Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Big Barda is colored!

About two months ago I got the black outline done on my Big Barda tattoo. I was hoping to get it done all in one session like my Promethea tattoo that Dirk Vermin did for me two years ago (which took three and a half hours), but I was glad Dirk wanted to let the black heal first because it hurt much more than I remembered and I didn't want to be the one to call off the session.

So last night was color time, with Dirk Vermin again bringing on the pain! I closed my eyes again almost 93% of the whole session because I didn't want to see how much was still left to do and Kate took funny photos of me being a drama king and telling me that my face was going to freeze that way. Dirk expected it to take two hours to color Big Barda, but he did it in just under one and a half hour. I was partly surprised he didn't take any breaks, but while part of me wanted to make the pain stop for a few minutes, the other part of me just said don't bother the artist, he's in a groove, the pain shall pass and I'll have an awesome tattoo! Actually the color session didn't hurt as much (but it still hurt) as the black session, Kate said that was because he could use broader needles to cover more color space than the needles used for the black outline.

The finished tat! My friend Jason Hall hates the word tat, so I wanted to make sure I used that here a few times (grin)! Thanks Dirk, now I can go to the San Diego Comic-Con at the end of June and represent the wonderful art of Jack King Kirby (especially at the Kirby tribute panel)!

art in San Fran pt. 2

The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco was having a Frida Kahlo exhibition, but they didn't allow people to take pictures (I can understand that) so I took what I think is a cool photo outside of their gift shop.
Cool Frida dolls at the gift shop. I thought the Frida exhibit was impressive in how it presented an overview of Frida's art and life. Fortunately Kate and I got there right when it opened because this got crowded in a hurry!

This is part of the exterior of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum (just two weeks old!), a very amazing museum. And you don't have to be Jewish to visit (I'm not)!

Through September 7th, the Contemporary Jewish Museum is having a William Steig exhibit. Steig had done cartoons for The New Yorker for 70 years (!!), wrote many beloved childrens books such as Slyvester and the Magic Pebble (Kate had read many of them as a child - I somehow was deprived), and created Shrek! of which three movies were made of course and a Broadway musical is getting ready to debut. People also weren't allowed to take photos here, so I took this photo from outside the building (click on photo to appreciate Steig's art).
This was hanging in the Museum of Modern Art and I don't consider it art (nor does Kate). Actually I'm thankful that the Museum of Modern Art was having a Frida exhibition because just about everything else was what I call pretentious art (just lines or colors next to each other). I often say that one person's treasure is another person's trash (or vice versa), but I think that most of what is called modern art is just people seeing what they can get away with (please feel free to comment here as to why I'm wrong or stop by my store to offer other viewpoints).

Kate and I also stopped by the Cartoon Art of San Francisco and while I'm glad they have such a museum, I was mostly underwhelmed and think they could easily do a much better job on presentation and or content.

art in San Fran pt. 1

These first three photos were taken inside the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. They were amongst my favorites. The Asian Art Museum is totally worth visiting, but I think my energy level was low ebbing so I didn't enjoy it as much as Kate did, it probably would have been good to have known that this museum is as big as Asia before undertaking this excursion!

Okay this photo doesn't fit this entries theme, but what good would posts on San Francisco be if there wasn't at least one photo of the fog!? This was the view outside our hotel window (top floor!) Sunday morning, but by 11am it was all gone.

Yerba Buena Park pt. 2

Beautiful buildings also surround and amplify the beauty that is Yerba Buena Park in San Francisco.

I love waterfalls and water fountains, doesn't everyone?

Sunday morning Kate and I had brunch at the Samovar Tea Lounge, which is the eatery attached to the park.

As you can tell from this yummy photo, San Francisco loves vegetarians.

Seriously, if you make it up to San Francisco, try to spend some time at this park, it was worth the price of the trip alone for me!

Yerba Buena Park

Behind these waterfalls Kate is standing by, there's a walkway with walls covered with quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. This memorial is within the Yerba Buena Park in downtown San Francisco.
A fine example of the wordsmith that MLK Jr. was (click on photo to enlarge).

This photo is taken looking through one of the little wateralls.

Actually the gulls and ducks think that Yerba Buena Park was built for them, but they let us humans visit and take pictures of them.

This small park was such an amazing space and was a glorious way to start our day.

Rory Root's memorial

Saturday night Kate and I attended Rory Root's memorial, which was held at his store in Berkeley. Rory had been in comic book / gaming retailing fo almost 30 years, with almost 20 of those years as the owner of Comic Relief The Comic Book Bookstore.
Rory was a pillar of knowledge on many things as he was a voracious reader and from stories people told at the memorial, he'd always find a comic that any person who wandered into his store, would love.
This hat is one of the ones that Rory wore all the time. It was sad to see that hat without its "owner", but even sadder to hear from Todd (long time manager of Comic Relief, now the big guy, as he was handed the torch), that the hospital lost Rory's silver coffee mug, which was also always with Rory.
The turnout of people who showed up for Rory's memorial was every bit as big as I thought it would be because he truely was a giant in this industry in addition to being well-loved.
Kate and myself. I'm wearing a hat similar to one of the hats Rory always wore in his memory, others did the same (actually on the comic book retailer side, it was Jim Hanley's idea). Rory is already missed, but as more time goes by this industry will miss him even more as he was such an innovator who really was instrumental in helping this medium find bigger audiences.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Schindler's List

Schindler's List is Steven Spielberg's 1993 Academy Award winning Holocaust movie based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who saved 1100 Jews from the ultimate fate of the concentration camps. Oskar Schindler, a German businessman working within the Nazi Party, told others within the Nazi Party that the people on his list were skilled craftspeople who he needed in his quest to aid Germany in its path to victory (not the words he used and fotunately that scenario didn't play out the way the Nazis hoped, but they bought Schindler's story). The movie doesn't portray Schindler as a saint, because he wasn't, but he did what he did knowing the risks involved if his real ulterior motive for employing his Jews (as they were called) was discovered.

I hadn't watched Schindler's List since first seeing it in 1993, as this isn't an easy movie to watch with its stark power and a subject matter that is almost unbelievable (The Holocaust) in its horror. Schindler's List was still every bit as powerful as the first time I'd seen it (and maybe more so as I've learned a lot more about The Holocaust since 1993) and watching it one can appreciate why Schindler's List is one of the definitive records of The Holocaust. I'd forgotten how especially intensive the last half hour of the movie is.

One of the bonus features on the dvd of Schindler's List is about the Shoah Foundation, which was created by Spielberg to be a massive video testimonial record for the surviving members of The Holocaust (http://college.usc.edu/vhi/) and is an invaluable resource for learning about this horrible period in history.

The Number

A couple of weeks ago Fantagraphics Books released another wonderful Thomas Ott hardcover volume, The Number. Thomas Ott is a cartoonist from Switzerland and all of his comics feature stories that are wordless and drawn in a beautiful scratchboard style and have a Twilight Zone quality to them.

The Number is about a man who's on death row who gives a piece of paper with a number on it to a guard and as the reader experiences The Number they see how that number (73304-23-4153-6-96-8) affects different people who come in contact with it.

Incredible Hulk the movie

No spoilers following:

Kate and I saw The Incredible Hulk movie this past Sunday and really enjoyed it. People coming into my store have said across the board that they enjoyed it also, but you wouldn't know that from looking at the Rotten Tomatoes site, where compiled reviews have it at only about 64% favorable. I think what's happening with this Hulk movie is, one it followed the Iron Man movie which everyone loved, and two, it's another Hulk movie, which for a lot of people who didn't like the Ang Lee one from a few years ago, this (Hulk) isn't a character they felt the need to revisit.

The Incredible Hulk
movie doesn't reinvent the wheel (or celluloid for that matter), but neither did Iron Man. I believe the factor that's got Iron Man ahead is that it's a comic book super hero we haven't seen on the big screen before so it seems fresh, unlike the Hulk which has been done as a movie twice now and was a live action tv series. The Incredible Hulk isn't stylish, but at the same time all the actors are really good, there's no characters doing stupid things, the Abombination is well established, the effects are solid, the story is good (it even manages to not entirely throw away what happened in the Ang Lee version), and is the Hulk smash movie people expect when it comes to this character. It's totally worth seeing.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Doktor Sleepless revisited

Doktor Sleepless is, as Warren Ellis the creator / writer of this series, has said the new Transmetropolitan, but I prefer to call it an extension of Transmetropolitan. Doktor Sleepless, the comic and central character, is best described as being our tour guide / examination of what happened to the future we were promised in science fiction books, movies, and tv. There's only one issue left in this first story arc (which will comprise eight issues) and I don't know if there'll be more Doktor Sleepless after this story concludes. However that scenario plays out, at least we'll have one complete Doktor Sleepless story to revisit (kind of like how we "only" got one great Desolation Jones from Warren Ellis and J.H Williams III).

What is the reason for the existence of art (be it books, comics, music, theater, etc.)? Well the first answer a lot of people would provide is that art exists to entertain us / provide an escape from our daily routines. The other big answer for what is the reason or goal of art (and the one that is foremost in my enjoyment of art) is that it will provoke in the reader a new way of thinking about themselves, others, and the world around us. Doktor Sleepless definitely meets both of these criterias and because it is so strong in the latter category, it stays with the reader long after the reading experience.

The newest issue of Doktor Sleepless continues with its questions about why we, here in 2008 have so many technological advancements and yet there are still people around the world dying of hunger, waterborne disease still exists in many countries, and entire species are going extinct. After reading the issue, I got back to thinking about a question that's been on my mind increasingly, and that is: why are we (the world) so dependant on oil (gas) as a means for fueling our cars (and airplanes) for over a hundred years now when so much advancement as occurred in computer technology in just the last twenty years (mostly in the last ten years)?

So I turned to Kate, my uber intelligent wife, and posed that question to her. Kate explained some of the different things that need to happen for different energy conversions scenarios (how batteries work, the difficulties that still exist with hydrogen fuel and ethanol use for fuel) and how there are better metals that exist that would bring down energy usage, but that they are presently harder to work with on an assembly line cost effective basis than steel. The way she explained these things to me made sense, but the cynical, conspiracy side of me stated that the world's dependancy on oil and reason for why scientists haven't come up with a better more widely used energy source is that too many people / countries holding the power reins have too much invested in the present model to want any change to happen. Kate agreed of course, but she's more optimistic that hybrid cars, for example, will become increasingly common in our future as people see that this technology is not just a flash in the pan and in turn should become more affordable as increased production volume brings down costs. That comforted my doom and gloom thoughts about the future of this oil obssessed world we live in somewhat, but I still am astounded that our main means of transportation hasn't changed in over a hundred years (as Doktor Sleepless asks "Where are our jetpacks we were promised?") and how much different the world would be if we didn't have to depend on a lot of our energy source coming from the Middle East.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Burnout - new Minx!

This week Burnout arrived, a new Minx graphic novel written by Rebecca Donner and illustrated by Inaki Miranda.

The Minx graphic novel line is an offshoot of DC Comics and was created to attract more of the female, young reader audience. I think the really good Minx titles such as Plain Janes and Good As Lilly (and now Burnout) cross reader demographics and it's great that writers and artists new to the comic book medium have another outlet and audience to share their stories with.

Burnout's central character is Danni, who, due to a move brought on by her mother, develops a crush on her soon to be stepbrother, Haskell. Burnout isn't about how odd getting into a relationship with your stepbrother can be, rather it's about ecoterrorism, with Haskell being on the side of nature who also believes that he and others should do things to companies that are encroaching upon nature's beauty through violent means if necessary (such as tree spiking). Danni starts out helping Haskell in his crusade against loggers, but increasingly becomes conflicted with what she's doing. Burnout isn't preachy about taking a stance on the side of loggers or environmentalists, instead Rebecca Donner shows through her engaging characters Danni and Haskell, who are dealing with their problems at home and their budding relationship, that the world is a complex place and there are no easy answers.

Personally, I'm more on the side of environmentalists than the big corporations / companies who are largely only thinking of their profit margins, not what their actions are doing to this planet, but I don't advocate endangering workers (such as loggers) by tree spiking (although from what I've read on this tactic, most tree spikers spike trees high enough that loggers wouldn't get hurt) or some of the approaches of PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals), who in their extremism often give vegetarians a bad name. At the same time, Danni, in Burnout, comes to an epiphany that "sometimes you have to do something extreme for people to take notice." It is true that a lot of our countries formative years in history show that change occured by people having these realizations and acting upon them. I think that as our world gets increasingly complex, with more people who need more resources, that the hard questions need to be asked / examined of what the cost of taking or not taking actions to change things is.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

TokyoPop, what happened?

One of my very favorite mangas (and actually all around favorite comic) was Kare Kano by Masami Tsuda. Kare Kano ran for 21 volumes and was a 26 episode anime called His and Her Circumstances here in the U.S. His and Her Circumstances was great as an anime, with great animation and great voice work, but because of creative differences between the anime director and the original creator of Kare Kano, the ending wasn't all it could have been and the manga goes well beyond where they left off in the anime and there's things that happen later in the story that would have been very powerful had they been part of the anime series also.

Kare Kano is a coming of age / romance story between Miyazaua and Arima, two high school students at the top of their class. Arima had a very troubled home life growing up and when we meet his birth parents later in the series, the sequences with his messed up mom are amongst the most dramatic passages I've read in any medium. Kare Kano is beautifully drawn, is often very funny, and has characters that actually progress.

Kare Kano was published by TokyoPop. Other TokyoPop favorites of mine are Initial D (about mountain drift racing of all things!), Dragonhead, Mars, Fruits Basket, Battle Royale, GTO, and Beck. TokyoPop has also done some OEM (original english manga) that has been very good such as Dramacon and Steady Beat.

Last week it was confirmed that TokyoPop had laid off 30 employees and was splitting their company into two entities. So what happened to Tokyopop, once the manga leader here in the U.S.? Here's the way I see what happened: 1. They haven't had a new title from Japan in some time that's really excited the manga crowd like Kare Kano and Fruits Basket did as Viz seems to be getting all the better Japanese series. 2. TokyoPop has tried too many things like having content for mobile phones and doing OEM without really supporting / nurturing them, thus those projects get lost in the sea of everything else. 3. They have too many titles that are really just C list titles, with catalog listings that don't help distinguish them. 4. There are just too many publishers now doing manga here in the U.S. and thus too many titles vying for shelf space at book stores and people can't keep up and it's getting harder to find the gems amongst the coal (I've read that TokyoPop may be recently seeing as much as 80% returns from book stores that can return unsold product). 5. People reading / getting their fix of manga online (scanslations) and or libraries. I don't have the numbers to back this up, but just from over hearing my customers and what I read online, people that like manga have less of a drive to actually physically own what they're reading and while some of those people also buy the books, largely they're content to just read them and this doesn't make the creators or the publishers any money (and to my knowledge this occurs much more with manga than people who read "regular" comics).

Hopefully TokyoPop will still be a viable manga publisher here in the U.S., but I'd say that Viz and Dark Horse seem to be the U.S. publishers who had long term planning in place when they entered the manga arena and presently they're getting the best of the Japanese titles. While I can understand that having a big exhibit at the San Diego convention is very costly, TokyoPop's decision to not attend this year is going to dissappoint a lot of their fans that don't go to Anime Expo (which takes place Fourth of July weekend). I think people will really be paying attention to what TokyoPop does and previews at this year's Anime Expo and that may be the true tell of their future as a company.

The other really curious thing to me about manga that I haven't seen anyone address is the lack of most manga titles having anything resembling evergreen sales once they've completed (meaning titles that sell over and over like Watchmen, Sandman, and Ghost World do). I'm thinking part of this is because just the sheer length of a lot of manga series scares away people when they think about the total cost of getting the whole series (and space issues). Another factor is that most people are just looking for the newest thang and series that are over are so yesterday (I think this also is truer of manga fans than for "regular" comics).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Springs Preserve 1 / UNLV 50

Sunday afternoon, Kate, my friends Camila, Evan, and Frankie, and myself went to the Springs Preserve one year celebration. There was maybe too many people there yesterday for my speed (especially when you're trying to get in tune with nature), but overall I think this new nature exhibit within Las Vegas city limits has the making for a good escape from the city if you don't want to drive all the way to Mt. Charleston, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead, or Red Rock.

The second photo is Camila trying to shield herself from the sun, while Evan swigs some water (Frankie's arm is on the right).

I'd say that the Springs Preserve will do all right once they bring down their regular admittance price and when they finish the state museum (opening in 2009) and open all the trails they have out there. Actually a person can go walk the trails for free after picking up a free ticket for that at the entrance. What little we saw of the exhibit buildings they have looked good (again though, too many people to fully enjoy that part of the exhibits) and their botanical garden is especially nice.

So UNLV is 50 years old. Saturday night they capped off their 50th anniversary celebrations by having a free concert in the field out behind the new Student Union performed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra, accompanied by singer Linda Eder. Kate and I took her brother, John, as it was his birthday and we had a fantastic time. Actually the whole atmosphere of the concert seemed otherworldly to me as it was the kind of scene I imagine other universities have that don't focus on hotel / business as UNLV does. Everyone there seemed o be having a really good, relaxing time and it wasn't really hot, rather there was an almost cool wind (but not the crazy winds we had in the valley a couple of days last week) that almost seemed like a fall evening.

Okay apology time: I'm often guilty of romanticizing other cities as being better than Las Vegas because they don't seem to emphasize crass commercialism (The Strip, gambling, and other superficial escapes) over culture. Well I think this is becoming less true of Las Vegas and UNLV's 50th anniversary celebrations and the Springs Preserve are just two recent examples of this. Even though Vegas' First Friday monthly art event is experiencing some turbulence as it tries to find its identity, certainly its mere existence is further proof of our community trying to over-ride its commercial image. One also has but to read Las Vegas Weekly, CityLife or the Review Journal Neon to see the variety of arts and human interest events that take place every week (and many of them are free) and we really do have surrounding areas of immense beauty (such as the aforementioned Lake Mead, Red Rock, Valley of Fire, and Mt. Charleston) that aren't that far away for one to escape the fast paced big city life. I also think the city in the past few years has made great strides in producing buildings that have an architectural beauty (and some of those buildings are even on The Strip), including those in my store's neck of the desert such as the Lied Library, the new Student Union, and the soon to be completed Greenspun Communications building (just a block from my store). And while I didn't utilize my UNLV education to any degree (and I think that's due to me never having seen any advisor or counselor at the school to get to my objective, which during the 1980's was to get an education / english degree), I think that UNLV gets a bad rap for the quality of education it provides and I can think of at least a dozen people that I know that have gone to UNLV that are or will be very valuable to this community and I'd have to say that UNLV helped make that happen.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Starbucks week 5

Continuing my semi-regular updates on the progress of the new Starbucks that will be my new neighbor:

This photo was taken from the Bank of America across the street from my store. I'm happy with the speed that they seem to be putting up this building, but I realize that like any construction there may come a period of time where, for whatever reason, building slows down and it then looks like it will take forever for that building to open. Right now I'm thinking that however long it takes, as long as there's not a building on that spot, my store really stands out to people driving by on Maryland Parkway.

This is a semi close-up of the actual space that the Starbucks will be occupying. At this stage of development, without walls, it's hard to get a sense of how big it really is and my first thought is that it should be bigger (but then it would obscure the view of my store from the street so it looks fine as is!). Whatever one's views on Starbucks, I'm sure that the building itself will be a great visual improvement for this center and the Maryland Parkway UNLV district.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Drink & Draw 6/5!

Last night's Drink & Draw, while not as well attended as the other ones I've been to, was still a lot of fun, proving that it's not the number of people around you that matters, but rather the QUALITY of the people around you.

This fun version of Epstein was drawn by Karla, a customer of mine (I also got a cool Epstein illo from Charles Hobert) and it was great to see her there as she's such a positive, happy, energetic person.

Besides Karla (and some other people I didn't know, but seemed cool), it was good to see my other store friends Cooper, Tory, Brent, and Shannon and they're all great artists (Cooper showed me some pages from something he's working on that looks really fun and different). Holly was also there showing off her artistic shops and representing Comic Oasis.

One of the lovely Alvarez sisters and a good friend, Martha, her boyfriend Edgar, and his brother Sergio (from right to left after my scary self) also popped in and we had a fun time supporting the local economy (grin)!

Kick Ass does...

...Kick ass! Kick Ass is a new Marvel / Max title by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. Issue #3 came out this week, but unless you've already been reading the title, you may have to wait for the collected volume as the first two issues are sold out.

Kick Ass takes place in a real world scenario, in which a young teeenager, Dave Lizewski, an avid reader of comic books, wonders why no one has tried copying what the super heroes do in the comics. So he makes a costume for himself, puts his body through a bit of a workout, goes out to fight crime, and the first thing that happens to him is he gets his ass kicked (actually his whole body). By the end of the first issue it looks like he'll never get out of the hospital, but he does and then he...

Kick Ass is for "mature" readers in that there's a lot of violence and cussing, but it's not as over the top as Millar's Wanted (which is also a lot of fun in the uber violence arena). John Romita Jr. (a big favorite artist of mine) really goes to town with his art on this book as it's different from the standard super hero titles he's known for.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

POS debuts!

After an extensive weekend that continued into Tuesday morning of entering in ALL of my store's inventory, I now have a fancy POS (point of sale) system set up in my store for better inventory and ordering management. Additionally I'll have a lot of data about my store available at my fingertips which should really streamline operations in my quest to find good homes for good comics, graphic novels, and manga!

Entering in the store inventory took WAY longer than I thought it would and my pillow has missed me all week. Thankfully Sunday I had Paul (my Sunday person) helping me enter the seemingly never ending volumes and issues and Monday afternoon my other good friends Camila, Evan, and Frankie helped me out for a few hours. Thanks troopers!

My new POS system (with software created and used by comic stores for five years now, by Mark Richman of www.skeletonkey.com and Ben of the excellent Star Clipper Comics in St. Louis) takes the place of my old dinosaur register and I now have snazzy itemized receipts. The first photo shows the view from behind the sales counter and the second photo is what people see when they approach the counter. Actually the configuration as shown in the first photo will be somewhat different next week as the brother of another friend of mine, Barney, is building me a shelf for my cash drawer so that'll go in the counter.

I'll be at Drink and Draw tonight for the Thursday gathering for anyone who is creative or just likes to be around creative / artistic people, pouring Blue Moons down my throat (actually I'm a lightweight so I'm saying two or three will do me just fine)! People generally show up about 8ish at Mickie Finnz 425 E. Fremont (on the corner of LVBLD), so if anyone reading this doesn't already have plans come on down and help me clear / wash away all the inventory that is still going on in my head!