The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Arts

Lacey & Lily – a graphic novel from Darby Pop Publishing

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself with super powers? 

It’s the question a middle school girl named Lacey finds herself facing when she and her dog stumble across a pair of costumes that do just that, imbuing both kid and canine with powers beyond those of mere mortals. 

It’s Lacey & Lily!

This all-ages graphic novel is the latest from Darby Pop Publishing, and if you’re wondering just why I’m plugging it here, it’s not just because I like it, it’s because I wrote it! With some absolutely amazing illustrations from my pal Andrew Cieslinski, this is the sort of thing that has been a dream come true for people like ourselves who grew up as comic fans. 

I’ll never forget my first exposure to comic books. I was in elementary school and was home sick from school at my grandmother’s house when she pulled a stack of comic books out of the hallway closet. They were mostly from the 1970s, gathered over some indeterminate period of time, the brightly covered covers, or in some cases, cover-less splash pages were a completely new world to me, and it sucked me right in. And what a wide array of worlds they were! Uncle Scrooge! Batman! Richie Rich! The Flash! The Thing! It was like nothing I had seen before at that point in my young life. And it was amazing.

First comic I ever read.

Not long after, my uncle would expand that world even more, taking me to a comic book shop for the first time, where I would have to stand on a footstool to reach the tables and boxes filled with books from years past. I used money from my paper route to buy old books. As a kid I used to make crudely drawn comic stories that I’d photocopy and staple together to share. Those moments forever changed the way I read and told stories. And it became something I always hoped I’d get the opportunity to do.

And some decades later, it happened thanks to Andrew’s incredible art talents and the fine folks at Darby Pop Publishing. 

I thank them, and I thank you for indulging me here. We’re already hard at work on a follow-up volume with brand new adventures, more kooky villains, and more fun with Lacey, Lily, and their friend, Weston.

Words can’t describe the feeling after growing up reading comics to have a box arrive from the publisher on your doorstep with your own books inside, let alone to see the kind words people have said about it emblazoned on the cover. Though I’m overly wordy here (shocking), at that moment I think I was pretty much speechless. 

But I think maybe the greatest reviews I can ever get are those that come from kids themselves. Someone who stopped me at my kids’ school to tell me how much they loved it, or walking into my son’s room late at night to find out why he wasn’t asleep yet only to find him curled up with a flashlight reading Lacey & Lily and wanting to talk about it with me. My heart swelled.

I hope you’ll check it out, pick up a copy, and enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it.

Available Now from Darby Pop Publishing’s Online Store

Also available on Amazon or from your Local Comic Shop (Diamond Order Code JUN201024)


Thank You trash binI was in the grocery store grabbing a few things this past week (safely keeping my distance away from fellow shoppers and staff). Like any grocery store across the U.S. right now, it can be a madhouse.

I only had a bag or two worth of items so decided my quickest exit (and avoiding getting too close to anyone) was the self checkout. As I was bagging the last of my items I saw an older woman bagging at the register over. I asked her how she was holding up. She told me she’s never seen anything like this and it’s not hard to believe her. I could see there were other folks in line behind me so I grabbed my things, smiled and told her thank you for everything she and her co-workers are doing and dealing with, that it’s making a difference to people.

At home, it was garbage night and we put our son’s creative abilities to work with some signs. They were bright, they were colorful and they had a simple message – thank you.

One was left on our mailbox and the other on our garbage bin. Just a note to let the folks helping keep things clean and the person making sure letters, cards and these days so many packages get to and from.

Thank you replyOur son smiled as he watched from the window, a big honk honk coming from the garbage truck as they pulled away and waved. And the next day, atop a package was a note commending his art and appreciation for the sign.

Just two simple words but words that are oh so important and words that many folks don’t hear enough, even in ‘normal times.’

And things aren’t normal right n ow. We’re in some strange times at the moment. Times when the best thing we can do to help others and stop the spread of infection is to just stay put if we’re able to.

But there are many who are still on the job every day, doing what they do to allow our society and our lives to continue, even in chaos like now.

And for that – thank you.

Thank your healthcare workers.
Thank your grocery store employees.
Thank your sanitation workers.
Thank your postal carriers.
Thank your public safety officers.
Thank your journalists.
Thank your food services folks.

And thank everyone else who’s out there working every day in a crazy, uncertain time for you.

And pay them appropriately.


Classic SesameCan you tell me how to get…how to get to Sesame Street?

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this world who can’t tell you where on dial (okay, even if there are no dials anymore) to find that famous neighborhood where sunny days sweep the clouds away.

I personally have a hard time thinking of any other children’s television program that has consistency come into the homes of families as long as Sesame Street has, talking directly to their audience and guiding them through the essentials of childhood learning, from ABCs and 123s, colors and patterns, and just plain being good people.

The show has left five decades worth of legacy behind as of this writing. Five decades. It is incredible to stop and think about how many childhoods that encompasses, that have been touched and impacted by this product of the Children’s Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop.

So it was with great joy that our family gathered around the television a few weeks back to watch Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Special on PBS Kids. For us, it was a family event. I even made popcorn.

The look-back celebration didn’t disappoint. With songs and clips from throughout the shows storied history, it was a trip down nostalgia lane with Muppets last seen long ago reappearing in various cameos (looking at you, Amazing Mumford, Roosevelt Franklin, Sherlock Hemlock, Harvey Kneeslapper, and Guy Smiley, among so many others).

Even the Baker who famously dropped his plate of whatever it would be at the time, re-emerged, most of his face cleverly hidden by pies, but his voice still provided thanks to a recording from the late, great Jim Henson. “Ten…banana cream…pies!!!!” **tumble** **crash**

And much to my delight, even Kermit the Frog re-emerged for a visit back to Sesame Street, as let’s not forget Kermit was once a regular on the Street back in the day.

Sesame 50th - Susan and BobAnd the humans. Sigh. It just wouldn’t have been a Sesame Street anniversary without a check-in of the human cast members from days gone by. Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, Bob, even Linda were all back to join in the fun with a few lines and songs that would make even the most curmudgeonly viewers feel like a kid again. I beamed.

All that in itself would have been enough, but they did even better by having a few performers on the special’s back end to talk about what the show meant to them personally. I was especially touched by the words of Jason Schwartzman, who talked about what the introduction of the character Julia meant to his family.

I can’t think of Sesame Street without thinking of the episode that stayed with me my entire life. Sure, there were songs, and characters and skits that were memorable. And yes, long before I had been working in the world of journalism as a reporter, toddler-aged me used to sit in our apartment using a paper lunch bag to make a trench coat for my stuffed Kermit the Frog so he could be “Kermit the Frog, reporting live from Sesame Street.”

sesame - mr hooperBut what struck me the most throughout the years, no matter how old I got, was the episode that dealt with the death of actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper. The episode first aired in 1982, and my memory can’t distinguish if I had seen it then (I would have been 2 at the time) or as a rerun a year or so after that. But it’s the one that I’ll never forget. It was my first understanding of death, just like Big Bird, and an emotional impact that stays with me to this day.

Five decades of teaching. Five decades of helping. Five decades of giving kids from all backgrounds and all walks of life a chance to say “hey, that’s like me.” It’s what makes Sesame Street so darn special to so many people and has for so many years.

It’s part of why we all wish we could live on a street like Sesame.

Sesame 50th Group


russi taylorI think about Russi Taylor a lot.

I know that’s a weird sentence to start a piece with, but it’s true.

It’s said that when she was a little girl, Russi was at Disneyland with her mother and brother when she spotted Walt Disney sitting on a bench in the park at night. They started up a conversation and when Walt asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up, the young Russi replied, “Work for you!” And she did.

In 1986 she beat out 200 others auditioning for the role of the famous female mouse and she has voiced her ever since.

She was no one-trick pony either. Her career included voice-overs for countless other characters across television and film, including Martin Prince on The Simpsons and Huey, Dewey and Louie in the original DuckTales. And those who work with her say she was just as sweet as the Minnie she portrayed.

She passed away in July at the age of 75, but her work…well, like so many others, it’s around me every single day.

Minnie and DaisyWith three kids at home, we watch a lot of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons. From Mickey’s Clubhouse and Minnie’s Bow-tique to Roadster Racers and Mixed Up Adventures, Minnie’s with us every there. And that means that Russi Taylor’s Minnie is a constant presence. Throw in any Minnie Mouse doll, toy car, toy phone or anything else that talks in-character, and well, she’s heard about as much as any family member.

That’s a little strange, right? This person whom I’ve never met in my life but felt sadness for upon hearing of her passing. I didn’t know Russi Taylor. But like so many who experience characters that have become such a part of our lives, you don’t need to know them personally for them to mean something to you. She gave voice and life for more than 30 years to a beloved character that’s been a part of multiple childhoods.

CHIP, DALE, DONALD, MICKEY, PLUTO, MINNIE, JIMINY JOHNSON, DANNI SUE, DAISY, CUCKOO LOCA, GOOFYAnd yet, though she is no longer with us, the Disney Legend continues to live on in every character she brought to life and every childhood she touched and brought joy to. The sound of Minnie Mouse surrounds so many of us every day, and because of that, she has become such a large part of so many childhoods, lives, and lives on in some small way in each person whose face she brought a smile to, even if it was remotely, through the wonder of animation and technology.


Birthday Comic 19If you’ve ever watched the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, you’re likely familiar with the buzz created when the real-life Santa Claus (mistaken for an actor playing the role) is put into the throne at Macy’s with the intention to push overstocked toys and instead starts telling parents and children alike where to find the items they just can’t seem to find there at Macy’s.

Sending them to other stores?! Gasp! It sends the head of the toy department into a tizzy but strikes Mr. Macy himself as a brilliant marketing ploy of goodwill to make Macy’s the friendly store, the helpful store.

There’s really something to be said for customer service, isn’t there?

The Halloween he turned himself into a superhero that inspired it all.

You see, the past few years, an annual tradition has developed where on his birthday, I present our son (and last year at her birthday, our oldest daughter as well) with a custom-made comic book based on the super-hero persona he created for himself one Halloween back in preschool. I try to keep notes of the various characters his imagination develops as he played back then or creates in stories or drawings he makes currently, and incorporate them into these breezy little adventures that are all his own. And I try to have extras on hand as additional party favors for anyone at his birthday who may want one.

The tradition started three birthdays ago.

As in years past, I had ordered via an online printing service that does great work. Only this time, (through no fault of theirs) I made a mistake in the types of books I ordered, paper used. I admit being a bit obsessive about aesthetics at times and realized that these would stick out like a sore thumb amid the ones I’ve given him in the past. But re-ordering for such a small picky thing like that would’ve been too costly and wouldn’t arrive in time for his birthday.

So I started thinking local.

I stepped foot into a local printing and lithograph company that handles a lot of large scale orders in the area, including several magazines. I explained what I was looking to do, but that I only wanted 10, maybe 15 copies of this gift and party favor. They do large projects, but they told me the printer across the parking lot from them would have no problem handling the job well.

They didn’t tell me no and send me packing. They didn’t turn their nose up. They sent me and my business to someone more suited to it.

It was my Miracle on 34th Street moment.

So across the parking lot I hopped into Presto Print, where I was surprisingly greeted by a classmate from high school. An added bonus! I explained the project, what I needed, and she told me ‘no problem.’ To boot, they had it ready the very next day for me.

Thanks to these heroes, I had what I wanted when I needed it, all in time for my little hero.

There’s really something to be said for customer service.


odd squad finaleIt seemed like an era came to a close on PBS Kids recently, and if you’ve been watching Odd Squad with your kids (or maybe on your own, I do it. It’s okay. It’s a great show no matter how old you are), you know exactly what I’m talking about.

PBS Kids recently aired the Odd Squad special, Odds & Ends, which set out to answer questions that have been looming throughout the show’s entire season of odd-busting, and at the same time, brought one era of the show to a close while leaving the door open for a fresh new start.

Avast, matey! Scroll at your own peril! There be spoilers ahead!!

Olive Pirate

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Odd swuad who is otisWhen the original Odd Squad duo, straight-laced Olive and goofball Otto (Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo), left the show at the end of the first season, audiences were introduced to a brand new dynamic with uber-optimist Olympia and the by-the-book Otis (Anna Cathcart and Isaac Kragten, respectively). From the start of the second season, audiences were told that unlike other Odd Squad cadets, Otis didn’t attend the Odd Squad Academy, leaving the door open to all sorts of questions as to where he came from.

Series mainstay Millie Davis continued to guide agents on their missions and paths as the big boss, Ms O, with Sean Michael Kyer also staying on for several episodes as scientist and resident gadget-maker Oscar, eventually exiting to pass the torch along to his protege, Oona (Olivia Presi).

oddsquad ms oOver the course of 35 episodes in its second season, Olympia and Otis used math skills to solve a myriad of wacky cases that ranged from houses being covered in jam to a man turned into a spaghetti monster, and continued to rack up Daytime Emmy wins for its cast and crew in the process. And all along the way, they and the roster of changing agents, scientists and others around them, the duo had series mainstay Ms O to guide them.

Until now.

odds quad villainous ducksWith this special, the show’s second season came to a close as Otis is put on trial for suspected treason against Odd Squad and on the stand tells the story we’ve been waiting for – just where he came from and how he came to Odd Squad. And in typical Odd Squad fashion, it turns out he was raised by ducks. Villainous ducks that in his heart he knew he had to stop, which brought him to Ms O, and eventually, to joining Odd Squad. Of course, Otis committed no treason and we learn that it’s really been the work of a mastermind under our noses the entire time – Agent Ohm!

Yes, Agent Ohm. The goofy, hapless, mucking up every case he touches Ohm, has really been a genius working from the inside to destroy Odd Squad this whole time. And what a delightfully fun turn of character for the young actor who plays Ohm, (Jaiden Cannatelli) to take on, cackling all the way. When all is revealed (and after some wonderful cameo appearances by regular Odd Squad rogues Mr Lightning, Jamie Jam and of course, Joshua Kilimnik’s Odd Todd along with a wham-bang, over the top opening with David Tompa’s delightful villain, Noisemaker) the dust settles, the end of the world is stopped and Otis (along with Ms O) are cleared. With the mystery solved, Ms O moves up the ranks from running one Odd Squad to all of them, and we get a nice farewell hug among the regulars before duty (and battle against giant Laser Chickens) calls.

oddsquad ohmOur son got a little misty as the special came to a close and I can’t say I blame him. He’s been watching Odd Squad since shortly after it debuted. More than four years later, he’s grown up alongside the characters he’s watched regularly on TV. He wondered what’s going to happen next, but I told him we’ll all have to find out together. I’m sure only show creators Timothy McKeon and Adam Peltzman truly know what oddness the future holds.

I’ve read online that a Season 3 is already in the works.. What that will look like, I have no clue, but it certainly will be a challenge to carry on in a post Ms O world. Young Mille Davis has been with the show since the very beginning and has been nothing short of a delight to watch in every scene she’s in. But then, I wondered how the show would carry on with the loss of Bela and Geljo as Olive and Otto, and went on to find Cathcart and Kragten incredibly charming as successors Olympia and Otis. Hopefully they’ll stick around, regardless of who’s in the boss’ chair, along with Presti, who has found all the comedic quirks over the course of Season 2 that developed her character, Oona, into a wonderful source of awkward comedy moments. So whatever the show’s creators choose to do, it’ll no doubt be fun. And odd.

tile_oddsquad_themovie

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Odd Squad is the best family show for all ages on TV. Whether it’s our three year old, our six year old, or me, every episode is cleverly written, delightfully acted, and brilliantly put together in a way that delivers action, humor, and some great math lessons along the way. Did I mention that time that ⅗ of the Kids in the Hall appeared in a first season episode spoof of Clue?

So, seriously, tune in to your local PBS or PBS Kids station, download the free PBS Kids app to your television or electronic device and delight in all the oddness and fun. I promise, it’s hard to resist and you might just find yourself watching well after the kids have left the room.

What are you waiting for? Go!

🙂


blizzard-snow-winterHere in the northeast, it’s supposed to be pretty snowy this weekend, and with no plans for us set in stone, we’re likely to be hunkering down inside as much as possible, watching the birds at the feeder in the backyard and likely a ton of PBS Kids programming. Maybe I’ll even make some popcorn.

That said, three kids inside all weekend long is a recipe for the “what can we dos?” or a case of the “I’m boreds.” Fortunately, we’ve found that one of the best tools in our arsenal is not a toy, or a show but a ream of paper. Well, and a box of crayons. Creativity can only go so far with a stack of blank paper and nothing to write on it.

Amid the drawings and makeshift storybooks that come out of the messy dining room table that doubles as an art studio is a fun littlegame our son enjoys that puts both of us to the creative test.

folded monster 01It was an activity we lifted from a magazine and recreated with just a blank piece of paper, folded into four sections, each with its own designation – head, body, legs, and feet. Whoever goes first, draws the head (of a monster, a robot, whatever) in the head section, leaving just a little bit of neck on the body section, then folds it over so the next person can’t see what’s drawn. The next person then uses what is exposed of the neck to draw a body and arms, leaving just a little bit onto the legs portion for a guide and again folds it over so the bulk of what’s been drawn so far can’t be seen. So on and so forth, until all four sections have been drawn.

Then, comes the big reveal, unfolding the paper to see what you two (or possibly even four if you wanted) have jointly, but blindly created.

Easy, fun and resulting some pretty wild stuff at times.

Give it a try. And if you do, drop an image or two in the comments and let’s see what you and your kids created!

folded monster 03


mrrogerscrayonsMaybe it’s the calm feeling of the wax being poured into the molds, or the soothing narration as each yellow stick gets stacked, sorted, and place amid a rainbow of color sticks for boxing.

Whatever the timeless appeal is, every day for the past several weeks (no exaggeration. I mean every day), our three year old daughter wakes up, wanders out of her room, the lull of sleep still filling her eyes as they flutter in adjustment to the morning light and her little voice asking us “Can I watch the Mr Rogers where they learn to make crayons?”

Available now on the PBS Kids app for free on your streaming device or mobile device, by the way. Download it if you can…shameless plug from this PBS Kids family.

And so, every morning, for several weeks, mornings have started with that familiar chime of music through the model neighborhood, the friendly greeting of Fred Rogers, who takes some time to show us how to assemble a three legged stool (with leather seat delivered courtesy of Mr McFeeley, of course) and setting himself atop the stool in front of an easel, begins to color away on a large piece of paper. Then comes the piece de resistance! The tour of the crayon factory, the payoff that keeps her 3 year old eyes and mind glued without interruption. And I have to admit, as much as I had a memory of it from my own youth, I never realized how soothing it could be as an adult.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FszGkMqAF0c

There’s more to the episode beyond the tour of course, such as King Friday’s declaration of a coloring contest in the Neighborhood of Make Believe and Lady Elaine’s insistence that winning is everything and makes people like you. This provides the perfect opportunity, as trolley exits the neighborhood and heads back to Mr Rogers’ home for Fred to use Lady Elaine’s skewed perspective as a wonderful lesson to the viewers at home:

“Lady Elaine has just heard about the contest, and all she’s thinking about is winning. Not doing, but winning. It should be the fun of doing it that’s important.”

Mr Rogers at easelFrom there, as he so often does, Mr Rogers reminds us of our contributions to the world with his wonderful song of “You are Special” and lets us know as he exits that “You make each day a special day. You know how, by just your being you.”

She never seems to tire of hearing it, every single morning. And you know what? Neither do I.

Maybe in this crazy world, in the stress and hectic days of adulthood…maybe we could all stand to start our day out with a little lesson and a little affirmation from Mr. Rogers.


Made a stop at the post office this week and I’m hoping the bank and the water company appreciate the friendly face along with their check.


Scrooge 124

I grew up reading comic books. It all goes back to that copy of Uncle Scrooge in “North of the Yukon” that was in a pile of old comics my grandmother kept in the closet for when we were home sick from school. I sat on the couch, leafed through its colorful pages (and beautiful Carl Barks artwork, even if I didn’t know it was him back then) and fell down a rabbit hole that has now been going on for more than thirty years.

My comics tastes varied over the years, from Disney Ducks, to Dark Knights, back to Disney Ducks and Brighter Knights, but the thrill of reading a good story with amazing artwork never got old.

As I became a parent, though, my perspective changed a bit and I started actively seeking out comics that were suitable and enjoyable for the entire family, not just the 13 and up audience.

lacey 1.jpgAnd that brings me to Lacey & Lily, a comic book series that I have been absolutely thrilled to be a part of, penning Lacey’s adventures alongside the incredible artistic storytelling talents of Andrew Cieslinski.

Lacey & Lily is a comic book series with an initial story spanning four chapters (issues). It’s the story of a middle school girl named Lacey, and her dog, Lily, who discover a pair of costumes in her late grandmother’s old trunk and while playing with them in the backyard discover they give them super powers.

Being the pure of heart and noble girl she is, Lacey and Lily put their newfound powers to work helping others, from stopping bullies, helping the elderly, or stopping a super-villain or alien invasion. You know, whatever a typical Tuesday brings about.

It’s fun, it’s adventure, and it’s family. Through her actions in and out of costume, Lacey shows that it doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your size, that anybody has the makings of a hero.

This book and this entire process has been a collaboration in the truest sense of the word between myself and the incredibly talented artist Andrew Cieslinski. We truly work together creating and building this world and it’s been a wonderful ride so far doing so.

The books are already available digitally via the Amazon Kindle and comiXology, but this Kickstarter campaign is to raise enough money for a large-scale print run of the first two issues of the series, which will allow us to get the book into the hands of many more readers around the world.

ll kickstarter covers

The covers to Lacey and Lily #1 and #2.

We have until 9 a.m. on August 5 to raise all our funds and make this a reality.

Lacey & Lily is aimed at all-ages, meaning it’s okay for kids and just as much fun for adults.

Hoping you’ll give it (and us) a shot!

 



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