Archive for October 2009

Comic Art Friday: Witches and warlocks

October 30, 2009

Tomorrow is Hallowe’en — All Hallows’ Eve, if you don’t want want to get lazy about it — which makes today Hallowe’ene’en.

I’m not sure that designation will catch on, but I thought you’d want to know.

The Scarlet Witch and Adam Warlock, pencils by Ron Adrian, inks by Bob Almond

This being Hallowe’ene’en and all, what could be more appropriate than a Common Elements artwork featuring a witch and a warlock? Not just any witch and warlock, of course, but the Scarlet Witch and Adam Warlock — drawn here by the talented Brazilian penciler Ron Adrian and embellished by the man who puts the “king” in “inking,” Bob Almond.

The Scarlet Witch isn’t really a witch, of course, but a mutant with the power to alter probability. Nor is Adam Warlock really a warlock — that’s just his name. Much like Billy Warlock, who to the best of my knowledge is not an actual warlock either, just a soap opera actor.

Not being a real witch doesn’t make the Scarlet Witch any less cool. If anything, it makes her even more cool, because you have to be pretty cool to let people think you’re a witch when you’re really not. Sort of like Kristin Chenoweth, who, although famous for portraying a witch, is not an actual witch. Although she can sing an F above high C, and I’m fairly certain that you’d have to have supernatural powers to do that. So, she might be.

In similar fashion, not being an actual warlock doesn’t make Adam Warlock any less cool. Not being Billy Warlock, however, is pretty cool. Unless you’re Billy Warlock, in which case you’re stuck with it. Although Billy Warlock was married to Marcy Walker, which might have been kind of cool for a while. Then again, Marcy Walker has been married, like, five times, so it might not be all that cool after all.

A Common Elements commission starring the Scarlet Witch and Adam Warlock, however, is totally cool.

Even on Hallowe’ene’en.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Not unique

October 29, 2009

I would have written about this before now, except that I didn’t know about it until today, when a member of an online forum that I frequent brought it to my attention.

A couple of weeks ago, I surrendered a distinction that I’ve held all by my lonesome for the past 21 years.

Since June 1988 — actually since March of that year, but the feat wasn’t official until June, when the programs aired — I have been the only African-American five-game champion in the history of Jeopardy! (If you’re arriving late to the party, you can read about my career as a game show trivia wizard by following the link. And yes, you nitpicker, technically I’m “biracial” — but if it’s good enough for the President of these United States, it’s absolutely good enough for me.)

As of two weeks ago Friday, a gentleman from Plano, Texas named Terry Linwood muscled his way into my formerly one-man fraternity.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m as thrilled as all get-out for Terry, who’s a fantastic Jeopardy! player. (I saw a couple of Terry’s games, but not his game five — which he won — or his game six — which he lost — and thus I wasn’t aware of his accomplishment.)

Still, I’m sure you’ll excuse me for feeling just a tiny bit less… remarkable today.

Had you asked me 21 years ago whether I thought my dubious accomplishment would stand the test of more than two decades’ time, I’d have imagined you daft. I mean, who’d have thought Jeopardy! would even be on the air after 26 seasons? And, given the number of contestants who grace the Sony Pictures Studios stage every year, you’d have supposed that a couple of dozen people, maybe, would have smashed in the door to my solitary club by now.

It’s a funny old world, sometimes.

Now I know how Snoopy felt in this classic Peanuts strip:


Congratulations to Terry Linwood on becoming Jeopardy!‘s latest five-time champ. I’ll be pulling for him in next year’s Tournament of Champions.

If he does well, I’ll even teach him the secret handshake.

What’s Up With That? #82: Busted bridge

October 28, 2009

I’m not a structural engineer, but…

If the recently repaired chunk of the Bay Bridge can be taken out by a stiff wind, why should we have confidence that it could withstand a major earthquake — which is the reason they’re doing all of this work on the Bay Bridge in the first place?

Seems a mite iffy to me.

Side note: Don’t you just hate it when someone begins a critique with the disclaimer, “I’m not a [insert professional specialty here], but…”? Would you have you have mistaken me for a structural engineer if I hadn’t started this post by assuring you that I wasn’t?

Somehow, I think not.

The view from the Oracle

October 26, 2009

Some thoughts as I watched the Golden State Warriors’ open practice at Oracle Arena today, two days before the team’s NBA season opener against the Houston Rockets…

Disgruntled former captains aside, this team has potential. Anthony Morrow looks like he could make a serious impact in his sophomore season, and the rookie point guard, Stephen Curry, can ball.

Speaking of disgruntled former captains: Shut up and play, Stack Jack. You couldn’t buy a bucket — or remember to pass — today.

Teaming two relatively small guards in the backcourt doesn’t worry me. The tandem of Curry and Monta Ellis ought to be able to run and shoot half the teams in the Association out of the building. Plus, Curry’s already the best passer on the team.

Starting Corey Maggette does worry me. Not because Maggette isn’t a terrific player — he is, and right now, he looks terrific — but because he’s a physical guy who gets injured a lot. The Warriors are better off with Corey coming in gunning off the bench, keeping him fresh and relatively unbattered.

Three thousand-plus preadolescent schoolkids can raise quite a shriek when told to “Make Noise!” by a scoreboard graphic. Perhaps we shouldn’t encourage that.

Andris Biedrins and Anthony Randolph still appear to be nursing injuries. Both played at about half-speed today. Although the way Biedrins usually plays, it’s hard to tell.

Kelenna Azubuike looks to be over his ankle sprain. That was one killer dunk he threw down.

Having Mikki Moore alongside Ronny Turiaf could make for an exciting frontcourt when the starters are resting. Those two guys love to get after it. It’s good to have another big man who, like Turiaf, understands the meaning of “hustle.” Biedrins and Randolph are still wrestling with that concept.

Acie Law can play a little. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Today is Monta’s 24th birthday. Curry the rookie was called upon to lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to him. This was a bad idea for two reasons: (1) Steph cannot sing; and (2) Steph does not appear to know the tune to “Happy Birthday.”

Don Nelson looks every day of his 69 years. Maui’s calling, Nellie.

Comic Art Friday: Wonder Woman Day is Sunday!

October 23, 2009

In addition to October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — a fact of which you, friend reader, have already been made aware — this is also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Which means that Sunday is Wonder Woman Day.

Wonder Woman, pencils and inks by comics artist Michael Bair

For the past three years, the last Sunday in October has been celebrated as Wonder Woman Day as a symbolic way of empowering women to free themselves from violent relationships. The cities of Portland, Oregon and Flemington, New Jersey officially designate Wonder Woman Day as an opportunity to support local women’s and family shelters, and to promote awareness of domestic violence as a social issue.

Thanks to the encouragement of the event’s organizer, comics and pop culture author Andy Mangels, dozens of comic book artists each year donate Wonder Woman art for a silent auction, the proceeds of which benefit shelters in the two sponsoring cities.

Wonder Woman, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Bob Almond

Each of today’s featured artworks traces its origins back to a previous Wonder Woman Day auction. I acquired the first piece shown above — a stunning portrait by Michael Bair — on Wonder Woman Day II in 2007. The second drawing was originally a preliminary sketch drawn by Al Rio for his Wonder Woman Day contribution that same year. I later commissioned inker extraordinaire Bob Almond to embellish Al’s pencils.

If you’d like to check out the art available in this year’s auctions, simply follow the Wonder Woman Day link.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Soup’s gone

October 22, 2009

So I come home tonight after a long day at the hospital with KJ, and the first thing I read on the news is that Soupy Sales died.

Go ahead, world… tear away another piece of my childhood.

Although I’m too young to have been around for his infamous kids’ shows from the 1950s and early 1960s — shame on you for thinking there’s nothing I’m too young to have been around for — Soupy was a big part of my nascent TV experience. Reruns of his mid-’60s variety show ran endlessly on Armed Forces Television, a staple of my military-brat youth.

More significantly, as a connoisseur of game shows, I watched Soupy on hundreds of episodes of programs like What’s My Line? (he was a regular panelist for seven seasons), Pyramid, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and Hollywood Squares. In the ’70s, Soupy also hosted the juvenile version of the stunt game Almost Anything Goes, the forerunner of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare and its spinoffs.

Soupy’s legend in television was secured on New Year’s Day 1965, when as a gag he invited his young viewers to dig into their parents’ wallets and purses and mail him “those green pieces of paper with pictures of Presidents on them.” Contrary to popular belief, Sales wasn’t fired for this stunt — although he was suspended for a week — nor did his entreaty net a massive windfall. (Most of the mail submissions contained Monopoly money.) The incident, however, illustrates the unpredictable humor for which Soupy became famous, even when he was mostly known for entertaining kids.

Some years ago, TV comedy and comics writer Mark Evanier composed a detailed retrospective about Soupy’s career. In tonight’s blog post, Mark adds a few additional thoughts. Both articles are well worth a read.

Back when I was reviewing films for DVD Verdict, I penned a critique of a little-known “mockumentary” entitled …And God Spoke. It’s a pretty funny flick if you enjoy that Christopher Guest sort of thing, and one of its most hilarious bits is a cameo by Soupy Sales as himself, hired to portray Moses in a low-budget Biblical epic. Because if you couldn’t afford Charlton Heston, you’d definitely want the Soup Man.

Soupy Sales — whose birth name, incidentally, was Milton Supman — was 83. His two sons, Hunt and Tony Sales, are rock musicians who’ve worked as sidemen for such premier artists as David Bowie, Todd Rundgren, and Iggy Pop.

There. I didn’t mention pie once.

Comic Art Friday: RIP, George Tuska

October 16, 2009

Sad news this Comic Art Friday…

George Tuska, a comic artist whose career began in the earliest days of comic books, passed away last night at the age of 93.

Iron Man vs. the Hulk, pencils by comics artist George Tuska

Only a week or so ago, I received notice via the Comic Art collectors’ e-mail list that Tuska had decided to stop accepting new commissions. I’m reminded of our local hero, Charles Schulz, whose final Peanuts strip appeared in newspapers on the day of his death. It’s almost as though these gentlemen had been drawing for so long that when they decided to stop drawing, they had nothing left to live for.

Tuska’s life in comics began in 1939, when he began working for the legendary Will Eisner. Although Tuska would eventually draw every genre of comic known to humankind, his original specialty was crime stories, in particular the gritty sort that appeared in Lev Gleason’s infamous Crime Does Not Pay.

In the 1960s, Tuska became one of the busiest artists in the superhero genre. He was the regular penciler on Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man for nearly a decade (September 1968-January 1978), and while he was by no means the first artist to draw Iron Man, Tuska’s depiction of the character was the seminal one for a generation of Marvelites. Even today, when I close my eyes and think “Iron Man,” it’s the George Tuska version I envision. Tuska had a knack for making Tony Stark’s armor come alive — in fact, he drew Shellhead’s supersuit in a way that made it seem almost as pliable as Batman’s cape, yet still metallic somehow. He was, I think, the first artist to subtly change the expression on Iron Man’s faceplate to reflect the emotions of the man inside. It wasn’t technically authentic, maybe, but it worked.

From my perspective, Tuska’s other key achievement at Marvel was his work on Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, the first mainstream comic book to bear the name of a black superhero in its title. Tuska illustrated the first three issues of the series, then returned to draw several more, beginning with issue #7. When the title of the book changed to Luke Cage, Power Man, Tuska once again came back to the character, adding another dozen or so issues to his credits. Again, as with Iron Man, when I think of Luke Cage, it’s Tuska’s depiction that I most associate with the character.

Perhaps because of his experience on the Cage title, Tuska was the artist Marvel chose to draw another series featuring an African-American hero, Black Goliath. Other Marvel titles to which Tuska contributed significantly included The Avengers, Sub-Mariner, X-Men, Ghost Rider, and the Western series Kid Colt, Outlaw. He also drew the first several issues of the Man-Wolf series in Marvel’s monster anthology, Creatures on the Loose.

Tuska was known in the industry as “King of the Fill-In” because his adaptable style and speedy production made him invaluable as a fill-in artist — drawing a single issue of a title when the regular artist took time off, or fell behind schedule. At Marvel, he drew dozens of fill-in issues throughout the ’60s and ’70s, touching practically every book Marvel published during that span at least once.

After leaving Marvel in 1978, Tuska assumed the art chores on DC’s World’s Greatest Superheroes newspaper strip, a job he held for 15 years. During this period, he also drew comic books for DC, mostly in the various Superman titles.

Tuska retired from comics in the mid-1990s. As noted earlier, however, he continued to draw commission projects until shortly before his death. Although I never was fortunate enough to commission him, the artwork shown above is a commissioned piece I picked up from another collector five years ago. It’s not dated, but I believe Tuska drew it sometime in the early part of this decade. It’s Tuska’s Iron Man in a classic action pose, doing battle with the Hulk. Everything you need to know about the artist’s style and approach to layout and character is right there on the page.

According to his friend and biographer, Dewey Cassell, Tuska is survived by his wife of 61 years, Dorothy, their three children, numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends, and a legion of fans.

Thanks for all of the wonderful art, Mr. Tuska. Those sure were some great times.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

It’s only news if somebody cares

October 15, 2009

This just in from the world of music…

Country star Garth Brooks is ending his retirement.

At the same time, the Norwegian pop trio a-ha — best known for the ’80s hit “Take On Me,” and its influential video — is announcing its retirement.

Here’s the unfortunate news for these artists.

No one knew that Garth Brooks had retired…

…or that a-ha hadn’t.

The Not Having Been Discovered Yet List

October 12, 2009

I hope you’re enjoying your Columbus Day — or, as I prefer to call it, Not Having Been Discovered Yet Day (an homage to the late, great comic genius, Flip Wilson).

Sure, Christopher Columbus was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands — some historians suggest millions — of indigenous North Americans. And yes, he introduced the slave trade to the New World. And despite what you may have heard, he wasn’t the first European to make landfall or establish a colony in the Western Hemisphere — hello, Leif Ericson — nor to prove that the Earth was round (the shape of the Earth was understood from ancient times; the Biblical book of Isaiah, written around 700 B.C., described “the circle of the Earth”).

But Crazy Chris had a terrific press agent: namely, storyteller Washington Irving. Irving’s 1828 fictionalized biography, The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, popularized most of the commonly accepted legend about the explorer.

Which is the main reason there’s a Columbus Day.

Listing all of the various and sundry items named for the self-styled Admiral of the Ocean Sea would take us until… well… next Columbus Day. So instead, I’ve selected my seven absolute favorite Columbus name-checks.

7. Columbus Salame. One of the Bay Area’s finest producers of tasty meat products. I lunched on sandwiches made from Columbus deli ham just yesterday. Delicious.

6. The District of Columbia. This will come a shock to fans of filmmaker Alex Proyas, but the abbreviation at the end of Washington, D.C. does not stand for Dark City. I lived in our nation’s capital for several months when I was young — my father was stationed at nearby Andrews Air Force Base.

5. Columbus, Ohio. My wife used to work for Nationwide Insurance, which is based there. Thanks for all the paychecks.

4. The Columbia River. On a speaking trip to Eugene, Oregon some years back, I was treated to a lovely dinner in a restaurant overlooking the river. Roll, Columbia.

3. Motion picture director Chris Columbus. The only one of Columbus’s films that I truly enjoy is his first, Adventures in Babysitting, but that one is so choice that I’m willing to overlook abject junk like Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. “Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.”

2. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, sometimes referred to as the Chicago World’s Fair. Author Erik Larson wrote an excellent nonfiction book, The Devil in the White City, about the development of the Exposition and the concurrent activities of serial killer H.H. Holmes. If you haven’t read Larson’s tome, I highly recommend it.

1. Lt. Columbo. I always wondered whether Peter Falk’s disheveled detective was a descendant of the Italian-born explorer (whose name in his native tongue would be pronounced Christoforo Columbo). “Ah, pardon me, ma’am… just one more thing… do you mind if I steal your continent?”

Comic Art Friday: She’s a ringer!

October 9, 2009

In honor of the discovery earlier this week of Saturn’s Phoebe ring — the largest planetary ring in the solar system by a factor of a bazillion — today’s Comic Art Friday salutes the one superheroine who could have told us the doggoned thing was there all along: Saturn Girl.

Saturn Girl, pencils by Michael Dooney, inks by James Taylor

In the 30th century, vivacious Imra Ardeen from Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is one of three gifted teenagers who together found the Legion of Super-Heroes. Imra, whose power is mental telepathy, takes the code name Saturn Girl. I never could figure out why Imra called herself Saturn Girl, since (a) Saturn didn’t have anything to do with her powers, and (b) she wasn’t actually from Saturn. Why not call herself Titan Girl?

I guess Mind-Reader Girl would have sounded too silly. Then again, on a team that would eventually include people calling themselves Bouncing Boy, Princess Projectra, and Matter-Eater Lad, is any code name too silly?

Saturn Girl and Green Lantern Alan Scott, pencils by comics artist Anthony Carpenter

Speaking of silly, the artwork above features Imra alongside the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who wears one of the silliest costumes in the history of comics. But he has a cool power ring. (Imra’s named after a planet with rings. There’s a Common Element for you.)

Although afflicted with a confusing moniker and a wimpy superpower — because it was the Silver Age, and pretty much all female superheroes had wimpy powers — Saturn Girl remained a stalwart in the Legion, and one of its most identifiable members. As a charter Legionnaire, she was looked upon as an elder stateswoman (at least, as elder as a teenager can be) and de facto leader. Imra’s prominence in the group has held consistent throughout the decades, and the Legion’s ever-changing permutations, right up to the present day.

Below, we see Imra facing off with the dreaded cosmic supervillain Thanos. They’re both from the moon Titan, albeit in different comic-book universes. (There’s another Common Element.)

Saturn Girl and Thanos, pencils by comics artist Steve Mannion

You’ll notice that Thanos does not refer to himself as Saturn Boy. Or Saturn Man. Or Saturn anything. That’s because Thanos stayed awake in astronomy class, and knows that he isn’t from Saturn. (Imra was out with a migraine that day.)

In the past few years, Imra has become something of a TV star. She was one of the lead characters in the recent Legion of Super-Heroes animated series (at least in the first season of the show; she was mostly MIA in Season Two). She has also appeared, in radically modified form, as a guest star on Smallville, where she’s played by the girl who was Mackenzie Phillips’s teenage sidekick in the final season of the Disney Channel X-Files knockoff, So Weird. (You’d pretty much have to call a show So Weird if Mackenzie Phillips stars in it, wouldn’t you? But that’s a topic for another day.)

Funny how she never mentions that Phoebe ring, though.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.