Archive for November 2012

Comic Art Friday: First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

November 30, 2012

Shame on me — I haven’t posted a new Comic Art Friday since the dawn of the Internet. Okay… it hasn’t been quite that long, but it’s been a while. So, let’s rectify the omission, shall we?

In a Facebook group to which I belong, comic art collectors were recently asked to identify the greatest comic artists alive today. Along with the names you’d probably guess first — Neal Adams, George Perez, Adam Hughes, John Byrne — Tom Grummett garnered several mentions, including one from your Uncle Swan. Which is appropriate, because Grummett is one of the best in the business today, even though his name hasn’t quite reached household status outside the core of comics fanatics. Deftly blending old-school power and personality with a sleek, thoroughly modern sensibility, Grummett’s work on such titles as The Adventures of Superman, Superboy, New Titans, New Thunderbolts, and X-Men Forever has been dazzling readers for more than 20 years.

As you can see below, I pounced on the opportunity earlier this year to commission Tom for my Common Elements theme. (Click the image for a close-up look at Mr. Grummett’s spectacular drawing.)

Josiah Power and She-Hulk, pencils and inks by comics artist Tom Grummett

Featured in this potent panel are two of comicdom’s most prominent practitioners of the legal arts (that’s “attorneys” for the prosaically minded among us). On the left is Josiah Power, co-created Tom Grummett and writer Kurt Busiek as the star of DC’s Power Company series. On the right is mean, green Jennifer Walters, better known as the savage and sensational She-Hulk.

It’s tough to think of a more atypical superhero than Josiah Power. He doesn’t use an alias or secret identity, wear a costume, or even employ his awesome metahuman powers — seen in full display in Grummett’s artwork here — very often. Josiah prefers to work behind the scenes as leader of the Power Company, a team of superheroes for hire that’s structured like a law firm. He’s usually depicted in his normal human form, nattily attired in business suit and tie. Only on rare occasions, when his team is severely threatened, does Josiah explode into action in his transmogrified state — a gigantic, golemesque monster with skin like stone, crackling with energy. Even Superman himself stands in awe of Josiah’s might, describing him as one of the most powerful beings he’s ever encountered.

Josiah is also one of a small number of openly gay heroes in mainstream comics. He’s half of a stable, long-term couple with his partner Rupert. It’s refreshing to see a gay character portrayed in a superhero universe who is in no way stereotypical, and for whom his sexual orientation is an incidental aspect of his overall person, and not a device for sensationalism.

She-Hulk rates mention as the last major character created by Stan Lee before his retirement as the main man at Marvel. (Stan has “unretired” on a frequent basis since, both for Marvel projects and his own independent works.) Spawned during the television network run of The Incredible Hulk, She-Hulk served as a preemptive strike against the TV show’s producers, who were considering introducing a female counterpart to the Green Goliath. To enable Marvel to retain the rights to any such character, Stan and artist John Buscema concocted Dr. Bruce Banner’s lawyer relative, who gains her own emerald awesomeness via a blood transfusion from Cousin Brucie. Unlike her infamous family member, Jennifer not only controls her transformation into her super-sized self, but also retains her own personality and emotional balance while Hulked out. In fact, Jennifer eventually decides that she prefers her green Amazonian body, and simply stops changing back into her “normal” appearance. She continues to both practice law and fight supervillains in her tall, muscular, vividly verdant persona.

Also unlike her cousin, Jennifer is a social creature. She’s been affiliated with most of Marvel’s non-mutant superteams at one time or another, including the Fantastic Four (stepping in for an absent Ben “The Thing” Grimm), the Avengers, Heroes for Hire, and SHIELD.

Tom Grummett outdid himself in pitting his legal-eagle creation against the self-described “baddest babe in the universe.” Wouldn’t it be cool if this scene actually took place in the middle of a trial? I think our judicial system would be infinitely more entertaining if all lawyers settled cases by transforming into superhuman warriors and duking it out in the courtroom. Heck, I’d volunteer for jury duty just to watch.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Part 9 — Defying the Mayans

November 22, 2012

Every Thanksgiving Day since 2004, I’ve posted in this space a 26-point alphabetical sampling of people, places, and things for which I’m grateful. I consider myself to have been truly blessed in life, despite having endured many of the dark times that inevitably arise when one lives as long as I have. I’ve been touched by so many great human beings and wonderful experiences that it’s impossible to list them all when I express my annual thanks. So, nine years ago, I hit on this structured overview method. I’ve returned to it each Turkey Day since.

This year has been a unique one. I got married for the second time, to the incredible force of nature I refer to in these posts as the Pirate Queen. We did some traveling, shared many fun times, and went about the business of being newlyweds, with all of the changes, reconfigurations, and negotiations that newlywedness entails. Quite a few of my appreciations this year derive from our freshly married life and our newly shared home in San Francisco, the world’s most spectacular city.

And on we go.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2012, I’m grateful for…

Acting and actors. It took me the better part of a half-century to figure out what I want to be if and when I grow up. Since embarking on a career as a voice actor, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the craft of acting, and for the people who do it skillfully. (Which is pretty much every voice actor I’ve worked with to this point. But I’m getting better.) I’m fortunate here in the Bay Area to be part of a thriving community of voice acting professionals. My actor friends and colleagues amaze me continually with their talents, with their determination to succeed in a difficult field, and most of all, with their giving, encouraging spirits. You wouldn’t suppose that folks who compete daily with each other for paying work would be so supportive of, and generous toward, those against whom they compete, but I see it happen all the time. Not all creative people are good people — no more than all of the people in any category are good people — but most of the actors with whom I study and work are genuine and decent.

The Big Island of Hawaii, where the Pirate Queen and I spent a blissful chunk of our honeymoon. (And yes, I’ll get around to posting about that portion of the trip.) From the eerie moon-like desolation of the Kona Coast, to the lush tropical beauty of the island’s eastern shores, to the awe-inspiring power of Kilauea, the Big Island is a source of endless fascination. With luck, I’ll manage to get back more quickly than the 20-plus years than separated each of my first three visits.

My Clipper Card, my little plastic passport to public transportation. For the benefit of the foreigners in the room — that is to say, those of you not from the Bay Area — San Francisco is served by two separate transit systems. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is the sleek electric railway that connects San Francisco with the East Bay, and with its own airport to the south. (They’re working on an extension that will run all the way to San Jose.) MUNI is The City’s own conglomeration of buses, cable cars, trolleys, and an integrated streetcar-subway network known as MUNI Metro. The Clipper Card, introduced just a couple of years ago, enables passengers to utilize both systems with a single payment mechanism. With parking in The City at a legendary dearth, we use BART and the Metro as often as possible to get from our neighborhood to downtown.

Dim sum, exquisite bites of savory or sweet ambrosia. We’re going for some with visiting friends this very weekend.

I loves me some European paintings. A long-ago course in college first opened my eyes to the works of the classical masters. This year, we had several amazing opportunities to view some of my favorites up close and personal. In February, we saw the exhibition “Masters of Venice” at the DeYoung Museum. Among the attractions in this show were several creations by my favorite Renaissance artist, Titian, including “Danae” and “Mars, Venus, and Cupid.” In September, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection offered some of the most memorable moments of our junket to New York City. I stood for several minutes in slack-jawed bedazzlement at an original poster by Alphonse Mucha, the Czech genius who pioneered the Art Nouveau style. As the old saying goes, I might not know much about art, but I know what I like.

Festus Ezeli, the Nigerian center out of Vanderbilt chosen by the Golden State Warriors with the 30th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The kid plays hard, and gives a great interview. More than that, just saying his name makes me smile. Go ahead — try it.

Gray squirrels (specifically the Western gray squirrel, Sciurus griseus). Several of them visit our back yard on a daily basis. I get a kick out of watching them cavort and forage and play hide-and-seek with the neighborhood cats. It’s funny — after living for many years in a suburb surrounded by semi-rural agricultural land, I figured that I’d never see a wild animal again once I moved into the big city. I see more squirrel action outside our kitchen window in a week than I saw in three decades in Sonoma County.

My favorite Horsewoman, also known as my beloved Daughter. I could fill volumes with tales of how bright and witty and talented The Daughter is, but for this particular line item, I’ll confine myself to her equestrian hobby. After 10 years of riding, she fulfilled her dream this summer by acquiring her own horse — a tall, handsome, four-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred she named Gryffin. A half-brother to 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Gryffin didn’t enjoy his sibling’s career at the track, but he’s made The Daughter deliriously joyful as her stable companion. Having endured so much tragedy over the past few years, including the passings of her mother, her grandfather, and our family dog, she deserved something special. I’m delighted for her that Gryffin came along.

Itoya Profolios, in which I store my comic art collection. They’re archival-safe, elegantly simple in design, and the perfect vehicle for original art on paper. One of my greatest thrills is sitting down with an Itoya on the table before me, and marvel at some of the treasures I’ve managed to pick up over the years.

Johnny Foley’s Irish House, home of the most entertaining dueling pianists you’ll ever come across. The Pirate Queen and I dropped into Foley’s on our fourth date, and we’ve made frequent weekend pilgrimages ever since. She even had her bachelorette party there. Stop by on a night when Nathan, Jason, or Lee are tickling the ivories and belting out requests. The rest of the crew is talented as well, but those three guys consistently put on the best show.

KJ. Life goes on, but I never forget. I would not be the person I am today without her nearly 30 years of influence on my life.

Lady Liberty. I didn’t expect to be as impressed or moved as I was by seeing the Statue of Liberty in person during our New York City trip — even despite the drenching downpour that struck during our visit. It was powerful to be reminded what a privilege it is to be an American citizen… and to be reminded that almost all of us are the descendants of immigrants, whether willing or unwilling. We get a bit stuffy sometimes about “those people” crossing our borders in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Unless you’re 100% Indigenous North American, “your people” came from someplace else, too. Let’s not forget that the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door as a sign of welcome, not to slam the door shut.

Mount Davidson, the tallest of San Francisco’s 47 named hills. We live about a third of the way up.

Nineteenth Avenue, the busiest north-south thoroughfare on the western side of The City. For my final two years of college, I commuted along it several days each week to and from San Francisco State University. These days, it’s the path I travel when I head toward the Golden Gate Bridge to visit The Daughter, or other points northward. Man, there’s a lot of traffic on that street some days. But without it, it would be tough to get out of town in that direction.

Orange October. For the second time in three years, my San Francisco Giants won the World Series championship. This season, the Giants battled back from potential elimination six times during the Division and League Championship Series, on their way to a sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the main event. (Ironically, I was a Tigers fan as a youngster, before switching allegiance to the Giants when my family moved to the Bay Area in the mid-1970s.) Behind stellar play by World Series MVP Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, National League MVP Buster Posey, and a fortuitous late-season acquisition, second baseman Marco Scutaro, and with lights-out pitching by the best collection of arms in baseball, the Giants took a determined step toward establishing themselves as the Team of the Decade.

The Porthole Palace, as I nicknamed the Pirate Queen’s house the first time I came to pick her up for a date. Little did I know I’d live here someday. It’s quirky and cozy, and it’s home.

Quentin Tarantino. Because someone ought to be thankful for the director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Kill Bill. Someone other than QT himself, that is.

My Rode NT1A, the microphone that is my constant companion during my work day as a voice actor. It always makes me sound good. The performance is up to me. I took it on the road with me when we went to New York, and recorded an actual job on it in our hotel room. (My second microphone, which I also love, is a Studio Projects C1. But that doesn’t start with R.)

Subaru — specifically, the green Forester I inherited from KJ. It’s a sturdy, solid, dependable car. I was unaware until very recently that Subaru has a reputation as the unofficial vehicle of the lesbian community. (Seriously. It’s a thing.) I’m totally cool with that. I’d make a terrific lesbian. I like women, and I drive a Subaru.

The Trivia Championships of North America, which we’ll call TCONA to save me typing. Held in Las Vegas each summer, it’s a merry assemblage of trivia-obsessed folks from all over the continent. This year, I came home with a gold and a silver medal in team competition. More importantly, I spent a rollicking weekend at Circus Circus renewing old Jeopardy! acquaintances and making several new friends. Next year, TCONA will invade the Tropicana. You’ve been warned.

Union Square, the heart of San Francisco. Every now and again, it’s cool to just stand in the middle of all the commotion and watch the tourists hustle past. Wander through the ginormous Macy’s. Stroll into Neiman Marcus and pretend you can afford the stuff they sell there. Have a plate of silver dollar pancakes at Sears Fine Foods. Bask in the glow of the big Christmas tree if it’s the season. Wonder how so many panhandlers convened in one location. Drink in the atmosphere that is Baghdad by the Bay.

Video games, my favorite projects as a voice actor. (Okay, let’s be honest — my favorite project is any one that pays.) Among the characters I got to play in games this year were a Pied Piper, a snake monster, a Russian jeweler, a beatnik priest, a street thug, and a mysterious narrator. Yes, I love my job.

Our wedding, during which the Pirate Queen became my wife. (That’s a double W, if you’re keeping score.) On a beautiful, breezy Saturday afternoon in May, we exchanged vows in front of about 50 friends and family members outside the Argonaut Hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf. The Pirate Queen was a radiant vision in white, as lovely a bride as any man could hope for. The Daughter stood in as my Best Person, and carried out her assigned duties with aplomb. The accomplished a cappella quartet PDQ sang two soaring numbers. I managed not to drop the ring or trip over my own feet. It was the perfect start to our new life together.

XD. I don’t know exactly what Extreme Digital Cinema is, but they have it (and huge signs boasting about it) at the Cinemark cineplex where we occasionally catch a flick. I think it’s something like IMAX, only all digital. Aren’t you glad someone invented that?

Yirgacheffe, a delicious coffee from Ethiopia. As you probably know if you’ve been a regular here over the years, I love a good cup of coffee. I’m especially partial to the brightly tangy, citrusy varietals grown in East Africa, of which Yirgacheffe is one. A mug or two, and I’m ready to face the day.

Zaftig women. Rubens, Titian, and Botticelli knew what they were doing when they selected those voluptuous models for their masterpieces. I salute my female friends who refuse to succumb to the cultural propaganda that a woman can’t be attractive if she wears a dress size in double digits. Ladies, be boldly unafraid to rock the beauty in yourselves, curves and all. The legendary philosopher Sir Mix-A-Lot said it best: “To the beanpole dames in the magazines: You ain’t it, Miss Thing.” Word.

And of course, I’m thankful for you, friend reader. I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL these past several months — I’ll try to post more consistently in the coming year. (Yes, there will be a coming year. Those Mayans just ran out of tablets to write their calendar on.) I still have plenty to say… some of which may actually be worth your perusal.

I hope you and those you love have a magnificent Thanksgiving. Take a moment to count your own blessings, and let the people for whom you’re grateful know that you appreciate them. Now go have some turkey, already.