Archive for the ‘Celebritiana’ category

SwanShadow Gives Thanks 14: As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

November 23, 2017

Each year, since this humble (in the classic sense of “low to the ground”) blog began in 2004, I’ve paused on Thanksgiving Day to take stock of the many things in my life and in the world about me for which I’m grateful. If I took the honest measure of my blessings, I’d be typing nonstop between Thanksgivings, and I’d never get much life lived. (Plus, these posts would get even more unbearably lengthy than they already are.)

So I hit upon the idea of choosing just 26 items, sorted alphabetically, to represent by means of metonymy the countless people and things for which I am grateful.

It’s been an interesting year. The Pirate Queen began a new job, which she enjoys, and where she is appreciated and fulfilled. I landed one of my most daunting voiceover projects this summer, survived a hectic busy season with my largest client, and checked a box off my career bucket list by booking a gig for one of the most recognizable companies on the planet. We traveled a bit, as we are wont to do.

The Daughter hit a pair of milestones: she, like the Pirate Queen, began a new job — one that she’s been chasing hard for a few years — and she and her beloved (formerly The Boyfriend, now The Fiance) got engaged. They’ll be married next May, prompting yet another nomenclatural change. The Daughter is  thrilled to begin these new chapters in her life, and I am thrilled — with a father’s wistful trepidation — for her. She wishes her mother was here to share her joy. I wish that too. But as the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. So walk on, we shall.

2017 will be forever remembered in the North Bay as the Year of the Firestorm. If you live hereabouts, you know — and perhaps lived through — the devastating wildfires that destroyed thousands of structures across Sonoma and Napa counties. The Daughter and her Grandma were evacuated from their home for a week. Many longtime friends and acquaintances don’t have homes to which to return. The city of Santa Rosa and the other hard-hit communities will rebuild, but the lives that were lost will never be restored, and the precious possessions of thousands of people will never truly be replaced. I can’t put into words the sadness I feel for those I know — and so many others I don’t know — whose lives were irrevocably altered, even as I also can’t express my relief that my precious Daughter’s life was spared.

Walk on, we shall, indeed.

But enough preamble. Here’s the fourteenth installment of my annual Thanksgiving list. Next year, should we all live to see it, I’ll have to add a whole new table in the Word document where I keep track of each year’s offerings. (The chart is seven columns wide, and this will fill out the second chart.) For now, here’s what I’m grateful for… among so much else.

Almond butter. The Pirate Queen brought a jar home the other day from Trader Joe’s. In a world awhirl with chaos, the simple pleasure of an almond butter and blackberry jelly sandwich is an amazing comfort.

Blue Öyster Cult. This year on LearnedLeague (the world’s toughest online trivia league, and why haven’t you asked me for a referral yet?), I was privileged to write a quiz about a band whose music I’ve grokked since my high school days. (Yes, we had music then, you young punk. With electric guitars and everything.) I’ve still got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

Cabo San Lucas. Neither the Pirate Queen nor I had ever been to Cabo before our weeklong vacation there in February. We enjoyed our stay immensely. It’s not Hawaii — this was the first year in the last five that we didn’t visit my childhood home — but it’s lovely nonetheless. We’ll return, no doubt.

Draymond Green. He may be the third or fourth best player on the Warriors. He might also be the most irreplaceable. No one plays defense at a more intense level than Money 23. The Daughter has a picture of herself with him from a photo op before he rose to NBA All-Stardom.

Electricity. Thank you, Ben Franklin. (I’m still annoyed about that $100 bill question from Millionaire, though. Just so you know.)

Firefighters and First Responders. They couldn’t save every home and storefront in the North Bay, but they worked tirelessly and valiantly to save as many as they could, and to rescue and help as many people as possible. The community will never forget their efforts and dedication.

Gal Gadot. As a lifelong fan of Diana of Themyscira, I wasn’t fully convinced when the little-known Israeli actress landed the role. I’m convinced now. I’m glad Gal is our Wonder Woman. Change our minds, and change the world.

Hamilton. We had the opportunity to see the smash hit musical in San Francisco this summer. We did not throw away our shot. Few popular entertainments live up to their hype, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece gets as close as you’d imagine.

Ice hockey. I know, I know. I’m the guy who refers to hockey as “soccer on ice with sticks.” But thanks to the largesse of a good friend who’s a San Jose Sharks season ticketholder, we saw our first in-person game last season. It really is a heck of a sport to watch in person, in ways that don’t translate well on television. I’m a believer.

Jetways. I’m old enough to remember… okay, slow down; not the Wright brothers — but the days when you actually had to walk out onto the tarmac and climb a mobile staircase in order to board a plane at many airports. Give me the stretchable hallway any day.

Kilimanjaro. She rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

Linseed oil. Also called flaxseed oil, it’s the stuff that keeps the insides of my cast iron skillets silky smooth and nonstick. Liquid gold, it is.

Monet and Munch. We toured a pair of spectacular art exhibitions this year: Claude Monet: The Early Years at the Legion of Honor, and Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed at SFMOMA. In general, I’m not especially partial to Expressionist art, but seeing the work of these two great masters up close was powerfully impactful. I’m already looking forward to the next Monet exhibition here in two years.

NextDraft. Every day, I check in with several news sites and aggregators to keeptrack of what’s going on in this crazy world. Dave Pell’s NextDraft stands as one of the best curated aggregators I’ve come across. Dave skillfully mixes links to the day’s hard news with items that are merely fascinating. Always topical, always informative.

‘Oumuamua. “Strange visitor from another world” used to just mean Superman. Now, it’s the first object officially identified by astronomers as having traveled into our solar system from interstellar space. A cigar-shaped asteroid estimated at around 500 feet in length, its Hawaiian name means “scout” or “messenger.”

Patek Philippe. I narrated the first-ever full-scale North American exhibition by the world-renowned Swiss watchmaker this summer. In the process, I learned a ton about the craftspeople who design and build these incredible (and incredibly expensive) timepieces that can not only tell time, but in some instances play symphonies, display lunar cycles, and calculate dates hundreds of years into the future — all using mechanical, analog functionality. No microchip, no battery, just precision clockworks.

Quesadillas. Because hot, melty, delicious cheese.

Red Special, the one-of a kind guitar built by Brian May in his garage when he was a teenager, and which has lent its unique tone to Queen albums and concerts for more than four decades. I recently saw Brian wield his legendary axe in person for the first time in 35 years, and both guitar and guitarist amaze me still as much today as they did back then. If Brian and the Red Special had never given the world anything besides “Fat Bottomed Girls,” it would have been gift enough.

My Steel Will 1505, a.k.a. the Gekko, has featured as my everyday carry pocket knife for most of the past year. Solid, sturdy, and wicked sharp, with its maroon Micarta handle scales and black D2 steel blade, it’s both a workhorse and a creature of quiet beauty.

Thumbtack. The online service offers access to all kinds of local professionals, from electricians to mobile disc jockeys to personal trainers. Plus, they keep the Pirate Queen gainfully employed, for which we are enormously thankful.

“Unwritten”
Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you —
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken;
Live your life with arms wide open;
Today is where your book begins —
The rest is still unwritten.

Vision. Last night, I stood on a BART train next to a blind man accompanied by his golden retriever guide dog. Even with my acute myopia and astigmatism — easily remedied by contact lenses — I am blessed that, unlike that unfortunate gentleman, I can open my eyes and see the world. Today, I’m not taking that for granted.

Women — and I have some wonderful ones in my life: the Pirate Queen, The Daughter, her Grandma, and more treasured friends and colleagues than I can list, along with the memory of KJ and the three decades we shared together. Our culture is currently awash with a tsunami of women finally feeling emboldened to speak out against the abuse, harassment, and disrespect they’ve experienced, and I applaud and support them. Be heard, sisters. Your voices matter.

XTC. Quirky, edgy, and impossible to categorize, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding, and company formed one of the most underrated bands in the history of pop music. “Generals and Majors,” “Senses Working Overtime,” “The Mayor of Simpleton,” and the controversial “Dear God” — even if you didn’t understand all of the ideas (or didn’t agree with them), you had to admire the style.

Yeast — fueling bakeries and breweries for thousands of years. Except during Passover.

Zapper — that’s what I call my racket-shaped electric wand that strikes fear into the hearts of flying pests that dare disturb the sanctity of my abode. I’m perfectly content to let buzzing bugs buzz outdoors in their own environment, as long as they don’t attack me. But if you come into my airspace, critter, I’ve got some voltage waiting for you.

And as always, friend reader, I’m grateful for you, and the time you take to peruse my rambling prose. May you and yours find much for which to be appreciative on this Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

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Comic Art Friday: Cons, commissions, and connections

September 8, 2017

One of the things I enjoy most about attending comics conventions is connecting in person with the people who create comics, and more specifically, who create the original comic art that I collect. It’s easy to forget, when commissioning a piece of art via email and the Internet, that there’s a real live human being putting the pencil, pen and/or ink brush to paper to bring these images into existence.

At a con, you can look into the eyes of an artist and see the passion for his or her work; hear the thoughtfulness in her or his voice as they talk about drawing, favorite characters, and the business of comics; and watch the deft skillfulness of their hands guiding the instrument across the once-blank surface as something appears from nothingness.

I was reminded of this during the pre-Labor Day weekend, as I attended the second annual San Francisco Comic Con. Over the three days of the convention, I had several opportunities to connect personally with artists whose works have graced my collection for many years.

Among the first pieces I ever bought when I started collecting in 2004 was a pinup of Spider-Man drawn by longtime Spidey artist Alex Saviuk, who penciled a phenomenal seven-year run on the Web of Spider-Man series beginning in 1988. At the time of the purchase, Alex and I corresponded briefly via email, and he also included a lovely handwritten note — which I’ve kept with the art to this day — when he shipped the piece to me. I recall my surprise when I opened the package and discovered that Alex had hand-colored the drawing (which had been a plain ink sketch when I bought it) before sending it.

Now, thirteen years later, I finally had the chance to thank Alex in person for his kindness. Better still, I got to chat with him about comics and media — we had fun discussing the relative merits of the Spider-Man feature films, as well as the Marvel/Netflix series — and commission a new entry into my Common Elements theme. (More about the latter in an upcoming Comic Art Friday.) I was thrilled to finally put a face and voice to the note Alex had written to me back in the day.

Alex Saviuk, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

Rags Morales was another artist whose work had entered my collection more than a decade ago. In 2006, I commissioned Rags through his representative at the time for a Common Elements pairing of the Falcon and Lady Blackhawk. When I showed the drawing to Rags at SFCC, he remembered it vividly eleven years after the fact. Mostly, he recalled his dissatisfaction with how the piece had turned out — he felt that he’d nailed the depiction of Lady Blackhawk, but that his Falcon didn’t represent his finest work. (To my non-artist eyes, they both look spectacular. I’ve loved the piece since the day it arrived.)

In addition to some lively conversation, Rags also took time to create a dynamic new drawing for my Taarna gallery. Again, I’ll talk more about this artwork in a later post.

Rags Morales, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

When I checked my records after the show, I was surprised to see that it had been 10 years since I’ve added a new commission by the artist known as Buzz. At WonderCon 2005, Buzz drew the very first piece I ever commissioned in person at a convention — a striking image of Vixen that remains a favorite of mine. Over the next couple of years, I became a regular at Buzz’s table when he attended both WonderCon and Super-Con (which later morphed into Big Wow ComicFest). After WonderCon moved south, though, I’d lost track of Buzz until this year’s SFCC.

Amazingly, not only did Buzz remember my name (first and last!) after all this time, but he also recalled several of the pieces he’d drawn for me — the Taarna I got at WonderCon 2007 in particular. I was pleased at how beautifully his newest creation — this drawing of Mantis, whom I don’t believe Buzz had ever drawn before — turned out. She’ll be in excellent company alongside the other Buzz masterpieces in my gallery.

Buzz, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

Alas, I don’t have a novel story to share about Mike Perkins, whom I’d never met or communicated with before this show. Knowing, however, that Mike had done splendid work on the Captain America series some years back, I knew that he’d be a perfect choice for this Cap-connected Common Elements pairing of the U.S. Agent and Golden Girl. And of course, Mike rocked it.

Mike Perkins, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

About San Francisco Comic Con: This event, the first of its kind in San Francisco proper since WonderCon abandoned us for southern California a few years back, is still finding its footing, but seems well on its way to carving out a niche as an outlet for Bay Area fans to get their con on.

If I have a quibble, it’s that I’d like to see the organizers doing more to court the local comic artist community. Most of SFCC’s artist guests come from outside northern California, while few of the sizable number of comics creators who live and work here have a presence at this show. One of the factors that made WonderCon and our other late, lamented local convention, Big Wow, so much fun was that most of the Bay Area-based name comic artists turned out for these shows. SFCC (which is owned by a company based in the eastern U.S.) doesn’t yet have that homegrown feel, and I miss it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore!”

May 19, 2017

As much as I enjoy concocting convoluted connections between otherwise unrelated characters for my Common Elements commission series, quite often the simpler and more obvious matchups produce equally fine results.

Case in point: this pairing of long-time X-Men nemesis Mystique (real name: Raven Darkhölme) and Raven from the Teen Titans, drawn by veteran comic artist Ron Randall.

Mystique_Raven_Randall

The later films in Fox’s X-Men series cast Mystique as a member of the heroic superteam, which in my opinion doesn’t serve the character well. I’m perfectly cool with versions of comics characters in live-action media diverging somewhat from their comic-book counterparts — I think Marvel Studios has, for the most part, done a decent job of tweaking characters to fit the needs of its big-budget blockbuster movies — but I just don’t think Mystique works as a heroine. She’s much more compelling as a villain.

(And yes, I understand why Fox took the turn they did. When Mystique was recast from C-lister Rebecca Romijn to Oscar-winning superstar Jennifer Lawrence, Fox made Mystique a “good guy” because J-Law’s Millennial fans won’t pay to see her playing a “bad guy.” Such are the realities of Hollywood.)

In addition to switching sides mid-series, the movie Mystique also lost one of the key distinctions that made her backstory unique. In the comics, the ancient and ageless Mystique is the birth mother of the X-Man Nightcrawler, and the foster mother of another X-Man, Rogue. Because Mystique begins the cinematic narrative as a young girl, she doesn’t have these familial connections. Again, I understand why the changes happened, but I think the comics character’s history is much more interesting.

Speaking of interesting histories, Raven comes equipped with one — she’s the spawn of the dimension-hopping demon Trigon and a human woman named Angela Roth, who later calls herself Arella. As a teenager, Raven joins the Teen Titans to combat her father and ultimately defeat him. Her hybrid parentage endows Raven with a variety of superhuman powers, ranging from empathic sensitivity to the ability to cast a “soul-self” — a sort of astral projection — that usually takes the form of a (wait for it…) raven.

Today’s artist, Ron Randall, has been drawing comics for the major publishers for more than 35 years. Beginning his career with a healthy run on DC’s classic war comic Sgt. Rock in the early 1980s, Ron has illustrated significant stints on such series as The Warlord, Arak, Son of Thunder, Dragonlance, and both Justice League International and Justice League Europe for DC, Star Trek Unlimited and Venom for Marvel, and his own creation Trekker (no relation). Most recently, Ron’s work appears alongside that of other outstanding artists — among them Steve Rude and Evan “Doc” Shaner — in DC’s entertaining Future Quest, which weaves together the adventures of several Hanna-Barbera animated heroes from the 1960s, including Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and the Herculoids.

Back to Ravens for a moment. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven has been one of my favorite poems as long as I can remember. It’s a flawless blend of atmosphere, wordplay, and desperation. These days, I frequently read it aloud as a warmup when I have character voice work — particularly narration — on my work agenda for the day. Every time I perform it, I find new twists and nuances in the words and rhythms. Well done, Mr. Poe.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Princess forever

March 24, 2017

It’s rare that a commission that turned out so lovely would stir emotions so bittersweet.

Princess Projectra, Princess Leia, and Princess (Jun the Swan), pencils and inks by Diego Bernard

I’d had this concept on my to-do list for quite a long time. Bringing together three sci-fi/fantasy princesses — Princess Projectra of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Star Wars saga’s Princess Leia Organa, and Princess of Battle of the Planets‘ G-Force (or, if you prefer, Jun the Swan from Gatchaman, although that alternate identity doesn’t quite fit our theme) — makes for a perfect Common Elements scenario. And when the opportunity happened along to commission Diego Bernard, whose deftly detailed work has graced the pages of such series as X-O Manowar and Witchblade, I figured it was a match made in comic art heaven.

With great excitement, I commissioned this piece on December 15, 2016.

Twelve days later, Carrie Fisher died.

There have been a couple of instances where the death of an artist impacted one of my art projects. I’ve related the story of how Dave Simons had begun work on a Common Elements piece teaming Batgirl and Ghost Rider shortly before his untimely demise. (Bob Budiansky, Dave’s artistic collaborator on the Ghost Rider series, later accepted the commission that Dave tragically did not live to complete.) And I’ve mentioned that Tony DeZuniga and I had discussed a Jonah Hex-Scarlet Witch Common Elements just prior to Tony’s passing. (Pete Woods eventually completed that assignment.) But never before had the living inspiration for one of my projects died while an artist had the job literally on the drawing board.

I knew that some who saw this piece when completed would think, “That’s a nice tribute to Carrie Fisher.” It felt important to note that I didn’t intend the project that way. I would much rather for Ms. Fisher’s family, friends, and innumerable fans that she were still here to breathe life into Princess Leia — now General Organa in the current Star Wars sequels — for many years to come.

On film, and on this page, she’ll remain our Princess forever.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: The girls most unlikely

March 3, 2017

I occasionally sit in awe of how far the superhero genre has risen in popular culture in the past few years.

Back when I was a wee lad, we felt incredibly lucky to see our favorite comics heroes live out their adventures on television in dreadfully animated, clunkily voice-acted cartoons, like the tragic Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes series or the only mildly dorky Super Friends. On the rare occasion we got to see these characters in live-action, the gamut ran from the campy Batman and Wonder Woman to the embarrassing Marvel efforts of the 1970s (the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man series, the ghastly Captain America TV movies, the WTF-inducing Doctor Strange pilot). Even the more credible attempts bore only passing resemblance to the stalwarts we knew and loved (I’m looking at you, The Incredible Hulk). But we were glad to have them.

Fast forward to the present day, and we’re living in Superhero Nirvana. Not only do we see the major players from both Marvel and DC comics explode from the silver screen on a near-constant basis (the latest Wolverine feature film, Logan, is premiering at your local cinema even as I type), but our television viewing hours are chock-full of real live superheroes 24/7, from the DC-based series filling The CW’s nightly schedule (Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow) to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the outstanding slate of MCU series on Netflix (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the forthcoming Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Punisher). Even C-list characters like The Inhumans (cast list announced today!) and Cloak and Dagger have live-action series in the works.

It’s a grand time to be a superhero fan.

Mantis and Gypsy, pencils by Robb Phipps

If you’d asked me before the present boom times to name the least likely former members of both the Avengers and the Justice League ever to see the light of live-action film or television, the two heroines depicted in today’s featured artwork (created by penciler Robb Phipps a full decade ago, in 2007) would have landed near the top of both lists.

Mantis — a half-Vietnamese, half-German martial artist and former prostitute raised by the alien Kree to be the Celestial Madonna (hey, I don’t make this stuff up, I only report it) — was a peculiar addition to the Avengers lineup even in the freewheeling, anything-goes Bronze Age of the ’70s. Gypsy — a one-time teenage runaway with illusion-creating powers — typified the mid-’80s Justice League era that many fans consider the most forgettable period in the team’s storied history.

And yet, here they are, living and breathing before your very eyes. Gypsy is now a recurring guest star on The Flash, played by Sleepy Hollow veteran Jessica Camacho. Mantis (played by the charmingly named Pom Klementieff) is the newest member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, whose second blockbuster motion picture arrives in May at a theater near you.

While it’s true that the live-action versions of both characters differ substantially from their comic book counterparts — the TV Gypsy, in particular, shares little in common with her printed predecessor besides the code name — it’s also true that I never thought I’d see the day when either of these remarkable superwomen would be portrayed in any form by a flesh-and-blood human being in a big-budget Hollywood production.

As I said before… it’s a grand time to be a superhero fan.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Uncaged in Vegas

June 10, 2016

If you know me well at all, then you know this: I loves me some Las Vegas.

Which might seem a trifle odd if you do indeed know me, because then you also know that I’m not much of a gambler (I enjoy playing poker and blackjack, but I enjoy them as games, not as vehicles for fiscal risk-taking) and I’m definitely not a partier (in any sense of the word), while Vegas is more or less the universal nexus for both activities. But I am a huge fan of over-the-top glitz and kitsch, particularly when it comes to decor and architecture (we should discuss my googie obsession sometime), and Vegas is the universal nexus for all of that as well.

It’s also one of the greatest people-observing venues on the planet. Every time I go to Las Vegas, I see something I’ve never seen before and would never have thought I’d see. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s usually interesting.

Interesting also is this Vegas-themed Common Elements commission by veteran comics artist Larry Stroman, who has illustrated such series as Marvel’s Alien Legion and X-Men.

Luke Cage, Power Man and Ghost Rider, pencils and inks by Larry Stroman

The idea for a Sin City setting for this piece came from Larry’s art representative, Jerry Livengood at Serendipity Art Sales. Jerry’s suggestion made perfect sense, given that the connection between our heroes, Luke Cage and Ghost Rider, is the actor Nicolas Cage, who famously chose his professional surname in honor of the comics’ Power Man, and also portrayed a version of Ghost Rider in two (execrable, in this critic’s opinion) films. Cage also starred in a pair of movies with “Vegas” in their titles: the cult comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (fondly remembered for its sequence involving skydiving Elvis Presley impersonators) and Leaving Las Vegas, the 1995 drama for which Cage won the Best Actor Oscar. (My fingers feel all weird typing “Cage” and “Best Actor Oscar” in the same sentence. But you can look it up.)

Cage and Ghost Rider each makes his second Common Elements appearance here. I’m a little bit surprised, frankly, to see that Cage hasn’t shown up in the series more often, given that he was a favorite of mine during my comics-reading youth. In fact, I can vividly recall the first time I saw him, in the summer of 1972. My family had stopped in the midst of a cross-country journey — we had just returned from two years in Greece, and were on our way to California — to visit relatives in Kokomo, Indiana. On a trip to the grocery store, I paused — as was my wont — to check out the spinner rack where the comic books resided. And there, resplendent in his open-chested yellow shirt and chain-link belt, was the man himself, on the cover of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1. I had never seen a black superhero with his own self-titled comic before. (Marvel was still a year away from installing the Black Panther as lead feature in Jungle Action, which even then was not quite the same thing. Because… Jungle Action? Seriously?)

These days, Luke Cage has burst out into the cultural mainstream, courtesy of his co-starring role in Marvel’s hit Netflix series, Jessica Jones. Played by actor Mike Colter, Cage made a powerful impression as Jessica’s off-and-on love interest and fellow crimebuster. Colter will again assume the role in Cage’s upcoming eponymous series this fall, as well as 2017’s The Defenders, which will band together all of Marvel’s Netflix stars — Cage, Jessica, Daredevil, and the yet-to-be-seen Iron Fist.

I don’t know whether there’s ever been a comics storyline in which Cage took on Bright Light City. But if there hasn’t, doggone it, someone needs to write that.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday. Viva Las Vegas!

Comic Art Friday: The Jackie Robinson of comics

April 15, 2016

Allow me to begin today’s festivities by wishing you a happy Jackie Robinson Day.

In the event that you’re not a baseball aficionado — in which case, I might think somewhat less of you, but we can still be friends — I’ll explain that April 15 marks the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the game’s first black player since baseball banned participation by African Americans in the late 1880s. The integration of the national pastime led not only to revolutionary change in the sporting world, but in society as a whole. No less a civil rights champion than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. credited baseball’s black pioneers with “making my job easy” by demonstrating that people of color could work successfully alongside their white counterparts, and even excel, when provided opportunity.

Variant cover for Black Panther #1 (2016 series), original art by Ryan Sook

It seems appropriate, then, to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic accomplishment with an artwork featuring the Black Panther, whose advent in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) represented to mainstream comics what Robinson’s arrival did to baseball. It’s Ryan Sook’s variant cover for Black Panther #1, the first issue of the new Marvel series that hit the stands last week. I acquired the original black-and-white ink art from Ryan last month at Silicon Valley Comic Con. I don’t usually have much interest in buying published covers or pages — my collection largely consists of commissioned pieces, as regular readers can attest — but I couldn’t pass up the chance to own this amazing cover. Thanks, Ryan! (You can see the published version, in full color, below.)

These are good days to be a Black Panther fan, which I’ve been since he began appearing regularly in The Avengers in 1968. Not only are we getting a fresh run of Panther stories in the comics — with scripts by award-winning author and social commentator Ta-Nehesi Coates, and art by the incredible Brian Stelfreeze — but T’Challa is also poised to make his big-screen debut next month in Captain America: Civil War. Portraying the Panther is actor Chadwick Boseman, who coincidentally also played Jackie Robinson in the film 42. Boseman will continue the role in a Black Panther solo film scheduled for release in July 2018. You’d best believe I’ll be among the first in line to see that one.

Black Panther #1 (2016 series), Ryan Sook variant cover

It’s worth mentioning that while the Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first character of African descent to star in his own title. In December 1965, Dell Comics — best known for its licensed comics based on popular TV shows — published Lobo, a Western adventure featuring an African American gunfighter as its titular protagonist. The series, created by writer D.J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico, lasted only two issues. Not until Luke Cage, Hero For Hire arrived in June 1972 would a black superhero headline his own book. (The Black Panther took over the lead feature in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic beginning in July 1973. He moved to his own eponymous series in January 1977.)

I still remember the first time I stood in front of the spinner rack at the local supermarket and saw the Black Panther on the cover of a comic book. My younger self could scarcely have envisioned the day when the Panther would stand at the brink of multimedia superstardom, as he does today.

As I said earlier… good days indeed, for us T’Challa fans.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.