Archive for August, 2011

Gulacy and Moench MOKF Six Issue Crescendo (part 3)

27 August 2011

Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu – four panel rotating zoom sequence from MOKF No. 49 – art by Paul Gulacy

This is the third, and for now final, in a series of blog articles about the comic book Master of Kung Fu – MOKF – and my favorite issues of it, written by Doug Moench and drawn by Paul Gulacy. I recommend you start reading with part 1, then part 2, then read this piece below.

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MOKF No. 45 – the first issue of the six-issue saga, cover art by Gil Kane

This third piece will focus on what I think is really Gulacy and Moench’s crowning achievement: a six-issue story arc beginning with MOKF No. 45 – October 1976 through MOKF No. 50 – March 1977.

It’s a cinematic, sweeping arc that reads a bit like a James Bond movie. What distinguishes it from pretty much any comic book that I’ve ever read, is that Moench has written each issue in the voice of a specific character. Usually MOKF featured a sort of internal voiceover narration – the thoughts of Shang-Chi. For these six issues, the narration shifts from character to character. Sometimes internal, sometimes spoken.

These six character voices are often clever and somewhat revealing about each narrator.  (more…)

Gulacy and Moench Innovative Visual Storytelling in Master of Kung Fu (part 2)

22 August 2011

This is the second in my three-part series geeking out on the wonderfulness of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy’s 1970s run on the Marvel comic book Master of Kung Fu – abbreviated MOKF. I suggest starting with the first article which is here. While I pride myself on explaining various stuff in a way that the average uninitiated reader can comprehend… this post feels a bit impenetrable for the non-comics-fan. For true enjoyment, you, dear reader, might need some exposure to Alan Moore’s work, especially Watchmen – the comic, not the movie.

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While Gulacy’s pan sequences are great, he also, less frequently, does another multi-panel sequence story-telling trick that’s, in a way, the opposite. This sequence, which I also don’t have a really good name for, features a series of panels depicting the exact same location – cinematically, but where the action progresses over time. It’s almost as if a stationary camera has been left running, and each panel is a snapshot from that camera. So, for lack of a better term, I’ll refer to it as a fixed-camera sequence.

Here’s an example, from January 1977:

Four panel sequence from MOKF No. 48, page 26, art by Paul Gulacy

All four of these panels are from the exact same camera angle, as the scene changes over time. This is confirmed by the unchanged vertical rock wall on the left side of each. It’s a good steady progression from solitary and composed to busy and crowded. The fixed-camera sequence seems fairly direct – it’s not flashy, show-offy… it serves the progression of the story, more than drawing attention to its own artifice.  (more…)

Rereading comics: Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy on Master of Kung Fu (part 1)

22 August 2011

Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu, panel from MOKF No. 43, art by Paul Gulacy

Those rare folks who’ve followed this blog for a while, know that I am a somewhat-closeted fan of comic books. I’ve been reading comic books since the mid-1970s when my 4th grade best friend Mike Cranford loaned me a copy of Marvel Triple Action – more on that story in the intro here.

During the rest of my elementary school, junior high and high school, I got my hands on whatever comics I could – then, in college, mostly transitioned to the more adult stuff that I read plenty of today. I remember the last of the Marvel superhero comics that I kept up with were The X-men and The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.

Cover of MOKF No. 29, a Moench-Gulacy issue, though the cover art is by Gil Kane. Gulacy drew relatively few MOKF covers.

After my mom passed away recently, I decided it was time to move my voluminous comic collection from its residence in my brother’s garage to my own place. This, of course, precipitated the beginnings of a trip down memory lane, re-reading various titles… some of which haven’t held up all that well, at least to my present tastes.

As I re-read, the comic book series that I have been most impressed with, so far, is Master of Kung Fu (MOKF), especially issues written by Doug Moench and drawn by Paul Gulacy.


Sondheim Rhyme: Sublime

20 August 2011

As I wrote about here, I’ve listening to a fair amount of Stephen Sondheim… and more you listen to Sondheim, the more his genius kind of sinks in. Like other great art, repeated listenings just get deeper and stronger. The first time I hear a Sondheim piece, I can get the basic gist, and I may like it – especially when it’s performed in a musical. I admit that, sometimes, hearing a piece for the first time, without knowing any of the plot that it hangs on and is completely integral to, it can be more difficult to appreciate. The first time I heard the soundtrack to Sunday in the Park with George, I didn’t get it… and now it seems like it’s part of the fiber of my being.

It’s repeated those listenings and viewings that deepen one’s appreciation for Sondheims work. It sounds deceptively simple… but then there are huge underlying complexities… both musically and in the rhymes. I am not a musician, so I can’t explain the musical textures (maybe watch this NY Times video to get a wonderful taste of it), but lately I’ve been thinking about the way Sondheim rhymes.

When my mom, the biggest Sondheim fan of my life, was in the hospital, I was thinking about her, cruising Youtube for Sondheim, I came across this 2010 PBS Newshour video:

Starting at minute 9 in the video, Sondheim talks about rhyming things based not just on sound but also spelling! This is something I’ve never thought of… isn’t rhyme just about sound? Isn’t that the definition? Sondheim says that he prefers rhymes that are spelled differently, because they surprise. The examples that he uses in the video is that “suffer” and “rougher” is a better or richer rhyme than “rougher” and “tougher.” The other example Sondheim cites is rhyming “journal” and “colonel.”  (more…)

Mom’s House (part 3)

12 August 2011

(This is the third part of three – if you’re interested, start with part 1 then part 2.)

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This third post is sort of journey through my sketches of mom’s home – first interiors, then exteriors – each group in chronological order, oldest to newest.

Mom's Den - 1987 pencil on paper in sketchbook 12, 11"x17"

This one is my mom’s den nearly a quarter-century ago. It’s roughly the same view as this image. The glass table on the wooden sled thingie was in the middle of the den most of the time while mom’s four kids were growing up. When the grand kids started walking around, mom swapped it out for more of a wooden trunk thing. The configuration changed a bit then – the chair on the far left moves to the right, and the couch was moved to the be along the plate glass window in the background.

I remember mom didn’t really like this drawing, because it has a big messy pile of newspapers – in the middle left next to the chair.

Mom's Den 1987 pen on paper in sketchbook 12, 8.5"x11"

This one is slightly oddly cropped. That’s a TV in the bottom right. Sitting atop it, in addition to a couple of bowls, is a painting of mom. The painting also features my sister Liz, though she’s cut off. It’s an oil painting that I really like – one of my best, I think. There’s another painting on the ground, too, visible in the middle center of the painting. That one is a self-portrait – me. And of course, lots of books, which I wrote about a bit here(more…)

Mom’s House (part 2)

11 August 2011

(This is the second part of what I think will be a three-part series about the home of my mother, Marge Linton, who passed away recently. You might want to read Mom’s House (part 1) here, then this second part below.)

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Life-sized Borofsky poster on mom’s dining room door

The door to the dining room (which was downstairs next to the kitchen and the den – shown at the top of the earlier post) the  has a human-sized poster from the 1986 Jonathan Borofsky show at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA.) I think that the poster was attached with wallpaper paste. I remember going alone to that Borofsky show on my day off, and really enjoying it, then bringing mom back to it later. I think we got Borofsky posters in a discounted clearance bin well after the show had closed.

On the right side of the door frame, if you look closely you might be able to see some markings. Here’s a closer look at them:

Family height markings on the doorframe

Each year, my mom would paint how tall each of the four of us kids were. It was on the same date each year, though I don’t think that the date had any special significance. Entries were color coded (ie: yellow 1975, blue 1976, etc.) We would compare each other “Look, Mark is already taller than I was when I was his age.”


Mom’s House (part 1)

10 August 2011

Mom’s den

For 43 years, my mom lived  in the two-story 4-bedroom 3-bath suburban cul-de-sac home where I grew up. At the time we moved into it, in 1968, it was a newly built – in a tract called Tustin Meadows. At that time, beyond Tustin Meadows, past a small riprap-lined straightened creek and some railroad tracks, was open farmland.

Architecturally, the home was pretty standard stuff. It’s fairly big for a suburban tract home, but no mini-mansion. Mom and Dad paid something like $500 extra for a large lot – mostly it has a big backyard, due to the geometry of the cul-de-sac.

From the outside, it’s not that different than other homes around it. What distinguishes the home is what’s inside. Friends of mine have mentioned that Marge’s home felt different than most suburban interiors – friendlier and more personal, more informal, perhaps more cluttered. (more…)

Chidren will listen

10 August 2011

Stephen Sondheim – photo from the Merrily We Roll Along LP cover

My mother, Marge Linton, was a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim, the incredibly wonderful composer and lyricist responsible for a host of wonderful musicals from Sweeney Todd to A Little Night Music to West Side Story and much much more.

The first time mom saw Sweeney Todd (the musical, not the movie, which she also enjoyed) was in the early 1980s, while I was away at Occidental College. She wrote me a letter that quoted all sorts of lyrics. I am pretty sure that she ran out and bought the soundtrack, as opposed to having memorized them from hearing a performance. I enjoyed mom’s letter, which I think was more than a third quoting Sweeney Todd lyrics, but I wasn’t entirely convinced of Todd‘s greatness until I later attended a live performance with her, soon thereafter. Since then, I’ve seen Todd, with mom, at least a half-dozen times at Cal State L.A., Occidental College, by the East West Players, and more.

Since mom passed away, I’ve been listening to a lot of Sondheim. As we, her kids, were sorting through her possessions, I got away with quite a few Sondheim CDs – even ones that I hadn’t even heard of – from Sweeney Todd Live at the New York Philharmonic to Sondheim Sings volumes 1 and 2. Sondheim Sings features remastered early versions of Sondheim songs sung by Sondheim himself accompanied by himself on piano. In few cases, he fills in missing lyrics with a sort of place-holder scat-singing. It’s a treat for me to see/hear work in progress… sometimes I think that the striving of the creative process is at least as interesting as the polished final product. (Some time I will tell the story of how I used to enjoy the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra’s rehearsals… but that’s another story. [Updated – see later LBSO story here.]) (more…)

Death as a Patient Visitor – from Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

9 August 2011

Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself – published in 2000 by Counterpoint Press

I read Wendell Berry‘s wonderful novel Jayber Crow novel a few years ago. At the time, I remember being struck by his sense that, at least in a rural agrarian community, death wasn’t so inconceivably sad and painful… but perhaps welcome, though uncomfortable – more a part of the cycles that are embedded in an ongoing continuity.

When my mother died, I had planned to bring this Wendell Berry insight into my brief remarks at her memorial service… but I ended up editing it out, for brevity… and also because I felt like it was probably more about me than about her. Wendell Berry is more in my pantheon of favorite authors, not hers though she’s read some of his work. His essay collection What Are People For? was on her bookshelf… though I suspect she got that book for its essay Wallace Stegner and the Great Community. Mom was a huge Wallace Stegner fan… but that’s another story.

So, this blog entry is sort of my exploration and of a memorial thought that I’d left on the cutting room floor. (To use a completely presumptuous analogy, but one mom would relate to, it’s a bit like Sondheim’s Marry Me  a Little. Mom was a huge Stephen Sondheim fan… but that’s also another story.)

Jayber Crow is the name of a barber – the barber in Berry’s fictional Kentucky small town of Port William. The novel is told in Jayber’s words, though it ends up sort of spanning the events of the township. (more…)

My Talk at Mom’s Memorial

9 August 2011

A sketch I did of my mom - from 1996

Below is my reconstruction of the talk I gave at my mom’s memorial service last Saturday.

My piece is a little shorter than others, so I feel like I have to give some context… sort of in my defense… not that there’s any competition between us siblings… any more.

At the point I spoke, Tustin Presbyterian’s Reverend Rebecca Prichard had introduced things beautifully. My brother-in-law Reverend Tom Gastil, the pastor of Aliso Creek Presbyterian Church, gave a great meditation that ranged from his initiations into our family, to humanity’s relationships with each other and with God. My tears kicked into full strength when Tom proudly mentioned marrying my sister in the sanctuary where we were assembled. (more…)