Friday, February 27, 2009

Blackhawk down!

Twelve hours until WonderCon... oh, frabjous day!

(That peculiar noise you hear is me, chortling in my joy.)

While I'm away immersing myself in the West Coast's second-largest annual comics-related event, please enjoy this second of two entries in my Bombshells! theme gallery by longtime Flash and Legion of Super-Heroes artist Greg LaRocque. (You can see Greg's first Bombshell! in last week's Comic Art Friday entry, assuming you didn't already.)

Say hello to Zinda Blake, better known to the world as Lady Blackhawk.

Before I can explain much about Zinda, I have to mention something about Blackhawk, probably the most successful example of the venerable genre of aviator heroes. Blackhawk and his squadron of internationally diverse pilots — American, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, and Chinese — burst onto the scene to dogfight against the Axis Powers in Military Comics #1 (August 1941). They continued the battle long after World War II ended, headlining their own comic until the 1980s.

The lone female Blackhawk (the name applied equally to the squadron's leader, originally a Polish aviator who later was identified as an American of Polish heritage, and its members collectively) first appeared in Military Comics #20 (July 1943). She didn't show up again, much less join the Blackhawk boys permanently — or, for that matter, reveal her name — until 1959's Blackhawk #133. At that point, Zinda adopts the moniker Lady Blackhawk, and so she is primarily known to this day.

As a result of some wacky time-warping folderol that occurred during DC Comics' Zero Hour storyline in 1994, Zinda remains today as fresh, youthful, and pulchritudinous as she did in her original appearances. Nice trick, if you can swing it.

These days, Lady Blackhawk fights crime as a key member of the all-female superhero team Birds of Prey. Zinda, in fact, is the member who gives the group its nom de guerre, doubtless as a nod to her former compatriots in Blackhawk Squadron, whose uniform she still wears.

If you ever need to fly someplace in a jiffy, and you don't feel like hanging around the airport for a commercial connection, Zinda's your gal.

Me, I'm off to WonderCon.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Paperless San Francisco

The hot story around these parts is the Hearst Corporation's announcement of its intention to either sell or shut down the San Francisco Chronicle — the Bay Area's newspaper of record, and the second-largest paper (in terms of circulation) on the West Coast — within the next few weeks, unless a round of layoffs can stem the paper's tide of red ink.

This doesn't come as a total surprise, as newspapers all over the country are struggling against the ever-rising tide of the Internet.

Still, it's unsettling to imagine the newspaper of Herb Caen, Art Hoppe, Matier and Ross, Scott Ostler, Pierre Salinger, Charles McCabe, Phil Frank, Ray Ratto, Joel Selvin, Tim Goodman, and "Dear Abby" going the way of the passenger pigeon and buck-a-gallon gasoline.

The Chron has never really been a bastion of cutting-edge journalism, outside of its legendary Sporting Green — 45 years ago, satirist Tom Lehrer joked concerning a major news story of the day, "It happened during baseball season, so the Chronicle didn't cover it." That reputation for fluff persisted into the modern Hearst era, which began in 2000 when Hearst sold its one-time flagship paper, the San Francisco Examiner, and bought the Chronicle outright from the DeYoung family.

Nevertheless, the Chron has always been staffed by brilliant writers, most notably its columnists (sports and otherwise). It remains, if not the most hard-hitting news entity on the planet, one of the most readable and entertaining.

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't helped the situation any. I've picked up the actual newsprint Chronicle not more than a handful of times in the past decade or so. Its online presence, however, is an indispensable part of my daily info crawl. I'd miss it terribly if it went away.

Here's hoping that a streamlined Chronicle can find a way to survive.

The Bay Area would not be the same without it.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

My awards show has a first name...'s O-S-C-A-R.

A few notes from last night's 81st Academy Awards ceremonies:
  • Pleasantly innocuous hosting job by Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman. The producers tailored the show to his strengths — he's a song-and-dance man, not a stand-up comedian. Jackman's style seems a better fit for the Tony Awards, which he's hosted several times, than for the Oscars, which attract a larger, more diverse audience. I doubt that the Academy Powers That Be will invite Hugh to host again, but I'm equally sure they're not sorry that they invited him this time.

  • I almost liked the smaller, more intimate set design. Having all of the nominees seated together and close to the stage worked well, especially for reaction shots when the winners were announced. The set-up did, however, give the event a confined, cramped feel. The Oscars need to be larger than life, not smaller than a breadbox.

  • Jackman's opening number with the cheesy props and Anne Hathaway — who is not a cheesy prop, despite her unsettlingly gargantuan eyes — was kind of fun. Billy Crystal has done similar openings to better effect in previous years.

  • Memo to Ms. Hathaway: If you have a preternaturally pasty complexion, a white evening gown is not your friend.

  • Memo to Nicole Kidman: Borrow Anne's memo when she's done reading it.

  • Best idea of the night: Using previous winners of the major acting awards to introduce the nominees. Some of the intros meandered on for a bit too long, and some of the choices didn't work as well as others. Overall, however, this was a gimmick worthy of repeating in future years.

  • Second-best idea: Queen Latifah singing "I'll Be Seeing You" over the traditional "Folks Who Croaked" montage. It added a touch of human warmth to an exercise that often just feels creepy and maudlin.

  • Among the winners, I was happiest for Kate Winslet, who has deserved to win at least a couple of times previously and came up empty.

  • Man, those people from Slumdog Millionaire were genuinely happy to be there.

  • Eddie Murphy seemed an out-of-left-field choice to present Jerry Lewis with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. They're both comic actors, but was there any other connection? Usually, they get someone who's a close friend of the awardee to give these special honors away. Maybe this was a sign that Lewis doesn't have any friends left in Hollywood.

  • What was up with the preponderance of dresses that looked like wedding gowns? Was someone getting married, and I missed my invitation?

  • Joaquin Phoenix is still wondering why Ben Stiller — and everyone else on the planet — is making fun of him.

  • Didn't win, but looked terrific anyway: Best Supporting Actress nominees Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson. A couple of classy ladies right there.

  • Didn't win, but frightened small children anyway: Mickey Roarke and Tilda Swinton. At least Tilda comes by her looks naturally.

  • Hey, Amy Adams: Is that a necklace, or did you string together every bauble and bead at your local craft shop? You're lucky you didn't break a clavicle with that ginormous weight around your shoulders.

  • Speaking of ginormous: Angelina, please. The green stones. They are too large.

  • After seeing how much fun John Legend had singing "Down to Earth" surrounded by all of the Bollywood festivity of the two nominated songs from Slumdog, I'll bet Peter Gabriel feels like a moron for refusing to perform. And well he should.

  • I'll bet Bruce Springsteen would have enjoyed doing that bit too, had his song from The Wrestler been nominated, as it should have been.

  • Will Smith stumbled all over his TelePrompTer trying to give away the technical awards. Will, that Scientology foolishness is turning your brain into pudding.

  • Sean Penn, you are only about a third as cool as you think you are.

  • Am I the only one disappointed that Heath Ledger couldn't be bothered to show up to collect his Best Supporting Actor statuette? Hmm? He's what? Oh. Never mind.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Patriot games

Seven days...

Until WonderCon, that is.

While we're waiting for the Bay Area's biggest annual comics and fantasy genre event to begin, let's check out an entry in my Bombshells! commission series. (For any new arrivals, Bombshells! showcases superheroines from the Golden Age of comics — the late 1930s through the early 1950s — in pinups designed after vintage bomber nose art.)

Meet Pat Patriot. "America's Joan of Arc" — as her hyperbolic tagline read — is drawn here by artist Greg LaRocque, noted for his work on such series as The Flash, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Web of Spider-Man.

Pat Patriot ran for a year or two as a backup feature in Lev Gleason's Daredevil Comics. (That's the original Daredevil, the guy in the half-red, half-blue body suit, not the blind lawyer with the horned cowl and billy club.)

Making her debut in Daredevil #2, aircraft factory worker Pat Patrios (perhaps a Greek-American, judging by the last name) joined the war effort by donning a red-white-and-blue costume, changing the last letter of her surname (clever coincidences like this being the stock in trade of Golden Age comics), and aiming her fists at the jaws of criminals and Nazis.

Although she was never a major star, Pat Patriot was a shining example of one of the era's signature themes: nationalistic superheroes. Everyone knows Captain America even today (although Cap wasn't the first such character — that honor goes to the Shield, who preceded the wing-headed warrior by more than a year), but most of the star-spangled crowd faded permanently from the scene at the end of World War II. So far as I know, Pat Patriot has never undergone a revival since her heyday.

Greg LaRocque's stunning Bombshell! art makes a good argument in Pat's favor, though. That comports with Pat's brief history in the comics. Back-pager though she was, Pat attracted some of the finest artists of the time, including Charles Biro (who's generally credited for creating her), Reed Crandall, and Lin Streeter.

Reed Crandall, incidentally, is most often remembered as the longtime illustrator of the aviator series Blackhawk. We'll take a look at a familiar character from that series next week.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birth? Day.

I've commented before about the odd coincidence of nature that resulted in my wife KJ and my now six-year-old goddaughter in Maine sharing a birthday.

Well, it's time to mention it again.

Happy birthday, girls!

And, while we're at it, happy birthday to:

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

There's a rainbow 'round my shoulder

Just in case you ever go looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...

It's at my neighbor's house across the street.

Don't tell the leprechaun I told you.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Super President's Day

What a joy to celebrate Presidents' Day with a President worthy of celebration!

Speaking of super Presidents...

This might be a good day to reminisce about Super President.

Super President was a short-lived animated series that aired on Saturday mornings in 1967 and '68. The show's title superhero battled the forces of evil using his power to transmute the molecular structure of his body into any substance he could imagine. (Think Metamorpho the Element Man, who debuted in DC Comics a couple of years earlier.)

In fact, Super President's morphing ability wasn't limited to forms of matter — I distinctly recall episodes in which he changed himself into things like electrical energy and radio waves.

When he wasn't fighting crime, Super President was... well... President.

You read that correctly. Super President's secret identity was James Norcross, the President of the United States.

By now, you've figured out the essential flaw in the Super President concept.

The most visible public figure on the planet becomes a costumed hero, and in order to protect his identity from supervillains, he gives himself a code name that advertises who he really is.

And no one ever figures this out.

Although he was not a DC Comics character, I always supposed that Super President must be the Chief Executive in the DC Universe, an alternate reality in which people fail to recognize that Clark Kent is Superman because Kent wears horn-rimmed spectacles, whereas Superman does not; and where no one realizes that Oliver Queen, the billionaire mayor of Star City, is Green Arrow, despite the fact that both the Emerald Archer and His Honor sport the same distinctive facial hair, and GA's only disguise is a domino mask.

Aside from the issue of its hero's pathetically obvious secret identity, the Super President series never dealt with how the Secret Service got comfortable with Norcross disappearing from the White House for hours at a time without accounting for his whereabouts. Fortunately for America, no international or domestic crisis ever arose at a moment when Super President was off adventuring, causing people to rush into the Oval Office and freak out because President Norcross was nowhere to be found.

Only the President's chief of staff, apparently a genius in a world of morons, ever sussed out who Super President really was.

Personally, I think President Obama would make a wicked cool superhero. If he was, however, I have a feeling that we'd figure it out.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

The devil you say!

Triskaidekaphobes beware...

Today is Friday the 13th.

How better to celebrate this fearsome caprice of the calendar than with a couple of real devils?

The fetching lass wielding the sharp objects is Lady Shanna O'Hara Plunder, known more familiarly as Shanna the She-Devil. The horn-headed gent with the glowing trident is Dan Cassidy, also known by his fighting moniker, Blue Devil. The pencils, inks, and potent imagination on display here are supplied by talented veteran John Lucas.

Since comic books first exploded into American popular culture in the late 1930s, almost every publisher who's had a hand in the business has taken a shot at jungle-based heroes and heroines. The prototype for the men has always been Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs's English lord raised by apes in the African rain forests. For the women, the model is Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, co-created by legendary writer-artist Will (The Spirit) Eisner.

Shanna the She-Devil, Marvel Comics' spin on the Sheena archetype, swung onto the scene in 1972, part of a trio of "feminist" heroines (Night Nurse and The Cat — today known as Tigra — were the other two) designed to appeal to a female audience that typically shunned action comics.

African-born Shanna O'Hara grew up to become a veterinarian and Olympic athlete (she medaled in both aquatics and track and field) in America, but her heart remained in the jungle. As an adult, Shanna returned to her native continent, where she battled poachers and other miscreants.

Eventually, the She-Devil moved to the Savage Land, a mysterious hidden world (in Antarctica, of all places) where dinosaurs, saber-toothed tigers, and other prehistoric creatures dwell. There, Shanna married Lord Kevin Plunder, a Tarzanesque hero called Ka-Zar. The leather loincloth-clad duo continue to live and adventure in their secluded tropical wonderland.

A few years ago, writer-artist Frank Cho created an alternate version of Shanna the She-Devil. The new Shanna, a genetically engineered human abandoned by her creators, is unrelated to the original. However, when she is discovered in a Savage Land-like locale by a scientific exploration team, the jungle maiden is dubbed with Lady Plunder's given and code names by one of her rescuers.

Like Shanna, Dan Cassidy never planned to become a superhero. He was perfectly happy with his life as a motion picture stuntman and special effects technician, until a bolt of eldritch energy permanently bonded a high-tech horror movie costume (Dan was portraying a character called — not surprisingly — Blue Devil) to Dan's body.

Unable to return to his natural appearance, Dan decides to employ his outré exterior and his SFX genius in a crusade for justice. As time passes, Dan gains actual demonic powers, which he uses — of course — for good. (It's a paradox, I know, but in the comic book universe, we learn to roll with this sort of thing.)

John Lucas, the artist who created today's devilish scenario, has been contributing steadily to comics since the 1990s. John penciled several series for DC and its affiliated imprints, including Detective Comics, Codename: Knockout, and Howard Chaykin's Forever Maelstrom. Switching his focus to inking, John worked on Marvel's Generation M and Civil War: Front Line, in both instances inking over the pencils of Ramon Bachs. His most recent long-term gig was inking (and occasionally penciling) The Exterminators for DC/Vertigo.

He's also drawn Scooby-Doo. I admire versatility.

"Joltin' Johnny," as Lucas calls himself, admits to being a big fan of both Blue Devil and the Savage Land. Lucky for us that Common Elements gave him the chance to blend his two interests into pulse-pounding art.

Who said that Friday the 13th was unlucky?

Speaking of Common Elements, Shanna "the She-Devil" O'Hara and Dan "Blue Devil" Cassidy share another feature besides the obvious quirk of nomenclature: Both are Americans of Irish descent. I just couldn't wait until St. Patrick's Day to mention that.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sign of the twin-tailed mermaid apocalypse

This is wrong in so many way that it's impossible to calculate:

Starbucks is now selling instant coffee.

Everyone into the bomb shelter. The end is near.

As the late Fred Sanford might have said...

"Hold on, Elizabeth! I'm comin' to join you, honey! With a venti nonfat decaf instant mocha latte in my hand!"

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Old dog, new trick

Congratulations to Champion Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee — or, as he's known to his close personal friends, Stump — on his Best in Show victory at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show earlier this week.

Stump, a Sussex spaniel, made a particularly noteworthy champion due to his advanced age. Born December 1, 1998, Stump is ancient for a top-level show dog, especially at the "Super Bowl of dog shows."

When contacted for comment about his historic win, the 2009 Westminster champion reportedly flopped on his side and took a nap.

Several years ago, when my office assistant Abby was just a puppy, we took her to see some of her relations compete in a Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed show. One of the dogs in that show was still showing at the McCainesque age of 15. The wily veteran received a standing ovation from the Corgi crowd as he trotted around the ring.

Little-known fact: The Sussex spaniel was one of the original ten breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club when the AKC formed in 1884.

There is no validity to the rumor that Stump was already competing at that time.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's Up With That? #71: London calling

There's this telemarketer who calls my business line roughly three or four times a week.

Every time he calls, he leaves a voice mail message that's simply his name — which I presume is a company pseudonym — and (long-distance) telephone number, and requests that I call him back.

I don't know what he's selling (I suspect that it's credit card payment processing services, which I neither use nor need), or what company he represents.

Dude, if you're out there, here's your challenge.

First, I have Caller ID, and never answer the phone if the number is blocked or unknown to me. No matter how many times you call, you're never going to get me on the line.

Second, I never return calls (especially not long-distance calls) from people I don't know, or who don't provide me a detailed rationale for my doing so. You can leave messages from now until the next ice age, and I'm not calling you back.

Stop wasting your employer's time and money.

Find other fish to fry.

As I was going up the stair
I saw a man who wasn't there;
He wasn’t there again today --
Oh, how I wish he'd go away!

-- from "Antigonish" by William Hughes Mearns

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just another Friday the 13th

Did we really need a remake of Friday the 13th?

I mean, the past three decades have foisted umpty-zillion (okay, ten) sequels to that pitiful chapter in Kevin Bacon's résumé on the movie-going public. Now, New Line Pictures is remaking the original?

If the new flick is successful, will New Line remake each of the sequels too? Will we see fresh takes on such cinematic classics as Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and the ever-popular Freddy vs. Jason?

Heaven help us.

Or perhaps that's the wrong phrase.

At any rate, the incessant commercials for the updated Friday the 13th put me in mind of the only facet of the Friday the 13th franchise worthy of revisiting...

Friday the 13th, The Series.

Those of you sufficiently long of tooth to have experienced the 1980s firsthand (and you know who you are) may recall this minor trifle of syndicated television history, which aired for three seasons beginning in 1987. Interestingly, Friday the 13th, The Series had nothing whatsoever to do with Jason Voorhees of hockey mask fame. Aside from the common title, the only connection between the film franchise and the TV series was the producer behind both: the semi-legendary Frank Mancuso, Jr.

When first he decided to bring his horror stylings to the idiot box, Mancuso, Jr. didn't intend to call his latest venture Friday the 13th. With partner Larry B. Williams, Mancuso developed the show under the title The 13th Hour. At some point before the series hit the airwaves, however, Mancuso decided (doubtless with a nudge from Paramount Pictures, which distributed the first several Friday the 13th movies) that it would be a shame to waste all that built-in branding, and thus Friday the 13th, The Series was born.

The show's plot revolved around the adventures of cousins Micki (erstwhile model and pop singer wannabe Louise Robey, billed only by her last name here) and Ryan (John D. LeMay, who would complete the circle by starring in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), who inherit their late uncle's antique shop. They soon discover that their uncle had sold his soul to the devil, and all of the objets d'art in the shop bore a Satanic curse. Micki and Ryan, aided by a magician and occultist named Jack, make it their mission to round up all of the already-sold curios before supernatural disaster befalls the people who now own these accursed items.

Needless to say, this mission often fails. Because, after all, horrific consequences are what Friday the 13th is all about.

And in truth, the events instigated by the bedeviled antiques were about as gruesome as anything on television prior to the advent of CSI and its spinoffs. With only a handful of exceptions, the people who came into contact with the haunted articles in each week's episode met grisly ends. (Because the show ran in syndication rather than on network broadcast, and was typically shown in the late-night, post-primetime hours, Mancuso and company were granted almost cable-like leeway to display graphic violence.) Even the show's protagonists were not immune: Ryan was written out of the series at the beginning of the third season, when he is de-aged into a young boy by one of the store's wares.

Although shot in Canada on a limited budget, Friday the 13th: The Series offered consistent entertainment for horror and fantasy fanatics. Familiar C-level character actors occasionally turned up as guest stars, and such talented directors as David (The Fly) Cronenberg and Atom (The Sweet Hereafter) Egoyan directed episodes.

Friday the 13th: The Series still turns up on cable and independent stations now and again, and I'm sure it's available on DVD. (These days, what isn't?) Fans of the current CW series Supernatural, which bears certain superficial resemblances, would probably enjoy checking it out.

It's got to be better than yet another Jason movie.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Valhalla or bust!

I know, I know... many of our Comic Art Friday regulars on the East Coast are having the time of their lives at New York Comic Con, which begins today and continues through Sunday.

Ah, well... just three weeks until WonderCon.

When last we convened for our weekly peek into my comic art vault, we checked out a delightful entry to my Bombshells! theme gallery by the redoubtable Michael Dooney, of Mirage Studios and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. Here's the companion to that piece.

Today's Bombshell! is Valkyrie (not to be confused with the Viking-themed Marvel Comics heroine of the same name), the German-born nemesis-turned-ally of the World War II aviator hero Airboy.

Although her buxom image was emblazoned into the fevered brains of modern-day fanboys everywhere via the '80s Airboy covers drawn by the late, great Dave Stevens (best known as the creator of The Rocketeer), Valkyrie began her career in Hillman Comics' Air Fighters in 1943. Originally a Nazi agent, in later adventures Valkyrie switches sides and fights alongside Airboy for the Allied cause.

It was artist Michael Dooney's inspiration to place in Valkyrie's hand the Spear of Destiny, according to legend the implement used by a Roman soldier to pierce the side of Christ during the Crucifixion. Anyone who's seen Raiders of the Lost Ark or its sequels is familiar with the Nazi obsession with mystical artifacts. Dooney's idea to depict Valkyrie with one such object that perfectly suits her character was pure genius.

Mike also scripted the ideal tagline for his creation — Valhalla or Bust! It's at once both a classic nose art caption and a sly nod to Valkyrie's trademark décolletage. When I commission a new Bombshell!, I provide the artist with one or two taglines to select from. I give him liberty, however, to use a caption of his own choosing if he gets a better idea. Mike's tagline blew my suggestions out of the water in genuine Bombshell! style.

On another commission project a few years back, Dooney drew comicdom's other Valkyrie for me. Here's a second look at that fine effort, with finishing flourishes by the King of Ink, Bob Almond:

I'm always intrigued to learn about the techniques of the comic artist's craft. When I asked Mike Dooney about the materials he used in drawing his two Bombshells! commissions, he replied:
I've been using slightly harder lead pencils lately to avoid the constant smudging. I lay things out with colorerase brand blue pencil... erase most of that when everything is working, then do the tight pencils.

In this case, I tried a 2.5 lead (regular pencil is #2, a bit softer). The 2.5 definitely holds the details nicely, it's just not as dark or smudgy.

[For paper, I] used Strathmore bristol, kid (smooth but not slick) finish, I think.
If you're attending New York Comic Con this weekend, you'll find Mike Dooney at the Mirage Studios table in Artists' Alley. He'll have some nifty sketches for sale, so be sure to stop by and check out his work in person. You can tell him I said "hey."

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me
LogoThere are
people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

So much for uniqueness.

To clarify this abominable situation just a smidge...

I'm not:
  • The mortgage broker. (Trust me — you don't want me handling your money.)

  • The insurance executive. (See above.)

  • The professional poker player. (I play, but only in online tournaments, and never for high stakes.)

  • The convicted felon with an Islamic alias. (When I need a pseudonym, I prefer to masquerade as a Zoroastrian.)

  • The college professor and gay rights activist. (I only swing from the opposite side of the plate.)

  • The guy at Veterans Affairs. (My adoptive father is a veteran. His affairs are his own business.)

  • The fraternity brother. (I lived in Greece, but I was never a Greek.)
I am:
  • The copywriter and editor.

  • The voiceover artist.

  • The comic art collector.

  • The movie reviewer.

  • The a cappella singer.

  • The preacher.

  • The Jeopardy! guy.

  • The blogger.
And I think I've got more Google hits than any of the other 86 versions. (Which is as it should be, in a just universe.) So most of the time, if you go looking for me, you'll probably find me.

The real, honest-to-Swan me.

I hope that's clear, now.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Serenade your love muffin with a Singing Valentine!

Hello, young lovers. (Hey, we're all lovers, and young at heart if not in chronology, right? So, yeah, I'm talking to you.)

Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and you're out there thinking (I know, because I can hear you)...

"What can I do to make this a memorable Valentine's Day for my special someone? Flowers? Done that. Chocolates? Done that. Lingerie? How much Victoria's Secret does one relationship need, really?"

I've got the answer right here for you, bunkie.

Send your significant other (or someone you'd like to persuade to be your significant other, or just otherwise impress) a Singing Valentine, delivered by a quartet of talented vocalists from the International Bronze Medal-winning Voices in Harmony, northern California's premier men's a cappella ensemble!

Now, I know what you're thinking (I can hear you, remember? kind of scary, huh?)...

Voices in Harmony is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my sweetness lives way the heck out in the boondocks of East Bumbershoot, New Hampshire. How can VIH serenade my objet d'amour from such a daunting distance?

Have no fear, friend Romeo! (Or friend Juliet — we're equal opportunity Cupids here.)

In addition to our live-and-in-person Singing Valentine service available throughout the central and south Bay Area, VIH can deliver an audio Singing Valentine by phone, or a video Singing Valentine via e-mail, anywhere your heart desires! (Within the limits of current technology, of course.)

Telephonic Singing Valentines cost a mere $20. Video Singing Valentines are a steal at $35. It's a pittance either way, considering the benefits you could score (if you know what I mean, and I think you do) once your dreamboat experiences the ear-caressing, heart-touching vocal magic of Voices in Harmony.

Singing Valentine deliveries can be scheduled throughout Valentine's Day weekend, February 13 through 15. That means triple the opportunities to dazzle your certain someone.

So, why are you still reading this? Pop on over to Voices in Harmony Central and order up some Singing Valentine love!

You know you want to.

While you're visiting the Voices in Harmony site, why not order a copy of our debut CD, Now & Then?

This spectacular album, recorded in the world-famous, Oscar-winning studios at Lucasfilms' Skywalker Ranch, has just been nominated as Best Barbershop Album of 2008 by the Contemporary A Cappella Society.

Don't let that word "barbershop" throw you — Now & Then contains rich choral interpretations of modern classics ranging from The Turtles to Bobby Darin, from Barbra Streisand to Billy Joel, from Disney to Hank Williams. We even toss in a dash of Sinatra, just to show that we can still kick it old school.

A Now & Then CD adds the perfect accompaniment to a Singing Valentine. (Did I mention that Singing Valentines start at just $20? That's practically insane.)

Now go, grasshopper, and let your plastic do the talking.

Tell 'em your Uncle Swan sent you.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

The Swan Tunes In: Super Bowl XLIII commercial post-mortem

It's been something of an SSTOL tradition to recap the best commercials from the Super Bowl.

But a weird thing happened this year...

The game was actually better than the ads.

That is in part to the credit of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, who delivered a whale of a show (congrats to Coach Mike Tomlin and his crew for the last-minute, come-from-behind victory over a team no one — including your Uncle Swan — thought could even compete with them). It's also a sad commentary on this year's Super Bowl ad crop, which was, to put it politely, lacking.

In fact, before I sat down to review the spots online this morning, only one had insinuated itself into my memory — the truly bizarre ad featuring washed-up celebrities Ed McMahon and MC Hammer. That was memorable not for its persuasive power, but for its sheer breathless lunacy: Hammer and his "gold medallion showing me wearing a gold medallion!" and Big Ed with his gold-plated toilet.

Among the few other highlights:
  • I was entertained — and baffled — by Pepsi's testosterone-fueled spot showing manly men enduring all kinds of physical punishment with a casual "I'm good." (I confess that I don't understand the whole Pepsi Max concept: Diet cola for men? What, too much estrogen in Diet Pepsi?)

  • NBC gave us a clever house ad for its online video service, starring Alec Baldwin in a scenario inspired by Men in Black. (I always knew those Baldwin brothers were aliens.)

  • The most exciting ad of the bunch was Audi's slick, dialogue-free chase sequence with Jason Statham reprising his Transporter film role.

  • The "best storytelling" award goes to's documentary-style take on the life of a nerdy young man who succeeds at everything he attempts, but who can't buy a car without the aid of a certain Web site.

  • Doritos offered a couple of decent spots: the one involving the "magic" crystal ball was funny, and another in which the protagonist's fantasies become reality every time he crunches into a Dorito (a female pedestrian's clothes disappear; an ATM spews cash) was predictable, but well-orchestrated.

  • NBA star Carlos Boozer played Big Brother to a gaggle of cute kids for Not as splashy as most of the ad fodder, but warm, fuzzy, and authentically charming. Best of all, it made a solid selling point about the product — something too many of the high-ticket Super Bowl ads forget to accomplish.

  • And, though I'm not a Conan O'Brien fan, I did chuckle at the goofy Bud Light spot that featured Conan as the reluctant star of an absurd Swedish commercial.
As usual, the Budweiser Clydesdales wore out their welcome — one ad showcasing these handsome animals is fine, but four or five get old quickly. Also as usual, served up a pair of tasteless, sexist trifles designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator (arrested-adolescent males who've been swilling beer all afternoon) and rile up the feminist crusaders.

But enough about the commercials...

It's Boss Time.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band cranked up the best Super Bowl halftime since Prince took the stage a few years back. The Boss and Company delivered a fun, upbeat, energetic set, weaving together a couple of classic favorites ("Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," "Born to Run") with the title track from his latest album. (Asked in a pregame interview why he had finally decided to accept the Super Bowl gig after more than a decade of refusing the NFL's invitation, Springsteen was characteristically forthright: "I've got a new record to promote.")

The production pulled out all the stops — fireworks, a five-piece horn section, and a gospel choir for the finale. All the fluff couldn't mask the raw power of Springsteen's music, nor the joy that he and his bandmates (including Clarence Clemons, who worked it out on saxophone and cowbell; guitarist Miami Steve Van Zandt, looking aged and road-worn; and Bruce's wife Patti Scialfa, who stepped forward for a backing vocal spotlight on the final number) still derive from their music after 35 years.

I'd have gladly ditched all of the fancy advertisements, and just let The Boss play during the commercial breaks.

That's why they don't let me run the show.

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