Thursday, December 13, 2012

Director's Commentary II

(Nighttime at the Yukinori household. XUM is again seated at a modest desk in his den dictating notes in his digital recorder. NAMIKO enters carrying a wide, flat, and worn cardboard box. XUM turns toward her, placing the recorder on the desk, forgetting to turn it off.)

NAMIKO: Hey, Xum. I was going through some old boxes for Goodwill donations, and look what I found.

XUM: My old manhua file! I wondered what happened to that.

(NAMIKO sets the box on the desk and starts picking out some yellowed, zipatone-crusted art pages.)

NAMIKO: You showed me a few pieces before, but I haven't seen everything. There actually isn't much here...

XUM: Well, the studio wouldn't let me keep much of the original art. I've got a bunch of semi-legible photocopies boxed away... somewhere. They did let me keep some sketches and thumbnails, and...

NAMIKO: And this.

(NAMIKO pulls out an A5-sized piece of watercolor paper in a mylar sleeve, which makes it the most prestine-looking piece in the box. XUM draws a breath.)

XUM: Oh, wow... "The Last Time I Saw Dan."

(XUM sits silently for a beat, looking at the india-ink image on the paper, his eyes drawn to the twin pools of green acryllics that are the focus of the piece. NAMIKO touches her husband's shoulder gingerly.)

NAMIKO: So when are you going to blog about that?

XUM: I already blogged about...

NAMIKO: ...the last time you had "seen and touched" Dan, I know. You know what I mean.

XUM: I don't know for sure what I saw at the Malaysian...

NAMIKO: I don't mean your near encounter with the... whatzit called? Pollyanna...?

XUM: Pontianak.

NAMIKO: Right. That's what you said it was.

XUM: To be clear, I didn't say I saw a pontianak for sure. The bomoh who cleansed the Malaysian Security Exchange Commission building said there was a pontianak there. What I saw was just a quick glance of...

NAMIKO: But who knows what would have happened if you didn't look away, and decided to follow...

XUM: Well, if it was a pontianak, I wouldn't be here now.

NAMIKO: You honestly believe that?

XUM: I do. Many people there believe it too. I remember the Malaysian government seriously discussing establishing laws to govern the use of "black magic." (A pause.) And there were a number of weird things happening in that building before the bomoh came. Elevators and lights going wonky, and the like. The bomoh said there were a number of other spirits making mischief in...

NAMIKO: (Laughter.)

XUM: What?

NAMIKO: You. (Her fingers make air quotes as she mimicks XUM's voice.) "Making mischief." I mean, who says that? (Laughter.)

XUM: I do.

NAMIKO: Mm-hmm. You sure do. (Her fingers lightly touch a corner of the drawing's plastic covering. Her voice now takes a serious tone.) I know why you are dodging my question, Xum... but you should really tell that story. I mean, that was an amazing thing you went through.

XUM: I... I'll think about it.

NAMIKO: Okay. (She smiles a wicked grin.) I don't suppose you are thinking of "making some mischief" with me right now?

XUM: Do you have to ask?

(XUM snaps off the recorder while NAMIKO snaps off the lights. CUT TO BLACK.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Secrets of a Super-Hero Sketch Artist: This Is a Job for... the Voiceman!





The latest theme of "The Line It Is Drawn" (a feature of the "Comics Should Be Good" blog on the ComicBookResources.com website) was in honor of the 50-year anniversary of James Bond films, so comic book fans were asked to submit Twitter suggestions for pairing or "mashing up" comic book characters with James Bond characters.

One suggestion in particular caught my eye: "James Bond tries to seduce Wonder Woman." It would answer the age-old question of what happens when the irresistible force meets the unseducable object. However, it was another suggestion, "James Bond infiltrates the Hall of Doom to steal a microchip," that inspired me to use the SuperFriends version of Wonder Woman for the piece. So the scenario was fairly obvious: an Alex Toth SuperFriends-style James Bond would make a pass at Wonder Woman while they were searching for a microchip on the Hall of Doom. As I started to sketch another one of my usual mock covers, based on the SuperFriends "TV Comic" from the 1970s and 1980s, I reasoned that it would be more fitting to make this submission a mock animation cel that would look as if it had been from the SuperFriends programme itself.

So the dialogue that I had intended for the comic cover idea would not go to waste, I also decided to mock up a fake SuperFriends episode script to add to the drawing.

I had just finished the final Photoshop adjustments to the piece when I felt Namiko's hand on my shoulder.

"That looks really good," she said, regarding the image on my Wacom tablet screen. "I can see your style in it."

I mulled my wife's words for a brief moment. It wasn't my style but Alex Toth's that I was aiming for, but her compliment was sincere. "Thanks," I replied.

"But you know who should really look at it?"

"Indeed I do." I clicked open my Internet browser window, where a draft e-mail to Shannon Farnon was awaiting an attachment.

Some of you may realize that I have had the privilege of interviewing Shannon Farnon, the original voice of Wonder Woman on the SuperFriends programme, for the ToonZone website a few years back. When I started conducting interviews with animation voice actors for the old Comics2Film website in the early naughties, I eventually considered Shannon Farnon to be the "holy grail" of voice-actor interviews. This was probably due to the fifth issue of Back Issue, a comic-book-related interview magazine, which featured a spotlight on Wonder Woman on television. The magazine included a series of interviews from almost all of the actresses that had portrayed the Amazing Amazon up until that time. One of the few actresses not featured was Shannon, which was a surprise to me. Shannon was in my mind the quintessential Wonder Woman. She was the first actress to play the role in a regular series, and I always heard her voice in my head when I read Wonder Woman dialogue in comic books. The only plausible explanation I could think of for her omission in Back Issue #5 was that she was extremely difficult to find. Unfortunately, life and work had displaced the free time I had devoted to the Comics2Film interviews, so it would be a number of years before I would start to even think about tracking Shannon down.

Thanks to the website Toonzone, I had managed to make connections with some inside people from both Warner Brothers Studios and the Cartoon Network. So when time freed up for me get back to animation interviews, Shannon was at the top of my list. As seasons of the SuperFriends programme were starting to be released on DVD by Warner Home Video at the time, I e-mailed my contact at Warners and asked what my chances were in locating Shannon Farnon for an interview. He responded with a phone number to a Hollywood talent agency and a simple message to "ask for Samantha; she'll hook you up."

I had done so, and 20 minutes later Shannon herself had called me on my mobile to schedule a time. It was the easiest interview I had ever arranged. And I am honored to say that Shannon and I have stayed in regular contact since.

Elated upon receiving an e-mail from Shannon regarding how much she liked the piece, I felt surprisingly bold enough to suggest we create a dialogue sound clip to add to this week's submission, whereby Shannon would reprise her Wonder Woman role and rebuff Bond's advances. She agreed, to my delight.

My face lit up as I made Namiko the third to know. She had one question.

"So who is going to do Bond?"

Now I was by no means a master vocal impressionist, but I had been told that my mimicry of the Sean Connery James Bond, inspired by my first viewing of a Bond film (which, interestingly enough, was a re-showing of the first Bond film, "Dr. No," at a London cinema in December 1979), was dead on. I remembered making my best friend Dan shoot Sarsi out of her nose one time at a London eatery when I used my "Connery voice" to re-enact an old Sesame Street routine with Simon the Soundman ordering a "buck buck buck ba-caw sandwich."

Namiko cocked her head to one side at my response. "Come again?"

"I am going to play Bond," I repeated. "You heard my impression of Sean Connery."

"I heard your impression of Sean Connery playing the Swedish Chef," she said with an amused smirk."And that was a few years ago. I never heard you do Sean Connery as Bond."

"Really?"

"Really." There was a playful flicker in her dark chocolate eyes. "C'mon. Let's hear it. Use your line to 'seduce' me."

I brushed Namiko's mock sarcasm aside as I stepped behind her. Encircling my arms around her slim waist, I pressed my lips softly against her right ear, tightened my thyroarytenoid muscles, and purred in my best British-Scottish accent:

"I don't suppose, Wonder Woman, that I could interest you to be a SuperFriend with... benefits?"

Namiko tried to suppress a giggle, which escaped as an audible snort from her nose. Then she nearly doubled over with laughter.

"What? The line's not that funny."

She took a few moments to regain some semblance of composure. "I'm sorry," she gasped, "who are you supposed to be again?"

I shifted my voice once more. "Bond... James Bond."

She shook her head. "English... Johnny English." I could see the seriousness behind her smile.

Another thing I love about Namiko: I can always count on her to cash my reality checks. Even spending much of the next day listening and repeating various Bond YouTube video clips hardly improved the situation.

"So what are you going to do?" Namiko eventually asked. "Shannon is, of course, the big deal with the audio extra, but you can't use it for a Bond tribute without Bond."

As always, Namiko was right. I deliberated for a moment. "I think I know someone who can help."

My Warner contact had on a number of occasions told me about Will Rodgers, a long-time SuperFriends fan who had compiled the most extensive and complete SuperFriends episode guide I had ever seen on the interwebs. In fact, his guide had served as key research for my Shannon Farnon interview (and, sadly, was no longer online). The Warner contact had also told me that Will was a radio personality nicknamed "The Voiceman" due to his talent for impersonating various voices -- including several cast members of the SuperFriends programme, as well as suave-sounding actors like Larry Hagman and Adam West. So I reasoned that James Bond shouldn't be too much of a stretch for him.

I had managed to first connect with Will myself via a SuperFriends-themed fan message board a few years ago, and a simple Facebook message connected us again. Will was more than happy to help out, though he admitted he had never portrayed Sean Connery before. And while the recordings he quickly turned around were not dead-on Connery, his voice did carry the Bond smugness perfectly. As an added bonus, Will's take had a little hint of Michael Rye (voice actor for the SuperFriends Green Lantern and Apache Chief roles) which added more realism to my fake clip; if James Bond ever did appear on the SuperFriends, one of the regular cast members such as Rye would have provided the voice.

You can check out the the finished version of the mock SuperFriends animation cel, and the fake audio clip, by scrolling down on this “Line” web page. I cannot thank Shannon and Will enough for bringing life to my 41st submission to "The Line It Is Drawn" — especially on such short notice. And thank you for your interest in this fun little lark that, along with the blog, allows me to exercise the right side of my brain on a regular basis.

And if the "Line" ever decides to do a Johnny English tribute, I am so there!

[NOTE: In the recent Comic Book Resources website update, the audio file on the "line" web page has been lost. You can now listen to the audio clip here.]

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wish I Was There, Episode 2: Feeling "EPIC!"

The man had been waiting a while now. No, not that man, but a good friend of "the man" from previous entries, though I do understand the confusion. So perhaps I shouldn't refer to him as "the man" here. Therefore, I will highlight a key attribute of the protagonist and hereby refer to this person as "the ginger-haired man." (Catchy name, no?)

Now then...

The ginger-haired man had been waiting a while now, as have the other comic convention attendees standing in the long queue with him. The crowd had started to get a little restless at the realization that the object of their wait would be arriving "fashionably late." But several people had managed to entertain themselves by discussing possible scenarios to explain the person's delayed arrival. They ranged from the realistic (press junket at the entrance, phoning in voice-over ADR from his hotel room) to the far-fetched (stepped out to quickly quell a disturbance on Melva IV). The ginger-haired man had his smartphone and a list of unattended e-mails to occupy his wait time, so he only half-listened, smiling with amusement at the creativity surrounding him. Finally, the queue began to move, signalling that the awaited guest had finally arrived.

The line snaked steadily through the maze of retractable belt barricades. It would be about 15 minutes before the ginger-haired man would be able to first catch a glimpse of the person he had came to see. A bald, septuagenarian British gentleman was seated at an autograph table, talking briefly to fans at the head of the line, signing his name on photographs, action figures, and other memorabilia that bared his likeness -- or at least had an association to his most recognized role in both television and cinema as a stalwart starship captain.

As the ginger-haired man approached closer, his mind struggled to contain a rising excitement, and apprehension. His previous experiences with meeting famous people had been... awkward, to say the least. He did not want this rare opportunity to be spoiled by inconversable nervousness, or worse, by "geeking out" over the gentleman's science fiction show. So while waiting in line he had been going over in his head everything he wanted to say when he finally met the gentleman. He wanted to talk about how he greatly admired his acting, and not just for his most famous television role, but also his lesser-known yet amazing work that he had seen on stage and had heard on British radio -- in particular, the recent Money Supermarket "Epic" adverts in which the gentleman's atypical delivery made them all the more brilliant. All of these thoughts were mentally articulated and rehearsed and memorized and arranged neatly in his brain, ready for recitation. Just like in college when he would force his mind to absorb and file a hefty chunk of information in preparation for an exam. However, when he handed his autograph ticket to the show volunteer and was ushered to the autograph table, the ginger-haired man was suddenly awed by the sheer presence of the gentleman seated before him -- as long as it took him to find his voice.

"Uh... Hi," the ginger-haired man managed to say.

"How are you?" The gentleman's accented voice was warm and even, yet bold and powerful enough to send the ginger-haired man's neat mental stack of talking points tumbling around in his brain.

Just like cramming for an exam, except to the ginger-haired man, the exam was now over, and everything he had memorized was suddenly forgotten.

Fortunately, he could focus on the piece he had brought for the gentleman to sign: the main reason he had purchased an autograph ticket and stood in line for the past 45 minutes instead of milling with the rest of the crowd about the convention floor. The ginger-haired man presented a color print of a "mock comic book cover" illustration that featured the actor, politely asking the gentleman to make an autograph out to the man who created it.

“He’s a big fan,” the ginger-haired man explained.

The gentleman peered down at the artwork at his fingertips, noting a depiction of himself in his most popular role, literally doing the impossible.




“Oh, I see…” he smiled. The tip of the gentleman’s silver-ink Sharpee glided across the glossy coating of the photo paper, forming a dedication to the artist followed by his own signature.

The ginger-haired man graciously thanked the gentleman. "When he gets this, he is going to feel ‘epic’ -- that's for sure."



The gentleman's eyes flickered with recognition of the reference to his Money Supermarket voice-over work. His face and voice beamed. “That’s great,” he said sincerely. He looked once more at the illustration. “How I wish I could do that in real life,” he mused.

The ginger-haired man returned the gentleman’s smile. “Maybe someday, you will,” he replied, thinking of the potential roles the gentleman has yet to play, and the power of modern movie magic. It would be a short while later, after he made his departure from the signature station, that the ginger-haired man would bite his lip upon the realization that he didn’t verbally express that last part.

But right now, the ginger-haired man thanked the gentleman again and held out his right hand as he said his goodbye. The gentleman didn’t return the handshake as expected, surprisingly using his left hand to gently squeeze the ginger-haired man’s, smiling warmly. “Take care, now.”

"Thank you. You too."

(The ginger-haired man would later discover from a convention volunteer that the gentleman was suffering from severe arthritis that day and thus shouldn't be shaking hands. The ginger-haired man never suspected it at the time [a virtuoso display of the gentleman's craft], and was deeply honored that the gentleman had accepted his hand anyway.)


******

The illustration that the ginger-haired man held also depicted the gentleman's primary nemesis in his signature television series, and the American actor that portrayed this one-letter-named character was seated behind a table next to that of the gentleman, also signing autographs. So he Q-ed... er, queued up to meet him as well.

The ginger-haired man again felt that familiar pang of nervous apprehension as he approached the American actor. Admittedly, he wasn't familiar with the American actor's body of work outside of the role depicted in the illustration, some audio books, and a few animation voice-over parts. While in the queue he had tried to come up with what he would hope to be a unique question to ask the actor. Having seemingly failed in that task (more likely due to an abundance of self-criticism than lack of creativity), he decided to simply engage in "small talk" and let the artwork serve as the unique aspect of the brief conversation.

The actor regarded the drawing for a moment before he lifted his black pen.

"How about here?" he began, pointing to one of the few lighter-colored areas of the illustration, which was actually the face of his character's "partner" in the comic book cover fantasy scenario. "Is that good?"

"Yeah, that's fine," the ginger-haired man said. He actually wanted to say "appropriate." Having the actor's signature obscure the other illustrated adversary's face, and thus leave his character's visage unblemished, hinted a sly deviousness that befitted his most famous role.





The ginger-haired man thanked the actor before making way for the next fan. He paused for a moment to look back at the still-massive autograph queue behind him -- the slow rat race he patiently endured -- and smiled with satisfaction before disappearing into the convention crowd.

[The previous dramatization, and hopefully accurate depiction, of events is in recognition and appreciation for the great lengths the ginger-haired man had gone through at the 2012 Wizard World Ohio Con in order to present me with this wonderful gift. Words cannot possibly express the extent of my gratitude, so I will simply say thank you to the Ginger-Haired Man, Sir Patrick Stewart and Mr. John De Lancie -- thank you for making me feel "epic."]


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

That’s My Boy!

A few of you reading this blog had already pointed out to me that the timelines between when my son Isamu was born and when I had met Namiko didn’t quite match up. And while I have eventually explained the discrepancy, some people are still asking me why I referred to Isamu as “my” son when I blogged about the reality of Santa Claus, when it is clear that I am not his biological father.

This question reminded me of one of my first da—outings with both Namiko and Isamu in 2005. We were taking advantage of the “Indian Summer” in the Bay Area to go kite flying in Crissy Field. Namiko was deftly handling the kite string while I sat on the grass watching. Isamu was next to me, strapped in his shaded stroller, gurgling and laughing as his tiny hands reached out and tried to follow the movement of the kite as it swooped and danced in the Saturday afternoon sky.

Then it happened. Most likely a combination of a very strong Pacific wind and my selection of a very old kite string. Suffice to say, the kite broke free from its restraint and pinwheeled off to the far side of the field.

I was momentarily distracted by the sight of Namiko’s shapely form running after the errant kite, until I was reminded of a special ability that is likely inherent in most 11-month-olds: the power to sense the nearby presence of the mother, as well as a built-in alarm system that activates when the mother is physically out of range.

I quickly unstrapped the crying child and brought him to my shoulder in a feeble attempt to comfort him, and to my surprise he calmed down immediately. Isamu then turned towards the kite, still in the air. He pointed and giggled at it while it continued its slow spinning freefall.

It was then that a pair of older women paused in their powerwalk to admire Isamu. They approached us and made cute faces and waves, all to the child’s delight.

“Your son is beautiful,” one of the women said.

And in some Schr√∂dinger-inspired parallel universe, I responded with: “Oh, he’s not really my son. He belongs to a woman I’m dating. Well, she wouldn’t exactly say we were dating, but we go out often. And we have kissed a few times. So we are more than friends. Um… she’s not here right now…” And most likely I was faced with some perplexed stares, with one of the women perhaps reaching for her mobile to report what she perceived to be a kidnapping in progress.

But in the world we know as ours, I simply replied, “Thank you.”

Now, one of the reasons I said that was because it was easier (and I didn’t want to be hauled off to jail). But another, more important reason, is that I actually did feel very proud of Isamu at that moment. The way he smiled, and laughed, and made the women gush as they resumed their exercise with a cute little “bye-bye” wave. I had to admit, I used to have an indifferent attitude towards children, but ever since he first snatched my finger, Isamu had stolen my heart.

A short while later, Namiko returned with the stringless kite.

“Everything okay here?” she asked. Isamu was still in my arms, playfully tugging at my hair.

“Just fine,” I said. “He cried a little when you ran off, but…”

“Oh, yeah. He does that when I leave him at day care. Usually takes him an hour to calm down…” her voice cut off as surprise immediately surfaced on her face. “Wow, he must really like you. He’s not even reaching out for me to take him.” Her voice had a slight hint of disappointment lining the amazement.

“Well, the feeling’s mutual.” I said. “Do you want to take him while I restring the kite?”

“And interrupt this big male-bonding moment? No way!” she smiled.

I’d like to believe that’s when Isamu first considered me as a father to him. It’s definitely when Isamu first felt like a son to me. As Isamu grew, he’s always known the truth about his parentage, but we don’t see a need to diminish the importance of our relationship with more technically accurate terms like “step-father” or “step-son”.  While I may not be his father, I am Isamu’s dad.

And while Isamu may not be my flesh-and-blood, he is my son.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wish I Was There, Episode 1: Blocking the Aisle

I was sorting through my e-mail and came across an old one by a departed friend of mine which contained the following story, which I am at liberty to share with you:

"I was invited to my friend's sister's wedding, and one of the young boy-relatives (about 10-ish, I think) was tasked with carrying the cross down the aisle at church. He didn't seem eager to do it. I overheard the boy's dad saying that it's just like Gandalf carrying the staff (guess the kid liked the LOTR [Lord of the Rings] movies), and that made the boy more excited to do it.

"Well, the church music starts playing, and the boy is lifting the cross proudly as he lead the priest and altar boys down the aisle. And when he gets halfway, he suddenly turns around, clonks the base of the cross on the floor, and yells:

"'YOOOOOOOUUUU SHALL NOT PAASSSSSSS!'

"Long story short, they had to start over."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Exploration

February 12, 2006.

The man had been laying there for several minutes, gazing with dreamy fascination at the woman beside him. He could not recall exactly when he had fallen in love with her, but then, that wasn’t really important. What matters was that he had, and that the woman had done the same with him. While the woman’s eyes were closed in the dim, early morning twilight, the man’s were savoring every square inch of the woman’s peaceful face, capturing every detail of the afterglow for as long as his memory would hold it. The man was mildly disappointed that the rest of the shapely luxury he had recently experienced was concealed beneath the amorphous crests of the thick comforter of her bed.

His slender hand slowly swept over the woman’s warm caramel curves as he snuggled closer to her beneath the bed sheet. He thought she was asleep, but he felt a shudder and heard her low voice as his hand settled on a soft spot in the center of her belly.

“Don’t… please,” she said slowly. Then, with a whisper of disgust, “It’s so ugly.”

The very small area of skin – no larger than the man’s palm – surrounding her belly button was the softest part of the woman’s body. But this skin was spongy, and crinkled like crepe – its elasticity lost from having been stretched just a little too much. The woman’s great revulsion at this tiny imperfection started to tear at the man’s heart.

The man slipped deeper under the sheet, causing the heavy comforter atop it to slide off of the bed. He barely felt the cool air of the room as he moved his lips to her very warm belly. “How can you call this ugly?” he asked. “It’s beautiful. It’s from carrying Isamu.”

The woman allowed a faint smile at the name of her handsome son who was (hopefully) sleeping in the nursery down the hall. Her thoughts about the look of her belly had remained relatively unchanged, but she at least expressed some comfort from the man’s words. “How do you always know the right thing to say?” she asked.

“I don’t,” the man replied. “I’m just being honest.” And he was.

The man bent down to kiss the spot again, and while he thought his second kiss was the same as the first, it wasn’t. Somehow it unintentionally tickled her.

“Stop that!” she giggled, tearing the bed sheet away. “Get up here!”

The man propped his head on an elbow as he laid beside the woman, who edged closer so she could whisper in his ear. “While we are being honest, I should let you know that this wasn’t my… first time,” she teased.

The man bristled a little at the remark, even though he knew the underlying jibe about his just-lost virginity was good-natured. “That’s okay,” he chuckled. “I’m glad one of us knew what they were doing.”

She smiled at the man’s quick-witted retort. “You seemed to know what you were doing last night,” she sighed truthfully.

“You are too kind,” he replied, bringing her mouth to meet his. As he tasted her spicy skin, the man’s mind spun back to the previous evening with the woman. To their “early-Valentine’s” candlelight dinner at the French restaurant. To their more-flirty-than-usual conversations despite the company of the one-year-old seated in the high chair between them. To their return to the woman’s house for tea and settling the little boy down to sleep. And to the woman’s silent reveal on why she insisted they do not exchange Valentine’s gifts. Her ravenous kisses informed him that, instead of unwrapping presents, she would rather they unwrap each other.

The man didn’t plan for that, and while both his love and passion for the woman flared in his heart, physically he wasn’t sure of himself in that particular way. But he most certainly was not unwilling, though he secretly wished he had some experience like his very eager companion. At least he felt that he started off fairly well, using initial moves that mirrored much of what he had remembered from watching love scenes in movies (the ones from an earlier time which emphasized foreplay). But the man knew he would come to a point where he would have to go further, and those “later steps” of the actors’ lovemaking usually transpired off-screen as the scene would abruptly cut to the following morning. Fortunately, the woman’s warm touch and soft voice helped suppress his wariness, allowing the man to boldly let his lips and fingers slowly explore, taking cues from the woman’s breath and body on which direction to go. It took them what seemed to be a long time, but eventually all of the man’s insecurities fell away as he and the woman formed a mutual rhythm. Throughout the night they both lost themselves, and found each other.

The man returned to the present as he felt the warmth of the woman’s hand run over his right shoulder and down his back. Her hand hesitated as it brushed over a rough dimple midway down his ribcage. While the nickel-sized scar had long-since healed, it held the woman’s concerned attention as she sat up and lightly examined it with her fingertips. “What is that?” she asked softly. She had never seen a bullet wound before.

The man winced at the slight twinge of numbness that surrounded the woman’s touch. “It’s nothing,” he began, then corrected himself. “Well, not ‘nothing.’ I’ll tell you later. I don’t want to spoil the mood…”

Her hand moved to the man’s temple and stroked his greying hair gently. “Mmm… wanna experience your second time, do you?”

As he let the woman push him down, a question crossed the man’s mind. “What did I ever do to deserve a woman like this?”

The man couldn’t answer it.

He still can't.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Director’s Commentary

(XUM’s den at home. XUM is seated at a modest desk dictating notes in a digital recorder while NAMIKO sits on a sofa behind him reading a printout of his next blog.)

NAMIKO: (Pointing to a paragraph in the middle of the page.) I can’t believe you are thinking of including this part.

XUM: Too much?

NAMIKO: Definitely too much.

XUM: That’s why I always have you read these first. Sometimes I get too… passionate.

NAMIKO: Hmm. I also thought you said that your blog is not intended to give advice.

XUM: Giving advice? Is that how you read that? I was just explaining how I…

NAMIKO: Uh, huh… And isn’t this blog supposed to be “family friendly”?

XUM: I thought what I wrote there was discreet and tasteful. You should see the first draft.

NAMIKO: Mmmm… you have a spicier version?

XUM: Spicy! That’s the word I wanted to use. Please hand that to me.

(NAMIKO hands the printout to XUM, who jots the word “spicy” on one line with a red pen.)

NAMIKO: (Reading the edit.) What? Oh, my! Is that supposed to be a compliment? (Laughter.)

XUM: I would say it describes the experience.

NAMIKO: The “experience”? (Laughter.) If you say so. Salt is a spice, isn’t it?

XUM: Here, would it be better if I take out these details about you and make it more about me?

NAMIKO: Xum, this is all about you.

XUM: (Laughter.)

NAMIKO: Say, you didn’t mention how I first noticed your…

XUM: On purpose. I don’t want to talk about that.

NAMIKO: Why not? It’s a good story, when you finally told me.

XUM: I don’t know if I want to share that with…

NAMIKO: Oh, come on. That’s pretty tame compared to what you’ll be revealing in this one, “Stitzer.”

XUM: Hmm…

NAMIKO: Tell you what. If you include that part, I’ll let you keep this section about your “not advice”… provided you tone it down a bit more.

XUM: I’ve already decided to take that part out.

NAMIKO: Really? You’ve got to admit, this blog entry is much stronger if you keep it in.

XUM: And that’s why I included it in the first place.

NAMIKO: So you’ll do it?

XUM: I… Let me think about it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

First Dance

October 2005

“Namiko? Wake up.”

She had dozed off in the car as I was driving her to the Caltrain station after our seventh date (and I considered all of our outings together as dates, even though she would not). She had been yawning from the moment I picked her up at the Ferry Building earlier that evening, apologizing with an explanation that she hasn’t had enough sleep. I was content with cancelling our plans so she could get some rest, but she insisted she wanted to spend time with me that Friday evening. So we continued the drive to the Kabuto restaurant in Richmond.

Tired as she was, it was up to me to keep up the lion’s share of the conversation through dinner, and I had done my best — even though I knew she was paying as much attention to me as she was to her entree, eating only a small amount of the sashimi teishoku in front of her and gently prodding the rest of it with her chopsticks. While I always enjoyed Namiko’s company, and was glad about how much she wanted to be with me, I could see her struggling to smile as she half-listened to my monologue of recent life events, and I felt a twinge of guilt with each listless look she gave me with her very dark eyes.

This was a mistake.

Namiko reluctantly agreed. We decided to forgo our plans for dessert at Joe’s Ice Cream and call it an evening.

“Please wake up.”

Namiko's lovely body arched as she stretched herself awake in the passenger seat. Then she immediately sat bolt upright when she realized that we weren’t at the Castro station, but in front of her home.

“Wait. How did you…?” She suddenly seemed more alert than she had been all evening; I wasn’t sure if it was due more to her surprise or to the fact that she had slept soundly through the hour-long drive to Mountain View.

“People Search. MapQuest. Luckily you weren’t unlisted.” I helped her out of my car, reassuring myself that my research into her home address a few weeks prior was not an act of obsession, but preparation for a situation such as this. There was no way I would allow Namiko to travel alone by train when she was more than half-asleep. Nor was I going to let her drive home from the Evelyn Avenue station. “I trust you can get your car from the carpark in the morning?”

Namiko’s beautiful eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Yeah. I can manage that. Thought of everything, didn’t you?” She looked at me intently. “You know, I’d invite you in, except…”

“It is all right, Namiko. You are tired. And I didn’t expect…”

She shook her dark, wispy hair. “It’s not that. I want to invite you in, but… well, I should tell you something first.” She glanced quickly to the narrow walkway to the door. “You see, I have a baby. A son. He’s almost a year old. His father was… well, he was a big mistake.” Her voice was suddenly faraway.

My heart was beating a little faster, yet I didn’t seem too surprised by the revelation. Perhaps I had unconsciously suspected it when she first mentioned her inability to travel. At the moment, I was more astonished by my inability to respond. All I could do was quietly look at the beautiful face that was still turned from me. I was suddenly filled with wonder about what it was like to raise a child, alone, while still maintaining her professional career. It made me respect — and love — Namiko all the more.

“This would be the part where the guy would turn tail and run,” she commented flatly, as if speaking from experience.

I finally found my voice. “I’m not going anywhere.” I said, pulling her close in an embrace. She stiffened.

“What are you doing?”

Surprised, I loosened my grip. Was I being too forward? “Sorry. I was only…” my heart seemed to catch in my throat as I saw Namiko’s rich chocolate eyes lock on mine. Our lips met… and danced together as time seemed to slide away.

Upon release, her gaze followed her finger that she playfully ran down the center of my chest. She looked up and smiled fetchingly at me. “So, was that like biting on foil?”

“That’s me all right…”

“Far from it,” I replied.

“…the ‘Tinfoil Girl.”’

“Good manners,” she said with a playful smirk. Her smile widened. “Well, I was right about you. You do…”

“And you, I bet you…”

“…melt in the mouth.” She immediately giggled at that, just like she did at the Tadich Grill weeks ago when she kept that phrase to herself.

Her laugh was infectious.  “So, when do I meet the man of the house?” I grinned.

My arm was suddenly locked in Namiko’s elbow. “How about right now?”

She was even more awake and alert now, and excited. She literally pulled me by the arm through her front door, through a breezy introduction to the babysitter, and into a modest nursery.

Her baby boy was in his crib, but still awake, and squealed and kicked with delight upon seeing his mother.  He had Namiko’s eyes, which locked right on me with such stark familiarity, as if he had known me for all of his then-short life.

“So this is what has been keeping you up at night,” I mused. I reached down toward his swinging hands, one of which suddenly became a tight tiny fist around my extended finger. He giggled appreciatively.

“He’s beautiful,” I said. “He’ll be quite the heartbreaker someday.”

Namiko’s smile failed to stifle a yawn, indicating her fatigue had returned.

The teenaged babysitter poked her head in the doorway. “I guess I should be heading out since you are home early,” she began.

“If I may,” I interrupted. “I don’t suppose you could stay as planned to watch over this little guy so Namiko can get some much-needed sleep?”

The teenager eyed me carefully in response to what I then realized was a very presumptive question, then looked at Namiko quizzically.

She nodded. “It is a good idea,” she said, “if you don’t mind…”

“Oh, no. No,” the babysitter reassured with a warm smile. “It’s fine.” The babysitter disappeared down the hall.

I turned to Namiko. “Her extra hours are on me, okay? You rest.”

“It’s all right. I was ready to pay her in full anyway. I should at least see you out.”

Namiko noticed that her son hadn’t let my finger go. “He likes you,” she said, her face shining with relief at my smile toward the boy. “So what do you think about being a dad? Because that’s what’s going to happen if we keep going forward with this.”

“I’m not really thinking about that,” I responded slowly, “but more about the three of us being a family.”

Her eyes widened. “You mean it?”

“I do. We can start by bringing this little guy along on our da—outings… if that’s all right with you.”

Namiko almost laughed. “If that’s all right?” she smirked.

“Have any plans for tomorrow?” I asked immediately.

She looked at her son tugging on my finger. “We do,” she sighed in mock-disappointment. “Guess you’ll just have to just come along.”

Namiko leaned her very warm body against me, as her son released my hand so I could envelop her in my arms. Our lips danced together again, while the baby boy in the crib below gurgled with approval.


Not the end.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Still Got It

Thunderous music crashed in his ears as the man tried to make his way through the swarming throng of nightclub patrons. His dark eyes roved around the room, his spectacled vision searching past the colored strobes that exploded around him, until he saw the reason for him being here.

The woman.

He arrived in this place with the woman a few hours before, for a much quieter corporate event hosted by her organization. She had a plus-one, and thus invited him to be her… well, not her date. Oh, no. She had made that quite clear. Their afternoon of kite flying in Crissy Field and Joe’s mocha chip ice cream in Richmond, as well as that lovely Sunday Dim Sum in the Financial District weeks later, were not dates either. Nor did the man and woman consider themselves a “couple.” They were just two friends, “hanging out”, and getting to know each other better.

And that was perfectly fine with the man, even as he saw her on the dance floor, and those sensuous curves that were swinging and undulating to the hard bass beat that threatened to rock the entire building. His gaze wandered to the wisps of her long dark hair that bounced with each movement, then studied her silken face carefully. Her eyes locked with his across the room, catching hold of his gaze almost… seductively.

God, she was lovely.

After her company event, the woman wanted to stay on as the venue prepared to open to the public for the evening, stating that she hadn’t “gone clubbing in years.” The man hadn’t ever “gone clubbing” per se, though he has visited a dance club or three in his lifetime (usually for business reasons). The last time was at the Buddha Bar in Paris, almost a decade before, but he wouldn’t tell the woman that. He knew how much she longed to travel the world, and tried to conceal her envy of him having lived in various “exotic” far-off places whenever their conversation turned to his past.

But now the man was envious of her. She was at least 10 years older than most of the people dancing around her, but she mingled with the crowd as if she were their college mate. The man was about 15 years the woman’s senior, and he couldn’t help but feel so out of place. It didn’t help that his business suit, which was appropriate for the function hours before, made him appear as an undertaker among the youthful crowd.

The man abruptly snapped out of his reverie as he saw another, younger man boldly brush up against the back of the woman. She tried to step away to politely give him room, but then discovered that his contact was no accident as he got uncomfortably closer to her.

The man’s eyes narrowed as he pushed his way toward the dance floor. He didn’t like what the brazen animal’s hands were doing. Neither did the woman; the crack of her sharp slap across the lecher’s face seemed to transcend the booming music.

The woman quickly slipped through the standing crowd, stepped up to the man, and surprisingly threw her arms around his neck. The man swallowed — hard — as his heart leapt to his throat. This was the first sign of physical affection she had ever displayed to him. “Now I remember why I haven’t gone clubbing in so long,” she said tersely, pulling the man by the arm toward the cloak room.  “Let’s get outta here.”

Once outside, the woman immediately unlocked her arm from the man’s elbow as they started the five-block walk to the man’s car. The man realized that her brief display of ardor in the club was solely meant to dissuade the lecher on the dance floor from further pursuit. But the man didn’t begrudge her for what might have been construed as a cruel tease. While he did have secret hopes of a romantic relationship with his strikingly beautiful companion, he was also very patient. This was only their third… not-date, after all. The man didn’t want to rush things, and he was more than happy to be used in this way to help get her out of that harassing situation.

However, a block later, they discovered that her ploy did not work.

“Hey, baby… what’s your hurry?”

The coupl… pair turned toward the hoarse drawl to see the lecher lumbering down the sidewalk toward them. He gave the woman a lascivious leer. His gaze turned sour as it disentangled from the woman’s breasts to her escort’s face. “And you… where do you think yer going with my girl?”

The woman was about to shout a protest — and rightfully so — but the man held up a hand as if to say, “He’s not worth it.”

The woman nodded and understood. They silently agreed to ignore the stranger and continue their way to the parking garage. From there, he would drive her to the Caltrain station, where she…

The lecher’s left hand snaked out and grabbed the shoulder of the man’s coat, as his free hand drew back into a fist aimed at the man’s head. “I said, where do you think yer…?”

Perhaps the lecher’s movement was dulled by the alcohol he consumed earlier that evening. Or possibly the man’s reflexes, honed from several youthful years of martial arts training, remained sharp despite the almost equal number of years of non-practice. Whatever the reason, the man dodged the attack effortlessly while his thin fingers immediately locked around the lecher’s wrist, and twisted.

With a howl of pain the lecher crumpled to the concrete, all the fight he had fled from his body.

“She is not your girl.” The guttural whisper hissed through the man’s clenched teeth as the lecher writhed in pain. The would-be-attacker’s wide, cornflower-blue eyes, ringed with red, could only gawk at the man’s dark steel irises that flickered with calm anger. “She doesn’t belong to anyone. She is her own person. Do you understand?”

The lecher could only grunt and nod hastily in acknowledgment, but the man didn’t release his grip. For a brief moment, the man actually thought about how easy it would be to twist his fingers just a little more and dislocate a few bones.  He almost gave in to that chilling temptation, as he thought with terror what this person would have done to his companion if the careless punch had managed to connect.

Almost.

“Hey, man… ease up.”

The man turned to see two young men approaching him from the direction of the club. One was a scarecrow compared to the other, who was a living mountain of muscle. The man’s compact body tensed at the prospect of further conflict. “Is this man a friend of yours?”

The hulking newcomer surprisingly held up a reassuring hand as he slowly walked forward. “He’s just had a bit too much to drink… really. He…”

The man felt a sigh searching to escape from within his chest. The adrenalin coursing through his body suppressed it. “Take him home,” the man said, managing to keep his voice even, “and we’ll forget this ever happened.”

The man let go of the wrist, and waited patiently for the other men to haul their rag doll friend on his feet and lead him away without another word.

The woman’s rich brown eyes lit up as the man approached her. “Whoa,” she started, impressed. “You went all Miyagi on that guy! I had no idea you could…”

The man shrugged with indifference. He put his hands in his pockets as they continued the walk toward the carpark. He was disgusted with both the attacker and his reaction — his excitement — to the altercation.

The woman almost seemed to divine his thoughts. “Hey… I know we haven’t known each other for very long,” she began, “but I always saw you as a gentle soul. I’ll bet you’re…” she hesitated a second. “Well, I can see how what you did back there could be a little… unsettling for you. And you did that for me.”

The man thrust his hands deeper into his pockets, but he also felt his heart jump. There were already so many things he had admired about this woman in the few weeks he had known her — and now there was one more. “I would have done it for anyone,” he began ruefully, “if I had to.”

The woman’s eyes widened at the honesty of the man’s voice. “I believe you really would. But tonight, you did it for me. Thank you, Xum.”

Her smile was a flood of sunshine in the dark evening. The man lifted his chin to return it. “You are quite welcome, Namiko.”

He suddenly felt the woman’s slim arm slide under his coat and around the back of his not-so-slim waist. She seemed to snuggle up to him as they walked. “So,” the woman sighed, “can I expect more of our dates to be this exciting?”

“I wouldn’t know,” the man replied drily. “This isn’t a date, remember?”

The man’s right hand snapped up to immediately catch the woman’s fist before it could playfully jab him in the left shoulder. She looked at him with astonishment — not at the action, but at his slight smile of satisfaction. His reaction time hadn’t slowed in the least.

Not one bit.


To be continued.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Secrets of a Super-Hero Sketch Artist: A Portrait of the Artist as a Flung Man

It suppose that it was inevitable. One day my vanity would get the better of me.

I’ve slipped a self-portrait into this week’s “The Line It Is Drawn” submission. Two, if fact, but one of them isn’t really anything to speak of. Though I will admit that I may have drawn the head a little too big (or perhaps not big enough)…


Ah, but there is a heavy price for my narcissistic sin, as you can see in this preview. And look at that fine color-halftone craftsmanship. A sign of yet another comic book cover spoof, one would gather…

But enough speculation. You can view the full picture when Week #92 goes online, starting May 31, here:

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/category/the-line-it-is-drawn/

I heard the piece garnered a 9.8 rating on a 10-point scale, which isn’t too bad since I produced the rating myself.

Is there no end to my conceit? Perhaps I should consult my altered ego…