Archive for the ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ category

This one’s for the boobies

October 3, 2011

It hardly seems as though it’s been a year, but it’s October again. You know what that means: It’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Pink ribbon

Those of you who’ve visited here and at our previous location know that I’m not big on causes, but I champion this one for a powerful personal reason: KJ, my wife of 25 years — and life partner of 29 years total — lost her decade-long battle with breast cancer in July 2010. This disease cost KJ’s parents their only remaining child (KJ’s brother died from Ewing’s sarcoma 22 years ago), my daughter her mother, and me the woman I’d loved my entire adult life.

So yeah — breast cancer made itself a lifelong enemy here.

If you’re a woman, know your risk factors. Talk with your doctor about those risks. Learn to examine your own breasts, and conduct those exams religiously. Don’t think that breast cancer is just a disease for older women — KJ was 34 when she was first diagnosed. If you’re 40 or older, by all means get annual mammograms.

If you’re not a woman, pass the preceding paragraph along to every woman you know.

Regardless of your gender, if you have a few spare dollars in your pocket or purse this month, consider making a contribution to the breast cancer awareness/research nonprofit of your choice. (KJ’s favorite was Susan G. Komen for the Cure.) I know things are tough economically for a lot of you, but every little contribution helps.

Breast cancer will affect one woman in eight — too many precious lives. That’s your wife or partner, your daughter, your sister, your mother, your grandmother, your aunt, your neighbor… maybe you.

Let’s hunt this beast down, and kill it for good.

Comic Art Friday: The very best of 2010… maybe ever

December 31, 2010

In previous years, I’ve presented my favorite comic art acquisitions of the foregoing 12 months on the last two Fridays before year’s end. Last year, I mustered sufficient ambition to make an entire week out of it.

2010 was a sparse collecting year for me, for reasons you can probably deduce if you follow this blog with even a modicum of regularity. Despite the small number of pieces I added this year, the quality overall was exceptional, as you’ve observed if you’ve been stopping in on Comic Art Fridays like you know you ought to. I’m delighted with every single commission that was done for me in 2010.

But when it comes to my Best of 2010, one artwork stands alone. And you haven’t seen it before now.

KJ as Electra Woman and KM as Dyna Girl, by comics artist Geof Isherwood

If you were a kid in the 1970s, the costumes will be familiar even if the faces of the women wearing them are not: Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, whose adventures elevated The Krofft Supershow on Saturday mornings in 1976.

Electra Woman (played by actress Deidre Hall, better known as Dr. Marlena Evans on the long-running NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives) was in everyday life a magazine journalist named Lori, while her youthful sidekick Dyna Girl was really her assistant Judy (played by Judy Strangis, better known as one of the students on the seminal high school drama Room 222). In a thinly disguised distaff knockoff of Batman and Robin, the duo battled crime using an amazing array of high-tech gadgets, the names of which invariably began with the prefix “Electra-” (at least it wasn’t “Bat-“). Most notable among their toys were their ElectraComs, clunkier versions of Dick Tracy’s famous wrist radio.

EW and DG’s 15-minute exploits lasted a single season — they shared their hour of airtime with segments featuring Dr. Shrinker (a mad scientist who invented a miniaturizing ray), Wonderbug (a flying dune buggy manned by three hip postadolescents), and Kaptain Kool and the Kongs (a faux rock band in the mode of the Monkees). Wonderbug and the Kaptain soldiered on for another year of Supershow after the Day-Glo superheroines and the incredible shrinking doctor got their walking papers.

But now you’re wondering… who’s that masquerading as Electra Woman and Dyna Girl?

On the left is my late wife KJ, a natural brunette who’s sporting a blonde wig here in imitation of Deidre Hall’s flowing locks. On the right is The Daughter, also referred to in this space as KM.

My original plan for this commission started long before KJ passed away due to breast cancer in July of this year. In fact, artist Geof Isherwood and I first discussed a KJ/KM tribute several years ago, but the project went onto the back burner — my fault, not Geof’s — for quite some time. In the aftermath of KJ’s passing, though, I knew it was time to complete the job.

When Geof and I brainstormed the idea initially, my concept was to dress KJ as Wonder Woman — the superheroine she most identified with — and The Daughter as Supergirl, which has been one of my pet names for her since she was young. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that wouldn’t work. KJ, who underwent a radical mastectomy in 2000 and was always a modest dresser even before that, would never have donned Wonder Woman’s signature bustier. She was, on the other hand, a dedicated Days of Our Lives fanatic — as is The Daughter even now — so portraying her in the guise of Deidre Hall’s Electra Woman struck me as the perfect compromise.

Although I commissioned this drawing in ink, Geof insisted on painting over his inks in watercolor, to create a stunning showpiece. This project became a labor of love for the artist, whose beloved wife Sonja also lost her battle with cancer in 2009. The final result is both a sterling example of Geof’s always brilliant work, and a fitting tribute to the two strong young women who have shared my life.

Geof Isherwood’s masterpiece reflects all of the reasons why I collect original comic art. I couldn’t have asked for more.

May you and yours enjoy a joyous, healthy, and fulfilling 2011, friend reader. Your Uncle Swan thanks you for all of your support and encouragement during his darkest, most challenging year, and promises to blog more often during the coming 12 months.

And that’s your final Comic Art Friday of 2010. Happy New Year, everyone!

Comic Art Friday: Little women

October 22, 2010

The wheels of Common Elements grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

Way back in the Dark Ages — or as I like to call it, 2004 — I commissioned the very first artwork in what would come to be known as the Common Elements series (two or more comic book characters, usually unrelated, but connected by some “common element,” as you regulars here already know) from Michael Dooney. From that day to this, my Common Elements gallery has grown to include more than 90 drawings (with a couple in the works) representing the work of 70 artists.

But for whatever reason, I’d never asked Mike Dooney to create a second one.

It’s definitely not because I don’t adore Mike’s work. I’ve commissioned him more frequently than any other pencil artist. (My friend Bob Almond, who believes that every pencil drawing needs ink, holds the commission record in my collection by a long stretch. But all of Bob’s projects to date have been strictly inking work.) I know, however, that Mike usually prefers not to do multiple-character pieces. So, because I like the guy, I didn’t want to use up my allotment of special favors by going to the well too many times. But every time I’ve received a new Dooney commission in the mail, I’ve looked at it and thought, “I really need to get Mike to do another Common Elements.”

Which brings us to today’s artwork.

The Wasp and Shrinking Violet, pencils by comics artist Michael Dooney

Mike’s assignment for this piece was to take two of the smallest heroines in comics — the Wasp, founding member of the Avengers, and Shrinking Violet, longtime stalwart in the Legion of Super-Heroes — and bring them together in a scenario that emphasized their diminutive size. Dooney devised this clever scenario, in which the winsome Wasp (as Stan Lee used to refer to her) asserts her self-perceived superiority over her rival with a swish of her pencil.

Although Shrinking Violet is the character with the longer history (she made her debut in DC’s Legion in 1961, almost two years before the Wasp first appeared on the cover of Marvel’s Tales to Astonish #44), it’s probably fair to say that Janet Van Dyne (later Janet Pym, after she and her crimefighting comrade Henry Pym, the original Ant-Man, married) is the better known of the two. The Wasp became one of Marvel’s most prominent female heroes, in addition to one of its earliest, thanks to her role in the Avengers.

Over the years, the Wasp gained significant notoriety for her frequent costume changes. Janet, a wealthy heiress with a taste for high fashion, updated her ensemble so many times that it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific “look” for the character. I chose the outfit depicted her by Mike Dooney because it’s one of the most attractive and distinctive of her numerous styles.

Shrinking Violet (her real name is Salu Digby — I’d prefer Violet too) joined the Legion as part of its first big expansion. Such familiar Legionnaires as Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, and Brainiac 5 came aboard at about the same time. Like the Wasp, Vi (as her colleagues often call her) has undergone several costume changes, usually as part of the Legion’s seemingly endless rebooting. Unlike the Wasp, Vi has also changed her code name from one incarnation to the next, having also operated under the guises of Atom Girl, LeViathan, and Virus, as well as just plain Violet.

Despite her name, most of Vi’s outfits over her long career have been predominantly green, not violet. (The ensemble shown here, for example, was solid green with black accents.) But that’s comics for you.

And that’s also your Comic Art Friday. (Remember: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.)

Comic Art Friday: My breast art story ever

October 15, 2010

October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and if you weren’t aware, you are now — I thought it would be appropriate to devote one Comic Art Friday this month to my favorite “breast story” related to my art collection.

The Scarlet Witch, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

About five years ago, artist Geof Isherwood had this gorgeous pinup of Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, posted for sale on eBay. I fell in love with the piece at first sight. There’s something magical about the expression Geof gave Wanda here that I found compelling — innocent yet wise, inviting yet inscrutable. Geof’s a master at lending his characters depth and humanity, and this depiction of one of my favorite heroes might be among the finest he’s ever drawn.

There was only one issue.

In the artwork as Geof originally drew it, he’d blessed Wanda with Power Girl-sized mammaries — what Otter in National Lampoon’s Animal House famously referred to as “major league yabbos” — barely restrained by an abbreviated bustier that left next to nothing to the imagination.

Impressive, no doubt. But…

I shot Geof an e-mail, commenting on how much I adored his latest creation. Alas, I told him, I was going to pass on putting in a bid, because Wanda’s prominently displayed endowments rendered it a trifle too risque for my collection. (My cardinal rule for evaluating female superheroine art for purchase: If I’d be reluctant to hang it where my daughter would walk past it, it’s not for me. My good friend, artist Bob Almond, thinks I’m a prude, but he loves me anyway.)

Geof, always one of the most accommodating artists I’ve ever commissioned, wrote back, “No problem — if you like it otherwise, buy it, and I’ll tweak the figure and the costume at no extra charge.”

So I did, and he did. Half a decade later, this spectacular item remains one of the true gems in my Scarlet Witch gallery.

The best part of this story is that Geof was comfortable enough with himself as an artist to make the suggested alteration. A lot of artists would simply have said, “Hey, this is how I drew it. Take it or leave it.” It wasn’t a commission, so Geof wasn’t under any obligation to change his original vision to suit my sensibilities. But he did it without complaint. I respected him even more than I did already after that. He really is a terrific guy, in addition to being an awesomely talented drawer of stuff.

Speaking of breasts (and we were)…

If you’ve got ’em, learn to examine them regularly for changes. Stay current on your mammograms, if you’re over 40. Whatever your age, open a frank, no-holds-barred dialogue with your physician about your risk factors for breast cancer.

If you don’t have ’em, half the people you know do. Encourage the women in your life to follow the above program. One in eight of those women will be a target for breast cancer at some point in her life.

Whether you have breasts or don’t, please consider making even a small donation to the breast cancer nonprofit of your choice. Every little bit helps in the fight. Let’s find a cure before we lose more of our wives, lovers, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, and friends.

Wanda and I thank you.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

Real men wear pink

October 1, 2010

It’s that time again: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

If you’ve read this blog often over the past six-plus years, you know that the cause of breast cancer awareness is close to my heart — no pun intended. My wife KJ was first diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2000. In February 2007, a metastasis (that’s a fancy medical term meaning “spread”) of the disease was identified.

And, as most of you know, breast cancer finally claimed KJ’s life on July 5 of this year. She was 44 years old. She had spent nearly one-fourth of her life battling this miserable disease.

We need a cure for breast cancer. Not within the next generation. Not within the next decade. Not a year from now. Today.

Every 69 seconds, a woman somewhere in the world dies from breast cancer. You can’t read that statistic and not be horrified.

One in eight women will be affected by this disease. Your mother. Your sister. Your lover. Maybe you.

If you’re a woman, talk with your personal physician about the preemptive testing program appropriate to your individual risk factors.

If you’re not a woman, encourage all the women you know to follow the above advice.

If you have a few loose dollars in your wallet, consider donating them to the breast cancer charity of your choice. If you need help selecting one, KJ’s favorite was Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Let’s stop having to read obituaries like this one.

A day for roses

August 19, 2010

Today would have been KJ’s half-birthday.

Roses for KJ's half-birthday, August 19, 2010

The custom of half-birthdays — and ultimately, half-anniversaries — was one that I brought into our relationship from my childhood. Because my birthday is only six days before Christmas, my major gift-receiving opportunities were bunched together into a single week of the calendar year. It became my habit, therefore, to observe my own half-birthday — the date exactly six months from my actual birthday — by doing a little something nice for myself on that day.

When KJ and I became a couple, we continued to acknowledge half-holidays. We never really exchanged gifts on those days, but we always made note of the date with a card or something.

Today seemed like a good day for roses.

This being a special occasion, the roses are real. A chain grocery store near the cemetery sells a dozen pink roses quite inexpensively — I’ve purchased them there a couple of times previously. My plan is to find a set of silk ones that can remain on the crypt at all times without maintenance, except for occasions like this when I’ll swap the artificial ones for fresh.

In case you’re wondering, KJ’s crypt is unmarked in this photo only because her marker hasn’t yet arrived. It should be ready for installation in about a month. The mausoleum requires that all of the markers follow an identical pattern, so they acquire them from the same source. KJ’s will consist of her name, birth year, and death year stamped from steel in a sleek sans-serif font.

And yes… it still feels a little bit peculiar to be writing about this.


July 6, 2010

Not to get all depressing on you, but I need to tell you something.

At 11:49 p.m. on Monday, July 5, 2010, my wife of 25 years — and my relationship partner of 29 years — departed this life after a lengthy, hard-fought battle with metastatic breast cancer and a progressive, degenerative liver disease the doctors were never able to fully diagnose.

She passed from this world holding my hand, before taking the hand of One greater and stronger than I, who welcomed her into the next.

KJ (as I’ve always referred to her in this space) was 44.

I will write much more about KJ, and our life together, in the days and weeks to come. But right now, my emotions are summarized by the words of this song, written by Tristan Bishop and recorded by one of KJ’s and my favorite a cappella groups, the House Jacks:

And now you’re gone
Somehow you’re gone
You were my midnight
You were my dawn
You were the shoulder that my life leaned on
You were my world
You were my song
You’re everything I could depend on
And now all you are is

Rest in peace, Alicia

April 22, 2010

Although I’d known for several days that this development was imminent, it still grieved me to read the news that Alicia Parlette died from cancer today at the tragically young age of 28.

I first wrote about Alicia nearly five years ago, shortly after her blog Alicia’s Story began to appear on SF Gate, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time, Alicia was 23 years old, and recently employed by the Chronicle as a copyeditor. When she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — alveolar soft part sarcoma — in March 2005, Alicia’s superiors at the Chron offered her the opportunity to write online about her journey through treatment. Her memoirs were poignant, inspiring, heart-crushing, and real.

By early 2007, Alicia’s health had deteriorated to the point that she was no longer able to maintain her position at the Chronicle. The paper allowed her space to continue her blog, but updates grew infrequent, and stopped altogether in August of that year. Readers were left to wonder how Alicia fared in her ongoing battle with her aggressive disease. From time to time, some blogger would throw out a mention of Alicia, or a public plea for information about her welfare, but for the most part, those of us who had come to care about her through her writing could only speculate… and pray.

Over the past couple of weeks, news surfaced, via the Chronicle and other media, that Alicia had entered hospice care. By all reports, she faced the end of her young life as she had faced the obstacle that would eventually overwhelm her — with courage, determination, laughter, and an indomitable spirit.

Today, shortly before noon, that spirit departed.

If you read this blog often, you know that cancer is a fighting word here at SSTOL. My wife — known in this space as KJ — was first diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2000, and with a metastasized stage of that disease in March 2007. We live daily with the spectre that touches far too many lives.

We never met Alicia Parlette, but we felt as though we did. Thousands of others out there in the electronic ether felt the same. Our hearts beat heavily today.

May those who loved Alicia in life find peace in her memory.

And let’s all do what we can to kill this monster called cancer…

…before we lose many more Alicias.

Comic Art Friday: My heroes have always been heroines

February 19, 2010

Today’s Comic Art Friday is dedicated to my birthday girls: my wife KJ and my goddaughter Shelby. As regular readers here know, KJ has been battling metastatic breast cancer for the past three years. One thing we’ve learned in these past 36 months: We don’t take birthdays — or any days — for granted.

The Invisible Woman, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

In recent days, I’ve been reading Mike Madrid’s entertaining book The Supergirls, a breezy history of superheroines in comics from the Golden Age until now. Aside from the occasional pang of jealousy — this book is very much like one I had intended to write someday — I’m enjoying the author’s fresh perspective on facts I already know rather well.

In his chapter on 1960s Marvel Comics, Madrid observes something that often frustrated and puzzled me in my comics-reading youth: Marvel’s early superheroines were pretty much useless. It’s strange that a publishing concern that made at least token efforts toward progressiveness in other areas — Marvel featured African-American supporting characters (Gabriel Jones in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Joe “Robbie” Robertson in The Amazing Spider-Man) long before the practice was fashionable, and had numerous marquee heroes of color (Black Panther, the Falcon, Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, Black Goliath) years before DC had even one — struggled to put quality female heroes into its pages.

Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

Unlike DC’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl, whose powers were the equal of any of the men (even though they rarely got the opportunity to demonstrate this, especially in the case of Supergirl), Marvel’s heroines of the 1960s were uniformly ineffectual. The Invisible Girl (seen at the top of this post, in a pencil drawing by Geof Isherwood) turned invisible — a handy skill for a voyeur, perhaps, but not much good in a fight. The fashion-obsessed Wasp shrank to insect size and flew — again, not much help when some supervillain is bashing your brains in. The X-Men’s Marvel Girl (alongside Mary Marvel in the Common Elements commission above, also by Isherwood) could push objects around with her mind — kind of cool, but still somewhat ephemeral compared with her male counterparts’ optic blasts or ice shields. The Scarlet Witch (below — yes, that’s Isherwood yet again) could… well… we never could figure out exactly how Wanda’s powers worked. We just knew that she couldn’t kick a lot of evildoer butt using them.

The Scarlet Witch, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

It wasn’t until Ms. Marvel arrived on the scene in the late ’70s that Marvel finally created a heroine with maximum power potential. And even then, they couldn’t figure out how to deploy her effectively.

To Marvel’s credit, they’ve worked at upgrading most of their legacy heroines. The Invisible Woman — Susan Storm shed the “Girl” tag decades ago — added powerful force fields to her invisible arsenal. Marvel Girl transmogrified into the world-destroying Phoenix, before coming back down to Earth under her civilian name, Dr. Jean Grey. The Scarlet Witch — as much as I detest what Marvel’s writers have done to her character in recent years — may now be one of the most formidable beings in the Marvel Universe, with the ability to warp the very fabric of reality, as witnessed by the House of M storyline of a few years ago.

And, over time, Marvel has generated a veritable plethora of outstanding female heroes, including such characters as Storm, She-Hulk, Elektra, Kitty Pryde, the Black Widow, the White Queen, Valkyrie, Monica Rambeau, Thundra, the Daughters of the Dragon, Silver Sable, and at least three versions of Spider-Woman — as well as Spider-Girl, the alternate-future teenage daughter of a now-retired Spider-Man. So… they’re trying.

Comics are still largely a man’s world, sad to tell. It’s worth noting, though, that three of the best superhero comics being published right now feature female heroes.

Wonder Woman has never been better than in her current monthly series, as written by Gail Simone and illustrated by Aaron Lopresti. After an agonizingly trite start to her present-day adventures — which worked harder at making Kara a teenage sexpot than the Maid of Steel — Supergirl has developed in new and exciting ways with (at long last!) a sensitive creative team in writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle. And Terry Moore’s independent book Echo is an absolute joy, starring a beautifully realized lead character in stories with warmth and heart.

There’s hope for the ladies yet.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Yes, we do need another Hero

January 15, 2010

I’m not one for causes, generally speaking. The few that I do support, however, I support wholeheartedly. As most of our regular readers know, the fight against breast cancer is one of my causes.

The Hero Initiative is another.

Flash Gordon and Dale Arden, pencils by comics artist Ralph Reese

The Hero Initiative is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization whose efforts benefit comic book creators in need. Although in recent years, some comic book artists and writers have managed to turn their creative endeavors into multimillion-dollar enterprises, these still-rare circumstances haven’t always existed.

For decades, comics creators worked for the most part on a freelance basis, for paltry remuneration by most standards, and without corporate healthcare or pension benefits. As a result, many of these talents hit rocky financial straits later in life when their skills were no longer in demand, and as the sorts of health challenges that become common as people grow older befell them. No safety net was in place to help.

Until 2000, when the Hero Initiative — formerly known as ACTOR (A Commitment to Our Roots) — was established.

Supported by a consortium of comics publishers — including Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Dynamic Forces, Top Cow, and Wizard — the Hero Initiative provides financial assistance to veteran comic book writers and artists (defined as those with industry credits spanning ten years or longer) in need. The disbursement of funds is overseen by a board entirely composed of comics creators, including such legends as George Pérez, Dick Giordano, John Romita Sr., Denny O’Neil, Jim Valentino, and Roy Thomas.

Last year, the Hero Initiative began supplementing its fundraising efforts through the sale of annual memberships. I’m proud to be HERO member #115. (Stan Lee, the longtime writer, editor, and publisher of Marvel Comics, is #1.)

One of the perquisites of membership renewal is a sketch card drawn by a noted comics artist. This year, I received a sketch of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden drawn by Ralph Reese, who worked on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip in the early 1990s. Reese’s diverse credits include work on projects ranging from horror titles (for DC, Marvel, and Warren) to superheroes (THUNDER Agents) to science fiction (Magnus: Robot Fighter) to humor (National Lampoon). As related in this article from the Los Angeles Times, Reese himself has been helped by the Hero Initiative, making this sketch all the more awesome.

Times are tough, and there’s no end of worthy opportunities for whatever cash one has available to support such causes. But if you’ve enjoyed the work of comics creators over the years, and you’d like to show your appreciation in a tangible manner, the Hero Initiative is a good way to do that.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.