Archive for the ‘Reminiscing’ category

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.


Comic Art Friday: You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show

November 7, 2014

Gamora and the Black Panther, pencils and inks by MC Wyman

Those of you who have followed the development of my Common Elements commission theme know that I maintain a lengthy to-do list of Common Elements concepts. (And for those of you who are new: Common Elements is a series of themed original artworks, each of which brings together otherwise unrelated comics characters who share some aspect in… wait for it… common.)

Some of these concepts have been on my list for years, awaiting assignment to artists who will bring them to fruition. In fact, there are still a handful of unused ideas that date back to the start of Common Elements, nearly a decade ago.

The concept illustrated in today’s artwork by former Marvel Comics stalwart MC Wyman has been collecting dust for a few years now. Back in February 2011, the Black Panther took over the lead role in the monthly series that had belonged to Daredevil, a.k.a. “The Man Without Fear.” Retitled Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, the series continued — using the existing Daredevil issue numbers, beginning with #513 — for the better part of a year. Then, with issue #523.1 (November 2011, and no, the “.1” is not a typo), the series was again retitled, this time becoming Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive. The book carried on under its new moniker through issue #529, when the run concluded.

At the time the “Most Dangerous Man” title surfaced, it occurred to me that there was already a Marvel character with a similar tagline. Gamora, an interstellar assassin who first turned up in Jim Starlin’s Warlock series in the mid-1970s, then reappeared as a key player in the Infinity Watch/War/Crusade saga in the early 1990s, had long been known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe.” Recalling that fact, I made an entry in my Common Elements log entitled “Most Dangerous,” that would match the two characters who now had borne that description.

Little did I know that in just a couple of years, Gamora would become a major movie star as one of the leads in Marvel’s cinematic blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. When the film was announced, I didn’t even know that the Guardians in question were not the team I associated with that name from my comics-reading youth.

I’ll explain. Back in 1969, the Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. This team of weirdly mismatched, far-future space rangers was co-created by writer Arnold Drake, who had a penchant for off-kilter characters. (Drake was also responsible for DC Comics’ Deadman and Doom Patrol.) The original Guardians crew consisted of Vance Astro, an Earthman who’d spent a millennium in suspended animation; Charlie-27, a being from Jupiter whose stout, powerful physique reflected his home planet’s intense gravity; Martinex, who hailed from Pluto and whose body was formed out of crystal; and Yondu, a bow-slinging soldier of fortune from Alpha Centauri. The foursome eventually added a fifth member, a mysterious mutant who went by the name Starhawk.

Like many of the peculiar super-teams Marvel cooked up during the Bronze Age (the Champions, anyone?), the Guardians popped up mostly as guest stars in other teams’ ongoing series (in particular, the Avengers and the Defenders) in and around brief runs in their own stories. They pretty much disappeared once the wild and wacky ’70s ended. Marvel resurrected the Guardians for a while in the early 1990s — because no property ever goes away permanently in comics — then once again allowed them to fade from view.

In 2008, Marvel restarted the Guardians, this time with a new collection of characters, including Gamora. Although I was aware that there was a new Guardians series on the market, I never read an issue, and was unaware that the team had been completely reimagined until news of the film began leaking out. And I was as surprised as anyone — except, obviously, the folks at Marvel Studios — when the Guardians movie exploded into theaters as a massive hit. Who’d’a thunk that a flick about a talking raccoon and a sentient tree would make megamillions?

Now, the once-obscure Gamora is a household name, thanks to the Guardians film. Even better, my longtime favorite Black Panther is finally getting his own big-screen presence, with a guest-starring role in the third Avengers movie to be released in 2016, and headlining his own motion picture in 2017. Chadwick Boseman, brilliant as baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in 42, seems like a near-perfect choice to bring T’Challa of Wakanda to life. I can hardly wait until the aforementioned titles hit the silver screens in my neighborhood.

Until then, we have this pairing of the Most Dangerous Man and Woman Alive… two unlikely cinematic stars.

Ain’t Hollywood grand?

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: A Bettie by any other name

June 20, 2014

In my online gallery at Comic Art Fans, there’s a page I call — for lack of a better term — “The Coed Room.” It’s the place where I file random artworks that feature some combination of male and female characters.

Some of the pieces in this section are group shots — the Barry Kitson Justice League sketch, for example, or my Suicide Squad commission by Geof Isherwood. Others are pairings of related characters — the Superman and Supergirl piece by Al Rio and Bob Almond fits this category, as do the two pinups starring Doc Savage and his cousin Pat, by Darryl Banks and Ernie Chan.

Several of the Coed Room items, however, are what I would term “couples shots” — depictions of male and female characters who have been romantically linked at some point. Here’s the latest addition to this particular category: an action scene showcasing the high-flying Rocketeer and his lovely paramour, as drawn by a talented artist from the Philippines named Brian Balondo.

The Rocketeer and Jenny Blake, pencil art by Brian Balondo

You’ll notice at the top of the page that Brian titled this piece “Rocketeer and Jenny.” If you know the history of these characters, you’ll get a chuckle out of that. Jenny Blake was the name given to the female lead in the 1991 Disney film The Rocketeer; in the movie, she’s played by Jennifer Connelly. In Dave Stevens’s original comic book stories, however, Cliff “Rocketeer” Secord’s girlfriend’s name is Betty — an homage to 1950s pinup queen Bettie Page, whose likeness Stevens used as the model (no pun intended) for the character’s appearance.

When screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo — now familiar to genre buffs as co-creators of such TV series as Viper and the 1990s version of The Flash — pitched the concept to Disney, they changed the name of the main female character to Jenny (and gave her a surname, Blake, which she lacked in the comics), masking the connection to the notorious star of nude postcards and bondage porn… not exactly in line with Disney’s family-friendly image. (Although I can pretty much guarantee that everyone’s family has at least one member who’s a fan of nude postcards, or bondage porn, or both.) The name change was cemented when the film went into production.

I can always tell, when The Rocketeer comes up in conversation, whether people know the character from the comics or the movie — by which name they use for the heroine.

Dave Stevens’s use of Bettie Page’s likeness in the Rocketeer comics helped spark a renewed interest in the legendary model, who by the early 1980s had largely faded from the public consciousness. In the decades since, Ms. Page (who passed away in 2008 at the age of 85) has risen to cult status far above that of her 1950s heyday. There have been two feature films about Bettie — a fictionalized production starring Gretchen Mol in the title role, as well as an award-winning documentary (the Pirate Queen and I attended a screening of the latter last year) — an infinite assortment of Bettie-inspired art (most notably by Jim Silke, creator of the Bettie Page comic series, and internationally recognized pinup artist Olivia De Berardinis), as well as a cottage industry of licensed (and, I suspect, bootleg) Bettie Page paraphernalia.

Until just a few days ago, a nationwide chain of Bettie Page clothing stores (including a location on Haight Street here in San Francisco) featured retro-styled fashions inspired by Ms. Page. As a result of litigation by the firm managing licensing for Ms. Page’s estate, the retail chain lost the right to use the Bettie Page name as well as her likeness, which formerly was splashed all over the store. The Pirate Queen owns several pre-lawsuit Bettie Page dresses and, of course, looks smashing in them.

Brian Balondo’s drawing is rather smashing as well. Although hardly as much so as the Pirate Queen.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Hey, I know that guy!

February 21, 2014

Doc Savage and Doc Samson, pencils by Herb Trimpe

I don’t remember how many years I’d been reading comics before I could distinguish the work of one artist from another. Given that I started reading comics as a first-grader, I’m guessing that recognition took quite a while. But by the time I was thinking about comics critically — say, around age nine or ten — I could readily spot certain artists with distinctive styles, and could form preferences for one creator’s work over another’s.

Part of the reason I gravitated more closely to Marvel comics in those formative years was the fact that Marvel gave its artists more individual license than did DC. For the most part, DC’s 1960s comics all looked similar — almost as though they were drawn by the same (supremely busy) hand. The company imposed a strict house style to which all of its artists were required to adhere. DC editorial wanted Superman to always look exactly like the established model of Superman, whether he was being drawn by Curt Swan in Action Comics, Kurt Schaffenberger in Lois Lane, or Dick Dillin in Justice League of America. (There’s an infamous story about how, when the legendary Jack Kirby moved from Marvel to DC in the early 1970s and took over the Jimmy Olsen comic, DC editorial had another artist, Al Plastino, redraw all of the heads on Kirby’s Superman figures to conform to house style.)

At Marvel, the concept of “house style” was practically nonexistent. Even though Kirby’s powerful action scenes set the standard, none of the other Marvel artists were forced to ape the King precisely. In fact, the three artists who formed Marvel’s core talent in the mid-’60s — Kirby, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. — all drew quite differently from one another. Kirby’s art was muscular, propulsive, in-your-face bold; Ditko’s was stiff, quirky, and often fantastical; Romita’s sleek, prettified approach reflected his many years drawing romance comics.

As Marvel grew into the next decade, the company continued to add artists to its stable whose work immediately stood out from everyone else’s. From a young age, I could identify the splayed hands, twisted posture, and bizarre up-the-nostrils facial perspective of Gil Kane; the statuesque, graceful, almost neoclassical anatomy of John Buscema; the fine lines and haunted eyes of Jim Starlin’s characters; the intricate detail of Barry Windsor-Smith. Ditko’s Spider-Man looked nothing like Romita’s or Ross Andru’s or Kane’s, or any of the others who followed him (not to mention Kirby, who — at the risk of speaking sacrilege — couldn’t draw Spidey very well at all), and Marvel seemed okay with that.

Among the first artists whose work I could pick out of a lineup was Herb Trimpe, who throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s was the regular penciler on The Incredible Hulk. Trimpe’s style had a unique, almost Ditko-esque angularity, particularly when it came to faces, that no one else possessed. His Hulk more or less became the template for the character. Much as when I close my eyes and think “Batman,” I envision the Caped Crusader as drawn by Neal Adams or Jim Aparo, or when I think “Iron Man,” I see George Tuska’s or Bob Layton’s, the definitive image of the Hulk in my mind will always be Herb Trimpe’s.

The 2005 Common Elements commission by Trimpe seen at the top of this post was one of my earliest “big scores” as a collector, in terms of commissioning an artist of whom I’d been a fan since childhood and whom I regarded as a “big name.” Even now, I don’t think I have another commission by an artist whose work goes back as far in my memory. I’ve been fortunate to commission several other artists I enjoyed in my youth, but probably none earlier than Trimpe.

At the time of this commission, I thought it would be fun to have Herb draw Doc Samson, a Hulk supporting character he co-created with writer-editor Roy Thomas. (Why not the Hulk? you ask. Because everyone asks Herb to draw the Hulk, I reply.) Of course, the natural Common Elements pairing would be another Doc — Savage, of pulp, comics, and kitschy ’70s film renown. Herb threw me for a loop, though, when he asked me what I wanted the characters to be doing in the drawing. As longtime Comic Art Friday readers know, I prefer to allow artists I commission to dream up their own scenarios, figuring that their ideas will almost invariably be superior to my own. But, since Herb asked, I suggested the arm-wrestling bit.

This remains one of just a couple of Common Elements pieces in which I had any input into the scenario design, beyond selecting the characters and artist. The only others that come to mind are Bob Budiansky’s Ghost Rider / Batgirl matchup, and Gene Gonzales’s “Catfight of the Bands.” Even in those pieces, everything beyond the one-phrase concepts “motorcycle race” and “battle of the bands” came from the imaginations of the respective artists, not from me.

That’s probably for the best.

Some three years after this commission was completed, I connected in person with Herb at a local comics convention. It was a rare treat to be able to thank him, face to face, both for this particular artwork and for all of his creations that I’ve enjoyed over the years. Herb even posed with his masterpiece for this photo.

Herb Trimpe and his Common Elements commission, WonderCon 2008; photo by Michael Rankins

There’s an interesting sidelight to the Herb Trimpe story. Herb worked for Marvel for a phenomenally long time, spanning the mid-1960s into the 1990s. Late in his Marvel tenure, his drawing style changed rather drastically, reflecting the line-intensive approach favored by then-popular artists such as Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld. Opinions differ as to whether Trimpe evolved his style on his own, as artists frequently do — think of Picasso’s many “periods,” for example; or, to choose a comics-related parallel, the stark switch in Bill Sienkiewicz’s style away from its early Neal Adams influences to something bordering on abstract — or whether he was pressured by Marvel editorial to stop drawing “old school” and come up with a more “up to date” look.

I don’t know which is true; perhaps the reality contains an element of both. As you can see in the drawing featured here, Herb’s recent approach is an amalgam of classic Trimpe and his latter-period comics work.

That, too, is probably for the best.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Hello, young lovers!

February 14, 2014

Let’s be honest: This whole Valentine’s Day business is kind of silly.

It’s a holiday so bogus that even the Roman Catholic Church — an organization that never passes up an opportunity to invent a holiday — took it off its official calendar way back in ’69. (I hear you snickering. Stop.) For the most part, Valentine’s Day continues to be perpetuated primarily by commercial interests — the See’s Candies, Vermont Teddy Bears, FTD Florists, and Hallmark Cards of the world.

But hey… it’s about love. Who doesn’t support love, am I right?

So, in honor of romance on this Valentine’s Day, let’s root through the galleries and cull out a few great images of loving couples from the comics.

The Scarlet Witch and the Vision, pencils by Frank Brunner, inks by Geof Isherwood

Probably my favorite superhero love story of all time is that of Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, and the android Avenger known as the Vision. This unlikely pairing — the passionate Wanda and the cool, distant Vision — made for some terrific storytelling during the Bronze Age. Here, Geof Isherwood — one of the industry’s most underrated artists, in my opinion — takes a rough preliminary sketch by the legendary Frank Brunner and transforms it into a dynamic work of finished art.

Spider-Man and Mary Jane, pencils and inks by Bob McLeod

Among the best romantic matchups of superhero and civilian was the longstanding marriage of Peter Parker, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and vivacious Mary Jane Watson (eventually Watson-Parker). I know a lot of fans preferred Peter with Gwen Stacy, but Gwen always seemed kind of dull to me. (The icy blondes typically are, unless you’re Alfred Hitchcock.) MJ was the kind of girl who would keep life interesting… which is why Peter married her, I think. I commissioned this beautifully drawn piece from New Mutants co-creator Bob McLeod.

Superman and Wonder Woman, pencils by Mike Wieringo, inks by Richard Case

The Superman-Wonder Woman romance was never really a thing in the actual comics until relatively recently. I’m still not sure that it works, but I do love this drawing — penciled by the late, much-missed Mike Wieringo, and inked by Richard Case.

Batman and Catwoman, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Geof Isherwood

Batman and Catwoman can’t decide whether they want to be a couple or not. At various times during the past several decades, their relationship has ranged all over the spectrum. Still, there’s probably not another pairing in comics with more raw intensity than Selina and Bruce. They’re captured here in a working moment by another monumental talent we lost too soon — Al Rio, with inks by Geof Isherwood.

Green Lantern John Stewart and Hawkgirl, pencils and inks by Wilson Tortosa

The love affair of Green Lantern John Stewart and Hawkgirl originated in the DC Animated Universe, by way of the Justice League TV series. So far as I know, this relationship hasn’t crossed over to the comics page in a major way. For me, though, it remains one of the highlights of the DCAU lexicon. Wielding the pencil and pen here is artist Wilson “Wunan” Tortosa.

Dynamo and Iron Maiden, pencils by Geof Isherwood

You’d have to be as ancient as I am to recall the days when the THUNDER Agents made their first foray into the spinner racks. Dynamo, the sometimes lunk-headed leader of the THUNDER crew, had an ongoing love-hate relationship with the villainous Iron Maiden (no relation to the heavy metal band of the same name). The duo gets wrapped up in a fighting clinch — or a passionate embrace; you be the judge — in this gorgeous tonal-pencil creation by Geof Isherwood.

Arak and Valda, pencils and inks by Tony DeZuniga

Speaking of thunder, the last time I visited with the great Tony DeZuniga before his passing, he drew this powerful scenario starring Arak, Son of Thunder, and his paramour and comrade-in-arms Valda the Iron Maiden (no relation to the preceding). The couple that slays together, stays together. (Words to live by, right there.)

Friend reader, I hope that wherever you find yourself today, you’ll take a moment to let those you love — romantically, familially, platonically, or otherwise — know that they’re special to you. To quote an old Don Henley tune, there’s just not enough love in the world. So get on that, will you, please?

Here’s my personal Valentine shout-out to the two ladies in my life: my beloved Pirate Queen, and my pride and joy, The Daughter. I love you both — in your own unique ways, of course — truly, madly, and deeply.

And that’s your Comic Art Valentine’s Day.

Comic Art Friday: Transformers — adolescents in disguise

January 10, 2014

Captain Marvel and Mightor, pencils by Brendon Fraim, inks by Brian Fraim

It’s generally acknowledged that superheroes are a manifestation of adolescent power fantasy. What teenager doesn’t secretly wish to vanquish with a mighty blow all the people and things that cause one angst?

That being the case, I’ve always thought that Captain Marvel — the original hero by that name, not any of the legion of subsequent characters who have been and are so called — is the ultimate superhero. Not only is the Big Red Cheese powerful, but he allows young Billy Batson to skip the entire teenage trauma and advance directly to adulthood with a single word.

I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more superheroes like that. There have been plenty of adolescent heroes in comics, from Robin to the Legion of Super-Heroes, from the Teen Titans to the original incarnations of Spider-Man and the X-Men. But Captain Marvel’s vaulting from boyhood to manhood every time he suits up remains relatively unique.

Except for the mighty Mightor.

Those of a certain age will recall Mightor as the star of a popular Saturday morning cartoon back in the day. Set in prehistoric times, it’s the saga of an average teenaged caveman named Tor, who when he raises his magic club aloft transforms into Mightor, a brawny adult superman. At the same time, Tor’s pet dinosaur Tog morphs into a winged dragon. Mightor uses his superhuman strength, ability to fly, and energy-blasting club to battle all kinds of bizarre enemies, such as populated adventure cartoons in the 1960s.

Mightor is basically a Cro-Magnon version of another Hanna-Barbera character of the time: Space Ghost, who like Mightor was created by comics legend Alex Toth. (Space Ghost, however, was always Space Ghost, and had no apparent alter ego, adolescent or otherwise.) A persistent urban legend suggests that Mightor was designed as a riff on Marvel Comics’ Thor, which makes sense given the similarity in names (both Thor and Mightor are often adjectivally designated “the Mighty…”), costume (Thor wore a winged helmet and cape; Mightor sported a horned cowl and cape), and weaponry (Thor wielded a mystic hammer; Mightor, a magic club). Whether that connection is valid or not, it’s equally clear that Captain Marvel’s transformational ability also played into Mightor’s creation.

Captain Marvel, of course, also got his shot at Saturday morning television glory. In the 1970s, Filmation produced a live-action series entitled Shazam!, featuring the exploits of the studly guy in the crimson union suit. Actors Jackson Bostwick (season one) and John Davey (seasons two and three) played the good Captain, while the role of young Billy Batson was assayed by tween heartthrob Michael Gray. The show’s success led to the creation, in its second season, of its companion series, The Secrets of Isis — whose central character emerged after Filmation failed to secure the licensing for Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel’s sister, from DC Comics.

Our flash-aging heroes are depicted in today’s artwork by the Brothers Fraim. Brendon handles the penciling chores; Brian does the inking. The brothers’ clean, eye-pleasing style meshes perfectly with these classic characters.

Now if only there was a magic word that could instantaneously shave off a few years, and maybe a pound or several. But that’s more of a way-past-adolescence fantasy.

And that’s also your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: The best of 2013

December 27, 2013

2013 proved itself a solid year for my comic art collection.

Perhaps the most significant 2013 addition was one that doesn’t appear in any of my galleries — a detailed catalog, completed this past July, of every piece of art that I own. For the first time in a very long time, I can determine exactly what I have in my portfolio at a glance, with all of the pertinent information about each item recorded. A task that should have been done years ago finally found fulfillment this year.

And then there was the art itself.

Although the actual number of pieces I added this year isn’t all that large, every new artwork I acquired — whether a preexisting piece, or one I personally commissioned — truly brought something special to the party. As I peruse the Class of ’13, there’s no chaff among the wheat here. Which makes choosing the very best — or at least, my very favorite — among these creations especially challenging.

But, here we go. (Remember, you can click on any image to go directly to the corresponding entry in my Comic Art Fans gallery. You’ll be able to view a much larger image there.)

Favorite Common Elements Commission, Mixed Company Division:
“Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?” (Lady Luck, Jack of Hearts, Gambit)
Pencil art by Allan Goldman

Lady Luck, Jack of Hearts, and Gambit, pencils by comics artist Allan Goldman

It might be possible to squeeze more detail into a single panel of comic art than Allan Goldman accomplishes in this incredible tableau. Then again, it might not be.

Favorite Common Elements Commission, All-Female Division:
“Raiders of the Lost Archaeology” (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Hawkgirl)
Pencil art by Drew Edward Johnson

Lara Croft and Hawkgirl, pencils by comics artist Drew Edward Johnson

I love it when an artist grabs hold of a Common Elements concept and runs with it like the wind. That’s precisely what Drew Johnson did with this assignment.

Favorite Common Elements Commission, Living Color Division:
“Through Being Cool” (Valkyrie, Taarna)
Pencil art by Steven E. Gordon

Valkyrie and Taarna, multimedia art by Steven E. Gordon

Animation maven Steven E. Gordon, who worked alongside the legendary Ralph Bakshi on several of his classic feature films, brought clarity and attitude to two of my all-time favorite bad mamma-jammas.

Favorite Solo Commission, Shazam! Division:
Mary Marvel
Pencils and inks by Brian Stelfreeze

Mary Marvel, pencils and inks by comics artist Brian Stelfreeze

You might think you’ve seen a more winsome rendition of Mary Marvel created this year. You’d be mistaken.

Favorite Solo Commission, Celestial Madonna Division:
Pencil art by Steve Mannion

Mantis, pencils by Steve Mannion

I never can get enough of Steve Mannion’s uniquely quirky take on the world of superhumans. Here, he gives one of Marvel’s classic heroines a fresh, funky energy that is a joy to behold.

Favorite Solo Commission, Feline Division:
The Black Cat (Linda Turner)
Pencils and inks by Gene Gonzales

Black Cat, pencils and inks by Gene Gonzales

Few artists today rock it old-school as brilliantly as Gene Gonzales. Gene’s deceptively simple neo-retro style, combined with his genuine love for classic comics characters, keep resulting in beautiful art like this.

Favorite Solo Commission, Art Nouveau Division:
Pencils and inks by Sanya Anwar

Isis, pencils and inks by comics artist Sanya Anwar

It’s always a treat to discover the work of a fantastic artist I didn’t know was out there. This year’s Big Wow ComicFest introduced me to the talents of Canadian creator Sanya Anwar, and I immediately became a fan. I’m looking forward to adding more of Sanya’s eye-popping work to these galleries in the coming year.

Favorite Non-Commission Acquisition:
Film noir pinup study
Pencil art by Jim Silke

Femme fatale pinup, inspired by Mara Corday, pencil study by Jim Silke

I’ve been an admirer of Jim Silke’s gorgeous pinup stylings for more than a decade. This year, I finally managed — thanks to the largesse of my beloved Pirate Queen — to add an example of Jim’s art to my collection. This piece was a preliminary study for a painting Jim created a number of years ago, for another collector. He based the character on 1950s model and B-movie actress Mara Corday, who might never have looked better even in real life.

There’s a noteworthy omission in my “Best of” post this year. For the first time in recent memory, I didn’t add a new inking commission. Part of the reason for this is that my go-to inking talent, Bob Almond, was sadly beset by family and personal health challenges over the past several months. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with my pal Bob as he recovers. I’m hopeful that we’ll collaborate successfully again in 2014, as we have on dozens of previous occasions.

Thank you, friend reader, for stopping by my little corner of the World Wide Wackiness most Fridays, and allowing me to share my collecting hobby (okay, perhaps mania is a more accurate word) with you. May 2014 bring you and all those you love health, harmony, and happiness… and bring me more reason to keep generating these posts.

And that’s your final Comic Art Friday for 2013.

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: 10th Anniversary Edition

November 28, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 22, 2013

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

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

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

Of course, we had not.

Captain America, pencils by comics artist Ron Adrian

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

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

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

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

Bizarre how that works.

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

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

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Typhoon Taarna

November 8, 2013

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

Weird universe we live in.

Taarna, pencils by comics artist Tony DeZuniga

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

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

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

Again, irony.

Taarna, pencils and inks by comics artist Ernie Chan

Speaking of Taarna…

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

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

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

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

I used to have a Squidoo page that demonstrated this.

Taarna, pencils and inks by comics artist Gene Gonzales

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


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

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.