X is for X-Men


X-Men is a very popular comic book published by Marvel Comics. Actually, the idea of X-Men now means a series of comic book titles with an interlocking directory of characters. It’s so popular that it has help create three movies* with name stars such as Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) and Halle Berry (Storm) [pictured above] and Ian McKellen (Magneto) [pictured below]. These are shots from the premiere of the first film.

If you look at The Marvel Encyclopedia, updated and expanded foe 2009, which I just happened to take out of the library last week, you’ll find no fewer than 110 references to X-Men in the index; that does not count the seven pages, in the 400-page book, describing the X-Men directly.

But it’s not its successful nature per se that interests me. Rather, it’s…well, let me explain.

The X-Men were introduced to the world in 1963, the same year as the supergroup known as the Avengers. The premise of the creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was that the characters had certain extraordinary (X-tra ordinary) powers at birth, though they weren’t always manifested immediately. They were mutants, outcasts from society. Yet the group, founded by Charles XAVIER, a/k/a Professor X, was sworn to protect those who feared and hated them, trying to bring peaceful coexistence between “ordinary” humans and mutants.

However, the book, by the same creative team that had created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and many, many others, was a bit of a bust. Definitely second-tier in the pantheon of comic book characters. Perhaps the theme of minorities persecuted by a majority was a little bit too “on the nose” for comic book fans of the time.

In fact, for about five years the book was essentially canceled, though reprints were released as X-Men 67-93.

Then a new group was developed in 1975 that was more international in scope, and they didn’t all have those boring yellow and blue jump suits. Others can talk about the particulars of the great success of the revised entity. I want to tell you that, as a comic book fan, I was shocked by both how well the re-envisioning worked and how well it caught on with the public.

Think of the movie Rocky. Better still, think of singer Susan Boyle, from which nothing was expected, yet the judges were gobsmacked by her voice. If that weren’t enough, her debut album sold 700,000 units in the first week in the United States alone and another 500,000 the following week. Such was the success of the X-Men.

So much so that when I worked at a comic book store called FantaCo in the 1980s, and we decided to to a magazine about a comic book group, naturally we picked X-Men. I really wanted to edited it, not just because of my affection for the then-current incarnation, but because I loved the rags-to-riches nature of the title. I write about this at length here, with a little bit of follow-up here.

But as Nik from SpatulaForum writes: “Unfortunately, the ‘X-Men brand’ has been so utterly diluted in the years since by endless spin-offs, impossibly complicated continuity and everything from movies to action figures to beach towels that it’s hard to forget how simple and revolutionary they once seemed.” It’s interesting that the teen artists of Kids of Survival chose to use the X-Men, a run of 1968 episodes of the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, totally unaltered beyond being placed as the canvas, as their choice, rather than the more up-to-date versions, in their artistic expression.


Here is a picture of my good friend Fred Hembeck’s rendition of the X-Men. You can find more of his work here.

*Yes, I know there’s also a Wolverine film. Len Wein, who helped created Wolverine in Hulk #181, talks about the character here and here.

K is for Klezmer

In August, for Itzhak Perlman’s birthday, I listened to a live album of KLEZMER music that he performed on. Classical violin virtuoso Perlman gives klezmer a certain cache that the music did not have heretofore.

Here he joins four klezmer groups “for a joyous get-together with unforgettable Klezmer melodies.”

But what IS klezmer?

From this source:
Klezmer music originated in the ‘shtetl’ (villages) and the ghettos of Eastern Europe, where itinerant Jewish troubadours, known as ‘klezmorim’, performed at joyful events (‘simkhes’), particularly weddings…It was inspired with secular melodies, popular dances, ‘khazones’ (khazanut, Jewish liturgy) as well as with the ‘nigunim’, the simple and often wordless melodies intended by the ‘Hasidim’ (orthodox Jews) for approaching God in a kind of ecstatic communion. In (mutual) contact with Slavonic, Greek, Ottoman (Turkish), Arabic, Gypsy and -later- American jazz musicians, the ‘klezmorim’ acquired, through numerous tempo changes, irregular rhythms, dissonance and a touch of improvisation, the ability to generate a very diversified music, easily recognizable and widely appreciated all around the world.

The Wikipedia definition of klezmer, and another example.


This article notes the decline of klezmer in the 1950s and 1960s. But the music was “revived on US records in the late 1970s. In San Francisco, the Klezmorim released the earliest klezmer revival album I’ve seen — ‘East Side Wedding’ (1977 on the national Arhoolie label). It’s an eclectic mix of styles from the nearly frantic ‘Trello Hasaposerviko (Crazy Dance)’ to the melancholy ‘Doina’.”

I’m fascinated by this because I OWN ‘East Side Wedding’! I must have bought it at a folk festival in the late 1970s or early 1980s, maybe at the Old Songs Festival that takes place every June in the Albany, NY area.

It’s happy music, yet holds a certain wistfulness. I think that’s why I am attracted to it.

A whole bunch more klezmer music.
***
Very seldom do I get to blog about comic books for my work blog. But some legal issues involving the late Jack KIRBY, the artist who created or co-created dozens of famous comic book characters, including Captain America, gave me that rare opportunity. You can read it here.

ROG

A is for Alphabet


My wife went to Ukraine in the summer of 2002 – the preparation for which was complicated by a bat in our home. A couple years later, a friend of hers made the same teaching trip and gave our newborn daughter an alphabet book from there. The title appears to be AbETKA – it’s the B-looking letter that’s the second, rather than the third letter of the Cyrillic alphabet.

This alphabet was not entirely foreign to me. I grew up in a city called Binghamton, NY, an upstate New York locale with a number of eastern Europeans. The Russians and the Ukrainian churches, primarily Eastern Orthodox in faith, sometimes used both Cyrillic and Latin/Roman.

As for the latter, it has some variety among the many languages in which it appears, such as accented letters (á, è, î), extra letters, and ligatures (two or three letters joined together – æ, e.g). this page has links how to type special letters in Windows, MAC, and HTML,m plus much more.

A recent Final JEOPARDY!: 2009-01-09 ALPHABETS: In the phonetic alphabet used by the U.S. military, it’s the only letter that has the same name as a warrior people.

Ending up with the Jack Kirby alphabet and a couple of Sesame Street pieces:

LINK

LINK

JEOPARDY! – What is Zulu?

The Year In Review: Mixed Media

As pop culture goes, my participation in same was pretty dismal. But I’m going to plod on and describe the highlights.

COMICS
Last month, the Comic Reporter asked its readers to “Name Five Memorable Comics-Related Things About 2008 (A Book You Read, An Experience You Had, An Event That Made You Take Notice — Anything That Would Help You In The Future Recall This Year.” I failed to participate there, but I will here.

1a. Fred Hembeck’s book came out, and I’m mentioned in the thank yous; I like seeing my name in print, what can I say? This also meant that I actually went to more comic-related shows (three) than I have in a while. At two of them, I saw Fred.
1b. At one of those shows, someone actually asked ME to sign some FantaCo Chronicles I worked on 25 years ago. What an ego boost!
1c. I also saw my friend Rocco Nigro, and re-met the inestimable Alan David Doane, who was probably an annoying teenager last I had seen him, rather than the charmer he is now.

2. Someone put out a Wikipedia page for FantaCo, a place I worked for 8.5 years, this summer. Frankly, the page was awful, riddled with errors and omissions. Fortunately, the guy contacted me, and it became the mission of mine and of my old buddy Steve Bissette to rectify the record; the thing is not perfect, but it’s a WHOLE lot better. The incident also gave me a chance to get in contact with former FantaCo owner Tom Skulan for the first time in nearly a decade.

3. Reading Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier. It explained a lot about Jack’s motivation the times I dealt with him on the phone in the early 1980s.

4. The deaths of Steve Gerber in 2008, who unbeknowst to him helped inspire this blog, and of Raoul Vezina, 25 years ago.

5. Freddie and Me by Mike Dawson, which, among other things, made me want to listen to more of the music of the group Queen.

MUSIC
I got maybe a dozen 2008 albums all year, by Lindsay Buckingham, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, REM, She and Him, Brian Wilson, Lizz Wright, a couple others plus the MOJO take on the Beatles’ white album. I liked them all at some level, but the even snarlkier than usual Newman album “stuck” the most. More old fogey music I received for Christmas and haven’t heard enough to judge: Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Johhny Cash. The latter is a 40th anniversary double CD/DVD box set of his Folsom Prison concerts; just on a quick listen, I’m happy to hear the Carl Perkins and Statler Brothers tunes for the first time.

MOVIES
A paltry number of 2008 pics so far: Iron Man (my favorite), Young@Heart, Man on Wire, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, and Synecdoche, New York. Three of them, IM, MoW and VCB made the Top 10 list at the WSJ along with WALL-E, Slumdog Millionaire and a bunch of other films I will try to see.
Yes, I did see some 2007 films in 2008 and I will undoubtedly see some 2008 films in 2009. Still, five is worse than the seven I saw last year, and catching up on video just doesn’t seem to happen, not that it’s entirely comparable anyway.

TELEVISION

Oh, heck, TV deserves its own posting. Thanks to technology, it’s about the only thing I have even a modicum of a chance to (barely) keep up with.

ROG

Happy Blogiversary to Ramblin’


Finishing year number three at that. If you were to tell me I’d be blogging for nearly 1100 straight days 1200 days ago, I’d say you were nuts. Well, the joke’s on me. Maybe I’m nuts. So be it.
I blogged 32 times in May, June, August, September, and December 2007, 31 times in July and November of 2007, plus each of the first three months of 2008, a whopping 34 times in October 2007, and a mere 30 times in April 2008. That would be 380 posts in 366 days. And this doesn’t count the posts I’ve made elsewhere.

Over the last 12 months – heck, ever – the best single day I had, in terms of people coming to the blog was May 18, with 477 visitors. It was fueled on the piece I had posted the day before, about counterfeit Cerebus #1, which ADD and subsequently other members of the comic book press picked up.

Likewise, it fueled the highest month I ever had.

The second best single day was 366 hits for a January interview with someone named Fred Hembeck, aided undoubtedly by a mention from Greg Burgas; it was among the first interviews of Fred to see the light of day, which helped. The worst day in the past year was a day in July, probably a Sunday, when I had 76 visitors.

I check my Technorati score periodically. It’s been as low as 22 and as high as 44; last I checked, it was 36.

When I Google Roger Green, my blog is generally in the Top 3 hits, along with Roger Green + Associates, Roger S. Green of Duluth, GA, and/or the former assemblyman Roger L. Green. The Denver ambient jazz musician’s on the rise, but the feng shui guy has been sinking. One of the Google oddities is that both my blog and one particular post has been near the top. For a while it was Chronicles of the Fantastic Four Chronicles, featuring Jack Kirby and John Byrne. More recently, it’s been the little piece I did about the death of Steve Gerber, which made me mildly uncomfortable, for some reason.

I want to thank those folks who’ve come by. More on all of this in the days ahead.

ROG