Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens

Posted by Dan Billings on April 26, 2011 under A Literal Corner | Be the First to Comment

Several years ago, Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis talked about Brush with Passion on a WordBalloon podcast. I was unfamiliar with Dave Stevens outside of the fact that they made a movie out of The Rocketeer. When they came out with an Artist Edition of The Rocketeer at IDW last year, I bought it and fell in love with the art. It’s the most beautiful book I own. So, I decided to find a copy of Brush with Passion and read his autobiography.

Stevens died in 2008 after a bout with leukemia. But I have never read a book that was so filled with hope and passion. The title is apt. And I finished the book in two days. I couldn’t put it down and had the images stuck in my head all day.

I loved every page and story within the 288 pages of the tome. His recanting of his childhood reminded me of mine. He was so enamored by pop culture and art, specifically comic art, that he would consume as much as he could find. For anyone who knew me as I was growing up, literature was this all-consuming force for me. I would find as many books as possible and read them like mad. As Stevens detailed his love, I felt mine reignite.

Through heartache and struggles, Stevens continued to seem like a child who hit it big. He was so excited about what he had achieved and what he had done. He wasn’t satisfied and always wanted to do more, but I know that feeling.

There were a few passages that stuck out to me:

“I’ve never felt like I belonged with any particular group, socially or professionally: I guess I’ve always been a bit of a square peg. I keep looking and hoping to find my ‘sphere,’ my circle. I’m sure they must exist somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. Still, though i have my share of failures and regrets and a list of things I might have done differently if given the chance, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and befriend sow of the most wonderful and gifted people walking the planet…and gotten to do the type of work I love…I happily acknowledge that everything that I’ve done and everything I’ve experienced are what makes me who I am (for good or bad).”

I hope to be able to say something like this when the time comes.

And to read some recollections of Stevens after his death, I noticed some aspects of his personalities that I also have. His friend says that “he was contradictorily a ‘people person’ who was intensely, almost extremely private” and that “upon his death some described Dave as their ‘best friend,’ but it’s almost certain that Dave knew much more about them than they ever did about him.” I have been told both of these things. It’s a nice little hope and inspiration that I should keep going.

I have a new kindred spirit in Dave Stevens. This book may be near the top of the list of life changing reads. If you ever want to buy me a gift, try to find this out of print book. And in conclusion, I’d like to send a thanks to Mr. Stevens, wherever he may be. This work was amazing and really made me think about everything. I hope to share your passion.

My Aunt was Erica Kane

Posted by Dan Billings on April 14, 2011 under The Happy Medium | Be the First to Comment

As anyone who went to college or law school should know, I watched All My Children religiously. I would tape it every day and watch it during the evening in twenty minutes. If I didn’t have class from 11-12 while at Ripon, I watched it live. I wrote many religion papers for Professor Smith while watching the activities in Pine Valley. However, I haven’t watched since I started studying for the bar exam and started working. There wasn’t enough hours in the day. And now, the soap opera has been cancelled.

My mom watched All My Children during college and continued to watch it while she raised me, my brother, and my sister. Our days were filled with the adventures of Erica Kane, her many husbands, Adam Chandler, his many wives, and my favorite character, Tad Martin. When my dad would come home from work, we would update him on the state of Natalie, who was put in a well by her evil twin sister, Janet from Another Planet. Janet had put Natalie in the well to be able to steal her husband, Trevor, and their family. Eventually, Dmitri rescued her, married Erica, and Natalie was killed in a car accident with Adam in the car. Adam’s twin brother Stuart, undoubtedly was very upset.

It was a lot of fun to watch it every day during college. I grew up with these people and enjoyed their continuing stories, no matter how repetitive they were. When my brother saw David Canary, the actor who played Adam Chandler, at the Art Institute of Chicago, the first question I asked was if he said hi. The fact that either of us knew who David Canary was proved how powerful these characters were.

In the last few months, I taped a few episodes of All My Children: the fortieth anniversary and the departure of Adam Chandler. The anniversary episode was a clip show that featured many of the characters I grew up with and it was the last episode where Palmer Cordtland appeared. It was a fun little retrospective through my youth. And when I read that David Canary was leaving the show and Adam was going to run away with Brooke English, I had to tune in. Honestly, I had tears in my eyes when they walked away to board the Chandler jet together forever.

I don’t think I was ever proud to watch soap operas (and it became soap operas in law school, when I also watched As the World Turns, also cancelled now). I doubt I would ever start watching another one, but I will always remember the names of the actors and the characters. When I was in middle school, I played Scattergories with friends and the only “L” actress I knew was Susan Lucci. She still would be my only answer.

Thanks for the memories, Erica, Jackson, Adam, Brooke, David Hayward, Greenlee, Bianca, Kendall, Natalie, Janet, JR, Babe, Stuart, Liza, Tad, Dixie, and the rest of the Martin, Kane, Chandler, Cordtland families.

How To Research Small Town Elections

Posted by Dan Billings on April 7, 2011 under Wading into the Potomac | Be the First to Comment

On Tuesday, I voted in the local municipal elections. It took about five minutes because I had done my research before hand. However, at approximately 5:30, I was voter number 70 at my precinct. I have no knowledge how many voters are in my precinct, but I would imagine, that’s about 10%. Of a town of over 50,000, you needed about 1,200 votes to be elected to the Park District Board. Let’s just say, not many people voted.

The excuse I hear the most often (including from my parents, who didn’t vote) is that a person does not have any knowledge of whom to vote for. Unfortunately, in the digital age, this is a bad reason. These municipal elections are more important than national elections when it comes to your taxes and your community. Many of us will visit Washington, DC, but we all live in our towns. And as the federal and state governments fail to raise enough revenue to pay for education, that will lead to levies at a local level. That means the five people on a school board, or a park district board, will be in control of your property taxes. No one likes property tax increases.

You may ask, well Dan, how can I find out information on these candidates who don’t run commercials and may not have webpages? And even worse, they aren’t generally party affiliated. Well, you’re in luck. Here are some tips that I use and I recommend you think about using them the next time your mayor is up for election:

1. Go to your local election clerk’s webpage. They may provide you with a sample ballot. For example, I was able to put in my address to verify my voting registration was active. Another option was a sample ballot. This provided me with all of the candidate names. With that I could run Google searches to find out anything I could about them. It also showed me what races had more candidates than open positions. You may be surprised, but most of the municipal elections don’t have too many candidates. But take this information. You’d be surprised what you can find with a few minutes of searching.

2. Look in your local newspaper. Almost every town has some local newspaper. It may be for a variety of local communities, but look online or find a print copy of the local papers. In this area, I looked at the Daily Herald and the Mount Prospect Journal. Both provided information. The Herald provided the candidates with a questionnaire to fill out. By definition, if a candidate does not fill out a survey, no matter the source, I do not vote for them. If they cannot take the time to fill out a small survey, how could they have time to correctly represent me? The Mount Prospect Journal hosted a debate and ran a few articles about the local issues. Additionally, they may offer endorsements that could be helpful if you still aren’t sure.

3. Watch a local access channel debate. The Mount Prospect Journal and City Hall recorded a debate that was shown on Mount Prospect TV. I watched it online at the city’s webpage. It was informative to hear a little about what they are working on and what they want to do. It may not be contentious, but it was good to get a sense of what they stood for.

Overall, this may have taken me a couple of hours. It was at most the length of a movie. So, once a year, put down the remote and go vote. Perform your civic duty. This country asks very little from you, but unless you provide your voice to the Republic, you have no right to complain and in my opinion, no right to the benefits that this country provides you. Most of us were lucky to be born here instead of somewhere else. Don’t take that for granted.

The Killing

Posted by Dan Billings on April 4, 2011 under The Happy Medium | Be the First to Comment

I love a good murder mystery. The earliest books I remember reading were Boxcar Children stories, which I cannot really remember anymore. I’m assuming they didn’t have too many murder mysteries in them, but it began my love of the genre. I moved to the Encyclopedia Brown series after that with even more mundane mysteries that usually involved lost school supplies. When I was in sixth grade, I moved to Agatha Christie books. I would lay awake all night after reading a chapter of And Then There Were None. I would dream of being killed by bee stings and the Indian statutes that sat in the middle of the room as each person died one by one.

The hard part of these stories is that many people love them and there are so many different varieties. Moving past books, TV and movies have hundreds of murders occurring each year. And very few of them are interesting.

Earlier this year, Psych did a Twin Peaks inspired episode. I had never seen the show, but knew it centered on the murder of Laura Palmer. I bought my brother the DVD collection of Twin Peaks a few years back for Christmas, so I asked him to borrow it. I watched the entire first season, but never finished the second season. The hard part was it was more of a soap opera than a murder mystery. My brother argued that the murder wasn’t the important part of the story, but that it was basically the engine that drove the story that showcased evil in a small town. Taking the supernatural and mystical stuff out of the picture, I wasn’t that drawn to the characters, but I am willing to give it a second chance sometime in the future. Nonetheless, I wanted to watch a good murder mystery with interesting and diverse characters who are good and bad, happy and sad, guilty and innocent.

This past weekend, The Killing premiered on AMC. I read many articles that compared the show to Twin Peaks as it occurs in a small town setting. I imagine for writers in LA or New York City, Seattle is a little town just like Twin Peaks. But right off the bat, I am more interested in this series than Twin Peaks. I’m drawn to some of the characters and am interested in the political and social aspects of the story. I had the same reaction to the first half of the first season of Twin Peaks, so it may turn out to be something that I eventually will not be interested in.

The story starts with a woman who is leaving the homicide division of the Seattle Police Department to marry her boyfriend in San Francisco. However, as she is moving out of her office and her replacement tries to move in, a call comes in for a missing girl presumed dead in this forested region. Of course, we meet the missing girl’s family along the way as we watch them discover that their daughter has been killed. There are delinquent teenagers, piercings, skateboards, and school dances involved. There is also a mayoral campaign that pits what seems like an up-and-coming city councilman who wants to change the city against the staid old mayor who has outworn his welcome. The murder brings all of these individuals together in an intrinsic plot. And this was all in the first two episodes. There are about twenty characters floating around that we have met with motives all over the place for the murder as well as just devious behavior. It’s a typical murder mystery in that description, but the characters definitely have a depth to them that is rare in TV crime shows.

Additionally, the directing is fantastic. Like Twin Peaks, the setting appears to be a huge character to the story. There are many establishing shots and fly-overs of the forested region where the girl was found and bright cityscapes to counter that dark, green mystery. The city has a gray tone to it that makes it seem very gothic. The rain-soaked atmosphere of Seattle also plays well for this type of story.

I greatly recommend this show to anyone who likes a good serialized murder story. AMC has a wide array of quality TV. I enjoyed Rubicon greatly, but this show is far superior in pacing. It has not reached the level that show got in tension yet, but it needs a little more time. The show airs on Sundays, but I am sure it is available On Demand and is also being rebroadcast all week as it just premiered. It will take the place of Celebrity Apprentice on Sunday in my TV schedule. For anyone who knows me, that is a huge step. Goodbye Gary Busey. Hello Seattle.