Indiana Jones and the [Insert Your Own Geriatric Joke Here]

So George Lucas has announced that Indy 4 is set to begin filming next year. I can't help it - I'm excited about it. There's a lot of nerds out there convinced sight unseen that it will suck, and who can blame them? After the general suckitude of the Star Wars "Special Editions" and prequels, everyone's understandably a little gun-shy about George Lucas ressurrecting old franchises. "It's going to be fantastic," Lucas said. "It's going to be the best one yet." Fair enough, but I think he said the same thing about Attack of the Clones, didn't he?

Still, I can't help it. I can't wait to see this movie. Hell, I can't wait to see the trailer for this movie. Yes, I'm a big enough nerd that just sitting in a theater next Xmastime, watching the trailers and hearing the "Raiders March" is going to give me goosebumps. Can't help it. It comes with the territory of nerd-dom. This is the sort of thing that gets us excited. I'll admit it - I'm one of those nerds who paid good money to see the Freddie Prinze Jr. sci-fi/videogame epic Wing Commander just to see the Episode I teaser trailer. And that's not even the lowest I've sunk just to see a trailer.*

Of course, the trailer will be fun and make the movie look great. It's the movie itself, of course, that will be the real event. And I just don't think I can even describe the enormous goofy grin that will surely be on my face as the Paramount Logo dissolves into some other sort of mountain in the actual movie. Of course, I had just the same enormous goofy grin on my face back in 1999 when "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." appeared on-screen at the beginning of Episode I, and look how that turned out.

Still, "Hopes High, Expectations Low," that's my motto. I hope it's great, every bit the equal of Raiders, or at the very least the equal of Last Crusade, and I'm excited about seeing it based on my hopes. But I don't expect much from it at all. If it meets my hopes, great. If it meets my expectations, too bad, but at least I'm not disappointed.

* To just what depths I've sunk, I don't think I can even admit.

Cat/Bird Seat

After several visits to my parents' house, the Kitties are quite comfortable there. And their favorite pastime while visiting is watching and/or terrorizing my Mom's pet cockatiel, Rosie. Rosie seems unperturbed by this.

Again? Do We Have To?

As if last week's blizzard wasn't enough, we're getting dumped on again.

We're just not used to this. This isn't Chicago. This isn't Buffalo. This is Denver, where the snow from the last storm is supposed to be melted away by the time the next storm hits. I'm pretty sure that's in the City Charter. But no, there's still two feet of snow on the lawn and giant piles along the barely-plowed streets. And now we're getting more.

This sucks.

It's another morning of TV news morons babbling about the same three topics over and over again - traffic, the airport and the actual weather report. They go to their reporters out in the field and ask, "Steve, what's it like out there?" Just once, I'd love to see one of the reporters reply what we're all thinking: "What's it like out here? Anne, you have a lot of damn gall asking me what it's like out here when you can see me on your monitor there in the nice warm studio. I'll tell you what it's like out here: it's fucking miserable, Anne. It's 22 degrees and it's snowing goddamn sideways. When the news director finally decides he doesn't need me to stand out here by the highway to inform the folks at home that, surprise, surprise, it's still fucking snowing out here, I'm coming back to the studio and I'm going to strangle you. Back to you, Anne." But instead, they chuckle and make inane jokes just like they always do.

Well, fuck it. I'm going back to bed. Wake me in May.

Digging Out

Yesterday, as the snow was dumping on us, we didn't do much. Mostly we spent the day sitting on the couch, watching movies, eating popcorn and drinking mulled wine. It was a nice way to while away a snowy day, overall, but the lack of activity left us both feeling like slugs by the time we went to bed.

This morning, the snowfall was easing up. As we finished our breakfast and I drank my coffee, Em looked out the window and said, "Well, Jim's out there shoveling." And so he was. Our neighbor was hard at work, clearing off his sidewalks. I watched him for a few minutes, sipping coffee, and I started feeling lazy. What could I do?

Of course I bundled up, waded through the snow to the toolshed, retrieved the snow shovel, and started digging. After a while, Em came out to do some digging her own self. In a couple of hours or so, we had cleared two feet of snow off the sidewalks and walkways all around the house. It was cold out there, but it was hard work and I was shedding layers fairly quickly. I felt like I made up for yesterday's lack of activity and then some. After that, we bundled up again and took a much-more-arduous-than-usual walk to the grocery store. We thought we were getting eggs for tomorrow's breakfast, but as it turned out, there wasn't a single egg left in the store, so we got pancake mix instead.

And, of course, between the shoveling and the supply run, Em paused to make a snow angel.

Billions and Billions

I would be a very remiss Great Big Nerd, indeed, if I did not participate in the Carl Sagan Memorial Blog-a-thon. Ten years ago today, 20 December 1996, Carl Sagan died. He was only 62.

Among my earliest TV memories, alongside the cartoons and the "Sesame Street" and the "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," there is "Cosmos." Obviously, I was very small and wouldn't have watched it on my own, but my Dad was a fan. I remember bits and pieces - some interesting visuals and the distinctive music, mostly.

My strongest association with Sagan is with the movie Contact, based on his novel. Okay, so Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey have all the chemistry of a couple of mannequins. But it's one of the few sci-fi movies I can think of that's really about ideas rather than bug-eyed monsters and evil robots.

I'm also a big fan of his 1977 book The Dragons of Eden - Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. It's perhaps a bit dated nearly thirty years later, but it remains a fascinating read. There's all kinds of great stuff in it about how and why human beings are intelligent, the capacity for language in the great apes, the origins of the myth of Eden, mammals' ancient rivalry with reptiles, and much, much more. And he's quite capable of an evocative turn of phrase: "Late at night," he writes in Chapter 6, about the function of dreaming, "when it is very still and the obligatory daily dreams have been dreamt, the gazelles and the dragons begin to stir."

If there's a silver lining in Sagan's death, it is that he did not live to see the dreadful state of reason in America today. Sagan would have been more appalled than anyone to hear the President of the United States advocating for the teaching of "intelligent design" in the science classroom. He would have been horrified by the administration's - and the public's - disregard for science on the subjects of stem cell research and climate change. He would have been disgusted by the overwhelming and increasing influence of religion on public policy.

Sagan was, above all, a believer in the power of reason and rational thinking. He had no tolerance for talk of mysticism, astrology, ESP, UFOs, or anything else that couldnt' be demonstrated or tested. He believed in the potential of humanity to achieve anything, but feared that we might well blow ourselves up before we got there. In short, Carl Sagan was exactly the kind of thinker the world desperately needs more of today.

Plus, he could rock the turtleneck-and-blazer combo like nobody's business.

Grr. Arrgh.

Now that I'm out of class for a while, my creative energies can be directed back at my long-in-the-works webcomic. It's going to be a while before it's actually up and running, but in the meantime, here's a little sneak peak for yez.

And Then We Retired to the Drawing Room for Coffee, Brandy and Cigars

We had people over for dinner tonight.

Sometimes, my parents come down for dinner, which is nice. But tonight, it was some of our very best friends, Julie, Chris and Amber, which is even better. My parents are great, and always good dinner company. But it's always better having friends over, in my opinion. One's parents are a family obligation. Friends are a different matter. Having friends for dinner has a way of making me feel very grown-up. Planning what to cook, what wine to serve, what to serve for dessert is always a pleasure. The cooking is always fun, too - how can I be unhappy or stressed with a chance to show off my mad kitchen skillz? It's kind of silly, but it's one of the only times I really feel like an Adult-with-a-capital-"A".

Tonight it was chicken tortilla soup (my own recipe, natch) and cornbread - perfect for a day when the weather finally turned back into typical, frosty December weather after a week of 60-degree days. Em made two kinds of Christmas cookies for dessert - Austrian Chocolate Balls and Mexican Wedding Cakes. Both delicious. Much wine was drunk. Matters both weighty and frivolous were discussed. I earned props for my soup, and far too many cookies were consumed.

The guests are gone and the music has been turned off. It feels a little strange to have the house suddenly be so quiet after an evening of noise.

All in all, I must say, the post-dinner-party relaxation time is one of the most perfect, simple and uncomplicated feelings of contentment I know.

Puttin' on the Ritz

A moment of silence, please, for the late, great Peter Boyle, who died yesterday at the age of 71.

Most people probably know him from his work on Everybody Loves Raymond. My limited experience with that show suggests that Boyle was far and away the best, funniest thing it had going. Still, I really couldn't care less about Raymond. Ray Romano's voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Anyway, Peter Boyle is eternally worth remembering for his part in my personal choice for Funniest Movie of All Time, Young Frankenstein.

It's an absolute Murderer's Row of a cast: the immortal Gene Wilder, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, and Boyle more than holds his own. One might say, "How hard can it be playing Frankenstein's Monster?" I donno, but I think that if you replace Peter Boyle in that role, you lose something vital. He speaks volumes with a single grunt. His timing and facial expressions are dead-on. Check out the scene between Boyle and Gene Hackman as the Blind Hermit. Hackman is a great actor overall, and underrated as a comic actor, and he's very funny in the scene. But Boyle's acting is what makes the scene the funniest thing in the Funniest Movie of All Time. His constantly thwarted anticipation and ultimate (quite literal) slow burn are just brilliant. And he's equally great in the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scene - how many actors can really dance in a way that is at once stiff and lumbering and yet strangely graceful?

He was also memorable as the Wizard in Taxi Driver, and as the psychic Clyde Bruckman in one of the great X-Files episodes, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose."

And, according to his IMDB trivia page, he spent time as a monk before becoming an actor, and John Lennon was his best man at his wedding. So that's pretty good, right?

Angsty Birthday!

As you might guess from Google's wikid cool Dec. 12 logo, today is Edvard Munch's birthday. I don't have much to say about it, I just thought the Google logo was neat.

So if you're a college kid living in a shitty basement apartment, pause between bingers today to look up at that print of "The Scream" that's hanging on the wall between the Che Guevara and Bob Marley posters and give a mental salute to Norway's greatest artist, the Godfather of Expressionism, Edvard Munch, whose 143rd birthday it is.

Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures! Shazam!

I've recently discovered another comics pro blog, written by the great Jeff Smith. For those of you not familiar (which, I assume, is all of you), Jeff Smith is the creator of one of the all-time great comics, Bone. Bone is coming out these days in new colorized editions, which are kind of cool, but I like the old-school b&w better.

Anyway, I've learned that Jeff Smith is working on a Captain Marvel miniseries for DC. This is very, very, very, very, very exciting news. This means that one of my very favorite comics artists is writing and drawing my very favorite superhero.

Yes, that's right. Captain Marvel. The Greatest Superhero Ever. And, since you asked, I'll gladly tell you why.
Billy Batson, poor orphan boy, is chosen by the great wizard Shazam as his champion. When Billy says the wizard's name, he transforms into Captain Marvel, the World's Mightiest Mortal. He has the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the courage of Achilles, the power of Zeus, the stamina of Atlas and the speed of Mercury. Yes, sharp-eyed readers, the names of those mythological figures do, indeed, spell out SHAZAM.
Anyway, the concept of the superhero is at heart a power fantasy. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker...all wimps and nerds, ignored by women and tormented by bullies, until they put on a silly costume, becoming powerful and above such petty concerns. Captain Marvel is the purest distillation of this - his transformation is literal, not just figurative. He truly transforms from being insignificant and completely vulnerable to the hero of millions and all-powerful. He flies, he's super-strong, he's bulletproof.
Captain Marvel is full of joyous comic book silliness - his enemies include Black Adam, the requisite "evil twin," Dr. Sivana, maddest of mad scientists, and Mr. Mind, master of the Monster Society of Evil and tiny green worm. One of his best friends is Mr. Talky Tawny, an anthropomorphic, talking tiger. There is much goofiness. Silliness abounds.
A lot of modern nerds can't get into Captain Marvel because of the silliness. I don't get it. Superheroes are inherently silly. Batman is the world's greatest detective, a master of dozens of fighting forms, and carts a teenage boy around with him to help him fight crime. The X-Men are described as "the next stage of human evolution," which apparently involves being able to shoot laser beams out of their eyes, mastery over elemental forces of nature like the weather and magnetism. A pair of glasses prevents anyone from realizing that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Apparently, all of this is far more believable and less silly than a wizard, a mad scientist and a talking tiger.
Anyone who says different is wrong. Captain Marvel kicks giant ass.

Things I Made in Art Class

This is a Surrealist Self-Portrait, created with PhotoShop. It is meant to reflect my preoccupation with my rapidly approaching 30th birthdy.

Here we have the Neo-Dada Social Commentary piece, also done in PhotoShop. It's about, like, you know, drugs and stuff, and how things that are called "drugs" are only called that because they're illegal, whereas there's plenty of things out there that are addictive and/or mind-altering that are perfectly legal.

Finally, the Expressionistic Still Life, created using Corel Painter. The assignment was to create an image that reflected a particular emotional state. See if you can guess what I was going for.

Lies Your Parents Told You

Many of us, if not most of us, spent the earliest years of our lives believing a big fat lie. You know what I'm talking about, right? The Fat Man. Pere Noel. Sinterklaas. Father Christmas. Jolly Ol' Saint Nick.

I realized there was no Santa the year my Mom "just happened to have the right battery" required for Snake Mountain, which Santa had brought for me. But everyone's got a story like that, right? Everybody remembers the moment of realization.

Think about any other lie your parents may have told you for a moment. Think about learning the truth behind it - "The mailman is your real father." If your parents told you a lie that big, you resent it, right? You're still angry about it, aren't you?

But do you know anyone who resents their parents for lying to them about Santa Claus? It's weird, isn't it? Your parents tell you a bald-faced lie for years, for no real reason other than to get you to "be good." But nobody's ever angry about it. We all look back at this great deception and laugh about it.

I'm not saying I'm angry or resentful. I just find it damned odd, that's all.

Just for EEK

Some San Francisco sidewalk art we thought you'd enjoy...

Joyful and Triumphant

The dreaded month of December has arrived, and with it...

Well, no, not "with it," as they've been blabbing about Christmas since mid-October on the teevee.

But now that it's actually Xmastime, I don't find all the Xmas stuff nearly so offensive. Still, there are things that get to me. The advertising, mostly. If I ever in real life actually witness some insufferable douchebag present his wife with a giant-bow-betopped Lexus, I won't be able to stop myself from punching him.

It's funny - you make a single ill-tempered comment about the holiday, and everybody's calling you a Scrooge or a Grinch. But both the esteemed Mr. Dickens and the good Doctor who created those iconic holiday figures were commenting about Christmas becoming meaningless and over-comercialized. In 1843, Dickens felt Christmas was over-commercialized. I can't imagine what he'd think were he alive today.*

Of course, even learning a Heartwarming Lesson About the True Meaning of Christmas has become cliche. Everyone from Charlie Brown to Bill Murray to Arnold Schwarzenegger has learned a Heartwarming Lesson About the True Meaning of Christmas. I'm sure that Mattew Broderick and Danny DeVito will learn some Heartwarming Lessons about the True Meaning of Christmas in this year's Deck the Halls, as will Lewis Black, The Guy Who Played Fez, The Kid Who Plays Chris on "Everybody Hates Chris" and the rest of the cast of Unacompanied Minors (which, while it looks pretty awful does at least have the merit of not being lazily named after a line in a familiar Christmas carol, and was directed by Paul "Freaks & Geeks" Feig, so it can't be all bad).

Another thing that gets to me is the music. There's very little good Christmas music in the world. A good chunk of it is on the Xmas mixes that Eek has sent out over the years. A bit of Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra or Der Bingle singing "Jingle Bells" or somesuch is okay (I know it is in itself kind of trite at this point, but the Crosby/Bowie Xmas duet where Bing croons out "Little Drummer Boy" while Bowie sings "Peace on Earth" is, in fact, wikid cool). Can't go wrong with Vince Guaraldi's "Charlie Brown Christmas" stuff, either. The rest of it? Yecch. I could go the rest of my life without hearing Mariah fucking Carey warble her way through "Santa, Baby" or do that horrifying warbly/belty vibrato-ish thing she does where she makes that sound that's like a Tarzan yell if Tarzan was a castrato that she thinks proves what a great singer she is, which is in pretty much all of her songs, but especially in that pinnacle of Xmas music craptacularity, "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Or "Wonderful Christmastime." Or that crappy one where there's a pretty bad children's choir singing, "Don't you wish it could be Christmas every day?" Or "Silver Bells." Maybe my least favorite is "Jingle Bell Rock." Unless it's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

My parents, posessors of the lamest musical taste ever, are champions of awful Christmas music. Among the discs that get heavy rotation in their house every December is Jimmy Buffet's Xmas album, which features a variety of skull-crushingly awful tunes, not worst of which is Buffet's terrible rendition of John Lennon's "Merry Christmas (War is Over)." Worse than that, they own and love Kenny G's Xmas album. Burned into my memory is a Christmas Eve where my Dad turned off a Coltrane album my brother was playing in order to play Kenny G's psuedo-jazz stylings of "Winter Wonderland." Ugh.

Today, I went out and acquired some real, worthwhile Christmas music. Oddly, even though I'm not even remotely a Christian, it's the old-school really religious stuff that I really dig the most. Handel's Messiah, Bach's Christmas Oratorio...that's where it's at, man. What I really like about it is that it really is, to borrow a phrase, joyful and triumphant. It's not about making a buck like so much modern Christmas music (although Handel was, in fact, quite wealthy when he died, largely based on the success of the Messiah). It was music that was created with feeling and passion. It is a musical expression of the sheer joy of the birth of the savior. Like I said, funny, because I couldn't really care less ultimately about the birth of the savior. But, unlike a baffling number of people out there who can't wait for "Now That's What I Call Christmas! Vol. 47," I respond much more strongly to something with real meaning than to yet another idiotic rendition of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer."

* After, "I hope someone lets me out of this coffin," of course.