Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spidey at Sixty

I don't know why it's taken me so long to post this.

Comics Great Lee Weeks is an old friend of mine, and when he sent me a jpeg of the page below (because he was thrilled with the work that the colorist had done), I could not help but notice that the page had no script or dialogue... and if I see an empty space, I just have to fill it.

So -- over the course of a Late Night I came up with a script of my own, lettered it, and sent it back to Lee. It's a little bit... different from any Spider-Man comic you've ever seen before.

Oh, and before the lawyers come out sharpening their knives, Spidey-Man is tm & © by Marvel Comics, and this is strictly a gag done by a fan. Enjoy! (you should be able to click on the graphic to enlarge it to a legible size).

Merry Marching!

-- Freder

What's In Store

QUIRK returns to print in June! The book will contain three complete stories, the first of which, "KNIGHT'S GAMBIT," is being almost completely rewritten and redrawn. When Quirk and his pals visit the infamous GameStation Rysk, this is the unenviable situation that Quirk finds himself in:

Click the sidebar to visit my Kickstarter project for this book and pre-order your copy today!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Bend of the River

Late in life, my mother developed an unexpected and seemingly bottomless fondness for Westerns. I think that, to some extent, this was because it was a way for her to see “new” movies — new to her at any rate — that featured the stars and talents that she had grown up with. Whatever the reason, she could not get enough of the blamed things. The Big Valley, Have Gun Will Travel and (particularly to my surprise) Disney’s Zorro were her big favorite series towards the end, and when it came to movies — well, anytime a John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart western turned up in the $5 bin, I knew to just buy it and ask questions later. 

This is why I have a whole bunch of John Wayne westerns in my movie library — even relative junk like The Train Robbers (which we both agreed was about the worst John Wayne western we’d ever seen).

I confess that I started t’ liking the things myself, as it went on. You can count on a vintage western to actually have a plot and be about something; to coin another of Mark Twain’s rules, you can count on it to arrive somewhere and accomplish something. You can count on it to have Good people with a capital G and Bad people with a capital B (which rhymes with T, which stands for you-know-what). You can mostly count on being able to tell the difference. You can also count on things like Great Scenery — something you don’t get much out of the movies anymore, except sometimes in the Bond franchise.

When Mom died, I pretty much couldn’t look at Westerns anymore. I have a whole season-and-a-half of Zorro that I can hardly bear to think about. In the last six months of her life, whenever I asked her what she wanted to look at, she’d say “ZORRO!” all breathless just like a little kid.

So it’s kind of a Big Step that, just about three years to the day since she died, I sat down with Bend of the River, a 1951 Jimmy Stewart western all about Building a New Life and proving yourself and Absolution from the sins of your past.

Bend of the River may actually be a better movie today than it was when it was made. If Hollywood were to make it today, the whole thing would be shot against a green screen and all the scenery and action would be CGI. In 1951, they actually went out on location with six or eight real covered wagons, with real teams pulling them and real cattle tagging along. When the villains make off with the wagons, that’s real people barreling down a real mountain at about forty miles an hour. Not all the CGI Iron Men in the world can generate the level of suspense that Bend of the River does with just horses and wagons and terrain.

If Hollywood were to make this picture today, the villains would be a lot worse than they are here. They would have a long streak of sadism to the point of depravity, and there would be a lot of blood and gore on the screen. In 1951, the villains in Bend of the River (especially including Howard Petrie, who turns in a top-notch performance as the town boss whose values change mid-steam) are just people, not much different at all from the heroes. The only thing that separates them, that makes them villains, is that they have allowed their better instincts to be subverted by greed. 

Now, that’s a kind of villain that the modern cinema could use more of.

Growing up I never, ever thought of Jimmy Stewart as a western star. And yet he seems to have made a ton of them. I knew him first as the narrator of some Winnie-The-Pooh stories that I had on LP, and later as the star of Harvey and It’s a Wonderful Life and all the many pictures in which he played parts much in the same vein. I believe the first time I ever saw Stewart in a western was in Destry Rides Again… a picture that is such a kick-ass, stomp-on-the-floor classic that you never think twice about Stewart in Cowboy Drag ever again. From there we went to Winchester ’73 and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and several more… the genre offered Stewart such a wide range of types to play that I’ve no doubt he enjoyed doing them. 

In Bend of the River, Stewart plays a Man with a Past who is looking to make a Better Future and do it honestly. Arthur Kennedy is on board as a man with a Nearly Identical Past who is also looking for a Better Future… but doesn’t, in the end, care much how he gets there. It has the kind of plot that provides you with a Basic Situation, and then piles on setback after setback after setback until things look So Bad for Our Heroes that you think they can’t possibly win out. A lot like life, really, except that they do win out in the end.

Maybe that’s why Mom liked Westerns after all. It’s a genre of Hope. No matter how bad things get, in a Western, struggle and hardship is always rewarded with peace in the end.

— Freder.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Decks of a Different Color

Of the relatively small number of Tarot decks that I own (there are folks who own dozens and dozens, but I’m not one of them), there isn’t a one that I actively dislike: rather, there are decks that just don’t connect with me on some level, and decks that are, for different reasons, more difficult to work with than some. I’m glad to have them (or I wouldn’t have them), but they won’t become tools to use on a daily basis anytime soon. 

Chief among the decks that I don’t really “connect with” is the Swiss IJJ deck, which I’ve written about elsewhere on the blog. Its Major Arcana is pretty much wonderful — but that’s where it ends. Another deck that falls into this category is the ominously named Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn. I like the idea behind the deck better than the deck itself: the publishers had a notion that they would take the card descriptions set down by the mystical order of the Golden Dawn in their Liber T and give them to an artist with a modern style who was not familiar with Tarot.

The result looks rather like a Marvel Comic, really; more Stan Lee than Liber T. The deck does make for a fresh and very modern take on the old symbols, and allows for some dynamic compositions that are not at all typical in Tarot cards. In a way, it’s a good learning deck, especially when taken together with some vintage ones, like Crowley’s Thoth with its vibrant impressionistic approach to the same symbols — much like studying a modern language side-by-side with Latin. But the figures all look alarmingly like Superheroes out of their leotards: I keep expecting Bashful Benjamin Grimm to appear, and holler “It’s CLOBBERIN’ time!” before throwing a knuckle sandwich that knocks The Devil clear over The Tower and into Judgement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A wonderful deck that I do connect with — although I find it difficult to use in a way that isn’t likely to change anytime soon — is the Jolanda Tarot, a.k.a. the tarot of the Swedish Witch. Yes, folks, its designer (although not its artist: in Tarot these are often two different things, in the same way as in the comics that neither Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would have made a success working on their own) is a genuine practicing Swedish Witch, Jolanda Den Tredjes by name. 

For me, the Swedish Witch tarot is one of the more exciting and fascinating decks out there. Being of Swedish descent myself, I had to have it from the moment I learned of its existence. It is gorgeous in a light-hearted, cartoony way; it is vibrant, and it is something that many decks are not: fun. But it draws upon a completely different symbology, and many of the cards do not even have the same meaning as in your typical Waite-Smith-derived deck. A female Magician with an elephant’s head for a shield — what are we to make of that? What it amounts to is yet another language, and although I find it entrancing it is not a cakewalk. An in-depth reading with this deck could take hours and hours — and I’m still learning RWS!

For different reasons, the same thing is true of Esmeralda M. Rupp-Spangle’s Silent Tarot. This handmade artist’s deck is a striking creation that just percolates with style and vitality. Old photographs and prints are combined with all kinds of mixed-media elements, resulting in a deck that feels both vintage and modern at the same time.

But — but — but… the artist is frank in admitting that she did not know the meanings of many of the cards when she began the project, and learned as she went along. In the minor arcana especially, many of the cards are little more than really good-looking pip cards with no real symbolism attached at all. Combine that with a recalcitrant artist’s sensibility (in which, among other things, the Lovers card becomes alarmingly negative in its meaning), and you have a deck that is in No Way practical for beginning readers (which would be me). Still, I really enjoy it as a deck.

And isn’t that part of what makes Tarot so fascinating? From a modern rendition of specific arcane symbols to a largely sub-conscious and subjective vision, and encompassing everything in between, Tarot is the language of all human experience. Not just wands and cups, but spirit and heart, and the invisible forces that bubble just below the surface of reality. 

— Freder.

The Land of Cotton

Many thanks to Shirley L. at Center Point Press for thinking of me when she needed someone to fill in as a typesetter. I spent the better part of this past week learning the typesetting ropes once again, and there are a heckova lot worse things I could be doing with the time. After four years at Colby College working for a sadistic, mean-spirited, monomaniacal, ultra-uber-controlling micro-micro-manager (I won't use the b-word, but if anyone deserves it she does), I had forgotten that not all jobs are a never-ending nightmare of torture.

And that’s an important thing to remember. 

Typesetting for Center Point’s main rival in the business was the best job I ever had. That’s never coming back. Although this has a lousy commute attached to it (about 40 minutes one way with some twisty back roads that frankly made me dead queasy and could potentially be more than Scarifying during the winter months), it’s essentially the same gig. Where else could I get paid to read all day and Make Books?

So — welcome back to the world of widows, orphans, Bad Writing and paragraphs that stubbornly refuse to tighten up. If I must be a wage slave, this is definitely the plantation to be attached to. Typesetting is a job that requires a tight focus and no interference, and perhaps because of my Asperger’s I’m suited to that.

But going back into chains at this time (when I am actually enjoying life for the first time in literally decades) is more than a little bit of a jolt to the system. 

My life, as I wish it to be and as I dare to imagine and hope that it can be, comes to a grinding halt. The mornings are awful — and not just because I had to push my sleep time backwards along the clock by four hours. There’s the sense of Being Trapped and also Separation Anxiety for the Quats and Me to deal with.

More than that, I can't escape the feeling that I've failed — again — and spectacularly at that. It comes at a time when the Kickstarter project seems to be dead in the water (it isn't even generating traffic to this site, which I’d be happy with, much less raising any much-needed funds) and my books aren't selling, not even a little bit. Nothing that I’ve tried seems to be generating any interest, and sooner or later if I don’t succeed in making something out of this, it’s all going to go away.

Then where will I be? Ready to crawl back into the bottle, most likely.

Kudos to my friend BC who can work sixty-hour weeks, maintain a relationship and still manage to write and edit an ambitious schedule of books for The Library of American Comics on the side — but I can’t live like that. When I get home at the end of the day there’s just enough left inside me to feed the quats, make dinner and veg out in front of the telly for an hour before I head to bed early so that I can get up early the next morning and do it all over again the next day, and the next, and the next…

That's no kind of a life — and it means te inevitable Death of everything that I’ve worked for and towards these last few months. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had a relationship or a family to support: families at least have, you know, each other; but my mother was all the family I had and she's gone now.

For now, it’s okay. It’s a means to an end. It’s just four days — and if Shirl is kind enough to want me back for a month in September, well, that’ll just be one month, and it’ll help set me up for Winter. I’m okay with all of that.

It’s the future that scares the living crap out of me. 

-- Freder.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I Get No Kick from Champagne

Just a quick post to let everyone know that my Kickstarter campaign for the paperback edition of QUIRK has begun. Check it out here:

... and consider backing the project. With less than 30 days to go, nothing is too small when it comes to hitting the goal, which will make a lot of things possible. I'm a completely Independent creator just doing what I can to turn my life around and make my dreams come true. If you like comics, please consider backing QUIRK!

Thank you!

-- Freder

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mrs. Peel… You're As Welcome As Ever!

After not seeing her at all for many, many years (except in Avengers re-runs on my own DVD player… no, not THAT Avengers, **THE** Avengers) it was more than a little bit alarming when Diana Rigg turned up on Doctor Who last night … looking like my grandmother!

Of course I don’t look the same as I did in 1968, either, and thank goodness for that — but I see myself every day (“My Eyes! My Eyes!!!”) and have had time to acclimate myself to the Horrible Sight. I’m certain that Dame Diana has been active over the years, but she hasn’t been active anywhere in my neck of the woods, so the opportunity to watch her age gracefully passed me by. Instead, I got it all in one lump payment, so to speak.

Yes, it is a completely unreasonable trick that the brain plays on us… that when you do not see someone in a very long time, you still expect them to look the same as when you last laid eyes on them (eww, “laid eyes on them” — what a disgusting thought). But it’s a trick the brain does like to play. I’ve already put too much emphasis on this, but it had to be noted.

All that said, the ol’ girl is Still The Same, and still well on her game! 

Here’s the thing: when Diana Rigg is having fun with a part, there is no one on the somewhat worse for wear, off-green, balding Earth who is more enjoyable to watch.

No one.

And Diana, if I may be so bold as to call her by her first name after all these years, was having an absolute gas on last night’s Doctor Who

Within about two seconds of her entrance in “The Crimson Horror” I was laughing and stomping the floor and thinking to myself, Yes! That is the same Diana Rigg of all those years ago! That is what made Mrs. Peel the woman any man would want to grow old with. And she did it with just a look, and the somewhat unpromising line: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” 

In many ways, the role of the demented Mrs. Gillyflower allowed her to close the circle by playing exactly the sort of Evil Genius that she used to fight alongside the dapper John Steed. Oh, if I had the right software and a lot of time on my hands, I could have scads of fun squaring Mrs. Peel off against Mrs. Gillyflower and watching the sparks fly! 

Delight rolled on throughout the episode. I’m sure that Dame Diana consented to play the part because it gave her the opportunity to work with her daughter — the monumentally abusive relationship that Mrs. Gillyflower has with her daughter is obviously a part of what appealed to her black sense of humor about the role. Writer Mark Gatiss did a very clever thing here. Although as an episode of Doctor Who this was less Who than it was a pilot for Lady Vastra and her crew to get a spin-off series of their own, still Diana’s interactions were with Matt Smith’s Doctor, and if there was any doubt left over that this current iteration of Doctor Who is the Final Standard-Bearer, the Modern Prometheus representing the standards and style of television programming that we enjoyed in the ’60s, this episode shoots those doubts down in grand style.

What better place for Diana Rigg to run with a part? — And O My Brothers and Sisters, she ran. It was glorious.

You might say that her appearance on Who is late and delayed, but all these years later it’s still enough to make a fanboy roll over on his back and stick all four legs in the air, to coin a Chandlerism. It’s not so much “better late than never” as it is “couldn’t have happened at a better time.” Thank you, Gatiss and Moffat, for making this possible, and thank you, Dame Diana, for proving to us all that Nothing Changes Inside.


Now, as to the current (fiftieth annual-versity) season of Doctor Who as a whole: Moffat and Co. are all very, very much on their game, but they are playing against RAGINGLY high expectations that they have helped to create. The shows are wonderful, but when anticipation runs this deep there is, I think, an inevitable sense of letdown when the Second Coming of Christ doesn’t manifest itself, if you get my drift. I’m looking forward to the DVD set of this season, so that I can watch these episodes with a cooler head. Is it Moffat’s best season yet? Or just a reasonable, calculated season? It’s too soon to tell — we still have three weeks left. Roll on!

— Freder

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

That Time of Year

My mother’s birthday is coming up tomorrow. Two weeks later, she was dead. I have a hard time believing that it’s been three years, even though an awful lot has happened in that time. In the end, I’ve given myself permission to not allow my grief to rule me any longer; but you never forget, and the world will never be the same.

This morning I made my annual visit to the local greenhouse. I’m improving the gardens around my house on an extremely gradual basis: this year I’m going to plant another section of the back garden in perennials. I’d hoped to move the the daylillies outside my study down there, too, replacing them with forsythia up by the house, but I can’t do anything until those daylillies start to appear, and so far they are being stubborn. 

I was startled when I arrived at the place and discovered one of my mother’s old plywood cow lawn ornaments on display outside the greenhouse. They stand about four and a half feet tall and are hand-made, so they are quite unique and easily identifiable. There was no mistaking this. Last seen (by me) three years ago in the small barn out at the old house, there were several of these plywood cows along with some plywood-and-papier-mache sheep. At least one of the cows and one of the sheep ended up with my lawyer, because I gave them to her; of the rest, I had no idea what became of them. 

The most likely scenario is that the greenhouse owner bought it at one of the auctions to use as a display piece. The second most likely scenario is that this is one of the things that my sister stole and sold on from the estate. I’m sure she does business with that greenhouse, and she’s always conning someone, always trying to cut a deal.

I really don’t care, either way. 

I thought of my mother’s whole collection or artifacts, thrown to the winds, spread out far and wide… for me, it’s the same as her ashes. It’s… okay knowing that little bits and pieces of Mom are out there, cast to the four corners so to speak, enriching other people’s lives in small ways.

Once I got over the shock (and it was a shock), I was able to look at the piece and think to myself: “Hey, Mom. How’re you doin? It’s good to see you. I miss you.”

On the way out there, I stopped to turn in more than six month’s worth of bottles. I used to be embarrassed to turn bottles in for redemption, not that simple embarrassment had the power to make me stop drinking, because fifty to seventy-five percent of those things would be vodka bottles. They pile up pretty fast when you’re draining between four and five of those big double-sized bottles a week. 

This time? A lot more time has passed between visits to the bottle redemption place, they just aren’t accumulating the way that they used to. And buried way down there, way down in the bottom of the oldest garbage sack, in the midst of a couple hundred soda bottles, there were three vodka bottles. 

I thought that was bad enough. 

It was just about this time last year that the shit was really starting to hit the fan for me as an alcoholic. I would go to work with however many drinks in me, because it was the only way I could face spending my days in that Concentration Camp, working for That Bitch, that Misfit from out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel who called herself my boss; I’d do my time, then come home and start drinking right away, keep it up until I was asleep, then get up and do I all over again. 

Life is so much better now. 

I feel guilty about that.

— Freder

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