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, November 17, 2008

"Unwrap the Holidays" on Saturday, November 29

So, there you sit, planning your post-Thanksgiving weekend assault on your friendly neighborhood megamall, and you're thinking...

Okay, I've got Black Friday covered. But what am I going to do with myself on Saturday?

Have I got an idea for you, bunkie!

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, anyway.

Voices in Harmony, Northern California's premier men's a cappella chorus, is hosting its annual holiday music spectacular on Saturday, November 29, at the historic California Theatre in beautiful downtown San Jose. It's a 3 p.m. matinee concert, so you'll have plenty of time to hit the morning sales before the show and the nightlife afterward. Is that strategic, or what?

In addition to VIH, you'll enjoy the scintillating sounds of our sister chorus, Pride of the Pacific, and the crowd-pleasing male quartet Late Show. It's more entertainment than any one afternoon should offer, quite frankly, but we'll let you come because we like you. I can't think of a better way to begin the festive season — at least, not one that you could share with Grandma, Grandpa, and Cousin Fred and his new trophy wife.

You can order advance tickets via this link. At $35 for excellent seats so close to the stage you can practically feel the body heat, and a mere $25 for almost-as-excellent seats a few rows further back, this fusillade of holiday cheer would be cheap at twice the price. (If you feel obligated to pay extra, I'm positive that our treasurer will not object.)

Tell the ticket people that your Uncle Swan sent you, and you'll probably get a warm handshake and a sincere smile of Yuletide gratitude.

Incidentally, this year's concert is entitled "Unwrap the Holidays." I wonder whose brilliant idea that was...?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gateway to Fresno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What's In My Pocket? #5: Kershaw Needs Work

Knives are as challenging to purchase for a true knife fanatic as books are to buy for an avid reader. Even if you know the person well, tastes are hard to predict and interpret. Plus, how do you know what the individual already owns?

That said, KJ knocked a home run when she picked up this little honey for my Christmas stocking.

The Kershaw Model 1820 — better known as the Needs Work — has proven to be a handy member of my everyday carry knife rotation over the past two months. With its three-inch blade, the Needs Work is probably the smallest knife I carry on a regular basis. Its size makes it perfect, however, for occasions when I want my knife to be as unobtrusive as possible, or when I'm wearing trousers whose pocket structure renders a larger knife cumbersome.

True to its name, the Needs Work loves to... well... work. I'm not usually a huge fan of the Wharncliffe blade profile, but this Ken Onion-designed utility knife serves wonderfully well as a routine letter-opener, package cutter, and paper slicer. As an example, one of the art pieces I picked up at WonderCon last weekend (come back on Friday for a review of all the new goodies) was a couple of inches too long to fit my portfolio. The Needs Work trimmed it smoothly to exact specifications in nothing flat.

The Needs Work's blade is fashioned from Kershaw's tough Sandvik 13C26 stainless steel, in which I've become a firm believer thanks to previous purchases. The handle material is a grippy polymer that delivers secure feel in the hand. (It's actually a little too grippy for easy deployment from the pocket, but that's a minor complaint.) Ken Onion's patented SpeedSafe assisted opening action snaps the blade into place with lightning speed, and like every Kershaw I've ever handled, this sucker is wicked sharp.

The ergonomics of this little knife rate aces with me. Because of my thick-fingered, chunky hands, I often find a smaller knife uncomfortable to hold and difficult to manipulate. The Needs Work fits my paw like it was custom-molded. The design of the handle is such that I could cut cardboard all afternoon and not suffer a cramp.

KJ, who knows precious little about pocketknives, got an excellent recommendation on this one, thanks to the guy at the local knife shop where she bought it. Good call, dude! (And thank you, KJ!)

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sweeping up the reindeer droppings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Merry Christmas, dream babies

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

You'll shoot your eye out!

It's officially Christmas: My daughter KM has finished watching the first two hours of "24 Hours of A Christmas Story" on TBS. It never fails to make me chuckle that America's favorite family Christmas movie was directed by the guy who gave the world Porky's.

To SSTOL's friends and fans throughout the Blogosphere, I give you these timeless thoughts from the godfathers of contemporary a cappella, The Bobs:
All I want for Christmas is a house up in the hills
With colored lights and music, frosted window sills
Filled with all my loved ones, all the old and young ones too
All I want for Christmas is you.

All I want for Christmas is to spread a bit of cheer
With people I don't notice every other day of the year
All I want for Christmas is a smile from someone new
All I want for Christmas is you.

May the jolly old elf so enjoy your milk and cookies that he leaves you all the pantookas and bisselbings your little heart desires.

Or, as Luke Cage, Power Man said upon seeing Power Girl for the first time...

"Sweet Christmas!"

Please try not to shoot your eye out.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Reindeer games

This being the Comic Art Friday that coincides with the unofficial opening of the Christmas shopping season, it's only appropriate that we debut an artwork with a vaguely Christmas-related theme.

The latest entry in my Common Elements series — you know the drill; pairings of otherwise unrelated superheroes who share some factoid in common — depicts a pitched battle in an urban alleyway between a Golden Age hero called the Comet, and the Vixen, best known as a member of DC Comics' Suicide Squad and, more recently, Justice League of America. Suicide Squad penciler Luke McDonnell, also known for his long run on Marvel Comics' Invincible Iron Man, created this action-packed scenario.

What do Comet and Vixen have in common? By now, you should have guessed: They're the only superheroes who share their fighting names with two of Santa Claus's reindeer.

The Comet dates back to 1940, a fertile time for the creation of superheroes. He sprang from the inventive mind of writer-artist Jack Cole, who's best remembered today as the creator of Plastic Man. The Comet's superpowers will be familiar to anyone who's ever read an X-Men comic or seen any of the X-Men movies: He emitted destructive rays from his eyes, much like the much later — but today much better known — X-character Cyclops. The Comet also holds a unique position in comics history, in that he was the first (though certainly far from the last) superhero to be killed in action. Interestingly, the late hero's brother was spurred by the Comet's murder to become a superhero himself, as the Hangman.

The Comet's original adventures were published by MLJ Comics, more familiar today under the name Archie Comics. Archie has revived the Comet a few times over the years, most notably as a member of the Mighty Crusaders, its 1960s takeoff on the Justice League.

As for Vixen, she also merits a special distinction, as the first black superheroine created by DC Comics, which for years lagged behind competitor Marvel in the introduction and promotion of heroes of color. Vixen very nearly became the first character of her ethnicity and gender to headline a comic series in 1978; her book, unfortunately, was canceled before the premiere issue was published — a casualty of a barrage of draconian cutbacks today remembered as the DC Implosion.

Like Marvel's Black Panther, Vixen — real name: Mari Jiwe McCabe — is African-born. She came to America as a young woman, gaining fame and fortune as a successful fashion model. Her powers derive from a mystical totem (shaped like the head of a fox, hence her nom de guerre) that enables her to imitate the abilities of any animal. Following stints in DC superteams Checkmate and Birds of Prey, Vixen recently rejoined the roster of the Justice League of America, to which she belonged once previously in the mid-1980s.

Artist Geof Isherwood, who first inked Luke McDonnell's pencils on Suicide Squad, then followed McDonnell as penciler on the series, places Mari front and center of the Squad's actitivies in this tension-filled scene. Joining Vixen are Suicide Squadders Bronze Tiger, Nightshade, and Deadshot.

The artist known as Buzz captures Vixen's feral temperament in this ink sketch, created at WonderCon 2005.

With that, we send you off into the seething masses of holiday shoppers. You may need both the concussive blasts of the Comet and the raw animal power of the Vixen if you're planning to purchase, say, a PlayStation 3. Stay safe out there, friend reader.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Visit From St. SwanShadow (with apologies to Clement Moore)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and far from the crowd
SwanShadow sat musing, and thinking out loud.
He wished peace for blog princesses Janet and Lynda
Who could not be more magical if named Ozma and Glinda.
He sent cheer to his readers from SoCal to Wisconsin
And fine noble souls, like the one Real Sam Johnson.
"To those artists," he said, "who bring joy to my days
And create such neat pics for my Comic Art Fridays —
On Dooney, on Wilson, McDaniel and Jones,
On Lyle, Moy and Mannion, and all the Scott clones;
To Chan, Briz and Rio, I must offer thanks,
Without e'er forgetting Mavinga and Banks,
Geof Isherwood, he with great talent endowed,
Rubinstein and the two Bobs, Almond and McLeod."
To friends Damon and Donna fond greetings Swan gave
And to cute little Shelby, a fine feathery wave;
Although his performance in the Tourney was leopardy
Swan dug all the smart folks he met playing Jeopardy!
With well-deserved gratitude he thanked SwanShadow clients
For their patronage, then put in a good word for the Giants.
His colleagues at DVD Verdict he cheered
And promised sincerely to review more next year.
To all those newsmakers whose indulgence in shockery
Provided occasion for Swan's satire and mockery —
He hoped that they all would keep up their old tricks
And do more stupid stuff in two thousand and six
So he'd gain more blog fodder and fun things to scribble
Without resorting to memes and other such drivel.
To his wife and his daughter, and loved ones near and far
Swan offered warm snuggles, wherever they are...
And he said with a grin, at the last jingle's bell:
"Happy holidays, all, from SSTOL!"

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Friday, December 23, 2005

I'll be old-school for Christmas

Today's Comic Art Friday is sponsored by America's retailers, who remind you that the stores are still open and eager to clean those final few Christmas simoleons out of your wallet.

I was the guy they had in mind when they coined the term "old-school."
  • When it comes to music, I'm old-school — I sing in a barbershop quartet, for crying out loud; music doesn't get more old-school than that. The only music station I ever turn on in my car is one that plays the "classic rock" of the '60s, '70s, and early '80s.

  • When it comes to movies, I'm old-school. I believe Citizen Kane remains the pinnacle of cinematic achievement. Double Indemnity and Casablanca are two of my ten favorite films of all time. I'd still rather spend two hours reliving The Maltese Falcon or North By Northwest than enduring ninety percent of today's Hollywood product.

  • When it comes to comics, I'm old-school. I like my heroes and heroines heroic, not antiheroic. I want to be able to tell the protagonists from the antagonists most of the time. I prefer to see heroes who look for reasons not to kill the villains, rather than excuses for cold-blooded murder.
Since the holidays are supposed to provide a season of joy and harmony, a time for reflection on the past and hope for the future, on this pre-Yuletide Comic Art Friday we're going to revel in some old-school art that reminds me of the way comics used to be, back in the day — when the good guys were truly good, or at least were trying to be, and when the bad guys merely wanted to rule the world, not sodomize the hero's teenage sidekick or rape and murder his wife.

If there's one creator in the comic world today whose stylistic vision epitomizes old-school, that creator is Steve Rude. "The Dude," as the Brobdingnagian artist is known to his fans, has perfected a simple yet muscular visual approach that recalls such giants of the Silver Age as Jack Kirby (cocreator of such icons as Captain America, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four) and Steve Ditko (cocreator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange). In fact, if a contemporary filmmaker wanted to make a biopic about Kirby, and needed an artist to create new illustrations modeled after Kirby's distinctive style, Rude would get the first call.

Although he has worked on a variety of projects for the major comics publishers, Rude is most closely associated with Nexus, a spacegoing superhero series he cocreated with writer Mike Baron, and which has been published intermittently by various comics companies since the early 1980s. Nexus owes at least a modicum of debt to Saturday morning television's Space Ghost, the Alex Toth-designed character of whom Rude is an avowed fan.

Faced with a rare opportunity to obtain a commissioned piece from Rude, I went as old-school as one could get: I asked him to draw that paragon of goodness and virtue, Mary Marvel. And did the Dude ever deliver! His motif of mighty Mary dodging a fusillade of retro-styled missiles is the stuff of pure genius.

Beginning in the late '70s and throughout the '80s, Ron Wilson emerged as one of Marvel Comics' most dependable "go-to" artists. Ron penciled covers for The Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Power Man, among numerous other titles, and was the primary interior illustrator on Marvel Two-In-One, featuring the adventures of the ever-lovin', blue-eyed Thing and a parade of guest stars.

When I was approached recently with the chance to work with Ron on one of his first-ever commission assignments, I knew immediately which of my Common Elements concepts I wanted him to draw. Borrowing inspiration from a pair of his classic '80s Daredevil covers, I asked Ron to team The Man Without Fear with comics' original blind hero, Doctor Mid-Nite.

Showing that he hasn't lost a step from his heyday as a Marvel cover creator, Ron delivered this stunning scenario featuring the two sightless supermen, plus the good Doctor's owl companion, Hooty. Although he has been pursuing other career opportunities for the past decade or so, Ron has clearly kept his drawing reflexes razor-sharp.

See? Doesn't that feel good? Old-school comic art. Nothing grim, dark, or psychosexual. No bizarrely exaggerated anatomy or needless gore. Just talented artists depicting good guys and good girls in spandex costumes, defending truth, justice, and the superhero way.

Lord knows, we could use a lot more of that these days.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Only three shopping months until Christmas!

Just in case you were keeping track.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

There's no place like home for the holidays

It's been a quiet, soothing Christmas here at SwanShadow Central. We were supposed to go to my mother's for lunch, but one of her sisters back East had a serious heart attack this week and remains in intensive care. Given that Mom's had a ton on her emotional plate — and practically nonstop phone calls with medical updates — this week, I suggested she attempt to get some rest today, and we'll catch up with her another time soon. (Anticipating a last-minute change in plans, we had already laid in provisions for an easy-to-prepare Christmas repast of pork tenderloin and suitable accompaniments. It pays to think ahead.)

As it happens, this was all for the best. KJ's been sick with a URI the past several days, and needed more than anything to just recline on the couch and sleep, which is exactly what she did most of the day today. KM and I entertained one another playing some new games: the interactive TV trivia game Scene-It (one of KM's top requests this year), and an excellent word game called Huggermugger that a couple from church bestowed upon us. We also watched I, Robot on DVD, and several repeats of A Christmas Story, thanks to the marathon showing of the latter on TBS. (I keep waiting for Ralphie to shoot his eye out, but he never does. And I can never quite get beyond the realization that this sentimental trifle was directed by the same guy who made Porky's.) This evening I made big pots of hot oatmeal and fragrant tea, which just hit the spot.

People are always too kind to me in their holiday gift-giving, and this year was no exception. With no slight intended to any of the fine consumer products bestowed upon yours truly by family and friends this fine Yuletide, here are a few of Santa's greatest hits.

One of those programmable digital clocks (generally spotted in The Sharper Image, Brookstone, Spencer Gifts, and other overpriced gadgetry outlets near you) with the little LED wand that whips back and forth, appearing to make the time, date, and assorted cutesy sayings float in midair, thanks to the miracle of persistence of vision. The kitsch-loving Vegas geek in me adores cheesy stuff like this, although rarely enough to actually shell out cash American for it. Some friends from church knew I would love this gizmo, and they were right. It seems like the kind of fragile toy that will survive perhaps a week or two, but it'll be a kick to watch while it lasts.

A sharp winter jacket from the in-laws. Now that my best outdoor jacket is outdated — it bears the chorus's recently retired logo on the breast — it'll be nice to have a new one. Not that I'm outdoors a lot, or that our winters are especially severe, but it likely will rain here from time to time between now and April, and even more likely on days when I have to go somewhere.

A cute little laser-engraved display piece with a Giants logo on it that KM found for me at a crafts fair. It's a mate to the howling wolf piece she gave me last year. Daughters are cool.

As usual, I received several nifty tomes for bathroom contemplation over the next weeks and months. The best of this year's crop appears to be The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball, a compilation of essays from a variety of noteworthy scribes who follow the Greatest Game Ever Invented.

Looking about the living room at the tsunami of opened gifts, and my family relaxing in front of the television, I'll join Tiny Tim Cratchit in saying, "God bless us, every one."

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Merry Christmas, and stuff

I believe the great lyricist Sammy Cahn said it best:
The little gift you send
On Christmas Day
Will not bring back the friend
You've turned away
So may I suggest
The secret of Christmas
Is not the things you do at Christmas time
But the Christmas things you do
All year through
Even as inveterate an anti-Claus as I can get behind that sentiment.

May you and yours share good things today. Even if it's nothing more tangible than a hug, a kiss, and a heartfelt "I love you."

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Christmas carols confuse me

Among my many perpetually unanswered questions at Yuletide:

Why did the little drummer boy think the baby Jesus was a sub sandwich? "I am a poor boy too..."

Who is Don, and what's up with his gay apparel? Isn't it true that most cross-dressers are heterosexual?

"Up on the housetop reindeer paws..." I thought reindeer had hooves?

Why didn't the shepherd boy say to the little lamb, "How can I hear anything when you keep singing in my ear?"

Does anyone you know roast chestnuts on an open fire?

If the Herald angels sing "Hark," how are the Times and Chronicle angels reporting the news?

Am I the only one who feels underrepresented by "White Christmas"?

What games do reindeer play?

"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..." Is Santa stalking me?

When we sing "Joy to the World" at Christmas time, why do we leave out the verse about Jeremiah the bullfrog?

What did the Halls do that makes us want to deck them?

If one of the three kings left, would the others be disoriented?

If all that kid wants for Christmas is his two front teeth, can I have his presents?

Why was Mommy kissing Santa Claus?

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