Archive for the ‘My Home Town’ category

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.

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SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Now 100% Punkin Chunkin Free!

November 26, 2015

Here’s something I’m not thankful for this Thanksgiving: Punkin Chunkin, a staple of my Turkey Day TV viewing, was canceled for the second consecutive year. Some silly folderol about liability or some such foolishness cost the annual event, which involves people hurling pumpkins incredible distances using homemade machines straight out of the Rube Goldberg instruction manual, its venue, and organizers haven’t been able to locate another suitable site.

The bottom line is that some lawyers are making a pot of money arguing, and I’m denied my Punkin Chunkin.

Anyway… I still have plenty else to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day 2015. Therefore, as has been my tradition in this space since 2004, I’ve made an alphabetical list sampling 26 of the thousands of people, places, and things that make my life worth living.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for:

Adele. The British songstress released her first new album in four years this past week, and it’s as lovely and haunting and emotionally riveting as anything she’s done before.

Bruce Lee. My boyhood hero would be celebrating his 75th birthday tomorrow, had he not been taken from us far too soon way back in 1973. Lee was the only movie star whose poster hung on my bedroom wall amid the Star Trek glossies, comic book cutouts, and Runaways album covers throughout my teenage years. Enter the Dragon remains the one film to which I can turn off the sound and voice every line of dialogue. (At least, I used to be able to do that. I haven’t tested myself in a few years.) Rest in peace, Little Dragon.

Clients. Here’s a shout-out to the folks who buy the skills and pay the bills. I’ve worked with and for some really cool people this past year. I hope they — and many others — will continue to hire me. Please.

Dumbarton Bridge. The least famous, and by far the least sexy, of the San Francisco Bay’s crossings, it’s about to become critically important to us because we’re moving within a stone’s throw of its eastern anchorage. The Pirate Queen starts a new job on December 1, and her daily commute will span the Dumbarton. Although, when she’s on it, it will immediately transform into the Smartbarton.

Education. I’m a firm believer that when you stop learning, your brain dies. And you start voting for Donald Trump.

Ferrett Steinmetz. The Ferrett, as he likes to be known, was one of the first bloggers I followed on a regular basis. This year, I got to meet him in person, as he toured the country promoting his first science fiction novel, Flex. Its sequel, The Flux, came out last month.

Grilled lobster tails. If I were writing the menu for my last meal on Earth, I’d start with a few of these, served with Cajun spiced garlic butter. You know you want some.

Houses. For the second year in a row, the Pirate Queen and I find ourselves (for the moment, at least) with two — one we’re moving out of, and another we’re moving into. The new one closed escrow on the Pirate Queen’s birthday. I’m grateful every day to have a roof over my head when so many people have none.

Idina Menzel. Because someone who knows how to say her name correctly should be thankful for the former Mrs. Taye Diggs. We’re seeing her in person Saturday evening in the road company of If/Then. It would probably be too much to ask for her to just throw in a random chorus of “Defying Gravity,” just because I love that song, and her voice on it.

Jessica Jones. I just finished the final episode of Marvel’s latest Netflix series yesterday. As good as I’d hoped the show would be, it exceeded my expectations by a Hell’s Kitchen block. Krysten Ritter, who’d never really impressed me in anything before, absolutely crushes the role of the downbeat ex-superheroine-turned-private-eye. And her chemistry with Mike Colter as the unbreakable Luke Cage flat-out sizzles. I’m already salivating in anticipation of the Cage series.

KM, for being the greatest Daughter any dad could wish for, and to the memory of her mom, KJ, for all of the shared history.

Lucille, the legendary axe of pioneering blues guitarist B.B. King, lost her master this past May. The thrill indeed is gone.

Masterpiece, the PBS vehicle by which Downton Abbey comes to us Yanks. Downton‘s final season premieres here in the States in January. I’m sure going to miss the Crawley clan.

NBA Championship, won this year for the first time in 40 seasons by my beloved Golden State Warriors. Given that they’ve begun the sequel season on a 16-0 run thus far, I have high hopes that the Dubs might bring a second Larry O’Brien Trophy home to the Bay. To Steph, Klay, Draymond, Bogues, Barnes, Iggy, Mo Buckets, Shawn, Festus, and the rest of the dudes in blue (slate on Saturdays): Thanks for all the thrills. You make DubNation proud.

Oysters. Because delicious.

Panama hats. I have a nice one from Goorin Brothers for sunny East Bay days.

Quizzing. Whether it’s my nightly session of LearnedLeague, or my annual trip to Las Vegas for the Trivia Championships of North America (that’s TCONA to you), or teaming up with a couple of buds at the Project READ Trivia Bee (a hard-fought second place this fall, behind the team we narrowly bested to win last year), quizzing is my jam.

Rush. As Geddy Lee once wailed in his inimitable helium-on-steroids voice: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Slippers. Or sleepahs, as we say in Hawaii. Without something on my feet, I might fall down. Nobody wants to see that.

Tsunami Brainz. Did I mention that my improv troupe had a name, at long last? We do, and Tsunami Brainz is it. We’re gearing up for our first show, possibly in January.

Us — the Pirate Queen, the Studio Assistant, and me. I am thankful every day for our little family. I feel the love in the room.

VocalBooth. My gorgeous new-to-me workspace is a Diamond Series Platinum Edition. I’m still getting used to its finer points and tweaking the acoustics, but it’s an amazing place to play.

Waikiki. The Pirate Queen and I spent a week in March in my childhood home, and enjoyed a fantastic time touring, beaching, dining, shopping, and just relaxing. I often forget how much I miss Hawaii until I’m there.

Xi, the Greek letter for which there is no direct equivalent in our Latin alphabet. Not to be confused with the letter chi, which corresponds to our X.

Yukon Outfitters. I own several of their Tactical series carry bags. They make excellent stuff to put your stuff in.

Zillow. When you need to find a new house quickly — as we just experienced such a need — it’s the place to look. I found our new place in a single search session.

As always, friend reader, I am also thankful for you. May you and those you love enjoy a thoughtful and festive Thanksgiving. And stay home tomorrow, for pity’s sake.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Live From the East Bay

November 27, 2014

Well, it’s that time again: the day we Americans celebrate turkey, football, and sharing a friendly repast with indigenous people as a prelude to overrunning their entire continent. (Okay, maybe we don’t really celebrate that last part. Still happened, though.)

Here at SSTOL, it’s become an annual tradition to reflect for a moment on some of the many people and things for which we have been made grateful over the past year. Because counting one’s blessings can be an overwhelming task without some parameters, in 2004 I developed the device of an alphabetical Thanksgiving — one item per letter.

So, without further ado, here’s my 11th holiday sampling of what’s best in life. (Aside, of course, from crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of their women. That goes without saying.) On Thanksgiving 2014, I’m thankful for…

Apogee MiC. This handy-dandy gizmo served beautifully as my travel microphone on several out-of-town trips this year, including a week in Hawaii that proved to be one of my busiest audition weeks ever. Plug it into my iPad, open my Twisted Wave recording software, and I’m good to go. A sturdy pillow fort helps too.

Battle of the Decades. Even though I lost the Fan Favorite vote to participate in Jeopardy’s 30-year retrospective tournament, I had a blast watching 45 of the show’s greatest champions — including many old friends and more recent acquaintances — return to the stage. It doesn’t always happen this way, but the three best players of all time (Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings, and Roger Craig) emerged in the finals. I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten to know all three gentlemen over the years, and each is as good a guy as you’d want your heroes to be.

Comets. Dude, we landed a probe on one this year. How awesome is that?

DVR. Sometimes, multiple TV programs you want to watch come on at the same time, or at times when you can’t be parked in front of the flat screen to view them as broadcast. I know, I know, it’s a First World problem. But it sure is nice to have a solution that works.

Elton John. We saw the Man with the Million Dollar Piano live in concert this summer. His voice isn’t quite the instrument it once was, and he’s toned down the outrageous showmanship of his Captain Fantastic days. Still, Sir Elton is one of the legends of modern music, and he still puts on one heck of a performance.

Frontier — my current League within LearnedLeague. When I look at some of the big-time quiz mavens who inhabit Rundle A Frontier, I’m humbled and honored to play among such estimable company.

Gail Simone, one of my favorite current comics writers. I don’t find as much to interest me in today’s comics as in decades past, but when I pick up a book with Gail’s byline on it, I know that I’m in for an entertaining read. She’s also one of my favorite folks to follow on Twitter.

Hilton Hhonors. Here’s an example of quality customer service. I signed up for the Hilton hotel chain’s loyalty program a while back. I don’t travel all that often, but I make at least a couple of trips each year, and I frequently stay in a Hilton-associated hotel. At my request, the Hilton Hhonors folks went back and credited me for points earned for stays I made before I signed up for the program. They could have said, “Sorry, no,” and been perfectly well within their rules. Their positive consideration, however, makes it much more likely that the next time I travel, I’ll bunk in at a Hilton property.

Improvisation. Always looking for ways to up my acting game, I took an introductory improv class at American Conservatory Theater this year. It helped, I think.

Jellied cranberry sauce. Because it just isn’t cranberry sauce unless it comes out in the shape of the can.

Ka’anapali Beach. Our base of operations for our vacation junket to Maui. From here, we drove up to the summit of Haleakala on Super Bowl Sunday, cruised the Hana Highway, saw some spectacular sunsets and scenery, and dined in fine style.

The Ladies in my life — specifically, the Pirate Queen and The Daughter. My existence would be far less beautiful without them.

Madison Bumgarner. The lefthander from Hickory, North Carolina threw the Giants over his shoulder and carried them almost single-handedly to their third championship in five years. He pitched a shutout against the Pirates in a one-game wild card playoff to start the team on its postseason road. He threw 7-2/3 scoreless innings at the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS, in the process setting a major league record for consecutive shutout postseason road innings. Then, in the World Series, MadBum pitched in three of the seven games, winning Games 1 and 5 and pitching five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. Many baseball watchers, myself included, rank Bumgarner’s achievement as the most outstanding postseason by any pitcher in major league history.

The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas. For someone who loves Vegas glitz and history as I do, a nighttime tour of the place where old signage goes to die is like a pilgrimage to Nirvana. (Not the one with Kurt Cobain.)

OpenTable. All restaurant reservations, all the time.

Project READ Trivia Bee. For the 25th annual contesting of this popular charity event, I teamed up with two of the smartest people I know for an evening of Q&A. To our utter surprise, we came away with the championship trophy, against some extremely tough competition.

Quadratini. The Pirate Queen loves these little wafer cookies. I gave her a bag for her birthday. When the Pirate Queen is happy, I’m happy.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Here in the Bay Area, where we have no shortage of spectacular spans, the utilitarian Richmond-San Rafael often gets overlooked. The fact that the R-SR launches from our most famously crime-ridden communities and terminates alongside the state penitentiary housing California’s Death Row inmates probably doesn’t help. But that isn’t the bridge’s fault. It didn’t ask to be built there.

The Splash Brothers. Sharpshooting Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have the Golden State Warriors off to their best NBA season start in… well… ever. After two decades of mediocrity, it’s exciting to see the Dubs maturing into one of the Association’s premier franchises. You can thank the Human Torch and Kavalier Klay for most of that excitement.

Tazz, my Studio Assistant, who joined our little household in March. He’s half Chihuahua, half rat terrier, and all Tasmanian devil. Hence the name.

USB. Whether it’s my recording gear, my printer, my scanner, or my backup drive, I’m grateful every day for those tiny rectangular ports that allow my computer to interface with the peripheral equipment I need to get stuff done.

Va de Vi, a nifty dining spot where we celebrated the Pirate Queen’s birthday earlier this week. To borrow a line from a former governor, we’ll be back.

Walnut Creek, our new home. As most of you know, we moved this summer, across the Bay from San Francisco to Walnut Creek. There’s yin and yang to life in relative suburbia, but all in all, it’s growing on us. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner today at the Kasbah — as we’ve named our new house — and had to admit the advantages of more living space. It’s not The City, but it is The Creek.

X-rays. I’ve become acutely aware of the importance of imaging in the maintenance of sound dental health. Of course, I’m now radioactive.

YapStone. Meet the YapStones. They’re the modern payments family.

ZippGo. To facilitate our move, we rented reusable plastic totes from a company called ZippGo. They delivered the totes to our previous residence, we filled them with our worldly possessions, the movers loaded them onto a truck and unloaded them at the new abode, we unpacked our material goods, and the ZippGo truck hauled the totes away again. No boxes to acquire or dispose of, no cardboard waste, no muss or fuss. I’m a believer.

As always, friend reader, I’m thankful for YOU. I appreciate your stopping by here periodically to read whatever it is I’m babbling about. I hope you find your visits here entertaining, and perhaps occasionally even thought-provoking. May you and yours experience gratitude for the blessings in your life, and value those special people and things all the more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Back to the ‘burbs: a transition

July 22, 2014

All my adult life, I wanted to live in my favorite city. Today, I do.

Now, having realized that dream for less than three years, I’m heading back to the suburbs.

Before you get all distraught, let me assure you that this is a good thing. The Pirate Queen landed an excellent new job earlier this month, and after years of exhausting commuting hither and yon – the last six of which saw her trekking daily between San Francisco and San Jose, which is more of a haul than you non-Bay Areans probably realize – she decided she wanted to live within a few minutes’ drive of her new office.

Given that my commute most days is the several steps from the bedroom to my studio space, I can hardly argue with that desire.

We managed to find a lovely house in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek, a mere stone’s throw from the Pirate Queen’s workplace (assuming that you throw your stones with a howitzer). We both knew that the Kasbah — as I nicknamed it, for its fortress-like frontage and ginormous palm tree — was our new home the moment we first stepped inside.

Following the usual negotiation and paperwork craziness, escrow closed on the property this morning. Our action plan is to move by mid-August, after which we’ll put our San Francisco home on the market and say a bittersweet farewell to this first chapter in our life together.

I have loved living in The City. Its vibrant energy, diverse culture, and unparalleled urban landscape make it a fascinating place to spend one’s days. It’s impossible to place a value on being able to glimpse the Pacific Ocean (a tiny slice of it, anyway) from my living room window. I will miss that view, and the joy it brings me every day. Looking on the positive side, however, as I am wont to do, there are some things I’ll eagerly embrace about our new suburban environs:

A real, full-service supermarket just blocks away. In fact, an impressive shopping complex – complete with a drugstore, a Starbucks, a dry cleaner, and several inexpensive eateries – surrounds the supermarket, all of which is within comfortable walking distance from the new house. One of my ongoing challenges in The City is that many of these types of businesses aren’t conveniently located, at least not where we live. (If you ever want to experience a rush of first-world-problem compassion, just visit the Monterey Boulevard Safeway. Then tell me you don’t feel pity for the neighborhood denizens for whom it’s the primary grocery option.)

Easy parking. I will never underappreciate the blessing of going to a local shop or restaurant secure in the knowledge that ample parking awaits. Few factors frustrate me more about big-city life than the debacle that results every time I have to circle several blocks hunting down a place for my car, or parallel park along San Francisco’s notoriously jam-packed streets. In the suburbs, there’s almost always a big parking lot near where you need to go.

Warm summer weather. Okay, when I say “warm” in regard to the East Bay beyond the Oakland hills, I really mean “hot” for two-thirds of the year. As much as I’m not a fan of blazing heat, I’ll scarcely miss the relentlessly gloomy, blustery, semi-Antarctic climate of our San Francisco hillside neighborhood. Besides, we’ll have air conditioning. And a pool.

East Bay life will also have an advantage over my former digs to the north. Venturing into San Francisco from Sonoma County requires a long, tedious drive in often stupefying traffic, plus the aforementioned parking challenge. By contrast, our Walnut Creek home is convenient to two BART stations – the trains, in fact, pass a few hundred feet from the house – from which we can whisk to and from The City at relative leisure. Heading downtown to dine or catch a play will hardly take more effort than it does for us living in SF.

Our new abode has many features to recommend it.

First, no stairs, no hills. Our San Francisco house, like many single-household residences throughout The City, is what’s termed a “soft-story” building. The primary living space is all on one level, but that level is built on top of the garage. This means that entering and leaving the house – or even going to the garage to do laundry — involves mounting a tall, steep, narrow staircase. The older my knees and back get, the less fond they are of that adventure. Conversely, the Walnut Creek property is a traditional California ranch-style house. (There’s a sunken living room, but seriously, that’s two steps.) It will be wonderful to simply walk through a door to carry the laundry basket out, or heavy bags filled with groceries in. Likewise, the entire neighborhood sits on flat terrain. The views are uninspiring, but it’s a lot more conducive to long walks.

Second, both the Pirate Queen and I will have our own individual office spaces. In our little two-bedroom in The City, the second bedroom does quadruple duty as a two-person office, guest room, pet bedroom, and dressing room (because most of my clothes reside in its closet and dresser). The new house has four bedrooms, one of which will give the Pirate Queen a dedicated home office that she doesn’t have to share with my desk, my clothes, the guest bed, or the Studio Assistant. Another bedroom will convert into my combination office and studio, which will liberate my recording equipment from the corner of the living room where it has resided for the past three years. I’ll be able to do a lot of things with my workspace that I simply didn’t have room to do here, including install a proper, fully contained recording booth.

Third, two bathrooms. The importance of this development cannot be overstated.

Fourth… did I mention the pool?

Make no mistake, the move will be a monumental adjustment. It will be even more so for the Pirate Queen, who has lived in The City for nearly 20 years, than for me, who spent the better part of three decades in North Bay suburbia. But it’s a change we’ve contemplated for some time. Last year, we actually looked at houses in the South Bay, thinking that we might move closer to the location where the Pirate Queen was then working. When her new opportunity emerged, there was no question for either of us that this was the right time to switch sides of the Bay.

I’ll miss being a San Franciscan. In the immortal words often sung by Tony Bennett, I’ll leave a bit of my heart here – a bit that I will return to visit as often as I can.

But if you’re looking for me at the Porthole Palace, look quickly.

My new crib is the Kasbah.

It rocks.

Comic Art Friday: It’s a con test

May 23, 2014

Last weekend brought us the Bay Area’s biggest annual comics-related event: Big Wow ComicFest at the San Jose Convention Center. (Of course, the Bay Area used to have an even bigger annual comics-related event called WonderCon. But don’t get me started on that.)

For me, as a comic art collector, a convention marks my best opportunity to interface one-on-one with artists and add new artworks — commissioned on the spot — to my collection. Many artists, due to their schedules for publication projects, only find time for commissions at cons. Even with those artists who regularly do commissions out of their home studios, there’s something special about being able to watch a drawing take shape in real time, and to make a personal connection with the creator as the magic happens.

Big Wow 2014 delivered on that score, and on several others. This con continues to expand and improve each year, filling the WonderCon void aptly. But even as Big Wow grows, it maintains its focus on comics and comic art — in contrast to the big daddy of cons, San Diego Comic-Con, and its smaller sibling WonderCon, whose foci have gone mass-market Hollywood in recent years. Big Wow’s comics- and comic art-friendliness can be traced directly to its owners, Steve Morger and Steve Wyatt, who are themselves fans, art collectors, and artists’ representatives.

I went into this year’s con with specific objectives, and almost without exception, I achieved them. As you scroll through the rest of this post, clicking on any of the photos will take you to a closer scan of the art depicted. Trust me — you’ll want to see these pieces in detail.

Brian Stelfreeze and Isis, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

My first priority was an Isis commission by Brian Stelfreeze, who drew Mary Marvel for me at Big Wow last year. I pitched the idea to Brian’s art representative in advance of the show, and serendipitously, Brian turns out to be almost as enthusiastic an Isis fan as I am. In fact, Brian had just recently discussed Isis with a friend during a trip to Australia. He loved the idea of doing a drawing of her — so much so that he stayed at his table working on it more than an hour after the con closed on Sunday. Here’s the proud artist with the result of his creative efforts. (You can check out a YouTube video of Brian at work on Isis, here.)

Aaron Lopresti and Mary Marvel, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

I’ve had a running joke with Aaron Lopresti about the fact that I always seem to miss getting a commission from him. At every opportunity, I dutifully add my name to Aaron’s sketch list. For four straight con seasons, I’ve fallen a slot or two shy of the goal. At last year’s Big Wow, Aaron was working on the request immediately above mine on the list as the con concluded. He told me to remind him of that the next time I saw him, and he’d be sure to take care of me. This year, Aaron was as good as his word — this lovely Mary Marvel helped take the sting out of my five-year Lopresti drought.

David Williams and Ms. Marvel, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

David “BroHawk” Williams is one of the most underrated talents in comics, in my opinion, as well as one of the nicest people I’ve met in my convention experiences. Although David wasn’t sporting his trademark hairstyle this year, he still came through with a stunning Ms. Marvel. When I showed David’s creation to a pair of fellow collectors, one said, “That should be a cover image.” The other had but one word: “Iconic.” I can’t argue with either assessment. I’ve been telling David for years that he doesn’t charge enough for his con commissions. Even though he bumped his prices up this year, I still feel as though I picked his pocket, given the labor of love he poured into this one.

Ron Lim and son, with Vixen and Black Cat, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

My Common Elements theme gallery gained two new additions — Common Elements #118 and #119, respectively. Ron Lim, one of the artists who first inspired this series, contributed a matchup of two animal-themed heroines, Vixen and the Golden Age iteration of the Black Cat. These two characters share at least a couple of other commonalities: (1) both of their alter egos are in show business (Mari “Vixen” McCabe is a model in non-costumed life; Linda “Black Cat” Turner is an actress and stunt performer); and (2) both are characters for whom I had reference images on hand and for whom I could concoct a “common element” on the fly. Seriously… I didn’t plan this one ahead of time. Sometimes, you just have to improvise. (As you can see in the photo above, Ron is already embarking on a self-cloning project that will ensure new Lim art into the next generation.)

Chris Marrinan and the three Novas, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

The second Common Elements came with much more forethought. I’ve long wanted a commission from Chris Marrinan, but it seemed as though every con passed without my having connected with him. This time, I came with a project tailor-made for Chris: a scenario starring Nova the Human Rocket (whose adventures Chris both drew and wrote in the mid-1990s), Marvel’s “other” Nova (Frankie Raye, former herald of Galactus — Frankie appears in non-powered form in the second Fantastic Four movie), and Nova Kane, girlfriend of First Comics hero E-Man. Chris did a terrific job on his “triple Nova” assignment. (Credit an assist to Ron Lim, who provided the art board on which Chris’s commission is drawn.)

Tone Rodriguez and Taarna, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

Some years back, Tone Rodriguez contributed a Wonder Woman drawing to a charity auction that I immediately fell in love with. Which means, of course, that I got outbid at the last minute and the piece went home with someone else. Turns out that artwork was a favorite of Tone’s also, as I discovered while chatting with him at Big Wow. It still rankles me that I missed out on that Wonder Woman, but I love this Taarna that Tone drew for me almost as much.

Dave Johnson and Supergirl, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

There are two prominent comics artists who could sign their work “D. Johnson” — Dave and Drew. (Neither of them actually signs that way. But they could.) Both were in attendance at Big Wow this year, and both added stellar new art to my portfolio. First up, “Reverend Dave” Johnson — he’s an ordained Methodist minister — channels the 1970s in his Supergirl drawing.

Lady Blackhawk, pencils and inks by Drew Edward Johnson

Next, Drew Johnson imbues his Lady Blackhawk pinup with heroic flair. Somehow, I missed getting a picture of Drew with his artwork. My only excuse is that I picked it up first thing on the morning of the con’s second day, and I probably hadn’t had sufficient coffee. Please be advised that Drew is a fine-looking specimen of a human being, and the absence of his photo is not in any way intended to reflect otherwise. Mea culpa.

Steve Mannion and the Golden Age Valkyrie, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

I’m a huge fan of Steve Mannion‘s work. He’s that rare comics artist whose distinctive style can’t be mistaken for anyone else’s — when you see a Mannion, you know instantly that Steve drew it. This gorgeous pinup of the Golden Age Valkyrie (aviator hero Airboy’s sometime-nemesis, sometime-ally) will always be special to me for a reason beyond its inherent beauty: Steve drew it on his wedding day. He and his longtime partner Una were married elsewhere in the convention hall mere minutes before I snapped this photograph.

Cat Staggs and Black Cat, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

When I saw this drawing of the modern Black Cat by artist Cat Staggs, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a “Cat by Cat” to my collection. Cat — the artist, not the comics character — does some absolutely beautiful work, much of it for the various Star Wars comics. One of these days, I’m going to persuade her to draw a Common Elements piece.

As hard as it is to imagine, Big Wow 2014 offered several highlights even above and beyond all of the fantastic art I acquired.

Darick Robertson with his 2006 Common Elements commission, Big Wow 2014

Eight years ago, Darick Robertson drew the 42nd installment of Common Elements during a signing at the Comic Book Box, the fine retail shop owned by my friend (and current Eisner Awards judge) Kathy Bottarini. (You can view a YouTube video of Darick at work on the piece, here.) I thought it would be fun to get a photo of Darick with his creation all this time later. When he saw the piece, Darick immediately recalled it, and the circumstances in which he had drawn it. Neither he nor the art have changed one bit in eight years. Nor have I. (Ahem.)

Frank Cho painting Emma Frost, Big Wow 2014

I took some time to watch Frank Cho paint (above) and Brent Anderson ink (below), in live art demonstrations.

Brent Anderson inking Batman, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

The Pirate Queen (who accompanied me on Day Two) and I met one of our favorite comics creators, Terry Moore, and his wife and publisher Robyn. Terry graciously autographed both volumes of my Strangers in Paradise Omnibus (I spared him the chore of signing all 30 issues of Echo) and the Pirate Queen’s Rachel Rising trades.

I got my Xenozoic compilation volume signed by Mark Schultz. Sadly, I can only afford Mark’s incredible artwork when it’s published in book form.

Throughout the two days, I visited with several other artists I’ve met at previous cons, many of whose works are represented in my collection.

I also met in person for the first time several fellow collectors whom I know from various online forums. It’s always good to put faces and voices to names.

All in all, Big Wow 2014 offered all the excitement that its name implied. I’m already looking forward to next year!

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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.

Comic Art Friday: The tao of Steve

May 31, 2013

Big Wow ComicFest… the gift that keeps on giving.

In last week’s Comic Art Friday, we checked out the superfluity of goodness that came home with me from the Bay Area’s favorite comics confab earlier this month. That abundance did not yet include an additional item that I commissioned during the con for completion afterward.

Now it does.

Valkyrie and Taarna, mixed media art by Steven E. Gordon

When I first rolled up on Steven E. Gordon‘s table in Artist’s Alley on Saturday, his name did not immediately register with me. I did, however, admire the samples of his art that were on display. After chatting for a bit with Steve and his wife, I told him I’d return on Sunday with a commission project for him. Steve advised me that he probably wouldn’t be able to start the piece before the con ended, but that he would gladly take my information and send me the art when it was done.

At home on Saturday night, I Googled Steve to get a better idea of his style, with a view to choosing a Common Elements concept appropriate to his talents. I was astounded to discover that I actually knew Steve’s previous work quite well — I just didn’t realize who he was.

As it turns out, Steve Gordon possesses one of the most extensive and impressive resumes in the animation business. In film, he’s worked as an animator, designer, and animation director on numerous projects, ranging from Disney classics (The Black Cauldron; The Great Mouse Detective; Oliver and Company) to several directed by the legendary Ralph Bakshi (Lord of the Rings; American Pop; Cool World). In television, Steve has contributed his talents to a host of series, from Mighty Mouse to The Avengers.

With the light of giddy anticipation breaking over my mental horizon, I realized that I just met a key contributor to one of my all-time favorite animated features: Ralph Bakshi’s sword-and-sorcery epic, Fire and Ice — the product of Bakshi’s collaboration with the dean of fantasy illustrators, the late, lamented Frank Frazetta. Sometimes described (not altogether inaccurately) as “Conan the Animated Barbarian,” Fire and Ice melds Frazetta’s unmistakable design aesthetic with Bakshi’s storytelling and unique cinematic style, including ample use of the latter’s trademark rotoscoping technique. From a narrative perspective, it’s not the most original film Bakshi ever directed, what with veteran comics scribes Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway importing a bucketload of tropes they’d each previously employed writing Conan’s adventures for Marvel. But without question, Fire and Ice stands among Bakshi’s most visually appealing creations, thanks in large part to Frazetta’s input, along with background artists James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade (yes, that Thomas Kinkade), as well as Peter Chung, who would go on to create Aeon Flux for MTV. And of course, the work of animation director Steven E. Gordon.

Having made the Fire and Ice connection, I knew what Steve’s Common Elements assignment would be — two characters who would fit perfectly into Bakshi and Frazetta’s world of swordplay and mystical mayhem: Marvel’s Viking vixen, Valkyrie, and Taarna, the iconic heroine from my beloved Heavy Metal: The Animated Film.

Aside from the obvious “blade-slinging beauty” angle, Val and Taarna share two other, more subtle commonalities. Both have real monomymic real names — Valkyrie’s true identity is simply called Brunnhilde — and both are seen to be reincarnated in multiple persons. Over her career in comics, the spirit of Brunnhilde has been reborn in several women, most notably Barbara Norriss and Samantha Parrington. At the conclusion of Heavy Metal, we find Taarna’s spirit alive new in the young girl seen previously in the linking segments (titled “Grimaldi”) throughout the film.

Steve’s sensibility as an animation designer fits these heroines like an armored gauntlet. Who wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie of Taarna and Val wading into pitched battle against hordes of hostile foes? Sign me up!

Not only did Steve turn out his take-home commission assignment beautifully and speedily — I received a scan of the finished piece less than a week after Big Wow concluded — he also graciously autographed the cover of my Fire and Ice DVD. (He did seem a touch surprised that someone actually owned one.) Now if only I could run into Ralph Bakshi one of these days…

And that, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.