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Five Star Friday

A Conversation With 14-Year-Old Me

Through the magic of High Future Technology, a connection is made and 34-year-old Me in 2011 has a few minutes to chat with 14-year-old Me in 1991. Here’s how it goes down:

2011: Hey, young me. What’s up?

1991: Nothin’. What’s up with you?

2011: Oh, not much. I’m going to see the Thor movie this weekend.

1991: What?! They made a Thor movie? Like, Marvel Thor, not mythology Thor?

2011: Yup.

1991: THAT’S SO FUCKING COOL!

2011: I know, right?

1991: What? What does “I know, right” even mean? That doesn’t make any sense.

2011: Don’t worry about it. It’s a future thing. Conversations in the future make about 40% less sense than they used to.

1991: Oh. Okay. So…wow. A Thor movie!

2011: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I think it might even actually be kinda good.

1991: Wow. So how long has it been in the future since there was a comic book movie? Since, like, whenever Batman 7 came out?

2011: No, they’re coming out pretty regularly these days. They’re on the verge of becoming a Biblical plague.

1991: What? Like, what do you mean?

2011: Well, Thor is out today. A few weeks after that, Green Lantern is coming out…

1991: GREEN FUCKING LANTERN?! THAT IS SO FUCKING COOL!

2011: And the funny thing about that is that it looks like it’s probably kinda going to suck.

1991: What? How could a Green Lantern movie suck? It’s like Star Wars plus super-heroes!

2011: I know, right?

1991: Will you stop saying that, please?

2011: Sorry. Anyway, yeah. The whole thing looks like a giant pile of cliches and bad CGI.

1991: What’s a CGI?

2011: Oh, right, 1991. Okay, um, you know how you’ve read in Cinefantastique about how they’re doing the shapeshifter effects in Terminator 2? In the future, every movie is like that. Only often shitty. Oh, and, by the way, you’re going to love Terminator 2. I know that in May 1991, you already think it’s pretty much the best movie ever, sight unseen. The cool part about it is that you turn out to be right.

1991: Awesome.

2011: I know, right?

1991: Dammit!

2011: Sorry. I know it’s a stupid phrase, but it just keeps popping out. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. Green Lantern. Looks kinda crappy. I think we’re going to wait until it’s on video.

1991: You’re trying to tell me that there’s a Green Lantern movie and you’re not going to the first showing on the first day it comes out?

2011: This is what I’m saying, yes.

1991: That you’re going to wait around and go rent the videotape at Blockbuster next year?

2011: Well, not exactly. The future is very, very cool in a lot of ways.

1991: Okay, so there’s two comic book movies coming out this summer? Even if one of ‘em sucks, that’s still pretty cool.

2011: Oh, I’m not done yet. About a week after that, they’re releasing the next X-Men movie, and–

1991: I’m sorry, “the next?” Did you say “the next X-Men movie?”

2011: Um, yeah.

1991: How many have there been?

2011: This is going to be the fifth one.

1991: FIVE X-Men movies? FIVE?! THAT’S SO FUCKING COOL! How awesome have they all been?

2011: Well, the first two were great. They had Patrick Stewart as Professor X, just like you – and, as it turns out, every nerd on the planet – thought they should.

1991: Awesome!

2011: Yeah. Then they kept making them, and the third and fourth just sucked balls. Not quite Superman IV bad, but definitely Superman III bad.

1991: Oh. So what about the new one?

2011: Could be okay. We’re going to wait and see some reviews before we make up our mind about seeing it in the theater.

1991: There’s a Green Lantern movie and an X-Men movie, and we’re not already first in line to see them both? You are making this shit up to torment me. Are you sure you’re actually me in the future and not my brother in the future?

2011: I am definitely you. Definitely. But, anyway, here’s the good news. Are you ready for it? Brace yourself. Later in the summer, there’s also going to be a Captain America movie!

1991: What, another one?

2011: I, um…what? Another one? What do you…Oh. OH. Um, yeah, about that, I know Stan Lee wrote about how awesome it’s going to be on the Bullpen Bulletins page and everything, but…yeah, that’s never, ever going to be in theaters.

1991: Really? But I saw the poster and everything!

2011: Yeah, not gonna happen. About a year from now, you’re going to see it on video at Blockbuster, and you’re going to rent it and race home to watch it that very afternoon and…well, you really don’t need to bother. I know you’re going to anyway, but you don’t need to.

1991: But they’re making a new one?

2011: Yes they are, and it looks like it’s going to kick ass.

1991: So we’re going to see that one?

2011: Oh, yeah.

1991: Hey, you know what’d be cool?

2011: What’s that?

1991: Okay, so they made a Thor movie, right? And a Captain America movie? What if they also made, like, an Iron Man movie and then put them all together in an Avengers movie? Wouldn’t that be rad?

2011: Okay, 1, you said “rad,” so you no longer get to criticize my slang usage, and 2, The Avengers is coming out in 2012.

1991: [Head Asplodes]

Oscar Picks and Predictions and Babbling and Such

This is the kind of year that I really love watching the Oscars. I’ve seen most of the movies up for the big awards so I feel fairly well qualified to judge. There aren’t a lot of clear front-runners or obvious winners. And there aren’t many movies nominated for which I feel that an Oscar win would be an utter travesty (Travesty being, of course, a relative term, used here in “Hollywood pats self on back in wrong way” kind of context, as in “That clichéd-as-hell cinematic dungheap Crash beating the moving and beautiful Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture was an utter travesty”).

So let’s take a looksee:

Best Picture: If I were in charge, I’d give the award to Inception, no questions asked, but I’ll readily admit I’m a easy mark for a number of things that Inception did extraordinarily well, almost as if it were a movie individually tailored to my exact tastes: heist movie + loopy sci-fi, containing one of the best fight scenes ever filmed and an action thriller “storming the impregnable mountain fortress” scene thrown in for good measure? Yes, please. But since Christopher Nolan wasn’t even nominated for directing (speaking of utter travesties), we can safely say Inception is out of the running.

Buzz is that this is pretty much a two-way race between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. First off, I wouldn’t be tremendously surprised here to see the two front-runners split the vote, allowing for a dark horse win for True Grit. I don’t think that’s what will happen, but if it did it won’t surprise me.

I liked The King’s Speech just fine, though I think John Ramos on NPR’s Monkey See blog has nailed what I think was its biggest flaw: it focuses on Colin Firth’s Bertie, though coming at the story from the other angle, focusing on Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue, making The King’s Speech Therapist, would probably result in a more interesting movie.

The Social Network is a fascinating story, well-acted by all involved (the lack of Supporting Actor nominations for both Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer is another travesty), well-written, directed with style and flair by David Fincher, and of contemporary interest and significance. I think a lot of the critics have gone overboard in their effusive “This is who we are, as a society, now” and “This movie has its finger on the pulse of modern America” praise, but having contemporary relevance is not nothing. So between the two, I’d pick The Social Network. But I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

The Social Network‘s big award wins were mostly from critics’ societies, whereas King’s Speech won both the Producers’ Guild and Directors’ Guild awards, voted on largely by people who are also voting members of the Academy. Add in the fact that the Academy remains full of stodgy old people who have been insulated from the real world for decades at this point, and will vote for what they understand (a story of just how hard it is to be wealthy and privileged with a healthy dose of Royalty Porn thrown in) over what they don’t (all that computer mumbo-jumbo). I think a fairly large portion of the Academy membership are people who, if they have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, it’s something their secretary’s assistant’s junior intern handles. I’m calling it for the Royalty Porn.

Best Director: As goes Best Picture, so goes Best Director, most of the time. A year without a clear front-runner could easily be a year where you see a split in the two. Fincher’s got more of a track record in Hollywood and is a previous nominee in the category (for The Curious Case of Forrest Gump Benjamin Button), so I think he’s got a good shot at it. And again, Fincher and King’s Speech director Tom Hooper could split the vote, letting a dark horse candidate like The Coen Brothers or Darren Aronofsky sneak in and steal the award (a lá Roman Polanski’s out-of-nowhere win for The Pianist in 2002). But because such splits are generally unpredictable, it would be madness to predict one: I say the award goes to Tom Hooper.

Best Actress: Another two-horse race here, between Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right) and Natialie Portman (Black Swan), I’m told. And I’m sorry, but I just don’t think The Kids Are All Right is a Best Picture, and I don’t think Bening’s performance was anything special. I thought Julianne Moore was actually quite a bit better. I never got any sense of nuance from Bening, any depth or concept that the character had an interior life or that the character did anything she did for any reason other than, “it’s in the script.” Not that I think Bening’s a bad actress by any means, I just don’t think she had much to work with. I think there’s a Lesbian Novelty Factor at play here: imagine the couple in the movie is straight, and Bening’s role is played by Alec Baldwin (who is the same age as Bening), in exactly the same way. Would the performance be receiving nearly such acclaim? I don’t know, but I have a hard time thinking so.

Portman, on the other hand, turned in a terrific performance in a physically and emotionally demanding role. Melodrama’s a tricky thing, and whether or not Black Swan was going to work as melodrama or descend into ludicrous camp hinged entirely on the lead performance, and she nailed it. I can’t see the award not going to Portman.

Best Actor: Strong field here. Me, I’d give it to Jesse Eisenberg, who walked a fine line in creating a version of Mark Zuckerberg who is unquestionably an asshole (as Rooney Mara memorably informs him in the movie), but also a compelling and even sympathetic character. Much as with Black Swan, the success or failure of The Social Network in artistic terms was always going to hinge almost entirely on the strength of its lead performance, and Eisenberg knocked it out of the park.

But Colin Firth is the front-runner here, and I think he’ll win it, because his performance was pure Oscar-bait. Academy voters love nothing so much as someone Triumphing Over Adversity, and doubly so here because, as the movie makes clear, there was apparently no way England could possibly have endured World War II if King George VI had not triumphed over his particular adversity. Or something. Firth’s performance was very good, and as some critic out there (I’ve forgotten who) noted, he does an excellent job of creating a realistic speech impediment that isn’t the standard P-p-p-p-p-porky P-p-p-pig Hollywood version of a stutter. He’ll win, and not undeservedly, but I think Eisenberg was better.

Best Supporting Actor: It seems that Christian Bale is the one absolute sure thing win on Sunday, which is fine, as he’s an excellent actor and deserving of the recognition. The Fighter is one of the heavily-nominated movies I haven’t seen though. I think I’m just pretty much done with boxing movies. I love Rocky, I admire Raging Bull, I thought Million Dollar Baby was pretty good, I damn near fell asleep during Cinderella Man…but I just don’t think a new boxing movie has anything to show me that I haven’t already seen a million times. Every creative way of shooting a fight has been done. Every cinematic metaphor that can be wrung out of boxing has been wrung. So The Fighter just slipped right past me. Don’t feel like I missed much.

Best Supporting Actress: There’s heavy buzz for either of the two ladies from The (yawn) Fighter, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. I’m hoping for that whole vote-splitting concept to come into play here. Leo and Adams take each other out, clearing the way for Hailee Steinfeld to win the prize. She was so, so good in True Grit. Carried the movie and stood out even against fairly showy performances from Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

In other categories – I think Inception and Winter’s Bone will walk off with the Screenplay awards, Toy Story 3 had Best Animated Feature locked up on June 18, 2010 (if not before), Social Network will win for Best Score, because how can you resist the idea of “Academy Award winner Trent Reznor,” and even though it’s up against far more imaginative material like Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, The King’s Speech will win for Costume Design and Art Direction, because, well, you know, Helena Bonham Carter in hats and pearls.

Find Out What It Means to Me

You may have heard of the latest tempest in a teacup last week, in which a girl won a match at the Iowa state wrestling championships for the first time ever. Cassy Herkelman won her opening match in the 112-lb. division by forfeit, because her scheduled opponent, Joel Northrup, refused to wrestle her.

Northrup said his strong religious faith led him to his choice. His father told the Des Moines Register, “We believe in the elevation and respect of women, and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns — full contact sport is not how to do that.”

And everybody, right down to Cassy Herkelman and her father, have talked endlessly since the event about how you have to respect the boy for standing by his convictions.

To which I say: Bullshit.

Standing by your convictions is, to my mind, only worthy and admirable if your convictions are worth standing by. Nobody says, “Well, say what you will about Hitler, but the guy was really standing up for what he believed in.” Yes, I’m that guy, but understand that I’m not actually saying Northrup is in any way, shape or form like Hitler, just trying to point out the ludicrous nature of the argument.

Refusing to wrestle a girl who wants to wrestle, who is a capable and confident enough wrestler to have qualified for the state tournament, who is standing in the ring, ready to go, is not treating women with respect. Quite the opposite, in fact.

A Register blogger tells us, “Chivalry is not dead, at least not on the wrestling mat.” Chivalry is an outmoded, archaic idea, one that ought to go off to wherever most of its contemporaries – feudalism, burning “witches” at the stake, that sort of thing – have gone to die. This is 2011, not 1311 or even 1911.

Respect for women doesn’t mean treating them like delicate flowers who will wilt in the noonday sun and who must not be allowed to engage in any act any more physically strenuous than spinning or embroidery. Respect for women means treating them like they’re capable of thinking for themselves and deciding for themselves what it is they want to do. Respect for women means treating them like equals, not like pets or children.

In other words, Joel Northrup was being deeply and profoundly disrespectful of women all while couching his act in terms of respect for women. I don’t admire that. I don’t think it’s great that he “stood up for what he believes.” I think it was a shitty thing to do to a girl who ought to get to decide for herself what is or is not proper respectful treatment.

“But,” some say, “wrestling is a contact sport and boys shouldn’t have to touch girls in that way!” Okay, then explain why it’s okay for boys to grapple and pin and body slam one another in such a way, but not okay for a boy to do that to a girl. Or, for that matter, for a girl to do that to a boy. After all, Herkelman had a season record of 20-13 going into the tournament, and she had qualified for State, so it’s not as if she’s not capable of giving as good as she gets.

Look, if the kid’s just plain uncomfortable wrestling a girl, that’s okay. He gets to make his own decisions just as much as she does. But don’t let’s pretend that he did something noble or admirable by forfeiting the match, and certainly don’t let’s say, “He did it out of respect for women.” That kind of “chivalry,” that kind of “respect” for women is the same kind that meant that women didn’t get to vote in national elections in the United States until 1920. It’s the same kind of “respect” that leads to a depressing number of men today believing that women don’t own their own bodies and don’t get to make their own decisions about sex, reproduction and reproductive health care.

And that’s no kind of respect at all.

Bipartisanship

To Prezidint Obama frum Rep. Broun Heres a drawing of YOU!!!!!

For those wondering whether the shootings in Tucson would ignite a new era of true bipartisanship, an era in which Democrats and Republicans join together to work for the common good of all Americans:

Question:

“What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.” – President Obama, during the State of the Union address.

Answer:

“Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.” – Rep. Paul Broun (R – GA), Tweeting as @RepPaulBrounMD during the address

So, that’s a “No,” then. Though I’m certain there are Republicans who are willing to work for a better country, who understand that democracy is all about compromise and finding middle ground, who will gladly reach back when Democrats reach across the aisle, as Rep. Broun has ably demonstrated, there is a wing of the Republican party who will simply not be satisfied.

There is a wing of the Republican party – the Tea Party wing, to be blunt – who will happily, proudly even, ensure that the Republicans will remain for the foreseeable future the Party of “No,” who will reject as not just a bad idea but as one that is actively Evil and an honest-to-god attempt to Destroy America any idea that comes from Obama or any other Democrat. If the Democrats say, “Hey, here’s a problem,” this wing of the GOP will not say, “Yes, this is a problem, but we disagree with your proposed solution. Here’s ours.” Instead, they’ll say, “Hurr durr YOU’RE A SOCIALIST!” and then stick their fingers in their ears and go, “Lalalalalala not listening, you’re a socialist lalalalalalala!”

I mean…

I mean…

First off, Rep. Broun…You’re TWEETING…from the House…during the State of the Union? You’re not 14 and passing snide notes about the teacher to your friends in the back of the room during 6th period Algebra, okay? You’re a member of the United States House of Representatives, representing the people of the 10th District of Georgia, listening to an address from the President of the United States. Maybe, I donno, put the Blackberry down for a damn hour, pretend you’ve got a shred of dignity, and listen to the speech like a goddamn grownup before you make with the snark?

I mean…the guy is up there, talking about how if we work together, all of us, and recognize that neither side is ever going to get everything it wants, we can still accomplish great things if we stop sniping at each other long enough to try, and you’re in the back of the room – unable to contain yourself even until the end of the damn speech – saying, “Hurr durr YOU’RE A SOCIALIST!” to all your little Tea Partying Twitter followers? Really?! Okay, so you didn’t actually shout something stupid out loud during the speech, so you’re at least one step up the Dignity Ladder from Joe Wilson, but that ain’t sayin’ much.

Look, bipartisanship is tough. It sucks. It sucks not getting what you want. We Democrats improbably had to swallow the boneheaded renewal of the Bush tax cuts…because it was the way of getting something else we wanted. That’s how it works. It sucks and it stinks and it sucks…but you’re not 3 years old any more than you’re 14, so you should know by now that you don’t always get your way and calling names won’t change that. You sacrifice one thing you want in order to get something else you want, and along the way you assume that the other side is acting in good faith because you’re  a grown-up and they’re grown-ups and you should all act like it. It hurts sometimes, and it’s always frustrating, but it’s how things actually get done.

Bridges and highways are crumbling, schools are failing, people are out of work, and some people out there, Republican as well as Democrat, are showing signs of willingness to work together to face these issues. And Rep. Broun is doodling a picture of the President with stink-lines and everything in his notebook in the back of the classroom. Congratulations.

Code Approved

(Yes, it is the triumphant return of DONUTWORLD and my return, presumably, to semi-regular blogging after a long hiatus. Welcome back, those of you who still have me in your feed readers or follow me on Twitter! Tell your friends, the World’s Greatest Blogger is back in action!)

So DC and Archie have both dropped the Comics Code, rendering the long-standing industry reaction to Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, the Kefauver Hearings and the vague, forced correlation between comics and juvenile delinquency* in the 1940s and ’50s at long, long last dead, dead, dead.

It is, of course, long past due. I’ve long been a believer in the theory that the Code was created by rival publishers specifically to kill Bill Gaines’ popular E.C. horror and sci-fi lines. So it’s no great loss.

Except for one tiny little insignificant nostalgic twinge: the seal.

That “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” seal was such a distinctive feature of American comics covers for so many years that it even made a Jeopardy! clue just a few days ago as one of the elements that make up a comic book.

When I was a kid, it was on every comic I saw, right alongside the price underneath the Marvel corner box or the DC bullet.* Like a lot of kids in smaller towns during the ’80s, I had to prowl the spinner racks at the grocery and drug stores; there wasn’t a comic book store in my town until I was in junior high. The closest thing to a comic book store was Woody’s Newsstand downtown, with four whole spinner racks full of comics. And that was the whole point of the Code: providing easy assurance to the drug store and newsstand owners that the comics they were selling weren’t going to get their stores picketed by parents’ groups or shut down for selling obscene material to minors.

*And, speaking strictly as a designer, I gotta say, I still think the classic ’80s/’90s DC bullet logo is vastly, vastly superior to the current iteration. But that’s just me.

At right around this same time, I realized I didn’t just have to read the comics, I could make my own. Amazingly enough, my first forays into comic book making did not involve a costumed superhero. Instead, my first homebrew comics chronicled the exploits of an Indiana Jones-inspired two-fisted-explorer-type. I produced three or four “issues” (probably eight pages or so each, drawn on printer paper and stapled together) of The Adventures of Herman Smith, Adventurer (for some reason, I thought this name was totally badass). They were silly in the way that only comics produced by an eight-year-old could be, and in retrospect, naively racist and jingoistic in a boy-leading-a-sheltered-life-in-the-Middle-American-suburbs kind of way. There was a hint, perhaps, of social consciousness in that Herman Smith fought poachers who were killing rhinoceroses and prevented evildoers from stealing the deed to a diamond mine that belonged to native tribe…but he performed these deeds with the assistance of a beturbaned manservant who called him “Master.” Yikes.

But on the cover of every issue of The Adventures of Herman Smith, Adventurer, I carefully drew the “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” seal, because I assumed that it wasn’t a real comic book if it didn’t have that seal. I continued to draw the Comics Code seal as I moved on to my own superheroes: Night Shadow, a Batman rip-off totally original crimefighting millionaire playboy character? Comics Code approved! 747, a totally original character who flew around in a suit of high-tech jet-powered armor and who couldn’t possibly have been any less like Iron Man? Comics Code approved! Hercules, a two-for-the-price-of-one rip-off of Thor and Captain America combined totally original weakling who was given the power of a Greek god in a secret WWII-era government experiment? Comics Code approved! They were all approved by my own personal Comics Code Authority, in spite of Hercules’ penchant for tearing off his opponents’ heads (Hey, they were NAZIS! They deserved it!) and 747′s habit of lighting his enemies on fire with his jets (Hey, they were PURSE SNATCHERS! They deserved it!).

Eventually, a real comic book store opened in town and I discovered that it was quite possible to publish a comic book without the approval of the Comics Code Authority. By the time I was in junior high and drawing the adventures of Banzai Sushi, Ninja Fish (who was merely “inspired by” the original Eastman/Laird Ninja Turtle stuff and Usagi Yojimbo – I was sophisticated enough to call my rip-offs an homage by that point) and the Tick-inspired superhero parody** Mephistopholes Man, I was no longer bothering with the Code seal on the cover.

** You could tell it was a parody because, though it was essentially identical in tone and execution to my other comics, this one was funny on purpose.

So, as you can see, Marvel, DC, Bongo, Archie and all the rest that have dropped the Code seal over the last ten years were really just copying me. I’m a total trend-setter.

Nope, not going to miss the Comics Code. I think the general “the Comics Code set the medium back by thirty years” meme that’s common in fandom is a little overblown. EC’s own luridly violent and gruesome tales weren’t really High Art by any stretch of the imagination, and there wasn’t much of anything that the Superman or Batman books were doing in the ’50s before the Code that they couldn’t keep right on doing after the Code. But it was needlessly restrictive and hampered any growth that could have otherwise happened.

The end of the Code is like shedding a vestigial tail – getting rid of a useless relic of a bygone era. It was a long time coming, and while I think the industry as a whole could benefit from a unified across-the-board rating system, each company having their own ratings or editorial standards is better than the Comics Code where, to borrow Scott McCloud’s movie-rating analogy, the only acceptable rating was “G” and the standards for earning a “G” rating were much more stringent.

Still…I’m gonna kind of miss the Code seal.

Hey, Kids! Comics!

And to think I wondered why girls thought I was a nerd in high school...

The stereotype is that comic book nerds still live in their parents’ basement at age 33. I didn’t, but my comics did.

They were stashed away in a stack of big copier paper boxes in a corner of the basement, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. For year after year. And finally, my parents said, several months ago, “It’s time for the comics to go.” Fair enough. We’ve been planning to move to California for some time, and they didn’t want those comics still sitting in their basement when I was living 1200 miles away.

So I hauled them all home, where they lived in Spare Oom for several more months. And then, several weeks ago, I started the laborious process of sorting through them. I reread a ton of them, awash in waves of nostalgia, remembering the hot summer afternoons when I would ride my bike to the comic book store, the cold winter afternoons when I would hitch a ride with my Mom when she drove to the grocery store that was nearby, the sounds and smells of the MiniMart where I would take my weekly haul and read them as I ate hot dogs and drank Dr. Pepper.

I sorted them, pulling out what I knew I wanted to keep and putting off thinking about what I was going to do with the rest.

And then we came down to it, and it was time for the comics that weren’t staying to get the heave-ho, one way or the other.

I knew that I didn’t have much of anything that was going to be worth the effort of selling. It was all ’80s and ’90s Marvel and DC stuff, mostly the kind of stuff you find in the 50¢ bins at your FLCS. Could I have hauled it all to Mile High Comics and gotten $40 or $50 for the whole lot? If that much, maybe.

So I did some searching and found something that looked promising – a charity that sends comics to troops overseas. Sounded great. But I e-mailed them and they said they had more comics than they knew what to do with and just couldn’t take mine. Fair enough.

So, what to do? I just wanted ‘em gone, but dumping four boxes of comics into the recycle bin just wasn’t about to happen. And I said, “Well, there’s gotta be SOMEONE out there who’ll want ‘em.”

So this afternoon, after a final sort to make sure everything I knew I wanted to keep was pulled out, I posted an ad on Craigslist. I didn’t want to dicker over prices, I didn’t want people coming over to sort through and see if I had that elusive copy of Fury of Firestorm #57 that completes their run…I just wanted ‘em out. So I posted: “FREE Comics – 4 big boxes; free to whoever wants to come and get ‘em, but you gotta take them all.” It was only about an hour before I got the first e-mail, and the guy said his wife would be over later tonight to pick them up.

I had been okay with the idea that whoever came and got the comics was going to be a Collector, an Andy Stitzer type who was going to sort through, find anything that was worth a few bucks, wrap it in mylar, file it away and treat it as his retirement plan, and then be the one to toss the unwanted comics in the recycle bin himself. I figured that was going to be the case, but all I wanted was the comics not to be taking up space in the house anymore.

When the knock at the door came, I was utterly, utterly delighted to find that she had her son – about nine years old – and his friend in tow. They were both wearing gigantic grins and their eyes nearly fell out of their heads when they saw how many comics they were getting. They were so, so excited. There were a bunch of Ghost Rider issues right there on the top; one of the kids saw them and excitedly told me that Ghost Rider was his favorite – which didn’t surprise me because he had also been admiring our neighbor’s motorcycle, parked right out in front of the house.

Giving those comics to a couple of kids who saw them as the Mother Lode, kids who are going to spend hours and hours and hours and hours poring over those comics and potentially get as much joy out of them as I had when I was a kid, giving those kids not just an odd handful of comics, but nice long runs of Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men and Batman and The Flash plus tons more, runs they can get lost in for hours and hours on end…that made me really, deeply and profoundly happy.

It made me feel a bit like a superhero my own self.

Remember, y’all: comics are for reading.

The Alphabets of Pennsylvania

As those of you out there who follow my Twitter feed may have noticed, my beautiful wife and I have been on the road for the last couple of weeks, heading for the wedding of some friends in Connecticut.

Along the way, we saw a whole bunch of the country. On our way to the wedding, we stopped off in Pittsburgh to meet and spend some time with one of Mle’s longtime blog-friends and associated personages. Pittsburgh, as it turns out, is a truly beautiful city, not at all the run-down, ramshackle Rust Belt city still waiting for the steel industry to come back. If you’re in the area, I do recommend stopping by.

After the wedding, as we were heading down the east coast, we stopped in for a day in Philadelphia. We met another old internet friend of Mle’s and checked out her very cool vintage clothing store. If you’re in the area, I do recommend stopping by.

Anyway, after the San Francisco Alphabet and the New York City Alphabet, the found-letter photography game has become something of a tradition and something of a habit when we’re in new big cities. And in the space of about 24 hours each, we managed to get complete alphabets in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Working in a shorter time-span means a little less depth of shots from which to choose the final complete alphabet, but even so, I’m quite pleased with the way they came out.

Go have a look:

Pittsburgh Alphabet

Philadelphia Alphabet

Full disclosure/credit where credit is due: Mle has always been very good at spotting letters, but I generally take all the photos myself. However, Pittburgh’s “F” and “Z” are both shots that Mle took on her camera.

In-Sans-Ity

Out of all the annoyance of the completely idiotic LeBron James saga that has dominated far too many headlines this summer comes something genuinely hilarious. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter to the team’s fans – promising that the Cavs would win an NBA Title before BronBron does, no less. But the truly funny part is that he wrote the letter in Comic Sans, one of the ugliest and silliest widely-popular typefaces in existence. Really, it’s gotta be one of the three or four worst faces that comes as part of the standard package with pretty much every computer in the world. For my money, nothing’s worse than Papyrus, but Comic Sans is up there.

Anyway, Dan Gilbert wrote this letter in Comic Sans, which earned him a round of well-deserved mockery from the internet. But that’s not really my purpose, here. Apparently, the richly-earned mockery was notable enough for CNN.com’s “Tech” page to write an article about it: The author of the article, John D. Sutter, tosses out this gem a few ‘grafs in:

Unless you’re a fourth-grader, or being ironic, or the author of a comic book, or on vacation from the 1990s, never use that typeface.

Attention, John D. Sutter: No self-respecting comic book letterer would ever, ever, EVER use Comic Sans to letter a comic book, comic strip, webcomic, graphic novel or anything else. And despite the assertions of Comic Sans designer Vincent Connare, quoted in CNN’s article, Comic Sans bears only the slightest superficial resemblance to good comic book lettering.

Here’s Comic Sans:

Ugh. I feel dirty just having it on my blog.

Anyway…let’s see. Here’s a sample of old-fashioned hand lettering, in a panel from Sandman #8, written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III and lettered by Todd Klein, one of best letterers in the business:

Nothing like Comic Sans.

Here’s a look at just a few of the typefaces available – for free, no less – at www.blambot.com:

Blambot's Crimefighter

Blambot's Webletterer

Blambot's IndieStar

Blambot's Mighty Zeo

Any of these, and any of dozens of other choices available to letterers is vastly more interesting and attractive than Comic Sans. Just because it says “Comic” in the name of the typeface doesn’t mean it’s actually anything like comics lettering. No comics letterer would EVER use Comic Sans. Comic Sans is ugly, boring, sterile, lifeless and, in spite of what some people seem to think, there’s nothing even remotely “fun” about it. Well, okay, I guess it’s “fun” if your other choices are Arial, Courier and Times New Roman…but still. Comics lettering – especially hand lettering – is beautiful and full of life. Comic Sans is not.

Again: No self-respecting comics letterer would ever use Comic Sans. For anything. EVER. Thank you for your attention.

And here’s the obligatory link to Chris Onstad’s Achewood strip on the subject.

独立記念日*

Two of my favorite people, as you may know, are Leah and Simon.

Is it because they’re swell folks all around, fun to hang out with and generally good to know? Sure. Is it because Simon was totally psyched to wear a kilt in my wedding, was a fantastic groomsman (how many groomsmen are willing to take the groom out to get mugged for his bachelor party? That’s commitment, I tells ya!) and a terrific MC for the wedding reception? Yeah, sure. Is it because they’ve almost always got a guest bed, a hot tub and a well-stocked liquor cabinet available for us when we’re visiting the Bay Area (even if they don’t always manage to get the house spotlessly clean when we come over, much less make us feel like we’re staying at a fancy B&B)? I guess. Is it because I am endlessly amused and delighted by the Wombat they made whenever we hang out with them? Yeah, sure, why not?

Okay, okay, is it because they taught us to make sushi?

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Could be.

Call it un-American if you wish, but as much as I love barbecue, I can’t think of any better way to celebrate the independence of our great nation – especially on a hot July evening – than with cold fish, balls of vinegar-dressed sticky rice, seaweed salad and the ever-popular inarizushi, aka “tofu bags.”

Perhaps it is a reminder to us all that so many of the things that made America the mostly-great country that it is today came from overseas and across borders.

Or perhaps I just love raw tuna and felt like eating it tonight. Couldn’t tell you.

* According to my little Mac translator widget, those Japanese characters stand for “Independence Day.” No idea whether that’s actually the case or not, but it looks kinda neet, don’t it?

A Hypothetical Scenario

The scene: June, 2008. Two RECORD COMPANY EXECUTIVES are having lunch in a trendy L.A. restaurant. EXECUTIVE #1, an older guy, is pretending that “cold gin” and a martini are the same thing. EXECUTIVE #2, a young go-getter, is pretending to like kombucha, like people do these days.

EXEC 1: I just don’t know what to do anymore. It’s getting so hard to find good acts these days. Anyone who’s got any talent gets snapped up right away, you know?

EXEC 2: Well, it seems to me that you’re going about it all wrong.

EXEC 1: How do you mean?

EXEC 2: Back in the day, you went out and tried to find great acts who could really sing, really play their instruments, people who had stage presence and charisma and appeal. You signed ‘em, you put out their records and crossed your fingers that the audience liked ‘em.

EXEC 1: And that’s not how it’s done anymore?

EXEC 2: Jesus, no, Tony. It’s the year 2008. Finding actual talent is so 20th-century.

EXEC 1 (“Tony”): So how do we do it now?

EXEC 2: Well, let me ask you something: do you really think we’re in this business to help people find and buy great music?

EXEC 1: I don’t know anymore.

EXEC 2: No, it’s not music. It’s product. You’re doomed to fail if you’re relying on the public to decide what they want. These days, you’ve got to tell them what they want before they have a chance to think about it.

EXEC 1: How do you mean?

EXEC 2: Okay, you’re not going to convince 30 or 40 year olds that they want what you want ‘em to want. So you have to start them early. Condition them. Like, y’know, Chekhov’s dogs or whatever.

EXEC 1: Chekhov’s Dogs? What are they, punk rock?

EXEC 2: No, no, no. I mean that you have to start with the kids when they’re ten or so, get them used to the idea that they want the product that you’re offering. Kids don’t get a $20 check in their birthday cards from Grandma anymore, Tony. They get a $20 iTunes giftcard, and they’ll have no idea what to spend it on unless you tell them.

EXEC 1: So, how do I make them buy what I want them to buy?

EXEC 2 (sips his kombucha and tries to conceal his “Jesus, this stuff is awful” wince): You remember Titanic? Shitty movie, right? But it made a billion dollars because every 13-year-old girl in America went back to see it ten or fifteen times because they loved Leonardo DiCaprio.

EXEC 1: So…?

EXEC 2: So, the point is: girls with nothing better to spend their money on will throw it at anything that features a boy who they find attractive in a sexually non-threatening way. Boyish and dreamy, right?

EXEC 1: So we need to find boys who can sing and who teenage girls will find attractive?

EXEC 2: Fuck no, Tony. Jesus, try to keep up, okay? Remember what I’ve been telling you: if you’re letting them decide for themselves, you’ve already lost. You don’t try to guess who teenage girls will think is attractive, you tell them who they think is attractive. You call up the crew over at Tiger Beat and Seventeen and say, “Hey, we need you to get our boy on the cover.”

EXEC 1: Seventeen? I thought we wanted 13-year-olds?

EXEC 2: Yeah, and they’re the ones who read Seventeen.

EXEC 1: Okay, so you don’t have to find someone who’s attractive. Just someone who can sing.

EXEC 2: Why would you need someone who can sing?

EXEC 1: Because we’re selling records? Songs, you know?

EXEC 2: Autotune, Tony. Autotune. You think the target audience has the slightest idea whether the music they’re listening to is actually any good or not? You think they care?

EXEC 1: They don’t?

EXEC 2: Have you even read any of those marketing research reports I’ve been sending you? Look, our research indicates that all you need is 6.3% of the girls in any average suburban junior high school to be listening to any act, and bada-bing-bada-boom, herd mentality, domino effect and you’ve got 88% saturation inside six weeks.

EXEC 1: But…you still haven’t answered the original question. How do you know what talent to pick? Who do you sign?

EXEC 2: Anyone.

EXEC 1: Anyone?

EXEC 2: Anyone. Look…

(EXEC 2 waves the BUSBOY over.)

BUSBOY: Yes, sir?

EXEC 2: Take a look at this kid, Tony. What’s your name, kid?

BUSBOY: Justin, sir.

EXEC 2: Can you sing, Justin?

BUSBOY: Not really, sir.

EXEC 2: Can you dance?

BUSBOY: No, not really.

EXEC 2: You play an instrument? The guitar, the piano?

BUSBOY: No, sir.

EXEC 2: You have a lot of girlfriends, Justin?

BUSBOY: No, sir. Actually, the girls at school say I’m goofy-looking.

EXEC 2: Thanks, Justin, that’s all for now.

(The busboy wanders away.)

EXEC 2: Well…?

EXEC 1: Him?!

EXEC 2: Sure, why not?

EXEC 1: I don’t believe it.

EXEC 2: We make up a backstory. We say he’s from…I don’t know, Canada or some shit. Pretend we discovered him on the internet, YouTube or something. We get him on the cover of Tiger Beat, put him on a couple of TV shows…and we’re wipin’ our asses with hundred-dollar bills inside two years.

EXEC 1: I don’t believe it.

EXEC 2: I’ll bet you a thousand dollars that he’s multi-Platinum two years from today.

EXEC 1: You’re on. Easiest thousand bucks I ever made. The music business just doesn’t work that way.

(A beat.)

EXEC 1: He’ll at least need a haircut. Girls won’t go for that done-with-a-Flowbee hair-in-the-eyes thing.

EXEC 2: Oh, Tony, have you heard nothing I’ve been trying to tell you?