Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Mr." Steve's Storytime

at Vroman's Bookstore

"Good morning, and welcome to Storytime."

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They call me "Mr." Steve, and I've been the Storytime Reader at Vroman's Bookstore (in Pasadena, CA) since about 1992.

I was a film student when I was hired, with no experience with children's books beyond what I had read as a kid.

A little over a year later, they hired a young woman to take charge of the Children's Department. She had a long list of credentials: teacher, actress, reading therapist, etc.

She was the first (and only) professional children's storyteller I had observed prior to inheriting her job when she left the company.

My mom also influenced my story telling style. She used to incorporate different voices and sound effects when she would read to read to me and brother.

I also borrowed heavily from the "Electric Company" (the PBS companion to "Sesame Street," which ran in the '70s), and their "reading can be fun" attitude.

I've seen the same kids come back week after week--sometimes for years--until they outgrow me, or they have to start school.

Since the parents are the ones who have to get up early on Saturday mornings, rustle the kids, and drive them over to Vroman's, I try to pick books that will appeal to kids AND the adults who cared enough to bring them to Storytime.

About once a month, we have a "special guest" after Storytime.

Below are some photos of a few of the "guests" that have visited Vroman's Bookstore over the years.

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Peter Rabbit
(yep, that's me in there.)

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The Peter Rabbit suit is terrific, and allows for more movement than most costumes.

I'm able to hunker down here, but I'm over 7 feet tall in that thing.

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Why is this kid in shock?

I mean, it's only a hug from a seven-foot-tall rabbit!

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Curious George always gets asked, "Where's the Man in the Yellow Hat?"

We characters are never supposed to talk, so I'd just pantomime something: usually a shrug, and/or blow a kiss.

(I learned from "the greats" at Disneyland.)

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I still have that picture this little girl drew for Curious George (somewhere).

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That's not a doll on my lap; it's a girl with the Arthur mask she just colored. She did a great job.

We both look just like Arthur.

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As Arthur's popularity grew, so did the number of fans that came to see him!

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Here's another favorite who benefited from TV exposure: Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Ever see kids cry when they get up close to Santa Claus or The Easter Bunny at photo ops?

When I got a look at the Miss Spider costume, I thought that even the bravest kids were going to lose it.

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(Here is Miss Spider, wondering if babies taste like flies.)

Miss Spider looks like she should be fighting the Power Rangers!

So I made it a point to warn the kids and the parents several times before we brought her out: "She looks scary, but she's nice."

Then I went away for a few minutes, and came out dressed like this:

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No tears. We all had an awesome time.

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That's me again, as "The Bear" from"We're Going On a Bear Hunt."

Unlike a lot of costumes that don't "talk," this one has a lever in the hand that allows the wearer to move the mouth.

Oddly enough, The Bear never speaks in the book.

Go figure.

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Recognize The Shadow? At least you can see part of my face in this costume.

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This little girl's mom is the one who started calling me "Mr." Steve.

(That is a TOY gun I'm holding; and strictly for "character authenticity.")


These are just a few of the characters who have visited Vroman's Bookstore.

Others (not pictured) include The Cat In the Hat, The Berenstain Bears, Spot, Angelina Ballerina, Garfield, and Winnie the Pooh.

is lots of fun, with or without a celebrity guest.

Stories happen every Wednesday and Saturday from 10:00AM, until the kids get fidgety (which usually takes about an hour). Then everyone lines up at the air tank, where I start handing out free balloons...

(I wish the rest of my job was this much fun.)

Until the next (Story)time,
"Mr." Steve

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Deco City: An fx Gallery

In the late '80s, I placed an ad in the Comics Buyer's Guide, stating that I was a writer looking to collaborate with an artist.

I received a small packet from France that contained comic pages, spot illustrations, and other samples drawn in a style that I had never seen before. The artist's name was Laurent Cilluffo.

Cilluffo01.jpg picture by mrmaskrado
(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

I was completely blown away.

Laurent kept sending me samples.

I knew that I had to write something that we could develop together.

Laurent's samples was an abstract picture of what appeared to be a man in a jumpsuit, with the lowercase letters "fx" emblazoned across his chest. He seemed to be floating above a fantastic city, among balloon-like objects that were also airborne.

FirstFX.jpg picture by mrmaskrado
(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

My contribution was the back story: Dave Dobson was a scientist who was developing a formula that would allow humans to breathe underwater. Crooks broke into Dave's lab; when he resisted, they attempted to kill him with an injection from an untried sample. Instead, Dave Dobson can float through the air when he holds his breath.

Another art sample had what looked like a man sitting on a small seat that had a mini helicopter propeller sticking up from the back. Laurent indicated that the character's name was "Mr. Unknown," but that was later changed to "Mr. Anonymous" (or "Mr. A"), so he wouldn't be confused with the masked editor of From Parts Unknown Magazine.

I was again inspired by Laurent's images: John Doe (not his real name) is an anti-social bad boy with a mysterious past. His father had ties to the criminal underworld, but John rejected his old man's violent ways, taking up science and inventing over killing. He changed his name, and was accepted at Deco City's Tower of Science, where he has been able to continue his mysterious experiments in secrecy.

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

Laurent draws terrific architecture and cities. His art style doesn't really fit the popular definition of Art Deco, but he loves comic strips from the '30s and the '40s (the Art Deco period), and I was very influenced by pulp novels from the same era.

I set the story in Deco City, which set the tone for a time and place that looks vaguely like Dick Tracy's world, where all of the gangsters talk like James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson ("See?").

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

That was how fx, Mr. A, and Deco City came to be...

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

fx (always lowercase) was originally conceived as a series of humorous adventure stories with a somewhat avant-garde slant.

The first story I wrote involved a robbery at Deco City's art gallery.

Joe Nitro and his gang blast their way in, only to find a sub-human, troll-like creature trying to steal the nude paintings ("Noodz!")

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

Rival vigilantes fx and Mr. Unknown (as he was then-called) pick up a police report about the break in.

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

Their arrival at the crime scene adds to the confusion, the result being a free-for-all between the crooks, the brute fixated on "Noodz," fx, and Mr. Unknown.

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

Laurent Cilluffo's style has evolved over the years. His early artwork was brilliant, if somewhat abstract.

The first fx story was re-drawn at four times. The samples above are from three of them (the page with the dark, maroon red is the oldest), and it's not the entire story.

The story got easier to follow with each subsequent version. (The page below is the newest.)

(Art Copyright 2007 Laurent Cilluffo)

Editors from Dark Horse Comics and Tundra went wild when they saw Laurent's work. Unfortunately, they were unable to convince their publishers to take a chance on fx.

Ironically, Laurent's illustrations have since appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, and many other major magazines and journals. (The link below should take you to a gallery of Laurent's spot illustrations.)

He has also illustrated a graphic novel called World Trade Angels. Written by Fabrice Colin, it's a haunting love story that takes place around the events of 9/11. One reviewer called it "certainly the finest comic to have been produced about the events of 9/11 to date." World Trade Angels is available in different languages throughout Europe. However, due to the conservative nature of the American comic book industry, it has not been translated into English, and (as of this writing) has not been picked up by an American publisher.

WorldTradeAngels.jpg picture by mrmaskrado

At least one American reviewer recognized World Trade Angels for the amazing work that it is. (To read the full review, click below).

After taking a breather, Laurent and I are back in action; this time, in a new medium.

In addition to the story about the museum robbery, we had completed an official origin story for fx and Mr. Unknown (now called Mr. Anonymous).

Laurent and his wife, Valerie, adapted most of the comic book into a short, animated film, complete with voice actors, music, and sound effects.

For a preview, click the link below.

The animated movie is very true to our comic, but we're looking to expand the concept into a full-blown series or an illustrated novel; preferably both.

The project is now called Deco City, and the city itself plays a major role in the story. At midnight, the blocks, buildings, and railways rotate like a giant clockwork toy. In theory, this was supposed to discourage areas from subdividing into insular little neighborhoods; all of Deco City was to be one big community. The idea backfired, and now the city is a confusing mess, it's people gripped by paranoia and instability.

The heroes are now teenagers. There is an expanded supporting cast, which includes the Doc Savage-like superhero/scientist who designed Deco City, and who also acts like a pseudo father to Dave Dobson and John Doe.

I'm very excited about Deco City. Laurent's artwork has never been better, and it's exciting to see his images with movement and sound. The new version of the story reflects my current interests, and I can honestly say that I haven't seen anything else like it.

Friday, September 21, 2007




The Chesty Sanchez

Gallery (Part 1)

Welcome to the

In the late '80s, Lyndal Ferguson (a brilliant artist working for a popular title called Rock 'n' Roll Comics) asked me to write a short story for an anthology of "adults only" comics that he was developing.
Far from being "adult," my story about the Thing from the Outhouse was loaded with toilet humor; this was before Nickelodeon and the Captain Underpants books brought "naughty" poo and fart jokes from the schoolyard into the mainstream.
(Art by Carlos Tron)

Many "adults only" comics can be quite juvenile in nature, but they're not for kids because they contain S-E-X.
I chose not to be explicit, and created a "sexy" new character with a tantalizing name:
Chesty Sanchez.
(Art by Carlos Tron)

Chesty's name proved to be ironic; she was to be curvy and voluptuous, but with realistic proportions. Mexican movie and pop stars were Chesty's archetypes; I wanted to avoid the exaggerated, top-heavy physiques that afflict female comic book characters.
At the time, there weren't many female heroines in mainstream comics. Most of the superhero women--like Spider-Woman, and She-Hulk--were based on popular male counterparts, and their comics didn't sell well.
There was also a lack of Latino, particularly Mexican, comic book characters. Once in a while, a publisher would introduce a character with an Hispanic surname that spoke a few words of high school Spanglish, but the names and the costumes were usually uninspiring, or based on stereotypes (without any sense of satire or irony).
(Art by Carlos Tron)

In the script for my four-page story, Chesty battles a monster in a roadside cantina, while her sidekick relates a brief version of her origin to the reader.
After I wrote the story, Lyndal's "adults only" comic was changed from an anthology to a long, single story. He never did draw the Chesty Sanchez story, so I retained all of the rights, and was free to find another artist.
Fortunately, Ben Dunn and the guys at Antarctic Press liked the Zetraman series I was writing for them, and they were receptive to my idea of expanding Chesty Sanchez into a three-issue miniseries.
(Art by Carlos Tron)

Artist Carlos Tron had moved from Mexico City to the Los Angeles area, hoping to break into the American comic book market.
Destiny worked overtime, and he was hired as the new Zetraman artist. Carlos was living relatively close to me, so we met, and we became friends.
(Art by Carlos Tron)

Shortly after we wrapped up the three-issue Zetraman series, Carlos had to move back to Mexico. I visited him on his home turf, and got an insightful, ten-day insider's view of Mexico City that few tourists ever get to see.
Unfortunately, Carlos' new day job, distance, and pre-Internet communications prevented him from drawing the miniseries.
However, Carlos did complete some of the short story, and a few brilliant pieces of promotional art.
His Mexican friends were blown away by his sketches of Chesty battling dinosaurs at landmarks around Mexico City. They had never seen a Mexican superheroine, fighting Hollywood blockbuster-style menaces around familiar local sights, rendered in an American comic book style.

(Art by Jay; coloring by Patrick Thornton,
who went on to be a digital artist for Robert Rodriguez)

The Chesty Sanchez miniseries was eventually released in 1995.
The interior art was by Scott Michaud, who had drawn our T.R.A.S.H.Team story that had been published in Mangazine.
Finishing touches were by Jay, who also drew the covers for the first two issues.
(Art by Scott Michaud and Jay)

Chesty Sanchez was one of the first comics with a lucha libre/Mexican wrestling theme.
In those years before Mucha Lucha and Nacho Libre--even before trailblazers like Santo Street, or From Parts Unknown Magazine--there weren't many sources of information in English that I could use for reference.
One of my biggest influences was a "classic" Mexican film called Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy. It had been dubbed into English, and was popular among cult film fans.
Historically, most male Mexican wrestlers have worn a head-covering mask (or "hood") that is a part of their in-ring image. (That tradition continues to this day.)
The titular Wrestling Women were very beautiful, so their faces remained uncovered.
(Masks should have been worn during the action scenes: their stunt doubles were obviously men wearing wigs.)

I chose Chesty's skimpy, face-revealing mask as a compromise between the bare-faced Wrestling Women and the disguises worn by classic pulp heroes like Zorro, the Domino Lady, the Phantom Detective, and the Spider, who also provided inspiration for Chesty.

(Cover art by Jay)

Her black leather mariachi costume, the big gold boots, and the gold metal gloves with the tricked-out gauntlets were entirely my ideas. Every artist who has drawn Chesty Sanchez has put their unique spin on her look.
Most artists seem to prefer to draw her wearing black leather gloves.
"Why?" you ask?
I couldn't tell you.
(Front cover art by Ignacio Montes)

Scott Michaud and Jay did a terrific job drawing the first two issues, but I had to find a new art team to wrap up the story for the third issue.

Enter Alex Dai and J.R. Gervais.

Chesty Sanchez was their first professional work, and there were a lot of dense, action-packed pages, but Alex and J.R. proved to be fast, reliable, and up to the task.

I co-wrote the script with African-American writer John Ingram, based on my plot. Antarctic Press' proofreader
extraordinaire Doug Dlin did his fine-tooth-comb editing.

The cover painting was by an artist I found at a swap meet. There, Ignacio Montes displayed several gorgeous paintings of Mexican celebrities; for a nominal fee, he could take any photograph and transform it into a flattering portrait.

The reproduction on the cover just doesn't do justice to Ignacio's original. The painting, Chesty's eyes and skin tones as vibrant and life-like, and the details on her jacket shimmer with actual, painted-on glitter.

(Art by Ignacio Montes)

Laura Molina (, who is the founder and publisher of the wonderful, ground-breaking, door-opening Chican@ Art Magazine, has a very sharp and ironic sense of humor.

She painted a beautiful, incredibly detailed piece that was originally going to be the front cover, but much of her work was not visible when the image was reduced to fit the title, bar code, company logo, etc.

(The image below is too small to be appreciated in all of its glory.)

(Art by Laura Molina)

However, it did fill the back cover very well.
Laura's Chesty Sanchez was also displayed in a San Francisco art gallery, as part of a show for Latino artists who blasted racial stereotypes in pop culture with their own satirical images and parodies.
It was seen seen in Univision's TV news coverage of the art show.

El Gato Negro Copyright and TM Richard Dominguez
(Art by Richard Dominguez)

Another gallery-worthy rendition of Chesty was by Richard Dominguez, creator of Mexican-American superhero El Gato Negro, and head honcho of Azteca Productions.

It was displayed in an art show held at East L.A.'s Self-Help Graphics. Richard is the founder of the Professional Amigos of Cartoon/Comic Art Society (P.A.C.A.S.), and the show gave many members the opportunity to show their work to the public.

All of the characters depicted on the poster behind Chesty and El Gato Negro were created by P.A.C.A.S. members.

Sonambulo Copyright and TM Rafael Navarro(Art by Rafael Navarro )

I asked my fellow P.A.C.A.S. members to contribute pin-ups for the last issue of the Chesty Sanchez miniseries.
Here with Chesty is Rafael Navarro's Sonambulo character, a Mexican wrestler-turned-hardboiled private eye. Sonambulo doesn't sleep, but can read people's dreams.

Burrito: Jack of All Trades Copyright and TM Carlos Saldana
(Art by Carlos Saldana)

Like his Burrito character (above), Carlos Saldana is a jack of all trades.

He wrote, drew, and self-published Burrito: Jack of All Trades in the early days of independent comics, then moved on to produce Flash cartoons for his website.

After recording a series of song parodies, Carlos is (as of this writing) a touring stand-up comedian.

El Muerto the Aztec Zombie Copyright and TM Javier Hernandez
(Art by Javier Hernandez)

Here is El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie, created by Javier Hernandez.

Javier's El Muerto comics were adapted into a feature-length film titled The Dead One, starring Wilmer Valderrama (Fez from That '70s Show). It's now available on DVD from Amazon, and most major DVD sellers.

El Muerto is like a Mexican-American version of the Crow, only with more humor, Aztec mythology, and Day of the Dead imagery.

(Blonde Avenger created by Cindy Johns; art by P.M. Butler)

Femme Fatales Magazine was prepared to publish a story about me and Chesty Sanchez.

The article was written by New York Times bestselling author Marc Shapiro, but there was a shakedown at the publisher just before it saw print. B-movie starlets, scream queens, and alternative comic characters were out; mainstream TV actresses and blockbuster film stars became almost exclusively their focus.
I thought it would be a good idea to accompany the article with artwork that paired Chesty with popular, buxom characters from the comic book fringes, like the Blonde Avenger and Ms. Victory (below).

So far, these images have never been published.
Ms. Victory Copyright and TM AC Comics
(Art by Mark Heike)

Ms. Victory is an all-American superheroine, currently appearing in Femforce comics.

I like this image of "United States/Mexican friendship."

(Art by Ben Dunn)

When From Parts Unknown Magazine was published on a regular basis, I was going to contribute a Chesty Sanchez story written in the style of the post-World War II men's adventure magazines (Man's World, Wildcat Adventures).

Those stories had great titles like "Hideous Secrets of the Nazi Horror Cult," "Women Who Wrestle for Fun," and "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!"

That tale remains untold, but Ben Dunn started what was to be the accompanying illustration, featuring new character Brawny James. Missing is the angry horde of scantily-clad native women.

After Chesty Sanchez was published, a short-lived television show called "Queen of Swords" featured a Zorro-like heroine. Hmmm...

Lady Rawhide made her debut (after Chesty) as a supporting character in an officially-licensed Zorro comic.

Topps' comic book company was a division of a major trading card manufacturer, and the creators were well-known among comics fans, which made Lady Rawhide fairly high-profile, for a while.

Ironically, Lady Rawhide's idealized physique and impractical costume represent the very things I was trying to avoid in Chesty Sanchez.

In the years prior to the release of "Legend of Zorro," there were rumors that Catherine Zeta-Jones would wear a mask and costume in the sequel to "Mask of Zorro."
(She didn't, but she did do a lot of sword fighting.)

Chesty Sanchez was my original concept, but I have since eliminated the mask, and any other Zorro-like attributes.
I have re-worked the characters, and changed her name to one more family-friendly...

Loca Sanchez.
You can read a Loca Sanchez story in another blog post.

Additional classic Chesty Sanchez art to follow...
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