Monday, December 31, 2007

Counting Down to 2008

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and Christmas!

Though I don't plan to make it an annual tradition, for the second year in a row, my family spent part of the holidays at Disneyland. Since it worked so well last year, we followed the same gameplan: spent Xmas morn opening presents and having a nice family breakfast; moseyed our way to Anaheim and checked into our hotel later that day on Christmas afternoon; entered Disneyland as soon as it opened; back to the hotel during the mid-afternoon to recuperate and give the kids a chance to nap; then back to the park until closing. We stayed a second night then, after a good breakfast, headed home the next day.

Our first stop was the newly re-furbished submarine/Nemo ride. Seemingly along with everyone else entering the park that morning, Nemo was our first planned destination; when the park officially opened, all of the attendants simply directed everyone to the line. While I was concerned about the wait, we waited less than an hour.

Fittingly, my 6-year old daughter rode the most rides. Last year, she was just tall enough to go on most of the rides at Disneyland and got a taste by riding the Matterhorn and Star Tours (twice). This year she went full tilt, riding the Matterhorn (twice), Space Mountain, Star Tours, and Thunder Road Mountain (also twice). My wife and I (and my brother, who accompanied us), switched off on watching my 2-year-old son while the other went on rides with my daughter. And of course, we hit numerous other rides together, such as Casey's Train, It's a Small World, and ToonTown.

Perhaps because of the cold weather, we were surprised at how much the park emptied that evening—late that evening, we were getting on most of the marquee rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House, with literally no wait!

We even caught the noontime Star Wars show, where kids are plucked from the audience to get Jedi training then face off against Darth Vader. (As I jokingly intoned in my best Vader impersonation—"Has it come to this? Two shows daily and three times on weekends?")

All in all, another tremendous Christmas at the Magic Kingdom.

Photo above right: Darla the Fish Killer on the new Finding Nemo Submarine Ride; above left: Though the evening fireworks show was cancelled, it didn't stop the snow flurry finale.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Best wishes from WCG Comics for a happy holiday season filled with peace and harmony!



To see the above image full size click here. To see a collection of holiday cards from years past, click here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting in the Holiday Spirit

My wife and I love visiting San Francisco over the holiday season. Though we live in Southern California, I have family in Northern California, which means we usually are in the Bay Area around Thanksgiving or Christmas. I've always felt San Francisco comes closest to capturing the vibe and energy of New York City where I was raised, and that's particularly true during the holidays. Walking around San Francisco bundled up during this time of year in the cold weather among throngs of holiday shoppers always puts us in the holiday mood.

We've done it so many times, we have a fairly regularly routine, which usually includes visits to two San Francisco landmarks I'd like to mention in this post, apropos of a comics-related blog: the Cartoon Art Museum and the Tintin/European character store called Kari'kter on Sutter Street's gallery row.

The Cartoon Art Museum has been in its present space since 2001 and is conveniently located not far from the Market Street/Union Square area of San Francisco. (It's the third location I've visited for the museum over the years!) During the time of my visit, exhibits were in progress on Edward Gorey's design work for the stage show of Dracula; of Disney animation conceptual artist Mary Blair; and Bay Area cartoonist Lark Pen. While I have passing familiarity with Gorey, I otherwise was not aware of Blair or Pen, and I enjoyed discovering their work.

The highlight for me, however, always is the opportunity to view the museum's pieces from its permanent collection. I saw originals from Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer, a Will Eisner Spirit page, a Milton Caniff Steve Canyon, as well as a very early Blondie, Popeye, Gasoline Alley, etc. It's always inspiring and revelatory to see comic artwork in their original state--the opportunity to see them full size and to examine the brushstrokes, use of white paint, etc., gives students of the form valuable insight into the way the methods of the masters.

Kari'kter is a delightful upscale store for aficionados of Tintin and other cartoon icons from the Continent, such as Asterix, Wallace and Gromit, the Little Prince, Babar, etc. They carry Tintin books, T-shirts, figurines, maquettes, prints, and a lot of terrific licensed properties. The store is both for serious collectors as well as families wishing to find a unique way to trick up their homes and children's spaces. Most of the items they carry may be found online.

By the way, another of our traditions when we're in the city is to visit the Japantown center (where we usually grab lunch or dinner) and, particularly, the Kinokuniya Bookstore. This is a terrific authentic Japanese bookstore with tons of Japanese magazines, books, CDs, etc.. There also are many English-language books featuring translated Japanese authors, Japanese art and architecture, cooking, children's books, etc. During this visit, we discovered they had just re-modeled and completely moved all their manga (Japanese comics) to a new dedicated space on the lower level of the mall where the bookstore is located. (In fact, the mall itself has received a much-needed facelift, and "J-town" looks like it's undergone a much needed minor facelift).

Anyway, if you're ever in San Francisco, I recommend you visit these places!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Honoring Stan the Man

For a more complete report and additional photos from the event mentioned below, visit my full report and photogallery here.
Over this past Veterans' Day weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a memorable event honoring comic-book legend Stan Lee. The occasion was the annual banquet of CAPS (the Comic Art Professional Society), an association of primarily Southern California cartoonists that meets monthly (I'm a member). As the guest of honor, Lee was receiving the group's annual achievement award, recently re-christened the Sergio, after one of CAPS co-founders, Sergio Aragones. (Sergio designed the award's statuette. As a surprise for him last year, CAPS renamed the annual award in his honor and presented the award to him (along with Jack Davis) in recognition of his contributions as one of the group's founding members and biggest boosters.)

CAPS' annual semi-formal banquet is always one of the group's highlights of the year. Past honorees include Will Eisner, Jonathan Winters, Ray Bradbury, Mell Lazarus, Bill Melendez, and many others.

The evening was fun and full of laughter. MC'd by Mark Evanier (a founding member of CAPS), the evening's speakers also included CAPS members Bill Morrison (the group's current president) and Scott Shaw!, as well as Marv Wolfman. Two professional-quality video presentations featuring personal photos and home movie footage were also shown. All the speakers are personal friends of Stan's, so the evening included some good-natured ribbing as well. In addition to the many regular CAPS members who attended like Stan Sakai and Gary Owens, other guests included many of Lee's friends and families.

The evening culminated, of course, with the presentation of the Sergio Award. Stan expressed heartfelt appreciation for the award, and in a touching moment made a special point of graciously acknowledging by name the outstanding cartoonists he had the fortune to collaborate with over the years, including Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and Gene Colan.

Stan ended his remarks, of course, with a hearty "Excelsior!"

(This was not the first time I had the opportunity to meet Stan at a CAPS event. Back in 2003, Stan was the featured guest speaker at a CAPS meeting. Due to a last-minute snafu, the group had to move the meeting to a restaurant across the street that kindly opened its doors for us at our request. After we re-located, I sat down, felt a tap on my shoulder, and heard someone ask, "Is this seat taken?" It turned out to be Lee! I said "Sure!", which sure made it easy for me to ask him to autograph my copy of Drawing Comics the Marvel Way, which I had brought along for the occasion. A photo from the evening of me with Stan is posted below (courtesy of David Folkman).

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wired for the Future

For a more complete report and additional photos from the event mentioned below, visit my full report and photogallery here.
Over this past Veterans' Day weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a memorable event honoring comic-book legend Stan Lee. The occasion was the annual banquet of CAPS (the Comic Art Professional Society), an association of primarily Southern California cartoonists that meets monthly (I'm a member). As the guest of honor, Lee was receiving the group's annual achievement award, recently re-christened the Sergio, after one of CAPS co-founders, Sergio Aragones. (Sergio designed the award's statuette. As a surprise for him last year, CAPS renamed the annual award in his honor and presented the award to him (along with Jack Davis) in recognition of his contributions as one of the group's founding members and biggest boosters.)

CAPS' annual semi-formal banquet is always one of the group's highlights of the year. Past honorees include Will Eisner, Jonathan Winters, Ray Bradbury, Mell Lazarus, Bill Melendez, and many others.

The evening was fun and full of laughter. MC'd by Mark Evanier (a founding member of CAPS), the evening's speakers also included CAPS members Bill Morrison (the group's current president) and Scott Shaw!, as well as Marv Wolfman. Two professional-quality video presentations featuring personal photos and home movie footage were also shown. All the speakers are personal friends of Stan's, so the evening included some good-natured ribbing as well. In addition to the many regular CAPS members who attended like Stan Sakai and Gary Owens, other guests included many of Lee's friends and families.

The evening culminated, of course, with the presentation of the Sergio Award. Stan expressed heartfelt appreciation for the award, and in a touching moment made a special point of graciously acknowledging by name the outstanding cartoonists he had the fortune to collaborate with over the years, including Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and Gene Colan.

Stan ended his remarks, of course, with a hearty "Excelsior!"

(This was not the first time I had the opportunity to meet Stan at a CAPS event. Back in 2003, Stan was the featured guest speaker at a CAPS meeting. Due to a last-minute snafu, the group had to move the meeting to a restaurant across the street that kindly opened its doors for us at our request. After we re-located, I sat down, felt a tap on my shoulder, and heard someone ask, "Is this seat taken?" It turned out to be Lee! I said "Sure!", which sure made it easy for me to ask him to autograph my copy of Drawing Comics the Marvel Way, which I had brought along for the occasion. A photo from the evening of me with Stan is posted below (courtesy of David Folkman).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

WGA Strike

I wasn't planning on weighing in on the WGA strike partly because I try to avoid "political" issues here. Besides, I thought it was a no-brainer. But when I was reading a writer's blog about this, I was surprised at the number of uninformed comments some posters made, like
At work if I create a concept, idea, or program that makes the company millions I don't get any residuals, I am simply paid a salary so why should writer's get residuals?

To be honest the shows coming out of Hollywood this past 10 years have been crap with a few exceptions. Reality TV has ruined television, so why would I support people who have produced a lousy product to start with?
First of all, compensation has nothing to do with quality. Ask anyone who works in an office environment. Quality aside, that work is being produced by contract at the behest of production companies.

In any case, I'm amazed anyone would actually defend the media conglomerates and begrudge the actual talent responsible for creating the content for expecting a share of the enormous profits these corporations make from their work. (I suspect it's related to the general ambivalence people have for Hollywood—despite the fact that it's our society's own obsession with celebrity culture and the need to be entertained that makes Hollywood such a high-profile industry.) Such comments speak volumes about what's wrong with our country right now, when someone actually admits he's more than happy to be screwed over by his employer. If so, and you are willing to take it, you certainly have no right to be bitter.

Writers got the short end of the deal with DVD sales, primarily because there just wasn't a good understanding about the nature of digital media. With myriad new media delivery technologies coming online, like the Internet, writers (and, soon, actors) rightfully expect a piece of this new income resource.

The only reason American workers have even the kind of basic protections they enjoy today is because of what the unions fought for and achieved. If a creative work continues to generate income, the creator of that work should be entitled to a part of that income--period. In many cases, they've given up ownership of the property and, hence, the majority of the profit. But the trade-off is that they should be fairly compensated for the work.

I came across a similar quote by Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, who famously opined, "Everytime I flush my toilet, the plumber doesn't get paid." While certainly a nice sound bite, the easy response is, "Well, you don't get a check every time you flush it either."

More informed insider-info about the strike may be found at the website of writers Mark Evanier and Brian K. Vaughn, who both also happen to write for comics.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

J.C. Leyendecker Exhibition

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Many years ago, the Norman Rockwell Museum in New England put together a traveling exhibition of Rockwell's work. Its California stop was in San Diego, and though I had a good reason for not seeing it (my wife and I had just had a child), I always have regretted missing it.

With this in mind, I made a point to find the time to see an exhibition of one of Rockwell's idols and forerunners, J.C. Leyendecker, at the Fullerton Museum Center in Orange County, Southern California. (It's a tiny but nice little museum with lots of character.)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Leyendecker was one of the premier commercial illustrators and artists of his generation—and he was working in what probably is considered the Golden Age of American illustration. Though not as well known today (at least among lay people) he is greatly admired by other illustrators, and much of his work remains iconic and recognizable. He is perhaps best known for his Arrow Collar shirt ads. But he also was known for many other advertising campaigns, as well as for his covers of the Saturday Evening Post (where Rockwell would eventually follow in his footsteps and gain his own legacy). Leyendecker produced more than 300 covers for the Post alone over a 40 year period. (Leyendecker also is credited with inventing the "baby new year" concept, which he produced variations of on covers throughout his career.)

The exhibition includes about 50 pieces, which obviously is just a tiny fraction of his full output. (Pictured above is a piece that was included in the exhibition.) And while the exhibition is fairly representative of the breadth of his work, it nevertheless would be challenging in such a small exhibition to fully capture the magnitude of his artistry and achievements. An original work of art obviously can take look very different than its printed reproduction, and its amazing to see what Leyendecker could convey with the boldest and simplest of brush strokes. (I'm fortunate to own a rare, out-of-print hardcover book of his work.)

Rockwell gained popularity for perfectly capturing and dramatizing the everyday lives and ideals of the average American. While Leyendecker did so to a degree as well, his work was much bolder and idealized—his figures, particularly his males—were angular and heroically proportioned. And his strong and powerful compositions and design sense underscored this aesthetic. (Please keep in mind I'm not saying that made either artist better or worse—this obviously was just a reflection of their styles and personal artistic philosophies.)

Anyway, the show ends November 18. I highly recommend this opportunity to see this rare opportunity to see the original work of one of the field's finest commercial illustrators.

(For more samples of Leyendecker's work go here and here.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Trying Something New



In follow up to my earlier post to my recent inking difficulties, I decided to mix things up by trying new inking approaches and tools. Given how much of a creature of habit I am, this probably shows how desperate I am to shake things up!

I purchased a bunch of different inking tools at my local art store, which included the Faber-Castell brush pen, pictured here in one of the color versions. It uses a permanent India ink (which is very important).

So far I've been fairly happy with it. Since it feels like a pen, you have to be careful not to instinctively press down on it like a regular marker, but if you're patient and careful, you can get a varied line akin to a brush. At the same time, I want to avoid making any "mushy" line that looks like it was made by a marker. For some reason, I love this look on sketches, but not so much in my original final art!

Anyway, I'm hoping this may work out. If so, it sure will be nice to finally give up brushes, which are a bit high maintenance!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Inking Problems

I'm at a weird place right now artistically. While I don't think it qualifies as "artist's block" (which I have experienced), I've been unhappy and tentative about my inking the past several pages.

I've never considered myself a particularly proficient inker, but even by my standards I haven't been very satisfied with the past few pages I've done. I suspect that the problem may lie in the penciling--which, after all, is the foundation of the drawing--but strangely enough I've been pleased enough with the pencils to move on to the inking stage. But I've found the finished pages disappointing!

I use a combination of a standard Uniball pen and a Windsor & Newton 3 brush for my finishes (brush is a fairly traditional and common inking tool in cartooning), but I've been dissatisfied enough recently that I've been experimenting with other inking tools. Right now I'm trying out a disposable brush pen.

Strangely enough, as challenging as a brush can be for me, making a change isn't so easy. Like many cartoonists, the brush is a familiar tool, and I find other tools off-putting. For example, even though I love the look of my sketches using standard felt-tip pens (usually done at conventions for fans), I tend to freeze up when using it for finished work.

This is a great time to be an artist, as there are numerous inking choices. But one has to be careful about being sure to use a device that uses permanent ink. Some inks fade over time, while others are not waterproof and may easily smear.

Anyway, I thought I'd just post this to show what kind of issues often come up for artists. I usually simply work through such problems, but this is a little bit more serious in that I'm actually considering alternative inking approaches, which would be a big change for me!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Update from the House of WCG

Here's the latest news from WCG Comics and Rob Hanes Adventures....

First off, I've posted a few new preview pages from the next issue of Rob Hanes Adventures (11)! (Page 2 pictured at right.) Exhibiting at the Comic-Con International in San Diego pulled me away from working on the story for a bit, but I'm back on track. I'm very excited about this adventure, and look forward to completing it.

For some reason, ever since the release of issue 10, I have experienced a big spike in sales! Though the year is just a little more than half over, this already is shaping up as one of my strongest sales years in awhile, which is obviously very heartening--not just because of the money but because there's been a big influx of new people placing orders. And not just sample issues, but my entire catalog (I guess the special price I'm offering has been enticing.)

Not sure yet the reasons for this increase. Many occurred before the recent CBG review, so I'm wondering whether I may have missed some other coverage? Or perhaps my efforts to raise awareness through online methods have begun paying off. Regardless, I'm not complaining! My thanks to everyone who has placed an order for this record-setting year.

As I have mentioned, I'm also presently exploring new models for distributing the series to retailers. The response to this also has been good, and I'm grateful to those retailers who have taken the effort to order RH Adventures for their stores. As a reminder, I've begun posting a list of stores that support the series (which is far from complete), but it's my way of thanking these retailers for supporting the title. Be sure to frequent these stores--and to let me know if you know of a retailer who carries the series and should be included on the list!!

Finally, in addition to several messages and letters of comment I have received from fans, two messages--one from R.C. Harvey, author of the new Milton Caniff biography, Meanwhile..., and another passed along to me from Caniff's nephew--were particularly appreciated. In the first, Harvey responded to an e-mail I sent him complimenting his book; in his response, he said it was "especially gratifying coming from you, a dedicated Caniff follower. I've been, as always, enjoying Rob Hanes' adventures, admiring your deft visuals." In the second, a comment left on my review below of Harvey's book mentioned that Guyton liked my tribute illustration to his uncle.

Friday, August 31, 2007

It’s a Wonderful Life


Just in time for the centenary of cartoonist Milton Caniff's birth comes his biography, Meanwhile…, by comics historian R.C. Harvey.

As much as I admire Caniff, who created Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, and put the Dragon Lady into the American lexicon, I must admit I was curious as to whether the subject—even one as seminal as Caniff—could sustain a reader's interest in a work of this length; especially since Caniff was by all accounts a modest person who led a charmed life without any real personal demons or secrets, and who was an all-around good guy with few enemies. (After all, conflict is the stuff of drama!)

Well, I should have had more faith. Harvey has artfully woven a compelling and entertaining narrative that is part biography and part literary criticism. All of the stories and anecdotes serve to advance the book's central themes related to the man's personality and career. He also deconstructs many of Caniff's strips and storytelling devices to showcase the cartoonist's artistry.

Caniff was the quintessential all-American: a self-made, over-achieving Horatio Alger who achieved success through grit and hard work. In high school and throughout his college career at Ohio State University, he was an Eagle Scout; a high school and college cheerleader; editor of the yearbook, school newspaper, and humor magazine; a member of men's glee; and of numerous honor societies, including the Sigma Chi fraternity which played an important role in his life. He also was an aspiring actor and performer, and did local theater in college. And he accomplished all this while working nearly full time professionally as a staff artist at a regional newspaper through his entire college career.

This work ethic was ingrained in him at an early age and he astonishingly maintained it throughout his life (yet still he always barely stayed on deadline). As a working artist myself, I must say his dedication to the grind was sobering but inspirational.

(One amusing anecdote in the book has a newspaper editor saying goodbye to Caniff at the end of the day where the cartoonist worked the night shift due to his college schedule; the editor later that evening spotted Caniff on stage performing in a local play, then saw him again the next morning at his drawing board when he came in to work. As this story shows, from the very start, Caniff learned to work at all hours of the day (and night) to meet his deadlines.)

As the book affirms, Caniff indeed led a charmed life. As his career began taking off, he and his lifelong partner and wife, Bunny, both theater buffs, lived for several years in upstate New York, in what is best described as a theater colony. Neighbors and friends included noted journalists, playwright Maxwell Anderson, actors Burgess Meredith and John Houseman, and for a summer, writer John Steinbeck. (Meredith once brought actor Charles Laughton around to show how Caniff had used his likeness for one of his villains, Anthony Sandhurst, in the strip. Laughton was delighted.)

In those heady years, the Caniffs attended private play readings at their neighbors' homes that included Meredith, Ingrid Bergman, and Rex Harrison, and they were regulars in the New York society scene. Caniff's studio often served as a salon of sorts for theater and cartoonist friends, with cocktail parties and poker games often going on at all hours. And through it all, Caniff worked.

Throughout his life, Caniff made the most of every opportunity that came his way. Just as importantly, these opportunities were the direct result of Caniff's hard work, ambition, personal charm, and networking abilities.

Harvey does a terrific job portraying the era and environment in which Caniff worked; in many respects, Caniff's life also encompasses the history of American cartooning and U.S. history. The book is a compelling read, and I'll be saddened when I'm done. It's great to read a story about a nice guy who, for once, finished first.




(Pictured above are the Caniffs at the 1982 San Diego Comic-Con. Photo: Alan Light)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Alex Toth Documentary

In an earlier post, I reviewed the excellent biography of Milton Caniff and wondered whether any artist as devoid of personal demons or dark secrets as Caniff could be an engaging subject (the answer was yes).

On the other side of the coin is the legendary Alex Toth, an "artist's artist" who worked in comics and the animation industry (where he worked on seminal programs like Space Ghost and Jonny Quest), and whose prodigious talent earned the admiration of his peers and continues to influence cartoonists today. Greatly admired and respected (and even beloved), many people sought his friendship despite his reputation as a cantankerous and combative individual. His complex personality and tortured genius makes him the perfect subject for a biography.

Buried in a recent 2-disc DVD release of Space Boy and Dino Boy: The Complete Series is an excellent 80-minute documentary on the cartoonist entitled "Simplicity: The Art and Life of Alex Toth." Previewed at the Comic-Con International: San Diego in July 2007, the documentary has everything one would want for a project focusing on an important figure in comics history: it's polished, professionally done, and has high production values. (As more than one person has noted, it easily would work well as an episode of PBS' American Masters series.) More importantly, it is a wonderful and well-deserved tribute to Toth's legacy and commitment to his art.

The documentary includes extensive interviews with friends and admirers, including Mark Chiarello, John Hancock, Irwin Hasen, Joe Kubert, Bruce Timm, Paul Pope, and others, as well as his four children. The documentary also touches an emotional nerve, particularly since Toth found some measure of peace, contentment and redemption in his final days.

Since I wrote a tribute to Toth at the time of his passing, I won't bother repeating myself here to talk about the man. But anyone with a serious interest in comics would do well to watch the documentary—the DVD already is a bargain, and frankly the documentary itself is worth the price of the DVD. (I purchased the DVD solely for the documentary!)

All I'll say is that I regret that I did not try to pursue knowing the artist more aggressively myself. As noted in my tribute to him, I occasionally sent him comps of my own comics, and always received postcards back. Given my personality, I likely would have been too intimidated to seek him out cold and unsolicited as many did (including some of those interviewed in the documentary), but I certainly would have corresponded with him more frequently if I had known--as the documentary makes clear--that he loved exchanging letters. Regardless, those notes I have from Toth are prized possessions.

It's a bit of a crime (and a puzzle) why this documentary has not received more attention, but I hope this review helps spread the word a bit.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reviews of RHA 10

I was planning to temporarily turn the subject of this blog back to my favorite subject (me of course) for awhile and talk about what I'm currently up to, but those plans got pre-empted by my discovery of a nice review of Rob Hanes Adventures 10, which just appeared in the latest issue of the Comics Buyer's Guide (1634, p. 57).

Reviewer Tony Isabella generously describes my work as "classically inspired, distinctive, and just a terrific example of how solid storytelling can trump comic books published by bigger outfits. Part of me is amazed that the "bigs" haven't recruited him: more of me is pleased that he's free to tell his stories his way."

It's a full page review, with generous samples of my cover and sample art included.

While trying to find the review online, I also discovered that Isabella ran an earlier review of issue 9 back in March, which I missed.

I'm periodically reviewed in the CBG, but it's obviously still a thrill for the work to get some attention.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

All You Need is Love (and Cheap Trick)

Last weekend, I had the privilege to attend a concert at Los Angeles' famed Hollywood Bowl celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' seminal album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The show was headlined by Cheap Trick, who were joined by several special guests, including Amee Mann, Joan Osborn, Ian Ball, and Rob Laufer. Cheap Trick is one of my favorite rock bands from the '80s, and everyone was in fine form. In the second half of the show, the Sgt. Pepper album was performed straight through in its entirety, with orchestral support provided by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

"All You Need is Love" was performed for the encore and I must say it nearly brought me to tears: Thinking of all the crap going on in the world today and watching this '60s anthem to peace being performed live made me think about how simple it would be to solve so many problems if people embodied and personified the song's simple but heartfelt message. How sad for the world that so little has changed since the Summer of Love.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Boys of Summer (part 2)

The other testosterone-heavy show of the summer is ESPN's original mini-series, The Bronx is Burning. Based on the book of the same name, the story chronicles the Yankees' summer 1977 run for its first World Series championship in decades, while its home city, New York, also grappled with the Son of Sam killings, a major blackout and riots, a near-bankruptcy, and a mayoral race.

The centerpiece, of course, is the larger-than-life egos and personalities of the organization, particularly demanding Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin. Also figuring large in the series is Reggie Jackson, who came to the Yankees that season, and catcher Thurmon Munson, who was the team's first captain since Lou Gehrig. Also playing prominent supporting roles in the show are Mickey Rivers, Lou Pinella, and Bucky Dent.

(I should note that, along with other prominent Yanks like Willie Randolph (my favorite) and Christopher Chambliss, this was the Yankee team I grew up with.)

Effectively evoking the era and integrating the show with 1970s-era footage, the series is fun and expansive, and successfully portrays the backstage politics of a high-stakes entertainment and sports franchise. As one reviewer effectively describes it, the show is "an all-male soap opera that would put 'Desperate Housewives' to shame. These men, at the height of their power, are the ultimate drama queens, larger than life, and maybe even bigger than New York."

Oliver Platt as Steinbrenner, John Turturro as Martin, and Erik Jensen as Munson turn in particularly fine performances. Credit particularly must be given to Platt for his outstanding work: given Steinbrenner's status as a minor icon thanks to both his outsize personality and as a recurring character on Seinfeld, I wondered whether it would be possible to successfully capture the man. It's a tribute to Platt's performance that he not only gradually comes to successfully embody the character, but he effectively makes it his own, making you forget you are watching an actor. Platt's performance sneaks up on you, and it's clear he is having a whale of a time.

Perhaps because of this, Steinbrenner surprisingly comes off somewhat more sympathetic than either Martin or Jackson. Though difficult and demanding, he nevertheless was dealing with outsized personalities. Martin obviously had a huge chip on his shoulder and was somewhat immature; while Jackson was a bit of a conceited prima dona. Nevertheless, one must credit the real-life Jackson, Steinbrenner, and other Yankees from the era for appearing extensively in "behind the scenes" interviews that accompany each episode. Given the passage of time and the fact that the events portrayed in the show led to a new Yankee dynasty, perhaps it's all water under the bridge now.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Boys of Summer (part 1)

Thought I'd take a break from all this comics stuff to talk about two new summer television shows. Though both are very different from one another they both are period pieces that are high on the testosterone.

The first is AMC's dramedy, Mad Men. The show is set at the end of the 1950s in a Madison Avenue ad agency (hence, the title of the show), during an era when WASPs were still the majority, and cigarette smoking, sexual harassment, and the two-martini lunch were socially (and legally) acceptable in the work place. The ad and junior execs at the agency portrayed on the show were the Masters of the Universe of their time. The show takes place at the height of the space age, when skinny ties and pomaded hair were in, and the show captures the era well.

The main protagonist is Don Draper, a steely senior ad exec at Sterling Cooper, a topnotch New York City ad agency. He's surrounded by a bevy of ambitious junior execs who they see him as their role model but, in the cutthroat business world, also are after his job. The show follows the professional and personal lives of the various characters on the show and the ad agency—ranging from Scott to the junior execs, to the office secretaries—within the context of the era. All of the secretaries, for example, are subject to the advances of the business executives (whether they are married or not is irrelevant).

Some of the funniest moments in the show come in showing the difference mores of the time. At one party, for example, a pregnant woman is seen smoking and drinking (interestingly, I saw a similar joke in Hairspray as well). In another, a little girl runs around placing "astronaut" with a plastic bag over her entire body without anyone batting an eyelash. And, of course, everyone smokes like a chimney. (Another funny running gag in a couple episodes has involved Republicans trying to recruit Scott for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign who's described as "smart, good looking, and a World War II vet." There also is the obviously gay art director whose nearly every uttered line is a double entendre, yet its clear he does his best to pass as straight.)

Yet the show also has a vague, off-putting Blue Velvet feel to it. This primarily is embodied by the character of Scott, who despite his success projects a sense of ennui and emptiness; his character seems self-aware and conscious of the vacuousness of his job and the era (which I suspect will lead to some reveal about his past at some point in the show).

Actor Jon Hamm, who portrays Scott, does a great job anchoring the show, projecting a real William Holden-like masculine presence that's not often seen among actors today. The other standout on the show is Vincent Kartheiser as the baby-faced Pete Campbell who both idolizes and resents Scott, while also lusting for his job. The most ambitious and alpha-male among the junior execs, his character initially came off as a typical frat-boy exec, yet some interesting facets to his character have emerged that suddenly have made him one of the show's more intriguing personalities.

The show has a quiet force to it, and all of the drama is in the personalities. It's a compelling show and I'm curious to see where it goes in upcoming episodes.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Comic-Con Photos Posted

I've just posted my final report and photogallery for the Comic-Con International in San Diego. Feel free to go straight to the photogallery, though both are clearly linked with each other.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Countdown to San Diego IV (364 Days to Go)

I've just arrived safe and sound from the Comic-Con International in San Diego. Fortunately, the traffic back to Los Angeles seemed lighter than last year. Though the 5 and 405 freeways were heavy at the usual bottleneck points (starting in Carlsbad), unlike last year when it often slowed to an unbearable crawl or came to a dead stop, this evening at its worst the freeway moved at a steady clip of about 30-40 MPH. Which meant I got home in only about two-and-a-half hours (I think it took me more than three last year). Believe me, it was a treat compared to last year, and a pleasant trip. The Beatles and Ben Folds Five kept me company.

I'll be posting my usual annual Comic-Con report shortly, but a few quick impressions:

  • Apparently, the sales pattern I experienced was mirrored by many other exhibitors at the show: namely, as reported in The Beat, that sales were "disappointing for Friday and Saturday, as thousands of people stood in line to get into Hall H or get bags or just gawk at girls in skimpy costumes." (Saturday sales for me were quite strong, but not until very late in the day—the first part of the day was a complete wash!) Overall, I was satisfied by the sales at my booth, even though as I mentioned it was uneven throughout the show.
  • For the first time ever, all 4-day passes and all single-day passes for the convention sold out in advance. As a result, the traditional "slow" days of the convention—Wednesday's preview night, Thursday, and Sunday—felt just as crowded as a Saturday. (Those days actually seemed MORE crowded). I can vouch for that personally—navigating the convention floor was truly a daunting experience.
  • It was nice to learn that I'm not the only one trying to deal with what continues to be a challenging market for small independent comics. One colleague and prominent fellow publisher flatly told me that he thinks the traditional retailer model is dead. Though I'm not quite sure I agree with that entirely, I understand the reasons for such sentiment. Many people are hungry for a new distribution model that will enable more diverse work to be seen in the current environment.
As this quick overview shows, I caught up with a lot of fans, retailers, and fellow pros. In particular, I received some good feedback that will help me in promoting the series. And despite some of the more sobering assessments mentioned above, I still found the show to be greatly energizing; the comments, feedback and expressions of support I received, particularly from longtime fans and retailers, were deeply appreciated—it's humbling and a thrill to know that my work continues to entertain and excite readers. My thanks to everyone who stopped by!

(Stay tuned for a full report shortly!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Countdown to San Diego III: The Early Bird...

When I was a kid, we had a tradition of departing for family trips by car very early in the morning, around 4 or 5 a.m. Though I'm not quite sure of the reasons behind this, I have pleasant memories of this tradition—of sitting in the back seat half-asleep watching the sun rise as we embarked on a trip cross-state or cross-country, with my parents in the front seat.

The last couple of years, I've done the same for my trips to San Diego. Of course, I have more practical reasons for adopting this practice: living in L.A., I know how bad the traffic can be on the 405 Freeway corridor between these two major cities, especially during rush hour in the middle of the week. So I try to get an early start, and often end up in San Diego around 6 am.

I've arrived even before the convention center was open, but this gave me a chance to grab a nice breakfast, and park my car close to where I need access to get into the convention hall. (On the morning of the last day of the show, I also get up early to get a good parking spot so that it's easy to load up my car when I tear down my booth. Then I go back to the hotel to prepare for the show.)

It's actually fun to be at the convention center so early. It's surprising how much work still needs to be done before the show opens for preview night, so there are forklifts all over the place, the carpeting is still being put down, drapes on tables, and people are putting together their booths. I'm usually done by lunch, so I walk around, take in the atmosphere, see friends, then check in to my hotel to wind down before the show begins.

Based on my experience, over the years, I've developed check lists to remind me of things I need to bring down for the show and when I need for vacation. I'm happy to post them for download (click on the file to download): my Convention Checklist (for exhibiting) and my general Travel Checklist.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Countdown to San Diego II: My Contribution to the CCI Souvenir Program

Below is my contribution to the souvenir program for this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. Click on it to see it in fuller detail.



Each year, contributors are given a variety of themes to choose from, and it was a no-brainer for me to focus, of course, on the centenary of Milton Caniff's birth. (Caniff, of course, is the creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, and one of my idols who inspired Rob Hanes Adventures.)

Caniff is pictured seated at the table, and surrounding him from Terry and the Pirates are Pat Ryan, Terry Lee, and Burma from Terry and the Pirates; Steve Canyon (from his namesake strip); pining away in the foreground at far right is the iconic Dragon Lady.

I also usually try to somehow work my own characters into the theme. So at bottom left, you'll see my character, Rob Hanes, and his partner, Abner McKenna, commenting on the proceedings.

Also included in the drawing are various Caniff characters, all from Terry: Captain Judas (visible behind Rob and Abner); Anthony Sandhurst and his put-upon wife, Normandie Drake (Sandhurst is the direct inspiration for my own character, Antony Cromwell); Chopstick Charlie, Raven Sherman and Dude Hennick (the first two are partially obscured by the Terry logo); and at the rear of the club on the balcony are Terry's companions, Connie and Big Stoop.

I should note that I also thought about contributing a drawing celebrating the centenary of the birth of Herge, the Belgian creator of Tintin. My plan was to draw my character putting gel in his hair to emulate Tintin's famous spiked forelock, just as Tintin walks in on him. But I just didn't have the time to complete the drawing.

(At right is a personal favorite Comic-Con drawing from 2005, honoring Will Eisner, which you can see full size here).

Friday, June 29, 2007

Countdown to San Diego I

In the coming weeks, I'll be formally making announcements through press releases, my website, and my e-newsletter about my participation as an exhibitor at the Comic-Con International (CCI) in San Diego (booth S14 in the Small Press Pavilion--come visit!). However, I thought I'd use the blog to give people a behind the scenes peak at preparing for the show. This year marks my 10th year as an exhibitor at CCI, dating back to 1994.

Planning, of course, starts anywhere from a year to six months before the show when exhibitors must reserve and purchase a booth. Not too long after that, I actually reserve my hotel. The popularity of CCI has caused great competition for rooms, and over the last several years I've found it necessary to book way in advance. I also try to order any books I'll have on sale at the show as early as possible to avoid being part of the surge in demand many printers experience right before convention season. (In one of my first years exhibiting, I discovered on a Friday evening that a shipment sent to me by my printer was at a shipping dock near the San Diego Airport that was literally due to close in 15 minutes for the rest of the weekend. With my then-girlfriend (now wife) in tow, I hailed a cab and promised the driver a $20 tip if he got me there on time. We made it with minutes to spare.)

The big news this year is that I created a new banner for my booth, pictured here. I have a set-up I used for years (which can be seen in my photogallery of past conventions), but I was way overdue for an upgrade. Digital technology offers many choices and has made this kind of job more affordable. The photo here was taken about 1 a.m., after the family was asleep, and accomplished after several successive evenings of trying to figure out how to assemble the banner. Once I finally figured it out, it actually is not too difficult to put together. But I still had to jury-rig part of it because it didn't quite work as advertised. It looks fine, but I wish it was sturdier. (But you get what you pay for!)

The real test will be whether it survives the wear and tear of four days in San Diego. If it works out, I'll provide a link of where I ordered it and be happy to recommend it to people. But I think I'll wait 'til after the show after I've had a chance to use it "in the field" under real-world conditions!!

(I plan to post more, but for additional sneak peaks, visit my photogallery for the show!)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hello Again, My Loyal Public!

Yes, I know, it's been awhile since I last posted. All I can say is that it would be very easy to spend all of my time promoting my work on the Web if I wanted to -- but then I'd never finish any new comics for you, my loyal public!!

Anyway, I'm pleased to announce that the landmark 10th issue of Rob Hanes Adventures is now available!

For details, including how to order, go to the newest edition of my e-newsletter or visit the main WCG Comics website.

The issue is a full-fledged sports story that takes place in the world of minor league baseball, and was a fun change of pace.

As mentioned in a previous post, issue 10 will be available at my booth at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, July 26-29. I'll be in booth S14!

With issue 11, the series will return to form with a story of high adventure in which Rob goes to Asia to battle modern-day pirates. A preview for the issue has just been posted here.

Pending the completion of a few final details, I have some additional exciting announcements coming up related to the future of the series and the upcoming convention, so stay tuned!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Beijing Rocks

As I've mentioned previously, a special movie interest of mine are Asian films that are contrary to the kinds that usually receive a mainstream theatrical release in the U.S. Rather than period or martial arts films, my tastes run not to just the kind of action films that John Woo originally made popular here, but also art-house films and screwball romantic comedies. As I've said, I particularly appreciate the glimpse these movies give into the lifestyles of modern Asia's urban young (and stylish) twenty-somethings.

A movie that definitely falls into this category that I rented thru Netflix is Beijing Rocks (2001). The film follows three young wannabe rockers: the lead singer of a garage band who seeks a contract and to be taken seriously as an artist; his girlfriend; and a semi-successful pop artist from Hong Kong who hits the road with the band to overcome writer's block.

This movie definitely has higher ambitions compared to some of the more fluffier, pop Asian fare I have developed a soft spot for, and it succeeds. Beijing Rocks trades on the same sense of disaffection that have characterized youth films and youth culture dating back to Rebel Without a Cause. A love triangle, of course, develops, and though it gives the movie some emotional scope, it doesn't cheapen the movie by becoming a major point of conflict in the film (aside from perhaps emotionally). In fact, the film is bittersweet and tragic, and to its credit does not go for the easy "feel good" audience-pleasing ending, though the film very easily could have gone there.

Beijing Rocks also definitely provides a fascinating peak into a China I'm sure most people would be surprised to know exists, consisting of garage bands, glam rock clubs, and mosh pits. And look out for the montage sequence featuring a rock version of the Communist anthem, "The Internationale"!

Full disclosure: I admit that one reason I rented this film was for actress/Asian pinup girl Shu Qi, for whom I also have a soft spot. She's appeared in her share of throwaway Asian formulaic films (some personal favorites include So Close, Gorgeous with Jackie Chan, and Love Me, Love My Money), and she crossed into mainstream Hollywood with the modest hit The Transporter. But along with another art-house film of hers that I viewed and was impressed by awhile back (The Foliage), a restrained romantic drama set during China's cultural revolution!), and the recently released art-house film Three Stories, she demonstrates that she is a serious, ambitious actress who possesses some real acting chops.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

No School Like Old School

Like a lot of comic-book artists working professionally, it's difficult to stay on top of current work due to the simple lack of time. Mainstream super-hero comics are particularly difficult because of the over-arching story arcs that not only go on for multiple issues but also cross over into other titles. It's just not the kind of longterm commitment I can make anymore! And let's face it, now being close to middle age (okay, not "close to" but actually), I'm just not the target audience for many of today's comics. While I like being challenged and enjoy seeing innovative work, I'm not into "edgy" fare just for the sake of it.

Graphic novels have lately become an area of real growth for the comics industry. And not just compilations of series, but original works released specifically in graphic novel format. While I have picked up many that have received much critical attention, I have to admit, for the most part I've been a bit underwhelmed. For me, they tend to be too episodic, oblique, and "slice of life-ish" for my taste, rather than truly engaging and compelling. In short, partly jaded by age, I guess, it just seems few and far between that I pick up a comic-book and feel really excited and blown away.

Surprisingly, just recently I experienced this kind of visceral response when I came across an old friend in the form of Fantagraphics' new Love and Rockets series from Los Bros. Hernandez, Jaime and Gilbert.

I am a big fan of the Hernandez Brothers from way back--in fact, believe I own the entire original full run of the series, including early if not first editions of the first issues. (I also had the good fortune once to sit next to Jaime over the course of a day during a book signing many, many years ago. He was fun to hang out with, and though I'm not sure he'd still remember me, we actually have some mutual friends. Their brother Mario was a fan of my work at the time, and Jaime seemed to be familiar with my work then.) I must admit, however, that during the latter part of that early run, I fell behind in my reading and lost the thread of the multiple, intertwined storylines of Jaime's Maggie and Hopey stories, and Gilbert's Palomar tales.

I did pick up the first issue of the new series, but I don't recall it having much of an impact on me. When I was at the comics shop few weeks ago, however, I picked up a more recent issue (I think it was #16) and suddenly found my enthusiasm for the series re-ignited. I ended up picking up the preceding issues at my next stop.

I can't pinpoint exactly what it is that drew me back in, but they're certainly still at the top of their game. They have a great knack for telling details and capturing the kind of human quirks, flaws, and inconsistencies that make their characters come to life. In Jaime's case, it's great to see the characters aged, while pursuing romance, careers, and working out their personal lives.

A comment by Gilbert in a recent interview probably puts it best:
It's a type of alternative comic that only my brother and I do, for the most part. Everybody else is going over to Pantheon because they've got a tragic biography to tell. I'm fine with that, but I'm just trying to do just stories with imagination—just old fashioned stories, you know?
(BTW, for the record, a few additional titles that I do follow religiously include the Spirit Archives compilations of Will Eisner's great series, the all-new Spirit series being produced by Darwyn Cooke through DC Comics, and Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve (when it comes out!).)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cover to issue 10 now colored!

At right is the completed cover for Rob Hanes Adventures #10. For anyone who is paying attention, I actually redrew the cover from scratch. Though the layout is very close to the original version I had originally produced, there was something about the first version I wasn't satisfied with.

This version brings the "camera" a bit closer into the action and, I think, makes it a little more dramatic. The cover obviously is usually the first impression you make on people, so I wanted to be sure I had an image I was happy with.

For some reason, this has happened the last three covers!! It may be because I am doing the covers before I start the stories (in order to get the cover out early as a teaser), but as the story proceeds and evolves, I think my feelings about the covers start to change. As a result, I end up wanting to do a cover that better reflects how the story is actually turning out. Call me a perfectionist I guess!

I initially was having some problems coming up with a color scheme, so to mix things up a bit, I tried an approach that professional colorists use where you lay the "flats" down first. I was vaguely aware of the method but really never used it before. Now I know why professional colorists like it! It helped me break through the block I was having.

Click here or on the image at right to see it full size; you can also click thru that page to see a preview of the issue consisting of several pages....

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Rob Hanes Adventures Story Launches Today

I just launched a new Rob Hanes Adventures web story today.

Rob goes to Paris to investigate reports of industrial espionage being conducted against the U.S. by foreign spies, and discovers that when it comes to advanced technologies and economic competition, it's difficult to tell friend from foe! It's all part of "The New World Order."

You can access it by clicking on the image banner at right...

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Issue 10 Completed!

Great news--I've just completed the art to Rob Hanes Adventures #10. This includes lettering and halftones. All that's left is to color the cover and complete interior editorial and promotional pages. I anticipate releasing the issue in a few months.

For a preview of the story, click on the thumbnail of p. 11 at right. In the story, "The Pride of the Chickenhawks," Rob goes undercover on a minor league baseball team to investigate steroid use and becomes obsessed with getting a hit, leaving it to his partner, Abner McKenna, to solve the case!

In addition, a teaser for the next story to be serialized shortly at the web comic site, http://rhadventures.com, has just been posted.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Saluting the Centenary of Milton Caniff

Anyone familiar with my work will know that Milton Caniff—creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon—is one of my earliest cartoonist heroes. February 28, 2007 marks the centenary of his birth.

Why did Caniff make such an impact on me? After all, he was an artist whose favorite period of mine was produced in the 1930s thru the '40s, a good 40 years before I discovered him when I was an adolescent. What in his work resonated in me after so many decades?

First of all, of course, was his art. In collaboration with his studio-mate, Noel Sickles, who worked on Scorchy Smith at the same time Terry began, Caniff launched a whole new "school" of cartooning, which used high contrast black and white to great dramatic effect (see sample below). The innovative new style captured a sense of urgency and immediacy that was revolutionary, not too unlike cinema verite.


But though the art initially grabbed readers, ultimately it was the stories and the writing that kept readers coming back for more, and made his work timeless. Caniff's writing and plotting brought a new level of sophistication to comics. His characters (usually the villains but sometimes also the protagonists) were not simply driven by the usual pulp desires of greed and evil for their own sake, but sometimes by petty lust and jealousy as well. Caniff's plot turns often hinged on a character acting out, not because they were inherently evil, but usually because of recognizable human frailty, often leading to regret and a realization and acknowledgment of error.

Even compared to many comics being published today, Caniff's characters and storylines were adult and sophisticated; sex and sexual politics often smoldered beneath the surface and were a potent part of his storylines. There was a lot of subtext both to his stories and the characters.

As this suggests, Caniff's characters' were complex, human and unpredictable—and, in the case of iconic characters like the Dragon Lady, bigger than life. But they also were instantly recognizable to readers. As one of the first "deans of cartoonists," Caniff was an innovator and visionary, who by all accounts also was modest and a true gentleman who was an effective ambassador for his field.

For a more detailed assessment of his work, click here. Reprints of Caniff's work are widely available, and a biography of Caniff by comics historian R.C. Harvey is due in June.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

Perhaps unfairly, the stereotype of cartoonists and comic-book fans is that we're a rather sedentary lot. This is not helped by the fact that cartooning is a rather solitary occupation, with the cartoonist stuck behind a drawing board for hours on end. Though having children certainly has made leading an active life challenging in recent years, I actually played many sports from an early age.

These included baseball, football (both touch and tackle), ice hockey, volleyball, and even a little golf (actually, among classic cartoonists, golf was actually quite a popular pastime!)

My favorite sport for the past 12 or so years has been skiing. My wife taught me back in the 1990s, and I actually quickly became more proficient at it than she!

For my birthday, my wife generously let me go on an overnight ski trip to Big Bear in Southern California with a buddy. (I last went two years ago. Before we had children, my wife and I used to go once or twice a season. Since then, however, we've gone twice in the last five years. We hope that will change once the kids learn!)

It turned out to be a terrific trip, with everything falling perfectly into place for us. Big Bear experienced snow storms and fresh snow last Monday (President's Day) and the following Thursday and Friday morning, but by Saturday when we actually hit the slopes, it was about as clear, sunny and beautiful as one could ask for!

We got a late start Friday, and though traffic was heavy at the outset (particularly as our route briefly put us on the same freeway taking people to Las Vegas), we were pleasantly surprised to find the road up the mountain to be fairly open and not very busy. My main concern was that we would need snow chains which I was carrying in the trunk; in fact, at the base of the mountain, a sign warned drivers that chains were required, confirming what I had read on the ski resort's real-time website just before hitting the road. But I guess the crews cleared the roads in time, because we were able to make it all the way up the mountain without needing the chains. Though we ended up driving up the mountain in the dark, I know Big Bear well enough that we got to the top and to the hotel without much incident or problem. There was quite a bit of snow around Big Bear City, but the roads were fairly free of snow and ice.

Although we got an early start the next morning (we also had to rent our equipment first), the traffic and the slopes were already busy by the time we arrived at about 8 am (which was when the mountain opened). But again, good luck and timing were on our side. Just before we turned up the main road that led up to the base of the resort, the parking spots on the road had filled up and we were redirected to a an overflow parking lot off the main road. This was fortunate because we ended up parking right by the shuttle stop; had we parked on the road, we would have had to hike up the main road carrying all our equipment, which is an uphill walk of about 200 yards--not pleasant when you are wearing ski boots and carrying your equipment. Instead, we got to ride the shuttle and get car-to-ticketbooth service!

As you can see in the pictures, it was a pristine and clear day. Since I had not skied for a couple years, I wondered how rusty I would be, but I got my ski legs back almost immediately! My friend and I were fairly comparable as skiers (he has skied much longer than me), and it was nice to have a companion to both pace me and push me a bit. In fact, we ended up taking three runs down a slope called "The Wall"--so named because when you first look down the run from the top of its perch, it looks like nearly a vertical drop!! (For those of you who are familiar with skiing, it is rated a "double-diamond" run--diamond runs are considered the most difficult and are for advanced skiers only.) However, once I started down, the hill turned out to be less intimidating than it looked, so it was rather exciting and exhilarating to conquer it. I'm fairly certain I've taken the run once before in the past, but because of my improved confidence and skill level, it was not difficult or intimidating.

A first for me was that once we got to the top of the mountain, we just stayed there the entire day, and avoided the crowds at the bottom where all the beginning and intermediate skiers tend to congregate. As a result, the advanced runs remained fairly open, and there were times when we literally skied onto the chairlift to take us back up to the top of the mountain at the end of a run! My friend and I skied from about 9:30 a.m. to 4:20 p.m., with two one-hour breaks (one for lunch). After that, we returned our rented equipment and headed home.

I must say, this was one of my best experiences skiing, both because of the conditions and because it was some of my best skiing technically.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Crazy N the City

Anyone who's read my profile may notice that I mention I've recently developed a taste for Asian/Hong Kong romantic comedies. Though sometimes derivative and light, these movies nevertheless have an innocent, unvarnished and endearing quality to them that is missing from the more star-driven and formulaic fare that now comes out of Hollywood. While American audiences have become more open to films from Asia that feature martial arts and historical fantasy, these films in contrast provide a peek into modern cosmopolitan Asia, and the lifestyles of young, hip and stylish urban professionals that I personally find irresistible.

(A few of my favorite finds include Love Me, Love My Money, And I Hate You So, Blue Gate Crossing, So Close, and Gorgeous. All these films are available through NetFlix.)

Not all of the films I've sampled have been winners, and viewers should recognize that humor, of course, can be very cultural-specific. (One should also be prepared for occasional stereotypically bad English subtitles.) Asian romantic comedies are a bit more screwball..in fact, their rhythms are very similar to classic Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930s. But they actually also can be quite heartfelt, romantic and, in the end, rewarding as well. (And, of course, the girls are usually quite lovely to look at!)

A recent delightful find is a 2005 film, Crazy N' the City. Like some of these films I've discovered, Crazy actually is a cross-pollination of several genres: a police story and hunt for a serial killer played against personal drama and gentle romantic comedy.

The film is about a Hong Kong policeman who, for various reasons, has lost his passion for law enforcement, and is simply biding his time until retirement. When his partner retires, he is assigned to train a young, attractive gung ho female cadet from the provinces. As he tries to show her the ropes (and, of course, teach her how to stay under the radar), real life begins to intrude. Several events..including the fact that a serial killer of young women is on the loose..begin to break through the senior officer's hard shell and cynicism. The film also includes a significant subplot about a mentally ill man who lives in the neighborhood patrolled by the officers. The man befriends a young woman who moves into his apartment building and, of course, eventually becomes targeted by the serial killer. (The film deals with the mental illness with some sensitivity; having watched several films like this, it was nice to see such a character not reduced to simple comic relief.)

Crazy N' the Ciy is a bit richer than this..again, unlike a lot of Hollywood fare, an effort is made to make even minor characters interesting and engaging, rather than simple opportunities for cheap gags. (The opening provides a very clever and amusing bit of audience misdirection as well, which nicely sets up the movie, and is echoed by the movie's epilogue.) And, strictly speaking, this is less a comedy than a romance-and-light-action picture. But the movie is engaging, moves along well, and culminates with an exciting and well-edited climax with a satisfying pay-off that some viewers may find touching.

Friday, February 9, 2007

A Mary Tyler Moore for the 21st Century

Having grown up with Saturday Night Live (at the risk of dating myself, virtually from the first season) and being a long-time fan, I've noticed that one of the weaknesses of sketch comedy is that skits tend to be high on concept and short on character. While many SNL characters certainly have broken out and achieved a certain cultural zeitgeist, rarely have they been strong or endearing enough to succeed outside the skit format. For every Wayne's World, there has been a Coneheads, A Night at the Roxbury, and Ladies Man.

Which is why 30 Rock--from writer/creator Tina Fey, former head writer of SNL--has been such a delightful surprise. Although the sitcom showcases Fey's comedy chops both as a writer and performer, she actually also has succeeded in developing a fairly strong cast of engaging and likable multi-dimensional characters that are engaging, surprising and unpredictably quirky.

The anchor of the show, of course, is Alec Baldwin as scene-stealing GE/NBC executive Jack Donaghy, Head of Microwaving and Programming. In recent years, Baldwin has emerged as a dependable and respected character actor--witness his strong turns in films as varied as The Departed, The Cooler, Cat in the Hat, The Good Shepherd, and The Aviator. Though at first glance Donaghy appears to be nothing more than a one-dimensional corporate suit, beneath the gruff exterior, Baldwin and the show's writers have made the character surprisingly vulnerable and likeable as well.

But the depth of the rest of the cast shouldn't be overlooked. All of the characters are well defined and interesting, and Fay herself is endearing as Liz Lemon, the head writer of the show-within-a-show portrayed on 30 Rock. As Lemon, Fay shows herself to be a terrific actor and performer (her reactions and double-takes are priceless), who is willing to be the straight man as much as the comedienne. But she also has given the character its own quirks and personal issues, which adds to the character's charm. In fact, I would go so far as to say that with Liz Lemon, Fey has successfully carried on the mantle that began with the old Mary Tyler Moore Show by creating a character who is a strong, independent professional while still being vulnerable and feminine (or, in this case, geek-femininity) as well.

The bottom line, of course, is that 30 Rock is one of the funniest shows on TV right now. The strength of the characters, hopefully, will give the show some "legs" and longevity.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Celebrity Spottings

Living in West Los Angeles as I do, I've encountered many celebrities both major and minor over the years while I've been out and about. These have ranged from Sean Connery (the day before he won his Academy Award), James Woods (several times!), Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Andy Richter, and others. Though I make it a point to rarely bother or approach them, I nevertheless get a kick out of it, and have made a habit of keeping a list of who I've seen. I'm actually planning to post the list soon, so keep tuned. Anyway, here's the latest such encounter…

Nearly every Sunday, my family and I have breakfast at a restaurant next to the Santa Monica airport. This past Sunday as we were seated, I took note of the couple having breakfast in the booth across the aisle from us but didn't give it a second thought. When my wife got up to take the kids out for a quick walk before breakfast came, however, the man started engaging my five-year-old daughter in cute conversation about a book she was carrying. He then spoke with my wife and I a bit, kindly telling us how the kids were a beautiful combination of my wife and me.

The minute he spoke, I instantly recognized him--it was actor Daniel Baldwin, the eldest of the Baldwin brothers!

Given recent personal issues he's gone through as reported in the media, my wife and I agreed afterwards that he looked great. I've always liked Daniel Baldwin, esp. when he was on Homicide, so it was a nice experience meeting him--and, of course, having him graciously complimenting our children certainly didn't hurt!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Intolerably Fun

One of the perks of writing a blog is the opportunity to talk about some overlooked gems that deserve a wider audience.

One such film is the Coen Brothers' film, Intolerable Cruelty. Starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones, Intolerable Cruelty was released in follow up to the deservingly successful O Brother, Where Art Thou. However, while O Brother struck a chord, Intolerable Cruelty received lukewarm reviews and did disappointing box office.

I suspect this was partly due to raised expectations caused by the success of O Brother. I've seen Intolerable Cruelty several times, and consider it among the Coens' best and funniest (along with the Hudsucker Proxy, another personal favorite). In Cruelty, Clooney plays Miles Massey, an immensely successful divorce lawyer who thwarts a gold-digging divorcee played by Jones from striking it rich in her divorce. Both, of course, become attracted to each other, and hi-jinks, romantic sparks, and double-crosses ensue.

Like many Coen films, Intolerable Cruelty has a streak of Warner Bros. cartoon comic lunacy and dark humor running through it, but it also plays like a classic 1930's screwball comedy. Many people have compared Clooney to Cary Grant, and in this film particularly the comparison is actually very apt. Though Grant's iconic image is based on his style and elegance, Grant was also quite a physical comedian, often mugging shamelessly for the camera. Here, Clooney successfully channels Grant's screwball persona to great comic effect.

This is a terrific--and, more importantly, hilarious--film that deserves a wider audience.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy new year everybody!

Lots going on! Over the holiday break I not only took a trip to Disneyland with the family (as described in my previous post), but took time off to get some quality drawing time in. In fact, I've just about completed issue 10 of Rob Hanes Adventures! It kind of snuck up on me because I was working from an uncompleted script and as I began laying out the next page (p. 18), I realized, "Hey, this is the last page!" I still need to tone and letter several pages, but this puts me in good shape for a spring release, if not sooner!

In addition, I continued to update my online web comic, and began the process of registering it at web comic listing sites like Online Comics and the Web Comics List to ensure maximum exposure for the series. I also have begun the process of redesigning my series website to upgrade it to CSS format, and am also considering a major overhaul and redesign.

And thanks to a gift card from my lovely wife, I just purchased a 160GB external hard drive to supplement my dinosaur of a computer (it's a Pentium II that still runs Windows 98se, but given all my graphics needs, it continues gets the job done--no need to fix what ain't broke!)

And to top it off, the colorist for the web comic series, Barry Gregory, of 01Comics sent me a sample page from the story he's currently prepping. I thought I'd post it here to whet everyone's appetite--I think it looks terrific! (To see it full size, click here or on the image above.