Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Comic Art Friday: A season for war

May 5, 2017

Art appeals to different people for different reasons. And often, different art appeals to the same person for different reasons.

In collecting comic art, I have many reasons for enjoying the pieces that I own.

A fair portion of my collection consists of drawings of my favorite heroes and heroines. These pieces appeal because I’m intrigued by the myriad ways that different artists will choose to depict a particular character.

When it comes to my Bombshells! theme, I get a kick out of reviving classic heroines from generations past, and seeing them rendered by modern talents. It’s also fun to appreciate how different artists will execute a highly specific and narrowly defined theme, while still bringing their own unique creative perspective and style.

In my signature theme, Common Elements, I find that the most effective commissions are the ones that cause me to say to myself, “Man, I sure would love to read that comic.”

So, take a look at this dynamic scene, created by the phenomenally gifted Tony Parker.

Cyclops_WinterSoldier_TParker

Aren’t you eager to read the story that finds Cyclops (a.k.a. Scott Summers) and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier — note the “seasonal” commonality there) in the heat of this particular battle?

Come on… you know you are.

We collectors often say, “The scan doesn’t do the art justice.” That has never been more true than with this piece. Not only is Tony Parker’s linework spectacular and his inking sheer perfection, but I’ve never seen lighting effects as exquisitely realistic in practical comic art (that is to say, created with physical media as opposed to digital) as the ones Tony produces here. I know that it looks amazing on your screen, but trust me — it’s even more incredible when the paper and ink is before you in literal space. It looks like photographic light streaming from Cyclops’s visor and photographic flame bursting from the Winter Soldier’s pistols.

There aren’t words to explain how difficult that effect is to achieve. Most artists who’ve been in the business for decades couldn’t pull that off.

But as wicked awesome as Tony’s technique is, it’s applied brilliantly in service of his storytelling. This isn’t just a snapshot of two characters simulating action. It’s a scenario that implies a multitude of questions. How did these two characters from markedly different backgrounds wind up together? Who are the enemies — and clearly, there are multiple enemies — they are battling? And what’s going to happen next?

That’s the hallmark of the truly great artist: making you appreciate the work immediately before you, but also drawing you into the frame and making you yearn to see more. It’s the quality that separates a pretty picture from effective comic art.

If you’re not familiar with Tony Parker’s work, he’s probably best known for illustrating the graphic novel This Damned Band, written by Paul Cornell. It’s the pseudo-documentary tale of a 1970s heavy metal band that, unlike many bands of the era who merely dabbled in occult imagery, actually gets involved with arcane magic. (Imagine Spinal Tap as devil-worshipers.) Tony also both scripted and drew a critically acclaimed adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that inspired the film Blade Runner.

Rod Stewart famously sang, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” In comic art — indeed, in graphic art of any genre — the best pictures imply a far deeper story yet to be told, even if only in the viewer’s imagination.

Thanks to Tony Parker for sharing this story with us.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: The girls most unlikely

March 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

Mantis and Gypsy, pencils by Robb Phipps

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Always be yourself, unless you can be Mary Marvel

January 15, 2016

A couple of years ago, I met a talented Canadian artist named Sanya Anwar at a local comics convention. Sanya created this gorgeous Art Nouveau-inspired portrait of one of my favorite heroines: Isis, star of the 1970s TV series The Secrets of Isis. (I probably just landed on some national security watchlist for typing the name “Isis.” You people need to chill.)

Isis_Anwar

At the time Sanya drew the Isis piece, we talked about her doing a companion piece featuring Mary Marvel, the inspiration for the Isis character. Sanya and I revisited that conversation last spring at Big Wow ComicFest. It took a few months for Sanya to work the project into her hectic schedule, but in the end, this beautiful rendition resulted.

Mary Marvel, pencils and inks by Sanya Anwar

Since I first discovered the Marvel Family characters in the early ’70s, I’ve always found the concept of Mary Marvel intriguing. Unlike her brother, the original Captain Marvel, Mary’s accessing the powers of various mythological beings doesn’t transform her into a different person (or, at least, persona — for decades, comics writers couldn’t decide whether Billy Batson and Captain Marvel were separate entities, or just differently aged versions of the same individual). When Mary says “Shazam!” she doesn’t grow older or muscle up. She’s the same sunny-spirited teenager whether she’s Mary Batson or Mary Marvel. The latter just has more amazing abilities.

Which always raised the question in my mind: If you could be Mary Marvel and still be fully and completely Mary Batson, why would you ever not be Mary Marvel? What would be the reason for changing back into your non-powered self, and spending most of your life that way? If I had the option of being Just Plain Me or Superhuman Me, I would opt for Superhuman Me all the time.

The lesson is: Always be yourself.

Unless you can be Mary Marvel.

Then, always be Mary Marvel. (Or Isis. That works, too.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

A LearnedLeague update: LL58 postmortem

September 25, 2013

LearnedLeague Season 58 concluded this week, and in the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive.”

After a grueling 25-day campaign, I managed to finish 17th in Rundle A West — without dispute, the league’s most talent-loaded bracket. By placing above the bottom 10 in our 32-player Rundle, I avoided relegation (the LL euphemism for “demotion”) to a lower bracket for next season. Not escaping that fate were several esteemed competitors whom I consider superstars in the trivia world.

Sometimes, it is indeed better to be lucky than good.

It’s worth noting that my placement in A West plummeted nine slots between last season (when I finished 8th) and this, even though my statistical performance in both seasons was similar. (My head-to-head matchplay record in LL57 was 11-9-5; this season, LL58, I went 10-9-6.) The primary contributing factor here was the disbanding after LL57 of the League’s previous top level, Rundle Championship, and the redistribution of its participants into the four A-level Rundles. A West inherited several former R-Champ members, raising the difficulty factor of our bracket exponentially. (Not that it needed to get more difficult. Rundle A West has long borne the nickname “A Murder” with good reason.) I would have to check name by name to be certain, but I’m pretty sure that every A West member who was in R-Champ in LL57 finished above me in LL58. So, there you go.

Now that I’ve completed three full LL seasons, the last two in A West, it’s a good time to analyze my overall performance in the League to date.

My win-loss-tie record stands at 42-21-12. That’s significantly skewed by my rookie season, in which I went 21-3-1 against other rookies and won my Rundle. None of my fellow R Central competitors had yet advanced to A-level as of LL58 (I believe one or two just earned promotion to A for next season), so it’s fair to say that I compiled that gaudy rookie record against less-stiff competition than what I’ve faced in A West the past two seasons. So, let’s call that first season’s 21 wins an outlier. In A-level competition, I’m a just–over-.500 hitter.

It’s also important to understand wins, losses, and ties in the context of LearnedLeague’s unique method of match play. In LL, defense — that is, the point values assigned to each day’s questions by each player, based on his or her estimation of that day’s opponent’s likelihood of answering each question correctly — plays a critical role. Quite frequently, a player wins or ties a match in which his or her opponent offers more correct answers — simply by virtue of more effective defense. Here’s an example: Player A gets four of the match’s six questions correct; Player B assigned those four questions values of 3, 2, 2, and 1. (Player A therefore missed two questions, valued at 1 and 0.) Player B gets five out of six, earning the following points: 0, 1, 1, 2, 2. (Player B missed the sixth question, valued by Player B at 3.) Player A’s score is 8(4) — that is, 8 points on 4 correct responses. Player B’s score is 6(5) — 6 points on 5 correct responses. Since only the match points, and not the number of correct answers, determines the outcome of the match, Player A wins, despite getting one less question right than Player B.

As a hardcore trivia guy, I sometimes find that system less than satisfying. Ideally, every trivia matchup would be decided purely on the basis of “who knows more stuff.” But the fact is, even Jeopardy!, the venue from which whatever minuscule trivia street cred I possess is derived, works the same way. I’ve certainly won games in my Jeopardy! career where one of my opponents answered more questions correctly, but I happened to get more of the high-dollar-value questions, or a Daily Double or two, correct. It’s how game creators make games competitive and exciting. I get that, and I’m cool with it.

I do, however, like to keep track of my own performance based strictly on my percentage of correct answers. When it comes to LearnedLeague, I’m pleased that I’ve continued to improve in this regard. In my rookie season, I notched 118 correct responses for a .787 batting average. In LL57, my first season in A West, I got 124 answers right, upping my average to .827. In the season just concluded, I scored 125 correct answers (.833). Some of that is pure luck, of course — you happen to get asked things that you know, or can figure out — but I’ve also been working on upping my game by reviewing material in categories where I could use a boost. I also spend at least a bit of time each evening playing quizzes on Sporcle. You just never know when knowing, say, the capital of Burkina Faso will come in handy. (It’s Ouagadougou, in case you were curious.)

Speaking of categories where I could use a boost…

To help facilitate defense, LearnedLeague publishes extensive statistical background on each player’s performance. At a glance, you can survey an opponent’s track record in every category, and see where his or her weaknesses lie. (You can — if you’re really into it — review every question your opponent has ever played, and discover which specific items he or she got right or wrong. I’m not quite that anal-retentive.)

Were you to review my statistical profile, you’d find few surprises if you know me well at all. After three seasons, my highest correct percentages are in Current Events (100%), Television (96.9%), Film (96.7%), Theatre (92.9%), Lifestyle (a catch-all category that encompasses such diverse areas as religion and fashion — 91.7%), and Games and Sports (90%). You’d have predicted that, yes?

Conversely, my nemeses are Art (60%), Classical Music (58.8%), and of course, Math (16.7%). Again, if you know me, you know that my ineptitude in mathematics rivals only my distaste for country music. In fact, I believe that Hell is an eternal algebra class with country music playing at ear-splitting volume over the loudspeakers.

I’ve been doing some brush-up reading on art, and trying to memorize some basic facts about the most notable classical composers. I think it’s helping. Nothing will help me get better at math. If you find yourself facing me in a future LearnedLeague match, and there’s a math question in the day’s sextet, you might as well slap a big fat 3 on that one. (Then again, I do pull one out of thin air 16.7% of the time. So, you never can be too certain.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve also attempted to work on my defense. I’m consistently a subpar — although not altogether horrible — defender, which means I do a mediocre job at assigning points based on my opponent’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. I could probably win an extra couple of games each season just through better defense, so I’m trying to take more time with that portion of each day’s quiz. My defensive efficiency rating improved to .672 this season, from the previous season’s .651, so I suppose I’m doing something right. Or at least, less wrong.

LearnedLeague 59 begins November 11. I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

Comic Art Friday: I am my art collection, and my art collection is me

July 19, 2013

The Great Comic Art Inventory of 2013 is finished.

When I say “finished,” that’s a slight overstatement. Not every entry in the database is 100% complete. There’s a small group of pieces — mostly items I bought via eBay between late 2007-early 2008 and mid-2010 — for which I still need to research and input purchase prices. (That information resides on my current PC’s immediate predecessor, so I’ll have to go to that computer to look it up.)

Comet and Vixen, pencils by comics artist Luke McDonnell

Aside from that, though, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. There’s a unique entry for every piece of comic art in my collection (with the exception of 20 published pages from Millennium Comics’ Doc Savage, Man of Bronze: The Monarch of Armageddon #1, which I considered a single item). I’ve recorded the artist(s) and character(s) pertaining to each piece, as well as the item’s size, medium, purchase price or commission fee, and other pertinent details. For the first time in several years, I can tell at a glance exactly how many artworks I own, and can easily access all of the information about each work that I’d ever care to know. In many cases, more than I’ll ever care to know.

This inventory proved far more than a mere data-compiling exercise. To do the project justice, I required myself to connect, visually and physically, with every single item. I handled each piece — touched it, measured it (even those whose dimensions seemed obvious at first glance), looked at it up close and in person — often, for the first time in years. I saw each piece with fresh eyes. I was stunned by how emotional the experience was. It’s ineffably different holding an artwork in your hands — or at least, seeing the physical work — than observing a digital image on a screen. When you can really examine every pencil or pen line or brush stroke, you climb into the mind of the artist in a way that is otherwise impossible.

It’s a humbling reminder of why art is such an essential element of humanity.

Spider-Woman, pencils by comics artist Thomas Fleming

Not long ago, the Pirate Queen and I went to San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum to see Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, currently touring the U.S. and Japan. I’ve seen this painting dozens of times in photographs. I’ve even watched the film that presents a fictional account of its creation. But viewing Vermeer’s actual canvas in person was altogether different, and powerful. Tears welled in my eyes as I stood before it, and saw the nuances that no reproduction can fully capture. In a gallery crowded with strangers, I felt for a moment utterly alone with the artist’s creative force, preserved in a painting nearly 350 years old.

I don’t own anything that approaches that Vermeer; no offense intended to any of the artists whose work I do possess. But as I paged through and pondered the hundreds of drawings in my collection, mostly late at night in the quiet of my living room, I felt many reactions equally potent. At times, I found myself enveloped in magical rapture. At others, I laughed out loud. In still other moments, my mind raced into the panel to invent an entire story based on the single scene that my eyes took in.

Daredevil, pencils by Michelangelo Almeida, inks by Bob Almond

And then, there were memories, and personal connections. More than half my collection consists of artworks I commissioned — pieces that exist only because I hired artists to draw them. Each of these carries a back story of how it came to be — correspondence, dialogue, and in a few cases, lasting friendships made. I’ve been fortunate, in that most of my commission experiences have been positive. I’ve not, unlike many of my collecting compatriots, had scenarios where an artist took money for a commission and never delivered the art, or had to be hounded for years before finally coming through. (I’ve had to chase a commission here and there, but rarely for more than a few months.) I’ve rarely had a commission result in a piece of art that I actively disliked. (There have been a couple, but looking at them again after the initial disappointment has faded into history, in most cases I appreciate them better now.)

I thought quite a bit about artists who’ve passed on since I commissioned them, or since I purchased their art. I’m grateful for the several pieces I own by Dan Adkins. I’m grateful for the many works — some commissioned, others not — by the amazingly talented Al Rio, and wish I had commissioned him even more. I’m glad I commissioned so many pieces from Ernie Chan and Tony DeZuniga, and I dearly miss chatting with them both at conventions. I discovered a lovely handwritten note that Jim Mooney — whose career as a comic book artist spanned more than a half-century — sent me when I bought a drawing from him. There’s a nice image by the once-ubiquitous George Tuska in one portfolio. I’m still sad that Dave Simons, a delightful man, never had a chance to complete the commission he started for me, though I love the Common Elements that Dave’s longtime collaborator Bob Budiansky created in his memory. And I still wish I had back the other drawing by Mike Wieringo that I sold mere months before his sudden, untimely death, to go with the one Ringo original I’ve held onto.

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

More than a few pieces in my collection were impulse buys — things I saw (usually on eBay) and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have that?” Some of these purchases, in retrospect, might not have been wise investments. But there are others that, years down the road, make me ecstatic that I pulled that trigger. And the fact of the matter is that every preexisting piece I’ve bought somehow resonated with me in the moment — something about the image motivated me to spend money on it. It’s interesting to reflect upon what that resonance was, and to consider whether it still exists, or has faded with time.

Equally intriguing, there’s the realization that my art collection is uniquely reflective of me. No one else would have commissioned all the works I’ve commissioned, or purchased the exact combination of other pieces that I’ve compiled. There’s no other theme collection quite like Common Elements. Although there are any number of nose art-inspired pinups, no one else has an aggregation of them referencing Golden Age superheroines, certainly not in the specific manner that Bombshells! does. No other collector, to my knowledge, collects images of both Taarna, the silent avenger from the film Heavy Metal, and Isis, from the ’70s Saturday morning TV series. Other collections of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Storm, Mary Marvel, and the Scarlet Witch exist, but I don’t know of another collection with a focus on all five. And none combine the above with a Black Panther gallery, or a group of images of male-female couples or teams.

Bombshell! Moon Girl, pencils by comics artist Michael Dooney

No one else would have done this — built this specific collection, exactly this way. No one else could.

Therefore, when you look into my portfolios or online galleries, you look into me.

That’s amazing — and more than a little frightening — to think about.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.