Friday, November 30, 2012

Ken-Bun-Ki "World AIDS Day 1996"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American.
This one is from November 28, 1996.

According to the World Health Organization, as of the end of 1994 the number of people throughout the world who are infected with AIDS has reached 17 million. In order to increase knowledge about AIDS, December 1 has been established as World AIDS Day.

The  virus that causes AIDS is called HIV. The transmission of HIV is limited to blood or other bodily fluids. There have also been cases where the infection was transmitted through unheated blood or plasma that had been tainted. Usually if razors, needles, and hypodermics are not shared between people the virus cannot be transferred. Mosquitoes who have bitten an AIDS patient, coughs, sneezes, public bathes, toilets, and kisses and hand-shakes are safe. During your normal day-to-day life at home, at the office, or at school there is no way for you to be accidentally infected.

However, unfortunately the correct information about AIDS was not always known, so there have been  cases of discrimination and prejudice against infected people, patients, homosexuals, and foreigners. The newest trend is that among those Japanese people who have reported being infected with HIV, 70% of them are 20-30 year olds who were infected via heterosexual activity.

Let's all learn the facts about AIDS so we can end the discrimination as quickly as possible. While working on a cure for AIDS, let's also build a society where the patients and infected people can co-exist with us.
This is probably the Ken-Bun-Ki article I am most proud of. When I was writing innocent little articles about Christmas and Thanksgiving I was working at the Aya Town City Hall and Cultural Center. The Health & Welfare section of the Japanese government had distributed posters to each city hall within each prefecture (state). I saw these every day I went to work, and I quickly decided to write about this then-new "World AIDS Day" activity. This article was met with some resistance, and it was edited somewhat, but my overall message remained. I respected my office very much for allowing this to be printed.
Sixteen years later there have been countless millions of deaths due to AIDS. But on the bright side, there are drugs that halt the virus, so millions more have learned that being diagnosed as having HIV is not necessarily an instant death sentence.
And more to the point of this article, the anxiety about and out-right hatred towards people like Ryan White and other AIDS sufferers has mostly disappeared.  And for that, we can all be proud.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jerry Ordway!

 Today November 28 is comic-book artist and writer Jerry Ordway's 55th birthday. Those of us who recognize his name know him as the artist on INFINITY INC, ALL-STAR SQUADRON, SUPERMAN, and POWER OF SHAZAM, to name just a few titles he has worked on during his long career. He is predominantly a DC man but also illustrated Marvel's THE AVENGERS a few years ago. His most recent work that I saw was his art on INFINITE CRISIS and JSA.

I first came across his art when he was doing ALL STAR SQUADRON back in the early 1980s. He took over from Rich Buckler and made the title his own. During that run he co-created with writer Roy Thomas several great characters such as Amazing Man and the Tarantula. He then moved over to the Justice Society-themed INFINITY INC for approximately a year, helping to co-create such mainstays in the DCU as Obsidian, Jade, and Northwind. He then spent nearly a decade working in the SUPERMAN universe of titles, after which he spend several years trying to build up a new SHAZAM/Captain Marvel title for DC. It was full of charm and probably the best modern version of the character we'll ever see. 

Happy Birthday, Jerry Ordway!
Here's to many more to come!! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Native American Heritage Month "Half-Breed"

To close out our month-long "Musical Salute to Native Americans," I want to present probably one of the best anti-racist songs that I have ever heard.

"Half-Breed" was written by Mary Dean and Al Capps. It tells the story of a daughter of a white man and a Cherokee woman. The lyrics have some of the harshest images I have ever heard in a Number One song. Before you listen (and are distracted by Cher's lack of apparel, consider this: )
....My mother's people were ashamed of me 
The Indians said that I was white by law
The white man always called me indian squaw
Half-breed that's all I ever heard 
Half breed  how i learned the hated word
Half breed she's no good to no one
Both sides were against me since the day I was born
...The other children always laughed at me 
Give her a feather she's a Cherokee

Luckily we do not live in quite as racist a society as we used to. Sure, there is still racism out there. I am not naive. On the other hand, I see mixed couples everywhere I go (in Columbus, Ohio). It makes me happy.

Now, with no further ado, here is the one and only Cher.
From the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour 1973

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 22, 1963

Forty-nine years ago yesterday, the 35th President of the United States was brutally murdered in Dallas, Texas.

That's about all that most people can agree to be true about that terrible day.

I was not alive on that fateful day. However, from a very young age I was familiar with the products being sold by the myth-making machines: 1. that JFK was a savior cut down in his prime; and 2. that Oswald could not have possibly acted alone.

Time has marched on and 49 years after that terrible time, I think both of those beliefs are faded. I have read extensively about "The Sixties" in general and specifically about the Civil Rights Movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War. Suffice it to say that JFK didn't come off smelling like a rose in either of those histories. And a few years ago I read the excellent Case Closed by Gerald Posner. I had seen the movie "JFK" and I have seen the Zapruder film. I think now that it really was a terribly lucky son of a bitch named Lee Harvey Oswald who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was therefore able to change the course of the world. I also think that we will never, ever know with 100% certainty if this is true or not.

So moving about looking at some of the Odd Facts About the Assassination?

President Kennedy was on his way to The Dallas Trade Mart for a luncheon with civic and business leaders of Dallas. These guests were some of the last people to hear what had happened in Dealy Plaza.

Originally the limousine the President was riding in was going to be covered. It had rained in the morning and the plan was to keep him and Governor Connelly covered. However, the sun came out while the President was flying from Fort Worth to Love Field in Dallas, so the decision was made to "open" the car up.

Robert Vaughn, the actor who became famous a year later portraying Napolean Solo, The Man from UNCLE, was filming the pilot for that series on the fateful day; filming was cancelled. Unfortunately for Vaughn, November 22 is also his birthday. (11-22-36) Four plus years later, Vaughn's good friend Robert Kennedy was also murdered.

The home-movie filmed by Abraham Zapruder is the most famous home-movie ever committed to film. It is available to the general public after being hidden away for years (some say out of consideration of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). I borrowed a digitally remastered version from the public library a few years ago. It is a very clear video of the motorcade in Dealey Plaza. Still, people let their imaginations get the best of them regarding what they think they are seeing. I have even heard that some people say that the driver of the limousine is the man who shot President Kennedy! The video is also available on youtube. I feel I must warn you, however, that it is not for the squeamish; you literally see President Kennedy being murdered. 

The pilot of Gilligan's Island was filming in Hawaii the week of the assassination. According to Russell Johnson in his book Here On Gilligan's Island, the scene where the SS Minnow sets sail from its port was filmed on November 22. Look closely and you will see a US flag flying at half-mast.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA. This is a holiday where we Americans celebrate all that we are thankful for, and I don't mean that we are the richest country on Earth or that we own too much "stuff." I mean we stop and thank God (or each other, or whomever) for the serious stuff: our loved ones, our health, our happiness. It all harkens back to a dinner in 1621, when the heretofore starving Pilgrims had a simple "feast" to thank God for surviving the winter. Over the centuries this turned into a national day of Thanks, with all the traditions of turkey and pumpkin pie somehow getting included. 

Personally, my family has a tradition that I would like to tell you about. It started a few years ago, right around the time of 9-11. My sister Jo Anne suggested that we take some of our extra food and share it with our local fire-fighters or police officers on Thanksgiving Day. After all, these heroes don't get that day off like most of the rest of us do. So every year for the past five years I have made extra cookies or pumpkin pie and brought them to our local establishments. I have also started doing this on Christmas Day, too. If you like this idea, I urge you to try it. The smiles I get every time I show up with free food for the fire station or police station is payment enough for an extra few hours in the kitchen. 

So as I spend my day with my family in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri I would like to wish everyone reading this a Happy Thanksgiving. Never take anything for granted, and be humble and thankful for all that you receive. Remember: but for the grace of God.....

And here is the original Norman Rockwell print that served as the basis for the illustration by Carlos Pacheco shown above. 

Ken-Bun-Ki "Thanksgiving"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996-97. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American.
This one is from November 21, 1996. 


In America, the fourth Thursday of November is "Thanksgiving" (in Japanese, literally "Festival of Thanks"). It began in 1621. English religious immigrants called Pilgrims survived a terrible winter, and with the help of Native Americans they had been blessed with a healthy crop. In a town called Plymouth, close to Boston, they held a 3-day banquet. The main foods at Thanksgiving is turkey or ham, corn, potatoes, vegetables, and cranberry jelly. Dessert is pumpkin pie, apple pie, or pecan pie.

While I was a student I didn't ever really feel any gratitude for anything. I looked on Thanksgiving as an All You Can Eat holiday. Recently, however, I have a lot of things to be thankful for. For example, all of my family is healthy. I have many friends. I'm busy everyday at a job I like. And not just personally; I'm very thankful that the world is a much more peaceful place than it used to be.

November 23 is Workers' Thanksgiving Day in Japan. How are you spending your holiday? I will be hosting a House Party for five foreign families to celebrate Thanksgiving.


Sorry the original Japanese is hard to read. This article took up the whole bottom of the page (two columns) when it was printed in the newsletter. Now it takes up too much space here. I thought that if I put it on the bottom of the page it would enlarge enough to be able to read, but the icons on the right column block it off no matter how I try to arrange this. 

So as an added bonus, this is my daughter Anna and I at a Thanksgiving party in 1994, two years before I wrote the above article. All of us were ex-patriot Americans or Japanese. And yes, we played Trivial Pursuit. ;-) 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

JL #23 "The Scarecrow Fights with FEAR!"

Happy Birthday, North Carolina!

Today is the anniversary of North Carolina's ratification of the US Constitution, agreeing to be one of the original Thirteen Colonies.

Date of Ratification:

November 21, 1789

Parentage: Named after King Charles I of England, whose Latin name is "Carolus." Originally part of Virginia and then known as The Carolina Providence, it was divided into North and South in 1729. 

Place in the Family 
Number 12
Almost didn't make it after
New York (July 1788)
and Rhode Island (May 1790), 
the last of the Original Thirteen

"To Be Rather Than To Seem"
that's a pretty good one, actually

The Tar-Heel State
From the number of pines that create tar in the state. 
It's a long story. 

On the License Plate
"First In Flight"
and an illustration of the Wright Brothers' first airplane

State Flag
A red, white, and blue banner with the state initials, one star, 
and the dates of May 20, 1775 on top
and April 12, 1776 on the bottom. 
I wonder if the people of NC know that these dates 
are the ratification dates of the Mecklenburg Declaration
of Independence and the Halifax Resolves. 
I don't even know what those ARE!

First City You Probably Think of
When You Think "North Carolina"
Actual State Capital: Raleigh

State Size (Area) is 28th of 50
Population is closer to 11th of 50
(per 2000 Census figures)

North Carolina Sports:
NFL (Carolina Panthers)

NBA (Charlotte Bobcats)

NHL (Carolina Hurricanes)

Anybody From North Carolina
Ever Grow Up To Be President?

11th President James K. Polk 


17th President Andrew Johnson

Good vs Evil 
Edward R. Murrow
 Jesse Helms 
US Senator

Musical North Carolinians
Ben E. King
"Stand By Me"

Charlie Daniels
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia"

James Taylor
"Fire & Rain"

Randy Travis
"Three Wooden Crosses"

Ben Folds

Clay Aiken
"This Is The Night"
Eric Church

Celebrities From North Carolina

Richard Gatling
creator of The Gatling Gun
O. Henry 
short-story author

Caleb Bradham 
creator of Pepsi-Cola

Ava Gardner
actress, "Mogambo" 
Billy Graham 

Andy Griffith
actor, "Matlock"

Howard Cosell
announcer, "Monday Night Football"
Richard Petty
NASCAR racer

Dale Earnhardt 
NASCAR racer

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
NASCAR racer

Mike Evans
actor, "All In The Family," "The Jeffersons"
producer, "Good Times"
 Julianne Moore 
actress, "The Kids Are All Right"
Michael C. Hall
actor, "Dexter"

Zach Galifianakis 
actor, "The Hangover"

Ken Jeong 
actor, "The Hangover," "Community"

A Song For You.... 
"Carolina In My Mind" 
Written & Sung by James Taylor
(I think I like this more now that I know he is *from* Carolina!)

JL #23 "The Scarecrow Fights With FEAR!" AFTERWARD

So what did you think? This and next issue are two of my favorite issues, if only because I was "spreading the wealth," as it were. I had six members in this issue and the other six members in the next issue. In the actual comics I really did dislike how Superman, Batman, the Flash, etc seemed to appear in every story. I'm not stupid; I know it was for the commercial considerations, but I always thought that trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator was a mistake.

First off, one last recognition of the source material. This issue is based almost exactly on SUPER FRIENDS #32, "The Scarecrow Fights With Fear" by E. Nelson Bridwell and Kurt Schaffenberger. I even used the cover illustration....which is why I signed it "Russell, after S &S" in the lower right-hand corner below Black Canary's hand.
I merely switched out Robin with Black Canary (one bird with another) and ignored the Wonder Twins. Their fear had been fear of touching, so they couldn't use their powers anyway. I replaced them with Hawkwoman, who was given a fear of birds. (another bird!?)

The one thing I don't like about my cover is that it's hard to tell what the hell the raven is. It looks like a black blob on his arm. I wish I had done a better job on it. 

New from this issue are the revised "roll call boxes." By this point I thought I was wasting too many pages on this "portraits" of each of the members. So I cut them in half, literally, showcasing their logo, their portrait, and one or two changeable comments about them. For the first few issues I had some trouble fitting in all the words (see BATMAN, below) but I eventually got the hang of it. The other reason I liked these was because I made two different versions: one left, and one right. As you can see, if Hawkwoman was on the right, then Batman would be on the left. It appealed to my sense of balance.

One of the reasons I liked this story in the first place is that it was another example of the heroes being victims of their own thoughtfulness. The last time we showed the JLAers at a charity function, they were attacked by the Psycho Pirate, and the time before that they were attacked by the Injustice League (one of its members being The Scarecrow!). I guess you just shouldn't announce that you're going to be making public appearances if you're a world-famous super-hero. 


Speaking of The Scarecrow, I didn't like how I drew him in #11 (shown here). 
So I went and sketched and re-drew and re-imagined him for this issue. I tried to make him more sinister-looking and more...well...scary! I much prefer this version of the character. 
 Now to go in order of other stuff I like, whether it is random or not....I love the idea that Aquaman gets to drive the Batmobile! On the other hand, I hated actually drawing the Batmobile. I used this version of the car for two reasons: 1. it was the most recent one that the audience would probably recognize (over the 1960s TV version) and 2. because of reason (1) I had a toy of it which I used as a model! Haha! 
There were a couple scenes that I did that I really liked. In general I remember I took a bit more time on the architecture, such as the bridge over the moat and the whole Wayne Tower from the pages before this scene. Also, I think this scene of Aquaman closing his eyes and holding his face in fear is quite comical. Poor Aquaman!
Here's another scene that I love. Read the script and then look at the picture: Wonder Woman is actually FASTER than speeding bullets. That's frickin' fast.
Here's a scene that I don't particularly like. Black Canary was being drowned by The Scarecrow until Batman stops him. Meanwhile, Aquaman pops his head up for this nice moment. However, the perspective is wonky. I should have had him pop up closer to her. Oops! 
 Here's another scene of fear that I especially like. We don't get to see Batman, Manhunter, or Wonder Woman show fear, but we get to see just how terrified Hawkwoman is when a raven lands on her arm. I channeled all those kids at Childrens Zoos and the look they get on their face when they have a baby snake wrapping itself around their arm.  
 And to end this commentary, here's another comparison between what I did and the source material. First, my version of the Scarecrow shooting a water pistol at Aquaman. Then, the actual panel from SUPER FRIENDS #32 by Kurt Schaffenberger and Bob Smith. 

And lastly, the updated JLA Mail Room "photo" from this issue, with Aquaman's then-current bearded look.