Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Bonus post and critical quandary

I came across this article on today, reviewing the seminal graphic novel WATCHMEN by Alan Moore. I'm actually (SHAMELESS PLUG! SHAMELESS PLUG!) looking to talk about this book tomorrow on the blog, but I thought you might find this interesting:

And before I ask my question, a little history.

About a decade ago, when I was studying film at a little school in Austin, Texas, one of my critical and cultural film classes dealt with the canon of film critics - folks like David Bordwell and any number of other film academics. One of Bordwell's best-known projects was an analysis of American B movies of the 50s, in which he showed that certain story elements (betrayals, violence, plot twists, whatever) were introduced at an almost universal point in each film. So for example, if we're 10 minutes into "He Walked By Night", it must be time for a murder. Stuff like that.

So Charles Ramirez Berg, my advisor and a leading expert on Chicano cinema and film history, gave us these analyses to cover. But he left us with this as a quandary:

"The thing about Bordwell," he said, "Is that I can't figure out if he likes movies or not."

Which brings us to the Slate article. Does this guy like comics in general, or Watchmen in particular?


Thieves give thanks, and other tales from the Eastern Front

Sorry for the radio silence, folks, but Our Man in LA is back in his warm weather saddle after a sojourn to his home state of Ohio. Don't worry. We're back on track. And I'll even put a Tuesday Top Five up tomorrow - at least keeping it on a day that begins with the letter T.

Anyway, onto the regularly scheduled program.

Remember back on those Hogan's Heroes reruns you used to watch when you were kid? How the Nazi general used to threaten Colonel Klink with an assignment to the Eastern Front (aka, Russia). Klink would freak out, right? Because he couldn't stand the cold.

Apparently neither can I. Seriously. The trip back to the Midwest proved that once and for all. It's not like it was even that cold - we're talking the 40-degree range. But that's tough on an Angeleno. That second layer of skin or whatever used to keep me surviving in the long cold winters is long gone.

Hell, last night it got down into the 50s. I turned on the heat and bundled up in two layers to go to sleep.

Anyhow, the wife and I are back from the midwest, readjusting to California - the weather, the sun, the hills. And we're taking stock of our Turkey Day holiday.

First of all, I love Thanksgiving. Probably my favorite holiday. Certainly the most relaxing and the most built around just having a good time. Inside my mother's warm house, Steph and I ate well, watched some quality football (Texas slipping past A&M, the Bengals slipping past Baltimore), and got a chance to chill out a bit.

Which is not to say that the Holiday weekend was without quibbles. It wasn't. For example:

1) Well, shucks, folks, I had my identity stolen. Yeah, that's a pretty big quibble right there. While in the Buckeye state, I went online to check my bank balance and learned that some yahoo out there had stolen a bunch of money from my personal and joint accounts.

Don't know who the arch villain was, but he or she made withdrawals on my card from a couple of locations in SoCal and Arizona. Not good. Whoever it is had gotten the information about my debit and my pin without me actually losing the card. Awesome.

So Friday and Saturday included a couple of fun-filled hours on the phone with the bank (who actually did a pretty fabulous job, being responsive, getting their investigators on it, and so on). Got on the horn to the credit bureaus and made them aware of my info being stolen.

I'm not a law and order kind of freak. I don't believe in any of that kind of right wing stuff. Hell, I live in California, and anyone who's ever been to the Midwest knows that the word "California" is American for "pinko liberal home of fruits and nuts".

But I do hope they catch whoever stole my money. Possibly using a dragnet and a SWAT team. It might seem a little extreme, but it was MY MONEY.

2) Our Woman in LA and I experienced some of the worst air travel that we've ever, ahem, weathered over the holiday weekend. And worse than that, we dealt with some of the surliest, unfriendliest, and unhelpful flight crews and ground staff that we've ever seen.

I won't mention what airline we used because that would be indiscreet.

COUGH! american airlines COUGH!

Whew, don't know what got over me there.

Seriously, though. Picture this. You're on a cramped prop commuter plane from St. Louis to Dayton. The Flight Attendant serves you drinks. Less than five minutes later, the plane hits choppy air, and hot coffee goes everywhere - on me, on Our Woman in LA, on the baby a row back, the aisle, the ceiling, the window. It's a coffee bath.

Call the Attendant. He comes over.

ATTENDANT: What do you want?

Our Man in LA: How about some napkins or paper towels?

Attendant looks at Our Woman in LA and me. Begins laughing.

ATTENDANT: This is what you get for drinking on a flight like this. What were you thinking?

Our Man in LA: You served us.

ATTENDANT: Whatever.

Attendant leaves. Comes back nearly ten minutes later with cocktail napkins.

But that ain't all. How about this. You hit a full hour of roller coaster worthy turbulence going from Dayton to Dallas. The woman one row up is wailing, crying, and predicting that we'll all end up like those jag-offs on LOST. My wife is telling me that no matter what, she loves me. We call flight attendants. The prophet of doom a row up calls them, too.

No response. We can see them chilling out near the bathrooms, standing there. Can see the light flashing. Nothing.

Not even a remark from the pilot. How about something like "Sorry, folks, I know it's bumpy, but we're doing what we can. We're perfectly safe, and we'll try to get out of this as best we can."

Nope. Nothing.

Hell, what about this: "Woo-hoo, folks, it shore is fun to ride the bumps, ain't it? Next up, we're going to dive bomb some farm houses near Texarkana."

Nope. Would have been an improvement. For all I know the pilots actually had already jumped, like in an Indiana Jones movie. For all I know, an inflatable autopilot from AIRPLANE was at the helm.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that our air carrier advertises that their planes feature more legroom than other airlines? Well, perhaps they would. You know, if there hadn't been a steel plate screwed into the space below every aisle seat in coach of my Dallas to LA flight.

By the way, that's the Dallas to LA flight that sat on the tarmac for nearly two hours. Didn't get any free drinks, or free movies, or free snacks. Couldn't even get a can of soda. Got dirty looks when I got up to hit the loo. Then got a bumpy ride, no legroom, and THE ITALIAN JOB for our in-flight movie.

Perhaps this was part of the problem. This was a flight from 2003, and they were made late and surly by some problem in the space-time continuum.

Or perhaps they were a bunch of clowns who pulled the short straw and had to work on a holiday weekend. One or the other.

Whatever. In the end, Our Man and Our Woman touched down in LA. Even at 1 a.m., we could see the outline of the mountains. We could feel the breeze off the Pacific.

Good to be home. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


One more cool quote before I get on the plane

The wife and I are headed out to frigid Ohio before too long, and so posting won't be too easy as I travel three quarters of the way across our country. So I thought I'd leave y'all (see? I'm sounding more Ohio already) with one more cool quote.

As I plow through the rest of the books on TIME magazine's 10 Best Graphic Novels, I've been spending some time in Weimar Germany (circa 1929) courtesy of Jason Lutes' powerful BERLIN: CITY OF STONES. It's a book worthy of its praise - capturing the vista of Berlin in that era, making me feel like I'm really there. I can hear the rumble and bells of street cars. I can hear music and feel the snow on my cheeks (which, of course, prepares me to head home). All of which is pretty cool for a black and white comic.

The plot of Lutes' book follows a journalist and an art student through the era, when the German communist party fought tooth and nail with what would become the Nazis for control of the German population's hearts and minds. Lutes has gone out of his way to capture every voice - from the Jewish families and merchants, as well as intellectuals and homosexuals who would be silenced a few short years later, to the oppressors themselves. His protagonist, Kurt Severing, is a intellectual newspaperman who tries to stay above the cultural and political fray, but finds this increasingly difficult and vexing.

Good stuff.

Anyway, about halfway through, Marthe Muller, the art student who takes up a good part of the narrative, comments on her desire to stay separate from the movements that dominate her time politically and artistically. She wants to know nothing of expressionism and nothing of fascism. Whatever. What she has to say kicks home the way we all feel sometimes when the noise of the world gets too loud:

"There's a lot for me to learn, but I don't want to know any of it! I don't want to see the world converging towards a vanishing point! I don't want to understand people in terms of their skeletal structure or the muscle group that controls their ability to smile. I can't reconcile those things with what I see . . . . Well, not what I see. More what I feel. But for me, those things are not so far apart."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Tuesday Top 5 - prepping for the holiday edition

Tomorrow morning, Our Woman and LA and I get up eye-bugging early to get on a plane headed for my home state of Ohio, where, as I reported yesterday, it's supposed to be in the 30s with the occasional snow shower. It's in the spirit of preparation for this trip (running to the dry cleaners, packing up the stuff, bracing oneself for slicing cold winds and drifts of snow) that I put this newest Tuesday Top Five together.

I won't lie to you. Some of the items on the list, they're not that surprising. I might have eluded to them along the way. But time's of the essence, folks, so let's get rolling.

5) The weather in LA. The numbers speak for themselves. Seventy-eight degrees outside with a light wind out of the northwest. Ten miles of visibility. The Pacific Ocean visible as a brilliant silver strip from my office window.

Now I know that some damn fool out there will tell me that weather like this isn't appropriate for November. Where's the snow, the fool will ask. Where are the sweaters with cute cartoon reindeer? Who will make the ambrosia dish with those little marshmallows if the weather's nice?

Whatever. After 30 years of building character in the Great Lakes region, I've found my reward. Cool and dry at night, warm and sunny in the day. This is roll down the top weather here. Clear blue skies, crashing surf on the beach.

Yeah, it's hard to beat this. Sigh. Once more back into the cold this week.

4) iTunes, music downloading, and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. This is not a tie. It's all part of the same phenomenon.

First, a digression. I'll admit, right now before God and the blogosphere, that I carry a certain suspicion of things popular, and as such, I come late to the party a lot. I can't tell you when it all started, but I suspect that it was in high school, where I witnessed the amazing phenomena of the popular teacher/good teacher split.

Had a couple of History teachers back at old Archbishop Alter - most popular guys on the faculty. Never learned a thing and died a thousand deaths listening to their lame jokes. Had an English teacher who was tough as nails, not popular at all with the students, and quirky as hell.

Learned a ton.

In college, there was some of the same. It actually got to the point where, if a teacher was popular, if someone gushed about how you just simply HAD to take this person for this specific class, I ran the other way, fast and hard.

Probably that was a little extreme. I probably missed out on some things. I'm older now. I can see that.

Which brings me to this item. When everyone started downloading music instead of buying CDs in the store, I rejected the very idea of it. How hard, really, is to buy a CD, I would ask. And I bet it's ridiculously complicated to buy music online.

Well, of course, it's not. My attitude has caught up with me. Over the summer, I got an iPod for my birthday - see, late to the party again. And my brother- and sister-in-law gave me a $50 gift certificate to the iTunes store.

Didn't use them. I was positive I didn't have time to figure it all out, to fix what songs I had on my iPod and what songs Our Woman in LA had on hers (after all, I had little interest in Beyonce, Nelly, or Justin Timberlake for my listening pleasure).

Until this week. Getting ready for the trip to Ohio, I realized having a soundtrack wouldn't be so bad. Might give me something to do if the wife and I disagreed about the movie we put on the laptop.

Started downloading. Found it easy, kept doing it.

As it turns out, I maybe should have been doing this a couple of years ago. At least. Stupid, stupid Wieland.

So anyway, the Springsteen album NEBRASKA is one of my new purchases, and it's amazing. I know, I know. You already knew that because you listened to it years ago, told me it was brilliant, and I scoffed.

Well it is, I was wrong, and I made it to the party. But I brought a case of beer . . .

3) The Los Angeles Clippers. Tremble in fear, NBA fans. A team from LA once again dominates the Pacific division, bringing a powerful lineup and an impressive set of wins to the Southland.

And it's the Clippers. I love this. I love them.

Really, what's not to love about the Clips? CNN and Sports Illustrated rank them as one of the five best teams in the league. They have endured being second class citizens in the NBA since moving to this town, and now, just once, they're on top.

So what if Sam Cassell is kind of ugly? He's money. So what if Chris Kaman looks like he might have been separated from a tribe of Bigfoots (or Bigfeet?)? I love the Tom Petty-looking guy.

So what if no jerseys or championship banners hang for Clippers from the rafters of the Staples Center? It's time to get on this particular bandwagon now. Good seats still available.

So what if they haven't had an MVP on this team since Bob McAdoo, back in the 70s . . . when the team was called the Buffalo Braves? So what if the average fan on the street doesn't know what a Clipper is? They don't know what a Laker, Knick, or 76er is, either.

Folks, I give you the Clippers. last week, I hit my first game of the season with my buddy Rick. Fun times, watching the home team take out the Milwaukee Bucks, a squad that's usually considered part of the top ten NBA teams. The fans screamed at the court. They were loud. Even in $30 seats.

So if you like basketball, I entreat you. Forget about that purple team with Kobe. Forget about your teams in Cleveland or Indiana, in Charlotte or Dallas. The Clippers. I'm telling you. Don't be late to this party.

2) HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. OK, so I wasn't all keen on the last book. It took like 4,000 pages before anything even happened. And I found myself in a pretty humbug kind of mood going into the Goblet of Fire movie. Of the Harry Potter books, this one is tied for second with Order of the Phoenix (and behind Prisoner of Azkahban), and I was nervous.

Turns out, they did a pretty great job, all things considered. Daniel Radcliffe and the kids are growing up well, making their characters more interesting with each movie. The look and sound of the piece was better than in the first two flicks.

And Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleason absolutely steal the show. Great performances from both of them - I found myself literally afraid, at long last, of Voldemort. And Fiennes' performance is actually very subtle and nuanced. He's no cartoon villain. His hatred of Harry Potter is not motivated merely by his desire to do evil, but also by insecurity and ego. This is the one he could not vanquish. Very cool decisions by old Ralph.

All of which is not to say that there aren't quibbles. It's a 7,000 page novel turned into a two-hour feature. Some things needed to be cut. Steve Kloves' script does the best it can, but if you're a Potter fan, you'll find something missing. And I'm not crazed about Michael Gambon's Dumbledore. He seemed fine in the last flick, but now it seemed like they shot every scene on a day where the guy really needed to be somewhere else. For all I could tell, he was double-parked outside the studio. I miss Richard Harris.

But those are minor quibbles. And it's not like you don't want to see it. Get out there.

1) BLANKETS by Craig Thompson. Positively, absolutely one of the best, most effecting graphic novels that I have ever read. Without question, it will be a long, long time before this one leaves me. Funny, spirited, sad, and breath-taking artistically. If you like the graphic novel form at all, you simply must check this book out.

Thompson tells the story of growing up in the seemingly always-frozen midwest in a rigidly evangelical Christian family. Young Craig fights his way through a series of obstacles - being ridiculed at schools, suffering through sharing a bed with his little brother in a creepy old farmhouse, dealing with the occasional abuse of his brusque father, and generally being ostracized by his schoolmates.

At this age, Craig really loves to do one thing - and that's draw. Not surprisingly, he's not encouraged to do it. Godly Christian young men are expected to grow up to serve as missionaries, or to join the clergy. Craig believes in God, perhaps fears not believing, and lives with the horrible knowledge that if he follows the path he's supposed to, he'll always be miserable.

As a teenager, Craig meets a girl named Raina at a Church Camp, and she becomes his first real love. This is where the book really takes off, both visually and viscerally. As Thompson the writer/artist takes us through his experience of this first love, we're all catapulted into those feelings of being young, impassioned, scared, and amazed simultaneously.

It's beautiful. Really.

And that's not all. There are so many characters in this story who could be one note, who could indeed by summed up by their appearance. But all of them - all of them - are finely drawn and unforgettable. Craig's father is so nuanced that you almost forgive his brutality. Raina's sad divorcing parents each bring a vital perspective. And Raina's brother and sister, both of whom have Down's syndrome, possess a nobility and passion of their own, even though they're limited to a few pages of the story.

There's a lot of debate lately about who constitutes the "canon" of comics art in America. Eisner, for sure, and Kirby, Spiegelman, Crumb, and Chris Ware. I haven't read Thompson's other work, but this piece is magic. Reading BLANKETS, I was reminded of authors whose words struck me in the same way of this art. Salinger, maybe? Or Russo or Chabon?

Haven't decided yet. I'll be digesting this one for a while.

But having dealt with the Top Five, it's time once again for the Bottom One.

And it is . . .

1) The NFL's alleged return to LA. I've written about this before, but here's a quick summary. The NFL's Raiders and Rams left the Los Angeles area more than a decade ago. The Rams went to St. Louis and won a Super Bowl. The Raiders went home to Oakland, and appeared in one.

Since then, the NFL has been trying to get back here. Understandable, I guess. Because the league exists on TV and TV revenue, and it doesn't make any sense to have no team in the 2nd largest market, but teams in the 34th market (Cincinnati), 49th market (Buffalo), and whatever Green Bay has.

However, the state of California has recently passed a number of measures to try and keep its NFL teams in the cities where they currently reside. So the NFL can't think about moving the Chargers to LA, or the Raiders back down here. So a team has to come from elsewhere.

According to published reports, there are two new developments: 1) the NFL wants to move two teams to the area - one for the LA Coliseum, and one for the Anaheim/Orange County area (since that was such a good idea before); and 2) the likely contenders are the New Orleans Saints, now displaced, and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here's the thing. I like having no team in LA. I get to watch whatever the best game of the day is. And I certainly don't want to lose this for the Saints and the Jaguars. So look, if we're going to swing this NFL thing out here, please stop thinking about stealing a team from a city that's already decimated by a hurricane. Can we actually have a reason to watch the games?

I have no real solution to the NFL issue. I don't want an expansion team. I want to watch the games I want to watch.

But I guess I want the stories to end. Wake me when this is over with.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Attempting to remain rut-less

In just the last few weeks, I've started to determine a pattern to my blog postings. Monday has meant football talk, Tuesday the top five, Wednesday something about pop culture, Thursday a news and notes, and Friday some sort of meditation on . . . something.

Well, never let it be said that Our Man in LA doesn't want to keep it fresh. Talked to the wife about this just today. "You could do the Top Five a day early," she suggested.

But that wouldn't do. You can't do a Tuesday Top Five on Monday - even on a Monday in a shortened week, where Monday really feels like Wednesday, and . . . well, you get it.

So I'm going ahead with a news and notes for this one in an attempt to channel my inner Larry King on a different day. Mostly, I suppose, none of these items rate a whole lot of verbiage. But here goes anyway:

1) Went to see Harry Potter this weekend, which isn't really news. Given that the movie took in more than $101 million, it's safe to say that just about every one of you went, too. Decent movie, I thought. Fun. I really liked Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleason's work in it.

But did anyone see the Superman trailer on the movie? Did you? Because as big a super hero backer as I am, it left me cold. I remember seeing the first Spider-man trailer a few years back, how I could feel my blood pumping faster. The Batman Begins trailer left me with something approaching baited breath. Fantastic Four looked lamer than all hell, but that's neither here nor there.

But this? With the pretty boy in the tights, and the music and Marlon Brando's voice from the 70s Superman films?

Let's just say it left me thinking, "Wow. They really did make a couple of great Superman movies when I was in grade school. Maybe I should watch those on DVD."

I mean, I'll go see it when it comes out. There was nothing inherently wrong with the trailer per se. It just felt off.

2) OK: Football news from my home state of Ohio. First and most importantly, my beloved Buckeyes managed to take down Michigan again this year after a game that almost forced me to lose faith in humanity. In the fourth quarter, Michigan was ahead - and through no fault of their own. They'd played miserably, and the Ohio State defense had been great - but the Buckeye special teams and offense had mailed it in.

I called my buddy Rick and reported to him that I might have to turn it off. It was infuriating. He said he was sticking with it, so I relented.

Thirty minutes later, he called me and taunted me for considering turning it off. Because in the time between the two calls, Ohio State's offense decided to show up, played two series perfectly, scored a bunch of points, and won the game. Whew.

For the record, I'm still not used to Ohio State beating Michigan more often than not. After more than a decade alternately known as the Cooper years and the dark ages, a Buckeye fan was used to the idea of having a ridiculously talented team get killed by an inferior Wolverine team the last day of the regular season. Maddening.

But now, with Coach Tressel in the mix, we're 4-1 against the team from up north, with a national championship and another BCS win. Not bad. Not bad at all.

3) By the way, I've heard Michigan fans taunting the kids from Ohio - talking smack about how the Wolverines have more national titles than Ohio State, how they've won more games in the series, and so on and so forth.

As such, I have composed a brief letter of response:

Dear Wolverine Fan:

Yes, we the undersigned OSU fan have heard your remarks about having won more games in the overall Ohio State-Michigan series and that you have more national titles than Ohio State. That is true. Look at you. You're ever so smart.

However, as a lowly Buckeye fan, I would invite you to consider the following:

A) Since 1950, Ohio State has won 27 games against Michigan, while the Wolverines have logged . . . 27. Two more have been ties. Two others were ties.

B) You do have more national titles. Eleven to our six. But only one of those Wolverine championships has been since 1950, while five of OSU's six have.

C) If you don't bring up Mo Clarrett or Troy Smith taking money, I won't bring up the Fab Five taking money and time-outs.

Love and kisses,


4) More football: The Bengals lost in Cincinnati, but they kept their heads above water against the Colts. Frankly, I thought I was looking at the Colts of today vs. the same team three years ago. Fingers crossed.

5) Heading to the aforementioned state of Ohio for the Thanksgiving holiday. The wife and I leave LA on Wednesday.

Did I mention that the forecast in southern Ohio is 30s and SNOWY?

Sigh. Look, I know that I'm a midwesterner born and bred. I should be prepared for these things after 30 years of brutal, ugly winters.

But I'm not. After just a year in LA, the wife and I think it's cold when it dips into the low 50s. That's the kind of weather that makes us grab a second blanket nowadays. Seriously, every time now I hear somebody from out here complaining about warm weather in the winter, or about how they think that snow back east "looks real pretty" I consider throttling them.

So given that, I'm revising my request of last week . . . for the family to move. As you might remember, I'm pretty concerned that with my extended family living in bright red states like Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana, I've worried that future generations of Wielands, Gerharts, and Glazers will think country music's really neat and that science is something that can only be taught in back alleys (while some aberration called Intelligent Design makes it into the classroom).

Well, today, I appeal to my family again. This time on the grounds of my comfort. It's selfish, I understand. But it's my blog.

So please, please, please, Wielands, Gerharts, and Glazers, move away from the red states. Move now, move fast.

And while you're at it, could you go somewhere temperate? Nothing says Thanksgiving like La Jolla or the OC!

Just think it over.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Cool Quote Friday and some Amazing Comics

Our Man in LA is of course sorry for the lateness of the hour for this report. In fact, he realizes that if he was still living in one of those more eastern timezones, it wouldn't even be Friday anymore, which would mean a different title for this post, and so on, and so forth.

No matter. It's Friday somewhere, and Our Man in LA is on the job.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'm currently plowing my way through Time magazine's list of 10 Best Graphic Novels. You've already seen me raving about Jeff Smith's BONE epic, about which I can't say enough. It really is the kind of story that makes you understand why folks had to invent comics as an artform. Amazing and spectacular.

Yesterday, I moved on to something a bunch more political. I slid Jeff Buckley's Grace into the iTunes and picked the LA Public Library's copy of IN THE SHADOWS OF NO TOWERS by Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman, you may know, became the first comics artist/writer to win the Pulitzer Prize, when he crafted the holocaust tale MAUS a dozen or so years ago. Brilliant, amazing, heady stuff, Maus was. So I looked forward to re-visiting Spiegelman's work.

Alas, IN THE SHADOWS is no MAUS. But hell, how many artists can produce at that level over and over again? And what's more, it doesn't really matter.

In the new book, Spiegelman tells the story of his experience on September 11, 2001, when he witnessed the fall of the World Trade Center towers from 1) his Soho studio, 2) the Wall Street area middle school his daughter attended, and 3) his home just blocks away from the buildings. A comics artist and historian to his core, the medium for his storytelling is giant comics plates, each the size of a broadsheet newspaper page, all done in the style of late 19th century/early 20th century political cartooning. If you've ever seen an example of the Yellow Kid cartoons in the Hearst and Pulitzer papers of the last century, you know what I mean.

What makes the storytelling interesting, too, is that crafting such a piece of art took a great deal of time. As Spiegelman remembered that day a little bit in every plate, he also experienced it from a greater distance in time. He grabbed hold of the gift that time and space gave him, and as such, he could view his experience of the towers coming down in the context not just of that day, but then in the context of the political landscape that followed - including the war in Iraq and the posturing of our leaders in Washington.

At the end of the book, he goes a step further - taking actual cartoons from the late 19th century and early 20th century that expose and aspouse similar sentiment to his own work, and to the mindset of America post 9/11. It's almost as if these cartoons 100 years before predicted the attitudes and feelings that we would all experience in those horrible days just a few years back.

You should check out the book. Truly a beautiful piece of art. And, as I promised at the top of the post, it left me with two major, amazing quotes that I won't soon forget.

First, Spiegelman references a Krazy Kat cartoon from the early days of comics. If you don't know Krazy Kat (and you should), here's the gist. Ignatz Mouse constantly tries to kill Krazy Kat. But Krazy Kat loves the mouse no matter how hard the mouse tries to kill him. There's also a dog in the script - a bull pup police officer who loves Krazy Kat and constantly tries to keep Ignatz Mouse at bay. Got it? Good.

Well, in this particular cartoon, Krazy Kat and the dog start drinking, and then they sing a duet. It doesn't go quite right, so they grab this lady duck. They're all singing together now. But still it doesn't work. So they go to the jail where Ignatz is. Even though Ignatz has tried to kill Krazy in virtually every other strip, they convince him to sing, too. He does, and it works.

What's it all mean? Well, according Spiegelman, it's a symbol of how we need to be living our lives - in American and elsewhere. And it's cool quote #1:

"It proposed that since every Eden has its snake, one must somehow learn to live in harmony with that snake. I'm still working on it."

As are we all. In paranoid times like these, it's a tough nut to crack. Spiegelman takes a swing at it in this book. Reading the book reminded me of the work that I have left to do on this front. But the author's explanation filled me with more than a bit of optimism. Here it is folks, cool quote #2:

"I still believe the world is ending, but I concede that it seems to be ending more slowly than I once thought. So I figured I'd make a book."

Glad you did, Art. Good night, folks. It's Friday for a few more minutes, and as the man says, it's great to be alive.

See you next week.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


More with the Aquaman fixation

You keen observers of pop culture and pulp lit have no doubt already heard this, but I remain just plain . . . interested.

The producers of the WB's SMALLVILLE have received the green light to start work on a pilot for a live-action Aquaman TV show, more or less spinning off from a recent episode where college freshman Clark Kent met young Arthur Curry (apparently an NCAA champion swimmer at Stanford or something). The new show will follow the future King of the Seven Seas as he makes it in mammals' world.

No word yet on whether the supporting cast will include younger members of the Aquaman comics' supporting cast. For those of you who don't know who that would be, well, the traditional characters include his girlfriend and later wife Mera (queen of a planet in another dimension that's completely covered with water); Aqualad (his teen sidekick who later grew up and took on the slightly less gay name of Tempest); and the giant octopus Topo.

Aquaman, you might remember, can talk to fish.

He's also got three big villains - Black Manta, an African American "pirate of the deep"; the Fisherman, who, uh, hurts people with his big underwater fishing pole; and Ocean Master, who's really Aquaman's half brother Orm (who thinks that he should be king of the deep instead of our hero).

All right, so why does this amaze me? What is Wieland getting at?

Basically, I don't know how Aquaman keeps getting all this play. In Super Friends, it was hard to find a way to fit him into the average adventure. Think about it from the writer's point of view. When your heroes are fighting Lex Luthor on the surface of the sun, what good is the ability to speak porpoise?

But there old Aqua was, sweating it out with Superman, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman. He never got benched from that starting lineup, even when Flash and Green Lantern joined the squad.

(For the record, I'm not sure what good a man dressed in a leather bat suit and a teenager in shorts were while fighting Lex Luthor on the surface of the sun, either, but I digress.)

And in the comics world, the guy's had about 40 different comics series since I was a kid. He and Hawkman both. Every couple of years, he gets a new one. And then a year later, it's cancelled for poor sales. And then a year later, he's back up. And this is in comics, where you're a good seller if 180,000 issues get bought.

But now live TV?

But look. Our Man in LA doesn't criticize. In fact, if any TV producers are out there reading this right now, I'd like them to know how much I would love to write for an Aquaman TV series. Love, love, love it. Love it. I know the guy well. One of my first comics (in a collection of about 20,000) was the one where Black Manta kills Aquaman's son Arthur Jr. (aka, Aquababy) and then forces Aquaman and Aqualad to fight each other to the death with tridents.

Huh? How about that? And by the by, trident fighting is pretty cool.

And did I mention that Our Man in LA's script NEIGHBORHOOD HEROES shows off his ability to write for family audiences AND incorporate super-heroes into a realistic setting? Hm?

So yeah. I'm your guy. I may have some questions, but I know I'm tailor made to write about an underwater super-hero dressed in orange and green.

I know Aqualad's real name, for Neptune's sake! It's Garth (of the Idylist people of Atlantis).

Call me . . .

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Adult Contemporary, Where is thy Sting?

Today on the way into work, I flipped away from my usual radio diet of sports talk radio (usually Colin Cowherd on ESPN, followed by Jim Rome on AM 570) to listen to some actual music. You see, I've got a gift certificate for the iTunes store burning a hole in my electronic pocket, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with rock n roll.

So I'm listening to 93.1 Jack FM, which is probably my fave rock station in LA - not only because it shares the frequency of my favorite Chicago radio station (93.1 WXRT), but also because its fairly eclectic and diverse musical repertoire keeps me on my toes. Think Springsteen followed by Dexey's Midnight Runners followed by Four Non-Blondes followed by the Eagles.

Wow. That sounds awful. Take my word for it. They do it better than I would. I can hardly make a mix tape (or mix disc) to save my life.

So today, I'm listening to Jack, and "King of Pain" comes on by the Police, and it reminds me of one of the great tragedies of pop music over the past few decades. And no, not the tragedy that involves Kenny Chesney and Brooks & Dunn edging toward the mainstream. That's a tragedy for a different day.

No, it's this one. I'm listening to Sting and the boys. I'm digging on the lyrics. I'm being taken back to 6th grade when Synchronicity hit the record shops. And all I can think is, "Man, what happened to this guy?"

Because now Sting is selling Jaguars in TV commercials. He's doing the music for Disney cartoons, and, worse, faux Disney cartoons. His new music gets played almost exclusively on that blight of society - the adult contemporary station. The same kind of station that my mom listened to when I was growing up - the one that played the Carpenters AND Gloria Estefan.

But this is Sting, for God's sake! Think about how cool that guy was. The Police only made like five albums, and they all pretty much rock. Sting made teenagers think reading Nabokov was cool.

Think about how haunting the tune to "Message in a Bottle" is. Think of the lyrics, man! It was literate rock at its best - and it was at the top of the charts. Sting brooded like a teen (albeit a better-looking one annoyingly prone to quoting literature - but it was cool!).

Totally cheeses me off. I followed that guy through the solo albums, too. Seriously - the political rhetoric of Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun might be laid on a bit thick, but they've still got great songs. Songs that you wouldn't be ashamed to plug into the iPod. At the peak of my brooding - late in high school, with girl troubles, and having had a kid at my school die - I listened to "They Dance Alone" and "Fragile" practically every freaking night on the turntable in my room. Sure, they were about human rights violations in Central America, but I felt like the guy got me.

But now? It's embarrassing. You find yourself grooving to Sting's voice, digging his lyrics, the way he mixes in music from outside the mainstream . . . and then you realize that somebody's trying to sell you a car.

In fairness, I should point out that Sting's not alone in the drift from cool to tool. Don't even get me started on Phil Collins. You could hear the damn break when But Seriously was released back in the 90s. Now you hear him on the Tarzan soundtrack.

It's like, "Phil, what are you doing? You nailed the sadness and loss of a shattered romance in 'One More Night'. 'In the Air Tonight' summed up our collective need for vengeance over those who have wronged us! What's with the Tarzan bullcrap?"

And then there's Billy Joel. It's like Christie Brinkley took his cool when she got half his stuff. Sucked it right out of him.

Tragic, just tragic. How did Springsteen and U2 make it out of that era alive? They're not next are they? It's not like a plague, is it?

Brrrr . . . if there's an adult contemporary plague, let's try to find a vaccine. I'll raise money for that cause.

Till then, I'll just have to face facts. The Sting I knew died after Ten Summoner's Tales and Soul Cages. As a fan, I'll just have to carry on.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


It's Top Five time again . . .

Every Tuesday, Our Man in LA delves into his own personal Top Five for the week - a mix of restaurants, books, movies, and goings on that have his attention, and a Bottom 1 that has his annoyance.

Given the events of the last week, where seemingly everyone I know is doing something important, it might seem like a bit of fluff, but I suppose in times of even great change, it's good to have things to count on. Our Man in LA is happy to serve. So without further ado, it's time for some Top Five.

5) Moonshadows Restaurant in Malibu. Longtime readers will remember that over the weekend, we hosted my wife's dad and stepmom for their first ever visit to Southern California. On a gorgeous Saturday, we started off the day in Venice, chilling, watching a pickup basketball game on the boardwalk, taking in muscle beach. Then we headed north to scenic Malibu, where we lunched at Moonshadows.

Good stuff. I'd been there years ago on a separate trip to LA, and the restaurant was more of a bar and grille than a place for fine dining. Maybe it was my youth and exuberant alcohol-imbibing, but my memories of the place mostly center on blue rum drinks and a decent burger while seated on an outside terrace looking onto the beach.

The restaurant's metamorphosized into something a little classier, which is why it's a good place for the out of town crowd. They've closed in most of the terrace, but the view's just as good (just no gulls swooping by). The food's a damn site better - I had a lobster Caesar that was pretty excellent, and some chowder that kicked. Plus, we could see dolphins frolicking from our table.

I didn't get a blue rum drink, and I'm not even sure if they still offer them. But I won't hold that against the place.

4) College basketball. I know that it's still a mite early to be talking about this subject. At this time of the year, you've mostly got big-time bball programs facing off against the little sisters of the poor.

On the other hand, Missouri played Sam Houston State last night, and lost, so maybe there is something interesting in the games against those poor, poor little sisters.

I don't know why, but I'm excited about the upcoming season. Sure, I'm more of a UNC guy than a Duke guy, and Duke looks just about unstoppable. But the rest of my teams could just be worth a look. Well, most of them.

SI ranks the Mighty Mighty Longhorns as the preseason #2 team in the nation, which fills me with dread and worry. But on the other hand, maybe this is the year that folks start to figure out that UT is a two-sport school like, well . . . there probably are some.

Ohio State looks to come back into the haves of the Big Ten in the new season. I like what I'm seeing from Indiana and UCLA, and though my family and friends from Carolina bemoan the Tar Heels' chances, they'll still probably go to the tourney. And they won it all last year.

Then there's Northwestern. The only school in a major Division I conference to never make it to the big dance. Could this be the year? Could it? Probably not.

But hell, they already have one win. Go Cats!

3) Farfalle in Los Feliz. OK, so a lot of a family visit to LA revolves around eating. And I'd be remiss in a major way if I didn't mention this tiny little Italian place less than a block from Our Home in LA. Pretty much fantastic is the way to describe it.

The place is small and intimate with good waitstaff. And then there's the food. The Father-in-Law described his meal as "The best Chicken Marsala that I've ever had. Do you understand what I mean by the best Chicken Marsala? I don't mean good. I mean real good. It's real good. Real good. The best." Same goes for the piccata dish his wife and I had, and for the appetizers at this place.

Seriously, I've eaten bruschetta at a lot of places, and this might be the best I've ever tasted. High praise from someone who honeymooned in Italy.

As we left, the Father-in-Law said: "We've had a lot of good meals on this trip. Not saying anything bad about any of the others. But you can take me back here, boy. Next time we're in LA, we've got to go back here. I mean, that's not good. That's real good."

Done. We're in agreement. I think Our Woman in LA and I will be back a few times, too.

2) Amoeba Music at Cahuenga and Hollywood. Stopped in here today after a meeting, which is something I've been meaning to do for a while. The store is right down the street from the Cinerama Dome, and it's reputedly the best record store in greater LA.

Man, it's not a record store. It's a church.

If you worship at the altar of music - be it rock or pop, blues or country, house or salsa, classical or jazz - this is a place you've got to go. Don't feed me any of that tripe about Tower Records. It's fine, sure, but so is Target. This place is epic. Without question the best selection of used and new CDs and vinyl that I've seen in quite some time, not to mention a movie section that's out of this world.

I didn't have time to spend the time Amoeba really needs when I did the stop-in today. But that's all right. I'll be back - and for hours and hours. Amazing. You could get lost. In the few minutes that I spent, I found myself remembering bands that I haven't thought of in some time. And then rushing to their section and flipping through the discs. I could have spent a week's pay in this place.

But then Our Woman in LA would kill me. And not a jury in the world would convict her. I wouldn't even blame her. But what a cool store.

1)The Tut Exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art. One of the other truly worthy experiences from the weekend with the In-laws is that we spent time at LACMA going through one of its most celebrated exhibits in years. And what an exhibit it was.

As you may or may not know, Our Man in LA spent much of his wayward youth dreaming of a career in archaeology. I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark about 45 times when it came out, and I thought there could be few things cooler than studying ancient cultures (and of course, fighting against nazis, evil spirits, and maniac swordsmen).

The dream petered out sometime in college, I guess. Even though I was studying journalism, it really took a bad, boring anthropology class to finally kill it for me. Whatever. I still scan the television listings for documentaries about the ancient world - about Egypt and the Middle East, the Pyramids, the Pharaohs and so on.

This was right up my alley. For an hour and change, I got to wander amongst some truly amazing artifacts from the teen king's resting place. I saw maces and knives, dog collars and furniture, re-read accounts of mummification and preserving the major organs in canoptic jars. I listened as an obsessed antiquities professor from Cairo described to the audio tour how the moment that he looked the mummified king straight in his dead eye, it was the greatest moment of his life.

We even got to listen to all the various theories about the King's death. Was he murdered? A victim of war?

So cool. Just gives me goosebumps.

Of course, it's no fighting Nazis or swordsmen. But it was pretty cool anyway.

And now, the Bottom One.

A lot of cultural touchstones clashed for the honor of being named Our Man in LA's Bottom One this week. The whole Terrell Owens saga coming out of Philly certainly made a splash. How on Earth do you get me to feel sorry for the Philadelphia Eagles? And yet . . .

Then there was Wednesday's episode of LOST. I know I've said more than enough on this subject, but really, this one was terrible. Sayid professing his love to Shannon in the freaking rain? And then she gets shot? Puh-leeze. Worst episode ever. So bad it makes that Hurley episode in Korean look good.

And seriously, someone needs to do something about Michelle Rodriguez on that show.

But the honor goes to all the hubbub about Maureen Dowd's new book ARE MEN NECESSARY?, which lambastes Generation X females and the way they treat feminism, not to mention discussing the ways in which men are afraid to couple with women who are powerful and successful. Among the pieces of proof that Dowd offers for this is herself - a successful and pretty journalist who, in her 50s, can't find a man.

Nevermind the fact that it seems a little disingenuous to criticize the feminism of a new generation and complain about not being able to find a guy. On the other hand, I don't want to go too far with my criticism of the book, since I've only read the New York Times excerpt and some of the criticism. Don't plan to, either - and as a Thurber fan, I don't know if I dig on her co-opting the title of Thurber and White's book IS SEX NECESSARY?, but I'll let it lie.

But the bigger question for me is: Does anyone care about Maureen Dowd's romantic life? I mean, really. Is anyone - anyone at all - out there worrying about a smug baby boomer columnist with millions of dollars who thinks that she can't attract a life partner because she's too smart?

I think I'd rather follow the romantic life of Marge Simpson's sisters, all things being equal.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Our In-laws in LA

I know that I'm giving you an extra entry today, but since I skipped out on Thursday and Friday, I figured what the hell.

As many of you may know, Our Woman in LA's father and stepmother took their first trip to SoCal over the weekend, and the wife and I gave them a whirlwind tour of our new city - from beach to mountain and everything in between.

At the end of the trip, my father-in-law was happy to report that he was surprised by the City of Angels. The people were nicer - not so uppity, clubby, and all about the red carpet. And the atmosphere was more urban, more varied, more diverse than both he and his wife had imagined. Their description of the town - "like New York City and Long Island without Manhattan" seems more or less right on.

When the weekend ended, Our Woman in LA took a minute to review all the things we said and did with the family from just Wednesday to early Sunday morning. It gave us pause. You don't often get a chance to be a tourist in your own hometown, and we relished this opportunity. It also let us revel in the fact that we've really gotten to know LA in just a short year.

Imagine . . . we took in:

1) The King Tut exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art.
2) The La Brea Tar Pits.
3) The Farmer's Market at the Grove.
4) The Getty Museum and its gorgeous gardens.
5) A twisty, turny ride through the Hollywood Hills (including a near-death experience involving a Mack truck).
6) A stop at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
7) A peak inside the Kodak Theatre.
8) A visit to Mann's Chinese Theatre.
9) Los Feliz's nooks and crannies, not to mention dinner at Mexico City and Farfalle.
10) A trip to Santa Monica Pier and dinner at the Lobster.
11) A stop at the Venice Boardwalk, including Muscle Beach, some time at the basketball courts from White Men Can't Jump to watch great pickup b'ball, and a photo session with a couple of aliens.
12) The truly amazing drive up PCH to Malibu, with lunch at Moonshadows - and a view of dolphins racing around in the Pacific.
13) Drinks and dinner at Lola's, birthplace of the apple martini.
14) Purchase of a Star Map for $5 at Hollywood and Highland.
15) A trip through Pacific Palisades, Westwood, Bel Air and Beverly Hills along scenic and famous Sunset Boulevard.
16) B-list celebrity sightings, including George Hamilton and Sean Young.
17) Shopping along Santa Monica's Main Street.
18) Taking part in a Starbuck's Commercial right outside the hotel.
19) Winning a couple of bucks in the California Lottery.
20) A visit to Culver City, past the Sony Movie Lot and the old residence of Wieland.

And the list goes on. Sure, we're talking about a dizzying few days. But it gave the folks from Carolina a little taste of what we see here in LA on a daily basis. The In-laws had a room with a view of old Hollywood and the famous Hollywood sign. They saw rain and sun on their visit, and they even got a chance to take a spin on all the major LA freeways - the 10, 110, 101, and 405.

Is there more we wish we could do? Well, sure. But there's always next time. Our Father-in-Law in LA even admitted he'd take a trek out to Dodger Stadium next time he's here. That's a big deal, because as a native Brooklynite, there have been times where he's accused the City of Angels of stealing his childhood, and rightfully so.

But now, he'd go to the game. No two ways about it.

Sure, he'd root for the other team. But at least he and Pamela had a good enough time to come back.

That's LA for you. Little by little, it works on you.


Could this be the end for BACHELOR PARTY GUY?

You know, I lived in Chicago for a dozen years, and frankly, I feel like nothing ever happened. Everything from my return to the city in 1996 from the wilds of Texas until my departure last August for LA blends together.

Don't get me wrong. There were amazing, life-changing, fence post moments - I met my wife and got married, saw a couple of other good pals get married, and wrote and co-directed a feature film.

But the rest of it is a definite blur. I couldn't tell you when I started taking classes at Second City, or when my first or last days of work at Lakefront SRO were. They were good years, sure. And there were great events. But barring those major-major kinds of moments, I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly when things happened.

Life in your 20s and early 30s is a lot like one of the sitcoms you watch in syndication. If you're a fan of SEINFELD, you might remember when George's fiancee died from licking the poison envelopes, but you might not know what season it was when the Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant started shining its neon sign into Kramer's apartment.

Or if you're a fan of FRIENDS, you might know when Chandler and Monica got married, but when did Ross get stuck in the leather pants he wore on a date?

So while I can remember the exact day that I met my wife - and the night we went on our first date - I couldn't for the life of me tell you when we did our show "Junior High" at Donny's Skybox. Or when the "Party Fiction" extravaganza was held on Lawrence Avenue. Or the night that I stole Schumann's money for cab fare.

Just good episodes of a great show, now in syndication.

Which is one reason that I'm a little shocked that twice in one week, I am assailed with major-major news coming from my friends in Chicago. Where was all the excitement when Our Woman in LA and I were there?

As you read last week, my pals Greg Rolnick and MJ Lippman are with child and have a new home in burbs. Big news, that. And, as a reminder, the name Wieland makes a great baby's name. Especially for a girl.

And now today I learn that none other than Rob Schumann is ENGAGED! He's finally tying the knot with longtime girlfriend Heather Eyrich. Couldn't be happier for the both of them. It's a great match.

It's also the end of an era. You can solidly close the book on the era of blur, as far as I'm concerned. See, Schumann occupied a role that all guys in committed relationships need. He was BACHELOR PARTY GUY, the guy who really knew how to throw that final bash before a man becomes part of a couple. He was the guy who stripped naked at a 4th of July celebration and dove into the Lake. He had a Cubs hat with a glowing red C, a convertible, and a fondness for the hops.

Hell, a few years back (I can't tell you when, because it's a blur), a bunch of us even suggested that he should make a business out of throwing bachelor parties. He could do infomercials, we suggested, that would show late at night on cable sports outlets. Women would hate the ads, sure, but guys would - privately - love them.

But today, Bachelor Party Guy hangs up his cape and cowl (and hopefully his tights). We guys may miss having someone play the role of our craziest friend, but then again, Rob served his time with relish.

And truth be told, those days are gone now. When you're at a college football game and you would tear down the goalposts, but you realize it might be dangerous, the days of crazy are done. When you start thinking about not drinking as much because you have to drive AND get up in the morning, they're kaput. When you no longer think it's a great idea to celebrate a holiday weekend with a "morning shot" of peppermint schnapps or Jagermeister, it's time to close up those old ways.

Bon voyage to Bachelor Party Guy and the days of yore. They were fun (what I can remember of them). But these are good days, too. Adventure lies ahead. Congrats to the Rolnick-Lippmans and the Schumann-Eyrichs.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Signs of intelligent design in LA

Our Woman in LA and I have a concrete rule of the universe. It goes like this. If someone is coming from far away (say Chicago or North Carolina or whatever) to visit us and have fun in LA, it invariably rains. Which is an amazing bit of karma, given that it's sunny nearly 300 days of the year out here.

But it's true. Last Halloween, Steph's buddy Tara came to visit. Rain. Reggie and Sarah did a thing in Spring. Rain. Brian and Kelsey? Rain. Steph's mom? Pouring rain.

So today, Steph's dad and stepmom arrive at LAX at 12:30. And it's raining.

Immutable law, this Wieland Weather Law of Visiting California. Maybe even proof of a higher power in the universe who thinks its funny to rain on our visitors to the Golden State.

That said, the wife and I are here to stay. Because rain or no rain, we like dwelling in the bluest of all blue states. We like being somewhere that red state conservatives use as a symbol for all the godless, communistic liberalism they fear is gripping our once great nation.

Moreover, though I might see signs of a God with a good sense of irony in this whole rain thing, the whole "Intelligent Design" debate going on really freaks me out. Did you see this today? The State Board of Education in Kansas just voted 6-4 to allow "both sides" of the evolution "argument" to be presented in public schools.

Yup. Grumble grumble grumble. Imagine this. It's 15 or 20 years in the future. Your kid is in his 9th grade science class and some portly guy with a pocket protector (apologies to science teachers everywhere - I'm using the cliche) starts off a lecture like this:

"Now class, today we're going to discuss the argument between godless Darwinism and righteous Intelligent Design. The Darwin side is supported by academics, liberals, and all sorts of so-called scientists, and it involves the way in which human beings (not unlike our Lord and Savior Jesus) were evolved from a series of tadpoles, monkeys and other undiscovered creatures. The other side is supported by one tool who calls himself a scientist at a college in Pennsylvania, not to mention televangelists and most of the population of Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. That theory is that our gracious Lord God designed the world the way he intended for things. We might have come from monkeys maybe, but if we did, it was part of God's plan.

"Now class, if you can describe one of these theories in a single sentence on the test Friday, you'll get an A. Doesn't matter which one you describe."

If you don't know about all this, check this link:,1,4713279.story?coll=la-headlines-nation

Most horrifying of all for Our Man in LA? The fact that his home state of Ohio is the only state in the union to have already put together a lesson plan for teaching this so-called debate. Other states following the Buckeye state's lead include New Mexico and semi-blue states Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Is it possible that only hardcore blue states are immune from this hogwash?

This leaves Our Man in LA one choice regarding his extended family: begging them to leave home and not look back.

Please, please, please, Red State Wielands, Gerharts, Glazers and Singers! Please! Leave the red states behind. No more Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana . . . those places might have made America great once, but now look at this mess! Do you want future generations listening to Brooks & Dunn and talking Intelligent Design nonsense?

There are many, many nice places in the blue states! Portland and Seattle are nice, too! Go to Chicago if you want (but stay out of the rest of Illinois). Or Boston or Providence. Or one of those suburbs outside New York.

Please! Sacramento's not that different from Columbus! Really! Well, probably.

And when you leave, don't look back. You know what happened to those folks who took a last look at Sodom and Gomorrah!

See, we liberals can use Bible references, too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


A full-sized Tuesday Top Five

To tell the truth, Our Man in LA ran up against his deadline for today's Tuesday Top Five. There I was, getting ready for work, and I realized that I only had three of my five. Terrifying, I tell you, truly terrifying.

Worse, I could come up with at least two things that aggravate me no end. So I thought about sharing a Top Three and a Bottom Two, but that would basically make me a cut-rate version of TV Guide's "Cheers and Jeers" section. And ironically enough, TV Guide's new full-size magazine format was one of the aggravating things I could hang my hat on. So that's an Our Man in LA disaster.

But now, back in possession of my senses, I've brought a new Top Five to the table, as well as a Bottom one. That's six items - and for the price of . . . well, whatever you pay your Internet provider.

Oooh, ooh, one other note. I've noticed that the top five has been running a bit long the last couple of weeks, so I'm going to try and cut it down. So no more further ado. Let's get it started:

5) John Bellairs' Johnny Dixon mystery/horror series. As I've been working up the new script, I've been re-familiarizing myself with all the really cool mystery and horror novels that I read as a kid or a "young adult". And that led me back to Bellairs and Johnny Dixon.

For the uninitiated, Johnny is a nervous, bespectacled and not particularly athletic kid living in a creepy small town in Massachusetts. The book's cover art is done by Gorey, if that gives you a clue. In every novel, he teams up with his smart ass friend Fergie and the elderly Professor Childermass to solve a mystery that bewitches his town . . . one that usually has more than a passing relationship to the Occult.

If you always thought the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift were a little goody-goody for your tastes, you might like this. In Bellairs world, ordinary dorky kids run up against monsters of Lovecraft-style horror, spells from wicked near-sighted sorcerors, and arrogant baseball players.

The titles tell the tale. The one I just read was "The Eyes of the Killer Robot". Very, very good stuff, especially right on the heels of Halloween.

4) The Carolina Panthers . . . and their Cheerleaders. Well, mostly their cheerleaders. See, the Panthers are more or less my wife's hometown football team. Since I don't have a horse in the NFC race, I tend to root for them anyway. I like Jake Delhomme, Smith, and Julius Peppers. I'd love it if they got to the Super Bowl this year, even if I think the Colts would crush them.

But this latest news item warms the cockles of Our Man in LA's heart. It seems that this weekend, following the Panthers' big win over division rival Tampa Bay, two of the team's cheerleaders were involved in a bit of a melee at a Tampa club.

First, you see, these gals were having sex with one another in the club's bathroom, which caused a lot of complaining - not because of the relative morality of public lesbian sex in a more or less red state kind of town. Nope. The complaining came because the sex was causing a big line at the women's restroom.

The cheerleaders were monopolizing the restroom, you see.

That, in turn, led to the two ladies getting into a major bar fight with a number of other women in the club. Then to them being eventually thrown out of the bar and arrested. But since that wasn't enough, the girls gave false names to the Tampa police, and in turn, received another felony charge.

They have been dismissed from the team. One columnist noted that Panther cheerleaders are only supposed to display lascivious behavior on the field. That's too easy a shot. I myself tried to come up with some other witty bon mot to end this item - something about a porn producer in the Valley putting these ladies on speed dial or something, but it just seems too simple.

I really do love this story. Go Panthers.

3) Rancho Mirage, CA. For all my bitching and moaning about having to go to the desert last week, it obviously paid off. By Friday afternoon, when I headed home, the dry air and warm temperatures had restored me to health. And for a work trip, it was a pretty decent time.

For one thing, it's gorgeous out there. The mountains cut an impressive backdrop, and the desert stretches out in every direction like something out of a movie. And I ate really well at a local steak house. And I got to work out at a virtually unused hotel gym.

Hell, if you didn't have to drive through the Inland Empire and past a legion of really daunting tall and futuristic windmills on your way there, it might just be worth the trip on any weekend.

2) City at Peace. Our Woman in LA has taken on a new role in LA's theatre scene. She's now working with a group out of Venice Beach called City at Peace. Steph describes the group as something of a cross between the Lovewell Institute of the Arts in Florida (where she spends her summers) and Scrap Mettle SOUL, the community theatre group in Chicago where she served as Associate Artistic Director before following yours truly halfway across the globe.

According to their website (, City at Peace is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that empowers teenagers to create safe, healthy, peaceful lives and communities. Using the performing arts as a vehicle, City at Peace is developing the next generation of engaged community leaders.

City at Peace operates year long programs that bring together vastly diverse groups of youth from all over a city. They go through an intense year long creative process through which they write an original musical whose stories come from their lives and their ideas for a better world. They also create community change projects where they take those ideas and act on them in their city.

The group has programs in New York, DC, LA and Santa Barbara, in Louisiana, and internationally in Israel and South Africa. Our Woman in LA is very excited about her new role there.

1) Bone by Jeff Smith. Longtime friends of Our Man in LA might remember that Wieland's freshman year roommate at Northwestern was named Jeff Smith. The author of this acclaimed graphic novel, is a different fella.

I started reading Bone years ago, when I was a student at UT-Austin (Home of the Mighty Mighty Longhorns). I loved it then, but I never managed to finish it - moving from Texas to Chicago put a crimp on it and the book phased out of my regular comics stash.

Now it's been collected in one 1,000+ page volume, and it's nothing short of fantastic. Imagine a sweeping fantasy epic - with dragons and rat creatures, damsels who can kick ass, grandmothers who make their living by racing against cows, and, of course, a sweeping struggle between good and evil that might change the way of the world.

And imagine that thrust into the middle of this struggle are three pasty white guys about 4 feet tall that look like a cross between a Smurf and a Schmoo. I'm not doing it justice by this explanation. But stick with me. Three Smurfy-Schmooey type guys - one a hard-working, sensitive type obsessed with Moby Dick; one a cut-rate con man; and one a cigar-chomping goofball - are smack in the middle of a Lord of the Rings style struggle. Only funnier. And in its way, sweeter.

It's awesome. If you like comics, you'll love it. If you don't, you still might like it. Can't recommend this book enough.

And that's the Top Five. Oh yeah, I mentioned a Bottom One, too, didn't I?

Well here it is:

Bottom One: The New SI cover jinx.

You might have heard, but the Chicago White Sox just won the World Series after an 88-year drought. The team overcame a bunch of tough teams in the playoffs, not to mention having virtually no fans in their hometown. And they won. It's the kind of thing that should make a grown man cry.

And they didn't even make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Come on, you say. What's a bigger story than an 88-year drought finally ended? Champions always makes the cover.

Nope. Not this time. There was a little refer to an article about the Sox along the top of the cover, but not a cover devoted to the White Sox.

That cover instead went to the matchup between Tom Brady of the Patriots and Peyton Manning of the Colts - who played last night in a REGULAR SEASON GAME. Incidentally, the game was basically over by halftime, and the Colts destroyed the Patriots. Oh, and did I mention that the Colts were already undefeated, while the Patriots are limping along at 4-4?

Nice work, SI. Can you hear that? Can you? It's the sound of one hand clapping.


See you tomorrow.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Sorry, it's going to have to be a news and notes . . .

It probably hurts me more than it hurts you to do one of these Larry King style columns, but I've got too much stuff coming at me to do anything but a few quick hits. So here goes.

1) Many, many congrats to Greg Rolnick and Mary Jo Lippman on their two pieces of amazing news this weekend (at least it was news to me this weekend - if you heard it before that, well, super). Yessir, Greg and MJ are with child AND closing on a new suburban manse in Glenview, IL. Yes, MJ is the same woman whose bachelorette party included "Naked Boys Singing". Yes, Greg's bachelor party included . . . ahem, law of the schoolyard prohibits me from saying.

Couldn't be more excited for the two of them. But since they're both writers and creative types themselves, you should hear about it from their mouths - or their collective Internet presence. So check out their baby and suburbia blog at:

Again, so many congratulations to both of them. The house looks really great.

2) A busy schedule has prevented me from getting to the comix store over the past couple of weeks, so I've decided to take a serious look into the art form. Right now, I have on loan most of Time Magazine's 10 Best Graphic Novels of all time. For a serious comics head like me, it was pretty disheartening to realize that I'd only read a couple of them. So look for reviews of these things in upcoming Tuesday Top Fives.

If you're interested in the Top 10, these are they: Berlin: City of Stones,
Blankets, Bone, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, The Dark Knight Returns, David Boring, Ed the Happy Clown, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, and Watchmen.

Of course, I've read Watchmen and Dark Knight, and I love Jimmy Corrigan. I'm making my way through the rest. David Boring (by Daniel Clowes, he of Ghost World) is pretty disturbing but interesting. Bone is laugh-out-loud fantastic.

3) After a college football season with few surprises, this weekend delivered a bunch - and it probably saved the infamous BCS from getting a bunch of egg on its face come bowl season. Just three unbeaten teams remain - USC, Alabama, and my Mighty Mighty Longhorns, with Texas and USC controlling their own destinies for the national championship in the Rose Bowl.

Cool, I guess. I can breathe a sigh of relief, since I worried that Virginia Tech might overtake the Horns before the season was out. Heh. First time I've ever rooted for the Miami Hurricanes.

But here's something particularly striking as we close in on the bowl season. What's old continues to be new. Seriously. Imagine this: if things go as they are now, the automatic bids to the BCS are likely to be USC, Texas, Penn State, Alabama, West Virginia, and Miami. Is it 1981 again? Consider, even, some of the teams likely to be in the running for the at-large bids: Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU. Rip van Football fan could have gone to sleep in the early 80s, just gotten up, and it might have taken him a good three weeks to figure out he'd been out for a while.

4) Two other football notes: Bengals and Northwestern Wildcats. Post-season play on the horizon. Huzzah. In multiples!

5) The in-laws are coming to LA this week - Steph's father and step-mother. Our Man in LA's father-in-law has been described by astute observers as a cross between Tony Soprano and Clark W. Griswold. It's apt. Neither he nor his wife have been to LA. He still blames the City of Angels for stealing his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers back in the 50s.

So the challenge is on to prove that LA is not all that bad. Much of the weekend has included a frantic search for the right set of restaurants. Activities are set - we're doing LACMA, the Getty, Venice Beach, Malibu, drinks at the Bev Hills Hotel, and they're staying less than a block from the Walk of Fame, so we'll probably get there, too.

But food's been a question. Bossa Nova or Palomino? Mexico City or Home? The Lobster is a definite, but should it be Gladstone's 4 Fish or Moonshadows? One wrong move and both Our Woman in LA and I know that we skirt disaster.

What will we do? Stay tuned, true believer. This week's sure to have its share of thrills, chills, spills and excitement.

See you tomorrow.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Sporting haves and have-nots

As you may or may not know, the last two days have featured the opening games for the teams in the NBA. Which means in my adopted hometown of LA, we have one of the few markets with a couple of games going on every night.

There are storylines aplenty. Kobe and Phil are back together again with the Lakers. Are they going to bring a championship to town (probably not)? Will it be a return to greatness (again, probably not)?

And at the same arena, Clippers fans are embracing new star, 138-year-old Sam Cassell to provide some veteran leadership. Will this finally be the year that the Clips break out (not sure)?

That's just here in LA. It doesn't even begin to encompass the questions everywhere else in the league - like how will Larry Brown's Knicks perform in the Big Apple? Is this the year LeBron and the Cavs break out? Will the Spurs repeat? And so on.

That said, there's one particularly dissatisfying thing that comes to any two-team town eventually, and it's already here. We're talking preferential treatment from the media.

I've already talked about it in this blog with the Cubs-White Sox case. In Chicago, you might not have even known the White Sox existed just by reading the Tribune. Hell, before the World Series, the team was never - ever - the top story on the television news, except for the time that that redneck jumped on the field and clobbered the Kansas City base coach.

It's here, too. Not as bad, maybe, but here. Last night, the Lakers held on against Denver to win in overtime. Big headline on the front page of the Times sports section, big picutre of Kobe the rapist on the page. The Clips, meanwhile, wipe up Seattle, and they get just a quiet little story. Cassell had 35 points!

Nope. Picture of Kobe.

See? This is why the Clips - though I like them, and I plan to make them my local NBA team for as long as I live in LA - ought to move to the OC. Bad enough that the Tribune doesn't cover the White Sox in Chicago, but at least the Sox don't have to play in Wrigley. The Clippers share Staples Center, with its purple and gold seats. They have crappier locker rooms.

So naturally, they're the second team.

But in OC, it would just make sense. Put them up at the Pond. Call them the LA Clippers of Anaheim, or the California Clippers, or whatever.

Stupid second team nonsense.

All right. Now I'm off to the desert.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Not the best way to celebrate the midweek

You know what really sucks right now? No, it's not the weather - which is sunny and in the 70s (though there's a bit of haze out there). It's not the traffic (though a protest of our President tied up a good deal of traffic around my office at Wilshire and Fairfax today). It's not sports (are you kidding? There's football AND basketball on at night).

Nope. It's the fact that I've got a cold. Or the flu. Or possibly some hideously disfiguring disease that hit me like a ton of bricks right about quitting time today.

I've got all the symptoms of nondescript cold/flu. A few aches here and there, sinus drainage, sore throat, exhaustion. The fun stuff.

What could suck worse than all this?

Except possibly having this kind of ick running through your system when it's nice outside?

Except having so much bird flu information on the news that I'm convinced that I might have it, despite never being near the droppings of any Asian avian beasts (at least, as far as I know)?

Or how about having it when you've got a whole lot of writing work to get done on the new script, not to mention some notes to work on for the old script?

Or how about having it when you have to drive to Rancho Mirage in the high desert tomorrow for a dinner meeting, stay in a hotel, and then get up for an early meeting before driving back home?

Oh, yeah. I've got all three of those conditions going for me. Yippee.

So I'm wiped. Probably I should go to bed, but because it's 8:30 and I'm not in the second grade, I'll probably tough it out for another hour or so. Which will probably only make that ride through the Inland Empire and the desert all the more charming.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Time for a little TUESDAY TOP FIVE . . .

Greetings from piping hot LA, where the temp reached 90 degrees today. For a midwestern boy like me, hot weather when the Christmas decorations go up just seems, well, a little weird. What the hell, roll with it.

And there's no better way to do that than to roll with the regular Tuesday Top Five. Really, today it's a top six, since I had too many things about which to pontificate. Must be the heat. So let's roll.

5) The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais. Just got into Crais' newest novel, about LA-based private eye Elvis Cole. Crais' writing fluctuates between chilling and merely exciting, with strong strains of pathos and humor throughout. If you haven't read this guy and you're a fan of detective fiction, you really owe it to yourself.

For the uninitiated, Crais (former show runner for a host of detective shows on TV) writes about Elvis, a literate knight errant type in the tradition of Parker's Spenser books. Elvis has an A-frame house in the hills, a vintage vette, and a smart mouth, but also a strong sense of honor and a major league violent streak (but only when might will equal right, you understand). His partner in detection is a former cop and moderately unhinged guy named Joe Pike. Through a dozen or so novels, these guys have toughed it out, evolving in ways you wouldn't have seen coming back in the 80s when the first Cole novel (The Monkey's Raincoat - also really good) showed up on shelves.

In this one, Cole takes a call in the middle of the night from cops on LA's skid row. A man's been murdered, but with his dying words, he claims to be Elvis' long-lost pappy. While our hero sweats out that mystery (could this really be his father? is he a suspect in the murder?), the case weaves its way into a series of murders in Temecula wine country and crosses the path of two serial killers on a cross-country jaunt.

Great, great entertainment from Mr. Crais. Check it out.

4) Griffith Park. Just a couple of blocks from the new Wieland homestead is one of the great joys of living in Los Angeles. In a more traditional American city, like New York, Chicago, or Boston, it's easier to have a central green area for the residents to enjoy. It helps define the city. Imagine New York without Central Park. You can't, can you? Same with Boston without the Common or Chicago without the lakefront combo of Lincoln and Grant Parks.

Folks visiting LA for the first time might imagine LA's take on the park experience might be the Santa Monica to Venice corridor of beach and surf. And great though that may be, Griffith Park is LA's real stab at a central piece of green.

And it's breathtaking. You've got hills and trails, gorgeous homes, a terrific amphitheater and observatory. For the past couple of months, as the wife and I have familiarized ourselves with our new Los Feliz haunts, we've taken to exploring the park.

It's one of those places where you find something new just about every time you head out. The trails wind through the Hollywood hills, giving you a knockout view of downtown and the West Side. And you get a workout, climbing up to the trails, hiking around.

Yeah, but how central is it really to LA? Pretty central. Close your eyes. Imagine LA as you've seen it in the movies. Got it? You know that there Hollywood sign? On the edge of Griffith Park. You know that observatory where James Dean showed his classmates that he was a rebel without a cause? Griffith Park. All those green hills you see above the city - that's part of it.

Another great thing about this new neighborhood.

3) I've got a tie here at 3, and both are from the world of entertainment. I couldn't decide which to go with, so I'm giving you the bonus. Here we go:

A. Neil Patrick Harris reborn and funny. Have you seen this new show HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER? Well, it's fine. Nothing special, frankly. And kind of disappointing to me because I'd heard that it kicked ass. And while it might kick JOEY's ass, well, you get the picture.

But Neil Patrick Harris is freaking funny on that show. As Barney, an obnoxious but nattily-dressed single guy, Harris makes the show watchable. The rest of the cast is fine, but the former Doogie Howser is all smarmy hilarious goodness.

Now, I'd prepared myself to laugh at the guy after seeing Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, in which Harris played himself as a frequently stoned, skirt-chasing dude who got "love juices" all over one of the heroes Honda Accord. But I figured Harris was just having a good time poking fun at himself. On the new show, he's the go-to funny guy, the sidekick who schtick keeps you coming back even after the main character leaves you cold.

B. The NBA. Pro basketball is back on starting with four games tonight. I'm a big fan of the league, even though it's taken some serious hits in terms of popularity for the past several years. Yeah, I know that there's no Michael Jordan out there anymore, or Bird or Magic. I know that middle Americans and red staters don't like to see the players all blinged out. And I know that marketers have been flipping out the past couple of years as A) Kobe Bryant went to trial for rape; and B) Small market teams like San Antonio took control.

But I like the league. I'm glad it's back. I want it to succeed. And I don't want the main topic of conversation about the NBA to be the stupid dress code issue.

With that in mind, I do have a couple of suggestions for what the NBA could do to raise the level of excitement. Sure, it would require David Stern to take over and do a few things that aren't particularly kosher. But on the other hand, it would raise excitement.

These are my ideas (you know, if I were all-powerful commish for a day):

* LINEUP CHANGES. By mandate of the league, a few small markets and have-not teams should have to part with star players. Sorry, Cleveland and Washington, but LeBron and Gilbert Arenas are going to play for Larry Brown and the Knicks. Emeka Okafor is headed from Charlotte to the Lakers. Kevin Garnett has to vacate Minnesota for the Bulls. And Steve Nash and Wally Sczerbiak must leave their teams for the Boston Celtics because, well, they look like they were born to wear Celtic green.

I'm not against the small market team, understand. But I am for league marketability. I'm not touching San Antonio or Denver or Indiana or Sacramento, or big teams like Philly, Miami, Detroit, Seattle, Houston or Dallas. Or even New Jersey/Brooklyn.

It's just a shame to see the big stars toiling in markets where they might never make the playoffs. If the NBA wants a new Jordan, it's hard to defend the idea that he's toiling away in mid-sized market teams that don't make the playoffs.

* TEAM MOVES. I like the Clippers way more than the Lakers, but it's unfair to have the Clips in the Staples Center. So I say, move the Clips to the OC, where they'll sell out every game and get a certain cache, like the Angels. No need to change the team's name even.


* ALLOW FOR MORE CHEAP SEATS AT MORE GAMES. That way, the folks who don't care about the bling bling can actually afford a seat. Use the Clipper model. Last year, my buddy Nick and I saw the Clips play the Spurs from courtside seats. Cost? $100.

This ends my first day as all-powerful commish. If I had two days, look out.

2) Mexico City. As I mentioned yesterday, Steph and I took good buddy Rick Porter out for his birthday on Sunday, and we finally tried this much-recommended place just a couple of blocks away from the homestead.

And it's awesome. Terrific regional Mexican fare. Oh, sure, they had the burritos and tacos that you can get anywhere, but this is a place known for its seafood enchiladas, for its fresh tamales that incorporate raisins and chocolate into their preparation. Of course, they're also known for their margaritas and sangria.

The wife and I both feasted on seafood - she had mahi mahi in tomatillo sauce with plantains, and I had shrimp in a tomato, caper, garlic, onion and pepper sauce. Tremendous. Not to mention just about a pitch perfect margarita on the rocks.

One of the joys of the new hood is finding new restaurants and bars that I can walk to. Maybe nobody is supposed to walk in LA, but when you have places like this just a stone's throw from the house, you're loving it.

1) Mike Allred's SOLO outing. I think that a few Tuesday Top Fives ago, I talked about DC Comics' new series SOLO. In it, DC (home of Superman, Batman and the like) give a comics pro (usually a writer-artist, but sometimes just an artist) free reign to write and draw anything they like with the company's stable of characters. It's 50 pages of whatever the artist chooses. Which makes it often pretty amazing.

A couple of months back, Darwyn Cooke, who is without question one of my four or five fave comics creators, did an issue. It was amazing. Stuff in there that would make you cry.

This month, Allred came on. I like Allred a lot - he's got a great off-balance style, quirky sense of humor, and really distinctive style. If you don't know his work on Madman, Red Rocket 7, and the Atomics, you should. If you haven't seen his greatly missed Marvel series X-Statix, then you've missed out.

But he's the guy who drew the adventures of Bluntman and Chronic for Kevin Smith's movie CHASING AMY (yeah, I know Ben Affleck was the character who drew it in the movie, but Allred really did the art). And now he's the guy doing a comics version of the Book of Mormon (called "The Golden Plates").

Anyway, this comic is fabulous. It tends more toward the comedic than the melancholy that we saw in Cooke's issue, but it's worth the read. His story about the Teen Titans battling the Doom Patrol in Bruce Wayne's penthouse, as told in "swingin' 60s" style and diction is a hilarious throwback to hepcat comics of the 60s.

Or remember Hourman? He's a Golden Age character who took a pill and got Superman-like powers for one hour. Well, what does that guy do when he's all-powered up and there's no evil afoot to fight? The answer's pretty hilarious.

Or what does an Adam West era Batman do when Robin takes off to fight crime on his own? Very, very funny stuff.

There's all that and quite a bit more. The best part about a book like that it gives comics fans a chance to look inside the brain of their favorite creators. Allred pokes fun at the conventions of this medium, but does so with a lot of love. If you've been reading comics for a long time - like me - you'll definitely get a kick out of this guy's power of super-humor.

And that's all he wrote. Six things this week that found themselves a spot in the Top Five.

See you tomorrow.

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