Monday, September 15, 2014

Smokey And The Wife

Yesterday the wife and I watched "Smokey And The Bandit", the fluff chase movie starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, and Jackie Gleason. Released in 1977, it was the second highest grossing movie of the year, trailing only a small little picture called Star Wars. I hadn't seen this in years, and it's still entertaining, in a "just shut your brain off and enjoy the car chases and crashes" kinda way.

In clearing out the DVR a bit, we followed this with "Nine Innings From Ground Zero", about as omega away from Smokey's alpha as you could get. This documentary focused on the role that baseball played in the recovery by New York, and the rest of the United States, from the events of 9/11. This one lead to some fairly in-depth conversations, as we wound up pausing several times to discuss current affairs (like the state of the Middle East), and parenting.

We don't often get days where we can just sit around watching movies and having quiet conversations, so I always appreciate it when one of those rolls around. I'm looking forward to spending as much time as possible with my wife over the rest of our lives. We've always got things we can watch together, and we definitely have events to talk about.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Death And Resurrection In Las Vegas

As I sit here quietly reading 'Michael Palin's Diaries 1969-1979 The Python Years' on a late sunny Sunday morning, cat at my side, wife asleep in the other room, a thought occurs to me. I'd like to start this up again. I miss writing, and my wife and I lead such a busy and event-filled life together that it would be a bit of a shame to let much of it go by undocumented. For example, just yesterday we went, mostly on a whim, to a liquidation sale at The Clarion Hotel here in Las Vegas. A place formerly owned by Debbie Reynolds, its small size and odd location (just off The Strip, and not in an exciting-by-Las-Vegas-standards way) meant it couldn't keep up with the mega-casinos that are everything now. This sale had been going on for at least a week, and EVERYTHING was up for sale...right down to the kitchen sink ($425, if I recall correctly...a slop-sink that could be placed anywhere was only $75).
As a consequence, the interior of the hotel looked as if the zombie apocalypse had occurred roughly a couple years ago. Rooms were ravaged to varying degrees, with some still maintaining some furniture, but all of it displaced. Other rooms had suffered from more pillaging, as chairs, tables, sheets, even entire beds were gone. Kat figured that they could leave the place as is and market it as The Zombie Apocalypse Hotel, and it would be booked solid. Dumber ideas have made millions of dollars.

For the record, we walked out of there with 6 dishes, 6 small bowls, a dozen green cloth napkins, a 5 foot mirror that is maybe a foot wide, a small plastic carafe, 4 hand towels, and some silverware. Only cost us 50 bucks. But the pictures of me "passed out" in random semi-destroyed hotel room bathrooms and strewn across misplaced pieces of furniture probably are worth that themselves.

Blog Post Soundtrack: Probot, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, The Clash, The Misfits (doing 'Horror Hotel'...rather appropriate), Grandmaster Flash, John Lennon

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Unseen Woody Allen

I've got a few new posts that I'm working on for my blog, but none of them are going to be ready anytime soon, unfortunately. Work is taking up far too much of my time recently, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Plus I've got concerts coming up next week as well. First, I'll be seeing Bill Cosby Friday night. Seeing as how I must have at least a dozen different albums of his back from when he was a funny stand-up comedian (and not the sweater wearing, Jell-o pushing TV star/hack of later years), I figure I should see him live at least once. His albums from the late 1960's thru the mid 1970's are rock solid pieces of entertainment. You would be hard-pressed to find a funnier storyteller from that, or any other, era.

The following night (and these are both work days, mind you), I'll be seeing Soundgarden, with The Mars Volta opening. Soundgarden are a band I've followed since around 1990 or so, and I was fortunate enough to see then in New York in 1992 and 1994 (I detailed the events of the 1994 show previously here at Relaxed Atmosphere). The Mars Volta are a band that I only latched onto a couple years or so ago, but I'm a great fan of their work. They have some of the most complex musical arrangements, with massive time and signature changes littered throughout their songs. I'm very curious to see firsthand how they pull off live performances of some of their pieces.

So, in an effort to not let the blog wither and die from lack of use, I'm going to plug in one of the pieces I wrote previously for Unseen Films, the site run by my buddy DB that I occasionally contribute to. This time I examine a fairly overlooked film by Woody Allen entitled Manhattan Murder Mystery, which came out in 1993. An excellent little film...well, why waste time telling you about it here when I can just have you read what I said about it there;

Overlooked because of what was going on off-screen with Woody Allen at the time, Manhattan Murder Mystery is a brilliant little film about relationships and murder. Diane Keaton, in her first Allen film in 6 years (Radio Days), and her first on-screen with him in 14 (Manhattan), plays a bored housewife in a stagnant marriage who's looking for something to spice up her life. And it takes the death of a newly-met neighbor to add that spice. Allen plays her neurotic nebbish of a husband (surprise...) to great comedic effect.

The beauty of this film is its efficiency. Nothing that is brought up in terms of plot or dialogue is without meaning. Every bit of information that is handed to you is used to further the plot or the relationships between the characters. And the way the motivations and actions of each character intertwine really helps to make this tight little film very enjoyable. It also doesn't hurt that it's damn funny in many spots. Watch for Allen's return to physical shtick during the tape recorder scene, and the scene with him and Keaton in a dark elevator contains some brilliantly funny self-help dialogue.

Some great performances of real people are turned in by Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston as well, each playing potential love interests for the Keaton & Allen couple whose marriage may be on the rocks. Shot very loosely, all of the characters are having real conversations as they discuss whether or not a murder has taken place involving Keaton & Allen's neighbor. Talking over each other at times, the characters subtly dispense plot-forwarding information so it doesn't hit you over the head as being exposition. In fact, the one time it is blatant, Allen's character points that out to Keaton, telling her "I get it, his name is Paul!"

Another great performance is turned in by the soundtrack. Lots of great jazz tunes are scattered throughout, but not the New Orleans Ragtime jazz of his "earlier, funnier" films. The film opens with Bobby Short delivering a live cabaret performance of Cole Porter's "I Happen To Like New York" over helicopter shots of Manhattan, and Bob Crosby And His Orchestra's "Big Noise From Winnetka" is also used to great effect in a chase scene. And while not as prominent as in some of his other films, Allen's love of Manhattan is on display again, with many beautiful shots of the city used for effect, as well as just because they make for nice pictures. Many of the borough's parks, big (Central Park) and small (Gramercy Park), feature nicely in conversation scenes. Also, in a nod to an inspiration, a clip from "Double Indemnity" plays during the film, again being used to further the plot.

A brilliant and brilliantly funny film, Manhattan Murder Mystery, clocking in at 107 minutes, is well worth seeking out for an enjoyable, occasionally frantic, run thru what may or may not be a murder occurring in New York's biggest borough. You'll have to watch, and laugh, to find out for sure.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Grant Morrison (or How I Gave Up Eating Fast Food 20 Years Ago)

I've just finished watching the animated All-Star Superman movie again, ostensibly to write-up a review for Unseen Films. This is the animated feature that, as of the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle this past March, artist Frank Quitely hadn't seen yet, even though it's based on a book that he drew the artwork for. It's a terrific story, one that focuses on the power of good, and the power of love. It also hinges on a terrific ability to tell a story, and that's where Grant Morrison, the writer of the book the animated film is based on, comes in.

Back in 1989, I was working at a little comic book store in an indoor flea market-type mall in Flushing, New York, just one subway stop from Shea Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Mets. I would see all of the different comics that would come in each week, and was forming friendships with many of the customers that would come in. This was helpful in both directions, as I would recommend titles for people to read based on what they were already purchasing, and I would hear tales of approval from them about books they were enthralled by that I had yet to sample. Although I can't grab any names out of thin air, I can still picture the faces of some people who, all at roughly the same time, were suggesting that I start reading Doom Patrol and Animal Man, both of which were being written by Morrison.

Upon finally picking up an issue of both titles, I soon became so enamored with them that I searched out all of the previous issues of both series that he had written, which thankfully wasn't a lot. I came onto Doom Patrol somewhere around #29 or so, and the first issue he wrote was #19. He had started Animal Man roughly a year earlier than Doom Patrol, and was unfortunately nearing the end of what became his 26 issue run by the time I'd started around #19. To this day though, I still think his first four issue arc on Doom Patrol, and his entire 26 issue run on Animal Man (issues 1 thru 26 comprised one giant story), are some of the best stories I've ever read.

Now we move ahead a little bit to the Spring of 1992. By now I was working at a different comic book store (surprise...) in lower Manhattan, just a block or so east of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Morrison had by this time already become one of my very favorite writers. I was a regular attendee at local comic books conventions, and there was a pretty good sized one twice a year at a hotel right across the street from Madison Square Garden, home of the National Hockey League's New York Rangers, in the heart of New York City. There were many luminaries from the comic book world that would make appearances at these shows, talking, signing, and sketching for the weekend. It was at these shows that I first struck up acquaintances with people such as Mike Mignola, Mike Zeck, Paul Chadwick, and others.

There was one slight difference between Morrison and the regular guests at these shows. Many of the bigger comic book creators lived in and around the New York City area, so their attendance was no more than a long car ride, or a fairly short plane trip, away. Morrison was a resident of Scotland, so the likelihood of him being at one of these shows was fairly slim (although Dave McKean, a lifelong resident of England, was flown in for one in 1990 or so, just after the publication of the Batman: Arkham Asylum graphic novel, which was authored by Morrison, so there was hope.).

The same company that ran the large twice-yearly NYC shows also put on a smaller monthly show at a more intimate hotel venue in Manhattan, and usually had one guest at each of these. Sometimes a big name, sometimes a smaller one, but there would always be one. Lo and behold, for one of these small satellite shows, the one and only guest was going to be...Grant Morrison! I was in my interviewing phase at the time, with articles recently published about Mignola and Chadwick for the terrific trade magazine Amazing Heroes. I instantly started jotting down questions that I wanted to ask Morrison. Now, seeing as how Amazing Heroes had just ceased publication (my interview with Chadwick was the cover story of the final issue of the magazine's 12 year run), I wasn't sure where, or if, this would ever appear, but I wasn't concerned with that. I was much more interested in getting inside the head of the creative genius that had already made such a huge impact on me.

I made plans to meet up at the show with a customer from the store who was a friend of mine. I lost touch with him after I left the store in late 1992, but I can picture him clear as day as I write this, and I remember his name was Allen, and he was of Polish descent with an appropriate surname to back up his heritage. As I mentioned, I'd made friends with quite a number of regular patrons of the stores I'd worked at, which was kind of easy when you could tell right away, based on what books people were buying, who you might have a little something in common with. Too damn bad the audience was pretty much 100% guys then...the only cute girls that ever made their way into places like that at the time clung desperately and nervously to the arms of the guys who had dragged them there, for fear of catching some sort of contagious nerd disease.

The show was to be on a Saturday, and I was tremendously looking forward to it. I think I even saw Allen in the store on Friday, and he being a big Morrison fan as well, was also eagerly anticipating the chance to meet him. I forget exactly when during the day I had lunch, but I remember distinctly what it was and where I got it. To paraphrase a terrific joke by the late great comedian Richard Jeni (he was NOT talking about an airline that had wronged him at the time, I've just changed the punchline to NOT talk about a certain fast food chain); I don't want to embarrass the company by naming them, that wouldn't be proper...let's just say it rhymes with Soy Sodgers...

I don't know what was wrong with the bacon double cheeseburger I had from that establishment, or exactly when it started to let me know that something was wrong with it, but something wrong there was. I was probably already turning colors by the time I got home from work that evening, and wound up forcibly ejecting everything from my system in a northerly direction. Unfortunately, this didn't happen one-and-done. That would have been fine. No, whatever I had decided it wanted to do a full purge of my insides, and pretty much every hour on the hour, for the next 10 or 12, I found myself running to the bathroom. There was nothing left to give after the third or fourth trip, but my body didn't know or care by that point.

Needless to say, sleep was not anything I made friends with that evening, so by the time morning rolled around, I was exhausted. Nonetheless, I was still determined to go back into Manhattan, because when was I going to get another chance to see Morrison? I was 20 years old, young, thin, and in pretty decent shape. As I started to make motions to sit up, my mother came in my room, and with ONE FINGER thwarted my departure plans by saying something along the lines of "You're not going anywhere" as she gently shoved me in the chest with that single digit...and completely flattened me back into my bed. I'd never felt so defeated and crushed...and she was right, which was probably the worst part. I instantly vowed to never eat fast food again, and nearly 20 years later I've stuck to it, as the number of meals I've consumed from places like that since then can be counted on one hand...and I'd still have some fingers left over.

When next I saw Allen at the store, he told me he figured something drastic had happened, as he knew there was no way I'd miss something like this. Remember kids, this is pre-cell phone era, when the only text we knew was the print you'd see in a book. What's worse, Allen also told me I could have done a feature length interview, as I basically would have had Morrison all to myself. Attendance was minimal at the show, and practically no one knew, or cared, who Morrison was. Allen said he talked with him for quite a bit, and had mentioned to him to be prepared to be interviewed when I showed up. I instantly felt sick to my stomach again when he told me this, but at least this time there would be no projectile vomiting.

Fast forward 16 years, to early 2008. I'm now living in the deserts of the American Southwest, I've been a postman for over 13 years, and I rarely if ever set foot inside a comic book shop anymore, as my collecting tastes have gravitated towards trade paperbacks and original art, which are more easily purchased online. I do travel to different locations around the country to go to comic book conventions however, as I still like to meet artists and writers whose work I enjoy, and it gives me an excuse to see parts of this land I haven't explored yet. And a break from work is always a nice thing too. I haven't been back to NYC in about a year at this point, and with my father not travelling, the only time I see him is when I go there. I know there is a huge comic book show coming to NYC in April 2008, and have pretty much made up my mind that I will build a trip back home around that...and then Grant Morrison is announced as a guest, and I probably bought my plane tickets the same day I found that out.

Not everything Morrison has written has been gold to me. There have been things that I feel missed completely, things I've read that I was rather ambivalent about, and some things I didn't even bother getting or reading at all. But there have been plenty of things that have been published in the interim that have been wonderful, and eye-opening, and amazing, and the initial impact of those early stories has never been lost either. In fact, those first Doom Patrol issues, and in particular the ENTIRE Animal Man arc, have only achieved even greater esteem in my eyes over the ensuing years and re-reads. And I've been introduced to a host of artists due to their collaborating with him, particular favorites being Quitely and Duncan Fegredo.

The convention ran Friday thru Sunday, and while there were plenty of people there that I was happy to see (Neal Adams, Chris Claremont, J.M. DeMatteis, Fegredo, Rick Leonardi, Mignola, and many others), my biggest thrill was going to come from meeting Morrison. Stopping by the big booth that DC Comics had set up on the show floor of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (the largest convention center in NYC, which is saying something), my friend DB (from Unseen Films) and I found a signing schedule. Seeing that Morrison was due to be at the DC booth within the hour, I decided to take no chances. I inquired as to whether a line had formed for him yet, and upon hearing the answer was no, I told them there was one now. Since this was a Friday, and still very early on during the show weekend, there wasn't quite the throng of people that there could be (and WOULD be, as Saturday rolled around). By the time Morrison arrived, there was a bit of a line behind me, but not enough to force him to rush thru each person that was there. Which was good, because I wanted to talk.

By this point in time, Morrison had become something of a rock star in the comic world, with stories ABOUT him being nearly as legendary as the stories he wrote. Thankfully, this hadn't turned him into a snob, and he was extremely personable, more than willing to chat, and gave thoughtful answers to the questions I threw at him. We briefly discussed Bill Hicks, drugs, writing, ambition, and I even had the chance to tell him (in a much more concise version than this) how I'd waited 16 years to meet him. Although I can't remember for certain, I'm fairly sure he said he hoped it was worth it, in his thick Scottish brogue.

Thankfully, that wasn't the end. Since this was a 3 day show, I was going to be sure to be in his line each of the following 2 days as well. However, there was a panel centered around him fairly early on Saturday afternoon, and both DB and I wanted to be in the audience for that. There was a terrific scripted introduction (consisting entirely of Morrison quotes culled from interviews with him) read by the moderator over a slide show of images from Morrison-penned comics, as well as photos and drawings of the man. When he entered to a thunderous ovation from the packed room, he instantly threw the floor open to questions from the audience, and the remaining 45 minutes or so was him answering mostly intelligent queries from knowledgeable fans. Most of the questions I really wanted to ask I'd either already gotten to the day before, or someone at the panel asked something similar enough that I was perfectly content to just sit there and take it all in. Weeks later I was able to download an audio version of the panel from DC's own website, and I'll listen to it occasionally on the iPod while delivering letters and magazines in the mailroom of the big apartment complex on my route.

There was to be another autograph session at the DC booth later in the afternoon, but seeing how this was an extremely crowded Saturday (I believe the NYC Fire Marshal was threatening to close off parts of the convention venue if the crowds weren't better controlled), a line started forming for Morrison well in advance of the signing time. By the time I made it to the line, with more than an hour and a half to spare, it already wrapped clear around the DC booth, easily 100 people strong. DB went and saw another hour-long panel on something he was interested in, and still had time to find me on line before the signing had even begun. The line did actually move though once Morrison showed up, and this time they put a limit on the number of items to be signed, due to the volume of people. Made waiting for a little bit on Friday seem like an even better idea in hindsight.

Part of the reason for the reasonably quick movement of the line, DB and I were to discover as we got towards the front, was that for the most part, no one was bothering to talk to Morrison. Since the line snaked behind the table before it came around towards where he was seated, as soon as we cleared the partition, I was going to talk with him. As for what to talk about, well, that was decided as soon as we could see under the table from behind, where there sat a leather bag with the face of legendary British comic book writer Alan Moore apparently painted on it. As Morrison signed away for someone a half-dozen people in front of us, I asked what the deal with the bag was. He immediately turned to me and, with a big smile on his face, said something to the effect of "Someone GAVE me this! Can you believe it? What am I supposed to do with something like that?" And that started that conversation.

I should also mention that although he is a comic book rock star, he maintains the image of a fashion icon. He's what ZZ Top would describe as "a sharp dressed man", always appearing in full suit and tie, and definitely the expensive kind. He also has the same hair style as myself, that of the dome-shaved-with-a-straight-razor look (and probably for the same reasons that I do it too...).

We chatted for a bit, I got a few things signed, got to express my appreciation for his work, and repeated the process again on Sunday, when it had calmed down quite a bit as far as the crowd was concerned. I eventually made it back to Las Vegas, put the books back on the shelves, placed the artwork back in the frames and hung it back on the walls, and that was that. At the same giant comic book convention in New York in October 2010, I saw footage from a documentary about him that finally came out at the end of 2010, and I even wrote a review of it for Unseen Films this past May. But it's nice to know that I was able to meet and talk with the man, and I (as well as my body free of fast food toxins) am grateful for that.

Addendum (July 17, 2011): A Twitter-friend posted this blog about his very recent meeting with Morrison in Glasgow, Scotland. Worth reading as well. Good one, Colin!

Blog Post Soundtrack; Crunt, Alice In Chains, Nirvana (live), Elvis Costello, Primus, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Metallica (live), John Lee Hooker, Mr. Bungle, The Police, Tricky, The White Stripes (live covering Brendan Benson), Stevie Ray Vaughan (live), Mitch Hedberg, Danzig, The Doors (live), Cab Calloway, Pearl Jam (live covering Fugazi & The Talking Heads), Richard Pryor, Rollins Band, The Dropkick Murphys (live, brilliantly mixing an AC/DC cover into the middle of one of their own songs), Eric Clapton (live), Yawning Man, X, The Kinks, Spike Jones, Brant Bjork, Queens Of The Stone Age, Soundgarden, Medeski Martin & Wood (live), Bjork, (hed) pe (covering Black Sabbath), Shootyz Groove, Richard Jeni, Pink Floyd, Chuck Jones, Ike & Tina Turner, Nick Oliveri, Deep Purple (live), Clutch (live), Muddy Waters, David Bowie, Zero Mostel & Michael Hordern & Jack Gilford & Phil Silvers from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Voivod, Red Hot Chili Peppers (live), Benny Goodman, Mr. Bungle, Kyuss (covering Black Sabbath), Prong, Black Flag, Slayer, Mike Patton, Jamiroquai, Audioslave, Oysterhead, Reel Big Fish, The Ramones, The Misfits (live), Minutemen, The Mars Volta, The Smiths, The Black Keys

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mike Mignola Before (And After) Hellboy

As I've mentioned many times over the course of this blog, I'm a fan of the comic book art form. Over the nearly 30 years that I've been in it, my tastes have evolved, as has how I enjoy the hobby. I can't even remember the last time I bought what one thinks of as a "comic book". I stick with collected editions, known as trade paperbacks, which group several issues that comprise one storyline or theme together into one you-can-actually-put-it-on-a-bookshelf book. And even within that parameter, I only buy books by certain creators. I've never really cared about one character or another, I'm just interested in good writers and artists. Within the confines of the story, of course I'll care about the characters, but that's because of the high level of the writing and storytelling due to the quality of the creators. And one of those high quality creators is Mike Mignola.

I was first introduced to the artwork of Mignola way back in around 1985. A schoolmate of mine named Steve Moy, also a comic book fan, encouraged me to check out books he'd drawn. And, as I am wont to do, I'm going to go off on a slight tangent here, as Moy was a good friend for around a decade or so. All thru junior high and high school we would go to each other's houses, read comics, watch movies, play baseball, and just hang out and have a good time. I met him thru another school friend who I still keep in contact with to this day, and comics was one of the things we all had in common. Moy used to bear a striking resemblance to Bruce Lee, particularly from his Game Of Death film. Somewhere along the way, I lost touch with him, as he went to college in Syracuse, New York, a good 250 miles away from Whitestone, where I lived. I think I'd heard something about him living in Seattle at one point. A quick Google search reveals way too many people with that name, and seeing as how I'm not on Facebook, we're not going that route either. Regardless, he was a good friend, made even more so by opening me up to the world of Mignola.

At the time, Mignola was an up-and-coming penciler in the comic book world. He definitely had a unique style, one which the word "quirky" would be very appropriate for. He's never gone for anything even remotely resembling photo-realism; from day one, he was always more concerned with the use of light and shadow and composition over pretty figures. His ability to establish a mood and advance the story with his pictures was always paramount in his work. He would even use his light-and-shadow talents to disguise the fact that he wasn't the greatest artist in the world, as he always struggled drawing hands and feet, and would often shroud them in mist or cloak them in darkness to avoid having to actually render them. You stick with what works.

There was something about his style that I almost instantly gravitated to. I liked the boxiness of his figures, the mysteriousness that his pages seemed to portray, and I really enjoyed the overall look of his work. His work was SO different that it demanded your attention. He was definitely a polarizing force, as you either loved or hated his art. There was no way to be indifferent about it. He was working on the Incredible Hulk in that summer of 1985, and then went over to a book called Alpha Flight. Even though he only lasted on that book for 3 issues, he made an impression on a 14-year-old me. I started to notice him here and there on other things, mostly superhero titles. At the time, there really wasn't much of a choice as to subject matter, as Marvel & DC, the 2 big comic book publishing companies, had well over 90% of the market, and practically their entire output consisted of superhero books. Thankfully, the narrow field of choice was just about to break wide open in the comic book world.

Thru sheer persistence, or force of will, or from just being able to produce pages in a timely manner, plus a healthy dose of actual talent, Mignola started to get higher profile projects to work on. He would fill-in on many titles in the Marvel Universe, doing one issue of a title when the regular wasn't going to be able to meet the deadline, or just to give the regular a break, allowing them either a vacation or a chance to catch up. He would also do many covers at Marvel. Over at DC, he was getting more regular interior work to do. He did a Superman mini-series that filled in some backstory of his home planet of Krypton, and a very highly publicized 4 issue bookshelf format comic called Cosmic Odyssey that starred all the major players in the DC Universe. He also did the covers for 4 issues of Batman's regular series when they were doing a story in which the at-the-time Robin's fate would be decided by the readership. Depending on which 1-900 phone number you called, you were voting for Jason Todd to survive a severe beating by The Joker, or succumb to his injuries and die. It was a marketing ploy that succeeded to immense proportions. When that book came out in late 1988, it made national news. The book sold out instantly everywhere, as all the press it received had ordinary citizens, ones who hadn't bought or even looked at a comic book in years, if ever, coming in to try and get a copy of the book. Although Mignola didn't draw the interiors, the mere fact that he did the covers on such a phenomenal selling book obviously helped his career a great deal.

Then, in the summer of 1989, 2 major projects that Mignola drew were published. For Marvel, he had done a hardcover graphic novel starring Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom, involving the hero and the villain teaming up in an effort to rescue Doom's mother. A beautiful book, it was definitely a project suited for Mignola, as he got to draw demons and monsters and other denizens of Hell, something that he always wanted to do. Over at DC, he did a bookshelf comic starring Batman in an alternate universe in which he was in London investigating the Jack The Ripper murders at the time they were occurring. Gotham By Gaslight, the title of the Batman/Jack The Ripper book, is another terrific use of Mignola's talents, as the foggy and shadowy London nights were perfect for his drawing style, and seeing as this was one of DC's flagship characters, it really helped to solidify him on the artistic map. Remember, 1989 was the summer of the Bat, as the Tim Burton, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson Batman film was about to debut. Mignola was much happier with these projects as well, because he had been starting to get known as a superhero guy, and he realized this was a category he did not want to be pigeonholed into.

He then branched out a bit more with subject matter. While he did a Wolverine bookshelf comic, and continued to draw many covers for Marvel and DC, those things paid the bills while he drew the smaller profile projects that he REALLY wanted to draw, like a little Swamp Thing story with a then-relatively-unknown writer named Neil Gaiman, a 4 issue adaptation of Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd & The Grey Mouser characters with Howard Chaykin, a Hellraiser story set in the universe of Clive Barker, and a massive Ironwolf hardcover graphic novel that Chaykin himself had approached Mignola about doing. And even the Wolverine book involved him in The Savage Land, where dinosaurs still existed, so he got to draw monsters there, too. The cover, owned by a Comic Art Fans friend, is also his best Frank Frazetta homage, an artistic hero of Mignola's (and basically everyone who's ever been an artist or art fan).

I can't remember if it was the summer of 1989, or January of 1990, but I really don't feel like digging thru boxes looking for some evidence to pinpoint it...and frankly, it isn't that important anyway. What does matter is that at one of those 2 times, I went into Manhattan to attend a comic book convention at which Mignola was going to be a guest. This was only the second or third big show that I had gone to, and I'd seen at the others that some artists would do sketches for people for a fee. I knew that I wanted to get something from Mignola, in addition to just being able to meet him, talk with him, and have him sign some of the books of his that I had. As I stood at his table waiting my turn, he was finishing a piece for someone else, and it was a drawing of the aforementioned 2 Dr.'s. I was so taken at just how cool it looked that when it came my turn, I said something to the effect of "Can I get one of those?" And so began a relationship that got to the point that he recognized me at shows, as he would be a guest at one in New York every 6 months, and I of course would be there as well. I wound up getting 3 sketches over those years, but the best part was just getting to hang around his table and talk with him about art, the comic world, and his origins.

As a directly related aside, I've always enjoyed finding out about the creative process as much, if not more, than the actual creations. If I really like a movie, I want the 3 disc DVD with the bazillion extras that gives all the behind the scenes stuff, and the commentary tracks, and the making-of features, and so on. And the same goes for the comic book creators I admire. The ones whose work I really enjoy, who've done work that has had an impact on me, are the ones who I go out and seek the trade publications that have interviews with them. And as I would talk more and more with Mignola at these conventions, I realized that no one had ever published an interview with him, and that in talking with him at show after show, I was practically conducting one. Hmmmmm...

So at the NYC show in June of 1991, I broached the topic of doing an interview with him. What I find amazing, to this day, is that here was this dopey long-haired 19 year-old kid, with no affiliation with any publication, and no real writing experience to speak of, asking Mignola to be the subject of an interview...and he said yes! I'm shaking my head as I write this. Now, I can't remember if I had contacted Fantagraphics (publishers of the comic book news and interview magazine Amazing Heroes) first, or if I'd gotten Mignola to agree to the interview first, but all of a sudden it was all set up, and the interview was a go! I got a list of questions and topics ready to discuss with him, and left early from my summer job in Long Island one sunny day in July to make my way down to his apartment in Greenwich Village. I took a small camera with me as well, so when I arrived at his apartment, we just chatted for a while as he toured me around the dwelling, and I took some pictures of him in his studio.

After a bit of this, we made our way to the nearby Slaughtered Lamb pub to conduct the interview proper. Over a great burger that Mignola paid for (thanks, Mike!), we sat and talked about his life, career, his art, and where he wanted to go with it. A couple hours or so later, I was making my way back home to Queens to begin the task of transcribing the tapes, and then editing the conversation down to the most interesting material that would fit in the space that I had been allotted for the issue, which was to be published just 3 months later! The final piece got mailed off to Seattle, home of Fantagraphics (remember kids, this is the dark ages before the internet was as commonplace as horrendous reality TV shows), and I went back to my life.

Needless to say, it was quite a thrill that October to actually get the published version in my hands. It's still something I'm rather proud of (obviously, if you've read this far...), and while it unfortunately didn't lead to a journalism career (not that I really wanted one), it's still something I can hang my hat on.

Not long after the publication of Amazing Heroes #196, he moved away to the West Coast, and then the conventions in New York disappeared as well. I finally saw him again in I believe 1994, and he told me that a picture I took for my interview with him had just been used in an interview with him in Fantagraphics other, more sophisticated publication about comics, The Comics Journal. I didn't even know he'd been interviewed for it, so I got a copy and yup, there was a now several-years-old picture of Mignola in his at-the-time studio that I'd taken accompanying a new interview with him. Frankly, it didn't really bother me...I just wanted to read the interview.

By this time, Mignola had done enough working with Marvel and DC on properties that they owned, and he struck out on his own with a little creation of his called Hellboy. All he'd ever really wanted to do was draw monsters, so in coming up with his own creation, he could set it in his own universe, where anything he wanted to happen could, and anything he wanted to appear could, and he could put all of these things in any setting he wanted. He had made his own kingdom, so he obviously had the keys to it. Aside from a scripting assist from John Byrne on the first mini-series, Mignola has written the Hellboy comics himself. The Hellboy stories were published thru a company called Dark Horse Comics, who from day one in 1986 have been completely creator-friendly, allowing the artists and writers to retain the rights to their properties. They has gone on to be such a success that it has afforded him the opportunity to do nothing but that for the rest of his life. It has birthed its own universe, with the agency that Hellboy works for, The Bureau For Paranormal Research And Defense (B.P.R.D.), having many series of its own published, written and drawn by people of Mignola's choosing (sometimes written by Mignola himself), and all under his supervision...but he trusts them enough to let them do their thing.

Hellboy even went on to become so successful as to spawn 2 feature films directed by Guillermo del Toro. To go back on the Mignola history a bit, his first involvement with Hollywood involved Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula film that was released in November of 1992. Mignola was the artist of Topps' Comics adaptation of the film, and Coppola's son Roman was a big comic book fan. When Francis decided that he wanted to change the look of certain set pieces, Roman suggested to him that he bring Mignola in to do some of the design work. I remember Mignola telling me a story of one of the most surreal days of his life. He was invited by Francis to come view a rough cut of the Dracula film at George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch. Mignola was living in San Francisco at the time, so it was a short drive up to Marin County where Lucas lives. Mignola, expecting this to be a screening for dozens of people, was stunned to discover that the entire audience would consist of him, Coppola, and Lucas. But that began his involvement in the film world.

He then went on to be a concept artist on the 2002 film Blade 2. There is some slight irony here, as Blade was based on a Marvel Comics' character. The director was del Toro, who is also a huge fan of comics in general, and Mignola in particular. While working on the film, the idea of making a Hellboy picture brewed between the 2, and it culminated in April of 2004 with the release of the first Hellboy motion picture, with Ron Perlman starring as the big red guy. A second film was released in July 2008, also helmed by del Toro, with Mignola along fully involved in all phases of production for both pictures. He even makes a brief cameo in the first film along with del Toro. And yes, there is an ultra-deluxe 3 disc DVD of the first Hellboy movie, which, of course, I have...

With the disappearance of a regular big comic book convention in New York City in the mid-1990's, I pretty much stopped seeing comic book professionals for quite some time. Other interests took over my time as well. It wasn't until after I moved out here to Las Vegas in March of 2000 that I started branching out my traveling. I now had more time and money, and the combination afforded me more opportunities. After touring some friends back to NYC in May of 2005, and spending hardly any time seeing my parents, I realized I needed to remedy that. I saw there was going to be a big comic book con in NYC that fall, so I decided to fly in, spend some time at that, and just hang out with my folks at home as well. I had such a good time at the comic book show that I started to look at going to other ones on my half of the country as well, and it was at one in Phoenix, Arizona in January 2007 that I was finally able to see Mignola again. It had been nearly 13 years since I'd last seen him, I wondered if there was any way I could get him to remember me? I realized I'd just bring the pictures of him I'd taken lo those many years ago, when we both were of the long-haired variety. By this time, we were both of the shaved-head variety, I suspect him for the same reasons as me.

Upon arriving at my hotel that was right next to the convention center in Mesa, Arizona (a suburb just southeast of downtown Phoenix), I pretty much went right over to the show. There was a small line at Mignola's table, so I got on, and upon getting to the front, dropped the pictures in front of both him and his wife Christine, and pretty much got a pair of dropped jaws, which made me very happy. Mignola looked up, we shook hands, and started catching up. I spent quite a lot of time at their table at that show, and the 3 of us talked about everything under the sun, including their daughter Katie, who didn't exist the last time I'd seen him. He even showed me copies of the pencils of the first issue of the at-the-time upcoming Hellboy series Darkness Calls. This was to be the first major Hellboy book not drawn by Mignola, as the art chores were to be handled by Duncan Fegredo. I first remember seeing Fegredo do a Kid Eternity series with Grant Morrison, but these Hellboy pages were a completely different style. Mignola said Fegredo was terrific, and only getting better with each issue. I was so impressed that I eventually bought a page from the first issue, which had Fegredo himself exclaim "Ugh! Those stairs!" when I met him in New York City the following April (yup, got to see the folks again, too). I also chatted with Christine about the fact that my parents now live in the same town in Long Island, New York that she grew up in. Small world.

Before I left the next afternoon, he was also nice enough to draw a sketch for me. He was doing free head sketches at the show, as he does at many of his convention appearances, and nearly everyone was asking for Hellboy, so much so that he wasn't even looking at the paper as he was drawing it anymore. In my never ending quest to not be just another cog in the machine, and to retain SOME sort of uniqueness, I asked him if he'd draw a sketch of Fafhrd, especially since a trade paperback collecting the original bookshelf comics was finally just about to come out. He obliged, but actually asked for reference, because it had been so long since he'd drawn the character. I'm pretty happy with the results.

Fast forward to October of 2009, and I'm poking around on an online auction site, and lo and behold, I come across a very interesting piece of original artwork by Mignola. It was the title page to the previously mentioned Ironwolf graphic novel that he was just finishing when I'd actually done the interview with him. This particular piece has a nice double meaning for me. In addition to being something he was working on at the time, it was also based on a piece of reference material. Turns out, the same piece of reference material was also the inspiration for the drawing of the wolf's head that adorns the banner outside of The Slaughtered Lamb pub in Greenwich Village. What better reminder of a terrific day in my life than to have that actual page hanging on the walls of my home.

I've now seen Mike & Christine at several shows since then, most recently in Seattle this past March. It's always a pleasure to run into them, chat for a few minutes, and Mignola is always nice enough to sign whatever books of his I bring. And as a final point of irony, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Although he moved from that address a few years before the publication of any Hellboy comics, when I conducted the interview with him, he was living at 666 Greenwich Street. You can't make this stuff up.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Doors (live), Louis Jordan, Mike Patton, Patti Smith, Pearl Jam (live), Metallica (live), Republica, Galactic, The Dickies, Beck, Sex Pistols, James Brown, Bad Radio, Sugarcubes, Florence & The Machine, Joe Walsh, The White Stripes, The Black Keys (nice juxtaposition), Mr. Bungle (live), Andy Breckman, Discharge, Van Morrison, Nuclear Assault, Bjork, The Ventures, Down, John Lee Hooker, Primus, The Company Band, Led Zeppelin, Bo Diddley, Faith No More (live), Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Ray Vaughan (live), Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Cantrell, Fu Manchu (live), Clutch (live), Louis Armstrong, At The Drive-In, Slayer, Unida, Tool (live), Brant Bjork, The Dandy Warhols, KoRn, Portishead, Queens Of The Stone Age (live), Voivod, Orange Goblin, Hermano, Deftones, Pantera

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Sleep Deprivation Experiment Continues

So it's 1AM, and I've just gotten home from seeing the Deftones live here in Las Vegas. They are a terrific metal band that I've been a fan of since their first album came out back in 1995. Due to unremembered circumstances, however, I wasn't able to see them live until they came around as co-headliners (although they went on first) with Alice In Chains a few months ago. They sounded so good at that show that my-friend-the-girl J and I decided right then and there to go see them whenever they came around as full headliners, and lo and behold, we didn't have to wait too long.

The only problem with this is the show was on a Saturday night, on the heels of a 6 day work week, and of course every day ran long. Good thing the checks keep clearing. And to combat the impending shutdown of my physical self, I just pop a couple of Excedrin...since I don't drink soda or coffee, it doesn't take much caffeine to keep me going on less than my usual 6 hours sleep a night. It also helps that I will be off for the next 2 days, and possibly 3, if they don't call me to work my scheduled day off Tuesday.

The summer concert season will have me getting many a sleep deprived night in, as I've got upcoming dates with Bill Cosby, Soundgarden with The Mars Volta as the opening act, Iggy Pop And The Stooges, Thin Lizzy and Black Label Society opening for Judas Priest, and the almighty and mostly reformed Kyuss, which happens to be my favorite band bar none. No matter how much I love things like The Doors, Metallica (up thru about 1989), Bjork, etc, if one were to do the proverbial desert island thing with me, Kyuss would be the one that would be chosen. Same thing with the gun-to-the-head analogy...Kyuss would still be the answer with a bullet pointed at my brain. The importance of their music in my life cannot be overstated.

Eventually I'll get around to a full post on Kyuss and what they truly mean to me, but since it's kinda hard to see the MacBook screen thru my getting-more-and-more-closed-eyelids, I'll just draw this mini-missive to a close. Hello, sleep, I've missed you...

...and right as I initially posted this, I see my Twitter friend Jessica Kausen is still at work in New York 4 fucking 30 in the morning...after starting the previous 8AM or so...on the weekend...I'm a fucking wuss.

Blog Post Soundtrack; P.J. Harvey, Mercyful Fate, Monster Magnet, Foo Fighters, At The Drive-In, Metallica (live), Blondie

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why I'm Not Writing About San Francisco...Yet...

The other day I was really hoping to write about my recent trip to San Francisco, but due to major computer problems, that's gonna have to be put on hold. Suffice to say, I'm now writing this on my new MacBook Pro laptop, which is something I've wanted for quite some time anyhow. I just finally had a good enough excuse to go out and get one with the near-demise of my 3 year old PC.

So, since I now have the new fancy-schmancy laptop, why am I not now writing about San Francisco? Well, partially because it's taken the bulk of the weekend to get myself set-up with the new machine (LOTS of photos and music to import...), but also because I apparently had not backed up my pictures since mid-March of this year...and my trip to San Francisco was in April. To quote the great philosopher, Homer Simpson: "D'oh!!"

Not to worry. The old PC isn't totally fried, I just can't get it to start up. The information is still there, and recoverable, I just won't be able to do anything with it on that machine. Which is fine, because I just want to import it to my new one. Just have to get around to it at some point. I do need to do that, because a trip to San Jose, a trip to San Diego, 2 trips to Anaheim, and the aforementioned San Francisco trip all have their photographic documentation on there, and while I've written the San Jose trip up (mostly), and pretty much covered the San Diego trip, none of the pictures were saved to my external hard drive before my PC's sudden desire to take a very long nap.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to get a laptop is so that I can do this writing sitting somewhere other than the office in my home. As much as I enjoy it, with the PC I was forced to be solely in my office to do all of my writing. Now, I'm sitting in a room of my home looking out into the backyard, watching birds flying in and out of the trees on a beautiful, reasonably cool (for the deserts of Southern Nevada in late May) sunny day. I might actually move outside to get a better view...and keep writing.

And, while I could mostly do the San Francisco trip from memory, my noggin works a LOT better with visual prompting. I don't want to leave things out, or put things in the wrong order, stuff like that. I can give you a Reader's Digest version; I walked. A lot. From my hotel at Fisherman's Wharf, just a couple blocks from Lombard Street, to AT&T Park, which is the current corporate branding for the home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, from the same hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, down to the Painted Ladies, and from the same hotel down to the Warfield Theater for a P. J. Harvey concert. But there's many details I want to include, and they're much more interesting when they're photo-illustrated...and I took quite a few pictures of the very picturesque city.

Blog Post Soundtrack; Megadeth, 1,000 Homo DJ's, Monster Magnet, Pantera (all covering Black Sabbath)