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Archive for May, 2011

X-Men #2 is mine.

It took a while, and there was a lot of price tracking and auction scanning, as well as a few in person exams at cons, but I finally got a killer deal on X-Men #2.

Most people will remember this issue as the first appearance of the Vanisher. Wait, you don’t remember him? That’s okay. The Vanisher suffers from Cliche Comic Book Villain Syndrome. He has a simple power (in this case, he teleports) and uses it mostly as a high-end burglar. In hindsight, he’s an awful adversary for the X-Men mostly because this is the type of loser that Spider-Man or Daredevil would go after, but in the early days, the mutant teens of Xavier’s glorified community college School for Gifted Youth needed all the bad guys they could spar with in order to keep the readers coming back.

I don’t like to disclose my prices for items on the blog, but I did get a nice deep discount compared to market price tracking, AND it’s a CGC 5.0 so that saves me the $25-30 to get it graded.

In scanning my X-Men want list, out of issues 1-201, I’m now down to EIGHT missing issues…

#1 (the big one)
#4 (Two words: Scarlet Witch)
#56 (“WHAT IS THE POWER!”)
#77 (Reprint Run)
#78 (Reprint Run)
#101 (1st Phoenix)
#107 (Starjammin!)
#108 (John Byrne art begins)

There’s also Giant Sized X-Men 2 and 2 or 3 annuals, but I’m close. Almost done. Very. Very. Close.

I know I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post (I’m not hotlinking it, so you can troll my archives if you really want to see it) I’m going to be faced very soon with the satisfaction of completion, and the question of “Now what?”

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So to delve into the personal side, I had a trip on deck for July of this year. Actually, it’s still on deck, but I’m facing the unknown. A friend of mine is getting married in Joplin, Missouri…

.. . as in, Joplin, Missouri:
http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/05/23/missouri.tornado/index.html?hpt=T1&iref=BN1

In an uncanny coincidence, I watched the Discovery Channel special on tornados last night.

This is brutal, I’m in the shock phase right now.

Go check out the Joplin city website.

This is an absolutely charming town. My girlfriend and I were looking forward to this trip (and still are) but it’s going to be tough.  I want to do something, and the usual knee jerk reactions are to donate to the American Red Cross, they are a wonderful failsafe organization to assist and send assistance in emergencies like this. (“Knee Jerk” refers to something impulsive, instinctual, reactive… I know it usually carries a negative connotation, but it’s an accurate phrase. I don’t want people to think that a “knee jerk Red Cross donation” is anything but benevolent.)

While I would like to write an article that’s comic related, and about insuring comic books, having safe-deposit boxes or home safes/lockers, it can still be a moot point if a natural disaster occurs. You can’t replace a comic book… or your keepsakes… or friends and family. I do have an instinct of what 10 books I would grab in case of evacuation, but the more important thing is always to be prepared.

Last night while watching the tornado special, I made a reference to one of my friends about having an emergency bag packed at all times. I have a “casual” one in that my backpack always has a change of clothes and basic toiletries, but this is mostly from staying at my girlfriend’s place. It’s a start. I have a flashlight by the back door, one on the table where my keys are, so I can grab them on the way out. I have a box in my car’s trunk with tarps and a blanket. I have some backpacking stuff under the bed which could be thrown into a sack in 30 seconds, but I still feel unprepared.

So I hope that the people of Joplin did their best, and do their best in the days, weeks, and months to come. Nature is a very humbling thing. So maybe I will take a look at my evacuation pack (also known jokingly as a “zombie apocalypse pack”) and I’ll take another stab at the research for insuring my comics.

You can’t be prepared for everything. But if you can take the time to be prepared, take a moment or two to visit http://www.redcross.org/ and help someone else as they prepare for recovery.

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Did you ever read an issue of X-Men (or Wolverine, or Alpha Flight, or Avengers, or any other comic where Logan hangs out on a regular basis) and see Wolverine get shot/beaten/stabbed/lit on fire/swallowed by whales/bikini waxed and ask yourself “how does that feel?”

The guy’s a tank, he’s got a healing factor that can repair his body, but he’s no Darkman. He feels pain every single time his claws go out, every time he takes a bullet, every single wound. It heals, but only after he feels it.

So I’m going to ridiculously compare myself to Wolverine and say, “I have a mutant healing factor”.

This week I went to the gym and was embarrassed by the personal trainer who reminded me that I am so far out of my prime physical condition and so out of shape that I have the health age of a 57-year-old man. I nearly passed out working out, and I mean, I saw spots and got that “where’d the treble go?” pitch shift in my hearing, as my brain was dealing with some terrifying oxygen/CO2 ratios in the blood. It was brutal.

Last week, I blew up my arms and shoulders and spent 3 days unable to fully extend my arms without pain in the interior elbow. This week, my outer thighs remind me that I’m a wuss every time I sit or stand.

Somehow, the body heals. We do lots of physical things every day, and little tiny muscle tears occur and our body fixes itself. We all do what Wolverine does, just not to the same degree. It’s pretty cool, if you think about it.

So as I sit today and feel my thighs burning up, I just remember that I’m going to heal, and be okay…

… and that I signed up for this on Saturday:
http://runamuckfestival.com/

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Over the weekend, I decided to grab a table at a local church flea market. It was $10 for an indoor table and I had a load of random items that I wanted to remove from my house, plus I didn’t mind trying to make a few bucks on a Saturday morning.

I like going to flea markets. It’s something that is a very unique experience from location to location. I enjoy bringing a box of old comics (1980s – 1990s) that I can’t unload efficiently online, and I usually bulk price them at 25 cents each, five for a dollar. Sure enough, a couple of kids each asked their mom for a dollar to pick out some books.

Seeing the look of awe as the two brothers sifted through the box was exciting. One brother, the younger one, was speed-shopping and grabbing books one at a time, then swapping them in and out. The older brother, not more than 9 or 10, was carefully working from the front to the back, and placing his copy of the Avengers or Spider-Man carefully on the table. Occasionally, he would stop and show a book of interest to his brother, and if it was chosen, he would place it in his own pile. It was great to see the care he took in making sure some of the “best” books made their way home whether it was in his stack or his siblings.

I did notice though during the day that some of the other young people who came up did not haggle on price. There were no counter offers to the prices I offered. I frequently said “I’m hoping to get X dollars” or some variation, but often kids would not try to negotiate. I had worked on every vendor when I was at the Pittsburgh Comicon, always starting with a “do you give a cash discount?” to open the door. At the flea market, either no one was that interested, or they didn’t think about it. I’m not sure if it’s some big social shift or just a skill that you learn as you get older, but I did find it interesting, to say the least.

These types of observations are the other part of the flea market fun. It’s also nice to see your neighbors, and you get a sense of the local economy. The seniors would take their lunch together, leaving their tables to sit and have dark burnt coffee and a hot dog or egg salad sandwich. I noticed at this point that I was the youngest person with a table, and maybe that’s part of the experience and transition of life, and again thought about the bartering (and lack of bartering). Are flea markets for the old, or are they a dying part of culture? 

I thought about my comic collection, and how I was focussing mostly on 60s X-Men and 1940s Golden Age heroes, and the decline in popularity of physical comic books (despite box office successes), and thought either way, I’m a flea market guy now…

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Good day everybody. Today, I’m going to talk about the blogging process by highlighting a bad post. There are a lot of challenges that come with writing, even when dealing with a non-professional work such as a blog or even a letter. I’d like to spend a few paragraphs today discussing a recent folly, and hopefully, if nothing else, I’ll learn something that I can pass along to you in terms of a better blog.

Let’s take a look at a recent post, my article on Kiss fandom and the relation with comic books.

When I started the article, I had a very loose idea and concept: I wanted to write something about Kiss. That was pretty much the only thing I felt confident that I did correctly. Picking a topic is the first way to ensure that you have thrown a lasso around the work and provides the basic foundation. Without a topic, you might as well be posting Facebook updates like “mmm coffeee” or “I’ve got a case of the Mondays.” Who cares, besides some avid coffee aficionados or calendar nerds? Creating a topic can sometimes be the most challenging part of the work, as has been documented over the years as Writer’s Block.

(Side note, some genius who was staring at a blank computer screen had birth of a great idea when they exclaimed, “I’ve got it! I’ll write a wiki on writer’s block!”)

So there I was staring an idea, and I tried brainstorming. I started to make a list of some obvious pieces of evidence to support my hypothesis, and it never quite moved past that. I had committed one of the laziest writing hack tricks, The List. We see these every day (one of my favorite iterations being the VH1 “I Love the ’80s” shows) where a media outlet will make an arbitrary list of related items, or ranked items, often to spur debate simply by making people argue over whether an item subjective listed as “#8” belongs higher or lower than “#7”. Rolling Stone is one of the most abusive outlets for this, most notable with the horrific “greatest drummers” which put Phil Collins at number 22. I’ve chosen to link the Listology.com article so RS doesn’t get any extra webhits, plus Listology is a GREAT FUN site to browse when you’re feeling uninspired or bored.

The trouble with an article based on lists is that you may have a common thread, but there is no story, no meat, and no real journey for the reader. You could start at the bottom or the top, but it is arbitrary, you will get the same questions and conclusions no matter where you go. This removes a very large piece of control from the author. As I was reading and editing my Kiss article, I started to feel a bit like a list writer, in that many of the paragraphs could be capriciously relocated anywhere in the body of the blog.  When you are building a case, you don’t walk into a court room and throw up evidence pulled from a hat; you present a concise series of events so paint a picture for a jury so that they believe your account of events and argument.

During the process of forming your story, it is important to also control the tone. Everyone loves a good chuckle, which also can break up the monotony, but you really have to work at analyzing a joke’s placement and ask “Is this funny? Is this distracting?” over and over again. I felt that it was imperative to put Kiss’ Phantom of the Park into the blog, but I just got lazy. I couldn’t figure out the best way to approach it, or review it, and I tried to make a throwaway movie into a throwaway paragraph, then made it seem so inconsequential that it shouldn’t even been shown, and THEN I threw it back in via YouTube clip. I was forcing the joke, and when it didn’t really work out, I changed my tone.

At this point in writing the article, with its sing-song pace and voice, I was on the fence as to whether it deserved to see the light of day. Anything you work on in life, from relationships to home improvement projects to grocery shopping, reaches a point where you have to question whether you have succeeded or if you should abandon it. I was unhappy with the blog, and decided I had a few choices:

Publish it and be unhappy with the result…
Scrap it and be unhappy with the time spent on it…
Rewrite the entire blog and be unhappy with the time spent on it…

Or…

Publish it, and use it as a reference for my next post.

The last option started to become very appealing. I would be able to justify the time the spent on it, create a seed idea for my NEXT post, and be able to acknowledge my mistakes while turning it into a teaching tool for myself and any readers who happen upon the WordPress site.

THIS was a great idea. It gave me passion to write. It helped me find a topic where I could state a hypothesis, gather and analyze evidence, and come to a conclusion (the Kiss article lacked any kind of true conclusion, in my opinion).

I had found a story. I had a personal connection that exposed my vulnerabilities. I had a document laid out for me to dig through and build up into something relatable. I found my voice.

Writing can be very difficult for those of us who are not directly paid to put pen to paper or pound the keyboard. But for everyone who is scared to write, or feels embarrassed by what they say, you should be confident anytime you are expressing your own opinions. Being yourself will always, I promise you, make you into a more interesting writer as well as establish a clear direction for what you want to discuss. It takes practice, and you will fail from time to time, but being able to learn from your mistakes is how we gain confidence in our abilities and ideas. I work on it everyday, and working on this blog is just one of the many routines that make me happier with who I am.

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Oh yeah, KISS is still rolling out summer tour dates!

Wait, don’t go yet, this is still a comic book related posting. Just hear me out!

Kiss is one of those rare moments where something takes itself seriously, yet understands that its underlying premise is to be completely ridiculously over the top. The fans, the Kiss Army, might be the most loyal and longest lasting organization of fans in Rock and Roll. Sorry Deadheads, but the Kiss Army wins.

Let’s take a look at Kiss and comics:

Constant reboots and lineup changes, with old members coming back now and then.
A reverence for the old material and continuity while producing new material.
Merchandise from action figures to iPhone skins to beer glasses to painfully designed Hawaiian shirts, hoodies, and tees.
Members are known by very simple logos, such as a star or batwings.

Hmmm. Sounds like comics to me!

Talk to anyone walking down the street wearing a Green Lantern ring, and you’ll probably hear the same phrases as a Kiss fan:
“I’ve grown up with them, and they have such a deep catalog. I identify with the fantasy aspect. Ever since I was a kid…”

That childlike wonder that comes with being a Kiss fan for some people was evident when I saw them in concert last year. My first Kiss show was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and they made it feel like the epicenter of rock and roll.  Every concert cliché you’ve ever seen has its origins in Kiss, from the fireworks, to the on stage banter with the crowd, to over-the-head clap alongs. Kiss makes it feel organic, new, and relevant, until you walk out of the venue and realize it’s no longer 1978.

Kiss has made a few forays into comics, from the 70’s through the present. One of my favorites was the Psycho Circus title from Image which ran for a few years and coincided with the band’s reboot of their superheroic images to coincide with the reunion of the original lineup and the Psycho Circus album.

Also, parallel to the world of comics, Kiss was involved in an absolutely horrific motion picture, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. I will spare you the video clips, but you can watch the entire movie in pieces on youtube. This abomination of a movie makes Spawn look like Chariots of Fire.

Oh what the heck, this is all you really need to know:

What I’m not quite able to wrap my head around is how people can hate Kiss. There’s an awful lot of music, similar to Led Zeppelin or Michael Jackson, where you could enjoy an entire album of diverse singles and deep tracks and still not be an “all-in” fan. And if you’re willing to put your mind and money into liking, say, a teen bitten by a radioactive spider, or a Canadian with mutton chops and Ginzu knife knuckles, why not Kiss?

Besides making immense strides for charities such as hearing loss and the Wounded Warrior Project, Kiss just kicks ass. My first Kiss concert certainly won’t be my last. Here’s to many more years of some real life comic book characters…

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