Monday, December 31, 2007

Pudgy! passes

Just in time to make the list of Celebrities Who Croaked in 2007 comes word that Beverly Vines, the popular mistress of ceremonies and insult comedian known by the stage name Pudgy!, has died.

I first saw Pudgy! (always spelled with an exclamation point) on one of her several appearances on Showtime cable in the early '80s. For those of you unfamiliar with her act, imagine a female Don Rickles — or, to cite a more contemporary reference, think Lisa Lampinelli without the torrential profanity. Pudgy! specialized in off-the-cuff ripostes at members of her audience, demonstrating a nimble wit and an engaging ability to poke fun at herself as much as others. (She called herself Pudgy!... and she was.)

It's been at least 20 years since I last saw Pudgy!, but on our most recent Vegas vacation, I was pleased to see that she was still working. As she often did when playing Vegas, she was headlining a burlesque revue featuring younger, more svelte women removing their clothes. I thought it amusing that a comic who rarely worked blue frequently hooked up with raunchy strip shows, but I guess she enjoyed the hours and the paychecks.

Pudgy! was a hilariously funny lady, and from what I've heard, well-liked and respected in a tough industry. Hopefully Comedy Central will dig up some of her old tapes and air them sometime soon.

I haven't seen a cause of death cited in any of the obits, but I know that Pudgy! had a history of heart problems and underwent bypass surgery some years ago.

She'll no doubt be missed by her family, friends, and many fans.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 28, 2007

Comic Art Friday: The best of 2007

It's the final Comic Art Friday of 2007, and you know what that means: Time for our annual retrospective of our favorite comic art acquisitions of the past year.

But before we get into our "Best Of" mode, let's give a Comic Art Friday "Happy Birthday" shout-out to Stan "The Man" Lee. The longtime Marvel Comics writer-editor-publisher celebrates his 85th today.

It's safe to say that much of my love for comics began with Stan, who, in partnership with such nonpareil artistic talents as Jack "King" Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, and John Romita Sr., transformed a moribund funnybook operation into the senses-shattering House of Ideas, thereby changing American popular culture forever. I still get a charge out of reading Stan's bombastic scripts in the Marvel masterworks of the 1960s.

Excelsior, Mr. Lee, and many happy returns.

And now, a look back at my favorite additions to my ever-burgeoning comic art collection from these most recent twelve months. It was a Katharine Hepburn kind of year: We didn't add an abundance of new meat to the gallery's bones, but what we did add was choice. (Or "cherce," if you can do a good Spencer Tracy imitation. Which I can't.)

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Heroes Division:
"Out of Time" — pencils and inks by Bob Layton
Booster Gold and Captain America

The artist best known for his work on Iron Man shows that he can draw other heroes with equal facility. This was this first of two Common Elements commissions Bob Layton did for me this year, both of which turned out beautifully.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Heroines Division:
"Footloose" — pencils by Robb Phipps
Mantis and Gypsy

"Good girl" specialist Robb Phipps contributed this lovely pairing of barefoot heroines Mantis and Gypsy.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Co-Ed Division (tie):
"In a Handbasket" — pencils and inks by Thomas Hodges
Hellboy and Hellcat

Star Wars artist Thomas Hodges delivered this preordered commission at WonderCon 2007. Hodges's angular, ink-heavy style owes a debt to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, so I thought he'd be perfect for this assignment. As usual, I was correct.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Co-Ed Division (tie):
"Take a Giant Step" — pencils by Val Semeiks
Elasti-Girl and Goliath

In addition to his phenomenal drawing skills, Val Semeiks was a dream to work with. He brainstormed the idea of using my beloved Sonoma County wine country as the backdrop for his creation. Val is right at the top of my list of artists to commission in 2008.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Special Achievement Award:
"Marvels" — pencils by Luke McDonnell
The Marvel Families

Luke McDonnell earns his own category for taking on this daunting six-character project, pitting the Marvel Family of "Shazam!" fame against the Captain Marvels who have appeared in Marvel Comics. A real challenge to design, but Luke came though like a champion. (You can click the image above to view a larger version.)

Favorite Wonder Woman:
Michael Dooney (pencils) and Bob Almond (inks)

Michael Dooney has contributed to every one of my theme galleries. This may just be his very best ever. Bob Almond added his inking magic to make this a Wonder Woman for the ages.

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

T'Challa never looked more powerful than he does in this stunning rendition by Brazilian artist Ron Adrian. Bob Almond, who's probably best known in the industry for his three-year run on Black Panther, was the obvious choice to ink it.

Favorite Mary Marvel:
Al Rio (pencils) and Bob McLeod (inks)

Actually, only the inking was new this year, but I so love the job Bob McLeod did finishing Al Rio's rough pencil sketch that I thought it deserved another look.

Favorite Ms. Marvel:
Aaron Lopresti (pencils and inks)

Aaron Lopresti, who recently completed an outstanding run on the Ms. Marvel series, revisited Carol's original costume for this commission, which he completed at Super-Con in June.

Favorite Supergirl:
Steve Mannion (pencils)

Steve Mannion's gently detailed penciling style shines in this super-cute portrait of the Maid of Steel, clad in her '70s costume. Steve drew this beauty at home, and delivered her (appropriate) at Super-Con.

Favorite Storm:
Phil Noto (pencils and inks)

Just catching up with the always-in-demand Mr. Noto at WonderCon was a genuine coup. That he delivered this spectacular artwork was icing on the cake.

Favorite Taarna:
Mel Rubi (pencils) and Bob Almond (inks)

My Taarna gallery was a primary commission focus this year. Every new piece in this theme turned out great, but none greater than this one, penciled by Red Sonja artist Mel Rubi and inked by the dependable Bob Almond.

Favorite Isis:
Mitch Foust (pencils)

Pinup artist Mitch Foust contributed this lovely take on the '70s TV heroine, another favorite theme this year.

Favorite Non-Theme Acquisition:
Spider-Man and the Black Cat
Pencils by Jeffrey Moy, inks by W.C. Carani

With limited funds available, my collecting this year focused almost entirely on new theme commissions. I did, however, pick up a couple of nice preexisting artworks that didn't fit into any of my signature galleries. Leading the field was this terrific pinup, a 1999 collaboration by former Legion of Super-Heroes artists Jeff Moy and Cory Carani.

Favorite Inking Makeover (tie):
Spider-Man and Mary Jane
Pencils by Al Rio, finished inks by Bob Almond

Favorite Inking Makeover (tie):
Pencils by Al Rio, finished inks by Joe Rubinstein

A pair of rough sketches by the ultra-talented Al Rio, transformed into finished art by two of the best in the business, Bob Almond and Joe Rubinstein.

Which brings us to...

Comic Art Friday's 2007 Artist of the Year:
Bob Almond

"King of Ink" Bob Almond scores his second consecutive nod as our Artist of the Year. Bob is both a tremendous talent and a truly fine working partner, who bends over backward to deliver incredible results on my inking commissions. Plus, superheroines dig him.

Thanks to each of the comic artists who expanded my collection (and depleted my funds) in 2007. You all rock!

I especially want to extend my appreciation to all the artists who took time to draw for me in person, or to present a prearranged commission, at a comics convention this year: Thomas Hodges, Ron Lim, Buzz, Paul Ryan, Danny Bulanadi, Tony DeZuniga, Ernie Chan, Brent Anderson, David Williams, Phil Noto, Michael Ryan, Aaron Lopresti, Steve Mannion, Chris Giarrusso, and Alé Garza. Thank you all for being so nice to me!

And that, true believers, is another year of Comic Art Friday. As Stan Lee would say: Face front!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Even white boys got to shout

One of KM's favorite gifts this Christmas is a wireless FM transmitter that enables her to play the output from her iPod through our car's stereo system. As we were driving home tonight, she was booming "Baby Got Back" — or, as I like to call it, "The National Anthem" — from the speakers.

It's hard to think of another hip-hop or rap single that has made as pervasive an impact on modern pop culture as Sir Mix-a-Lot's infamous paean to the female posterior. An online poll conducted by VH1 last year named "Baby Got Back" the sixth greatest song of the 1990s, and I would not have been surprised if it had landed in the top five.

Which brought to mind two questions:

First: Why is it that some men are predominantly fixated upon women's buttocks, while others are breast fanciers? And why is it that, in America at least, men of color tend to be the former, and men of the Caucasian persuasion the latter?

It's clearly cultural, not genetic, if my own experience is any gauge — my DNA hails from both western-central Africa and northern Europe, but I've always been in the Mix-a-Lot camp. Not that I'm exclusive in that regard, mind you. I love pizza, but it's not the only food I crave, if you know what I mean... and I think you do.

Clearly, additional research is in order. I'll get back to you.

Second: Am I the only human alive who waxes nostalgic about The Watcher, that weird UPN series in which Sir Mix-a-Lot starred in the mid-'90s? (Like the other newcomer networks, UPN was so desperate for programming in its early seasons that practically anything that could be filmed might turn up on its air. Remember when FOX first started, and they were throwing on stuff like Werewolf and The New Adventures of Beans Baxter? Ye gods.)

For the 300 million of my fellow Americans who didn't tune in to this bizarre little morsel of televised fare, Mix-a-Lot played a nameless cyber-voyeur who lived in the penthouse of a Las Vegas hotel-casino. The walls of the Watcher's suite were lined with monitors, through which he could access the video feed from any surveillance camera in America's most hard-wired metropolis.

The show was a dramatic anthology, a Twilight Zone rip-off with the old Mix-Master introducing a trio of strange vignettes, usually dark morality tales. Most of the stories ended with the kind of forced twists that would have ended up in the Night Gallery slush pile, or at the conclusion of an M. Night Shyamalan flick. The portly Mix-a-Lot would reappear between stories to mock the unfortunate characters in sardonic tones.

Whoever signed off on the decision to cast a one-hit-wonder rapper as a Serlingesque interlocutor was some kind of mad genius. Or perhaps just mad, period.

I seem to recall that all of the female characters on The Watcher sported remarkably prominent glutei maximi. That could just be wishful thinking on my part, though.

Some enterprising house DJ should concoct a mash-up of "Baby Got Back," Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," and Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom," and release it as a digital download. I'd snag that for my iPod.

If I had an iPod, that is.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sweeping up the reindeer droppings

Another Christmas is fading into the annals of history. As usual, my family has been more gracious to me than I deserve. And as usual, I wish I'd had a few thousand dollars to toss around while I was shopping for them.

Well-fed and happy, however, I think we're all grateful for one more Christmas. We're more acutely aware than some that it's never a given.

Speaking of given... let's run the highlights.
  • For the sharp-dressed man in me: Several nice shirts and pairs of dress-casual trousers. I rarely — okay, never — buy clothing for myself, so such gifts are always welcome.

  • For the sharp-bladed objects freak in me: Two new pocketknives. The Smith & Wesson scrimshaw folder will mostly be a display item, but the Kershaw Needs Work has been busy on package-opening duty since I received it last night. I'll write more about the latter in a "What's in My Pocket?" post, coming soon.

  • For the comics geek in me: Matching copies of The Marvel Encyclopedia and The DC Comics Encyclopedia. Great reference works that will come in handy for future art commission projects and Comic Art Fridays. Santa also left a gift certificate for my friendly neighborhood comics shop.

  • For the gadget geek in me: A Sony digital voice recorder. Terrific for recording interviews, chorus rehearsals, and quick memos to my increasingly absent-minded self. Also, a projection clock that automatically sets itself to atomic time. I'll always be a little nervous when it hits midnight.

  • For the sports geek in me: Two electronic sports trivia games. Obsessed With Baseball has already been given ample opportunity to humiliate my knowledge of the national pastime.

  • For the infomaniac in me: The 19th edition of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader. Always useful during those marathon sessions you-know-where.

  • For the cinemaniac in me: From my daughter, DVDs of The Terminal and Mystic River. Spielberg and Eastwood — how can you go wrong?

  • For the chef in me: A few handy kitchen gadgets, including a new battery-operated can opener and a sure-grip spatula.
I bought KJ some new clothes, including the outfit she wore to celebrate Christmas today. I also got her a pro-quality FoodSaver, which I've wanted to give her ever since I wrote copy for the manufacturer's Christmas catalog a few years back.

My personal gift to KM was a silver bracelet — ironically, her mom bought her a bracelet (albeit a very different one) also. Now what KM's officially an adult, it's time to indoctrinate her into every American woman's obsession: jewelry.

I hope you got something nifty from someone in your life, and that you shared some wonderful things with those around you as well.

Happy Christmas to all... and to all, a special two-hour edition of Deal or No Deal.

Labels: , , ,

Merry Christmas, dream babies

With sincere good will (at least, as sincere and good as we get around here), I wish each and every SSTOL reader and his or her loved ones the happiest, healthiest, and most joyous of Christmases.

I can't say it any better than did Mel Tormé — the renowned vocalist nicknamed The Velvet Fog — and his songwriting partner Bob Wells, all those years ago...
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although it's been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.
Or, in the words of Tiny Tim Crachit, "God bless us, every one!"

Labels: ,

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just your average pre-Christmas Comic Art Friday

Today's Comic Art Friday is powered by Roy Yamaguchi's Pacific Roast coffee, one of the fine products in the Hawai'i Chef Series from Royal Kona Coffee.

According to the Royal Kona Web site, this is the same coffee served in Chef Roy's world-famous restaurants. It's a nice medium-dark Vienna-style roast, rich and full-flavored but not overpowering, with just a hint of citrus finish on the back end. It's made with "not less than 10% Kona coffee" — at least, that's what the label says.

As they say in Hawai'i: Mo' Kona, mo' bettah.

Speaking of which, what could be mo' bettah than a pair of dynamic drawings of our favorite Marvel Comics superheroines? Not much, really — unless Chef Roy Yamaguchi dropped around and cooked dinner at my place. And brought a pot of his Pacific Roast for dessert.

Both of today's featured items flow from the pen of artist Gene Gonzales. Gene has worked on a number of indie comics over the past decade or so, but I'm mostly familiar with him as the artist on a late-'90s iteration of Mike W. Barr's Maze Agency. (Maze Agency, a mystery comic featuring stories in the "fair play" style made famous by Ellery Queen, is a terrific concept that Barr resurrects every few years, most recently in 2005. Its chief claim to fame is as one of the earliest projects to showcase the art of now-superstar cover artist Adam Hughes.)

In this first drawing, Gene presents a powerfully dramatic scenario starring Ms. Marvel.

I love the subtle way that Gene sketches into the background the victims of the subway disaster. The woman holding the infant is precious.

Here, Gene gives us a more traditional pinup-style look at our favorite climate-manipulating X-mutant, Storm.

Gene's clean, simple approach makes excellent use of light/dark contrast. He's able to suggest a lot of detail without a superfluity of fussy rendering. It's a technique that many of the great comic artists of yesteryear mastered to beautiful effect... and one that far too many of today's bravura artists disdain.

Since we already have Storm on the brain, let's take a peek at this jaw-dropping piece by Ron Adrian, which juxtaposes the Black Panther against a background image of his weather-witching bride. We've displayed the raw pencil art on a previous Comic Art Friday — now we reveal the finished version, with inks by Bob Almond.

As an art collector, I'm fortunate to have access to the services of several talented inkers. The inkers whom I commission frequently — Joe Rubinstein, Geof Isherwood, and Bob McLeod, in addition to the ever-reliable Mr. Almond — share in common an openness to my suggestions. In the case of the piece above, Bob made a slight alteration to Adrian's original design that, in both my opinion and Bob's, improves the drawing immeasurably. This one currently occupies a prominent spot on my office wall.

Next week: Our annual Best of Comic Art Friday, the 2007 edition. You'll want to be here — and that's the truth, Ruth.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Now we are (forty-) six

Another year, another birthday.

The girls got me one of the two things I really wanted: Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis's controversial biography of cartoonist and local legend Charles Schulz.

I'm looking forward to reading it, so that I can see what all the furor is about.

The second thing I wanted, I found for myself on eBay: A DVD-ROM set containing every issue of Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer published by Marvel Comics through December 2006. (I already own the version that compiles all the back issues of The Amazing Spider-Man.)

Graphic Imaging Technology, the company that created these software libraries, is losing its publishing license from Marvel at the end of this month (Marvel has decided to offer its own online subscription archive service instead), so these items will no longer be manufactured after the first of the year. (You'll be able to hunt them up on eBay indefinitely.) I still want to get the Avengers version while it's available cheap. [UPDATE: Score! I found the Avengers DVD-ROM for a nice price on eBay. Happy birthday, me!]

Birthday greetings have already begun to pour in. I've received voice mail messages from my friend Donna, and from my cell phone service provider. (I'm pretty sure that Donna wasn't schmoozing me for more business.)

At my advanced age, I have much to be grateful for. I'm in decent health for a middle-aged fat guy. I'm surrounded by people who love me (or at least are willing to tolerate me, which is kind of the same thing). I spend at least some part of every day doing something I enjoy. I'm not in prison — they've never been able to make those charges stick — I'm not in debt, and I'm not in the cemetery.

As the great Joe Walsh once said, life's been good to me so far.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Eight years of News From ME

Happy blogiversary to writer, humorist, and all-around good guy Mark Evanier, whose celebrated blog, News From ME, marks its eighth year of existence today.

Mark's blog was the first I ever read on a regular basis. My enjoyment of his daily — and usually, several times daily — jottings helped inspired the genesis of SSTOL, some three and a half years ago.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mark's oeuvre, suffice it to say that his nearly 40-year career writing for television and comics spans more credits than your average small-town phone book. For the small screen, Mark has written hundreds of sitcoms (everything from Welcome Back, Kotter to Bob, in which Bob Newhart played a comic book artist), variety shows (including That's Incredible! and the infamous Pink Lady and Jeff), and animated series (he was the producer and chief writer of Garfield and Friends, among numerous others).

In the comics world, Mark broke in as an assistant to the beyond-legendary Jack Kirby. Although he's written all kinds of comics, from superhero (DNAgents) to adventure (Blackhawk) to just plain fun (Scooby-Doo), Mark is best known as the cocreator, with artist Sergio Aragonés, of the hilarious sword-and-sorcery spoof Groo the Wanderer, about a Conanesque barbarian who loves fighting and cheese dip. (You had to be there.)

Mark and Sergio are currently teaming up to write the further adventures of Will Eisner's The Spirit, following an epic run by cartoonist Darwyn Cooke. I've met both Mark and Sergio at various comic conventions in recent years. Two nicer gentlemen you will not find, in any industry. (Sergio Aragonés is, in my never-humble opinion, one of the funniest human beings on the planet, on paper and in real life.)

If you're not already making a daily pilgrimage to News From ME, drop around and check out Mark's musings. Because Mark is one of the leading lights in the Writers Guild of America, his blog is your best source of ongoing information about the WGA strike. It's also just a wonderful read.

Here's to eight more years, Mark — and eighteen more after that!

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, December 17, 2007

Yet another auld lang syne

So much for the '70s... and the early '80s, too.

Dan Fogelberg has left the planet.

I am secure enough in my masculinity to admit that I both owned and enjoyed Dan Fogelberg albums back in the day. (So did you. Admit it. Just try and convince me that you're not recalling that dusty copy of Twin Sons of Different Mothers — Fogelberg's hit collaboration with flautist Tim Weisberg, featuring the most ambiguously gay album cover ever attached to a record by two straight guys — at this very moment.)

Call me a wimpy, flaccid girly-man if you will, but I dug Fogelberg's plaintive singing and his simplistic guitar stylings. Plus, I'm a sucker for a song that tells a story, whether it's Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band" or "Another Old Lang Syne," or Young MC's "Bust a Move." I appreciate lyrics that take me somewhere and give me cause to reflect, and Fogelberg's songs did just that.

Not everything Fogelberg ever recorded was elevator music, despite the numerous wisecracks made at his expense by stand-up comics. My favorite Fogelberg song is "The Power of Gold," an uptempo riff on the seductive influence of filthy lucre:
Balance the cost of the soul you lost
With the dreams you lightly sold
Then tell me
That you're free
Of the power of gold.
"Part of the Plan," from Fogelberg's album Souvenirs — produced by rock guitar legend Joe Walsh — is a pretty tasty rocker, too.

In one of my earliest experiences in ensemble singing, I performed in a mixed octet whose repertoire mixed religious music with contemporary ballads. (We sang at a lot of weddings. Funerals, too.) When we covered Dan Fogelberg's "Longer" — a popular wedding staple back in the day — I sang the high harmonies. I can feel my Fruit of the Looms cinching up even now, as I think about it.

Dan Fogelberg has been battling prostate cancer for the past three years. His battle ended at age 56.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Special victim

I don't know Evanthia Pappas.

But I intimately know someone like her.

Evanthia, a prosecutor who works for the Sonoma County District Attorney's office in the so-called "special victims unit" (dealing with sexual abuse and domestic violence crimes), was diagnosed a year ago with stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. IBC is a relatively uncommon disease — it accounts for only about two percent of breast cancer cases — and is much tougher to diagnose and treat than solid-tumor breast cancer like KJ's.

The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has offered Evanthia the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of an experimental treatment involving stem cell transplantation into her bone marrow. It's an expensive ticket — Evanthia's portion of the bill totals approximately $250,000 — and no insurance company, pharmaceutical entity, or government program covers it.

With the help of family, friends, and coworkers, as well as our local Greek-American community, Evanthia is raising this hefty sum on her own.

Having spent a dozen years in the health care industry, and seven years and counting as the husband of a woman battling breast cancer, I've read reams of information about breast cancer and its treatment. I know that the course of therapy Evanthia Pappas is attempting probably isn't the light at the end of the dark and terrifying breast cancer tunnel. Most researchers discontinued investigation of bone marrow transplant treatment of breast cancer more than a decade ago, because, quite frankly, there was no clinical evidence that it worked. Sad — infuriating, even — though it is, I understand fully why Evanthia's insurance company won't cover an experiment that the current medical literature doesn't support.

But, as KJ just said to me, "Someone had to be the first to try the treatments I'm getting now."

And she's right. Evanthia Pappas may or may not benefit from this experiment. It may help her body stave off her cancer, and it may not. Her participation in the trial, however, may help medical scientists learn something new that will eventually save other women's lives. For that, if for no other reason, it's worth a shot.

A quarter-million bucks is a ton of cash. But it's a small price to pay for hope.

If you're so inclined, you can make a contribution to Evanthia Pappas's quest for life by writing a check payable to The Evanthia Pappas Transplant Fund (S-5 Account), and mailing it to:
San Francisco Police Credit Union
2550 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122
Evanthia will thank you. And someday, your wife or daughter, mother or sister, lover or friend may thank you, also.

After all, it's only money, right?

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 14, 2007

I Wanda, Wanda who wrote the Book of Love

Before we dive into this week's Comic Art Friday, I'd just like to note that KJ's gall bladder removal (or laparoscopic cholecystectomy, for those of you playing Grey's Anatomy at home) went swimmingly yesterday. As of about an hour ago, she's now resting comfortably at home. Thanks for all of the kind thoughts.

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of comic book artist and writer Wayne Howard, who died of cardiac arrest on Sunday at age 59. Like many top talents of the 1960s and '70s, Howard began his career in comics as an assistant to the legendary Wallace Wood. He also worked with the equally legendary Will Eisner for a time. Howard's visual style hewed more closely to Wood's than any of the other artists who apprenticed under him, which is probably one reason I enjoyed his work so much.

For most of his tenure in funnybooks, Howard worked on mystery and horror titles for Charlton Comics, a budget-minded publisher that often presented more off-the-wall fare than either Marvel or DC did in those days. He was best known for Midnight Tales, a horror anthology series whose stories Howard drew and frequently wrote. The book is noteworthy as one of the first mainstream comics — if not indeed the very first — to acknowledge its creator with a cover byline, a practice that's standard in the industry today.

From my hormonal preadolescence, I mostly remember Midnight Tales because it featured (thanks to Wally Wood's unmistakable influence) some of the most fetchingly drawn female characters to be found anywhere. What I didn't know until word of his passing came across the Internet earlier this week was that Wayne Howard was African-American — one of the very few black artists in mainstream comics at that time.

We extend heartfelt condolences to Mr. Howard's family, and to his legion of fans.

Wayne Howard only worked on a handful of issues for Marvel Comics, none of which featured my favorite Marvel heroine of the '60s, Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. But I'm positive that, given the opportunity, Howard would have drawn a sensational Wanda. Since he didn't get that chance, let's look at three depictions of Wanda by artists who did, at least once.

First up, a stylish pencil drawing by one of Marvel's stalwarts of the '90s, MC Wyman.

That dotted effect that Wyman uses to illustrate Wanda's hex bolt power is known in comics lore as "Kirby crackle." Jack Kirby, probably the most influential and prolific artist in American comic books, created that signature visual texture, and employed it frequently to depict everything from cosmic radiation to the Silver Surfer's energy blasts.

Our second look at our vermilion-clad heroine comes from the pencil of the talented Jamal Igle.

Igle has been an active contributor at DC Comics since the early '90s. He's worked periodically for Marvel also, most notably on the miniseries Iron Fist/Wolverine. Currently, Igle is the regular penciler on DC's Nightwing, having completed a recent run on Firestorm: The Nuclear Man.

Our third and final Wanda displays the craft of an artist who signs his (or possibly her) work with the nom de plume Zeneilton.

Pretty much the only thing I can report about Zeneilton is that he (or possibly she) draws a mighty fine-looking Scarlet Witch.

And that, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Say Hey, Aaron!

In their first big move of the baseball off-season, the San Francisco Giants today signed Gold Glove-winning center fielder Aaron Rowand to a five-year pact.

Rowand's one heck of a player. A product of the stellar baseball program at California State University at Fullerton (or, as it's often nicknamed, Cal State Disneyland), Rowand is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game today. Fans may recall that oft-aired footage of him from the 2006 season, crashing face-first into the center field wall in Chicago, shattering his nose but holding onto the ball.

Last season, as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, Rowand notched career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (89), all while picking up his first Gold Glove and an All-Star team selection. He probably won't post numbers like that in less hitter-friendly AT&T Park, but he'll cover that huge outfield ground like a human vacuum, and get on base a lot.

Rowand's arrival means that the Giants can move ancient Dave Roberts to left field, replacing the departed and indicted Barry Bonds. It's a far better move for the team than the hotly rumored trade for Toronto's Alex Rios, a comparable player to Rowand (albeit four years younger), but also one who would have cost the Giants one of their youthful starting pitchers — probably Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. By scoring Rowand off the free agent market, San Francisco keeps its rapidly rising hurling staff intact.

Nice going, Brian Sabean. Keep up the momentum, and you'll have earned that two-year contract extension.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The category is: Cardiac Arrest

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news this morning that my old pal, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, has suffered a mild heart attack.

Word is that Alex is resting comfortably in a Los Angeles hospital, and is expected to be back at his podium after the holidays. I certainly hope that's the case.

For all of the ribbing Alex takes, even from his most ardent fans — and I'd count myself in that number — you don't enjoy the success he's had for nearly 25 years on the same television program unless you're awfully good at what you do. When the annals of game show history are written, Alex's name will be right there at the top.

Get well soon, Alex. And when you're back on your feet, have your people call my people. We'll do lunch.

I'll even let you pick up the check.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, December 10, 2007

We got your human rights right here

How ironic that, on Human Rights Day — the date on which the United Nations issued the first global declaration on human rights — the White House orders Presidential press secretary Dana Perino not to comment on the CIA's destruction of videotapes showing terror suspects being tortured.

Because torture doesn't really have anything to do with human rights.

So, happy Human Rights Day...

Unless you're a prisoner — or an employee — of the Bush administration.

In which case, you don't have any.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 07, 2007


Before we delve into today's Comic Art Friday, please indulge a brief rant I've entitled "Why Uncle Swan Hates Comics This Week."

The following three items have me feeling uncharacteristically grumpy about my beloved long-underwear fantasies lately:
  • One More Day, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada's misbegotten attempt to rewrite the past 20 years of Spider-Man's history by retconning Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson out of existence.

    Memo to Joe Q: If you have unresolved commitment issues, or problems on the home front, get counseling. Don't indulge your personal emotional baggage in the comic books I purchase. Even the writer you dragooned into scripting this travesty thinks you're an idiot. (Though I'd have respected JMS more if he'd told you to take this assignment and shove it.)

  • Hypersexualizing of female characters in general, and teenage female characters in particular. DC Comics has been especially guilty of late. Whoever decided to dress 16-year-old Supergirl in a stripper's belly shirt and micro-miniskirt, or to subject Mary Marvel to the "Seduction of the Innocent" storyline that's currently playing out in Countdown to Final Crisis, ought to be slapped around by the Hulk.

    Kudos to current Wonder Woman artists Terry and Rachel Dodson for their insistence on drawing Diana with dignity (i.e., with minimal exposed cleavage, and with briefs that actually cover her glutes). I wish that more artists would be allowed/encouraged by their editors to follow the Dodsons' lead.

  • Marvel's allowing popular Ms. Marvel artist Aaron Lopresti to escape to an exclusive contract with DC. Lopresti's stellar penciling has been the best thing to happen to Ms. Marvel in years, aside from getting her own monthly title back after a decades-long absence.

    Aaron was the first regular artist who really seemed to "get" Carol since Jim Mooney was drawing her early adventures back in the '70s. I hope that whatever project DC has in mind for Mr. Lopresti is worthy of his talents. (Could we get him on Supergirl, pretty please?)
Okay, rant over. On with the art.

Speaking of artists who "get" a particular character, pinup specialist Michael McDaniel clearly "gets" Taarna, the heroine of the pivotal sequence in the claasic animated film Heavy Metal.

Michael, who shares my affection for the film and its star attraction, perfectly captures Taarna both in image and in attitude. The idea of theming this drawing after the Tarakian defender's code as cited in the film was entirely Michael's, and he executed the concept with aplomb.

Most of my theme galleries feature characters who either debuted or enjoyed their greatest popularity in the 1970s, the decade at the heart of my comics-reading experience. Here Mitch Foust, a stylish penciler with a deft eye for heroines, presents the Valkyrie, the mysterious Viking warrior at the core of the '70s superteam known as the Defenders.

I love the expression Mitch gives Val here — simultaneously cold and battle-weary, with her hair slightly shadowing one eye in characteristic fashion. (I've often referred to the Valkyrie as the Veronica Lake of comic book heroines.) Mitch also does a fine job drawing Val's costume and her prized sword, Dragonfang — his detail work here is exquisite.

There's nothing like beautifully executed art to remind me of what I love about comics. I feel much better now.

And that's your Comic Art (and Comic Rant) Friday.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thursday's blog has far to go

Autumn has finally arrived here in Wine Country. As the rain pitter-patters on the roof overhead and a William Friedkin-directed episode of CSI blares from the idiot box, let's check out the happenings in the rest of the pop culture world.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Nes gadol haya sham!

It's almost sunset here on the Left Coast, so...

Happy Hanukkah to all of my friends and readers of the Jewish faith! (Or of Jewish heritage, if faith isn't your bag.) That includes — but certainly isn't limited to — Sank, Max (my brother from another mother), Eugene, Leah, Bruce, Marc, JK, and anyone else I may be forgetting at the moment.

Spin the sevivon for your goyische Uncle Swan one time, and keep your doggoned hands off my chocolate gelt.

Would someone pass me the sufganiyot, please?

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 03, 2007

Just another meme on Monday

The meme fairy must have been busy lately, because I got tagged with two today.

One I addressed privately (thanks, Donna; I'll have Santa drop a lump of coal in your stocking in exchange), but since the other came via MCF, and I owe him a solid for creating my spiffy new header graphic, I'll suck it up and deal.

Here's the premise: Take a list of characteristics that, according to some astrologer somewhere, are supposed to pertain to people born in your birth month, and evaluate which ones apply to you and which do not.

I was born in December — I'll be accepting gifts and well-wishes on the 19th — so here's my list. Bold text is "yes, that describes me," strike-through is "no, I'm nothing like that."
  • Loyal and generous. I can be either or both, when it suits me.
  • Sexy. Not according to People Magazine, but I think I've got skills.
  • Patriotic. Not especially. I think it's arrogant to be fanatical about something you didn't have anything to do with, such as the country where you were born.
  • Active in games and interactions. Does Jeopardy! count? Because otherwise, no.
  • Impatient and hasty. That's the ADD talking.
  • Ambitious. Not even remotely. I am the least career-driven, workaholic individual you're likely to encounter.
  • Influential in organizations. Usually beyond my desire. I'm a lousy team player. I prefer to control my area of expertise, and to be left alone to do it.
  • Fun to be with. With the right person, and when I feel like it.
  • Loves to socialize. I am the poster child for antisociality.
  • Loves praises. Sure, but who doesn't? Does anyone really enjoy criticism?
  • Loves attention. Ditto.
  • Loves to be loved. Triple ditto.
  • Honest and trustworthy. Far less than you'd think. Then again, if I'm being honest in admitting to being dishonest, what does that tell you? And how would you know, anyway?
  • Not pretending. All the world's a stage. And Uncle Swan, merely a player.
  • Short tempered. It takes quite a charge to make me angry. Which is good, because you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
  • Changing personality. I've grown older and perhaps wiser, but I don't believe my personality has changed in any fundamental way since I was in grade school.
  • Not egotistic. I laugh at this one. I was raised an only child in an emotionally distant family. I am the very definition of self-importance. Why do you think I blog?
  • Take high pride in oneself. See above.
  • Hates restrictions. I'm pretty risk-averse for the most part. I like knowing where the boundaries are.
  • Loves to joke. A priest, a rabbi, and Tom Cruise walk into a bar...
  • Good sense of humor. I'll leave it to the reader to determine whether the adjective "good" applies.
  • Logical. I tend to think in circuitous patterns. It's often not the logic that others would understand or appreciate — which is why I tend to see angles and possibilities that most people don't — but it's internally logical.
So there you have it. Roughly 50/50.

For the record, I believe the astrology is the worst kind of scam — it's pseudoreligion, designed to Hoover money out of the pockets of the weak-brained and gullible.

A simple demonstration: I remember seeing this news story years ago on ABC. Investigative reporter John Stossel handed a roomful of people, all with differing birth dates, written personality profiles that were supposed to be based on their horoscopes. When Stossel asked the participants how many of their profiles reflected their true personalities, about 90 percent raised their hands. Stossel then instructed the participants to exchange profiles with the person seated next to them.

You guessed it: They all received the exact same profile.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not good, not bad... just Evel

Another chapter of my increasingly long-ago youth has departed the premises:

Evel Knievel died yesterday.

It's a fitting testament to the unparalleled weirdness that characterized America in the 1960s and '70s that one of our most recognizable entertainment icons from that period was a guy who jumped over large objects — and, on frequent occasion, failed spectacularly in the attempt — while riding on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

To young people who've grown up in the era of ubiquitous stunt reality television from Survivor to Jackass to The X Games, it probably seems bizarre that a professional daredevil was once such a novelty that his performances would sell out football stadiums, and make front page headlines in newspapers and lead stories on network news programs. But back in the day, Robert Craig Knievel Jr. — known to the world by his nickname, Evel — was that mammoth a star.

And believe me, we ate it up.

When Evel made one of his famous jumps on ABC's Wide World of Sports — the biggest thing going in televised sports in those pre-ESPN days — ratings skyrocketed. The clip of his spectacular crash at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas is one of the most repeated snippets of film in the history of broadcasting. When Evel made his ill-fated attempt to vault Idaho's Snake River Canyon in a rocket car designed by former NASA engineer Robert Truax, the world held its collective breath.

Elvis may have been the King, but Evel was the Emperor.

The youthful Uncle Swan was a major Evel Knievel fan. I owned his Ideal Toys action figure. I played dozens, maybe hundreds, of games on his Bally pinball machine. I devoured his cover story in Rolling Stone, and Shelly Saltman's unauthorized biography — the one that so incensed Evel that he assaulted Saltman with a baseball bat and spent six months in jail. I eagerly tuned in Evel's every TV appearance, even when he popped up as himself on dreadful programs I'd never have watched otherwise. A poster of Evel in his trademark white star-spangled jumpsuit adorned my bedroom wall. I paid actual money to see his self-starring 1977 biopic, Viva Knievel, and hardly cared that the man couldn't act. (The earlier Evel Knievel, starring the perpetually tan George Hamilton in the title role, was only marginally better.)

For a kid who loved comic book superheroes, Evel Knievel was as close to the real thing as one could get.

After his daredevil career ended in the early '80s, Evel Knievel's life meandered down a dark and painful road. He went bankrupt, ran repeatedly afoul of law enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service, and struggled with numerous health problems — some stemming from the world record number of broken bones Evel suffered in his infamous crashes; others, such as the hepatitis-C that necessitated a liver transplant in 1999, resulting from the numerous blood transfusions his injuries required. A lengthy history of diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis finally claimed the life of the self-proclaimed "last gladiator" at age 69.

Still, even in his final days, Evel was never far from the spotlight. Earlier this year, he found religion and was baptized on Robert Schuller's Hour of Power program in front of a nationwide TV audience. A couple of months ago, Evel Knievel: The Rock Opera premiered in Los Angeles to mostly positive reviews. Only a few days before his death, Evel settled a lawsuit against rapper Kanye West over Kanye's unauthorized use of Evel's trademarked image in one of his videos.

Despite the proliferation of self-destructive insanity in modern popular culture — and the ongoing career of Evel's son Robbie, who followed his father into the daredevil trade — we will never see the like of Evel Knievel again. He was truly an original, and unquestionably unique.

Thanks for all the thrills, Evel.

Happy landings.

Labels: , , , , , ,