Archive for June 2009

This Swan has flown

June 30, 2009

Those of you who’ve been SSTOL regulars since we were in our previous digs will recall that I’m usually offline during the first week in July.

Well, tomorrow’s July 1. (Happy Canada Day to our northern neighbors.)

I’ll have loads of fun stuff to share when I’m back online in a week.

Until then, keep the faith, keep ’em flying, and for heaven’s sake, keep your celebrities alive.

See you in seven.

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Comic Art Friday: I want to be a superhero!

June 26, 2009

As a voice actor — and in particular, a voice actor with a yen to work in animation — I often think about characters that I would enjoy voicing, if given the opportunity.

As a comic book fanatic — and in particular, a comic book fanatic who also happens to be a voice actor — I think especially about comic book characters that I would enjoy voicing, if given the opportunity.

Herewith, then, Uncle Swan’s Top Seven Superheroes He’d Like to Play in an Animated Series or Feature. (Animation directors and casting professionals, kindly take note.)

7. The Rocketeer.

The Rocketeer, pencils and inks by comics artist Aaron Lopresti

Someone really ought to do an animated version of the late, great Dave Stevens’s signature character that would do justice to Stevens’s memory. Then, that someone should hire me to play Cliff Secord, because no one else would approach the job with as much enthusiasm. And, playing a character requiring different vocal qualities when speaking with and without his helmet would pose an intriguing challenge.

6. Daredevil.

Daredevil, pencils by Michelangelo Almeida, inks by Bob Almond

Playing Daredevil would be kind of like playing Batman, only without the added burden of living up to the solidly established vocalization created by Kevin Conroy over the past decade and a half. It would also be interesting to physicalize a blind character — how would I get that aspect across vocally?

5. Booster Gold.

Booster Gold, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Snarky, smarmy, borderline obnoxious know-it-alls are right up my alley. Some might call it typecasting. Besides which, my natural speaking voice sounds like a hyperactive surfer dude (30 years in California will do that to you), and that’s how I imagine that Booster would talk.

4. Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

I’m actually not a major Doctor Strange buff — he’s a bit outré for my tastes. But I would totally dig on spouting dialogue laced with such juicy epithets as, “By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!” and “Begone, dread Dormammu! I alone possess the all-seeing Eye of Agamotto!”

3. Green Arrow.

Green Arrow, pencils by Mike Grell, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Oliver Queen would be a blast to portray. He’s egotistical, passionate, crass, and more than a little bent. He has to be — he’s constantly engaging in close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat using a weapon best used from long distance. What kind of sane individual does that?

2. The Prowler.

Amazing Spider-Man 78 cover recreation, pencils and inks by Jim Mooney

One of my all-time favorite characters, the Prowler deserves to be a far bigger star than he is. With my voice emanating from behind his mask, he just might become one.

1. Mr. Terrific.

Mr. Terrific, pencils by Ron Lim, inks by Danny Bulanadi

Technological genius? Check. Third-smartest man in the world? Check. Dashingly handsome behind a stick-on T-shaped facial appliance? I’ll work on it. Don’t you just have to love a guy with the chutzpah to refer to himself as Mr. Terrific? I’ll bet he gets all the ladies.

Some of you may be wondering why my two all-time favorite heroes, the Black Panther and Spider-Man, aren’t on this list. The answer on Spidey should be obvious — he’s been done and overdone by plenty of other actors. I was trying to focus on characters whose voices and personas are less familiar to the general public, thereby offering me more latitude to establish a fresh take.

As for the Panther… I can’t do a credible African accent, and the character demands that. Djimon Hounsou is voicing T’Challa in the upcoming Black Panther animated series, and is an absolutely perfect choice for the role.

If you need Mr. Terrific, though… have your people call my people.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

[View the back catalog of Comic Art Friday posts here.]

The King is dead

June 25, 2009

The steam was still rising from my fresh-from-the-oven post about the long-anticipated passing of Farrah Fawcett when I received a bulletin about another celebrity — indeed, one of entertainment’s biggest names of the past half-century.

Michael Jackson, gone at age 50.

Whew.

It’s practically impossible to overestimate Michael’s impact on the music industry, and on the side business of celebrity. He practically defined the term “child star” as the lead vocalist of the Jackson Five. At the height of his adult solo career, he was the best-known, most beloved, and most highly revered individual performer in all of show business. It’s fair to say that he launched the music video industry into respectability. This was a guy who made so much money with his own music that he bought The Beatles’ catalog, too.

When Michael dubbed himself “The King of Pop,” he wasn’t just selling wolf tickets.

And then came the weirdness.

What always fascinated me about the latter-day Michael Jackson — you know, the cat-nosed, gray-complected, amusement-park-dwelling, germophobic, baby-dangling, accused-pedophile whack-job Michael Jackson — is that as bizarre a figure as he became, even people who despised the sight of the guy often felt just a touch sorry for him.

That’s a tough balancing act.

Nobody pities O.J. Simpson. Nobody feels sorry for Phil Spector. Michael Vick? Barry Bonds? Jose Canseco? Please.

But with rare exceptions — all of whom, I’m certain, will chime in here with comments — folks couldn’t help thinking that this charismatic, tremendously talented person must have experienced some horrific damage early in life to turn out the way that he did. For all of the crazy things he said and did — and that other people said that he did — Michael Jackson resonated tragedy. That didn’t excuse him. But it did make people wish his life had gone differently.

Although I never much idolized music figures even when I loved music the most, Michael Jackson was a favorite of mine when I was young. Michael was a few years older than I, but we were close enough in age to be peers, and for his life and career to be a fantasy to my juvenile self. I watched the Jackson Five cartoon religiously every Saturday morning. I played the Jackson Five card game zealously with my parents until the Tito cards started to fray around the edges. And I wore the grooves out on Michael’s first couple of solo albums.

The kid sang a love song to a rat, for crying out loud, and I was all over it.

Even as my musical tastes evolved — I was much more an arena rocker as a teen than a disco angel — I always kept an ear open to what Michael was up to. And more often than not, I enjoyed what I heard. When you rattle off his megahit singles from the ’80s — “Off the Wall,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Thriller,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Smooth Criminal” — that’s a repertoire that includes some of the greatest pop music ever recorded, hands down, no questions asked. I can still conjure every one of those songs in my head all these years later, and they all still sound amazing.

Much will be written in the hours and days ahead about the dark and twisted path Michael’s life followed during its last two decades. Perhaps, at some juncture, I’ll write about some of that myself.

But right now, while news of his untimely death rings afresh, I just want to close my eyes, and hear those songs, and feel the boundless, effortless energy of those performances.

The King of Pop is dead.

Long live the King.

Look homeward, Angel

June 25, 2009

KCBS just Twittered confirmation of the death of Farrah Fawcett, at age 62.

I figured this was coming, given the news last evening that Farrah had been given last rites. Indeed, I fully expected to awaken this morning to reports of her passing.

Like any heterosexual American male who reached the full flower of adolescence during the 1970s, I remember Farrah Fawcett and the television series that made her famous, Charlie’s Angels, with fond regard. Being a more of a brunette fancier than a blonde connoisseur, and having a preference even at that early age for intelligent, slightly sardonic, husky-voiced women, I favored Kate Jackson‘s Sabrina over Farrah’s Jill and Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly among the three original Angels. Still, no one could deny Farrah’s presence.

Or those teeth.

Or that hair.

That hair was everywhere.

Farrah Fawcett

Not just on that ubiquitous poster of Farrah in the red swimsuit — how many millions of that bad boy were sold? — but atop the head of every female under 30 (and, sad to tell, on far too many over 30) who wanted to attract masculine attention, there was the Farrah-Do. That tousled and feathered mop that every girl wanted to emulate, but that precious few could truly pull off.

And that was the magic of Farrah. She was just close enough to reality to be accessible, and just far enough from reality to be untouchable.

In her Angel days, she was a dreadful actress — not unlike Marilyn Monroe, with whom she was frequently (albeit inappropriately) compared. To her credit, Farrah got better. By the time she’d left Charlie and the chicks in her rear-view mirror, and her famous looks had begun to fade — the blondes never age well, do they — Farrah had developed a genuine talent for drama.

Farrah starred on the New York stage in Extremities, a harrowing play about a woman fighting back against a home invader who attempted to rape her. (She later earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film version.) But the role that finally convinced the Angels-watching public that she had moved on to greater things came in the reality-based teleflick The Burning Bed, in which Farrah played a battered wife who immolates her abusive husband in his sleep.

A skein of equally impressive performances — many as real-life personalities — followed, ranging from Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld to socialite Barbara Hutton to photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. Over the course of her career, Farrah racked up a stunning six Golden Globe nominations (okay, so one of those was for the first season of Charlie’s Angels — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is often bedazzled more by image than by actual talent) and three Emmy nods.

Perhaps my favorite of Farrah’s dramatic performances was one that gained relatively little notice. In The Apostle, she played the wife of Robert Duvall’s tormented evangelist, and the catalyst for the film’s pivotal event. It’s a subtle, finely etched (and highly unsympathetic) role in a powerful motion picture that more people should have seen.

Over the years, Farrah became as well-known for her long-running relationship with fellow actor Ryan O’Neal. The often-photographed couple were together for 15 years following Farrah’s much-publicized divorce from Six Million Dollar Man and Fall Guy star Lee Majors. (You remember the joke, right? “What do you call students of ancient Egyptian plumbing? Pharaoh Faucet Majors.”) Farrah and O’Neal separated in the late ’90s, then reconciled eight years ago after a four-year hiatus. Although they never married, their relationship ran for a veritable eternity in Hollywood years. Ironically, the legal and drug-related foibles of the couple’s son Redmond earlier this year briefly outstripped reports of his mother’s worsening illness.

Farrah was diagnosed with a rare form of anal cancer in 2006. With the aid of friends, she kept a filmed journal recording her battle with the disease. The effort culminated in Farrah’s Story, a two-hour documentary that aired widely on NBC and its cable affiliates last month.

Most of us who first encountered Farrah Fawcett as Jill Munroe, brassiere-disdaining private detective, would never have imagined that we would still be talking about her in a serious vein more than 30 years later. Perhaps her greatest monument is the fact that she grew beyond the pinup poster, where plenty of starlets would have been content to remain.

She really was more than just the teeth and hair.

What’s Up With That? #79: WWDBD? (What would Debby Boone do?)

June 23, 2009

Here’s a story I would never have expected to read while quaffing my morning java.

Joseph Brooks, the Oscar- and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter responsible for one of the most insidious earworms ever composed — the saccharine Debby Boone megahit “You Light Up My Life” — has been indicted in New York City for allegedly raping or otherwise sexually assaulting 11 women. Nine of the victims were led to Brooks by way of his Craigslist ad seeking female actors to audition.

I’m certain that the Debster would not approve.

Brooks, who also wrote and directed the film based on his ubiquitous song, directed a handful of other forgettable movies since that 1977 blockbuster — most notably 1985’s Invitation to the Wedding, starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. He also produced and served as musical director for the cult classic Eddie and the Cruisers.

In the late ’80s, Brooks composed the music and co-wrote the lyrics for the musical Metropolis, based on Fritz Lang’s seminal 1927 science fiction film. Apparently the phrase “do the robot” meant something different to Brooks than it meant to Lang.

In light of this and other recent front-page news, one theme rings clear:

When Craigslist calls, do not answer.

At least, not in person, by yourself. Take along backup. There’s safety in numbers.

Maybe see if Debby Boone will go with you.

Comic Art Friday: Victorious!

June 19, 2009

Hey, friend reader. Thanks for dropping by to wish me a happy half-birthday.

That is why you dropped by, isn’t it?

What? Oh… Comic Art Friday.

I see. I will swallow my disappointment. Moving on, then.

While you’re here, you might as well check out the latest addition to my Bombshells! theme gallery.

Miss Victory, pencils by comics artist Steve Mannion

For the benefit of those who haven’t been around in a while, Bombshells! is a series of original, custom-commissioned pinups modeled after vintage bomber nose art. Each Bombshell! features a comic book heroine who made her published debut in the 1940s or 1950s — the period during which nose art was in its heyday. The series is a tribute to my youth as a U.S. Air Force kid, growing up admiring aviation memorabilia.

Today’s Bombshell! comes to us from Steve Mannion, making his fourth commission appearance in my collection. Steve’s work has appeared in comics from both Marvel (Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty) and DC (various Batman titles), as well as on the covers of the recent Tales from the Crypt revival from Papercutz. However, he’s probably best known for his creator-owned projects, including Fearless Dawn and The Bomb. What could be better than a Bombshell! by the creator of The Bomb?

For Steve’s project, I chose Miss Victory, one of comics’ earliest patriotic-themed heroines. She and two other flag-waving females already represented in the Bombshells! gallery — Pat Patriot and Miss America — debuted simultaneously in August 1941.

Miss V., whose civilian name was Joan Wayne (hmmm… I wonder where the inspiration for that secret identity came from…?), first displayed her red, white, and blue colors in the back pages of Holyoke Publishing’s Captain Fearless. After a couple of appearances in that book, she transferred over to Captain Aero — I guess Joan had a thing for captains — where she remained until the series was canceled in the summer of 1946.

Like many Golden Age characters who fell into the public domain following the demise of their original publishers, Miss Victory eventually resurfaced in the 1980s, in new stories published by Bill Black’s AC Comics. Black has carved out a tidy niche resurrecting long-forgotten masked marvels, especially superheroines like those who populate AC Comics’ flagship title, Femforce. Miss Victory — redubbed with the more politically correct moniker Ms. Victory — continues to lead AC’s cadre of comely crimebusters to this day.

Steve Mannion dove into this commission assignment with his customary aplomb. His unique retro style suits the Bombshells! theme perfectly.

Suits my half-birthday pretty doggoned nicely, too.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

[View the back catalog of Comic Art Friday posts here.]

The world in the palm of my hand

June 18, 2009

Three months ago, I wrote in this space — well, not this space precisely; the other space, the one Blogger won’t let me update any more — about my new Amazon Kindle 2 e-book reader. I promised then that, once I’d had time to explore the device, I’d let you know how I liked it.

The answer is: I like it quite well. Thanks for asking.

In the 100-plus days we’ve spent together, my Kindle 2 and I have become as inseparable as Chang and Eng Bunker. The little flat-screen dickens accompanies me everywhere I might find myself sitting idly waiting for things to happen.

Which means that K2 (as I affectionately call it) and I share a great deal of time in the porcelain throne room.

K2 also makes a boon companion at the hospital and doctor’s offices, where I frequently find myself with a few hours to while away. The only difficulty there is that my reading is constantly interrupted by members of the medical staff quizzing me about the Kindle. Henceforth, I’ll be able to silently hand them cards printed with the URL of this post, so they can go dig up the information for themselves and leave me alone.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the ease with which I’ve adapted to reading from the Kindle. Within the first few pages of the initial book I read, I had forgotten the technology and immersed myself in the text. Any qualms I had about the reading experience being unbooklike vanished — I don’t even think about the fact that instead of turning paper pages, I’m thumbing the “Next Page” key.

The “electronic paper” display of the Kindle 2 looks remarkably like the real McCoy, so much so that I honestly don’t sense much difference, if any, between the two surfaces. The K2’s screen background closely mirrors the tone and reflective character of book stock. Because the screen is not backlit, it’s much easier and more comfortable to read from than is an LCD monitor. Although I’ve heard other users opine that a backlight would improve the Kindle reading experience, I don’t find this to be true. I read a lot from a computer screen, but I would much rather read from the Kindle.

The bottom line is that if you’re in an environment where you’d need light to read a book by, you’ll need the identical amount of light to read the Kindle. Unless you’re in the habit of perusing books in utter darkness — in which case, you might think about avoiding garlic and holy water — the Kindle won’t change this aspect of your experience.

I love the fact that, with the Kindle, I can carry a variety of reading material with me, with no added weight. The Kindle weighs slightly more than a thick paperback, but is considerably thinner. Wearing the Belkin zippered slipcase I purchased for it, K2 fits perfectly into my camera bag. With roughly the same logistical effort required to tote a single book about, I can access dozens of volumes at the touch of a tiny joystick. If I finish reading one book, and would like to move on to something new, I can do that without adding one ounce to my load.

The K2’s exterior dimensions work well for my thick-fingered, dexterity-challenged hands. The buttons on the keyboard are tiny and difficult to manipulate, but I rarely use them anyway. The page-turn keys, and the joystick that operates most of the other frequently used functions, are perfectly sized and located. I have no complaints there.

When I purchase a new book, the K2 downloads the volume directly from Amazon via G3 wireless. The download process takes mere seconds. I usually keep the wireless functionality switched off to conserve power — using this tactic, the K2 can go for two or three weeks without recharging. (If I leave the wireless connection on, the battery runs down to shut-off levels within a few days.)

Among the Kindle’s handiest features is an automatic dictionary. Simply move the cursor to any word in the text, and a pop-up window provides a definition. I’m also fond of the resizable text — a benefit that no paper book offers, and one that can be a lifesaver if I’ve forgotten to pick up my reading glasses.

The Kindle comes equipped with a rudimentary Web browser. I don’t use this often, as the size and configuration of the Kindle’s screen isn’t suited to displaying Web pages, nor does the device do more than a barely adequate job of serving up graphics. But if I’m in the middle of reading something, and I want to hop over to, say, Wikipedia to grab some additional information, the wireless Internet access proves mighty handy.

I’ve had little difficulty finding books that I want to read available in Kindle format. Better still, I’ve been ecstatic to discover how many classic, public-domain works can be downloaded free of charge, or for a nominal cost (like a dollar or two). My Kindle library includes such gems as L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom novels, Arthur Conan Doyle’s complete Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, and the unabridged works of Shakespeare — all of which together cost me less than the price of a cup of coffee.

So, the question is: Do I find the Kindle worth the investment? For me, the answer is an unqualified “yes.”

Can I envision ways that Amazon could improve the product in future iterations? Sure — just as I find the K2 a significant improvement over the somewhat clunky original model. Minor quibbles aside, after 100 days, my Kindle has rendered itself irreplaceable.

I’m not calling it “Precious” yet. But I might.