Archive - September 2008
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September 30th, 2008
A lot of intriguing movies opened these past few months, and just the other day, the one I was most looking forward to finally made it to our local two dollar cineplex (one buck on Tuesdays)--and no friends, Commissioner Gordon was nowhere to be seen.

I'm talking about THIS little nugget of movie-making magic...
Look, plain and simple--I LOVE the music of ABBA. Always have, always will. Back in their heyday, as hit after hit piped out continuously from radio signals across the whole wide world, the Swedish foursome were considered anything but hip by the tastemakers. Over the years, though, there's been a fairly radical critical reassessment in certain quarters, including a lavish cover story in MOJO magazine about a decade back which pretty much proclaimed composers Benny and Bjorn to be authentic musical geniuses--all well and good but hey, I even liked 'em when they WEREN'T cool, y'know?

Still, this revised opinion is hardly universal--there are still plenty of people who don't get the appeal of ABBA's ouerve--and I understand that. Truth is, that unavoidable fact made investigating the response to this filmed adaptation to the long running "Mamma Mia" stage production all the more interesting. Y'see, as a general rule of thumb. after plunking down my two bucks to catch the latest belated new release, I usually come home, crank up the laptop, and head on over to Rotten Tomatoes (a site that corrals links to reviews from various periodicals and computes the average percentage of positive reaction for current films, for those of you not in the know). The big screen version of "Mamma Mia" scored a rather tepid 53 per cent ( as opposed to, say, "Iron Man"s rather astounding 93 per cent ), but a closer look at the reviews painted a far more fascinating picture than those cut and dried numbers might suggest.

You had folks who never cared much for ABBA's music who were nonetheless taken by the film's sheer good-natured exuberance. Others worshipped the tunes, but hated the movie, complaining about its comparatively amateurish singing and dancing (not to mention the neophyte film-making of the relatively inexperienced folks poised behind the lens). Some loved the music AND the movie, while others hated both. But even those who loved it couldn't help but notice its flaws--while there was a also a fellow who described the agony he was in while in the midst of sitting through the thing only to, upon leaving the theater, have the strangely inexplicable desire to actually see it AGAIN!!

And then, of course, there was good ol' bile spewing Rex Reed....

But I think my favorite line in any of the scores of reviews i plowed my way through was found at the very bottom of a mostly thumbs up take by Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle. Apparently, he appends an advisory for parents in bold type regarding what sort of potentially objectionable material might be found in the movie in question.

So, after finishing the body of his review, my eyes lazily drifted down and stumbled across the following words

"Advisory: Sex talk and the repeated spectacle of a man in excruciating pain"

HUH? What's the talking about? I don't remember anything about--

And then I read the parenthetical follow-up:

"(Pierce Brosnan trying to sing)."

Funniest--and truest--thing I've read in a review all year!

Me? Well, I had a great time. Yeah, it's hardly the greatest movie musical to grace the silver screen--I get that. But with those sunny, gloriously melodic songs and a full out committed performance provided by Meryl Streep and the rest of the cast (even a tone deaf former 007), how could it not raise your spirits? Unless you truly dislike ABBA--and like I said, I know you're out there--I'd heartily recommend you go see "Mamma Mia". It ain't "West Side Story', but these days, what is?...
September 29th, 2008
Back in the summer of 1977, during one of my periodic visits to the family of my then girlfriend (and now wife) Lynn in Woodstock, we stopped by the attic apartment of her close friend, Linda. Now ultimately, over the years, we never saw a whole lot of Linda, but that hasn't prevented me from ever forgetting that particular meeting. Because, after climbing the stairs up to her lodging, we were barely in the door before she asked with a surprising urgency, "Have you heard?"

"Heard what?"

"Elvis Presley is dead."

And from that point on, regardless of any past or future relationship Linda had (or would have) with my missus, in my mind she'd always be remembered as the woman who broke the news that the King of Rock and Roll had taken his last breath.

Fast forward to last year. The final day of the baseball season, prior to the playoffs. The Sunday wherein the New York Mets--who had a seven and a half game lead in their division with seventeen games to play--fell prey to a collapse of historic proportions, finishing it off that afternoon by giving up seven runs to the Florida Marlins in the first inning before even coming to bat that woeful day. Chances are I just may've mentioned something about it here at the time...

What I likely DIDN'T mention was that was the selfsame day I met for the very first time Alec, Julie's boyfriend (though they were, at the time, "just friends"). Hey, it's not like I blamed the guy--he didn't come over until mid-game after all, and by then the damage had already been done--but still, it's an unfortunate association, y'know?

Well, some of you may've seen the papers today. Yup--it happened again yesterday...
This time around--after blowing a three and a half game lead with seventeen to go (and playing a far more competitive final game, waiting all the way until the eighth inning before shoveling dirt on the season), the Mets chose to close the doors to Shea Stadium now and forever with another eleventh hour fall from grace--and hey, Alec was nowhere in sight!

I couldn't help think of him, though--especially since today is his birthday (Happy Birthday, buddy!!). I WAS hoping to write up this piece with the happier news that the Mets had exorcised their demons from last year by winning yesterday's game, but alas, t'wasn't to be. Gee--maybe NEXT year? Yeah, right....

Meanwhile, though, there are OTHER matters to be concerned about--and again, Alec is indirectly involved!! Y'see, last month, after a hectic afternoon of helping daughter Julie settle into her dormitory room for her freshman year away at college, Lynn and I left her for the evening and went out to grab some food with Alec.

Midway through dinner he suddenly recalled a bit of news.

"Have you heard?"

Uh oh...

"Heard what?"

"McCain finally picked his vice president. Some lady governor from Alaska...".

That's right, folks--the 45th President of the United States, Sarah Palin!

I don't blame the messenger, Alec, honestly I don't. After all, YOU didn't pick her (or give up those home runs to the Marlins in the eighth either...). But one way or another, you're indelibly stuck in my cranium forevermore, with not one but two less that savory associations.

Not much of a birthday greeting, huh? Sorry--after yesterday, it's the best I could cobble together. But hey, we still like you a bunch, Alec m'boy--but just watch yourself, okay? Third time could be a deal-breaker y'know....
September 24th, 2008
Once upon a time, Pokemon was all the rage around these parts.

It was shortly after Beanie Babies and a bit before MySpace, a time when all things Poke kept my daughter Julie endlessly fascinated (and, truth to tell, her mom as well--I confess that, somehow, I never quite fell under the same spell). And it wasn't just collecting the cards--Julie enjoyed actually playing the game too. So much so, in fact, that she regularly attended a weekly Pokemon League held at the local Toys R Us.

All good things come to an end, though. I distinctly recall the last time I drove Julie (and her friend Chelsea) off to her Saturday morning game session. It was August 25th, 2001, her eleventh birthday. Her interest slowly waned after that, but I'm fairly certain it was never fully extinguished. How could it be? In the years since, Pokemon has proven itself to be an enduring, world-wide phenomenon. Fact is, I have it from a very reliable source that its influence reached all the way to the land down under, Australia!

Y'see, a delightful fellow by the name of Michael Lee recently commissioned me to do a very special drawing for his son's 21st birthday. And since his son was--and is--a big Pokemon devotee, the illo in question is a Pokemon Across The Page piece, which I'm posting in the ATP gallery for all to see (including our Julie, currently away at college) on this, Aaron Lee's landmark 21st!!



(Say "hi" to your Unca Stan for me, wouldja?)
September 15th, 2008
The following is pure speculation--but hey, it COULDA happened this way...

Fall 1960.

You're the head writer/art director/editor of a small Manhattan based comic book operation, one whose better days are clearly in the past. You wonder--maybe it's time to finally get out?

As you head off to the offices that cold November day, you absentmindedly pick up a copy of that morning's edition of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS as you silently go over your options. But funny thing--you've been working at it too long. Comics are in your blood, because when you begin paging through the paper that day, you can't help but look over the daily strips, sprinkled prominently all throughout the tabloid.

There are the classics, of course--"Dick Tracy " by Chester Gould and "Little Orphan Annie" by Harold Gray, among others--but there's also newer strips, too. Like "Dondi"--say, didn't that Irwin Hasen fellow work across town for the Big Guys back in the forties and fifties?

And how about Leonard Starr? He put in time over there as well, but for nearly the last half decade he'd been producing one of the best drawn and freshest written strips to be found in any newspaper, Mary Perkins' adventures "On Stage". Talented guy--LUCKY guy, too. You sigh a bit and dream about having a successful syndicated feature, and then focus back on the paper in front of you, curious to see what he'll be serving up in today's installment...

And then, for the first time, you read the name of his newest character...
A few short years go by.

You've managed to find a much more fulfilling direction to aim your still small (but ever growing) line of books towards. As you begin work on the first full issue of what's to eventually become your signature character, you come across the initial appearance of your hero's ongoing civilian antagonist...
But what, you wonder, to name him?

And then, as if out of the blue, that "On Stage" sequence from two years back suddenly comes to mind. You're partial to alliteration as it is, so why not THREE "J's" this time around anyway? (Besides, the "J. J. Jonah" in Starr's strip turned out to be an alias for a one-story character, so what's the harm of using him for a little creative inspiration?)

So, in the second panel featuring the blustery publisher...
Goodbye J. J. Jonah, hello J. Jonah Jameson!

(And just be glad you didn't call your lead protagonist "Peter Perkins" by mistake in either of that debut issue's stories! Bad enough you called him "Peter Palmer" in the opening panels of the second story--but then, you must've been thinking of ANOTHER comic strip classic, as that was also the name of the actor who a few short years earlier portrayed the title role of "Li'l Abner" in the screen version of the musical based on the famous Al Capp strip!)

See you in the funny papers indeed.

(Yeah, that's how it COULDA happened, but hey, I ain't saying it did, y'know?...)
September 5th, 2008
Well, the first full week of classes concluded earlier today, and the good news is--aside from a few mild complaints regarding the hefty amount of homework heaped upon her--freshman Julie appears to be adjusting nicely to college life. Given the rocky start reported here several days ago, I must say I'm relieved (though, in truth, not at all surprised).

With our daughter out of the house, Lynn and I have taken the opportunity to tidy up a bit (but just a bit...). Take a look at what I found whilst sifting through my tee shirt drawer, stuck way, WAY in the back...
Yup--a "Fred Hembeck " tee shirt!

Here's a closer peek at the art (and simply click the image below for an even better look)...
The story behind the shirt?

Nothing too exciting. Back in 1983, some very nice fellow--I can't for the life of me remember WHO at this late date, but he WASN'T representing the folks at Graphitti, that much I'm sure--approached me about coming up with a tee shirt design. So I did, and here it is (I no longer have the original art, and in those days, i didn't think to make copies of everything i draw like I do today). Note how I, um, cleverly got around the problem of using the copyrighted characters Cartoon Fred usually hobnobbed with...

I recall that this fellow also produced a "Shadow " tee shirt utilizing a specially commissioned Mike Kaluta head shot of the pulp icon (somewhere around here I know I have one of those tucked away too). Shortly after my garish garment came off the assembly line, I attended a con where the manufacturer had them on sale, and I distinctly remember seeing one person walking by the table I was sitting behind wearing it. Very odd feeling somehow, probably because that was ME on his chest! Now I finally knew how baseball players felt when they looked up into the stands and saw fans wearing facsimiles of their jerseys.Okay, okay--so I wasn't exactly Dwight Gooden, but still...

I'm sure we sold, oh, gosh, at least into the double digits, and years later, this has GOT to be a highly desired Hembeck collector's item--especially among Hembeck collectors that are high! And that one above? Features actual Hembeck sweat!

What a killing I could make on eBay...
September 1st, 2008
Way back when, one of the earliest strips I ever did was an entry called "I Love Logos", which threw the spotlight on several of my very favorite (yup, you guessed it ) logos.

I was recently informed that that particular piece made a life-long lasting impression on the young man who would later go on to preside over one of the most visually arresting comics oriented sites on the net, "Robby Reed's" Dial B For Blog. I'm honored--and I'm doubly honored if, in some small insignificant way, I in turn inspired "Robby" to decide to produce an astounding 12 part series--which he's posting over the next twenty four hours, at two hour intervals--saluting the work of master comic book calligrapher, Gaspar Saladino (especially since HE did all the hard work!)!

Called "The Treasure Keeper", the series (which I've been privileged to get a sneak peek at) includes an extensive interview with Gaspar himself--as well as warm words from several of his lettering acolytes--sprinkled throughout with a liberally illustrated collection of lush graphics, pictures that are at once familiar to all Silver Age era fans, but yet are presented in such a way as to seem totally fresh!

A tribute to the masterful Gaspar Saladino is long overdue, but considering the wonderful job "Mr. Reed" did, maybe--just maybe--it was all worth waiting for!!

But hey, what are YOU waiting for? Sockamagee--get on over there! The fun's just beginning!!

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