Monday, April 27, 2009

"If I had to do it all over again, I would do it."

This entire morning has been filled with the news that Frankie Manning, the Ambassador of Lindy Hop, has died. Credited with creating the first air steps of the dance, his legacy is far more than can be described in a short missive.

This clip dates back to the 1980s, I think.

This was surely one of the first things I watched in my own Lindy Hop education. Since then, a generation of dancers have been gifted with his inspiration.

I remember the moment I first saw the flyer for the Harvest Moon Swingout in 1997. I had learned East Coast Swing a month before and had planned to delay learning Lindy Hop for another few months. Then I saw the flyer at one of the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association Saturday dances. Frankie Manning would be teaching Lindy Hop the following weekend! I hadn't learned the step yet, but the common thought at the time was that it was nearly impossible to learn. So I bought the Frankie Manning/Erin Stephens instructional video and got to learning on Sunday. Then I took Erik and Sylvia's Lindy Hop class at The Derby on Monday and worked on the basic step for the rest of the week.

By the time I got to the class on the following Saturday, I hesitantly joined Frankie's beginning level class. I really didn't have an idea of what to expect from the man. This was in the days before YouTube. I thought he would be an old white guy, and I might have been intimidated by the mere idea of him. In class I warned my partners that I had only started learning the dance the week before. Most were pleasant, if not a little put off by my warning. They were patient with me and perhaps surprised by my progress.

Wow! The man at the head of class had this joyful timbre in his voice, like he was on the verge of spilling his laughter over the crowd! He was absolutely not the scary white man that I had imagined. Frankie Manning had an excitement during that class that surely carried over into the way I feel about the dance today. Hundreds of dancers in the room were with him that day and I'm convinced that was merely a drop in the bucket.

That night at the dance, they played the first Lindy Hop clips I ever saw, including Hot Chocolates, still reversed in soundie form. In the film, Frankie was the man wearing the overcoat. It was that night that I first began my quest to find more dance footage, years of wandering through obscure video stores and wading through films and catalogues to find the merest glimpse of Lindy Hop.

If anything could be said about that week, I learned that Lindy Hop wasn't impossible after all. Lindy Hop could be as easy as walking, only filled with exuberance, replete with joy!

So Frankie Manning, I thank you many times over for the love you shared, not just in the dance but in life. You have meant so much to so many people. For me, your laughter lives on in my own teaching. Your joy will live on in the generations to come!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Crossing the medium divide

Caffeine-induced ramble ahead:

This afternoon, while I played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance a thought occurred to me.

Comic books are big business. However it's a business around a medium that appears to be on its last legs. Now it seems that the most popular comic book characters are merely grist for the mill. I sometimes wonder if the net worth of the history of comic books is the vault of properties from which so many movies, television shows and video games are produced.

I have been a life-long comics reader. That last bit is emphasized because the action of reading is important to me. So often people have asked me if I have collected comics and my response is often "No, but I read them. They tend to collect themselves." If we believe Scott McCloud, the notion that comics are read is vital. One qualitative difference between a film and a comic is that the film is paced entirely by the editor. While the layout of a comics page is determined by the artist/creator, the reader is left to move at their own pace through the images.

Another key theorist in comics is the late, great Will Eisner. One of his complaints that I remember is (and I'm near certainly misquoting) the stories in comics always revolved around the notion of pursuit. The super-hero meme is only one facet of the world of comics. Yet most folks can only think of super-heroes when the word comics are discussed.

That's all well and good. When it comes to it, though, it appears that comics and all print publishing are undergoing a huge shift as their respective media become obsolete. As has been reported elsewhere, new generations of children are not being introduced to comic books in those formative years. Instead, they learn of those memorable characters through movies and video games. In fact, it seems that video games may serve to this new generation what comic books did to the 1950s kid. That's the generation that was hit by Seduction of the Innocent.

This would appear to bring us full circle. However, to go a little past that, I think to the potential of video game stories. It's clear to me that the majority of video game adaptations tend to work in that same "pursuit story" mode that Eisner supposedly complained about. Can the player complete such and such objective? If not, keep trying until they do. The stories don't ever seem to do much beyond that. It feels to me like story developments are in service to the action. I don't know that I can remember a game where the pursuit was the Macguffin for a richer experience. It seems to me that there's untapped potential in the video game arena.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Apparently there's a running theme with my animated crushes. Read along and see if you can guess.

Francesca is the undeniable femme fatale from Mad Monster Party. Designed by Jack Davis of Mad, she schemes her way into our hearts. I'd be your creep any day!

Then there's Sally, from The Nightmare Before Christmas. She's a maudlin sweetheart who's always falling apart at the seams.

Sally, sigh.

Most recently, Ginormica. She really deserves to be seen on the big screen!

I'm not sure who designed her, but it's clear that the makers of Monsters vs. Aliens have a love for classic monster b-movies of the 50s. Seriously, it is even better in 3D. I wouldn't say that lightly.

She might be the most relatable character of the bunch. It's also cool that this 50-foot woman is the central character of the film!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Art repeats life repeating

I read this story and remembered a book that I really liked. It was called My Generation, featured in a comic called Vertigo Pop! London, by Peter Milligan and Phillip Bond. It starts on the 60th birthday of pop star Rocky Lamont and concerns a secret he has kept for thirty years.

Peter Milligan is easily one of my favorite comics writers of the British invasion so long ago. His work is hit and miss, but always worth a look.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A short thought about magick

I've only briefly studied the writings of Aleister Crowley. He was known as the Great Beast, known as a demon worshipper and from what I can gather most of his reputation was bluster designed to scare away the rubes and attract the free-thinkers. If I can sum up a portion of his thinking: love is more important than law; practice Yoga; trust your own will; keep your mind and heart open. He died in the 40s in a boarding house, addicted to heroin.

That's an extremely truncated summary. I may be completely misrepresenting the guy. I won't say he was a great man, because who can know. He was certainly complicated. Even though there's a picture of Crowley at the top of the post, I don't think this is really about him.

I had a thought this week that I made sure to write down:

Magick is the ability to transform one's world. One must first accept their circumstance, then they must see opportunity and put their will to work.