Archive for the ‘Good Reads’ category

I have a power ring; I’m just wearing it as a belt

November 17, 2010

Once again, I get robbed.

This year, People Magazine passes me over for its annual Sexiest Man Alive honor in favor of Ryan Reynolds, whose chief claims to fame include (a) portraying comic book superhero Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, for those of you sufficiently comics-savvy to know that the title of Green Lantern applies to literally dozens of characters in the DC Comics universe) in the upcoming motion picture; and (b) being Mr. Scarlett Johansson.

Okay, so I’m not an alien-tech-equipped superhero, and frankly, I don’t think Ms. Johansson is my type. (Nor, doubtless, I hers.) But just once, you’d think People Magazine could show a little love to those millions of portly middle-aged gentlemen whose sexiness derives, not from matinee-idol looks which, let’s be honest, will need to be propped up with surgery and Botox in a decade or so, but from that most potent of sexual engines: the brain.

Experience and cunning trump chiseled cheekbones and washboard abdominals any time, ladies. Just sayin’.

Can I get a witness?

The Verdicts are in: Why Did I Get Married Too? and Bill Maher: “…But I’m Not Wrong!”

September 15, 2010

My tenure as a juror began today.

Which makes this the perfect opportunity to promote the fact that I’ve published two — count ’em, two — new reviews this week for DVD Verdict, cyberspace’s premier hotspot for film and television criticism.

If you’re into romantic comedy with a message, you might enjoy my examination of Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?

If biting, politically conscious stand-up humor better suits your tastes, check out my look at Bill Maher’s “…But I’m Not Wrong!”

Or, if you just want to kick back and relax with a couple of insightful critiques, you might as well read both.

Back to the future

August 10, 2010

The immortal baseball scribe Thomas Boswell once wrote, “Time begins on Opening Day.”

Someone else (I’d tell you his or her identity, but there’s no consensus on the Internet) opined, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Ian Anderson, the auteur behind the legendary rock band Jethro Tull, sang of “skating away on the thin ice of a new day.”

Or, as the great Buckaroo Banzai, MD, PhD, put it: “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” (That doesn’t really have anything to do with the other quotes. I just love that line.)

At any rate, the long hibernation of SSTOL has ended. A new day dawns here today. You can now expect to drop by this tiny corner of cyberspace and find fresh content a-bubbling, which hasn’t been true for some while… the reasons for which you know. (If you don’t know, you can find out here.)

We commence the rebirth of the cool with an announcement which in itself is pretty darn cool: I’m returning to the staff of DVD Verdict — the ‘Net’s premier location for entertainment product reviews — as a writer of cogent criticism.

I first joined DVD Verdict way back in 2002. During my previous tenure on staff, I penned 145 detailed product reviews, and also served an 18-month stint as an associate editor. I resigned with deep regret about three years ago, when my late wife KJ’s illness was diagnosed. In my heart of hearts, I always knew the day would come when I’d want to write for the site again.

Today, that day has come.

I extend my sincere appreciation to Chief Justice (that’s Editor-in-Chief in the non-Verdict world) Michael Stailey, Chief Counsel (read: Managing Editor) Melissa Hansen, and their crew of talented collaborators for welcoming me warmly back into the fold. I’m looking forward to contributing to the site again, especially in anticipation of some exciting initiatives that will continue Verdict’s ascent into the stratosphere of online entertainment resources.

So, come join me at DVD Verdict. You’ll be glad you did.

And hey — welcome also to the next phase of SSTOL. I’m looking forward to sharing with you here once again.

Thanks for keeping the faith.

You’re a good commodity, Charlie Brown

April 27, 2010

This just in via Sopwith Camel…

The E.W. Scripps Company, the struggling one-time media giant whose newspaper empire has in recent years been shrinking as if it had been dunked in ice water, today sold its subsidiary United Media Licensing for $175 million.

United Media‘s best-known property is Peanuts, the seminal comic strip created by the late Charles M. Schulz. The company’s new majority owner is Iconix Brand Group, the marketing force behind Joe Boxer underwear, London Fog raincoats, and Starter athletic wear.

I’m guessing that Charlie Brown’s baseball team will be sporting Starter jackets this season. And, I suppose, Joe Boxer supporters. Although that’s probably more information than you wanted.

The local angle here is that Schulz’s family buys into the deal for a 20 percent stake in United Media. This will give the Schulz heirs some degree of ongoing control over Peanuts licensed merchandise, which racks up gross sales in the neighborhood of $2 billion annually. That shakes out to net revenue of approximately $75-90 million. Not too shabby a legacy for a cartoonist working out of an office in an ice skating arena in Sonoma County, California.

By the way, if you’re ever in town, stop by the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. Run by Jean Schulz, the artist’s widow, the museum always has fascinating and entertaining themed collections of original Peanuts strips on display. The museum also frequently hosts special exhibitions and educational programs, including its popular Cartoonist-In-Residence series the second Saturday of each month. Recent Cartoonists-In-Residence have included Keith Knight (The K Chronicles), Scott Kurtz (Player vs. Player), and Brian Fies (Mom’s Cancer). Plus, there’s always the off chance that you might bump into Paige Braddock, the Eisner Award-winning creator of Jane’s World, who’s the creative director for Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates and the mastermind behind all of the Peanuts licensed merchandise you see everywhere you look. (Somebody has to be.)

I have a feeling that Snoopy and the gang will quaff a root beer or two over this latest bonanza.

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.

Through being Carl

April 20, 2010

I was surprised and saddened to read earlier today that Carl Macek passed away suddenly this past weekend.

To millions of anime (that’s Japanese animation, for the benefit of the uninitiated) fans, Macek gets credit — and, judging by several of the comments I’ve read at various online tributes, a considerable amount of abuse — for helping mainstream anime into American culture, through repackaging such series as Robotech for Western audiences. He also produced several of the English-language versions of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, including the classic My Neighbor Totoro.

My unbridled affection for Miyazaki aside, I’m not a rabid partisan of anime (or “Japanimation,” as we called it back in the day) produced for television. I grew up with such early examples of the genre as Gigantor and Speed Racer, but I always preferred the Western flavor of the animators’ art. Thus, it wasn’t his work in promoting anime that earned Carl Macek his pedestal in my mind’s hall of fame. Rather, it was one of his more obscure efforts, relatively speaking — his 1981 book, The Art of Heavy Metal, The Movie.

Regular visitors here may be aware that, in addition to this humble blog, I’m also the author of the Heavy Metal online reference page on Squidoo — one of my own more obscure efforts. So, Mr. Macek and I, although we diverged in our passion for (or indifference to, depending upon which of us you’re addressing) anime, shared a fondness for this strange little gem of an animated film that didn’t originate in Japan. (In fact, many people who are familiar with Heavy Metal don’t realize that the movie was a Canadian production, and that most of its segments were animated outside the United States.)

On the DVD release of Heavy Metal, Macek’s reading from his book serves as an audio commentary to the film. As a voice actor and narrator myself, I don’t find Macek’s dry delivery all that scintillating,  but he provided a number of interesting facts about the film that proved helpful when I compiled the Heavy Metal reference page. I consider myself forever in his debt, and I regret that we never had occasion to meet so that I could express my gratitude in person.

Thanks, Uncle Carl, wherever you are.

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.

Gorilla the golden west

January 31, 2010

Today is January 31, and you know what that means…

January 31 is National Gorilla Suit Day!

It’s National Gorilla Suit Day.

This would be as appropriate a time as any to mention that I recently picked up The Completely MAD Don Martin, an exhaustive two-volume compendium of every cartoon every published in MAD Magazine by the late, great Don Martin, the founder of this auspicious holiday. It’s a treat to leaf through the pages and revisit the insane genius of one of history’s most unique humor artists.

If you can find the set online at a steep discount, as I did — and it’s not hard to do, with a bit of savvy surfing — I enthusiastically recommend that you pick up a copy. You’ll laugh yourself silly. But that’s okay. It’s good for you.

Tell ’em your Uncle Fonebone sent you.

Comic Art Friday: A quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

January 29, 2010

Here’s an interesting historical fact: 165 years ago today — January 29, 1845 — Edgar Allan Poe’s immortal poem The Raven was published for the first time under its author’s byline, in the New York Evening Mirror.

Considered by many — your Uncle Swan included — to be among the greatest American poetic works, The Raven is without question one of the most recognizable, most referenced, and most frequently parodied poems ever written. It made its author a literary superstar in his own time, and an influential and culturally pervasive writer to this day.

What does this have to do with comic art?

Not one doggoned thing.


"Blackbirds of Prey," pencils by comics artist Rags Morales

It provides a ready excuse to delve into my archives and pull out this Common Elements classic. No ravens here, exactly, but a pair of fine black birds nonetheless.

That’s ace aviatrix Zinda Blake — better known as Lady Blackhawk, of the famous Blackhawk Squadron and more recently of the Birds of Prey — on the left. Her winged companion is one Samuel Wilson, familiar to most as Captain America’s longtime partner in crimefighting, the high-flying Falcon. The artist behind the pencil for this heroic pose-off is Ralph “Rags” Morales, whose work for DC Comics includes several series that fit today’s “ravenous” theme, including Hawkman, Nightwing, and Black Condor.

Speaking of Poe (and I was)…

Just 10 days ago, the legendary author’s fans celebrated the 201st anniversary of his birth. Every January 19 for the past 60 years, a mysterious black-clad figure has visited Poe’s gravesite in Baltimore in the early morning hours to perform a silent tribute: a toast with a glass of cognac, and a deposit of three roses on the writer’s tombstone. This year, for the first time in six decades, “the Toaster” — as the nameless individual has come to be known — did not appear as previously. Perhaps he (or she?) has at last joined the literary giant in the Great Beyond.

Quoth the Raven… “Nevermore.”

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

A slice of Rye

January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger is dead.

At least, we think he is.

I frame the above observation in this way because, as anyone knows who knows anything at all about the elusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger spent more than a half-century shrouding himself in mystery. The man who penned the 20th century’s seminal bildungsroman vanished into self-imposed seclusion in New Hampshire in the 1960s, surfacing in the press afterward only to engage in legal warfare with people determined to make him more public a figure than Salinger wanted to be.

What descriptions of Salinger’s life surfaced generally depicted a self-absorbed man of mercurial religious beliefs (at various times, Salinger was a devotee of Zen Buddhism, Christian Science, spiritism, and Scientology), singularly bizarre habits — according to his daughter Margaret’s 2000 memoir, Dream Catcher, Salinger pursued wide-ranging dietary philosophies that included macrobiotics, purging, and the consumption of his own urine — and a fascination with adolescence. He maintained a reclusive existence to the degree that no current photographs of him ever surfaced during the last several decades of his life.

Basically, Salinger became the kind of person that Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, might have grown up to be.

Like most American schoolkids, I read Catcher in an English class — Miss Johnson’s eighth-grade English class, in my case. I remember having to obtain signed permission from my parents to study the book, due to its (for its time, anyway) salty language and frank discussion of sexual topics. I’ve never felt compelled to revisit the novel in the 35 years since that class, yet I recall portions of it — several scenes, and specific lines of narration and dialogue — with remarkable clarity. That’s testimony, I suppose, to the power of Salinger’s work.

Although Catcher remains Salinger’s most famous creation, it’s the only novel (as such) that the author ever published. The remainder of his available writing consists of short stories and novellas, published almost exclusively in The New Yorker. A pair of connected stories, Franny and Zooey, were released in book form following their magazine debuts. When I read Franny and Zooey in college, I was struck by how much it reminded me — not in subject matter or style as much as in character — of a pair of books I enjoyed in my youth: Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret.

Salinger reportedly remained an avid motion picture buff throughout his life, despite the fact that he steadfastly refused to permit his writings to be adapted for the screen. (Salinger so detested My Foolish Heart, based on his short story “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” that he vowed never again to let Hollywood touch his work.) It makes sense, then, that his son Matt became an actor. Unfortunately, Matt Salinger’s best-known cinematic appearance came in the title role of the execrable Captain America — who can forget the spectacle of Cap wearing a cowl fitted with rubber ears?

Rumor has it that, while he ceased publishing his work in the early ’60s, Salinger continued to write diligently. Joyce Maynard, who engaged in a much-publicized affair with the author in 1972 when she was 18 and Salinger was 53, reported having seen at least two completed manuscripts for novels during that period. At that rate, it seems reasonable to think that Salinger may have left a dozen or more books behind. It will be up to his children, I would guess, whether these unrevealed works ever see the light of day.

Me, I’d settle for a photograph.