Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

It's that time of year again—happy holidays from WCG Comics and Rob Hanes Adventures! Best wishes to all for a happy holiday season and new year....

To see WCG's holiday greetings from past years, click here.

And as an added bonus, below is my personal holiday greetings....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trade Paperback Now on Sale Online

The new Rob Hanes Adventures, Volume 0, trade paperback is now available at the WCG Comics online store—just in time for the holidays!

Released in September, the book has been held back for sale online to give retailers an exclusive opportunity to sell the trade to customers.

The 144-page volume compiles the original 4-issue run of Adventure Strip Digest, the precursor to the current ongoing comic-book series.

All of the stories have been completely re-lettered for the new edition. Rob Hanes Adventures, Volume 0 can also be ordered from your local retailer through Diamond Comics Distributors (item #JUL10 1161) and Haven Distributors. The book features 144 B&W pages and retails for $15.99 (ISBN #978-0-9845769-0-6).

For more information, visit our website

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rob Hanes Adventures among "1000 Comic Books You Must Read"

I was planning to buy it eventually, but what finally compelled me to recently purchase Tony Isabella's 1000 Comic Books You Must Read was the fact that a friend mentioned to me that Rob Hanes Adventures #10 is included in the book, along with a scan of the cover!

I have never met Isabella personally, but as anyone who reads the pull quotes at my website and on my comics knows, he has been a long-time reader and supporter of my series. It's truly an honor to be included in the book.

Isabella writes a regular review column called "Tony's Tips" in the Comics Buyer’s Guide and a long-time comics writer.

Whether or not you read the comics suggested in the book, 1000 Comic Books You Must Read is on its own a fun and entertaining read that covers the whole history of the comics medium. You can find it at the publisher's website at a great price and I highly recommend it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Meet the New Member of the Family...

Since I recently paid tribute to my trusty ol' Mazda MX3, the first car I purchased with my own money back in 1993, I thought it was only fitting to show off the vehicle that I replaced it with—a 2010 Mazda 6!

So far, it's been great fun to drive, as evidenced by the fact that any excuse to run an errand in it is fine with me. It helps that we got a higher trim that's fairly loaded, with standard moonroof, iPod connector, and Bluetooth. My wife had initially encouraged me to purchase something that was sporty and zippy that would be fun for me to drive. Though that was a consideration, I actually wanted a sedan that was a practical alternative on long trips to our current primary family vehicle, a 2002 Subaru Forester. The 6 is definitely a more grown up car—I call it a "middle-age mobile"—but it's still sporty and more distinctive than what I thought was the more pedestrian and popular choices of the Camry/Accord/Altima lines that are in the same vehicle class of mid-size family sedans.

It's a long story, but I ended up purchasing the vehicle through CarsDirect, doing a lot of my initial research at that site as well as at Edmunds. I highly recommend the convenience and relative low stress of purchasing through CarsDirect—it required no negotiation, no fees or deposit, and I purchased the vehicle exactly at the price my extensive research had found was a fair deal, taking into account factory-to-dealer incentives and other rebates at the time of purchase. After entering the vehicle's make, model, trim and options online, the site automatically generates the price CarsDirect can get it for—my CarsDirect rep founded it within 30 minutes of our conversation at the price that had been promised online. (Taking into account that this is a vehicle that there was plenty of good inventory on.) In fact, it was these incentives that brought the higher trim into my price range—I got the car about $4500 below MSRP (and $3000 below what the dealer had offered). The dealier even delivered it for free from about an hour's drive away across L.A. freeway traffic.

I must admit, it's taken awhile to get used to driving so much car, going from my MX3 and a stick-shift Miata convertible, which is our third vehicle (the Subaru has always been easy to drive from day one). The 6 is roomy and a cushy ride—it feels like a luxury vehicle but certainly didn't cost as much as one!

Contrary to what some people have assumed, I didn't purposely set out to get another Mazda, but the 6 turned out to be my top choice (along with the popular but slightly smaller Mazda 3) after my research and test drives. Also on my short list were the 2010 VW Jetta and the 2011 Hyundai Sonata.

Let's hope it lasts as long as my MX3! Though it's been nice having no car payments for the past 6 years, this was way overdue and it's nice to have a car with 21st century amenities!

Below: Old car and new.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You'll Believe a Boy Can Fly

A new production of "Peter Pan" that originated in England on the grounds that inspired the play is now touring the U.S. and currently playing inside a special temporary facility at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The show runs through January 2, 2011.

On the one hand, the new production appears to go back to the roots of the original show, eschewing the well known Disney version as well as the route most traditional productions have taken by casting a woman as Peter. In this show, all of the children’s roles are played by adults playing young.

On the other hand, however, the production attempts to reinvent the show by creating a Cirque du Soleil feel. The show is mounted inside a specially-designed tent that offers a theater-in-the-round experience and a 360-degree screen around the top of the tent that uses moving CGI images to create backdrops for the show, complementing the traditional props and stagecraft. The projected images also evoke a moody atmosphere as well as some nifty flying effects—while the actors hang from the ceiling in harnesses, IMAX-like projections provide a moving CGI landscape that creates a sense of flight and movement.

This production is clearly intended to appeal to adults as much as to the children—indeed, there are a few moments in the show that some sensitive and very young children may find intense. In Captain Hook’s first scene, for example, he dispatches an insubordinate henchman on his pirate crew by explicitly cutting his throat. Although there’s no blood, the deed is explicitly performed in full view of the audience. Similarly, when Tiger Lily goes into an interpretive dance to thank Peter for saving her life, it’s surprisingly provocative and even sexual, presumably an enticement for Peter to grow up (in the end, Peter is puzzled and disinterested). In addition, in this production, the children are a bit more wild and unruly than usual—bordering on Lord of the Flies territory—while clearly yearning for love and order in their lives, which they look for by asking Wendy to be their mother. Only Peter, in the end, is adamant to never grow up.

Tinkerbell is also completely re-imagined in this production. She is a fairy with attitude, often jeering and mocking the others, especially Wendy who it cannot be overstated Tinkerbell really dislikes.

In addition to the modern special effects, however, the production makes clever use of old-fashioned stagecraft, making it a great introduction to the magic of theatre for children and their parents. There are several animal characters in the production, including Nanna, the sheepdog, and of course the crocodile who is Hook’s bete noire. They are played by puppeteers who work in plain view of the audience on stage, but whose work still successfully creates a sense of awe and wonder. The crocodile is particularly a crowd-pleaser, made up of wire and dressing, which two puppeteers propel around stage with their feet as they sit inside the contraption, with an animatronic head that the front puppeteer controls with effective and lifelike movements.

Some past reviews of the show note that the reimagined production lacks true spark and especially heart. While in retrospect I agree with this to some extent, the spectacle of the presentation and stage effects serve to overcome these shortcomings. While all the performances are good, as expected, the role of Captain Hook, played by Shakespearean actor Jonathan Hyde (who, of course, also plays the children’s vain and not very sympathetic father), is a scene stealer. In retrospect, the show really emphasizes both the innate need for love and nurturing, and the importance of the mother-child bond, as well as the bittersweet inevitability of growing up.

For more information about the show and tickets, visit the production’s official website.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So Long to an Old Friend...

My wife and I recently purchased a new family sedan, so after 17 years of faithful service, I sold my trusty ol’ Mazda MX3, which had 215,724 miles on it.

I must admit I got a little emotional realizing I’d be selling her. My first car was an ‘80s Toyota Tercel, a second family car that I received after graduating from college. I ran up that brick-red Tercel to 93,000 miles, but the MX3 was the first car I purchased on my own, in 1993. I initially got acquainted with the MX3 the year before when my then-girlfriend/now-wife drove it to Tahoe as a rental for a ski trip. I enjoyed the vehicle so much that I bought it the following year when I decided to upgrade.

I always said the MX3 was not really as fast as she looked, but it was still pretty zippy. She had a good-sized trunk and when the back seats were down, with the hatchback it could carry quite a bit of cargo—especially useful on my trips carrying boxes of comics to exhibit at the San Diego Comic-Con and other conventions in California! I occasionally called it the Batmobile because of its low cockpit seating and automatic power seatbelts—in fact, when I was younger, there were occasions when I would cruise down the freeway at night at high speed with Danny Elfman's iconic Batman film score blasting on the stereo, which was pretty atmospheric. (By the way, since everyone always asks—the decal on the back means "Mazda" in Japanese.)

When my wife and I were expecting our first child in 2001, we purchased a Subaru Forester as our family car—the MX3 was a 4-seater, so once the kids were large enough to sit up in a booster, on the fly it served fine as a backup family car for short trips. But with the kids getting older and all our cars getting up in miles, it was clear we needed a new family car to supplement the Forester, and it was better to get it sooner than later given the current buyer’s market for cars and record low loan rates, rather than wait for the MX3 to give out on us and be forced to scramble.

Over the years, I put quite a bit of money into the MX3's maintenance, but it was still always better than having the regular car payments of a new car—I always said that if I truly had gotten tired of it, I would have gotten a new car years ago, but the combination of saved money and the car driving and looking well made me on no rush. I should add that all the repairs were pretty much wear and tear given the mileage—the car had never been in any major collisions. (I had to rebuild the transmission back in 2004, but that was my fault in not getting it to my mechanic earlier after seeing certain symptoms.)

Anyway, I sold her on Craigslist. On paper the Blue Book value was not very much (one site stated that a dealer would pay $57 for the car based on age and condition), but I saw estimates for private sales as high as $700 – $1000. But after seeing the surprisingly crappy condition of many of the cars being offered on Craigslist, I realized my sporty-looking MX3 might look pretty appealing to some buyers and offered it for more than the $400–500 I initially planned. As noted in the pictures accompanying this blog which I used for the ad, I tried my best to make her as appealing as possible.

Indeed, within 20 minutes of posting it, I started getting flooded by emails expressing interest in the car. I probably could have made a bit more than I did, but ultimately I’m glad I found a good home for her. The guy who called me about the car told me emphatically, “I want that car!” then drove 80 miles to see it, handing me the money before he even test drove it. Apparently, he had a buddy who had purchased a ‘92 MX3 recently for $7000—though that car had been obviously souped up.

In any case, I’m glad I found a good home for it, with someone who’ll appreciate it.

: What I bought!

Below is the original Craiglist listing for the car:

Sporty 1993 Mazda MX3
Date: 2010-10-22, 10:18AM PDT
Black 1993 2-door Mazda MX3 w/black and teal cloth interior in good-to-fair condition for sale by original owner. Just over 212,700 miles. Very sporty, cleans up well (see photos and link below for more photos). Runs great, engine is in solid working condition (transmission was rebuilt in 2004), oil changed regularly, just passed smog check—have nearly all maintenance records/repair receipts on file. Power windows and locks, power seat belts, AC, alloy wheels (w/wheel locks), added CD/radio with removable faceplate, all in good working condition. Back seats go down creating large open cargo space. 
l have purchased a new car and am looking for a new owner who will give a vehicle that has served me well a new home. This vehicle is in great working order, fun to drive, and looks good. Some minor scratches and dents from 17 years of use, but otherwise this car has never experienced any major damage. Some tears in the upholstery due to normal wear and tear over the years. Cargo cover also beyond repair (I have it but don't use it). Minor bug with seatbelt light occasionally going on even when seatbelt is engaged.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Pays to Google Oneself

As I do periodically, I Googled myself recently to see if there has been any recent coverage of Rob Hanes Adventures and came across a couple of very nice pieces.

The first is this comprehensive overview and review of the series by Greg Burgas, a reviewer at Comic Book Resources. Burgas picked up the entire run of the series at the last San Diego Comic-Con, and wrote this very thoughtful piece that discussed in great depth the characters, story arcs, progression of art over the years, portrayal of female characters, etc. It's nice to see many of the elements I have tried hard to infuse in the series picked up by Burgas in his article.

The second is an interview with me by Newsarama contributor Zack Smith. I recall being interviewed by Smith via email awhile back but had forgotten about it until I came across the website in my Google search.

My thanks to both Burgas and Smith for their nice pieces.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Two Spirited Biographies

A documentary on comics legend Will Eisner, titled Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist, is now available. Several years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, I attended a panel about the project that featured an extended preview of the documentary. The promotional trailer was also being used to raise funding for the project's completion. After making the rounds of the fllm festival circuit this past year—including the Tribeca Film Festival—I recently learned the film is now on DVD and ordered a copy.

Eisner’s biography is now fairly well known, but anyone wishing to gain greater personal insight and personal knowledge about the artist and his work will enjoy this high quality documentary. The film covers all aspects of his personal biography, including his immigrant roots; his founding of what is considered the first comic-book “sweatshop” in the 1930s, which underscored his business acumen even at an early age; his launch of the syndicated Spirit comic-book newspaper insert; his sojourn from the mainstream comics industry to found a company that produced comics for educational (and commercial) purposes; and his return to the industry in the 1970s with the re-discovery of the Spirit and, more importantly, a new phase of his career when he began focusing on “graphic novels,” many of which were autobiographical in nature and explored his Jewish identity. The documentary does a good job of recreating the environment that produced Eisner—it’s been well documented how comics were almost solely the brainchild of Jewish immigrant kids primarily from the ghettos of New York City.

The documentary, of course, also builds on Eisner’s legacy as one of the most innovative comic-book storytellers of his time, and touches a little on the personal tragedy that was not known until after his death that drove his first graphic novel, A Contract With God, which is considered among the first such books of its kind.

What is particularly striking about the film is the amount of home movie material that makes its way into the story, some dating back to the 1940s! The film includes interviews with many of Eisner’s colleagues in the industry, as well as a few nice surprises like Kurt Vonnegut.

The documentary also provides me with an opportunity to mention Eisner’s authorized biography, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, by Bob Andelman. This book, which I read back in 2005, is among the first (and best) “serious” biographies of a cartoonist—”serious” in the sense that it goes beyond mere fan admiration and relies on extensive research, vetting and interviews (including with the artist and his wife).

Andelman was given unfettered access to Eisner, and spent a few years with the artist as part of his research. The book appeared in the same year as Eisner’s death in 2005. Andelman’s book was the first to contain details about Eisner’s private life—including the loss of his daughter to leukemia—that even many of his closest friends were unaware of, and which drove the titular story in the above-mentioned A Contract With God.

I highly recommend both the documentary and the book.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What I'm Reading

Though I’ve cut back a lot, I still buy more comics than I read (old habits die hard). But here are a few that I’m currently reading....

Batman and Robin
One reason I don’t read as many mainstream comics as I used to is because most series are tied in to large, epic continuities that often encompass multiple issues and titles. This makes it difficult for casual readers to just jump into a random comic-book issue.

Though the new Batman and Robin series by writer Grant Morrison (and various artists) is tied in to one such ongoing storyline, I’ve still found the stories entertaining on their own without feeling lost even though I'm not reading the other tie-in titles.

In the current Batman continuity that also encompasses DC Comics' entire line of titles, Bruce Wayne is believed to have been killed—though it's become clear that he actually got sent back in time and is now making his way back to the present. As a result, the series features Bruce’s old ward and Robin sidekick, Dick Grayson, as Batman. The shoes of Robin are being filled by a young upstart named Damian Wayne, Bruce’s bastard son (in more ways than one). Damien is Batman's offspring with the daughter of one of his greatest arch enemies, Ra’s al Ghul (don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

What makes the series intriguing to me is the different vibe that Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne bring as Batman and Robin. Grayson has never been as Machiavellian and obsessed as his mentor—and knows it—while Damien is a true handful, trying to reconcile his father’s principles with the callous brutality that has been ingrained in him since birth as the grandson of one of the world’s great villains.

But what initially drew me to the series was the art of Frank Quitely. At first glance, Quitely’s art is less operatic and flashy than more traditional superhero comic book artists, but his work always still creates a sense of quiet awe. (This was especially evident in his work on All Star Superman.) Quitely unfortunately left the series after only a few issues, and though I felt the art suffered initially, the current artist at least has not been as much of a distraction to the stories. So for now, this series remains one of the few regular ones I am reading.

Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne
This mini-series is related to the larger story arc mentioned above—initially believed killed in DC Comics’ year-long saga Final Crisis, Batman’s fellow superheroes have learned that their friend instead has been sent back in time. The six-issue series recounts his travel through time to the present. Three issues have been released to date, with the first issue taking place in the Paleolithic Era, the second in the Pilgrim era of what is to become Gotham City, and the third in the American West (co-starring Jonah Hex).

While Grant has said his work on series like this one and Batman and Robin are part of a larger epic he has been working on since 2005, the Return of Bruce Wayne is an opportunity for Morrison to play in different genres while also advancing the larger storyline. Since this series was a major “event” story for the character, I decided to pick it up.

The different genres gives Grant the opportunity to also work with a variety of artists. Again, this was hit and miss for me, but the limited run of the series generally makes this an easy investment to make to see how things play out.

Batman: Odyssey
(Yes, I realize that these titles are all Batman-heavy. I am a Batman fan, but this is just how things turned out!)

Batman: Odyssey is the heralded return to the character by legendary artist Neal Adams. Along with writer Denny O’Neil, Adams is credited with bringing Batman back definitively to his dark and gritty roots at the end of the 1960s after nearly two decades of camp, which culminated with the hit Batman television show starring Adam West.

I’ve seen one reviewer refer to this book as a “train wreck.” Unfortunately, I don’t think that assessment is too off the mark. Adams clearly has been given great latitude given his reputation and name; while Adams, for the most part, is still at the top of his game as an artist, the writing could have done with some extensive editing. It’s a bit shrill and trying too hard to be modern, and it’s unclear what Adams is trying to do here.

Since this is a 12-issue series, I’ll likely stick this one out to see where this goes—it is Adams after all!

Our Army at War One Shot

As I’ve said elsewhere, Sgt. Rock, who appeared in the original run of Our Army at War, is one of my favorite characters, and Our Army at War was the first comic-book series I collected regularly back in the 1970s.

Though Our Army at War ended in 1977, Sgt. Rock has remained active through various projects and series, including this one-shot special.

The story interweaves Sgt. Rock and Easy Company in their World War II milieu with a modern-day war story set in Iraq. The two stories are told in parallel—jumping back and forth frequently—and at the end are neatly tied together. In truth, Rock is a bit peripheral to the story.

My main quibble about most of these recent Sgt. Rock projects are that the character is drawn differently than the definitive look that was given the character by long-time Rock artist and comic-book great Joe Kubert. While I recognize that the character will look different under different artists, it doesn’t even appear that some artists are trying to stay on design.

Comic-Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, and Friends
Released in 2009 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the San Diego Comic-Con, I picked this up at this handsome coffee table hardcover book at the show the year it came out.

It’s well done, presenting a definitive history of the Comic-Con through the decades, with plenty of fun sidebar articles about some of the people, artists, and activities that have contributed to the success and feel of the show, with tons of photos. The story of Comic-Con encompasses as well the history of modern comic-book fandom.

Having attended the show myself for about 25 years, it’s a wonderful reminiscence for me as well—and also makes me realize that had I started attending just a few years earlier, I could have met some of my idols, like Milton Caniff. D’OH!

This is a book I’ve been reading periodically since I picked it up and it’s always a fun and fascinating read.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Comic Book Stores Now!

From the WCG Comics website:
Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 0, the first volume of a projected series of trade paperbacks collecting the entire Rob Hanes Adventures series is in direct-sales comic-book retail stores now. Retailers can still order this item through Diamond Comics Distributors (item #JUL10 1161). Also available through Haven Distributors. (ISBN #978-0-9845769-0-6)

Rob Hanes Adventures, Volume 0 compiles the complete 4-issue run of Adventure Strip Digest, the series' original home before being relaunched as Rob Hanes Adventures.

A preview of the front and back covers plus about 20 pages is available here (or by clicking the image at right).

To bring the quality of the art and stories up to par with the current series, the stories in the volume have been completely re-lettered by Johnny Lowe, replacing the original hand-lettering of the original stories.

The volume is 144 pages with a cover price of $15.99. For the official press release, click here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

REVIEWS: Le Concert

I admit that what initially interested me in the French language film Le Concert was the fact that it starred Melanie Laurent, a lovely French actress who caught my eye as one of the leads in Quentin Tarantino’s World War II send up, Inglorious Basterds. Rarely, though, do I let an actress’s personal appeal drive my choice in movies—if word’s out that a movie is a dog, I won’t go see it no matter how personally appealing the cast.

Fortunately, reviews of this limited release foreign language art house film ranged from middling to good, and many cited Laurent’s presence as reason enough to enjoy the film if one was so inclined.

So discovering it was playing locally, I slipped out on a recent weekday evening to catch the film in a tiny theater at L.A.’s Landmark that featured reserved plush sofas rather than traditional theater seating. Though only five people (including myself) were in the theater, we were a responsive audience, which added to the enjoyment of the intimate viewing.

The film is a light comedy farce with some emotional heft thrown in to engage the audience. The story gets started quickly, when a once-respected Russian conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra named Andre├» Filipov (played by Aleksei Guskov)—fired 30 years earlier by the Communist regime for political reasons who is now working as a janitor at the theater—intercepts an invitation to the orchestra to perform in Paris. Seeing it as an opportunity to resurrect his career, Filipov decides to reconstitute the original orchestra that had been banished along with him 30 years earlier and travel to Paris masquerading as the Bolshoi.

Soon Filipov is combing the country, tracking down the former members of the orchestra who now live hand to mouth at other jobs. He also recruits an old adversary from the Communist era who was their booking agent to manage them again.

BELOW: Le Concert preview trailer.

As the film progresses, the film gradually reveals that Filipov has an underlying motive for wishing to travel to Paris and perform, which is related to his insistence that a new young talented French violinist named Anne-Marie Jacquet (played by Laurent) solo with the orchestra. As this suggests, the stakes of the performance go beyond just providing an opportunity for Guskov and the others to reclaim their careers—the once nearly-broken conductor also is haunted by an old Cold War secret (shared by some of his colleagues) that is hinted at throughout the movie and, with some minor misdirection, revealed near the end of the movie with emotional resonance during the film's titular concert.

The concert of the title climaxes the story and forms the film's centerpiece, in which a Tchaikovky concerto is performed in its entirety. It is here that the film cleverly brings its loose ends together and provides an emotional payoff. It does so through the deft use of flashback montages, interwoven with the concert, revealing a backstory that inextricably ties the French violinist to the conductor and, indeed, the entire orchestra. A series of flashforward montages are also used to show what happens after the concert. The movie finally circles back to the end of the performance, with the stirring concerto underscoring the emotional release that the performers (along with the audience) undergo at the end of the piece.

What initially surprised me about the film was how much of it took place in Russia: the first third of the movie was filmed on location there—with some marvelous shots of present-day Moscow—and many of the principal actors are Russian, presumably speaking in their native tongue.

Directed by Romanian-born Radu Mihaileanu, who emigrated to France from his native-born country as a student, much of the film’s humor comes from the contrast between the bright, modern world of Paris and the more earthy Russian musicians, who have not recovered from their years of persecution and internal exile under Communist rule. (One running gag involves the orchestra’s manager—still a die hard Communist and out of the game for 30 years—insisting on terms that are clearly archaic and anachronistic. On the other hand, he also sagely advises them that it’s expected for them as musicians to be difficult and obstinate.)

Though a few minor characters are clearly there for comedy relief, the principal actors give sensitive and lovely performances, particularly Guskov and Laurent, the latter of whom apparently trained for several months to credibly play violin for the film. Reviewers have noted that the film has its share of contrivances. The one that stretched my credibility the most was the the fact that, due to a series of misadventures, the reconstituted orchestra never has a chance to rehearse before the actual concert, after 30 years of not performing together—though the director clearly wanted to use this to add tension to the story, one must wonder whether this is even possible. But overall the film overcomes these minor distractions on the fairy-tale like story that is punctuated by a wonderful concert performance.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Website upgrades

Just thought I'd mention the minor tweaks and upgrades I've made to the WCG Comics website recently:
  • In keeping with the march of progress, I've added some animation to the website: on the front page, this takes the form of a slideshow of Rob Hanes Adventures cover art, which also can be found on the online store page.
  • A more dynamic slideshow consisting of page samples from the series can also be found on the About page of the website. (These java-based animations were built using Visual Slideshow.)
  • This blog is now a permanent link on the main navigation menu at the top of each page of the website. It previously was buried under "Community links," but given the increased importance of blogs in promotion, I decided to give it a more prominent spot at the website.
These changes are in addition to several changes I've made to the website over the past year, which has included widening the default width of the website's pages and slightly redesigning the banner images at the top of each page.

Blog Changes
I should add that I've also made a few tweaks to the blog as well, which has included changing the overall theme/design of the website (which also featured a larger width).

Another long overdue change is the addition of "Share" buttons that appear at the bottom of each post that allows users to more easily share this link with others, particularly on social network sites like Facebook (and, yes, you can find me there too).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

REVIEWS: "Promises, Promises"

While there are some inherent problems with the production, the current Broadway revival of the 1960s show “Promises, Promises” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (music and lyrics) and Neil Simon (book) is at its heart a fun and engaging show. It’s a perfect example of how talent and presence (and strong staging and direction) can overcome the weaknesses of a production.

The show has had its share of minor controversies: at the Tony nominations earlier this year, tongues started wagging when respected Broadway veteran Kristen Chenoweth was not nominated. Similarly, a minor tempest also emerged when a gay columnist in Newsweek attributed some of the negative reviews of the show to the difficulty of an openly-gay actor like Sean Hayes playing the lead in a "straight" romantic comedy (article is available here).

It’s easy to see why some people felt Chenoweth was miscast, playing a role that might have been more suitable for a a young ingenue making her name in the role; and, in truth, Hayes and Chenoweth don’t have a lot of chemistry on stage.

Another problem may lie in the original show itself. Many of the songs feel shoe-horned into the production—while many are snappy tunes (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Promises, Promises” both have since become standards), many don’t feel as though they truly serve the characters or drive the story. (Indeed, two Bacharach standards were actually added to the new revival for Chenoweth to sing: “I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House is Not a Home,” adding to this feeling.)

Fortunately, the show overcomes these problems for the most part on the strength of the show’s talent, particularly the leads. Chenoweth’s dynamo voice is legendary, and Hayes more than holds his own, and connects with the audience early, carrying much of the production on good will and charisma. The show also moves quickly, allowing little let time for the show's energy or the audience's interest to flag. It's also clear why supporting player Katie Finneran received the show’s sole Tony—she's a scream and really does steal the show in her one scene. But it's not
at the expense of the show or other performers.

I saw this show as a Sunday matinee and was impressed by how much energy the performers put in at the very start (I learned afterwards that it was their only show of the day—no evening performance to keep a reserve for—which may have helped!).

“Promises, Promises” is adapted from one of my favorite films of all time, “The Apartment,” starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray, written and directed by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond and directed by Wilder. Though the show stays mostly true to the through-line of the film, the show still does divert a bit from the original story, even changing for some reason the lead’s name from “C.C.” (for Calvin Clifford, though everyone calls him “Bud”) to “Chuck.” In any case, the play certainly stands apart and does not diminish the film’s achievement as one of the best and most sophisticated comedies ever (it consistently ranks among the top ten romantic comedies of all time, and among the best comedies).

Aside from the great music, the popularity of “Mad Men” probably helped drive the revival of “Promises, Promises” (as it has the upcoming revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which is scheduled for a new 2011 revival with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame). To that end, the production design captures the bright-colored tone and feel of the space age ‘60s era perfectly.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Our New York Adventure

Call us a glutton for punishment, but a couple of weeks before our trip to the San Diego Comic-Con, my family vacationed in New York City!

Though my wife (and children) are all native Californians, I actually was born in New York City and raised in one of its boroughs, Staten Island, until I was 16 years old. This is my third visit back since that momentous move. My wife and I aren’t into relaxing, resort-style vacations, and love to visit bustling cities. NYC, of course, is one of the most bustling of all, so it was a trip we were very excited about.

With our children now 5 and 8 years of age, this also was our first major family vacation. Given all the walking we did and the kind of East Coast humidity that our children have never been exposed to, I can say that the kids were real troopers. Their excitement at being in the Big Apple usually pre-empted any complaints about being tired, bored or hungry.

We were in NYC for six full days—still not enough to see everything, but we pretty much hit all the main highlights without feeling too rushed! This included the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park (and Strawberry Fields), Rockefeller Plaza, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the World Trade Center site, and the Guggenheim. In a sop to my interests, we also visited the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art and the Society of Illustrators Museum. Although, we decided to skip a Yankees game this time around (something my wife and I did in 2001, when she was 6 months pregnant), we did see one of the hot new Broadway shows: “Promises, Promises,” with Sean Hayes and Kristen Chenoweth.

We also spent a day in Staten Island, going to my old neighborhood where I visited with some childhood friends and neighbors. After that, we did more touristy things on the island—it turned out to be a real memorable part of the trip, not only because I saw my old neighborhood (including the house I grew up in), but also because we got to see and feel a part of the city that is completely different than being in Manhattan where we otherwise spent all of our time. My love of colonial history goes back to some of the remnants from this era that still existed on Staten Island during my childhood, such as the Conference House (where Ben Franklin and John Adams secretly met with the British in September 1776 in an attempt by the British to negotiate an end to the war) and Historic Richmondtown, places we visited during our trip. We literally drove across the whole island and got to stand on the north and south ends: on the south facing Perth Amboy, New Jersey and the other, facing Brooklyn and the Manhattan skyline in the distance across the harbor. (It’s a long story, but our visit necessitated renting a car in Manhattan. It was not only my first time driving in New York, but also my first time driving through Manhattan traffic. It turned out not to be so bad, but let’s just say that my California defensive driving experience served me well! We had the thrill of driving through the Holland Tunnel, on the New Jersey Turnpike, and across the Verazzano Narrows Bridge.)

I left New York in the 1970s—it was an era of national oil crisis and recession, and a time when the city had nearly gone bankrupt. While I have nothing but great memories of growing up in New York, I think it’s safe to say that there was a real feeling at the time that the U.S. had seen its best days.

New York has always had tremendous energy, but the city I visited seems as forward looking as ever, and indeed seems even friendlier and positively bubbly and ebullient. Immigrants remain the backbone of the city and were the friendly, smiling face at many of the tourist spots we visited. Everywhere we went there was tremendous construction and renovation underway—remarkable for a city as well developed as New York, and a tribute to its ability at continual reinvention. The American Museum of Natural History, for example, was completely covered in scaffolding undergoing renovation, as was the interior of Rockefeller Center and the exterior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Even my grade school elementary school in Staten Island was completely covered in scaffolding and undergoing renovation; and numerous subway improvements and construction often created minor detours for us on the subway lines we had to take. (The kids loved riding the subway, made all the more convenient by 7-day unlimited ride MTA passes.) I was also impressed by the overdue facelift that the Staten Island Ferry terminal had undergone in recent years, with extensive work still underway on its exterior. (And it still only costs a quarter going one way!)

Anyway, it was a memorable family vacation and hopefully the first of many to come....

Below are some photos from the trip. To see everything, go to the links provided below:

From 2001