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

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).

From 2003 CAPS meeting (photo courtesy of David Folkman)

Friday, November 9, 2007

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

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.)

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.)