Monday, April 16, 2018

2018 San Diego Comic-Con Special Guest Announcement

Well, the news is out—I will be a Special Guest at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, July 19–22, 2018!

While I'm not quite sure how I rated such a recognition—aside from sheer stubbornness in continuing to publish Rob Hanes Adventures—I'm greatly honored and grateful to the organizers!

I'll of course keep everyone apprised of anything scheduled at the show related to my participation there!

You can find the announcement here along with a list of the other honoree.

Below is the tweet announcement and a scan of my bio at the Special Guest website....

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Batman '66 and the Hollywood Museum

Earlier this month, some old college buddies and I visited the Hollywood Museum. I'd never visited before, though upon first hearing about it, I assumed it was a "tourist trap" given its location in the heart of Hollywood—so "heart" in fact that it's located at Hollywood and Highland, the location of the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held and just a half block from the old Grauman's Chinese Theatre (now TCL Chinese Theatre).

The specific occasion for this field trip was to see a "Batman '66" exhibition devoted to the 1960's Batman television show.

The museum is located in the historic Max Factor building, making the structure itself an icon of art deco architecture. (Factor, of course, was a famed Hollywood make-up artist who helped mainstream the acceptance of cosmetics and make-up.) Some of the original make-up rooms and equipment are re-created and restored in the building.

The museum is otherwise a shrine to Hollywood memorabilia. While classic Hollywood, of course, is well represented, films throughout the decades are featured, with temporary exhibits, like "Batman '66" intertwined among what I assume is the permanent collection. The museum is densely packed with artifacts, but nevertheless artfully displayed.

The "Batman '66" exhibition features costumes and props from the show, as well as collectibles, film clips, etc. For my friends and I, who were children when the show hit the air (or at least in re-runs immediately following its run), it was a great time to reminisce. A horror film exhibit was also on display on the bottom level, as well as exhibitions devoted to Marilyn Monroe, costume designers, etc. On top of that, the museum is surprisingly very affordably priced ($15 for an adult ticket).

By sheer coincidence, we visited the museum the day before this year's Academy Awards, when much of the area was already closed off to traffic. We saw parts of the red carpet, but otherwise foot and tourist traffic seemed fairly normal. Though my friends and I came from two different directions, we also decided to all take the L.A. Metro train to the area to avoid the hassle of traffic and parking. It helped that there is actually a Hollywood/Highland station on the line, so we were let off at close proximity to the museum. Other than that, the only real indication we were in Oscar season was the fact that when we decided to go to the famed Hollywood eatery, Musso and Frank's, we found a wait for a table to be inordinately long due to the fact that one room in the restaurant had been reserved for an Academy Awards film editors party that was underway when we arrived. We ended up going to another old Hollywood haunt, Michei's,  founded in 1949, and billed as "Hollywood's oldest Italian restaurant." It turned out to be a great choice, the food was terrific.

Anyway, whether your visiting or a local, if you're a fan of the movies (and who isn't?), a visit to Hollywood should be on your itinerary and a stop at the Hollywood Museum recommended if you have the time.

To see the full photogallery, click here. Some photos from the gallery are embedded below.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Back to Back to the Future

The film Back to the Future is one of my son's favorite films—I have great memories for them too and still have memories of how blown away I was when I first saw the film at its opening release.

I've long known that the location of the fictional Twin Pines Mall in the film was Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry/Rowland Heights area of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. I have family who live only an exit away and when I was attending UCLA n the 1980s, I would occasionally visit them and sometimes visit the mall, sometimes taking my younger cousins as company.

My son recently learned from one of his favorite vloggers that the mall actually has a Twin Pines Mall sign on display. My family still lives in the area so I promised that next time we were passing by, we'd stop by.  (In October 2015, there apparently was a celebration there to mark the day Marty McFly showed up there in the "future.")

That opportunity came up near the end of February for a family party (in fact, it was coincidentally my birthday as well). I wanted to be sure, however, that the display was still there, and after finding no mention of it online or at the mall's website, I called the mall directly. Fortunately, the person at the information desk there was not only able to confirm the display was still there but also its location.

I also had the presence of mind to find out where the exterior scenes—featuring the Libyan terrorists—were filmed. In the film (see the screencap accompanying this post), you could clearly see a JC Penney in the background. It turns out that JC Penney closed years ago and was replaced by a 24-Hour Fitness Center.

We parked next to the fitness center and before going into the mall, took a walk to get a good vantage shot of where the exterior shots were filmed. You'll see we were right there, though we took our photos a little bit to one side of the film shot. In the photos, you can see the service road both in the screencap and our photos—it actually was a fairly busy thoroughfare, such that it was impossible to safely take a photo standing in the middle of the street. At one point, a car full of young people stopped and asked if we were taking photos because of the film—when I confirmed we were, they laughed and said, "We were just talking about it!" They thanked me when I told them about the sign inside the mall.

The sign itself is clearly displayed though I saw no explicit reference to Back the Future.

Inside the mall, there is also a general memorabilia store for autographed items and such, and in the window display was a Back to the Future poster, signed by the cast (presumably). (I have that poster as well, signed by the artist, Drew Struzan.)

Anyway, it was a fun detour on this trip!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Entertainment Round up for 2017

As I do every year, I'm listing the films, plays, exhibitions and books consumed during the previous year. While I try to keep track, the list is likely not exhaustive—I've probably watched more  streaming content than is noted here—but it's sometimes hard to document everything.

I should also add that the list somewhat reflects the blurry lines of streamed content, particularly  original streamed content on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. Generally speaking, streamed content that are film-length and stand-alone are included under "Films" while episodic series (like The Crown) are listed under Television/Series.

Among my favorite films this year (though some may have been released in a previous year), pretty much in the order listed: Lady Bird, I, TonyaThe FounderWonder WomanCocoBridge of Spies,  The Man Who Invented ChristmasThor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Darkest Hour.

Television/original streaming series, of course, continue to provide great content. Among my favorites this past year were the Crown: Season 2Love (a great series that really captures life as a single in L.A.), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (a show like many of the best ones that got better with each episode), Finding Vivian Maier, the criminally underrated Red Oaks, The Good Place (a great cast and further proof of Ted Danson's comedy chops), the Girls of GLOW (another great ensemble, with Marc Maron a revelation—though I thought the series wavered a bit at the end).


La La Land (1/1/2017)
Jim Gaffigan: Cinco - Netflix (1/14/2017)
Finding Vivian Maier - Netflix (1/15/2017)
Across the Pacific - TCM (1/1/2017)
That’s Entertainment, Part III - TCM (1/2/2017)
That’s Entertainment - TCM (1/2/2017)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - Amazon (1/7/2017)
Expendables 3 - Cable TV (1/8/2017)
Mike Nichols - Amazon (1/13/2017)
Tales from the Script - Amazon (1/13/2017)
West Wing - Season 7 (1/30/2017)
Band of Brothers - Amazon (2/10/2017)
David Brent: Life on the Road - Netflix (2/11/2017)
Lego Batman Movie (2/11/2017)
Margin Call - Amazon (2/19/2017)
Big Eyes - Netflix (2/19/2017)
Beauty and the Beast (3/18/2017)
American Experience: The Boys of '36 - Netflix (5/6/17)
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (5/6/17)
Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 (5/7/2017)
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery MoviePirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales (5/27/2017)
Fire and Ice - Amazon (6/2017)
A Man of No Importance - Amazon (6/2017)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Amazon (6/2017)
Wonder Woman (6/4/2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (7/7/2017)
On the Town (8/6/2017)
Comrade Detective, Season 1, Ep. 1 (8/8/2017)
If Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent (8/6/2017)
The Founder - Netflix (8/7/2017)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Netflix (8/8/2017)
Mastermind - Netflix (8/12/2017)
Hall Pass - cable (8/27/2017)
Wanderlust - cable (8/27/2017)
Clueless - cable (8/28/2017)
Mifune: The Last Samurai - Netflix (9/10/2017)
Jerry Before Seinfeld (9/21/2017)
Beauty and the Beast - Netflix (9/24/2017)
Rocco - Netflix (10/9/2017)
Sleeping With Other People - Netflix (10/12/2017)
Whatever Works - Netflix (10/18/2017)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Netflix (10/20/2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (11/5/2017)
Lady Bird (11/11/2017)
Cinderella - Cable (11/2017)
Justice League: Dawn of Justice (11/19/2017)
Justice League: Dawn of Justice (11/22/2017)
Coco (11/23/2017)
Hidden Figures - HBO (11/26/2017)
Bridge of Spies - HBO (11/26/2017)
The Big Sick - Amazon (12/4/2017)
The Man Who Invented Christmas (12/2/2017)
The Darkest Hour (12/9/2017)
Homecoming - TCM Streaming (12/22/2017)
Pottersville (12/23/2017)


Jim Gaffigan Cinco (1/11/17)
Masters of Sex - Season 1 (2/4/2017)
Victoria: Masterpiece Theater (2/2017)
The Feud (3/2017)
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (3/8/17)
Love - Netflix (3/2017)
Five Came Back: Season 1 – Netflix (4/26/17)
Boys of ‘36 - Netflix (5/6/2017)
A Perfect Ending - Netflix (5/6/2017)
Sgt. Pepper's Musical Revolution (6/4/2017)
Dear White People: Season 1, Episodes 1-4 (7/4/2017)
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later - Netflix (8/6/2017)
Red Oaks - Season 2 - Amazon (8/12/2017)
The Good Place Season 1 - Netflix (9/9/2017)
The Good Place: Season 1 - Netflix (9/28/17)
GLOW (Season 1) - Netflix (10/22/2017)
Master of None: Season 2 - Netflix (10/22/2017)
American Experience: New York - Season 1 - Amazon (11/18/2017)
Red Oaks - Season 3 - Amazon (12/1/2017)
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Season 2 (12/5/2017)
The Crown Season 2 - Netflix (12/19/2017)

Plays/Live Performance/Exhibitions:

L.A. County Museum of Art (1/8/2017)
Long Day’s Journey into Night - Geffen Playhouse (2/15/17)
Long Beach Comic Expo (2/19/2017)
Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (3/4/2017)
West Side Story (3/11/2017)
WonderCon (4/8/17)
Universal Studios (4/10/17)
AVPA JAVA-Gala (6/3/2017)
Mighty Morphin Midsummer's Night Dream (Actor's Gang) (8/19/17)


Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (6/20/17)
Ric Hochet: - Volume 1 - R.I.P., Ric! by Zidrou (8/29/17)
Paying for It by Chester Brown (4/5/17)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My New iMac!

Got a new iMac, though not under the most ideal circumstances—a few weeks back, my 2009 iMac crashed and would not start. Worse, I was several pages deep into the next issue of Rob Hanes Adventures and lost all the work. (Yes, I back up my files—in fact, multiple backups as a failsafe—but for some reason had not done so the previous weeks and did not do so for this newest issue (aside from the cover, thank goodness. All it would have required is just dragging/copying the file onto one of my external backup drives. Sigh.)

I took the machine to a Mac repair shop which told me that if the hard drive had indeed failed, it would cost about $400 for a new drive and anywhere from $250-450 to recover the data (if recoverable). Given the computer was purchased in 2009, I opted to purchase a new one; so the repair shop then got to work on recovering the contents of the failed drive. A few days later, I learned that they had actually recovered the main folders I needed – but after the data was transferred to my new computer, I immediately checked the drive while still in the shop and sadly discovered that the specific folders containing the newest issues were missing. Otherwise, I’d say about about 90% of my data was recovered—but, as I said, most of this older data had already been backed up.

The failed drive, removed from the iMac shell
I had been thinking about purchasing a new computer for the past year or so anyway, but since my iMac was customized exactly the way I needed it—complete with Parallels Desktop to run Windows XP in the background so that I could access a large-size scanner that only worked with Windows and to run CorelDraw, a graphic design application I use to letter my comics—I was in no rush to reinvent the wheel by having to reconfigure a whole new computer.

Once I decided to get a new iMac, I moved quickly—one evening, I ran down to a local Best Buy but learned they were out of the model I wanted. I'm equi-distant between two Best Buys and, after checking their stock in the system, the salesperson told me that the other Best Buy had several in stock. But of course when I went to the second store, I found out this was not the case. (I’m glad I declined the first store’s offer to purchase it before I went there!) So I simply went home, ordered it online from Apple and paid $20 extra to have it delivered to me the next day. (I opted against going to a local Apple store because 1) the three stores I know of aren’t super close to to me and 2) I didn’t relish the idea of having to lug the new computer through a mall and parking lot. (BTW, I sadly dropped off the old iMac at a recycling facility for hazardous waste—but have the old hard drive, along with some other older ones, stored at home to protect the data.)

I forgot how fairly easy and straightforward it is to set up a computer today—the old days required a lot of cables and configuration. Here I just plugged it in, turned it on, and it was ready to go—though of course I had to install and configure software.

My biggest concern were my graphics packages, including Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Dreamweaver), which have since moved to a monthly online subscription model. I was happily surprised to discover that not only did I find the original installation files saved on my backup drive but, perhaps more importantly, found that I had the wherewithal several years ago to save the serial number needed to activate the installation! Once I found these pieces, I was able to re-install the entire suite and discover it worked in the new operating system! Whew!

What also saved my bacon were the workarounds I found for the scanner and CorelDraw. For years, I had searched online in vain for Mac drivers for my scanner, but in a search just prior to purchasing the new computer, I discovered a third-party developer that offered a Mac driver for the scanner! What another relief.

As to CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator has always been the most comparable application—in fact, Illustrator is the de facto standard among many graphic design professionals. Though I have always used Illustrator to some degree and was fairly familiar with it, I have always found CorelDraw to be a little more flexible and more compatible with my needs. But beggars can’t be choosers—so even though I still search for a way to run CorelDraw on my iMac (short of having to re-install Parallels Desktop along with a Windows operating system), I’m making do and have become resigned to getting along with Illustrator (for now).

So, aside from the disheartening experience of having lost those early pages (which I had to re-construct from memory), I’m back on track with the next issue of Rob Hanes Adventures!

BELOW: Page 1 from ROB HANES ADVENTURES #19 (without lettering) — one of five pages I had to re-create when I lost the original files when my computer crashed.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Remembering the King

Cartoonists Alex Toth and Jack “The King” Kirby are often held up as the cartoonists who represented the two main competing “schools” in comic-books—at the risk of oversimplifying, Toth was more naturalistic while Kirby more operatic. When the superhero genre came to dominate the industry, Kirby’s more immediate, hard-hitting style—coupled with Marvel editor and writer Stan Lee’s chummy banter—became the template for the comic-book industry for a generation or more.

Toth came from the “school” of cartooning that has its roots in the newspaper adventure strips, most notably studio-mates Noel Sickles and Alex Toth, who themselves were preceded by Roy Crane (to whom Toth equally credits as an inspiration). I’ve written about Toth, Sickles, Caniff, and Crane extensively over the years, so it’s no secret where my own stylistic influences lie.

But this year marks the centenary of Kirby’s birth (August 28), so I thought I’d add my own tribute and appreciation—the San Diego Comic-Con celebrated Kirby’s centennial birth this year (as it did cartoonist Will Eisner, born the same year) and numerous articles and tributes appeared on his birthday.

Having been born in the early 1960s, I was a little young to see Kirby’s heyday at Marvel in the mid-to-late ‘60s when, in a dazzling burst of creativity, with cohort Stan Lee, he created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Spider- Man, and more (he had already co-created Captain America with then-partner Joe Simon in 1941, right before the U.S. entered World War II). And by time I was fully into comics, in addition to my fascination with classic newspaper adventure strips by the artists mentioned above, my comic-book reading gravitated more towards characters and series like Batman and Sgt. Rock than to Kirby’s more cosmic work.

With that said, as someone with an interest in the history of comics, I was nevertheless very familiar with Kirby’s place in comics history, particularly through Stan Lee’s take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt memoir, Origin of Marvel Comics (1974). I have a vague memory of being fascinated around this time by some back issue of the Fantastic Four and, as a World War II buff at the time, reprints of the Boy Commandos that were reissued by DC Comics during the ‘70s. It was during my personal “Golden Age” of comics reading (i.e., age 12) when Kirby left Marvel for DC to create his Fourth World/New Gods meta-series, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, and work on other books like Jimmy Olsen. The New Gods series was not a hit at DC and Kirby would eventually move on for greener pastures to work in animated television as a concept designer and return later to do more work at Marvel, DC and even the independent market.

But anyone with even a minimal interest in comics—or who has seen a recent superhero movie—has been touched by Kirby. Aside from his creations and origin stories being the foundation for the Marvel films, his New Gods creations appear to be the source for the next phase of DC’s films as well, with the confirmation of a New Gods character, Steppenwolf, as the villain for the upcoming Justice League film. (I actually first became more familiar with the New Gods through the Superman and Justice League animated series, which I thought was a stroke of genius because they were characters who could finally give the nearly invincible Superman and his super friends a real run for their money.) So it’s remarkable to note that the major story arcs of both current Marvel and DC film franchises carry Kirby’s creative DNA.

Like many of the great cartoonists of his generation, Kirby was respected but never fully appreciated—nor fairly compensated—for his work or creations. Indeed, when comics companies began returning original artwork to artists, Kirby’s art was essentially held hostage by Marvel as it tried to impose stipulations on his work’s return. Then after Kirby’s death, his family, through his estate, pursued litigation against Marvel, which involved an effort to regain ownership of Captain America.

However, in 2014, days before the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to discuss whether it would review the case, Marvel and the Kirby Estate jointly announced that it had amicably settled the matter. Though the terms have never been disclosed, Kirby has since received much deserved and overdue credit on the films and comics, and it is assumed that there was a significant financial settlement. Further cementing the reach of his contributions is the fact that the Disney Company, now the owner of Marvel Comics and the de facto beneficiaries of Kirby’s genius, this year named the artist a “Disney Legend.”

Like many comic-book artists of his generation, Kirby came from hardscrabble Jewish immigrant roots and was focused on providing financial security for his family, often becoming frustrated that he did not receive proper credit for his work, let alone a fair share of the profits generated by his creative work. While Kirby was a visionary, like many cartoonists, he was a poor businessman. Nevertheless, while Kirby did not see these wrongs made right in his lifetime, thanks to the overdue credit and financial settlement to him and his family, Kirby’s legacy and contributions have been firmly cemented in history.

For a couple of excellent comprehensive overviews of Kirby's career and legacy on his 100th birthday, see Mark Evanier's blog and Jeet Heer's New Republic article.

Monday, August 14, 2017

REVIEW: Creepy Presents Alex Toth

I’ve written extensively about Alex Toth, one of my favorite cartoonists. He was never closely identified with a single character or series—the closest perhaps being Bravo for Adventure (for which he produced a total of two stories) and a relatively long run on the Zorro comic-book—and primarily drew genre stories for various companies throughout his career, elevating them through his artistry and storytelling skills. (Another chunk of his career was spent doing character design and storyboarding for animation, most notably, Jonny Quest and Super Friends.)

Over the years, there have been numerous collections of his work, particularly his romance and war comics work at Standard, DC and other publishers from the 1950s and ‘60s—as well as in the definitive three-volume illustrated coffee-table biography, which I have reviewed.

So I was happy to come across this definitive compilation, Creepy Presents Alex Toth, collecting his little-seen horror work in the pages of Creepy and Eerie magazines from Warren Publishing, dating from the late 1960s, ‘70s and early ‘80s. (Creepy and Eerie were black-and-white magazine-sized newsstand comics, inspired by the well-regarded but notorious EC Comics of the 1950s.) The stories in these pages show that Toth always worked at the top of his game, even in his later years.

The collection shows a different side of Toth. An old school romantic, Toth greatly enjoyed doing romance comics. Aside from the occasional gem, the stories were often formulaic and arguably beneath someone as talented as Toth, though Toth’s work invariably gave them some emotional heft, raising the writing and stories to a higher level.

So it is interesting to see Toth drawing stories that are a little bit more cynical and grittier, exposing a darker side of the human condition and imagination. While I have never been much of a fan of horror, the work in this collection are of the O. Henry type, usually with an ironic or twist ending consisting of retribution or poetic justice. And even with occasional depictions of grisly horror, they still feature Toth’s penchant for strong graphics, crisp storytelling and great framing and cutting.

I was expecting to dismiss the stories as schlock but was pleasantly surprised that the stories were uniformly well written and high concept. It helps of course that Toth is paired with some great writers, such as the legendary Archie Goodwin, which no doubt inspired Toth in turn.

Toth is often referred to as an “artist’s artist” because other artists study his work—and this volume too is a great classroom for cartooning and comics storytelling. But the stories are entertaining as well as short story pieces, so anyone interested in seeing what all the fuss is about with Toth would do well picking up this collection.