Friday, December 31, 2010

My 2011 Resolutions

I post here to make them public and accrue Guilt Points if not met:

In 2011:

I will lose 6 lbs a month.
• More movement
• Portion size
• More veggies
• More home-prepared meals
• Writing down food
I will get an estimate on hair transplanting.
I will dress better, improving my wardrobe gradually.

I will publish at least 2 volumes of "Three Worlds."
I will get “Nothing to Lose” and Touch of Danger done as freebies.
I will get an agent.
• Sending out queries at least every 2 weeks
I will sell Applesauce and Moonbeams.
I will finish in order:
The Coin of Power
• Nothing Personal
• Amazon Magic

I will start a new book.
I will complete a new entry on my WW synopses at least every month. I'll try to update that site as much as possible, including weekly checkups for the business areas of the site.

I will finish 2 paintings a month.
I will be in 2 galleries by June, at which time I’ll re-evaluate to see if I should be in more.
I will auction off my lesser paintings and use Ebay/Etsy to sell stock.
I will be in at least 2 juried shows.
I will keep up with my Etsy store and rotate stock well, gaining sales.
I will find a partner for street fair sales. This may require buying tent, racks, etc.

I will pamper and spoil Obiwan.
Kitty will be adopted out by January 15 to a great home.

By the end of January I will have another chart of my finances done, with a plan to clear off credit card and loan debt toot sweet!
I will meditate twice weekly, with a goal of eventually doing this every day.

The living room wall will be repaired by April.
Glass will be repaired on the dining table and display case by March.
New windows for guest room will be installed by July, which means clearing out that room.
New walls for either guest room/office or living room/bedroom by Oct.
Get estimate on better floors by end of year.

I will take care of the yard and not try anything overly ambitious without having everything else reasonably under control.

The comics collection will be culled by end of year.
The house will be cleared and cleaned by September.

I will work to get more real friends and not rely merely on the imaginary people who inhabit Facebook.
I will watch two Netflix movies a month.
I will go through that "hear better" DVD I bought from Dook Hospital. After that is done, I'll start on the Spanish immersion program, and then go through the French one.

In life, I will focus and get things done one thing at a time. I will not over-extend myself. I will relax when I need to and work when I need to. I will use a timer when necessary. I will celebrate my victories! I will not beat myself up over anything.

I will do first things first. I will ask myself: is this really necessary to do/to have?

I will value the wonderful things I already have (including personal characteristics/talents) and use them to the fullest before even thinking about buying new things. I will celebrate my gratefulness every day!

I will take a tour of New England in time for leaf-peeping season, OR I will attend either Moonlight and Magnolias OR Dragon*Con.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's in a Name?

This column originally ran June 25, 2010 at .

Anyone who’s paid attention in school, or recalls the words to Schoolhouse Rock, remembers that a noun’s a person, place, or thing. Easy enough. “Hey, Batman, go to Gotham City and take down the Joker and Penguin!” Four simple nouns.

But with Wonder Woman we have problems:

“Wonder Woman, go home to Themyscira because the Hecatoncheires, Briareos and Cottus, have joined with the Bana-Mighdall to overthrow Hippolyte!”

Ouch. Look at all the syllables! Look at the weird spellings! Please don’t make me read that sentence aloud.

It doesn’t help that “Wonder Woman” is four syllables in a short ‘n sassy world, but she’s also got all this ancient Greek baggage to cart around. She’s constantly being besieged by ancient Greek threats, and her sister Amazons are often stuck with names that can make a reader stop and ask, “Am I supposed to be able to pronounce that? Doesn’t she have a nickname?”

On occasion magic users even slap a spell on Diana, chanted in Greek—sometimes at great length. It might even be ancient Greek for all I know, but I doubt it is. Perhaps I should flag down some of the many, many people in the DCU who not only can read ancient Greek fluently, but can pronounce it like it was 3200 years ago, and they were raised in the suburbs of Sparta. Lucky guys. I can’t.

It’s all great for atmosphere but hell to plow through.

Why, one of Wondie’s graphic novels was titled, The Hiketeia. That’s pronounced, uh, how?

Poor Diana of Themyscira (a misspelling of the city, by the way, perpetuated in Volume 2 and 3 of the book; it should be “Themiscyra.” Bronze Age stories got it right. Guess “Paradise Island” just isn’t hip enough these days.) has not only to battle ancient Greek foes constantly but try to pronounce their names as well.

Thankfully, the JLA cartoon told us that “Themyscira” is pronounced, “the mascara.” But a reader of comic books shouldn’t need to keep a pronouncing dictionary in hand to get through a WW story. They shouldn’t be lazy like SOME people (okay, like me) who look at these long words, decide not to take the effort to figure the pronunciation, and abbreviate them. “Wondie, go home to The Mascara because Zeus’ big monster guard guys have joined with the Bana to overthrow Hippy!”

Wondie’s got enough things operating against her in her quest for a larger readership. Why must we pile more on her?

To make matters worse, the modern WW mythos suffers from an awful lot of name-doubling. Though there are doubled names many places in the DCU, especially among the new heroines of the Young Justice era, there seems to be a megachurch-sized congregation of them within the pages of WW.

There’s Julia and Julia, Artemis and Artemis, a slew of Hippolytas/Lytas, and an entire squadron of Trevors, to name just a few. Some people like Achilles get stuck with multiple names like “Warkiller” and “Olympian” (which is also the code name for another character recently used in a WW-related book). Someone call the Amazon librarian, Mnemosyne, and get some more examples, will you? No, she’s not the famous mythological Mnemosyne, she’s the Amazon one. Min… Nim… Nemmie… Oh, forget it.

Don’t get me started on Donna Troy, she of the infinite origins and names. And please, writers, don’t bring back a completely dead character like Medusa and change her name (and powers/skills) to “Medousa.” Why are you trying to make things more difficult?

I’m big on simplifying the WW mythos both to help new readers (and myself) but also to streamline and focus the character. One of the problems the new creative staff should look at could be nomenclature. Keep it simple. Remember that the American school system is turning out kids who can’t even read basic English well, and texting isn’t helping things, u no.

Perhaps this problem could be solved merely by having Diana encounter threats that are NOT related to ancient Greece. Oh my, the idea! Perhaps it could be helped by Diana leaving Themyscira and concentrating on where she should be, Patriarch’s W—I mean, the Outer World.

Wonder Woman is such an exciting concept. She’s one of the premier get-it-done capes of the DCU, a fascinating character with layers of intriguing personality and unique ability/skills out the wazoo. Yet she’s a female in a medium directed at males. She has suffered from creative staffs that had little or no regard for her because she was a woman. She’s borne the burden of creatives who haven’t understood her in the least, or sometimes even deliberately set out to screw up her mythos and themes.

But through it all she’s survived. Diana shouldn’t face the additional challenge of requiring her readers to battle their way through a continual avalanche of long, odd words.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Some Holiday Recipes

Okay, so they're not exclusively holiday-related, but they're what I'm going to make for this one. I'm trying to clear out various crap from my house, and had a stack of low-calorie recipe magazines that I almost never go into. I only use the pot roast carbonnade recipe from them, but I thought I'd also seen a crustless pumpkin pie kind of parfait there once. Wouldn't you know? As I'm about to thumb through one of the magazines, it falls, I catch it—and the page opened is the pumpkin pie parfait.

So I've now saved the two recipes to my files, and per Facebook requests, am reprinting them here. Don't ask me to put in copyright info, please, as I've got to rush this out. And note: I've never made the pumpkin parfait before, but it looks doable and tasty.

Pot Roast Carbonnade

I make this in a pressure cooker. That used to be a royal pain, but the new digital pressure cookers are a dream—no fear involved! Just punch some buttons and go relax. Consult your PC book to see how long pot roast and carrots/brussels sprouts should cook. Another plus of this recipe, besides its yumminess, is that it comes with veggies included.

1 3-lb. beef chuck pot roast
nonstick vegetable spray coating
1 12-oz can (1 1/2 cups) beer
2 Tbl catsup or ketchup, your choice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1 8-oz package frozen brussels sprouts (if you're like me, you throw in a little more because of the "veggies included" excuse and because a 16-oz bag is staring at you. Check how much volume your pressure cooker will take, if you're using one.)
8 medium carrots, bias sliced into 1-inch pieces (1 lb) (I can let my new food processor do this. Yay!)
2 med. onions, cut into wedges
1 Tbl cornstarch
2 Tbl water

Trim excess fat from meat; sprinkle with salt and pepper. You know, they might have listed those in the ingredients... Spray bottom of a 4 1/2 quart Dutch oven with vegetable coating. Place pan over medium heat. Add meat; brown on both sides.

Combine beer, catasup, garlic, and thyme; pour over meat. Cover and bake in a 325° oven for 1 1/4 hours. (A lot less time if you're using your PC!) Rinse brussels sprouts with warm water just to separate. Add to Dutch oven along with carrots and onions. Cover and bake 40 to 50 minutes more or till vegetables and meat are tender. (Pressure cookers laugh at these times!)

Remove meat and veggies to serving plattter. Keep warm. Skim fat from pan juices. Boil pan juices till reduced to 1 1/4 cups. Combine cornstartch and water; add to pan juices. Cook and stir till thickened and bubbly; cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon some gravy over meat; pass remainder. Garnish platter with celery leaves, if desired. (Celery leaves?) Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 235 calories, 9 g fat.

Pumpkin Chiffon Parfaits

1 c. canned pumpkin
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 Tbl sugar
2 egg whites
2 Tbl sugar
1 1.4 oz. envelope whpped dessert topping mix (They mean Dream Whip here. I don't think they even make that any more. Guess you'll have to use Cool Whip or a generic instead, which means you skip the milk)
1/2 c. skim milk (see above)
1 tsp finely shredded orange peel (yeah, right. I always keep orange peels on hand.)
ground cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl stir together pumpkin and pie spice; set aside. In a small saucepan add gelatin to 3/4 cup cold water. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 2 Tbl sugar. Cook and stir over low heat till gelatin dissolves. Cool. Stir into pumpkin mixture. Chill till slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from refrigerator.

In a small mixer bowl immediately begin beating egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed till soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 Tbl sugar, beating on high speed till stiff peaks form. When gelatin/pumpkin mixture is partially set, fold in egg whites. Chill till mixture mounds.

Prepare dessert topping according to package except use 1/2 c. skim milk. Beat in peel. In 8 dessert dishes, layer pumpkin mixture and topping, ending with pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Chill. Serves 8.

77 calories, 2 g. fat.

Since I'm saving all those calories, think I'll pick up some croissants and butter while I'm at the grocery store...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hurry up and paint!

One of the things I do when I finish a painting is to sign and date it. Then I let it sit around for a while until I figure out some final changes and make them.

When I noticed that the calendar was winding down, it occurred to me that I still had two paintings that were "finished" and needed to be looked at. So that's what I've been doing this weekend. (Besides playing with/petting the injured kitty my neighbor found. Kitteh required surgery and is recovering here while I'm trying to find him a good home.)

Here's the Macdonald-Stewart Library building at McGill U in Montreal. I love Montreal's architecture, and some of the buildings at McGill are extraordinarily picturesque (if a little run-down). One of the best things about this particular building is that you arrive at it from downtown without having to hike up the mountain like you have to do for the rest of the campus. You're still breathing normally at this point.

9x12", alkyd oil on Gessobord, all materials archival. Gessobord means that you can pop this into a regular frame and not have to buy one of those deep ones that only take canvases. $125 US. Shipping is free to US and Canada.

Here's a painting, "Summer Hay," in water-soluble oils I began at Art of the Carolinas. It's loosely based on Lloyd's Dairy in Efland, NC, a favorite subject of mine. It's 24x12", done on a Gessobord, and all materials are archival. $200 US. Shipping is free to US and Canada.

I'll get back to more painting now...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Separate But Unequal

This column originally ran April 12, 2010 at .

Let us turn to the Book of Wondie. In the beginning, Wonder Woman was created as an Amazon. Back in the Forties her creator had an extremely limited pool of origin possibilities that would allow her to bound into the world as a feminist woman who could receive a fair bit of respect just for being herself. She could have been a cowgirl, but Marston went with the choice of Amazons, which also allowed him a base of mythology to work with. And the origin was good, amen.

By classic definition, the Amazons were an all-female society. I have heard many readers of late deriding the DC version for turning their backs on men in order to form that kind of nation. Those readers are showing their ignorance of the mythos.

While the no-men rule for Amazons in the Golden through Bronze Ages may be a little murky it its origins (GA Aphrodite went by the rule that men are violent and women are peaceable, and so she created the female nation to counter Mars/Ares’ violent plots), the Modern Era of Wonder Woman clearly shows us that the Amazons—well, the Themysciran Amazons—had no choice in the matter. Their gods created them as an all-female society (we are NEVER told why) and directed them to be exiled on a hidden island for their sins, and that was that. The Amazons had to obey.

Unfortunately this single-gender origin begat an ongoing sub-theme that continued even into the modern era: That women are good, men are evil, and that all are best off if they keep to their separate playing fields. This odd idea is a twisted echo of what is too often encountered in the world: that men are superior, women inferior, and that if men are contaminated with feminine ideas they are no longer worthy of respect.

The battle of the sexes has long been a source of drama and humor in fiction, but when used as a constant element in order to degrade an entire gender or over-celebrate another, it’s unhealthy and not entertaining in the least.

In the Golden Age Wonder Woman often demonstrated that violent, evil men would be so much better if they surrendered to Loving Authority—which was only available from a woman.

To make matters worse, the Amazons couldn’t even allow males to touch their island. Male cooties would bring doom to them! Also, if men tampered with Amazons’ bracelets, the action let loose insanity and uncontrollable rage. The Amazons lost their power because of men. Men are just bad news in every way, aren’t they?

Did any of the WW creative teams ever think that if they kept slandering the vast majority of their readers, there might be some kind of backlash or resentment toward WW? Do guys really like to be told they’re evil? That masculine qualities are bad? Let me tell you: women haven’t enjoyed being told the same thing about themselves over the millennia. Women resent it.

Yet with all this, from the first Wonder Woman’s basic theme has been that of empowerment of the disenfranchised. Often her readers and some creators have seemed to think that “disenfranchised” meant only women, but if you look a little harder you’ll see that WW stood up for just about anyone, no matter the gender, who was attacked because of close-mindedness.

Now, I can understand this separation of genders in the Forties. Society was very much like that, though it was just beginning to change, creaking around to a new stance. With the end of World War II, it tried to snap back and couldn’t. The genie was out of the bottle.

In the Sixties we had the Women’s Movement making headlines. Women, especially loud ones or ones in groups or ones in loud groups, were to be feared and ridiculed by all too many men. They had to be kept in their place, kept under control, lest men lose their power.

As the Movement became more mainstream, why was it that we still saw women and men so separated in comics when they weren’t in real life? Each had their own playing field assigned to them. Most comics readers were expected to know that if the women ever snuck onto the men’s turf, they’d quickly be put in their place and humiliated. In order for that not to happen, it was best if the women kept meekly to their own arenas. Wonder Woman often kept this separation in the spotlight and celebrated it.

How did Diana feel about the gender wars?

I’ll admit that comment was a one-time event. But it’s still astounding that it would ever see print. Its presence says much about the gender bigotry that all too often seethed below the surface in the book.

It wasn’t just Diana. DC as a company has often seemed to relish pitting men against women. They make sure they have their separate venues. WW lucked out because both the JSA and JLA needed token females, so she was associated for long years with each team and thus shared in the prestige there. When Diana left the JLA, her girly chair was filled by Black Canary. It was some time before the teams truly integrated by gender.

The more modern DC has seen a number of events in which the players were separated out by gender. Often these occurred in Wondie’s book, such as the Adjudicator arc in 1982, in which a galactic bigwig battled a gamut of DC’s more well-known heroines. During Phil Jimenez’s WW run in 2001, he had Circe turn all the male heroes into animals, while scads of female heroes from both forgotten series and successful gathered to save the world…and fight hordes of female villains.

As recently as Blackest Night we saw an entire legion of ring-bearers, the Sapphire Chicks, that was made up only of females who dressed in skimpy pink outfits, all just oozing luv. Of course no male in their right mind would deign to be a member of that group! The idea! Besides, it was pointed out that men don’t have the same capacity to love as do women. Uh… Say again? And does this mean that women don’t have the same capacity as men to feel some other emotion(s)?

What century is it again?

The Jimenez era of WW surprisingly ushered in male Amazons, fully integrated and welcomed as immigrants, and accompanied by thousands of male visitors and students to Themyscira. Imagine the intriguing possibilities this brought! Finally the “women are good; men are evil” theme must be eradicated within the pages of WW. We’d see how the genders working together could make a better world and better Wondie.

The male Amazons were done away with within the course of a few panels during the Rucka era and never spoken of again.

Guy heroes have guy villains. After all, it’s ungentlemanly to hit a woman even if she’s trying to blow your brains out. Of late, they’ve managed to have a handful of female villains as well and some have even turned out to be interesting and not just there to be “bad girl” romantic interests.

But Wonder Woman has been plagued with a high ratio of female foes from the beginning, so she could fight the women that her male cohorts couldn’t. Only Ares/Mars and Dr. Psycho come quickly to mind as WW’s male villains, and Dr. Psycho is a little person, which is a comic book way of telling us that he’s not quite a real man. (Comic books can be cruel.)

But Wondie not only has female villains by the score, she has them forming all-female teams. Villainy, Inc. was only composed of women in its first incarnation, and when it was revived late in the modern era, it was all women again. There was nary a male token in sight.

In the current third volume of WW, we have faced an opening arc in which villains ganged up against Wonder Woman. All of these were women, except Dr. Psycho, who is still a little person. An evil version of Herakles was also used (sometimes he’s good; sometimes he’s evil; writers can’t seem to hold his character steady), but not as part of the villainous, loosely-grouped team.

A few issues later we saw the nation of Amazons used as a bloodthirsty army that destroyed Washington, DC and many other places, massacring innocents as they went. Remember, they’re a group composed entirely of females. (It’s just been rewritten that this hellish army of tens of thousands was actually only about a dozen renegades. Right.)

The current Simone run has also placed an emphasis on separating out the genders. The run began with an all-female group of murdering villains, the Circle. They had a reason for not being inclusive, as they were Themysciran Amazons. The story progressed to include a group of villainous (or wannabe villainous) apes, all male. It then moved on to a large group of super-Nazis, of which two were female, which is extremely minimal integration.

We’ve also had ancient Greek warriors, zombies and all male, added to the WW cast. They first appeared as villains and were led by Achilles, who was just following evil orders from the mad/evil male god, Zeus. These Manazons/Gargareans now live on an island which no female can approach.

A new group of villains, the Crows, appeared: all boys, all up to no good in a murderous way. In the most recent issue of WW we meet an outer space captain who commands an all-female force and wants to decimate the Earth, except for 100 of its most accomplished citizens… who will all be women.

So the sexes are still kept very separate in the pages of Wonder Woman and within the DCU. What purpose does this serve here in the 21st Century? Doesn’t such a constant barrage of anti-male sentiment drive readers away? If we kept getting stories concerning groups of villains who were, say, all Black or all Asian, and if characters were allowed to complain over and over about how such-and-such race was inherently evil or good or if they were only subtly shown to be so, wouldn’t readers complain?

The reason the genders are so separated in the pages of the modern WW is not because of the gods’ whims, but those of her creative teams. Isn’t it time to end the segregation?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Lesson Learned About Commissions

I was so pleased to get a portrait commission! It's been a long time since I did such and I wanted to get back in the swing of things. Along the way I learned and relearned a bunch of helpful stuff that I hope to incorporate into future paintings.

First and foremost: insist on a good picture at a decent size! Luckily, today's technology is a LOT better than it was when I first started doing portraits back right after college. Now I can scan a photo, take it into Photoshop, work with it a bit, and print it out at a large, viewable size. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try to reinforce the importance of getting a clear shot to begin with.

Also, I need to make sure the client and I are on the same wavelength as to what they want. They're the one ordering the portrait. They're the one paying for it. And they and their descendants will be the ones looking at it for years to come.

So when I thought I'd completed this particular portrait (above), I congratulated myself on doing a good job. I'd changed some colors to make it more lively and so the figures would stand out more. I'd adjusted the composition so the figures could be larger. But when I sent a jpg to the client for approval, she said that she recalled the skirt not being red, etc.

One of my instructors once said that while the artist is interested in composition, color harmony, value, etc., the client just wants it to look like the subject. I'll take that a little farther: though the artist wants to make art, the client is more interested in preserving the memory. In a commissioned work, the client's wants are by far the most important thing. Without them, there is no commission.

So I've redone the portrait a bit, hoping that the client will prefer this version:

Live, learn, and keep those fingers crossed!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Did I mention...

Art of the Carolinas 2010!

This is the trade show/workshop weekend that Jerry's Artarama puts on every year in Raleigh, NC. I had a very good time there this year. Once again I tried water-soluble oil colors and have now made a definite decision on same. I learned about brushstrokes, got a new angle on putting a painting together quickly, struck up a few good conversations, and bought a lot of good, um, stuff. But I took far too many photos to include in a blog, so I posted under the "Travel" section of my website. If you want to hear my view about happenings at the largest art expo in the US, you'll have to click here!