Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The More Things Change… A Review of the Great Game

Awhile back, I read the Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk, about the imperial struggle for control of Central Asia between Great Britain and Russia, from the late 1700s through the early 20th century, which I have been meaning to review.

Reading this book underscored the fact that over the centuries, Russia’s basic foreign policy hasn’t changed much. Made understandably paranoid by a host of incursions and invasions over the centuries, Russia has historically sought to create a protective buffer between its borders and the powerful nations of Europe, particularly Great Britain. This policy also aligned with the varying ambitions of the Tsars to expand the influence of the Russian empire, with the main goal of procuring for itself India, the crown jewel of Great Britain’s empire.

The playground for this struggle was Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan and Persia. It was a heady time for adventurers, spies, diplomats, military officers and opportunists who sought to make a name for themselves, with individuals on both sides trying to ingratiate themselves and/or blend into the local populations. While both sides used equal measures of chicanery and outright bribery to win over various warlords and potentates to their side, by the same token, the Russians and English were often expertly played against each other by these same people for personal and political gain, with parties often changing sides on a dime. (It should be noted that my one complaint about the book is the occasional subtle but otherwise clearly racist and jingoistic view of the author, who often refers to the various peoples and tribal leaders encountered by both sides in terms that used to be often used to describe "orientals," as being treacherous and devious.)

While referring to this geopolitical power struggle as “The Great Game” suggests a political and strategic chess match between east and west, the risks, of course, were very real. The book is full of great feats of courage, bravery and diplomatic victory, as well as many instances of massacre and horrific, lonely ends.

While these “games” needed to be “played” in order for each side to counterbalance the ambitions and incursions of the other, at the end of the day, the sum total gains of either side doesn’t seem to have amounted to much. Ultimately, the Great Game ended not due to any particular action by the British but rather as the result of a succession of decisive defeats at the hands of the Japanese in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. The near-complete dismemberment of Russia’s army and navy by a newly emboldened Japanese militarist government not only exposed Russia’s weaknesses, it dampened the country's ambitions due to the internal political strife and economic instability that the devastating losses brought to the country and the Tsar. Although the Tsar attempted to regroup, the humiliation no doubt was one of the missteps that would lead to Tsar Nicholas II’s forced abdication and eventual execution in 1917 and the rise of the Soviet Union.

It’s impossible to read this book, of course, without seeing it as a precursor to the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West, as well as current world events in which Russia has begun to more aggressively assert itself, particularly in the annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine. (As I was finishing this piece, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin had announced his intent to suspend the nuclear pact with the U.S. over ongoing diplomatic rows.) Russia has a long history (and a long memory to match) and the country—particularly under its current leadership—is intent on recapturing its former glories and correcting the indignities and humiliations it feels it has suffered at the hands of the west over the past centuries. Anyone needing to understand the Russia of today—including the diplomats and negotiators who deal with that country directly—would probably greatly benefit from reading this book.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sights and Sounds: 2016 San Diego Comic-Con

Below are some raw videos from the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con. The first video is a point of view tracking shot from the outside lobby of the convention hall onto the main floor. The second is a continuation of the first video that takes you around the floor to the WCG Comics booth.

The third and last video is from the last day of Comic-Con that, about 5 seconds in, captures the broadcast message announcing the end of the show.

A new WCG Comics YouTube channel has been created to host these videos. You can find these videos there, in the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con playlist.

2016 San Diego Comic-Con - Main lobby and floor

Main Floor to WCG Comics Booth - 2016 San Diego Comic-Con 

End of 2016 San Diego Comic-Con Announcement

Friday, July 29, 2016

Where Have All the Cosplayers Gone?

The family that cosplays together, stays together
A Report on the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con

Click here to go straight to the slideshow for the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con.

Or click here for a thumbnail gallery.

During the San Diego Comic-Con, I’m fettered to a small press booth that’s just a tiny speck on the sea of the convention center floor, so my observations are admittedly based on a limited vantage point. With that said, my conversations with some fellow exhibitors—as well as with some longtime attendees at the show, and reports that have appeared online—seem to jibe with my own observations about this year’s Comic-Con that follow below.

Everyone seemed to agree, for example, that the number of cosplayers was noticeably down this year. At first, I thought everyone was simply waiting for Saturday, but when the big day rolled around, the turnout was pretty muted. The reasons why are anyone’s guess and everyone had their theory, ranging from cosplayers getting squeezed out of the badge lottery like others, to cosplayers moving on to other shows that are easier to get in. Regardless of the reasons, it was something many people noticed and commented on.

Secondly, and perhaps related, the convention floor overall felt less crowded. For sure, when the casts of Guardians of the Galaxy showed up at the Marvel booth and the Supergirl television show at the WB booth, the commotion was enough to be heard from the other side of the hall. But a first-time exhibitor and attendee near me who has attended the fast-growing New York Comic-Con said he had been warned in advance of the crush of crowds, but was surprised they weren’t too bad.

Again, everyone had their own theory for the smaller crowd. My initial thought was that Comic-Con has always been good at making adjustments based on experience and feedback, so I assumed it was the result of good crowd control. Others believe that the new RFID badge system did what it was designed to do, which is reduce the number of counterfeit badges and, particularly, multiple uses of a single badge (apparently, those are both a thing!) Someone mentioned to me that if the latter was indeed the case, then it must have certainly been a real problem since the traffic in the convention hall seemed so light compared to previous years!

Another likely reason is the fact that, in recent years, the organizers have moved some panels and other events offsite to nearby hotels and venues in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego, which would also draw attendees away from the convention center.

In addition, outside, independent events with their own programming, designed to take advantage of the concentration of the geek community in attendance, have also begun sprouting up during Comic-Con. Many of these are open to the general public and do not require a Comic-Con badge. (I saw an estimate that claimed that upwards of 60,000 people—on top of the 130,000+ paid attendees come to the area during Comic-Con.) In addition to studio and network pop ups, Nerd HQ has become a regular presence at Comic-Con and, this year, Entertainment Weekly had its own Con-X at an impressive separate venue with its own A-list programming, as well as nightly music and other entertainment. I visited the EW site one evening; it will be interesting to see whether it was enough of a success to be repeated next year.

Regardless of the reasons—and it may be a combination of all of the above—Comic-Con felt less crowded, though no less fun or exciting.

The excitement and giddiness of the convention is always palpable—and coverage of Comic-Con became saturated years ago. Every morning as I enter the convention, there are always plenty of news vans and reporters. It's a time for the studios and comics to make major announcements, so it's always interesting to see what will be the year's "media darling."

Christopher Pratt signing
Despite the general poor reception to the film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice—which Warner Bros/DC Comics was hoping would anchor its DC Universe (DCU) film slate and hopefully mirror the success its comics industry rival, Marvel, has achieved with its movies—the upcoming Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Justice League films seemed to capture the imagination of the convention crowd. But, of course, you can't discount Marvel with appearances at its booth by the likes of Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, and other members of the Guardians of the Galaxy cast.

The 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman and the forthcoming highly anticipated Wonder Woman film coming out (a trailer for the film was released during the show) dove-tailed nicely with the inclusive and diverse focus of the show. There was a "Women Who Kick Ass" panel that featured the likes of Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, and numerous panels that covered all sides of the political spectrum, including LGBT issues and religious comics.

Conan O'Brian was everywhere as well. Last year, he brought his show to San Diego and did so again, actually moderating many of WB's panels in Hall H, such as the Wonder Woman and Justice League film panels. It was a bit of a kick to watch his show back at the hotel later in the evening after knowing he had just been at the convention center with the same guests.

Conan O'Brian's home during Comic-Con in San Diego

The seemingly smaller number of cosplayers aside, it's always interesting to see what costumes will be popular—and this year, it was hands down Harley Quinn from the upcoming Suicide Squad film, with Star Wars' Rey, Deadpool and Wonder Woman, close behind. (Batman and Spider-Man are always popular perennials, as is Loki from the Marvel films.)

For me personally, the ones I always enjoy are those that are those that are a little bit off the well-beaten path of super-hero costumes, sometimes involving mashups (Deadpool and My Little Pony), off-kilter homages (Forrest Gumps and Last Man on Earth), and wit or political commentary (Donald Trump mashed up with the Joker). Some cosplayers also trade in on their resemblance to an actor or character.

Run, Forrest, run!

Go, Speed Racer!

One downside of this year's show was the unseasonable humidity—being seaside, Comic-Con is usually fairly temperate even during the summer, I remember about 6 years ago seeing slightly worse humidity, but it made it particularly difficult to be outside. Fortunately, it cooled down significantly on Saturday. 

Diminishing Return on Comics?
Personally speaking, sales were respectable for me. It helped that I had several new books out. With 17 issues of Rob Hanes Adventures and two trade paperbacks, I have built a back catalog that perhaps now is a bit overwhelming, but a few sales by new fans who purchase the entire series goes a long way. I’m way overdue to begin compiling my work into trade paperbacks--something that has been on my radar for awhile now—but this show really drove home for me the need to start doing so.

In talking with other exhibitors near me, however, it's clear that selling comics exclusively is becoming an exercise in diminishing returns. (Of course, your mileage may vary exhibitor to exhibitor.) Some small press people I've known for years have resorted to selling art prints of fan favorite properties like the Walking Dead, Deadpool, etc., to goose sales—one guy said with a bit of frustration, "Everyone just wants prints!" and acknowledged that though he wants to sell his comics, it's his prints that pay the bills and bring a profit. Mile High Comics' Chuck Rozanski, whose blog reports from Comic-Con are always a must-read for me, has spoken at length in recent years about how sales and foot traffic have steadily declined at the Mile High Comics booth, a Comic-Con presence for more than 40 years. In this year’s report, he acknowledged that he barely made a profit.

Back in the day, when Comic-Con was a pure comics show, every attendee was looking for comics and represented a potential new reader. With the broadening of the show into a pop culture event, this is no longer the case. People are there for movies, films, gaming, videogames, sci-fi, fantasy (and now romance), toys, cosplaying, and to see the cosplaying, with no real interest in comics. For better or worse, comics fans are now just a small subset of the Comic-Con audience.

Networking and Celebrity Sightings
@ComixAce Heidi MacDonald
As I mentioned, I don’t walk the floor much during the show, except in the hours prior to the show before the doors open, since I need to be present at my table. So I have to wait for the world to come to me. A few of the people I had the privilege to briefly see and catch up with include fellow cartoonists Scott McCloud and Tom Batuik (for whom I recently did a piece for his Funky Winkerbean comic strip), as well as comics industry journalists Heidi MacDonald and Rik Offenberger.

One of my random celebrity sightings I experienced was actor, comedian and radio personality Ralph Garman, who also does a podcast and periodic live show with fellow uber-geek Kevin Smith. I first learned about Garman through his work as part of “Kevin and Bean, ”the long-running morning show on popular alternative music radio station KROQ. My wife is a big fan.

Accosted celebrity Ralph Garman
In any case, after dinner with friends on Saturday night, I decided to walk back to the hotel. As I was passing a hotel along the way, I noticed Garman standing in an alcove, presumably waiting for a shuttle. After calling his name to confirm, I introduced myself and said my wife and I were big fans. I asked if I could take a photo--he thought it was going to be a selfie, but I told him “I don’t do selfies” and took a photo. I told him it was for my wife and promised I wouldn’t be posting it to social media. I then shook his hand, apologized for bothering him, and went on my way--he was very gracious and appreciated my kind words. (A couple people who were also waiting for the shuttle overheard the exchange and appeared to be wondering who he was!!)

Because of my table, I rarely see many panels while at Comic-Con. With the show running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., it’s a long show and my preference is to have a nice, relaxing dinner afterwards rather than run around hitting panels or events. I did dutifully go through this year’s Comic-Con schedule via its official mobile app to see what panels I would have liked to have attended, if I could--chief among them would have been the Howard Chaykin retrospective.

Nevertheless, this year I did attend with my family the presentation on the upcoming television broadcast remake of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My wife and children actually had been in the room for several hours prior to the presentation to ensure they could get a seat; I was fortunate that enough seats opened up prior to the panel that I got in!

The presentation previewed the first 20 minutes of the show, followed by a panel with the producers, director and cast, including actress Victoria Justice (who plays Janet). The preview looked terrific. (At one point during the preview, I noticed that security did seem to stop someone in the audience from recording the presentation, hovering to ensure it was erased.)

Nevertheless, anyone who wished to attend a panel--whether they were at Comic-Con or not--doesn’t need to fret. Many of the panels are posted online, albeit with the exclusive sneak previews excised. (Comic-Con actually holds a screening of these highlights during

I also briefly visited the off-site Entertainment Weekly venue, which offered its own A-list programming, including evening performances and music. When I got there, it was just around dusk, with not much going on (I presume things got hopping later--I could hear music coming from the venue as I ate at a nearby seaport village restaurant).

One final observation--I give credit to Comic-Con for a diverse slate of programs that embrace the fans, comics, families, as well as diversity.

The End of Another Comic-Con...
As evidenced by my own musings and comments like those of Chuck Rozanski’s referenced above, every year there seems to be some angst over what Comic-Con has become and where it is going. Regardless, it remains a fun and exhausting marathon of an event, a true gathering for all things geek, with something for everyone. I agree with the mantra that “Comic-Con is whatever you make it.” There is so much to do and so much to see--in fact, it would be literally impossible to see everything--that trying to overthink it is to only detract from the fun experience it should be.

After striking down my booth, I usually have dinner with my crew of friends who help me every year at the show (special thanks to Rod and Bob!) before driving the 130 miles back to L.A. The past two years, tired of the bumper-to-bumper traffic during much of my ride on direct route home through the 5 and 405 freeways, I have taken a “back way” route up the 15 that is 20 miles longer, but moves more freely-- truth, I don’t think I save much time, but without the bottleneck, it’s a lot less stressful and relaxing.

In any case, it seemed fitting following Comic-Con that as I exited the freeway in my local neighborhood in L.A., the song that came up on my iPhone’s random shuffle playlist was John Williams’ ebullient score to the original Superman theme--a nice exclamation point to what was an enjoyable convention.

Below are a few choice photos—to see the full photogallery from the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, 
click here for the slideshow or here for the thumbnail gallery.

The Last Man on Earth

My wife thought I'd like this photo—not the girl, the soy sauce reference.

I'm not into selfies, but this person insisted
I take "a selfie with Christ!"

Walking Dead booth

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

NEWS RELEASE - For Immediate Release

Rob Hanes Adventures #17 to Debut at San Diego Comic-Con

One of Several New Titles from WCG Newly Released

Issue 17 of the globetrotting action-adventure series Rob Hanes Adventures will debut at the world’s premier pop culture and comic-book gathering, the San Diego Comic-Con, scheduled from July 21-24, 2016. The new issue will be available at the exhibitor’s booth of WCG Comics publisher and series writer-artist Randy Reynaldo, Booth K1 in the Small Press Area (off aisle 1400), which has been WCG's booth for several years running. This year's Comic-Con marks Reynaldo’s 13th consecutive appearance at the show and 18th overall as an exhibitor.

In addition to this all-new tissue, WCG will release at the show Rob Hanes Adventures: Special Edition #2, a collection of early, previously unpublished stories from the series (announced here), Another recent issue of the series, #16, will also be available, having debuted just a few months earlier at WonderCon (announced here). All back issues of the series—including two trade paperbacks of additional unreprinted material—will also be available at the booth.

Through Rob Hanes Adventures is primarily an action-adventure series about a globetrotting troubleshooter and private investigator for Justice International, issue 17 features TWO complete stories that take place entirely in the U.S., in the character’s home base of New York City. In “Wilde Childe,” Rob is hired as security for a high-profile painting owned by a spoiled millionaire heiress and, when the expensive work of art is stolen during a fundraising exhibition, Rob soon comes to suspect the heiress’ petulant fiancĂ© for being responsible for the theft.

Then, in an offbeat departure for the series, the second story, “Silent Partner,” features an adventure told entirely in pictures, with no dialogue.

“I’ve always wanted to see if I could pull off a story without dialogue, where the art completely carried the narrative,” said series creator Randy Reynaldo. “It’s not as easy as one would think!”

About Rob Hanes Adventures:
Inspired by classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer but set in the modern day—with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit—readers and fans have lauded Rob Hanes Adventures for recapturing the spirit of the classic adventure strip while updating it for modern day audiences.

Though themes and characters recur in the series, every issue of Rob Hanes Adventures is self-contained. The entire series remains in print, including 17 issues to date and two trade paperback collections of earlier work. For more information about the series, previews and to purchase back issues, visit the WCG Comics website at or

About Comic-Con
Founded in 1970, the San Diego Comic-Con International has grown into one of the world’s largest and most prominent annual, multi-genre entertainment and comic-book conventions in the world. The four day show regularly draws its full capacity of more than 130,000 attendees—with tickets typically selling out nearly a year in advance—and receives extensive mainstream media coverage during the course of the show.

# # #

The permanent link for this press release is

Follow us on Twitter: @randywcgcomics

BELOW: Sample pages (without word balloons) from Rob Hanes Adventures #17

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rob Hanes Adventures: Special Edition 2 Scheduled for Release July 2016

NEWS RELEASE - For Immediate Release

Issue 2 of Rob Hanes Adventures: Special Edition will be released in July 2016 and feature three never-released early adventures from the series dating from the late 1980s! The story will be published under the WCG Comics imprint.

Rob Hanes Adventures: Special Edition  is a companion title to the long-running action-adventure indy series, Rob Hanes Adventures, and features material that don’t fit into the continuity of the main series. Issue 1 (July 2013) featured a previously published story from the series—”The EU Express”—in full color.

“The three stories in the issue were among the first I completed for print,” said Rob Hanes Adventures creator and writer-artist Randy Reynaldo. “As a result, since it was my earliest effort, the stories are much more tentative and cartoony than my current work. It obviously took awhile to find my voice and style.”

Nevertheless, several indy publishers from the era found the work refreshing, responding positively to the stories and expressing interest in the series. One company even formally announced the first issue but went out of business before the issue could be published. Reynaldo subsequently began self-publishing the series as a zine under the WCG Comics imprint but shelved these earlier stories since he felt by then that the quality of his work had significantly improved and the stories were no longer representative of his work. (One can still see traces of this earlier style in the Rob Hanes Archives trade paperback that compiled the early self-published zine stories.)

Over the years, Reynaldo has received requests to release these stories and is now pleased to make them available through this companion title, separate from the regular series. The three stories in the volume include the introductory “Rob Hanes,” “Loyalties,” and “Koman!”

Reynaldo notes that the stories do for the most part fit into the series’ continuity, though they are no longer considered "canon"—indeed, they show his earliest adventures as a private eye for Justice International and explain his reassignment to the Middle East. But some of the supporting characters that appear in these earliest stories are slightly different than how they would later appear in the series.

About Rob Hanes Adventures:
Inspired by classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer but set in the modern day — with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit — readers and fans have lauded Rob Hanes Adventures for recapturing the spirit of the classic adventure strip while updating it for modern day audiences.

Though themes and characters recur in the series, every issue of Rob Hanes Adventures is self-contained. The entire series remains in print, including 15 issues to date and two trade paperback collections of earlier work. For more information about the series, previews and to purchase back issues, visit the WCG Comics website at or

Friday, May 6, 2016

Review: Washington's Circle: The Creation of the President

Similar to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s seminal Team of Rivals (which I reviewed here), Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler looks at George Washington’s two terms as the nation’s first president through the lens of the “team of rivals” he built around him to support his presidency.

As the book sets up, the new American experiment following the American Revolution was a fragile and volatile exercise. Recognizing that the nation’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation (fully ratified in 1791), was toothless, vague and ineffective, a new Constitutional Convention was called in 1787, leading to the creation of the present-day Constitution that outlined the national frame of the government that we know today.

After the Congressional ratification of the document, elections were held, leading to Washington’s election as the nation’s first president. It’s important to note that Washington had already retired to private life and needed some persuading to return to public service. Even then, great political fissures were already emerging and it was agreed on all sides that Washington’s leadership and reputation were needed to bring unity and stability, and ensure the survival of the new republic. Washington (and his wife Martha), bound by duty, reluctantly agreed to leave his beloved Mount Vernon and move to New York, then the nation’s capital. (During his presidency, the capital was re-located to Philadelphia, with plans to permanently re-locate it to a new site to be designated “Washington.”)

Kearns Goodwins’ Team of Rivals describes the uber-qualified team of Cabinet members, advisors and support staff Lincoln gathered around himself—but compare this to Washington’s circle, consisting of illustrious names that remain familiar to most students of history and became future presidents themselves. The brilliance of these men also underscores the new nation’s great fortune in having such a convergence of thinkers and talent at its very beginnings.

These people, of course, include people like Thomas Jefferson, who served as Secretary of State for the first term-and-a-half of Washington’s presidency; John Adams, the prickly Vice President who right away saw the irrelevance of the position, though Washington came to value him more in his second term; James "Jemmy" Madison, a member of Congress, who also was Washington’s first most trusted advisor (Madison in those first few years was actually entrusted with writing both Washington’s early state of the union addresses, as well as Congress’s response; and Washington’s response back); James Monroe; and Henry Knox. Lesser names like Edmund Randolph (a close friend who would have perhaps the most tragic break with Washington), John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, and Tobias Lear also play important roles. As the authors point out, some of these people, like Knox, would have been considered brilliant men in their own right had they not had the poor timing to contend with the brilliance and legacy of peers like Jefferson.

First among equals, however, in Washington’s circle was the ambitious and self-made Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Treasury of the Secretary.

Hamilton’s influence and legacy cannot be overstated. Through his vision, Hamilton fought tooth and nail to put the U.S. on solid financial footing, partly through the establishment of the Bank of the United States, which he believed was imperative to the future success and growth of the country. Reading about the complex ways Hamilton managed the country’s finances and debt shows how sophisticated and opaque the financial markets were even at that time—something that remains virtually unchanged today, as the role of the financial market in the 2007-08 financial meltdown showed, as well as more recent concerns over the influence of the so-called one-percenters. Though Madison was initially one of Washington’s most trusted advisors as well as his ears and eyes in Congress, Hamilton would soon supplant him, exerting such an influence that some felt unseemly.

Having said that, Hamilton also often acted ruthlessly—as well as underhandedly if not outright unethically—to achieve his aims, sometimes just short of treason. For instance, in order to curry favor with the British whose trade and friendship Hamilton believed was essential to the country, he provided information to the British legation, often undermining Washington and Jefferson, who, as Secretary of State, was supposed to handle foreign relations. While Washington valued receiving advice from all members of the Cabinet regardless of the topic, Hamilton’s maneuverings as well as his control of the purse strings allowed him to wield a lot of influence and authority. (Yet Hamilton's intentions remained unassailable—his enemies in Congress pursued several investigations but ultimately found nothing to prove he had personally benefited from any of his activities.)

As such, it was inevitable that fissures would emerge. In fact, these fissures resulted in the country’s two-party system, which reflects the tension between state rights versus federal authority that today remains an integral part of U.S. politics and discourse. On the one side were the Federalists—led by Hamilton—who believed in a strong central government and that the people should allow their representatives to govern as they saw best; it was a somewhat patriarchal (some would argue patronizing) view of government which allowed those being governed to make their feelings known at election time.

On the other side were the Republicans—led by Jefferson and Madison—who feared a strong central government and the direct involvement of citizens in governing. This fear was somewhat understandable since the country had just emerged from colonial, monarchic rule. While no one (at least rarely) ever questioned Washington’s motives, there was nevertheless a real fear of the executive branch assuming sovereign power.

As much as Washington was truly revered even in his lifetime, it says much about the era—and the unchanged nature of politics—that even he was not immune from attacks in the press or from Congress. While Washington was known for his self-control and ability to remain above the fray and reproach, he was nevertheless severely hurt, angered, and wearied by the attacks.

It seems partly because of this—and his belief that Congress needlessly meddled in what fell within his executive powers—that seemed to push Washington himself into the Federalist camp, much to the exasperation of those on the other side of the aisle. (Even then, Congress was a much maligned body, as it is today.)

Even in these formative years, the Constitution was constantly being tested and opinions from advisors and the bench were sought to determine whether certain actions or decisions were Constitutional.

It says much about what the Constitutional framers had established—and their commitment to following the rule of law—that despite the fights over interpretation and ideology, the Constitution stood firm and would withstand the test of time.

Regardless, Washington for the most part was able to remain true to himself and managed to steer the country onto firmer ground. And his actions and example set the precedent for all who were to follow as president. As mentioned above, although nobody ever seriously believed Washington’s motives to be anything but pure, many nevertheless believed he could have justifiably held the presidency for life, if he wished. So it was a shock to many (including those overseas who were watching the American experiment from afar) when Washington announced his decision to not pursue a third term. It was an easy decision for Washington to step away from the fray so that he could return to private life and Mount Vernon; nevertheless, the decision to voluntarily step down from the nation’s most powerful office in order to allow for a peaceful and orderly transfer of power to a new chief executive, as outlined in the Constitution, remains one of the most enduring and meaningful legacies of our first president.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Extracurricular Activities

I recently fulfilled a childhood dream to appear in the syndicated funny pages, albeit in a one-off… The Feb. 14, 2016 comic-strip Funky Winkerbean featured a faux comic-book cover courtesy of yours truly! It’s actually a piece that was commissioned and completed awhile back, but now that it has finally made it to print, I can talk about it! My thanks to Funky Winkerbean’s writer-creator, Tom Batiuk, for the opportunity to be part of a fun project.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure to meet Tom Batiuk, the cartoonist-creator of the syndicated comic strip Funky Winkerbean, at the San Diego Comic-Con. Although the strip is not carried in any papers local to me, I was able to tell him that I grew up reading his work in New York. (For a great article on Tom and his work, click here.)

He had seen my work before and our conversation morphed into his asking about my interest to produce a piece of commissioned art for the series. As part of a storyline in which a mother was tracking down missing issues in her son’s comic-book collection of his favorite comic-book series, Batiuk invited established comic-book artists—including Bob Layton, Neil Vokes, Michael Gilbert, Terry Austin, Mike Golden and Norm Breyfogle—to produce faux covers for a character named Starbuck Jones. (In actuality, it is a character Batiuk created and drew in elementary school.) An interview about the project can be found here.

Batiuk was now extending the project and thought I’d be perfect for a kid adventure series he wanted to feature that he also created in his youth called Charlie & Chuck. For reference, Batiuk sent me samples of the original strips he created as a kid, logos, as well as the covers that already appeared. Otherwise, I was pretty free to come up with an appropriate cover. The art was produced in black and white, which Batiuk then colored in his studio.

It was an honor and thrill to be asked to participate, and doubly so when he said I captured exactly what he was aiming for. I wasn’t aware of the appearance of the strip until I received a nice package from Tom that included clippings of the strip (pictured at right) and a high quality print of the final piece.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


With Star Wars: The Force Awakens now available on BluRay/DVD, and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice well into its theatrical run, I thought I’d weigh in on these two films that are tentpoles for two major franchises….

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

After successfully revitalizing and updating Star Trek, Abrams was persuaded (with some prodding) to tackle Star Wars. In some quarters—particularly among older fans—there was the feeling that the prequel trilogy that George Lucas produced (Episodes I-III) had somewhat tarnished the brand. With Disney now the owner of Lucafilm—and Lucas’s handpicked successor, Kathleen Kennedy, now running the studio—there was a lot riding on plans to continue the series. Abrams had the (seemingly) unenviable task of pleasing the old guard while introducing new characters that would hopefully in the same way capture the hearts and imaginations of a new generation of fans as the original iconic cast of characters.

Most reviewers and fans have agreed that Abrams achieved this goal and then some. Like many, the film for me brought back that same feeling I had after seeing the original Star Wars (now Episode IV: A New Hope) when I was 14 years old. To be frank, it’s not a feeling I’ve had for a long time.

While some have noted that the plot of the new Star Wars film echoes the beats of the original, it nevertheless is a successful melding of old and new, with the original characters (and actors) passing the baton to a new generation.

At the heart of this, for me, is actress Ridley Daisy, as Rey. The extent of her popularity among audiences (even among males who are often thought to be resistant to a female action lead) reportedly even surprised Disney. Daisy gives a remarkable performance — Rey’s facial expressions and reactions can break your heart and though lonely and wounded, she is a strong figure who has been universally embraced because of her strength, courage and resilience, not because of her gender. Starting with Rey, with this film Abrams has also brought greater diversity to the Star Wars cast and universe, which is essential to reflect the realities of our own world, as well an acknowledgment of a more diverse and international media market. However, by no means has the series’ new direction meant that the original characters are being cast aside—as the last shot of the film demonstrates, Luke Skywalker clearly will play a central role in the next installment.

In terms of production value, Abrams (along with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote Episodes V—considered the best in the current canon—and VI), wanted to bring back the gritty, analog quality to the films that Lucas displayed in the first trilogy but strangely eschewed when he worked on the prequels trilogy. His over-reliance on CGI and green screen on the later movies made them antiseptic, sleek and hard to relate to.

Abrams is a true fan who gave the franchise back its heart. The most important goal was to make audiences feel as invested in the new cast as the original. And it appears he has succeeded—so here’s to the coming SW: Rogue I and Episode VIII!

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Like Abrams, filmmaker Zack Snyder faced a daunting challenge with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Though a simple sequel was initially planned to 2013’s Man of Steel, not wanting to be left behind by Marvel Studios’ success with its series of universe-building franchises—anchored by the Avengers films but ably supported by a satellite of successful films featuring A- and B-list properties ranging from Captain America and Thor to Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy—the film soon represented Warner Bros. (DC Comics’ owners) nascent steps down the path of building its own integrated movie universe.

Towards that end, DC decided to start off with a bang and strong statement by teaming the two eldest statesmen of comics properties, Batman and Superman, on film for the first time. And if that were not enough, they also introduced Wonder Woman and included brief cameos of Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg, as a preview to the upcoming Justice League film, which will also be preceded by some satellite films featuring, at least, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, as well as ancillary characters like the upcoming Suicide Squad.

It was a tall order and the film has a lot to squeeze in. As a result, as some critics have noted, the film is overwrought at times. The epic, climactic battle between Batman and Superman—which itself would have been the fitting end of any big-budget film—turns out to be only a bit of a prelude to an even bigger battle with a super being named Doomsday created by iconic Superman arch nemesis Lex Luthor.

Reviews have been mixed to savage, but to tell you the truth, I liked the film (and there has been a bit of a backlash to the backlash). To be fair, in many ways, this film is more faithful to the comics than many other superhero films—however, that also may be its weakness because it speaks more to the hardcore geek audience/comics fans than it does to mainstream audiences.(In contrast, Marvel has been incredibly effective in balancing the need to please existing comics fans while also producing appealing, mainstream “popcorn” films.)

Despite all the business in the film, and perhaps aided by the film’s 2 hour and 45 minute length, I never found any of the characters shortchanged (though I did feel it took awhile for Batman to appear onscreen).

Among the highlights: Affleck is great as Batman/Bruce Wayne; the connection that finally makes Batman see Superman’s humanity is a clever and effective moment that reaches deeply into the characters’ history; Gal Gadot makes a totally kick-ass Wonder Woman, making the shot of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman itself worth the price of admission. (Like Star Wars' Rey, Wonder Woman has been a breakout female hero that has been universally embraced by geeks of all genders.) And the ending was a surprise, setting up, presumably, the upcoming Justice League film.

There have been some complaints about Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor, some feeling that he didn’t even seem to be in the same film. Personally, I thought his performance was fine; if nothing else, his Lex Luthor certainly was a more serious villain than the ones portrayed by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey on film, where their obsession with real estate bordered on comic relief. In contrast, in BvS, Luthor is a man jealous of Superman’s godlike power and uses the same feelings of fear and awe he shares with Batman/Bruce Wayne shares to exploit the animosity between Superman and Batman. I'm glad that the film ends in a respect between the two characters, unlike the ongoing dislike between the characters in the current comics.

Perhaps my one negative response was this is a Batman that certainly kills a lot of people. This did seem a bit at odds with the character’s history, but I guess it is a reflection of the times we live in.

Uber-Batman fan Kevin Smith felt there wasn’t a lot of heart or humor in the film. Frankly, the lack of humor in the DC Universe films has always been an issue – while it’s probably unfair to compare the WB/DC films to the Marvel films when both acknowledge they have taken different approaches, Marvel nevertheless has found a way to have fun and be humorous while not sacrificing spectacle or the integrity of the characters; in contrast, DC’s films tend more humorless and take themselves a bit too seriously.

But I do believe there was heart in the film; it just takes some digging to get there.