Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cartoon Network 2011 in Review

I found myself really enjoying Cartoon Network programming this past year. It reminds me of the golden days of Saturday morning cartoons, when kids and other ~AHEM~ older fans had tons of great shows to choose from. I could do without some of the live action stuff that they produce to stay competitive with Nickelodeon and Disney. They are CARTOON Network, no?

Generator Rex is a great original CN property created by a collective of creators from the comics industry known as Man of Action. It's not perfect, but it's an excellent first production from MOA and shows that they can create some pretty great stuff. Rex suffers from what John Kricfalusi refers to as "tude", the horrible character attribute that affects so many characters designed for a young audience. The main villain, Van Kleiss is a mashup of villainous stereotypes: a quasi anime-meets-Final Fantasy character design, affected accent, and an extensive knowledge of amnesiac Rex's past. But the supporting characters are great and the premise is pretty cool too ( a global event infects the world's population with nanoparticles that cause some of them to mutate into monsters. Rex can control his nanites to form his body into biomechanical weapons and is also able to cure infected people). At the heart of it all, it's a show about a kid who sprouts robot arms to smash monsters, which I'm totally behind. The show also gets major points for not downplaying the fact that Rex is Latino, but not making him a stereotype, either. I usually wind up watching a few episodes in a row on the DVR. They've managed to build a nicely fleshed out supporting cast around a good premise and keep things interesting.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars has been right down the middle with the great stuff reminding me of why I've loved Star Wars for 30 plus years and the bad stuff reminding me of why I've hated it for the last 13 or so. They have transformed the lightsaber battle into to a beautiful art, made Count Dooku, General Greivous, and Aurra Sing into much more fleshed out characters than in their big screen appearances (Dooku is seriously awesome). We got an awesome kid Boba Fett, Hondo Ohnaka, Cad Bane, Wookies and Trandoshans and always kick ass spaceship designs. The bad stuff…those annoying footsoldier droids used by the Separatists. Why wouldn't you just use those awesome assassin droids as your soldiers? Where has all the tech we see in the Old Republic gone in the Age of the Rebellion? Why are the usually charming duo of C-3PO and R2-D2 so annoying when they are the focus of episodes? And seriously, nobody in the Jedi Council can sense that there's a fucking Sith Lord basically working in their office complex? They can sense the population of Alderaan crying out all at once, but can't sense the man who will bring down the Old Republic in the office down the hall. Someday I'll post about how I would have done things. For now I stand by my half awesome/half abysmal assessment. But like so many things I loved from my youth, I have come to accept that these are properties owned by major corporations designed to turn a profit. They're not out to please an aging fanbase, but when they do, it's pretty cool.

More licensed properties, but I loved Both Batman: The Brave and the Bold (since cancelled) and Young Justice. BTTB managed to keep Batman grim while embracing his lighter side as seen throughout his history, and it did so wonderfully. Featuring the greatest cameos by lesser known DC characters and maybe the most memorable incarnation of an animated Aquaman, it was great fun and will be missed. When I was a teenager and just discovering this "anime" thing that was starting to get noticed over here, I used to dream about American comics characters in cartoons that were as visually exciting as the ones from Japan. Young Justice is that show for me. Riding high of the momentum of DC's consistently excellent direct to video animated releases, YJ looks amazing. Features what may be my favorite animated version of Dick Grayson as Robin, and definitely the coolest Aqualad ever. I wish they had a better production schedule and kept episodes coming without such gaps, but the quality has never dropped, so I'm willing to wait.

The biggest surprises for me have been Adventure Time and Regular Show. I approached both with a bit of hesitation when they debuted in 2010, mostly because I feared I wouldn't get them for the worst of reasons, namely that I was too old for them (see Aqua Teen which people adore and I never really got) They both grew on me very quickly and hit their stride this past year. Adventure Time's weird Tokidoki character designs in a sort of Dungeons and Dragons world really works. At the heart of it all, it's the story of a boy and his dog, except the dog can talk and shape his elastic body into almost anything, and they live in the strange Land of Oo. "Anything can happen" usually sounds like an annoying, cheap explanation of your show's premise, but it's kind of AT's thing. I never really know what to expect. Strangely charming musical numbers, an unexpected origin story for the series main villain that made him a way more sympathetic character, an Inception inspired dream episode, AT did them all this past season. John DiMaggio brings his A game as the voice of Jake, and the simple character designs keep the animation very consistent. I never know what I'm going to get, and I'm rarely disappointed.

Regular Show is a bit more formulaic, but I don't mean that as an insult. Two slackers working at a local park get themselves into trouble either by ducking responsibilities or busting on one another, which gets resolved with a videogame inspired boss battle as a resolution. Regular Show has some of my favorite character designs: leads Mordecai and Rigby are a bluejay and a raccoon, there's Pops, a Victorian gentleman with a giant head, Skips, a muscular mystic Yeti who skips everywhere he goes, Muscleman, a sort of greasy ghoul and his buddy High Five Ghost, and my personal favorite, Benson the angry gumball machine in charge of the park. Regular Show is always funny and enjoyable. Mordecai's unrequited love for Margaret the Cardinal is sweet and funny, and there's a great chemistry between the various cast members. Has my favorite portrayal of unicorns anywhere ever, the zombie movie episode was fantastic, and Muscleman's broken heart was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. Like I said, it has a formula, but it's a great formula.

Lastly, in the "cancelled too soon" category is Sym-Bionic Titan, Genndy Tatarovsky (of Samurai Jack fame)'s take on the giant robot genre. My biggest beef with this is the same one I have with all of Genndy's work, namely that I don't always like his character designs. I'm a stickler for having characters all look like they exist in the same universe, and can find his character designs wildly inconsistent. Some are great, others I think are total shit. But where he absolutely always kills it as an animation director is in creating moods, and ambience and sets/backgrounds and dialogue. The strengths in this area made up for the weaknesses I found with some of the character designs. For example I hated the character design for Newton, the human alter ego of Octus, the protector/AI. But Octus/Newton/Dad were all voiced and portrayed brilliantly by Brian Posehn, a guy who really should be getting more animation voiceover work, he's great. The mechanical and character designs definitely reflect inspirations of a Westerners exposure to anime, sentai, tokusatsu and even a bit of daikaiju. I wasn't hot on a lot of the mechanical design, but both Octus and Titan were really successful. Both used a sort of hard light body design which looked great rendered as computer animation composited in 2D. The fight scenes were epic in scale….you really got a huge sense of collateral damage. If anything, I think this series suffered because of what came before it, not for what it was. Samurai Jack was a completely original concept. The super robot genre is well established, and people come to it with expectations. It was an ambitious project that didn't resonate enough with the right demographic, which is a shame. Despite my dislikes, I watched every episode and thought it was wonderfully successful on a lot of levels. It definitely died too soon.

I'm sure there are shows I missed. In general I feel like the US animation market has become more willing to branch out and try stranger, more independent/creator owned projects. Looking forward to what pops up in 2012.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

So long old friend.....

Shortly after she woke up this morning, Jen opened the back door that leads onto our porch and discovered something terrible. The local raccoon had paid a visit overnight and killed my pet turtle who was in a small basin on the table. I went out, surveyed the damage, sat down and sobbed a bit. I've called my Mom sobbing today. TWICE. I'll probably cry again before the day is through. Over a turtle, you ask? Yeah. A really great turtle.

I don't remember exactly when I caught the musk turtle I'd later name Stinkpot, but in my mind it was right around the beginning of high school, maybe 1985? Stinkpot hailed from Little Squam Lake in the small town of Holderness, New Hampshire. It was an unimaginitive name, since Sternotherus odoratus is commonly known as a stinkpot. It was like naming a cat Kitty. I remember him giving off the musky stink the species releases as a defense when captured, but I was clearly undeterred, and decided right then and there that he would be my pet and come live with me in New York City.

I'm a reptile and amphibian guy (a herpetophile, if you must). I always have been, as long as I can remember. I grew up with four older sisters, none of whom feared reptiles in the least. I always remember there being pet turtles in the house. We spent a nice chunk of our summer every year on Squam Lake, which is where I learned how to catch frogs and turtles and I'm sure those turtles from my memories were from. I remember a painted turtle named Green Slime, after a patch of algae where it was found. Maybe unimaginative turtle names run in the family.

Appreciating reptiles is sort of like appreciating houseplants. You can't expect the kind of interaction you'll get with furry pets, but turtles are probably the best reptile ambassadors. They move at their own pace and can live to be hundreds of years old. They're cute...look at a hatchling turtle and tell me otherwise. Stinkpot's personality was a mix of reclusive and inquisitive, typical turtle. When I'd remove him from the water, he'd pull into his shell, but when set down, he'd slowly emerge, his kind little face pushing it's way out. Taking deep breaths through that little pointed snoot, he'd crane out his neck to survey his surroundings with those strangely expressive eyes. I used to put the very tip of my finger in the water and watch him slowly and very deliberately get ready to strike at it. He never got me, I could see it coming a mile away. But I thoroughly enjoyed watching him go through the paces at his own pace.

The last few years he'd been living in a community tank with 2 other turtles, including Gertie, a Florida cooter who absolutely dwarfed him in size. Those two were the best of friends, always basking together, sometimes with Stinkpot using Gertie as his basking rock. I liked that they got along, big turtle and small turtle, different species but turtles united under the order Chelonia. Stinkpot was an adult when I caught him, and was a pet for at least 25 years, pretty much my adult life. For all I know, he could have been older than me. That turtle knew me when I was a virgin with two legs. He was around that time I had a mullet, for all those relationships that went sour and felt like the end of the world. How much easier my life would have been all those years if I could have just taken it at his pace.

When I took him out here just recently to give him some TLC for the skin fungus he'd contracted, he seemed older. He'd lost a lot of the stored fat that made his legs look like he'd been filled into his shell with a piping bag and he didn't seem to have the same kind of energy he once did. I wondered if he may not be at the end of his road. But the fungus got better, and he was eating, only to get poached by a raccoon. That should have been the one thing I didn't have to worry about protecting him from in the big city. It was really hard seeing him torn and shucked like an oyster, an empty upside down shell buzzing with flies. It was like getting called in to ID your murdered friend.

I thought about keeping his shell, but realized I had no desire to clean it of what flesh remained, nor did I want a memory of finding him that way. I'd bury him if I didn't fear raccoons coming to exhume him. I hate the fact that I just have to discard him. He's not trash. I lost a longtime companion, even if he was only a reptile. The sadness I feel speaks to the positive effect he had on my life. I will truly miss him, and it's killing me that he went the way he did, even though it was in the most natural of ways. Not even the city can hold the laws of nature in check. Stinkpot, you were a fine specimen, and I am most grateful for all the time I had you in my care.

I'll end with a link to a fantastic NY Times article about turtles from a few years back. Read it if you've got the time, it will make you appreciate the ambassadors of the reptile world a little more.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Blues

Sundays are the day I have to go online to certify my claim to get my weekly unemployment benefits. I hate doing it. It reminds me that I'm still unemployed and have been unemployed for close to a year. When my last job ended, it was with a mix of worries and relief. I didn't want to be out of a job, but I'd been looking for other employment opportunities for close to six months at that point. The job was stressful, and for a long time it had been taking a toll on me. I had a month of vacation time coming my way that I had never gotten to take, so when it ended, I was ready. But now I'm more than ready to get back to work.

Being unemployed sucks. The benefits aren't great, but I couldn't survive without them. Job searches are this crazy rollercoaster ride of building hopes, then disappointments, then having to start all over. That's been when I'm even getting called in for interviews. Many, many more resumes get sent off into the ether, never to be seen or heard from again. I've never, EVER been good at selling myself. Pretty much every job I've had I've gotten through either a backdoor or by attrition. And now I'm 40, competing against graduates half my age. It's a tough situation, and I know a lot of people have it worse than I do, so I try not to dwell on it, but today it hit me kind of hard. I'm over this. I want to get my life back and not keep playing a waiting game and living in limbo.

Sometimes you have no choice but to push forward, and this is one of those situations. Tomorrow's another day.

Friday, July 29, 2011


As they say in Japanese, it's been a while. No need to expound on the reasons why. To bring things up to speed, I'm out of work, been so for longer than I've hoped to be and I'm actively looking to change that. I also turned 40, so I've turned a corner in my life and I'm thinking about how to reinvent and repackage myself. It's been alternately interesting, depressing, and scary. Recently, David Horvath (the creator of Uglydolls) has been posting a lot of great stuff on his Google + stream. By great stuff I mean really wonderful advice from a guy who has made it big doing it his way. He doesn't sugarcoat it. He straight up says that you're going to encounter failures, but he also comes across like the life coach I've been looking for. It's been really inspirational. It's hard to find your mojo. Harder still to maintain it until it bears fruit. Hardest of all, finding it again when you feel that you've lost it. David's online pep talks have been amazing, and have lit a fire under my ass.

Today I got messaged on Facebook from a colleague from my old job. Despite the fact that we've never met in person (he's in Los Angeles, I'm in New York. Really wish it had happened, just never came to pass), I've always felt that we had a good rapport, which is actually not so crazy to think in the age of the internet. Anyway, he was just reaching out to me. The company we both worked for has been having a hard time of it the last couple of months, and both of our positions got eliminated. It was nice to hear from someone in such a genuine, unspoiled fashion. In stark contrast, I haven't heard word one from my old boss/head of the company. Not even a "thanks for everything, wish you well". It was really disappointing. Disheartening even. But then out of the clear blue, "hey, how're you doing?". People surprise me and disappoint me in equal measure.

Today I also had a talk with my neighbor about the outdoor space we share. To be fair, we had been encroaching on his space in recent weeks, and he just made the perfectly valid point about not wanting to have to look at somebody else's stuff. We'll ignore the fact that he doesn't separate his trash, drag the building trash to the curb, or shovel the walk when it snows for now. But the encounter itself was uncomfortable for me. It reminded me that one of my real weaknesses is that I hate conflict with people. I'm fine with angry conflict, probably a little too comfortable. When we lived on Sullivan Street, we had these asshole neighbors who just co-opted a courtyard space in the building that happened to look directly into our apartment. I eventually confronted them about it. It was extremely hard for me to do, and talking to my neighbor today I had that same shitty feeling in my gut. Was I turning into the asshole neighbor? This fucker never once cleared the steps when it snowed 8 inches a week once a week for the entire month of January. But he pays rent, and that space is his, even if I feel it would be better used by me. I was in the wrong, and he was right for calling me out on it.

I think one of the reasons I stopped blogging for so long was that I was always looking for some kind of way to wrap up disparate things I wanted to write about in some kind of neat fashion. It has been cool to find something I needed without even really looking for it, thanks to David for that. Anonymous colleague, I hope we do get to meet in person some day. Downstairs neighbor, I appreciate you coming to me to address your issues. I hope you know that despite the fact that I hope you move out and somebody much cooler moves in, I never want to be the bad neighbor. I know how shitty they can make things. And to myself, need to work on resolving conflicts in a way that doesn't leave me obsessing about them, because that does me no good whatsoever.

Monday, May 3, 2010


My long weekend is at an end it's been a nice and much needed break from things. I spent a lot of time in the garden which has become my go to retreat from everything my life throws at me. It's not much, but it's ours. It's added an entirely new dimension to my city living experience, one that I can't ever imagine not having now. I've been taking immense pleasure just watching the cycle of renewal that goes on. I love seeing how weeds and native plants push through cracks in the sidewalk, or grow wild in abandoned lots. My city is alive and breathing, and when I can slow down a little I can watch it grow. I've got space to encourage it to grow. It's just the start of the spring and summer growing season, and our porch and garden are already looking really nice. The grapevines have started their crawl, the morning glories will follow. Our neighbor downstairs left a raised flowerbed when she moved out that we filled with discount flower seeds from the 99¢ store. Got a patch sown with sunflowers, echinacea and black eyed susans. My Japanese maple has bloomed, and we planted a rhododendron bush. Got moonflower vines coming up in a big pot, and Jen is growing herbs and vegetables like a seasoned farmer. It's amazing the sense of well being tending to our garden gives me. I'm at ease out there in a way I don't really think I've felt before. Part of it is just me getting older, but a big part of it is things just feeling right. This is the first apartment Jen and I moved into together. I don't think I could be happier with things than I've been here living with her this past year. I feel like I've found where I'm supposed to be.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

So Long April

It's been a long month. Long 2010 thus far, really. Stressful couple of months to say the least. Things have been really intense lately, and for the first time in a long time, I lost my shit. The last time I did anything like that was my first full on panic attack, which was a couple of years ago. That was an awful experience, one I'm glad I haven't ever repeated, but this recent lapse of cool was no picnic either and had me emotionally laid out. The end result of all of this is the undeniable conclusion that there are things in my life that I need to change, for my own sense of well being and peace of mind. I know what I've gotta do, it's that whole getting it done part that intimidates me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Marching Onward

March is here, it's been a long and exhausting winter. I've really missed being able to spend time on the porch and in the garden. With all the plants pretty much dead and Marmalade living indoors there's been no reason to venture out back for some time now. It's amazing what a little bit of outdoor space does for my spirits. Mom's apartment always had houseplants and my room had the southern exposure so I've always had a little green retreat. Something about warm sunshine and green growth puts me at ease. Makes me feel really content, and connected with things.

I've never stopped being a science nerd, so watching plants grow and thrive is extremely satisfying to me. It reminds me that life is kind of amazing. I know that's gotta sound mad corny, I don't mean it in any kind of religious way. It's life's processes that amaze me. Our yard is full of leafbare stalks and snow right now. In 2 months, it will be green. In another 2, green and lush. Our little slice of outdoor life will resurrect itself. And continue to do so, year after year.

With winter behind us and a new month heralding the onset of spring starting, I need to focus. I want to focus, it's not always the easiest thing to do and it's one of my biggest stumbling blocks. Things are hard all over but even as I feel the pinch I can step back and appreciate what I've got going on. Could things be better? Of course. They always can. It's easy to get down on everything. Particularly easy for ME to get down on everything. But the return of the green is imminent, and with it comes that sense of well being I've missed for the last couple of months. I can't wait.