Friday, July 22, 2011

Faces & Spirits - The Art of Dave Stevens

The new Captain America movie is out this weekend, directed by Joe Johnston, who in the early 90's brought The Rocketeer to the big screen. The films look very similar in tone and style, and I'm glad. A classic 40's movie serial throwback is always fun, but I'll never love an adventure film as much as The Rocketeer.

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When it came out as a kid I was obsessed. I had the sticker storybook, the bendable action figure. I was convinced I could build a working jet pack. When it came out on VHS I watched it a million times, probably wearing out the local video store's copy. When I found out about the comic book that inspired it... oh man... it was all over. I rode my bike to Spa City Comics fast as a bolt of lightning.
This character who meant so much to me and my burgeoning imagination, was created by illustrator and painter, Dave Stevens. Stevens was a dedicated comic's man, raised on Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and Jim Steranko. While each of these master's influence is evident in his work, he was able to infuse his own love and spirit and individualize his own unique style.

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A page from The Spirit by Will Eisner.

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Classic Captain America by Jack Kirby.

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A dangerous femme fatale by Jim Steranko.

Reading his comics as a kid was so much fun. The way it felt to watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones for the first time, thats how it felt to turn the pages of his comics. Explosions, gangsters, vintage cars, german Lugers & tommy guns, he perfectly illustrated a young boy's sense of adventure including the most dangerous and thrilling of all adventures... women.


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While Jim Lee had the big boob, big gun market locked down at Marvel, he didn't invent it. And honestly, he ripped it off without any of the beauty and spirit with which it was intended. Looking at Dave Steven's drawings of Betti Page, Marilyn Monroe, or any of his pin up gun toting girls, it never seems exploitative or crude. It appears as pure, exhilarating admiration. Even now when you see them it seems like you are 11 or 12 again, chewing bubblegum with grass stains on your shorts and skinned knees, flipping through the pages of the latest issue and falling in love with the voluptuous beauty on the arm of our superhero. You only linger on the body for but a moment because you are inevitably drawn to her eyes... and therein lay the beauty. The spirit. Dave Stevens was an incredible artist not because of the bodies he drew but because of the soul he made us see in them.


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"I like quirkiness and whimsy. I like getting into the faces and spirits of characters as I draw them. I enjoy animating a figure or a face with expressiveness, joy, sadness. That's where my interest lies. I want to know who that person is. It's not just a body to me. The face is where everything happens." -Dave Stevens

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thunderbird Radio Pt. I

So here is a little feature I'm pretty darn tootin' excited about. I've been adding some of my music documentary work and will be adding video blogs and podcasting pretty soon but right now I have the first installment of THUNDERBIRD RADIO!
Its my streaming radio show brought to you for free by 8track! I'll be classing it up and adding some treats in amongst the tunes for future installments but for now... voila! Enjoy a batch of sunshiny, party times tunes made especially by mi por tu!

Summer Jam... Goodnight Tonight

So a few weeks back my pals and I had a wild Friday night. One of those Friday nights that kind of happen at the last minute and end up lasting well into Saturday morning. We were invited by an Italian lass to what the young folks used to call a "Rave" (I was told this term is now intimidating and passe).
Anyhow, we had to cab it out to the middle of nowhere. The SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco, 26th St. and Tennessee Ave. or some other combination of numbers and states. Basically old warehouses and trucking docks. Very industrial, very sparsely populated. In fact when the Yellow Cab pulled up to the address we were given we thought we had made a terrible mistake. There was not a soul to speak of and all was dark and quiet. That is until a tall, exotic looking woman flung open a large steel door on the side of the windowless building in front of us and welcomed us in.
We wandered about the massive building following a continuous thumping bass like sonic breadcrumbs from some twisted futuristic version of Hansel and Gretel. At the end of a long, empty hallway was a set of doors that opened up into... well... a rave. In the middle of this trucking depot was a two level dance club complete with bar, lounge, light show, and smoking section. It was pretty damn ridiculous. We got there at midnight but the word amongst the crowd was that it wouldn't really start swinging for another 4 or 5 hours. The after party started at 7:00am the next day.
The dance floor was pretty empty. Most people seemed self-concious, but dammit we had come all this way and we were not to be deterred by silly things like appearance or reputation (and lets face it, I ain't got one). My friends and I got out there and grooved to a pretty awful batch of electronic music. Monotonous and droning. Not much melody to go off of just THUMP THUMP THUMP. But thats when something incredible happened... the DJ, perhaps sensing a growing atmosphere of awkwardness, mixed in a track that while uncharacteristic for a contemporary club scene was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Goodnight Tonight, a 1979 disco single by Sir Paul McCartney and Wings.
Shit got real, fast! Smiles were cracking on everyone's faces. Booties once still on the sidelines were all at once a-shakin'. It was magical. It was the highlight of the rave...errr.... warehouse party. All it took was some intuition, risk, and the drop of a needle and suddenly a summer jam was born.





Sunday, July 10, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose...



Over the past month I have tried amongst my friends and family to make my case for Friday Night Lights being one of the greatest television shows of the past decade. It has been an uphill battle to say the least. Most of my appeals are rebuked with a scoff or a snicker. Many people become almost embarrassed for me having admitted to being a fan. The thing is, all of this negativity is based on a huge misconception about this terrific program, so I've decided to take my argument to the interwebs. If I can get just one of you to watch this show and talk to me about it, I'll be so very happy. Here goes...

Friday Night Lights is a one hour drama about a high school football team from the fictional West Texas town of Dillon called the "Panthers". Remember the movie Varsity Blues? Yeah kind of like that, except with one major difference... this doesn't suck.
Peter Berg (google this guy and be amazed at his resume) is the executive producer and based this series off of his cousins non-fiction book about a 1988 TX high school championship season. On paper, the story has all the familiar tropes of a high school football story... die hard football "don't mess with Texas" dudes, gossipy southern belles, and cheerleader/quarterback romances, and of course the gruff but inspiring coach. Where FNL really shines however, is in the execution of this otherwise mundane subject matter.

First, the music supervision on this show is top notch. Instead of coasting on an indie rock flavor of the month soundtrack, the show has an eclectic yet sonically complimentary pallet. The Replacements, J.J. Cale, Wilco, Richard Hawley, Lucinda Williams, and plenty more all have significant air time and create a stirring musical backdrop for the drama. The shows unofficial "theme" is actually an old Daniel Johnston by way of Bright Eyes tune called "Devil Town". It is simultaneously haunting and jangly. Fun to sing along to but heart-wrenching as well, a perfect metaphor for the entire series.

Shot handheld and on location, the show assumes the look of a documentary. This provides a heightened sense of realism but also affords the actors free reign of this deeply realized world of Dillon, Texas, and thankfully so for the casting of the show is by far its greatest asset. Instead of populating the show with 25 year olds playing the part of an 16 year old, or supermodels as everymen/women, the actors on FNL look and feel like real people. Sure you have Minka Kelly and Taylor Kitsch, two of the most beautiful people on the planet, but the way with which the characters are developed over the course of the series makes their looks a moot point. Often actually an obstacle to be overcome as opposed to an asset.

The sheer amount of young talent on this show is staggering. In an age of Lohans and Hudgens and other Disney disasters, the teen actors on this show restore your faith in empathetic youths. Jesse Plemons, Zach Gilford, and Aimee Teegarden will no doubt become familiar cinematic faces and their turns in this show are already enough to pin careers on.

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Gilford especially shines as 2nd string quarterback turned team captain, Matt Saracen.
Saracen is an odd kid, abandoned by his parents and left with an invalid Grandmother in a crumbling house. He supports himself with a job at the local burger joint and has little to no social skills. To watch Gilford's portrayal of Saracen evolve from a confused and insecure jock outcast to a determined, albeit bumbling artist over the series run is truly a pleasure.

The real core of the show though are Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. He's the head coach of the Panthers and she is the high school guidance counselor. Its one of the greatest portrayals of marriage I've seen on television and its refreshing to see two underrated actors finally get a chance to steal the spotlight. Chandler's take on the high school coach is inspired. He's trying to do the right thing in a town full of cheaters. Britton's southern charm is undeniable and her portrayal of a modern Texas woman is strong and progressive.

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That brings us to perhaps the shows most redeeming quality... its progressive and at times brutal portrayal of the contemporary American south. It is for this reason, more so than any others, that I think Friday Night Lights deserves its place amongst the best of American television. We've seen a tremendous decade for the boob tube. Shows like The Sopranos and Arrested Development and The Wire revolutionized the entire medium. While Mad Men has assumed the cool and purposeful plotting of Sopranos and Modern Family picked up where Development's slapstick absurdity left off, there has yet to be a show with the same brutally realistic and emotionally exhausting pace of The Wire.

Friday Night Lights is that show. It does for the rural southern landscape what The Wire did for the modern urban nightmare. Over the course of 5 seasons we get see the exact problems that contribute to decay of the moral and physical infrastructure of modern America. While Baltimore, Maryland and Dillon, Texas have significant differences in population and culture, the problems that plague both locals are sadly identical. Drugs, racism, political corruption, sensationalized media, and economic degradation are abound and both shows examine the intricate interweaving of them in the characters everyday lives. Even Michael B. Jordan who played the beloved 'Wallace" in The Wire is a star of FNL's last two seasons as quarterback, Vince Howard. I know it may sound ridiculous to the slew of skeptics out there but I'm not overstating the power of this program. You need proof? Watch it.



Friday, July 1, 2011

Summer Jams... Can I Kick It?

A Tribe Called Quest. What a friggin group! Not only did they birth the careers of Q- Tip and "Lucy Pearl" member Ali Shaheed, but they killed it with the party jams. With summer firmly upon us I have found myself rocking the old mainstay "Can I Kick It?" far more often than is probably deemed healthy. The ubiquitous bass line from "Walk On The Wild Side" is instantly inviting and the rhymes are wickedly uplifting.

"Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug. If you feel the urge to freak do the jitterbug"

With lines that innocent and pop-lockin' you nearly forget about the age of hip hop we currently reside in. The age of self- absorbed superstars like Kanye holding the severed heads of emaciated supermodels in his videos and uber-agro Tyler the "Creator" dropping an F-Bomb every 3 seconds. While both of those dudes might be talented rappers with catchy as hell beats... they simply can't hold a flame to the simplicity of the Tribe's jam. Whether you are laying back to relax and smoke a J or you are booty shaking with a pretty lass, this song will stand by you. Summer is approximately 130,000 minutes long. Thats about 30,000 opportunities for you to shake your ass to this killer jam. Seeing as how its Independence Day weekend, y'all better get on that.