Archive for February 2011

Abby turns 10

February 28, 2011

Happy First Decade to my personal assistant Abby.

Abby gets a 10th birthday low five from her new octopus toy

After wearing herself out mauling her new octopus toy — sent to her via Amazon by The Daughter — Abby is, at this writing, celebrating with a nap.

Because that’s how she rolls.

Comic Art Friday: Three is a magic number

February 25, 2011

How many characters are depicted in this Common Elements commission, the latest masterwork by veteran Marvel Comics artist MC Wyman? Your answer will depend on how little you rely on your eyes, and how much you know about the characters. (Click the image for a better view.)

3-D Man, Triathlon, and Triplicate Girl, pencils and inks by comics artist MC Wyman

First, let’s introduce the players. The stony-faced gent at upper left is the 3-D Man, Technicolor hero of 1950s America. The smiling fellow in the center of the frame is Triathlon, fleet-footed member of the Avengers and later, recruit of the 50 States Initiative. The three identical women are the separated selves of Triplicate Girl, from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The original 3-D Man was NASA test pilot Chuck Chandler, who, though a typically comic-booky sequence of events, found himself transformed by alien invaders into twin images embedded in the lenses of a pair of glasses worn by his younger brother Hal. (Hey, I said it was comic-booky, didn’t I?) When Hal donned the glasses and focused his concentration, Chuck would reassemble in three-dimensional form, with triple the strength, speed, and endurance of a man in his physical condition, and with the merged consciousness of both brothers, with Chuck’s mind predominant. Although the 3-D Man’s adventures took place in the 1950s — the heyday of 3-D movies — his first run of stories (scripted by veteran Marvel writer-editor Roy Thomas) actually appeared in 1977, in the pages of the anthology comic Marvel Premiere.

Twenty years after the Chandler brothers made their published debut, Marvel introduced another character with similar powers. Like the 3-D Man, Delroy Garrett — known in superhero guise as Triathlon — also possessed three times the abilities of a normal man. This similarity was no coincidence. Delroy’s powers came from a shadowy, quasi-religious organization called the Triune Understanding, which — unknown to Delroy — had stolen these powers from the 3-D Man. As Triathlon, Delroy served a hitch as a member of the Avengers, and years later participated in Marvel’s mega-events Civil War and Secret Invasion. By the time of the latter storyline, Delroy had become aware of the origins of his powers, and had adopted the name and costume of the 3-D Man, in which role he continues to this day.

Triplicate Girl — real name, Luornu Durgo — boasts a longer and more complex history than either of her male counterparts here. Luornu joined the 30th century Legion of Super-Heroes way back in Action Comics #276 (May 1961) as the first addition to that historic team (with founding members Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy). She has continued as a stalwart throughout the numerous permutations of the Legion between that day and this. During a key period, one of Luornu’s selves was killed in action, resulting in a recasting of her hero identity as Duo Damsel. In other Legion continuity reboots, she has also used the names Triad, Una, and Duplicate Damsel.

So, back to the original question: How many characters do you see? If you imagine that the 3-D Man you’re seeing is merely an image of Delroy “Triathlon” Garrett, you might say only two. If that 3-D Man is Chuck Chandler, then you’d say three… unless you consider that the original 3-D Man is, on some level, both Chuck and his brother Hal, in which case you might say four. But are Luornu Durgo’s separated selves one character, or three? Either answer is correct, depending on your point of view, as well as the particular Legion continuity you embrace.

You see? Schoolhouse Rock had it right. Three really is a magic number.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

No Justice for the Maestro

February 22, 2011

I could hardly be more shocked and stunned than I was earlier today, when I read the news of the sudden death of Dwayne McDuffie.

Dwayne McDuffie leads an animation panel, WonderCon 2008

If the name is unfamiliar to you, then I’ll assume that you’re not a fan of either comic books or animation, or if you are, you don’t pay much attention to the names in the credits of either. McDuffie was a prolific writer and editor of comics who became an equally prolific writer, story editor, and producer of animation, primarily for television.

In the former realm, McDuffie created one of the most unique series in the history of comics: Damage Control, which spotlighted the exploits of a company that cleaned up cities after superhero fights. He also co-founded Milestone Media, an entire comics line that focused on bringing greater diversity to the medium, both on the page and behind the scenes. From Milestone’s publications came Static, the young electricity-wielding hero who later went on to star in the long-running and popular animated TV series, Static Shock.

McDuffie’s contributions to animation didn’t end with Static Shock. He served as story editor and producer on the Justice League franchise, as well as on the various iterations of Ben 10. He recently wrote the script for Warner/DC’s latest direct-to-DVD project, All-Star Superman, which debuted in stores — ironically enough — today.

As successful as he became in animation, McDuffie never completely abandoned printed comics. A few years ago, he wrote an outstanding miniseries for Marvel entitled Beyond!, and a well-regarded run on Fantastic Four. More recently, he breathed fresh life into DC’s tentpole series, Justice League of America.

Unlike many creators, McDuffie maintained a close connection to the readers and viewers who consumed his product. His personal website hosted a thriving online discussion forum, in which McDuffie himself (nicknamed by his fans “The Maestro”) actively participated. Never shy of expressing his opinions — and he had strong opinions about everything — McDuffie in correspondence was much like the characters whose adventures he wrote: witty, thoughtful, and more than a little tough. He gave no quarter, but he had a deft way of disagreeing vehemently with opponents without resorting to ad hominem attacks.

I had the privilege of meeting McDuffie briefly at WonderCon in 2008, following a panel featuring himself and several other top animation writers. (I took the above photo during that panel.) Although I didn’t muster the gumption to mention it to him in person, it was one of my career goals as a voice actor to snag a role in one of the series McDuffie wrote. As recently as a week ago, I’ve participated in workshops where McDuffie scripts served as the fodder for honing my acting chops. I deeply regret that I will never have the opportunity to work with him professionally.

McDuffie spoke and wrote much about the uphill struggle of being an African-American creator in a mainstream comics industry often frustratingly closed to diverse talents and storylines. His founding of Milestone Media represented his best effort at giving other people of color the opportunities that he, like few other creators of his background, had been afforded, and expanding the palette of characters about whom great comics tales could be spun. And yet, McDuffie would have been the first to correct anyone who referred to him as a “great black comics writer” — he was just a darned great writer, period.

A darned great writer, gone far too soon.

Dwayne McDuffie leaves behind his wife, his mother, a monumental legacy of work, and a numberless legion of colleagues and fans who appreciated his character as much as his creative genius. He was a singular talent in two discrete media, and successful in both.

He was just 49 years old — almost exactly two months younger than I. His birthday was yesterday.

Rest in peace, Maestro.

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 10 — “Da Butt”

February 22, 2011

Artist: E.U.

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: There are songs that make you want to dance, and there are songs that absolutely compel you to dance. This is one of the latter. Straight from the opening drum riff and horn blast, “Da Butt” lays down a groove that forbids you to sit still. Even if I’m driving in the car when this song comes on, my hips immediately start undulating. (If you have a problem with that visual, that’s on you.)

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

When you get that notion
Put your backfield in motion!

Fun factoids:

  • Contrary to popular assumption, the band name E.U. does not stand for “European Union.” Instead, it stands for “Experience Unlimited.” The band’s use of the initials precedes that of the political organization (under its present name) by nearly 20 years.
  • E.U.’s musical style, go-go, enjoyed a brief explosion of popularity in the mid-to-late 1970s, primarily in the Washington, D.C. area. Go-go can probably be best defined as a merger of funk/R&B with Latin rhythm and percussion instruments. The genre’s best-known practitioner, Chuck Brown, scored with “Bustin’ Loose,” which experienced a resurrection when Nelly sampled it for his megahit “Hot in Herre,” and when the Washington Nationals baseball team adopted “Bustin’ Loose” as their unofficial theme song.
  • “Da Butt” is prominently featured in Spike Lee’s second feature film, School Daze. Although Spike has gone on to direct some of the finest American films of the past quarter-century — including Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour, and Inside Man — the goofy, irreverent, and admittedly uneven School Daze was my introduction to his work, and remains a personal favorite.
  • For the record, here’s the roll call of girls who “got a big ol’ butt” in the song’s bridge: Tanya, Shirley, Irene, Theresa, Sonya, Melissa, Tammy, and little Keisha. If you answer to any of those (or any other) names, and you too “got a big ol’ butt,” wear it proudly, girlfriend.
  • And I don’t care what you thought you heard — E.U. lead vocalist Sugar Bear (real name, Gregory Elliott) never, ever utters the phrase “do it in da butt.” Shame on you.

Other songs by E.U. that I could have chosen instead: “Buck Wild,” “Gimme That Beat,” “Shake It Like a White Girl.” (Avoid E.U.’s later material, which found the band trying to expand its audience by pumping out flaccid R&B ballads. Stick to their earlier go-go records, which are guaranteed to launch a dance marathon in your iTunes.)

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 9 — “China Grove”

February 10, 2011

Artist: The Doobie Brothers

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Are you kidding? Have you not heard those opening guitar chords?

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

But every day there’s a new thing comin’
The ways of an Oriental view
The sheriff and his buddies with their samurai swords
You can even hear the music at night
And though it’s a part of the Lone Star State
The people don’t seem to care
They just keep on lookin’ to the East…

Fun factoids:

  • There really is a China Grove, Texas, down around San Antonio. It is not, however, a Chinese-American enclave; only 0.08% of the population is Asian. I think that’s, like, maybe two Asian guys.
  • Samurai — and their swords — are Japanese, not Chinese. In case you were confused.
  • The game show Don’t Forget the Lyrics! used the “China Grove” guitar riff as its theme music. Rickey Minor, now the bandleader on The Tonight Show, played the theme.
  • The Doobie Brothers were one of the first — and one of the relatively few, to this day — hard rock bands to include both white and black musicians in their lineup. To the best of my knowledge, however, there has never been a Chinese Doobie Brother.
  • On the other hand, several of the Doobies have performed and recorded with Japanese pop star Eikichi Yazawa, who might own a samurai sword or two.

Other songs by the Doobie Brothers that I could have chosen instead: “Listen to the Music,” “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me),” “Long Train Runnin’,” Jesus is Just Alright.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

36 Days of Adrenaline: Day 8 — “The Boys of Summer”

February 8, 2011

Artist: Don Henley

Why this song is an adrenaline rush: Henley is one of rock’s best songwriters, as well as one of its most underappreciated vocalists. He’s in his element in both respects on this song, his most effective single outside of his work with The Eagles. (Coming up on Day 11, in case you were curious.) That insistent synthesizer riff, coupled with the stinging guitars by co-writer Mike Campbell (better known for his work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), perfectly support Henley’s plaintive vocals. It’s one of the greatest summer anthems ever recorded.

Lyric line that’s fun to belt at maximum volume:

Out on the road today
I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
Little voice inside my head said,
“Don’t look back — you can never look back”
Thought I knew what love was; what did I know?
Those days are gone forever; I should just let ’em go, but…

Fun factoids:

  • Mike Campbell originally wrote this tune for a Tom Petty project. When the music didn’t fit into that album’s thematic sensibility, he shopped the demo track to Henley, who wrote the lyrics.
  • Henley based the lyric line quoted above on a vehicle owned by his Eagles bandmate, Joe Walsh.
  • The punk band The Ataris recorded a remarkably faithful (albeit three times faster) cover version.
  • Baseball fans know that the song’s title comes from a legendary 1972 baseball book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, penned by sportswriter Roger Kahn. Nearly 40 years later, The Boys of Summer remains one of the most powerful books ever written about America’s national pastime.

Other songs by Don Henley that I could have chosen instead: “Dirty Laundry,” “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” “I Can’t Stand Still.”

[Late to the party? Here’s an explanation of 36 Days of Adrenaline.]

Demonstrably me

February 3, 2011

I usually restrict my yammering about my nascent career as a voice actor to my blog specifically devoted to that purpose. However, if you haven’t yet had occasion to check out my latest commercial demo recording… well, you should, darn it.

Here’s a video culled from the actual recording session:

You can listen to the finished audio by following this link. There’s a nice, tidy one-minute version, and a longer, meatier two-minute version if you just can’t get enough of the sound of me trying to sell stuff.

Okay, now you can go back to reading my usual mindless blather.