Sunday, March 26, 2017

JLA Classified, by Morrison and McGuinness!

When I was really into comics in the 90s, Grant Morrison was a household name for the bizarre--penning The Doom Patrol and Animal Man (books that I highly recommend, by the way). I miss his work on the really odd stuff, but I have to say that his superhero work is fan-friggin-tastic, particularly when partnered with a suitable artist. In this case, that artist is Ed McGuinness--a penciller I'll follow to just about any book!




Justice League 3000!




Out of the whole DC New 52 experiment, I think I liked this book the most. Howard Porter truly shines in this book--having hit new peaks in his figure work and storytelling. Don't even get me started on Giffen and DeMatteis--just when I thought they'd never be able to top their 90s Justice League books, they hit with this Science Fiction masterpiece.



I complain a lot about contemporary comics--how the Superhero comics of my youth, and into the early 90s, could be enjoyed by all ages; there was a real art to telling a story that both kids and adults could get something out of. Having said that, this book wouldn't exist if the Justice League had an all-ages restriction.



I'll save my complaints for less worthy books...

Justice League Quarterly!


The younger comic book audience might not realize that one time, way back in the 90s, comic books were fun. The Justice League books from this time period could often be knee-slapping, gut-busting funny; and I think I bought every single Justice League book published—and these were the days when going to McDonald’s for  McRib sandwich was a luxury, so you know I had to love these books.



The coolest thing about comics from this period is they’d be fine for kids and adults—kind of like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. These days, there’s too much of a distinction between what’s designed for which audience, in my humble opinion. Heck, I've been a comic-book fan for about 40 years now, and even I have a problem, in contemporary comic shops, trying to figure out what I can buy for my niece and nephew!




Most of the stories in these books were written by the comedic genius team of Giffen and DeMatteis who were definitely at the top of their game. You’ll find early art by Chris Sprouse, Mike McKone, and Tom Artis. Who can argue with the Three Stooges of the Justice league—Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Guy Gardner? Comics were just getting sexy too, with green-haired Fire and her BFF Ice. If you loved the Justice League Unlimited cartoon (like I did), these books are where you go for a history lesson!

That cover cracks me up...



Monday, February 29, 2016

Preacher in the 1990s

I was an 80s kid. I got to enjoy Wolfman and Perez revamp the Teen Titans as it hit the shelves. Claremont and Byrne were tearing-up the X-Men. Heck, Byrne was tearing-up the comic charts on a monthly basis--he was pencilling X-Men and The Avengers, but writing, pencilling, and usually inking the Fantastic Four (talk about work ethic). Art Adams sparked my my young imagination as he ushered in a new era of detail-oriented comic artists. Without Adams, we'd have no Jim Lee, J Scott Campbell, or even Travest Charest. I still have such nostalgia for the greats of the 80s. The Death of Captain Marvel was the first comic story that actually made me shed a tear, and I must have read Simonson's Star Slammers graphic novel 100 times the year after it came out. I knew that my druthers were maturing a bit when I read Frank Miller's Ronin--I didn't quite understand why I enjoyed it, but I treasured that book.
My tastes really began to change in college, as I embraced the more grown-up and personal independent comics--the black and white boom lead me mostly away from Marvel and DC (except of course for the Dark Knight Returns). I started to slowly realize that DC was starting to make some really interesting choices in the long-ignored horror market. Alan Moore's Swamp Thing actually frightened me a couple times. Don't get me started on Neil Gaiman's Sandman--it completely blew me away, and took the comic world by storm! Vertigo happened at a really fortuitous time in my comics reading past. I responded completely to the more grown-up stories and art.

In the early days, I bought EVERYTHING. Literally. For a number of years, I bought and read each and every Vertigo title. After a couple/few years, I was beginning to get a little burned-out. I longed for the simpler days of spandex-clad Superhero books. I started to sacrifice a few Vertigo titles from my weekly pull box. Just when I thought I was done, Preacher hit the ground running. An epic love story set within the larger story of the war between heaven and hell. It was the story of a hard-drinking, hard-hitting, morally-ambiguous Preacher--an actual preacher who survived a biblical event that destroyed his whole congregation, but left him with the power of the word of God. He could tell anyone to do anything, and they'd do it without hesitation. It was cool. It was hip. It was all kinds of awesome.
And I bought every one of them. And I read every one of them. And I put every one of them in mylar and squirreled them away for a future re-read. A couple years ago, I realized that I have many thousands of comics in that exact limbo--stored in boxes in a climate-controlled storage unit that I visit twice a year and longingly wish I had more time to get to know my collection better. A couple months ago, I realized that my desire to hoard a ton of paper products wasn't as strong as I thought it would be. I realized I'd rather pay off some credit cards, identify some fun vacation destinations, and perhaps even put hardwood floors in the house.
Which leads us to this rambling post. In an effort to turn roughly 20,000 comics into a couple thousand nostalgic keepers and piles of cash, I'm putting gobs of old comics up on Ebay--starting with Preacher! I've put about 20 of them up so far, and I'm putting 5-10 up every night. Click this link to visit my sales page, and keep checking back. Who knows, you might find something you can't live without!



Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Word About Vampirella


I’m not sure exactly how old I was when I first encountered the beauteous bloodsucker from Drakulon—I’d wager somewhere between 12 and 14.  Back in the day, comics, and comics-related magazines were ubiquitous.  Anywhere that a kid might go, there they were.  When I was in kindergarten, my mom would let me run to the comics rack while she was in line at the grocery store, and allow me to choose one or two comics while she waited her turn to check-out. At that age, I’d be trolling for any appearance of Wonder Woman, or perhaps an Aparo Brave and the Bold or Detective Comics. By the time I was 10, I’d graduated to anything Big John Buscema drew over at Marvel, along with the occasional Kirby creation (Kamandi and Devil Dinosaur blew my young mind).

Fast forward a couple years. I’d discovered that the now-defunct Book ’N Card chain had a grander comics selection than the neighborhood grocery store could ever compete with, and there was one just three shops down from the Super-Fresh my mom liked. At age 12, she could trust me to stay in the bookstore while she procured groceries. One day, I looked to the right of the comics spinner—to the magazine rack.  There were these amazing oversized comic books, in gloriously-detailed black and white.  Here I discovered Eerie, Creepy, Savage Sword of Conan (I’ll dedicate a future entry entirely to Big John’s work in SSOC), and a stunning creature by the name of Vampirella!


I remember picking up my first Vampirella.  The cover was mesmerizing—beautifully painted, likely an Enrich cover, as he was the prominent cover artist on the book at the time. The main story was gorgeously-toned—just a joy to look at. And there was the heroine, just a few pages in, nude by the bathtub! Honestly, I’m not even sure I’d ever seen a nipple at this point in my life, so I was fixated. That’s not really what sold me on the magazine though. On the inside front cover, there was this provocative illustration of our sexy vampress—by an artist I’d never heard of, who was able to produce near-photo-realistic work, with a gorgeous pencilled cross-hatch married to subtle tonal work. After that, I’d look forward to anything Jose Gonzalez might draw. He became THE Vampirella artist for years to come—bringing a Spanish flair to the book. He was a talented cartoonist, as well as a realistic illustrator. Needless to say, I bought the magazine, without showing my mom, of course…

Imagine my happiness when I recently discovered the hardcover collection of Gonzalez’ work from Dynamite!  The Art of Jose Gonzalez is a MUST-HAVE for fans of the original series. Heck, it’s a MUST-HAVE for any fan of the good-girl art genre; or lovers of classic illustration. I only knew Jose’s work from Vampirella, so was blown-away by the scope and breadth of his career in European illustration and comics. The book is packed with covers to Romance novels, Westerns, British comic strips, and of course, a grand collection of the Vampirella frontispieces and interiors—many shot from the originals. Do yourself a favor—get this book for your collection.


I do my best to support my local comic shop, so I recommend you check them out to see if they have a copy. If not, get ye over to Amazon and order one while it’s still in print! You won’t be dissatisfied.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Why isn't Saturday morning awesome anymore?


Who remembers the joy of Saturday mornings?

My mom tells me that, as a pre-schooler, I would awake with the sun, climb into bed with her, and play with her hair until she woke up and groggily told me I could go turn on cartoons. Without fail. EVERY Saturday morning. For over a decade, Saturday was the best day of the week!  Each season, there would be a new cartoon line-up to look forward to.  In the archaic pre-internet days, kids had to study TV Guide, commercials, and my personal favorite—the 2-page advertisements in pre-season comic books.  I’d study the ads for the top 3 networks (it’s hard to believe that in my prehistoric past, the only choices I had were ABC, NBC, and CBS—and occasionally PBS, when I was truly desperate).

I’d pull out my Han Solo/Chewbacca spiral-bound notebook and jot down showtimes—planning out the precise moments I’d have to jump up to change the channel at the end of Superfriends in order to catch the beginning of the Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour. I loved it all—from Speed Buggy to Jabberjaw to Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels to Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm to Flash Gordon to… The list goes on and on. I’d pull out a box of my favorite cereal (usually Corn Pops or Count Chocula, but it often changed with how cool the toy giveaway inside the box was), get the biggest bowl I could reach, and continue to refill that bowl through the course of the morning—adding more cereal when I had nothing but milk left, and adding milk when the cereal threatened to be too dry.  It was at least 4 hours of pure sugar-coated happiness—only cooling when the live-action Jason of Star Command or Space Ark kinds of shows started.  I’d still watch those as well—only being called outside to play with my friends when Soul Train and American Bandstand started up.

It’s difficult to explain the weekly excitement that used to be Saturday mornings to most folks today. These days, kids spend their Saturdays running around from soccer to football to dance to horseback riding. When they’re not being shuttled from one event to the next, their heads are buried in smart phones or game consoles. There’s so much diversion in our society that children don’t have a whole lot of time to actually think about being excited for something—unless it’s the next computer or video game release, which is rapidly overshadowed by the next big computer or video game release.

I know what you’re thinking. Why should anyone care? Culture changes all the time. Saturday morning cartoons were just exciting because we didn’t yet have Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network! I challenge you to think a little about the nature of nostalgia. What exactly is it? How does it happen? Why do many of us have an oddly obsessive love for some kind of commercialized intellectual property of our youth that’s different and more personal than anyone else’s understanding of that same intellectual property?


I have a theory—based on a tiny control group—me. I believe nostalgia facilitates memory “Save Points” that are called up instantaneously and completely without effort. I was 9 or 10 when I visited the White House, sometime during the Ford administration, and the most exciting thing to me was seeing the Spider-Man cartoon in the hotel room before leaving for the White House (this would be a 1960s cartoon being shown in reruns that I had no previous knowledge of). When I think of discovering that cartoon, I distinctly remember the Grr-animals outfit my mom let me pick out special for the trip. I remember the tour. I remember the gingerbread house decorations. I even remember meeting Ms Ford. All of it fairly leaps from memory at the simple recollection of the Spider-Man cartoon, and how excited I was to see it. And yes, I can sing the entire theme song—I even knocked myself out while jumping down the stairs in an attempt to land silently in a Spider-Man pose, while singing it.  I was 32… I have a dozen such anecdotes, many of which I’ll share in some form or another in later entries.

Before you think I sound like that crotchety old guy. I’m obsessed with Netflix, addicted to Amazon Prime, and have a huge collection of old cartoons on DVD—even stuff I missed from the 1960s (like Johnny Quest or Zandor and the Herculoids). I revel in the instant access to every little piece of entertainment our greedy little hearts desire. I never realized how much designers like Alex Toth and Jack Kirby informed my visual lexicon. Toth’s designs touched just about everything that I loved as a youth, from Space Ghost and the Superfriends to Scooby-Doo.  It wasn’t until the Thundarr the Barbarian collection came out that I realized BOTH Toth and Kirby had been responsible for just how cool that cartoons was!

But…

What happens when our primate younglings get what they want whenever they want it? Do they develop into respectful, well-rounded little hairless primates? Mostly they develop into spoiled rugrats who age into irritating young adults with an undue sense of entitlement.

Just because we want easy cheap access to everything doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good thing for us to always get it. We’re funny little beasties. As our desires for instant gratification are met, we become more and more immune to the positive outcomes of expectation and longing. We’re now irritated when we don’t get exactly what we want precisely when we want it. Don’t believe it? What happens when you can’t get that Season 5 Game of Thrones Blu-Ray  delivered within 2 days so you can binge watch in HD prior to Season 6? No longer do we look forward to a certain night of the week, when we have a dozen different ways to watch what we want whenever we want.

Today’s media is so very big, so complete, so instantly available. It all kind of flows together in a great big grey mass.  We obsess over The Wire until Making of a Murderer tickles our awareness.  Then we binge-watch Game of Thrones until our office mates get us giggling about early episodes of Big Bang Theory. There’s nothing to look forward to when we don’t have to wait for anything. As a result, all the details surrounding those events fade into the background of the experience.

Sigh, so Saturday morning is just another day. It saddens me that today’s youth don’t have that special day every week—that day that they’d wait all week for—the one day that they’d happily want to get up early without complaint in order to catch every single colorful moment. More than that, I’m saddened by what that means. The doomsayers believe that big Hollywood movies are next to go—we’re simply too impatient to wait for them, or to go out of our way to see them in a special public venue. It’s another industry that’s fading because we’d rather have everything instantaneously delivered to our basement home theater systems.

Nostalgia has just another marketing term.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Monkey Heart Coffee!



Coffee.

I love coffee. It's a necessary part of my daily creativity. It makes me stronger, faster, smarter, and facilitates productive late-nighters when it's time to make a deadline.

I love coffee so much, I have multiple ways to prepare it in my kitchen.

First off, there's a Keurig for quick cups in the morning (with freshly ground beans from my favorite roasters). I used K-Cups for awhile, but a combination of the waste, along with a general dislike of old ground coffee super-heated in plastic, eventually drove me to search for fresh beans that I liked better. Now, I always use a generic basket/filter from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and it makes a danged fine cup.

Next is a Chemex pour-over. I think I was initially drawn to it because it just looks really cool. I mean, it's a friggin' work of art! The magic is in the filter--I recommend the unbleached natural filters (even though I'm not sure I taste much difference between them and the bleached--it just seems like a more healthy choice). I have never had a smoother cup of coffee. It's such a fantastic process that you won't be able to tolerate simple grocery store or Starbucks beans--you'll absolutely need some good fresh beans. It's not the most convenient coffee solution, but it's a glorious Sunday morning cup, when you don't have to rush out the door to get to work.

Perhaps my favorite of the cup-at-a-time methods is the Aero-Press. If you love your trusty French Press, but are a bit irritated by the grainy chewiness in the last couple of sips, you'll fall head-over-heels for the Aero-Press. It's a weird-looking device--looking a bit like something you'd find at a 1970s head shop, but don't let its looks fool you. Boil your cup of water, and follow the directions--you'll find your cup a little stronger and richer than the Chemex, but with all the smoothness.

My lovely girlfriend introduced me to a true guilty pleasure--the Nespresso. She moved in a couple of the espresso makers (one resides happily in our bedroom), and I added a larger Virtuoline for coffee-sized cups on her birthday. I feel a little guilty using expensive pods, and I find the flavors all just subtly different from one another--there's a sameness across all their choices that's both comforting and irritating. My guilt is somewhat assuaged by the company's convenient recycling program (the pods are aluminum). And the consistency of flavor means you'll never have to think about how fine to grind the bean, how long you boil the water, how to bloom the grinds, etc. I don't have one every day, but it's a fantastic and convenient way to make a quick espresso with an unsurpassed crema bubbling on top.

If you're on a quest for the perfect cup of coffee, I highly recommend trying out different methods. There are even different ways to use some of the systems. Google "Aero-Press", and you'll find interesting variations that bring out subtleties in the magic bean. Stay tuned for future thoughts on my favorite coffee shops, along with reviews of coffee brands that have knocked my socks off!