Friday, October 31, 2008

Chasing shadows

It's All Hallows' Eve here at SSTOL, and what could be more fitting for a Hallowe'en Comic Art Friday than a Common Elements creation spotlighting the answer to the question...

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?"

That's The Shadow, of course — radio drama legend, pulp fiction kingpin, cinematic star, and yes, comic book hero. The mystery man's fetching accomplice is Tasmia Mallor, better known as Shadow Lass of the Legion of Super-Heroes. This umbral duo is brought together in the tableau above by artist Kim DeMulder. Although he's a gifted penciler, Kim is most familiar to longtime comics aficionados as an inker, on such series as Marvel's The Defenders (over Don Perlin) and Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD (over Paul Neary), and a five-year run on DC's Swamp Thing (over Phil Hester).

The Shadow first appeared in 1930, as the host of a radio program called Detective Story Hour. The character became such a hit that Street & Smith, the media conglomerate that produced the show, spun The Shadow off into a pulp adventure magazine the following year. Writer Walter B. Gibson, toiling under the house pseudonym Maxwell Grant, developed The Shadow into an intriguing blend of masquerading magician and gunslinging vigilante.

Despite the fact that the same company produced both the radio series and the pulp magazine, the print and broadcast versions of The Shadow diverged from one another in numerous respects.

In the pulps, The Shadow was an Allied spy and flying ace named Kent Allard who, after the First World War, staged his demise in order to battle crime as the faceless Shadow. The pulp Shadow had no superhuman powers, but carried out his crusade using practical skills gleaned from his former career as an espionage agent — in particular, mastery of disguise — plus a network of operatives who did his legwork and gathered intelligence.

On radio, however, where The Shadow gained a promotion from host/narrator to solo star in 1937, the hero manifested a variety of bizarre talents gained while traveling in the Far East — most notably the ability to "cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." Also, the radio Shadow's true identity was wealthy socialite Lamont Cranston (first voiced by a youthful Orson Welles), who in the pulps was an altogether discrete individual who merely allowed The Shadow to impersonate him when the situation called for it. (The pulp Shadow assumed dozens of false identities, of whom Cranston was but one.) The producers thought that the Kent Allard back-story, with its multiple personae and legion of covert assistants, would be too complex to translate to radio. Thus, the more straightforward "rich playboy / secret crimefighter" trope was used instead.

In the comics, The Shadow has enjoyed an interesting history. He starred in his own Street & Smith-published comic throughout the 1940s. DC later revived the character several times: in the 1970s, with scripts by Dennis O'Neil and art by the phenomenal Mike Kaluta; in the '80s, with an eclectic band of creators that included Howard Chaykin, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Kyle Baker; and in the '90s, in a series written by Gerard Jones and drawn by such artists as Eduardo Barreto and Rod Whigham.

As for Shadow Lass — no relation, so far as I'm aware — blue-skinned Tasmia (or "Shady" as she's often called by her fellow Legionnaires) arrived on the scene in Adventure Comics #365 (February 1968). (She informally debuted several issues earlier in a "flash-forward" sequence, in which she was depicted in an alternate future as the already-deceased "Shadow Woman." In that story, Tasmia was shown as having a typical Caucasian skin tone.) Her powers enable her to create and control darkness... a nifty talent to have on Hallowe'en, I would think.

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Try not to engorge yourself on too many sugary treats, or play too many devious tricks. Because, if you do...

The Shadow knows!


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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Ex-Ex-List

I see that CBS has canceled The Ex-List.

This does not surprise me. Although I never watched the program — apparently, I wasn't alone — from the time that I first heard about it, The Ex-List struck me as having perhaps the most limiting premise in the history of television.

Here's the synopsis: A young woman (played by Elizabeth Reaser, whom I recall from a bizarre little film entitled Stay, which I once reviewed for DVD Verdict) visits a psychic to find out whether she will ever meet her soulmate. "You've already met him," says Madame Zenobia. "In fact, you've already dated him."

Thus, our lissome heroine is told that she has only one year to revisit all of the men with whom she has ever hooked up, trying to suss out which reject was really Mr. Right, before she misses her chance at wedded bliss forever.

Being as intelligent as you are, friend reader, I know that you have already divined the pair of inherent obstacles.

Problem the First: If you have any hope at all that your series will last longer than one season, you don't saddle it with a premise that practically screams to be canceled within twelve months.

Problem the Second: Calendar constraints aside, how many seasons could you keep this show on the air before the audience loses all sympathy with the main character?

The average network drama films 22 new episodes each season. If Ms. Ex-List has to reconnect with one former beau each week, that means she's had at least 22 partners by her early 30s (star Reaser is 33). Okay, that's doable. (No pun intended.)

But let's suppose that the producers get lucky (again, no pun intended), and the show survives for Year Two. By the end of the second season, our heroine has racked up (someone please turn off the double entendre machine!) 44 dudes worth of sexual history.

If The Powers That Be gave the series a third year, Reaser's character would be well on her way to becoming the distaff Wilt Chamberlain. CBS would have to start shrink-wrapping the DVD box sets in latex.

Better to quit while you're... oh, never mind.

Then again, how many boy-toys did Kim Cattrall's Samantha toss out of the sack like mucus-sodden Kleenex in all the years that Sex and the City was on?

I think my middle age is showing.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We like Zeppelins!

On a list of human-designed things that I think look pretty cool, Zeppelins would rank near the top.

Starting next month, the world's largest Zeppelin will be flying over my house on a regular basis.

I think that's wicked cool.

Airship Ventures, a Silicon Valley startup, begins charter flights with its newly acquired, 246-foot-long Zeppelin later this week. Although the craft is headquartered at Moffett Field north of San Jose, where three mammoth Zeppelin hangars have stood empty since World War II, Airship Ventures will fly regular tours out of our very own Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport beginning next month.

Cruising the Wine Country skies in a humongous German-built gasbag (filled with non-flammable helium, for the comfort of those who've seen that Hindenburg video on YouTube) isn't a cheap date. A one-hour ride will set you back $525 — that's per person, not for the entire 12-passenger vessel — while a two-hour tour will cost $975 a head. (I guess they're not offering three-hour tours, lest the ship get stranded on an uncharted desert island.)

If you really want to party like a rock star, you and eleven of your closest personal friends can pony up $6,100 and have the joint all to yourselves for an hour. Assuming you can get your business handled in 60 minutes, you and your significant other could probably join the 1,350 Feet High Club for the same amount, if that was copacetic with the captain. But you'd probably want to ask permission first. (The Zeppelin's captain, it's interesting to note, is Katharine Board, the world's only female Zeppelin pilot. We're all about the gender equality out here by the Bay.)

In addition to the Wine Country spectacular, tours will be available out of Airship Ventures' Moffett Field home, as well as Oakland International Airport. If you're hankering to shell out beaucoup bucks for an bird's-eye view of Silicon Valley (yawn) or Oakland (ugh), knock yourself out.

As for me and my excruciatingly acrophobic self, I'll be content simply to view the giant inflatable spud from ground level, and wave to the tourists as they pass overhead.

In case anyone's confused, the difference between a Zeppelin and a blimp — aside from the cachet of the imposing Zeppelin name, as opposed to that prosaic and flaccid-sounding other word — is structural. A Zeppelin has an interior skeleton made of lightweight metal; a blimp is just a big balloon.

Incidentally, I wasn't kidding earlier about my affection for Zeppelins. One of my most prized pieces of comic art is a double-sheet spread featuring a Zeppelin. It's pages 6 and 7 from Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze: The Monarch of Armageddon #1, with pencils by Darryl Banks and inks by Robert Lewis. You can see the two halves of the piece here and here. (Sorry I don't have a combined scan to show you, but my Photoshop skills suck. Use your imagination.) This beauty hangs on permanent display in our living room, right over the television. It's often more appealing than whatever's on the tube.

Spongmonkeys like Zeppelins, too. But not as much as the moon.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Wonder Woman Day!

What? You didn't know that today was Wonder Woman Day?

Then permit me to enlighten you, friend reader.

Three years ago, writer and pop culture maven Andy Mangels hit upon the brilliant idea of using Wonder Woman — one of American womanhood's recognizable icons — as the avatar for a campaign to raise public awareness about domestic violence. As a result of Andy's inspiration, the last Sunday in October became Wonder Woman Day.

In partnership with Raphael House, a women's shelter in Portland, Oregon, Andy took the message of Wonder Woman Day to the Internet in general, and to the comic art community in particular. Each October, dozens of talented artists donate original artworks featuring Wonder Woman, which Andy auctions off to help support Raphael House, an associated shelter called Bradley-Angle House, and the Portland Women's Crisis Line.

Noted artist Adam Hughes, who drew several years' worth of Wonder Woman covers for DC Comics, and Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti, the current writer and penciler, respectively, of the Wonder Woman monthly series, will be appearing in person at today's Wonder Woman Day festivities in Portland. An additional event and auction will take place across the continent in Flemington, New Jersey, to benefit Safe in Hunterdon.

In last year's auction, I placed the winning bid on the beautiful pen and ink drawing shown above. It's the work of artist Michael Bair, most recently the inker on DC's Nightwing.

Even if you're not interested in owning any of the awe-inspiring Wonder Woman art that's up for auction today, you might consider making a cash donation to one of Wonder Woman Day's associated charities, or to a women's shelter or help line in your local area.

Wonder Woman said to tell you that she approves this message.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

If called by this Panther, don't anther

I've become convinced that at some point in my past, I have unknowingly offended Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada to the point that he has made it his life's work to ruin everything I have ever loved about Marvel Comics.

Under Joe Q.'s watch — and therefore, presumably, at his direction — Marvel has:
  • Retconned the 20-year marriage of Peter (Spider-Man) Parker and his precious Mary Jane out of existence, by having Spidey make a deal with the devil (or at least Marvel's version of the devil, namely Mephisto) to save the life of Peter's doddering, older-than-McCain Aunt May, who's already died a couple of times previously.

  • Murdered Captain America, the symbol of all that's good in these here United States.

  • Transformed Iron Man, formerly one of my favorite superheroes, into the world's most colossal jerk.

  • Killed off Dr. Bill Foster, a.k.a. Goliath, and dumped his body in a hole without even the dignity of a coffin.

  • Turned the mighty Thor into a murderous clone.

  • Devolved my beloved Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, the conscience of the Avengers, into a universe-altering whack job.
And that's just in the last couple of years.

The latest evidence that Joe Q. hates me? He and writer Reginald Hudlin are dumping T'Challa, the Black Panther — the first, greatest, and most prominent superhero of African heritage in mainstream comics — so they can replace him with a female Panther.

Now, I loves me some superheroines, as anyone who drops around these environs every Friday can attest. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Storm, the Scarlet Witch, Mary Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Vixen, the Valkyrie, Isis... I'm all about the superheroines.

That said... the Black Panther does not need to be recast as a superheroine.

Why must you keep urinating on my boyhood companions, Joe Quesada? What atrocity did I ever commit to warrant such malice?

This is the Black Panther.

So is this.

And this.

Certainly this, too.

I don't know what this is...

...but it's not the Black Panther. Quesada and Hudlin are crazier than I already think they are if they believe that I'm paying a dime to read about it.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Caught from behind

Those of you who know me in the "real world" know that I am anything but a morning person. One of the joys of self-employment is that I rarely have to rise early, and I like that state of affairs.

When the phone rang at 7:15 this morning, I didn't have much choice.

KJ had been involved in a rear-end collision in her brand new car.

Well, jump-start my heart.

I'll get to the end of the story first: KJ's fine, aside from a few sore muscles and jangled nerves. The Subaru sustained little visually evident damage, though we'll have it examined by an auto body shop just to be certain everything's okay.

At the time of the accident, KJ had just exited the freeway to grab a bite of breakfast at McDonald's. She was waiting at the traffic signal at the end of the off-ramp when another driver, probably paying more attention to the young woman in his passenger seat than to the road ahead, failed to see the red light or the car that had stopped for it.

By the time I arrived at the scene, a member of Santa Rosa's finest had the situation well in hand. The youthful driver who struck KJ's car either had no operating license or was driving under a suspended license — it wasn't clear to me which was the truth. He did, however, appear to have current insurance on his vehicle, which may prove important. The officer didn't arrest the offender, but she did write him a summons and prohibit him from driving his car home.

KJ, while sufficiently calm and level-headed enough to have jotted down all the pertinent information and called the police, was trembling like the proverbial leaf — partly from the harrowing experience, partly from the chill morning air. I followed her the rest of the way to her office, just to be certain that she landed safely.

She never did get her Egg McMuffin.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I know Damone

You've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, right?

Remember the scene when Mark Ratner finds out that his best friend Mike Damone has "done the deed" with Stacy Hamilton, on whom Rat has a serious crush?

There's that classic moment when Rat confronts Damone in the locker room:
I always stick up for you. Whenever people say, "That Damone, he's a loudmouth" — and they say that a lot — I always say, "Hey, you just don't know Damone."

When they call you an idiot, I say, "Damone's not an idiot. You just don't know him."

Well, you know something, man? Maybe they do know you pretty good. Maybe I'm just finding out now.
I think I just had that conversation with someone.

Only without the deed-doing part.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dolemite has left the scene

By way of my friend The Real Sam Johnson — the undisputed king of bloggers in Savannah, GA — comes the sad news of the death of comedian, actor, and entertainment personality Rudy Ray Moore.

That name might not trip any bells for those of you too young to have experienced the swinging '70s, but readers of a certain age (and those, to be frank, who have the complexion to make the connection) will recall Moore, first as one of the premier purveyors of what we called "party records" back in the day, and then as the lead in several blaxploitation flicks, most notably playing the outrageous pimp-slash-action hero known as Dolemite.

Moore was, first and foremost, a stand-up comic and raconteur who worked the so-called "chitlin circuit" in the 1960s. Like many African-American comics of that era, he produced inexpensive record albums featuring his down-and-dirty, profanity-and-graphic-sexuality-laden routines, targeted specifically at black audiences. (Although I've been surprised over the years to discover how many of my Caucasian acquaintances also grew up listening — mostly in secret — to these "party records," so dubbed because people often played them as entertainment at adult gatherings.) Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Pigmeat Markham, and ventriloquist Willie Tyler were among the leading practitioners of the genre.

As the blaxploitation boom was sweeping the film industry, propelled by such hit movies as Shaft and Superfly, Moore began looking for a way to cash in. His ticket into cinematic legend was Dolemite, a character that had long been a feature of Moore's stand-up act.

The on-screen Dolemite was a flamboyant cross between every stereotypical cliché about urban pimps and a hard-charging street fighter of the kind then being portrayed by Jim Kelly, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and other blaxploitation stars. (Think Huggy Bear, with an R-rated vocabulary.) When the 1975 film Dolemite became a cult hit, Moore reprised the character in The Human Tornado the following year. In 1978, Moore unleashed his other signature character, Petey Wheatstraw, the devil's son-in-law. (I kid you not.)

Moore's movies, made on budgets that you could probably scrape together from loose change you found beneath your sofa cushions, were not high cinematic art. Indeed, it's fair to say they're the kind of flicks that Ed Wood might have made if he had been a black comic in the 1970s. But the films connected with their intended audience, so enduringly that Moore and his Dolemite persona evolved into hip-hop icons, appearing on several popular rap recordings and in numerous videos.

They definitely don't make 'em like Rudy Ray any Moore.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Swapping out Mikes

The long-overdue shoe finally drops.

The San Francisco 49ers have fired head coach Mike Nolan, replacing him with legendary Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, who has been serving as the Niners' assistant head coach since 2004.

No sports fan in the Bay Area — indeed, in the nation — will be surprised by this. The hapless 49ers, off to a 2-5 start thus far (they've lost their last four games), nearly dumped Nolan at the end of last season before offering him a tepid "win or else" reprieve.

Nolan, who came to San Francisco three and a half seasons ago, has displayed little ability to resuscitate the floundering franchise that his late father, Dick Nolan, coached in the late 1960s and early '70s. A good-looking guy, a smooth talker, and a snappy dresser, Nolan the Sequel proved to be all hat and no cattle when it came to both drafting talent — he was responsible for saddling the team with clueless quarterback Alex Smith — and winning football games. The erstwhile Team of the Eighties limped to an 18-37 record under Nolan's leadership. And I'm using that word accommodatively.

Hall of Famer Singletary has no head coaching experience, but has been a perennial candidate for top jobs around the league since joining the Niners as Nolan's second banana and linebacking coach. Known for his intensity on defense during his playing days, "Samurai Mike" will have his hands full guiding a football squad with no direction and precious little talent beyond star linebacker Patrick Willis — a Singletary protégé, ironically enough.

If only Singletary had the authority to fire the 49ers' inept owner, Dr. John York, he might actually be able to take the team somewhere.

Other than the cellar of the NFC West, that is.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Comic Art Friday? I can't help myself

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of Levi Stubbs, lead vocalist of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, the Four Tops.

Stubbs, whose inimitable baritone propelled such tracks as "Baby, I Need Your Loving," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "Reach Out, I'll Be There", "It's the Same Old Song," and my all-time favorite Tops classic, "Standing in the Shadows of Love," died earlier today after nearly a decade of failing health. He was 72.

In addition to his contributions to American popular music, Stubbs will be remembered by film fanatics as the voice of Audrey II, the anthropomorphic man-eating plant in the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors. If you were going to hire someone to belt out a tune entitled "I'm a Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," I can't think of anyone better than the bombastic Stubbs. Neither, apparently, could the producers of the movie.

Speaking of bombastic, here's a recent entry in my "Bombshells!" commission series. The beauty playing "Peek-A-Boo!" with danger is Miss Masque. The talent behind the pencil is pinup artist Anthony Carpenter.

Miss Masque debuted in Exciting Comics #51, published in September 1946 by Nedor Comics (later known as Standard Comics). Nedor, which started out in the pulp magazine field before branching into comics, was the brainchild of entrepreneur Ned Pines, who also founded the paperback original book imprint Popular Library. If you read genre fiction extensively anytime between the 1940s and the early 1980s, you probably perused some Popular Library titles.

Back to Miss Masque: Vivacious socialite Diana Adams donned a short, bright red dress, a rakish fedora, and a black domino mask (hence her code name — I guess 1946 was a mite early to call herself "Miss Miniskirt") to battle evildoers. With no superpowers to call upon, Miss Masque relied upon good old-fashioned firepower in the form of twin .45s to dispatch the bad guys.

During her three-year run, Miss Masque proved to be one of Nedor's more popular characters, making frequent cover appearances in artworks by such luminaries as Frank Frazetta and Alex Schomburg. Her enduring popularity has resulted in several revivals in recent years, most notably in AC Comics' Femforce, America's Best Comics' Tom Strong and Terra Obscura, and the current Project Superpowers series, created by writer Jim Kreuger and artist Alex Ross for Dynamite Entertainment. (She's known as "Masquerade" in the latter book.)

Artist Anthony Carpenter is one of the most unique stylists represented in my collection. Anthony's deft tonal pencil technique creates a spectacular sense of warmth and depth, and his whimsical, nostalgic sensibility made him an ideal choice to add to my "Bombshells!" series.

In addition to retro-flavored pinup art, often with a kitschy-cool "tiki" or "jungle girl" theme, Anthony specializes in pastiches of 1960s genre film posters. His creations in each of these areas embodies a singular, charming imagination unlike any other artist working today. If you like Anthony's stuff, I recommend a tour of his Comic Art Fans gallery or his Sketchville! blog.

I think even Levi Stubbs would have enjoyed Anthony's first contribution to my Common Elements commission series, in which Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, and Saturn Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes find themselves facing a "mean, green mother from outer space." Could this be a cousin of Audrey II?

Time to reminisce with a few Four Tops sides. You might consider doing likewise, if you have any soul.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008


This won't elicit much play beyond my immediate vicinity, but what the hey... I can be provincial when I choose to be.

The man who built much of my town died today.

Jimmie Rogers was an up-and-coming real estate salesman back in the early 1960s when he persuaded the namesake family on whose one-time seed farm the city of Rohnert Park now stands to hire him as their representative. Rogers parlayed that position — and a legendary silver tongue — into a lucrative political and development career.

Rogers's talent for negotiation led to the creation of most of the residential tracts in town, including the one where I live. He was also responsible for the local community center, golf course, numerous commercial projects, and a host of parks and schools. Rogers served for nearly a decade on the city council, and when his development connections drove him out of the political arena, he continued to control the council through his proxies for decades afterward.

Having lived in Rohnert Park for most of the past 30 years, I've heard plenty of stories about Jimmie Rogers, although I met him in person only once, when I was still in high school. I don't know how many of the stories are 100% true.

Without question, Rogers cut a colorful figure around town. He liked to dress like an extra from Urban Cowboy. His hands wormed their way into plenty of pockets and his fingers probed a lot of pies. Where there were palms to be greased, Rogers was the one who gave and got the grease. Where deals were being hammered out in smoke-filled back rooms, Rogers did most of the puffing.

Rogers was frequently accused of playing fast and loose with the legalities of city business, to the point that the FBI took a hard look at him on at least one occasion. But he had as many fans as he had detractors — a friend of mine in the real estate business can't say enough good about the guy.

This much I do know...

If it weren't for Jimmie Rogers, this would be a very different community. And I wouldn't be typing under this roof.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gateway to Fresno

They say there's no such thing as a coincidence, and perhaps they're right. (I'm still not certain who "they" are, but that's a conversation for another time.)

If it's not coincidental, it's definitely ironic that, after winning its first bronze medal in International competition in Nashville this past July, my chorus should win its first District championship in the city dubbed "Nashville West." That's Bakersfield, California, the former home of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, for those of you not up to speed on your country music trivia.

For indeed, it was in Bakersfield — so named because one Colonel Thomas Baker planted an alfalfa field on the site many moons ago — that Voices in Harmony (Northern California's premier men's a cappella chorus; but then, you knew that) found ourselves this past weekend, for the annual convention of the Far Western District of the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Of the Society's 16 districts, the Far Western District spans the largest population base, encompassing California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. It's also a talent powerhouse: Both the reigning International Champion chorus (the Masters of Harmony, from Los Angeles County) and International Champion quartet (OC Times, from Orange County) hail from the FWD. (As noted above, Voices in Harmony is currently the third-place International chorus. Just thought I'd throw that in again.) Thus, winning in this ultra-competitive region marks a significant accomplishment.

This is my third time as a member of the FWD chorus champion. My former chorus won back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000, the second of which was contested on the very same Bakersfield stage. That last was a challenging time: KJ was first diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks prior to the contest, and she had just undergone the surgical phase of her treatment. I was inclined to stay home, but she insisted — vehemently, as I recall — that I make the trip anyway. When I arrived in downtown Bakersfield, the streetlights were festooned with banners reminding me that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As I said... a challenging time.

Now, eight years later, KJ accompanied me to the tailbone of the San Joaquin Valley. Despite her often excruciating physical limitations, we had a fine time. We witnessed an outstanding quartet contest, won by a stellar foursome called Masterpiece (my fellow Voice, Alan Gordon, is the baritone in this future International champion). KJ renewed several old acquaintances within the Voices in Harmony family. And of course, there was that District chorus championship business.

Most of our contingent lodged at the Doubletree Hotel, which happened also to be hosting a group of hot rod automobile enthusiasts who, like ourselves, were convening in Bakersfield over the weekend. It appeared to KJ and me that the local "professional women's community" (if you know what I mean, and I think you do) made a sizable profit entertaining the gents from the hot rod (no pun intended) convention. At the very least, the legitimate female companions of the hot rodders shop for their clothing and accouterments at the same purveyors that cater to the local "professional women's community." Suffice it to say that copious quantities of alcohol were consumed, and that a well-lubricated (no pun intended) time was enjoyed by these sons of the open road and their lady friends.

When we weren't in rehearsals, attending the contests, or stepping over inebriated courtesans in the hotel lobby, KJ and I managed to find several surprisingly decent places to eat in Bakersfield. If you happen to be passing through, we recommend that you stop in at any of these fine establishments:
  • Coconut Joe's Island Grill, a kitschy joint in a downtown shopping center that specializes in faux-Hawaiian "beach food." If you like Jimmy Buffett records and the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, you'll love this. Try the fish tacos — they're served with a delightfully tangy sauce that would probably render chunks of drywall edible.

  • J's Place, a funky little hole-in-the-wall that dishes up the tastiest Southern-style cooking I've had since the late, lamented Terry's closed up shop here in Santa Rosa. I ordered a bountiful plate of fried catfish that was as delicious as any I've eaten. KJ liked their enchilada special. I'm advised that the fried chicken and waffles are excellent, too.

  • Hodel's Country Dining, where we enjoyed a very respectable Sunday brunch. KJ's custom omelette was nicely prepared, and I enjoyed the quiche-like egg-and-cheese concoction enough to go back for seconds. Hodel's biscuits deserve their sterling regional reputation. Bonus points: Our waitress shared her first name with our daughter.
So that's the view of Bakersfield from my rear-view mirror.

If you happen to live (or are spending Thanksgiving weekend) in the Bay Area, and you'd like to kick off your Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa / Tet / insert-your-favorite-celebration-here season with the newly crowned Far Western District champions, buy your tickets now for our annual concert extravaganza, Unwrap the Holidays with Voices in Harmony. It's Saturday, November 29, at downtown San Jose's historic California Theatre. We've got music, we've got laughter, we've got glorious red tuxedos. Join us!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

What's Up With That? #65: Bring me the head of Drew Carey

Just when I think I've heard everything, my beloved San Francisco takes the insanity to another level.

The SFPD evacuated a Battery Street building this afternoon because a man walked into a law office with a make-believe bomb strapped to his waist.

The reason for this act of urban terrorism?

Apparently, the perpetrator was incensed because he had been turned down as a participant on The Price is Right.

No one knows what connection, if any, exists between the targeted law firm, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, and the popular CBS game show.

Upon hearing the news, TPIR host emeritus Bob Barker reportedly said, "This is why you should have all your rejected contestants spayed or neutered."

The yodeling mountain climber from the Cliff Hangers game could not be reached for comment.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Hot pants!

Today's Comic Art Friday is going to be performed James Brown style. That means I only have time to hit it and quit.

So let's hit it.

One of my favorite comic book reads last week was Supergirl #34. It's the book's first issue with its new creative team, writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle. Tough to be certain after just one issue, but so far, I like the direction that Gates and Igle have mapped out, both narratively and visually. Anything that takes Supergirl back to the fun and fascinating character she was in her 1970s heyday works for me.

Speaking of the '70s, artist Gene Gonzales shares my affection for Kara Zor-El, and for the costume she wore back in the Disco Age.

I love Jamal Igle's work, but if he ever gets tired of drawing Supergirl's adventures, Gene would be a fine next choice.

It was the late, great Godfather of Soul who once said, "Hot Pants — she got to use what she got to get what she wants." Perhaps the Hardest-Working Man in Show Business was a Supergirl fan, too.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ain't that a Mother's?

Tragic news today.

Mother's Cookies, the 94-year-old baking concern famed for its pink-and-white-frosted Circus Animal cookies, has ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy protection.

You'll have to excuse me...

I need a moment.

For all but the final two years of its existence, Mother's Cookies was based right here in the Bay Area — in Oakland, to be specific. In 2005, the company was sold to an East Coast investment firm, which the following year closed the Oakland facility that Mother's had occupied since 1949. The cookie-baking functions moved to Ohio, while the business office relocated to Battle Creek, Michigan. Some 230 local employees lost their jobs in the process.

In the corporate world, and especially in the current dicey economy, news like that of the Mother's Cookies bankruptcy doesn't come as a total shock. I lived through two company shutdowns myself, back when I was working for The Man every night and day. It's still sad, though, for the families who lost a paycheck. And it's sad for American culture, losing an icon that so many of us grew up with.

I sure am going to miss those Circus Animals.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

In the criminal justice system...

My daughter KM, a sophomore at the local junior college, was assigned to observe a trial for her criminal justice class. Today, she and I sojourned to the county courthouse and spent an intriguing afternoon in criminal court.

The trial we dropped in on had been in session for several days. We arrived in time to hear the final witness — which happened to be the defendant — and the closing arguments by the two contending attorneys.

Because the jurors have not, at this writing, begun to deliberate, I'll remain purposefully non-specific in describing the case. The defendant is facing three interrelated felony counts, stemming from a weapon discovered by Coast Guard officers aboard a boat the defendant owns. The defendant, who as a previously convicted felon is not permitted to possess a firearm, testified that the weapon in question belonged to a friend who had been living on the boat for a period of time. The defendant denied any knowledge of the weapon's existence until shortly before the Coast Guard arrived to rescue the two sailors during a storm at sea.

We see quite a few trials portrayed on television, both in fictional courtroom dramas such as Law & Order and in semi-documentary programming of the kind often shown on the channel that used to call itself Court TV. (It now goes by the peculiar moniker "truTV," in case you hadn't noticed.) It was interesting to see how reality differs from what we observe on the tube (TV programs edit out all of the tedious procedural folderol that happens), and surprising to see in how many ways the portrayals accurately reflect the nuances of courtroom theater.

The judge overseeing this particular case was familiar to me: I spent three days as a prospective juror in his courtroom on my last tour of jury duty. (I wasn't selected for the jury — the slots were filled before I was called to the jury box.) I didn't know either attorney, but as a citizen, I was pleased to note how creditably and efficiently both the prosecutor and the public defender represented their sides.

Based on the evidence we heard, I don't know whether the jury will find the defendant guilty or not guilty. But I feel confident that the fellow's case received a fair presentation, and that justice will be served.

That's what it's supposed to be about, isn't it?

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Flying tigresses

Today's Comic Art Friday is being composed under the influence of Starbucks Burundi Kayanza. Most East African coffees tend toward the bright and tart, but this varietal boasts a dark, complex, almost wine-like flavor palette. Nice.

At the conclusion of last Friday's post, I promised you additional "Bombshells!" entries from artists Terry Beatty and Dan Veesenmeyer. As Jim Lange used to say on The Dating Game, "And heeeeeeere they are!"

Because my "Bombshells!" commission series focuses on superheroines from the Golden Age of comics (basically, the 1930s, '40s, and '50s), I'm constantly searching for characters from that period to feature. Neither Terry Beatty nor I had heard of the Purple Tigress before I assigned Terry this commission, but she sure makes a terrific Bombshell!

Although she's all but forgotten today, the Purple Tigress starred in her own six-issue backup strip in Jo-Jo Comics, published in the mid-1940s by Fox Feature Syndicate. Fox offered a diverse variety of comic books, including what came to be known in the industry as "headlights comics" — series showcasing skimpily clad heroines with prominent... umm... "headlights." Fox's best-known creation in this latter genre was Phantom Lady, made famous by the art of "good girl" specialist Matt Baker. The most enduring hero in the Fox stable, however, was male — the Blue Beetle, a pastiche of the Green Hornet. A modernized Blue Beetle appears in DC Comics to this day.

Wonder Woman may be as renowned as the Purple Tigress is obscure. My affection for Princess Diana of the Amazons being what it is — and Comic Art Friday fans know that Wonder Woman is my all-time favorite comic book heroine, bar none — I took great care in selecting the artist who would draw her "Bombshells!" entry. Dan Veesenmeyer's previous contributions to the series sold me on the notion that he was the perfect choice.

Wonder Woman's costume has undergone a few tweaks over the decades — hey, you can't expect a gal to wear the exact same outfit for nearly 70 years, can you? For several years in the late 1960s and early '70s, she even dispensed with the bustier and star-spangled bottoms entirely, in favor of an ever-changing wardrobe of all-white mod fashions.

I've always remained partial, though, to Diana's original togs, which Dan depicts here. The lower portion of the costume, which looks like a skirt (and is often drawn that way in contemporary renderings), was actually a set of pleated culottes. Over time, these morphed into snug-fitting bicycle shorts, before becoming the increasingly brief, often thong-like panties Wonder Woman wears today. (To their credit, the artists who've illustrated the current WW monthly series — most notably Terry Dodson and Aaron Lopresti — have taken care not to overexpose Diana's hindquarters.)

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

In the pink

It's that time of year again:

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Regular SSTOL readers know that the cause of breast cancer awareness is — no pun intended — close to my heart. My wife KJ was first diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2000, and spent the succeeding nine months enduring the process of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment that has enabled her survival to this moment.

Last spring, KJ discovered that she has a metastatic form of the disease. With the help of an excellent oncologist, and a tsunami of love, faith, and prayers, she is continuing the daily fight for her life.

Here's the plain truth, Ruth: One woman in seven will be afflicted with breast cancer in her lifetime.

That's your mother.

Your sister.

Your daughter.

Your friend.

Your life partner.

Maybe you.

We need a cure. Not a century from now. Not a decade from now. Not a year from now.


If you're a woman of any age, learn and practice BSE (Breast Self-Exam).

If you're a woman over 20, start a conversation with your physician about your personal level of breast cancer risk, and get a clinical breast exam at least every three years. (KJ was first diagnosed at age 34.)

If you're a woman over 40, schedule a mammogram annually.

If you're not a woman, copy the preceding three paragraphs to every woman you care about.

Whatever your gender, think about making a donation today to the breast cancer awareness organization of your choice. We like the work Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been doing for the past 25 years. But there are other excellent organizations out there. Find one you can get behind, and get behind them with some folding money.

Consider yourself aware.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What's Up With That? #64: What, me read?

In an interview aired last evening on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin either couldn't or wouldn't give a specific answer to Couric's question about the news sources she reads. Here's the exchange:
Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.
I'm guessing that the governor wasn't certain whether Field & Stream, Guns & Ammo, The Hockey News, and Pageantry qualified as "news sources."

In the interest of full disclosure — and in the event that I am ever called upon to serve as the Vice President of the United States — my campaign is releasing the following list of online news sources I check regularly. I don't read everything on these sites — who has that kind of time? — but I do scan all of the headlines, and read each article that seems pertinent to me.
  • SFGate, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle, is the first site I review every day.

  • For world and national news, I read The New York Times and the network news sites, in order of preference: MSNBC, CBS News, CNN, ABC News, and FOX News.

  • For Sonoma County news, there's the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (which, continuing the full-disclosure theme, is owned by the New York Times) and our homegrown alternative weekly, the North Bay Bohemian.

  • For political updates, I'll check Politico. I don't read a lot of political blogs, but my daily review includes The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and yes, The Drudge Report, because everything's better with cheese.

  • For an aggregate sampling of everything — but mostly for entertainment, pop culture, and just plain bizarre news that I might never ferret out or stumble upon otherwise — I use TotalFARK, the expanded, subscription-only edition of
I'm SwanShadow, and I approve this message.

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