Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Florence Ballard!!

Today would have been Florence Ballard's 69th birthday.
She was born on June 30, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan.

I'm not going to take too much time explaining who she was. If you didn't know that she was one of the original Supremes before it became Diana Ross And The, here are a few pertinent facts.

She was the leader who founded the group.

She chose the name The Supremes. They had been called The Primettes.

She sang lead on many live performances, but by the time Motown signed the group, Berry Gordy had decided that it was Diana Ross who would sing the leads.

The group was a victim of their own success. When their #1 hit "Where Did Our Love Go?" was followed immediately by another #1 song ("Baby Love") Motown decided not to tinker with their formula. Mary Wilson and Flo both petitioned strongly to sing lead on more songs (not even the singles necessarily)  but were consistently denied. For example, they strongly wanted producers Holland-Dozier-Holland to give each Supreme a verse in the song "Stop! In The Name of Love" but in the end, Diana got them all.

Florence left the group slash was expelled in the spring of 1967. She was still singing on the recordings released for some time after that, most noticeably, "Reflections."

After Florence was gone, the "group" was gone. Diana was THE star; Mary and Cindy Birdsong were slowly but surely cleared off the stage.

Florence tried to have a solo career, but was not successful. She battled her weight as well as alcohol during the last few years of her life. She died on February 22, 1976.

We miss you, Flo!

Here's The Supremes LIVE, when you could really hear Flo and Mary on back-up vocals.
That's Flo on the left, Mary on the right.

Happy Birthday, Michael Phelps!!

Today is Aquaman's birthday. And by Aquaman I mean Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Phelps!! 
Hope you have another awesome year!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pride: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Is there anyone reading the internet in general and my blog in particular who hasn't heard of the movie BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN? I'm thinking no. Even if you haven't seen it (btw, I am constantly surprised by the people who have and have not seen this film) you certainly *know* of it. It's "The Gay Cowboy Picture", right?

Except that it's not. It was directed by Academy Award winning director Ang Lee. It was based on a short story by Annie Proulx. The screenplay (which won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay) was by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry. McMurtry is not some Gay Agenda Liberal Pinko; he's the author of LONESOME DOVE as well as TERMS OF ENDEARMENT.

The story is about one man and his absolute inability to connect to anyone in his life emotionally. After he has burned all of his bridges he finally makes baby steps to have an emotional connection with his daughter.

My opinion is that it was called "The Gay Cowboy Picture" by people who never actually saw it.

Heath Ledger is awesome as Ennis, the man who doesn't know how to make or keep emotional commitments. He takes a job herding a flock of sheep in the mountains with one other guy, Jack (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal). After too much time together they gradually become friends and then begin an affair. This scares the hell out of Ennis. Eventually he steps back violently from Jack and retreats to a new wife and new life away from the mountains.

The rest of the story is about how these two broken men come to the realization that they were at their best when they were together. It takes Ennis the entire film to realize this. Although it breaks our hearts for him to push everyone away, when he finally does allow someone in, it's an emotional victory.

It's a bittersweet, positive motion picture and deserved all of the praise it won.

If you have not seen it, you should. It is not a "gay love story." It is simply a love story with two guys.

My brother-in-law said he saw it and liked it, except for one particular scene when the men actually begin to have sex. It only lasts a moment, and is not graphic at all, so don't let that one scene scare you away from a wonderful love story.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

JL #18 "The Coming of ECLIPSO!" Afterward

So....what did you think!?
I know I sound like a geek, but I really think I did a good job on this one. Sure, a couple figures look bad and Aquaman's eyes are crossed in one panel (haha) but overall I think I did a good job. Please let me know if you disagree!

A few specific notes about this issue....

This is a good example of what I tried to do with the very strict panel layout I was using. For three statements by Dr. Bruce Gordon, instead of using the same pose for each of them,  I moved closer and closer in each until I got a pseudo-extreme-close-up of a determined Dr. Gordon telling his companion, "Now throw the switch, Hawkman!" I always tried to think of "different" ways to do things when I wrote myself into these types of situations. Sometimes it didn't work, and sometimes I got lazy, but this page is a good example of a time that I thought it worked.

I continued to enjoy using The Elongated Man. He was not only comic relief, but he also represented The Reader. So if I needed to explain to the reader something I would just have Ralph ask, "what the heck IS Eclipso, anyway?!" Worked every time, and I enjoyed drawing a confused Ralph Dibny. I could literally draw him all up in knots.

In the original story in JLA 109 Batman contacts Aquaman to join Black Canary and the Atom, but then he is attacked by Eclipso and isn't able to tell them. I changed this around a bit, having Hawkman and Hawkman (on Monitor Duty) call in not only Aquaman but The Flash (who I have already established is always late!). However, this means that I actually repeated a JLA team-up combination: The Batman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman had already teamed up in JUSTICE LEAGUE #5 when they faced Dr. Light in India. I tried *very* hard not to repeat groups, but Wonder Woman fit here better than the Martian Manhunter did. In hind-sight, I should not have done this. However, I do think they look good together.

This is a good example of another one of my visual designs. Here we have Eclipso telling the heroes that he is surrounded by a force field. What would YOU do if somebody told you that? You would verify it yourself, right? So we have Green Lantern and Elongated Man checking out the force field in their own personal ways. I just like how I have Ralph's hand enlarged, trying to reach around the force field. My art talent may be questionable, but I always thought I got the general visuals right.

Now we've come to one of my all-time favorite JLA scenes, so it was such a pleasure to draw it myself. In JLA 109 Eclipso is attacking some underwater recyle station or something. Aquaman didn't attend the meeting, but since it's an underwater problem, Batman calls him specifically and tells him to go help. Awesome! Aquaman as The US Cavalry, riding in to help his friends. I also like the idea that once he *does* show up, the others can leave him to it!
JLA 109 by Len Wein/Dick Dillin/Dick Giordano
And now we've come to the most difficult translation problem I ever had on the series. In the original script Eclipso sees Black Canary attacking him and says something condescending like, "Go away, girl!" So she then responds like this:

However, in Japanese there really isn't the same type of "tone" (for lack of a better term) for calling somebody a "girl" versus a woman (or a "boy" instead of a man). Well, let me rephrase that. There ARE differences, but they are not used with these particular words. So my translation partner and I could not get past the "tone" and the "meaning" of what was being said here. She insisted that we use the specific Japanese words for "girl" and "woman" instead of something like ""sweetheart" and "broad," which is what I was fighting for. So the Japanese translation says, literally, "I'm not a little girl, I'm a female!" which doesn't really make much sense. (sigh) After we had this discussion I think my friend decided it was too much trouble trying to help me. I don't remember if I actually stopped asking her, but I know she got a job at the state capitol right around this time and was less inclined to help out, so we let this be our last issue together. Thank you for all your help, Shoko-san!!

I thought I did a good job on the coloring in this issue. The books I printed and gave away were in black and white, but I really went to town on the colored copies that we saved in the town library. In this issue I thought I did a good job with the different blues of the sky and the ocean (in chapter 4) and on Eclipso, especially.

I always liked this panel on the right because it shows that the Flash was blinded (hand up shielding his eyes), Green Lantern whips up some power-ring goggles to see, and then there's Aquaman, who is looking on the blast without any trouble. He has limited super-vision, right? I mean, the ocean floor is pretty murky.

And this is the group shot from this issue, which I originally used on the blog's Header.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pride: DC'S Gay Super-Heroes

DC came late to the "inclusion table;" MARVEL made history when they "outed" the first  mainstream gay super-hero in 1992. Of course, Northstar, the Canadian super-hero/mutant who made that announcement, made his debut in 1979. So he was a relatively new character. DC, when they finally got on the Pride Parade float, took one new character and two classic characters and "outed" them.

 Obsidian was introduced in 1983 as a twin. His sister had Green Lantern-like abilities, but he had the ability to merge with his shadow and move around in darkness. (Odd that Northstar, too, was a twin, also with a super-powered sister). He hung out with a group of young heroes called Infinity, Inc for several years. While there he became close friends with another member named Nuklon. When Infinity, Inc broke up (and the book was cancelled) he and Nuklon joined the Justice League.

At about the same time that Northstar was making his historical announcement,  Obsidian made a comment of his own. In the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA he told his best friend, Nuklon, to the effect, "the only people I love are you and my sister." Nuklon then asked him point-blank if he (Obsidian) was gay, and he responded, "Why do we have to have labels?" This started a sub-plot about how Nuklon dealt with labels and what he would do if his friend really did turn out to be gay. At that time, Obsidian never admitted anything. It was kind of implied that he *was* gay and that his buddy wasn't reacting well, so he wasn't about to clearly "out" himself under the circumstances.

Eventually both of them took a leave of absence from the JLA and moved back into comic book limbo. Both re-appeared in the pages of JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA, but Obsidian's private life never came up until he was possessed by an evil magician. When he was freed from this power, Obsidian joked, "I'm cured! I'm not gay any more!" Then he laughed and made a point of admitting that he was just kidding and that he was, in fact, gay. This was in 2003.

Then in 2006 Obsidian joined the cast of MANHUNTER. Here he was shown to not only have a boyfriend, but they are shown kissing several times and to be very much living together: sleeping and showering together. (see panel above) This is the first time I can recall a DC comic-book ever being this open about a character's homosexuality. And it was light years ahead of the stuff MARVEL was doing at the time. (See last week's article.) 
Of course, MANHUNTER was cancelled and Obsidian faded away again, as supporting characters do. He has turned up in JSA from time to time but was never given the same amount of spotlight he had enjoyed in MANHUNTER.

Meanwhile, also in 2006, a new character was created with an old name. Batwoman made her debut in the new order in the maxi-series 52. Originally the character of Bat-Woman was Kathy Kane, a millionaire circus performer who wanted to have adventures with Batman and Robin. DC added her to the mix in 1956 to help fight the rumors that Batman and Robin were gay. She appeared semi-regularly. Later her niece Bette arrived as well and called herself  Bat-Girl. Then in 1964 they disappeared when the "New Look Batman" made its debut.

It's a bit ironic, then, that the new Batwoman is a lesbian. She was announced as such when she made her debut, so there was no "outing" to be done. Her back-story includes having dated Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya. Montoya had been a supporting character in the BAT books for several years and had even appeared on the BATMAN Animated Series. (She was the police officer who always worked with Harvey Bullock.)  In 2012 BATWOMAN made its debut as an on-going series. As of this writing, it is the only mainstream comic-book title featuring a gay character as the lead.

Her costume was designed by comics great Alex Ross, but is basically a re-tread of the original Bat-Woman costume, substituting yellow for black.

The latest gay character in the DC Line of Super-Stars is Green Lantern. You might have heard some of the announcements from last month. It was big news when DC announced that in the course of their re-vamping of their universe, a "classic" super-hero would be re-imagined as gay.

Now if you are not a comic-book fan, you probably have no idea what the hell this means.
I will try to explain it. DC and MARVEL have a perpetual problem with their characters, some of whom have been around for 30, 40, 50, or even 60 years. Superman and Batman made their debuts in 1938 and 1939, respectively. Spider-Man made his debut in 1962. So to keep their characters young and the stories fresh, both companies "re-invent" or "ret-con" their "worlds" every few decades. The current Batman, for example, is probably the third or fourth version. They are all known as Bruce Wayne; the main story doesn't change. But the villains and the tone and the characterizations do. A few paragraphs back I said how Bat-Woman and Bat-Girl hung out until "the New Look Batman" was created. Well, that was one of the times when DC started again, cleaning house and getting rid of story-lines and events that were no longer wanted. So Bat-Woman and Bat-Girl, for all intents and purposes, simply ceased to exist.
Got it?

As for our newest star, Green Lantern as a character was introduced by Martin Nodell and Bill Finger in 1940. He was Alan Scott, blond and handsome railroad engineer, who wore a red, green, and purple  costume. (see picture) He was popular until the early '50s, when the initial WWII-backed comic book popularity died out.  Eventually he was replaced by Hal Jordan, brunette in green, black, and white. This is the character most people now associate with this name. Hal Jordan, cosmic policeman, is the guy Ryan Reynolds made the movie about last year.

HOWEVER, this time it was established that the Alan Scott version was "really" alive, too. He and his World War II era buddies were on a different dimensional plane than the Hal Jordan version. On "our" Earth we had the Justice League and Super Friends; they had the Justice Society and Infinity, Inc. They had the "straight" Bat-Woman and her neice Bat-Girl; we had the lesbian and a totally different Batgirl.

Because Alan Scott Green Lantern started his career in 1940, he was older, married, and actually had children. One child was a daughter, Jade, with Green Lantern-style powers. The other was a son, with darkness powers named......Obsidian.

So we've come full circle. In original continuity Green Lantern Alan Scott had a gay son, Obsidian. In the newest "re-invent" or "retcon" at DC, they have decided that the Justice Society did NOT start back in 1940 after all. They are making all of those "Golden Age" characters "Modern." Alan Scott is no longer old in this current world. Therefore he has no grown children ie no grown gay son. That's him, the hunky blond in (you guessed it)green, kissing his boy-friend, Sam.

DC, in a move that seems logical if not a tad misguided, has taken the characteristics of "the son" and given them to "the father."

Now DC not only has conservative (?) groups angry at them for showcasing "alternative lifestyles" (like being a super-hero itself isn't alternative!) but they also have traditional comics fans like me mad that they are making a heretofore "straight" character "gay."

(Not to go all comic nerd on you, but there are plenty of Golden Age characters who never had wives or girl friends or children who could have been "outed" better than this. Dr. Mid-Nite is the first one to come to mind. Kudos to you if you even know who that is.)

I'm not saying that DC can't do whatever the hell they want with their characters. However, like the time they made Aquaman a bearded, one-armed a$$-hole, I'm not sure this is what they *should* have done. I don't think making A Green Lantern gay was a problem (hell, there are 3,800 of them out there in space on "our" world) but taking THIS Green Lantern and *making* him gay.....hmmm. Not a big fan of this. There seems to be an utter lack of affection and care for the original character! Sure, it's just a name but on the other hand....tossing away 62 years of history? Really? Why? I guess I question the whole idea of having to re-imagine these characters. They were unique in being "the first guard." They were the "older brothers" and "mentors" to "new" characters like Batman and Hal Jordan-Green Lantern. For them to now be young and virile and modern....what's the point?

By the way, the "new" old Green Lantern doesn't have the same traditional red, green, and purple uniform shown above. All we have so far is him "flaming" here but it looks a little bit like Hal Jordan's uniform. THAT won't confuse even more people.

On a final note, I am saddened by all the hullabaloo about any gay characters. As I mentioned in the MARVEL column, this controversy about gay characters is all "much ado about nothing." The average comic-book reader's age is probably closer to 30 than 13, so the "corrupting the youth of our country" argument is probably wrong. I can't imagine a whole lot of nerdy straight white guys (I'm picturing THE SIMPSONS' Comic Book Shop Guy) *wanting* to read about a gay guy. Maybe that's why BATWOMAN is about a lesbian? We do love our women in spandex. Still, the average comic-book readers (and their kids or little brothers & sisters) are more likely to happen upon manga, filled with much more vivid hetereo-sex or ultra violence, then you can find in your average DC or MARVEL book. Yet, violence has always been more "okay" than sex. Now THAT is a crazy concept.

Happy Birthday, Dan Jurgens!

Today June 27 is comic book artist and writer Dan Jurgens' birthday. I first came across his work in the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES book in 1984. I was in St. Paul, Minnesota at the time and he was a new artist also from the Gopher State. I liked his clean, dynamic design style and he became one of my favorites.

He went on to work on THE WARLORD, SUPERMAN (most notably during the Death of Superman story-line), TEEN TITANS, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and his own creation, BOOSTER GOLD.

He also wrote AQUAMAN for about a year in the early 2000s.

So Happy Birthday, Mr. Jurgens!
May you have a great day and many many more creative years!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pride: Stonewall Riots on TV?

On the early morning of June 28, 1969 the New York City Police raided an obscure and establishment called Stonewall Inn. The police made random "hits" of places like this where sodomites and other "degenerates" were known to frequent.

However, on this night the people in the bar, mostly young gay men and drag queens, had had enough. Enough of the hypocricy. Enough of the bullying. Enough of the threats and intimidation. So they fought back, and for nearly five days there was a steady stream of people on the streets demonstrating. The Gay Rights Movement had begun.

What a great story, right?

Yet in my search to try to find something worthwhile on television to celebrate during Pride Month, I realized that the behind-the-story story of Stonewall has yet to be made into a TV-movie. If it exists, I couldn't find it!

Is this because TV executives don't think enough people (i.e. "straight people") want to see this TV-movie? Is this because not enough gay actors want to be associated with the project for fear of being "outed?" Is it because straight actors are afraid to be associated with the project for fear of being labelled gay?

Those are all bs reasons. The fact remains that the Powers-That-Be in Hollywood are still very much White Straight Male. "John" doesn't want to see movies starring women, or movies with Black Americans in the lead, or about gay guys. "John" wants to see things blow up real good.

And that is why we still don't have a Martin Luther King Jr biography picture. That is why we get one HUNGER GAMES for every six PERCY JACKSONS. And that is why the best Black actresses in Hollywood are  STILL stuck playing maids.

I hope by this time next year there is a good STONEWALL drama out there. We'll see.

In the meantime, there is an awesome documentary called STONEWALL UPRISING. Borrow it from your local library. It's fascinating.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Yes, Virginia, today IS your birthday!

Today is the anniversary of the date Virginia ratified the US Constitution and joined the United States of America.

Date of Admittance:
June 25, 1788

Parentage: The area was originally "discovered" by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1583. The word "Virginia " is either a honor to Queen Elizabeth I "the Virgin Queen" or is based on that *and* the Native phrase "Wingandacoa" or "Wingina." Originally the colony included all of the northern territory including Maine. Jamestown was the first British Colony in 1607.

Place in the Family
Number 10
Less than a week after New Hampshire (June 21)
and four weeks before New York (July 26)

"Sic Semper Tyrannis"
(Thus Always To Tyrants)
...but I like this softer version better! 

The Old Dominion
It doesn't get older than Viriginia

State Flag
A blue banner with the state seal in the center,
The woman is "Virtue" standing over
the fallen tyrant.
The state motto is attributed to Brutus,
having killed Julius Caesar.

First City You Probably Think of
When You Think "Virginia"
Virginia Beach? Arlington? 

Actual State Capital: Richmond

State Size (Area) is 35th of 50.
Population is closer to 12th of 50.
(per 2000 Census figures)
Virginia Sports:
There are no professional sports teams in Virginia

Anybody From Virginia
Ever Grow Up To Be President?
Virginia calls itself "The Mother of Presidents."
However, I have to call foul on claiming
William Henry Harrison. He's also claimed by
Indiana and Ohio~!
Quiz: Can you name them all ?
Answer at the bottom of the page!

Good vs Evil
(Sports Edition)
Arthur Ashe
World-Class Tennis Pro

Michael Vick
World-Class Jerk

Musical Virginians
Ella Fitzgeral
First Lady of  Jazz

Patsy Cline
"She's Got You" and dozens of other hits

Pearl Bailey
"Hello, Dolly," "Bill Bailey," etc

Jason Mraz
"The Remedy," "I'm Yours," etc

Chris Brown
infamous R&B/Hip-Hop singer

TV Celebrities From Virginia
Tim Reid
actor, "WKRP"

Katie Couric

Patton Oswalt
actor, comedian

Religious (?) Virginians
Jerry Falwell
founder of "The Moral Majority"

Pat Robertson
pastor, entertainer, Presidential candidate

Film Stars From Virginia
George C. Scott
Academy Award Winning Actor

Shirley Maclaine & Warren Beatty
Academy Award Winning Siblings

Sandra Bullock
Academy Award Winning Actress

Virginia Literary Figures

Historical Virginians
didn't actually marry John Smith
or talk to raccoons 

Patrick Henry
"Give Me Liberty,
Or Give me Death!"

Meriwether Lewis & William Clark
The Classical US Road Trip

Gen. Robert E. Lee 
Confederate Army Commander

Booker T. Washington
Speaker, Educator,
founder Tuskegee Institute
Most Famous Virginian
Thomas Jefferson
there are a lot of people to choose from,
but really, who doesn't know who Thomas Jefferson is?

A Song For You....
by Virginian Patsy Cline
Written by Willie Nelson

Answers to Presidential Quiz
top: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe
bottom: Wm H Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Wilson