Archive for November 2009

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!

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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.

Quizmasters!

November 10, 2009

Here’s proof that life sometimes winds around in bizarre directions that one never expected.

The game show fanatics in the room will recall that back in 2005, Jeopardy! mounted its Ultimate Tournament of Champions — or, as I like to refer to it, the Quest for Ken Jennings. 145 of us former Jeopardy! stalwarts were invited to participate in a mega-round-robin that played out over half a television season, for an opportunity to win major cash and reclaim a smidgen of (for some of us, anyway) long-faded glory. Brad Rutter, who had won a previous Jeopardy! super-tourney called Million Dollar Masters, plowed through the field, ultimately besting Mr. Jennings (no relation) and Jerome Vered in the finals to claim the two-million-dollar grand prize.

Shortly after the UTOC concluded, a group of Jeopardy! veterans from around the Bay Area — including your Uncle Swan — got together to play an evening of pub trivia at a Berkeley watering hole. We dubbed ourselves the Ruttersnipes, in Brad’s honor. Jon Carroll, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s human interest columnist, tagged along to document the event.

Now, four years later, I’m hosting a weekly game for the same quiz company.

I landed the gig via a serendipitous confluence of circumstances. As many of you know, a few months ago my wife KJ involuntarily retired from work on medical disability. Almost simultaneously, our daughter KM finished junior college and continued her studies at a state university. With our income shrinking and our expenses rising, I had my eyes open for opportunities to generate some additional revenue.

At the same time, Brainstormer, a San Francisco-based pub quiz company that runs trivia nights in taverns and restaurants around the country, was looking for someone to host the Tuesday night game at an establishment a mere stone’s throw from my house. (Assuming, of course, that you’re throwing your stones with a rocket launcher. A howitzer, at the very least.)

As Cinderella once said… put it all together and what have you got? Bibbidi bobbidi boo.

So, if you happen to be cruising through Sonoma County on a Tuesday evening, and experience a hankering to challenge your mental faculties (and perhaps nosh on a few freshly crafted tacos for a mere one dollar each), stop by The Cantina in downtown Santa Rosa around 8 p.m. We’ve got music, we’ve got laughter, we’ve got mind-bending trivia. Best of all, there’s no cover charge.

If the sleek, dashingly handsome quiz host looks familiar… I’m probably home with the creeping crud that night.

But if there’s a nerdy, middle-aged fat guy running the game, that’s me.

It’s a list world after all

November 8, 2009

On this lazy Sunday afternoon, as I’m watching the 49ers go toe-to-toe with the Tennessee Titans, I happened across a lengthy Disneyland meme on MiceChat, my favorite of the Disney theme park forums. I ditched several of the questions — figuring out which Disneyland attraction has the best cast member uniforms would require infinitely more brainpower than I’m willing to invest in such folderol — but here are my first-impulse jottings about the Happiest Place on Earth.

10 best current attractions: (in no particular order) Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure, the Haunted Mansion, the Jungle Cruise, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, the Enchanted Tiki Room.

5 best former attractions: Adventure Through Inner Space, the original Submarine Voyage, America Sings, the Carousel of Progress, the PeopleMover.

Attraction you have been on more than any other:
Pirates of the Caribbean.

Attraction you have never been on: Finding Nemo Submarines (it’s new this year, and the lines were way too long this summer when I was there), Gadget’s Go-Coaster (because my ginormous butt won’t fit in this kiddie ride).

Current attraction you will never go on again: Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. It’s long past time for a new movie in Tomorrowland’s 3D theater. Not even the sublime Marcia Strassman is enough of a draw to get me to sit through this once-enjoyable, now-shopworn experience once more.

Shortest average wait: Haunted Mansion. I can’t remember the last time I stood in line here.

Longest average wait: Splash Mountain. Especially on a hot July day.

Best attraction queue: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Best attraction pre-show: Haunted Mansion. Who doesn’t love the stretching room?

Best attraction storyline: Pirates of the Caribbean, especially with the addition of the Captain Jack Sparrow elements.

Best attraction music: Space Mountain (the Dick Dale surf-guitar soundtrack, when they’re playing it); the joyful sing-along songs of the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Best attraction spiel: Jungle Cruise, if you get a really funny skipper.

Best attraction set design/artwork: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Most immersive attraction: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Most thrilling attraction: Splash Mountain. A steep plummet, plus an ice-cold soaking.

Most boring attraction: Casey Jr. Circus Train. Seriously, a waste of space.

Best attraction ending: Splash Mountain. Not just the big drop near the end — the most adrenaline-packed moment at Disneyland — but the wonderful character-filled riverboat tableau that follows it. It’s like landing in the living room of old friends.

Attraction with worst post-attraction feeling (dizziness, nausea, etc.): Tarzan’s Treehouse. My acute acrophobia made my last trip up the branches a literally painful experience.

Best animatronic figure: C3PO, Star Tours.

Best visual effect: The Pepper’s Ghost effect in the Haunted Mansion ballroom; the Davy Jones fog projection in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Most unconvincing effect: The blowdart room, Indiana Jones Adventure.

Best attraction scene or room: The grand ballroom in the Haunted Mansion; the riverboat dock, Splash Mountain.

Worst attraction scene or room: The “Why the heck are we sitting in the dark with nothing happening?” sections of Indiana Jones Adventure.

Best ride vehicle: Indiana Jones Adventure.

Worst ride vehicle: Space Mountain. Does not make the fat guy happy.

Best walk-through attraction: The new Sleeping Beauty’s Castle diorama tour. It’s magnificent.

Best exhibit: The Disney Gallery. Always something interesting to see.

Best photo spot: Main Street, USA.

Best view of park: From the Monorail.

Best building or structure: The Haunted Mansion — it’s a classic.

Ugliest building or structure: Tomorrowland Terrace.

Best spot to sit and relax: The covered patio of the Hungry Bear Restaurant, overlooking the Rivers of America; a circuit on the Disneyland Railroad.

Best live entertainment: The Dapper Dans. Gotta represent for my barbershop homies.

Best daily event: Fireworks!

Best snack food from cart or stand: The Dole Whip from the stand outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Frozen pineapple love in a cup.

Best counter service eatery: Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square. Some of the best victuals in the park here.

Worst counter service eatery: Tomorrowland Terrace. Noisy, unaesthetic, and the food (I’m using that word advisedly) sucks.

Best full-service restaurant: Blue Bayou. You simply have to enjoy a meal here at least once in a lifetime.

How many miles do you live from Disneyland? 450, almost exactly.

The #1 priority for Disneyland now is: Get me to move closer!

Comic Art Friday: Long cool woman in a black swimsuit

November 6, 2009

A while back, someone asked me how my comic art collection has evolved over the years. More than anything else, it’s a matter of focus. Today, I rarely buy a drawing that I didn’t commission personally from the artist, either for one of my two unique themes (Common Elements and Bombshells!) or for one of my dedicated character galleries.

When I first started collecting, I tended to glom onto any existing piece that I saw and liked, and could afford. My portfolios are littered with relics of those freewheeling days.

Like this one.

A girl and her gun, pencils and inks by comics artist Dan Adkins

This is the only artwork in my collection where I can’t even identify the subject.

Dan Adkins, a Silver Age veteran best known as an inker, drew this stylish pinup of a girl with a gun. I’ve no idea who the anonymous female is, or even whether Adkins intended for her to be some recognizable character. (I’ve seen a couple of similar Adkins images on the Internet, and I suspect that this was simply a pinup theme that he explored for a time.)

Something must have struck me about the piece that compelled me to buy it, but I don’t recall what it might have been.

It’s a nice drawing, though.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Eight directors

November 5, 2009

A recent conversation about the works of Alfred Hitchcock got me thinking about some of my other favorite directors. It’s a challenging subject, because I don’t often think of myself as a fan of a particular director as opposed to specific films. After all, the fact that I’ve enjoyed certain of a director’s works ought not to obligate me to like every film in his or her oeuvre.

Let’s not think of this, then, as a list of my favorite directors. Instead, it’s a list of eight filmmakers who’ve made multiple movies that resonated with me in a memorable way. Even if some of their work just didn’t do it for me.

For each director, I’ve noted what I consider to be his absolute must-see films (in order of preference), other examples of his work that I also enjoyed, a hidden gem — a lesser-known picture that I personally think ranks with the director’s best work — and, where appropriate, a film or two that I didn’t like all that much (or even outright detested).

Spike Lee

  • Must see: Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Inside Man, 25th Hour
  • Also enjoyed: Mo’ Better Blues, Clockers, Get on the Bus, He Got Game
  • Hidden gem: School Daze
  • Not a fan: Jungle Fever, Girl 6

David Mamet

  • Must see: The Spanish Prisoner, Heist, Homicide, House of Games
  • Also enjoyed: Oleanna, State and Main, The Winslow Boy
  • Hidden gem: Spartan
  • Not a fan: Things Change

Christopher Guest

  • Must see: Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman
  • Also enjoyed: For Your Consideration
  • Hidden gem: The Big Picture
  • Not a fan: Almost Heroes

Paul Schrader

  • Must see: Auto Focus, Light Sleeper, Cat People
  • Also enjoyed: Hardcore, Blue Collar
  • Hidden gem: Light of Day
  • Not a fan: American Gigolo

Quentin Tarantino

  • Must see: Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs
  • Also enjoyed: Kill Bill: Volume 2
  • Hidden gem: Death Proof (which I actually don’t think is a good movie at all, but if you like Tarantino’s other work, you should see it once)
  • Not a fan: Kill Bill: Volume 1

Clint Eastwood

  • Must see: Unforgiven, Mystic River, The Gauntlet, Bronco Billy, Bird
  • Also enjoyed: Sudden Impact, Play Misty for Me, Pale Rider
  • Hidden gem: Breezy
  • Not a fan: Eastwood has directed quite a few forgettable films during his lengthy career, but in 1990 he phoned in two of his worst — White Hunter, Black Heart and The Rookie.

Steven Soderbergh

  • Must see: Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic
  • Also enjoyed: Sex, Lies and Videotape, Ocean’s Thirteen
  • Hidden gem: The Limey
  • Not a fan: Solaris, Full Frontal

Walter Hill

  • Must see: Streets of Fire, The Warriors, 48 Hrs., Crossroads
  • Also enjoyed: The Long Riders, Trespass, Last Man Standing
  • Hidden gem: Undisputed
  • Not a fan: Another 48 Hrs., most of his Westerns and pseudo-Westerns (Extreme Prejudice, Southern Comfort, Geronimo: An American Legend, Wild Bill)