Thursday, June 08, 2006

Comics, Books, Boston and St. Louis

It’s been a busy week and I am higher than a kite right now. Drugs? Nope. Alcohol? Nada. I’m typing this on a plane. Yes. An aeroplane on my way back to Boston from St. Louis. I am getting bored of the book that I am reading (more on that in a few paragraphs) so I decided to bust out the old computer and start banging away at the keyboard.

As you have probably noticed, there is no new comic strip this weekend. There probably won’t be for a few weeks, I’ve decided to do a few things with the strip. One, I am crafting a new web site for Room 19 Comics. It’s going to be much better, with a more sophisticated look and feel. The same elements will be there: the strips, the Blog, but I want it to reflect a more professional look. Also, during the next few weeks I am going to try and contact some web artists and “regular” comic artists and have them take a look at my strip and give me some feedback.

This is definitely going to be a bit of a gamble as I’m sure some will say that it flat-out sucks. Dealing with criticism on my creative ideas has never been my forte, but I’m just going to have to deal with it and use it in order to get better. So that’s where I am with that.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been flying through books, I have a few reviews that you may or may not enjoy, but if you want to skip them, be my guest. Following the book reviews, I have some thoughts on St. Louis and the new Busch Stadium.

The first book I read, actually reread, was “The Family” by Ed Sanders. This was a terrifically researched book on the Manson family and their crimes. Compared to Sanders Vincent Bugliosi, he wrote the more popular “Helter Skelter”, was a complete pussy. Why was Sanders such a bad ass? While doing research for the book, he actually hung out with members of the family that weren’t imprisoned. And some of them, like Sandra Good or Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme or Steve “Scramblehead/Clem” Grogan were genuine psychopaths.

Yet he was there at the ranch and actually spent an entire night in the desert with them. And with that, he has a ton more evidence than Bugliosi could ever dream of. He traces the Family’s rise to power in the late 60s in San Francisco and how Manson would tour the California coast line in a black bus with four of his witches (three of whom would eventually be sent to jail). Sanders also puts forth the theory that Manson was actually part of a bigger Satanic cult that had ties to Hollywood.

He also suggests that while the murders at the Tate and LaBianca households may have looked random, there may have been something more calculating going on underneath. Sanders never explicitly says it, but he broadly hints that there may have been a higher power telling Manson that the people at Cielo Road and the LaBianca house needed to be wiped off the planet.

For anyone interested in this case, and it seems that there are more and more people whom get into this mystery everyday, this is THE book to read. “Helter Skelter” is Manson101, this tome is a more advanced course.

The second book I buzzed through in the last month was a terrific baseball book written by one of my favorite baseball writers, Rob Neyer. It is entitled “Baseball’s Biggest Bloopers” and goes through a host of wrong doings and flat-out bad ideas of the last 100 years.

The thing that I enjoyed most of all about this was that Neyer just didn’t take the conventional roads to reach his point, he looked at the trade or in-game move from a bunch of different angles. For example, many people have ripped the Cincinnati Reds for trading Frank Robinson for (essentially) Milt Papas.

Neyer agrees that it was a bad trade (Robinson simply kicked ass, while Papas got hurt and sucked), but he argues that a. when the trade was made many thought that the Reds were getting the better of the deal (Papas had a lot of upside and F. Robby was thought to be on the downside of his career) and b. even with Frank Robinson, the Reds wouldn’t had done much better than they did. Perhaps they may have one an extra division title, but by the time the 70s began they were beginning their dominance and Robinson wouldn’t have helped much.

There is a lot of stuff about the Red Sox in this book, including the 86 World Series where Neyer claims that McNamara lost game six not with keeping Buckner out for the tenth inning, but because he didn’t pinch hit for him in the eighth with lefty Jesse Orosco on the mound. He says that Don Baylor should’ve been brought in as a pinch hitter because Buckner was ludicrously bad against lefties and Orosco was exceptionally good that year. Leaving Buckner to bat against Orosco was an insanely dumb nonmove, Neyer argues. And I happen to agree with him.

Going all the way through the 2003 playoffs, we even get essays on the Boston and Chicago collapses. Reading this book in the aftermath of the 2004 season, is a lot easier to take had the Sox lost to the Cards or were swept by the Yanks. I highly recommend this book.

Speaking of the Sox, quick booky-book intermission here, Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald argues that they’re essentially paper champions this year. He said that they haven’t beaten anyone of substance (I’m not too sure about that) and aren’t as good as the 2004 edition. I can’t say that I don’t agree with him. I think he goes a bit too far in saying that the Sox haven’t beaten anyone, they just took two of three from the AL leading Detroit Tigers (how weird is it to write that by the way?), though they did get their asses handed to them by the Yankees (who tied the season series at 4-4) last night.

Reactionary column after a bad lost? No doubt. But there is a kernel of truth to it. Schilling has been dominant for most of his starts. Beckett is a streaky bastard who looks like Roger Clemens one start and Matt Clement the next. Speaking of which, the less said about Clement the better. Two weeks ago, he lost the Sox fandom forever by letting the Yankees and the Big Ugly get off the mat after the Sox had their proverbial cleats on their throats. Will he ever get his ship righted in Boston? Doubtful.

Wakefield also has been inconsistent as hell, but he’s a knuckleballer. You can’t expect much from him and David Wells makes a start every month, which leads to fifth starters like Lenny DiNardo and David Pauley.

The bullpen has started to round into form with Jonathan Papelbon leading the way with a 0.33 ERA (ONE earned run) and 20 straight saves. This kid is simply lights fucking out awesome. Keith Foulke is back as a decent seventh or eighth inning guy and Mike Timlin is already tired. Julian Taverez and Rudy Seanez have been ok, while guys like Manny Delcarmen and Jermain VanBuren haven’t done too badly.

We’ve been spoiled the last three years with offensive juggernauts and you knew that eventually things were going to dip a bit sooner or later. Well, later has come as the hitting hasn’t been quite the same. This can be blamed on a number of things including the six-week injury of offensive sparkplug Coco Crisp. With Crisp out, Kevin Youkilis had to take an unfamiliar role as the leadoff man and he was awesome. That wasn’t the problem, the problem was if you take out one of your good players (Crisp) and replace him with a guy that made your last third of the lineup insanely strong (Youkilis) you obviously weaken the last part of your lineup.

It doesn’t matter if Alex Cora or Alex Gonzalez is playing short, one of them isn’t going to hit. Add the centerfield offensive black hole of Willie Harris (who got a few starts because of the Wily Mo Pena injury) and the at bats that Doug Mirabelli gets when he catches Wakefield and while you aren’t Kansas City Royals bad, but you’re close. And seriously, can we stop the Mirabelli hero worship, please? The guy was completely washed up last year and he’s more so now. And watching him catch Wakefield, while he’s probably not as bad as Josh Bard (who is DESTROYING the ball in San Diego), he’s not exactly Johnny Bench either. BTW, the less said about Jason Varitek’s “hitting” the better, he looks as if he’s swinging his September lumber in May. Not a good sign.

As for the good, after a slow start Mark Loretta is finally making people forget about Tony Graffinino (yes, seriously). And while Ortiz isn’t hitting for a high average, he’s still knocking in runners and hitting dingers. Manny has been a bit inconsistent (for him), but is showing signs of turning it around. I don’t think that northeast Aprils and Mays are kind to him, BTW. Trot has been ok, but with Pena’s injuries, he’s going to have to face a lot of lefties now … not exactly his strong suit. However Gabe Kapler is on the mend and should be back with four weeks, which means we can say good bye to Dustin (Less is ) Mohr. Sorry for the lame Bermanism, but you’re with me leather.

The biggest surprise, and honestly from all reports it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, goes to Mike Lowell. This guy is simply scorching the ball. He’s in the top ten in average, last time I checked he’s leading the league in doubles and making a run at Earl Webb’s record. From everything I’ve read he’s one of the hardest workers on team taking extra fielding and hitting practice, working hard and lets his play do the talking. After his testicular cancer operation a few years ago, a great year by him in one of the best baseball cities in America, it is just a great story.

Another terrific story, and one that we’re not used to around here, has been the sparkling play of the Sox defense, particularly the infield. Youkilis has taken to firstbase like a young Keith Hernandez (hyperbole? Perhaps), Loretta is solid, Gonzalez may hit like shit, but he fields like no one I’ve ever seen and Lowell makes a bunch of tremendous plays too. It’s been a lot of fun watching them in the field.

Back to the books, the third book that I’ve completed was Chuck Klosterman’s “Killing Yourself to Live”. I’ve been wanting to read this since I went on my Klosterman kick back in October, but I was too cheap to buy it in hardcover. About a week ago I saw it in softcover and snapped it up. It’s good, not as good as “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” or “Fargo Rock City”, but it’s still a more than decent read.

Why wasn’t it as good as the other ones? I think it’s a bit too self indulgent for starters. For me, Klosterman’s bread and butter is writing about pop culture and tying it to the everyday occurrences that we all face. In this book he goes on a death trip throughout the United States, stopping at the sites of different rock stars deaths. Great premise. Along the way he waxes about all the girls he’s been involved with. It’s like that Englebert Humperdink-Willie Nelson song if song by the Pixies or Pavement or some other alt band. Is it bad? No. Not in small doses, but it does get sort of boring after the 50th time he brings it up. Yes, I get it, you’ve had a few girlfriends that you still love, quit being a pussy, make a choice and live with it.

I’m probably being too hard on the guy because I genuinely liked the book, he has a lot of interesting views on rock, most of which I share (though his theory that Jim Morrison is the most overrated rocker ever is not one) and he succinctly describes the Led Zeppelin phase of every man perfectly. However, I think that he may have gone a bit overboard with his wistful reminiscing about his past loves. Dude, just go with Lucy Chance, she seems cool and won’t put up with your shit and in the end, that’s really what every guy wants, a challenge.

The last book I read is another that I’ve read before, “Saturday Morning Fever” by Timothy and Kevin Burke. I’m not sure why it took two people to write this, though I can tell because it is a tad schizophrenic. On one hand, it seems that it wants to be a sort of memory book where people from my generation can remember the Saturday morning cartoons that they used to love. On the other hand, it tries to be a bit too scholarly in its defense of the genre. The problem with this take is two-fold: one, I don’t think that Saturday morning TV needed to be defended, most people realize that it was what it was (Frankenberry for the eyes) and two their defense sounds more like a child’s whine. They just didn’t do a good or even competent job of defending why Saturday morning TV was ok for kids.

There wasn’t a lot of first-hand “evidence” from experts, must testimonials were from anonymous newsgroup postings and stuff written years ago. One of the Burkes is a music magazine writer and the other is college professor and their styles simply don’t mesh. When they try to be scholarly, it lacks. When they try to be breezy, it sort of works, and the less said about the humorous sidebars, the better.

The one thing that I have to say is that they completely miss the boat on the “Davey and Goliath” show, calling it either punishment TV or the worst program during the weekend. D&G is not meant to be taken literally, if you watch the show ironically or stoned (like I used to when I was in college), the show is actually very funny and quite good. But, if you’re watching it with any form of sincerity, you’re going to be let down. It’s a lot like “Leave it to Beaver” there is enough funny shit to keep you going if you know where to find it.

Was this a terrible book? No, though the last chapter gives new meaning to the word monotony, and if you have a spare $20, pick it up and you’ll get a pretty good trip down memory lane, but don’t expect to get any real insight or concrete points for your next cartoons-are-evil debate.

This is probably the longest entry I’ve ever written and if you’re still with me, I will send you a dollar. The last thing I wanted to write about is my trip to St. Louis. I was in the Show-Me state for a grand total of 29 hours and it was cool. For one thing, there is something about the women out here, I have no idea what they feed them … but, damn, they better keep doing it. Also, summer comes early here, so that means, there is less clothes in June than in Boston.

I ended up getting tickets to the Red/Cards game last night at the new Busch Stadium. I hate to sound like a certain sportscaster, but why can’t we get parks like this? My friend and I had awesome seats in centerfield and we could see every part of the ballpark. We also walked around a bit and sat in some other seats (behind home plate and in the leftfield bleachers) and it was the same. The place was gorgeous, brand spanking new with the greenest grass I’ve ever seen.

Everything looked like it was brand new (probably because it was) and shiny. The concession stands were awesome offering everything from a barbequed turkey leg to standard hot dogs and pretzels. Two words: beer guys. They have them there and they dispense 16oz Budweiser products. BTW, if you don’t like Bud products, you’re SOL here. And at the beer stands, they give you a 24 oz can of brew for pretty much the same price as the Fenway suds.

And if you have kids, there’s plenty of stuff for them to do too as they have free batting cages, video games and other stuff out in centerfield.

The one thing that completely blew me away was the atmosphere around the park. For one thing, everyone is decked out in red. EVERY ONE. And they are really into every pitch. They’re super nice, but ultra competitive too. I’d go back there any time and I think it really gives Fenway a run for its money in terms of baseball obsession. Ok, I’m about to land and the computer is just about out of batteries.