Monday, August 29, 2011

Not Quite the End of the World...

Notes from the Hurricane Irene weekend...

* We had overnight guests on Saturday when our friends Stephan and Joi and their daughter Shelby were among the many Long Islanders faced with the mandatory evacuation of their homes. They had gotten a reservation at a motel that, once they arrived, they described as "sketchy at best." Prepared to go to one of the numerous shelters opened up around the island, they called Laurie who said, "Come here. We'll have a barbecue." (We didn't have a barbecue; Stephan insisted on treating us to dinner, so we had Chinese takeout instead.)
On Sunday, after the brunt of the storm had passed, they decided they wanted to head home. A call to the police department resulted in a response that their street was under four feet of water. But then Joi spoke to a neighbor who had not evacuated, who walked over to their house and reported back that there was no water at all. So they headed home; their house was dry, albeit without electricity.

* One of the two big maple trees in front of our next door neighbor's house was blown over by the wind. It fell across the street and came to rest on the power lines... which sagged substantially but did not snap. In the late afternoon, a crew arrived to cut the tree apart. They did it quickly and efficiently and without the power ever going out.
We were amazed by the number of people who came -- on foot and in cars -- to take photos of the tree. A couple of particularly foolish ones chose to climb onto the tree to have their picture taken, despite warnings that it was resting on live wires.

* Chuck and Rebecca weathered the storm with evacuee guests as well, their close friend Dave and his sister Mai. Meanwhile, Sammi and her housemate Vanessa had left their home in Virginia about two hours ahead of a mandatory evacuation being announced and had a very nice weekend in the Shenandoah Valley -- a perfect example of making lemonade out of life's lemons. They got home this afternoon to find the flood waters receded (with no damage to the house) and electric power restored.

* Meantime, the Long Island Power Authority continues to deal with power outages all over LI. The total was about 475,000 customers (that's homes and businesses, not people) without power at the peak yesterday. It was at about 371,000 when I checked it recently, one-third of their total customers.
Though we did not lose power this time, we have in past storms (including one occasion when our block was in the dark while the houses directly behind us were fine), so I can certainly sympathize with those people still waiting for it to be restored. And it is very frustrating to have no definitive answer about when it will happen.
Still, venting in a venomous rage on the LIPA website, as some folks have done, is not going to make anything happen any faster. One poster carries on because he read on someone's blog that they drove past a LIPA truck where the crew was sitting and eating; apparently, these men and women should not be allowed a meal break until all the power is restored. (It is interesting to note that, despite the lack of electricity, these disgruntled folks have managed to post some incredibly long diatribes.)

So now the storm has gone and we will await the next "disaster" on Mother Nature's agenda. Locusts, perhaps?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The End of the World...

"It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end,
It's the end of the world."

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us, as it has been for the past four days, the media frenzy has fed upon itself to the point where this had better be the storm of the century or everyone is going to be terribly disappointed.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered some 300,000 residents to evacuate such areas as Coney Island, the Rockaways, and Battery Park in Manhattan. He then announced that the subway and bus system would be shut down at noon today in advance of the storm.  Since many people in the areas he ordered evacuated do not have cars, how exactly does he expect them to get out of town? And just how many families carrying all their important possessions can fit on a city bus anyway?

Not to be outdone, the Nassau and Suffolk County Executives have ordered the "mandatory evacuation" of a large portion of the population on Long Island's south shore at 5:00 p.m. this evening. The line of demarcation in Nassau is Sunrise Highway in the western portion and Merrick Road to the east. There are many houses less than one block south of these roads; should these people just walk across the street to be safe?

How does anyone enforce a mandatory evacuation, anyway? Do they drag you out of your house and put you in jail? A news reporter covering the evacuation plan in Suffolk said that the Sheriff's Department would be going door-to-door, collecting the names, phone numbers and next-of-kin information of those people who will not leave. I don't know how many employees the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department has, but it seems to me that they will still be ringing doorbells long after the storm has passed.
Perhaps the only realistic threat that could be used to get people to leave is to say, "Look, if there's flooding and you end up sitting on your roof, we're not going to risk anyone else's safety to come and get you. If you stay, you're on your own." Of course, then we won't have any of those dramatic rescue videos that TV news stations love to show.

For those who enjoy ironic humor: The Farmingdale Patch web page that reports the evacuation order includes an ad for the Farmingdale Aquatic Swim Club.


According to the 2010 census, the population of Long Island (including Queens and Brooklyn) is 7.5 million people. If we were forced to evacuate the Island, all 118 miles of it, we have just three bridges -- the Throgs Neck, the Whitestone and the RFK (nee Triborough) -- which connect to the mainland. Four other bridges -- the 59th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan -- and two tunnels -- Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery -- connect us to Manhattan, which is, by the way, another island with only the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the George Washington Bridge as means of egress. One last bridge, the Verrazano, connects to Staten Island, which is also, as you can tell from its name, an island; should we manage to get to SI, however, there are three bridges we can use to get to New Jersey.

Considering how backed up the highways, bridges and tunnels get during a normal rush hour, does anyone seriously think that Long Island could ever be evacuated in an emergency? Might as well stay put in the comfort of your home and enjoy a beverage. Or, as we used to say back during the peak of the Cold War when we had those duck-and-cover air raid drills in school, "Put your head between your knees and kiss your butt goodbye."


Well, that's all for now from "Stormfront: Long Island." Check back later to see how we make out. I might be blogging while sitting in an inner tube as I float down the street.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On DC's Relaunch

A number of people have asked me recently what I think of DC Comics' plan to relaunch their entire line of comics with fifty-two new #1 issues beginning next week. My response has been the same each time; it is not the print version of these comics that is the key element here. It is the digital edition, which will be released "day and date" with the ink-on-paper editions.

It is no secret that comic books have lost a substantial portion of their readership over the past decade-plus. The print runs for many books being published these days are less than 10,000 copies -- numbers that would have had past generations of publishers cancelling the titles faster than a speeding bullet. (Books that were cancelled for "low sales" just a couple of decades ago -- my own 'Mazing Man included -- would be considered top-sellers in today's market.)

The potential new readers have grown used to getting all their entertainment online -- games, TV, movies. They are not likely to walk into a comic book shop and start buying up lots of $2.99 and $3.99 "pamphlets." Nor are they likely to become hooked on anything DC or Marvel is currently publishing by buying a single issue because there are virtually no self-contained stories any more. Company-wide "events" that are spread over seventy-five different issues? At $3 of $4 a pop? It's no wonder even the current fans have been dropping out.

Starting over with all #1s that are also revamps of the existing characters makes sense if you are looking to hook a brand-new audience. And while DC is already crowing about having orders of more than 200,000 print copies of JLA #1 and 100,000 of six other titles, that is probably lots more speculators than new readers.  It is the digital sales that will be the telling factor here... and those won't be known until the issues are released.

Should the digital versions of the books build up an audience -- at the expense of the printed versions, of course -- the next logical step would have a substantial number of the titles going "digital-only," with only the most mainstream characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) still appearing in print. That is the game-plan I would be pushing if I were still there.

But then, what do I know? After all, I'm the guy who, back in the mid-80s, said that comic book coloring, color separations, lettering, and even the art could and would eventually be done on a computer screen, only to be pooh-poohed by the powers-that-were.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mother Nature and the Media

I'm sure everyone on the West Coast is laughing at us!

The way the media reacted yesterday afternoon (and continue to do so today), you would have thought the earthquake that rumbled from Virginia through the East Coast was on par with the quake/tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year. Despite all the building evacuations, minor flight delays, event cancellations, etc., it wasn't. But that didn't stop the talking heads on every news channel from trying to make it seem like big news. A brief visit to the website of our local news channel showed the two commentators talking about how they felt while the 15 seconds of shaking was occuring followed by a phone interview of someone else who felt it.

My main concern? The quake occured in Virginia, where Sammi lives, though it turned out she is about 120 miles away from the epicenter. Even as I was finding out this key piece of information, she had already called and left a voicemail message that she was fine and heading home after they had closed the school. "Things shook, but nothing in my classroom fell down," was her report. (Actually closer to the epicenter were Chuck's in-laws, also in Virginia, who reported the tragic loss of a wine glass.)

Did I feel the quake?  Yes, I was sitting at my desk at work. I thought it was caused by a truck pulling up. Frankly, things shook a lot more a couple of months ago when they were digging up and repaving the parking lot.


Even as the aftermath of "the great quake of August 23rd" plays out, the media moppets are revving up because Hurricane Irene is projected to make its way to our area over the weekend. Unlike the quake, which came without warning, the impending doom of a hurricane allows the news channels to warn us to stock up on batteries, bottled water, and those famous food staples - milk, eggs and bread. (As Chuck once pointed out, does everyone make French toast during blizzards and hurricanes?)

We've already gotten a robo-call from the Nassau County Executive, advising us to check our chimneys, water and gas lines, and house foundations for damage from the quake and then reminding us to make sure our "emergency preparedness kit" is fully stocked as Hurricane Irene (possibly) bears down on us.

I'd like to write more, but I have to scale the side of the house and check out the chimney, then run off to the store to buy a few hundred double-A batteries, 17 loaves of bread, 30 dozen eggs, and 9 gallons of milk. Oh, yes, and I should stop at the library and check out a dozen DVDs, another thing that people do every time a weather "disaster" looms.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Speaking of Comics...

Last week I was invited to speak at a meeting of Pronto Comics, a group of up-and-coming independent comics creators, and had a fun time regaling them with tales of my career in the comics industry.
[From their website ( ): "Pronto Comics is a group of comic book writers and artists that meets regularly to collaborate on different projects. We pair up writers with artists to work on self published anthologies, and it is our mission to help our members take the necessary steps to achieve their goals of working in the professional comic book industry."]

The Pronto writers and artists produce some interesting material and reminded me of my compatriots back when we were the "new blood" at DC in the 70s.

The following evening, some friends of my son Chuck who do a podcast called RagNerdrok interviewed me for their most recent episode. If you'd like to listen in as I recount tales of my early days at DC Comics, the computerization of coloring and color separations and the Death of Superman, among other things, you can find it at

All in all, a pair of enjoyable evenings.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


1: one who serves in a certain function
2: one holding office in a government or political party

1a : a liveried servant
1b : one performing menial or miscellaneous duties

(The above courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.)

I'll lay claim to having created the term flunctionary and define it as a person with a self-esteem-building-but-meaningless title who performs menial or miscellaneous duties for an organization and usually has no idea why those duties are performed.

Case in point is a woman I spoke with recently who works for an accounting firm that performs audits on behalf of various unions. She insisted that they had to perform a payroll audit for the years 2008 to 2010 on a firm that has been out of business for two years and had no income, work, or employees since 2001.
Rather than listen to what was being said to her, she said she would refer it to the union's legal department if we refused to comply. I suppose we could have scheduled the audit and, when the auditor showed up, just handed over an empty folder with the comment, "Here are all the records for the period."

Other flunctionaries I've dealt with in the past include those people who insist that invoices we submit must be done on a form that they've been using for the past few decades, ignoring the fact that said form exists only as a pdf file of an old photocopy that would have to be filled out on a typewriter (presuming one still has one) or by hand. On more than one occasion I have recreated their form as and Excel or Word document so that I could do our monthly requisitions on my computer. I've gone so far as to duplicate the layout, design and fonts used on the originals, including one on which I repeated a misspelling that their form has had since the dawn of time. I never told those flunctionaries what I'd done and smile at the thought of them wondering how I'd gotten such a clean copy to use.

Standard responses from flunctionaries include:
"That's the way it's always been done."
"Everybody does it this way."
"No one else has a problem with this."

And, of course, the flunctionaries are the ones who invaribly ask for three or four or six "originals" of any form we submit. (See my June posting for that one.)