Friday, June 29, 2007


We're off to the beach this weekend (and all next week) for some much needed rest and relaxation. Suzanne's parents retired to a quiet little island just off the coast of North Carolina. (And, by "just off", I mean exactly that. The bridge to the island is only a couple hundred yards long.) They built themselves a nice three-story house with lots of room for guests and we'll be staying with them in the apartment on the highest level. There's a nice balcony overlooking the water. Across the street, Suzanne's sister and her family will be staying in the 4-bedroom cottage the family has owned for decades and, in fact, built with their own hands. We usually stay there when we spend a week on the island but with two adults, two kids and a dog already there, we thought it might be a little crowded and not conducive to the kind of rest we need.

Suzanne's spent this week planning all kinds of fun things to do with the kids and some interesting menus she plans to try out on her family. Me? I'm doing absolutely nothing. I'm taking a stack of loot from the Heroes Con to read along with a handful of novels that have been piling up and a bunch of DVDs I haven't gotten around to watching. I don't expect to get through much of it (can't be TOO antisocial) but it will be nice to make any headway at all.

Then there's the rum. What's a trip to the beach without rum? A buddy of mine brought me a bottle of Appleton Estates back from Aruba when he went on his honeymoon. The rum's going with me (along with a 2-liter bottle of Coke) and one of us isn't coming back alive. I'm not much of a drinker, really, but there is nothing finer in life than sitting on that back porch before dinner, looking out over the water and enjoying the cool breeze blowing through your hair as you sip on a nice rum and coke. (Or two...or three...) The only thing that would make it more perfect would be a view of the sunset. Unfortunately, this is the Atlantic coast and if you want to see the sun go down, you have to face away from the water. The upside is, if you're up in time, you get to enjoy one hell of a spectacular sunrise with your morning coffee.

So, fair winds to ye, me buckos. I'm off wit' me first mate and me swag to the far off land of Harker's Island. And, if Elizabeth Swann has burned up all me rum when I get there, she'll kiss the gunner's daughter fer sure, begad!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hi-o, Silver!

When I was a kid, back when we were still living in the single-wide trailer on the land where my parents' house now rests, the local ABC affiliate ran a series called The Six-Thirty Movie. This was back when Lynchburg's channel 13 went by the call letters WLVA. (They've since been changed to WSET.) The Six-Thirty Movie ran Monday through Friday at, naturally, 6:30 p.m., right after the evening news. This was back in the days when the local news aired at 5:30 and the networks ran theirs at 6:00, leaving 90 minutes of airtime to fill before primetime began.

The Six-Thirty Movie was a mixed-bag. Each week, there was a different theme. For five days, they'd show different films that more or less "went" together. Popular themes included "GODZILLA WEEK!", "HOPALONG CASSIDY WEEK!", "SCI-FI MOVIE WEEK!" and so on. Some of the films shown were better than others. For instance, for every GODZILLA and RODAN, there'd be SON OF GODZILLA or WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Granted, to my young imagination, it was all good. When the movies didn't run the entire 90 minutes, even with commercials, the producers filled out the time with 2 or 3 episodes of the classic OUR GANG shorts, renamed THE LITTLE RASCALS. This was my introduction to these shorts and I loved them.

Sometimes the films wouldn't be films at all but cleverly marketed composites of episodes from defunct TV series. For example, one week was devoted to airings of faux movies with names like RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES, TERROR ON THE PLANET OF THE APES and GOIN' BANANAS ON THE PLANET OF THE APES. (Okay, I made up that last one.) Each of these were merely two episodes from the short-lived PLANET TV series re-edited to seem like one seamless movie. This was also the case with my favorite Six-Thirty Movie theme and the subject of my quick little sketch, above: The Lone Ranger.

The movies that aired during the many LONE RANGER WEEK!s were compiled from three separate half-hour episodes of the long-running Lone Ranger TV series from the late '40s to late '50s starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. I was hooked from my first viewing. I would bide my time during the day in anticipation of that night's movie and, unlike most of my classmates, dreaded Friday because it meant the end of the week and the end of LONE RANGER WEEK! It seemed like forever until the next one. I loved the Lone Ranger so much that I would strap on my fake chrome-plated six-shooter before dinner each summer evening and jump on my bike, which I'd named "Silver" (though it was dark green and had a basket bolted to the handlebars) and streak off down the high hill we lived on, shouting "Hi-o Silver! Awaaaaay!" at the top of my lungs.

Eventually, The Six-Thirty Movie went the way of the dodo. The networks moved their news to 6:30, cutting the after-news slot to an hour. Thus began the days of sitcom reruns and Entertainment Tonight. Though I love the home theater on which I watch movies now, nothing will ever compare to those wonderful evenings spent in front of our sad little 13" black and white television with the rabbit ears and single speaker in front.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup...

Why does TCM always show the good stuff during the weekday hours when I'm usually at work? I got off work at 4:00 a.m. again last night and had the day off, if you want to call it that. I spent most of the day vegging in front of the TV, watching Turner Classic Movies. The film that prompted this post is SUNSET BLVD. with Gloria Swanson and William Holden.

I don't watch a lot of old movies usually because I think I suffer from the same delusion that most people today do. We think that because we have so many fancy tools like HD video cameras, CGI and digital surround sound that movies made today are somehow better than the ones made back in the 1930's, '40s and '50s. This is absolutely not the case and watching SUNSET BLVD. today really drove that home. (This is a lesson we comic book fans could learn as well. Computer effects and graphic sex and violence do not a great comic make.)

This is such a timeless film. So many of the themes still hit home today. Fear of growing old, the need for attention (Paris Hilton, anyone?), jealousy, denial, unrequited love. I've seen it once before, in my Film History class back in college. But I don't think I was prepared for it then. I didn't know quite what I was watching. Those Carol Burnett Show parodies ("Max! Come here, Maxxssssssss!") were still a little too fresh in my mind I guess. Whatever the case, I was really moved by it today in a way that I wasn't back then.

The performers lived up to their reputations. William Holden was terrific as the washed up screenwriter looking for one last break and Gloria Swanson's has-been movie star is just chilling. The last five minutes of SUNSET BLVD. are as horrifying and spooky as any modern horror film. The cinematography just blew me away. That iconic shot of Holden floating facedown in the pool at the beginning (so I'm not spoiling anything) is remembered even today for a reason.

This has left me hungry for more movies like this. I went through a Bogie phase last year and started renting all his private eye movies (BIG SLEEP, MALTESE FALCON) and had a blast. Now I think it's William Holden's turn. And a friend has recently recommended the THIN MAN series for the clever dialogue and characterization. So, it's off to NetFlix I go...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Loot

Gonna be another long night at work tonight. (It's becoming a Thursday tradition, apparently.) So, I thought I'd lighten my mood by posting the haul I got from Heroes. These are the covers (or close facsimiles) of all the trades I picked up. This is what broke the bank...and my back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Heroes Con Report—Part 3

If you've read this far, thanks for your patience. This stuff always seems more interesting to the person doing the writing than to the people doing the reading. Hopefully, I haven't bored you completely to death.


I'd brought workout gear with me in the hopes of hitting the hotel gym in the mornings but after the late night debacle at work Thursday into Friday, I was a long time recovering and ended up sleeping in both days. Sunday was worse because we also had checkout time to worry about. We quickly gathered our stuff, including my fifty pounds or so of trades, and hauled everything to the car. Then we checked out and headed to the convention center to take one last look around and say our goodbyes. Though we'd originally intended to stay over Sunday night, it didn't work out. I think we were all glad of that and anxious to hit the road, though, so maybe that was for the best. Christian missed his wife and daughter and Suze and I were looking forward to vegging at home before returning to hell...uh, I mean work.

We hit the dealers again and I found the Steranko NICK FURY AGENT OF SHIELD collection I'd foolishly passed up the day before. Unfortunately, after I relocated it, I noticed it had a fairly damaged front cover. For 10 bucks, though, you couldn't beat it and I snagged it anyway. We spent an almost comical amount of time trying to locate a copy of DEATH JR. I'd recommended to Christian and he passed on it. Then, five minutes later, he changed his mind but we couldn't find the damned thing. Even though we knew roughly where I'd seen it and there were multiple copies. We never did find it.

I knew we were leaving so I picked up a few things I didn't really need and called it quits. Then, as we were walking back to the artist's tables, we stumbled across a dealer we hadn't seen. His trades were only 40% off but his selection (and their condition) were amazing. He had EVERYTHING I'd been hoping to find at the con. The trouble was, I'd spent nearly all my money. So I settled for a couple of 100 BULLETS collections. Suzanne bought a Wonder Woman tee because she'd been trying for years to find one in her size and couldn't. This fella had one. He was everything we'd hoped for in the trip and we never saw him until the end. Weird.

My last purchase was a surprise. When Suzanne, the night before, had heard how inexpensively Jamal Igle was selling his beautiful original artwork, she withdrew her moratorium on buying pages. She told me I could get one of Jamal's pieces. We stopped by together and, behind his FIRESTORM pages, were a few really nice pages from his issue of MARVEL AGE SPIDER-MAN. I saw one page with a panel showing Spidey in a dumpster with a banana peel on his head and knew I had to have it. Christian said that if I didn't get it, he would. So, to keep it out of his dastardly mits, I forked over the bucks and took my prize. I'll try to scan it and post it here later with the FIRESTORM page I already own.

We went to lunch at Jolina's, a Mexican joint that shares building space with Fuel Pizza. The food was excellent and they had beer. That was much appreciated as the cool temperatures of the last two days had given way to a blistering 95-degrees.

Next, we attended the STEPHEN KING'S DARK TOWER panel with Peter David and a really nice lady whose name I don't recall. Which is a shame because she seems to have been the backbone of the writing team, doing all the heavy lifting of research and organization. From where we sat, we couldn't really see her and she spoke so quietly we almost couldn't hear her. Contrast that with Peter's loud, booming voice. The panel was moderated by Matt Brady of Newsarama. If you've ever wondered what he looks like, he's the big redheaded guy at the podium in the picture below.

The panel was interesting but I didn't really know what they were talking about. I don't read the comic and I've never read King's Tower books. I plan to because I've read just about every other book he's ever published and I'm a huge fan. But, by the time I was able to get my hands on any of the Dark Tower books, he'd already published three of them and I never got around to reading them. It's on my Things To Do Before I Die list.

Christian and I left Suzanne in the care of Mike, Todd and Craig and went to try our hand at the Quickdraw contest again. I'd resigned myself to defeat after my poor performance the day before. In fact, until the guy yelled, "Go!" I had no idea what I was going to draw. I was toying with drawing Werewolf by Night but then, the need to draw Frankenstein's Monster overtook me and I did that. I remembered my own advice to Christian (that I didn't follow with Bender 2.0) to "fill the page." I quickly sketched out my monster with a rough background of trees, castle and moon. The 20 minutes seemed to pass a lot slower this time and I was a lot calmer. It gave me time to focus on my figure's face and the wrinkles in his coat. I actually had fun this time. Christian did a really sweet Captain America drawing (pretty ambitions if you ask me) and it reminded me a little of Chris Bachalo's version.

After, we went down to the artist's tables to wait for them to announce the results before saying goodbye. We didn't have to wait long. The ambient noise in the hall partially drowned out what was said but everybody started looking at me and saying, "Was that your name?" I couldn't tell, so we went over to the Heroes booth and they confirmed it. I'd won first place in my age group. I'm back, baby! Anyway, this year the prize was a big box full of stuff from Blue Line Pro, the folks that print those handy pre-trimmed sheets of Bristol with the non-repro guidelines printed on them. I was glad to get the paper but the rest of the stuff was kind of uninteresting. I was actually hoping for a Heroes T-shirt like they used to give out but free stuff is free stuff. Strangely, the best part of the prize was the box it came in because it's great for storing original art. I've got quite a bit of it laying around in my office and the box will come in handy. So, thanks Blue Line guys.

We all said goodbye to the gang. Mike and his buds were staying another night and had fun plans together. I'd like to have stayed but it would have been pointless without being able to hang out with them and we were all anxious to get back to our own beds and familiar surroundings. As with every year, I felt a little sad to be leaving. This year's con seemed to fly by. Maybe it was having a friend attend with us. Maybe it was the warm reception we got from Mike's friends. Whatever it was, it felt like we were leaving as soon as we got there.

Christian was "on" the whole way back and had us laughing until we cried all the way home. We dropped him off to be with his ladies and headed on home, already looking forward to next year.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Heroes Con Report—Part 2


Suzanne had the camera with her on Saturday while she was visiting her good college friend Sandra (a yearly tradition) and so I don't have any photos from the con until the art auction that night. More on that in a moment.

The day went by really fast. Christian was feeling better but was still a little out of sorts. We hit the dealers with the 50%-off trades early and often. I had to make a couple of runs back to the hotel to drop off my heavy purchases. Which, of course, made room for more. By the end of the day, my shoulder was killing me. Christian asked me why I didn't just use both straps. I said, "Because I'd look like a dork." He shrugged and said, "You're at a comic convention, dude." So I used both straps and it the difference was amazing. Plus, it freed up both hands for looking through books. I picked up a lot of trades that day but the one I'm most excited about it 100 BULLETS Vol. 1. I'd heard a lot about it but never tried it. After reading the trade that night, I'm hooked. I ended up picking up the next two volumes on Sunday and can't wait to read them. Amazing stuff.

After lunch, Christian went back to his room to relax for a while. (Lunch was pizza, which was something we ate a lot of over the weekend. I think Christian had it four times to my three. Ugh.) I took the chance to attend one of the S.C.A.D. presentations. This one was BLACK AND WHITE COMPOSITION and was a discussion of using graphic black and whites in the design of panels and pages. It didn't sound that appealing but the instructor (Shawn Crystal) knew his stuff and was enthusiastic. He also made some good recommendations for books to try. One of them was 100 BULLETS. Turns out Eduardo Risso is a master of light and dark composition.

I can't remember when but, at some point, I attended the WRITING FOR COMICS presentation as well and it was pretty fascinating. The instructor, Mark Kneece, was funny and kept things entertaining. After the presentation, I went up to ask him about correspondence classes at S.C.A.D.—there aren't any, alas—and he said he'd be glad to take a look at the story I'm writing, if I wanted, and make comments. That's got me pretty excited.

Christian came back in time for the QuickDraw Contest at 2:30 and we gave it our best shot. Christian did a really impressive full-page illustration of Spider-Man. I did a hero shot of Bender 2.0, which was a rendering of what I imagine Bender would look like if he was re-conceived as a robotic superhero. We didn't even place. Sigh. I wasn't too dejected but it was sad to remember all the T-shirts I'd won at cons past and the idea that I'd lost it made me a little glum. To tell the truth, my heart wasn't really in it. I felt kind of old in that room with all those young bucks drawing their hearts out. We laughed and decided we'd give it another shot before we left on Sunday.

We gave the dealers another go-round and checked out some artwork from some of the artists. Christian ended up buying a FIRESTORM page from Jamal Igle and a Hitch/Neary THING/SHE-HULK page. I reluctantly passed because I'd promised Suzanne I'd skip the original art this year. After that, we headed back to the hotel and skipped the last couple of hours of the show in favor of reading and napping. I didn't make it very far into my 100 BULLETS book before passing out. Those damned comfy beds again!

Eventually, Suzanne got back from her day with Sandra and the three of us cruised by the art auction (which hadn't really gotten rolling yet) and I managed to get some photos of a few of the better pieces (above) before heading out to dinner. Pizza again. Poor Christian. We were trying to do dinner on the cheap which isn't easy in downtown Charlotte. The pizza was great though and we had salads to offset the damage. Guinness to wash it all down and then back to the hotel to watch what was left of the art auction.

As mentioned, I managed to snap pics before dinner of what I thought were the best pieces. I ended up missing a few (Adam Hughes' record-breaking $5K painting of Obi Wan Kenobi for instance) but these were my favorites. There was Mike's Wonder Woman marker drawing (went for $600.00), Tony Harris' Phantom of the Opera, Nick Cardy's pen and ink Batman, Tony Moore's zombie painting, Cully Hamner and Karl Story's Iron Man illustration and a 300 Spartans painting by some guy I should know but can't remember his name. I managed to fix most of the lens distortion, but couldn't do anything about my fat thumb in the WW piece without cheating. (Sorry, Mike.)

We caught the last half of the auction and it was a hoot. Rosario again hosted with her uncle, Gus Vasquez (who turns out to have a tremendous singing voice) and they were charming as always. I won't go into too much detail but I was devastated when the Tony Moore zombie painting went for a criminally low $200. If I had been a registered bidder (in fact, this prompted me to quickly GET registered) I would have bought the thing myself or at least driven the price up to a more respectable level. I mean, look at that thing! It's awesome! I chalked it up to the late hour and the fact that a lot of the earlier pieces had gotten the big spenders out of the way. So I ran over and got registered so I could bid on the Nick Cardy Batman piece. The World War II vet has always been a favorite of mine and he's only gotten better with age. Unfortunately, others had the same idea and the bidding quickly climbed out of my price range.

After the auction, we swung by the bar to say goodnight to Todd and Craig, who were deep in conversation with fellow creators. We didn't want to interrupt, so we just waved and walked on. Craig graciously came running over to say nighty-night and then Suzanne and I went up to our room. Another day down.

Heroes Con Report—Part 1

FRIDAY (Now with pictures!)

All-in-all the con was a blast. The trip got off to a shaky start when I ended up working until 4:30 Friday morning. Had just enough time to take an hour nap before showering and checking on a friend's cats while she's out of town. Then it was off to pick up our buddy Christian and head to Charlotte. Suzanne took pity on me and threw the inflatable mattress into the back of the Suburban and, after a quick stop at a fast food joint for breakfast, let me sleep the whole trip away. At first, I thought it would be impossible to sleep. There wasn't room to stretch out and the sun coming through the windows was brutal. Plus, whenever Suzanne changed lanes, the motion was a little jarring. But fatigue won out and I ended up passing out with a blanket covering my face and only woke up when I heard Christian utter the words, "Turn here, onto College Street." I poked my head up, shocked, and said, "We're THERE!!?"

We checked in quickly. We're old veterans of staying at the Westin for Heroes. It's a wonderful hotel and we're always treated well. Shelton Drum scored big when he managed to get the Westin as the "official" Heroes Con hotel. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we ended up staying in the Omni last year and it just wasn't the same. The Westin is right across the street from the convention center and it has a great little coffee shop right by the door to the street. And the BEDS! The Westin's claim to fame is their ultra-comfy beds. I don't know what it is, but it is literally impossible to not fall asleep when you lay your head down on one of those suckers.

The Savannah College of Art and Design was hosting a series of presentations at the convention this year and I was anxious to check them out. Unfortunately, we were too late to catch the first one at 1:00 because of the late start. This did free us up, however, to say "hi" to the usual suspects: Mike, Craig Rousseau and the always-funny Todd Dezago. "Hi" was about all we had time for because they were all busy signing and taking commission orders. After the howdies, I wasted no time looking for bargains. This year, there was a plethora of dealers selling trades and hardcovers for 40%-60% off cover price. This was to be my downfall. Right off the bat, I scored the 9-11 REPORT HC (by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon) for $15.

We hadn't been there long when Christian bowed out to go take a nap. He'd been up all night with his baby daughter and wasn't feeling well. He hadn't had the luxury of a nap like I had. He eventually came back briefly but ended up grabbing some pizza at the Fuel across the street and eating dinner in his room.

It seemed like we'd barely gotten there when the con ended for the day. While I was filling my backpack up with a frightening number of trades, Suzanne was negotiating our dinner plans. We usually only get one chance to eat dinner with Mike during the con and tonight was the night. Suzanne was in her element. She had to find a place that would accomodate a strict vegetarian (Mike) and what Suzanne calls a "Steakasaurus" (Craig). We were also to be joined by the omnivorous Todd and an acquaintance of theirs (and Nick Cardy's), I nice fellow named Sean. Suzanne settled on a place about six blocks away called La Vecchia's. It was a nice place, if a bit pricey, and everybody (well, except Suzanne) got something they loved. Suze and I both ordered the beef tips with cheese grits but, while I loved the jalepenos in the grits, she wasn't that impressed. She did like the two bottles of wine Mike ordered though. I skipped the wine and enjoyed a couple of pints of Guinness instead. After a grueling morning and exciting day, the stout really hit the spot. Nothing will ever replace our beloved, lamented Bistro 100, but I had a great meal and a great time. I don't usually take to new people easily but Sean (who's Canadian) was very nice and easy to talk to. And, as usual, Todd told some great stories. But then, that's what he does.

We got back to the hotel, all stuffed and a bit tipsy and went our separate ways. Suzanne went to see a screening of Rosario Dawson's new indie film DESCENT in one of the hotel ballrooms. She's a big fan of Rosario's, especially after her charming turn at hosting last year's Heroes art auction and was really looking forward to the film. I just didn't have it in me to sit through an entire movie, so I went upstairs to read. I only made it about two pages into one of the trades when, true to its reputation, my Westin bed eased me into dreamland and some much-needed rest.

Day Two later.

Back from Heroes

Got back late last night (Sunday). Just a quick post right now. I woke up with a start this morning around 4:30 realizing just how much I have to do today. I had originally planned to take it easy and enjoy some of the loot I hauled back from Charlotte but it's becoming clear to me that that's not going to happen. The grass sprouted up six inches while I was gone and needs mowing. I have an eye exam to consider and there's some time-sensitive paperwork I completely forgot about. Another contributing factor to my sleeplessness is a sudden case of buyer's remorse. While I had a blast at the con, it's sinking in just how much I spent down there and it was WAY too much. I've got two more trips coming up just this month and the coffers are crying out for mercy.

More later.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"You can call me Jay..."

This will probably be the last opportunity I get to post before heading off to Charlotte for this year’s Heroes Con. Spending will have to be light this year. We had Bruce (our Suburban, named after the shark in JAWS) looked at as a precaution for the trip and ended up with $750 in repairs. That took a healthy chunk out of our trip fund. Not to mention June is a rough month for Suzanne and me anyway. We both have a multitude of relatives with birthdays, anniversaries and what-not to buy gifts for. Plus Father’s Day. So, no original artwork this year and no commissions from Craig Rousseau. That really makes me sad because he always does such a nice job on them and we have a wall set up in the den where we hang the framed work. Oh, well. Maybe next year.

I mentioned in my very first post that I was working on a “writing project” I hoped to have published sometime before they put me in the old folks home. Well, unfortunately for me, it’s also a “drawing project.” Yes, it’s a comic book. (Oh, excuse me, graphic novel.) Which won’t surprise anyone who’s even glanced at this blog. I say “unfortunately” because the drawing part is what’s holding me up. I’m pretty confident in my writing these days. (Though, since I’ve been sitting on this so long, I keep seeing scenes from my story pop up in other works like HEROES, SUPERMAN RETURNS and SPIDER-MAN 2 and have to rewrite them to avoid cries of “Rip-off!”) But the drawing part is really scary.

The biggest criticisms I got from Marvel Editor Tom Breevort in his somewhat grouchy critique of my work in San Diego about 10 years ago was that my faces were mushy and my style was inconsistent. All true. This problem has reared it’s ugly head repeatedly as I’ve tried to design my characters. So, I thought maybe doing a traditional animation-style model sheet would help.

The dude in the drawing posted here is my main character. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by posting this. (Especially since this is probably the only place you’ll ever see this stuff…ha ha.) We’ll call him Jay. ‘Cause that’s his name. When I first conceived this book right after college (see?) I based his look on my face. I was the right age and I thought it would make it easier if I just looked in a mirror when I needed to draw a difficult expression. That’s another old animation trick. Problem is, I’m a lot older now and look nothing like I envision Jay looking now. So I “cast” him. I’m a big fan of VERONICA MARS and one of my favorite characters on the show is Stosch “Piz” Piznarski. I kind of identified with his quiet, dorky demeanor and he had the perfect look. I decided to base Jay on him. But I didn’t want to just draw the actor all the time. When you do that, you end up with Nick Fury looking just like Samuel Jackson all the time and it’s distracting. So I just took Piz’s look as a point of departure and ended up with this. I kind of like it. I’ll probably tweak it a little, but I think I’m close. Strangely, the profile ended up looking like Luke Wilson, which was completely unintentional.

Okay, it’s 9:00 and time to get to work. Hope you like the sketch.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ghost Rider

Way back in 1989, it was the summer before my Senior year in college (one of the most stressful years in my life—maybe I'll tell you about it some time) and Tim Burton's BATMAN film had just come out. Though it hasn't aged all that well, at the time, it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. The costume and production design were amazing. The cast was top-notch. And, as a movie music afficianado, Danny Elfman's original score hit me like a breath of fresh air. I ate it all up. It was intoxicating. In fact, seeing BATMAN cost me one of the three jobs I was working at the time. (Maybe I'll tell you about that sometime too.)

At the time, I was studying Film and Video Production at VCU. Technically, my major was Communication Arts and Design, but the vast majority of my classes involved filmmaking, including sound design and film history. So, when BATMAN was released, I viewed it with the eyes of someone who was hoping to follow in Burton's footsteps.

When I got home from seeing the film, it was after midnight. I just parked my car, got out and lay on the warm, ticking hood of my car. I stared up at the sky and thought about what I had just seen. And I was excited. Not only was this the BATMAN film we'd all hoped for, but it had undeniably opened the way for future comicbook adaptations that would be treated seriously. I planned on being one of the ones doing the adapting. Over the next few weeks, until I got back to school and was regretably distracted, I fantasized about being the director of one of the multitude of comic book films that I was sure was coming down the pike.

One of the films I wanted to do was THE FLASH. Mike Baron and Butch Guice's new post-Crisis version had been out for a while and I had loved it. The Flash had always been my favorite DC character and their take on it just captured my imagination. It was so...cinematic. When I listened to the score of BATMAN, it wasn't visions of the Dark Knight swinging through Gotham City in my head but, rather, images of a red and gold blur streaking down the Keystone City streets. (Ironically, Elfman was hired to write the theme when The Flash eventually made it to TV in the short-lived CBS series.)

The other film I wanted to make was GHOST RIDER. I'd been buying GHOST RIDER since I was old enough to buy my own comics. In retrospect, the book was never very good. The writers seemed understandably stymied when it came to making such a difficult concept work within the traditional trappings of superhero comics. Towards the middle of the first run, things improved when the idea of Zarathos, the spirit of vengeance, was introduced, but it was never a top tier book. But the visuals (a man in black leather on a motorcycle with a flaming skull for a head) were so captivating, so visceral, that the book just screamed out to be made into a film. Best of all, I knew that filmmaking technology was not yet to the point of being able to properly translate those tempting visuals onto celluloid. I was counting on that to keep the property open until such time as I made my big splash in Hollywood.

Alas, that big splash never occured and, many years later, GHOST RIDER fell into the hands of other folk. Mark Steven Johnson's GHOST RIDER film came out last February to horrible reviews. I was not a big fan of Johnson's DAREDEVIL film and I went into this follow-up smugly expecting...even hate it. The release of this film was sort of one last reminder to me that yet another of my dreams has gone unrealized. But when I saw GHOST RIDER in the theater, I just couldn't hate it.

It's an awful film, to be sure. The acting (except maybe Cage) is just terrible. Eva Mendes, though breathtakingly beautiful, seemed to be speaking her lines as if she was reading them off cue cards. Wes Bentley is unintentionally hilarious as the villain Blackheart. And Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles (or, as my brother calls him, Mephistofeces) is just never scary. But, I just. Couldn't. Hate it.

The visuals were everything I'd hoped to accomplish in my little filmmaking fantasies that summer. And more. They actually pulled it off. This was Ghost Rider. It also doesn't hurt that there's a level of cheesy campiness to the proceedings that make this the superhero version of SHOWGIRLS. And the scene in which Ghost Rider heads off to his final battle against Blackheart while Spiderbait's terrific cover of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" blasts on the soundtrack is toe-tappingly scrumptious. So, while Johnson's movie fails on just about every level, it's still eminently watchable.

So, I can't really hold it against Johnson that he beat me to making a GHOST RIDER movie. I had a 17 year head start, after all, and lost fair and square. No hard feelings. And, to prove it, I'll be first in line this Tuesday when the DVD comes out.

Friday, June 8, 2007


Most of the time, I love my job. The work can be very interesting and I've got a front row seat to the creation of ads that the entire country talks about. As I've said before, it's not what I wanted to do with my life (I wanted to be a filmmaker.) but it's a good living and it beats collecting aluminum cans.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I should chuck it all. Throw caution to the wind and try something else. I don't have kids. I'm not heavily in debt. (Unless you count the house payment, which I don't.) And I'm still fairly young. Though my job is great and there are forty people in line behind me that would gladly take it, when you boil it down, it's a deadend. There's not really any room for advancement. I'm working on realizing other people's ideas. And, though I have the satisfaction of a job well done, there's no creative outlet for me and I spend so much time at work I have little time to seek that outlet elsewhere.

Then, whenever I think I'm ready for a change, something like this happens. A couple of weeks ago, the actor Carl Weathers was here in town on business and some of the folks at the agency got wind of it. One of those folks was my wife Suzanne, who happens to be the Talent Business Supervisor here. (No, we didn't meet here. We met at VCU years and years before we would end up working at the agency together.) Whenever there are dealings with actors or celebrities, she's usually involved. And she got involved here. She arranged for Mr. Weathers to come to the agency and say, "Hi" and hang out for a while. Usually these things are restricted to higher-ups and the Creative Department. (Though my group falls within the Creative Department, we're not usually included in stuff like this.) But my wife knows what a fan of Mr. Weathers I am, not from the ROCKY movies, but from PREDATOR and ACTION JACKSON, and made sure I was invited. I'm also pretty friendly with one of the Creative Directors who's into comics and movies like I am and he made sure nobody gave me any grief.

Now, when I started working here, I signed a non-disclosure agreement. And I take it seriously. That's why I usually speak in general terms when I post anything about my job or when folks ask me questions on messageboards. I usually just refer them to our PR guy. This being the case, I was a little nervous about posting this here. Mr. Weathers is a celebrity and has to be very careful about what he allows people to know about what he does and where he goes. But my wife assures me that it's okay because he was just here as a courtesy and to say howdy. And she says it's okay to post the pictures of me meeting him because he's a celebrity. So, hopefully, I won't be fired or sued for posting these. I have taken the precaution of blurring out the faces of my coworkers who were present. So, I hope you enjoy these pics of the great Carl Weathers. I'm the tall guy with the big stupid grin on his face and the pretty lady in the teal blouse is my wife Suzanne.

By the way, Mr. Weathers was very nice, personable and funny. He had a wicked sense of humor and was very smart and knowledgeable about a surprising range of subjects. He was everything you'd expect from the man who is Apollo Creed.

After this, I guess I'm good to go in the ad biz for a few more months. At least until the glow wears off. Better get Suzanne working on some more perks.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Yeah. I'm a copycat. So what?

Mike ( revamped his web site, which went live today. And so did I. But, come on! It's had the same boring look for what, 3 weeks now? It was time for a change. Sue me.

Actually, I was going to do this from the start but couldn't quite figure it out until now.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Comcrap Digital

I've been grumbling for years about our high cable bills. My wife and I have Comcast here in Richmond and the greedy peckers just keep going up on the bill, year after freakin' year. Suze and I have the HD digital cable for TV and the high-speed broadband internet. We rent the digital converter and the cable modem from them as well. All together, we pay close to $150.00 a month for this. That's just outrageous. Don't get me wrong. I love the freedom we get from having the DVR and being able to watch TV programs on our own schedule. And I love being able to download a 200 MB movie trailer in about 60 seconds. But $150.00?!!

I'm the kind of guy who likes to let his wallet do his talking for him. If I'm not happy with a company, I take my business elsewhere. I don't fool myself into thinking I'm teaching them a lesson, but at least I'm not rewarding their crap with my cash. Unfortunately, Comcast very nearly has a monopoly in this area. Though I live in a nice neighborhood in a pretty developed area, Verizon DSL and FIOS are not available here. Everybody I know is having it installed but, for some reason, my neighborhood is in some kind of technological dead zone. They won't touch it And without an alternative to the broadband internet, I dare not replace the cable TV. I get a "discount" for having both services together. Unbelieveably, if I cut the cable TV, my internet service would actually go up even higher. So I'm stuck with Comcast.

Which is what is so infuriating about the announcement they made about a month ago. Starting May 30th, Comcast was moving HBO to digital only. Currently, even if customers only have one digital converter, they can still get basic cable service on any TV in their house. Well, I have 4 TVs in my house, including the one in my office/studio. It's been nice to be able to watch movies on HBO while I draw or program. The DVR only records 2 shows at once. If there are three shows on at the same time, you'd better have a plan. Suzanne watches DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES on Sunday nights. While that's on, I record FAMILY GUY for later. And, finally, I watch SORPRANOS in my office or in the bedroom. Under Comcast's new plan, I'd have to reprogram the DVR and kick poor Suzanne out of the den (where the HDTV is.)

Just as I was working myself into a rage completely out of proportion to the situation, Comcast announced they were moving the date of the switch to June 11th. It took me a minute but then I realized. This was the day after the SOPRANOS series finale. Either they had an attack of conscience or somebody threatened to burn their building down around their ears if they took away the SOPRANOS, two episodes before the end. I can't imagine it was the former. And the idea of the latter, though I swear it wasn't me, makes me smile. A lot. Score one for the little guy.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Machine Man vs. The Hulk

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was a fan of the MACHINE MAN comic as a kid. I don't know what it was but I just couldn't get enough of the purple robot with the crazy eyes.

When Jack Kirby came back to Marvel in the '70s, I wasn't too excited. I liked the softer work of guys like Sal Buscema. I went along with the opinion of one Mike's friends, Carlton Hill, who said it looked like Kirby drew people with a ruler. But, later, I got my hands on some issues of MACHINE MAN and started sneaking peeks at Mike's copies of THE ETERNALS. I began to reevaluate the man's work. There was an undeniable enthusiasm in his art. Sure, the people were a little grotesque, with their squared-off fingers and bushy eyebrows. But the art was so dynamic and in-your-face. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I started picking up back issues of BLACK PANTHER and CAPTAIN AMERICA, especially that great Bicentennial TREASURY EDITION he did. I never got around to DEVIL DINOSAUR or 2001 but it looks like Marvel is collecting his '70s stuff in really nice editions and hopefully I'll get those when they come out. (I've already got DC's NEW GODS OMNIBUS on backorder.)

I've since come to appreciate the man's older work too. His work with Stan Lee on FANTASTIC FOUR is worthy of all the praise it gets and more, though his early HULK issues remain a favorite. But it's his '70s Marvel work that stands out in my mind. Some folks contend that the quality of his work suffered during this period as his his love affair with comics was coming to an end. I disagree. This was when I fell in love with Kirby's art. In my opinion, he was at his peak. This is particularly the case with MACHINE MAN, with his familiar theme of an outsider protecting those who hate and fear him. MACHINE MAN only lasted 9 issues with Kirby, but they were gorgeous to look at and a lot of fun to read. It's too bad he didn't take it further.

With this drawing, I wanted to capture the spirit of some of my favorite issues of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Sal Buscema drew three issues featuring a battle royale between the Hulk and my favorite purple robot. I tried to have fun with the rendering but it doesn't look like the scanner picked up the finer linework I did. I wish I had drawn the building behind them as it looks a little empty back there without it. I guess I got lazy. And I got bored in the coloring stage and gave up when I got to the street. I wanted to do Kirby and Buscema proud but I just didn't have it in me, I suppose.

I spent waaay too much time on this, considering I'm supposed to be programming a web site for an artist friend of mine. Better get back to it. Hope you enjoy the illustration better than I did.