Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Giants yank the welcome Matt

The Giants, going nowhere for the last two months of the 2007 major league season except to the Barry Bonds home run record party, threw starting pitcher Matt Morris and his $9 million-per-year contract under the team bus at the trading deadline today.

Morris, who has one more year left on his contract, was shipped East to a ballclub even worse than the Giants — the perennially hapless Pittsburgh Pirates — for a scrub outfielder and the proverbial "player to be named later."

A steady if unspectacular pitcher, Morris was tied for second on the Giants roster in victories this season (7), and possessed the fourth-worst earned run average among the San Francisco starting five (4.35). By all accounts, he's a good teammate and a mature, veteran influence in a rotation dominated by talented but inexperienced hurlers (Noah Lowry, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain) and the overpaid and unreliable Barry Zito. But Morris's $9 million next year can be better spent on younger players, especially on a roster aching for monumental retooling this coming offseason.

So long, Matt. I hope you look good in yellow.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

The Sage of Santa Clara (1931-2007)

It's a sad, sad day here in the Bay Area...

The Genius has died.

Bill Walsh, who guided the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl championships (all right, you nitpickers, three — but the team that won Super Bowl XXIV the year after Walsh's retirement was essentially the same team that had won with Walsh coaching the year previously) and six division titles, died this morning after a tough battle with leukemia. The architect of the fabled West Coast Offense was 75.

One could argue, with little fear of refutation, that Walsh was the most influential and innovative head coach in NFL history. Influential, as reflected in the legions of Walsh protégés (and second- and third-generation protégés) who followed the white-haired strategist to coaching prosperity. Innovative, in that the style of offensive football Walsh introduced completely changed the way the game is played, not just in the NFL, but also at the college and even the high school levels. Every significant coach who has drawn up a playbook in the past 25 years has borrowed something from Bill Walsh.

It's a cliché, especially in sports, to say of the recently deceased, "I never heard anyone say a bad word about the man." In Walsh, the cliché found its reality. His former players — including current and future Hall of Famers Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and Ronnie Lott — revered him. His former assistants credited him with their accomplishments. The media loved him, knowing that the Sage of Santa Clara could always be counted upon for a meaty soundbite.

In a lot of ways, Walsh was the antithesis of the stereotypical Knute Rockne/Vince Lombardi image of the head football coach. He was erudite, intellectual, and soft-spoken é at least, outside the locker room. He struck more the impression of a university philosophy professor than of a man who made his living drawing X's and O's on a whiteboard. Walsh also possessed a mischievous sense of humor: When the 49ers arrived in Detroit in January 1982 for their first-ever Super Bowl appearance, the hotel employee on hand to assist with their luggage seemed oddly familiar. It was the team's head coach, outfitted in a bellman's cap and uniform.

Because Walsh became so thoroughly identified with the offensive system he pioneered, many fans forgot — or perhaps never knew — that he began his career as a defensive coach at Cal-Berkeley and Stanford in the early 1960s. He changed his focus to offense when he was hired by Al Davis as an Oakland Raiders assistant coach in 1966.

It's also easy to forget, given Walsh's tremendous triumphs with the Niners, that he came to NFL head coaching relatively late — he was 47 or 48 when San Francisco lured him away from Stanford — and that his first two 49er teams finished with 2-14 and 6-10 records. Then, with a short, scrawny kid from Notre Dame leading the charge at quarterback, and a quartet of unproven defensive backs (third-year safety Dwight Hicks and his three rookie "Hot Licks" — Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, and Carlton Williamson) snatching interceptions from the air like they were cookies in a jar, Walsh's Niners went 13-3 in 1981, and never looked back.

Walsh was a progressive thinker, off the gridiron as well as on. He created the Minority Coaching Fellowship, a program that invited African American coaches to the 49ers' camp to gain NFL insight and experience. Current University of Washington head coach Tyrone Willingham was among the many who benefited from Walsh's desire to reach out. Today, the NFL's ongoing initiative on minority hiring stems from Walsh's leadership.

Thanks for all the marvelous memories, Coach. We'll miss you.

Our condolences to Coach Walsh's family, and the countless friends, colleagues, and fans who will continue to honor his legacy.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Here, there be giants

It's Comic Art Friday, and everyone who's anyone is in San Diego, except for me. (Last time I checked, I was still someone.)

That's because this weekend is Comic-Con International (also known as San Diego Comic-Con, or SDCC), the planet's largest annual gathering of comic book fans and industry professionals. They're expecting capacity crowds in excess of 125,000 every day of the convention — all the more reason for me not to be there, as much as I loves me some comics. One of these summers, though, I'll buckle down and hie myself to Sandy Eggo to take in the sights, sounds, and smells. (If you think I'm joking about the latter, you've never been in an enclosed convention center packed with countless thousands of hygienically challenged comic book geeks. Trust me on this.)

For those of us not venturing to the sunny Southland, there's still comic art to be slavered over. So let's get jiggy with it.

My good friend and fellow comic art collector Damon Owens has long been dropping my jaw with his stunning collection of commissions featuring "The Brotherhood," a mythical supergroup comprised of comicdom's greatest black heroes and heroines. Several of Damon's finest Brotherhood artworks spring like Athena from the pencil of industry veteran Val Semeiks, best known for his work on the DC Comics series The Demon and Lobo, and Marvel's Conan the Barbarian.

With one of baseball's Giants fast approaching the national pastime's most storied individual record, I decided it was time for a Common Elements artwork featuring two of comicdom's giants — the Doom Patrol's Elasti-Girl (no relation to the similarly named materfamilias in Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles) and the late, great Dr. Bill Foster -- aka Black Goliath, Giant-Man, and just plain Goliath. Val Semeiks's potent style seemed to fit the project perfectly, so I commissioned him to create it.

Val's first rough sketch immediately captured my imagination. The majestic scale of his figures and the broad, sweeping scope of his design couldn't have been more ideal for the characters. Then, Val added a stroke of brilliance — using my Sonoma County environs as the backdrop for the drawing. What could be more apropos than two colossal heroes striding across a vineyard in my own backyard?

Val's tightened layout revealed still more of his magic touch. Now, I could see the personalities of the characters shining through — Elasti-Girl's lighthearted charm, and Goliath's intelligence and determination. The landscape seemed so familiar that I'm certain I've driven past this very spot a thousand times... minus the humongous superheroes, of course.

Which takes us to the finished pencil art:

The detail in Val's completed drawing is nothing short of superb. Both of our heroes sparkle with life and character, and the Wine Country setting is picture-perfect — right down to the splendidly rendered vineyard and winery, and the hot air balloon hovering low over the landscape near Goliath's thundering foot. (If you've never been here, you haven't lived until you've taken a drive through Sonoma County on a foggy autumn morning, and seen the sky dotted with colorful balloons.)

Like the aforementioned Giant, Val Semeiks smacked a towering home run with this commission. Thanks, Val!

About the featured heroes:

Elasti-Girl (real name: Rita Farr) starred in one of the most unusual superhero series of the 1960s, Doom Patrol. Created by the legendary writer Arnold Drake (who passed away earlier this year) in partnership with cowriter Bob Haney and artist Bruno Premiani, the Doom Patrol was DC Comics' first attempt to imitate the angst and conflict of Marvel's popular super-teams, the Fantastic Four and X-Men. Drake, who wrote even the most serious of stories with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, went Marvel one better by actually killing off the entire Doom Patrol in one momentous 1968 issue. DC has revived the characters repeatedly in the years since, most recently in the aftermath of the Infinite Crisis mega-event. But the Doom Patrol just isn't the same without Drake at the helm.

The multiple-codenamed Bill Foster's history in comics lore precedes his career as a superhero by several years, making him one of a relative handful of characters (Patsy Walker/Hellcat, Jim Rhodes/War Machine, and Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel are three others who leap to mind) to be firmly established as non-super supporting characters before embarking on careers as costumed crimefighters. Dr. Foster debuted in a 1966 Avengers story as a colleague of scientist Henry Pym (the superhero variously known as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and just plain Doctor Pym), and appeared numerous times over the succeeding decade before replacing Pym as Marvel's resident super-sized hero in 1975. Foster was murdered — to considerable fan outcry — during the events of Marvel's Civil War mega-event last summer.

Perhaps Bill Foster — like Rita Farr before him — will at some future point reemerge from the oblivion of comic book death to fight evil again. Until then, we can admire this artistic tribute to his memory, and wonder what might have been.

And that, fellow homebodies, is your Comic Art Friday.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stare unblinkingly into the abyss...

Lindsay Lohan, in the wee small hours of this morning.

At this point...

...the jokes are pretty much writing themselves.

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Send in the pinch-hitters

Sometimes, nice guys finish first. Or at least tie for second.

Congratulations to Drew Carey, who beat out a raft of likely (and, in the case of Rosie O'Donnell, unlikely) suspects to land the coveted hosting duties on The Price is Right.

Departing TPIR host Bob Barker commented on the Carey signing, "I'm cool with it." (Although you know that with the substantial nest egg Bob's carrying into his cozy retirement, he'd be cool with whomever CBS hired to replace him: Mr. T; Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Wendy the Snapple Lady; or Wilbur, Zuckerman's famous pig.)

Congratulations also to the Giants' Mark Sweeney, whose first-pitch double in the seventh inning of last night's loss to the Atlanta Braves was the 150th pinch hit of his journeyman major league career. The achievement ties Sweeney with the legendary Manny Mota for second place on baseball's all-time pinch hits list. (Lenny Harris holds the record, with 212.)

Speaking of Manny Mota, here's a story I heard back in my college days, from a friend who played center field for the Pepperdine University Waves.

During his years with the Dodgers, Mota had a favorite bat that traveled with him everywhere. One season, Mota departed his native Dominican Republic for spring training having neglected to pack this particular bat. Mota had a horrendous spring that year — as Crash Davis might say, Manny couldn't hit water if he fell out of a [expletive deleted] boat. Near the end of spring training, Mota's wife, at home in the Dominican, received a terse telegram from her husband. The message contained but three words: "Send the bat."

Perhaps if Drew Carey struggles to sink his putts in TPIR's golf game, he can summon Bob Barker's putter to the rescue.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Musical Monday

It's a toasty July Monday here in Wine Country, and for whatever reason, everything in the news today reminds me of the lyrics of an old pop song. I'll show you what I mean...
  • Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show? For the second time in two weeks, someone who figured prominently in a research paper I wrote in college has shuffled off this mortal coil: first porn magnate Jim Mitchell; now Tammy Faye Messner, once better known as Tammy Faye Bakker, co-ringleader of the disgraced (no pun intended) TV ministry The PTL Club. And no, it wasn't the same paper — I wrote my senior thesis on televangelism.

  • You probably think this song is about you — don't you? Lindsay Lohan is bragging to friends about how she "teased those boys" in rehab by walking around the facility stark naked. At the same time, she's seeking legal assistance to ensure that nude photos taken by a former flame never see the light of day, fearing the pics might "ruin her career." Hey, Linds: Get over yourself. Soon. It's your asinine behavior — on and off set — that's going to slam-dunk your career, not a few salty Polaroids. Oh, and before you imagine that the entire world is eager to behold your bony frame in the altogether, I have a word for you: Cheeseburger.

  • I just had to look, having read the book. Were you among the legions hanging out on your local bookseller's doorstep at midnight Saturday, eager to snatch up your copy of the final installment in the Harry Potter saga? If so, then you, friend reader, need a life. Or a significant other. Or both. Rumor has it that J.K. Rowling is scouring the list of potential Potter titles I posted in this space a couple of years ago, just in case she gets a future urge to score another several million pounds.

  • Oh, Mandy — you came and you gave without taking. No one should be surprised that Criminal Minds star Mandy Patinkin abruptly quit the hit crime series just as filming was about to begin for the show's third season. Teleholics will recall that Patinkin pulled a similar stunt a decade ago, when he walked off the set of the medical drama Chicago Hope. Thomas Gibson, who costarred with Patinkin on both Minds and Hope, has got to be wondering what he did to deserve this. (Two words, Thomas: Jenna Elfman.)

  • Hello, Daddy, hello, Mom; I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! Tony Award-winning stage actress Cherry Jones, probably most familiar to audiences as Matt Damon's mother in Ocean's Twelve, has signed to portray newly elected President Allison Taylor on the seventh season of 24. Let's hope she fares better as POTUS than Geena Davis did on the short-lived Commander in Chief. (Davis, incidentally, is rumored to be CBS's top choice to replace the aforementioned Mr. Patinkin.)

  • When you get that notion, put your backfield in motion. Speaking of POTUS, there was good news and bad news from the White House this past weekend. The good news: Doctors pronounced the polyps removed from President Bush's colon 100% cancer-free. The bad news: George W. will continue to be a cancer in everyone else's butt for another year and a half.

  • Well, I spent some time in the Mudville Nine, watchin' it from the bench. A truly sad story from minor league baseball: Mike Coolbaugh, first base coach for the Tulsa Drillers — the Colorado Rockies' AA affiliate — was struck in the head and killed yesterday by a line drive off the bat of teammate Tino Garcia. Coolbaugh played briefly in the majors earlier in this decade, with both the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. He had taken the coaching position with the Drillers only three weeks ago. He leaves behind a wife and two children, with another baby due in October. Tragic.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Not another re-Pete


I just this moment read about the unexpected passing of longtime Bay Area news anchor Pete Wilson at the age of 62.

Wilson — not to be confused with the former California governor of the same name — underwent hip replacement surgery at Stanford University Medical Center on Thursday. Apparently, he suffered a massive heart attack during the operation. After a day on life support, Wilson died late last evening.

A multiple Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist, Wilson was an inescapable fixture on Bay Area television for three decades — most recently on KGO, the San Francisco ABC affiliate. Before joining KGO, he enjoyed a lengthy run on KRON, which at the time was NBC's Bay Area outlet. When NBC shifted its contract to another station in the market, Wilson was one of the numerous personalities who departed KRON for greener pastures.

In addition to his TV anchoring duties, Wilson hosted a popular talk show on KGO 810 NewsTalk radio, where he gained a reputation for curmudgeonly, shoot-from-the-lip commentary. Last year on his show, Wilson harshly criticized San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who is gay, for adopting a child in partnership with a lesbian friend. Peter later apologized for the tone — but not the content — of his remarks.

Whether people admired or despised him — and he was exactly the sort of outspoken, larger-than-life personality who generated such impassioned perspectives — everyone who watched TV or listened to talk radio in northern California knew Pete Wilson. Even if they sometimes mixed him up with the Republican ex-governor.

Wilson is survived by his wife and son. We here at SSTOL extend our condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, and fans.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Worlds of wonder

Here at SSTOL, we travel the globe to bring you an ever-changing variety of treasures to ogle every Comic Art Friday.

All right, we don't exactly travel. That's what the Postal Service is for.

Our first offering today comes to us all the way from Brazil — the land of Carnival, bikini wax, and Pelé. It's the latest entry in my Common Elements commission series, in which we challenge comic book artists to team up (or oppose, as they sometimes choose) unrelated superheroes who share some quality or characteristic in common.

This time, Brazilian artist Jorge Correa Jr. juxtaposes the vivacious youth of the original Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, against the hard-bitten cynicism of Simon Williams, better known as Wonder Man.

Wonder Man has always been one of my favorites among the plethora of second-tier characters who've populated Marvel Comics' all-star superteam, the Avengers, over the years. His superpowers are rather prosaic — he's incredibly strong and more or less invulnerable, and that's about it (although at various points in continuity, he has temporarily acquired other abilities as well, including the power to fly). Still, Wonder Man has a certain cool factor about him. Part of that comes from the fact that, in everyday life, he's a working actor and stuntman in Hollywood — a handy sideline for a guy who can't easily be harmed. Simon has also developed an amazing knack for being killed off and later resurrected, a feat he's accomplished on several occasions over the years. (During one of his "deaths," Simon's brainwave patterns were used to create the personality of the android Avenger known as the Vision.)

The coolest thing about Wonder Man, however, is his astonishing proclivity for wardrobe changes — not surprising, I guess, given Simon's acting background. Wonder Man has probably worn more different uniforms — at least eight or nine different variations — than any other male superhero in comicdom. (Simon's sometime-teammate, the Wasp, is even more notorious for her continual costuming makeovers.)

Like Simon, Donna Troy has undergone several changes in fighting garb since she debuted in the mid-1960s with the Teen Titans. (The T-shaped structure at bottom right in Jorge Correa's drawing is Titans Tower, the home of the modern-day version of that venerable superteam.) Today, Donna not only wears a dramatically different costume from her original one seen above, but she's also long since abandoned the Wonder Girl moniker in favor of her own real name. (In current continuity, Wonder Girl is a blonde teenager named Cassandra "Cassie" Sandsmark.) And, like Simon Williams, Donna Troy has been killed off a time or two, to later emerge stronger and more capable than ever.

While we're on the subject of Wonder heroes and heroines, let's take another trip abroad — this time to the Philippines, where we'll meet penciler Noah Salonga (known here as the artist on the Xena: Warrior Princess series published by Dynamite Entertainment) and inker Ernest Jocson (best known as the inking half of the artistic team on IDW's recent revival of Mike W. Barr's Maze Agency). Noah and Ernest pair up for this exciting battle scenario pitting my favorite Amazon against a nasty-looking robot assassin.

As I discovered when my family spent two years there in the mid-1970s, the Philippines enjoy a rich comic book history. The country's homegrown comics industry — called komiks in Filipino culture — has produced an incredible wealth of talent, a tradition that continues to this day. Salonga and Jocson are but two members of a new generation of Filipino comic artists emerging from the legacy of such legendary creators as Francisco Coching, Alfredo Alcala, Tony DeZuniga, Ernie Chan, Nestor Redondo, and a host of others.

Ah, the wonders of comic art: one of the simple pleasures that make the world a happier, more beautiful place.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Giant awakens!

After enduring an embarrassing 0-for-21 drought, The Bondsman went off today.

Three hits — two of which were booming home runs in the classic Bonds style — and six runs batted in. That's 753 round trippers: just two shy of Henry Aaron's storied mark.

Of course, San Francisco still lost the game to the Cubs, 9-8.

Were it not for Bonds and the run for the record, not even Kruk and Kuip would care about the G-Men this season. (Okay, Kruk still would.)

Anyway... you go, Barry.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Psych-out at the WSOP

Congratulations to Dr. Jerry Yang, a psychologist from Southern California, who in the wee hours of this morning won the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. Yang outlasted a field of 6,358 to take down the $8.25 million top prize and a lifetime of bragging rights.

Yang, a 39-year-old father of six, only started playing poker two years ago.

I hate him already.

(Just joshing, Doc.)

Yang is, in fact, not an atypical poker success story. A Hmong immigrant from Laos, Yang follows in the footsteps of numerous other top players — including Scotty "The Prince of Poker" Nguyen, the 1998 World Series Main Event winner — who came to the U.S. from southeast Asia and discovered the American dream through the great American game.

The poker-playing shrink bested a diverse final table, including players from Denmark, England, Russia, and South Africa, as well as Vietnam-born Canadian Tuan Lam, who finished second. The best-known player in the surviving nine, Spokane-area poker pro Lee Watkinson, busted out in eighth place.

As SSTOL regular Tom Galloway sagely predicted a few weeks ago, the Main Event field was narrowed considerably this year by fallout from recent legislation passed by Congress. Fear of possible prosecution has caused many online poker sites — a primary source of qualifiers for the WSOP — to discontinue accepting action from U.S.-based players. Only a handful of online casinos, including PokerStars, Ultimate Bet, and Full Tilt Poker, continue to keep the welcome mat out for courageous card-playing Americans.

Nice going, Dr. Yang. Save wisely — you've got a sextet of future college educations to fund with those millions.

By the way, I'm SwanShadow at PokerStars. Come play with me.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What's Up With That? #50: That chicken's a Rhode Island White

As if we needed one, here's another example of how racism makes people stupid.

Ralph Papitto, chair of the governing board of Roger Williams University and namesake of Rhode Island's only law school, has resigned after using the N-pejorative during a board discussion about recruiting minorities and women.

Papitto says that the offending word "kind of slipped out." In his own defense, the 80-year-old former executive says, "I apologized for that. What else can I do? Kill myself?"

Hey, Ralph: Don't let me stop you.

But here's the truly stupid part of the whole affair. Papitto claims that he had never used the N-word before. He also says, "The first time I heard it was on television, and then rap music or something."

Come on, Ralph. Just because you're a moron doesn't mean everyone else you encounter is similarly challenged.

Let's examine this realistically. A man who's lived in the United States for eight decades had to learn the N-word from a TV program and a rap record? Where's he been for the past 80 years, hermetically sealed in a soundproof room?

Actually, no.

In addition to having led a prestigious university and getting a law school named after him, Papitto founded a Fortune 500 company — Nortek, Incorporated, which manufactures air conditioning units, security systems, and other building products. Does that ring true to you? The man started and ran a huge business in the rough-and-tumble construction industry, and he never heard the N-word? Puh-leeze.

Words that don't comprise a portion of one's daily vocabulary don't "kind of slip out." I can't recall the last time random quantum physics terminology just tripped off my tongue willy-nilly. I doubt you can, either, unless you're either a quantum physicist or a sci-fi geek.

Besides which, how many 80-year-old men — white, black, or maroon — do you know who listen to rap music, much less pick up and toss around lingo from that genre?

I guess that venerable saying still holds water: There's no fool like an old fool.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

My date with the Mitchell Brothers

Someone said to me recently, "The older I get, the more dead people I know."

Although it would be a stretch to say that I knew the notorious Mitchell Brothers, Jim and Artie, I did meet them once.

Now that Jim has joined his brother in the Great Beyond — Jim having sent Artie to his demise with a rifle bullet back in 1991, then passing away himself this past weekend, just a few miles from my house — I can regale you with my sordid tale.

Actually, the tale itself isn't all that sordid.

In 1983, when I was a student in the Broadcast Communication Arts Department at San Francisco State University, I once interviewed the Mitchell Brothers in their native habitat, the world-famous O'Farrell Theater.

Here's how it all went down. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

When I was assigned to write a term paper on alternative media, I thought it might be interesting to do a piece on the pornography industry. Since the Mitchell Brothers were headquartered right across town, this intrepid budding journalist called the O'Farrell and asked whether Jim and/or Artie would be willing to give a college kid a few minutes of their time to further his... umm... education. (What could it hurt, right? All they could say was "No.")

Not only were the brothers willing, they invited me over to their digs to chat with them live and in person. So, I hopped the Muni Metro "M" line to downtown San Francisco, and hiked the few blocks up to the O'Farrell. True to their word, Jim and Artie had given my name to the guardian of the front door, and I was directed upstairs to their office. I didn't even have to pay the cover charge.

For two pillars of the smut business, Jim and Artie Mitchell seemed astonishingly normal — two regular Joes from the East Bay who had made themselves a modicum of fame (and, I suppose, a few bucks, though they were reluctant to discuss the actual finances of their empire) producing sex films and running their glorified strip joint. (Although there were porno movies on view in the main screening room, the majority of the O'Farrell's clientele appeared to be more interested in the various live nude performances available.)

Jim did most of the talking during our interview session, Artie being more intent upon chatting up (and quaffing brewskis with) the constant stream of scantily garbed female employees who wandered in and out of the office during my visit. Since my paper was about media, our conversation focused on the Mitchell Brothers' film career, hallmarked by the infamous Behind the Green Door, starring former Ivory Snow cover girl Marilyn Chambers. (Sadly, Ms. Chambers — with whose softcore oeuvre I was intimately familiar, from late-night cable TV viewing — was not on the premises at the time.)

I was surprised to learn from Jim that the Mitchells had produced what was at the time the most expensive porn film on record — a magnum opus entitled Sodom and Gomorrah, which, according to Jim (no relation to the much-later sitcom starring John Belushi's little brother), had cost upward of a million dollars. I couldn't understand then how one could spend a million bucks shooting a cheap sex flick, but I'm just reporting what the man told me.

What struck me most about the Mitchells (Jim Mitchell, at least) was that they seemed to fancy themselves true cinematic pioneers. Make no mistake, they understood that their bread and butter was in showcasing nekkid people doing various permutations of the procreative act, but they considered their works legitimate art. At least that was their story, and they stuck pretty closely to it.

I chatted with Jim and the semi-present Artie for roughly 45 minutes — taking copious notes as rapidly as my fevered hand would scribble — before taking my leave. They graciously offered me the run of the O'Farrell's entertainment offerings for the rest of the afternoon, but I begged off. (At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to that, too.) I then ducked out into the cold gray San Francisco daylight and scrambled back to the nearest Metro station before anyone I knew could see me.

What happened between the Mitchell Brothers several years later has been well chronicled in the press, as well as in a 2000 film entitled Rated X, starring real-life Hollywood siblings Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen as Jim and Artie.

I, of course, saw no hint of discord during my brief interface with Jim and Artie. All I saw was a couple of guys who seemed to be serious about their chosen profession... and who appeared to be having tons of fun surrounding themselves with unclad women. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) They were unfailingly pleasant and polite to the nervous, goggle-eyed college kid who stumbled into their establishment one breezy afternoon.

And now, I suppose, they're reunited.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Everything new is old again

This week, Comic Art Friday celebrates the return of Nexus, the nuclear-powered dispenser of cosmic justice cocreated by writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude. After a decade of dormancy, Nexus reappeared in comic shops everywhere this past Wednesday, with the first issue of a brand-new, four-part adventure entitled "Space Opera."

If you like your superhero comics old school, they don't come much better than Nexus. I highly recommend that you check it out.

Steve Rude has long been an advocate for superheroes in the classic style, a return to Silver Age basics from the dark, hyperviolent, angst-ridden fare that has pervaded the genre since the late 1980s. While certainly modern in sensibility — Nexus is no exercise in nostalgia, as even the most cursory reading would reveal — Rude and Baron's creation delivers the kind of energetic fun I came to expect from comics when I first began reading them in the 1960s. Rude's clean, muscular art, heavily influenced by such industry giants as Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, is always a joy to behold, and Baron's quirky scripts remain among the most entertaining in the business.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to find my way onto Steve Rude's commission list. My efforts were rewarded with this action-packed pinup featuring one of my favorite heroines, Mary Marvel.

Notice that Rude's rendition of Mary shows her exactly as she ought to be depicted — as a strong, vivacious teenager, not as a glorified Hooters girl in a superhero costume. The insistence of the current DC Comics editorial department (I'm looking at you, Dan DiDio) upon portraying Mary in an increasingly grim and hypersexualized fashion, especially in the new Countdown series, burns my biscuits to no end. There are plenty of overdeveloped hotties in the DC Universe. Mary Marvel doesn't need to be one of them.

I know that some may suppose that I'm an immovable old curmudgeon who doesn't think comics ever ought to "grow up." Nothing could be further from the truth. My only contention with the "grim 'n' gritty" direction of the superhero genre over the past two decades is that grimness and grit has marginalized every other stylistic approach to superhero fantasy. I'm all for people who enjoy darker fare having books that suit their tastes.

But not every superhero book ought to be "dark." Spider-Man and Superman shouldn't be dark. The Fantastic Four, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the Teen Titans shouldn't be dark. Nor should Supergirl, or Wonder Woman, or any member of the Marvel Family, Mary Marvel included. These characters weren't conceived with a grim, gritty sensibility, and imposing such on them ruins the appeal of the characters, transmogrifying them into something they were never intended to be.

I've never forgiven Frank Miller for destroying one of my childhood heroes, Daredevil, back in the early 1980s. Miller took a character who had always been something of a more adult Spider-Man and turned him mean-spirited and ugly. More than 20 years later, DD is still being written that way by Miller's successors. It makes me sad to pass up the monthly Daredevil comic every time I visit my local comics retailer. But the character Marvel Comics calls "Daredevil" now is not the noble hero I once knew.

For creators who want to explore the dark side, there's ample room to manufacture new creations that suit their vision. Alan Moore did it with Watchmen. Keith Giffen did it with Lobo. Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson are doing it today with The Boys. Even the dreaded Miller did it with his popular Sin City. None of these works appeal to me, but I appreciate their service to their particular target market. I'm glad they exist for the people who enjoy them.

But I'd sure like to have my old Daredevil back.

Fortunately, there are the Steve Rudes of the world, artists who are determined to see to it that comic book superheroes I can love and admire do not vanish from the earth. Even among the new school of talents are those who still appreciate and value the classic characters as they ought to be, as in this charming pinup of Mary Marvel by Sean Chen.

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I like what I like.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

And you thought this only happened to Katie Holmes

Call it Identity Theft, NC-17.

A Houston woman named Kristen Syvette Wimberly is suing her former high school BFF, Lara Madden, who has built herself a tidy little career in adult films using the nom de porn Syvette Wimberly.

I think you can see the problem here.

The faux Syvette Wimberly (pictured above, in a rare fully clothed moment) has appeared in about a dozen motion pictures "for more mature audiences" made by porn entrepreneurs Vivid Entertainment, also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Predictably, Vivid management declined comment on the pending legal action.

The real Syvette Wimberly claims that the misappropriation of her handle for lascivious purposes has resulted in "humiliation, embarrassment, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, mental anguish and anxiety."

Not to mention 20 or 30 blind dates, and numerous proposals of marriage.

I guess I'm fortunate that, to the best of my knowledge — not that I've done extensive research in this area, mind you — no male porn star has ever used my name as a pseudonym. That would be a huge burden to bear. So to speak.

Let this be a lesson to you expectant parents: If you give your child a name that sounds like a stripper or a porno queen — say, Syvette Wimberly — expect to see it splashed across a lurid DVD case someday.

Just hope that the photo next to the name isn't your daughter's.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All of the leaves have gone Green

Every time the girls and I head off to church, we drive past a massive construction site on the Sonoma State University campus. Rising from the hardware-strewn landscape is the nascent structure which, according to the attractive billboard on the corner hillside, will someday blossom into the Green Music Center, a state-of-the-art concert venue rivaling the finest performance halls in the nation.

But I'm not holding my breath.

As you'll learn from this excellent article in today's San Francisco Chronicle, the Green Music Center has become both the biggest white elephant in the history of Sonoma County, and the albatross around the neck of SSU President Ruben Armiñana. Ten years in the making, with no completion date in sight, and bleeding cash like a stuck bank vault, the Green is a local laughing stock — to everyone but the faculty of SSU, who are sick and tired of losing much-needed educational funds to President Armiñana's pet boondoggle.

Of course, as a musical performer and patron of the arts myself, I'd love to see the Green completed. Heck, I'd love to sing on its stage someday. But I'll be older than Tony Bennett before that happens. At this writing, the Green is only about one-quarter finished after a decade in the works. Its budget has boomed from a tidy $20 million or so to a figure rivaling the gross national product of half the Third World. Even though construction proceeds in occasional fits and starts, no one — including Ruben Armiñana — has any clue where the megamillions needed to wrap up the project are going to come from.

I know one thing: They're not coming from my wallet.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Just blew in from Denver, and boy, are my lips tired

I'll cut right to the important stuff: We came in sixth.

"We" refers to my chorus, Voices in Harmony. The "came in sixth" refers to the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Chorus Contest, in which VIH competed last Friday.

This was VIH's first International as an ensemble, although about half of our members — myself included — had previous International experience in other choruses. From that perspective, being judged sixth-best in the world in our musical discipline is an awesome accomplishment. But for a contingent that had worked diligently for months hoping to debut in the top five at International, falling short of our goal felt a good deal like failure. At least for the first 36 hours.

Now, Denver's in the rear-view mirror, and we're looking ahead to next July's International contest in Nashville.

Onward and upward.

Post-competition disappointment aside, Denver was a blast. VIH performed in a talent showcase on Tuesday evening, and merited a standing ovation from one of the most accomplished chorus directors in the Society. We had three terrific rehearsals and enjoyed a fun dinner celebration on Thursday evening. We witnessed a spectacular quartet contest, won by a fine foursome of vocal musicians known as Max Q who'd finished second three years running. We cheered as our southern California neighbors, the Westminster Chorus, emerged victorious in the chorus contest. And we were treated to a warm welcome from the good folks of the Mile-High City.

For me, Denver was a pleasant surprise. Never having spent any time there, I expected something far less cosmopolitan than the city I discovered. The downtown area, highlighted by the 16th Street Mall — a mile-long outdoor pedestrian shopping stroll, complemented by free shuttle bus service, a Hard Rock Café and five Starbucks outlets — would be an asset to any American community. Even the weather was a surprise — the altitude suggested cool, breezy mountain days, but instead it was hot and steamy (and at brief times, thunderstormy) all week.

The city of Denver rolled out the red carpet for our International convention. Everywhere one wandered downtown, banners proclaimed, "Denver Welcomes the Barbershop Harmony Society." Practically every shop and restaurant window bore a similar sign of greeting. Sure, I know the idea was to charm more money out of our wallets, but still, it felt nice to be so politely suckered.

Another surprise: I savored one of the tastiest sushi lunches I've had in a while, at Sonoda's Sushi on Market Street. I walked in skeptical that a mid-continent burg could dish up the quality of sushi to which this West Coast/Hawaiian homeboy is accustomed. I waddled out 90 minutes later stuffed to the gills, to borrow a cliché. If you're in Denver and hankering for the raw stuff, stop by Sonoda's and they'll hook you up. Tell 'em the chubby brother from the barbershop convention sent you.

My accommodations at the Adam's Mark Hotel were satisfactory, if unremarkable (no pun intended) for the price. On the plus side: the air conditioning in my room delivered nice, cool air nonstop for five nights; the room service staff delivered decent food promptly whenever I ordered a meal; the free in-house high-speed Internet connection delivered consistent bandwidth throughout the week, justifying the hassle of toting my spanking new Dell laptop all the way from Cali. On the down side: the view from my window (which prominently featured a mammoth AC unit on an adjacent gravel-covered roof) was lacking; TV channel selection was sadly limited (three flavors of ESPN, but little else in the way of variety); and the one meal I ate in the hotel's restaurant took forever to arrive. In addition, the Adam's Mark is easily the most confusing hotel I've ever attempted to navigate, and I'm a veteran visitor to Las Vegas, where hotels are intentionally designed to obfuscate logical movement.

The cheerful minions of Southwest Airlines managed to transport me safely to and from Colorado without crashing or misplacing my luggage. I did, unfortunately, find myself stuck in a row either fore or aft of a screaming infant on each leg of the trip. But I can't blame Southwest for other people's procreation.

I missed my girls, my dog, my own bed, and my pocketknives. (Fortunately, scans of my comic art collection can travel with me anywhere.)

It's good to be home.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Check out that purple mountain's majesty

Happy birthday, USA. You're looking pretty good for 231. Well, except Georgie and Dickie and that whole Iraq thing.

I'm blogging from Denver, Colorado, a mile high amid the Rocky Mountains. As previously noted, I'm here for the Barbershop Harmony Society's International Convention — my chorus, Voices in Harmony, is competing in the chorus contest on Friday afternoon.

So far, Denver seems like a pleasant enough city. I've never spent any time here before — my family passed through (without stopping) on a cross-country drive sometime in the 1970s, but that's the extent of my previous Mile-High experience. They've certainly rolled out the red carpet for us here — everywhere you go in the downtown area, there are signs welcoming the BHS. It's nice to be welcome. We'll try to leave a few bucks.

I'll let you know how the contest goes on Friday. And before I depart on Sunday, I'll attempt to give you a fuller flavor of the impressions Colorado's capital makes on me during my stay. (Quick summation thus far: I love the Pepsi Center and the 16th Street Mall.)

So if you're a Denverite (Denverian?) and you see me strolling about your fair city, feel welcome to offer any good dining tips. I'm always interested in the local cuisine.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Lock up your liquor cabinet...

...Lindsay Lohan is 21 today.

I believe that Satan is springing for the cocaine.

Southern California drivers, beware.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

We don't need no stinking steroids

Congratulations to future home run king Barry "the Asterisk" Bonds for being elected to his thirteenth National League All-Star team... and congratulations to National League fans for having the courage to vote for him in the face of relentless media opposition.

Bonds, who at this writing is hitting .304 with 16 homers and 40 RBI (plus a season slugging percentage only a couple of points shy of his overall career aggregate), came in third in the fan balloting, with 2,325,391 votes.

Go ahead — name the last 42-year-old major leaguer (Bonds will turn 43 later this month) to put up batting numbers like that. I'll be waiting a while for your answer, because there isn't one. It's never happened before.

We can all speculate on whether Bonds was anabolically juiced when he smashed the single-season home run record in 2001. I don't know for sure (though I'd put my money on the affirmative), and you don't either. But we have to concur on this: He's unquestionably squeaky clean today (because you know that with Henry Aaron's record only five swats away, The Baseball Powers That Be are testing Barry's tinkle at every opportunity), he's almost four years deep into his 40s, and he's still recording stats that guys half his age would sacrifice their firstborn to achieve.

Good, bad, indifferent — you've got to acknowledge that there's never been a player like Bonds. I might not want to invite him over for dinner, but I'll stop what I'm doing to watch him swing the bat any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

You go, Barry.

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