Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Strange as it may seem, I’m not a big fan of dressing up on Halloween.

Contrary to what most people believed, Halloween—including the weekend leading up to it—was dead (no pun intended) when it came to character appearances. Ironically, my virgin gig was a Halloween parade in Rutland, Vermont, but that was the exception. I cannot recall another job taking place on All Hallow’s Eve.

It makes sense, though. On a day when everyone dresses up as their favorite character, be they living or dead, real or fantasy, an appearance by Spider-Man, even the authentic one from Marvel Comics, doesn’t seem all that special. He’s just another person wearing a costume.

Interestingly enough, every public appearance at which I performed—shopping mall, department, grocery or drugstore—inevitably a parent would make the comment, “Guess you’re all set for Halloween.” It didn’t matter whether it was October or any of the other twelve months, at some point during a signing, I’d hear it, often more than once over the course of a day.

If children were present, I’d quip in character.

“Ugh! Halloween… I’ve got to be real careful. I usually don’t go out if I can help it. I’d feel terrible if I webbed what I thought was the Hobgoblin only to discover it was a kid dressed up as my nefarious foe.”

But if I was mano a mano with the parent, the exchange usually went like this after the tiresome statement:

“I don’t go out on Halloween,” I’d say.

“Really? I would think you’d be all set, with the costume and everything,” they’d reply in surprise.

“And what do you do for a living?” I’d ask.

“I’m a (fill in occupation).”

“Let me ask you,” I’d explain. “If there was one day in the entire year when everyone dressed up like a (name previously-stated occupation), what would you do?”

“Probably stay home,” they’d answer in understanding.

“Ahhhhhhh…,” I’d sagely reply, leaving my interrogator with newfound wisdom.

So... I guess after spending a few thousand days over ten years, dressing as Spider-Man or Green Goblin or Hulk or The Thing or Iron Man or Magneto, having one day where the rest of the country puts on a costume seemed like the perfect day for me not to.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is That a Web-Shooter in Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

NOTE: The accompanying photo of the author is merely used to enliven the posting and not connected to the tale therein.

My recent encounter with dubiously-named hair-removal products reminded me of a story that my Marvel boss Barbara told me when I first joined her ranks of Spider-Man performers.

The suit—an all-encompassing skin-tight spandex bodysuit of red-and-blue with silk-screened webs and chest emblem spider—left nothing to the imagination. And there was the occasional observer who was shocked, even offended, by the simple appearance of Spider-Man, even though the actor inside the costume hadn’t said or done anything that would be remotely considered risqué had the performer been dressed in his civvies. Many others were merely uncomfortable by what might be construed as the “sexual” nature of the outfit.

In offering me this caveat about wearing the suit, Barb recounted an appearance in Missouri by a former personal appearance actor. This performer, who shall remain nameless, not so much to protect his identity, as because I cannot remember his name nor whether Barb offered it in the first place, was known for his rather pronounced (ahem) “Web-Shooter,” for lack of a better term (Let’s just say the UPS charges on this package would have been cost-ineffective to mail!). His gifted “maleness (Thank you, Harlequin romances.)” coupled with the aforementioned perceived sexual overtones of the costume so offended the sponsors of the Missouri gig that Marvel henceforth imposed a self-regulated rule that barred Spidey appearances from the State of Missouri.

I imagine that ban has since been lifted. And only now upon reflection do I wonder how much my performance at the Marvel audition had to do with landing the job and how much was due to “other factors.”

But as for Barb’s reminiscence, I was immediately struck at the irony of the situation. After all, isn’t Missouri supposed to be the “Show Me” state?!!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Go Nad’s!

And what part of the anatomy are we removing hair from... Hmm?

No truth to the rumor that this is the preferred hair removal product for members of the tea-baggers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chill St. John’s, Part II

Having barely survived conditions on a cargo plane that would have been considered “balmy” by Siberians; a “close encounter” with the fair Fiona; the unvoiced recriminations of a pub wench for ordering coffee at 10 A.M.; and an adlib presentation before a roomful of Canadian Chiefs of Police; our intrepid hero is whisked away to meet-and-greet some of his wee fans at a children’s hospital…

I remained in the suit on the way. Changing before I left and re-donning the costume upon arrival was not an option: the schedule wasn’t designed with those time allowances. Pulling off the mask and arms alone would risk my being seen half-costumed and that was a no-no. So when I arrived, I’d been in the costume a good two hours and going insane from the tightness of the mask. Two hours was normally my limit, when I’d usually take a break. Again, the schedule was unforgiving. I also did not want to make the children wait, but I knew my performance would suffer if I didn’t do something to assuage the constriction about my neck and noggin.

I ducked into the restroom and pulled off the costume, only down to waist-point. The seam marks from the mesh eyes were etched deeply from the tops of my occipital lobes around to the apex of my cheekbones and back around the opposite side. My hair was the usual matted mess. I looked like I had just awoken with a hangover. The remedy was much the same. I splashed cold water on my face, my hair, my neck, and tried to massage some feeling back into my face and mold it back into shape, finally resorting to a few hard slaps to re-stimulate the nerves. Minutes later, I was back in action.

This was to be my first visit as Spider-Man to a children’s hospital. Despite the lack of an extended break, I was excited by the prospect. After all, it was the kids that made the job fulfilling. Putting a smile on the faces of children in need, especially those who have been hurt and placed in a foreign environment would be ultimately satisfying. I was unprepared for the realities of the situation. Every moment of joy that I felt was equally juxtaposed with a rip in my heart at seeing the kids in pain and being helpless to do anything to help them. This bittersweet dichotomy smacked me full in the face with the first child in the first ward I visited… the terminal ward.

I don’t remember the boy’s name, but I will never forget his face. He couldn’t have been more than five and he was beside himself to be meeting Spider-Man. He had inoperable cancer, his head hairless from chemotherapy. He also was Quebeçois, and had moved to this facility on Newfoundland, because it offered him the best treatment for his condition. As such, he only could speak and understand French. He could neither talk to Spider-Man, nor understand a word he/I was saying.

I tried to stumble through a few rudimentary phrases I pieced together from the remnants of my six years of studying French in school that still lingered in the far recesses of my mind, but my emotions got in the way. Even French101 social niceties like “Bonjour (hello)” and “Comment allez vous (how are you)?” became difficult to remember. Fortunately, his bilingual mother was present.

As I babbled on about how happy I was to meet him, he gently touched my face. I explained to him that I wore a mask to conceal my identity and let him examine my hands, as well. Mom dutifully translated, although I don’t think it mattered what I said. He was elated and the smile on his face made me forget for a moment that he could be gone in a few months. Then he told me that I was his hero. I was crushed. Some hero. Heaven knows what this child was going through, the pain, the isolation, the confusion… the not-knowing.

“You’re my hero,” I replied.

Repeating it now, the words sound corny and hollow, the perfect title to a made-for-TV movie on Lifetime. At the time, it was all I could think of. I hugged him one last time.

“Je t’aime,” I said, hoping the crack in my voice and the wet spots under my eyes wouldn’t betray me. His hug became stronger.

“Je t’aime,” he replied.

My visit continued less emotionally, but no less heartfelt.

One interesting asset to the costume was revealed to me for the first time. In those areas of the hospital where the sensitivity to an affliction and its treatment required the wearing of a surgical mask to prevent the spread of infection from foreign germs, such as the Burn Ward, Spider-Man could enter unimpeded. He’s already wearing a mask, after all. Of course, I would have donned one had the doctor asked, but I was happy that the children could enjoy my visit without a surgical mask marring the visual effect of the costume. You’ve got to admit it takes a bit away from the “coolness” quotient of the character. So I entered the Burn Ward, leaving my “posse” behind. With a whoosh and exhalation of compressed air, the doors to the ward opened as if I were Maxwell Smart passing through the succession of sliding doors as he exited C.O.N.T.R.O.L. Headquarters during the final credits of Get Smart. Again seeing the severity of such injuries on a young child was shocking. But their smiles at meeting Spider-Man lessened the impact.

Without the brief respite of splashed water on my face and facial massage, I leapt into my awaiting ride and headed back to the hotel. The discomfort of wearing the suit without a proper break for more than four hours was taking its toll. I wanted, needed, to get out of the suit and into a hot shower pronto. I was also bone weary. I may not have been doing any heavy lifting, but staying in character for any length of time is exhausting for any actor. Coupled with the intense physicality of Spider-Man—the bounding; leaping; squatting; tension of angular poses, splayed fingers and concentration—was akin to running a marathon. During the 8-performance run of A Streetcar Named Desire in which I played the role of upstairs neighbor/friend-of-Stanley/Landlord Steve Hubbel, in my senior year of college, I lost more than ten pounds and that character was onstage less than twenty minutes the entire show!

To my surprise and chagrin, the car pulled up, not to the front entrance of the hotel, but to the convention-hall entrance, where I was greeted by my friends of the CACP, who had long-finished their meetings and already averaged three beers in the bag apiece. And they all wanted to pose for pictures with Spider-Man for their families. To his credit, Eric poked his head into the car and asked me if I didn’t mind ingratiating his inebriated band of clients. But I also knew he was feeding me lip service. It was important to him and the project that I do this. And though only having known Eric for a few short hours, I already felt that he and I were good friends, and that there would be many more, crazier, exhausting, but fulfilling, times ahead.

It was excruciating. Oh, I never let my fatigue or suffering show; I kibbitzed good-humoredly with every one of them; asked them about their kids; had them strike Spider-Man–esque poses with me—web shooting stances and such—and never let on that, had I access to a firearm, I would have blown my brains out, just to stop the pain.

“Mind if I get you to pose for a picture,” slurred one.

kill me

“No problem!” I cheerily replied.

kill me

“Could I get another; I have two children and they’ll fight,” a previous recipient asked, stumbling from the portable bar the hotel had set up.

kill me

“Sure, how ’bout one for Mom too!” I bantered.

kill me

“You must be getting tired,” offered another.

kill me

“You kidding? Beats going toe-to-toe with Doctor Octopus.”

kill me

“Hey, Spidey, How about a beer?” shouted a boisterous one with a hearty guffaw.

how about a case? Better still . . . kill me

“Not me, I’ve got to swing back to The States later, and I never drink and swing.”

kill me

Another two hours and it was over. I was shattered. When I removed the mask in the hotel room, the mummified skull of Ramses II that I remember from my high-school ancient history book, stared back at me. Joining the usual seams of the costume, etched on my face and torso were faint swaths of crimson from the suit’s dye staining my underarms. One long shower and nap later and I was ready and itching for copious amounts of food and drink.

I was scheduled to meet Eric at a bar called Trapper John’s. My inquiry at the concierge desk revealed that the pub was on George Street a short walk distant. In fact, George Street was the only place to get a drink in St. John’s as it was the only street on which businesses were allowed liquor licenses. I pondered this curious distinction on my way.

It wasn’t hard to find George Street. As the only thoroughfare where alcohol was available for purchase, the cacophony of partying Newfoundlanders and live music tore through the solitude of the area like an audible beacon in the night. Bar after bar lined both sides of the street, patrons spilling from every door, pint glasses and festive drinks in their hands. There didn’t seem to be any concern about carrying “open containers of alcohol” in public, and revelers drifted from one bar to the next with their drinks in hand. I wondered if the various establishments even bothered to trace back the odd assortment of glassware they’d invariably collect by the end of the evening or if they simply used the same glasses, thus saving innumerable cost when restocking due to the high volume of the shared order. It didn’t seem to unease any of the pubs I visited one way or the other.

I soon arrived at Trapper John’s, a cozy pub with the dubious distinction of being fur-lined. From floor to ceiling—including the ceiling—were hung a vast assortment of pelts: elk, seal, rabbit, otter, moose, every indigenous creature you could name. Not a square-inch of wall or ceiling tile was visible. Light fixtures and the occasional vintage, sepia-tone photo of (what else) a Canadian hunter—newly disembarked from his canoe with pelts in hand—seem to squeeze through the browns, blacks, whites, reds and brindles coating the walls. Even the bathroom did not escape the creative hand of the Grizzly Adams wannabe interior designer who waylaid the place (Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills, eat your heart out!). As one might expect, it was dark, and though busy, was relatively quiet, any sound absorbed and muffled by the furs. I imagine this is how members of PETA might envision Hell. As for me, any place with a well-stocked bar is aces. I’m just glad it didn’t.

I’d barely had time to say hello to Eric and meet his friends when I was introduced to another signature feature of Trapper John’s. “Introduced” is putting it politely; “accosted” would have been more apt.

“Hey Eric, has Steve been Screeched-In, yet?!” shouted one member of the cabal who had evidently already primed himself for the evening with several drinks under his belt.

Screeched-In’? As in Screech from Saved by the Bell. And what would that mean, anyway? Will I be screaming ‘Thank you, Sir! May I have another?’ by evening’s end? Or simply talking funny?!!

My confused/worried look was all the answer Eric’s pals needed.

“Screech! Screech! Screech! Screech! Screech!...” they began to chant.

I felt like Horton the Elephant being dragged by the Wickersham Brothers to the boiling pot of water that was to be The Whos’ doom, while being verbally pelted with a chorus of “Boil that dust speck! Boil that dust speck!” by them and the rest of the jungle denizens.

Another participant, who I hadn’t noticed leaving the group a few moments before, returned with a shot glass filled with black liquid.

Ah, Screech was a drink; why didn’t they just say so?

I knew any attempt at my gaining information about the mysterious liquor would have been roundly booed or at best ignored. And it was obvious my Greek chorus wasn’t going to let up until I had downed the shot. It worried me a bit that no one else was joining me, which would have been viewed as bad form in any American bar. How potent or disgusting was this stuff? Would I be waking up with a seal next to me? A veteran of a senior year of college living with four rugby players, I figured I could handle the experience, and downed the drink. I needn’t have worried. Screech was nothing more than dark rum. I've got to say, I was disappointed. In no way did the potable live up to its hype. A roar went up and I was officially “Screeched-In.”

I later learned that Screech was the rum equivalent of Retsina, the Greek white wine made from the dregs of the barrel after the favorable top portion has been extracted. Screech was even nastier. As a liquor derived from fermented sugar, the barrels in which rum is stored acquire a sticky layer of gunk along its walls. This sugary substance was scraped off, then boiled down to make Screech. Though actually produced in Jamaica, it’s bottled in Newfoundland. Go figure. The signature Screech drink was called “Double Dark & Dirty,” which was simply a rum & coke with a double shot of Screech, hence the “dirty” part of the name.

Try as they may, my brothers in the fraternal order of Tappa Kegga Screech, could not induce me into downing anymore shots of the alcoholic ichor. Nor did I want a “Double Dark & Dirty;” I’m not a rum drinker. At the time, my tipple of choice was beer… or red wine. I was still only few years out of college and my taste buds hadn’t aged to the point of appreciating hard liquor. My recent love of red wine came from waiting tables in nice restaurants. “Smokey,” “woody,” “hint of cherry,” intrigued me when I’d learn wine lists, and I felt experiencing and getting intimate with these characteristics would benefit my red wine sales. They did, and I grew to love the favored beverage of Bacchus. I would have liked a glass of good red wine, but I remembered the reaction the locals had with my outrageous request for cup of coffee at 10 A.M. I think if I had ordered a glass of red wine, my skin would have joined the furs on the walls. I also didn’t hold much hope of Trapper John’s having a decent wine-by-the-glass selection.

Besides, Canadian beer was good… damn good! The Canadian beer industry was not under the same restrictions as its American counterpart, which is highly regulated. Simply put, the alcohol content of the beer in Canada was higher. Not that I was looking to get shit-faced; but the greater alcohol content definitely made the beer better, heartier, richer and downright yummy. But scarcely had I finished my first beer than Eric announced that he was calling it a night. Huh? Isn’t this the same guy who wanted me to join him for a beer at 10 A.M.? What kind of drinker is this?

On subsequent gigs with Eric, I would learn that he is more than familiar with pounding a few, but at this moment, I had to wonder. I hadn’t realized what a hugely important summit this was for him, a make-or-break affair that had the potential to do untold good for children and communities across Canada, gain national attention, and earn a great deal of money and future business. The amount of physical work and mental exhaustion at its resolution must have been staggering. I spent little more than a half-dozen hours in a Spider-Man suit, cavorting with grown-ups and sick kids, and I was knackered. Eric certainly spent more than a few months pulling his proposal together. And I later learned that he had follow-up meetings the next morning. Thus, the reasons for his early withdrawal.

Eric’s exit made me realize how tired I was. I began the evening driving on fumes. Add a generous shot of Screech and a couple of Canadian beers and the extras in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? appeared like nervous dogs after drinking double espressos compared to me. So I left the feral confines of Trapper John’s and headed back to the hotel. Still, the palpable party atmosphere of George Street and the preponderance of drop-dead gorgeous gals were too much for my weakened state and I found myself pulled into a bar or two along the way.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that the lady-folk in this small seafaring town were only interested in one thing: seamen (ahem). St. John’s was a major port of call for naval fleets the world over and no amount of charm—in the looks department, I was woefully under-funded—nor New-York-City–allure could overcome that Anchors Aweigh je ne sais quoi. I, thus, resolved to the warming embrace of my hotel bed.

Besides, I’d need my rest if I was to withstand my return trip on “Frigid Air”!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chill St. John’s, Part I

I felt like so much cargo. And once again I was freezing. Goodness knows how cold I’d be when I reached Newfoundland. A dubious beginning, to say the least, in what would be the first in a series of trips that would take me across Canada and back again over the next few years. Newfoundland, I discovered, is north—northeast of NYC, to be more precise. Had I not learned that fact before take-off, my frozen toes and shivering body would have given me a good clue to figuring it out. It’s capital and my destination, St. John’s, is an hour and a half ahead of Eastern Standard Time. That’s an hour and a half! What Bizarro World was I flying into? It only seemed fitting that I was traveling... on a cargo plane!

My original flight, which I can only imagine would have been of the normal passenger variety with people, flight attendants, drinks and snacks... and heat, was canceled. Gee, what about all the other passengers eager to visit St. John’s, you may be wondering? What about all the other passengers! I was the only one heading out on a Friday night to Canada’s remote northeastern rock... er... I mean city. I guess my desperate look told the gate counter agent that I needed to get to St. John’s that night. I had an early morning meeting with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. I had no idea who or what the CACP was, but the “Chiefs of Police” part didn’t sound like something you wanted to disappoint.

“I can put you on another flight” was all I heard as I raced to the alternate gate. I missed the part about it being a cargo flight, not that I had any choice. If hitching a ride with Santa Claus was my only option... “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen!” Fortunately, given that it was fall and already chilly in New York, and taking into account a previous experience in Edmonton, wherein it hailed in July, I came prepared for the cold. Or so I thought. I didn’t know I’d be flying in an icebox.

There were only two seats. Surprisingly, the one abutting mine was unoccupied. Apparently, they couldn’t get the other sucker bounced from his flight to join me. The rest of the cabin was filled with huge steel crates. These were tenuously strapped down with thin canvas cords. I eyed them constantly during the flight as it shook and heaved in the Arctic wind, causing the crates to shift to and fro. There was light, but no heat. I could see my breath as we took off. By the time we made our approach, I could touch it.

There was a restroom; not that it mattered. I don’t think I could have urinated if my bladder depended on it. My penis had contracted so far inward from the cold, I don’t think an all-nude version of the Victoria’s Secret catalog could have coaxed it out of hiding. As for Number 2, I wasn’t about to risk my ass on a toilet seat. They’d need an ice scraper to get me off.

On the plus side, I had plenty of room to move freely about the cabin when the “Buckle your seat belt” light wasn’t on. Also, I didn’t have to put up with the incessant yammering of the pilot, who figured he wasn’t going to waste his flight-path spiel on a lone passenger. Who knows? Maybe they didn’t know they even had a passenger. Or maybe their teeth were chattering as badly as mine and they couldn’t speak. Naw, they had to have heat. They had to fly the plane after all, didn’t they? I’m glad that thought didn’t creep into my mind. I was worried enough as it was trying to stave off frostbite, pneumonia or both!

Come to think of it, the pilot might very well have made any number of announcements, during the flight. Without the usual insulation and soundproofing found on passenger flights, the cabin was aroar with the noise of the turbine engines. I didn’t know whether I should try to protect my eardrums or yell, “Freebird!”

I lumbered from the plane like Master P on Dancing with the Stars, my skin a lovely shade of purple, most of the enamel on my teeth chattered away and my hearing no better than Pete Townsend’s. The weather outside was balmy in comparison as I hopped into a cab, which took me to the thankfully modern hotel in which I’d be staying.

By the next morning and only after a hot shower, I could feel my toes.

I met my host Eric Conroy after breakfast. He was a tall, stocky man with dark, thinning hair and a generous smile. He also had a mischievous glint in his eyes, the type found on good salesmen. He wasn’t unctuous, though. He was warm, and I liked him instantly. As is standard procedure in these circumstances, he asked how my flight was. “Fine,” I simply and generously replied. Bitching and complaining is the best way to make a bad first impression. Besides, my boss at Marvel had hinted that more work could come from this appearance if I impressed the client, i.e. Eric. I knew once I put the suit on and did my thing I had a more than even chance. No sense in jeopardizing those chances before I donned the red-and-blue.

Eric informed me that I’d be appearing at a conference of the CACP, being held in the hotel. The reason: I was the dancing poodle, as it were, that would help influence the CACP to seal the deal on getting their support, i.e. financial backing—and by extension, the support of the entire Canadian police force—for a custom comic book to teach children across Canada about the evils of drugs. It would be, of course, a Spider-Man comic. I would then be sent cross-country to help promote the program. From what I learned at Marvel, before I left, and from Eric, once I’d arrived, was that the CACP had an initial conference on the West Coast in Vancouver not long before. It was well received and now it was time to get the go-ahead from the East Coast membership. It would not be the first time I would be hired to add color to help sway a business transaction.

A Spider-Man actor out of L.A. had performed at the Vancouver conference and had done a successful job. Still, I didn’t feel pressured. East Coast Spideys rarely got West Coast gigs and vice versa. The exceptions came from appearance sponsors who insisted on using a particular actor they had worked with previously. Even then, the Sponsor would have to pony up the additional money to get their Spider-Man. There also was a Chicago office that handled the Midwest.

We had time before the conference, so Eric took me up to his room to meet his wife. Apparently, he hadn’t told her. I walked in to find Fiona Conroy in nothing but a black bra, panties, thigh-highs and garter belt, in the midst of getting ready. Eric chuckled and apologized to his wife, who apologized to me before she retreated to the bathroom to put some clothes on. I remained calm, but wary. I never believed your letters before . . . was the first thing to pop into my head, but far from jokingly. Was I led into a ménage à trois? Was Fiona going to re-emerge with even less clothing on? Shouldn’t bad 70’s stock music start playing? I should be sporting a moustache like the one I had during my trip to Houston for the NATPE Convention, at least (see photo on right). I was quickly put at ease as Eric told Fiona we’d meet her downstairs at the pub. I later learned that Fiona was a model when the two met, which helped explain her nonchalant attitude about meeting someone in skimpy lingerie.

With the threat of sexual manipulation dispensed, my mind latched onto Eric’s “pub” comment. It was 10:00 a.m. in the morning. Surely, he meant to tell Fiona to meet us in the restaurant. I mean, it was obvious from her apparel that she hadn’t had breakfast. The pub probably wasn’t open, yet. I was proven wrong on all accounts, when Eric led the way into the hotel restaurant… and breakfast wasn’t on his menu. He intended on having a beer and buying Spider-Man one as well. I hadn’t had a beer this early in the morning since college and that was only technically morning, because I hadn’t gone to bed yet from partying the night before. All I wanted was a cup of coffee. But I was in the minority. In fact, the look the waitress gave me when I asked her for one was equal to the one I gave Eric when he asked me if I wanted a beer. “Are you daft?” her expression suggested? “It’s ten o’clock already!”

“It’ll take a minute,” she patiently replied as she quickly regained her composure. “I’ll have to make a pot.”

Make a pot?!! I thought incredulously. It’s ten o’clock in the morning and you haven’t got coffee brewing?!! As I surveyed the pub, a busy pub at that, not a single patron was drinking coffee. They all had hearty pints of ale before them. I felt like a vegan at a steakhouse, having just ordered the mixed greens salad without the bacon bits. I didn’t want to insult my host, either, so I explained that I didn’t drink before putting on the costume. Like I would normally have a beer at this hour. Actually, I was jealous that I couldn’t have a beer.

Eric wasn’t offended. He chalked it up to my being a stereotypical, coffee-addicted New Yorker. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but believe that all the stories I’d heard about Canadians and beer were true, and that knowledge came from the Bob and Doug McKenzie skits on SCTV. All I needed was a Mountie riding a moose through the door, crooning “Oh, Canada,” and my Canadian experience would be complete.

True to her word, Fiona joined us not too long thereafter. She, too, gave me a questioning look when she saw my cup of coffee. I almost started getting offended. New Yorkers don’t apologize on their humblest day, never mind feeling guilty about coffee before noon.

Fiona turned out to be a charming Scottish woman with a lovely smile. The accent and smile were lost on me during our first meeting for some strange reason. A true mom, she pulled out photos of her two sons, the youngest of which, Peter, came up with the idea to use a Spider-Man comic book to talk to kids about the dangers of drugs. When the time came, I excused myself to prepare and agreed to meet Eric back in the lobby.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of being Spider-Man was the reaction I got when accompanying people in an elevator. Most feigned ignorance, though they couldn’t completely hide the smiles on their faces. And try as they might to look straight ahead or at the lighted numbers above the door, they couldn’t help but sneak glimpses at me. Occasionally, I’d encounter a smart-ass.

“I didn’t think Spider-Man took the elevator,” they’d snidely remark. Or “Shouldn’t you be in New York?

“My irradiated blood only keeps me so warm,” was my usual reply for the former question in the case of Newfoundland and other chilly locales. The latter elicited, “I always try to visit my fans in other parts of the world whenever I get a break from battling Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.” Sometimes I’d combine the two with, “It’s because people expect to see me only in New York that I’m taking the elevator. I certainly don’t want to cause a disturbance by climbing up the outside of the building.”

I bounded from the elevator into the lobby of the hotel. Although I saw Eric, conversing with someone, I made a beeline, or should I say “webline”, for the reception counter. Without breaking stride, I leapt up into a dead squat. The woman behind the desk jumped back.

“VIP suite, last name of ‘Man’… ‘Spider-Man,’ checking in,” I teased.

From across the room, Eric pointing me out to his colleagues in the CACP like a proud father. Little did I know, but that move nailed my audition. I wasn’t even thinking of impressing the client. I was just being Spider-Man, having fun. My display also gave Eric the perfect presentation for his case. Seeing the reaction I was getting—the impact I was making—every member of the CACP had to be imagining how the media would eat this up across Canada and the amount of publicity and goodwill their campaign would generate.

The conference was an all-day affair. I was a mere blip on the agenda, the starting point of the items that would be covered after the lunch break. Eric was seated at a table before the audience, while I awaited my cue outside the rear entrance to the hall. At the appropriate time during the discussion about the specialized comic book, I burst into the hall.

“Did someone say ‘Spider-Man,’” I asked? “Sorry I’m late, but as soon as I got out of New York, I ran out of things to swing from.”

As I meandered toward the dais, I teased and cajoled the audience.

“Hey, you’ve got hair like mine,” I pointed out to one bald gentleman, while I patted his bare pate.

“Nice tie,” I commented to another, who wore a particularly vulgar tie.

I also made sure to target the obvious mucky mucks in the room. This move always garnered an exuberant and appreciative response from the hoi polloi, similar to the way students react when a visitor teases their teacher.

Eric and I at a press conference about the CACP custom Spider-Man Comic in Toronto

These antics served to dispel any doubters in the room about the efficacy of Spider-Man to gain attention, as well as re-enforcing this belief in those who already suspected as much. A final leap onto the table at the head of the room and my entrance was complete. Nothing more needed to be said. A gracious round of applause followed and we were done... done with the conference portion that is. My Newfoundland adventure had only just begun...

(Spidey takes on drunk Canadian police, the perils of Trapper John’s and confronts a fan braver than he will ever be, in tomorrow’s exciting conclusion!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley

I consider myself old school when it comes to detective fiction, preferring classic hard-boiled authors and characters, like Raymond Chandler and his iconic Philip Marlowe, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, and the triumvirate of Mickey D investigative creations, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Gregory McDonald’s Fletch and Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer. As for Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, I consider them soft-boiled. They’re okay, but reading them is like eating a candy bar when you’re starving: it tastes great, but afterward you’re unfulfilled.

I wasn’t expecting much from A Carrion Death. Where was the big city, the dirty alleyways, the littered streets, the crumbling pavement, the pervasive shadows? Death takes place in the Botswana area of Africa; the glaring sun, empty plains with killers more often of the four-legged kind. And what about the novel’s hero? Where’s the lone manly man with the turncoat gangster moll hanging from his muscular arm? Death’s Detective Kubu is zaftig—Kubu, the character’s accepted nickname, is actually Setswana for hippopotamus—with a loving wife, who wrestles with excuses to ignore her dietary constrictions rather than with thugs.

Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. Because of the odd differences, A Carrion Death is an enjoyable hard-boiled detective novel and then some.

Like every great whodunit, the novel opens with a dead body, but his one isn’t stabbed, strangled or shot, or rather, had it been, it is impossible to tell, as it’s been half-eaten by hyenas and other predators indigenous to Detective Kubu’s jurisdiction (Talk about evidence being tampered with!). So how does Kubu even know that this is nothing more than simply a victim of Africa’s natural order? Ah, there’s the first rub. What follows leads Kubu from Diamond Mines to tribal rituals; from college mates to the country’s most powerful and influential people; from wildlife watering holes to the seedy, dangerous ones of the human variety; Kubu’s dogged pursuit seemingly thwarted at every turn.

As with most hard-boiled novels, the solution to the crime is almost secondary to the characters, their interaction and pursuit of justice. Detective Kubu is a revelation; everything the aforementioned gumshoes are not, but no less a classic hard-boiled character nonetheless. A man “of not inconsiderable bulk,” as first described, he has a penchant for food and drink; a loving relationship with his wife and a teasing, playful one with his sister-in-law. At first glance, Kubu’s boss, Jacob Mabaku, is a stereotypical, interfering, pain-in-the-ass superior, more concerned with procedure than finding answers. His true nature, though, develops into a refreshingly complex individual. Other notables: Ian MacGregor, a Scotch transplant and pathologist of the Botswana police, who enjoys a good tipple and chasing the ladies; and Johannes “Bakkies (pickup truck)” Swanepoel, a South African detective sergeant, who shares a nickname based on his huge physique like Kubu with the exception that Bakkies “converted the food to muscle while he (Kubu) turned it to fat.”

SIDE NOTE: Although their name is used derogatorily as an insult to the overweight, hippopotami are predominantly not fat, but muscular. They actually sink in water and gallop on river bottoms. Hence their name which comes from the ancient Greek: hippos, meaning horse; and potamus, meaning river; i.e. river horse. Had their size been a result of fat, they would be floating. Also, hippopotami are hardly docile creatures. In fact, more people die from hippopotami attacks than any other creature in Africa.

Thus endeth the lesson. Now back to our regularly scheduled review…

A Carrion Death is the collaborative effort of two writers, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, hence their pen name, Michael Stanley. Their union is seamless. Though they liberally sprinkle native languages throughout the novel, their usage does not bog down the pacing, instead enhancing the tale. Still, Messieurs Sears and Trollip provide a modest glossary, one I didn’t need to reference while enjoying the book. They also supply a listing of characters with brief bios and a map. These I did reference, not so much out of necessity as out of interest.

A Carrion Death gets four spiders. I am looking forward to detective Kubu’s next case. In fact, I’ve already gotten the book, The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu. Had I not read Death, the title of the follow-up alone would have had me salivating!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Which cartoon character would you choose?

In Tokyo, this (life-size?) statue of the vintage Japanese cartoon character, Gigantor, was recently unveiled. It stands 60-feet tall, weighs a whopping 50 tons and cost an estimated 1.5 million dollars to construct (I hear they found the builders on Angie's List)!

As a childhood fan of the cartoon series—which premiered in the U.S. in 1966, but debuted in Japan in 1957—and lover of giant monsters, robots... pretty much anything, I think this is awesome! I barely recollect the cartoon—I was only 3-years-old—having stronger memories of the theme song (Gigantor the space-age robot/He's at your command...), but I always loved the character. I actually have a 10-inch toy of Gigantor—the arms and legs bend, and the eyes light up!—complete with a 3-inch version of Jimmie Sparks, the 12-year-old that controlled the robot in the cartoons.

So, my faithful Bloglodytes...

What beloved cartoon character would you have constructed and where would you put it (Be nice!)? Would you have Bugs Bunny, clad in the baseball uniform he wore when he took on the Gashouse Gorillas, catching a fly ball atop the torch of the Statue of Liberty as he did in the cartoon? Or maybe Kimba, the White Lion standing on Siegfried and Roy's lawn. Let's see how creative you can be.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jeepers Creepers

According to (Okay, so it’s not the OED—Oxford English Dictionary—deal with it!), zany is defined as “ludicrously or whimsically comical.” I would venture to say that there is also an air of danger or unpredictability that accompanies its usage. The 60’s comic television series Laugh-In could certainly be called “zany.” Add to that talent and creativity that is almost criminal and you come close to describing Ken Steacy.

Steacy as he looks today (Don't let the sophisticated pose fool you) in a picture from his website, There, you can see an example of his zaniness in a video, in which he plays a trick on his wife, the equally talented, yet grounded, Joan Thornborrow Steacy. The published works of Steacy and his wife—as well as other exemplary creators—are also available on the site.

I had the pleasure of meeting Steacy in 1988 at the Mid-Ohio Con, one of the warmest, most fun, and subsequently best, comic book shows now held annually in Columbus, Ohio. But during the show’s early years, the fairgrounds in Mansfield hosted the event, and it was in this suburban city, situated betwixt Cleveland and Columbus, where I met the artist.

With such industry luminaries as Stan Lee, John Byrne, Todd McFarlane and Dick Giordano, the convention floor was packed. But such insanely fan-favorite guests also meant that someone less popular, yet no less talented, like Steacy often found himself with smaller lines and more time to roam the show floor, bantering and teasing those colleagues tied to their tables by an endless sea of eager fans awaiting autographs.

Oh, who am I kidding? Had Steacy been all the Beatles rolled into one, signing free copies of first edition 45s of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” the resultant queue would not have kept him at his table for long, he is that fidgety. Squirrels have a longer attention span. Thus, it was that I found myself perched atop the table, at which phenomenally hot Spider-Man artist Todd McFarlane was signing, when Steacy strolled over.

Two examples of Steacy's beautiful airbrush work. Notice the inclusion of fuchsia... Ken just loves his fuchsia!

McFarlane only just started penciling the Web-Spinner’s adventures a few months earlier, but his outrageous interpretation of the Wall-Crawler was already a major topic of debate, especially his rendition of Spider-Man’s eyes. McFarlane’s were three times larger than had been the norm for decades, a size not seen since the Web-Swinger’s inaugural artist Steve Ditko drew the character. Marvel’s Personal Appearance Department redesigned the costumes…eventually…to reflect McFarlane’s new standard—a story recounted in my April 24, 2009, posting, entitled “My, What Big Eyes You Have”but at the time, they were still reflective of the “old” style.

As was often the case at conventions, Spider-Man was left unfettered by a designated autograph area to roam freely amongst his adoring fans. It was inevitable that I pay a visit to the artist of Amazing Spider-Man.

The crowd in line for McFarlane’s signature was split on wanting Spidey’s autograph in addition to the popular artist’s or not. Some thought it “neat.” Others didn’t even want me to touch their comics for fear of my knocking them down a “condition” level, an absurd notion for several reasons: 1) I was wearing gloves; whereas these paranoid Felix Ungers were not. So they were doing more damage gingerly taking their vaunted “mint-condition” comics out of their Mylar sleeves than I could by running my hands over them; 2) McFarlane was also handling the book sans gloves; and 3) unless certified as being authentic—or accompanied by some other form of proof, like a photo of the artist actually in the process of signing—McFarlane’s autograph alone would lessen the value of any book he signed.

Don’t even get me started on the possible damaging effects of ink on comic covers. There were some misguided fans who brought silver or gold paint pens with which their idols were instructed to sign. Over time, the chemicals in the ink eat through the paper. Even Sharpies—another industry favorite for autographs—can hurt books. Having an artist sign on an interior page in basic pen ink is less destructive, but now the comic you were so fearful of getting thumbprints on is being opened and handled whilst getting autographed.

And I hate to break it to you, you will never be able to retire on any comic published in the last fifty years.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, atop Todd McFarlane’s table, surrounded by comic geeks…

“Hey, Todd! I see you brought your body guard with you.” A giggle accompanied Steacy’s snarky comment.

“Yeah, but his eyes are too small,” was McFarlane’s response.

“I beg your pardon,” I retorted in feigned indignation. “I have it on good authority that I have lovely eyes. Besides… I am Spider-Man! I think I’d know the appropriate size of my own eyeballs. Yours are too big!” I replied, referring to the artist’s interpretation of the Wall-Crawler.

“Are not!”

“Are too!”

Thus, our debate descended to the level of two ten-year-olds at the playground; good-humoredly, of course. And much to the delight of the fans.

It was Steacy who broke up our prepubescent polemic. His epiphany was nearly audible; I could swear the area got momentarily brighter from the light bulb that appeared over his head. With maniacal glee, he grabbed my arm and ushered me from the wondering crowd. The next few minutes, he led me from one artist’s table to the next seeking a couple of sheets of white drawing paper. He eventually settled for off-white ones with a “This’ll do.”

I couldn’t fathom what was on Steacy’s mind, but his giddiness and focus was infectious. Had he been evil, he would’ve rubbed his hands together and Bwah-hah-hahed.

Next stop: Steacy’s own table, where several fans were camped, copies of comics Steacy drew in hand, awaiting the artist’s return. They may as well have been motes of dust. Steacy took his seat, grabbed a Sharpie and began drawing furiously, entreaties of “Could you please sign my books, Mr. Steacy” ignored. But soon, his fans, too, were caught up in the artist’s demented enthusiasm. Whereas most people would’ve backed away, they watched mesmerized as the psychotic Steacy grabbed an X-Acto Knife. Like Edward Scissorhands he attacked the paper. Two items emerged. It wasn’t until he held them up to either side of my head that I realized that he had fashioned two “McFarlane” eyes. Huh?!! But he was off again on another quest, me close behind, his growing mob of acolytes in tow.

Where Steacy found tape, I don’t know. Maybe the power of his crazed crusade caused its manifestation, but soon he was taping the two “McFarlane” eyes over the smaller ones of my costume, forgetting that there was a human being inside the suit as he manhandled my face. With a disturbing Cheshire-cat grin and twinkling eyes, he admired his work before grabbing me again.

“Let’s go show Todd!” he giddily blurted.

“I can’t see, Ken!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied with a cackle at his own stupidity. Had his mouth been full of water it would have been a spit-take.

The X-Acto knife appeared in his hand. Had he been carrying that as he whirled through the show room like the Tasmanian Devil?!!

“Don’t move.”

Don’t mo—?!!

Suddenly, he was holding my head steady with one hand while wielding the X-Acto knife with the other, slicing holes in the paper that was loosely taped to my face. Move?!! I didn’t breathe and certainly wasn’t about to protest, what with a razor-sharp blade millimeters from my eyes. More unsettling, he giggled the entire time he worked, muttering things like “This is going to be great” under his breath. Yeah, especially if blood starts spurting out of the orbs of the suit!

In seconds, the deed was done and I was still in possession of two functioning eyes. Steacy did a perfect job, too. My vision was only as impeded as it had always been when wearing the costume.

We raced over to McFarlane’s table. I bounded onto the table mere inches from the Spidey artist, whose head was down in the midst of sketching. I hunkered low and, resting an elbow on the table, chin in hand, said, “You were saying?”

To his credit McFarlane retained a straight face when he turned to greet my reconstructed visage, but I could see he was having trouble staving off a smile.

“They’re still too small,” he dryly commented before returning to his work.

Everyone erupted in laughter, including McFarlane.

Alas, though many shots were taken by fans, I only have the eyes—autographed by both Messieurs Steacy and McFarlane, who added a little comment and a sad opticon—to share. But I did get a chance to see Steacy’s handiwork when I ducked into the rest room for a peek. He did a remarkable job; I looked like a McFarlane-rendered Spider-Man. Imagine what he could do if he breathed!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Goodbye, Rusty...

I am having a very hard time writing this...

Rusty Haller, the artist whose work donned the original header of this website and has appeared in numerous postings since the site's inception, died in his sleep last night at the young age of 45.

A good friend, I spoke of Rusty in my March 6, 2009, posting, and featured some of his wonderful art. Rusty was incredibly talented, with a sense of humor that could be silly, suggestive, or oftentimes both, but always funny. He was most proud of his anthropomorphic Man from U.N.C.L.E. meets Hart to Hart comic, Ace and Queenie, which ran in several issues of Furrlough and can be seen on its eponymous website.

The past year has been difficult for Rusty. He was living with his mother when she passed away in her sleep one day. Lack of work lead to his being evicted from his apartment. But it seemed as if his life were on an upswing. He was taken in by a friend in Ohio and had several solid prospects. Just earlier this week, I had referred him to my sister, who had since spoken to Rusty and hired him to design a logo for her.

I cannot help but get angry at Rusty's difficulty in finding work, a situation that filled him with constant worry and I'm sure led to his passing. He was so fucking talented!

I figured the best, most appropriate, way to honor him would with more of his work.

I'll miss him... and the world will miss his art... Goodbye, Rusty...

The original header, which graced the blog for its first two-and-a-half years

This illo of Ace and Queenie captures the passion Rusty had for his creation.

Rusty's wonderfully demented humor can be seen in this panel from sample pages he submitted to Marvel in the hope of getting work on his favorite title, Ren and Stimpy... Sadly, he never did.

Rusty's work appeared in many comic books, including Marvel Comics ALF and DC Comics Loony Tunes. The above example is part of a spread from Issue #14.

Rusty's work was by no means limited to comic books. He recently designed the art for a Teen Titans coloring book and this piece was featured on the cover of the November 2, 2005, issue of New Haven's free newspaper Play.

I'll end on a lighthearted note (I'm sure Rusty would agree).
This page comes from a story in issue #21 of Marvel Comics What The—? and features Rusty's take on She-Hulk's—or in this case, Sheeza Hulk's—problems with dating.