Friday, June 29, 2007

We Kara lot for Supergirl

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to future Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas and Craig "The Big Gio" Biggio, each of whom reached a significant career milestone yesterday. Thomas smacked his 500th home run, becoming the 21st major leaguer to achieve that feat, while Biggio notched his 3000th base hit, one of only 27 players to do so.

We at "The Big Swan" salute both of these fine athletes and gentlemen.

Speaking of big, over at DC Comics, Supergirl has arisen from the relative obscurity in which she foundered in recent decades to become one of the company's biggest headliners, with two monthly books (Supergirl and Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes) bearing her name in the title. I'm not always enamored with the approach the creators of these two series — the Supergirl solo title in particular — impose upon our Kryptonian heroine, but I'm pleased to see Kara Zor-El at least holding her own in print again after so many years.

Those of you who aren't comics aficionados may not realize that DC killed off Supergirl (along with Barry Allen, aka The Flash) way back in 1985, during a major year-long event entitled Crisis on Infinite Earths. (Ironically, Supergirl's death in the comics occurred only a year after her less-than-successful cinematic debut. Coincidence? I think not.) For nearly 20 years, fans of the Maid of Steel were deprived of her sunny presence, and worse, subjected to a host of pretenders to her storied code name. Since 2004, however, the original Supergirl (more or less) is back, and DC's got her.

So let's go see what's new and awesome in my Kara gallery.

No one in the business today draws lovelier female characters than Al Rio. When I saw this unfinished Supergirl sketch posted on Al's Web site, I was charmed instantly.

Al's gorgeous sketch is currently in the capable hands of veteran inker Joe Rubinstein, who will complete the background while he's embellishing the figure. As soon as Joe has finished working his magic on it, you'll see the final results here.

Another depiction of Kara that captured my eye at first glance was this subtle yet fetching ink drawing by Hannibal King. With a deft economy of line, Hannibal lends lightness and motion to this classically styled pinup.

I was unfamiliar with Oliver Nome's work before I stumbled upon this wonderful drawing. I've since learned that Oliver is a protégé of comics superstar Jim Lee, having won a seat at Lee's WildStorm Studios through a Wizard Magazine contest. I'm no prophet, but I'd say the kid has a future in this business.

What I like most about this piece is the fact that Oliver's Supergirl, though certainly stylized, actually looks like a teenage girl, rather than a centerfold from Juggs. The artist also added a wealth of fine detail to the finished art that, unfortunately, doesn't show in this scan. I'd show it to you in person... but my office is a mess just now.

Back to Al Rio for a Comic Art Friday flashback. This piece began life as a preliminary sketch for a drawing Al and his representative Terry Maltos auctioned off for charity following the southeast Asian tsunami three years ago. (Al's completed drawing is markedly different from this one, and features Batman instead of Superman and Supergirl.) My good friend Bob Almond — currently hard at work on an upcoming Annihilation: Quasar miniseries for Marvel Comics — transformed Al's rough pencil layout into a work of emotional power and haunting beauty.

As I've mentioned in this space previously, "Supergirl" is one of my pet nicknames for my teenage daughter KM, who often wears a hoodie with the familiar "S" shield emblazoned on the chest. My ever-growing collection of Supergirl art honors KM's spunky spirit as much as it reflects my affection for the character herself.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Don't take any wooden Kryptonite.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bell-ringing day

Congratulations to KJ, who completed her course of radiation treatment today.

She received a handsome "graduation" certificate (suitable for framing, and with a lovely patina finish) and a hearty round of applause from the staff at the Cancer Center. In celebration, she got to ring the brass bell in the office lobby, signaling that she had finished her therapy.

This is, of course, merely the second step — the April surgery to implant a titanium rod in her left femur was the first — in what is likely to be a lifelong battle against the metastasis of her breast cancer. From here, she'll continue on oral antihormonal drugs, and undergo frequent monitoring scans to keep a watchful eye out for further developments.

But, for today, having the daily radiation phase behind her represents a major accomplishment, and a chance to breathe a sigh of momentary relief.

We're all proud of her here.

Labels: ,

Let's all get Mile-High

In exactly seven days, I — along with the other 100 or so active members of my chorus, Voices in Harmony — will descend on Denver, Colorado to compete in the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Chorus Contest.

It's been six years since I last attended International. My previous chorus, from which Voices in Harmony evolved via a merger with another Bay Area men's chorus, made three consecutive appearances at International — Anaheim (1999), Kansas City (2000) and Nashville (2001) — finishing as high as 16th. VIH approaches its first-ever International ranked seventh, and we're working like mad to climb into the top five.

Obsessive soul that I am, I like to find out as much as I can about places to which I plan to travel. Thus, I've been combing the 'Net for the past several weeks, learning the ins and outs of Denver. My family and I passed through Denver once on a cross-country auto trip back in the 1970s, but this will be my first substantive visit to the Mile-High City. So far, here are some of the more intriguing infonuggets I've plowed up.
  • Denver was founded in 1858, and named after James William Denver, the governor of what was then the Kansas Territory. The idea was that naming the town after Governor Denver would predispose the bureaucrat to designate the newly populated burg as a county seat. By the time the news of his namesake reached the governor's mansion, however, Mr. Denver was already out of office.

  • At the turn of the 20th century, Denver was the third-largest city in the American West, after San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today, it ranks 27th in population among U.S. cities, although Denver International Airport is the fifth-busiest in the country and tenth overall in the world.

  • Denver's professional basketball (the Nuggets) and hockey (the Avalanche) teams play their home games in the Pepsi Center, the same venue where our International contests will be held. I am not certain whether there will be a blind taste test at the door.

  • The 2008 Democratic National Convention will also be held in the Pepsi Center. Apparently, Republicans prefer Coke.

  • The University of Denver boasts a number of prominent alumni, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Peter Morton, founder of the Hard Rock Café; Peter Coors, CEO of the brewing enterprise that bears his family name; and the comedian known as Sinbad (whose real name is David Adkins, and who, to the best of my knowledge, has never been a sailor).

  • The late country-pop singer John Denver was not actually a Denver at all. He was born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. On the other hand, Robert Osbourne "Bob" Denver, the guy who played Gilligan, was a genuine Denver, although not from Denver (he was born in New Rochelle, New York).

  • In 2005, Denver became the first major American city to legalize the personal possession of less than an ounce of marijuana for personal use. But I believe it was known as the Mile-High City long before that.

  • I was shocked to discover that you do not get officially inducted into the Mile-High Club by having sex in Denver. Apparently, you have to do it on an airplane, many of which travel at altitudes far higher than a mile. I'm not clear on why that is, but I'm told that those are the rules.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 24, 2007

So long, Shooter

"Shocked" is perhaps one of the most overused words in the English language. It is, however, the word that most accurately describes my emotional reaction to hearing the news that Rod Beck, the Giants' star relief pitcher throughout most of the 1990s, died yesterday at the age of 38.

The cause of Beck's death is unknown at this writing. Although it's too early to speculate, it's been widely reported that the former relief ace has battled drug addiction in recent years.

Beck was one of my favorite Giants in my 30-plus years as a San Francisco partisan. "Shooter," as Beck was known to his teammates, was one of the great characters of the game. He was as unlikely a professional athlete as I've ever seen — a mullet-wearing, heavyset fellow sporting a shaggy Fu Manchu 'stache, he smoked like the proverbial chimney and looked as though he consumed Quarter Pounders and Heineken for breakfast. Still, he electrified Candlestick Park whenever he took the mound in the late innings. Beck didn't throw the hardest fastball in the majors, but he combined a deceptively wild delivery motion with an intimidating on-field demeanor to become one of the game's most feared closers.

Although he's most frequently remembered as a Giant due to his seven-year tenure in San Francisco, Beck actually notched his highest save total (51) in 1998 as a Chicago Cub. With the Giants, Beck made three National League All-Star teams and finished eighth in the voting for the 1994 Cy Young Award. He posted six consecutive seasons (1992-98) in which he recorded 28 or more saves. His career total of 286 saves ranks 22nd all-time.

Beck garnered some news coverage a couple of years ago when he attempted to make a comeback with the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate in Iowa. During that season, he lived in an RV in the parking lot of the stadium, and made his movable domicile a hangout for fellow players.

During his years in San Francisco, Beck and his wife were active in the community, lending their time and celebrity to a host of charitable events, especially in the area of pediatric AIDS. He always seemed as affable off the field as he was awe-inspiring on it.

Thirty-eight is far, far too young.

My sincere condolences go out to Beck's family, friends, and former teammates.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, June 22, 2007

Birds, bees, and arrows

Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by Folgers Vanilla Biscotti coffee, a tasty morsel of caffeinated goodness from the company's Gourmet Selections product line. It's subtle, slightly sassy, and smoooooth. I don't know how they get the cookie flavor in there, but it works. If you favor a hint of vanilla with your Columbian brew, I highly recommend that you pick up a bag.

"Sassy" would be an accurate description of this latest addition to my Common Elements theme gallery. Artist Dan Veesenmeyer, who boasts an extensive list of credits in the animation field, told me when he accepted this commission that he wanted to do something different with his Common Elements contribution. I'd say that he succeeded in that mission. Dan's cheeky "birds of a tail feather" are Black Canary and Mockingbird.

Black Canary (real name: Dinah Lance) can currently be seen starring in DC Comics' popular Justice League of America monthly, as well as in an upcoming miniseries of her own. Although current DC continuity is as convoluted as quantum theory, I believe that I'm still correct in stating that the present-day Black Canary (Dinah L. Lance) is the daughter of the original Canary (Dinah D. Lance), whose adventures date back to the 1940s. Given that understanding, the Canary ranks alongside Wonder Woman as one of the longest-serving heroines — at least, in one form or another — in all of comics.

Artist James E. Lyle catches Dinah in reflective repose in this striking portrait. I love Lyle's potent spotting of blacks here.

Mockingbird (real name: Barbara "Bobbi" Morse) was a staple of Marvel's West Coast Avengers series in the 1980s. Like Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel), Patsy Walker (Hellcat), and a few other Marvel heroines, Bobbi was introduced as a supporting character years before she donned a costume and secret identity and began a superheroic career. (Make that two careers — becoming Mockingbird, Bobbi made several appearances as the Huntress, no relation to the DC heroine of the same name.)

Sadly, Mockingbird was killed off in the 100th issue of Avengers West Coast (note the ridiculous title switcheroo), back in 1993. She's somewhat unique in that, unlike the plethora of comic book characters who have died at various times only to be miraculously resurrected later, she's actually managed to stay dead for more than a decade now. (She still looks pretty good in Veesenmeyer's drawing, though.)

Black Canary and Mockingbird share several "common elements," including their avian code names and hand-to-hand fighting expertise. (Canary is an expert martial artist; Mockingbird used a two-piece dueling staff, which you see her holding here. You did notice that she was holding something, didn't you?) But the shared factoid I had in mind when I thought of bringing these heroines together is the fact that they each served as the romantic interest of their respective universes' archer superhero.

Bobbi was married to Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, the former bow-slinging stalwart of the Avengers. He's seen here in a Common Elements teamup with Western heroine Lady Rawhide, drawn by industry legend Ernie Chan.

Dinah, for her part, is the longtime lover of Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow. Ollie — seen below in a familiar pose captured by penciler Mike Grell and inker Joe Rubinstein — finally proposed marriage in the 75th and final issue of his current series, published just a couple of weeks ago. The events leading up to the wedding of Green Arrow and Black Canary will be featured in various DC titles over the next few months.

"The birds and their bee-hinds." That Veesenmeyer cracks me up.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

AFI's 100 Greatest American Films

I only caught the last hour of last night's American Film Institute special spotlighting the 100 greatest American moviesSo You Think You Can Dance being a summer staple around these parts — but I was intrigued this morning to review the entire list.

It's especially enlightening to compare this new list with the one AFI compiled 10 years ago (when the Institute started the whole "100 Greatest..." thing), to see which films have come and gone from the list during the past decade, as well as noting how certain pictures have either risen or fallen in stature, at least in the minds of film critics.

Citizen Kane remains, as well it should, at the top of the heap. Kane is one of the rare films that grows and changes every time one sees it. There's always more to be discovered within Orson Welles's cinematic masterpiece, which continues to set the standard of greatness more than 65 years after its release.

The big surprise in the updated Top 20 is Raging Bull, which leaped upward from 24th ten years ago to fourth today. It's hard to argue, though — there's not another film in the Top 20 that I'd say ought to be Number Four instead. I'm not as shocked that Chaplin's City Lights rocketed from 76th to 11th place — it's always been a favorite of film scholars — as I am to see The Searchers jump from 96th to 12th — as much as I enjoy Westerns and believe they don't always receive their critical due (although Eastwood's Unforgiven moved up 30 spots from 98 to 68, and deservedly so), I've always found The Searchers infuriatingly dense.

As a Hitchcock fan, I'm pleased to see that the Master of Suspense now has two works in the Top 20: Vertigo (9) and Psycho (14). Personally, I'd reverse the two, as I think Psycho is far and away Hitchcock's best film, but Vertigo certainly deserved a much higher placement than the 61st it received in 1998.

I'm glad that Do the Right Thing cracked the Top 100, though I'd have had it a few notches higher than 96th. Most definitely, it ought to rank higher than The Sixth Sense (89), whose very presence in the Top 100 makes the list suspect. M. Night Shyamalan is easily the second most overrated filmmaker of the past half-century. (The first? George Lucas, whose trite, tedious, and hammy Star Wars came up two spots, from 15th to 13th.)

For whatever reason, Fargo dropped off the list entirely, after placing 84th a decade previously (when it was still relatively fresh in voters' minds). I know that the Coen Brothers have delivered little of lasting interest since then (in fact, the CoBros' last few films have been outright stinkers), but Fargo is a singular achievement — a film sufficiently adept at melding opposing elements that it rates as both a great comedy and a classic thriller. I'd place it at least in the upper two-thirds of any Top 100 list.

Other observations:
  • AFI rightly ditched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 64th in 1998, from the Top 100. Although technically brilliant, especially for its time, Close Encounters is as stupidly written and as poorly acted as any blockbuster has ever been. Good riddance.

  • Another welcome omission: the stupor-inducing Doctor Zhivago, 39th a decade ago and nowhere to be found on the new list. A memorable, haunting theme song alone does not a great film make.

  • Toy Story (Number 99) joins Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (34, up from 49) to represent the animation arts. Too bad there wasn't room for Beauty and the Beast as well. (Personally, I think Toy Story 2 is a much better movie than its groundbreaking predecessor. But AFI didn't ask me.)

  • Aside from the undeserving Sixth Sense, only three other films released in the past 10 years cracked the Top 100. Titanic (yawn) arrives at Number 83; Saving Private Ryan comes aboard at Number 71 (higher than I would have it, but nonetheless worthy); and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring lands at Number 50 (in truth, a nod to the entire LOTR trilogy, as was the Best Picture Oscar awarded to the third film in the series, The Return of the King).

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

You bet your sweet Biffy

Today, as KJ and I were driving home from her daily radiation treatment, we found ourselves on the freeway behind a white pickup with Texas plates — notable primarily because we live in northern California, where we regard Texans as an alien species — and a sticker in the rear window touting a Web site:

What in the wide, wide world of sports, we asked ourselves, is a Biffy? A gardening tool? An online utility? Buffy the Vampire Slayer's gay cousin? Our minds boggled at the possibilities.

Needless to say (note to self: if it's needless, why am I saying it?), we fired up the Dell and looked up the site the moment we arrived at home.

Oh, my stars and garters.

It's a bidet.

For those of you unfamiliar with this uniquely European plumbing fixture — that would be everyone here who somehow missed seeing Crocodile Dundee — a bidet is a water-based personal sanitation device used for cleansing the nether regions after elimination.

To put it more bluntly, it's a butt-washer.

Apparently convinced that American rectal hygiene leaves something to be desired, the folks at Biffy have set themselves to the task of marketing a bidet accessory that can be mounted to a standard toilet, instead of as a stand-alone appliance in the European tradition. The Biffy site describes the operation of the unit in graphic detail:
When you are sitting on a toilet seat your bottom is perfectly positioned for thorough bidet cleansing. The toilet seat supports your cheeks while your body weight presses down, spreading your cheeks apart and exposes your bottom parts to the cleansing rinse of the Biffy. In just a few seconds fresh water rinses your bottom completely, like a bidet, only much better for your body and your health.
I don't know about you, but I just don't care to think about my "cheeks" in quite that way. I guess I'm just anal like that.

So to speak.

By the way, you simply must check out the Biffy promotional video, accessible from the Biffy home page. (No, you deve, it doesn't show anyone actually using the device.) Trust me, you haven't lived until you've heard a toddler telling you how much she loves her Biffy. (Frankly, everyone in this video seems just a little too cheery about the whole business for my taste.)

Me, I'm sticking with good old T.P.

It's the American way.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 18, 2007

65 thumbs, way up

The entire SSTOL crew sends a laurel and hearty handshake to the dean of American film critics, Roger Ebert, on the occasion of his 65th birthday.

As most of you know, Mr. Ebert has been struggling with serious health challenges in recent times. Complications from a series of surgeries to combat salivary gland cancer have robbed the Pulitzer-winning writer of his ability to speak, forcing him to temporarily (we hope) relinquish his television duties opposite fellow critic Richard Roeper to a parade of guest reviewers.

Recently, Ebert returned to the public eye at his annual film festival, still unable to speak but flashing his trademark "thumbs up" to his fans. He's also back at the keyboard writing film reviews, as only he can.

Were I to list the writers who have most inspired and influenced me, Roger Ebert would occupy a place near the top of said list, if not indeed the very pinnacle. I don't always agree with Roger's opinions — heck, I don't always agree with my own — but I never question his scholarship, his communication skills, or his boundless passion for the medium of cinema.

Happy birthday, Uncle Roger. Be well.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 15, 2007

Out of time!

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the late Don Herbert, better known to generations of teleholics as "Mr. Wizard." Herbert's 1950s show, Watch Mr. Wizard, pioneered the concept that television for kids could be educational without being either condescending or boring. In the '80s, Herbert returned to the tube on Nickelodeon, with Mr. Wizard's World, bringing his genial blend of professorial wisdom and whiz-bang science to a whole new audience.

Had there been no Mr. Wizard, we would never have known Beakman's World or Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Don Herbert made being a science nerd cool — which, for those of us who are nerds, is no small accomplishment. We'll miss you, Mr. Wizard.

The funny thing about my Common Elements art gallery — the one in which comic artists pair up unrelated superheroes who have some characteristic in common — is that on occasion, the characters involved share more than one "common element." Sometimes, in fact, there are several common elements in the piece that I didn't even consider when I developed the concept.

Take, for example, this newly arrived gem from the pen of longtime comics stalwart Bob Layton. It features Booster Gold, one of the central figures in DC Comics' recently concluded maxiseries 52, alongside the legendary Captain America. (You can click the pic to see it in greater detail.)

When this concept came to me, I had one — and really, only one — Common Element in mind between Booster and Cap. Both heroes, although their adventures are set in the present day, began their careers in other time periods: Captain America in the 1940s during World War II, Booster Gold in the 25th century. Hence the title I assigned to the concept: "Out of Time."

From the beginning, I wanted Bob Layton to draw this Common Element. Layton is best known in comic circles as "the Iron Man guy," thanks to his lengthy association with the Golden Avenger as both artist and writer, often in partnership with scripter David Michelinie. Bob's also recognized as one of the most gifted inkers in the industry. From my perspective, it's his overall artistic talent — penciling, inking, and conceptual design — that makes him great.

When the opportunity arose to commission Bob, I jumped at the chance to turn him loose on my "out of time" idea. As I was rounding up pictures of Cap and Booster to send to Bob as reference, I noted (to my surprise, given that I hadn't seen it before) that the two heroes shared an even more obvious commonality than the one I'd envisioned: the five-pointed star motif emblazoned on their rippling pectorals. How could I have missed that? I don't know, but I did, until I had the pictures of each character on the screen in front of me.

Since I added the scan of this artwork to my permanent gallery at Comic Art Fans, other collectors have pointed out additional connections between Booster and Cap. For one, both are blond. For another, both were recently killed off in their respective storylines — Booster, though, has already been "resurrected," and I don't know a single comics fan who doesn't believe that Captain America will make a triumphant return as well.

I also thought of one more similarity. Both Cap and Booster, at one point in their careers, abandoned their more familiar code names and costumes in favor of a temporary superhero identity. Captain America, disillusioned by the Watergate scandal, shrugged off his iconic red-white-and-blue for several months in the mid-1970s, in the guise of the more iconoclastic Nomad. During the year-long events of 52, Booster Gold — who at the time was believed to be dead — became the mysterious Supernova, whose real identity wasn't revealed (to the characters or the audience) until late in the series' run. (Astute readers, however, had solved the puzzle long before Supernova unmasked.) Someday, I'd like to team Nomad and Supernova in another Common Elements commission that ties these threads together.

Speaking of Booster Gold, the current issue of Back Issue magazine (#22) features an excellent article about Booster and his erstwhile partner, the Blue Beetle. If you look closely, you'll see my Booster pinup — penciled by Booster's creator Dan Jurgens, and inked by veteran Joe Rubinstein — smiling back at you on page 78.

Thanks to Back Issue editor Michael Eury for using my contribution!

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What's In My Pocket? #3: Heckler & Koch HK34

When deciding which folding knife I'm going to shove into my pocket on a given day — and sometimes, at various times during the day — I have to consider several factors.

If I'm wearing close-fitting slacks (because, you know, the ladies are all about the booty), I'll choose a knife with a narrow profile, thus avoiding an unsightly bulge. (Ahem.) If it's a dressier occasion, I'll pick a knife that looks classy and professional — a "gentleman's knife," in cutlery parlance — should I need to use it in the presence of others. Often, I'll choose a blade profile based on anticipated tasks for the day (lots of mail or packages to open? cutting cardboard for shipping?). Sometimes, I just like the way a certain piece feels in my hand at the moment.

But when I want a knife that I can play with should I get bored — because my attention span is about as long as Nicole Richie's skirt, and as elusive as her appetite — I strap on my HK34.

Although it bears the logo and brand name of the German firearms giant Heckler & Koch, the HK34 is an all-American knife, manufactured in Oregon by Benchmade. Engineered by cutlery designer Mike Snody, the HK34 bears the stylistic hallmarks of its creator, including a drop point blade, a pronounced finger ridge, and a relatively beefy profile. It's built for heavy-duty use. Not that I beat it up much, given my customarily sedate activities, but my HK34 is probably one of the toughest knives I own. It's a masterfully constructed tool.

But that's not why it's so cool.

The HK34 incorporates Benchmade's exclusive AXIS locking mechanism. The blade pivots around a hefty steel axle, which braces and locks the blade into place when the knife is open. An AXIS lock is practically impossible to dislodge in the course of use — you could chip a hole into a brick wall with it, and not compromise the stability of the lock. (You'd trash the blade, of course, but at least the knife wouldn't fold up in your hand.) When locked, an AXIS-equipped Benchmade is the closest thing to a fixed blade that you can find in a folding knife.

When slid back into the open position, however, the AXIS lock allows the blade to pivot freely in a semi-circular motion, almost like the swing of a butterfly knife or balisong (the product that made Benchmade famous). With a little practice — and I've had ample practice — you can flip the blade open as quickly as you could trigger a mechanically assisted knife. (Which, as we all know, is illegal to carry in this jurisdiction if the blade is two inches or more in length. Just so we're clear on that.)

Its quick-draw quality, coupled with its bank-vault lock-up stability, is what makes the HK34 "fun to drive." It's a real workhorse, too — as durable as all get-out. Plus, it's sleek enough in appearance that I can use it almost anywhere without panicking the natives. It's not the most ergonomic knife I own — even with the rubberized scales, it feels ever so slightly less comfortable in hand than some of my other everyday-carry pieces — but its positives far outweigh this one minor quibble.

When in doubt, whip that HK34 out.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tagline jungle

Back in 1990 — when we were still wrestling with the consequences of having one President named George Bush — Dudley Moore starred in a pretty funny comedy called Crazy People. Moore played an ad executive who suffers a breakdown and, while institutionalized, resurrects his career on Madison Avenue using outrageously blunt campaigns dreamed up by his fellow mental patients. (Example: "Metamucil: It helps you go to the toilet so you don't get cancer and die.")

I don't know what made me think of it, but last night as I was driving the 95 miles home from chorus rehearsal, I recalled this movie and decided that the time had come to revisit its concept. There are any number of companies who today could benefit from a dose of Crazy People-style promotion. Besides, insanity more or less summarizes my entire career to date as an advertising copywriter.

The product of my noodling thus far:
  • Denny's: At three a.m., nothing else is open.

  • Taco Bell: You can't handle real Mexican food.

  • Microsoft: There are still a few dollars that Bill Gates doesn't have.

  • Kellogg's: Creating hyperactive sugar addicts since 1906.

  • Wal-Mart: When you leave the trailer park, you have to go somewhere.

  • Costco: If one is good, twelve are better.

  • MasterCard: Because you're our slave, that's why.

  • Apple Computer: Revenge of the Nerds was nonfiction.

  • Spam: 1.2 million Hawaiians can't be wrong.

  • 7-11: Thank you for not shooting the clerk.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Uncle Swan rips and regurgitates

It's Monday, boys and girls. Let's crack open the pop culture news reader and see what belches out, shall we?
  • All it takes is a little girl power: Kudos to Rags to Riches for becoming the first filly in 103 years to win the Belmont Stakes. My daughter the horsewoman was overjoyed. Now if we could just get a Triple Crown winner...

  • Paris Hilton — AKA Miss L.A. County Jail 2007 — offered this revelation to Barbara Walters in a weekend interview:
    I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute.
    If that's an act, the girl ought to receive an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild.

  • Speaking of SAG, what were the people who founded the women's clothing brand Sag Harbor thinking when they chose that name? Women generally avoid anything to do with the word "sag." (Might be a good handle for a brassiere manufacturer, though. Hmm...)

  • And speaking of Barbara Walters, it appears that Babwa Wawa and her View-mates will soon be joined by Whoopi Goldberg, replacing the recently departed Rosie O'Donnell. The Whoopster's a good choice for this gig, I think. She'll bring some of the same edge that Rosie lent to the program (with less of Miz Ro's propensity for controversial ballistics), while adding a little flavor to the otherwise vanilla proceedings. You go, Whoop.

  • Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather claims that his successor Katie Couric's approach to journalism amounts to "dumbing it down and tarting it up." Go back to sleep, Dan. By the way, what's the frequency, Kenneth?

  • Apparently, President Bush is extremely popular in Albania. Can they keep him?

  • Ryan Seacrest blames overexposure of Simon Cowell for American Idol's dip in the ratings this season. I take it that Ryan wasn't referring to Simon's chest hair. Or perhaps he was.

  • Speaking of Idol, Katharine McPhee is dating a 42-year-old guy? Maybe Kitty McPheever needs to delete some of those downloads of George Michael's "Father Figure" from her iPod.

  • My take on the Sopranos finale furor: I must be the only HBO subscriber in the Western world who's never watched an entire episode of The Sopranos. Give me Big Love any day.

  • Always bet on black: Action star Wesley Snipes says the feds are busting his chops over unpaid income taxes because he's African American. Hey, Wes: Maybe they just saw you stealing a paycheck in your last several movies.

  • The Giants suck. That's all I have to say about that.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, June 08, 2007

We'll remember always, Graduation Day... and Super-Con '07

This week's Comic Art Friday is proudly dedicated to my daughter KM, who graduates from my high school alma mater today.

The second half of KM's senior year has been an emotional challenge, what with her mother's rediagnosis with cancer and repeated hospital stays compounding all of the "What do I want to be when I grow up?" turmoil that always accompanies this time in a young person's life. KM has managed to keep her spirits — and her grades — up, for the most part, through all of the adverse circumstances. She's a good kid, and I'm a lucky dad.

You go, Supergirl!

Speaking of Supergirl, this charming rendition of the Maid of Steel sprang from the pencil of Steve Mannion, whom I met at long last at Super-Con in San Jose last weekend. Steve, who lives in New Jersey, has done a couple of other commission projects for me, including the Mary Marvel pinup seen in this space a week ago today. Distance being what it is, I'd never had the opportunity to meet him and personally thank him for the wonderful art he's added to my collection. As befits a man who creates such exquisite pictures, Steve turns out to be a delightful fellow who recalled in fond detail the other commissions he's drawn for me. He was even kind enough to pose with his latest masterwork.

Super-Con was, as always, an enjoyable, well-run event — more intimate and friendly than the Bay Area's other major comics event, the massive WonderCon. I wasn't impressed with the new venue at the San Jose Convention Center, where amenities were sorely lacking. The guest list, however, was stellar, and con directors Steve Morger and Steve Wyatt bustled about making certain that a great time was had by all.

For me, the highlight of the event was a panel on the art of inking. Before the con, superstar artist Frank Cho surrendered the pencil rough of his upcoming Jungle Girl #1 cover to a host of talented inking specialists, each of whom brought a unique perspective to the finished work. (You can see some of the iterations, as well as Cho's original pencil art, in Steve Morger's gallery at Comic Art Fans.) On Saturday, several of the inkers gathered to talk about their specialty.

Seen in the photo above, from left to right:
  • The artist known as Buzz, best known for his work on such series as JSA and Vampirella.

  • Michael Bair, noted for his collaboration with penciler Rags Morales on DC's Identity Crisis.

  • Tony DeZuniga, cocreator of the Western hero Jonah Hex; an industry legend who shepherded the comic art careers of many of his fellow Filipino immigrants in the 1970s.

  • Frank Cho, creator of the Liberty Meadows newspaper strip, and currently the penciler of Marvel's Mighty Avengers.

  • Bill Morrison, cofounder of Matt Groening's Bongo Comics and illustrator of the comic book adventures of The Simpsons.

  • Danny Bulanadi, a prolific inker for Marvel Comics who drew everything from Captain America to the Micronauts.

  • (obscured) Alex Niño, an innovative stylist who was the second and final artist on one of my all-time favorite comic series, Thriller.

  • Ernie Chan, revered for his work on Marvel's Conan series of the '70s and '80s, both as inker over the great John Buscema, and later as primary penciler.

Just seeing this assemblage of talent — perhaps 300 years of professional comic art experience between these gentlemen — was an indescribable treat. Even better? Coming home with some of their art.

Tony DeZuniga, to whom Michael Bair referred as "the master draftsman," created this evocative addition to my Black Panther gallery. Tony's technique rivals that of any artist whose work I've seen up close. He uses light, shadow, and line the way Mozart used notes. Tony and his wife Tina are also two of the sweetest people I've ever met at a convention.

Acquiring another commission from the amazing Buzz is always a thrill, and the one-named wonder came through yet again for me. Here's Buzz, diligently working away at my Storm pinup...

...and proudly displaying his finished creation.

Let's see... what else did I get? Ah, yes — Alé Garza, currently the regular penciler on the Supergirl monthly series, delivered this dynamic rendition of Taarna, my Heavy Metal heroine.

And last, but by no means least, Ms. Marvel penciler Aaron Lopresti drew his current assignee in her original — and still best — costume from the '70s. Aaron added a splash of colored marker to really make Carol's classic uniform stand out.

As previously noted, Super-Con offered a great time to everyone who attended. I certainly had a blast, and am looking forward to next year's event.

I'm off to graduation. That's your Comic Art Friday.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What's Up With That? #49: Welcome to whine country

I don't know whether they've ever met, but here are two people who deserve each other: Paris Hilton and Billy Donovan.

Both of them have whining their way out of their mistakes down to a science.

As you've doubtless heard by now, Paris squeaked out of her 23-day jail sentence 20 days early by lapsing into crying fits at every opportunity. The Los Angeles County authorities released her to 40 days of house arrest, supposedly because they "feared for her health."

I'll give you the prescription Paris needs: Repeated swift kicks to her bony little butt.

Meanwhile, University of Florida basketball coach Donovan weaseled out of a freshly signed contract to helm the NBA's Orlando Magic before the ink even had time to dry. Quoth Billy Two-Face:
I realized in less than 24 hours after signing a contract with the Magic that I had made a mistake that had nothing to do with the Magic. Instead, I realized that, in my heart, I belonged in college basketball.
Translated: "I finally figured out how to leverage a whopping pay raise and cushy perks out of the university administration."

Donovan can get in line for the gauntlet, right behind Paris.

Let the butt-kicking commence.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The best movies you've never seen, unless you've seen 'em

Over at, columnist Joal Ryan posted a list entitled "The 25 Best Movies You've Never Seen."

I love lists like this one, although I have to confess I find this particular concept a tad presumptuous. How do you know what movies I have and haven't seen, Joal Ryan? Do you know me? Have you been with me every hour of my movie-watching life? How do you know I didn't catch one of these flicks while you were playing snap-the-towel with the fellas down at 24 Hour Fitness? (Thought I hadn't heard about that, didn't you? I have my sources.)

As it happens, I've seen roughly half the movies on Joal's list, including his top three picks. Here's what I thought:

1. Falling Down (1993). Joel Schumacher's rage-against-the-machine urban nightmare didn't impress me much the first time I saw it. I watched it again some years later, and appreciated it a little more. I still think Schumacher's POV is poorly defined — it's not until late in the film that we know where the director wants us to identify with Michael Douglas's unhinged defense worker, or be appalled by him. Given the bad turns Falling Down could have made, however, it works fairly well. I don't like it as well as some of Schumacher's other work — The Lost Boys, Flatliners, Tigerland, or more recently, Veronica Guerin — but it's worth seeing.

2. Igby Goes Down (2002). I saw this odd little teenage drama only because a lot of people whose opinions I value raved about it. I wasn't as thrilled as they were, but I still liked the movie. It reminded me of a postmodern, slightly darker John Hughes film from the '80s. And I mean that as a compliment.

3. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). I'm surprised to see Buckaroo Banzai on this list, because with its persistent cult status now two decades old, I doubt there are all that many genre-film aficionados who haven't seen it. Of course, I think it's a classic, perhaps the best science fiction comedy ever made. (Unless that's Dark Star. But I don't believe it is.) Buckaroo is also one of cinema's most quotable movies — not a week goes by that I don't throw a line from its wacky script into everyday conversation. (But man, the recent Moonstone comic book based on the film sucked like a Dyson vacuum on overdrive. What a disappointment.)

6. The Hidden (1987). Before Twin Peaks, The Hidden was the project I thought of first whenever Kyle MacLachlan's name was mentioned. It's not an original concept by any means — think Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets V — but the rehash is handled reasonably well. I don't know why director Jack Sholder didn't become a major force in the sci-fi/horror field, because he definitely showed major chops here.

9. The Black Cat (1934). When I was a young classic-horror addict, The Black Cat — the storyline from which forms the basic outline for The Rocky Horror Picture Show — was one of my favorite films from the Universal oeuvre of the 1930s and '40s. It's been 20 years or more since I last saw it. I should get hold of the DVD and relive the good old days.

10. Breakdown (1997). Once he convinced people to stop thinking of him as the fresh-faced kid who starred in all those live-action Disney flicks like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Kurt Russell carved himself out a nice career as a solid dramatic actor. Breakdown, which is essentially Duel meets The Vanishing, isn't a great film, but it's a fun, suspenseful, action-packed popcorn movie. Plus, any movie with such fine character actors as Kathleen Quinlan and the late J.T. Walsh in it deserves a look.

12. Gojira (1954). Most cineastes on the eastern rim of the Pacific only know Gojira as the Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters, starring Raymond Burr. In fact, old Perry Mason wasn't even around when the film was shot — Burr's scenes were filmed and spliced in later to make the movie more palatable to Western tastes. The original Japanese-language cut by director Ishiro Honda is much more serious than the familiar edit, and decidedly anti-American in flavor. (It's American nuclear weapons, like the A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that bring the giant flame-belching monster to life.) As with all films, Gojira deserves to be viewed in the form (and language) its creator intended.

14. Three O'Clock High (1987). Perhaps one of the most memorable and enjoyable teenage movies ever made. Casey Siemaszko stars as an earnest high school journalist who runs afoul of the new kid on the block — a towering, muscle-bound bully named Buddy Revell, played with deadpan menace by Richard "Don't Call Me Mike" Tyson. The resolution is predictable, but done with grace and charm.

15. Brannigan (1975). If you've ever wanted to know what Dirty Harry would have been like with an over-the-hill John Wayne instead of Clint Eastwood, and set in London instead of San Francisco, this is the flick for you. The best thing about Brannigan is Judy Geeson, because Judy Geeson paying her monthly bills would be delightful to watch. The Duke as a Harry Callahan ripoff? Not so much.

19. Time After Time (1979). I saw this movie on its premiere weekend, in a jam-packed theater in Westwood (near UCLA, for the non-Californians in the room) with a gaggle of other college kids. All of us loved it. Malcolm McDowell oozes a kind of nerdy charm as science fiction writer H.G. Wells, and Mary Steenbergen is sweet as the modern-day San Franciscan with whom Wells falls in love while he's chasing Jack the Ripper through time. (I know, I know — it sounds loopy. You just have to see the film.)

21. Girl 6 (1996). This isn't one of my favorite Spike Lee films, but since I'm a major Spike Lee fan, I'll give Girl 6 its props. Theresa Randle (she played Martin Lawrence's long-suffering wife in the two Bad Boys films, and Michael Jordan's wife in Space Jam) captivates as a young woman who takes a job as an "operator" at a phone-sex company. Madonna plays one of Randle's employers, and her coworkers include Debi Mazar and Gretchen Mol. Pleasant, lightweight comedy involving a subject only Spike Lee would think of building a film around.

24. The Boondock Saints (1999). A strangely compelling film about two brothers who anoint themselves avengers against the underworld and start assassinating gangsters in and around Boston. Willem Dafoe plays the FBI agent who's trying (rather reluctantly, given the character of the victims) to catch them. If you like Dafoe here, I recommend that you check out what is perhaps his best-ever performance, as a conflicted drug dealer in Light Sleeper.)

25. Heavenly Creatures (1994). Now here's a truly brilliant film. Peter Jackson (yes, the Lord of the Rings and King Kong guy) cowrote and directed this unforgettable real-life psychological drama about the bizarre, ultimately murderous relationship between two teenage girls in New Zealand. Kate Winslet (before she exploded into stardom in Sense and Sensibility and Titanic) and Melanie Lynskey (one of my favorite contemporary actresses, and one who should be a much bigger star) are both incredible here, creating characters we feel for and believe in, even when their actions raise the hairs on the backs of our necks. Of all of the films on this list, Heavenly Creatures is the one you should seek out if you've never seen it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Shuffle up and deal!

The 2007 World Series of Poker kicked off this past weekend, and already history has been made.

A mere 10 days beyond his 21st birthday, baby-faced Steve Billirakis became the youngest player ever to win a WSOP bracelet when he outlasted 450 other card sharps in the megatournament's first event, the World Championship Mixed Hold 'Em. (In a mixed hold 'em tournament, the first several rounds are played with preset betting limits, the last several rounds are no-limit.)

Billirakis, whose online poker ID is "MrSmoky1," pocketed $536,287 for his winning efforts. Not a bad couple of days' work for a college kid.

The real suspense in this year's WSOP, however, will come from seeing whether any of the three legendary players tied for the record in career bracelets — Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson, Johnny "the Orient Express" Chan, and Phil "Poker Brat" Hellmuth — will score a victory in one of the Series' 55 discrete events to take the all-time lead.

That, and the thrill of seeing who will emerge out of what's certain to be the largest-ever field in the WSOP Main Event to claim the title of World Champion.

For that revelation, we'll have to wait until mid-July.

As for my debut appearance in the WSOP Main Event? Maybe next year. Sigh.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 01, 2007

A day in the life

It was 40 years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

I refer, of course, to the fact that on June 1, 1967, the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in the United Kingdom (the record hit American shelves the following day). Popular music would never be the same again. In fact, it's impossible to imagine what the last 40 years of popular music would have sounded like, without the sonic and thematic innovations introduced via Sgt. Pepper.

Not that this has anything at all to do with Comic Art Friday.

Except that when I think of the Beatles, I think of Ringo. Comic artist Mike "Ringo!" Wieringo, that is, who drew this charming portrait of Superman and Wonder Woman sharing a tender moment.

They don't call me the Sultan of Segue for nothing.

This weekend, comic fans from throughout northern California will descend on the San Jose Convention Center for Super-Con, the third of the Bay Area's major annual comic fandom events. (WonderCon and APE — the Alternative Press Expo, which focuses mostly on independent, small press comics — were held in late winter and early spring, respectively.) In the past couple of years, Super-Con has grown from a relatively small gathering to a mega-event, prompting a move from the con's former home in the East Bay to the hub of Silicon Valley. The lineup of industry guests has expanded also, with this year's headliners including comic legends Jim Lee, Frank Cho, and Terry Dodson.

I've connected in advance with a couple of my favorite artists, who will be bringing newly completed commission pieces to the con for me. Steve Mannion, whose vintage-style pinup (seen below) is the pinnacle of my Mary Marvel gallery, is working on a new addition to my Supergirl theme...

...and the artist known as Buzz, of whose exquisitely brush-inked work I can never get enough, is creating a Storm piece to accompany this Black Panther drawing he did for me in advance of last year's Super-Con.

Speaking of Storm, here's a lovely rendition of the Wizardress of Weather, recently fashioned by another favorite artist, "good girl" specialist Michael McDaniel.

Check back here in seven days, to see the new art I pick up at Super-Con this weekend.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Remember: I get by with a little help from my friends. (That means you.)

Labels: ,