Jeff Smith 12:15 p.m., April 24
Cartoonist Confessions - Secrets Behind Overheard In San Diego & Famous Former Neighbors
Plus bad reviews for the new Hard Rock, Life Between Deadlines, That Old House, more
Overheard In San Diego and Famous Former Neighbors are anomalies in the comic strip world – they’re based on real people, places, and events. Overheard made its debut in early 1996. Originally, I was only the writer – Scott Pentzer drew the first few Overheards, and then Paradise was aboard for around two years. When Paradise could no longer work on it, I was stuck with the unenviable task of either finding another artist or drawing the thing myself. I hadn’t drawn a comic strip since some crude gag strips I’d done in high school for the school paper and yearbook. When I realized that drawing it myself meant I no longer had to split the paycheck, I decided – at the age of 38 – to become a cartoonist. My crash course involved consuming and all but memorizing several highly recommended books on the art of comics, including/especially Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner. After studying those two industry bibles, and a series of How To Draw books by Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth, my first solo Overheard comic debuted in 1998.
No, I will not reproduce it here – believe me, you wouldn’t be impressed. I’m frankly still amazed the Reader didn’t fire me. The pressure of a weekly deadline, coupled with my weak art skills, kept me chained to the drawing board over the next few months. I recycled a lot of Paradise's backgrounds and setups, as I studied how to render art in a style similar to his. Once I finally got the hang of using a brush with a bit of flair, rather than the rapidograph technical pen that made my drawings look like woodcuts, the Overheard comics grew from barely competent to halfway decent to, I hope today, not at all terrible.
Mostly thanks to photo references.
Here’s a sort of “Art Essay,” showing artwork from both comic strips alongside the photos that formed the underlying basis of each piece. Back in the late ‘70s, when I used to draw caricatures in Balboa Park for $5 to $10, I could whip off a portrait in about five minutes. But none would look as photorealistic and detailed to the last nuance, as with any given Famous Neighbors entry. Thanks to working from photos (and Gawd Bless Photoshop), people no longer frown at my art and say “That doesn’t look anything like me” and refuse to pay me…that’s what usually happened in Balboa Park…
(NOTE: I recently got an email from a well-known comic artist, blasting me for giving away "secrets" of photo manipulation that more and more illustrators are using. He likened this blog entry to Penn and Teller's TV specials revealing the secrets behind magic tricks. I disagree. My point with this post is to make it clear that, thanks to the tools available today, anybody can create something from nothing. Someone with a song in their head can record and release a CD from home, a film fan can launch a Hollywood career with their PC and the url for YouTube, and a talent-challenged comic fan like me can luck into a gig as a working weekly cartoonist. Creativity is, to my mind, the key to happiness, the most vital ingredient of a well-lived life. Some of us create kids, some create other things far afield from my own interests, sher ----- but what could possibly be more satisfying than creating something that never existed until YOU thought of it, nourished it, and brought it to glorious life????? IE, anybody can learn to do what I do, and that's not a light to be hid under a bushel. Creativity is the light of the world, and it’s always worth sharing ---- )
FAMOUS CARTOON NEIGHBORS
I've done a few Famous Former Neighbors comic strips about well-known cartoonists who've called San Diego home, including Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Harold Gray (Little Orphan Annie), and Jim Lee (Marvel artist and Image Comics co-founder).
There are more I plan to get to.
"LuAnn" creator Greg Evans and his wife Betty live in San Carlos. The comic was launched in 1987 and today is one of the most widely syndicated of U.S. strips. Last September, Evans debuted "Luann: Scenes From a Teen's Life," a musical that premiered at the California Center for the Arts.
Pete Hansen, creator of "Lolly," is from Denmark, but has been living in the U.S. since he was two. He was a Disney animator from 1938 to 1941, but he’s best known for his newspaper comics; “Flapdoodles” (1950-1953) and “Lolly” (1955-1983).
Gus Arriola spent several years living in La Jolla. His Hispanic-themed “Gordo” comic was hugely influential (and a personal fave of yours truly), but he got his start in animation. He spent a year at Screen Gems doing Krazy Kat cartoons, before joining MGM’s cartoon department to do story sketches for the Academy Award winning Tom and Jerry series. “Gordo” was launched in 1941.
"Matthew Alice" artist Rick Geary is actually pretty well-known outside our fine city. His work has graced many issues of National Lampoon, Heavy Metal and countless other newsstand mags, plus he's earned acclaim in the comic book field for distinctive, inventive graphic novels like his true-life "Treasury Of Victorian Murder." He also drew for a locally-produced horror comic book adapting classic stories by Larry Niven, Robert Bloch, and others, called "Deepest Dimension Terror Anthology." The comic - which I wrote and edited - was the brainchild of original Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson.
Scott Shaw! (the exclamation point is part of his legal name) is a longtime local, familiar to anyone who's attended his annual wacky cover slideshows at San Diego Comic-Cons, dating back to its earliest humble incarnation at the El Cortez. He began doing “funny animal” comic books like “Wild Kingdom” for local publisher Pacific Comics, but went on to animated cartoons, winning an Emmy for his work on “Muppet Babies.” He’s also the guy behind around a hundred cartoon cereal commercials for Fruity Pebbles and Alpha-Bits.
“Rocketeer” creator and renowned pin-up artist Dave Stevens was based locally, at least until the Village Voice called his Rocketeer comic “The greatest comic book of all time.” The Rocketeer began in the pages of locally-produced comic books from Pacific Comics, based off Miramar Road. Though the movie based on his comic wasn’t a huge hit, he’s become one of the most sought-after “good girl” artists since Playboy’s legendary Vargas retired.
Wesley "Gene" Hazelton moved to Lake Murray around 1975, three blocks from the summit of Cowles Mountain, and was frequently seen walking along the Lake. From 1939 to 1942, he was a Disney animator and gag writer who worked on Pinocchio (1940), and Fantasia (1940), and he did early character design work for The Wind in the Willows and Peter Pan (1953).
He spent many years at MGM doing animated cartoon layouts and character designs for both Tex Avery and Hanna-Barbera. He animated the original I Love Lucy segment bumpers, and for years drew the Flintstones and Yogi Bear comic strips. He created Pebbles and Bamm Bamm for the Flintstones TV show (Bamm was based on his son).
Hazelton was a supporter of "Canine Companions" and a lifelong dog lover. He golfed all over San Diego, and he gave talks to local elementary schools where he drew and read for school kids. He was an early mentor to Scott Shaw!
BOY SHAKIRA IS ALL MY FAULT
During the last season of America's Got Talent, the most controversial contestant was easily Boy Shakira, a heavyset man in a blonde wig and halter top, enthusiastically belly-dancing to both cheers and jeers.
Didja know that the Reader not only discovered Boy Shakira, but that he took his name from a Blurt that was his first-ever press writeup?
I found BS - then calling himself (somewhat clumsily) Luigi, The Live Impersonator Of Shakira - while browsing a list of local celebrity look-a-likes seeking gigs. I wrote the Blurt and a Reader editor wrote the headline "Boy Shakira." The one-time Luigi liked it so much that he changed his stage name accordingly.
So, if you're one of the thousands who posted anti-Boy Shakira comments all over the internet, blame us. We encouraged the guy (and it really is hard to take your eyes off him, whether in fascination or horror).
Below is a compilation of our two Blurts on him, one from last year, and a more recent writeup. For a little DVD-extra flair, included is some unpublished material.
BOY SHAKIRA: "I don't do drag, I do impersonation," says Louis Padilla of his Shakira look-a-like act. "Drag is about looks, about being as much like a lady as possible, but an impersonation is a whole show; it involves duplicating someone's entire performance, [including] their attitude and moves."
Padilla admits that not having hips makes it a challenge to mimic Shakira.
"I practice barefoot in the sand near water, which actually goes along with Arabic mythology, and that's something Shakira herself is into."
Padilla, a 29-year-old who cashiers at the EastLake Wal-Mart, earns between $400 and $1000 for a ten-song, hour-long performance. He lip-synchs to recorded Shakira tracks, while he interprets her signature belly-dancing performance style. Barefoot.
He began impersonating the Colombian-born singer around eight years ago, and makes his own costumes. "It's when I put on my Middle-Eastern belts that I really take on her persona. I pay a lot of attention to copying the exact outfits she wears, and a lot of it has to be special ordered from different countries to be authentic."
When the real Shakira kicked off her first world tour at the Sports Arena in November 2002, Padilla was right up front, standing on a riser. "She made eye contact and was smiling at me. There was a connection. I could tell she was really surprised to see someone dancing just like her, especially a boy!"
Later changing his stage name to Boy Shakira (from a Blurt headline about him), Padilla became a contestant on the 2007 edition of America’s Got Talent. From his first appearance, he polarized the show’s three judges. Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan approved him as a contestant, while David Hasselhoff angrily argued on-air with Morgan. “Are you sitting on the same stage as me? Oh, my God! The world has gone mad!”
Hasselhoff actually seems to storm off stage. He's seen backstage making more disparaging comments about Padilla's act. "This is for a million dollars, and that [act] ain't worth ten cents."
Contacted by phone the day after his first AGT performance, Padilla said “He [Hasselhoff] didn’t like my original style and walked off the set....A lot of people on the internet are saying bad comments I’m not even reading, but two of the judges liked me! After ten years of struggle, I finally made it.”
Over the next week, clips of the heavyset man belly dancing in a halter top and blonde wig aired on Good Morning America, MTV2’s The Week In Rock, Fox News, Entertainment Tonight, and VH1’s Best Week Ever.
Padilla's performance was repeatedly aired on the TV Guide Channel, where bemused host John Fugelsang was seen quipping “I’m so glad Horatio Sans can still get some work.”
A YouTube video of Boy Shakira's AGT appearance has been played over 500,000 times.
Padilla’s mother – a Palomar Wal-Mart employee – also appeared with him on the TV show. “She’s really proud of me," he says. "I might have to get a manager soon, so many people are calling.”
At the time, he was tightlipped about future episodes, for which auditions were taped far in advance of broadcast. “We’re not even supposed to talk to reporters without permission from the producers,” he says. “They don’t want us giving anything away.”
Boy Shakira appeared on several more episodes and nearly made the final five, but was then voted off the program.
On the show's website, commentator AvisLee posted "I think Boy Shakira was pushed forward in a cynical attempt to generate another 'Sanjaya can't sing' type controversy. You know how you pay to get into a carnival, where the flying teacups are right at the gate, but the long lines are always way in the back, where the two headed chicken and the bearded lady are. Boy Shakira is the show's bearded lady. Literally."
THE MIDNIGHT RAMBLER - LIFE BETWEEN DEADLINES
It’s been going on for around six months now. Maybe longer. Nearly every single night, at around 2AM, someone skateboards slowly past my house, always to the tune of an external music player (IE no ‘phones). I live in a quiet, residential neighborhood, so at that hour the sound of a skateboard rattling along the sidewalk, and the attendant music, is pretty substantial.
The aggressive nature of this nightly act (his own ears can’t be inured to the racket) makes me assume the skater is a guy. I imagine that most of my neighbors are asleep at 2AM and don’t really hear the Midnight Rambler (as I’ve taken to calling him). I’m rarely pulling the sheets up around my ears at 2AM – more often than not, I’m still chained to my drawing board or desk, hoping to make some twelfth hour work deadline.
When the Rambler approaches, it sounds like a jet coming toward my house. I hear the volume increasing for a full thirty seconds before he passes my window (which is fairly close to the sidewalk, and usually open). This is when I can just about make out the music coming from his stereo, though I can’t always recognize the tune. It’s faint and I have to strain my ears.
He's usually rolling along to seventies classic rock. I often wonder whether it’s a tape or the radio, and why he doesn’t wear headphones (I know, it’s not safe to cycle or skate with ‘phones, but it is 2AM after all).
I find myself listening for the song each night, like a daily trivia challenge, congratulating myself when I can pin it down and getting frustrated when I can’t. Then the Rambler trails off for thirty seconds or so into the distance, going to and coming from gawd knows where.
It takes a few months before it occurs to me that I should get up and look out the window, or stand in the front doorway sometime as he passes. Maybe I can figure out just who this guy is, see what he looks like, discover what he’s up to and where he’s going at this ungawdly hour.
However, for some reason, I find myself reluctant to pull the mask off the Midnight Rambler.
Maybe I SHOULD throw open my front door some night. And then just STAND there. Maybe, if I look at him, and he looks at me, it’ll occur to him that he’s actually skating in and out of people’s lives here. Every times he rumbles down the sidewalk at 2AM, like a one-man locomotive, he’s punctuating the chapters of my evening, no less than if he were the tone of a book-on-tape telling me to turn over the cassette, or the blaring static of the TV when the last DVD shuts off.
I should try to talk to him. Maybe there’s a story there. Like, maybe he works the late night shift at Roberto’s, and he can’t afford a car, but he has a student loan to pay, and his drug addict sister kicked him out of the motel where they were staying and now he’s sleeping on the roof of the Christian Welcome Center…with his skateboard.
Everybody’s got a story, right?
Tonight, as the concrete thunder came closer and closer, I was seated at my drawing table, the door shut and the shades closed. When I heard the laconic approach of the wheels, I stood up, ready to finally throw open the front door and make first contact with the Midnight Rambler.
Then I sat down again.
Part of me wants to know more about him, but another part of me doesn’t.
You don’t go out and stop a train when it goes by and ask the engineer where he’s come from and where he’s going. You just get used to the routine, to the sound, you grow accustomed to the ground rumbling you out of complacency each and every night, on schedule, on into the darkness.
It becomes the aural backdrop to your life, the soundtrack of your day, wallpaper for the ears. It just IS - a force, a fixture, like the sound of the train whistle, the clickity clack on the tracks or, in this case, the sound of the music player and the clickity clack of wheels on concrete.
I strain my ears...yep, sounds like Blue Oyster Cult. “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” isn’t it? I think so. Although that riff sounded suspiciously like “Green Grass And High Tides Forever,” the Outlaws. I can’t really say for sure. He’s too far down the sidewalk. The sound - and the Rambler - has faded away, into darkness.
My cue to put another day to bed, and to get ready for the next twelfth hour deadline.
THAT OLD HOUSE: Reflections on a Childhood Home
Recently, I was online looking up property values, with an eye toward maybe buying instead of always renting. Then, since I don't know much about this stuff, I decided to look up some of the properties my folks used to own, places we lived while I grew up. Cuz I knew what my folks paid and when they paid it, it was a chance to see how much property values had increased, in how many years, etc.
It was kinda spooky to bring up info on the house on Durham Road where I lived from third grade through junior high. I recently wrote a story where I mentioned how this place still kinda haunts me - it's where a lot of the worst things in my life happened, the things that still keep me from being the person I feel I would have been - should have been – were it not for certain soulless people.
It turns out someone bought the house in 1990, but they only lived there about two years before moving out. They didn't put the house up for sale, they pretty much just disappeared and abandoned it. Nobody has lived there since: the grass grew into a forest, shingles fell off, paint peeled, and the place pretty much seems to have become the neighborhood haunted house!
Even though it's a suburban neighborhood, it's so obviously abandoned that homeless people regularly break in and squat in there. This conjures up the strangest images and emotions in me, winos taking a dump right there in the corner of my childhood bedroom.
The city came in this year and legally took over - even if the original owners show up now, they're outta luck. The city put in alarms to keep out intruders, pulled out the ruined carpets, mowed the lawn forest, and that's about it. They haven't even gotten around to putting it up for auction yet, and the most current pictures posted online still make it look about as haunted as my memories of the place. Man, I was weirding out.
Impulsively, I decided to put in a bid fer the place. I told friends straight up that, if I get the land, I plan to knock the house down right away. It would cost far too much to bring up to code now, and it'd cost half that to build a new duplex - and the duplex would rent to two families. As long as I could keep renters living there, and find a property manager to do the basic upkeep and collect the rent on the cheap, seemed like an almost surefire moneymaker.
I’ve never even invested in a washing machine, let alone property, so this was all pretty new to me. But I was on a roll and not about to slow down.
I called the city to ask about whether it would be possible to take the house down with a collapse explosion or a controlled burn (no way).
Luckily, my brain really does function some of the time, so I began to realize just how obsessive I was getting. I've always felt burned over the way my life turned so dark during those years - and here I was wanting to punish the house!
I've decided this is unhealthy to pursue. Eventually, I'd probably find myself on the property and, really, I like not thinking about that house and those years too often. It was actually a cozy pad and, well, the house doesn't deserve punishment. It's been busted up a bunch and abandoned, just like I once was, and maybe someone will still be able to come along and fix it up, give it a little propping-up and make it cool ‘nuff once again. Someone who cares about it, someone who sees what's really in there and wants to help bring it back into the light.
We could all use just such a someone…
TOP 5 LISTS, BY JAS
TOP 5 CLUES THAT YOUR LOCAL BAR IS FULL OF JUNKIES
5) People keep trying to sell you car stereos.
4) Customers complaining about no locks on the bathrooms.
3) Nobody ever touches the munchies.
2) Restroom vending machine dispenses clean needles.
1) There are junkies everywhere.
TOP 5 POTENTIAL HOUSE OF BLUES KILLERS
5) Land south of Broadway is declared an Indian reservation, with a concert venue booked by Viejas Entertainment.
4) Odors of urine and CK1 mix to become killer toxic clouds.
3) Spreckels is bought by CBGBs.
2) Booking actual blues bands.
1) They have to let Dan Ackroyd and Jim Belushi eat anything they want for free.
TOP 5 WAYS TJ CLUBS DIFFER FROM SAN DIEGO VENUES
5) In San Diego, only cops and gym teachers blow whistles in your ear.
4) In TJ, old men can legally get 18 year-old girls drunk before being insulted and blown off by them.
3) San Diego cover bands play Pink Floyd OR Willie Nelson, not both.
2) Two words – Bacardi Bong.
1) San Diego restrooms don’t make you pay for toilet paper by the square (yet).
TOP FIVE REASONS BEHIND GASLAMP’S RESURGENT NIGHTLIFE
5) Bragging rights RE how far you had to walk from your parking space.
4) Valet attendants, cabbies, waiters, barkeeps, street musicians and homeless window washers provide opportunities to impress date with heavy tipping.
3) Downtown condo owners walk everywhere (they don’t have enough money left to drive after paying for monthly parking).
2) Free window box manure courtesy horse-drawn carriages.
1) Everyone you meet will agree with you about how much the Hard Rock Hotel sucks, without anyone ever actually going there.
“The life of an open mic host is not nearly as glamorous as it would seem,” blogs Isaac Cheong, host of Lestat’s Open Mic night. “My colleagues and I toil weekly in near anonymity, as the guy or gal who makes sure the people can hear you, keeps track of who's playing when, and gets to hear the litany of complaints about how they need to play that night even though they showed up two hours late for the signup because their girlfriend's cousin is in town, or how I should cut the EQ a few dB at 4KHz because it's too sibilant, or how someone needs to take twenty minutes to set up their laser light show for a ten minute set.”
Cheong - who also plays guitar for She Blonde Swede - has also hosted open mic events at the Hot Java Café, Mikey’s Coffeehouse and elsewhere. “We [open mic hosts] do it because we get some stage time. But here's the thing, when we play, it's usually at the beginning when there's nobody around, or at the end when there's nobody around...Lord knows it's not for the money or throngs of open mic groupies.”
HARD ROCK HOTEL HATERS
I haven’t been to downtown’s new Hard Rock Hotel yet, so I’ve refrained (so far) from mocking it. Tho it’s hard to resist after getting a press release from them last week announcing “Cindy Crawford Spotted At The Hard Rock San Diego.” THIS is news worthy of a press release?!? She’s dating one of the restaurant owners there, for gawd’s sake – are they that desperate for press, that a visiting girlfriend merits an all-points bulletin to local media????
And bragging about a room designed by the Black Eyes Peas in gonna seem, in two years, akin to bragging about wearing pants designed by MC Hammer.
Anyway, the Hard Rock doesn't officially open until 12-12, but this week's launch parties have filled up all the rooms. The Website TripAdvisor.com is THE make-or-break source of hotel customer reviews - a recent gag on the TV show the Office was about how a bad review on TripAdvisor can destroy a hotel. And the Hard Rock SD is getting some bad customer reviews! Here are some excerpts:
1) The official opening of the hotel is not until December. That would explain the maintenance guys running around doing stuff and finishing off the pool area.
2) The towels were those strange cotton towels that feel nice to the touch, but just seem to move the water around. The bathroom and halls smelled of rotten eggs---seems to be a ventilation problem. One elevator was out of service and there was no lighting in the spa/workout room one morning. Be aware that there is a $15 "activity fee" charged --- not sure what for.
3) I could not get my iPod to work with the stereo though and did not have the normal jack lead to plug my iPod into the AV system...There is an extra daily fee for "free internet" which is a bit odd and should just be included in the price. I had a meal at their "posh" restaurant "Nobu"one evening and found the food to be expensive and not very good, also the portions were extremely small. The lack of coffee making facilities in the room is very odd and I found myself cursing this whilst waiting for the coffee shop to open at 7:00 a.m. I was not prepared to pay room service for something that should already be in the room.
4) There is an "IN Charge" on your bill for $15.00. They do not inform you of this until you ask at checkout (if you even do ask). This charge includes all the VOSS water in the room, the copy of Rolling Stone Magazine, some CD I never could find, use of the gym, long distance and local calling, and turndown service at night, which we did ask for, but never got... It would have been nice to know this stuff at check-in, but I guess if they don't tell you, you probably won't use the items, but they can still get their $15 from you.
5) No coffee making facilities in the room. Strange decision as, presumably lots of people who stay here will be from the East Coast and up early. Certainly the guy I met in the gym at 5:30am felt the same.
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford