Saturday, December 1, 2018

Vampire Girl

One of the few big conflicts I ever had with my mom as a kid had to do with a 6-foot tall Vampiress. 

When I was around 13 or 14 in the 70’s, I went through that big change I guess most adolescent boys go through. It manifested itself in small, weird ways. For one, I became obsessed with this comic magazine called Vampirella. For the uninitiated, Vampirella was an alien who came from a planet where blood ran in rivers like water.
Somehow she made her way to earth and was portrayed as a sort bloodsucker/superhero. I’d like to say that I bought it for the awesome art and magnificent storylines (which is what I probably told myself the time) but I’m pretty sure it had more to do with the skimpy costume.

In the back of the magazine there was an ad for a six foot poster of Vampirella holding a screeching vampire bat on her finger (I’ve recreated it here). It was so beautiful. Painted by the brilliant José Gonzalez, it was so lifelike, so perfectly rendered. I had to have it. I sent my money, received it, and proudly taped it to my wall.

When my mom walked into my room one day and saw it, she almost gasped. “Take that down this instant,” she quietly said to me. In a rare as act of defiance, refused. I said, “Why?” “She said, “You know why.”
I knew she wouldn’t say. Mom was a deeply religious woman and we simply didn’t discuss certain things in our house.
I had a Spider-man poster on the wall, a Bruce Lee and Star Trek. But she couldn’t bring herself say why this was any different. Finally:
“Just be sure to take that down when family comes over, Keith.”
“You know why. And if you say “why” one more time, you’re going to get smacked.”
I started to say some thing clever, but instead let out a soft sigh.

I held on to that poster for years.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Pervy Cos.

Current Wiki description :“William Henry Cosby Jr. (/ˈkɒzbi/; born July 12, 1937) is an American stand-up comedian, actor, musician, author, and convicted sex offender.”

Listening to an interview with Bill Cosby from 2011 where the comedian/sex offender discussed his long career of achievement brought to mind a thought: should the work of an innately bad person be completely dismissed, no matter how important? Cosby, throughout his career, from his early breakthrough years as one of the first hugely successful African American comics, his chart-topping comedy albums, groundbreaking television shows (including Little Bill, which my kids loved) - should all these works be boycotted and never watched or appreciated again? Same as the films of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen or Harvey Weinstein (which, at the very least, would include all the works of Quentin Tarantino), the paintings of Pablo Picasso, The music of Michael Jackson, the works of Lewis Carroll, - it goes on and on. I’m asking, not telling. How do we approach the heritage of a deeply flawed genius?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Nat KIng Cole

I think my mom’s favorite singer was Nat King Cole. Even though music was constant in our house - all  kinds of magical sounds flowed - Jazz, country, blues, show tunes, pop - We had so many of his records. When his smooth silky voice permeated our home, my mom, who also possessed a lovely croon, would sing along. But it wasn’t just the melancholy verses of "Mona Lisa". I think there was a sort of teenage girl crush lurking somewhere under the appreciation of the music.

When I was little, she used to dress me similarly to the way he looked on his album covers and even straighten my hair with a hot comb which made it resemble Mr. Cole’s coif (It was the 1970's, so you can imagine how well THAT worked ay my local junior high, especially since Afros were the rage).

Of course now I can appreciate the man's talent - Particularly his innovative piano records before he was pigeonholed as a pop singer. But hearing his music always gives me a nostalgic jolt.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Old and deep.

Deep under the icy depths live the Greenland sharks, the world’s longest living vertebrates. Until recently, it was impossible to determine just how ancient these animals are but modern technology which involves the use of a lens crystalline in the eye of a fish, have helped determine its age. Some, over 16 feet long, have existed possibly up to over 500 years. How do they live so long? It may be its slow metabolism in the bitter cold. Its said there may be Greenland sharks alive today born before Christopher Columbus.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Frances McDormand

"If you're not going to kill me,... I've got things to do." - FrancesMcDormand, "Dark Man"
My favorite Oscar-nominated performance of 2017 hands-down is Francis McDormand for her wrenching work in Three Billboards Out Of Ebbing Missouri. McDormand has created an incredible body of work with great performances after another. Her role as Mildred Hayes is right up there with Marge Gunderson in Fargo and her brilliant turn as Olive Kitteridge in the HBO mini-series of the same name.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Black Panther

There have been endless memes, magazine articles, cover stories, tweets, blog posts, and fan commentaries about the upcoming new Black Panther film opening this Friday. 
I‘ve been reluctant to add to these voices because it seems like all that can be said has been said. I can only offer my own personal story and why for me this film is almost as important as an Obama presidency. 
As my family and friends know, I’ve been obsessed with the Marvel comics character The Black Panther since the late 60’s. I’m a Marvel geek from way back, and used to buy almost everything they put out, since I was 13 years old, maxing out my paper route money. I recall a defining moment when I saw a particular issue of The Fantastic Four (#119, 1971) where the FF rush to the aid of their friend, T’Challa, Prince of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, who is battling his old foe Klaw. At the conclusion of the story, the heroes are passing through an airport and the Panther, in costume having just fought an epic battle is accosted by an white Afrikaner cop. It seems he cannot go through the same doorway as his comrades because of the color of his skin. Ben Grimm, The Thing, comes to his aid, and with his great strength collapses entrances of the “European Only” and “Coloreds Only” sign into one. 
This is how I found out about apartheid.
After that issue, I bought every single comic I could find that featured this character. Even the comic book writers and artists who worked on various series featuring the character over the years became my heroes – some of whom I knew were black creators themselves. He was a character that I felt proud of. I used to draw my own comics and made up a character called The Leopard – a kind of moniker I still use – even the name of this blog -- and he was more or less a rip-off of The Panther. 
The idea that this character could become as popular as Spider-man or Batman – characters I adore – fills me with joy. As a father, whose sons dig superheroes almost as much as their dad, just knowing that this movie exists, -for me - is a revelation. And brings to my mind just a little more optimism for the future.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Lucian Freud

One of the Leopard's favorite painters who lived in my lifetime is the polarizing British painter Lucian Freud. For me, he is the quintessential artist, whose work developed over time passing through many periods of development until he found his most famous and recognizable style and subjugation - pulpy, thickly painted large oils of nudes in provocative poses, both and male and female.  What makes these works so striking is their startling honesty. The pallid fleshiness of his models denies idealism. This is what a human body of a certain age looks like, and there is much beauty in his depictions but no interest in what passes for conventional beauty, at least of the commercial sense.
Evidence of the inner working of Freud's mind are his landscapes which are just as sensuous but also depicts nature not in idealized light or perfect conditions but also in all its ugly beauty.

By all accounts, the painter, who was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was a scoundrel, often sexually dominating his models and was,  by some reports, cruel and arrogant. Yet, the the indelicate master's masculine forcefulness,  seen in his blunt but wonderfully precise paint strokes may, in the end,  be exactly what captivates the viewer: his work captures you in its grip and dares you to look away.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Sonny the Samurai

Once saw a great photo of Sonny Rollins accompanying an interview that was shot (I think) in his old Tribeca apartment. Remember seeing a really cool poster behind him that depicted the musician in a traditional Japanese wood block style. Never could find a print of that poster, but always loved the idea of Mr. Rollins as a jazz samurai, wreaking havoc with his trusty sax. So did this for fun from memory (sure the original was much better).

Thursday, January 25, 2018


The Leopard just had one of those long nights where you suddenly feel a little hopeless. You know - those evenings that morph into the darkest hours, where you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling and you think about all those bad decisions you’ve made in life, loves that you lost and those heart crushing regrets, regrets, regrets.

I think this was all spurred on by listening to MeShell N’degeocello’s album, Bitter. It’s one of those records where one lover is pleading to the another in that starkly naked, almost unbearably vulnerable way. On songs like “Fool Of Me” and the title song, It’s almost like we’re listening in on a very intimate, private conversation between two lovers - literally sung in whispers. What makes Bitter especially penetrating is that N'degeocello takes on both sides, and looks at relationships without judgment from all angles.

In the way, it’s what keeps the music from feeling completely tragic. It’s saying that things are rarely what they seem. You begin to realize that yes, you made mistakes and sometimes you royally screwed up, but hopefully, your basic intentions were honest, if not thoughtful.

But still you still have wake up and go to work.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Talk To Me

On a cold winter’s day a couple of weeks ago, The Leopard and his two cubs were strolling on the streets of Harlem when, stopping at traffic light, I spotted an elderly homeless woman, dressed in mounds of rags shouting directly into one of those 9 1/2 foot futuristic kiosks you see on many street corners in NYC these days. They were made to replace payphones and provide wi fi service, and are charging stations for cell phones. 

These metal totems bring to mind the obelisks seen in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,  - only equipped with large, brightly lit touch screens featuring colorful graphics – maps and neighborhood info. Also there’s a red panic button installed with an intercom so that pedestrians can call in emergencies via 911 from the street.

As we waited for the long stoplight, I couldn’t help but listen to this lady loudly exclaiming into the kiosk all manner of grievances: first, New York and how filthy it is; how she hated all manner of people who live here and such; and how much in particular she hates her son-in law, her ex-husband, and how much her family in general never appreciated her; also, how she was in the FBI and the CIA and she will soon be revealing to the world secret missions she was sent on by George Bush in the early 2000’s.

As far as I could tell, the person on the other end of the conversation (if there was one) did not respond to her complaints.

I glanced back at a traffic cop who was about to wave us across the street. She smiled. “She does that every day.  Just shouts into that thing for hours about all kinds of stuff.”
“I kind of look forward to it a little, now. Helps break up the monotony.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"D'ere he is!" 

Inspired this week to re-watch the seminal PBS documentary 14-episode series from 1987, Eyes On The Prize about the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1965. An early episode focuses in part on the story of Emmet Till. This time, I was particularly moved by a prominent figure in this story, Mr. Mose Wright, an elderly former sharecropper and great uncle of Till, who stood up in front of an angry racist crowd and pointed out Till’s killers. There was something about his courage and decency I found deeply beautiful.