This past wednesday I did my second signing at, what a good friend of mine described as, "the carnegie hall of comic shops." Meltdown Comics and Collectibles, located off Sunset boulevard in Hollywood, is THE place to be for any comic fan or aspiring comic creator. The store is more than just comics, but also live podcasts, and even comedy shows in their back room. As excited as I was to be doing a signing here, I was equally as nervous in getting there on time. Since I was starting my new job this past week that ended at 6:30 p.m. everyday, I meticulously checked google maps on my phone to make sure I could take the best route from my job in Glendale, to arrive at the Comic shop by 7:30. Driving to the shop the day before I started work to get a better idea of the route, parking, and meeting the manager in person definitely helped, as when the big day finally came, I got there just in time and lucked out with the last 10 hour parking spot right across the street from the store. Once I entered the shop to set up, my good friend Mark Riccardi was there to both greet me and help me out with grabbing my inventory and supplies from my car. Then more friends and family came by throughout the night to lend their support: fellow artist friends Christie Shinn and Saddler Ward, and both my mother and sister. It helped to make for great conversation and draw attention to my table when customers came in. While most of my sales were from visiting friends and family, I did make a few sales from customers passing by who took an interest in my work. The toughest part of this signing was getting used to customers paying for my books at the shop register, rather than directly from me. At the end of the night, I had to remind the clerk about splitting up the profits made from my show, so they can email me my share to my paypal account. Even though I sold less books there than my first signing at Pulp Fiction comics the month before, I'm still glad I did this signing----mostly due to the fact that the name recognition of Meltdown Comics carries alot of weight with comic and even some non-comic fans who have passed by the store. Just mentioning that I did a signing there can make people who may not be completely aware of my work, start to take me seriously. I'm already looking forward to my next two appearances at both Emerald Knights Comics and Games in Burbank on Saturday August 29th, and at San Fernando Valley Comic Con on Sunday August 30th. Expect to hear about my thoughts regarding both of those events in one big blog. Tune in next week when I talk about the latest thing that interests me. Until then!
I normally don't talk about myself that much. Instead, I just talk about my interests and opinions on certain topics, I had to change that way of thinking this week, however, as something happened to me that I had been wishing, hoping and praying for two years (that's right, two years): I finally got another job.
While my career as an independent comic creator and freelance artist has been blossoming in that two year time frame with interviews, book reviews, convention appearances, two freelance comic projects, and comic shop book signings, what has been missing was a 9-5 occupation and a steady income to support it. As you may or may not know, the last two years of my life have been extremely rough, having only been able to secure three very short-term jobs and having to move out of a shared apartment to stay with a relative. Then at the same time, having to cope with the death of my father. What followed was a dual journey: Looking for another full-time job while promoting and selling my comics any way that I could. But for every door that opened on the independent comic front, several doors closed on job after job that I applied and interviewed for. No matter how frustrated and depressed that made me, however, I never gave up. I got up, dusted myself off, and looked for the next opportunity. I was told that this amazing persistence comes from my father, and I'm sure that he was watching over me when I interviewed last week for the position I finally got hired for. One recruiter, two interviews, and a stack of paperwork later, I was officially part of the work force once again as of last thursday. While the hiring manager had told me the news first after my second interview on monday, I never truly believed it until after I filled out the paperwork and passed the background check. Being out of work for so long can make you that paranoid. Now, I have to keep reminding myself that I actually have the job and will start next tuesday. I also have to tell myself not to be nervous during my first day, despite my large work gap. I will be fine, and this will be the first step in rebuilding my life in both a personal and financial sense. I've just been granted the one thing that alot of people rarely get, if ever: A second chance.
Ever since I was a child, I've always been fascinated with England. From the locales to the weather to the women with those sexy accents and especially the music, I could never get enough of anything from across the pond (well, maybe the comedy). Growing up in the mid to late 1980s, I caught the tail end of the last British Invasion that brought over many groups to America that were heavily inspired by soul music: ABC, Spandau Ballet, and Swing Out Sister, just to name a few. But there was one group----no----one band, that towered above them all, and sadly didn't get the recognition they deserved for their incredible musicianship and ability to master just about any genre of music. You've probably never heard of them, but then this is why I'm writing this blog: To tell you about the band known as "Level 42."
Here in the U.S., Level 42 were best known (to those that were aware of them) for the hit single and intriguing music video "Something About You," in 1986, but their career as a whole takes them far beyond just that one perfectly crafted pop song. Formed during my birth year and month of June 1980, the band consisted of Mark King on bass and lead vocals, Mike Lindup on keyboards and vocals, and brothers Phil and Boon Gould on guitar and drums respectively. Level 42---named after a passage from the Douglas Adams book "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" where "42" is the answer to the meaning of life---played mostly instrumental jazz funk before moving onto vocal tracks with a more soul/R&B sound, then radio-friendly pop and later even some pop/rock. Their signature sound both vocally and musically were King's baritone vocals and Lindup's falsetto vocals (though they would often take turns with lead vocals on some of their songs), and Mark's mesmerizing slap-bass guitar technique that drove most of their tunes. They performed originally from 1980-1994 with various band member changes, but reformed back in 2006 with a new lineup that includes Mark's brother Nathan on guitar and Pete Ray Biggin on drums. After a new album and subsequent tour, they announced their 30th anniversary in 2010. And that's where the personal part of this story comes in:
It was July 2010. A month after my 30th birthday. I had just received the biggest news of my life a few months back via a friend's facebook message saying that Level 42 was returning to the U.S. for a tour. I couldn't believe what I was reading. A band that I had followed since I was five years old, would be performing live at four venues across California. I quickly snatched up tickets for two shows (One at the Grove Of Anaheim and the other at Club Nokia in Downtown LA), and asked my boss to let me out of work early, since the first show in Anaheim was happening on a weeknight. A three and a half drive later, I was at the stage pit with several other groups of fans, rocking along to the band's funky, chugging opening tune "Hot Water," grooving to the jazzy "Love Games," (complete with long bass solo), swaying to their heart-wrenching ballad "It's Over," and bobbing my head to their signature tune "Something About You," among their other fantastic catalogue of songs. When the show ended, I got to meet other "levelheads" as we all waited for the band to come out to sign autographs and take photos with us. It was here that I met two people who have become great friends of mine: Angel and Mark Riccardi, musicians, vocalists, and rabid fans like myself, who in turn introduced me to a whole group of Levelheads over the next year. Then came the other moment of the night: Meeting the band! As we patiently waited for Mark, Mike, Nathan, Pete, and Sean Freeman (their saxophone player for the live gigs) I had just remembered that I left my "World Machine" LP (from their fifth album in 1985) in my car. Following a sprint that would've made The Flash proud, the band came toward us for the long-awaited fan meeting. This is one of those situations where you always think that you're gonna play it cool when you meet someone or someones that you admire, but all that "play it cool" crap flies right out the window when it really happens. I couldn't tell you what I said to the band members when I finally got to meet them, since most of what I said was babbling, but I do remember just enjoying being in that moment, as nearby fans helped snap photos of me with keyboardist Mike Lindup, drummer Pete Ray Biggin, and I almost missed having my photo taken with lead singer and bassist Mark King, as their road manager was trying to rush them onto the bus, and my camera battery was dying. Thankfully, neither issue stopped "the money shot." As I drove home listening to their albums, I truly felt that If I died the next day, I would've done so a happy man.
And that's my story of not only seeing my favorite band live, but also meeting them in person. Five years later, it's still hard to believe that happened, which is why I 'm so glad I have the photo proof. While there are other funky british music men who I admire (Songwriter Rod Temperton also comes to mind, with the legendary tunes he wrote for Michael Jackson, George Benson, Michael McDonald, and Heatwave), Level 42 will always be on the top floor.
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
This past wednesday I entered a new chapter in the promotion and the selling of my comic book and graphic novel series: My first book signing! Held at Pulp Fiction Comics in Culver City, California, this shop in its first year of business has been extremely indie creator friendly, having held a monthly "Artist Alley Saturday" late last year. Speaking with the clerk during my creator appearance, we agreed that new creator signings are a much better way to promote new comic talent, as only a few artists appear in the shop at a time and are mentioned by name, and they are placed across from the register near the front door usually on a wednesday---where foot traffic is at its highest in the store due to this being the day new comics are released. Now, onto how my "signing debut" went.
After my usual prep-work of ensuring that all my change, merchandise, and display portfolio are up to date, I loaded my two suitcases full of comics, duffel bag full of magazine holders, nameplate, and table skirt, personalized table runner and retractable banner into my car for the often congested trek from North Hollywood to Culver City via the 405 freeway. Since I left at 8:30 in the morning, and only had to be there at 11, it was one of the few times that the traffic didn't bother me. I arrived at the shop about thirty minutes before they opened, so I killed time doing some FOS Mongoose sketches. Then came showtime: Following a standard 15-minute setup, I continued my sketching started from my car while talking shop with fellow indie creator Matt Macfarland, the artist and writer of his own series "Dark Pants," about the journey of a mysterious pair of pants through the city of Los Angeles. This was his first signing too, and we were both curious as to how the day would turn out for both of us. With this being a workday (though school and college kids were out of class for the summer), the customer traffic came in waves throughout the day. While Matt and I were both billed as appearing in the shop from 11-2, the store clerk was very cool with us staying longer if we wanted to. Matt stayed until 4 p.m., and I stayed until 6, as my good friend Andy Cogan was performing stand-up comedy in Northridge at 9 later that night. That was the best decision I could have made that day, as I made eight sales and a profit of $60.00---almost double what I did at the shops "Artist Alley Saturdays" last year. I even made my very first sale for my new trade paperback "Cosmic Force" Volume One" here, where I also included the fifth issue of this series as a complimentary part of a $30 offer. Sales of standard comics from my FOS Mongoose and Damn Tourists series included complimentary prints featuring characters from that series. Customer interaction was also great here, with most people drawn to our tables due to the proximity to the register as they waited to pick up their pre-ordered new comics.
So will I do this again? DAMN RIGHT I WILL! I just signed up for a creator appearance at a shop called "Emerald Knights Comics and Games" in nearby Burbank on Saturday August 29th, and I am currently reaching out to other comic shops across Southern California for any indie creator signing opportunities (The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach and Meltdown Comics in Hollywood are possibilities right now). These comic shop appearances are probably the most affordable (no table charge like conventions) and more intimate comic events that any up-and coming comic artist or writer can be apart of, and I definitely look forward to doing more of these in the future. Perhaps I'll be appearing at a comic shop near you! Stay tuned!
This film (and its soundtrack) has been a part of my life since my infant days, and when I recently found out how it got, and still gets somewhat, of a negative reception when its mentioned, I just couldn't understand why. What exactly were people expecting out of a silver screen version of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast? Was it being compared to the broadway play starring vocalist Stephanie Mills as Dorothy? Were some actually trying to compare it to the original 1939 Judy Garland classic? I just don't get it.
Taking off my nostalgia glasses for this column topic (I'll just leave them on my desk here), "The Wiz" is nothing more than an entertaining, lighthearted re-imagining of the original "Oz" film. Produced by Motown founder Berry Gordy and released in 1978 starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Ted Ross as The Lion, and Richard Pryor as "The Wiz," the "re-imagining" part of this version was that the story was set in (and in some points shot on location) New York City instead of Kansas---there's even a scene depicting the emerald city, filmed at the World Trade Center. Dorothy is now a 24 year-old kindergarten teacher instead of a 12 year old girl, (both live with their uncle and aunt) who lacks the confidence to take a better- paying high school teaching position so she can afford to live on her own. Dorothy is then whisked away to the land of Oz thanks to a "snow tornado" during a blizzard (probably the only part in the movie I have a problem with). As expected, she meets the memorable characters The munchkins (now street kids), Glinda the Good witch, played by Lena Horne, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, and The Wicked Witch of the West, called "Evillene" here, played by Mable King. Once again, the new take on some of the characters and environments I liked as a kid, and still do now. The original character Miss One, who sort of comes off as Glinda's assistant, has some memorable lines like "bottom line, honey, this chick put the UG in UGLY!" when referring to The deceased wicked witch of the East, "Evermean." The costumes and set designs are fantastic, incorporating late '70s black culture in New York at the time. I'm torn between Michael Jackson's scarecrow outfit and Nipsey Russel's tinman outfit as far as the best costume is concerned. Both are very creative, and in the case of the Scarecrow, make the actor almost unrecognizable.
By far, my two favorite things about this film are the "concrete jungle" scene (an urban version of the original film's "lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my" scene), and of course, the music. Taking place in a deserted subway station, Dorothy and her friends are confronted and then chased by such characters as a subway peddler with two giant orange puppets (which still scare the crap out of me to this day), mutant trash cans with sharp teeth (I was never scared of these as a kid because they were shorter than the puppets. I always felt that I could just kick them over), and support pillars hellbent on crushing you. Then there is the one thing that even people who hate this movie, love: The soundtrack. You just can't go wrong with Quincy Jones at the musical helm of this film. From songs such as Michael Jackson's "You Can't Win," to "Poppy Girls," with a bassline obviously inspired by the OJay's "For the Love of Money," to the iconic "Ease on down the Road (speaking of basslines)," most of the songs are bouncy, funky, fun, and even the slower songs such as "Is this What Feeling Gets" and "Home" range from heart-wrenching to triumphant. My personal favorite song in this movie is an instrumental: The Main Title/Overture, a dreamy sequence that opens the movie, complete with beautiful strings, funk guitar, and a fantastic but short harmonica solo by Toots Theilman. Yup, before Stevie Wonder and songs like "Oh Girl" by the Chi-Lites, it was this soundtrack that made me first fall in love with the harmonica. Toots Theilman later would play harmonica on a live version of the Billy Joel hit "Leave a tender moment Alone." And while we're talking about what some cast and crew from "The Wiz" would do afterward, there's no way I could leave out Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" album being created due to this movie. After all, this is where Michael and Quincy Jones met before producing that R&B/Disco/Funk masterpiece.
So take that, all you people who still hate "The Wiz." If you simply watch the film for what it was, and what it was trying to do (be a black Wizard Of Oz), it's a very entertaining film. On a sad note, it's a shame that very little of the original cast is still alive (in fact, Diana Ross is the only surviving member of the main cast). Despite this, I can only hope that there is some type of lost documentary footage with full cast interviews that could be used for a special edition DVD release (the current DVD just has a short featurette with the Director Sidney Lumet, Producer Rob Cohen, and Diana Ross). I know that there will people who still don't like this movie even after reading this, but at least if I made you want to take a second look at this film, well, that's all I can hope for.
While I usually do a blog once a week, this time I changed up my usual schedule as I really had nothing interesting to talk about until my first convention appearance in three months. How did it turn out? Great of course, since I'm willing to devote a column to it.
Seriously though, I was very satisfied with this year's Baldwin Park Comic Expo, located in the San Bernardino region of Southern California east of Pasadena. I had exhibited here two years prior, and my customer interaction and sales were nothing much to write home about, but It was another opportunity to get my work out to the public (and an affordable one at that at just $35 for an artist table). This year was different in the best way possible, having sold 7 books and making a profit of $50.00 (I sold 3-4 books the last two years and made only $25). The crowd this year was even better two. This is not a large show with a busy crowd by any means ( the show lasts only one day on a Saturday for about five hours), but the family crowds are very appreciative of everything they see, from the art workshops and art gallery upstairs to the artist vendors on the main floor. Aside from the improved sales I had, the other great experience from this convention were that alot of my friends were able to come out at attend/exhibit. My good friend, stand-up comedian Andy Cogan, showed up to help out with sales while I took bathroom breaks, and I was also able to bring in new talent to the show in the form of three exhibitor buddies Paul Jamison of Superhero Network, and The Dillons Barbra and Bryant of Fanboy Comics. They really enjoyed the show as well and thanked me for recommending it. It was a great feeling to help out fellow artists who have always done the same for me with reviewing my books and sharing hotels at out-of-town conventions. Some sale highlights of the day included a sale initiated by Andy while I took a went upstairs to use the bathroom and view the gallery, and a 15 minutes before closing final purchase by a woman picking up some comics for her two sons. She had no cash, so I put my square credit card reader to use for the first time at that show. Had I forgotten to bring it, I'd have missed out on a $10.00 sale (well, $9.72 to be exact. Square has to get their cut somehow, but money's money).
My final thoughts for this show: Once again, a much improved crowd and sales performance from the last two years. Great to see so many people I knew exhibiting along with me, and a special thanks to Andy Cogan for coming out to support me. I'll return the favor at his comedy shows next week in North Hollywood and Silverlake. The only improvement this show needs is an updated website or facebook page to inform new attendees. The only reason I heard about it was because I did the show the previous two years, so they just need to do some updates and promotion on their facebook page for next year. Other than that, Baldwin Park Comic Expo is a great little show that can only get better with time!
Given my interest in this topic in some of the recent blogs I've written, I felt it was high time I share my ideas for a public transit network in my former home of Oahu, Hawaii. Between Los Angeles and Honolulu, transit has been a major political and social issue lately, but especially in Hawaii----mostly due to their rocky history with public works projects. While the aloha state's first rail system is still under construction, many people, from civil engineers to politicians, to even plain rail critics have proposed transportation alternatives to stop rail. I would like to propose transportation alternatives to help rail, because as I have said once before, there is no be-all-end-all solution to traffic, rather there are a multitude of options that work together to help move people to their desired destinations and take the load off our congested highways. So, here goes nothing:
Before I start with the other two alternatives to help form a mass transit network, I would like to suggest that one of the currently planned extensions of the Honolulu Rail west to Downtown Kapolei (the other extension is east to both UH Manoa College and Waikiki) be extended another mile or so to Ko Olina, an area of beachfront hotels just outside the rural Waianae Coast. This has been a thriving area for tourists (especially with the Disney Aulani Resort there), it could bring alot of visitors. straight from the Airport to the resort area. All you would need is one carefully placed rail station, which could serve as a hub for two other modes of transit:
Feeder Bus Rapid Transit/Feeder Express Bus: Contrary to the beliefs of some, having a rail system does not, and should not mean it is a replacement for Oahu's bus system, "TheBus." Both trains and buses have operating advantages and disadvantages that can be helped by the other. Trains can move passengers quicker (especially above or below ground trains), but cannot reach outlying hilly areas, while buses can reach those areas, but are often slowed by major highway and freeway traffic, traffic signals, etc. This is why using existing express bus routes to feed into the rail can help both modes as well as help tourists and residents reach the Ko Olina area. These resorts employ hundreds of nearby Waianae Coast residents, most of whom lack adequate vehicle transportation. Currently, hotel workers must walk from a busy highway bus stop and onto either the resort exit ramp or through dry brush to reach their jobs. Having their limited stop Country Express route take those workers off the highway and drop them off directly into the resort area would be much more convenient and safer. This same resort stop can be connected to the rail station, and folks who need to continue eastbound can transfer to the rail, which would bring them into downtown, UH, and Waikiki by that point. Now, there is one more transportation mode that can be linked in this area, as well as other points west and east. It is a mode that was tried briefly and people really liked, but was discontinued likely due to operating costs. I think it can work again, with a little more effort put into it:
TheBoat Commuter Ferry: Back in 2006, the City and County of Honolulu started a Monday-Friday ferry service affectionately called "TheBoat." It was a small fleet of catamaran vessels that ran twice a day between Ko Olina Harbor on West Oahu to Honolulu Harbor on South Oahu, just outside of the Downtown area. At the time, it seemed like a great second option to driving or taking the bus into town from the west side of the island., and I believe that it was. This service should definitely be brought back, but with two extra stops: Ala Wai Boat Harbor to the east, between Ala Moana Center and Waikiki, and Waianae Boat Harbor to the west, giving coast residents their first real option to Farrington Highway, their only road in and out of that coastal community. Transit connections from these two new stops can be made via local and express buses that would drop off/pick up passengers straight from these harbor lots. They can add in extra parking, security, and shaded benches for passengers. While some details will have to be worked out with these two new harbor stops (Ala Wai especially), it would be a greatly appreciated third transit option for Oahu. In the case of connecting all three modes (bus, train, and boat), this would happen near the Ko Olina Harbor, with having a rail station and bus hub in walking distance of TheBoat docks, and the resorts.
So that's my Honolulu transit plan. I can only hope that in at least the next ten years, some version of this transit network is implemented in the islands, as what's currently available (buses cars), just isn't cutting it anymore.
Yep, this past thursday was my thirty-fifth year on this earth, and unlike most birthdays, I celebrated this one in style! This is not to say that none of my previous birthdays are fun (my 31st at a friend's concert and my 19th at a water park come to mind), I just usually don't make too big a deal of planning an outing unless I have a really good idea. Luckily for me and everyone else involved, this was one of those "creative years." Let me just go through a rundown of "my day's" events for June 11th, 2015:
We (my mother, sister, and sister's boyfriend) began the day with a trip to the Long Beach waterfront to take a short cruise on the Aqualink, a water-taxi operated by Long Beach Transit. I discovered this service several months ago when I took my mother down to the LBC for the first time. The vessel is a sleek, air conditioned catamaran that costs only $5 per person each way between the waterfront and Seal Beach. It was a fun 45 minute cruise along the Long Beach coastline---------and they serve drinks! So, after finishing my Bloody Mary shortly after arriving at our final destination, it was off to Seal Beach Pier to explore and take pictures. By this time, we were all getting pretty hungry so we went headed back to the waterfront via Uber (as we missed the boat ride back and were pressed for time) for an early dinner at Yard House. Why an early dinner? Because this was only part one of my birthday. Part two started later in the evening at my good friend Andy Cogan's stand-up comedy show at Malo Restaurant and Lounge in Silverlake. More drinks, more laughs, and even more fun overall. Andy even wished me a happy birthday before he started his act. The night ended with a few more drinks at the El Cid bar down the street. It was great introducing my family to a great and talented buddy of mine, and that they all got to celebrate my special day together.
So here's to a great birthday full of boat cruises, drinks, food, laughs, and numerous facebook messages that I all appreciate. Despite all that I'm going through both emotionally and financially, it was nice that for at least 24 hours, I was "King."
A no-car day in L.A. Quite the concept. While the CicLAVia event has been around since 2010, I've only recently joined the fun back in March with their car-free street event in the San Fernando Valley, where I currently reside. I took my mom to the event, and we had so much fun we couldn't wait for the next one, which just wrapped up this past Sunday in Downtown Pasadena. For those who haven't heard of CicLAVia, it's a one day event (usually on Sundays), where a high-density main street in a Southern California neighborhood is closed off to vehicle traffic, and only bicyclist, skateboarders, rollerskaters, rollerbladers, and pedestrians are allowed on the road. It's a simple but fun 7 hours (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) where you can truly explore a town and it's shops, restaurants, and parks. Now that the uninformed have been brought up to speed, Let me tell you about our car-free experience last week in Pasadena.
Since our first CicLAVia was in our neighborhood, we got to "metro rail-it" to the one in Pasadena by way of the Red Line Subway to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles, and the Gold Line light rail from Union Station to Pasadena. There were already signs of the event when we transferred to the Gold Line at Union Station, with a crowd of bikes all over the station platform. In a fantastic example of planning ahead, Metro added a third car to each of their Gold Line trains to accommodate the added bicycle passengers. They also allowed non-bicycle passengers to board and exit trains first to prevent any boarding gridlock. We exited the train at the beautiful Del Mar Station in Pasadena, which is surrounded by a large TOD (Transit Oriented Development) containing an apartment complex and two cafes. I definitely wouldn't mind living there If I had the money. The bike/pedestrian route, which was 3.5 miles altogether, started at Raymond ave. near Pasadena Central Park, and continued several blocks east and west on Colorado Blvd. After taking numerous photos at the start, we began our trek through Downtown Pasadena, occasionally stopping to observe some of the other participants crazy outfits or bikes----and there were bikes of all kinds and sizes there: Tall bikes, small bikes, unicycles, even low-rider bikes, complete with accompanying music. The unprecedented star of this event was clearly a participant's large pet turtle, who could actually move faster than some of the CicLAVia walkers. While the route included alot of bars and small restaurants (who were more than happy to have the added foot traffic), the food trucks at the end of the route, which fronted Pasadena Community College, took center stage when it came to eateries here. The two best trucks were The Original Grilled Cheese Truck that I first tried a few years back at a Grilled Cheese Festival in Downtown LA (you must try the Fully Loaded Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Macaroni & Cheese, Pulled Pork, and BBQ Sauce), and Cousins Maine Lobster (The Connecticut Lobster Roll with Garlic Sauce is dangerously addictive). My mother who is a seafood-lover, tried that sandwich once, then had the urge to come back 30 minutes later, so she's already addicted. I even ran into a good friend of mine at the truck, and got to catch up a bit with him.
Toward the middle of the afternoon, we decided to head back to the south end of the route to catch the train back to North Hollywood. Amazingly, we ended up staying there through almost the entire duration of the event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It was another great CicLAVia with lots of people, pets, bikes, and shops to look at, and we can't wait for the next one in August which will be through Culver City and Venice Beach, starting from the Metro Expo Line's Culver City Station and running down Washington and later Venice Boulevards, before ending right at the Venice Beach bike/skate path. Because of the flatter surface street terrain and endpoint of this route, I will be bringing my rollerblades with me so I can be an even bigger part of the action. It's been too long since I've last skated, and this needs to happen again. So thanks for reading, and tune in next week as I will be talking about a great childhood TV memory of mine------just in time for my birthday next Thursday. I will see you then!
Within the last few years, the city of Los Angeles and its residents have finally figured out that mass transit is the way to spread the traffic load around evenly. Recent projects such as The Metro Expo Line that runs from Downtown L.A. to the westside community of Culver City (with an extension to Santa Monica next year), along with future projects like the Purple Line Subway extension through the heart of the westside in Miracle Mile, Century City, Beverly Hills, and Westwood, and the creation of the Crenshaw Line that will finally give Los Angeles a direct rail connection to LAX airport, are fantastic examples of this. However, this action is occurring in Central, West, and South Los Angeles. What region is missing from all this? The San Fernando Valley.
Although I'm a ten year resident in this part of Southern California, I've only recently recognized the few mass transit options available in the San Fernando Valley: The northwestern end point of the Metro Red Line Subway, and the Orange Line (don't be fooled by the name) busway. After doing alot of research on the valley's transit history, which began decades ago with the southern pacific electric railroad, it is a little disappointing to see the meager transportation options this region ended up with. When the Red Line subway was originally constructed, it was planned to stretch farther into the west valley and end in Warner Center, a downtown section of suburban Woodland Hills. In addition, part of the line was to be placed on Ventura Boulevard, which is the entertainment equivalent strip of Wilshire Boulevard, filled with high-density and front facing retail shops. Unfortunately, a vocal minority ended up speaking for the vast majority of valley residents, and refused any proposal for a rail system of any kind due to conflicts with the technology and the religious beliefs of this minority. The result was The Orange line, a dedicated busway that opened back in October 2005, which runs from the Red Line terminus station in North Hollywood to Chatsworth, a town in the northern valley. Fast forward ten years later, and it has become a very popular transit alternative, with many buses packed with commuters throughout the day. However, the line has become too popular to the point of being over-capacity, and residents are now demanding a conversion of the busway to the light-rail line that the service is pretending to be. There is also talk of an extension into Burbank and Glendale, with a link to the Metro Gold Line in Pasadena. As a current North Hollywood resident, I'm all for this but as the title of this blog states, The valley needs to wait their turn for other projects.
These projects are of course, the other rail lines that need to be completed in other areas of Los Angeles first. With a limited amount of funding for these transportation projects, not every area can have what they want-----especially for an area that got a mass transit line (albeit in a half-assed fashion). Also, there is another rail project that is planned for the valley that still trumps an Orange Line rail-conversion in importance: The Sepulveda Pass Rail Project. For years, valley residents longed for an alternative to Interstate 405, one of the most congested freeways in Southern California, as short-term solutions such as on-and-off ramp repairs and adding carpool lanes only keep the traffic issue car-centric. Imagine being able to use a light rail line running from Sylmar through Van Nuys (the current line proposed), but also taking that line above the 405 freeway, elevated over the median to Westwood, all while connecting with such existing lines as the Orange Line, Purple Line, and Expo Lines. Such a north-south addition to the rail network could even provide a more direct route from the valley to Los Angeles International Airport by rail with an additional connection to the Crenshaw Line at the same station that will connect to the Expo Line. So yeah valley, let's take care of this bad boy first.
Now, once those projects are finished, we can definitely start on this Orange Line upgrade. This upgrade should not merely be a complete light rail conversion of the entire route----which contains two different endpoints at Warner Center as well as Chatsworth. We have to look at where the need is by focusing on the most heavily used section of the current busway, which is why I propose that the Orange Line be broken up into two sections: The Chatsworth to Canoga section should remain a busway, while the Warner Center to North Hollywood section be converted to light rail (with the Warner Center station to Canoga Station portion being underground). For a Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena extension, the new light rail Orange Line can run underground the North Hollywood Station (with a 7th street-like connection with the Red Line), then at-grade on Magnolia Blvd to the Downtown Burbank Promenade, a great pedestrian friendly shopping center that's just crying out for a mass transit connection. Further extensions into Glendale and Pasadena to meet up with the Gold Line are also essential, though I'm not sure on what route or form a converted Orange Line rail would take from that point. Stay tuned for that.
In the meantime, the Orange Line just needs a few improvements to make it a more efficient system: Better signal priority (which all street-level light rail should have but don't), and having two of the 60-foot long buses run together eastbound and westbound. Such a change would really help with overcrowding, and justify the long station platforms, which were designed long enough to hold a pair of the articulated "Metro Liners." Aside from that, the line runs very smoothly, with buses running no longer than twenty minutes during non-peak hours, and about 4 minutes during rush hours. Don't worry valley folk, there will be a time when you'll see tracks on that busway with sleek new rail vehicles that will take you as far east as Pasadena, and as far west as Warner Center, but just be patient.
If you've read any of my previous blogs, you know that I spent the first twenty-five years of my life in Honolulu, Hawaii. Despite the fact that I'm closing in on my tenth year in Los Angeles, California, you just can't take the island out of the man. Now, in my twenty five years in the islands (O'ahu to be specific), traffic increased due to rapid population growth on that tiny rock, and several proposals for a rail system were attempted since the late 1960s, but failed any approval processes before the first tracks could be installed. In 2015, the city and county of Honolulu, along with HART (Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit), has just finished the first mile of the twenty-mile elevated guideway that will stretch from an undeveloped section of West O'ahu to the state's largest shopping center, Ala Moana Center, on the east side of the island just outside of Waikiki. With this project being the largest (and possibly the most expensive) of its kind in the state of Hawaii, to say that this rail system has generated a lot of controversy would be a gross understatement. Local politicians and especially residents have strong views for and against the project, along with myself. I have always been in support of building the rail since I lived there as a child in the 1980s, however I have two major issues in how it was planned and how it is being built, so let's jump right into those concerns:
The Route: While some local residents question the high cost of the system or the visual impact on scenery, I believe that where the rail line is being placed is the larger issue. I do agree that an east to west alignment is really the only way to go in order to properly service the island with another option to travel from the country to the city. What I don't agree with is the line's starting point, in which the aforementioned first constructed mile of elevated track sits on farmland, with the first phase of a major university a half-mile away from one of the planned rail stations. I understand that this farmland will be rezoned into a master-planned compact residential and commercial community which will be linked to the rail stations, but there's no guarantee that these new developments (mixed use areas known as smart growth) will be completed by the time this rail system goes into service. More importantly, the existing town of Kapolei, several miles west of the rail line, is missed entirely. From my experience using Metro Rail in Los Angeles, it's very important to have a rail line begin in an existing town or city, as not everyone will be willing to drive or use a bus to reach that first station. This omission (along with other areas on the lsland such as UH Manoa college and Waikiki) is planned to be remedied through future rail line extensions through those areas, so long as funding becomes available. Hopefully this does happen, and the city of Kapolei will be able to benefit more directly from the rail line going right into their downtown, preferably ending near the existing Kapolei Bus Transit Center, with a single station and park-and-ride serving the area. That suggestion goes into my other issue with the system:
Station Alignment: If you visit the honolulutransit.org website, you'll see both rail line maps that display the station areas, as well as digital and artist's renderings of rail stations. I once again go back to my metro rail experience and note how some stations are too close, while others are in are in areas with very low foot traffic. Just to give you a better understanding of the line, the 21 planned stations (west to east) are: East Kapolei, UH West Oahu, Ho'opili, West Loch, Waipahu Transit Center, Leeward Community College, Pearl Highlands, Pearlridge Center, Aloha Stadium, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu International Airport, Lagoon Drive, Kalihi Transit Center, Kalihi, Honolulu Community College, Iwilei, Chinatown, Downtown, Civic Center, Kaka'ako, and Ala Moana Center. The East Kapolei, UH West Oahu, Pearl Highlands, and Aloha Stadium stations will have park and ride lots. I'll just go down the line with the planned stations I disagree with. While the first five stations are fine, I have some reservations about the next two (Leeward Community College and Pearl Highlands): I don't envy HART one bit in the conception of these stations, as this area on Oahu is extremely complex and dangerous in terms of its layout. The area consists of an interchange for two freeways and one highway, with the college sitting to the south of all this action, connected to the highway by a sidestreet that crosses one of the freeways. It's safe to say that the only convenient way to access this school is by car, as a bus ride requires a half-mile walk partially uphill to cross the freeway. There is a shuttle service to the school, but it is extremely unreliable. That being said, the station servicing the college solves that inconvenience perfectly being placed right at the foot of the campus. It is also one of many essential areas that all rail lines should serve such as hospitals, sports stadiums, and shopping areas. The Pearl Highlands Station on the other hand, serves a low residential population area with two large shopping centers built for cars (one of the shopping centers has a Sam's Club as an anchor tenant). The proposed station meanwhile, will be sitting in a former small village and banana patch near the highway interchange. This isn't an area that would benefit from a mass transit station, as it is not a walkable area at all, and is inconvenient for pedestrian access. For the rail line as a whole, the distance between the college and shopping center is too close to allow the train to move quickly across the south side of Oahu. A better place for the Pearl Highlands station would be near the cross streets of Kamehameha Highway and Waimano Home Road, in the heart of the suburb of Pearl City. The proposed park-and-ride for the Highlands station could be moved there too if need be. Businesses in this area would need to be relocated of course (the auto dealership and strip mall on the south side of Kamehameha Highway specifically), but a station here would serve a larger area of residents.
Lastly, for outlying areas too far from the rail line, large express buses can feed those passengers into the system. Oahu's bus company currently runs an all-day limited stop express bus service in its suburban and rural areas to carry those residents into town. Those routes can be reconfigured to take passengers to the appropriate rail station for an easy transfer. These buses (all 60-footers) can become BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines originating from the Waianae Coast, Central Oahu, Windward Oahu, and East Oahu. The Waianae BRT can travel from Makaha to the East Kapolei Station (later the Downtown Kapolei station if/when the rail extension is finished), The Central Oahu BRT would come from the towns of Wahiawa/Millilani/Mililani Mauka and end at the Pearl City Station, the Windward BRT would take residents of Kaneohe and Kailua to the Ala Moana Center station, and the East Oahu BRT would cover Hawaii Kai to Ala Moana. Some of these BRTs could be grade separated to run faster if space allows, while others would have dedicated lanes and some signal pre-emption. I do know that a BRT system was proposed for Hawaii years ago, but it was brought up as a cheaper alternative to a rail line. A system like this should never serve as a mass-transit backbone in a heavily populated city like Honolulu, due to its slower speed compared with trains, rather it should complement and feed into a rail line. This is how the Metro Orange line in Los Angeles is used, as it connects with the Red Line subway to transport people from the San Fernando Valley to Downtown L.A.
So that's my five dollars on the Honolulu Rail Project. I hope that at least some of these issues are addressed by HART to make it a more attractive system for island residents who are tired of having highway and freeway travel by either bus or car as their only option.
In recent podcast and radio show interviews, I've been asked just how I create a comic book from idea to print, as well as where my ideas come from. So I'll be using this week's blog to share my comic creating method with you all.
As with most forms of entertainment, any comic book or graphic novel starts as an idea in your head. I don't do brainstorming for ideas because I feel that is too forceful a method to generate any kind of creativity. Rather, it's best for me to do a completely different activity (preferably outside), so I can relax my brain, and when I come back, I always have at least one idea that pops in my head. My book "Damn Tourists" is the best example of this. I came up with the idea for that story simply doing such a routine activity as riding the bus home from college when a rental car cut the bus off, and the rest is history. The way my mind works, an idea can't be forced, it has to come naturally. The finer details of that idea however, can be brainstormed if need be.
The next step is the scripting process. The more I've written comic scripts for myself, the more I realized that creating a comic plot in word form is similar to organizing clean laundry. Sound weird? Not sure what I mean by this? I'll explain. Before you start folding your clean clothes that just came out of the dryer, you have to dump them out of the basket and onto your bed first, then you can start folding all your different garments. Well, it's the same with a script. I specifically write a script that's as wordy as possible, that describes every scene in great detail, dialogue that explains each character's motivations to a tee, and so forth. Once this is all done, I'll go back and remove certain lines of dialogue and narration to create a better story flow and to ensure that the dialogue will fit in comic panel word bubbles later on. Another important part of scripting is knowing what lines of dialogue and narration will be included on a certain comic page later on. I determine this by adding page numbers at the beginning, middle, and end of the script pages. These page numbers represent the comic boards I will be using once the writing is complete.
Speaking of comic boards, this is the most interesting and difficult step of them all. Translating words into drawings is just as hard as it sounds, but that's where the first two steps come in. Having already formed a well-thought out story with script page numbers, makes this transformation a little easier. Whereas the comic script writing can be compared to organizing laundry, turning a script into a pencil-and-ink panel comic page illustration is like a jigsaw puzzle. I have a finite amount of space for both the artwork and the written dialogue, which will be digital word bubbles in one of the last steps.
This second to last step, the digital process, is when what I've written and illustrated really comes to life. Following a trip to Kinko's in order to reduce my inked 11" X 17" art boards to a more scanner-friendly 8.5"X 11," is my digital coloring----along with giving the newly scanned line art a smooth vector look thanks to Adobe Illustrator live trace. The rest of the process is Photoshop tools galore: Magic wands, gradients, layers, blur tools, clone stamps, and of course, the paintbrush. The only downside to this step is my necessary but constant use of the color picker tool to maintain consistency on each comic page. Then there is the "jigsaw puzzle" part again for creating word bubbles from my script dialogue, small enough not to use too much space in a panel, but large enough to fit the required character dialogue. All in all: challenging, but fun.
The final step is more of an administrative process, which is prepping all files for an online print order. Each page must be the same size to prevent image clipping (10.5 X 7), and saved in three different file types (psd., jpg, and TIFF). Then the TIFF files (which is one of Ka-Blam Digital Printing's accepted file types), are placed in a zip folder to be uploaded in an online print order. The only thing left to do before the order is placed is to ensure that interior covers for the front and back comic covers are included. After a paypal payment and a few weeks of waiting, my newly printed books arrive in the mail, ready for the next convention.
So, that's my comic process in one really long nutshell. It's a long, challenging, interesting, and sometimes tedious endeavor, but the end result is all worth it. No, not merely holding the finished product in my hands, but having a comic convention attendee holding a newly purchased book of my in their hands.
While I'm a little late to the game compared to last year when I saw the first film on opening day with my co-workers and boss, I finally checked out "Avengers: Age of Ultron" this past Sunday. What did I think? Well, let me put it this way: I'm already planning to see it again two more times this week. Once again, director Joss Whedon shows his talent of tackling a team superhero film where nearly everyone is given a chance to shine, all while keeping an even balance between action and comedy.
What made me enjoy this movie so much, and what makes this film trilogy so exciting is that it has and is still breaking new ground for comic films: The first film in 2012 made an unprecedented move by bringing together four characters from solo movies (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk) and placing them in one film, eliminating the issue of character development. This sequel gets to expand its story with more action, but also funny downtime scenes with earth's mightiest heroes just partying or shootin' the breeze. When it comes to establishing a team leader, the "X-Men" films can learn alot from "Avengers," with Chris Evans' Captain America cleary the one equipped to give orders and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man supplying both starpower and technical experience. Let's hope that the upcoming "X-Men: Apocalypse" can finally have a fleshed-out Scott Summers who is clearly born to lead the team of mutant freedom fighters. Thor and the Hulk, both characters I wasn't particularly interested in while watching their solo films, are actually interesting here like in the first film. The B-team of Hawkeye and Black Widow have alot more screentime in this sequel, with the audience discovering Clint Barton's family, and Natasha's would-be romance with Bruce Banner. The newest recruits, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, both make a great impression (though Scarlet Witch is the main focus between the two). Ultron is made into a pretty interesting villain, and while his origin differs from the comics (He was created by Hank "Ant Man" Pym in the comics), having Tony Stark create him instead is a great workaround. This Ultron struggles with his artificial nature and believes to be human, along with a resentment for his creator Tony Stark. Last, but not least, is the other new character Vision, a powerful android who is the answer to stopping Ultron. Vision also provides a link to the next chapter in this epic comic book trilogy with his power source--the mind gem---as the basis for the infinity gauntlet, held by the villain of all villains in the Marvel Comics Universe, Thanos (who makes a brief appearance here). What's not to love here?
So yes, "Avengers" entertains me yet again with "Age Of Ultron," Each film gets me more excited for the next one with all the groundwork that Marvel Studios lays in not just this film, but all their previous blockbusters as well. Watching this film will not only get you excited for "Avengers: Infinity War," but also "Captain America: Civil War," which will be incorporating one of the most intriguing comic book storylines in the last ten years, "superhero registration by the government." I'm already set to watch this flick again next week to catch some of the comic references and minor characters I may have missed the first time around. But mostly, I'll be seeing it again, because, well........IT'S AWESOME!!
Even though comic book films have been around in some shape or form since 1978 with the release of "Superman: The Movie," they haven't been as plentiful until the recently released summer movie schedule for next year. An unprecedented seven films (five based on marvel properties, two on DC properties) will be dominating multiplexes starting next February. That number will only increase between next year and 2020. While a newer generation of moviegoers may consider this overkill, those of us who grew up in the late '80s and late '90s remember what a barren wasteland the summer movie season was when it came to superhero flicks. Very few films outside of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman franchise were released (and we all know how that series ended), and we were left with such table scraps as "Spawn," "Tank Girl," "Judge Dredd," and "The Phantom." Not to mention superhero parodies like "Mystery Men," "Blankman," and "Meteor Man." So I for one can't wait for the new slate of comic films coming up in the next four years-----but let's just start with the seven being released next year:
Deadpool; February 2016. This flick was a long time coming since "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" back in 2009. Luckily, Ryan Reynolds will be donning the trademark red-and-black outfit here instead of being depicted as some ultimate mutant with his mouth sewn shut.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; March 2016. Now, we're talking! Two of the most well-known comic book characters of all time finally appear in the same movie---and if that's not enough, the film will feature Wonder Woman along with smaller appearances from Cyborg and Aquaman that will lead into a long-awaited Justice League film the following year!
Captain America: Civil War; May 2016. For all of the comic fans who were dissatisfied with the last two "Spider-Man" franchises, this one's for you. Because this film will deal with one of the most compelling comic book storylines in the last ten years (my opinion) that heavily involved the wall-crawler, the upcoming Marvel Studios production will be the first to welcome Spidey to the MCU-----with the cooperation of Sony.
X-Men: Apocalypse; May 2016. Here's another one I'm pumped about (along with Batman v Superman). I loved "Days of Future Past," as it combined the best of the first two "X-Men" films with "X-Men: First Class." Now, we finally get to see the biggest threat to the movie X-Universe make his debut: En Sabah Nur, a.k.a., Apocalypse. And let's not forget the younger versions of Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, Angel/Archangel, Nightcrawler, Jubilee, and Gambit!
Suicide Squad; August 2016. This one could go either way in terms of quality for me. The big question here is whether or not this film will share a universe with Batman v Superman. While I'm only familiar with this anti-hero team through the animated "Justice League" and live action "Smallville," this flick could surprise me.
Gambit; October 2016. No more appearing in civilian name only on a mutant registration list, or getting owned by Wolverine in a 5 minute cameo. This time, it's all about the Ragin' Cajun!----that is, after his initial appearance in X-Men: Apocalypse first. With Hugh Jackman's Logan being phased out soon, someone has to take his place as "the cool mutant."
Doctor Strange; November 2016. And now we near the end of next year with the true motion picture debut of the Sorcerer Supreme (the less said about the low budget 1970s film they did on him, the better). All I ask is that they use this character to help introduce "magic" to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So yep, that's what you can expect at this point in terms of comics gone hollywood next year! And look, I know that it's now fashionable to complain about things no matter how little we know about the final product, but think of it this way: We could still be at the mercy of "The 90's comic book film!"
While I'm generally nostalgic in what I listen to and watch, I found myself this week thinking about my childhood years alot----specifically a point in my preteen days that helped shape the person that I am today. That thinking brought me to an extremely influential two-and-a half year period in my young life, where my family and I lived in a house on a big hill.
Well, technically it was more like a small mountain, but a hill just sounds better. Anyway, these two years or so start in the summer of 1987 and end in the fall of 1989. Living on the island of O'ahu's Wai'anae Coast at the time since 1984, my mother and father (both teachers), moved up the coast from the community of Ma'ili to the city of Waianae around July of '87. Summer was the easiest time for two teachers to move their family, and it had become a tradition for us at this point. I still remember arriving at our new place for the first time, and seeing how big everything about it was: A large carport, a lanai (or patio) that snaked around half of the house, which in itself was steeple-shaped with high ceilings, hanging chandelier, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms (the second bedroom was upstairs and completely uncovered like a cabin, only the upstairs bathroom and shower were covered). The yard was another great part, which had a few large pine trees, and some cactus.
But hey, this is more about what my life was like living in the house, not the house itself. Having turned seven years old over the summer, I was just the right age to ride my bike out in our new neighborhood, and here I met my first neighborhood friends to explore our street. I still remember David and Misty, who both lived right across the street from me, riding their bikes over to my carport as my family was moving in to introduce themselves. We went on numerous adventures to areas we weren't supposed to get near (all part of being young, invincible, and stupid). One legendary adventure was to a quarry area down the hill from us, where we tried to do some off-roading with our bikes. That went well for everyone but me, as I completely ate it on an area we called "suicide hill." Thanks well-placed rock that knocked me off my bike. There were some fun happenings in our house too. My family picked up our very first VCR (betamax), and we lost our minds trying to tape everything on TV, including a whole day of music videos. Then there was the time when my sister beat Super Mario 2 for the very first time. What really made this special was that I called my friends into the house to watch her, as none of us had done this yet. We were hanging on every near-death hit until she finally conquered the last boss, Wart. The yard even had some good times too, such as my birthday celebrations. My parents had purchased a slip-and-slide for my party, with my father testing it first to hilarious results when he slipped and fell on his butt down the slide. In retrospect, It probably wasn't the best idea to ask for such a party accessory when both our house and yard were built on a slope with a mostly dirt yard, but again, young and stupid. My first and only clubhouse was another great memory here. After constantly trying to build myself a clubhouse out of backyard scrap metal that my father would constantly have to remove, he gave in and constructed a proper one out of plywood from the local hardware store several miles out of town (thanks City Mill Waimalu). My friends and I used it all the time, and I even begged my parents to let me sleep in it. I learned the hard way how bad of an idea that was, as I became a feast for mosquitoes. My city planning interests began in this steeple palace as well when I was given a race track set that resembled a network of highways. It later grew into a large model city that took up a large portion of the living room, with modified boxes for buildings, hot wheels/matchbox cars, an erector set mall and bridge, even box plastic for windows. Our next door neighbors gave us a very memorable moment when they caught a large swordfish one saturday night, and they gave us some of the meat to cook up. I can still see this enormous fish covering most of their boat, and me just standing in awe of it all.
By far though, the biggest moment to happen at this house on a hill was creating my first comic book. I had become a big fan of the few superhero cartoons that were airing during this time (fall 1988), and at some point, just pretending to be Spider-Man or one of the X-Men with my friends wasn't cutting it anymore. All this media and playmate inspiration led to the creation of an early version of "Cosmic Force:" Six half-human, half-eagle super-powered crimefighters who defend the state of Michigan against the evil forces of Wild Cat, a super-strong feline, and Eviloid, a powerful sorcerer. While I wrote and illustrated the first issue at my mom's apartment (shortly after she and my father separated), I finished that book along with the other nine books I created out of legal sheets and construction paper at that special house. I loved showing both my neighborhood friends and classmates what I was working on even then, which would be some early training for the comic conventions and comic shop consignment reviews I would do today.
And that's how just one move, one house, and one neighborhood became a two-and-a-half year coming of age story for me. From biking adventures with my first next door friends, to hilarious birthday bashes, my introduction to Nintendo and video recorders, building a model city that took up precious living room space, family separations, to the birth of a comic I sell at large conventions today, this wooden steeple palace will always hold a special place in my heart for as long as I live.
Ok, so I broke my own rule once again. This week's blog was supposed to be about more TV inspirations, but I had a much better Idea for a topic. I owned three out of four seasons of the 1990s live-action series "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," and last night I felt like popping in the first season. Having watched this show during its original run, I fell in love with it all over again. Just going into the first two episodes shows you how special this series was. Unfortunately, this TV version of the Superman story tends to get either forgotten by casual viewers, and bashed by comic fans, which I always found unfair. This show put a unique spin on The Man of Steel, and in doing so, was able to focus more on characters and settings you don't get to see much of in previous media versions.
First and foremost: The unique spin on reversing the Clark Kent/Superman roles was genius. Having Clark be the real person and Superman the disguise fit perfectly with the show's more grounded approach, since the focus was on the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent (hence the show's title), Superman was a much smaller part of the show----which was a good thing, because as much as I liked Dean Cain as Clark, he was a pretty mediocre Superman. The constant changing of the costume didn't help either (the cape and "S" shield especially). However, since he was only Superman for brief periods throughout the show, it was not a very big issue for me. What I also liked was the focus on The Daily Planet, which was only touched upon in certain scenes from the Richard Donner films. I really enjoyed the "office family" dynamic between Lois, Clark, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White, with Perry as a father figure to both Jimmy and Lois especially, and sometimes Clark. The late Lane Smith, who played the editor in chief, really made this character his own and made quite the definitive live action version of him. The tweak of White being an Elvis fan and saying "great shades of elvis" instead of "great caesar's ghost" as in the original comic and 1950s TV series with George Reeves (which this show reminds me of a bit now that I think about it), was very entertaining and spawned alot of great comedy scenes in the office. The Kents were adorable, having them visit Clark alot from Smallville with his parents getting to know Lois and Perry at the Planet.
Now, here's where the most underrated performer and character rears his head: Actor John Shea's version of Lex Luthor. In most lists of TV and movie versions of the character (with Michael Rosenbaum's performance of the character in "Smallville" rightfully topping those lists), Shea's performance tends to get unfairly overlooked. Alot of what was done with his Lex was revolutionary from a comic and non-comic fan standpoint. This was the first live-action Lex that was portrayed as a corrupt billionaire, echoing his comic counterpart from the John Byrne "Man of Steel" reboot comic from 1986. No longer a mad scientist or a con-man obsessed with real estate, Shea's Luthor was a wealthy businessman who employed more than half of Metropolis, and is beloved by citizens, who don't know anything about his secret criminal activities. He's also suave and good-looking, in order to woo Lois away from Clark/Superman. Shea's performance, like Lane Smith's is absolutely spot-on as a self-centered tycoon with an almost regal style to his evil doings. As an added note, pairing him with the late Tony Jay as his assistant Nigel (which could be looked at as a precursor to Mercy Graves in the Bruce Timm cartoons) was pure magic. They worked so well together that you almost enjoyed watching them, no matter what dastardly deeds they were performing.
So, those are just some of my thoughts on a series that should get more due that it does in the ranks of live action Superman shows. While the effects are dated, the styles of the characters are fairly timeless, the characters themselves are still likeable as a "work family," and the show as a whole is bursting with so much heart. To anyone that has never seen or heard of this show, I will recommend the first two seasons, as they are all around excellent. The third season starts off strong, but loses direction by the end, and the fourth and final season got so bad I barely watched it. But hey, I'm trying to convince you to watch this great series, so just forget about the last thing I said. What am I going to talk about next week? I don't know yet, but rest assured, it will be interesting.
Yep, it's that time again. Well, it's not just time for my weekly blog, but it's the start of convention season with Wondercon Anaheim having just wrapped up their huge 2015 show. With every year, this show just keeps getting bigger and better. Unfortunately, this was the first show I had to back out of as a small press exhibitor due to financial problems. Instead, I purchased a badge for Easter Sunday to check out this year's show floor, and more importantly, support my many artist friends---and boy was everyone here!
Out of exhibitor habit (and because the golden state freeway generally sucks), I left my place in North Hollywood at 8:30 in the morning. I arrived at the Anaheim Convention Center at about 9:45, and didn't have much trouble finding parking in the adjacent structure. While sunday had apparently sold out at that time, I must've arrived at just the right time before parking became a problem, if it ever did. If there was any negative side to the show this year, I didn't really care for the "attendee corral" used after everyone had already picked up their badges and program guides, and were herded like cattle into a makeshift line that was right next to an open space leading to the convention floor. I felt like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon where a wooden door is placed in the middle of an open desert. From an exhibitor perspective, it was a great business strategy though, as the floor entrance people were herded into was Artist Alley----which once again had HUGE crowds in their aisles. From my three year experience as a small press vendor at this show, there has been quite a tug-of-war between the "Small Press" and "Artist Alley" floor spaces at Wondercon. It seems that the "alley" gets more promotion (Artist Alley was advertised in the program guide) and premier placement than the "press." While that never affected sales for me at previous shows, as I sell more books and make more money consistently at this show than any other show I do, seeing the huge crowds in artist alley and then watching a lesser amount of customers walk through small press can be very discouraging to a press vendor. In the end, choosing which section to exhibit at depends on what you value more: space, more visibility, or price, as alley tables are $200 are 6 ft, and press tables are $300 for 8 ft with large back walls and curtains. I tend to like spreading out, so I always go with small press, which is what I will probably choose for next year.
Now, onto my experience walking the show floor. The main reason for the title of this blog is because this is the one question that was asked of all my fellow artist friends I visited: "So, where's your table?" As many times as I heard this throughout the show, it didn't annoy me one bit. It actually made me feel more a part of the indy comic vendor convention family. There were at least 15 artists there that I knew from previous conventions, past jobs, or comic professional meetings, so I'll mention as many of them as I can: There was 9-year old fan art prodigy Ethan Castillo (along with his father John), who was my artist alley neighbor at Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con last year, Comic Arts Professional Society members Scott Shaw, Sergio Aragones, Lonnie Milsap, David Calcano, and Alex Thompson, Tobias Geibhardt (a vendor neighbor from Long Beach Comic Con), Mark Rivers (a former co-worker with whom I shared artist tables with at conventions), Paul Jamison (who I met at Pulp Fiction Comics artist alley, and rode up to Tulare Sci Fi Con with), The Fanboy Comics Gang of Barbra Dillon, Bryant Dillon, Sebastian Kadlecik, and Sam Rhodes (who were my small press neighbors one year ago at Wondercon), Josh Hauke (another Pulp Fiction Comics Artist Alley neighbor), Madeline-Holly-Rising (who reviewed one of my books "Damn Tourists issue 1."), and JD Correa (who I just met at the last convention I did, San Fernando Valley Comic Con the week before). If I missed anyone I apologize, as there were just so many people I was talking too. All of them loved how the show went, and how big the crowds were, and most importantly, how willing they were to shell out money for new artwork and books. I even got to hang with my buddy Eric Wallace, who I met through friends at a concert back in 2010. It turns out that my CAPS buddy David Calcano is a fan of the band Eric and I saw live, british jazz-funk band Level 42, so it's definitely a small world.
After talking with my artist friends and hanging with Eric, I left the show about an hour before they closed at 5:00, but not without picking up some work from both fellow indy artist friends and some new vendors. Specifically, I purchased Madeline's book "Boston Metaphysical Society." It was overall a fantastic show that got me more motivated to finish all of my outstanding projects (freelance and my own), so I can return to Wondercon 2016 with brand new material at my small press table.
Oh, and speaking of next year's show, the big news (thanks to Paul Jamison first) is that Wondercon will be moving to the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown. Other details such as dates and if this move is temporary or permanent haven't been confirmed as of yet, but some news sources have said that this is just for a one year contract, as the Anaheim Convention Center is undergoing some renovations and Wondercon couldn't get their desired dates there. What does this mean for me? higher parking fees and perhaps a smaller convention floor, but a closer drive and a more central location that will attract more people. Only time will tell, but whatever happens, expect to see me behind the table once again come next year! Next week, I'll get back to my "inspirations" series, so until then!
My fourth appearance at this show marks a full year since I've been appearing at this local comic convention back on March 16th, 2014. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, the San Fernando Valley Comic Book Convention is an event held at the Granada Hills Pavilion in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. While it is primarily a collector's show consisting of mostly comic dealers and toy vendors, it also hosts appearances of legendary actors, established comic artists and cartoonists, up-and-coming television and film talent, skilled craftspeople, and of course, independent comic creators----though I think this was the first show here where I was the only indy comic artist on the guests list. How was the show for both myself and as a whole? Let's review:
As with most conventions I exhibit at, I got to the building about an hour early to set up at 9:15 with the show starting at 10:00, excited to see how the event would go this year. While this is a small sized convention, the crowd is very loyal and remembers you if you did any previous shows there. That brings me to the show's three organizers, Rick Flake, Bob Ranken and Joe Williamson. Knowing them for a full year now, they have gone above and beyond to make this show a fun event for everyone three times a year (Spring, Summer, and Fall) since 2013. Joe in particular has helped alot in getting me exposure on radio shows and podcasts the last two years thanks to his entertainment connections. That being said, being the only indy comic artist at a convention like this turned out to be a good thing, as I was a veteran vendor to some customers, and I stood out more to new ones. I made some great sales throughout the show (eight books with a profit of $65.00) thanks to customers both familiar and unfamiliar. I also did a total of three interviews discussing my work. The first two were from friends Dulcy Brightman, a video blogger (who I met at Long Beach Comic Con last year, and also attended SF Valley Comic Con last November), and Kinte Indy Showcase, a podcast host and friend of Joe Williamson who interviewed me on his show last year. The third was Casey Driver, a photographer and videographer who asked me alot of questions about my Hawaii upbringing. We then exchanged business cards, and I asked him to put the video he shot of me up on youtube. I did get to walk around the show floor a bit once my good friend Andy showed up to support me as well, and I spoke with director Thomas Churchill, actress/singer Priscilla Soltero (both of whom I met through Joe at the Pasadena Comic and Toy Show), artist JD Correa, and Steven E Gordon, whose work I admired when he was the character designer on the "X-Men: Evolution" animated series. Looking through his character prints, I asked him if he had one for Iceman (one of my favorite mutants), but sadly he didn't have one. He did say that he was planning on creating prints for the "new recruits" characters from "evolution" soon. When I returned to my table, I then had actor Carel Struycken (best known for playing Lurch from the Addams Family movies) come by my table to see my work. As we're talking, a star-struck fan interrupts us to take a picture with him. A nice moment. The only person I didn't get to speak to was TV producer John Semper, who appeared out of nowhere to attend the show. I admired his work on the Spider-Man animated series from the 1990s, a show that was the first to take the wall-crawler seriously. As I didn't want to leave my table again to stalk him, I just thought to myself "there's always next time."
And there will be a next time, as before I packed up and left the show when it ended at 4:00, I asked Bob Ranken when his next convention at the Pavilion will be. So, look for me back in Granada Hills in August for SF Valley Comic Con's second show of the year. In the meantime, I will be attending a signing this wednesday at The Comic Bug in Culver City for writer friend David Walker, then I will be attending Wondercon on Easter Sunday to support my fellow indy artists there. So I will be moving the TV inspiration topic back another week in order to discuss Wondercon 2015. It already feels weird and sad not being able to be a part of the show as I have been the last three years, but attending is still the next best thing. Until next week, have a Happy Easter everyone!
In my last blog, I mentioned that my next media inspiration wasn't live-action. This was a cartoon that I've mentioned alot on various podcast interviews as the sole reason I fell in love with the superhero genre to begin with, as well as my introduction to a certain comics universe. The cartoon is none other than the legendary "Spider-Man: and his Amazing Friends."
Originally debuting back in September of 1981, "Amazing Friends" ran on NBC thanks to the success of a solo Spider-Man series that ran in syndication that same year. The premise was that the solo wall-crawler is now teaming up with two other superheroes, former X-Men mutants Iceman and Firestar (the latter beign created for the show). The three, called the "Spider-Friends," all live with Peter's Aunt May while attending college in New York's ESU, and fighting various marvel villains. The original run lasted until about 1983 (which I missed having been born three years earlier), so I discovered this show later on in 1988 when it was re-run on a syndicated cartoon block called "Marvel Action Universe," which also included the cartoons "Robocop" and "Dino-Riders." It was bad enough that it was syndicated on a cable access channel where I lived, but it came on on Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. So, even at eight years old, I was a dedicated TV viewer. Anyway, onto my thoughts on the show: I loved it! Having a team of superheroes (even if it's only three) just ramps up the excitement, as well as the trademark transformation sequence whenever they had a mission. I have to say though, that the main reason I watched this show was for Iceman, period. Watching him surfing on his "ice-slides" throughout every episode just looked like so much fun, and is the main reason I like a lot of other "cold-based" comic book characters like "Mr. Freeze" and "Captain Cold." The other reason was for the appearances of other supeheroes like the other X-Men members, and villains like Kraven, The Beetle, and The Shocker.
What was the direct inspiration this show had on me wanting to get into comics? Well, there wasn't a direct one, but it did introduce me to the team dynamic that helped me develop one of my first comic series "Cosmic Force." There was another show on this cartoon lineup that pushed superhero teams even further, and I'll talk about that one in two weeks, as I will be exhibiting at the San Fernando Valley Comic Book Convention this Sunday, and I'll have a review of the show and how I did sales wise shortly after the show is over. So, until sunday evening!
This question recently popped into my head during my appearance at Tulare Sci-Fi Con last weekend, when another vendor asked me if I use to doodle on my school assignments as a kid. That got me thinking about some of the things that inspired me to get into comics in the first place. The answer? TV, lots of TV. Yes, it may seem odd that watching television as a kid drew me to comics, but it's something that just happened in that order for me. As I have more than one small-screen-based inspiration, and because I have quite alot to say about each of them, I'll be breaking up these discussions into four parts. This week, I'll be discussing the show that had a lasting impression on me both professionally and personally: "Unsolved Mysteries."
Growing up, I was never a big fan of the horror flicks that were popular at the time (in my case, the mid-to late '80s) such as "Friday The 13th," "Halloween," or "Nightmare On Elm Street." Instead, I was drawn more to cheesy low-budget movies that were more comedy than horror like "Maximum Overdrive," and "The Stuff" (although parts of George Romero's and Stephen King's Creepshow series did legitimately scare me as a kid). Overall though, there wasn't much on television or in the movies that I could go to for a "terror fix." Enter "Unsolved Mysteries" in 1987. Originally hosted by "Perry Mason" himself Raymond Burr as a one-time special (which I don't think I watched by the way), it was a news-magazine style show that focused on of course, unsolved cases, everything from missing persons, murders, legends, psychics, and my favorite: UFO sightings and abductions. When it was picked up as a series, former "untouchables" star Robert Stack (though I knew him best as Captain Rex Kramer from "Airplane") took over as the show's permanent host. What made this show beyond scary and awesome were three things: Robert Stack's voice, the incredibly well produced re-enactments, and of course, one of the creepiest tv themes ever composed. As much as it scared me as a child, I couldn't get enough of it. Who cares if this show gave me countless nightmares? It's all in the name of entertainment, mental scarring be damned! Even though the show has long since been cancelled and I just have my dvd box sets, I still watch them religiously and only at night to really set the mood of this creepy program.
So you're probably wondering at this point: How did THIS show inspire me to write and draw comics? Well at first, it didn't. As I got older though, I had still been producing a superhero comic series that I had worked on since I was about eight years old. By this time I was in high school. and my tastes had changed when it came to stories in general, whether they came off a comic page, a tv screen, or film screen. I became much more interested in writing stories based on my personal interests, rather than standard superhero plots involving bank robberies. That's when I remembered how much I enjoyed "Unsolved Mysteries" growing up, and wanted to write a story based on elements from different episodes of the show (specifically the UFO stories), and involve my superhero characters. Out of all that came "Cosmic Force." Their origin story was based off of two of my favorite UFO stories from the show: "Australian UFO," where a pilot flying a single engine Cessna encounters a strange green light and vanishes, never to be seen again, and "Missing Time," which chronicles several people who claim they witnessed strange objects in the sky, and then cannot account for a large amount of time that was lost shortly thereafter. Aside from terrifying me as a kid, what I also loved about this show was the "mystery" aspect of it. Not knowing what really happened during a case and drawing your own conclusions as to what may have transpired. You don't always need to know the answer to everything, and that just makes things more interesting.
So that's the reason for my being inspired by the creepy, sometimes paranormal "Unsolved Mysteries." Next week, I'll be speaking about another TV show that helped steer me toward four-color panels, and while I won't mention what it is just yet, I will say this: It's not live action.