The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Comics

Party - Birthday Boy 2We recently had a birthday party for our little guy. It was the first time we ever actually had it at our house. Usually we relied on the kindness of grandparents on both sides to get us through over the years, as our house had long been too small to have anyone over beyond a group of 2 or 4.

With our new digs, though, we figured it was finally time to give it a try, and try we did, not only with family, but this time inviting some of his friends from pre-k to come as well. And was it ever worth it to see the look on his face when he was surprised by the arrival of each of these friends.

Rain the day before and morning of forced us to change up plans a bit, moving from the backyard to the garage. Well, after it was emptied and cleaned out, of course. Then with two pop-up tents from parents placed outside the garage door, and tables and chairs inside, we were good to go as family and friends arrived for this gathering of little heroes.

The theme was his choice (Superheroes), brilliantly executed by Meg with foods that added a heroic flavor such as Captain America Shields (circle pretzels with white chocolate and a red, white or blue M&M in the middle), kryptonite bars (rice krispies treats with drizzled white chocolate and glowy green sprinkles), and some foods that gained their super powers through some signs I made using the PicMonkey app on my phone and a variety of superhero images.

Party signs total

We transformed regular sheet pizza into Plastic Man’s Power Pizza, a vegetable tray into Poison Ivy’s Veggie Platter, and drinks stations became Joker Juice or for the adults, Chief O’Hara’s Adult Beverages (Begorrah!).

Meg also took giant cardboard boxes leftover from a swing set we assembled the week prior and created a backdrop of buildings for little superheroes to have their picture taken by.

Party - Kids and worm

Apparently all we needed for a party were crayons and a worm.

The kids crowded around a table to color super hero print outs, ran around wearing paper super hero masks from Party City and even enjoyed the arrival of a little sunshine just long enough to dry out parts (emphasis on parts…watch your step unless you like mud) to get some time in running through the backyard.

Oh, and never underestimate, much like the crayons and coloring pages, how something as simple as a worm coming out of the ground can create a fascination in a group of children that can be hard to pull them away from.

It felt just plain wonderful.

And when it came time to open gifts and he had oohed and awed over various toys, Legos, and books, I gave him a gift I had spent the past several months putting together for him.

You see, back at Halloween, he designed his own costume, which Meg made come to life – a superhero version of himself.

Hallowen heroes

Us at Halloween as a self-styled superhero version of himself.

But post-Halloween, something wonderful happened. He kept the character going, imagining new adventure after new adventure, as well as a rogues gallery of villains that he was going up against with each backyard or bedroom crime fighting spree. I did my best to covertly take notes of the superpowers, the villain, and turned it into a script for a short comic book story.

I then dusted off my drawing pencils and illustrated the story, handing it over to my good friend and collaborator on two indie comic book series, who graced it with his inks, colors and lettering skills. From there, I sent it out to a comic printer, and upon return, had a limited edition comic book of my son in his super hero persona, solving a mystery, overcoming the very villains he’s created as he plays, and making it to his birthday party to find family and friends waiting.

The shock on his face “Wait…what…how did…how did you get a comic book of…me?” when he opened it was everything. The fact that he asked me to read it for him four separate times that afternoon and again before bed was everything else.

With each passing day, he grows a little more, shows me more of the world and myself than I thought possible, and though not every day is perfect for us, every day he becomes more and more my real-life superhero.

Party - Montage of comic


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!

 


Some sound advice from Gotham City’s own Dark Knight, from 1963’s Batman #159.

In a world where so many people sadly look to find their self-worth in online likes, followers, and little blue check marks (or lack thereof), I think it’s still pretty relevant.

You tell ’em, Batman.

Bat-advice2

 

It’s actually an incredibly timeless message hidden between some standard 1960s comic silliness (which don’t get me wrong, I love). In the 60s, Batman comics had a penchant for letting trusty butler Alfred let readers in on a series of fictional stories he was writing of what the future might hold for Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Bruce to have children.

In this particular story from 1963, Bruce Wayne Junior, at 5 years old, is being teased by his friends for having a pretty unimportant father compared to one of the boys whose father is a professional baseball player.

Bruce Waynes a Great Guy

Young Bruce Jr makes the case for his father being in charge of corporations and doing a lot of charity work, but sadly that’s not the sort of thing to impress the young lads, who continue to tease young Bruce. Feeling hurt and pressured, Bruce blurts out that his dad is really Batman. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s just spoken the truth, something his father overhears while patrolling.

This forces Bruce Wayne Sr to move past the boys,ignoring his son in an effort to maintain his secret identity. And unfortunately, that just makes the teasing of Bruce Jr all the worse. Like any father, it’s hard for Bruce Sr. to take, leading to his admonishment of the boys up above, and telling Bruce Jr that he knows his father very well and that he couldn’t be prouder of the young man he’s becoming.

It’s the kind of moment that resonates so much with me. As someone who left a career in the public eye in exchange for a bit quieter of a life with my family, I have had a back-and-forth struggle with my meaning, my place, and how much of a role what I do career-wise will matter to my son and daughter. What I always come back to, though, is the realization that it doesn’t matter what I’m doing for my job, or who recognizes me, it’s that my children do. That I am around, in their lives enough to make an impact. In the context of the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful LifeYou don’t have to be Sam Wainwright to matter. You can be a George Bailey and be a success simply by living a good, kind life and helping those around you.

And likewise, it’s not Batman that’s going to have the greatest impact on that young boy’s life. It’s Bruce Wayne. Not a crimefighter, but a father.

Proud Batdad

Say what you will about old comics or a lack of ‘seriousness,’ but this type of stuff is exactly what made me a comic reader and the type of stuff I think young readers, and young children of all ages, need from their heroes.

 


Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to talk a little bit about life, and that’s just because life’s been so crazy it’s been hard to find the time! As I’ve said before, I commend those of you who can post every day or even close to every day. Where do you find the time? Kudos.

So, with so much that has gone on, I couldn’t think of where to even begin as I try to get back to some semblance of regular updates on life.

And as if in answer to my internal dilemma, this morning awoke our son, now four. Four!!!  His little hands holding the sheets up to his chin, grinning ear to ear, excited to tell me about the dream he just woke up from.

I’ll leave it in his own, delightful words:

“Me…and Supergirl…and Superboy…and all the other superheroes…and the Mickey Mouse characters…and gramma…and even the characters from Sesame Street…we all teamed up!!!

“And there was this special type of kryptonite…and it only affected businessmen. But not business ladies.

“And it turned them all into bizarros.”

Crazy bizarros

Those crazy bizarros.

Man, I want to have this kid’s dreams.

And how about gramma getting in on the super hero action?


We’ve all seen that cliche image from times past – a father, back relaxed in an easy chair, legs propped up on a footrest. Perhaps he’s wearing a robe, smoking a pipe, and even wearing slippers. Or at the very least maybe the family dog is bringing the slippers or paper to him.

I don’t want to talk about those guys.

I want to talk about a few other fictional fathers of the screen that aren’t that stereotype of 1950s America so often thought of when reflecting on old TV shows of the past. I want to talk about a few fellas who, whether the present or the past, have, for the most part (they all have off days or an idea that’s a bit out of touch now and then, but we’ll forgive them) are solid foundations of fatherhood, and examples that those of us living outside the screen can look to for a little inspiration and example as to what it means to not just be a father, but to be a dad.

Judge James Hardy

hardy-father-son

Judge James Hardy and son, Andrew

Putting aside the one initial appearance of Lionel Barrymore, Judge James Hardy is most commonly known as being depicted by actor Lewis Stone in the plethora of films within the Andy Hardy series from MGM Studios throughout the 1930s and 40s. With themes of themes of  honor, integrity, courage in the face of scandal, and maturity, the sixteen films revolving around the Hardy Family were an idealized vision of what America could be, if everyone treated each other the right way and stood by a core set of values and honor.

 

While the films over time took their focus to young Andy Hardy, at the center of those themes and values was James Hardy – father, husband, member of the community, and never too busy for his family. While some onscreen fathers of the time were distant, driven by work, no time for distraction, Judge Hardy always had the time to recognize how crucial wife Emily was to the family and he, to lend an ear to son Andy or daughter Marion, and took the time to listen to their troubles and emotions. Often referred to as ‘man-to-man talks,’ James rarely ordered his children around, instead offering the guidance and wisdom that allowed them to come to their own revelations and decisions of character, that laid the foundation for good, honest people of the next generation.

(Sadly, hard as I try, I couldn’t find a classic Hardy ‘man-to-man’ talk online to post)

 

Rob Petrie

Rob PetrieGood-natured, goofy, but absolutely neurotic, Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke in the aptly titled The Dick Van Dyke Show, seemed to have a dream life, despite the sitcom hijinks. A loving wife who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and difference of opinion, a son with many questions for the ever-worrying dad, and a dream job as a comedy writer for the sketch comedy show – The Alan Brady Show. Rob had a good heart, even if he did trip over himself at times in trying to be the good dad and husband he wanted to be, and it made he, and the entire Petrie family, all the more human.

The Dick Van Dyke Show, still today, ranks among one of the best sitcoms of all time. 50 years later. And it’s just as enjoyable for audiences. Whereas some shows of decades past feel dated, out of touch, it’s never the case with the Dick Van Dyke Show, Rob, Laura, Richie, or any of the characters. Because the brilliant Carl Reiner (who created the show) was making a show about real people. And though times may change, human emotions do not. It’s because of that brilliant writing that Rob is just as great an example of a person, co-worker, husband, and father today that he was five decades ago.

Jonathan Kent

martha-jonathan-clark1

The Kent Family as depicted in the TV series, Smallville.

A farmer from Kansas traveling with his wife when they find a baby, abandoned in a field. Oh, and that baby’s inside a spaceship that obviously just fell from outer space.

Jonathan and Martha Kent had no idea what that baby was or what he would become. But they knew, before them, stood a child with no one other than they to help him make this planet his home. Saving him from the government containment, dissection, or weaponization that could possibly follow upon finding an alien, the Kents, salt of the Earth, good, virtuous people, decided to take this baby into their home and their lives, and raise him as their own.

When little Clark Kent grew up, the Kents had no idea who or what he would be or represent. But they knew they had the task to raise a good boy, who cared about others, and one who, as he started to show special talents and gifts beyond those of mortal men, would use those powers to help the world, to save lives, to be a beacon of hope.

That spaceship could have landed anywhere on Earth. And who knows what type of person baby Kal-El of the planet Krypton would have grown up to be? Fortunately for humanity in the pages of comics, novels, cartoons, television, and films, he landed in a corn field and was found by the Kents, whose salt of the Earth personalities, and lives of good morality laid the foundation for the hard-working, virtuous, optimistic, and all-around good person Superman is today. (in most interpretations lately. I hear it varies in recent years)

Mr Tiger

Tiger FamilySo he may not be anyone’s top pick, and that’s okay. He wasn’t necessarily mine either. However, there was something about the way Daniel Tiger’s dad, seen multiple days a week on PBS Kids Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, quietly, gently handles fatherhood. At times he may seem like a figure that fades into the surroundings, but it could easily be because he and Mrs Tiger are such equal partners.

Sometimes he’s silly, sometimes he’s childlike, rolling around on the floor or crawling through pillow and sheet tunnels with Daniel, understanding and experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a child alongside Daniel and baby Margaret.

And he works in a clock factory that’s shaped like a giant grandfather clock. Tell me you wouldn’t want to show up to work at a building that looked like that everyday.

There’s a bit of him, and the entire show that for those of us old enough to remember, hearkens back to the soft-spoken, big-hearted, watch-wearing tiger cat on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood that inspired this entirely new generation of lessons in what it means to be a good person.

 

The Man in the Yellow Hat

2a570fae_The-man-in-the-yellow-hatIt takes a lot of patience to be a father-figure to a precocious monkey. But somehow, The Man in the Yellow Hat seems to have the endless patience I can only wish for. Whether it’s a trashed apartment, a lost portfolio, or a stampede of pumpkins causing chaos and scattering crowds in a small town, there’s usually a monkey with the curiosity of a preschooler behind it, and the understanding Man in the Yellow Hat to explain it without losing his top.

While preschoolers can see the world through the relatable eyes of George and his wonder of the world, the level of fear, over-protection, and sheer joy with every uttered “oh boy” or “be a good little monkey” is the parental heart of the series for us grown ups and makes the Man in the Yellow Hat a source of joy, wonder, guidance and learning, and fun for George that I hope we could all be for our own kids.

Of course, this list is by no means conclusive. Merely a sampling of some of my own favorites of fictional dads that I think help set the bar.

 

What about you? What on-screen dad examples have you ever looked at with a feeling of inspiration?


box of comicsLittle by little over the past few months, we’ve been clearing out much of our home office, converting it into a hybrid office/nursery with the arrival of our newest addition. Packing books up, taking down wall art not quite suitable for a newborn, and taking the numerous boxes filled with comic books and packing them away in our basement.

Part of that process includes protecting them from the elements and time, so each comic is placed in a protective plastic with a flap taped on the back to keep moisture, dust and other undesirables out.

Here and there during a nap time, I’ll take a few minutes and go down to the basement and work a little more on bagging up the books and filing them away in a box, on a shelf, for posterity and safe keeping.

During a recent session of ‘archiving,’ though, I found myself swept away by the various memories associated with these books, accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and yet, carrying with them numerous lives, numerous versions of me, long gone.

With every piece of tape snapped, every comic bagged, boarded and slid away into a box, I realized so with it was a small piece of me. By that I mean it was like flipping through the pages of a yearbook unearthed after years in a box. Many of these books I hadn’t seen in decades. Music playing from Pandora as I worked (some Steve Winwood, some Asia, Phil Collins, all music I used to hear growing up in the 80s, often while I sat reading this comics originally), I was transported to the various parts of my life that coincided with each of these books.

JSA comicEach one a representation in some weird way of who I was at any given time. Of what I was going through, feeling, of who I was, be it the kid sitting under his bedroom window at 13, wondering if the girls playing down the street were going to come knocking at the window; the 20 year old who, after several years away from them, started picking up comics again while away at college, finding comfort while away from home in things that re-connected me to my childhood, yet opened my eyes to storytelling, characters, and perspectives I had never quite known of (thank you, indie comics); the 24 year old, out of college, trying to find his place in the world, thriving on creating art in the form of low budget filmmaking, yet finding inspiration and solace in the full-color panels of the comic pages; or the 27 year old single journalist, coming home exhausted, wanting nothing more than to crash on the couch, casually grabbing a floppy comic book from the ever-growing reading pile on the end table as time started becoming more of a commodity.

Or today. Though the books are incredibly fewer than ever before, the reading piles still add up with the day-to-day responsibilities of a worker, a husband, a father, a homeowner. They’re still there, though. Connecting the me of today with all the mes of the past.

I have been so many different people in my lifetime already. A son. A brother. A friend. A student. A newspaper delivery boy. A restaurant host. An actor. A library aide. A coffee barista. A film projectionist. An indie filmmaker. A newspaper reporter. A comic book writer. A news anchor. And a father.

Sometimes it can be difficult to reconcile all of those identities into one being today, the same yet different in so many ways.

This is not necessarily a negative thing. What it is, I think, is a reminder.

Flash comicWe grow, we change, we learn from our experiences and transform into a new being made up of and shaped by the lessons, mistakes, and thoughts of our past. We shake away the being we are unhappy with, even in the smallest of increments, on a never-ending journey to transform, to become better. In effect, the old us dies and is reborn as something new, molded by our experiences.

We all have our own “comics,” our own items carried with us throughout our lives that carry with them the remnants of our own past.  And when we occasionally uncover them, it’s like an archaeological dig to rediscover when we were, where we were, who we were, and most importantly, who we’ve become.


Halloween Comics 2015For the past several years (at least since becoming homeowners), I’ve tried to do something a little different than the standard candy giveaway on Halloween night.

I’m by no means the person handing out toothbrushes or bags of pennies that I sometimes encountered when I was a kid, but I do like to break things up a little bit from the sugary sweets that kids find at so many houses on that night of ghouls.

So, in what has become a bit of a tradition, I hand out comic books to kids coming to our door. Age appropriate, of course.

It began with piles of coverless comics that I would buy in bulk from my local comic book store. Often times they were from the 70s or 80s and had lost much value due to their lack of cover. So, the store was just looking to get them off their hands, selling them in piles for around $2-3.

I couldn’t resist. They ranged from talking animals (Disney Ducks, my favorite!) to long-underwear wearing Superman or Batman (the classic derring do-gooders of yesteryear. Not the dark avengers so commonplace today).

And with piles in hand, I would hand out books to kids as they made their way up our front steps.

Another year I was not so lucky to find such coverless treasures, so I would raid 50 cent bins, but that could get pricey. Sometimes I’d just go through piles of comics I didn’t want anymore that I knew would take more time and effort to sell than they were worth.

Then, last year, something quite fantastic happened. Comic book companies and distributors got together and following in the steps of the annual Free Comic Book Day (traditionally in May), began offering stacks of full-color mini-comics specifically to be handed out on Halloween in what they call Halloween ComicFest.

Fortunately for me, my local comic shop was participating and for $5 I was able to purchase a pack of 20 comic books to hand out to the ghosts and ghouls at our door. With different titles to choose from, I spent $20 and walked away with four packs. That’s four different comic titles totaling 80 books. We were well-stocked and fortunately for me, well-received when kids would come by.

Those kids who didn’t care for the comics had a choice of a small, plastic Halloween toy, like a spider-ring or vampire teeth, that my wife had the foresight to pick up.

So, I followed suit this year, with three packs of comics safe for all ages – Archie, Grimmiss Island, and the Boom Studios Halloween Haunt, featuring various short comic stories that are safe for kids but can entertain adults as well. And this year there’s 25 comics in a pack, so I got more bang for my buck!

I really recommend it.

And I won’t lie. When there’s a lull, I tend to sneak a few reads while I’m waiting for the kids.



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