Letters to Holly

Friday, May 25

It Was 30 Years Ago Today

I realized right before I parked my car in our garage that the college perimeter is fairly flat, and the one significant elevation it has would make for good training. Twenty minutes later, I was huffing and puffing on the campus. I ran the perimeter three times and then drove it to measure the distance. It's almost exactly one mile. So I had run three miles or a smidgen under 5k. It was a good day for it -- nice weather, not too bad a breeze -- and the campus is quiet for now. I have my new run route.

If there was any downside to it, it's that I first walked this campus more than 15 years ago. I like my memories of the place, but a creeping sense of stasis bothers me. I never thought I'd be back here, much less living here. I don't get that from being in town; it's changed enough from the early '90s, and Your Sister outweighs any unpleasantness I might feel. Also, I feel like a dirty old man running the same loop at the same time as college girls on the track or soccer teams. Then again, Your Sis is probably teaching their younger brothers and feeling the same thing.

Then I read online that this is the 30th anniversary of Star Wars and, geez louise, can I possibly feel any more decrepit? You know, I can't recall anything I would have considered cool prior to seeing Star Wars, and that was on my sixth birthday. I even remember the TV commercials for that run, and My Mom asking if I wanted to see it. Once I did, it erased everything that came before. I certainly recall all the cool things that came after, however. But my first movie theatre memory is one of fear during the compactor scene.

Aside from momentary lapses into wah-wah, I feel good after the run. I am getting noticeably wiser in pacing myself and pushing myself within limits of muscle sprains and pulls. While watching "Lost" Wednesday night, we saw our first commercial for the third Pirates movie. We had no idea it opened this weekend. The local theatre is playing it too. We might not get to it until the middle of next week though. We have prom and birthday stuff this weekend, and we have to tackle research papers.

Picture of the Day
The Beijing Olympic medals

Thursday, May 24

I Feel 30 Pounds Lighter

The dentists visit was just a consult after all. I was told of the various ways they could sedate me and that my teeth aren't going to be a problem to remove. They are not impacted. I was shaking the entire time, waiting for the soap-opera revelation of Dire Destiny. "Those wisdom teeth have hatched into venomous spiders and tranfsformed your entire head into a ticking time-bomb. Nurse, get me the hatchet." But no. I have an appointment for June 27 to have them yanked and have already secured the day off from work. I also have an entire bottle of Loratab to tide me over 'til then if need be.

We watched the final "Six Feet Under," and it's a whopper of an ending. Deeply satisfying stuff here. Not enough to bring the tears though.

The season finale of "Lost" brought the awesome by the buckets and proved that the first six episodes of this season were an aberration. Great acting, great writing, some resolutions, and a lot of new intrigue. A very satisfying installment to end on. Your Sis did get hit hard by one scene, but I was too distracted by the storytelling.

Also, the comic is 98% done. She found a few typos. Easily fixed.

And with these big events, I feel like I've shaken off some winter coat, like I've accomplished something. I awoke this morning feeling like I had started summer vacation. Despite the baffling absence of bottled caramel frappuccino from all the convenience stores, I had a great commute with some sterling music and I said "fuck it" and bought a frappuccino from the supermarket Starbucks booth.

I feel lighter. Or maybe light-headed. It is a lot of caffeine, you know.

Picture of the Day
Saturday morning on CBS featured live-action superhero and space-action material. This was my favorite:

Although I took, at the time, strange and unknown interest in the Mighty Isis.

Her alter ego was a petite, brunette school teacher. I must have imprinted.

But "Shazam" was the cooler show, and Captain Marvel was my favorite hero, and I think he still is. I do have an action figure of him on my desk at work, the only geek concession I've made at the office. The shows were influenced by the Hulk, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman live-action shows shown in primetime weekdays. And the two bionic shows proved the appeal of sci-fi. It was a cool time for kids to watch TV.

Wednesday, May 23

Anticipation of Exhaustion

The teachers had a small gang dinner yesterday, and I joined in with the missus. We finally tried the local Japanese steakhouse, and it's surprisingly good. At first blush, it's a typical Southern diner, but instead of slaw and taters, you get teriyaki steak and shrimp sauce. SHRIMP SAUCE. I haven't had this for years. The school art teacher asked me to talk to some of his cartoon-minded students next week, and I'm up for it. I've got tons of stuff to show them from my paper days, and I've got a handful of local minicomics too. My own may be finished and done; I made the most recent art adjustments last night after we watched the penultimate episode of "Six Feet Under." Tonight is the season finale of "Lost," too. We'll wrap up two series within three days of each other after which we'll melt into brain-drained puddles. I anticipate a good cry from at least one show. If not, I'll demand a refund.

I have a short work day today as I got to the oral surgeon. I don't know what to expect. I've put this off for so long that I may have an emotional breakdown when I leave the office. And if I'm missing the offending teeth, I may not be able to seek solace in ice cream. And I really ought to run again, but I don't see that happening while I'm whacked out on generic Loratab.

So, to recap: Comic done, "Six Feet Under" wrapping up, "Lost" takes its Act 3 bow, I fix my teeth. I need a beer.

In the Geek News
Every once in a while, the online geek forum eats itself in heated, breathless blather. This time it made national news, and when I say "national news," I mean "24-hour news networks that need filler." Here's what happened.

Comic illustrator Adam Hughes is renowned for his cheesecake art. This top-rated cover artist draws women that are statuesque, and it made sense to make statues out of them. The comic-fan market has branched out into everything you can imagine: posters, shirts, action figures, dolls, and the statue and mini-statue branch which has particularly taken off in the last ten years. Comic artists will often design a statue, and a sculptor takes over from there. Sometimes the sculptor will create a piece based solely on the style of a famous artist-character combination (a Jack Kirby Fantastic Four, a Frank Miller Batman, etc.) So Hughes drew Mary Jane discovering Peter's costume in the laundry. It looked like this:

This is quintessential Hughes. The style is called "good girl;" it's flirty without being salacious. The statue, however, mangled the statue.

It's loyal to the design, but it loses the flavor. This isn't the scandal, though. No, a number of hand-wringers emerged to complain that it looked like a harlot MJ was doing Peter's laundry, and this was demeaning. Instead of a laundry basket, they see a tub. And they see MJ presenting her ass for what's being smirkingly called "sexual availability." Fox News and MSNBC, for example, picked up on the story. Spidey 3 is a huge film, seen by a varied audience, but because the stigma exists that comics are only for kids, they ignored the angry feminist argument and argued that this is too sexy for the alleged child consumers. Now this statue is $120. A kid can't afford it. You can't find this in toy stores. You either buy it from the company's website or through a comic store. This is priced for the older collector. It's not marketed or produced or priced for kids.

But the online outrage continues. And now the discussion has jumped to the overall perceived dismissal of female consumers in the traditionally superhero comic market. Now obviously the comic market has shifted its focus to the older consumer. Simply put, they have more money to spend than an eight-year-old. Many comic covers are cheesecake pin-ups, and a number are similar to what you'd find inside Maxim. Kids are no longer the major demographic of comics, and the companies are using cheesecake and softcore to catch the eye of the older consumer in a very crowded market. It does go too far. But I don't agree that this kind of presentation automatically insults all women, either as the subjects of the art or the consumers. It goes back to the Frank Miller fiasco of a few months back: Your Sis likes his comics; therefore she's either imaginary or stupid. If she was bothered by this stuff, she'd stay away from comics. She doesn't like going into comic stores, but that's because the clientèle bothers her, not the products.

Into the heat of this debate fell this cover for an upcoming Marvel comic:

Many people went apeshit. Bondage is nothing new in comics (Wonder Woman used to be made powerless if you shackled her wrists, and then there's her magic lasso compelling the truth from the bound). But this image implies a niche of Japanese comics called "tentacle hentai," wherein women are molested by the monstrous. This did nothing to calm down the rhetoric. Neither did the revelation that the cover artist is a Japanese woman. I don't like the art myself. It's muddy and plastic.

But it's utterly in line with decades of horror comic imagery. Does that fact in itself confirm that comics are demeaning toward women? No. Comics are entrenched in their pulp origins and contain those elements, one of which is lurid situations. There's also violence and dark emotions. Now, you don't expect it in Superman or Spider-Man. But a comic featuring leather-clad women with 1970s blackspolitation and kung-fu fashion and attitude? Yeah, it's gonna be trashy. It's supposed to be. And it will be found in the same comic shop as X-Men (which has a history of occasional trashiness, to be honest) and Spider-Man (who used to date a leather-clad Catwoman ripoff with a neckline down to her navel). This is the diversity of the market, and I'd rather have that supply-and-demand dynamic in action then a dull-eyed homogeneity. The first rule of the free market is that you only buy what you want. And the golden rule corollary is that the guy next to you can buy what he wants, and the two of you leave each other alone to mind your own budgets and morals.

But that's not as much fun to say as "omigod, comics hate women." I'm curious to see if this lingers during the comic convention. Hughes will be there, and his prints of various women in various "good girl" images will sell like gold-plated hotcakes. Your Sis, by the way, likes his art. But she hates spin-off sidekick women like Supergirl and Batgirl on principal. BatMAN but BatGIRL? This she finds demeaning.

Tuesday, May 22

Heat Run

Even though I waited until it was cooler, Monday's run was escorted by a blasting sun and its best friend, the hot wind. I ran two miles in one shot, aided by perfectly timed intersection walk signs and an overall lack of cars turning right. I wish I knew a trick to expand my lung capacity because I find myself occasionally gasping like an asthmatic. Maybe it's the pollen. Maybe it's the heat. Maybe I have lung flab. I try to adjust my breathing as I go; I do have a breathing rhythm I try to maintain. But I'm getting bored with my route. I need to start running on side roads and perhaps find some straight planes to run instead of all these @&$% hills. The 5k race is less than two months away.

I finally made an appointment with the oral surgeon to yank out my wisdom teeth. My first appointment is only a consultation, even though I have a referral for the procedure from the dentist last November. The surgeon is only available twice a month.

Picture of the Day
The Cats Eye Nebula, somewhere up there.

In The News
Nobody liked the immigration bill. Both sides decry its lack of significant security measures, its merit system for entry, and its seemingly naive call for hefty fines from people working crap jobs. The right-wing media is apoplectic, saying it's the death of the GOP with some even calling for Bush's impeachment. And these are his party folk. The left-wing people say the bill encourages a serf class that splits families. The local radio people claim North Carolina is especially targeted by illegal immigrants for our lax law enforcement and numerous labor jobs. But these rabid talkers also claim our state is the front line on illegals and thus terrorism, because its just a matter of time, evidently, before Al Qaeda come through the Texas border. They've claimed this for six years now, and it hasn't happened yet. But this makes for a great distraction from the Gonzales and Iraq news.

Monday, May 21

Sunday Was a Week Long

The first version of the minicomic is done, and I'll proof it later today. I spent some time Saturday and Sunday penciling and inking the spot illustrations. I scanned them in and polished off their respective pages, all while listening to a commentary track on the new Re-Animator DVD. It has a brand-new making-of documentary proving what the earlier commentary track established: this is a fun buncha folks who struck gold with a tiny horror movie.

We were at Kathy and Travis' house Saturday night for a cookout and fire-sitting. We learned their exchange student is returning for a two-week visit, just in time for prom. She may not be going. We definitely are. I even took my suit to the dry cleaners. We're supposed to chaperone, but I'm not sure how much deputy power we'll have.

Sunday started early as I worked on the comic art. We watched the Preakness on TiVo, suffering through the sappy packaging of a Cajun jokey while doing nothing to inform us what kind of skill a jokey must possess. We noticed that all the jockeys and trainers and owners said the same thing on-camera: the horse will run his race. But watching a race, you can clearly see the jockeys whipping and steering. So why not focus on that? Why passively anthropomorphize the horse? The locker room interviews showed the top three jockeys crashed on the couch watching the TV coverage just a half hour before the race. This doesn't suggest any level of pre-race tension or preparation. After more than an hour of presenting the Kentucky Derby winner and one other jockey, neither won. We fetched groceries after a rare cup for coffee from me. Your Sis worked on school material while I finished the comic art and moved to the PlayStation for Guitar Hero. The death metal songs are aptly named as they murder your fingers. We had a small dinner and watched three episodes of "Six Feet Under." Only three more left. My Sunday felt languorous; I think she's exhausted from moving so slowly to the end of the semester.

Picture of the Day
Apparently the official Joker image from the new Batman movie. I like it. The new film franchise takes a grounded approach, and this style of Joker seems to fit right in. Geeks will be torn; the image is cool, but he's not smiling. A good chunk of comic fans will decry the lack of a cheesy grin, and, when I was younger, I would have been one of them. Joker's face is frozen in a smile, they'd say. But not only is this an impractical condition, but it limits the ability of an artist to express anything through the character. Also, he'd drool all over himself. The character, not the artist. No, Joker has to have muscle control to help him mock and mimic his enemies. Even though this image is of Heath Ledger, a total Brad Pitt vibe exudes. The first movie continues to grow in stature the more comic movies I see, and I have high hopes for the next one.