Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Alex Haley's Roots

I recently finished reading the classic novel of the slave experience in America Roots: The Saga of an American Family by legendary author Alex Haley. Reading this classic was a very moving experience for me, and as with many of my favorite things, this novel made me think a lot about things. In this case, I've been thinking a lot about history, life, and humanity. I saw some of the mini-series based on the book (I was too young to watch it when it premiered.) and I saw the sequel mini-series in its entirety when it originally aired, but I have not revisited them since,

Let me start by saying that I am aware of criticisms leveled against this book,  almost all of which have to do with its historical accuracy or lack thereof. But I came into the experience knowing it is not non-fiction, but rather a dramatized version of reality. Historical fiction based loosely on real events. I read the book as a depiction of what life was like for Africans and their descendants during the days when slavery was a common practice in the United States.

The story tells mostly of Kunta Kinte, an African who is captured by slavers and taken to the colonies that would soon become the United States of America. He is sold into slavery, tries to escape several times, and eventually accepts his condition, marries, and has a child. Unfortunately that child is sold to another owner in her teens. The story then continues with Kunta's daughter, Kizzy, and her descendants, all the way to Alex Haley himself.

The bulk of the book tells the plight of slaves and describes the institution of slavery in the United States. In modern times it is often hard to believe slavery was ever allowed in America, much less that it was popular worldwide for much of human existence. The aspect that most struck me is how the slave owners believed that slavery could ever work. The mentality is that slaves should just accept their fate and be good slaves, then they owners wouldn't have to punish them. The reason this is crazy is that there's no way any person wants to be owned. No matter what, even with the most humane treatment, slaves are always going to want freedom. And there's no way any revisionist is going to make a convincing arguement that slaves in America were treated humanely.

The other thing that hit me the hardest is how the white men would look upon the blacks as inferior, treat them like subhumans, but then seemed to have no problem sexually assaulting them. The one aspect of American slavery that has been the most damaging, and continues to haunt us today, is the racist rationale behind it. White people in positions of power assumed and rationalized that they were superior to darker skinned people, and used it as justification to treat them horribly.

As a final note, the novel does an excellent job telling the story of slavery through the eyes of the characters, and the characters and their lives are very engaging. This makes the book more entertaining than a non-fiction book about the subject. But even more importantly, it makes the story that much more human, and allows the reader to connect with the characters and understand

their situation more.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dr. Strange

Marvel's premiere mystic has long been one of my favorites, though it is rather...strange. I don't usually like characters with no upper limit to their power, and the good Doc definitely is one of the most powerful Marvel characters ever created. In effect, he can do anything the writer wants him to do. Because..magic! However, despite this seeming lack of a weakness, there are some absolutely amazing Dr. Strange comics.

First, there is the original run by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, which established the back ground and tone for Marvel magic. Stan continued after Steve's departure and kept the neat adventures going. Anyone should agree that Doc has one of the best origin stories ever, and the rhyming incantations really bring a flavor to the series that other magical acts lack.

Then there's my favorite: the Roger Stern run in the 80's begun with artist Marshall Rogers and completed with the inimitable Paul Smith. Roger's run harkens back to the Steve/Stan days and yet doesn't seem "old" at all. It also develops the relationship between Stephen and his disciple and love Clea. As well Roger gives us a Clea who grows beyond the shadow of her mentor, and proves very capable on her own!

Anyway, even though I think it would be incredibly difficult to continue to write stories that challenge a guy who can cast spells to do pretty much anything he needs done, Dr. Strange has some excellent comics. And the recent movie mines the source material very well to give us another successful "Marvel Movie"! Though not as good as Ant-Man, in my opinion, Dr. Strange is a "must not miss" movie for anyone who like the Marvel cinematic universe or the classic comics!

I'll end with a recent drawing of mine, influenced greatly by the Ditko look, and created with all colored pencil. Just to see what I could do:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Independent artists: The Warning, Out With Dad, and Apama

I was watching the recent TedX appearance by my favorite "new" band, The Warning, and the comments of the members had me thinking about independent artists. That is, creative people who do not take their talents to big businesses but rather decide to disperse their craft themselves.

The Warning is a band I discussed here. They are, in brief 3 sisters from Mexico ranging in age from 12-17 who have produced their own album without a record label.  They got a lot of attention from videos of their playing cover songs on YouTube, and they've used this attention to fund their own album of original material. They discussed at TedX that they had offers from people to help them, but they decided to go their own way. Why? For art's sake!  For the opportunity to do what they really want to do musically and not have to conform to someone else's standards. And I could see how some hotshot producer would want to come in and "help" them succeed. In  my imagination someone would totally want to pull a "Johnny Bravo", as in the old episode of the Brady Bunch, putting the emphasis on style over substance and one member over the group. So bravo to these girls whose wisdom is well beyond their years for staying true to their hearts and their art!

And if you don't believe they have wisdom beyond their years, check out the music. Amazing compositions and lyrics! I'm eagerly anticipating the release of the album. Which is, amazingly, going to be available of CD and Vinyl!  Vinyl!!  Again...wisdom beyond their years!

Switching to the realm of film, I am, of course, a huge fan the Canadian drama Out With Dad. This series, about a young girl discovering her sexuality while interacting with her widowed father and friends, touches on some important issues and never fails to make me think. Out With Dad is filming its fifth season as an independent production. Though there's more money available in network television, I think OWD benefits from being controlled totally by its creator, Jason Leaver. This show is his vision and I wouldn't want to see it trampled on by corporate hacks wanting to maximize profit.

Finally, comics is the reason I started this blog, so I must discuss my favorite independent comic. Though I cut my teeth on mainstream superhero titles, I have a special appreciation and love for independent comics, because these are artists doing totally what they want to do, with  no restrictions from a large company. Most independent comics I read are small-press creators who are not well-known (or well-paid) artists. But even when a big name creator does an independent comic, I think there's something special about it. Kurt Busiek's Astro City and John Byrne's Next Men immediately come to mind.

My favorite current independent comic is, without a doubt, Apama- the Undiscovered Animal. Apama, created by Ted Sikora abd Milo Miller, is about a hero with the powers of a forgotten beast. The most ferocious animal of them all, the Apama!  The action takes place in Cleveland, which is also a plus! Apama has all the characteristics of the comics that made me fall in love with comics so many years ago, but it's not just a nostalgic feel. The tale is exciting and the art is absolutely fantastic!

In conclusion, I can only reiterate how special it is to see an artist, in any medium, create something out of love for the art. And if such a thing is also something that is enjoyed by many others, that's just the icing on the cake!  If you are a fan of any of the above, I hope you check at least on of the other out. Because independent work should be celebrated in any art form!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: "Counselling Vanessa 52" OWD 4.17 & "Without Regret?" OWD 4.18

Today I continue my look at season 4 of the webseries Out With Dad. Episode 4.17 returns our story to Vanessa's counselling sessions, and she looks to be feeling much better about herself. She talks of the assault by Kyle in the flop house, and how it made her feel scared and stupid. She mentions Kayla but doesn't go into details about their physical encounter. The counsellor convinces Vanessa she did the nest she could in the situation. I think this is important, as there is a lot of "Monday morning quarterbacking" when you've made some bad decisions. It's easier to determine alternatives after the fact, but hard to come up with them on the spot.

Vanessa seems to be healing well, and I'll add that Lindsey Middleton is just about perfect as always in these counselling episodes. It's really just her, acting with her expressions and voice, and going through a whole gamut of emotions, and it's amazing as well as sad to watch.

Now, as for "Without Regret", episode 4.18. Well....we have Out With Dad's first sex scene. And honestly, I'm not sure how comfortable I am discussing this. But it is handled with grace and humor by (writer/director) Jason and (Rose and Claire) Kate and Caitlynne. But it is a dream come true for the characters and many fans. After discussing polyamory, we switch scenes to Rose finding out her dad has (probably) had sex also (yes kids, old people can do it too). Then we segue into "Freindsgiving" preparation and a surprise appearance by...Vanessa! Two! That is, "shaved-head" Vanessa, and Rose's current love interest. Rose, surprisingly (to me anyway) jumps at the chance to spend time with Vanessa II.

Okay, this episode is funny, charming, and propels the story forward in some pretty big ways. It also leaves you wanting more! And I just love the little in-jokes, that those who haven't followed the extra creator comments might not understand. I speak of Alicia's never-seen boyfriend and some people not liking musicals. Me, I'd love to live in a musical.

And I love this series. Still going strong!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Movie Review: Civil War (Captain America)

I finally got around to watching Captain America's 3rd Marvel Movie installment, subtitled "Civil War" after hearing it praised a lot since its release last year. Here's my take:

The bad:

1- Captain America? This is the least "Captain America" if the movies featuring Steve Rogers. It's really much more of an Avengers movie, with a slight focus on Cap. It does a little bit of furthering along of Steve's private life, with the death of Peggy Carter and Steve finally, sort of, getting together with the pretty girl we all knew was Sharon Carter. But even this seemed rushed. The bulk of the character arc for Cap is his unyielding support of childhood friend Bucky Barnes, aka the Winter Soldier.

2- Villain? The villain's plot in this movie is ludicrous! Obviously framing Bucky, leading to harsh controls of the governments over the Avengers, leading to Captain America and Iron Man in a big fight. There's just no way the villain could have known the consequences of his actions, and the final confrontation is way too convenient! Plus, they waste a great comic character name: Zemo. Instead of a great Baron and Nazi leader, he's some ex-military man with no means whatsoever to pull off his plan.

3- Civil War? I didn't read the comics, and though hero-vs-hero conflict has been a Marvel staple, making it into the main conflict of a movie is not a great idea. They'd be better off bringing in the Masters of Evil or some other great villain. The hero conflict in Avengers was about perfect, we don't need more.

The good:

1- Vision and Scarlet Witch!  The development of these characters, their conflict and obvious attraction, is the most interesting sub=plot of the movie. It's far more interesting than anything that happens with the main character (see above).

2- Spider-Man! Though not much of an intro, the reboot Spidey shows a ton of promise. The only bad thing I have to say is the repeated references to how hot his Aunt is (She IS, of course, but I noticed without being told. Marisa Tomei--call me and we can discuss this in-depth!)

3- Black Panther! Just a totally awesome introduction. It's all great, nothing bad here at all!

4- Characters! The character arcs for everyone else were also very well done. even folks like Hawkeye who don't appear much. Gi-Ant-Man is probably my favorite.

I'd rate this a very average Marvel movie, Not as good as the other Captain America movies, Iron Man I, or Avengers I. But definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Princess

Carrie Fisher has died. I don't think I can come close to eulogizing her as well as those who worked with her and knew her well, but I feel I must say something about her and the impact her work had upon my life.

I learned to draw by drawing Star Wars stuff, and Princess Leia was one of the easiest characters to make look distinctive, with the cool buns and all. Princess Leia is an amazing character, and Carrie Fisher was the perfect person to cast in the role. Here's why: Leia is a proper, beautiful, inspiring leader, but she isn't a dainty princess. She's the type that will grab a blaster and blow away bad guys as easily as she can put a loud-mouthed smuggler in his place. She's the type of girl that boys like me likes the most. Facing down evil and rescuing her rescuers! And yet she was magnificently radiant in ceremonial attire!

Carrie Fisher brought Leia alive and guys like me fell in love before we knew what having a crush even meant. My appreciation and adoration of Carrie never ended, either. I haven't seen all her movies, but I always liked seeing her on screens bog and small. She was a delight when she guested on talk shows and though I never met her the stories people tell are amazing. She wasn't perfect, and she wrestled with her demons very publicly, never making excuses and bringing mental illness into the mainstream conversation as no one else had. I'm sure her problems taxed her physically and contributed to her premature death. But I don't think she ever gave up trying to conquer all her challenges. She'd have conquered the galaxy for real if she could.

Carrie's passing, and her Mother's death shortly following, have really shaken me up. But I know her legacy will never die, as long as dedicated fans like me continue to watch her work, speak of her, write about her, and draw pictures of our favorite princess.

Thanks for reading. May the Force be with you all.

Monday, December 26, 2016


Sometimes things get you down, and you just need a little pick-me-up. Maybe you're depressed about the current state of affairs in the world, or wondering why 2016 seems such a downer, or just not feeling your best. I sometimes feel a bit down, though I consider myself a very positively-minded person, and I got the idea to write a bit here about a webseries that is totally about happiness.

HappyHer is the story of two Canadian women who go all over the world and ask women a simple question: "What makes you happy?". The answers may not be surprising, but I do find them uplifting. I've been trying to take the time to watch an episode or two every day. In fact, I'd say the similarities in the answers by women in different countries and cultures is quite interesting. It really shows that all people, regardless of their background and current living conditions, want pretty much the same things in life. I'm not saying all the answers are alike, just that I find them refreshingly similar.

Now, you  may be wondering why i'm watching a series about what makes women happy. Well, I can explain. First off, I do like women. Well....I mean I appreciate them. I have a wife and two daughters, so I better be interested in what makes women happy!  And I'll admit a couple things here. I came across this series because one of the creator/travelers in Lindsey Middleton. Lindsey is one of the starts of my favorite webseries, Out With Dad (read about it one elsewhere on this blog). And Lindsey was in particular the subject of one of my earliest post here. (I'm still grateful she didn't sue me for that!) Anyway, Lindsey's best friend Cornelia Audrey is the other "star" of the show, and she's just as delightful as Lindsey.

The next thing I'll admit is that the reason I decided I had to watch this show was that the duo made a trip to Thailand!  I have told many people that Thailand is my favorite country I've ever visited*. They just have a combination of an exotic locale, beautiful beaches and scenery, and wonderfully kind people that is unmatched anywhere else I've been outside of my home country (USA). I know there's been much political unrest there since I visited, and I worry for the people there a lot. Maybe there's a lesson for those of us worried about our political climate, too. Thailand has had REAL problems with factions literally fighting over power, we've really got it easy with our situation, despite the alleged divisions lately.

And I think I'll add here what makes me happy (though I'm not a woman): My aforementioned family, drawing, reading, playing a good board game, my students' artwork, and watching great webseries!!

Anyway, I decided once I got through the Thailand video, I would post something. And even then it took me a week or so. What can I say? Writing is hard! I'd rather be drawing...but more on that soon enough.

So...I hope people check out some HappyHer episodes

! Whether you're a man or woman, they're bound to make you feel a bit...happier!

*I was in Thailand in 1988 on WestPAC when I was in the US Navy...before Lindsey and Cornelia were born...gosh am I old??