Archive for November 2013

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: 10th Anniversary Edition

November 28, 2013

If you do something ten years in a row, it’s definitely a thing.

Every Thanksgiving beginning in 2004, I’ve paused here in my little corner of the World Wide Wackiness to express my appreciation for 26 people, places, and/or things, one for each letter of the English alphabet. Truth to tell, there are so many people, places, and/or things sharing my universe for which I am grateful, that if I seriously attempted to make an exhaustive list, I’d be typing from now until next Thanksgiving, by which time my fingers would long since have snapped off. Therefore, this has become my yearly exercise in gratitude, with its arbitrary format allowing me both room to range and boundaries at which to stop.

The list you’re about to read marks my 10th annual Thanksgiving post. (You are going to read it, aren’t you? You might as well; you’re here already.) Much has changed in my life during the decade since I composed the first one. No doubt, much more will change if I’m privileged to write others in Novembers yet to come. If I’m granted those opportunities, I promise to be as grateful — for everyone and everything listed, and for so much more — as I am on this Thanksgiving Day.

On this particular Festival of Turkey, I am thankful for…

Auditions. I have a weird job. The overwhelming majority of my working life is spent performing for free, in hope that someone will pay me money instead. Most workdays, I spend hours standing or seated (I switch it up a lot) in front of a microphone, auditioning for voiceover projects. Once in a while, I book one. As much I live for those latter moments, I also can’t help but appreciate how cool it is that for a few hours every day, it’s my task to just play.

Bay Bridge. We got a new one this year, finally — nearly a quarter-century after the original was horrifically damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and three years after the not-yet-in-existence suspension span became the logo of the Golden State Warriors. The upgraded Bay Bridge will probably always play second fiddle to its more famous younger cousin around the corner, but it’s a beauty — and a treat to drive — nonetheless.

Crustaceans. Tasty giant insectoids that live underwater. I’m fond of all the edible species — lobsters, crabs, shrimp, langostines, crawfish, you name it. During our spring vacation in Australia,  the Pirate Queen and I dined on yet another variety that neither of us had ever tried: Moreton Bay bugs, prehistoric-looking creatures that resemble lobsters whose claws were snapped off, then were run over by a truck. Like their relatives worldwide, they sure were delicious.

Down Under. Speaking of Australia, we spent three incredible weeks touring the Island Continent and its next-door neighbor, the North Island of New Zealand. We saw a play at the Sydney Opera House, marveled at the mysterious sandstone monolith known as Uluru, explored a tropical rain forest north of Cairns, watched tiny penguins scurry ashore on St. Philip Island, enjoyed the view from two of the tallest towers in the Southern Hemisphere, and saw where the hobbits live. A spectacular adventure, and one that I should write much more about.

Enter the Dragon. The only motion picture to which I ever memorized every single line of dialogue. Throughout my teenage years, a poster depicting Bruce Lee in the film’s climactic fight scene graced my bedroom wall. In 2013, we lost Jim Kelly, who costarred alongside Lee as the irrepressible Williams. When Han, the villain of the piece, insists that Williams must prepare for defeat as well as victory, Williams replies with consummate cool, “I don’t waste my time with it. When it comes, I won’t even notice. I’ll be too busy looking good.”

Fountains of Wayne. When I need a quick pick-me-up, I throw on a tune by this power pop quartet from the Big Apple. Songs like “Denise,” “Maureen,” “Hey Julie” (my personal favorite), and the ubiquitous “Stacy’s Mom” never fail to put a grin on my face and some extra pizzazz in my step. The band’s name, incidentally, was cribbed from a garden ornaments store in Wayne, New Jersey.

Grandma. Not my Grandma, but The Daughter’s. With boundless patience and good humor, she shares her home with KM and her hyperactive canine companion Maddie. She graciously lets me drop in for visits, keeps me posted on goings-on in The Daughter’s life, and even hems a pair of pants for me on occasion. She’s not my mom, but after many years of dutiful service as my mother-in-law (she was my late first wife’s mother), she might as well be.

Heroes and heroines. Regular visitors here know that I own an extensive collection of original comic book superhero art. I started reading comics at age five, and from that time forward, the costumed characters who starred within those colorful pages became my fantasy friends. If you ask me why I love superheroes and superheroines, I can rattle off a litany of reasons. But the one that trumps all the others is this: It just feels good to be reminded that there are heroes in the world. The real ones don’t usually wear costumes. You know who you are.

iPad. It’s the device that serves up my VO scripts, delivers the news, keeps me in touch with friends and colleagues, and provides the occasional stress-alleviating game of virtual pinball. Thanks, Steve Jobs, wherever you are.

Jupiter Jones. The leader of the Three Investigators proved to my boyhood self that a smart chubby kid could be a hero. He proved it to Alfred Hitchcock, too. You could look it up.

KM, referred to more often here as The Daughter. The brightest, funniest, most thoughtful offspring any father could ever ask. I continue to be shocked and awed by the young woman she’s become. It’s unfathomable to me that she’ll be 25 next year. That’s the same number of years that I spent married to her mother KJ, who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2010, but left an indelible legacy in the daughter she birthed, raised, and continues to inspire.

LearnedLeague. It’s described by its creator and Commissioner, the honorable Thorsten A. Integrity, as “a creed, an ideal, a Weltanschauung.” I call it the universe’s greatest online trivia league, where some of the finest quizzers on Earth —  from Jeopardy! champions and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire winners to The Beast and The Governess from both the American and original UK versions of The Chase — assemble to do daily battle. An experience of knowledge warfare both adrenaline-pumping and humbling. Lately, more the latter.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Endlessly fascinating and dazzlingly educational, it’s one of my favorite spaces to wander. Filled to bursting with phenomenal displays of ocean life, it’s as though Aquaman invited you to hang out at his house for the day.

Navigation apps. How did the directionally challenged among us get around before GPS? Maybe we didn’t. Some of us might still be out there, lost in the boondocks without a clue how to get home.

Oracle Arena, or as we like to call it during the NBA season, Warriors Ground. The oldest active arena in the Association is also the loudest, wildest, and — thanks to a long-overdue ownership change, leading to an influx of top-flight talent over the past couple of years — most exciting home court in basketball. With Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson bombing away from downtown Oakland, All-Star David Lee maintaining a seemingly nonstop streak of double-doubles, center Andrew Bogut finally healthy to anchor the middle, and key acquisition Andre Iguodala completing the puzzle, the boys in blue and gold come ready to rock the house.

PayPal, for making it quick and easy to do business online, and for keeping the Pirate Queen gainfully employed.

Speaking of whom… all hail the Queen of Pirates, who shivers my timbers without ever threatening to make me walk the plank. (I think she’s thought about it, though.) We are at once the classic Odd Couple and a perfect match. It would be impossible to envision the second chapter of my adult life without her.

Renaissance Faire. Seriously, who doesn’t love spending a day surrounded by merry folk in Elizabethan drag, spouting in pseudo-Shakespearean patois like the mighty Thor? (Which raises the age-old question: Why did a supposed Norse quasi-demigod talk as though he’d wandered in from a road company of Hamlet? Discuss.) I totally get into the RenFaire atmosphere — it’s among the best venues for people-watching to be found anywhere. Park me on a hay bale while blackguards and wenches regale me with sea chanteys and bawdy songs, and I’m as giddy as Puck on a midsummer’s night.

Solvang. Remember: Copenhagen is Danish. Solvang is Dane-ish.

Tropicana Las Vegas. After burial in the bowels of the cavernous MGM Grand, followed by drowning in the screaming miasma of Circus Circus, TCONA — that’s the Trivia Championships of North America, for the uninitiated — finally found a fitting home in its third year, at the Tropicana. Laid-back, comfortable, user-friendly, and conveniently located, the Trop provided the best experience yet for our annual Continental Congress of quiz nuts. I was thrilled to hear earlier this month that we’ll be back there again next summer.

Uluru. The emotional highlight of our Australian expedition, nothing prepared me for the power and majesty of what Westerners formerly dubbed Ayers Rock. Scientists describe it as an inselberg — Uluru is to the Australian Outback what an iceberg is to the Arctic Ocean, albeit on a far more imposing scale. As immense as the rock we can see is, there’s a good 80% more of it under the desert surface. It’s as though God were holding this ginormous stone at the creation of the world, set it down in the center of Australia while He busied Himself with other creative tasks, then left it there. You should go see it. But be warned — billions (and I do mean billions) of obnoxious flies share the site.

Vermeer, Johannes. The legendary painter’s masterwork, Girl with a Pearl Earring — sometimes referred to as “the Dutch Mona Lisa” — made a tour stop in our fair city this summer. I’ve seen the image dozens of times, but standing before the actual canvas in all its luminous wonder shook me to my shoes. I literally had tears welling in my eyes as I looked upon this sublime beauty. A true representation of the power of art.

The Walking Dead. Both the TV series that the Pirate Queen and I have grown to love, and the video game series that keeps many of my talented voice acting friends employed. I haven’t scored a role yet. But I’ll keep trying.

Xhosa. How can you not love a language that sounds like humankind communicating with dolphins?

Yams… because it’s Thanksgiving, and they’re yummy.

Zite, the news aggregation app that puts all the cool stuff right at my fingertips. What’s great about Zite is that you can give it feedback on every article it offers — I like this or I don’t like that — and it adjusts future filtering based on your input. You can also set specific subject categories, from ocean-broad (“Politics”) to pinpoint-narrow (“Hunter Pence”), and the app will make sure you get a bounty of content on that topic. There are plenty of apps that function similarly, but I’ve yet to find one that does the job as efficiently and as effectively as Zite.

And as always, friend reader, I’m thankful for you, who take the time to stop in here from time to time and peruse my drivel. I don’t use that word “friend” lightly. I appreciate your kind attention, and hope that my words continue to prove worthy.

May you and the people you love have much to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day… and may we all be here for the next one.

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Comic Art Friday: Catch me now, I’m falling

November 22, 2013

I thought long and hard — well, okay, as long and hard as I think about anything; which, given the attenuated nature of my attention span, is not all that long or hard, really — about what to post on a Comic Art Friday that falls on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Given that I was a toddler on this date in 1963, I haven’t any emotional tale to share about where I was or what I was doing when the news broke. I only kinda-sorta-vaguely recall the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and those occurred five years later. Thus, no deep personal insight here.

As a Presidential history buff, it does strike me as interesting that Kennedy’s assassination resonates with us the way that it does. Kennedy wasn’t the first President to be assassinated. That dubious honor fell to Abraham Lincoln, as has been extensively memorialized in print and on film. Two other Presidents — James Garfield and William McKinley — were bumped off within the following 40 years. By the time of Kennedy’s murder, it had been more than 60 years since a President had been killed, and Americans had largely begun to think that we had advanced beyond that sort of business.

Of course, we had not.

Captain America, pencils by comics artist Ron Adrian

Perhaps by coincidence, the Kennedy assassination would mark the start of a turbulent era in American public life. The rest of the 1960s and ’70s would see the polarizing Vietnam War, the full impact of the civil rights movement, the Watergate scandal, the resignations of Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon, and the Iranian hostage crisis. Politics in this country would never again be the same.

Ironically, it took a band of Englishmen to record one of the most provocative commentaries on this dark time in American history. In 1979, the Kinks released the album Low Budget, which featured a song entitled “Catch Me Now I’m Falling.” The lyrics read, in part:

I remember when you were down
You would always come running to me
I never denied you and I would guide you
Through all of your difficulties
Now I’m calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I’m falling

That song reverberates through my synapses today as I think about the Kennedy assassination, and all that’s gone on in this country since then. We’ve fallen — and in my view, continue to fall — in many ways over this past half-century. And yet, by many other measures, we rise to levels that no other nation in the history of human civilization ever has.

Bizarre how that works.

I suppose that both our struggles and successes are to be expected, and are to some degree of a piece. We are remarkably accomplished as a people at making both good and bad, both love and hate, out of the same things; at finding unity in places that ought to divide us, while dividing ourselves over that which ought to unite us. Our greatest national strengths are often the cause of our most debilitating weaknesses… and vice versa.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. But that’s America for you.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Art for nouveau’s sake

November 15, 2013

Poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt, by Alphonse Mucha

Although I collect original comic art exclusively — and that within a fairly specific range — I appreciate many different styles and genres of art.

Since the days when I struggled through an introductory fine arts course in college, I’ve enjoyed master painters and their work. Among the immortals whose creations resonate with me: Titian (his Venus of Urbino is probably my favorite painting of all time), Giorgione, Veronese, Rubens, Vermeer, Renoir, Boucher, Frederic Leighton, Tissot, Albert Joseph Moore… well, there are others, but my typing finger cramped. I’m also a fan of great pinup artists, from Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas to Olivia De Berardinis and Dave Stevens. I even love gawking at unusual architecture — anything from Frank Lloyd Wright to Antonio Gaudi to the Las Vegas Strip.

The one artist outside the comics realm whose work I always carry with me is Alphonse Mucha, the Czech painter and printmaker whose distinctive style defined what came to be called Art Nouveau. Mucha first came to fame in the 1890s when he created a series of advertising posters featuring actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was to 19th century Paris what Meryl Streep is to modern Hollywood. Mucha’s unparalleled design sensibility inspired a host of homages and imitations. Even today, more than 70 years after his death, artists are still trying to recreate the Mucha magic.

I have an app on my iPhone that displays Mucha’s complete works at the tap of a finger. I tap often.

Isis, pencils and inks by comics artist Sanya Anwar

Earlier this year at Big Wow ComicFest, the Pirate Queen and I stopped by the booth of a Canadian cartoonist named Sanya Anwar. (People often are taken aback by the word “cartoonist,” thinking it refers only to those who draw humorous strips or panels. In fact, a cartoonist is simply a comics creator who both writes and draws. The term is equally applicable to such diverse talents as Charles Schulz, Will Eisner, Charles Addams, Jack Kirby, Art Spiegelman, and the aforementioned Dave Stevens.) Sanya’s signature project is a self-published comic entitled 1001, a reimagined twist on the classic Arabian Nights.

I was particularly impressed with a series of posters Sanya created using an Art Nouveau approach reminiscent of Mucha. I took her business card and made a mental note to contact her about a commission. Fast forward to today, and you see the result above.

Isis seemed like a perfect choice for Sanya’s commission project, given her visual and cultural sensibility. Also, since I so admired Sanya’s Muchaesque “Silk Road” posters, I asked her to create a piece with a similar flavor. The combination of character, artist, and style melded perfectly.

Comics and Art Nouveau are like a graphical Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: Two great tastes that taste great together.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Typhoon Taarna

November 8, 2013

It struck me this morning as ironic that on the birthday of the late, great Tony DeZuniga — who led the tsunami of artists from the Philippines that took the American comics industry by storm in the 1970s — his native land is being pummeled by one of the nastiest typhoons on record.

Weird universe we live in.

Taarna, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

I happened to be in the Philippines for a major typhoon once. On Thanksgiving Day in 1974, Clark Air Base — where my father was stationed at the time — was struck by Typhoon Irma, packing winds approaching 100 miles per hour. It was the most powerful typhoon to hit the area in the base’s 90-year tenure.

We lost electrical power by late morning. Fortunately, my mother had cooked the turkey early as a precautionary measure, so the bird was ready to roll at mealtime. Most of the accompaniments we ate cold, straight from the can. When we weren’t eating, we spent the day mopping up the water that blew in under the front door, bracing the windows with duct tape in case the winds shattered them, and praying that the roof would hold. It did. The bamboo pole that held our TV antenna aloft was not so fortunate.

Anyway, in memory of Mr. DeZuniga, that’s his rendition of Taarna, the heroine of the final segment of the animated film Heavy Metal, leading off this post. Below, you’ll see Taarna again, as drawn by Tony’s close friend and colleague, Ernie Chan, another member of the Filipino-American comics community who passed away a mere five days after Tony left us.

Again, irony.

Taarna, pencils and inks by comics artist Ernie Chan

Speaking of Taarna…

For several years, I maintained a reference page about Heavy Metal on Squidoo, the web community founded by marketing guru Seth Godin. A while back, I got a cryptic email from the site’s administrative team, advising me that they were shutting down my page due to some kind of inappropriate content.

Nothing in the notice explained exactly what content was under review. Although nudity is depicted in the film (okay, it’s animated nudity, but still), I didn’t use any nude images on the site. The text was 100% original — I wrote the entire page from scratch; no content was pirated from Wikipedia or any other site — and 100% profanity-free. The only links on the page went either to my Comic Art Fans gallery (where my Taarna commissions are displayed) or to Amazon (where readers could purchase the DVD of the film — the kind of link Squidoo encourages). So I have no idea what the issue was.

At any rate, I copied all of the text into a Word document for my own records, and deleted the page. If you want to know more about Heavy Metal — a landmark film in the history of animation, and an essential bridge between comics and the movies — you’ll have to look elsewhere than Squidoo.

You could always just ask me, of course. I know almost everything there is to know about the film.

I used to have a Squidoo page that demonstrated this.

Taarna, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

Our final Taarna image is a new one, courtesy of Gene Gonzales, who — unlike Messrs. DeZuniga and Chan — is still with us, and still creating lovely artworks like this. I love the dramatic angle Gene employs here. Taarna looks strong and majestic, as a good Taarakian defender should. Her windblown hair is gorgeous as well.

Although…

…I hope that isn’t a typhoon stirring up.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: A tall-walking big Black Cat

November 1, 2013

Followers of this space know my fondness for vintage superheroines. In fact, I’ve devoted an entire themed commission series, Bombshells!, to female costumed stalwarts who made their comics debuts before I was born.

Bombshell! Black Cat, pencils by Dan Veesenmeyer, inks by Bob Almond

Among my favorite characters from the Golden Age is the original Black Cat, who first appeared in Harvey Publishing’s Pocket Comics #1 in August 1941. (That was a fertile month for superheroines, incidentally. Such legendary figures as Phantom Lady, Pat Patriot, Miss Victory, and Wildfire also stepped onto the scene in books bearing the August ’41 date.) I say “original” because this character bears no relation — aside from code names — to the Black Cat more familiar to comics readers today: Felicia Hardy, the more-or-less-reformed ex-criminal who has alternately bewitched and bedeviled Spider-Man for the past three decades.

Unlike Marvel’s feline fatale, the first Black Cat carried no bad-girl baggage. Linda Turner, a former Hollywood stuntwoman turned star box office attraction, donned a mask, gloves, buccaneer boots, and a bathing suit (you know… like you would) to battle crime, often from the seat of a motorcycle. The skills she’d developed as a stunt performer, including adeptness with a lariat (Westerns being far more popular then than now) and karate, frequently came in handy in her new sideline. Linda even had her own masculine version of Lois Lane in the person of Rick Horne, a reporter for the Los Angeles Globe who never made the connection that Linda, whom he dated in the later years of the series, and the Black Cat were the same woman. (Apparently, journalism schools in the comics multiverse place little emphasis on observational acuity.)

Black Cat, pencils by James E. Lyle, inks by Bob Almond

For most of the Cat’s career, which included five years as the lead feature in Speed Comics before segueing to her own eponymous title in 1946, her adventures were drawn by Lee Elias, a gifted artist who had once served as Milton (Terry and the Pirates) Caniff’s assistant. Ironically, Elias also worked for a time on DC Comics’ Black Canary, the most blatant of the numerous Black Cat imitations that popped up during the 1940s. In the 1960s and ’70s, after a brief sojourn into newspaper strips, Elias illustrated horror titles (House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Witching Hour) for DC, and later, drew Power Man and Iron Fist and The Human Fly for Marvel. He also did some amazing work on the science fiction adventure series The Rook for Warren Publishing, the folks who brought you Vampirella.

What made the Black Cat such a terrific heroine? Aside from the sleek and powerful art by Lee Elias, it was the character herself. Smart, talented, beautiful but tough, and resourceful, Linda was Bruce Wayne without the edginess and gimmickry, or the adolescent boy sidekick. (Actually, she had one of those for a while. His name was Black Kitten. Some stories are best left untold.) The Black Cat proved that a female comics superhero could be both entertaining and successful, paving the way for numerous other characters — including the more familiar Wonder Woman, who arrived on the scene several months after the Cat’s debut.

Black Cat, pencils and inks by Gene Gonzales

Today’s art, from the top: The Black Cat as Bombshell!, with pencils by Dan Veesenmeyer and inks by Bob Almond; Linda kicking a criminal to the curb, with pencils by James E. Lyle and inks once again by Almond; the Cat swings into action, courtesy of Gene Gonzales.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.