The misadventures of a first time father

Category Archives: Comics

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)


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.


Shazam and SivanaA rare opportunity presented itself this past weekend. Some close friends of more than 25 years got in touch to let me know that they were headed to the movies that very night, for a late (late by my standards these days) screening of Shazam! at 9:40. Was I interested?

By that time, the kids would be asleep. Meg was fine whether I went or stayed, with no plans on our end either way. So, in a rare (these days) display of socialization, I left the house after 9 and headed to the multiplex (do they call them multiplexes still? Is that a dated reference?)

So you went to the movies, you’re saying. What is so weird about that?

I’ll offer you the small bit of perspective that makes this very rare in our personal case: the last time Meg and I went to the movies together was to see Toy Story 3 in 2010. Since then, I went to the movies in Christmas 2017 to see The Last Jedi with my brother-in-law, and when Meg and I (and gramma) took the kids to see Mary Poppins Returns this winter. Those are any movie-going ventures of the last decade. So a cinematic commitment like this was a personal big deal.

shazam - ordwayAnd I was excited. I’ve always enjoyed the Captain Marvel / Shazam characters and story about a boy and his friends gaining adulthood and super powers when they say a magic word. It’s the ultimate in childhood wish fulfillment.

Admittedly, I haven’t read a Shazam comic since Jerry Ordway’s masterpiece of a series Power of Shazam in the 90s (it hasn’t been collected, which is a crime to comics, so if you find issues of the series, pick them up), so I was going in with no contemporary knowledge of the character.

With that said, I loved this movie. Loved it!

It was a superhero movie full of heart and an emphasis on family. The entire cast is dynamite. Zachary Levi, who I loved watching on Chuck back in its day on NBC, was better than I could have imagined as the child in the adult body of a superhero, while Mark Strong made Dr. Thaddeus Sivana more terrifying than I ever would have thought from the comic pages I remember. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, Asher Angel as Billy Batson, Grace Fulton as Mary…the list goes on and on, but every single one of them brought an earnestness to the screen that was an absolute delight.

Shazam Family

As I say, there was a lot to this version of the character I was unfamiliar with (but am told can be found in more contemporary comics, which I’ll have to now check out), but none of that mattered as I sat there in the movie theatre. I was in awe. I smiled, I laughed, I got excited every time I heard that magic word and lightning struck, causing the transformation from boy to hero and back again, and me as audience viewer into a kid all over again too.

Far too often I hear cries for realism in comic books and their movie counterparts, especially when it comes to super heroes. But super heroes in and of themselves are, you know what? Not that realistic. So if we’re skewing reality anyway, why not make them fun, and maybe even uplifting? It’s what Christopher Reeve’s Superman did, and Shazam does in spades thanks to its stellar cast, sharp script courtesy of Henry Gayden and keen direction of David Sandberg, not to mention the countless other crew and cast members that make a film possible.

It was a delight.

Sure, there were a few “sh!$s” and middle fingers that didn’t bother me but would prevent it from being accessible to younger audiences or a full family with little ones (along with the scariness of the Seven Deadly Sins personified). However, even with that said, it certainly is something I plan to add to my rarely expanding DVD collection for future viewing.

This was hands down the best superhero feature film effort I’ve seen from Warner Bros / DC Comics in the past decade or so and should be the tonal template by which other superhero movies follow.

And as I try to avoid any and all spoilers, please, stay for the credits. As if the film itself didn’t carry enough easter eggs for fans of the Big Red Cheese, the mid-credits scene brought in one of my all-time favorite villains and sets up a potential plot for another installment.

“More ways than a mind can imagine,” indeed.

If this is what lies ahead, sign me up now.

Shazam!

Bring on the sequel.

shazam mr mind


Little Lamp booksSo, this is a pretty important week for me.

Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.

This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.

Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.

It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.

And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.

It really means so very much.


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.

 



%d bloggers like this: