Monday, February 12, 2024

Update on Rob Hanes Adventures #25

I’m entering the home stretch of the milestone 25th issue of Rob Hanes Adventures, where Rob goes back to the 1930s for a story that teams him up with other soldiers-of-fortune from the era who readers familiar with classic comics may recognize—and even if you don’t, it’ll still be a fun ride!

In tribute to the era, each page is a complete “Sunday page.” It’s a fun exercise that’s required a slightly different rhythm and beat, where each page contains a complete sequence, ending with a mini-cliffhanger or punchline. It’s also one of my longer stories in awhile, and I look forward to its release this summer. Whether the story is “real” or “imaginary,” readers will have to decide!

Meanwhile, I’m also already looking ahead to the issue that follows (#26)—it’s not only another change of pace for the series, but pretty much a complete 180 degree turn from issue 25. In fact, one could say it takes Rob from the jazz age to the space age—but ‘nuff said for now, I’ll keep it at that!

Oh, and here's a bit of trivia—that classic old-school "Rob Hanes" logo was designed and gifted to me as a surprise by comic book writer and classic adventure comics fan Kurt Busiek back in the '90s!

Friday, February 9, 2024

A Really Big Shew...

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Beatles’ splashy introduction to the U.S. on the Ed Sullivan Show! I was about 15 days shy of my 2nd birthday—and more significantly, it was my brother’s first birthday (so happy birthday to him)!

Though I was too young to see or remember their debut (my dad reportedly had a repairman come out quickly to fix our tv so that he and my mom could watch the show), I've nevertheless been a huge fan of anything Beatles my whole life and imprinted on them early. Just a few years after their Sullivan debut, we badgered our parents and received their Capitol Records Early Beatles’ compilation album (as seen in the accompanying photos). Then when I was five, an uncle came home bearing the newly-released Sgt. Pepper album for us—their new look totally puzzled to us. There were other touchstones—hearing Meet the Beatles at a family party; seeing Let It Be in a local store; discovering the Abbey Road album at the apartment of our aunt and her cool groovy roommate; staying up late way past our bedtimes (with our parents' permission) when we discovered a local channel was playing Help!; and going to the first revival moviehouse we ever went to in order to watch a double bill of A Hard Days Night and Help!.

By our teens (which technically was after the band broke up), we had a full collection of Beatles albums. So, yes, the Beatles were a big presence in my childhood and throughout my life.

When I was in college in the ‘80s, the university I attended screened that Sullivan episode of the Beatles’ appearance—I realize now that was in 1984, to mark the 20th anniversary of their appearance! And now here we are marking the 60th.

Quite a few years back, I picked up the DVD pictured in the photo gallery that contained the first four appearances of the Beatles on Sullivan, from 1964-65. (As many know, Davy Jones also performed on the same show the Beatles made their first appearance—the cast of the Broadway musical “Oliver!” performed in that broadcast, with Jones as as the Artful Dodger.)

Update: I rewatched those Sullivan episodes. As I mentioned to my wife, it's amazing what passed for entertainment in those days lol. That said, I recognize that tastes (and humor changes). But I have to say, I found most of the acts unwatchable and couldn't sit through them, even for the nostalgia factor. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

REVIEWS: Blue Eye Samurai

I’m enjoying a lot of great series and films right now, but one that’s totally captured my attention and admiration at the moment is Blue Eye Samurai on Netflix.

Yes, it’s got an impressive voice cast, including Randall Park, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Masa Oka, George Takei, Ming-Na Wen, Maya Erskine, Brenda Song, and Kenneth Branagh. But the writing, animation (by a French company), storytelling, production design, staging, fight choreography, and more, are all also topnotch across the board—the series is stylish, emotionally complex and engaging, full of twists and surprises, and conveys a strong sense of place and environment. The fairly graphic sexual content and explicit fight scenes—still done with taste and style (mostly lol)—also puts it into solid adult/R-rated territory. Japanese art and culture—both traditional and more recent pop culture ranging from Kurosawa to Lone Wolf and Cub—are all clearly part of its DNA.

Though it focuses on a warrior—who is mixed race and, as such, seen as a demon and outcast—seeking personal revenge in Edo era Japan, a time when the country had closed itself from the outside world (approximately the early 1600s to late 1860s), the series is also set against the larger canvas of the political rivalries of the time involving rival clans and a bit of European/Western incursion. It also touches on other issues, such as gender identity and inequity. One of the pleasures of the show is watching changing alliances and finding friends in unexpected places. There also are moments of comedy to lighten the mood. The warrior, of course, has a comic sidekick—an other abled character voiced by Oka. I’ve even been struck by the music—from traditional score, to traditional Japanese gagaku music, to Metallica, and a bloody fight scene that used what sounded like a rollicking Japanese rockabilly song as the underscore. One entire episode presented the story in real time, intercut with it being told in retrospect as a stylized kabuki play(!).

I don’t want to give away much more of the story since the way it unfolds and reveals back stories is part of the fun, but I’m two episodes from the end, and so blown away by its brilliance and art. (It’s already been renewed for a second season).

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Happy 95th Birthday, Jules Feiffer

Comic Book Heroes Cover

I’m a little late, but I wanted to mark the 95th birthday (on Jan. 26th) of cartoonist, author, children’s book writer, comics historian, playwright, and screenwriter Jules Feiffer! 

I’ve always been aware of Feiffer when I was growing up, occasionally seeing his Feiffer strip that appeared in the Village Voice. And like many people my age, he introduced me to golden age comic book work through his seminal book, The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965), which I came across in the '70s. Though I was familiar with most of the classic comic book heroes featured, it was through this book that I first learned of the Spirit by Will Eisner—with whom Feiffer famously got his start in comics as an assistant (and eventually a writer) on the series, which ran as a syndicated Sunday newspaper comic book insert from 1940 to 1952.* About 10 years ago, I also read Feiffer's wonderful memoir, Backing Into Forward, which I reviewed here. It was a great read, though I initially read it out of curiosity about his years in Eisner’s shop!

The Great Comic Book Heroes also served as a bit of an early personal memoir for him—I loved how he included a cover shot of one of his own home made comics made as a child (included in the accompanying photo gallery), which was a comfort knowing I wasn’t the only one who did that!

I had the opportunity to see and meet Feiffer in 1994 when he spoke as part of an "American Comix" lecture series sponsored by the Los Angeles Central Public Library. Afterwards, when I asked him to sign my copy of his book, The Man on the Ceiling, I brought up an anecdote from The Great Comic Book Heroes—one of his first assignments as Eisner’s assistant was signing the artist’s name on the stories, claiming he was immediately better than Eisner himself. So Feiffer chuckled when I asked him to sign in Eisner’s name, inscribing my book, “Jules Feiffer aka Will Eisner.”)

Feiffer is an old-school lefty, who came of age professionally during a heady time in New York when the city was still the center of much of the art, entertainment and publishing worlds. Intellectuals, playwrights, actors, movie directors and, yes, cartoonists like Feiffer mingled and cross-pollinated at parties and salons in those days. On stage, he worked with people like Alan Arkin, and on film, Mike Nichols (Carnal Knowledge) and Robert Altman (Popeye). (I recently rewatched a documentary about Nichols and May, and was delighted to see Feiffer included among the talking heads throughout the piece.)

Feiffer is a talented hyphenated artist, but proudly a cartoonist first—in his twilight years he has returned to producing graphic novels, being one of the first to dabble in the form, with 1979’s Tantrum.

I’ve heard that Feiffer also wrote a never-produced screenplay for a film adaption of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates—that screenplay has always been a bit of a holy grail of mine.

Anyway, happy birthday to one of the greats.