May 31, 2007

Ben Kenobi by Stuart Immonen

Now that the 30th anniversary has passed, the fan convention has shut its doors, and Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed has been watched, I expect the Star Wars posts to dwindle off here. But I thought I would cap things off with this great illustration of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars done by one of my favorite artists, Stuart Immonen.

ben kenobi by stuart immonen

Our New Basement - Day 12

Day 12 and things are looking pretty nice. The panels have all been installed and most of the drywall is in. It is really starting to feel like a finished basement.

Basement- Day 12What’s really amazing is how quiet things are down in the basement now that the ceiling tiles and the panels are up. Heather made the comment to me that is feels like that when you talk the noise is “sucked up” into walls and ceiling. I tried it for myself and she was right. While down in the basement, I started talking out loud and the noise seemed to be immediately absorbed into the surrounding walls and ceiling. Plus, I could barely hear anything going on upstairs. I had to walk back into the unfinished storage area before I could hear the sound of the TV upstairs.

Imagine how much quieter it will be when we get carpeting installed? This is gonna be fantastic! We will move all the kids’ toys and games down into the basement and our house can take on serene and quiet atmosphere of a sophisticated household.

But there is still work to be done. Drywall needs to be installed in the under-stair closet, and taping and mudding of all the drywall has to be completed. Plus, the windows have not been framed out and the support posts still need their coverings. But that work should be completed shortly. In fact, Sam, our installer, plans to come out on Saturday to do some finishing work.

Basement- Day 12The carpet installer is coming today to measure our space. So once that has been calculated we can order the carpeting and schedule the install.

Unless we run into some problems with carpet availability or scheduling the install, I still think that we could have a finished basement by the middle of June. After all the installers are out of our way all Heather and I need to do close things out is stain some of the woodwork and paint some walls. And that won’t take too long.

All in all, I’m getting pretty excited about seeing the finished room.

May 30, 2007

More Star Wars Stuff

This past Friday was the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars film. It was also the beginning of the fourth annual Star Wars fan convention, Celebration IV, held this year in California.

There were plenty of announcements and little bits of news generated out of the event, but only one really caught my interest. It was the premiere of a trailer promoting the new computer animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series that is set to debut later this year.

Like the Emmy-winning series that ran on Cartoon Network a few years back, this new Star Wars animated series will be set during the time between Episode II and Episode III. Unlike the original Cartoon Network series (which was hand-drawn), this new show will be done completely with computer animation.

screen shot from the trailer
Personally I wasn't too impressed with the animation in the trailer. The ships and backgrounds looked well enough, but the people - ugh. I've seen better animation work in the Barbie animated movies that Emma and Zoe like to watch. The people in this trailer looked stiff and lifeless. It was almost like they used un-finished animation for the trailer. I'll reserve final judgment until I see a complete episode, but the creators have a lot of work to do to earn me back after seeing that trailer.

Another item that coming out of Celebration IV that was hard to miss, but not one I was looking for, was the photo shot featuring more than a few dozen women (and one child) dressed up as Princess Leia in her infamous slave girl costume from Return of the Jedi.

whole lotta leias
I forgot which blog I read it on, but I thought they made an excellent point. George Lucas gave us a wonderfully strong, independent female character in Princess Leia, played with great skill by Carrie Fisher, who did all sorts of things in the three original movies and wore all sorts of different outfits in those films. Yet everyone latches on to those few fleeting scenes from ROTJ to use in remembering the character. (Okay, plenty of people show up in the white robes and the cinnamon bun hairdo - but the slave girl outfits get all the press)

Sure, as a red-blooded, heterosexual male Star Wars fan I enjoy the slave girl outfit, but I don't let that image paint how I think of the character. I just think the Leia slave girl has been done to death at this point and it needs a rest.

May 29, 2007

FoxTrot Creator Named Cartoonist of the Year

foxtrot familyEven though he reduced publishing FoxTrot from daily to Sunday-only, Bill Amend was still awarded the National Cartoonists Society's 61st Annual Reuben Award as cartoonist of the year.

Congratulations to a most worthy recipient. Bill Amend is a comic strip original whose work will stand the test of time. While I was disappointed when he reduced the publishing schedule of the strip, I prefer reading a Amend-original only once a week rather than FoxTrot created by assistants every day of the week.

The NCS also awarded a number of other prizes, including Best Comic Strip Cartoonist, which went to Stephan Pastis for his work on Pearls Before Swine I know plenty of people enjoy Pearls Before Swine and think highly of it, but I have never been able to get into the strip. Sure its sometime meta-comic references are amusing. But reading the strip day to day I find rather boring.

May 28, 2007

Our New Basement - Day 10

Two weeks and we are almost there. I took last Friday off of work so I could attend Emma’s graduation, which gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with Sam, the contractor who has been doing the majority of the work on our new basement.

Basement - Day 10Up to this point Heather had dealt with Sam exclusively. She had nothing but great things to say about him, mostly because he showed up on time, as promised, and always treated her and the girls in perfect professional manner. I was similarly impressed with Sam after talking with him about the project. We talked about what he had done, what still needs to be done, and what things I was concerned about (not much, actually, just stressed the need to fix the hole the electrician had made in the storage room while installing one of the outlets.)

Sam told me that it was his plan to not leave our house on Tuesday until all the wall panels had been installed. And after seeing how he left things Friday afternoon, I am confident that he will hit that benchmark. If you take a look at some of the photos from Day 10 of our basement project, you will see that the ceiling is completely finished – with even more lighting than was originally promised ( no additional cost) – and that the tracks and studs are all in place along the walls. Tuesday Sam should be able to get all the panels up, which only leave him the work of framing out the windows in oak and installing the drywall that will be lining the steps.

All very exciting, to say the least. While Heather and I have been pleased with the work up to this point, we still don’t feel like the basement has really changed much in the last two weeks. The last ten days has been made up of so much prep work, and so little visible change, that at times we feel a little under-whelmed with the project. Sure, having the ceiling in is great, but a ceiling doesn’t have the visual punch to really make the room feel different. Once the actual walls start going up that should all change.

What will also have a huge impact on the feel of the room is when we get it carpeted. We are gaining a little over 700 square feet of living space down in our basement, and we plan on making it as comfortable as possible. Saturday we headed out to a flooring wholesaler who offers a 40% discount off the listed price to customers of Owen Corning. Heather and I went in thinking we would get a rugged and pragmatic brown berber carpet, but ended up walking out with a very plush – and amazingly enough slightly green-colored – carpet. The carpet we chose will certainly be more bare-feet friendly than the berber, and the special stain resistant material should allow it to stand up to our gang of three.

Basement - Day 10And when I say green, I don’t mean shag-a-rific, disco ball spinning, day-glo green. The color of the carpet is a green-brown mix that I can’t really explain without making it sound even greener than it actually is. Considering that the ceiling and the walls would primarily be the same off-white color, Heather and I wanted a little color to the new room. You’ll just have to come over and see it after it has been installed.

Didn’t get confirmation from Sam on this, but I think we probably have about about one more week to go for the basement install. Not sure when the carpet will be installed, but it should follow shortly after. Certainly by the middle of June we should have a whole new room in the house to start having fun in.

May 27, 2007

Emma Graduates From Preschool

Ten years ago if you had told me that I would voluntarily attend a pre-school graduation, I would have told you that you were crazy. My opinion then was that having a graduation ceremony for pre-school aged kids was silly and over indulgent. And yet, there I sat this past Friday afternoon in the gym at Emma’s school anxiously waiting for her and the rest of her pre-school classmates to match in for their graduation ceremony. And this was my second pre-school graduation in the last three years.

I guess having kids does change everything.

Listening to the speechesThe Brendan of ten years ago who turned his nose up at pre-school graduations did not have kids of his own. He didn’t yet know the joys of fatherhood and how as a parent you become infinitely interested in everything your son or daughter does. I also didn’t know how damn cute and entertaining a pre-school graduation can be.

Emma and her class marched in to Pomp and Circumstance playing on their teacher’s portable stereo while wearing paper graduation caps that had been fashioned that morning. With much smiling and hesitant waves to moms and dads in the audience, they filed up onto the stage in front of us and took their seats to listen to their teacher, their principal, and the pastor of the church all step up and offer their thoughts, reflects, and observations on the day. Then Emma and her classmates stood up for the reason why I will always go to a pre-school graduation that I am invited to from now on – they sang four songs.


I don’t think I really understood most of the words that were sung (except for the refrain for “The Wheels on the Bus”), but what Emma’s classmates lacked in lyrical performance they made up with in passion of performance. Heather shot video of three of the four songs, and each and every one is the most purely sweet and entertaining performance you will ever see. I am so glad that I was there to see Emma and her class. Seeing her sing “If Your Happy and You Know It” with the other 18 kids is one of those memories that I will cherish as long as I live. That and seeing Emma up on stage swinging her feet back and forth and realizing that she has her shoes on the wrong feet.

Really, the whole getting the pre-school diploma was an anti-climatic after thought when the singing ended. The ceremony could have stopped after the songs and I would not have cared. I recall thinking the same way after Ian’s graduation from pre-school, but in the last three years I have come to appreciate these moments even more. At Ian’s ceremony I didn’t know what to expect and was charmed with the show. For Emma’s graduation I knew what was coming so I could sit back and really enjoy everything.

Of course Emma was as proud as she could be, especially when she saw that her Grandpa and Nana had showed up to see her graduate. As the middle child Emma has to fight a little harder to grab attention away from her older brother and her baby sister, but as the graduate she didn’t need to work too hard that Friday.

Getting the ParchmentGrandpa had to leave right after the ceremony to get back to sending bad guys to jail, but Nana stayed around for the reception afterward and helped Emma devour some of the biggest frosted cookies I had ever seen. Really, the things were like small cakes. I had one myself.

Afterwards Heather and I presented Emma with a card and gift certificate to Borders Books, which Emma seemed very excited about. Heather offered to make Emma whatever she wanted for dinner that night as part of the graduation celebration. Emma’s request? McDonald’s – and eat in the restaurant (something we don’t do very often), which made her infinitely popular with her siblings.

Later that afternoon we loaded ourselves into the van and headed out to have our pre-school graduation celebratory dinner at McDonald’s. As the reason for the celebration, Emma certainly felt more special then usual, and I knew that there certainly is a place for pre-school graduations.

May 24, 2007

Star Wars Stuff

star wars history channel special arwtorkThis Monday at 8 pm (central), The History Channel will be debuting a new special. Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed plans to explore why George Lucas' movies have been so popular
A blurb about the show:
"Through interviews with politicians, academics, journalists and critics the special demonstrates that Star Wars isn't just a high-action adventure in space. It's a remarkably complex and sophisticated story about power, politics, sin, spirituality and redemption--almost Shakespearean in its power, humor, presentation and influence."
I don't know if you should mention Star Wars and Shakespeare in the same sentence, but I understand what they are driving at. Destiny, and an individual's power to control it, is another theme that plays through the Star Wars films and contributes to the fascination with the story.

I hope to find time to watch it Monday night. Probably with Ian.

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robot chicken star wars parody screen shotOn June 17, the Cartoon Network Adult Swim show, Robot Chicken, will be dedicating an entire episode to a Star Wars parody. It has the complete blessing of LucasFilm, in fact the company even provided sound effects to the Robot Chicken crew to help with authenticity.

You can watch a trailer of it on the Adult Swim website.

Though I've stopped staying up late Sunday nights to watch Robot Chicken, I will be tuning in for this. The creators behind RC are a very funny group. The trailer looks great, so I expect more of the same from the full episode.

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Disney-MGM is promoting their Star Wars Weekends with some goofy ads in the Orlando airport.

This was one of my favorites:

star wars ad in orlando airport
Though the Tie Fighter at the end of the airport gate is pretty good too.

And leave it to Disney to come up with a way to use the opportunity to further extend their brand. This time by co-opting another brand.

goofy as darth vader

mickey in star wars
Okay, the Mickey as Luke Skywalker is kinda fun.

Our New Basement - Day 8

We’re 8 days into our basement re-finishing project and it’s starting to look like a real finished basement. There are doors hung in front of closets, lighting is all in place, and the wall panels are in the basement – just not on the walls yet.

Basement - Day 8With the lights all in and working, a few ceiling tiles in place, and the doors installed, you can look around and start to get a better feel for how the finished room is going to look like. For one, we realized how enclosed the cubby area behind the stairs is going to be. It will be perfect for hiding away from the rest of the house. If Heather or I don’t clearly stake it as “Mom’s & Dad’s” for crafting/work/comics, then the kids are grab it and transform it into some sort of make-shift playhouse.

Overall Heather and I are pleased with how things are going. There was a little bit of a dilemma surrounding how the electrician had wired the different lighting zones for the room. Heather and I had expected it one way, and they had done it another. After many discussion and phone calls and walking around turning lights on and off in the basement, we decided to keep things as they were and not have the electrician back to re-wire things. I think our expectations of how the lighting would work when laying things out did match with how the dimensions of the room actually ended up. Either way, we will probably have all zones on when we are down there anyway, so it won’t really matter much.

Basement - Day 8We had our first inspections yesterday as well, and from what I can tell no major complaints from our friends with the Aurora building code inspectors. So progress marches on. Heather called me this morning that the rest of the ceiling was being installed. I am excited to see how things look when I get home tonight.

The Basement Rehab Photo Gallery

May 23, 2007

Nexus

One of the great things about comics is that for all the new stuff that comes out now, there is plenty of older fantastic material just waiting to be discovered. And sometimes the old and new blend together.

When I got back into reading comics while in high school, I was aware of a comic called Nexus. I didn’t pay it too much attention because I was not ready to venture out of the safe, known world of DC Comics.

Nexus Origins CoverHowever, I couldn’t avoid the good press and positive word of mouth about the work writer Mike Baron and penciler Steve “The Dude” Rude were generating on the title and slowly Nexus worked its way up into my consciousness as something I should check out when I had the opportunity.

That opportunity presented itself a couple weeks ago at Free Comic Book Day. Baron and Rude, who are set to publish new Nexus tales after taking a 10 year hiatus from the character, published a free Nexus primer of sorts. So when I was at Graham Cracker Comics I decided to pick it up, but didn’t get to read it until during my trip to Atlanta.

Even though the free Nexus comic didn’t have a complete story in it – more like a collection of “best of” scenes from the comics twenty plus year history – I was completely hooked on the character by the time I finished reading the book.

The short explanation of what Nexus is: He’s Horatio Hellpop, the son of a communist general and ruler of the planet Vradic who elected to murder all ten million to prevent the over-throw of his government. Horatio was born on the planet Ylum after his father escaped the exploding planet. There Horatio came under the influence of the alien entity called the Merk, who in return for giving Horatio the super-human powers of the Nexus demanded in return that Horatio kill a certain quantity of human mass murderers when the Merk demanded it. Horatio accepts the power, and the threat of insanity it brings, to atone for his father’s sin of murder and to defend his home planet of Ylum.

With big concepts and complex characters, Nexus is a wonderfully engrossing space opera comic. It’s big and bold. In fact, just from the little snippets that I got to read in the free comic I realized that Nexus was/is unlike anything else I’ve read. The scenes I read demonstrated such a strong commitment to character it was hard to believe that it starred a super-powered protagonist. I totally fell in love with the book.

So suddenly the five Nexus archive books that Dark Horse has published have jumped to the top of my wish list for comics to own, and I will be looking for the new Nexus comics set to hit shelves this July.

The Cruel Realities of Life

Sheldon learns one of those lessons today.

Sheldon Comic for 05.23.07

May 22, 2007

I Want Al Gore's Office

Sans the horrible mess, of course

Check out that computer monitor set-up. And it's all Apple Mac powered.

Al Gore in his office - May 2007

(via)

Ian's First Communion

This past weekend Ian made his first Communion with the rest of his classmates from his second grade class. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. The weather was sunny and bright, but not too hot, so there weren’t any complaints about getting dressed up in a long sleeved dress shirt and tie (Heather and I opted not to have Ian wear a suit).

Marching InWe had a great turnout of family at the church. Besides my mom, dad and sister, two of my aunts, and my grandparents (Ian’s great-grandparents), Heather’s parents made the trip in from Ohio along with Heather’s sister – Ian’s Godmother – from Columbus, OH. Plus, my uncle and aunt from Minneapolis, MN happened to be in town and were able to come to the mass and stay for a while at the party afterwards. It was wonderful having all those people there to help Ian celebrate this big event.

At the beginning of Mass the students entered in lines by way of the two outside aisles. When they got to the front of the alter they turned and proceeded up the center aisle to their seats. Ian led his row in, and while he was tempted to jump into our pew on his way in, we convinced him to go all the way to the front of the church and do the procession like they had practiced three times the day before. Of course, plenty of the other kids had followed Ian’s lead and were trying to fight their way into the pews where their moms and dads were sitting. But when Ian backed his way out of the pew and started walking again, they all followed suit. It was kinda funny, but everyone handled things fine and got to where they needed to be.

As for the actual receiving of the Sacrament, Ian did pretty well for himself. Spoke clearly to the priest and handled things like he was suppose to. His only gaff was forgetting to stop for a sip of the wine. It was optional, but he had wanted to at least try it this first time. In his excited after receiving the host, he turned and made a bee-line for where we were sitting. It wasn’t until after we were all seated and his friend in the pew in front of us turned around and asked Ian what he thought about the taste of the wine did Ian realize his misstep. But considering that Communion was still being administered, I told Heather and Ian to just go up to the front of the church so Ian could receive the wine. Tragedy averted.

Ian's Communion ClassBack at our house we had a reception with plenty of great finger food. Heather’s cake, in particular, was a high point of the party. It was her first time working with fondant as a topping on a cake. I think the results were fantastic, and judging by the “oohhs” and “aahhs” we heard around the cake, I think everyone else was impressed with Heather’s cake as well. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a picture of it last night when uploading photos to Flickr – but I know they exist. Heather photographs all her party cakes. I’ll try to find pictures and add them later.

Ian was excited to be receiving so much attention at a party not associated with his birthday and overall had a great time. Check out the photos.

Update: The photo gallery now has a picture of Heather's amazing cake.

May 21, 2007

I Believe In Harvey Dent

Filming is barely underway and we're still a year from the film from being released, but that isn't stopping Warner Brothers from kicking the marketing campaign in gear for The Dark Knight, the sequel to Christopher Nolan's excellent Batman Begins.

I hadn't found time to write about it yet, but last week I started reading on some comic book blogs about a new website called I Believe in Harvey Dent. The site is a fictitious-campaign website showing Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent (the future villain Two-Face) that will tie into the movie's storyline I'm sure.

Harvey Dent campaign poster
But now a second site has already popped up - I Believe In Harvey Dent Too. Same campaign pose for Harvey Dent, but it's been vandalized with black circles around the eyes and garish red smile across his face. Wait long enough though, and the photo slowly dissolves and is replaced with our first look at Heath Ledger as the ultimate Batman baddie - the Joker.

Heather Ledger as the Joker
I think it's safe to say that Christopher Nolan is keeping to the approach he took with Batman Begins, and is keeping Batman grounded in the real world (or close facsimile of one). This ain't Jack Nicholson's Joker or even Cesar Romero's Joker. This is a whole new Joker to complement the whole new Batman Nolan created in his first film.

I am excited to see things develop.

Our New Basement - Day 5

After five days of work the Owens Corning boys have gotten nearly all of the electrical work roughed in (including the spots for the recessed can-lighting), the closets defined and framed, and the lattice for the ceiling installed. The six-panel doors for the closets have been delivered but not installed, the HVAC work still needs to be done, and the wall framing around the perimeter of the finished space has yet to start.

Basement - Day 5So I’m mildly pleased with the status of things after five days of work, but I am expecting big things as we head into the Memorial Day weekend. Come this Friday there should be something tangible in the basement for me to photograph and share with everyone.

I know from talking to Heather this morning that our basement is a center of activity. We have got four or five guys down in the project area, representing all sorts disciplines, working on different aspects of the project. This is obviously encouraging.

I know I might sound skeptical, or particularly hard on the guys doing the work, but it’s only because Heather and I are committing a lot of money to this project and I demand to get my money’s worth. Heather has been very impressed with everyone’s professionalism in how they conduct themselves on the project site (showing up when promised, being clean and courtesy), which is important. I just want to make sure we are getting that professionalism reflected in the work they will be leaving behind in our house.

Basement - Day 5The only issue I have encountered so far is how the electrician handled getting a line to an interior wall for an outlet. Following the existing electrical lines, it sent him back into our existing storage area, where he branched off and came back in through the adjoining wall. The goofy pipe-work isn’t great, but because it’s going to be in our storage closet and hidden by the shelving Heather and I are installing, it really doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I just want to see the drywall repaired and cleaned up before this project is over.

The Basement Rehab Photo Gallery

May 20, 2007

Summerland

I picked up Michael Chabon’s Summerland back in the summer of 2005 during one of my many interviewing visits with Hubbard One. I had arrived thirty minutes early and decided to poke around the Barnes & Noble across the street from their offices. (I’m a sucker for a bookstore) It was at that B&N, in the clearance aisle, that I found a hardback copy of Summerland on sale for $5. A steal, I thought, for a book by a writer I enjoy and admire that originally sold for nearly $25.

cover art for SummerlandOf course I ended up landing the job at Hubbard One and spent the next year working so much, and being so tired on the train, that I barely managed to make it through two novels between the time I started and the time I resigned my position with Hubbard One. And neither of those novels was Summerland. So it wasn’t until this spring, with my return to a more manageable work/life balance, that I finally got to crack open the book I had so eagerly purchased almost two years ago.

Summerland is billed as youth literature, but at a little over 500 pages I think you would have to be a courageous youth to tackle a book of this size (though, in a youth literature world post-Harry Potter, maybe this isn't the case). Also, given the slow moving first act to the story, you would have to be a patient reader as well. The second and third acts sing with great writing and plenty of action, it just takes Chabon some time to get there.

The summary of the book goes something like this: an eleven year-old boy, still coming to terms with the death of his mother and learning how to live alone with his eccentric father, becomes the reluctant, but ultimately perfect, hero in a sweeping epic to prevent the end of the world and play a little baseball along the way.

Baseball turns out to be a major theme in the novel, and Chabon works baseball as metaphor for life for all it’s worth in Summerland. According to the universe Chabon creates for his novel, every struggle, every triumph, every creation, and every lesson of life can be tied back to baseball. The metaphor wears a bit thin at times, but overall it provides a great common ground for uniting the characters of myths and legends that he pulls into the story.

Norse mythology, American Indian, tall tales of the American west, European fairy tales; characters and concepts from all of these legends share the same universe – or at least version of the universe Chabon weaves for the purpose of his tale. How else and where else than on a baseball team in the magical intra-dimensional world of the Summerlands could you bring a female Sasquach, two human children, a changeling, a were-rat, a handful of fairies, a shrunken giant, and Cuban baseball star together into the same story?

Chabon keeps the plot simple, but that doesn’t mean he simplifies his storytelling approach. He still delivers a compelling story with richly developed characters. None of the main or supporting characters are ciphers or cheap stereotypes. If Chabon is going to give a character more than two lines of dialogue in his story, then you get the feeling he has already flushed out the character in detail – even if half of it never makes it to the page. That’s how complete his characters feel as you read them.

michael chabon - the author of summerlandOne of the reasons that Michael Chabon has quickly become one of my favorite writers is that I simply enjoy reading his prose. Other writers might craft stories in an exciting or compelling way that makes we really enjoy reading their work. Others have a knack for characterization that I enjoy. Other writers simply excel in creating genre fiction that I particularly enjoy. Chabon certain has a talent for characters and engaging storytelling, but there is also just something about his prose – it’s kind of an intangible quality – which I really enjoy. Simply put, I just like how the guy writes. The way and order he puts words together in a sentence. It’s smooth. I love reading the words he writes.

Summerland, while not as intricate and multi-layered as Chabon’s other works, is still a showcase of superior storytelling. Whether you are an adventurous youngster looking to tackle a 500 plus page novel or a seasoned adult reader, Summerland provides a wonderfully rich and fulfilling reading experience.

May 18, 2007

Lloyd Alexander Dead at 83

Just read that fantasy and adventure writer Lloyd Alexander passed away yesterday at the age of 83 due to complications of cancer.

When I think back to books that I loved and remember reading as a kid, there are a select few that spring immediately to mind. Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain was one of those perfect series of books that captured my imagination and stayed with me long after I had put the last book down. I've read the series a number of times, and have kept my copies in perfect condition so that I can share them with Ian, Emma, and Zoe when they are old enough to read them.

For as much as I loved The Chronicles of Prydain, I never explored to see what other books Alexander may of written. But I realize now that Alexander wrote more than 40 books, including two National Book Award.

His final book, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, an Arabian Nights-themed adventure about a treasure hunt, will be published later this summer.

Dragging Comics Down

A couple o f weeks ago the Internet almost split in half when Marvel announced that they would be releasing a new statue of Mary-Jane Watson (aka Mrs. Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man’s wife) produced by Sideshow Collectibles.

I believe anyone who takes a look at the pictures of the statue will understand why. It’s a rather . . . um . . . interesting scene that Marvel/Sideshow have decided to go with.

mary jane statueThe outrage I’ve read on numerous comic-centric blogs have centered on how gratuitous the positioning of Mary-Jane’s body is, the ridiculousness of the scene, and the demeaning nature of the status towards women. All valid point which I also share.

But there is one more reason I am upset to see Marvel make a decision to unleash an item like this status on the masses – it hurts the creditability of comics.

I’ve been reading comics for quite some time, and for as long as I can remember one of the common (and largest) complaints/laments that has been bounced around by fans of the comic book form is how comics are respected by the larger American populace.

cover to american born chineseHowever, in the last few years there has been a improvement in how the larger public views comics and graphic novels. Stores like Borders and Barnes & Nobles have increased the comic book / graphic novel section. More characters and stories from comics are jumping to TV and movies. Writers who have built the reputation and won industry accolades writing tradition novels have jumped over to write comics – because they want to and are excited about the format. Some school districts have realized that comics are a wonderful tool to get young readers excited about reading, which will translate into older kids and adults who enjoy reading. And graphic novels and comics are even starting to be recognized by the literary heavyweights (eg. American Born Chinese’s recent National Book Award nomination).

Obviously one silly sexist statue isn’t going to undo the wonderful work of Gene Yang, Michael Chabon, Alan Moore, or Ed Brubaker, but it certainly isn’t helping. For all the good press and wider acceptance, I still sometimes have to deal with the snickers or funny looks when people learn I’m a thirty-four year-old who reads and enjoys comics. There is still a strong perception that comics are 1) only for kids and 2) only male power fantasies about muscle-bound guys in tights beating the bejebers out of each other.

cover to superman secret identityGranted, superhero comics dominate the comics market, but there are plenty of other innovative and compelling works in comic book form out there. American Born Chinese is an excellent example, as is Blankets, The Professor’s Daughter, From Hell, Criminal, Fables, Killer and a slew of other non-superhero books. Hell, there are books starring superheroes that demonstrate sophistication in their storytelling above and beyond most traditional prose fiction found at a local Borders. Superman: Secret Identity springs to mind immediately, as does Alan Moore’s Top 10 and Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis.

There’s so much great work to be found in comics I hate seeing the form sullied with ancillary products like this Mary-Jane statue, because it’s a statue like that which perpetuates the stereotype of the comic book guy so perfectly rendered in the Simpson’s TV show. Maybe the better thing to do would be to ignore the statue and not even mention it here, but it just bothered me too much. I had to vent my frustrations. Hopefully the roar of disapproval over Marvel’s decision to create this statue will be heard by the non-comic book fans and they will understand that there this statue isn’t what comics are all about.

May 17, 2007

My Brother, Kevin Kline

I don't know how my brother feels about it, but I think it is too cool that the theater reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times described my brother's performance in Arcadia like this:
Bernard Nightingale (Kevin McKillip, who has a Kevin Kline-like comic panache)
Having your comic performance compared to Kevin Kline is a good thing.

Our New Basement - Day 3

Basement - Day 3The basement project has begun and progresses smoothly, though not at the pace that I had initially expected. After three days of work there isn’t a whole lot to talk about or show you. Most of the work done has been roughing in the closets that are being built in the space, and beginning to construct the soffits that will box around the low-hanging support beam and HVAC duct work. The electrician has also begun installing where all the outlets and lights will go.

Necessary work, but not too flashy.

And as Heather points out to me, until the electrician showed up on Wednesday, there was only one guy working this project. Sam is doing it all on his own.

Basement  - Day 3Normally that might have me worried about the two week deadline, but because of the nature of our basement refinishing project I think we will be fine. Building the walls for the closets is labor intensive, but after that it’s installing the metal studs directly to the foundation walls and laying out the suspended ceiling. The Owens Corning system doesn’t use traditional drywall. The designed wall panels snap into place on the metal studs and are finished off with trim on all four sides. The ceiling is made up off insulated panels that hang from the support system. Only needing to literally snap the walls up to finish the work, we should start seeing dramatic changes to the basement once all the basic work framing has been completed.

None the less, the first thing I’ve been doing each night after I get home from work is to spend ten to fifteen minutes taking a look at what work has been done. I’m not worried yet about it taking longer than estimated, I just want to make sure things are going in how we want them.

The Basement Rehab Photo Gallery

Poo-Poo On You, IOC

The International Olympic Committee has ruled that the logo Chicago had unveiled back in October cannot be used to promote the games - if Chicago should win the right to host the 2016 Olympic games.

Apparently the IOC rules state that a logo "shall not contain the Olympic symbol, the Olympic motto, the Olympic flag, any other Olympic-related imagery (e.g., flame, torch, medal, etc.), slogan, designation or other indicia or the distorted version thereof or a design confusingly similar thereto."

Which means the keeno design for a logo Chicago had been plastering around the city for the last seven months will have to go. I'm a little sad. The logo was really great. Not only was it simple and refined in its presentation, it also worked in all sorts of subtle representations of Chicago and its rich history. Its really nice piece of art. Hopefully the design group that came up with torch-inspired logo can work that same magic again, but stay within the IOC's rules.

May 16, 2007

Cubby-Blue

Cubby-Blue is one of the most original ideas for a blog I've seen in a long time.

Tim Souers publishes his illustrations, along with a few comments, as an online journal of how he sees the current Chicago Cub season progressing.

Definitely more interesting than reading another yahoo's 3,000 word rant on why the Cubs need to drop Marc Prior.

Tim Souers' illustration

Batman's Number 1 Rule

In case you were wondering, it isn't "avenging his parents' murder" or "keeping the streets of Gotham safe."

Nope.

batmans number one rule
That's right. Batman's Number 1 Rule is: Don't daydream while driving the Batmobile

(thanks)

I Hate Gum

I didn’t always hate gum and those who choose to partake in the disgusting practice of chewing gum. As a kid I remember asking for packages of Hubba Bubba or Fruit Stripe. I used to be a big fan of Big Red. But at some point during my high school – college days I came to the honest realization that gum is probably the most horrific food inventor forced upon humankind.

zebra stripe gumNot only is gum chewing noisy and pointless (you explain to me the purpose of chewing a synthetic material for two hours), but when a gum chewer has tired of his task it creates a messy, disgusting leftover that is the scourge of shoes, pants, and hair everywhere.

And here’s the kicker – when chewing gum a person is guaranteed to look 10 to 20 IQ points lower than they normally look. Simply put - chewing gum makes you look stupid. The constant jaw moving and lip smacking makes a chewer look like a cow who just wandered in from the pasture.

It’s why I no longer chew gum and actively avoid people who are chewing the stuff. It’s also why I’m such an asshole about gum chewing at home. Everyone knows Dad hates gum and gum chewing. Of course that doesn’t stop them from chewing gum. Everyone from Heather down to Zoe enjoys a stick of gum from time to time. But at least they know to stay away (and Heather has agreed to only - - pop her gum when I’m actually physically out of the house) from me when they’ve got gum in the mouth.

So imagine my horror this morning when I ended up surrounded on the train by three guys all chewing gum. Grown men. In suits. Professionals. All chewing gum at 7:30 in the morning. And a packed train meant that there was no where for me to move.

One of them was facing me so I had to watch him slowly gnawing on his cud for the entire 40 minute train ride into the city. The mad smacker sitting behind me was working his gum with a ferocity I haven’t seen exhibited since the attack of the Persians upon the Spartan warriors in 300, and he did it all with his mouth wide open and gum snapping away.

Who are these people?

It was almost more than I could bear. I gave up on reading and plugged into my iPod, but even the ranting of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon couldn’t drown the sound of the gum smacking assault on my senses. By the time we reached the train station in Chicago I was practically in tears.

I hate gum.

And I hope those three guys’ teeth all rot out.

May 15, 2007

AAEC Cartoon Auction

The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists is currently running an auction to raise funds for Cartoons for the Classroom, a program that provides "bi-weekly lesson plan that employs editorial cartoons as a tool for instruction in history, civics, current events, and critical thinking." And the lesson plans and materials are provided at no cost to the schools.

I certain believe in the power cartoons have to entertain, educate, and communicate, and I am glad to see there are efforts to illuminate others to the unique artist power the joining of words and pictures can have.

If I had thought I had the money to get into the bidding to support this worthy program, I would jump all over the auction for one of Clay Bennett's cartoons from 2001.

Clay Bennett cartoon that is up for auction

May 14, 2007

Save the Bunny!

You have 60 seconds to save the bunny.

save the bunny

Our New Basement - Day 0

When Heather and I bought our most recent house last August, one project we knew we wanted to tackle was finishing off the basement. Our house has a roomy, full-size basement that’s just asking to have something done with it. The previous owners had walled off about a quarter of the space to form a large area for general storage, but that still left plenty of unused prime space that Heather and I wanted to make sure we were making the most of. Knowing how quickly we expand to fill up the space we live in, I had hoped to tackle turning the basement into real living space within the first year or two – before it became just one huge dumping ground for everything we didn’t want to keep upstairs.

owens corning pink pantherWe hadn’t given a project like the basement much thought when this past February a house nearby us had an open house were you could come in and see the Owens Corning basement that had been installed. The idea sounded interesting so we checked it out. What Owens Corning had created was what they call a “basement finishing system” that goes in quickly and is better suited for the below ground environments of basements. Basically a bunch of pre-fab building materials that are resistant to moisture, mold, and rot – things that can spell death for a basement rehad.

We were really impressed with the showcase house we saw – the room felt warm and inviting, and didn’t look pre-fab or cheap. The walls were soft – perfect for kids running around – and the combination of the insulated walls and the suspended ceiling Owens puts in as part of the process, really made the space quite – upstairs and downstairs. Plus, the modular nature of the materials makes it easy if we ever need to access the foundation or want to re-wire things.

Basement - Day 0After talking with representatives at Ownes a couple times, negotiating the price down (including agreeing to be a showcase home after our basement is complete), and checking the quoted price against industry reported averages for a traditional basement finishing project, Heather and I felt we were getting a good deal. We signed out a contract to have the work done.

The project will include nearly everything to turn the basement into a great livable space (over 700 square feet) – walls, ceiling, electrical, recessed lighting with different lighting zones, and oak trim for the banisters. The only thing Owens doesn’t do is install flooring. We will have to take care of that.

This morning at 7:30 the Owens Corning crew arrived to begin work. They’ll start with frame out the walls (we’re having a few closets created) using metal studs and go from there. Sam, our project manager, says that we should expect a finished basement (sans carpeting) will be ready by the end of the month. About two weeks.

Basement - Day 0Now I know the last time I talked about work being done on my house in two weeks time it was during our personal march through general contractor hell. But this time Heather and I think things will be different. Up to this point Owens has been completely professional and haven’t failed to be on time for any of the many appointments that have been part of the sale and project planning. This means a lot to us and I think speaks to the professional nature in which they will conduct the project. Plus, we’re dealing with a company who we trust and has a prominent standing within the marketplace, not some guy who only sub-contracts to his drinking buddies and wife's cousins.

I’ve uploaded some photos of what our basement looks like now – after I spent two weekends clearing everything out - and plan on photo documenting what I can. It’s a lot of space, and Heather and I are excited about what having it finished will bring us in added living and energy efficiency. In the coming weeks check back to see how things develop and learn if Sam can complete the project in about two weeks.

May 13, 2007

The World is a Better Place Because of Bruce Campbell


Yes, he's singing Duran Duran's "Hungry Like a Wolf."

There needs to be more Bruce Campbell everywhere.

May 11, 2007

Stone Mountain

This past week I attended a user conference in Atlanta, Georgia that was organized by one of the software vendors that our company uses and who I work closely with. The conference was held in Stone Mountain State Park at a resort situated deep inside the park.

Stone Mountain Park was beautiful. It was a treat to escape the city and suburbs of Illinois and spend two days surrounded by towering pine trees and a serene lake (the Atlanta Airport – not such a treat). Plus, in the middle of the park stands Stone Mountain, a monstrously large dome of granite. It was very impressive. Only thing that could have made it better is if Heather or the kids had been there to share it all with.

stone mountain parkBecause of my interest in Early American history – mostly confined to the Colonial to Civil Way eras – I always find traveling to places like Atlanta, Washington D.C., or Boston fascinating. Even though they are modern American cities filled with the same fast food restaurants and strip malls that I can find back in Chicago, when I travel through parts of cities like Atlanta I can’t help but feel the all the great American history that has unfolded there.

Of course, when traveling on business I usually don’t get much time for sightseeing. So I made the most of the long drive through the winding roads of the Stone Mountain State Park. And on Wednesday I skipped lunch and left the conference early so that I could climb to the top of Stone Mountain using the walking trail on the west side of the mountain. It took me about 30 minutes to climb the 1.3 mile trail to the top, where I stood 1,683 feet above sea level. The view was amazing, and despite the fact that I really hadn’t packed clothes for hoofin’ it up a mountain, I was pleased I took the time to do so. While standing on top of the mountain I was overcome with the sense of history, but didn’t realize how close I was to it.

On the way back down the mountain (which only took 15 minutes to cover), I thought about how it would be nice to visit Stone Mountain again. Maybe with the whole family, or maybe just with Heather. I really hadn’t had time to investigate much, but it looked like there would be more to do at Stone Mountain Park than climb the granite dome or stay at the resort.

After getting back home to Illinois and looking up Stone Mountain State Park on the web, I discovered I had managed to keep myself completely oblivious to two huge facts about the park while there for the conference.

1) The place is practically an amusement park with camping, swimming, rides, river boat cruises, laser light show, and a skyride to the top of the mountain. I guess in early May they haven't started up the tourist trap machine yet.

stone mountain bas-relief2) Stone Mountain is home to the world’s largest bas-relief. On the mountain’s north face a sculpture of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis have been carved into the granite. The carving is 90 feet by 190 feet. It’s huge. And I – the American History junkie – some how managed to wander around the park for two days and not discover this.

I am so ashamed.

And pissed. I had a golden opportunity to this remarkable sculpture of three Confederate heroes of the Civil War and I completely missed it.

Now I really want to go back to Atlanta. But can I do it without going through their airport?

The B.C. Craptacular Recycling Rolls On

Following the death of cartoonist Johnny Hart, it was announced by Hart's family that his strip, B.C, would continue on for a few weeks with "best of" strips before his children and grand-children would take over the strip's production using archived Johnny Hart artwork while writing new jokes. I, and many others, thought this was a horrible idea, but the Hart family marched on.

Thanks to the watchful eye of The Comics Curmudgeon, we can see why the decision to continue B.C. was such a craptacular idea.

Today's "Best Of" Strip

may 11 2007 bc stripClick on the strip above. If you squint a little you will see that the strip has a copyright from 1996.

Now take a look at this B.C. strip from 2/5/07 - a few months before Johnny Hart's death.
feb 5 2007 bc stripWhat did we learn?

That if Johnny Hart felt comfortable recycling his own weak jokes we shouldn't really expect anything different from his kids, grandkids, or Creators Syndicate.

I still can't believe that syndicates and newspapers would prefer to continue publishing re-hashed crap like B.C. when they could have something fresh and fun like this.

May 08, 2007

Gods of Asgard

The Xeric Foundation was established a few years ago to help self-publishing comic book creators by awarding a select few grant money to assist in getting their work into more readers' hands.

Every year when the grant awards are announced, I always make it a point to read through who the Xeric Foundation has deemed worthy and see what grabs my attention. I've discovered some interesting comics this way.

This year's class is no exception. Thanks to the money from the Xeric Foundation, Erik Evensen's Gods of Asgard will be published and distributed later this summer. Gods of Asgard is a interpretation of the Norse myths using English translations of the original source material.

Gods of Asgard
When I was a kid I devoured books on Greek and Roman mythology. Found it immensely fascinating. I wanted to read up on the Norse gods, but I found it difficult at that time to find books on Norse mythology suited for an eleven year-old (Bullfinch's Mythology was a little intense for me back then). So something like Gods of Asgard should be a perfect fit for me. Plus, I really like that Evensen's book goes back to the source to inspire this comic version. This is authentic mythology, not some super hero bastardization of mythology (Though I should probably give Bullfinch's another run around the track now that I've gotten older). I look forward to picking this book up

May 07, 2007

Gimme a Coke and a Burger

Did you that there are a lot of strange National food holidays? I don’t mean strange like, Moldy Cheese Appreciation Day, but strange like, “Who in Washington thought spending time and money honoring that was necessary?”

While scanning through the list of food celebrations, I noticed that during the month of May you can be celebrating a different food with each course of your meal.

Appetizer: National Escargot Day--May 24
Salad: National Salad Month--May 1-31
Main Course: National Barbecue Month--May 1-31
Dessert: National Chocolate Custard Month--May 1-31

have a cokeBut my interests are more simply. I think I can get by with celebrating just two food holidays:

Have a Coke Day--May 8
National Hamburger Month--May 1-31

Hmmm . . . burger