Sunday, January 29, 2012


Just a quick note to let my faithful readers, if such there be, know I've not forgotten to blog. I'm just swamped with encyclopedia entries and teaching. As I am submitting the last of the current batch of entries and revision in the next couple days, and I'm done teaching for the week after Tuesday, Wednesday looks promising for catching up.
Meanwhile, here's the cover of a book due out very soon that includes my essay on homoerotic subtext in EC Comics.
For more about this volume, here's its solicitation at its source, McFarland Press. I'm very excited to see this in print!
I'm sorry! I'll work faster, really!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Best Comics of 2011 No. 5: The Shade mini-series

James Robinson's work on Starman remains a benchmark not just in superhero stories, but in family and extended family narratives.
Is it any wonder, then, that I really like the new Shade mini-series?
The Shade is a 1960s Flash villain, re-imagined as a bit more of a moral cipher in the previous Starman series. In the revisioned narrative, Shade had befriended Oscar Wilde and had film director Tod Browning as a mystic nemesis. This is not the simple saw of villains being more interesting. It's more about the line between good and evil being blurred in one character, which makes for fascinating writing.
In this mini, the side focus is on Shade and his evolving relationship with Molly O'Dare, sister of and officer in the all-cop O'Dare clan, a relationship first suggested in Starman no. 41 (1998). An elaborate story involving Shade's continually cryptic past is the larger framework.
As is the case in much of Robinson's writing, the story offers new questions for every answer.

I was originally put off by the harshness of Cully Hamner's art on this book. I found Tony Harris' elegant, Deco-tinged interpretation of Opal City and its inhabitants a much better fit for Robinson's writing, but the work is growing on me.
I hope sales for this pick up. Robinson has indicated on twitter that the series might not be completed if the floppies don't sell well enough, which I would regard as a real loss. Much of Robinson's superhero work has been strong (though I didn't much care for The Golden Age), and as eager as I am for his upcoming Earth 2 series from DC, this is just as important.
Next: No. 4: a nice Springfield mish-mosh.

Best Comics of 2011 No. 6: Sugar and Spike Archives Vol. 1

Winding down the 2011 countdown.
When Nickelodeon was first starting up, it aired a series called Video Comics. Cheaply made, these were simple old-school animatics. The camera would pan and zoom around comic book frames while actors did voice-overs of the dialogue.
One of the comics used by producers Klasy-Csupo was Sheldon Mayer's Sugar & Spike. K-C went on to "create" Rugrats, a series about talking babies who formed their own society.
Hmm... sure they created it. Uh-huh.
Sheldon Mayer's 1956 creation remains his strongest work, no mean feat for the man who created Black Orchid, the Red Tornado, Scribbly, and wrote and drew what many (including me) consider the definitive Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stories, apart from the original Gene Autry song. Oh, yes,  Mayer was also the editor who talked DC Comics into first publishing Superman.
Now, there is finally a decent reprint edition of Sugar & Spike.

These deceptively simple tales of babies speaking their own language while trying to understand the world around them have fascinated comic readers for more than five decades. And few had read them.
There was a one- off of the final unpublished issue, number 99, printed in 1992, but created in 1968.
There were a few digests, but none had appeared for more than a decade.
The duo made cameo appearances in books like Brave and the Bold and Kingdom Come, but unless you knew the characters, they were only anomalous ciphers.
In 2002, DC issued a reprint of No. 1, along with a pair of plush dolls.
In fairness, some of the marketing issues are due to creator Mayer's insistence that nobody else do the characters. He had that right, and I applaud him for it, but it may have been one factor in making DC more resistant to reprinting the work.
Now, here it is, in too deluxe a format.
Why too deluxe?
Well, the colors are a little off, the paper a tad bright, and the format is at odds with the content.
As much as I love this work, if there is any comic that's for kids, this is it.
I've written in the past about the delightful paper dolls that Mayer included in the comic. There are also coloring pages and comic pages in which the reader writes in the script.
Now, I don't care how much you love your kids, you're not likely to get them a $60 hardcover book to cut up.
This should be a series of $20 TPBs. Kids should read this, draw in it, write in it, and cut it up.

Sorry, some comics should be kid stuff. This is one, and as wonderful as it is, it deserves to be treated as such.
And being kid stuff doesn't mean it's not worthy of adult attention. This work contains more genuine sophistication and subtlety than any of Frank Miller's recent xenophobic tirades. There's a clear understanding of the human condition in these deceptively simple tales of baby talk!
Sugar & Spike is an important book, but DC seems bent on sabotaging its reissues for some arcane reason.
Until we get a proper reissue, please enjoy this one. If you don't have $60 for it, the library is our friend!
Next: Number 5, something dark yet light.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Best Comics of 2011 No. 7: Ruse: The Victorian Guide to Murder

For those who don't recall, Crossgen was a comic publisher with lofty ambitions. They put out a quality product, paid their creators well and gave them benefits (!), and were quite professional in everything except their ambitions.
Recently, Marvel began publishing new material with some of the Crossgen characters. I was delighted to see that Ruse was among those properties.
The original story was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with a couple novel twists. First, the aide de camp, the Watson character, was a woman, Emma Bishop. Second, she had magic powers that were kept hidden from the Holmes stand-in, Simon Archard.
However, at the end of the Crossgen series, Emma used her powers, losing them in the process. This subtly altered the dynamic, which previously focused on Emma's capacity to aid Simon without his knowledge (the stories are told in Emma's POV). This was deftly done by writer Mark Waid, who managed to avoid having Archard appear the fool in the process.
In the new incarnation, Emma is still invaluable, but must spend a considerable portion of the story trying to get Archard to acknowledge her as an equal.
The art in the original run was by Butch Guice, whose work doesn't always trip my trigger but was quite elegant on this title.  Guice and Waid managed to meld seamlessly in this book, with his Victorian touches coming across as accurate but not forced.
I'm not as wild about the new artist on the series, one Mirco Pierfederici. His work seems much cruder by comparison. It still works, just not as well. However, in fairness, it did grow on me by the end of this brief mini-series.
I picked up two of the single issues, then in frustration, decided to wait for the trade. Marvel's slavish loyalty to their blighted policy of running an ad every other page is not going to do wonders for their floppy sales, whatever's left of those sales. As this was a mini, I also didn't take exception to the equally grating Marvel policy of putting out wafer-thin collections.
The storyline itself involves deathtraps, a layered blackmail plot, and an old nemesis. I'm reluctant to say too much in case one has yet to read it.
There's a dashing element to these stories, and I do really like them if they're well-handled. In a recent post at The Beat, Kate Fitzsimons called Ruse "the most truly Holmesian of all the Holmes comics listed."
 Every issue, or chapter if you will, leads with a page of The Penny Arcadian. I love these little touches. Great device for verisimilitude, and advances and recaps the story nicely. And these are not so labyrinthine as those in the 2003 - 2010 series Rex Mundi, which used pages and pages of faux newspapers to fill in all manner of information about the story's world. Fascinating, but draining. Much more effective here!
This Ruse story is much more action driven than its predecessor, which was also pretty action-heavy.

In summary, this is not as strong as the original run of the title,which is on my short list for becoming a custom bound volume this year. But it's still highly engaging and very challenging, and well worth your time.
Next: Number 6: oh, baby!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Best comics of 2011 no. 8: Scalped, book 8

Today's entry in the countdown reminds me of John Wayne, but not in the way you might think.
Wayne had made iconic Westerns for decades, but his health was failing. In half-hearted recognition of his body of work, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an Oscar for his role in the original True Grit- a serviceable performance, but hardly on a par with his contributions to The Searchers, Red River or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
So it is with today's entry. This year's collection of Scalped, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, is not the best of the series to date. That would be 2009's The Gravel in Your Guts.
But since I just discovered this series in 2011, and this is the volume that came out this year, and since the series is winding down, so be it. The series deserves recognition, and now's the time.

This is contemporary Western noir. The complex, gritty story revolves around an FBI double agent, Dashiell Red Horse, assigned to  break the corrupt tribal chief Red Crow, as the chief tries to open and run a casino, going perpetually deeper into a moral morass in the process. The series delves into family histories of the characters and plays fast and loose with real history, with Leonard Peltier and the Wounded Knee battle as recurring characters and back-story events.
I find the violence and language revolting, but at the same time compelling in this context. The possibility of redemption looms larger when the soul falls farther, as the title implies.

The definition of noir is complex, but I see it as having parallels with Agnes Nixon's classic definition of a soap opera: characters doing all the wrong things for what they see as all the right reasons.
The motivations here are complex, with plot turns worthy of Cornell Woolrich in places.
The story is tempered with every character's fervent attempt to comprehend the motivations and morality (or lack thereof) of their actions, often committed without much forethought.
And the problematic issue of Native spirituality is handled rather deftly.
It needs to be said that opinion is highly divided on Scalped, as indicated in this thoughtful but impassioned exchange with writer Jason Aaron.
I've not paid much attention to Aaron's other work, Punisher Max, The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine and the X-Men, but I'll give them a chance based on this work, though they're not my usual cuppa.
Like 100 Bullets before it, this is noir with a challenging twist, and noir that does not use that twist as a crutch to hold up the story, but as a supplement to help move the story forward.
Next: No. 7: something not so elementary.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Best Comics of 2011 No. 9: Star Trek

As promised, back to back posts to catch up!
Either you like Star Trek or you don't. I do. If you don't, lose the snarky attitude and let me have my fun.
The comics have been uneven over the years. The early Gold Key books were exciting, but had little to do with the series. The DC run with Friedman and Gordon Purcell was quite well handled, as was the Malibu run of Deep Space 9.
The current run takes over from the most recent film, which was an interesting way to reboot the whole ST universe and maintain respect for its roots.
For those not familiar, time travel was used as a device to alter the history of Starfleet and the Federation, and to skew the dynamics of the characters, changing their relationship to one another.
I've seen the most recent Star Trek film three times, and liked it every time. It's engaging science fiction that holds onto the heart of its characters.
And despite the futuristic trappings, which are great fun, the characters are what it's all about.
Well, now they're the characters we know and love, but they're not. They respond to one another differently, and the events are-
but I'm jumping the phaser a bit.
What the current IDW comic is doing is beyond pretty cool. It's retelling the classic episodes of the original series, in the timeline of the aforementioned last film.
I'm very eager to see what happens if they make it to the Mirror, Mirror episode. Parallel universes in alternate timelines: that's the stuff of geekdom joy!
So far, they're taking two issues to adapt each episode. Good, good. Enough space to tell the story well, but not so much as to belabor it.
The art in these is sparse and clean, with solid pacing and characterizations that are on point.
This spread, from the classic Gary Mitchell episode, hits all the right notes: glory shots of the ship, key shots of major characters, relationship building side elements (reinforcing the Uhura/Spock love interest from the film) and some exciting special effects.
The fact that these are different versions of familiar characters is made clear in the resolution of the crisis, handled very differently here.
Rather than the original Kirk move of moralizing speeches followed by a deus ex machina of a convenient rock slide, Kirk recognizes the crisis and destroys the threat, then grieves his lost friend.
Tomorrow: Noir with a very different bullet.

Best Comics of 2011 No. 10: Batwoman

Net access remains problematic at home, so came in to work to get some stuff done. I'll post yesterday's entry and today's.
Up first, part of The New 52.
I've ignored most of the line for a while. I read the first Justice League, which struck me as a superhero hissy fit, and some of the early Superman stuff, which was well-done but didn't grab me.
Wonder Woman is well-written with decent art, but I loathe the latest revision of her origin.  I mean really? Instead of being the product of women's love of life, she's the result of an illicit union with Zeus? Really? How sad.
Batwoman, however, is something else.

J.H. Williams III has taken over the writing from Greg Rucka, and the character has retained her integrity.
And the book remains visually lush, with layouts that remind me of Colan's work on Dr. Strange.
In terms of plotting, for the most part Williams & co. are playing up Kate Kane's military background over her lesbian identity. This has created some challenges, as she takes her protege, the former Flamebird, into training, using boot camp techniques.
This is effective to a point.
The over-eager "cadet" breaks training and assumes her old costume to take on the villain of the day unassisted.
The results are, as we say, less than satisfactory.
This is my one sore spot with this run. As Flamebird is hors de combat, Kate is engaged in an amorous tryst. As Williams does parallel cuts between the two scenes, the effect is quite jarring and, for my money, more than a bit distasteful. I didn't like it when Cher and Bob Hoskins used a similar device in the film Mermaids, and I don't much care for it here. It does make some tense strorytelling, but as Trina Robbins once said about Spawn: ick.

The denouement of the scene uses an FBI agent whose appearance, at least, will be familiar to readers of Alan Moore's Promethea, also lovingly rendered by Williams.
Kane remains a worthwhile character in a perceptive book, the problematic "refrigerator" scene notwithstanding. I haven't picked up the latest issue yet, so I'm a tad behind on plot developments.
Sidebar for readers of The New 52: DC has announced TPBs of all the titles' initial storylines, with the odd exception of Wonder Woman.
One last thing I like about Batwoman: the skull-faced FBI director is a very compelling character!

Next: something familiar, yet vaguely not so.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: No. 11: Terry Moore's work

A day late, due to illness, both my own and that of the home Net connection. Now at work and trudging ahead.
The next entry is in two parts. First up is Terry Moore's new book, Rachel Rising.
Like his past works, ECHO and Strangers in Paradise, this work has a female lead.
Unlike those works, this is a horror story.
For a while it seemed like Moore's work, good as it's been, might all be variations on a theme. After all, Both Strangers and ECHO are about two women who pair with varying degrees of reluctance, albeit in very different circumstances and with very different goals.
However, in both books, there's always been an unrelenting tension that drives the plot, as much as the strong characters. Moore's understanding of motivation may be the strongest aspect of his work. And anyone who's read all of either of his previous works knows that Moore is not adverse to blood letting in the furtherance of his plot at times.
So when he announced his next book would be a horror story, I envisioned a smart Mario Bava outing with lesbian overtones.
I was so wrong.
 Rachel Rising is tense and involving, with an uneasy creepiness, owing more to Nicholas Roeg than Bava.
This is not to say the story of Rachel trying to find out if she's dead or not, and who buried her, is bloodless, as this spread from issue 2 demonstrates.
And Moore hasn't lost his trademark wit, although the term "gallows humor" was never more spot on.
I'm a couple issues behind, but despite Moore's annoying tendency to put out truly spiffy collections of his stories on their completion, I'll keep picking up Rachel Rising.
This year, Moore also began his sporadic How to Draw... series.
These are more pragmatic than many drawing books. Moore covers the basics, but in the same tone as McCloud's books on comics. They're more about WHY to draw something or someone in a certain way than HOW to do it.
In my mind, this approach is much more useful than "the leg bone's connected to the thigh bone". You can always expand your understanding of the mechanics. Understanding the psychology and philosophy of your art is vital!

Now that I'm well enough to leave the house, the iffy Net connection will not stop me from continuing my 2011 review.
Next: more lesbians. What, again? Wait for it....

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: No. 12: FF/Fantastic Four no. 600

First, kudos to Marvel for respecting the original numbering on this series, which has been restarted twice in the last 12 years. Nice to see some respect for history!
Ahem. Now, the story at hand.
Good superhero writing is hard to come by, but it's worth it when you find it, and this year's list has a couple shining examples.
This is the first of those.
Jonathan Hickman has been writing complex, challenging stories for several years now. His work on the 2010 SHIELD miniseries established a plausible framework for what has become a fairly tired story convention, the secret society bent on reshaping the world.
So when he was announced as Mark Millar's successor on Fantastic Four, I had high hopes, especially since I'm hardly Millar's biggest fan and I really the FF when it's good.
However, Hickman almost lost me early on. Hickman's work takes two directions. The first is the more tech and analytical, like his seminal work Red Mass for Mars. The second is taut plotting coupled with deeply moving characterization, as in his other remarkable earlier work, The Nightly News. Early in the run, it looked like his Fantastic Four work might fall into the first camp. Elaborate narratives and seemingly distanced characters.
But 'twas all foreshadowing two large events. The first was the formation of the Future Foundation, a school cum think tank for the progeny of Reed and Sue, along with other gifted paranormal children in their charge. They got their own book right after the second event.
 The second event was the death of Johnny Storm.
Nobody expected it to be permanent, and of course, it wasn't. But it was a real weeper.
After Johnny died preventing the invasion of Earth by forces in the Negative Zone, a recording was played of Johnny recommending that Peter Parker be allowed to succeed him in the Fantastic Four. These pages are from the first FF (Future Foundation) collection.
Here's Peter in action with the Fantastic Four, from the same TPB.

As the subtexts grew, and the potential destruction of our Earth by the Reed Richards of another dimension, the need became apparent. Johnny came back from the dead.
The stories in Fantastic Four No. 600 provided reader satisfaction, but did not resolve the tangle of subplots. Susan may still be Emperor of Atlantis. Peter may still be an FF member. Franklin may tap into his powers in a dangerous way, despite the intercession of his future self.
But even with the reader left hanging for another issue (or two, or eight- I'm waiting for the trades on this one), there's a sense of completion.
We get to see Johnny resuscitated and killed again repeatedly for the amusement of the lord of the Negative Zone, Annihilus, who can only die in our dimension and doesn't particularly care who dies with him.
We see Johnny form a team with his fellow Negative Zone gladiators.
We see Johnny decide to take action when that other Reed Richards makes a deal with Annihilus.
In short, we see a braver, more adult Johnny Storm take a chance on trying to save the day. Again.
His passions are now tempered with resolve. And it plays well.
Fantastic Four has been an up-and-down book over the decades. At its worst, it's twaddle. But when it shines, as it does in Waid's Unthinkable run (one of the strongest IMO) or the 2000 Chris Claremont run, it shows how smart, and how much fun, a superhero comic can and should be.
Thanks to Jonathan Hickman, this is one of the shining times.
Tomorrow: No. 11, another double header!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: no. 13: The Lions of Valletta

It's risky to criticize the work of friends. Years ago, Katherine Collins reviewed my first comic. While she praised the writing, she called the art "alarmingly bad." After losing my ego, I took her criticisms to heart and improved my art.
Luckily, I have no such criticism for the thoughtful, playful, strong yet sensitive work of Ursula Murray Husted.
I've been following her work for several years, and had the pleasure of working with her for a couple summer sessions. Even if I'd never made her acquaintance, the joy and bravery in her work would shine through.
Making its debut at MIX 2011, The Lions of Valletta is a preview edition of Part I of Ursula's longer work, the adventures of a Maltese cat (that is, a cat whose home is on Malta).

As with Sailor Twain, the simple line is based in confidence and the  art is in service to the story.
The dialogue of the cats rings true and dominates. For the last 40 pages of the book, all the dialogue is between cats.
As it should be. We love cats.
Without spoilers, the plot concerns a young cat who is determined to find the Good Lady, the human with whom life will be full of food, comfort and love. As the cat's acquaintance notes, aren't we all?
Ursula uses the simple story as a framework to explore visual devices including pages based on tapestries and paintings, to wind through the streets. There's a sense of the real to this that shines.
This work is smart, involving and succeeds in being optimistic without being cloying. Ursula is toying with the idea of doing the work in color. While I like her bright yet controlled palette, I think the B & W is quite effective in this work. Here's an example from this volume, recently colored, from Ursula's blog.
Whatever her decision, I'm sure it will be the correct one. This is the fourth book I've read of Ursula's (fifth if you count her Kickstarter project, well worth checking out as well), and her work has yet to disappoint in any respect.
If you do follow up and pick up The Lions of Valletta,  do yourself a favor and read the smart, witty Notes section in the last four pages of the book. They include such gems as "the academic in me wants to write a bit about cats and nihilism here, but what's the use?"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Best Comics of 2011 No. 14: Sailor Twain

I was seriously underemployed until June 2011, and so had no budget for comics at all.
In order to keep reading them, I turned to two primary sources: the Public Library and the Internet.
In so doing, I was able to fill in some gaps in my  mainstream comics reading and discover some online strips that had escaped my notice.
The best of the latter is Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid on the Hudson, linked at screen left.

Needless to say, this is the first work on the Best of 2011 list.
This strip has been posted thrice weekly since January 2010.  That's ambitious, to say the least.
Its creator, Mark Seigel, is currently on Chapter III of Part 3 of this long, earnest, hearfelt story.
There are four chapters remaining, including the Coda.
The story is much as the title implies, with romance, intrigue, acerbic wit and magic. A great deal of magic.
And the simplicity of the line and character design bely the effectiveness of the art, rendered in a very lush and full grayscale.
The deceptively primitive line, coupled with its emotional impact, bring the best work of Marc Hempel to mind.
I've said very little about the plot, because it's a quick read and I want you to experience it for yourself. And the discussions on the blog recall the letters pages in The Desert Peach, always informative and enthralling.
Like Chris Baldwin's BRUNO, I'll be sad to see this end. But at the same time, there's a joy in seeing a long-form work come to fruition in the venue of the World Wide Webiverse, or whatever this is.

Tomorrow: Number 13.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Best Comics of 2011: the Runners- up

Beginning my annual series of posts of the best of the previous year. Most folks do these all at once, but I like to take my time and spend a bit more time on each.
We'll begin with the works that almost made it, and the reasons why.
First, Daytripper.
This book remains a fascination, and I wish I'd see something new from the creators. In fairness, I've not checked in with them for a while, but you'd think a work this acclaimed would generate more followup press for the creative team.
This didn't make the cut this year for two reasons.
1. I already put it in last year's Best of... and wanted to leave space for other work equally deserving of recognition.
2. It's not really a 2011 book. The series was completed in December 2010, a fact conveniently omitted by the graphic novel purists who don't pay attention to a work until it's collected. That snobbery really gets under my nose!
Next up: a very different book.
Here's One Soul by Ray Fawkes.
This book is a compelling exploration of the standard 3 x 3 panel grid, used to tell interlocking stories with captions throughout.
The book tells the stories of multiple characters from birth. It slides from one to another, through caption only, occasionally veering away from the 3 x 3 configuration by joining the panel areas into larger panels, but never abandoning the grid.
Here's a sample tier.

This is not included for one simple reason. I'm not done reading it yet!
The same excuse applies to the next runner-up, Return to Perdition.

I've enjoyed the Perdition series a great deal over the years. I own a page from the Garcia-Lopez volume, On the Road to Perdition, and thought the film of the original book was one of the better film adaptations of a comic, despite its altering of the ending. I got to visit my pal Terry Beatty while he was working on this, and was delighted to see it at Minneapolis FallCon this year, just before its commercial release. I'm reading the library copy of this right now, but if he makes it to Spring Con, I'll try to pick one up from Terry then. I'll be done reading this soon, but right now.... no.
See Terry's blog link on the side of this page for more info on him!
The final runner-up is a good book that just had one problem too many for me, Lady Mechanika.
There are a lot of things I like about this book. It's tightly written, elaborately drawn and very well colored. The concept is solid- a powerful woman whose life is a mystery, even to her, both hunter and hunted.
I love the steampunk overtones. The slightly soiled elegance of the whole quasi-Victorian faux antique tech never really wears thin for me.
So with all that going for it, why didn't it make the cut?
Well, it's sort of like the old Dark Horse book GHOST. It dances right on the edge of being sexist.
I'm not talking about the cleavage cut-out in the costume, though that always struck me as highly impractical for battle. Nor am I talking about her ample, ahem, tracts of land. After all, some women are so endowed, though they are (you should excuse the phrase) disproportionately represented in comics in general.
No, I'm talking about her.
There's an axiom that describes the different catalysts in the heroic paths of men and women.
A man becomes a hero by having something taken from him: property, ability (think Daredevil or Dr. Strange), or a loved one (think Batman, Superman, the Phantom, etc.).
A woman becomes a hero after something is done TO her directly. Think about Red Sonja (rape), Batgirl/Oracle (disabling by shooting coupled with implied sexual assault), or Shrinking Violet, who lost a leg in the Giffen Legion run.
To be sure, there are exceptions, but when a female hero's story begins with multiple body part dismemberment, I have a hard time seeing beyond that. Funny how relatively few stories there are that begin with this happening to a man. In fact, aside from Miller's classic RONIN, I can't think of any!
This is still a worthwhile book, in spite of its big thematic flaw, and I'll stick with it for a while to see if it overcomes said flaw. But I'm sorry, it's just not up to Best of the Year material with that in it. Creator Joe Benitez deserves continued attention for the level of work he's doing. I'd like to see his characterizations reach the high level of the other elements of his work.
Tomorrow: the Best of 2011 list begins in earnest.

Original Art Sundays No. 114: Tranny Towers, p. 22

First of two new posts for this second Sunday in 2012.
Posting a Tranny Towers page! This was the penultimate page in this storyline.
 As always, minimal cleanup in Photoshop. I was quite fond of the Bonsai logo, even if it did take up too much real estate on the page.
I have the originals filed, and will rescan some of the pages before going to press with the final collection of these.
The title of the piece within the chapter, Keep Me Safe and Warm and Shelter Me From Darkness, comes from a piece by the John Williams group SKY. I performed this piece at my niece Jessica's wedding.

Next up: the beginning of Best of 2011.
Next week: after class prep, the long overdue new page of A Private Myth.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Original Art Sundays No. 113: Hello Peoples!

Starting off the year with inventory, but strangely new.
This is a photo I took in 1991 using 35MM B & W film and printed on Ilford matte paper.
I was driving around with my pal Pauline Johnson, taking shots of folks just out and about. These guys just opened up to me. Very refreshing, considering they followed a woman whose expression indicated she'd maim me if I clicked the shutter.
The title comes from the saying etched in the cross beam behind the bench.
I love the energy and attitude of this shot. The textures of the wood, the wall and the bench are fascinating.
Sadly, the scan washed out a lot of the detail and texture, and no matter what I did, I couldn't get them back!
Sometimes I regret that film is a thing of the past. Digital is here to stay and has its strengths, but each can do something the other can't, and I'm loathe to discard any craft. After all, we still have live theater despite the presence of TV, film, DVD and digital download. Why should so-called "slow art" be any different?
Ah well, the price of progress, I suppose.
Next: I'll have scanner access again this week, so if I meet my writing deadlines, I should get to the next page of A Private Myth by next Sunday.

New Year, Old Birthdays

Well, here we are, less than two hours into 2012. I'm about to turn in, but I wanted to get this up as early in the year as I could.
I'll post art later today.
The New Year is an occasion for celebrating recent accomplishments and looking forward. But for me it's always had a bittersweet overtone.
My Father was a New Year's baby, so I'm reminded of him as each year starts.
This was taken in 1958, two years before my parents' divorce and the birth of my youngest brother.
I always thought two things about this photo. First, that's the  shortest hair my Mother ever had. Second, my Dad looks terrified.
My Dad divorced my Mother to marry another woman while Mother was pregnant with by brother John.
We didn't hear much from him for ten years after that, and Mother was in complete denial about the divorce, at least to us kids (though my sisters found the divorce papers in the attic, so they knew, but didn't tell the rest of us). So as I grew, he was a blurred memory and a cipher that held a vague promise of return.
When I was 15, I went to live with my Dad and his new family, at their suggestion. I learned a lot about life from them, as I did from my Mother, but I was too scared, selfish and stubborn, and too much a self-styled teenage rebel (translate: I was kinda a jerk), to accept the lessons from any of them until years later.
So it goes. I suspect that's part of the human condition. Dad was fond of the Twain quote- "when I was 18, my father was so stupid. By the time I was 25, I couldn't believe how much smarter the old man had gotten."
Before I finished high school, I had moved into my own apartment- a spectacular disaster that ended with me moving back in with Dad and Audrey briefly 6 weeks after graduation, followed by my hitchhiking up North to live with my Mom and attend junior college for a couple years.
I saw Dad sporadically after that, always wanting his understanding, never quite sure how to get it. When you talk to your parents, it doesn't matter how old you are, you're always a kid.
I came out to my Dad shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer. I was able to see him one final time, and had one last shot at us really understanding one another. This photo was taken during that visit to Atlanta, twenty some years ago.

I was stunned at his fragility. I remembered him as being so large and powerful, and near the end, he looked like a breeze would do him in.
We had about an hour to talk while everyone else was out. I think he was as afraid of me as I was of him. We danced around each other, and were just starting to get into some of the really weighty stuff when the rest of the clan returned. So there were some things I never got to ask him. I wanted to push harder, but hey, the man was dying, and I already felt like I was kicking him when he was down just by being out.
However, after Mother died more than a decade later, I was entrusted with her correspondence with Dad leading up to the divorce. Between that and conversations with siblings, I think I've pieced together what I needed to know.
I'll not go into further detail on matters around the divorce. Suffice to say, I've come to terms with both my parents, as we all must sooner or later.
Now, I think about the good things I got from my Dad: a love of laughter and music, a passion for knowledge, some skill as a cook/chef (in addition to having a Master's in Engineering, he ran a catering business on the side), and a fierce sense of loyalty that I can't always live up to.
I also got some bad things from him: difficulty managing money, a bit of conflict-avoidance, and a fondness for a well-turned ankle.
I didn't get his singing voice, which is too bad. He was good.
Now I think of him more with fondness than regret, and as I do with Mother, I see facets of him in myself often, and it always takes me by surprise.
I can live with that.
So happy new year to all, and happy birthday to Charles Robert Bender.