Thursday, November 29, 2007

Strangers With Comics

I promise to update the blog this weekend with some Longbox of Lovin but for now I want to share with you guys that I started a podcast with Rob and Gabe. We generally spit them ot once a week and though we have failed miserably to this point, we try to stay positive and relatively clean language wise.

Check it out at

or find us on the iTunes store.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Squid Hat!

Halloween is approaching and at my house, we are getting ready for our annual costume party. My wife and Rob tend to get really passionate about these things and every year, our garage accumulates more and more decorations. It’s pretty fun. Every year the family picks a theme. One year we did The Prisoner, mainly because it is Frank’s favorite TV show. So Liz dressed up like a villager, complete with stripped blouse and groovy white tennis shoes. Frank was Number 6 of course. I started the night as Number 2, but like every episode of The Prisoner, as the night wore on, Rob, who started as like Number 16, moved up until he took over as Number 2. Fun times but if you don’t like The Prisoner, you probably have no idea what I am talking about.

The next year we did the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (The comic not the movie) Liz was Mina Harker, Rob was Dr. Jekyll, and I was Captain Nemo. I think Frank dressed like Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange that year. Fun Fun Fun.

Back in the day I came up with an idea for a High Priest of Cthulhu costume. I was telling my LCS friend Dave about this so I thought you might enjoy a long ramble about Renaissance Faire Politics and the Squid Hat.

My family and I used to be part of the Renaissance Fair Circuit here in California. In California, there are two kinds of Renaissance Fairs. The first is the professional or commercial fairs which are run for profit. These shows have paid performers, auditions, producers, the whole bit. If you ever see Robin Williams at a Ren Fair, he is probably at one of these because they tend to be huge week long events. Then there is the"small" faire circuit. These are smaller fairs put on by municipalities or non profit groups. Most of the performers are not paid. They do it for the fun. The circuit runs up and down the state all summer long.

We used to do about six faires a year with our group. Places like San Luis Obispo, Hanford, Modesto, Sacramento, Tulare and Fresno. When you are young this is a fun hobby. Basically you set up camp, interact with the crowds in your costume, and then have fun with your buddies when the faire closes. We stopped doing this because the lifestyle was getting too much for our older selves. We sort of retired about 5 years ago.

During my time doing fair, I was a member of the planning committee for the Hanford Ren Fair. If you think your average committee meeting is dull and boring, wait till you attend a Ren Fair Committee meeting. When you put “actors” in charge of a production, you are basically giving control freaks something to control and discuss at length. Never a good idea but you need volunteers since most local fairs don’t pay anyone to do this stuff. These meetings were just H. E. Double Hockey Sticks! Man, just try listening to a puffed up wanna be actor discuss what NEEDS to happen to make the show a success. So it was during one of these meetings that I started doodling on my pad and I came up with something.

Squid Hat! No idea where that came from. But I showed it to my friend who was also trying not to sleep and he thought it was funny. So I went home and decided to make my squid hat into a Halloween costume. The first squid hat was fun. I took it to Ren Faires. It was like a member of the family. It ended up getting a little ratty so I had to throw it away. This year I decided to make another one and a more elaborate costume to go along with it. This might make for an amusing Blog entry so I took pictures during the process.

Besides a sewing machine and scissors, here’s all you need.

About a yard and a half of squid colored felt. A square of Black and a square of White felt. A half a yard of clear plastic. Two big sheets of craft plastic (stiff). All this stuff can be bought at a good fabric store for under 10 dollars total.

You need a pattern so grab a piece of paper and take some measurements of your skull like this.

The fabric will need to be cut to a width equal to half of your measurement plus one inch. Here is a pattern you can copy.

So basically you want to fold your squid fabric in half and then trace the pattern. Freehand patterns rock! You want the fins to extend about three inches, and the total length should be about 14 inches. Cut out the pattern. You should have two squid shaped pieces of felt.

Next up is the eye. First cut a round circle out of the white felt square about 6 or 7 inches across. Next you want to cut an eye slit out of the black fabric. I think real squids have human type eyes but cat’s eyes are funnier. Cut a slightly smaller hole in one of the squid pieces.

Next up comes the crucial part of the design. The hat gets all of its charm from the bored expression in the eye. It’s as though the squid is tired of sucking your brains. So first you need to cut the clear plastic so it is large enough to completely cover the white disc. Finally you need to make the eyelid. Freehand draw a crescent piece of the squid fabric large enough to make an eyelid.

So all that’s left is assembly. Lay the white disc down on the table, arrange the eye slit in the center, and lay the clear plastic on top of it. Arrange the hole in the squid fabric over the eye. The hard part is sewing it all together. The plastic makes it all slippery but you can always rip out the stitches until you get it. Use pins to hold it in place.

When you finally have that bit done, lay the two halves face to face and sew a seam around the edge. Cut the stiff plastic to fit inside the hat. Turn it inside out and there you go! Squid hat!

You can add tentacles made from the left over fabric or wear it as is. Find some robes to compliment the hat and your Halloween is ready to rock!

Next time we make another visit to the Longbox of love.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rock On!

I saw this in the window of the theatre by my work and it made me smile.

Last night Black Sabbath rolled into Fresno. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a head banger from way back. Yes during the 80’s I was a heavy metal fool. Of course you can only go so far with the head banging in Fresno. Not too many tours come this way. Fresno is just not a big event town. That’s why we don’t have any pro sports teams and most headliners don’t schedule us though lately that has been changing.

Back in the day, THE place to see shows was Selland Arena.

I remember seeing Iron Maiden there. What a great time. Of course the pickings were slim so I also had to see Def Leppard there. Surprisingly I enjoyed the Def Lep show even though I was never into the pop metal bands. I also saw YES and INXS at the arena. Of course this was about 20 years ago.

These days, I am almost 40 and the last concert I went to was about six years ago at the much smaller Warnor’s Theatre. The band was Tesla.

So it was with great pleasure that I found out that Black Sabbath was coming to town. Well a version of Black Sabbath anyway. Technically the band is called Heaven and Hell and features the classic line up from the Mob Rules era of Black Sabbath. Something about Black Sabbath being associated with Ozzy Osbourne in the line up as opposed to Ronnie James Dio. I didn’t care because I love me some Sabbath and I did not want to miss the chance to see Tony Iommi live.

I also took the chance to get some bonding time with son number two, Frank. I talked about Rob earlier. Frank is younger and while Rob shares a lot of tastes with his Mom, Frank likes some of the music of my youth and he tagged along with me. Yay!

Actually the first thing we noticed when we got to the arena was that a LOT of us old guys were dragging their kids along to the show. Check this out.

This guy brought his wife and three little kids along. How cool is that? Especially when the little kids were wearing their tiny Black Sabbath T-Shirts. As we entered the arena, the theme was repeated over and over. A lot of times, whenever we saw a young boy walking past us, close behind would inevitably be an older version of the boy in the form of his dad. I guess a lot of guys my age had the same idea I did. We get to see some Sabbath and include the younger generation.

The show was good. There were three bands on the bill and the first was Queensryche. There was a time when Queensryche was my favorite band but they kind of went the Metalica route and started slowing done and getting tamer after the Empire Album. I had seen them once before and they put on a good show again playing sings from most of their albums. Next up was Alice Cooper. Gawd I hate Alice Cooper but his show started off very strong with three rockers, including No More Mr. Nice Guy and 18. Then the crap started with Alice and his theatrics. So Lame! In this phase of the show, Alice witnesses a satanic baby being born so he takes it upon himself to kill the baby. For killing the baby he is hung by a rope mid-stage. Looked just so silly. Bad acting and worse effects. How exactly did he manage to get by doing this for 30 years?

Heaven and Hell took the stage at last and Frank and I were in Sabbath ecstasy. It was exactly what you want mood-wise from a Sabbath concert. Long heavy songs with cool lighting effects. Totally rocked. Of course the big downside was that they only played songs from the three Black Sabbath albums that they recorded with Ronnie James Dio. No “Iron Man’, no “Paranoid”, no “War Pigs” and especially, no “Black Sabbath”. Oh well. Maybe when they pull thorough California with Ozzy.

This was easily the tamest concert I ever went to. The first time I saw Iron Maiden (with opening act The Vinnie Vincent Invasion no less) we almost got into a knife fight with some stoners on the arena floor. For this concert, the worst behavior I saw was a guy openly smoking a joint in the restroom filled with about 30 men.

Next up:It's Halloween so I show you how to make a squid hat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who Wants to be a Geek?

Who Want’s to Be a Superhero? Such a polarizing show among comic geeks. It appears either you think the show is a fun silly take on the reality show genre, or you think it is so dumb you wouldn’t watch it if someone paid you. Today on Strange Visitations, I want to talk about geekdom and the deeper meaning that it has for a lot of us, especially yours truly.

I happen to love Who Wants to Be a Superhero? I love the ridiculous challenges. I love the terrible acting. I love the hammy Stan Lee. I really love the weird logic used in eliminations. Most of all I love the contestants. These are truly my people. At least the ones left at the end are. How much of a comic book geek do you have to be to get dressed up in some really BAD costumes, and then humiliate yourself on the Sci-Fi channel doing silly stunts and being lectured by the 20 foot tall talking head of Stan Lee? You have to be a real geek.

This season, I was rooting for Hyperstrike. Besides the fact that he really “got” the joke, I love how he hated his new costume but quickly realized he had to say he loved it. He just seemed to be laughing along with me through the show.

I was happy with Defuser winning the contest, mainly because I did not care so much for American Maid…er…Hygena. She cried way too much. Unless you are Superman in a DC event book, there’s no crying in comic books.

During the next to last episode, the winner was probably decided during Stan Lee’s interviews with the contestants. It was at this point I realized that no matter how much I liked Hyperstrike, his story was just not the compelling tale that the show seems to love. Remember the three finalists from last year? Major Victory wanted to prove to his daughter that her daddy was a hero. Fat Momma wanted to show people that chubby people can succeed, thrive and be heroes. And the winner, Feedback, had the gripping story of feeling unloved by his father and turning to comic books, in particular Marvel books, for a father figure and someone to look up to. I found all three tales very powerful. This year’s three finalists were different. Hyperstrike basically said he really enjoyed being a superhero and it was a reaction to being picked on as a child. Hygena talked about how she had lost a baby and in that process, lost a lot of her self-confidence. Being on the show made her see her own value. Finally, Defuser talked about how he wished the superheroes in the comics he read as a child could come to life and help his sister come back from a dangerous lifestyle. Again powerful.

What I see in these interviews that for many of us geek types, be it comics, video games, paintball, airsoft, Renaissance Fairs, whatever, for many of us, some geek activity filled some kind of void at a young age and now, as adults, it stays with us, even if circumstances have gotten better. In pondering this, I realized I was really pondering my own life.

I freely admit that I am a geek. I love comic books, I collect Superman memorabilia, I collect The Simpson’s junk, and I have way too many DVD’s. You can’t hurt my feelings by calling me a geek. Not when the geek side of me was what helped me get through my early life.

When I was a young lad, growing up in the seventies, I lived in a big Italian family. I had two older sisters, a stay at home mom, and my father was the guy who wore a suit and went off to work every weekday, and took his kids to the zoo or to the city on weekends. Things began to change when Mom and Dad separated. Suddenly, Mom had to raise three kids on her own. Mom was a German immigrant. She learned English when she came here but for most of her adult life, she did not have a job other than raising us kids. So suddenly she had to find work and keep us together. She did that. My Mom was a remarkable woman. Some sacrifices had to be made on all our parts. Mainly we couldn’t have all the great new toys and clothes every year but one thing I did have was my comic books. Mom loved to let me read and she would always find money to buy me a comic book or two each week. This was before the direct market so I got my comic books from a magazine rack. Also the number of titles was somewhat small so it was easy to pick what to read.

Early on, I was a DC guy. I loved Superman and the JLA. Especially when Superman was in that month’s issue of the JLA. As far as Marvel goes, I did read Marvel Team-Up and The Fantastic Four, but I somehow missed the Spiderman phase. Oh well.

A lot of times, when Mom had to work, she would have to take me along since my sisters had school or work and she could not afford a sitter. She mainly worked in places like Diners and Bowling Alleys where if a kid was well behaved, it was ok for them to hang out. So on those days, we’d stop at the drug store and Mom would buy me a comic book. Just one. They generally cost about 40 cents back then. So we would go to her work, I would find someplace to sit, and I was off to Superman’s world.

I devoured my comic books. I could read that one book four or five times on that day. Sometimes I’d break out some paper and trace some of the images from the book. For a chubby ten year old whose family was falling to pieces, comic books were a safe place to visit. My buddy Superman understood me. Superman never lies. He never forgets to call you. He never takes your sister on trips while leaving you behind.

He never left me. If I needed Superman, there he was, in my stack of comic books.

It was not until years later that I understood that this is where my love of the genre springs from. As an adult, I have tracked down most of those books my Mom bought me back in the day and I treasure them still. Talk to me a bout the JLA versus the Construct and I may tear up a little.

Mention of Doctor Destiny and the Key may cause me to get misty.

Try and bag on Superman or the kooky satellite era JLA and you can expect an argument. It has that kind of meaning to me.

So I embrace my inner geek and I encourage anyone reading to do the same. Why fight it? Having Wolverine, the Punisher, Spiderman, Batman or Superman with you on this journey through adulthood is really not a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty cool.

Peace out.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


I was trying to wrap my brain around how to write about my favorite podcast but it took frustration with my day job to show me the way.

AntiFanboy is a podcast about comic books. Every week they sit around and pick their favorite books, argue about comics stuff, and do some really funny and smart comedy routines. I seriously enjoy this podcast. But it is not for everyone. They do cuss quite a bit and you will occasional hear someone call someone else “gay”. But if you get past that, or if you like that sort of stuff, these are some smart guys who have a real passion for comics. I have spoken to most of them on Skype and the AntiFanboys are not racist or mean or gay bashers. They are just young and passionate.

Jon Suarez is the ringmaster and we seem to share a love for Superman and Strangers in Paradise. He doesn’t get on board my Aquaman love train but that's forgivable. Steve Oteri (the sixth funniest man in podcasting) is the go to guy for song parodies, spontaneous riffs on comic characters, and absurd humor. Devon Kopek is the Marvel guy who, when he gets a word in edgewise, is very articulate and weathers the DC fanatic attacks from the other three. Chris Galanti will one day be an evil genius and he is definitely thinking about comics on a higher level than most of us mortals. That and he is the film freak of the group.

For the full AntiFanboy effect, I recommend going here:


...and downloading Episode 22. In this episode, not only do we hear some great opinions on Civil War and 52, but right in the middle is the funniest segment I ever heard on a podcast involving pro-wrestler Dean Malenko and a mystery date. Lots of cussing to boot! Yahoo!

I guess the reason I wanted to write about the AntiFanboys is that they have really gotten me back into comics. I would say that in anticipation of their weekly episodes, I burn through my comics that week to be sure I have read whatever they are reviewing. Also, they have reminded me of when I was in college and my friends and I sat around and talked comics, movies, heavy metal music and pro-wrestling. Good times.

Next we return to my long box of love.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Longbox of Love (Part IV)

I am running out of longboxes so this week I am including some more recent stuff from the Longbox of Love.

Local is hard to categorize. You pick up a given issue and not much happens. But like a lot of great fiction, something is going on under the surface. Local is the story of a very damaged but very real family that is coming to grips with their own flaws. It may sound dry but I find it totally gripping and crushingly real. I highly recommend it.

Also on the recent side is Manhunter. You might not know this but Manhunter is sort of The Punisher meets She-Hulk. But not funny like She-Hulk at all. But by day the main character is a tough as nails attorney (in one arc she defends Wonder Woman for killing Max Lord) and by night she is a tough as nails vigilante who kills a bad guy in her first adventure. Mark Andreko has created a great fully realized character who is battling her own demons while fighting for her child (she is a divorced Mom). A book that is fast paced and thoughtful all at once.

Finally in the recent category there is this total gem of a book. Adventures in Service is a Mini-Comic created by Chicagoan Matt Fagan. I am not really into mini-comics but I found this book so delightful, I hope more people check it out. It is a collection of short episodes about two super powered Butlers (yes butlers as in Man Servants) and their adventures against crime and in love. You can get in touch with the author and check out his other work HERE

I suppose I do not have to say much about DK2. I hated it. I think Frank Miller has been on a downward slide ever since. Probably his last really good book was Sin City: To Hell and Back. I think the only reason I hang onto these back issues is when I go to throw them away, I remember how much I paid for them and toss it back into the box in disgust.

I already discussed how much I love the Animal Man. During the late Eighties/Early Nineties, DC put out a bunch of series like Secret Origins. It was sort of a retro wave but really really crappy. Every now and again a gem sprung up and lookie here, Grant Morrison! Since this was done by the Animal Man book team, this issue fits right in with the main book.

Speaking of Grant...wasn't his run on X-Men great! One day I will do my full X-Men rant but for now, know that when I was a lad, X-Men was the best superhero book out there. Somehow it all went to utter crap and never rally came back from that place until Morrison took the reigns. Of course as soon as he left it went back to crapville. Morrison focused on the X-Men as a school for outcasts and a really dysfunctional family. To me, that is the best angle to take when writing the X-Men. I think this run was better even than the really good Astonishing X-Men run by Josh Whedon.

So they make a Wanted movie based on a comic book which featured characters based on the appearance of Enimen and Halley Barry, then they cast James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie? Ok, whatever. I never cared for books that focused on bad guys unless they got their comeuppance in the end. Wanted is all about bad guys. Bad Guys vs. Bad Guys. I guess I like it because the dialogue is snappy and the art is really gorgeous. JG Jones is a great interior artist. I wish he would do less covers and get back on a regular book.

Being a child of the 70's, I love the anthology comics. I so miss them but to their credit, both DC and Marvel still attempt to put one out regularly every few years. No one buys them. These Holiday specials were always fun. To me they were sort of yearbooks that captured where the DCU was that year. Look at the ornament and you can see Kyle in his weird GL mask, Wally as the Flash, and Batman with his old school logo.

I know I have already talked about Supreme but my love for this book knows no bounds. If Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse had been able to continue their run, Supreme might be up there with Superman, Aquaman and Captain America among my favorite Superheros.

Cerebus is going to be the subject of an upcoming entry here on Strange Visitations but I love this little ditty I found. The Cerebus Jam features Cerebus interacting with Popeye (yes Popeye as in Olive Oil) and the Spirit. It sounds wierd and it is but totally fun at the same time. Track it down on Ebay. While you are at it, track down the Todd Macfarlane Spawn issue which featured Cerebus.

New Effin Frontier! When this book came out, it was very under the radar. Darwyn Cook was not an A-Lister yet and DC had some other JLA mega events going on. But eventually, everyone recognized the enormity of what was accomplished in this book. It is very close in theme to "The Golden Age" graphic novel about the JSA in that both books tell a tale of the end of the age of innocence for Superheros as they move into the modern age. This is a dense read that, like Watchmen, gets better with subsequent reads. I must get the absolute edition one day. A gorgeous and engaging read.

This book rocks! Why? It features one of the few modern instances where Superman is unleashed. No holding back, fists flying, put the beatdown on Darkseid kind of action. Best part? Even though it is loaded with action, in the end, Superman beats Darkseid with a trick. I love when Superman beats his opponents with his brains.

One of the great things about writing these is that I get to dig out all these great old comics that I have not read in years and enjoy them all over again. During the early 00's, Batman mini's were everywhere. Batman seems to go through these waves every few years. Death and the Maidens is THE definitive Ra's al Ghul story. Greg Rucka writes the most interesting and detailed backstory for both Ra's and Talia. The art is by Klaus Jansen and while many people do not care for that school of art (Which includes older Frank Miller and Howard Chaykin), because the story takes several turns for the creepy, the art totally works here. Basically this is a tale of the downfall of the demons head. Along the way we learn all about Talia and Bruce Wayne literally confronts his ghosts. One of the best Batman stories out there.

Speaking of reprints...

I love them! I found this little gem at Wonderland. I sure miss the goofy superhero stories of the silver age. Look how ridiculous these stories look! I know these days people appreciate a more "realistic" story but for me, the days when Superman could move a planet or when Superboy could restart a burnt out star with a gigantic match were gold. Since I don't want to leave you hanging, here is how Superboy deals with his monster:

The magic of headpieces.

I have said before that I have a lot of Fantastic Four. This issue is particularly good and it is unusual in that the Fantastic Four are hardly in it. This is the issue where Galactus is about to die from hunger because he foolishly made a vow not to eat worlds with thriving populations of life. Amazing John Byrne art.

When I was a child and I saw this book being advertised, it confused me. The Worlds Greatest Flying Heroes? Huh? Shining Knight? It seemed to me that a lot of flyer's were missing. Years later I actually bought the book and finally saw the back cover:

Oh!. Well that's better. Of course this issue being at the end of the Silver Age, Wonder Woman still couldn't fly so she is not on the cover.

Is there anything better than a Superman imaginary story? Ok sure there is but they are definitely up there in the fun factor.


When writers get blocked!

Ok well that's enough of that. Thanks for reading. What's in YOUR longbox?