How Not To Get Rich Reading Comics

An acquaintance said to me several weeks ago, “Oh, I didn’t know you collect comics,” to which I responded, “I don’t. I read them.” I sheepishly apologized for being a smart ass, but underneath the sass the sentiment was sincere.

I went on an organizing spree before we left for Pittsburgh for the holidays and attempted to catalog all of my comic books. In hindsight this was a laughable endeavor; I neither finished the job itself nor got to a reasonable stopping point that would be useful to pick up from next time. Instead, I spent a number of late night hours making stacks of favorite titles, building spreadsheets and reminiscing about reading comics in the early 90s.

(No one has ever said that before.)

But I’ve never considered myself a collector. How could I be? I started reading regularly when I was eleven or twelve – old enough to make my own choices about titles, but young enough to be clueless about the industry as a whole. I got hooked on characters (I still do) rather than creators, although the Rob Liefeld influence was impossible to escape in those years.

I bounced from Marvel to Image and back again, dabbled with Vertigo but never mainstream DC books. If I found a character I liked, I tried to read every title in which that character appeared. Or was featured. Or mentioned. Obnoxious crossovers were made for kids like me.

Cannonball was the first character I remember going out of my way to find. Liefeld created X-Force in 1991 at the end of his New Mutants run, and there was a lot of big corporate publicity about the new title. For some reason rather than being excited about Cable or Domino or perennial favorite Deadpool (!!) I was swooning over a goofy kid in goggles with a lazy Southern drawl. I am positive it was his affected speech pattern that caught my attention (and not his wormy hair) although I also got sucked into the whole Externals is-he-or-isn’t-he storyline. I let Cannonball guide my reading for years. And when the previews for Hickman and Opeña’s Avengers #1 came out this past fall featuring dear ol’ Sam Guthrie on the cover, twelve year old me totally squealed out loud.

(Hickman isn’t writing him with the drawl, though! Twelve year old me was sad. Thirtysomething year old me is pretty stoked for this book and got over it. It’s also a lot easier to read.)

(After my infatuation with Sam came Clint Barton, first by way of his Thunderbolts appearances and then with the Avengers. My love for Hawkeye’s unique combination of self-deprecating wit, defensive arrogance and mad marksman skills remains to this day. I have a lot more to say about his classic redemption arc, how I think he’s the heart of the team and ultimately why Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is the best new series of 2012, but I’ll save that for another time.)

More than twenty years later I’m pretty sure I don’t own any single issues worth more than $10. I have some Death TPBs signed by Neil Gaiman, but they’re for reading not hoarding. And I was lucky enough to have Chris Ware sign my copy of Building Stories, but it’s not going to just sit on a shelf wrapped in plastic.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a tactile person, but collecting comics always struck me as a sad alternative to the rich escapism and excitement that reading them could provide. An open door vs. a closed door, if you will.

Instead, I buy them – print and digital and sometimes multiple copies of each with variant covers because I swear I will buy anything David Aja draws yes he is that good – and I read them – over and over and over – and I share them – with friends and family and hopefully more with my son as he gets older – and I kind of love them a little bit.

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.
-Walt Disney

Nah. Not rich at all.

Generations of Artists

The first *real* artist I met was my nana. She was a quilter. She was also a nurse, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. But she earned a reputation for her quilting, one that I was aware of even as a child. I think I have a memory of visiting a fabric store with her as she gathered supplies for a quilting contest celebrating Grand Lake St. Mary’s, but it’s possible I’m remembering a different time. I’m pretty sure I can also picture us visiting where her winning quilt was on display, but again, I unfortunately can’t be sure if what I have is a true recollection.

What I do have are several of her quilts and wall hangings. We just returned from our first visit to Pittsburgh since we Moved Across The Country, and I brought back the very first quilt my nana made for me.

(Cat not included. Since we returned home, she is practically attached to my hip and wasn’t interested in my attempts to capture the quilt for posterity sans feline.)

This quilt was completed in 1981. I know that because my nana always signed her work. Avi would probably tell you that’s what made her an artist.

Two observations: this was clearly done before I was calling her “nana”, and I recognized her “handwriting” in the embroidery. Wow.

While we were in Pittsburgh, I also got to make some great art with my four year old niece. We did some simple printmaking together and I watched her draw. She is extraordinary. Her understanding of spatial relationships and composition and expression is years and years ahead of most children her age. I am consistently astounded by what she is capable of, and this is me as a parent and former art teacher saying that.

I know a lot of *real* artists now. Masters of media of all types. Sometimes I even play that role myself. It’s such a part of my life that I often take it for granted. It was nurtured in me by family and teachers…it is who I am, no matter what I do.

And I would be honored to be a link between the artist my nana was and the artist my niece may become.

Just. Go.

So next to normal.

Wow.

I don’t have much I can say. It wasn’t quite magic, but it was close. Put it this way: I cannot remember the last time I went to a live performance knowing so little about the story beforehand. I hate surprises; I skip to the end of books and read movie synopses. But in this case, I didn’t have time to ruin it for myself in advance. Being able to truly experience and discover and…get. it. (!!!!) during the show last night is something I am truly thankful for.

Afterwards, a (necessary) stiff drink or two with many wonderful people.

Just go and see it, okay? And if you can, go tonight and use the code SUPERBOY for a $15 discount. Or student rush for 50% off at the box office before the show. Go without reading about it. Without listening to the soundtrack. Without knowing.

And bring kleenexes.

N2N

I’m seeing next to normal next week.*

No biggie. It *only* won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. Do you know the last time that happened? 1996. Know the musical? Maybe you’ve heard of it…RENT. Even better? The same director – Michael Greif – was responsible for both.

Perhaps now you can start to understand my excitement. Eleven Tony nominations, three wins for Score, Orchestration and Best Actress for Alice Ripley WHO IS COMING TO PITTSBURGH.

Friends, how often do you get a chance to see an actress on tour in the role that won her a Tony?!

(A clue: not that often.)

So yeah, I’m pretty stoked. Even though I am unbelievably busy at work with a little thing we like to call Spring Carnival & Reunion Weekend, I’m taking one of my precious free evenings to see this awesome show.

Wanna come too?

Use the promo code SUPERBOY for $15 off tickets in price levels A, B and C for performances on Tuesday, April 5 and Wednesday, April 6. And if you pick Tuesday, let me know! That’s when I’ll be there.

You have to log in to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust in order to use the promo code, so don’t skip that step.

And don’t skip this show. Seriously.

Fine print: I received this discount code as a proud member of the Greater Pittsburgh arts community, and confirmed with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust that it was okay to share. I acquired my tickets elsewhere – thanks Rachel!

*Wikipedia told me it was stylized like that.

Aaaaand, that was odd.

Or, what not to do if you want a so-called blogger to write about your show.

Or, how not to act as an audience member.

Or, how not to act as The Cat in the Hat.

Or, my “review” of PMT’s  “Seussical The Musical”.

So Avi and I saw a show on Friday, as you may have guessed. He’s seen “Seussical” before and we have the soundtrack. I was excited to surprise him with tickets to see Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s production because he is five and not an asshole theater snob like his mother, and I could use a reminder about that once in awhile.

We were at will call to pick up the tickets when something very strange happened.

The first set of tickets I received had my blog listed. Sort of. Not exactly the correct name. They were also not in the section I had purchased. And I was So. Incredibly. Confused. On the one hand, cool! Someone set aside free press tickets for me because of ye olde bloggedy blog blog. On the other hand, NO ONE TOLD ME. Seriously, how could that happen?! Who just assumes that a) I’d be interested in writing about “Seussical” – which, honestly, I wouldn’t have been because I’m an asshole (see above) (and below) and b) I will show up on Friday night for the show without being told to do so! The fact that I purchased tickets ON MY OWN was just a coincidence. Otherwise, I would have never known these tickets were set aside for me.

I did some investigating and haven’t been able to figure out who the *someone* was who made these arrangements and failed to tell me about them. So odd!

In any case, we went inside, sat in the seats I had paid for and saw the show, which brings me to part 2 of this too-long tale.

There was a kid sitting next to us with his grandmother. I judged him to be about six or seven based on size. He was out of control obnoxious the entire first act. Yes, it’s a family show. Yes, I think all kids should be exposed to live theater. But I also think they should be encouraged to behave appropriately as an audience member, and that that behavior should be reinforced by their adults. This boy was loudly talking and singing and pointing pretty much constantly. I thought for awhile it was because we were RIGHT NEXT TO HIM that it was particularly distracting, but people two, three, four rows away were turning and glaring. Now let me make it clear that Avi was sitting SO quietly this whole time. He was obviously bothered by the boy’s behavior, but he was also polite and tried to ignore it. Rockstar.

At intermission, a group of teenage girls sitting in front of us turned around and told me that Avi was SO well behaved. They begged me to say something to grandma. I waffled (unsurprising) and chickened out (also unsurprising), hoping the second act behavior would be better. It wasn’t. Finally I turned and glared for a looooong time so grandma couldn’t ignore me anymore. She said “What? He’s five!” And before I could stop myself I shot back, “SO IS HE!” and jammed my thumb in Avi’s direction.

I wish I could tell you she shut up or apologized or something. Nope. She glared back at me and said “Oh grow up!” and that was that. (Which, huh? What does that even mean?!) At the end of the show, she and the boy bolted and the girls in front of us turned around. One of them actually told me, “You did nothing wrong. Don’t worry about what she said!” which was kind of adorable. Thanks, kid.

Whew. Now, part 3 and 4 of this saga come with a disclaimer (I’m an asshole.) and a cop-out: see, my friend Brian said pretty much everything I can say about the production, including the sentiment about youth theater. But I was especially disappointed in The Cat in the Hat, who was played more as a bloated cameo than the spry emcee of the whole story. I have major objections to that particular casting and the ad libbing, and I fully understand that I may be one of few people in Pittsburgh who feel that way, or at least who will admit it. Sorry. But when my kid whispers (because he is a good audience member!) to me that he wishes The Cat would stop interrupting the show, well…it’s not working. That thing you’re doing. At all.

And to steal another line from Brian, other than the parts I didn’t like (The Cat, the set, the lighting, the sound), the parts I did like (Jo Jo, Gertrude, Horton, the costumes, the orchestra, the ensemble) were great.

But I’m an asshole like that.

Bee

I saw the School of Drama‘s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” last night. It’s open through this weekend, so there is still time for you to get tickets. And you should.

It’s hilarious and sweet and very William Finn (which I believe is a great thing since “Falsettos” is probably my favorite musical ever).

It’s also at the New Hazlett Theater instead of the Chosky on campus. I just think that was an incredible opportunity for the students to have almost a mini-tour experience, moving from Purnell for rehearsal and build to the Hazlett for load-in and tech and the show… Last night they did a talk-back with the audience, and I asked them to speak a little bit about how the production process was affected because of the move. I was hoping they’d say what they did –  that it felt more “professional”, that it changed their perception greatly, that it presented new challenges and new rewards.

Next season, Drama is doing a number of shows that caught my interest – including “Sweeney Todd”, “Master Harold… and the Boys” and “Hair”. It’s taken ten years (since I was a student there myself), but it’s high time I actually subscribe, don’t you think? I’ll be doing the Tuesday-evening series (once it’s officially officially announced and available for purchase) since they benefit Showcase and (usually) include a talk-back.

Let me know if you want to come too.

Magic

Have you ever watched someone have a magical theater experience?

It doesn’t happen very often. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had one myself, and tonight wasn’t one of them. In fact, I was honestly disappointed in the show itself, but that’s okay. Really. Tonight wasn’t for me, it was for Avi.

Tonight we saw Mary Poppins at the Benedum Center. Avi was transfixed watching the stage, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Every gasp, every squeal of delight, my heart melted. During the second act when the chimney sweeps dance, he grabbed my hand and whispered, wide eyed, “They have tap shoes! I love tap shoes!” At a certain point at the end of the performance his mouth was gaping for so long I was tempted to close it, but I didn’t want to break the spell.

This was by no means Avi’s first show. He’s seen several at the Benedum, even. But this was the first time I think everything really came together  – a story he knows, with music he likes, in an environment he’s familiar with. He got a new shirt and pants for the occasion. And I managed to get us unbelievably great seats, because I wanted to make sure he could really take it all in.

He asked so many questions! He remains absolutely fascinated by all of the automation. He wanted to know how everything worked, and “how they know when to work them,” which led us down a wonderful rabbit hole to what even is a stage manager, anyway, mommy? He was of course totally stoked about the flying, so we talked about the harnesses and rigging and he was thrilled when he spotted the cables on the kites.

For a split second, I wished I was designing again with any real regularity. He’s never really seen one of my shows, and I don’t anticipate another opportunity for awhile, if ever.

But no, I’m really really happy where I am. I’m using my School of Drama education in a different way than I thought I would  fifteen years ago, but I certainly am using it. And tonight, I got to be just an audience member.

Watching my little boy love the theater.