Sunday, November 10, 2019

Ed Rosenblatt Returns to Jayson

In Jayson Comics #7, a brand-new lead story sets the stage for the return of Ed Rosenblatt, ex-lover of both Jayson and Arena, followed by a retrospective of pivotal Jayson stories that featured the series’ most notorious heartbreaker.


Unlike the main characters in the early Jayson strips, Ed Rosenblatt was not based on a real person. For a while he was the Jenny Piccolo* of the strip, often mentioned but never seen. Andrea Jartman, the inspiration for Arena Stage, did have a sometime boyfriend named Ed, who we agreed was slovenly and obnoxious, and bore no resemblance to the character who finally emerged as Robyn’s discovery and Arena’s high school sweetheart in the pages of Meatmen Vol. 6.

Ed was established as a porn star trying to pay his way through medical school. With the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, he justified his choice as a way to promote safer sex. Then again, over the years Ed has justified many dubious choices: tossing Jayson aside for the allure of Hollywood; knocking up Arena’s sister for the sake of appearances; and returning to medical school when all else failed. With a Jewish father and a Venezuelan mother, the duality of Ed’s nature  Ed Rosenblatt vs. Eduardo Rivera, gay vs. straight, Jew vs. Gentile  was established early on. Blessed with brains, beauty, and charisma, Ed adapts easily to whatever situation he finds himself in – prompting the eternal question, WHO IS ED ROSENBLATT?

Jayson Comics are available for digital download and print-on-demand at IndyPlanet.

*Google it.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Final Word - 2018

Last October, after a year of training and testing, I finally earned my Aerospace Experience Auditor (AEA) certification. To commemorate this event, the Scheduler for DNV GL Business Assurance snarled, “Are you ready to get busy?!” Truer words have never been spoken. All of our clients needed to transition from AS9100C to AS9100D by September 14, 2018, or risk losing their certifications. At the same time, record numbers of Aerospace auditors exited the business, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t pass the qualifying exams. As a full-time employee, I was enlisted to fill every hole – flying to a different city every week. My girls Nora and Neely appear to miss me when I’m gone, but they’re in good hands with my housemate Kurt Mossler.

Neely with caregiver Kurt
I won’t bore you with my entire travelogue, but here are some of the highlights of life on the road these past twelve months:

In early March I conducted an audit in Virginia Beach that coincided with a “bomb cyclone” that pounded the Eastern seaboard. I was scheduled to fly home on Friday, March 2, but all the flights out of Norfolk were cancelled and the first flight I could get was on Monday. Since I needed to start another audit in Valencia, CA on Monday morning, that was simply not going to work. So I found a flight out of Richmond, VA on Sunday and took a 100-mile Uber ride, holed up in a hotel with a free shuttle to Richmond airport, and caught up on audit reports while waiting to depart. The flight out of Richmond was way oversold and departed late, but I managed to get the last seat in the last row and make it to San Diego by 9:30pm. Then I still had to Uber home, repack my bag, and drive 2 hours to Valencia. I didn’t get to bed until 2:30am, but managed to show up on time to start the audit on Monday morning.

In June, following an audit in Indianapolis, I drove my rental car to Rockford, IL, not knowing that Route 90 to Rockford has its own, privately controlled tollway system. If you don’t have their I-Pass, which I didn’t, you need to pull over every few miles and pay a toll; and some exits are unmanned, requiring exact change in coins to pass through. At the conclusion of the audit, as I was driving from Rockford to Midway Airport, I ran low on gas, had to pull off, and didn’t have $1.10 in coins. There’s a way to pay after-the-fact on line, but it is very complicated and you need to know the exit by name and the time you exited in order to use it. I knew the time and the town based on the gas station receipt, but there are several exits in that town, so I ended up having to phone the I-Pass help line and waste an hour figuring out how to pay $1.10 so I wouldn’t get a ticket.

Then I flew to Ottawa, Canada. Everyone else on my flight breezed through Customs, but I was last in line because I couldn’t get the kiosk to scan my passport. So the agent decided to interrogate me with questions about why I was there, what is this standard I’m auditing to, is it a U.S. standard or an International standard, was I there to solicit U.S. business, etc. – at least 15 questions! And that was nothing compared to the return trip. At Ottawa airport, you pass through U.S. Customs on your way down a flight of stairs to a small terminal where U.S.-bound flights depart, and they have decreed this area “U.S. Soil.” I was supposed to board a United flight to Dulles with a connection to San Diego. The Dulles-bound flight was 4 hours late (every other flight was on time) so I was going to miss my connection. I asked the gate agent what I should do. She said she was not a United agent, and I needed to speak to a United agent to get rerouted, which meant I had to go back upstairs and out through Customs to the United counter. I did what she said and was halted by a border guard who barked that this was not an exit, I needed to turn around and go back downstairs to see a gate agent. I informed him that it was the gate agent who sent me upstairs, but he didn’t care. I headed back downstairs wondering if I would ever get out of Ottawa. But then a United agent appeared out of nowhere brandishing 3 new tickets for my new route: Ottawa to Boston on an Air Canada flight, Boston to Houston on United, Houston to San Diego on United. Oh, and the Air Canada flight was boarding right now. I got home 6 hours later than planned, but at least it was the same day.

RIP Andrea Jartman
Jayson Comics #6
On one of these many flights, I was catching up on the Pennsylvania Gazette – my alumni magazine – and was shocked to learn that Andrea Jartman, who was the inspiration for the character Arena Stage in my Jayson comic strip, died in February. I was scheduled to debut Arena’s solo comic at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) in July, but suddenly it turned into a tribute issue. I wrote a blog post to pay tribute to her:  If you’re interested in reading the comic book, it is available for both digital download and print-on-demand at IndyPlanet.

Hawking my wares at Comic Con Palm Springs
Just before SDCC, things got quiet – too quiet. Kurt left on July 4 for his annual two-week family reunion in New England, and I coincidentally had a series of local audits that I could drive to, so I didn’t need to worry about a sitter for the girls. But my driver’s license was about to expire. The California DMV has a new process that allows you to apply on line or by mail, and receive your license by return mail, thereby avoiding the long lines at the DMV office. I applied on June 16; my check did not clear until June 29; and as of a week before my birthday, I still didn’t have my new license. I can’t fly, rent a car, reserve a hotel room, or even enter some of my clients’ buildings without a valid driver’s license – in other words, I can’t do my job. I had July 10 off, and I spent the whole afternoon on the phone – mostly on hold – trying to find out when I would get my license. I talked to two different agents, who both confirmed that there were no issues with my application, but that my license wouldn’t mail for another week, so I should just go to my local DMV office to get a temporary license – defeating the whole purpose of the new process! My next free day was July 18, the day after my birthday, and I was supposed to retrieve Kurt from Riverside train station that morning, which was also the first day of Comic-Con. Fortunately, both agents I spoke with were mistaken, and I received my license in the mail on July 12. Good thing too, because on the last day of Comic-Con, I flew to Boston for a weeklong audit that involved planes, trains, and automobiles.
Kurt promoting my comics

Other comic book conventions I attended this year were: Geek Out Day (Feb. 17) at UC Riverside; WonderCon (March 23-25), where I appeared on the “Making Queer Comics” panel; Free Comic Book Day (May 5) at Pine Ave. Comics in Long Beach, CA; and Comic Con Palm Springs (Aug. 24-25).

I finally took a real vacation during the first week of October, for my annual trip to New York. My company was kind enough to schedule me on a one-day audit in Troy, NY on Monday, October 1 so that my flights would be paid for. I performed the audit and then braved severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch to drive to Lehighton, PA to celebrate my mother’s 92nd birthday, before heading into Manhattan for the start of New York Comic Con (NYCC) on Thursday, October 4. On the first day of NYCC, I accomplished two major goals: I pitched Archie Comics a new Kevin Keller mini-series, “Kevin in the Army,” which they got excited about and asked me to submit in writing; and I lined up a signing slot at the GeeksOUT booth for Sunday afternoon. Early Friday morning I wrote the pitch for “Kevin in the Army,” which picks up where the Dan Parent-penned “Kevin in the City” left off, and builds a bridge to older Kevin’s storyline in “Life with Archie” that made news a few years back because he married his medic husband in the pages of issue 16. I checked with Dan Parent to make sure he was on board with the proposal. Now we wait to find out whether Archie will greenlight it for 2019.
Back on Broadway with Giulia Hamacher
Friday afternoon I took the train out to Central Islip, Long Island, to visit old friend Lenny Giarraputo; but made sure to board an early train back on Saturday morning to return to NYCC in time for the Archie Comics panel at 11am. In the evening I met old friend and former co-worker Giulia Hamacher for our annual dinner and a Broadway show; this year’s choice was “Mean Girls – The Musical” which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Sunday morning I headed over to the convention hall to prepare for my signing. I had packed 16 books – 2 of each of my titles – and a stack of Arena Stage comic books. 3 hours later I had nearly sold out of everything; I only brought 3 books home.

My first published work
While in the midst of my whirlwind Northeastern tour, Joanne Kulp Daugirda reached out to let me know that she had located her long-lost copy of the comic book we published to raise money for the Lehighton High School German Club’s trip to Germany in 1976. As many of you know, all my original art went missing in 2003, including the art for this book and the book itself. Joanne kindly delivered it to my mother so that I could pick it up while visiting her. After she did so, my mother revealed that she kept her own copy all these years, along with an article from the high school newspaper about our trip. So I now have two copies of that long-lost comic book, and a newspaper clipping that I forgot ever existed.  

Thanksgiving was once again celebrated with Christine Loudon, my former Boeing co-worker who always serves a meal to her “stray gays.” I have been attending for the past four years, and Kurt has joined me for the past two. We bring wine.

Christmas should prove to be a quiet affair, which is precisely the gift I need after the year I’ve had. New Year’s Eve will be spent at Spaghettini Seal Beach with Kurt and the insanely talented saxophonist Vincent Ingala. Then on New Year’s Day, I fly to Houston for DNV GL’s annual training convention. And it begins again.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Jayson’s Pal Arena Takes Manhattan

In the comics, Jayson’s roommate Arena Stage was always a scene-stealer. She stood beside Jayson from the very first strip I drew in 1982, doling out advice and cheering Jayson on when no one else believed in him. In real life, my friend Andrea Jartman played the same role, and inspired this unforgettable character. 

As the 1980s drew to a close, I concluded that Arena was ready for her close-up. She had the distinct advantage of being heterosexual, a prerequisite for success in the mainstream newspapers of the day.

I had written myself into a corner with a story called “Jayson Gets Engaged,” which meant that Jayson would soon have to marry Arena — or at least he would have to try. I knew he wouldn’t go through with it, but in the run-up to “Jayson Gets Married” I found the opportunity to introduce the rest of Arena’s family and create a backdoor pilot.

After Jayson rejected Arena at the altar, she stormed off to Manhattan and into the embrace of her family’s advertising agency. Thus was born “Arena Stage,” a daily newspaper strip that I shopped to syndicates in 1988. Although I received some very encouraging rejections, I never found a champion, and Arena returned to Jayson a few stories later in “Jayson’s New Lease on Life.”

Jayson Comics #6 publishes, for the first time ever, the five weeks of daily and Sunday strips I created to establish the world of “Arena Stage” for mainstream consumption.

Just after this issue went to press, I learned that Andrea Jartman passed away in February. I didn’t intend for this issue to be a tribute, but now it is. My plan is to conclude the story arc from the daily strip, and tell several more tales from Arena’s time in Manhattan, in the forthcoming graphic novel “Arena Takes Manhattan,” which will truly be the tribute Andrea deserves, with reminiscences and photographs aplenty.

Meanwhile, I have the bittersweet honor of debuting Jayson Comics #6 at San Diego Comic-Con this July. If you can’t make it there or to the other conventions I attend this year, Jayson Comics #6 is also available for print-on-demand and digital download at IndyPlanet, along with the other 5 issues of Jayson Comics.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Final Word – 2017

Taking a well-deserved break in Temecula

In January, “Riverdale,” the long-gestating TV adaptation of Archie Comics, whose pilot episode screened last July at San Diego Comic-Con, premiered on the CW to lackluster numbers. The show looked doomed until it found its audience through a streaming deal with Netflix, and quadrupled its teen demo numbers for the season 2 premiere this October. I can’t exactly say I’m a fan of the show, as I blogged earlier this year. It’s certainly its own thing and separate from the comics, but I guess I’m happy it’s successful and keeping the lights on at Archie Comics.

In other entertainment news, Barry Manilow finally came out, on April 17, in the pages of People, timed to the release of his new CD. Of course, his marriage to Garry Kief was the biggest open secret in town, but it’s nice that at age 74, Barry’s finally owning it.

As you may recall, last October I retired from The Boeing Company and transitioned to an aerospace auditor-in-training job at DNV GL, a management system certification company based in Katy, TX. I’ve spent most of this year acquiring the credentials I need to become a successful aerospace auditor. I’m fortunate that DNV GL has allowed me to earn while I learn, paying me a salary and benefits while also paying for my training and testing. However, this was their maiden voyage and the sailing has been anything but smooth. DNV GL had never before run an auditor-in-training program, and probably never will again, at least not on this scale, because they severely underestimated the amount of time and money it would take to get us up to speed. They budgeted for six months, and it took most of us a year to become fully credentialed. Compounding the problem is that the whole industry is transitioning to new versions of ISO 9001 and AS9100, the primary standards we audit to, and the accreditation bodies are still catching up.

Here is a brief rundown of the gauntlet I ran this year. On January 13, six weeks after I took the ISO 9001:2015 Lead Auditor course offered by DNV GL, I finally learned that I passed the exam, qualifying me to take the AS9100D Lead Auditor course, which I took the last week of January in Santa Ana, CA. Two weeks later I learned that I passed that exam, qualifying me to take the International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG) Aerospace Auditor Transition Training (AATT) course and exams. Here’s where it starts to get ridiculous. Over the past year the industry has been transitioning from Rev C to Rev D of AS9100. IAQG requires 40 hours of classroom training, and everyone’s expectation was that they would start offering Rev D training in January. They did not. Instead, they required us to take Rev C training in a classroom, followed by three exams to Rev C (Knowledge, Application, and a 30-minute oral exam), which, if we passed, would qualify us to take the Rev D transition training and exam online. This meant unlearning Rev D and relearning Rev C in order to pass the exams, then immediately unlearning Rev C and relearning Rev D in order to pass the transition exam. With me so far? Making matters worse, with Rev C about to become obsolete, it became nearly impossible to find an AATT Rev C class. I enrolled in a class scheduled for the last week of February in San Diego, which was cancelled due to lack of interest. I then enrolled in a class scheduled for mid-March in Dallas, for which I was waitlisted and never got in. My next choices were the end of April in Miami or the first week of May in San Diego. I opted for the latter since I could drive to it. I got in, the class took place, I passed the three exams, and immediately started unlearning Rev C in order to take and pass the Rev D online transition exam, which – did I mention? – has a 40% pass rate on the first attempt. I devoted every free moment – nights, weekends, and lunch breaks – to drilling Rev D back into my head, and on May 23, I took and passed the final exam on the first attempt.

Was I certified now? Not hardly. In addition to all these exams, I needed 20 qualifying audit days in order to apply for my ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) Aerospace Experience Auditor (AEA) certification. Here’s where it goes south. Until you’re a certified aerospace auditor, you’re not allowed to participate in any third-party (certification) aerospace audits, not even as an observer. So I had to get my 20 qualifying audit days by participating as an evaluated observer on ISO audits. At DNV GL, the AS and ISO camps are run by different managers. The ISO camp had no interest in helping the AS candidates earn their stripes. So I got scheduled on numerous ISO audits where the client pushed back, the Lead Auditor backed the client, and I was removed from the audit. As a result I amassed qualifying audit days very slowly. To move things along, my manager arranged for me to participate in a series of second-party (supplier) aerospace audits, which she assured me would count towards my qualifying audit days. Although I was skeptical, I performed over a dozen of them, only to see ANAB reject them all because they were really first-party (internal) audits to which I was a second party. Finally, in mid-July, I performed my first ISO Acting Lead, received glowing notices, and got promoted to ISO Lead Auditor, enabling DNV GL to start making money off me as both an ISO auditor and as an ISO trainer. Suddenly I had plenty of work, and by the end of September I reached my 20 qualifying audit days. On October 12, in the middle of an ISO audit in Grass Valley, CA, I received my hard-won AEA certification. DNV GL immediately pulled me off my scheduled ISO audits and reassigned me to AS9100 audits. Since then, I haven’t had a moment to breathe.

Having trouble breathing at work

If this past year sounds like one constant test, it was. I have always had test anxiety, and by March my anxiety attacks grew so frequent and so crippling that I could barely function. When I slept at all, I dreamed about being tested. I routinely woke up in a panic at 4 a.m. with tightness in my chest and dread in my bones. It didn’t help matters that my mentor was determined to make me the “the best,” when I was still struggling to become adequate. I finally turned to my doctor, who prescribed Ativan. It makes me drowsy, so I use it sparingly and counteract it with caffeine, but it has enabled me to function through all of this.

With Danny Lu & Giulia Hamacher on Broadway

Needless to say, I’ve had very little time for extracurricular activities this year. I did make appearances at some local comic-book conventions – San Diego, Anaheim, Long Beach, Palm Springs – and made one trip to the Northeast, where I visited briefly with family and friends in Pennsylvania on my way to New York, where I saw Bette Midler in “Hello, Dolly!” with my friends Danny Lu and Giulia Hamacher, and made an appearance at New York Comic Con. 

I did not release a new book this year, but I contributed to “Love is Love,” a comic book anthology to benefit the survivors of the Orlando Pulse shooting; please buy it.

Love is Love on display at WonderCon

I also attended a few local shows with some of my favorite performers: saxophonist Vincent Ingala at Thornton Winery in Temecula; singer-songwriter Levi Kreis at Sunset Temple in San Diego; and Julie Brown headlining “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun: The Musical” at the Cavern Club in Silver Lake. Meeting the star afterwards was one of the highlights of my year.

The Homecoming Queen's Got ... Me & Kurt

This year I’m proud of what I’ve endured, and what I’ve accomplished, and I’m sincerely grateful to those friends who’ve endured my long silences and lent their support along the way – especially my housemate Kurt Mossler, who listens to my rants when I’m at home, and safeguards the house and the cats when I’m away. I couldn’t do this without him. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Archie’s Weirdest Mystery: “Riverdale”

Last fall, I moved and started a new job that requires a lot of travel. I intended to establish new cable service once I got settled. But I got busy, the election happened, and after a few months I realized that I don’t miss having a TV at all.

I attended the pilot screening for The CW’s Archie Comics adaptation “Riverdale” at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2016, and while I puzzled over the odd pacing and some of the characterizations, the final scene, in which openly gay Kevin Keller and closeted Moose Mason sneak off into the woods to do the nasty, only to have their coitus interrupted by the body of Jason Blossom washing up right in front of them, had me all in.

Then I had to wait until January to start watching the 13-episode first season. Having now done so via the CW website, I can report that, while the series kept me interested, if not riveted, it was rife with lazy plotting, suspect choices, and painful dialog delivered by a mostly inexperienced cast.

Let’s address the show’s worst sin first. The murder of Jason Blossom was concocted as a device to introduce the cast and establish the core relationships to a wider audience. It was promised that the killer would be revealed by the end of the first season, and he was. Show creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa admitted during his 2016 Comic-Con panel that the murder was Warner Bros.’ idea, and that once the pilot sold and the writer’s room was filled, they were going to sit down and figure out who did it. [Full disclosure: I pitched myself to Roberto at New York Comic Con (2015) to join the writer’s room and he demurred.] At the panel, there was also fair amount of grumbling from concerned fans about Archie’s affair with Miss Grundy, now a nubile music teacher rather than the septuagenarian depicted in the comics. Roberto promised that Archie’s choices would have consequences.

The big reveal [SPOILER ALERT] was that Jason’s father Clifford Blossom killed his own son for reasons that remain murky but may have had something to do with Jason’s unwillingness to run the Blossoms’ maple syrup business as a front for its drug cartel. The reveal was surprising, but only because it came out of nowhere and made no sense. A good reveal would make you reconsider the information you’ve received up to that point, and see it in a new light. This did none of that, and tied up the murder only because it was time to tie up the murder and move on. Who made the videotape of Clifford shooting Jason? Why did they send the tape to Betty instead of the police? Since Jason just wanted out and had no intention of exposing his family, why would Clifford kill him and then kill himself? The writers don’t care.

Miss Grundy was an early suspect in Jason’s murder, but the gun in her possession was justified as protection she needed from her vengeful ex-husband, and when her true identity was exposed, she explained that she assumed the real, deceased Miss Grundy’s identity as part of her do-it-yourself witness protection program. When her affair with Archie was revealed, she was run out of town and never heard from again. So much for consequences.

Here’s what should have happened: Fake Miss Grundy’s jealous ex tracks her to Riverdale, and exacts his revenge by killing the boy-toy she took up with after she left him. Except he mistakes Jason for Archie – they’re both redheads, they both wear the same letterman jacket – and shoots Jason while Archie and Fake MG are making out within earshot. When the killer is revealed, Archie is crushed to learn that Jason’s murder was an unintended consequence of their affair. This would have tied the whole season together and restored our faith in Archie as a good kid who made a bad choice and learned an indelible lesson.

The show’s second-worst sin is in its depiction of the parents. While the kids at least look like their comic-book counterparts, and possess some of their superficial character traits, the intact, salt-of-the-earth families of the comics have been mostly replaced by younger, single parents who are free to have affairs with each other while also acting batshit crazy most of the time. It makes you wonder how the kids turned out as well as they did, and also what kind of twisted relationship Roberto must have had with his parents. Betty’s mother Alice Cooper, in particular, seems to have wandered in from Twin Peaks, the way she controls her daughters, emasculates her husband, and has no qualms about throwing bricks through windows. When Betty invites Jughead over for dinner, Alice keeps mocking his name, as if she forgot that he’s been Betty’s friend since childhood and his name should be nothing new or special by now. Like her namesake from the rock world, this Alice Cooper would be completely at home biting the heads off snakes. And in this version of Riverdale, she’d have plenty of snakes to choose from.

The show sets up and squanders so many opportunities that it appears to be written on the fly, with complete disregard for consistency, continuity, and structural basics. As one example, it was established in the pilot that a rift recently developed between childhood friends Archie and Jughead, but it had yet to be explained. As far as I can tell, it never got explained; it simply got dropped as the season progressed and Jughead moved in with Archie. As a more egregious example, at the end of Season 1, Archie spends the night at Veronica’s house to consummate their relationship. At this point we also know that Veronica’s father Hiram Lodge is about to be released from prison as Veronica’s mother Hermione is preparing for his arrival. Since one of the core relationships in the comics is Mr. Lodge’s loathing of Archie, I was anticipating that as Archie tries to sneak out of the house in the morning, he would run smack into Mr. Lodge, establishing an instant and compelling justification for Hiram’s loathing. (In fact, this would be stronger than in the comics, where Hiram simply believes Archie to be unworthy of his daughter’s affections.) But no, Archie just sneaks out undetected, and neither Hiram nor Hermione is any the wiser.

What works about this show is a much shorter list: it begins and ends with Cole Sprouse. A consummate actor, a stickler for canon, and the glue that holds the show together through his wry, noirish narration, Sprouse enlivens every scene he’s in. He has expressed disappointment that “Riverdale’s” Jughead has not been established as asexual, leading to his current pairing with Betty. In fact, “Bughead” seems to be the most buzzed-about couple on the show. Chalk this up to the chemistry Sprouse enjoys with simply everyone, elevating the performance of whoever his scene partner happens to be. In fact, considering that Archie has already plowed through every girl and woman on the show except Ethel Muggs (that we know of), and that Jughead has spent most of the season sleeping in Archie’s bedroom, my vote for the show’s cutest couple goes to “Jarhead.”

Archie, as played by KJ Apa, is certainly easy on the eyes, although his come-and-go American accent can be a bit distracting and his performance runs about as deep as a bottle cap. In interviews, Apa appears much more charming and jocular when speaking in his native Kiwi accent. The requirements of the role appear to be straitjacketing him into giving a mannered, self-conscious, frequently shirtless performance. I understand that this role was the hardest to cast, but I think it would have benefited the show to have an American actor play such an American icon.

Speaking of Americana, when a property such as Archie Comics has been around for more than 75 years, a present-day adaptation presents unique challenges. One of the biggest challenges is that, in the comics, all the main characters are white. “Riverdale” overcomes this challenge in various ways. Dark, alluring Veronica has been reconceived as Hispanic. Reggie has been cast, and now recast, as Eurasian. Peripheral characters such as Pop Tate and Mr. Weatherbee are now black. The biggest change from the comics is that all three Pussycats, not just Valerie, are now black. (This is a bit jarring considering that Archie also launched a new Josie & the Pussycats comic book last year, with Josie and Melody looking like their traditional white selves. But that book is about to be cancelled, so I guess it doesn’t much matter.) For me, the larger question is why Josie & the Pussycats are in “Riverdale” at all, considering that in the comics they lived in a different town and only crossed over for “very special episodes.” Riverdale has so many iconic characters – Reggie, Dilton, Ethel, Moose, Midge – whose surfaces were barely scratched in Season 1.

Here’s hoping that with more runway to plot out a 22-episode second season, and with the murder of Jason Blossom firmly in the rear-view mirror, we might see a stronger show that builds more faithfully on the Archie canon while also planting “Riverdale” squarely in the 21st century. The history of television abounds with shows that went on to critical and ratings acclaim after rocky first seasons. As a lifelong fan of Archie Comics, I hope this turns out to be the case for “Riverdale.”

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Moonlight in the Garden of La La Land

I haven’t seen many first-run movies this year, but two I checked out because of the buzz they generated on the festival circuit were Moonlight and La La Land. I wanted to like each one a lot more than I did.

Moonlight is two-thirds of a good movie. It tells the story of a gay black man named Chiron (pronounced shi-RON) at three different ages. The chapters devoted to Chiron’s childhood and teen years are gritty and compelling and transported me to a world I have never experienced nor seen on film. Unfortunately, the third chapter, depicting Chiron as an adult, plays as if someone took a Merchant Ivory film full of repressed Brits and remade it with a black cast. Nothing happens for at least 30 minutes until, I guess, Chiron decides to finally have sex. Fade to credits. Very early in the film, there’s an ambitious, unnecessary 360-degree camera shot surrounding a drug deal. Either this was the sizzle reel the filmmakers used to raise money for the film, or they blew their budget on this shot and settled for static camerawork thereafter. Either way, the third chapter, which represents nothing but inner turmoil, would have benefited from a few such camera tricks; alas, none were employed.

Similarly, La La Land opens with a dizzying, how’d-they-do-that musical number staged on a real Los Angeles freeway. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the rest of the story. The simple boy-meets-girl premise is told through unmemorable songs, vast dull patches, and an unsatisfying ending.  And if you’re casting a musical, you might want to consider hiring leads who can actually sing. The weak pipes of Emma Stone (otherwise beguiling) and especially Ryan Gosling pale in comparison to co-star John Legend, a real singer who blows the roof off the dump during his brief turn in the spotlight. Gosling is supposed to be a jazz purist who has written exactly one song to prove it – a yawning piano number that’s not remotely jazzy and that he plays several times in the film to diminishing effect, reaching its nadir in the cringe-worthy final scene. Stone plays a struggling actress who beats long odds to become a bona fide movie star – yet she walks down the street unbothered by fans, slips into jazz clubs unnoticed, and Gosling doesn’t even seem to know what she’s been up to for the last five years. Moreover, as if to underscore the disconnect between the exciting opening number and the two hours that follow, when Stone finds herself in a traffic jam near the end of the film (in her own car, very unstarlike), no attempt is made to tie this scene back to the earlier one or to musicalize it in any way. I won’t spoil the ending – writer/director Damien Chazelle did that for you – but suffice it to say that, in real life, Stone would have had far better odds of ending up with Gosling than of becoming a major star.

That said, as awards season approaches and these two films have emerged as frontrunners, which one of them has the better chance of taking home the gold? Moonlight will get a slew of Oscar nominations because it’s highly original, a critics’ darling, and boasts a predominantly black cast that will allow Hollywood to avoid another #OscarsSoWhite controversy. But because no one in Hollywood can relate to the impoverished, crack-addled world of the film, it will go home empty-handed except for maybe a screenplay nod. La La Land will also get a slew of Oscar nominations because it’s somewhat original, a critics’ darling, and a love letter to Los Angeles. And because everyone in Hollywood can relate to it, it will likely win Best Picture, not unlike The Artist, another mediocre film about Hollywood.

Personally, I would like to see a more accessible and uplifting film like Hidden Figures go the distance, but I fear they launched their campaign too late. For my twelve bucks, the best film of 2016 was Deadpool, and the struggle to get it made will resonate with the Academy; but come Oscar night, it will be an honor just to be nominated.

Monday, July 11, 2016

“Jayson” Strips At Last

If you’re a gay comics fan, you probably already know that Jeff Krell’s pioneering humor strip “Jayson” debuted in the Philadelphia Gay News in 1983 and graduated to acclaimed runs in Gay Comix and Meatmen.

What you may not know is that, for a number of years, Krell also produced a weekly syndicated version of the “Jayson” strip. Krell often serialized adventures over a span of weeks, which he later submitted to publishers as complete stories. However, he also produced a number of standalone gag strips that have never been reprinted.

In fact, in 2003, all of Krell’s original art went missing, never to be recovered. He kept copies of all his stories, but many of his gag strips were lost forever. Until now.

Issue 5 of Jayson Comics, titled “Jayson’s Joke Book,” represents a years-long effort to track down copies of those missing gag strips. In a few cases, the printed versions were in such poor condition that it was easier to trace and redraw them than to clean them up. In the end, Krell believes he has recovered all but three strips.

Debuting in July 2016 at San Diego Comic-Con, “Jayson’s Joke Book” is a treasure trove of rarely seen “Jayson” strips from 1984 to 1997, including some unpublished strips and brand-new material.

As a bonus, the center spread of this issue contains the “Jayson” board game Krell has always wanted to manufacture. Get together with your friends, pour some smart cocktails, and “Help Jayson out of the closet!”

“Jayson’s Joke Book” (24 pp., $4.00) is available for digital download and print-on-demand through IndyPlanet, as well as through Prism Comics, which represents Krell’s work at comic-book conventions. For more information, visit