Friday, December 28, 2012

Excelsior Stan!

Happy Birthday today to Stan Lee (90).

It's the birthday of comic book writer Stan Lee (books by this author), born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City (1922). He spent most of his childhood watching Errol Flynn movies and reading boys' adventure stories. He decided to be a writer at an early age, and won a writing contest sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune three weeks in a row.

He got a job just out of high school as a gofer for a publishing company called Timley Publications, which put out comic books. At first he got people coffee, swept floors, and ran errands, but eventually he began to proofread, and then write the occasional script, because he said, "I knew the difference between a declarative sentence and a baseball bat."

When he began to write scripts regularly, he chose to write under a pseudonym. He said, "I felt that those simple little comic books weren't important enough to deserve my real name. I was saving that for the Great American novel that I hoped to write one day. So I just cut my first name [Stanley] in half and called myself 'Stan Lee.'"

Lee was just 18 years old when the editor of the publishing house quit, and he got the job as head editor and writer. It was supposed to be temporary, but he wound up staying for more than 30 years.

At first, Lee wrote comic books without taking them very seriously. He said: "I was the ultimate hack. I was probably the hackiest hack that ever lived. I wrote whatever they told me to write the way they told me to write it. It didn't matter: War stories, crime, Westerns, horror, humor; I wrote everything."

But in the 1960s, Stan Lee began to regret all the time he'd spent writing mindless entertainment. At parties, he was embarrassed to admit that he wrote for comic books. He told his wife that he was fed up and he was going to quit. She suggested that if he had nothing to lose, he should try creating a comic book he could be proud of, since it wouldn't matter if he got fired anyway. He agreed, and decided that the most important thing lacking from comic books was complex characters. All the good guys were entirely good, and the bad guys entirely evil. Stan Lee said: "[I decided to create] the kind of characters I could personally relate to. They'd be flesh and blood ... they'd be fallible and feisty, and — most important of all — inside their colorful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay."

Instead of creating just one new comic book series, Lee created more than half a dozen, including The Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Thor, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange.

But his most successful character of all was The Amazing Spiderman, about an awkward teenager named Peter Parker who develops superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He was the first superhero to be filled with self-doubt, the first superhero to struggle with the question of whether he wanted to be a superhero. Stan Lee's boss hated the idea, but the first issue featuring Spiderman sold every copy that was printed, and Spiderman went on to become one of the most popular superheroes ever invented.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter is here...

Here in the heart of the Midwest, it snowed last night. From what I've been seeing on, the storm is making its way to the northeast toward the Great Lakes, Chicago, etc. We got something near to 6-inches. Shoveling is sooo much fun... NOT! Keep warm, my friends.
By the way, this is the view looking to the north out the back door to the deck. The door happens to be frozen shut. Argh!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ravi Shankar leaves this world for the next

Ravi Shankar, prolific Indian sitarist, dies at 92. His music was magical. I love the music he created with the Beatles and with George Harrison, in particular. Rest well Ravi Shankar.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The passing of a true legend...

Jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck dies at 91, just shy of his 92 birthday. Take some TIME OUT to remember this incredible artist today.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Today We Celebrate the Birthday of...

It's the birthday of cartoonist Charles Schulz (books by this author), born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1922). His parents left school after third grade, and his father was a barber who supported the family on 35 cent haircuts. Every Sunday, Schulz and his father read the "funny pages" together, and the boy hoped to become a cartoonist someday. But he had a tough time in school — he felt picked on by teachers and other students. He was smart enough to skip ahead a couple of grades, but that only made it worse. He wished someone would recognize his artistic talent, but his cartoons weren't even accepted by the high school yearbook.

After high school, he was drafted into the Army; his mother died of cancer a couple of days before he left. When he came home, he moved in with his father in the apartment above the barbershop. He got a job teaching at Art Instruction, a correspondence course for cartooning that he had taken as a high schooler. There he fell in love with a red-haired woman named Donna Mae Johnson, who worked in the accounting department. They dated for a while, but when he asked her to marry him, she turned him down and soon after married someone else. Schulz was devastated, and remained bitter about it for the rest of his life. He said: "I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much. A person who not only turns you down, but almost immediately will marry the victor. What a bitter blow that is."

Schulz started publishing a cartoon strip called L'il Folks in the local paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but they dropped it after a couple of years. Schulz sent some of his favorite L'il Folks cartoons to the United Features Syndicate, and in 1950, the first Peanuts strip appeared in nine national newspapers, including The New York Times and The Boston Globe. The first strip introduced Charlie Brown, and Snoopy made an appearance two days later. The rest of the Peanuts characters were added slowly over the years: Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Pig Pen, Peppermint Patty, and many more. Throughout the years, the object of Charlie Brown's unrequited love is known simply as The Little Red-Haired Girl.

Peanuts was eventually syndicated in more than 2,500 newspapers worldwide, and there were more than 300 million Peanuts books sold, as well as 40 TV specials, four movies, and a Broadway play.

Charles Schulz said: "My whole life has been one of rejection. Women. Dogs. Comic strips."


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Adventure begins...

I'm heading out the door, compass pointed north along I-29. Destination, the Canadian border and the International Peace Garden. There one will find the International Music Camp who has broadened its horizons to include painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, theater, writing, and, for the past 16 years, cartooning. Next week the middle school and high school kids who will occupy the cartooning class will be introduced to a new teacher... ME!
The camp director assures me that they have wi-fi so the iPhone should be working just fine. As the Peace Garden is located in both the US and Canada, their wi-fi is probably in metric or French or something. Argh!

Back next weekend with stories to tell.

And yes, my neighbors are feeding and caring for Gus while I'm away. Lucky cat...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Infestation at the 2012 Comic-Con

It took a while, but the UNDERCOVER COCKROACH comic book is now printed and made its debut at the 2012 Comic-Con International last weekend. No, I didn't go this year. Shea Butler took a stack of the comic books with her to San Diego and made the rounds. She sent me my copies along with a new t-shirt and one of the super-size bags from the Con. She's so sweet. :-)
Now we'll see if the comic leads to an animated series or a series of animated shorts.
Thanks Shea and Cheryl for the opportunity to create this book. It's been a ton of fun!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Montana morning...

In Nebraska no less. We had quite a storm roll through last night. Lightning, thunder, and rain...lots of rain! This morning its cloudy and cool. Right now (8:15 am) its 67 degrees with a light breeze. The forecast calls for A.M. Thundershowers and a daytime high in the mid 90s. Until then, the morning reminds me of Montana, on the Madison. Beautiful. This is the time of year when my fondest memories are knee to thigh deep in the Madison River with a fly rod in hand. Not striving to catch the biggest trout in the stream but to catch the longest-lasting memories. And I have a stringer full.
If I could have but one wish, I wouldn't wish these types of memories for anyone else. (Not unless I had at least two or three wishes.) All the same, as Henry Fonda said in the film SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN, "I don't need to wait for heaven, Mother Ida. I get a little heaven 'bout everyday."

And this is Montana — the Madison River...

Monday, June 11, 2012

What happened in 'Vegas...

Want to see what happened in Las Vegas over the Memorial Day weekend? Go to the North Central Chapter blog to get the story and photos. :-)

Friday, June 08, 2012

My Ray story

It started at the Toonfest some 6 or 7 years ago. As a part of the art exhibit, I brought some new, older pieces from my portfolio including two large airbrushed pieces from my work-in-progress, MARTIANS — THE SEARCH FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE. One of the two featured one of the Martians sitting at the breakfast table, sporting a stripped bathrobe, a pair of pink fuzzy slippers, reading the morning edition of MARTIAN CHRONICLE and a steaming hot cup of radioactive coffee near by. Between events, I was standing outside the Masonic Hall watching the quiet. As I recall, everybody was at the Uptown for the cartoonists presentations. You remember those. :-) This fellow walked up looking a bit lost. He was maybe a year or two older than me, wearing one of those caps that you'd picture a middle aged gentleman wearing while tooling around in his 50s MG-TD. I said, "Hi," and he reciprocated. He asked if I was one of the cartoonists. "Yes, I am," I replied. "Have I seen your work?" he asked. "Probably not as most of my work is freelance and rarely gets into newsprint," I said. "But I can show you some of my works, if you like." We walked into the Hall and I pointed to my work. He was, and still is as far as I know, John Tibbetts, professor of English at KU or KSU. He walked around the exhibits, stopping at the MARTIAN CHRONICLE piece. He said, "I like this." "Thanks," I said. "Has Ray seen it?" he asked. Looking quizzically I asked, "Ray?" "Bradbury." "I seriously doubt it as it hasn't been published and I don't know Mr. Bradbury," I responded. Still gazing at the piece, he said, "I think he'd like it." "Well, I hope so, but as I say, I don't know him so I couldn't say for certain." He replied with a sense of authority, "Well I do and I think he would." "You know him?" I asked with only a mild touch of celebrity worship. "Yes. Would you like his address?" "Ah YES!" I responded like a dumb-founded teenager. He promptly gave me Ray Bradbury's home address and phone number. Once I got home I wrote Mr. Bradbury a letter, explaining the chance meeting with Professor Tibbetts and enclosing a copy of the MARTIAN CHRONICLE piece. Within 10 days he wrote back, thanking me for the note and the copy of the artwork. In my letter, I asked if we might meet the next time I was in LA. He said he would love to and encouraged me to get in touch with him upon arrival. Soon thereafter, I was in LA, staying at a friend's in Valencia (just up the I-5 from the City of Angels). I called Ray only to find that he was asleep and wouldn't be up until after 11:00 a.m. and I should try back. We missed each other. When I got home, I wrote him again a time or two. His last letter to me arrived in the mail on the day of my dad's memorial service. I had arranged the service, his friends gathered to send him off. I spoke from the heart about my dad and how he valued his friends and what they meant to him. It's been said that entertainers can lose as much as 10-15 pounds during a performance. You know, singers, dancers, musicians, actors, etc. I felt as though I was now among their ranks. Before going inside to crash, I got the mail and amid the bills, junk mail, and such was a letter from Ray. It was exactly what I needed on that day. It was fairly long and just a very nice read. I truly wish we had met at his home. That would have been a memory never to be forgotten. I've loved his writings since I was in jr. high and took a class in science fiction writing. The piece we started with and eventually was the focus of the entire class was THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. At my first Comic-Con, I did sit in on the conversation between Ray and his life-long best friend, Ray Harryhausen. That was incredible! But it was in Room H at the San Diego Convention Center; a room designed to comfortably house roughly 8,000 people. Hardly an intimate setting. It was a packed house! That's my Ray Bradbury story...

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Today is the 50th anniversary of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Thanks go out to his parents, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I'm sure he won't have any trouble blowing out the candles on the cake. Just don't blow down the building, too.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fool's Day

Thanks to American Public Media and The Writer's Almanac —

Apple was founded on this date in 1976. The company was formed by Steve Jobs, his friend Steve Wozniak, and a man named Ronald Wayne, who had worked with Jobs at Atari. The partners planned to produce and sell Apple personal computer kits, hand-assembled by Wozniak. They weren't personal computers as we think of them today, but were rather just motherboards.

The company was incorporated the following January, but this time without Wayne; he had lost his nerve after a couple of weeks, and sold his 10 percent share back to Jobs and Wozniak for a little over $2,000. Had he held onto it, that share would be worth around $22 billion USD today.

Wayne said later that he did not regret selling the stock—he said, "I made the best decision with the information available to me at the time." He went into the stamp and rare coin business, and didn't own an Apple computer until last year when he was given an iPad 2.