Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Plastic Orange Camera

I’ve talked before about a habit that I’ve developed related to swiping small objects from the kids so that I can use that object to remember a specific moment. It’s more powerful than a picture, something tangible to summon forth a strong memory. Something to remind me about who the kids used to be at a specific moment of their childhood development.

Like this tiny, crappy, plastic camera.

This last fall, my six-year-old son Alex had to have a frenectomy. That’s the dental procedure where they have to sever the flap of flesh connecting your top lip to your gums because it’s interfering with the development of your two front teeth. He was VERY nervous. And as is common practice in our household, I take the kids to the especially nervous-making doctor or dentist appointments. They’ll panic and whine if they know Mommy is a few feet away with a quick “My baby!” to spring to her lips. If they know Daddy’s sitting there, they won’t move or say a word.

Still, Alex is the youngest. Our very last child. And where Ashton is my man-in-training and Katie is my special girl, Alex is my baby.

We waited patiently in the dentist office for our names to be called. I had him work on his first grader reading homework and I read some comic books to him. And when the nurse popped out and called out “Alex Dill?”, I corrected her.

“He likes to go by Alexander the Brave.”

Alex looked up at me and grinned. “DaaaaAAAAAaaaad.”

“Alexander the Brave it is, then.” The nurse nodded in compliance. Soon she had the whole office calling him ‘Alexander the Brave’. And where Ashton and Katie had their frenectomy’s done with cold, hard steel; they performed Alex’s with a laser. I made Star Trek jokes the whole time. My presence wasn’t much appreciated.

After the procedure was complete, Alex was feeling okay but a little disoriented. Most of all, he was especially proud of how brave he was and how much attention he was getting from the nursing staff. To hear them tell it, they never have had a six-year-old sit quiet so still for this. “Alex the Brave.”

They led us out to the processing desk and pulled out a box of small toys. “Would you like to pick out a treat for being so good today?” The nurse asked.

After quietly explaining that she wasn’t, in fact, talking to me, Alex began pushing the crappy little plastic bits of nonsense around the box looking for anything remotely entertaining.

He picked up the tiny, orange toy camera and looked through it. He clicked the button on the top once, twice, click, click. He looked up at the nurse and said “I’ll take this one.”

I made him hold my hand on the way out to the car. He didn’t want to. “DaaaaaAAAAaaad.”

“I’m proud of you.” I said.

He nervously and embarrassedly giggled a few times. “I know.” He thought for a minute and laughed again. “They called me Alex the Brave.”

We got in the car and headed for home. I could hear him in the seat directly behind me. Click. Click. Click. Click. Pause. Click.

“What do you see in the camera, buddy?” I asked.

“Animals.” He answered. “The kind that you see… not in the forest. In the jungle.”

I considered this for a moment. “Do you see a snake.”

“Dad. No. No snakes.” He replied.

“Monkeys?” I tried again.

Click. Click.

“Yeah.” He said. “There’s a monkey. And a zebra.”

The rest of the car ride went on like this. With us talking about his camera, his procedure, his school work, and “Alex the Brave”.

It was a moment. I don’t know why, or how, or what elements put moments like these together. But it’s a moment that makes my face all fuzzy and I’m hoping to never, ever forget. A moment when my rapidly growing baby boy was still little. Still entertained by a crappy plastic camera.

Recently Alex and I were working on the immense project of organizing his toys and getting them out of his brothers room in preparation for him to have a room of his own. I was short-tempered and annoyed and didn’t want to be doing this. There were other chores more important, but here I sat.

“Look Dad!” He exclaimed. “My camera!” He handed me the plastic toy.

It was one of many such throw-away exclamations he had made that day. And I was surrounded by plastic bins into which I was organizing the various toys. And between my legs was the ‘get rid of’ box. I took the camera from him, watched his eyes head towards the next attention-getter, and slid the camera into the ‘get rid of’ box.

Only it never left my fingers.

Couldn’t do it.



Monday, January 28, 2013

Horror Comics

For the most part, I’ve always kept my comic book interests narrowed down to the super-hero genre. Super heroes have largely dominated that particular medium, as it is the absolute best way to showcase their adventures. However, comics haven’t only just featured super heroes. There have been varying successes found in the genre’s of war, romance, humor, crime, and western. Much more so in the fifties and sixties than today, but there are modern day examples of these genres.

Aside from super-heroes, arguably the next most popular genre in the medium of comic books is horror.

As a kid in the seventies, I didn’t get a whole lot of horror comic books. In fact, only one comes to mind. Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery #65, with a cover date of December 1975. I was six.

I have no idea how this thing ended up in my collection. Even as a kid I had no idea how to file and classify it. As an adult, it took me forever to figure out what comic it was based solely on vague recollections of the cover. But I finally did locate it. And upon flipping through it, some of the imagery is memorable to me. Here are some examples:

Obviously, it wasn’t the kind of stories that strongly caught my attention.

As an adult, I grew to have a serious appreciation for horror movies and the horror genre. This appreciation led me to research any horror stories in my preferred medium of comic books. I found out all about EC comics and their headline title, Tales from the Crypt.

The EC comics have a strong role in the history of comics. Famous for quality and absorbing, gorey, gruesome stories, the comics themselves are absolute gems. They were hugely popular in the very early 1950’s, and they were the center of a storm surrounding comics and the idea that comic books were one of the primary causes of juvenile delinquency. The debates led to senate hearings, book burnings, self-regulation of the comic book industry, and the demise of EC comics. But I don’t want to get into all that here. It’s better covered elsewhere. If you’re interested, you can start here and here.

As great as the EC horror comics were, I never really found them all that scary. Maybe it’s because I was reading them as a jaded adult in the first decade of the 21st century and not as an eight-year-old in 1951. I heartily enjoyed them, but I didn’t find them scary.

In fact, I was under the impression that comic books couldn’t really scare me. I’ve recently learned different.

No discussion about modern day horror comics can be had without mentioning the Walking Dead. It’s a comic that my wife and I both enjoy immensely. Strongly adult, very engrossing, high quality stories told in the medium of a black-and-white comic book. The comic spurred a hit television show and is still being published monthly.

The thing that gets me about the Walking Dead is that I find a genuine surprise in every issue. Writer Robert Kirkman legitimately catches me off guard with at least one page-turn surprise per issue. The whole series is very disturbing for someone who’s most comfortable with super-hero comics of the seventies. At one stage in the series, it got to the point that I was afraid to turn the page for fear of what would happen next.

But this is a fear born of tension and anticipation, rather than legitimate fear. I was starting to feel a little jaded. It was like I was too old or exposed to find any true fear in horror comic books. I felt as if I had missed out. Is it possible for an adult who watches horror movies regularly to be scared by reading a comic book?

Recently I had heard about a series called Locke & Key from comic book publisher IDW. The series is written by a dude named Joe Hill. Hill writes both books and comics, and he absolutely deserves credit in his own right, so I won’t mention who his father is. ( The Locke & Key series had been recommended to me by a few different sources. So I finally broke down and bought the first collection.

It was a winter afternoon, I sat in the quiet sun room while the kids were off playing in another room and Lorie was working on her projects. Maybe it was a combination of focus, solitude, and the quality of the material. But reading this I found myself to be downright scared. Hill crafts a tale involving an old New England haunted house, a family recently devastated by a serial killer, and mystical keys that open doors in ways that no key on my keychain is capable of. The series deserves every inch of reputation it has and I intend to buy the rest of the collections. There was one image in particular that I can’t shake. And I’m very glad that I was able to put down the colorful adventures of my favorite super heroes for an afternoon and absorb myself in this horror story without distraction. It was quite the experience.

And now, unfortunately, I’m thinking.

I’m thinking that maybe that’s why I don’t seem to enjoy entertainment that much anymore. The focus. Between my ever-present To Do list, and the needs of my very active family I have very little opportunity to carve out a time for focused reading. I hope that particular state of being is temporary. I enjoy the way things are now and live in the moment. But I very rarely sit through a modern TV show or a modern comic without thinking about all the many, many things that I could be doing instead. It’s only the movies and comics of yesteryear, the stuff I’m already familiar with, that can distract me to the level of actually enjoying my entertainment.

Or… y’know… maybe I just think too much. That’s Lorie’s theory.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Super Hero Poses

My preferred method of entertainment, comic books, is an extremely visual medium. In fact, it's the essential core concept of the medium. And for decades the adventures of super-heroes were best contained in comic books because it was the only medium that could showcase their adventures with the special effects necessary.

Sometimes I'm caught off guard by how these images can stick with me. Most of all, images from comics I had as a child keep springing to mind.

For instance, the other day I reached for a towel and imagined my arm was stretching like Mr. Fantastic to grab the towel. Afterwards, I wondered why. As I do this kind of thing frequently. The answer is simple:

I was reaching for a towel like Mr Fantastic in Fantastic Four #185, 1977, as drawn by George Perez.

I find myself adopting poses or at least imagining poses from the comics of my childhood quite alot. Such as ring recharging and rhyming like Green Lantern in Green Lantern and Green Arrow #95, 1977, as drawn by Mike Grell.

Or fighting like Captain America from Giant-Size Captain America #1, 1975, as drawn by Jack Kirby.

Or swimming like Aquaman from Aquaman #57, 1977, as drawn by Jim Aparo.

Or size-changing like the Atom from Super Friends #6, 1977 as drawn by Ramona Fradon.

Or running like the Flash from Limited Collector's Edition C-48, 1976, as drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

Or swinging like Spider-Man from Amazing Spider-Man #184, 1978, as drawn by Ross Andru.

Or flying like Superman from Action Comics #459, 1976, as drawn by Curt Swan.

I slipped into a Superman flying pose in my boss's office once. She told me I looked like a football trophy. I was deeply offended.

I was disappointed in college by my course in archery as they did not teach us how to run with our face two inches off the ground while clicking our bow like Green Arrow from Green Lantern Green Arrow #96, 1977, as drawn by Mike Grell.

BUT... how many of you can say you've been on the ground and tried to fire an arrow without arms? I can! Just like Green Arrow from Limited Collector's Edition C-41, 1976, as drawn by Mike Sekowsky.

Comics being what they are, some of the images that pop into my head are a little less conventional and iconic. At several points through the week you might catch me mimicking my face exploding while in a wide-legged stance of awesomeness. Much like Wildfire from Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #214, 1976, as drawn by Mike Grell.

Sometimes I want to run to my car with flat-fingered, cape swooping running style as evidenced by a certain caped crusader from Batman #290, 1977, as drawn by Mike Grell.

Oddly enough, I'm prone to doing some metal working just like the original Captain Marvel from Limited Collector's Edition C-35, 1975, as drawn by C.C. Beck.

Speaking of Captain Marvel, I can't pass any kind of metal disk on the floor or circle on the pavement without picturing myself tapping it with a foot in order to trap the Human Torch. This is thanks to Marvel's Captain Mar-Vell from Captain Marvel #47, 1976, as drawn by Al Milgrom.

At least I didn't pick up womanizing from Batman Jr (you read that right) from World's Finest Comics #233, 1975, as drawn by Dick Dillin.

Some moments I envision a sense of dramatic tension and urgency. Such as sometimes feeling the need to grab a stick and smack it on the ground with only moments to spare. Thanks to Thor from Marvel Team-Up #26, 1974, as drawn by Jim Mooney.

Or my need to summon the world's greatest super-heroes just like Hawkman did from Justice League of America Tempo books reprints; 1977, as drawn by Dick Dillin.

Back last Spring when I first joined Instagram (as Aquadcd), I tried to encapsulate one of the aspects of having these images floating through my mind all the time. Here's what I wrote: "I still walk around pretending my fingers are a little super-hero running and posing. A strange habit left over from childhood. I was at work one day walking along and my fingers were running and jumping and hero-posing down by my side. I realized that the guy behind me probably thought I was making rude gestures at him. After considering this for a moment, I realized I was okay with it."

So yeah, if you work with me you might occasionally find me springing into an odd pose or two while I think no one's looking. Hopefully it won't be like this one from Super Friends #25, 1975, as drawn by Ramona Fradon.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Smurfette and the Ray Gun

The other day I was in the bathroom peeing for a standing position and looked down. There on the bathroom counter looking back up at me was Smurfette.

I got embarrassed and uncomfortable.

It was one of Katie’s little Surf figures that she had gotten for Christmas years ago. She’s been in the process of cleaning her room, organizing her stuff, and busily growing out of childish things. I’m against it. Whether Smurfette was in the ‘to keep’ pile or the ‘to Goodwill’ pile, I don’t know. But it’s mine now.

Lately I’ve been picking up one of my mother’s more distressing habits. Picking small objects that reminds me of the kids at an earlier stage in their development, keeping those small objects, and idolizing them. This Smurfette, for obvious blondish reasons, reminded me of Katie. So I swiped it off the bathroom counter and moved it to the top of a bookcase where only I could see it. It’s the tall person’s act of claiming something without actually removing it from the room.

It’s a Christmas Smurfette, from a set with a Papa Smurf and a little Christmas train or some such nonsense. Usually I’m against the visible Christmas item year-round, but this had quickly moved from ‘Christmas decoration’ to ‘Katie token’. The only problem being that her ray gun is upside down.

Every time I see it, which is now every time I go to the bathroom in my own home, I’m bothered by this. It makes no sense. Did they mean for the ray gun to be upside down? That seems odd. Did the ray gun come loose and Katie put it back in upside down? No… No it’s stuck in her hand. Very odd. I just don’t get it.

The other night I was getting ready for bed and Lorie said to me: “Did you know there’s a Smurfette in the bathroom?”

I was legitimately surprised that she had seen it!

“Yeah. I put it there. It reminds me of Katie.” I grinned. Lorie suspected as much. “But it really bothers me that her ray gun is upside down.”

“Ray gun?” Lorie questioned.

“Yeah, she’s holding a ray gun.” I shrugged. “Only it’s upside-down.”

Lorie sat back shaking her head. “A ray gun? A Christmas ray gun?”


“That makes no sense.” She said.

“Especially upside down.” I agreed.

“It would make much more sense if they gave her a stocking instead.” Lorie went back to her reading.


I got in bed.

“Huh.” I mused.

I flipped on the iPad and pulled up my comics.


“OOooooooooh… a stocking.” I sighed as Lorie devolved into giggles.

Thing is, it never once occurred to me that what Smurfette was holding was anything less than a ray gun. Even upside down.



Monday, January 21, 2013

Bob Newhart and Football

I don’t care a lick about football. In fact, I found doing the least amount of research I could get away with for this blog post made me sleepy and lethargic. BUT… I can’t deny that it’s important and needed in our society. People need entertainment. And if they prefer their muscle bound men clad in skin-tight uniforms to be on the football field rather than in the pages of a comic book, so be it.

Football popped up in my cultural time machine recently. We were watching an episode of the Bob Newhart show from the early seventies. Bob and his buddy Jerry and his wife Emily were dealing with the 'new thing' that was plaguing marriages across the nation. Monday Night Football.

The episode originally aired in November of 1972. Wikipedia says that Monday night football started in fall of 1970. So perhaps it wasn't the most timely of topics for ol' Bob to tackle or maybe there were other factors in play that I'm not aware of. But the characters in the show were talking about the idea of football on Monday night to be a new and wondrous thing. It was even mentioned that Monday used to be the most depressing day of the week, but now there was something to look forward to.

Bob's wife Emily was none-too-pleased to find her husband and his pal littering her couch on a Monday night. She felt obligated to serve dinner and provide for the men. It's... interesting.

I find the culture of the show to be a strong time machine. The fashion's are a straight on disaster and the issues that Bob and Emily go through simply don't exist today. Emily frets about serving the men dinner. Emily frets about not spending time with her husband and being bored about football. Bob seems caught between two ideologies. There's the idea of being able to watch what he wants to watch when he'd like to watch it and with who while in his own home. And there's the idea of being sensitive to the needs of another human being who he's given his word to honor and cherish for the rest of his life. The two struggle for a middle ground and in true sitcom fashion, find a resolution.

One of the interesting elements of the episode is that Bob and Emily have a rule about their fights.... and it's that they won't go to bed angry. So, again in true sitcom fashion, they're up all night. It's a good thought in that it's based in the foundation of fostering communication.

I was too young in the early seventies to know anything about women's lib. And my own mother was devoutly against it because it didn't adhere to a 'Leave it to Beaver' acknowledgment of what the world should be like. But it's interesting to see Bob and Emily bring this to life for my entertainment and education with a culture historical milestone like the onset of Monday Night Football. At the time the show was trying to be timely. And in today's viewing it ends up being a time machine to another culture. Exactly the kind of thing I love.

My wife Lorie, however, is less than impressed with the show. She finds it boring and repetitive. So your mileage may vary.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Shatner's World

While I’ve yammered on incessantly about my various passions on this blog, you no doubt have picked up that I love Star Trek. The classic 1960’s version of Star Trek that was rerun all through the seventies and carved into our childhood in that way that’s just permanent right down to your toes. And while my true love will always be for the character of Captain Kirk, I have more than a little reverence and respect for William Shatner.

We’re even Facebook friends. Sort of… I subscribe to his page. And that’s how I learned about his one man show.

The realization was sort of a smack in the face. I quivered. Lorie was on the couch next to me. “What’s up?” she asked, barely looking up from the Sims game on her iPad mini.

“William Shatner has a one man show. He’s touring America.” I replied.

“Huh.” She didn’t even bother to look up.

A quick Google search and I found that the show is called “Shatner’s World and We Just Live in it”. I found a couple of reviews and they were less than stellar, but that didn’t deter me. The seed had started to grow in my head. I don’t really go to concerts or shows anymore. Can’t even remember the last one I went to. But this… this was different. This was William Shatner; he who played such a huge role in my childhood.

I found the official website for the show. They had clips! I sat their clutching my iPad and played a few of the clips. Giggling and smiling like a small child.

Lorie glanced at me with a frown of concern.

I searched the website for the tour schedule. They only had dates through January and mostly shows in the West and in Texas. The closest he was coming was Atlanta, Georgia.

I spoke this out loud and got a non-committal grunt from my wife. Although a surreptitious glance at her face would tell me that she was becoming VERY concerned.

“It’s this weekend.” I spoke through my stupid smile. “He’ll be in Atlanta, GA on January 13th. This weekend.”

Lorie’s fingers were slowing down as they touched across her new iPad mini. The frown was a full-on facial crease at this point. I knew that she was thinking to herself “Please don’t make me see William Shatner live and in concert.” But she would never say that out loud to me at such an early stage in the ‘dance’.

“I can get two tickets for $135.” I didn’t look up. But I saw Lorie’s head-swivel in my peripheral vision.

I pulled up the maps on the iPad and asked it for directions to Atlanta, GA from my current location. It mapped out three possible routes, suggested the most direct, and estimated the drive to be a little over ten hours.

“Can we drive ten hours to Atlanta, Georgia to see William Shatner in his one-man show for $135 this weekend?” I wasn’t fully serious. At this point, I just wanted to see how she would react.

Lorie’s voice was a little shaky and cracked as she answered. “We really have to get some work done on the addition this weekend, baby.”

She wasn’t saying ‘no’, of course. That’s not how our relationship works. But I had already made up my mind that there was no way I was gonna go to Atlanta this weekend. It’s just too much. And too soon after the money-hog that is Christmas. So I acted disappointed and dropped the issue.

And then I made an iPhone reminder to check the website for any new tour dates and locations in late January.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bozo and Iron Man

So I was reading a comic book the other day. Try to hold in your shock and surprise. At any rate, it was about this brilliant inventor who has a suit of armor that he uses to fight crime and preserve the American way of life.

Bozo the Robot.

I’m serious.

Stop laughing.

Okay, maybe some laughter is warranted.

I have no idea if Bozo played any role at all in the creation of the much more familiar Iron Man. But there are distinct similarities and it’s really really hard not to compare the two. Both star handsome, smart inventors that use metal suits to fight crime. And the 1940’s was no stranger to robot entertainment. So it’s kinda doubtful that Stan Lee and Don Heck had any recollection of Bozo the Robot in specific when they created the Armored Avenger.

Bozo the Robot was created for Quality comics title Smash Comics in 1939. It was originally called “Hugh Hazard and his Iron Man”. Iron Man was created by Marvel Comics and debuted in Tales of Suspense #39, 1963. There are a few, subtle differences that I can’t resist outlining.

Pretty early on for both Iron Man and Bozo the robot, the suits gain the ability to fly. Iron Man does this with repulsor rays; using science to create a ray blast that will ‘repulse’ things away from him. Including the ground. It’s pretty logical and has some neat story potential.

Hugh Hazard adds a propeller to Bozo’s head.

When it’s time for Tony Stark to iron up and swing into action, he uses complicated machinery to don the suit. As you all saw in the Avengers movie. It’s a neat concept and very visually interesting.

When I was most familiar with the character in the seventies, he carried the suit around in an ever-present briefcase. Which was… close to physically impossible. The weight of the suitcase alone would make it entirely unreasonable. HOWEVER, I loved the idea then and I love it now; especially since it was so smartly packed.

Hugh Hazard climbs into Bozo through a hatch in the back of the robot.

Which, c’mon… is really kind of awesome.

But if you’re a super-cool handsome inventor using technology to battle crime and get women, do you call yourself “Iron Man” or do you refer to your weapon as “Bozo the Robot”. Something is off with good ‘ol Hugh Hazard.

There are several things that make Iron Man a great character and give him that air of classic super-hero. But for me, it’s that the character is all about change. Tony Stark is actively shown as constantly improving his design and weapons. Constantly upgrading, changing, and improving for the better. He’s the comic book character equivalent of one of my theories that I hold close in my profession. Be ready to change, improve, stay relevant, and never stop learning.

This idea of change is not something most casual readers are willing to accept in their comic book characters. But with a little bit of analysis, we realize the most enternal characters change to meet the needs of the decade and their current readers. Tony Stark just does it in context of the story.

Sometimes we make a big deal about the way things are today and refer to things of yesteryear as far superior. But as the super-hero lover I know that you are would you rather follow the adventures of this:

Or this:

My answer is both. But… my perceptions are skewed.

I actually have a point to make! In college when I was trying to think of myself as a writer ‘for realsies’, I was really bothered by the cliche that “there’s nothing new under the sun”. That phrase really got into my head and demotivated me. However, I would use this example between Iron Man and Bozo as a life lesson for creators. Sure, it might be true that there’s nothing new under the sun. But no one’s seen YOUR take on it before, and maybe you can find that kernel in the concept that really speaks to people.

Nothing new under the sun might be true. But taking an old idea and turning it onto its head and making it appeal to modern audiences? That’s intriguing. Hollywood has been doing this for years and getting beat up about it. But there’s a difference between playing to audience nostalgia for a quick buck and salvaging an old idea and turning it into something great again. Some current day comic companies have been doing this with characters that are being dusted off from the 1940’s. I like that. In my 1940’s reading, I come across plenty of characters that I would like to see re-interpreted for today’s audiences. And I think judging a character as ‘too stupid’ to do anything with would be incredibly closed minded and short sighted.

They may not be directly related in any way. But you can’t help but look at this:

And think that it could have inspired this: