Friday, December 30, 2011

Please note:

The scorpion has more than just eight legs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Freewrite from July (rough)

The man at the coffeebar hovers his touchscreen.
No click-clack of the keyboard necessary,
just fluid motion, smooth, over glass, skimming this digital skin -
that wraps the new machines that guide us
through our electronic surrogate lives.
We stroke the inbox, caress the message, trace the photo's edge.
There are no contours, but it is safe.
And we need to touch something.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Comic Book Guy?" Not So Much

If you talk to me for even like 15 minutes at a party, you'll probably find out I know some stuff about comic books. But if you've talked to me in the last couple months, you'll probably know that I'm also realizing "comic books" are not exactly my thing.

"Blasphemy!" said the nerds and the geeks! But I don't mean it like that. Let me explain.

For a very long time, one of the shortcut qualities that people would use to introduce me was that I was a comic book guy. Not THE comic book guy, but A comic book guy. Was this somewhat accurate? Definitely. I own comic books. I own comic book t-shirts. I go to comic book conventions. Hell, I've been known to collect comic book artwork. But was I, am I, a "comic book guy?" No. This was not entirely accurate for quite some time.


Comic books and their fandom in the modern day have a lot to do with blind loyalty. They have a lot to do with buying into hype. They have a lot to do with undying favoritism. They have a lot to do with 20 and 30 and 40 year old fans (and older) arguing with others over what books and publishers and creative teams are better. It's almost like watching a political debate, where no matter what decision anybody makes, there's someone to say it's great even if it's incredibly stupid. It's almost like a religion in some ways. Blind loyalty and "spin" do not appeal to me in any way.


Furthermore, comic books in the modern day have often become more about shock value and getting a blurb on a newsreel or creating a fervor with the fans with hyper-violence or hyper-sexuality. It comes down to, "Let's kill a hero. Let's make a super-heroine a super-slut - again." These are NOT things that I love. Often, it feels like comic books have become little more than fan-fiction for the folks who grew up reading them. That, and proving grounds for comic book movies.

I, generally, do not love the comic book movie. The last comic book movie I saw that I really thought was good was Batman with Michael Keaton in 1989. And I was 9 years old.

To me, movies are to comic books (quite often) the same thing that they are to fans of fiction. Ruiners. Someone I know has (or at least had) a shirt that said, "Movies, Ruining the Book since 1920," and the general sentiment of that sums up my feelings on comic book movies pretty well.

I DO love what comic books were to me growing up. Namely, stories that encourage kids to try, to persevere, to believe in themselves, that can give kids a progressive counterpoint to the smalltown worlds they grow up in, that can help get them through hard times, that can help tell them to hope. Namely, stories where the good people win every time if they try hard enough and believe in themselves - because that's what's supposed to happen in the real world even though it often doesn't, and it's nice to remember it CAN happen at least in a fake world on paper. If that starts being what comic books are again, that's when I'll love them. But it still wouldn't make me a "comic book guy."

See, we are all much more than the shortcut qualities we know each other (and ourselves) by. We are more complex. We are not just bowlers or karaoke lovers, writers or sisters, jazz dancers or experts in wine. We are not just uncles or people who quote Monty Python, not just guys who are good with a grill or people who might drink too much socially. We are people. Incredibly complex people, with layers of depth and gravity we often have no idea are inside us.

Over time, if we're not careful, we can come to see ourselves by the qualities and limitations that others (and we ourselves) put upon us - but we do ourselves and each other injustices by choosing to be so simple about it.

That's not to say we're bad people. The ability to make snap judgments or general guesses is part of how we get to know people - but when we forget to stop learning and we simply see them, or ourselves, as those generalizations we already know or accept, we make both ourselves and them something lesser. I think that everyone needs to let themselves really get to know themselves. I believe it's only then that you can ever really get to know others.

So no. I'm not a comic book guy. I worked at a comic book store for eight years growing up, and comic books got me through some hard times. But I'm not a comic book guy. I AM a guy who knows a lot about comic books - and that's something I can live with.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thinking of Spock, or Logic Isn't Everything

Me and my Mom watched a lot of TV when I was growing up. One of the shows we watched a lot was the original Star Trek. I don't remember all that much of the plots or whatever, but I remember the characters.

Star Trek had Spock -- the pointy-eared and kind-but-awkward Vulcan who often commented on things being either logical or illogical. I found myself thinking about Spock tonight.

I remember asking my Mom what "logical" meant, and she told me something like, "Logic is when you make decisions without letting your heart get in the way." As maybe a four-year-old, I thought this was the smartest thing I'd ever heard. What I heard was, "Logic is making intelligent decisions. Don't let your feelings cloud that." Remember, I was around four -- but to me, Spock was the template that all humans should aspire to.

The thing that nobody bothered to tell four-year-old me - is that logic isn't everything. Your life will not play out in a predisposed A-B-C-D event list with checkpoints and logical progression -- no matter how much you hope for it, fight for it, or how well you plan it to happen that way. The path to success is not a straight line. (It probably isn't even a line.) And the path to knowing one's self, and therefore making the best decisions, isn't going to come about by following a rubric, or a syllabus, or a checklist, or a five-year plan. Sometimes you have to say, "I know I shouldn't want this, but I do." Sometimes you have to say, "I know I should want this, but I don't." I could give other examples, but you get the idea. What it ultimately comes down to is a need to figure out what is right to the self, what is right to the individual.

As I grew older, I realized Spock was played as a counterpoint to show human qualities in others. But it took over 25 years for me to realize that Spock should never have been a template.

Logic has its place. People who live 100% heart and 0% logic are probably tough to deal with (and possibly homeless, though probably very nice). But the mind has to be able to figure out not only whether something is a logically good idea but whether or not something is a personally good idea. And when it comes to the personal? Well, logic's got nothing on that.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The "End" of Uncanny X-Men

As DC recently announced new #1’s for nearly all their titles, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Marvel’s killing its book with the longest-running history behind it. (We all know the Big Two love to attempt to keep neck-and-neck with whatever various stratagems the other has going on.) As a guy who fancies himself as a bit of an X-Men fan, I have some thoughts on this.

Put simply - history, even oft-revised and amended history, has recently become viewed as a negative thing in terms of comics' saleability, because it’s believed to limit new readers’ access.

To speak to that point, I started reading comics in 1986. I didn’t start reading Uncanny until 1989. By that time there were nearly 250 issues out. ***This didn’t stop me from picking up the books and figuring out what was going on – and this was before the internet, so you couldn’t go online and look up scans or plot points or covers (or straight download full issues). They didn't even really have trades then! Instead, you had to read the editor’s notes, you had to buy back issues, and you had to talk to other fans who knew more than you. Put simply, you had to do more work – which I was still glad to do, and so were TONS of other people.

To me, the “we've been making these books so long now it’s impenetrable” argument is incredibly weak. People still read incredibly long (previously published) series of books. Last I checked, books in the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings series were selling pretty well, despite their having a huge page count of material. The argument could be made that these both have recent movies to draw new attention - BUT SO DOES THE X-MEN. Besides, I'm fairly certain that Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle works are still selling pretty well - which again involve serial characters with a lot of previously existing material. So I really feel like this is just a scapegoat argument. It's inarguable at face value - but if you stop and think about it, it really falls apart.

Don't get me wrong. I think the idea of writing comics for guys who are 30-60, to cater to what they remember reading when they were 5-15 is an incredibly bad idea which I am really against. I just feel like a key point comics is missing, is that comics attracted a vast amount of readers from the Silver Age through the late 80s with very little multimedia support or application - there were no quality films, there was minimal television exposure -- relatively minimal action figure availability, and next-to-no video games. But people were attracted to the books nonetheless - and this is because -- comics were cool when they were cutting-edge and/or counter-culture.

Every "big" thing Marvel's done from Civil War on has been very status quo in terms of its underlying message. And DC, I don't even know where to begin. Grant Morrison's been scrawling one big love letter to Alan Moore across the entire DC universe for years while Geoff Johns is simultaneously writing a love letter to 1982. In the meantime, guys like Dwayne McDuffie (R.I.P) weren't being remotely utilized properly.

There are guys who get it. Dwayne McDuffie was one of them. Chris Claremont still has it in him. Scott Lobdell gets it. Mark Waid gets it. I think Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost get it.

I know this is an unpopular opinion as it applies to the average 30s-ish comic reader of today, but I believe "
comics by-and-large should be for children. They should be tales about looking outside of your own opinions and worldview and about questioning authority – things that entertain kids while teaching them how to read and teaching them how to think."

But I digress.

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. The comics industry is working to position themselves as the itunes of comics. They want to pull the attention and readership (and money) of the “I never bought a CD, let alone a cassette or a record” generation. A business has to make money to stay alive. I get that. I just feel like if they were telling good stories by writers who understood the source material and drawn by artists whose strengths suited those writers, the books would sell themselves. Especially in terms of the X-Men.

I’ve said before, “When I was a kid, the X-Men were hated by a world that didn’t understand them. But I understood them. Railed against for being different. Trying to figure out their purpose(s), who to trust and where they fit in. The story kernel of ‘the outsider’ is relatable.” I'd think you'd have to try pretty hard to screw that up.

Yet, I’ll live with it. And not just in the sense of the sound-and-fury aspect that so many comics fans bring to their fandom, but rather in - well, let me let you in on a little secret, and this is coming from a guy who absolutely LOVES the X-Men --- I HAVEN'T BOUGHT AN ISSUE OF UNCANNY FOR NEARLY 150 ISSUES.

I look at the art and the stories, and more often than not, I'm like "what?" Ever since around 2000 it seemed like things were going downhill for the X-Men to me. Please note that I'm NOT insulting the work of anyone who's worked on the titles in the interim - I'm just saying that from what I know of it, more often than not - it's not for me.

I don’t want to read about Wolverine’s “edgy” son, or how Mr. Sinister ended up as a lady, or why the X-Men are fighting vampires or living in San Francisco. That all sounds dumb. (Granted, the stuff I love often sounds dumb in a simple sense as well. “His son from the future is fighting his own clone on the moon!” could straight be lifted from an episode of Axe Cop.) I’ve tried to read this newer stuff though. Really I have. I tried reading Grant Morrison’s run and was only able to get slightly behind one story, “Here Comes Tomorrow.” (Pretty sure that Marc Silvestri's art helped, btw.) I tried really hard to get into the Kia Asamiya stories. And don’t get me started on Chuck Austen's Juggernaut-sex and friggin' Azazel. I LOVE some of the artists. Bachalo and Townsend's are comic book rockstars. But the stories. I have zero interest in stories about any incarnation of the Phoenix, or in Cyclops' secret evil brother who goes to space. I have zero interest in reading an X-Men comic that looks like pin-up art.

Side note: I thought 100 issue run of Exiles was (largely) excellent. As was a lot of the 2004-2005 Excalibur series - man, I really dug that Excalibur series (Thanks Aaron Lopresti and Chris Claremont!).

So, I may well have a bit of rose-colored-glasses as we all do, but I don't hate everything that's new - I like some of it, and I WANT to like more of it. Where I’m going with this is, I have no investment in most of the stories they’re telling now.

I’m marginally interested in seeing a super-powered Juggernaut going buck wild, and I’m neither pro-or-con the writers or artists (though it sounds like it might be similar to the original Doomsday story), but I just don’t have the interest I had in the Chris Claremont Uncanny X-Men era. I don’t have the interest I had in the Scott Lobdell Uncanny X-Men era. So, in a sense they’re killing something that maybe wasn’t already dead, but largely was already dead to me. They’re getting around to putting a toe tag on a body I’ve barely seen move in a decade.

And obviously, nothing in comics is forever. There will be a multi-headed X-Men franchise as long as someone will buy it – no matter what format(s) that’s in. But if, and this is a big if, they are able to make wherever they pick things up from BE GOOD, then it will have been worth it. Then I'll say, "Yes - this was a good idea, because the stories are good again."

See, numbers are numbers and stories are stories. Numbers are what we use to count by, but stories are the things that actually count.

Friday, May 20, 2011

R.I.P. Macho Man

I've been taking the loss of the Macho Man today pretty hard. Not, "day off of work" hard, but harder than it might make sense to the casual observer.

Randy "Macho Man" Savage (later "Macho King") was arguably the most popular heel of the mid 80s WWF, and that means he holds an incredibly special place in the hearts of many, now adults, who were kids during that era.

As a kid who went to house shows in Mid-Michigan, it was a HUGE deal when Macho Man was on the card. HUGE. Somewhere in my Mom's house, I have a giant orange foam finger for Macho Man. I could've bought Hogan's, but I bought Macho's.

The wrestling toys in the 80s (made by LJN) didn't move, and were bigger and therefore more expensive than most other toys of the day - meaning you didn't get too many of them. You had to prioritize. Growing up, I had the LJN toys for Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. You just didn't need anybody else.

As I grew up, I joined the school band -- which I hated -- and the only thing that got me to practice was teaching myself to play wrestler's theme songs. Especially Macho's - which came in handy since we were expected to play it every year. (I don't think I've ever heard Pomp and Circumstance being played and not thought it would be awesome if Macho Man just ran out in neon leather fringe with big 80s sunglasses on and totally elbow dropped the Dean.)

One of my few original Game Boy games was WWF Superstars - and I LOVED hitting that elbow drop time after time.

Those who know me know that, to put it mildly, I didn't exactly have a great childhood. But the one I had is filled with fond vivid memories of the Macho Man.

Later, when the 80s wrestlers moved to WCW (and Macho Man was selling Slim Jims) I was at the Monday Nitro when Macho Man told Miss Elizabeth that things had been through with them for a long time. Even as a high schooler, there was just something magical about being a part of that. It felt like I was a part of history. (Wrestling history, which is the best kind of history I think.)

As an older guy, I've come to realize how Macho was in a way really one of the first high-fliers. Guys like Jeff Hardy and John Morrison (who I love), owe a debt to guys like Macho Man. Macho Man, in a sense, was the Jeff Hardy of 1985. Besides, I've just always dug bad guys - their ability to make an entrance, to make an impression - and nobody in wrestling could do that like the Macho Man. He was the first name wrestler I can remember to really successfully (and fluidly) alternate between a face and heel persona.

And all these years later, Macho Man died of a heart attack down in Seminole, FL - not a 5 minute drive away from a pizza place I regularly ate at when I lived back in Tampa. I own things I bought at a second-hand shop just down the street from the crash site. It's just weird to me. Granted, wrestlers tend not to live to be 100 - but to have one of the field's very best die like this feels not only sad, but perhaps too ordinary.

It's so easy to forget that the men (and women) in the squared circle really are just ordinary folks -- and it's a testament to the quality of the work they do that it's so easy to forget it.

Macho Man - you will be missed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Search...

This is stuff I'm looking for. Even if it's not for sale, just knowing where it is would still be a big help!

I was lucky enough to get a sketch from Kyle Hotz at a 1995 con when I was just a kid. I got him to draw Lord Pumpkin. I have always dug things with pumpkins for heads, and have thought it would be cool to own this cover since I was like 14 years old.

Some artists just nail the essence of certain characters. This is THE Scarecrow to me. I love Jason's work, but I liked this before I even knew who he was. (Back then the books didn't list cover art credits much, and his stuff was just signed "Jason" back then.) I'd love to see this up on my wall someday.

The first interior appearance of Carnage. This image was everywhere back in the 90s. If I remember right, it was even featured as a screen of the Maximum Carnage video game. Another top-notch example of comic book evil that burned into my mind back in the 90s.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


While I wait to see if another blogger I emailed picks up this ball and runs with it, enjoy an excerpt of my email to him.

I felt like you should see these. Concept art for alternate/evil versions of several DC superheroes, in "high-tech," "road warrior," and "robotic" styles.

"Road Warrior" in this context is basically code for "leather bondage fantasy."

Yes, that means Batman wearing a hockey mask outfitted with knives over a slave collar, all while sporting a wrist crossbow and a loincloth.

These were almost toys.

Judging by the roman numeral date of 1985 and the word "Kenner," - these were almost Super Powers toys.

Really, you owe it to yourselves to check these out.