Saturday, March 26, 2011

Treasure Trove

While searching for the Adventures of Jon Fury in Japan—a collection of a previously unreprinted series by “artist’s artist” Alex Toth that was not carried by my local comic-book store—I discovered it was available online at Stuart Ng Books. Fortunately, the company’s storefront is not too far from me in the Southbay area of L.A., so I was glad to save the shipping and take a trip down to the store to pick up the issue. This also was a perfect excuse for me to visit the store for the first time.

Cover to Jon Fury in Japan
I always enjoy visiting bookstores that specialize in artbooks—I’m fortunate that there are a few local to me—so it was a real treat to visit one that specializes in artbooks, graphic albums, and cartooning. (Ng is a regular exhibitor at the San Diego Comic-Con, where he generally emphasizes hard-to-find and upscale artbooks.)

Though no longer really the norm, comic-book stores used to have the reputation of looking like a boys’ clubhouse, with comics and magazines stored haphazardly in boxes or stacked to the ceiling. (Believe me, I’m not dissing this—the first comic-book stores I frequented back in the 1970s definitely fit this profile, and I have nothing but fond memories of my weekly pilgrimmages to these stores).

In contrast, by any standard, Ng’s store is extraordinarily clean, professional, and well-maintained. Located in a newish, non-descript business park in Torrance, a Southbay community in Los Angeles, the bookstore is airy and inviting, conducive to browsing.

In addition to artbooks that feature the work of a wide range of cartoonists and illustrators, there are also plenty of European graphic albums (many imported, meaning they’re not translated), sketchbooks by fan-favorite artists, and classic comics collections. Many of the items are rare and hard to find—indeed, I was interested to discover items I personally already own for sale at prices that reflect their rarity and desirability. Along the same lines, I spotted a book available there that was out of print at Amazon.

Anyone with an interest in cartooning, comics, commercial art, and illustration definitely owe it to themselves to visit the store if they are local or the website for hard to find items and collections.  

Visit the Stuart Ng Books website for address information and directions.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In the Nation's Capitol (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post about a recent family trip to Washington, DC....

Below are additional photos from the trip....

To see the full collection of photo from the trip, visit the galleries below;

Ice skating in the nation's capitol
The children went ice skating on their first day in DC
This was my son's first time on skates!

View of the Washington Memorial from our hotel
View of the Washington Memorial from our hotel room
Wearing a tie to the White House!
My son wore a tie to the White House, just in case he met the President!

On the way to the White House on the Metro

Outside the White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Outside the White House
Outside the White House before the tour
Outside the White House
No pictures (or cameras) were allowed inside the White House




Sitting in the Oval Office
The President was away, so my little boy got to sit at his desk in the Oval Office...
Press Room
...and my little girl got to stand at the Press Secretary's podium...

Sitting in the Oval Office
Okay, I'm joking—these pictures were taken at a White House souvenir store across the street....
On the Metro
On the Metro

On our way to our Congressman's Office for a tour of the Capitol

Underground tunnel to the Capitol
We took an underground tunnel from one of the Congressional office buildings to the Capitol
Old Senate Chamber
Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol
Main rotunda of the U.S. Capitol
Capitol Rotunda
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson in the main rotunda
Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown
Surrender of Cornwallis to General Washington at Yorktown
Main rotunda of the U.S. Capitol

Statuary Hall
Statuary Hall—the old House Chamber

Spot where Lincoln sat in Congress
Lincoln's assigned spot in the old House Chamber

Exiting the Capitol





Back in 1998, my wife and I went up to the steps. This is no longer allowed post 9/11

Recreation of photo from our 1998 visit
This is a recreation of a photo my wife and I took at this spot in 1998 (see below)
Us in 1998 in front of the Capitol
U.S. Capitol at night

Our hotel in Arlington
Our hotel in Arlington, VA, just outside DC, during the second half of our stay
Ronald Reagan National Airport
Ronald Reagan/National Airport
En route to Washington, DC!

Five hour flight!

Joined by Patrick the star fish
My little boy's companion on this trip....

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Nation's Capitol (Part 1 of 2)

PhotobucketAs a history buff, one of my favorite places to visit is Washington, DC. My wife and I were last there in 1998 and we had an opportunity to return earlier this month with our two young children. (Before that, I visited DC as a kid with my family back in the ‘70s.)

Since it’s easy to tire yourself out trying to fit everything in when you only have a few days, we chose instead to spend good, quality time at a few key places. It helped, of course, that we’d been to DC before, so we had a sense of what was realistic for a visit of a few days. For example, we decided the kids probably wouldn’t find seeing graves and monuments at Arlington Cemetery particularly meaningful or interesting. (Back in ‘98, my wife and I also visited Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Virginia and the Manassas Civil War battlefield.)

PhotobucketPartly for this reason, we spent a surprisingly brief time at the National Mall. I actually was in DC on business for a conference the first few days. At the end of the first day, having been indoors all day at the hotel for meetings, when I met the family for dinner that evening, I suggested taking a quick cab ride to the Lincoln Memorial at the Mall. My daughter was thrilled to see where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered at his address in front of the monument; from there, we walked to the Korean War Veterans’ Monument, and the new World War II Veterans’ Monument. As it began to get dark, we hopped back in a taxi for our hotel near Dupont Circle for dinner. In retrospect, it’s good we made this quick visit, because we never found time to return and explore the other monuments at the Mall! Though I would like to have seen the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam War Monument, and the FDR Memorial, they’ll have to wait for another trip.

The first full day we spent together, we visited the Museum of Natural History and the American History Museum, both part of the Smithsonian. Actually, to be more precise, my wife and children visited the natural history museum while I visited the American History Museum. The kids had gone inside the natural history museum only briefly the day before (they ended up ice skating outdoors instead) and wanted to go back and spend more time there. As for myself, as fine as I’m sure the museum is, I wasn’t interested inseeing displays of things like dinosaur bones which I could see anywhere else, so I went instead to the American History Museum where my wife and kids caught up with me later in the afternoon. (They did get to see the Hope Diamond, which I saw back in '98.)

In any case, I wasn’t disappointed! The exhibits there included “Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life,” the First Ladies exhibit (a lot of gowns!), the American Presidency, Julia Child’s Kitchen, and an exhibition about Thomas Alva Edison and science in America. The Lincoln exhibit and another called the “Price of Freedom: Americans at War” (stretching from the French-Indian War to the War in Iraq) were especially memorable. The permanent display of the Star Spangled Banner flag, which inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that became the national anthem, was also impressive, partly because I was shocked by the flag's huge size!

Mt. Vernon
The next day, we drove a rental car to George Washington’s residence and plantation at Mount Vernon, which is about 12 miles outside Washington, DC. My wife and I visited Mount Vernon in 1998, but we were impressed by the changes since then. A huge state-of-the-art museum was completed there in 2006, but it’s mostly underground to preserve the original grounds.

Mount Vernon is one of my favorite historical places. It has a spectacular view that overlooks the Potomac—when you stand on the back porch of the main house atop Mount Vernon which looks out over the river (especially on a stifling summer day, as we did back in ‘98), you get a real sense of what it must have felt and looked like to George and Martha Washington back in the 18th century. It helps that the community has kept the surrounding area in its original state, including the woods across the river. I thought we would visit Mount Vernon for just a few hours then go off to see something else later in the day, but it was so interesting and immersive, we ended up staying there the whole day, arriving at 9:30 a.m. and leaving near closing time at 4:45 p.m.! Mount Vernon has also made an effort to deal with slavery honestly and directly. Slave quarters have been preserved and a monument to the slave population at Mount Vernon (and a discovered unmarked cemetery) has recently been erected. (One changed we noticed since 1998 is a reference in plaques and in the brochures to the slave population as “enslaved people” rather than “slaves.”) It was fascinating learning about Washington’s life as a farmer, which he considered himself even before a soldier or statesman.

Main rotunda of the U.S. CapitolOn Tuesday, we visited the White House and the U.S. Capitol, arranged in advance through our local Congressman. Because visitors are not allowed to take cameras or backpacks into the White House, we kept the rental car overnight so that we could park in the city and ditch our belongings in the car during the tour. (We returned the car after the tour and used the Metro after that.)

The White House tour was primarily restricted to the East Wing, but it was still a thrill to be inside. We learned one room was about to be closed for an event that Michelle Obama was hosting. A uniformed Secret Service agent in one of the rooms even graciously let our children behind the security rope so that they could get a close up view of a painting of George Washington while he pointed out interesting features of it. This is the same painting that has been in the White House since 1800 and was saved by Dolly Madison when the British burned down the structure during the War of 1812. At the same time we were on our tour, we noticed a Secret Service man giving a personal tour to two Russian dignitaries, who were accompanied by an interpreter to translate what the Secret Service man was describing.

After we returned the car, we took the Metro back to the U.S. Capitol for a tour that was given to us by the Congressional staffer who set up the tour. Since we met her at the Congressman's Office in one of the outlying executive office buildings for Congress, we used the underground tunnels that connect the Congressional buildings to the Capitol It was nice to have a personal tour by a Congressional aide; she also got us tickets to sit in the House and Senate chambers. Although not much was going on, we saw Minnesota Senator Al Franken presiding over the Senate chamber. The kids were really quiet and respectful, even though my 5-year-old son said afterwards, “It was boring!” But he was quiet and well behaved as we sat in the Senate gallery. Because we didn’t get to the Capitol until the afternoon, we didn’t get to see the main museum there until just before it closed. I would have liked at least one more day in Washington to see it.

Anyway, it was a terrific family trip!

Below are select photos from the first few days of the trip (more from our visit to the White House and the U.S. Capitol will be posted shortly).  To see all the photos, visit the galleries below;

National Mall

Lincoln Memorial

ABOVE and BELOW: The new World War II Veterans' Monument

Near Dupont Circle
Near our hotel at Dupont Circle
If pressed, the kids would like say riding the Metro was their favorite activity!

American History Museum
Original George Washington monument

ABOVE: Now on prominent display at the American History Museum, this statue of George Washington was one of the first monuments to our first president in the capitol. It received mixed reviews at its unveiling (some felt Washington was "inappropriately dressed" and was of course later replaced by the iconic Washington Memorial.

Lincoln life mask
Lincoln life mask at the American History Museum
American History Museum
Fortunately, a little rain didn't dampen our enjoyment!

Mount Vernon
Main entrance to Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon Visitors Center
Mt. Vernon

Mt. Vernon

Looking regal at Mt. Vernon

The Potomac
View of the Potomac
Crypt of George and Martha Washington
At the shore of the Potomac
At the shore of the Potomac
Hiking back to the main house from the Potomac at Mount Vernon.
Lafayette, I am here!
"Lafayette, we are here!" I couldn't resist taking this photo in the foodcourt of the Mount Vernon museum.


Departing Mt. Vernon in our car rental!
With our car rental at the Mount Vernon parking lot.
My little boy got this Civil War era hat at the museum and wore it most of the trip.