up a sweat.

It's impossible to distill the musical accomplishments of a seminal artist like Brown to just a few greatest hits, but just off the top of my head, here are my baker's dozen all-time favorite James Brown cuts:
  • "Please, Please, Please": The hit that set the standard for all that was to come.
  • "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag": And it was filled with nothing but stone cold soul.
  • "I Got You (I Feel Good)": Yes, my beloved Giants wore the grooves off this one when they used it for several seasons as their theme song, but there's a reason why it worked.
  • "Cold Sweat": Ripped from the deepest recesses of a man's libido, and survived to tell the tale.
  • "Licking Stick": Mama, come here quick, indeed.
  • "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud": The anthem of a generation of socially aware African Americans. Not to mention a bunch of freckle-faced Irish kids from Dublin.
  • "Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorn": Ladies, even if you weren't exactly sure what "doing the popcorn" meant, you knew you wanted James to come in and do it.
  • "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine": I'll buy that for a dollar.
  • "Hot Pants": She's got to use what she's got to get what she wants.
  • "Get On the Good Foot": Just try to listen to this number and not want to shake what your mama gave you. Go ahead. Try.
  • "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing": In which Mr. Brown gets all sociopolitical on your butt.
  • "Papa Don't Take No Mess": Don't even think about starting anything. The Godfather will take you down.
  • "Get Up Offa That Thing": Words to live by.
I'm sad to think that Papa and his brand new bag have left the building permanently. We'll never see his like again.

One last thought, of a personal nature: About 20 years ago, I worked with a very pleasant fellow whose name just happened to be James Brown. I used to refer to him playfully as "the Godfather of Soul," despite the fact that he was as terminally Caucasian an individual as one could find. James, on the other hand, relished the association. He even asked me to record a message for his answering machine in which I imitated the real James Brown's stage announcer's stentorian oratory:
James Brown — the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, the Sex Machine — cannot take your call right now. But leave a message at the beep, and he'll get back to you.
I hope the other James Brown is still alive and well.

We now return you to your mistletoe and eggnog.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

You'll shoot your eye out!

It's officially Christmas: My daughter KM has finished watching the first two hours of "24 Hours of A Christmas Story" on TBS. It never fails to make me chuckle that America's favorite family Christmas movie was directed by the guy who gave the world Porky's.

To SSTOL's friends and fans throughout the Blogosphere, I give you these timeless thoughts from the godfathers of contemporary a cappella, The Bobs:
All I want for Christmas is a house up in the hills
With colored lights and music, frosted window sills
Filled with all my loved ones, all the old and young ones too
All I want for Christmas is you.

All I want for Christmas is to spread a bit of cheer
With people I don't notice every other day of the year
All I want for Christmas is a smile from someone new
All I want for Christmas is you.

May the jolly old elf so enjoy your milk and cookies that he leaves you all the pantookas and bisselbings your little heart desires.

Or, as Luke Cage, Power Man said upon seeing Power Girl for the first time...

"Sweet Christmas!"

Please try not to shoot your eye out.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to Katie Rees, the erstwhile Miss Nevada USA, who was stripped of her title by Donald Trump and his fellow pageant owners yesterday after salaciously compromising five-year-old photos of Ms. Rees surfaced on various Internet sites. (Let's make it clear that the salaciously compromising photos were five years old, not taken when Katie was five years old. Because that would be a whole other issue.)

As a general rule, I don't collect much published comic book page art. For me, a page from a comic story requires context — it doesn't possess much meaning or resonance all by itself. (I know that many comic art collectors disagree with me on this. You collect what you like, I'll collect what I like, and we'll all be happy.)

That said, I have a couple of outstanding exceptions. I own the majority of the original pages from the first issue of the 1991 Millennium Comics miniseries Doc Savage: The Monarch of Armageddon — considered by many Doc Savage aficionados to be the character's most representative appearance in the comic book medium. As a lifelong Doc fan, I enjoy having these pages, both for their nostalgic value and for the wonderfully evocative art by penciler Darryl Banks (a personal favorite) and inker Robert Lewis.

I also own several original pages from a relatively obscure comic: Web of Spider-Man #45, published by Marvel in December 1988.

This story, like the Doc Savage book, holds some personal significance for me. It's set in Las Vegas, Nevada — and if you're an SSTOL regular, you know I loves me some Vegas, baby. What could be better than combining my boyhood hero with my favorite adult playground?

I especially enjoy page two of WoSM 45 (seen above), because it contains some classic images of old-school downtown Vegas that don't exist in the real world any longer:
  • Panel 1 (top left): The old sign from the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino (the Nugget is still there, but the sign has been updated) and the corner facade of the Lady Luck (which closed in January 2006).
  • Panels 2 and 3 (top right): The original signage and '80s vintage facade of the Horseshoe Casino (now known as Binion's, even though the Binion family no longer owns it).
  • A shuttle van from McCarran Airport, on which the name of the airport is misspelled.
Later in the story, Spider-Man faces off with his long-time nemesis, the Vulture, in the blazing hot Nevada desert. Why? Who knows? It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Whatever the reason, it's an opportunity for the Web-Slinger to duke it out with the villain high above the desert floor...

...and to deliver one of his patented quips: "Blow it out your beak, Tweety!"

...and to flirt with attractive federal marshal Sara Glenville, who's cleverly disguised as a flight attendant. Because you never know when you might need a flight attendant in the middle of the Nevada desert. She could bring you a bag of peanuts and a Coke. (Actually, there was a plane crash earlier in the story, in which all of these people were involved. See what I mean about context?)

Giving credit where credit is due, the artists who created these images were penciler Alex Saviuk (who drew Web of Spider-Man for about seven years, and currently is the artist on the Spider-Man Sunday newspaper strip), inker Keith Williams (who teamed with Saviuk on WoSM for roughly half the former's run on the book), and letterer Rick Parker. Writer Adam Blaustein penned the scintillating script.

Remember, kids, keep your clothes on in front of cameras if you hope to be Miss Nevada USA someday. And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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The Verdict Is In: The Bedroom Window

Just like every Friday is Comic Art Friday here at SSTOL, over at DVD Verdict, every Friday is Crappy Movie Friday. The Verdict's dedicated staff watches this trash so you don't have to, but can instead have fun reading as we dissect Hollywood's mistakes and missteps.

This week, I endured a preposterous, credulity-straining plot, Isabelle Huppert's indecipherable mangling of the English language, and Steve Guttenberg's naked white butt in The Bedroom Window, director Curtis Hanson's hit-and-miss 1987 foray into film noir, made ten years before he finally got it right with L.A. Confidential.

Go check out my review of The Bedroom Window. Meanwhile, I'll attempt to scour the image of Guttenberg's pasty glutes out of my mind's eye.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Yabba dabbo doo times

In memory of animation pioneer and producer Joseph Barbera, who passed away on Tuesday at the Methuselahesque age of 95 (some sources suggest he was actually 97), here are my fifteen all-time favorite Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. They're listed in alphabetical order, because it's just too difficult to rank them otherwise.

The Flintstones. They're the modern Stone Age family. The current generation may not remember Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners, on which The Flintstones was modeled, but everyone knows Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty. Yes, the incessant "rock" and "stone" puns and anachronistic sight gags wore a bit thin at times, but lest we forget, this was all fresh back in 1960 — an innocent era when you could sing, "We'll have a gay old time," and no one would snicker.

The Harlem Globetrotters. At the time (1970), a weekly animated cartoon with a largely black (and relatively stereotype-free) cast was unheard of. Heck, it's 36 years later, and there haven't been many since. I draw the line, though, at the spinoff in which the Globetrotters become superheroes. Don't mess with success.

The Herculoids. This show was awesome. A space-age Tarzan, Jane, and Boy (okay, their real names were Zandor, Tarna, and Dorno, but anyone could recognize the inspiration) living on a distant planet with their five pet monsters: Zokk, a flying dragon who fired laser beams from his eyes and tail; Igoo, a King Kong wannabe made of solid granite; Tundro, an eight-legged triceratops who spurted fireballs from his horn; and Gloop and Gleep, "the formless, fearless wonders" — essentially, bug-eyed blobs of sentient Jell-O. No one ever explained how all these creatures existed when there was only one of each kind (or two, in the case of Gloop and Gleep, but they could multiply by division at will), but the Herculoids were so cool, we didn't ask questions.

The Hillbilly Bears. This was my father's favorite television show during its original run. Essentially The Beverly Hillbillies, if the Clampetts had remained in the Ozarks, and were of the ursine persuasion. Paw Rugg muttered unintelligibly in a hilarious growl provided by an otherwise unknown actor named Henry Gordon. Hanna-Barbera never seemed to tire of characters who mumbled.

Hong Kong Phooey. Maybe the last really good idea for a series Hanna-Barbera delivered, before decades of repetitious decline. Designed to cash in on the martial arts craze, this 1974 show starred a humble police station custodian who was really a kung fu kickin' superhero. Made eminently watchable by the enthusiastic voice performance of veteran character actor Scatman Crothers in the title role.

The Jetsons. For all practical purposes, The Flintstones in outer space. Painfully dated now, but in the '60s, this was what most of us actually thought the future would look like. And you know you want to sing the song: "Meet George Jetson! His boy Elroy! Daughter Judy! Jane, his wife!" I always wondered why Jane came last. I'll wager that Jane wondered the very same thing.

Jonny Quest. Not only one of the great cartoon series, but also one of television's great adventure series, period. As I look back on it now, I suspect that Jonny's dad Professor Quest and his hunky sidekick Race Bannon might have practiced the love that dared not speak its name. Of course, in 1964, that would have been a whole other kind of show.

Josie and the Pussycats. Long tails, and ears for hats. The Runaways in leopard print leotards. They came in three flaovrs, so whatever your taste in pussycats, either Josie, Valerie, or Melody could be your dream girl.

Secret Squirrel. At the height of the James Bond craze of the '60s came this animated espionage caper comedy. Derivative, sure —' but then, so were I Spy, Get Smart! and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. If you're going to steal, steal from the best.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Often imitated, never equaled. Hanna-Barbera would spin off dozens of riffs and thinly disguised fascimiles of Scooby and the gang, but the original series of Scooby mysteries were classic television. (The live-action film version, however, was perhaps the worst big-budget, major-studio motion picture I have ever seen. That travesty cost me brain cells that I will never regenerate.)

Sinbad Jr. Not one of Hanna-Barbera's bigger hits, but this swashbuckling adventure series was one of my favorites as a kid. When Sinbad (who was the son, I think, of the Arabian Knights legend) tugged on his belt, he bulked up like a seagoing Adonis, and gained super-strength. A young Tim Matheson provided the protagonist's voice. Too bad H-B didn't produce more adventure series like this and Jonny Quest, because when they did, they usually did them well.

Space Ghost. If The Jetsons were The Flintstones in outer space, then Space Ghost was Batman in outer space. Best known to the current generation for his self-mocking "talk show," which came decades later. A masterwork of character design by the legendary comic artist and animator Alex Toth.

Top Cat. Largely forgotten today, but this Guys and Dolls-flavored gangster parody, like The Flintstones, originally ran in network primetime. Featuring memorable voice work by the great Arnold Stang in the lead role of T.C.

Wacky Races. A show that spawned legions of imitators — many of which came from Hanna-Barbera themselves — Wacky Races was a true classic. How could you not love all of those bizarre characters and their tricked-out race cars, and try to guess who would finish first, second, and third at the end of each episode? Being something of a science geek as a kid, I always rooted for Professor Pat Pending and his Convert-a-Car. (Both of the Wacky Races spinoffs, Dastardly and Muttley and Their Flying Machines and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, were good as well — something that can't be said for most Hanna-Barbera sequel series.)

Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home. One of the few Hanna-Barbera series specifically targeted at adult audiences. At the time, an animated take on All in the Family (although cranky dad Harry Boyle, voiced by Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame, but in retrospect, a spiritual forerunner of The Simpsons and King of the Hill. I'm sure it would look and sound dated now, but it was surely the first TV cartoon to deal (albeit heavy-handedly) with issues like civil disobedience, pre- and postmarital sex, and workplace equality for women.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Too many candles

In case you were thinking that my birth on this date in 1961 was the most important event ever to occur on December 19...'d be correct.

At least from my perspective.

Because, for me, if I'm never born, the entirety of human existence on Planet Earth doesn't amount to a bucket of warm spit. Sucks for you, I know. But there it is.

Secondary to that auspicious occasion, however, it's interesting to note that some other stuff also happened on this date in history. A few choice examples:
  • December 19, 1606: The first colonial ships leave England for what would become Jamestown, Virginia. No wonder I never get a birthday card from any of my Native American friends.

  • December 19, 1776: Thomas Paine publishes his essay American Crisis, featuring the soon-to-be-famous line, "These are the times that try men's souls." Apparently, Paine's assessment of my life was only a couple of centuries premature.

  • December 19, 1777: General George Washington sets up camp at Valley Forge. My advice, George? Bring plenty of long underwear.

  • December 19, 1843: Charles Dickens publishes A Christmas Carol. Bah, humbug.

  • December 19, 1915: German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer dies. At least I think he does. I forget. What was I talking about?

  • December 19, 1916: The French win the Battle of Verdun. It would mark the last time the French would win at anything, ever. Or even put up a decent fight, for that matter.

  • December 19, 1963: Actress Jennifer Beals, the star of Flashdance, is born. What a feeling. Jennifer: Call me. We'll do birthday lunch. Wear that sweatshirt — you know the one.

  • December 19, 1967: Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, having gone missing while ocean swimming two days earlier, is presumed dead. Just between you and me, I think a stingray got him.

  • December 19, 1969: Actress Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is born. Kristy: Call me. We'll do birthday dinner. I'll bring the garlic.

  • December 19, 1972: The crew of Apollo 17 — Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt — returns home safely from the moon. If you'd told me then that no human being would go to the moon within the next 34 years, I'd have said, "You don't know Jack Schmitt."

  • December 19, 1974: Nelson Rockefeller becomes the 41st Vice President of the United States, proving once again that money can't buy love or happiness, but it does a darned fine job of nailing down political offices.

  • December 19, 1984: The United Kingdom formally agrees to return Hong Kong to the Chinese, effective in 1997. In exchange, China agrees to return rampant colonialism and inedible cuisine to the British, effective immediately.

  • December 19, 1997: The movie Titanic is released. I should probably be offended by that. (See, Donna? We do have something in common.)

  • December 19, 1998: Articles of impeachment are filed against President Bill Clinton by the U.S. House of Representatives, even though he did not have sexual relations with... well, yeah, he did.

  • December 19, 2006: I guess that's up to us, isn't it?

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Monday, December 18, 2006

What's In My Pocket? #1: Kershaw Storm II

A recent conversation on David W. Boles's thought-provoking blog, Urban Semiotic — which you should be reading daily, if you aren't already — reminded me that I haven't written much here about my blade obsession.

Let's remedy that omission, starting now.

As far back as I can remember, I've been fascinated — some might say morbidly fascinated — by sharp-bladed objects. (The Freudians among you can make of that what you will.) One of my few nostalgic possessions from my childhood is a wicked-looking hunting knife in a leather sheath — a relic of my Cub Scout days some 35 years ago. Being the consummate indoorsman that I am, I despised camping — not to mention pretty much everything else that went along with Scouting — but I loved having an excuse to pack around a big honking bowie knife.

Throughout most of my youth, I carried in my pocket a Swiss Army knife of one make or another. My knives were always of inexpensive manufacture, given that I was then as I am now, an inattentive sort prone to misplacing things. And it wasn't that I was handy or craftsmanlike in any way, shape, or form. I have little interest in carpentry or other tool-intensive vocations, plus I possess the manual dexterity of a punch-drunk fighter wearing boxing gloves. I just liked fiddling with the knife.

When I went off to college, I stopped toting a knife around for a couple of reasons: (1) a Swiss Army knife made an uncomfortable lump in the front pocket of the snug-fitting jeans we were wearing so fashionably in those halcyon times; and (2) my fellow dormitory residents displayed a shocking propensity for cutlery theft. (I can admit this now that the statute of limitations has elapsed: I lost to someone's pilfering fingers a couple of sweet switchblades that... well... someone smuggled across the border from Tijuana, in addition to my SAK.)

Having broken the pocket-carry habit, I meandered through my young adult years content to stash my Swiss in my briefcase. Only occasionally — on package-opening holidays, for instance — did I return it to its rightful place in my trousers. Over the years, I indulged my jones for steel more furtively, casting occasional longing glances into the window of the cutlery shop in the local shopping mall — whose proprietors surely wearied of wiping my nose prints off their glass.

Then, as serendipity would have it, I found myself one day browsing the sporting goods department of a certain discount megastore. Like an asteroid captured by the gravity of Jupiter, I was pulled inexorably toward the knife counter. I wiped drool from my chin as I stared slack-jawed and glassy-eyed at the photographs of the cutlery specimens available for sale. One knife in particular caught my eye — a sleek, curvaceous vision in stainless steel.

Summoning my courage, I asked the GED recipient behind the counter if I might see an example up close. After a prolonged period of fumbling with keys and burrowing through boxes, the clerk placed into my sweaty, trembling palm the object of my desire:

And that cold steel monkey climbed onto my back once again.

The blade that launched a dozen subsequent purchases is still one of my favorite EDC (everyday carry, in knife-speak) pieces. The Kershaw Model 1475ST — aka the Storm II (the just-plain-Storm looks identical, but is smaller) — is made in the good old U.S. of A. (Tualatin, Oregon, to be precise) by Kershaw Knives, an American subdivision of Kai Corporation, the well-respected Japanese cutlery manfacturer. The Storm's sweeping reverse-curve silhouette and sequential decorative holes reflect the signature styling of Hawaii-based Ken Onion, knifemaker to the stars (Onion has created custom blades for such celebrities as Nicolas Cage and Aaron Neville) and one of Kershaw's leading affiliated designers.

My Storm fits my chubby fist as though molded to my grip. Its razor-sharp blade (trust me on this!) is crafted from Sandvik 13C26 stainless steel, while its scales (the bilateral handle components) are hefty 410 stainless with sandpaper-like inlays for secure handling. It opens smoothly via either a thumb stud or index-finger flipper, locks its sturdy blade into place with a satisfying ka-chunk, and cuts like nobody's business. Thanks to its flat profile, it rides my pocket so inobtrusively that I can easily forget that I'm carrying it.

Plus, it shares its name with one of my favorite superheroines. How cool is that?

I'll share other items from my blade drawer in future "What's In My Pocket?" posts. Right now, I feel the need to cut something.

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An elephant in my coffee mug

I'm not easily impressed, but today I'm making an exception.

A favored client, knowing my passion for all things caffeinated, recently gifted me with a selection of fine coffees. This morning I brewed my first-ever pot of Starbucks Kenya, and I have to say...

...this is some darned fine coffee.

The flavor is rich, but not dense. The aroma is redolent with tropical fruit, featuring notes reminiscent of pineapple, black cherry, and Concord grape. Each swallow finishes with an unexpected citrus tang. Although the packaging describes the product as "bold," it's much more rounded and mellow than that word might lead one to expect.

I can imagine this coffee making a wonderful accompaniment to a fruit cobbler or pastry. Appropriately, I'm drinking it from my Harry & David mug.

Harry, David, and I are all very pleased.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

All your base are belong to me

Hey! I just found out that I've been named Time Magazine's Person of the Year!

All I can say is: It's about time (no pun intended) that the world acknowledged my inherent magnificence.

Go me.

This almost makes up for my being passed over every year for the past two decades as People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive.


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Irony infarction ahead

To borrow a phrase from my esteemed colleague Eugene Finerman, here comes your Recommended Daily Allowance of irony:

Author and stress consultant Richard Carlson, famed for his popular series of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff motivational books, died earlier this week of cardiac arrest at the youthful age of 45.

Death doesn't get more ironic than that. Unless you're Jim Fixx.

With my 45th birthday scheduled for next Tuesday, you can imagine that this news makes me sweat the small stuff just a skosh.

Carlson was on a plane headed from San Francisco to New York at the time of his untimely demise. (I'm guessing that the airline won't be seeking a testimonial from Carlson's estate.) He was in the midst of a promotional tour hawking his latest feel-good tome, Don't Get Scrooged: How to Thrive in a World Full of Obnoxious, Incompetent, Arrogant and Downright Mean-Spirited People. Or how not to, as it turns out.

Given the title of his final work, Carlson's passing away less than two weeks before Christmas may, in fact, exceed the recommended consumption of irony.

Aside from our ages, Carlson and I shared a couple of other factors in common. We both attended Pepperdine University as undergraduates in the early 1980s. (So far as I know, we never met. I transferred to San Francisco State following my sophomore year, and I believe Carlson came to Malibu as a transfer from San Jose State the year after I left.) I also have a friend and former coworker who was close friends with Carlson and his wife, and spoke of them often.

My empathies go out to Carlson's family and loved ones.

Now where's that aspirin bottle?

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Getting a little Justice in Society

Before we get started, let me be the first to wish our Jewish readers and friends a happy Hanukkah, which begins this evening at sunset. May your candles burn brightly and your dreidels spin with flair over the next week.

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the late Martin Nodell, the artist who created Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, back in 1940. Nodell passed away last Saturday at the age of 91. Outside of comics, Nodell's claim to fame lay in the fact that as an advertising illustrator in the 1960s, he was part of the creative team that developed Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy.

To honor Nodell's memory, we feature Green Lantern Alan Scott in this spectacular scene, conceived and drawn by Anthony Carpenter. Alan's partner here is Saturn Girl, from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Of course, in superheroic life, Alan Scott can usually be found in the company of his fellow members of the Justice Society of America. The JSA, comicdom's original superteam, first saw action in 1940. It continues as a vital crimebusting force more than six and a half decades later. Indeed, for this old-school comics aficionado, the JSA's adventures in JSA Classified and the recently relaunched Justice Society of America are among the most entertaining reads in comics today.

When the JSA gathers to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers, the heroes on call might include...

Power Girl, depicted here in typically fine form by artist Ron Lim, whose work is currently on view in the Marvel Comics series Avengers Next.

Power Girl began her career as an alternate-universe analog of Supergirl, whose powers she shares. Power Girl also boasts one of the more prominent bustlines in comics, a legacy that began with legendary artist Wallace Wood — when drawing the character's early adventures, Wood decided that he would draw Power Girl's bosom progressively larger in each issue until someone on the DC Comics editorial staff took notice. Several issues later, Power Girl had attained the prodigious mammary accoutrements she retains to this day.

Mister Terrific, displayed in fighting trim once again by the talented Ron Lim.

One of the most brilliant intellects in the DC Comics universe, Michael Holt — modestly known as Mister Terrific — is frequently the field leader of the modern-day JSA. Although he possesses no superhuman powers, the "third smartest man on earth" is a skilled surgeon, a martial arts master, and a technological wizard.

Liberty Belle, here paired with another patriotic heroine, Liberty the American Girl. Scott Jones, the artist who created this striking panel, signs his work with the nom de plume Shade.

The original Liberty Belle, Libby Lawrence-Chambers, derived her superhuman strength and speed from the actual Liberty Bell. Whenever the old relic was rung, Libby powered up. In the newest revision of the JSA, the character Liberty Belle is a legacy -- Jesse Chambers, the daughter of the original Liberty Belle and her husband, super-speedster Johnny Quick. Jesse formerly used the fighting name Jesse Quick, but recently adopted her mother's costume and identity.

Doctor Mid-Nite, brought to life here in dramatic fashion by artist James E. Lyle.

A physician like his teammate Mister Terrific, Doctor Mid-Nite is also one of the few blind superheroes in comics. Unlike most blind people, however, the good Doctor can see perfectly well in complete darkness. He employs special infrared goggles to help him navigate in regular light. Perhaps Doctor Mid-Nite inspired Nicholas Marshall, the protagonist of the TV series Dark Justice, whose motto was, "Justice is blind, but it can see in the dark."

If there's any justice in this society, we'll have another Comic Art Friday seven days from now.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

What's Up With That? #41: I don't know art, butt I know what I like

People amaze and amuse me.

Stephen Murmer, an art teacher at Monacan High School in Richmond, Virginia, has been suspended from work because the school board found out that he makes money on the side by painting with his butt.

I kid you not.

Apparently, Murmer's technique involves him dousing his hindquarters — and, when the muse so strikes him, his genitalia — with paint, then smearing himself onto a canvas.

Nice work if you can get it.

I'm not sure how a guy creating booty doodles in his spare time makes him any less qualified to teach high school art. If he were dropping trou and greasing up his glutes right there in the classroom, that would be a whole other issue. I don't know that the school board could turn the other cheek to that. (Ahem.)

But here's the truly bizarre part: People actually pay for this stuff. Murmer, who markets his creations on his Web site under the nom de posterior "Stan Murmur," gets upward of $900 for lithographs of his artworks. According to the Washington Post, Murmer's most popular print — cheekily entitled "Tulip Butts" — sells for $600 at a crack... if I may be so bold.

Who's buying this stuff? And for hundreds of dollars, at that? I know that some of you believe I'm a bit loony for hanging drawings of comic book superheroes on my walls. But at least most people recognize that form of art for what it is. I'm trying to envision the conversation that occurs when one of Murmer's customers has company over for dinner:
Guest: Say, Marge, that's an unusual painting. Is it new?

Host: Why, yes, Lucille. It's the latest work by Stephen Murmer. He painted it with his buttocks.

Guest: I beg your pardon. Did you say "with his buttocks"?

Host: Indeed. At least, I believe this is the one he painted with his buttocks. I think we hung the one he painted with his genitals in the children's room.

Guest: George, get my coat.
And you thought I had a tough time explaining the original Cully Hamner pinup of Mary Marvel that adorns my office wall. At least I know Cully didn't draw it with his butt.

I mean... I don't think he did.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Putting on his final Ritz

Peter Boyle is dead.

No, really.

I say, "No, really," because Boyle's death has been reported in error before.

As proof, I hold in my chubby fist a copy of Danny Peary's book Cult Movie Stars, published by Simon and Schuster in 1991. On page 70 of this otherwise fine reference work, Peary states that Boyle died in 1990, as you can see in the scan below. (Click on the image to expand the text to actual size.)

Of course, if that were true, I'd have no idea who that guy was who played Ray Romano's wiseacre dad all those years on Everybody Loves Raymond — a show that debuted in 1996, six years after Boyle slipped the surly bonds of earth, according to Peary's book. Or who won an Emmy that same year for a guest-starring appearance on The X-Files.

Since I reject the notion of human clones and doppelgangers outside of comic books and other fantasy fiction, I have to believe that Peary was mistaken, and that Boyle indeed survived until last evening.

(Here's what I suspect happened: Boyle suffered a massive stroke in 1990, which left him partially paralyzed and speech-impaired for several months. Danny Peary and his editors were probably sending Cult Movie Stars to the printer right at the time of Boyle's stroke, and given the severity of the attack as reported in the entertainment press, supposed that the actor would not survive. Rather than have the book appear immediately dated by the time it hit bookstores, they decided to roll the dice and reflect Boyle's death in his biographical sketch. Then, as fate would have it, Boyle not only pulled through, but he recovered fully and went on to costar in a long-running TV series — making Peary look like a colossal idiot.)

Like most movie fans, I'll always think of Peter Boyle first and foremost as the friendly monster in the classic Mel Brooks comedy Young Frankenstein ("That's Frahnkensteen!"). The scene where Boyle wanders into the home of a blind man, played to perfection by a heavily disguised Gene Hackman, remains one of the truly inspired comedic moments in the history of cinema. But he was also excellent as Robert Redford's campaign manager in The Candidate, as Robert DeNiro's fellow cabbie in Taxi Driver, as Billy Bob Thornton hostile invalid father in Monster's Ball, and a host of other roles I could cite.

An interesting character on- and off-camera, Boyle spent three years as a Catholic monk in his young adulthood. Later, he became close friends with John Lennon and Yoko Ono — according to some of Boyle's obituaries, Lennon was the best man at Boyle's wedding.

Sadly, this time, the reports of Boyle's death are not exaggerated.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ahmadinejad kind of mood

Far be it from me — a man who embraces peace, love, and universal harmony — to advocate the extermination of human life.

I was thinking, however...

If someone were of a mind to smuggle a few tons of plastic explosive into the site of the "Holocaust Never Happened" conference currently under way in Tehran at the invitation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — an international conference that collects in one location 67 virulently racist and anti-Semitic whack-jobs like former Ku Klux Klan kingpin David Duke and French pseudo-historian Georges Thiel... the wake of the detonation of said explosive, the world would not be absent anyone who really ought to be missed.

I'm not saying someone ought to do that. Certainly not. Because that would be wrong.

But if someone did...

...maybe we could all agree to deny that it ever really happened.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Wrong-Way Richie rides again

According to the Associated Press, Nicole Richie was busted this morning by the California Highway Patrol on suspicion of drunk driving.

Nicole Richie, drunk? Color me flabbergasted. Who'da thunk? (Pardon me for a moment, while I wipe up this dripping sarcasm.)

Apparently, Miss Twiglet America was piloting her Benz in the wrong direction on an L.A.-area freeway when the CHiPs picked her up.

And to think, Joel Madden dumped Hilary Duff for the Nicster because he was looking for someone more "mature."

Yeah, this works, Joel.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

The mysterious M.C. Wyman

It's a dark and stormy Comic Art Friday. So let's dive right in, what say?

The comic book industry is one of those fields, like many creative ventures, that tends toward transience in personnel. For every Jack Kirby or Jim Mooney whose work graces the field for decade after decade, there are dozens of artists and writers who make a brief splash, then vanish into the ether, never to be heard from again.

I like to think of M.C. Wyman as the J.D. Salinger of comics. That's probably a tad extreme, given that Salinger's impact on American prose is far greater than Wyman's on American superhero comics. But then, I'm prone to hyperbole. Humor me.

For a couple of years in the early 1990s, M.C. Wyman was a mainstay artist at Marvel Comics. He was most closely associated with The Mighty Thor, drawing about 20 issues of that title between 1992 and 1995, but he also had regular assignments on such series as Daredevil, Silver Surfer, The Avengers, and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Then around 1995, Wyman just sort of disappeared from comics. I'd hear mention of him here and there from other fans, but no one seemed to know where he was or what he was doing these days. At one point a couple of years ago, I connected with the guy who had been Wyman's art sales representative for a while — even he hadn't heard from the mysterious Mr. Wyman for some time.

I never even met anyone who knew what the "M.C." stood for.

During his brief stint in mainstream comics, I always admired Wyman's work because he reminded me of my favorite Marvel artist from the Silver Age: John Buscema. Wyman had the same combination of power and elegance that Buscema's pencils epitomized, and I always wanted to ask him whether, in fact, Buscema had been a significant influence as he developed his style.

To date, I've never had the chance.

Recently, I've heard rumors that the great Wyman is back in the comics game, at least to the degree that he's drawing commissioned work again for his fans. I hope it's true. My early comic art resolution for 2007 is to obtain at least one new artwork from M.C. Wyman — specifically, a piece I have in mind for my Common Elements gallery that would be perfect for Wyman's style.

Wish me luck.

And so, friend reader, that's your Comic Art Friday.


No way, Jose

I was shocked and saddened to learn today of the passing of former San Francisco Giants shortstop Jose Uribe, a mainstay of the team for nearly a decade. Uribe died early this morning in a motor vehicle accident in his native Dominican Republic. He was only 47.

Anyone who attended a Giants home game in the late '80s and early '90s vividly remembers the chant that would erupt from the Candlestick Park stands every time Uribe made a great play in the infield. One side of the stadium would shout, "OOOOOOOO!" Then the other side would respond, "REEE-BAYYY!" Back and forth the chant would resound, until people got bored again.

When the Giants acquired Jose Altagracia Gonzalez Uribe from St. Louis as part of the Jack Clark trade in 1985, sportwriters referred to the diminutive shortstop as "the player to be named later." The joke alluded to the fact that as a Cardinal in his rookie year, he was known as "Jose Gonzalez." When traded to San Francisco, he decided that "Jose Gonzalez" was too nondescript an identity for a ballplayer of his caliber, and announced that he wanted to be called "Uribe Gonzalez." That lasted a few days, at which point he determined that he liked being called "Jose Uribe" better. And so Jose Uribe he remained.

Never much of a batsman, but a pretty solid defensive shortstop, by the time Uribe reached his final Giants season he had put on weight to the degree that even his fielding was compromised. He played out the string in Houston with a lackluster campaign in 1993.

My condolences to Jose's family — the guy had 14 children, so baseball definitely wasn't his only sport — and his many fans.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Save the planet, and pass the chicken wings

The Seminoles are buying the Hard Rock Café.

Not the Florida State University football team. The actual Seminoles.

With approximately $965 million socked away from their existing gambling ventures — including Hard Rock Casino Hotels in Tampa and Hollywood, Florida — the Seminole Tribe of Florida is purchasing the entire Hard Rock franchise — lock, stock, and memorabilia. It's the first time a Native American tribe has bought a major, name-brand corporation.

In the buyout package, the 3,300-member Seminole Tribe will receive title to 124 Hard Rock Cafés, four Hard Rock Hotels, two Hard Rock Casino Hotels, and two Hard Rock Live! concert venues. Not included is the Las Vegas branch of the Hard Rock Hotel, which was sold to another outfit earlier this year.

Apparently, there's no truth to the rumor that the Hard Rock's previous owners, the London-based Rank Group, threw in the remains of Elvis to sweeten the deal.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Neon angel on the road to ruin

I'm frightfully late in reporting this sad news, but I only learned about it this morning while perusing Mick Lasalle's blog. (Mick is the film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and a crackerjack writer.)

Sandy West, the drummer for the all-girl '70s rock band The Runaways, died in October of lung and brain cancer.

Even if you don't remember who The Runaways were, you've definitely heard their influence if you've listened to American pop music anytime in the last 30 years. Both of the band's guitarists, Joan Jett and Lita Ford, went on to considerable success as hard-rocking solo artists. Their original bass player, Michael "Micki" Steele, later joined The Bangles of "Walk Like an Egyptian" fame. Lead singer Cherie Currie became an actress, costarring in Foxes with Jodie Foster, and making an appearance in This is Spinal Tap.

More importantly, though, The Runaways proved that women could compete in the hard rock arena on equal footing with men. These girls — at the height of their momentary fame, all of The Runaways were teenagers — played their own instruments, wrote at least some of their own songs, and not only fronted the band — they were the band. Without The Runaways, we might never have heard of The Go-Go's, Blondie, The Donnas, Shonen Knife, Hole, or possibly even the Dixie Chicks.

Sandy West wasn't the most visible of The Runaways — Joan, Lita, and Cherie competed for that title. A plain-faced, mousy blonde surfer chick, she wasn't even the cutest. (That title — at least in my testosterone-fueled adolescent opinion — went to doe-eyed Jackie Fox, Michael Steele's replacement on bass.) But Sandy was the band's heart and soul. The Runaways were essentially Sandy's idea, which she pitched to record producer Kim Fowley, who became the band's manager and Svengali. Fowley put Sandy and Joan together, then searched the L.A. music scene to find the rest of the lineup.

In 1976 and '77, The Runaways recorded three studio albums: their eponymous debut, featuring their best-remembered song, "Cherry Bomb"; Queens of Noise, arguably their most representative record, which included "I Love Playin' With Fire" and my favorite Runaways number, "Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin"; and Waitin' for the Night. In the grooves of those LPs lie the seeds of American protopunk, later mined by such bands as The Ramones, as well as a raw talent that belied the youth of the performers.

After the band dissolved in 1979, Sandy West struggled to continue her music career. Sadly, she never enjoyed the rewards of fame that her former bandmates Joan Jett and Lita Ford achieved. In Edgeplay, an independent documentary produced by former Runaway Vicki Tischler-Blue (she replaced Jackie Fox on bass), Sandy spoke of the challenges life held for her in her post-Runaways years — working at various jobs outside the music field, and occasionally outside the bounds of the law. By all accounts, she never stopped mourning the demise of The Runaways.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. When she died on October 21, 2006, Sandy West was 47 years old.

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Now that's what I call "ripped from the headlines"

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" Department, this just in:

An American Airlines flight headed for Dallas was diverted to Nashville yesterday when passengers smelled a sulferous aroma in the cabin. All 104 persons aboard were deplaned and interviewed, the aircraft was inspected, and all of the luggage searched.

Upon investigation, it was determined that the source of the odor was a female passenger who had lit several matches to mask the smell of her flatulence.

With all of the increased security measures associated with air travel these days, I suppose that it was only a matter of time before someone raised a stink.

Next time, lady, just say, "Excuse me."


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I see London, I see France

To absolutely no one's surprise, the hottest Google search at this moment in history is for those infamous photographs of Britney Spears's unclad nether regions, shot surreptitiously during the Britster's recent night on the town with Paris Hilton, another party girl who's also been known to leave her drawers in the drawer, if you catch my drift.

Now, persons of genuine taste and discernment don't want to get snapshot in public with their erogenous zones flapping in the breeze. Let's be honest, though: Hollywood is a notoriously trend-intensive town. As soon as the rest of the Show Biz Kids catch wind (snicker!) of the attention Brit and Paris are attracting with their knickers-free shenanigans, everyone will be hanging their stuff out there for the paparazzi to capture.

To capitalize on this phenomenon, the online sports betting service has posted odds as to the next celebrity whose private parts will be circulating on the 'Net. In case you're interested in getting a little action down, here are a few of the current overs on the lack of unders (reported, of course, for entertainment purposes only), straight from the tote board:
  • Tara Reid or Janet, Miss Jackson If You're Nasty: 2 to 1.
  • Nicole Richie: 3 to 1.
  • One of the Bush twins (no pun intended): 4 to 1.
  • Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan: 5 to 1.
  • Pink (again, no pun intended): 10 to 1.
  • Madonna or Eva Longoria: 20 to 1.
  • Halle Berry or Angelina Jolie: 50 to 1.
  • Chelsea Clinton (yikes!): also 50 to 1.
What's truly frightening about this egregious fad is that any number of B-, C-, and D-list celebs might resort to a bit of flash and dash in an attempt to drum up support for their flagging careers — including many whom no one (and we do mean no one) would want to see trying this stunt at home, or anywhere else for that matter.

As a public service, SSTOL's crack staff (hee!) has compiled a list of women who absolutely, positively, ought never to get caught going commando:
  • First Lady Laura Bush.
  • Oprah Winfrey.
  • Katie Couric.
  • Roseanne.
  • Either Laverne or Shirley.
  • The two ambiguously gay women from the Yoplait yogurt commercials.
  • Joan Rivers.
  • Melissa Rivers.
  • Pretty much anyone named Rivers.
  • Martha Stewart.
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
  • Senator Hillary Clinton. Or any other member of the U.S. Senate.
  • Sue Johanson, the Talk Sex lady.
  • Bea Arthur.
  • Courtney Love (oops, too late).

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The Verdict Is In: Tracks

I haven't written any new reviews for DVD Verdict in a while — how does the time get away? Today I'm rectifying this lapse with a fresh look at Tracks, director Henry Jaglom's symbol-laden experiment in psychodrama.

In Tracks, a Vietnam veteran (played by Dennis Hopper) escorts the remains of a slain comrade on a cross-country railroad odyssey. The subject matter is rife with opportunity for gripping cinema. Do Jaglom and Hopper deliver? You'll have to check out my review to uncover the answer.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

What's Up With That? #40: Garrison's Prison Break experience may come in handy

No one seems to be asking the essential question about last weekend's accident involving Prison Break star Lane Garrison, in which one of Garrison's passengers — a 17-year-old boy — lost his life, and two other passengers — both 15-year-old girls — were seriously injured.

So let me be the first.

The question isn't: Was Garrison intoxicated at the time of the crash?

The question is: What was a 26-year-old actor doing on a Saturday night with three teenaged minors — two of them 15-year-old girls — in his car?

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A Bolton of false hope

Well, that was disappointing.

When I saw the link on the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate homepage"Bolton Steps Down" — I rejoiced at the thought that Michael Bolton might be permanently retiring from singing.

Instead, the story turns out to be about some United Nations ambassador guy.


In other music news, Greg Page, the yellow-shirted lead singer of the Aussie kiddie-pop group The Wiggles, is retiring due to a rare health condition that affects his coordination and balance.

Hey, now — there's an ideal job for Michael Bolton!

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Friday, December 01, 2006

No Warbirds allowed

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to World AIDS Day, the observance of which each December 1 reminds us that 40 million men, women, and children worldwide are living with HIV — and the number grows daily. Keep working for a cure.

Speaking of cures, nothing cures what ails me like comic art, especially when one of my favorite superheroes is center stage. One of the comics highlights of 2006 for me has been the resurgence of Ms. Marvel, for whom I've carried an unrequited torch since her first appearance in 1977. This year, Carol Danvers returned to headlining her own title for the first time in 27 years, as well as taking a high-profile role in one of Marvel's best-selling series (New Avengers) and its current mega-event (Civil War). I couldn't be more thrilled.

Here's the Woman Warrior striking a classic pose, from the pen of artist Gene Gonzales:

The one factor that keeps me sighing with faint disappointment over Ms. Marvel's long-overdue vault to prominence is her costume, which I often refer to as "the Warbird swimsuit." (Some editorial doofus at Marvel Comics once thought it a good idea to change Ms. M.'s nom de guerre to "Warbird" — a silly sobriquet that, thankfully, wore out its welcome after several years and got changed back. Although this costume change occurred while Carol was still known as Ms. Marvel, I still associate the name Warbird with it, as well as with everything awful Marvel has done to this terrific heroine over the years.)

Call me stuck in Retro City, but I still miss the Feminist Avenger's original outfit, as illustrated here by Michael McDaniel. I always thought this design made her look more like a superhero, and less like a beauty pageant contestant. Plus, the scarf was a nifty (if impractical) touch.

Funnybooks being the incestuous business that they are, very few characters are ever truly original. Most astute comics observers recognize that Ms. Marvel was at the outset just DC Comics' Supergirl, given a slightly more mature spin. (Ms. Marvel has always been portrayed as a woman in her late twenties to early thirties, while Supergirl is still a teenager fifty years later.) The two characters originally had almost identical superpowers, and both were spinoffs from, and once wore costumes patterned after, popular male heroes. The artist who illustrated Supergirl's adventures for many years, "Gentleman" Jim Mooney, also drew the majority of Ms. Marvel's original series. The heroines even shared a common surname (Danvers) at one point in time.

All that being said, we can certainly slip a Supergirl drawing into our Ms. Marvel-focused post. Here's a sharp ink sketch of the Maid of Steel, by longtime X-Men artist Brandon Peterson. Inker Bob Almond was kind enough recently to touch up a few unfinished portions of Brandon's piece, to give it a more polished effect.

Say, if you've got an extra simoleon or two in your pocket that isn't already committed to holiday shopping, why not make a donation today to a local nonprofit helping people with HIV/AIDS in your community? You'll be glad you did.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.