Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Class of '08

I've always wanted to do one of those year-end retrospective posts that are so popular in this here blogosphere, but I'm too darned lazy to go back and read every post I wrote during the past twelve months, just to find the ones I liked the best.

That is, I used to be too darned lazy.

I made it easier on myself by not writing hardly at all during the entire month of July. In those times when I was keeping abreast of my bloggery duty, I spun the following gems.Happy New Year, friend reader. Thank you for hanging out here throughout 2008. Let's hope 2009 is a better year for all of us.

Well, except for that Obama thing.

Because that couldn't get much better, really.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Praise the Lord, and pass the balut

As I write this post, I'm watching a rerun of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel.

In case you're unfamiliar with this delightful program, allow me to enlighten you. In every episode, chef Andrew Zimmern journeys to some foreign land (although a handful of shows have been filmed in various parts of the U.S.), finds the weirdest stuff that's being eaten by the local folk, and eats it.

And trust me, there's a lot of weird stuff being consumed on this big blue marble. Hence, Bizarre Foods.

In the episode I'm viewing, Andrew is in the Philippines. Longtime SSTOL readers will recall that I spent a chunk of my youth — two years, to be precise, from October 1973 through October 1975 — in that east Asian archipelago. Seeing this program brings back memories of places I visited, such as the cities of Manila and Pampanga, as well as the Filipino people.

And yes, things I ate.

As Andrew discovered, one of the popular cultural delicacies of the Philippines is balut, a common breakfast food and snack. Balut is a fertilized chicken or duck egg, with a partially developed embryo still inside the shell.

I know, I know. Just hang in there with me.

The eggs are boiled on the 18th day following fertilization — I'm not sure what the difference would be if you cooked one on the 17th or 19th day, but that just isn't done — then sold whole in the shell. The diner cracks open one end of the shell, slurps out the juice, then peels off the shell and consumes the baby fowl — eyes, beak, feet and all.

Now to Westerners like you and me, balut definitely sounds like the least acquirable of acquired tastes. In the Philippines, however, balut is comfort food, like your mom's meat loaf or macaroni and cheese.

When we first arrived in the country, we lived outside the confines of Clark Air Base in Angeles City. Bright and early every morning just at sunup, a fellow would come strolling down our street carrying two buckets full of steaming hot balut suspended from a stick slung across his shoulders. The neighborhood people would stream out of their homes at the call of "Ba-looooot! Ba-looooot!" Breakfast was served.

Now, I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater. I'm no Andrew Zimmern, mind you, but I'll sample almost anything once. I drew the line at balut. I feel certain that line has not moved in 30-plus years.

It's worth mentioning that balut is not characteristic of Filipino food in general, most of which is not bizarre in any respect, and is actually quite tasty. If you're serving up a banquet of sinigang, chicken adobo, pork mechado, pancit with shrimp, and fried lumpia, save me a chair.

I'll leave the balut to Andrew Zimmern.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Frontier justice

I see on the news sites that Ellie Nesler died the other day.

If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it may help jog your memory if I point out that Ellie Nesler was the woman who in 1993 walked into a courtroom in the Gold Rush town of Sonora, California, and shot to death the man being tried for molesting her six-year-old son.

Ellie's initial conviction for voluntary manslaughter was overturned due to some jury shenanigans, but the pistol-packing mama later copped a plea and served three years in prison. Her sentence was actually longer than that, but she received a reduction because she was being treated for breast cancer. The whole episode was chronicled in a made-for-cable movie (USA Network, not Lifetime, but that shows you're thinking) in 1999.

The part of Ellie's story that didn't warrant a teleflick came in 2002, when she was convicted of selling methamphetamine and sent back to the slammer for another four years.

In 2004, while Ellie was cooling her heels at the women's prison in Chowchilla, her son William stomped a guy to death less than an hour after getting out of jail from a previous assault conviction. William is currently serving 25 years to life in the big house.

At the time of the incident that brought her national fame, Ellie Nesler was hailed by some as a heroine and vilified by others as a vigilante.

Now, we can just call her the late Ms. Nesler.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Best of Comic Art Friday 2008, Volume 2

Last week on Comic Art Friday, we took a fond look back at my favorite commissions from the year now concluding.

For me, the highlight of 2008's art collecting season came in the form of my newest theme gallery. Bombshells!, a loving tribute to my Air Force childhood (during which my affection for comics flowered), features superheroines from the Golden Age of comics (the late 1930s through the early 1950s) posing in pinups styled after World War II-era bomber nose art.

From the day of its debut in late May, Bombshells! proved itself one of the most popular sections in my online gallery, with the posted items garnering more than 9,600 individual page views.

Bombshells! affords me a unique opportunity to salute some of my favorite classic heroines, such as Mary Marvel (pencil art by Jeffrey Moy)...

...enduring second-tier characters, such as Liberty Belle (pencils by Daniel B. Veesenmeyer, inks by Bob Almond)...

...nearly forgotten former stars, such as Miss Masque (pencil art by Anthony Carpenter)...

...and utter obscurities that only the most fanatical comics history buffs have heard of, such as the Purple Tigress (pencils and inks by Terry Beatty).

Look for more new Bombshells! coming in 2009.

And now — drumroll, please, Maestro — my Comic Art Friday Artist of the Year for 2008.

[wrestling with recalcitrant seal on envelope]

And the winner is...

Gene Gonzales, the Florida-based pro whose clean lines and fresh, vibrant characters added boundless excitement and beauty to my collection this year.

Gene contributed three magnificent pinups to my Bombshells! theme:

Kitten, Cat-Man's youthful assistant...

Yankee Girl, a one-shot patriotic powerhouse...

...and this absolutely splendid rendition of Sun Girl.

Not content with these fine creations, Gene also swung for the fences with this addition to my Common Elements theme, starring Shadowcat and Phantom Girl.

And in case you thought he'd exhausted his wellspring of artistic genius, Gene also drew this sweet rendition of Supergirl, wearing her classic costume from the swinging '70s.

Thanks, Gene! And thanks to every one of the artists whose work entered my collection this year. You all honor me with your amazing talents.

And that's your Comic Art Friday for 2008.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Catwoman's last groove

Not to rain a bummer down on your Yuletide or anything, but...

Eartha Kitt died today.

You young whippersnappers know Ms. Kitt as the voice of Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove, one of the best Disney animated films of the past decade, and its spin-off television series, The Emperor's New School.

Those of us with a few miles on our odometers knew that the multitalented Ms. Kitt possessed many facets. She was an actress; nominated for two Tony Awards, she was a favorite of actor-director Orson Welles (on and off the set, or so the whispers tell). She was a singer; ironically, given her death on Christmas Day, her best-known musical number was the original rendition of the pop-jazz carol "Santa Baby." She was a social activist; her scathing remarks condemning the Vietnam War at a White House function reportedly reduced Lady Bird Johnson, the then-incumbent First Lady, to tears.

Eartha Kitt broke barriers in a number of ways, perhaps most memorably in 1967, when she took over the role of Catwoman in the hit Batman after Julie Newmar left the show. "Color-blind" casting is relatively common today — think of Denzel Washington in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, to cite just one recent instance — but in the '60s, it was practically unheard of that an African-American actor would be cast in a role written for a Caucasian.

Kitt's turn as the Felonious Feline was all the more remarkable in that the character's race was never made an issue. No one on Batman ever seemed to notice that the new Catwoman was black. Again, unheard of in mid-20th century Hollywood.

Kitt's tradition-shattering portrayal opened possibilities for countless other actors to be chosen for roles for which they might never have been considered — such as Halle Berry in the title role in Catwoman.


Let me think of a better example.

How about Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin in Daredevil?

Yeah, that works.

Back to Eartha Kitt...

In addition to her work behind the Disney microphone (for which she earned her second Daytime Emmy just a couple of months ago), the legendary star spent her later years performing her popular cabaret act, acting in the occasional stage production (she toured as the Fairy Godmother in the national company of Cinderella a few years back), and battling colon cancer.

She died less than one month shy of her 82nd birthday.

As the great Ms. Kitt might have said herself... meow.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reindeer on my rooftop

If I were jolly old Kris Kringle (and not just a guy shaped like him), and had a bottomless bag filled with infinite magic, I'd give everyone what they really want for Christmas...
  • For President-elect Obama: Wisdom and patience. And especially, the patience to wait for wisdom.

  • For Rhodester, Sean, and millions like them: New jobs.

  • For Damon: Completion and delivery of a certain long-overdue art commission.

  • For Bob Almond: Tired brushes.

  • For Alicia: A new lower 48.

  • For Shelby: Sunbeams and rainbows, and a lifetime to chase them.

  • For Donna: Italian dinner.

  • For Shelli: Peanut butter.

  • For Eugene: The head of Charles I.

  • For Bruce Bochy: Two young studs who can hit both for average and power, at least one of whom plays first base.

  • For Mike Singletary: A shredder for his "interim" tag.

  • For Don Nelson: A one-way ticket to Maui.

  • For Dr. Greg Lyne: Another gold medal before retirement. Maybe two.

  • For Chelle: A new dog.

  • For Janet: Anything but a new dog.

  • For Sank: A shot at being Supreme Bodacious Armadillo, or whatever it is that they call the head guy in his Masonic lodge.

  • For The Real Sam Johnson: A new kidney.

  • For Ferrett: A case of those disgusting Jones Sodas. For him, that's actually a good thing.

  • For all of my voiceover buds: A case of Throat Coat tea.

  • For KM: A real live horse of her own, and the wherewithal to feed, stable, and ride it for the next 20 years.

  • For KJ, and for Maria, and for Sonja, and for everyone else in the world who desperately needs it: A cure.
Sad to say, I am not Santa Claus. Nor was meant to be.

The only gift I can give you all is this...

I love you.

Merry Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa's little helper

Still struggling to come up with that last-second Christmas present?

Have a stocking or two yet lacking a bit of stuffing?

Can't figure out what to give the man or woman who has everything?

Is that what's bothering you, bunkie?

Just remember this simple three-word phrase, and all will be well:

Everyone loves Money.

Your Uncle Swan included.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

I can't drive 35

Our back yard is separated by a fence, some shrubbery, and a sidewalk from Rohnert Park Expressway, our fair city's primary east-west traffic artery.

Since the dawn of time — or at least, since I first moved here in 1977 — the speed limit on Expressway has been 35 miles per hour. This has been a source of undying frustration for many of us who live here, because (a) practically no one drives 35 on Expressway, and (b) there's no sound reason to do so — it's a four-lane divided thoroughfare with no direct residential frontage.

Wonder of wonders: Sometime in the last week, the speed limit changed to 40.

From what I've been able to determine through research, the city finally succumbed to a federal statute that prohibits municipalities from setting unreasonably low speed limits in order to create speed traps. That has definitely been the case on Expressway, where a driveway into the main police station is a frequent hideout for officers armed with radar scopes.

A survey indicated that more than 85% of the traffic on Expressway traveled in excess of the posted 35 — which, under the aforementioned law, demonstrates that the speed limit is lower than necessary. In order not to lose federal transportation funds, the City of Rohnert Park was obligated to revisit the speed limit on Expressway, and revise it upward.

So, up to 40 it went.

Personally, I think a limit of 45 might have made even better sense. But I'll gratefully accept the extra five miles per hour.

Of course, the city found a way to make up at least some portion of the difference. The eastern end of Expressway, which travels out of the residential area into undeveloped space behind Sonoma State University, has always been unsigned, meaning that the legal limit was a default 55.

It's now posted at 45.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

So bubalah, save the last levivah for me

Here's a warm wish for a joy-filled Hanukkah for all of my Jewish friends and blogosphere buds (you know who you are — if I start rattling off names, I'll be in trouble with the one person I forget), as they begin celebrating the Festival of Lights this evening at sunset.

May your menorah burn brightly, and surround you and your family with the light of love and life.

It would be a real mitzvah if you kept the blintzes warm for your goyische brother until I get there. And don't bogart all the cherries.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Comic Art Friday: The Best of 2008

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the grande dame of the Star Trek universe, who passed away yesterday at the age of 76.

The widow of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Majel had a recurring role in the original 1960s series as Nurse Christine Chapel, whose most distinctive characteristic was her unrequited love for Mr. Spock. Majel also appeared as Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi's meddlesome mother, in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Off camera, the actress provided the voice of the Enterprise's computer system in both the original series and ST:TNG, as well as that of the feline Lt. M'Ress in Star Trek: The Animated Series.

A beloved fixture for years on the convention circuit, Majel will be missed by Trek's legions of fans.

In addition to it being Comic Art Friday, today is my 47th birthday. So I'm going to do whatever I darn well please. (I know, I know... I do that every Friday. Old habits die hard.)

What pleases me is getting an early start on our traditional look back at the year's best acquisitions. This way, we can spread the retrospective goodness over two consecutive Comic Art Fridays, and bask in the reflected glow of my favorite new pieces of 2008 for a week longer.

In the words of the late Heath Ledger: And here... we... go!

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Heroes Division:
"Force of Gravity" — pencils by Sal Velluto, inks by Bob Almond
Captain Gravity and Gravity

Sal and Bob, the longtime artistic team on Marvel's Black Panther, created two incredible additions to my Common Elements theme gallery in 2008. I loved the whimsy of Sal's design in this one, which featured another character from the Sal and Bob catalog — Penny-Farthing's Captain Gravity.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Heroines Division:
"Val to the Third Power" — pencils by Val Semeiks
Valkyrie (from Airboy) and Valkyrie (from The Defenders)

Val Semeiks's impeccable storytelling slams a home run with this concept, which was tailor-made (well, it would be, if I were a tailor) for him. Beautifully designed, and deftly drawn.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Co-Ed Division (tie):
"Celestial Domes" — pencils by Steve Carr, inks by Joe Rubinstein
Moondragon and the Martian Manhunter

As was the case last year, I had a tough time deciding this category. Thus, for the second year in a row, I split the difference to honor two outstanding artworks. The early leader here was this dazzling scenario imagined by Steve Carr, then splendidly finished by Joe Rubinstein.

Favorite "Common Elements" Commission, Co-Ed Division (tie):
"Identity Theft" — pencils and inks by Mike Vosburg
Starfire and Steel

And then came this stellar entry from Bronze Age veteran Mike Vosburg. Mike pairs his creation Starfire with her fellow overlooked DC non-star, Steel. Mike still draws with the same muscular energy that made those '70s comics so much fun.

Favorite Storm:
Aaron Lopresti (pencils and inks)

Wonder Woman artist Lopresti rocked this image of the lightning-commanding X-Man at WonderCon back in February. Aaron really hustled to complete this one before the end of the day on Saturday.

Favorite Supergirl:
Matthew Clark (pencils)

Matthew is one of the most underappreciated talents in the comics industry. His name doesn't often surface when fans call out their current favorites. But man, oh man, can this guy sling a pencil.

Favorite Mary Marvel:
David Williams (mixed media)

David is perhaps best known for drawing "kids' comics" for the all-ages Marvel Adventures line. His work brims with boundless joy, clever design, and a sly sense of humor. All three qualities sparkle in this WonderCon commission.

Favorite Wonder Woman:
Daniel B. Veesenmeyer (pencils)

"DVeese" helped inaugurate my new Bombshells! theme gallery (about which, more next Friday) this year with several nicely rendered pieces. Here, he recalls the original appearance of the Amazing Amazon in classic nose art style.

Favorite Beauties With Blades:
Phil Noto (pencils and inks)

Alex Niño (pencils and inks)

Two more stunning components of a truly memorable WonderCon haul.

Next Friday, we'll review the best of Bombshells!, and announce our 2008 Artist of the Year.

If you want to send me a piece or two of original comic art for my birthday, I'll gladly accept it, even if it arrives later. Or you could drive over, hand me the art in person, and then take me out to birthday lunch. I promise not to order the lobster.

(No, I don't.)

And that's your Comic Art Friday. Now get off my lawn.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The L. Ron Hubbard School of Mathematics

Just in case anyone still needed proof that Scientology rots the brain:

In an interview published in the December 8 issue of Newsweek, Will Smith extols the virtues of his boon companion Tom Cruise, whom the Fresh Prince of All Media describes as "one of the most open, honest and helpful people I've met in Hollywood, or really anywhere."

Reporter Allison Samuels follows up: "No one else gave you that kind of support in all your years in the business?"

To which Will responds: "Well, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby reached out and really helped me back in the day, but they were older. Tom is my age..."

Umm, Will...

Tom Cruise is your age, but Eddie Murphy is "older"?

Will Smith was born September 25, 1968. Save the grab for your calculator: He's 40.

Eddie Murphy was born born April 3, 1961. He's 47. Okay, so he's older than Will — not as much as Bill Cosby, who's 71, but still, a few years older.

Tom Cruise was born July 3, 1962. That makes him 46... just one year younger than the apparently ancient Eddie Murphy.

Will: Put that copy of Dianetics down now, before your skull implodes.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's Up With That? #69: No cake for Hitler

What kind of whack job does one have to be to name one's children "Adolf Hitler" and "Aryan Nation"?

If this (cross-)burning question has been plaguing you, friend reader, you now have a resource. Direct your inquiries to Heath and Deborah Campbell of Holland Township, Pennsylvania.

The Campbells made news this week when a ShopRite supermarket refused to inscribe "Happy Birthday, Adolf Hitler" on a cake intended for the Campbells' three-year-old son, Adolf Hitler Campbell. The same store previously refused to personalize a cake for the couple's two-year-old daughter, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell.

Go figure.

Fortunately for the Campbells, a Wal-Mart in nearby Lower Nazareth Township happily complied with their request. (Wal-Mart. Owned by Republicans from Arkansas. Draw your own conclusions.)

The Campbells, who display swastikas in each room of their home — which, before you ask, is not a double-wide on cinder blocks, at least not according to the Easton Express-Times — "say they aren't racists but believe races shouldn't mix."

Perhaps a dictionary is in order.

Although, looking at this photo of Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, I'm guessing that reading is not a family priority. Maybe not even a family capability.

I wonder whether Deborah Campbell knows that her own first name is the Hebrew word for "bee."


You know... Jewish.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chip and a chair, baby!

Online Poker

I have registered to play in the PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

The WBCOOP is an online Poker tournament open to all Bloggers.

Registration code: 530517

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Better living through chemistry

Unlike many bloggers, I don't usually belabor a ton of personal business in this space. For one thing, I'm a rather internal person, even around people I know well, much less relative strangers like the lot of you. (Not that I don't love you, each and every one. Just saying, is all.) For another, who really cares?

But indulge me today.

Longtime SSTOL readers know that my wife KJ is a breast cancer survivor. She was first diagnosed in 2000, and went through the usual battery of treatments. Nearly two years ago, she was diagnosed with significant skeletal metastasis. Since then, she has undergone a course of radiation therapy, and an ongoing regimen of antihormonal treatments designed to combat her cancer, while reducing the level of estrogens that enable said cancer to thrive.

Today, KJ begins chemotherapy.

From a realistic perspective, we knew that the time would eventually arrive when her treatment would have to ratchet up to the next level. That foreknowledge doesn't make this suck any less.

Medical science in general, and the treatment of breast cancer specifically, had advanced considerably in the past eight years. Previously, KJ's chemotherapy consisted of being hooked up for three hours to an IV pump at the cancer center every third Friday. This time around, she'll just take a handful of bright pink pills every morning and evening.

The other positive is that, unlike eight years ago, KJ's oncologist has a whole raft of other medications to try if this first salvo doesn't produce the desired results. Back in the day, only a couple of chemical cocktails (both of which KJ endured) were in the medicine cabinet. Now, we have a lot more arrows in the quiver — kind of like the Silver Age Hawkeye.

We'll take prayers if you've got 'em. Warm thoughts are welcome too, if you're not the praying kind.

And, if you have a few extra greenbacks in your pocket after Christmas shopping and gasoline, you could do worse than making a donation to the breast cancer research and education nonprofit of your choice. We believe the folks at Susan G. Komen for the Cure do fine work, if you need a suggestion.

Back to frivolity tomorrow.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Just another brick in the wall

I can't recall whether I've mentioned this previously, so... stop me if you've heard this before.

A while back, artist Bob Almond asked me to serve as one of the moderators at the Inkwell Awards forum. The Inkwell Awards, as faithful Comic Art Friday perusers know, were instituted earlier this year as an annual acknowledgment of inkers, those often unsung heroes of the comics industry.

An e-mail from Bob the other day reminded me that it's been a while since we did one of our before-and-after reviews of one of Bob's inking commissions. So, let's get to it.

Here's a pencil drawing we've seen before. It's Spider-Woman — to be precise, it's Jessica Drew, the first and most familiar of Marvel's trio of heroines known by that appellation — as rendered by pinup specialist Mitch Foust.

Lovely work, as Mitch's art always is. Lovely enough, in fact, that I knew that my friend Bob Almond could transform it into something truly spectacular.

And indeed, Bob did.

When I sent Mitch's pencil art to Bob, I asked him to simulate a brick wall within the blank geometric space Mitch included in the background. I had in mind the iconic cover of Spider-Woman #1, in which our heroine is caught in the beam of a searchlight against a building wall. (It's a concrete block wall in the original cover, not brick, but I thought the bricks would look hip, slick, and cool.) I had envisioned Bob either drawing in a brick pattern freehand, or replicating such a pattern from an existing drawing.

I was surprised when Bob returned the art that he had done neither of these. Indeed, I couldn't figure out exactly how he had created the brick effect. I could see that the brickwork wasn't hand-drawn — it's too smooth and regular for that to be true. Beyond that, though, I was clueless about the technique.

Thus, I did the logical thing, and asked Bob, "How'd you do that?" His reply:
I took a zip screen [Zip-a-tone is a printed film comic artists use for special effects work; it was much more commonly used in the age before Photoshop] that had that pattern, but smaller. I then scanned it and enlarged it and lightened it. I printed it up on a clear adhesive sheet and applied it, cutting out the excess parts. There was some minor lifting of the art in places from the adhesive, but I made sure to go back and redo sections.
They're clever people, those inkers. Someone should give them awards.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bettie turns the final Page

Back in March, we had the sad duty of reporting the death of artist Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer.

In that post, we observed that Stevens's fame will be forever entwined with that of 1950s pinup queen Bettie Page, whom Stevens used as the prototype for the Rocketeer's girlfriend Betty (note the different yet referential spelling). Stevens's work revived interest in the largely forgotten cult star, returning her to the spotlight after decades of anonymity.

Now, sadly, Stevens's muse has followed him into the next life.

Bettie Page

Bettie Page suffered a heart attack last week, leaving her comatose in a Los Angeles hospital. After having been kept on life support for several days, she passed away earlier today.

Ms. Page made her fame as one of the first models to transition from the underground pornography scene of the '50s into something approaching mainstream media. She was one of Playboy's earliest centerfolds, appearing in the January 1955 issue (one month before actress Jayne Mansfield).

Prior to her debut in Hugh Hefner's bunny rag, Bettie appeared in hundreds of ribald magazines, postcards, and non-explicit short films, many with sadomasochistic or bondage themes. She also posed for a series of pictures by Bunny Yeager, one of the first female pinup photographers. It was Yeager who brought Bettie to Hefner's attention. Thanks to her increased exposure (no pun intended), Bettie rapidly became the most popular pinup model in America.

In the late '50s, after her mentor Irving Klaw was prosecuted for distributing pornography through the mail, Bettie underwent a religious conversion and retired from modeling. She later attended several Bible colleges, and reportedly did some charitable and missionary work. She remained in relative seclusion until Dave Stevens, and other artists including Greg Theakston and Jim Silke, introduced the sunny-faced brunette to a new legion of fans. A 2005 film biography, The Notorious Bettie Page, featured Gretchen Mol in the title role.

It's unfortunate that when many people think of Bettie Page, their minds will automatically snap to the word "pornography." Unlike the porn stars of today, Bettie never performed sexual acts of any kind in front of a camera — unless one considers nudity itself a sexual act. Ironically, I first became aware of Ms. Page's career when, as a broadcast journalism student at San Francisco State University in the early 1980s, I wrote a research paper on the adult film industry.

Despite this connection, I, like many of her modern-day fans, really developed an interest in Bettie only after her image began to appear in Rocketeer comic books. My comic art collection contains — at least, so far — only one Bettie-inspired drawing: this Common Elements piece by Greg LaRocque, starring Phantom Lady and the Phantom Stranger. You'll notice that Greg's depiction of Phantom Lady bears a striking resemblance to a certain dark-tressed pinup idol.

Bettie Page declined most requests from photographers in her waning years. She preferred to be remembered as she was in her heyday.

I don't think there's any question but that she will be.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five questions

If you stop by here frequently, you may have noticed that I rarely do memes. In 1,600 posts over four and a half years, I think I've done maybe three.

Let's make it four.

Adam Avitable posted his version of "Five Questions" shortly before Thanksgiving. The idea of the meme is this: Someone asks you five questions of his or her choosing. As the participant, you agree to answer the five questions on your own blog (with a link back to your interviewer). In turn, you offer to create a unique five-part questionnaire for another volunteer or group of volunteers. Adam collected more than 50 willing interview subjects, of which I am one.

So, off we go.

1. Where did the name SwanShadow come from, and did anyone suggest that it's a bit of a feminine name?

That's really two questions, but in for a penny, in for a pound.

My official SwanShadow story goes like this: As a freelance copywriter and editor, I work in anonymity. When I write ad copy or sales letters or radio spots or any of the other folderol I'm paid to create, I rarely get a byline or credit. Indeed, I often work for clients who prefer that I don't acknowledge, even on my own site, that I'm the person who does their writing, or the writing for the companies they represent. Thus, I work in the shadows. It's my job to take other people's ugly-duckling brands, concepts, and sales prose, and transform them into beautiful swans.

The truth, however, is that I created the SwanShadow handle years before I hung out my freelance shingle. Its true significance is known only to me.

But the other thing's my official story, and as far as the public is concerned, I'm sticking to it.

As for the femininity angle, I get that on rare occasion — most often from other players at online poker tables. I must confess that it never occurred to me before I started using the name.

I don't think of swans as female, particularly, if I think of them in terms of gender at all. In Greek mythology, Zeus took the form of a swan when he impregnated Leda (whether by force or by seduction depends on whose version of the myth you believe). The title character in Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling — which inspired my "official" explanation — is also male. Then again, Odette in Swan Lake is a princess.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

2. Marvel or DC? Corollary: Who's your favorite artist?

Again with the two-fer! Curse you, Avitable!

When I was a comics-reading kid growing up, it was definitely Marvel. I read just about everything DC published, of course, when my friends weren't looking. But if I had to choose up sides, I was a Marvelite to the core. I belonged to both of Marvel's official fan clubs, the Merry Marvel Marching Society and its successor, FOOM (Friends of Ol' Marvel). Marvel's heroes were the ones I identified with most closely, and that I cared the most about.

These days, my reading list is much closer to 50-50. I think of it this way: I read Marvel for its connection to my history, and DC for its present reality.

My favorite artist depends on the period:
  • Golden Age: Matt Baker (Phantom Lady), Lou Fine (The Ray), Mac Raboy (Captain Marvel Jr.), and Lee Elias (The Black Cat).
  • Silver Age: John Buscema (Thor, Conan), John Romita Sr. (Amazing Spider-Man), and Jim Aparo (The Brave and the Bold).
  • Bronze Age: Barry Windsor-Smith (Conan) and Keith Pollard (pretty much everything at Marvel).
  • Modern Age: George Pérez (Wonder Woman), Adam Hughes (Wonder Woman, again), Mark Schultz (Xenozoic Tales, a.k.a. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs), and the recently departed Dave Stevens (The Rocketeer) and Mike Wieringo (Fantastic Four).
But if I had to pick one artist from all of comics history? That's easy — Will Eisner.

3. What's your favorite writing achievement?

I'm tempted to say this blog, because so much of my heart and soul lies bare on these virtual pages.

But instead, I'm going to point to the 146 film and television reviews I wrote for DVD Verdict during my five years as a staff member there. It was mentally and creatively challenging work, and I enjoyed it thoroughly — even when reviewing Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks that were so wretched, I could feel my brain cells decaying as I watched them.

If there were unlimited hours in the day and my body never required sleep, I'd still be writing for the Verdict.

4. Do you think that blogging is just lazy writing?

Perish the thought. No writing is lazy writing. Lazy writers don't write.

I will admit to being frustrated with writers — bloggers and otherwise — who don't take every opportunity to write as well as they can. If you're going to write at all, even if it's "just a blog," why not give it your best effort? Use and spell words correctly. Write coherently, and mostly in complete sentences. Share original thoughts, at least to the degree that any thought is "original," rather than simply parroting what you've read elsewhere.

Life's too short to write badly.

But it's especially too short not to write at all.

5. Is Alex Trebek really as obnoxious in person as he seems on TV?

If I had an FAQ on this blog, this question would be on it. Heck, if I had an FAQ for my life, this question would be on it.

Although I've played eleven games on Jeopardy! and its associated tournaments during the past 20 years, I don't really know Alex Trebek. With a single exception I will address in a moment, all of my interaction with Alex has been on the set of Jeopardy! during the course of game play or the post-program chat that takes place while the show's credits roll. Alex has always been polite and personable toward me in those circumstances. (Though he did call me by another contestant's name when I won my quarter-final game in the 1988 Tournament of Champions. I've long since forgiven him for that faux pas. Sort of.)

When I was first on the show in '88, Alex was not only the host of Jeopardy!, but was also the show's producer. Back then, he had numerous other responsibilities on taping days besides just running the game on camera. In the years since he gave up the producer's job (which has been assayed ever since by the guy who used to be Alex's assistant, a model of level-headed efficiency named Rocky Schmidt), Alex has appeared more relaxed, and less harried and abrupt, when I've been on the set.

Or maybe he's just matured as he's aged.

The one occasion I've been around Alex off-camera was in 1997, when I participated in a special one-game Jeopardy! event called Battle of the Bay Area Brains. My wife, daughter, and I were invited to a reception following the taping. Alex took time to be both congenial and kind to my then-eight-year-old daughter, and signed several autographs for her.

I guess the short answer (if it's not already too late for that) is that Alex has always been fine with me. Mrs. Trebek may tell an entirely different tale.

Those are my five questions. If you're a regular here — or even if you're just a-passin' through — and would like me to interview you, here's the official "Five Questions" boilerplate:
Want to be part of it? Follow these instructions:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by e-mailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
In the spirit of Mr. Avitable, I'll interview as many of you as volunteer. (I can make that commitment safely, knowing that I'm nowhere near as popular as Adam is.)

Thanks to Avitable for the excellent questions!

Even if there really were seven.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hot Rod in hot water

Before he was arrested this morning, I only knew three facts about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich:
  1. He and I matriculated at the same institution of higher learning.
  2. He's the only sitting governor with a surname even more difficult to spell than "Schwarzenegger."
  3. Every time he made news that reached as far as California, it had something to do with allegations of corruption.
It doesn't appear as though that last fact is going to change anytime soon.

If Blagojevich is guilty of even a handful of the charges contained in the 78-page criminal complaint against him, he'll be enjoying the hospitality of the taxpaying public for many years to come... although not in the setting he had hoped.

Among the U.S. attorney's more startling accusations, Blagojevich:
  • Considered appointing himself to President-elect Obama's now-vacant U.S. Senate seat. Apparently, the much-maligned, much-investigated governor believed that a few years in the Senate would set him up for a White House run in 2016. (Dream on, Rod.)

  • Discussed attempting to bargain with Obama for either a Cabinet post (specifically, Health and Human Services Secretary) or an ambassadorship in exchange for choosing someone else (namely, Valerie Jarrett, co-chair of the Obama-Biden transition team) for the Senate seat. When his staff suggested that Blagojevich appoint Jarrett without expecting a quid pro quo from the President-elect, the governor was recorded as saying, "[Expletive deleted] him."

  • Reportedly had conversations with his advisers in which he suggested that at least two possible candidates for the Senate vacancy might be willing to "pay to play"; that is, contribute millions to Blagojevich and/or his pet causes in exchange for a ticket to Washington.
Don't these people ever learn? In this electronic age, anything indictable that a politician says is being captured in an audio file somewhere. Blagojevich, especially, should have been more circumspect — the FBI has been dogging his every step almost from the moment he took office. He practically dared federal prosecutors to uncover some dirt about him, much as Colorado Senator Gary Hart challenged reporters during the 1984 Presidential campaign. That challenge, you'll recall, resulted in that infamous photograph of Hart wearing his "Monkey Business" T-shirt as he dandled his mistress Donna Rice on his knee.

Blagojevich didn't even get the T-shirt.

Ironically, Blagojevich's predecessor in the Illinois state house, George Ryan, is currently serving a six-year term in federal prison following a corruption conviction.

At least Blagojevich will have someone to talk with.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

I'm a Funny Book Fanatic!

But then, you knew that. Especially if you drop around here on the sixth day of every week, when we celebrate Comic Art Fridays.

Today, however, we here at SSTOL are honored — and more than a mite humbled — to be recognized as Funny Book Fanatic's Blog of the Week.

Surprised, too, given that we deal with a diversity of pop culture whiz-bang here, and focus on comics and our lifelong affection for them only on Fridays. We're tickled by the notoriety, nonetheless.

Funny Book Fanatic was launched recently by comics industry veteran Dave Olbrich, who was founder and publisher of the late, much-lamented Malibu Comics for nearly a decade in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dave was also one of the leading lights behind the development of the Eisner Awards, the comic book industry's annual equivalent to the Oscars. Therefore, the fact that our little effort here even landed on Dave's radar is wicked cool.

Then again, I love comics, and I attended college in Malibu. So I guess all of this serendipity makes some kind of cosmic sense.

In his blog post, Dave makes particular mention of our "Common Elements" commission series, with which Comic Art Friday regulars are familiar. It's only fitting that we flash back to this Common Elements creation by Darick Robertson, which features one of Malibu Comics' biggest stars, The Night Man, in pitched battle with Marvel's Night Thrasher. (Darick co-created The Night Man, and drew an extended run of New Warriors, starring Night Thrasher, back in the early '90s.)

Thanks to Dave Olbrich for the publicity and the ego-boo. Please be so kind as to check out Dave's Funny Book Fanatic, and dig the wealth of comics insider lore that's to be enjoyed there.

If you, too, are a funny book fanatic, it's a must-read.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Precept upon precept, line upon line

Comic art is a marvelously collaborative creative endeavor. In a published comic book, every page reflects the work of as many as four artists: the penciler, the inker, the letterer, and (assuming the book is published in color) the colorist.

Occasionally, one individual handles more than one of these tasks — this is more common in independent comics than in books published by one of the larger concerns — but whether by one hand or many, each job contributes to the finished art.

Let's use a piece from my Common Elements gallery to illustrate how the pencil, ink, and color artists all add their unique talents to a single artwork.

Comic Art Friday regulars have seen these pencils before. This is Dave Hoover, known for his work on such series as DC's Starman and Marvel's Captain America, with a beautiful rendering of a pair of psi-powered heroines: the X-Men's Phoenix, and Looker from Batman's Outsiders.

After Dave created the original pencils, the page traveled to the drawing table of Bob Almond, one of my favorite inkers to commission. (Bob's published work has appeared most recently in Wildstorm's A Nightmare on Elm Street series and Marvel's Annihilation: Conquest - Quasar.) The completed page art looks like this, after the Almond touch.

Ah, but we're not done yet. Colorist Blake Wilkie, who like both Dave Hoover and Bob Almond is represented by Bob Shaw's Serendipity Art Sales, applies the magic of digital color to produce an image that would look spectacular on the cover of Common Elements Comics. (Hey, now...!)

Here at last, we can see another common element that our fetching heroines share — they're both redheads.

About 27 centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.
As appropriate as his words are, I doubt that Isaiah knew anything about the process of creating comic art. But you never know. Inspiration is a marvelous, mysterious thing.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's Up With That? #68: Unkempt afterwards

This struck me as a rather peculiar news item.

Sean Avery, a player with the National Hockey Association's Dallas Stars, made the following statement to a group of reporters covering the Stars' game earlier this week against the Calgary Flames:
I am really happy to be back in Calgary. I love Canada. I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about. Enjoy the game tonight.
As the sporting press dutifully acknowledged, Avery's ex-girlfriend, actress (and as an ardent fan of 24, I'm using that word with extreme accommodation) Elisha Cuthbert, is dating a Flames defenseman named Dion Phaneuf.

Apparently, Avery disapproves.

But perhaps not as much as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman disapproves of Avery's choice of metaphor. Bettman suspended Avery indefinitely for "inappropriate public comments."

Now, this seems weird to me on several levels. Allow me to elucidate.

When I first heard about Avery's indiscretion, the news account simply stated the charge, without publishing Avery's exact words. I presumed that he had used one of the two four-letter Anglo-Saxonisms for the female reproductive anatomy (let's call them the "C" word and the "T" word) in reference to Ms. Cuthbert. I was taken aback somewhat when I learned what term he'd actually used.

Is "sloppy seconds" profane? Crude, yes. Uncomplimentary, without question — though I think I may have used stronger terminology to critique Ms. Cuthbert's acting talents (or utter lack of same) on at least one or two occasions. (All right, you've got me — every week for the first three seasons of 24.)

But a chargeable offense? Seems extreme to me.

Unlike the "C" and "T" words, however, I'm fairly certain that you could use the expression "sloppy seconds" on primetime network television. (Not that you should. I'm just saying.) It was the title of a Dr. Hook album way back in 1972, for crying out loud. If you could put it on the cover of a pop album (not to mention the cover of the Rolling Stone) 36 years ago, I'm sure you could probably get away with it on Two and a Half Men today. (If anyone would know about "sloppy seconds," it would have to be Charlie Sheen.)

I was also puzzled by the fact that Avery tossed this remark off (no pun intended) in an interview with journalists in a locker room. (Do they call it a locker room in hockey, or is it a clubhouse? Not sure. Not caring. Moving on...) Was this really the first thing Sean could think of to say when confronted with a battery of microphones? Whatever happened to, "We've gotta play 'em one game at a time... the guys are really pulling together... that's the way the puck slides sometimes... sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes the Zamboni breaks down"? Did this man never see Bull Durham? Crash Davis to the Stars' locker room, please.

For that matter, why are there reporters in a hockey locker room, interviewing players? Does anyone care what hockey players have to say? I mean, the Sharks might be the best team in the NHL right now, and you don't hear Joe Thornton or Jonathan Cheechoo babbling inanities about their ex-girlfriends — or anything else — on the local sports talk station. We know how to keep our Canadians under control here in the Bay Area.

And one other odd thing...

There's an ice hockey team in Dallas?

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Maybe we're just flamboyant

I'm a huge fan of The 5th Wheel, the often-hilarious blog about barbershop singing written by Mike McGee, the original baritone of one of my favorite quartets, the recently retired Metropolis.

Yesterday, Mike posted a list of the competitors in the 2009 Barbershop Harmony Society International Chorus Contest. Because next July's International will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center, Mike jokingly assigns each chorus a "convention host" from Disneyland's cast of characters.

Who did Mike assign to my chorus, Voices in Harmony, the reigning Far Western District Chorus Champions?

"The gay parade dancer."

Seriously, is that any way to talk about northern California's premier men's a cappella chorus? I think not.

As Molly used to say... "'Tain't funny, McGee!"

(Okay, maybe it's a little funny.)

I suppose that any all-male performing organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area will occasionally get tagged with some measure of gay stereotype. After all, residents in sizable swaths of the country are convinced that everyone in the Bay Area is gay. (We, in turn, might characterize folks in those swaths as rednecks, which likewise may not be entirely accurate.) That perception may be especially strong when applied to male choral ensembles, given that one of the largest and most iconic such groups here is the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.

Before Voices in Harmony formed, I sang with another ensemble, originally called the Pot o' Gold Chorus. Although Pot o' Gold had relocated eastward to Pleasanton by the time I joined, the chorus had been founded in the city of Dublin — hence the quasi-Irish name.

Fittingly, Pot o' Gold's insignia consisted of a rainbow streaming downward into a kettle filled with gold coins. Our stage costume was a black tuxedo accessorized with a rainbow-striped cummerbund. On many occasions, people saw a bunch of guys in stage makeup and rainbow cummerbunds, and from there leaped to a certain conclusion that you've probably already surmised.

Over time, the rainbow logo and accouterments were phased out, as was the Pot o' Gold name. The ensemble performed for several years as the Bay Area Metro Chorus before the merger that created VIH.

One of my fellow singers tells of an incident that occurred the last time BHS International took place in Anaheim, in July 1999. He was enjoying an adult beverage in the bar of the Anaheim Marriott following the chorus contest, while still clad in his Pot o' Gold tuxedo. A patron of the bar saw my comrade's cummerbund, and mistook the rainbow striping as a covert invitation to hot man-on-man monkey love. My friend — who, as it happens, is not gay — demurred.

Like the population of the Bay Area itself, Voices in Harmony is a diverse assemblage. Our membership reflects a variety of ages, ethnicities, occupations, lifestyles, and yes, sexual orientations. Different though we are, we share a common element (where have I heard that term before?) — we're men who enjoy singing and performing at a high level of musical excellence. And I'm proud to share the risers with every one of them.

If that Disneyland parade dancer can carry a tune, he's more than welcome.

Now, I'm off to rehearsal.

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I'm the third monkey

I just received this bulletin from KCBS News Radio via Twitter:
BREAKING NEWS: School for the blind and deaf in Fremont is on lockdown right now while police search for armed suspects in the area.
My first reaction to this headline: I wonder whether the police are asking the students, "Did anyone see or hear anything?"

Does this make me a bad person?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

The Man of Steal

The 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame ballots were mailed today to all members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America with ten or more consecutive years of service. It's the smallest HOF ballot since the current election system was instituted, with only 23 players listed as eligible.

The most notable newcomer to the list is Rickey Henderson, the longtime outfielder who owns baseball's career records for runs scored (2,295) and stolen bases, and is second all-time in walks with 2,190. Henderson played with nine teams during his 25 years in the major leagues, but is best remembered as a member of the Oakland Athletics, with whom he began his career and served four discrete tours of duty.

Rickey's a dead-solid lock for first-ballot election to the Hall, and deservedly so. He hung around far longer than he should have — he really wasn't much of a player his last four seasons, though he had as good a year as a 40-year-old guy could ask while playing for the New York Mets in 1999. But for the first dozen years of his career, Henderson was one of baseball's marquee superstars, and he was still a quality player for seven or eight years after that.

None of the rest of the incoming class of eligibles seems likely to make the cut. Power-hitting Mo Vaughn might have been a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate had his career not been shortened by injuries. Matt Williams, the Giants' best third baseman during their San Francisco tenure, had some fine years, but not enough of them to earn a ticket to Cooperstown. Mark Grace and Ron Gant were pretty good players, and 1994 American League Cy Young Award winner David Cone was a pretty good pitcher, but we aren't talking about the Hall of the Pretty Good. The remaining newbies — Jay Bell, Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, and Mo's cousin Greg Vaughn — net a collective "meh."

Of the holdovers from last year's ballot, Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice should score a long-overdue Cooperstown call in his final year of eligibility. Rice, the American League's best offensive player in the late 1970s and early , just missed the Hall by 16 votes last time. He deserves those last few check marks that would push him over the hump. Were I a ten-year member of the BBWAA, I'd also throw votes to slugging outfielder Andre "The Hawk" Dawson, starting pitcher Jack Morris, and reliever Lee Smith — all of whom, like Rice, should have been inducted years ago.

So, anyway, here's my funny Rickey Henderson story.

I was sitting down the left field line at an Oakland A's home game in the early '80s, when Rickey was the lone megastar on an Athletics club that didn't have much else going for it. Then, as is too often the case now, the A's didn't draw many fans, so the few of us in attendance didn't have any difficulty making our individual voices heard to the players on the field.

One loudmouth in the left field bleachers, who sounded as though he might have been keeping the beer concession in business all by himself, kept shouting, "Rickey Henderson! Rickey Henderson!" over Rickey's shoulder, at a decibel level that ensured that everyone in the Oakland Coliseum — including, I think, the security guards in the parking lot — could hear him.

Rickey studiously ignored the guy's incessant chatter for about three innings. At long last, he made the fatal error of sneaking a peek back to check out this character who seemed so enamored with his name. The instant Henderson turned around, the guy yelled, "You sissy!" and cackled like a drunken hyena.

Rickey, who always had a lively sense of humor, broke up laughing.

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