Halloween Alter-egos

I love Halloween.

The first costume I remember is a Morris the Cat outfit my mom had sewn for me when I was 3 or 4 years old. She had made the whiskers out of coffee stirrers which consistently dug in to my face and made me somewhat cranky. It wasn't fun. A year or so later I wore one of the few store-bought costumes I've ever owned, a W.C. Fields costume. My parents had picked it out and I had no idea who the actor was. I don't think they make plastic masks with woefully small “nostrils” anymore thankfully--it was hard to breath with that thing over my face, and I think at one point the rubber band holding it on snapped. No, the first few years of my life I didn't love Halloween.

It wasn't until I started choosing my own costumes that I began getting in to it. In second or third grade at my elementary school's Halloween parade, I proudly showed up in a homemade Robin costume. I had a black mask, and my mom made an “R” for my red t-shirt as well as a yellow cape. I enjoyed watching the ’60s Adam West Batman series which reran every day in the early ’80s. I didn't think a boy could be a superhero but when I saw Burt Ward, I knew here was a superhero that I could actually BE. The cape didn't go to waste either--a year later my mom modified it to cover my whole body, and made a Pac-man head out of yellow cardboard. I also enjoyed the year I dressed as a police officer and even got to have a “mustache” drawn on by an eyebrow pencil. It wasn't until college that I finally got a mustache of my own, and another four years before I realized how stupid it looked with the unavoidable part.

There have been very few years that I haven't dressed up. Sometime around High School I stopped trick-or-treating, but the annual college Halloween party was something I looked forward to every year. Art majors were very creative and most of the homemade costumes rivaled if not surpassed my own. To this day I occasionally get teased for the year I decided to go as one of my own comic characters, “Coldsnap”, wearing a ski mask and hooded sweatshirt and carrying a black Spring Baton. I think that was the year I got mad at one of my friends for going trick-or-treating with some of our female classmates and not inviting me. Years later I mentioned it to him and we had a good laugh over it. Perhaps the most memorable college Halloween party though was the year a group of us went to the Limelight in Manhattan. I had been to see some minor bands at Long Island clubs with my friend Mike, but had never been to any of the major city ones before, let alone the Limelight. As colorful as the crowd must normally have been, it couldn't have compared to the sights I saw that night. It was like being inside a very loud comic book set in an old cathedral, and populated with numerous Crows given the popularity of the movie that year.

I dressed as Bill Gates the first year I was at my first job out of college, donning glasses, a blonde wig and a suit. Another year a ski cap, goofy glasses and my old red-and-white striped pep band shirt served to transform me into Waldo of Where's Waldo fame. Later that same evening I switched to all-black, wore a single black glove, donned my blonde wig and dug out my old Lightsaber to become Luke Skywalker and go trick-or-treating with my girlfriend, who made for a very attractive vampire. After our inevitable breakup, I vowed to “grow-up”, as I had unsuccessfully done so many times before. No longer would I wear costumes and act like a child, but become an adult worthy of love and concentrate on saving my money. That didn't last more than a year or two and after I started a new job, I eagerly looked forward to the next Halloween. That was the year of my surgery, but during my two weeks in the hospital and three weeks recovering at home, I intentionally didn't shave despite my dad's daily assessment that I looked like “a bum”. I had a clear vision of what I was planning and returned to work on October 30th with a full beard. The next morning I shaved my mustache and chin but kept the big sideburns and, dressed in black and armed with “claws” made from tinfoil, plastic knives, and fireplace matches, I showed up as Wolverine. I had had my triumphant return to wearing costumes planned for so long that a month prior, as I lay on a table facing surgery and drifting off from anesthesia, I weakly told my surgeon, “I'm going to be okay. I'm Wolverine.” The last thing I remember is his sarcastic, “Yeah. You're Wolverine.”

The following year I was stuck in jury duty but in the years since I've been Mario, Neo, and this year Clark Kent. One of the things I always loved about comics was how the secret identity could be surpassed by something greater. My secret identity kind of sucks at times, but it's nice that once a year I get to be something more than what I am. I love Halloween.


Red Right Hand

I've been enjoying a hell of a special edition DVD set today.

I liked Hellboy when I first saw it in theaters. I hadn't really read the comics but had an awareness of the character, and liked Mike Mignola's style. It was a fun ride and a good comic book movie in the tradition of the recent rise of the genre in the last decade. But I wasn't sure why it would merit a 3-Disc DVD treatment. I had seen the astonishing box last week in Target, and when I encountered it again in Best Buy this week, I decided to purchase it.

The movie holds up well on a second viewing. VERY well. Several scenes have subtly been expanded, though I didn't notice which ones exactly until I rewatched with the director's commentary. Therein I found the answers to why the movie was so good, and why the DVD set existed in this form. Guillermo del Toro is a self-confessed comics geek, his youth intact after 40 years and two children. He himself was a fan of Mignola and the two hit it off immediately, finding they had many influences in common. His commentary is rich with references to Jack Kirby, whose influence on Mignola's work is unmistakable, and Ray Harryhausen, who influenced Del Toro. He speaks at length about Pulp Fiction works such as Doc Savage and The Shadow as well, and carrying on the stylistic legacy they established.

Comic book movies work best when they're true to the source material and translate to a different medium the things fans loved about them in their original form. Many frames of the film are lifted directly from Mignola panels, and the artist was an active consultant on the film. Del Toro is a gifted writer and made some additions such as a romance between two of the lead characters that only improved the story. The creative process is extensively covered in a two-hour documentary, chronicling the early meetings between the creators, sculpting of miniatures, sketching story boards, casting and finally the unique blend of CGI and conventional animatronics and rigs that brought the comic to life. There's also an impressive featurette in which Scott McCloud examines the history of the genre, giving sequential art the same legitimacy and respect my friends and I had for it back in college. Comics ARE an art form, and have many variations. McCloud talks about how the word applies to so much more than superheros, and how modern comics might be very different were it not for a couple of kids named Siegel and Shuster.

This is the best thing I've bought in a while. It has reinvigorated my love of the creative process in general and of comics in particular, and even now in the background I’m listening to a panel discussion from a ComicCon featuring Del Toro, Mignola, and Ron Perlman. There is so much on here. I actually wasn't very interested in seeing this when I saw the initial trailers, and it wasn't until they started showing the one with the sexy Selma Blair as the fiery Liz Sherman admonishing, “You should be RUNNING!” that I found myself running to the theater.

I am so glad I did.


Life, Existence, and Appreciation.

I would not be here if it were not for my parents.

A simple statement, direct and to the point, yet it holds so many meanings for so many people. I would not exist were it not for them. I would not be living where I am now if it weren't for them. I would not have gone to the schools I went to, were it not for them. I was considerably upset when they decided I would not be going to a public high school with my friends that I had known for nearly eight years, an eternity to a youth. If the lack of girls were not bad enough, the school had a dress code, and I wore a suit and tie on a daily basis. Hair had to be neat and parted, and could not extend below the collar. Guys found ways around it though. I knew some who grew their hair long then combed it up and gelled it. I recall when one of the African-American students got a fade and shaved the sides, something that was also not permitted by the dress code. To cover this up he painted on hair with shoe polish, but one day during a French class the room was so hot that he began sweating, and it ran down the sides.

I hated being in that school. I was resistant to making new friends for most of the time there, and it was only in my Junior year that someone made a real effort to be my friend. Mike was only a Freshman but didn't seem to care about the distinctions that were supposed to exist between grade levels. It was he that introduced me to Nirvana's Nevermind and got me interested in grunge. I probably never would have seen Pink Floyd: The Wall, if it weren't for him. His parents had owned a video store at one time so he was up on a lot of film's I'd never heard of. The music I've heard and movies I've seen, especially The Wall, were as great an influence on my decision to study art as comics. And because of a trip I'd taken to the campus of the college I'd eventually attend, one many of the Marianist Brothers from my school had graduated from, I had a clear choice in mind Senior year.

The friends that I had in Middle School had long since outgrown and abandoned me. We stayed in touch on weekends throughout high school but the first time we hung out after my Freshman year of college, they invited me to a party and subsequently ditched me. The friends I made in college meanwhile were even greater kindred spirits than the ones I'd known before and though I don't see them all as often as I'd like, I know there are lifetime bonds there. The one friend I do see from college still is Rey, now a coworker and the person I have to thank for my present job. As for Mike, while I don't see him more than once or twice a year, it's always a treat to hear about his business trips to Europe and Asia, his romantic exploits at home and abroad, and his innumerable adventures. Whether motorcycle racing on the Autobahn, DJ-ing in Paris, or just Karaoke in Japan, I can always count on living vicariously through his exploits.

In high school there was the occasional verbal abuse and reversing of locks to make getting my locker open in the three minutes between classes even more stressful. In Middle School I was often punched in the stomach, given indian rope burns, and once had my arms pinned while poisonous red berries were shoved in my mouth. “Security” guards were usually conspicuously absent or looking the other way. I may well have died or developed a drug problem or been driven to suicide had this gone on. I wouldn't have met the friends I have now or followed the same career path if my parents didn't send me to that school. In all honesty, I may have even died. In 2001 I nearly did, bleeding to death from a Meckel's Diverticulum. It was my parents who got me to the hospital and who stayed with me as much as allowed, whose emotional strength inspired and gave me the strength to fight. As I was being wheeled in to surgery I faintly called out to them that they were the best parents in the world. It was as much sincere as it was melodramatic, the melodrama exaggerated to tone down the real emotion behind it. It may well be the only time I've told them I appreciate them.

My parents have always used their relationship with their own parents to illustrate how I should behave. They regret not appreciating their parents and taking them for granted and yet no matter how many times they would share this with me, I was just too young to understand. My parents are always there when I need them even now, and even now I take them for granted far too often. Curt of The Happy Husband fame recently blogged of a Verizon ad that's currently airing, in which teenage girls accept a gift of cellphones but leave their father's attempt at an embrace hanging, running from the room giggling as he stands there looking dopey. It sucks that this facet of human nature is used as a selling point, but it's on-target. The frustrating thing is even with that realization, people are still glad to have parents living far away, or make assumptions when the time comes to fund a wedding or watch a child. Yet parents will always answer that call, whether appreciated or not, and whether that appreciation is shown or not. God does the same thing, so the Father classification is apt.

Thanks Mom and Dad. You'll never read this because you think all I do is “communicate with weirdoes” instead of “going out and getting you some grandchildren”, but you are appreciated. God bless you both.


Rushing Creativity

I've become a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. An epic fantasy writer clearly influenced by Tolkien like many other greats, he's woven an intricate tale told from several characters' unique points of view. At any time without warning a seemingly insignificant supporting character might well have a chapter of his or her own, and he'll flesh that character out to the point where the reader will experience love, hate, cheers, or fears for the protagonist. Available at The SFBC or other fine retailers, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords are all masterpieces in their own right.

For some time now fans have been waiting in expectation for the fourth book in the series, A Feast for Crows. Publishers have continually announced release dates, only to push them back as Martin continues to revise, rearrange, and add to these chapters. When my writer e-mailed me a link to his explanation for the delays, that he's still working on it and it will be finished when it's finished, my initial reaction was a sarcastic, “I wish WE could do that.” I work with very strict overlapping deadlines, and every three weeks as I'm finishing up a 24 page catalog and any number of enclosures, I'm expected to be starting on the next batch. My progress is monitored by automated e-mail prompts, “Friendly Reminder”s and “Due Today”s, and I live in fear of receiving a dreaded “late notice”. It's stressful, but it's also nice to have a structure since, in my prior job, books would often be delayed for one reason or another, and I'd never have a sense of accomplishment because I would finish a project, and then it would sit on my hard drive until our budget allowed it to go to a printer. So I was both angry and disappointed with Martin's attitude.

Another Art Director had a different attitude though. A good friend who received the same link saluted Martin, pointing out that he potentially could be one of the greats if allowed to create at his own pace. The Jack Vance and Tolkien examples Martin himself gives attest to that position. Earlier today I snapped at a copy-editor for only proofreading a job this morning that I signed in nearly a week ago. When my editor-in-chief called and asked when I needed her comments on my latest issue, I had to remind her that they were due to me tomorrow according to the schedule, and for me to make my press deadline on Monday I would need them no later than noon on that day. It sunk in afterwards that her conclusion was that she would likely take the work home.

There comes a point of sobriety, where an artist has to step back and question which is more important, the calendar or the end result. At my place of employment it's clearly the former, and missing too many deadlines would almost certainly shorten my professional life span. And realistically commercial art ISN'T exactly painting the Sistine Chapel, and not the modern masterpieces someone like Alex Ross is known for. A year ago at a Wizard convention in Philadelphia, I was surprised to hear Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada defend the lateness of issues to fans, that it's better to wait and get the quality work from an artist. I recall the dreaded “fill-in” issues from my collecting days, when a different artist and writer would take over for a month and break in the middle of an ongoing story because the regular creative team missed their deadlines. Considering the quality of some of the trade paperbacks I've seen of late, I'm starting to think Quesada--and Martin--have the right idea, after all.

I haven't missed a day since I've started this blog but if I ever have nothing to say or very little time to say it, that entry will certainly be delayed before rushed or truncated.


Happy Belated 25th, Marvel—18 years later...

It's been several years now since I actively collected comics, although through my job I'm privy to the occasional graphic novel or trade paperback. Between work and the internet, I still get to revisit my favorite form of escapism from my youth. And occasionally, I like to delve into my stacks and reread series from my collection. My collecting wasn't entirely sequential and once I got into a new series, I would often buy back issues whenever I found a good deal at a convention or my local Woolworth's. Revisiting my collection, I've often been able to read a series sequentially, which I hadn't done the first time around in many cases. I recently reread all of my various Sin City series, upon hearing the news that Robert Rodriguez would be directing a movie based on Frank MIller's noir masterpieces next year. I'd actually read his second series, “A Dame to Kill For,” prior to picking up a hardcover collection of the original, and read all subsequent ones as they came out while I was in college.

I'm not really sure what triggered it, but I started re-reading my old Larry Hama G.I.Joe comics(actually, it's a safe bet that the seeds of this foray were sown by The Cheat Commandos) When I reached issue #53, the cover featured Snake-Eyes, easily my favorite Joe, and something else--a decorative border featuring many Marvel favorites.

I did some Googling™ and found a website showcasing all the Marvel 25th Anniversary covers from 1986. I had never seen some of these, and only actually have six in my collection(Avengers #273, Fantastic Four #296, G.I. Joe #53, Iron Man #212, West Coast Avengers #14, and X-factor #10). I remember those borders fondly. I remember not knowing who all the characters were as I began collecting. I remember when the Mike Zeck Secret Wars#1 poster that still hangs in my studio to this day held some unfamiliar faces, and I didn't even recognize Storm with a mohawk.

Knowledge in general isn't always gleaned sequentially, and for me personally, filling in the gaps and holes in between the facts I DO have is one of the greatest motivators to learning. As far as my comics collection goes, I still know where the gaps are, and nearly twenty years after the fact, I wouldn't mind having some of these anniversary issues amid my stacks. Then I'd have an excuse to revisit more series in sequence.


Molly Cubed

I actually wasn't much of a couch potato growing up. A hyperactive child, it was hard for me to sit still for more than five minutes at a time. Television was an occasional diversion, not an end in itself. At some point though the kids in school would be talking about one show or another and, not to be left out, I began watching as a means of being able to join in conversations. Eventually they outgrew some shows while I did not, and viewing became an end in itself.

A lot of good shows have come and gone over the years. Whenever shows are canceled well before their prime, such as Firefly, John Doe, and the animated Clerks, it's a little upsetting. When the announcement came last year during one of its best seasons that the WB had pulled the plug on Angel, it was definitely a shock. These days it seems shows are shuffled around to bad time slots and not given a chance, or bumped in favor of “reality” TV. To some degree I don't mind, since it gives me more time to catch up on movies, surf the web, read, play video games and other diversions. Each season I'm resistant to add new shows but occasionally they wear me down, more often than not from hearing those around me discussing them or from commercials.

Three years ago there was a show on against Smallville when it aired on Tuesdays, a sitcom one of my coworkers raved about. It was on at a bad time and I was again at a point where I was trying to cut down on shows, so I didn't really give it a chance until the Summer of 2002. I was hooked by the end of that summer and followed the show to a more wise Thursday time slot and back to Tuesdays when its network inexplicably buried it once more. Yet despite the harsh environment shows contend with these days, it has somehow survived. Perhaps it's the brilliant writing and wisdom of dispensing with canned laughter. A smart show knows it doesn't NEED to tell us when we should laugh. Perhaps it's the endless parade of major movie stars who make memorable and lasting guest appearances. Or maybe it's the way the show can take death and illness and some of the worst things we can face in life, and manage tastefully to be silly and remind us to laugh and live even in the face of adversity. That show is Scrubs.

The show can make you laugh and cry, often switching gears without warning. In tonight's episode J.D., played by Zach Braff, begins a possible romance with hospital psychiatrist Molly Clock, played by the lovely Heather Graham. Heather joined the cast at the beginning of the season but their romance was ultimately not to be, as tonight was her last appearance on the show, her character moving to take a job elsewhere. Watching Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles early on in the episode leads to a make-out session between the two and J.D., whose thoughts narrate the show, to think, “God bless ALL Mollys!”

Molly Shannon also guest-starred tonight as a VERY annoying EMT worker that J.D.'s boss Dr. Cox is forced to ride with. Throughout the episode, he's constantly irritated by her endless droning about this picture of her son, and how he likes baseball, and how he'll always be ten to her. She talks nonstop and babbles about words and songs and yet he doesn't fully listen and finally, after she crashes the ambulance into a parked car, tells her off. As he's leaving her hospital room, someone brings him a baseball card they found in the ambulance and asks if it belongs to him. He recognizes it as her son's favorite card and recalls her saying he never goes anywhere without it. For the first time he weeds through everything she told him and finally HEARS. He turns and walks in and asks her point blank what happened, and she tells him how her son died in an accident and how the paramedics were so inspirational that even though they failed to save him, she decided to become one herself.

It's a great show if you haven't seen it, and can really pull a 180 like that at any time. Perhaps sometime I'll blog about Brendan Fraser's unforgettable appearances. Life. Death. Laughter. Tears. It's nice, and increasingly rare, to see a really good show like this continue to air.


Career Tracks: The Final Nightmare

So there I was with the rest of the new Titans, facing off against their old enemy Deathstroke, when it hit me--I was no superhero. Instead I had merely brought home some trade paperbacks from work and was indulging in an old favorite pastime. And while I was enjoying Geoff Johns' stories and Mike McKone's art, I realized I had an epic of my own to finish.

Comics have definitely been the single greatest influence toward my decision to be a graphic artist. I set out with the intent of drawing Spider-man, and was just today telling one of my friends how the conductor on the train used to call me “Spider-man” back in high school, because I would always stop at the comic store before heading home and was always reading on the train. One year before my own college internship began, a friend of mine who was a year ahead was interning at Marvel. It was a dream come true when he recruited myself and two other comrades for a weekend freelance gig at 387 Park Avenue South. Marvel Zombie that I was, I was awestruck to be walking through those halls, each aisle adorned by street signs with names like “Yancy Street” taken from the comics they published. The office I work in now also has street names for our rows of cubicles, but names like “Pixel Pike” and “Layout Lane” just aren't the same.

The actual work we were doing there was basic Photoshop grunt work, silhouetting images of action figures for an upcoming toy catalog. For those not versed in photoshop, silhouetting involves drawing an outline called a clipping path around an image to cut it out of its background. Grunt work or no, to this day I'm glad to have my name listed among the credits of a Marvel publication.

A year later, I found myself in my own internship and after I graduated, that small design book publisher gave me a job. It didn't pay well, as I soon would realize, but in the four years I was there I gained a wealth of experience, both good and bad. As budget cuts made the already small operation even smaller, my duties extended beyond corrections, scanning and invitation designing. I was soon rating the quality of photographs and determining how large they could be used in a layout. I maintained a seven machine Macintosh network. I designed the company's bi-annual book catalogs. I hand-assembled 200+ page books from printer's proofs, so my supervisors had mock-ups to bring to trade shows. My X-acto and I were very glad the year they decided to print smaller samples of the books called blads. I made some new friends, even dated a copy-editor I'd met there for a good two years before a career opportunity took her to another state and eventually out of my life.

I began looking for work elsewhere, worried I would end up in my hometown forever in a low-paying job that wasn't exactly what I'd set out to do. It was a very good college friend, Rey, who pushed me to interview at a catalog company where he was employed designing Science Fiction catalogs. After meeting unsuccessfully with a headhunter I almost gave up, but nearly a year later he got me several interviews with people in the company, and before long my salary had doubled and my aspirations were renewed. I spent about three and a half years designing a catalog that featured a wide variety of books, from Steel to Grisham and many things in between. About a year and a half ago, my supervisor called me in and informed me that I was being reassigned to another club. My trepidation dissolved when she told me of an opening on the Science Fiction and Fantasy club.

I'm still not drawing Spider-man, but the tracks of one's career have as many surprise turns as a game of SIMS. As a plant-seller/ landscaper/musician/house-painter/gas station attendant/graphic artist/bartender/art director, I honestly can't fully predict where the road will take you and there are as many good surprises as bad ones. Right now I'm working with some famous illustrators, and with subject matter that appeals to me. Earlier this evening I was reading some of the very books we sell, so there certainly are fringe benefits. I'd like to thank anyone who's read this long entry in my five-part resumé, and apologize if I've rambled on overly long. Tomorrow look for something shorter and hopefully more(or less) meaningful. I think....

You can only plan so far ahead in life.



Career Tracks IV: The Quest for Peace

Working with Bahri at the gas station was an interesting experience. After his mom had died, he and his older brother had moved here to start a new life. What was merely a summer job for me, a way to make some money and keep my parents from calling me lazy, was his career and livelihood. I needed money to buy comic books; he needed it to pay the rent. A rivalry developed that I didn't notice at first. I tried to befriend him, and loaned him a duplicate copy of Uncanny X-men #248 when he complained of having nothing to read at home. The next day he complained about it being “kid stuff” and that I was a “leetle kid who needed to grow up!” A few years older than me, he often tried to take on an older brother role and tell me things like, “do not be shaving too high or you weel have hair on your cheekbones and always have to shave there!” His intentions seemed more about keeping me in line than actually taking me under his wing. Ravindra, one of my college friends, already played the role of “big brother” in my life by this point, and he at least was an intelligent guy. He would make fun of my drawings, but then take the time to show me what I was doing wrong. He saw that I had taught myself by looking at comics, and pointed out that I should learn REAL anatomy before getting into the stylized ideal reality portrayed in comics, and recommended some very good books from artists such as Burne Hogarth. Bahri used to call me a “dreamer” and say I would never, ever get a job as an artist.

No attractive female customer was safe from the inevitable inquiry of, “please geev phone numbar?” when Bahri was on the prowl. I remember one day in particular when he came to me dejected after one of these exchanges and asked me, “What ees fluttering?” I of course thought he meant the way a bird's wings moved and asked as much, so he clarified by explaining: “I ask for phone numbar and she say ‘thees ees fluttering but no.” What ees ‘fluttering' mean?” I smiled, now understanding in context, and broke the bad news to him.

As the summer of ’94 wound down, new employees were hired and assignments changed. I actually had some shifts where I didn't have to deal with Bahri, and some where we had a third man to help us cover the six pumps. Bahri cited one of these new hires as an examplary worker that I could learn from, since this gentleman would clean headlights without the customer asking, and occasionally got a good tip for his trouble. Of course, he was doing better than any of us realized. In those days, not all credit card transactions were electronic. We would take the card and put it under a carbon slip like a bank would use, and slid this device along a track that would transfer the raised numbers from the card. The owner would then sign this slip and get a copy of it. But what headlight guy would do is use two slips and keep one for himself. Ultimately he was caught, and thankfully modern technology makes that sort of thing harder to accomplish. Bahri was none too pleased to be wrong though, and I would occasionally bring the guy up just to get a rise out of him.

I stayed at the station well into October, working late shifts on the weekend. As the weather grew colder and basketball season approached, I eventually decided to quit since many weekends would require my presence at the games with the pep band, and it was now my senior year and last semester of classes. I needed to focus, and start thinking about an internship, which would count for my entire second semester's worth of credits. To my surprise, I actually found a publisher five minutes from my home. I got the internship, and soon found myself working alongside a graphic designer as she created various interior design and gardening coffee-table books for them. Of course the CEO of this humble 20-employee operation hated that term and insisted we call them “design books,” to maintain the level of class he wanted to portray. I did a lot of scanning images into the computer for the books, and a lot of corrections to existing designs from freelancers, but didn't get to create that many pieces myself. Occasionally they'd have a banquet or gala that needed an invitation designed, and they allowed me to handle those assignments. I learned a lot from the graphic designer while I was there, and from our supervisor Richard, who had been with the company from the beginning, even longer than the CEO who had only recently acquired it. My future seemed brighter every day, and I thought I might even have a great job in my field when I graduated. My dreams were all going to come true, and it seemed like always, Bahri was going to be proven very wrong.

Wasn't he?

To be concluded.



Career Tracks: Part III

They say one man's trash is another's treasure. Somewhere amid the vast wealth I surround myself with lies a laminated copy of the December 14th, 1986 edition of Newsday's Sunday Kidsday section. Clearly when I say “somewhere” I mean specifically inside an old toy chest dubbed the “storybox” after a chest on one of my childhood favorites, The Magic Garden. I may be a packrat, but I know where a surprising amount of things are in here. And while my name is listed along with the rest of my classmates who submitted stories and artwork for that edition, my artwork was not used and my article was bumped to the weekday black and white column, inexplicably using a crappy illustration by some kid from another school. I have copies of that article here as well, and mine was a poll titled “Comic Books are Still In.” In it, I asked 90 kids if they read comic books. 57 said yes, with 28 preferring Archie, 11 Whitman, 9 Marvel and 9 D.C. I was surprised the superhero comics didn't do as well and, at the naive age of 12, that I would have the kind of luck in which I would be the only one of my classmates not to be included in the full-color Sunday section. But I didn't care; my name had been published in something I read regularly, and it would be another seven years before I saw my name in a publication by one of those aforementioned comic book publishers. But that's a tale for another day.

After a long, hot day of painting we had stopped off at my manager's house for some iced tea. I was somewhat shocked when he left the kitchen and returned with a zip lock bag of weed. I was definitely horrified when his girlfriend dumped it out on a Kidsday lying on the table, tore off a strip, and began rolling a joint in something I read regularly and cherished as a child. They offered me a puff, but I politely declined, suddenly remembered having to be somewhere else, and excused myself. I guess that explained how my manager could be older than the rest of us, supervising a group of college students painting houses and businesses, and yet still live with his mom. Then again, I suppose it's theoretically possible for someone who's never even tried any kind of drugs to be sitting home alone on a Saturday night pushing thirty and writing a blog entry in his parent's house. In theory. At any rate, the rest of that summer was uneventful, with the crew passing a blunt around as far as I knew on one other occasion painting a wealthy client's isolated home in one of the wealthier areas near where I lived. Again I declined when they offered, and at the end of the summer I was glad to leave the job and return to school. Whatever job I took the following summer, it certainly wasn't going to be with that crew.

Between my junior and senior year of college I worked in a Texaco station pumping gas on a six hour shift that paid five dollars an hour. Generally I worked from noon until six PM, although occasionally I pulled the earlier 6AM-noon shift and by the end of the summer, the much cooler 6PM-midnight shift. None of the six pumps had automatic stops so if someone wasn't filling up completely, I had to make sure to disengage the catch before I gave them too much. Even with two of us manning the pumps, it was a lot of running around, especially on Wednesdays when a discount on premium had the cars lined up around the block. The station may have been in a wealthy area, with clients who often paid more attention to their cell phones than us, but they loved their cheap gas. Running around in the heat for these people was exhausting, but there was a Dairy Barn next door and their two-quart iced tea was a lifesaver--and my lunch. It was a slim and trim 150 pound MCF that arrived for his senior year of college, and I was in the best shape of my life that summer.

The job was demanding, but at first didn't seem to have any of the criminal elements of my last job. Besides pumping gas and checking oil, we would check the level of the tanks at the end of the evening shifts and set up the flags and oil displays at the start of the morning ones. My partner was usually a Turkish fellow named Bahri who had moved here after his mom died. He seemed nice enough at first, but seemed to grow annoyed with me as my confidence grew. I recall one day when we had the morning shift and I had some uncharacteristic energy. I had put out all six flags by myself and changed the price cards in record time, and when I bounded back in the office and asked if he was ready for the day he snapped at me, “You think you are most so high!” which left me bewildered. It was neither the first nor last misunderstanding we would have, and he would often be proven wrong on many things, such as the character of some of our co-workers...

Tune in next time, when I reveal how easy it used to be to steal someone's credit card without them even realizing it...



Career Tracks: Volume 2

“You! Yes, you behind the bikesheds, stand still laddie!"

Wait...I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself since I don't think my friend Mike had introduced me to The Wall by this point in the story, and in fact this isn't one of THOSE stories....

No, when we last left our mysterious cloaked high school senior, MCHSS had been caught slacking on the job. The Brother's eyes blazed with fury as my hockey playing co-workers froze and I jumped down from my perch on the lockers. “YOU! YOU, YOU and YOU!!! Monday, report to the PRINCIPAL's OFFICE!” I was screwed.

The rest of that evening, I cleaned the windows of the school in a daze, dreading telling my parents when they arrived at 10PM to pick me up from work. They were surprisingly understanding as I stammered out the tale, and the real apprehension lay ahead in the form of a visit to the principal's office. It was a LONG weekend.

It was an even longer Monday, as I put off the dreaded visit until the very end of the day. The principal was far more reasonable than the other Brother who had caught us, and ultimately after I offered that he dock my pay rather than give me any demerits and ruin my record, he let me off with just a warning. I would be able to finish my high school career with an untarnished record after all.

The summer before I started college I took a driving course. The instructor, who insisted we all call him “Uncle Al” even though no one in the class was a relative, was surprised to hear that with a four-year Math average of 95% I was not in fact going to become an accountant, but rather would be majoring in Graphic Design. I had continued drawing in high school and been one of the few active members of the art “club”, sad in that it was really just four or five of us who hung out after school, drew, and didn't actually talk to each other. But it counted as an extracurricular activity nonetheless, and while I still wasn't Todd MacFarlane, John Byrne, or even Erik Larsen, my confidence had improved to the point that I was going to try. Plus, playing Baritone Horn in the pep band was going to earn me a scholarship to cover half my tuition, and get me in to all the basketball games at Madison Square Garden for free. Go Red Storm!

Majoring in art was harder than I thought, and juggling basketball games and band rehearsals was never easy. Many a late night was spent in my basement studio after a game, working with gouache to the break of dawn to get colors just right for a particularly discerning professor. I didn't have much time to work, although in the summer my father and I played together in a fire department band, so parades provided some spending money. It wasn't enough though, so in the summer after my sophomore year I applied for a job as a “Triple-A Student Painter”.

It was an interesting job, and I suppose I could stretch and say it was my first art job. Part of it involved being a door-to-door salesman though, and I had to knock on doors and ASK people if they wanted their house painted. If they weren't home we had a calling card to hang on their doorknob with a photo of a painter-kid my mom thought looked like me. It was a summer fraught with challenges, of heavy ladders and skin cracking from turpentine. I briefly entertained a crush on my manager's girlfriend who was on our crew but once I learned she was with him, and a smoker, that died out quickly enough. I don't know what the worst part of the job was. Maybe it was the time I had to varnish the trim of a roof near a hornet's nest while lying on a ladder that at anytime could have slid off the roof. Perhaps the gas station we painted and me lying on the edge of a hot tar over hang in the blazing sun. Or maybe, just maybe, it was that marijuana incident....

It goes almost without saying, but....to be continued...



Career Tracks: Episode I

Anyone who has ever played The SIMS knows that each Sim can follow various career paths with interesting twists and turns. An actor starts out as a waitress. A superhero has to put in some time as a security guard and a cop first. Some rungs in the various ladders are logical; others less so. And yet life imitates art.

I always LIKED drawing; I just never felt I was very good at it. As I child I would try to impress the girl next door and the other kids in the neighborhood by feigning scientific genius culled from all the cartoons I had watched. There was the time I had them mash leaves in water-filled beach buckets calling it “protoplasm” and explaining that we were in fact creating life. Or the time we tried to build a time machine using an extension cord, a magnifying glass, a Hot Wheels® car, a battery pack, a no parking sign and ants. I don't think they really believed that the ants who “disappeared” had in fact traveled through time, any more that we could do the same if I could only solve the roadblock of shrinking ourselves small enough to fit in the Hot Wheels car. I had a vivid imagination, but science wasn't the ladder I would eventually climb.

I had always doodled, but in third grade I had a few friends who were amazing artists. I tend to be a little competitive sometimes, so I would try to draw a better Voltron or Optimus Prime than they could. I would lose every time I competed, but I kept working on it long after all my friends had outgrown that sort of thing. I even started making my own comic characters, undeterred when classmates made fun of some of my lamer creations, like Speed Stick, a running stick figure with a lot of speed lines trailing behind it. One of those aforementioned gifted artist friends, whose specialty was drawing Bumblebee, lampooned my creation by drawing his own variation, adding breasts, and calling it “Lady Speedstick.”

I suppose my first “job” was working for my mom selling plants. I also did yardwork for an elderly woman who lived around the block for me, and mowed the lawn for my music teacher. Senior year in high school was when I had my first “official” job as part of the student janitorial staff. Every Friday from 3PM to 10PM a group of us would assist the janitors, with a break from 7-7:30 during which we got pizza from a place called Mama Theresa's. The worst duty to pull was definitely scraping gum from lockers which I thankfully only pulled once. Somehow I managed to always get the task of cleaning windows, which I found the easiest out of the other possible choices, mopping and vacuuming. Armed with a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of Windex, I would start from the third floor and work my way through the whole school, cleaning every glass surface in the school. I only ran into the rest of the staff occasionally outside of our dinner break, and had some of my best times of peaceful contemplation and serious thinking without distraction.

My High School was an all-boys Catholic school run by Marianist brothers, basically no-nonsense monks in black suits who in hindsight looked suspiciously like something out of The Matrix. I had spent most of my high school career staying out of trouble, and had never received a demerit, been out sick, or had detention. I didn't usually have to worry about running into a Brother while I worked either, as they usually remained in their residence on the other side of campus unless an event was going on, like hosting a dance with one of our sister schools.

One evening, one such dance was being held. I had snuck a peek in the gymnasium at some of the cute visiting girls when I cleaned those windows, and had noted the presence of brothers as chaperones. So when I ran into some of the other members of my crew playing a makeshift game of hockey with brooms and a rolled up ball of masking tape in a section on the other end of school, I thought it safe to take a break from my duties, hop up on the nearest row of six-foot tall lockers, and watch the game.

We all froze when the brother appeared, and my heart caught in my throat as I feared both my academic and money-making career had come to an end...

To Be Continued....



Buried Alien

Today's Nexus contains some spoilers regarding tonight's episode of Smallville. Continue reading only if you've seen it or don't mind.

Still here?

Since it's inception, I've been waiting for Clark to run into another young DC hero. Like most viewers, after three seasons I was ready for a young Bruce Wayne. So it was a surprise to find tonight's episode featured a young Flash. Actually it was a surprise when the WB spoiled everyone a week ago with coming attractions. OK, if I'm being honest it was actually a surprise when I read speculation on Kryptonsite that this episode would be a test to spin the young Flash into his own Smallville-esque teen superhero series. And if I'm being really honest, I read about it over a month ago on Spoiler Fix.

There have been several heroes to bear the name, and the Wikipedia entry I linked to above goes in to greater detail. I was most familiar with the Barry Allen Flash, and was glad CBS used him for their Flash live-action series. In the comics, Barry had died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths series. To destroy an antimatter cannon, he ran against the flow of antimatter, pushing himself faster than he'd ever gone before, aging rapidly as he began moving back in time. He succeeds in destroying the cannon but his body disintegrates, leaving nothing behind but his costume. Seemingly this was the end of Barry Allen.

With so many to choose from, Smallville went with the current Kid Flash. Originally known as Impulse, Bart Allen is the future grandson of Barry Allen who travels back in time to the present. Tonight's episode had two clever nods to the comics, first with Bart having a collection of fake IDs with the names of all the previous Flashes--”Jay Garrick”, “Barry Allen” and “Wally West”. Oddly enough on a Wednesday night last year on the WB, references to these three characters were made on an episode of Angel by the character Charles Gunn. The second nod to the comics was when Bart, in a seemingly throwaway pickup line, tells Chloe he “came back in time.” The show is coy about whether or not this Flash is a contemporary of the young Clark Kent's, or actually in fact from the future. If he does get a spinoff, maybe we'll find out.

One last interesting aside--Barry Allen's last appearance in comics was technically NOT issue #8 of Crisis. Unofficially, the late great Mark Gruenwald managed to work in an homage in Quasar #17. In the issue a race is held between all of Marvel's super speedsters from the Earth to the moon through a special warp tunnel. There could be only one winner, and in the end it was a late entry to the race, an extradimensional being with amnesia who easily bests every racer in the competition. When prompted to give his name, the winner thinks a moment before recalling that it sounded something like ”Buried Alien.”


Remembering Combo Man

"Remember Combos?" came a bored IM toward the end of the day from a coworker yesterday. Likely it was a setup for some joke, but he was off-guard when I countered with, "Remember Combo Man?" and launched into an explanation of the character. At a loss, he replied with, "I'm not sure what to do. I've never gotten to this point so quickly before." and promptly logged off.

Combos are pretzel snacks with various flavors of cheese fillings. Appearing at 1AM munching on a Polly-O String Cheese on a camping trip back in college prompted one of my buddies to dub me the “snackin'-est m****** f****** EVER.” Given the Doritos, Kit Kats, Cheese Puffs, and Milanos in my diet, one could hardly deem his assessment to be hyperbole. Despite this, I've never actually HAD Combos, although another coworker had IM-ed me a few months ago that she was enjoying them as a late-night snack, so I knew they were still around. What I DID remember was Combo Man.

Marvel Comics were the main focus of my comic collecting years. From approximately 1988-1996 I accumulated the bulk of my collection, although I had gotten a few here and there before that and I've occasionally picked up a graphic novel or trade paperback since I stopped actively collecting. Besides a frightening level of knowledge about the most obscure characters(I still have that Quasar vs. Green Lantern article kicking around in my head), I also remember many of the ads.

Every Marvel comic I bought with a cover date of August 1995 had a 2 page Combos ad with a character named “Combo Man”, whose outfit was clearly a hybrid of several Marvel characters. Readers were asked to identify the 14 characters who comprised this hero for a chance to win a leather jacket, t-shirt, or cap, all featuring Combo Man. He had the Hulk's hair, Cyclops' visor, Iron Man's face, and from there it gets harder to describe by body part so working my way down, his costume includes in order elements of Magneto, The Punisher, Captain America, Sabretooth, Carnage, Daredevil, Spider-man, Century, the Human Torch, the Silver Surfer, and finally Gambit's boots.

I couldn't find this original ad online anywhere, but apparently there was an ashcan comic given away with comics in 1996. Maybe I should have eaten some Combos back in college after all. Then again, given the origin summary I found on this message board, maybe the story of a teen with a backpack full of comics and pretzel snacks hit with radiation and turned into a superhero DIDN'T need to be in my collection. Then again, there was a time when I spent money on things like Night Thrasher and Fantastic Force. So who am I to be retroactively discerning?

'nuff said.


Young at Heart

I love Jennifer Garner.

Every week on ABC's Alias I've watched her travel the world as CIA Agent Sydney Bristow, in the first season juggling a college life and friends with her duties to her country. She's been serious, focused, and emotional only when her "Lola rennt"-paced life has allowed her. In Daredevil she played Elektra, the daughter of a Greek diplomat who becomes a Sai-wielding warrior. She copes with both loss and betrayal over the course of the movie in some beautiful Evanescence-scored scenes, and I'm definitely looking forward to the Elektra movie.(Whoa---! General Zod as Stick--great casting!)

When she's not sprinting on a set in a flurry of female empowerment and stress-relieving righteous violence, Jennifer Garner is a down-to-Earth, sweet West Virginian girl, evidenced in various talk show appearances. She herself said in a special features segment on the 13 Going on 30 DVD that her Alias co-stars thought she'd be perfect for the role of a thirteen year old who suddenly finds herself thirty after a birthday wish goes awry. She also reveals that in high school she was something of a band geek, playing saxophone and forming a pep band for the school basketball team. I can recall one particularly strong crush I had on a girl in band back in middle school, but I would still say girls like Jennifer are particularly rare in New York.

Several of my co-workers had said 13 Going on 30 was good, although one found aspects of it depressing. That piqued my curiosity as it seemed light in the trailers, and though the movie is for the most part a nostalgic fairy tale romp, it can take its viewer on an emotional roller coaster.

Perhaps the part that resonated the most with me was the realistic depiction of the social hierarchy in high school. As a teenage girl she has one true friend in the boy next door, whom she realizes too late as a thirty year old is the guy for her. I won't ruin the movie by saying whether or not things work out for them, but one scene in particular with the teenagers was painfully true to life. To impress the popular girls, she berates the boy in front of everyone else, and he leaves to the tune of their laughter. It brought back memories of my own childhood, and the girl next door to whom as a five year old I would regularly declare my intentions of marriage. Granted, when I was five years old, I thought I was Spider-man, so you could hardly say we were engaged. But as we got older she became friends with this other girl who liked to make fun of me, and she joined in. When we were alone, she "explained" that when we were alone we were friends, but when this other girl was there she had to make fun of me. So, with the true quality of her character revealed, we drifted apart thankfully.

Girls like Jennifer Garner are rare in New York. But the other important message I got from the film was the importance of youth. When everyone around her is too serious and bogged down in the weights and duties of being an adult, she offers a refreshing perspective that allows those around her to realize that it's OK to let your inner child out to play once in a while. Watch an old music video. Eat a candy you haven't had since you were a kid. Write blog entries about comic books and cartoon voiceover actors. Maturity and responsibility are important, but it's nice to be able to take an emotional vacation once in a while.

As Frank Sinatra once sang:

"....if you should survive to 105
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part
You have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart."


Six Degrees of Everyone

We're all connected by six degrees of separation, according to Stanley Milgram, an American sociologist who tested the theory in 1967. The concept can be traced back to "Chains", a short story by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, and the phrase was taken from Milgram's experiment and used as the title of a play by John Guare. Guare's play would be made into a movie starring Will Smith in 1993. And in 1994, college students Craig Fass, Brian Turtle and Mike Ginelli invented the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which a person must link Kevin Bacon to another actor through five or fewer names.

In yesterday's post, I mentioned some prominent voice actors from my childhood, all of whom I was familiar with primarily from The Transformers or G.I. Joe, though if you checked their IMDB listings you would see they'd done far more than that, and most were still working today. Chris Latta, who passed away in 1994, was the one exception. Best known to me as Starscream and Cobra Commander, I was surprised in my research to read that he and not Hank Azaria provided the original voice for the bartender Moe Syzslak on The Simpsons.

It's always cool to me in hindsight to learn something new about an actor's career. "Before They Were Stars-type shows fascinate me no end. For various reasons growing up there are a lot of movies I hadn't seen. Maybe it was because I was too young at the time, or never had cable, or didn't have an interest then. But I've been making good use of Netflix to get caught up, and learning new things all the time, constantly spotting someone who's more famous now in something years before I knew who they were. Just to give one of many examples, I only saw Platoon for the first time a few weeks ago, and was surprised to see Scrubs' John C. McGinley among the ensemble. I could give more examples, but I'd end up linking to just about every page on IMDB.

Movies, music, video games, television shows and now the internet serve to link all of us, to strengthen the Six Degrees theory and make this world a bit smaller. As you read this, maybe you're someone I know but if not, there's a good chance that I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows you.

Incidentally, I found a site that computes connections between Kevin Bacon and other actors. Chris Latta? He's connected by two degrees, having starred in Roadhouse with Keith "Goliath" David, who starred in Novocaine with Bacon.


Commanderrr Courrrage!

William Shatner once spoofed himself and his Star Trek fans in a hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch. Playing himself at a convention, the fans' incessant stupid questions about plot flaws finally get to him and he snaps, berating them all, at one point asking a kid, "You there! Have you even ever KISSED a girl?!"


Mark Hamill, as most people know, was Luke Skywalker. Typecast in the role, he didn't have the same bigscreen success that his co-star Harrison Ford went on to. Hamill made a few bad movies, showed up as the supervillain The Trickster on The Flash television series, and ultimately didn't achieve a new fan following for anything non-Star Wars until he took on the role of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. His voice virtually unrecognizable, he was THE definitive Joker for well over a decade. Batman wasn't his only voiceover work though--he provided the vocals to the Hobgoblin on FOX's Spider-man series in the '90s, and spoofed himself in a Simpsons episode, appearing at the BI-MON-SCI-FI-CON and later in a rendition of Guys and Dolls in which the director has him wearing his costume from A New Hope and brandishing a lightsaber.

What most people including myself may not have known until recently, is that Hamill is himself at heart a comic geek, and even considered pursuing art early in his career. Hamill has taken his love of comics and made what at best could be categorized as a mockumentary in Comic Book: The Movie. Armed with an impressive cast of voice actors whom I'll list at the end of this article, and with notable names like Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, Kevin Smith, Hugh Hefner, Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters, he transformed into the role of Don Swan, a comic aficionado, store owner, and fanzine writer asked to consult on a big budget motion picture about his favorite comic character, the patriotic Commander Courage. The conflict? In true Hollywood fashion the character has been altered to the point of being unrecognizable and renamed Codename: Courage. He now dresses in black, carries guns, and his nephew sidekick has been replaced by a blonde bombshell.

I won't go into more detail about the plot, except to say that Hamill shot footage at an actual comicon and shows respect for these fans. No one is accused of never kissing a girl(although I'm betting Dominican Superman has to work for it), and in the role he plays Hamill is clearly shouting, "I'm one of you!" There are cameos from some out-of-costume Star Wars stars, as well as legendary creators such as Peter David, Mike Mignola, and Matt Groening, to name but a few. If you appreciate a film like This is Spinal Tap, and are or were any kind of comic book fan, you'll definitely have an appreciation for this. I myself collected comics for a solid eight years, and loved a lot of things that might have gone over a non-comics fan's head. My friend Jerry recommended I rent the bonus disk from Netflix—the service rents discs individually, even when bonus features are on a separate disk—and while I've never done so for any other movie, I did this time. The extended interviews and panel discussions were well worth it--as a Marvel fan, I always enjoy hearing the thoughts of Stan Lee.

In closing, I'm just going to list some of the voice actors who appeared in this film and the film's bonus features. Most have rarely if ever appeared in front of a camera, and yet we've all heard them for years. Check out their IMDB resumes--I guarantee you've heard them before. As Hamill said, they're the "best actors you've never seen.":

Gary Owens
Jim Cummings
Billy West
Jess Harnell
Roger Rose
Tom Kenny
Maurice Lamarche
Rob Paulsen
Daran Norris
Lori Alan

Here are a few from my childhood with equally impressive resumes, though conspicuously absent from this movie:

Frank Welker
Peter Cullen
Corey Burton
Jack Angel
and the late, great Chris Latta

It takes a certain kind of courage to be able to have a sense of humor, and not care what people think, even if they laugh at you. Hamill has it, these other actors who went from making voices in class to making a living at it have it, and Shatner's demonstrated it time and again, from that aforementioned SNL skit to the movie Free Enterprise to his recent album with Ben Folds. If you don't care what people think, you can be be happy enjoying the things you love.


Megavalue 20X4

The first video games I saw for the home were miniature replicas of stand-up arcade games like Pac-man or Donkey Kong or Dig-dug. They stood about 12 inches high and looked just like the arcade version. I was instantly enamored and while others in the third grade were fortunate enough to have these precious items, I did not. My friends even had Ataris and Intellivisions and Colecovisions at home. I had the Pac-man board game.

My cousin, about a decade or so older than myself, had an Intellivision. I looked forward to going to my Aunt and Uncle's on holidays, just so I could watch him and his friends box or ski or play cards in bad pixelly goodness. I wanted one, but the system was expensive, and the games moreso. One Summer, my mom offered me an interesting proposition. She would pot plants from her garden, load up my little red wagon, and send me to sit along the main road at the end of our block next to a cardboard "Plant Sale" sign. Yeah. It's a mystery to me why kids beat me up too. Anyway, whatever I sold, half the profits were mine, and I could save up for my own system.

By this time a local store called Odd Lot was selling Intellivision consoles for $50, quite the bargain. And my mom was willing to let me hook it up to our spare TV, a modest 13" black and white set. Odd Lot sold games 2 for a dollar by this point, so my collection grew to be quite impressive. Snafu, Astrosmash, Demon Attack, He-man and the Masters of the Universe, Lock 'n Chase, Vectron, Frogger and yes even Donkey Kong were among my collection of over 30 games. I even got the Intellivision "computer", a keyboard with Duplo-sized keys that allowed me to do basic programming such as an ASCII man doing jumping jacks, or other "state-of-the-art" graphics. If anyone else out there finds meaning in the phrase, "Twenty Goto Ten", drinks are on me.

In Middle School I was enjoying computer labs more sophisticated than the ones I had in elementary school. In the 5th grade, data was actually stored on the same kind of cassette tapes audio was recorded on. If you wanted to know what nails on a chalkboard would sound like in HELL, all you had to do was pop one of those things into a cassette player and hit "play". By 7th grade I was learning a text-based drawing program called LOGO in which you would type something like "CircleR red" and it would draw a red counterclockwise circle. I'm pretty sure this predated the mouse, and that somewhere in this replica of the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark that I call a room, I still have a giant useless floppy disk containing my animation of a technicolor "Death Star" being hit with a laser and exploding.

Games and computers were growing more and more sophisticated and the hero of Donkey Kong had spun off into his own games. As much as I enjoyed Super Mario Brothers in the arcade-like lobby of a Modell's department store(in the days when they were more than just sporting goods), I was awestruck at the notion that I could play it at home. I wanted a Nintendo. My parents wanted me to go to a strict all-boys Catholic high school and not the drug-rich violent basis for Boston Public that our local public school was. Once more a deal was struck. Once more, a game system was mine.

I got my Intellivision years after it was popular, but the Nintendo wasn't that old so most of the games were full price, ranging from $20-$40 as I recall. Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt came with the system, but the rest of my collection had to be built. It took longer to grow than my Intellivision collection, and I never had more than 7 or 8 games, but by then games were a greater investment of time. Super Mario Brothers 1-3 could take anywhere from an hour to three hours to beat, depending on whether or not you used warp zones. Megaman, Batman, and Bionic Commando all took about an hour. Kung Fu I could get through pretty quickly but since it was infinite, I never truly felt like I beat that game no matter how many hearts surrounded our couple. Why, Thomas? Why couldn't you keep Sylvia from being kidnapped over and over and taken to the same five floor dojo? You think Kwai Chang Caine would stand for that sort of thing?

These days I enjoy my PS2 on a 27" Sharp flatscreen television. Games like Final Fantasy can take as much as 40 to 60 hours to play, so it's a good thing memory cards store progress so I don't have to do it in one sitting. I picked up Capcom's Megaman Anniversary collection for $30. That's eight classic games plus two unreleased unlockable games, all for about the same price Megaman alone cost me on my NES. I've been playing the saga in order this week, and enjoying it immensely. I also recently purchased the Street Fighter collection, which has a hybrid of every variation of SF II games as well as SF III, and the Street Fighter II feature-length anime that I hadn't seen since college. Also in my collection is Intellivision Lives, which doesn't contain all the games in my collection but most of them, as well as quite a few I never had. And THAT one was only $20.

These collections are quite a megavalue given what I once paid for the originals. I suppose years from now when I have kids of my own, I may pick up a "retro" game for whatever console their generation is playing, and find all the games in my PS2 collection on one biopod. But for now, I'll gladly go to Best Buy at lunch with my co-workers.


Superman is dead.

I'd be hard-pressed to choose any one favorite movie moment, let alone put them in any sort of order, but the scene in Superman II in which Superman, kneeling seemingly in defeat before General Zod, suddenly crushes the villain's hand and stands triumphant, as the John Williams theme fanfares in the background, definitely makes such a list. I would also include the scene in which the Phantom Zone villains have taken control of the Daily Planet and only Lois knows that Superman has sacrificed his powers to be with her, and won't be there to save anyone. Meanwhile, in the streets of Metropolis, a breeze picks up and blows away a stack of newspapers, all with the same headline questioning the whereabouts of the Man of Steel. Sure enough he's back, and hovering outside the window, asking the General if he'd "care to step outside." I think these scenes might even rank higher on my list than the scene in Transformers: The Movie when Hot Rod finally opens the Matrix, and that's saying a lot considering the Transformers Geek I was(OK, am).

“Don’t worry miss, I’ve got you!”
“You’ve got me?? Who’s got YOU?!”

That moment doesn’t rank as high as the others, but certainly was memorable and a strong part of my childhood. Margot Kidder was Lois Lane as far as I knew. Certainly she’d be surpassed when I was in college by the lovely Teri Hatcher, and I’ve been enjoying Erica Durance’s work on Smallville so far, but back then Kidder was Lois.

And Christopher Reeve was Superman.

When you’re a kid, there’s no concept of actors or special effects. Luke Skywalker is Luke Skywalker, Batman is Batman, and Steve Austin is the Six Million Dollar Man(not some wrestler). There’s no concept of names like Mark Hamill, Adam West, or Lee Majors. I knew who Clark Kent was, but I don’t think I knew who Reeve was, at least when I first saw the movies. Over the years I’d see them again and again, the sequel always a strong favorite. I’d find redeeming features in the third movie with the junkyard battle between Clark and Superman, and find little more than fodder for jokes in the fourth film. It’s unfortunate that the last film did turn out so bad, as it was Reeve's project and he was trying to say something important with it.

Monday October 11th was Columbus Day. My office was open, but I had taken a vacation day. I slept a little later, logged on to the internet that morning and began my rounds. The very first site I visited contained a post from an online friend stating the unthinkable; Christopher Reeve was dead at 52.

With age comes knowledge, and the acceptance that the modern mythology of superheroes is nothing more than a fiction. You can become jaded and decide there are no heroes, or you can recognize the actions of police or firefighters or soldiers in the darkest of times. In my life, the closest thing to a real Superman has been my dad, who never slows down, never lets anything stop him. I've seen him work on automobiles and get burned, or be bleeding, and continue working as though wholly undamaged. He once told me a story about my grandmother, a tough Italian woman I'd never met, who raised four daughters and a son. When my dad was a boy their cast iron stove caught fire, and he watched this woman lift it up and carry it out of the house. That's where he comes from, and explains a lot of his endurance and work ethic. These days he's in his 70s and has had clogged arteries for several years now, but it's a struggle to get him to slow down, even when he really should.

We're all human, in our moments of heroism and our moments of defeat. We're capable of great things and some people may seem indestructible. I enjoyed Reeve's version of Rear Window and enjoyed seeing his appearances on Smallville. I still remember the day I was in my car and heard of his accident on the radio. It seemed as though I was driving the same road the same time of day when I'd heard about Kurt Cobain. And yet, as the years went by, I expected he would return from his fate. I was waiting for that scene from Superman II. I was waiting for him to fly again.

Once more I find myself rambling, so I'll conclude with the same pair of apropos quotes Kryptonsite ended their report of the news with:

"When John Kennedy promised that by the end of the 1960s we would put a man on the moon. Everybody, including the scientists, shook their heads in dismay. But we did it. We can cure spinal cord injuries too, if there's a will. What was possible in outer space is possible in inner space." - Christopher Reeve

"But most will remember this sad day as the day the proudest, most noble man they ever knew finally fell. For those who loved him -- one who would call him husband, one who would be his pal, or those who would call him son -- this is the darkest day they could ever imagine. They raised him to be a hero: to know the value of sacrifice, to know the value of life. And for those who served with Superman in the protection of all life comes the shock of a failure: the weight of being too late to help. For a city to live, a man had given his all and more. But it's too late. For this is the day that a Superman died." - Superman #75, 1992 (written by Dan Jurgens)


The Secret Origin of MCF

When I was five years old, I thought I was Spider-man.

All kids have heroes, mythical or real, and emulating them is an important part of growing up, of defining the journey their life will take. Certainly my parents tried to shield me from bad influences, and my mom limited my television viewing to harmless shows like Catch that Pidgeon or The Electric Company. Of course as anyone born in the ’70s might recall, the latter occasionally featured a live-action segment in which everyone's friendly neighborhood superhero ran out on stage and threw a rope around people with poor grammar. Or something. At any rate, between The Electric Company and a few seemingly innocent Spidey coloring books, I was more than familiar with the character. To add to the recipe, when she wasn't looking I'd often switch channels and sneak a peek at his cartoon, or those of other Marvel Superheroes.

When I was six years old, I thought I was Captain America. I'd run around the yard screaming like an idiot and hurling my "mighty shield", a beat-up old aluminum garbage can lid from the days when they, like G1 Transformers, were made of metal not plastic. But when I was five, I was Spider-man, often climbing trees or putting netting over my head. And one fateful afternoon in the aftermath of a rainstorm, I put my "powers" to the ultimate test and decided to climb down a treestump in the woods behind my house. Face-first.

By this point, the most astute reader can see where this is going. Most probably had an inkling around the first sentence. I slipped and fell face-first into the underbrush, where it's probable with mud on my face and a scratch or two, I'd emerge with enough of a scare to be more cautious in the future. A probable outcome for most, but not I. The woods behind my house were a haven for teenagers, and apparently a place to discard beer bottles. So on that fateful day it was not mud nor leaves that awaited me, but a brown shard of glass. So when I ran crying to my mom with a nosebleed, you can imagine her dismay upon wiping the blood away to see that I had split my lip and part of my left nostril. The rest was a blur, as I was rushed to the ER and battled nurses who had to resort to what they called a "papoose" but what to this day I call a "mini-straitjacket." The stitches were "innumerable" in my plastic surgeon's words and I still have a bit of a scar and the inability to grow a mustache without needing a comb-over to hide the part.

Was there a lesson to be learned, and did I learn it? Over the next two and a half decades I would find that whether I played it safe or took an incredibly stupid risk, it seemed my mutant ability was to channel the most unlikely mishaps, quite often in the presence of attractive women. I've flown over the handlebars of a bike while throwing a frisbee and riding "no-hands". I've walked futilely after a train that had already left the station, only to find a small rock had found it's way into the back of my shoe and meticulously worn a quarter-shaped abrasion down to my nerve-endings. I've passed out in the middle of an art class looking at Escher, been knocked unconscious by a flagpole in the back of a church, and once nearly bled to death because of a Meckel’s Diverticulum, a birth defect in my intestines that affects 2% of the American population, normally detected in infancy. That last one, of course™, hit me when I was 25 and stumped the doctors.

So that's me--extraordinary bad luck, and a passion for all the great journey's and escapes available, from DVDs to video games to comics. These posts won't all be as narcissistic as this one, and many will be about nothing at all. If there's one thing I took from my childhood it was that love of fiction and art, and my high school notebooks margin doodles tended to spill over and overshadow my notes. I went on to major in Graphic Design and while I'm not drawing for Marvel, I do derive some pleasure from designing Science Fiction & Fantasy catalogs and book jackets. The journey may be improbable, but I believe God has a plan and upon closer inspection, a pattern can be discerned.

Tomorrow, probably one of those aforementioned "nothing" posts about why Netflix rules, or the age-old argument of whether or not Quasar could beat The Green Lantern. The journey into the Mysterious has just begun....