Monday, June 30, 2008

Three Hours at Wizard

Saturday, I had to go into work for a couple of hours. When I got done it was a little past one, and Maggie was at work until six. So I drove the two miles up the road - literally - to the Wizard World Chicago convention.

I had gone to Wizard once before, a few years ago, and hadn't really enjoyed it. But one of my artists had said she was going to be in Artists' Alley at a con (Kitty from Kitty's Tavern) and I was going to miss San Diego this year... so I thought I'd give it a try.

Let me state, unequivacally, that this is not San Diego. At all.

By the time I arrived most everyone had already gone inside - and quite a few were leaving already, which didn't give me much hope. The registration tables were buried under mounds of junk - literally - so I just went up to the registration booth and got a badge and a bag.

With one set of Magic cards. No program book, no guide. They were out.

And they still had Saturday and all of Sunday to go. Brrr.

I decided that if I only had a few hours, I'd like to meet Kitty at her booth and say hello. This was complicated bythe fact that I had no idea what she looked like, and more importantly her name isn't really Kitty. No more than mine is KC, I guess.

This would have been good to know. :)

Now, the one advantage I think Wizard has over San Diego? That I could see, any way?

Artists' Alley is HUGE. Takes up about a third of the convention hall. There must have been two, three hundred artists there. I mean, I was shocked. Maybe they couldn't get a lot of dealers or something, or maybe they hold the artists a little higher than San Diego, or maybe they just put them on the main floor without thinking, but MAN, there were a lot of artists!

Me, being Captain Observant, didn't know this at first so I started in the back of the room. I moved pretty swiftly, stopping to say hi to artists I knew from Ebay (about five of them, I'd used) and wondering why all these talented folks were NOT on Ebay (there were a number of really good artists there - had I planned better I could have gotten Americana pics) and a lot of concepts that never made it to my store.

I finally found Kitty up near the front, found out her name wasn't even remotely Kitty in the first place, got a copy of the comics she had illustrated (that were kind of bleah but she just illustrated them), chatted a little bit about a 3-D Americana she's doing for me (okay, that she's hinted at wanting to do for me for so long I finally said yes) and -

I had about an hour left. I decided I wasn't going to go back to some of the places I passed (looking at all the name badges on the floor - yes, on the floor - to see if maybe one of them was the gal I was looking for) but I had seen about five other guys I'd used and several more I recognized and it was fun to see what they looked like (normal, every one of them! :) ) and I got some nice complements on the new site (so they ARE looking at it - cool!).

I walked around and looked at some of the booths and got some lightsabres for my nephews and some comic art boards for me to draw on... and then got out of there.

Yeah, there were Alex Ross Art and DC and Marvel and Image booths, but there didn't really seem to be much going on there. I assume they had some rooms for panels but they had to have been really small because I walked through half the convention center without seeing a soul.

The actual convention was nicely crowded, though I never had a problem moving through aisles or anything, and the retail booths were kind of... sporadic, I guess. I didn't see any guests, the autograph tables were empty... in the middle of Saturday afternoon?

I enjoyed checking it out and meeting people, but having paid twenty five for admission and eleven for parking, that's a lot for three hours of basically buying stuff. A couple people I spoke with said it was pretty slow, bad for them, good for me.

So, no, it wasn't San Diego, not even approaching San Diego. Maybe the old, old San Diego, when the hotels were ancient and sometimes not air-conditioned, the tattoo parlors open, the con was at the old Convention Center and you stayed up all night playing games.

There was no sense of excitement, really. No Transformers tractor trailers, or Image rocketships, or DC big booth gatherings.

Okay, so there were no five dollar hot dogs and long lines, either, so I guess it's a wash.

It's a nice local con, maybe a bit bigger than most, but with most of the same stuff (just more of it!). A very VERY nice Artists' Alley, though - if I return in the future I'm going to get some drawings done.

And above all, very nice people to strike up conversations with... which is what I enjoy most at cons, now, anyway. I met a half-dozen people who I had only known through email, got lightsabres for five bucks each (NO, they're not authentic - think the kids will care? :) ) and had a fun couple of hours.

I guess the convention bug never really leaves you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I can't believe I'm saying this, but...

I have come to the realization that I just don't like most superhero movies.

No matter how good they are (Superman I and II) or how pathetic (Daredevil, Catwoman) they can never measure up to what's inside my head.

Don't get me wrong - I'm certainly not saying that my ideas are any better than anyone else's. They're not.

But when I read comics, those characters exist in their own little comic book worlds and interact with comic book physics (Reality is, Batman can NOT kick someone in an arc clear across a room, Spider-Man should have some place to attach his web to before swinging).

In old Marvel comics, people would talk for several paragraphs while they were in the middle of a fight. Heck, if a panel captures a moment in time, they should be limited to a few words, at most!

But not only do I accept that, I enjoy it. I'm not conscious of it, but as I read from panel to panel I just take it all in and fill in the spots in between panels. Not to some ludicrous extreme (Batman eats breakfast, Batman shaves, Batman reads the paper, Batman uses the john...) but enough so that I get the feeling that the writer and/or artist is trying to convey.

Comic book heroes in movies... well, they kind of miss the point.

Costumed heroes work best in their own worlds. No matter if you build the world's best supersuit (Iron Man, Batman) or sort of sexiest costume (Elektra) or just do it like the comics (Superman, Spider-Man) you either have to make the city the darkest city ever (don't they know about lights or moonlight even?!) or change the characters so much (Wanted) that most people don't realize they're comic book characters.

Often they change characters' costumes to look more "realistic". In Batman that's a necessity, but the characters were still identifable (though Catwoman didn't need all the stitches - any idiot can get a spandex suit with no stitches, why can't Catwoman?)

In Mortal Kombat, they threw a lot of the outfits out the window. Why not let us see those goofs in their spandex? Sure, no one goes around wearing leotards, but at least then we'd know we're in a comic book movie!

Ever notice how most of the really "good" comic book movies are origin stories? Why can't anyone come up with a story that isn't an origin? (OK, so there's The Dark Knight).

Virtually every comic book movie has its goofball points - some more than others. Spider-Man - not only can't I believe a guy can move like that (fake!), the swinging bit proved the movie makers needed more physics lessons. Superman Returns - and does what, fights normal guy Lex Luthor again?! Hulk - big cartoonie CGI guy with a too-small head.

And I can like these movies for what they are, I suppose. I liked Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Superman II, Batman Begins, well enough. Even Flash Gordon, I suppose.

But the vast majority are el stinko. Supergirl. Masters of the Universe. Daredevil. Elektra. Catwoman. Street Fighter. The Phantom. Buck Rogers. ANY of which you could make a great movie out of, if only you weren't so afraid of offending the public or offputting a segment of the moviegoers or some such crap.

If you are going to make a comic book movie, for gosh sakes why not make it like the comics?

The Rocketeer. Geez, I love the Rocketeer. Not that there was all that much story to adapt but they did a great job, made a fun movie and that was semi-realistic to boot.

Batman, with Michael Keaton. Sure, there are a few goofball things (like the Joker's gun) but that was pretty much a good comic-book movie.

Of course, I do realize that my dislike of most of these movies could come from the point that I'm just getting old.

Don't buy it.

It isn't particularly hard in coming up with a comic book story. It is a little harder when you actually have to think it through and write the ending first (otherwise, how do you know when you're on track? basic!). So I do have sympathy for the movie writers who have to put up with constant changes and all that.

It's not their fault that, even with CGI, their movies will often fall short to what my imagination says they could have been.

But come on.

I certainly don't have a unique grasp on imagination. You all do - you're part of a comic book roleplaying game group, sometimes more than one at once! Your various stories and tales betray that you too have an immense imagination!

And I have no doubt you could write a better comic book movie - because it would BE a comic book movie.

I guess I am becoming... well, not cynical, but for ten dollars I want something resembling the comic books the characters were taken from (like Iron Man having SHIELD agents with unidirectional explosives ((I remember Jasper Sitwell using that on Iron Man in the comics!)) and that big comic-booky energy source! Cool!).

And of course, some movies I will see just because they feature Batman, or the Spirit, regardless of how good they are.

I don't want there to be an Avengers or a JLA movie... because the chances of them messing it up become just too high.


Maybe I am just getting too old to expect much.

But while they can improve the costumes, the machines, the CGI, the fights... is it too much to ask that they improve the story too?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

daht dah dahhhhhh DAH....

I arrived in San Jose in the middle of a slight heat wave - about 104, give or take. I really wasn't bothered by it but the neices and nephews were, and were already planning to go to a movie.

They had already seen Kung Fu Panda, which seemed to be a good film for ten kids aged 3-16 (many more toward the lower end of the scale) to see.

They had also seen Iron Man, which though I liked it is in no WAY a movie for kids. Covering up their eyes was one parent's action, another wisely walked out (come on , three and five year olds seeing the first part of that movie? Unh, uh.)

So, this time they all decided to see Get Smart.


It's not a movie for kids, either - though mostly because of language and a few off-color references.

Which is funny, in a way, because the kids were laughing and giggling the whole way through the film. I found most of the jokes were sophomoric and the movie rather juvenile.

But you know what? By the second half of the movie, with most of the dumber jokes out of the way, it turned into a fairly decent movie. Pretty good action sequences. For a Get Smart movie.

I think that it's a movie based on a 1960s TV show that was made so people born in the 90s can enjoy it. Those of us who are older?


May I recommend Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.

Seriously. I hadn't even heard of this film but went on friends' recommendations, and found it every bit as delightful and entertaining as they had.

Set in London on the eve of WWII, unemployable Miss Pettigrew intercepts an agency request for a housekeeper and is drawn into a web of clever relationships, always on the outside looking in. Poignant.

It's rentable (my definition for movies that don't require scope - like Indiana Jones - to make their point, and can be watched comfortably on television), and is much, MUCH better than I make it sound.

If you liked Thank You For Smoking, you'll like this one too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Lacrosse...


This will be short.

Lacrosse is basically ice hockey on land, without the speedy skating.

You throw the ball from netted stick to netted stick, then toss it in the goal. The ball can be hurled with wicked speed, allowing for some interesting plays.

I've watched a few Buffalo Bandits and Chicago Shamrox games. One of my brother in laws was captain at Holy Cross. A number of my relatives' kids play the game.

Y'know, it's just... missing something. Looks too much like a club sport at a local college. Fun and all, but plays like something a bunch of kids made up after one too many drinks.

I kind of admire the way these athletes run and throw and catch. I do.

And when I'm in the mood to go to a game, every other year or so, I guess it is kind of fun.

But no matter how many times my nephews try to get me interested in their games, I have to pass.

To me the game is like soccer - I don't get it and probably never will.

On Soccer...


Don't have all that much to say on soccer.

The rest of the world seems to be really engrossed in soccer.

Can't really see why.

I mean, lacrosse is more interesting than soccer, and I can only take so much lacrosse.

Proponents of soccer will point out how popular it is among children.

I will point out that that's because the coordination to kick a ball is just a few steps past walking, and is nothing compared to just about any sport you can name, including ping pong.

I suppose it does get tougher as you get older - people run into you that much harder, at any rate.

Look at how many saves goalies make. That is one huge ball.

Look at the scores - one, two goals for all that running around?

Oh, I know why soccer's so popular overseas. It's that everyone knows that practically anyone can kick a ball. They know they could play the game, if they just got in shape and ran a few miles. I can do that. It's a popular thought.

Maybe not an accurate thought, but popular...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On baseball teams - my favorites

Ah, the more observant among you have certainly noticed the plural in that heading... and are probably thinking, what gives?

Truth to tell, my favorite baseball team of all time has to be the Chicago Cubs.

But there have been others.

My first ballgame was a double header at Fenway, only I was far too young to remember it (2 months). It would be thirty years before I returned to that park but I've always felt a little soemthing for my first team (and first ballcap, and first piggy bank). I'll root for the Red Sox if they are not playing one of my other favorites.

In Syracuse, where I grew up, we only had a minor league team, the Chiefs, who were a farm team of the Yankees. For some reason I liked the Reds instead, who were about as far away as New York City was and they had Johnny Bench. I loved Johnny Bench.

When we moved to Buffalo, I continued liking the Reds, but the new cable company brought the Cubs into my life, and I always rooted for the Cubs. Even against the Reds.

Next we moved to California, in the last part of 11th grade for me. I took to the hometown Giants, but not really. I still liked the Cubs, and still could watch them on cable. They often sucked, but they were my Cubbies.

Moved to Sacramento, rode in the bus convoy to the Bay to press for a team of our own. Still have the shirt - Sacramento's March on Baseball!

Didn't work.

Off to Buffalo again, where I fell in love with our ballpark and our team. the park had been built almost across the street from my office, and was designed to be expandable if we got a ball team (they went to Toronto instead). It was a terrific park, well-designed, without a bad seat in the house. We'd often go over and watch a few innings at lunch, have a fried bologna and a Labatt's , then head back to work. I'd go over about once a week during the summer, and saw many games. They won often, too, conquering the International League and then another league season after season.

Then, of course, I moved to Chicago, home of the Cubs!

Unlike a lot of my fellow fans, I don't have any hatred for the White Sox (though when they won the Series, I couldn't get up for that any more than if they had been, say, Tampa). I've even been to a few games, and will gladly root them on so long as they're not playing the Cubs.

Truth to tell, there are a lot of teams I'll choose over others, for what may seem the oddest of reasons.

Pittsburgh Pirates, because of Roberto Clemente. Died in a plane crash flying relief to earthquake victims in Nicaraqua. Made quite an impression on me as a kid.

Cincinnati Reds, because of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine. Just... cool.

Boston Red Sox, because of Carl Yastrzemski. My Dad went to school with Yaz at Notre Dame for a year, and that's good enough for me. :)

Cleveland Indians, because they were the prent team for the Bisons and I saw a lot of guys get called up. Not so much anymore because I don't follow the Bisons anymore.

Chicago Cubs - my all-time favorite bunch of loveable losers who actually are having a pretty good game this year. Waiting for the eventual breakdown, but it's fun while it lasts.

I don't really have any teams I hate - or even much dislike. I root against the Cardinals, even though they're a good team, because of the threat to the Cubs' standings, but I kind of like those guys... who couldn't like Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang?

I root FOR teams, not against them - in baseball, at any rate.

Who knows? It's the nature of the game.

On Baseball - and thinking

Baseball is...

Well, it's magnificent, really.

It's a game I grew up playing (not very well because my eyesight was TERRIBLE) in Camillus NY, in a league where we had different color hats. No logos, just hats.

Everyone in my neighborhood played on teams, and we didn't divvy them up by age. Twelve year olds pitched to seven year olds. Which is tougher than it sounds.

We played down behind the Sylvania Electric building, on an uneven field our fathers got together to mow (and occasionally plow the rocks out of). Our backstop was logs, inserted more or less straight up in the ground, with chicken wire draped between them.

The field was on the flat part of a hill, and I still recall my father driving the entire team down the hill on his Maverick (and later, Gremlin). The entire team.

Um, yeah, a little dangerous.

Then after each game we'd take a long drive up, up into the hills to the Model T Market, where they sold Pennsylvania Dutch brand birch beer in cold cans, and then cruise down the hill with the motor off to save on gas.

We'd play catch in the front yard and have ballgames in Al Lynch's backyard (which had the only flat stretch for ten blocks - Syracuse had BIG hills). We'd collect baseball cards - hundreds upon hundreds of cards - and put the duplicates in our bike wheels.

We'd watch the games on television - I distinctly remember stringing together power cords so we could watch Johnny Bench and the Reds out in our backyard tent.

And I remember my Dad driving half the team to Cooperstown. The Baseball Hall of Fame. Heaven. (We got our pictures taken and published in the Maryknoll magazine - still have a copy, actually. Though what the Maryknoll Fathers had to do with the Hall of Fame I'm still not clear on).

We'd occasionally go to Syracuse Chiefs games out at the old and rickety P&C Park (named for a grocery chain) and watch the fireworks afterwards. We even went on July 4th one time and I remember they had spinners and pictures outlined in fireworks on the outfield walls.

This was baseball to me.

A grand and glorious game, where failure to shift left could prove disastrous, where you remembered who could hit your pitcher's curveball and who couldn't, where the placement of lefties in the order could spell victory or defeat.

Watching my young soon-to-be-nephew's team play, is both charming and annoying. annoying, mainly because they are getting a little too old to be playing just hit and run. They don't think, which is pretty easy to do in the heat of the game, I guess.

You field differently if there is only one out, or two. You field differently if there are men on base and no outs, or no one on and one out. You don't always throw to first base, in other words.

You have to know whether to bunt up third or up first (again, depending upon whether you are sacrificing to move a runner and what base he's on) or hit left of center or to right field.

If you are on base, and someone hits a pop fly, depending upon where it is and who's going after it, you either prepare to run or stay on base. And that depends a lot on what base you are standing on, if your team is losing or winning...

Baseball, my father drilled into us, is a thinking man's game.

Sure. Now, I know where the throw's going - or supposed to go - the minute the ball is hit. But surprisingly, not only do kids not know these things but adults. I played in the Ad League in Buffalo, and you wouldn't believe the goofball decisions some people made - not because they were stupid but because they treated the game as simply hitting the ball and running.

That isn't it. Not by a long shot.

I think the beauty of baseball is that, given you understand the rules and logic behind the game, it's fairly easy to pick up on a lot of the game just by watching for awhile. If there are runners on first and second and only one out, and the ball is hit toward third, you aren't gonna see too many throws to first.

Baseball rewards thinkers. A team that plays to the top of their game will beat a "better" team eight times out of ten.

That said, you still have to hit a tiny sphere coming at you at 90 mph with a thin bat while the crowd yells, then run ninety feet while the fielder has to run to the ball, grab it and throw it without error to the same base.

Seeing how close the runner and the ball usually arrive, I am amazed at the perfection of the field. Think of it. If the runner only had to go, say, eighty feet, he'd beat the throw nearly all the time. If 100 feet, the throw would beat him.

Same with the pitching distance. Shorten it, and the batter couldn't react in time and would have to resort to guessing where the pitch would be. Lengthen it, and more batters would hit more often.

And the fields are similar, yet have their own differences and charms. Not the stadiums, the fields. Playing at Wrigley is a lot different than playing at Yankee Stdium or Fenway or Tiger Stadium.

In what other sport do they change the dimensions of the fields from stadium to stadium?
Can't think of one.

Grab a hot dog and a beer - they're better at the ballpark.

So. Baseball is...

Just a magnificent way to spend an afternoon.

Okay, so long as we're on sports... hockey!

OK, so long as we're on sports, I thought I'd say a few words about one of my favorites - ice hockey.

I suppose I first caught hockey fever in Buffalo. I lived there during my impressionable teen years and there was nothing bigger in town than the Buffalo Sabres.

First day of school, teachers and students wore SabreJaks (special blue and gold jackets from Penney's with the Sabres emblem on them) and had hockey-stick pens at the ready. I remember seeing Mrs. Levine, my-formerly-ancient math teacher, down at one of the games and instantly she changed in my eyes to pretty-darn-cool math teacher. Mr Kohler, my science teacher, wore a Sabres sweater after every win.

And I had won an autographed hockey stick from the new cable company in town, with signatures by Robert, Martin, Pierre and others! (Though I never had a SabreJak or hockey stick pens - we were a little tight on money in those days)

Buffalo was a hockey town - and Memorial Auditorium was our home.

And I grew to really really dislike the Philadelphia Flyers (hate being too strong a word).

Then, we moved.

To California. Just outside San Jose.

There were no San Jose Sharks in those days. There was no hockey within several hundred miles. And watching hockey on TV, even when you could get it, was just not that much fun anymore.

So, I kind of fell away.

Twenty odd years later, I was back in Buffalo. Working just down the street from the brand spanking new Marine Midland Arena. I mean, three blocks down the street, the Buffalo Sabres skated - and two blocks in another direction, the Buffalo Bisons played baseball. Two blocks the other way, was Canada.

Wonderful times.

The best was when I got to have first row seats behind the glass. Let me tell you, it's a whole different game. Man, that was awesome!

Then I moved to Chicago.

And fell away again.

Wait a minute, you say. Don't you have the Chicago Blackhawks? The Chicago Wolves?

Well, yes... but the owner of the Hawks had decided that no games would be seen on TV, to avoid killing attendance (as opposed to the Sabres, whose every game was on TV).

Well, having had that little rule in place for the last twenty years killed hockey in this town. Seating prices went up, attendance fell to pathetic levels. The Chicago Wolves appeared (minor league hockey) and even won a couple of championships (like this year! Yay!) but for the most part hockey was dead.

Then, this year, the owner died.

His son took over the team operations. We had little hope.

Oh, ye of little hope - rejoice!

The new owner went to town. He brought in fresh young players, he lowered ticket prices, he brought in hockey men to run the team itself, he put all 84 games ON TELEVISION! He brought back the Hawks' 25 year announcer, who the last regime had fired, and brought back former stars into the fold and showered them with respect and actually LET THEM MAKE DECISIONS HE HAD NO BUSINESS MAKING.

AND he signed on the biggest station in town, WGN, to carry all the games on radio! The station's been going nuts, playing the old "Here come the Hawks" songs and hockey goal horn sounds before announcements -

This town is hockey crazy again!

A year and a half after it was practically dead in the water, this city is looking forward to hockey like it looks forward to football! Unbelievable! Even I'm looking to get tickets to some games!

It's not just me getting excited. It's the whole city.

Amazing what one man can do, isn't it?

Oh, I almost forgot. New Year's Day, Maggie and I curled up on the couch and watched the Buffalo Sabres play OUTDOORS - in a snowstorm, in twenty degree weather. Over 82,000 people showed up to watch.

See, in Buffalo, we actually go out in the winter. :) Friggin' Chicago wimps complain if there's more than a few inches on the ground. Constantly. Learn what real snowfall is, ya wusses. :)

And next season? The second NHL outdoor game is gonna be held -

In Chicago.

You bet I'm going to go!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Basketball and the Celtics

The NBA Finals are on tonight.

And part of me wants the Celtics to win.

After all, I suppose I have been a Celtics fan since I lived in Boston. I have the nice Celtics ski sweater, the hat...

But I'm really not a fan.

I don't particularly like basketball.

It's too easy to score, and let's face it, teams don't even start playing until there's 2 minutes on the clock. Whcih means half an hour in real time.

Two minute games - now there would be something to watch. Plus the entire season could be done in about two weeks, three tops.

I suppose my ambivalence about the game stems from not really understanding it.

Football, I understand enough to get by. Baseball, I'm a student of the game. Heck, even ice hockey, I get the rules for.

Basketball? Not so much. I mean, travelling, that should be a simple call, right? So why don't they call it?

If you aren't going to call a penalty, fine... but take it out of the rules.

When is it charging, when is it obstruction? When do they tip off and when do they just get the ball?

It seems to change every darn time.

I can enjoy it, live. I do enjoy it live - Sacramento, Syracuse, St Bonneventure, Niagara, Buffalo (college and Braves), Chicago, Northwestern. I've tried them all. I just can't get the hang of basketball, I guess.

But I still am pulling for the Celtics.

I can't stand LA anything :)

Er... except Disney. Maybe Universal. That's about it. :)

Guess I'm Going to Get Started


Well, as my title says, I guess I'm going to get started with this "blog" business.

Truth to tell I'm not entirely certain I have anything to say just yet - at least, anything reasonably interesting.

I did go to Milwaukee last weekend for a baseball game. Miller Park is nice, really, a great spot to watch a game.

Yet it's also too... I don't know, too "newish", I guess.

The dome overhead just does not belong for baseball - baseball is a game that's played outdoors. Period. With the dome open, well...

All the windows - windows at a ballpark? The ten foot strip of electronic ads? The slide in left field for the guy with the baseball head? Uhh, no.

What's funny is that it's a big league park that acts like a minor league park. Guys dress up in sausage costumes and race around the field, kids take the field before the game, four different people throw out the first pitches, there's the Roadrunner on a sign in center. And that goofy guy with a baseball for a head who slides down the slide in left for no good reason that I can tell.

Don't get me wrong - I love minor league parks. I happen to think that the Buffalo Bisons had one of the best parks in the country (baseball mags agree) but we have the Schaumburg Flyers and the Kane County Cougars and the Joliet Jackhammers around here, and I like their games just fine. I grew up on the Syracuse Chiefs (now SkyChiefs, whatever that means).

It's just that those are small parks - perfectly proportioned to hold a few oddball elements (like Buster Bison - odd mascot!). But Milwaukee's park is FULL of these weird oddities (there are many many more). It's just another world from Wrigley or Commiskey or Shea.


Milwaukee beat the Twins, by the way.