Archive for November 2009

Citizen of eWorld

November 30, 2009

A random post to an online forum I frequent jolted into memory a fact that I hadn’t considered before today…

I’ve been online for 15 years.

That’s almost as long as the World Wide Web itself has been around.

I bought my first computer way back in 1988, with a chunk of my original Jeopardy! winnings. This wonderful addition was an Apple Macintosh Plus, equipped with what seemed at the time like almost unlimited memory — a full megabyte of internal RAM, supplemented by an outboard hard drive boasting 20 (yes, 20!) MB. Heck, on my current Windows Vista-powered Dell notebook, a single keystroke exhausts 20 MB. (I’m exaggerating, but not by much.) But back in the day, that kind of juice meant I was living large in the cybernetic age.

Even more bizarre, I equipped that microscopically brained Mac with a slightly used floor-demo laser printer that cost more than all the computer hardware I’ve purchased in the 20 years since. Combined.

My Mac Plus and I chugged along happily together for six years, blissful in our word-processing glory. Then, in 1994, I started hearing about some newfangled “Internet” thing, and this “World Wide Web” that made it accessible to the common man. So, being about as common as men come, I invested in a fancy new Mac that not only possessed scads more computing power than my charming old relic, but even came with a color (!) monitor. Best of all, by connecting a snazzy dialup modem, I could launch myself out onto the WWW and communicate with folks near and far.

Talk about living large.

At the time, Apple offered its own self-branded online service for Mac users only, known as eWorld. I was, I’m fairly certain, one of the original handful of eWorld subscribers, joining shortly after the service went live in the summer of ’94. When eWorld debuted, it featured a quaint graphic interface that collected all of the possible online destinations under a handful of category umbrellas, organized to make the Internet feel like a global village.

Newsstand enabled one to connect with news and sports resources. What few e-commerce sites existed then were grouped under Marketplace. Such nexuses as Arts and Leisure Pavilion, Business and Finance Plaza, and Learning Center collected other types of sites. Computer Center offered Mac technical support. Community Center was eWorld’s native aggregation of forums and bulletin boards. If you couldn’t figure out where to go or what to do, you tapped the Info Booth icon.

Navigating eWorld was clunky and far from intuitive. in those halcyon days, though, one thrilled at the mere notion of linking to a world of information with a few clicks of a (single-button) mouse.

Frankly, there never was more than a smattering of citizens populating eWorld. That explains why Apple pulled the plug on the service less than two years later, fobbing us loyalists off on then-nascent America Online. In March 1996, my electronic address changed overnight from my very first, SwanShadow-at-eWorld-dot-com, to the somehow less cool-sounding SwanShadow-at-AOL-dot-com. (I imagine that latter e-dress is probably still extant, even though I haven’t accessed it in a half-decade or more.)

Without question, I’ve seen incredible change along the information superhighway over the last 15 years. It’s faster, infinitely more diverse, and innumerable ways exist to find what you’re searching for.

It’s just hard to believe I’ve been out here in the ether this long.

Comic Art Friday: Black (Panther) Friday

November 27, 2009

If you were among the millions throwing elbows and shoving shoulders over retail bargains before daybreak… well, you have my pity, if not my empathy.

Here at SSTOL, we decline to engage in such frivolity. Instead, we’re celebrating Black Friday with a look at one of our favorite heroes, the Black Panther.

The Black Panther, pencils and inks by comics artist Bob McLeod

When it comes to superdoers of the masculine order, T’Challa, King of Wakanda, ranks right up there with Spider-Man at the top of my list. I’ve been a Panther fanatic ever since he began showing up in The Avengers in 1968. (T’Challa made a few appearances in Fantastic Four and Captain America before that, but I first recall seeing him on the cover of Avengers #52.)

After several years as an Avenger, the Panther came into his own as a headliner in Marvel’s Jungle Action title in the early 1970s. It was in Jungle Action that he began to develop his own rogues’ gallery, and where his backstory was fleshed out by writer Don McGregor. Later in the decade, T’Challa’s cocreator, legendary artist Jack Kirby, reunited with the character for a brief run in his own Black Panther title.

The Black Panther, pencils and inks by comics artist Geof Isherwood

In my opinion, the pinnacle of Panther arrived with the series written by Christopher Priest and illustrated for much of its lifespan by the team of penciler Sal Velluto and inker Bob Almond. This Black Panther book, which ran for five years beginning in 1998, finally brought T’Challa to his rightful place as a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe.

More recently (2005-2008), writer Reginald Hudlin helmed a Black Panther revival that had as its high point the marriage of T’Challa to Ororo Munroe, better known as Storm of the X-Men. I never entirely warmed to Hudlin’s interpretation of the character — frankly, I found Hudlin’s Panther annoyingly shallow — but I appreciated his enthusiasm.

Marvel is still publishing a Black Panther comic, but T’Challa is no longer the main character, so it’s hard for me to care. If I had my druthers, I’d ditch the new version and bring back Priest, Sal, and Bob to continue the Panther’s adventures. But then, it’s not as though Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada gives a rat’s patoot about what I think. (Or what anyone else thinks, so far as I can tell.)

The Black Panther, pencils and inks by comics artist Buzz (Aldrin Aw)

You can view my entire gallery of Black Panther artworks here. The Bob McLeod pinup shown at the top of this post rates a special place in my collection as the very first piece of comic art I ever commissioned. Whatever else my art hobby has evolved into, it all started with this one drawing by the great McLeod.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: This Time, It’s For Real

November 26, 2009

On each of the five most recent Thanksgiving Days, I’ve used this space — and the space this blog occupied previously — to itemize in alphabetical format a random sampling of things for which I am grateful.

This year, I told myself: If it’s working, don’t fix it.

Thus, the sixth annual edition of SwanShadow Gives Thanks. (You can peruse the previous years’ lists here.)

Amazon Kindle 2. A virtual library of books everywhere I travel, in a lightweight device the size of a DVD case. Everyone on the staff at the hospital KJ frequently visits wants one. I’m currently reading Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, Larry Tye’s fine biography of baseball star Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

Brizzly. A nifty online client that lets me track both of my Twitter accounts and my Facebook page in one convenient location. If you’re not already following me, you should be.

Common Elements, my signature theme of comic art commissions. Each artwork in the series depicts two (and occasionally more) unrelated comic book heroes who share something in common. The connections are sometimes obvious (i.e., Red Arrow and Red Sonja), sometimes obscure (i.e., The Question and Starfire, whose civilian names — Vic Sage and Koriand’r — are both herbs). You can see all 87 of the existing Common Elements pieces in my online gallery.

Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth. This summer, I had a chance to visit there for the first time in several years. It still makes me giddy.

Eugene Finerman, one of the all-time great champions in the history of Jeopardy!, and the man who every day on his excellent blog, Your RDA of Irony, teaches me something that I didn’t know. Eugene is a one-man compendium of all things historical — like a university survey class, only funnier.

Freebies. I love getting stuff for free, whether it’s product samples in the mail or random nibbles at Costco. Uncle Swan’s credo: If it’s free, it’s for me.

Gasoline. We need things to make us go.

Headlines, the most hilarious five minutes in weekly television. I missed my Monday night fix while Jay Leno was transitioning from The Tonight Show to his new 10 p.m. gig. I’ll probably miss it again when Jay’s new show gets canned by NBC, as I’m increasingly certain that it will.

Iraklion Air Station, Crete, Greece. I spent two halcyon years of my youth there, in the early 1970s. Some wonderful memories that I cherish more than 35 years later. The base is long since decommissioned, but I’d like to get back and see what’s left of it while I’m still on the planet.

Jon Miller, quite possibly the premier broadcaster in all of baseball. And we Giants fans have got him.

KJ and KM, my wife and daughter. I’m especially thankful that they are together for Thanksgiving. They’ve missed each other while KM’s been away at college.

My Lord Jesus, who makes all things possible, and who hasn’t given up on me just yet.

Max’s Café in Corte Madera. Terrific sandwiches, and friendly service. You’ve gotta love a joint that gives you both French fries and onion rings with your order. I recommend the BLT with avocado, and the Philly cheesesteak.

No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel. I don’t think I’d want to tour with Tony — he drinks and smokes too much for me to find him a pleasant companion — but I’d like to see some of the places he goes. In fact, I have seen some of them.

Oracle Arena, the home court of my beloved Golden State Warriors. KM and I saw a few fun games there last season. The games will be even more fun when head coach Don Nelson finally retires.

Plasma TV. Ah, the wonders of modern digital technology.

Quiet. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how great a blessing it can be.

Round Table Pizza. It’s the last honest pizza, or so the ads say. All I know is that it tastes pretty good.

Sausalito, the beautiful waterfront town where I go every week to study the craft of voice acting. Speaking of which…

Traxers — my fellow students at Voicetrax. A more encouraging and supportive community of actors you will not find. Here’s to everyone’s success in 2010.

Unfriend, the Oxford English Dictionary‘s 2009 Word of the Year. In case you’re unclear, it’s a verb, not a noun. Although I’ve known a few people to whom such a noun might have been appropriately applied.

Vitamin Water. Because you could take vitamins, and drink water, but it’s just simpler to have them commingled together.

Walmart. Scoff if you will. They have the stuff I need at prices I like. And the other patrons provide free entertainment. Do I think the people who run the company are whacko? Sure. But I’m not so wealthy that I can afford to pay a premium for non-whacko. If you are, do what pleases you.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Not because it was a great — or even a good — movie, but because it made enough dough that other superhero films will continue to get the green light. You know I loves me some superheroes.

Yellow highlighter. Whoever invented this indispensable tool should have received a medal. Or a knighthood. Or something.

Zero Tolerance, manufacturers of military-grade blades. I like sharp things.

I’m thankful that you’re here, too. Be genuinely grateful for every one of your blessings — they can disappear in an instant. Never forget that.

May you and those you love enjoy a happy, healthy, and honored Thanksgiving.

Comic Art Friday: Bring the Storm

November 20, 2009

We’re getting one of our first real storms of the season here in northern California today. How apropos, then, that for this Comic Art Friday post, we look at a drawing featuring one of my favorite superheroines — the weather-manipulating mutant known as Storm.

Storm, preliminary pencil sketch by comics artist Craig Hamilton

This pencil sketch by artist Craig Hamilton was drawn as a preliminary study for a commissioned work. The finished art hangs in the gallery of collector Ted Lanting, a Storm fanatic like myself. You can follow the link to see how the piece turned out.

Craig Hamilton is one of those artists whose work doesn’t show up in comics as often as fans might wish. When he does find the time to take on a comics project, though, Hamilton always makes an impact. He’s probably best known for a memorable Aquaman miniseries he illustrated for DC in 1986. Since then, he’s made sporadic appearances in second-tier DC titles, including The Spectre and Starman, and in Vertigo’s stylish fantasy series Fables.

You can experience the broad range of Hamilton’s art by visiting his Comic Art Fans gallery. There’s also an excellent interview with Craig, mostly focused on the Aquaman mini he illustrated, online at The Aquaman Shrine.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

The Freak abides

November 19, 2009

Believe it or don’t, I was completely surprised by today’s announcement that the Giants’ Tim “The Freak” Lincecum won his second consecutive Cy Young Award as the National League’s best pitcher in 2009.

If I’d been voting, I’d have voted — as did the San Francisco Chronicle‘s respected baseball beat writer, Henry Schulman — for Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Don’t misunderstand — I loves me some Timmy, in a platonic, athletic-appreciation sort of way. I do believe that he’s currently the premier pitcher in the NL, if not in all of baseball.

Carpenter, however, had the better season. Which is, in my opinion, what the Cy Young should recognize.

There’s no question that Lincecum far outstrips Carpenter in terms of raw power. Timmy’s 261 strikeouts to Carpenter’s 144 tell that story. Carpenter, however, isn’t a strikeout pitcher. He’s a do-anything-to-get-batters-out pitcher. It’s not as sexy, but in baseball terms, it’s just as effective.

With almost identical offensive support and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) scores, Carpenter won two more games than Lincecum (17 vs. 15), lost three fewer (4 vs. 7), and surrendered almost a quarter-run less per nine innings (2.24 vs. 2.48). More significantly, Carpenter did the majority of his damage in the second half of the season, as the Cardinals were charging toward a division title. As Schulman writes:

The 34-year-old right-hander went 10-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 15 starts for a team that ran away with the National League Central. To me, that defines dominance.

To me too, Henry.

By comparison, Timmy went 5-5, 2.67 down the stretch. Not awful, but not exactly awe-inspiring, either.

I was fortunate to see Lincecum pitch in person twice this season — on June 12 against the Oakland A’s, and again on August 10 against the Cincinnati Reds. In the earlier game, Tim was dominant to the point of near-unhittability, pitching his second career shutout. In the late-season outing, he pitched decently, but looked tired and had measurably less oomph on his normally overpowering fastball.

Carpenter seemed to get stronger as the season wore on — all the more remarkable given that he pulled a shoulder muscle and sat out five weeks early.

So, if I’d had a vote, I’d have had to throw it Carpenter’s way.

All of the above being true, as a Giants fan  — and as a Lincecum fan (and I rarely find myself rooting for individual athletes in team sports) — I’m thrilled that the majority of the Cy Young balloteers didn’t see it my way. Lincecum is a better pitcher than Carpenter overall, and if that’s how you roll the Cy, rolling it in Timmy’s direction is the right call. Without doubt, if I had to win one game for all the marbles, Lincecum is the guy I want on the hill chucking the pill.

And let’s be real. If he avoids injury, Lincecum will likely plant a few more Cy Youngs in his trophy case before his career is over. Don’t forget, 2009 was only his second full season in the major leagues. He’s already won the Cy in both of them.

That’s a record that no pitcher in baseball history can touch.

What’s Up With That? #83: Cap’n Jack bests Cap’n Swan… again

November 18, 2009

For the umpteenth consecutive year, the editorial staff of People Magazine has seen fit to deny me my rightful title of Sexiest Man Alive.

Instead, they picked Johnny Depp again.

This seems a rather pointless exercise. Most of the women I know already think Johnny Depp is, if not the Sexiest Man Alive, at least somewhere in the top ten. The same goes for George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who are the other two gents who’ve double-dipped People‘s loftiest honor.

Why not tell the world something they don’t yet know, People?

After all, I too can talk like a pirate.

Sigh. Maybe next year.

Hit the road, Jack

November 16, 2009

Stephen Jackson got half of what he’s been clamoring for: a one-way ticket out of Oakland.

Unfortunately for him, the journey ends in Charlotte.

Stack Jack, who devolved from team captain to malcontent in the course of  a single preseason, had hoped for a trade to a contender — specifically, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who reportedly passed on picking him up. Instead, he and guard Acie Law were shipped cross-continent to the Bobcats, a team with an identical record to Golden State’s 3-6, an equally difficult coach in the much-traveled Larry Brown, and arguably dimmer future prospects than even the Warriors.

Good luck with that, Jack.

In exchange, the Warriors receive swingman Raja Bell, an excellent defender and outside shooter who’s on the down side of his career (he’s 33) and nursing an injury (a torn wrist tendon), and 6′ 10″ Vladimir Radmanovic, an overpaid bust with an expensive option for next season. The 6′ 5″ Bell, assuming he keeps playing hurt, will pick up most of the minutes Jackson had been getting in Golden State. He’s a similar player — a little smaller, somewhat less of an offensive threat, but on the other hand, less greedy for the ball. Radmanovic will be lucky to get off the bench in Don Nelson’s system.

I’m sorry to see Acie Law go. He looked like a player in the limited action he saw during his brief stay here. But almost any price is worth being rid of Jackson, who was only going to get grumpier and louder as the season wore on. Given that the Warriors aren’t going anywhere this year anyway, they did well to take what they could get, and move on.

Now if we could just get Nellie to retire to Maui, and let chief assistant Keith Smart take over the team.

Comic Art Friday: With a little Luck

November 13, 2009

What do you know, Pogo — Friday the 13th actually came on a Friday this month.

I’m not superstitious myself, but for the benefit of our triskaidekaphobian readers, we’d better dose up with a little luck.

Lady Luck, that is.

Lady Luck, pencils by comics artist Michael Dooney

The lovely Lady Luck, drawn here by Michael Dooney of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, was created by Will Eisner in 1940. For six years, she appeared in a weekly companion feature along Eisner’s better-known hero, The Spirit, in a popular Sunday newspaper supplement. Her stories were reprinted in comic books — most notably Smash Comics and its follow-up title, Lady Luck Comics — until the early 1950s.

Although several artists — including Chuck Mazoujian, Nick Cardy, and Eisner himself — illustrated Lady Luck’s early adventures, she is indelibly associated with cartoonist Klaus Nordling, who both drew and wrote the character’s stories for most of her career. Nordling, who was born in Finland but spent most of his life in the United States, drew with a light, whimsical touch that perfectly suited the glamorous Lady Luck. Although Nordling worked on other comic features (including The Spirit) throughout the 1940s as a member of the Eisner-Iger Studio, today he is remembered primarily for his years with Lady Luck.

As sort of a distaff version of The Spirit, Lady Luck had no superhuman abilities. Like many crimefighters before and after her, she simply parlayed a unique visual signature and a catchy nickname into a career busting bad guys. I suppose you’d need a little luck to survive that action.

Lucky for us, Lady Luck also makes an appearance in my Common Elements gallery. Here, she teams up with another chapeau-wearing heroine, the magical Zatanna, in a dazzling creation by artist Anthony Carpenter.

Lady Luck and Zatanna, pencils by comics artist Anthony Carpenter

And that’s your Comic Art Friday. Hope it’s a lucky one!

World Series Wonderboy

November 12, 2009

Congratulations to 21-year-old Joe Cada, who earlier this week became the youngest player ever to win the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Cada outdueled Darvin Moon, a logger from Maryland, to take down the most prestigious prize in poker, the World Champion’s gold bracelet. On the ultimate hand, Cada’s pocket nines bested Moon’s Queen-Jack holding, as neither hand improved when the five community cards hit the table. Ironically, Cada had indicated in an online interview that of the nine members of the Main Event’s final table, Moon was the player with whom he was the least familiar going into this week’s final table.

As fruit of his efforts, the youngster from Shelby Township, Michigan scored $8,547,042 and the envy of millions of poker players worldwide. Moon’s second-place loot totaled a none-too-shabby $5,182,928.

For the second consecutive year, the WSOP Main Event suspended play in July after its field of more than 6,400 players had been winnowed to a nine-seat final table. The so-called “November Nine” had an additional four months to brush up their hold-’em chops before reconvening at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas for this week’s endgame.

The biggest name at the final table, poker superstar Phil Ivey, finished in seventh place. Jeff Shulman, the publisher of Cardplayer Magazine and a veteran of the 2000 WSOP Main Event final table, landed in fifth place. Shulman finished seventh in 2000.

Thanks to young Mr. Cada and the rest of the Nine for an excellent end to the 40th WSOP.

Hug a veteran today

November 11, 2009

…or, at the very least, shake a veteran’s hand, if you’re not down with the whole hugging thing.

And if you yourself have served with honor in the United States Armed Forces?

Pat Patriot, pencils and inks by comics artist Greg LaRocque

Pat Patriot loves you.