Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Comics

I woke up this past Sunday morning with a bit of an urge to take a drive out to my local comic book store in Smithtown, Long Island, which is rather odd, seeing as how I've lived in Henderson, Nevada for over 10 years now. I've been a comic book person since I was around 12 or so, but I haven't taken a regular trip to a store in maybe 6 or 7 years or so. I still buy things, but almost always trade paperbacks that collect old books that I liked or original graphic novels. Either way, it's nearly always things that go on bookshelves. And all of those things are available online, or at big bookstores. I very rarely buy a single comic book anymore, and I just as rarely go into a comic book store anymore. But I occasionally miss it.

When I was living on Long Island (against my will...), the best store for me was about a 40 minute drive further out east in Smithtown. Since it wasn't exactly next door, I would just go out once a month on a Sunday morning, and make a nice mini day trip out of it. It was a pleasant experience to actually be DRIVING on the Long Island Expressway (LIE), as opposed to just sitting there, or stopping and starting every 15 feet, and having a small internal celebration if you were able to achieve a speed in excess of 20 MPH. When you aren't muttering about the appalling lack of progress due to too much humanity being cramped into too little real estate, you could come to realize that the LIE actually was a nice and fairly scenic route. And then, having to travel about 10 minutes north of the LIE to get to the location of Fourth World Comics in Smithtown, the road and the journey became even nicer, almost like wandering thru the countryside. Again, it really helped that there was no pressure about making a deadline, no having to be there by a certain time, and no other mass of humanity all trying to get to the same place as you at the same time.

The destination was also quite cool as well. Fourth World is one of the better comic book stores I've ever been in, and I've visited plenty, and even worked in several, including one in downtown Manhattan, located just East of Broadway, South of New York City Hall, in the shadow of the Twin Towers. I was already living in the Las Vegas area for well over a year when 9/11 happened, so I had fallen out of contact with the people at Chameleon Comics & Cards. I worked there for most of 1992, the first year of it's existence. Amazingly, despite their incredibly close proximity to the Twin Towers, the store survived the disaster, both physically and financially, and it is still in operation today. But being a Wall Street location, one of the pricier districts in an already financially-obscene area, the store is a very cramped and tiny place. While Long Island isn't exactly a cheaper area, at least there is a little more room to build out, so Fourth World was in a much physically bigger location. The store must be close to 100 feet front to back, so merchandise was able to be spread out, a greater variety of it was able to be stocked and displayed, and there was a little bit of elbow room as well.

And then, to really enhance the overall relaxation experience of the day, I'd make the return trip on a different road. It would usually be the Veterans Memorial Highway leading into the Northern State Parkway, which at that point is just a 4 lane tree-lined winding road meandering thru the hills that only qualifies as a Parkway because the speed limit is 50 and there's a barrier between the opposite directions. It's a really pretty ride, quite enjoyable if you're not dealing with millions of angry people trying to get to a job they hate so they can pay for the lives and debt they've trapped themselves in.

While I do enjoy the ability to be able to find just about anything ever published via the online experience, every once in a while I do pine for the days of yore, when a pleasant drive thru the countryside would lead me to a nice store that had some really cool books that I still enjoy today.

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Doors (live), Mondo Generator, Kyuss (live), Metallica (live), Republica, Down, Soulfly (live covering a Nailbomb track), The Fratellis, Ozzy Osbourne, Huevos Rancheros, Big Bill Broonzy, Rollins Band, S.O.D., The Dandy Warhols, The Ramones, The Waitresses, The Misfits (live), Dead Kennedys (live), Minutemen

Friday, May 21, 2010

Vlad's Paintings

I suppose this MAY have something to do with the impending approach of Father's Day, but I've never been much of a believer in holidays. If you need a holiday to remind you to tell somebody how much you care about them, or to thank them for the things they've done for you, does that make it okay to take them for granted the other 364 days of the year? Not to mention the whole corporate greed aspect of holidays. Corporations prey upon the guilt and insecurities built into the average human, making them feel like they are worthless scum unless they buy cards, flowers, candy, etc., on made up "holidays" devoted to Father's, Mother's, Valentine's, and other such nonsense. This is starting to sound like I've gotten on a soapbox, but isn't that basically what a blog is, an electronic soapbox? Anyway, back to the point...

In my recent post about Frank Frazetta & My Father, I mentioned my father's painting. He did many oil paintings over the years, a number of which hang on the walls of their home in Long Island, New York, and one of which hangs on the wall in my home in Henderson, Nevada. But I thought I'd take the opportunity to show everybody a couple more that he did, as I realized I've got pictures of many of them on my computer. I'd forgotten he had me take pictures of them the last time I visited (over 2 years ago already), so that he could e-mail images to his step-sister who lives somewhere in Southern California.

Many of the paintings that he does are his own versions of classic paintings by many of the masters (I know there's a Picasso, a Hopper, maybe even a Monet). But he also used to randomly see a photo in a magazine here or there that just struck him as something he wanted to paint. The elephant painting shown here I believe came from a photo from a National Geographic magazine. This was done in 1988, and I remember this hanging on the walls of our house in Whitestone, NY for many years. There was sort of a running joke about the painting that, once you knew it, you were completely incapable of seeing the painting the same way ever again. Nothing major, but it does change your perspective about it enough that you really can't see it any other way anymore.

As I said before, he would also do his own renditions of classic paintings. This was his rendition of Edward Hopper's Early Sunday Morning, and I'm turning over the next part of the story to my Mom here, as I can't really improve on what she said in an e-mail; "Dad painted “Early Sunday Morning” at my request. It is hanging in the dining room where I can see it when we eat there. He did a terrific job on it. He modified it a bit but he captured the essence of the painting and my reason for liking it. Dad’s painting shows two thirds of the width of Hopper’s painting encompassing two plus stores including the barber pole. The store on the left in Dad’s painting would have represented the butcher store my grandfather owned, but was already closed when I was a kid (because my grandfather had retired by then). We played in the empty store as kids. The walk-in meat locker was still there, complete with a window to the inside of the store and a counter below the window, plus a large handled pull-down lock on both sides of the entry door. The store itself still had the counter and old cash register. None of this is visible in the painting but those are the memories it brings back to me. Next door even in real life was a barber shop – it may still be today but I am not sure. It had the barber pole also. One summer on Sunday mornings I walked from home to meet my aunt to go to church with her. She lived upstairs in the front apartment above the closed butcher store. Dad painted his version in 2006. Ode to nostalgia!"

Blog Post Soundtrack; Leadbelly, Joy Division, Kyuss (covering Black Sabbath), Monster Magnet, Prong, Queens Of The Stone Age, Unida, Bjork, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, The Police, Minutemen

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jean Alesi & Formula 1

Back in the mid 1990's & stretching into the early 2000's, I used to be a very devoted fan of Formula 1 automobile racing. I was a fan of IndyCar racing as well starting sometime in the late 80's (I remember watching the race they had in the parking lot of the Meadowlands sports complex in New Jersey on TV a couple times), and for some reason Jacques Villeneuve became my favorite driver. When he left IndyCar after the 1995 season to go to F1, I simply followed him over there, continuing to follow IndyCar as well, where Greg Moore took over my "favorite IndyCar driver" slot.

My F1 roots go back much earlier though, as I used to love watching the race from Monaco on ABC's Wide World Of Sports in the early & mid 1970's. TV coverage of F1 in the US at that time was practically non-existent, but I have very specific and fond memories of wanting to see the race where they went thru the tunnel, as that was a phenomenon that was unique to the race thru the streets of Monte Carlo. I was quite a young'n at the time, but I was into sports from a VERY early age. Seeing as how I was actually watching a few minutes of qualifying from Monaco this morning, that must be what triggered this journal entry.

I became such an ardent follower of F1 in the late 1990's that I actually journeyed twice to the Grand Prix Of Canada, held at the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Montreal. The 6 or 7 hour drive from New York City was a very pleasant one, except for a brief scare on the 1998 journey north involving Dave Winfield and a bird, and one incident on the 1999 return trip involving a flywheel in my 1983 Chevy Malibu that is a separate blog entry unto itself...which I'll get to someday.

But in thinking about my trips to Canadian F1 races, I stumbled across a very fond memory involving a driver named Jean Alesi. Alesi had tremendous talent, but was a bad decision maker as far as deciding when to drive for what team. He always went with his emotions, which endeared him to fans, but prevented him from having any real success at the F1 level. Despite competing in over 200 F1 races in a career spanning 13 years, he only managed one victory. That came at the 1995 Grand Prix Of Canada, driving a Ferrari emblazoned with the number 27, the same car and number that Gilles Villeneuve drove. This was a wonderfully popular victory with fans, and the partially-French Alesi was a hero in the very French province of Quebec. Alesi's car was so light on fuel that he ran out after the final lap, and hitched a ride with Michael Schumacher to make it back to the pits and the podium. Oh, and the Montreal circuit was named for Villeneuve after his 1982 racing death...and yes, Jacques is Gilles' son.

Alesi went with Ferrari in 1991, passing up an opportunity to drive for Williams. This was just as Ferrari completely fell off the map as far as competitiveness, and Williams became the dominant team for the next 6 or 7 years. He then left Ferrari after 1995 and went to Benetton when Schumacher went in the opposite team direction, and Schumacher took Ferrari to undreamed of success (albeit not right away), while Alesi was a "best of the rest" for 2 years with Benetton.

By the time the 1999 Grand Prix Of Canada rolled around, Alesi was with an underfunded Sauber team that, while not the worst in the field, also never had a chance of winning anything. But he was still a popular figure in the F1 world, and in particular with the fans in Montreal. But he sealed his immense popularity with the racing fans in an untelevised incident during practice at the 1999 event.

I had seats at the entrance to the Casino hairpin for the 1999 weekend (just outside the right edge of this picture, about halfway up), affording me a great view of the cars at the slowest point of the track, excellent for taking pictures. In 1998, I'd sat on the opposite side, and enjoyed it, but thought I might like the other side better. The exit side had about 30 or so rows of seats. The entrance side, due to just not having enough room, only had about 6 rows of seats. The first row was within 10 feet of the track, and it made for a great view of the cars as they rocketed up thru the gears on the exit. It also afforded a great view of the incidents that would happen, as the hairpin was a popular spot for things to go wrong. It was also a pretty safe area to pull over if you had a mechanical issue, due to the very slow speeds thru the hairpin itself.

At some point during practice on Sunday morning, Alesi came thru with something wrong with his vehicle. He pulled it over onto the grass on the exit of the hairpin, got out of the car, removed his helmet, and just waited at the wall. The fans, still remembering him for his 1995 victory, started to give him a great round of applause. Alesi, in appreciation, waved to everyone, which only made the applause get louder. With the superstar status afforded to these drivers, plus the performance standards they have to maintain, it's easy to forget that they are people, and some even cultivate the machine image. But Alesi has always been human, faults and all, and this is part of what endeared him to the F1 community. As everyone got caught up in the moment, Alesi got caught up most of all.

Sometimes drivers will throw their gloves up into the crowd after an incident, just as some kind of thanks to the fans. But that is usually over a catch fence where people are standing just on the other side at the same height as them. Alesi wanted to do something for this crowd, but the stands were just a little too far away and a little too high up to have his gloves make it. Seeing a break in traffic, he got over close to the stands on the exit side, and hurled his HELMET up into the crowd! In one magnificent gesture, Alesi went from popular driver to beloved figure in the eyes of everyone in the stands at that hairpin turn in Montreal. Needless to say, the adulation increased even more, and the roar of the ovation was deafening and beautiful. The helmet is something worth thousands of dollars, and my understanding of it was that he did receive some sort of grief from his team upon returning to the pits, as there are bits of technology in those things that the teams are very secretive about. However, nothing could diminish the feeling of the moment. It was truly something special to witness and be a part of, and even remembering it now stirs up wonderful feelings.

All this because I happened to turn on the TV this morning when I realized it was Monaco weekend, and I wanted to see a few minutes of "the race with the tunnel..."

Blog Post Soundtrack; Tricky, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Simon & Garfunkel, The Sugarcubes, Bjork, Les Claypool & The Holy Mackerel, Angelo Badalamenti, Soulfly, Kyuss, The Doors, Parannoyd, Ted Nugent, Beck, Britney Spears, Silverchair, System Of A Down, Latin Playboys, Johnny Cash, Pearl Jam, Clutch, Mars Volta, Led Zeppelin, Peeping Tom

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta & My Father

One of the greatest artists of this era passed away on May 10. Frank Frazetta was responsible for so many fantastic pieces of fantasy art, there have already been 3 major art books collecting just his painting in that genre, as well as many other books, catalogs, prints, posters, etc, reproducing his work in all areas. I've been a fan of his work probably since before I even realized it. When I was a young teenager, I used to enjoy reading Conan novels, and many of his amazing paintings have graced the cover of those books. His Conan is the definitive version, filled with power, emotion, action, and almost always at least one voluptuous babe.

Frazetta is often put in the same category as Boris Vallejo, but I have always been of the opinion that Frazetta is vastly superior. Vallejo's work always revolves around a perfectly posed person, in an obvious fake position (that no one in whatever situation the painting involves would find themselves in) to better flex the perfectly smooth oiled muscles. No one in Vallejo's paintings ever has anything wrong with them, and that's precisely what's wrong with the paintings. The people have no character, no interest. They were obviously just muscle bound models posing for a painting. Kinda boring.

Frazetta’s subjects, on the other hand, all have interesting characteristics about them. For one thing, his paintings are completely out of his head. No models posing, no photographic reference, nothing of the sort. No woman in any of his paintings would ever be caught on the cover of a modern fashion magazine, because they've all got some meat on them, dammit! They've all got curves that are amazing, and are giving stunning, sultry looks, and they are all beautiful. The creatures that are often the protagonists in his paintings are the stuff of nightmares, which you obviously couldn’t have photographic reference for. And as for the men, whether it be Conan or Tarzan or some random adventure hero, they have all obviously lived a life before the moment of that painting. They've got scars, they've got hair flying all over the place, they’ve got gritted teeth, they've got emotion...they've got life!

Frazetta’s paintings, while not photo-realistic, are as real as real life for one big reason; they’re not perfect. They aren’t overly polished. They have a rough, dirty quality to them that makes them look as if, however fantastic the situation being depicted may be, that you could step into the world in that painting. It’s easier to accept something that isn’t perfect, because, obviously, neither is the world we live in, nor ourselves.

Frazetta, the man, also has another meaning for me on a completely personal level. There is a definite resemblance to the younger Frazetta (from the 1950’s; the picture below is a 25 year old Frazetta in 1953), to my father from roughly the same time. Frazetta, born in 1928, was 6 years older than my father, who is still alive. I have an image burned in my mind of a photo of my father from probably the early 1960’s, when he would have been in his late 20’s, and I see a great similarity to Frazetta of about the same age and era. They both had the James Dean quality of good looks going for them. Young, trim, athletic. My mom has the picture in question somewhere in their home in New York. I’ll have to make a point of finding it when I go back for my next visit.

Also, my father has been an artist, strictly as a hobby, for pretty much all his life, and his specialty, much like Frazetta, was oil painting. He’s worked in all mediums, but his oil paintings were what he concentrated most on, and produced his best work in. My favorite painting of his, a tiger that he saw in a magazine ad somewhere, is the one painting I asked to take with me when I moved out here to Las Vegas over 10 years ago. It’s been hanging proudly on the wall over the fireplace since I first moved into my house back in July 2001. There are also several Frazetta prints on the walls around the house, and I think it’s rather special that both Frazetta and my father share some of the same space.

Thanks to for the images, except the tiger painting, which I took a picture of with my iPhone...

Blog Post Soundtrack; ZZ Top, Fugazi, Primus, Queens Of The Stone Age, No Doubt, Desert Sessions, Brant Bjork, Van Halen, Bjork, Metallica, Infectious Grooves, Pearl Jam, John Connelly Theory, Iron Maiden, Zeke, The Misfits, Jimi Hendrix