Separating the Ink Masters from the Stink Masters

I really, really try to avoid watching “reality television” because, let’s face it, Sturgeon’s Law is especially applicable to that segment of the airwaves, and a whopping 99.9% of it is total crap.  But somehow, against better judgment, I inevitably get sucked into watching episodes of such fare as Celebrity Rehab, Rock of Love or *shudder* Jersey Shore.  It’s the whole train wreck phenomenon… you just cannot look away from the blood & carnage.

Of course, every once in a while a reality TV show comes along that does have a modicum of intelligence and genuine entertainment value to it.  Ink Master on Spike is one of those, and I’ve been hooked on the show since its debut in January of this year.  A large part of the appeal for me is that I really love tattoos (I’ve got seven and counting) and I find the whole subculture surrounding getting inked to be fascinating.  The other major reason why Ink Master appeals to me is that to be on it requires genuine talent & artistic ability.  The contestants on it, despite their varying levels of douchebaggery, all are legitimately skilled in the art of tattooing.

Ink Master is hosted by Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.  I’m not certain exactly what qualifies him to be presenting the show, much less serving as one of the three judges, other than he’s heavily inked.  But I suppose he brings the requisite “rock star” presence to the series.  The other two judges are Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck.  Both are apparently very accomplished tattoo artists.  Certainly the critiques and advice they offer the contestants seem to be intelligent and thoughtful, the result of years of experience in the field.  I have to tell you, though, when Navarro, Nunez, or Peck launches into a lecture about some aspect of illustration such as the use of shading, texture, or contrasting colors, my girlfriend, who is an artist, likes to comment “Wow, this is art school for dummies!”

I mentioned douchebaggery, didn’t I?  Well, there are some real characters who have competed on Ink Master.  Everyone appears to be a competitive egomaniac ready to leap at each other’s throats… perhaps at the producers’ suggestions, who knows?  Each season, you get at least one guy declaring “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win!”  This was actually somewhat palatable in Season One, because the guy making this proclamation, Shane O’Neill, had the talent to back it up, and indeed he ended up winning the competition.  This time around, you have someone like Kay Kutta doing the bragging, but he just doesn’t have the skills or experience to justify the bravado.

Chris Nunez, Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck from Ink Master
Chris Nunez, Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck, hosts of Ink Master

This week’s episode was Star Wars themed, with a group of “human canvases” getting tattoos of characters & imagery from the films.  That definitely interested me, big sci-fi geek that I am.  As I was watching it, I was thinking to myself that it was too bad that my friend Chris didn’t get on this episode, because he’s a huge Star Wars fan who already has at least a couple of really awesome tattoos from the movies.  Then, wouldn’t you know it, less than two minutes later, who should show up on the TV screen?  Yep, it was Chris.  For those who watched, he was the guy who got the Star Destroyer & Tie Fighters done on his back.  I’m glad he ended up with one of the better artists, Sebastian Murphy.  Despite the criticism offered up by the judges, I think Murphy did a fine job on a difficult, detailed subject, and Chris ended up with a nice tattoo.  Anyway, it was a good episode, although I think the winning tattoo should have been the Clone Trooper by Sarah Miller, and not the Yoda piece by Tatu Baby.

My girlfriend keeps pestering me to try and volunteer to become a human canvas on the next season of Ink Master, to which I invariably respond “Are you out of your #@%&ing mind?!?”  No thank you.  The next tattoo I get is going to be a subject matter that I choose, and it will be done by an artist who can take his or her time with it, who actually wants to work on the particular piece, and who is not racing against the clock to complete it.  Okay, I can understand the appeal this has for some people, in that you get a free tattoo and get to appear on television.  But for me this is the equivalent of tattoo Russian roulette, because the odds pretty good that you’re going to end up with a mediocre or, worse, just plain bad image stuck on your body for the rest of your life.  Knowing my luck, I’d end up going from Ink Master to Spike’s other tattoo reality show, Tattoo Nightmares, which spotlights artists who specialize in covering up really awful pieces!

White on the subject, I gotta admit, Tattoo Nightmares is another entertaining show.  One of the three artists showcased, Tommy Helm, came in second place in the first season of Ink Master, and is really good at what he does.  Having said that, it’s another series I’m perfectly content to sit back & watch.  I hope I never end up with a piece so awful that I’d require the services of Helm or his associates to do a cover-up.

Anyway, Ink Master is fun to watch.  Despite the often ridiculous personalities & behavior of some of the contestants, it is very interesting to see them attempt to produce tattoo masterpieces in a high pressure environment with the clock ticking, definitely not the ideal environment in which to ink anyone.  Given that, it’s a thrill to see some of the amazing pieces that come out of that.

New York Comic Con 2012: a convention report

Last Sunday I went to the New York Comic Con held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.  Even though the Comic Con was a four day-long event, I decided to just attend it the final day.  Every year I do very much look forward to going to the show.  Conversely, every year it gets bigger and bigger, and so the prospect of having to compete with a gigantic crowd of people is somewhat daunting.  Because of that, and since I’m on a pretty slim budget, for the second year in a row I made the decision to just go on Sunday.

My main objective this time around was that I wanted to obtain a commission from artist Joe Staton.  You see, one of my all time favorite Batman stories is “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne,” written by Alan Brennert and illustrated by Joe Staton & George Freeman. It featured the wedding of Batman and Catwoman on Earth Two, and appeared in The Brave and the Bold #197, published in 1983.  I first had the opportunity to read the story in the early 1990s when it was collected in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told trade paperback. I must have read it at least a dozen times, probably more. Years later, I found a copy of the original issue, and got it autographed by Joe Staton. I think it has some of the finest artwork of his career.

In any case, for a long time now, because The Brave and the Bold #197 is such a favorite of mine, I’ve hoped to get an illustration of the Golden Age Catwoman from Staton. As I mentioned before, I was really on a limited budget this year, so this was going to be my one big purchase of the entire convention.  So as soon as I got to the show on Sunday morning, I made my way right to Artist Alley and headed to Staton’s table.  Turns out I was in the nick of time; his sketch list was almost completely filled up, and he had just one single spot left on it.  I dropped off my sketchbook at Joe table, paid him for the sketch, and then headed out to explore the rest of the convention, since I knew it would be a few hours before he’d get up to my piece.

I mostly stuck to Artist Alley this year, since that was a relatively less crowded area than the main convention floor.  I decided that since I wasn’t going to be able to buy too much, I’d bring along books that I already have to get autographed.  Luckily, most of the creators I hoped to see were there, although a few had unfortunately decided to skip Sunday.  I was bummed out to miss Erik Larsen, since I am a huge fan of Savage Dragon.

One of the few books I picked up was the Starstruck trade paperback by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta.  Starstruck began life as an Off-Off-Broadway play in 1980, a comedic space opera written by Lee, with costume & set designs by Kaluta.  A few years later, Lee and Kaluta adapted Starstruck into a series of comic book stories which appeared through a number of publishers.  The pair had the ambition to eventually compile the entirety of the comic book material into one massive volume, and after a couple of false starts, they were finally able to achieve that recently at IDW.  Elaine Lee was at the NYCC this year, and so I purchased the collected edition from her.  She also autographed my copy of the Starstruck stage play which I acquired via Amazon.Com many moons ago.  I’m looking forward to reading this one.

An acquaintance of mine, artist Steve Ellis, had at table at NYCC.  Steve’s a cool guy, so it was nice to see him again.  We caught up on old times.  He was generous enough to do a quick drawing for me in one of my sketchbooks.  I asked him to sketch Stiletto, one of the characters from the superhero crime noir series The Silencers that he co-created with Fred Van Lente several years back.  I always enjoyed that book, and I hope one day Steve & Fred have the opportunity to bring it back.

Shaking hands with Peter Davison

There were a number of actors at NYCC doing signings & panel discussions.  I was very interested in meeting two of them.  The first was Peter Davison, who portrayed the Fifth Doctor on Doctor Who in the early 1980s.  As anyone who reads this blog will know, I am a huge Doctor Who fan.  That and it is very rare that you get to meet someone who you literally grew up watching on television.  So I was a bit tongue-tied when I got his autograph.  I think Davison was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned that I had been in London back in 1999 and seen him perform in the musical Chicago.  Currently he is appearing in Law & Order UK as Henry Sharpe, Director of the London Crown Prosecution Service (the equivalent of the District Attorney).  The show is scheduled to begin filming a new season shortly.

The other actor I really wanted to meet was Ian McDiarmid, who so memorably played the diabolical Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars films.  It may sound strange, considering the Emperor is a figure of pure evil, but he is one of my favorite character from the series.  He got so many great lines of dialogue, and McDiarmid brought him to vile life so wonderfully.  Unfortunately, it turned out that McDiarmid was asking a whopping $125 for an autograph!  Obviously I had to pass on that.  But there apparently are a lot of people who are willing to fork over that kind of money, because I saw there was a very long line at his table (I wonder if some comic book and sci-fi fans eat Ramen noodles 365 days a year so they can save up their money for events like Comic Con).  Fortunately, McDiarmid was doing an hour-long panel discussion that afternoon.  It was quite entertaining, as McDiarmid really knows how to work a room & spin a yarn, so I’m glad I was at least able to attend that.

I only went up to the main floor of the show once.  I was going to the Doctor Who Store table, because I wanted to purchase one of the Big Finish audio plays for Peter Davison to autograph.  It was a total madhouse, wall-to-wall people, and it took me fifteen minutes just to get to where I wanted to go.  When I finally arrived at the Doctor Who Store, it was packed.  As someone who grew up watching the series in the 1980s, when it was very much a cult phenomenon here in the States, it still amazes me that now, with the revival of the show, it is now this huge hit, and millions of people watch it on BBC America.  So seeing this gigantic crowd around the booth was unexpected, because I still half-expect people to give me a blank look when I tell them I watch Doctor Who.  But, as one of the people working at the Who Store table responded when I told him that, “Those days are long gone.”

Joe and Hilarie Staton

After the Ian McDiarmid panel, I headed back to Artist Alley.  Walking up and down the aisles, I was somewhat disappointed that I was on such a tiny budget, because there were so many artists doing such amazing sketches, and selling some really nice published comic book pages.  But once I got to Joe Staton’s table, my regrets vanished.  Staton did an absolutely stunning drawing of Catwoman in my sketchbook.  It has to be one of the best pieces I’ve gotten in the book.  I decided it was better to have gotten one really outstanding sketch than a handful of average pieces.  So I know I made the right choice.

As always, there were some fans wearing amazing costumes at the Comic Con.  I took photographs of several of them.  You can view them on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bh123/sets/72157631780614797/detail/

All in all, it was a pretty fun convention.  I enjoyed myself.  Hopefully next year, though, I’ll have a bigger budget and be able to attend more than one day, because I’d like to be able to see more of the show, and also pace myself instead of rushing all over the place!

Politics, Star Wars, and the Death of Civility

“There is no civility, only politics. The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates.  There is no interest in the common good.”

The above quote is from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, spoken by Senator Palpatine.  True, it was eventually revealed that Palpatine was Darth Sidious, a Sith lord who was using & manipulating the political corruption of his colleagues to engineer the behind-the-scenes fall of the Republic, replacing it with the tyrannical Galactic Empire.  That said, of late I have nevertheless often been recalling Palpatine’s words in regards to the political atmosphere in the United States of the 21st Century.

Darth Sidious

Ever since the highly contested 2000 Presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the political atmosphere in the United States has become increasingly polarized.  This has become even more pronounced since the election of Barak Obama in 2008, with numerous ultra right-wing groups having sprung up to vilify the President, claiming he is not really a natural born US citizen, that he is a Communist, that he’s secretly some kind of stealth Muslim intent on undermining our national security & religious freedoms.

I am certainly not claiming that all of the blame for our current political woes lies solely with the Republicans.  There were plenty of Democrats who during the Bush years were complacent at best, complicit at worst, in bowing down to the post-9/11 fears and paranoia to give that administration a blank check to invade Iraq and trample on civil liberties.  There is plenty of self-interest and corruption in Washington to go around, and it is not exclusive to either party.

That said, it appears that the most virulently hateful and ignorant rhetoric of recent years has come from individuals or groups identifying themselves either with the Republicans or the Tea Party.  When you have prominent public figures spreading the aforementioned innuendo about Obama or, worse yet, praying for his death, you have to realize that the political atmosphere in this country has truly become toxic.

Especially coming to mind are Rush Limbaugh’s comments over the past week.  Limbaugh, weighed in on the recent contentious debate over whether or not religious-affiliated institutions should be mandated to provide contraceptives under their insurance plans.  Specifically, he took aim at Sandra Fluke, a third year student at Georgetown Law School, which is a Jesuit-run school.  Fluke testified before a House Democrat panel defending the HHS Contraceptive Mandate.

In response to Fluke’s statements before the House of Representative panel, Limbaugh took to the air, ranting “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns.”

So this is what passes for political discourse in present-day America.  And it is, sadly, a typical example.  To say “there is no civility” would be a massive understatement.  Obviously Limbaugh is entitled to his opinions concerning the HHS Contraceptive Mandate.  But there is no need for him to engage in such base vulgarity and character assassination.

A few days ago, I briefly posted about Limbaugh’s tirade on Facebook.  Someone I am friends with on that site who is of a more Conservative persuasion than me took issue.  He argued that I would have no problem if a Liberal took similar potshots at a Republican.  My response was this: I’m angry at anyone on the “left” or the “right” who resorts to such denigrating tactics. No one deserves that sort of treatment.

For example, I virulently disagree with Conservative commentator Anne Coulter.  But I would never go on the radio and refer to her as “a slut” or “a prostitute.”  Similarly, I despise so much of what Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have been arguing on the Reprublican primary campaign trail.  But I would certainly not call for any of them to be killed.

Looking at that aforementioned toxic political atmosphere, I cannot help but acknowledge that it is only going to get worse.  Once the Republican party finally settles on a Presidential candidate, expect that individual to go on the attack like a rabid dog trying to get at Obama’s throat.  And, if every action truly has an equal and opposite reaction, the response from Democrats and those on the far-Left could be just as savage.

It’s going to be a looooong road to Election Day, folks!