Saturday, August 25, 2007

Before I get back to the Longbox of Love, I thought I’d collect some thoughts on what we’ve discussed so far.

First off I felt like a TOTAL dweeb when I listened to the Comic Book Queers episode 43 (here) and the feat5ured guest was Robert Rodi. It was at that moment I made the connection that Mr. Rodi wrote two of my all time favorite books from my Longbox, Codename: Knockout and The Crossovers! I guess he is officially one of my favorite writers, as long as I ignore Identity Disc. Unfortunately, despite the tendency of Vertigo to trade everything, Codename: Knockout has not been traded or at least it is not available in trade right now. The Crossovers apparently are in limbo with Crossgen going bankrupt. I perused my LCS today for back issues and The Crossovers don’t look to be that common in the bins. I did find some Codename: Knockout though. Anyway, if you run across either at a con, grab them. I promise you they are fun and satisfying reads. Also I now need to get some of Rodi’s novels. Check out his site here.

The Batman: No Man’s Land stories have all been traded though I don’t think they are currently in print. DC is pretty good about rotating things back in print so keep your eyes open. I know that big event crossovers generally suck but this was different.

All of the Fantastic Four I have is available in trades, and a lot of it is in hardcover. Weird how the FF are such a red-headed stepchild to Marvel yet there is so much in the after-market for them. The John Byrne run can be found in dollar bins. To me, those were the tail end of Byrnes great art period, plus the stories were just right. Grab them!

Remember when EBay was a good source for cheapo comics? Not so much anymore huh? These days, Dollar Bins at conventions seem to be the best places to find back issues. At least once you wade through the 100 copies of The Brigade or some crap like that.

In other news, my LCS had their 18th birthday today! Hurray Heroes! They served birthday cake and punch and there was a squad of Stormtrooper's doing something. Those were some short chubby Stormtrooper’s. Dave (personable owner operator) had 18 percent of anything in the store so I snagged Essential Nova and some T-Shirts for Rob and Liz (Nothing cool for Frank though)

I am almost embarrassed to say that when I was a kid, besides Marvel Team Up and Marvel two in one, the ONLY Marvel I bought were Nova and Dazzler. I got into both mainly because I stumbled upon issue one of both series and ended up collecting for a couple years. They both got cancelled. But Nova and Dazzler will always have a special place in my heart. Looking back I know in my head they are terrible but through my childhood glasses they totally rock. I’m reluctant to pick up the new Nova series because I am scared it will be like messing with my childhood. I wish I still had my original issues.

Two things in comics that are bugging me have to do with DC. First of all, the new creative team on Supergirl is already being replaced. Sigh. How sad. That run really had some potential. I don’t know why Superman has all these rules for how he is portrayed in comics, yet Supergirl can be a teenage sex kitten. Frustrating. The other book I worry about is Robin. I was worried when I heard Adam Beechen was leaving. But now they say Fabian Nicieza is taking over. Uh oh. Worried! Nicieza is an ok writer but for me, he will always be associated with the horrible X-titles and the Marvel explosion of crap that immediately followed Heroes Reborn.

Ok I got off track there but let me hook up the old scanner and get to talking Longboxes…of love…

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Leadership and Podcasts...

I work for the IRS. I actually work the area that levies bank accounts and wages. We’re the people who send you the letters asking where your taxes are. I love my job. No seriously I do. A misconception about what the IRS does is that we go after the little guy. A discussion about the Earned Income Credit audits might end up with that resolution, but overall, in my part of the IRS, if you fail to file or pay your taxes, and you are honest with us about why and how you can get caught up, we will work with you and you won’t face any nasty levies or undo penalties. Try and cheat and hell yes we will come after you. Back in they day when I worked cases I did it. We decided some joker was just stalling and was never going to pay so I levied his bank and garnished his wages.

These days, I am a manager so I do not work cases anymore. But I still love what I do. Well as I briefly talk about in my profile, part of my job involves a yearly event we call the Leadership Conference. Basically all 140 or so managers who work in my building get together and celebrate the accomplishments of the past year. While we are at it, we hopefully get fired up for the coming year. The conference is a lot of hard work to organize.

Of course since we are the IRS, the event is not well financed. Basically HQ pays for the location but the rest is largely paid for out of whatever funds we can squeeze from our local budgets or straight out of the pockets of upper management. This means that most everything from designing the printed materials to making the decorations is done with a budget of zero. Where I come in is with the multimedia presentations.

I am no expert with making videos or PowerPoint’s, but I have some knowledge of creating presentations and I work for free. So in the weeks leading up to the conference, I work with the other managers making presentations that celebrate the work they have done and when the actual conference comes, I work the multimedia displays and the soundboard.

This year was quite frustrating as I had to deal with a TON of PowerPoint issues. What a lot of people don’t understand is that when you make a PowerPoint on your own computer, when you copy that presentation to the computer we use at the show, none of your music or fonts will be there. Not unless you get there ahead of time and install everything and adjust the file references in your PowerPoint. So half of the presentations we had were not fully functioning 24 hours before the show. Big headache since fixing them ate up hours of my time and basically eliminated any rehearsal time we may have had to run through the entire show before the big day. Very Frustrating!

Anyway, the main speaker at this year’s conference was a guy named Les Wallace.

He is a really well known speaker with a penchant for helping group’s breakthrough whatever barriers they are having with achieving success. He is what they call a dynamic speaker. Les was a lot of fun. As the multimedia sound guy, I got to spend a lot of time next to him and we exchanged little quips and bantered throughout the conference. He seems like a fun, smart, funny guy.

Problem. At the IRS, we have a culture of non-discrimination and all managers are hyper aware of the need to not use bad language or make any inappropriate comments. Les was 99 percent into this. But he did let a few bad words slip. I mean just a few and nothing major. But sure enough, as we looked at the feedback left by the people at the conference, the one complaint people did have was about the verbal slip ups.

The message is that no matter how mind blowing the content of something is, if you frame it in a certain way, some people will tune you out and never get anything out of what you are saying.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fresno, Fresno, oh how I love thee…

How did I end up in this place and what do I really think about it?

I was actually born in Los Angeles to a poor family who gave put me up for adoption. My Mom and Dad adopted me through an agency, and when I was 6 months old, I became an East Coaster. At first we lived in Willingborough, New Jersey but Dad worked for US Steel as a lead project manager, so we ended up moving quite a bit. We lived in Jamaica New York, Levittown Pennsylvania and finally ended up in Coram New York (Out in Suffolk County on Long Island).

My Dad worked on at least one famous project to people who live in the NYC area.

When I was 12, my first job ever was working in a comic book shop. How amazing is that? Peaking career wise at 12.

Anyhow, by the time I was thirteen, my Dad had passed on and my Mom decided that we should visit my Sister, who, at the time, was married to a Navy man and lived in someplace called Lemoore California.

This was Christmas 1982. For some reason, I packed two suitcases. One full of clothes and one full of my most treasured comic books. Knowing my Mom, I had a creeping feeling that she secretly wanted to move there. By this time, I had been living in New York for 8 or 9 years and I had zero desire to move to that wacky California. But once I thought about it, I could see the obvious advantages; I mean this is CALIFORNIA right? Beaches everywhere and the weather is always nice. Also, like most New Yorkers, I was sure tired of shoveling snow in the winter. So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

Well I learned very quickly that when people talk about California they really mean everything in California on the coast south of San Francisco. We flew into California via Fresno. The first thing I noticed from the airplane window was this:

Fog. Fresno was socked in. Lemoore is about 30 miles from Fresno and en route to Lemoore, I found out that in Fresno, there was a lot of this:

Rain. Fog and rain in the winters. At first I was ok with it since it sure beats snow, sleet, and ice. Of course then the summer came. The 110 degree summers. This was not the California I was promised! There were a lot of other things about the Central Valley that weirded me out:

Where are all the black people? When I went to school in New York, I would say one third of my class was Black, one third whitish, and one third Puerto Rican. My first class in Lemoore was entirely white except for a few Mexican kids. In my entire class there were 5 black kids. Fresno is more diverse than Lemoore. Fresno has large Asian and Mexican communities. Lemoore not so much. Homogenous. I also learned that Kings and Tulare counties were home to some large KKK branches. Yikes!

The schools have breezeways instead of hallways. I went to Longwood High School in New York. The school had a huge fence around it and we had security guards on premises. Also each teacher took a shift of hall patrol. At Lemoore High, the campus is totally open. The classrooms open to the outside and you walk across courtyards to get to your next class. You can also walk across the street to the little store or even hop in your car and drive to downtown for lunch. I felt so unsupervised!

People spit. I mean seriously. Lemoore is largely made of Navy personnel and farmers. The farmers spit. A lot. Even if they don’t chew tobacco (which a lot of them did) they spit. Little puddles everywhere. For a polite Italian Catholic boy, I was grossed out most of the day.

Lemoore High School had a paddling policy. Yes paddling. If you got in trouble, you could take detention, suspension of a whack across the ass with a wooden board. When I heard this I was totally amazed. In New York, if a teacher touched a kid and it was a huge scandal.

There once was a six car traffic jam on one of the main streets because tumbleweeds were blowing across the road.

So High School was a big change in culture for me. I was known as the city kid. I survived and went to the local community college. I graduated, got a job at the IRS, and moved to Fresno (long story short there but this is running long). Fresno is definitely an upgrade from Lemoore. As I said Fresno is much more culturally diverse. If you live in Los Angeles, San Francisco or any other major city, Fresno is always going to be Smallville. This despite the fact that Fresno is the 36th largest City in the U.S without counting Clovis, Fresno’s attached little brother city. So Fresno is a larger city than Cleveland, Miami, Oakland, St. Louis, Pittsburg and Newark. We have no professional sports teams here. We for have a minor league Arena Football team though! Go Coyote’s!

Everything in Fresno revolves around the weather. Seriously. The summers here are murder. In New York the summer got hot for sure, but it occasionally rained. Here, sometime in May or June, the temperature goes over 100 degrees and stays there through September. Even at night, it sometimes does not go below 90. And no rain. Twenty years ago, Fresno had a rainy season that ran all winter. Not so much anymore. We have been in a drought for over a decade. So now, our winters are dry but bitter cold and foggy. In other words, Fresno weather is nothing like the California most people dream of. This tends to mean that people stay indoors a lot. There really are not a lot of outdoor geared attractions. We have a Zoo which is small. We have very few parks.

I know I have been sort of down on the Central Valley up to this point but seriously, I love Fresno. Sure the weather is a challenge. Sure there is a lot of backwards thinking individuals around here. We call Fresno a little bit of Oklahoma surrounded by California. Hell we have multiple rodeos.

But for me, Fresno is a great mix of small town coziness with a little big city attitude. The people are pretty friendly. The streets are easy to get around. The graffiti team keeps the place from getting too ghetto. We have Alan Autry for a mayor! Bubba!

He’s buddy with the governor so we get plenty of love from the Govenator.

The cost of living is the big draw for Fresno. The cost of living in the Los Angeles or the San Francisco area is just amazing. Rents for small apartments can be $1500. So a lot of people buy houses here in Fresno and commute the 180 miles every day to the big cities. It is actually cheaper than living in those cities. For 1500 you could rent a house here. Plus as you can see, it’s about three hours to Los Angeles or San Francisco, 4 hours to Lake Tahoe and about an hour to Yosemite. Great location! It makes it easy to plan a day trip for fun.

We only have one decent comic shop but at least it’s an awesome one.

So yes, this displaced New Yorker is living and loving his new hometown. Stop by for a spell but dress in layers! And bring a sports team of two please…

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Jesse Custer: Man's Man

This is the first in a new series about the manly men of comics. To get things started, let’s discuss one of my favorite books of all time.

Ah...Preacher. This was before Garth Ennis attained Godlike status in the fanboy world. This is also the pre any-gay-joke-is-a-funny-gay-joke Ennis. The one sentence describing Preacher would probably be

“A preacher from Texas becomes the host of a superpowerful spirit born of and angel and a devil, who goes on a quest to find God.” Like so many great works, any brief description does not do the series justice. Preacher features kick-ass action, rich character development, and an ending that is less about finding God than finding the value of friendship and love. Yes I said ending. Preacher has a run of almost 70 issues but eventually ended in an incredibly satisfying manner.

The main character is Jesse Custer. Despite being an actual preacher, he has some serious anger issues.

We find out more about why in later issue. One day when he is particularly not feeling the whole God thing, he is invested with a powerful spirit.

This spirit gives him a superpower. He can, at will, use the “Word of God” and compel anyone who hears it to do as he says. Sort of like a hyper version of Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso. Suprisingly, despite having this power, Jesse Custer uses it very rarely. Jesse Custer is more about the fisticuffs than the word of God.

He can take it.

And he can dish it out.

You can also tell he is a badass by the company he keeps. Jesse’s best friend is a Vampire.

His girlfriend is tough as nails

His “Fairy Godfather” is John Wayne

And check out his rocking cigarette lighter

Jesse never met a brawl he didn’t like,

But he has a sensitive side. Take this scene.

Trust me, it is out of context here but it was easily one of the most poignant moments in the entire series. He is ordering his vampire buddy Cassidy to let go of him as he dangles from an airplane high above the Arizona desert, thus saving Cassidy but ensuring his own doom. (How he survives the fall is a really cool story in itself)

In the end, Jesse Custer proves you don’t need superpowers to be a badass. Just tenacity and a real enjoyment of the ultraviolence.

Jesse Custer: Mans Man Indeed!