Wednesday, April 29, 2009


While driving home from chorus rehearsal, I admired — while keeping one eye firmly fixated on the road ahead at all times — the transcendent beauty of the crescent moon low in the night sky, colored a dusky reddish hue by atmospheric debris.

And I thought to myself...

What a marvel it is to realize that there's another world right up there, so near that you could fly there in a day's time if you had the technology at your disposal.

I'm terrified of high places. But I'd go to the moon if I had the chance.

I hope I live long enough to see human beings exploring the moon's surface again.

Mars would be even more awesome.

Sweet dreams.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

April showers (part four of four)

As the month of April begins its gradual fade into May, we conclude our month of Comic Art Fridays dedicated to our — and, let's be honest, everyone's — favorite weather-marshaling X-Man, Ororo Munroe: Storm, as she's known to friend and foe alike.

Last week, we showcased a Storm image penciled by Mark Beachum and inked by my good friend and comics industry stalwart, Bob Almond.

Here's another one.

When I purchased the original pencils of last week's featured piece from Mark Beachum, Mark included in the package an additional sketch with a brief note of thanks. This sketch, presenting a strikingly different version of Ororo than the drawing I bought, was simply but deftly drawn, and quite beautiful.

It was also a nude. Not surprising, given that much of Mark's artistic output these days falls under the banner of erotica.

Those of you who've visited here on Comic Art Fridays for any length of time, or have browsed my online gallery at Comic Art Fans, have probably sussed out that I don't collect nude art. I wouldn't consider myself a prude, nor am I in any manner opposed to the creation, ownership, or display of nude art in general. It's merely an area of artistic expression that my collection isn't intended to represent.

It seemed a pity, though, to completely hide Mark's lovely sketch from the world, just because I wouldn't have a place for it in my gallery in its original form. So, Bob Almond and I put our heads together, and decided that Bob would create an inked version of Mark's sketch that incorporated some minimal costuming. Bob drew his inspiration from a design that Geof Isherwood developed for this Common Elements commission entitled "Stormbringers," featuring Ororo alongside Michael Moorcock's epic fantasy antihero, Elric of Melniboné.

Geof's original model for his Storm was Adastra, a character created by the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith. At one time, BWS (as his fans call him) had been assigned by Marvel Comics to write and draw a miniseries featuring a youthful Storm in her native African environs. Due to the time-honored "creative differences," Marvel decided not to publish the story Windsor-Smith came up with, so the artist changed the character's name to Adastra and published the book (retitled Adastra in Africa) himself.

Isherwood, who counts BWS as one of his key influences, retconned Windsor-Smith's Adastra back to her Ororo origins for the drawing above. Bob Almond incorporated the basic elements of Geof's design into his embellished version of Mark Beachum's sketch.

Ideas... the gifts that keep on giving.

And that's your Comic Art Friday "Storm front" for April.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's getting Earthy up in here

In honor of Earth Day, I am committing to spending the entirety of today on Earth.

Furthermore, I vow to use only products that have been grown and/or manufactured on Earth.

I will also watch only those TV programs that originate on Earth.

I encourage all of my Earth-based readers to join me in this celebration.

Those of you from other celestial bodies, I'll check back with you tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Selling Wolf tickets

Although I wasn't a regular customer, I'm still a little sad to see Wolf Coffee, a local chain of coffeehouses, go the way of the passenger pigeon.

At one time, Wolf Coffee — whose home office was here in Rohnert Park — had eight locations in Sonoma County. But they could never really compete with Starbucks, which has, at last count, 42 outlets in the county. (That's a lot of coffee, when you stop and think about it.) Wolf began trimming back its operations a couple of years ago, and recently sold its last remaining store in Coddingtown Mall.

It's unfortunate to see locally owned businesses fail, but there are a lot of factors to consider. Wolf's coffee was expensive, even more so than Starbucks — my cup of choice, a king-sized vanilla latte, cost about a quarter more at Wolf than at the Sign of the Naked Fish-Tailed Lady. Wolf's locations were not, at least for me, as convenient as the plethora of Starbucks.

And, most frustratingly, Wolf's service, while unfailingly friendly, was often slower than molasses in Antarctica. I never dropped into a Wolf Coffee if I was in any kind of hurry. Or if I simply had plans for the rest of my day. Although the laid-back vibe was, for some customers, a selling point in Wolf's favor over the lickety-split corporate rush at the 'Bucks, when I want a cup of coffee, I want it now, not 15 minutes from now. I've got stuff to do.

To my taste, the coffee at Wolf wasn't significantly spectacular to offset these drawbacks. It was pretty good, but not better, than the java at the Green Monster across the street.

Here's where I lose patience with people who bemoan overmuch the passing of locally owned businesses. Ultimately, it's a business. If you can't compete, you'll get crushed. It's not my job to support a local outfit even if they charge me more for the same or similar product, send me out of my way to buy it, and keep me waiting longer than the big chain outfit. It's my money, my gasoline, my time.

All things being equal, then yes, I'd rather buy from a neighbor than some megacorporation in a distant land. But when all things aren't equal, I've got to serve Customer #1 first. That, or my neighbor has to deliver something sufficiently superior to the other guy that I'll spend a bit more, drive a bit farther, and wait a bit longer.

When it comes to a relatively generic commodity like coffee, that's a tough challenge. Sadly, it's a challenge that Wold Coffee couldn't — or, perhaps, wouldn't — meet.

Now, they've paid the ultimate price.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Do I look like Buster Poindexter to you?

Today, we came within shouting distance of a new record temperature for this date.

The mercury climbed to 93 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, for the benefit of those in other localities not tethered to our arcane system of weights and measures) at its peak, just two degrees shy of a mark set in 1931.

It was hot all over the region. Even in perpetually cool San Francisco, they were looking at 92.

Ironically, exactly one year ago, we set a record for low temperatures on April 20, bottoming out at a chilly 32. The high that day was a still-brisk 58.

A lot can change in a single orbit around the sun.

The average high for this date is 70. We usually don't see weather this toasty until at least mid-May.

Stupid global warming.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

April showers (part three of four)

We're having a month of Storms this April on Comic Art Friday. Ironic, this, because it's supposed to be sunny and in the mid-80s here this weekend.

Still, we press on.

The third manifestation in our Storm front is this striking take on Ororo, penciled by Mark Beachum and inked by Bob Almond.

Mark Beachum began his career in mainstream comics in the early 1980s, when he drew several issues of Wonder Woman for DC, then moved over to Marvel to draw mostly covers on the various Spider-Man titles. My interest, however, in Beachum's work stems from a single cover he penciled for one of my all-time favorite non-superhero comic books: Thriller.

Beachum landed the cover assignment for Thriller #7, I suspect because he was a hungry young artist who just happened to be available, and DC editorial needed a cover in a hurry. Thriller #7 was the final issue of the short-lived series to be produced by the original creative team, scripter Robert Loren Fleming and illustrator Trevor Von Eeden.

For a variety of reasons, many of which remain shrouded in mystery nearly a quarter-century later, Fleming and Von Eeden both quit (or were dumped from, depending on who's telling the story) Thriller abruptly. Fleming was supplanted as writer by former Vampirella scribe Bill DuBay, beginning with issue #8. The incomparable stylist Alex Niño took over the art chores from Von Eeden in issue #9.

Thriller, an idiosyncratic tale under the best of circumstances — that is to say, in the hands of the only two people on the planet who truly understood what it was supposed to be about, and where the narrative was intended to go — limped along under the new creative team until issue #12, by which time anyone still reading the book gave up trying to follow the increasingly bizarre storyline. DC, long since ready to cut its losses, canceled the troublesome title.

None of which has anything at all to do with Storm, aside from the fact that the artist who drew the Storm seen above is the same guy who drew the only Thriller cover not drawn by either Von Eeden or Niño.

That, and the fact that I'm one of the infinitesimally puny number of comics fans who not only still remember Thriller fondly — or indeed remember it at all — but actually own all twelve issues.

Of course, that doesn't have anything to do with Storm, either.

I was going somewhere with this, but I'm not certain exactly where. Kind of like Thriller.

One more Storm next week.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Madden cruises

No news is bigger around these parts today than the surprise announcement that John Madden — a national pop culture figure, but a Bay Area icon — is retiring after 30 years as America's most recognizable pro football broadcaster.

I was just scratching the crust out of my eyelids as the story broke on KCBS, San Francisco's all-news radio station, where Madden contributes a live interview segment every weekday morning. And, like many fans around the Bay Area and nationally, I found myself stunned by Madden's announcement, broadcast live.

Although my affection for the NFL product begins and pretty much ends with the 49ers — I don't often watch a regular-season game on TV unless the Niners (or, on occasion, the Raiders) are playing — I can't help but acknowledge the impact that Madden has had on the popularity of football. Or, for that matter, on the popularity of football in general — witness the continued success of Madden NFL, by all accounts the best-selling video game ever created. The former Oakland coach's bombastic personality and easy-to-imitate shtick has become ubiquitous in American culture. (Don't you just know that Frank Caliendo is weeping into his Miller Lite today?)

Mostly, though, I've come to know Madden through his long-running daily spot on local radio. For years, Madden joined legendary morning man Frank Dill's show on KNBR — well before that station transmogrified into "The Sports Leader" — for a spot of chat, usually about sports but often just about whatever Madden felt moved to yak about. During the season, Madden would check in from wherever he happened to be, often from the famed Maddencruiser, the tricked-out bus in which the airplane-averse commentator traveled from game to game.

When Dill retired, Madden couldn't stand Steve McPartlin, the former happy-talk TV host who replaced Frank on KNBR's morning drive. So, Big John took his act across the dial to KCBS, where he interfaced with venerable news anchor Al Hart. Even after Hart stepped down from the daily grind, he'd still pop up every Wednesday to bat things around with his old pal "Coach," whose morning foils now are anchors Stan Bunger and Susan Leigh Taylor and sports reporter Steve Bitker.

The hot rumor now is that Madden will go back to work for Al Davis's Raiders, possibly as general manager or director of football operations. I'd like to think that Madden has too much sense to subject himself to Al's senile shenanigans, but the two have remained close over the years. Anything's possible.

For public consumption, Madden is saying that he just wants to spend more time with his family. He and his wife are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and Madden's five grandchildren are at the ages where, as the Hall of Fame coach noted, they know when he's gone.

After 42 years in the NFL, and at 73 years of age (his birthday was last Friday), I think the big guy's earned the right to do whatever he pleases.

Happy trails, Coach.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Happy Jackie Robinson Day!

Every player, manager, and coach in Major League Baseball will wear a uniform number 42 during today's games, in commemoration of the Brooklyn Dodgers' Hall of Fame infielder's breaking of baseball's racial barrier 62 years ago.

Robinson's number was permanently retired from active use by all MLB teams during the inaugural Jackie Robinson Day festivities in 2004.

For whatever reason, Jackie Robinson Day always reminds me of that classic episode of Sanford and Son, in which the always-scheming Rollo gives Fred a special birthday present: a baseball autographed by Jackie Robinson.

Upon examining his gift, Fred asks his friend, "Rollo, how do you spell 'Jackie'?"

replies a confident Rollo.

"That's right," says Fred. "That's how you spell 'Jackie.' But that's not how Jackie Robinson spelled 'Jackie...' you dummy."

The moral of this story: If someone gives you an autographed baseball for Jackie Robinson Day — or tries to sell you one on eBay — be sure you authenticate the signature.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

This Bird has flown

Another chunk of my childhood passed away today.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych has died this afternoon in an apparent accident, at the age of 54.

Fidrych was the wunderkind Detroit Tigers pitcher who took baseball by storm in the summer of 1976. Fidrych — nicknamed "The Bird" because of his striking resemblance to Big Bird, the towering Muppet from Sesame Street — became a household name as much for his antics on the mound as for his prodigious pitching prowess.

A frenetic bundle of nervous energy, Fidrych talked aloud to himself — and occasionally, to the baseball — while pitching. He would kneel on the mound between pitches and groom the dirt with his hands. He'd run over to his teammates and congratulate them with high-fives for making successful infield plays. His infectious enthusiasm made The Bird an overnight superstar.

After starting the year with a 7-1 record, the rookie phenom received the starting assignment for the American League in the 1976 All-Star Game. Fidrych finished the season with a 19-9 record and a 2.34 earned run average. Named the American League Rookie of the Year, he also came in second in the voting for the Cy Young Award.

He was never the same again.

Plagued by injuries beginning in his sophomore campaign, Fidrych would pitch sporadically with the Tigers over the next four seasons. He won only 10 more games after that legendary rookie year. He pitched his last game for the Tigers in 1980, and when Detroit released him at the end of the 1981 season, The Bird was out of the game.

He attempted an unsuccessful minor-league comeback in the Boston Red Sox organization in 1983, but he never got back to The Show.

I had the privilege of seeing The Bird best the Oakland Athletics in a game at the Coliseum during that shining Bicentennial summer. That memory remains one of my all-time favorite baseball moments.

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was truly one of a kind.

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Super freak

I'm not sure why I'd be surprised by this revelation, but...

According to a recently published book by comics historian Craig Yoe, Joe Shuster — the artist half of the creative team who dreamed up Superman — spent a portion of his career in the 1950s drawing sadomasochistic fetish comics featuring characters who look suspiciously like Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

Apparently, it wasn't only kryptonite that made the Man of Steel weak in the knees. Whips and chains did the trick as well.

Yoe's book Secret Identity uncovers (no pun intended) the lurid art Shuster drew for an underground magazine entitled Nights of Horror. An article in USA Today quotes Yoe's observation:
Joe obviously had some very dark fantasies. There's a panel in an early Superman comic book where he has Lois over his knee and is spanking her. But certainly nothing of this depth or extremeness.
As I said, this really doesn't shock me. Plenty of artists from mainstream comics sidelined in erotica, especially back in the days when mainstream comics habitually paid their creators in chicken feed and shoeshines.

To cite a few examples:
  • Wally Wood — one of comics' most talented artists ever, in my (and many other knowledgeable people's) opinion — was a one-man cottage porn industry in his later years.
  • Will Elder, one of the artists who helped make MAD Magazine a household name, drew Little Annie Fanny for Playboy for more than a quarter-century.
  • Bill Ward, who started his career drawing Captain Marvel and Blackhawk before creating the classic "good girl" character Torchy, cranked out hundreds of sexy strips for men's magazines.
  • Adam Hughes, perhaps comics' preeminent present-day "good girl" artist, used to freelance for Penthouse.
I'm sure, though, that more than a few folks will find the blood draining from their faces when they see Superman (or a guy who could be his identical twin brother) letting his freak flag fly.

Great Caesar's ghost, indeed.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

April showers (part two of four)

As noted last week, April is Storm Month here on Comic Art Friday.

Apparently, it's working, because it's been rainy here for the past several days.

Today's paean to the mighty Ororo — Queen of Wakanda and most powerful of the legendary X-Men — leaps from the pencil of Edgar Tadeo, a talented artist from the Philippines. Ed is perfectly suited to render our weather-warping heroine, given that his most recent comics assignment was inking Marvel's X-Men: Worlds Apart (over the pencil art of Diogenes Neves), a miniseries starring the scintillating Storm herself.

Ed's take on Ororo synthesizes the work of the two artists most closely associated with Storm: the late, great Dave Cockrum, who co-created the character (as well as several other 1970s-vintage X-Men) with writer Len Wein; and John Byrne, the Canadian superstar who first came to prominence when he followed Cockrum as the regular artist on X-Men.

Tadeo blends these influences through the filter of the storied Filipino comics (or komiks, as they spell it in the P.I.) tradition, and comes up with a beautiful style uniquely his own. Although Ed is best known on these shores as an inker, I admire his pencil work very much. You'll be seeing his addition to my Common Elements gallery one of these Fridays soon.

Speaking of Storm's co-creator Len Wein: Len and his wife, photographer Chris Valada, lost their home, their beloved dog Sheba, and many of their possessions in a house fire earlier this week. Our thoughts are with Len and Chris for a speedy return to normality.

More Storm in seven.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.