Sunday, June 28, 2009

Heroes, Friends and Li'l Nova

This has been a strange, sad week. Celebrities are dropping like flies and Suzanne and I have a co-worker who just lost his brother. So, rather than sit and home and brood, I thought I'd get on with my Heroes Convention report to boost my spirits.

Despite a slightly rocky start (more car trouble...ugh) our trip down to Charlotte was smooth as silk. The five-hour drive felt like two, mostly because of Christian and his terrific, long-suffering wife Angie. This was Angie's first convention and she was looking forward to it. Christian was as wildly entertaining and bawdy as ever and Angie's repeating of the phrase, "Yep. I married that." cracked us up. Christian usually brings a mix-CD to pass the time and they're always wonderful. The songs (like Richard Cheese's cover of "Down With the Sickness") are always upbeat, often hilarious and usually in bad taste. I tried my hand at it this year but it was a miserable failure. Best to leave it to the professionals.

We checked in and headed directly for the convention center. Christian and Angie were immediately distracted by the siren call of Fuel Pizza but Suze and I went in and hurried to set up. Friday's are usually good days for us and we didn't want to be any later than we had to. Suze went ahead and had our badges by the time I arrived with the cart full of stuff. As we entered the hall, my eyes immediately zeroed in on this statue on display in a case:

It's no secret that I have a fairly healthy obsession with the Nova character and I was practically doing the pee-dance when I saw it. Craig Rousseau had sent me photos of it a while back but I didn't know it was available yet. I told Suzanne to forget the iPhone. This is what I wanted for my birthday in a few months.

We got to our table (finding out we'd displaced poor Jamal Igle—Sorry, Jamal!) and set up quickly, giving hugs to Todd, Craig and Nick. Suzanne made an excuse to wander off and showed up about 20 minutes later carrying the Nova statue. "Happy Early Birthday," she said and handed me the box. I couldn't believe it. I've mentioned it before but, seriously...Best. Wife. Ever.

I've gone over the awarding of the first "'Ringo" Award in a previous post (Go Rae!) and the rest of the weekend was a bit of a blur so I think from here on out, I'm just going to hit the rest of the highlights. Here's my list of the coolest parts of Heroes 2009:

1. Hanging out with Warren Newsome and David Tilly. These conventions get a little overwhelming and most of the folks we know are usually signing books or doing sketches so it was nice to have them come by the table now and again just to chat. They also gifted me with some very nice stuff. Warren brought me a copy of the COMMON GROUNDS trade that I'm looking forward to reading along with a CD of his Heroid stories. And David surprised me with an awesome Nova Toon Tumbler. (This was shaping up to be a Nova kind of weekend.) Thanks guys!

2. Seeing Leanne Hannah and her husband Rod. They're two of the nicest folks Suzanne and I have ever met and have gone out of their way to make us feel like part of the Heroes family. I found out last year that they are both rabid Hammer Horror fans, just like me, and you just can't beat that. Turns out they're both Nova fans too so Leanne and I traded Nova sketches. I was hugely disappointed in the one I did at the convention. I was extremely nervous and out of my comfort zone (I do my best drawing here in my office or at my desk at work.) and it ended up looking like someone threw up ink on the paper. I decided to do another version when I got home and mail it to them. Technically, I guess this isn't a sketch since I did a rough underdrawing and traced it onto the bristol, but I'm much happier with this one:

Hopefully Leanne will post hers soon and I'll link to it. HERE IT IS!!! It's absolutely beautiful. Thanks, Leanne. This was fun.

3. Meeting Joe Staton. Todd invited us to Father's Day breakfast to honor Nick Cardy and while we were listening to Nick's great stories, Joe Staton arrived. Everyone just said "Hi, Joe" so I didn't know who he was at first. Then someone introduced us and I was floored. I got a little geeky on him, complimenting his inks over Sal Buscema on THE INCREDIBLE HULK and his GREEN LANTERN work (the first issues I got into) and he was gracious and appreciative. Then Cully reminded me about the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN comics he drew and I went all uber-fanboy on the poor guy. He seemed surprised anyone remembered them. Was he kidding?!! When I was a kid, I was the world's biggest SMDM fan. I lived for every episode. I ran around the yard in slo-mo doing nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh sound effects with my mouth. And I had a huuuuge crush on Lindsay Wagner. Oh. And I read every single SMDM comic book and B&W comic magazine. Some of them were horrible. Some were pretty good. But the ones drawn by Joe Staton were absolutely amazing.

4. Meeting Bob McLeod. Mr. McLeod has always been one of my favorite inkers. But my favorite work of his was a fantasy-oriented story he did for the old full-color HULK! Magazine. It was beautifully hand-painted and was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Completely blew my mind. Then, Mr. McLeod, once I'd screwed up my courage to go talk to him, blew my mind again by telling me that Marvel hated it and his career took a hit because of it. He said I was the first person who even so much as mentioned the work to him. I assured him they were crazy and that he should be nothing but proud of it. If you can lay your hands on a copy of this book, please do. You won't be disappointed. When we got back home, I dug out my copy and spent a good half-hour drooling all over the pages again.

5. Seeing the coolest #@%&ing kid that has ever walked the face of the Earth:

I felt like hugging this kid every time he walked by the table and we all took to calling him Li'l Nova.

6. Meeting Chris Sims of Chris' Invincible Super-Blog. Christian turned me on to his blog a couple years ago and it's a real joy. Chris' passion and enthusiasm for comics, particularly the works of Jack Kirby, Batman and a host of Silver Age heroes is completely incongruous with his young age. His site never fails to put a smile on my face. It's interesting, well-written and always, always fun. Chris took the time to show me some stuff he's been working on. I'm not at liberty to post anything about it but Christian and I talked about it all weekend and couldn't stop laughing. I hope he does something with it because it's hilarious. Oh, and if I ever get my video project off the ground, I don't think anyone will be more pleased than Chris. Consider that a hint.

7. Last, but certainly not least, getting to see the usual suspects, Todd, Craig, Sharon, Nick, Cully, Paul, Mark, Brian, Jamal, Shelton, Dusty, the folks from the Baltimore Con, Rich Case, Chris Kempel, the folks at S.C.A.D. and everyone else who has bent over backward to make the scholarship fund not only happen but grow bigger every year.

Before I sign off (This post is way longer than I'd planned.) I want to thank Shelton Drum for everything he's done for us. Shelton (along with Suzanne) really lit a fire under me to get the fund set up in time for the 2008 convention. I was caught up in my grief and dealing with Mike's other affairs and though I really wanted to set it up, I was procrastinating. So, every time I saw him, he gave me a friendly shove. Once we got the fund established, Shelton donated valuable space in his convention to us and has made sure we're taken care of. And it was his idea to get Rae to Charlotte for the announcement. Shelton even agreed to sell the comics Mike left behind in his shop He keeps track of every penny and makes sure we get it for the fund. Shelton is truly one of the great people in the world and it's no wonder Mike thought so highly of him. Thank you Shelton for all you've done and for another great convention.

I also want to thank Brian Pillow, our friend from Lynchburg who worked in Paul's shop. He manned the booth for us for a while on Saturday so we could spend some time with Rae and, though we were on track for a pretty slow weekend, sold so many pages and got so many donations that he took us over the top and we had our best weekend for the fund ever. Thanks, Brian!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Love ya, bro.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And the winner is...!

Obviously, there’s a whole convention worth of things to talk about but that’s all for a later post when I have more time. The important item at the moment is letting you know the name of the winner of the very first “’Ringo” scholarship award. So without further ado, I give you...

Katelyn Rochelle, who prefers to go by her middle name, Rae.

Fortunately, Rae was able to make it to the Heroes Convention in Charlotte for the official announcement, just prior to the annual art auction at the Westin Hotel. Suzanne and I got to hang out with her all day on Saturday and found her to be very polite, sweet and charming. We took her around to meet a few of Mike’s friends who offered her some free, friendly advice. Todd Dezago, being Todd Dezago, teased her at every opportunity.

This was her first convention so it was a lot to take in but she seemed to have a good time. There was a S.C.A.D. booth set up where Tom Lyle, one of her instructors, was appearing and I think it helped her to have some friendly, familiar faces around. Not that she was any shrinking violet. She charmed the socks off everyone.

When we made the announcement, it was to rousing applause (for which we were immensely grateful) and I think everyone in the room was taken with her. Rae had to leave early the next morning so we said our goodbyes after the auction and Suzanne and I agreed (and I hope Rae will forgive us for feeling a little paternal toward her that very emotional evening) that it felt like we were sending our daughter out into the world.

When Suzanne and I started this scholarship in Mike’s memory, we thought it would be easy to choose the winner. We assumed we’d get the portfolios from the three finalists and one would stand out above all others immediately and that would be that. But this was not meant to be. I guess the finalists wouldn’t have been finalists if there wasn’t something there and the decision was very difficult, almost heart-breaking. We wish we could have given the award to all three but we couldn’t. We had to decide on one person and, with the generous help of our rotating panel of judges, we very rightly chose Rae.

After graduation, she wants become a comic book artist. When we asked her if she had a specific genre in mind, she paused a moment and said she’d like to draw something in horror. Maybe with werewolves.

Anyone who knows me would have to wonder...could this get any more perfect?

Actually, yes it could. Tom Lyle informed us on Sunday that people were stopping by the S.C.A.D. booth that morning, requesting sketches from the winner of the Mike Wieringo Scholarship. I think Mike would be very proud of that.

Katelyn Rae Rochelle. Remember that name. I think you’ll be hearing it a lot in a couple years.

Good luck, Rae. You deserve it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Heroes (Un)Bound! A.K.A. The Big Announcement

Suzanne and I (along with our buds Christian and Angie Leaf) will be heading down to Charlotte for the Heroes Con this coming Friday. Thanks to the limitless class and kindness of Mike's good friend Shelton Drum, we will be setting up the Mike Wieringo Scholarship Fund Booth in Artists' Alley next to Todd, Craig and Nick Cardy.

You all probably expected that. What you probably didn't expect was that we will be announcing the first official recipient of the 'Ringo scholarship at the Heroes auction Saturday night. We're still negotiating and planning but, if everything comes together like we're hoping, our awardee will be there for the announcement. We're hoping to give them the star treatment so I hope this very talented person can make it. Keep your fingers crossed.

I'd like to take the opportunity to publicly thank everyone that participated in the selection process. I don't have permission to mention them by name. (Because I haven't asked, not because they said no...) But you all know who you are and you have my gratitude for putting up with my incessant annoying emails and the short turnaround time. I hope you know how much it meant to me and Mike's family that you were there for us yet again. It never ceases to amaze me how many wonderful, true and faithful friends Mike made over the years. You folks are the best.

Okay, I'm looking forward to seeing all the usual suspects at Heroes. (And, since I'm a fan too, I'm going to be drooling all over Eric Canete, Herb Trimpe and Eric Powell this year. Darwin Cooke doesn't seem to be coming so I have to stalk somebody.)


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Solitary Confinement

I often whine here about the long hours and weekends I spend at my job. And the truth is, there are far worse jobs than mine. You might say my job is even "cushie." (But don't tell my boss I said that.) Still, it's hard to think that way when you're working until four in the morning on Sunday. One of the "perks" that made those hours tolerable was the fact that I had a really nice seat by a window overlooking Cary Street. No matter how long I was at my computer, the view always made me feel somewhat connected to the outside world. My seat was also in a nice, open area where I and a few other coworkers could either enjoy our privacy or easily communicate with each other if we figured out a cool new way to do something or just wanted to chat. It was a nice, communal atmosphere.

At least once a week, someone would walk by and admire my workspace and say, "Wow. Nice window. Hmmm..." And I'd laugh as the gears turned in their heads, secretly hoping that was as far as it would go.

Well, apparently, someone finally took it a little further and last week my boss came over to our area and, in one breath, asked us to work the weekend and then (almost offhandedly) told us to move our stuff to other, smaller desks right in front of her office. Another department was expanding (while we're constantly compressing) and they needed the seats. After eight years, bye-bye window. My friend looked over at me and said, "Dude! Did we just get Lumberghed?"

Anyway, the move was completed yesterday. I'm a bit of a nester, so I've made the best of it, closing off most of the opening with some tall shelves and creating almost a homey feel to the space. One of my new neighbors commented all I needed was a foyer. But now I'm more isolated and it feels a little like they "broke up the band." It seems a little childish to get so broken up about losing something so insignificant as a window seat when people all over are losing their jobs (or even their lives...!) but I hate change. Plus it feels like, after almost eleven years, I'm getting a grapefruit in my face. Hopefully, the next move won't be out the door.

Still, since Suzanne always claims I'm a glass-half-empty-with-a-hole-in-the-bottom kind of guy, I decided to look at the bright side. When I was moving my stuff, I came across a bunch of cool stuff I thought I'd lost or had even forgotten about. Some of it is advertising-related so I can't show it. But one of the items was a page of character sketches I did when I was all hot and heavy about ENCHANTED. I almost don't remember doing it. I was left scratching my head at why I started what looks like a Spider-Man sketch and it somehow ended up being Enchanted character studies. I like how they came out (except Richie's weird right eye...what's up with that?) and wish I could draw with that kind of energy and enthusiasm now. I have managed to do some sketching at work but with everything going on, I didn't have time to post. So I'm saving those for a rainy day. But I hope you like the lost-and-found sketches. They almost make me want to pick up my keyboard and finish that story. Almsot.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Play it again, Sam

Despite having many, many more important things to do with my free time, I dropped everything tonight and went to see DRAG ME TO HELL, Sam Raimi's long-awaited return to the horror genre. I was in the mood for a good horror flick and Suzanne had other things going on.

Christian (who Suze calls my "Horror Movie Girlfriend") was supposed to go with me but opted to stay home with his daughter instead. Go figure. I think I'm cuter but whatever. It struck me as I was watching the coming attractions and munching on popcorn that this was probably the first movie I'd gone to see by myself since high school. I'd done it plenty as a kid but once you hit high school, there's a stigma attached to seeing a movie by yourself. Only "losers" and dudes going to pornos do that. You either have to go with a gang of your buds or on a date with your "best girl." I guess that stuck with me and so it's only now, some twenty years later, that I actually took the plunge. And it was kind of cool. Certainly not my preference but not too bad at all.

I have to say I wasn't originally looking forward to it, after SPIDER-MAN 3 was such a huge disappointment. I figured Raimi'd gone all Hollywood on us and lost his edge. Boy, was I wrong. DRAG ME TO HELL was pretty terrifying. I prefer horror movies that focus on the chills and thrills than on gore and torture. And Raimi poured on the thrills by the bucket-full. You probably know the premise. A young bank loan officer (Allison Lohman) tries to earn a promotion by being tough with an old down-on-her-luck Gypsy (Isn't that supposed to be an offensive word?) woman and the old biddie curses her. ("Puts the roots on her" as Suzanne would say.) The next hour-and-a-half is some of the most chilling, harrowing creepshow shit than I've seen in a very long time. Some of it is cheap thrill jump-scares but it's done so effectively that I didn't care. Then there's the stuff we've come to expect from ol' Uncle Sammie. The crazy camera moves. The nasty body fluids-to-the-face. (I bet Bruce Campbell was glad he wasn't in this one.) The slapstick comedy. Thankfully, he went easy on that last one. It was absolutely spectacular.

Until halfway in.

Unfortunately, about 40 minutes in or so, Raimi has his heroine do something that I (and probably half the people in the theater with me) found so heinous and reprehensible that I completely lost any sympathy for her whatsoever. I stopped pulling for her and didn't care if she got out of her predicament or not. Her occult advisor (I don't know the actor's name but he's wonderful) gives her advice on how she may break the curse and tells her something like "You'll be surprised what you'll be capable of after a couple of days under the curse." Well, it only takes her about a half a day. I think I could have forgiven her if she'd endured a bit more before playing that card but she went all-in right away. She almost redeems herself later on but not quite.

I find it interesting, though, because I just read an article in SCRIPT magazine by a writer bemoaning the fact that Hollywood seems to feel that all protagonists need to be "sympathetic." In effect, if the audience doesn't like and identify with the main character, doesn't feel the hero is "like me", the movie has failed. He uses the opera Don Giovanni and the character Salieri in AMADEUS as examples to prove his point that you don't have to like a protagonist or even identify with him/her to have a stake in the outcome of a story. And I completely agree with him. Except in the horror genre. Unless you're making a movie in which the villain IS the protagonist (Francis Copolla's DRACULA for instance), the entire point of the movie is whether or not the main character will survive and/or destroy the monster/serial killer/supernatural force. I'm not saying I want a happy ending...most horror works best without one. But I have to care whether there's the possibility for one. By having the heroine perpetrate the foul deed, Raimi made me halfway hope she didn't get out of her predicament. And that took a little of the fun out of it for me.

That's too bad because DRAG ME TO HELL is very nearly a perfect horror film. The ending (which I won't spoil) was slightly telegraphed but was so perfectly set up from the beginning that it didn't feel like a cheat and was completely satisfying from a story perspective that I actually laughed with delight. If you absolutely must wait for DVD or Bluray for this one, make sure you know somebody with an awesome sound system because the sound engineering in this one (much like Raimi's EVIL DEAD films) is a big part of the fun.

Highly recommended.