Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays from WCG Comics!

Below is this year's holiday greetings from WCG Comics....

Past holiday greeting cards may be viewed here.

It was another great year for WCG Comics and Rob Hanes Adventures—my thanks to everyone who supported the series. Issue 12 was released this year (debuting at the San Diego Comic-Con), as well as three never-before-seen stories online dating back to the 1980s at my webcomics site. I also joined Facebook this past year.

2010 promises to be another exciting year. I will be making an official announcement shortly about the upcoming release of the first volume collecting the series in trade paperback format. Also schedules is the release of a special color edition issue!

And, as a special treat, here is my art to my personal family holiday card:

See you in 2010!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Inglourious Screening

Thanks to a friend who works as an entertainment blogger, earlier this week I finally got a chance to see Inglourious Basterds at a closed screening in L.A. to celebrate the film's release on DVD the following day. The viewing was attended by none other than the director himself, Quentin Tarantino, as well as some of the film's stars including Diane Kruger, B.J. Novak, Eli Roth, Samm Levine, and Omar Doom, as well as Tarantino's longtime producer, Lawrence Bender. Here's my report from behind the press line at the red carpet event, as well as a quick review of the film. To go straight to all my photos from the event, click here.

Although the press had been directed by the organizers of the event to park at a separate location away from the theater (presumably to prevent traffic, crowd and parking problems near the revival house venue which is located in a more residential and sedate part of town away from the somewhat more bustling parts of nearby Hollywood and West Hollywood), since it was a theater I'd been to many times, I easily found parking nearby on a quiet, dark residential street only a couple blocks away. As I walked to the theater, I saw that it had been dressed up like a classic movie premiere event, complete with large arclights pointing to the sky and a classic red carpet at the entryway. I wasn't able to get past the security people and the front of the theater until my buddy came out from the secure area with the press wristband he had snagged for me; it was cool to be able to bypass the regular line of special ticket holders and hang out in the press area that was traditionally roped off from the red carpet area. We were near one end of the press line, closest to the front of the theater—in fact, we were facing the main doors. As my friend noted, there definitely is a pecking order in these things, and we were pretty much at the end of the line, but as far as I was concerned, at least we were in front of the theater, and not facing some unglamorous storefront.

Living in L.A., I have a little familiarity with these kinds of events, and this one was pretty laid back and relaxed, no doubt in large part because there weren't any major A-listers involved, let alone major media that I was aware of, nor was it a major studio event. This simply seemed to be a party Tarantino was throwing for friends and fans. As a result, all the P.R. people were pretty nice, and the media people we were positioned next to were pretty friendly and talky as well. The actors were all friendly and engaged. All were charming and responsive; the funniest line I recalled was Novak. Referring to his character in the television show in "The Office," he joked that the film definitely was a step up for him, from "a douchebag to a basterd."

Shortly before the scheduled screening time, the VIPs started showing up. For the most part, they made their way down the press line to be interviewed. As I said, it wasn't a major frenzy since it was a smaller, low key event and for the most part my buddy got to interview many of the people who came down the line, including Bender, Novak, Levine, Doom, and Roth. Those he didn't get, including Tarantino and Kruger (who was accompanied by Joshua Jackson, who she apparently is currently dating), stopped to talk with the video crew next to us, so even they were in close proximity to us as they walked by. As you'll see in my photos, before all going in, they stopped to take group shots.

Inside, all the attendees were treated to free popcorn and bottled water placed at each of the seats—which I much appreciated since I didn't get a chance to grab dinner before getting to the theater after work!

Tarantino was brought up to introduce the film. He had the cast members in attendance to join him on stage and, true to geek form, he announced that he had put together his own reel of previews. They were clearly intended to whet our appetite, as they consisted of mostly war mission films like the Dirty Dozen, Hornet's Nest, Army of Five, and, of course, the original Inglorious Bastards!

As with most Tarantino films, Inglourious Basterds is brash and fun, proudly wearing its geek and genre cred on its sleeve. Like many of his other films, Basterds is a genre film that turns the genre on its head. It's also as much a black comedy as it is an action war film—after all, without giving anything away, given the film's ending, there's no way one can take the picture wholly seriously. But along the way, he manages to present his trademark crackling dialogue and create memorable and funny characters, while nevertheless giving viewers a chance to emotionally invest in some of the characters.

The actors are all terrific, and it's important to recognize that their outstanding work was made possible by a solid script. While Christoph Waltz has deservedly received the lion's share of the attention for his turn as SS officer Hans Landa, Brad Pitt also deserves credit for having great fun with his character while also managing to keep it on this side of real. Pitt is a hoot to watch, even when he's not the main focus of a scene or a shot.

Other great performances are delivered by Daniel Bruhl as Fredrick Zoller (who my friend described as the "German Audie Murphy"), Kruger as a German actress who also is a double agent for the allies, and Melanie Laurent as Jewish refugee Shoshanna Dreyfus hiding in plain view of the Nazis as a Paris theater owner. As always, Tarantino's women are amazingly strong and, despite the laughs, the film has its share of heart and tragedy.

As he often does, Tarantino echoes movie moments throughout the film (much of its tone reminded me of Ernst Lubitch's To Be or Not To Be). Though my wife loved the film, she did say she wished she had learned more about the Basterds and that the movie had focused on their background and how they got together, which is a standard formula for such movies. My response was that since this was a genre "men on a mission" film, there was no need for Tarantino to hew to this formula—anyone who grew up watching these films (as I did) like the Dirty Dozen and the Devil's Brigade already knows these characters, and the gauntlet of training and infighting they no doubt had to go through before coming together a team. This conceit allows Tarantino to go straight into the guts of the story.

Click here to see all the photos from this event....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Liner Notes for "Koman!"

As mentioned in earlier blogs, "Koman!"—now being serialized at the website—is the last of three stories originally produced in the 1980s but never released. These initial stories were produced on "spec" with no real plan at the time for how they were going to be released. Since they were my first attempts at doing work intended for print, they also functioned as learning exercises.

When I began publishing the series, I naturally started with my most current and representative work. ("The Care Package," released in March 1991 in a one-off Rob Hanes comic-book, was the first RH story to officially see print. The story was later included in the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback.) By the time I exhausted those stories and began going back to release my older work, I realized my first three stories were too crude compared to my current work, so they were shelved. As the series jelled, these early stories also fell out of continuity. For all these reasons, these three stories were not included in the above-mentioned Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback which collected the other early stories in the series that had appeared primarily in zine format but not in the regular comic-book series.

Nevertheless, "Koman!" was a real turning point for me. The earlier two stories—"Meet Rob Hanes" and "Loyalties"—introduced Rob as a new detective and the "odd man out" at Justice International, and provided the impetus for sending Rob overseas. Anyone familiar with the series will recognize that "Koman," a fictional Middle East country, is the locale for many other stories, including, "A Night on the Town," "The Two Lady Agathas," "The Assassin," "Masks," "The Care Package," and, more recently, in RHA #9, "Rescue in Koman." But it all started in "Koman!"

While Koman was not modeled on any one country, it included elements of places known at the time for instability like Lebanon and Yemen; and thanks to the continued volatility of the region, it shares many of the qualities associated with current hotspots like Afghanistan and Iraq. The common thread in the recent histories of these countries, which I tried to capture in the Koman stories, was the fracture among competing and warring factions along political, ethnic, and religious lines.

Since it was the early '80s, Koman was originally envisioned as a Cold War battleground, caught between the U.S./Western bloc and Soviet spheres of influence—with the U.S. backing a weak central government that controlled the more developed, metropolitan and westernized part of the country and the Soviets exploiting a "rebel" force made up of religious fundamentalists and disenfranchised ethnic groups and tribes that controlled the outlying areas.

Of course, with the end of the Cold War and the rise of fundamentalism, the Cold War piece has fallen away but the other factional splits remain in place. These are personalized in later stories by the figure of General Amra, a military strongman whom the U.S. supports, and Sayed Farsi, a moderate who leads a fragile coalition of rebel forces (both make cameos in "Rescue in Koman" in RHA #9). But given the volatility and rapidly-changing nature of the region, I decided to create a fictional locale for these stories. For the same reason Milton Caniff set his seminal adventure strip, Terry and the Pirates, in Asia because he saw the orient as "the last outpost of adventure" in the world, I saw the Middle East as having the same kind of potential for a wide range of adventure stories.

My goal has always been to eventually play out the Koman story arc in an adventure in which the country collapses and in which Rob might even be called to testify before Congress. This story is still in the cards, but I haven't yet felt the time is right yet for it.

But "Koman!" is also a turning point because it was a story in which I felt some real progress both as a writer and an artist—while it's still rough around the edges, I could take some satisfaction in knowing that I was improving. If you take a look at the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback, which collects the eight stories produced immediately after "Koman!," one can definitely see the steady evolution and growth in the series, and particularly the art.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Issue 12 Reviews

I've received a nice mini-surge of orders recently, which usually means the series has been recently reviewed or spotlighted somewhere.

Sure enough, in scanning my most recent subscription copy of the Comics Buyer's Guide that just arrived in the mail (#1661/Jan. 2010), I discovered that CBG columnist Karen O'Brien reviewed Rob Hanes Adventures #12 in her monthly column, "The O'Brien Factor," giving the story a respectable 3 stars. (See p. 19 of the issue, cover image at right; I would have scanned the actual review itself for this blog, but the newsprint paper made it a bit too muddy to reproduce!)

The review also earned the issue's inclusion in CBGxtra online top picks here.

A Google search also pulled up a review of the issue at the Comixology website.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Koman" Begins Today

The final story of the '80s-era Rob Hanes adventures being serialized at my webcomics site,, kicks off today.

I'll post my notes for the story, entitled "Koman!," shortly.

As a recap, the other stories will remain permanently archived at the site. This includes "Introducing Rob Hanes" and "Loyalties."

The notes for these stories are available here, here, and here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different....

All last week, IFC aired a 6-part document on the history of Monty Python's Flying Circus, "Monty Python, Almost the Truth (The Director's Cut)." The group had a profound influence on my own early life and tastes.

I discovered Monty Python at the perfect time: the show first started syndication in the U.S. around 1975, which would have put me just at the start of my teens. I vividly recall being somewhat puzzled by the first episode I saw but intrigued. Fortunately, I stuck with it and slowly began to "get" what they were doing and, of course, quickly became an avid fan.

If I recall correctly, I had only recently discovered the television show when Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released. The movie obviously made me a fan for life—I recall it being one of the first movies I ever saw without my parents and with friends. It also was the first time I recall truly laughing aloud at a movie. (I recall one of my friends accidentally doing a spit take of his soda onto an audience member in the row in front of us during one hilarious sequence—after that, we learned to sip our sodas with our eyes closed.) Being the typical fanboy, I went on to devour whatever I could by the group, including their books and comedy albums, and being excited by their other projects, such as All You Need is Cash (the Beatles' parody Rutles mockumentary by Eric Idle). I even began producing my own homemade brand of Monty Python books for myself and my brother!

As I said, I was certainly the perfect age and demographic for Python—by the time I started college, spontaneously reciting and re-enacting Monty Python lines and skits became a quick way to connect and bond with new friends.

Calling the Pythons the Beatles of comedy has become a bit of a cliche recently, but it's nevertheless an apt and concise description: in the same way the Beatles reinvented and redefined rock 'n roll music and the music industry (even the album concept), the Pythons completely redefined the boundaries of humor, pushing comedy in new directions. And as the Beatles internalized their love of early American rock, the local Liverpool skiffle scene (as well as a bit of the English beer hall tradition), and turned it into something new, Python built on the work of innovative comedy groups like the Goon Show and brought this subversive surreal comedy into the mainstream. (Indeed, many of the Pythons worked concurrently on many of the British shows at the time before coming together to create their own show.) Many comedy shows, and practically every comedy skit show, are clearly Python influenced. It seems fitting that the Beatles were fans of Python (and vice versa) and, as shown in the IFC documenatry, that their lives intersected substantially in many ways over the years.

Being familiar with the group, aside from the details there's not much new information in the documentary for me, but in the same way the Beatles Anthology documentary was the band's way of cementing their legacy on their own terms, Almost the Truth serves the same function, while also serving as validation of their importance to fans like myself. I always have been fascinated by the fact that the Pythons were all well educated, primarily coming out of Oxford and Cambridge (which has produced similar formidable respected comedians and actors like Emma Thomson and Hugh Laurie). You can see this reflected in their humor, which is incredibly verbal and littered with literary and historical references that you either get or don't. And though it's always a risk to dissect comedy, I've always enjoyed hearing how the several camps within the group certainly recognized they had their own styles of humor and strengths; but again like the Beatles, the sum of the whole added up to something much more than their individual parts.

Anyway, here's to Python. Watching the documentary and rewatching the shows have reminded me of how exciting it was to discover Python for the first time, and how much a role it played in my life when I forming my own sense of humor and identity.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Honoring Genial Gene Colan

To see a slideshow of photos from the event described below, click here.

I had the great privilege to attend the annual banquet of the Cartoon Arts Professional Society (CAPS), of which I'm a member, this past weekend. Although CAPS has thrown these banquets for many years since it's founding in 1977, several years ago the group renamed the award given at the event the Sergio, for Mad cartoonist Sergio Aragones, a founding and longtime core member of the group.

This year's Sergio went to legendary comic-book artist Gene Colan. It was a great dress-up affair; the food was terrific, and among the attendees were Aragones, June Foray (a past honoree), Stan Freberg (another past honoree), Bill Morrison (who MC'd), Stan Sakai, and Scott Shaw! Speakers included Gerry Conway, Mark Evanier, and Marv Wolfman. Conway and Wolfman touchingly spoke about how Colan's artistry made them better writers, both of whom worked with Colan early in their careers. Original art by Colan was on display at the dinner, and a tribute book was assembled for the honoree.

An outstanding professional-quality video tribute was also put together by CAPS president Pat McGreal and played at the dinner. The video included glowing tributes by Dave Gibbons, Batton Lash, Rob Liefeld, Jeph Loeb, Jeff Smith, and, of course, Stan "The Man" Lee, as well as others. Numerous photos of Colan's family and of his childhood were included in the video, provided by Colan's wife, Adrienne.

A nice video tribute was also provided by Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada. CAPS member Bill Morrison MC'd, bringing the same style and comedy he has brought to his work as MC of the Eisner Awards.

The honoree, Gene Colan, was touched by the award and in his gracious acceptance remarks, acknowledged the people he had worked with, the fans, and CAPS.

But what made this year's tribute particularly impressive and memorable was the fact that the guest of honor actually was not in attendance—due to health reasons that have been public knowledge, shortly after he accepted CAPS' invitation, he told the group that his doctor had advised against him traveling to California from his home in New York.

So taking advantage of modern technology, using Skype, CAPS (through the tech wizardry of member Stephen Silver) was able to patch Colan in through a video-audio hook-up!! Colan and his wife were projected from a laptop onto a screen and hooked up to the room's sound system, so they were able to see and hear the whole proceeding (see photo above)! Everyone was amazed by the quality of the link from 3,000 miles away, saying it was like a NASA hookup or a remote telecast during the Academy Awards.

A special surprise was during the presentation of the actual award. CAPS had secretly sent the engraved award to Colan's wife, so when the presentation was made at this end, his wife handed him the Sergio statuette—Colan was genuinely surprised and delighted.

After the formal program ended late in the evening, Colan stayed on so that individual attendees could sit at the terminal and speak with him and congratulate him personally. All the guests also received a special edition endplate of an original piece by Colan, individually numbered and personally signed by the artist (see picture above right).

It was another classy event for CAPS from start to finish.

Another blog about the event can be found at the blogs for Mark Evanier and Marv Wolfman.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From the Archives: Loyalties

This week, the second of three 1980s-era Rob Hanes Adventures stories begins serializing at my webcomics site, New pages from the 12-page story will be posted three times a week on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the third story commencing on November 16th.

As noted in my previous posts, these stories were the first I completed that were intended for publication as a comic-book series. Though not representative of my current abilities or drawing style (nor part of current series continuity), they are being released at as webcomics to give readers a sense of how far the series and me have come since these early days.

As will become clear once all three stories are posted, the stories form a mini-arc for the character: the debut story introduced the character and defined his place within the Justice International detective agency and his relationship with the other private eyes; the second, "Loyalties," which commences this week, builds on that foundation and by the end propels the character onto a more international setting, which always has been my main intent with the series; and the final story in the trilogy, "Koman," is the first that features Rob caught up in overseas intrigue.

My goal in these early stories was to show Rob at odds with an agency made up of Cold War-era warriors, and the product of a generation less doctrinaire and absolute in its view of the world. That attitude would be put to the test as he moved to a global stage and confronted real-world dilemmas and situations.

This second story, "Loyalties," is another fairly tightly-written story. I was obviously still finding my way as an artist and a storyteller—for the most part, the storytelling and layout is fairly functional and straightforward, with not a lot of vibrancy. In re-reading it, I can see how I should have used the layout more to pace the story a little better.

Though the character is "done in one," at the time, I did like the character design of the story's main antagonist, Marty Hexam. The female lead, Audrey Hollister, is another character I had developed quite a while before beginning work on these stories as a possible love interest within the detective agency, but she has yet to appear again in the current series.

With its focus on Middle East unrest, "Loyalties" sadly remains somewhat prescient today—suicide bombing was already a feature of the Middle East conflict in the 1980s, though not as predominant, I believe, as it is today. This aspect of the story also offers a preview of what's to come in the series, which I will touch on when I discuss the third stories in the series, "Koman," which begins November 16th.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Everyone has to Start Somewhere!

As promised in my previous blog, today at my webcomics site ( I begin posting never-before-seen stories from my series, Rob Hanes Adventures, that date back to the 1980s! The first self-titled story went live in its entirety today. Then on Friday, the second story will begin serializing, with a new page appearing every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After that story concludes in early November, the third story will begin.

As noted earlier, these stories—"Rob Hanes," "Loyalties," and "Koman"—were the first completed that were intended for publication, and were used to show to potential publishers. I say "intended for publication," because as anyone familiar with my work knows, the character was actually created in the mid-1970s and envisioned as a syndicated comic strip patterned after classic adventure strips like Terry and the Pirates (samples of these early efforts have appeared periodically in the comic-book series).

But it wasn't until after college that I became more serious about publishing the series. Throughout college I kept a sketchbook and saw steady improvement in my work; afterwards, however, I began to focus on producing finished work for print that was polished and professional looking, using the correct tools of the trade. The three stories being released at are the first of these efforts completed. When one is starting out, getting through a full story requires a lot of discipline and concentration, so completing these stories was quite satisfying, proving to myself I could indeed do it. (There's an old axiom in the comics business along the lines of, "Your first 1000 pages are going to be crap, so you might as well get those pages out of the way as quickly as possible!")

By this time, the independent/alternative comics movement was in full swing, which also probably provided me some additional impetus to work on the series. Up until the '80s, with a few rare exceptions, comics primarily featured only superheroes and consisted of pretty much only two publishers, DC and Marvel, which limited one's options. However, the rise of the direct-sales market in the '80s, and the appearance of independent publishers which produced more alternative work like Cerebus, American Flagg, and Love and Rockets, gave me some hope that there might actually be a niche for the series.

When I completed these stories, I sent proposal packets to numerous publishers. As mentioned in my earlier post, Renegade Press actually picked up the series. Unfortunately, the company went under in 1988 before the first issue was released.

These early efforts obviously are the work of a different artist—the work is much more cartoony and, as one can see, I wasn't using zipatone shading yet, so the work is pretty stark and flat. Though the figurework is expressive, it's still rather stiff and a lot of the proportions are off—Rob's head and the head of the female lead, Samantha Archer, seem a bit too large in some shots (not helped, admittedly, by the very '80s mullet cuts featured in the stories). The inking is nothing to write home about but at least fairly clean. (I think I was primarily using a waterproof rolling ball writer at the time). Hey, it was a start!

As for the story, while again perhaps not as polished as my work today, I must admit that in re-reading it, I find the story and dialogue fairly concise and to the point: Rob's character and his reputation at the agency and his relationship with his boss, Gabriel Evans Girard, and with his co-workers at Justice International are fairly sharply defined. And I wrapped it all up in only 16 pages!

Since most comics are by design a periodical/serial medium, comics fans tend to get fixated on continuity and consistency. As such, I don't consider these stories official series canon, not only because they were a freshman effort but also because of some inconsistencies longtime readers will notice the stories have with the current continuity.

For example, the main "villain" of this piece is Jarret Cox, a fellow agent at Justice International. Anyone familiar with the current series will know that Cox is currently a major recurring character in the Rob Hanes Adventures universe: he is one of Rob's primary CIA handlers who, though he still has it in for Rob, nevertheless is not a corrupt turncoat as he appears in this first story. I always liked Cox's character design and the natural tension he brought as someone who didn't like Hanes, so when I decided to re-boot the series early on, I made Cox part of the regular cast of secondary characters.

Cox's two henchmen, seen in the very first pages of the story, are also minor secondary characters (click on the page image above to see the characters in more detail). The one with the thin shades is Clemson, seen intermittently in the current series as a lieutenant to international crimelord Nicolai Korda (Clemson's backstory describes him as a former CIA agent, though I'm not sure that's ever been explicitly revealed in the series); the other character, with the curly hair and mustache, is Rocco. Though he hasn't appeared much in the current series aside from "Introducing Rob Hanes" which appears in the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback collection), he was actually among the first characters ever created for the series and appeared frequently in earlier story outlines before I began working on the series as a comic-book series. Always intended as a kind of mob-type enforcer, his calling cards were that he never spoke and always wore a leather leisure-suit style jacket. Remember, I created him in the '70s, but I must admit this look still suits the character!

Anyway, as I have said, these stories are presented purely as an historical curiosity: while it's certainly rough and amateurish, at least it's clear that I've come a long way since these early efforts!

Next up, I'll talk about the second story, "Loyalties."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From the Archives...

Beginning October 12, I'll be posting at my webcomics site——three stories dating back to the late 1980s that have never appeared in print until now!

In order, the stories include the introductory self-titled "Rob Hanes" (from 1986), "Loyalties" (1986), and "Koman" (1987). The first story will be posted in its entirety, and the others will immediately follow in serialized format, on a schedule of about three pages a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).

These stories were the first in the series that were completed and intended for publication. They were sent on spec to potential publishers in the early days of the then-new independent comic-book publishing movement. (In fact, indie publisher Renegade Press picked up the series and had begun promoting it, but closed its doors before the first issue could appear.)

As I continued working on the series, I began publishing the completed stories as a photocopied small press fanzine titled Adventure Strip Digest in 1991. As a result of the great response, in 1994 the series became a full-size direct-market comic-book series under the same name. (The series was re-booted as Rob Hanes Adventures in 2000.)

Though most of my earliest efforts on the series appeared in the zine—which were subsequently collected in the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback—these first three stories were never released. While I initially planned to use the stories as fillers, by the time the series was in full swing, the level of my art had moved so far along, I felt those earlier stories were no longer representative of where I was as an artist, nor met the current standards of the series. Plus, portions of the story were no longer part of continuity.

In any case, after a fan of the series recently expressed interest in seeing these early stories after becoming aware of them, I went back to the files to take a look at them. While the art, of course, is the product of a very young artist still learning his way, and I certainly would not be comfortable releasing them within my current comic-book series, I felt the work was publishable, even if just as an historical curiosity.

As such, I am pleased to finally let these earliest Rob Hanes stories see the light of day. For you completists, I haven't decided yet whether to make the stories available as a one-shot special edition!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Look Back: The Post-Spirit Eisner

I've written a few times about the influence of Will Eisner and, particularly, his seminal serio-comic series, the Spirit, on my own work. Earlier this year, DC Comics completed its quarterly 26-volume hardcover compilation of the series' full run from 1940–1952. (The last volume collected the odds and ends of Eisner's intermittent work on the character from its cancellation in 1952 through 2005 shortly before Eisner's death.) In addition to the first volume, I ended up picking nearly the entire collection from about volume 13, when Eisner returned to the series after an intermittent absence from the series due to his Army service during World War II.

After the series ended in 1952, however, Eisner went on to pursue other opportunities. Although he remained a working cartoonist, he left mainstream comics to focus his energies on the American Visuals Corporation, a commercial art company he founded in the 1940s that specialized in educational comics. Operating as an independent contractor, Eisner from 1951 to 1972 produced PS Magazine, a publication for the U.S. Army that promoted preventive maintenance in the field that used a more visually-oriented approach to its subject matter, including comics and cartoons. Created as an outgrowth of the work Eisner did during the war while he was in the service, one of the running characters Eisner created for the magazine was "Joe Dope," who served as an example of what not to do. (The Army supposedly partly ended the magazine after deciding that Dope was no longer the image it wanted to project of its personnel.) During his tenure, Eisner employed the talents of some of the best cartoonists in the business to work on the magazine.

(The entire run of the series has been scanned and may be viewed online here.)

After selling American Visuals, Eisner began focusing on comics. While interest in the Spirit began to revive in the 1960s and '70s through various reprints by Harvey Comics, Kitchen Sink, and Warren Publications—which gave Eisner an opportunity to revisit the character through occasional new stories and cover art and pinups he provided—for the most part Eisner left the Spirit behind and began making good on his belief that comics were capable of serious artistic expression.

The first product of that effort is his collection of short stories, A Contract with God, and other Tenement Stories (1978), considered one of the first modern-day graphic novels. Made up of a series of independent short stories—"A Contract With God", "The Super", "The Street Singer", and "Cookalein"—the book shared the common thread of taking place in the Bronx Jewish tenements of the 1930s. Though not an autobiography, the stories obviously drew on Eisner's background as the child of Jewish immigrants. (In later years, it become clear that the title story, "A Contract with God," reflected Eisner's personal trauma in dealing with the death of his daughter that many people were not aware of until the release of his biography, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, by Bob Andelman). The stories reflect the kind of social realism that was occasionally apparent in Eisner's 1940s work in the Spirit.

Having just discovered Eisner through the pages of Jules Feiffer's Great Comic Book Heroes, I recall being intrigued by an ad for A Contract with God (1978) and having my parents mail order it for me. It was unlike any "comic-book" I had ever seen, and made quite an impression on me—the book (a first edition by the original small publisher who released it, Baronet Publishing) became quite dog-eared from repeat readings. Adding to the book's period look was the fact that my edition was printed on sepia-toned paper and sepia inks. I recently re-read the stories and was delighted to find they still hold up and powerful today—they are still among his most effective work.

(Many years later, a friend of mine was scheduled to interview Eisner for a magazine piece, so I asked him to bring it along with him for Eisner to sign. When he handed it to Eisner, the artist reportedly said, "Wow, that's an old one!")

Eisner's next project was "Signal from Space," which began being serialized in the Spirit Magazine around 1980, completing its run in its companion magazine Will Eisner Quarterly, both published by Kitchen Sink Press. (It was later colored and collected as a graphic novel under the title, Life on Another Planet.) "Signal from Space" also made quite an impression on me because it was the first time I saw a straight thriller, with strong political overtones, done in comic-book format—in fact, I felt it was very similar to what I was trying to do with my own series. The format inspired me to create my own full-length 128-page Rob Hanes graphic novel thriller, Come Armageddon, done entirely in pencil in a sketchbook!

These projects were soon followed by an incredible amount of activity, which was made possible by the attention Eisner's ambitious work was receiving. This new work, along with the legacy of the Spirit (Eisner was also involved in the very beginnings of the comic-book industry as one of the first "sweat shop" operators), had made Eisner one of the most respected "deans" of cartoonists, partly culminating with the prestigious Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 1988, and having the Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Awards at the San Diego Comic-Con named for him—an award that, as an active cartoonist, he received several times himself with some embarrassment and modesty.

Eisner remained incredibly productive to his passing in 2005 at the age of 87. While the Spirit remains his most famous legacy, he clearly did not sit on his laurels, and remained interested in mining his personal experiences and interests in his comics. Among my favorite of his post-Spirit works are The Dreamer, a thinly-fictionalized story about his contributions to the beginnings of the comic-book industry leading up to his creation of the Spirit, and To the Heart of the Storm. Always committed to helping comics gain acceptance as an artform, Eisner also produced the groundbreaking and influential Comics and Sequential Art (1985), a treatise about the language of comics storytelling.

The Spirit remains an important touchstone and inspiration for me, but I also wanted to give credit to Eisner's other body of work that also had a great impact on me.

Note: Some of the factual information for this article was drawn from the Wikipedia entry on Will Eisner.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mad About Sergio

This past weekend, my family and I had the privilege to attend a special reception for "Mad about Sergio," a gallery exhibition for celebrated, award-winning Mad cartoonist Sergio Aragones, at the Ojai Valley Museum. (I'm also proud to count myself as a professional acquaintance of the artist!) In attendance at the reception was the artist himself, Sergio Aragones, as well as a lot of his good friends from the cartooning world, including "Cathy" comic strip creator Cathy Guisewite, The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening, "Momma" cartoonist Mell Lazarus, and Usugai Yojimbo comic-book creator Stan Sakai.

Though the show ends this week, if you have a chance to catch it before it closes, by all means do so.

The exhibit provides a comprehensive retrospective of Aragones' work and career. Plenty of the artist's original art are included in the show—quite a few are surprisingly large in size, and impressive in their scope and the tiny details for which the fast-drawing cartoonist is known. Samples of some of Aragones' other arts and crafts interests—among them needlework—are also included, which the artist notes helps keeps his creative juices flowing. Pieces from his personal collection of original art by other cartoonists Aragones admires are also in the exhibition. This includes work by Captain Marvel artist C.C. Beck and original comic strip art of classic work like Winnie Winkle and The Captain and the Kids. Many of Aragones' awards are also in the exhibition, as well as a delightful short documentary about the mounting of the show.

And in keeping with the cartoonist's sense of fun, many samples of Aragones' spontaneous cartoons can be found directly on the walls of the gallery itself, often interacting with the display pieces. A re-creation of the artist's work space is on display at the show as well, as seen below.

The show was mounted in conjunction with a series of talks and presentations by the artist.

It was a delightful evening and a lot of fun to visit the show with the artist in attendance.

Below are my photos from the exhibition. To see all the photos, click here. (Note that the photo at the top of this post is from a Los Angeles Times article about the show.)

Click here to see all the photos.

Friday, September 25, 2009

All Hitler, All the Time!

Below are reviews of three films I've seen in the past year which, coincidentally, all featured Adolf Hitler as a common thread...


While competently serviceable and straightforward, Valkyrie provides just enough detail to ground the story and make it fascinating in a "you are there" sort of way, but not enough to fully engage you or to truly feel the tragedy of the lost opportunity or of the people who sacrificed their lives trying to stop Hitler.

Tom Cruise plays Claus von Stauffenberg, the real-life German army officer who participated in an assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944 during World War II.

The film wastes little time in getting to the task at hand: soon after the opening of the film (in which we perfunctorily learn of von Stauffenberg's disenchantment with Hitler and the Nazi regime), he joins a conspiracy of German politicians and military officers who are planning to overthrow der Fuhrer. With typical German efficiency, the group plots to use the emergency succession plan already in place—codenamed "Valkyrie"—for its own ends: once Hitler is eliminated, the group will put Valkyrie in motion, and use it to take control of the government and German military, and sue for peace.

Most war movies of this kind usually follow a tried-but-true formula: the audience is introduced to the cast of characters, then watches them bond and carry out the mission.

In contrast, Valkyrie gets to the assassination attempt fairly quickly. And while a few sequences focus on some of the conspirators quietly recruiting others to assist them (or at least not stand in their way), the film doesn't linger too much on the planning or disagreements over the assassination plan before proceeding to the task at hand.

In fact, the primary focus of the story around which the film's suspense is built centers on the gradual unraveling of the plot: while some of the conspirators dithered out of uncertainty that the assassination attempt actually succeeded, others pushed to move quickly fearing they would lose the moment.

In the end, of course, Hitler survived. While the film uses the conspirators' uncertainty as a way to create suspense, since the audience knows historically that Hitler survived, the real tension in the last part of the film comes from waiting for the whole house of cards to come crashing down on the plotters.

It is this latter part of the film, in fact, that is most effective. Ultimately, however, while certainly competently done, the movie doesn't seem to have anything more on its mind than telling its story. While it has a sense of style, and captures time and place well, given the subject matter, it's surprisingly low key.

To give the film some additional gravitas, the filmmakers surround star Tom Cruise with an ensemble of respected British actors, including Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Terrence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson, and Eddie Izzard. While they all deliver, at the same time, I often thought that the script wasn't as smart as it liked to believe!

The Night of the Generals
While on this subject, I thought this would be an opportune time to review a fascinating film called The Night of the Generals, in which the attempt to assassinate Hitler portrayed in Valkyrie plays a crucial role.

Released in 1967, the film stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif (first paired together in Lawrence of Arabia), and is best described as a cross between a World War II drama and a Jack the Ripper murder mystery. (It reportedly also was the last film to face trouble with the Production Code Administration, before the introduction of the Motion Picture Association of America's G through X rating system the following year.)

Sharif plays a "good" German army officer who is investigating a series of prostitute murders, which he believes is being committed by a senior member of the German army staff. O'Toole is one of the generals who is a suspect, along with actors Donald Pleasance and Charles Grey. (Other prominent actors in the film include Tom Courtenay, Philippe Noiret, and Christopher Plummer as General Erwin Rommel.) The film is told in flashback after the war, from the point of view of a French police detective who had befriended Sharif's character during the investigation and wants to know what happened both to Sharif's character (who did not survive the war) and the murder inquiry.

The "Valkyrie" assassination plot plays a side but pivotal role in The Night of the Generals, and is actually portrayed in the movie. Interestingly, von Stauffenberg is played by a much older actor than Cruise—I was surprised to discover, however, that the real-life von Stauffenberg was much closer in age and looks to Cruise than to the actor portraying him in Generals!

While contrasting the film to Valkyrie may not be a fair comparison, ironically, the Night of the Generals presents a much wider canvas, and is much more epic in scope and drama. While presenting a character who embodies both Nazism and psychotic tendencies is hardly an original conceit, it was engrossing to watch a film like this that is able to elevate the story and subject matter by successfuly entwining a murder mystery with actual historical events. And, of course, O'Toole is always a delight when given a character who chews up the scenery.

I had minor quibbles with the ending of the film—which perhaps is a reflection of the changing meaning of "honor"—but nevertheless, the Night of the Generals is a movie with rather epic ambitions that is beautifully shot, and had the advantage of having been filmed on location in Europe (Paris is prominent in the film).

To see a clip of this film and actor Peter O'Toole in their awesome glory, check out this nifty clip from the TCM website. Another clip can be found here, featuring the sequence (starting at about 4:58 minutes into the extended clip) that instantly pulled me into the movie when I stumbled across it on TCM. Finally, below is a trailer of the film.

One more "Hitler film": back in 2008, a German-language film, Downfall (der Uturang in the original German), was released in the U.S. The movie caused some minor controversy in Germany because there are strict rules about the portrayal of Nazis and Hitler in the country, and worldwide because of the fear that a film that delved into the personality and private life of Hitler would somehow "humanize" him. (Downfall also gained some notoriety on the Web because people used a clip from the film for some very funny mashups of Hitler ranting about various topics.)

Downfall covers the final weeks of Hitler in his bunker as Germany and Berlin collapses around him at the end of World War II. The story is ostensibly told from the point of view of his secretary, Traudl Junge.

At the end of the '90s, the real-life Junge released a memoir about her experience as Hitler's secretary, which was followed by a well known documentary about her. In addition to providing a fascinating glimpse into the private Hitler, the book documents her journey that began with the excitement and pride of being hired as der Fuhrer's secretary, to the discovery of his war crimes and dealing with her subsequent guilt after the war. It seems clear that trying to reconcile the man she admitted was one of the "best bosses" she ever had with the fact that he also is one of mankind's greatest monsters was a difficult process.

The film cleverly opens up the story outside the bunker, primarily by focusing on several key characters who represent the wide range of experiences of the German people at the end of the war—from the ordinary citizens, to children, to war-weary soldiers, to the true believers—and continuing to follow their stories throughout the film. The story is both a great study of people under tremendous strain, as well as of the warped psychology of blind devotion and the cult of personality.

At the heart of it, of course, is the figure of Adolf Hitler, portrayed by Bruno Ganz. The best I can say about Ganz's performance is that he is a marvel—from the moment he appears onscreen, you never think of him as an actor portraying Hitler but rather you immediately accept him in the role. Most actors cast in the role—including the actor in Valkyrie—never manage to truly project any presence in the role.

Yes, Hitler is "humanized" in that he is in this film—what he always has been—a human being. By the same token, you do get flashes of his madness—or at least his skewed view of life—that made him the monster he is. In one key scene, played quietly, Hitler talks about why he believes compassion is an unnatural emotion and a weakness; his disdain for human life and of even the well being of the German civilians who he believes do not deserve to survive without him reveal the height of perverse narcissm.

Downfall is an outstanding film that manages to literally capture the "bunker mentality" of Hitler and his circle of diehard followers in the final weeks of the war, while also opening up the story to portray the wider tragedy of the suffering he brought to the German people.

Below are a couple of pretty good mashups posted online featuring the same clip from Downfall.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Original Art Collection

As a cartoonist, I love looking at original comic book and comic strip art. In addition to finding them personally energizing, seeing the originals—complete with the actual brushstrokes, penlines and whiteout corrections—gives you a sense of the artist's working methods and thought process. For these reasons, I love visiting comic art exhibitions and museums whenever possible (I try to visit the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco whenever I'm in Northern California).

Since many pieces of original art I'd love to own are usually out of my price range, I've never been a major collector of original comic strip/comic book art. Nevertheless, I do own a few original pieces that I thought would be fun to share. (What particularly brought these to mind recently is the fact that I've begun framing and matting the pieces.*)

Though my small collection has admittedly been driven mostly by affordability, of course, I also keep an eye out for work by artists I know and admire, and for pieces I find appealing personally.

My first major acquisition were several original pieces by cartoonist Howard Chaykin that I purchased in 1991. This included two pages from his 1987 Blackhawk mini-series from DC Comics; below is a piece that I was particularly thrilled to score, which was used on the back cover for one of the issues, as well as within the main story (click on any of the images that follow to see them larger and in more detail):

Below is a another Chaykin piece purchased at the same time—I believe it's the original blueline art from a Nick Fury mini-series. Consisting of a black acetate overlay over a backing board on which the original colors are applied, this is the art that is shot and from which the colored printing plates are made:

One of my most personally prized pieces is the 1976 Johnny Hazard daily strip below by Frank Robbins, which I purchased from a dealer at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con for a surprisingly affordable price—well under $100! (Hazard ran from 1944 to 1977.) Though Robbins is not as well remembered today, he was a disciple of the Caniff/Sickles school of cartooning—but as one can see in the piece below, despite following in their footsteps, he was an immensely naturally gifted artist in his own right, who developed a unique and distinctive style of his own. This piece hangs proudly in the main entryway of my home. You can also see a photo of it framed at the top of this blog.

Over the years, I've had the privilege to become friends with several fellow cartoonists. One is Mike Vozburg, who is not also a terrific cartoonist, but a real student of the history of comics—I've spent time with Mike talking about cartoonists we both like, and I've enjoyed his anecdotes about working in the industry.

One day while visiting his home, Mike generously gave me some original pieces as gifts. Below is one nice representative pieces from his run on American Flagg!:

Around 2002 or 2003 (still trying to track down the correct year!), I purchased the following two pieces from artist Mike Royer at the San Diego Comic-Con. Royer is considered by some to be the best inker that late comic-book legend Jack Kirby ever had. When I met him, Royer had been working for many years for Disney's licensing division, and he was at the show selling some of his original concept pieces. The pieces below are hung in our hallway, appropriately leading to our residence's bedrooms.

Finally, I thought I'd throw in for your enjoyment the piece below—even my wife has picked up the occasional work of original art! This is a piece she purchased from an Archie artist (I believe my wife had it signed by the artist, Don Parent). Somewhere in my collection, I also have a Robin (from Batman and Robin) page purchased by my wife, since he is one of her favorite characters.

In the future, I hope to show off more of my other pieces. I also have a nice collection of movie/promotional posters that I'll likely share at some point here as well!

* While framing and matting can be quite expensive, I just recently discovered that if you buy an off-the-shelf frame that can hold a mat, the price of the mat itself is actually quite affordable, usually under $20—it is the custom-sized frame (and glass) that can make the purchase price quite expensive, usually more than $150-200!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"I always wondered when Warner Brothers would figure out that they owned DC Comics?"

Shortly after I had scheduled to publish my comments below about the Disney/Marvel announcement, another huge entertainment-related news story broke which threatened to overshadow the Disney/Marvel story....

I'm speaking, of course, about the announcement that Ellen Degeneres is joining "American Idol."

I'm kidding, of course—I'm actually referring to the shakeup over at DC Comics, in which in a move similar to Disney/Marvel, the venerable comic-book publisher of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman now becomes DC Entertainment and more fully integrated within its parent company at Warner Brothers.

To be fair, a move like this takes a lot of planning so it's likely been on the boards for awhile. The timing of the announcement, however, was no doubt precipitated by Disney's action, perhaps in an attempt to suck some of the air out of the excitement over Disney's move. While I personally found the timing poor, conveying a sense of desperation, I guess WB felt that if it waited longer (or until the new year), they might otherwise look like total also-rans that were copycatting Disney. By making the announcement sooner than later, they can say they meant to do it all along.

Indeed, such a move was expected at some point. It was generally agreed that WB had never done a good job of managing or fully exploiting its superhero properties—an example being the fitful way the company dealt with the re-launch of the Superman franchise earlier in this decade (at one point, a Batman/Superman film was on the boards), and the off-and-on again Wonder Woman movie.

WB has owned DC since the '70s, but the huge conglomerate generally kept the comic-book company at arm's distance, meddling little in its affairs, and licensing out its characters piecemeal, no doubt seeing the company as a minor licenseable property within its multimedia empire. (As one columnist noted, "I always wondered when Warner Brothers would figure out that they owned DC Comics?")

Marvel, too, had similar problems maximizing the potential of its properties—witness two on-the-cheap film adaptations of Captain America and the Fantastic Four from the '90s that the studio paid to bury so embarrassing were the results. But when the Spider-Man films proved the worth of their properties, Marvel—being a bit smaller and, hence, nimbler than the WB-owned DC—moved to clamp down on its properties and assert greater creative say and control by establishing its own movie studio. With comic-book properties now becoming the source of highly successful tent-pole franchises, WB has clearly seen the light, and is now hoping to emulate this integrated approach that creates some continuity and synergy in the way DC's characters are handled.

To echo what I wrote below about the Disney/Marvel partnership (and written before WB's announcement), it’s likely that new DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson—who self-admittedly is not "by nature a comic fan"—does not plan to manage DC Comics or its comic-book publishing operations on a day-to-day basis. Like Disney with Marvel, as long as DC makes money and supports its own operations, DC likely will be allowed to continue publishing its comics as it sees fit, if for no other reason than to continue producing the content that will be the source for other more lucrative new media platforms. Nelson’s job is not to run a comic-book company, but to migrate those characters and their decades of content to films and new media.

While I would prefer to avoid the term "winners" and "losers," in such shakeups there invariably always will be collatoral damage. Chief among them is now-former DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz. Levitz is a true-blue fanboy, starting at DC in his teens (particularly known for his writing on the Legion of Super-Heroes), who got an MBA while he remained working with the company, and rose to the position of president and publisher. Generally recognized as one of the "good guys," Levitz will return to writing (including Legion) and work as a "special consultant" due to his extensive knowledge of the DC universe. While it's not clear whether Levitz was given an opportunity to remain in a management position at DC, the change likely would have made him a mid-level person in the new new DC Entertainment chain of command, so he likely opted to exit as gracefully as possible.

With much of the dust now settled, I thought I might as well weigh in on my own thoughts about what likely will be one of the biggest comics/movie/entertainment news stories of the year: Disney's acquisition of Marvel Comics for $4 billion.

Though there have been a few reported predictable fanboy rants like the one below (quoted at The Beat)—
This is like disgusting in many levels......

Disney has always been in their entire existence to buy out the competition or aquire it and then ruin the foundations it was based on. Although it may be a “sweet deal” to everyone who has stock Marvel will forever be a Disney product and I will not buy anything from Marvel again. 4 billion is “chump change” to Disney, Marvel will “lose” out again in making more money on their own!!!!!!

I think this is a “bad” idea for Marvel to “sell out” to Disney I mean the reason Marvel is doing well is because of us “kids” who are now in to their 40’s and 50’s who still appreciate the characters we grew up with and totally support all of the merchandise involved with Marvel heroes.
—for the most part, I doubt the average person (or, indeed, even most comic-book fans) will see much of a difference. (The above rant typifies the distorted view of some fans who equate emotional investment of a product with actual ownership.)

Marvel Comics will undoubtedly continue to produce their comics—and probably even their films—under the Marvel Comics imprint, with little if any meddling by Disney. Disney acquired Marvel for the strength of its brand, and I doubt Disney would do anything to risk damaging that brand, under the "why fix what ain't broke" axiom. Disney will likely grant Marvel the same degree of independence it has given Pixar, leaving well enough alone (keeping in mind this never would have been possible under former Disney CEO Michael Eisner's stewardship).

So if Disney isn't interested in directly running a comic-book publishing company, what do both sides get out of the bargain?

The $4 billion Disney paid for Marvel wasn't for the joy of publishing comic books, but rather for Marvel's rich goldmine of 7,000 characters and 70 years of story continuity. So while Marvel will continue to publish its comics as it always has done, no doubt Disney will work with Marvel to bring its characters to new, more lucrative platforms.

With this acquisition, Disney also finally has an instant, credible foothold in a market that so far has eluded the house of mouse: young male adolescents. While Disney Channel has evolved into the de facto channel for tween girls, Disney has met with less success finding ways to appeal to boys (witness Disney's launch earlier this year of the XD Channel). Marvel solves that problem.

And on top of all this, of course, any profits generated by Marvel will trickle upwards towards Disney's coffers.

For its part, Marvel gets the muscle and access to the deep pockets of one of the most recognized and largest multimedia companies in the world. Despite its success, Marvel has struggled finding adequate resources to achieve its goal to self-finance its films—witness the embarrassing attempts to save money that nearly resulted in the exit of director Jon Favreau from the Iron Man sequel and of Samuel L. Jackson as recurring character Nick Fury.

Yes, this is a sea change—but remember that Marvel's main competitor, DC Comics (publisher of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), is itself owned by Warner Brothers. Most changes will be transparent to consumers, and will occur more on the business/platform side of things rather than content, particularly as Hollywood continues exploring new media platforms as traditional print, television and film struggle to re-invent themselves. Marvel's established characters and fan base will give Disney recognizable content to more aggressively explore new arenas.

To me, aside from the actual acquisition, the real story behind the announcement was that it was such a well kept secret. The news took everyone by surprise, turning it into an even bigger story as news outlets scrambled to get up to speed. Most observers quickly saw the great genius of the partnership, and even rival companies found themselves kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.

For a detailed report on how the deal happened and an assessment of the Marvel acquisition, I recommend entertainment blogger Nikki Finke's recent coverage of the news.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Order Issue 12 Online Now!

After a brief embargo to give comic-book retailers priority to order advance copies of Rob Hanes Adventures #12 for their stores and customers, the issue is now available online at the WCG Comics website! So if for some reason you were unable to purchase the issue at your local comic-book retail store, you may now order it direct from WCG.

To order, visit the WCG Comics website, or go directly to our online store.

In the issue, Justice International private eye Rob Hanes is hired to extradite a beautiful female felon back to the U.S. and becomes stranded with her on a desert island in the Pacific after their plane goes down. Cover by guest artist Benton Jew. For a preview, click here.

New RH Adventures Pin Buttons!

In addition to issue 12, also now available is an RHA pin button! Only 75 cents, or free with any order of the series' entire run (still only $25!!!)

Up Next: Trade Paperback Collection

I'm pleased to finally report that the first volume of the projected trade paperback collection of the Rob Hanes Adventures series is close to reality! The series has been completely re-lettered (replacing my earlier hand-lettered effort), which required some digital retouching of the art.

Expect a more official announcement and promotional push soon regarding the release of the trade!

Website Upgraded

While adding the newest items to the online catalog, I made some minor upgrades to the WCG Comics website. In addition to some minor design tweaks, visitors will see a fancier and traditional online drop-down navigation menu bar at the top of most pages at the site. Let us know what you think!