Two Cats and a Turtle, Part Three

Even though we now had two cats, Nettie and Squeaky, my girlfriend also wanted to get a pet turtle.  At first, I could not see the point.  In my mind, a turtle would not be far removed from fish, in that you really cannot interact with them.  But she was insistent.

She contacted someone on Craig’s List who had to give their turtle away because their new job required them to be on the road most of the time.  This guy dropped off the turtle, along with a tank, filter, and sun lamp.  It turned out it was an aquatic turtle, which meant that the tank and filter needed cleaning about once a week, and the turtle required fresh water regularly.  At first I was not thrilled, because this seemed like a lot of work to me.

The guy had named the turtle Meeshee.  My girlfriend came up with the idea of giving the turtle the last name Gamera.  Yes, like the giant Japanese movie monster.  So that is how Meeshee Gamera came to live with us.

We were told that Meeshee was a female.  It had something to do with the size of her tail, which was how you could tell.  I was a bit skeptical until one day she laid an egg.  Okay, yep, definitely a girl!

Meeshee Gamera

Anyway, gradually Meeshee Gamera grew on me.  Yeah, it can be a pain to clean that tank.  But Meeshee is such a pretty turtle.  And she really has personality.  When we are cleaning her tank, we let her walk around the apartment.  And she can be really fast!  She runs all over the place.  So much for the myth that all turtles are slow.  The two cats react to Meeshee in different ways.  Nettie usually observes her curiously, and my girlfriend jokes that the cat is supervising me while I’m cleaning the tank.  Squeaky, on the other hand, will always run away the instant Meeshee starts walking in her direction.  Meeshee also knows how to let you know when she was angry.  She lest out this loud hissing noise if you picked her up.  And she has a very sharp beak to bite with.

My girlfriend read somewhere that you could feed hot dogs to turtles.  It sounded really crazy to me.  But she insisted, and boiled a hot dog, chopping it up into tiny bits.  We started hand-feeding Meeshee, and she loved it.  She would put one flipper on her rock, the other on the side of the tank, pull herself up, stretching out her neck, snapping for the food with her mouth.  Like I said, Meeshee had that sharp beak, so you have to be very careful not to have your finger chomped on along with the hot dog!

I don’t know if it was the chemicals they put in those hot dogs, or if it’s just normal for a turtle, but Meeshee really grew.  We had to get her a bigger tank and a larger rock so she would have room to swim and to lie out and catch rays from the sun lamp.  That seems to be her favorite activity, getting a sun tan.

Meeshee Gamera in the park

During the warm summer months, we sometimes take Meeshee outside to a nearby park.  She loves walking around in the grass.  Once, she even started climbing a fence.  Another time, Meeshee tried to crawl under a fence onto the railroad tracks on the other side.  I was on the ground, struggling to hold on to her as she thrashed about, digging into me with her sharp claws, trying to keep her from getting all the way through that hole.  For a minute, I was genuinely afraid I was going to lose her.  Now, when we take her to the park, we keep a very close eye on her.

As I said, Meeshee grew on me, and nowadays I cannot imagine not having her living with us.  She is as much one of my babies as Nettie and Squeaky are.  Oh, wow, that sounds soooooo sappy!  This whole series of blogs about Cats and Turtles no doubt seems overly sentimental.  But all I can say is that a pet really can help to brighten up your life and help you be a happier, more positive person.

If you would like to view more photos of Nettie, Squeaky, and Meeshee Gamera, go to my Pets set on Flickr…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bh123/sets/72157612736536250/

Thank you for taking a look.  I hope you enjoyed these blogs and photos.  If you have any pet stories you’d like to share, please let me know.  I would certainly enjoy reading your blogs.

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Two Cats and a Turtle, Part Two

Right after my girlfriend and I moved into our second apartment, in June 2009, we took in another cat.  This one was already at least five years old.  She had been living in a home that had contained too many animals: seven cats, two dogs, several reptiles, a couple dozen birds, and a few other things I’m probably forgetting!  This poor cat was constantly getting beaten up by the other cats, and apparently spent most of her time hiding behind a radiator.  Every time she tried to come out for food, the other cats would pounce on her.  Since we only had one cat, Nettie, we had more than enough room for a second.  And we did not want Nettie to be lonely.

This new cat was very shy, and got startled extremely easily.  I remember the first day we had her, she fled behind the radiator in our apartment, and I had so much trouble getting her out.  After that, she spent most of her time hiding in the closet, and my girlfriend had to bring food to her in there.

The strange thing about the new cat was that she never had been given a proper name.  The previous owner had just referred to her as “Kitten,” and kept doing that, even though, as I said, she was now several years old.  We decided she needed a real name.  Because she sounded like she was squeaking when she would meow, we finally decided to name her Squeaky.

Squeaky

We soon learned that one of the reasons why Squeaky kept hiding in the closet had nothing to do with her being afraid.  In fact, she was in pain.  When we took Squeaky to the vet, we were told that half of her teeth had become rotten with cavities and infections.  Even though it cost almost a thousand dollars, we had her bad teeth removed.  After that, Squeaky was like a new cat.  She no longer hid in the closet, but would casually roam about the apartment.

Squeaky is a black & white tuxedo cat.  Since we got her, her fur has become very shiny, and her eyes brighter.  They are now these deep, soulful pools of green.  Sometimes, looking into her eyes, I get a feeling of peace and serenity.

Squeaky is, as my girlfriend says, a bit of a misfit cat.  During breakfast and dinner, Squeaky gobbles down her food, probably because for so long, back in her old home, it was always being stolen from her.  She started out as a skinny little thing when she moved in, but now she has quite a belly on her.  My girlfriend observed “A round cat is a happy cat.”  If that’s true, then Squeaky must be very happy indeed!  (As I type this, Squeaky is by my feet, meowing sadly for food, even though dinner time is more than an hour away.  She can be very persistent!)

Also, it took her a while to get used to Nettie.  Since Nettie had been an only cat for most of her kitten-hood, she never had anyone to play with.  She would try to play with Squeaky by wrestling with her, but Squeaky, who was so used to being beaten up in the past that she thought Nettie was attacking her, and she would flee.

That said, over time the two of them have grown closer together, and they can often be seen cuddling together, sleeping next to each other, or grooming one another.  The funny thing is, if you happen to spot them doing that, and they notice you, they appear to get embarrassed and will quickly move apart.

Squeaky and Nettie cuddling on the bed

Squeaky appears to be very happy in her new home.  I know she appreciates being able to take a long nap without being disturbed or harassed.  She is still skittish, though.  Loud noises easily startle her.  Also, she seems to be afraid of tall people looming over her.  I’m six foot two inches, and when I’m walking in Squeaky’s direction, she will often run.  However, if I’m sitting down or lying in bed, she’ll come right up to me, looking to be petted, or to have her tummy rubbed.  When I’m watching television, she’s often curled up in my lap.  I like to call her my TV buddy.

I’m glad we were able to give Squeaky a good home.  Having said that, I’m still not sure what she thinks of the turtle we later got.  But I’ll tell you all about Meeshee Gamera, the red-eared slider with an attitude, next time.

Two Cats and a Turtle, Part One

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted a pet; a cat or a dog.  My parents, who already had three children, me and my two younger sisters, most likely did not want the extra responsibility of having to take care of an animal.

After years of pleading with them, my parents finally gave in… sort of.  They got a fish tank.  To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  I know they meant well, but I just could not relate to a bunch of little fish swimming back and forth in a tank of water.  There was no way to interact with them; they literally existed in their own world, apparently unaware that I existed.  And they kept dying off!  My parents would buy a cool-looking fish and, nine times out of ten, it would be belly up in the water within a week.  Eventually they all died off, one by one, and we put the fish tank away permanently.

Years later, when I was in my twenties, I was having lunch out with my mother.  She made a startling confession to me.  She said that she finally realized that I had been very lonely as a child, and maybe it would have been the right thing to let me have a pet after all.  But, of course, by now I was living on my own, so it was moot.  Somehow, I still ended up in an apartment building that didn’t allow pets, though.

Fast forwards several years, and I’m now living in Queens, dating a wonderful girl.  After several months, we decided to move in together.  She had had cats as pets ever since she was a little girl, so she was very receptive to the idea of us having one together.  She had previously rescued a cat from the street and given her to a friend.  That cat was now pregnant with a litter.  And so, a short time later, in January 2009, a fluffy little two month old kitten came into our lives.  She was so adorably cute.  I remember how she fit in the palm of my hand.  That first night, the kitten cuddled up to me in bed, and I remember being afraid I was going to roll over in my sleep and squash her!

Nettie as a kitten

My girlfriend decided to name the kitten Netzach, which is Hebrew for victory or endurance.  I came up with a nickname, Nettie.  I was so thrilled to have Nettie in our lives.  At long last, I finally had a pet of my very own.

Life with Nettie was very eventful.  She bounced around the apartment, almost going “boing boing” off the walls, so much so that I joked she had springs in her paws.  She would get into fights with a big green sponge that we had, and my girlfriend joked that it was her arch-enemy.  Nettie also liked to grab my hand or my girlfriend’s and basically wrestle with us, holding on with her front paws, kicking with her back, gnawing on our knuckles with her teeth.  We let that cat get away with murder sometimes!  What can I say?  She was my very first pet, and I spoiled her.

Nettie is a very distinctive looking cat, with long fluffy fur.  She is part Persian, part Siamese, part Himalayan.  Given her wild nature, I would joke that the Himalayan part of family must have had a few abominable snowmen in it.  That gave rise to the nickname Nettie the Yeti.  Nettie also has the most beautiful blue eyes, and a lovely voice.  Sometimes, when she wants food or attention, she can give you this wide stare, letting out such a sad meow.  She really knows how to tug on the heart strings.  And, of course, I always fall for it.  My girlfriend tells people that I treat Nettie as if she was my daughter.

Nettie at three years old

Over the past three years, Nettie has grown up, and she is a lot less manic and hyper.  Well, most of the time.  A few months after we first got Nettie, we moved into another apartment, and then had a second cat come to live with us.  Nettie, who spent most of her kitten-hood by herself, now found herself living with another feline, one she hoped would play with her.  Cue lots of running and wrestling.  And then, on top of that, we got a turtle.  But more on all that next time.

The Second Amendment and the Epidemic of Gun Violence

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

So reads the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Undoubtedly at the time of the drafting of the Bill of Rights, the framers of the Constitution knew exactly what they intended by this Amendment, and how it applied to life in the late 18th Century.  But how does it pertain to America in the year 2012?

When the Constitution was first written, there really was no standing army.  In the early days of the republic, a volunteer militia was in place to safeguard against threats both domestic and foreign.  And in order for that militia to function, it was requisite for private citizens to possess firearms.  This was nothing at all like the present day National Guard, much less the current world-encompassing United States military which possesses the strength & ability to decisively intervene in foreign affairs.

So where does this leave the Second Amendment in modern times?  For many, the argument is that it does not affect the right to bear arms in the least, that the existence of a standing military should not preclude in any way the private ownership of guns.  These people apparently see the Second Amendment as a sovereign right that is completely immune to any regulation by the government, be it federal, state, or local.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when the proliferation of guns in America has grown to monstrous levels.  It is incredibly easy for criminals to get their hands on firearms.  Even innocent, well-intentioned owners of guns often find themselves involved in accidental shootings.

The National Rifle Association has been at the forefront of the effort to prevent any sort of regulation or oversight of firearms in this country.  The NRA likes to present itself as the protector of gun owners’ rights and the guardian of the Second Amendment.  But, really, to my eyes, they appear to be nothing more than a massive lobbying arm of the gun manufacturing industry.  The NRA is so influential that politicians on both sides of the aisle are petrified with fear.  Most of those in public office would rather ignore the issue of gun control than bring it up and risk facing a well-financed, NRA-backed opponent in their next election.  (After all, the sad fact is most politicians would rather stay in power than stand up for a principal and risk getting voted out of office.)

In the last few weeks, there has been a spate of violent incidents involving guns.  The most widely known took place in Sanford, Florida on February 26, when neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law as justification.  This is a law, incidentally, that the NRA was intensely involved in lobbying to passage.  It is uncertain if we will ever know the full facts of what took place that tragic night.  But, without a doubt, it is quite clear that if Zimmerman had not been in possession of a gun, Martin would still be alive today.

More recently, on April 2, a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a college campus in Oakland, California that left seven dead.  This past weekend, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, two men embarked on an apparently racially-motivated shooting spree, killing three black men and wounding two others.  Right here in New York City, four police officers were wounded in a gun battle on Saturday night.  Afterwards, it was discovered that the suspect was in possession of several illegal weapons.

Incident such as this occur on a regular basis throughout the nation, and yet little is being done to stop the key cause of these tragedies: the unregulated deluge of firearms.  New York has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, but they are often useless due to the loopholes and lax oversight elsewhere.  It is incredibly easy for an individual to purchase multiple guns in a state such as Virginia or North Carolina, without any sort of background check or waiting period.  Those weapons can then be smuggled across state lines, where they are illegally re-sold to criminals here in New York.  Such was apparently the case with Nakwon Foxworth, the suspected gunman in the Sheepshead Bay shootout.

Please understand: I am not opposed to private gun ownership for responsible, mentally stable, law-abiding individuals who do not have a criminal background.  If someone wishes to own a handgun to safeguard their home, that should be their choice.  If people want to hunt, they should be allowed to possess a rifle or a shotgun, even though I personally do not approve of killing animals for sport.  These are legitimate reasons for possessing a firearm, and hopefully those people who do own guns for those purposes will be responsible in their usage.

Having said that, I see no reason why there should not be certain limitations on gun ownership.  In addition to background checks and waiting periods, it is also reasonable to limit the number of guns a person can purchase at one time or within a certain period.  After all, the First Amendment, the right to free speech, is not absolute.  You cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  Likewise, I do not believe the Second Amendment should be absolute, either.  There need to be responsible limitations on it to protect the public’s safety.

The NRA and its supporters like to say “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”  I do not think that is accurate.  Rather, it should be “People with guns kill people.”  It is much, much easier to kill a person with a gun than it is with a knife or a blunt object or your hands.  The majority of killings that are caused by guns would probably not have taken place if there was not a gun in the criminal’s hands in the first place.

I find it inconceivable to believe that when the authors of the Constitution wrote the Second Amendment that they had this in mind, a nation plagued by an epidemic of gun violence.  The Second Amendment was drafted to help protect our rights, not to give criminals and profiteers a loophole with which to violate the law.  I think it is entirely possible to honor the true spirit of the Second Amendment by taking practical precautions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill individuals, precautions that would still ensure the rights of ordinary citizens.  But that means standing up to the NRA and gun manufacturers, who exploit the Second Amendment for personal gain.

The Week in Erik Larsen

This past week’s new comic book releases saw two issues published by Image Comics which contained work by one of my favorite creators, Erik Larsen.  The first was the latest issue of Savage Dragon, Larsen’s long-running creator owned series.  The second was Supreme #63, which was the first issue of that title’s revival after a twelve year absence.

I previously wrote up an in-depth review of Savage Dragon, covering the epic “Emperor Dragon” story arc.  Since then, Larsen has continued to write & draw some exciting, fun stories in the pages of Savage Dragon.  Nowadays the series is once again at the very top of my “must read” list.  At a time when financial considerations have forced me to drop a lot of titles, I purchase Savage Dragon religiously.

The latest issue, #179, features a long-running minor subplot, namely the space war between the Kalyptans and the Tyrraneans taking place at the opposite end of the galaxy, often alluded to but never actually seen until recently, exploding into life.  The Kalyptan hero Vanguard, a long-time cast member in the series, learned to his horror that the Tyrraneans had finally won the war.  They were now hunting down the last surviving Kalyptans.  Tracking Vanguard to Earth, they found a world ripe for conquest.  Cue massive alien invasion by a horde of unstoppable rampaging monsters.

Supreme #63 is quite a different book.  The character of Supreme was created by Rob Liefeld as a Superman pastiche.  Liefeld saw the character of Supreme as a way to examine what would happen if Superman was unencumbered by society’s laws and morality, if he felt he knew better than everyone else.  It was a grim, ultra-violent book.  To be honest, I never was a fan, and I own maybe two or three issues from the first couple of years.  I especially remember an issue of another Liefeld title, Bloodstrike, which saw Supreme violently dismembering the anti-hero black ops title characters.

But then a strange thing happened.  Liefeld approached award winning writer Alan Moore to take over Supreme.  Moore, who had written a few excellent Superman stories in the 1980s, re-imagined Supreme as a fantastical meta-textual examination of superhero comic books through the ages, featuring a number of whimsical Silver Age homages.  I did not become an immediate fan of the series, but I picked up several issues, which I enjoyed.

Moore’s stories appeared in Supreme #s 41-56 and Supreme: The Return #s 1-6.  Due to financial difficulties, the book was canceled.  I also suspect that Liefeld’s notorious short attention span, which has often led him to over-commit to various projects, may have played a role in his publishing efforts folding up prematurely.  In any case, after the end of Supreme, there were rumors floating about that Moore had written one last script for the series which was never illustrated.

Fast forward a dozen years.  Apparently conditions had come together for Liefeld to revive a quartet of his titles with new creative teams.  The books’ editor Eric Stephenson got together with Erik Larsen to discuss his taking over one of the four.  They eventually settled on Supreme.  This was an excellent choice, given Larsen’s unabashed love of using the tropes of Silver Age comics as a starting point and then putting modern, unconventional spins on them.

Larsen drew pencil layouts from Moore’s unpublished script, with Cory Hamscher providing the finished pencils and inking.  I really enjoyed Hamscher’s inking on X-Men Forever and other projects.  He has a style akin to legendary embellisher Terry Austin.  The collaboration between Larsen and Hamscher is very strong.  They go together very well.

Supreme #63 is a wild, incredibly cosmic story by Moore.  It also ends on a massive cliffhanger.  Starting next issue, Larsen is taking over as writer.  He has the unenviable task of following in Moore’s footsteps, but I cannot wait to see what he does with the series.  Larsen has one of the most ambitious, unrestrained imaginations in comic books nowadays.  If anyone can take the seeds planted by Moore and run with them in an interesting yet different direction, it’s Larsen.

By the way, I also appreciate that Supreme, along with the other three revivals spearheaded by Liefeld & Stephenson, reverted to the original numbering, rather than starting with a new issue #1.  Call me overly traditional, but I really like it when a comic book series has a long, uninterrupted run, instead of getting a rebooted first issue every few years for the sake of a brief spike in sales & publicity.

It’s also great to see Larsen on such a high-profile project.  I hope that people who read Supreme will give Savage Dragon a chance.  It really is a great series.

New York Comic Book Marketplace: a convention report

Last Saturday I went to the New York Comic Book Marketplace comic convention at the Penn Pavilion near Madison Square Garden.  For those unfamiliar with the NYCBM, it is run by Mike Carbonaro, who back in the 1990s set up the Big Apple Comic Con shows.  One way to describe Carbonaro would be “David Johansen overdosed on Red Bull.”  He’s this high-energy character who seems to just bounce all over the place, a manic grin on his face.  Carbonaro also has the habit of attempting to fit as many comic book creators and retailers into as small a space as possible.  I would not recommend attending the NYCBM if you suffer from severe claustrophobia.  That said, Carbonaro and his associate, the very pleasant Allen Rosenberg, often do a great job of lining up some fantastic comic book professionals.  So I find it can be worth putting up with the cramped, crowded conditions to obtain autographs and sketches.

Of late I haven’t had much in the way of disposable income, so my main intention in going to the latest NYCBM was to meet creators and get some books signed.  The show had a number of Golden and Silver Age veterans as guests.  Some I had met before, others I had not.  In either case, it was an opportunity to talk with them, and let them know how much I enjoyed their work over the years.

The one creator who I really wanted to meet was the legendary Stan Lee who, in the 1960s, co-created pretty much the entire Marvel Universe with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.  Unfortunately, there were separate tickets to get Lee’s signature, and it was a whopping $50 an item.  So I had to pass.  (To this day, I mentally kick myself in the rear end that I did not get Lee’s autograph back in 1994, when he did a signing at a comic shop in White Plains along with Larry Hama, Ron Garney, and Richard Ashford.  The line for Lee was long, and I was an impatient teenager, so I didn’t get on it.  But in comparison to trying to meet Lee nowadays, I realize it was a much shorter wait.  And it was free!)

Luckily, I was able to meet several other great creators.  One was legendary Marvel artist Joe Sinnott.  This isn’t the first time I’ve met Sinnott, but it’s always a pleasure, since he is such a nice guy, as well as a fantastic artist.  Sinnott did some fabulous inks/finishes over numerous artists on various Marvel titles.  He was, in my opinion, the best inker Jack Kirby ever had on Fantastic Four.  Sinnott’s style perfectly suited the far-out science fiction elements of that series.  I love how he inked all the “Kirby-tech” machinery.  I didn’t have any copies of the Kirby FF issues to get signed.  Instead I brought along my copy of Giant Size Fantastic Four #3, which had Sinnott inking Rich Buckler’s magnificent pencils on the cosmic opus “Where Lurks Death… Ride the Four Horsemen!”  I’d already gotten Buckler’s signature on the book at last year’s NYCBM, and so I was happy to have the other half of the art team autograph it.

Giant Size Fantastic Four #3 autographed by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

I also met Allen Bellman, an artist who worked at Marvel in the 1940s and 50s.  I obtained a commission drawing of Captain America from Bellman through the mail in November 2010.  Bellman lives in Florida, but he makes appearances at conventions, and I did not want to miss finally meeting face to face with him when he visited New York.  He remembered me from our correspondence due to the fact that nowadays I’m in an area of Queens where his sister lived back when he was a kid.  Bellman used to take the trolley to visit her, and he was interested to learn that in certain areas of the neighborhood you can still see the old tracks after all this time.

Another individual who I had been looking forward to meeting was Greg Theakston.  Artist, historian, and publisher, Theakston inked much of Kirby’s DC Comics work in the 1980s.  His company Pure Imagination has released numerous volumes collecting formerly out-of-print early work by such legends as Kirby, Ditko, Will Eisner, and Alex Toth.  Theakston also published The Betty Pages, a magazine dedicated to legendary pin up girl Bettie Page, and he helped bring the “queen of curves” out of seclusion, interviewing her extensively before she passed away in 2008.  I purchased a copy of The Betty Pages Annual Volume 2, an interesting read with a large selection of sexy photographs.  He also autographed my copy of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Volume 4.  (I am a tremendous fan of Kirby’s New Gods titles, and I even have a tattoo of the Beautiful Dreamer character, based on artwork by Kirby & Theakston, on my left leg.)  I had a nice time chatting with Theakston, and he was kind enough to draw a lovely sketch of Bettie Page for me.

Greg Theakston sketching Bettie Page

One thing I noticed at the NYCBM was that a number of the comic book artists were charging for autographs.  I think this is a relatively new phenomenon, because I’ve been going to comic shows since I was in high school, and in the past creators never asked for money, unless you brought along a ridiculously large pile of books to get signed.  And I’ve always felt that if someone did that, then the creator probably should make a few dollars autographing literally dozens of comics.

However, this time around, even if you only had a few items, some artists wanted payment.  The most blatant example of this was Marvel Zombies artist Arthur Suydam.  Maybe I misunderstood him, but he seemed to be saying that he would not autograph anything unless you purchased one of his prints.  I only had a single book with me to get signed so I passed.  Maybe next time.

Also asking for payment was the aforementioned Rich Buckler, who wanted three dollars per autograph, not an unreasonable request.  Buckler, the creator of the groundbreaking Deathlok series, was a prolific artist at both Marvel and DC in the 1970s and 80s.  Unfortunately, I think since then that his art style is considered too “traditional” or “old school” or whatever by today’s editors.  Which is a shame, because Buckler is super-talented, and I would really enjoy seeing him draw a regular book again.  It would be great to see him do a Deathlok revival.  It’s regrettable that he’s forced to be charging for autographs.  I only had two books with me, so I happily gave him the money.  The person in front of me had a stack of probably fifteen to twenty comics, though, and they were being very, very picky, indicating precisely which spot on each cover Buckler should sign.  Given that sort of situation, I think Buckler was quite justified to be charging a small fee.

I paid ten dollars to get a signature from legendary artist Carmine Infantino.  Yes, I have a couple of other things signed by him, but given that he is getting up there in years and is not in the best of health, I did not want to pass up the opportunity to meet Infantino again.  It’s too bad I didn’t have one of those collections of his great Silver Age DC stories to get autographed, such as the Flash of Two Worlds hardcover.  So instead I had him sign one of the trade paperbacks collecting the Star Wars comics he drew for Marvel.  The guy in line before me had a stack of ten different DC Archives editions of Flash, Justice League, etc and I watched as he casually forked over one hundred bucks to Infantino to get them all signed.  Wish I had that kind of spare change!

I did have enough money in my budget for a few sketches.  In addition to the Bettie Page by Greg Theakston, I also got nice pieces done by Billy Tucci and Ian Dorian.  I posted scans on the Comic Art Fans website… http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=60

As I mentioned, the NYCBM was very chaotic, and I had to duck out for a while, get some fresh air, and sit down for a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  I don’t even like Starbucks, but I don’t know of any other coffee shops near Penn Station.  Still, despite the insanity, it was a fun show, and I enjoyed going.

Afterwards, I met up with my girlfriend, and had a nice, quiet, romantic dinner with her.  It was a lovely way to end the day.

Blackhawks Down(town) at Midtown Comics

Yesterday evening I went to the Midtown Comics located on Fulton Street (which would technically make it “Downtown Comics,” I guess) for the latest of their comic book creator signing events.  Midtown was having two artists from Madrid, Spain at the store to autograph copies of the latest issue of Blackhawks, one of the “New 52” titles from from DC Comics.  CAFU (short for Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano) and Bit became the art team on Blackhawks with issue #5.

To be honest, previously I had not been following Blackhawks, or really most any of the other New 52 series from DC.  The only two I’ve been reading month after month beginning with the first issue were Wonder Woman and Justice League International.  And even there, I’ve been seeing how each series has been from one issue to the next, sort of half-committed.  So Blackhawks definitely fell under the radar along with the rest of the New 52.  But when I heard that CAFU and Bit would be in town to sign issue #7, I picked up the previous two issues, which they also illustrated.

The event at Midtown was, in a certain respect, a bit of a disappointment.  The store had promoted it by announcing that each person who purchased a copy of Blackhawks #7 would be able to get a free sketch from both CAFU and Bit.  Unfortunately, the artists were only able to sign and sketch for one hour, from 6:00 to 7:00 PM, and they turned out to be drawing more slowly than the store probably thought they would be.  I think only the first six or seven people in line got a sketch.  I was not one of them.

Truth be told, I did not especially mind.  Yes, it was disappointing, but I shrugged it off because I was able to meet a couple of talented artists who only visit the States maybe once or twice a year.  I got several books autographed, including two issues of Marvel Adventures: Avengers that CAFU penciled in 2007.

Listening to some of the other people on line, though, I was amused at how big a deal it seemed to them.  Some people were of the attitude that they wasted their money (three whole dollars) and weren’t getting anything in return, that the book was no good, that Midtown was just doing this to drum up some sales on a title which is scheduled to be canceled in another month.  I think the lesson here is that if you are going to a comic book store signing, it should be for book that you are potentially interested in, or by a creator whose work you like.  That way, if you do not end up with a sketch, at least you will have still gotten an autographed book that will mean something to you.

I want to add that this is the first time I remember anything like this ever happening at Midtown Comics.  In the past, if they have promoted a signing to include sketches from artists, I don’t recall anyone walking away empty-handed.  So I just view this as a one-time occurrence.

Of course, maybe I am feeling charitable because at last year’s Spanish Inq signing event, when Bit was in NYC with Pere Perez, he drew a very nice sketch of Wonder Woman for me.  So I already had something by him in my sketchbook.

In any case, what do I actually think of the Blackhawks series?  CAFU and Bit’s artwork is stunning.  But, more to the point, I am impressed by Mike Costa’s writing.  It is not especially groundbreaking or revolutionary, but there is a fun and intelligence to it.  I like the idea of an international “black ops” type group of normal humans tasked with facing down technological menaces within the DC universe.  Judging solely by the three issues I have read, I feel the concept by Costa is sound and full of a great deal of potential, but perhaps the execution is lacking.  There is also an absence of details explaining who these characters are, and what exactly had taken place within the first story arc, which did not make them “new reader friendly.”  Having said that, I am intrigued enough that I am currently searching for copies of those initial four issues, to see what happened in them.

Blackhawks is being canceled with issue #8.  This is something of a pity.  As I said before, the concept holds much promise.  I like the characters, and if they survive the finale of the series it would be cool to see them resurface in some of DC’s other titles.  The art team of CAFU and Bit is really outstanding, and I look forward to seeing them receive another series to illustrate, hopefully soon.

Does Sci-Fi Get The Respect It Deserves?

I have been a science fiction fan since I was a kid.  There has always been something magical about the genre for me.  One of my favorites growing up was the original Star Trek television series, which was in reruns on Saturday nights in the late 1970s and early 80s.  I looked forward to catching a “new” episode of that each weekend.  I was too young to see the first Star Trek film in the theaters, probably a good thing, in retrospect, given that it’s a long, ponderous movie that really needed a lot of fine-tuning and editing.

But by the time Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit the big screen in 1982, I was six years old, and my father took me to see it.  To be perfectly honest, I was not thrilled by it.  The movie was too dark & downbeat for me, and it ended with Spock dying.  Over the years, though, I often heard it referred to as the absolute best film of the entire series, and I just could not understand why.

Fast-forward to 2002, and the two disk DVD “director’s edition” of Star Trek II came out.  On an impulse, I purchased it, because despite my original impression of it, I never actively hated the film.  It had been years since I had last seen it, so I thought this would be a good time to look at it with a fresh perspective and see what all the fuss was about.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD

Well, what a difference twenty years can make!  I was completely blown away when I re-watched The Wrath of Khan.  There were so many themes in it that I had not picked up on when I was a kid.  Dealing with death and loss, growing old, morality and science, the all-consuming passion of vengeance, making the decision whether to dwell in the past or to move on to the future, and much more.  Since then, I’ve viewed it on several subsequent occasions.  Each time, I get a little bit something more out of it.

So much of the film is of the highest quality.  The script by Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer is crisp, intelligent, witty, and thought-provoking.  James Horner’s’ soundtrack is stunning.  And the directing by Meyer is riveting, dramatic, and absolutely top-notch.   I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Meyer succeeds in obtaining one of the best performances out of William Shatner in his entire career, no easy feat.  And the acting by Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Ricardo Montalban is likewise top-notch.

Last week, I watched The Wrath of Khan again.  And something occurred to me.  Yes, it is a great science fiction film.  But, I realized, it is also an excellent film, period, regardless of genre.  This got me thinking.  Science fiction really gets very little respect of acknowledgement among so-called legitimate film “critics.”

I was curious, so I looked up the Academy Award nominees for 1982.  The frontrunner of the year was, unsurprisingly, Ganhdi, a good if overly long film.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial had received several nominations.  But not a single nod to Star Trek II, not even in the technical categories.

What do you mean we didn't win an Oscar?!?!?
What do you mean we didn’t win an Oscar?!?!?

Nowadays, the Academy Awards do make at least a passing effort at trying to acknowledge more “mainstream” films, having increased the potential number of best picture nominees to ten.  Even so, the way the Academy members actually vote, the probability of film such as Star Trek II being nominated, much less winning, a Best Picture Oscar is very low.  Witness the most recent awards, where The Artist was swept up six Oscars.  Brilliant film, yes, but the equally great, very funny comedy Bridesmaids didn’t even warrant a nomination.  (Of course, the manner in which voting is tabulated for the Oscar nominations and actual awards is apparently so convoluted that it makes filling out your taxes seem simple by comparison.  So for all we know Bridesmaids just narrowly missed the cut-off.)

What is the point of all this?  I am actually not sure.  Part of it is my lamenting that those aforementioned critics often believe it is impossible for a film to be both popular and of high artistic merit.  Especially when it comes to science fiction.

Then again, hindsight can be twenty twenty.  The history of film criticism, and the Academy Awards in particular, is rife with “What the hell were they thinking!?!” moments that totally stupefy you.  One of the most infamous was when How Green Was My Valley won Best Picture for 1941, beating out Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, a film now regarded as one of the absolute all time greatest movies ever made.  So who knows how history will judge?

In the meantime, regardless of how such-and-such critic opines concerning cinematic fare, or what movie wins what awards, I will be watching what I feel like watching.  And that includes science fiction, thank you very much.

Real Women Have Curves

Over the last year or so, walking around New York City, riding the subways and busses, I’ve noticed something.  A lot of younger women nowadays are thin.  And I do not just mean that they are skinny.  These teenagers and twenty something gals are so thin that they look unhealthy.  The most striking aspect is their arms and legs, which look like twigs.  The rest of their bodies are ultra-svelte, in certain cases even appearing pre-pubescent.  It is not much of an exaggeration to say that some of these ladies bear more than a passing resemblance to victims of starvation from some Third World country than they do grown women.

I’ve pointed this out to my girlfriend.  She typically just shrugs, and informs me that it’s the style nowadays with younger women, the fashionable way to look.   In all honestly, I find that a rather disturbing phenomenon.  Thinking it over, I wonder how some of these women achieve their lean appearances.  I would not be at all surprised if at least some of them suffered from eating disorders.  I realize that we lived in a country where obesity is a serious problem.  But going to the complete opposite extreme is no solution!

Obviously it is a matter of personal preference, and different people are attracted to different body types.  But I have always had a fondness for more voluptuous, Rubenesque females.  Immediately coming to mind are such mid-20th Century sex symbols as Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe.

Both of these women were stunning, sensual beauties who exuded their own unique manner of sexuality.  Each of them is regarded as a cultural icon.  But I very much believe that if Bettie Page or Marilyn Monroe were alive today, attempting to break into modeling or acting in the early 21st Century, they would meet with little success.  In fact, they’d probably be considered “overweight” by the powers-that-be in the fields of fashion and showbiz.

I think it’s a tragedy that so many young women feel compelled to pursue excessive weight loss, striving to reach some kind of nearly-impossible waif-like physical ideal that has been imposed upon us by mass media and the corporate world.  Especially when these ladies may be risking their health to achieve that look.

Obviously if a woman wants to become thin, she should be allowed to.  But I hope she would do it for herself, instead of striving to be skinny because she believes society expects of it of her.  If you are going to lose weight, do so because it’s healthy and it will make you happy.  Don’t do it to try to please others or impress strangers.

And just remember: some of us do not find that ultra-skinny look to be beautiful.  Instead, we would much rather see a woman with a natural curvy figure.

The moral ambiguity of abortion

In recent weeks, issues concerning reproductive rights and family planning have once again been thrust to the forefront of the so-called “culture wars” here in the United States.  One aspect of this has been a renewed  effort in several states to curb, if not eliminate altogether, a woman’s access to an abortion.  All of this has caused me to engage in my own personal reflections, re-examining how I feel about the volatile issues surrounding abortions.

I think perhaps many of those fighting in the Pro-Life Movement make a serious mistake, in that they often assume that women casually choose to undergo abortions, giving it as much consideration as, say, choosing to dye their hair a different color or buying a new dress.  Without making any sort of sweeping generalization, from what I have heard & read, and from women I have talked to, the majority of those who terminated a pregnancy did not do so casually.  There was a certain amount of emotional uncertainty and pain involved in choosing that course of action.  (Of course, there are exceptions, and I have also met a few women who apparently just shrugged it off.)

My point is that many of those who are Pro-Choice, who support a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy, do recognize that it is a serious choice with a potentially great deal of physical and mental fallout involved.

How do I personally feel about abortion?  That’s a tricky question.  To be completely honest, the idea makes me uncomfortable.  At times very uncomfortable.  Cutting right to the chase, a fetus is an organic, living object.  Does it qualify as a human being?  I honestly do not know.  But the thought of killing something that is definitively alive, that has the potential to grow into a human being, very much unsettles me.  And at times I do wonder if abortion really is a morally palatable decision.

I especially feel that way regarding late-term or partial-birth abortions.  My main reason for opposing a ban on them is that I fear it would lead to a legislative slippery slope that could see the outlawing of other forms of abortion.

So why am I Pro-Choice at all?  Because, simply put, I feel abortion can be the lesser of two evils.

I see it as terribly unjust to force a woman to endure an unwanted pregnancy, especially one caused by rape or incest, or one where prenatal tests reveal that the unborn child is afflicted with some sort of physical or mental disorder.  I also feel it is wrong to force a woman to have a child when she is financially and/or emotionally unable to provide for that child.  Our world already has millions of unwanted children living in poverty, barely surviving from one day to the next, leading terrible lives we cannot conceive of.  Should even more future children be forced into such dire circumstances?

Additionally, many foes of abortion are also simultaneously opposed to any other family planning services, such as teaching sex education in schools and enabling women easy access to contraception.  There is a solidly puritanical streak to this segment of the Pro-Life movement, believing that sex should only take place in a marriage, and solely for the purposes of procreation.  I respect these people’s rights to their religious beliefs; what I am offended by is their efforts to impose them upon the rest of American society.  Besides, their objections to sex education and birth control are simply unrealistic in the 21st Century.  They are actually more likely to lead to further unwanted pregnancies and, in turn, increased numbers of abortions.

But my primary reason for supporting access to abortion is that I am revolted by the fact that many self-proclaimed Pro-Life figures and groups simply do not give a damn about a child once it is actually born.  I’m reminded of that old joke, namely “Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.”  So many of the politicians who decry abortion the loudest are the ones cutting social services, blocking access to health care, and eliminating funding to education.  The message appears to be, “Once you’re out of the womb, kiddo, you’re on your own for the rest of your life. Good luck, you’ll need it!”

As much as abortion unsettles me, I am even more uncomfortable with the idea of the government telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her body, with forcing her to give birth to an unwanted child, something that will literally change her entire life.

And I am also Pro-Choice because, at the end of the day, I am a man, not a woman.  I will never be able to conceive a child or give birth.  I will never be able to truly understand how a pregnant woman feels.  And for that reason, despite my very strong misgivings concerning abortion, I feel I cannot tell a woman what to do in that situation.