Sunday, May 30, 2010

Missing Dad

Five years ago today, I was a widowed dad in his mid-30s, trying to raise a couple kids while half in shock and half bracing for my dad's own cancer crisis.  Five years ago today, we adopted our dog Wiley.  That very afternoon, I called my dad in the hospital to let him know we had a new family member of the four-legged variety.  He didn't have his speech capabilities back after the third emergency brain surgery and could only cry into the phone, happy in the knowledge that we were protected and loved.

Five years ago today, mere hours after my phone call to him, I got the call from the hospital that he had suffered a pulmonary embolism and that the crash team was working on him.  Five years ago today, I lost my dad.  It was the second barrel in the shotgun of loss, barely one month after losing Samantha.

Although I'm well down the road life has set before me, I still remember that time.  Whereas many of my memories are clear and vivid, everything from that time is tinged with fog, like an old photograph.  As if it were not quite real.  Makes sense, really.  Who would want it to be?

Love you, Pop.  Always.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This showed up in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.  Friggin' great Iron Man fan parody.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


My, how time flies when you're in preproduction and fighting a cold.  Simultaneously.  Yes, it's been quite the circus at the Circle-D Ranch over the past couple weeks.  It occurs that the last time I posted was just prior to Tyler's 16th birthday - which was, to be diplomatic, a less-than-stellar event.  While I won't go into specifics (for the sake of Tyler's privacy), it would be naive to pretend that his issues have no impact upon the family; they do, in a big way.  I remember what being 16 felt like, and much of our patience derives from that.  But there are much deeper, organic issues at work, which make for a very tense, difficult family life.  And we'd be remiss as parents if we just shrugged, chalked it up to mere adolescence, and let him self-destruct.  So we've taken a much stronger position and begun vastly more comprehensive therapeutic measures.

So that's the homefront.  Oh yeah, and I got Kayleigh's cold from a couple weeks ago.  That was fun.

Now, onto the work stuff, wherein I am tasked with directing the music video for "On And On" by Seattle nerd-rock band Kirby Krackle.  I have a complete behind-the-scenes post forming in my head, but right now it's a bit premature.  What I can say about the project is that it's a fan film for a beloved comic book character, as well as a promotional video for the band.  And we start shooting in a week.  It'll be great working with some of my favorite film folks, as well as some new contacts.

I also picked up Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection, which has everything I could possibly need for my dual vocation of publisher & filmmaker.  Finishing that last portion of Arrowflight Second Edition and storyboarding "On And On".

It's very exciting.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RIP Frank Frazetta (1928-2010)

The art world lost one of its treasures yesterday.  Frank Frazetta was one of my idols, not just in his professional career of more than half a century, not just because of his revolutionary painting style and realistic treatment of human anatomy, but also because the man pioneered illustrators' rights in the world of commercial art.  It is because of the latter that many of my working artist friends retain the copyright to their work after delivery.  Used to be 100% work-for-hire.  The pulp magazines would pay artists a pittance and end up owning the original art.  Frank was among the first to employ the concept of publication rights and various licenses.  Nowadays, work-for-hire contracts are the exception.

In the above paragraph, I noted his realistic treatment of human anatomy.  Famed for painting lush fantasy landscapes populated by scantily-clad barbarian warriors, princesses and slave girls, Frank put meat on his subjects.  Unlike the subjects of artists to follow, like Boris Vallejo (who used bodybuilder models), Frank's characters weren't slick and full of unnecessary detail.  They might be muscular and huge, but it wasn't overstated.  His men were just as naked (if not more so) as his women.  His women had curves.  They had boobs, and tummies and dimpled asses.  I think it was probably my exposure to that ethic of "normal-as-beautiful" at such a young age that somewhat influenced the physical traits I found attractive in a partner. 

He was also the master of capturing an incredible amount of energy in one moment and putting it on canvas.  Look at any one of his hundreds of pieces, no matter if it's an action shot or a character in repose; the people in his paintings are simply exuding an energy of their own.  They're alive, in that one moment captured.

There is simply too much to write about Frank, his influence upon generations of artists, illustrators, filmmakers and photographers.  About his influence upon popular culture in general.  About his influence upon the business side of commercial and fantasy art.  But his legacy is clear, and will be felt for generations to come.  I'm proud to have lived in his time.

Fair winds, Frank.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Man 2 Rocked My Ass Off

It is always a welcome surprise when a director who got started on quirky romantic comedies (like Swingers, Made and Elf) is able to take an enormous cast of Hollywood A talent, stupid money and make a summer blockbuster action flick based on a comic book -- and a sequel at that -- and pump it full of pathos, humor and action without letting it go off the rails.

Once again, Jon Favreau, you are the man.

I won't go into any spoilers, but I must mention that the cast is amazing, from Robert Downey Jr.'s "second act" portrayal of playboy Tony Stark to Mickey Rourke's sinister Russian bad-ass, Whiplash.  From Sam Rockwell's sleazy military industrialist, Justin Hammer, to Don Cheadle's idealistic Colonel Rhodes, to Samuel L. Jackson's acerbic Nick Fury, to Scarlett Johansson's sleek and bringin' it Black Widow.

Let the gals have their sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolf bad boys.  When Scarlett dons her Black Widow costume and goes all Emma-Peel-meets-Jason-Statham on the bad guys, it's enough to make any boy lose his geek shit.

As I've said, no complaints about the acting and script, and the story actually works well, both on its own and as part of a much greater whole.  A whole which includes the upcoming Captain America, Thor and Avengers franchises.  In fact, stay for the post-credits teaser.  You can thank me later.  It does get big and loud and intense, but it stays true to vision and never strays off into wackiness. 

I guess it just tickles me when a guy who has a gift for character and story gets put at the helm of a big-budget comic book adaptation and pulls it off.  It tickles me even more that he does it with the sequel.  Bryan Singer has come close.  Sam Raimi has come close.  And as hampered by 1970s photochemical effects as he was, Richard Doner came close.  But nobody has pulled off a comic book movie franchise with the level of character chemistry and good storytelling in the midst of spectacle quite as well as Favreau. That, to me, is impressive, especially in an age where Hollywood is not as concerned with character chemistry and story as it is with the explosions and the toy marketing and let's have Superman fight a giant spider in the third act.

Nice going, Jon.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sexism is Alive and Well and Living in America

And it's not in the form you might think.

As a male who came of age in California in the '70s and '80s and who had strong females in my life, I never questioned the issue of gender equality.  I had been raised in an ERA-conscious environment, with women demanding things like equal pay and equal social treatment, and I completely agreed with them.  Then I turned 18, and had to obey the federal Selective Service law, from which my female friends were exempt.  That was really my first experience with our American double-standard, and it just got more prevalent once the scope of my perspective was widened.  By then, the genie was out of the bottle, and would not be put back.

The statistics are out there for all to see, but I'm not so interested in the percentage of SIDS and infant mortality cases, the percentage of workplace deaths and war dead of which males bear the majority as I am in the attitudes about males I still see in society at large.

This is not about Justin Timberlake getting repeatedly bashed in the crotch in a television commercial, although everyone loves a good crotch shot, right?  And it's not about the fact that it's acceptable to portray a female striking a male in a sitcom and people laugh, but to show the reverse would have sponsors under siege.  It's about this casual attitude that somehow males are inferior, that we need some kind of training just to become civilized.

Although that's a pretty extreme blanket statement, two things happened recently that made me really examine this issue.  Case in point:

1. The media conglomerate that publishes Parenting and Babytalk magazines recently published an advisory on cleaning your newborn (April 2010), which included downright dangerous advice about retracting an intact boy's foreskin to cleanse underneath, quoting a doctor who is a member of the AAP and should know her own professional organization's instructions on the matter (even if they are incorrect as well).  Anyone who knows me will know that genital integrity for BOTH genders is a subject about which I am both educated and passionate.  I followed the story as the outcry from parents of intact children became a deafening roar, and posted a "clarification" which only confused the matter, going back to the original source of the erroneous information.  I visited the link to the posting and found on the same page one of those cute little polls that people can take to feel like they're weighing in on something.  The poll was (I kid you not): WHO IS THE BEST-TRAINED MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY?  And the options were: My Child / My Husband / My Pet.

Wow.  I'm sure it was meant as tongue-in-cheek, but I found it pretty insulting to be equated with a pet or a child in terms of "training".  Think of how a woman might feel if the poll on a men's magazine website said: WHO IS THE BEST-TRAINED MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY?  My Child / My Wife / My Pet.**

At that point it really dawned on me how prevalent this concept is among women I know that men have need of "training", that they are not good enough just by virtue of being themselves, but that they must be changed to fit an external standard.  In checking the editorial staff of Parenting and Babytalk, I found all women.  It was a surreal moment, and I imagined the set of Mad Men, but with the genders reversed.

2. As I was standing in line at Safeway buying the food for our Saturday Rock Band birthday gathering, I noticed one of the blurbs on the cover of Woman's Day magazine.  This declared itself to be "The Man Issue" and promised to teach women how to "get him to do dishes, stay healthy & much more".  Let me repeat for effect: Get him to do dishes.  Really?  Like it might not be a job he does anyway?  Or might it simply be a case of asking for help?  I showed Raechelle the magazine with a perplexed smile.  She winced at the blurb.  The female checker said, "I need to get that issue.  Mine needs to be trained better." Yep, she said "mine".  Her what?  Her man?  Needs to be trained better?  There was a speech boiling up in me but I held it together well.  Raechelle offered a defense for boys whose mothers had done everything for them when they were young, and had been programmed that things like washing dishes were "women's work".  I still couldn't believe this woman was chuckling and joking about training her man.  I just stood there with a quizzical look, saying, "really?"

She finally caught on that I was somewhat perturbed by the magazine cover indicating that men in general were not capable of washing dishes without female intervention, and waved us off.  "Awww, get out of my line," she only semi-joked.  A man displaying her attitude would easily be labeled a pig.

I know this is a rant, and I know that rants can often come off as wildly strident.  I'm not trying to be.  What I do hope is that some of the women who are guilty of this mode of thought will realize that most men are good, and that by and large my generation and those following had nothing to do with the gender power structure of ages past.  Many of us have been good fathers, single parents, sole breadwinners, and have done remarkably well after being dealt a shitty hand.  I am totally in support of gender equity, but that means exactly what it says.  I support a woman earning equal salary to that of her male counterpart for the same job done, but I also support a female Selective Service requirement.  Equal pay, equal work, equal risk.  It mans there cannot be a double-standard, and true equality cannot exist when sexist thinking is still very much ingrained in our culture, on either side.  For instance, I would not buy a magazine which had this blurb on the cover: "The Woman Issue - get her to take out the garbage, stay healthy and much more."**  It implies she's deficient and in need of training, as well as being incompetent to take care of her own health.  And that's a pretty negative statement to make about 51% of the population.

**I've found that simply reversing the gender language of any advertising, television programming or federal law will instantly reveal the presence of a double-standard where it exists.