Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

It doesn’t feel completely accurate to say that my wife and I like Christmas music. We freaking love it. We both come from homes that celebrated old school classics as well as newer material. As a result we have a pretty solid and impressive collection of Christmas music. In fact, we actually have an iPod dedicated specifically to Christmas music. When my wife got a new iPod, we took her old mini (which very appropriately is green), cleared out all the old stuff and loaded it up with holiday tunes. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, we pop that bad boy on and dig those tunes until Christmas. I figured it would be a good time to lay down a list of some of my favorite records to listen to around this time. Hit the jump to dig these crazy tunes. Continue reading Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

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I’m still insanely behind on my link reading, but I figured I’d get these particular ones from the past month or so out there for all to read…and to unload a bit.

My pal Rob Bricken left ToplessRobot.com for io9.com. I will definitely miss coming up with crazy lists and writing them for him. Onwards and upwards good sir!

Speaking of Topless Robot, I wrote a few lists for them recently. This one’s about the craziest mini-monsters in horror, this one’s about Green Lanterns we want to see on the delayed Green Lantern Animated Series and this one’s about evil monkeys.

Speaking of me writing stuff, in addition to my usual CBR duties covering Image and doing daily posts for Spinoff Online, I also launched a collecting column over on CBR called Toying Around, I’m pretty psyched about it, here’s the latest one.

While on the subject of things seen on CBR, I was really excited to hear about IDW reprinting Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents material. Everything that guy did should be in trade format if you ask me.

Would it be awesome to have Robert Plant’s level of talent where you just go over to a friend’s house and make a record without really meaning to? (via Rolling Stone)ironmenvs-hulkI would very much like to see Ulises Farinas draw all the comics, much like he draw all these Iron Man armors going up against the Hulk.

I know it’s well past the election, but I finally caught up on a few political pieces I really found interesting. First off, director Adam McKay’s HuffPo piece pointed out to everyone that, even though he wasn’t outright saying it, Romney’s politics are almost exactly the same as George W. Bush’s.

I also found Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece on the big/small government argument is essentially moot considering how huge Bush made the government when he was in power. When will people start actually listening to facts? tyler stout mondo reservoir dogsMan, Tyler Stout’s Reservoir Dogs poster for Mondo is pretty amazing.

The HMAD review of Don Coscarelli’s John Dies At The End makes me really excited about seeing that flick.

John Carpenter talked to Hero Complex about They Live! What an awesome movie.

One of my favorite parts of the year is when Tom and Lorenzo do commentary about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Here’s part 1 and part 2. Fun stuff.

Elmore Leonard did the Proust Questionnaire over at Vanity Fair. That guy is so damn cool.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never actually read anything by Harlan Ellison, but I will read his new DC graphic novel with the amazing Paul Chadwick called 7 Against Chaos (via Blastr)

I liked this Hero Complex piece about Adventure Time, then again, I like pretty much anything having to do with that wonderfully weird show.

Some idiots want to secede my hometown of Toledo back to Michigan. What a great use of one’s time. (via The Detroit News)

I like the idea of a new Kurt Cobain documentary, though less so when I find out Courtney Love’s partially involved. I don’t trust that lady. (via Rolling Stone)

Ron Marz’s Shelf Life column over on CBR focused on his days at CrossGen which actually sound a lot like my days at Wizard: a lot of people from all over the place coming together and doing some great work. He wrote a second CG-centric post that I have yet to read, but am excited to.

On Voting And Whatnot

I did not vote in the previous presidential election. In the past I had voted for George W. Bush and considered myself a socially liberal conservative (or, as I often say, I’m socially liberal, but financially conservative). I liked JOhn McCain, but his choice of running mate spoke highly of his decision making abilities in a negative way and I was concerned about Barack Obama’s lack of experience. To be honest, I also thought people were just voting for him because they thought he was cool. When it came time to vote I just couldn’t make up my mind (and also wasn’t registered in this state after moving here from Ohio, for what it’s worth). I didn’t want to use my ignorance as an excuse to vote for the wrong guy and thus sat that one out. Some people think this is a travesty. “You must vote, it’s your right as an American!” And that’s true, at least the second half, but I don’t think enough people really contemplate their candidate’s positions on the issues. These choices have meaning and should not be taken lightly. Hit the jump to read the full post or just hold off and wait til I start writing about toys, comics and movies again. You won’t have to wait long, I promise. Continue reading On Voting And Whatnot

Ambitious Reading List: The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake By Aimee Bender (2010)

Well, I finally quit trying to read Devil In The White City. I probably should have stuck with it and charged through, but there was just something about that book that didn’t hook me into coming back for more. I liked what I read, but I kept thinking about finishing this Ambitious Reading List and even starting the next one and just couldn’t sync with it. So, I put it to the side, knowing I’ll return to it some day, and then moved onto Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake, a book I really loved by an author I have a little bit of experience with. You know what that means, story time!

When I was in college at Ohio Wesleyan University, I was part of the English board (or whatever it was called). I think I got involved because my creative writing professor, Robert Olmstead, asked me if I’d be interested so I went with it. I don’t know if it was an election or what, but there I was. We had various authors come to OWU, do readings and sometimes even sit in on our workshop classes. Aimee Bender was one of those authors. For whatever reason Professor Olmstead asked me to write and do an introduction for her, which made me nervous because I get all kinds of anxious when I have to speak in front of a crowd, even if it’s just a handful of my fellow classmates. Anyway, I did my research (I think this was pre-Wikipedia, so I had to go to more than one website), gave the intro and Bender said it was one of the best ones she’d ever heard. I don’t know if she was just being nice, but it was nice and I appreciated it.

I can’t remember if we read any of Bender’s work for my workshop class or if I just listened pretty well during her reading, but I was drawn to her style. It’s very introspective and colorful and usually involves some fantastical elements inserted into normal life (at least the two novels of hers that I read). At the time it was also really inspiring because I felt like I was working towards a style similar to hers. A few years back I finally read her first novel, An Invisible Sign Of My Own, which I remember liking, but don’t remember many details of. Back when all the Borders closed down, I was at one and happened to see her latest novel The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake and had to buy it. Man, I’m glad I did. I had a wonderful experience reading this book.

The idea here is that, a young girl named Rose realizes she has the ability to taste the feelings of people making her food, but it’s really more about Rose, how she deals with this ability while also growing up the world AND dealing with her normal-on-the-surface-but-not-really family. See, Rose’s dad wanted a normal family, likes lists and wants everything simple and normal, but that’s not how life really is, especially the lives of the people in his house. Rose’s mom has this deep longing to find herself and deflects many of those feelings by loving her children intensely. Meanwhile, Rose’s brother is pretty shut off from the world, burying himself in books and science, but also has something odd going on that I won’t spoil, but turns out to be pretty crazy.

The book also deals with normal things like growing to understand the adult world, first loves gone bad and the responsibility many children feel to their parents. The beauty of Bender’s writing is that she can so seamlessly infuse these normal, relateable human moments with some pretty crazy elements. Being a comic book fan, I think I might have been a little more primed for this kind of book which shares a basic premise with John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew. I’d be curious to find out if people not in that camp would be able to get into the slightly off kilter world of this book.

Reading this book was a little like looking at a series of mirrors for me. I could relate to pretty much every character in this book on a very personal level that surprised me. It might just be a matter of happenstance, that the fears, insecurities, hopes and dreams running around in my head were so well represented in this book, but it’s there. One character’s desire to just fade away, another’s desire to tackle the world, the mom’s desire to find something outside of her family that fulfills her and even Rose’s appreciation for a simple dishwashing job. All those things are bouncing around my head at any given day, so it was a pleasure to see these things on the page.

I can’t recommend Bender’s work enough. As I mentioned when I wrote about Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, there are a lot of similarities in styles between these two women. It’s funny, while reading Bones I noted that Sebold’s style reminded me of Bender’s and this time, while reading Cake, Bender reminded me of Sebold. If you’re looking for an author who looks at things from a different perspective and explains them deftly with an expert use of language and sense memory, give The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake a read.

With Bender’s book crossed off the list, I’ve now moved on to Please Kill Me and am about 150 pages into this 430 page beast. I’m learning all kinds of stuff, some pretty crazy things and keeping track of records I want to check out. What a wild time. And after that? Well, I’ve already got my next Ambitious Reading List read to roll. It’s another dozen books of all different shapes, sizes and topics. I’m pretty excited, should be fun.

Casting Internets

Got behind on these again, but wanted to get this post up today. I’m heading off on vacation next week, but have posts lined up for every day. Enjoy!

As always, I’m talking to people about comics for CBR including Chris Roberson about his upcoming book Reign and Fiona Staples about Saga.

I also wrote this list for Topless Robot about the raddest mall scenes in movies. I had a blast writing and researching this one.

Sean T Collins wrote a comic called Hottest Chick In The Game, give it a look.

My pal Brett White has a new column at CBR called In Your Face Jam, check out the first post about Deadpool.Did you see Rickey Purdin’s drawing of Doc Holliday, Marty McFly and The Gunslinger? You really should follow him on Sketch Attack.

There’s gonna be a Bond documentary called Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, count me in on that one. (via SHH)Speaking of Bond, I want to get this book that features 50 years’ worth of 007 movie posters. Looks so rad. (via Illustrated 007)

If you’re not following Maude Apatow on Twitter you’re really missing out. I really dug her piece on Hello Giggles about the love/hate relationship with the social network site.

Bryan Grazer’s producing a documentary about Jay-Z’s upcoming festival that will also be directed by Ron Howard? That’s an amazing team-up. (via Rolling Stone, THR)I love this Lego Mad Love interpretation posted on Covered. Go look at the comparison.

I really enjoyed Ron Marz’s recent Shelf Life column on CBR about stealing as well as the one it inspired from Darren Kappauff. I’ve never understood how people don’t get that it’s stealing to have something you didn’t pay for or weren’t given. There are serious moral implications here even if it doesn’t seem like it.

I love this quote from Hugh Hefner about how current polities are threatening the sexual freedom he helped champion so many years ago, via my buddy Jim Gibbons. Go read it, now. Have you guys seen Doctor Who Yahtzee? Pretty rad. (via Doctor Who Merch)

RZA’s teaming up with the Black Keys on The Man With The Iron Fists soundtrack? Let’s make that a bigger thing, please. (via THR)

I’m really happy for Tom and Lorenzo. They’ve got a book coming out. Don’t know if it’s the kind of thing I’d buy, but I love browsing their site. DST‘s Star Trek Select figures look so rad they make me wish I was more of a Star Trek fan.

Speaking of action figures, this fake commercial for a line of G.I. Joe-like action figures based on The Thing is pretty amazing. (via Topless Robot)

Movie Memories: Seeing Spider-Man 2 As A Wizard Intern

Guys, I hate Spider-Man 2. I think it’s got great casting, some really funny moments and action scenes that are pretty stellar, but then there’s that big middle section that smashes you over the head with how crummy Peter Parker’s life is. I remember sitting in the the theater watching the film and pulling my hoodie over my eyes in pain. I thought I wasn’t the only one, but as it turned out, the movie is beloved. Whodathunkit.

Anyway, I’m not writing this post about the movie itself so much as the circumstances in which I saw it. Back in the summer of 2004, I was doing a nine week internship at Wizard. I was blown away by how cool the guys were both as people and co-workers (no one looked down on us just because we were interns). There were also a lot of perks I hadn’t really thought about. We got a discount at a nearby comic shop, access to all the new and old comics in the Wizard library and even a few random freebies that the writers or editors would pass our way (I have a Bowen Punisher bust from those days proudly displayed on my bookshelf to this day).

One of the really unexpected perks was going down to see Spider-Man 2 at a special screening in New York City. I could not tell you where it was, but it wasn’t a normal movie theater. I was walking along with a big group of Wizard dudes in NYC, a place I’d only been once at this point, and all of a sudden they’re like, “Hey we’re here.” I look over and they’re walking into a door that looks like just about any other one on a street of unassuming doors. Inside was a secret theater that Sony either owned or rented specifically for screenings like this. I believe there were some pretty impressive Marvel folks in the crowd as well, but I honestly can’t remember.

Aside from the movie I didn’t like, the memory that really sticks out is how cool the whole experience was. A group of us interns drove to the train station and met up with the other guys, walked around the city to a secret theater and saw a big time movie before anyone else (or most people, I’m sure there were a ton of these kinds of screenings). I’ve go on to meet a lot of cool people, get a lot of cool stuff and see a lot of cool things before other people, but you never forget that first time. I even remember walking down the street in jeans and a hoodie looking up at the night sky in NYC and just thinking how cool it felt. Good times.

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Over on Marvel.com I talked to Roger Stern about his five favorite Avengers. Considering how many awesome stories he wrote, this one was a big get for me and the column.

My pal Matt seems to be posting over on Saturday Morning Is Awesome again, check that shiz out.

Check out these James Bond book covers in Hebrew. Some really interesting designs here. (via Illustrated 007)

I’m not nearly as big a Disney fan as my wife and dad, but I would definitely like to go for Star Wars Weekend some time. Dig these crazy wallpapers they posted online this week.

I realized while making a playlist for Lucy’s birthday party that it’s been far too long since I’ve really listened to Offspring’s records. They’ve got a new one called Days Go By. I’m excited to go back and also check out this new one when it drops. Can you believe it’s been 20 years since Ignition came out?! (via Rolling Stone)

THR tells me that Anthony Bourdain’s novel Bone In The Throat will be turned into a film, I like the sound of that.

Reading Leon Hendrix talking about his brother Jimi on Rolling Stone was interesting. Jimi’s such a mythical figure you almost assume he just sprang out of the ether and started shredding, so it’s interesting to hear about him as a young dude.

I’m not the biggest Community fan in the world, but I thought Dan Harmon‘s open letter about getting laid off from the series he created was interesting.

I’m not sure who tweeted this After The Final Curtain link, but these photos of the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre which eventually turned into a furniture storage place were super interesting. I’ve added the site to my RSS feeds, can’t wait to see what else they’ve got coming up.

Rolling Stone posted this interview with Adam Horovitz about his fallen brother and Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, it was pretty moving. I can’t imagine losing a friend you’ve known for so long and also had such creative chemistry with.

The Hollywood Reporter did a long feature about ALF creator Paul Fusco and I was fascinated. Give that guy another shot at the big time, Hollywood.

Casting Internets

I’ve been doing more off-line reading lately (hence today’s About A Boy review) and the kid’s been exploring her sleeping options lately, so I haven’t been sitting down and reading things on the computer as much lately. Anyway, here’s the things I dug from the past few weeks.

First of all, my wife made a fantastic photo collage for our daughter’s first birthday. I warn you, it’s 16 minutes. I won’t feel bad if you don’t watch…much.

I talked to Robert Kirkman about the 100th issue of Walking Dead, Geoff Johns and Jim Fletcher about DC Collectibles and Steven T. Seagle about Batula. My dude Rickey Purdin did such an awesome job with this Street Fighter piece over on the Sketch Attack job that I want it on my wall.

I enjoyed this Robot 6 interview with Kevin Huizenga.

Rolling Stone posted this 2006 feature about Fall Out Boy talking about them rising to stardom. That’s about the time I started listening to it, so it was fun reading it, especially now that they’ve broken up.

Chris Cornell talked to Rolling Stone recently about the upcoming Soundgarden record and the song they created for The Avengers. I really, really like this James Bond 50th Anniversary poster by Max Dalton (who sounds like a Bond character himself).

Get yourself frozen in Carbonite at this year’s Star Wars Weekend!

I’ve been catching up on every episode of The Nerdist Writer’s Panel which focuses on TV writers, so this THR photo batch about show runners was very interesting. Lots of crossover.

I just heard today that Van Halen cancelled the rest of their tour mysteriously. Glad my dad and I saw them when we did. Anyway, before all that Esquire did interviews with Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen that I found enjoyable. I love these OMFG figures from October Toys.

I have a lot of ideas for a post about MCA’s passing, but while I’m still organizing all those thoughts, I really enjoyed Perry Farrell’s take on things for Rolling Stone. I am fascinated by that late 80s heavy LA club scene, man.

I’m not what you’d call a Gin Blossoms fan by any means, but I found lead singer Robin Wilson’s very realistic and honest take on the 90s nostalgia that he’s a part of refreshing (via Rolling Stone).

One more Rolling Stone link, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid started a jazz fusion supergroup with Jack Bruce, John Medeski and Cindy Blackman Santana. This makes me VERY excited. Oh goodness, Joao Carlos Vieira’s Spaceman Spiff drawing for Ashcan Allstars was AMAAAAAAAZING.

Wired‘s look at an old school fortune cookie factory was pretty darn interesting.

Neil Marshall is great, so I’m excited that he’s working on something called The Last Voyage Of The Demeter, which is about the boat that Dracula rode in to get from Transylvania! Sounds rad.  (via THR)

I will be studying Esquire‘s list of six summer cocktails, but I’ll probably just wind up drinking strange mixtures of whatever I have on hand.

Oops, here’s one more Rolling Stone link, apparently there’s a whole album of Joey Ramone tracks ready to be released called …ya know? I really like Don’t Worry About Me and of course everything Ramones, so this should be interesting.

Finally, Louis CK has some more awesome stuff on sale for $5, check it out!

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My friends Alex and Elizabeth and their bandmates in The Faulkner Detectives just got signed to Livid Records!

I need to get some bitters so I can try Michael Ruhlman‘s recipe for an Old Fashioned.

I love what Mark Waid is doing with Thrillbent (which launches in a few days now that I think about it). It’s really interesting reading this post about changing how he writes for the new format.

I’ve never heard of Pajiba.com, but I thought this post written by Dustin Rowles about how pop culture sites make money off of annoying pop up ads was really interesting and surprisingly honest.

Wired posted this piece about why the Super Mario movie sucked. Very interesting stuff. I love behind the scenes explanations. The most surprising bit? How little Nintendo seemed to care about the whole thing.

The timing on this one was pretty funny, just after my wife and I purchased a used 2012 Mazda 5, GeekDad did a post about buying the same car!

Jack White is creating these core for The Lone Ranger flick. Not really interested in that movie as of now, but this is a very interesting move. (via Variety)

Speaking of White, Rolling Stone gave his first solo record Blunderbuss a really glowing review, making me even more excited to get my digital hands on it.

Wynton Marsalis isn’t my favorite jazz guy around, but the idea of him teaming up with Paul Simon is very intriguing. I’d like to hear how those tunes turned out. (via Rolling Stone)

Speaking of epic team-ups I read about on Rolling Stone, the Johnny Cash tribute concert featuring Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow sounds pretty fantastic as well. They even covered a Highwaymen song with Nelson, Shooter Jennings and Kris Kristofferson!

I agree with Robot 6‘s Tom Bondurant (aka Grumpy Old Fan) when he says that DC keeping Batman and Green Lantern continuity mostly the same creates only headaches for the New 52. His assessment of the continuity for those two properties before and after the reboot seem pretty right on.

Finally, congrats on The Fwoosh‘s 10th anniversary. Head over and check out their celebration of a decade on the nets.

How Seeing Van Halen Changed My Life (For Now)

I’ve talked about this both on The Monkee Diaries and over on Pop Poppa, but my dad and I went down to Madison Square Garden on March 1st to see Van Halen play. The whole shebang was a birthday present for me that was fantastic and I thank them both for making it happen. I’ve got to say, it was kind of a revelatory experience for several reasons, not the least of which was that we got to see one of the all time greatest guitar players of all time playing better than he has in years. Eddie Van Halen has gone through some well publicized struggles with substance abuse that have turned a legitimate guitar god into a guy who can barely remember songs while playing in front of thousands of people. It seems like he’s gotten  himself cleaned up and genuinely had fun playing music with his brother, son and old pal David Lee Roth.

And that’s kind of what stuck with me after the show–in addition to the fact that he looked good with longer hair and inspired me to keep working with mine instead of chopping it all off–he was having fun. Here was a dude who’s done pretty much everything a rock and roll icon can do and he’s standing on stage in a T-shirt and jeans just killing the audience, annihilating us.

I realized that I want to do that. Not wail on a guitar, though I do enjoy turning my volume way up and banging out some tunes, but not up to his level. I want to enjoy myself through my work. One of the problems with being a freelancer for the same place for an extended period of time is that you can very easily get stuck on autopilot. When I worked at ToyFare and then later did freelance for them, I found myself falling into the same patterns of writing over and over and over again, almost like filling in the parts of an equation. But, that’s not necessary. There’s always more fun and life you can inject into something, whether it’s figuring out a new word for “said” or challenging yourself to find creative ways to stay in the present tense.

I also realized that I have a lot more control over how happy I feel on a daily basis than I was letting myself believe. I think I have a bit of Seasonal Defective Disorder and get down in the dumps during the winter without even realizing it. I think I’m feeling fine, but a few months later when the sun starts shining and the snow melts, you realize that you were not in fact feeling great. The weather has turned pretty nice where I live and it was timed perfectly with the concert. I decided that there were two many things I was letting slide in my normal life. I spent so much time focusing on the baby or work that I wasn’t taking as much care of myself as I should have. Showers would fall to the wayside as would the vitamins I take because I don’t get outside as much as I should. As regular readers here and on my other blogs will note, so would posting, which is something I do quite enjoy. So, I made a daily checklist of tasks I want to tackle and have been sticking to that pretty well. I also set up different household chores to do during each day of the week to help keep the house in better shape. These are little things and I can move them around if need be, but I do very much enjoy crossing things off lists, so this method works for me. Another key is that I don’t beat myself up too bad for not crossing something off. Failing one day isn’t failing life, you know?

But, and this is more directly related back to watching Eddie do what he loves in front of thousands of people, I realized I needed to make my creative endeavors a bigger priority in my life. A lot of that fell to the side with the baby and me being tired after a day of working and babywatching. I’ve refocused myself with much more defined goals. I want to finish the novel I’m working on. I want to edit the screenplays I’ve been sitting on for a year. I want to record at least three songs that I’ve been playing for pretty much myself for years. I want to move on to writing other ideas I’ve had forever. I want to start a podcast. There’s a lot of creative things I want to do just for the sake of being creative and getting ideas out there that I now am a lot more focused on.

And it’s all thanks to a concert. I know it sounds silly, it sounds a little silly to me too. I’ve been to lots of concerts and none of them hit me anywhere near this way. But, I think I was just in the perfect place to learn something from someone who’s lived longer than me and done a lot. So, while I know I’ll never meet Eddie Van Halen or maybe even see him again live in concert, I thank him for being a good example, sticking with what he loved and playing a mean guitar.